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MySQL Cards and Charts 79

Michael J. Ross writes "Database programmers using MySQL frequently have a need to verify the name or parameter list of a MySQL function, or to check a statement or the data types available within its implementation of SQL. This typically occurs when the programmer is caught up in a coding session, and would much rather not break their creative flow by searching Web sites for the needed information, or stepping away from their computer to hunt for a reference book. In these cases, nothing could be more valuable than a concise summary of all SQL statements and MySQL functions, in a form compact enough to be kept within reach on the desk or tacked up to the nearest wall space. This is the goal of the VisiBone MySQL Cards and Charts." Read on for the rest of Michael's review.
MySQL Cards and Charts
author Bob Stein
pages 4
publisher VisiBone
rating 10
reviewer Michael J. Ross
summary High-quality reference materials for MySQL functions and SQL statements
These two products contain the same information, with the same formatting and color coding. They differ primarily in their construction, sizes, and likely destinations. The MySQL Cards — often referred to as cheat sheets — are 8.5 by 11 inches in size, made of card stock that has been laminated on both sides of each pair of cards, for a total of four pages of information. The MySQL Chart is 24 by 33.3 inches, printed of course on only one side. The VisiBone Web page devoted to these products notes that the cards have the advantage of portability, while the chart has the advantage of presenting all of the information in one glance. (The Web site fails to mention that the large chart has the additional advantage that it can be used to cover blemishes on a wall, such as those caused by a Web programmer banging his head against it when wrestling with browser incompatibilities.)

The March 2007 edition of the cards and chart cover MySQL version 5.2 and ISO/ANSI SQL 2003 specification. Such a tremendous amount of technical information needed to be packed into relatively small form factors, offering limited space — especially compared to books. Consequently, all of the available space had to be used judiciously. That is precisely what Bob Stein, principal of VisiBone, has accomplished with these items. Each one diagrams the syntax for 84 SQL statements and 236 MySQL functions and operators. In a private communication, Mr. Stein noted that no fewer than 194 of MySQL's 225 reserved words are included. (Of the remaining 31 reserved words, 7 are apparently not used anywhere in MySQL, 13 are quite obscure, and 11 are functionally synonymous with other terms — mostly column types from other database engines.)

Given the small amount of space available, there would be the danger of the material being difficult to read. Fortunately, Mr. Stein utilized shades of gray, white and black, blue (to indicate MySQL statements that are not standard ISO/ANSI), and the occasional red (to indicate the most commonly needed information). He also made full use of space on the right hand side of each page, for the largest sidebars, and the remaining space in the middle, for more modestly sized topics. Lastly, he chose a readable type size of 9 points.

The MySQL Cards present the SQL statements and MySQL functions separately, each on their own cards, in alphabetical order. The SQL statements are less horizontally linear and more diagrammatic, to indicate alternative and optional keywords. For each function, the return data type and parameters are given, as well as a pithy summary of what the function does, or an illustrative example. There are a total of 182 examples of the functions and operators, all tested.

The MySQL Chart includes the identical information provided by the cards, but with all of the SQL statements listed down the left-hand side, and all of the MySQL functions down the right-hand side.

Reviews of technical materials oftentimes focus exclusively on the product itself, with no mention as to its delivery. That might make sense for a technical book that could be ordered, packaged, and shipped from any one of many online bookstores, or purchased in person at a local bricks-and-mortar bookstore. In contrast, these MySQL products, like all other VisiBone products, are packaged and shipped from the company's only location, in Brunswick, Maine. The smaller size of such an operation allows for greater attention to each individual shipment. Furthermore, the cards are mailed in sturdy cardboard flats, with directions not to be bent. Charts are mailed in double-hulled cardboard tubes that are even more sturdy.

It is rare that one encounters such excellent products in the fast-paced world of technical publishing. However, I can offer just two minor suggestions for improvement. Even though the color choices generally work quite well, the medium gray used as the background color is probably not the best choice, since almost all of the text is in black. A lighter shade of gray — perhaps that used for a couple of the sidebars, such as "GROUP_CONCAT()" — with a corresponding change in those sidebars, would make the text stand out more.

The only other weakness I found was the use of the term "Habitat," as an adjective for "Shell," "PHP," and "Web Browser." The meaning may be immediately obvious to those of greater intelligence than myself (not that that narrows the field), but my presumption was not confirmed until I saw mention of the term on the aforesaid Web site. The term "Sample" would be more clear.

The chart is the ideal size for a poster, and the 8.5"x11" cards work well; but if the cards were folded into two or three panels, they would be easier to stand up on a desk, and not get buried underneath papers and books.

Nonetheless, the overall quality of these cards and charts is outstanding; the information they offer is accurate, up-to-date, and neatly presented; the protective packaging was appreciated. Even the levity was a nice touch: Despite the limited unused space on the cards, Mr. Stein manages to still squeeze in a bit of humor concerning ISBN bar codes.

