Rob Farley

Rob Rob Farley has been consulting in IT since completing a Computer Science degree with first class honours in 1997. Before moving to Adelaide, he worked in consultancies in Melbourne and London. He runs the development department in one of Australia's leading IT firms, as well as doing database application consultancy and training. He heads up the Adelaide SQL Server User Group, and holds several Microsoft certifications.

Rob has been involved with Microsoft technologies for most of his career, but has also done significant work with Oracle and Unix systems. His preferred database is SQL Server and his preferred language is C#. Recently he has been involved with Microsoft Learning in the US, creating and reviewing new content for the next generation of Microsoft exams.

Over the years, Rob's clients have included BP Oil, OneLink Transit, Accenture, Avanade, Australian Electorial Commission, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Royal Borough of Kingston, Help The Aged, Unisys, Department of Treasury and Finance (Vic), National Mutual, the Bible Society and others.

Did you mean to come here? My blog is now at

29 September 2005

Vista Beta2 and writing letters

In my last post I talked about a new feature that I suggested for Vista. Turns out that it's already in Beta2. So I guess my thought wasn't particularly original (I'm sure that's a good thing) - but it's still nice to feel like there are good ways of making suggestions.

Feeling inspired yesterday, I wrote a letter to David Dein, the Vice-Chairman of Arsenal (and really, the guy who runs the club). He's also on the board of The Football Association and is on a UEFA committee. So he's pretty influential. Did I mention I went to school with his son Darren? I can't say Darren and I were good friends, but we were in the same year.

My letter was about the issue of salary caps. I don't think salary caps are generally a good thing, but I think there are things that can be introduced that have a similar effect. So I wrote to David Dein about it. I had to guess email addresses, and cc'd it to a general address. Overnight I got a reply saying "Your message has been passed to Mr Dein's office." - so I guess there's a chance he'll read it.

Who knows? Perhaps one day people will be using a "Farley Salary Cap" system around the world, and I'll be as infamous in the football world as Bosman.

28 September 2005

VP responsiveness

One of the things I really like about the community aspect of Microsoft is that it's given hooks a long way into Microsoft.

For example... some of you might've watched the video from Channel 9 featuring Chris Jones. Chris Jones is a corporate vice-president. He's in the Executives list. But in the video, he said something like "If you have any feedback about Vista, then drop me a line..." So I did. I said there should be a really obvious way of activating Vista (proactively, rather than just reacting to a popup in the taskbar), and a really obvious way of telling if Vista has been activated (like in the "Registered to:" section of System Properties).

And he got back to me within a day, and now we've exchanged a couple of emails about it, and he's suggested a new feature to one of the guys in his team.

I'm sure that a couple of years ago, this wouldn't've been nearly so possible. I'm not on any beta-testing list or anything - it was just that I had watched a video (well, had it on in the background while I was doing other stuff), and decided that I should give a bit of feedback. I could've gone hunting for an official beta-feedback address - but this was easy. Chris could've just pointed me at an address, or could've just ignored me. But he didn't. I like that. :)

Tabbed Messages

MsgPlus 3.60 is out today, so now I'm using MSN Messenger tabbed, as well as browsing tabbed. Not sure if I'll keep using it yet, but I'm guessing I probably will. It's nice to be able to have them all together, to Ctrl-Tab between conversations, that type of thing. And I can always ungroup particular conversations when I want to.

I don't always grab add-ins, but this is one that I do like. I just need to remember not to install the sponsor whenever I update it. ;)

26 September 2005

Channel Hoff guy

The other night I felt like wasting some time. So I did. Channel Hoff guy

Microsoft Learning Cap

I got my cap today. It's not a bad cap. It's denim, and has a proper buckle on the back. But it says 'Certified Rock Star' on the front. If it had said 'Certified - well, certifiable at least' on it, then I might wear it.

My kids will appreciate it. Thanks Andrew!
the cap


19200x2400 is probably overkill. But doesn't it look nice!

