DIY Deep Fakes: an alternative point of view

I wanted to offer some alternative thoughts on the presentation entitled ‘DIY Deep Fakes‘ with the subtitle ‘Why Deep Fakes are dangerous, and how to make them‘. I don’t represent the Microsoft MVP Program, any other Microsoft program, or Microsoft. The backstory is that the presenter, James Ashley, was an MVP for ten or so years, and he was removed from the Program as per his blog post here. I have not met James although I’m a Microsoft MVP, holding the Award for 8 years.

The title of the presentation is DIY Deep Fakes. Straight away, that’s a call to action: literally, ‘do it yourself’. The first part of the presentation, James rightly points out that there are bad aspects to deep fakes, specifically, political objectives and pornography. Then, James walks you through the technology on making deepfakes, as per the subtitle. From the 37th minute to the end, the recommendation comes to try FakeApps with your browser in ‘incognito’ mode, antivirus on, and machine not connected to the network. For the record, I am absolutely NOT recommending that you create deepfakes. If you want to learn about AI, there are plenty of other fun, safe ways.

Let’s look past the presentation for a moment, and consider the consequences.  It’s not a huge jump to imagine that someone watching that would think, hey, why don’t I try that thing that the MVP did by myself? And before you know it, they’ve created a deepfake porn video, using Microsoft technologies, inspired by a Microsoft MVP, a well-respected community leader. Personally, I don’t believe that Microsoft would want that. The consequences could be tragic. In the video, James specifically calls out some of the virtual machines on Azure, from 33 minutes in the video for this purpose.

What could the presentation have achieved instead? The presentation could have shown more clearly how to identify a deepfake, how to report it if it is hurtful, and how to technically distinguish a truth from a lie. The presentation could have used the time and communication opportunity to do something to help combat this pernicious misuse of technology, and do good something really positive for community health, diversity and inclusion. I would like to have seen MVPs inspire a culture of positivity by clarifying how to catch deepfakes, and speak out forcefully. Instead, we get a presentation from an MVP about how we can make our own deepfakes and your title is literally a Call to Action on making deepfakes: Do It Yourself.

I don’t know the situation about James being removed from the MVP Program, or what happened, and all I have to go on is the presentation that James has tweeted, and James’ blog here. And, having reviewed both, that’s all I have to go on, and, quite frankly, I have no idea why this presentation was never questioned by anyone. Why not go for the technical and social challenge of preventing them in the first place? I’m all for open debates, but the presentation circumvents the debates by showing people how to create them; foregone conclusion.

James is right on one thing; anything along the lines of revenge porn, porn without the consent of the participants, porn created to hurt people, deepfakes etc etc are absolutely painful. When I was at university, one of my classmates photoshopped my face into the body of a porn actress, and printed out tons of copies and put them on the university dorms and they refused to take them down. Twenty years later, I still cringe when I think about it. I only found out about it because the male students all sniggered when I went past and eventually one of my friends told me, and I went to visit one of the rooms and there ‘I’ was – up on the wall. It was beyond horrifying. When I close my eyes, I can still see the picture. And that was just a picture. An actual movie would be much, much worse, and why oh why would that be given airtime? Why should I have to sit in conferences where someone is literally showing how to create deepfakes?

On a separate note, I have written about my own MeToo experience here and other places (it carries a trigger warning) and how the technical community participation has helped me in my healing process. I’d have loved it if my fellow MVPs would show support by helping to stop the problem, which is an interesting and technically complex challenge. I’d want to feel that the MVPs are on my side, as a fellow MVP and MeToo survivor/campaigner, and leading the community away to calling out deepfakes.

If you James or anyone else does respond, I hope that you’ll consider wisdom and good judgement in making a considered response. To quote Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

My wisdom is hard won, and I hope that this perspective will be considered along with all of the heat that seems to be happening. It seems as if the argument has got down into the weeds of simply apologizing to anyone who has seen the video, or attended the presentation at Summit, and who was upset by it. I have to say, the argument does not consider the impact of our voices as MVPs and as a community leader. Our voice carry as an MVP and I suspect many people would be horrified if someone made a deepfake porn as a result of this session. I’m not sure that this consequence was ever considered.

