Jan 13 2016

Learning R: Hitting the Books

IMG_20160111_075959238I’ve been using a series of web sites while I was starting the process of learning R. I’ve highlighted several of these in previous posts. While people will claim to learn better based on a single source-type, studies have found that you actually learn best by a multitude of methods. So, in addition to video instruction, web sites, guides, etc., I’m also going to read a few books to help learn R.

After a lot of research, I’ve arrived at two that I’m starting with. The first is R In Action. I’m already on the 2nd chapter and I’m enjoying the style and approach. The other book is Using R for Introductory Statistics. I’m using this book because as I have already picked up, the real trick to learning R is not figuring out the syntax and methodology, but rather understanding the math and the data in support of that math. This book seems to cover those aspects better than the R In Action book.

I’ll post actual reviews of these books when I’m done with them. In the mean time I hope my explorations are proving a little bit useful to those who are starting down the path.

Sep 17 2013

Great Idea: Tribal SQL

Writing books, even just a chapter, is not easy. Yet, people are desperate to do it for some reason. But, it’s actually hard to break into writing (not that hard, I did it after all). So, when you get the chance to work on a book, if you’re crazy enough to think you want to, jump on the opportunity. My good friend, and co-author of SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Volume 2, Jenn McCown (b|t) had an idea. Instead of gathering up a bunch of the usual suspects, what if you gave people who have never published anything a shot at writing a chapter. Yeah, insane, right? But then again, every author you know, at one point, wasn’t published. Someone gave them a chance. Jenn is just that kind of person. The name of her project, Tribal SQL.

What’s more, royalties that the authors would earn are actually going to go to Computers 4 Africa.

I haven’t read the book yet. I work for Red Gate and could get a free copy. I won’t. I’m going to go buy one. You should too. The book will be released in October.

Jan 21 2013

Pro SQL Server 2012 Practices: Chapter 12

A9781430247708-3d_1I was very privileged to get the opportunity to write a chapter in a book with some of my friends and SQL Family, Pro SQL Server 2012 Practices
. Just as each of us took a chapter to write, each of us going to take a chapter to review. But, being the greedy sort, I’m going to review two. First up, Chapter 12, “Windows Azure SQL Database for DBAs”, by Herve Roggero (b|t)

Personally, I love Azure. And I love Azure SQL Databases. But, I get the fear and trepidation they might cause. I also get the urge to write about them, but I never really felt like I should approach them from a book. Everything changes so much, so quickly in Azure and books just take a while to get out the door. It all seemed like an exercise in terror. But, Herve Roggero has taken a very smart approach here. Instead of a straight how-to, which is what I would have stupidly done, Herve has done a “why” approach. Why would you use this? What does it offer? What business need are you fulfilling? And I really love that approach to technology, not worrying about the technical aspects of it, but the business needs that it answers.

Herve starts with the basic architecture of the SQL Database. His emphasis is on the fact that we’re talking availability and up-time instead of performance. He does a good overview of how things are put together on the server so you can understand what’s happening to your data and why. He then goes on to show differences between what you are presumably familiar with, SQL Server, and SQL Database. He also covers the various management tools available online as part of Azure and security settings. He’s very careful to qualify things so that you know that everything is subject to change, but he still packs a lot of useful information in as he discusses the types of databases available and how to backup your data (you don’t, but you can get around that to a degree).

Herve spends a lot of time talking about how Federations are currently working within SQL Database. This is because Federations are one of the key business needs that the Azure SQL Database answers. He gives a great overview of Federations works then walks through a simple example so that you can understand what he meant. He finishes up that section with a review on the limitations so you will know how it affects your business needs.

Since performance is a secondary consideration everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, right? No! Of course not. And Herve doesn’t let us down. He covers some of the most important performance Dynamic Management Objects (although he calls them DMVs, dude, get with the program. Kidding, kidding.) you’ll need for understanding which of your queries are performing badly. He also provides a nice overview of how execution plans are presented within the SQL Database Management Portal (SDMP, a new abbreviation, I’ll use this). He also shows how the Query Performance dashboard will help you identify problem queries within your SQL Database.

