Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Chicken Run

When I first moved down to London from Wales I shared a house with three other people. I think it has given more anecdotes than any other period in my life. One such story is the time when one of the guys came back with a frozen chicken from the supermarket just around the corner. He then proceeded to switch on the chest freezer under the stairs and place this solitary chicken in it. When I protested about the cost his reply was “My mum says it more economical to keep things in the freezer”.

I attempted to have a conversation about the use of electricity versus just being able to nip around to the shop around the corner. I also mooted that it may have been more economical for his mother to store things in the freezer as she lived 20 miles away from the nearest supermarket. I also pointed out one fatal flaw in his plan for a roast chicken dinner – our oven did not work.

Finally, I gave in but had one last attempt at economy, suggesting that we packed the rest of the freezer with blankets to reduce the volume of air. His retort was “Don’t be stupid that will keep it warm!”. When he finally got around to eating it he attempted to crush it so that it would fit under the grill, couldn’t be bothered to wait longer than 10 minutes for something to cook.

I often see parallels with this story in technology. I have read statements such as ‘web services improve scalability and security’, ‘Ajax improves web site performance’ and ‘.NET removes the need to worry about resources’. I have seen examples, in all cases, where these statements have been proven to be untrue. These technologies are enablers – you still have to apply good practice and common sense when using them.

Web services and performance are a good parallel to the story above. In this case I am talking about web services used as a tier in an n-tier architecture. If the cost of the transport is higher than the cost of production there clearly is no performance benefit from the additional tier.

Getting back to my house-sharing stories, in January when the weather was really cold my house mate came in and said ‘”It must be really cold in the back room – that chicken’s grown a fur coat!”

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