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First Timer at PASS Summit 2012Even though I’m not new in the SQL Server world, last week I had the pleasure of being a First Timer at the PASS Summit in Seattle.  Many thanks to my employer Ordina for making this possible!

And not only was I a First Timer at the conference, at the same time it was my first trip to the US!

I believe I had prepared myself quite well so that I was ready to take maximum profit from all that was to be experienced in Seattle.  I attended Denny’s interesting First Timers webcast and I read many of the First Timers blog posts available through the PASS Summit site.

And yet, still some things took a different direction once I was actually experiencing all the great stuff at the conference.

Here’s a write-up of some of my encounters over there.  Not being an American I believe my post will contain some info which hasn’t been written down yet in the posts mentioned above.  On the other hand, I’d like to think it also contains good info for all first timers in the years to come, American or not.

Experiencing The PASS Summit

The Jetlag Issue

Never having been to America, I thought the jetlag would be okayish.  Well, it wasn’t!  In my case I arrived Monday evening and I was attending a preconference session the day after.  THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!

Being at the conference means long days, really long days.  Breakfast starts at 7AM, the sessions start at 8AM and continue until 6PM.  And then the evening activities begin, you surely don’t want to miss out on those.

So, if you need to cope with a significant time difference and a long flight – in my case the trip took about 15 hours and there’s a 9-hour time difference with Belgium – leave at least one day earlier than I did so that you’ve got two nights in between arrival time and conference start.

Doing that also gives you a good chance to get to know the city a bit before it gets dark, and do some shopping if that’s what you’re after.  Don’t forget the gifts for the kids and wife/husband who got left alone in your home country.

In my case I chose to skip the two keynotes to get at least some jetlag worked away.  My reasoning was it’s better to skip the shows so that I could at least concentrate a bit more in the learning part of the conference.  Okay, some new stuff was announced but you can, in fact you WILL, always find out about that later.

And I was successful in getting over my jetlag, by the time it was Friday… And on Friday, I kissed Seattle goodbye to get started on yet another, even worse, jetlag! :/

Getting Money

If you don’t have any American dollars yet, don’t worry about exchanging money in your home country.  You can do that using Maestro.  However, give your bank a ring before getting on the plane because Maestro needs to get activated specifically for the US.  By default it is not activated because apparently 75% of fraud transactions is sourcing from the US.

At the same time, check with your bank if your VISA or MasterCard is activated for the US.  You may also want to increase it’s limit, depending on what that limit is currently set to and what you’re expecting to pay for with it.

Once you’ve arrived in the airport, use your Maestro card to get some dollars out of one of the available ATMs.  Also, insert your credit card and enter your pin code.  You don’t need to do anything with it, but entering it into the machine makes sure it’s registered as “being located in the US”.  At least, that’s what I was told to do and also what I eventually did.  I’m not sure if this step is absolutely necessary, but better be safe than don’t have any access to your credit card, right?

Using Money

I’m sure we all know how to use money, right?  So this chapter is mainly about the tipping, which is really different in the United States compared to Belgium (and several other European countries).

Here’s what I was told.  When going out to eat or drink something, you should always tip.  How much depends on the service.  The regular tipping amount is 18% and if you really liked it you should tip 20%.  If it wasn’t any good, you should still tip 15%.  That may sound weird to Europeans but apparently that’s how it works.  Well, unless they’ve been rude without cause, I guess in that case it’s okay to walk away without tipping.  Luckily I’ve only seen situations were I should tip at least 18%.

The last day I left my luggage with the bell boys.  A general tipping rule here is one dollar per bag, though some people give 5 dollars in total.

I’m not sure if the above applies to the whole of the US.  Next year the conference will be on the East Coast, Charlotte more precisely.  So if someone could let me know if tipping in Charlotte uses the same percentages as in Seattle, that would be great!

