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SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services BlueprintsAs if preparing for SQL Server Days wasn’t sufficient to keep me fully occupied, I was once again involved in the process of book publication…

And no, I didn’t write it – though I had been asked for it many months ago – no, that not-to-be-underestimated task was for Marlon Ribunal (b|t) and Mickey Stuwey (b|t).

My role was Technical Reviewer so I read and commented on all chapters regarding their technical content.  But that’s not all, I also pointed out typos, my drive to perfection can’t just ignore those :)

The book which I reviewed is called SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services Blueprints and is published by Packt Publishing.

So if you’re (relatively) new to SQL Server Reporting Services this should be a good read for you.

The book is mainly aimed at report developers though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if administrators had a read through it too.  In fact, a couple of the chapters contain material that should be known by every SQL admin who needs to support BI deployments.

The book starts with the basics and gradually builds up to designing more complex reports.  This gives everyone a good chance to understand the basics before delving into more complex material.  By the end of chapter 6 you’ll have used all components needed for SSRS report development, which is a good thing!

So go out, get a copy and start reading about John Kirkland’s tale!

Happy reading!

Valentino.

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T-SQL Tuesday #46 Rube Goldberg MachineHere’s my participation in this month’s T-SQL Tuesday.  T-what you say?  T-SQL Tuesday, the monthly blog party started by Adam Machanic!  Head over here to this month’s invitation by Rick Krueger: T-SQL Tuesday #46 Rube Goldberg Machine for the longer story.

So, a story about SQL Server-related contraptions, let’s see…  Yeah, I can do that!

Some years ago I was asked to help out in finding a solution to a certain problem, the life of a consultant, right?  The problem was performance related.  No, this is not a story about a database without any indexes.  Instead, it involves a certain .NET web application.  The end user would fill out a page with some metrics and the application would then perform certain calculations.  And that’s where we get to the issue: the calculations would take way too many minutes (yes, not seconds, minutes!) to finish.  That was the challenge.

The first step was to examine the .NET code that was performing those calculations.  But there were so many lines of code, complicated code, that the final conclusion was: hmm, rewriting this contraption is not an option right now…

After some discussion with the project lead it became clear that the end user would not necessarily need to wait for the calculation to finish.  It didn’t need to get calculated online.  Aha!  So if we would be able to schedule these calculations and set up a batch process then that means problem solved, right?  Now, how would we schedule this?  How about our favorite scheduler, the SQL Server Agent?  Yes, that’s it!

So I ended up building an assembly that was to be called from SQL Server: a CLR-enabled assembly!  The web application used web services so the new assembly would also call a couple of (reworked) "calculate" methods.  This meant we had to install the assembly with increased permissions: EXTERNAL_ACCESS to be precise.

Furthermore I didn’t want to hardcode the path to the web service.  There were different environments, you know, DEV, UAT, PRD, so it had to be configurable.  Now, as the assembly is getting called from SQL Server, I needed to provide the configuration through sqlservr.exe.config which gets loaded when SQL Server starts.

As you can probably guess, this little project required a lot of investigation, trial and error, and so on.  But I learned a lot from it and that’s what I like!  And it also made me write the following article: Calling A Web Service From SQL Server 2005.

This article turned out to be quite popular, even today, almost five years later, it’s still in my top 10 most viewed pages of last month!

Most popular pages over one month

Was this a clean solution?  Well no, otherwise I wouldn’t have selected it for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday party, right?

Did it solve the issue?  It sure did!

‘till next time and in the meantime: have fun!

Valentino.

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Look at that, it’s T-SQL Tuesday #42, how can I miss that?!

This month’s party is hosted by Wendy Pastrick and the topic is about change in the work life, possibly related to technology.  Well yeah, in my career of approximately fifteen years now I can write a couple of words on that subject.  Here’s the story of my career.

