Windows 8 Handy Links

This is a blog for my brother, who asked me whether it would be worthwhile moving to Windows 8. So, Andrew, this blog is for you 🙂

My answer is a definite ‘yes’. For me, I’m happy to be part of the Windows 8 ‘story’. the reasons are simple:

– I love being able to have my files on SkyDrive and also held locally, all synced up. It just means that I’m no longer tied to a particular device. I can use my work laptop, phone, and my personal laptop,  all to get my data and files when I need it.

– I like the ‘clean’ interface.

– It boots up very fast. yes, I have no patience.

– I like the look of the Store, which I can download new apps. I’ve already downloaded games and educational items for my son. He’s learned to use it very quickly and he’s 7. So there’s no excuse that it will take time to learn!

– I am very excited by Excel 2013. Chris Webb has blogged about Excel 2013, and I’d recommend that you take a look.

Here are some handy Windows 8 links that will help you to decide whether or not to take the leap into Windows 8.

·         The Home page delivers Windows 8 news and helps you to see what you can do.
·         Meet Windows helps you to see the ways in which Windows 8 is relevant to you
·         Download & Shop gives you a link to the new downloads, and some of the fun things that you can do with Windows 8.
·         How-To this gives you key usage scenarios to help you see the new possibilities
·         Supportis a critical place for answering customer questions and solving problems. This is about keeping Microsoft Windows 8 users happy.
I Hope that helps!

Want to learn Analysis Services and not sure where to start? Here’s a helping hand!

Recently, someone asked me for a list of good books, sites and other resources for learning SSAS. Here are my thoughts!

  • You’re an absolute beginner. What do you do?
  • What in-person events can you attend?
  • So you’ve done all these, and want more Analysis Services. What next?  
  • My favourite SSAS sites! 

You’re an absolute beginner. What do you do?

Start with the Technet Tutorial. Follow it step-by-step. When you’re done, then do it again – but this time, don’t look at the site to do it! This will help you to see what areas didn’t ‘stick’ the first time.

Take a look at the Microsoft Free e-book collection. Yes, free! Go and take a look! See if anything there will help you.

Try the TechEd webinars. Here is a range of the top ones, from Dandy Weyn  

I’d recommend the Analysis Services team blog for a regular read. 

I’d also spend time on the Professional Association of SQL Server  (SQLPASS) website. If you’re not a member, it’s free to join, and you can access a wealth of material, from beginners to advanced, delivered by SQL Server experts around the globe – for FREE! How awesome is that?
For example, take a look at their Business Intelligence Virtual Chapter for webinars, downloads and more. Well worth a look!
If you can, I’d think about purchasing the DVDs from the SQLPass Summit. I have had some much value from these DVDs. In fact, I still listen to 2010 Summit sessions, as well as 2011. Therefore, I’ve had massive value from the Summit DVDs, making it a great investment. 

What in-person events can you attend?

Attend a local SQL Server User Group. These are usually organised by SQLPass volunteers, and you can probably find one near you!   

If you are in Europe, attend SQLBits. No excuses. It has to be done! The UK has a great SQL Server community and this is the longest-standing, largest free European SQL Server community conference. I love this conference – great people, great learning, great community spirit!

If you are in the US – or can travel to the US – go to SQLPass Summit. This is the pinnacle of SQL Server community events in the US, and I regard it as a huge honour to be picked to speak. Like SQLBits,  I love this conference – great people, great learning, great community spirit! Once you attend for your first time, you’ll go home and book up for your second visit next year. Seriously. It is *that* good. I’m travelling 5000 miles to attend – there’s dedication for you!

If you can’t afford to attend SQLPass Summit, but still want free (or nearly free!) in-person training, take a look at the SQLSaturday events that occur across the globe.  Most events are free, but some ask for a contribution towards lunch. In my opinion, this is a great investment of your time.

If you can make Orlando in December, think about attending SQL Live 360. This looks set to be an awesome conference. There are different streams, including SharePoint and Visual Studio. You can register here! 

So you’ve done all these, and want more Analysis Services. What next? 

Expert Cube Development with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services

This book is by Chris Webb, Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari. It’s very well written, and it is a great reference and guide from very experienced authors, who will help you to take your SSAS to a deeper level. It is full of practical advice, and will help you to deliver your SSAS cube more professionally.

This book is very detailed, and I’d put this at more the ‘expert’ level rather than the beginner. It’s a great reference for nuggets of information
My favourite SSAS sites:

Chris Webb‘s blog

Marco Russo and Alberto Ferrari blog

 I hope that helps!





How do you introduce yourself to people at SQLPass Summit?

In less than two weeks, I’ll be on a flight from London to Seattle to attend the SQLPass Summit at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Seattle, WA.  Essentially I will be travelling a round trip of 10,000 miles and seven time zones to be there.  Why would a Scottish girl, born in Kilmarnock and now living in the Home Counties, end up at the SQLPass Summit, I hear you ask?

