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Conference Organisation from the Inside – UKOUG Tech14 November 20, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, UKOUG.
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An interesting experience I have had this year is being more involved in helping organise the annual UKOUG Oracle Technical Conference – Tech14. I fully intended to blog about things as we progressed, but it never happened got going so I did not.. But I thought it would be interesting to do a couple of blogs about it now, for anyone interested, as the conference itself approaches.

If you have never helped organise a conference or user group meeting then you probably think there is not a lot of work involved. You would be quite wrong. If you have been a volunteer at one, as in you have presented or chaired sessions, then you will have more understanding – but still probably fall short of the mark in estimating the effort involved. There is a lot involved.

The UKOUG is, I think, the largest Oracle User Group in the world and the annual conference has grown significantly since I first got involved around the turn of the millennium {which is now quite a while back – yes, we are all getting quite old}. In fact, it is now a set of conferences and events dedicated to Oracle E-Business suite, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Hyperion and regional conferences for Ireland and Scotland (sorry Wales) as well as the annual technical event that used to be the single conference. This year Tech14 is in the same location as Apps14, which covers most of the application areas I just mentioned. I rather like the fact we are returning to being in the same place but still have two events as it matches the reality of the two groups. There is a lot of cross-over between apps and tech for some of us whereas for many, you belong in one camp or the other. It’s a bit like do you like football or rugby…

So where did I fit into the picture? Each year the UKOUG approach some of it’s volunteers and asks them if they would mind giving them a little bit of help with the conference that year. Any that do not run away quickly are corralled into a room at head office in Wimbledon and bribed them with tea, coffee and biscuits. We are arranged into being the content committees for various areas. I was part of the committee for the Database stream and ended up being the Chair. This does not make me any more significant, it just means if someone has to make a decision when the committee is split or they just want a quick answer to a question (such as “can Dave swap his presentation slot with Senthil’s”), then it will be me the office contacts. OK, I suppose it means I have a little more input but as everything is open, others on the database committee (or others) can cry foul.

There are also committees for Middleware, Development, OS & Engineered systems, Business analytics… I am sure I have forgotten one! In many ways the Database stream is easiest as I do not think it has as broad a remit as, for example, development, and the core database is the core database. But we also have the largest community and thus the largest number of papers put forward and streams to organise.

So What do the committees do? Our responsibility is primarily to agree on the technical content of our steams. ie What presentations go into it, the order of them, plan any threads or themes to run through a day or several days and ensure that at any given time there are talks, roundtables and workshops across a spectrum of topics and not 4 all on backups or ADF. Sounds easy? No, it’s not. I’ll go into why in a later post.

We also help with decisions about wider issues for the conference – when the keynotes occur, who to ask to do the keynotes, the evening events and some wider issues like that. However, the actual location and timing of the event is set in stone before we get involved – it has to be as those major decisions have to be made over a year in advance. Personally, I think the venue at The Liverpool ACC is a good one. I can understand some people feeling Liverpool is a bit far to go but in reality it only takes an hour or two longer to get there than to what was the traditional home of the conference in Birmingham. And frankly, I was tired of Birmingham and the usual pub I ended up in was getting truly ratty and unpleasant. The ACC is at Albert Doc and a lot of bars, restaurants and ,I suspect, nightclubs (for those who like loud music and terrible lager at a premium price) are in the area.

Most of the work planning the actual conference is of course done by the office staff and I know that for smaller user groups all the work is done by volunteers – I’ve done a couple of myself too – so some of you might think we volunteers for the UKOUG conference have it a bit easy. But the conference is massive and we do {most of us} have proper jobs to do too. So if something is not as you would like at the UKOUG conference, or in fact at any conference, it is probably not through lack of effort. Just let us know {nicely, please} and we will try and not make the same mistake next time.

Audio semi-Visual Presentation on Clustering Data in Oracle November 12, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in performance, Presenting, SQL.
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I suppose it had to happen eventually but one of my presentations has ended up on YouTube. It’s a recent presentation I did for the Oracle Midlands user group in September.

