Important non-SQL request: Help save polar bears in Russia!

Last year Paul and I had the pleasure of taking an amazing adventure into the Arctic with Heritage Expeditions on the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov). In addition to seeing a ton of wildlife (polar bears, arctic fox, walrus, puffins, whales, etc.) we were fortunate enough to meet some of the local experts who have spent years of their lives studying and helping to better understand many of these animals. Two of the people that we met were Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov (a polar bear expert has worked on the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve for 30+ years and has dedicated his work in educating and studying their behaviors) and his daughter Katya Ovsyanikova – who has been going to Wrangel since a child and has dedicated her time and studies to sea otters and other marine critters as well.

So, why am I blogging about this now?

Katya is in the US this week (she arrived yesterday) to speak at the Sea Otter Conservation Workshop at the Seattle Aquarium. Since she arrived we've been chatting about the state of affairs for polar bears and the possibility of the hunt being opened up again in the Chukotka region of Russia (aka the Russian Far East). While there has been some media attention stating that the polar bear hunt has been reopened (Russia lifts ban on polar bear hunting and Russia's Chukotka backs polar bear hunting), there is also still some debate about the current status. It has not yet been approved by the Russian Federal Government even though it's been signed by the Chukotka Regional Government. Because this is still under debate, you can help to influence their decision by writing to them now. A more formal letter about the state of the polar bear is attached below.

What can you do?

(1) Tell as many people as possible, tweet, facebook, do you know someone in the media? Please spread the word! And, if they want to talk to Katya – shoot me an email and I'll get you/them hooked up!

(2) Write a letter of discontent to the Ministry of Natural Resources:

123995, Bolshaya Gruzinskaya 4/6,
Moscow, Russia
Minister – Truntev Yuriy Petrovich

(3) Sign the petition: Help to save Polar Bears in Russia!

img 1880copy? Important non SQL request: Help save polar bears in Russia!

Dear friends!

Sadly, there has arisen in Russia a very disturbing situation with polar bears.  The plight of polar bears in Russia hangs in the balance if legislation currently before the Russian Government is passed.

The total number of polar bears in the wild is only about 20,000.  Part of the Chukchi-Alaskan population, which was almost exterminated by the middle of the twentieth century, lives on the Chukotka Peninsula (North-East Russia). At present, specialists estimate its size to be no greater than 2,000 bears.  After the USSR imposed a moratorium on polar bear hunting in 1957, the Russian coast was a stronghold for polar bear conservation. For decades, and the Chukchi-Alaskan population had a chance to increase in numbers. Unfortunately, poaching also increased in the Chukotka region, and has been thriving there, particularly since the 1990s.  Poachers now kill up to 300 polar bears a year for their pelts, and do so without even trying to conceal it.  There is a huge black market for those pelts, with each one selling for about $20,000.

hunter Important non SQL request: Help save polar bears in Russia!

In 2007, a bilateral Russian-American agreement on the conservation and management of the Alaska-Chukotka polar bear population was legislated, mentioning a possibility of issuing a hunting quota for indigenous people on both sides. Disregarding the fact that IUCN's Polar Bear Specialists Group considered the situation with polar bears critical, the Russian-American Polar Bear Commission issued a resolution that a quota may be introduced on both sides of the Bering Strait. The decision was reached despite the fact that there is not enough data on the size of the population.  Moreover, the possibility of a moratorium was not even considered. As of March 2011, after more than half a century of moratorium, the hunt is being re-evaluated and potentionally re-opened in Russia!

mom&cubsmall Important non SQL request: Help save polar bears in Russia!

Global warming has been rapidly shrinking the extent of the Arctic sea ice, the major platform from which polar bears hunt during most of the year.  It is difficult for polar bears to survive the ice-free seasons because their main habitat (drifting ice) is shrinking, and what remains is far from the best hunting grounds. More and more often in recent years, scientists have observed famished bears, as well as fewer females showing up to den on Wrangel Island, the main polar bear “maternity ward” in the Chukchi Sea and a protected Nature Reserve since 1976.

Under these stressful conditions, the impacts of poaching on the polar bear population are disastrous, and implementation of hunting will simply constitute legalization of poaching, and a cover for the poachers.  With regards to traditional use, the indigenous people of Chukotka have never hunted polar bears for subsistence. Legalization of polar bear hunting is just a path to the commercial use of the species. And, while a quota is intended to be issued only for “subsistence” use by indigenous people, trophy hunters are actively lobbying for implementation of the quota, which, in itself, is revealing as to the consequences of legalizing polar bear hunting. 

It is not global warming that is dangerous for polar bears; the species has survived cyclic warm periods and glaciations before.  It is the presence and activity of humans in the Arctic that pose a very real threat for bears.  With all the pressures on the population now, it is disastrous, malicious, and inhumane to open the hunt.  It would be tragic to lose such a unique species because of greediness and cynicism of a small group of people that is interested in exploiting these animals for profit.

We are deeply unhappy with this situation and are trying to raise people’s awareness and to convince the Russian government not to legislate polar bear hunting.  It is not too late, and we have to do everything possible to express the discontent of the people.