I suppose if you have to monitor some feeds, want to have various things running in the background, that kind of thing... Is this the future? I suppose it would be neat for playing games on that could support that kind of resolution. Car games where you could physically turn your head to look out the side windows for example. What's next? Screens that you surround yourself in for flight-simulators, and a USB swivel chair, so that you can turn around properly?

24 September 2005

Re-installing Vista

Today I'm finding that I need to re-install Vista on VirtualPC. Being busy over the last few weeks, I hadn't got around to activating it (I generally prefer to run VPC without networking unless I have a really good reason), and it had gone past the activation period to the point that I couldn't do anything on it at all. :( So now I'm re-installing it. I'm fine about blowing away the stuff I'd done, but it's a shame to have to reinstall the thing.

This time I'm going to activate it straight away. I don't want to have to go through all this again.

Also, I want to play with Atlas, but I've heard that it doesn't work properly with VS2005 RC1. So I guess I'm putting Beta2 back on. I guess that's not the worst thing in the world, but I really would've preferred to be using RC1.

Joel's had the week off because he's been sore still. He'll be back at school on Monday.

18 September 2005

Back home tomorrow

I'm at home tonight. Joel comes home tomorrow, assuming things are okay in the morning. He's fine now. Almost no more pain, almost no more swelling, almost no more redness. Almost no more colour-loss in Dad's hair.

For those of you who have asked - he had an idiopathic oedema. Which basically means that he had a swelling of fluid that they couldn't put down to a particular cause (idiopaths!). We put it down to a fall he had on Friday morning during PE, because he was normal in the morning, and got sore after his fall. Roslyn and I were out for the evening (to celebrate her birthday), so her mum picked the boys up from school. She took him to hospital in the evening (phone-call one - the 'probably nothing' one), and then to the children's hospital at about 1:30am, which is when we got phone-call two - the 'probably something' one. Not the kind of phone-calls a grandmother wants to make, nor the kind that you want to get. I often wonder how on earth my grandparents took the news about my dad dying. Not something I ever want to go through.

It's good to be home. I wish Joel was here though. Roslyn's staying at the hospital tonight, after I did last night and Friday night. Tomorrow is Roslyn's birthday, so it'll be a weird day. I'm exhausted. I have a list of things to do before turning in tonight, including getting a bunch of stuff sorted so that Samuel and I can leave for school really early so that we can drop by the hospital en route and give Roslyn her gifts and cards. I'm only on-line because I can't really turn my head off properly.

It's only just after a year since Samuel (8 now) was in the same ward in the same hospital with Kawasaki's Disease. It took several days from when he went in until they figured out what it was, and just how serious an effect it could have had. Even now he's still on aspirin every day, and it has really affected all of us a lot. I guess on Friday night when we were at the hospital with Joel having an ultrasound to try to work out what was wrong with him, a lot of stuff started going on around my head, which should slow down at some point. Distraction is a good thing. I don't enjoy hospitals, particularly children's ones. I'm so tired. And Roslyn probably won't enjoy her birthday as much as I'd like her to. Sleep is in order, but it's very hard to relax, even after something like this is over. Relief is good, but it still doesn't allow for much sleep.

Oh yeah - it's also "Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day" tomorrow. Aaarrr. Poor Roslyn, it's an annual thing.

17 September 2005

No control

I like to feel that I have at least some degree of control in every situation, but I guess I'm not realistic in this hope.

At work I tend to have control over what?s going on. If a client springs some new requirement, I can deal with that, and although I might be put out, I can maintain control, scheduling it when it suits my other priorities for example.

But this morning I find myself at the Women's and Children's Hospital. Overnight our youngest, Joel (5), had to come in here, and I have no control over the situation at all. It's just over a year since our oldest spent over a week in the same ward as I'm in now. He had Kawasaki's Disease, and will be taking aspirin every day at least until February. This place doesn't do it for me. I don't want my kids to ever have to be in hospital.

I didn't get much sleep. I was on stay-over duty. I wouldn't've slept at home either, mind you. But Joel managed to get about 3 hours or so, which is better than nothing.

