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OUGN 2012 First Day – First Panic March 21, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Perceptions, Private Life.
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I’m not really one for blogging about conferences – I mean who cares what someone else saw being presented? But this is the first time I have stopped moving long enough (and been in contact with the internet world) to blog and my brain is too fried to do a technical one.

The journey here was very smooth and the train from the airport to central Oslo makes the ratty, tatty, confined coaches of the UK look as awful as they really are. So I arrive in the central station and decide I will need some local Kroner to pay the taxi to the hotel. So I find an ATM, put in the card and ask for money. Card refused. Huh? But I rang my bank at the weekend and let them know there would be transactions from a foreign country (after some issues a couple of years back my wife always lets the bank know when she will be away and she made me do the same). I tried another ATM from a different company. Refused. OK, damned bank, I’ll use my other card. Refused. Errrr…… In a foreign country, no idea really where I am, not got any local currency. Not looking good.

I wander into Oslo looking for a real, proper bank. Most Norwegians speak perfect English, maybe if I still have problems I can go in and ask. Find bank, go to ATM, about to ask for money….Notice the figures being suggested on this ATM are a lot smaller than the last place. Yes, I had my mental decimal place in the wrong location and I had been asking for almost £1,000 rather than £100. No wonder the request got refused (I keep my daily limit low, it stops be buying too much rubbish on any given day).

So, I head off to the event, get there for Lunch and have a great afternoon. My presentation on IOTS went well and, as I said yesterday, I think I’ll put it to sleep for a while now.

I saw Harald Van Breederode talk about Oracle Database Smart Flash Cache before I did my slot and I always like to hear Harald talk. It was good as ever, but I found myself not so much interested in the idea of using SSD-type storage as an extra “slow SGA” extension (as opposed to a “fast storage” extension) but more that in 3 or 4 years, memory-based storage will be the default and a whole swathe of my knowledge will once more become redundant. I mean, how important will it be to keep physical reads down via things like IOTs once physical reads are relatively cheap? You won’t really care much about expanding your SGA with a secondary cache when you have 4TB of main memory and 100,000 IPS (inputs per second, we will have to see how much faster Output can be made with memory-based storage).

This highlights one of the things I really like about conferences, meetings and chatting to fellow techies in the pub. The actual main topic or point might well be interesting but the secondary thoughts and ideas can be just as striking. I was talking to Uwe Hesse after the talks had finished and part of that was about learning new stuff and training courses. It made me realise that it is way too long since I ran any training courses. I love running training courses.

OK, I’ve had a rest, back to socialising with fellow OUGN 2012 attendees.

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away March 20, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, VLDB.
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I’m just doing some last minute preparation for the Norwegian User Group Spring Seminar. This is quite a large conference with 5 concurrent streams and a very good line-up of presenters. You can see the agenda here.

What is also a little unusual about this conference is that it is mostly on a boat, or rather a ship. When I was first asked if I would put forward a talk or two I declined – as I am very prone to being sea-sick. Truls Bergersen, who helps organize the event, got in touch with me a few weeks later and said “we are doing a day on land first, do you want to present then?”. Sure! That would be great! So I am, I’ll be doing my talk on Index Organized Tables once more {and then I think I’ll put it to bed for a couple of years}.

Now, I am not exactly sure what made me agree to this, but then Truls asked if I would consider doing another talk I had suggested, on VLDBs (Very Large DataBases), the following day. Yes, why not?

Only, the next day we are on the ship. I’m a bit nervous about this. I don’t think that a good presentation should include the presenter going green and dashing for the door (though I did have a similar experience at Oracle Open World once, as a result of an all-you-can-eat Chinese meal the day before, but as it affected “the other end of things” you really don’t want details of that).

Thankfully, I’ve not been worrying about sea-sickness for the last couple of weeks. That will be because my laptop hard disk died and I lost everything on my still-new machine. It was still so new that I had not started backing it up properly – after all, there was nothing on there I could not replace easily.