For further information on the subject, see the article by polar bear specialist Nikita Ovsyanikov:

polarbearswimmingsmall Important non SQL request: Help save polar bears in Russia!

And, for additional information – check out some of these links:

Thanks for reading and an even bigger thanks for giving your time and your signature to help these beautiful mammals.

Immersion Event Series – 4 Weeks – August 2011

As many of you know, we’ve changed our Immersion Event courses to more closely match the requirements of the Microsoft Certified Masters – SQL Server 2008 certification. No, the exams are NOT part of the training. And, NO, you don’t need to be aiming for certification to benefit greatly from the training.

Being a master means mastering the materials, mastering the features and mastering SQL Server. This will NEVER come directly from JUST a class – EVER. If you could just pass the test after attending a class then what would that prove?

In fact, this is partially why these exams exist. They are meant to really test people’s knowledge of the product as well as a lot of their real-world experiences with it.

Wait – so then what do the classes do?

They help you get on the right path. They teach you proven, real-world best practices. They get you focused on solutions rather than just features. And, most importantly, these classes are not just teaching what the best practices are, but WHY they’re best practices.

Our goal is NOT to teach you the answer, but instead we teach you the information and steps necessary to be able to solve your problem scenarios.

But, even after attending a week – or two – of deep training, can you really go out and successfully implement ALL of these features and solutions without help and without error? I really doubt it; you need that real-world experience and reinforcement.

What are the Immersion Event Options?

That’s your choice – and you have quite a few!

  • You can attend ONLY the training weeks where you have some weaknesses
  • You can attend multiple classes – but over time – allowing that time to solidify the content learned and allowing your experience to build
  • You can watch the online videos – no, they’re not the entire set of class content. Far from it actually, they’re about 20-25% of the content. And, numerous attendees have said that they’re both helpful before AND after these courses. Before – to help them prepare for the class and to get the most out of it. After – for review and to help reinforce many of the concepts.
  • You can attend ALL four classes… in a row. Wow, this is probably the most challenging.

Dead-man’s Float – for 4 Solid Weeks – Can you do it?

Or, even better – should you do it? Well, it’s definitely NOT for everyone. These classes are intense as standalone one or two-week courses… And, we’ve heard repeatedly that many attendees are really happy that they have the option to spread out the training and reinforce the materials learned between each of the weeks. However, there are still folks that want to truly immerse themselves in the content and then go for the exams within a few months of the training. Will that work? Well, you knew I’d have to say it eventually – it depends!

Honestly, it’s going to be VERY difficult. However, there are folks out there that can do it. In fact, there are already folks* that have passed the exams without the formal training (yet another benefit from Microsoft having separated the training from the exams). And, those folks that have attended the training certainly understand *many* real-world practices – and WHY they’re best practices.

SO, if you do this – what should you do to be the most successful?

  • Prior to class:
    • First, watch as many of the online videos as you can
    • Second, review as many links from our MCM prep materials as you can
  • Attend the classes:
    • Try to completely immerse yourself in the classes and try to disconnect (this is very, VERY difficult but if you spend your entire day on email and/or fighting fires then what’s the point of attending the training?)
    • Nightly, review some of the class content – at least briefly
    • Nightly and/or on weekends – work through the hands-on labs (we give you a DVD in class that you can install and work with to solidify many of the concepts covered)
    • Hey, I said it wasn’t going to be easy!
  • After class: Use these best practices in your day-to-day jobs
    • Continue to watch the videos
    • Use any further MCM prep content that’s available

Incentive to swim with the sharks!

For those of you who want to tackle all four of our Immersion Events as a single 4 week series – you can! We don’t offer all four classes in the same city, four weeks in a row very often but we generally will at least once a year. This year, we’re offering all four in Bellevue, WA in the month of August. We chose August as it’s an absolutely wonderful time of year to be in the Northwest and if you do venture out of the hotel on nights or weekend – there’s tons to do!

What’s the deal?

If you attend all four weeks of Immersion Events in August and stay at our event hotel (the Bellevue Courtyard by Marriott) during these classes (at least 20 nights) we can get you an even lower nightly rate of $149 _and_ we will pay $1,500 of your total hotel bill.

But, the hotel is more expensive than some of the extended stay locations?

True – but with our taking $1,500 off of your bill, it's a lot closer. And, we think it’s ideal to stay at the hotel because of the length of the event. With breakfast starting at 7:45 am, the lecture running until 17:30+ and evening events (on most evenings) that end between 8 or 9pm, you’ll be glad you have a place to go drop your stuff (or grab something you forgot) or even just a place to go relax for a few minutes.

And, at the end of a long day – you won’t need to deal with a shuttle (or a taxi or other) to get back to where you're staying. And, if you do have your own car then you’ll need to pay for the rental car and hotel parking ($5 per day). What's even easier, if you stay at the hotel, is that you can rent a car only when you need it (there’s a Hertz facility close to the hotel).

