PASS Summit — one week (!!!)

I actually began writing this article a couple of weeks ago. I had every intention of finishing it, but alas, family issues got in the way. With only a week to go until I leave for PASS Summit (at this time next Tuesday, I should be on a flight somewhere between Chicago and Seattle), I figured that I should revisit what I’d started writing. I’m picking this back up where I left off, so I’ll likely do a lot of edits to this article. I apologize for anything I miss (e.g. anything that says “in three weeks”).

Does anyone become paranoid when they make travel plans? Yeah, me too! Every time — without fail! — that I leave for a trip, I always have a feeling like, what did I forget (even despite meticulously planning every little detail)? It isn’t unusual for me to dream the night before a trip that I missed my train or my plane, and wake up the next morning saying, “oh crap!” As I mentioned in a previous article, I plan every little detail whenever I travel. I want to make sure that I’m prepared for nearly anything that a trip tosses at me.

I finally heard back from my PASS buddy, Anthony. (I’m leaving off his last name for privacy reasons.) He hails from northern California, and is a regular attendee of the Sacramento SQL user group. He included a plethora of information and tips about PASS Summit. We traded emails. I’m looking forward to meeting him and shaking his hand.

The fact that he’s affiliated with the Sacramento group means he likely knows the guy who runs my fantasy football league.

Speaking of tips, I’m finding that there’s no shortage of information for preparing for PASS Summit. (Admittedly, these links are for my own reference; some of these articles I haven’t yet read.) My friend Andy Levy wrote a few articles to prep for Summit (here are the links to his first, second, third, and fourth articles). My friend Matt Cushing is involved with a number of activities, including an abbreviated version of his networking presentation and hosting the Thursday games night. (Unfortunately, it’s the night before I’m scheduled to present in the morning, so it’s unlikely that I can attend. Sorry, Matt!) I also saw a recent post from my friend, Steve Jones that looked like it’d be helpful. I’ll take a look at it later when I have a chance!

Only a week to go! I’ll see you in Seattle!

When it’s appropriate to use fake data (no, really!!!)

It isn’t uncommon for me to include data examples whenever I’m writing documentation. I’ve written before about how good examples will enhance documentation.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not talking about using data or statistics in and of itself to back up any assertions that I make. Rather, I am talking about illustrating a concept that just happens to include data as part of the picture. In this scenario, the illustration is the important part; the data itself is irrelevant. In other words, the information within the data isn’t the example; the data is the example. Take a moment to let that sink in, then read on. Once you grasp that, you’ll understand the point of this article.

I need to strike a type of balance as to what kind of examples I use. Since I work in a multi-client data application environment, I need to take extra steps to ensure that any data examples I use are client agnostic. Clients should not see — nor is it appropriate to use — data examples that are specific to, or identifies, a client.

There’s also a matter of data security. I needn’t explain how big of a deal data security is these days. We are governed by laws such as HIPAA, GDPR, and a number of other data protection laws. Lawsuits and criminal charges have come about because of the unauthorized release of data.

For me, being mindful of what data I use for examples is a part of my daily professional life. Whenever I need data examples, I’ll go through the data to make sure that I’m not using any live or customer data. If I don’t have any other source, I’ll make sure I alter the data to make it appear generic and untraceable, sometimes even going as far as to alter screen captures pixel by pixel to change the data. I’ll often go through great pains to ensure the data I display is agnostic.

I remember a situation years ago when a person asking a question on the SQLServerCentral forums posted live data as an example. I called him out on it, telling him, “you just broke the law.” He insisted that it wasn’t a big deal because he “mixed up names so they didn’t match the data.” I, along with other forum posters, kept trying to tell him that what he was doing was illegal and unethical, and to cease and desist, but he just didn’t get it. Eventually, one of the system moderators removed his post. I don’t know what happened to the original poster, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, at a minimum, he lost his job over that post.

Whenever I need to display data examples, there are a number of sources I’ll employ to generate the data that I need.

  • Data sources that are public domain or publically available — Data that is considered public domain is pretty much fair game. Baseball (and other sports) statistics come to mind off the top of my head.
  • Roll your own — I’ll often make up names (e.g. John Doe, Wile E. Coyote, etc.) and data wherever I need to do so. As an added bonus, I often have fun while I’m doing it!

Are there any other examples I missed? If you have any others, feel free to comment below.

So if you’re writing documentation in which you’re using an illustration that includes data, be mindful of the data in your illustration. Don’t be the person who is inadvertently responsible for a data breach in your organization because you exposed live data in your illustration.

