Data Inspirations

Inspiring Intelligence from Information


Bio: Erika was a theoretical math major who wanted nothing to do with computer science. Despite all that, she somehow managed to be roped into the world of BI. In the past 2 years she's learned enough T-SQL, MDX, SSRS, SSAS, SSIS, and Sharepoint to get herself into trouble, and hopefully enough to help you get out of trouble. She loves parrots and hopes to someday win the Oscar for Best Actress.

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    SQL Saturday 131 – Third Time’s The Charm!

    May 3rd, 2012

    SQL Saturday #131 in Phoenix ended our three-in-a-row SQL Saturday tour de force! Stacia Misner and I both had three (3) sessions to present on our third (3rd) SQL Saturday. The first one was at 8:30am and oh my gosh, people are willing to get up super early on a Saturday to watch a couple of gals play around with Reporting Services! We presented our (Way Too Much) Fun with Reporting Services session and it was standing room only! I hope you guys enjoyed the session as much as we did putting it together. This is the last time we’ll be presenting the v1 version – next time we’ll have implemented some of the great ideas all our audiences gave us. It’ll be an evolving project, and we will have information up on this site as well as all the downloads so you can have way too much fun too!

    I was in the same room all day so I figured I might as well camp out! Next up, I did a BRAND NEW SESSION on Dynamic MDX. The slides are available here, the MDX Queries here, and the reporting solution here. I was nervous about this one since I’d never presented it before, and being on the road all month means it had sort of slipped my mind. But I seemed to get a good response from every one and it went better than I had initially hoped (I am a worry-wort). I definitely have things to add and refine, but first time is always the hardest. The sessions grew out of Stacia’s blog post on Dynamic MDX, available here, as well as some real life tricksy reporting scenarios that inspired the third part of the session.  It’s not something I use a lot, but it’s good having these tools in your back pocket as a report developer.

    At lunch I was invited to speak on the Women In Technology panel along with my mom, Denise McInerny (twitter) and the dean of computer science at Chandler Gilbert Community College (her name escapes me and I can’t find it on any blogs halp!), moderated by Meredith Ryan ( blog|twitter). It was a great discussion. I feel very lucky to have had the support that I have had (being a third generation WIT, I’ve got role models built in!).  I think it’s important to remind young girls that being in technology doesn’t just mean programming. We live in a technological world and it’s built into our daily lives like never before. I think it’s important to get the message out about all that technology truly is, and the vast array of career options available outside of the stereotypes.

    I also presented my Think Outside The Group! session. Slides and queries were posted in my previous blog here. There’s also some stuff I want to add to this session, but I need some time to think on it. I’m not going to lie, I’m pooped! But it was a great experience participating in all the SQL Saturdays I went to and seeing other great speakers presentations. I got some great ideas on how to make inspiring slide decks from Mark Vaillancourt (blog | twitter) and Doug Lane (blog |twitter ). I personally hate PowerPoints, both sitting through them and presenting them (there’s a reason my sessions are mostly demos), but these guys really know how to make the most of them. Oh, and they had great content besides!

    In fact, I don’t think I attended a single bad session. If you haven’t been to a SQL Saturday, they are a great way to meet some amazing people and learn some cool stuff. And it’s free! Get out there! Thanks to all the organizers of these great events, you do a lot of hard work and it shows. Go find your local SQL Saturday organizer and hug them! Or give them chocolate, whichever they prefer 😉

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    SQLBits SQLSaturday 111, 118, and 131 oh my!

    April 20th, 2012

    SQLBits has come and gone and I had an amazing time! Unfortunately, post conference I had a nasty cold so I’ll blame that for being way way way behind on blogging about it. Truly, the UK has something special. The event was amazing, the speakers fantastic, and based on what you could have seen of the hotel lobby some nights, we all had way too much fun. Thanks so much to all the organizers for putting on such a great event! If you’re able to get over there, I highly recommend it, and I hope to be able to return in the future!