And, finally, my favorite part about the hotel is the location; you can walk to a tremendous number of restaurants and shops and they’re only two blocks from the Bellevue Transit Center so you’re a quick bus ride to the city if you want to see some sights over the weekend!

So, while I don't expect a lot of folks to take the full-on 4 week Immersion Event series, we've already got two that are doing it and so this is why I thought I'd do the post. And, for those of you that end up hanging out in WA before/after our classes – I even send out a list of possible sight-seeing activities and things to do/see. August is a fantastic time to be in Bellevue and in WA in general. Last year over half of our August Immersion Event attendess brought SOs to enjoy the trip.

We hope to see you there!!


* Joseph Sack ( t | b ), Microsoft Certified Master – SQL Server 2008 blogger has blogged about each of the folks that has passed here: and we’d like to make a few special call outs to some of the recently certified masters. Congrats first – to our newest SQLskills member – Jonathan Kehayais ( t | b ). And, additional congrats to our good friends: Denny Cherry ( t | b ), Simon Sabin ( t | b ), and Maciej Pilecki ( t )!!!

Our February Immersion Event in Dallas, TX – Final Wrap-up

OK, I've written about our February Immersion Event in two other recent posts:

Sadly, this is going to be my last post about our February Immersion Event on Internals and Performance. It was a fantastic week getting to know our attendees – from Q&A during lectures to breaktime to chatting in the lounge in the evenings. Quite a few attendees were surprised that we hung out and chatted with them after class and during breaks/lunch. But, we still love what we're doing and we love hearing about all of the ways that you use SQL Server. And, to be honest, we also love hearing about your lives outside of SQL Server. I remember some great conversations about health (for me, it's trying to get healthy), animals (a few dog lovers!) and racing cars (and a few speeding tickets – but I won't name names here at all!).

We all learned a lot and we also had fun. I know quite a few of you have asked about when we're going to get to your city – so that you don't have to travel. However, I have to admit that traveling to some of these events (and actually being away from home) can be extremely beneficial. The networking and time spent hearing about other scenarios and even just the time spent relaxing (and not having to rush to get the kids or feed the dog or water the plants…) can allow you really dive in and think about nothing but learning for a week. I know this increases the cost of the week but if you get more out of the training itself by being less distracted then that certain offsets the costs. And, we're also trying to choose comfortable, quality hotels – for reasonable rates.

Getting away and disconnecting (to a point) will allow you to focus better and retain more. In fact, a couple of local attendees that made arrangements to stay late on Th and/or Fr evenings ended up commenting to me later (retrospectively) that they wished they had stayed late on the other evenings as well. On Friday, there were about 12 of us that had a bite in the bar and stayed until after 8. Quite a few booked their flights to fly out Saturday morning just to make sure that they didn't miss anything on Friday.

Summing it up

So, if I were to sum it up – an Immersion Event is about immersing yourself in the technology as well as in the process of learning. If you can disconnect for a week – and, REALLY disconnect – you might get even more out of it than just the daily lectures. Networking and learning from your peers is an important part of the experience. In fact, my favorite "fun" tweet of the week (there were TONS of great tweets on #SQLskills):

Love the class– great discussion even in the women's bathroom. (@Kendra_Little on Feb 21 after chatting with Vicky Harp)

There were side discussions – everywhere! And, Eric Humphrey created a twitter list of the class group here.

What did the attendees say DURING and AFTER the event?

Thanks to everyone for a great week!

Upcoming Immersion Events

We're looking forward the next few Immersion Events coming up as well:

  • Dallas, TX March 14-18: IE2 - Immersion Event on Performance Tuning
  • Chicago, IL May 2-6: IE1 - Immersion Event on Internals and Performance (same content as the class discussed in these posts)
  • London, UK June 20-24: IE1 - Immersion Event on Internals and Performance (same content as the class discussed in these posts)
  • Bellevue, WA August 1-5: IE1 - Immersion Event on Internals and Performance (same content as the class discussed in these posts)
  • Bellevue, WA August 8-12: IE2 - Immersion Event on Performance Tuning
  • Bellevue, WA August 15-18: IE3 – Immersion Event on High Availability and Disaster Recovery
  • Bellevue, WA August 22-26: IE4 - Immersion Event on Development Support

Immerse yourself!

PS – Become a SQLskills Insider to get special information (and sometimes early discounts/details) about our events as well as content available only to Insiders! Become a SQLskills Insider here:

Our February Immersion Event in Dallas, TX – What did the attendees think?

20110225 immersioneventoninternals&performance%20groupshot Our February Immersion Event in Dallas, TX   What did the attendees think?

I love this shot! I told everyone to do something fun and this is what I got… What a great group! (Well, except for Paul. I'm sure that's intended for me!! :))

This particular Immersion Event ran from February 21 through 25 in Dallas, TX and I've done a write up from our perspective here: What a week for our first Immersion Event on Internals and Performance.

