Book Review – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup coverWhat do you do after founding not one, but two companies and watching them fail miserably all by the time you were barely out of college?

Move to the Valley, make shrewd investments in other startups and become insanely rich like Sean Parker? A Bit lofty perhaps. How about try, try again and succeed. Then reinvent yourself as a guru dishing out startup wisdom through your blog and publishing a book that ends up the top of the New York Times Bestseller’s list. That’s essentially what Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup did.

True entrepreneurs fail many times before they succeed and continuously find opportunities to reinvent themselves. Ries is one of them. He’s taken all that he’s learned from his failures, and later successes, from his college years in the 1990s right through the dotcom crash, and packaged them into a guide for startups to consult in their quest for world domination.  Continue reading “Book Review – The Lean Startup by Eric Ries”

Book Review – Help! by Oliver Burkeman

Help! by Oliver Burkeman

Help! How To Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done

I’ve long overcome that sheepish feeling when browsing the Self-help section at the bookstore. Sure, How to Make Friends and Influence People or the Seven Steps to World Domination in your bookcase aren’t exactly the sort of titles to suggest a deep intellect but I like to keep an open mind when checking out the latest hardcover secret to happiness and prosperity. Basically I try not to diss a book just because it’s got “soup” on the cover.

I will concede that publishers have gone a bit overboard with churning out the number of self-help titles in the last 20 years or so. As with anything that proliferates you’re stuck with having to wade through the swamp of well, BS. HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman is ideal for those curious enough about self-improvement but too cool to buy into mind-body-soul mantras.

Continue reading “Book Review – Help! by Oliver Burkeman”

Book Review – Rework

rework coverRework is chock full of ideas

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s new book REWORK is one of the best startup business books I’ve read since Alan Weiss’ Million Dollar Consulting. If you’re already a fan of their signal vs noise blog, you’d be familiar with their terse style. Sharp and to the point.

Which is why you can pick it up and read it in a few hours.  You’ll want to because it’s well written and pared down to essentials.  In fact the book reads like their workflow advice, less mass, do it yourself, cut out the fat, concentrate on essentials.  As such they are clearly practicing what they preach, which I like. Continue reading “Book Review – Rework”

Review – Test Driven Infrastructure with Chef – Stephen Nelson-Smith

In search of a good book on Chef itself, I picked up this new title on O’Reilly.  It’s one of their new format books, small in size, only 75 pages.

There was some very good material in this book.  Mr. Nelson-Smith’s writing style is good, readable, and informative.  The discussion of risks of infrastructure as code was instructive.  With the advent of APIs to build out virtual data centers, the idea of automating every aspect of systems administration, and building infrastructure itself as code is a new one.  So an honest discussion of the risks of such an approach is bold and much needed.  I also liked the introduction to Chef itself, and the discussion of installation.

Chef isn’t really the main focus of this book, unfortunately.  The book spends a lot of time introducing us to Agile Development, and specifically test driven development.  While these are lofty goals, and the first time I’ve seen treatment of the topic in relation to provisioning cloud infrastructure, I did feel too much time was spent on that.  Continue reading “Review – Test Driven Infrastructure with Chef – Stephen Nelson-Smith”

Macrowikinomics book review by Tapscott & Williams

Macrowikinomics follows on the success of the best selling Wikinomics.  It hits on a lot of phenomenal success stories, such as the Linux project, which has over a roughly twenty year history, produced 2.7 million lines of code per year and would have cost an estimated 10.8 billion that billion with a b, dollars to create by conventional means.  What’s more it’s estimated the Linux economy is roughly 50 billion.  With huge companies like Google, and Amazon Web Services built on datacenters driven principally by Linux it’s no wonder.

They also draw on the successes of companies like Local Motors who use collaboration and the internet in new and innovative ways.

In total this book speaks to the disruptive power of the internet and new technologies, and offers a lot of hopeful stories and optimism about where they are taking us.  Food for thought.

