In SQL Null is not a value… not a value!

I have been spending a lot of time fixing SQL Server database errors caused by stored procedures attempting to compare null. If you don’t know, in SQL:

NULL = NULL is false

NULL <> NULL is false

Null is not a value. Null is nothing. You can’t compare nothing to nothing because there is nothing to compare. I know you can do a select and see the word NULL in the results in SQL Management Studio, but that is just a marker so you don’t confuse empty strings with NULL or something.

If you need to do a comparison on a nullable value please check that shit for null first:

t2.column2 is null or t2.column2 = t1.column2

t2.column2 is not null

Also, if you try to be smart and turn ANSI_NULLS off you are going to be hurt when you have to upgrade your SQL Server to a version that forces ANSI_NULLS on (it’s coming).

I have been guilty of comparing NULL and saying, “it has a NULL value.” Now that I am having to fix scripts written by someone who did think about NULL, I wanted to rant and hammer this point home for myself so I don’t cause anyone the pain I am feeling right now. Null is not a value… not a value!


Where is your logic?


I hate logic in the database. It’s hard to automate testing, hard to debug, hard to have visibility into logic that may be core to the success or failure of an application or business. Some of the worse problems I have had to deal with are database related, actually almost all of the worse problems have been linked to the database.

I am in love with the new movement to smaller services doing exactly one small thing very well. I think the database should persist data… period. Yes, there are times when it just makes sense to have logic closer to the data, but I can always think of a reason not to do it and it always goes back to my experiences with database problems. It’s been a love hate relationship, me and databases.

I’m not a DBA and I don’t have the reserve brain power to become one. So, to help my limited understanding I shy away from anything that looks like logic in my data layer. Call it lazy, naivete, or not wanting to use the right tool for the job, I don’t care. If I’m in charge get you shitty logic out of the database, including you evil MERGE statement and the current bane of my existence :).

I’m old and set in my ways.

Today, I had a colleague question my use of a state object. He was just asking questions about its usage and other general questions about the code I wrote and how to refactor it. He wasn’t slamming my code or anything, but it made me remember the times my code has been slammed by someone that thought differently than me about coding.

Like many developers, having other people review your code can be a little hairy. I feel like I am waiting on a judgement to be reached and a sentence to be passed down. I’ve always hated having to hear from the code reviewers that thought nothing of writing a 100+ line method or 800+ line class. Those “just make it work” aficionados that made my life hell when I had to maintain their monsters by bolting more shit on top of shit and praying a new bug isn’t introduced.

Now, I don’t give a hoot what you think about my code unless you can give me a solid argument on why I should change it. Not saying I am a perfect coder, but I know there are a thousand ways to code the same thing. Some ways are better than others, but I’m not changing for change sake to appease your sensibilities. You have to provide proof that my code is so terrible that I have to go in a change it.

For example, I don’t like holding public state in a class that performs logic because you never know who will change the state. I will still have public read/write properties from time to time, but it always feels dirty when I do. So, I pass state through a constructor to readonly properties or through public method parameters. I don’t like having more than four method parameters, so I will create a plain old C# object (POCO) with no logic to hold state that I can pass to methods. I don’t like methods that do more than one thing (with thing being defined by me) and I like expressive sometimes long method names.

After years of learning about patterns, SOLID, DDD, functional programming and more, this is just how I naturally roll now. I don’t even think about it anymore. It just instinctively drives my fingers as I code in some zen state of mind. Does it create complexity, yes. Do I still write bugs, yes. Does it make the world a better place, no. I’d rather deal with the complexity and simple logic bugs than a bug related to some weird and unknown state mutation with error messages two times removed from the root cause of the damn bug.

You can complain about all the small methods I write that are doing one thing exceptionally well. You can roll your eyes while you have to follow a bunch of method calls with long names that explain what they do. I’m not changing the way I think about this anytime soon. So, if you ever have to read my code… suck it up deal with it and run the unit tests as you try to make it better. 🙂

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FIXED: Error Building Cordova in Visual Studio

So, I am trying to build an Apache Cordova project in Visual Studio 2015 and it is not playing nice. I see quite a few errors related to npm, so I’m going to blog it out.