I don’t want to have to attend conferences where a well-respected speaker is showing audience members how to make deepfakes. They can get that information from anywhere on the Internet, sure, but the problem is, as a community leader (MVP or whatever) we set direction and tone. MVPs can help move the needle, and I’d have liked MVPs to be the people who speaks out forcefully and with conviction about the pernicious misuse of this technology, and helps move the needle for good. It’s not about creating them as a beautifully technical experiment, it’s about stopping the hurt that they can cause.

I hope that people in the technical community will consider the consequences of the DIY – literally, Do It Yourself – talk because the consequences go far greater than just potentially upsetting one of the immediate attendees. It’s the principle and the spirit that’s wrong. I don’t speak for MIcrosoft, the MVP Program or anyone else; this is my thoughts. For me, MVPs are given a great platform and opportunity to do something really great. Stopping deepfakes is hard, and perhaps the session should have been about that instead; still a great technical session, but one that really sets the tone as a great example of community leadership.

People have to think ethically and carefully about technology and it’s use and misuse, and who can get hurt, and how it could be stopped. I don’t think it’s right that we see lots of deepfakes inspired by MVPs. I think we need to strive to show wisdom and judgement as the leaders that the MVP Program recognizes us to be.





Let my People go Surfing: Book Review

22155I wanted to share my review of Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. It’s an excellent and sobering book which is fundamentally about responsibility, integrity, honesty authenticity and vision in leadership and business. Read it, and you’ll change your mind about sustainability and how it should not be a ‘nice to have’ but an essential facet of every business. It is so important to behave ethically and consider the triple bottom line – the profit, planet and people – that makes up a business, and puts ethics at the front-and-centre of every business and every leader.

Let My People Go Surfing is an incredibly visionary book, and it led me to think about living and running a business more sustainably. It is a blueprint for running a business in a world that has more knowledge but less judgement, more degrees and ‘experts’ but less purpose.

Every business owner should read this book, and work towards a sustainable environment through business. Following the disastrous practices of the banking community in the past few decades, MBA courses are sensitive to the ethical and environmental aspects of business and I’m glad I’m progressing through my MBA since it has given me the opportunity to learn about sutainability and how I can do my little bit through my own little business.

Read it, and change your mind about leadership and business. The insights from this book has informed my thinking and I’m glad I read it. I’ll go back to it in the future, I’m sure.

Marketing as a strategic business partner: mixing theory, research and #data

Marketing is viewed as a key strategic participant in achieving the goals of businesses, both large and small. I thought I’d share how we started to apply marketing theory, practice, and insights from data. There are tons of ‘skate on the surface’ marketing soundbite books, which may sound good at the first glance with no depth. But it’s quite a different thing to work at it so you really know it, practice it, and can share it with other people so it is authentic. It’s about focusing on the real, not the soundbite. Real never goes out of fashion.

Research evidence has shown that consumers interact with advertising in complex ways, especially since we have such short attention spans (Weilbacher, 2003). How do organizations know which way their decisions should land? After all, the Internet can break a business very quickly! So, organizations need a cohesive strategy which aligns all methods of communication to ensure consistency (Porter, 2001).

The overall company vision can be conveyed through the brand, which is shorthand for the company vision. The brand to communicate and distinguish an organization from other organizations. Brands can be viewed as a collective of perceptions that exist in the mind of the consumer, and the process of distinguishing and identifying products is known as branding (Doyle, 1999; cited in Baker, 1999).  Even in the industrial sector, where decisions are made by technical team members, brands can acquire confidence through familiarity (Levitt and Levitt, 1986).

Building a brand involves four key concepts: quality, service, innovation and differentiation (Doyle, 1999). Brands can also migrate from mature technologies to encompass new technology (Doyle, 1989). For example, over at Data Relish, we mix mature Business Intelligence technologies with new and upcoming technology, Artificial Intelligence is enjoying rapid growth (Xiong, 2019).

