Another angle on database scalability
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Another angle on database scalability

So the traditional measures of database scalability have to do with query speed. Does your database run queries quickly enough? Do you have contention issues when one thread is trying to insert data and another is trying to run some kind of crazy five table join. One problem I’ve run into with large MySQL databases is what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, maintenance scalability.

Let’s say I need to index a column in a table with three million rows. The create index statement can take 20 or 30 minutes to run. Same thing if I need to add a new column to a large table. So how do people get around these maintenance scalability issues without downtime? In the MySQL world, is there an answer to this question?

Will the bureaucracy save us?
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Will the bureaucracy save us?

After yesterday’s gloomy post about how we have failed to defend ourselves from nefarious elected officials, I read this story praising the bureaucracy for imposing some accountability on the government. Christopher Hayes writes:

But a funny thing has happened over the past six years. At a time when the press failed to check a reactionary Administration, when the opposition party all too often chose timidity, it was the lowly and anonymous bureaucrats, clad in rumpled suits, ID badges dangling from their necks, who, in their own quiet, behind-the-scenes way, took to the ramparts to defend the integrity of the American system of government.

This is why President Bush’s signing statements are so important. Federal agencies under the executive branch pay attention to them.

Our nation has failed
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Our nation has failed

The big political story of the week is that starting in 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney’s office declared that it was not bound by the laws that govern the executive branch, on the basis of … well it doesn’t really matter. They just made something up to justify not complying with the rules they don’t feel should apply to them. Dan Froomkin has written up the whole thing in his White House Watch column.

The truth is, I’m not that interested in Dick Cheney or his shenanigans. We have known for a very long tim that he views the White House, and more importantly, himself, as holding power that must not be checked by other branches of government, the Constitution, or conscience. We know that when he bothers to tell us anything at all, he lies. So there’s really no point in dwelling on him any more.

What does bother me is that in this country we have plenty of systems in place that are supposed to protect us from rogue elements within the government. Start with the fact that Dick Cheney works for the President. The fact of the matter is that President Bush allows Dick Cheney to get away with pissing on the Constitution.

Then there’s the legislative branch. For six years, Republicans chose to ignore the stench emanating from the White House. Fortunately, doing so cost them their majorities in the House and Senate last November. Then there’s the media. Dick Cheney’s office declared its independence from the rules governing the executive branch in 2003 and we’re only hearing about it now. Why? (Insert ten more paragraphs of media criticism here. You can write them yourself.)

Finally, there’s the voters. In 2000, people could claim not to know better when it comes to George W Bush and the people he chooses to employ. What’s the excuse for 2004? Everything we know about Iraq now we knew back then, but the majority of voters opted to reelect the President.

When I look at everything that has gone on, I can’t help but feel a bit pessimistic about 2008.

The iPhone in the enterprise
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The iPhone in the enterprise

Jason Levine offers a counterpoint to John Gruber’s iPhone post from the other day, explaining the enterprise features offered for the BlackBerry that the iPhone won’t match. They’re both right, of course. The iPhone isn’t going to try to compete in the space where BlackBerry excels. At the same time, there are going to be lots of people who buy or want to buy iPhones and will try to cope with the corporate IT environment to the degree possible. Whether the iPhone is good enough to compel IT departments to accommodate the iPhone and to compel Apple to provide more enterprise-friendly features remains to be seen.

The birds and the bees
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The birds and the bees

The Audobon Society reports a precipitous decline in many bird species in the United States. Why are the birds disappearing? The proximate cause is habitat loss, but of course the root cause is indifference:

The Audubon Society portrait of common bird species in decline is really a report on who humans are. Let me offer a proposition about Homo sapiens. We are the only species on earth capable of an ethical awareness of other species and, thus, the only species capable of happily ignoring that awareness. So far, our economic interests have proved to be completely incompatible with all but a very few forms of life. It’s not that we believe that other species don’t matter. It’s that, historically speaking, it hasn’t been worth believing one way or another. I don’t suppose that most Americans would actively kill a whippoorwill if they had the chance. Yet in the past 40 years its number has dropped by 1.6 million.

