14 August

Two vastly different reasons for remembering the date today, and both have resonance.

14 August 1989:

The resignation of PW Botha
The resignation of PW Botha
(Picture credit: Alex Jay on Twitter, but I’m not sure where he got it from, because it’s a photo of a frame from a public television broadcast.)

State President PW Botha, the second-last apartheid-era leader of South Africa, the cause of economic sanctions against the country due to his defiance of majority rule (South Africans of European descent only counted around 11% of the population), and a pretty scummy dude, but less scummy than the previous ones. His successor, FW de Klerk, dismantled apartheid and made way for majority rule, in a bloodless transition of power, with the help of Nelson Mandela.

Anyone longing for the old days need only remember that this guy here was a fascist. His actions caused the torture and death of many innocent people in the name of white supremacy. He never apologised for what he did.


14 August 2005:

I met my future husband on this day after a play rehearsal. I wrote this on Facebook:

A love story.

Eleven years ago today, I was deep into rehearsals for my debut as Macbeth, in a one-act comedy called Mac The Knife. All my lines were straight (!) from the original Shakespearean script, and I still remember them. Originally directed by Dylan, John took over from him. Leather pants were involved, as was a highland dance-off against my arch-nemesis Macduff, played by Julia. After the rehearsal on Sunday 14 August, I went on a date. My last one ever, because the ones following were just making sure. I knew that night, and Chris will vouch for it, that Marinus was the one. We will be celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary in two weeks. Marinus is going to be a theatre widow for the next two months again as I play Officer Troughton in Run For Your Wife (Morpheus Theatre), but I won’t be wearing leather pants.

Thank you, Marinus, for helping me become a better person, and supporting my habit of pretending to be other people. I love you. Happy first date anniversary.


Every day holds good and bad memories. It’s on us to remember things for the right reasons, no matter where they fall on the goodness scale.

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.

In-App Shenanigans, an iOS Story

This is not a judgment on Apple (or other platforms). This is not a judgment on this particular app, either, even though I think it’s scummy. Let’s get this out of the way right off the top.

Earlier this week I received an email from Apple, as usual, notifying me of an in-app purchase (IAP) made by a member of the family.

Our family consists of me as the primary credit card holder, my husband, and my mother-in-law. This is important because we’re all over the age of 18.

My husband and I live in Canada, and my mother-in-law lives in South Africa. The Canadian iTunes and App Store offerings are much better than South Africa, for myriad reasons, which is why we added her. She gains access to our purchases and Apple Music. It’s a win-win.

Here’s the email I received.

A word about how I read emails: FAST. I use a system of pattern recognition developed over many years, and when an email looks fine, I file and ignore it. This is why I spot spam and malware very quickly, when shapes of words look “wrong”.

So this was a legitimate email, but what struck me was the amount. I usually ignore purchases under $20–$30, but that number looked big.

What was also interesting in this case was the app. I’d seen this before, so I looked in my email archive. Sure enough, there have been several in-app purchases from the same device since the app was downloaded (free of charge, of course) on 31 March 2016.

Problem 1: Inaccessible IAP for Family Members

I clicked on “Report a Problem”, and that’s where I noticed a significant flaw in the Family Sharing feature. If you did not make the in-app purchase yourself, you cannot see the details. The page returns no results.

After a frenzied iMessage conversation with my mother-in-law in another timezone, she was able to send me her password, and once I logged into iTunes with her account details, I could review her in-app purchases.

Problem 2: Email Notifications

This is where I discovered another issue, one I’ve maintained is problematic with email itself. Not every in-app purchase generated a receipt email. Email is broken. It does not guarantee delivery. Apple can’t fix this. I don’t know how to solve it.

According to the account details, a few more in-app purchases were made from the same device. This is not all of them.

Since 31 March 2016, the in-app purchases from the device totalled a few pennies under $390 (three hundred and ninety dollars).

Problem 3: Scummy Developers

I decided to install the app to find out how this happened. My mother-in-law is smart. She’s been using iOS since almost the start. She understands IAP, and she asks before doing an in-app purchase on games she likes. Until April 2016, she had spent under $200 on the App Store in six years.

It did not take me long to figure it out.

