Microsoft BizSpark is now a one-year programme

As of 1 December 2016, Microsoft’s BizSpark programme is now only for one year, down from the original three years.

Given how useful the free Visual Studio tools are, and what is possible with Azure, I’m not surprised, but this is going to affect a lot of people.

From the BizSpark page:

A one year program, BizSpark puts all Microsoft development and test software at your fingertips, including Azure, Windows, Visual Studio, Office and SQL Server for free. Plus, enjoy access to hundreds of free training classes, technical content, and 4 break-fix phone support incidents to help you on your journey.

Anyone who signed up before 1 December 2016 is not affected by this change. The annual renewal is still in effect, but you still qualify for the full three-year programme.

Twitter

I’ve taken a break from Twitter for a while. This means unfollowing everyone. I am using Twitter Lists, though, so I am keeping track of events as they occur.

I have opened up my Direct Messages, and will respond to DMs (following the golden rule, of course).

New Host

I’ve recently moved this website to a new hosting provider. Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter at @rabryst, if you see any weird stuff happening.

What to do at PASS Summit 2016

(Originally posted on my SQL Server blog.)

Next week, while blog posts are scheduled as expected, I will be attending my third PASS Summit.

Summit 2014

In my first year, I attended every single event I could.

The Monday night started with Steve Jones’ regular Networking Dinner. When I arrived, there were already over a hundred people there, all of whom I didn’t recognise. Until I saw Ed. Ed Watson and I had met in Tampa, FL, at a SQLskills Immersion Event in 2012 and stayed in touch on Twitter. I met new people that night through Ed and reconnected with the folks I’d met at the five Immersion Events I’d attended in 2012 and 2013. The Summit hadn’t even started, and I was already seeing its benefits.

On Tuesday was the First-Timers’ Orientation Meeting & Speed Networking event, where I met some folks with whom I reconnected repeatedly during the week. There may be thousands of attendees every year, but humans recognise familiar faces in a crowd, and we didn’t need to feel overwhelmed.

Later on Tuesday night was Denny Cherry’s long-running SQL Karaoke evening, where I met Argenis Fernandez for the first time in the flesh, and sang a duet with Ed Watson (Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe).

There were many vendor-sponsored networking events as well, where we received free food and beverages. I attended several of those.

I also attended both keynotes (hint: the first keynote on the Wednesday is marketing, so you can sleep in – but take note, Brent Ozar thinks it might be worthwhile attending this in 2016. The second one, on the Thursday, is worth attending), and I can say that Rimma Nehme is amazing.

I attended a lot of sessions. Many of them were incredible. I had my brain melted by Bob Ward’s talk, “Inside SQL Server I/O”. If you get a chance to view this online, do so.

I hung out a lot with another friend, Larry Toothman, whom I’d met in Tampa at the same SQLskills Immersion Event where I’d met Ed. Sadly, Larry died in 2015, but the SQL Server community was incredible with showing support to his husband, and keeping Larry’s memory alive by sharing stories and handing out ribbons.

Here’s a picture of Larry and me, with Paul and Kimberly.

The main takeaway I had was that I had to return in 2015. The networking aspect alone made it worthwhile. The learning was the cherry on top.

Summit 2015

In 2015, I took a calmer approach. While I still attended a lot of technical sessions, I went to two pre-cons (pre-conference events, which are run separately and cost extra). One was PASS-sponsored, and I got to learn a lot from Aaron Bertrand in his “50 Things All SQL Server Developers Need to Know” full day session.

My other pre-con was unpaid, and unsanctioned by PASS. I attended the Brent Ozar Unlimited “FreeCon” event, with 49 of my closest friends, to learn the things you need to know to market yourself better. That’s the reason I now write at least one blog post a week and have made a bigger effort to sell my skills as a consultant.

I sang another duet with Ed, at the new SQL Karaoke venue (Summer Nights from Grease) and had an impromptu group of ladies helping me sing Sandy’s part.

While I did attend both keynotes again, I decided I would skip the next year’s Day 1 Keynote, because it’s pure marketing. In the second keynote, Rimma Nehme was back again, incredible as ever, with David DeWitt to assist her.

