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Friday Philosophy – Christmas Cheer and Business Bah-Humbug December 23, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

For many, today is the last working day before Christmas and the festive season – So I sincerely wish upon everyone a Merry Christmas.. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, well the intent of my wishes still holds – I hope everyone; whether working or not; religious leanings for, against or indifferent; has an enjoyable few days during whatever end-of-year festives you have.

I’m going to be miserably now. You might want to stop reading here and maybe go to the shops for that last spell of retail hell or some other Christmas tradition. It’s probably best if you do…

You see, despite the best wishes above, generally speaking I am not a big fan of Christmas and have not been for as long as I can remember. It is not the principle of Christmas I am not keen on {I rather like both the religious and secular aspects of the whole thing, especially the seeing-people part like Di and Bri and ringing up old friends}, it is what Business does to it. Like many people, I really object to the bombarding we endure of advertising, selling and down-right commercialist bullying for what seems to be 3 months on the run-up to Christmas. I know, I know, many people make this very same point ad nauseum around this time. What ticks me off the most is that I don’t think it would be an easy thing to change, for the fundamental reason that the businesses that are so set on telling us that Christmas will not be as good as it could be if we don’t buy their food to make us fat/get expensive presents for the kids to break/buy this bottle of smelly stuff so we get more sex/buy this booze cheap, probably for the same reason as the smelly stuff {or to help ignore the lack of sex}/take out a loan to make this Christmas REALLY “special” and you can pay it off for the whole of the rest of the year and be miserable as a result, {pause to catch breath…} as I was saying, any business that sells more stuff as a result of their advertising, no matter how much it annoys other people or adds to the degrading of the whole Christmas experience, will do better than a company that does not. And so will out-compete less tacky, crass and manipulative businesses.

That’s the huge problem with Christmas and other celebratory times. We live in a commercial society and commercial selection pressure means those companies that can squeeze the most out of a situation to sell tat will win. They give not a hoot about if we enjoy ourselves really {we are back to the smelly stuff and booze again, aren’t we?}, it’s profit. Oh, if enjoying ourselves in some way aids them in getting more profit then they won’t object, but it is not in the company mission statement of 99% of companies – and any that it is in are doing it for cynical, commercialist reasons.

So, all successful businesses are Evil and are ruining Christmas for us all {OK, so that’s a bit of a big leap, stay with me….} So, have your revenge!!!

Next year:

  • Don’t buy stuff people probably don’t want. No adult wants 95% of what they get so….get nothing.
  • Tell everyone “I have all the stuff I need, buy yourself something instead – treat yourself on me”. You can buy the stuff you really want from the savings from point 1.
  • Having established the principle of reciprocal meanness above, that’s all that shopping hassle ditched.
  • Get normal food you like {and that does not play merry hell with your digestive system}. Preferably stuff you can freeze or keep a while, so you don’t need to go into the supermarket after Dec 20th.
  • Turn off the TV in December {or at least record everything and skip the adverts}. There is no decent TV in December anyway, it is all being saved up for the end of the month and, heck, even that is pretty awful.
  • Don’t read the paper. Or if you do, if you must, first four pages and last four pages only and scribble over adverts with a felt-tip pen. You’ll get the gist of world events and if your team is winning or losing.
  • That company you work for, that thinks paying you a wage means it owns your soul? It’s Evil, you owe them nothing they are not getting out of you already, so have a nice break at Christmas. {Unless you work at the same place as me, then they will need you to fill in for me as I will be on holiday}.

You will now be more relaxed, less stressed, have more time and generally be a nicer person. Take people to the pub, spend more time with people who like you being around (and this will be easier due to the people who no longer like you as you did not buy them any socks or a rubbish “humorous” golf book). Do things you actually enjoy. This year it is just going to be me, my gorgeous wife and the cat over Christmas and Boxing Day. The cat is really happy about this as we both like scratching the cat’s ears.

I might invite some neighbours over. They won’t come as they have to fulfil their awful Christmas Obligations – but they will like the fact they were invited. Heck, if they do turn up I’ll be in such a fine, happy mood I will even be nice to them.

