Brendan Enrick

Daily Software Development

Numbering the Rows Returned from a SQL Query

Outside of SQL it would be quite easy to number the rows returned from query, but to do so inside of the SQL is a bit more difficult. I recently wanted to be able to number the rows returned from a query in a stored procedure. I am using SQL Server 2000, so I cannot use row_number().

I was going to ask my go to SQL guy, Gregg Stark, how to do this, but while in the process of asking him for a good method of doing this, I came up with the solution. My cool trick for numbering the rows returned from a query is useful because I don't actually want to return these rows to other code. I want to store them back into my database ordered differently than the numbering, and using a table variable will allow me to do exactly what I am trying to do.

First we need to create a table variable. We will define that table as having an identity column plus any other columns we happen to need. We then insert into that table all of the values returned from our query.

declare @t table (Rank int identity(1,1), UserName nvarchar(256), Points int)
insert into @t
select UserName, sum(PointsEarned) as Points
from UserRecognition
group by UserName

After running this part we have created a table variable which contains the information we want. We can then select data out of this as if it were a normal table. In this example I am able to obtain a ranking for my users based on their earned points. This lets me store that ranking without having them stored in ranking order.

It is obviously much easier to do this in SQL 2005, but this is a very cool trick for those of us using SQL Server 2000. Let me know what you think, and if you have any cool improvements.

Dangers of Using Floating Point Numbers

An interesting question came up from a few of my students while teaching my class. Some of them discovered a bug in their programs which they did not understand. They were writing a program which was doing some calculations on currency.

Computer Programmers commonly use floating point numbers, but I am sure that not all of them really understand what is going on underneath the hood. As I am sure everyone reading this knows, all data is stored in binary format on computers. In base 10 as with all numbering systems with a base, each digit is a round number in the base. The fractional amounts are what is interesting and specific to floating point numbers and not to integers.

When using floating point numbers they aren't stored in a way which is intuitive to base 10 users. As an example I will use the fractional amount 1/4. To make seeing the conversion easier I'll say that it is also 25/100 or really 2/10 + 5/100.

In a base 10 floating point number we may represent this number as the following.

0.25

If we were to write that same number in binary format we should note that it is 1/4 or really 0/2 + 1/4.

0.01

You'll want to notice here that those two numbers are not similar, and as you can probably guess, some examples would not come out quite so cleanly.

The problem which the students came across stemmed from subtracting 10 cents from some amount of money. I'll use $100.00 as my example. When the students did the calculation it worked in the following way:

100.00 - 0.1 = 99.900000000000006

FloatingPointError

That seems to not make sense, but it does make some sense. There are numbers which in base 10 will have decimal places which will extend on, and we have to round them at some point. A good example of this is 1/3 which can be written roughly as any of the following

0.3

0.33

0.33333333333

All of those are approximations of that fractional amount. In binary we have the same type of problem, because 0.1 cannot be represented correctly in binary. This causes a problem; it will round at a certain point, and because the number isn't represented correctly, the calculation is done incorrectly. In many other languages it hides away that inaccuracy, but Python allows you to see it.

It is important to know how your floating point numbers are working underneath. Be careful. The computer doesn't speak our language.

Teaching Introduction to Computer Programming

I recently started teaching a course for the Computer Science Department at Kent State University. I am teaching a course called Introduction to Computer Programming. It is a course teaching non-computer science majors the basics of programming.

In this course the students learn simple concepts and ideas behind programming, and along the way will learn to develop simple applications. The students who take this course come from many different areas: Technology, Education, Art History, Visual Communication Design, etc.

I am enjoying teaching the course, and it is beneficial not just to the students but to me as well. As I am teaching this course I am refreshing my memory on a lot of different areas of computer science which I believe are very important to software development.

Python is the programming language of choice for this class. It has been chosen for many reasons, but a few choice ones are: Python's being a very high level language, ease of use, quick development, works with Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. We have Mac, Linux, and Windows users in the class so it is nice to use a language which is easy to develop in and works well in each of the operating systems.

In an effort to start posting more to my blog perhaps I can post a few of the interesting concepts which are applicable to all programming not just Python.

Installing SQL Server Management Studio with SQL Server

Update (24 March 2008): Steve Smith found a more reliable solution to install the SQL Server Client Tools. Once in the tools folder open the setup folder and in there is a SqlRun_Tools.msi file. If you run that it should actually install SSMS.

