My first podcast interview!

About a week ago, I received an email from Carlos Chacon of SQL Data Partners inviting me to take part in a podcast.  This was my first such request, and I jumped on the opportunity.

The podcast recording took place last night.  My topic was along the lines of “writing and communication: why it matters to data professionals.”  It was a lot of fun, and I very much enjoyed talking to Carlos and his partner, Steve.

The podcast should air sometime in March.  It will be posted on their ‘blog.  When it does, I’ll make sure that I post a link to it!


The Streisand Effect

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

This is a post from my friend, Greg Moore, with whom I share an alma mater in common (in my case, a graduate alma mater). There is currently a looming crisis there, and I’m reblogging Greg’s post to 1) voice my disgust and displeasure at the school, 2) let the world know about what’s going on, and 3) serve as a warning.


I had originally planned on a slightly different topic for this week’s blog, but an email I received from my alma mater last night changed my mind.  First, a little background. I’m a 1990 graduate of RPI in Troy NY, a fact I’m quite proud of. Second, lately there has been a growing controversy over the shape and direction of the school administration, led by Dr. Shirley Jackson.  Let me say that I find Dr. Jackson’s credentials impressive and many of her initiatives have led RPI into the right direction for the 21st Century.

But (and you knew that was coming), all is not rosy in Troy (especially today as I write, it’s a dreary, cloudy day).

So let’s back up a bit though and discuss the Streisand Effect. Originally and mainly the effect refers to bringing unwanted attention to something by trying to suppress access to information in…

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Are You Patched?

Reblogging this from my friend Steve Jones. This is too important to not share.

Voice of the DBA

It’s been a few weeks since the Spectre/Meltdown bugs were announced for most CPUs. Microsoft has been working hard to build patches, and they’ve provided fixes for Windows and SQL Server. Other manufacturers have released fixes for other platforms, though I wouldn’t be surprised if more patches are coming. We put together a page at SQLServerCentral with information and links, and if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

If you haven’t patched systems, patch them ASAP.

This is a bad bug, affecting many CPUs, across multiple architectures, and includes potential issues with virtual machines. The guidance and conversations I’ve heard from various vendors is that many of them aren’t completely sure of all the potential risks or attack vectors, but they are worried that customers will leave this vulnerabilities open in the future. Since this affects hardware, it’s entirely possible that an exploit could read memory from other applications…

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What are effective communication skills?

I cam across this article on Grammarly, and I thought it spoke volumes — enough that I’m sharing it in this ‘blog article.  Read and enjoy!

Why design matters

“A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”
— unknown

There are two elevators in the building where I work, including one that doubles as a freight elevator — it has front and back doors for access.  This particular elevator has a bank of buttons shown in the photo below.  The buttons for the rear door are denoted by the “R” next to the floor number.


Here’s why these buttons frustrate me.  Quickly, tell me which open and close door buttons work for the front and rear doors!  Yeah, I can’t tell, either!  You would think that the upper buttons control the front and the lower ones control the rear, but you can’t discern that from the way it’s laid out (and I’ve found that it isn’t necessarily the case).  I have had multiple occasions where I’ve tried to hold the door open for someone rushing to catch the elevator, and ended up hitting the wrong button.

Had these buttons been properly laid out, the open and close door buttons would both been placed under each respective door button column — i.e. the open and close door buttons that control the rear door should have been placed under the buttons marked “R,” which would clearly indicate that those buttons are used for the rear door.  That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been frustrated by a product simply because the user interface was poorly designed.  I would expect every hand in the room to be up.

Don Norman, an academic researcher considered to be an expert in usability design, talks about this phenomenon in his book, The Design of Everyday Things (disclosure: at the time of this article, I have not read this book — yet).  One very common example involves doors.  How many times have you come across a door with a handle, leading you to think you need to pull it to open the door?  Yet when you try it, it turns out that you need to push, not pull it, to open.  It’s extremely frustrating, and it happens more often than you think — so often, in fact, that it even has a name: a Norman door.

If you don’t think good design isn’t a big deal, there have been documented cases where poorly designed interfaces resulted in a significant loss of life.  I did a Google search for “disasters resulting from bad design,” and the results were startling.

This subject is of particular interest to me, speaking as someone whose job revolves extensively around technical communication, technical writing, and front-end development.  In my line of work, design and layout are a big deal.  I have seen many examples on the job of horrible documentation and bad interfaces — and poor design was a major factor.  I mentioned in an earlier article that I came across illustrations in a company document that were completely useless.  Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but if they’re not properly used — and yes, there is a wrong way to use them — they can be worth exactly zero words.  Likewise, one of my current projects is working on how to make an internal corporate social network work for my department.  I’ve discovered that I have a love/hate relationship with it; while I have no problem with the concept, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  One of the most basic questions I have with this system which it fails to answer — and which should only be answered by the interface design without having to look up instructions — is, “where am I supposed to begin?!?”

Interfaces exist in just about every facet of our lives, including, but not limited to, application front-ends.  Good sensible design must be involved in creating them.  More often than not, they’re just “thrown together” without any thought as to how they should be laid out and how they are to be used.  The consequences of poor design abound.  In the best of cases, such as with Norman doors, they are just annoying.  But in the worst cases, they can have disastrous and fatal results.