Go and walk the hills of Mid Wales with your brother and relax.

Friday Philosophy – In Search of a Woodlouse December 16, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, humour, Private Life.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

I don’t carry business cards around with me. I just never, ever think to get some done (either properly or with my trusty printer) and maybe this says something about my personal failings to sell myself. If anyone wants to contact me I tell them my email address and if they look confused I just say “ahh, Google me”. You see, having a very odd Surname means I am easy to find. {Reading this back I guess it could be interpreted as saying “I am so famous you will find me” but that is way, way, way from my meaning – I am going on the very unusual name that I have and nothing other than that!}

If you google (Bing, Alta Vista, whatever) “Widlake” you will get, probably on the first page – Brian Widlake who was a BBC journalist and had a key interview with Nelson Mandela; Widlake Farm B&B down in Looe, Cornwall ; a court case with BAA (nothing to do with me); an accountancy firm called Holmes Widlake; Me! Hey, not bad for some IT geek! It shows there are not many “Widlake”s out there.

If you search on “Martin Widlake” it’s pretty much just lonely little me. This is good as it means I am easily found. In the past I’ve searched on the names of friends and found it really hard to identify the exact person as there are so many people called “Kate Bush” or “Nicole Kidman” or “Stephen Hawking”.

However, my suggestion is seriously flawed and I should know this due to a conversation I have at least once a week. “And your name is, Sir?” “Martin Widlake”. Pause, faint sounds of rustling paper…”I’m sorry, could you say that again?” “Martin Widlake, with an ‘I'” (rustle rustle rustle) “I’m sorry sir, I can’t find any ‘Woodlock’/’Woodlake’/’Woodleg’/’Wideleg’/’Wiglig’ at all.” {choose word of choice, there are several more}. Carefull spelling ensues and even then, something in the brain of some people cannot shake off the “Wood” and get to “Wid”. And yes, I know about the Martin, Martyn and suggestion about ‘I’.

I had someone come up to me at the OUG conference last week and say they had tried to track me down after last years’ event and could not. No “Martin Woodlouse” to be found. *sigh*.

“martin oracle” does not help, it finds that toe-rag Martin Bach {OK, I admit it, Martin Bach is pretty damned hot at Oracle, and oh so annoyingly a nice bloke), Martin Nash in Oracle Corp {fair enough, and again a nice bloke} , James Martin the cook {what the…? but that will please the realcuddleytoys}, oracle religious Association but I ain’t going anywhere near that…I’m a page or two in, which is not bad actually, I can be happy with that.

My wife has it just as bad. She had a nice, obvious Surname {Parker} before I conned her into marrying me {and I did suggest we adopt her Surname when we married}. She joined one company a few years back where, due to her speaking a couple of eastern European languages, they decided she was (phonetically) “Susan Vidlaaackay”. They seemed to find the real Surname more confusing than their assumption.

So, I am easy to find, but only if you actually know me and my odd Surname. Otherwise, “Martin Woodlock”, “Martin Woodlake”, “Martin Woodleg”, “Martin Wiglake”, “Martin Widesnake” {if only}, “Martin Wiglig”, “Martin Wideneck”, “Martin Wicklick”, “Martin Widelake”, “Martin Windleg”, “Martin Woodlouse” and (my favourite) “Marvin Wetleg” are all terms I somehow need to get into web search engines, if I want people to find me with ease.

Does anyone know of any other takes on my name that people think they know me by? Any rude suggestions or ones based on my being shorter than R2-D2 will be deleted with prejudice!

Oracle Nostalgia December 15, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in database design, development.
Tags: ,
16 comments

When preparing the material for my “Oracle Lego – an introduction to Database Design” presentation for the UKOUG last week, I was looking back at my notes from a course on the topic from “a few years back”. There were a few bits which made me smile.

