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Friday Philosophy – I Am An Exadata Expert August 10, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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(Can I feel the angry fuming and dagger looks coming from certain quarters now?)

I am an Exadata Expert.

I must be! – I have logged onto an Exadata quarter rack and selected sysdate from Dual.

The pity is that, from some of the email threads and conversations I have had with people over the last 12 months, this is more real-world experience than some people I have heard of who are offering consultancy services. It’s also more experience than some people I have actually met, who have extolled their knowledge of Exadata – which is based solely on the presentations by Oracle sales people looking at the data sheets from 10,000 feet up and claiming it will solve world hunger.

Heck, hang the modesty – I am actually an Exadata Guru!

This must be true as I have presented on Exadata and it was a damned fine, technical presentation based on real-world experience and I have even debated, in public, the pros and cons of point releases of exadata. Touching base with reality once more, I did an intro talk “the first 5 things you need to know about Exadata” and the “debate” was asking Julian Dyke if he had considered the impact of serial direct IO on a performane issue he had seen and he had not only done so but looked into the issue far more than I – so he was able to correct me.

But joking aside –  I really am a true consulting demi-god when it comes to Exadata

I have years of experience across a wide range of Exadata platforms. That would be 0.5 years and I’ve worked intensively on just one system and am in a team now with some people who are proper experts. So a range of two. Yes, tongue is still firmly in cheek.

This situation always happens with the latest-greatest from Oracle (and obviously all other popular computing technologies). People feel the need to claim knowledge they do not have. Sometimes it is to try and get consultancy sales or employment, sometimes it is because they don’t want to be seen to be behind the times and sometimes it is because they are just deluded. The deluded have seen some presentations, a few blog posts and maybe even got the book and read the first few chapters and are honeslty convinced in their own minds that they now know enough to make effective use of the technology, teach {or, more usually, preach} others and so proclaim on it. {See Dunning Kruger effect, the certainty of idiots}. I’m certainly not arguing against going to presentations, reading blogs and books and learning, just don’t make the mistake of thinking theoretical, second-hand knowledge equates to expert.

With Exadata this situation is made worse as the kit is expensive and much of what makes it unusual cannot be replicated on a laptop, so you cannot as an individual set up a test system and play with it. Real world experince is required. This is growing but is still limited. So the bullshit to real skills quotient remains very, very high.

If you are looking for help or expertise with Exadata, how do you spot the people with real knowledge from the vocal but uninformed? Who do you turn to? {NB don’t call me – I’m busy for 6 months and I really am not an expert – as yet}. If your knowledge to date is based on sales presentations and tidbits from the net which may or may not be based on a depth of experience, it is going to be hard to spot. When I was still without real world experience I had an unfair advantage in that I saw email threads between my fellow OakTable members and of course some of those guys and gals really are experts. But I think I was still hoodwinked by the odd individual on the web or presenting and, I can tell you, though this background knowledge really helped – when I DID work on my first exadata system, I soon realised I did not understand a lot about the subtulties and not-so-subtulties of using a system where massively improved IO was available under key conditions. I had to put a lot of time and effort and testing to move from informed idoit to informed, partially experienced semi-idiot.

I know this issue of the non-expert proclaiming their skills really frustrates some people who do know their stuff for real and it is of course very annoying if you take someone’s advice (or even hire them) only to find their advice to be poor. Let’s face it, is is simple lying at best and potentially criminal mis-selling.

I guess the only way is for peopel needing help to seek the help of someone who has already proven themselves to be honest about their skills or can demonstrate a real-world level experience and success. I would suggest the real experts should do that most difficult task of pointing out the mistakes of the false prophets, but it is very tricky to do without looking like a smartarse or coming over as a big head or jealous.

I’ll finish on one thing. Last year I said how I thought maybe I should do more blog posts about things I did not know much about, and be honest about it and explore the process of learning. I did actualy draft out about 3 posts on such a topic but never pushed them out as I was way too busy to complete them… That and, being candid, I really did not want to look like an idiot. After all, this Oracle lark is what puts beer in my hand, hat fabric on my wife’s millinary worktop and food in my cat’s bowl. The topic was….? Correct, Exadata. Maybe I should dust them off and put them out for you all to laugh at.

