SQLBits Registration Open – great UK conference

I’ve blogged about the What, Where, and Why of SQLBits, and hopefully I’ve got you all psyched up about attending this really reasonably-priced conference.  Now’s your chance to get in: SQLBits registration is now open.

You can register for:

  • Full 3-day Conference (£350 now with the early bird discount) – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  You can choose from 7 really good pre-conference sessions on Thursday including mine on virtualization, Buck Woody on career development, Rob Farley on fixing queries, and more.
  • 2-Day Conference (£125 with early bird discount) – Friday and Saturday.  You don’t get the pre-con sessions on Thursday, but this is still an amazing deal for what you’re getting.
  • Saturday Only (Free!) – seriously, people, why would you not register for this?  It costs less than the shirt on your back, and believe me, it’s worth more.

Register for SQLBits now.

Edward Tufte Wants to Change Everything

Several hours into Edward Tufte‘s day-long seminar on visual communications in Chicago, he revealed what he really hates about our communications tools.

He briefly touched on the origin of the desktop with the Xerox Alto, a document-oriented computer.  He said that users didn’t see applications – they saw lists of documents, and they chose which document to work with.  The document held any kind of content – paragraphs, charts, pictures, etc – laid out as they would print out.  He lamented that today, we don’t focus on documents – we go to “special rooms” to do each task.  When we want to write text, we open Word.  When we want charts, we open Excel.  When we want to draw, we use Adobe Illustrator.

Tufte believes this application-oriented thinking has broken how we communicate.  (Ironically, he thinks the app market in the iPhone/iPad are fixing this, but it’s quite the opposite.  These systems sandbox each application’s files so that no app can open another app’s documents, even if they’re compatible.)

Since we’re conditioned to using PowerPoint to build presentations, we think of presentations as low-resolution, dribbled-out morsels of thought.  Our six-bullet slides have turned into a children’s book:

  • See Spot
  • See Spot’s sales
  • Spot’s sales are low
  • Sell, Spot, sell

The Easy Fix: Newspaper-Style Delivery

Typical Executive

Typical Executive

Just ask the executives you’re presenting to – or better yet, just watch them.  You’ll often catch them in their native habitats carrying around the newspaper’s sports page or financial page, poring over numbers.

They’re not getting paid to do that.  In fact, it’s the other way around – they’re paying for the privilege.  (Well, in less and less numbers these days.)

Tufte suggests that for really compelling presentations, you should throw away the slide deck format and think of PowerPoint as nothing more than a projector operating system.  Build one strong high-resolution, ledger-size printout, hand it out to your attendees, and let their eyes and minds explore your beautiful design.  Sentences, numbers, graphics, maps, and more – pile it all in, but do it artfully using the guidelines he gives in his design books.  It’s a lot of work, but if you put enough effort into a reusable delivery format that covers a topic you need frequently, you can keep reusing that format for months or years.

This technique doesn’t work for everyone – if you have to keep rebuilding presentations from scratch every month to cover completely different topics, then you probably won’t be able to build up something this good in a short amount of time.  Tufte has other tips that will help rescue your audience from slide deck hell, but the “supergraphic” concept won’t make for rapid presentation development.

I get it.  I totally get it.  In my mind, I immediately started designing an 11″ x 17″ handout for how to read and improve SQL Server execution plans.  I knew exactly how I wanted it laid out, what I’d put on each side, and how I could reuse it for several presentations.  I’d even use it when I show clients how to tune their database applications.  I’d be rich and famous – okay, well, more rich and famous.

There’s Just Two Problems

I don’t have a tool that lay out something that complex, so now I have to go buy an expensive design/layout tool like Adobe Illustrator.  I say the name of that product only because it’s the only one I know, so even just the act of researching it will take time.  I glanced at the Wikipedia entry for vector graphics software and recoiled in horror.  I need an easy button, especially as complex as the supergraphic will get.  I can’t just take a screen capture of an execution plan on a 42″ monitor – I want to expand certain parts of it to make annotations easier and overlay parts that only show up when the mouse is hovered over it.

Tufte Explaining Flatland

Tufte Explaining Flatland

Even when I whip out my credit card and license something, I’m not done – I don’t have the skills to use it, nor the interest in spending the time to learn.  I have to get trained or spend valuable time digging into what amounts to a drawing tool.  I’m not an artist – I got into databases for a reason.  Tufte suggests that you should have one artist/techie build a few key templates for you in Adobe Illustrator (or whatever), automate them so that you can change numbers in Excel or Illustrator, and then everything will be taken care of.  The geek in me raises his eyebrows.

For solo consultants or people working in small departments, this expense of money and time might not make sense.  Instead, I’m thinking about finding a local design consultant, writing out what I want, and entering into a business arrangement.  For designs like my execution plan layout, it’s worth $500-$1,500 to me to have it done right – I’ll recoup that money in the first pre-conference session I do anyway.  I can update it myself over time as I add more to my sessions.

