Jan 14 2011

Failed Blog Posts

garbageOver the last week I’ve started and trashed two blog posts. Let me tell you, that’s painful. You get some great idea and then it all goes south. For example, I was going to explain the difference between a table/heap scan and a clustered index scan. The problem was, I ran into gaps in my knowledge, some outright errors in my beliefs on how data was stored, and really faulty conclusions drawn from those facts and a less than thorough set of tests. I’m not even going to tell you what went wrong with the other notion. Luckily, all this was behind the scenes so I didn’t post my ignorance for all to see.  Since I’m not offering you a chance to point & laugh (in this instance), you might be wondering why you’re here.

I’m using my failures to come up with a good technical blog post as a teaching moment. Or, to put it another way, I need to get a blog post put together, so describing why I don’t have one might be a way to do that. Or, to put it another way, I’ve got a stack of lemons, might as well try my hand at lemonade (although, is there a way to ferment lemons? hmmm, more research on this needed, note to self). The point I want to make? Blogging, even when you mess it up and put together bad information, is a great way to learn.

It’s entirely possible to simply slap together a blog post and put it up. No lie. You can do that. I’m fairly certain some bloggers do. I could do that. Better still, you could go and copy Books Online or some other blogger. But, if you are trying, as I am trying, to actually have a blog that’s useful, more is needed. So you think up an idea, what is the difference between a clustered index scan and a heap scan. Then you start writing down what you know. For example, heaps aren’t stored the same way as clustered indexes. Heaps only have pointers back to the Index Allocation Map, where as clusters are stored with a doubly linked list of pages. Then you start thinking up ways that this is proof of something. Good, bad, indifferent, you have to tell a story about the information. That’s where things went south for me. I’m not going to go into details on all my mistakes. Suffice to say, mistakes were made.

The point is, while I messed things up, in my effort to get it right, I had to run tests. I had to read up on data storage mechanisms. I did searches on the internet to see what people I trust said about this stuff. In short, I learned a lot. And yeah, I started from a bad point and made a number of mistakes, but my efforts to ensure that what I was putting out wasn’t complete garbage resulted in more knowledge, if fewer blog posts.

This is one of the best things about blogging. If you’ve ever considered starting, I would encourage you to try it out.. I get three things out it. First, I learn. I have to learn to put these posts up. I try hard to make sure I’m not putting up utter garbage. I may make small errors, but large ones are hopefully not here. Second, I get a chance to organize my thoughts. Writing down how something works, or at least your understanding of how something works, is extremely helpful in furthering that understanding. This is especially true when you’re attempting to share with others, to teach. Nothing so much improves mastery of a skill as teaching that skill. Finally, I get a great set of documentation. When someone asks me a question on something I’ve blogged about, I can point them to my blog. When I need to remember something that I’ve done before, I’ve got documentation I can use. Blogging is an excellent tool for the knowledge worker. And, of course, an added benefit, if you get something right, you can share with others.

That’s it for lemonade. If you’re looking for more information on heaps, go read Kalen Delaney’s (blog|twitter) Internals book, Paul Randal’s (blog|twitter) blog, Kimberly Tripp’s (blog|twitter) blog, or Tibor Karaszi’s (blog|twitter) excellent blog, especially this post on heaps and inserts. In the mean time, I’m going back to the drawing board, trying new things in order to come up with some more posts to keep this place hopping. If you want to try to move towards mastery yourself, start blogging.

Of course, the real problem with this post is, this is the only one like it I get.

11 Comments

  • By Karen Lopez, January 14, 2011 @ 8:55 am

    I know people say the best way to learn something is to do it, but i think the best way is to prepare to teach it. Your thought process is much as you describe. First you want to make a statement, then you look at a way to prove or demonstrate it, then ways to defend it.

    All of that leads to a type of mastery of the subject.

    Great post.

  • By Grant Fritchey, January 14, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    Thanks. It’s actually how it works in martial arts too. You don’t really understand how to do things until you can show others, correct their mistakes, answer their questions…

  • By Justin Dearing, January 14, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    I too have a lot of dead posts. Usually its because I end up seeing I have nothing interesting to say on the subject. However, on the other side of things, some of my posts end up being more popular than I think they should.

  • By Grant Fritchey, January 14, 2011 @ 10:03 am

    This will sound awful, but I don’t worry to much that I’m saying something interesting. I just want to make darned sure that I’m saying something right.

  • By LadyRuna, January 14, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    It’s great that you posted this. As a beginning blogger, I’ve abandoned many postings because I just didn’t have enough to say about it. I’m glad to hear that it happens to the pros, too. :) Most of us were convinced that these blog posts just pop into existence without any pain or effort. Now we know better.

  • By Michael J Swart, January 14, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    Hey Grant, that’s awesome and two things struck me. 1 is that you try to make your blog useful. Believe me it shows. And it’s much appreciated and it’s why your blog is in my “elite” category on my reader.

    The other thing is to not get too discouraged with the failures. It’s what creativity feels like. I had somewhat related thoughts when I wrote Gleeful Calamity

  • By Grant Fritchey, January 14, 2011 @ 11:03 am

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing.

  • By Mark Tillman, January 14, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    One quote from philosophy might help here Grant and I can’t find the quote but paraphrasing, it goes something like:
    “I may end up exitiing the same door that I came though, but at least I’m facing a different direction when I come out.”

  • By kendra little, January 20, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

    I totally agree– I have learned so much from writing scripts for blog posts, and doing research for blog posts.

    Writing about something and researching it just changes your normal focussed context.

    As frustrating as it can be to have a post go south, I usually find that there’s something in the post which I can write about. Even if it involves deleting 95% of the content and starting fresh. :)

  • By Tim Ford, January 23, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

    The thing I hate most is working for hours coming up with a topic, doing further research, and writing a post… then hitting the wall where I lose confidence in my depth of knowledge.

    The hours are not necessarily lost – I learned a great deal usually – but the original goal of hitting PUBLISH is missed. Man do I HATE not reaching a goal.

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