14 December 2014

Chicago SQLskills Trip

So a couple months back we had a short little trip I thought I should blog about. Not a proper, full-measure Neufeldian type affair where when we get back we swear we never want to attempt something so crazy again, but my company was dispatching me for a week of training, and I was fortunate enough to be sent to a SQLskills Immersion event in the outskirts of Chicago. Last year I went to the PASS Summit, which is basically a big SQL Server party of sorts, almost more a social event than a technical one, but this one was straight training...Paul and Kimberly Randal (nee Tripp) expositing in great detail and at great length into the core internals of SQL Server. Exceeded my expectations, I can say, and I enjoyed it rather a lot.

But this blog post is less about that and more about the trip itself, because I finagled the company into letting me drive and hauled my dear family along with, so we made a quasi-vacation of it. The first haul across Missouri was fairly non-descript, at least as I can remember. Probably lots of whining, lots of yelling, lots of requests for windows down, lots of requests for windows up, and such like, but such fades into the tapestry of normal everyday life for us. But we did make a couple stops in St Louis.

I should say, since I am admittedly remiss in keeping the vast, frenzied mob of readers of this blog updated on a regular basis of my hobby du jour, that I am at present enthralled, inspired by my animal-loving and equally carnivorous daughter, to take up, at this late stage, hunting. Gretchen sampled venison tenderloin at a neighbor's house, decided it was the tastiest thing ever, and enlisted me to get her a deer. I was not raised in the hunting tradition, so I'm having to get up to speed rather quickly with it. On that theme, I'm rather taken with elk. Our hemisphere's noblest cervid...I am both in love with these animals and intent someday on hunting them. Hunter's paradox I suppose. Anyway, we stopped by the Lone Elk Park south of St Louis, where they have elk and buffalo. Younger cow here:

The incredible headless buffalo! Kept looking further and further to starboard while we crept by, denying us a proper photograph.

Then off in the distance, we spotted them...the bull!

A bit further along he had quite the little harem maintained it seems.

Another bull browsing by the road, up further.

Thence to the World Bird Sanctuary, right next door. Pleasant little avian zoo with lots of raptors on display, and some more exotic ones. Inside one of the buildings they had a textural table where kids could touch specimens, and Peter is working on his "grip and grin" technique for whitetail bucks.

Out front they have a variety of birds tethered carefully so as to prevent interspecies squabbling, which given these birds' offensive weaponry, would likely be swift and lethal.

First Saturday in September, mark it down! We aren't talking your regional or national type awareness days, this is an INTERNATIONAL awareness day! BE AWARE OF VULTURES ON THAT DAY, WORLD!

Inside the gift shop, amusing little owl chap (not for sale).

The kids love these things. Peter is all grins but Gretchen takes this sort of stage craft seriously and really descends into her characters.

As a bald eagle.

From there over to my teacher's house for a brief social visit. Ustad-ji loves the kids, at least in the measured doses our visits afford. Gretchen found out she was missing a tooth while we were there:

We relaxed in our usual St Louis hotel that night, making an easy night of it, and headed out in the morning for Chicago. We went straight into the city, and hit the Museum of Science and Industry, and interesting hodge-podge of various exhibits strung together somewhat loosely. A very old armoured car from the (previous) turn of the century:

But I admit, most of why I was keen to come to this museum was U-505. Captured U-boat on display inside, with the museum done up to look like a concrete U-boat pen.

Sadly we weren't there in time to do the inside tour (sold out) but maybe later...we could at least walk around the beautiful thing. What a marvel of ingenuity it was, and sobering to reflect on the tonnage that even this ill-fated boat sent to bottom of the Atlantic. I'm not sure but my guess is this is original battle damage on the conning tower...if I recall it was strafed by an aeroplane at some point on its last mission.

Massive screws at the stern.

Two Enigma machines! The loss and cracking of these devices was bad, bad news for the U-boat crews. All of a sudden we started knowing where they were going to show up, had to be disheartening to surface and find a destroyer plowing right down on you with fresh depth charges and hedgehogs at the ready.

Marvellously crafted old periscope...labelling in German, of course.

Deconstructed torpedo. There was almost as much technology packed into one of these weapons as in an entire ship.

Then upstairs and a strange US Navy tribute tucked away, with dioramas of historically important USN ships. Almost as if the museum was slightly embarrassed of its presence...Peter was thoroughly taken with it though. Old Ironsides:

Delivering nuclear winter silently from beneath the waves...SMILE!

And the USS Monitor. Debra was confused by it. It was a strange looking boat, admittedly, but terrifically influential.

Gretchen was super excited to see the chicks (in a farming technology area).