When I recently installed SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server Management Studio on my computer it did not install SSMS or any of the other Client Tools. When running the installation of SQL Server 2005 I followed along with the instructions. I individually selected each component to install including the Client Tools for SQL Server. When the installation finished there was no SQL Server Management Studio.

Figuring this might be a difficult thing to Google for, I asked Steve Smith if he knew how to get the client tools. He told me that just about the only way to get SSMS to install was to sacrifice a chicken and hope for luck, because there is something weird which has to be done in order to get the program to install.

Upon scouring the folders on the disc, I discovered that the default setup file is coming from a servers folder. I tried using the setup file from the tools folder. This should have worked, but I had a slight problem. Since I had told SQL Sever to install the client tools from the wrong setup file it now believed I had them installed already and would not install them.

SQL Server 2005 Install Folders

Since the installation defaults to the Servers setup file, I never even saw the tools install. There was also no reason to even suspect one since the primary setup file claimed to be able to install the client tools.

I had to uninstall and reinstall SQL Server without the Client tools and then the setup file from the client tools would install SQL Server Management Studio. This was quite a pain, and I don't understand why the client tools are listed as options in a setup file which cannot install them. I think this is a bit crazy, but at least now when I install it I don't have this problem anymore.

How to Convert from hex to int

I recently needed to convert hexadecimal numbers into integer numbers. So for your benefit, and for mine when I forget how to do this, I will tell you a couple of ways to convert numbers of these types. Both methods are quite simple and easy to use.

string myHexNumber = "C4FFB716";
int myIntNumber = Int32.Parse(myHexNumber, System.Globalization.NumberStyles.HexNumber);

 

 This will convert a hexadecimal number in string format into an integer number. You could also do the following.

string myHexNumber = "C4FFB716";
int myIntNumber = Convert.ToInt32(myHexNumber, 16);

 

In this case you have easily converted from a hexadecimal string into an integer. If you want to convert from a base other than 16 into an integer you can pass either 2 or 8 instead of 16 to this method.

(Yes, I am aware that those are terrible variable names. This is merely an example.)

Enjoy!

Silverlight 1.0 has been released!

I read every blog post Scott Guthrie writes, and I intend to keep it that way. In his most recent blog post he let me know about Silverlight's 1.0 release as well as the announcement that Silverlight will be formally supported for Linux. Silverlight has seemed quite impressive so far, and I had been disappointed about Microsoft's not supporting Linux as well. I am happy to learn that the project called "Moonlight" will be able to run on 3 different browsers in Linux; Firefox, Opera, and Konqueror. As a Linux user myself I am always disappointed in the lack of Linux support given by larger companies. Flash is not very compatible with Linux, so it is quite impressive to see Microsoft assisting in the development of Moonlight.

For those of you who do not know there is an implementation of the .NET Framework referred to as Mono. It is a project in the Linux world which allows .NET code to run in Linux. I've done some development using Mono, and I've even written ASP.NET pages in Mono. So far they've done well in replicating the features provided by for .NET developers.

I think many people are eagerly anticipating the Silverlight 1.1 release which has also been mentioned as the current project Scott Guthrie's team is working on.

I am happy to know that when I write code in Silverlight anyone on any of the main 3 Operating systems should be able to see the Silverlight. If Microsoft can get some big websites using Silverlight, most people across the Internet will have Silverlight very quickly.

I recommend checking out a lot of Microsoft's webpages. I've seen a few of them, and these new Silverlight sites are quite amazing.

The Joys of Windows Live Writer

I've just downloaded and started trying out windows live writer, and I think it is excellent. This has got to be just about the easiest and best program for blog writing I've ever seen.

Features I love

  • View Web Preview - This view actually shows me what the blog is going to look like and it actually shows it with my blog there including the content from the left column and the previous blog posts beneath this one.
  • The generated html is reasonably well formed.
  • I can type in my tags without having to have added them to the blog in advance.
  • Plug-ins, plug-ins, and more plug-ins. I haven't looked at it but I am assuming that it is easy to write plug-ins for Live Writer.
  • Inserting Images, Tables, and Maps is incredibly easy.
  • I have no trouble finding what I need in the toolbar even with my plug-ins installed.
  • Auto-saving my blog posts as drafts as I type.
  • Insert link has a button to select a previous post so rather than finding that post somewhere and copying the link I just found it in this application.
  • I can also save my links from within the insert link window.
  • Formatting is simple and easy (unlike other programs which I have used).