Meeting People

Thanks to my activity in the SQL community, which has been going on for several years now, I knew some people who were going to be present at the conference as well.  The Who’s attending list surely helped a lot here!

To make sure I didn’t forget anyone, I had made a list of names.  However, if you’re thinking that you’ll meet them by just running into them, forget about it!

The convention center is huge and there are more than 4000 people through which you need to search.  And as we all know, searching without an index can take a long time.  If you’re lucky then you run into them.  If you’re not, well, you don’t.  So if you really want to ensure that you’ll be able to meet someone, get their phone number!  This way you can text them to arrange a meeting location and time.  I say “text” instead of “call” here on purpose: calling abroad using my Belgian provider is really not an option unless I want to go bankrupt quickly.

If you didn’t get a phone number, get at least their email address.  Get linked with them on LinkedIn and start following them on Twitter, prior to the conference.  Also, let them know in advance that you’ll be there as well and that you’re looking forward to meeting them!  Ow, and find out if you’re staying in the same hotel.  That can surely help to meet them during the evening hours.

Having done all the above will increase your chances of meeting your friends significantly.

Was I successful in this?  Well, partly.  I met some, I didn’t meet others.  Better luck next time!  I believe the more you’ve been there, the easier it will become.  The reason for that is that your friends have connections as well.  So the more connections you have, the higher the chances become that your connections know the ones you haven’t met yet.  In that case, they can easily introduce you!

So far we’ve only mentioned peers whom we’ve already been in contact with somehow before.  How about the new ones?

To make sure you remember who you’ve met, you should ensure that you have a stack of business cards with you.  That’s the fastest way to give someone your contact details.  Don’t try memorizing names, unless you’re really trained for that.  You’ll meet so many people in such a short amount of time that it will become really challenging.

If you run out of cards, note down their name on your smartphone.  Or add them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Be Smart, Get A Smartphone!

No, I don’t work for a hardware reseller.  But really, if you don’t have a smartphone yet, now’s your time to get one!  If the previous paragraph didn’t make that clear yet, I’ll explain why you need one right now.

A lot of SQL Server professionals are active on Twitter.  And there will be free wireless internet at the convention center.  This results in a lot of Twitter activity during the whole conference period.  You’ll be able to gain a lot of additional info which you wouldn’t have without a smartphone and access to Twitter.

Important hash tags this year were #sqlpass and #summit12.  Another one is #sqlfamily and you may also want to look into #sqlhelp, as explained in this nice article by Sarah Strate.

In fact, Twitter is used so widely that now and then you’ll even see your friends asking where you are, through Twitter!  Don’t forget to install the Twitter app too, much easier than using a browser!

To give you an idea, my Twitter Followers count has increased with at least 25 in one week time!

Finding A Room

Don’t worry too much about this.  A convention center is used to having to deal with lots of people unfamiliar with its layout.  There are signs everywhere.  And if you’re in a rush, every entrance door is guarded by people who know their way around there so just ask them in what direction you should walk.

Also, if you followed my previous tip, you should have a smartphone.  This year, PASS used an app called Guidebook.  Get it installed and you have the maps (and much more) in your pocket, real easy to reach!

Getting Into A Room

Do worry about this!

I missed out on two good sessions (well, three actually but one of them is not a regular session) because the room was stacked with people sitting on the floor even before it started!  So if there’s a particular session that you really don’t want to miss, go there early!

There’s only 15 minutes in between the sessions and if you need to switch floors, take into account that 15 minutes is really, really short.  Don’t start a conversation with people you meet on your way, tell them to meet later (lunch, evening) because you don’t want to miss the session.  Don’t worry too much about hurting their feelings, they’ll probably have the same on their mind.  To avoid any misunderstanding, just tell them what you’re up to.  Who knows, if you’re lucky they’re on their way to the same room!

If really needed to ensure you can get into the room, leave the previous session a little early.  But only if needed and the speaker is going over the end time.