A trip to New York City for #SQLSaturday #SQLSat912

(Photo source: britannica.com)

As I promised in my previous article, here is the article that details my trip to SQL Saturday #912!

Early last year, I wrote about my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. That was an enjoyable trip (well, they all are), and I enjoyed writing that article. With my trip to SQL Saturday #912 in New York City, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to write another one. I figured it’d be a fun piece for people who’ve never traveled to a SQL Saturday, not to mention people who’ve never been to New York City.

So, come along with me as we take another trip!

The planning

Being the trip planner that I am, I mapped out my plans for this trip a while back. Plans for this trip have actually been in the works for months.

Planning began back in May, when I submitted my presentations. For planning purposes, whenever I submit presentations to any event, I assume that I’ll be selected to speak, even before I find out whether or not my submissions are accepted. As soon as I submit, my plans for whatever event I apply are pretty well written into my calendar, unless either (1) I end up not getting chosen for the event, or (2) some conflict that I can’t get out of comes up for the same date.

Ordinarily, I don’t firm up my travel plans until I know for sure that I’m selected to speak, but this time around, there were a couple of twists. First of all, I saw Thomas Grohser, one of the event’s organizers, at SQL Saturday in Albany in July. He told me that I was going to be speaking in NYC. Granted, Thomas is a friend, but nevertheless, it was still not an official selection. I wanted to make sure that I had the official selection email before I started booking my train and my hotel room.

In early August — still before I received the official acceptance notification — I got an email from Amtrak (I’m a Guest Rewards member) that included fare specials. I discovered a round-trip fare from Albany to Penn Station that was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the deal had an expiration date, so I had to act fast. I decided to pull the trigger on it. Okay. I had a train reservation. Now I was committed to the trip, regardless of whether I was chosen to speak or not. It wasn’t a big deal; I regularly attend SQL Saturday in New York, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.

I selected an early afternoon train to New York. I wanted to leave myself time to make the speaker’s dinner, if they had one. As it turned out, that would not be the case, as I’ll explain later on.

Now that my train was reserved, I needed to find a place to stay. My two siblings both have places down in The City, and my sister has repeatedly told me that I can use her place in Brooklyn. While I’m appreciative of the offer, I also wanted to stay someplace closer to the Microsoft office in Manhattan, preferably within walking distance, where SQL Saturday takes place. Of course, as anyone who has traveled to New York City can attest, inexpensive places to stay in midtown Manhattan are nearly non-existent. It also didn’t help that the office was located near one of the world’s biggest tourist traps. (I usually try avoiding it, but that was impossible for this trip.) I checked a variety of places, including a few on AirBnB and a few places that were farther away but near subway lines. I found a few places that had potential, but kept looking.

I hit the jackpot when I tried Hotwire. They advertised a deal where I could stay at an (unnamed) midtown hotel for $109. It promised that I would be booked at one of three hotels, which they listed. The actual hotel would be revealed after I booked. I looked at their locations, decided I could live with them, and decided to take the chance. I ended up getting booked at the Sheraton New York Times Square. The final damage was $173 after taxes and fees — granted, more than the advertised $109, but still a steal for a Sheraton in midtown Manhattan near Times Square!

At some point — I’m not quite sure when — I looked at my own speaker’s profile, and noticed that three of my submissions were now listed as “Regular Session,” not “Submitted Regular Session.” This is usually a pretty good indication that I’ve been selected to speak, although it still isn’t official yet. I was surprised, however, that three of them were listed. I figured, either (1) it was a mistake, (2) they were still working on the schedule, or (3) I was going to be one very busy boy on October 5!

In August, I got an email from Thomas Grohser. It was no mistake. Indeed, I had been selected to give three presentations! Thomas asked me, “let me know if this is too much or not.”

I sent him back a two word reply: “challenge accepted!”

So things were in place. Travel plans were set, and I was definitely speaking. I went about my business, awaiting the first weekend in October to arrive.

A funny thing happened along the way. I’m a big Yankee fan. The Yankees ended up winning the American League Eastern Division. At some point, I looked at the dates for the Yankees’ first two playoff games: October 4 and 5 in New York.

Hey, I was going to be in New York on October 4 and 5!

I looked into getting tickets for ALDS Game 1. They definitely weren’t cheap, but they weren’t so expensive that they would break the bank, either. The only thing that made me hesitate was that no game time was announced. If it was an early afternoon game, there was no way that I’d be able to make it. When they announced that it was a 7 pm game time, I pulled the trigger and bought myself a ticket! I’ve been going to ballgames for years, but I’ve never been to a playoff game before, and attending a postseason game has been on my bucket list for a long time. A weekend that was already going to be fun had just become more exciting!