I don't know when this post will get to the blog, I don't have connectivity from here. In the meantime, please pray for Joel, and for the rest of us too.

14 September 2005

Approaching Nov7

November 7th is my birthday (I'll be 31 this year). And I'm convinced that Microsoft took this into account when they decided on this date for releasing SQL2005 and VS2005.

Of course it'll be Nov8 here in Australia before Redmond has woken up, but perhaps that's them being nice, and letting Australians get through their Monday before causing hysteria as we all download the final versions.

With PDC on in LA this week, the release candidates of these tools have been made available, and most importantly, stuff written against these release candidates WILL WORK (or at least, will be easily migrated) to the final version. This is a big deal. I'm 30 for another six weeks or so. And now, I'm really hoping that I can get the chance to put proper code into place on these new systems, confident that I can have that code work on the final versions. That's nice.

Now I just need that time thing.

So much new stuff!!!

I guess we should've all expected it with PDC on this week.

There is just so much going on! Atlas seems really cool - dying to play with that one... Virtual Earth is now available commercially. The VB future site is up and got heaps of new info to read (I prefer C#, but I appreciate both). Release candidates of the 2005 versions of SQL & VS are out for MSDN subscribers.

...I just need time to play with them all. And time's something I don't have. :(

13 September 2005

Community mentoring

David Lemphers has posted to his blog an article about community. He says the best thing he can do to help community is to facilitate it, not drive it. I happen to agree, although I think there's a little more.

Community is run by people. No-one denies that. Having a website that helps the communities share knowledge, meet each other, advertise events, all that jazz - it's great, but you still need champions of the cause. If Dave were to produce a fantastic site and then just disappear, then I doubt the thing would really take off. But if Dave becomes a champion, mentoring people into a community-mindset, then there's a good chance the thing can fly.

Conversely, there are probably a bunch of people out there who already think community is where it's at. I'm probably one of those people. But still those people need empowering. They need encouragement. They need mentors. People like Dave (who are paid to help the community) can find these people (and others), and work with them to help them achieve the goals they all have in mind.

Dave Lemphers as a mentor... is that a scary thought, or what? ;)

09 September 2005

Itzik Ben-Gan

This morning on my way in I started listening to Greg Low's sixth SQL DownUnder podcast. It's an interview with Itzik Ben-Gan. He talks about T-SQL enhancements in SQL 2005, and what excites him about it. I like this guy! I haven't come across him very much, but I do like his thinking.

For example, he talks about using an auxiliary table of numbers, for use in a number of different type of queries. This is something I've done for years - I think as long as I've used databases. It was something I remember looking for in both SQL and Oracle. In Oracle I could use the RowNumber feature to be able to get around it in some cases, but SQL really didn't have an equivalent. Since then, I've tended to create a table called 'nums' in almost every database I've used. It's just SO useful.

I thought it was really interesting to find that Itzik had a Pure Maths background, and that he found an immediate appreciation for the SQL language. I was the same. I did a half-major in Pure Maths at uni, and I even skipped the database subject in my CompSci major. Everyone always said it was easy marks, and I really wasn't interested in that.

With a job offer coming part way through my honours year, I left uni and got into the real world. Immediately, I was faced with databases, and had to learn SQL. It made sense to me straight away. Since then, I've enjoyed using SQL, finding better ways to do things in it, and ways to do better things. I treat it as a puzzle solver (like Itzik does), and I often have problems that are particularly suited to a database approach, rather than using an interative language. I'm the same with Prolog - a language which is great for solving particular types of problems.

I'm not sure if I'll get around to picking up any of Itzik's books, but I will put them on my list of 'books I'm planning to read'. And hopefully he'll come to Adelaide one day, instead of only doing the east coast!!!

08 September 2005

Bad day that should improve

Any day which starts with the news that England has lost 1-0 to Northern Ireland can't be that great.

