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Conferences and the Etiquette of Meeting New People November 25, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

One of the reasons I like user group conferences is meeting new people in my “area” – these people at the conference not only like technology and probably some of the same technology I do but, as they are at a conference, are probably inclined to learn stuff, meet people and maybe share ideas. I’m not actually very good face-to-face socially with people I do not know, so I like to tilt things in my favour if I can!

But sometimes you have odd experiences.

I was at a conference a couple of years back that was not in the UK. I was loving it as I was meeting some people I knew electronically but never met and others who I had only met when they visited UK conferences – but most people I had no real connection to, so I was a bit quiet (yes, loud-mouthed, always-comments-in-talks me was quiet), especially as it was the first day. I was late for the lunch event, I don’t remember why, but it was a little unusual for being a sit-down meal and there was to be some meet-the-expert tables and I wanted to be able to identify some people I knew by name and never met. The big signs on tables would be a bit of a help there.

As I came in I saw half the tables were full and most of my friends were already on a full table. I wandered over to a half-full table and as I sat down I said “Hello, I’m Martin Widlake, How you doing?” or whatever to the half-dozen guys there. They all looked at me. A couple nodded or said “hi” but one said “We’ve got other friends turning up soon”. Hmm, that was code for “sod off”, I think.

I turned on the full English Accent so they could tell I was not from around those parts. “That’s nice – always good to have friends when you are at a conference….especially one where you don’t know many people?”. Some smiled, they all understood my mild reprimand. Mr Friendly who had mentioned all his other friends did not smile though. After this opening “chat” no one else really said anything more to me.

The Starter turned up and the guys all spoke to each other – and ignored me. Some other lone gun wandered up and asked me if he could sit next to me – “Sure, feel free – I’m Martin Widlake, I’m from the UK”. He introduced himself and sat down. Mr Friendly piped up “There are more people joining us at this table, I’m not sure there is gonna be room”. Some of his already-present friends had the decency to look a bit apologetic and I simply said “Well, it’s pretty full on all the tables now – and he’s got his starter” as the waitress put down a plate. And I pointedly started talking to the new chap.

Main turns up and so do a couple of late members for Mr Friendly’s group, who sat down at the remaining spare seats. “I told you” he said “you might have to move”.

I’m losing my patience a bit now. “Well they can sit somewhere else I’m sure, seeing as they are late.”

Mr Friendly is getting angry “I warned you when you sat down – when the others turn up, you’ll move”.

“I won’t move, this is my seat. I’m staying here”.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” demands Mr Friendly. Oh, thank you, I think to myself. I’m so going to enjoy this….

“Well, I did introduce myself when I arrived and….” pointing to the large sign with ‘Martin Widlake’ on it above the table “there is a large reminder of my name just there”. I paused a couple of seconds before adding “So this is my seat and my table and I’m kind of obliged to stay here, whether you want to talk to me or not”.

Maybe I could have handled the situation better from the start and stressed that the reason why I was staying was I was supposed to sit at my table. But I was smarting a little from the fact that no one apparently wanted to come to my table and talk to me. Maybe not surprising, as I don’t think I had done a presentation at the conference at that point – but my massive ego was already bruised.

So what about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences? It was just a title for a story I felt like telling…

However, there are a couple of things I do want to mention about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences. If you do not know many people there – just talk to people. People you don’t know. Just make a few observational or open comments, nothing to direct – “This queue for the coffee is a bit long”, “Have you seen any good/bad presentations yet?”, “what do you think about ansii join syntax” (OK, last one is a bad suggestion). Most people will respond and those that do not are probably just very nervous – more nervous than you! – and almost no one will be like Mr Friendly above. And if they are like Mr Friendly, where there are a few hundred other people you can go and try the odd comment on to see if you get a response.

At the social events you can see dozens and dozens of people just at the side or wandering around, not speaking to anyone. If you are one of them, few people are likely to come up to you and start a conversation (I’ve tried approaching the odd lone person but I stopped when I got Seriously Stalked at one of the UKOUG conferences). But if you go talk to other people, most of us will respond. And if someone does respond – Don’t stalk them!!! – have a conversation and then, having found it is possible, go and try some other people. The next day, if you see the people who responded last night, go and have a small chat again. But Don’t stalk them!!!.