At this point, all the plans were set. I only had to wait for October 4 to arrive.

The trip

Friday, October 4 arrived. My wife dropped me off at Albany-Rensselaer train station around 12:30. Other than the fact that my train, which was supposed to depart at 1:05, was about twenty minutes late, the train ride to Penn Station was uneventful. I arrived in New York around 4:00.

I took the E subway to my hotel. Upon exiting the subway, I had my first (pleasant) surprise of the trip. While I was at the street level, looking for my hotel, someone said hi to me. I was surprised to see that it was Michelle Gutzait, one of the SQL Saturday speakers, and her boyfriend! We spoke briefly. She was speaking at our user group in November, and said she was looking forward to speaking. They were looking for a theater for a show they were seeing that night, while I was looking for my hotel.

Randomly bumping into Michelle on the street turned out to be the first of numerous surprises on this trip.

I found my hotel, dropped off my bags, and proceeded up to the Bronx.

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Here I am, attending my first-ever postseason playoff game!

Now, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was around 12 or 13. I grew up rooting for the Yankees. I’ve attended numerous regular season games, more than I can remember. However, despite all those years going to regular season ballgames, I have never been to a postseason playoff game. It’s something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. When I saw that the Yankees’ first two playoff games were at home at the same time I was in the City for this trip, I jumped on the opportunity and bought myself a ticket for Friday night.

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My scorecard from the game

Friends told me that it was a different atmosphere from a regular season game, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was loud — much more than a regular season game. Fans hung on to nearly every pitch during the first seven innings. By the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Yankees had scored ten runs and held nearly an insurmountable lead. I stuck it out until the end of the game and hopped the subway back to my hotel. I did stop to get a couple of slices of pizza on my way back (I can’t pass up genuine New York-style pizza!). It was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room, and around 1 am by the time I went to bed.

SQL Saturday

My alarm went off at 6. After hitting my snooze button a couple of times, I got up around 6:20. I rolled out of bed, showered, dressed, checked out of the hotel, and proceeded to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for breakfast.

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At Ellen’s Stardust Diner, it’s about the singing wait staff!

This was the second time that I had gone to breakfast at Stardust; the first was when I spoke at NYC SQL Saturday last year. Now, I’ll say that the food at Stardust is good, but not great. If I picked a place to eat based on the food alone, Stardust would not be my first choice. However, I love Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It isn’t about the food; it’s about the experience. Stardust is known for their singing wait staff, and they put on a good show!

Amusing note: my waiter was named Kansas. Kansas is my favorite band! I told him as much, and he told me he was so named because they were also his parents’ favorite band! I hoped that he (or someone else) could sing a Kansas song before I finished my breakfast, but it wasn’t to be.

I could’ve sat there all morning and listened to the wait staff sing (and I told Kansas this), but alas, my first presentation was at 9:00. I wanted to get to Microsoft as soon as I could so I could prepare. Upon finishing my breakfast, I proceeded to the Microsoft building and SQL Saturday.

I arrived at the Microsoft Times Square office, directly across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, around 8:15, and came across several #SQLFamily friends, including, among others, John Miner, Matt Cushing, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, George Walters, James Phillips, Thomas Grohser, Steve Simon, Kathi Kellenberger, Kevin Feasel, Alex Grinberg, James Serra, and Chris Seferlis. (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!)

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Me doing one of my three presentations

I wrote earlier about my presentations, so I won’t rehash them here. I will say that the combination of doing three presentations, combined with waking up at 6 am after having gone to bed at 1 am made for a long and tiring day! After lunch, for the sake of my own sanity, I decided not to attend any more sessions until I presented my own. There were some couches outside the speaker’s room, so I attempted to take a power nap — a plan that was thwarted by a security guard who kicked me awake (literally — he kicked the couch I was on) and told me, “you can’t do that here.” Sheesh.

At one point during the day, Matt hilariously sent this tweet. I got a good laugh out of this!

My trip of fun surprises continued at the end of the day during the conference closing session and raffle drawings. I was sitting in the front row. James Phillips, one of the co-organizers, was running the raffle. Since I was in the front row, he had me pick one of the winners. I stuck my hand in the bowl with the tickets, mixed them up, pulled one out, and gave it to James.

Mind you, I did not look at the ticket. Upon seeing the ticket, James shook his head and said, “I don’t believe it.”

He showed me the ticket. It had my name on it. I had pulled my own ticket! I’d won a Bluetooth speaker!