Herve also covers some of the other utilities included with SQL Database such as Reporting Services and SQL Data sync. It’s important to remember, we’re not just talking T-SQL here. This is a full infrastructure to answer complete business needs. Herve doesn’t forget. He concludes with a short discussion on price, something that must be taken into account when talking about Azure SQL Database.

In summary, this is an excellent introduction to the topic of the Azure SQL Database. Herve has supplied you with the information you need to begin to make decisions on whether or not this could be something to satisfy business needs within your organization. Nice work Herve.

Nov 07 2011

Book Review: Guerilla Leader, T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

As part of my commitment to read and review 12 books in an effort to be active in my own personal development, a commitment made on the SQL Cruise back in June, I’ve completed another book, Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt by James J. Schneider.

This was not the book I was scheduled to read. I’m still reading it, but, frankly, it’s boring. This book came to my attention, a history book that is also an exploration of leadership, and I got excited. I’ve long been a student of history and I’ve had a fascination for World War I for a long time. I have over twenty books on the subject that I’ve read. So the chance to combine reading about a subject that I already enjoy with a subject that I’m trying hard to improve on was too much to avoid.

I won’t discuss the history in James J. Schneider’s book here because it isn’t appropriate to this blog. I will point out that I got a sense that he was rushing through bits and pieces of it in an effort to get to the points he wanted to make about leadership and I thought that the rush detracted from the book, just a little.

But the leadership sections of the chapters were very good. I think the use of the story of an actual person attempting to take charge of something as wild as the desert revolt provided an excellent prop for making points about leadership in general. Each chapter ended with a discussion about the things that Lawrence learned, mistakes he made, and things he got right, all in, and around, leadership. I found it instructive and useful, but not really useful enough. I think two more chapters, one outlining the major points of leadership that the book was going to explore at the beginning, and another summarizing the points at the end would have made for a more complete book. As it was, you got the sense that the author wanted to mainly write the history, and the leadership stuff was a hook. If that’s the case, then the history was processed too quickly and the leadership stuff could have been reduced.

I’m walking away from the book with things to think about, which is the main point of a personal development book, at least I think so. I wouldn’t say I have any tasks to add to my list from reading this book, but I do have a few more insights in what it means to be a leader, how difficult, yet important, communication is, and that leadership is not about titles.

This is my October book, slightly delayed because of all the travel. You’ll see another post shortly with yet another book for November. That will make this  #5 and the next will be #6 for my year.

Aug 29 2011

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

I’ve finished my 3rd book as part of my year long commitment to read and review professional/personal development books. I read one of my favorite authors this time, Seth Godin and his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us .

I’ve either been very smart or very lucky in my choice of books. I’ve enjoyed all three. But this one was better than the other two. Then again, this is my third Seth Godin book, I think I’m predisposed to enjoying his writing.

The core idea behind the book is predicated on two facts. First, humans tend to congregate, we’re social critters. Second, you can take the lead of your tribe. Easy stuff, right? Wrong. It’s complicated and weird and hard. The book doesn’t even remotely suggest otherwise. This is not a “do these three things and you’ll be famous, rich, and have lots of attractive people draped across your body” kind of books. No. This book is about work. Work at home, work at work, work in the community… defined how you want to to be. Working to take the lead to decide on a direction and do the things necessary to go there, but most importantly, to take your tribe with you, assuming they want to go.

It’s a great and fun read. It’s filled with stories from real life and movies, whatever and wherever, to illustrate the points that Seth Godin wants to illustrate. Some of it is wonderful, such as “Leadership Is Not Management” or “Stability Is An Illusion.” Other parts are frankly off putting, talking about failure and the fear of it, something that we all deal with all the time… or maybe that’s just me. He really covers a lot of material that I found incredibly useful because I’m trying to be one of those leaders (and why I’m motivated to do that was at least partially answered by the last book).

I find that some of the book is just going to be difficult for me to really make use of. He talks about doing things that others are not. Frankly, I’m just not there. I try to be imaginative, but I think I’m generally a bit dull (which is fine, competent, dull & employed is just fine). Other parts were inspiring and I think I can use them. For example, we live in an age where you really can just start doing things with little cost to entry. I’m reading this book at the same time as Google+ is getting started. There is this thing called Hangouts in G+. While reading the book and looking at the functionality of G+ I realized that, maybe, Hangouts were a way to build community, chat, help people, consult, something… I’m still not 100% sure. But, because I was reading the book. I started hosting hangouts. I’ve hosted 5 or 6 at this point and I’ve attended another 5 or 6 hosted by others. I posted about my experience with Hangouts too. All because I was reading this book and realized I might be able to do something here in relation to my “tribe.”