It has been a real trial to replace all those things that I could easily replace. At least I had the presentations and some other critical bits on my temporary USB stick backup…

Next Public Appearance – Scottish SIG on 29th Feb February 13, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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Who’s up for a beer or whiskey in Edinburgh on the evening of 28th Feb?

I’ve been promising myself I’d do the Scottish SIG for three or four years but life has always conspired to stop me. However, at last I am going to manage it this year.

The meeting is on the 29th February at the Oracle {was Sun} office in Linlithgow. You can see the schedule and details here. As ever, it is being chaired by Thomas Presslie, though I {and I suspect Mr Hasler} will be hoping he is not forcing drams of Whiskey on people before 10am in the morning, as he did at the last UKOUG conference…

I’m presenting on Index Organised Tables again, following up on the series of posts I did {and have still to finish}. As well as myself there is also Tony Hasler talking about stabilising statistics {one of the key things to stable and thus acceptable performance from a very knowledgeable man}, a presentation by Wayne Lewis on Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel 2 {which I understand is Oracle Linux with the extra bits Larry wants in there before they have gone through to the official Open Source release} and Harry Hall talking about all the new stuff on OEM 12C. If he says Cloud too often I might lob something heavy at him :-) {nothing personal Harry, I’m just tired of the C word in connection with Oracle already}. Additionally, Gordon Wilkie will also be giving an Oracle Update.

Part of the reason I want to do the Scottish SIG is that I really like Edinburgh {and Scotland in general – wonderful geography}. My original intention was to take my wife up there and make the trip into a short break – but she has to go to the US that week and I have a new client that needs my time, so it will be a dash up there the evening before and back in the afternoon.

So, is anyone around in Edinburgh from late evening on the 28th of Feb and fancies showing me one or two nice pubs?

Headlong rush to Conference – Preparing the Presentations November 29, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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With only a few days to go before the UKOUG conference this year I’m preparing my presentations. I know pretty much what I want to say and, for the IOT talk at least, it is not as if I do not have enough material already prepared – some of which has been on the blog posts and some of which has not. (though it did strike me that I could just fire up the blog and walk through the thread, taking questions).

My big problem is not what to say – it is what not to say.

I’ve always had this problem when I want to impart knowledge, I have this desire to grab the audience by the throat, take what I know about the subject and somehow just cram the information into the heads of the people in front of me. All of it. I want them to know everything about it that I know, the core knowledge, the oddities, the gotchas, how it meshes with other topics. It’s ridiculous of course, if I’ve spent many hours (days, weeks, 20 years) acquiring experience, reading articles and learning, I can’t expect to pass that all on in a one hour presentation – especially as I like to provide proof and examples for what I say. But I think the desire to do so is part of what makes me a good presenter and tutor. I bounce around in front of the audience, lobbing information at them and constantly trying to judge if I need to backup and give more time to anything or if I can plough on, skipping the basics. Hint, if you are in the audience and I’m going too fast or garbling my topic, then I am always happy to be asked questions or told to reverse up a little. I’ve never been asked to speed up though :-)

It gets even worse. If I am putting myself up there to talk about a topic then I don’t want to be found wanting. I want to be able to handle any question and have a slide or example up my sleeve to demonstrate it. It’s exhausting and, again, pointless. At somewhere like the UKOUG there is bound to be someone who knows something I don’t know about any topic.

For me the trick is to pare it down, to keep reminding myself that if the audience leaves with more knowledge than they came in with, that is a win. If they actually enjoyed the experience I’m even more happier. Maybe I should forget the topic and just take drinks and nibbles…

So, I’m currently doing what I always do, which is trying to force myself to remove stuff that is not directly relevant whilst still leaving a few little oddities and interesting items. Plus getting the 200 slides down to something more reasonable – like say 120 :-)

If I can get it down to one slide per minute (some of which I skip on the day as they are there for anyone downloading the talk) then I’m OK.

