My views on Arsenal comings and goings

(completely non-tech)

I've had quite a few people ask me my opinions on the Arsenal transfers this summer (well, winter here in Australia, but summer for Arsenal).

The big question of course is around Thierry Henry. Our champion who left for Barcelona this year. Personally, I think it was a year too late, but if he'd left a year ago, it might've been a year too soon. This past season for him was a major let-down, and I wonder if he will ever achieve the same kind of level as the past.

As for his 'replacement', Eduardo da Silva, I think he'll be a great asset. Wenger has been chasing a 'fox-in-the-box' for a long time, and having had no luck with his attempts to sign someone like this in the past (notably Franny Jeffers), I think this guy stands a great chance of being the player able to convert possession into goals.

Whilst he's not a new signing, I think this may be the season for Theo Walcott to shine. Our defence is looking good, and although I think we will still miss Lauren and Campbell, I think Sagna will be a useful addition. But our main problem this past season was in attack, and with da Silva, Walcott, and the return to fitness of Robin van Persie, things are looking up.

I'd still like to see some big names come to the club. I'm not sure Anelka is the right person, and I think Tevez or Torres would've been good if Wenger had pursued them. He knows the kind of person he's after though, and perhaps those players don't fit the profile.

On a different note, I do feel bad for Leeds United. They're a team with great history, and it seems they may end up falling apart completely. Let's hope they can be restored in time.

Code Camps galore

We all know that Adelaide hosted Code Camp SA recently – it was a great success, and some people even wished I was there!

TechEd is coming up of course, but now there are two code camps scheduled for October, on the same weekend (13-14) and at the same venue! Yes, that place is Wagga Wagga – one Wagga for each event.

Firstly, and most importantly I'm sure, is the second SQL Down Under Code Camp. But the other one is the Security Camp Oz. With me doing the SQL Security talk at TechEd this year, I'm sure I'll have a good reason to attend both!

Also in October, but the weekend before, and in the UK, the SQL community is hosting SQLBits. These guys have three streams (Dev, DBA, BI), and promises to be a fantastic event. I only wish I could be there. I'm sure Tony, Simon, Jamie, Jasper and Chris will do a fantastic job.

Seems wherever you are, October will be a big month for training.

TechEd slides uploaded

I should've posted that I was confirmed as a speaker at this year's TechEd Australia. It's in just over two weeks' time – August 7-10. Today I uploaded my slide deck, so that delegates may be able to download the slides before they come to the talk.

I'm doing the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Security Best Practices talk – code DAT308. It's on Thursday morning at 9:45. Much better than being on Friday morning, when everyone might be a little bleary-eyed after the party at Movie World.

I'm also going to be doing an Instructor-Led Lab, on Database Mirroring. I don't have a timetable for that yet, but if you're interested, then do come along.

Just bear in mind that TechEd Australia is completely sold out now, so if my presenting has persuaded you to come along, then I'm sorry – you're a bit too late. 😉

Pearson Vue no longer offering Microsoft exams

You can only book to do Microsoft certification exams through Pearson Vue until the end of August. From then on, you have to choose Prometric. More information can be read at Vue's website:

Personally, I find this a real shame. It's good for us candidates to have a choice. I've preferred Vue over Prometric in recent years, and it was Vue who provided exams at TechEd Australia. I don't know the reasons why Microsoft have taken this approach, but will post again once I have found out something (assuming the information I find out is public).

Adaptive exams need a larger pool of questions

(Still on the topic of having community-written exam questions, which results in a larger pool questions to use on each topic)

Every so often, I get asked about whether exams are adaptive. So, you get asked a question, and the next question is harder if you got it right, or easier if you got it wrong. Or maybe it asks you five questions at a particular level, and then five questions at the next level, until it works out what level you match best. Then you either pass or fail depending on what level you finish at. And by 'finish', this is just having the system determine "Yes, you're better than the passing grade", or "Sorry – you're not quite there." You might only be in there for 10 minutes, but if you did well, then you're given a pass as soon as you demonstrate that you really know your stuff. I guess this is explained better by Wikipedia.

The biggest problem with this approach is that you need a lot of questions. Suppose you have 6 ranks of question. You want quite a lot of questions. Especially since different people would rate questions in different ways. In 70-445, which covers SSIS, SSAS, SSRS and Data Mining, an expert in SSIS will find those questions easier. Having a larger pool of questions means that on average, you're going to be able to grade questions easier. If you put some 'easy' questions into a harder rank, that'll be compensated by the harder questions that put into the easy rank.

I like the idea of adaptive questioning. But I think it's really tough to do, and still works better when you're being assessed by a person, not a computer. If they could have way more exams (but smaller), with way more questions in each one, then they could have a 30-minute test to see if you knew your stuff. Even if it wasn't adaptive, this idea would work. But if you're trying to introduce something like adaptive, you need smaller areas of study. You can't just have a tiny exam on "Web Development", but you could possibly have one on XAML. You couldn't have "Implementing and Maintaining SQL Server", but you could have one on "High Availability in SQL Server".

Just food for thought of course… I discussed this type of thing with Howard earlier in the year too.

Blogs post times wrong

I've been posting using Windows Live Writer recently, but I just noticed that the times that I post are stored wrong. If you're not logged in, you'll see something similar to the time that I wrote the post, but it's the Australian time (ish). And if I'm logged on, when it's supposed to show the Australian time, it says that it's way in the future. I'm hoping this post (which I'm writing using the standard web interface to Community Server) will be better.

