Author Archives


Program Manager on the Power BI Customer Advisory Team at Microsoft.

Announcing the #SSRSHelp Twitter Hashtag

I think it’s clear to anyone with half an eye open that the #SQLHelp hastag has been, and continues to be, a huge boon to the SQL community. It is a fantastic way to get assistance with SQL Server. If I were a DBA, it would be perfect for me.

I just returned from the PASS Summit in Seattle (my customary Top Ten List post is in the works). While there, I had the great pleasure to have lunch with MVP Stacia Misner (Blog | Twitter) and Erika Bakse (Blog | Twitter) at the Birds of a Feather lunch, an event designed to bring folks with similar SQL Server interests together for food, folks, and fun. We discussed how the #sqlhelp requests related to Reporting Services get lost in the volume of the more DBA related topics.

Well, let’s make this better. Let’s all start using the #SSRSHelp hashtag to mark requests for help on Reporting Services related topics. This will make it easier those of us seeking ways to help the community find people to help. It will also make it a much better experience for those seeking help.

We have several bastions of SSRS awesomeness on board who have already started monitoring #SSRSHelp:

MVP Stacia Misner (Blog | Twitter)
MVP Jessica Moss (Blog | Twitter)
Erika Bakse (Blog | Twitter)
Jes Schultz Borland (Blog | Twitter)
Doug Lane (who perhaps had the idea in the first place) (Blog | Twitter)
Angel Abundez (Blog | Twitter)
Chris Randall (Blog | Twitter)
Mark Vaillancourt (my very own self, whose blog you now read with rapt joy | Twitter)

Please feel free to join in and help spread the word. Also, even if you think you will not be able to help, I encourage you to follow anyway and learn from the questions and answers that will flow through the stream. I learn a lot myself that way.

Please keep in mind that the guidelines for #SSRSHelp usage should match that of #SQLHelp. Most important: it is for asking and answering questions about SQL Server Reporting Services. It is not for trying to sell products or trying to funnel folks to your blog or for trying to get others to pool their money with you in the hopes of helping that Nigerian prince who emailed you the other day.

Before I wrap up, I would like to give a quick preview of my PASS Summit Top Ten List:



This just in: Our first #SSRSHelp win is in the books. Smile

PASSMN July Meeting: Ask The Experts Panel

The annual Ask The Experts panel has arrived for the Minnesota chapter of PASS. I am especially excited for this one since I will have the honor of serving on the panel for the first time. This is really a great milestone for me and fits so well with my goals to have an impact in the community.

Thanks to Superior Consulting for sponsoring this month’s meeting.


8300 Norman Center Drive, 9th Floor, Bloomington, MN  55437


July 19th, 2011


3:00 – 5:00


Please click here for meeting details and to RSVP

Ask the Experts

After the popularity of the past "Ask the Experts" discussions, we decided to bring back the forum for a third straight year. PASS members will have the opportunity to pose any burning questions they might have about SQL Server to our expert panel. We will round things out with a couple tips or tricks about SQL Server from each of our panel experts.  This year’s discussion will be moderated by Jason Strate.

The Panel:

  • Lara Rubbelke, Microsoft
  • Dan English, Superior Consulting Services
  • Mark Vaillancourt, Digineer
  • Bill Preachuk, Emergent Networks
  • Zach Mattson, Patterson Companies

SQL Saturday Chicago Top Ten List

This past weekend, I attended the amazing SQL Saturday event in Chicago. I also had the tremendous honor of presenting this time around. The entire experience was fantastic. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who worked so hard to make this event happen. Here is my top ten list:

10. A 3-pack of Hanes white cotton T-shirts + a black Sharpie = SWAG. On a whim, after the spSwageaker dinner on Friday night, I decided I needed swag to give away during my session. One trip to Walmart and a few moments of sketching later, I had 3 genuine, hand crafted, MarkVSQL shirts. One recipient called my shirts the “greatest swag ever.” #awesomeshirt

9. Doug Lane (blog | Twitter) built a really cool solution using SSIS to achieve Data Driven Subscription functionality without the need for Enterprise Edition. I love really creative uses for SSIS and cannot wait to play with this. On top of that, I was meeting Doug in person for the first time. He’s a really cool guy. If you get a chance to hang with him or mow his lawn or something, go for it.