The topic is (as the title of this blog post hints at!)Boosting select performance by clustering data. The video consists of the slides I presented, changing as the presentation progresses, with my audio over the top. It goes on for a bit, close to an hour, but you could watch a section and then go and do something else before watching a bit more.

I have to say, it is very odd hearing my voice (and the slight touch of the “brummie” {Birmingham} accent coming through) and I do wince at the places where I blather or say something slightly wrong or make a joke that involved a visual element that is lost. Oh well, at least you don’t see me wandering around and jumping up,literally, to point out bits on the slides.

I’m glad to say I will be repeating a slightly more polished version of the presentation at this year’s UKOUG Tech14 conference in December. I was a bit under the weather back on September the 16th, due to having just returned to the Working Life, and with this perfect example of what I did then I should be able to make the next shot at it a cracker… maybe.

On the topic of Oracle Midlands, I like this user group that is run by Mike Mckay Dirden, the meetings consist of evening presentations in Birmingham with a bit of support from Redgate. This includes half-time samosas to keep you going. The next meeting is described here and is on Tuesday 25th November. This meeting has two presentations by my friend Bjoern Rost, who is an Oracle Ace Director {gasps of appreciation from the audience} and a consummate presenter. I wish I could make it there as I would like to share a pint with Bjoern (well, he’ll have wine or a cocktail I suspect as he is not a beer fan) as well as some of my other friends up that part of the country.

Next Club Oracle London – 12th November 2014 November 10, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The next Club Oracle London is taking this place, on Wednesday 12th November. You can find the details here.

This is a free evening or Oracle talks provided by some of our local experts and beer/snacks provided by e-DBA. The first event was back on the 3rd of July and it was a great evening. The coming event will have presentations by James Anthony, Dominic Giles and Jason Arneil in 12C in-memory database, key facts gleaned from OOW14 and 12C enhancements respectively – all excellent presenters and you get to ask them awkward questions in an open session at the end. Plus free beer and (I think) pizza to keep you going. All you can ask for of a user group meeting.

I have to say, it’s not the easiest event to find out about unless you have managed to get onto the list of people who are interested (ie turned up last time I think). There is another mention actually on e-DBAs LinkedIn page here and my freind Neil Chandler put a quick post about it last week but there is not a lot else out there about it!

I know e-DBA are keen for these events to stand on their own 2 feet and not be seen as just an e-DBA event so they are not pushing it hard themselves – they are happy to just to provide the support – but it seems the message is not getting out to the Oracle community about the events, so spread the work if you are from around these parts. It would be good to see it well attended and continue. I understand they are already looking at who they would like to present next time, so there should be future events.

 

{And I still think they should call it London Oracle Club… }

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Productive? November 7, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Management.
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How do I know if Dave is doing his job properly? If I am his (or her*) manager, what techniques can I use to ensure I am getting my pound of flesh out of this worker drone in return for the exorbitant salary my company puts into said drone’s bank account each month?

Well, as a start there is my last Friday Philosophy all about deduction of work profile via auditory analysis of input devices (ie how fast is Dave typing) :-) I have to say, the response to that topic has been very good, I’ve had a few chats with people about it and got some interesting comments on the blog article itself. My blog hits went Ping :-)

However, I have a confession to make. I have a “history” in respect of keyboards and management of staff. Maybe one of my old colleagues will comment to confirm this, but I used to regularly walk into an office full of “my people” and bark “Type faster you B*****ds! I don’t care what it is you are doing, I just want to see those fingers flying over the keyboard!”. They all knew to ignore me, this was just one example of my pathetic sense of humour. In some ways, I was never a very good manager as I was just a bit too juvenile, irreverent and non-managerial.

I was being ironic and they knew it. I had no time for many of the Management Easy Options you so often come across in organisations that are used to apparently help ensure the staff are working hard. What do I mean by Management Easy Options? I’ll cover a few.