First the errors. Here is a sample of them:

FindPackagesById: System.Console; File: RUNMDAINSTALL 

Error ENOENT, no such file or directory ‘C:\Users{name}\AppData\Roaming\npm\node_modules\vs-tac\node_modules\edge\src\CoreCLREmbedding\project.lock.json’; File: RUNMDAINSTALL 

BLD401 Error : BLD00401 : Could not find module ‘C:\Users{name}\AppData\Roaming\npm\node_modules\vs-tac\app.js’. Please Go to Tools –> Options –> Tools for Apache Cordova –> Cordova Tools –> Clear Cordova Cache and try building again. 


There is no way that I can say what the real solution is because it is dependent on versions of node, npm and VS Cordova Tools, but if you have a vs-tac issue, try:

  1. Clearing your Cordova Cache:
    in Visual Studio Go to Tools > Options > Tools for Apache Cordova > Cordova Tools > Clear Cordova Cache
  2. Copy vs-tac from your VS install to your profile:
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions\ApacheCordovaTools\Packages\vs-tac to C:\Users\{name}\AppData\Roaming\npm\node_modules
  3. Manually install any missing node dependencies globally:
    >npm install {dependency name} -g

My Journey to Solution

First I tried the fix in the last error above: Options –> Tools for Apache Cordova –> Cordova Tools –> Clear Cordova Cache and try building again. This didn’t work, but I learned where the Cordova config is so that’s a plus.

Next I tried to manually install Cordova from npm and got this lovely error:

npm ERR! Failed to parse json
npm ERR! No data, empty input at 1:1
npm ERR!
npm ERR! ^
npm ERR! File: C:\Users\cbryant\AppData\Roaming\npm-cache\xtend\4.0.1\package\package.json
npm ERR! Failed to parse package.json data.
npm ERR! package.json must be actual JSON, not just JavaScript.

So, I went down the rabbit hole and focused on fixing this as it may be part of my original problem.

npm cache clean
npm install cordova -g

This worked, I was able to install Cordova manually, but had no effect on my original problem and this Yak still has a lot of hair to shave.

So the issue is linked to some npm package named vs-tac. A little searching and I discovered that it may already be installed here: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions\ApacheCordovaTools\Packages\vs-tac.

Let’s try to install it to my profile to see if that fixes the issue.

npm install “C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions\ApacheCordovaTools\packages\vs-tac” -g

OK, I’m seeing some of the same errors that I see in Visual Studio. I discover that some of the errors are because of a bad Nuget source, so I remove the source and land on this error:

npm ERR! Failed at the edge@5.0.0 install script ‘node tools/install.js’.
npm ERR! Make sure you have the latest version of node.js and npm installed.
npm ERR! If you do, this is most likely a problem with the edge package,
npm ERR! not with npm itself.

How do you check the latest version of node.js and npm? I asked Google the same questions:

node -v
npm -v

I am running node 5 and the current stable is 4, not sure if that is an issue. Going to run the latest msi for v5 to see if it does something. By the way you can find all of the node installers here:

Upgrading npm was a little different. I have npm installed in my node install, C:\Program Files\nodejs\npm.cmd. To upgrade I found this command

npm install npm -g

This installs the latest npm to my profile, but I assume running npm defaults to the one in the node install (based on a couple posts I read). So, I deleted the one in the node install and everything is upgraded and working (By the way, I had to restart my administrator command prompt to get npm to work at the new location), but I still get the last error above (still shaving this yak).

So, I have to read logs :(, C:\WINDOWS\system32\npm-debug.log. After a painful read, I give up on the command line and manually copy vs-tac from C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions\ApacheCordovaTools\Packages\vs-tac to C:\Users{name}\AppData\Roaming\npm\node_modules. When I build again all of the errors are gone except one:

BLD401 Error : BLD00401 : Could not find module ‘elementtree’. Please Go to Tools –> Options –> Tools for Apache Cordova –> Cordova Tools –> Clear Cordova Cache and try building again. StationHouse.Mobile

I clear the Cordova Cache and it deletes the vs-tac in my profile. I add vs-tac back and build again with the same error. I go to check the package.json in the vs-tac folder and notice that node_modules doesn’t exists so I run npm install inside this directory to install the packages, but edge still won’t install.

I manually install edge:

npm install edge@5.0.0 -g

When I rebuild it succeeds, that yak has a nice crew cut.