Looking over these materials would, for anyone non-technical, probably cause their eyes to glaze over. But for the dedicated MySQL programmer, it can be a humbling experience, largely because it reveals just how little of the language is known or used on a regular basis — by most database programmers, or, at least, by this one. Slowly perusing the information-rich pages, I found myself delighted to discover for the first time functions and statements that would allow my future MySQL code to do more natively, within uncompiled statements, stored procedures, and triggers, without resorting to performing the processing within PHP or whatever other application language will be used.

Lastly, each shipment is accompanied by a letter from Mr. Stein, in which expresses to the customer his appreciation for their order, and his genuine excitement in the potential that any developer has to use his tools to help develop something great. He makes clear that the focus of his efforts is to create "visualization technology for web designers" that will help them do their job better.

Although these items are not books, the VisiBone MySQL Cards and Charts could easily replace the typical MySQL reference book for most occasions when a question of language syntax needs to be resolved as quickly and conveniently as possible. I especially recommend the MySQL Cards, not only for the wealth of information, but for the way that it put all of it "at mental fingertip reach."

Michael J. Ross is a Web programmer, freelance writer, and the editor of PristinePlanet.com's free newsletter.

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MySQL Cards and Charts

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  • Where can I send the check :) on a serious note this will be a very useful tool.
  • Awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by jdhawke ( 797924 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:24PM (#19056363) Homepage
    I have one of the wall charts up in my home office, looks great and is very handy to have as well. Great item.
  • Creative flow...? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nanidin ( 729400 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:25PM (#19056389)
    I just read the description to where it says "programmer is caught up in a coding session, and would much rather not break their creative flow by searching Web sites for the needed information, or stepping away from their computer to hunt for a reference book." I'm sorry, but if you rely on this 'creative flow' to program, your programs probably aren't that great. Good programs aren't the result of quickly written code - they are the result of thought, design, and effort. The mysql site has great documentation. Google will fill in the gaps if you're in need. The creative portion of the programming process should be well done before the code starts hitting the screen.
    • The mysql site has great documentation.

      What color is the sky in your world? In my world, you have to read all the comments below the pages in the manual to find the errors and downright lies in the text. Ditto for many other web-documented projects, especially PHP, whose documentation sans comments would be enough to drive you to tears.

      • by Nanidin ( 729400 )
        This is true; I guess I really meant that it's easy to find function names and parameter lists (since that's what these cards are designed for.)
      • by GnuDiff ( 705847 )
        Sorry for flamebaiting - it is not really intended as a "my db has bigger ** than yours", but I do have to remark that since I code for both PostgreSQL and MySQL DBs occasionally, I have come to appreciate default PG online docs (compared to MySQL's default online docs) -- everything pertaining to commands/functions is concise and very well-organized.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "I'm sorry, but if you rely on this 'creative flow' to program, your programs probably aren't that great."

      Unless you have been there its difficult for the non-creative type to imagine how this process works, but it does and its creativity in another realm and pace entirely.

      Good luck.
    • by panaceaa ( 205396 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:54PM (#19056959) Homepage Journal
      There is such a thing as programming creative flow. For instance, say you're coming up with a prototype for a new site. You just want to get in there, come up with a basic database that fits your needs, come up with a data API, and then write some dynamically generated HTML. If you've done it a thousand times before, it's just going through the motions and getting the code written. And if you're in this situation and you can't quite remember how to query for all rows within a specific month -- ya, it does slow you down a bit.

      I completely disagree with the spam article's premise that it'd be faster for me to go find a card laying somewhere on my desk, or that my creative flow wouldn't be broken by STANDING UP AND GOING TO LOOK AT A WALL POSTER, rather than going to the absolutely excellent MySQL documentation site [mysql.com], where I can actually cut and paste from examples. There's hardly ever a question about MySQL syntax or SQL functionality I can't get from the MySQL documentation. The only places where the MySQL developer guide lacks is in performance guidelines, but I don't expect that the spammed product does a better job on a laminated card.
    • If your world is really divvied into such neat boxes, I pity you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Bobb Sledd ( 307434 )
      How about using an SQL front-end tool when you code? That's what I do. Problems mostly solved. Query/Insert/Update your data and copy the resulting SQL. I use EMS and even the god-awful MS SQL Server Management Studio Express, but it's better than trying to do it by hand or research. At worst you could use myPhpNuke or something (which also shows the SQL).

    • I'm sorry, but if you rely on this 'creative flow' to program, your programs probably aren't that great.


      I agree with your argument that good programs "are the result of thought, design and effort," but I strongly disagree that disrupting creative flow is not detrimental to well-designed programs.

