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You Will Be Our Slave – Err, no, I Won’t May 27, 2012

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

For the sake of current clients, this posting has been time-shifted.

I’m looking at the paperwork for a possible new job in front of me. Document seven out of 13 is the Working Time Directive Waiver. It’s the one where you sign on then dotted line saying your proposed new client can demand more than 48 hours of work a week out of you. {This may be UK or European Union specific but, frankly, I don’t care}.

I’m not signing it. For one thing, I doubt the legality of the document under EU law – especially in light of the issues the UK government had with this and junior doctors {who often, and still do, end up making life-deciding decisions on patients when they are too tired to play Noughts and Crosses, having worked 80 hours that week}. For another, well, I don’t give a damn. I ain’t signing it.

Now, I’ve just completed about 60 hours this week for my client. Not a problem at all, something needed doing, I could do it and so I have. I have done, am doing and will continue to do long weeks for clients when there is a business need and it fits in with the rest of my life and it is not a chronic situation {chronic is a medical term that means “long lasting and on-going”}.

If I am doing 60 hours plus every week, that means I am trying to do 2 people’s job at the same time and doing both of them badly. I don’t care how great I am at doing what I do, if it is 60 hours each and every week, I’m doing it badly because I am too stressed and tired to be doing it well. Also, where is the rest of my life? I have no “rest of my life”.

If my client is asking me to do 60 hours this week and I say “no” and they sack me under the Working Time Directive waiver – that means it is not a request, it is an enforcible demand. I am their slave. Nope. Not happening. It is best all round if it is acknowledged up front before I arrive on site that the client may ask and I may well say yes – but I can say no.

I know, some of you will be reading this and saying “but I need my job and if that is what it takes, I do it”. Well, I’ve worked for 20+ years and I’ve realised that (a) there are organisations that don’t abuse you and (b) you actually get little real payback for those ridiculous hours. But it can ruin your non-work life, even your family life. I don’t need any individual job and I am bloody well not playing those games any more. Employment in a modern, democratic society is supposed to be a mutual agreement and, if is it not, I ain’t playing. That is my small win for all those years of grind and I’m insisting on it.

I know, some of you will say “look, it never comes to anything, just sign it and ignore it like the rest of us”. No. If you are right, it is a corporate lie and is not required. And, to my detriment, I know you are wrong and sometimes there is an attempt to enforce it. If you cannot get me to do the 60 hours by asking and explaining, either you do not have a valid reason {and history proves I am an utter push-over to a half-reasonable request} or there is a reason very important to me why I can’t comply. If you try and insist, you really are treating me like a slave. That empty space? That’s me having gone for a looong walk.

I am not signing a document saying “you can demand I work over 48 hours any and all weeks you like”. Your are not signing a form saying “I can demand any time off I like week in and week out”. All contracts have a clause saying “this is not working between us, we will curtail the agreement”. We will use that if need be, not a bullying document that says I am your slave.

I am not signing.

Friday Philosophy – It’s not “Why Won’t It Work!” it’s “What Don’t I Understand?” April 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
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I had a tricky performance problem to solve this week. Some SQL was running too slow to support the business need. I made the changes and additions I could see were needed to solve the problem and got the code running much faster – but it would not run faster consistently. It would run like a dream, then run slow, then run like a dream again 2 or 3 times and then run like a wounded donkey 3 or 4 times. It was very frustrating.

For many this would provoke the cry of “Why won’t it work!!!”. But I didn’t, I was crying “What don’t I understand???”. {I think I even did a bit of fist-pounding, but only quietly as my boss was sitting on the desk opposite me.}

I think I’ve always been a bit like that in respect of How Things Work”, but it has been enhanced within me by being blessed to work with or meet people for whom it is more important for them to understand why something is not working than fixing it.

I was reminded of this by a thoughtful comment in an email that one of the oaktable sent to the list. They made the comment that what they felt was common between members of the oaktable is “that we’re not interested (really) in what the solution is of most of our problems, but actually, what is the underlying issue that really causes the problem?”

