Arcane 2011 Year in Review

Seems most folks I know are doing “Year in Review” posts for their blogs. Not wanting to miss a chance to do a blatant rip-off I thought I’d jump on the band wagon.

My MVP Award was renewed for 2011. This award is something I’m both proud and humbled to receive, especially in the SQL community. MVPs in general are a very helpful, friendly bunch, and the SQL especially so. I really like the new #SQLFamily hashtag that’s being used on Twitter. Aside from my family, I think becoming an MVP is the thing I’m most proud of in my life.

I was quite happy when my second co-authored book, SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Vol II came out. All proceeds went to charity, it felt great to help out both the children in Operation Smile and the SQL community.

I’ve continued my public speaking, being allowed to present at places such as the New York City Code Camp, SQL Rally in Orlando, and one of my favorites CodeStock.

I produced quite a bit of new training content for Pluralsight, to positive reviews. I’m glad this relationship is continuing, teaching is the best way to learn new things and I’ve learned a great deal, and hopefully helped a few others.

The most exciting news of my year though was going to work for Pragmatic Works! You could have knocked me over with a feather when, at the MVP Summit last year, Brian Knight (I should say THE Brian Knight) looks at me and says “So, you looking for a job?” When someone of Brian’s caliber asks if you want a job, you don’t say no.

Coming to work at Pragmatic Works was a great career move for me. We currently have five (yes, FIVE) MVPs working here. That’s a huge percentage considering the size of our company. And there’s quite a few of our guys that are working hard in the community, and I see an MVP award in their future. 

In addition to the regular consulting you might expect I’ve also gotten to do a lot of training. I love doing training, its so gratifying to share knowledge, guide students, see that look of “ah-ha” on their faces when it all clicks for them. I think that has been my favorite part of the job so far.

As a company Pragmatic Works is doing very well, entering into several new, exciting partnerships. Plus, they keep increasing our benefits! In a time when other companies are cutting costs, they have given us three new benefits!

With this level of technical expertise, it keeps me challenged. It also inspires me toward even more professional achievements.

On the home front, I now have a teenager living in my home. My sweet little baby girl turned 13 this year! Holy cow, how did that happen? I mean, last time I checked I was only 17 myself. And her sister is not far behind.

They had a great year, we home school and they got involved in a science program at Auburn University where they learn scientific techniques. They did some forensic investigations, and are now learning how to do proper experiments, clearly defining the various steps. They get all this brain power from their teacher / mother, my wife is the real brains in the family.

They also took up new extra curricular activities. My youngest, Anna, learned to ice skate and even did her first skating show just before Christmas. My older daughter, Raven, now plays the guitar and has given her first recital. My home office is under her bedroom, and I often get to enjoy the sounds of her practicing over my head.

And of course, last but not least, I have to give a special shout out to my lovely wife of 15 years, Ammie. She has been very supportive of my career, even though with the new work related travel it has meant more work for her. I know I’m very lucky to have a wife this supportive. Thanks sweetheart!

With that, another year bites the dust. 2012 is shaping up to be an exciting year. Assuming of course the world doesn’t end. But if it did, I suppose that would be exciting too, so either way it’s a win, excitement wise.

The Pragmatic Arcane Coder

I wanted to let everyone know some exciting news. Starting March 21st I’ll be going to work at Pragmatic Works! Pragmatic Works has a great variety of tools for SQL Server Business Intelligence, training videos, books, as well as a thriving consulting division.

While I’ll miss my friends over at Comframe I’m very excited to be joining one of the premier BI consulting firms in the US. This promises opportunities for even more speaking engagements, as well as multiple outlets for content creation.

Here’s to a Pragmatic future!

Arcane Fun Fridays–Music to Code By

I love music, it’s great to listen to when I read or program. I do find music with a lot of lyrics distracting when I’m trying to concentrate, thus action/adventure soundtracks are one of my favorite genera’s. Some surprisingly good music can be found from video game soundtracks. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

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Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 – This is an awesome score. I love the game, and love the music even more. It’s fast paced and will really keep your energy flowing.

 

 

 

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Call of Duty – Black Ops – Another great game, and another great soundtrack.

 

 

 

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Army of Two – After finding the Call of Duty soundtracks, I began to explore the soundtracks from other video games. This is the first one that I thought was in the same class as the Call of Duty games. Good stuff.

