Saturday, July 31, 2010

No-SQL Saturday: Gears

Saturdays are time to take a break from databases and look at other things that amuse me.

This week: non-circular gears.

This guy supposedly hand-makes these things out of paper:

There's a great series of videos on old Navy analog computers, which are basically complex gear systems: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

This is probably the best explanation I've ever seen of how differential gears work:

And of course, no discussion of differentials would be complete without mention of the South-pointing Chariot, rumored to have been invented by the Chinese over 4500 years ago. South-facing chariots use a series of gears to keep a figure pointing south no matter which way the wagon turns. These days geeks can't resist building their own out of legos or whatnot, and in looking for links I came across a kit you can buy for $59 and I think I might just have to.

Lastly, here's some random gear-related links:

Animated Engines
The Kentucky Do-Nothing Machine
The German Do-Nothing Machine
The Eames (yes, that Eames) Do-Nothing Machine

A wooden orrery!

Friday, July 30, 2010


I recently studied for (and passed!) my exams for MCITP Database Developer certification.

In the past, I've always glanced askance at certification. I've run into too many people in my career with a lot of letters after their names and not much sense or experience in their heads. Conversely, some of the smartest people I know in IT have no professional schooling or certification.

An old joke comes to mind:
Q: What do you call the person who graduates last in their class from medical school?
A: "Doctor"

Passing your boards and completing your residency doesn't make you a good doctor. Years of experience, ambition, passion, and curiosity generally do. But, would you take your sick child to see a doctor who "never really got around to getting licensed"?

Getting IT certification shows the world:
  • I care enough about this skillset to actually study for and pass the exams
  • At one point or another, I read and understood something about all the topics in this area, not just the ones I use every day.
Cynically, I'd say that most anyone can cram enough facts into their head to pass a test, and then never actually apply that knowledge and really learn it. But assuming you're not a complete phony and you actually do know your specialty pretty well, being forced to study for exams benefits you in a lot of ways, even if you forget a lot of the facts shortly after.

Here's what I got out of it:
  • I demoted a lot of "unknown unknowns" to "known unknowns." It's kind of like going through your toolbox and learning what some of the more obscure tools do. You still might not ever use your double offset ring spanner, but at least now you know you've got one and what it's for.
  • I got a good solid dose of humility. In my little work world, I'm the SQL guru. But really I use a subset of SQL's features, and there's always plenty to learn.
  • On the opposite side, I got acknowledgement that I do really know my stuff on the "known known" topics. I'm pretty good at writing complex queries, and tuning them, and those questions were a snap.
  • I was able to put a few things to work right away. I've just recently started using recursive CTE's, and lately I'm finding all kinds of things to do with CTE's. I knew about them, but until I started playing with them, they never entered my go-to lexicon.
  • I reaffirmed how much I like working in SQL. The Microsoft exams give you a "real" business scenario that you've been hired to implement, and then ask you about various aspects of the project. It was actually kind of fun digging into an interesting problem and thinking about how I'd go about tackling it.

Next on my plate: MCITP Developer 2008.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Welcome, and License Plate Woes

Welcome to Es Cue El.

This blog will be a place to post random thoughts about SQL projects I'm working on, things like the No SQL movement that interests/scares/annoys/intrigues me, and just generally a place to geek out. Hopefully I pick up some SQL friends along the way.

A little about me. I work for a software company in Cleveland, OH, and have held various positions over the past couple of decades, most recently "technical consultant." Although I've wandered a bit from programming to support to consulting to product management, I've always been heavily involved in database work, whether it's writing SQL, tuning performance issues, building data access layers, etc.

I've been looking for a creative outlet for a while, and decided that blogging about something I love would probably be a good place to start. Maybe that's a little like a professional race car driver taking up painting to relieve the stress of racing, and then ending up painting nothing but cars and ovals. But hey, it's a start. And I'll try to throw in a non-database post from time to time.

Oh, about the license plate. I decided to go all geek and get an obscure techie license plate. I surveyed my SQL friends to help decide between some good candidates: "SP WHO2", "NOLOCK", "VARCHAR", "ES CUE EL", "SQL FTW" (that last one from a leet-spoken young'n). In the end I went with a slightly different spelling:

I still like it, but somehow didn't notice the Spanish "que" or realize how many people would read it as "ess kay ell" (in Spanish it translates roughly to "it that the"). I took German in school and somehow missed it. Anyway, it's on my car for the next two years now, so I guess I'm stuck explaining it a lot-- but that's kind of what I wanted in the first place. If I had my life to live over, I might have gone with ES CUE EL. C'est la vie.