The game, like any other free-to-play game, will prompt you to buy extra plays. Because it’s a slot machine game, this is sold as extra spins on the slot machine.

I spun the wheels about twenty or thirty times. There were the usual flashes of light and colours and shiny things game developers know to put into a game to keep you playing.

And then this is where it all broke down.

If I tap in the open areas, nothing happens (thank goodness). If I tap on one of the three options, I’ll be prompted to spend money. No thanks. So I hit the X on the top right to cancel out of this madness.

And this is what greeted me, even after reinstalling the game.

Anyone want to tell me how to continue? Anyone? Bueller?

Using my 33 years of computer experience, I’ve decided that to continue with the slot machine game, without buying coins, I’d need to tap on the face of Venus. How Freudian. I deduce that there are puzzles I’d have to complete to unlock the other machines.

Since I’m twice shy, I decided to quit the game and delete it once and for all, without risking anything else.

No wonder I’ve got almost $400 worth of IAP on my credit card. This confused me, and I’ve been working with software for over three decades. And I got maybe 30 spins on the wheel.

Problem 4: Reporting IAP Doesn’t Work

Now that I was able to log in as the purchaser on iTunes, I could click the link (in the same receipt email, mind you) and was able to report an issue with the latest purchase.

I understand economics and cooling off periods and contracts. If we couldn’t get some money back from the older purchases, at least $69.99 could be returned. It was in the last week, after all.

I selected the option “Didn’t mean to purchase this item” from the dropdown. After filling in a comment, I submitted and got back the following reply:

This purchase is not eligible for a refund.

Alrighty then.

Taking a look through the other options, I declined choosing “I didn’t authorize this purchase” because, frankly, I did. A court would look at the reasonable man argument, and a reasonable man would say “the purchase happened” because the user (my mother-in-law) entered her password or touched a fingerprint reader, and the receipt was processed by Apple.

Problem 5: Daylight Robbery

I have been writing software since 1983, and I did it for a living for a number of years. I understand that software developers need to eat. However, a mainstream game on a console system, PC or Mac platform, even with DLC (downloadable content) that is charged for in addition to the game, won’t cost me $390. The Sims 4, part of the most popular franchise ever, costs $60 with DLC. If someone is spending over $100 on a game, I want to know about it.

This is not a problem specific to this game, I’m simply using it as an example.

Problem 6: Inconsistent Password Prompts

I get asked to enter my Apple Account password so many times these days on my devices. Imagine this happening when you’re trying to dismiss a “BUY” button in a slot machine game. You click cancel, your finger slips and you accidentally tap the expensive option on the right. Flustered because that stupid password box came up again, you sigh and enter your password anyway.

Problems that Apple Should Address

I identified two main problems through this experience that I would like Apple to address.

Firstly, please let me turn on approvals for any purchases, for any family member, regardless of age.

Secondly, please let me review purchases for all family members from my own account. If it’s good enough for someone to use my credit card, I’d like to be able to report an issue.

Conclusion

There was one time my mother-in-law did want to buy coins, for $39.99. She even texted my husband at the time and said she’d pay him back. So for every other purchase on that game, I submitted a request under “Problem is not listed here” and said none of these purchases was expected except for the one for $39.99.

If Apple responds favourably, I’ll be surprised. This is a major revenue stream for them. No wonder developers are excited about IAP and upcoming Subscriptions.

In the meantime, please be wary of IAP. It’s not a bad thing if used appropriately.

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

Professionalism doesn’t mean a collared shirt and tie

(Originally published on my SQL Server blog.)

Working from home, consulting with companies all over the world, has changed how I interact with customers. The last time I was physically on site was seven months ago.

We deal almost exclusively with each other via conference call and video using Skype, LogMeIn or GoToMeeting, juggling webcams, headphones, microphones, email, text messages, phone calls, instant messaging, and so on and so forth …

Scott Hanselman wrote on Twitter recently about spending more than 20 minutes of a one-hour meeting getting microphones working for all meeting attendees, and this is in 2016!

 

Being professional means treating your customers and colleagues with the respect you think you deserve in return.

Put another way, if you treat other people with contempt, you can’t expect to be taken seriously.

