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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, off-topic, Presenting, Private Life.
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Seeing as I did a blog post about looking forward to my second Norwegian Oracle User Group spring meeting, I suppose I should say how it went.

Given the circumstances, it went well and I enjoyed the conference far more than I would have enjoyed being home for those days. Part of the enjoyment was the reformation of the Martin Cluster as mentioned in my last blog. A small part of that was the slightly childish humour I found in those situations when people introduce themselves when they meet at such meetings. I’d be chatting to Mr Nash, Mr Bach and usually one or two others and when a new person came along and asked names, the three of us would take it in turns to say “hi, I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin too”. It was like a poor take on the “I’m Brian” pastiche of the Spartacus movie. Most people smiled.

At the Speakers Meal on the first night Bryn Llewelyn suddenly said something like “Well, let’s take a picture of the Three Martins – it’s almost like the Three Tennors!” It had to be done, I dug out three ten pound notes so we could have a picture of the Three Tenners. If only the idiot on the right had held his the same way around as the other two…

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

So, why did I say the event went well despite the circumstances? Because I was ill thoughout the event :-(.

I met up with some friends in London on Tuesday night before the conference, as I could not get into London and across to Heathrow in time for my flight in the morning. So I had to stay over. I know, you are all thinking I drank waaaay too many beers and was hung over the next day! I could not argue that I did not have several beers that night but it was more the 4 hours sleep and long walk that I blamed for how I felt. At the end of the evening I went out to Heathrow and I got directed to the wrong Premier Inn there {I was very specific about it being T5, I knew there were two hotels} and it took a while to get to this wrong hotel. Or rather half a mile past it. I new what side of the road the hotel was on (online maps with street view are so helpful) but it did not appear {as I am in the wrong place} and the bus driver who was going to give me the nod did so a stop or two too late. So I walked waaay back – and get told “Other Premier Inn sir”. OK, can you get me there “No, get a bus”. It’s midnight, the last bus was not so helpful. Shuttle bus? “No sir” Taxi? “Get the bus sir”. Sigh, not helpful. Well, that is what you should expect when you use budget hotels I guess. How far is it? “About 2 miles Sir”. I walked. It turned out to be over 3.

So when I met Martin Bach at the airport next day, I blamed the beer, long walks and lack of sleep. But as the day progressed I felt worse and worse and worse. Tuesday night might not have helped but this was more. We got to the venue and after lunch I did my talk on Row Level Security and masking data (which was packed, to my amazement) then checked into the hotel and went to bed. Thus I missed all other sessions. I managed the Speakers Meal (and it was jolly good, thank you OUGN) and then had a good night’s sleep. It did not help. The next day was a blur, half of it I was asleep but I did manage my second presentation, on Disasters oddly enough. Afterwards I went back to my cabin and only got up briefly to see about trying to eat some food, but the rough sea quickly made me decide not to bother. I managed two other sessions other than my own. One was a Martin talking (a very good one on making practical use of virtualisation) and the other was the Keynote by Cary Millsap, who did a talk that was more about life than Oracle. I had missed this talk at the UKOUG conference but had heard about it, so I was keen to see it. It was the highlight of the conference for me. I’ll probably do a Friday Philosophy on it “soon” but the main message was that Cary feels life always changes and it seems best when you are doing something to progress from a bad place to a better one, rather than ‘enjoying’ the better place. It’s a philosophy I have a lot of time for.

The last day was similar except that I seemed to perk up a bit in the afternoon and I finally got to see one or two more sessions. I did my final one, on “an introduction to tuning” and it was awful. I had a lot of material to cover and I knew I could pile though it on a good day, but this was a bad day and I simply could not keep my thread or progress through the material rapidly. *sigh*. At least there were not too many people there to witness the car crash. I’ll be interested to see how poor the ratings on my talks are.

So all in all I should count the event as a bit of a disaster. But I managed to honour my presenting duties and, despite spending half the time laying down in the dark, I had some fantastic conversations with people in the two evenings I managed to be awake. Oh, and thank you to the people who organised for them to play Happy Birthday to me in the Piano Bar at midnight on Friday (45 now), I might have been a bit quiet about it but I did appreciate that. It sums up half of what I like about the OUGN spring conference. I missed the first half, the excellent talks you get from what both years has been a very good speaker line-up, but the other is that everyone is around in the lunchtimes and evenings and you get to chat, find out other stuff, make new friends and just spend time with lots of people who are interested in some of the things you are, ie Oracle.

