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Making Things Better Makes Things Worse February 11, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in development, Management, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evenings are Drawing Out December 14, 2009

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

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

English Sunset by Angie Tianshi

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

What is, I hear you all cry?

The shortest day is December 21st

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

Except it does not quite work like that.

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

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

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

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

Table of sunrise/sunset times for London

Table of surise/sunset for Sydney, Australia

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

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

Outback sunset from ospoz.wordpress.com

Friday Philosophy – What Was My Job Again? December 11, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Management.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

How much control do we have over what job we are in?

I know I have mentioned this before, but I did not choose to work with Oracle - I fell into it by accident. I found myself in a job which I was no longer enjoying, for a boss who had issues with me and I had issues with a salary (mine, of course). So I decided to apply for a job with a company a friend of mine worked for:

For those of you who are not UK-born or have seen less than three decades go by, in 1990 “Oracle” was a teletext company that provided information on your TV screen for the TV company Channel 4. Basic news, entertainment, sports etc via chunky text and chunkier graphics thrown up in glorious low-res.

I honestly thought I was going for an interview with that company, as opposed to the other “Oracle”, some database company with the same name which went on to pretty much conquer the corporate database and applications world. That was a pretty lucky break for me and I made a conscious decision to stick with this database stuff.

Many years later I was on a contract doing database performance tuning. Someone, a manager, came and asked me about how they could save space, not in the database world but in the Unix filesystem world. So I made the suggestion that they check out the man page on compress. We compressed some big files and he went away happy, leaving me to get on with my database stuff. My big mistake was, when he came back a week later and asked how he could get the compressed data out, I promptly showed him. I revealed too much knowledge.

I came in to work the next Monday morning and my desk had gone. There was an oblong square of dust and hula-hoop crumbs, nothing else. Even my pile of “documents to get back to” from under the desk was gone. Had I been sacked? No, I had been put in the Unix system administration team. My desk had been picked up and physically moved across the room to the Unix Corral, along with everthing on, under or next to it.

No one has asked me, it had not been mentioned to me at all, the managers had just realised on Friday that half the existing team (contractors) had left at the end of the week and no replacements had been found. That devious manager I had helped had told the others I was a whizz at Unix and so my fate was sealed. I was not a whizz at Unix, I was barely competent at basic shell programming. But I learnt a bit before deciding I wanted to stick at the Database stuff and went off to a contract doing that again. I still kind of wish I’d done the Unix a little longer though.

The final shift I’ll mention, and is probably more commonly echoed in other people’s experience, is coming in one day to find you are a manager. This had happened to me small-scale a couple of times, taking on a contract where I ended up in charge of a team, but in this particular case I was a permanent employee managing a team of 4 DBAs and my boss left. Within the week I found that I was being treated as the manager of 5 or 6 teams, totalling about 30 people. More by them than by upper management, but upper management cottoned on and asked me to do the job. Long story cut short, I resisted the move upwards but it happened anyway. Not, at that time, what I wanted at all.

I’ve told the above story a few times when doing presentations on management-related topics and many people, a surprising number to me,  have said to me afterwards that the same sort of thing happened to them. I am also now chair of the Management and Infrastructure Special Interest Group of the UK Oracle user group. That SIG is full of people with a similar story.

What is the point of this particular Friday Philosophy? Well, these experiences have made me realise that a lot of people are probably doing jobs they just found themselves in, or in the case of managers, just got pushed into.

If you did not chose your job, you are unlikely to be a good fit, especially to start with.

I’m sure most of us have experienced this and, looking back, can see that initially we lacked the skills, the background, even the inclination for the role. But we either got on, moved on, or become morose and bitter.

This also means that we are all probably encountering a lot of people in that exact situation, all the time - People doing a job they just found themselves in. So, if someone seems to not be doing a job as well as they could, check how long they have been doing it. If it is a recent change, remember your own experience and cut them some slack. You would have appreciated it when you were them.

It also explains Morose and Bitter Geoff who manages Accounts too, doesn’t it?

The Frustrated User’s perspective. November 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’ll teach them
************************************************************

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

Friday Philosophy – How many Consistent Gets are Too Much? October 30, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, performance.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

One of my good friends, Piet de Visser commented on a recent post that “380 {consistent gets} is too much” per row returned. He is right. He is wrong. Which?

