What can a week in a cabin without a computer teach you about databases?

I’m back from a week (actually a week and two days) of being quite isolated in a cabin at the Mark Twain National State Park is Florida, Missouri. I took only a book and a guitar, and enough things to eat for the week, and not even much of that. Oh, and of course I took coffee. I said I was “Roughing It”, not going into deprivation!

2010 Missouri Trip 092

So without a laptop, smart phone or any books to read, what could I have learned about database technology? When I left I read an interesting set of articles, one from a person who argues that the Internet (and by that he meant the general “online” world) was making us less intelligent, and another from someone that claims it makes us smarter.

So I went off to think a little more than that. Normally when I research something, I look up lots of resources that I respect, I visit the library, and talk to lots of people face-to-face. That’s what I call “broad thinking”. This is a great method, and can save lots of time. But there’s a danger here – it allows me not to think. I just find people I trust and look for the best logic and agree with it.

What I learned is that I’m doing more and more of that, using the Internet, e-mail, and social networks like Twitter. While that’s certainly a fine thing to do, it can lead to less critical thinking.

The better method, I believe, is to take what I know about something, and reason it out myself first. Then I follow up with the previous method, and synthesize what I get from the two, always remaining open to new information.

Let’s take a practical database example. Assume someone you trust makes the statement “RAID 1 is better for sequential reads and writes, so that’s where you should put your logs.” To think this through, take what you know about RAID 1 (and all forms of RAID, in fact) and what you know about Log files. You might have to read up on those, but after you have educated yourself, come back and see what your logic tells you about that statement. Then – and only then – see what other people blog, say, write and comment about on that topic. See what holds true, and ask lots of questions about what you’ve learned. Now you own that question, the answer, and the logic behind it.

Of course, not everything deserves this level of thought. When I needed to get to the airport from the cabin, I just used the GPS unit in the rental car. I could totally rely on another “expert” or technology to help me out – it’s just the road to the airport. I still had to control my speed and so on, but you get the idea.

I may actually write a book about what I learned, and how I learned it. I’ll have to go off and think about that first. :)

Comments (6)
  1. Deno says:

    Sounds like a general plan for me too, hoped you had fun thinking about it..;-)

  2. Mark says:

    Welcome Back buck, the internet has been quiet without you. ;-)

    You didn't conclude your analysis on the opening statements. Now that you have thought about it would you say that the internet makes us smarter, or dumber, or neither?

  3. Rusty says:

    Welcome back… I picked up a decent book at TechEd which went into great detail on the process of thinking critically… "Think Better" by Tim Hurson.  It was a quick read, and well worth the investment.  Enjoy!

  4. Buck Woody says:

    Hello Mark – I think I learned the most that it's a balance – like everything else. My feelings are that when technology moves from a lever to a distraction, that's when it's bad.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Jack Corbett says:

    I wouldn't say that the internet makes us smarter, it does give us access to more information.

    I had a similar vacation, in that some of the places I stayed had no internet and no cell coverage, so I had to think without the internet.  I find it refreshing to get away from technology occasionally.

  6. Randy Lane says:

    Try reading some works by Montana Prof. Albert Borgmann. He's says (in much more expanded dialogue of course) what you allude to and more concerning the illusion of "good life" and "improved life" we associate with technology.

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