After the conference I did stay on in Oslo for a few day, my wife had come out to join me for my birthday weekend. We enjoyed the weekend but she kept on saying “you look dreadful” or “are you sure you are up to going out?” and “stop coughing you annoying bloody bas….” :-) I’m still coughing now and feel pretty rough, a week on.

I’ll be sure to try and be there next year. I hope I feel better by then!

Re-forming the Martin Cluster in Norway April 5, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Presenting, Uncategorized.
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Later this month, on April 17-20th, I am presenting again at the Norwegian Oracle user group (OUGN) spring conference {modern browsers will allow you to translate any Norwegian if you need to} . I loved it last year, as you can see from my third-day post on it. I’ve been lucky to attend some very good conferences over the last few years but those three days at the OUGN conference last year were, I think, my favourite single event to date. If you are within striking distance of Oslo and can negotiate the time out of the office, I would strongly recommend the event. If you can’t negotiate the time, heck, take a holiday and go anyway :-)

Part of what I really enjoyed about the event was the fact that two of the days are spent on a ferry/cruise ship from Oslo to Kiel and back. And oddly enough, that is what initially put me off going to the conference – I am very susceptible to Sea Sickness. I had no problems though, partly due to the large quantities of travel calm pills I swallowed, partly due to the good weather, but mostly because the talks were excellent and the atmosphere was fantastic. I don’t mean “hey, it was a bit like a holiday” {though in some ways it was as it was such fun} but because the speakers and the attendees can’t escape, at least not without a long swim, everyone is around all day and all evening. It just adds to the whole event. I spoke to more “new” people during that conference than I ever have before.

At most conferences the presentations at the end of the day tend to be less well attended and there can be a feeling of wind-down, especially on the last day. A fair number of people feel the need to make an early exit to get home before the worst of the traffic or are under pressure to get back to the office and just sort out some issue that is pressing. The people around in the evening tend to be the presenters and the conference die-hards and so are usually the same sad old bunch of geezers and gals :-) . However, on the OUGN Boat this is not the case. All sessions tend to be well attended and in the evening nearly everyone is out having something to eat, a few drinks (those North Europeans sure do like the odd drink, but in a relaxed and affable way) and just being sociable.

Over the last few years the conference has developed a reputation for being technically strong too. This is of course partly due to the excellent atmosphere attracting good presenters and the good presenters in turn help make the conference better. popular and well attended – and that in turn attracts presenters. A nice positive feedback loop. I certainly learnt a lot of stuff last year and I cannot think of a poor presentation that I attended. Hmm, maybe one of mine was a little weak :-| . The organisers do an excellent job of helping the presenters feel relaxed and appreciated too. For example, I was nervous about the boat part of the trip to they gave me one slot on the mainland the day before we sailed and suggested I could bail out at Kiel if I was suffering. As a presenter, that sort of consideration counts for a lot. I don’t want or expect to be treated like some minor celebrity and I was not, but for the whole conference I just felt like the organisers appreciated my taking time out from work and flying out to come and present.

The final reason I am looking forward to the event (and thus the odd title) is the re-forming of the Martin Oracle Cluster :-) – this is myself, Martin Nash and Martin Bach. We all do several conferences a year, we all used to go along to the London Oracle Beers and we have become good friends. Other Oracle Martin’s are welcome to join us – At the OUGN last year there was also Martin Büchi, who I had not met before, but this year I think we are the only Martins presenting. We just don’t seem to have managed to re-from the cluster for many months now, partly as Mr Bach returned to Germany.

Martins_1

Martin Nash – Martin Büchi – Martin Bach – Martin Widlake
Thanks to Øyvind Isene for the picture.

I suppose I should mention what I am presenting on? Well, as I mentioned in my last Friday Philosophy, I am concentrating more on introductory presentations. You can see my official agenda here. I am doing:

  • an introductory presentation on Row Level Security, VPD and hiding rows or columns of data {it will be interesting to see how large the audience is for that one!}
  • an introduction to SQL tuning where I cover the absolute basics, but hopefully in a way that allows those new to it (or maybe even not so new) to treat tuning as a logical and sensible process, as opposed to Black Magic of favourite hints and arcane practices
  • my disasters talk. I love giving my disasters talk. I’ve “been in the vicinity” of a lot of disasters and I only ever talk about things I have seen first hand, so no urban myths.

