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!



Exciting news about our upcoming Master Immersion Events in Dallas, TX

We’re getting very close to our start date for our first "Master Immersion Event" and in planning, organizing and handling all of the event details – wow, there's a lot of work involved! However, we've had so much fun at these events that it ends up making it all worth it when they come together so well.

For our first class – which is less than two weeks from today – we have some exciting news!

Our news is that we’re pleased to announce that SQL Sentry is going to be our exclusive sponsor for our first two Master Immersion Events in Dallas!

Several of our staff have attended similar Immersion events and they are, without a doubt, the best SQL Server training you can receive.
Gregory H. Gonzalez
President and CEO, SQL Sentry, Inc.

We are thrilled to have the support of SQL Sentry on these upcoming Master Immersion Training events! SQL Sentry has been pushing the envelope on the SQL Server tools markets for several years now and we are pleased to have them sponsor our efforts to extend MCM level education out to the SQL Server community. We are huge fans of their Plan Explorer product, using and recommending it often. We especially admire their devotion to busy DBAs everywhere by making this product free to the SQL Server community.

What SQL Sentry's involvement allows us to do?

We've added a full American breakfast to the food provided for the week and we've upgraded our lunches – (with all of the food sponsored by SQL Sentry). This is really good because our discounted hotel rate doesn't include breakfast and so this will be a great way to allow folks to get the right start to their day! And, covering lunch as well means that attendees don't need to rush around with only a 1 hour break, find food and return. Instead, attendees can relax and really take a break. They can have a leisurely lunch right at the event… and with coffee/tea provided throughout the day, and with low-carb (and high carb ;-) snacks served mid-afternoon, attendees won't go hungry and won't run out of energy! And, their budget is hit less with breakfast/lunch covered by the event!

We've also added a Monday evening "meet and greet" as well as two evening presentations (Tue/Wed) to give attendees even more information to use in their every day work.

Tuesday evening: Query Tuning with SQL Sentry Plan Explorer, presented by Greg Gonzalez, President and CEO, SQL Sentry

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.

Wednesday evening: Optimizing Performance with SQL Sentry v6, presented by Steve Wright, Director, Engineering Services, SQL Sentry

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.

If you’re not already familiar with SQL Sentry’s FREE Plan Explorer, check out Paul’s latest SQL Server Magazine Q&A post “Judging the effect of query plan changes while tuning.”

It's an exciting time in general. For us, it's a new opportunity to show people additional products (including cool and powerful FREE ones!) that exist and can help them with their SQL lives. In fact, I remember the first time I saw a SQL Sentry product – it was in a small conference room at a hotel at an event where I was speaking (I'm pretty sure it was Connections about 6+ years ago). I didn't have a specific use (at the time) for what they showed but I remember thinking – if I had that need, that would be IT! Then, some time passed, SQL Sentry grew and grew and then we started running in it at customer sites. Finally, we met Greg (@SQLsensei) in person at an Immersion Event when he and one of their engineers (Brooke) attended.

We all got to know each other better (and put faces to the twitter accounts :)). Then, it seemed a strange coincidence, we started running into more and more customers that had their products installed… and, we started using them more and recommending them more and more… and then they released Plan Explorer. What a COOL and FREE tool. This is absolutely a huge win for the community and I'm pleased to be a part of spreading the word!

So, after really getting to know them, their products and their team – we’re excited to announce that they’re sponsoring our first two Master Immersion Events in Dallas.

We hope to see you at an event coming up soon!

Compete for a free seat -> the winner has been chosen!

Wow. Choosing a winner was REALLY hard. We really struggled. We read all posts separately – chose our favorites and then came back together (re-reading many) and choosing our top 6. You can read all about it in Paul's post here:

Thanks to everyone for having submitted – we're really looking forward to a GREAT class in Dallas!


Master Immersion Event Content – Blog and WIN!

Paul has just blogged about this contest here:

So… may the best man (or woman!) win!

Good luck,

Do I need to be a master for “master immersion events”?

