Thank You!

Voting has closed in the Power BI competition, and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who supported me. I ended up in 6th place with 681 votes and 4812 votes – so I made it to the top ten, and I’m very pleased with that result.

There are too many people to thank individually, but I would like to single out Carmel Gunn, Jen Stirrup, and the whole of the UK, Irish, Belgian and French SQL Server communities, as well as the (literally) hundreds of people I contacted to ask for their support. Special thanks is reserved for my long-suffering wife Helen. I am extremely grateful, and I promise I won’t be bothering you like this ever again!

I am very much aware that the number of votes that I or anyone else received doesn’t necessarily correspond to the quality of the entry. There are a number of other entries that I thought were great that didn’t get any attention and I recommend you check them out while you still can here.

In case the Power BI competition site disappears at some point in the future, you can see my entry on YouTube here. If you want to see the workbook I created for the demos, that can be downloaded here; I’ll be doing a session on March 27th for the PASS Business Analytics Virtual Chapter showing in a lot more detail how I built it, exploring the data more thoroughly, and covering topics like Q&A that I wasn’t able to include in the original video.

Seventh Blog Birthday

So here we are again, yet another blog birthday – the seventh anniversary of my first ever post on this blog and a chance to review 2011.

From a technical point of view this year has been dominated by learning SSAS 2012 Tabular. I’m right in the middle of writing a book about it with Marco and Alberto, and it’ll be published sometime in the first half of next year. As usual writing a book turns out to be ten times more effort than I’d originally planned but it is undoubtedly the best way of learning a new technology: however well you think you know a product, you always find gaps in your knowledge when you have to write about it. My opinion of Tabular continues to grow the more I use it and DAX so I’m feeling very positive about the future and I’m interested to see what the uptake of it will be like after RTM. I’m also very excited to see how Microsoft’s cloud-BI strategy pans out in the next year: products like Data Explorer suggest that Microsoft is serious about this area and, more importantly, coming up with innovative new solutions to its challenges rather than just producing cloud-hosted versions of the software we’ve already got. There are going to be a lot of cool blog posts to write in 2012…

Business-wise I’ve continued to spend more and more time running training courses and a few months ago launched my new training website Technitrain to market not only my SSAS and MDX courses but those run by other well-known SQL Server pros. Our first third-party course with Christian Bolton went well, and next year we’ve got several others booked in. You can see the full course catalogue here; I’d also like to point out the new, lower prices on Jeremy Kashel’s Master Data Services course and Andy Leonard’s SSIS course. Frankly £1248 for a full week of training, let alone from someone of the calibre of Andy Leonard, is a bargain… although I’d argue it only looks that way because we’re too used to the inflated prices of most traditional training companies. More course dates will be announced very soon.

As far as the SQL community goes, I’m very busy speaking at user groups and helping to run SQLBits. The two SQLBits conferences last year in Brighton and Liverpool were great successes, and I still can’t believe we had Steve Wozniak turn up to speak at Brighton; SQLBits 10, which will be running from the 29th-31st of March next year, is already looking like it will beat all previous records for attendance (we’ve got 582 registrations at the time of writing) and will be the biggest and best yet. Next month I’ll be speaking in the UK at the Southampton SQL Server User Group on January 11th, and on January 12th I’ll be speaking at the PASS BI Virtual Chapter so I hope to see some of you there.

Anyway, that’s enough of me going on – it’s time to get back to my writing. Happy New Year everyone!

Goodbye, Windows Live Spaces

In December 2004 I made the decision to start a blog: it was Christmas, I didn’t have much to do at work, blogging was the hot new thing and since Mosha had just started one I thought I might as well too. I looked around for somewhere to host my blog and being a good Microsoft person I thought their new free blogging platform would be ideal; I started posting and quickly got hooked. 676 posts and six and a half years later here I am.

As you may have noticed I migrated my blog to WordPress today in response to last week’s news that Windows Live Spaces is being discontinued. I’m not sad about this and indeed had wanted to move my blog for several years, but up until this announcement there was no easy way to migrate away from the Live Spaces platform (MS have now provided a very smooth migration path); I could have started from scratch somewhere else but I didn’t want to lose my old posts and comments and break all the links to my blog that were already out there. Also, I’ll be honest and say that I was lazy and so long as my blog did what I wanted it to do – namely give me somewhere to post and hopefully drive some business for my consulting – then I was ok. I can already see I’m going to be much happier on WordPress though.

Now also seems a good point to sound off about the rubbish treatment I received over the years at the hands of Windows Live Spaces. It seems amazing but in the six years I used it it never got any better, and indeed got noticeably worse with each revision it received: functionality disappeared (including the ability to see any kind of statistics earlier this year) and UI changes made it much harder to find pages in the admin area. It’s services like this that have given MS the bad reputation it’s got today, and it pains me to say that as an MVP whose entire livelihood is built on MS being successful as a company. Why bother creating services and products if they’re just going to be a source of frustration for everyone that uses them, if you’re not going to commit the money and talent to developing them into serious competitors to whatever else is out there? MS should be concentrating on doing the things it does well (like SQL Server) rather than messing around in the world of social media; hopefully the death of Windows Live Spaces means that MS is going to start doing this in the future…

Songsmith and Data Audiolization for BI

Data audiolization is clearly a real subject that someone, somewhere is researching… and after the fad for data visualisation, why shouldn’t we be thinking about how to represent data with sound? Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase. This video has been doing the rounds on Facebook, it made me laugh and if I didn’t have a hundred better things to be doing I’d be downloading a copy of Microsoft Songsmith right now and working out how to hook it up to Analysis Services:


Adventure Works the musical, anyone?