Off Topic Rant – Olympics Athletics Annoyance August 3, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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I’m very much enjoying the current Olympics, the achievements and drama by so many competitors from all over the world in different events,  and the coverage provided by the BBC  – when they can keep narrative and vision together and they are not asking tired competitors who have just done their all daft questions like “how do you feel now” {I’d love some of them to reply “Knackered, just sod off OK!”}

However, a concern I have had for weeks seems to be panning out. For athletics I think we will see running. And more running. With running thrown in. Running, running, running. with a light scattering of everything else if there is UK interest. What vexes me is that most of this “running” is not even actual running!

I do not know what it is like in other countries but when an Athletics event is covered in the UK the broadcasters seem to regard anything that is not running as, well, Mhhh! There is a lot more going on, guys, and I would like to see a lot more of the throwing, chucking, jumping, swinging, vaulting and basically things other than running.  Don’t get me wrong, the races are thrilling and I am eager to watch them. But instead of showing the runners come out, showing you each one, watching them prepare, wait as they settle down, showing the race – then showing it you again. And agin in slow motion… Slow motion from the side. Slow motion from above. Last 30 meters in slow motion from the front… The start in slow motion… the whole race focused on the UK person… The competitors wandering about after…asking the person who came 6th if they enjoyed it and would they like to have done better….

All this for a heat! We get this for each heat for short races and meantime lots of other stuff is going on that is just as interesting as the actual race and way, way more interesting than the fluff around the race.

How about, cut 75 percent of that fluff and show us a good few minutes of the hammer? The long jump, the triple jump, the javelin, the pole vault. Not just the 2 or 3 favourites {and when no runners can be found by the camera), but you know, some of the other competitors and people achieving personal best or falling over.

I desperately hoped that with 20 plus channels they could use two on athletics. One on running and all the fluff around it and one on Everything Else that cuts to the running for the, you know, actual running bit along.. But it seems not, at least not yet. *sigh*.  I often wonder why the UK broadcasters call it athletics and not just Running.

I’m actually lucky enough to be going to the stadium this evening. I plan to really enjoy watch things as well as running.

Oh, can I tie this up to the world of Oracle? How about, Oracle tuning is like broadcasting Athletics. If you only concentrate on SQL tuning you are missing 75% of what you could achieve. So running is like SQL tuning. Sort of.

Friday Philosophy – Whatever Happened to Run Books? July 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy.
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I realised recently that it is many years since I saw what used to be called a Run Book or System Log Book. This was a file – as in a plastic binder – with sheets of paper or printouts in it about a given system. Yes, this was a while back. It would often also have diagrams {occasionally drawn by hand on scraps of paper – so that would be the database ERD then}, hand-written notes and often the printed stuff would have scribbles against it.

{BTW I asked a colleague if he remembered these and when he said he did, what he used to call them – “err, documentation???”. Lol}

There was one book per key system and you could tell if a system was key (that is, Production, or a development system where a large development manager would punch you in the eye for losing anything, or any system the DBAs wanted) as it had a run book. It held information that was important about the system and, although you could look up most of it when logged onto the system itself, was useful to grab and just check something. However, it was vital if you had to recover the system.

Being a DBA-type, the run books I used to see and use were database focused. The front page would have the SID, name, host name (and even the spec of the host), version, tnsnames info, block size, backup strategy and schedule and, very importantly, the system owner. Yes, the big guy who would be upset if you lost the system. In there you would have printouts of the tablespaces, datafiles and sizes, the backup script, users (and passwords, very often), reference data tables, filesystem layout, OS user details and anything else
needed to recover the system.

This was an evolving and historical set of data. I mentioned above that you would have maybe scraps of paper from when a design session had come up with an alteration to the system. Corrections would often be done by hand. When you printed off the tablespace sizes on Monday, you did not throw the old one away but just added the new one, so you had information about the growth of the DB going back in time. Once in a while you might thin out the set but you kept say one a month.