    Mom did a much better write up (with pictures!) of everything we did while we were in London, so I’ll point you in that direction: Always Have an Exit Strategy! Our SSRS version of Words With Friends will be making an appearance this Saturday at SQL Saturday 118 in Madison, WI so if you can’t wait for the videos for SQLBits to go online and you can head over to Madison, you can see it live there! We will also be presenting it at SQL Saturday 131 in Phoenix on April 28. And if that’s not enough SQL Saturday goodness, we just got done with SQL Saturday 111 (the eleventy first!) in Atlanta, GA! Yes, we are doing three SQL Saturdays in a row. And yes, we just got done with London only a couple weeks ago. I’m tired.

    SQL Saturday 111 was a great time. It was so funny to see so  many of the same people from London just a couple weeks prior in Atlanta. It really is a tight community! The organizers did a great job with the event, a TON of people showed up, and it was really cool to see not only the large number of women speakers, but also the large numbers of women in the audience! I presented my session Think Outside The Group!, which I will also be presenting at SQL Saturday 131, and which I also presented at SQLBits. The slides are available here, the MDX Queries here, and the Report Solution here. NB: If you saw me give this talk at SQLBits, I added a slide and a couple other examples when I presented in Atlanta so there are some minor differences, but only in added content!

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    2011: A Mish-Mash Recap of Things I Did and Things I’ll Do

    January 2nd, 2012

    Another year has come and gone, and it was fabulous year indeed! I made a lot of new friends, both professionally and personally. Added to my flock – literally. And learned tons of new things!

    This year I attended my first SQL Saturday in Tampa, which was a ton of fun! What a great resource for people in the SQL Community! The energy and enthusiasm to share are off the charts. Hopefully, this year, I will be able to attend a few more and perhaps, *gasp*, even present at some!

    Speaking of presenting, this year I officially presented solo for the first time for 24 Hours of PASS. This iteration of 24 Hours of PASS was all about the ladyfolk – and I think it was made very clear that the women know how to BRING. IT. There were a ton of great sessions and I feel honored to have the chance to present along side them.

    This has inspired me to submit sessions to other events.  I submitted for PASS and was chosen as an alternate. Didn’t present this year, but it was nice to at least be chosen as an alternate! I’ve also submitted to SQLBits for this spring, and even if I am not picked, I’m lucky that mom *was* selected to present a precon and so I GET TO GO TO LONDON. Yay 2012!

    2011 was a great year and I feel like 2012 is going to be even bigger. Resolutions always sound so imposing, so I am just going to make a few goals for 2012.


    -Present more! Hopefully at a SQL Saturday, but definitely at my local user group. And while I can’t control if I’m selected to speak at the “big shows,” I can’t be selected if I don’t submit, so I’ll definitely be submitting again for PASS and possibly Rally or Connections or something.

    -Write more! Writing is something I have a hard time just sitting down and doing. I’m usually fine once words start marching across the screen, but sitting down and opening up an editor and beginning eludes me more often than not. I don’t lack for blog idea! But getting them written is something else. So this year is all about getting in the groove writing-wise. And to not feel like every post I write needs to be a doctoral thesis! So I will write some lighter material alongside the in-depth content, and participate in Meme Mondays and #meme15’s to keep me in the groove.

    -Read more! There is a lot of information out there on SQL Server and databases and BI, and I need more of it in my brain! This year, for sure, I’m going to sit down and read The Data Warehouse Toolkit from Kimball all the way through. Maybe I’ll even blog about it! If/when I succeed at that, I’m going to sit down and digest Expert Cube Development from Chris Webb, Marco Russo, and Alberto Ferrari. I’ve already used bits of it in my day job, so it’d be nice to have a more thorough knowledge of everything in that book.

    Seems manageable enough! Here’s to a happy and productive 2012!

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    SQLBITS! I Want to Go to London!

    December 16th, 2011

    If you haven’t heard already, SQLBITS is open for registration! aaaaaaaand you get to vote on what sessions you would like to see! The conference will take place March 29 – 31st 2012 in LONDON. ENGLAND. I submitted two solo sessions, and one session that I will be co-presenting with mom if we get picked.