In this post, I want to give you the attendee's perspectives and experience… I'll throw out a few of our favorite comments to start:

"Best training I have ever had – in any technical field. Very deep – but presented in a way that is easily understood. Thank you! I have several specific takeaways that are going to have an immediate input on my job. Finally, great hotel and great food – this helps get the most out of training."
Luke Newport (@newportl)

"The expertise/level of the speakers is refreshingly excellent! Practitioners as trainers results in a great class. I appreciate the very healthy balance of lecture/demos/questions. … All sessions based on true results and real-world experience. I can't stress enough how happy I am with this choice for training this year. … This is without a doubt the best training I have attended. It was professional, but comfortable, both of which are conducive to learning. I think you folks are doing it right: professional content + demos + open Q&A + multiple trainers!"
Darrell Landrum, Buchanan Technologies (@DarrellLandrum)

"This was an excellent class! The amount of content was incredible. Based on conversations with other attendees, I was probably the least experienced DBA attending, but the materials were presented such that I could easily follow and absorb. I learned quite a few things that I can use as soon as I get back into the office. Very engaging and informative presentation style."
Peter Hoidas, Whole Foods Market

"This was a great event. I learned so much. I thought you hit the perfect balance between theoretical and practical information. I will highly recommend this class to database developers and administrators. … Having the two of you present is especially great because of your complimentary presentation styles. It adds real balance and excitement."
Kendra Little, Wild Tangent Games (@Kendra_Little)

"The best SQL Server technical instructors I ever came across! They can present, demonstrate and explain every topic very well. I highly recommend attending all of their courses."
Viren Shah, Reliance Steel and Aluminum Co.

"There is no doubt you guys know your stuff. Any question thrown at you was addressed and then some. I have a lot to do when I get home. Your slides are full of information and everything was well demonstrated – on the whiteboard or in demos. Also, your demos are always flawless. Very impressive."
In summary: "All topics were interesting. I never found myself bored or uninterested in anything. I think that is due to your presentation skills and the fact that you make all of the information accessible even when it is quite complicated."
Darcy Dupuis, Saskatchewan Liquor & Gaming Authority (@DarcyDupuis)

"The SQLskills Internals and Design Immersion Event is without a doubt the greatest learning experience I’ve ever had for SQL Server.  Not only are Paul and Kimberly at the top of any list regarding expertise on the subjects, but they possess a keen ability to present the material in a way that makes it easy to absorb.  A rare combination in any environment, I left feeling well informed and excited to attend the next event."
Steven Wright, Director of Engineering Services for SQL Sentry (@SQL_Steve)

"I will DEFINITELY take another Immersion Event from SQLskills."
Bill Scrivener, Harris County Appraisal District

"Thank you for opening my 'SQL' eyes. Now, I know how to argue and find bad coding practices. Also, I can provide the right solution for the problems I encounter. Thank you with all of my <3!"
Jeffrey Chen, Mecklenburg County Government IST

Very informative, very pleased with skillsets learned.
Aaron Winkler,

"As the event approached the last two days, it appeared that the presenters started to hurry through the modules to keep up with the schedule. Although allowing for the audience to ask questions will cause the sections of the presentation to run long, overall the entirety of the event was well scheduled and laid out. I am very impressed wth the breadth of knowledge the presenters have and their ability to convey this information to the audience."
Terry Anthony, Passport HealthCare Communication Inc.

Thanks Terry! We could have used an extra hour or two. We've already updated the website to change the Friday schedule to a full day and NOT end early. We're also thinking of running until 5:45 each day to get a bit more time for questions. Q&A is really valuable but we also need to make sure that we don't rush in any way. Thanks again! kt

"Very much satisfied with the training. There was never a boring moment. I see myself doing a lot of things differently. The information is very useful for my day to day activities and I can work with my developers a bit better. … The best training I ever attended."
Sunil Mikkilineni, First Solar

"Very satisfied with the event. Now it's about time to show some of the benefits back to my employer and come back for more events like this. There are more than a few topics that can be taken to my environment and get good performance benefits. Discussions, whiteboards and tangents. Wonderful execution. Every aspect is perfectly planned and executed. Thank you."
Sankar Reddy, Funmobility, Inc. (@SankarReddy13)

In response to: what is your favorite topic: "Wow, just one? That would be hard. I would have to sum it up as 'internals and performance.' In other words, the entire event. But, if I have to pick one: M3: Data File Internals and Maintenance. Well, wait, M11 – the explanation of the DMVs and DTA's shortcomings."
Joe Noll, RKL eSolutions LLC (@JLNoll)

And what about the food?

SQL Sentry sponsored our event and covered the costs of food so that the attendees didn't have to go and forage for food at lunch. This allows students to take a REAL break from the day and relax. And, overall the food at the hotel was fantastic. Here are a couple of quick comments:

  • Thank you for the vegetarian food at lunch – it was really great.
  • Impressed with the food. I have had a couple of folks from next door's event rave about our food.
  • No one (even Microsoft) takes care like you guys. You are the best!
  • What a great selection for everyone – I never went hungry!

And, can I just tell you that there were OVER 30 refills of coffee/tea during the week. WOW! And, a HUGE thanks to SQL Sentry for the food!

