Oracle Scratchpad

December 31, 2006

A Metaphor

Filed under: Troubleshooting — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:42 pm GMT Dec 31,2006

Around Christmas time I usually drive up to Oxfordshire to collect my mother and bring her to stay with the family for a few days. The trip typically takes about 1 hour 45 minutes each way. Over the years I’ve tried to figure out some way of getting there and back more quickly, and I’ve finally thought of the silver bullet that will knock about 30 minutes off the journey time.

If I drive at about 30% over the speed limit, and ignore any red traffic-lights (stoplights), I should be able to get there in just 1 hour and 15 minutes. Or rather, if I get there at all I should be able to get there in 1 hour 15 minutes but, like all silver bullets, it does depend on factors outside my control.

If everyone decides on the same silver bullet, there could be chaos on the road (so let’s not try the “alter system” option on this one). Even if I’m the only person using this particular silver bullet, I may have trouble from other road-users who think they’re allowed to go through their green lights while I’m junping my red ones – the British road-system is (unfortunately) a highly concurrent multi-user system.

But if I go at 3:00 am on Sunday morning there probably won’t be anyone else around, and if I remember to get a map showing the speed cameras I can avoid getting caught. So the only problem is that my mother won’t want to be up and about at 3:00 am.

If you haven’t spotted the metaphor by now, it’s this:

It’s often very easy to spot the quick fixes (aka silver bullets) that make one SQL statement or one program go faster. The difficult bit is working out whether it’s possible to use a specific fix, what the side effects are, whether you’re prepared accept some associated risks, and what else you have to do to make it safe (enough).

Happy new year

(to those of you for whom this is the end of your calendar year).


  1. Technically your mom won’t have to wake until 4:00 AM! Just throw her in the car in her nightgown and cap. Plus she can sleep in transit anyway.

    Comment by Don Seiler — December 31, 2006 @ 7:10 pm GMT Dec 31,2006 | Reply

  2. Great metaphor – I’ll have to remember that next time I need to explain things to my client.

    I wonder how far your metaphor might be extended; e.g. one quick fix (albeit costly) is to build more roads, to reduce the chances of collisions; although if a lot of people need to collect your mum you might need to clone her a few times and distribute her around, to reduce congestion. However, I don’t know how much the cost of her trying to keep all her clones up-to-date would be.

    Comment by Jeff Kemp — January 1, 2007 @ 5:49 am GMT Jan 1,2007 | Reply

  3. Jeff, I think there are lots of directions this metaphor could be pushed. I did consider pointing out that I could go by helicopter, but:

    The hardware is more expensive.
    The run-time costs (fuel bills, maintenance) are higher.
    Flight checks take time.
    I would have to have about 100 hours of lessons
    Then it would still take me 40 minutes to drive to my closest aerodrome (Gatwick) – though I could land about 200 yards (add 5 minutes walking time) from her home.

    Sounds a bit like buying into RAC without thinking carefully about costs and benefits ;-)

    Comment by Jonathan Lewis — January 1, 2007 @ 9:30 am GMT Jan 1,2007 | Reply

  4. What about a Bugatti Veyron?

    On a “test” made by BBC Top-Gear it “beat” an airplane from Alba to London…

    It costs only 1.300.000 euros and can reach 400Km/h.

    In this way you no longer need to go to the aerodrome, no lessons to take, no time to loose on Flight checks and you can park you side the house!

    If this car is too expensive…well…Ferrari or Lamborghini… 8)


    Comment by Antonio — January 2, 2007 @ 7:41 am GMT Jan 2,2007 | Reply

  5. Antonio, you just have to love the metaphor, it works so well. Your Bugatti may have be able to do 400 Km/h (250 mph) in the right circumstances, but that doesn’t help when we have speed limits, red lights and roundabouts (rotaries).

    You’re talking about buying a SAN because it can stream 1.2 Gigabytes per second, but I have a problem because I need to do 3,500 I/O requests per second and can’t. After all, I can fly from London to Amsterdam in 50 minutes – provided I don’t count the 40 minute drive to the airport, 2 hours early check-in requirement, and 30 minutes waiting at baggage claim on arrival.

    (I’m glad you included a smiley in your post).

    Comment by Jonathan Lewis — January 2, 2007 @ 8:34 am GMT Jan 2,2007 | Reply

  6. LOL!

    You’re right but…it’s so cool to say I can stream 1.2G per second.

    Think I buy one next Christmas. :)

    It’s obvious that with the SAN installed I can cut time response…don’t I? ;)

    Comment by Antonio — January 2, 2007 @ 11:18 am GMT Jan 2,2007 | Reply

  7. […] sans qu’il ne m’apprenne un truc malin. Son “Post” à propos des “Silver Bullet” est juste […]

    Pingback by De l’inutile à l’utile /*+Changez !*/ | ArKZoYd — August 6, 2013 @ 5:28 pm GMT Aug 6,2013 | Reply

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