#DataSaturday LA — I’m speaking! 6/12/21

I am speaking once again! It’s been a while!

I learned today that I will be speaking at Data Saturday (the successor to SQL Saturday) LA on June 12! This event is online, so I won’t be flying out to the West Coast that weekend.

I will be doing my networking presentation. If you’ve wondered about what professional networking is about, or if you’re not comfortable with networking, check out my session!

I am scheduled to speak at 1:00 pm PDT (that’s 4:00 pm EST for those of us, including me, who are out on the East Coast) on June 12.

To RSVP for this event, use the EventBrite link by the Los Angeles Data Platform group at https://sqlsatla2021.eventbrite.com/.

Hope to see you there!

Our user group logo gets a makeover @CASSUG_Albany #Logos #Branding

As some of you might be aware, I’m the person who handles communications and branding for the Albany local SQL user group. As such, I’m responsible for sending out group announcements, updating the calendar of events, and maintaining whatever social media resources we might have.

Our old user group “logo”

Last week, I was preparing the announcements material for our April meeting, and in doing so, I took a long look at our “logo” (seen here on the right). There were many things that I found amiss. First, the logo, which we had had for several years — I’ve lost track of how long — was unwieldy and no longer representative of our group. Second, it used the PASS branding (and the REALLY OLD branding at that), which needed to be removed since PASS ceased operations in January. Finally, it was not dynamic — we were using it universally as a logo and an icon, and it really did not function well as such. I spoke to Greg and Ed, our user group’s co-admins, and got their blessing to come up with a new logo for our group. (Besides, I needed the design practice!)

One idea that I tried…
…and another

I sat down and tinkered with some ideas. I tried out some fonts and visual schemes. Ideally, I wanted to incorporate some specific design elements: New York State, something representative of the Albany Capital Region where we’re located, a technical-looking font, and the universally-recognized (at least to data professionals) database icon. I wasn’t sure what kind of color scheme I wanted to use, but as it turned out, I started out using blue and gold for the fonts (which, unofficially, are considered to be New York State’s colors), decided that I liked them, and stuck with them.

My initial idea was to superimpose the user group acronym (CASSUG) over the outline of New York State; those are the designs you see here to the right. I tried a couple of different fonts, including one (which you see in the second image) that included NASA in the font name. (I decided that I liked the other font better.) I positioned the database icon over where Albany is located, which would satisfy my requirement of representing the Capital Region.

While I was generally happy with the results, I also wanted to take another approach. I downloaded a line drawing image of the Albany skyline and placed the CASSUG text logo underneath it. I liked the idea and decided to run with it; however, I needed to find another image, as the skyline image I used could potentially have violated copyright restrictions (I did not post it here for exactly that reason). I had to find another image, but I was unable to find one that I liked. I decided that the only way I could come up with a suitable skyline outline image was for me to create my own.

I opened MS Paint and hand-drew a simple representation of the skyline. I decided to represent four local landmark structures in the drawing (and anyone local to the Capital District knows that one of those structures had to be The Egg — it is the one landmark building that instantly identifies the Albany skyline, just as much as The Pyramid identifies Memphis, the Carrier Dome identifies Syracuse, or the Space Needle identifies Seattle).

I thought the outline came out fairly well, but I had to make sure that I did it justice, so I posted it to my Facebook and asked local friends if they could identify the buildings. (If you’re looking at the logo at the top of the page, the buildings represent, from left to right, the Corning Tower, the Egg, the State Capitol, and the Smith building.) The outline was not to scale and it wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be; it just needed to be recognizable. Everyone correctly identified The Egg, and most people were able to correctly identify at least two of the four structures. That people recognized the skyline told me that I had done my job.

I placed the CASSUG acronym and accompanying text underneath the skyline outline. I wanted to make sure the acronym was spelled out for the benefit of those who wanted to know the acronym’s meaning. As a final design idea, I took the New York State outline, placed it to the right of the acronym, and superimposed the database icon on top of it.

The end result is the image that you see at the very top of this article.