Finally, talk to the presenters. We are actually the easy targets and not the hard ones. Those of us who present tend to be attention seekers so we are happy for you to come up and chat. And if you pretend you liked our talks we will certainly warm to you, so it’s an easy opening. However, it’s not like we are pop-stars or TV celebrities, we are just average people and you can come and chat to us (actually, I feel the same about pop-stars and TV celebrities, I don’t get easily star-struck but I know a lot of people do, even over Oracle Names).

But Don’t stalk them!!!.

And if someone insists on joining you at a table that has a name above it – listen carefully when they introduce themselves…

Why is “Dave Unknown” Trying to Social Media With Me? November 21, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, off-topic.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

I know some people share my opinion on this and others totally disagree – but I fail to appreciate why people I have never met, spoken with or care about want to Social Media with me. If we have not met but there is a high probability we share unusual interests then OK, perhaps – but the fact that we both can spell Oracle or know what a gene is does not count as unusual shared interests. Maybe I am just too old to “get it” or just too grumpy to appreciate their efforts.

I’m not the biggest fan of Social Media but I don’t actively dislike it either. I mean, I’m blogging so that means I have some appreciation for it. I have a Twitter account and sometimes I Twit. But not a lot. I don’t have time or inclination to log on every day and see what people have seen that they think is funny/odd/outrageous/titillating on the web, which airport they are currently being bored in or what publication/talk/blog post of theirs they want to big up. Or what cereal they have just eaten {really? Some of you think this would interest anyone?} But occasionally I hang out there and swap twit twaddle and follow links and maybe even put up my own links to my fabulous blog utterings. But I don’t follow people I don’t in some way know or have a reason to be interested in {and I don’t include seeing them on TV as my being interested in them – I followed a couple of people on twitter early on that I thought would be interesting, based on their Popular Culture output. And very quickly decided I’d stand a better chance of continuing to like them if I was not being informed of all the dross that crossed their minds when they had not rehearsed their material}.

For me, the main Social Media thing that baffles and slightly annoys me is LinkedIn Wannabes. Why are you contacting me if I don’t know you and you don’t know me? I don’t know 7.039 billion people. OK, you know some Oracle – so do probably 0.7039 million people (wow, what a worrying thought) that I also don’t know. It’s not personal that I have no interest in being LinkedIn with you, it’s the opposite. I impersonally don’t feel a need to link with you.

Do I want to link in with Dave in Denver CO, USA who is a Java developer? I’ve nothing against you, Dave, but I’m highly unlikely to meet you and we probably have little to talk about, especially as I almost never communicate with people via LinkedIn {and I don’t know anyone who does really communicate via LinkedIn}. I struggle to keep up with people I have met in the flesh or I absolutely know I have shared interests with, so random LinkedIn Wannabes, no chance. If I met you in person I’d probably like to have a chat and I might even buy you a beer, and perhaps we would become friends and I’d welcome your LinkedIn invite with open keyboard. But frankly, until you’re drinking that Carlsberg I just got from the bar for you, you are one in 7.039 billion unknown people to me.

So am I being unfriendly? Well, when I get a LinkedIn request I almost always check out the person. Is it someone I have worked with or met at a conference and it might be nice to maintain some sort of vague contact with? Occasionally it is. Once it a blue moon it turns out to be someone I actually know (or know of) quite well and I feel daft that I did not recognise them. Sometimes it is someone I don’t know but they know 15 people I do (hopefully mostly the ones I like  :-) ) and I can see they share strong work interests with me.  I link in. But most of the time I don’t know them and *they have over 500 contacts*. 

Over 500 contacts? Really? Really? And you know all these people? No, you don’t Dave. You are just collecting stamps. I’m as important to you as that. So now, though I know nothing much about you, I know I am unimportant to you, I’m just a stamp. I definitely do NOT want to be LinkedIn with you.

Occasionally it is worse. I’m not a stamp, I’m a little bit of potential collateral, a maybe-bit-of-income for them. The person is a recruitment consultant or a salesperson or a company representative who has figured out that for every 200 hundred people they bother they get a lead. So they contact thousands of us. Well, you can really stuff your invite up where the sun does not shine.

But most of the time it is stamp collecting. This seems very common with our South Asian friends. I don’t know why, maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe the universities there tell their students that this is a good way to progress (I can’t see that it is but I’m happy to be corrected if I am wrong), I don’t know – but 75% of LinkedIn invites I get from people with 500+ contacts are from that part of the world.

