Notes From The April 2014 oPASS Meeting

  • Same room but different seating arrangement. Instead of separate table pushed some together, used the space better and more a feeling of being in a meeting and less of “islands”
  • My first presentation on learning went well for a first time out. Hard to tell if it hit home or not.
  • Second presentation on credit cards went well, audience seemed engaged, though I managed to not explain what PCI the acronym meant – ouch. Easy to get immersed and speak in acronyms
  • Maybe more sensitive to it since I was speaking, but saw more new faces than usual, all drawn to learn about credit cards. Now if we can just get them to come back!

Farewell Brook Ranne 3

For members of the SQL community in Orlando and Chicago you’ve probably heard that Brook Ranne died on March 29, 2014. Brook was part of our group here in Orlando, someone growing into SQL Server and always ready to volunteer, especially at SQLSaturday Orlando and Tampa where she was almost always managing the check-ins. She moved to Chicago and started participating there too. I was surprised when I got a call from PASS about it and we started working to make sure everyone local knew (and kudos to PASS for making that effort).

Once you have the news, then what? I knew Brook at the meetings, but I didn’t know her family, and beyond the shock of losing someone from the group, what do you do? I think Pam Shaw created this simple memorial site and I think there was a meet up in Chicago for people to spend time with her husband. Maybe PASS sent flowers or a donation. It feels like… not enough. My condolences to her family – I wish there was more.

I hesitate to write the rest because it’s not about Brook, but it feels like the place to think on it.

Just over a year ago I wrote We Need A Place for SQLFamily News because of the death of the spouse of a long time oPASS member. We need that. As the years go surely many of us will move on from SQL Server to management and other pursuits, but I suspect many will stay with SQL until they retire, or sadly, die. Even if I move away from SQL at some point there are people that are community friends – people I’ve talked to, had dinner with, but that I don’t regularly correspond with, and it would be nice to know when things like that happen. As far as I know PASS doesn’t budget for sending flowers or anything along those lines, nor do we at oPASS or MagicPASS. I’d like to see that change (though I know it usually gets done, budget or no).

Writing a Question Of The Day–More Notes

Today I wrote another question based on an error message. I included the error message in the question this time and it’s reasonably helpful, but the question text will, depending on how you read it, point you to the one good answer or convince you the answer must be somewhere else. I’m guessing it will turn out to be an easy question because the wrong answers seem like wrong answers if you understand how SQL works. If you don’t, then you will probably get led astray and learn something. I also included more in the answer about how I thought of the question, in part to help them map a question to the real world and in part to see if my giving those kinds of examples I can get them to think “I get error messages all the time, I could write one of these questions”.

It’s Not All About The Keys–Question Of The Day

My latest question is live today, called It’s Not All About The Keys. It’s a three pointer, if score matters to you, and that also indicates it’s not an easy or obvious question. I think it’s an ok question. Re-reading it today and reading the comments I still find it really hard to put in some “confusors” without totally muddying the water. Close to a 50% success rate, which seems good. Hope you’ll give it a try and post a comment about it.

Simple And Amusing Question Of The Day

I was working on a script today to check the range of some values and trying to take the time to handle edge cases, even though I don’t expect them (edge cases!) and ran across something I knew but hadn’t thought about. Good fodder for a question, but not a complicated question, at least if it’s asked clearly enough and I wanted to try a simple, one point question. That mean a fun title (that might even be a hint), all the obvious possibilities for answers plus a couple more just in case. Dress is up with a movie reference (you’ll have to wait) and a song reference in the answer that will stick in your head and it is (or should be) a fun question. Even a fun question can teach something though, and this question is designed to get you to ask why, to think about why something is the way it is. It’s trivia, but useful trivia. I’m writing it expecting close to 100% of people get it right. I’m also deliberately mixing it up, I’ve posted some hard questions and for anyone seeing my name, they may be looking for more to the question than there is!

Questions are half the value – a good explanation is the rest. For this one a single link proves the answer and I didn’t explain the wrong answers. In part because I think it’s obvious, in part to see if anyone misses that detail enough to mention it. If anything I’m expecting complaints for making it too easy. We’ll see.

Not scheduled yet, will probably show up at in a few weeks.

Quarterly Goals

Over time I’ve settled on quarterly goals as the best way to focus on the stuff I most want to get done. I still think about my long term goals and I still have to do short term planning, but quarterly goals work out to be the most useful measure when explaining my goals to anyone else, including my family. This past quarter I had two things I wanted to get done, but one of them had to get done, and by mid quarter even my daughters could tell you about my goal and why some things were getting pushed aside. Not all goals have make or break deadlines and goals can always be adjusted (carefully), but they clarify the expenditure of time, money, and energy.  Sometimes a deadline is real, painful though it may be!

I will probably end up the year with about 3-1/2 quarters worth of goals because I tend to lose a few days planning the next quarter. I could be more rigid on this and when I’m managing at work I am (because cadence matters), but for my home/career there is a little more room for flexibility. Getting stuff done matters. Getting 100% of what is possible done isn’t a goal worth pursuing though, and there is nothing wrong with saying this quarter has no goals either.

I’m still thinking on my goals for this quarter. There is some writing I need to get done and I need to finish the SQLSaturday Orlando marketing plan and I’ll be presenting at oPASS and I need to plan summer vacation and I have an idea that I’ve been thinking on for a while and a book project that is lagging too. I’ll decide in another day or two, but right now I think it will be a quarter with 2 or 3 goals of similar size, with the total hours being something that won’t impact life at home much.

It’s still early in Q2, what will you get done this quarter?

Writing My Next Question Of The Day

I ran into a simple error last week and saved it to convert to a question. It’s another one where if you saw the error, it’s an easy fix. Minus the error it challenges you to visualize and understand how thing work. Overall I spent about an hour on it over the weekend and reviewing it today before submitting. I put a lot of effort into thinking about solution paths people might think of and deciding if I wanted to encourage each path or stop it (by adding a clarifying detail). I struggled to come up with what felt like were good but wrong answers. I tried to picture a beginner approach (who I think will find this a hard question) and the experienced approach (I think, if I got my clues right, will figure out the answer by elimination then say aha, but maybe it will just be aha). I swear I agonized over every word! And probably still got some wrong. I may at some point try to get a few people to vet my questions before I post (certainly smart to do so), but for now I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to get it right just doing it alone.

I’m looking for patterns, so I’ll call this one a “Question From Error Message” pattern.

My process was to use the error to decide on the final right answer, then start writing a scenario that would cause the error to occur. Then I wrote a couple wrong answers and that made me go back and add some clarifications so that the final right answer was (I hope) the only alternative if you sorted through it all. I was short of good wrong answers so I added some that would seem reasonable if you were new or desperate. Then back again,thinking what would I ask, what would I think? I found some gaps, but it’s hard to get them all.

It will probably be a week or two before it’s published, I’ll post a note here when it goes live.