I ran my ideas past the user group members, and people overwhelmingly said they liked the Albany skyline image.

I like how the image came out. I intentionally created a relatively large image (2830 x 1250px); you can create smaller images from a big one, but you can’t create big images from a small one. The image is versatile; for example, if we need a banner, we can use the acronym and text without the skyline; if we need a thumbnail, we can use the icon over NYS, and so on. I started updating our Meetup page with the new design, and I’ll incorporate it into other materials as well.

What do you think about my rebranding effort? Like it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below.

The Value of Paper vs Convenience of Digital

I wrote a while back that, while digital documentation dominates the world today, paper isn’t necessarily dead. That said, my friend, Greg Moore, notes an issue with printed material that didn’t occur to me, and it has to do with data security. Read on for more.

greenmountainsoftware

About 35 years ago in the fall, a housemate of mine got a phone call, “hey, I’m a caver who’s passing through your area this weekend and found your name in the NSS Members’ Manual, I was hoping maybe you could hook me up with a caving trip.” Well it just so turns out that the RPI Outing Club traditionally does Friday night caving. (Why night you might ask? Well it’s always dark in the caves, so going at night leaves time on Saturday and Sunday to hike, rock-climbing, canoe, etc.) My housemate invited the guy along and he joined us caving (I think in Knox Cave).

I mention this story because it’s an example of how the NSS Members’ Manual has often been used over the years. Talk to enough old-time caves (especially those who recognize the smell of carbide in the morning) and many will mention how they’ve…

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What the NCAA tournament teaches us about decision bias

It’s that time of year again — when die-hard sports fans (and even some non-sports fans) start filling out their bracket picks as they make their predictions for the NCAA tournament, a.k.a. “March Madness.”

I am an alumnus of a major NCAA Division I basketball school — Syracuse University. Syracuse alumni are well-known for their school spirit and love of their alma mater. As such, SU alums regularly wear their school spirit on their sleeve — often, literally. As an alum, I can relate; much of my wardrobe is orange. Anyone who knows me knows that I bleed Syracuse Orange.

Of course, I am the first to admit that my devotion to my alma mater often influences my decisions when I make my NCAA tournament picks. If I filled out my bracket completely with my heart, I would have Syracuse winning it all every single year (and who cares about the remainder of my picks). As such, each year when I fill out my bracket, my bias toward my beloved Orange often influences my picks. Each year, a part of me starts rationalizing how the Orange will defeat (fill in name of opponent here). I’ll often have thoughts such as, “so-and-so has a hot shooting streak going,” or “our opponent usually struggles against the 2-3 zone,” and so on. More often than not, my heart overrides my head when I pick my Orange to upset their higher-ranked opponent. Of course, I usually end up disappointed as my Orange are sent back home to Syracuse.

The bias works in reverse as well. Anyone who follows college basketball knows about Syracuse’s heated rivalry against the hated Georgetown Hoyas. As such, we Syracuse fans are likely to pick against Georgetown in their part of the bracket. (That said, I watched Georgetown play in this year’s Big East tournament final, and they looked like world-beaters. They’re seeded #12 vs. #5 Colorado in this year’s tournament. I wouldn’t bet against them. If you’re looking for a #12 to upset a #5, you could do worse than this one.)

I believe that there’s a professional lesson to be gleaned from this: our biases often get in the way.

We all have biases of some sort. They come from our worldview, our culture, how we were raised, what we’ve learned, and our belief systems. Everyone has a perspective on how they see the world, and everyone tends to be biased against anything that doesn’t align with that perspective. We’ve seen extreme examples of this throughout the world over the past few years (don’t worry, I will not talk about politics here). At the professional level, our worldview often affects decisions that we make. These biases often establish themselves as blind spots, so no matter how much we claim to be “unbiased,” we often don’t know that they’re there. Probably one of the biggest oxymorons is “unbiased decision.” Realistically, there is no such thing. This isn’t necessarily a deficiency; rather, this is part of what makes us human.

