I thought I’d blogged about this before, but when talking about with Simon Sabin just now, I couldn’t find it.
Simon’s just blogged a couple of ways of stopping the beep from the command line. Here’s one using a User Interface.
Go to Device Manager, and make sure that “Show Hidden Devices” is checked in the View menu.
Now you can find the Beep in the “Non-Plug and Play Drivers” section and edit its properties (setting it to Disabled).
I’m reading SQL Server 2008 Internals at the moment. I say ‘reading’, because I think it’s going to be long-term thing. It’s just so full of useful information, that I’m sure I’ll be reading it over and over for a long time yet.
Kalen Delaney’s books are always great, but in this one she has help from Paul Randal & Kimberly Tripp, Conor Cunningham and Adam Machanic – all SQL Server legends in their own right. The book they have made is just excellent, and should be read by everyone who wants to get deeper into SQL Server. There are some sections I’ve only skimmed over so far, whilst others I’ve read thoroughly. In time I think I will have read every page multiple times, but this is definitely a resource that can be read that way (yes, Kimberly, it has a good index).
It covers so much useful stuff it’s hard to think of a better resource for SQL Server 2008. It doesn’t go into design very much, but it will affect your design decisions. It doesn’t go into writing queries, but it will affect the queries you write. I really think this book would be an asset to anyone who wants to know more about SQL Server.
[Updated: This link should take you to where you can find and buy the book. MSPress have 50% off their books until June 30, 2009, which makes this book an even better investment]
Steve Koop spoke recently at the Adelaide SQL Server User Group, talking about things which don’t convert particularly nicely when upsizing from Microsoft Access to SQL Server 2008. I think this is a really important thing for SQL people to know, as there seem to be many Access databases living in even the largest organisations.
One of the things he mentioned was DISTINCTROW. I’ve never really known what DISTINCTROW does, so I asked him. He sent me a link which explained the difference between DISTINCTROW and DISTINCT, and it described as “DISTINCTROW works on records, not just individual fields”. This might be good for some people, but I wanted to know a little more.
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa140015.aspx says “The DISTINCTROW keyword is similar to the DISTINCT keyword except that it is based on entire rows, not just individual fields.” – but it also goes on to say a little more, confirming my suspicions. “It is useful only when based on multiple tables, and only when you select fields from some, but not all, of the tables.”
So DISTINCTROW is more about the JOIN type than anything else. It only applies if you are querying multiple tables, but not returning fields from all of them. So it’s a SEMI JOIN to the unused tables, which you write SQL Server using a WHERE EXISTS clause. It’s not really like DISTINCT at all – it’s about doing a Join without seeing the ‘duplication’ effect, clearly only feasible if you’re not returning columns from the other table.
If you’re not sure what a Semi Join is, then just think about the WHERE EXISTS clause, and it should become clear. If you look at the execution plan of a query in SQL Server that uses WHERE EXISTS, you’ll see that it’s doing a Semi Join. And if you’re looking at queries which use DISTINCTROW, consider changing them to WHERE EXISTS instead.
There are some blog posts that are there to inform other people – this isn’t one of these. This is something I always seem to forget, and I’m hoping that writing it in here will cause me to never forget again. It’s the knot in my handkerchief, or the writing on my hand.
I put an SSAS (2005) Calculated Member in a cube, and then have trouble trying to get it into a Display Folder, or associating it with a Measure Group…
I always hit F4 and go hunting through the properties list… repeatedly pull down the drop down that says [Measures], looking for it… until I eventually remember the extra little button on the toolbar. The one in the picture on the right. It’s the button between the Script button and the Check Syntax button… the button that always seems to escape out of my head, driving me crazy every few months.
If you’re an MCP in Australia and you haven’t passed any exams over the past couple of years (since July 1, 2007), then Microsoft has an offer at the moment to let you do an exam for only US$25 (until June 30, 2009). Ok, so that means the price really depends on the value of the Aussie dollar, but either way, it’s not a bad opportunity.