After SQL Saturday was over, I proceeded to 32nd Street, where Koreatown is located. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan. As a Korean-American, I feel somewhat obligated to visit this place now and then, but as one who was born in New York State, I also feel at home when I come to this place to visit. I picked out a Korean BBQ place — one where I’d never been before — and had myself an excellent meal.

While I was waiting to be seated, a gentleman who had seen my shirt came up to me and introduced himself as a fellow Syracuse University alum. Yet another example where my clothing became a conversation piece! We spent about ten minutes talking about our alma mater before we were finally seated.

I had purposely scheduled a late train back home so that I could enjoy dinner while I was in Manhattan. After dinner, I walked the block west to Penn Station so I could catch my train.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Randi Stracher Moore, people smiling, people sitting and screen
Yet another surprise on this trip; I ran into Greg Moore and his daughter on the train heading home!

Upon boarding the train and finding myself a seat, I heard a familiar voice say, “boy, they’ll let anybody on this train!” I turned around and saw Greg Moore sitting a couple of seats back. Yet another surprise on this trip!

Although Greg is very active in the SQL Server community, he did not attend SQL Saturday. Instead, he attended ComicCon with his daughter. (Greg wrote a nice ‘blog article about their ComicCon experience; you can read it here.) I moved back to sit across from them, but we didn’t converse much (if at all) during the ride; we were all pretty tired, and we planned to sleep on the train ride home. No matter; I see Greg often enough, anyway. (I’ll see him next week at our next user group meeting.)

I didn’t sleep well on the train; no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable. My wife picked me up at the station, and I arrived home sometime after midnight.

Epilogue

Despite getting very little sleep, I had an absolute blast on this trip!

Mind you, I always have fun every time I go to a SQL Saturday, but I especially have a blast whenever I travel to New York City. It was an opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily, it was an opportunity to network, I got to practice my presentation skills (again), and as an added bonus, I got to attend a postseason baseball game! I absolutely love taking this trip, and I hope to do this again for NYC SQL Saturday again next year!

This is my last scheduled SQL Saturday for 2019. I don’t have any more SQL Saturdays lined up — I applied to speak at Boston BI SQL Saturday, but I will likely withdraw because of a conflict. There are “save-the-dates” listed for Rochester, Philadelphia, and Boston (non-BI) set for next year, and I intend to apply for them once they go live. (I might also apply to Virginia Beach as well; we’ll see.) And, of course, our Albany group usually has our SQL Saturday at the end of July.

My next scheduled presentation is in Seattle for PASS Summit, which is in four weeks (!!!). I’ll ‘blog about my PASS Summit experience as I go along. Hope to see you in Seattle!

Thanks for taking this trip with me — we’ll see you later from the road!

SQL Saturday NYC — a quick debrief #SQLSat912 #SQLSatNYC #SQLSaturday

I wanted to take a quick moment to do a quick debrief of the events from this weekend. I’m actually working on a longer article about the events of this weekend, but it’s still a work in progress. Hopefully, I’ll get it out later this week!

Until I get that article cranked out, here are a few highlights from SQL Saturday #912, New York City.

  • As I mentioned, I gave three presentations on Saturday, which is a new record for me. I started the day with my networking presentation. I felt it went well, but there was one disappointment: only two people showed up. Granted, I believe that I should always put on a good performance, no matter how many people are in your audience, but my networking session is more effective with a larger crowd, especially since I have a section in my presentation where my audience actually networks!
  • I did discover, to my chagrin, that my presentation clicker was missing the USB plug, rendering it useless. This was also disappointing — it was effectively a brand-new clicker, only used once, and I paid $40 for it. It occurred to me later that I think I know where I left it. I think I left it sitting in the desktop PC I used for my presentation in Providence. I don’t think I’m getting it back. Looks like I’ll have to invest in a new clicker.
  • I sat in on Matt’s session (again!), which was right after mine. His presentation keeps getting better every time I see it. It also occurred to me that both of our networking presentations complement each other very well, and I would love it if we could present back-to-back more often. We both bring different perspectives to the same topic, and the two of us combine for a very effective presentation!

    I felt bad for Matt, because, like myself, he also had a small audience (only four people, including myself). He gives a great presentation, and he deserves a larger audience.