How do you know to which sessions you should go super early?  That’s a bit difficult to predict, but certainly don’t look at room size.  The two I missed were located in the larger rooms.  Or maybe do look at room size: if the speaker is in a larger room, that may indicate it’s a popular one!  If you know that the speaker has a popular blog, or has written popular blog: another good indicator!  And if the speaker is a regular I’m sure that’s a good indicator as well!

Then there are the special sessions, such as the Lightning Talks and the BI Power Hour.  I didn’t have a problem with the Lightning Session that I attended, but the Power Hour was a totally different story.  Even though it was the last session on Thursday evening, the room was packed half an hour before it even started!

Travel Bags

Ensure you’ve got some space left when you close up your bags at home.  You’ll be getting your hands on some swag and I’m sure you don’t want to leave part of that at the hotel because it won’t fit in your bags!

In my case I was travelling with a Swissgear backpack as hand luggage and a compact trolley for regular luggage.  At the conference entrance we were given a nice backpack and I didn’t want to walk around at the airport with two backpacks.  The new backpack was too large to fit in my other one so only one option remained: it had to fit in my trolley!

I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a free, signed copy of the Professional Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services book by Brian Knight and co, which didn’t help either. Smile

Long story short: I went home with a trolley zipper that wasn’t far from bursting and a heavy backpack because of the book!


T-SQL TuesdayThe conference is not only about improving your SQL-fu.  It is about much more!  Meeting people you know but have never seen before, meeting new faces and minds, and of course also seeing your friends again!  Be well prepared and you’ll certainly have your hands full at the conference.

Coincidentally, my post seems to fit right in with this weeks T-SQL Tuesday topic, so here’s my participation!  See all of them through the #tsql2sday hashtag.

Looking forward to seeing my SQLFamily again!

And as always: remember to have fun!



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12 + 12 = 24

For the second time this year, the SQL PASS folks are organizing another 24 Hours of PASS, a 24-hour free virtual training event.  Each session takes one hour, so there are 24 presentations in total.  Instead of putting them right after each other, this time they’ve decided to split the event in half: 12 hours on the first day and another 12 hours on the second.



Wednesday, September 15th and Thursday, September 16th.  Each day the sessions start at 1200 GMT, so for us Belgians we need to add two hours for our local time.

Is it an interesting idea to split the event in two?  During the day I have to work, so I usually enroll for some sessions during the evening, starting earliest at 1800 and ending around midnight.  Looking at the schedule for the Fall event, it means that I’ll be able to attend sessions during two evenings instead of one.  Except, Wednesday evening I go swimming with our oldest daughter.  Ah well, better luck next time.

So, what are you waiting for?  Register here, it’s free and it’s interesting!  (Well, it’s probably not interesting for everyone on this planet, but it should be interesting to you – otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my blog either :-) )

If you require more info: check out the agenda!

Have fun!



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Just like last year, PASS will organize another 24 hours of PASS virtual conference.  If you’re not familiar with this, it’s 24 hours of free SQL Server-related training.  Each session takes one hour, making 24 sessions in total.

24 Hours of PASS: Celebrating SQL Server 2008 R2

I think the most difficult part of attending this event is combining it with your job/family.  Last year I was lucky: I happened to have a day off and at home we didn’t have anything big planned, so I was able to pick up a few sessions.  This year I’m not having any holidays in that period so I’ll need to filter quite well.  Or be lucky with the timing.  Which doesn’t seem to be the case: it’s a Wednesday and Wednesday means I go swimming with our oldest daughter in the evening.

So, hopefully the videos are available for download afterwards, then I’ll have something to watch on the train commuting to work.

The event will take place on May 19th, 2010, starting at 12:00 GMT (UTC).

Obviously, the focus will be on the newly released R2.  So what are you waiting for?  Go register before it’s sold out, it’s free!

What sessions am I interested in?