The offer is only on for a very short time, but why not check out http://www.learnandcertify.com/mcpupgrade/ and see what you can do? I’m thinking it’s a nice opportunity to knock over one of those Upgrade exams to get yourself from MCITP:SQL2005 to MCITP:SQL2008. You don’t get a second shot with this one, and you can only get one voucher – but it’s so cheap you may as well try it.
You can get it from http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=66ab3dbb-bf3e-4f46-9559-ccc6a4f9dc19
For all those people who have been waiting for SP1 before considering a migration to SQL Server 2008, it has now been released.
There’s also a new version of the Feature Pack for SQL Server 2008, available from: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=B33D2C78-1059-4CE2-B80D-2343C099BCB4&displaylang=en
For over six months I’ve been meaning to get business cards. Work has been busy though, and I just haven’t prioritised it. Last week I finally got around to it, and I was really quite impressed with the process.
I’d been playing around with layout for a while, and also had to work out what title I should use. A couple of people recommended Click Business Cards, and so I checked them out. I submitted my appropriately-sized JPGs and put my order in for gloss on both sides. As I was hoping to give some out this week, I had dropped them a line to ask if I could get the order marked ‘Urgent’, which they kindly did. As a result, the order was finished about a day and a half after I submitted the order, and they arrived in the post today.
As a result, I’m inclined to use Click again, and will be happily recommending them to people who want a quick and easy business card service.
Australia is currently in an interesting week for time zones.
Up until a couple of years ago, Daylight Savings finished on the last Sunday in March. That’s when the clocks got put back to Standard Time, as the Australian summer ended. Last year though, this got extended by a week, until the first Sunday in April. A similar change was made in October, changing the start of Daylight Savings from the last weekend of October to the first weekend of October. We now have six months of summer instead of five (although weather-wise, it’s a lot more…)
That’s fine – most people have patched their machines happily, and don’t have a problem. My mobile phone is an old O2 XDA, running Windows Mobile 2003 (I once upgraded to a newer device, but a washing machine had an argument with it and won). Unfortunately, i don’t think there’s a patch for WM2003, and so this week my phone (and hence, my alarms) thinks that I’m an hour out.
It’s fine when I’m in Melbourne or Sydney – I can set the time zone to be Magadan (which is in Russia), and the problem goes away. All good – I don’t really care where my phone thinks I am, just so long as the time is right.
The problem is when I’m in Adelaide… Adelaide which is normally in GMT+0930 (yes, on the half-hour), but this week is still in GMT+1030. According to my mobile device, there is nowhere in the world that is GMT+1030 this week. So instead I’ve had to change my alarms to wake me up half an hour later, whilst I pretend I’m in Siberia. I recently learned that the Russian for “Bless You” (ie, that thing you say when someone sneezes) is “Bud Zdorov” (literally "Be Healthy”, and I apologise for the spelling. ‘Bud’ rhymes with ‘Good’). I’m not sure it’s quite enough to get me through though.
One day I plan to visit Kathmandu, where the time zone is on the quarter-hour. Then I can return to the normality of Adelaide’s half-hour time zone.
I’ve written about the pain of daylight savings before, particularly around the pain of storing datetime fields in a database. Today i read a post from Bart Duncan, recommending the use of datetimeoffset. I thoroughly agree with him, although I wonder how long it will be before people make this a priority.
I often get asked how to convert a datetime into Julian Date format in T-SQL. People have differing opinions about what Julian means, but the one I got asked about most recently meant YYDDD, as often used by mainframe systems (I think this is Julian Date, as opposed to Julian Day which is the number of days since 4713BC). SQL Server doesn’t have a TO_JULIAN function, but we can make one easily enough.
So we’re wanting to express a date as YYDDD, where YY is the two-digit form of the year, and DDD is the number of days since Dec 31st of the previous year (ie, the DDDth day of the year).
Using the DATEPART function can get each part. YY for the year, and DY for the day of the year. I’m going to use @date as a variable here, of type datetime. Using the date type in SQL 2008 would work just the same.