Of course, having done this, the day before the course I’ll do one last “final review” – and add a couple of dozen slides to just clarify a few points…

What Have I Let Myself in For! – UKOUG this year November 16, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in development, Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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One of my favourite Oracle happenings of the year is fast approaching, the UK Oracle User Group technical conference {see/click on the link on the right margin}. I’ve blogged before ( like here, last year) why I think it is so good.

I try and present at the conference each year and I go no matter if I am presenting or not.

However, this year I think I might have got myself into trouble. I put forward 3 talks, expecting one or possibly two to get through. One on Index Organized Tables, one on IT disasters and one as an introduction to database design – I’ve moaned about it being a dying art so I figured I should get off my backside and do something positive about it. Each talk is in a different stream.

Well, the IOT talk was accepted, the Disasters talk was rejected and the Database Design intro was put on the reserve list. I was happy with that. I did three talks the first year I presented and promised myself never to be that stupid again {I spent most of the conference in the Speaker’s lounge or my hotel putting the talks together and tweaking slides}.

What I was not expecting was for the OakTable to ask me to do the IOT talk on the OakTable Sunday. Yikes! {The OakTable Sunday is a great opportunity to see a set of presentations by people who really know their stuff in a smaller setting – You really want to get along to it if you can}. However I had two reasons not to do it:

  1. I would have to miss one of the other OakTable talks.
  2. That thing I said about people presenting who really know their stuff.

I was told that (1) was not a problem as the talks would be repeated in the main conference so I would have an opportunity to see  the one I missed and (2) stop being so British and do it. {In fact, one friend on the OakTable told me off after the last conference for my criticism of my own presentation that year – “yes it was poor for you but normally you do a good job, so keep doing it”}. Of course I said yes.

Then it struck me, I was presenting twice now. Once on Sunday and repeating on Wednesday in hall 5 {I’ll probably not simply repeat the contents, at the OakTable Sunday I’ll assume a little more knowledge by the audience and dig a bit deeper technically, in the main conference I’ll cover off the basics more, for those utterly new to IOTs}. At least it was only one set of slides to prepare.

A few days later I get a mail from the UKOUG office. A gap had appeared in the Development stream, would I be willing to do my “Oracle Lego – an introduction to database design” talk – but beef it up a little? Yes, sure. What do you mean about beef it up? The dev stream guys wanted something that went into more detail, was more about some of the more challenging systems I’ve work on. So we exchanged a few emails and it quickly became apparent that some wanted the intro talk I had originally proposed, to get people going with database design. Others felt there would be more audience for a more in-depth talk, so could I span both? I had to say no. I remember attending my Oracle database design course in 1993. It was 5 days long. If my memory serves there was also a second course a couple of weeks later that covered more advanced design for 3 days! I can talk fast but not 8 days fast. They were effectively asking for two quite different presentations, an intro and then a review of more challenging examples “OK” they said, “do Oracle Lego – But if another gap comes up, could you do the intermediate talk?”. Err, OK… So I wrote a quick synopsis for “Oracle Meccano” {Meccano is a toy construction kit made up of miniature girders, plates, bolts and stuff you can make proper things out of. If you liked Lego you would love Meccano as you got older} .

Since then I have been slightly anxious about getting an email from the UKOUG about a gap in the development stream for the conference…

This week I have started preparing the presentations for real {which so far has resulted in me breaking my server, finding a load of notes on blogs I was going to write and then doing this post} so I contacted the ladies in charge of the agenda and asked if I was now off the hook for the Oracle Meccano talk? “Yes, no more gaps, it is not on the agenda”. Phew. “But could you put it together in case of last minute cancellations?”. *sigh*. OK.

So I will, but I’m not signing up to do any Session Chairing, which I was about to. If you see me at the conference and I look a little crazed, it’s because I got a mail from the UKOUG just before the event about a sudden gap…

At least there is no chance I will be asked to do the Disasters talk at short notice, I saw the scores it got by the paper reviewers :-).

