re: databases boring? (Re: "Perl is the duct tape)

David McCusker (
Tue, 14 Jul 1998 00:58:18 -0700

(It's late in the day for me to show wit, but I can still make sense.)

Doug Lea wrote:
> [ Sundar Narasimhan wrote: ]
> > > [ Nelson Minar wrote: ]
> > > It is curious, though, that free databases are less common than,
> > > say, free web servers. I think it's because most hackers think
> > > databases are kind of boring - who'd want to spend so much time
> > > creating a database program?

I thought this observation was extremely interesting. Only days before
I was comforting someone from Phoenix by saying most everyone finds the
jobs they do very boring, and perhaps one's job is sometimes defined by
what kind of boring one is able to tolerate. :-) I find address books
excruciatingly boring, but this might be why Netscape has to pay me. :)

It's also boring to work on IronDoc, though partly this is the fault of
doing something very intricate a second time, at a rate four times less
than the first full time rate. But even the first time it was boring,
since following through on the first four day design took forever. It
always seems to take me ~50 times as long to code or write as to think.

I think I can write databases only because I have an extremely long
attention span, and because boredom is not lethal. I've known coders
who shuddered at my descriptions of writing code for weeks at a time
before being able to execute any of it to see what happens. Most folks
I know seem unconsciously motivated mainly by boredom avoidance.

> [ Sundar Narasimhan wrote: ]
> > Nah. The real reason is that not many universities teach about
> > databases and "production computer science".

I've never had even the slightest interest in either RDBMS's or SQL.
They seem even more boring than address books. :-) A lot of common
architecture that folks associate with the concept of 'databases', like
joins, is just particular policies that apply the mechanisms underlying
the conventional usage. I like mechanisms, and mostly ignore policies.

Most of my knowledge about databases derives from first principle
reasoning while solving problems that presented themselves, and the
role played by university teaching was about nil. I tend to agree with
Sankar V that failure to teach students to think is a big problem.

Doug Lea wrote:
> Nah. The real reason is that free software is put out by people who
> love to code it. And practically nobody loves to code databases :-)

This feels rather close to the mark, but I don't love to code databases
much more than other folks. :-) I'm driven mainly by what I want to use
IronDoc for when it's finished, and this has been true for years. Perhaps
I just have a lot more persistence in my goals than most hacker types.
Or perhaps my goals have just been substantially different.

David McCusker, seeking a usable public domain IronDoc alpha this summer
Values have meaning only against the context of a set of relationships.