Book Review: High Performance SQL Server

I was pleased to get sent a copy of Benjamin Nevarez's new book High Performance SQL Server. I've known Benjamin for a long time. He's a very skilled SQL Server professional, and you'll see him at conferences around the world. (Or at least once Covid is tackled more completely).

And the technical reviewer for the book is another very skilled old friend in Mark Broadbent. So my expectations were high for the new edition of this book.

I wasn't disappointed.

It was refreshing to read a book that covered so much of the core knowledge that's needed when working with SQL Server and getting it to perform well.

Benjamin covers a wide variety of topics: an introduction to how SQL Server works internally (including now on Linux), how to configure it and how to work with tempdb. He then headed into monitoring, so that you could find what issues need to be dealt with. The book then looks at performance troubleshooting, and indexing. It finishes with a discussion of the Intelligent Query Processing features added in recent versions followed by a discussion on storage.

As I read, I kept seeing how he led into topics, and as soon as I'd think "I hope he mentions topic X" as I thought it was important, he'd then describe topic X. There were a few areas where I disagreed, but they were few and far between.

I can't tell you how pleasing it was to read a technical book that was well written, used English well, and  wasn't full of technical errors. I've seen so many books lately that just aren't like this. By comparison, I was the tech reviewer on a book just the other day, that I'd rather I'm not mentioned in the book at all once it's released. It was so poorly written.

Now, were there areas that I disagreed with Benjamin on?


In particular, I just don't share the enthusiasm for the in-memory OLTP options in SQL Server, even for temporary objects. I've spent so much time trying them, and let's just say, I don't use them. I'm pretty sure if I extended Benjamin's examples on those a bit further, I think he'd agree.

Were there areas where I'd love to see the book improved?


Here are some suggestions:

  • I think there are a few areas that are suffering from being updates, rather than having been written from scratch recently. As an example, Benjamin linked to an MSDN white paper that I wrote in 2008, and while still somewhat relevant, I did an update to that paper in 2012. That would be a better reference.
  • The discussion on storage feels dated. What I would also love to see discussed in this section is info on other current challenges in this area. For example, the impact of de-duplicating I/O subsystems.
  • There are a number of style aspects I'd love to see changed. I'd like to see WideWorldImporters instead of AdventureWorks. I'd like to see statement terminators in all the code (personal bugbear).
  • The order of the topics in theory makes sense, but in practice, I'm not so sure. I think a lot of readers would be put off by being thrown into a discussion of TDS as soon as they start reading.
  • The discussion on filtered indexes needs to be fleshed out further. They're an awesome feature, but you have to learn to use them, not just configure them.

I'd also like to see the book call out more on the importance of appropriate application design. In my work, I find that at least 70% of the SQL Server performance-related issues that I run into, are application design issues. When you're trying to fix them at the back end, it's already way too late to get real outcomes. I realise though, that that's all many people have a chance to do.

The Verdict ?

Overall though? What a wonderful book.   9 out of 10.


Book Review: Outgrowing God: A Beginner's Guide

Richard Dawkins is a controversial figure. I've got some mixed opinions on him. On one hand, I suspect that in a hundred year's time, The God Delusion will be regarded as a seminal piece of writing. On the other hand, I've seen how some of my religious friends find him abrasive. Most of the time when I see this though, what I suspect much of the criticism of him comes from, is that people just don't like having their long term beliefs challenged. (They would also say, at times, ridiculed). That's not surprising. Other times though, even his supporters think he gets too strident in what he says and how he describes things.

Anyone who has followed my writing, will know that even though I spent the first 42 years of my life growing up as a Christian, I now have absolutely no time for religion. I find it completely unnecessary, often harmful, and I yearn for the day that the world will get past beliefs in gods, demons, ghosts, spirits, etc. And I certainly yearn for the day when professing a belief in such things won't be required for achieving public office in various countries.

I also grew up in an era where the churches have overseen appalling acts, and then spent their times covering them up rather than helping victims.

I also have no issue with people believing whatever they want. I have friends of pretty much all the popular religious persuasions. Where I have a real issue is when they then want to make laws that govern how we live, based entirely on their belief system. Australia isn't too bad on this front, but there is still far too much overlap of church and state.

So I was interested to read Dawkin's new book Outgrowing God: A Beginner's Guide. I hoped he would create a book that explained why belief in deities, etc. isn't needed, and is often counter-productive, but in a language that many more would find easier to approach.

