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Friday Philosophy – The Best IT Person I Have Met September 24, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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3 comments

I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting a lot of talented and capable people in IT – some of them have even been nice people too :-) {In fact, most people I have met do not match that annoying myth about IT’s reputation for social awkwardness). However, for me one person sticks out in my mind as the best person I have worked with in IT.

It’s Barry. I’m pretty sure none of you have met Barry, and in fact as I knew Barry back in 1996 I’m not so sure I would recognise him (or remember his last name) if I met him now.

Barry and I met when I got press-ganged into a Unix system administration team. I was just getting started at being an Oracle Performance person and knew very little about Unix Sys admin. But, for reasons I won’t go into now, I went home on the Friday as an “Oracle expert” and came in on the Monday to find my desk had been physically lifted and moved into the Unix sys admin corral andI was now a “Sys Admin not-expert”. My protestations were listened to – and then ignored, with the information that if I did “not knuckle down and get on with it”, the money would stop flowing. So, rather dazed and just a tad unhappy with the situation, I sat – and sulked – at my desk. And sat next to me was Barry.

You are probably expecting me to now tell you that Barry knew Unix sys admin inside out and how he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Well, he didn’t. I have no idea where they got Barry from, I think he was a pro-C developer, but he had been similarly abused by management and he knew even less about being a sys admin than I did. I at least knew my way around a few monitoring commands like top, w, ps, “glance” etc.

Barry was also not very quick with IT. Don’t get me wrong, he was not stupid, but he was not one of these people who just had an affinity for technology and spent all his spare time building their own media server when CD-ROMS for PCs were still quite new. In fact, he seemed to find the whole of IT to be something of a challenge.

What Barry had though was enthusiasm, commitment and curiosity. Not in an annoying, bouncing all over the place crying “this is great” way, but more a case of “OK, server Falcon has run out of disk space. What can I do about it? How do I find out where the storage has all gone, who is using it and can I get it back off them?”. And he would set to. He’d start with what he knew (which was little more than the “Man” (Online Manual} command in the first week) and work through it. Every few minutes he’d be tapping me on the shoulder and saying things like “Look, you can get information about disk usage here, and map it to the real physical disks by greping for this”.

It was Barry’s attitude that made him stand out, and also his ability to infect you with the same attitude. I started off in that team furious and demoralized, determined to find a new position and resign ASAP. But Barry got over his annoyance and started working. He asked me for advice and discussed the issues over with me, even though I was as clueless as him. When he found something he showed me it. When I found something, he was keen to learn it.

Between us, we got by. We knew very little and it was hard work, but because Barry was not daunted and would keep working on the problem until he had it sorted, he dragged me along with him. I would still be there with him into the evening, sorting something out, when everyone else had gone home. He did not take on every problem people came to us with, he would stick with what he felt was the biggest issue until it was sorted, and he would keep with it, and ask for help, and try what you suggested.

{oddly enough , the worst person I ever worked with was already in this team. Maybe that is why the others left and Barry and I were pulled in!}

It only lasted a few months as we both escaped to jobs more suited to our skills, but I learnt a few things. One was that a crummy job could be made a lot better just by your attitude and another was that some people (Barry, not me) had a real talent for enthusing people and thus getting things done. And also, that you did not have to be highly intelligent or knowledgeable to do a very good job. That’s lucky for me, then :-)

Team Work & The Science of Slacking July 23, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Management, Perceptions.
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We all know that working in a team is more efficient than working on your own (and I did say a week or two back how I was enjoying the rare privilege of working in a team of performance guys). Many of us also know about team dynamics and creating a balanced team of ideas people, completer-finishers, implementers, strategists and so forth. Those of use who have been exposed to training courses or books on team management know all these good things about teams and how we are supposed to get the most out of them.

How many of us, though, have been introduced to the work of the French Agronomist Max Ringelmann and the aspect of teams named after him, the Ringelmann Effect? In summary the Ringelmann Effect proposses that people in teams try less hard than they do when working alone. Especially if they think no one is watching them.

Back at the start of the 20th century Ringelmann tested out his ideas using a tug-of-war experiment. He would get people to pull on a rope as hard as they could and record their efforts using a strain gauge. Then he would get them to pull on the rope as part of a team, from 2 to 8 people. As soon as people were part of a team, they pulled less hard. With two people in the team, each pulled 93% as hard as on their own, with three people this dropped down to 85% and with 4 it was just 77%. By the time there were 8 people in the team, effort was down to 50%.