I’ve noticed one key thing about LinkedIn stamp collecting (or potential-collateral) invites – none of them have bothered to change the standard invite text.

Hi M

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinedIn

- Dave Unknown

Hint – if you really want to link with me, change the text to something, anything and I mean *anything* else. Try

Oi, Martin

I’ve met you and you smell of fish and your jokes are pathetic. Link in to me else I will throw things at you next time you present

- Dave Unknown

That’ll get my attention.

What kicked of this diatribe by me? It was when we got the below at work:linkedin_who

 

It really tickled me. This person is so desperately stamp collecting that they are trying to link to Admin in Technical Services. Of course I removed names to protect the guilty but, really, Ramzan “the import/export professional” – I think you should take a bit more care in your stamp collecting efforts.

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Productive? November 7, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Management.
Tags: , , , ,
4 comments

How do I know if Dave is doing his job properly? If I am his (or her*) manager, what techniques can I use to ensure I am getting my pound of flesh out of this worker drone in return for the exorbitant salary my company puts into said drone’s bank account each month?

Well, as a start there is my last Friday Philosophy all about deduction of work profile via auditory analysis of input devices (ie how fast is Dave typing) :-) I have to say, the response to that topic has been very good, I’ve had a few chats with people about it and got some interesting comments on the blog article itself. My blog hits went Ping :-)

However, I have a confession to make. I have a “history” in respect of keyboards and management of staff. Maybe one of my old colleagues will comment to confirm this, but I used to regularly walk into an office full of “my people” and bark “Type faster you B*****ds! I don’t care what it is you are doing, I just want to see those fingers flying over the keyboard!”. They all knew to ignore me, this was just one example of my pathetic sense of humour. In some ways, I was never a very good manager as I was just a bit too juvenile, irreverent and non-managerial.

I was being ironic and they knew it. I had no time for many of the Management Easy Options you so often come across in organisations that are used to apparently help ensure the staff are working hard. What do I mean by Management Easy Options? I’ll cover a few.

 

You have to be at your desk for at least 8 hours.

At Your Desk. Because if you are at your desk you are working of course. And if you are not at your desk, you are not working. Hours at the desk apparently equate to productivity. So a Management Easy Option is to insist all your staff are seen to be in the office and at their desk for as long as, and preferably longer, than the average time across all staff. And that is partly why in dysfunctional companies staff are in the office so long. As if lots of managers want to demonstrate that they are “good managers” by having their staff “productive” at their desks, their staff will be there longer than average…which pushes up the average…so they keep the staff there longer… *sigh*

I could spend a few pages on the academic and psychological studies that disprove the above nonsense about 8 hours of productive work – but we all know it is nonsense anyway. We talk about it at lunch or in the pub. If you are stuck at your desk longer than you can concentrate, you do other stuff that is hard to distinguish from work. Or you do poor work. WE ALL KNOW THIS so why does this myth about hours-at-desk continue? What happens to some manager’s brains such that they start managing and soon stop knowing this?!?

As a self employed worker in the London IT market, I often get given a contract to sign that specifies I must do a professional working day:- that “consists of 8 hours minimum each day”. For the last 5 or 6 years I have always crossed out that clause or altered it to say “8 hours maximum” or replaced it with what I feel should be the real clause, which is:

A professional working day, which is to, on average across a week,  match or exceed the requirements of my manager for a day’s productivity.

If I am being asked to work a Professional Working Day then to me that means I have to achieve a day’s worth of benefit to the company for each day paid to me. If that takes me 8 hours or 6 or 9 or whatever is immaterial. As a Professional I will on average, each day, keep my manager happy that I am worth employing. If that involves 6 hours of extra work one day between 8pm and 2am, fine. But do not expect 8 hours the next day. If my manager is not happy, then you ask me to go and I will go. It really is as simple as that.

{honesty forces me to admit that at present, for the first time in years, I have that 40 hour clause in place. Because I am doing a role for a friend, and I did not want to cause a fuss by objecting to the clause. But if management ever refer to the clause, my friend knows I will simply thank management for their time to date – and I’ll be going now}.