For independent speakers, like DBAs and developers who are just getting started with community presentations, I don’t see an easy fix.  (No, getting an open source design program, learning it, and building an 11×17 handout is not an easy fix.)

Tufte’s Seminar and Books: Still Worth It

The techniques he preaches aren’t easy, but boy, are they inspiring.  In the one-day course I attended, he touched on subjects as diverse as the Gotti trial, the journal Nature, and the Music Animation Machine, shown here:

I highly recommend his work.

Good Advice from Richard Simmons

Yesterday at the Quest virtual conference, I showed up for one of my sessions in a Richard Simmons costume – big wig, short jogging shorts, and a lime green tank top with fake chest hair coming out every which way but loose. @SQLSamson captured the moment live:

Microsoft Certified Master at Work

Microsoft Certified Master at Work

Viewers at home were treated to a high definition video feed of my pasty-white skin, and fun was had by all. I haven’t read the chat logs yet, but I did get one email that stood out to me:

Very funny, and it takes a very secure person to do something like that.

That made me sit bolt upright, because it reminds me of something I’ve wanted to communicate here on the blog for quite a while, and it reminded me of a prominent theme in Richard Simmons’ videos. In his interview with Ellen Degeneres, she asked, “Everyone has aspirations to get in better shape – what advice do you have for people?”

Richard answered, “Number one, love yourself, have a lot of self-worth.”

This advice doesn’t just hold true for getting into better shape – it’s for public speaking, taking control of your career, and having better relationships.

Loving yourself and having a lot of self-worth doesn’t mean a big ego. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not an attractive fella when I’m wearing a tank top and short shorts, but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of who I am. Today, right now, this is as good as I’ll ever look, and that’s a mixed bag. When I look back in my mental rearview mirror and think back about my body at age 16, it’s so tempting to say, “Wow, I wish I still looked like that.” But the reality is that at age 16, I was drinking Enfamil trying to bulk up because I was too skinny. I was horrified at my rail frame, and I wanted to be like the guys who played sports.

Right now, I could examine myself and say, “Wow, I wish I looked like that guy on the cover of ESPN Magazine,” but that’s the wrong comparison. Instead, I think about what I’m going to look like fifteen or twenty years from now. In that future, I’ll be looking back at my 36-year-old body and saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize how good I had it when I could walk up a flight of stairs without my knees hurting.” Right now, you have it better than you’re ever going to have it for the rest of your life. From right now forward, you’re never going to think faster or look better than today. Put the gun down – I’m not encouraging suicide – but stop comparing yourself to somebody else’s body or brain, and start comparing yourself to your future.

If you’re not getting up in front of user groups because you don’t look like George Clooney or because you don’t think as fast as Buck Woody, get over it. Your clock is ticking, and it won’t tick forever. Take me – my family tree is riddled with heart disease and cancer. I write this blog knowing full well my web site will live on longer than I will, and sooner or later, somebody’s going to read these words when I’ve passed away. If I waited to do Richard Simmons stunts until I looked good in a lime green tank top with fake chest hair, you wouldn’t ever see me do stunts period.

As you age, you won’t have regrets about the things you can’t control.

You will regret the things you could have controlled, but didn’t.

Get out. Meet people. Share what you know. Help others conquer obstacles. Make a difference. The people who really matter don’t care what you look like – they care that you care, and that’s something you can control.

SQLBits – What, Where, and Why

SQLBits is a unique SQL Server event in the United Kingdom, and even if you’re not in the UK, there’s some things you might find interesting about how it works.

  • Thursday – Pre-Conference Sessions – for £350, you get in-depth training on one particular subject from one trainer.  Attendees like pre-con sessions when they need more than just 45 minutes of training on a subject, like when they’re starting to work with SSIS or virtualization for the first time.  I’m doing a pre-con on Virtualization & SAN Basics for DBAs – I’ve been gradually expanding my coverage on this topic over the years, and I’m up to a full day of goodies now.
  • Friday – Deep-Dive Conference Sessions – for £225, you get access to a day of advanced sessions by the best speakers.
  • Saturday – Free Public Conference – anyone is free to waltz in, sit down, and get their learn on.

Interesting pricing setup, huh?  You can choose as much in-depth long-session learning as you want, or just come for the presentation buffet on Saturday.  But there’s something else that makes SQLBits unique – you can vote on the sessions you want to see!  After you register for an account and log in, your session list screen will look like this:

SQLBits Voting

SQLBits Voting

Just click on the sessions you like, and your voice is heard by the conference organizers.  These guys are doing a fantastic job of building a great event.

If you’re in the UK, go hit SQLBits, register for an account, vote for the sessions you wanna see, and help ’em bring you the best training.