Friday Philosophy – Level of Presentations March 8, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Presenting.
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This FF is a bit of a follow-up to the one I posted last week on PL/SQL skills and a comment made by Noons on how much knowledge you need to be an OakTable member.

I have a question to answer and I would appreciate other people’s opinion. Should there be more intro talks at conferences? If so, should the experts be giving them?

I am an OakTable member (and really quite worryingly proud about that) and I guess that means I know a lot about some aspects of Oracle. But also, and this is a key part of being asked to be a member of the OakTable, I both try and base my “knowledge” on scientific testing of what I think I know (be it by myself or others willing to show their workings) and I try and pass that knowledge on. I don’t think there is a member of the OT that does not abide by those two concepts.

This is not false modesty on my part, but most other people on the OT know a shed load {UK colloquialism for “really quite a lot”} more than I do about the Oracle database and how it works. Some of them are so smart I can’t but secretly dislike them for it :-). But I have a reasonable stash of knowledge in my head and I am a stong proponent of those last two factors. In particular, I want to put what I have in my head about {ohh, let’s pick partition pruning} in other people’s heads. Which is why for the last 4 years most of my presentations have run over horribly. I must get every detail into the audiences’ heads, even if they don’t want to know it!

Of late I have started to feel that I present in the wrong way. I take a subject, I write down what I know about it and I try to present that knowledge. I’ve only picked topics I feel I know well and in which I can handle almost any question the audience asks. For me to be that confident I have to have used that aspect of Oracle technology a lot and had months, if not years of experience. You cannot pass that on in 1 hour. I’ve already said I am not that smart, but I learn over time. So I started to strip out the basics and present just the clever stuff, which shows how fabulous I am. {British self-deprecating sarcasm, please}. Just like so many other experts. Hell, if we are experts, we should be talking expert stuff!!!

To balance that I think there is a gap in what is talked about at conferences. I know this is felt by some conference organisers and attendees too, but there is just way too much “impressive smart stuff” and not enough “how X works in the real world, for people who have never done it”. Not 10,000 feet up sales pitch rubbish that gives no substance, but talks on a topic where you can go from level 1 for knowledge-free beginners to level 5 for the 25 people at the conference who know this stuff inside out – and the talk stops at level 2. I’ve made a decision to try and address that gap, which is why I now offer more talks on “an intro to Exadata” and “how to get going with performance tuning” than the smart stuff.

The problem is, how many people, probably mostly young people, go to conferences? Am I wasting my time trying to offer these talks if no one going to the conferences wants them? Do people going to conferences, generally speaking, want the technical nitty-gritty or do they want the intro stuff? Yes, I know there is a spread but where is the real need? I suppose I thought of this recently when I did a talk on Index Organized Tables and almost everyone in the room already used them. Then, a few hours later, I did an intro to database design. Almost everyone in the room was a seasoned database designer… I doubt I said much of real value to either audience.

That leaves my last point about should the experts do intro talks? A problem with experts doing intro talks is the expert knows it all. It can be hard to remember what you really needed to know at the start (and also, my own problem, knowing what to drop out the talk as, really, it is “being smart as an ego-trip” that the new people can do without). But if you are not an expert, can you handle the What If questions? I have played with this issue with my Intro to Exadata talk. I wrote the draft when I had very little real experience and I have only modified it as I gained more experience. I’m glad I did as when I revisited the presentation recently I started putting loads of stuff in that only makes sense when you are used to it’s peculiarities. Thankfully, I realised this and stripped most of it out again. So well, in fact, that one person who wrote about the talk said “it was nice to see someone talk about it who was an Oracle expert who obviously knew little about the topic”. Well, something like that :-)

Enough. I would appreciate other people’s opinions and experiences on this.

Why Present (UKOUG TEBS 2012) November 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
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The annual UK Oracle User Group Technical and E-Business Suite conference is fast approaching and rather than just say “hey everyone, I’m going to present at a conference” I thought I would say why I present at conferences (and SIGs (and any opportunity I get) ).

