Book Review: The Breach

The Breach by Patrick Lee ($8 at Amazon) was a gift, and wasn’t quite what I expected based on the title. Bad guy now good guy Travis Chase is out on a mountain hike to find himself when he finds a recently crashed 747, which poses the obvious question – how do you crash a plane that size and not have rescue teams everywhere? He heads down to help and finds that all is not what it appears, and is soon on the run. I don’t want to spoil the story, but he ends up trying to protect something, and that something takes this from mystery thriller to border line sci-fi. The plot is tricky and twisty, and the ending interesting if somehow not quite fulfilling. Wasn’t sure at the beginning, but it grew on me and was a nice few hours of entertainment.

 

How to Participate in the SQL Community – Draft #1

I mentioned last year about my plans to write this, and to make it a semi-collaborative effort by incorporating comments back into the finished product (if I like them that is!). I thought I’d start by outlining what I have in mind, and then I’m going to try to post more on this project about once a week.

For each of these I want to add detail, maybe it’s a paragraph, maybe several pages, that I can to someone at any point in their career and have it be a map on where to go next as far as community involvement

How to Participate in the SQL Community

  1. What is the SQL Server community?
  2. Reading and attending is participating
  3. Commenting and asking questions is participating more
  4. Answering questions in forums/etc
  5. Posting a question
  6. Writing an article and answering comments…is participating more
  7. Blogging
  8. Twitter
  9. Attending user group meetings
  10. Volunteering at user group meetings
  11. Speaking at user group meetings
  12. Attending community events
  13. Volunteering at community events
  14. Speaking at community events
  15. PASS Summit
  16. Writing a magazine article
  17. Tech editing article/book
  18. Writing a book
  19. PASS
  20. LinkedIn
  21. List of web sites, newsletters, resources

Thought it might also be interesting to profile a few people that are prominent now, and to see if the topics cover how they made it to prominence.

Post your thoughts, and then I’ll see about doing some work!

Web Site Tuning

I just spent a couple days doing some minor tuning on SQLShare and here are some notes from that effort.

I already had a Google site map published, but it turns out there that is a separate format for videos I had totally missed. I think they already index the stuff pretty well, but it can’t hurt. Details on the format are at http://googlecode.blogspot.com/2009/12/introducing-google-browser-size.html. It’s am XML document, and I spent about 20 minutes trying to finesse a TSQL query to render the XML from a view containing all the elements. Sadly I got close but not quite there, which I think means I need more time with XML shaping. Instead I wrote a quick .Net console app to write out a new file once a day, took about 20 minutes to do that. Runs once a day either way, not worth much  more effort.

From there I started looking at page load times, something that it appears Google is using as part of page ranking (and even if not, pages should load reasonably fast to keep users happy). That lead me to a great Yahoo resource page, which in turn led me to load a Firefox extension called Firebug and from there YSlow, which analyzes a web page and shows you all the places where improvements can be made (some easier than others!). In this case I had some excess Javascript that could be removed, and I didn’t have Gzip compression enabled. Turning gzip on took a little work as there is no checkbox in IIS 6 to do it, have to do it the hard way (IIS 7 has the checkbox).

Google has a similar resource page and their own Firebug add-in called Pagespeed. Very similar to the Yahoo effort, but easy enough to run both to make sure you cover all the bases. Both are free, and incredibly helpful to someone like me who doesn’t live and breath web page optimization.

I also switched to the asynchronous version of the Google Analytics code for visit tracking, supposed to speed up page load slightly and capture more info. Not sure of the performance gain, but no real effort to make the change so it’s worth doing.

I haven’t put it to much use yet, but my friend Jon recommended Google Browser Size, which does a very nice view showing how much of your page can be seen at various resolutions.

Remember that these are potentially just as useful if you’re hosting your own blog, and they might be fun to try at work too. The performance tools are non-destructive and non-invasive, you can run against any web page. Might find a few things to show them it’s not always the data access that’s the problem!

