Favorite Non-Tech Books Read in 2011

Paul Randal (Blog|Twitter) recently blogged about the books he read in 2011, which reminded me of my list from last New Year’s Day of favorite non-tech books read in the prior year. That post also mentioned the books I had queued up and ready to read. So let’s hit the bookshelves for a repeat exercise.

Favorite Non-tech Books Read in 2011

I started off reading the queued-up books mentioned previously, then added some as the year progressed. Here are the favorites.

Zero History by William Gibson – I started 2011 by reading the final book in Gibson’s latest trilogy. Lots of hiding and running around being chased for the characters in this one. While I appreciate Gibson shifting his writing from the future to current day, this book left me wanting some futuristic fiction. Thus, my next choice.

The Jump 225 Trilogy by David Louis Edelman – This trilogy starts off with Infoquake. Once I began reading it, I immediately ordered the remaining novels, Multireal and Geosynchron so that I could read all three without interruption. The main character is an entrepreneur and programmer dealing with bureaucrats, clients and competitors in a world shaped by bio-technology and terrorism.

The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson – Little did I know that the shark hunt took place in Cozumel, the destination of SQLCruise 2010!

Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson – After reading the above book I was ready for more of Hunter’s work. This book starts with Thompson’s first run-in with the law at age nine, and ends with a strangely romantic scene where Anita diagnoses his problems in life while he speeds his Cadillac along a Pacific coast highway under a full moon.

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk – The third of this author’s books I’ve read (the others being Fight Club and Survivor). A wonderful read but not for everyone.

When I Grow up: A Memoir by Juliana Hatfield – As I mentioned in last year’s review, I gave up on this book during a previous attempt at reading it. It was just too exhausting and depressing. But with Claire’s encouragement I finally picked it up again this year. The book’s mood did change, plus the chapter on the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and how it changed the music industry was fascinating.

Non-tech Books Queued for Reading in 2012

There are lots of non-technical books ready for my attention this year. So many that they won’t fit on my nightstand, so I had to find room for a bookshelf next to my bed! I’m not going to list all of them, but here are the ones at the top of the stack.

Fear and Loathing in America by Hunter S. Thompson – Okay, I cheated and have already started this one. So far, a truly amazing collection of Hunter’s letters.

The Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson

Songs of the Doomed by Hunter S. Thompson

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

By the way, I am painfully aware that I dropped out on my SQLCruise2011 book list commitments. After that first review where I announced that I was joining The President’s re-election campaign headquarters staff, things changed for me on many dimensions. Perhaps if I go third SQLCruise someday, I can get another chance to try keeping up with the book list commitments!

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T-SQL Tuesday #024 – When Procedures Are Stored

November’s T-SQL Tuesday is brought to us by Brad Schulz (blog). Brad’s topic is Prox ‘n’ Funx. In other words, procedures and functions. In the database. Yes, code in the database. This concept alone can bring out strong opinions. In a prior post (see item 3 of July’s T-SQL Tuesday Best Practices post) I discussed this briefly. In many situations  I’ve had good results using stored procedures and functions, but they are a concept that can be abused, overused, etc. One such situation I encountered is what I’ll relay here today.

I was working with a firm that had scaling issues. The architecture was such that each of the firm’s clients had their own database, and each of these client databases had identical database objects. So when the firm got a new client, a new database for that client’s data was cloned from a template database that contained these identical  database objects (e.g. empty tables plus views, stored procedures, functions, triggers, etc.).

Among the problems that were upsetting the CIO was the rate at which he was having to purchase new servers to host these client databases. By “new servers” I’m referring to 1U servers with two 20GB SCSI drives in a RAID1 array (this was many years ago). The CIO was looking at an Excel spreadsheet provided to him by system administrators showing space being used on these servers. The CIO said to me “Look at this, brand new clients, we don’t even have data loaded for them yet, but all of this space is already being consumed. That makes no sense!”

At which point I said “Well, it starts to make sense when you learn that each client’s database has over 27,000 stored procedures in  it.” You can only imagine his shock and disbelief when learning this. But little by little, this had happened over time.

Everything imaginable in these client databases was done via stored procedures. Each table had a stored procedure for every type of function that could be done on the table. So every table had a store procedure each for INSERT, UPDATE, etc. as well as variations that provided extra features. Tables could only be modified through these stored procedures. Every table had a stored procedure for variations of queries. Views had one or more stored procedures for access. These stored procedures were then called by application code. Imagine ORM implemented through stored procedures. However, the data-access application code was also auto-generated via a solution that was tied to tables, so these stored procedures always seemed like an unnecessary layer of indirection to me. In any case, each table had a bunch of stored procedures tied to it for access and modification. So adding a table meant adding multiple new stored procedures. All queries and business logic were implemented in stored procedures, and each client database had every possible one of these stored procedures, even if that client would never need the functionality provided by them. In other words, if one client needed a stored procedure for some specific feature, all client databases contained that stored procedure. Some of these procedures were very large and unwieldy, so they would be broken up into smaller stored procedures that called one after another in sequence.

Rather than saying whether all this is good or bad, I’ll just say “Watch out.” This situation probably started off fine in the early days when there were two or three clients and a database had 25 tables or whatever. But with hundreds of identical databases, each containing hundreds of tables, this became an issue.

Stored procedures. Procedures that are stored, right? What is storing code (as opposed to data) going to mean for your solution over time? You need to think about such things when deciding that stored procedures are going to play a key role in your solution design.

