How to Choose a Database Server

Over the past year I have been mostly using MySQL on Amazon Web Services RDS for a database server when I needed one. It has worked well enough for me and I have learned a lot along the way. There is a great Mac OS X GUI for it called Sequel Pro that I recommend any SQL beginner check out. It makes importing CSVs into a database brain dead simple. Large companies like Facebook, AirBnb, and Wordpress use MySQL and it works great for them.

However the trend seems to be moving towards using PostgreSQL. The folks at Heroku prefer and advocate for it, and there appears to be more discussion and excitement about it on HackerNews. Furthermore if you do any work with geogaphic data, PostGIS is the gold standard. I think that this link does an interesting job of explaining problems with MySQL. I have finally found a promising GUI. The PostgreSQL developers seem to be focusing on performance and closing or even beating its gap with MySQL.

There are many places that use both. If you are learning Ruby on Rails the community seems to prefer PostgreSQL and you should choose that to start with. If you later find reason to use MySQL you can add that your stack as well.

Data and Government Panel from Harvard Kennedy School

Worth watching:

The Best Ruby on Rails Tutorial

I have been off and on playing with and learning Ruby on Rails and am finally in the process of using it. I consulted numerous resources in attempting to learn Rails including Code School and a book called Agile Web Development with Rails. However by far the best written material for beginners is Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial.

The Internet is awash in debates about what technologies you should learn when you program. I think Ruby on Rails is a good choice because the documentation and community sit above what I have seen elsewhere. Ruby on Rails is used by companies like AirBnb and Basecamp so it has been battle tested. This does not make other options invalid because ultimately all that matters is that you are able to accomplish what you want. Tools are just different roads to the same destination.

Warren Buffet's Annual Letter

Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter is always an interesting read. Buffett is a talented writer and is able to articulate complex ideas with fun metaphors. Some interesting nuggets of wisdom that stuck out:

In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.

I think this holds true in many other worlds as well. Buffett talks about the importance of culture, and often times bad news ends up being the result of an institution being ill equipped to handle it. Furthermore rarely to problems occur in a vacuum, we live in a world of systems and so when one thing goes wrong there are likley to be other problems.

Our investment results have been helped by a terrific tailwind. During the 1964-2014 period, the S&P 500 rose from 84 to 2,059, which, with reinvested dividends, generated the overall return of 11,196% shown on page 2. Concurrently, the purchasing power of the dollar declined a staggering 87%. That decrease means that it now takes $1 to buy what could be bought for 13¢ in 1965 (as measured by the Consumer Price Index).

Something to think about. But you must reconcile it with his other advice about not being willing to trade a night’s sleep for extra profits. Berkshire Hathaway keeps a pretty large cash fortress for times of economic peril. This is a smart strategy because when cash is in short supply it quickly becomes more valuable.

Huge institutional investors, viewed as a group, have long underperformed the unsophisticated index-fund investor who simply sits tight for decades. A major reason has been fees. Many institutions pay subsantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game.

Buffett calibrates the performance of people to the data. Anyone is able to open a Vanguard account and invest in a stock index fund. If an investor is unable to beat the general market as a whole, then what special ability does the investor really have in discerning what investments are good or bad?

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini Manages with Data

From The New York Times:

Dr. Reisman saw that the practices had helped his boss recover, but he was not convinced. “Because you’re doing yoga, everyone has to do yoga?” Dr. Reisman shot back, as recalled by Mr. Bertolini.

Mr. Bertolini appealed to Dr. Reisman as a scientist. They would measure workers’ stress levels by tracking heart rate variability and cortisol levels, common measures of anxiety. And they would team with the Integrative Medicine Program at Duke University, which does research into the efficacy of alternative treatments.

When Mr. Bertolini reviewed Aetna’s financial performance for 2012, he noticed something surprising: Health care costs had fallen. For the year, paid medical claims per employee were down 7.3 percent. That amounted to about $9 million in savings. The next year, health care costs rose 5.7 percent, but have remained about 3 percent lower than they were before yoga and meditation were introduced at the company.

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