This book does cover the basics. It looks at how beliefs have developed over time; it looks at how we know what's true and what isn't. It looks at how having a god adds nothing to our knowledge of where the universe came from. It looks at how there's no need at all for a religion to provide a moral compass for us all.

And I'm sure he's targeted a mostly US-based audience when describing what we know about evolution. A recent Gallup poll found that 38% of people in the USA still believe that a god created us in our current form, and within the last 10,000 years or so.

Even the catholic pope has long given up on that.

As a book, it touches all the bases, but when reading it, I thought the tone felt a bit flat. It also tended to be repetitive in some areas.

The Verdict ?

This book is ok, and probably best if the target audience was say 15 to 25 year olds, growing up in a society that holds religious beliefs strongly.  6 out of 10.


Book Review: Reprogramming the American Dream

I've mentioned before that I have a deep interest in artificial intelligence and how it will change the world. In particular, I'm interested in the effects on jobs. So I was pleased to get to listen to another book covering this recently. It was Kevin Scott (from Microsoft)'s Reprogramming the American Dream: From Rural America to Silicon Valley – Making AI Serve Us All.

Kevin is Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, so I've come across him before. Prior to Microsoft, he was a senior vice president at LinkedIn and came across to Microsoft as part of the LinkedIn purchase.

I found the book quite fascinating, as much for details of his background in rural America (in Virginia), the moves he's made over the years, and then how he views the potential impacts of AI on rural America. That's an interesting take, as most books today seem to focus on the effects on the big cities.

I'm really interested in how AI will effect people outside the major cities. A recent LandLine program here in Australia covered some local agri-robots. I loved seeing that happening. There is a lot of buzz about agri-robots but not too many are offering practical machines for sale. So I loved seeing that happen, particularly from a rural town like Emerald. What I really loved though, was that they were producing a software development kit (SDK) for their robots, right from an early stage. They've realised they won't be the only ones building apps for their robots. The intersection of this and AI opens so many doors.

In this book Kevin looks at how to integrate AI with work, rather than the typical dystopian view where work is all obliterated. I found his viewpoint somewhat practical and refreshing.

The Verdict ?

This is a great book. 9 out of 10. I found it compelling and compulsive listening. (Mind you I love this topic anyway). I'd like to get Kevin on my podcast one day, to get to discuss it further with him. I might reach out soon. I think it would make for interesting content.


Book Review: Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again

I have a deep interest in artificial intelligence and how it will change the world. I regularly present sessions on what I see coming, technology-wise. Many examples in those sessions are based on breakthroughs related to medicine. So I was pleased to get to listen to Eric Topol's book Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again.

Eric spends time discussing how much of existing medicine is functional yet quite broken. Very few doctors now really connect with and relate to their patients. Worse, misdiagnoses are becoming far too frequent, arguably because of this disconnection.

In this book, Eric takes a realistic look at where we're at with AI in medicine, and suggests how AI based systems will revolutionize the practice of medicine. The issue is with how this will be implemented. Doctors who see their own roles as purely functional (e.g. a radiologist who reads scans and writes summaries all day long, without interacting with patients at all), will be basically replaced. Doctors who use the AI based systems to enhance their work and free them from procedural tasks so that they can focus on patient interactions will see great outcomes.

Eric hopes that AI based systems will bring real patient care back into the healthcare business, while reducing the number of mistakes that are made.

The Verdict ?

This is a great book. 9 out of 10. I found it compelling and compulsive listening. It was interesting to hear an assessment of medical AI from someone directly involved both in medicine, and in researching where we are with medical AI.

Book Review: Atomic Habits

Another book that I listened to recently, also fits into the "I nearly didn't get past the first chapter" category. It was Atomic Habits by James Clear. By the end of this book though, I realised just how much I'd enjoyed it.

James makes a really interesting study into habits. Far more than anything I'd ever read before.

He makes it so clear how the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions leads to profound life changes. That was already pretty obvious to me but I loved the way he made this so practical. He calls the habits that are formed Atomic Habits.

As soon as I posted on Facebook about having enjoyed it, I was surprised by how many of my friends told me they'd loved it too.

I wasn't expecting to find a deep discussion on habits and the science behind how they form and how to change them so interesting, and I'm so glad I didn't give up near the beginning.  The endless examples are particularly engaging.

The verdict ?

Have to say I loved it. 9 of out 10.  If you need a bit of motivation after a year of covid-19, this might help.