    The two sessions I submitted are:

    Dynamic MDX: Packing a Punch into One .rdl

    Dynamic MDX can be a great way to reuse, reduce, and recycle .rdls and simplify report maintenance. Have a lot of reports that are practically the same, minus a few pesky exceptions? Dynamic MDX could be the answer! In this session we’ll walk through how to create a basic .rdl that can support a variety of MDX queries that will be generated dynamically. We will also discuss the pros and cons of this approach so that you can make an informed decision of when and if Dynamic MDX is the solution for you.

    Think Outside the Group! Take MDX to the Next Level in SSRS

    Reporting Services is a powerful tool that can make designing reports a snap…most of the time. But every once in a while you have to format a report very specifically, and that starts with your data query.  In this session, we’ll think outside the group! Learn about how to use named sets, dummy members, and other MDX tricks to craft your queries in a way that allows you to conquer the trickiest report layouts.

    The first session is one I haven’t done before, but I think is a really interesting topic.  I’ll show you how to REALLY make reports flexible with MDX, using parameters.  But I’ll also show you how you can dynamically create MDX based on MDX you store in a table and “glue” together with a stored procedure!  This is something I’ve done before in real life in order to handle a LOT of reports that were almost the same….except for a million tiny little exceptions that HAD to be accounted for.

    The second one will be similar to the session I did for 24 Hours of PASS, but with some extra goodies thrown in.  When I’ve done this presentation, it’s been fun to take people into intermediate MDX, and really start to see the power of this amazing expression language.

    Finally, the session I’m REALLY excited about:

    (Way Too Much) Fun with Reporting Services

    Head starting to explode from all the technical information you’re absorbing?  Come spend a session with us while we play games with Reporting Services…literally!  Come watch and cheer as SQL Server MVP Stacia Misner is challenged by her progeny and protégé Erika Bakse to an hour of word play, all wrapped up in SQL Server Reporting Services.  They’ll push the limits with what can be built in SSRS and have a stupid amount of fun while doing it.  Swag, trash talk, board games and SQL…who could ask for more?

    With Donald Farmer having moved on from Microsoft, the future of the infamous BI Power Hour sessions is uncertain.  Those sessions are always a ton of fun, and can really show you just how amazing the tools we work with every day can be, with a little creativity.  Since Reporting Services is our specialty, mom and I wanted to inject some of that fun into a session of our own.  We’re really excited to do this session, so please vote for it!

    Voting is easy, but does require that you sign up on the SQLBits website.  Then, go to the sessions you want to see and click on them, anywhere but on the title.  You can vote for up to 10 sessions.  I have a shiny, never been used passport that’s just waiting to see me on my way to England.  Please help make it happen!  Oh, and vote for my mom (Stacia Misner), too.  She’s also got a precon offering, and odds are if enough people attend that she’ll take pity on me and hide me in her luggage.


    PASS Summit 2011: Best. Summit. Evar.

    October 27th, 2011

    Even though it’s been almost 2 weeks since PASS ended, I feel like I’m just now getting my bearings.  Of course some of that may be due to the fact that after I returned home from PASS, I turned around and got on another plane to kickstart a new project…but the week in Seattle was a whirlwind of good times!

    One thing that was clear from the very first session: this year’s summit was PACKED.  In fact, I literally could not get through the door of the first session I was planning on going to (What’s New in SSRS).  Luckily, due to all the awesome content on the schedule, I had a backup session.  I hustled over to Craig Utley’s (fantastic) session on Aggregations – and was barely able to get a seat there.  This session, too, was standing room only, and it was not in a small room!  This quickly became a theme as almost every session I attended that week was filled to capacity.  Clearly a lot more BI people were in attendance and to them I say, welcome! I hope you enjoyed summit as much as I did.

    One great new change for this year’s summit, is that all the presentations will be available streaming on the website.  I’d like to blog more about the sessions I saw, and I did see a bunch I swear!  But there was so much information, and so much I didn’t get to see, that I’m very excited to be able to simply go to the website and rewatch the ones I did see and watch the ones I didn’t see.  We always get the DVDs, but then I have to remember to go find them!  Having vids available via streaming is fantastic.