If anyone knows how to get it working properly, I'd love to hear it.

Edited: Not a problem with Live Writer. This post is mis-timed too.

Certification questions from the community

On a trip to Redmond earlier this year (when I was one of 6 people deciding on content for the 70-445 and 70-446 exams), I had the chance to meet Howard Dierking. Howard is the Product Planner for Developer and Database Certifications. It was great to meet him – he has a lot of enthusiasm for certifications, and really wants to do the best he can to make them right.

Anyway, during our conversation, we talked about the possibility of getting the community to write questions. In July last year I had spent two weeks writing the simulation questions for 70-431 (along with three other experts), and although I think generally we did well, and I get a lot of good feedback on them, I don't think that this is the best way of getting questions. Especially not multiple-choice questions.

The biggest problem I see with the Microsoft certifications is that they're not worth much. Too many people consider that MS certifications are pointless, and that people who know their trade actually tend to not be certified. Now, I don't think this is really the case, but certainly there's an argument for saying that the MS certs are too easy to get (compared to Oracle, Cisco, etc). Especially with brain-dumps out there to help people cheat.

Yes, cheat. Using brain-dumps is cheating. Since I wrote my earlier post about 70-431, I have had lots of people write to me asking for brain-dumps about the simulation questions. I tell them to use the product, to learn the skills, and to not cheat. Sometimes I offer to pass their details to Microsoft, but I know this is just a childish reaction. It just grates, because I want these certifications to be worth something.

So how to stop cheating? Well, one method is to increase the size of the pool of questions. Then people will have more trouble learning the cheat answers. But getting people to write questions is expensive for Microsoft. So how to address it? Well, one method is to get the community to write them. The community is very giving, and if you get a hundred people to donate a question each, you'll probably get 50 decent questions. If you can get them to write a handful each, then that's moving along nicely. You still have to put those questions through vetting processes, but that's much less expensive than getting them written in the first place.

I'm very pleased to see that Howard has been progressing this idea some more. If you're keen to help, then drop him a line (via his blog I guess).

And I encourage you to do this. If you have a Microsoft Certification, or are considering getting one, you should do what you can to make these certifications worth more. Making the exams harder, better, more relevant – that's achieved with having a larger pool of questions, written by experts like you.

Transformers movie – worth the rating?

My almost-ten-year-old son wants to see the new Transformers movie. It's rated M, which means that it's not recommended for kids under the age of fifteen. On that point alone, my answer is no. But I was curious about the movie – I remember the cartoon from twenty-something years ago, plus my kids have seen the cartoon themselves. So I went with my brother this week. Before the US release, too. Lucky Australia.

Like most movies of TV shows, they seem to want to put the whole plot (or in this case, war) into a single movie. That frustrates me a little, but it doesn't spoil the movie. On the whole, the movie is great for the giant-robots-fighting-each-other genre. There's plenty of action, particularly towards the end of the movie, and although it's predictable at times, that's not why you go to see it.

It doesn't feel as violent as it is, because they're robots fighting, not people. Sure, there are buses that get wrecked, things like that… but it doesn't feel any different to the Superman movies of the 80s. There is no bad language (that I can remember), and although there are references to sex, it's not a major factor. It's not a kids' movie though, and my son won't be seeing it for a while yet. In the UK it's rated 12A, and PG-13 in the USA, but in Australia M is as close as it gets. 12A or PG-13 seems to be the right kind of level for it.

How to find TechEd Australia 2007 in a search tool

This is just hilarious, but kinda sad for Microsoft.

I was in a class, and asked who amongst the students were going to TechEd this year. I had a couple of strange looks, so I pulled up Internet Explorer and went to search for the event site. Knowing that searching tends to be the best way of finding sites like this, I went to and entered teched australia. No such luck. So then I tried the competitor search company, that term that is in the dictionary but I imagine Microsoft employees are discouraged from using to mean 'internet search'. You know the one. If you don't, then just look at the links below.

Try these two links. Today, one is vastly more useful for finding the site that I'm after. I imagine that this will change, and I think the fact that the Australian company Teched appears at the top of the results is perhaps a nice reflection of the fact that MS clearly don't use to advertise their own sites. Just a shame that's first mention of the TechEd Conference on the site is actually to, even though this seems to redirect to this year's site. is the site if you're actually trying to find it – but also check out the discussion about the flairs this  year. I think if people start to make pictures that use finger gestures, it could quickly get "out of hand", but let's see what happens. I'd love to see Microsoft give out Finger Brushes to delegates, just to see how much mess people can make of the Gold Coast. After all, Painting Has Never Been So Fun!

Darren Gosbell in Adelaide on July 12th

What a great week for Adelaide having Australian SQL MVPs presenting! Code Camp SA on the weekend of July 7th and 8th features the Gregs (Linwood and Low), and BI expert Darren Gosbell will be coming to speak to the Adelaide SQL Server User Group the following Thursday. He'll be presenting about MDX, which is a topic that a few people have asked about in recent months. It should be great, and I only wish I could be there myself. I will put the event on the website just as soon as I have an abstract from him. Many thanks to his employer, James and Monroe, for sending him across for this.

If you're reading this and wondering how to find out more, go to the site, register, and say you're from Adelaide. Then you'll be on my mailing list and will find out all about our upcoming events. Our meetings are on the second Thursday of the month (although in August we'll pick a different day, that doesn't clash with TechEd), in the building that used to be called the Santos Building.