Life Balance

In my post a few days ago, one of my resolutions for 2011 is a better work – life balance. I am working on ways to still produce as much as ever but still give more time to my family. I’ve got a few ideas that I wanted to share, and am hopeful you’ll leave comments with your ideas.

Lunch time – I’m lucky enough to work from home quite a bit. On those days I make it a point to emerge from my home office which is down in our basement and eat lunch with my family. True, it’s a brief time, 20 to 30 minutes, but we still get to enjoy each others company. When I’m in the office for several days in a row, they come in to meet me at least once a week where we eat out together.

Date time – I have two daughters, so every couple of weeks my wife and I have “dates” with them. We let the girls plan what they want to do, and each of us takes a kid and goes on a “date”. That gives each of us one on one time with a kid, as well as giving the kids time apart from each other. My oldest daughter and I usually go to the local Doctor Who fan club meetings (she’s a huge Doctor Who fanatic, has her own sonic screwdriver and life size TARDIS). The other daughter loves ice skating and playing video games with me.

Remote working – Living room to dungeon. At the start of the year my wife and I redid our living room. We tossed our old sofa and each got a new recliner and end tables. I took an old laptop and ran the power cord through the drawer and out the back. Now I can sit in my comfy chair, pull out my laptop and remote control my two computers down in the dungeon (aka my home office). When I’m done, I simply close the lid, slide it back in the drawer and close it. It’s hidden out of sight, nice and neat. But now I can easily sit with the family and work on things that don’t require a lot of brain power, setting up virtual machines for example.

The “TO DO” list – Like many people I have a “to do” list apart from my work related tasks, stuff that needs doing around the house, car maintenance, yard work, etc. I’m trying to make a point to accomplish at least one thing on our to do list each week.

Portable Learning – Between my Kindle and Zune it’s now very easy to take my content consumption on the road. While I wait for the family to shop in some ladies clothing store, for example, I can sit and read or catch up on podcasts.

There’s a few ideas, hope they help you too, and please leave comments with your ideas!

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.

The Presenters Packing List

In my previous post I mentioned a packing list. I use this list prior to heading out to speaking engagements. I thought others might find it useful so I thought I’d put it here, along with a short explanation when needed.

Laptop – Pretty obvious

Backup Laptop – I bring my netbook along, as a backup computer. Just in case the main one dies.

External Hard Drive – I also bring along an external drive that has all my presentations, necessary ISOs, etc. This way in a real crisis I can borrow another presenters laptop to do my presentation. This actually happened at a SQL Saturday, only it was my laptop that got borrowed when a fellow presenters laptop failed to boot. Fortunately he had everything on a thumb drive.

Extension cord – I have been in a few venues where the power plug was almost out of reach. I keep a 12 foot extension cord in my bag that has three, three prong outlets on it. Even if you don’t need it for your presentation, it’s quite handy in the hotel room, and especially so if you’re flying. Often waiting areas have few outlets, most of which are usually occupied. I’ve never been turned down though when I whip out my handy extension cord and ask if we could both plug into it.

CAT-5 Network Cable – I keep a 12 foot network cable in my backpack, I’ve been to several places that had no wireless but did have wired. Heck, even going to business meetings it’s come in hand on more than one occasion. Also great in the hotel room as you can run the cord a distance and relax in bed.

Spare Mouse – Normally I like a trackball, but it’s easy enough to forget, so I keep a small travel mouse in my bag all the time.

Presenters Mouse – Please, please, please my fellow presenters! If you are going to present and have more than 3 slides in your presentation invest in a decent presenters mouse. It’s very distracting when you stand by the screen, then have to keep running back to your laptop to advance to the next slide.

Zune – True, I don’t use it during the presentation, but I keep it handy when I travel.

Kindle – Again, not used during presentation, but a great way to make the trip go by quickly, or to look up an answer to something you’ve been asked.

Cell phone – OK, I admit it, I once went to a week long convention and left my cell phone sitting in my desk charger at home.

USB Cords – Check to make sure you have all the cords you need for all the toys you are bringing. You will need at least one for each device, so you can interface with and also recharge.

Powered USB Hub – If you have more than a few devices, you might also wish to bring along a powered USB hub. Even if you don’t plug it into your laptop you can still use it to charge all your stuff.