So what can we do to reduce (not eliminate — that is unlikely) bias? For one thing, keep an open mind — no matter what you think, realize that there might be another way. To rattle off a couple of clichés, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat*,” and “minds are like parachutes — they only work when they’re open.” Empathy often goes a long way as well. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes — what would this person think if you were in his or her position? I’ve often found that this approach makes me more successful professionally; it improves my work quality, and it brings projects to a better conclusion. Effective communication (another topic for another time) is crucial here; it adjusts your thought process and helps you to achieve that end.

(*I like cats — I have two of my own — so I tend to not like this saying.)

I would also think about what could happen with a decision. There are some decisions that are okay to make with your heart — proposing to your significant other, for example — but there’s also something to be said about listing the pros and cons of a decision. Do the benefits outweigh the issues? Can you live with the consequences if something goes wrong? And so on it goes.

Making decisions is hard to do — this is why managers often get paid the big bucks. If you’re able to minimize the amount of bias that goes into your decision-making, chances are you’ll do alright.

(And by the way… GO ORANGE!!!)

What a TV ballgame can teach us about design

This afternoon, the 2021 slate of spring training games started for Major League Baseball. And of course, being the big baseball fan that I am, I took to it like a lion to a steak.

I wasn’t thinking too much about design or layout until I heard Michael Kay of YES mention, “I think our fans will like the new clean design of our scorecard.”

At least that’s what I think he said. It threw me for a loop, because I am enough of a baseball fan that whenever I go to the ballpark, I’ll buy a scorecard and keep score during the game. So when he said “scorecard,” I thought about a pencil and paper in my hand (and, usually, a hot dog or a beer in the other). At that point, I realized that he was referring to the score display in the upper left-hand corner of my TV, as pictured below.

It then occurred to me: “wow! That’s a TON of information contained in that one graphic!” At that point, I felt compelled to write this article.

So, let’s break down just how much information is contained here. (A warning to those of you who don’t know anything about baseball: for most of this article, I am going to “speak baseball.” If you’re not a baseball fan, you’re just going to have to bear with me.)

First, I’ll start with a paragraph as to what information is contained in this graphic. Be forewarned: I am about to inundate you with information.

In the top of the third inning, Toronto leads New York, 3-0. There are runners on first and second, with nobody out. Jansen, the Blue Jays’ number 7 batter in the lineup, is facing Wojciechowski, the Yankee pitcher. Wojciecowski has thrown ten pitches, and has a full (three ball, two strike) count to Jansen.

That’s a lot of information to glean from a single graphic, isn’t it? Let’s break it down.

  • We’ll start with the score. Toronto 3, New York 0. (I’m sure that will please many Yankee haters out there.) The score dominates most of this graphic. I don’t want to say that’s obvious, but it does take up most of the image, and is the largest takeaway.
  • Underneath the score are two names, located under the teams for which they play: Jansen for Toronto, and Wojciechowski for New York. The 7 in front of Jansen represents his spot in the lineup (which would be a number from 1 to 9). “10 P” indicates that Wojciechowski has thrown ten pitches. (Note: since Wojciechowski is an unusually long name, the pitcher’s name and the number of pitches would not ordinarily run into each other like that.)

On the right side of the graphic, we see a couple of smaller graphics.

  • Let’s start with the box containing the shapes. We see three boxes, two of which are blue (and the third is gray), denoting baserunners on first and second base. The boxes represent the bases (going right to left, first, second, and third base). The boxes that are blue indicate that they are occupied by baserunners. If the bases were loaded, all three boxes would be blue; if no one was on base, all three would be gray.
  • Under the boxes representing the bases, there’s a “3” indicating the inning. The arrow (represented by the triangle next to the 3) denotes whether it’s the top or bottom of the inning. Therefore, the arrow pointing up and the “3” indicates that it’s the top of the third inning.
  • Now, let’s look at the “3-2” with the two gray circles underneath. The 3-2 refers to the batter’s count. For those of you who are baseball-challenged, a “count” represents the number of balls and strikes on a hitter. A batter who gets four balls is allowed to go to first base (called a “base on balls” or a “walk”). A batter who gets three strikes is out. So the “count” represents the batter’s status, and is always represented as numbers denoting balls-strikes (2-1, 1-2, 3-2, etc.). Therefore, 3-2 indicates that the batter has three balls and two strikes on him.
  • Finally, the two circles under the count represents the number of outs. Each blue circle represents an out (there are three outs in an inning). That these circles are gray indicates that there are no outs in the inning. (And no outs, with a 3-2 count, and two baserunners are a pretty good indication that the pitcher — Wojciechowski — is in trouble.)