By the Numbers

For overall course evaluations, we asked students to rate each module as well as the overall course. We used a scale from 1 to 9 with 9 being the highest and most satisfied. For the modules, all modules ranked above 8.55 meaning that we got more 9s than anything else – across EVERY module. The overwhelming favorites were my Module 8: Index Internals with an 8.9 and Paul's Module 11: Index Fragmentation with an 8.88.

As for the event, we also asked the attendees to rate the event with 7 questions about their satisfaction, the usefulness of the content and the effectiveness of the presenters. Here's the breakdown by question:

Overall Satisfaction with the event
Score     Question
8.80       Q1: Overall satisfaction with the SQLskills Immersion Event
8.85       Q2: Overall usefulness of the information
8.80       Q3: Overall effectiveness of the presentation
8.90       Q4: Kimberly L. Tripp’s knowledge of the subject
8.90       Q5: Kimberly L. Tripp’s presentation skills
8.90       Q6: Paul S. Randal’s knowledge of the subject
8.85       Q7: Paul S. Randal’s presentation skills

The best part about the event is that we learned a lot from the attendees! We're still learning what we're doing right and what we could do better and we're going to KEEP improving thanks to their fantastic feedback and comments.

Immerse yourself!

PS – Become a SQLskills Insider to get special information (and sometimes early discounts/details) about our events as well as content available only to Insiders! Become a SQLskills Insider here:

Please don’t create a painful slide deck

OK, I know that a lot of you know where I was this week… yes, the MVP Summit. I absolutely love getting together with so many friends that I don't regularly see… This is by far, my favorite part about this annual event. Yes, I know I get access to cool information about upcoming technologies but after 20 years of this (remember, I started when I was 2 :)), I've also learned that a lot changes and so I no longer spend a ton of time learning all about early betas. Having said that, I am pretty excited about SQL Server Denali. I've already started to dive into Denali and I'm even more interested in upcoming features. But, things can still change and so I'm not betting the farm on what I see.

Having said that, one thing did surprise me this week. A few of the sessions had slide decks where a horrible "event" template was applied. I don't directly blame a lot of these presenters because they're just not regular speakers at events. Many of these folks are developers and program managers on the team and so they haven't all been burned by "slide management" teams (like I have) and so many didn't even think to review their reviewed/tweaked decks. As a result, a few slides ended up with some bad color choices. From what I was told, somewhere a template was applied and somewhere whites turned into blacks (or similar dark colors) and the next thing we know, there are some VERY hard to read slides. And, because the content is the most important to me, well, I'm still happy.

However, I decided to put together a short (and fun) slide deck with a few tips and tricks that I've learned over the years. I even accepted a few tweets about other snafus during presenting (again, mostly related to slide deck no-nos) and added a few of them here. Feel free to comment about other things you've seen, learned and now do differently/better! I'd love to hear more!!!

So, without further ado, here's the deck titled: How to make the audience turn on you… FAST!
(with a subtitle of: kind of like the cougar in Ricky Bobby’s car… but worse!)

how%20to%20create%20a%20sucky%20presentation Please dont create a painful slide deck

In addition to all of the tips/tricks for making presentations better (or worse :)), here are some additional and VERY helpful links to help you create a better presentation AND become a better presenter!

 But wait, there's more!

Am I missing any resources that you think are/were helpful? Shoot me an email with the links!

Good luck and have fun!

What a week for our first Immersion Event on Internals and Performance

paulteaching What a week for our first Immersion Event on Internals and Performance

This post is from OUR perspective. The next one I'm going to do is from our attendee feedback! 

Last week was our first week delivering a new style of Immersion Event. And, now that the class has finished, we're really happy with our decisions on content and naming. The name was new because we had originally called these Master Immersion Events and the class was somewhat new because we replaced our ONE 5-day SQL Immersion Event (Internals/Design/Performance/Maintenance) with FOUR new 4-5 day classes (19 days total). 

Why were they "master" events and why did we remove that part of the title? First, let me begin with with we did add it! We added "master" because these new courses cover the wide range of topics as required by the exam and practical for those working toward their Microsoft Certified Masters – SQL Server certification. However, soon after, we ended up dropping the "master" part because it lead to confusion (some folks thought that the class was meant ONLY for those preparing for the exams). And, we changed them from SQL Immersion Events because we significantly extended the content to cover a wider spectrum of topics but also rearranged them to create concise, individual weeks of training. So, while they're still our fun, deep, focused Immersion Events, we have a lot more depth and content (19 days just in this area) covered for those who really want to design, tune and manage SQL Server systems effectively. Paul wrote an excellent post about it here: Leaving the Land of Confusion…

For those who attended, the feedback was fantastic and I have a post coming about that. But for this post, I just wanted to give you some insight into how the class was run and what it's like to attend an "Immersion Event" with us! 

Why do we deliver these at hotels?