    Another great change was the utilization of the Guidebook app.  And I had a bright and shiny new Android table to use it on!  Furthermore, the session information all included links to fill out evals online (and had the speaker/topic information auto-filled in) which was incredibly useful and really made it easier to fill out those evals.  Which we all know we need to do and should do, right?

    On a more personal note, this is my 4th PASS Summit.  My first summit, I had graduated from college that June, so I only had a few months of job experience under my belt.  I was a total fish out of water.  Making everything even more intimidating was the fact that the vast majority of attendees are DBAs or in the DBA world, not BI, so I really felt like I didn’t understand anything.  Being so much younger than everyone, with so little experience, in a much smaller field made it hard to really get into the PASS experience.  The difference between my involvement that first year to this year is like night and day.  And kudos to PASS to really focusing on first timers and the community really banding together to make everyone feel included.

    Tips to get involved:

    Join Twitter!  I held off on joining twitter a long time – in fact I didn’t join until the 2010 PASS Summit.  I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to say, but what I found was – that didn’t matter!  You’ll be surprised how quickly you get assimilated – the community drags you in and won’t let go!  So take the plunge, you’ll be glad you did.

    Go to parties!  And SQL Saturdays (which are pretty much the same thing).  I’ve only been to one SQL Saturday so far (in Tampa which was fantastic).  Meeting people outside of sessions is invaluable.  One of the most fun nights this year at PASS was #sqlkaraoke.  And performing there is a great way to break the ice.

    In fact, I ended up recognizing a great performer from #sqlkaraoke the next day at the Birds of a Feather table on Mobile BI.  Mark Vaillancourt (Blog|@markvsql), who does an amazing impression of Gilbert Godfried, also does BI!  During our discussion at the table (which ranged from being theater students to report building frustrations), it came up how the #sqlhelp hashtag is not so helpful for us BI folk.  Given the aforementioned majority of DBAs in the SQL community, questions on SSRS, SSAS, and SSIS tend to get lost.  And while he didn’t create the idea, he should get the majority of the credit for popularizing the new hashtag #SSRShelp.  Furthermore, spurred on by this creation, we now also have #SSAShelp.  Both these hashtags are being monitored by some of the top people in the field in these technologies and I know they will be an amazing resource.

    On a lighter note, Mark and I also think there should be a Birds of a Feather table next year for theater folk – or more inclusively, Stage and Screen.  There seem to be a shocking number of people in this community with a theater background and let’s face it, they make great presenters and are a lot of fun!  Let’s get this ball rolling!

    And finally, if you didn’t notice, one of the pieces of swag in the PASS backpack this year was a deck of cards.  Yet there was nary a game of #sqlpoker to be found.  Perhaps a Birds of  a Feather table needs to be created for poker!  Or even better, perhaps a vendor would be willing to sponsor a #sqlpoker tournament!  Oh the possibilities!

    tl:dr PASS 2011 was awesome and I can’t wait for next year.

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    A Simple MDX Tidbit: Key0, Key1, Key2….

    September 2nd, 2011

    I’m back! I swear! You know how when you put off a task for so long it just becomes THAT much harder to start it? I’m awfully bad at it, and blogging has become one of those things where I know I just need to sit down and do it, but as the days go on it gets harder and harder. I even have topics! Just a massive case of i-don’t-wanna-write-it-block.

    The solution to this? An easy peasy short tidbit that I recently learned.

    Mom has been teaching an MDX class and learned something she’d never known before – which is a shock in and of itself! But then, right after she told me about what she learned, I actually had occasion to use it! So now I’m going to share what we learned with you.

    I hope you are familiar with member properties in MDX, as they are tremendously useful. A common example is the NAME property: [Product].[Product].CurrentMember.NAME or [Product].[Product].CurrentMember.Properties(“Name”), which returns the string that is the name of the member.

    Similarly, you can return the key value of the member with the following syntax:

    NB: You can’t use [Product].[Product].CurrentMember.Key. Doesn’t work. When in doubt, use the Properties(“”) syntax.

