PASS 2009 Tuesday Breakouts

There are 160 breakout sessions this year at the PASS Community Summit in Seattle, with 14 different sessions going on in any given time slot.  This means that there is a really good chance that you will find something of interest to attend during every session time slot.  This also means that there is a good chance that there will be more than one thing that you want to attend at a time.  And since I still haven’t found that cloning lab that Graz was talking about, I’m glad that most of these sessions are being recorded and will be available on the conference DVD and on the PASS website for attendees to review after the Summit is over.

Sometimes it was hard to choose which particular session to attend.  Currently I am playing quite the multi-faceted role of manager, app developer, database developer, and DBA, so I could probably pick up something valuable from every session this year.  But, since I am in the early phase of developing an intense Reporting Services project which is closely related to our first significant use of a hierarchical model which will have some sparsely populated columns, tied to a security management system, all being rolled out on brand new 64-bit Windows Server 2008 / SQL Server 2008 boxes, I used that to guide me this week.  So you might imagine that I was particularly interested in anything relating to the hierarchical model, including the new HierarchyID datatype, anything having to do with advanced Reporting Services configuration and security, and sessions on new features in SQL Server 2008 like SPARSE columns.  Oh and did I mention a project slated for next year that looks (to my untrained eye) a lot like the Bill of Materials problem, which coincidentally, there was a session with that in its name.

I started Tuesday (day 1 of the main conference) with Wayne Snyder’s presentation on Reporting Services in the Enterprise and picked up a few critical tips, especially as it relates to Report Builder 2.0 and some potential pitfalls we would have run right into because we have already anticipated the need for ad-hoc reporting on top of the whiz-bang system we are building.  For example, it is pretty easy for your users to accidentally produce a CROSS JOIN or Cartesian Product result set.  Also some good tips about Subscriptions and security including the reminder that when the Subscription is executed, it runs under the security context of the Reporting Services service account which probably does not have the same permissions as the user who created the subscription or who is targeted to be receiving the subscription.  This can lead to unexpected results if you use Windows Integrated Security for your data source connections and if the code is expecting to use the user’s identity to provide row-level security.

After lunch I went to a session entitled Solving the Bill of Materials Problem which is a problem I will be tackling next year, but which also promised some discussion of HierarchyID, and I’m currently debating whether to use HierarchyID in my current project as well as next year’s task.  The speaker in this session (John Cook) is of the definite opinion that HierarchID may be well suited to simple tree hierarchies; it is not the best solution for the BOM problem.  Good to know and also picked up references to some additional resources to research and decide what is best for our particular needs.

In the next time slot, I slipped on my DBA hat and went to listen to Grant Fritchey talk about how to use the Database Management Views that are new in SQL 2005 and 2008 as a shortcut to query tuning.  I learned a lot from that session, not the least of which is that I have a lot more to learn.  But I must say that it is pretty darn cool that you can issue a SELECT statement to find out about the other queries that are happening right now.

For the last session of the day, I goofed up my schedule and room assignments; and by the time I got it all straightened out, I decided I was better off taking a break and catching up on some work email and other stuff.  Also had a chance to sit and chat with Joe Webb for a while, which was a treat.

Overall, it was a greatly rewarding and valuable day.  All the things that I learned in this one day would make the whole event worthwhile.

Twitter Revisited

Last night at the Exhibitor Reception at the Summit, Lance Harra said to me, “I thought you gave up on Twitter.”  That was in response to seeing my Twitter ID on my name badge.  Some of you may recall that last year, just before the PASS conference, I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to play with it during the event.  Shortly thereafter, I jumped back off.  Well, this year, again shortly before the Summit, I started getting interested again.  So, here are a few things I thought I’d share to clear the air…

I learned a few tricks to make my use of Twitter a tiny bit more efficient, like using TweetDeck to follow not just a bunch of individuals, but a particular topic like the #sqlpass conversation.  And it has been interesting to meet here at the conference some of the folks that I only knew as Twitter IDs.  But I still believe that it is a huge distraction, and if I walked around my office and saw a twitter tool up on my developers screens more than a couple of times in the day, I would have serious concerns about whether they were getting anything productive done.  I even had to stop myself yesterday in one of the breakout sessions.  I had arrived early and popped open TweetDeck to see what was current, and then the session started and I thought I’d take some notes the old-fashioned way, plus make a few tweets about it.  A few minutes into that little experiment, I found that I kept getting drawn into what other people were tweeting about the sessions they were sitting in, and not paying attention to the guy who I had, essentially, paid money to come hear.  So I shut the notebook lid and stayed with pen and paper.

I talked with Joe Webb last night about this and about how he uses Twitter.  Not to put words in his mouth, but he did make an analogy to email in that it is easy to get sucked-in to responding to an email just because it is there and it is “now” and not necessarily because it is important.  But Joe is also doing an interesting experiment this year where he is using Twitter as a note-taking tool, and also consolidating some of those tweets into a blog post.  I’ll be curious to hear what his opinion of that approach is at the end of the week.