Piet is actually referring to a given scenario I had just described, so he is probably {heck, he is spot on} correct as his comment was made in context – but it set me to thinking about the number of times I have been asked “is the number of consistent gets good or bad” without any real consideration to the context. The person asking the question usually just wanted a black/white good/bad ratio, which is what Piet also mentioned in his comment, a need to discuss such a ratio. I am on holiday in New England with my second bottle of wine, memories of having spent the day eating Lobster, kicking though Fall leaves and sitting by a warm fire reading a book, so I am mellow enough to oblige.

Sadly, out of context, no such ratio probably exists. *sigh*. There evaporates the warm glow of the day :-).

The question of “is the number of consistent gets per row good or bad?” is a bit like the question “is the pay rate good enough?”. It really depends on the whole context, but there is probably an upper limit. If I am helping my brother fit {yet another} kitchen then the pay rate is low. He has helped me fit a few, I have helped him fit a few, a couple of pints down the pub is enough and that equates to about 30p an hour. Bog standard production DBA work? 30-60 pounds an hour seems to be the going rate. Project Managing a system move that has gone wrong 3 times already? I need to factor in a long holiday on top of my normal day rate, so probably high hundreds a day. £10,000 a day? I don’t care what it is, I ain’t doing it as it is either illegal, highly unpleasant, both or involves chucking/kicking/hitting a ball around a field and slagging off the ref, and I ain’t good at ball games.

I have a rule of thumb, and I think a rule of thumb is as good as you can manage with such a question as “is {some sort of work activity on the database} per row too much?”. With consistent gets, if the query has less than 5 tables, no group functions and is asking a sensible question {like details of an order, where this lab sample is, who owes me money} then:

  • below 10 is good
  • 10-100 I can live with but may be room for improvement
  • above 100 per record, let’s have a look.

Scary “page-of-A4″ SQL statement with no group functions?

  • 100-1000 consistent gets is per row is fine unless you have a business reason to ask for better performance.

Query contains GROUP BY or analytical functions, all bets are pretty much off unless you are looking at

  • a million consistent gets or 100,000 buffer gets, in which case it is once again time to ask “is this fast enough for the business”.

The million consistent gets or 100,000 buffer gets is currently my break-even “it is probably too much”, equivalent to I won’t do anything for £10 grand. 5 years ago I would have looked quizzically at anything over 200,000 consistent gets or 10,000 buffer gets but systems get bigger and faster {and I worry I am getting old enough to start becoming unable to ever look a million buffer gets in the eye and not flinch}. Buffer gets at 10% of the consistent gets, I look at. It might be doing a massive full table scan in which case fair enough, it might be satisfying a simple OLTP query in which case, what the Hell is broken?

The over-riding factor to all the above ratios though is “is the business suffering an impact as performance of the database is not enough to cope”? If there is a business impact, even if the ratio is 10 consistent gets per row, you have a look.

Something I have learnt to look out for though is DISTINCT. I look at DISTINCT in the same way a medic looks at a patient holding a sheaf of website printouts – with severe apprehension. I had an interesting problem a few years back. “Last week” a query took 5 minutes to come back and did so with 3 rows. The query was tweaked and now it comes back with 4 rows and takes 40 minutes. Why?

I rolled up my mental sleeves and dug in. Consistent gets before the tweak? A couple of million. After the tweak? About a hundred and 30 million or something. The SQL had DISTINCT clause. Right, let’s remove the DISTINCT. First version came back with 30 or 40 thousand records, the second with a cool couple of million. The code itself was efficient, except it was traversing a classic Chasm Trap in the database design {and if you don’t know what a Chasm Trap is, well that is because Database Design is not taught anymore, HA!}. Enough to say, the code was first finding many thousands of duplicates and now many millions of duplicates.
So, if there is a DISTINCT in the sql statement, I don’t care how many consistent gets are involved, of buffer gets or elapsed time. I take out that DISTINCT and see what the actual number of records returned is.

Which is a long-winded way of me saying that some factors over-ride even “rule of thumb” rules. so, as a rule of thumb, if a DISTINCT is involved I ignore my other Rules of Thumb. If not, I have a set of Rules of Thumb to guide my level of anxiety over a SQL statement, but all Rules of Thumb are over-ridden by a real business need.

Right, bottle 2 of wine empty, Wife has spotted the nature of my quiet repose, time to log off.

Data Dictionary Performance – reference September 29, 2009

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

I’ve got a couple more postings on Data Dictionary performance to get where I plan to go to with this, but if you want to deep-dive into far more technical details then go and check out Dion Cho’s excellent posting on fixed object indexes.