SQL Saturday 29 Birmingham

We just finished up our SQL Saturday here in Birmingham Alabama. It was number 29 in the list of SQL Saturdays. First off let me cover some supporting material for the two sessions I gave. The first was an introduction to Microsoft’s new self service BI tool, PowerPivot. Attendees can download my slides here: PowerPivot Slides  You can also see all my posts so far on PowerPivot at http://arcanecode.com/category/powerpivot/ or by picking PowerPivot from the drop down over on the right side of this blog.

My second session of the day was an introduction to SSIS. Step by step instructions, the sample project, and the slide deck can all be found on my Code Gallery site. At the end we got a bit rushed for time, hopefully some of your questions can be answered from some of my past posts on SSIS. If not feel free to send me an e-mail (rcain at comframe.com or arcanecode at gmail.com) and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Attendees of both sessions may also find my Introduction to Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence slide deck helpful to clarify some BI terminology.

In my roles as speaker, volunteer, and event planner I had little time to take pictures, but I did grab a few at the very end of the day, I thought I’d share them here:

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Some lucky winners of books looking over the remaining stack to pick out their prize.

John Baldwin, our fearless leader is in the grey shirt all the way on the right.

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Obligatory crowd shot. Dividers broke this big room down to 4 rooms where we had our sessions.

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One more crowd shot, showing some of the higher end swag including a Wii, a Garmin GPS, multiple

copies of Office and Windows 7, and two copies of the SQL Server MVP Deep Dives book I coauthored.

My role in event planning was acting as the speaker coordinator. Finding quality people willing to travel to Birmingham, on their own time and expense,  to give presentations. Thanks to Sven Aelterman, Kevin Boles, Louis Davidson, Janis Griffin, Kevin Grohoske, Geoff Hiten, Rodney Landrum, Vincent Mayfield, Aaron Nelson, Barry Ralston, Joe Webb and Jim Wooley. It was their presentations that helped us draw the big crowd we did.

Speaking of the crowd, much thanks to all of you who attended. The folks in my sessions were very attentive, asked many good questions, and kept the discussion lively and interesting. I’m glad all of you came and hope to see you all next year.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of our sponsors. Without their donations we would not have been able to put on the event. Microsoft, Teksouth, Bit Wizards, Confio, Redgate, Attunity, Telerik, Intellinet, CozyRoc, Wrox, TekSystems and O’Reilly Publishing and to the SQL PASS organization.

I should also give personal note of thanks to my employer COMFRAME, for putting up with my extended lunches and letting me juggle my schedule to run errands and do other planning activities and presentation prep time.

Finally a few last thanks and kudos are definitely in order. The first should go to Vito Amato and his merry band of volunteers. They kept everyone in cold drinks, helped the speakers with their needs, answered attendees questions, checked folks in at the door, and in general did everything that needed to be done to keep the event running smoothly.

A big thanks and congratulations to John Baldwin, our fearless leader, and his right hand man Morgan Smith for taking the leadership to plan and organize the event. They worked long and hard to make the event the success it was.

If you want to keep the fun and education continuing, we’d love to have you join us at our monthly user group meetings, http://www.steelcitysql.org/. Thanks for a great SQL Saturday, and I can’t wait for next year’s!

SQL Server MVPs Help War Child International

SQL Server MVP Deep Divers CoverI’m proud to announce the new book SQL Server MVP Deep Dives has been released. You can find out more, as well as place your pre-order for the book at http://www.sqlservermvpdeepdives.com

I am proud for several reasons. First, I am a contributing author. If you look at Chapter 13, Full Text Searching, you’ll find my name, Robert C. Cain. This is my first work in print, and it was a great experience. I got a lot of great advice from the editors, fellow MVPs. It was also good as I got to do some editing myself. (To keep down costs we edited each others chapters.) In addition I got to work with the great folks at Manning and working through their publication process.

But I’m even more proud because all proceeds from the book go to War Child International. War Child International is a federation of charities devoted to helping children in war torn countries. They not only meet the basic needs of the kids, but work to give a message of peace, so when they grow up the cycle of violence will be broken.

The official book launch will take place at the PASS Summit, Nov. 2 to 5 in Seattle Washington. Manning promises to have plenty of the books in the Summit bookstore. Many of the MVPs, including myself, will be there and be glad to sign books for those interested.

