I hate DTS

I’ve spent a good chunk of this week trying to revise some DTS packages to account for changes in how MapQuest provides access to data they’ve geocoded for us. Since I haven’t used it in years, I’d forgotten how much I dislike the user interface for it. It probably didn’t help that I was trying to edit this things with a plug-in you install for SQL Server 2005.

Trying to have separate development and test environments to avoid the horrors of doing development and testing in a production environment is quite a trial also. I think you can put settings in a configuration file, but it’s probably something like an INI file.

It’s probably just as well that DTS was replaced by SSIS. I did use that to do a bit of flat file validation for the same project and didn’t find it nearly as painful to use.

Universal vs. Apple on DRM-free Music

A very interesting take on Universal offering DRM-free music directly instead of through iTunes. I think the writer is on target in describing the motives of Universal in cutting Apple out as a distribution channel.

If memory serves, the big record companies tried to push Apple into variable pricing not long ago. That move didn’t seem to work, as the 99-cent single is alive and well on iTunes.

The idea of Apple signing artists directly is an interesting one, but I don’t see Apple signing artists anytime soon.  Artist management is quite far afield from what they do best. It might violate their recent deal with Apple Corps too. That said, if Apple could make it easier and cheaper for indie bands to put their music out without violating that deal, they’d probably make some money they aren’t currently getting.  It might even help them sell more iPods (which is really the whole point of iTunes anyway).

Improving developers

Scott Hanselman posts a number of great tips for  improving development teams.  The technical brown bag idea is one we’ve been following at work since the spring.  We call them “learning lunches”, and they’ve proven to be an excellent vehicle for knowledge transfer, as well as connecting different offices of the company.

At my current employer and the previous one, I’ve tried to promote conferences, off-site training, and .NET user groups.  Getting the staff to attend them has been more of a challenge here than at my last job.  They’re all excellent ways of keeping technical skills sharp as well as networking opportunities.

Now that we have a new CIO at work, it will be interesting to see to what degree he’d buy in to some of these ideas.

To rewrite, or not to rewrite?

This question comes up rather often in my job, and this post by Adam Turoff answers the question by including “when” as a variable.  In short, the sooner a project needs to succeed, the less likely it is that a rewrite will succeed.

Whenever I come across an application that isn’t designed or implemented as well as it should be, I’m biased in favor of rewriting the application.  That approach tends to meet resistance because the “when” is usually very short.  Refactoring is a good fallback option, but only if the application is relatively current.  My desire to refactor single-tier classic ASP is nil.

Leading by example

I found this post on technical leadership particularly useful because it’s my role at work. Humility, discretion, tact, and willingness to “walk the walk” are necessary to succeed as a leader. The only thing I would add to the author’s list is the importance of patience in leading development staff. You can follow all the advice and still not see changes for awhile. I’ve been in that situation before, and always found it frustrating.

The comments on the post were enlightening as well, particularly this one by Greg Askew:

“Individuals are responsible for fixing themselves. Leading by example is a noble concept, but at the end of the day everyone is accountable for their own performance.”

The quote is a great reminder that as managers, we can only influence–not control–employees. Askew makes two other strong arguments about hiring and motivation. His latter point is echoed by Steven McConnell’s summary of classic mistakes and by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Undermining people’s motivation (and/or hiring people who aren’t self-motivated) can be counted on to yield a substandard result in the end.

The full article that inspired Jeff Atwood’s post is an excellent read as well.

No parameterless constructor defined for this object.

This error message started showing up during testing of some code changes I made to an application.  It took me awhile to figure out precisely what the problem was because the top of the stack trace referred to this:

System.Activator.CreateInstance[T]()

As looked further down the stack trace, it ultimately pointed out which class was the culprit, so I added an empty public constructor to and redeployed the result.

I found this post rather useful in diagnosing the problem.

Die patent troll, die!

Thanks to Judge Dale Kimball, we may finally be rid of SCO.  Since he ruled that they never owned UNIX patents, they owe Novell 95% of the money they got from Microsoft and Sun for the license rights they sold.  It’s doubtful they have the money, so they’ll probably have to declare bankruptcy.  It couldn’t happen to a more deserving company.

Refactoring

An excellent post by Julian Bucknall of Developer Express on refactoring–more specifically the eight refactorings he uses most.  Of the ones he names, I use the 8th one (use string.format) the most.  As you might expect with inherited code, there are plenty of places where strings are concatenated with plus signs.  I root them out of every piece of code I rewrite, and highlight them in code reviews.

SQL Server Table Properties

I needed a T-SQL statement to get the created date of a couple of tables as part of a project. One of my colleagues came up with this query:

SELECT create_date FROM sys.objects WHERE type = ‘U’ AND name = ‘<tablename>’

It works in SQL Server 2005.

The SQL Server 2000 equivalent is:

SELECT crdate FROM sysobjects WHERE xtype = ‘U’ and name = ‘<tablename>’