Third Blog Birthday

It was this blog’s third birthday on Sunday (which I forgot, sorry blog, I do love you really) and as in previous years I thought I’d spend a few minutes looking back on last year and looking forward to the next. This was the year when, according to Live Spaces own very dodgy counting, I reached a million page impressions; most of that traffic is caused by RSS readers but I estimate at least a few hundred people a day read this blog which is something that never ceases to amaze me.
This year was a busy one for me work-wise, my first full year as a self-employed consultant, and I’ve been having a great time. Hopefully the credit crunch won’t lead to a recession next year because if it does, I know that consultants like me will be the first to feel the pinch and I’ll be heading back to the world of permie work. The release of SQL2008 should help demand as people start thinking about migration but since the differences between AS2005 and AS2008 are neligible compared to the differences between AS2K and AS2005 then migration will be a lot less painful. I really need to get some real project experience with AS2008; I have something lined up, but if you are on the TAP program and would like some extra help then drop me a line! Blog-wise, I’ve got a few interesting posts in the pipeline including something I’ve been working on for the last few weeks which might even turn into a commerical product, so stay tuned for more news on that.
Happy New Year everyone…

Contact details

A few months ago Live Spaces introduced a new feature which has allowed people to send messages via the blogs it hosts. Lots of people contact me in this way to ask me questions etc, and that’s fine – but at least 30% of messages I get I can’t reply to because of how the person sending the message has set up their Windows Live Profile. So, if you’d like to get in touch with me please email me direct (you can find my email address at instead! Peter, if you’re reading…
OK, after having received my latest message I can’t reply to, I’m just going to switch off this functionality. It’s a bit stupid of the Live Spaces team to let people send messages that can’t be replied to.

Live on stage at the BI Conference

OK, last BI Conference-related post… you’ve heard about the technical stuff, what else did I get up to while I was in Seattle? Erm…

That’s Christian Wade on guitar and me doing the whole Phil Collins singing drummer thing. Thank goodness the dvd hasn’t made it to YouTube yet… If you’re ever in Seattle I can definitely recommend a visit to the Experience Music Project!

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

After a long, hard day struggling with your cube, what better way to relax than with some multidimensional entertainment? Over the years I’ve had lots of conversations with people in the BI industry about the problems people have with learning to think multidimensionally, and something that has cropped up several times is the book "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions", written over a century ago by Edwin Abbott. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to buy for a while, and a quick browse on Amazon reveals that several other people have written similar books; indeed, as Christian Wade pointed out to me last year, there seems to be a whole internet subculture to do with imagining what life with more or less dimensions would be like, for example:
Anyway, the reason I’m blogging about this now is that Flatland, with a little bit of updating (as is always the way), has been turned into a film:
Seems to have some good reviews too… I wonder if it’ll ever get a release in the UK? They should organise a gala showing at the Microsoft BI Conference!

Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

I thought I’d avoided this meme, but since Darren Gosbell tagged me and since Mosha (who was also tagged) has already joined in, here are my five things:

  • Like a lot of Brits of my generation my first contact with computers was a BBC Model B that my father bought in the early 80s. Once he’d got bored of typing in programs from BEEBUG magazine that did things like play the Star Wars theme tune I got my hands on it, and in between long sessions playing ‘Elite‘ decided it would be cool if I too could write games. Unfortunately my coding skills have not progressed much since those days.
  • I won the Computer Studies prize at school (I had moved onto Turbo Pascal 5.5 by then, on Sanyo machines which had <gasp> a floppy disk drive and <double gasp> 256Kb of RAM) when I was 16 but only because the two other guys in the class who were better than me told the teacher that they were too cool to accept it. I, however, had no such scruples and spent the £20 book token on a French/English dictionary.
  • My first degree was in Modern History, although later on I picked up one of those two-year part-time conversion course Computer Science degrees. After winning the Computer Studies prize I didn’t go near a computer for several years; I was much better at arts subjects and so I concentrated on that side of things. However a year after leaving university, after having spent a few months for a guy who wanted to reform the UK’s National Lottery, I decided to find a proper job. I didn’t fancy law, accountancy or any of the other things that History graduates seemed to end up doing so I thought I’d try to get on an IT graduate training scheme instead. I got a job at IMS Health in London where one of my first projects was evaluating a beta version of the new OLAP server from Microsoft that had been recommended by Nigel Pendse…
  • While in that job I met my wife, Helen. She was headhunted to work for a large pharmaceuticals company in Switzerland and we decided to move out there together. I started looking for jobs out there and after one of my colleagues suggested sending my CV on spec to Microsoft I got a job in Microsoft Consulting in Zurich, where I stayed for three years. After the birth of our first daughter Natasha (joined last summer by Amelia), Helen and I moved back to the UK and I went back to IMS because they were doing some cool stuff with Yukon.
  • After the project I was working on got canned, I decided to leave and set up on my own as a consultant. But you knew that already… so what I shall I write for my fifth point? How about that I’m incredibly absent-minded about everything except (as my wife pointed out when she was telling me off recently because I’d taken out buildings insurance on our house twice) work. My worst experience was at Copenhagen airport when I went through security, sat down and started reading and didn’t notice that everyone else had got on the flight. By the time I did notice the plane was already on the runway about to take off, but had to turn back because my bags were on board. It couldn’t go back to the same gate though and had to go to a different one which was at the wrong height, so I had to climb halfway up the side of it to get on before walking the full length of the plane to my seat while the captain was very rude about me over the intercom.

Santa Dashboard

More Xmas silliness from the people at DSPanel:
“Running a large scale operation where time to market is extremely important makes having the right information at the right time highly valuable. With a very fast implementation, quickly understanding the critical issues and underlying business models, DSP has been instrumental in ensuring a successful Christmas of 2006 and also ensured that the demands put upon the organisation by Sarbanes-Oxely has been met.”

Santa Claus, Director of christmas joy and happiness