It was actually that which got me to thinking about runbooks. At a site recently one of the DBAs was asking me if I knew of a screen in OEM that showed the growth of space used over time and my immediate thought was “well look in the run book” {I was very tired that day and losing my grip on reality}. Not being able to find a screen for what he wanted and knowing the data in OEM/AWR was only going back a month anyway, I suggested a simple spreadsheet that he could maintain. With the run book you could flip to the printouts of tablespace sizes, grab a piece of paper and do something lo-tech like this:

This would take less time than firing up Excel, typing the figures in, getting the graph wrong 3 times and then printing it out. Though if you had to go show Managers how the data was growing, you invested that time in making it pretty {why do high level managers insist on “pretty” when what they really want is “informative”?}

So why have Run Books gone {and does anyone out there still use them, in physical or electronic format}? It certainly seemed standard practice across IT in the 80’s and 90’s. I suspect that the reason is that most of the information that used to go into them is now available via online GUI admin tools and looking at them is actually faster than going and grabbing a physical book. Besides, if your DBA or Sys Admin team is split between UK, India and Australia, where do you keep a physical book and allow everyone to check it? I have vague memories of electronic Run Book applications appearing but they never seemed to get traction.

That is one of the drawbacks of using GUI admin tools. No, this is not just some tirad by a bitter old lag against GUI tools – they are generally a massive improvement on the old ways – but they are not perfect. Most of them only hold a short history and printing out the data is often tricky or impossible. All you can really do is screen dumps. No one has those little scripts for listing out basic information anymore {except us bitter old lags} as they have GUIs to do all that and, heck, I can’t go printing off a load of stuff on paper and sticking it in a binder – that is so 20th century!

Maybe I’m being unfair and OEM has a “run book” section I have simply never seen – but I’ve never seen it. If it is/was there, how many people would use it?
I do miss the Run Book though. Especially the ease with which I could look up all those passwords…

Broken Technology – Watching Smurfs Play Tennis July 7, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic.
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This post is just a bit of fun. I was just doing some email and I decided to see how the tennis (Wimbledon) was going. I fired up the BBC web site and clicked on the live match – and I’m watching Smurfs play tennis! (NB I added the Federer/Murray picture after I originally put this post up)


I don’t know if the problem is with the BBC feed or my reception of it, but it’s kept me amused for half an hour now. Maybe James Cameron could have save a lot of money and filmed Avatar a lot more cheaply than he did (now there was a thoroughly average film made significant almost purely by the technology used for the effects).

Agnieszka Radwańska looks particularly blue, I guess due to the contrast with the “yellow” outfit (which will have been white due to Wimbledon’s strict dress code).

Crowd scenes are particularly good :-)

Oh well, the game has finished. Back to the Email…

Friday Philosophy – Presenting Leads to Drinking, Discuss June 15, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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Just a quick Friday Philosophy {the day job is very demanding at the moment, thus the silence on the Blog front}

I’m presenting in Leeds at the start of July on UKOUG AIM SIG on “The First Few Things You Need To Know About Exadata”. As part of the final preparation of the agenda it’s been raised that we should have a beer after the event and put it on the agenda.

Now, when I ran the Management and Infrastructure SIG, there was always a last item of “retire to a pub for a drink or two”. It is a common feature of technical UKOUG SIGs and a great opportunity to chat to the speakers more.

Chat to the speakers. Now I think about it, most of the speakers always make it to the pub after a SIG. If the attendance on the day is 10% speakers, 10% committee and 80% delegates, the make-up in the pub will be 30% speakers, 20% committee and 50% delegates, or similar.

At conferences, the bars in the evening are covered in speakers (all still speaking – loudly and {usually} drunkenly).

So, is it that:

  • Speaking leads to elevated drinking
  • Drinking makes you more of a sucker for speaking
  • Speaking and Drinking have a shared genetic basis
  • It’s just me.

My excuse is that all that hot air coming out my mouth makes it dry and it needs a little wetting afterwards…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not signing.

Table High Water Mark and How Empty the Table Is April 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in performance, statistics.
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On a recent post about reducing the high water mark in a table by shrinking it someone asked if you could tell how much “space” there was in a table that could be recovered by compressing it.