We set up to deliver our event at the Marriott Suites Market Center in Dallas, TX and everyone that was not local stayed at the hotel. While being local is definitely nice for folks that don't have to travel, staying at the hotel with attendees is really the icing on the cake for these events. We've chosen Hiltons/Marriotts (in general) because they're comfortable and usually have good food and a nice lounge. And, don't think that I'm talking about drinking heavily every night. No, that's not really conducive to absorbing all of the content that we're going through. In fact, I didn't even have my first drink until Friday (but, I'm also a big wimp and I can't be impaired in any way if I'm going to lecture for 10 hours!!).

What the hotel/lounge/atmosphere allowed us to do is really focus on learning. We didn't have leave to forage for food. We didn't have to think about parking or traffic or having to arrange with a facility that we wanted to run over into the evenings. We were able to retreat to a warm and cozy lounge with a fireplace and relax together, have a drink and just kickback before heading off to bed at a reasonable hour. The days were intense and these events really take a lot out of you… Many commented on how relaxed they were and how comfortable the hotel was for them. Specifically, let me give you a picture of a typical day.

A Day in the Life of an Immersion Event Attendee

  • 7:45 am – Breakfast (thanks to SQLSentry's sponsorship we added a Full American breakfast – yum!)
    • In Dallas we had a Full American breakfast with plenty of bacon. And, eggs, pastries, fruits, cereals… high carb or low carb, vegetarian or not - you were covered.
  • 8:30 am – Dive right in
    • Content: We don't dance around, we don't waste time. We were ALL about the content and as much of it as we could fit in 5 days…
    • Breaks: We'd take 1-2 breaks in the morning for a total of about 20-30 mins of break time. But, even these we often filled with chats around the coffee/tea or chats with one of us around the whiteboard.
    • Whiteboard: Speaking of the whiteboard… we do A LOT of whiteboarding! So much so that we have our OWN whiteboard shipped to the event (the flash created a bit of glare in the pic but we fixed that with lighting). And, for this one we had two (we had a second smaller whiteboard in the back where we could write notes to the attendees however, this one turned out to have the MANY twitter aliases of attendees).
  • 12:30 pm – Lunch (again, sponsored by SQLSentry which was fantastic, we had plenty of food and plenty of choices)
    • Lunch was served at 12:30 pm and what was great here is that no one had to leave the hotel to go forage for food somewhere. We could really take a break and relax. Again, people could network and chat over lunch as well. This really adds to the Immersion experience.
  • 1:30 pm – Dive back in
    • The afternoon was much like the morning but we know it's always harder to focus while digesting… We took more breaks to get people moving/stretching but often shorter breaks just to break up the time sitting. We also had dessert served as part of an afternoon break along with a coffee refresh and a host of low-carb snacks as well.
  • ~5:30 pm – Wrap-up
    • Officially class would end around 5:30 but most days we'd go a bit longer with questions… 
  • 6:30 pm - There was always something going on in the evenings… 
    • Monday night: We all gathered in the bar and did our "meet'n'greet." We bought the first round, chatted with everyone and ended up staying until around 8:30 or so. It was a really nice way to get the week rolling and make sure that no one was nervous to ask questions. However, I don't think anyone was shy even by Monday lunch!
    • Tuesday night: SQL Sentry delivered a session on how to use their FREE Plan Explorer tool. Greg Gonzalez (t|b), President/CEO of SQLSentry flew in for the evening presentation. After the presentation, we all retired to the lounge and spent a bit more time talking about the tools, SQL Server and how fit Greg is! (CrossFit is definitely a powerful workout!) 
    • Wednesday night: Immersion Event attendee and Director of Engineering Services for SQL Sentry, Steven Wright (t) delivered a session on how to use their Performance Advisor tool and the new features of v620110221ietwitteraliases What a week for our first Immersion Event on Internals and Performance
    • Thursday night: some attendees offered to give micro sessions on some of their favorite topics and we thought that was a great idea! We ordered a bunch of appetizers, opened a tab at the bar, and away we went! For those that asked, we also provided speaker feedback to help folks improve their speaking skills. Trevor Barkhouse (t|b), Martin Catherall (t|b), Eric Humphrey (t|b), Brian D. Knight (t) and Kendra Little (t|b) all presented 20 min sessions and informed/entertained us all! It was the PERFECT way to host our last evening of the class… And, we think this might become a staple at future Immersion Events!
    • Friday night: Even on Friday… we had to pack a bunch of stuff but many stayed and chatted and then we all headed over to the lounge for dinner and drinks. I finally relaxed and had a nice big glass of wine! What a great way to end the week!!

The Attendees

First off, we had a fantastic group with 29 attendees from as far away as New Zealand. Four attendees were winners from our contest (Martin Catherall (t|b), Eric Humphrey (t|b), Kendra Little (t|b) and Sankar Reddy (t|b)) and most were not local. In fact, one attendee used to work with Kevin Kline (t|b) in Hermitage, TN when I first met them (and a few others) back in the mid-90s. It was a bit of a blast from the past!!

