Announcing a New Book on SQL from 3Cloud Authors

I am proud to announce the launch of a new book, centered around the importance of SQL, authored by six consultants from 3Cloud. Our new book is called “SQL Query Design Patterns and Best Practices.” This project was brought to us by PACKT and it’s a unique opportunity as we have five brand new authors on the project. Steve Hughes worked with the publisher to create a plan and recruit authors from within the talented data practice at 3Cloud.

The focus of this book is primarily to help those citizen developers who have limited experience in SQL to expand their knowledge to the next level. While the book can be read end to end, it is designed in multiple parts to support different subject areas that meet the needs of these new developers. In the first part of the book, we spend most of our time dealing with best practices on query design. We follow that up with the implementation of some difficult features that have a great use case in report writing and similar types of queries.

The second half of the book guides developers through using query tuning tools and techniques, including indexes. While our focus is not on creating the indexes, it is important to understand how the indexes can impact and improve your queries as you build your queries. We wrap up with some coverage on modern data estate solutions, including working with JSON, querying files, and creating Jupyter notebooks to manage and share SQL solutions.

About the Authors:

This is not the first book that Steve Hughes has worked on, but that is not true for the rest of the authors. Chi Zhang, Leslie Andrews, Dennis Neer, Shabbir Mala, and Ram Babu Singh worked on a few chapters each in this project, which gives them their first opportunity to coauthor a published book. “As lead on this project, I (Steve Hughes) must say I’m very proud that they tackled this project in such a short timeline. I hope this gives them the opportunity to author more books in the future as we look forward to seeing great things from them.”

I am truly excited to have helped 5 new authors get started!

About the Publisher:

We would like to thank PACKT for their support as we worked through this project. They did a marvelous job supporting this group of new authors on their first project! The project leaders and editors were patient and thoughtful throughout the entire project.

About 3Cloud:

We are all grateful to be working for a company who supports our efforts to become the best consultants in the market and look forward to more opportunities to share our expertise.

If you’re interested in reading the book, please feel free to check us out on Amazon.

Working with ALS – ALS Awareness Month 2023

I have been living with ALS for the past two years. I was diagnosed in September 2022 but had my first symptoms and started researching what was going on in July 2021. As I begin to understand my diagnosis more, I realize that this is a progressive disease, and my needs and situation will change over time. In my situation, I lost the use of my arms and hands first and I’ve begun to lose functionality in my legs and torso over the past few months. To learn more about my journey to this point check out this video on YouTube which tells my personal story.

Launching the YouTube Channel

Now that we’ve mentioned YouTube, Data on Wheels is launching its YouTube channel focusing first on my ALS story. While this YouTube channel will support technical content like the Data on Wheels and the Data on Rails blogs, it will also support ALS awareness and accessibility technology.

I realized early on that a blog post was not the best way to share the story or tools that I use while working with ALS. We will have a couple of playlists that are directly related to this part of my story. We will have a playlist called Living with ALS that focuses on my personal journey and various things we’ve learned or experienced in the process. We will also have a playlist that’s called Working with ALS that will focus on the tools I use to keep me working and how I keep working as my disease progresses.

While I wish we could have started this much earlier, the disease itself has slowed my ability to complete some of these tasks as quickly as I wished. It is with a lot of help from my family who have supported me through video editing, content support, and motivation that we’ve been able to get this launched. I hope you enjoy it for what it is, and I look forward to having a number of you follow and learn more about accessibility.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2023

I had the opportunity to work with the Voice Access team from Microsoft on a story video that was used on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, May 19, 2023. I am truly impressed with the work Microsoft has done with Windows and Office to create more accessible experiences for those of us who need help doing our day-to-day job. When I think about how Voice Access has truly helped me be productive in my day-to-day work needs such as IMs in Teams, it was a pleasure to work with them to do a video to promote this tool. You can check out the video in the Voice Access area here. You can also learn more about the other accessibility options available in Windows 11.

Supporting the Cause -ALS Walk Lexington, August 2023

As part of the effort we’re doing around ALS Awareness this month, Data on Wheels is the team name for our team that will be doing the ALS Walk in Lexington KY this year. This is an opportunity for us to do our part to help the local community continue to do great things for the ALS community. Check out our team site and support if you can. Every little bit counts. If you’re in the area and want to join us for the short walk that happens in August feel free to sign up on the team.