Yes. As pseudo-code:

select number_of_rows*average_row_length. That is how much data there is.
Divided by the block size, to give how many blocks-worth of data you have.
Divided this by a “overhead” fudge factor to allow for wasted space (see later) of about 20%
Compare to the number of blocks used by the table.

Here is some code to do it, showing some extra data and how we calculate the effective percentage of space used (pct_spc_used). It runs against an example table ‘HWM’

select uts.blocks                                     blks_used
      ,uts.empty_blocks                               empty_blks
      ,usse.blocks                                    alloc_blks
      ,greatest(uts.blocks,1)/greatest(usse.blocks,1) pct_hwm
      ,uts.num_rows*uts.avg_row_len                   data_in_bytes
      ,(uts.num_rows*uts.avg_row_len)/8192            data_in_blks
      ,((uts.num_rows*uts.avg_row_len)/8192)*1.25     mod_data_in_blks
      ,(((uts.num_rows*uts.avg_row_len)/8192)*1.25)/usse.blocks pct_spc_used
from user_tab_statistics uts
    ,user_segments       usse
where uts.table_name='HWM'
and   uts.table_name=usse.segment_name
---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630       1221      50000         213         34       1664   .97957
     10650000   1300.04883       1625.06104    .97659918

I am collecting the data from USER_TAB_STATISTICS and USER_SEGMENTS. For this code to work you must have reasonably good stats against the table.

I’d like to run through some of the columns I have selected:
First of all, columns AVG_SPACE and EMPTY_BLKS are not populated by dbms_stats.gather_table_stats.. They are populated by the deprecated ANALYZE command that you should NOT use to gather table stats since V10 came along. These columns are populated as I did an ANALYZE to get the data in there, as well as a dbms_stats.
Next, I collect BLOCKS_ALLOCATED from DBA_SEGMENTS {and for this demo I just ignored the potential for partitioned tables) and I compare this to the BLOCKS_USED to get the High Water Mark, as a percentage of the table. I do this as EMPTY_BLOCKS is set to zero if you have never used ANALYZE and, even if you did, unless you use this deprecated command all the time, the value will not change.
On the second line of output I calculate the DATA_IN_BYTES as a simple num_rows*avg_row_len, convert it into blocks {for simplicity I do not collect the block size, I know it is 8k}. I then apply my “Overhead” fudge factor. A block has a header, using around 100 bytes {I’ve not checked the exact figure for years}, pctfree can be varied but defaults to 10% and as only whole rows fit, then an average of half a row of space is empty in each “full” block. Thus I reduce the space available by 20-25%. In this case, 25% as my rows are large.
Finally, I compare this modified data volume to the used blocks to get the actual space

Below I run through creating some test data, looking at the stats and my calculated High Water Mark and pct_space_used and finally shrink my table to see if my guesstimate is a reasonable guesstimate:

populate table

drop table hwm purge;
prompt populate table
set feed on
create table hwm
(id   number(10)
,num1 number(2)
,vc1  varchar2(100)
,vc2  varchar2(100)
insert into hwm 
select rownum
from dual connect by level < 50001
50000 rows created.

exec dbms_stats.gather_table_stats(ownname=>user,tabname=>'HWM')

--where is the HWM compared to total segment size

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630          0      50000         210          0       1664   .97957
     10500000   1281.73828       1602.17285   .962844262

The high water mark is 1630 blocks out of 1664 in the segment
My calculated PCT_SPC_USED is 96%. That is probably close enough.
{remember, the last used block will be only partly used, accounting for a bit of the difference}

-- I will use ANALYZE to fill the missing columns
analyze table hwm compute statistics;

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630       1150      50000         213         34       1664   .97957
     10650000   1300.04883       1625.06104    .97659918

Now those two columns are populated. 
Not the slightly different AVG_ROW_LEN even though dbms_stats used 100% (as the table is so small)
and ANALYZE was compute 

-- clear 90% of the data randomly

45461 rows deleted.