To make the most of your donation though, placing your order at http://www.sqlservermvpdeepdives.com will get the most money to War Child. If you order now, you can access the early online version, and a printed copy will be mailed to you. This is a great chance to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and help a worthy cause at the same time. Plus there is an added bonus for those attending the PASS Summit, if you buy now you can read chapters on line, and be prepared to ask questions of the authors at the summit!

 

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How can you help?  Obviously, start by buying a copy of the book. Then let your fellow SQL Server and Developer geeks know about this effort. Urge them to buy a copy, get your company to buy several for the company library. Or do like I will, and buy several copies to give to friends. Finally, you can take the direct approach. Go directly to the War Child site and make a donation today.

Happenings in Arcane’s World

I just wanted to take a second to pop my head up and say “Hi!” It’s been a busy few weeks for your humble Arcane Coder. Last week I finished my technical edits for my book chapter for the upcoming “SQL Server MVP Deep Dives” book. My chapter will focus on Full Text Searching.

I then worked on getting ready for the upcoming BSDA LINQ Bootcamp event, which takes place at the end of July. If you’d like to attend this two day, free event see the notice at http://altechevents.com/2009/07/13/bsda-presents-linq-bootcamp/ or you can use the short url of http://tinyurl.com/bsdalinq. Please pass it along to all your friends.

To add to my fun I recently got a new laptop, an Acer Aspire 8730. You may recall lightening hit our house last year and fried many of our computers. Our insurance finally came through and this was the model I selected to replace a fried desktop system. So far I’ve been quite pleased with it, the 18.4 inch screen has been very nice for development. I’ve also been impressed with the battery live, have gotten close to 3 hours which isn’t bad for something this huge. We’ve nick named it “The Beast”. I’ve been busy getting all the software installed and configured.

I’m also looking forward to attending DevLink next month. This three day geek fest looks to be an awesome event, and a steal for the price. If you see me there be sure to say hi!

I’ve got an interesting series of posts lined up for this coming week, hopefully there will be something useful for everyone!

Thank You

I found out today Microsoft renewed my MVP award for the 2009-2010 year. I am grateful that my efforts to serve the community were recognized. I’m grateful to Microsoft for caring enough about the community to have setup a program to recognize and more importantly enable those who server.

I am also grateful to you, the readers and my friends in the technical community for allowing me in, for reading my blog, and letting me speak at various community events. Your support, encouragement and friendship have been invaluable.

Finally and most importantly I need to thank my lovely wife and two beautiful daughters. They have endured a lot of evenings of me getting home late after an event, or seeing me face down over a hot laptop working on some new presentation or blog post. Without their love and support none of my efforts would have been possible.

Cancer Sucks

Rarely do I post something personal here, but something is bothering me and I have to get it out. This week a good friend, one of my ham radio buddies, Charles /  N4DKE passed away from cancer. I’ve known Charles for almost 10 years, a relatively brief time compared to the many other friendships he had. He was one of my ham “Elmers”. In ham radio lingo an “Elmer” is someone who acts as a mentor.

Charles always had a great story to tell, or joke, or some neat gadget or gizmo to show off. He often gave presentations at ham club and always made them interesting. He was one of those people who knew everybody. During introductions he’d always just say “Ya’ll know who I am.” And everyone did, too.

What made this suck so bad was Charles was only 57 years old. 57. That’s young. During the visitation Wednesday evening all I could keep thinking was “This sucks, we shouldn’t have to be here.” In a way I feel robbed, there were so many more great stories of his to hear, jokes to swap, or gadgets to see. And now we won’t because this insidious disease called cancer took my friend long before he should have gone.

To all my ham, internet, computer friends and family, please, make sure to get check ups. Guys, get your prostates checked, ladies get your mammograms. I want to be able to share in your stories for a long time to come.

Reflections on SQL Saturday 7

Whew. It’s finally over. It was a lot of work but well worth it. This was the fourth SQL Saturday I have participated in as a speaker, but the first I helped to organize. Our club president John did the bulk of the work along with his right hand man Morgan. They did an outstanding job with fund raising and organization, and I was proud to be able to contribute what help I could.

Speaking of sponsors I want to take a moment to thank each of them for their support. Without them the event would not have been possible. Their economic aid allowed us to make the event free to all of the attendees, feed everyone lunch, and give out some cool swag at the end of the day. Microsoft, Teksouth, Dasher Technologies, Confio Software,  PASS, End To End Training, JumpstartTV, Redgate, InformIT, CTS, WebBasics, Telerik, TEK Systems, Matrix, and SQL Server Magazine all helped to make this a great event and I want to thank all of them for their support. Also a special additional shout out to Confio for stepping up at the last moment and sponsoring the speakers dinner, and to the folks at Richards BBQ and Grill for working with us to work the dinner event into their schedule (and for a tasty meal).