On top of that, work seems to be getting remarkably busier than normal. I knew the todo list for my team for September was quite long, but it seems like things are conspiring against me to make the list even longer and put obstacles in the way of shortening it. Don't get me wrong - I like being busy. But I also like to be able to keep my clients happy. Typically they can all handle "You've picked the wrong week to ask for something new..." because they know me and understand that I will work hard to get everything sorted as early as I can. But I find it frustrating when I'm limited by the number of hours in a day to get everything done.

I'm off home now, and I'll try to catch a bit of the cricket. I'd happily tune in to see that rain has delayed the start - but I would also love to see England beat Australia for the first time since I was a kid.

07 September 2005


One of the RSS feeds I subscribe to is the Daily Manna - a bit of the Bible every day. It's nice to have the decision about what to read from the Bible taken out of my hands, I hate thinking about what to read when I pull out the Book.

Today's verses were from Genesis. Chapter 12 if you're that interested. It was where God said to Abraham that He (God) would bless those who bless him (Abraham). I love this promise. It's an invitation to show everyone kindness, to do your best for everyone, to throw yourself into helping people. That's great! And it comes straight after another fantastic promise - that He would make Abraham's name great. He says (paraphrased) "Get out of your comfort zone, go and do something new, and I will give you success in it." I want that in my life. I'm not interested in having a comfort zone, I want to be on the edge, doing things that are new to me, and blessing others through it.

For those of you who don't believe in God (well, you probably haven't read this far down), you'd be wondering how this affects you. Well, you could just say "Cool - I can ask Rob for help with stuff", but my challenge to you is to try thinking about what your take is on the topic, Maybe you believe in karma or something like that. Maybe you think I'm a mug! Who knows? But next time you have the chance to bless someone, give it a go. Maybe God will notice and bless you for it.

You could win from here!

"You could win from here" was an expression that I became known for around the pool table I mentioned in my last post.

Typically, I'd be playing someone, or maybe talking to someone who was playing, and one of the players was losing badly. Maybe 5 or 6 balls left on the table (8-ball, by the way, not 9-ball), compared to their opponents 1 or 2. Their turn would start, and they would start looking around the table, hoping to find a way back into the game.

I would look at the table, and often say "You know... you could win from here." Typically they wouldn't believe me, but I would follow it up with "Pot this one, then take that one, with the white ending up around here. Then put that one into the corner..." you get the gist. Just occasionally, they'd believe me, and sometimes even pull it off. But my point didn't change. The fact was - the odds might've been against them, but they could still achieve success from where they were.

No situation is hopeless. Your project might be seriously late. Your team might be inadequate for the task. Your client might be turning the screws. But success is never out of reach. Things can always be turned around for the best. We don't always feel like things are that way, and at times like that, I appreciate people like Stu telling me that I could win from here. And it's not even a question of having to define 'win' to something that's achievable. 'Winning' is a state of mind. You need to expect to come out of your situation in 1st place. Not beating everyone else, but satisfied that you won.

Ugh - I feel like I'm philosophizing... but at least it explains why I've called my blog "You could win from here"

Getting the honest answer

A few years ago I worked in London. After I'd worked there a few months, the company bought a pool table. I don't really remember the reason for it - it was just something they did. It was the kind of thing that would've been more commonplace in 1998 than in early 2001, but either way, I didn't mind.

It took 20p pieces (small seven-sided coins for those people unfamiliar with English money), and it was in use more often than not. In a company of 3 people, that's not bad. Haha. Only joking. There were 30-40 of us working there. I was a Project Manager then, so you can imagine my concerns about how having a pool table in the office would be recorded in the risk logs of my projects, and about how I should adjust my project plans accordingly. However, to this day I like to keep a 20p coin in my pocket, and I really miss those days for various reasons.

As a Project Manager, the main thing you need to know from your people is how the project is actually going. If you can apply eXtreme Programming (quick shout-out to Dr Neil!), then great. In that case, you probably have each item in your project plan broken down into tiny tiny pieces, such that your project plan is actually quite accurate. But I wasn't doing that in those days. Don't get me wrong - my project plan was quite well broken down, but either way, I wanted to talk to my team and find out what their concerns were.