I drifted into my own world there, but the point I really wanted to make is that hours spent at the desk in no way indicate if the job is being done. We all know that, all the managers know that (well, they will if they are any good). Some people can be at their desk 10 hours a day and, frankly, it would help the company if they were not! Other people are at their desk but spend a huge slice of the time on the web or Instant Messaging or *cough* writing blogs.

 

You have to be in the office.

If you are at home, you will be goofing off.
So what does the above say about the manager if that is their opinion? If you are at home, you would goof off, so therefore your staff will? Of course working from home has other considerations, such as it is only possible if your role allows you to spend some days not physically doing things in the office (pressing reset buttons on boxes? Making tea for the team?) and you are in the office enough to maintain and make proper bridges with your colleagues. I also think working from home is a privilege to earn and not a right, as some people really are incapable of working from home. I had a role a while back where when one chap was “working from home” he was actually doing all sorts of things – but his smartphone was set up to fake an online presence. He was incapable of working from home.

But in IT there really is not a need for many of us to spend all that time and unpleasantness commuting and some tasks really are done more efficiently if people can’t keep coming up to your desk and demanding their personal priorities really are your priorities too (which usually equates to they are in it up to their necks and you can dig them out).

 

Enforce a Clean Desk policy.

Now, there are things that should not ever be left on your desk. Financial information, personal information (like people’s CVs or annual reviews), management information (salary reviews, plans to axe 22% of the workforce, stuff like that) but I have no time at all for the argument that a clean desk looks more professional. It does not look more professional, that is just weaselly, lying balls. It looks more like someone has implemented a draconian clean desk policy and any sign of the desk occupants being human is of no consideration.

If you walk into an office with 300 utterly clean desks, it looks like a soul-less, bitter and degrading place to work slave.

You walk into an office and you see pictures of offspring & partners, little toys (not my thing but some people like to have the gonk their boy/girlfriend gave them) and that’s just fine.

Yeah, if Malcolm has a pile of 237 Diet Coke cans in a pyramid on his desk that is not so hot, but as a manager it is your job to go tell Malcolm to recycle those damn cans. And for those of us who work in Clean Desk environments, we all know we spend a few minutes each morning pulling stuff out of our pedestals and a few minutes each evening chucking it all back in there. Great use of time, oh management clean desk police. So the Management Easy Option is to make everyone remove all signs of humanity and *also* waste time moving all useful things off your desk each evening and drag them out each morning, rather than occasionally check what people leave on their desk and, when Cherry has left details of the latest dodgy plan to hide details from the FDA on her desk, give her a seriously hard talking to.

In one job I did not have desk pedestal, I had a locker – “Over There” at the other side of the office where my first allotted desk was. It took two or three trips each morning and end of the day to sort out my stuff and keep my desk “clean”. At least I docked it off the 8 hour day…

 

So having moaned about a few of these Easy Management Options that, in my opinion, are detrimental – how do you ensure Dave is Productive? Now, this is a complex and challenging idea and I am not sure some managers will understand it. But, the way you can tell if Dave is productive is that…

He Does His Job.

He completes the tasks assigned to him in the time frame that is reasonable or informs you of the reasons why the tasks are taking longer. If Dave’s role includes scooping up issues and solving them autonomously, you know Dave is doing his job as the end users are not screaming at you. In fact, if as a manger you are barely aware of Dave existing, either he is doing his job exceedingly well or you employed him to do a non-existent job (so more fool you). The bottom line is that, as Dave’s manager, your job is to to aid Dave do his job, overcome obstacle and track that his tasks are done.. ie be a proper manager, not rule by Easy Management Options.

Bottom line, to get back to my first paragraph or two, it matters not one jot how fast Dave types. If (s)he is in the office for the meetings and any core hours needed, fine. So long as a member of staff is not doing things that negatively impact their ability to do their job or those around them to do theirs, there are few blanket rules that help. All those Easy Management Options simply exist to cover the backsides of poor managers and satisfy the desire for control that comes from HR and upper management. Neither of which *Ever* abide by the rules they lay down on others.

Break free! Type slowly! Put a picture of Debbie Harry on your desk. Work from home and Go Crazy spending an hour in the afternoon combing the dog. Just make sure you do your job. In my book, that makes you worth your pay. Is it really so hard to manage people in that way?!?

(*) I have yet to meet a lady called Dave, but Dave is simply my generic name for someone working in IT. No real Dave is implied. But both sexes are.