SELECT DATEPART(yy, @date), DATEPART(dy, @date)
However, to make sure that we have the year in two-digits only, we should convert this to a string and get the rightmost two characters.
SELECT RIGHT(CAST(DATEPART(yy, @date) AS char(4)),2)
We also need to pad the DDD with zeroes – which I’ll do by putting three zeroes in front of the number and getting the three rightmost characters.
SELECT RIGHT('000' + CAST(DATEPART(dy, @date) AS varchar(3)),3)
Concatenating the YY and the DDD, we now have a TO_JULIAN function.
SELECT RIGHT(CAST(YEAR(@date) AS CHAR(4)),2) + RIGHT('000' + CAST(DATEPART(dy, @date) AS varchar(3)),3)
Converting back again isn’t too hard – it’s just a matter of pulling the numbers out of the 5-character string. I’m going to assume we have a char(5) called @julian.
We need to split the string up first.
SELECT LEFT(@julian,2), RIGHT(@julian,3)
The first bit becomes the year easily enough
SELECT CONVERT(datetime, LEFT(@julian,2) + '0101', 112)
The second half can be cast to a number, and then added back (subtracting one to get the maths right) using DATEADD.
SELECT DATEADD(day, CAST(RIGHT(@julian,3) AS int) - 1, CONVERT(datetime, LEFT(@julian,2) + '0101', 112))
So now we have a FROM_JULIAN function:
SELECT DATEADD(day, CAST(RIGHT(@julian,3) AS int) - 1, CONVERT(datetime, LEFT(@julian,2) + '0101', 112))
Easy stuff really, just a matter of thinking about what we mean by a particular format.
Another book review, and another giveaway for the Adelaide SQL Server User Group. This time, it’s Microsoft Windows PowerShell Step By Step.
Last month I had picked up the Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide, wondering if it was going to be a good recommendation for people who were interesting in getting into PowerShell. Even though I thought the book was very good (particularly if you want to use PowerShell to access the innards of a Windows installation), it didn’t seem like the right book for recommending for PowerShell beginners.
This book is though, and I’ll definitely recommend it for people wanting to get into PowerShell.
It’s worth pointing out that it’s a thinner (and cheaper) book than the other one. It certainly doesn’t cover how to perform the variety of Windows Admin commands that the Scripting Guide did. But what it replaces that with is a guide on getting the most out of PowerShell. PowerShell is used in so many different products now, it’s no longer just the domain of Windows Administrators. Developers can use PowerShell for unit tests. DBAs can use PowerShell to perform routine maintenance. Just about everyone in IT could use PowerShell to make their job easier. My background is in development, not system administration, so I’m always keen to write code to automate tasks. I was never that keen on VBScript, but PowerShell gives me a much richer environment while also being much closer to the system itself. I can hook into subsystems of Windows and .Net objects easily, and into environment variables, certificates and more, piping the results into other functions and utilities to extend the scripts as much as my imagination can provide. I’m always happy to recommend PowerShell as an important skill for the future.
And this book can people get introduced to PowerShell, walking them (step by step, just like the title suggests) into the depths of PowerShell – leveraging functions and providers, and a good introduction to using PowerShell with WMI and Exchange. I’ve enjoyed reading it, and plan to re-read it a few times over the next months, looking for those techniques that I’m not using (yet) but that I’d like become more familiar with. PowerShell reminds me of my early days using the vi editor (which I still use as my preferred text editor in Windows). We were forced to use vi at university, and the learning curve felt very steep. It seemed as if I learned some new (and better) way of doing something every day, to the extent that these days I still find it by far the quickest way to edit many types of text files. This book feels like those fellow students of mine, pointing out features I didn’t know existed even after I felt proficient (although I’m pleased to mention, not as many as I thought there might have been).
The book also has a CD full of examples that I need to find time to go through (and tweak, and practise, and learn). It includes a bunch of utilities, and an electronic copy of the book as well. Having said that, the book isn’t too big to carry with me for a while, and I’m sure will be a regular read for those “no electronic device” periods of flights.