This idea of shirking work more and more as the team increased in size became established in modern psychology and was given Mr Ringelmann’s name. Psychologists explain that when someone is part of a group effort then the outcome is not solely down to the individual and, as such, is not totally in their control. This acts as a demotivating factor and the person tries that little bit less hard. The larger the team, the greater the demotivation and the more significant the drop in effort. Ringelmann found that effort was down to 50% in a team of 8 so how bad can the impact of the team be? I think most of us have at least witnessed, and quite possibly been in, the position of feeling like just a cog in a massive corporate team machine. Thoroughly demotivating (though, of course, we all of us still tried as hard as we could, didn’t we?).

The effect is also know under the far more entertaining title of Social Loafing.

Monsieur Ringelmann was far kinder at the time and pointed out that these chaps pulling on the rope could well have been suffering from a lack of synergy. They had not been trained together to pull as a team so that could account for the drop in effort, they were not synchronising their effort.

However, in the 1970’s Alan Ingham in Washington University revisited Ringelmanns work and he was far sneekier. Sorry, he was a more rigorous scientist. He used stooges in his team of rope-pullers, blindfolds and putting the one poor person pulling for real at the front of the team pulling the rope. Thus he could record the effort of the individual. Ingham found that there was indeed a drop in efficiency due to the team not pulling as one. But sadly, this was not the main factor. It remained that the drop in effort was mostly down to the perceived size of the rest of the team. The bottom line was proven to be the human capacity to try less hard when part of a team and that the drop in effort was directly proportional to the size of the team.

We are of course not immune to this effect in the IT world and someone has even gone to the effort of checking that out, James Suleiman and Richard T Watson.

It seems the ways to reduce this problem are:-

  • Don’t give people boring jobs.
  • Don’t give the same job to several people and let them know they all have the same job.
  • Ask people how they are getting on and give them mini-goals along the way.
  • Atually reward them for success. Like saying “thank you” and NOT giving them yet another boring, hard job to do as they did the last one so well.

I think it is also a good argument for keeping teams small {I personally think 5 or 6 people is ideal} and split up large projects such that a single team can cope. Then give tasks to individuals or pairs of people.

If you like this sort of thing you might want to check out one of my first blog post (though it is more an angry rant than a true discussion ofthe topic) which was on the Dunning-Kruger effect, where some people are unaware of their own limitations – though I did not know it was called the Dunning-Kruger effect until others told me, which only goes to show that maybe I am not aware of my own limits… Read the comments or click through to the links from there to get a better description of some people’s inability to guage their own inabilities.

Friday Philosophy – The power of cooperation June 27, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, performance.
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Being the person responsible for the performance of an Oracle-based system can be an oddly lonely working experience. It can also be a very gregarious position as you get to meet a lot of people and discuss lots of different aspects of many systems – all systems seem to have performance issues and so people come along to you, hoping you can identify a “work faster” database setting for them.

But you are often the only person who specialises in Oracle performance. You generally need to be in an organisation that is very large or where performance is key to success for there to be justification for dedicating a person to the topic. To have more than one person dedicated to performance your organisations has to have a very strong focus on getting the best performance out of the Oracle and related systems {or really, really atrocious performance issues :-) }. So usually there is no one else around who is as experienced (or more so) as yourself to discuss such things over with or ask for a second opinion.

Which is why I am very lucky at the moment. I’m working in a team of oracle performance people. There are 2.5 of us (one is a manager with other responsibilities, so he only counts as half). Being able to say “Hey, Dave, What do you think of the wait times on scattered reads?” or “how in heck do I force this nested subquery on a view to use a hash join?” and get some other ideas is very valuable.

What is also interesting is how opinions and preferred techniques on tuning can be different and just as valid. As an example, last week I was working on a poorly performing statement. I was at home and it was the evening, so I was not communicating with the rest of the team. I managed to get the code down from 40 minutes to just under 20 by using a combination of a LEADING and USE_HASH hint. I sent the code back to the user. Only to see that within thirty seconds of each other my colleague Graeme had also sent the user a response, again getting the code down to around 20 minutes. Graeme had pulled a chunk of the code into a subquery factoring “WITH” clause and added cardinality hints. Totally different changes.