It struck a real chord with me. Quite a few people I’ve come across seem to be fixated on wanting to know solutions – so that they can look knowledgeable and be “one of the best”. But that’s just stamp collecting really. It’s like one of those ‘games card’ fads that each generation of children has, where you want to collect the best cards so you can win. I never got it as a kid as there are few rules, tactics, ‘how it works’ to elucidate. What success is there in winning when it’s just down to the cards you have? {And being candid, I didn’t like them as partly as I never had the money to buy many cards and partly I was rubbish at trading them. No sales skills.}

I know the solve-it-don’t-just-fix-it position is a topic I have touched on before, but I think the attitude of trying to fix problems by understanding how it works is far more satisfying than doing so by knowing a set of solutions. You develop a deeper understanding to help solve new problems than any amount of solution-stamp-collecting ever will. However, another wise voice on the Oaktable discussion pointed out that you can be in a work environment where there is no time to investigate and you simply have to try your set of fixes and move on if you hit one that works. Your work environment can strongly influence how you work and, it some ways, the ways you think.

I bet some people are wondering what my problem at the start of this post actually was? Well, a nice technical blog about it may appear over the weekend, but the core reason for the toggling of working/not-working was partition swap. We have data coming into the system very fast. We build a new summary of the key data in one table and then swap it into active play via partition swap. On the live system, stats had not been gathered on the “swap” table we had introduced but had on the active table. So, each time the partition swapped, we went from good stats to “empty” stats or the other way around. The empty stats gave a quite, quite dreadful execution plan.

Friday Philosophy – Identifying and Nullifying Fake Urgency April 20, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management.
Tags: , ,
6 comments

You know how it goes. You get a call/mail/text with something along the lines of “I need to know all the details of customer orders placed on Tuesday 7th by customers based in Botswana – and I need it ASAP, by end of play today at the latest”. So you skip lunch, drop that task you have been trying to get around to doing all week and work out how to resolve the issue that has just been dropped on you. It takes a lot of effort and you finally get it sorted out around an hour after you told your girlfriend/boyfriend/cat you would be leaving the office that day – and mail it off to the requestor. You might even call them to let them know it is done, but oddly they don’t answer.

Next day, you see the guy who wanted this urgent request and ask if it was what they wanted “Oh, I have not looked at it yet – but thanks for doing it.”

NO! “Thanks” does not work in this situation. I’d have more respect for this guy if he laughed at me and said “got you again, sucker”. Many of you know what I mean don’t you – if you are in a support-type-role, this can be a big part of your life.

I had a job years back that seemed to consist 90% of such tasks. I was the development DBA team leader responsible for testing, validating and promoting code to production. Everyone’s changes were Urgency Level 1, to be done as an emergency release and many could not be put in place until after 5pm. I’d be sat there at 18:30 in a massive but virtually empty office, applying changes along with one or two of my guys. Everyone else had gone home. This was not once or twice a month, it was 4 or 5 times a week. What are you to do?

Well, I came up with one tactic that seemed to work pretty well.

Anyone who asked for an emergency change had to be there, on site, available when the change was done.
There were of course cries of protest and people stated it was ridiculous that they had to be there, they were not needed, the change had been tested thoroughly {oh how I laughed at that – a thoroughly tested “emergency” change huh?}. No, I replied, you had to be there in case it went wrong as it’s your system, your data and, frankly, your emergency. If it is not urgent enough for you – the guy wanting it to be done – to be inconvenienced, well it sure as hell is not urgent enough to inconvenience me. “You can call if there are problems” – What, after you have escaped the locality? Maybe turned off your phone? And if I get you , I have to wait for you to come back in? No no no. Urgent emergency now equates to presence in office. After all, I’ll be there.

I stuck to my rule. If the requester could not be bothered to stay, I downgraded the request to “Planned” and put it through the CAB process. If the requester dumped on one of their team and made them stay, I mentally marked them half a point down and factored it in next emergency.

The change was remarkable. I was no longer in the office on my own every evening. I was not there with someone else either. I was simply not there as, when you made the emergency a little bit inconvenient to the requester, it magically stopped being an emergency.

There was another change. Less cock-ups. Seeing as these changes now went through the CAB process and slightly more testing {like, some testing} the duff changes were more likely to be detected before they caused damage. My bosses went from regarding me as “not a team player” to “Not a team player – but we kind of get your point now”.

So my advice is, if someone wants to try and make something your emergency, find some way of making sure it remains inconvenient to them. If they are willing to put up with the inconvenience, then it is a real emergency and you need to crack on with it.

Friday Philosophy – The Abuse of Favours March 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, rant.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

You probably all recognise this situation:

Dave needs something doing that he can’t do himself – let’s say it is creating an API for the file management package. It isn’t your job to do but it is something you can do. Dave is blocked until the API is created.

So, being a nice person, you tell Dave you will see what you can do for him over the next couple of days.