I've been getting this question a lot lately. I've been asked this mainly because numerous folks have told me that they don't think they're ready for this level of training. Many have even said that they don't think they're ready for the "master immersion events" because they think they're too advanced. This is the part that's funny… masters know the same things as everyone else – the difference is that it's second nature to them. They've had more experience with the content. They know best practices inside out. They know the many things on which "it depends" depend :-) They can debate 5 different approaches to solving the problem and based on the design criteria pick the one that meets the demands the best.

Masters are people like you… people that started out like you and had exactly the same experience that you did when you started working with SQL Server.

The difference is that they attended conferences, they took classes, they read blog posts, they got involved in the community and they studied and they worked and they kept studying. They got involved. They immersed themselves in the world of SQL Server and things have become clear.

If you're thinking that our classes are too advanced then you really have the wrong idea about SQL Server. Our classes are definitely fast-paced. Our classes are definitely deep! However, you don't have to be planning to take the certification exams the week after the class ends in order to attend the class (or in order to succeed). In fact, I wouldn't recommend it anyway. To truly "master" anything takes time. People with different levels of experience will get different things out of our classes but everyone walks away with practical and applicable techniques and best practices that (depending on the class) improve performance, minimize downtime, minimize data loss, improve manageability and solve design challenges.

These classes are for everyone and the sooner you learn these best practices and continue to work with these best practices the sooner you'll be on your way to being a master!

Master your SQLskills; immerse yourself in SQL Server.

And, I wish you all the best if your ultimate goal is to take the exam and practical for Microsoft Certified Master – SQL Server. Read Paul's post (Big changes to the MCM program and how SQLskills can help you) for more information on our classes and MCM prep work.

Finally, if you have any questions about our training and/or if you're ready – just drop me an email: KimberlyATSQLskillsDOTcom.


Happy Holidays (and, this is why we’re keeping our day jobs!)

Happy Holidays from everyone at SQLskills!

(although, only Kimberly and Paul were stupid enough to be recorded singing this)…

Listen here (audio only):

(but don't say I didn't warn you. And, it is completely office safe! ;-)


Intense Immersion Events are back – for 2011

As some of you may have seen from Paul's blog, we've started to announce dates and course curriculums for 2011.

I’m really excited about these events mostly because we just completed a similar event last week in San Diego, CA. Last week’s event was our last for the year and it couldn’t have gone better (or been more fun!). Once again we held our event at a Marriott hotel and this was the perfect spot for us (again!). Each morning we had breakfast in our patio area just outside our classroom. We had coffee/tea/water refreshed throughout the day and then we had a full lunch served on the patio. After class, most folks went over the lounge to relax and chat for a bit after the day packed full with information. We were staying in the hotel (as were quite a few students) and so we had a lot of time to socialize, relax and get to know each other better! And, no one had to run out for a rushed lunch trying to find a place where they could get food, eat and then be back within an hour. The food at the hotels have been really good (don’t get me wrong – it’s not gourmet food but the quality’s been way better than I expected!!).

So, while our primary focus is ALWAYS the technical content – the socializing, networking and extra discussions we’ve had have always been a heck of a lot of fun! Each event has been packed with info but relaxed enough (to a point) in terms of the logistics/venue to make learning (which is absolutely our primary focus) EASY and FUN!

It was with last week's event in mind that I've setup our new "Master Immersion Events" with the same style as our SQL Immersion Events.

For 2011, we’re offering two types of events:

SQL Immersion Events

These are our broader (but still deep) courses that often bridge the gap between beginning DBAs and Developers and Masters. We don’t have any SQL Immersion Events on the schedule yet but we plan to add some soon. Think of these classes as “intermediate to advanced” but more of an end-to-end story.

These classes run from 9-5:30 each day and end early (3pm) on Friday.

