Transactions in the Trenches

Here are some      Interesting     Database     war     stories.

Pretty much what I figured.

I was working on a product once, and fairly early in the dev cycle marketing hired a DBA. He showed up at my door one morning and said, “Hi, I’m here to optimize your database!”

“My what?”

“Your database. It needs optimizin’.” He grabbed a test version of the system from some place random (the system barely ran) and “tuned” it. The results were something like

– set up row caches of 5175 bytes for table A, 9032 bytes for table B, 30452 bytes for table C
– tweak a bunch of Oracle mumbo-jumbo (more random numbers)
– add indices for a bunch of columns
– break some rows up (…breaking the code, natch)
– do some muttering about third normal form (for, or against? I can’t remember)

… all numbers are made up here. That’s okay, his were, too.

The most common database errors I’ve seen are:

– Premature optimization (tuning too early, doing too much in stored procedures). Most of this stuff is just fear concretized as code.

– Pathological dependency on a particular vendor’s features (“Ooooh, shiny,” or simply more fear).

– Very bad interfaces to the database in code (embedded table names, select statements, etc.).

Really truly horrible bloody awful and totally fubared interfaces to the database in code (highly abstracted stuff that slowwwwly boils down to a zillion selects and updates and so forth). “So . . . you did all this work, and you still had to hard-code the admin password?”

– Polling the database for modifications (using rows as an RPC mechanism)

– Simple crappy schema design (“Oh yeah, no one will have a first name of more than 20 characters”) that metastasizes into every nook and cranny of the rest of the system (see above).

In no particular order

Does it bug you (it does me) that the IE icon in XP is labelled “Internet,” like it was the Internet, and not just a web browser that happens to use a handful of Internet protocols?


I opened my Vol. 3 of Knuth the other day, and saw that I’d purchased it for $19.50 (in 1981 or so). The last CS textbook I bought used was $70 (shriek).

Maybe the price is stable in adjusted dollars (more probably, at least 2x). The price of private, continuing education…


Who decided that dandelions weren’t cute? The lawn-care unions?

New Campus Rule

Apple is building a new campus. Link.

Bad news. Remember what happens to nearly every Silly Valley company that builds a campus? gurgle, gurble, swishWhoosh….

[Located across 280 from Valco, in the industrial area where Tandem and so forth used to be.]

Okay, now who gets to go to the new digs? Politics is everything in a company like Apple, and geography plays a big part. If Jobs goes, the people left behind are the goats. If Jobs stays, the poor schmucks will have to wave bye-bye to their old cow-orkers. His best bet? Holographic projection, so you can’t tell where he is, exactly. Not that you can anyway.

Only slightly used

I’ve picked up some miscellaneous books at garage sales, ones that I’ll probably never read and that will grace a used bookstore (or our own garage sale) at some point. Turns out that T.H. White, in addition to writing wonderful children’s fare, also wrote a series on “The Making of the Presidency” in the 60s and early 70s. Yup, Johnson, Nixon, all that. Probably required reading for Poly Sci types, I’ve barely cracked them open. I just know they were a buck for a sack of ’em, they could be fun someday, and I liked the author’s other work.

This morning my son was crawling around, dusting the floor with his jumper (sigh), when he spotted the books.

Now, he’s terribly “into” moons. He points them out at every opportunity (“Moon, moon!”) He likes us to draw circles for him, and gets upset when we vary from what he wants. We’re pretty sick of moons at this point, but he never tires.

So in mid-crawl he pointed at the spine of one of the “Presidency” books and announced, “Moon, moon!”

“No,” I said without looking closely, “That’s the Presidential Seal.”


“Hmmmm.” I walked over. The seal artwork was at the top of the book’s spine, he’d been pointing to a “moon” nearer the floor, a label with “$1” on it.

“On second thought, kid, that’s a price tag. Which is kind of the same thing, really.”

MS Trivia

Digging through some old manuals, I found a software package that had this support page at the very back –


(You’ll probably never guess the piece of software itself… hint: It’s not any of the ones mentioned by the checkboxes).

This call is stone dead

A short video on Concurrent Erlang in a telephony app. Link.

I giggled through the whole thing. ItÂ’s dead serious, but it *feels* like a Monty Python skit, music and all; I kept expecting the Major to come out and say “Sorry, this sketch is too silly, leave your Emacs session now and move along.”