So why is it that what Dave hears is “Dave, I love you more than life itself, I am dedicated to this task and I WILL complete it before the end of tomorrow. My other tasks, emergency production issues and the untimely demise of my cat are all secondary to this endeavour.”.

You see, 24 hours later, Dave is at your desk “When will this be done?! I’m blocked until I get this!!!”. If he’s the guy I had recently his next step is to slap his fist into his palm as he utters, almost shouts “I NEED this!”.

No. No you don’t need it. What you need is for that slap to be in your face, followed by “wake up! You don’t go shouting at the guy digging you out the hole!”.

I find this particularly unacceptable when the favour is to be fixing some mess that Dave created, or doing something Dave told his boss he had finished last week. Of course, those are the exactly situations where Dave is most likely to get upset, as he is in real trouble and most likely to commit that ultimate Favour sin:-

Dave to Boss “I Didn’t get my task done as Martin promised to create the API and he hasn’t. I’d be there now if I only did it myself”.

If you are thinking “Hmmm, I think I might have been ‘Dave’ recently” then Shame On You and go beg forgiveness. Of course, if you were ‘Dave’ you may well be the sort of sod who will twist the situation around in your head so it was not your fault anyway. Grrr, bad Dave.

For a while I gave up doing work favours as I got sick of the situation above playing out. Then I started doing favours again but being a bore about saying repeatedly, up front, that this was a favour, it was only if I had time, not to rely on me and, if it is that important, go ask someone else. Yeah, sounds really grumpy doesn’t it? That gave me a reputation for not being a Team Player (which is code for “mug”).

Now I have a rule system. As soon as someone starts getting demanding about the favour, I immediately challenge it. If they get shouty they lose their favour rights. No more favours for you until the requisite number of beers have been bought. It’s three.

Of course, you see this scene played out on help forums all the time. Initial message is nearly always in upper case text speak “PLS HLP ME, IS URGNT! CN U TELL ME HOW 2 DO MY JOB – THNX!!!” and soon degrades into helfull person asking for details of the exact person and Mr Shouty demanding more and more help. I don’t help. After all, this guy is never going to buy me a beer.

Friday Philosophy – The Inappropriate Use of Smart Phones February 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
Tags: , , ,
16 comments

I’m kind of expecting to get a bit of a comment-kicking over this one…

I never much liked mobile phones – Yes they are incredibly useful, yes they allow countries that lack a ground-based telephony network to create a nationwide system, yes they allow communication all the time from almost anywhere. That last point is partly why I dislike them. {Actually, I don’t like normal phones much, or how some people {like my wife} will interrupt a conversation to dash across the room to answer it. It’s just a person on the phone, it will take a message if someone wants to say something significant. If someone calls your name out in a crowd, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively? No, so what act that way over a phone?}.

However, I hold a special level of cynical dislike for “smart” phones. Why? Because people seem to be slaves to them and they seem to use them in a very antisocial way in social and even business situations. It is no longer just speaking or texting that people do, it’s checking and sending email, it’s twittering and blogging, it’s surfing the net and looking things up. I have no problem with any of this, I do all of these things on my desktop, laptop, netbook. But I don’t do them to the detriment of people who are there in the flesh – whilst supposedly in a conversation with mates at the pub or carrying out a transaction in a shop or using the coffee machine at work or, basically, standing in the bloody way staring at a little screen or rudely ignoring people who I am supposed to be interacting with.

The below is my phone. It makes calls, it sends texts, it might even be able to work as an alarm clock (I am not sure). It does not do anything else much and it was ten quid {actually the below might be the version up from the really cheap thing I have}:

I was pondering this rude (ab)use of Smart Phones in a meeting this week. It was a meeting to discuss a program of work, what needed doing and by whom. It was a meeting where everyone in the room was involved, each person’s opinion was important and we all had a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. So why did over half of the people not only have their Smart Phone out but were tapping away, scrolling through stuff, looking at some asinine rubbish on Facebook {yes, I saw you}? One or two people in the room might have been able to argue that they needed to keep an eye out for important emails or calls – but really? Are things so incredibly important and only you can deal with them that you can’t just play your full part in a meeting for an hour? I was so annoyed by this that I missed half the meeting internally moaning about it…

I just see it as rude. It’s saying “while you people are talking, I can’t be bothered listening and I certainly don’t need to give you my full attention. And I don’t even care that I’m making it so obvious”. Or “I am buying this item from you and we need to deal with the transaction but you are so inconsequential I don’t even have to pause this conversation about which cafe to meet in next week. You do not deserve more than 15% of my attention”.

