I came across this link on the New York Times website that talks about how the current New York City subway map was designed. I found it to be fascinating. It was a neat article about how the design came about, and how thinking out-of-the-box resulted in ideas that made it better.
Out of curiosity, I looked for previous iterations of the NY subway map before it was overhauled starting in 1979. I came across this map from 1978 on NYCSubway.org. Although I don’t actually live in NYC, I know it well enough to be able to get around and survive. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to use this map to get around New York City, I’d probably be totally lost. I only vaguely remember how rough NYC subways were at that time (for some people, that bad reputation endures to this day), but it wouldn’t have surprised me if this map contributed to subway rider angst.
A number of things struck me as I went through the Times‘ interactive article.
Designing out of the box: Some of the design techniques included, among other things, designing lines by riding the subway with eyes closed and sketching how they “felt,” eschewing “straight-line maps” used by many other subway maps to reduce confusion, and combining parallel routes into trunk lines.
I think it goes to show how much can be accomplished with unconventional thinking.
Much of this out-of-the-box thinking emphasizes a concept that I espouse as a technical communicator, which is…
Less is more:As I’ve said time and again, reading is work. If a document needs to be understood within seconds, and it takes more than a few seconds to comprehend a document, it has failed. Innovations, such as the aforementioned trunk lines, strategically using varying colors and fonts, and eliminating superfluous landmarks, contributed to making the map easier to follow.
Documenting history: I also found the interactive article to be a neat history lesson about the NY transit system, map design, and New York history in general.
Any time that I take a trip down to the City, I take the NYC subway map for granted. I now have a greater appreciation of it, and I’ll probably be thinking about it the next time I hop a NYC subway.
And for those of you who are planning a trip to New York City, hopefully, this makes your planning somewhat easier!
At the end of my presentation, one attendee started an argument with me. He kept saying that paper was dead, everything was online, and there was no reason to keep hardcopy documents. I argued, what if you can’t get to your online documentation?
Not surprisingly, he gave me a poor evaluation.
The bottom line is this: even documentation needs a backup. Other than, say, getting lost in a fire, paper documents can’t break. At a minimum, have hardcopy documents that instruct how to get minimal services back up and running, and back up other recovery documentation so you can recover it later.
Disaster recovery is one of the core tasks that many DBAs think about on a regular basis. Ensuring that we can get our data back online, available, accessible, and intact is important. More than a few DBAs that haven’t been able to recover systems, find themselves seeking new employment.
That’s not to say that most DBAs perform perfectly under pressure. Plenty make mistakes, and there may be times when they can’t recover all data. There does seem to be a correlation between how often DBAs practice recovery skills and how well they perform in an actual emergency. I know that at a few companies, we scheduled regular disaster tests, though often with simulated recovery of a systems that didn’t expect to actually take over a workload. Arguably not a good test, but better than nothing.
A week ago last Saturday, just before noontime, I returned home to Albany after departing Seattle the night before, and traveling across the country on a redeye flight. To say I was tired was an understatement; indeed, after my wife picked me up at the airport and brought me home, I went straight upstairs to the bedroom and just slept all day. Even a day after I arrived home, I was still not completely recovered from my trip. I spent a couple of hours going through almost 300 emails and getting caught up in general. It took me a while to get caught up, if I ever got there at all.
I had every intention of live-blogging my PASS Summit trip, but it didn’t happen. I had wanted to ‘blog about my experience each day of the trip. As it turned out, I never even touched my laptop. I ended up not needing it at all (and that includes for my presentation, which I’ll talk about below). On top of that, I was so busy during the week that I never had the chance to sit down and ‘blog like I wanted to. Instead, I’ll write about my trip exploits in one article. Warning: I expect that this will end up being a long article, so bear with me!
Day 1: Tuesday, Nov. 5
My alarm woke me up at 3:30 am Eastern time (time zones are important to note in this writeup) so that I could catch a 5:30 flight to Baltimore. Upon arriving in Baltimore, I found myself an in-airport diner where I had myself breakfast, then proceeded to the gate to wait for my flight to Seattle. I had a four hour layover in Baltimore, so I had plenty of time to kill!
While waiting at the gate, I bumped into my first #SQLFamily for the trip. Andy Leonard ended up being on the same flight! We had a nice conversation, and when the time came to board, Andy said he would save me a seat. Sure enough, I found him at the back of the plane, and he had indeed saved me a spot. I took the aisle seat; I figured that six hours was a long time to spend inside an airplane, and I might want to get up and walk around a bit.
The middle seat ended up being taken by another PASS Summit attendee: Mike, from Akron, OH (last name withheld for privacy reasons). The three of us had a wonderful conversation as we flew to Seattle.