So Graeme and I then had a “philosophical” discussion about the different changes {“Mine is best” – “No! Mine is, yours is all bloated and complex”- “Your hint is less future-flexible!!!”}. Only joking, we actually discussed the changes and why we each chose what we did. Graeme commented that is showed that tuning was an art and not a science and I countered that it was a science, as we had both identified where we felt the execution plan could be improved but used different techniques to get there. The thing is, Oracle is so complex and has so many options to influence the optimiser that you have flexibility to chose different tools and techniques.

We had both identified the same main improvement but had each come up with different tweaks for later in the plan.

The end result was that we went with Graeme’s main plan {he is bigger than me} but we pulled in my tweak. That bought the execution time down to around 10 minutes, so about four times faster over all and twice as fast of either of us alone. That is one of the advantages of not working alone.

We also then discussed how we could get this code down to seconds with the use of either Materialized views or changing the process that generated the report to do so incrementally and store the daily results. Until one of us realised we had reached the boundary of compulsive tuning disorder. The report running in 10 minutes was enough improvement to satisfy the business, the report was only going to be run over the next couple of months, so spending a day or two re-working it further was going to be fun – but of no advantage to the business. We told each other to finish for the day. So another advantage of not working alone is that not only do you get more technical input but your help prevent each other losing sight of the overall aim.

It really does help to have two people working on the same area.

{There is a sneaky way of getting beyond being a lone performance specialist. If you are in an organisation long enough you can usually find some other idiot who is silly enough to want to learn more about performance and you can train them up. It does not take long before they know enough to start coming up with things you never thought of. Oracle is, after all, full of many ways to do the same thing and you can’t know it all}.

I’m still here, honest May 18, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions, Private Life.
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In the last 24 hours I’ve had four emails asking if I am OK – Apparently I am not blogging or bothering people via email! Well, I am OK (and thanks guys for the concern), I was just knackered.

Rule 1 of blogging “no one cares about you as an individual” (and, I am glad to say, that is a myth. Even in the zero-physical-contact medium of electronic communication, some have been concerned about my silence. Humanity may yet have a future)

Truth is, I damaged myself trying to get healthier {so it is back to the eating pies and drinking beer for me!*} and that caused lack of sleep and more unhealth and I ended up very, very, very tired and I was reduced to putting all my energy into doing the day job.

This has nothing to do with a Blog on technology and database, of course.

Ahh, but Yes, it does, it actually has a hell of a lot to do with it. I have been tired, hard-pressed and under-performing. So I concentrated on doing my primary job and nothing else. So I have not blogged and I have not emailed people and I have not generally helped as much as I would like.

The thing is, if you think of your comrades and fellow staff (and, for some of you, the people who work for you) most people around you could well be the same. The primary directive of business, at present, is to get everything for your current task out of the staff right now. That is the prime directive, push the staff hard to get x, y and z done. Or, for those of you working under an Agile Methodology, the handful of tasks in front of you for this sprint {or whatever the hell terminology is for your take on the “Get It Done NOW” methodology}.

I have had no bandwidth to do more than my day job of late. And I stopped helping. I think some current working practices and philosophies have the same, chronic effect.

Is this a good thing? I will let you decide.

For myself, I’ve had a week walking in Snowdonia (and I was not fit enough to get the best out of the time, but mentally it was a God-send). I thought nothing about technology; I thought very little at all. I walked up hills, I drank beer and wine and I ate lots of pies. And I now feel good.

I know I am doing better work now than I was 2 weeks ago.

So, I hope to start doing proper technical blogs again in the next week or so. But right now, having had a week of total down-time, I am ready and need to do my day job again. And they pay me, so I better go off and do it! Expect a proper technical blog next week.

{* I joke about damaging myself getting fitter, but I feel condemned to point out that being generally fitter and healthier is a good thing, even if you hurt yourself getting there. It is better to be old and fit than old and decrepit. Or old and dead. :-) I’m full of happy thoughts like that…}

Making Things Better Makes Things Worse February 11, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in development, Management, Perceptions.
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This could be a Friday Philosophy but I’ve got a couple of those lined up already. Anyway, I am suffering at work at the moment. I’m encountering a phenomenon that I have talked about with Dennis Adams a couple of times. It probably has a proper term, but basically it is the odd situation that when you make things better, you get more complaints. {Dennis, do you know the proper term?}

{Update. Dennis was good enough to link to this paper he wrote on customer feedback}

Anyway, Let me explain. You have an application sitting on a database. The screens are slow, the reports take an age to come out, your might even have considerable system instability and unplanned outages. The users are not unhappy. They were unhappy last year. Now they are just cynical and they just expect the system to be slow, unresponsive, flaky. So they do not report any problems.