Introduction

For those who don’t know me yet I have something to confess: I used to be a software developer!  And I’m not ashamed to admit this.  Perhaps not that surprising, fifteen years ago you didn’t finish your studies to conclude: "And now I’m going to be a Business Intelligence consultant!".  Oh no, not at all.

During my studies, out of all possibilities, I already knew what I liked most: to develop software.  And I also quickly learned that my favorite language would not be COBOL, too outdated.  It wouldn’t be Visual Basic either, feels like you’re writing a book.  I prefer the shorter C/C++ syntax style.  I also knew that I didn’t want a consultancy position.  I considered a consultant to be an expert, and how could I be an expert after just having finished my studies??

Change 1.1

The first three years of my career I was an in-house C++ programmer.  Then I got involved with a software package that was written in VB6.  They were lacking manpower to implement new functionality and I was asked to help out.  So I did some programming in VB6 because there was no other option.

Then the first version of .NET arrived and guess what I did?  Part of the package’s functionality was the import of data out of flat files.  My job was to automate this process.  SSIS would have been perfect for the job but that didn’t exist yet.  I did use DTS for a couple of things, but not here.  The existing code consisted of about 15,000 lines of VB6 code which means redesigning was not an option anyway.  So I wrote a Windows service in C# that called the VB6 code!  Process automated!

Change 1.2

I’d also been using C# to write a couple of tools to help me in my day-to-day job.  Then the opportunity arose to be part of a new project which would be written completely in C#.  I was happy to be part of this!  Compared with VB6 and VC++6, the new Visual Studio for .NET was really a joy to work with!

Change 1.3

After a good year or so, upper management decided to go on the free tour: instead of .NET we were required to use Java for any new development projects.  Sure, why not give that a try then?!  One of the subprojects on which I worked was an activity monitoring tool for our server application.  I ended up developing some stored procedures to extract statistics out of logging tables.  At that time I wasn’t familiar with the ETL acronym yet, but that’s what I was doing.  Nowadays I would use SSIS for such a task.  There was also a reporting part to the project so I coded a website, in Java, to display those numbers, with drill through functionality and all that fancy stuff.  Nowadays I would definitely use SSRS!

Several months and lots of code later I realized that I didn’t enjoy Java (and all involved tools, libraries, …) as much as I enjoyed C#.  Sure, I could get stuff done.  But it wasn’t always as straightforward as I would have hoped, and online info was not as good – in my opinion.

After ten years of being an in-house developer at three different companies, I decided the time had come for a bigger change!  What I haven’t mentioned so far is that practically all projects in which I was involved used SQL Server as database engine.  And I always enjoyed playing around with that.

Change 2.0

In my new job I would no longer be an in-house employee and my main activity wouldn’t be writing code: I became a SQL Server Business Intelligence Consultant!

My employer, Ordina, gave me some time to cope with the change.  I was allowed to spend some weeks studying books and even going for a week of training (SSAS).

I was also encouraged to start blogging.  Initially it was a challenge to find topics to blog about.  But only initially, nowadays I’ve got too many topics and not enough time.  I discovered it was actually interesting to write about things I’d encountered for real.

Here’s such an example.  In one of my shorter project interventions, I ended up calling a web service through SQL CLR.  This was not an easy task.  Without my developer background I would probably never have succeeded here!  When I turned this into an article on my blog it became my first real hit!  The article, Calling a Web Service From SQL Server 2005, was posted Nov 11, 2008 and has gotten over 26,000 page views to date.  Even today it is still one of the more popular pages I’m hosting.

Besides teaching others through my blog I also discovered that forums can be a really interesting way to improve skills.  So in August 2008 I created a free account at Experts Exchange.  I also found out that helping out on forums combined with blogging is a real win-win situation: it helps me to find topics to write about and I can help people out by referring to an already-written article!

In February 2012 I was delighted to read that EE had found my forum activity worth an extra credit so I was given the MVE – Most Valuable Expert – award! Since then I have managed to reach the number one position in the SSRS zone with over one million points in total and it looks like I’ll be staying there for some time.