 

You have to be at your desk for at least 8 hours.

At Your Desk. Because if you are at your desk you are working of course. And if you are not at your desk, you are not working. Hours at the desk apparently equate to productivity. So a Management Easy Option is to insist all your staff are seen to be in the office and at their desk for as long as, and preferably longer, than the average time across all staff. And that is partly why in dysfunctional companies staff are in the office so long. As if lots of managers want to demonstrate that they are “good managers” by having their staff “productive” at their desks, their staff will be there longer than average…which pushes up the average…so they keep the staff there longer… *sigh*

I could spend a few pages on the academic and psychological studies that disprove the above nonsense about 8 hours of productive work – but we all know it is nonsense anyway. We talk about it at lunch or in the pub. If you are stuck at your desk longer than you can concentrate, you do other stuff that is hard to distinguish from work. Or you do poor work. WE ALL KNOW THIS so why does this myth about hours-at-desk continue? What happens to some manager’s brains such that they start managing and soon stop knowing this?!?

As a self employed worker in the London IT market, I often get given a contract to sign that specifies I must do a professional working day:- that “consists of 8 hours minimum each day”. For the last 5 or 6 years I have always crossed out that clause or altered it to say “8 hours maximum” or replaced it with what I feel should be the real clause, which is:

A professional working day, which is to, on average across a week,  match or exceed the requirements of my manager for a day’s productivity.

If I am being asked to work a Professional Working Day then to me that means I have to achieve a day’s worth of benefit to the company for each day paid to me. If that takes me 8 hours or 6 or 9 or whatever is immaterial. As a Professional I will on average, each day, keep my manager happy that I am worth employing. If that involves 6 hours of extra work one day between 8pm and 2am, fine. But do not expect 8 hours the next day. If my manager is not happy, then you ask me to go and I will go. It really is as simple as that.

{honesty forces me to admit that at present, for the first time in years, I have that 40 hour clause in place. Because I am doing a role for a friend, and I did not want to cause a fuss by objecting to the clause. But if management ever refer to the clause, my friend knows I will simply thank management for their time to date – and I’ll be going now}.

I drifted into my own world there, but the point I really wanted to make is that hours spent at the desk in no way indicate if the job is being done. We all know that, all the managers know that (well, they will if they are any good). Some people can be at their desk 10 hours a day and, frankly, it would help the company if they were not! Other people are at their desk but spend a huge slice of the time on the web or Instant Messaging or *cough* writing blogs.

 

You have to be in the office.

If you are at home, you will be goofing off.
So what does the above say about the manager if that is their opinion? If you are at home, you would goof off, so therefore your staff will? Of course working from home has other considerations, such as it is only possible if your role allows you to spend some days not physically doing things in the office (pressing reset buttons on boxes? Making tea for the team?) and you are in the office enough to maintain and make proper bridges with your colleagues. I also think working from home is a privilege to earn and not a right, as some people really are incapable of working from home. I had a role a while back where when one chap was “working from home” he was actually doing all sorts of things – but his smartphone was set up to fake an online presence. He was incapable of working from home.

But in IT there really is not a need for many of us to spend all that time and unpleasantness commuting and some tasks really are done more efficiently if people can’t keep coming up to your desk and demanding their personal priorities really are your priorities too (which usually equates to they are in it up to their necks and you can dig them out).

 

Enforce a Clean Desk policy.

Now, there are things that should not ever be left on your desk. Financial information, personal information (like people’s CVs or annual reviews), management information (salary reviews, plans to axe 22% of the workforce, stuff like that) but I have no time at all for the argument that a clean desk looks more professional. It does not look more professional, that is just weaselly, lying balls. It looks more like someone has implemented a draconian clean desk policy and any sign of the desk occupants being human is of no consideration.

If you walk into an office with 300 utterly clean desks, it looks like a soul-less, bitter and degrading place to work slave.