This blog meme is doing the rounds… I’ve been tagged at least twice now (Jason Strate and Greg Linwood), so I suppose subconsciously I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a few weeks already.
Since I do a lot of training, I tend to explain these things to my students anyway. I have a lot of opportunity to stand up in front of people and tell them important stuff – so this kind of thing definitely comes up now and then.
Things I wish I had known years ago (career-wise that I would teach new people in the SQL field)
The Importance of technical communities
I remember when Craig Bailey wrote about his ideal role. It wasn’t new stuff – I had heard it all before, but it certainly got me thinking about how people can influence where they are in that Venn diagram. For Craig, he wanted his ideal role to be a job that he was good at and that he enjoyed. Obviously to be a job, someone has to be prepared to pay him sufficiently too.
Being good at something you enjoy isn’t hard, and you can invest your own time (outside of the job that you don’t enjoy) developing your skills. For people in IT, I suggest they pick a particular area they find interesting, and start getting their skills up. If they can become expert-level in that area, then great.
The next problem though, is moving that skill into something that lets you can earn money. Community can help that. Community can help you develop your skills, because you’re spending time with other people in your field. But as you become an expert, presenting at community events, developing a profile, you find yourself being differentiated from the rest. If nothing else, people know you have presentation skills. Every presentation can become like a job interview – showing your skills and ability to communicate information to clients, colleagues, whoever.
Presenting isn’t easy, but there are plenty of other communities that can help develop those skills. You can get along to a ToastMasters group, or offer to do presentations in a group to which you already belong.
You might be the best in the world at what you do – but you need to get out there. I enjoy the technical communities, and run the Adelaide SQL Server User Group because I enjoy it. But I can’t deny that it’s been useful for my career. Now, I’m wishing that I had got involved many years ago.
Enjoy public speaking
According to the old saying, more people are afraid of public speaking than death (so at a funeral, they’d rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy). But it’s a useful skill to have, so learn to enjoy it.
Keep in touch with old friends
This isn’t quite so career-related, but is actually very important for your career nonetheless.
There are people that I haven’t seen in years, who I have no idea how to contact. Facebook (and the internet in general) has proved very useful for that, but still there are many people that I wish I could find. Most of them are just people I would like to spend time with now and then, but some are people that I’d happily offer to do some work for. And perhaps some of them would contact me to do some consulting if they knew how to reach me (clue, there’s contact information to the side of my blog site!).
Far too many people fall out our lives, and it’s sad. I’m still not great at it, but I do think I should take the time to write people letters now and then (emails, Facebook comments, Instant Messages are all fine too – I’m just talking about touching base to keep the contact there).
Certifications aren’t worth studying for (but they are worth taking)
I used to study for exams. I first became a Microsoft Certified Professional back in 1998, passing an exam called “Architecture I”. Since then I’ve passed over 30 exams, and earned plenty of certifications. But a few years ago I worked out at that it’s just not worth studying for these things.
A MCP exam is not like high school or university. If you fail, you can just try again. Fails don’t appear on your transcript, only the passes do. It’s like your driving test – if you fail, you just try again. Once you pass, you get access to the roads like everyone else.
If you spend weeks studying for a MCP exam, you probably won’t even improve your chances of passing – you’ll just be spending precious family time trying to learn those things to get you past the line. You might even start losing sleep over it.
Nowadays, I tell my students (and myself) to care less. Plenty of people say “No, you don’t understand – I can’t fail at anything.”, and I understand that. I’m not particularly good with failure either. But I’ve learned to not care so much. I don’t want to waste time sitting an exam only find that I fail (or spend $180 on the privilege), but I also don’t want to waste time studying for an exam that I could probably pass anyway. With the Second Shot offer that is often around you’ve paid for two attempts, so go into the first one blind.