Professional Deployments Use Puppet For Configuration Management

Puppet is a configuration management tool that can be used to great advantage managing the configurations of a large fleet of servers in an enterprise.

My first thought upon finishing Turnbull & McCune’s book was that it could well have been titled Pro Deployments, for it covers a whole host of topics, integrating Puppet with a lot of other related tools.

Some of the advanced topics it covers in depth include:

  • integrating Puppet with version control such as git
  • setup of the standard dev, test and production environments
  • conditional application of generalized configs
  • managing nagios & load balancer configs to automatically add new nodes
  • capitalizing on puppet forge modules (like rpm packages)
  • testing your puppet configs with cucumber
  • reporting with the dashboard and the command line Continue reading “Professional Deployments Use Puppet For Configuration Management”

Review: Cloud Application Architectures

George Reese’s book doesn’t have the catchiest title, but the book is superb.  One thing to keep in mind, it is not a nuts and bolts or howto type of book.  Although there is a quick intro to EC2 APIs etc, you’re better off looking at the AWS docs, or Jeff Barr’s book on the subject.  Reese’s book is really all about answering difficult questions involving cloud deployments. Continue reading “Review: Cloud Application Architectures”

Review: Host Your Web Site In The Cloud, Amazon Web Services Made Easy

Jeff Barr’s book on AWS is a very readable howto and a quick way to get started with EC2, S3, CloudFront, CloudWatch and SimpleDB.  It is short on theory, but long on all the details of really getting your hands dirty.  Learn how to:

  • get started using the APIs to spinup servers
  • create a load balancer
  • add and remove application servers
  • build custom AMIs
  • create EBS volumes, attach them to your instances & format them
  • snapshot EBS volumes
  • use RAID with EBS
  • setup CloudWatch to monitor your instances
  • setup triggers with CloudWatch to enable AutoScaling

I would have liked to see examples in Chef rather than PHP, but hey you can’t have everything!

Review: Host Your Web Site In The Cloud by Jeff Barr

APress – Cost-Based Oracle by Jonathan Lewis

The beauty of reading a book by a publisher not sanctioned by Oracle and by an author who doesn’t work for Oracle is that they can openly mention bugs. And there are oh-so-many! This book is a superb introduction to the Cost Based Optimizer, and is not afraid to discuss it’s many shortcomings. In so doing it also explains how to patch up those shortcomings by giving the CBO more information, either by creating a histogram here and there, or by using the DBMS_STATS package to insert your own statistics in those specific cases where you need to.

Another interesting thing is how this book illustrates, though accidentally, the challenges of proprietary software systems. Much of this book and the authors time is spent reverse engineering the CBO, Oracle’s bread and butter optimizing engine. Source code, and details about its inner workings are not published or available. And of course that’s intentional. But what’s clear page after page in this book is that for the DBA and system tuner, going about their day to day tasks, they really need inside information about what the optimizer is doing, and so this book goes on a long journal to illuminate much of what the CBO is doing, or in some cases provide very educated guesses and some speculation. In contrast, as we know and hear about often, the Open Source alternative provides free access to source code, though not necessarily to the goods themselves. What this means in a very real way is that a book like this would not need to be written for an alternative open source application, because the internal code would be a proverbial open book. That said it remains difficult to imagine how a company like Oracle might persue a more open strategy given that their bread and butter really is the secrets hidden inside their Cost Based Optimizing engine. At any rate, let’s get back to Jonathan’s book.

Reading this book was like reading a scientists notebook. I found it:

o of inestimable value, but sometimes difficult to sift through

o very anecdotal in nature, debugging, and constantly demonstrating that the CBO is much more faulty and prone to errors than you might imagine

o may not be easy to say I have a query of type X, and it is behaving funny, how do I lookup information on this?

o his discussion of the evolution of the product is so good I’ll quote it:

“A common evolutionary path in the optimizer code seems to be the following: hidden by undocumented parameter and disabled in first release; silently enabled but not costed in second release; enabled and costed in third release.”

o has excellent chapter summaries which were particularly good for sifting, and boiling down the previous pages into a few conclusions.

