With a little help from my friends …

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About two weeks ago I participated in a really cool event hosted by Toi Wright (leader of the Dallas asp.net user group) called GiveCamp ‘We Are Microsoft’.

About a hundred developers, designers and dba’s came together for a weekend to create new websites, databases and applications for 20 charities. Teams from all over the metroplex and from as far away as Arkansas came together for the event. Some teams were there representing the companies they work for (Match.com, Telerik, Sogeti). Others were formed on the spot.

My team was made up of 3 web guys, a designer and myself (the token dba). Latish, Tuan, Reza and I got together with the rep from our charity (the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Dallas – the CAP center) about a week before the event to talk about what we would do and how we might do it. Hillyer (the designer) joined us on Saturday.

The weekend itself is just a blur at this point. We started coding around 5:00 Friday night and basically didn’t stop until around 3:00 Sunday afternoon. One guy from our team (Latish: The coding machine!) actually coded non stop from 10:00 Saturday morning until we uploaded our site around 3:00 Sunday afternoon.

Now … don’t get me wrong. We turned in a site I’m proud of. The only problem is that by the time I recovered from sleep deprivation (sometime Monday night) it was clear to me there was a problem. We had decided to do a ‘roll your own’ solution, basically hand coding the website in asp.net. It was a good solution, and it included all the things the CAP center wanted. The problem is that we had given them a site that would be very difficult to maintain or update. Difficult? Ok … damn hard. really damn hard.

After thinking about it for a day or two I contacted the others on my team and suggested we take another stab at it. This time I wanted to use a cms (content management system) to make it easier for the charity to maintain the site on their own. Every one of them signed on. Immediately. Without hesitation. Awesome!

Hillyer and I started out working on the design. Since Hillyer joined our team after the event had already started she didn’t have much of a chance to contribute to the design phase of our project. Now that we were starting over she would have her chance to shine! Over the next couple days Hillyer came up with a fantastic new look for the site. Very clean, simple and easy to use. It hit every point we wanted. Working with a great designer has been an amazing experience. As a database guy, I haven’t had much exposure to that side of the business. Hillyers work is simply beautiful.

The only problem is that the design she mocked up for us was just that. A design. Not a website. So now I had the challenge of converting this amazing design into a css template that I could use in Sitefinity (the cms we chose). Now remember, I’m a dba. Not a web guy. I knew I needed help, so I turned to an expert. I contacted @Sh3N3rd (Mitsi McKee), a friend from twitter that does this stuff for a living. I’m convinced it was reaching out to her that saved this project.

IMG 3955-1

@Sh3N3rd couldn’t help me with the css slicing (cutting the image provided by the designer into pieces and reassembling them using css and html), but she put me in touch with a friend that she thought could help. Tom Nussbaum (twitter @tomlovesyou) stepped up and agreed to help get us through this roadblock. Did I mention Tom lives in Austria ? Suddenly this project is global!

A couple days later and input from a couple more continents (Indonesia and South Africa) and we’re getting closer to having a world class template (to easy, I couldn’t resist) ready to go. Tom put in a lot of hours on this. He did it for a charity he’s never heard of, in a city he might never visit on the other side of the world from him, for no money. As my little boy would say … ‘how cool is that daddy?’ Answer: Very cool.

So that brings us current. Hopefully soon I’ll be applying the new template in Sitefinity and bringing over content from the CAP centers ‘old’ site.

I’ve talked with the CAP center a lot during all this. There are some neat additions that we’re gonna tack on, now that we have some time to work with. So stay tuned and with any luck my next update will include a link to the new design in a live site!

Tim.

p.s.  The rocket man in the green jumper is my boy Trevor when he was 4.

January 29, 2009 at 10:35 am 1 comment

Was tagged by Brent Ozar on twitter so it seamed like as good a reason as any to revive this poor old blog.  Note to self:  move ‘update blog’  closer to top of next action list!

Professional goals for 2009:

SQL related goals:
Learn (and use) more mdx.
Learn more about query execution plans and practice using them to optimize queries.
Become certified MCITP in sql 2008 business intelligence.
Deliver a 2 hour sql presentation for a .net or sql user group in dfw area.
Learn enough to use mySQL on a non-trivial production project.