The health care primary
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The health care primary

Timothy Noah is kicking of a new series for Slate on what Presidential candidates are promising in terms of health care reform with a look at Barack Obama’s health care plan. Here’s what he says about the state of health care in America:

Health care has lately ranked second, third, or fourth in polls asking what the federal government’s greatest priority should be, and I predict it will soon settle in for a long run as No. 2. (For the foreseeable future, the Iraq war will remain No. 1.) As I’ve noted before, the American health-care system is in an advanced state of collapse owing to the failure of an 80-year experiment in market economics. Politically, the problem has grown more urgent because rising health-care premiums and diminishing coverage are starting to cause serious problems for the middle class. Health insurance costs more and more and covers less and less. Per capita health-care costs are about twice what they were when Hillary Clinton tried unsuccessfully to reform the system in 1994, and the ranks of the uninsured have increased by 13 percent. Universal health insurance, which has eluded the political system at least as far back as 1912, when former president Teddy Roosevelt endorsed it in his failed Bull Moose bid, is starting to look inevitable. Even insurance companies think so, according to a May 30 article by Jackie Calmes in the Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal, the insurers have given up blocking universal health care, “Harry and Louise”-style, and are now redirecting their energies toward co-opting it.

I am inclined to agree that health care is the most important domestic issue that the next President can actually do something about, so I’m very curious about what the various candidates propose to do about it.

I think the media is behind the curve on this issue as well. Yes, we have a crisis in terms of the number of uninsured people in this country, but we have a second crisis for people who do have insurance. For the past few years I’ve had “good” health insurance, and my premiums have been absurdly expensive, working with the insurance company has been difficult, and I still have to pay out of pocket for many things. Prescription drug insurance is a joke. (The new tactic for health insurance plans is to lower the number of pills they’ll cover over 30 days so that your copay covers almost the entire cost of the medicine.) When you got to a pharmacy and your doctor’s prescription requests more pills than the insurance company wants to pay for, the pharmacist generally treats you like you and your doctor are accomplices in trying to perpetrate some kind of fraud.

I have been wondering lately whether it would be a better deal to forego regular health insurance and get a high deductible plan and a health savings account. It’s time for a change, and I’m eager to vote for someone who can bring about that change.

Search warrants now required to access email
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Search warrants now required to access email

A federal court has ruled that stored email is afforded the same constitutional protections as telephone conversations and email being transmitted over the wire. Law enforcement agencies will need to obtain a search warrant to access it. I expect that the government will appeal the ruling, but it makes sense technologically speaking. There’s no reason to grant different levels of protection to email if it’s traveling over the wire than if it’s on the hard drive of a server. Nice victory for the EFF.

Ed Felten on gold farmers
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Ed Felten on gold farmers

Ed Felten describes the odd nature of gold farming in World of Warcraft:

This relationship is an amazing tangle of play and work. The gold farmer works playing a game, so he can earn money which he spends playing the same game. The customer finds part of the game too much like work, so he works at another job to earn money to pay a gold farmer to play for him, so the customer can have more fun when he plays. Got it?

This practice is not just a digital phenomenon, though. Think about golf caddies or golf instructors who spend their spare time playing golf, or fishing and hunting guides. Taking someone else out to where the fish are and showing them how to catch them may not be as fun as fishing for your own pleasure, but it still beats regular work, at least for some. Or how about sherpas on Mount Everest? They are some of the most accomplished alpinists in the world, but they are seen mostly as laborers to assist the “real” climbers in achieving their goals.

Golf is exciting
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Golf is exciting

Lots of people think that golf is the most boring televised sport there is, but I think it’s because they don’t really understand everything that goes into it. I’d say it’s sedate, but not boring. In today’s final round of the US Open, which is already exciting just because it’s the toughest tournament in professional golf, there was a really interesting moment involving Tiger Woods.

He’s down by one stroke with two holes left and the leader has already finished. If he makes a birdie on either of the last two holes, he ties things up and forces a playoff to be played tomorrow. The 17th hole is a short par four, well within his range. The 18th hole is the toughest on the course. So he can either lay up and try to hit it close with his second shot, forcing himself to use only one put to birdie, or he can shoot for the pin and if successful, can birdie with a two putt. Complicating his decision is that Jim Furyk, who had been tied for the lead, shot for the pin, missed the green and wound up taking a bogie to fall one shot back.

Tiger did shoot for the pin, wound up in the bunker, and made a pretty tough putt to save par. He wound up making par on the 18th hole as well, and Angel Cabrera became the first Argentine to win the US Open. Don’t let anyone tell you golf isn’t exciting.