Then out in one of the main halls, you have Spitfires and Stukas dogfighting over various locomotives. A bit more Peter's style as you can imagine.

The model trains were a hit.

As were sitting for long periods on an old streetcar, a surprise star of the proceedings.

Closer look at the Spitfire and the Stuka. I imagine if they got this close together at battle speeds it'd be curtains for them both, but still, nice presentation of two very classic warbirds. I didn't see if they were original or not, but I rather hope so.

From there, over to Indiana to visit Tony Karasek, sitar builder and jawari-wallah to the stars. Very nice chap I knew from the forums, and by reputation among sitar players, agreed to spend the week taking good care of my surbahar and tweaking it, adjusting bridges, etc. His collection has dwindled over the years but still, not a bad showing.

He showed me his new builds, coming right along very nicely.

Then up to Oak Brook to get settled into the hotel. The week was quite lovely for me, spending almost 10 hours a day diving into deep SQL internals subjects and learning at a fantastic pace. They fed us rather nicely, too. Through the week the family visited parks, zoos, and a few local places while I sat in class, although Debra's pictures now reside on a mostly-dead iPhone 3GS, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to extract them. Anyway, we had a grand time, ate out for dinner which is rather a strange luxury for us, and I found the source of my Hungarian smoked bacon just down the street at a Bende store...managed to procure a lovely selection from them. Smoked bacon, a couple type of sausages, ajvar, Tokaji wine (enjoyed after a lot of manual labour and experimentation with methods of extracting a cork without a corkscrew), and cherry palinka, which was a first for me, a sort of Central European kirschwasser. Delightful stuff.

The first night we had a meet-and-greet in the bar and it was fun to have a beer with Paul Randal and Jonathan Kehayias while they discussed my strange SQL Server problem amongst themselves (for future reference, Change Data Capture in 2008R2 recording events in a transaction out of order so that a dependant data warehouse deletes records by mistake...still not resolved and with Microsoft Premier Support). These chaps know their stuff. Here's Paul discussing when he was called in to consult with Myspace when they went from 40 users to 400,000 users almost overnight...design had to change, to scale.

There's something about "smoking oasis", especially when placed in scare quotes, that makes it sound sarcastic and snarky, like it's really just a spot by the loading dock next to the dumpsters, and they know that, but they hate you cause you smoke and they want to rub in the inconvenience by mockingly naming it something that actually sounds pleasant and even idyllic. I don't even smoke and I kind of want to visit The Oasis!

OK, the week drawing to a close, we drove back to pick up the surbahar from Tony. He's a master on these things, and the sound is lovely now, taraf are responsive, and the sustain on the kharaj is unworldly.

The morning we headed back, we defied common sense and headed back into the city to visit the Field Museum. Basically Bass Pro Shops without the retail.

Funny that this dinosaur wasn't even the star of the show to the kids.

The animals were, though. Whitetail in fall.

And whitetail in winter. They look...delicious.

Sort of a small game case. Couldn't drag Gretchen away.

Ahhh, pronghorn antelope. The "speed goat" if you will, second fastest land animal in the world.

Magnificent elk. Like I said, I love these animals. Yes, I also wish to hunt and eat them, but that's as may be, they're still magnificent.

Alaskan browns, and Gretchen doing the modelled stare into space that is her specialty.

CARIBOU GORN. Another favourite of mine.

Miscellaneous Deer case. Was not labelled as such, but with the sika, some "non-typical" species in here, including the tusk-equipped Asian musk deer.

This is the great thing about museums, even when you have a modern exhibit, as long as it is maintained, it will capture that moment in time. For instance, where would you see a computer like this these days? Not even in a pawn shop...only in a museum, at this point. When they put the exhibit together no one was probably considering how quickly the "laptop" itself would become a humorous and rare exhibit.

As an avowed future hunter of elk, this is the spectre that haunts my dreams.

Nice kitty kitty.

Gretchen doing the komodo pose.

It was time to leave if we were going to make Kansas City that night (and we had to rush back to the hotel in hopes that our bag of toys and souvenirs was still next to the parking spot where we hoped we had left it...it was, and great wailing crisis of lost toys was averted) and I wanted to see if I could find the prehistoric Irish Elk, so while the rest of the family browsed the gift shop I skipped through the ancient Americas exhibit, running into this massive Aztec (I believe) disc:

Some interesting masks from the Northwest Indians:

And a towering glade of totems:

Back on the road...we meant to stop in Hannibal this time, but we just kept on straight through. Illinois had some nice rest stops though, with a river snaking lazily past this one:


But we got back in decent time, and it was good to be home. And once back at work, believe me, the DBCC commands did flow.

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