Knowledge in ____ is a plus

Got this email from a recruiter this morning and just had to share it:

But it's not required

But it's not required

That’s right, it actually says “Knowledge in ____ is a plus.”

No, they didn’t bother finishing the above sentence that starts with, “However the expectation is that this” but I’ll fill it out for you.  “However, the expectation is that this position will never be filled because the recruiter isn’t trying all that hard to begin with.”

And recruiters wonder why I let all unknown calls go straight to voicemail on my phone….

10 Things I Said During My First Day at SQLskills

I knew it was going to be tough, but I wasn’t expecting some of these:

10. “Stop playing around. Seriously, how did you guys change my SA password?”

9. “Oh, so THAT’s where the /faster switch is.”

8. “Can you hear me now? I’m emailing you from my email address. That’s how I roll.”

7. “This kilt is a little tighter than I expected.  Are you sure kilts are really made of leather?”

6. “Please hold for a call from Kimberly Tripp.  Yes, *that* Kimberly Tripp.”

5. “Shake and bake!”

4. “No, this is not the marketing department.”

3. “Dude, I can’t get any work done if you keep corrupting my databases.”

2. “Where are we going for lunch?”

1. “For the last time, Paul, no, I will not wear the sheep costume.”

Upcoming Events

Want to catch me presenting live?  Here’s what’s coming up in the next few weeks:

Tuesday July 13th – Houston Area SQL Server User Group
The Top 10 SQL Server Scaling Challenges

I’ll be presenting this remotely.

You’ve heard it before: “It worked fine on my machine, but the users say it’s too slow.” Don’t blame the developers: they’re using SQL Server features that look great on paper, but in reality, they won’t scale up to production loads. Learn to recognize these common mistakes before they go into production, and be armed with easy fixes for:

  • User-defined functions that go through too much data
  • Triggers that perform business logic
  • Cursors that process data row by row

The meeting starts at 11:30AM Central.  Get the directions online.

Tuesday July 13th – Pure Taqueria
Atlanta, GA Meetup

I’m going to be in Alpharetta for consulting work and a few of the local SQL Server guys asked if we could meet up.  If you’d like to enjoy margaritas with a Master, swing over to Pure Taqueria at 103 Roswell St, Alpharetta GA from 7-9PM.  No presentations, just food, drink, and chat.

Tuesday July 20 – Silicon Valley SQL Server User Group
The Top 10 SQL Server Scaling Challenges

You’ve heard it before: “It worked fine on my machine, but the users say it’s too slow.” Don’t blame the developers: they’re using SQL Server features that look great on paper, but in reality, they won’t scale up to production loads. Learn to recognize these common mistakes before they go into production, and be armed with easy fixes for:

  • User-defined functions that go through too much data
  • Triggers that perform business logic
  • Cursors that process data row by row

I’ll be presenting this remotely, and you can join in at 7PM PST here or attend in person.

Wednesday July 21 – Quest Day-Long Virtual Conference

Remember the last day-long virtual training event I did with Kevin Kline (Blog@KEKline)? The one where I dressed up like Dr. Horrible and played doctor with your DMVs?

We’re doing another one! This time it’s Wednesday, July 21st, and we’re adding another great presenter – Buck Woody (Blog@BuckWoody)! He’s Microsoft’s real world DBA, and he has the awesome distinction of being voted 3 of the top 10 sessions at last year’s PASS Summit. This promises to be a killer event.

Register for the free training today!

Tuesday July 30 – Log Shipping Basics

The SSWUG Virtual Conference is running a free on-demand event where you can watch an archive of a presentation I did for them a while back.  The boss wants you to plan for disaster, and wants to know the business will be protected if the production SQL Server goes down. Be armed with answers about log shipping with this presentation, which will cover the basic concepts and how to implement it.

Register now for the free on-demand videos, which also include sessions on replication, mirroring, and SQL Server 2008 migrations.

Saturday July 31 – SQLSaturday South Florida

Come see me and my fellow Cruise Director Tim Ford kick off the event with our keynote speech, and then stick around for our sessions including:

August 2-6 – SQLCruise 2010

Yes, we’re completely sold out!  I’d like to thank our sponsors who really went above and beyond to help make this training possible and affordable.  There’s no way we could have done this much training and covered our expenses without the help of SQLSentry, Red Gate, MSSQLTips, and Quest Software.

August 9-13 – SQLskills Immersion Event
Bellevue, WA

I’m joining Kimberly Tripp and Paul Randal at the Courtyard Seattle Bellevue for some learnin’.  I’ll be doing an evening presentation on virtualization & SQL Server, talking specifics about how CPU scheduling and memory allocation work on Hyper-V and VMware vSphere.  You’ll leave with questions and answers for your SAN and sysadmin teams – you’ll know the questions to ask, and you’ll know the right answers they’re supposed to be giving.  You can learn more about the training as a whole at the SQLskills Immersions page.