3Cloud – Inclusive and Supportive Workplace

I was employed at 3Cloud when my disability first surfaced. As you can imagine, it was an emotional roller coaster and I really needed to determine how much it would affect my ability to do work for the company. As you have seen above or in one of my stories, this disease first affected my hands and arms and my ability to type. Without knowing the speed or rate of the disease and the impact to my current workload, I was able to work with my bosses to find a good place for me in the company which allowed me to contribute while I sorted this out. With their help, I have been able to find a place to continue to contribute and participate in the technology that I love to work with. For example, just this past week, Microsoft released a new product called Microsoft Fabric that I’ve been working with them and our team on to understand how to best work with it in our field. The company has trusted me with this and other initiatives that have allowed me to continue to be productive and generally contribute to the growth and success of 3Cloud.

Wrapping It Up

ALS has changed a lot about how I work and how I view life. I hope that what I share about what I learn helps others in similar situations. I will continue to be as active as I can both through work and in the community. Each day is a new day. Some days bring good things and some days bring bad, but God is in control of it all. Thank you for your continued support!

Typing with Your Tongue Part 2: Voice Access

A few months ago, I wrote a post on how I use voice technology to continue working with my ALS condition. Since that post was written, Microsoft released a new voice technology called Voice Access as a part of the Windows 11H2 update. I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience using it. It has changed how I interact with my PC and which tools I choose for voice to text.

Voice Access

You can turn Voice Access on if you’re running the latest version of Windows 11. (Voice Access is not available in Windows 10). You simply go to the Accessibility settings and choose the Voice Access option under Speech. Once you have turned on Voice Access, you will see a bar across the top of your primary screen as shown in the image below. This is how you know you have Voice Access ready to go.

Voice Access is much more than a voice to text tool. Voice Access includes many command tools including a mouse grid option which allows you to grid your screen and select items on the screen using only your voice. Voice Access supports commands such as Open and Close for application windows. You can find out the full list of commands that are available to you in Voice Access here.

How do I use Voice Access?

I typically have Voice Access on all the time except when I’m in meetings. (It will try to type everything that’s said in the meeting, so it needs to be turned off at that time.) There are only two tools where I use Voice Access less often. That would be Outlook and Word. More on that in a bit.

Because Voice Access alternates between dictation and commands, I able to use it when working with most tools. For example, with Windows Mail I will use it to dictate an e-mail, and then click Send to send the same e-mail. When I say “click send”, Voice Access finds the Send button on the window. If there are more than one, it will give me an option to select which Send I meant to click. I find the overall experience pretty good as it allows me to switch between dictation and commands without issue.

I use Voice Access a lot when working with Teams, WhatsApp, and other chat-based tools. Voice Access allows me to have a good voice to text tool in applications that typically do not have great accessibility support. At times, I have used Voice Access instead of Dictation in Office 365, especially when working with PowerPoint and Excel. Neither of these are particularly voice to text friendly and Dictation in PowerPoint is significantly lacking.

Using Office 365 Dictation

I primarily still use Office 365 Dictation when working with Word and with Outlook. Dictation in both tools responds quicker than Voice Access. It also handles some of the issues that are currently being worked on in Voice Access such as punctuation. For example, the bulk of this blog post was authored in Word using Office 365 Dictation because it’s quick, simple, and works well within the context of voice to text.

Other Insights into How I Work with These Tools

Office 365 Dictation is fully online. This means if you lose your internet connection, you lose the ability to use that function. Voice Access on the other hand does not have this dependency and will continue to work without a connection.

The commands between these two tools still vary quite a bit. For example, text formatting is very different between the two tools. In Word, they use “capitalize” to capitalize a word using Dictation. (By the way this has been improved since the last time I wrote my blog post. This improved capability in Office 365 Dictation is huge). In Voice Access you have to say “capitalize that” to capitalize a word or selected words. When you use that same command in Office 365, it will capitalize the whole sentence. This is true of other formatting commands between the two tools.