I supposed that is what really gets my blood slowly heating up, it’s that it has become accepted to be so rude. Just walk down the street, head down and eyes fixed on your glowing little screen, making no attempt to navigate with your fellow city dwellers. I made a decision 2 {correction, 3} years ago that, if you are walking along staring at your phone and you are going to collide with me, you ARE going to collide with me if you do not become aware of me and make allowances – and I am lower down than you, I braced my shoulder and I am going to win this one. If they are so fixated on that bl00dy screen that they do not heed any attention to others, people ping off me like they’ve been thumped by a tree stump. It now happens a lot and I always “win”. I’m surprised no one has punched me yet.

If I was a manager again I would introduce a simply rule. No Smart Phone in your hand unless you have a stated reason for doing so. There are many valid reasons, which will all be related to the meeting. Otherwise you are just being disrespectful. If you feel the meeting does not apply to you or this section is not relevant, fine. Sit still and listen anyway. You might actually find it useful to know what everyone else is doing. Stop playing bl00dy mental chickens or whatever or updating your status to “bored”.

I will hold strongly to these opinions. Right up until the minute I finally buy that iphone I’ve been considering getting. I really want to be able to check my twitter account during meetings, you see.

Friday Philosophy – Tosh Talked About Technology February 17, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, future, Hardware, rant.
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9 comments

Sometimes I can become slightly annoyed by the silly way the media puts out total tosh and twaddle(*) that over-states the impact or drawbacks about technology (and science ( and especially medicine (and pretty much anything the media decides to talk about)))). Occasionally I get very vexed indeed.

My attention was drawn to some such thing about SSDs (solid State Discs) via a tweet by Gwen Shapira yesterday {I make no statement about her opinion in this in any way, I’m just thanking her for the tweet}. According to Computerworld

SSDs have a ‘bleak’ future, researchers say

So are SSDs somehow going to stop working or no longer be useful? No, absolutely not. Are SSDs not actually going to be more and more significant in computing over the next decade or so? No, they are and will continue to have a massive impact. What this is, is a case of a stupidly exaggerated title over not a lot. {I’m ignoring the fact that SSDs can’t have any sort of emotional future as they are not sentient and cannot perceive – the title should be something like “the future usefulness of SSDs looks bleak”}.

What the article is talking about is a reasonable little paper about how if NAND-based SSDS continue to use smaller die sizes, errors could increase and access times increase. That is, if the same technology is used in the same way and manufacturers continue to shrink die sizes. It’s something the memory technologists need to know about and perhaps find fixes for. Nothing more, nothing less.

The key argument is that by 2024 we will be using something like 6.4nm dies and at that size, the physics of it all means everything becomes a little more flaky. After all, Silicon atoms are around 0.28nm wide (most atoms of things solid at room temperature are between 0.2nm and 0.5nm wide), at that size we are building structures with things only an order of magnitude or so smaller. We have all heard of quantum effects and tunneling, which means that at such scales and below odd things can happen. So error correction becomes more significant.

But taking a reality check, is this really an issue:

  • I look at my now 4-year-old 8GB micro-USB stick (90nm die?) and it is 2*12*30mm, including packaging. The 1 TB disc on my desk next to it is 24*98*145mm. I can get 470 of those chips in the same space as the disc, so that’s 3.8TB based on now-old technology.
  • Even if the NAND materials stay the same and the SSD layout stays the same and the packaging design stays the same, we can expect about 10-50 times the current density before we hit any problems
  • The alternative of spinning platers of metal oxides is pretty much a stagnant technology now, the seek time and per-spindle data transfer rate is hardly changing. We’ve even exceeded the interface bottleneck that was kind-of hiding the non-progress of spinning disk technology

The future of SSD technology is not bleak. There are some interesting challenges ahead, but things are certainly going to continue to improve in SSD technology between now and when I hang up my keyboard. I’m particularly interested to see how the technologists can improve write times and overall throughput to something closer to SDRAM speeds.

I’m willing to lay bets that a major change is going to be in form factor, for both processing chips and memory-based storage. We don’t need smaller dies, we need lower power consumption and a way to stack the silicon slices and package them (for processing chips we also need a way to make thousands of connections between the silicon slices too). What might also work is simply wider chips, though that scales less well. What we see as chips on a circuit board is mostly the plastic wrapper. If part of that plastic wrapper was either a porous honeycomb air could move through or a heat-conducting strip, the current technology used for SSD storage could be stacked on top of each other into blocks of storage, rather then the in-effect 2D sheets we have at present.