What Day Is It If You Only Specify The Time? November 6, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in SQL.
Tags: ,
4 comments

What is the date if you only specify the time when you populate an Oracle date column (or variable)?

That was the question that came up a few days ago in the little DBA team I am currently working in. Of course, the question was posed by the “junior” (who is damned smart at this stuff as he keeps asking questions like that) and the answer from us two old hands was… “Ohh!… hang on… errr….”

A little discussion then occurred. One of us suggested it would be “today”. One of us suggested it would be the Julian 1 date (4712BC). Both of us then stated it was an easy thing to test and the PROPER answer was “just try it and then you will know for sure”. We were right {and, of course, wrong} – as in with a simple question like this you don’t need to google the question (so “hello” to anyone googling the question and finding this page!) you just try it:

The junior tried it and…

select sysdate,to_char(to_date('11:23:15','HH24:MI:SS'),'DD-MON-YYYY HH24:MI:SS') time_only
from dual;

SYSDATE              TIME_ONLY
-------------------- --------------------
05-NOV-2014 22:37:23 01-NOV-2014 11:23:15

The above of course shows that us two old hands were wrong in our suggestions of what the default date would be

The answer is that:

If you do not specify the date, it defaults to *the first day of the current month*

How odd. How amusing. What was more amusing was the two of us old hands looked at the answer and we both said “oh yes! I remember learning that before. Maybe a couple of times..”.

Maybe I am wrong and most of you reading this learned what the default date is early in your Oracle experience and never forgot it {or have learned it from here and will not forget it now, so long as you remain in possession of your wits} but both of us tired old sods laughed over the fact we knew we had known that and forgotten it. And when asked, came up with reasonable, but wrong, suggestions to the the answer. But at least we both knew it was one of those “you can answer it almost as quickly as it takes to google it” questions and the proper answer was to do a 1 minute test.

A quick check on a table in one of our applications that holds the date and time of an event in two columns (a slightly mad but common situation) demonstrated it nicely too:

select action_date,action_time
from source_table
where action_time is not null
ACTION_DATE           ACTION_TIME
-------------------- --------------------
09-JUN-2011 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 11:45:30
09-DEC-2012 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 11:12:13
09-DEC-2012 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 17:05:57
13-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 16:25:17
17-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 16:39:00
20-JUN-2013 00:00:00 01-OCT-2014 13:00:00
25-SEP-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 08:59:00
03-NOV-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 09:00:00
03-NOV-2014 00:00:00 01-NOV-2014 00:00:00

So, if you do not specify the date, Oracle substitutes the first day of the current month. It is fully documented in the overview of the date datatype

Of course, if you do not state the time portion of a date, it defaults to the start of the current hour.

Only kidding, it of course defaults to midnight, though given how the date portion defaults my hour suggestion would almost make sense.

select sysdate,to_char(to_date('15-OCT-2013','DD-MON-YYYY'),'DD-MON-YYYY HH24:MI:SS') date_only
from dual;

SYSDATE              DATE_ONLY
-------------------- --------------------
06-NOV-14            15-OCT-2013 00:00:00

I wonder what other basic pieces of Oracle Info have left my head and if it is more or less than the average person who has been doing this for 25 years?

Friday Philosophy – Is Dave Working? October 17, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
19 comments

Is Dave across the desk from you working at the moment? Or is he goofing off? You can’t see his screen but I reckon you can make a fair stab at what he is up to, without recourse to any sort of IT monitoring systems at all. How?

How fast is Dave typing?

If Dave is typing fast, he is almost certainly not working. He’s goofing. There are very few things you can do when you work in IT where you type fast – and especially not type fast for more than a few seconds. If Dave is typing fast he is almost certainly emailing a mate or instant-messaging Sandra in the development team. If Dave is typing fast, pausing for a few seconds and then typing fast again, he is *certainly* conversing electronically with a friend. This will be 100% corroborated if he smiles, sniggers, smirks, laughs or just glances around furtively.

Longer periods of typing (say a minute or two) and then pausing for a similar time then Dave is probably working, say documenting something or writing a work-related email {or,perhaps a blog post – *cough*} . The clinchers here that indicate work is being done are (a) he will not be smiling or showing any signs of happiness and (b) there will be bursts of “tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch” where the delete key is being pounded to remove an offending line or block of text. {People in IT always seem to delete text by repeatedly hitting the delete key. Higher forms of life, like secretarial staff, are more likely to select the text and hit the delete key once. Or, even, the first character of what they are going to type next. Why do those of us in IT just pound the delete key?!?}.