Ok I give up. I refuse to write any more about how great this program is. Now is the time for me to go and look at some more of these plug-ins. I recommend you go and download Windows Live Writer and blog away.

Generic List AddRange, Remove, and Count Performance

The .NET System.Collections.Generic.List class is not a linked list as non-.NET users might expect. This list class is actually more like an array list than a linked list. Because of this it has some of the benefits of arrays. Simply because of the array data structure which exists within the generic list class, the class is able to achieve a constant time Count function. The basic array data structure is a collection of objects which are stored contiguously in memory, and because of this it makes counting them easy. It also makes it quite easy to index into a specific location, because you can just jump straight to the correct location in memory. With a linked list one has to traverse the list. The advantage of the linked list is that it is held together using pointers, so if you want to add nodes it is simply an update to pointers. This means that adding a collection of nodes can take constant time.

I would highly recommend against the array list if you will be adding and removing objects from this collection often. Since there is an allocated amount of space in memory for the array this means that if you need to exceed this space then you will need to create a new list. Using Big O notation the AddRange function of list will take O(n) time to complete. The n in this case is the number of elements to add. This doesn't seem to bad, but when the allotted space is exceeded the array will need to move and recreate itself with more space. This is the big performance hit. For this operation it will have O(n+m) time, because you will have to do the regular n operations plus m operations for the original data in the array.

Removing an element from an array requires a little bit of work. One reason for this is that the array data structure should never contain an empty space. This means that first you will need to perform a linear search algorithm to find the element to remove. Stepping one by one through the list. Upon reaching the element to remove, it is removed, but then all the elements after that one must be moved forward in the array so no space exists. This causes the remove function to perform in linear time.

  • Capacity O(1)
  • Count O(1)
  • AddRange O(n) or O(n+m)
  • Remove O(n)

I am planning to write of series of little bits of stuff. If you catch any mistakes in any of this series please comment on the correction ASAP. I don't want to be passing along incorrect information.

Enjoy! 

C++ List Operation Performance

I am fairly certain that the C++ Standard Template Library's list object's size function is an O(n) operation. For those of you less algorithmically informed people I am saying that a linked list which uses pointers to the next object in the list has to take linear time (directly corresponding to the number of elements) to find out the size of the list. At first this seems kind of odd. One would wonder why not just keep the count of the elements stored somewhere.

Keeping the count of the number of elements in a linked list will make what I believe is the linked list's greatest asset less valuable. The splice function (which is like the AddRange function) is able to just update pointers. This is amazingly useful because added n number of elements can take constant time. Meaning that it takes just as long to add 10 elements as to add 1000 elements. When needed that is a life saver. Having that ability though prevents being able to keep track of the size of the list, because the list doesn't know how many elements you are splicing in. It would need to take linear time to count them. Because of this it would make it linear instead of constant time. Ouch.

Because of this close relationship between the size and splice functions one will have to be linear and one constant. It seems that it was decided that with a linked list it would just be easier to iterate to the end instead of using the size. Splicing is a lot more important in my opinion to the usefulness of a linked list. I suggest perhaps a second object which is a linked list which has a constant size and a linear splice for when size will be checked more often than splicing will occur.  

I was discussing this with someone recently and found it quite interesting, and I now think I am going to go and start reading more about the algorithms of the functions used in C#. Perhaps in the future I will write about the algorithms in .NET and the runtime of these algorithms. I hope so.

Great C# to VB and VB to C# Converters

I was recently on Developer Fusion when I noticed some simple and easy to use C# to VB and VB to C# converters. It is not difficult to translate code from one language to the other, but sometimes I'll want to test out a code snippet from some site and it is in VB. I use C# and I don't want to have to sit there translating 20 lines of code, and I also don't want to go and get an expensive converter. These seem to do a reasonable job converting between the two languages. I've used them a fair amount so far, and I haven't run into a problem with them yet. I suggest you check them out and bookmark them. They've saved me plenty of time already.