Session 05 (BI) – Start time 16:00 GMT
Implementing MDM Using SQL Server 2008 R2 Master Data Services
Presenter: Rushabh Mehta

Session 06 (DBA) – Start time 17:00 GMT
What’s Really Happening on Your Server? 15 Powerful SQL Server Dynamic Management Objects
Presenter:  Adam Machanic

Session 10 (DBA) – Start time 21:00 GMT
Using Data Compression with SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2
Presenter: Maciej Pilecki

Session 11 (BI) – Start time 22:00 GMT
Easier than Ever Report Authoring in SSRS 2008 R2
Presenter: Jessica M. Moss

Session 12 (Dev) – Start time 23:00 GMT
High Performance Functions
Presenter: Simon Sabin

Session 15 (BI) – Start time 02:00 GMT
Producing Dashboards with PerformancePoint Services
Presenter: Peter Myers

Session 16 (BI) – Start time 03:00 GMT
Reporting Services Enhancements in SQL Server 2008
Presenter: Greg Low

Session 24 (DBA) – Start time: 11:00 GMT
BLITZ! 60 Minute Server Takeovers
Presenter: Brent Ozar

72 Hours Of PASS

Or better, that’s what the European PASS Conference stands for.  I went there last week and had a great time!  I met some friends over there, was able to put a face to some names which I already knew through the almighty internet, and had a chat with people I never met before.  Really good experience.

And that’s not all of course, I saw some really interesting sessions as well!  Let’s see, what sessions made me take out my notebook? (No, not to surf, the old paper version!)

There was of course the pre-conference by Donald Farmer.  He’s worth seeing just for his Scottish accent alone.  And on top of that, he’s one of the better speakers that I’ve ever seen.  And he’s “the BI guy from Microsoft” :-)   Initially I was planning to see the sessions by Adam Saxton but after seeing some memory dump analysis I decided that I would probably never do that myself anyway…  I think once you’re on that level, it’s time that you apply for a job at Microsoft.

So, what other sessions did I take notes at?  Chris Webb and his session about DAX.  Until now I haven’t had the time to play with PowerPivot, but I think time has come to get it installed.  He gave some quite interesting tips, such as the one on the Time table that shouldn’t end in the middle of the year.

Later on I saw Markus Raatz about the hidden BI treasures on CodePlex.  Yes Markus, if it were up to me you’ll be doing the sequel next year!

I also made some notes during another Chris Webb session, about warming SSAS cache.  A tip that I noted down: do not use subqueries in your MDX (such as the ones generated by the query designer in Reporting Services) because the global cache will not be used.

I saw several more speakers but won’t go into detail on those sessions.  Except for this last one: the session on PowerPivot (and everything that’s related to it) by Kasper de Jonge.  It was one of the last sessions on Friday, and we finally saw some interesting (read: not repeated for the n-th time) demos using PowerPivot.  Well done Kasper!  You were one of the lesser-experienced speakers (mind: I’m referring to speaking experience here, not technical!) and you were far better than some other speaker with years of experience (I won’t mention his name here but those who saw the presentation must know who I’m talking about).

That’s it for now people, have fun!



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With great pleasure I’d like to share with you that my employer has approved my request to attend the SQL PASS European Conference! (Thank you Ordina :-) )

This event will take place at 21-23 April 2010 in Neuss, Germany.

PASS European Conference: April 21 - 23, 2010

I’m really looking forward to this, I’m sure it will be three days with a lot of learning, a lot of networking and a lot of fun!

If you’re going too and you’re from Belgium: have a look at the Belgian SQL Server User Group site for a discount code!

Ow, and post a comment here so that we can have a chat over there!