You walk into an office and you see pictures of offspring & partners, little toys (not my thing but some people like to have the gonk their boy/girlfriend gave them) and that’s just fine.

Yeah, if Malcolm has a pile of 237 Diet Coke cans in a pyramid on his desk that is not so hot, but as a manager it is your job to go tell Malcolm to recycle those damn cans. And for those of us who work in Clean Desk environments, we all know we spend a few minutes each morning pulling stuff out of our pedestals and a few minutes each evening chucking it all back in there. Great use of time, oh management clean desk police. So the Management Easy Option is to make everyone remove all signs of humanity and *also* waste time moving all useful things off your desk each evening and drag them out each morning, rather than occasionally check what people leave on their desk and, when Cherry has left details of the latest dodgy plan to hide details from the FDA on her desk, give her a seriously hard talking to.

In one job I did not have desk pedestal, I had a locker – “Over There” at the other side of the office where my first allotted desk was. It took two or three trips each morning and end of the day to sort out my stuff and keep my desk “clean”. At least I docked it off the 8 hour day…

 

So having moaned about a few of these Easy Management Options that, in my opinion, are detrimental – how do you ensure Dave is Productive? Now, this is a complex and challenging idea and I am not sure some managers will understand it. But, the way you can tell if Dave is productive is that…

He Does His Job.

He completes the tasks assigned to him in the time frame that is reasonable or informs you of the reasons why the tasks are taking longer. If Dave’s role includes scooping up issues and solving them autonomously, you know Dave is doing his job as the end users are not screaming at you. In fact, if as a manger you are barely aware of Dave existing, either he is doing his job exceedingly well or you employed him to do a non-existent job (so more fool you). The bottom line is that, as Dave’s manager, your job is to to aid Dave do his job, overcome obstacle and track that his tasks are done.. ie be a proper manager, not rule by Easy Management Options.

Bottom line, to get back to my first paragraph or two, it matters not one jot how fast Dave types. If (s)he is in the office for the meetings and any core hours needed, fine. So long as a member of staff is not doing things that negatively impact their ability to do their job or those around them to do theirs, there are few blanket rules that help. All those Easy Management Options simply exist to cover the backsides of poor managers and satisfy the desire for control that comes from HR and upper management. Neither of which *Ever* abide by the rules they lay down on others.

Break free! Type slowly! Put a picture of Debbie Harry on your desk. Work from home and Go Crazy spending an hour in the afternoon combing the dog. Just make sure you do your job. In my book, that makes you worth your pay. Is it really so hard to manage people in that way?!?

(*) I have yet to meet a lady called Dave, but Dave is simply my generic name for someone working in IT. No real Dave is implied. But both sexes are.

What Day Is It If You Only Specify The Time? November 6, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in SQL.
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What is the date if you only specify the time when you populate an Oracle date column (or variable)?

That was the question that came up a few days ago in the little DBA team I am currently working in. Of course, the question was posed by the “junior” (who is damned smart at this stuff as he keeps asking questions like that) and the answer from us two old hands was… “Ohh!… hang on… errr….”

A little discussion then occurred. One of us suggested it would be “today”. One of us suggested it would be the Julian 1 date (4712BC). Both of us then stated it was an easy thing to test and the PROPER answer was “just try it and then you will know for sure”. We were right {and, of course, wrong} – as in with a simple question like this you don’t need to google the question (so “hello” to anyone googling the question and finding this page!) you just try it:

The junior tried it and…

select sysdate,to_char(to_date('11:23:15','HH24:MI:SS'),'DD-MON-YYYY HH24:MI:SS') time_only
from dual;

SYSDATE              TIME_ONLY
-------------------- --------------------
05-NOV-2014 22:37:23 01-NOV-2014 11:23:15

The above of course shows that us two old hands were wrong in our suggestions of what the default date would be

The answer is that:

If you do not specify the date, it defaults to *the first day of the current month*

How odd. How amusing. What was more amusing was the two of us old hands looked at the answer and we both said “oh yes! I remember learning that before. Maybe a couple of times..”.

