How Important is Software?

I have a mechanical gaming keyboard, not because I’m a gamer, but I did want to tactile, mechanical feel and I like the idea of lights on the keys. I’ve enjoyed the experience, but the software leaves something to be desired.

I thought about my experience as I read this review of a more complex keyboard, with the title that notes it’s so pretty you can almost forgive the software. The poor UI and the complexity of operations, not to mention the splitting of the remap functions being unnecessarily complex. That was my experience as the only thing I cared about was remapping the home and end keys to the places I was used to them being on Logitech devices. I have spent a few hours across the last year learning how to map keys, and then relearning when my profile is lost in an upgrade or hardware glitch.

How much does software matter to customers? I’d argue it is becoming more and more critical all the time. The experience of using hardware, or really any device or service, is impacted by the software that drives it. Software is eating the world, and I think we need to understand that better software design and quality is needed.

I find that the most talented hardware companies sometimes have the worst software. It’s almost as if they assume their customers will be as talented as their hardware engineers and don’t spent enough time understanding how to better design a user experience for their products. Keyboards, routers, motherboards, and more often use archaic, confusing methods to have customers configure or update the systems.

I know UX is hard. This isn’t even about graphics or visual appeal. In many cases, it’s about just better understanding of how others view the process and what information they take from what appears on the screen. Over the years I’ve learned that this is not only hard, but also that it takes time and debate, just like features do. I enjoy these moments, and I like to think that I help my employer produce better software for our customers with my feedback.

I urge developers to have others look at what they present on the screen, and spend time learning from users, both experienced and novice. We often forget how something appears to others when we look at it every day and rush through workflows as we test our latest code. It’s easy to gloss over daily changes as minor when the sum of all changes can be a jarring experience for our users after an install or upgrade. UX is important, and it’s worth putting effort into our software designs, our data models, even the metadata we expose to others.

Steve Jones

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Cloud Databases

Most of us are used to a database that lives on a server somewhere. It might be in our data center or a VM that exists somewhere, but it’s really an on-premises type of infrastructure. Even if the VM is in AWS or Azure, this is a single system on a server that we control. We can add HA capabilities to this system, but the model is the same as if the database were on our development workstation.

Note: this doesn’t matter if this is an RDBMS like SQL Server or PostgreSQL or a NoSQL type system, such as MongoDB or Neo4J.

That’s a comfortable system, and it’s how we’ve built many applications over the years that support our business processes. Many of us default to architecting and thinking about our applications with this model.

These days there are cloud databases, which can be used in this model, but which also have other capabilities. I ran across a piece that noted cloud databases ought to be a part of our modern tech stack, and I tend to agree. These days the need to be more flexible, available, and secure are important for applications. An on-premises database might not meet these needs.

A cloud database is typically a system designed to be more of a PaaS service, with replication, built-in HA, scaling, and more. Azure SQL Database might be considered cloud-native, but I think it lacks some of the features that we might take advantage of in CosmosDB, Couchbase, or CockroachDB. Things like the availability from various types of connections, quick and easy failover and sync from different regions around the world, and low latency for users anywhere.

A few examples are in the article, and I see these types of requirements coming about more and more often as our clients start connecting from different devices in different locales, and at scales that are harder to handle with a single on-premises (or clustered) database system. While you might be able to handle the workload, is it worth it for you to manage some of the infrastructure and administration that a cloud vendor can do instead?

That is why I think you ought to learn about and understand where a cloud database might be useful. While not all of us have clients all over the world needing real-time access from various devices and applications, we might grow into that need. Whether it’s clients that are employees or customers, there are increasing demands for flexible ways to handle the growing workloads on our databases. You want to be prepared for when you might exceed the capabilities of the platform you’re used to,  that way you can decide when adopting a cloud database might make sense.

Steve Jones

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Daily Coping 30 Sep 2022

Today’s coping tip is to find a new way to use one of your strengths or talents.

I asked someone for strengths recently. Most of those items are things that I use regularly in the same way. However, I did use one in a new way recently.

I am a hugger. Usually it’s a hello or goodbye hug with friends. Sometimes it’s a sympathetic hug for family when they’re down or sad. Recently I changed that.

I was at the gym for yoga and another guy was there, venting a bit about some struggles with the instructor. I see him there often, and I’ve said hi, but I don’t know him well. However, it just occurred to me to say “sorry” and ask if he needed a hug. He looked at me a bit strangely, but said sure.

I gave him one of my strong, long hugs. I try to hug for at least 5 seconds, and often 10. If you’ve never hugged someone for 10sec, try it. It’s great.

I started to add a daily coping tip to the SQL Server Central newsletter and to the Community Circle, which is helping me deal with the issues in the world. I’m adding my responses for each day here. All my coping tips are under this tag.

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Electric Taxies in London (No Teslas)

Not part of my Tesla series, but this is related as I had an interesting electric car experience while traveling in London.

This is part of a series that covers my experience with a Tesla Model Y.

Booking Uber

I have known people using Teslas as taxis or Ubers, and I rode in one in Antwerp, but it was luck of the draw. The same thing happened in London, but it was a more interesting experience.

I was staying at Heathrow Airport, which is well West of London. I had an engagement in the center of London, at the Tower Bridge. A Google map shows this to be a 20 mile journey, but 90 minutes, traffic is bad. In a gas car, without enough fuel, this could be disconcerting. However, it works well for electric cars since minimal power is lost sitting in traffic.

Outbound East

It was an all electric day in London. I booked an Uber from LHR to the Tower Bridge. As it happened there was a Kia e-Niro that responded quickly. I got in and started chatting with the driver. He had been using the car for 10 months as an Uber and was very happy.

The car drove well, was well sized for 4 adults. I think 5 would be cramped a bit as it’s narrower than the Model Y. It was fairly comfortable for me in the back, but the seats were a little thinner and harder than Tesla seats. The car had quick acceleration but not Tesla quick. I’m glad as the driver would quickly accelerate when there was space in roads and Tesla levels would have me jerking around.

The finish felt a little cheaper and definitely not luxurious. Not sure it’s worth it. Starting at $40, maybe. Perhaps the $45 Premium is better, and since a Model Y is now $60, perhaps. I have to think more about this.

The driver said range was 200-220 for him and the cat had worked well as an Uber. He could go quite a few hours before charging and there was plenty of places to charge. He said charging was about 0.50p UK per kW, so for his 60Wh batter, that’s 30 pounds sterling. Not cheap, but a lot cheaper than petrol. He also said that he tended to run to about 20% and charge to 70-80, depending on time. Usually having a coffee and a short walking break. Not a bad idea.

Returning West

My return was a Nissan Leaf. Again, I didn’t pick this, it just happened to be close. It’s still 20ish miles, but a 90 minute drive from the Tower Bridge. I have a friend with an older Leaf, which gets about 80 miles on a charge, but the newer ones go over 150miles.

This driver wasn’t fazed. He’s had his over a year and it works for him. Again, he takes a few fares, then stops for coffee and charging. This was definitely a smaller and cheaper car, with much less acceleration, or at least the driver didn’t bother trying to hurry. The finish was cheaper, and felt like an economy car.

I haven’t been sure these cars would make sense for constant use but these two were finding ways to make it work. Apparently there is good charging infrastructure in London that works well enough for people to use electric cabs.

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