How can you tell what’s working for your organization? Particularly in the current economic climate and Brexit-dominated climate, it is important to identify the most targeted opportunities to maximise growth opportunities. It’s also important to collect customer feedback and references, which can be incredibly enlightening and occasionally even heartwarming! So what’s the secret?

  • The secret is the data. For example, at Data Relish, we have conducted some analyses in order to look at targeting and positioning better. It’s like having an arrow, and the segmentation is equivalent to pulling the arrow back so it gives you more power to go further.
  • It’s great to be insight-driven, but it’s also good to be data-driven and evaluate what the data actually says. It’s a balance.
  • Also, have good tools.

To do this, we used Power BI to examine the data from source systems such as HubSpot, FreeAgent and Insightly to understand better what was working from the marketing perspective. We also send the results to an independent marketing consultant for the purposes of replication and verification.

Obviously I’m not sharing the findings here, but it is safe to say that the results were enlightening. The UK Government estimates that AI could add an additional USD $814 billion (£630bn) to the UK economy by 2035, increasing the annual growth rate of GVA from 2.5 to 3.9% (UK Government, 2017). By asserting experience as well as expertise, one thing that was working was that we were viewed as ‘trusted advisors’ in AI, helping to lead organizations at success by working with the C-suite to make the data work, and work hard to add business value. It became clear that we were perceived as a proven safe trusted advisor with experience in what’s perceived as a ‘young’ field, and this is a key differentiator which is proving invaluable in gaining clients in a variety of sectors. It seems that everyone is an expert in AI these days! But we could actually show it.

So, we made efforts to have real chops and apply our research and findings to our own organization, and to really analyze the data, and to apply marketing theory and practice to improving , informed by the academic literature. Data can help us to understand the research to explore and elicit reasons for avoidance of brands (Lee et al., 2009).

I’ll blog more on the journey with marketing with Power BI, HubSpot, FreeAgent and so on, but the main takeaway here is that you always learn something by having a fresh look at the data. Additionally, it’s important to get the results independently verified. If you need a hand with these concepts, don’t hesitate to get in touch over at Data Relish.


Doyle, P. 1999, ‘Branding’ in Baker, M (ed.) The Marketing Book.; 4th ed, Chartered Institute of Marketing., Oxford, UK.

Doyle, P. 1989, Building successful brands: The strategic options. Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 77-95.

Levitt, T. & Levitt, I.M. 1986, Marketing Imagination. Simon and Schuster.

Porter, M.E. 2001, Strategy and the Internet. Harvard business Review, (2001): 63-78.

Porter, M.E., 2008. The five competitive forces that shape strategy. Harvard business Review, 86(1), pp.25-40.

Weilbacher, W.M. 2003, “How Advertising Affects Consumers”, Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 230-234.

UK Government 2017,  Executive Summary. Available:

Xiong, X. 2019, “Analysis of the Status Quo of Artificial Intelligence and Its Countermeasures”, 2018 International Workshop on Education Reform and Social Sciences (ERSS 2018)Atlantis Press .

Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence in the Cloud with #Azure: How do we get good, fast, cheap and easy?

Customers want their data good, fast, cheap and easy. A tall order, right?

One of the biggest challenges that I see with data warehousing in the cloud is that customers are concerned with cost. I was interested to see the Gigaom report on the topic of Data Warehousing in the cloud, which contained a number of benchmarks, including cost.

The study by GigaOm showed that Azure SQL Data Warehouse is now outperforming the competition up to a whopping 14x times at up to 17 times cheaper than the competition, namely, Google BigQuery and AWS Redshift. This is an incredible achievement and the Azure team should be proud!

As part of my work in Business Intelligence, often, this involves a move to the cloud by default. Simply put, customers want quick Business Intelligence and they don’t want to spend time or effort in looking after kit. They want to delegate the responsibility. This means that cost is a key differentiator, since they want their data, good, fast and cheap. I’m glad to see that the Azure SQL Datawarehouse is competing on cost and performance since customers do want their data good, fast, cheap and easy.

Customers also want their data easy and this is where Power BI comes in. If a customer wants to use Power BI, I generally recommend that they put their data into Azure so that the data is traversing the Azure network. This means that the customer is not paying to extract or access their data from another cloud system and then put it into Power BI.

