Monthly Archives: November 2010

Here Be Dragons: New Cell Phone

Cell phones in my family go way back…Pretty much as far back as is possible in the US:

Ameritech Phone

1984 called...

I don’t remember anymore if that was my dad’s first or second phone. I have no idea what the deal with the ammo box is. I do remember that the handset clip would get bolted to that little bracket on the lid & then could leave the box sit in the middle floor of his pickup and the phone would be right there. Yeah. AMPS analog. 3 watt transmitter. Good thing the antenna was on the roof. Those were the early Ameritech days. The phone wouldn’t even get a signal at the house—he had to get up towards Rensselaer (Indiana, look at a map, see the boondocks where I’m from) before he’d be able to use the thing.

‘Course, back then everyone called them “car phones.” It stayed in the car, and at one point was even hardwired to the vehicle so that if he wasn’t in the truck at the time, it would honk the horn if someone rang. That seems almost mind-blowing to me now. Once the whole 3 watt thing started to go away, things got smaller, and they started to come in little nylon bags (“bag phones”) that were more self-contained, and at least had little rubber duck antennas directly attached to them. It was on a BNC connector, so you could plug in the roof antenna if you didn’t like having what was probably still a whole watt radio broadcasting from the general vicinity of your right knee.

Anyway, in the mid-90s, I was assigned a Motorola DPC 650 by my parents when I started to drive (found out that Tammy had a 650 at about the same time I did). That thing was still a beast, and pretty much never left the truck. That phone began my love affair with Motorola flip phones served by our old friend GTE Communications. Through high school I went through a number of StarTAC 7860 and -68s (wore the phone, so broke a lot of antennas and other bad things happened). To this day, I sometimes wish for the simplicity of a StarTAC.

In summer of 2000, while I was in college, I got my own account and number with GTE. That brought the horrid piece of crap that was the T720. I don’t even want to talk about it. Still have the phone though; it’s pretty funny to fire it up and look at it now. It had a one-line display on the outside so you could see who was calling (OOOOO!). I also seem to recall you could install 3rd party applications on it, but I don’t remember much about that. Somewhere in here GTE became Verizon, of course. I can still hear James Earl Jones say, “Welcome to Verizon Wirelesssss…”

Things looked up after that: Motorola V710. This thing is honestly probably my favorite phone of all time. It was solid, its radio was great, and had ridiculously awesome call quality. It had a big display on the inside, a decent-sized one on the outside, and really good battery life. My first one of those met an untimely end when I wound up running over it with my pickup. While it was open. Face down. Did I mention that it was just at the right place that the front right tire of the pickup sat ON the phone for a few hours? The fun thing about that is that the phone still worked (!), and I used it like that for a few weeks before it decided it was done. Yay phone insurance!

The Smartphone Years

Because I was addicted to my job at the time, and liked the idea of getting mail in my pocket, I bought a Samsung i760 in December 2007. That is a Windows Mobile 6.1 device with a slide-out keyboard. I bought that phone because I wanted my phone to be just another Outlook client. I didn’t want to have to fight with some third-party Exchange connector and Blackberries were right out from the get-go. I have a giant rant about RIM and how I cannot comprehend how so many companies rely on their system for mail, but that’s a different story.

This was a big departure for me for a couple reasons: It was the first non-Motorola flip phone that I had ever owned, as was it my first smartphone. I was pretty worried about this at the time. As it turned out, though, everything was great. OK, except for the call quality. This was definitely a smartphone first. The radio wasn’t all that good, either. However, within about 10 minutes of having it home, I was scrolling (with its stylus, hahahaha) through my Exchange mailbox, which I thought was the coolest thing since sliced bread at the time. You know what else I liked about the phone? Windows Mobile 6.1. There, I said it.

Three years later, I jump off a cliff…

After ten years with the same Verizon account, phone number, and I’m quite certain, voicemail message… I switched to the company that carries Ma Bell’s bastardized name and a completely unproven phone OS on a device that doesn’t have a hardware keyboard. This could go terribly.

Yes, I bought a Samsung Focus with Windows Phone 7. Tammy and I both got one (ATT BOGO Black Friday deal). This was brought on by our house (The Osburn Hideaway) being in a bizzaro black hole where there is no Verizon coverage, Tammy and I wanting to combine to a family plan, and, well, ATT having WP7. Because at the end of the day, I’m just that big of a fanboi.

Everyone on Twitter knows that BrentO just loves Windows Phone 7. I do agree with just about everything that he says about it. We’re taking huge gambles that someone at Microsoft has this dev team’s throttle on the floor and all of the shortcomings the device has will be taken care of soon (I’m not going to talk about anything specific, because I have the same grumps that everyone else has, and all of those people are better writers than I am). The rumored sales numbers don’t look all that good so far, but I don’t know that anyone is all that surprised by that. If, after the first major update comes out and possibly another round of hardware, those numbers don’t start to go up…then I’m going to be pretty worried. I don’t expect iPhone-like numbers, as that device changed the freaking world, and it’s the likely-not-to-be-beaten incumbent.