Non-SQL related goals:
Learn more about Sharepoint and PerformancePoint and use one of them on a job.
Get comfortable enough with asp.net to put together a decent site with minimal stress.
Improve the focus, content and frequency of blog posts to wonkycoder.com

Training related goals:
Attend at least 2 barcamps and geek out in as many non-sql, non-microsoft sessions as possible.
Attend a Stephen Few seminar (data visualization).
Attend a Kimball data warehouse seminar.
Go to a sql saturday.
Go to as many sql and .net user group meetings as I can.

Home – family related goals:
Help my kids build the coolest back yard playhouse/fort EVER.
Take my wife for a get away weekend to Vegas.
Take the family to Disney World.

@cjewel (Caroline Jewel) – sql gal and author in my birthplace Santa Rosa CA.

@dsainsights (Tony Rose) – makes data visualization cool.

@davidmohara (David O’Hara) – not strictly a sql guy, but the smartest dev I know.

December 30, 2008 at 6:04 pm Leave a comment

match.com open house.

match.com logo

Last night match.com hosted an open house for the local developer community. Office tours, a short presentation, free food, free BEER! Of course I was there!

Wow! I can’t believe how cool that office space is. I’m trying to ration myself on exclamation points in this post … but after last night, it aint easy. I have never seen anything like it. It’s clear they’ve put a LOT of time, money and thought into creating an appealing environment. I’ve never been to Google’s offices, but we’ve all heard the stories. Trust me; they’ve got nothing on match.com. This place was amazing.

The work spaces were a tad on the smallish size, but they all had large LCD monitors, nice keyboards, nice chairs, good lighting. Rather than the standard carpet and plywood cube walls they had some sort of light fabric dividers to separate the spaces and give people a little privacy. There was a (fun – funky – cool – fresh) sort of vibe everywhere. I could definitely see myself working there.

All the match.com people I talked with were passionate about what they do, and I can’t blame them. It’s a freakin cool job! I get excited just thinking of all the interesting patterns and trends that are just waiting in the mountains of data they collect. hmmm… I’m starting to think maybe I spend too much time in SQL.

If you’re in the market for a new job and you live or can drive to the SMU area in Dallas I highly recommend you give them a look. For me, I’m putting them at the top of my list for the next go around. For the moment I’m happy where I am, but like they would say on match.com … it doesn’t hurt to look!

June 19, 2008 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

my love hate relationship with SSIS … part 17: curly braces!

As I have already ‘invested’ 3 hours of my life in learning this lesson, I thought I would pass it on to you (or more likely a future version of me that will forget all of this after I sleep again).

Today I wanted to do a simple thing in SSIS (sql server integration services). I wanted to create a derived column so that downstream in the pipeline I could populate the ‘new’ column with a GUID courtesy of a script I found via google. This seamed like such a simple task. Unfortunately I ran into trouble with the derived column transform.

The derived column transform allows you to create a new column of type dt_guid (unique identifyer), but you MUST put something in the expression field. If you don’t provide a value for the expression the transform craps out when you try to close it. I’ll spare you the gory details and just say that the correct expression in this case is a valid guid surrounded by curly brackets AND quotation marks. Example: “{CD7297DF-57BA-4526-B011-639F4AE349BD}” I gotta say … I sure didn’t see that one coming. I tried curly brackets by themselves (brrrrr … try again!), quotations by themselves (brrrrr … try again!), I tried begging, pleading, ignoring errors … nothing worked. That is, nothing except the correct expression. And it only took me 3 hours to riddle that answer out.

My thanks to Jamie Thomson @ SSIS Junkie for the script, and Paul Hunter on the NTSSUG mailing list for the assist.

June 16, 2008 at 6:22 pm 1 comment

Summer Reading List

I’ve noticed a lot of interesting summer reading lists online lately, so I thought I would share my (current) summer reading list …

ImageBack of the napkin: Dan Roam

Ok … so I just finished this one, but it’s so good I wanted to make sure I included it on the list. Wow, what an amazing book. If I had to pick a fault I would say that it’s a little on the light side on some topics, but I could also make the argument that this is one of the books strengths, so its a wash. I like that he sort of gives you the tools and the confidence you need to go out there and do it, but doesn’t waste a lot of time with hand holding. I’m going to re-read this one in about a month to see if I can get any new insights after I’ve played with the techniques I’ve learned. I highly recommend this to anyone that has to explain complicated projects to others.