Master Immersion Events

These events are based on our concept of SQL Immersion Events (in-depth, focused, “immersion” in a subject) but with content largely derived by the requirements of the Microsoft Certified Master (SQL Server) program. Based on the original *SINGLE* 3-week (15 days) course, we’ve come up with 4 standalone courses. In fact, the content is what's driven these 4 courses into comprehensive, standalone curriculum regardless of whether or not you plan to get certified. And, the best part is that you do NOT need to take these courses back-to-back. The time between the courses can really help to give you time to absorb before coming back for more! If you do want to go on to take the exam and the practical lab, we recommend that you’re familiar with all of the content in our new 4-week, 19 day program.

These classes run from 8:30-6pm each day and end early (4pm) on Friday.

You can take them in any order but our recommended order is to take Internals and Performance first and then any course second/third/forth:

Master Immersion Event on Internals and Performance (5 days)

Data Storage Internals, Designing for Performance, and Indexing for Performance
Instructors: Paul S. Randal, Kimberly L. Tripp

Master Immersion Event on Performance Tuning (5 days)

IO Subsystems, Workload Analysis, and Performance Tuning Methodologies
Instructors: Brent Ozar, Paul S. Randal, Kimberly L. Tripp

Master Immersion Event on HA+DR (4 days)

Virtualization, Consolidation, High Availability, and Disaster Recovery
Instructors: Brent Ozar, Paul S. Randal, Kimberly L. Tripp

Master Immersion Event on Security and Development Support (5 days)

Database Security, Development Best Practices and Optimizing Procedural Code
Instructor: Bob Beauchemin

We're planning to run courses in Dallas, TX (Internals/Design in Feb, Performance in Mar), Chicago, IL (HA/DR in April, Security/Dev in May), London, UK (Internals/Design in April, Performance in May), all four in Bellevue, WA in August (you can take them as a series [if desired] OR you can pick/choose the week(s) that you want…and, it's an absolutely WONDERFUL time to see WA so having an extra day or two to see the sights is not a bad thing!) and then we're planning the entire series in New York, NY and either Atlanta, GA (or FL – probably Tampa area) in the Fall.

For more details, check out Paul's post (here) and then for full details about this training, including in-depth and complete curriculums for each class, along with the locations, schedules, and costs, see HERE. Registration for these courses will begin to open next week.

And, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me (or Paul) an email.

We hope to see you in 2011 and we wish you all the best over the holidays!


More considerations for the clustering key – the clustered index debate continues!

OK, I've talked about the clustering key many times. Here, I thought I'd bring together one final series of details (and links) to help you really understand why I'm so adamant about DESIGNING a clustering key and not just letting SQL Server pick it for you (for example when it defaults to making the primary key clustered). Just because SQL Server defaults to making the primary key clustered doesn't actually mean it's a GOOD clustering key!

The key things that I've always recommended about a GOOD clustering key is that it is: unique, narrow, static and ever-increasing. For more details on the reasons behind this, check out these posts:

And, today, there are two additional items that I want to add to this list: your clustering key should be non-nullable and fixed-width!

First, why non-nullable?

In a regular data row you will ALWAYS have a null block. This is 2 bytes for a column count (in that row) and 1 bit per column (to store the actual null values). If you want to get more details on the internals of a data row, see Paul's post: Inside the Storage Engine: Anatomy of a record. However, the btree of the clustered index and the nonclustered index leaf/non-leaf levels do NOT have to have this "null block" of information if the columns in the index do NOT allow nulls. While this may be only 3 or 4 bytes (depending on the number of columns), it's still 3 or 4 bytes that would have to be added to EVERY nonclustered index's leaf level (for every row). And, it just doesn't have to be there. Why waste space when you don't have to!

Second, and along the same lines, is the need to use fixed-width columns!

Just like in data rows, index rows only have a variable block (offsets + end of row) when there are variable-width columns. If a clustered index is chosen that has one or more variable-width columns then you are adding at least 4 bytes to every row that might not have otherwise needed to be there. In fact, often people forget that uniquifiers are stored in the variable block portion of the row and as a result, a uniquifier really needs 8 bytes (4 bytes for the int + 2 bytes in the variable block for the offset + 2 bytes for the end of row marker).