The amount of time you invest in getting a certification is largely the study time. So if you can reduce that, the certification becomes a lot cheaper – in which case, it’s probably worth taking the few hours to give it a try. If you do fail, you know you have a weak area, so you can improve that with study – just don’t bother studying before the first try.
[Edited: I should make it very clear that I definitely approve of learning new skills, and preparation for an exam is a great prompt for this learning. Better still is learning for the sake of getting those new skills, with the focus being an upcoming project or new role. My advice above is focussed on people who have the skills necessary to pass an exam.]
Reading execution plans, and understanding indexes
I’ve always been good at solving problems with T-SQL (or PL/SQL for that matter) – I just took to it naturally when I got into databases. But it took me several years to actual venture into understanding what the query is actually doing when it runs. Now, I look at the execution plan for every query I write, as default behaviour, and I consider the indexes that I want up front.
Perhaps it’s because I was a programmer first, but I had always trusted the compiler to do things the right way. I had looked a bit past my code when studying Prolog at university, but it took me a long time to make that my default behaviour.
So when I find people who are just getting into T-SQL, I encourage them to look at the execution plans, and start getting a feel for what’s going on behind the scenes. You can often improve a query without looking at the execution plan, but if you want to write really good T-SQL and have well-performing queries, you need to make the execution plan part of the process.
The significance of BI to businesses
I was involved in data warehouses in some of my first projects when I left university, I just didn’t realise at the time. I first got involved in SQL Server in version 6.0, and quite early on I migrated a system to 6.5, and created a data warehouse to allow for various reports. In hindsight, I was making a data warehouse. I had an ETL process, calculated aggregates, considered the dimensions and granularity, all that. But it wasn’t called a data warehouse, and I only realised a few years later that it really was one.
If I had’ve realised, then I’m sure I would’ve jumped into the BI space much earlier. Companies love BI – it’s one of the most empowering areas of database technology for any business.
I’ve picked a few things here – and I hope people somehow get some benefit from reading it. I have put it in my ‘must read’ list to find other people’s responses, because I’m sure there are things that I’m still to learn.
Tagging some other people: Simon Sabin, Jamie Thomson, Deepak Kapoor, Grant Paisley
I saw a link to a report by TechRepublic giving reasons to value certification in 2009. The idea behind the piece is that we are in a time of economic crisis, cutbacks and the like, and asking the question about whether or not people should be looking for certification or not.
Most of the points made come down to differentiating yourself from the masses. For individuals I would have to agree. If you are trying to get a job, and are looking for every possible argument to get yourself in the door, certification can’t hurt (don’t expect to beat someone with experience though). But from a company’s perspective, should a company be looking to train employees (and encourage certification)?
As a trainer, I’m going to flippantly say “Yes, you should send all your staff on training…”
…but don’t worry – I’m going to try to back it up as well.
At the moment, almost every company in the world is trying to cut costs. Whole departments are being sacked if they’re not being effective. And one thing that might differentiate your department from the next one could well be the skill level. You need to lift your game to be able to compete at the moment, so why not get your whole department trained up in an area that concerns you. If your team writes software, make sure they’re writing software as well as possible. If your team is in sales, you had better make sure that your salespeople are as good at making that deal as possible. Training can help with this.
And actually, certification can help too. If there is a certification available in a relevant area, and someone has the time to go and sit the exam, then get them to do it. It rarely costs much, and it will probably help your department if you can say “Our people are getting stronger”, or “Our people are active in professional development”. Not to mention the confidence boost associated with passing an exam, or the added knowledge gained by studying (if required).
If you’re reading this and thinking “Well my boss doesn’t see it that way…”, why not ask if getting certification might help the department’s viability? If the answer is no, then you’re probably no better off. But if the answer is yes, well… you might get some training and some new skills.
As a User Group leader, I have the chance to review books for MSPress (and then give a copy away to the user group too!). So at the end of last month I got sent a copy of Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide, by Ed Wilson (I hope that link works – if it doesn’t, find it in the Windows section).