Talking to developers at their desk never works, in my opinion. You're distracting them from their task. They feel distracted. They want to give you their time, but they feel compelled to get on with their work. They can't get past looking at that line of code they're half way through, or that form they're designing. So having a pool table in the office was a fantastic opportunity. You could walk up, put 20p next to them, and within 5 minutes, you'd have them away from their desk, without them feeling like they needed to be finishing off their current task. Of course, sometimes they would say "Don't have time, Rob" - in which case I would either decide to postpone it or insist - but on the whole, it had the desired effect.

Once away from their computer, they would be more relaxed, and feel more comfortable talking about what was going on. I took the role of ally, of friend, of brother-in-arms. As we put down our mice and keyboards and picked up the pool cues, it made us equals for a while. They could beat me (occasionally) on the pool table, and that helped too. And I could find out what was bothering them, and take appropriate steps to help resolve that. It showed that I cared (I really did - I'm not just saying that), and the fact that they knew that helped deliver the project on time. Taking 20 minutes out for a game of pool was a great way of having a meeting with them. And for the benefit of the project, it really helped a lot.

I still talk to some of those guys on Msgr. I've lived in Adelaide for over three years, and most of those guys don't work at the same place either. But the relationships were forged there, and we made a good team.

06 September 2005

WiFi connections

At TechEd, the wireless connectivity wasn't great. Maybe they needed this:

PDF books

More and more I'm finding that it's good to read books on my PDA. My PDA is also my phone, so it doesn't tend to leave my side. It has wireless too, which means that it syncs really easily when I'm at work, or some other hotspot. So it's great for downloading RSS feeds, podcasts, that type of thing. I have a 1GB SD Card in it, so storage isn't a problem. Nowadays when I'm by myself in the car, I'm listening to podcasts instead of the radio, and at other times, I can check out media-casts that have downloaded, or read some PDF that I have.

Recently when I had registered to do a couple of exams at TechEd, I bought a couple of exam prep books, and was pleased to see they had PDF versions on an accompanying CD. So I put them on my PDA, and found that it was really handy. Certainly better than lugging around a massive great text book with me. So next time I want to get a book (maybe Jesper's book on security) - I'll be hunting around for a way to get hold of a PDF of it.

Dr Neil was telling me that there's a publisher who creates personalised PDFs for you when you buy a book through them. It puts your name in the PDF, so that they can tell if you make it available to other people. I think this is a neat idea. It makes the publishing costs really small. Shipping becomes free. And yet there is still no real worry about the publisher being ripped off by having the electronic version file-shared around the world. Now, if only I could get a bunch of non-technical books too...

Oh yeah - my phone is the O2 XDA IIs, for anyone that's interested. It's a good phone, although I would've traded it for the IIi if it had've been available at the time. The IIi basically trades the built-in keyboard for a better camera. I don't use the keyboard, so it's probably a trade I would've made.

05 September 2005

MCSD.Net at TechEd

A short while before TechEd, Andrew Coates wrote on his blog that people could do free Microsoft exams at TechEd. I did my first MS exam in 1998, getting my MCSD under the old Architecture I and II exams. I upgraded to the VB6 exams as the other ones deprecated, but hadn't taken the .Net exams yet. Just hadn't put the priority on it that I had done in the past. Perhaps it would be different if the VB6 ones had deprecated too, but they haven't, so I hadn't taken any of the new exams yet.

But I had thought I should get around to it, and had even bought a couple of exam prep books. So I registered to do one at TechEd, and then registered to do the second one too. Stupid really. Just made me stress a bit, remembering how I always went into uni exams feeling under-prepared, and had typically felt the same about MS exams. I figured they were free, and it wouldn't matter if I failed - but I don't do failure, and I did stress a bit.