8. This one I had already seen when I attended last year’s SQL Saturday Chicago: The SQL community in and around the Windy City is vibrant and fun. The attendees for my session were great and I had such an awesome time presenting.

Not everyone had the great experience I did, though. A tiny number of people (1 that I know of) need to keep in mind that people who give of their time to present at these events, and in many cases travel across the country at their own expense to do it, deserve to be treated with some appreciation and respect.

7. Part of the experience is getting to hang out with cool, smart people. I learned a lot outside of sessions just chatting with other folks at the speaker dinner and after party.

6. Hope Foley (Twitter) showed some cool features of PowerPivot, including some mad compression. Nicely done.

5. Norman Kelm (website| Twitter) demonstrated how to have SSIS logging take place within the Script Task. He also showed some Script Task debugging techniques. Pretty cool stuff to be sure.

4. The hot dogs at Portillo’s are frickin spectacular.

3. Jason Strate (blog | Twitter) likes to say: “I’m not a good driver; I’m a successful driver.” Well, he is that. Chris Fish (Twitter) and I rode with Jason down to Chicago from the Twin Cities. And I have to say, we didn’t die even once.

2. I sing about as well as a dead cow under a truck (which is pretty bad, in case you are not aware). I knew that one a long time ago. What I learned this time around is that I can pull off a pretty good rendition of The Lion King’s Hakuna Matata, with Timone and Pumbaa character voices throughout, all by myself. Seriously, #sqlkaraoke is more fun than should be allowed. And singing ability is irrelevant. Just ask Jason Strate. Wait. I should delete that.

1. Getting involved in the SQL Community is awesome. I highly recommend picking a topic you know and want to learn more about and submit a session at your local user group, a SQL Saturday, or even just present to a group of co-workers. You can learn so much by presenting and sharing your expertise with others. If you would rather not present, then please feel free to volunteer or help out however you can. The SQL Community is all of us.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A SQL-Themed Holiday Song

“Dear Mr. VSQL, I am 8 years old. My friends tell me that there are no SQL-themed holiday songs. My Dad says ‘If it’s on the Internet, it has to be true.’ Do you know of any SQL-themed holiday songs on the Internet I can show them?”

– Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your friends have been misinformed. Please see below this song titled O Release Night, which is a SQL-themed version of the popular O Holy Night. Please feel free to show this to your friends. And, if they choose to start subscribing to my RSS feed, that would be fine, too. I hope you enjoy it and may you and yours stay safe and well this holiday season.

O release night, the maintenance window’s open.
It is the time to run my deployment scripts.
There’s DDL, and DML and stored procs
And functions and triggers, well, I hope not.
I load the file and connect to the DB.
With joyful hope, I hit the F5 key.

Fall on my knees to see the Messages pane!
An error in red, O M G, W T F!
Last night, I tested, twelve frickin times!

I go to the line referenced in the exception
And see where the Engine thinks I went wrong.
Led by the guidance of the crimson text
I find a difference between Test and Prod.
While deep in thought, I glance down at the systray
And see the date’s not what I thought it was.

I now need to stop and rollback all my changes.
Success! Success! I’ve undone all that I did.
I’m off to bed. This is not my release night!

What I’m Reading: Crucial Confrontations

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior

I don’t pay much attention to claims from books about how to make your life better in 87 pages or anything like that. Nor do I feel that if I had voted for Pedro, all my wildest dreams would have come true. And I find it highly unlikely that a book titled “How To Make $28,000 Per Second Just By Blinking” could possibly have any value. However, on the back cover of Crucial Confrontations is a claim that I can support:

“Whether it’s a broken promise, violated expectation, or just plain bad behavior, Crucial Confrontations teaches you skills for enhancing accountability, execution, and resolution.”