Sessions I’m Planning To See

(list updated on April 14)

Day One (April 21)

The event hasn’t started yet and I’m already having difficulty in choosing my sessions.  This day is the official start of the SQL Server 2008 R2 Launch Tour and there’s a full day of sessions on R2 planned.  But they are level 200, while Adam Saxton is talking about SSRS in a level 500 full-day session (I always thought that the range went from 100 to 400, guess I was wrong.)  So this is my agenda for the first day:

0930 – 1730: (500) Tackling Top Reporting Services Issues by Adam Saxton (Microsoft CSS)

Day Two (April 22)

Again another day with lots of interesting sessions, too many unless I can find a way to split myself up for a while…  Those in bold are the ones I’ll probably be choosing to attend.

0900 – 1030: (Keynote) The Evolution of Business Intelligence by Donald Farmer (Microsoft)

1045 – 1200: (400) Index Age 3—Dawn of the Filtered by Bodo Michael Danitz (

1045 – 1200: (300) Cooking with SSRS: Advanced Report Design Recipes by Paul Turley

1045 – 1200: (300) Implementing Common Business Calculations in DAX by Chris Webb (CrossJoin Consulting)

1300 – 1400: (300) Spatial Data in SQL Server 2008 and SQL 2008 R2: A Real World Application by Javier Loria (Solid Quality Mentors)

1300 – 1400: (???) Taking BI to the next level with in SQL Server 2008 R2 , SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 by Oliver Goletz & Martin Vach (Microsoft Germany)

1415 – 1515: (300) The Dirty Dozen: 12 Ways to Write Poorly Performing MDX Queries by Steve Simon (State Street Corporation)

1415 – 1515: (300) SQL & SSIS 2008 R2 Performance Optimizations by Henk van der Valk (Unisys)

1530 – 1630: (300) SQL Server and SharePoint – Best Practices by Steffen Krause (Microsoft Deutschland GmbH)

1645 – 1800: (400) ETL 3 Ways by Allen Mitchell (Konesans)

1645 – 1800: (500) Kerberos and the BI Stack by Adam Saxton (Microsoft CSS)

1645 – 1800: (300) The Top 10 Developer Mistakes That Won’t Scale by Brent Ozar (Quest)

Day Three (April 23)

0830 – 1000: (???) Real Time Cubes by Thomas Kejser (MS SQL CAT Team)

1015 – 1130: (400) Blazing Fast Queries: When Indexes Are Not Enough by Davide Mauri (Solid Quality Mentors)

1145 – 1245: (400) StreamInsight by Allen Mitchell (Konesans)

1345 – 1445: (400) Cache-warming Strategies for Analysis Services 2008 by Chris Webb (Crossjoin Consulting)

1500 – 1600: (300) Building a Dashboard with PowerPivot, Reporting Services and PerformancePoint using PowerPivot in SharePoint by Kasper de Jonge (ADA ICT)

1500 – 1600: (300) Adaptive BI Best Practices by Davide Mauri (Solid Quality Mentors)

1615 – 1715: (???) Importance of Master Data Management by Markus Thomanek (Microsoft Germany)

Have fun!



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If you don’t have anything planned on next September 2 and you’re interested in some free SQL Server-related learning: it’s the 24 Hours of PASS!


You can even stay in your lazy chair at home because it’s an online event, no worrying about bus/train/plane/hotel/…  Just install the software (or browser plug-in, I actually don’t know because I haven’t performed the preparation procedure yet) and off you go.

I have registered for the following 5 sessions myself:

  • Session 10 (Dev) – Working with Spatial Data in SQL Server 2008 (Greg Low)
  • Session 11 (DBA) – Effective Indexing (Gail Shaw)
  • Session 12 (BI) – Reporting Services Inside Out the Things You Should Know (Simon Sabin)
  • Session 13 (Dev) – Query Performance Tuning 101 (Grant Fritchey)
  • Session 16 (DBA) – Database Compatibility Settings: What They Really Do .. and Don’t Do (Don Vilen)

Yep, it will be a busy holiday.  That same day they’ll be delivering our new combi oven, ideally that would be right after session 13 ends.  Fingers crossed.

Anyway, I’ll be seeing you September 2?  Or well, maybe not as it’s an online event…

Happy learning!


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