An Era of Increased Expectations…

So while I hope that I’ve demonstrated that I can say some interesting things about database engine design and implementation, I also want to post blog entries on the design of data-driven applications, as this is a topic I’ve been pondering a lot lately.

I’ll start with something that seems completely off-topic that isn’t…

So for Christmas I bought my wife an “experience” – She’s always liked Ms. Pac-Man, so I figured that I would find a way to let her play anytime she wants.  I also didn’t want a big, bulky arcade machine in the house – those things give off lots of heat and moving them isn’t much fun.

I eventually settled on buying her an X-Arcade Joystick, hooking that up to a HTPC connected to my Television, and getting MAME set up to play it on an emulator.  My wife also likes q-bert and is getting quite good at it ;).

My wife and I also have a 2-year old daughter who is already smarter than us.  While we were playing this game, my daughter enjoyed watching the “videos” (the intermission videos played after level 2, after level 5, etc).  She thought they were wonderful – but she also got upset when we couldn’t get to a video.  Eventually I started getting into the 3rd map in the game (after the second video), which for all you too young to remember looks like this:

So this is the “cranberry” level, and my daughter has cried because I can’t get to the  level when I play.  I never would have expected to have disappointed my daughter for not playing a video game well enough, but it goes to show you that her expectations _start_ in life at a much higher level than mine will ever be.

She believes that I should always be able to get to the cranberry level (and stay there for as long as she is remotely interested).  She also believes that she can watch any television show at any time – she’s never had to live without Tivo… I know I can’t go back, but to her it must seem like we’re living in the trees and grunting or something.  She also believes that pocket calculators are telephones, and she tries very hard to call my parent’s cat on my wife’s calculator when she gets ahold of it.  It *is* very funny, but honestly how far off is it?  Most cell phones have some calculator built into them now.  Why not the other way around?

As I’ve been outside of Microsoft for a bit, I am fortunate to get to see things from a different perspective.  If you think about it, databases haven’t really changed that much in awhile.  SQL has been around a long time, and the core features get better each release but the paradigm in the server doesn’t change much at all.  The UI tools certainly haven’t changed – Access 2008 or whatever it is called will probably look a LOT like Access95.  SQL Server Management Studio is still basically a listview of objects and a query window.  Database tools are an area where I am trying very hard to go back and think more like my daughter – why CAN’T I get access to all of my data with a single query?  Why can’t I backup my data more easily?   Sure, there have been various advances (XML, LINQ, ER Queries, Hibernate, S3, that Cloud SQL Server that got announced last week), and some of them are very cool, but how many of those do I expect to be around in 20 years?  How many really make my life better?  If you take a moment and think about it, there’s a lot of complexity in today’s systems, and the often don’t “just work” unless you spend a LOT of money getting someone to write custom software for you – even then, it might not work that well when you get done.

So, I’ll challenge you – remember that day you got your first Tivo – remember the day before that.  What is the one thing that you’re going to do to make something that cool?  If you write setup, how are you going to make that better?  If you write a database tool, why am I going to LOVE that tool like I would a Tivo?  Don’t make me post up pictures of my daughter crying – I’ll do it!  Get out there and make something cool.  We’ll all be happier if you do.


Conor Cunningham

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