On the other hand, Twitter turned into a great little tool during one of the sessions I attended yesterday.  A question came up about metrics to decide which indexes to rebuild/reorganize, and the speaker stated an opinion that appeared to contradict a previous “Microsoft recommendation”.  One of the members of the audience sent a quick tweet to Paul Randal who happened to be on at the time, and a clarifying answer came back immediately and was able to be shared with everyone in the room in just minutes.  So that was a great use.

So where does that leave us?  Well, as Paul Randal is fond of saying, “It depends.”  There are certainly some ways to take advantage of this technology for good.  And there is the dark side where it is really easy to blow off hours and hours of time.  It’s up to you to decide how to use it for yourself, but as for me, don’t expect to see me much during normal business hours outside of special events like the Summit.

PASS 2009 Tuesday – Opening Remarks and Keynote

KUDOS to Wayne Snyder!

If you have read my reviews of past PASS Community Summit events, you probably know that it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when speakers run over their scheduled time.  Taking a more positive approach this year, I’d like to commend PASS President Wayne Snyder for realizing he was running out of time during his opening remarks before the Microsoft Keynote, and cutting his talk short, skipping over a couple of his last slides.  I’m sure that the valuable information he had on those slides will be presented to the membership at a later time; perhaps in Rushabh’s remarks tomorrow, and it allowed Microsoft to get started with their keynote on time.

Unfortunately, Microsoft did not follow Wayne’s example and ran long again.  This has happened countless times in the past at the PASS Summit.  I know, I know…they’re a founding partner, they give a LOT to the community and this organization in particular, I should cut them some slack, etc., etc.  That’s true, and I do…hey, I stayed through the entire talk this morning instead of getting up and walking out with so many others.  And sure, they have “the right” to do whatever they want and will be given a ton of leeway by the organization and the Board.  On the other hand, it’s still rude.  And I’m sure that both Bob Muglia and Ted Kummert have given enough talks to know how to manage their presentation time better.

“But wait!” I hear you say, “they also brought several people up on stage to do demos and talk, so it’s not all Muglia’s and Kummert’s fault.”  I say, it is still their fault because they should have planned their overall keynote to have enough wiggle room for those extras to run long and still wrap up on time.  That’s really how you manage your time as a presenter.  It’s hard to guess exactly how long it’s going take you to get through your talk even when it’s just you doing the talking.  So you organize your talk so that the key points fit well within the allotted time, even if you get sidetracked by a technical glitch or a long Q&A.  And then you come prepared with bonus material that you can get into if there is extra time at the end.  Not surprisingly, this is how Wayne was able to get through his session on SSRS that came right after, and was cut short by, the long-running keynote.  It even stated directly in the abstract in the book, that he would cover topics X and Y, and “if there is time available” he would also cover topic Z.

Well done, Wayne.

PASS 2009 Monday -- Pre-Conferences and Welcome Reception

This year the schedule for the PASS Community Summit was shifted by one day to change from having two days of pre-conference seminars and then the main conference on Wednesday through Friday; to having one day of pre-conference seminars, one day of post-conference seminars, and the main conference on Tuesday through Thursday.  It will be interesting to see what sort of feedback this new schedule generates.  As for me, it works fine either way.

The pre- and post-conference seminars are typically all-day seminars that cover a topic in significant depth.  These seminars cost extra beyond the money for the main conference registration.  I have been interested in several of these, but have not personally spent the extra money to attend any of them before this year.  However, this year there was a special, short (2-hour) seminar entitled Networking to Build Business Contacts by Don Gabor, and I decided to go for it.  And it actually turned out that as a PASS volunteer this year, I was eligible to attend a shorter 1-hour version of Don’s presentation at no additional charge.  So, I took advantage of both, and both of them were well worth the time and money.  A perk of the paid 2-hour session was a free copy of Don’s book How To Start A Conversation And Make Friends.  I look forward to reading it.  As a fan of the classic How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, I am curious to see what overlap in tips and techniques there are, as well as pick up any new pointers.

Of course, in the 2-hour session, Don was able to go into the topic in more depth and provide additional tips as well as more time to practice on each other than during the 1-hour volunteer session.  I learned good tips and put them to practice from both sessions.  Unfortunately, even in the 2-hour time slot, Don was pressed for time and did not get through everything he had in the handouts.  I would recommend to the PASS Program Committee for next year that they consider inviting Don back again, and perhaps allot a half-day for this.  And while I’m on the topic, I’ll also suggest that the Program Committee and whoever else makes this type of decision, consider doing some half-day pre- and post-conference seminars that may be more affordable or just more attractive based on the duration than a full day is to some people.

After the pre-conference seminars wrapped up, the real kickoff to the main event happened Monday night.  I strongly recommend that anyone coming to a future Community Summit event be sure to arrive for the Welcome Reception.  It is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with friends and contacts from previous events, meet in person some of the folks that you only know from online conversations or blog posts, and of course meet entirely new contacts and friends.  This fun and food event is a great way to relax from a long day or training or travel, and get into the community mood and relax before everything gets hectic.  The Quiz Bowl is getting better each year, and for part of the evening, they were showing a live feed of the Twitter conversation, following the #sqlpass hash-tag.  For those who were not able to come this year, you might enjoy reading the feed of the conversation on the Summit home page.

Overall, I would say a great start to another great Summit!