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2013 and the Impossible Challenge

Published 3 January 2013 6:23 pm

I am consistently amazed when I read on twitter the exploits of DBAs who compete in marathons, endure triathlons, or simply run every single day. For me: impossible. The furthest I have ever run in one go was 3 miles. I was 9 years old, barefoot, and being chased by a Doberman.

Older now, and having missed my mid-life crisis entirely, I sometimes contemplate those things that I have I always longed to do but failed, and the excuses I have stood up against that wall. “I don’t have enough time” is my usual go-to when my internal critic demands to know why I have not yet learned a foreign language, or finished my Great American Novel.

Maybe, though, the problem is the opposite: give an idea too much time and space, and it can drift out of reach. Consider the challenge of creating a brand new application from just a simple, unexplored idea: doable. Same challenge, but within a single week: wow, impossible. Yet, paradoxically, the “impossible” deadline may be the only way to ensure you really do it. This is the idea behind Down Tools Week, the genesis of several tools that I use regularly as a DBA. Likewise, some authors take years to complete even a first draft of a novel. Many more never complete it. The idea behind National Novel Writing Month is to do it in a month. It has worked for many (though sadly not me).

A short while ago, though, I watched a documentary on Indie Games development for Xbox live. It offered a fascinating insight into the minds of developers who have pushed through the pain of the impossible and have created incredible games, often single-handedly. This documentary re-kindled a long-dormant desire in me to do the same. Of course, my first thought was impossible, and not even because of time limitations. I lack nearly every skill required to pull off such a feat. I am not an artist and I am not Rain man-smart in Math. In fact, other than knowing the acronym XNA (“XNAs Not Acronymed”) for the development tools and framework used to produce such games for Xbox, I would be hard-pressed to know even where to start.

Yet, I am going to do it, and not for the money, or recognition, or to win a contest or a desire for a new career, but simply because I want to play the game that I have in my head that no one else would ever write. In short, I challenge myself to research, learn, design, prototype, code, build and post my game. In 45 days. Impossible? We will see, but having discovered the codeless game development tool, Game Salad, I have already designed and prototyped a very small portion of it. Be on the lookout for DBA Wars:Trouble in the Cloud in early 2013!

What is your impossible challenge? Update all 62 SQL Server instances from 2005 to 2008: sure (eventually). Update them all this weekend! That’s just plain crazy! Or is it?

14 Responses to “2013 and the Impossible Challenge”

  1. ignatandrei says:

    Maintain 3 blogs again whole year.

  2. scott.murray says:

    My impossible challenge is to try to keep up with all the changes and news coming down the pike concerning big data. This area is changing so quickly, it is hard to pick one particular item or another to focus in on without thinking that maybe the other will become the dominate technology!

  3. BuggyFunBunny says:

    Big Data: looking for a needle in a haystack. If the needle is of gold (and you’re a specie fanatic), it may be worth the effort. If of pine, not so much.

    The notion that one must parse population data in order to find order, is the WinTel duopoly in new clothes. In the latter, historic, case MS sought to bloat Windows (because they knew no better) and Intel needed a demand for the ever increasing cycles they were producing. *nix and X11 were (and are) quite happy with a 386. It was a marriage of ignorance and convenience.

    Likewise with Big Data: a new opportunity to soak up computing power, which is quite pointless, given that real statistics find order in samples. Bid Data is also the re-emergence of the Long Tail meme; which Amazon has disproved thoroughly. I’ll let the reasoning be an exercise for the reader. :)

  4. IowaWebDave says:

    I think you bring up a very good point of view – that unless we have some sort of crazy deadline to meet, we often won’t even attempt something. Our bodies actually need stress to move us forward (think strengthening muscles through weight-lifting), the challenge is making sure the stress doesn’t overwhelm us. But it’s more normal for us to be in the self-preservation mode and take it easy than to jump out and “give ‘er”.

    Good luck with your impossible challenge – I think you’re off to a good start with the name! My 4-year-old son is really into the Star Wars Lego Clone Wars stuff, and that name fits right in. ;-D

  5. Lee Dise says:

    For me, as a SQL Server DBA, the biggest challenge has always been trying to comprehend the chaotic, hurly-burly universe of Windows development that surrounds but doesn’t quite engulf our little peaceful SQL Server oasis of reason and peacefulness. Every once in a while — e.g., SSIS — the developer’s paradigm intrudes into the DBA arena. Whenever that happens, I find myself frustrated to no end.

    You see, when you reach a certain age, the edges of your brain start to petrify. Trust me, I know about these things. I can learn something new, but to make room in my brain for it, something else must get shoved out. And I can’t control what that is. After fifty years, I still remember the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, and I’d gladly surrender that memory, glorious as it is, for some, any, insight into Windows development. But the last time I memorized a new Microsoft acronym, I forgot my wife’s birth date.

    It hurts that I did not “come up” as a Windows developer. I started as an IBM mainframe programmer back in the early 1980s, segued into Unix/Sybase/Oracle back in the 1990s, and eventually landed as a SQL Server DBA. For me, the classic paradigm is the Unix command line, boasting a set of powerful shell-scripting languages, and creating a personal library of tools (written by yours truly) to work the necessities of DBA living.