Book Review: #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur's Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness

I haven't posted any book reviews lately but I have been getting through quite a few books, so it's time to rectify that. First up is Gary Vee's book #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur's Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness. I often read or listen to books that cover entrepreneurship. If you've read any of these, or listened to any related podcasts, you will have heard of Gary Vee. Gary is a Belarusian-American whose name is Gary Vaynerchuk.

I can see why a lot of people love listening to Gary. He's done well over the years. He runs a substantial business today, and invests in a number of interesting start-ups. He has what many describe as an infectious enthusiasm.

I've listened to material (like podcasts) from Gary in the past and it's fine; it's just not 100% to my taste. And this book is the same. If you haven't listened to Gary before, I wouldn't be surprised if after listening to the first chapter, you were thinking that this guy is really full of himself and quite put off.

Again though, keep in mind that he really has done very well using his methods.

I listened to this book from Audible as I wanted to hear it in Gary's own voice. I often get more out of books that way (rather than the voice in my head as I read), and it lets me do it when driving, etc.

This is an odd book, in that it's basically Gary answering a whole bunch of questions that people have sent to him. That does give it a sort of genuine honesty. I did though, find parts of it repetitious. He covers a wide variety of topics, from marketing, to social media ideas and futures, entrepreneurship in general, starting and running small businesses, hiring people and more.

I do like the fact that the title says it's "one entrepreneur's take on…" instead of saying "this is how you do it".

The Verdict ?

I'd rate this one 7 out of 10. Gary is a clever guy but I can imagine this book might put a bunch of people off. If you're running a business in the modern world though, I'd be surprised if you didn't learn something from it.


Book Review: Win Bigly – Scott Adams

In the past, I was an unashamed fan of the Dilbert cartoon strip. In recent years though,  the author (Scott Adams) has become a pretty divisive character in and around US politics and life in general. So I was intrigued by his book Win Bigly.

Nowadays, I keep hearing many people refer to him as being very pro-Trump and in the opinion stakes, that immediately cuts him off from half the US population, and the majority of the world.

The other issue that's constantly raised in relation to him is around his attitudes and opinions on sexual abuse, etc. I won't comment further on those here as I wanted to focus on the book. (I'm sure many others will though as he's widely despised by many in relation to this).

So I didn't know what to expect with this book.

Adams has a curious background. He says he's a trained hypnotist and says he's also a lifelong student of the art of persuasion. (Hypnotist seems a pretty ill-defined "profession" to start with). But he was one of the earliest public figures who were suggesting that Trump would win the US election. That alone made him a lot of enemies, but he wasn't alone. I remember watching an interview with Mike Moore who thought it was likely when so many others did not think it possible.

I see the book from two different viewpoints:

First viewpoint – positive

The book is a pretty articulate break down of how Trump used persuasion tools at a master level, and how he applied them when most of the mainstream media (and his own party) viewed him as a bumbling sideshow.  Adams mentioned how this related to what he saw with Steve Jobs years ago.

I found it fascinating to read a breakdown of the tools used to convince people, how the rules of media exposure were completely broken, and how he applied kill shots that were far more important (sadly) to the audience than facts.

Anyone dismissing the book out of hand (and many will based on who wrote it), will miss some things that are of interest to people in politics or marketing.

Second viewpoint – rewrite history

The second viewpoint is that Adams seems to have burned a lot of bridges around town, and the book reads a bit like a rewriting history in trying to explain his previous actions and viewpoints.

That aspect of the book really grated on me as I thought it was a case of "methinks he protests too much". I found that part overdone and made it all a bit unbalanced.

Bottom line?

This book was very interesting in parts but left me feeling a big uneasy. I'm still struggling to know what I really think about it. But it did make me look at Trump differently (not in a good way but with more understanding of his techniques).

Greg's rating: 6 out of 10

Book Review: Mortality – Christopher Hitchens

I know that many people found Christopher Hitchens a divisive character. Mostly that's because he very openly, directly questioned, and at times ridiculed, long-held beliefs about religion and about inappropriately revered people. He did not (as the old saying goes) suffer fools gladly. I read Mortality quite a while ago and wanted to wait a while after his death to see how I still felt about it.

Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010 while on a book tour for Hitch-22. Hitchens died in December 2011.

While acknowledging his rough edges, I was an unashamed fan of Hitchens' work. His writing on religion was incisive, but his writing on politics and culture was masterful.

