• The bad old days of VBA, and opening Word from Excel

    You tend to forget how good Visual Studio has become as a development environment, until you jump back into something like writing VBA macros in Excel.

    This is pretty much a VB6 environment, but maybe it’s just my memory but I didn’t think VB6 was as bad as VBA is. Even more amazing is that if you open up Excel 2010 and click on the Visual Basic icon in the Developer tab, nothing has changed. There’s good old VBA in all its glory.

    Sure, you can use .NET with Excel, but only to write add-ins. These are installed separately, so you can’t just send a spreadsheet off to a colleague and expect it to work if they don’t also have the add-in installed. Another option would be to write a full-blown .NET application that used COM Interop to call out to Word and Excel.

    So what lead me to be messing around in VBA? The scenario involves aggregating data from a large number of spreadsheets into a single Word document. If you’re thinking this sounds like something better handled with SharePoint or an intranet web application, you’d be right. Probably the “.NET application with COM Interop” would also have been a better choice,  but for now resource constraints meant that the “improvised” solution was the best that could be done, and as a proof of concept it appears to be doing the job.

    Just to be clear, this isn’t for a LobsterPot client, rather I’m just helping out a friend. The particular problem I was asked to advise on was that the Excel VBA code was launching Word, but Word would be opened in the background. The request was to make the new Word document appear in front of Excel so that the end-user could more easily see it. Sure, they could Alt-Tab or click on the Windows task bar to bring it into focus, but anything you can do to make things easier and more obvious for users is usually a good thing.

    The original code opened Word like this:


    Dim wordApplication

    Set wordApplication = CreateObject(“Word.Application”)


    This works fine, but Excel (where the VBA code is running from) stays in the foreground. Adding one extra line to the code solves the problem:


    Dim wordApplication

    Set wordApplication = CreateObject(“Word.Application”)

    Application.ActivateMicrosoftApp xlMicrosoftWord


    The call to ActivateMicrosoftApp does the trick. One trap to be aware of is calling that method before CreateObject. That does work, but it results in 2 instances of Word opening, which is usually not desirable.

  • Laptop fixed, passed 70-448, SQL 2008 R2 and a new Lobster in the pot

    Some good things have happened in the last 24 hours:

    • The Dell technician fixed my laptop.
    • LobsterPot Solutions welcomed its newest member – Roger Noble! It will be great to work with Roger again. Since leaving UniSA he’s been specialising in SharePoint development, which will be a great asset for LobsterPot’s Business Intelligence expertise.
    • I attended the Adelaide SQL Server 2008 R2 launch event presented by Microsoft Australia’s Alan Eldridge. A nice overview of new features in R2.
    • Next Buck Woody gave a humorous and interesting talk on two new features in SQL 2008 R2 at the SQL User Group meeting:

    • Utility Control Point – managing and monitor multiple instances of SQL Server 2008 R2
    • Data-tier Applications (DAC) – deploying SQL applications. DAC is only for R2 and is distinct from the DataDude deployment technology that also shipped as part of VS2010, but the word on the street is to expect these two to converge in the future.

    • Finally to finish off the day, I passed exam 70-448 - TS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance. Yeehaa!

  • Data mining algorithms in SQL Server 2008

    Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Analysis Services ships with 9 built-in algorithms that can be used in data mining solutions. Apparently these algorithms are unchanged in SQL Server 2008 R2.

    Here’s my own summary of these algorithms, based on their descriptions and detail from the Data Mining Algorithms page in SQL 2008 Books Online.


    Useful for generating recommendations. The classic example is people who buy beer and shampoo.


    Group similar items together.

    Decision Trees

    Predicts both discrete and continuous attributes based on relationships. Example is figuring out the common characteristics of old customers that determine whether they are more likely to purchase again.

    Linear Regression

    Calculates a “line of best fit” for a series of data, and then allows prediction based on that line.

    Logistic Regression

    Variation of Neural Network, good for yes/no outcomes.

    Naive Bayes

    Classification algorithm using Bayes theorem. Good for quick results that may then be refined by other algorithms.

    Neural Network

    Analyse complex relationships with lots of inputs but few outputs.

    Sequence Clustering

    Finds most common sequences. Good for identifying popular web page site navigation trends on a website.

    Time Series

    Predict future values of continuous values over time. Forecast next year’s sales.