Final Reminder – SQLSaturday #32 in Tampa on Jan 23, 1010

I’ve had to cancel my plans to attend, which also included plans for a late lunch at the Green Iguana and some touristy time before the speaker get together.

Tomorrow is the main event with a great schedule, and I’m pleased to see some speakers on the list I don’t know – good to see new voices. You can still register to attend (it’s free) at www.sqlsaturday.com/32/eventhome.aspx.

Hope to see you there!

Book Review: K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

 

I read Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs ($18 @ Amazon) over the holiday break. Viesturs was the first American to summit all fourteen of the 8000 meter peaks in the world. In this book he looks at the various expeditions to K2, which he considers to be a harder climb than Everest.

I’m not a climber, spent some time going down ropes rather than up, and kind of expected a lot of technical stuff. Instead it’s a lot more about the logistics, the weather, tedium, and above all the risk. Imagine climbing to 20,000 plus feet in below freezing temperatures and waiting days in a very small tent for the weather to change so that you can go up, hoping it changes before you run out of supplies and have to go back down.

This type of climbing (and there are many types, which I didn’t know) seems to require skill and experience as you would expect, but it seems (to me) to be far more about endurance and will power. One of things he talks about is knowing when to go back without reaching the goal. Typically he starts the final push very early in the morning, 2-3 am, and if not at the Summit by 2 pm, calls it a day and heads back down. Heart breaking to do that, because you might have waited a week in that small tent for the chance, and you might not get another. The reason for drawing the line in the sand is that if you don’t, you risk making a night decent in sub-zero conditions while very tired.

I thought he did a pretty good job of critiquing various expeditions without too much second guessing, and he gives you a good sense of the kinds of people involved and what helped them to succeed, or not.

He also talks about Everest being almost a tourist thing these days, and the week after I saw a couple shows on TV about the same thing, groups of people paying big bucks to be mostly led by the hand up Everest. From a purist perspective that sucks, but I wonder – if I could just write the check and spend 30 minutes on top of the world, would that be so bad?

Interesting book, but don’t expect to me start planning my own expedition – I hate cold weather!

Andy on Twitter

Just prior to the 2009 PASS Summit I posted about giving Twitter a try, and thought I’d report back on some thoughts after having tried it off and on for a couple months. I went into it biased, thinking it made sense for events and situations where the ability to reach a group quickly made sense, but that otherwise it wasn’t a good use of my time. So the question is, did I change my mind?

 

 

I started by reading The Twitter Book ($11 @ Amazon) to make sure I knew the basics (for which Jack Corbett made fun of me for ordering!). Worth getting if you’re starting out, though you can find most of it online for free as well, just not packaged as well. Based on that, I installed Tweetdeck (for desktop) and TwitterBerry (for BlackBerry). Both easy enough to install and use, both are free. Having a UI is key, dealing with Twitter via just SMS would be a pain.

I set up a Twitter account (@sqlandy) and added (followed) a few people just to get a feel for what was going on. I also started tracking the #sqlpass hash tag. If you’re not using Twitter, a hashtag is a way to see all conversations related to that tag rather than following the posts of individuals.

Right away I found that if I left Tweetdeck running it default configuration it was annoying, a little chirp each time anyone I was following tweeted. Turned that off, tried to look at it for 15 minutes a day in one or two chunks. It’s an interesting but noisy mix:

  • SQL comments and questions
  • Off topic water cooler type posts (Someone is going to the store)
  • Notifications (blog posts posted, etc)
  • Rants or worse!

I’ve heard a couple main reasons why everyone should use Twitter; being able to post a question to the collective, and for the water cooler conversations. I’ve got some thoughts on each.

On the technical side, there were definitely times I saw a question asked and answered, and probably far quicker than if it had been posted to a forum. The part that keeps it reasonably sane is that questions are posted by people rather than a group/list, which means if they ask questions that could have been answered with a search they will probably end up being un-followed by most. It doesn’t cost much to post a question (140 characters!) and at worst you don’t get an answer.