To show you this, I've created four tables each with the same 3 columns DATA TYPES (table 4 has col1 as an int that's nullable and you can't do that with an identity so I used INSERT/SELECT to copy the data over):

col1 int identity not null,
col2 datetime2(7) not null default sysdatetime(),
col3 datetime2(7) null default sysdatetime()

And, each of the tables has these four nonclustered indexes:

  • Non-unique nonclustered on col2
  • Unique nonclustered on col2
  • Non-unique nonclustered on col3
  • Unique nonclustered on col3

The difference is solely within the definition of the clustering key as well as weather or not the values are unique (or nullable)!

CLTable1 is clustered and non-nullable but NOT defined as unique (the values are unique)

CLTable2 is clustered and non-nullable but there are duplicate values in the clustering key

CLTable3 is defined as a unique clustered index

CLTable4 is clustered, nullable and there are duplicate values in the clustering key

The end result is the sizes of all of the keys and the wasted space from different keys!

For CLTable1, CLTable2 and CLTable3 – all of the minimums are the same. For CLTable1 and CLTable3 – the maximums are the same as the minimums. In CLTable3 it's because the records MUST be unique. In CLTable1 it's because the records just happen to be unique right now (meaning there's no overhead unless there are actual dupes).

index_id           min          max          avg
1 27 27 27
1 11 11 11
2 13 13 13
2 19 19 19
3 13 13 13
3 15 15 15
4 16 16 16
4 22 22 22
5 16 16 16
5 18 18 18

For CLTable2 the maximums are each 8 bytes larger (highlighted in yellow) EXCEPT where in the btrees of UNIQUE nonclustered indexes where SQL Server does NOT need to duplicate the clustering key (pale pink):

index_id         min         max          avg
1 27 35 27.73
1 11 19 11.76
2 13 21 13.73
2 19 27 20.09
3 13 21 13.73
3 15 15 15.00
4 16 24 16.73
4 22 30 22.92
5 16 24 16.73
5 18 18 18.00

NOTE: If you're not familar with index internals and when/why SQL Server duplicates the clustering key in nonclustered indexes, check out my Index Internals chapter from the SQL Server 2008 Internals title (here's the Amazon link: and my companion content from Chapter 6 here: Companion content for Chapter 6 (Index Internals) of SQL Server 2008 Internals. And, if you really want to see what's in your indexes, check out my updated versions of sp_helpindex here:

Finally, CLTable4 has the most interesting results…

index_id         min         max          avg
1 27 35 27.73
1 14 22 14.78
2 16 24 16.73
2 22 30 22.92
3 16 24 16.73
3 15 15 15
4 16 24 16.73
4 22 30 22.92
5 16 24 16.73
5 18 18 18

Nonclustered indexes 2 and 3 (and the clustered index's btree) are all 3 bytes larger… why? Because the clustering key allows nulls and each of these structures has only 2-3 columns. As a result, the space needed for the null block is 3 bytes (2 bytes for the column count [NCol] and 1 byte for the actual null bitmap [less than 9 columns]).

The btree for index id 3 only needs the nonclustered key column (col2) which does not allow NULLs and the index is unique so the tree is the same as before.

Nonclustered indexes 4 and 5 already had a nullable column and therefore already had a null block.

My point – it all adds up and if it's not truly necessary, then avoid it!

Thanks for reading!

Where in the World – Alaska – Part II

I thought I would get this done in one post but I realized quickly that it would take a couple! This is part II focusing on our trip in Alaska (Summer 2010). If you want to read a bit about the first part of the trip (Anchorage to Denali National Park to Seward), read this post:!.aspx.