SQLPass Summit 2012 will be my second Summit, and it already feels like what we Scots call a ‘homecoming’. I mean this in the traditional Scottish sense of far-flung people who return to their home – I think, in the US, the word ‘homecoming’ has lots of different meanings. As a Scot, I see it as a ‘trip home’ where you belong, a warm place. Summit is s a great place to meet people who are as passionate and excited about SQL Server and data as I am. I love meeting other Business Intelligence specialists, and we often swap ‘horror stories’ about deployments and projects. There is a real sense of community that happens outside the sessions. 

So, it is worthwhile to attend SQLPass Summit? I’m travelling thousands of miles to do so, giving up my vacation time. This is my second Summit. I’m a ‘repeat customer’ since I felt at home amongst people who ‘get it’ about SQL Server. That doesn’t mean that everyone is an expert; there are real experts, and ‘newbies’ who just want to learn. That’s why they have a range of sessions from beginners to experts. Further, I think it is impossible to know everything about SQL Server. As a product, it is simply too big now. In version 6.5, maybe. However, there are so many ‘veins’ to SQL Server, it’s possible to wear some ‘hats’ more comfortably than others. Some of the beginner sessions allow me to learn about new areas of SQL Server that I don’t normally get the chance to explore; it allows me to have ‘me time’ to get the ‘skinny’ on a topic – otherwise I don’t get the chance!

How do you introduce yourself and start chatting to technical people, for example, other SQLPass Summit delegates? It’s tough walking up to someone you don’t know, in a large conference. I know – I still get very shy when I meet new people. Here’s a tip: if you fancy chatting to someone, then just try one of the speakers and/or volunteers. I tend to ask people (a) their name (b) what they love most about the technology and (c) a bit about their role, and how they got there. I try this trick since I’m shy myself, and find it easier to draw someone else to talk than do it myself. At SQLPass Summit, there will be a lot of DBAs, devs, and Business Intelligence people around, so you will probably have shared experiences in doing similar things. One reason I do speak is to overcome my shyness. I think that is has helped to ‘manage’ shyness better, rather than having it go away.

Saying ‘hi’ to one of the speakers or volunteers is a great way to start; they will know their way around, and, by definition, the ‘speakers’ will like to speak! SQLPass Summit is a friendly place, and I hope that people will feel at home there – a ‘homecoming’ of SQL Server fans.

I have to mention that I’m also speaking – twice! Since Summit is the pinnacle of the US SQL Server scene, I want to emphasise that this is a huge honour and I’m tremendously grateful to have been picked. The speakers all work very hard to try and make sure that the audience learn something.  Here are my topics:

Business Intelligence and Data Visualization in SQL Server 2012 [BID-204]

Mobile Business Intelligence for Everyone, Now! [BID-102]

If you do see me around, please come up and say ‘hi’. I can introduce you to other people, and I’m more than happy to share my love of Business Intelligence to anyone who will listen.

If you’ve any other tips for ‘ice breakers’, please feel free to post in the comments. I will learn from your feedback, too! Thank you in advance.

See you there!

Microsoft Surface available to preorder – what does it mean for Business Intelligence?

The Microsoft Surface is available to pre-order in the US and -hurrah! – in the UK. I’m hugely excited by the Surface, and, as I tweeted earlier, it’s ‘awesomeness and attractiveness in one device’ (thanks to Kung-fu Panda. No doubt we’ll have more to discuss at my SQLPass Summit session, where I will be talking about mobile business intelligence. In the meantime, here are my thoughts.

What does the device mean for Business Intelligence? We know that mobile business intelligence is on the rise. For example, Howard Dresner reported last year that, in his Annual Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence industry survey, 70% of organisations considered that 25% of their user base would be using Business Intelligence exclusively – yes, exclusively! – within two years. That’s an awesome assertion.

What makes the Surface interesting for mobile BI users? I haven’t seen one yet, but here is my guess:

familiarity – Excel is the world’s favourite Business Intelligence software. All the talk about half the world’s data to touch Hadoop by 2015 is all very well, but they’ve got to get it out of Excel first, where it is hidden and tucked away and passed around by email. I love Excel, and I’m a fan of anything that will help people to use it. Since it’s a Windows tablet, I hope that Excel is free to roam in the arms of business users everywhere via their Windows devices.

microSD card – it’s a small thing (boom boom) but I think that we have to recognise that we don’t always have internet access. This has always been a big issue with deploying mobile Business Intelligence. HTML5 will allow some offline capability, but what to do until this is available? Bing able to use cards is just easy. Load up your data, and off you go. Once you do have your internet access back, pop it up to SkyDrive where you can share it. Work where you are.

Once I get my hands on one – and I will! – then I can write more about how I see the Surface benefitting business users who want and need mobile Business Intelligence. My appetite is whetted for more. I cannot wait until the Surface is released!

 If you haven’t registered for the Summit, now is the time to do it and I look forward to seeing you there! I look forward to your comments.

SSRS tidbit: quick and easy squares to serve as KPIs

Key Performance Indicators are extremely useful for helping to direct a business from an executive perspective. Alternatively, they can act as a quick ‘at a glance’ warning for operational reports too.