KISS Your Big Data UI

It’s been so hard to blog lately. Mostly because I don’t have time to edit my posts. I guess if I wait until I have time to wordsmith better posts I’ll never post, so here is one that has been sitting on the shelf in all of its unedited glory.

What Qualifies A Developer To Talk About UI Design

I’m not qualified, I am not a designer. I haven’t done a lot of posts on the subject of UI design, but with the big push to big data, real-time streaming analytics, and IoT, I thought that I’d put a little thought into things that I would think about when designing a UI for them.

I started my tech career designing websites and desktop applications for a few years. Although my customers were happy with my UI designs, it’s not my thing and I don’t think I am good at it. Yet, I have been on many application teams and have had to work with many awesome designers. I believe that I can speak on UI design considerations from my 16 years of doing this. What I have to say is not gospel. I haven’t searched this stuff out on Bing like I do with engineering problems. Many UI and usability guru’s will probably crush me if they read this, but I’m not totally clueless when it comes to UI’s.

A Dashboard for Big Data

When dealing with designing an administrator’s dashboard for IoT device sensor data or maybe any big data application you should probably focus on making the right exceptional conditions highly visible and showing actionable data trends with the ability to drill down for more information and take necessary actions. The most important thing is to alert users of potential problems and anomalies that may indicate pending problems while providing some facility for taking action to investigate and mitigate problems. Just as important is being able to identify when something is going well because you want to learn from the successes to possibly apply the knowledge to other areas.

The UI should assist the user in being proactive in addressing problems. This is true if you have one device sending sensor data or a fleet of them. Granted there are differences in design consideration when you start scaling to 100s or 1000s of devices, but depending on the goal of the device, the basic premise is you want to make certain conditions identified by sensors up front and in your face.


When you have 100s of messages flowing from sensors compounded by multiple devices, a pageable grid of a hundred recent sensor messages on the first screen of the UI is useless, unless you are the type that enjoys trying to spot changes while scrolling the Matrix. The dashboard should lead you to taking action when problems exist, help you learn from successes, and give you peace of mind that everything is OK. The UI should help you identify potential areas to make improvements by uncovering weaknesses. This should be done without all of the noise from the mountain of data being held by the system.

If you could only show one thing on the UI what would it be. Maybe an alert box showing the number of critical exceptions triggered with a link to view more information? Start with that one thing and expand on it to provide the user with what they need. Big data UI is not a CRUD or basic application UI. It more closely related with what one might do for a reporting engine UI, but even that is a stretch. I am sure there are awesome blogs and books out there that speak on this subject, but many of the UIs I have been seeing were designed by people that didn’t get a subscription or something.

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is as much a design principle as it is in software engineering. Stop making people work to understand thousands of data points when it should be the job of the UI designer to simplify it for them.


Say you have a storage company. You have hundreds of garages and you want to deploy sensors to each garage and allow your customers to monitor them. The sensor will give you data on the door being open or closed, temperature, and relative humidity in the unit. The devices send messages every 5 minutes, 7,200 messages a day.

Your customers can opt in to SMS and email alerts on each data point. Some will only want open/close alerts. Some may have items that are sensitive to heat and humidity and they will want alerts when temperature or humidity cross some threshold.

Your customers also get access to a website that allows them to modify alerts and view a dashboard that allows them to investigate and query all of the sensor data. What good would it be to have a grid on the dashboard showing sensor data streaming into the UI every 5 minutes, 7,200 times a day. Why burden them with even having to see the data. Most customers will never have a breach. Temp and humidity sensitive customers will probably have an environment controlled unit that rarely triggers and alert. What does streaming data on the initial dashboard screen give them… nothing.

The only thing most of the customers want to know is has someone opened my unit or if the temp is fluctuating. The customer wants us to simplify all of that data into a simple digestible UI that addresses their concerns and helps them cure any pain they may experience when an alert is triggered.

There may be users that need to dig into the data to investigate, but normal daily usage is focused more on alerts and trends. Seeing all of the data is not the main concern and the data is only available if they click a link to dig into it. The UI is kept clean, not overwhelming, and focused on the needs of the majority of customers.

This is fictional and if no one is doing it, I probably just gave away a new app idea. This is the reason that IoT is hot, its wide open for dreamers. The gist of the example is there is so much data to contend with on these types of projects you have to hide it and simplify the UI so that you aren’t overwhelming the user.

