PASS Summit 2017

Last week I was back in Seattle – I love that city! – for the PASS Summit. I’ve only been to two PASS Summit’s and at the first one, I begged Microsoft to hire me as a full-time employee. Imagine my shock when they did!

This time, I am shocked for a different reason. SQL Server 2017.

There is just so much awesome-sauce packed into this release; it is a challenge to know where to begin. A new release cycle is a good beginning. Microsoft has been on a two-year-major-release cycle for a long time now. It stretches back to SQL Server 2008 R2 in 2010. Now Service Packs are going away and Cumulative Updates will be monthly. I suspect we’ll see more aggressive major releases too.

Many people are salivating that SQL Server will run on Linux now. I already stated that I am thrilled to see the best database engine on the planet start eating Oracle’s lunch. But speaking professionally, this doesn’t blow my skirt up – I am a Windows man through and through.

Two of the most exciting advances involve Adaptive Query Processing. Now a compiled execution plan can have multiple paths that change dynamically at runtime. A join could be handled by a nested loop or a hash match depending on the number of rows being processed. Memory grants that are too large or too small can also change between executions. Both of these do not require recompiling the execution plan. This is incredible.

Availability Groups can now be built without a Windows Failover Cluster. This removes the high availability feature but it allows for a hot copy of data. Reporting queries can use the copy and take pressure away from the primary replica.

Columnstore Indexes, Query Store and In-Memory OLTP keep getting better. Smaller existing features and knobs are tweaked as well. SQL Server 2017 has me really excited.

Last, but not least, I was able to meet-up with former Microsoft colleagues. Adam, Rohit, Bob, Ajay and Tejas – it was great to see all of you again.

Seattle & The PASS Conference

Later today, I’ll be headed out to Seattle, Washington – courtesy of my employer. I’ve been to Seattle several times and once seriously considered moving there.

This trip is something of a full-circle for me, one of my first visits to the Emerald City was to attend the PASS Conference. I paid for the conference out of my own pocket and I think that was a major influence to Microsoft hiring me full-time rather than remain a contractor in Mississauga. That – in turn – led to me moving to Texas for nearly eight years.

Now I am returning to the Pacific Northwest for PASS 2017.

Much has changed with SQL Server since I began my career. SQL Server 2000 was the version where the industry started to take serious notice of the product. It has only grown since then. The release of SQL Server 2017 earlier this month is opening up the Linux market.

I am excited to see my favourite database eat more of Oracle’s lunch!

World Machine, Meet OctaneRender!

I have owned OctaneRender for several years now. But it has sat on my computer almost totally untouched because I have not committed the time to learn its nuances. There is an introductory course at Liberty 3D for using the Lightwave Octane Plug-in. It is a good set of lessons and delivered by a great teacher; but it just gets your feet wet and doesn’t go quite far enough.

On the World Machine Facebook group, a user posted a short video explaining his workflow getting World Machine output into the standalone Octane Render. That was incredibly helpful and give me the kick that I needed to try things out.

World Machine & Octane RenderHere are my first results.

The terrain mesh and texturing images came from World Machine. I made use of the excellent WM plug-in Quadspinner GeoGlyph 2.0 as well as the texturing macro ProColor.

The sky and clouds are an HDRi image that I composited in with Photoshop. OctaneRender supports including an HDRi environment but I was not happy with my still novice results.

I can’t wait to see what else I create as I learn more about OctaneRender. I would love to include scattered instances of other meshes – rocks, boulders, trees, grass and the like.

If I do say so myself, this makes a pretty damn cool desktop background.

R.I.P. Gord Downie (1964 – 2017)

On Tuesday, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie succumbed to the terminal brain tumour that he was diagnosed with last year.

I’ve spent the rest of the week processing this and listening to The Hip constantly. Much of Canada is still mourning this collective loss. Downie’s music and poetry has a way of vibrating the Canadian nerve.

He will be missed deeply.

New Camera Bag

In a recent post, I mentioned a new Manfrotto camera bag.

Well that did not last long. I quickly realized during the High Park photo-walk that this bag would not suit my purposes. The way its zippers opened to access the gear made it prone to things falling out. Not a good scenario!