Missing meetings, not having your equipment set up correctly, not wearing camera-friendly clothing (or any clothing at all!), having an inappropriate backdrop, or having an inappropriate desktop background if you’re sharing your screen, all amount to contempt.

Take the time to set up your work space correctly by keeping the webcam-visible area behind you friendly to anyone watching you on video.

Learn how to use your webcam or microphone or headphones correctly. If you have to share your computer screen, make sure you have turned off notifications. Even better, try to keep to one virtual desktop away from email, web browsers and social media.

Do you use a Mac? Did you know that there’s a way for you to set up your microphone to send clear and crisp audio through Skype or other tools? It’s called Loopback.

All that money you’re saving on gas? Buy a decent condenser microphone, over-ear headphones, and a high-definition webcam. Don’t rely on your laptop’s built-in speakers. You know what microphone feedback sounds like, and wearing headphones is a great way to avoid it.

Don’t pick your nose. Don’t get too close to the camera. Someone might have you on a giant television screen with lots of people in the room. Because you’re not physically in the room, perception is everything. Even I make some of these mistakes, which means I’m also guilty of behaving in an unprofessional manner.

This post is not only to let you know how to behave, but to remind me how I should behave. We’re in this together.

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?

Filmmaking as a Metaphor for the DBA

This post was originally published on my SQL Server blog.

I worked on four films in 2015, three shorts and one feature-length movie, all shot in Calgary where I live. That has resulted in seven IMDb credits for me, someone who earns a living as a DBA.

If nothing else, that experience has scratched an itch I’ve had since I was old enough to wonder what it would be like to act in a movie.

But acting isn’t filmmaking. It’s a very small part of the big picture, along with directing, producing, set building, makeup, lights, cameras, craft services, animal trainers, and so on.

DBAs also do a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure everything works the way it should. The sign of a good DBA is a system that works as expected. The sign of an excellent DBA is recovering from failure, affecting anyone else as little as possible.

Like being an excellent DBA, making films is hard work. Purely from an acting perspective, there are lots of lines to learn, repeating them over and over again, and then having to wait for someone to reset the camera, move some lights or the boom mic, and then do it all over again.

Exactly the same way.

Acting is the antithesis of automation. For example, it can take nine hours to film five pages of a script. Each page in a screenplay equates roughly to one minute of screen time. When I directed our last short, we shot eighteen pages in seven hours. That’s almost unheard of.

In information technology, we are encouraged to automate any repetitive task.

In front of the camera, we can’t automate our lines. Continuity is critical, so that the cup you’re holding at 8:15am during the master shot, is in the same hand at the same line, with the same level of liquid, as the close-up shot at 11pm.

I have also done a little bit of voice acting. Have you seen the film Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds? She plays a voice-over actor who must redo all the voice parts for Jean Hagen’s character, in a process called ADR (automated dialogue replacement) or Looping.

There’s nothing automated about it. You see the scene and the current audio, and get a metronome counting you in for two or three beats, then you record your dialogue, trying to match against the picture. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and never quite matches.

Sometimes you have to do it in voice acting too. Except, excluding some very minor exceptions, there’s no picture to watch yet. You are in a booth, with headphones, a microphone, and pop filter in front of you. In my case, there’s also an HD web cam in there so that the outside world can see in. In other studios, the booth may be soundproof glass and have the recording equipment and director in view. It’s a very lonely space.

Either way, if I have to do ADR for a movie like Debbie Reynolds did, she’d have a picture to lip sync with. In voice acting, if you have to do ADR, there’s no picture. You hear the original track, you get counted in, and then you do your line while the old one is playing in your headphones.

Try recording yourself, playing it back, and then saying the same line over again, exactly the same way.

Being a DBA has a lot of similarities:

  1. Repetitive tasks
  2. Attention to detail
  3. Troubleshooting with no visual guides
  4. Trying to do something complicated while someone is talking in your ear
  5. Someone is always judging you
  6. You have to go with your instincts sometimes.

Someone asked me recently whether I would choose between being a SQL Server professional, or a filmmaker. I answered that I couldn’t choose. They complement each other and keep me sane.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to comment on Twitter, find me under @bornsql or @rabryst.