KPIs can often take the form of traffic lights, smiley faces and so on. However, what about if you want to go for the ‘minimalist’ approach whereby you just want to show a square, or a colour, or something very simple? This is easy to do in Reporting Services.

To show a square in a cell:

Using the Expression Editor, type in a 0 (ie a zero), highlight it, and then choose ‘wingdings’ as a font in the property settings. It will then come up as a square.

Once it is in the square format, you can do things to make the square convey more information.

For example, you could change the colour of the square, dependent on the value. For example, if you were using a sequential palette, you might want to increase the intensity of the colour dependent on the value. To do this, use the Expression Editor for the ‘font color’ setting and type in an expression similar to the following:

=SWITCH(Fields!RatingCount.Value < 2, “CornflowerBlue”, Fields!RatingCount.Value  “RoyalBlue”,

 Fields!RatingCount.Value >=3, “MediumBlue”

Remove the quotation marks

Similarly, if you want to change the size of the square, go to the ‘font size’ property setting and type in the following:

=SWITCH(Fields!RatingCount.Value < 2,

“6pt”, Fields!RatingCount.Value “8pt”, Fields!RatingCount.Value >=3,“10pt”)

In the 17th Century, Thomas Hobbes asserted he had succeeded in squaring the circle. Whilst this facility is interesting, it is important not to go overboard. Have fun with the settings, but not too much fun – you want to be sure that information is conveyed, not drowned out in the noise!

SQL titbit: adding a key to a table

Adding a new column is something that business intelligence consumers want to do; in fact, I don’t often hear of people wanting to remove a column.  I came across a table with no keys on it recently, and was asked about it, so here’s a quick note on the topic. In SQL, it is very easy to do that with a simple statement. So here goes:


If your table doesn’t have a primary key, and you want to make your new column to serve as one, here is the syntax here. Fill factor etc is up to you.



SQLPass Elections – who I’m supporting and why

The Professional Association of SQL Server has elections for the board, and the deadline is 12th October at noon for those of you who haven’t voted yet. 

In this blog, I’m going to share with you my thoughts on whom I’m supporting for the election. Each one of the candidates has my absolute admiration, but it’s been massively difficult to narrow it down to three. Here are my thoughts.

I personally believe that this election should be about voting for the right person with the right skills to take PASS to the next international level. The global growth of PASS  is going to need a steady hand and careful steering, so I’ve had a think about the people who can best help that to happen.

James Rowland Jones

After all the issues of the last election, communication is vital. It’s been important to ensure everyone’s voices are heard in the discussion, particularly around the global growth of PASS. 
Given the issues at the last election cycle, James‘ measured and reasoned response was impressive, and he has had to step up to the PASS plate with a harder start than other Board members.  It says a lot for James’ tenacity that he’s put himself for more hard work this year.

I believe James is the right person for PASS Board of Directors; he brings skills and experience that are unmatched. He brings to this role his SQLBits leadership experience, which has grown to be the most successful, and largest, European community SQL Server conference. He already has self-reliant business acumen, gained from years of delivering hard projects as part of both large and small organisations. – and I believe that James has consistently shown these qualities, and has the evidence to support it. Therefore, I believe he has a good mix of technical and business skills, and is the right person to be on the Board of Directors.

The last election cycle was difficult and unfortunate, and I think that lessons have been learned all around and I hope that everyone will move forward. James has consistently demonstrated that he can do this role, and I believe that his good work should be allowed to continue. 

Wendy Pastrick

Wendy has been a solid supporter of the fledgling Women in Technology growth that we are starting to see here in Europe. I’m intensely grateful to her for all her support and wisdom. Do you ever get emails sometimes where you think “I wish I’d thought of that?” Well, I have that feeling every time Wendy writes me an email! I’ve appreciated her support that is always balanced and reasonable, and I can sense wisdom and leadership from her support. Wendy has never failed to help me, and always has a wise word.

I have always appreciated Wendy’s enthusiasm too. It can be complex to organise WIT events across Europe, with our boundaries of culture and language and attitudes towards WIT.  I always feel buoyed to get a tweet or an email from Wendy, wishing us all the best – and she always remembers when our events are on! When I’m alone, speaking in a new country, such as Bulgaria or Germany where I don’t speak the local language, it’s great to feel a friendly ‘hello’ and support from the other side of the world, and it tells me that we are getting somewhere with WIT in Europe.

It’s good to feel that someone is right there with you, and I’d like to thank Wendy for all the unseen things that she does, in order to help move WIT forward.

Kendal van Dyke

I’ve known Kendal for a long time, and I’ve admired his work to take the SQLSaturdays to a new level as part of the team with Karla. I’ve got nothing but intense admiration for the SQLSaturday team, Kendal and Karla in particular, who work extremely hard and produce great results for the SQL community.
I’ve always admired Kendal’s emphasis on the production of high-quality training materials for PASS, and I think that this is a strategic area where PASS could really make a name for themselves in the SQL Server community.  

I don’t want to get into heated debates – and as I said before, each of the candidates has my deepest admiration and it’s been extremely tough to pick three.

I hope that you will use your vote too!