      I frequently write proof-of-concept code while in a state of 'creative flow' -- after taking a period of time to settle in to the job at hand and get the creative juices (so to speak) flo

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I don't think you've written any truly complex software. Even when you've worked out the overall solution, the details can be enormous. It requires keeping a *lot* of information "active" in your brain. It takes some time to build up that picture, and distractions can make the structure fall.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SirSlud ( 67381 )
      Yeah, and while you're at it, lets ditch intellisense, visual assist, etc. When you're trying to juggle APIs from 28 different third party libaries, online docs are not the answer. Maybe "creative flow" sets off the hippy-alert for you, but having near immediate access to API signatures (ie, one second instead of twenty) is pretty much required if you are coding against lots of third party libs.

      Just because the design is finalized (or you're in a pre-design stage, as others have noted), it doesn't mean you
  • MySQL Shoots and Ladders
    • Seriously though, that's not a bad idea. I wouldn't mind having a small reference page of all the MySQL functions that I could easily tack on my wall next to my workstation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by revlayle ( 964221 )
      SHOOTS? *argh* *nooooooooo*
  • Would be nice to have such a list for all databases. Then again, it would be nice to have a list for all programming languages too. Then my wall would be covered in various colored charts and finding the right one would cause that same break in concentration I wished to avoid anyway. In reality, I think the web search is still the better choice in most cases. You can also find useful hints for functions that you don't find in any book or chart. Sometimes the break in concentration leads to some acciden
  • Where can I download MySQL 5.2? http://dev.mysql.com/ [mysql.com]
  • There's no need to "search the web" for mysql references - mysql.com has excellent, comprehensive documentation online, and it is supplemented by commentary of programmers who actually use the stuff every day. It would take me longer to locate and flip through a book than to get the answer from the source especially when I'm already at the keyboard. Another consideration is that the online documentation could be updated where the book is frozen to a specific point in time. I agree that there are uses for ce
  • It has a function list built-in sorted by function type.

    Screenshot (lower right):
    http://www.mysql.com/products/tools/query-browser/ qb-win-03-diff.png [mysql.com]

    Then if you double-click the function it brings up a popup telling you the full usage + description.
  • by glwtta ( 532858 )
    I don't know what MySQL calls it.

    (though if you frequently need a reference for freaking SQL statements, I think there might be something wrong with you)
  • These look like they'd be quite useful. Does anyone out there know of something similar, only for PostgreSQL instead of MySQL?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by greg1104 ( 461138 )
      While it doesn't address standard SQL structures, I find most of the PostgreSQL specific information I need on the free cheat sheet at http://www.alberton.info/postgresql_cheat_sheet.h t ml [alberton.info]

      The main things missing are generate_series, current_setting, and set_config. There are also several new system information functions in PostgreSQL 8.2; see the documentation at http://www.postgresql.org/docs/8.2/static/function s-info.html [postgresql.org] for a list.
  • by moore.dustin ( 942289 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @03:54PM (#19056949) Homepage
    Why not review the documentation of the subject at hand before posting and trying to sell books to people when better resources are available for free? If /. posted a review of PHP/MySQL documentation , people would be able to see that they do not need to buy these books. That would help the users here save money as opposed to ripping them off so the site can get a small cut.
  • so these are for if you built a bunch of sql stuff and didn't document it, right? Because why not just look in the documentation on the functions, unless there is no documentation.

    Documentation isn't an afterthought, it's supposed to be the blueprint for what you build (just like a house). How is the team in agreement on what's being built without something written down?

    The mind boggles at how people get so close to documenting their systems and yet still miss many of the benefits.
  • This company also has a set of HTML and CSS charts available that I purchased a couple of years ago, and have found to be extremely useful on a few occasions. When I found out that the MySQL cards were being produced, I ordered them immediately and was not disappointed. While the online MySQL documentation may be excellent, I find these cards to be well worth the money, and sometimes more convenient.
  • In these cases, nothing could be more valuable than a concise summary of all SQL statements and MySQL functions, in a form compact enough to be kept within reach on the desk or tacked up to the nearest wall space.

    What - is the Internet broken?

    I remember some of the more clueless people (e.g. English majors) pulled into IT in the late 90s resorting to primitive measures like this, but really, would anyone really do this in 2007?
  • by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311@yahoo.GAUSScom minus math_god> on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @04:45PM (#19058037) Homepage
    Database programmers using MySQL frequently have a need to verify the name or parameter list of a MySQL function


    or to check a statement or the data types available within its implementation of SQL.

    Still with you...

    This typically occurs when the programmer is caught up in a coding session,

    Really? I usually run into this problem when I'm watching television.

    and would much rather not break their creative flow by searching Web sites for the needed information,

    If I wrote that most database programmers would not care to spend their evening with Natalie Portman and some grits, would that make it true?

    or stepping away from their computer to hunt for a reference book.