Maybe I am wrong and most of you reading this learned what the default date is early in your Oracle experience and never forgot it {or have learned it from here and will not forget it now, so long as you remain in possession of your wits} but both of us tired old sods laughed over the fact we knew we had known that and forgotten it. And when asked, came up with reasonable, but wrong, suggestions to the the answer. But at least we both knew it was one of those “you can answer it almost as quickly as it takes to google it” questions and the proper answer was to do a 1 minute test.

A quick check on a table in one of our applications that holds the date and time of an event in two columns (a slightly mad but common situation) demonstrated it nicely too:

select action_date,action_time
from source_table
where action_time is not null
ACTION_DATE           ACTION_TIME
-------------------- --------------------
09-JUN-2011 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 11:45:30
09-DEC-2012 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 11:12:13
09-DEC-2012 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 17:05:57
13-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 16:25:17
17-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 16:39:00
20-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 13:00:00
25-SEP-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 08:59:00
03-NOV-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 09:00:00
03-NOV-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 00:00:00

So, if you do not specify the date, Oracle substitutes the first day of the current month. It is fully documented in the overview of the date datatype

Of course, if you do not state the time portion of a date, it defaults to the start of the current hour.

Only kidding, it of course defaults to midnight, though given how the date portion defaults my hour suggestion would almost make sense.

select sysdate,to_char(to_date('15-OCT-2013','DD-MON-YYYY'),'DD-MON-YYYY HH24:MI:SS') date_only
from dual;

SYSDATE              DATE_ONLY
-------------------- --------------------
06-NOV-14            15-OCT-2013 00:00:00

I wonder what other basic pieces of Oracle Info have left my head and if it is more or less than the average person who has been doing this for 25 years?

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Working? October 17, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
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Is Dave across the desk from you working at the moment? Or is he goofing off? You can’t see his screen but I reckon you can make a fair stab at what he is up to, without recourse to any sort of IT monitoring systems at all. How?

How fast is Dave typing?

If Dave is typing fast, he is almost certainly not working. He’s goofing. There are very few things you can do when you work in IT where you type fast – and especially not type fast for more than a few seconds. If Dave is typing fast he is almost certainly emailing a mate or instant-messaging Sandra in the development team. If Dave is typing fast, pausing for a few seconds and then typing fast again, he is *certainly* conversing electronically with a friend. This will be 100% corroborated if he smiles, sniggers, smirks, laughs or just glances around furtively.

Longer periods of typing (say a minute or two) and then pausing for a similar time then Dave is probably working, say documenting something or writing a work-related email {or,perhaps a blog post – *cough*} . The clinchers here that indicate work is being done are (a) he will not be smiling or showing any signs of happiness and (b) there will be bursts of “tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch” where the delete key is being pounded to remove an offending line or block of text. {People in IT always seem to delete text by repeatedly hitting the delete key. Higher forms of life, like secretarial staff, are more likely to select the text and hit the delete key once. Or, even, the first character of what they are going to type next. Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?!?}.

I hope the people around me have not noticed I am less miserable than usual, else they will know I have stopped documenting and I am now blogging…

Fast key tapping but in an oddly “monotone” way (the same key or keys over and over again) and a fixed stare and maybe the odd bit of bobbing the head or ducking – Dave is playing a game. Naughty Dave. Huge amounts of mouse woggling will also be evidence of game playing. That or doing graphical database design – but who does any design work these days….?

Any periods of fast typing for more than seven seconds are a sure indicator that no coding is being done. The seven second ceiling is a scientific fact, derived from 25 years of coding and goofing off :-). I have only ever known one person who can write code fast without pauses and he was a very odd chap indeed. A very, very good programmer though.