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this book. I had just done a presentation at the user group about PowerShell with SQL Server, and I was curious to see what kinds of things this book covered. People ask me now and then about a book for learning PowerShell, and I wanted to see if this could be the one to recommend.
As a book for learning PowerShell, I’m not sure that it’s really the best one to grab. I intend to get a look at Microsoft Windows PowerShell Step By Step (also by Ed Wilson) to see how it compares. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t recommend this book to people.
What this book does give is a nice overview of PowerShell, followed by a bunch of areas within Windows for which people often do scripting. So for me, this is really handy. I don’t consider myself much of a Windows Administrator, and this book does a nice job of filling in some of the gaps. It’s quite heavy on the WMI side, but that’s probably fair enough (considering that you really can’t do much in Windows Scripting before wanting to take advantage of WMI). It goes through subjects such as services, shares, logs, networking, user admin, IIS, and more. As someone involved primarily on the SQL side, I’m not sure how much I’m really going to use much of this, but there will definitely be times when I do. Scripts for creating local users and groups will certainly come in handy, as will many others in the book.
This book also comes with a CD, containing all the scripts that are in the book. It seems like a great resource, which I’m sure I’ll go back to repeatedly. The book is over 650 pages, which will certainly take up space in anyone’s bookshelf, but if you’re a Windows Administrator, or someone who’s just looking to expand their PowerShell ability, then I can thoroughly recommend it.
If you’re a member of my user group, then you can currently buy this book for 40% less than the price listed at the MSPress store, but as well as that I’ll have a copy of it to give away at the March meeting.
I shouldn’t knock Manchester – I’m sure it’s a great place. Being from the London area though, I’ve always had to find reasons to consider visiting Manchester. Now that I’m living in Australia, finding reasons to go is even harder.
Manchester’s stock has risen recently, joining the ranks of Reading, Birmingham and Hatfield to host a SQLBits conference. Definitely a trip worth making if you’re in the UK. It’s on the last Saturday of March.
Registrations are now open, so get along to the site and plan to be at this event. One day I’ll end up being in the country on the right day and make it to one of these events.
The guys behind this event are all good guys, and the content will be very high quality again (and even more sessions - the number of sessions has increased by about 50%). The last event had nearly three hundred people attend, and this one event has over three hundred registered so far.
Lots more information (including registration) at: http://sqlbits.com – or on Simon Sabin’s blog.
Not me… someone else, but it did make me think.
If you need downtime, you schedule it carefully. If your server needs a reboot for some reason (maybe some patch), then you find an appropriate window in which to place it. Typically this ends up being between 2am and 3am, but working out a time when a backup won’t be interrupted, or when overseas customers need the system to be up, and so on.
I want to rebuild my laptop soon, but I want to make sure I do it at a time when I have a few days up my sleeve – time when I don’t need my laptop. Turns out that might be this weekend, as I’m going to have a small operation at lunchtime tomorrow (elective surgery, potentially – but hopefully not - involving two bricks). I’m likely to be wanting to rest for a couple of days, so it could be a good opportunity to find the right pile of installation DVDs and do a system rebuild.
Funnily enough, I was just reading about an instance of poorly scheduled downtime by another company. ITV were showing a 4th round FA Cup match ‘live’ (well, almost) a few hours ago involving one of the oldest rivalries in sport – Everton v Liverpool. There were about three minutes left in the game, which was looking like going to penalties, so they thought they’d sneak in a quick commercial. A bit of ‘downtime’ if you like. Except that during those few seconds away, Everton scored a goal. Already there are articles popping up about the incident, and ITV are looking like idiots.
Whatever industry you’re in, if you need some downtime, please plan it carefully. Imagine what happens in the ‘worst-case’ scenario. And wish me ‘luck’ tomorrow.
I’ve just installed the January 2009 refresh for SQL Server 2008’s Books Online. I’ve only glanced at what’s different (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd408738.aspx), but I just love the fact that SQL Books Online is a work in progress. Books Online lets you provide feedback on any page, and that feedback often makes it into an upcoming refresh.