I was not planning on getting into the sys.x$ fixed objects as you need SYS access to look at them, which not everyone has, but this is where Dion goes. His posts are always good, I need to check them far more.

As a soft-technical aside, I often mention to people when doing courses on SQL or writing standards or even the odd occasions I’ve discussed perception, that we Westerners are taught to read from left to right, top-to-bottom and we pick out left justification very well. Code laid out like the below we find easy to read:

select pers.name1                surname
      ,pers.name2                first_forename
      ,pers.nameother            middle_names
      ,peap.appdate              appointment_date
      ,decode (addr.name_num_ind
                 ,'N', to_char(addr.housenum)
                 ,'V', addr.housename
                 ,'B', to_char(addr.housenum
                              ||' '||addr.housename)
                                 house_no_name
      ,addr.address2             addr_street
      ,addr.address3             addr_town
      ,addr.address4             addr_dist
      ,addr.code                 addr_code
from person              pers
     ,address            addr
    ,person_appointments peap
where pers.addr_id     =addr.addr_uid
and   pers.pers_id     =peap.pers_id
and   pers.active_fl   ='Y'
and   pers.prim_cons   ='ANDREWSDP'
and   peap.latest_fl   ='Y'

But this is not true of other cultures, where people do not read left to right, top to bottom. I have had this confirmed just a couple of times when people who were born in Eastern cultures are in the course/conversation.

So I was very interested to see Dion’s Korean version of the blogpost I reference above (I really hope this link here to the korean version is stable).
The main body of the page is on the right, not left, but the text appears to be left justified.

Of course, I am horribly ignorant, I do not know which direction Koreans read in :-(. I could be spouting utter rubbish.

Friday Philosophy – Who Comes Looking? September 18, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging.
Tags: ,
8 comments

I’ve been running this blog for a few months now and I find it interesting to see how people come to it. A handful of people come to it as I tell them I have a blog page, but most people come across it by either:

  • Links from other blogs or web pages.
  • Search engines.

WordPress gives me stats on these for Today and Yesterday and I can check back on the referrers and searches for any given day, going back several months. Most blog sites provide the same features, I thought I would just run through them for those who do not have a blog.

I can tell when I have been mentioned on someone else’s blog, as I usually see a spike in my hits and their web page is at or near the top of the list of referrers. Interestingly, I will sometimes see a burst of hits from an old reference on someone else’s blog or webpage. I think this happens when a third person has referenced the page or person which then referenced me.

Another interesting facet is the impact on my hits if an Oracle Name mentions me. My busiest day occurred when Richard Foote mentioned a posting I did on “Unhelpful Helpful People” and a couple of other well-known Oracle Names also picked up on the thread. It’s a bit like a small-time-actor getting into a scene with a Hollywood Star :-).

The most interesting, though, are the search engine hits.

My favorite search term to lead to my blog so far is “martin widlake unhelpful people”. I really hope that was someone looking for the post I mention above, as opposed to anything else…

As time goes by, the search engine hits are generating a larger and larger slice of my traffic (and the personal mentions less and less :-) ). This is going to be partly due to me putting more content on the Blog to be found but also, as I get more hits and links, search engines will give me more prominence. It becomes self-feeding. Search engines find me as I have been visited before, so I get visited again and Search engines see that I have been visited even more and move me up the list…

{This is, of course, how Burleson gets so much traffic, he always references back to himself and his web sites and appears to have several sites that all cross-reference between them, priming the search engine pump (or absolutely flooding it, I suspect)}.

Some of the most common searches that find me are on obscure items I have blogged about. They may not be of such general interest {such as when I blogged about errors with gathering system statistics {{and more to follow on that topic}} } but I guess when someone hits the same issue or topic, I am one of a very few places that has mentioned it. I get a steady trickle of hits for “c_obj#_intcol#” since I blogged about it often being the biggest object in the SYSTEM tablespace. So perhaps to increase my search engine hits I should not blog about mainstream issues but rather really obscure, odd stuff than almost no one is interested in!

Some days I will get several hits by people searching on “Martin Widlake”. I wonder why they are searching on me specifically. Occasionally, it has been just before I am called about a job. Usually not though {so maybe it was about a job - but then they found my blog and decided against it…}.

Some searches that get to my blog are just odd. Yesterday one search that found me was “how to put fingers on keyboard”. Why? I have no idea why a search on that would land on my blog. Maybe I should try it!

Oh, and I suddenly have a favorite search that found me, hot in today, just as I am blogging about the very topic:

“it’s a crock of cr4p and it stinks”

Now what is that about? Why search on it and why find me?

