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Jamie Thomson

This is the blog of Jamie Thomson, a freelance data mangler in London

Weekend reading – Data Explorer, Quandl, Flatmerge and a SQL Saturday app

Here are some things that have piqued my interest on the interwebs over the last few days.

Parameterized queries and Security in Data Explorer

Chris Webb put a post up on the Data Explorer forum asking about parameterizing queries in Data Explorer and Miguel Llopis from the Data Explorer product team replied with some useful information:

…there is some risk for users to leak information to external sources when doing this, and so we try to prevent this from being done "by default". You can disable this level of protection by clicking the "Fast Combine" button in the Data Explorer ribbon tab. More information about Fast Combine and Privacy Levels can be found in our Help contents: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/privacy-levels-HA104009800.aspx

Following Miguel’s link shows this information:

image

So, default behaviour in Data Explorer is that the user is protected from inadvertently leaking information to 3rd parties.  Its good to know that security has been prevalent thinking within the Data Explorer team however users do need to be aware that this behaviour exists, hence my mentioning it here.

Quandl – a search engine for datasets

I have stumbled across a site called Quandl that looks interesting, it bills itself as “Intelligent search for numerical data”. Essentially this is a search engine for finding datasets on the web which should be a useful resource in the emerging world of self service BI.

I’m writing this on a train so as an example I used Quandl to search for data on UK train journeys and first result was Train movements : 1000 Train-kilometre : Passenger trains : United Kingdom:

image

Here we have some raw data pertaining to train movements in the UK from 2004 to 2011. Quandl provides a chart of the data, a link to the source and an indication of the age of the data. It also enables us to download the data and provides Excel, CSV, JSON & XML as choices of data format.

An interesting idea indeed, Quandl is in its infancy though I shall be keeping a watching brief to see if it turns out to be a success or not.

Publish your own datasets with Flatmerge

The aforementioned Chris Webb put me onto this one. Flatmerge is a startup from Michigan, US that enables one to publish their data for public consumption:

image

With the FlatMerge data storage platform it's easy to share data in the cloud and use it in other applications. Just upload data and let FlatMerge discover it's actual data types and make the data and metadata available in JSON or XML format through (OData) URL queries.

Flatmerge are using OData-compliant URI query formats and they tell me that OData output is coming soon:

We currently support some OData queries. Data/Meta is returned in plain JSON or XML. OData output is coming soon!

That Flatmerge chose to use OData to publish their data is interesting – I’ve long suspected that greater OData adoption wouldn’t be far away once Excel natively supported it as an external data source and Flatmerge have realised the value in doing this. Flatmerge enables one to publish data to the web, Quandl helps people find data on the web – perhaps these two should go out for coffee sometime Smile

SQL Saturday app for Windows Phone

Michael Wells has built a Windows Phone app for SQL Saturday (particularly pertinent for me at the moment as I am on my way home form SQL Saturday 194).

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It provides data about each event, including the all important schedule information.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this. On the one hand its fantastic to see a community member voluntarily build a great FREE resource for the SQL community – massive credit to Michael for doing this. On the other hand it highlights one of my pet peeves about the current app culture that is prevalent on smartphones – this is an app that you can only use if you have a certain type of phone. The information presented here is valuable and given away for free, why is it hidden behind a gated app store? Should there not be a SQL Saturday website that is optimised for and viewable on any mobile web browser? Better still, its the schedule data here that is most valuable so why not publish that data in a format that allows one to view that schedule in one’s phone/PC/tablet calendar regardless of the type of device they are using? That data format, by the way, is iCalendar which is something that regular readers are probably fed up of me banging on about.

I hope that doesn’t detract from Michael’s great efforts here; his app is fulfilling an important need, I just happen to think its a shame that that need even exists when there are mechanisms already in place for delivering this data to us in a more efficient matter. On the other hand its hard to argue with the ease at which apps deliver information to us so perhaps I should just quietly climb down off of my soapbox! Comments are welcome!

@Jamiet

Published Saturday, March 09, 2013 7:30 PM by jamiet

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Michael Wells said:

Jamie,

I want to thank you for your comments about my application.  I understand your viewpoint and value your opinion.  I do, however, feel the need to respond to a few of your points.  I want to start by apologizing to anyone that is feeling left out because of my app’s availability being limited to Windows Phone.  That was actually the opposite of what I had intended.  Some time ago PASS partnered with a service provider called Guidebook to make the SQL Saturday information available online.  Guidebook provides free native apps for iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android devices, and has a mobile formatted web-based application for everyone else - see http://guidebook.com/getit/.  I have been a Windows Phone user since they first became available nearly 3 years ago and have come to terms with being in the minority.  That being said, I did not care for a number of limitations with the Guidebook web application.  My first issue was performance, and my second was the need to operate in a connected manner.  Having moved into the SQL Server arena from development, I’m often struck with the “I could do that better” mindset and decided to try and write an application that would deliver a good user experience for a segment of the market that I felt had been left out.  I never intended to compete with Guidebook, but simply to offer a solution where I felt they were lacking.

The result was the Windows Phone application that you mention above.  The app leverages the event XML file that is published on the bottom of every event page on the SQLSaturday.com website.  Without that data being freely published in an easy to access manner, my app would not have been a realistic undertaking.  I can’t overstate my appreciation for the work that PASS HQ has done to make data like this open and available.  That allowed me to build a native application that operates in a disconnected state and since the event data is downloaded locally, it runs very quickly.

While I agree that making the data available in a platform independent manner is critically important, since that had already been accomplished I see no reason not to give Windows Phone users an improved experience that more closely resembles what iOS and Android users already had.  I have not had the opportunity to play with shared calendars outside of my company, where we use shared calendars within exchange, so I will abstain from commenting on that as a method for publishing conference agendas.  

I hope this serves to provide some background as to why the application came about and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

Michael Wells

@SqlTechMike

March 18, 2013 6:30 PM
 

jamiet said:

Hi Michael,

I too appreciate you taking the time to come here and share your thoughts. I hope you didn't I was disparaging your efforts - you have clearly done a great job here. Making data available via iCalendar just happens to be something that I am inherently passionate about so any opportunity I get to get on my soapbox and wax lyrical about it - I grab it with both hands.

I totally agree with your assertion:

"I see no reason not to give Windows Phone users an improved experience that more closely resembles what iOS and Android users already had"

Absolutely, totally, 100%. I simply have a dream that content publishers and consumers wake up to the benefits that iCalendar provides.

Regards

Jamie

March 21, 2013 12:02 PM

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