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SBC June 26, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, rant.
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When I was about 14 or 15 years old I had this idea that I could create a company selling stuff and make a fair amount of money at it, very easily. What prompted these thoughts were advertisements that attempted to persuade you to buy things that were not at all special or unusual or even good, but the ads claimed that they were in fact fantastic and desirable and having them would significantly improve your life. Often the ads were for really quite rubbish things. It was blatantly obvious that, whilst no factual lies were uttered, the promise of the sun always shining, the big smile on your face, the family joy (with mandatory cute dog) and the inner glow that comes from the product were ludicrous. The product was not going to do that, the whole underlying premise of these adverts were ludicrous lies.

In particular, I was struck by breakfast cereal advertisements.

When I was a kid I had most of the main brands and I can tell you, a bland product based on flattened corn, puffed wheat, mashed wheat, wheat in long strands woven into a small hard cushion, abused oats or any other tortured grain was fine to stop you feeling hungry before being booted out the house to walk to school – but it was not actually adding to the joy in my life. They were OK. Actually, without the sugar and the milk they were a bit shitty. And I knew they were cheap.

This summed up many products – not at all exciting, nothing special, in fact a bit crap. But they did the job and they were cheap.

So why not sell them as such? would people not prefer the honesty of a product and advertisement that fundamentally said “buy this because it is shitty but cheap”? I would have, I would have loved the base honesty of the proposition and not having to wonder why grey-brown food that tasted only slightly better than cat litter was not making me smile and the sun shine. (I was fine about not having the dog though.)

So I was going to create a company called SBC Limited that made basic, cheap stuff that you had to have and that it was ludicrous that anyone was telling you it would improve your life. Shitty But Cheap Limited. Breakfast Cereal would be one of the products for sure.

Role forward about 10 years and I created my first company, as most computer contractors in the UK do, back in 1995. Guess what I was going to call it? Yep, SBC Limited. But my wife took a firm stance (and by this I mean she set her feet a good foot and a half apart, the better to give her purchase as she slapped sense into me) and said I could not do this, as I would be incapable of not telling potential clients what SBC limited stood for.

Of course, I now realise that my outlook on things and sense of humor is not universally shared and, sadly, there are a lot of dull people who are swayed by those facile advertisements. My company to sell fundamentally bland but cheap morning foods would probably have failed. That and the Swiss Banking Corporation or SBC Telecomm or, more likely as I reside in the UK, the Scottish Borders Council might have got in touch to object.

But imagine my joy today when I was sent a potential job by SBC Recruitment!

And the icing on the cake was the job was for an APEX developer with HTML 5 proficiency. No mention of those skills on my CV, my CV makes it pretty clear that I am a DBA-type, so a fairly shitty attempt by the agency to fill the needs of the client. So presumably the recruitment company pretty much matches my intention for a company called SBC…

:-)

(* Note to lawyers, SBC Recruitment could be the best agency in the country, this post is humorous. But I really was not at all suitable for the job, very poor targeting).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to wake up April 1, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Private Life, UKOUG, Uncategorized.
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This post is nothing more than a line in the sand, really.

After my post on “retiring” in November last year and then the one about working to network, as opposed to working to network just prior to 2013 year end, I have been very, very quiet. Well, I had things outside of Oracle and IT to do and they were more important to me. I’d say I have made a reasonable stab at them. My wife would say I have been a lazy and good-for-nothing so-and-so. If you do not know me, trust my wife. If you do know me, you already know to trust my wife :-) .

I do need to nod my head at a few friends who got in touch when it all went quite after my retirement post and privately checked I was not dying. I’m not, I’m fine, and I was touched by the concern. I do seem to be currently surrounded by people who have died or are dying, but so far no one I married, lived with, am related by blood to or bought (The CAT, you strange people – but she is old and was “odd” last month, I did think for a while it was white-coat time) has hit that particular end-point, but has become a constant background concern. Hmm, sometimes foreground, but still part of the benefit of not working is being able to be there when others need.