Thanks to Brad Schulz for hosting T-SQL Tuesday #24, and thank you Adam Machanic (Blog|Twitter) for creating this monthly blog event and keeping it going for two years!

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Ubuntu 11.10 Upgrade – Getting Back to Work

The new Ubuntu 11.10 version (Oneiric Ocelot) has arrived. I was happy using Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) with the classic GNOME desktop environment, but it’s always hard to turn down an upgrade to the new flashy toy when it just takes a click of the mouse.

So I said “yes” to the upgrade, and when it was done I was sad to  see the classic  desktop was gone and replaced with Unity. For browsing and light activity on my netbook Unity is fine, but I was having trouble getting any real work done with it. I like moving forward and learning new things, but this interface is downright frustrating to me. I wanted my old experience back, or at least something close to it.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to find out how to do this because so many others feel the same way. After reading several posts,  I found one that was loaded with ad pop-up junk, but it was quite straightforward with advice for “falling-back” to a classic Gnome  experience. From a terminal I just entered “sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback” at the command line. After that, log out then log back in choosing “GNOME Classic” (click on the little gears on the login screen to get this choice) and things will look more familiar.

After that I added some applets to the upper panel (Alt-right click on the panel and choose “Add to Panel…”) to add some other things I like having there, for example “The main GNOME menu”, Show Desktop, Shutdown, Trash, and some commonly used application launchers.

I fired up the Nautilus file manager and returned some of the features I prefer there. I like seeing a tree structure in the left panel, so I brought that back by clicking View in the menu, then Sidebar -> Tree. I don’t like icon views, so on the menu I chose Edit -> Preferences select List View as the Default View. Finally I selected View -> Statusbar to get back the status bar on the bottom of Nautilus.

In a few minutes I was able to return my experience to something much more usable. So far it seems fine, and I’ll probably report back here if I run into any issues.

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UnSQL Friday – Living in the Intertubez

Jen McCown (Blog|Twitter) has declared today UnSQL Friday #006. I’m going to try to sneak this one in before Friday ends, and the clock is ticking. No problem, I think it will easy for me to mention what I love about “Living in the Intertubez.”

One of my early benefits when I started participating in twitter was discovering great things happening within blocks of my home and work. For example, there were technology meetings with really awesome folks in my neighborhood. I had been missing out because, quite frankly, sometimes even technology associations have websites so uninspiring that you can’t imagine attending their meetings voluntarily. However, with twitter I could follow members of these organizations and learn that they were amazing… I couldn’t wait to meet them! The internet means empowerment to the people and degrees of independence from the formal communications of stodgy organizations and the masters pulling their strings.

But the reach of twitter went beyond my neighborhood. It meant connecting with people all around the world. Those first few times you meet people in the “real world” who you had only known on twitter is an amazing experience. You just start talking like you’ve known each other for years and pretty much pick up from your last tweet with that person. Who could have imagined such a thing was possible when given 140 characters to work with!

“Living in the Intertubez” played a huge role in my landing in a job more amazing than anything I could have imagined. Actively blogging and tweeting not only kept me in touch with former colleagues, but also provided a sense of what I had been doing to advance my skills and such.

This week I stepped up my “Living in the Intertubez” world by joining facebook. I’d resisted so far because my experience with another social network many years ago soured me on such things. But things change fast in “the Intertubez” and I’m looking forward to learning the lingo of the facebook world.

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T-SQL Tuesday #022 – Data Presentation

September’s T-SQL Tuesday is brought to us by Robert Pearl (Blog|Twitter), and he has chosen Data Presentation as the topic for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday. I shuddered after seeing this topic because it brought to mind an experience where the separation of data and presentation was violated.

I received an email from the boss saying he had been querying a particular database. He wanted the leading zeros removed from all numeric values.

I said that’s no problem, we’ll just modify the query tool to trim leading zeros. The previous boss wanted to see data exactly as it was stored in the database, thus he didn’t want leading zeros trimmed. But no problem Mr. Boss Du Jour, we can change that. Or better yet, we can offer it as an option in a checkbox. Because who knows what the next boss will want (okay, I didn’t say this last part, I just thought it to myself).

The boss countered “No, don’t modify the query tool. I also want to see the data as it is stored in the database. And the way I want it stored in the database is with the leading zeros trimmed.”

I explained that there were specifications written years before detailing that numbers were to be stored in that database exactly as they were received from data providers. There were a number of reasons for this, the most crucial being that part of our service offering was the ability to rate data from our various sources by a range of metrics. This particular database was used for that product offering. Modifying the numeric values by removing leading zeros would corrupt that process.

In the end, none of my arguments mattered. I could tell it had become a point of pride for the boss to win this no matter what. I asked why this was so important. For example, did he have storage or performance concerns. But his answer was just “It looks better without leading zeros.”

After that, there were questions I thought about asking but didn’t. Like if he thought it would look nicer if he could see the database at the byte level. Or if he had an opinion on whether big-endian or little-endian looks prettier. Or if he’d be happier with a mauve database.

Or, how we were supposed to put the zeros back when the next boss asks for them.

Anyway, I know I mentioned this in a prior post, but it’s probably worth repeating… when asked to do certain tasks (such as those regarding presentation), at least consider whether it’s something that belongs in the database or at another level.

Thanks to Robert Pearl for hosting T-SQL Tuesday #22, especially when he was asked to host earlier than planned! And thanks to Adam Machanic (Blog|Twitter) for creating this monthly blog event and keeping it going!

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