I hope the people around me have not noticed I am less miserable than usual, else they will know I have stopped documenting and I am now blogging…

Fast key tapping but in an oddly “monotone” way (the same key or keys over and over again) and a fixed stare and maybe the odd bit of bobbing the head or ducking – Dave is playing a game. Naughty Dave. Huge amounts of mouse woggling will also be evidence of game playing. That or doing graphical database design – but who does any design work these days….?

Any periods of fast typing for more than seven seconds are a sure indicator that no coding is being done. The seven second ceiling is a scientific fact, derived from 25 years of coding and goofing off :-). I have only ever known one person who can write code fast without pauses and he was a very odd chap indeed. A very, very good programmer though.

So, if Dave is staring fixedly at the screen, typing for a few seconds (probably slowly), pausing for a minute and frowning/muttering/swearing, he’s coding. Probably. He could be Googling for a new blue-ray play or something – googling for stuff you want to buy and coding seem to have the same sort of typing pattern and even the same air of general annoyance and confusion, with the very occasional “whoop” of success.

I think you can make a pretty accurate guess about whether someone is working or goofing, and even what type of working or goofing they are doing, purely from the sound of the keys and the facial expression.

I love the “techie” bits in films where the designated nerd sits down at the keyboard and goes “tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap” at high speed and windows of data pop up and scroll up the screen at 30 lines a second or images flash by quicker than you can follow. They never delete anything they type, no typoes occur, they never have to check the correct flag or format for a command. And they never. Ever. Ever. Use the space key.Those thumbs never clatter the big bar, the fingers just bounce up and down on the main keys as though they were playing a rather odd piano.

You check next time the techie nerd bit on a film comes up. (S)he will not use the space key at all. Even if spaces appear on the text on the screen :-)

So, any fast typing and any sign of happiness and Dave is probably goofing. Both together and he certainly is. And if you never hear the space bar rattle, Dave is in a film.

Friday Philosophy – Network to Work or Work to Network? December 20, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
Tags: , , , ,
11 comments

A couple of months ago my friend Big Dave Roberts blogged about the benefits of networking – as in social/business networking as opposed to using hairy string to connect bits of IT kit together – after we had met for a drink in Birmingham.

His point was that, though he had made a positive effort to network more to help his career (along with several other steps) networking had not in fact, as far as he could tell, helped his career. But he still did it because of the other benefits – meeting diverse people with different experiences and ideas and enjoying it.

By the way, I really do dislike the use of the word “Networking” in the social/business context as it smacks of PR/Sales type people just developing more contacts in order to make more money out of them, somewhat akin to milking cows. IE, in a totally self-centered manner where they really don’t give a hoot about the people they are fawning to. This is what business networking is anyway, isn’t it? I mean, do people really play golf for enjoyment?!? Or just to schmooze and get the contract or a promotion? :-) {Apologies to Carol and Rob, I know you really do enjoy golf. Oh and Neil. I think I just lost some friends…}.

I also made a decision way back in about 2002 to meet more people and build better links in the community. I was having to design some very large databases and there was not a lot of information out there about doing so as most people building VLDBS would not or could not talk about them officially. Then when I went self-employed again in 2007 I once more made a conscious effort to promote myself and network more, in order to help me get more work (in exactly the way I don’t like PR/Sales people doing it!).

I can’t say it helped me much either time. For one thing, despite the presenting and blogging and London Oracle Beers, I’m rather poor in the social skills area. I can come across as a bit of an idiot to my friends, who only let me off as they are friends. I actually find it a little hard to keep a conversation going with someone I do not already know, I can end up either being silent or I just come out with a random and never-ending stream of rubbish. For another, I just can’t fake sincerity. I could never be an actor. If I am not enjoying talking to someone I think it is obvious to them and I fall flat on my face. I can’t make myself laugh at someone’s anecdotes if, to me, they just are not entertaining. And I certainly can’t pretend to like someone who just isn’t someone I get on with. I can manage to be civil to them and work with them but I just can’t make myself spend any social time with them if I don’t have to. I’ll just invent dead Grandmother’s funerals to escape – see, I can’t even come up with convincing reasons to avoid networking with people who I don’t mesh with.