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630       1150       4539         210         34       1664   .97957
       953190   116.356201       145.445251   .087407002

PCT_HWM is not altered of course but PCT_SPC_USED has dropped dramatically. 
The table is now only 8.7% used, according to my calculations (compared to
90% empty) 

The BLKS_USED does not change. The AVG_SPACE and EMPTY_BLOCKS are the same as I 
used dbms_stats to update the statistics and it DOES NOT ALTER the columns that it does not
populate. Thus you have no idea how recent those columns are if you use a mixture of commands.

-- clear some blocks completely by deleting a range

2181 rows deleted.

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630       1150       2358        210         34       1664   .97957
       495180   60.4467773       75.5584717   .045407735

Now the PCT_SPC_USED is down to 4.5%

-- has EMPTY_BLOCKS changed if I use ANALYZE?
analyze table hwm compute statistics;

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630       7682       2358         213         34       1664   .97957
       502254   61.3103027       76.6378784   .046056417

As you can see, if I use ANALYZE AVG_SPACE alters. But EMPTY_BLOCKS does not, even though I cleared
a chunk of the table. So there are blocks that can be reused but not listed as empty.

I'll just take a quick side-step and show a quick "oddity" about dbms_stats
--deleting the stats (using dbms_stats)

exec dbms_stats.delete_table_stats(ownname=>user,tabname=>'HWM')

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------

dbms_stats.delete_table_statistics clears ALL statistics, even the ones it does not populate

--and now collect them via dbms_stats again

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
      1630          0       2358         210          0       1664   .97957
       495180   60.4467773       75.5584717   .045407735

--now to shrink the table
alter table hwm enable row movement;
alter table hwm shrink space;

---------- ---------- ---------- ----------- ---------- ---------- --------
------------- ------------ ---------------- ------------
        72          0       2358         210          0         80   .90000
       495180   60.4467773       75.5584717   .944480896

So I calculated that there was about 75 blocks of data in that table. having shrunk it, I was
a little bit out.

Having run through those examples we can see that the accuracy of the PCT_SPC_USED is down to the fudge factor employed but is probably close enough at 25%. After all, you are only likely to shrink a table that very clearly would benefit from it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rant – Unique means UNIQUE! Argh! April 22, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in rant.

I’m not a die-hard “Queen’s English”, “thou shalt not split infinitives” type but I am sick of people miss-using the word Unique.

The word unique means being one of a kind, the only example, the singular occurrence, the absolute only one. One. Singular. Get it? Still don’t get it? Well it means….unique! As a word that has only one unequivocal meaning, “unique” pretty much bloody well is it, by it’s absolute definition. It’s a yes/no situation. If you are unique in some respect, it means you are the only one example.

Now we lot in the database world should be bang on certain about this, what with Unique Keys and the like, and you would expect that other group of pedantic types – scientist – would be sticklers for the word as well. But no, last week I had someone who I thought was a good, solid IT person ask me “how unique” a situation was, I’ve just seen a scientist on TV describe a rock formation as “quite unique”. You can’t BE “quite unique”. You can be unusual, you can be quite rare, you can be uncommon. They all mean one of a few or a bit more blagh than usual. Unique means…The One. I can’t even think of another word that means “unique” in the way that word means. “One” and “Only” and “Singular” are close, but they all indicate something is unique. You cannot have a situation that is “quite ‘the only one'”. It is the only one or it is not the only one. Tick or cross. If you claimed a situation was unique only for someone to point out that it had happened before they would say “aha! So, it is not unique”.

It would be less of a linguistic stupidity to ask “how dead is the parrot – a bit dead or a lot dead or quite dead”. The parrot is in a binary state, dead or not. {As a biologist you can actually argue about this, but most of us accept the yes/no state of dead}. It is NOT “quite dead”.

Is Usain Bolt’s 100 meters fastest time Unique? Yes. He’s the fastest, not one of the fastest, not “fairly world record holding”.

Would it make sense to say “I have the fairly only stamp of it’s kind in my possession”? No. If someone said “this set of events have approximately never happened before” you would think “huh?” and ask for clarification – maybe ask “do you mean it’s a unique set of circumstances?” and would expect a yes or no answer. Only no, I would half expect “fairly unique”. Arrrgghh!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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