Then things change. The system gets some much-needed care and attention and now the slowest reports get tuned up, the screens come back faster and less spontaneous department-wide coffee breaks are caused by the system crashing. Everything gets better. But not for the help desk, now they start getting calls. “This report is too slow”. “Why can’t I jump straight from the customer screen to the pending orders screen?”. This happens because the users now realise that something can be done. There is a point in complaining as there is a chance their piece of misery could be made better. I certainly went through this many years ago when I inherited a system that crashed every week. No one mentioned it, they just went to tea and complained about it. The first time it crashed after I arrived I could not believe that no one had called before I had realised it had died. Once it had been up solidly for a couple of months, then when it crashed boy did we hear about it!

Also, when you improve a system and things generally get better, occasionally something will improve and then fall back a bit. Hardly anyone says “thanks” for the initial improvement but they will say something if it improves and then drops back.

That is what is happening for my main client at the moment. The system was not that bad, but it needed some help. Why else would I be there? I’ve been beavering away with the rest of the team and we are making things better, so far mostly at an underlying “getting the overall system straight” level. A new chap has joined to help concentrate on performance and he is really making inroads into specific things, individual reports and processes that need a good sorting out.

So now that things are getting better and performance is generally improving, anything that is still slow is being brought up by the development and support teams. Also, we’ve made a few things slower (I’m sorry, it just happens like that) and they certainly get mentioned.

So, I’m busy. And I could get annoyed at people asking why X is slower when Y and Z are faster. But I don’t, because Dennis explained this counter intuitive theory to me.

I know things are getting better as people are annoyed as opposed to apathetic :-)

Testing Methodolgy – The Groundwork January 20, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Testing, Uncategorized.
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<Previous PostNext Post …>

I want to start learning about using SQL AUDIT, as I mentioned a couple of days ago.

First question. What do I want to know about SQL AUDIT? I might just have thought “well, I do not know much about this area and I think I should – so I want to know everything”. That is OK, but personally I find it helps to make up a specific aim. Otherwise you can just flounder about {well, I do}. In this case I have decided I want to know:

  1. The options for auditing who is selecting key tables.
  2. How to audit when those key tables get changed.
  3. The impact on performance of that audit, and if it could be an issue.
  4. (4) follows on from (3), in that I want to find out how to control that performance impact.

For any of you who have been or are code developers, you hopefully appreciate test-driven coding. That is, you decide up front what the new code must achieve and design tests to ensure the code does it. You do not write any code until you have at least thought of the tests and written them down in a document. {Ideally you have written the tests and built some test data before you start, but then in an ideal world you would get paid more, have more holidays and the newspapers would tell the truth rather than sensational rubbish, but there you go :-) }

I do not think that learning stuff/testing as much different from developing code, thus the list above. I now know what I want to understand.

What next? I’m going to go and check the Oracle Documentation for the feature. And I am very careful to check the documentation for the version I will use. This is 10.2 for me. I know, the Oracle documentation can be pretty dry, it can be rather unhelpful and it is not very good at examples. But you can expect it to be 90% accurate in what it tells you. You can also expect it to be not-very-forthcoming about the issues, gotchas and bits that don’t work. {I have this pet theory that the official documentation only mentions how things do not work once a feature has been out for a version and people have complained that the documentation should let on about the limitations}.

So, for SQL AUDIT I suggest you go and read:

  • Concepts Manual, chapter 20 Database Security. If I am not rushed I would read the whole chapter, I might realise that what I want to do is better done with some other tool (If I wanted to see who had changed records months down the line, I think I would pick up that database triggers were a better bet, for example).
  • SQL Reference, chapter 13 , the section on AUDIT (no surprises there). I do not do much more than read through the SQL manual once though, as frankly I find it pretty useless for explaining stuff, but it puts into your head what the parts of the command there are and pointers to other parts of the documentation. I’ll read the concepts manual with more attention. In this case, the manual will lead me to:
  • Database Security Guide chapter 8. Which is pretty good, actually.
  • My next source of information, may not immediately spring to mind but I find it very valuable, is to find out which data dictionary objects are involved in the feature. In this case, the previous sources would lead me to go to the Database Reference and check out:
  • DBA_AUDIT_TRAIL, DBA_OBJ_AUDIT_OPTS, DBA_PRIV_AUDIT_OPTS, DBA_STMT_AUDIT_OPTS. And of course, SYS.AUD$. {I actually queried DBA_OBJECTS for anything with the word “AUDIT” in it, check out all the tables and also had a quick peak at the text for any views, which would have led me to SYS.AUD$ if I did not already know about it}.