However, in my state of not-working, I did a rare check on the calendar this week and saw that 1st April 2014 was approaching – and that is my line in the sand. I had to make a break from working in London (or, rather, commuting in and out of London) and also sort a few non-IT things out in my real life, which I think I have. So I am entering the weird world of Oracle IT once more. Last week I went to the second Oracle Midlands user group meeting and it was very, very good. If you are within 100 miles of Birmingham, google it and get along. The next meeting is 20th May and Christian Antognini is doing a double-header presentation and you will benefit from being there.

The next day I was in a meeting in London about organising the next UKOUG tech conference. This year it will be in Liverpool and a week later than normal. That might sound negative (way out THERE and THAT late?) but the venue is just right for the conference. There is more to do around that area of Liverpool than last year in Manchester or ineed there was for so many comfortable years in central Birmingham {I did start to drift more to locations in central Brum these last 3 or 4 years but it was a real effort to get people to go with me} and a lot of effort is going in to looking at the feedback from prior events to improve this net event in 2014. I am determined to get some of that feedback through. Though I would say that seeing as I am involved :-). I’ll mention some more details later this week or next week, depending on how my non-Oracle life taking it’s demands.

Tomorrow (today?) I am at the next UKOUG AIM SIG – it needs a better title – but it is the old RAC-HA SIG conjoined with my SIG that was about managing Oracle in large, complex or demanding environments, called the AIM SIG – but as it had the word “management” in it, so it scared many IT people away (it was more about *coping* with corporate management than being *about* corporate management). Anyway, we need to re-title it so you buggers realise it is actually a technical SIG aimed at helping us look at at and handle cluster issues and massive-system issues. Yes, it need to be two SIGs again, but the UKOUG is struggling with that, partly as your companies stopped letting you lot come to these meetings. I despair of large corporations, I really do… :-)

So that was a load of fluff about me coming back to the user-based fold and playing a role. I do intend to do some technical posts too, but that take a lot of effort. I have some half written but as I have lost access to the systems I did the real work on {hmmm, some I can still access but, legally, I should not even be TRYing} that make it less-than-easy for me to demonstrate my points with real-world but obfuscated examples. Recreating those examples on play systems is NOT a piece of play-time.

Which leads me on to one odd point I am sure I will come back to:

I’m “retired”.
I do not need to earn.
Do you have an interesting performance/architecture issue with Oracle you are stumped with?
I won’t work for free (after all, some people pay the bills doing this stuff and I DO need to earn enough to go and present/teach and the garden needs my free time). But I am kind of an easy mark at the moment.

Anyway, April 1st and I need to be in Reading for the next AIM SIG so I better finish this off.

So finally….

It’s (worryingly) good to be back.

Martin W

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

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
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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.

Friday Philosophy – The Passing of Nelson Mandela December 6, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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As this is a blog on the technical aspects of the Oracle RDBMS and management in IT, it is not really the correct place to pass comment on the passing of a political figure, let alone touch on the politics of race and discrimination.

But I don’t care, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

I’m partly saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela even though I never met him as I think he was one of those rare things – a politician who was actually a good person who was trying to right wrongs. Thus I think humanity has lost a very good human. But he had been suffering from very poor health for a long time and maybe he would have been happy for it to come to an end. I do not know of course.

I do know that tonight’s next glass of wine will be lifted to him, even though I never met him and know less about him than really I probably should. Personally I think I agree with his politics but only in that fairly nebulous “we should all get on and act as a community” left wing type of stuff.

What I am finding interesting is watching the media output on the death of Nelson Mandela, the rounds of significant people queuing up to praise him and the footage I am seeing of people in South Africa who seem to be more celebrating his life than suffering in mourning. I’m a bit cynical about the world leaders and politicians but rather affirmed by the SA nationals saying “Let us celebrate this person”. That agrees with my philosophy on life.