In short, it’s a great read, I think I’m going to get useful information out of the book. I think I already have. Plus, I get a kick out of the idea of being a heretic. Now I just need to find out what I should be a heretic about.

Next book is all about marketing: Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business

Jun 13 2011

Time for a Little PD

No, PD doesn’t stand for PowerShell Development. It stands for Professional Development. Sharks either swim or die (and yes, I know that’s not 100% accurate, but I need a hook on which to hang this lesson). Knowledge workers either develop more knowledge or become buggy whip manufacturers. It’s that simple. Keep moving/learning or die/become obsolete. I’m voting for continuing to learn.

In keeping with this, during SQL Cruise Alaska (I’ll be posting more on my thoughts about the trip), I was privileged to sit through Buck Woody’s (blog|twitter) presentations on “Three C’s on the High Seas.” Buck is a great teacher and not at all afraid to hand out homework, which he did before and during the cruise. Confession time, I did fail to do one pre-cruise assignment and Buck marked my grades down accordingly. I think I’m going to get a gentleman’s C on this one (which would make it “Four C’s” but I digress). One assignment was to give yourself a measurable goal of reading twelve (12) books on professional development related to your goals over the next year. I will read the following books and post short reviews about them:

Presentations in Action by Jerry Weissman: 80 memorable presentation lessons from the masters. I’m always looking to improve my presentations, so any help I can get is worth investigating.

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath: Basically, learn your strengths and start to work them. This was supposed to be part of my pre-cruise homework. I’ll hand it in late and take the hit.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin: Innovation by building a tribe of people that support that innovation. Plus, I just like reading Seth Godin books.

Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business by David Siteman Garland: Entrepreneurial approaches to marketing. Technically I’m not technical any more. I’m a marketing wonk. Might as well learn about the job.

Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself by Daniel H. Pink: Shifting working patterns in the new business models operating these days. Sounds good to someone who lives in the US and works for a company in England.

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding Technical Talent: How to find good developers. I still think of myself as a developer, so I might as well try to be a good one. One way is to understand how they’re recognized and emulate that behavior.

Moving Applications to the Cloud on the Microsoft Azure Platform by Eugenio Pace, et al: Yeah, it’s on Buck’s list and it looked interesting. I’m convinced that we need to pursue knowledge of SQL Azure and understand how to work with it as part of keeping our jobs.

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything: Not sure I buy it, but since I’m so involved with the SQL Server community, might as well try to understand how they work.

The Long Tail: Again, trying to understand my new job within our changing world.

The Cloud At Your Service: I’m All In. Of course defining what I’m all in for is a different matter entirely.

The Wuffie Factor: Got this one from Tom LaRock’s (blog|twitter) reading list. He has some good stuff.

That’s my list. Watch for the blogged reviews. I do reserve the right to change my mind on my reading list, so don’t come back on me in 6 months complaining that I didn’t read the book I said I was going to.

Your turn.

Nov 16 2010

SQL Server Team-Based Development

The new book is available in a free download from Red Gate. I had a lot of fun working on the three chapters that I did for this book. The topics I received are near & dear to me because of all the time I’ve spent working on getting databases into source control and automating (as much as possible) the deployment of databases out of source control. Everything I go over in the book might not be 100% applicable to your situation, but I’m pretty sure almost anyone involved in database development and deployment can find some useful information there. For those who are interested, I don’t just cover Red Gate tools in the book either. There’s quite a bit of time spent describing how to automate deployments using Visual Studio Team System 2010. I also go through ways you can collect and manage code snippets (the best being to use SQL Prompt, but there are others).