So I stopped networking. I just couldn’t do it.

I am now in the situation where I am aiming to only do only consultancy work and recruitment consultants are useless at getting you short-term consultancy work. Well, most of them are just useless at being human beings, but not many companies go to them to fill short-term needs and the agencies would make less money than they would spend filling the position. So if this is going to pan out for me, I need to get my work from my contacts, my network. Hell, I surely need to start Networking like some sort of crazed PR madman!

Well, I am not. I know it is just not in my nature and I am poor at it.

Something odd struck me about 4 years ago. I realised that half my work was coming about via friends. And when I was getting work via agencies, it seemed that either a friend had mentioned my name to the agent or the person interviewing me knew a friend of mine. Not someone I had networked with, but a proper friend, someone I would go out of my way to share a beer with or a coffee.

What I am going to do is what Big Dave and I have both ended up doing. I am just going to socialise more, for the primary reason of just wanting to socialise. A big part of the presenting and going to conferences is, for me, simply about meeting friends and having some fun. The London Beers is totally about that. I’ve discovered that despite me having no memory for names, an ability to insult people without trying and at times a total lack of comprehension of what is going on in other peoples’ heads, I actually enjoy meeting people. Well, most people. And Dave? I think having more friends does indeed lead to more work, but it takes a long time to pay dividends. Longer than most people (well, I) can fake it for via Networking, and the other benefits are more significant and immediate than the financial ones.

In fact, when my wife and I were talking about my “retiring” and she was asking me what I wanted to do over the next few years, one of them was to keep going to conferences and presenting. But that costs money. “So how are you going to pay for that Martin?” she asked – ” I’m not going back to work to pay for you to swan off to conferences and drink and discuss bloody block buffer latch chains and enjoy yourself!”. Well, I am still going to try and do this mythical consultancy work. Our agreement is that I can go to conferences if I earn enough to pay for it.

So, I am not networking to work. I am working to network.

And in fact the title of this blog is a lie. I am working to socialise. In my experience, for me, Networking fails. I hate Networking. I can’t Network. I can just about manage having some friends. Like Big Dave, Networking has not really got me any work, but being more sociable has allowed me to meet some very nice and/or interesting people and has led to *some* work.

So get out there and socialise more, it’s great. Just don’t Network and don’t play bloody golf.

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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7 comments

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.

Friday Philosophy: It’s Not What you Know – It’s What you are Getting To Know. December 7, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Perceptions.
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This has been a good but tiring week. It started with the UKOUG TEBS conference where I saw lots of people I know, a few who I didn’t but now do and I had good times in pubs and restaurants. One evening culminated in my singing part of “Two out of Three ain’t bad” in the style of a munchkin with Nial Litchfield in a pub at 1am, which I am sure he woud rather forget about – so if you know him, ask him about it. For me that was the indicator to go lie down in the dark and sleep. Irrespectve of drunken singing, I must had talked about 20 topics with 40 people over the conference, exchanging ideas, tricks and war stories.

I also presented on the Sunday, teaching people. I went to many fine presentations through the week and learnt stuff, balancing the knowledge books. This included one talk on Wednesday where I found out I had been teaching people wrong on Sunday! *sigh* Oh dear. And it is something I have been getting wrong for years. I’ll check the fine detail before I blog about that though. I now hate SQL Maria for pointing out my error – which is unfair but that’s life. Sorry Maria, I’ll buy you a beer sometime to make up for it.

After all that, I came back to work to find we had some big issues with one system. I won’t go into the details but there were half a dozen of us working on it, coming up with ideas, knocking each other’s suggestions down or agreeing with them – and coming up with working solutions. None of us could have done it alone and I reckon most of us learnt a couple of things in the process (such as how bad some of the app design was :-) ).

So all in all, a week of learning that has worn me out but left me happy and that is what I like about my work life at present. I am working with people who know stuff and who want to know stuff. I am in a role that exposes me to a lot of issues. I am working for a boss (and team) who let me take time out from the official job to learn stuff too. I suspect it is going to end soon though as the company I am working for are taking large numbers of people to the carpark and shooting them (figuratively speaking only, I should point out). It will be a shame if it does end. But then, just as when I worked with the best IT person I ever worked with, I’ll be happy I had the experience.