Oracle’s [SQL] implementation conforms to ANSI standard, although referential integrity will not be enforced until version 7

Any other old geezers having flashbacks? I am so glad my first major Oracle development project swapped to using a Beta of V7 very early, so we had the integrity turned on during most of development. I had to help a few projects go from V6 to V7 and turn on the RI – it was usually very, very painful. Or impossible. I always think back to those nightmare experiences when some bright spark suggests turning off referential integrity for “ease of development” or “performance” reasons. There are good performance reasons for altering how you implement RI but, as I said during my presentation on database design, I have never, ever, ever seen a system with RI turned off that did not have damaged data.

Oracle’s optimiser is rule-based. Designing efficient queries involves taking advantage of the optimiser behaviour

.

You can tell this course was run in the UK due to the lack of ‘z’ in ‘optimiser’ :-). How many of use can now make a stab at the seven or eight significant rules from the 15 (16, 17 as versions advanced) in the list? Several rules were to do with Clusters so you did not care. Let’s think, what were the main things to keep in mind…

  • most significant table last in the FROM clause and order upwards in the order you wanted to visit {most significant being the one you felt you could most efficiently do the first filter against}
  •  WHERE clauses ordered downwards in the order you wanted them to be applied.
  • Order of preference to identify a row was something like ROWID, primary key, unique key, full non-unique key, partial unique key, partial non-unique key, full index scan, full table scan.
  • Disable index access by adding 0 to numeric columns and concatinating null to varchars.

I’ve not checked back in the manuals (I have a set of the V7 on my laptop) so I’m probably wrong.

Storage….selecting suitable values for storage parameters … will improve the final performance of the database

Considering the “suitable values for storage parameters” was perhaps my first real conscious step into being a performance/design guy {I was lucky to be on a project where designing for the RBO and matching those rules was just part of being any developer}, but the calculating of rows-per-block, initial and next extent, pctincrease (not always zero you know), initrans/maxtrans, segment to tablespace size… I learnt all about that and had spreadsheets for it all.

Now of course, all of the above about storage (and RBO) has pretty much disappeared. Oracle has made some of the contents of my brain redundant.

But some things have not changed at all in 18 years:

Users can be relied upon to know what they do NOT want, not what they want, which {unfortunately} is the premise from which analysis starts)

I think the above is the fundamental issue from which all iterative design methodologies spring. ie do not believe what the user says they want, show them something and fix it. It is probably human nature that we are not well able to express what we want but have no problem pointing out something is not at all what we want :-). Add in all the issues in respect of forgetting about the exceptions, assumed knowledge, incompatible vocabularies (the words your users say to you are as confusing as the techno-babble you fire back at them) and all analysis is fundamentally flawed.

Do some analysis – but then prototype like crazy. With real users.

And so the evenings start drawing out (honest!) December 13, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

I know I’ve blogged about this before, but it was early on when very few people read my ramblings, so I am mentioning it again…

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the day when the evenings start drawing out, which personally I find a relief as going home in the dark depresses me. Sunset tomorrow will be later than today – by all of a few seconds but, heck, later is later. {If I am out by a day, please don’t tell me – don’t shatter my good mood!}

However, as many of you are probably thinking, shortest day in the Northern hemisphere is not until the 22nd December (it’s the 21st or 22nd, depending on how long ago the last leap year was). Mornings continue to get later until around the 3rd January. It is because the earth is not “standing totally upright” in it’s orbit. If you think of the plane in which the earth circles around the sun as a flat surface, the north pole is at the top of the planet and that there is a pole sticking though the earth that it spins around every day, that pole is leaning back away from the sun today and slightly to one side, like a staggering drunk.

For the timing of sunrise and sunset for the city nearest you, check out this nice website here. This link will show London but you can change that.

The original post is here. It does not say any more but there are a couple of pretty sunset pictures on it.

Of course, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere {say Perth, Australia} then your sunrises have just started getting later by today. But time for the Barby in the evening is still drawing out for a week or two. We can all be happy :-)

Will the Single Box System make a Comeback? December 8, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, future, Hardware.
Tags: , ,
15 comments

For about 12 months now I’ve been saying to people(*) that I think the single box server is going to make a comeback and nearly all businesses won’t need the awful complexity that comes with the current clustered/exadata/RAC/SAN solutions.