The point is that within a relatively small space, a great deal of information can be gleaned. This concept carries over into many concepts of design, including data visualization and interface design. A person who understands how to read that information can obtain a large amount of information from a well-designed graphic.

Whomever it was that designed this score display definitely knew what (s)he was doing. Kudos to the person who designed it. I think this is a great example of how good design can effectively convey information.

Setting up my #Sessionize profile, and speaking opportunities — #DataSaturday

The other day, I wrote about how Data Saturday — the successor to SQL Saturday — was making use of Sessionize for event applications and scheduling. In order to take advantage of the technology, not to mention future opportunities to speak, I took the time to work on my Sessionize profile.

It turned out to be a lot of work — much more than I expected. I already had my bio and my presentation descriptions within the application, but I discovered a number of other features that, I believe, will present me with additional opportunities to speak.

First, while Sessionize keeps track of events to which you apply through its application, I discovered that it also has the ability to enter external events not scheduled through Sessionize. Even the header on the external events page says, “Organizers love to see your talk history” (and I agree). So, I went through my presentations page to enter all my previous speaking engagements that I did not schedule through Sessionize.

Did I mention that it was a lot of work? I started speaking regularly in 2015. In that time (until now), I’ve spoken at 26 SQL Saturdays, two PASS Summits, seven in-person user group meetings, three professional development virtual meetings, and a podcast. Granted, I know people who’ve spoken at more events than I have, but still, that’s a lot of speaking engagements. I added them to my external events, including descriptions and web links (where applicable — since PASS.org is no longer active, I linked the SQL Saturday pages to the schedule PDFs that I downloaded several weeks ago, and a few other links to any YouTube presentation links I had available).

I also discovered that Sessionize has an option called “discover events” — a feature that allows you to discover potential speaking opportunities. I had gone through the Data Saturdays site to apply to speak at (virtual) events in Redmond and LA, but when I saw the “discover events” option, I got curious.

As it turned out, in order to use this option, I had to fill out sections for areas of expertise and topics, so I filled them out as best I could. Once I did so, I was able to view (and apply to) potential events. In addition to the two Data Saturday events, I also applied to the VTTA Tech Conference and Techorama 2021. (And Sessionize says that I still have an active application to speak at Albany Code Camp, where I’d applied last year, but the event was wiped out by the pandemic.) I think I have a decent shot at the Vermont tech conference, and I have my doubts about being accepted to Techorama, but I figure, you never know until you try.

So far, I do like the Sessionize application. It does a good job of keeping track of my profile and my speaking engagements, and it could potentially open up more speaking opportunities. I’ll admit that I felt some trepidation after PASS (and SQL Saturday) ceased to exist. I wanted to continue speaking at events, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it once the SQL Saturday window closed. We’ll see what speaking opportunities open up with this application.

#DataSaturday

After the demise of PASS, a common question among data enthusiasts and PASS members was, “what happens with SQL Saturday?” SQL Saturday was backed by PASS, and as such, when PASS disappeared, so did SQL Saturday.

Enter Data Saturdays, the successor to SQL Saturday. As I write this, the first Data Saturday is in progress, in Guatemala (virtually, of course).

I’ve applied to speak at the first Data Saturday in the US (so far), event #5 in Redmond, WA on April 17. I submitted three sessions: my presentations on ‘blogging, job hunting, and networking.