There are enough variances in those commands to cause frequent issues when working with the two tools interchangeably. I find myself using the wrong command to create a new line or change the case of words regularly. This is something you will have to work through if you go back and forth between the two tools.

I started working with Voice Access while it was still in preview. I am actively working with the Voice Access team and providing feedback about the tool. While many updates have been made, there are still issues with the tool as it continues to mature. If you’ve been working with Windows Speech Recognition and Voice Typing, I would still recommend switching to Voice Access as the experience is much better. Just keep in mind it is still new and you may still run into issues here and there as they continue to improve the product.

When Voice Access became available, I switched immediately to Voice Access as my primary voice command and dictation tool when not using Office 365 (Word and Outlook). I think that this technology will continue to improve and make voice accessibility better for those of us with limited functionality in our hands and arms. As you know from previous conversations, I’m not a huge fan of Dragon because of how it changed my workflow and made things more difficult for me to do in general. Voice Access is a more natural fit into my workflow, and I like it considerably better. I do find myself going back and forth between my roller bar mouse and using a complete voice solution when my hands get tired. That speaks volumes of the work done in Voice Access to help someone like me continue to function by having options in the tools I can use. I look forward to the improvements as they come along.

Building, Deploying, Sharing a Remote Jupyter Book in Azure Data Studio

When working with Azure Data Studio and its support of Jupyter books, you will find there is an option for remote Jupyter books. As shown in the image below, you can open that Jupyter book and follow through the dialogue for a couple of Microsoft books that are readily available.

top portion of the dialog to add a remote Jupyter book
Dialog for adding a remote Jupyter book

So let’s start at the beginning now let you know what the end game is. What if you want to create and share a Jupyter book full of helpful hints for the world to see? How would you go about doing that? the first question you may be asking is what is a Jupyter book? As it turns out in Azure Data Studio a Jupyter book is a collection of folders and files managed by yaml files.

If you’ve been a SQL Server developer for a very long time, this may be meaningless to you. I know it was for me.

Check out this blog post to see how I created my first notebook and Jupyter book in Azure Data Studio. Once you have created your own content, even if it’s just a sample to try, come back to this post and we will walk through how to share your notebook as a remote Jupyter book.

Get it into GitHub

To share your Jupyter book you will need to get your Jupyter book into GitHub. Use File >> Explorer from the menu in Azure Data Studio to open your repo directory that is stored locally. You can either save your notebooks to this location or copy and paste them using File Explorer. I’ll be writing more details around using GitHub with Azure Data Studio in a future blog post.

Now that you have the content in your repo, you can now commit the code to GitHub. At this point if your repo is not public, you will need to make it public to complete the process. My recommendation is if you have a repo you’d use for a lot of your internal work, you should create a new repo that is public and copy the content there.

Create a zipped file

Because what you’re working with is a folder structure and a set of files, you will not build this in a traditional code build fashion. That begs the question how do you create a release? You create a release of your Jupyter book by zipping up the folder and naming your zip file a very specific way. Before we get into the naming process, remember that Azure Data Studio supports both Mac and Linux as well as Windows. Because of this if you want your remote Jupyter book to be available to Mac and Linux users, you will need to create a tar.GZ file as well.

Your file name needs to contain all the relevant properties required in a remote Jupyter book release. This includes the following attributes separated by hyphens:

  • Jupyter book name
  • Release number
  • Language

In the example I am using, the file name looks like this:

Now that you have the file ready, we can create the release.

Creating a GitHub release

Time to create that release. In GitHub click the Release button to open the releases page to create a new release. Click on the Draft a new release button to open the page that will let you create your next release. You will need to add the zip files by dropping or selecting the files where it says to attach binaries to the release. Add additional documents or instructions as needed. Click Publish release to build and make a release available.

New Release Page at GitHub

Now that you have the release created, you should be able to open that remote Jupyter book.

Opening your remote Jupyter book

As you saw in the beginning only two repos are included by default in Azure Data Studio. Even though you have created a remote Jupyter book, it does not show up on the list. You will also notice that it does not use a proper URL even though that appears to be the value that is requested. To connect to your Jupyter book, you will need to use the following format in the URL text box: repos/your GitHub/your repository name. For example, you can find my example remote notebook on Azure SQL Database Elasticity in this repo: repos/DataOnWheels/notebooks.