What could really be a cause of technical issues? The bl00dy journalists and marketing. Look at digital cameras. Do you really need 12, 16 mega-pixels in your compact point-and-shoot camera? No, you don’t, you really don’t, as the optics on the thing are probably not up to the level of clarity those megapixels can theoretically give you, the lens is almost certainly not clean any more and, most significantly, the chip is using smaller and smaller areas to collect photons (the sensor is not getting bigger with more mega-pixels you know – though the sensor size is larger in proper digital SLRs which is a large part of why they are better). This less-photons-per-pixel means less sensitivity and more artefacts. What we really need is maybe staying with 8MP and more light sensitivity. But the mega-pixel count is what is used to market the camera at you and I. As a result, most people go for the higher figures and buy something technically worse, so we are all sold something worse. No one really makes domestic-market cameras where the mega-pixel count stays enough and the rest of the camera improves.

And don’t forget. IT procurement managers are just like us idiots buying compact cameras.

(*) For any readers where UK English is not a first language, “twaddle” and “tosh” both mean statements or arguments that are silly, wrong, pointless or just asinine. oh, Asinine means talk like an ass :-) {and I mean the four-legged animal, not one’s bottom, Mr Brooks}

Friday Philosophy – The Answer To Everything January 27, 2012

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

For those of us acquainted with the philosophical works of Douglas Adams we know that the the answer to everything is 42.

mdw1123> select all knowledge from everything
  2  /

 KNOWLEDGE
----------
        42

This above is a real SQL statement (version 11.2.0.3, just in case you wanted to know :-) ).

This was prompted by a silly discussion at lunch time about the answer to everything and databases and I wondered aloud how you could go about getting Oracle to respond with 42 when you “selected all from everything”. My colleagues looked at me like I was an idiot and said “create a table called everything with a column called all and select it”. Yeah, of course, and I laughed. So much for being an expert at Oracle huh?

Well, I tried. It did not work:

mdw1123> create table EVERYTHING (ALL number not null)
  2  /
create table EVERYTHING (ALL number not null)
                         *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00904: : invalid identifier

Damn. It’s a reserved word. But for what? Off the top of my head I could not remember what ALL is used for in Oracle select syntax. Never mind, I could get around the issue to some degree by the use of quotes around the column name (and just for fun, I made the column name lowercase too – this is how you can create lowercase columns but you have to be careful with this, as you will see below):

mdw1123> create table everything ("all" number not null)
  2  /
mdw1123> desc everything
 Name                                                              Null?    Type
 ----------------------------------------------------------------- -------- --------

 all                                                               NOT NULL NUMBER

mdw1123> insert into everything values (42)
  2  /
mdw1123> select "all" from everything
  2  /

       all
----------
        42

-- but be careful of case
mdw1123> select "ALL" from everything
  2  /
select "ALL" from everything
       *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00904: "ALL": invalid identifier

I was not happy with this though, I was having to put the quotes in my line and be careful about the syntax.

So, what is the word ALL used for? A quick check of the SQL reference manual:

It is the opposite of DISTINCT and the default, so we never have to put it in the statement.

With the above in mind I was able to quickly come up with something close, but not quite, what I originally asked for. See below for how.

mdw1123> create table everything (KNOWLEDGE NUMBER NOT NULL)
  2  /

mdw1123> insert into everything values (42)
  2  /

mdw1123> select all knowledge from everything
  2  /

 KNOWLEDGE
----------
        42
mdw1123>

Having said it was not quite what I had originally set out to do, I actually prefer this version.

Of course, I cleaned up after myself. It feels odd typing in commands that have an English meaning that would not be what you want to do – I could not get over the nagging feeling that the below was going to cause a lot of data to disappear :-) :

mdw1123> drop table everything purge;

Friday Philosophy – Lead or Lag (When to Upgrade)? January 20, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in development, Friday Philosophy, Testing.
Tags: , , ,
10 comments

I was involved in a discussion recently with Debra Lilley which version of Oracle to use. You can see her blog about it here (and she would love any further feedback from others). Oracle now has a policy that it will release the quarterly PSUs for a given point release for 12 months once that point release is superseded. ie once 11.2.0.3 came out, Oracle will only guarantee to provide PSUs for 11.2.0.2 for 12 months. See “My Oracle Support” note ID 742060.1. However, an older Terminal release such as 11.1.0.7 is not superseded and is supported until 2015 – and will get the quarterly PSU updates. This left the customer with an issue. Should they start doing their development on the latest and theoretically greatest version of Oracle and be forced to do a point upgrade “soon” to keep getting the PSUs, or use an older version of Oracle and avoid the need to upgrade?