ImageBeyond Words: A Guide to Drawing Out Ideas: Milly Sonneman

I found this one during an Amazon search for books about visualizing data. It looks like a real winner. It’s basically a how to draw book. I followed a link from a reviewer to the books home page and they had a couple free examples of how they teach drawing. Even I could do it! I think this book will make a good follow up to back of the napkin. ‘napkin’ is strong on concept, but it doesn’t really go past stick figures. The demo I did was just a step past stick figures, but I think it will help me build confidence in my drawings.

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Head First C#: Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene

This one has been on my reading list for a LONG time. For the past year I’ve been off again / on again studying vb.net. The job I’m on now prefers C#, so C# is on my list! I’ve read a couple head first books (Java, Object Oriented Analysis and Design, Design Patterns and HTML) so I’m familiar with the format. If you’ve never read a head first book you should check out their web site to get an idea of how they work. Head first books are very visual, very much in line with the concepts at the core of ‘Back of the napkin’. I’ve enjoyed every other head first book and I’m looking forward to reading this one.

ImageShow Me the Numbers: Stephen Few

As I began to get comfortable with sql 2005 reporting services I realized that if I wanted to be taken seriously as business intelligence developer I had better get a LOT more comfortable with charts and graphs. Up to now I’ve gotten by with just barely being able to tell the difference between the x and y axis on a chart. A little research and a tip from a friend turned up this gem. This book is simply incredible. I’m slowly working my way through it, but I have no doubt when I’m finished I will know more about charts and graphs than anyone I work with, hands down. It’s clear to me that the future of business intelligence will be strongly influenced by people like Stephen Few. I’ll post a more detailed review with my notes when I’m finished reading this one.

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Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2005: T-SQL Querying: Itzik Ben-Gan

This is another one I’ve been slowly working through. This is not a light read. I find myself really having to pay attention, and more than once caught myself re-reading the same page several times to make sure I get the point. This guy completely owns t-sql, and soon so shall I!

ImageMicrosoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services 2005: Brian Larson

And finally a reporting services book. I actually thought I was getting on top of things with Reporting Services and then this book comes along to show me how much I still have to learn! I’m loving the walk throughs and finding tons of useful little tricks in every chapter. This one will stay on my desk long after I’ve finished it to serve as a reference (and a reminder that there is ALWAYS more to learn.)

June 13, 2008 at 3:09 am Leave a comment

Lost templates in visual Studio 2005.

background: For my new gig I needed to install Visual Studio 2005. I already have Visual Studio 2008 installed, so I was hoping for a nice easy side by side install. Well … that’s what I got. Sort of anyway. When I finished I found that VS.2005 looked OK but there were no templates installed. In other words, New – Project – VB didn’t give me any templates for VB projects. Same with C#. The BI templates and the C++ templates all installed OK. A little digging on the internet turned up the solution. Go to the Visual Studio 2005 command prompt (under Visual Studio Tools) and run the following:

devenv /installvstemplates

It takes a minute or two to run, but it worked perfectly. There was a note on the forum where I found this that indicated the problem could be caused by a registry cleaner. I use CCleaner, so that’s probably the culprit.

May 13, 2008 at 2:49 pm Leave a comment

Business Intelligence boot camp!

Today was the first day of my second session of business intelligence boot camp. What a great day! Some people might not think spending the entire weekend in a classroom listening to sql talk would be fun, but man … I had a GREAT time! A great topic (integration services) presented by a great speaker (Mike Hotek). Mike did a great job today. My favorite part of the class came late in the afternoon when Mike took us on a guided tour of an integration services project he is working on. It was an ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) project to bring in data from compressed text files, scrub the data and load it into sql. He walked us through his thought process and design strategies. He showed us parts that he’d done right and parts that he’d done wrong (and redone more than once). He managed to sum up 2 or 3 days of lecture (between this session and the last one) in about two hours. His project used a lot of the ‘big guns’ in IS, so he walked us through them again and pointed out how he used them in this real world context. He also pointed out some places he had to do a little hacking to get around some things that IS won’t do or does poorly. It was a presentation unlike any I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a presentation based on fake data that could match this look at the real deal. Hat’s off to you Mike!

April 13, 2008 at 3:54 am Leave a comment

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