It appears that in the background, Azure Data Studio handles the front end of the URL. Once you have entered this in you should be able to click Search and fill in the related information that you built into the file name that you added to the release. once you have filled out all the information, you should be able to click Add and this will import the notebook into your local Azure Data Studio. This effectively loads a disconnected copy of the original notebook. Congratulations, now you have uploaded your own Jupyter book and made it available for others using the remote option.

Why would you ever use this?

Be aware that we would not recommend the usage of a public repository for privileged information that you would work with at your company. However, if you find it necessary to share a notebook as a result of building a presentation or you want to share some great information out easily, this might be a good fit for your use case. The Jupyter book that I have shared using this methodology is also available in my standard GitHub repository for code sharing. However, attaching to a remote Jupyter book to get all the example code easily added to Azure Data Studio is a win. It is an easier way to distribute the work however it is not well-known as a pattern.

If you successfully create an interesting or boring Jupyter book that you want to share, I encourage you to include it in the comments below so we can all have a look.

The Microsoft Ability Summit in Review

abilities summit header

As many of you are aware, I have been dealing with a progressive version of ALS which is affecting my hands and arms and thus my ability to type. Throughout this process I have been writing about the technology that has allowed me to keep working. I really started to dig in and embrace the work that Microsoft is doing in the accessibility space. As I was looking around at what they were doing I stumbled across last year’s Ability Summit. It was interesting because in this Summit they announced the release of some of the Surface accessibility tools as well as Voice Access both of which I will be using a lot of. I have been using Voice Access since it was released in preview in the middle of last year. I plan to write about my experience with Voice Access after the next update of the product which was dropped in preview late February and I hope to have the update soon. My hope is that a number of the issues I’ve been dealing with in the product will be resolved by then.

Picture of Microsoft Adaptive Accessories
Microsoft Adaptive Accessories

Moving on to the Summit. When I came across the Summit in YouTube I was really impressed with the overall approach as well as content and conversations that were part of the event. This year’s Summit took place on March 8th. I took the time to watch much of the conference with my wife to see what new and great things are coming from Microsoft to further enable those of us with disabilities to work in a Microsoft and Windows environment. I was not disappointed! The conference had a number of sessions where they talk about how various individuals are impacting their workplaces as well as reflecting on the life of one of the foremost disability advocates in the country, Judy Heumann.

Along the way, there were a few things that they announced or talked about that excited me. The first of course was that Voice Access was fully released in February. While I haven’t received the update yet I’m looking forward to getting that and reviewing it in a different post. They also showed how Microsoft 365 including the Office tools and Teams have continued to embrace accessibility for people with all types of disabilities. One of the neat things they demonstrated was there’s now an accessibility checker in Word for example that will allow you to see if the formatting you have chosen in your document is accessible or not. I look forward to seeing the continued improvements on this as it brings awareness to those of us who don’t struggle with some of those same issues and shows us how to build documents that are considered fully accessible.

GitHub Next logo
GitHub Next

One of the tools I’m most interested in is Hey GitHub! Beyond even GitHub Copilot, you now have the ability to use voice commands to build code. While this is still in the early stages it is an awesome concept. I of course will be looking at how I could potentially use this to build out some SQL code so I can continue to demo.

There was also a lot of conversation around the impact of AI on our ability to be more productive. This includes the various AI capabilities such as support writing code in Visual Studio and creating summaries of meetings with ChatGPT. I hope to put some of these new findings to good use.

I have been using the public version of ChatGPT to build LinkedIn summaries of blog posts so I don’t have to type them up myself. It has been a cool experience watching the AI build the summary.

If you or your company is looking for insights into how Microsoft as well as other companies are tackling the tough questions around accessibility, I encourage you to check out the various sessions from the Ability Summit. This is a great opportunity to embrace a group of individuals we have a lot to contribute all they need is the opportunity! I want to say a huge thank you to the Microsoft team who have put together this conference and continued to make accessibility a key part of the tools they provide to us.