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I’m still here, honest May 18, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions, Private Life.
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3 comments

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…}

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year December 25, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
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3 comments

I just wanted to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who reads my blog, especially those who add comments and help make it a better source of information and, I hope, occasionally amusement.

Martin

Friday Philosophy – when do we learn? October 17, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Private Life.
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5 comments

I’ve had a theory for a while that there are two times when we learn:

  • When we are under extreme duress
  • When we are under no duress at all

I think all technicians would agree with the former. We learn a lot when something very important needs doing urgently, like getting the database back up or finding out why the application has suddenly gone wrong {Hint, very often the answer is to find What Changed}. Another example is when a decision has been made to implement something a manager has seen a nice sales presentation on and they really like the look of it. We technicians have to make it actually work {and I admit to once or twice having been the Manager in this situation :-). I apologise to my people from back then}.

I’ve also believed for a while that the other time you learn, or at least can learn, is when things are unusually quiet. When work is just at it’s normal hectic pace, it’s hard to spend the extra effort on reading manuals, trying things out and checking out some of those technical blogs. You spend all your spare effort on The Rest Of Your Life. You know, friends, partners, children, the cat.

So I think you need some slack time to learn and that is when the most complete learning is done. Yes, you learn a lot when the pressure is on, but you are generally learning “how to get the damned problem resolved” and probably not exactly why the problem occurred; did you fix the problem or just cover it over? Did you implement that new feature your boss’s boss wanted in the best way, or in a way that just about works. You need the slack time to sort out the details.

When do we get slack time? Weekends and holidays. How many of us have snuck the odd technical book or two into our luggage when going on holiday? {And how many of us have had that look from our partners when they find out?}.

Well, at the end of this week I am going on two and a half weeks holiday, over to New England in the US. A few days in Boston, up through Maine, across to Mount Washington to a little hotel where we had possibly the best meal of our lives, down to Mystic and then over to Washington to see some friends.

I am not taking any manuals. I am not taking any technical books.  I am not taking a laptop with Oracle on it. I am not even likely to blog for the duration. Why? I have not been as mentally and physically shattered as I am now since I finished my degree 20 years ago. I just want to switch off for a while.

So I am revising my theory of when we learn. I now think we learn when:

  • When we are under extreme duress {that just does not change}
  • When we have spare mental capacity and the drive to use it.

Right now, I think I have the mental capacity of a drunk squirrel. So from the end of next week, I’m going to sleep, read sci-fi, eat and drink well and maybe do a bit of culture.  The computers and the learning can wait for a little while.

All Is Well in Widlake World August 27, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
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3 comments

I’m about to post a proper blog entry but, before that, I’d like to thank those of you who contacted me to ask how my Mother was doing. She’s doing OK, she has remembered how to breath and the cause of the whole issue has been identified, is treatable and is under control.

Now I just have to brace myself for when she can speak again and tells us all how bored and uncomfortable she is. Thankfully the Nurses will take the brunt of it and they are good at being understanding. Maybe in 6 weeks we will have her back home, looking after herself and my current main employer will not have to be as very understanding as they have been (thankyou Employer).

Oh, and the skills at reading graphs came in useful again. I asked a few days ago about “That set of spikes” and the nurses got agitated. Until they realised my Mother had took off a mointoring lead as it was annoying her. Mothers huh?

Friday Philosophy – When the Job Meets Real Life August 15, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
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1 comment so far

For my Friday Philosophy this week, I’m going way off topic. I’m straying into non-work life. Actually, let’s be accurate, I’m wading deep into personal life. If you want to know about Oracle mechanics, this ain’t the post for you.

It’s been a trying week this week, so much so that I have not posted for a few days – and I suspect I won’t post at all next week. About two hours after completing my last post on Tuesday, my wife called me to let me know my mum had been taken into hospital. My mother had developed some breathing difficulties, in that she’d forgotten completely how to do it.

So, after tube/train/drive across the country I found myself sat in an intensive care unit with my Brother, wondering how in heck so many tubes can be attached to such a small person as my mother, but they managed it. All of this medical monitoring stuff is attached to computers, many with readouts.

I have a couple of advantages over most people in these situations. I studied biology at University and I worked either within or along side the NHS for 7 or 8 years, on hospital patient systems. So I understand a bit about all the equipment that is used and the data it produces.

What has this to do with the world of Oracle Performance? Not an awful lot. Except for one thing.

Sometimes, though I love what I do for a living and find solving performance problems stimulating and satisfying, I question “what is the point” in the whole real-world situation. I was sat there at the side of my mother’s bed, exchanging idle chat and some black humour with my brother {it’s the way our brains are wired, I blame my Mum}. Suddenly I stopped listening to my brother. The pattern had changed. The graphs had shifted and the figures had altered on the screens attached to the equipment monitoring my mother. I’d picked this up as I was used to watching performance graphs for computer systems. My brother was oblivious. Well what a surprise, an IT skill that turns out to be useful in the real world. Spotting graph/pattern changes.

