I couldn’t come up with an interesting title and ‘Simply The Best’ was not going to cut it. I hold my titles to high standards! You know that I really tried to think of a good title because this post is a week late (and that’s because of the title – not because I was sick or had jury duty or am a chronic procrastinator or have been spending way too much time watching Netflix…), but in the end I knew I had to just bite the bullet and write.
I started off PASS week with Chris Webb’s session on “Comparing PowerPivot with Analysis Services”. And it was fantastic (did you have any doubts?)! I bugged him personally to make sure he got his “Is he right for you?” quiz up on his blog and without further ado here it is, the definitive way to know if you should go for the complicated but steady guy (SSAS), or the speedy, slick new kid on the block (PowerPivot): They’re both so dreamy!
Chris Webb was also the source of some controversy in the blagosphere for his post following Day 2 of PASS: Day 2 of PASS There have been some rumblings of concern in the BI community concerning whether PowerPivot and the BI Semantic Model that was unveiled that week were going to end up being the future of Analysis Services, thus heralding an end to MDX and the Dimensional model as we currently know it. Chris’ post did a wonderful thing – it got a response from Microsoft! Amir Netz personally responded in the comments of the post and the Analysis Services team also wrote a post in response, clarifying the SSAS roadmap for Denali and beyond: HERE. Chris finished up with a final post responding to the response HERE.
Now, of course, while we have these statements from Microsoft, the proof is in the pudding and it is VERY clear that PowerPivot is here to stay, and that means learning DAX. Thankfully, a lot of new improvements (that were very necessary) are coming in Denali, but even with additions to help simplify things like statistical calculations, DAX is far from an intuitive language. It looks like Excel, but it’s not Excel. It’s used in SSAS but it is DEFINITELY not MDX. I hated MDX at first but I love love love love it now because of its flexibility and power and it would be a shame for it to disappear. As much as PowerPivot in Excel is touted as being user-friendly, there is much about DAX that is NOT intuitive.
I attended Alberto Ferrari’s session on “Advanced Data Modeling in PowerPivot” and had my mind personally blown. I’ve spent some time trying to understand some of the trickier things DAX can do (when there are only two people in your company, SOMEONE has to become the ‘expert’), but all Alberto had to do to make my head hurt was use a Calculate function with one argument. One. I didn’t even know that was ALLOWED! In doing so he changes row context to filter context. Brilliant. I think I understand it, but don’t ask me to explain it. I will simply wave my hand and say it is magic. But I will also direct you to Alberto Ferrari and Marco Russo’s excellent book on PowerPivot: Microsoft PowerPivot 2010 for Excel: Give Your Data Meaning. You want to learn DAX? These guys know DAX. But even Alberto was quick to remind that this stuff is NOT intuitive and definitely NOT for just power users. LEARN DAX.
Finally I have to give a shout-out to Stacia Misner’s session on Analysis Services Stored Procedures. There is not a lot of info on how to use these. I know this, because I had to figure out how to use them! But once you learn, it’s amazing what kind of things you can do with them that simply aren’t possible in native MDX. I highly recommend checking out her session if you got the DVD and weren’t able to attend.
But PASS wasn’t only about the sessions – there were parties and luncheons and swag oh my! In particular, I just want to mention the Women in Technology luncheon at PASS. This was my first time attending the luncheon, despite this being my third year at PASS. I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout, and how open it was to not just women, but men. I am always cautious about aligning myself with groups that seek to promote women, because so many of them can degenerate into groups that try to promote women at the expense of men. I know there is discrimination out there – often subconscious and passive – and I do think that societal attitudes towards what we expect from women need to change, but my hope is that this can be done through pushing equality and gender-blindness and acceptance of diversity. It really was lovely to see all the men there (some even in skirts) and hearing stories about how they want the best for their daughters.
I also thought Billy Jo Murray was excellent as a panelist, and I loved how she simply told women “Sit at the table…And once you’re at the table, SAY SOMETHING.” My favorite feminist is Virginia Woolf. A Room of One’s Own is my personal feminist manifesto and she says exactly what Billy Jo said – Sit at the table, and say something. Walk the walk. You can’t wait for someone to give you permission to do so, you have to do it.
I also have to insert an obligatory “Moooooom, you’re embarrassing me!” line since I figured it unwise to do it myself at the luncheon for fear of drawing even MORE attention to myself. I am my mother’s favorite example of how she’s contributed to Women in Technology 🙂 . In somewhat related news, I finally broke down and joined twitter as @BakseDoesBI. I figured if she’s going to go chattering away about me in cyberspace, I better be able to keep tabs on it. Expect many tweets on knitting and tea.