If you deal with human beings at all, then I highly recommend reading this book. It has been making the rounds at Digineer, the Twin Cities based consulting firm I work for and adore. I am only a little over half-way through this book and I can tell you that I have learned a ton already. I will go through a few of the key points I have picked up on here.

Before we get too far, let’s define what a crucial confrontation is (according to the authors):

“A crucial confrontation consists of a face-to-face accountability discussion – someone has disappointed you and you talk to him or her directly.”

One reason these are called crucial is that how you handle them can have a large impact on your relationship with the person you are confronting.

“Master My Stories”

That is what the authors call the act of making sure your own head and attitude are in a good place “before opening your mouth.” A few years ago at Digineer, an account executive wrote some things in an email to me that I interpreted as an accusation of disloyalty to the company. I was really bothered by it. It would have been easy just to let my first interpretation (my “story” behind his words) rule the day and essentially prosecute him for it silently in all our future dealings. Instead, I am proud to say, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and asked him to join me one on one in a conference room for a moment. I discussed the email with him and how I interpreted what he had written. He apologized and assured me that was not his intent. We had a great discussion and both of us left that conference room with greater respect for each other than when we entered it only a few minutes before.

Too often, when someone disappoints us in some way, it is just easy to come up with a negative “story” to explain their actions. We can then end up clinging to that story as the only possibility. It is only by mastering our own stories behind the words/actions of others that we can overcome the leap to conclusions and not only decide to have the crucial confrontation, but enter into it willing to listen. In this particular case, Crucial Confrontations reinforced the idea I had stumbled upon myself.

“Don’t Use Power”

The authors describe this quagmire well.

“Raw power, painfully applied, may move bodies, may even get people to act in new ways, but it rarely moves hearts and minds. Hearts and minds are changed through expanded understanding and new realizations. The flagrant and abusive use of a authority, in contrast, guarantees little more than short-term bitter compliance.”

This is one that I trip on as a parent. While I try very hard to avoid ever saying “because I said so,” I will sometimes allow myself to use words or actions that convey roughly the same message to my children: you need to do what I say simply because I am in charge. My theory, supported well by this book, is that by teaching them how to relate cause and effect in their own behavior, they will have to tools necessary to find what the authors call the “natural consequences” of their words and actions. Flexing my power over them as their father does not expose those natural consequences; it just links consequences with my presence.

Because I sometimes allow myself to assert my power as their father in an effort to achieve compliance, there have been times when I have all but seen their thought processes evaluating the possible negative consequences of my reaction against what they perceive as the gain in performing a certain action. When they determine that the only negative consequence they see (my being stern with them, a timeout, or what have you) is outweighed by their perceived gain, then they go ahead and do it. If I have not helped them to find the natural consequences, their likelihood to take these actions is greatly increased when I am not around. Out of sight, out of mind, eh? On the other hand, if I have helped them to see the natural consequences, then their choices will be base on those rather than the presence or absence of their father or anyone else.

There is so much more to this book than I can feasibly capture here. The examples the authors use are from their own experience and extensive research and observation at real companies, families, etc. The copy of Crucial Confrontations I am currently reading actually belongs to Digineer. I am going to return it soon and purchase my own copy since I really want to read it through more than once.

Upcoming Presentations

I am delighted to announce that I will be presenting an Introduction to SQL Server Reporting Services Report Models at two different events in October. I have implemented report models at clients and seen how they can be a great way to empower users to be more self-sufficient.

The events are:

Twin Cities Code Camp

This takes place on October 9th and 10th at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This is my first time presenting at this semi-annual event.

SQL Saturday 58 – Minnesota

This event takes place on FRIDAY October 29th at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minnesota. This is Minnesota’s first SQL Saturday. Hazzah! I affectionately refer to it as SQL Friturday. Yeah. We’re a little different here in Minnesota. Well…I’m a lot different, but most people are a little different. The schedule for this is not yet posted but I have verbal confirmation that my session was accepted.

I am learning a lot more about report models while creating this presentation. The old adage really holds true: “You can pick your friends and you can pick you nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” Wait. That’s not the one. It’s this one: “If you want to learn a lot about a subject, do a presentation on it.” Yeah. The second one.