Our flight arrived a little after 2 pm Pacific time. It would have arrived even earlier, except the Southwest pilot executed a go-around on our landing attempt. I think he mentioned something about being too close to the flight ahead of us (wake turbulence is not a fun thing, especially on a landing). It was my first experience with an aborted landing, so it was interesting to feel the jets power up and see the flaps retract on our initial landing attempt. The second attempt was more successful.
I had planned all along to not rent a car and make use of public transportation for this trip, so I made my way to the light rail and rode to the Columbia City stop, where I checked into my AirBnB. After taking a few minutes to introduce myself to my host and drop off my bags, I reboarded the light rail and made my way to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle, only a few blocks from the convention center.
Of course, getting off a transit line in any city can be disorienting, even more so in a city with which you’re not completely familiar. I exited Westlake Station at the opposite end (as I would find out later) from where I should have exited. It took me several minutes (and Google Maps on my phone) before I finally figured out which way I was going. After walking a few blocks longer than I should have, I finally found the convention center.
I made my way upstairs, and ran into another friend: Andy Levy. Having just arrived at the convention center for the first time, Andy took me over to the registration area, where I picked up my badge and started getting myself situated. I also picked up a couple of items that came with my association as a PASS Summit speaker: a hoodie jacket and a polo shirt.
As I walked around the facility, I was stopped by a few different people. I wrote before about how your clothing can be a conversation piece. I made it a point to wear my fraternity hat, as I promised I would. Two people identified themselves to me as members of my fraternity. Another told me that he was from Syracuse (the city, not the university). More examples of clothing as networking in action!
Andy said to me that one of the things about PASS Summit was that “it takes you fifteen minutes to walk fifty feet.” If you’re involved with SQL Saturday (like I am), PASS Summit is, essentially, a great big reunion. Even within my first hour at the conference, I’d already bumped into several people whom I knew. Andy’s words were true; within a short time, I already came across a number of friends I knew from my SQL Saturday involvement!
My first event was the first-timer’s event. That was an interesting experience; it was a large room, and the seats were arranged in groups of six. We were all encouraged to interact with each other and introduce ourselves. We were treated to a few talks from some PASS volunteers, including, among others, my friend, Matt Cushing, who gave a shortened version of his Networking 101 talk. (I just can’t get away from your talk, can I, Matt! 🙂 ) There was even a trivia quiz that matched up our groups of six as teams. The winning team received tickets to one of the game nights. Alas, we didn’t win. Oh well.
The second event of the evening was the welcome reception. After PASS president Grant Fritchey kicked off the reception, it was essentially one great big party! There were multiple drink stations and tables of food, and large crowds of people everywhere. The event was overwhelming — and I say this in a good way! I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I reconnected with a number of friends of mine from the SQL Saturday speaking circuit, and met a number of new ones as well!
One of the new people I met was Anthony, my designated SQL buddy. The idea of the SQL buddy program is for first-time PASS Summit attendees to have a “buddy” with whom they can connect so they’re not overwhelmed by the large crowds of strangers attending. I think it’s a great program, but I have to admit that it probably wasn’t completely applicable for me, because, even despite that this was my first PASS Summit, I wasn’t a stranger, either, since I knew dozens of people attending the event. As it turned out, the few minutes I spent with Anthony was my only contact with him during the week. I had wanted to talk to him even more during the week, but I lost him at the welcome reception, and didn’t reconnect with him again. (I am going to make it a point to drop him a line later!)
I left the event to attend another one, a volunteer party for PASS Summit volunteers. This event was invitation-only; only Summit volunteers were allowed to attend. I’m not sure whether it was my association as a PASS speaker or my willingness to help with the event, but in any case, I did receive an invitation to attend the party. It was held in a bar called SPIN, a ping-pong-themed bar. The venue was pretty cool; I wish we had one of these back home! (Their website says there’s a couple of locations in New York City, which are probably the closest ones to me.) I conversed with a number of people, and had a great time!
I would’ve enjoyed it even more, but by this time, the fact that I had been awake twenty hours was catching up with me. I decided to call it a night and head back to my AirBnB. If the rest of the week was going to be anything like this first day, I was going to be in for a long and tiring, but exciting, week!
Day 2: Wednesday, Nov. 6
My alarm went off around 5:30 — granted, that’s 5:30 Pacific time, and my body was still living on the East Coast, so it wasn’t that much of a problem. I showered, dressed, and caught the light rail to the convention center.
The first order of business was breakfast. I had signed up for a vendor breakfast, and went straight to the conference room. I filled up on my share of breakfast sandwiches, juice, and coffee. I’ll be the first to admit that I signed up primarily for the breakfast, not for the vendor talk. That said, vendor sessions are an integral part of just about any conference; as sponsors, their input and support are invaluable.