    Now for the property I didn’t know (which is not surprising) AND that Stacia Misner didn’t know (which is VERY surprising) – in the case of a composite key, there are Key0, Key1, Key2 properties that you can use to call the individual parts of the key! When this was first mentioned to me I thought hey that’s cool, but as Mom pointed out, she rarely uses composite keys so it simply hadn’t come up. However, just a few days later I had an occasion to use this new-found knowledge and I can see it being very useful in the future!

    One place where composite keys seem to pop up commonly is the nefarious Date dimension, in a Calendar hierarchy. A particular month, say June 2011, will have the unique member representation [Date].[Calendar].[Month].&[2011]&[7]. In my case, I wanted to split up the month and year info, and have the month represented as a number. That information is very simply represented in the key, and now I had the tool to extract it!

    [Date].[Calendar].[Month].&[2011]&[7].Properties(“Key0”) returns 2011.
    [Date].[Calendar].[Month].&[2011]&[7].Properties(“Key1”) returns 7.
    Easy as pie!

    And now I’m going to go spend some time reading this MSDN page on  Intrinsic Member Properties.

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    Meme Monday!

    April 4th, 2011

    Coming at you from SQLRockstar:

    Fear not MDX. ‘Tis just cubes in cubes. Afraid of legos?

    I tag Stacia Misner and anyone else who is super excited about the fact that she was finally awarded an MVP Award on Friday! Way to go Mom!

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    March 16th, 2011

    Whew, presentation for 24 hours of PASS is done.  Still some great sessions going, so go watch if it’s still March 16 when you read this!

    As promised during my presentation on Clever Queries, here are my slides and here are my queries.


    And if you had any further questions about my presentation, please post here and I will try to answer them ASAP.

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    When it Rains, it Pours!

    February 22nd, 2011

    Warning: Some whining ahead…

    Whew, so these past few weeks have been crazy!  For one, I was selected to speak for 24 Hours of PASS!  I will be doing a session on MDX queries in SSRS, namely pointing out some useful tips and tricks I’ve learned with MDX in order to get my reports to do what I want ;).  Unfortunately for me, this is not a session I’ve done before, so I have to generate content from scratch, and I get the worst cases of PowerPoint block….

    I also was recently cast in a play called Matt & Ben, about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who happen to be played by two girls.  I play Ben Affleck :).  This has been a lot of fun, but it’s a very short rehearsal schedule (we open on Friday) so I’ve been at the theater every night.  The show is over March 7th, so I thought, oh I’ll have plenty of time after that to work on my presentation!  Except that the slides are due February 23rd, which is Wednesday.  Eep.

    Even this wouldn’t have been SO bad if it wasn’t also for the fact that I recently signed on to a new full time project doing some report and cube development.  This is good because it means I make money.  This is bad because when do I find the time to do my presentation?!  I’m a perfectionist and I’m starting to get a weeeeeeeeeee bit concerned.  I’m also really tired.

    So I’m sitting here now, getting together an outline and resources and figuring out, what the heck do I want to SAY to you all?  I plan on keeping the actual slide portion short (although I’m terrified it will be too short) and doing a lot of demos.  After all, I want to show you clever queries, not yap at you about them.  I have a few demos planned, but here’s where I ask you all for help.

    You voted for my session, so that means you want to see something that will hopefully help you out.  I’m going to have a section at the end of my presentation where I show you some miscellaneous queries that solved an assortment of problems I’ve come across.  They will use the tricks I show you earlier in the presentation, but also walk you through my thought process when I’m thrown an SSRS curve ball.  I want YOU to throw some of YOUR SSRS curve balls at me.  What scenarios have you run into with queries for an SSRS report where you just couldn’t figure out how to get the query to do what you want?  Strange groupings?  Sorting issues? What causes you to beat your head against the wall?  I’ll take ’em on!


    SQL Saturday #62: Viva Tampa!

    January 20th, 2011

    Last Saturday was SQL Saturday #62 in Tampa, Florida.  I just want to say, thank you SO much to Jose Chinchilla (BlogTwitter) and Pam Shaw (Twitter) for making it possible for me to tag along with Stacia Misner (BlogTwitter), who delivered a pre-con session on BI.  Also, thank you so much for all you did to make this event possible.  It can’t have been easy, but it was well worth it.  This was my first ever SQL Saturday and I now TOTALLY understand why everyone gets so excited about these.  It will definitely not be my last.

