Do your guarantees match your advertising and rhetoric?

At our company we teach quite a lot of classes and that means we do a lot of printing. So, we decided to move up to a really serious printer. Whenever we go to a high-end print shop, they all use Fuji Xerox Docucenter printers. So we thought we should get one.

These are truly amazing printers/copiers. The print quality is the best available. The print speed is awesome (and just based on your budget). The capabilties are exactly what we need. The printers are renowned for their reliability and the price of the printers reflects their high-end status.

However, given a company claims to have the best product available, charges a price that matches those claims and also says that it almost never breaks down, how long would you imagine they would warrant it for? 12 months? 24 months? 36 months? 5 years?

I was a little stunned to see that they cover only the cost of parts for 3 months. Yes, that's no misprint. It's 3 months.

I am assured this is "normal" for this segment of the industry. Am I alone in finding this more than a little odd? A small car manufacturer would warrant their similarly-priced product for 3 or 5 years today.

I understand that most people buy these with some sort of ongoing service agreement but is there any other industry where you sell items that cost as much as a car and only warrant it for 3 months? What message does that really send about the manufacturer's confidence in their own product?

Now for a positive and uplifting message about Marysville

I had a day of mixed emotions today.

I (and I assume most of the world) have been horrified by this "religious" massacre in Afghanistan: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/two-beheaded-florida-quran-burning-triggers-massacre-at-un-office-in-afghanistan/ 

Today, however, I also had the reverse experience and a seriously uplifting one. This afternoon I drove through Marysville. For those that don't know it, it's a town that was wiped off the face of the map by bushfires in Victoria a while back. Hundreds of people died. I was roughly in the area and so I made a point of popping into Marysville to see how they were coping. In general, I find that the people in those towns don't want hand-outs so much as business. So I try to visit them and spend some cash in their shops, etc.

But it was the people in the bakery cafe that impressed me today. I saw a tin-can for donations on the counter. I wandered up to look at it. I thought it was a good idea to contribute to helping the locals. What impressed me most was that the collections were for flood victims in Queensland and Victoria, not for Marysville at all. Given what a mess they are currently dealing with themselves, that's seriously impressive and uplifting to see.

A system view to return a list of reserved words?

There was a discussion on our internal mailing list today about how to get a list of reserved words for SQL Server. It strikes me that there should be a system view that returns this. It could also return details of the version of the product where the word was added and an indication of if the use of the word is deprecated.

If you agree, you know the drill. Vote once, vote often 🙂

https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/653455/system-view-that-lists-reserved-words

Warning: Don't apply VS2010 SP1 (yet) if Intellisense in SSMS matters to you

This one is a bit annoying. When you apply SP1 for Visual Studio 2010 (VS2010), one of the side effects seems to be that you lose Intellisense in SQL Server Management Studio 2008 R2 (SSMS).

If Intellisense matters to you, you might want to wait for a cumulative update to fix it.

Details here: https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/650569/ssms-2008-r2-is-losing-intellisense-after-installing-visual-studio-2010-sp1

The need for user-defined index types

Since the removal of the 8KB limit on serialization, the ability to define new data types using SQL CLR integration is now almost at a usable level, apart from one key omission: indexes.

We have no ability to create our own types of index to support our data types. As a good example of this, consider that when Microsoft introduced the geometry and geography (spatial) data types, they did so as system CLR data types but also needed to introduce a spatial index as a new type of index. Those of us that need to work with the product as it's supplied can't just create our own new types of index objects.

What would have been far preferable would have been for the ability to create user-defined indexes to have been added to the product and for spatial indexes to have been one instance of that.

Other database engines (such as Oracle) have this capability. This makes it impossible to migrate applications that use Oracle Data Cartridges to SQL Server in an effective way. It also just makes the creation of data types in SQL Server that much more limiting than it could be.

One alternative is to promote properties of CLR data types via persisted calculated columns and then index those but that's somewhat awkward and more importantly, doesn't really do the same thing.

If you'd like to see user-defined index types be considered in the future, you know what to do. Vote once, vote often 🙂

https://connect.microsoft.com/SQLServer/feedback/details/650268/introduce-user-defined-index-types

 

Skype, add-on applications, UAC and "Unable to respond"

Just posting this blog tonight hoping it might save someone else a bunch of time. For call recording on Skype, I use a program called Pamela. Lately, when I'd first installed it, it would work fine. Later, however, it would come up and say:

"Another application (Pamela.exe) is attempting to access Skype, but we are unable to respond".

You just have to love these sorts of messages that don't give you the slightest clue about what the problem is.

While I saw the problem with Pamela, it can happen with any Skype add-in. The problem actually is related to UAC. If Skype is running as non-admin (startup app in windows) and you launch the other app as admin, you'll get this error message. Amazingly, running the add-in without admin privileges makes it work. The irony is that I was trying it as admin because I thought that would make sure it works.

Hope that helps someone else as I certainly wasted endless hours trying to work out what was wrong. And a big raspberry to the Skype guys for the "useful" error message.

What types of objects are useful in SQL CLR?

I've had a number of people over the years ask about whether or not a particular type of object is a good candidate for SQL CLR integration. The rules that I normally apply are as follows:

Database Object

Transact-SQL

Managed Code

Scalar UDF

Generally poor performance

Good option when limited or no data-access

Table-valued UDF

Good option if data-related

Good option when limited or no data-access

Stored Procedure

Good option

Good option when external access is required or limited data access

DML Trigger

Good option

Rarely a good option as most perform substantial data access

DDL Trigger

OK option if only limited processing of XML EVENTDATA

Good option for extensive processing of XML EVENTDATA

Aggregate

Not possible

Good option

User-defined Data Type

Only alias types

Good option

 Scalar UDFs written in Transact-SQL are well-known for causing performance problems in SQL Server environments. Managed code is often a good option (and generally a much faster option) for implementing scalar UDFs as long as the functions do not depend on heavy data access.Table-valued Functions that are data-oriented are likely to be best implemented in Transact-SQL. A common use case for managed code in table-valued UDFs is for functions that need to access external resources such as the file system, environment variables, registry, etc.

 

Stored procedures have traditionally been written in T-SQL. Most stored procedures should continue to be written in T-SQL.  There are very few good use cases for managed code in stored procedures. The exceptions to this are stored procedures that need to access external resources or perform complex calculations. There should be consideration, however, about whether code that performs these tasks should be implemented within SQL Server at all.

 

Almost all DML triggers are heavily-oriented towards data access and are written in T-SQL. There are very few valid use cases for implementing DML triggers in managed code.

 

DDL triggers are also often data-oriented. Some DDL triggers though need to do extensive XML processing, particularly based on the XML EVENTDATA structure passed to these triggers by SQL Server. The more that extensive XML processing is required, the more likely the DDL trigger would be best implemented in managed code. Managed code would also be a better option if the DDL trigger needed to access external resources but this is rarely a good idea within any form of trigger.

 

Transact-SQL offers no concept of user-defined aggregates. These need to be implemented in managed code. A common use case for user-defined aggregates is to create functionality that exists in other database engines while migrating to SQL Server. For example, if a database engine provides a RANGE function, a replacement could be written in managed code to avoid the need to rewrite the application code. As a further example, the SQL Server Migration Assistant uses managed code to ease Oracle migration. SQL Server 2005 limited user-defined aggregates to those that could be serialized in 8KB of data. SQL Server 2008 changed this limit to 2GB and also introduced the ability to create multi-column aggregates.

 

Transact-SQL offers the ability to create alias data types but these are not really new data types. They are more like subsets (or subclasses) of existing built-in data types. Managed code offers the ability to create entirely new data types and determine not only what data needs to be stored but also the behavior of the data type. It is important to understand however that the intention of user-defined CLR data types is not to convert SQL Server into an object-oriented database. Data types should relate to storage of basic data, not to objects such as employees or customers.

Should vendors have an express queue for people who have a clue? What passes for support today?

It's good to see some airports that have queues for people that travel frequently and know what they're doing. But I'm left thinking that IT vendors need to have something similar.

Bigpond (part of Telstra) in Australia have recently introduced new 42MB/sec modems on their 3G network. It's actually just a pair of 21MB/sec modems linked together but the idea is cute. Around most of the country, they work pretty well. In the middle of the CBD in Melbourne however, at present they just don't work.

Having more patience than myself, my wife (who also has one) called their support line today. The symptoms were:

  • The data connection works fine till around 8AM. 
  • It works fine again after about 5:30PM.
  • At all other times during the day, the connection strength shows a full signal and connections happen instantaneously.
  • During the day, a ping to the default gateway is returned after about 3 seconds about 1 in 100 times. All other pings are lost.
  • No DNS names can be resolved at all.
  • No IP traffic can move at all.

Now, let's see what you think about the suggestions from the "support" people:

  • It must be a problem with your computer configuration. (Interesting that it works fine outside those times without change)
  • It could be a problem with your browser cache. Please clear it. (Hmmm, well there goes the useful cache)
  • It might be a problem with your username and password. (But how does it work without change the rest of the day?)
  • Please manually connect to the Telstra 3G network instead of the Telstra network that we connect you to by default. (No change occurs)

And then they get scary:

  • Please reset all the security zones for all sites in your browser. That might be the problem. (WTF???? What outstanding advice!)

At what point do companies ever begin to think that this sort of nonsense is acceptable?

Do you have different levels of support for your customers, depending upon their knowledge level? If so, how do you decide who can use the more advanced support? How do you control access to it?