Why do I go and look at the data dictionary objects and the reference guide? After all, is it not nerdy enough to have put myself through reading the SQL Reference manual? {and let us be honest, it is rarely enjoyable reading the SQL Reference manual}. Because  I want to know how it works, not just how to use it. Seeing the table give me a lot of information and the description of the columns may well tell me a lot more. First thing, SYS.AUD$ only has one index, on a column SESSIONID# (I know, there is another column in the index, I need to get to a DB to check this). Any queries not via this index are going to scan the whole damned thing. Right off, I suspect this will be an issue.

I will DESC the tables, see if there is already any information in them. In this case, there was not. A clean sheet.

Why did I not just go to Google (Bing, Yahoo, whatever) and search? Because I can trust the manuals to tell me stuff which is mostly true and is valid for my release. Not stuff about older versions, about later versions, urban myths or just outright fallacies. The manuals certainly will not tell me everything, far from it, but what it does say is solid stuff. With this reliable start I can now go to other sources and have some chance of filtering  all the other stuff that is Out There. Once filtered, it is probably a lot more informative and easier to digest than the manuals.  

I’ll ramble on about that next posting.

New Year, same old rambling thoughts January 5, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions.
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It’s not Friday but, heck, it’s a New Year, there are many of us who might appreciate a non-techie, pointless ramble at the start of the first full working week of a new decade…A Friday Philospohy for the New Year. {If anyone wants to point out the New Decade starts on 1st Jan 2011, go take a running jump – popular opinion is against you, even if logic is for you}.

I found the UKOUG techie conference this year particularly interesting as it was the first major meeting I have been to since I started blogging, and I came across two main opinions about my attempts:

Those who like my blog as it is “chatty” and rambles a bit.
Those who dislike it – because it is “chatty” and rambles a bit…
{oh, and the third opinion, the most common, of utter ignorance of my blog – there goes the ego}.

Well, you can’t please everyone. I was a little saddened, however, as I spoke to a couple of people I really admire in the Oracle Knowledge world and they landed on the “chatty and rambling – bad” side of things. Damn. But they are so good at what they do, I forgive them. The swines.

But then I remembered what I said to a fellow blogger the other month. We bloggers/twitterers all put forward what we blog about in our own style. We might not blog something that is new, we might blog something that is “well known”, but we put it in our own style. Some like it, some do not. It matters not, so long as it adds to the sum of decent knowledge out there.
Some will hate our style and not read, some will read and enjoy. So long as the information gets out there to more people, that is fine.

So, do I think everything I blog is decent knowledge? Oh, I wish. I like to think it is mostly there {and I wish it was all correct} but I am realistic. I test most of what I blog, or I have lived for real most of what I blog, but I will make mistakes. And sometimes I will hit the edge of something good and I put it up there in the hope others will contribute {like the recent one one translating min-max column values into human readable stuff}. And often people do contribute and that is really, really good.

But I do and will continue to make mistakes, be daft, or just put things poorly. I have learned a fair bit in the last 8 months about written communication, the art of communicating to a global audience and also about how not to spread a topic over several weeks as you hope you can “just finish of those half-written blogs in an hour or two” and find it takes weeks. If anyone wants to give me any constructive criticism, please do, but maybe use my email (mwidlake@btinternet.com) rather than flame my postings.

And my last rambling thought for the start of 2010? I am probably going to post less in the next 6 months. I am always sad when the blog by someone I enjoy goes very quiet, but then we all have real jobs to do, so I try to be patient. In my own case, I have noticed I now read a lot less of other people’s blogs as writing my own takes so long. And I am missing too much. There are blogs I really admire or I have discovered in the last 6 months (sometimes both) that I simply fail to really read and they know stuff. So I need to read them. I am going to try and maintain a steady 2-3 blog entries a week, but for the next 6 months I am going to concentrate on learning. Something blogging has taught me is I am really quite ignorant :-)

Good wishes for 2010 to all and everyone who stumbles across my ramblings.