I’ve been reading the rest of the book and it’s filled with excellent information too. Yeah, you may already have a naming standard or you might already feel that you’ve got your schema well in hand and you might not see the utility of testing databases. But, read through this book and I’ll bet you pick up one or two things in almost every chapter. The guys who worked on this, Phil Factor (blog|twitter), Alex Kuznetsov (blog) and Mladen Prajdic (blog|twitter), are extremely smart and very informed on all the topics they tackled. There really is something in this book for everyone… unless you’re that guy that is sitting all alone and does everything for the company. Most of the rest of us work on teams, even if the teams are small. Small or large, that’s who this book is written for.

If you want to move your database development game up another notch, I strongly recommend taking a look

Feb 19 2010

So You Want to Write a Book?

What the heck is wrong with you?

Still interested? Fine. I’ll tell you my take on this whole business. I’m only an expert on this if you take the adage that the expert is the guy that’s a page head of you in reading a book. To date I have published two full books and three chapters in a third. I can easily think of enough people who all have more experience than that with book writing that I’d have to take off both shoes to count them all.

Is anyone still reading? Cool. So you have the desire to write a book? Let me pop your first bubble. You will make very little money. This bears repeating. You will make very little money. If you were to figure out your hourly rate for writing this book, something I’ve never had the guts to do, you’ll cry yourself to sleep at night for being such a total fool to agree to write a book.

Still here? Let me pop your second bubble. Your home life/free time/family time/sleep cycle/excercise will suffer. Yes, that’s right. You’re getting paid pennies and you’re suffering for it.

Glutton for punishment? OK. Here’s how you do it. Do you have an idea for a book? If not, stop here and go and think of one. I’m assuming a technical readership since this is a geek blog about geek topics by a geek. Do you think you know everything there is to know about… oh, I don’t know, SQL Server 2008 hierarchy data, and you’re convinced you can fill 200+ pages talking about it? Great! You’re on your way. Pick a publisher. I’m not providing links or suggestions here. If you don’t know any book publishers that means you’re not reading books. If you don’t read them, I don’t think you should write them. Stop here and go read a technical book, preferably one of mine.

Have a publisher in mind? Go to their web site. Every one I’ve looked at has a “write for us” web page. Follow the directions there and submit your idea. You’re now on your way. I’m sure things are different for the big name authors or authors outside the technical sphere, but since you don’t have a name and you’re writing technical books, that’s pretty much all you need to do. You don’t need an agent or a lawyer. You’re going to get a non-negotiable contract from the publisher and you’re going to sign it because you want to write a book. Assuming they like your idea. Ah, but you’re not done with simply submitting the idea. You need to do two other things, and these won’t be easy. You need to define your market. Are there more than 20 people interested in reading a book on the hierarchy data type? Sound easy? It is a bit. Here’s a more challenging one for you. You also need to define how your book will stand out from the rest. If Itzik or Kalen has written 50 pages on hierarchy data types… ready for it… how will your 50 pages be better than theirs?

Stopped crying? Other options are to write articles for publication in places like SQL Server Central or Simple-Talk or SQL Server Standard (and I know the editor from SQL Server Standard most intimately, he needs articles). A few articles about the hierarchy data type and you’ll be a recognized expert. Now, if one of the publishers decides, “Hey, we could really use a book on the hiearchy data type,” and they happen to notice your article, you might get invited to write for them. Or, someone else writing a book needs a chapter on the hiearchy data type, they may contact you to help out. Or, if you’re constantly hanging out on one of the online discussion sites answering detailed questions about the hiearchy data type, the publisher or another author may find you and ask you to write a chapter.

Anyone still here? Of the two approaches, I’d suggest writing articles first. That’s going to do two things for you. First, it gets your name out there and you’ll get noticed. That’s how I did it. Second, it’ll let you decide if you like writing. The first time you get an article back that’s gone through a serious technical edit and it looks like someone has questioned every other word you wrote and the comments, while kind, bash through your arguments and ideas like a wrecking ball… you get to decide how much you like writing. A book is 50 times worse.

Want more? That’s about all there is. There are lots of details when it comes to the act of writing the book, how versions are managed, the writing schedule, promotion (if you get any), how you split the oodles of cash with your co-authors, if any (authors I mean, there will be very little cash), that sort of thing.  Networking is a useful tool. I wrote my second book because I happened to be at a publishing party for an author and I ran into his editor. A short conversation and a couple of emails later… I’m losing sleep and skipping exercise for very little money. Having friends and contacts will lead toward getting partnered up for a book. That’s how you can get tapped to write a chapter or three.

