Category Design

They See Things Differently

Every once in a while, I’ll be talking with a friend about presentations and they mention that they really like the visual flow or the artwork or something about the presentation. After I get over being flattered (trust me, it’s easy to do), we’ll start talking about how I came up with the material in the presentation. I’d love to say that the photographs are mine, but they aren’t. There are a few techniques I use to help me make presentations that work well.

Tell Me a Story

When I’m giving a presentation, I try to be acutely aware about how the material flows. I don’t want to take the audience on a wild ride across a bunch of topics. It’s difficult enough to sit still for 60+ minutes and listen to a single topic. But sitting still for over 60 minutes and listening to a variety of topics? That’s nearly impossible.

Instead of trying to cover a bunch of topics, I cover one topic. I break the topic down and I find a logical beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes this part is easy, sometimes it isn’t. The point of the exercise, though, it to find a good way to teach a topic. Kevin Kline (blog | twitter) has a great presentation about the SQL Server internals where he visualizes the presentation from the perspective of a query traveling through SQL Server.

Telling a story makes the presentation more than a series of facts. Telling a story takes a series of facts and gives them a personal connection. Rather than list a bunch of facts, tell your audience how you got somewhere. In a presentation I give on dynamic SQL, I share with the audience how I learned to write good dynamic SQL by showing them examples of bad dynamic SQL. It’s a technique that works well because we’re sharing our embarrassment at the bad code we’ve written and then we learn how to get better. Buck Woody’s (blog | twitter) presentations are so popular because he peppers them with anecdotes. (It probably helps that Buck knows what he’s doing, but let me stick to only one point, okay?) The anecdotes do the same thing – they break make the material relatable.

Let’s Play Word Association

I do a lot of word association when I’m working on presentations. This isn’t some kind of goofy improv theater troupe exercise; it’s how I find great images for my presentations. I’ve been known to spend a lot of time agonizing over a single image to get the message just right.

Symbols are the instruments which convert raw intelligence into culture. Without them, explained Lewis Mumfor, ‘man’s life would be one of immediate appetites, immediate sensations, limited to a past shorter than his own lifetime, at the mercy of a future he could never anticipate, never prepare for. In such a world, out of hearing would be out of reach and out of sight would be out of mind.’

Alan Fletcher – The Art of Looking Sideways

Finding the right symbol to trigger a memory is difficult. There are many different ways to convey an idea, but only one will bring the idea to life. How do you find the image that brings an idea to life? Searching.

In my presentation on SQL Server internals, I use this image to help describe row and index operations. The linear form of the building kind of looks like a table with rows and columns. It doesn’t look exactly like a table might look (you could call that Excel), but it is an image that we’re all familiar with.

Finding Inspiration

The obvious question is “How do you come up with this stuff?”

The unfortunate answer is “I don’t know.”

I spend a decent amount of time looking at art – be it photos, drawings, paintings, whatever. I really enjoy visual communication in all of its forms, so I try to partake every chance I get. I think that has influence the way I find images to use in presentations.

When I’m looking for images, I go through a process of searching through flickr. I don’t necessarily search for funny pictures or pictures with any specific word association. Sometimes I just watch the flickr panda and hope that something interesting and creative commons licensed pops up. This can be a good way to find interesting pictures that set a mood or a tone. Or maybe the image will just continue on whatever theme I’m using through the slide deck. It’s not always important that I pick the right image for any single slide, but that the image fits the presentation as a whole.

Sometimes I’ll even watch the panda when I’m not creating a presentation. I’ll have it up in the background and I’ll save off interesting pictures that I’ve found. The key when I’m doing that is to make sure I have some way to capture the photo’s metadata so I can give credit later. Sometimes it’s easiest to save a text file with the same name as the photo so you know exactly what metadata belongs to each photo. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure you can give credit where credit is due.

Another way I find inspiration is to read a lot of magazines. I don’t necessarily subscribe to them, but I look through them. Advertising is something that we normally bypass when we’re searching for an article we want to read. Advertisers, on the other hand, are trying to get your attention and convey a message with a single image and as few words as possible. Take a look at how advertisers are trying to get your attention. There are a lot of techniques that you can pick up from successful ads without even knowing what you’re doing – composition, layout, the amount of text to use.

There’s inspiration everywhere. Find it and use it.

Links for the Week – 2010.02.12

This is more of a “what I’ve been reading” rather than a link dump from previous week’s RSS feed.