The UKOUG TEBS conference is the one that is, in my eyes, the UKOUG conference. It covers E-business suite and the core database stuff – DBA-type things and developer-type things. The things I am interested in. You can see the details and agenda via this link. If you would like to see someone else’s view of this year’s conference, from a delegate’s perspective, check out this post by my friend Big Dave Roberts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve personally got more out of the UKOUG TEBS conference than when I have been lucky enough to go to Oracle Open World. For me, I want to see user stories and opinions as well as the Oracle company line – and user groups give far more of that. UKOUG is the biggest and most encompassing of the European conferences, but check out and attend your local user groups if you are not based in the UK (or are in Scotland) – I’ve been to a couple now and all have been good.
{Oh, I should add, I am not presenting at the main TEBS conference, for the first time that I’ve made it there in…10 years! I’m presenting on the OakTable Sunday. I get to fully enjoy the whole 3 days of TEBS this year, as a normal punter!}

So why do I present?

First up, I am lucky that presenting does not scare me. Oh, I get nervous before I start and I worry about my material and doing a decent job of it, but I never feel sick or faint before starting(*). I’ve got some good friends who know as much or more about database technology than I and, in a social situation, they will let fourth with eloquence and passion about some topic. Usually in a pub. But the idea of formally presenting fills them with the heebie-jeebies if not the screaming abdabs. Or, when they get up to talk, they morph from erudite and eloquent {ie they speak clearly, concisely and interestingly) into stuttering, uncomfortable rabbits caught in the lights. And they quickly drop back from it. It’s a real shame as they have a lot to say. Actually, it is a blessing as it leaves space open for me :-)

Secondly, I want to be noticed. There, I’ve said it. I’m pretty sure that 75%+ of the regular speakers at conference want to be noticed and that is a factor in why we do it. Oh, of course, we can wrap it up as “marketing your skills” or “maintaining a presences” but that’s fluff. We want you to see us talk and we want you to like what you see. Well, not the physical aspect of it, that would be weird, but we want you to either think we know what we are talking about or enjoy listening to us prattle on. We want to be appreciated. That’s not so noble, huh? But true.

As a sub-topic to “I want to be noticed” let’s deal with getting work. For me personally, speaking has never got me a job. Asking around friends and contacts most people are the same in that Presenting does not get most of us any work. Maybe it’s a factor when I get interviewed but no one has once come up to me after a talk and said “can you come to our site and be paid a vast sum of money to solve this problem”. I’d love you to be the first, though…

Third, and this may seem noble – or corny or self-worthy – but I talk because I want to teach. I want you to have in your head the knowledge I have in mine, preferably with less pain and anguish than it took me to get it in mine. I love teaching people stuff. It is a common trait to the OakTable network. We teach and we demonstrate why we think what we think. Usually. I can’t decide if I prefer making something that is broken work or teaching people more. Those two are why I do what I do. Frankly I gave up on making a “significant difference” years ago, I’ll stick to making lots of insignificant differences.

Fourth, I get to meet people. It’s taken a while as, except in small groups, I am not great at being sociable. That might seem odd given I said I like to be noticed, but I don’t like to be noticed as a fool and for reasons I will side-step, I’m not too great at judging how I am coming across. Plus I cannot remember names or faces, which is tricky sometimes. Actually, a lot of actors are not “social people”, for some they act because they can’t “do” people. Anyway, presenting has opened doors to me by meeting other presenters who know their stuff, non-presenters who know their stuff and, generally, people. Most of whom have been nice.

Fifth, and this is quite rare. I get asked. If you ask me to present the chances are I will say “ohh, yes please!!!!” We are back to my second point about being noticed, aren’t we? Caveat. If you ask me to present and you live thousands of miles from the UK, as I have no employer to fund my demands for limousines and four-star hotels, I might have to say no. Unless you buy me a LOT of beer.

That is why I present. You probably now expect me to say something to encourage you to present but, mehh, if you want to, just do it. If you don’t, don’t do it. It’s not for everyone. Except you over there. Yes, you know who you are. You need to present more. :-)

(*) I confess, when I do a talk that is aiming to be funny, I get very nervous. When I do my “disasters” talk I can get very nervous as the whole idea is that people will be amused. If I get the feel of the talk wrong I can look preachy or obnoxious or bitter or daft or all four and more. But it is still the talk I most enjoy giving.

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