Of course, the whole of Books Online is available online, but I like to have a local copy, which gives me better access to the Index page. Now, if they gave me an option to run it in a hybrid mode, querying online for updated data, then that could be really neat too – and avoid the need to download the refreshes. But for the time being, get yourself along to http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=765433F7-0983-4D7A-B628-0A98145BCB97&displaylang=en and grab a copy.
Jamie Thomson is a useful guy. He’s a SQL MVP, generally considered one of the world’s authorities in Integration Services (SSIS), but also very keen on the Live space.
So it makes sense that he’s now combining the two – he’s gone and created a Code Repository on Live Mesh. Seems very useful, and I’m feeling like I need to keep my eyes open for things that I think are worthy of upload. Why not do the same? The more people involved (currently it’s about 40), the stronger the repository will be!
Check out Jamie’s post to learn more, and drop him a line to get an invite.
It's 44C here today in Adelaide. Yesterday made it to 43.2C, and my lunchtime session of the Adelaide SQL Server User Group had its lowest attendance for a long time. There were a few influencing factors which I will need to learn from:
1. The heat. When the forecast says 41C and you're hoping that people will leave their air-conditioned offices to come to a meeting (albeit in another air-conditioned office), you're probably hoping for a miracle. Mind you - I'd happily be there today. I'm waiting for a plumber before I can turn my the water back on after a shower tap died last night. Once the water's back on, the aircon can come back on. Next time, I'll have to buy ice-cream for everyone.
2. The day of the week. We have recently moved our meetings from the second Thursday to the fourth Tuesday, for reasons beyond our control (venue hassles which are now sorted). So people will still be adjusting to that. Some people may have found that Tuesdays just don't work for them, other people will have dismissed the group a few years ago if Thursdays didn't work for them. Changing the days just doesn't work, and the sooner people get used to the new day, the better.
3. The public holiday. No, I didn't run the group on a public holiday - that would be crazy. But Australia Day was on the day before, which effectively made the user-group run on the acting-Monday. Lots of people will have been playing catch-up from the weekend.
4. First day of the school term. Most schools in South Australia started the new year yesterday. My boys didn't - they started today. In fact, Samuel came along to the UG (again - he's been to three or four meetings now), and even helped in a quick demonstration of Windows 7.
5. The presenter. I presented. I talked about PowerShell and SQLPS - showing the types of things that seem appropriate uses, and the types of things that don't really. I doubt that my presenting would've worked against the attendance much, but there is a degree to which people hear me speak and give the odd tip or two every month, and so wouldn't've been quite as keen as if someone were coming from interstate.
6. The short notice. I didn't end up advertising this meeting until very late in the piece. January wasn't that good a month for me - my back had been playing up (even spending half a night in Sydney Hospital when I was there), and I'd even spent a bit of time on Valium (which helps my back, but makes me fall asleep like an old person). I guess I'd been a bit distracted, but that's no excuse for not getting things done.
I'm sure that there were things I could've done to help my January meeting. Without shifting the day to something irregular, there was nothing I could do about the public holiday or school going back. I also think having me present was probably the right thing to do - I wouldn't want an interstate visitor to have the smaller January crowd. But yes, I should've adverised it sooner, and organised ice-cream. I honestly think that if I had've kept my eye on the weather forecast, and bought ice-cream for everyone, then attendance would've been better.
I've been to less attended groups before - but I've got used to having a larger crowd at the Adelaide SQL Server User Group than yesterday. Next year Australia Day falls on the 4th Tuesday, so that meeting will have to be moved. Oh well, can't win them all...
We all know what's wrong with Microsoft certifications. The multiple-choice format means that people can cheat too easily, and over the years, the questions have often felt too specific, asking the kinds of questions that proper IT professionals just look up in Help systems like SQL Books Online.