*sigh*

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

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
Tags: ,
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*.

COC – The Chain of Optimistic Communication July 1, 2009

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

Well, after the very long, technology-based post of yesterday, a smaller one today, on a management theme.

I came up with this concept of the Chain of Optimistic Communication about a year ago, in one of my presentations on disasters. As a potential disaster, I’ve converted the relevant PowerPoint slides into a Flash movie. This is the flash movie. The second slide is an animation of what the Chain of Optimistic Communication is, the rest is some thoughts on it’s impact and how to avoid it.

{If the flash movie fails and you can read PowerPoints, you can download the
PowerPoint here}

{And another thing, It’s my first Flash attempt, I know the page numbering is duff, I know the layout is a little off, I might fix it when I have had some more sleep}.

If you can’t be bothered with the Flash movie {go on, it’s more fun than reading stuff!}, this is what the Chain of Optimistic Communication is:

  • You, the worker at the coal face are asked by your boss how the development of the new system is going. You tell your boss that it’s not going well at all and you list 3 things that have not been done, one that has been done and one that is partially done. You don’t mention that the partially done one you plan to do tonight, fuelled by coffee and whisky.
  • Your boss tells their boss that progress is being made, half the tasks are in hand but they “need to proactively re-address a resource mismatch or two”.
  • This top level boss tells the VP of development that all is in hand, resources are in place and all bases are covered, but more budget for planning would be wise. 
  • VP of Development reports to the board that the latest Agile development using cross-skilled resource pools is on track to deliver the milestone implementation. Or something.

ie all levels lie, ever so slightly optimistically as they communicate up the management chain.

As a result, the higher the manager, the more rosy the picture and the more out of touch they seem to the worker at the coal face.

When I presented this idea, I got a surprisingly positive response from the audience. It was the most common thing people talked to me about after the presentation, so I guess it struck a chord. Or else it was the point in the presentation when the sound of the caterers dropping a try outside woke them up.

Another side of the Chain of Optimistic Communication is that the higher the manger, the more they are led to believe all is OK and the more often, it seems to them, that apparently “under control” projects flip to become disasters when the rosy white lies have to be ditched when the reality becomes so grim. Often with no warning. No wonder managers get so many heart attacks and strokes.

 

{This is me just trying to get the flash movie to play with my website headers, it will disappear in a couple of hours flash movie}

The Sneaky WHAT Strategy!? June 15, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in biology, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
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OK, I can’t resist any more, I have to write a Blog about this. I apologise up front for any offence I cause anyone, it is not intended.

There has been a bit of a thread between my and Richard Foote’s blog about the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is his post on it. The Dunning Kruger effect (Jonathan Lewis told us what it was called) is where people have an over-inflated opinion of their own ability. Since the names of behavioral traits came up, I have been unable to get something out of my mind.

When I was at college I studied Zoology. In one lecture on animal behaviour we were told about the “Sneaky Fuck3r Strategy”. Yes, you read it right, that is what it is called. {I’ve stuck a ’3′ in there as I’m concerned I’ll blow up some web filters}.

It was described in the context of Red Deer. A single dominant male has a harem of females during the breeding season. Other big, strong males will challenge the Dominant Stag and, if they win, will take over the harem. So, this one Stag has all the lady deer at his disposal, only challenged by similarly large, aggressive males.

Well, not quite. What sometimes happens is that, when the dominant stag is fighting off a challenge, one of the younger stags will sneak into the herd and mate with one of the females. Thus the term “Sneaky Fuck3r strategy”. Genetic testing shows that quite a few of the deer born are not fathered by the dominant male!

The one little twist added during my lecture was that it had been observed that one young male, male(A), would go and challenge the dominant stag whilst another young male(B) snuck into the herd. Then, a while later Male(B) would challenge the stag and Male(A) would have his turn. I don’t know if that was an unsubstantiated embellishment but is suggests smart as well as sneaky.

I really thought she was pulling our legs about the name, but the lecturer wasn’t. It is a real term, used by real zoologists, though mostly UK-based. You can google it but I won’t blame you if you want to wait until you are not at work to do so!

Many people lay the credit for the name to John Maynard Smith But this article with Tim Clutton-Brockhas an excellent description of the situation {click on “show Transcript” and I suggest you search for the word “sneaky”}. I am not clear if Tim did the original work on the subject though. For some reason I can’t fathom, wikipedia does not mention the strategy in it’s entries for either scientist…

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