So, that’s my cell phone story. I don’t expect to write about this much more, because like I said above, I’m really not smart enough to come up with anything new here on my own, so you’ll be able to see what I’m going through by everyone else writing about the OS and poo-pooing on its poor adoption rate. I mean, unless something really bad happens and I bail early.

…and if this doesn’t work out and that happens, I’ll… <deep breath>…probably get an iPhone.

T-SQL Tuesday #12: Why are DBA Skills Necessary?

TSQL Tuesday 12

T-SQL Tuesday #12 hosted by Paul Randal

T-SQL Tuesday is being hosted this month by the great Paul Randal (blog | @PaulRandal). This is awesome, because it’s Paul, but also not so awesome, because it means Paul is guaranteed to read my stuff. I’m not nervous about this at all, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

I had a couple ideas for this, and if I had gotten started on this sooner, I probably would have written two different posts. Too many things didn’t work out right for that, so there’s only this one. Hopefully I didn’t choose poorly. Here we go…

So…Why are DBA skills necessary?

Well…because they are!

I mean… Are car mechanic skills necessary? Are pilot skills necessary? Are business skills necessary?

OK, you’re right, it depends. It depends on if you’re planning on rebuilding a Rochester carburetor and having the engine idle afterwards. Or landing a 747 on an actual runway and not bending anything. Or being the CEO of a multinational company and it continue to grow, prosper, and make money.

I don’t think those are extreme examples. Just like the above, if you want to build, support, and continue to improve a highly available, scalable, and performing database system, you need DBA skills to make that happen. Sure, even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might get lucky and find a washer in the carb’s air horn that had locked the air valves on the secondary bores closed, the removal of which led to unprecedented quantities of burning gasoline, but you can’t run on luck forever.


All these things are hard. I know that rebuilding a Quadrajet is hard, because those things are a pain in the ass. I know that landing a 747 is hard, because it’s a giant airplane that isn’t slow and might have lots of people in the back. OK, technically I don’t know that it’s hard to run a multinational corporation, but I’m pretty sure it is.

Know what else is hard? Databases. Databases are hard.

This isn’t about platforms or anything like that. Databases are hard when they’re Oracle DBs or when they’re mySQL DBs. Databases are hard when they’re Access “databases”, although in a different way (and in a way that’s not hard if your name is Brent Ozar).

OK, why are databases hard?

They require concentration. They require a wide range of technical skills from all parts of IT to accomplish successfully. They require you to know where to look and who to ask when there are things that you don’t know. They require being able to deal with the pressure put on you when things aren’t going right.

Perhaps more so than other areas of IT, when things aren’t going right, lots of people aren’t happy. Databases contain one of the most important assets of their owners: their data. Having this data safe and available in a timely fashion is a requirement if that data is going to be useful at all. Being able to troubleshoot and fix problems while juggling those unhappy people isn’t always an easy task.

Databases are hard because there are a lot of places for things to go wrong, and a DBA needs to be able to deal with all of those. There’s data modeling, which can cause never-ending problems when done incorrectly. There are server administration tasks, which can have fundamental performance impacts. There is a need for security skills to keep that all-important data safe from all kinds of bad guys. The list goes on.

Why is this point missed?

I don’t know. Wish I did, pretty sure I could make a lot of money 😉

The problem isn’t with us. For the most part, IT folks already know that DB work is hard. We don’t need to convince ourselves. All manner of IT management and/or business owners need to know that DB work is hard, just like most other forms of IT work. This is where the problem is.

It seems like DBs get short-changed a lot, doesn’t it? When things start out, the little Access DB works fine for the few users that there are. As the business grows, either a Dev or Sysadmin that knows a bit about what they’re doing gets a hold of a SQL Server license and migrate the system over. This is completely fine for small to even medium-sized shops. Hardware and SQL itself will run really well out of the box for the vast majority of applications out there.

The problem is when you cross that line. The above-mentioned migrated Access app will run fine for probably a long time, but the next thing anyone knows, it’s five years down the road and the blocking is so bad in the poorly designed & maintained database that the users just know to get coffee across the street when they’re doing certain tasks because it’s going to be a while.

Pain like that can be avoided by having those DBA skills around from the very beginning. They don’t have to be FTEs. They don’t even need to be dedicated resources. They are, however, necessary skills, and every business that has a database (that should be a pretty high percentage) should have someone available to take care of these tasks at least on a part-time basis, even if it’s that Sysadmin who wants to learn the right way to do at least a few things.

Business owners might not think they need to spend the money now, and that very possibly may be correct. However, if they don’t, they need to at least know that the need will be coming someday. It’s only going to be more expensive later, and hopefully that day won’t be a time when a disk has died and the backup job hasn’t been working properly for three weeks 🙁