The end of the Management and Infrastructure SIG – What Next? October 10, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The 27th September was in some ways a sad day for me. It was the last of the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure Special Interest Group meetings. This SIG was dedicated to looking at how you cope with Oracle as part of a large or complex organisation. The last audience was bijou and compact but the speakers were cracking, as is confirmed by the excellent feedback everyone received from the post event critique forms.

It’s always been a SIG with a small crowd come that came along, but it was also a SIG that some of us were screaming out for. Those SIGs and meetings dedicated to the hard-core technical sides of the Oracle RDBMS are of course great and much appreciated. But for those of us trying to manage a couple of thousand instances of Oracle/application server, or trying to look after the database within the sort of corporate IT forest that FTSE 100 organisations have to have, some of us were really keen to better understand the rest of the IT infrastructure, methods to look after such large Oracle estates and also the human side of things – that word “management”. I know that the word “management” in the title put a few people off the events, but for others it was the management side (human AND technical) we desperately wanted.

So, why has it ended? Well, it hasn’t really – we are merging with the RAC&HA SIG, chaired by David Burnham and his deputies. There is a lot of crossover between our areas and we found we were often using the same speakers. You do not tend to have RAC if you are not a large oracle site and you tend to be very interested in High Availability if you have a lot of Oracle stuff to look after. So, from next year, we will be the AIM SIG – availability, Infrastructure and Management SIG. It might not be a snappy label but it describes what we will be about. Details of this new SIG will be discussed at the conference in December, anyone with any thoughts on the subject is more than welcome to contact me.

This leaves me with one important task and that is to note my thanks and indebtedness to some of those who helped with the SIG.
The UKOUG staff have been great at supporting the events, especially (during my stint) Michelle Ericsson (who is now doing funky DJ stuff in the USA) and Marisa Harris, who picked up our SIG for this last meeting and was great at hearding her errant Chair and Deputy Chair into doing what we needed to do.

We have had a succession of good guys from Oracle help us out. Tony Clements was our first and longest serving Oracle buddy and Simon Moreton took up the cause after Tony went to pastures new. Mike Edgington pitched in at short notice when Simon was not available to us for this last meeting, even presenting. Special thanks also go to Andrew Bulloch who has been fantastic at giving or organising talks for us by Oracle on Enterprise manager and Grid.

Finally and most importantly I’d like to thank Neil Chandler. Neil has been the deputy chair since the SIG started and is probably – no, IS – the person who has done the most to support the M&I SIG through it’s life. Neil’s one of those people who does not push himself to the fore as he should (except maybe in the pub), resisting presenting and firmly holding one step back from being the chair. I don’t know why, he presents very well and he knows a lot of stuff.

To everyone who came to any of the meetings and especially those who allowed themselves to be drafted into presenting duties, thank you very much indeed.

Infrastructure and Management SIG – new date September 13, 2011

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I ought to just mention that the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG has moved from Tuesday September 20th to Tuesday September 27th (so two weeks from today). It had to be moved as we had a bit of a problem with the room booking. It will be in the usual venue of the Oracle City Office in London and is, of course, free to members of the UK Oracle User Group. {If you are not a member, you can come along for a fee – but if you are interested in coming along to see what a UKOUG Special Interest Group meeting is all about, send me a mail}.

So, if you fancy some free information about:

  • Getting the best out of your intel hardware (and BIOS in general) {Steve Shaw from Intel}
  • The latest on Oracle GRID and OEM {both presentations by customers not Oracle, one by Niall Litchfield and one by ‘Morrisons’,though Oracle supported us very well by finding one of the customers!)}
  • A presentation and discussion on Outsourcing by Piet de Visser 
  •  A consideration of how deep into the technology real-world DBAs need to go to solve issues (Neil Chandler and myself)
  • An Oracle support update

Well, register for the event and I’ll see you in two weeks!

UKOUG Oracle Conference agenda now out September 5, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I just wanted to drop a quick post to say that the agenda for the UKOUG annual conference is now out. You can check out the schedule here.