So many religious leaders say that when facing death, people often find religion, even if they hadn't done so before. They used to say that "there are no atheists in the trenches" during the first world war. Many thought he would embrace the apparent solace that religion might offer, as he came closer to death. That wasn't ever the case.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc throughout the world at present, reflecting on his book on mortality is timely. As he was slipping away, he was most worried that he might lose the ability to express himself.

While I don't think this was Hitchens' best book, it's still a wonderful poignant read. It's a practical guide to what we're all going to face one day. Compared to his other books, Mortality has a gentler tone. Critics mistake him for being negative, but that's just usually because he was challenging them. On the contrary, Hitchens loved life and his friends and family deeply.

A focus of the book is his experience of dying from cancer but unlike the books of many who are facing their own mortality, you won't find a trace of self-pity.

Hitchens' wife noted in the afterword that "Christian always has the last word". Given this was published posthumously, I'd say she was right. Although, I loved her little jibe:

"My husband is an impossible act to follow. And yet, now I must follow him. I have been forced to have the last word."

Bottom line?

This isn't a long book. It's basically a short book of essays. It's hard to believe he managed to write it. I found reading it to be really moving. If you find yourself contemplating your own mortality at present, you could do worse than read this book.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Book Review: Stories I'd Tell in Bars – Jen Lancaster

I mentioned recently that I haven't been doing as much driving in my car lately, so that's limited the time I've had for listening to audio books. But another one that I did complete on Audible recently was Stories I'd Tell in Bars by Jen Lancaster.

I've seen comments about the printed version of this book, that say it's riddled with typos and grammar/spelling errors but fortunately that wasn't an issue for me as I listened to the audiobook. The narration of that was fine.

Jen comes across as a somewhat neurotic identity that I found more relatable in the earlier parts of the book. She's entertaining in her story-telling style. People who've read Jen's earlier work say she's toned down a lot since she published others like "Bitter is the new Black".

Going through the book feels like just listening in on a series of pages from a diary. I can't say I loved the section on poolyball (yes that's a thing for them).  I really did enjoy though, the section o the Citizen's Police Academy.

While I did listen to it intently to the end, and enjoyed quite a lot of it, I still ended up with a bit of a nothingness feeling about it at the end.

Bottom line?

I'd class this one as just an interesting diversion for about 9 hours.

Greg's rating: 6 out of 10

Book Review: AI Super Powers by Kai-Fu Lee

I haven't been doing as much driving in my car lately, so that's limited the time I've had for listening to audio books. But one that I did complete recently was AI Super Powers by Kai-Fu Lee. The subtitle is China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.

This is an area that I've been really passionate about for the last few years.  I can see AI changing so much of our current world, and much sooner than I think most people will realise.

It was interesting to hear the opinions from Dr Lee as he's got a fascinating background.  He effortlessly blends his Chinese background with his American background. He's worked for many of the companies who are directly involved: Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc., has headed up large AI teams and is a cancer survivor. These things all give him quite a unique perspective.

He provides a pretty frank discussion of where AI is today. Importantly, he covers the big breakthroughs, and says that the last real breakthrough was Deep Learning. There might be another big breakthrough one day, but everything else since has been just incremental improvements.

He contends that AI will determine the balance of the world going forward. And he sees that whoever owns the data, will own the best outcomes. Increasingly, that's China.

I've seen criticisms of the book, but mostly from US readers who think Dr Lee is a little too biased towards China but I honestly think they're missing a bigger picture.

I think he's right. If you've watched the startup scene and the passion of young Chinese business people who have survived the cut and thrust of their local market and economy, you'll see abilities that I just don't see anywhere else.

It's not something that's covered in this book, but as an example, I read recently that young people in the USA are far less likely to start a new company today, than their forebears were in the 1960s. That's concerning. There are many reasons for that but I suspect that younger people in the USA have a far more comfortable existence without taking the risks that these young Chinese do. And another large reason, is that health coverage in the USA is so broken, that I see would-be entrepreneurs (of all ages) stuck in the wrong jobs because they aren't game to leave their employer-provided healthcare.

I've seen many discussions about the upcoming loss of blue-collar jobs but Dr Lee is spot on with his discussions around the impact on white-collar jobs.

He finishes out the book with a section on Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposals. That seems to resonate well with the Silicon Valley companies, but from what I've seen, welfare-dependent societies (which is what this would be), never seem to turn out well.

Bottom line?

I really enjoyed this book.  If you have any interest in the future of the world and of work, this is a compelling book.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10