So, if Dave is staring fixedly at the screen, typing for a few seconds (probably slowly), pausing for a minute and frowning/muttering/swearing, he’s coding. Probably. He could be Googling for a new blue-ray play or something – googling for stuff you want to buy and coding seem to have the same sort of typing pattern and even the same air of general annoyance and confusion, with the very occasional “whoop” of success.

I think you can make a pretty accurate guess about whether someone is working or goofing, and even what type of working or goofing they are doing, purely from the sound of the keys and the facial expression.

I love the “techie” bits in films where the designated nerd sits down at the keyboard and goes “tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap” at high speed and windows of data pop up and scroll up the screen at 30 lines a second or images flash by quicker than you can follow. They never delete anything they type, no typoes occur, they never have to check the correct flag or format for a command. And they never. Ever. Ever. Use the space key.Those thumbs never clatter the big bar, the fingers just bounce up and down on the main keys as though they were playing a rather odd piano.

You check next time the techie nerd bit on a film comes up. (S)he will not use the space key at all. Even if spaces appear on the text on the screen :-)

So, any fast typing and any sign of happiness and Dave is probably goofing. Both together and he certainly is. And if you never hear the space bar rattle, Dave is in a film.

User Group Meetings Next Week (free training everyone!) July 11, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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I know, posts about up-coming user group meetings are not exactly exciting, but it’s good to be reminded. You can’t beat a bit of free training, can you?

On Monday 14th I am doing a lightning talk at the 4th Oracle Midlands event. The main reason to come along is to see Jonathan Lewis talk about designing efficient SQL and then he will also do a 10 minute session on Breaking Exadata (to achieve that aim I suggest you just follow the advice of the Oracle Sales teams, that will break Exadata for you pretty efficiently!).

If you are not familiar with the Oracle Midlands events, they are FREE evening events run in Birmingham, just north of the center in Aston, at the Innovation Birmingham centre. See the web site for details and to register. The great thing about them being in the evening is you do not have to take time out from the day job to attend. The disadvantage is they are shorter of course. (And for me personally, I feel morally obliged to pop in on my dear old Mother on the way and listen to her latest crazy theories. I think it’s what Mum’s are for). Samosas were provided last time to keep you going and I know a couple of us will retire to a near-by pub after, to continue discussions.

I’ll be doing just a short talk, along with half a dozen others, my topic being “is the optimizer getting too smart to be understood”.

This is a user group in the truest sense of it, organised pretty much by one chap (Mike Mckay-Dirden) in his spare time, with help from interested people and some financial input from the sponsor Redgate.

I get a day off and then I am at the combined RAC CIA and Database SIG on Wednesday 16th. This UKOUG SIG is probably the other end of the user group experience (as in from an organisational and size perspective). They both fulfill a need and I have no problem being involved in both. In fact, I now notice that Patrick Hurley is going to be at both events too.

The RAC CIA & Database SIG is also free, IF you are a member of the UKOUG. You can also attend if you pay a one-off fee. It’s an all-day event and as it is a combined SIG it is a two-track event. It’s almost a mini-conference! Presenters include myself (doing my intro to Exadata talk, probably for the last time), Julian Dyke, Patrick Hurley, Martin Bach, Neil Chandler, Neil Johnson, Martin Nash (twice!), Ron Ekins, John Jezewski, Alex Evans and David Kurtz. If that is not enough, Owen Ireland is going to give a support update and then we have Mike Appleyard giving a keynote on a brand new 12.1 feature, Oracle Database In-Memory option.

I’d be going along even if I was not presenting or helping run the RAC CIA SIG and I’m retired for goodness sake! (well, sort of, my wife has not ordered me back to the working life yet). And of course, we will no doubt retire to a hostelry after (to count how many Neils and Martins are involved).

I hope to see as many UK people as possible at these two days. As I said at the top, it’s free training, you can’t get better than that.

