Open Insights 54 – Avoiding Path Dependence

Open Insights Newsletter

Issue 54 – Avoiding Path Dependence

  April 1, 2009

by Sean Hull

2009 is in full swing.  Let’s put the struggles of 2008 and the last few months behind us, and take the downturn as an opportunity to dig in, work harder, and get creative in business. 

In This Issue:

1. Feature: Avoiding Path Dependence

2. Current Reading

3. Podcast Reviews

4. Past Issues

5. Technical Articles

6. Webcast

7. Lightweight Humor

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: Avoiding Path Dependence

Here’s an interesting concept.  Wikipedia defines path dependence thus:  "explains how the set of decisions one faces for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions one has made in the past,

even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant."   In other words once you’ve started down one road, it becomes harder to go with a plan b, the further along you get.

In IT, I think there are two reasons for this.  The first one that probably pops into your head is the financial one.  In IT projects, once you’ve commited to a plan, purchased hardware and licenses, you’ve now become invested in that path.   Not only did you lay out money for those servers and software licenses, but you spent time and money building out the plan, getting the right resources in house, and getting everybody on board. 

But there’s a second less obvious reason too.  In Robert Cialdini’s classic book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" he talks about a consistency principle in human nature.  They did various studies and experiments and concluded that "once we make a choice or take a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment."  In other words we feel compelled to stay the course.

In technology projects this can become problematic.  Chances are you’ve been involved with a project that experienced scope creep, the slow eroding away of the original bounds of what the project intended to solve.  In many cases new requirements are identified along the way.  Given that, one wants to remain very flexible and nimble in the face of expected delays, roadblocks and other surprises.

An example…

I would argue that the web as a development platform has favored those technologies with the least path dependence.  A great example of that is the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl or LAMP platform.  The entire stack is open-source, so costs are limited support and implementation, not licenses.  What’s more with the source available your developers don’t have their hands tied.  Further, the web platform as a whole allows for development on single pages, without impacting the whole application.  The former client/server model with compiled applications would have a very slow development curve and turnaround time for changes + additions, and would never be able to handle the demands of millions of unpredictable internet users.

In other words, LAMP is a success not because of good sales and marketing, it has none. It’s a success because it works, in the real world with all the messiness and unpredictability that comes along with that.  It has very low path dependence, and that gives you options.

2. Current Reading

Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success by Penelope Trunk

Reading Amazon’s Q&A with Penelope explains a lot about why I find her writting and ideas compelling.  She’s had a colorful background, and hasn’t really followed a predictable path.  She calls advice such as "pay your dues, climb the ladder, and don’t have gaps in your resume" outdated and I’d have to agree.  Perhaps it was never the way to succeed, I don’t know.  None-the-less it takes more than that to be wildly successful, and "brazen" is more like it.  In trying times when many people are out looking for jobs, her book is sure to be quite popular.

3. Podcast Reviews

I’ve been trolling through iTunes in the last few weeks, and have found some real gems.  With that in mind I decided to add a new section to the newsletter to focus on interesting, and technology relevant shows that I find.  By far the best one I’ve stumbled upon is Financial Times – Digital Business

For instance the September 10th episode of this year talked about Mesh Collaboration, Globalization, and Social Networking.  Definitely worth a listen.

You can read it online with updates almost everyday, and the print edition comes out on alternate wednesdays.  The podcast you can find here.

4. Past Issues

Issue 51 – Stretch Your DB Dollar

Issue 50 – Do Your Dishes

Issue 49 – Things Fall Apart

Issue 48 – Balancing Time & Money

Issue 47 – Change the Problem

Issue 46 – Interests Aligned

Issue 45 – Contractualities

Issue 44 – Gaining Legs

Newsletter Archives

5. Technical Articles

Reliable MySQL Replication

MySQL Replication Pitfalls

Intro to Oracle’s Automatic Workload Repository

Intro to PHP + Oracle

Useful PL/SQL Packages

Oracle Automatic Storage Management

Programming Perl + Oracle

6. Webcast

I recently gave a live webcast for O’Reilly and Associates.  The title was "MySQL Replication: Audit, Test & Verify".  If you’re interested in viewing this webcast, the entire thing is now up on youtube for viewing.  I’ve embedded the video into my blog here. 

MySQL Replication is fairly simple to setup for the first time.  However over time it can become troublesome.  Errors can show up in the slave log files, or it can fail silently.  We look at the caues, and also demonstrate how to identify differences, and fix them.

7. Lightweight Humor

The Onion does it again, this time with "Apple Employee Fired for Thinking Different"

8. About Heavyweight Internet Group

We’ve always been about open-source technology, integration & mixing commercial technologies such as Oracle with open-source ones such as MySQL and Linux.  As open-source becomes mainstream, and more shops consider moving critical services to these technologies, we continue to provide assistance and expertise for these transitions.  Whether it is performance testing and tuning, benchmarking, high availability or recovery, we can provide services for your specific needs.

Looking for a top-flight DBA?  Visit us on the web at