Spare Batteries – I use rechargeable batteries in everything, a great investment and good for the environment. Before I leave I swap out batteries in everything I’m bringing for fresh ones, and make sure to bring enough spares to resupply everything at least once. If you are going to be gone a long time, you might also bring along your battery charger.

USB Thumbdrives – I keep a few thumbdrives in my bag, usually ones I picked up at some conference for free. I’m often asked by attendees if they can get a copy of my demos/slides, but then they don’t have a drive. Sometimes I even have the foresight to put the material on them in advance.

Business Cards – I bring along a big stack of business cards, they are easy to hand out (put a pile by the door and near or on the podium). Let’s face it, while business may not be your main motivation for being there, you wouldn’t want to turn any potential new customers down either.

Pen/paper – Keep a small notepad and paper handy, it’s great for writing down contact info, or “to do’s” that arise during an event.

Mouse pad – Sometimes your mouse just won’t work where you need it to, maybe the surface is too reflective, or not reflective enough. A spare mouse pad fixes that quickly.

Laptop cable locks – If I’m going to a multi-day conference, I might only need my big laptop for the day of my presentation. For the other days my netbook will do fine. To make sure my big laptop is safe in my room I use a cable lock to secure it to my desk or some other fixed object. Also handy if you want to leave it in a speakers lounge for a while, sadly there have been incidents where laptops have gone missing.

Penlight – I keep an inexpensive penlight in my bag, sometimes I have to get down low to run my power cord / video cable, or perhaps dig deep in my bag for something. A little extra light never hurts.

Swiss Army Knife – I have a collection of Swiss Army Knives, but by far my favorite is the CyberTool. It’s made for working on computers, I’ve found it extremely useful. Warning, you can’t take this on the airplane with you thanks to TSA rules, but you can put it in your suitcase so you have it while you are at your destination.

Swag – If you plan to give away anything, don’t forget to bring it along.

Cash – Keep a small amount of money in your bag. Maybe $20 (or the equivalent in your local currency). Keep it in small bills, plus a few dollars in coins. One late Sunday night I was caught in an airport with no open restaurants. Naturally there’s been no meal service on the plane and I was hungry. Fortunately I had quite a few ones and some change on me, so I was able to grab some food from the vending machines. Not fine cuisine, but kept me alive and my stomach from rumbling. Also handy if you have a car and need to stay in a parking deck or feed a curbside parking meter.

Power Supplies – Don’t forget them.

The “Extras”

Sometimes when I travel, if I’m going by my own vehicle and I’ll be there for several days, or if I’m helping to host an event, I’ll grab my “extras” bag. It’s a spare laptop bag, one of a bunch I’ve gotten from attending various conferences. In it I toss in things I might need. Among some of the contents are:

Extra CAT5 network cables; Extension VGA cables; A power bar with multiple outlets; small network hub; a variety of USB cables; Extra earbuds for my Zune;

Start Packing

Well there’s my list. Use it and adapt it as you see fit. Feel free to leave a comment with your own ideas of things in your laptop travel bag.

Speaking on the SS Titanic

If you listened to the episode of Deep Fried Bytes that I was interviewed on you’ll recall I was interviewed along side fellow SQL Server MVP Denny Cherry (blog | twitter). He recently wrote a blog post called “When the demo’s don’t work the men and women are separated from the boys and girls.

I know from the perspective of the audience it looks like presenters are calm, rehearsed and have everything under control. Sadly, we are usually freaked out, winging it, and trying to herd a group of cats.

Well OK, it’s not quite that bad, but sometimes it does feel like it, especially when disaster hits in the form of our demos going bad. Denny and several others have been sharing stories about their demo disasters so I thought I’d give you a glimpse into the scary mind that is Arcane Code and share with you too.

Demoing Beta software is a lot like working with kids and animals

The old show business wisdom of “never work with kids or animals” could easily extend to beta software. I was demoing the early beta of PowerPivot. I’d rehearsed and work though my presentation several times all without a hitch. So naturally when I was doing it before the audience, nothing seemed to work right. The data imports crashed, none of the charts would display correctly, and it crashed Excel twice. What to do?

Well, I’m a big believer in Scott Berkun’s advice in “Confessions of a Public Speaker”. Let the audience in on it, don’t try to BS. Heck, a lot of the time there are people in the audience far smarter than I am. I’ve even had PHD’s attend my sessions. Even if an audience member is new at coding they’re still smart enough to smell someone trying to feed them a line.