Meet SQLServerPedia’s New Editor-in-Chief: Iain Kick

Iain Kick is a SQL Server consultant based in the UK with Quest Software.  I first met him on one of my notoriously challenging European trips, and I immediately liked him.  He’s a heck of a nice guy, enjoys presenting at user groups and SQLBits, and he knows his stuff.

His online presences include:

I congratulate Iain on taking over this fun (and challenging) work, and I look forward to seeing what the new crew produces.

Finding Free Pictures for Blog Posts and Presentations

When you want to illustrate your writing with pictures, it’s tempting to use Google Images Search.  With millions of pictures at your fingertips, why not just right-click on someone’s awesome picture, save it, and use it in your blog?

Even though it’s easy and it’s nearly impossible to catch, it’s still plagiarism, and you know how I feel about plagiarism:

Instead, try using Flickr’s Creative Commons search.  The results will be images you can use in your blog, presentation, or letter to Grandma without worrying about IP rights.  You just need to properly attribute them to their original source.  I do this by saving the picture on my blog (so that I’m not leeching their bandwidth), then linking the picture directly to the Flickr photo page.  People love clicking on pictures, and that way readers will go straight to the source, where they can see who took the photo, leave comments, and explore other photos from that user.

Here’s the catch – just because someone uploaded a photo to Flickr and licensed it with Creative Commons doesn’t mean they actually have the rights to that photo.  Take the search results for Lady Gaga – I have a sneaking suspicion that some of those images were taken by professional photographers.  Someone just saw an image they liked, stole it, and then uploaded it to Flickr.  This sucks, because now I have to be some kind of image detective that guesses whether a photo is really legit.

It's not a chain. There can be only one.

It’s not a chain. There can be only one.

To make my life easier, I use the “Interesting” link on the Flickr CC search at the top left.  It sorts images by the number of times they’ve been tagged Interesting by viewers, and this bubbles some cool content to the top.  For example, I was working with another blogger to find images he could use to reference The Highlander.  Rather than using an image of the movie itself, I suggested using a funny image that turned up in a Highlander search on Flickr – the Highlander Motel.  This ends up being even funnier than the movie cover itself.  Bonus points if you use a funny caption like:

  • “There are no rooms with two double beds.”
  • “Right down the street from the Hotel California.”

Sometimes I think I have more fun writing captions than writing the blog post itself, and I’m ashamed to admit I usually spend more time searching for the perfect photo than the perfect phrase.  Oooo!  Shiny object!


My really cushy job at Quest Software required me to attend conferences.  Lots of them.  All over the world. Whenever a new conference was announced, I’d submit a few abstracts to speak, because speakers usually get their registration paid for.  Then I’d whip out the company credit card to book my flight, hotel, and rental car.

It's like plastic Jagermeister.

It's like plastic bacon.

At the conference, I’d whip out the card again to take care of my dinner, drinks, and sometimes even a round of drinks for my fellow SQL Server professionals.  After I got home, I’d grumble about having to fill out pages of paperwork, but that was it – the tab was just taken care of.  The PASS Summit in Seattle.  SQLBits in Wales.  PASSCamp in Dusseldorf.  TechEd in New Orleans.  The Microsoft Certified Master program in Redmond.  My card racked up a lot of use.

Now, everything’s different, and I see conferences in a whole new way – as a very expensive hobby, not a free perk.  Sure, I have to foot the bill for the airfare, the hotel, the car, the meals, and the Jagermeister, but that’s not the worst part.

When I attend a conference, I’m not getting paid.

If you’re a company employee, your company probably continues to pay your salary while you’re off getting trained.  As a consultant, I don’t get those luxuries.  That means I have to look at the ROI of attending each event, because I really am making an investment.  Is this conference going to build my skills?  Is this session really worth my time and money?  Am I going to meet cool people that I can’t meet anywhere else?  I’ve always heard other consultants like Adam Machanic, Gail Shaw, and Kathi Kellenberger (who now works for MS) making these same decisions, and now I have to make ’em too.

I’ve had a bizarre luxury – I’ve been able to travel the world and test-drive all kinds of conferences and training.  I know which ones produce the most value to me for education, for networking, and for building new clients.  Here’s the part I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around: even though they cost me more money, I still want to go to almost all of them!  For example, I just submitted sessions to SQLBits in the UK knowing full well it’s going to cost me transatlantic airfare and a lot of downtime, but it’s still worth every penny of my own money.

Over the next few months, I’ll blog more about:

  • How to convince your boss to send you to conferences & training
  • How to get the most out of conferences & training
  • How to avoid unnecessary expenses
  • What to do when you get back so that your boss sends you again

See, I have a selfish interest – I’ll be selling training sessions, and I want you to be able to get the funds to pay for all that fancy learnin’!