Is The Paid-Article Website Dead?

I was doing some varied reading this morning and stumbled across this article by Paul Graham. I want to highlight this passage:

"We now have several examples to prove that amateurs can surpass professionals, when they have the right kind of system to channel their efforts. Wikipedia may be the most famous. Experts have given Wikipedia middling reviews, but they miss the critical point: it's good enough. And it's free, which means people actually read it. On the web, articles you have to pay for might as well not exist. Even if you were willing to pay to read them yourself, you can't link to them. They're not part of the conversation."

It pretty much sums up what I've been thinking for some time about sites with paid-for articles. Do they have any future at all? I was interested to see Rupert Murdoch placing his hopes on a paid-for future. He's arguing that free news sites are dead. Can't say I agree with that. I'm sure they'll be different to what we've been used to in the past.

When I'm searching for technical topics, I have to say that every time I see a link to a site I know is paid, I don't think "I must join that site some time", I simply automatically skip over their content. A good indication on Google is page caching. Google will happily turn off page caching for paid-for sites. I wish they had an option to simply leave them out of my results set. When I'm searching for results, any page I see that doesn't have a cached page available, is probably no longer of interest to me.

I think Paul's last sentence is the most telling: "They're not part of the conversation". You can't build a buzz or discussion around something that people have to pay to see.

What this does raise is the question on how technical content will be generated in future. Is our future one that's full of "good enough" technical articles too? Or is advertising the only way forward, much as we might wish it wasn't?

OT: Green Science and Bogus Mathematics

With the climate summit in Copenhagen now finished, I wanted to make a few comments about a trend that really annoys me. I'm fairly "green oriented" in my outlook but amongst "green" scientists and advocates, there is an endless desire to make each cause sound much stronger than the facts permit. I think this does their support more harm than good. The recent expose on modified emails bore that out only too well but I want to show a few simpler examples.

Solar Heating

In Australia, we're encouraged to reduce our power consumption. This seems a great goal. One way of doing this is to install solar power heating. For a country like Australia that's not short on sunshine, you'd think that's a no-brainer. What annoys me though is how the message is pushed. We're endlessly told it will "save us money". This is based on logic like:

1. You buy a solar hot water system

2. You use $30 less electricity every quarter

3. Therefore the unit pays for itself

This logic can only appeal to people that don't get that money costs money. If I pay $3000 to have a unit installed, I've lost an opportunity of more than $30 every quarter. Worse, if I borrow money to purchase it (on a credit card), I'll be paying at least $150 per quarter in interest on that $3000.

I'm keen to see solar units installed across the country. But please don't apply bogus mathematics to justify it. Much better to just tell us: "it'll cost you money but you'll be doing your part to help".

Water Saving Devices

Another annoying one is water-saving shower heads. The logic works something like:

1. Four people in the house take a 10 minute shower each day.

2. A 5 star shower head reduces water flow to 54%

3. Fitting one will save 46% of the water used for showers.

Seems simple logic???

What is completely ignored is that showers with water-saving shower heads are often longer than with standard shower heads. I did some testing at my house. I actually use *less* water with a zero-star shower head than with a five-star one. Why? Because the ultra-green heating unit feeding it doesn't get working properly until the water has been flowing for some time, so I have to turn it on for a while before I can get into it. Then, the low flow makes it harder to use for cleaning (most people have experienced the need to run around in a five star shower just to get wet). Washing hair, etc. takes much longer with a "green" shower head and so on.

All the five star shower head does is cause me to use more water, to have a lousy shower and waste a bunch of time. It's not as simple as the bogus mathematics used to support it.

Odd that you can't create a filtered index on a deterministic persisted calculated column

On a client site the other day, I came across a situation (unfortunately too common) where a column in a table was being used for two purposes. It could either hold an integer value or a string. Only about 100 rows out of many millions had the integer value. Some of the client code needed to calculate the maximum value when it was an integer. First step I tried was to add a persisted calculated column like so:

CREATE TABLE dbo.LousyTable

( ColumnWithMixedValues varchar(20),

  SomeOtherColumn varchar(10),

  MixedValueColumnAsInt AS

    CASE WHEN ISNUMERIC(ColumnWithMixedValues) = 1

         THEN CAST(ColumnWithMixedValues AS int)

         ELSE NULL



After indexing the calculated column, all was good. But I then thought I should create a filtered index instead:

CREATE INDEX IndexAttempt1 ON dbo.LousyTable (MixedValueColumnAsInt)

WHERE MixedValueColumnAsInt IS NOT NULL;

but this fails with:

Msg 10609, Level 16, State 1, Line 1

Filtered index 'IX_LousyTable' cannot be created on table 'dbo.LousyTable' because the column 'MixedValueColumnAsInt' in the filter expression is a computed column. Rewrite the filter expression so that it does not include this column.

I was discussing this with fellow MVP Rob Farley and we tried some other options such as:

CREATE INDEX IndexAttempt2 ON dbo.LousyTable (MixedValueColumnAsInt)

WHERE ISNUMERIC(ColumnWithMixedValues) = 1;


CREATE INDEX IndexAttempt3 ON dbo.LousyTable(MixedValueColumnAsInt)

WHERE CASE WHEN ISNUMERIC(ColumnWithMixedValues) = 1

           THEN CAST(ColumnWithMixedValues AS int)

           ELSE NULL


Regardless, there's no option to do this. I really think there should be. It's hard to imagine why it isn't permitted.

If you think so too, here's the connect item to vote on:

Book: Wally McClure – Building iPhone and iPod touch Applications for the .NET/C# Developer with MonoTouch

The title says it all. An old buddy of mine Wally McClure has just released a short new eBook on Wrox that covers how to get started building iPhone and iPod Touch applications using MonoTouch. That should be of interest to the C#/.NET developers out there. You'll find it here:

Just bought a copy myself and was pleasantly surprised. It's 42 pages and $6.99 and comes as a PDF download.