Browsing articles from "April, 2012"

I’m Speaking at Enterprise Data World – Atlanta

Apr 23, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, Snark, Speaking  //  2 Comments

imageI’m not sure, but I think I’ve been attending the Enterprise Data World event (formerly the Wilshire Meta-Data/DAMA Symposium) since 1998 and speaking at most of them.  There’s a reason I keep going back: this is my annual "revival" for networking and collaborating with other data professionals.  I need that fix, every 12 months or so, to focus on sharing and caring about data modeling, database design and tools.

This year the event will be held in Atlanta, so at least we’ll be warmer than some years, right?  I remember a particularly freezing March in Boston.  I don’t want to repeat that, ever.

By the way, there is still time to register and I believe there is still a $100 discount available.  If you can’t find that, contact me and I’ll see what I can do for you <grin>.

My Events

This is a busy year for me at EDW.

Kick-off Panel: I’ll be part of the "Welcome Panel" moderated by Tony Shaw of Dataversity.  Jaime Fitzgerald, Peter Aiken, Sue Gueuns and I will be talking about our tips for getting the most out of the event, including our recommendations for the sessions we most want to attend.

Size Doesn’t Matter: I’ll be defending my Talk Champion crown sweatshirt at this year’s Lightning Talks.  All other speakers, be warned.  I talk FAST.  I’m also known for going for the cheap jokes that get votes.

ER/Studio Special Interest Group: I’ll be leading a user-to-user discussion of Embarcadero and their database and data modeling tools. We will have Embarcadero reps there to contribute, but this is still a user group meeting.  You don’t have to be a current customer to attend.

By the way, there are also SIGs for CA ERwin Data Modeler and Sybase PowerDesigner going on at other times.

Finding Myself: A Case Study on Your Data Model, My Data and Me:  This is my regular session at the event, where I take a snarky look at how your systems mess with my data…and how I pay the price for that messiness.  I hope you’ll join me for this irreverent look at cost, benefit and risk choices that "they" make when "they" manage our data.

Data Modeling Power Panel – Contemporary Issues in Modeling:  I’ll be participating in Alec Sharp‘s panel along with Michael Blaha and David Hay on forward-looking topics in data modeling and management.  My topic will focus on NoSQL, especially extensions to relational DBMSs.

John Zachman

This year marks the 30th year since John Zachman shared his Zachman Framework with the world. There will be a special event on Wednesday evening to recognize his contributions to enterprise architecture over the last three decades. 


Of course in addition to all the great sessions, there will be social events and time for catching up on what other data professionals have been up to since I saw them last year in Chicago.

For those of you who can’t make it, a bunch of us will be tweeting using the hashtag #EDW12.  You can follow along on Twitter, even if you aren’t signed up for it, by going to and searching for "EDW12"

I hope to see you and get a chance to chat with you at this year’s EDW.  That’s why I go…the sessions are great, but the chance to share ideas, tips, tricks and data stories is what keeps me coming back.

Sometimes You Just Shouldn’t Jump In Feet First #FailFriday

Apr 10, 2012   //   by Rob Drysdale   //   Blog, Professional Development  //  No Comments

Pipeline im Bau

Pipeline im Bau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thinking about it, this could also be titled “There’s No I in Team” or “Communication is Key”.

About 20 years ago I was a young(er) Engineer working away at a company learning all about how things worked.  I was given the task to look after and inspect a pipeline project that was about 20 kilometers long.  One of the tasks at the end of the project is to test the pipeline before it is put into service.  The tests are done with water and the pipeline is pressurized almost to its full theoretical yield strength.

In the days leading up to the tests there wasn’t much for the inspector (me) to do so I helped out the contractor doing some menial tasks on the site.  One of them was filling this long pipeline with water.  We used a small water pump that pumped at a maximum of about 200 psig.  Not much compared to the full yield pressure we were going to test at.  As you can imagine when you are testing a pipeline at over 1,000 psig you have to use some pretty heavy duty fittings so we could pretty much do whatever we wanted with that little pump…including closing the valves with the pump running.  Remember this as you read on…

The day of the test everyone got there, we set up the test assembly, the dead weights to measure the pressure and a high pressure piston pump.  This piston pump can pump in excess of 3,000 psi, but it pumps relatively slowly compared to the pumps we used to fill the pipeline.  But think about it, water is incompressible so if the pipe is already full of water it doesn’t take a lot more to get it to the test pressure.  I forget the exact values, but it was probably about 400 to 500 gallons of water that we needed to pump in.

imageSo we started pumping water and found it was taking extra time to get the pressure to rise the way it should.  Sometimes you see this if there’s a bit of air in the line, but in this case the pump just seemed extra slow.  I had been on tests before (and had them go wrong before) and I knew (or thought I did) what was happening.  We stood at the top of the excavation looking down at the test head and wondered what was wrong.  Without saying anything to anyone, I jumped in the excavation and put my ear next to the valve.  It didn’t sound right to me.  So guess what I did….I closed the valve.  In my mind I thought there might be something in the valve and if I closed it and opened it again right away maybe it would help.  It was a sound theory, right?  Wrong.

Remember what I said about using heavy duty fittings?  The valves were 2” ball valves rated at 3000 WOG or 3,000 psig.  Remember what I said about the piston pump being able to pump in excess of 3,000 psig?  Guess what happened when I closed that valve WITH THE PUMP RUNNING?  Let’s just say I never got the valve open again.  I took the top of the valve, the handle and the stem in the chest.  Lucky for me I was bent over the valve far enough and it was late fall I was wearing enough winter gear it wasn’t too bad.  I got a face full of water right away so I didn’t even realize I got hit by anything else.  It wasn’t until later that I started feeling a dull ache that let me know.