I also did not attend every session I’d planned, because the rumours were true: I was gaining more knowledge by networking with people. I met some new people, including Ewald Cress, a guy I went to school with in a rural town in the middle of nowhere.

Bob Ward melted my brain again, but this time his talk was easier for me to understand. I sat next to Gail Shaw, a fellow South African I know from the old country, and we agreed later that the 2014 talk was a lot meltier.

I met Steve Stedman in the flesh, after taking part in a Database Corruption Challenge he had run earlier in the year. As it turned out, Steve and I did some business together in 2016 as a direct result of this networking. It works, folks.

On Friday evening, David Klee invited a group of us to try again at karting. In 2014, due to bad planning with taxis, we missed out, but ended up crashing a birthday party of my favourite Australian, Rob Farley. Rob and I got to know each other during Steve Stedman’s corruption challenge too.

2015 was more successful at karting too, because I won the final race with David coming in a very close second place.

Summit 2016?

More networking. More karaoke. Because I’ll only be arriving on Tuesday this year, I will miss some of the unsanctioned festivities, but rest assured I’ll catch up with everyone again. I also plan to have my brain melted by Bob Ward. Alas, his talk is the same time as Gail Shaw’s, so I won’t be able to heckle her.

Advice for newcomers

If this is your first year, definitely do the orientation first, and check out the sessions that interest you.

On the other hand, don’t forget to introduce yourself to new people and talk to them about SQL Server. If you are on Twitter, and follow any of us in the SQL family on Twitter, come and say hi. (Heck, even Grant Fritchey, Executive Vice President of PASS, agrees.)

I’ll be wearing my trademark black EAT SLEEP RAVE REPEAT CREATE READ UPDATE DELETE sweater (don’t worry: I have three of them, and they get washed). Since I have terrible concentration, eyesight, hearing, etc., I’m usually sitting right at the front of each session I attend, so you can’t miss me.

Speaking of Twitter, come find me on @bornsql or @rabryst and let me know if you’ll be at Summit 2016. Come to Denny’s karaoke evening.

The golden rule applies to Summit, as it does in life. If you’re respectful to fellow attendees, the favour is returned, and you’ll become lifelong friends with lots of folks, who will be happy to help you out in a bind.

The real value of 70 percent

I wrote previously about an expensive experience with In-App Purchases (IAP) running rampant, to the tune of almost four hundred dollars. This follow-up contains some good news.

As part of the conflict resolution protocol, Apple’s customer service representative, known only as Az, was very quick to offer assistance. My mother-in-law didn’t respond to his original emails, so I took the time to write back on Monday afternoon and received a reply later that evening.

For certain reasons, Az was only able to refund what amounted to $270, or 70% of the original amount. Taking into account my mother-in-law’s original intent of spending $34.99 for coins for this game, the refunded amount is closer to an 80% refund, no questions asked.

Thank you Apple Canada, and thank you Az, for taking this complaint seriously. I don’t think much will come of the problem with IAP in the long run, considering the highest revenue generators in the App Store (six of the top 50 grossing apps on the Canadian store, as of this writing, are slot machine style games), but at least Apple is responding to complaints in a fair manner.

I would still like to see these two changes in the Family Sharing feature:

  • approval of all purchases, no matter the age of the family member;
  • notification of in-app purchases exceeding a certain limit (e.g. $50)

If you have any IAP horror stories, feel free to leave a comment or find me on Twitter at @rabryst.

Statement from Pulse, Orlando

Statement from Pulse - Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you. – Barbara Poma, Owner
Pulse statement

Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you. – Barbara Poma, Owner

Gender Identity Diversity in Alberta Schools

Last week, the Alberta, Canada, Government released a document called Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions.

You can download the document here in PDF format.

As I read through this document, I wished I would be going to school in this kind of open, accepting environment.

Imagine:

Schools and school authorities [should] proactively review existing dress codes to ensure they are respectful and inclusive of the gender identities and gender expressions of all members of the school community (e.g., rules apply equally and fairly to all students and are not gender-exclusive, such as implying that a certain type of clothing, such as skirts, will be worn by one gender only).