Now, this blog post is more a line-in-the-sand and not a well researched or even thought out white paper – so forgive me the obvious mistakes that everyone makes when they make a first draft of their argument and before they check their basic facts, it’s the principle that I want to lay down.

I think we should be able to build incredible powerful machines based on PC-type components, machines capable of satisfying the database server requirements of anything but the most demanding or unusual business systems. And possibly even them. Heck, I’ve helped build a few pretty serious systems where the CPU, memory and inter-box communication is PC-like already. If you take the storage component out of needing to be centralise (and this shared), I think that is a major change is just over the horizon.

At one of his talks at the UKOUG conference this year, Julian Dyke showed a few tables of CPU performance, based on a very simple PL/SQL loop test he has been using for a couple of years now. The current winner is 8 seconds by a… Core i7 2600K. ie a PC chip and one that is popular with gamers. It has 4 cores and runs two threads per core, at 3.4GHz and can boost a single core to 3.8 GHz. These modern chips are very powerful. However, chips are no longer getting faster so much as wider – more cores. More ability to do lots of the same thing at the same speed.

Memory prices continue to tumble, especially with smart devices and SSD demands pushing up the production of memory of all types. Memory has fairly low energy demands so you can shove a lot of it in one box.

Another bit of key hardware for gamers is the graphics card – if you buy a top-of-the-range graphics card for a PC that is a couple of years old, the graphics card probably has more pure compute grunt than your CPU and a massive amount of data is pushed too and fro across the PCIe interface. I was saying something about this to some friends a couple of days ago but James Morle brought it back to mind when he tweeted about this attempt at a standard about using PCI-e for SSD. A PCI-e 16X interface has a theoretical throughput of 4000MB per second – each way. This compares to 600MB for SATA III, which is enough for a modern SSD. A single modern SSD. {what I am not aware of is the latency for PCI-e but I’d be surprised if it was not pretty low}. I think you can see where I am going here.

Gamers and image editors have probably been most responsible for pushing along this increase in performance and intra-system communication.

SSD storage is being produced in packages with a form factor and interface to enable an easy swap into the place of spinning rust, with for example a SATA3 interface and 3.5inch hard disk chassis shape. There is no reason that SSD (or other memory-based) storage cannot be manufactured in all sorts of different form factors, there is no physical constraint of having to house a spinning disc. Density per dollar of course keeps heading towards the basement. TB units will soon be here but maybe we need cheap 256GB units more than anything. So, storage is going to be compact and able to be in form factors like long, thin slabs or even odd shapes.

So when will we start to see cheap machines something like this: Four sockets for 8/16/32 core CPUs, 128GB main memory (which will soon be pretty standard for servers), memory-based storage units that clip to the external housing (to provide all the heat loss they require) that combine many chips to give 1Gb IO rates, interfaced via the PCIe 16X or 32X interface. You don’t need a HBA, your storage is internal. You will have multipath 10GbE going in and out of the box to allow for normal network connectivity and backup, plus remote access of local files if need be.

That should be enough CPU, memory and IO capacity for most business systems {though some quote from the 1960’s about how many companies could possible need a computer spring to mind}. You don’t need shared storage for this, in fact I am of the opinion that shared storage is a royal pain in the behind as you are constantly having to deal with the complexity of shared access and maximising contention on the flimsy excuse of “sweating your assets”. And paying for the benefit of that overly complex, shared, contended solution.

You don’t need a cluster as you have all the cpu, working memory and storage you need in a 1U server. “What about resilience, what if you have a failure?”. Well, I am swapping back my opinion on RAC to where I was in 2002 – it is so damned complex it causes way more outage than it saves. Especially when it comes to upgrades. Talking to my fellow DBA-types, the pain of migration and the number of bugs that come and go from version to version, mix of CRS, RDBMS and ASM versions, that is taking up massive amounts of their time. Dataguard is way simpler and I am willing to bet that for 99.9% of businesses other IT factors cause costly system outages an order of magnitude more times than the difference between what a good MAA dataguard solution can provide you compared to a good stretched RAC one can.

