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Three Turns On The Road

Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi. – The Jerk

This meme was started by Paul Randal (Blog | Twitter) who asks the question "What three things or events brought you to where you are today?" I was tagged by David Taylor (Blog | Twitter). I wasn’t born in Mississippi but we sure were poor. I grew up I a small West Texas town of farmers and ranchers. I grew up between two households. I am a single child but have a large extended family and was a middle child in that mix. I as never as tall or fast as my closest brothers but I have always had a very sharp wit and a quick thinker. With all of those factors competition for resources was pretty fierce.


Turn number one, being broke breeds invention!

imageMy aptitude for mechanical things and electronics was my first love. Being handy with a socket set has a great value when you have to fix everything you own yourself. It also allowed me to scavenge parts where ever I could to build stuff I wanted. It wasn’t ever pretty but it was mine. The bike I rode during my middle years was made up of at least four others. My radio was also made up of three or four other radios. One of the great things was one of my best friends had a great hookup into technology, his dad owned the Radio Shack in town. I spent a lot of time there and got to hone my soldering skills there on a real Weller station with adjustable temp!. My mom saved and saved. She new computers were the future. Having a Radio Shack meant I got a TRS-80! I scraped up the money to buy a tape drive and eventually a modem. I’ll never forget them telling my mom that this thing would take me through high school and college! I spent the better part of my junior high and high school life on this and later a CoCo3. My High school had Apple II’s and eventually some very coveted Mac’s. My best friend through high school was one of two people that had those “IBM PC” things. I fell in love with those 8088’s and his dads “high end” 286 and got to spend a lot of time on those as well. Those few of us that had modems would dial into each others machines. Needless to say my folks weren’t real happy when the picked up the phone and a computer was screaming at them. I wasn’t to happy ether since they usually killed me right at the end of a two hour download 🙂




Turn number two, the college yearsimage and dial tones.

Alas, it wasn’t my goal to be a computer guy. I loved speech and theatre and did quite well in both. I dabbled in physics but quickly realized it was hard and I wasn’t very fond of the math. The other thing I majored in was partying. I slowly quit playing with computers all together and for about a year was just a college bum. My first real friend in college had a 286 and a modem as well. He showed me the local BBS’es and I was 100% hooked again. He gave me a old hard drive and I went down to a local computer store to buy a used computer and start learning all over again. The shop owner was a friend of my friend and knew who I was. I walked in with enough money to buy a 286 he had for sale. I told him I needed a computer and was planning on starting a real BBS. He smiled, and flatly refused to sell it to me. I argued with him for the better part of an hour. I left his store pretty mad but none of the other computer stores in town had a computer that met my limited budget. I went back the next day and started in on him again. He stuck to his guns telling me I wouldn’t be happy with that old clunker. My friend had told him I was handy with the soldering iron so he made me a deal. I put a down payment on a cutting edge 486 and worked the rest off fixing computers. He took me under his wing and helped fill in the gaps in my computer hardware education. He had a crazy huge stockpile of old stuff that I could tinker with. That is where I found out I truly loved computers and connecting with others via my BBS. Looking back on what Duane did for me is one of the biggest reasons I give back to the community today. Spending hours working on my board I learned to love DOS like no other. It very quickly grew into a rekindling of my passion of programming as well. I changed majors(again) and started the computer science thing. Having people come to the house to play their turns on BRE or Trade Wars, posting up on fidonet groups or sending mail to friends around the world was a huge kick for me. I met some of my closest friends through the board. The Internet will never replace the BBS in my heart. I had a loyal local group of BBS’ers with the ability to communicate globally. Eventually, I dropped out of school to work full time again. As the Director of Technology for a small school outside of San Angelo, Texas I had a huge impact on the students and helped bring computers and the Internet, into every classroom. I also participated in the speech and theater stuff with the high school students as a coach.


Turn number three, the big city.

