Browsing articles from "December, 2011"

I’m Hiring This Girl One Day…#WIT

Dec 25, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Generations, Professional Development, Snark  //  2 Comments

I’m so blown away by how well this girl rants against the onslaught of PINK on girls and females.  For us grown-up girls, the concept of "shrink it and pink" as a marketing approach makes me want to run screaming out of the store.  I had an exhibitor take a nice 16GB USB drive I was picking up out out of my hand and replace it with a blinged out pink 2GB one, saying "Oh, you want this one instead".  No, I didn’t.  And the fact that this vendor thought I did spoke volumes for how they felt about their female customers.

Sure, I cart around Barbies and have my fair share of girlie toys, but my Barbies are working girls – Technical Barbies that have job.  Astronauts, School teachers, FBI agents, Computer Engineers.  Action figures, I call them, because they do something other than look pretty. Most Barbies look like some type of working girl that involves being pretty, but I’ll keep that discussion for later.

Anyway, this video of Riley on Marketing gives me new hope that someday we’ll raise girls to have good analytical thinking.


Riley, You Go Girl!


In fairness to retailers, they stock and display merchandise in a manner that sells best.  Parents (and Aunties and Uncles), they do this because you like it.  Stop liking it.  Don’t just buy for your little girl from an aisle with big sign that says "Girls" over it.  Think about where you want your darling girl to be at age 18 – still trying to find a Prince to make her a Princess…or readying to enter post-secondary education so that she never has to rely on anyone but herself.  Sure, buy her a Laundry Barbie and a all that princess stuff.  Tell her that she is your princess.  Let her have her truly silly girlie moments. But please don’t let that be her only professional development plan from age 5-25. 

All I know is that when I hire people, I want a hell of lot more Rileys than I do princesses.

Stupidest Bar Chart of 2011 – Congrats, Klout!

Dec 22, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Snark  //  10 Comments

I’m no expert in graphic design or data visualizations.  I do know that pie charts are evil, as are most gauges and uses of 3D in dashboards.   However, when I saw this bar chart from the fine folks at Klout, I knew it was a winner.  Even the name of this category is wrong: Top Influential companies?  No, from their description, this is a list of companies that were most talked about the most often.  That doesn’t make a person or an organization influential.  Otherwise, I’d be dressing like Kim Kardashian and collecting Justin Bieber dolls with weird "try me" portals

At best, these companies influenced people to say things about them by doing something well…or in the case of Netflix, doing a lot of things poorly.  But they didn’t do the influencing.  People on the social networks did.


KLOUT bar chart - click to see full chart


This data visualization is a list of companies who were most talked about…so they’ve used a bar chart.  Bar charts are supposed to be used to show quantities, usually over time or some other measure.  But this ranking  is not a quantity.  In fact, the bar chart is emphasizing the wrong thing, too.  Notice how 11th place Facebook has more bar?  But it’s in the worst place in the list.  Or is it?  We don’t know because the bar chart is showing us conflicting information.  It could be that the top 11 companies are being ranked 11-1 in descending order based on their influence mentions.  From the list, I’d think think that the influence was descending, but I don’t know.  If someone doesn’t know and the visualization adds no more insight than just a list of the companies, don’t add a chart.

Jen Stirrup, BI expert and Microsoft MVP, has some more to say about bad bar charts. 

Don’t use bar charts to show rankings.  Put down your data viz tool and take a walk.  Notice the real world around you, then come back and think about using visualizations to help a reader understand the data better. That’s how to love your data.

Karen’s Last Minute Gift Ideas for Gadget + Data Lovers

Dec 20, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Travel  //  9 Comments

I’m a gadget girl.  I collect them like other people acquire coffee cups on their desk.  I also love my data.  So this list of gadgets and apps focuses on my loves of technology and data.  None of these is required, which is why they make great gifts.  No sane person would ever buy them for themselves.  This is also why I own all of them.

imageSports Agloves

Agloves  (what I call my “Twitter Gloves”)  I love the fact that I don’t have to mess with uncovering fingertips or worry about what part of the glove works.  It all does.  I am currently using their Sports Agloves.  My test review of the regular gloves  I love that for travel I don’t have to worry about taking them off to use all the kiosks I have to use.

I blogged about my testing of the original Agloves here and here.

These say "I support your Twitter addiction and I’d like you to keep all your fingers, too."  What else could say "I love you" more than that?


Fitbit Nifty tiny device that tracks my every move, even my sleep.  As a data person, I love knowing how many steps I’ve taken every day, how many calories I’ve burned, how many I’ve eaten, how long and how well I’ve slept.  Being able to compare my data over time helps, too.  You can get this at Best Buy.

Withings Scale and Blood Pressure Monitor

Withings Scale Not only a digital scale that measures weight, body fat and BMR, but it sends that data via WiFi to my account. It can also Tweet that data, but I’m too chicken to do that.  Maybe later.  Probably not.  I’ve asked the engineers if they could just do the math and Tweet the weight difference…but they must be all males, because their response was "Why would anyone want that?".  We need more female engineers.

I should also point out, guys, that buying a bathroom scale for your loved one may or may not be the best idea.  It only works for real gadget freaks.  You have been warned.  Ladies, get your credit cards warmed up.  You are good to go.

Withings Blood Pressure Monitor  Don’t have this yet; it’s on my list.

I’ve seen these at ThinkGeek, Apple stores, and Best buy online.


Runmeter app  A GPS running app that provides audio feedback while I run – pace, distance, etc.  It even lets others’ talk to me via Twitter.  During a race or long run this sort of cheering is amazing.  It’s one of the reasons I keep on running longer distances.  This is a real #SQLFamily benefit – we aren’t just about databases.   Maybe we are database pros with a running habit? 

The easiest way to buy someone an app is to buy them an iTunes gift card.  Available everywhere, it seems, including on iTunes.

More Ideas

Some other things to grab for the data gadget lover in your life:

  • External battery for his or her phone, tablets, devices.
  • External Bluetooth keyboard
  • Extra nice stylus (not the ones with cheap foam rubber on the tip)
  • Tiny memory card / USB stick for keychain or badge lanyard
  • Cord/accessory organizer
  • Extra chargers (always appreciated)

You can also check out these gadget recommendations from fellow Boingo Superfans.  I have most of those things and I can vouch that they really do make a difference.

No need to spend big.  Just make a Twitter addicted gadget lovers’ lives a bit more reliable.  And save their fingers from frostbite. 

1 Second Guide to Not Being a Jerk on GoToMeeting

Dec 15, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Need Your Help, Speaking  //  7 Comments



If you aren’t presenting, MUTE THYSELF.  This isn’t rocket surgery, folks.  Your office background noise doesn’t make you more important.  The fact that you are taking this call from an airport doesn’t impress me.  The fact that you must take a call while you are on the meeting isn’t a positive thing.  The fact that you are multitasking doesn’t make me like you more.  The fact you work from home and have a dog is not cute.  Okay, it is, but we don’t need to know.


If you are a fan of Wil Wheaton, you can also share this in his meme, Don’t be a Dick




Please share this with all your frenemies.



Why? #meme15

Dec 15, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  1 Comment

Jason Strate ( @stratesql | blog ) asked the following question in his #meme15 post  (a call for bloggers to write in the middle of the month) for December:

    1. Why did you start blogging?
    2. Why do you currently blog?

Lego Rocket setThen

I started blogging over on, my main website, in March 2006 in order to help data architects and other data professionals find information to make their days go smoother.  This was a natural outcome of the more than a decade long community management role I held on our discussion groups, since they were primarily about users of data management tools helping each other.  It was like building my first Lego set, something I did just this past year. Yes, my first one, ever.  Yes, that’s in the picture.  It was fun for me, but not so much for everyone else.  Just like when I first started blogging.

I think from our stats I did a fairly good job of sharing information about events, tools, techniques and maybe a few rants.  Just a few.  I didn’t like the platform I was using, Dot Net Nuke, so I started a WordPress-based blog (this one)  earlier in the year.  This allows me to blog more often.  I’m liking the new platform, but still trying to carve out enough time to get something of quality written.

I also blog at  That has provided me a slightly different audience, but still heavily data related.    There is an in-progress series about Normalization Myths and a few rants over there. Just a few.  You should go check them out.


In thinking about Jason’s questions, I realized that I really blog in hopes of influencing people to think more about loving their data — ensuring that data has the best quality that we have time and resources to support.  I think that’s a good fit for my social media use, as well. There aren’t many people in the data architecture niche blogging – I know of only a handful and I have a blog post coming up soon that lists who I’ve found.  Compared to other topics, I think we data architects are going to find it tougher and tougher to influence the IT profession since for the most part we as a group avoid social media, blogs, and other newer forms of information sharing.   So while I’ll still blog because I like doing it, I want to start writing about more actionable topics – do this, then change that.  Make a difference.  Love your data. that sort of thing.

And I hope to that more often I’ll actually be able to influence people to make their data be better.

[Updated] Karen, Can you Tweet only about ____? A: No. But You *Can* Help Yourself

Dec 13, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Professional Development, Social Networking  //  10 Comments

DSC_0014IRMAC 2011-04-14 010NIEMNTE2011 2011-08-22 002esaBarboeBarbies 2011-06-05 001


Updated with a new technique for filtering: the Global Filter.  See half way down.

I tweet a lot.  According to Twitter I’ve posted more than 50,000  60,000 tweets since I joined.  I happen to know that Twitter lost a few thousand more  last year, so yeah, I tweet a lot. I even use the phrase "avid Tweeter" in some of my bios.

Some people started following me and exchanging Tweets with me because I tweeted about NoSQL, big data, open data, open government, data modeling, normalization, databases, SQL Server, DB2, database design, data architecture, the Zachman Framework, or other data-centric topics.  And then there are those who followed me because I shared information about Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-134, Atlantis, STS-135, Juno, Ariane rockets and my attendance at various NASATweetups and SpaceTweetups.  Others decided to follow me because I shared information about Technical Barbies, specifically @venusbarbie and @data_model.  These girls travel with me as I attend events and meet interesting people.  Others followed me as I covered live events about Toronto’s government failing local citizens.  Some people have followed me because I’ve worked with them in the past, attended school with them, or met them at a family event.  The point is that people follow others because they are interested in what the other person is sharing at some point in time.

Some Twitter users create many accounts and tweet only about a single subject from those accounts.  They mainly broadcast information from those accounts and rarely converse with others.  Think of these accounts specialized Twitter accounts.  To a degree, the Technical Barbie accounts are like that.  But that’s not how I use Twitter.  I use Twitter to build relationships with people, to share interesting things that I come across in my travels, and to share links to stories about things I think others would be interested in.   If I Tweeted only in only about one topic, I’d meet fewer interesting people and I’d discover fewer connections to a variety of people.

Someone today complained to me about the fact that I sometimes tweet or retweet posts that are not in English.  They want to be protected from having to see a foreign language in their Tweet stream.  Personally, I find that a bit sad, but I pointed out that they could use a feature of their Twitter client to translate foreign language Tweets into English, which I cover below.  Another person complained to me because I tweet on topics other than data.  I’m not sure what to do with those complaints because I’m not just an English Data Robot.  I think that sound incredibly boring, too. However, I have met a non-trivial number of data-space-government people who share an awful lot of similar interests as I do.  In fact, some of us are planning a NASASpaceSQLPASSTweetup in the near future.

Having said all that, I do recognize that not everyone is interested in all the things I’m interested.  I’m pretty sure my spacetweeps generally don’t care about normalizations and that my data friends don’t want to see more than one or two astronaut photos a year.  You do want to see at least that much, right?  That’s why the Twitterverse invented some nifty features and approaches to allow people to manage some of the overload of Tweets coming their way. 


Hashtags aren’t an official part of Twitter, but early on Twitter users realized that they need a way of tagging and filtering the fire hose of Tweets in their stream.  When I attend events, I try to use a hashtag to add some useful meta data to my Tweets.  This tagging allows follower to do a few things:

  • Find Tweets from the event, even from people they don’t follow
  • Filter out tweets they don’t want to even see
  • Archive or repost Tweets someplace else about one topic.

Last week I was a-Twittering like crazy, as were 59 other Twitter users, at #SpaceTweetup, an invitation-only event hosted by the European Space Agency in Cologne Germany.  There was indeed a fire hose of information coming at us and we were making ourselves busy by posting photos, videos, and messages about all we were seeing and doing.  Most of use included the word #SpaceTweetup in our messages so that we could easily see what others were sharing on Twitter.  If you had an interest in space, this was a treasure trove of AWESOME stuff about ESA and their missions. Plus astronauts — lots and lots of astronauts.  If your attitude about space stops at Tang and space pens, then this hashtag could have been your friend as well.  Almost all Twitter clients have a way to filter out tweets from a specific person or with a specific word.  I primarily use Tweetdeck as my Twitter client, so the examples below are from there.  If your client doesn’t have a similar feature I suggest you find a client that does.


The button with the downward arrow is the column filter button in Tweetdeck.  It allows you to include or exclude Tweets within a column based on criteria you supply.  You can choose to filter on accounts, text, the source, or time of day. 


To filter in or out content, use the plus sign or the minus sign. For filtering out Tweets with certain hashtags, you’d want to choose TEXT from the first field, then the minus sign from the second, then fill in the hashtag in the third.  Let’s say for some crazy, crazy reason you didn’t want to see any Tweets about #spacetweetup:



The above is what your filter setup would look like: TEXT – spacetweetup.

From that point on, you just wouldn’t see any tweets that had that word, spelled exactly that way, in that column.   If someone is on a rant (Who, me?) and you just want to temporarily stop seeing all her Tweets, you could use the Name field plus her Twitter ID to filter out her rants for a while.  Once the coast is clear, you could just click on the X to remove the filter.

Of course, if you really, really need to see tweets only containing a certain phrase, you’d set up an inclusive filter and you’d see only Tweets containing that one phrase.

Our blog uses categories on posts.  You can use these similarly to hashtags to find posts on a single topic or to filter out posts on topics you don’t want to read about.  How you do this is dependent on your RSS feed reader.  I’ll try to put together a post with one example soon.

New: Global Filter

In addition to the column filters, you can add a global filter to Tweetdeck to stop all tweets meeting certain criteria.


Here you can put words like NASATweetup, or runmeter (my running application) and you’ll never see them again in any column. You can also hide users, but I’m not sure why you’d want to do that rather than just unfollow someone.  I guess perhaps if you wanted to give the appearance of following someone while not having to see their Tweets.  I still recommend you just unfollow them, though.

The From Sources criterion would let you block things like Tweets from Foursquare if you feel they are useless or silly.



For my friend who complained about my non-English Tweets I told him to use the Translate feature of his Twitter client to do the heavy lifting of participating in the conversations I was having and retweeting.  Unfortunately for him, he decided that this was too much work, so he still wanted me to stop my non-English Tweets.  I can’t help him.  But you have the magic right in front of you to be part of the global community.

Here’s a sample Tweet coming from ESA Italia and it’s in…wait for it…Italian. 



I could make a decent guess at what it says, but instead, I just go to the Translate feature of Tweetdeck to see what it does say:



And what do you know, it isn’t a Tweet about fat attractive alien pasta, but a Tweet about photos taken with 3D glasses:


My anti-multi-lingual friend feels that all of Twitter should be in English or stay the heck away from his Twitter stream.  And you know what?  He can work on doing that by not following people who share in multiple languages, which is what he chose to do.