I think we are already almost at the point where most “big” systems that use SAN or similar storage don’t need to be big. If you need hundreds of systems, you can virtualize them onto a small number of “everything local”
boxes.

A reason I can see it not happening is cost. The solution would just be too cheap, hardware suppliers will resist it because, hell, how can you charge hundreds of thousands of USD for what is in effect a PC on steroids? But desktop games machines will soon have everything 99% of business systems need except component redundancy and, if your backups are on fast SSD and you a way simpler Active/Passive/MAA dataguard type configuration (or the equivalent for your RDBMS technology) rather than RAC and clustering, you don’t need that total redundancy. Dual power supply and a spare chunk of solid-state you can swap in for a failed raid 10 element is enough.

Was the Oracle UK logo Blue back in 1991? December 6, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in history, Uncategorized.
2 comments

I think I might be going mad. I was sure that when I joined Oracle UK back in 1991 that the massive “Oracle” sign above the main office on “The Ring” in Bracknell was blue. It was the building that looked like a load of cubes balanced on each other.

As I remember it, the office stationary had “Oracle UK” on it in blue and my business cards were similarly coloured. I can’t find any 20 year old stationary to prove it and I owe Bryn Llewellyn a bottle of wine if I turn out to be wrong.

I’m sure I also remember fellow consultants joking in around 1993, when the annual bonus was particularly poor, that it was due to all the money spent going from blue to red stationary and signs when our UK identity was absorbed into the parent beast…

I’ve Been Made an Oracle Ace. December 5, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, UKOUG.
Tags: ,
14 comments

I tried to come up with a witty title but after only first day at the UKOUG conference, OakTable Sunday, my brain is already a little fried…

So yes, last Friday evening I received an email from Oracle Corp informing me I had been nominated for and been accepted as an Oracle Ace. I’d just accidentally blown away some of my slides for a presentation I’m giving this week and I was a bit weary of the whole community thing, so it gave me a real lift. It would have given me a lift anyway, but the timing seemed very nice – it re-invigorated me and it also meant that I could now mention my Ace-dom at conference. Endlessly. I never won prizes at school so this sort of thing goes to my head. Sorry.

Of course, my wife keeps my feet on the ground. I wandered over to the kitchen to tell her…
“Hey, Sue, I’ve just been made an Oracle Ace!”
“That’s nice dear – empty the cat’s litter tray while you are there, it stinks”.
*sigh*

It means a lot to me to be an Oracle Ace. I’m not going to pretend to be all unconcerned over it or say “oh no, not me, I am not worthy of that” like I did {and still do} over being a member of the OakTable. In the last 10 or 12 years I’ve done a lot for Oracle Corp (some of which is public, some of which was working with Oracle on testing things and talking to other Oracle customers about getting the most out of the technology) and also with the UK oracle community so I kind of feel the Acedom is an earned reward for that. But I am also very grateful for it, it is still a relatively rare accolade and Oracle have to feel that you are benefiting the wider community to bestow the award on you.

Being an Ace has already had some impact on me. I met my friend Neil Chandler at the conference, he is the person who nominated me (Oracle tell you who nominated you). “Hey, Neil, due to you I’ve been made an Oracle Ace! Thank you very much!”. “Great Martin, well deserved – so let’s have beers tonight and you can thank me properly”. “Errrr, I’ve been invited to an Ace meal this evening….”. “Well get you! Only just an Ace and too good for us commoners huh? You’ve changed, You’ve really changed….”

The Ace meal was good and much appreciated but I ate too much spicy stuff and boy I’ve got bad indigestion {and more unpleasant symptoms} now.

So it seems, based on evidence so far, Being an Ace loses you friends and makes you feel unwell. This is not what I was expecting….