The Gigaom paper on cloud data warehousing is worth a read – and I am not just saying that because I‘ve done work as a Gigaom analyst! You can access the paper here.


Power BI Dataflows and fixing ‘Your Azure storage account must be in the same Azure Active Directory tenant as your Power BI tenant.’

I’m excited about Power BI dataflows, since I believe it’s a great way forward for companies to sort out the issue that nobody likes to talk about: cleaning data. I’m passionate about this topic since I believe in inheriting technical debt as much as I can, so I leave the organization’s technical debt in a better place than I found it. I’m taking the long view when I de

I tried to connect my Azure Data Lake gen 2 storage to Power BI, and I ran into this error message:

”Your Azure storage account must be in the same Azure Active Directory tenant as your Power BI tenant.’

I checked, and my Azure storage account was definitely in the same Azure Active Directory tenant as Power BI. So I was confused. What a pesky error! So I decided to investigate.

It turns out that I had missed a step when setting up the connectivity between Azure Data Lake gen 2 storage account and Power BI. I had missed assigning the Reader role to the Power BI service on the storage account.

Microsoft’s instructions are here and make sure you follow them to the letter. I missed a step because I rushed through it, and then spent time trying to figure it out, so it was my fault since I scrolled past a step. I’m recording this issue here in case anyone else gets this error message, and wonders what’s going on.


Forming #Leadership habits: Getting to Inbox Zero while increasing sales

There are plenty of websites dedicated to helping you to become a good leader, and to form good leadership habits.  I believe that authenticity and emotional intelligence (EQ) form some of the hallmarks of a leader, but it is hard to demonstrate. Habits don’t make leaders in themselves, and neither does authenticity or EQ on their own. It all has to add up properly.  It seems that either you have authenticity or not. It becomes very apparent, very quickly, that you are simply ‘at it’ and people can smell that far away.

I started to look at developing habits that would help me to perform better as a team player and as a leader. I was also very aware that I needed to do better in sales, and I needed to record my sales better. I also needed to get better at following up with people. This would demonstrate EQ, since I’d be better able to show people that I cared by getting back to them. I also needed to follow up sales leads better, something I wasn’t good at.

I’m going to share how I got to Inbox Zero while increasing sales.

Get into the habit of… diligence

The number one point, though, is that at some point you really need to do the work. No Facebook, no distractions, no whatever; you need to plough through it. I created this system to help me to focus better, which, in turn, dialled down my email level and it also led to increasing sales for Data Relish. So here are the steps:

Get through email in Outlook like a Rockstar

I recommend you follow Luise Freese’s recommendations for setting up priorities and quicksteps for labelling email, which mean you can priorities tasks and emails like a Rockstar.  I follow every single step that Luise devised. Luise clearly explains how to set up your mailbox for productivity, using Quick Steps, folders and labelling. I follow Luise’s system, and I focus on the TODAY folder that she recommends you set up.

I changed the system a little. For the ‘TO READ’ folder, I set up a quickstep that forwards the email to Evernote. I have loved Evernote since 2011 and it is a great way of storing notes which I want to read later.

Get into the habit of… delegating

How can you delegate?

I hired a part-time PA

Initially, it was tough to have a PA because I am not used to diary management or someone handling my email. These are hard things to give up, but I had to do it in order to shed things that were holding me back from spending my time better.

Get into the habit of diligently recording every sales lead

It is important to record every single lead, no matter how small. It is a habit which is just as hard. It’s easy to procrastinate, or get distracted.

I use two systems; HubSpot and Insightly. HubSpot is great at marketing, and I use it with Power BI. I use it for my website, and mainly for marketing and sales tracking. I also use Insightly, which also works with Power BI. This might seem like a repeat step, but I like the small project feature which comes with Insightly because I can convert my Opportunities into Projects. HubSpot doesn’t have that final step. I use the Outlook addins for Insightly, Hubspot and Evernote.

I am still test-driving both systems, but it is easy to automate both systems. Put together, they enable my process for my marketing, sales and post-sales work. My PA can support me in this venture, too.