Fortunately, Henry’s let me exchange the bag for a different one. I bought a Cameron BP 350 AW. This should be much better – I can’t wait until I can take it out on another photo-walk.

U.S. Capitol Building Model Finished

US Capitol 2I completed the model on Friday night, ahead of an expected busy weekend.

But I’m only getting to writing this now.

In spite of its size, it was a fairly simple model to build. The symmetric nature of the structure leant itself to fast building. The slowest aspect to the build was the large number of 1×1 flat pieces making up the surrounding property and parts of the walls.

The central dome can be removed. Beneath it is a nice representation of the National Statuary Hall. That’s a nice touch of detail I think.

I’ll have to buy the remaining two Lego Architecture sets soon.

Photowalk October 14, 2017 – High Park

imageYesterday was a drizzly, foggy day with a heavy cloud cover over the city. But I was determined to have another photo-walk and I have long wanted to go to High Park.

So that’s what I did.

The Lambton bus route stops outside my apartment and goes to High Park Station. Very convenient! I packed up my tripod and gear (in my new Manfrotto camera bag) and set out into the misty weather.

High Park is certainly no Central Park; but it is big enough that you can get away from the sounds of the city. I stayed along the western edge of the park – the Wendigo Creek and Grenadier Pond that it feeds. So I have plenty more exploring of this place to do in the future.

I added these photos to my Toronto, Ontario Flickr album.

Please be aware that Flickr sorts album photos in ascending chronological order. You will have to scroll down to see the photos starting with “Waterfall 3.” Lack of photo order is one of the mild annoyances with Flickr.

Crosby 2I think this photo is one of my favourites. I met Crosby and her owner just after arriving at the park at Bloor and Quebec streets.

Although I am not a dog fan, Crosby was a beautiful and energetic beast who loved chasing her orange ball (or gnawing on a fallen tree branch). She is a 3-year old chocolate lab and is very friendly.

I spoke with her owner for a little while and he gave me permission to take some photos. Unfortunately, most of the shots of Crosby running with her ball did not turn out. I must have missed a setting and did not get an adequate shutter speed.

Next visit, I will go to Keele subway station and enter the park from the northeastern corner.

A Health Update

On Tuesday I had a consultation with a gastroenterologist. I have long suffered from acid reflux; there are times at night when I am trying to sleep that it becomes intolerable.

I used to eat Tums or Rolaids like candy. Although there is an over-the-counter antacid that usually relieves all the effects, I would prefer to understand and fix the root-cause. Unsurprisingly, the top item on the doctor’s list was to lose weight.

I’ve definitely packed on the pounds again after stopping the regular workouts I was doing in Texas. Once Josh had left Gold’s Gym, they had no quality trainers. After returning to Canada – I just didn’t go anywhere. Nor have I ridden my bicycle even once.

There is a Goodlife Fitness gym in the building where I work and I am signed up there. But it is hard to describe how I feel about it – it just doesn’t feel like a place that I want to work out at.

Life is hardly worth living after reading the lifestyle changes items from the doctor:

  • No chocolate
  • No peppermint
  • No alcohol
  • No caffeine
  • Nothing acidic (tomatoes, citrus juices)
  • Nothing spicy
  • Decreased fat
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Elevate head of bed about 6 inches
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking

Smoking is easy to stop when I already don’t do it. I’m not super-big on chocolate or peppermint either. I don’t drink a lot of booze; but I certainly don’t mind the occasional tipple.

Caffeine! Cruel fate! Why must thou mock me?

As it turns out, I had run out coffee last weekend. So I have not bought a new tin. I have broken down and bought the occasional beverage at Tim Horton’s.

There are no two ways to slice it. I really need to change-up my diet and exercise more with the goal of losing weight in mind.

The Spam Battle–Part Two

It has been five days since I deleted the post that seemed to be attracting all the spam comments. So far, no new spam has arrived.

If things stay clear for a few more days, I will try to turn on commenting again.