    Yeah, because I bet all those MySQL database programmers have no idea where their MySQL reference book is. I bet they have to spend a whole 3 seconds reaching to the shelf behind them, or typing 'mysql <command name>' into Google.

    In these cases, nothing could be more valuable than a concise summary of all SQL statements and MySQL functions,

    How about a beer?

    in a form compact enough to be kept within reach on the desk or tacked up to the nearest wall space.

    How about a beer on a shelf?

    This is the goal of the VisiBone MySQL Cards and Charts

    The card might make a good coaster.


    1. State the existence of a problem. (Actual existence not necessary)
    2. State the lack of solutions to problem (Actual lack of solutions not necessary)
    3. Submit statement to Slashdot until read by lazy editor.
    4. Profit!!!
  • Would love to buy one if I didn't get the following error:

    Credit Card Error - The bank did not seem to approve that transaction.

    Also sets off noscript's cross site scripting error.
  • Check out the great refcards website!

    http://old.refcards.com/refcards/index.html [refcards.com]

    It has free refcards for:

    Catalyst NEW (21 July 2005)
    Emacs calc
    Perl regular expressions
    Template Toolkit
    XHTML 1.0 frameset
    XHTML 1.0 strict
    XHTML 1.0 transitional
    CSS level 1
    CSS level 2
    XML TopicMaps 1.0

    Very slick indeed.

    • ILoveJackDaniels.com also has a number of good "cheet sheet" [ilovejackdaniels.com] references, mostly focused on web applications/web design: CSS, PHP, MySQL, Javascript, VBScript, mod_rewrite, HTML, HTLM character entities, RGB hex color codes, Ruby on Rails, Microformats, and (now for something completely different) World of Warcraft.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Andrew Ford ( 664799 )
      That web site will be going away sometime soon. Most of the stuff is on, or linked to from, refcards.com [refcards.com]. There are currently about 60 cards listeed, including MySQL.
  • by rho ( 6063 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @06:50PM (#19059689) Homepage Journal

    Because of this:

    and would much rather not break their creative flow by searching Web sites for the needed information,

    I don't get that assertion at all. I keep a PostgreSQL, PHP and ADOdb tab open for my various projects. Looking through those manuals is a lot more helpful and a lot easier than a cheat-sheet. When I'm looking up something, it's because it's non-trivial, and I'll need context and examples. Or I want to do something odd, and I'm wondering if there's already a handy function or query that does what I need (SELECT FOR UPDATE to lock a row, as a simple example) so I don't have to programmatically reinvent the wheel. I guess if you need to recall the order of an UPDATE clause this might be helpful, but otherwise, no.

    Besides, there's barely enough room on my desk for the laptop and a martini. I'd have to hold the cheat-sheet in my mouth.

    (On a side note, I've been using Panic's Coda [panic.com] since they released 1.0. It's pretty swell. Their "Books" feature, though, is significantly less useful than the Web manuals. The PHP manual is particularly unhelpful compared to the Web version.)

  • I'd rather see MySQL have an intuitive online help interface. Built into the command interpreter. I.E. SQL statements would be used to look up the reference

    I envision something like mysql> SELECT help_snippet from mysql.functions where name like '%myfunctionname%' \G Result: help_snippet: (text describing the function)

  • I've been using VisiBone products for years and I love them. So when Bob sent me an oh-so-friendly email about his new MySql Cards, I forked over my credit card info right away. I've been using my new cards for 30 days now. Here's my alternate review:

    The cards come as 2 laminated 8.5x11 duplex sheets. Visibone's JavaScript and HTML cards are also 2 sheets, but they are connected at the spine to make a mini book, and in the case of the JavaScript cards each page has a unique border color. These small details
  • I always use this cheatsheet:

    If you want to select records use: SELECT
    If you want to update records use: UPDATE
    If you want to delete records use: DELETE
    If you want to use a database use: USE

    This list can also be used with other db systems.
  • Charts are all fine, but isn't the ideal solution an IDE which shows type information to the developer entering the code, like Eclipse does with Java, Visual Studio with C# and C++, and so on?
  • If locating the information on a hardcopy cheat sheet is faster than locating it using Google, either you have the slowest dial-up ever (or no IC--in that case, sure), you're the slowest typist ever (how long does it take to type a search query?), or you've memorised the exact location of every item on the cheat sheet, in which case you don't need it anymore: you have it memorised.

    I use reference books, textbooks, &c a lot, but not for a quick lookup of a command I need right now.

  • The one thing that I haven't seen anyone comment on is the visual nature of the chart/cards. I'm the type of person that will remember what section of a poster will have the information that I'm looking for. I'm going to hang the poster right next to my great poster of networking stacks.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson