Down on the docks in Seattle there's a shop of oddities and curiosities where one can find things like a chapter of the Bible written on a grain of rice, an aligator boy, a gobblet of glass eyes - you know - stuff like that. So too one can find oddities and curiosities at the 2009 PASS Conference.
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One presentor who discussed the new hierarchy data type and the bill of materials problem used a 3D Lego modeler tool called the Lego Digital Designer to explain in a visual way the hierarchical relationship between the parts of a model. How cool is that? The download is free at ldd.lego.com. Also an insider note is that several good sources have suggested that the new HIERARCHYID is not the best way to solve the bill of materials problem. Rather, other techniques are preferred like Joe Celko's Advanced Nested Sets model or the more simple adjacency list model (for scenarios where data doesn't change much).
An interesting note that was made is that Microsoft developed the HIERARCHYID to make some of the native XML features work efficiently. Hmm. Then the decision was made to expose it to users so they can benefit from it in various scenarios.
TSQL developers are familiar with the GO directive which sets up an implicit transaction. Kalen Delaney pointed out that one can run a block of TSQL code multiple times simply by doing something like GO 320 - and the code will run three hundred and twenty times. Imagine using this to test constraints for insert statements. Pretty neat.
Listening in on a Microsoft presentation on database connectivity, the presenter mentioned "fuzzy testing." Is that when Elmo takes a hammer to your laptop? No. Apparently it's a bug-finding technique that commonly that enters random data to controls and systems. The presenter mentioned using a tool called "Slammer." I hope on the box there's a picture of a professional wrestler in the air about to deliver a flying elbow or something.
David J. DeWitt, keynote speaker on Thursday overviewed trends in database technology over the past 30 years. He points out that since SQL Server is row-based, and entire rows in a table are sent through the CPU cache, a large amount of CPU usage is wasted due to cache misses. That being the case, then there's another reason why narrow tables - or tables with fewer columns and smaller data types are preferable due to the CPU cache bottleneck. Another neat point is that Dr. DeWitt mentioned that future versions of SQL Server like SQL Server 10.5 and 11 may do some really nifty things like using in-memory column-based tables to take advantage of high compression opportunities and to drastically reduce cache misses, getting operations through to CPU much more efficiently. That's cool.
I had an in-depth question about the full-text features of SQL Server. I asked around and was told by Microsoft personnel that I needed to talk to Fernando. I played a game similar to "Where's Waldo?" that I call "Where's Fernando?" I wanted to learn more about how full text correlates words like "light," "lights", "lighter" and "lighting" as belonging to the same English root word. I talked to some other very knowledgeable people like Robert Cain, a SQL Server MVP who is also a fantastic presenter.
I learned that Robert Cain has recently changed employers - and is working on some really cool projects for NASA. One really interesting and odd note is that NASA uses Microsoft Project extensively - and perhaps in ways it was never intended. They have the larges Project database on planet earth - and Robert is helping them manage that odd data store. It's like the bill of materials problem for complex engineering projects mixed with project management, mashed together into one solution slash problem! Wow. Wierd.
Thursday at lunch yielded a curiosity. I sat next to a guy who swims with Alistair Cockburn, one of the founders of the Agile Movement. Where does he swim? Stein Erickson or something like that. Also, I learned that Microsoft has recently added a research lab at Thanksgiving Point in Salt Lake City. That makes sense. There's always a lot of interesting research going on over there at the University of Utah. After all, it's one of the original four nodes of the Arpanet - the precursor to the internet.
It turns out that the room where the session "Storage for the DBA" is actually not where all the DBAs are stored.
The official commedian of the conference is Buck Woody. Speaking of users, Buck says "The Internet is down! have you ever heard that? Despite what Al Gore told you, [the internet] isn't all on your laptop."