I read through the two books once each by the time TechEd came round. It just reminded me that I tend to rely on documentation for knowing the details of how to do lots of things. The principles are there, but when I go to write the code, I'll look it up, use Intellisense, that type of thing. I'm sure this is what most people do, but it doesn't help pass an MCSD.Net exam.

The first exam was 70-320 - XML in C#. I passed in about half the time. So I asked about doing the other exam right away. Not because I felt I was ready (I didn't), but because there was an offer to resit any exams done in August for free during September. It was Aug 31st, so I just planned to get a month study time. But I passed that too! And still before the scheduled end of the first exam! I was now MCAD. I asked about trying the other two exams during TechEd too, and they said ok. One during my other scheduled time, and one on stand-by. I had no study material for them, so I was a little stressed (Roslyn tells me I was very stressed), but I just thought maybe I could get one of them passed and behind me.

So anyway, I'm now MCSD.Net, and didn't use that stand-by time. I think the exams are less pedantic than they were in the 90s, which I guess is why I managed to pass them without doing Transcender exams and reading lots. If you're in the .Net space then you're doing this type of thing often enough so that you probably know enough to pass the exams - so don't worry about maybe failing them. Buy a book. Do a sample exam. But even if you can't do these things - just try the exams. And if you see them offered for free, then jump at the chance. And I'm including you in this, Alastair!

The value of TechEd

I really enjoyed TechEd. I met a bunch of people, I caught up with people I don't get to see very often, I became MCSD.Net, and I learned some stuff too!

I went to TechEd 99 in Brisbane - felt like I left there knowing a lot more about lots of technical stuff. This time, I went wondering what I would learn, because these days I go to user groups more, read articles a lot more, and test beta software more. So looking at the agenda, I wondered what I would learn. I was pleased to find that I did come away having learned stuff - I'll be downloading all the slides soon. But the real value will come out of the conversations I had. The time spent with Phil and Lorraine, Alastair, Nick and Meg, with Greg, Geoff, Michael, Mick and Cam, Wayne, David, Chuck, David, Andrew, David, Frank, Dave, Steve, Peter, Milton, Brendan, Alan, Julian, Cheryl, John, Athena, and the other people I haven't listed here - lots of them. All with different perspectives on the world of course, and all of whom I could learn something from and hopefully teach something to. I probably told most of them the same jokes - and they probably all smiled politely. But hopefully I'll get them on my Msgr lists, catch up with them online now and then, and keep swapping knowledge, ideas, and passion. I'm definitely better off this year. Last time I left knowing more information. This time I left knowing more people.

Blogs and podcasts

Last time I wrote here was back in June. That's forever in blogging terms. But since then I've formed a different opinion about blogging and podcasting.

I've been doing my Aussenal podcast ( for a while now - I figured that it was quite easy to put together an audio blog, particularly about something I can rabbit on about like football - especially Arsenal. But my opinion on that has changed too! I still think it's worth doing, but now I'm wondering if I should make the time to do it better. I spent a bit of time with Mick Stanic and Cam Reilly last week at TechEd. Great guys (let's not talk about Cam's thoughts on creation/evolution) - they run, and they're trying to put together a site of quality podcasts, rather than the directory concept taken by iTunes, podcastalley and others. They're looking for someone to do a soccer show for them, and I'm tempted to put my hand up for it if I can find the time. Could be a lot of fun.

But the thing about blogging and podcasting comes down to this: podcasting can be an audio blog - great if don't have the time to write - but to be decent, it should be better. But blogging is about putting your thoughts out there. I wanted to have a blog that didn't get distracted by drivel, but it meant I just stopped writing. Now, I want to write more often. That way people can get to know me better and they might decide they are interested in more than just the technical side of my blog. I plan to do an occasional audio blog, but I'll see...

Thanks to the guys at TechEd that opened my eyes to the idea of blogging to gain a bit more of an online identity... Frank Arrigo, Phil Beadle, the Daves, and others. Over the next few days I'll post some more about what went on at TechEd on the Gold Coast. Plenty to say, so watch this space.