Still reading or have you all long ago stopped reading because this book writing thing is way too much of a pain?

Would I do it again? In a heart beat.

Jan 01 2010


UPDATE: Lulu has removed, not just my stolen material, but all offending material. That means some of the links in this post will no longer work. Back to the post…

And really bad plagiarism at that.

I received an email from someone suggesting I check out a book on Lulu.com, that it might be a copy of my book. Sure enough, this other guy, William Miller, had posted my book, with the original cover (that had my name on it) and the original description on his own “author” page. He also offered a decent little discount on the price. Nice guy. I tried to get an image of his copy of my book, but I can’t find anything on any of the internet archives, which is just as well. His work does show up in a Google search and you can see the cached page from a Bing search.

I contacted Lulu.com and they promptly took my book down. Thanks guys.

But, as I type this, Mr. Miller still has an account. Further, works published under his name are copies of older works, although again, he offers a discount. At least he took the extra effort to provide a different cover graphic. I’ve been in touch with other authors that were on his page (one of them was the original contact that got this started) and it appears that some of them have had their work removed. I appreciate Lulu’s fast response to this issue, but from what I can see, at this point, they’ve only done about a 1/4 of what they need to do. They should pull down all of Mr. Miller’s work and shut down his access to the system. Then, they need to do at least a little bit of oversight to ensure that people can’t do this in the future.

Just so we’re clear, Simple-Talk and Red Gate set up that Lulu page. I wrote the book on spec for them (and thanks, again) and they have publishing rights (although I have copyright). I’m not fighting over this for money because I won’t make a dime if an extra book sells on Lulu, or anywhere else for that matter. I just really and truly hate being ripped off, even though, in this case, money is not involved. I’m especially peeved because of the amount of work that goes into writing a book, even an obscure technical manual that’s only 200 pages long.

I also want to emphasize another point. I think Lulu is providing a great service and they seem to be doing things in an above the board, if somewhat inadequate, fashion. Based on the experiences that I’ve had to date, I’d recommend them for people who wanted to self-publish. I don’t mean for this to be a hit piece on Lulu. I want to get the guy who did this smacked around a bit more and make sure he, or others of his ilk, can’t do it again.

And one other point, kind of a side point, I started posting about this when I found out about it on Twitter. My first response from Lulu was through Twitter. I’m actually wondering if they first saw my complaint on Twitter instead of in the email I sent. I’m going to chalk it up tot he power of Twitter.

If you do want a print copy of the book in question, you can get it on Lulu, or a slightly newer version on Amazon.

Mar 30 2009

Reading to Learn

I just finished chapter 1 of Alastair Aitchison’snew book on SQL Server spatial data, “Beginning Spatial with SQL Server 2008.” If this is the beginners book… oh boy. The advanced book must be insane. Seriously though, Mr. Aitchison seems to have written a fantastic book. I’m going to tear through it as fast as I can because I’ve got two projects that are looking to start using spatial data and quite frankly, I’m a bit lost.

There’s a great discussiongoing on over at SSC as to the worth of technical books for DBA’s. It’s based on this editorialby Tony Davis. I’m surprised by the number of people who say they don’t use books. It seems that a lot more people use blogs and articles and discussion groups to learn. Maybe I’m showing my age a bit, but I don’t think a blog post or an article is going to get the depth and knowledge that Mr. Aitchison is displaying in this book. I know I’m regularly opening Kalen Delaney’s Inside SQL Server 2005 (and the new one for 2008 just came out) to look up bits & pieces of information that just isn’t as readily available on the web. Also, it’s worth pointing out, except for the editing that comes from people who read this blog, no technical review is done of this information. I might be right about the things I post, but I could be VERY wrong. Same with any other blog you read, including blogs by the big names. Despite the errors that creep into books (and trust me, they do), books are very carefully scrutinized by multiple sets of eyes to try to catch those errors prior to publication. They miss some, but they try not to miss any. Few blogs are like that. Not that many technical publications are terribly strict about technical accuracy either. I generally find more good information in the right books than anywhere else.

End of rant. I need to get back to reading this excellent book.