This is in many ways a special case of the perennial issue of should you use the latest version of Oracle (or in fact any complex software solution) or go with the version you know and trust? Plus, should you patch up to the latest version which in theory gives you protection against bugs and vulnerabilities (along with the CPUs). Yes, they are two separate issues but people tend to sit on the same side of both points, for the same reasons.

The arguments to stay using an older version are that it is working, it is stable, you do not need the new features and upgrading is a lot of work and effort. Plus the new version will have new bugs that come along with the new features you do not need and things might be turned on by default that you could do without (like stats collecting or not creating the actual segments when a new table or partition is created). If you remain on your favourite version long enough, you get another issue which is that the latest version of Oracle might not be compatible with your ancient version of the OS or another package or programming language critical to your system (I got caught in a terrible web with old perl, old O/S and old DB that resulted in a need to upgrade all three together – ouch!).

The arguments to moving forward are that you get access to the latest features, that over all older features will have more bugs fixed in newer version, performance will be better {again, overall, exceptions allowing}. Also, if you do hit bugs and problems there are no issues in having to first upgrade to a fully supported version. Plus, fixes are made for current versions first and then back-ported to older ones. Those pack-ported fixes can cause real problems when you DO decide to upgrade.

The big sticking points are the effort involved in upgrading and living with the bugs that you find that Oracle Testing didn’t.

I’ve got a few of other considerations to throw into the pot.

Firstly, if you are developing something new, it is not a lot more effort to use the latest version. This allows you to learn the new version and eases the transition of older systems to it.

Secondly, Oracle like you if you use the latest version, especially if it is the latest-latest version or even beta. Yeah, the helpdesk will not have a clue about some of your issues but in my experience you get access to those really smart guys and gals in Oracle who do the third-line support or even the development work.

Thirdly, if you are on the latest version, if you do decide to freeze on that version for a while, for stability and a quiet life, you have a lot longer before your version (at least at a major level) drops out of support.

Fourthly, dynamic, inquisitive, flexible staff like new things. In my experience, environments that freeze on an old version have a higher percentage of staff who either like it dull and repetitive, or hate it being dull and repetitive – and itch to get out. If I’m in charge, I know which type of staff I like to have more of {NB there are some very good arguments for having some staff who like it dull and repetitive}.

As you can guess, I am in the “be on the latest version” side of the argument. I was ambivalent about it until a few years ago when I noticed a trend:

Sites that like to move forward tend to (a) do it in a controlled manner and (b) have the infrastructure to do proper regression testing.
Site that like to stay still lack the ability to do regression testing and move forward only when forced – and in a pressured, unplanned and frankly chaotic manner.

That was it, that was the real key thing for me. The further you lag behind the more likely you are to eventually be forced to upgrade and it won’t be a nice time doing it. I know, there are exceptions, systems still running Oracle 6 absolutely fine on an old DOS6.1 box. In the same way you also get the odd 95-year-old life-long smokers – and thousands of 45-year-old smokers with emphysema.

When I have any sway over the situation I now always strive to be on modern versions of Oracle {OS, language, whatever} and to patch small and regular. To support all this, have very good regression testing. I’ve only a couple of times been able to get the regression testing sorted out as well as I would like, but when you do the pain of patching and upgrading, as well as developing and integrating, is so much reduced that not patching seems madness.

So to sum up:

  • If it is a new development, go for the very latest version, play with the latest features if potentially beneficial and see if you can get Oracle to be interested in your attempts. ie (B)lead.
  • If you have good regression testing, plan and carry out patch and version upgrades as they come available and stay current. ie Lead
  • If you have a complex solution in place and no/poor regression testing, do not move to a new major release, leave it a while for the worst new bugs to be found and fixed. Then move. ie Lag
  • If your system is old AND critical and all the guys and gals who implemented it are long gone, stay on that version for ever. ie stagnate.

Oh, and if that last one applies to many of your systems – dust off the CV and start reading technical manuals. One day you will need a new job in a hurry.

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

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
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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.
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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!

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