London Oracle CLub June 30, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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Some of you will be aware of the LOB – London Oracle Beers. It is an informal group of us London- based people who work in the Oracle sphere and who also like to have a pint (be it beer, cider, larger or diet coke). We mostly just catch up as friends and talk rubbish and, amongst that, discuss topics related to Oracle technologies. Something we occasionally talk about it whether we should make it a little more formal and have presentations on Oracle topics.

Well, thanks to Jonathan Lewis and with the support of e-DBA, I’m pleased to say that Club Oracle London is born. I wish they had called in London Oracle Club :-).

If you follow the link you will see that it is an evening event in central London, 96-100 Clifton Street, the Workers Educational Association, being held this Thursday 3rd July. The event is FREE. It follows the format of the Oracle Midlands meetings that started recently, where there are a couple of talks provided by experts, some refreshments in the middle and the chance to meet up with like-minded Oracle professionals in your areas.

This first London Oracle Club will have presentations by Jonathan Lewis on upgrading, Jason Arneil on upgrading to 12C and Dominic Giles/James Anthony on using tools to upgrade, like Swingbench (which Dom wrote and most of us will recognise as the workload generator used by soooo many demonstrations of RAC) and SLOB. You would be correct to detect the running theme of upgrades.

You need to register for the event (see the link above) and I have no idea how many spaces are left, but with that set of presenters I already know half a dozen people intending to go along, including myself. Weeeellll, I have to go along to make sure Jonathan gets what he says correct…. ;-)

I’m looking forward to this initiative, I strongly support user groups of all formats. One of the best ways we learn is to teach each other.

I hope to see some of you there. And for those living no where near London or the UK, ask yourself if a little local user group could work where you are? If you keep it simple and use local (or visiting) talent, what is to stop you?

SBC June 26, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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When I was about 14 or 15 years old I had this idea that I could create a company selling stuff and make a fair amount of money at it, very easily. What prompted these thoughts were advertisements that attempted to persuade you to buy things that were not at all special or unusual or even good, but the ads claimed that they were in fact fantastic and desirable and having them would significantly improve your life. Often the ads were for really quite rubbish things. It was blatantly obvious that, whilst no factual lies were uttered, the promise of the sun always shining, the big smile on your face, the family joy (with mandatory cute dog) and the inner glow that comes from the product were ludicrous. The product was not going to do that, the whole underlying premise of these adverts were ludicrous lies.

In particular, I was struck by breakfast cereal advertisements.

When I was a kid I had most of the main brands and I can tell you, a bland product based on flattened corn, puffed wheat, mashed wheat, wheat in long strands woven into a small hard cushion, abused oats or any other tortured grain was fine to stop you feeling hungry before being booted out the house to walk to school – but it was not actually adding to the joy in my life. They were OK. Actually, without the sugar and the milk they were a bit shitty. And I knew they were cheap.

This summed up many products – not at all exciting, nothing special, in fact a bit crap. But they did the job and they were cheap.

So why not sell them as such? would people not prefer the honesty of a product and advertisement that fundamentally said “buy this because it is shitty but cheap”? I would have, I would have loved the base honesty of the proposition and not having to wonder why grey-brown food that tasted only slightly better than cat litter was not making me smile and the sun shine. (I was fine about not having the dog though.)

So I was going to create a company called SBC Limited that made basic, cheap stuff that you had to have and that it was ludicrous that anyone was telling you it would improve your life. Shitty But Cheap Limited. Breakfast Cereal would be one of the products for sure.

Role forward about 10 years and I created my first company, as most computer contractors in the UK do, back in 1995. Guess what I was going to call it? Yep, SBC Limited. But my wife took a firm stance (and by this I mean she set her feet a good foot and a half apart, the better to give her purchase as she slapped sense into me) and said I could not do this, as I would be incapable of not telling potential clients what SBC limited stood for.