Saying Sayonara When None of That Works

How do I know my two friends chose not to use these features?  Because they chose to tell me they thought my Tweets were not meeting their needs and they needed to let me know they were unfollowing me.  The great thing about Twitter is that it isn’t a friend model, like Facebook where both parties need to agree to be BFFs in order to see each other’s posts.  Twitter works on following model: you follow people and they may or may not follow back.  So you can unfollow people without affecting them at all.  It’s poor etiquette to announce your unfollows.  If you have good friends and you want to let them know you think their inadvertent crotch pics are starting to look intentional, then by all means contact them to ask if they need a new phone case or some intervention.  But announcing that you are leaving is not cool.  I keep using the cocktail party analogy to explain Twitter.  If you were at a gathering with several discussions going on, you wouldn’t turn to the others and say "your conversations are non-value-add.  I’m going to leave this conversation and go on to another one that caters to my needs only." Well, if you would do that, then good thing you are leaving. Normally you’d either try to steer the conversation in other direction or you’d wander off to another.  Only jerks would say "your conversation sucks, so I’m leaving" in front of everyone else.

So to summarize:

  1. Use a Twitter client.  You’ll never "get" Twitter if you don’t.
  2. Use the hashtag and filter features to tailor the tweets you see.  Adjust those filters as needed.
  3. Follow people when they are interesting, filter them if they are doing something right now that isn’t, and unfollow them if it turns permanently uninteresting to you.
  4. Don’t announce you are unfollowing.  Just do it.  Don’t feel guilty and don’t ask the other person to stop being complex humans.
  5. If you need to read only single topic information, go with mailing lists, forums, or RSS feeds from curated sources.  Twitter isn’t any of those.
  6. Use the features of your RSS reader to filter blog posts, too.

Bring Better Jobs for Returning Veterans – in just 5 Minutes #SQLFamily

Dec 12, 2011   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Fun, Need Your Help  //  No Comments


Super w00t!  I just read the most amazing news at

I’ve blogged recently about how small things that the data community does can make a significant difference in the world. The Microsoft SQL Server Team will donate $50, up to $20,000, to the Pragmatic Works Foundation.  The foundation will provide training to returning veterans: SQL Server, soft skills and interview coaching.

We just learned about the Pragmatic Works Foundation, a non-profit that provides free technical training to veterans, the jobless, and underemployed.  In 2012 the foundation will be embarking on a campaign to bring better jobs for returning veterans. The classes will be taught at military base hotspots around the United States and will primarily focus on introductory technical training for SQL Server and soft skill training and interview guidance. At the end of the class, job placement assistance is given to help the veterans find jobs. The cost to train each veteran for a week is approximately $50. 

So, for the first 400 submissions*, the SQL Server team will donate $50 per submission to the Pragmatic Works Foundation. You can submit your #SQLFamily stories to, along with your name and email address. Or, send us a link to your blog or your Twitter handle if you post your story online. We will feature a selection of submitted stories weekly on this blog into the New Year.

I can’t even describe how excited I am that a relatively small number of people, sharing their knowledge and passion with each other, have managed to grow this into something that can touch so many lives.  And that we have more opportunities to make an even great difference in the future.   I can’t wait to read some of the stories!

But we need your help.  Please take 5 minutes to send your #SQLFamily story to so that we can max out the donations for this great cause.  Need some ideas?

  • Have you ever attended a SQLSaturday or User Group and had a discussion about how to solve a problem?  Share it.
  • Have you learned something new by chatting with someone on Twitter? Share it.
  • Have you solved a problem faster by getting help wit the #SQLHelp hashtag? Share it.
  • Did someone in the community help you with a totally non-SQL, non-data problem? (Thanks, again Noel, for that downtown parking space for a week). Share it.
  • Did someone blog about something and it made your job easier? Share it.
  • Have you ever just felt better that others were out there to help? Share it.
  • Have you already blogged about #SQLFamily? Share it.

We need 400 submissions to make this happen.  You have 5 minutes, I know it.   Get your story in now.  Make a difference in someone’s life, right now.


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