A Plea for Plain English – Tony Davis’s “A Plea for Plain English” rings home with me. Far too much writing is full of heavy, pompous words used purely to make the author feel smarter. Joseph Conrad – one of the greatest writers of the English language – was not a native speaker. Yet he wrote with a simplicity, grace, and style that is still unequaled. While we all can’t be Joseph Conrad, we can all strive to write in clear, concise, readable prose. Technical writing doesn’t need to be dry, writing effective prose can be just as much an art form as creating a brilliant short story, novel, painting, photograph, or song.

I’ve been getting a lot more interested in mathematics. Not just how they related to computers, but also how mathematics relate to design. Design, art, and aesthetics are partially governed by universal principles. There are ratios that are more visually pleasing simply because we find them in nature. Being aware of these ratios helps us create effective designs that draw in the reader and hold them to the content.

B-movies. I watch a lot of old slasher, exploitation, b-movies.

Flash, iPad, Standards – Jeffrey Zeldman talks about why the total lack of Flash on the iPad is a good thing: it provides an incredibly compelling, public, reason for designers and developers to abandon proprietary formats like Flash and Silverlight and focus on open standards. Some people would argue that a lack of Flash would kill the device but on the flip side what can you do in Flash that people need to do that you can’t do with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS? Combine that with the in browser relational data storage that HTML5 provides and there is no reason to use a proprietary graphics engine apart from vector graphics bullshittery/professional masturbation.

Links for the Week of 2009.10.30

These are a day late. Sorry about that. It’s been one helluva week.

Also, November 1st marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. So, if you’ve had a story inside you waiting to get out, wait no further!

SQL Server


Stuff & Things

Links for the Week – 2009.09.25

SQL Server

There’s a three part series (one two three) on migrating databases. I’m sure many people have been through this before. I know I have. About a week before these three posts were published.

Ever wonder when you should use a filtered index and when you should use an indexed view? Yeah, I have too. The distinction hasn’t been all that clear (to me). Andrew Fryer clears that up a bit in this blog post.


I like the idea of continuous integration. I like testing. I like automating everything until I don’t even have to think about it anymore. It can be done even with the database. Jeffrey Palermo and Eric Hexter demonstrated just how to get CI working with your database project using nothing but pure T-SQL.

Stuff & Things

These first two are for some RSS reader goodness. I haven’t gotten around to trying out Fever for my RSS feeds yet. The idea of paying $40 for an RSS reader is a bit steep. But, the idea of having my feeds add value to one another is intriguing. If you’re feeling a bit cheap, there’s always Helvetireader. This is a set of browser scripts and CSS that add a touch of class to your google reader.

The Personal MBA is a set of reading materials meant to teach everything that you would get in an MBA program. While I doubt that it’s the same as getting an MBA, I do like the idea of a reading list that’s designed to help me, a nerd, get better at something I suck at: business.

Soundtrack for a City Augmented reality – through our phones or sunglasses or our retinal implants – is only beginning. It’s new. Soon sight will be augmented by sound. I love this idea.

Columbus Give Camp

The Columbus Give Camp site has gone live.

What’s a give camp? Basically, to paraphrase the about page, a give camp is an opportunity for developers to give back to the local community by contributing time and effort to create custom software for non-profits.

How can you help?

Why am I plugging this?

  1. It’s a cool idea
  2. I designed and built the database
  3. I plan on being there

What are you waiting for? Head on over to Columbus Give Camp and volunteer!

Links for the Week 2009.06.05

Important Note: These are yesterday’s links. Not today’s. That’s why the date is wrong.

SQL Server

Really Search Cache for Execution Plans Jason Strate revists his code that finds the last plan that was used for a procedure.

Reasons for NOT using Varchar(MAX) Pat Wright brings back the argument of why you should or shouldn’t use varchar(max). You can clearly tell from the title how he feels. I’m quoted in this one, so you probably know how I feel. Read it. Learn it. Love it. SQL! (Yes, I know I said ‘field’ instead of ‘column’. Bite me.)


Fighting technical deb with the wall of pain Technical debt is an insidious foe. Technical debt is that extra effort you need for future development because you made a quick and dirty design choice at some point in the past. This crap is poison.

Coding like it’s 1999 Cameron Moll put together a great overview of why he’s moved back to using the HTML 4.01 DOCTYPE. Just don’t use tables, okay folks?