What were you doing 10 years ago? December 24, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
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It is coming towards the end of December 2009. What were you doing 10 years ago today? If you were at school or college I don’t want to know, it just depresses me. You might have been doing last-minute Christmas things, you could have been traveling to see friends , loved ones or maybe {and often less pleasurably} relatives. If, however, you were working in IT I probably know what you were doing:

You were somehow involved in preparing for “The Y2K bug!!!” (Cue dramatic drum roll, ominous music, thunder-and-lightening video and the quiet shrill laughter of consultancy firms running all the way to the bank).

Remember that? I’m a little surprised not to have seen anything much in the media yet celebrating it, {I’ve not seen it in the UK anyway}, which is odd as it was such a very big deal back then. You remember? All the nuclear power plants were going to blow up, air control systems go haywire, bank systems crash and generally the whole of modern civilisation was going to crumble.

It did not of course. It’s biggest impacts seemed to be firstly to give old Cobol and Fortran programmers a bit of a financial boost to help them bolster the pension fund and secondly so much time, effort and planning was spent on Y2K preparation that 75% of other IT programs were shut down to cope. There certainly seemed a little less work to be had in the immediate aftermath.

I never decided who was more to blame for the hype and the fear. The Media, who can never pass a chance to boost revenue by outrageous scare tactics, or business/it consultancies who can never pass a chance to boost revenue by… I better stop there, in case I ever decide to go back to working for a consultancy.

I personally learnt a couple of things.

One was to prepare. In my particular case, I had planned a big Y2K party with a bunch of friends, hired a big house to hold a dozen of us plus kids and found somewhere to buy big fireworks from. All in 1998. And for 18 months before the event told anyone I went to work for that I would not be available for that particular week. I put it into my contract. Of the two or three companies I picked up contracts with during that period, none of them batted an eyelid when I mentioned this. Of course, this meant nothing. With 3 months to go before Y2K, the missive came rolling out from top management that no one, absolutely no one in IT was being allowed to take New years eve off.
I said to my boss “except me”. No, no exceptions. “It’s in my contract, I stated when I joined I was not available that week”. No exceptions. “Bye then”. Huh? “Well, I said at the time and I am sorry to upset you, but you see, this is a job, we had an agreement and what I have organised is my life and well, you lose”. I was a little more diplomatic about it, but I insisted. After all, we had fully Y2K tested the app I was responsible for and I had an agreement.
I had the week off (with a mobile phone by my side, admittedly, but I was not in a fit state to do much by the time midnight came around). I learnt that if you have an agreement and you calmly refuse to capitulate, and you negotiate a little, you can avoid “no exceptions”. {My friend Nasty Mike took the more direct approach of swearing loud defiance. He won also, but maybe with more bad feeling…}

The other thing I learnt was that companies will not pay less than they expect for a job. The five of us had written this app and it used four digit year dates all the way through the system. It was on Oracle 8. It worked. But no, Top Management wanted the system Y2K proving. So they asked a company to test it. This company wanted something like £50,000 to test it and it was to come out of our development budget. Ouch. That was pretty much half the budget.
So one of the team put forward a proposal to Y2K test the system via their company, for about £5,000.This was refused; it was too cheap to be believed.
So we put exactly the same proposal forward through another of our companies for £15,000 plus expenses and an exorbitantly hourly rate if extra work was needed.
This proposal was accepted.
So we did the work, we ran all the tests we specified, rolled the system past Y2K, repeated the tests, then…did a full refresh of the O/S, oracle and the app and recovered a full backup from before the initial tests. We were delayed by 24 hours as central IT screwed up the full oracle restore, so we got to charge the exorbitant hourly rate.
We handed the test results pack to the central IT team and their one question was “Why had we refreshed the O/S and re-installed Oracle? Well, we said, how do you know that going past Y2K had not set some internal variables within the O/S or the database that just setting back the system clock would not fix? The O/S is a complex thing.
The head of central IT looked ever so worried. No one had mentioned that before. And they had spent a lot on external Y2K testing consultancy…

Isn’t business odd at times?

The Evenings are Drawing Out December 14, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
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Today, sunset was later than yesterday. In London it was 15:51 and 50ish seconds. Tomorrow, the sun will resolutely stay in the sky until 15:52 {and a few seconds}. The days are drawing out at last.