I decided to skip the keynote and took the time to explore the convention center. With everything that was going on, I figured it would be my best chance to get some downtime. I located my room where I would be speaking on Friday and got myself a sense of what was where.
At 10:15, I attended the session titled “Becoming a Technical Leader,” presented by Denise McInerney and Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman. I had previously crossed paths with Kellyn at Boston BI SQL Saturday (and likely some others — I’d seen her name before), but as far as I knew, I’d never met Denise (at least not that I remembered). They emphasized communication throughout their session, a topic close to my heart. Overall, it was an excellent presentation.
I had a variety of reasons for choosing sessions to attend. One of the big ones was to advance my own career. I will likely not be doing what I’m currently doing forever, so I wanted to attend sessions that I could use to improve my own professional standing.
With that in mind, I also attended a session called “Build Your Brand with Technical Writing,” presented by my friend, Kathi Kellenberger. She focused on tips and advice for getting published. I’ve had a couple of articles published before (my article on the history of major-league baseball in Troy comes to mind), but writing a book is a bucket list item of mine. I picked up some good pointers from her presentation. I did speak with Kathi, and she suggested that she might have some opportunities for me to write! I might just take her up on it!
For the last session, I decided to take in round 1 of Speaker Idol. For those not familiar with Speaker Idol, it’s an opportunity for people to give a quick presentation — within a span of five minutes. The presentation is judged by a panel, and the winner moves on to the final round. The grand prize is a guaranteed speaker’s slot in next year’s PASS Summit!
Last year’s winner was Rob Volk, who did a presentation of being “the very model of a SQL Server DBA.” (Imagine him singing to the tune of “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General,” and you’ll get the idea.) Click the link and check out his winning presentation. Trust me on this!
There were a number of vendor-sponsored events that evening, but I hadn’t registered for them. I ended up having drinks in a hotel bar with another friend from my SQL Saturday travels, Slava Murygin. We spent a few hours chatting and having drinks before deciding to call it a night.
Two great days down!
Day 3: Thursday, Nov. 7
Another day, another vendor breakfast. The spread was a little more substantial this time: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, and so on. If you’re interested in having a fulfilling breakfast at PASS Summit, I definitely recommend signing up for vendor-sponsored breakfasts! And it also helps if the vendor is doing a talk that interests you!
I started my day of sessions by attending “Making the Leap to Management” by Chris Yates and Adam Jorgensen. Honestly, I’m on the fence as to how interested I am in pursuing a career that involves management. Nevertheless, it is a possibility as I advance further in my career, and a sense of what I could potentially get into is never a bad thing. I did find it interesting that good communication was a common thread throughout the session. I’ve always been a big believer that the vast majority of the world’s problems can be solved by improving communication, and this session seemed to validate that belief.
I attended “Successfully Communicating with Your Customers” after lunch. Denise McInerney gave this talk, and I saw a lot of similarities between her presentation and what I do with some of mine — enough to the point that I told her, after she was finished: “you could do my presentation.” I sent her a LinkedIn connect request and asked if we could stay in touch so we could compare notes.
Right after the presentation, the vendors did their prize drawings. If you’ve ever attended a SQL Saturday, it’s the same concept as the vendor prize drawings at the end of the day (the only difference was that they held it in the middle of the conference): you submit your ticket, and maybe your name is drawn for a prize. You need to be present to win. No, I didn’t win anything on this day. C’est la vie.
I attended another sponsor reception that evening at The Tap House Grill. It was billed as “a chance to meet and network with people outside of the conference.” Among others, I met Janice Gerbrandt, who, along with my friend, Paresh Motiwala (who did not attend Summit this year), lead the PASS Professional Development virtual group. I had previously been acquainted with Janice when I did my virtual presentation on networking back in May; now, I finally met her in person for the first time. During the week, I met a number of people whom I’ve only gotten to know through emails and online correspondence, including most of the staff at PASS.
I also bumped into my friend, George Walters. He was not attending Summit, but he was in town for work-related reasons, and decided to crash the party. It was nevertheless good to see yet another familiar face in a somewhat-strange town!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay out too late. Since I was presenting the next day — not to mention leaving town — I had to go back to my AirBnB and pack my things, as well as get some rest so I could do my presentation the next morning!
Day 4: Friday, Nov. 8
At last, it was my day to speak! My presentation was scheduled for the first time slot of the day, at 8 am.
I checked out of my AirBnB before 6 am and made my way, with my luggage, to the convention center. For the last day of the conference, PASS had a baggage check set up, and I made use of it. I checked my bags and went off to find myself breakfast.