    I also had to leave his session early, because I had to go to…
  • my second presentation of the day. This one was better attended — ten people showed up. This room setup was more like a conference room, which allowed me to give my presentation while seated. This meant I didn’t have to use my presentation clicker.
  • I ran into Thomas Grohser during lunch — my friend, one of the co-organizers of SQL Saturday #912, and the man who scheduled me for three presentations. He said to me, “go get your lunch. You’re going to need it!”
  • My third and last session wasn’t until 4:45. I thought about attending other sessions, but lack of sleep was catching up with me (I’ll talk about it more in my other article). I decided to pass on the next two session slots in favor of getting myself some rest.
  • My third session was held in the same room as my previous session, so again, I didn’t need my clicker. There were around six people in the audience when I started, but people filed in as I went along. I think there were around ten when I finished.
  • Amusing moment at the end of the day: I sat in the front row for the raffle prize drawings. James Phillips, another of the co-organizers, was doing the wrap-up, and he let me pick one of the raffle tickets. I reached into the bowl, mixed the tickets, and pulled out… my own ticket!

    I won a Bluetooth speaker!

So overall, it was a fun day (as SQL Saturday usually is). There was a lot more to my weekend, but I’ll save those details for my other article, which is still a work-in-progress. You should be able to read that article later this week.

That should pretty much wind up my SQL Saturday schedule for this year! My next scheduled speaking engagement is in Seattle next month for PASS Summit! We’ll see you then!

Reminder: come hear me speak (x3) in NYC #SQLSat912 #SQLSaturday

Image result for times square nyc

This is a reminder that on Saturday, October 5 (a week from tomorrow, as I write this), I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #912 in New York City — not once, not twice, but three times!

I will be doing the following three presentations.

  • Tech Writing for Techies: A Primer — Documentation is a critical but disrespected process. Learn why tech writing is important and what your organization can do to encourage it.

SQL Saturday is always a good time, and the New York City event is one of my favorite ones to attend! Go to their site to register for the event, and come check out my presentations — three times!

The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write

(Photo source: The New York Times)

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard all about the bombshell that has hit the American political establishment. Yes, I have my own political opinions as to what’s happening. But I won’t express them here. That is not why I am writing this article.

I felt compelled to write this after reading this article (whose title I shamelessly stole for this article) in the New York Times. The author, Jane Rosenzweig, is a college writing instructor. Rather than analyze the politics of the situation, she instead scrutinizes the whistle-blower’s writing itself. And what she says is exactly the reason why I preach what I do at SQL Saturday.

Go ahead and read Ms. Rosenzweig’s article. It’s a pretty good read.

I will admit to a couple of things: (1) I am a self-admitted grammar snob, and (2) I am not a grammatically perfect writer. I was never an English major, and I’m sure much of my writing would likely make many writing instructors cringe. I’m admittedly liberal with a number of grammar rules, such as ending sentences with a preposition (which I do from time to time). That said, I know the differences between “your” and “you’re” and “too,” “to,” and “two.” I am an unabashed and unashamed defender of the Oxford comma (on this, I have a very strong opinion; I believe not using it is incorrect). And I still believe that anyone who says “irregardless” should be strung up by his or her fingernails.

In any case, I do consider myself a fairly strong (though not perfect) writer. It’s why I have a job. And its importance is why I preach about the importance of communication. Communication is critical in any endeavor. You needn’t look further than the example put forth by the anonymous whistle-blower.

A picture is worth (writing) a thousand words

On a recent project in which I was documenting an application, I found myself hitting yet another case of technical writer’s block. I sat in front of the screen, staring at the application — sometimes, for hours — and came to the realization that all I was doing was blankly staring at the screen. I tried different techniques to stir up ideas as to how to tackle writing the documentation, but no matter what I tried, the words just wouldn’t come. Even just trying to figure out a document structure — never mind actually trying to describe the application — was proving to be elusive.

It was at that point where I decided to give up on trying to write a description of the application functions and turned my attention to grabbing screen captures. I went through the application’s menu structure, built a document heading hierarchy based on it, and started working on the application images I’d just captured. I took the time to clean up the images, including altering them to eliminate any client or user data (replacing them with “dummy” data), and formatting them for my document. Once I was satisfied with the result, I inserted it into the document, proceeded to the next screen capture, and repeated the process.

A funny thing happened during this process. First, I found that my document was expanding in content. Granted, it was mostly graphics, but it was, nonetheless, content. Second, I’m finding it easier to come up with ideas for descriptions and text content. Third, I’m no longer blankly staring at my screen; I’m finding that I’m actually productive. Finally, I’m finding myself having fun with the process!

This is not the first time that I’ve performed this process while writing a document. Indeed, I’ve often worked on documents in which I found myself in a writing rut, shifted gears to work on graphics, and discovered the spark that I needed to write the text.

It’s an age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most often, this phrase is geared toward the perspective of the reader. However, what is not as appreciated is that this cliché is applicable to the document developer as well. If ever you find yourself in a writing rut, try working on the graphics. It might just be enough to spark ideas and get you out of the rut.