I was working with a team.  Had we actually talked about the issues and what we should be doing I never would have dead headed such a strong pump against a closed valve.  We may have closed the valve and reopened it based on my theory, but we would have shut the pump off first.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t jump in feet first.

Yeah, Those Strawberries #FailFriday

Apr 6, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Modeling, DLBlog, Fun, Professional Development, Snark  //  3 Comments


As I called for last week, this is my #failfriday blog post.  I’ve made so many mistakes, it was difficult to pick one.  There was the time I did a quick spellcheck of a letter to a key client and managed to change his name to Murderer, as in Dear Murderer.  Those were good times.  Then there was the time I generated and printed about 1000 graphs for evidence in a court case and managed to screw up the last data point on every single one of them.  This was an instance of an off-by-one error.  So they all had to be redone on a pen plotter.  That takes days….and lots of pens.

Of course, I’ve had many of the #fails that most people shared on Twitter: Running a script or command in the wrong location, usually the wrong server or directory, and wiping out data that had not been backed up.  I have a feeling this is a requirement to become a professional: this fail changes you for the rest of your career.

I decided to pick a trivial fail, but one that showed the dangers of being a data architect.

Strawberry Fields Forever

 Strawberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)In Ottawa I lived near a strawberry farm.  How wonderful it was to have fresh strawberries, picked minutes before, for several weeks.  One night I was driving back from the city and stopped by the farm to see if they had any for sale.  I remember I was wearing a suit, heels, the whole business chick outfit. Not really strawberry picking attire.  So I was on a mission to get berries that had been picked by other people.  You could buy strawberries two different ways:

  • Pick Your Own:  Basically the farm gave you trays and you picked your own and paid the cheapest rate.  Because carrying trays was hard work, people would fill the trays, then bring them to sales hut to hold them.  Then the pickers paid for all of  them at once.
  • Already Picked: Local kids would pick the berries and bring them to the sales hut and get paid for picking them.  Buyers like me paid a premium for having the hard part done for us already.  However, if you got there late in the day, like I did, the chance of finding these was rare.

So this was my plan: buy a flat of “already picked” berries.  That was my category, remember.  Not “Pick Your Own” but “Already Picked”.  See, I was thinking like a data architect.  Those were 2 subtypes of STRAWBERRY: ALREADY PICKED STRAWBERRY and PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRY.

So I waltzed up in my blue power suit, looked at the shelves in the sales hut and saw many flats of berries and asked the bored teenage sales girl “Are those strawberries already picked?”

Are those strawberries already picked?

….I’ll let you guess what happened next.  If you picked “laughter, eye rolling and general snickering”, you’d be spot on.  See, it turns out that the sales girl didn’t live in a land of data architecture, where everything is categorized, sorted and taxonomized to the 9th degree.  She lived in the real world, that place where strawberries are either still on a plant or not. 

I  learned my lesson that day.  Data architects sound funny outside their normal habitat, those whiteboard-shrouded conference rooms where data is managed.  And sometimes we sound really silly in the real world.  We need to remember that.

Stolen Laptop Affects 34k Patients–Can You Spot the Problem?

Apr 3, 2012   //   by Karen Lopez   //   Blog, Data, Data Breach  //  No Comments

A recent CMIO post describes the data breach of 34,000 patients’ personally identifiable information.

A former contractor’s personal laptop containing patient information was stolen, according to a statement from Larry Warren, CEO of the hospital. “This information was downloaded in violation of Howard University Hospital policy,” he wrote.

I’ll give you 30 seconds to spot 3 problems with the situation.  Tick, Tock.

I can see three especially worrisome problems:

  • Information was downloaded in violation:  I’m guessing that there was no monitoring of downloads of sensitive data at this medical institution.  This sort of monitoring may have prevented this data from leaving the building.
  • Former contractor:  So a person who had access to this sensitive data was allowed to leave the organization with it. I personally refuse to put data such as this on my own devices, mainly because I do not want the liability of having to protect it or report it if something were go wrong.  I am usually the only person on the project who refuses.  However, I have never even been asked or reminded about removing any company data from any of my storage devices when I go on to other projects.
  • Personal Laptop:  I sometimes use my own equipment when working at a client and that is normally due to the fact that client systems are often less powerful than my own and they don’t have licenses for tools that I need to do my job..  But I’d rather use systems that have enterprise-class security, encryption and monitoring.  I wish more corporate systems supports such practices.

2010-10-01 22.19.19Since the article did not mention that the data was encrypted, I’m guessing it wasn’t.  I’m also wondering why this ever got reported…most former consultants would not do so, I’m guessing, if they had the data in violation.  Perhaps the laptop was recovered and the breach was reported that way.

I’ve previously blogged about how poorly medical data is protected.

This sort of data breach makes me mad. It’s nice that the hospital says that they are now “implementing enhanced security measures”, but why didn’t they do that before? Did their compliance officer recommend it but management said “no, too expensive”?  Did their DBA say “the database is encrypted, so we are covered”?  Did the former contractor take the data maliciously? Did he have to put it on his personal laptop? Why do we continue to treat data as if it is someone else’s problem to manage?  Do we not understand that we have a professional obligation to protect patient data?  Even with legislation it seems the message still isn’t making it through to everyone.

Does your organization have security monitoring in place to protect patient or customer data?  If it doesn’t, have you recommended that it do so?  Go do it, now.

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