We had an outstanding group of volunteers as well, helping out the attendees and speakers and keeping everything running smoothly. They took care of handing out food, registration, plus each room had two volunteers to make sure we ended our sessions on time and make sure the speakers had water. An event of this size would not have been possible without their dedicated work. Special thanks to the volunteers in the room during my presentation, Guy and Don, for keeping me on track and make sure everything ran smoothly.

I think my favorite part of the day was during lunch, I got to participate in a speakers panel. The speakers in each track gathered at the front of their track room during lunch to take questions from the audience. I was part of the BI track and the audience did a good job of throwing questions at us and letting the group discuss and give feedback. It was a lot of fun, I’d love to do it again.

We also had some lively banter in the speakers lounge right before lunch. There was an interesting discussion on GUIDs as primary keys in a table. Perhaps the fact I found that interesting should tell you how geeky I am, when I tried to explain to my wife her eyes sort of glazed over and she said “yes dear” a few times. Sort  of the same look I give her when she starts going on about her latest trip to the sewing store.

It was great to see a lot of old friends again. Andy Warren, Kevin Boles, Chris Eargle, Stuart Ainsworth all came from out of town to speak at the event and it was great to hang out with them. I also met a lot of new folks who I hope will soon become “old friends”.

Finally my thanks would not be complete without giving a special thanks to my sweet wife and darling daughters, who put up with me being on the go with this and other community events.

Thanks!

The Arcane Code Dungeon

I’ve been playing around with my new Flip camera, and and created a video that I uploaded to YouTube. A while back I saw someone from Microsoft show off his office environment so I thought you might enjoy seeing where the Arcane Coder spends a lot of his time.

Enjoy!

Inspiration in New Places

Michael Arrington did an interesting post on TechCrunch Saturday. Essentially he recommends putting down the business books and reading Sci-Fi as inspiration for new technologies. Seeing what others have dreamed of as a way to come up with new and innovative solutions.

It’s an interesting concept, looking to new places for inspiration to solve problems. I’m wondering what new ideas can be derived by rereading some of these classics with an eye not just for entertainment, but inspiration. I think it’s time to dig out my copy of The Foundation Trilogy and The Caves of Steel.

N4SGJ, SK

My n4sgjgrandmother, Pearl, better known to her HAM radio friends as N4SGJ passed away a few hours ago. In ham radio language, she became a Silent Key, or SK for short.

I was lucky enough to have known all of my grandparents, and have had great relationships with all of them. My mothers parents passed away in the late 90’s, however my grandfather John, KI4SH (Pearl’s husband) lived until last October of 2007. Earlier this year my grandmother had a bout with cancer, but had whipped it, although early it looks like she passed away from a case of heart failure.

Pearl was an avid sewer, she especially enjoyed quilting. My kids each have a quilt she made for them, and I still have the quilt she made for me as a teenager (camouflage with a blue back, very manly!). She always got a kick though out of the fact my kids “borrowed” it from me and use it as a snuggle blanket, refusing to give it back.

She was also quite active in the ham radio community, having served as club secretary and been involved with several hamfests. I think one of the things I’ll miss though is her caramel popcorn. Every year she would make a big batch of home made caramel popcorn and give it out as gifts to all the family. I feel a bit sad, knowing this batch I have now will be the last I’ll get to enjoy, but I also feel privileged to have had her in my life as long as I did.

Ted Neward goes well with cheesy stuffed burritos

I had quite the adventure last week getting to DevLink. Enroute Thursday night part of the electrical system in my old pickup decided to implode, leaving me stranded on the side of the interstate. I got it towed and had to wait for a friend to come get me (thanks Ben!). The closest place to wait was the Mexican Phone Company (aka Taco Bell). I claimed the booth with the wall outlet, setup my laptop, and settled in for 3 hours of waiting. Naturally there was no wi-fi to be found.

Always looking for opportunities to be productive, I worked on editing a Camtasia video I had recorded recently at a Bug.Net meeting. After a bit I decided to take a break and eat. While munching on a cheesy stuffed burrito I watched some videos I had downloaded from the InformIT site. In the first video Ted Neward talked about functional coding and touches on F#, in the second he dives deeper into F#. Once the videos and my cheesy stuffed burritos were done I returned to editing.

