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.

Link: On Getting Old(er) in Tech

My friend Janie Clayton linked to this article by Don Denoncourt, which has some interesting thoughts and observations.

Something with which I agree:

I’ve seen too many people lock themselves into technologies (like Lotus Notes and Domino) and find themselves unmarketable after spending 10 years in that industry. Even if you have a high-paying salary, don’t let the tech world pass you by. Be sure to be up on the latest technologies. And, if you can’t do that at your current position, maybe it’s time to move on.

The entire article is worth taking your time to read.

My funniest line

In 1993, I was in Grade 11 and a member of the Parktown Boys’ High School Public Speaking team. Our four members were as unlikely to be public speakers as you could find. Two were exceptional athletes in their respective disciplines, and stereotypically assumed to be intellectually dim (they weren’t), one was a class clown.

And then there was me, the autistic anti-athlete. During one physical education lesson at school, the teacher had yelled something about how his grandmother could run faster than me, and I’d shot back, “I’m not your grandmother”.

Our topic for one particular speech, in a competition between several schools, was “The Games People Play”.

It was particularly memorable because both my parents attended (my father died only a few months later).

During our rehearsal, our team had come up with a very similar topic, so our stress levels were low, we were in a good mood, and I believe we came second in the competition.

Just before my summation as the leader of the team, the class clown, André, handed back to me by saying “Randolph is what you’d get if Snow White slept with Dopey.”

Naturally this brought the house down, and I could see my parents laughing too. I remember finishing very lamely, and that was that.

After the event, people had congregated as they tend to do, and I noticed André talking to my parents. I also knew that they’d never met, and it was unlikely they had introduced themselves in the short while they’d been chatting.

I walked over, and the line came to me as I opened my mouth:

“Ah, André, I see you’ve met Snow White and Dopey.”

We Didn’t Start 2016

(With apologies to Billy Joel.)


Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, Arquette, Geordie Howe
George Michael, Nancy Reagan, Phife Dawg, Zydeco

Garry Shandling, Garry Marshall, Rob Ford, Ron Glass
David Bowie, John Glenn, Wilder, Castro

Prince Rogers Nelson, “Freaky” Leon Haywood
Zsa Zsa, Henderson, Ricky Harris, Harper Lee

David Smyrl, Caldwell, “Wizard of Woo” Worrell,
Green and White, Kimbo Slice, the great Muhammad Ali

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Books To Read This Winter

Warren Ellis (the British author, not the Australian musician, though both have immaculate beards) asked his friends to recommend one book to read this winter.

I recommend subscribing to his Orbital Operations weekly newsletter.

I asked a bunch of friends for the name of one book they planned to read this winter. I am delighted to be able to share their suggestions with you.

Ingrid Burrington, author of NETWORKS OF NEW YORKThe Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing (UK) (US)

Lucy Swope, GHOST COP: Jerusalem, Alan Moore

Chris DuFour, White Canvas Group: Twin Peaks: A Secret History, Mark Frost

Steve Prue, photographer: Necrophilia Variations, Supervert

John Rogers, writer/producer: I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong

Gideon Kiers, Sonic Acts: The Melancholy of Resistance, László Krasznahorkai

Elliot Blake, Amazon Studios: Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

Benjamin Percy, author: The Once and Future King, T.H. White

Damien Williams, writer and teacher: Magic In Islam, Michael Muhammad Knight

Klint Finley, writer and journalist: A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit

Jim Rossignol, videogame producer: Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane

Sean Bonner, Safecast: Everything Belongs To The Future, Laurie Penny

Kyoto Kitamura, vocalist and composer: Showa 1926-1939, Shigeru Mizuki

Justin Pickard, anthropologist: Iraq + 100, ed. Hassan Blasim

Robin Sloan, author & media inventor: Hild, Nicola Griffith

Anab Jain, Superflux: Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

Nalden, co-founder WeTransfer: Postcapitalism, Paul Mason

Chris DiBona, open source director at Google: Luftwaffe Over America, Manfred Griehl