Poor man’s guide to database optimization – by the Marquis de Sade Ever wonder if your code is being really crappy and executing N+1 selects for everything in a collection? WONDER NO MORE! With Ayende’s newest bit of code wizardry you can have a configurable wait time between each query executed. All of a sudden, you too will be dropped into your DBA’s nightmares as you realize that some programmer’s horrible, horrible code is slowly destroying the database!

Stuff & Things

Calvinball Projects Calvinball is the greatest game ever. Running a project like it’s a game of Calvinball has to be fun, right?

Feng Shui On Steroids: Design Your Space to Achieve Your Goals Jonathan Mead writes about how to use your environment to influence your ability to meet your goals. This looks like a great way to go about hacking my workspace and make it easier to get myself into a working mindset.

Lifehacker Pack 2009: Our List of Essential Free Windows Downloads Free software. Good stuff in here. Get it.

Links (6/4/2009) Steve PIetrek’s list o’ links from earlier this week has some gems in it, especially for software developers.

How to Lose Weight by Eating More Everything in here is true. “Diets” suck. They don’t work forever. There are good ideas in here on how to change the way you eat to be healthier.

Links for the Week 2009.05.22

Big pile o’ link love this week. Honestly, I didn’t include a ton of GREAT links from Brent Ozar because people would start to think that Brent Ozar pays me to link to his site and say Brent Ozar a lot. He doesn’t, but if you click on the links to Brent Ozar maybe he’ll see where the traffic came from and pay me to provide links to Brent Ozar

SQL Server

SQL Server 2008 Developer Training Kit Available for Download Denis Gobo provides a link and a quick summary of Microsoft’s most recent training offering for developers that will help get people up to speed with SQL Server 2008.

PASS Virtualization Virtual Chapter That’s right, we have a new thing at PASS. Well, the same old thing has a new name. SIGs are now Virtual Chapters. And Brent Ozar is now in charge of the PASS Virtualization Chapter. Check it out!

Download – SQL Server 2008 Developer Training Kit Free training. Free training. Freetraining. freetraining.

Excel Functions for SQL Server Sometimes I’ll find myself using SQL Server and longing for something from Excel that one of my more management-type friends has shown me. Now I can, in theory, have some of that Excel love right in SQL Server.

What’s a ‘DBA’? I’ve known for a long time that, while I love data, I’m not a DBA… not 100%, at least. Sam Bendayan answers the question and talks about what job title options there are for database professionals


MvcFluentHtml – Fluent HTML Interface For MS MVC ASP.NET MVC doesn’t us a bad method to generate HTML, but there are definitely smoother ways, depending on how preference. Fluent HTML uses one paradigm to make it a bit easier to generate HTML in your views. It’s closer to how Ruby on Rails does things, and I like Rails. A lot. Almost as much as I like SQL Server.

Dear Art Director…

Stuff & Things

The Information Architecture of Personal Music Collections Dan Brown, famed Information Architect not famed author, spent a lot of time thinking about how people interact with music libraries. The poster is from 2005 but, shockingly, not a lot has changed since then.

11 Striking Findings From an Eye Tracking Study Eye tracking is some great stuff, it’s right up there with click tracking. It helps us, as bloggers, figure out what you, the readers, are paying attention to.

How to Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle When You’re Too Busy To Care Title says it all. Lazy? Want to get in better shape? Do this.

Evil Lair: On the Architecture of the Enemy in Videogame Worlds I don’t know what to say about this, really. This is a fascinating article about how architecture current works its way into video games and also how it could be used.

10 for $10 hardcore summer tour This is the coolest idea for a summer tour – 10 bands for $10. If you’re at all into hardcore punk, it’ll be a great show. If you aren’t (which is more than likely since you’re reading this blog), take note because it’s an interesting idea that you might see more of in the future.

How to Build Your Own PC WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK is often flagged as adult content. Don’t visit it if you like keeping your job. That being said, this is a hilarious look at building your own computer. It’s based on Brent Ozar‘s experiences building his hackintosh.

Links for the Week of 2009.05.01

SQL Server

Where isn’t there automatic <insert feature> in SQL Server? What’s great is that a co-worker and I were arguing about this very thing last night. He wanted to know why there wasn’t a ‘better language’ than SQL to use that would make it easier/more optimal to use functions while querying a database. I tried to explain that it wasn’t SQL that was the issue but dealing with a variety of optimizations and what not. I didn’t do a good job. Paul does a good job of explaining. Go read Paul’s take on things.