When I submitted my sessions, I was a little surprised to see my information come up in the speaker’s profile. My initial thought was that they had exported and imported my profile and presentation info from the PASS.org site, but I don’t think this is the case. Data Saturday uses Sessionize to coordinate events, and as it turned out, I already had a Sessionize profile; I had created it last year for Albany Code Camp, where I had applied to speak last year; of course, the event was wiped out due to COVID. I did notice, on my Sessionize profile, that my submissions are in evaluation for Albany Code Camp on September 25, so I’m assuming that that event is rescheduled for that date.

We’ll see if I’m picked to speak for the Redmond event. There are a number of additional Data Saturday events listed as well; I haven’t yet decided what other events I’ll apply to speak. Even though the events are virtual (for now), they still require some work, and I’m wary of spreading myself too thin, despite my desire to speak at more events.

In any case, I’m looking forward to participating in this next endeavor. I’m looking forward to contributing toward these conferences, and, as always, I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my #SQLFamily friends.

Archiving my talks, part 3: PASS Summit — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I spoke at PASS Summit in 2019 (in Seattle) and 2020 (virtually). Naturally, I wanted to get as much as I could from my sessions from those two events.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pages from 2019 are no more. Even the pass.org/summit/2019 URL goes to the 2020 Virtual Summit page, not 2019. So, unfortunately, it appears that many (not all — see below) references to PASS Summit 2019 are lost forever.

However, it appears that the 2020 PASS Virtual Summit page appears to still be active (until next week), so I figured I should grab whatever I could from my presentation.

Alas, getting material from the PASS Summit page is not as straightforward as from the SQL Saturday pages. Unlike the SQL Saturday pages, I did not see a “create PDF” option for the schedule. I did grab screen captures for both my speaker’s description page and my presentation session page (as seen below).

My 2020 PASS Summit speaker’s page
My 2020 PASS Summit session page

I mentioned that just about all references to 2019 PASS Summit appear to be gone. One thing I did manage to download from 2019 was my session recording. Like my virtual group recordings, I took my recording and uploaded it to my personal YouTube. You can view my 2019 PASS Summit presentation here.

I did not do the same with my 2020 presentation. As I mentioned, I ended up having technical issues with my presentation, so I elected not to download it. (Steve Jones suggested that I re-record it and upload it to the PASS Summit site, but that was before PASS announced they were shutting down. I don’t see the point of doing it now.)

At the moment, I believe that takes care of most of my speaking archive. (There’s also the links to my in-person user group talks, but those are archived on Meetup, and are controlled by individual user groups, not PASS, so they’re not as urgent.) I’ll keep poking around to make sure I haven’t missed anything,.

Archiving my talks, part 2: Presentation videos — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I’ve done a few presentations for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Group. Of those presentations, two of them were recorded to the group’s YouTube channel.

Because the channel lives on YouTube and not PASS, I have no idea whether or not it will disappear when PASS does. Nevertheless, I decided I didn’t want to find out. Better to be safe.

I downloaded the two recordings that I did for the PASS virtual group and reuploaded them to my own personal YouTube channel. Even if PASS decides to drop the channel, the videos will continue to live on my own channel.

So, at the moment, I currently have three PASS-related presentations on my personal YouTube channel.

Links to these videos are also available on my presentations page. Note that my Professional Development Virtual Group presentations still point to the PASS YouTube channel videos, but if PASS decides to drop the channel, I’ll change the links to point to the videos on my own channel, where they’ll live indefinitely.

Archiving my talks, part 1: #SQLSaturday schedule PDFs — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

For this round, I went through all the SQL Saturday events where I spoke and downloaded the schedules. Each SQL Saturday schedule has a link to save it to PDF (there is an “Export to PDF” link at the bottom of each schedule).

I saved the PDFs to my ‘blog media and created links to them. You can download these schedules by going to my presentation schedule and clicking any link labeled “schedule PDF.”

For now, I’m only concerned with links hosted on PASS websites, such as SQL Saturday and PASS Summit (which I’ll do for the next round). I’m not as concerned (yet) with Meetup, YouTube, or podcasts I’ve done that are not hosted on PASS websites. I’ll update these links as I go along.