English Sunset by Angie Tianshi

But it is not the shortest day of the year {I should say daytime really, all days are the same length give or take odd leap-seconds)

What is, I hear you all cry?

The shortest day is December 21st

{or December 22nd, depending on how long ago the last leap-year was}. And you would be right, the date with the shortest period of daylight is the the 21st/22nd December. And everyone knows that the the shortest day will also be the day where the sun sets earliest, it makes sense.

Except it does not quite work like that.

We probably all remember from our school days that the earth goes around the sun at an angle from the “vertical”, if vertical is taken as at 90 degrees to the circle the planet takes as it spins around the sun. Think of it like an old man sitting in a rocking chair. He is rocked back in his chair, head pointing back away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter and feet pointing slightly towards the sun. Come Midsummers day, he has rocked forward, head pointing towards the sun for the Northern Hemisphere summer. One rocking motion takes a year.

Well, old earth is also slumped slightly to one side in his chair. This results in a slight skew on when sunset starts drawing out and when sunrise starts drawing in. Sunrise will continue to get later until we hit the New Year (Western New Year, not Chinese :-) ). It just so happens that sunset gets later at a slower rate than sunrise gets later until the 21st, when we hit the Shortest Day.

To be fair, I missed the boat slightly, the point at which the evenings started to stretch out was actually the 13th or 14th December but I did not have time to blog until today.

The below tables help make this situation clearer, I include one for the UK and one for Australia. The joly nice site it links to allows you to change the location to wherever you are in the world (well, the nearest Capital).

Table of sunrise/sunset times for London

Table of surise/sunset for Sydney, Australia

What has this to do with Oracle, Performance and VLDBs? Nothing much, except to highlight that the obvious is not always correct, just as it is with Databases and IT in general.

I’ll finish with a sunset picture from Auz. Ahhhh.

Outback sunset from ospoz.wordpress.com

The Frustrated User’s perspective. November 28, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

I got the below email from a friend this evening. Said friend does not work in IT. He works in a large organisation with a large and active IT department that might just be forgetting they provide a service as opposed to laying down the law…

****************************************************************
Hi Martin

For the last few weeks since {an edited out software virus disaster} we have been bombarded with unsolicited security policies from I.T. They pop up during the 10-15 minutes it takes to logon to our computers. You then have to download the policy and sign at the bottom to say whether you accept or decline the policy. When I scanned through the 10th policy I was struck by the fact that none of it applied to my area of responsibility except for one small part that had been covered in excruciating detail in one of their previous pathetic attempts at communicating what is expected of us. And all said missives using what looks like a variation of the english language. Having skipped the policy during a number of recent logons I was now being informed that it is “mandatory” to accept the policy or decline it giving a reason. I declined giving the above observation on the lack of relevance to my role as a reason.

I have now been informed that it is not possible to issue only the relevant policies to individuals (and presumably having identified this is not possible, have not bothered trying in the first place?) and in any case there might come a time when I “might” be given a task where the latest I.T policy applies and therefore I have to be aware of the existance of the policy. I think this latest one was something to do with purchasing software packages from suppliers -although this isn’t entirely clear. There is no way that I would be allowed to purchase software packages, which is a shame as there are off the shelf products that do what we require, whereas the in-house system foisted upon us simply does not provide any reliable or useful information what-so-ever.

The following senario occurs to me. I write a policy on controlling legionella – not unreasonable given that we have swimming pools, showers, air con etc. in our premises. I then send a copy to every employee requiring them to open it — expect them to read it —- understand it —- and accept it, “just-in-case” they get asked to go and run a sports centre. What response do think I would get?

Although the risk of catching legionella is low, people have died as a result, but we do not require everyone to sign a policy for this or any of the other more serious hazards they face at work. I am not aware of any software-purchasing-related deaths of late. For dangerous stuff employees sign one policy when they join the organisation. If they have to deal with a hazard we make them aware by warning them about it and if necessary give them additional training, guidance and support so that they can manage the risk in accordance with the overall policy.

Perhaps we have got this wrong. Maybe we should require all computer users (just for example) to complete a workstation assessment online every day when they start work – and if they don’t their computer should blow up in their face and a guilotine then drop from the ceiling removing their hands so they can’t sue for RSI or eyestrain.

That’ll teach them
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I hope I have never been responsible for inflicting enough inconvenienve on my users to make them as aggrieved and angry as my friend.. Thing is, I now worry that I might have…

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