Or how about this:

All students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, have the right to participate in all curricular and extra-curricular activities. These learning and recreational activities need to occur within inclusive and respectful environments, and in ways that are safe, comfortable and supportive of students’ sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

I wanted to spend time with the girls at school, playing their sports and doing the same classes as them. I remember a large number of girls wanting to wear pants instead of skirts. This was at primary school already.

This kind of inclusivity and openness towards a diverse identity of self is incredible.

Thinking about the implications makes me wonder why it took so long to come about. Not only that, but what might have been possible for everyone who has attended school up to now, forced to fit into a certain role according to the genitals they were born with?

This will fundamentally change society.

School is where we learned that girls and boys were different, that girls were delicate and boys were rough and played harder sports. Girls learned how to cook, clean, sew, and boys were taught … I don’t even remember. Was it how to program computers? Kick a ball?

Imagine instead a formative environment where you are encouraged to do whatever you want, physical gender aside.

I should also note that this has nothing to do with sexual orientation or romantic attraction. The guidelines specifically reference that fact, which in itself is remarkable.

This will allow people to embrace the idea that not all effeminate men are gay, that not all butch women are lesbian, and that perhaps a gender binary is an old-fashioned idea that should go away.

Look at this footnote regarding human sexuality:

If a human sexuality class is organized by gender, students are able to choose which class they participate in.

This is blowing my mind, and I’ve been an activist for queer rights for nearly two decades.

For all its wondrousness, these guidelines will not be implemented overnight. Each school and district will have to create and adopt its own policies, and some parents and school boards, particularly in religious-based schools, will refuse.

That is to be expected, and those schools will be left behind, in the past, where they belong.

I cannot express how grateful I am to the province of Alberta, in the country of Canada, my new home, for making inclusion a priority at the school level. I cannot wait for these kids to grow up with tolerance and acceptance as a guiding principle.

Clipboards, Rednex, and being German

I’ve had an interesting weekend.

On Friday night, we hosted nearly fifty people in our house, for the year-end function for some of the hospitalists in town. The hardwood floors took some damage.

On Saturday night, I performed at another private year-end function, for actual money.

My role in Friday night’s affair was to be affable and humorous, based on my real self. I think I succeeded.

My role in Saturday night’s affair was to be a German ski instructor, with flashbacks to the 1980s. I was one of four performers in total, and each of us had a character and had to arrange a dance for the attendees to perform.

I coloured my hair with chalk spray. There were three colours to choose from: blue, pink and green, so I chose all three.

I walked around with a clipboard, a measuring tape, and a giant pink pen. The clipboard had black letter writing on the front page, where I’d written the German word for “clipboard”. It looked menacing.

Klaus Wunderlift

When introducing myself to attendees, I wrote name tags for them with my giant pen, and a pad of yellow sticky notes. For some reason, these were a huge hit. I naturally didn’t use their real names, preferring to make them up as I went along. Some of the more popular names were Loud, Cute Smile, Tall, Awesome and Fab.

I had to call a square dance. Because I’ve never called a square dance in my life, I searched through (many) YouTube clips, and finally settled on a circle dance (as opposed to a square dance), set to the Rednex version of Cotton Eye Joe. Before the dance, I gave a dramatic reading of the chorus, which a friend had translated into “the original” German, about Baumwollaugen-Johannes*.

My German accent has been used in many performances, including as Hubert Gruber from the stage production of ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, to a rewrite of the stage play Night Call, where I play a socialist librarian. Most recently, I’ve been cast in a voice role as a German scientist for an independent game. I’d stop using it if people stopped wanting to hear it. If only I could do an American accent as convincingly.

One thing I’ve learned as a live performer (which includes teaching and presenting, for what it’s worth), is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing, as long as you can fake it or make it at least look like your ineptitude is intentional.


  • If you’re curious, this is how Cotton Eye Joe looks in German:

Wär’ Baumwollaugen-Johannes nicht gewesen,
wär’ ich schon lang verheiratet.
Wo bist du hergekommen?
Wo bist du hingegangen?
Wo bist du hergekommen, Baumwollaugen-Johannes?