Lately I have started presenting.  So far I have found that to be a stressing yet rewarding experience.  My next presentation will be at the Community Day where both I and my colleague Koen Verbeeck will each talk for about half an hour about SSRS visualizations.  The target audience are mainly developers, that’s going to be interesting!  And it will be my first time on a stage in a cinema room, fearing the spotlights already!

Ow, and registration is open so see you there?  Come over to say hello if you are planning to attend the conference.  We are scheduled in the first slot so once that’s over I’ll be relieved of my stress!

Conclusion

Did a change in technology influence my career path?  Ow yeah, I do believe it did!  SQL Server was not the only tech that influenced it but I do consider it the most significant one.  And I’m glad it did too, keeps things challenging! 

Now I’m off to install Oracle.  So long, and thanks for all the fish!

PS: one of my statements in this post is a lie.

Valentino.

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Here’s a quick one about yet one more annoying default setting.  When I go mountain biking I’m using a Garmin Edge 705 to record my statistics.  After every trip I upload my track to Garmin Connect.  One of my favorite statistics there was Average Moving Speed.  I typed “was” on purpose.  It’s no longer there!

Apparently they removed it because the community was confused about it, hmm.  Now how can I get that back?

This device is a GPS, so technically it’s able to detect if you’re moving and how fast.  It can also stop/start recording automatically.  And here it comes: by default it doesn’t do that!

Now, to activate the auto pause, it would seem logical that you’d need to change a setting in the Settings menu, right?  Well, wrong!  The setting is located in the Training menu!  Inside that menu, you need Auto Pause/Lap and there you’ve got the Auto Timer Pause setting which you can change to Off to When Stopped or Custom Speed.

Tomorrow I’ll try my first track with Custom Speed set to 4 km/h!  This way I hope I avoid that it records while stopped for refueling (read: sports drink and cookies, fruit, not gas or electricity).

Need more info?  Try this video then:

Edge 705 Auto Pause–Auto Lap

Have fun!

Valentino.

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MVE!

image

My favorite TLA of the month is MVE!

Huh what, MVE, don’t you mean MVP?

Ha, that’s what everyone familiar with Microsoft’s MVP program may think but no, I really mean MVE.

Please allow me to elaborate a little.

It all started the 11th of January when I received an email titled “You have been nominated for an MVE Award”, sent by Experts Exchange.

The first lines of the email read: “Congratulations! You have been selected as a candidate for the inaugural Experts Exchange Most Valuable Expert of the Year Award.”

This was surely a surprise for me, to be honest I hadn’t even heard that such an award existed.  And wow, Most Valuable Expert of the Year, darn, didn’t see that one coming!

About a week later, an explanation on what those awards actually are was published on EE’s Company blog. Here’s a small excerpt:

The Most Valuable Experts are very much the heroes of Experts Exchange who quietly achieve greatness. They strive to solve people’s technology problems, improve others appreciation of technology and make a real difference among those whom ask for help. They do so with a professionalism and commitment that makes them stand out in the community.

Then on the 3rd of February, I received another email, titled “You are a 2012 MVE Award Winner”.

First lines: “Congratulations! You are amongst an elite group chosen to represent Experts Exchange in 2012 as a Most Valuable Expert.”

Wow, so I even managed to win that award!  With the huge number of active experts at EE, over 50.000, I was really curious to find out how many of my peers had gotten it as well.

Some more days went by and finally all winners were announced in EE’s Company blog.  So it seems there are 12 experts worldwide who can be proud to call themselves winner of the Most Valuable Experts Awards 2012!

A couple of the names were new to me, especially the experts in non-SQL Server territory, while others, such as Kevin Cross, were very familiar.

Congrats to all winners, and a huge thank you to anyone involved in the election process!  I’ll do my best to keep it up! Smile

And remember: have fun!

Valentino.

References

What are the Most Valuable Expert Awards 2012?

Meet the 2012 Most Valuable Experts

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