So I simply admitted what was happening, explained what they should be seeing, and kept going. I skipped ahead to some things that were working, fortunately this group took an intermission about halfway through the meeting for a pizza break. While they chowed down I was able to reboot, and get the demos working again. I even had enough time for a few pieces of pepperoni myself!

When they returned, I brought them up to speed on what I’d done, showing them the now working pivot charts. I finished off the section I was on, then returned to my original flow.

A pretty shade of Blue

On two occasions I’ve been bitten by the “Blue Screen Of Death” The first was trivial, I was presenting at CodeStock last year. (By the way CodeStock is open for registration and speaker call, go check it out.) Just as I advanced to the very last slide in my deck, the “any questions here’s my e-mail/blog again” slide, the audience started laughing. I turned to see the “BSOD” screen on the big projector. Fortunately the session was over and I was able to field questions without needing the computer.

The other time though had a bit more of an impact. It was fairly early in my presentation and I had installed Windows 7 Beta 1 on my PC so I could learn it. A few slides in my laptop screen suddenly went black. I was puzzled then saw a BSOD quickly followed by a reboot. What to do?

Well, I just made a quip about using beta software, then proceeded to talk about what had been on the slide I’d been showing and the next one as well while my machine rebooted and I started launching PowerPoint and my demos. It’s a bit hard to talk and launch, but you can get the hang of it, and I think short pauses are OK, especially if the audience sees what’s up. Remember, they can feel your pain, everyone has experienced that lovely shade of blue at some time or another.

More power Scotty, I need more power!

My worst disaster wasn’t directly demo related, nor did the audience ever see it, but it was still a nightmare. I had traveled 3 hours to attend a SQL Saturday. I got to the hotel about 11 pm, to my horror I found I’d left my laptop power supply at home. To make it worse, I’d been using the laptop on the way over (don’t worry my lovely wife was driving) so there wasn’t a lot of battery power left.

Fortunately my wife had her laptop. I wound up staying up until 4 am downloading the various ISOs I needed to install the software I needed to do demos on her computer. Bleary eyed I showed up the next day and was able to do my presentations, using her laptop plus sucking up the remaining power on my laptop. It was a close call, on my laptop I had about 15 minutes of power left when my session was over.

Pain is funny

If you look at YouTube, you’ll find no shortage of people hurting themselves. Falling off things, getting whacked in inappropriate body parts, and we all laugh. So as you laugh at my pain, I hope you’ll take away some of the lessons I learned, should you speak, or even do a presentation at your office.

1. Never BS. Follow Burken’s advice, if something goes wrong simply acknowledge it and move on.

2. Know your stuff. When your computer crashes, and it will, be prepared to keep talking. Know your slides well enough so you can talk even without them. Be prepared to describe in vivid detail what the audience would see if Visual Studio / SQL Server / your tool of choice was running.

3. Create a list, and check it twice. After the forgotten power supply incident, I created a packing list. I have on it all the things I’ll need to do demos with. I check it, and double check it, before I zipper up my laptop bag and suitcase.

4. Have a backup box. I got home from a trip a few years ago, to find the internal screen on my laptop had quit working. I was lucky that it was when I got home, but it still taught me a lesson. Now when I head out, I have two laptops, my main demo box and my netbook.

As netbooks are relatively inexpensive, it wasn’t a big investment, plus with their long battery life they are great for pulling out and taking notes on all day. True, there are a few things I cannot do on my 2 gig netbook that I can do on my 8 gig laptop, but I can at least still run PowerPoint, show the code, etc, even if I can’t run the main demos.

I also keep an external portable hard drive handy. On it I have all the ISOs I might need to load up a computer with the software I need to do a demo. I also have all my demos backed up on it, along with a nifty piece of freeware called Virtual Clone Drive. It installs easily, and lets you mount an ISO as if it were another CD / DVD drive.

As you can see, public speaking is not all fun and games. But it’s intensely gratifying, and I encourage you to give it a try if you ever get the chance.

Congratulations to Tracy Hamlin, Exceptional DBA

I just wanted to give a hearty congratulations to Tracy Hamlin, who won the Exceptional DBA Award for 2010. Tracy is a friend of mine from the Steel City SQL user group, and clearly deserves this award. You can see her award at the link above, or read her interview at SQL Server Central. (They ask you to register, but it’s free to join.)

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.

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