o it will probably be of particular value to Oracle’s own CBO development teams

Chapter highlights

CH2 – Tablescans

explains how to gather system stats, how to use dbms_stats to set ind. stats manually, bind variables can make the CBO blind, bind variable peeking may not help, partition exchange may break global stats for table, use CPU costing when possible

CH3 – Selectivity

big problem with IN lists in 8i, fixed in 9i/10g, but still prob. with NOT IN, uses very good example of astrological signs overlapping birth months, and associated CBO cardinality problems, reminds us that the optimizer isn’t actually intelligent per se, but merely a piece of software

CH4 BTree Access

cost based on depth, #leaf blocks, and clustering factor, try to use CPU costing (system statistics)

CH5 – Clustering Factor

mainly a measure of the degree of random distribution of your data, very important for costing indx scans, use dbms_stats to correct when necessary, just giving CBO better information, freelists (procID problem) + freelist groups discussion with RAC

CH6 – Selectivity Issues

there is a big problem with string selectivity, Oracle uses only first seven characters, will be even more trouble for urls all starting with “http://”, and multibyte charactersets, trouble when you have db ind. apps which use string for date, use histrograms when you have problems, can use the tuning advisor for “offline optimization”, Oracle uses transitive closure to transform queries to more easily opt versions, moves predicates around, sometimes runs astray

CH7 – Histograms

height balanced > 255 buckets (outside Oracle called equi-depth),

otherwise frequency histograms, don’t use cursor sharing as it forces bind variables, blinds CBO, bind var peeking is only first call, Oracle doesn’t use histograms much, expensive to create, use sparingly, dist queries don’t pull hist from remote site, don’t work well with joins, no impact if you’re using bind vars, if using dbms_stats to hack certain stats be careful of rare codepaths

CH8 – Bitmap Indexes

don’t stop at just one, avoid updates like the plague as can cause deadlocking, opt assumes 80% data tightly packed, 20% widely scattered

CH9 – Query Transformation

partly rule based, peeling the onion w views to understand complex queries, natural language queries often not the most efficient, therefore this transformation process has huge potential upside for Oracle in overall optimization of app code behind the scenes by db engine, always remember Oracle may rewrite your query, sometimes want to block with hints, tell CBO about uniqueness, not NULL if you know this

CH10 – Join Cardinality

makes sensible guess at best first table, continues from there,

don’t hide useful information from the CBO, histograms may help with some difficult queries

CH11 – Nested Loops

fairly straightforward costing based on cardinality of each returned set multiplied together

CH12 – Hash Joins

Oracle executes as optimal (all in memory), onepass (doesn’t quite fit so dumped to disk for one pass) and multipass (least attractive sort to disk), avoid scripts writing scripts in prod, best option is to use workarea_size_policy=AUTO, set pga_aggregate_target & use CPU costing

CH 13 – Sorting + Merge Joins

also uses optimal, onepass, & multipass algorithms, need more than 4x dataset size for in memory sort, 8x on 64bit system, increasing sort_area_size will incr. CPU util so on CPU bottlenecked machines sorting to disk (onepass) may improve performance, must always use ORDER BY to guarentee sorted output, Oracle may not need to sort behind the scenes, Oracle very good at avoiding sorts, again try to use workarea_size_policy=AUTO

CH 14 – 10053 Trace

reviews various ways to enable, detailed rundown of trace with comments inline, and highlights; even mentions a VOL 2 + 3 of the book is coming!

Appendix A

be careful when switching from analyze to dbms_stats, in 10g some new hist will appear w/default dbms_stats options, 10g creates job to gather stats


I found this book to be full of gems of information that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re at the more technical end of the spectrum, this is a one of a kind Oracle book and a

must-have for your collection. Keep in mind something Jonathan mentions in appendix A: “New features that improve 99% of all known queries may cripple your database because you fall into the remaining 1% of special cases”. If these cases are your concern, then this book will surely prove to be one-of-a-kind for you!

View this review on