Yes, I know I am lucky to have such a good working life at present {but, you know something? I did take efforts to make it like this – maybe a future FF on that}.

So having said I like my working life so much, who is willing to bet I’ll be complaining like a spoilt child all next week?!?

Friday Philosophy – The Tech to Do What You Need Probably Exists Already November 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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4 comments

How many of you have read the Oracle Concepts manual for the main version you are working on?

This is a question I ask quite often when I present and over the last 10 years the percentage number of hands raised has dropped. It was always less than 50%, it’s been dropping to more like 1 in 10 and Last year (at the UKOUG 2011 conference) was the nadir when not a single hand was raised. {Interestingly I asked this at the Slovenian User Group 3 months ago and something like 40% raised their hand – impressive!}.

Why do I feel this is important? Well, do you know all the technology solutions available across just the core RDBMS with no cost options?. No, you don’t, you (and I) really don’t. If you read the concepts manual, even just skimming it, you will be reminded of a whole load of stuff you have only dim memories of and perhaps you will even see some features that passed you by when they were first introduced.

Of course, you would need to read a few more manuals to get the full picture, such as the PL/SQL Packages and Types References, as so much good stuff is introduced via built-in packages, and the SQL Language Reference, as SQL has been extended quite a lot over the last couple of versions. Dull reading indeed but I’d estimate that if you read those three you would be aware of 90%+ of the Oracle technologies that are available to you out-of-the-box and considerably more than all but a handful of Oracle Experts. You’d know more than I as (a) I have not skimmed the PL/SQL one for years and (b) I have a rotten memory.

My point it, you can’t consider using Oracle technologies you don’t know about or remember – and they could be just what you need to fix the problem you see in front of you.

I’ll give a couple of examples.

Problem, physical IO is too high, your storage system is bottle-necked.
Answers, Reducing Physical IO:
-First up, Index Organized tables. Some of you will be aware that I am very keen on IOTs and the reason I am is that I’ve used them to physically group data that the application needed to select over and over again. It can make a massive improvement to that sort of system. They are rarely used.
-Clustered Tables. Even less used, in fact has anyone reading this used them in anger in the last 10 years? Great for situations where you need parent-children or parent-children-type-1+parent-children-type-2 data. I confess, I have not used them in anger for years.
-Move table (and order them as you do it!) and re-build indexes to remove “dead” space. This one got a bad name, especially the index rebuilds, as people were doing it needlessly without appreciating what the intention was, but now I hardly ever see it done – even when it is of benefit.
-Compress your tables and indexes. With normal Oracle compress (no need for HCC). In tests I’ve done I pretty much always see a drop in physical IO and run time. Being candid, I can’t remember doing any tests and NOT seeing an improvement but I usually only test when I expect and improvement and I don’t want to give anyone the impression it will always help.

All the above were available in Oracle 7 or 8 and all have improved over the versions.

Problem, you want to carry out some long,complex data processing in PL/SQL and if a step fails, be able to handle it and carry on.
Answers:
– Savepoints. You can rollback to a savepoint, not just to the last commit. In this way you can break the task into chunks and, if something towards the end fails, you roll back one step (or several, your choice) and call an alternative routine to handle the exception.
– Autonomous Transactions. You want to record that an error occurred but not fail the original action or not save anything it has done to date. An autonomous transaction runs in it’s own sub-session and commits in it do not effect the calling session.
– Temporary Tables. You can put your working information in them as you progress and if you need to bomb out (or some evil DBA kills your session for running too long) the temp table contents just disappear. No clean up needed.

Maybe the above is not so fair, I have not been a proper PL/SQL developer for a while now, but I hardly see the above used. Especially Savepoints. I can’t remember not having savepoints available (hmm, maybe Oracle 6) and Autonomous Transactions and Temporary tables are Oracle 8 (I thought Temporary tables might be 9 but Tim Hall’s OracleBase says 8)

Another thing I have noticed over the years is that so often I will read up on some oracle feature I know little about, only for it to come up in the next few weeks! There is a psychological aspect to this, that we only remember these “coincidences” and not the more common situations where we read up on something which does not subsequently come up before we forget about it, but I think that it is also that we tend to use only a few solutions to solve the problems we see and adding another solution to our list means the chances are high it will be suitable for something soon.

OK, so it would help us all to read the manuals (or other Oracle technical books) more. Now the big problem is finding the time.

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