As for the last few days of this part of our trip we ended up in Homer, AK. The drive from Seward to Homer isn't as stunning when it's not along the coasts (the first half is but the 2nd half – not so much!) but there are a few really beautiful spots along the way. This is the Ninilchik lighthouse about 40 miles north of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula:

01 lighthouse 640 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

However, by the time we got to Homer, it was raining…again. We had beautiful weather for the day we did the Kenai Fjords Tour and I feared that the weather was gone. Everyone with whom we spoke said that this summer's weather had been about the worst they can remember. Even our Kenai Fjords tour captain said it was the first day in roughly 60 where he had seen sun on the Aialik Glacier. So, we thought we were doomed to have rain and nasty weather for the rest of the trip.

Amazingly (and luckily), we were wrong. The sun came back out and after we settled in at the Land's End Resort on the Homer Spit the kids were on the beach – for hours! As expected, we completely lost track of time and around 10pm we realized that it was so late (and still light out) that it was time to get ready for bed! Our next day included heading out to Katmai National Park to view bears and we wanted to make sure we weren't tired. However, we weren't scheduled to take off until late afternoon so we knew it wasn't going to be a problem.

As for the Land's End Resort – this was our favorite place to stay of our entire trip and we will go back there. The beach front lodges allowed for separate bedrooms for everyone and we had a washer/dryer in the lodge (which was very helpful 8 days into the trip!) as well as a fully stocked kitchen/fridge, etc. The prices of the lodges were more than reasonable given their quality and we could not beat the location and the views! We would DEFINITELY recommend it to anyone and it will be a place that we return to again and again (we hope!!).

In Homer itself, there are all sorts of places to visit but a "must-stop" is at Boardwalk Bakery to see Jackie and have some of her famous pastries! If you get there early enough there are all sorts of choices! And, you'll love Jackie. There's also the Salty Dawg Saloon where you'll have to deface a dollar and post it on the walls. There must be thousands in there! Above all however, you MUST visit the folks at K-Bay Air. They're located right next door to the Boardwalk Bakery and their trips out to Katmai National Park with Michael and co CANNOT BE MISSED!!! If you don't believe me – check out their numerous fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor here: Even the flight-seeing was spectacular as we flew over glaciers, mountains, volcanos, stunning bays, little towns and all sorts of different waterways.

Here are a few pics on the way out the Katmai National Park (KNP):

The Homer Spit:

img 7067 448 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

Mountains and glaciers and bays – oh my!

img 7076 448 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

This is Fourpeaked Glacier:

img 7127 448 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

This is the river delta at Halo Bay (south of Fourpeaked Glacier) and it's where we were about to spend 3.5 hours watching bears. If you look closely you can see at least a few bears (yes, those spots are bears!!) in this pic!

img 7178 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

Finally, we landed on the beach (with large tires setup for this kind of landing) and we walked in about 1/2 mile to where the river delta has lots of salmon. We were lucky with the salmon as well as it was a late season and we got there when they were really running. We proceeded to find a female with a single cub and then we watched her fish. We started calling her "Mean Momma" after she continued to leave her cub and wander off hunting. At points we estimated that she was 1/4-1/2 mile away from her little guy – who was often standing up and crying. She also fished – and caught – 5 salmon in front of us and each time the cub would wander over to get food. She would turn away and keep eating. It wasn't until the 4th or 5th salmon when she actually fed the little guy. However, by the end of the day the cub had eaten and been nursed so we're not so sure of her moniker. Below are the pictures of "Mean Momma" and her cub. At one point we thought a large eagle was sizing the little guy up for it's own potential dinner (ok, not really but it certainly was close and stayed close to that cub for quite some time!).

This is "Mean Momma"

img 7186 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

Here she is really haming it up!

img 7195 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

She was pretty good at fishing!