To help address this problem, Microsoft started to come up with simulation questions. They were used in some Windows NT exams, and most notably for me (as I helped write them), in the core SQL Server exam 70-431. These were Flash-style applications designed to look and feel like the real applications. This is good, but they're not error-prone (people who have sat 70-431 will know of a particular error in one of the drop-down boxes), and they can only really test usage of the UI. Definitely an improvement on multiple-choice though, and when writing these questions, special effort was made to find things that would make cheating very difficult.
The biggest problem with simulations is that people have different ways to achieve their goals. "More than one way to skin a cat" as the expression goes. This is increasingly so with technologies like PowerShell coming into almost every area of server administration, and particularly applies to developer exams where the goal should be achieving something to satisfy a unit test rather than answering a particular knowledge question.
And especially for SQL Server. Most DBAs will use T-SQL to perform the tasks they do on a daily basis. Some will use Management Studio, others will use sqlcmd, or pre-created scripts. Recently, quite a few people will have started using PowerShell, particularly if they are already using PowerShell scripts to maintain Exchange and Windows. Therefore, testing becomes more difficult.
70-113 fixes this problem completely. Whilst I don't expect to have passed (it's an exam about Active Directory, which I only know a little about), I thoroughly enjoyed the overall experience. It asked me to configure a couple of servers according to a set of instructions, and then actually gave me connections to the machines. And they were complete machines. Obviously I didn't have Internet access, but I did have the Windows Help system. This alone would have got me past a few hurdles, as I could look up a few things that I couldn't quite remember.
With SQL Server, examinees will have SQL Server Books Online available, but that's like it is in the real world. If asked to create a particular type of trigger, you can remind yourself of the syntax for that. If asked to make sure that a backup uses the COPY_ONLY option, then you can look up where that goes. But this is the problem. In 70-113, the information provided seemed to give away a little too much. It explicitly told me what to use for many of the options, but I would've preferred to have had it describe something akin to "Make sure that the full backup you take doesn't affect the next day's regular differential backup" rather than "Use the COPY_ONLY option". This way, it can test the knowledge of the system, rather than whether or not you can find the appropriate checkbox.
The other area that I would like to see is a combination of question-answer and virtual lab. I'd like to be given the connection to the server, have to configure various things, but then also answer questions. "How much free space is there in this file?", "How many times has the index with IndexID = 3 on table X been scanned?", etc. This would not only test whether you know how to configure the system, but also whether you know how to find information - a very important skill which isn't really tested yet.
70-113 is definitely a step in the right direction, and I encourage everyone to give it a try (today is the last day you can register for it). Don't feel like you need to pass, just do the exam and provide comments about what you think.
A couple of years I got a Wacom tablet. It was a gift - not really the type of thing I think I would've bought, but it was definitely nice to get. Since then, I've found it incredibly useful, and it's become almost a permanent fixture in my bag.
For a start, it's a great way of being able to ink up documents in ways that I can't do with my regular laptop (I don't own a Tablet PC, but inking is still useful from time to time).
But I also find that it's really useful when I'm teaching or doing any kind of presentation. There are often times when I want to draw some sort of diagram. Having a diagram pre-canned can be useful, but it's great to draw a diagram in front of the audience. Something about them watch you construct it helps them. If I have a regular whiteboard, then I'll use that, but if it's a diagram that I want to be able to refer back to, then I either have to find a part of the whiteboard which I don't want to use again, or else I can pull out my Wacom tablet and pull up Paint.Net. The pen is touch-sensitive, so it draws a grey line if I'm drawing lightly and a black one if I'm drawing heavier. And I can always switch back to one I drew earlier, and add to it, correct it, whatever. I can even email the diagram to students who want it (but that's not something I do regularly). It also goes really nicely with ZoomIt, which I use all the time to point out the detail in screens.
I do walk around a fair bit when I'm teaching though, and I notice it when I'm restricted (like when I'm using my Wacom tablet via a USB cable). My plan is to one day get one of the Bluetooth ones that Wacom have, and see if it's different. I won't be able to use it in aeroplanes, but I can imagine passing it to those students who don't want to get up to write on the whiteboard (which I do from time to time in my classes).
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