As it turns out, the nursing staff had spotted these anomolous graphs too, glanced over, and realised it was just “one of those things”. Status quo was restored about 1 minute and 3 pints of my sweat later.

So why do I think my ability to spot a change in “performance graphs” and scare myself so deeply is a good thing? Because at least I had a feel for what was going on and I felt less clueless and helpless.

I’ve looke back on this and come to an even more shocking thought. There is a management technique that helps in real life. I have been a manager and I was surrounded by experts in their field. I was sat in a real-world situation, surrounded by experts in their field. When they did not react to the changed pattern on my mother’s monitors, I was reassured that it was not serious. So maybe some management skills have other uses too. I’ll remember that the next time someone tells me all management skills are bunkum. {But it probably still holds that most Managers are Bunkum :-) }

I wish that more IT managers could treat their staff this way. If the DBA team
{or Sys admin team, or network team} do not respond to the graphs as a sign of impending doom, then it probably ain’t impending doom, so trust them.

And of course the other reason I’ve blogged about this is it’s an outlet to a certain amount of trepidation about the future. Maybe I should have stuck to Biology rather than IT. *sigh*.

Hey, it’s not my fault I can’t spell. June 10, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in humour, Perceptions, Private Life.
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1 comment so far

*Sigh*
I just got pinged by someone to let me know of some spelling mistakes in my blog. I know, I know, just leave me alone OK?!

Do you remember doing the “colour blind” test at school? {And, for our American cousins, “color blind”}. You know, you are shown a few images made up of dots, with numbers in them.

Most of the colour blindness images are far less obvious than this

Well, most people are shown 5 or 6 images and shout out “8”, “16” etc promptly five times and are then shown out – nothing more is said. Some people cry “7”, “34”, “dunno, give me a clue” and after 10 or 12 images get told they can’t distinguish blue & green or red & brown or something and so can’t drive trains or fly fighter planes… Me? I was in there for 5 minutes, coming up with what must have been very confusing answers. They even started showing me the same images again and I remember occasionally going something like “it’s 16 not 6, isn’t it”. Eventually they told me my colour vision was fine and threw me out as a time-waster. I wonder if I can fly fighter planes?

What they should probably have spotted (and a school teacher friend of mine got quite angry about this when I told her this story, as she thought they should have spotted this even back in the late 70’s) was that I could not read for toffee – as I have mild dyslexia. She had been taught how to identify dyslexia in children and one of the easiest ways was, she said, issues with the colour blindness test but without being colour blind.

When I read things I don’t do what a lot of people do, which is kind of pick up the start and end of long words and “see” it. I do it in little spirals. I do not know that I can explain better than that, but if I hit a long word (more than six letters) I start at the begining, flick to the back of the word and work back and if the two don’t meet I spiral in. I wonder if there is a cunning lexical trick I can sell to Oracle Text on that one?

It’s no where near as bad as many, heck I’ve managed to get by OK with it, but spell checkers have been a boon to me. The problem is, I don’t always remember to use them and, even if I do, a word spelt wrongly but is itself a correct word will not be picked up. I know, many packages now also have Grammer Checkers that could pick some of it up, but I find Grammer Checkers so infuriatingly useless, I turn them off.

So, sometimes my spelling is terrible. It’s because I have an IQ of 73, OK? The thing is, I probably got pinged in every exam I took because of it {except Maths, where in all honesty I got past the exams at age 16 and then it all stopped being logical. Sorry Mr Winters, I did my best as you know, but my brain could not do all that more advanced stuff}. I even got bollocked told off during my degree for carpals and carpels but heck, to me both read crapals.

I had particular fun a few years back when I introduced Oracle Partitioning to British Gas. No one had used it before but I had a quiet little application that I was passing over to the production DBAs to look after that did. So, I went over to Hinckley (oooh, thats a doozer to spell) where all the proddy DBAs lived and gave a presentation on Partitioning. Except I was doing it with white boards and OHP and every time I spelt Partitioning I wrote “rtit”, then went back and put in the “Pa” at the start and then tried to finish it off. Usually I managed. That was what prompted the chat with the teacher, I was telling her how that sort of thing happens to me and it’s annoying and she asked about if I had ever been tested for colour blindness.

So, there you go. It’s my excuse. Now you know that either I am right, or I have munchausens syndrome {just look it up, OK? Try this here}.

The odd thing? I can’t always spell “who” but I never get “Dyslexia” wrong.

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