They seem to have dropped the TEBS (Technical and E-Buisiness Suite) out of the title, I think because last year the UKOUG staff kept getting asked if it was the annual Oracle conference they knew and loved from prior years. And of course it is. (Other “application” sides of the Oracle world, like JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, have their own dedicated, named UKOUG conferences).

There is also a return of the Sunday OakTable stream. For those who have not come across it before, it is a chance to see some presentations by members of the OakTable in a smaller and more accessible room. ie you feel better able to ask the presenters awkward questions :-).
I’m not sure of the exact details of registering for this part of the event but the agenda shows the talks that are happening (in fact, if you click on the “view the full 2011 agenda” icon on the agenda home page, it shows Sunday by default). I managed to get along to the OakTable Sunday a few years ago and loved it – I’ll be on the opposite side this time, I’m priviledged to have been asked to fill one of the slots.

As ever, the conference has a massive and wide-ranging agenda, with mini-streams like EXA(data/logic) and MySQL on Monday,APEX on Wednesday… The number of papers and the general quality that are submitted to the conference goes up and up each year and a lot of effort goes into not just picking well know speakers but also a mix of new presenters and ensuring topics get covered. It’s hard, but during the selection process sometimes there are 4 or 5 talks we know are going to be excellent but are all on the same or similar topic – some have to be dropped to ensure the breadth of topics is still covered. The number of slots a single person is allowed to have is also controlled, again to maintain space for a wide range of presenters and presentations. All in all, it is not a simple task and even now some tweaks are going on (to fill topic gaps, finalise the exact scope for a talk or to allow for people who suddenly find they cannot present anymore). You can rest assured though that, all in all, it will be an excellent conference.

Next presentations August 24, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I’ve got a couple of presentations coming up.

The first is at the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG on Tuesday 20th September. I chair this SIG and it is all about how to manage Oracle when you have lots of databases, very big databases or a particular need to know a bit more about the rest of the IT Infrastructure. You can find the schedule here. The aim is to talk at a technical level but not the deep-dive of some of the RDBMS or HA presentations as we want to cover a wider brief.

As I say, one thing we do is look at the hardware your Oracle databases and application servers need to run on. This meeting we have Steve Shaw from Intel talking about getting the most out of your Xeon-based servers, but the general concepts apply to other platforms. If you are old enough, you will remember how you used to set up “HIMEM.SYS”, “EMM386.SYS and try to keep as much of the first 640K of your memory free. You might even have got down and dirty with you BIOS settings. We did it as the performance boosts were significant. Well, we don’t do that sort of thing anymore and Steve’s talk will probably make you want to! It still is a free way to get more out of your hardware.

Piet de Visser is also coming along and I always really enjoy his presentations. This time he is covering something of interest/concern to many of us – Outsourcing. I think that will be a pretty lively session.

I’m presenting as well, with Neil Chandler on the topic of how deep you should dive when solving technical issues. To 10046 trace or not.

We meet in Oracle’s city office, so handy for anyone in or around London or for anyone coming in from North of London (the office is 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station and three stops along the underground from King’s Cross St Pancras). We’ve still got to finalise one or two agenda slots but they will be real-world talks about Enterprise Manager/GRID control. One fixed item on the agenda is that those who wish to retire to a pub afterwards to continue the discussions.

You may have noticed the little logo for the UKOUG TEBS conference appearing at the right of this blog. The agenda is not quite public yet so I cannot say too much, but I will be presenting at the event, on Index Organized Tables. I’ll be showing demonstrations of some of the things I have been blogging about and expanding on areas, joining it all up into one session. I might also be presenting on database design but that talk is being discussed and finalised at present. The UKOUG team have a lot of things that they have to pull together and organise just for the presentations, never mind the rest of the conferences such as the exhibition hall, catering, registration etc. I’ve been involved in helping with the agenda organisation this year, in a minor way, so I’ve seen it all from the inside.