Of course, I now realise that my outlook on things and sense of humor is not universally shared and, sadly, there are a lot of dull people who are swayed by those facile advertisements. My company to sell fundamentally bland but cheap morning foods would probably have failed. That and the Swiss Banking Corporation or SBC Telecomm or, more likely as I reside in the UK, the Scottish Borders Council might have got in touch to object.

But imagine my joy today when I was sent a potential job by SBC Recruitment!

And the icing on the cake was the job was for an APEX developer with HTML 5 proficiency. No mention of those skills on my CV, my CV makes it pretty clear that I am a DBA-type, so a fairly shitty attempt by the agency to fill the needs of the client. So presumably the recruitment company pretty much matches my intention for a company called SBC…

:-)

(* Note to lawyers, SBC Recruitment could be the best agency in the country, this post is humorous. But I really was not at all suitable for the job, very poor targeting).

Friday Philosophy – Why is my Manager a Moron? June 20, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

We’ve all been there. We are trying to do our job, get the work done, fix people’s problems and make the systems we work on better. But our manager is a Moron. How can we do what needs to be done with that idiot in charge? How did they get to be the manager?

Why is my manager a Moron?

The simple answer is that he/she probably is not a moron at all. But you have to blame someone for things not being the way they are:

  • You could lay some of the blame with your co-workers (especially Richard, Richard’s are almost always pretty useless :-) ) but you are all in this together, right?
  • The clients/customers are idiots of course, we all know that, but those problems are usually more to do with identifying what needs doing (and the clients should be handled by that idiot in charge).
  • You could blame the people below you but you might not be in a position to do that (see later).
  • You certainly can’t blame yourself can you?
  • So that leaves the moron manager.

There are of course managers who are poor managers, and even some who really are not that clever and should never have been put in charge. They get there due to a number of reasons such as being in an organisation where you get promoted just for having been around for a certain length of time or because they play golf with the right people or have had carnal relationships with their superiors…. But many people become managers because they were simply the best out of a limited choice or they simply did not run away quickly enough.

And of course, there are good managers.

On thing I have become aware of over the years is that the loudest and most persistent critics of managers tend to be those who have never managed anyone or anything themselves. I came across one chaps a few years back who was constantly complaining about his manager, his manager’s manager, his previous manager. They were all stupid, they all had no idea about the job, all of them were lazy. I asked him how many managers he’s had “Dozens! And they were ALL Idiots! All of them!”. Guess what. He had never been a manager of anyone or anything. And was unlikely to ever be a manager as all the current managers (a) disliked the complaining little sod and (b) knew he would be a nightmare manager, let alone a moron one.

Now that I’m old and bitter, I tend to be a lot less critical of managers, especially if they are at a level or below where I’ve managed at any point (I’ve managed teams, projects, managers of teams and, for a little while, a chain of 3 levels down – so senior middle manager I guess). The reason for my leniency is I have some understanding of what being a middle manager does to you.

  • You get told stuff that is not to be passed on and decisions are made for reasons not to be divulged. Which only makes you wonder what stuff and reasons are being kept from you by the management layer above you…
  • You are told to lie to your staff about things. Which only makes you wonder which of the things *you* are being told are lies.
  • You have to make decisions about limited resources and opportunities – I can only give one person a promotion so do I promote the best person or the one who will complain the loudest if passed over? I wonder if I should shout louder to my manager about my salary?
  • About the only time your minions come and see you it is to complain, tell you stuff is wrong, let you know that they want time off at short notice for {spurious reason that is actually they have a new girlfriend and a terribly strong need to spend a week with them in a tent in the Lake District}.
  • You can see ways you could improve things but it is blocked by your manager, who is a Moron.

The bottom line is your manager is probably acting like a Moron – as they are too stressed out by being a middle manager to function properly any more and are constantly being sniped at by you, telling everyone (s)he is a Moron.

Yep, it really is your fault.

So stop complaining, do your job, give them some slack, stop slagging them off and take your manager to the pub for a pint, they need it. And if they are still a moron in the pub then, sorry, you’ve got one of the real Morons.

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