Consumer Apps Are Not the Only Game In Town

Additionally, you have to take into account whether the UI is for consumers or businesses. Making things pretty for consumers can help to differentiate an app in the consumer market, but the time to make things pretty for B2B or enterprise is better served on improving usability and the feature set. I am not saying that businesses don’t care about aesthetics, but unless they are reselling your UI to consumers it’s usually not the most important thing. For both audiences usability is very important, but usability doesn’t mean using the latest UI tricks, fancy graphics, fussing over fonts and colors just for the sake of having them. Everything should be strategically implemented to help usability.

This is especially true for large enterprises. I have seen many very successful and useful apps in the enterprise that were nothing more than a set of simple colored boxes with links to take certain actions and drill down into more information. So, you not only have to take into account the amount of data being managed in the UI, but the user doing the managing. Know your audience and build the UI to their needs. Leave out all the gradients and curves and UI tricks until you have a functional UI that serves the core needs of the business and leave polish for later iterations. Focus first on how to reduce the mountain of data into bite sized actionable chunks.


So, Keep It Simple Stupid! Hide the data, show alerts and trends, allow drill down into the data for investigation, provide a way to take action, leave polish for later iterations.

How do you do to spell relief?

How do you handle Sev 1 critical outages?

Stay calm

Sev 1 outages are stressful. When production is down and customers are affected and everyone is looking at your team for an answer, first and foremost stay calm… breath. This is easier said than done when you are affecting millions of dollars per hour in transactions (which is a thing in large scale payment systems, not fun), but regardless of the impact of the outage, if you loose your cool, the solution can be sitting right in front of your face and you won’t see it. Shit happens, there will always be bugs, sites will always go down at some point, accept it, find the solution and focus on not letting the same shit happen twice.

Don’t focus on blame

Establishing who caused the issue is not important? Knowing who may have been involved in the changes that led up to an issue and made changes after the issue is important to understand. Even if there may have only been one person involved, you can’t assume that they are the cause and it does no good to blame anyone when production is down. Focus on the solution.

Create time line of events

You should document all relevant changes that led up to the outage and all changes that occurred after the outage. This not only helps to discover possible causes it provides documentation that can be used during root cause analysis and investigations during similar outages.

The time line can be kept on an internal team wiki so the team has visibility and can add to it as necessary. During an outage, someone should be assigned to record all of the facts in the time line. Without facts your poking at the problem in the dark.

Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Sherlock Holmes to Watson (Movie – Sherlock Holmes 2009)

Investigate logs

I can’t tell you how many times that checking the logs first would have saved a lot of time as opposed to just poking around looking for file changes, config changes… everything else, but simply looking at the logs. The first step in investigating the issue should be looking at all of the relevant logs: event logs, custom application logs…

Communication is key

Keep a bridge line open with team

Keeping a bridge line open, even if there is nothing to discuss, keeps a real-time line of communication open and ready when someone has questions, ideas, and possible solutions.

Send regular status updates to team and stakeholders

Sending a message to announce the issue and what is known right now is good form. It lets everyone know that you are on top of the issue and working hard to solve it. If you haven’t found a resolution in a certain amount of time, sending another update explaining what has been done and any new findings lets everyone know that although you haven’t found the issue, you are still working hard on it. It may be a good idea to even post the status updates to a blog or Twitter, syndicate the updates to as many channels as you can, especially if you have a large application with many users.

Staying proactive with communication is much better than constantly having to field random calls and emails looking for information you should be readily sharing. Keep communications open and don’t try to hide, spin, or lie about the mistake.

No one makes any changes without discussing the change

While everyone is trying to solve the issue, no one should be making changes in production, even if the fix is blatantly obvious. A Sev 1 is serious and everything changed to fix it should be discussed with the team first so it can be documented and controls put in place to prevent it in the future.

If the team agrees on the change then the change should be documented on the timeline and a notification should be sent when the change is starting and when the change is finished. The change discussion and notifications can be simply talking it out over the bridge line or an IM or email. The point is don’t allow the change to get worse or be repeated by making undocumented changes that the team can’t learn from.



These are just some tips that I have learned over the years. I have seen many more sound practices, but the gist is:

  • Stay calm
  • Document changes to production
  • Work as a team
  • Learn from failure