The TEBS conference is, for me, the meeting highlight of the year. I’ve been to Oracle Open World and, interesting though it is and with some fabulous presentations and events, it is just too big, corporate and company line for me. Oh, I’d go again when the opportunity arises, but for me the UKOUG TEBS conference has a much better feel to it, you still get a load of great talks from Oracle about the latest/greatest, but you also get loads and loads of talks by many of the best in the field and the talks are independent – no pressure to be upbeat about Oracle or avoid any negative messages. In fact, if you honestly feel something in Oracle is worth avoiding, you are free to present and say “Don’t Do This!” :-)

I had planned to go to more of the European conferences this year but it did not get myself organised. For me, as an Independent consultant, I need to present to justify the trip and I keep failing to get the submissions in on time.

Telling the Truth in IT March 17, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I’ve been doing presentations for many years, mostly on Oracle Technology, occasionally on management topics. However, my favorite presentation to give is one about when things go wrong.

The title is usually something like “Surviving Survivable Disasters” or “5 ways to Seriously Screw up a Project” and, though the specific examples and flow may vary, the general content is the same. I talk about IT situations that have gone wrong or things that strike me as daft/silly/mindless in IT. My aim is to be entertaining and have a laugh at the situations but I also want to explore what causes disasters and how we might go about avoiding at least some of them.

When doing the presentation I have a couple of ground rules:

  • I must have witnessed the situation myself or know personally, and trust, the individual who is my source.
  • I do not name organisations or individuals unless I am specifically given permission {by individuals that is, organisations never get named. Except one}.
  • I try to resist the temptation to embellish. It’s not hard to resists, a good disaster usually stands on it’s own merits.

It’s a great talk for introducing some light relief into a series of very technical presentations or for opening up a day of talks, to get people relaxed. It’s also the only talk I get seriously nervous about doing – if you are aiming to be entertaining and you miss, you stand to die on stage. The first time I did the talk I was physically sweating. However, it went down a storm. I did it 4 or 5 more times over as many years and it always went down well.

However, about 4 years ago I did the presentation just as I was about to go back to being self employed. After the talk a very good friend came over and said something like “Really entertaining talk but…maybe you should tone it down? A lot. Potential employers are going to take a dim view of you doing this, they will worry they will appear in the next talk”. I protested that I never mention companies or people and, surely, all organisations are able to admit that things go wrong and it is to everyone’s benefit if we all learn from them? My friend was adamant that though companies want to benefit from other disasters, they never, ever want to in any way be the source of that benefit. He was sure it would be very damaging to my potential career. Hmmmm…. I could see his point.

I was already scheduled to do the talk again in a couple of months and I took heed of his advice for it. I toned down the material, I removed some of the best stories and I added several disclaimers. I also died on stage. It went from an amusing 45 minutes to a preachy and stodgy affair.

I have not done it since.

The question is, should I have pulled back from doing that talk? Is it really going to harm my potential employability? (After all, no work has ever come my way from presenting). Why can’t we be honest that issues occur and that learning from them is far more valuable than covering them up? After all, do we believe a person who claims never to have made mistakes?

What prompted this thread is that I have been asked to do the talk again – and I have agreed to do so. I’ll be doing it next week, with the title “5 ways to advance your career through IT Disasters” for the UK Oracle user group Back to Basics event. This is a day of introductory talks for people who are fairly new to Oracle, the brain-child of Lisa Dobson. Lisa realised a few years ago that there were not enough intro-type presentations, most technical talks are by experts for fellow experts {or, at least, people wanting to become experts}.

I’m very happy to support helping those who are new to Oracle and I think it is important that people who are new to IT are exposed to what can go wrong – and any advice that might help them avoid it. After all, it’s better they learn from our mistakes than just repeat them again. OK, they’ll just repeat them again anyway, but they might spot that they are doing so just in time :-)

Is this a good idea? What the hell, I want more free time to do things like this blog – and get on top of the garden.

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