So the next day I got my wife’s van out of the shop (transmission had gone out leaving CodeStock – these conferences are getting expensive!) hopped in and took off once again for DevLink, this time making it just in time to see the last session of the day – none other than a presentation by Ted Neward and Amanda Laucher on F#. And I’ll be dog gone if Ted wasn’t wearing the exact same t-shirt he had one while filming the videos I’d watched. Made the experience that much more surreal. Either that or the cheesy stuffed burritos were haunting me, one of the two.

I did at least get one whole day in at DevLink, still well worth going to. And I’m not just saying that because I won a copy of Vista Ultimate and Master Chiefs decapitated head. Oh and if you are looking to learn a little more on F#, Ted’s got a great article in the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Code Magazine called F# 101. Good reading.

All in all, despite the vehicular issues DevLink was still a good value and I plan to make it an annual trip.

Getting Tagged by the Software Developer Meme

There’s a “meme” going around the net. A meme, for those unfamiliar, is defined as a unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one person to another. On the web, a meme is a theme, usually a series of questions that get passed from one person to another. After one person answers, he tags one or more other folks. Well, I got tagged!

StatisticsIO, better known as Jason Massie, got me. To keep his link chain alive, this has now gone from: Denis Gobo > Andy Leonard > Frank La Vigne > Peter Brown > Chad Campbell > Dan Rigsby > Michael Eaton > Sarah Dutkiewicz > Jeff Blankenburg > Josh Holmes > Larry Clarkin > Jason Massie > Me! So without further ado…

How old were you when you first started programming?

12 or 13, it was on a TRS-80 Model 1.

How did you get started in programming?

My dad had written a Star Wars game programming in Basic on the TRS-80. I hacked it so I could beat my sister most of the time, and the rest was history.

What was your first language?

BASIC, of course.

What was the first real program you wrote?

As I recall, it was a character generator for Dungeons and Dragons back on the TRS-80. Involved a lot of random number generation and printing.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

In no particular order: BASIC, Pascal, Quick Basic, Visual Basic, COBOL, C, C++, C#, Delphi, Fortran, dBase, FoxPro, RPG III, a little assembler, probably some more I can’t recall. Working on learning Powershell and F# now.

What was your first professional programming gig?

I guess it depends. A friend of mine and I co-wrote an inventory system for someone who wanted to start a company. It was written using compiled BASIC 1.0, and the software and DOS had to fit on one floppy disk, then the inventory for the store had to fit on a second floppy. Unfortunately they went under before we could get paid. I then went on to write a dBase II system for a lawyer to organize some charity or other, that was the first system I actually got paid for.

If you knew then what you knew now, would you have started programming / DBAing?

Oh yes, love it! There’s something rather intoxicating about making the computer sing and dance to your whim.

If there one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

Can’t decide on one, so there are two things I’d share. First, as much fun as coding is, never forget you are there to solve a problem. Ultimately it’s not about you but about the user experience. Don’t be afraid to subjugate your ego to the success of the project, ultimately it’ll pay.

Second, take time for the peripheral skills. Communications, business, etc. These will make you far more valuable as a professional developer than technical skills alone.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?

Hmm, tough call. Believe it or not I used to work for a prophylactic factory. It was a lot of fun coding the interfaces between the machine that printed the serial number on each one, and the production database.

Either that or right after we got married I spent close to two years working from home. My wife would sometimes sit in my lap and snuggle up while I was able to reach around her and keep coding. Distracting perhaps, but the question was about fun not productivity!

Who are you calling out?

Hmm, let’s see, that’s a tough one since this meme’s been around a while. Let’s annoy…

MaggiePlusPlus

Rachel Appel

Amanda Launcher (AKA Pandamonial)

Jeff Barnes

Keith Elder

Chris Woodruff

Glen Gordon

Shawn Wildermuth

Michael Neel (ViNull)

Dougal Campbell

Paul Waters

Wow, looks like there are still some victims developers left after all…

Happy Towel Day!

Wanted to wish everyone a Happy Towel Day!

If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s a tribute to the late Douglas Adams, who passed away May 11th, 2001. In addition to being a prolific author and creator of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams was a big technology enthusiast. He helped create several video games, and was a big promoter of hypertext.

To Quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide…

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very, very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

I’ve got my towel, how about you?

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