:-)

{It’s OK, Neil and I had beers before the meal and he forgave me in the end – on the condition I provide him with more beer soon}

Friday Philosophy – The Worst Thing About Contracting December 2, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in contracting, Friday Philosophy, humour, rant.
Tags: , , ,
15 comments

A while back I was asked by a friend to blog about being a contractor. In the pub last week my friend reminded me of this and that I had not obliged him. I will – think of this as instalment one Jason…

I’ve been a contractor on and off for 18 years. For anyone not familiar with the concept, it is where you are self-employed and you simply hire yourself out to a company for a period of time or to do a specific job. You generally have less job security than an employee and less rights and benefits – No holiday pay, no paid sick leave, no annual pay increase {OK, so that one is rare for employees too these days}, no training and generally the first out the door when the money gets tight. In return you get more money when working and a lot, lot less to do with office politics, HR, annual reviews and the like.

It is not for everyone but I like being a contractor. It gives me a broader degree of experience.

I like it apart from one main thing.

Recruitment Consultants. For every good one there are 3 bad ones. And for each bad one there are 5 absolutely terrible ones.

There are good recruitment consultants out there, some absolutely fantastic ones who do things like actually read CV’s, understand the business they are hiring into and can be bothered responding to emails and telephone calls. You might even find one who has a mental list of their clients and their requirements and will actively look to place a good candidate in front of those clients. Claire Green at GT-Consulting is one. There are others of course.

However, most do little more than scan the database of candidate CVs for keywords and send the first three found off to the client for them to do the actual work of seeing if they actually have the skills and experience required. It would seem most have no ability or interest in trying to work out who would be a good or bad candidate themselves, like it being the service they are supposed to supply. If you try and get in touch directly to discuss a role, to maybe ask some questions to save both you and the consultant’s client a wasted interview, many will not take your call {“Can I ask who’s calling?” Brief pause whilst they realise you are a candidate not a client company “Ahh, sorry they are out of the office today, they’ll call you back. Who were you again?”}. Only the good ones call you back. You will hardly ever be called back.

If you do speak to them, some will be your best mate – but can’t quite fake sincerity… Sadly, it is often obvious that they have no idea about the business. I had a chap a week or two back telling me I needed PL or SQL to do the role and when I queried if they meant PL/SQL they got tetchy with me. Another a while back was insisting I was not suitable as I did not have 10 years of Oracle 10. As I beta tested Oracle 10 for over a year and thus, with around 8 years’ experience at that time, was well ahead of the pack I suggested that maybe they needed to alter that requirement – or find someone who helped develop it at Oracle Corp…Again, some kindly advice was poorly received. OK, I was not kindly, I was tetchy too. He had stared off being my insincere best mate.

I could just be having a self-centred moan of course, in that the recruitment consultants don’t realise how great I am ( :-) ) and find me lucrative jobs – but I’ve also been the client and had to wade through dozens of utterly unsuitable CVs sent in from them. The last time was particularly awful as we were not able to offer a great wage (but we were happy to take people with experience of prior versions and train them up to the latest-greatest). Most CVs sent in had the words Oracle, database and administration on them but not together. Several lacked any Oracle at all. Every recruitment consultant I dealt with that time gave me the same spiel about having the best candidates on their books, how they vetted everyone and sent only the ones with the best match of skills. They must have been telling a miss-truth about at least one of those claims as there was little match with our requirements for an Oracle DBA.

So, I really like contracting but not the dealing-with-agents bit. Oddly enough, any discussion with other contractors or managers who hire nearly always shows that my feelings are widely shared…

I’ve been thinking about doing this post ever since I started blogging but I didn’t – because many jobs are only available via recruitment consultants. Insulting them is not going to help me get put forward for jobs. However, last time I was mouthing off about Satan’s little Imps in the pub and how I had never done a Friday Philosophy on the topic, due to the fear of the consequences, one of the guys pointed out I was an idiot. Most recruitment consultants can’t even be bothered reading your CV so they are not going to go check out someone’s technical blog! {and Neil has just beaten me to posting about it and how they always ask for mostly irrelevant industry experience}. Any who do are going to be firmly in that rare Good category. I’d go as far as to say that any recruitment consultant who is reading this is in the top 5% of their field. Nice to talk to you again, Claire…

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