360 Bridge, Austin, TX by MoralesDirect.

this image is property of Dan Morales…/set-72157601003144486

After a shakeup at the school system I was working at occurred and the Superintendent of Schools left, I decided it was the right time to make a move to the big city. I had always loved Austin. I’d done a tour of service in the other major cities and found that Austin was the only one that felt like a real community. I did what lots of folks did in the late 90’s and interviewed at start ups. To be honest, they scared the crap out of me. Most of the time it was people younger than me, with more money than I’d ever seen, doing whatever the hell they wanted. It looked like a lot of fun, but not so much a solid way to build a business. So I did what everyone does, I went to work for Dell. Did it suck? Yeah, kind of. I met a great group of guys there though. It was also the first place I’d ever been that had what you might call a growth path. My boss and my team mates were great people to work with. I had been doing side work pretty much most of the 90’s small software projects or working in the new open source movement. I loved data, so I spend a lot of time working with databases or building custom data engines. When I had landed at Dell I’d already had several years of tinkering with SQL Server. We had a single server at the school and I worked with clients I met through the computer store as well. I also love a puzzle. I watched the calls that came in. Saw the patterns in them and started plugging them into a brand new SQL Server 7.0 database. Quickly I moved off the phones full time and started working on a special projects team analyzing call volumes, doing root cause analysis and coming up with solutions. Dell also opened my eyes to the possibilities and gave me the confidence boost to just strike out and blaze my own path. I did my time at Dell and moved on to another large company, Broadwing. Again, great group of guys, not so great working environment. But, for the first time I was a full on DBA. Not a DBA/developer/janitor/whateverthebossneeds. I LOVED IT. Lots of machines, lots of data. From there it has just been a natural progression always growing and learning but staying laser focused on SQL Server. Like many folks, the 90’s was an awesome decade for me.



Well, I’m still with SQL Server. I love community work. I’m a family man. None of the things I take for granted today wouldn’t have happened if I’d never been exposed to computers at a young age, or had a stranger take a chance on me, or worked up the nerve to just move to another city when I had a stable job where I was at. Give back when you can. You never know how you will shape someone else’s road for the better.

OT: Rewriting History

I’ve been blogging for a few months. During that time I’ve received comments about my grammar, sentence construction and paragraph construction. I have taken this criticism to heart. I have only had two specific comments about my writing style so I have a point to start from. Like most of you, I do not write for a living. I do write every day of my life. I have had basic writing instruction during my high school an college days, but nothing during my time as a professional. The most training I’ve ever had communicating to others has been in the form of speech and theater. I have had some success as a speaker, and I feel very good about that end of my skill set.

So, I am attempting to correct this lack of education the only way I know how. I did some research and came up with three books to start my literary education.

The Elements of Style
My wife tells me this is a must.


On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
This one looked good and I’ve enjoyed reading it so far.


Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
I have listened to the pod cast before I thought it was fine so I got the book.

The great thing about a blog is it isn’t as static as a printed book. As I learn I can make revisions to the articles. I can make revisions to correct the broken bits and make them easier to read.

If you have any recommendations leave them in the comments section and I’ll give it a read. I’ll also try to learn something in the process!



A couple of friends that write also suggested

Woe Is I (Expanded Edition) [WOE IS I (EXPANDED EDITION) EX]
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Merriam-Webster’s Everyday Language Reference Set: Vocabulary Builder/Thesaurus/Dictionary

All three are on the way!

Fusion-IO Update

I’ve done all the testing I can do for now. There were some unexpected developments that I will cover in a second article.

Later this week I’ll post all my initial findings with the cards.

The second post will be a follow on and some general observations about the SSD market as it stands right now.

All I can say is I’ve never worked with a hardware vendor as passionate about the products, and more importantly the customer they sell them to, than Fusion-IO period.

NULL is not = to anything

One of the fun facts about SQL Server and the relation model is the whole concept of three valued logic. Now I’m not breaking any new ground here I am just touching on something that trips people up when they expect a result and don’t get it due to the magic of NULL’s. To be honest, I’m no exception to falling into the unknown from time to time.

Codd laid out 12 fundamental rules of what a relational database system should conform to if it is to be considered truly relational.

Rule 3: Systematic treatment of null values:

The DBMS must allow each field to remain null (or empty). Specifically, it must support a representation of "missing information and inapplicable information" that is systematic, distinct from all regular values (for example, "distinct from zero or any other number", in the case of numeric values), and independent of data type. It is also implied that such representations must be manipulated by the DBMS in a systematic way.

This rule, above all others has probably caused me the most heartburn over the years.