Richard Kadrey, author: Gourmet Ghosts – Los Angeles, James T. Bartlett

Kio Stark, author of WHEN STRANGERS MEET: The Mushroom At The End Of The World, Anna Tsing

Ganzeer, artist and writer: Pictures At 11, Norman Spinrad

Johannes Kleske, Third Wave Berlin: Four Futures, Peter Frase

Arikia Millikan, writer/editor: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Georgina Voss, writer/researcher: The Democratic Surround, Fred Turner

Douglas Rushkoff, theorist & writer: The End of Time, Julian Barbour

Julian Simpson, writer/director: The Nightmare Stacks, Charles Stross

Dan Novy, MIT, Magic Leap, VFX artist: Jerusalem, Alan Moore

Patrick Pittman,writer/editor: This is the Place to Be, Lara Pawson

Kiyash Monsef, writer/director: Universal Harvester, John Darnielle

Jay Springett, artist/theorist: Ifá: A Forest of Mystery, Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

Paul Graham Raven,writer: Words Are My Matter, Ursula le Guin

Samuel de Goede, writer: Wild Irises

Deb Chachra, professor: Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene, Donna Haraway

Adam Rothstein, archivist, writer & artist: Great Tales of Jewish Fantasy and the Occult, edited and translated by Joachim Neugreoschel

Mikey Pryvt, writer: Star Ark, Rachel Armstrong

Louisa Heinrich, strategist: Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon

E Paul Zehr, professor and author: The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, Boris & Arkady Strugatsky

Corey White, author: Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny

Klint Finley, writer: A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit

Wayne Chambliss, strategist: Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams

Am I going to read all of the books on this list? Probably not. However, I’m sure you’ll find something to keep you warm.

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 Would You Do?

Many years ago, my family was on holiday at a cottage owned by an uncle. It was a seaside cottage, with no electricity. Light was provided by paraffin lamps, and cooking was done with bottled gas plugged into a gas oven.

One evening, my brother and I, both recovering from chicken pox, were comparing our shadow sizes in front of a paraffin lamp placed at our bedroom door. I was demonstrating, and he was fascinated by, how proximity to a light source could influence the size of a shadow on the wall.

For whatever reason, the lamp was knocked over and landed on the floor, and the glass, paraffin and flames spread quickly.

My father was there almost immediately, but as it all happened so fast, I noticed before he did that the base of the lamp was right next to the door of another bedroom, and the flames were already licking at the wood.

I pulled the lamp away from the door by its handle, taking care not to cut myself, and my mother appeared with a large blue blanket, which she used to smother the flames. It all must have taken less than a minute. There was yelling involved, obviously, but I do recall an exchange, though not word for word, between my father and I, explaining that I was trying to move the lamp to avoid burning the cottage down.

We were all terrified. Needless to say, I didn’t know how I would have reacted until the actual incident. For many years afterwards, I relived the moment where I saw the fire spread to that door. I still remember what I was thinking at the time: fire eats wood. I was ten, my brother was six, and my sister was two. My only thought was to get the fuel source away from the door. I didn’t even think about the consequences of burning my hand or getting cut by the broken glass.

Six years ago, shortly after moving to Canada, I watched and fell in love with a show on Discovery called Canada’s Worst Driver. In that show, a driving instructor called Philippe Létourneau demonstrated a defensive driving manoeuvre where if you are driving in icy conditions and you can’t stop in time, you can make a lane-change manoeuvre to drive around the obstacle, without applying brakes, which slows the vehicle enough so that the brakes work.

During an Edmonton blizzard, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t stop my vehicle in time. I called on that memory and was able to change lanes (blind spot, mirror, indicator) and bring the car to a stop, almost level with the car we almost hit. It took about four or five seconds for that entire manoeuvre.

Adrenaline makes you do interesting things. I’d love to hear your stories.

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.