 mg 7702 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

But she really didn't want to share:

 mg 7728 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

And she often left the cub to fend for himself:

img 7216 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

But, in the end, she nursed the little guy:

img 8120 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

And, at the very end of the day she was heading straight for us and I snapped this one:

 mg 8114 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

And, since I'm sure a few of you are wondering – how close were we? What kind of rifle did our guide have… first and foremost, NO RIFLE… no barriers! Just a real understanding of behaviors. While Grizzly attacks can happen there have never been documented attacks on groups of 6 or more and our group was prepped with information to help us react positively and not invite an attack. I was truly impressed with Michael and co. from K-Bay Air and not ONCE did I feel threatened or scared. This is somewhat amazing given that "Mean Momma" was probably only 30+ feet away in this shot (above) and she seems to be heading straight for me. But, she was so focused on salmon and I didn't have any! Just to give you a bit better perspective – here are two shots that Michael (from K-Bay) took of us:

img 0723 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

img 0763 Where in the World   Alaska   Part II

The entire day was wonderful and I will never forget it! We took it easy the following day and just hung out on the beach and wandered about the spit! What a wonderful place – thanks Homer!!

And, after another day we drove up to ANC to get the kids on a flight back down to Seattle. Ironically, when we first told the kids about the trip we were very hesitant about how they'd react to flying "unaccompanied" and so we told them that we could make other arrangements, etc. if they were nervous, etc. And, even after we told them about the bears, the helicopter and all of our planned tours – what was the first thing they told their friends? "We get to fly back without parents!!"

In the end, I think their memories will be of the animals and the stunning scenery. I know mine are!

Next, after the kids were safely on their way back to Seattle – Paul and I headed to ANC to meet with our group going to Russia. That will have ot be another post for another day!

Thanks for reading,

Where in the World summary and other photography related stuff!

Paul's usually the one who writes our "where in the world" posts  (here's his category link) but after a few folks specifically came up to us at SQLConnections and SQLPass and told us how much they enjoyed our shots, I thought I'd put together a summary post with a few of my favorites and a few tips I've learned a lot the way.

(NOTE: this is now part 1 of I don't know how many… but, I do hope to get the other parts done this weekend! Sorry, we had WAYYY too much fun on these trips!)

First, Paul and I took an amazing trip in August/September where we first went to Alaska and then we flew over to Anadyr, Russia to board the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov) for a 14 day expedition in the Russian Far East and up into the Siberian Arctic and Wrangel Island. Our entire trip was absolutely perfect. We started in Alaska for 10 days with the girls (8 and 10 – at the time). We rented a nice big car and the four of us set out for a bunch of driving. We stayed in Anchorage our first night and we chose the Captain Cook hotel (which we'd all recommend!). It was only one night and it was solely because our first day of driving was going to be long. And, we didn't want to start the drive late in the day. So, we had a nice dinner and went to bed relatively early so that we could venture out the next day and drive up to Denali National Park. We had been told that the drive can be incredibly long – depending on traffic – and we were pleasantly surprised when the drive wasn't too bad. We stopped in Talkeetna for a late lunch and if we had more time (and if it hadn't been raining), I would recommend a scenic flight from Talkeetna. If you're planning a trip, you might even want to spend one night in Talkeetna. There are some trapper cabins there and quite a few little shops and restaurants. There's also a train that goes in/out from there so you might decide to take the train up to Denali from here?

We arrived up at Denali National Park around 5pm after a leisurely day of driving from Anchorage. One of the highlights was the moose that walked out onto the road right in front of us as we were leaving the grocery store in Anchorage. Wow, they are BIG!

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But, at this pace I'll be writing about every hour of the entire trip… so, I'm going to cut to a few of the highlights and a few of the things that we'd recommend the most.

We loved Denali National Park but your options to access it are very limited. You can drive all the way in to the entrance at 15 miles in and I'd recommend that for sure. There's even a parking area by the entrance and you can wander around the river area that's there. If the lot is full they'll let you park in the lot that's just beyond the entrance area so if it's full, drive over to the guard and ask to park there. If it's not full then you're good! There are some bathrooms there as well and the river doesn't run too deep so you can wander around the river area and explore! If you want to explore any further then you have to book a tour or use the park buses. There are some special options for professional photographers and there are also 4 "free days" in September that you can sign up for (I think it's by lottery) but outside of that – you're taking a bus. We did the epic 96 mile drive into Kantishna on a bus that was not all that much better than a typical school bus and it did not have a bathroom onboard. There were frequent [enough] stops but it's definitely not the most exciting drive. We stopped for a lot of animals and because it was overcast and rainy – many animals came out. That was the best part of it. We would not have seen any of this if it hadn't been for the weather so we really can't complain. But, the bus picked us up at 6am and dropped us off just after 7pm. It was a VERY long day. Probably my favorite thing to see – wolves:

This first picture is of two juveniles (probably Spring 2010 pups) playing with two adolescents (probably Spring 2009 pups). These are pups from the pack where the second shot shows the Alpha female. Apparently, only the Alpha male/female breed within a pack and the park collar's the alpha pair (you can see the collar in the pic.. however, I did have to laugh when a couple of people on the bus said – wow, look there's a dog in the park, see, it has a collar… er, they weren't listening to the driver at all!!). Anyway, these were wonderful to see. The driver also mentioned that he doesn't see wolves every day – probably only 10-12 times a season. Cool!

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And here's Momma:

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And, I can't forget the Dall Sheep. Here's one of my favorite shots:

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Our trip in Denali National Park was fantastic and I'd highly recommend the Kantishna tour (Denali Backcountry Adventure: Ideally, you should even try to stay overnight for a day or two in Kantishna but it all depends on how much time you have. You can also bus in and flight out. There are lots of possible options and you should really do your homework if you want to create some of these combinations as many have limits on luggage, etc. But, if you plan it right and have to the time to leave stuff with another hotel then you might be in good shape to do this. Staying in Kantishna would be especially good for those of you who want to hike/wander in DNP. But, weather is hit/miss and the bugs can be horrible during certain times of year. We got lucky as it wasn't a bad season (in general) and we were relatively late getting there as we didn't get to DNP until mid-August.

The day prior we also took an amazing trip via helicopter out to a glacier and we landed and wandered about for 20 mins or so. It was incredible! I'd HIGHLY recommend ERA Helicopter Tours and specifically their Denali Glacier Landing Expedition: One of my favorite shots is of Paul and our pilot in the distance with a large ice stream between us (the helicopter is even futher behind them off to the back far left). The colors were stunning and the flow was fast and powerful (and I suspect – VERY cold).

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We also went to a sled dog display put on by the DNP Rangers (here's their link). We went with our good friend Don Kiely who lives up in Fairbanks and drives down to the DNP area to paddle the Nenana River. He also runs the Second Chance League (a sled-dog rescue program) in Fairbanks. I know things are tight for everyone right now but if you're a sucker for animals (I am!) and you have a few extra dollars this holiday – consider a donation to help feed and/or care for some of these very neglected sled dogs (it's a pretty harsh sport and dogs that don't perform can lead a miserable life). You can read more about the program here:

We stayed down at Denali Cabins (about 5 miles from the main entrance) and there are a bunch of hotels closer up to the entrance of DNP. Most of the hotels are in Glitter Gulch (if you look) and one that we thought had a good restaurant/bar/view was the Grande Denali Lodge. We ate at the Alpenglow restaurant a couple of times because we really liked the view. However, they did do some major landscaping to a beautiful mountain to get their view and as a few locals say it's a bit of an abomination of the view coming around the river. So… you can make the call. Now that it's there though – we took advantage of the view!

We only had 2 full days in DNP and we made the most of them by booking EVERYTHING in advance. Depending on the time of the year – you might want to do the same as some of these tours can fill up.

Then, we drove down from DNP to Seward. This was the longest drive of the trip and it took us a full day to do it! We did stop for lunch and we stopped many times for photos. So, if you give yourself about 10 hours then you can do it pretty leisurely. I think the total mileage is about 360 miles (with lots of hills/mountains, etc.) and after 2 days of rain on/off and not a single viewing of Denali (Mt McKinley) we thought our chances of seeing her were over. However, on the drive down to Seward, the sun came out and so did Denali. That's part of what took us so long. We probably stopped at 10 different viewing areas to see Denali. It was great. What a BEAUTIFUL mountain. Here's a picture of the monkey's standing in front of Denali.