Get into the habit of… better directing your attention

I get a lot of requests for my time by people who want to obtain my help for something, and want my time for free. As an MVP and an RD, I’m active in the tech community and I do help people without expectation of recompense. However, I just can’t service them all. I got 20 requests in the past three days, and it’s a lot for one person.

I already do a lot of volunteer work so I already have an impact in the philanthropic and charitable space. So I have to triage and prioritise free requests for my time. I am trying to be fair to everyone, including myself. My PA really helps here; she gets back to people, explains that I am unavailable but I’ve suggested that they speak to X or Y (for example) or read Z as a starting point, and to come back to me if they are still struggling. So I try to help people on their way, within the limits of my capacity and demands on my time. Usually, people are pretty understanding, particularly if I explain that I’m doing some charity work which impacts issues I care about, such as diversity, and that there will be other routes for people to get what they need. It puts things into perspective, I think.

I have switched off email notifications on my phone, so I can focus properly.

Follow up on sales leads

If you’re following Luise’s system, then you have a Today folder which forms your working memory of things that you need to do.

Using HubSpot and Insightly means that I am better at following-up on sales leads. I use Outlook tools to log emails to both systems, since I’m still test-driving. This only takes a few seconds with both plug-ins.

However, the point here isn’t about the technology; it is about the process. I have a process which means I follow up on leads better. It was something I identified that I was bad at, and it really came down to having a proper process in place, supported by tech.

Actually doing the work

There are plenty of sites and books which promise productivity. The reality is, at some point, you have to do the work. It is not going to go away.

For me, I took out office space in Hertfordshire, and I find I’m able to work well there. I have a separate private room for phone calls, and I tend to book out an hour or so of my time to get through all my calls, one after the other. Once that’s done, I can concentrate on other things.

I chew my way through my Today folder, and I follow the GTDish methodology: delete, delegate, defer, do. And I just keep going.

Remembering what you did

I often need to search for documents. I use the Insightly Opportunity tracking number everywhere, and then the Project number when the Opportunity becomes a real project. I hate spending time to search for documents. I also use tagging in SharePoint Office365.


I journal to increase my EQ. I am watching myself for inconsistencies in my behaviour, and to look at things through different lenses. It means I challenge myself to see if I’m thinking and behaving with authenticity, and I ask a lot of myself. But, if it means I become a better person, then it is worth it.


I think self-improvement is important, and I’ll keep doing it until I die. This system may change, but it is working for now. I’m open to other ideas, so please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts which might help me.





Error converting data type varchar to numeric where ISNUMERIC finds only numbers

I am writing some SQL to form the basis of views to pull data from a Microsoft SQL Server source into Azure SQL Database, and then the data would go to Power BI. The data was all presented in string format initially (not my data, not my monkeys, not my circus), and I wanted to correct the data types before the data got into Power BI.

I noted that one of the columns failed to convert VARCHAR to DECIMAL. The error message is below, and it’s usually fairly easy to sort:

Error converting data type varchar to numeric

Normally, I’d use ISNUMERIC to identify the rows that fail to have a value in that column that could be converted to a number. Then, I could identify the value, and then I could replace or exclude it, as required.

However, on this occasion, using ISNUMERIC failed to identify any columns as being non-numeric. ISNUMERIC returned all of the rows as TRUE, and that confused me. I knew that something was triggering the CONVERT instruction to go wrong.

I ran a quick query, ordering the column in ASCENDING order, while running the original offending query that failed. This showed that the query stopped at the value 9.45. I then ran another query that returned the rows, where the value was greater than 9.45, and ordered the results.

In this result set, the value came through as follows:


Aha! This explained why SQL Server could convert the value to numeric, because of the scientific notation used when the values are very large or very small.

Now, I ran my query again, using a NOT LIKE (which I also do not like!)

WHERE [My Column Name] NOT LIKE ‘%e%’
Now, out of my large record set, I got one offending row with the scientific notation, out of millions of rows. At least I had something to work with now; I could remove the data, run an update, or work with the scientific notation.
I hope that helps someone!