The curious part of my brain now wants to know why that particular post was the “hole” by which the spammers could crawl in…

1,032 Pieces Of Political Dysfunction

I finally started work on the U.S. Capitol Building model. I’ve had this set for a few months now but the Thanksgiving long weekend is what gave me the kick that I needed.

US_Capitol_progressThis is a huge set as far as Lego Architecture goes. I’m not sure if it is bigger than Robie House or not. Those two models are definitely the two largest in the series.

Although not an ideal location, I am typically building these at my small kitchen table. Usually, this table is reserved for my work laptop and monitor. And yes, I do often drop pieces on the floor.

Here is a cellphone shot of the progress thus far. Sorry about the overhead glare from the ceiling light.

The Spam Battle

I have been posting to this blog for several years now. Almost immediately, I turned off the commenting option. I had a few comments from friends and family (notably my now ex-cousin-in-law…if that is such a thing) – I don’t know if I have regular readers and I do want to engage with them if they are out there.

But for the spam…

It is the bane of the internet. We’ll never be free of it.

imageUnfortunately, turning off the comments did nothing to stop the spam – it just hides it. On the WordPress Administrator site, my comments section is still plugged up with garbage that I have to manually delete.

There are only seven spams as I write this post because I recently deleted everything. But they trickle-in at a steady rate of a few every day.

What I noticed is that they are all attached to the same blog post. It has been about 2000 pieces of spam now. All on one post. I had written this post back on June 14, 2015 to explain one of my frequent absences from posting. The previous post was on May 24th about the gradual recovery from the flooding in North Texas.

I have decided to see what will happen to the spamming when I delete the June 14th excusing post. Deleting this post won’t change the story of my life as documented. My guess is, the spam gets tied to a new post – and probably one that I care about and won’t want to delete.

We’ll see.

If there is a way to stop comment spam entirely, I’d love to learn it. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to learn the intricacies of WordPress on my own.

A Visit To Grove Cemetery

Yesterday I paid another visit to my grandmother. She was in wonderfully high spirits – I love visits like that. My mother was able to come along with me.

After we took grandma down to the nursing home cafeteria for her lunch, we travelled over to a tea room in downtown Dundas. Mom had planned to meet a friend of hers there. After a few cups of Earl Grey, I excused myself. Grandpa's Grave SiteI wandered over to Dundas Driving Park – I used to play there as a little kid when we lived at grandma’s place. A small bluff separates the park from Grove Cemetery; so I set out to find my grandfather’s final resting place.

It has been about 30 years since I visited here. Yet my memory did not fail me and I quickly found his plot. My heart sank a little when I saw how unkempt it was.

I managed some impromptu trimming and sweeping with my hands, but I wish that I had brought proper tools. I will do that next time.

I never met grandpa. He died while my family was still living in Australia.

As you can tell, my grandfather – among other things – was an actor. We Garstins have a respectable lineage there. My great-great-great uncle Lionel Belmore played the town burgomaster in the movie Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.

Grandpa was a founding member of Dundas Little Theatre. Their performance stage is named in his honour.

Grove Cemetery BenchTo my shame, I have never seen one of their productions. So I intend to remedy that in the near future.

An odd melancholy had settled over me. Even though I had my camera with me (only the 50mm Prime lens though), I found myself hesitant to take many photos.

This bench could not be passed up though. Just like the half-submerged picnic table at Devil’s Lake State Park, I knew that this would make a great black & white image.

It won’t be another three decades before I return here.

R.I.P. Hugh Hefner (1926–2017)

Farewell Mr. Hefner and thank-you for all your work.

Although I suspect that much of this news will surround Playboy and nude photography; I actually prefer to remember Hef’s work promoting and defending the First Amendment. His fighting against censorship laws and his promotion of feminism and same-sex rights have helped build the bulwark against theocracy in Western society.

Nudity aside, Playboy magazine did advance lifestyle and culture in new directions. It helped to get people thinking outside norms that were barely altered clones of past generations.

Hef will be missed. I hope that Playboy will carry on his legacy. The First Amendment must be defended constantly on many fronts.

Wisconsin–September 2017 Flickr Album

I have uploaded the first 48 images to my Wisconsin – September 2017 Flickr album.