I’ve spent more time that I like to admit reading papers and books from pioneers of the relational model, E.F. Codd, C.J. Date. One of the great debates that carried on until the passing of Codd was over NULL and three valued logic in general. To give you an idea of how big and problematic NULL’s are, It’s been put forth that maybe we need to get rid of them all together or move deeper into the rabbit hole and make it 4 valued logic breaking NULL into different kinds of place holders for unknown.

Understand that every piece of data falls into a domain of some sort. 0 is a integer type. ‘’ is a empty string. NULL isn’t in any domain, or value type. It doesn’t represent something at all it is a place older period.

I’ve heard 3 valued logic described as yes/no/maybe but that isn’t accurate, it is true/false/UNKNOWN.

So the only logical thing that can happen to UNKNOWN is unknown. What’s even worse is UNKNOWN technically can’t be equal to UNKNOWN or NULL = NULL.

How do you know they are equal if they are both unknown?


For example:

select 1 where NULL = NULL

returns nothing since NULL can’t be equal to anything including NULL we don’t get a NULL back or the 1 back we tried to select.

select 6227 * 453 / 238 + NULL 

returns NULL

which makes since on the surface to almost everyone I work with.

select NULL / 0

returns NULL

To some folks this is confusing in a traditional programming since anything divided by zero gives us an error of cannot divide by zero.

Since NULL is the place holder for UNKNOWN there is no way to evaluate the statement other than UNKNOWN or NULL!

This must also carry through for string manipulation as well.

For example:

select 'here' + 'is ' + NULL 

returns NULL.

Again it is the old how can you concatenate something to the unknown problem.

Now with all this in our little busy heads we finally think we understand the problem in it’s fullness, but we don’t (or I always don’t).

Where things can get really sticky is in any kind of aggregate situation SUM(), AVG(). Generally, all aggregations have a NULL elimination step built into them.

So lets say we have a table that looks like this:

Col001 Col002
100 100
200 200
300 300

(this isn’t an article on table design so don’t sweat the lack of a key or the duplicate data in both columns)

create table myNumbers
Col001 int,
Col002 int
insert into myNumbers (Col001,Col002) VALUES (100,100)
insert into myNumbers (Col001,Col002) VALUES (200,200)
insert into myNumbers (Col001,Col002) VALUES (300,300)
insert into myNumbers (Col001,Col002) VALUES (NULL,300)
select avg(Col001) from myNumbers

select avg(Col002) from myNumbers

We get:



Warning: Null value is eliminated by an aggregate or other SET operation.

(1 row(s) affected)




(1 row(s) affected)

What happens when the evaluation of the aggregation occurs there is no way to evaluate the NULL so that row is dropped and all the sudden you numbers look horribly wrong.

If I hadn’t put this to output to text we may have merrily trucked along and accepted that 200 was what we were expecting and not the 255 we really wanted due to the treatment of the NULL.

Since it is a warning and not an error our program won’t complain ether it will be more than happy to accept the result since it is valid one.

The only exception to this in general is using COUNT() since you can count a place holder just like you would a value type it isn’t evaluating the data held just that a row exists whether we know what is is in it or not.


I’ve only just scratched the surface of the unknown with this little post. I haven’t covered grouping or JOIN’s and I may in a later post.


My goal is simply to remind myself that dealing with NULL is never a trivial matter.


It’s all magic to me.

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"Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who do not understand it."


Arthur C. Clarke penned three laws of prediction

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The  last is the most well known. I love the change that the comic strip freefall made to it and felt that was most appropriate to my day to day dealings with people and technology in general.

On a regular basis, I hear people describe SQL Server as a black box or magic box and working with it in any real depth is an art or wizardry. That simply isn’t so. It is science 100%. Not to take away from the designers and developers of SQL Server and the people that push the boundaries on  what it is capable of, but it is all based fundamentally on engineering principles,math (relational algebra in particular) and the underlying technology of computers.

Once you demystify it, break it town into small enough parts you can quickly master the parts of it that effect your life in a reasonable amount of time.

One of the areas I focus on is I/O performance and SQL Server. So, I’ll be doing a multi-part post covering the entire I/O stack from how a hard disk works through SAN’s and eventually how this all effects SQL Server.

Hopefully you will find it useful.

Here is to my blogging endeavor!