One of my objections to this approach has been that the answers were mostly lost compared to asking and answering in a forum, but that has changed now that Google is indexing Twitter. For most people without a solid network of SQL people following them I imagine forums remain the better option because more people will see the question. Some value there, my call is interesting, useful, but not compelling. Would I post a question there? If stuck and time sensitive, sure, but for routine questions I would probably stick with the conventional approach.

On the water cooler side it was interesting to get a view into the day of many people I know. Interesting, but not that interesting. I see the attraction for those that work remotely, because we all need some human interaction to stay sane and connected. To a lesser degree most DBA’s work solo, so it’s nice to be able to chat with peers, but to me that only makes sense if it’s about a professional topic. If it’s about sports, weather, or whatever, the person on the other side of the cube is as human as anyone!

At the 2009 PASS Summit I found Twitter to be useful as expected. I could see when people were arriving at the airport, information on session changes, even find out where groups of people were headed for dinner or after dinner entertainment. Thursday night of the Summit I posted plans to find something new for dinner and invited people to join me, wound up with an amazingly eclectic group consisting of some people I knew and some I met for the first time.

The other part of the Summit on Twitter was watching the live blogging during the keynotes (and some sessions). When the server fans kicked on during a keynote the chatter on Twitter was amusing and a way to share the experience without a thousand people turning to chat to their neighbor. Of course I was there, not sure it it would be as interesting if not present. Fun, but maybe distracting too. For the most part I was typing longer notes to post here, so the only time I turned to Twitter was during breaks (or when the speaker was just not interesting, sorry).

I find a lot of value in networking, so I’ve tried to watch how it can be done on Twitter. The best example is event based, the chance to meet and/or find people at the same event. I see people trying to build their follower list and certainly it’s interesting to be able to reach a wide audience, but given a choice I’d much rather make the deeper and more persistent connection that LinkedIn provides. If someone sees me on Twitter I want to send them to LinkedIn, not do a blog post and send them to Twitter.

Now that I’ve moved to this new blog and reworked my brand, I’m also using a new feature of Feedburner to post notifications of blog posts to Twitter. From a pure marketing perspective it’s another place to advertise as it were, and it’s interesting because in terms of behavior people are far more likely to forward (retweet) a message on Twitter than they would if popped up in their feed reader.

I also see that many of the comments posted on Twitter are much less formal than you would find on a blog. More direct, occasionally off color, sometimes worse. That didn’t matter much in the past because it didn’t come up in a basic web search – but now it does. Everyone gets to decide their own comfort level on privacy and free speech, for me I’m always aware that stuff posted lasts forever, so I have to live with the consequences, and that makes me more conservative about what I post.

Here’s my wrap up of what I think on Twitter:

  • It makes sense to set up account and know how to use it, and to install tools to help
  • Follow enough people that if anything comes up in your area of interest you’ll see it, but depend on hash tags to get a more focused and less noisy view over time
  • Nothing wrong with posting questions, but don’t forget the more conventional places either
  • Some people are more social in a water cooler way than others. If the water cooler chat interests you, Twitter may be a good fit. For me, I enjoy a long lunch or coffee chat more than water cooler. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a few minutes of back and forth fun at times, but it’s not what drives me.
  • Absolutely useful at events….if there are enough people using it
  • You can “be” on Twitter and not do much without much in the way of negative consequences. No doubt that if you tweet and retweet a dozen times a day you’ll grow your list of followers and earn some street cred among the tweeters – but you don’t have to, just as much as you don’t have to post in forums to find value in reading them
  • Remember that posts aren’t anonymous and ARE searchable – up to you from there!

So, did I give Twitter a fair chance? Did I overcome my bias? Have to say I’m not sure. I’ll continue to look in from time to time, and maybe I just need to see someone using it in a way that either fits my style, or opens my eyes to a way that it could be more useful to me. For now it’s a lesser tool in the networking toolbox, and we’ll see if it makes a difference on the marketing side.