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We didn't have every moment planned in Seward but I was dying to setup a Kenai Fjords Tour. Paul was hesitant because he and the girls can get seasick. To be honest, I get seasick as well (almost always on the first day but then I get much better but the difference is that I don't care and will go on the water almost no matter what… I LOVE being on or in or near the water!!!). So, when the weather cleared and the seas looked like they were going to be calm, I was excited. Still, we decided to wait to book our tickets until morning. And, sure enough, at 8am I called straight away. If I had waited any longer we might not have gotten on the tour and in the height of summer I bet we wouldn't have. But, if you have any question of getting seasick then you might want to wait and see. Apparently the weather can be anywhere from "horrible and nasty" to "sunny and gorgeous" and anything in between. We got lucky and got "sunny and gorgeous" but it was cold! And, these Kenai Fjords Tour boats can go FAST! Paul used his GPS to clock our boat at 31mph just outside of the no wake zone. Wow!

We HIGHLY recommend this tour company: and our captain/guide was absolutely fantastic. I'm embarassed that I don't remember his name. He was alone in the bridge with the door open when I wandered in and he was only happy to chat. Paul joined me and we learned a bit about his cat. What an impressive boat: We did the 11:30 am departure for the 6.5 hour tour:  As for a favorite from this trip – wow, that's hard! We saw Orca, eagles, sea otters, mountain goats, puffins (horned and tufted), all sorts of other sea/marine birds including kittiwakes and comorants) and a lot more! We saw the landlocked Bear Glacier (and the lake in front of it) and we went within a quarter mile of the Aialik Glacier (you can't get closer because of the potential for glacier calving). Here's a list of glaciers in Alaska:

Here's a picture of the Aialik Glacier:

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And, another one of Aialik Glacier up close!

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Finally, here's one of the land-locked Bear Glacier from afar. The trees are blocking the lake that's in front of the glacier:

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As for animals, we saw lots. The Orca's are one of my favorites and I'm really looking forward to more whale watching with the family now that we've all figured out how to do it without getting sick (wrist-bands and dramamine seem to work wonders for everyone!).

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And, we fell in love with Ray's Waterfront restaurant for dinner: and the Marina Restaurant (for breakfast!). Both of which were recommended by our friend Pat Wright. Thanks Pat!!

Our other full day in Seward we visited the Seward Sealife Center (definitely recommended!) and Exit Glacier (also HIGHLY recommended). One of the cool things that they do at the center is a lot of rehabilitation and minotoring of the local sealife. They even have a live monitor at Chiswell Island. You can see the sea lions there LIVE: Their site is a bit hard to navigate (IMO) but there's TONS of information there. Definitely worth a read and possibly a donation (again, if you're a sucker for animals – which I am!!).

My favorite picture from the Exit Glacier hike is one where an idiot went way up next to the ice. The reason I like the picture is for perspective. Check out how small this guy looks (bottom left). Originally we thought it might be someone who didn't speak English but alas, no, it was an idiot who claimed he didn't see the MANY signs posted that said do not cross. And, if it had been an actual Ranger who had caught him (instead of a VERY nice volunteer) he could have been fined as much as 5K for going where he did…

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OK, so, at this point we're 7 days in to our holiday and we're loving every minute of it. The next part of the trip is where we drove from Seward to Homer and stayed on the Homer Spit. This is probably the highlight of the trip for me as we went to view bears at Katmai National Park (yes, we were touring SQL Server code-names on this trip!). Since this post has already turned out to be WAYYYY longer than I had hoped, I'm going to stop here and leave the bears for tomorrow. My plan – to get all of my "where in the world" posts done this weekend!

I'm wishing you all well over this holiday weekend and I hope you're able to stay awake long enough to read this (turkey coma's are hard to overcome – I know!!!).

Thanks for reading,

PS – If you want any additional information about Alaska and/or the places we stayed, feel free to email me!