And, many of the attendees were on twitter and have blogs too. All of these things continued to add to the content learned during the week and the connections made. Most folks are now following each other and keeping up with what they're learning and uncovering with SQL Server. And, we're going to see a few of them in Dallas in March for our second Immersion Event on Performance Tunng. In fact, 8 attendees for the class coming up in March are folks that have attended the week 1 (Internals and Performance) Immersion Event either this year or last and a couple are coworkers of those who have attended. So, it will be great to meet up with them again and see what they're up to!

The End Result

We love the new format and we love the feedback we've received so far. We had a great time sharing our experiences and delivering our new style Immersion Event and now we're going to put a few more on the schedule. If you're interested in immersing yourself in SQL Server – check out our Immersion Events.

And, consider becoming a SQLskills Insider as well. For our London class in June, we've already offered a discounted rate and an early early-bird registration site. And, the hotel has a wonderful pub, internet access, and a full English breakfast (Paul's *very* happy about that). We're really looking forward to heading over! And, we're planning to add another US event (Immersion Event on Internals and Performance) to the schedule for early to mid-May.

If you want to get the scoop early – become a SQLskills Insider now!

Thanks for reading!

OLD: sp_helpindex rewrites

I realize that I’ve created quite a few posts (and rewrites) around sp_helpindex and recently I’ve been recommending that most folks use my latest version (jokingly, this is sp_helpindex9) but it’s not so obvious where to get it and/or what to do to install it. To make it easier… I’m just going to do a post like this EVERY TIME I have a new version and so there won’t be anything else to review/read.


All versions use a base procedure that builds the columns needed to produce the detailed output. So, you need to setup TWO procedures.

Step 1: setup sp_SQLskills_ExposeColsInIndexLevels

Create this procedure first: sp_SQLskills_ExposeColsInIndexLevels.sql (6.73 kb).

This is what gives us the tree/leaf definitions. And, this works for both SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2008.

Step 2: setup the replacement procedure for sp_helpindex. This IS version specific:

On SQL Server 2005, use: sp_SQLskills_SQL2005_helpindex.sql (10.50 kb) to create sp_SQLskills_SQL2005_helpindex.

On SQL Server 2008, use: sp_SQLskills_SQL2008_helpindex (sp_helpindex9).sql (11.06 kb) to create sp_SQLskills_SQL2008_helpindex.

Step 3: Optionally, setup this procedure to be invoked through a keyboard shortcut using Tools, Options, Environment/Keyboard. I usually make it Ctrl+F1 and I described how to do this here.


Survey: which US city should our next class be in?

One of the things I always find difficult is choosing where to host the next SQLskills Immersion Event. The community is so spread out that it's really hard to please everyone by coming to everyone's home town! We have some ideas of where we'd like to go next but here's your chance to influence us.

We're looking at scheduling another Immersion Event on Internals and Performance in the US in May, but where?

If you're thinking of coming to the next class, where would you like it to be?

(We'll try hard to meet your demands – now we'll know where we're most wanted!) 


We <3 you too!

Just today, Jen McCown (blog|twitter) of the Midnight DBA team blogged about their recent poll – who in the SQL community "does it right" in terms of community involvement. What's great is that the results were just published and SQLskills has come in second to SQL Sentry for community involvement. This is great news and we're happy to see that you think so too! (especially on Valentine's Day smiley embarassed We <3 you too!)

Read Paul's post about our free resources and our exclusive mailing list in this post: Community, community, community, community….

And, along the same lines – we're continuing our Community involvement (with SQL Sentry) by hosting some free evening presentations while we deliver our Master Immersion Events in Dallas. We have somewhat limited space so we've created free "tickets" that you can print for the event. If you're interested check out these events and details:

Tuesday evening (Feb 22 and Mar 15): Query Tuning with SQL Sentry Plan Explorer

Abstract: Learn how to use this revolutionary FREE tool from SQL Sentry to wrangle even the scariest query plans. This session will cover key differences between Plan Explorer and SSMS, what to look for in estimated and actual plans, and various features that will help you get the most out of the tool.

Register for this FREE event (in Dallas, TX) here:


Wednesday evening (Feb 23 and Mar 16): Optimizing Performance with SQL Sentry v6

Abstract: This brand new release from SQL Sentry introduces several unique and cutting edge features, including active query plan capture for heavy SQL, plan analysis using the integrated version of Plan Explorer, additional Plan Explorer features made possible by active capture, historical query plan analysis, VLF problem detection, and more.

Register for this FREE event (in Dallas, TX) here: 

And, we plan to deliver a session at the North Texas SQL Server User Group on March 17 (I wonder if we can get green beer in Texas?)

We hope to see you at one of our upcoming events and if none of these work for you, be sure to join our exclusive mailing list by clicking here.

Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day!

Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

VHD stands for Virtual Hard Drive.

A VHD is created with/by programs such as Virtual PC, Virtual Server, Hyper-V, etc. and there's a standard format associated with them. If you’re interested in reading more about VHDs, check out:

To use a VHD you need to have a program installed to "host" it. Think of it as a "guest" machine within a "host" machine. When you "run" the program that hosts the virtual machine you will be starting the "guest" machine within it. This guest machine is effectively isolated – which is great for testing, security, and restricting/limiting certain resources. To be able to do this, the VHD holds a completely installed OS and all other necessary software. This is part of what can make the actual VHD files extremely large. If you're interested in learning more about creating VHDs, check out this TechNet article: Create and Use a Virtual Hard Disk on Windows 7.