    By contrast, my first calm and carefully considered reaction to working with Windows was, “You call this &#@!##$ a shell-scripting language?!!??!” If the entire programming world was the Super Bowl, Windows NT shell script would be the Buffalo Bills. (As an aside, Powershell is wonderful, and finally brought Windows firmly into the 1980s.)

    But who needs shell script when you have GUIs? Sheepish expression and right hand going up, right here. For me, working with Windows GUIs at almost any level is a snipe hunt; the image of a roomful of Microsoft developers, guffawing derisively in the wings at their clever joke, is palpable. The good news is the command you need is in there, somewhere. The only question is, can you actually get to it? Is it a simple click on a menu option and voila? Or do you have to right-click this, left-click that, drill down there, right-click again, hit the button that hides the feature, right-click that, select “Properties”, hit the button that says, “Yes, dammit, run this as Administrator!” — and make your selection except on alternate Tuesdays, when you have to choose its opposite number?

    If you enjoy all that, you’re in luck — or, since this is a British site, I suppose I should say, “Bob’s your uncle” — because Microsoft is bound to shake things up a bit with the next version. Why? Because they can. They have a stable of a million youngsters with purple mohawks, dozens of piercings and tattoos of “Rage against the Machine!”, just dying to change something to match their refined tastes.

    Relying on Microsoft’s own documentation is generally as helpful, but not nearly so readable, as the engine light on your car’s dash, which cheefully beams red just after your engine blows. This cements Google’s reputation as the world’s best online Microsoft manual.

    The hardest part of all of this, for me, is knowing that’s where the future lies. The old command-line paradigm made me feel like captain of my ship. My own shell-script software library was easy to use because the person who wrote it thinks like me. But to use Windows GUIs, I have to think like the Purple Mohawk Gang. Windows combines both arbitrariness and rationality — namely, the underlying rationality is that everything is arbitrary. But in the great scheme of things, it all works because of economies of scale: cheaper for everyone to write all those utilities just once and make them available to developers. Mechanization is good in general, but hard on old war horses.

  6. Keith Rowley says:

    Having done NaNoWriMo for the last four years and completed a 50,000 word piece of a novel that wasn’t horrible each time, after having tried to write a book unsuccessfully for years before that I can attest to the value of a deadline in accomplishing a task.

    This year my wife and I are planning to run a 5k in march having never run a formal race before and neither one of us being in great shape. The deadline is really helping us concentrate on our goal.

  7. Brent Ozar says:

    For the running, here’s how to do it: The Non-Runner’s Guide to Marathon Training:

    I used that to go from zero running background whatsoever to finishing two half-marathons. I don’t see a marathon in my future at this point – I really only did the halves to push myself – but man, what a great feeling to go from couch potato to half-marathoner.

  8. Sergio E. says:

    Well, challenges are everywhere, mine is learn to get off my personal caos, learn to do a single sport but over all, learn to eat as must be.

    I wanto to wish you all have your challenges done, and I hope the best for everyone this year.

    Greetings from Mexico.

  9. Matt says:

    I can relate to Lee Dise as I started in a mainframe environment and found myself relegated to SQL Server when DB2 admin was outsourced – and a DBA *has* to go somewhere :)

    Running? Are you kidding? I gave that up when I was 15 as I knew my bone structure wouldn’t last if I kept it up. Ended up with a stuffed spine and knees anyway.

    Goals for the year are to lose a few pounds and to finish building works on the house & get a muscle car running again.

    It would be nice if Australia made it into the 20th century and recognised that tele-commuting existed rather than the hour+ commute each way every day.

  10. Ron Dameron says:

    My impossible challenge for 2013 is to finish the MCM certification for SQL Server 2008 before the cert is retired. My company will be on 2008 for a while so it makes sense to go for it given my position. I’ve got the DB Admin cert done. Need to do DB Dev next. 70-433 scheduled for Feb 1. Tons of work to do I think to pull it off.

  11. Timothy A Wiseman says:

    I think it depends on the person, but without some sort of deadline I also find it very easy to keep pushing things off to the back burner until they become completely pointless.

    My current personal goal with a self-assigned deadline is to be able to run 5 miles in under 50 minutes by March.

    I’m also trying to get my capstone paper for my grad program finished on time.

  12. paschott says:

    SQL-wise, it’s to get our DBs into version control so we can reliably push them each and every time without generating custom scripts and reviewing them. I’m also taking on a new set of DBs for another unit so I want to get this done for all of the DBs under my influence. Target – end of Q1. (ambitious for me as this has been a huge struggle and there’s always something more urgent to do)

  13. tamusa says:

    Running is bad for the knees. Try duck diving through multiple sets of overhead hurricane surf. Its kind like trying to keep up with advances in Visual Studio. Keep writing R and say hi to K.

  14. C64DBA says:

    1 – Lose weight. Halfway to goal weight. Started after giving it thought for about 2 days. Feeling great.

    2 – Write another text adventure for the C64
    in MS BASIC 2.0.

    3 – Write same text adventure for the C64 in 6502.

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