Unlike the previous two days, there was no vendor breakfast that morning, so I had breakfast at a hotel restaurant right across the street. Up to that point, nearly every meal I’d had was provided by some PASS or vendor event, so this breakfast was the first meal since I’d arrived in Seattle that I paid out of my own pocket. After finishing breakfast, I went up to my conference room to prepare for my presentation.
As I mentioned earlier, I did not touch my laptop at all during this trip, including for my presentation. Each presentation room included a laptop that was already connected to a projector. All I needed was my presentation on a USB stick. I also used my own presentation clicker. (That said, I kept my laptop nearby anyway, in case a problem came up with the equipment that was supplied. Always have a backup plan.)
The presentation went well! It really wasn’t all that different from my experience with doing SQL Saturday presentations. The audience was larger, it was more geographically diverse, and because it was being recorded, I had the use of microphones. I passed it around when attendees had questions; that way, their questions could be captured as part of the session recording. People I spoke to later told me that they enjoyed my session, and I did a good presentation!
And after it was over, I could honestly refer to myself as a PASS Summit speaker! Achievement unlocked!
One disappointment about my presentation was that it conflicted with round 3 of Speaker Idol. It was especially disappointing, because two of my friends were participating in this round: Slava Murygin and Deborah Melkin. While I never got the chance to see Slava present, I would later get to see Deborah!
I hooked up with Andy Levy so we could go to the exhibitor booths. RDX gave out what was widely thought to be the best (and definitely the most popular) vendor swag: Minecraft swords! We had tried to get them the day before, but they had run out. We were told that they would have twenty more at the beginning of the day, and if we wanted one, we would have to be one of the first twenty. Indeed, Andy and I were number one and two in line when the vendor fair opened for the day!
I had volunteered to man a Birds of a Feather lunch table. These special-interest tables allowed people to congregate and discuss a common area of interest during lunch. As someone with writing, UX/UI, and design experience, I ended up moderating the Storytelling & Visualization lunch table.
Since the entire CASSUG (Albany user group) leadership team — myself, Greg Moore, and Ed Pollack — was at PASS Summit, I decided that we needed to take a photo of the three of us. Our local user group was well-represented in Seattle that week!
We took our photo at the PASS Community Zone. I spent a lot of time there during the week. It was a good place to congregate, meet people and network, and relax (there were beanbag chairs around the area). It was also a good place for me to recharge — literally. There were outlets set up around the zone, where I could plug my phone in to let it recharge. I spoke to a number of people and made some new networking contacts there throughout the week.
I did make it to the final round of Speaker Idol. As it turned out, I did not miss Deborah’s presentation, as she was one of the finalists. And wouldn’t you know, she ended up winning the entire thing! She was the Speaker Idol winner for 2019! She now has a guaranteed speaker slot for next year’s PASS Summit in Houston! Congrats, Deb!
By this time, PASS Summit was beginning to wind down. There was still another slot of sessions going on, but I didn’t attend. PASS Summit is an exciting, but tiring, experience. I learned that I needed to be picky about what sessions I attended, because trying to attend them all is impossible. I took some time to get myself organized, making sure that my stuff was together, packed, and ready to bring home. The Minecraft sword I’d obtained earlier in the day wouldn’t fit in my carry-on luggage (and it wouldn’t have surprised me if TSA flagged it while going through security). There was a FedEx office on the ground floor of the convention center, and I took advantage of it, shipping my new toy, along with a few other swag items, home. They’d be sitting on my doorstep later in the week.
At this point, a number of people were making arrangements for final dinners and plans before venturing home. Apparently, there was a tradition for a number of #SQLFamily to get dinner at the Crab Pot at the end of PASS Summit. Greg had invited me to accompany him to a small private party with Rensselaer alumni in west Seattle, which is what I elected to do. Unfortunately, because of issues with ordering dinner, I had to settle for taking a couple of hours to reconnect with some old friends before getting a Lyft to the airport and catching my cross-country redeye flight home.
There’s a number of things I left out of my commentary; most of it is superfluous. Besides, I didn’t want to feel like I was rambling, not to mention that I’ve been sitting on this article for over a week.
PASS Summit was everything I’d been told and I expected: exciting, overwhelming, tiring, and fun! I had an absolute blast during my week in Seattle! I would attend every year if I could. Unfortunately, there are mitigating circumstances that prevent me from attending more often (the biggest being the registration fee; unlike SQL Saturday, PASS Summit is not free to attend. Since I’m doing this on my own dime — my company does not pay me to go — my resource to attend are limited. I was able to attend because I was selected to speak, so my fee was waived). That said, should an opportunity for me to attend ever comes up, I will not hesitate to go again!
I will definitely submit my presentations to speak at PASS Summit again. Hopefully, I’ll be selected again! And hopefully, you’ll be able to experience the same excitement and learning experience that I did at PASS Summit!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.