NOTE: Alternatively, if you're running Windows 7, you can also ATTACH a VHD natively without any additional software (I love this). I'll plan on writing up another post on this shortly and I'll link back to this! It's a great way for just quickly grabbing the files without any hassle of launching the VPC (and waiting for it to boot) and then copying files out, etc.

Depending on your operating system, there are a variety of recommendations on what to software to use to "host" the virtual machine:

Using the VHD with Windows Virtual PC (on Windows 7)

The remainder of the instructions here are for using and working with this VHD in Windows Virtual PC (Windows 7). Once Windows Virtual PC has been installed, you can "create" a Virtual Machine with only a few easy steps.

Creating the Virtual Machine 

(1) Launch Windows Virtual PC from the Windows Virtual PC group. This will show any already configured "shell" (or configuration) files in your "C:\Users\username\Virtual Machines" directory. These can be named .VMC (for older implementations of Virtual PC) or .VMCX (with new versions). For you, this list might be empty.

slide1 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

(2) To add a new virtual machine, select Create Virtual Machine from the top menu (see above). Next, you need to enter the details for the name and the configuration file for the VPC. The name is just how you plan to later reference the VPC and it can be helpful when you make copies/different versions of a VPC. You can always change this later as well. The location for the "settings" is stored within a VMCX file. Personally, I like to store this in the same location as the VHD.

slide2 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs


(3) For memory and networking, your setting can vary. For memory, you need at least 1GB with a preference for 1.5GB or even higher, if possible. As for networking, you might want to access links or webpages or other resources so you might find this beneficial. If you want to access hard drives on the host machine, you can do this later (and more easily, IMO) through the Integration Features.

slide3 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

(4) Finally, choose "Use an existing virtual hard disk" to USE your expanded VHD as the "virtual hard disk" for your newly created virtual machine.

Using UNDO disks can be helpful as it allows you to change your VM into a secondary location and later choose (possibly days later) whether or not you want to save or discard those changes. Take a few minutes to read the details provided in the link.

slide4 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

Change the settings of the Virtual Machine 

Now that your virtual machine is setup, you can easily change any of the settings defined when creating the VM. You can do this by right-clicking on the VM or by choosing the Settings option from the menu. 

slide5 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

Starting and logging into your Virtual Machine 

To start the Virtual Machine (the "guest" machine on your "host" machine) use OPEN (again, right-click or from the menu):

slide6 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

This may take a few seconds to start as it's performing a full boot of an operating system (in the case of our HOLs VPC it's Windows 2003 Server). Once loaded, you can login. However, this is IMMEDIATELY where things can get confusing, especially if you've never used a virtual environment like this because the keystrokes aren't as you might be expecting. AND, if you have used earlier versions of Virtual PC Microsoft changed a few of the replacement keystrokes (this drove me CRAZY when I first booted with it!). If this is your first time using a virtual environment that's "hosted" then let me explain why it's necessary first. This can seem confusing but, it really does make sense. Many keyboard keystrokes (like Ctrl+Alt+Del) are tied to the host machine and cannot be changed even when changing window focus because they are OS level keystrokes. Ctrl+Alt+Del is an interrupt combination that's been used over the years to interrupt applications causing problems (and get to task manager, or to reboot when necessary). This keystroke combination is essentially always tied to the HOST – not the GUEST. As a result, you can select from the top menu (there's a button for Ctrl+Alt+Del) OR you can review the keystrokes below and use them.

slide7v3 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

Keyboard Shortcut [Confusion (IMO)]

Function/Keystroke       Virtual PC 2007        Windows Virtual PC (Win 7)
Logon/Ctrl + Alt + Del          Right-Alt + Del             Ctrl + Alt + End
Full screen toggle              Right-Alt + <Enter>         For full screen: Windows+Up Arrow, To toggle back, use the menu

And, now for the password… you can find our SQL Server 2008 SP1 HOLs VPC password in your the lab manual as well as in the 1stReadMe.txt file in the root of your DVD. For someone out there though, you might have lost the DVD, deleted the lab manuals and well… just WANT TO KNOW the password. It's expecting a US Keyboard and the password is Pass@word1. If your HOST machine is not using a US Keyboard, remember that your GUEST is. You will need to remember this as you type your password (especially the @ sign). For example, if you're on a UK Keyboard then "shift+2" is actually " (double-quotes). As a result, you still need to type shift+2 when typing in the password (as if you are on a US keyboard). Once you get into the VPC you can change your keyboard setting and save it. In fact, feel free to change the administrator password, if you'd like!

slide8 Using the VHD for our SQL Server 2008 HOLs

At this point, you're in. The HOLs VPC has 20 formal labs and dozens of samples/demo scripts for learning the many features of SQL Server 2008. Time to start having fun! Check out the LabManuals subdirectory and go from there.

Have fun!