Ramblings of a SQL Hillbilly

Or, the mad ravings of a data warehouse forklift operator

What Are You Forgetting: A Summit Checklist

Today I took part in a Cowboy Action Shooting competition, which is a lot of fun and I highly recommend it if you’ve ever wanted to be in an old western movie. Upon returning home, I discovered a checklist on my tablet that was supposed to remind me to grab several things to take to the shoot with me, including the things we forgot such as earplugs and sandwich makings. It helpfully attempted to remind me yesterday, but I was busy trying to replace the stereo in my buggy and didn’t look at the tablet. So this got me to thinking – what am I forgetting for the PASS Summit?

Note: I originally intended to do a guaranteed technical post on Saturdays, but this week and my back conspired against me. We’ll try again next week.

What To Bring

Your note-taking device

One of the bigger draws of the PASS Summit is that it’s a learning experience with some of the best and brightest minds in the SQL Server community. While there’s probably at least one person attending with a near-eidetic memory, most of us will need to take notes in some form to remember what was covered.

  • You can pre-order downloadable or USB recordings of all the sessions from PASS, which is nice if you want content from sessions you’re unable to attend.
  • I don’t know at this time if PASS has any limitations on recording the sessions yourself, either with an audio recorder or a video camera. As pointed out by Paul White, you’ll also want to get permission from the speaker. I’ll update this when I get word from PASS.
  • If you choose to take notes on your tablet or phone, I recommend getting some practice in ahead of time. Take notes on your third-favorite TV show, or one of those movies on your shelf you don’t watch very often, or (for much higher quality content) some archived sessions from PASS or one of the Virtual Chapter meetings. Taking notes on one of these devices can take some time to get used to, but it can be rewarding.
  • Of course, there’s always the venerable pen and paper or pencil and paper. I recommend bringing at least two pads and extra pens/pencils/crayons. You never know when you’ll lose something or run out of ink.
  • If you’re planning to take notes on your laptop or other typing device, be considerate of those around you. Don’t bring your loud Model-M inspired keyboard. Put your sound on mute – it’s very difficult to take notes when you can’t hear the speaker, and it’s very annoying to have notifications blaring two seats over. Put your messengers on Do Not Disturb. Plan on not answering email. Don’t browse Reddit. Stay off Facebook. Definitely don’t browse so-called “adult” websites.

Business cards

Another draw of the PASS Summit is the opportunity to network and get your name out there. These can be from your company or your personal branding. There’s still time to get some made before the Summit, whether locally or online, and they’re a relatively cheap investment. If you have a Twitter or other social media account, you’ll likely want to include that information on your card, though you may want to set up accounts dedicated to your professional branding – I have multiple Twitter accounts, but @sqlslacker is solely for my professional life. No matter what you include, you want people to be able to contact you. I should point out that I’m VERY happy where I am now, but I would be doing my family a disservice not to both make an impact on the community and be aware of new opportunities.

A lifeline back home

For many of us, it can be cost-prohibitive to bring our families with us to an event like the PASS Summit. The next best thing you can do is keep open communication lines back home. This can be nightly phone calls, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Echolink, or various other technical solutions to communicating from a distance. This is the kind of thing you should arrange and test (where possible) well ahead of time.


It’s probably fairly obvious that you should travel with your prescription medication. However, it’s sometimes not as obvious that we should take over-the-counter medications with us as well. I’ll be packing a small bottle of ibuprofen, a small bottle of Benadryl, and some glucose tablets. You may also want to pack ear plugs for sleeping and air-sickness medication.

TSA/Airline guidelines

Before flying, you should pack as much as you feasibly can a few days ahead of time, then go through what you have packed and check the airline website to be sure that you can actually take what you’re intending to. The TSA website also looks surprisingly usable. If you fly frequently, you may also want to look into the Pre-check program – it says that the application process takes between two and three weeks, so it’s probably not possible to get enrolled before the Summit this year. However, $85 for minimum hassle at the airport for five years is not a bad deal if you expect to fly more than once a year.

Your ham radio HT

Obviously not all SQL Server professionals are going to be licensed ham radio operators – many of you are probably not even aware it exists! However, I still wanted to point out that it may be time to dig out that handheld radio, charge the batteries, and program some new frequencies in. I purchased one of the little sub-$40 Baofeng UV-5R dual-banders from Amazon tonight to try out, and I plan on carrying it with me at the Summit. It looks like you can check out the Mecklenburg Amateur Radio Society or Charlotte Amateur Radio Club websites to get information on local repeaters. It also looks like there is some Packet activity around, which can be a lot of fun if you’ve got either a TNC or can build an interface for sound card packet. Finally, I’ll be looking into setting up an agreed-upon simplex frequency on 2m or 440 we can use for conference attendees – I’ll post more about that here and on Twitter as the event gets closer. Another option is to pack a small HF rig and operate from your hotel room, but you’ll need to check with your hotel for the feasibility of that – my SB-1400 has frequency drift problems, so it’s staying home this year.

Your best behavior

PASS stands for the Professional Association of SQL Server. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone to represent the association, their company, and themselves well. But while it’s important to have fun, it’s also important not to end up on HackerNews for making an offensive joke or on Youtube for, shall we say, unbecoming behavior. Know your limitations, and when in doubt, don’t.

What NOT To Bring

A bad attitude

It’s easy to think that you’ll be just another in a sea of faces at a big conference like the PASS Summit. However, what you’ll find is that this truly is a community. People know each other and make an effort to help each other. Someone will be watching you. And really, the greatest disservice you can do yourself is not to look forward to the learning, to the networking, the camaraderie, and the fun.


It’s been well said that the only thing you should be doing in your hotel room at the Summit is sleeping. I am making the painful decision to leave the Xbox, the blu-ray player, and my paperback novels at home. I will be doing everything I can to socialize and spend time with the folks in the SQLFamily, because some of the best lessons you can learn have nothing to do with SQL Server. I would recommend bringing something to do on the plane, though one of those unread technical books sitting on your shelves or a book from SQLServerCentral or Red Gate loaded up in the Kindle app on your phone or tablet would probably be a better choice. Introverts, this is not the week to go back to the hotel immediately after the conference every night and recharge – I know, I’m right there with ya. I’m taking a vow of silence the weekend before just so I’ve got enough energy to make it through.