Microsoft Project Gemini links Occasionally I’ll get asked about Project Gemini links, usually right after I talk about the demos we were shown way back in November at PASS. Now I have a resource, thanks to Donald Farmer.

Analyze This – Analyze Your Indexes Part 6 Jason Strate concludes his series of articles on analyzing index with this amazing finale of a query.


ELMAH: Error Logging Modules and Handlers for ASP.NET (and MVC too!) A great over view of an error logging/handling module. I hate writing this stuff, I really do. Why bother re-implementing it with minor variations? Why not just configure something? Now you can.

Is it time to move beyond 960? Cameron Moll dares to ask the important question: Can we finally make web pages for people with normal size monitors?

Stuff & Things

The #1 Secret to Building Your Skill Set is… I’ll the secret out: it’s discipline. Read on for some great tips from KBK.

… I have no words for how cool this is

Delicious Library scanning Have Delicious Library? Want to get a USB barcode scanner to work on your mac but don’t know how? Now you do.

Links for the Week of 2009-02-20

SQL Server

Missing Index Information and Query Stats Grant Fritchey put together a nice little query to pull XML query plans out of the DMVs. Thankfully, these plans can also tell use which indexes are missing

Scalar Functions vs. Table Valued Functions vs. Inline Code Aaron Alton does some testing on these three to determine which is the most performant.


Reducing the cost of getting a stack trace Exceptions are expensive. Getting a full stack trace is expensive. Ayende Rahien shows you how to make this a little bit cheaper.

GUI design and prototyping tools We’ve all had to create a UI at some point. Fabrice Marguerie has a list of some great UI prototyping tools. (Also check out the UI design pattern library post)

Stuff & Things

20 tips for better conference speaking Cameron Moll is a designer whose skills I’ve greatly admired. But, in addition to being a phenomenal designer, he’s also a great speaker. Here he shares some tips to help the rest of us become better speakers too.

Public Speaking: A Primer Paul Randal provides a nice introduction to public speaking. Like Cameron’s article, there are some great items in there. Yes, I do have speaking and presenting on the brain. I’m going to be presenting three times in the next two months.

Links for the week of 2009-01-09

SQL Server

The first pillar – A Coherent Design Louis Davidson has started to go in depth into his pillars of database design. Louis clearly explains what a coherent database design is and why it’s important.

sp_indexinfo – enhanced index information procedure Tibor Karaszi has put together a custom stored procedure to provide additional information about tables and indexes, including missing indexes on a table.

Start / Stop SQL Server, SSIS, SSAS, SSRS and SQL Server Agent at once with a batch file Jorg Klein has posted a batch file to stop/start SQL Server and associated services on command. When I develop at home, I using a black MacBook and run Windows in a VM. While memory isn’t at a premium, CPU cycles sometimes are. I’m sure this will come in very handy for speeding up the boot time of my virtual machine.

Seek or Scan? Gail provides some insight as to why you might be seeing an index scan instead of an index seek and why you should be using covering indexes.

Free eBook from RedGate : Dissecting SQL Server Execution Plans (Grant Fritchey) Jonathan Kehayais provides a link to an amazing book by Grant Fritchey. Grant dives into how to read execution plans. I’ve read one chapter and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.


NH Prof New Feature: The Query Cache NHibernate fans, it is time to rejoice! NHProf has a new feature (still in dev) that lets you view the queries being sent to the database.

10 jQuery scripts to improve your site’s interface Designer Daily has published links to 10 sweet jQuery plugins for improving your UI. I’m a huge fan of jQuery – I get access to a massive library of cross-browser plugins and functionality that I would otherwise have to develop myself and I get access to an amazing library of base functions that let me rapidly build a functioning website.


Networking – Part 2 Andy Warren talks a bit about how he feels regarding networking. When I first started thinking about networking more, I felt a bit dirty – like I would have to go push myself like some kind of used car salesman (no offense to any used car salespeople reading this blog, I’m sure you’re great people, you just have a reputation). After talking to co-workers and friends, I realized it’s not about selling your brand but expanding your horizons. Glad to see that someone else agrees with me.

Setting Up a Killer Demo Buck Woody gives 12 great techniques to make your presentations and demos even better. I have three presentations coming up in the next three months, so I’ll be referring to this post a great deal as I prepare.

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