    I was really struck by how much energy there was.  On Friday, Stacia did an end-to-end presentation on the Microsoft BI stack in ONE day- something I’ve seen her barely be able to squeeze into 3 days.  Naturally, she ran over, but I feel the only thing that got truly short shrift was SSRS, and well, I know a good book you can get if you want more detail than you can handle with respect to that particular product ;-).  Surprisingly, people managed to stay with her and not conk out!  It’s a lot of information to digest, especially at the whirlwind pace necessitated by the time constraints, but the attendees asked good questions and were engaged which is always great to see.

    The actual SQL Saturday was a ton of fun.  So much content! And I loved the informal atmosphere, which really allowed people to have a lot of fun, and frankly makes it easier for me to learn.  I have a hard time sitting still and paying attention while one person talks in a big cold room.  The energy surrounding me actually makes it easier for me to pay attention.  That, and you may have seen me knitting ;-).  But I guarantee, if you quizzed me on the content I could give you a complete run-down (even if I didn’t understand everything, what can I say? I don’t use Powershell or SSIS much – but I’m much more motivated to learn now!).  Yay ADHD.

    There were two standout sessions in particular.  SQL Smackdown: SSIS vs Powershell featured Aaron Nelson (BlogTwitter) and Mike Davis going head-to-head with Powershell and SSIS, respectively.  Both had good examples to let their choice of weapon shine.  I played devil’s advocate a bit on Aaron’s presentation, and inadvertently won a book from Mike!  But actually, I feel that Aaron might have eked out the win overall (in my mind, apparently the voters felt otherwise).  I like the ease of SSIS, I don’t need a lot of knowledge to get up and running with it, but the flexibility and capability of Powershell has me intrigued.  Plus, apparently Powershell can be used WITHIN SSIS.  Now I just need to find me a good book…

    I also got tagged to be a judge for IRON CHEF SQL SERVER.  Emceed by Brian Knight (BlogTwitter), the contender Devin Knight (BlogTwitter) went head to head against Adam Jorgenson (BlogTwitter) to see who could produce the most BI the fastest with ‘illicit’ pharmaceutical data.  I say they went head to head because, well, they weren’t allowed to use their hands! That’s right, no use of the keyboard or mouse allowed, necessitating each chef to grab a sous chef: Jorge Seguerra (BlogTwitter) for Devin and Sherri McDonald (Blog) for Adam.

    My task was simple: make snarky comments.  Which I hope I did well enough.  I decided to play the PowerPivot convert and question why, if the contestants were tasked with producing the most BI in the shortest amount of time, did they not open up Excel first thing?  I want my charts NOW dammit!  I was being somewhat facetious, but I have to say it would actually have been intriguing to have one contestant go down that path, while the other chose SSIS, instead of just seeing the straight load vs building SCDs.  Especially since Adam ended up firing up SharePoint and doing a lot with the data once it was loaded up in there.  Given that uploading PowerPivot into SharePoint makes a sandbox cube available, as well as becoming a data source for other reports and PowerPivot workbooks, a lot could have been done.  Although apparently all of this could have been done with only 4 lines in Powershell, so maybe the discussion is moot.

    I was also picked to be a panelist for the WIT session – a session which unfortunately didn’t seem to get the publicity due to difficulties in getting it to properly show up on the schedule.  But we had enough people for a round table discussion that I think was very enlightening.  And we got to hear a success story: One of the attendees had been at the PASS WIT luncheon and taken the advice to heart.  She got called in for an interview for a job she’d wanted for quite some time and decided to really own what she knew.  Instead of downplaying her capabilities, she put them forward, and if she wasn’t an expert in anything, she made it clear that she could become one.  She got the job.

    It was a crazy weekend and I was glad it was done – simply cuz I needed a rest!  But a lot of fun and knowledge was packed into the weekend.  The location was great, the atmosphere was exceptional, and it really showed just why people find the SQL Community so fantastic.  I can’t wait for my next one.

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