It is likely that I may upload a few more photos over the next few days. I took over 360 photos; so even after removing the wheat from the chaff I still have plenty more material to work with.

Betty Lou Boat Tour 03Just about every single image went through adjustments with Topaz Labs Adjust and/or Detail. I hope that I didn’t go over the top with the post-processing though.

I arrived in Madison on Wednesday morning. My friends Dan and Kevin were already in town, so we started wandering. I was able to spend nearly two days with them before the 40th National FFRF Convention got underway.

Madison is a cool city. There is so much to see and do there for its size. Spending more time on the UW campus and at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens would have been nice. I expect to be back there in 2019 for the 42nd National Convention; so I will aim to make time then.

Wisconsin Dells 02If you have never been to Wisconsin before, I very strongly recommend the Wisconsin Dells river tour! It is so uplifting to see and to know that so many have worked hard to preserve the region (although not far away from the river there is a gob-smacking display of commercialism).

This photo is one of my favourites from The Dells. The rock outcroppings are one of the narrowest parts of the river and surprisingly also one of the deepest.

I definitely wish that I had been able to bring my tripod along. So many photos could have turned out even better that way. The tour guides do keep each group moving fairly quickly; so unfortunately one cannot spend hours ashore taking photos of this jaw-droppingly beautiful part of Wisconsin.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens 13I will close out with the Thai Temple at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. This amazing structure is gilt with gold leaf and was built without using any nails.

Re-reading A Song Of Ice & Fire

Since the next HBO season for Game Of Thrones might not air until 2019, I decided to re-read the books. Heck, maybe I’ll get lottery-win-lucky and George R. R. Martin will publish The Winds Of Winter in the mean time…

So I am digging back into A Game Of Thrones. I’m only about 87 pages in so far. Yet I am already struck by the number of differences between the books and the show. The biggest one that hit me was this:

Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children. The wheelhouse in which they had ridden, a huge double-decked carriage of oiled oak and gilded metal pulled by forty heavy draft horses, was too wide to pass through the castle gate.

The royal entourage on the show was impressive; but it did not have anything like that!

A Wiki Of Ice And Fire is an excellent resource for fans. In particular, the Chapter Summaries feature is wonderful.

Naturally, in my mind’s eye as I immerse myself in Westeros, I am seeing the actors from the show. Sean Bean is Eddard Stark to me. I just cannot see it any other way; but I don’t think that is a bad thing. I’m curious to see if I can build a vision from the books that replaces something on the show.

Madison, Wisconsin Trip & The 40th National FFRF Convention

As previously noted, last week I was back in Madison, Wisconsin for FFRF’s 40th National Convention. I arrived two days early so that I could spend some time with my friends Dan and Kevin.

Kevin is a Wisconsinite through and through. He suggested that we visit Devil’s Lake State Park, the Wisconsin Dells (Kevin made a 3D model inspired by The Dells) and the Botanical Gardens. All three were excellent choices and my only regret is that I did not have more time to spend with my friends exploring them.

Part of the Convention included the Betty Lou Boat Tours of Lake Mendota or Lake Monona. So I took a lot of photos. Quite possibly more photos that I have ever taken before. I am still sorting the wheat from the chaff and editing the RAW files for upload to Flickr. I will try to get that album created this weekend.

I am happy to report that the FFRF membership has seen a considerable spike upward this year. This is almost certainly caused by the election of Donald Trump. The White Evangelical segment continues to support this dumpster-fire of an administration because they have been promised arch-conservative judges being nominated to the bench. The obvious goal is to further restrict abortion and LGBTQ rights. This is a match made in hell if ever there was one.

At least people are pushing back against this. As the columnist Dan Savage likes to say, “Impeach the motherfucker already!”

Of course, the FFRF National Convention was also excellent. I practically gush about it every year since it feels so good to be surrounded by like-minded persons.

There was a solid line-up of speakers this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. Steven Pinker, Katha Pollitt, Maryam Namazie, young Kelly Helton (only 12 years old and already a firebrand for reason!) and Michelle Goldberg.

I kept myself on a leash this year and only bought one new t-shirt and one book – Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.