Any time I check the web to see if I am being mentioned (something I do every few months, mostly just due to narcissism but also to see if anyone has mentioned me and I should say thanks) I will come across Brian Widlake, who is a journalist who got to be about the last person to interview Nelson Mandela {and one of if not the first to do so for television} before his incarceration and when Mandela made a comment that maybe peaceful methods of protest were not going to be enough. So I am constantly reminded of Nelson Mandela.

I’m actually named after a similar person, Martin Luther King. It must have been my Father’s doing as my mother, as she creeps up on senility, is showing a level of casual racism that bugs the hell out of me.

Anyway, I started by saying this is not the place to pass comment on politics and I am not really going to as I have no position of authority or knowledge to do so. But I do have a fair knowledge of genetics and biology, what with it being the subject I was trained in at University.

Racism is rather knocked into a cocked hat (from a biological perspective) when you understand genetics. We are all one species with really very, very minor differences between us all and, if you go back just a few thousand grandparents, well we all had the same “grand” mother – and at a similar point maybe one grandfather too but that is harder to track. However, as humans are all so very, very similar genetically/biologically, how come some people are so fundamentally good and some people are fundamentally not and most of us bob around in the middle somewhere? It’s a complex question and though I think I understand some of the factors, I *really* am not going there. I’ll just have another glass of wine and ponder them.

Maybe in my “retirement” I will stop being a moderately successful geek and become a really very poor philosopher.

Time for Bed, said Zebedee November 15, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
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Zebedee has just boinged onto my TV screen on his big-spring lower body and told us all that it is “time for bed”. I concur Zebedee. Good night everyone!

zebedee

For those of you who are not of UK origin and of “a certain age”, Zebedee was a character on the BBC Children’s TV Program The Magic Roundabout. At the end of the program (5 minutes of oddly surreal kids entertainment) more often than not Zebedee would arrive (if not already present as part of the narrative arc) and announce “Time for Bed” and that would be the end of the program. I won’t go into the rest of the details but for those of us who grew up with it, Dougal, Florence, Brian, Zebedee and Ermintrude the cow were large in our childhood. Dylan though was odd… {for anyone wanting a nostalgia trip, try this episode}

Well, for me it is “Time for Bed” children. I started working in IT almost exactly 24 years ago on the 13th November 1989, arriving wearing my new (cheap) suit with (shiny) briefcase clutched in my hand at a (tatty) office block in Bristol owned by the NHS. It housed their regional computer department for the South West of England.
And on the 15th November 2013, I will exit a much plusher office, no suit on, no briefcase, and I will go home and, for many complex reasons, I will “retire”. This does not mean I will stop working in IT and it *may* result in me being a more regular blogger and more of a teacher than I have been for 2 years, but let’s just see, Boys and Girls.

What it does mean is I am stopping doing the 2 hour commute into and out of London every day, wasting my life. It means I am not signing up for 6 months on a single project on the basis of a couple of 30 minute interviews. I am also not signing up for 4 weeks and then finding it becomes six months – as when that happens it is *always* 6 months of misery trying to undo the work of a dedicated hoard of hopeful but under-skilled youngsters being forced to do a job they lack the training for by people who should not be allowed anywhere near management positions (as they see “management” as a way to gauge their importance, polish their egos and garner more cash – rather than as a role that should encompass “nurturing, developing, admonishing and making the most of your team(s)”.). It means I won’t have to play by corporate rules any more, which is good as I am finding it harder and harder and harder to do that without coming home and being really quite mean to my cat, and she does not deserve that as she is friendly and quite forgiving really. Neither does my wife deserve it, but if I am mean to her, she punches me.

What I do hope will happen is that, after a couple of months to get a few things sorted, I will continue to get the odd call I seem to get about once a month where someone would like me to just help out with a specific problem. Occasionally I have been able to say “yes” and it has been interesting and enjoyable, but usually I have been in the middle of one of the situations that resulted in my rant above and have had to say no. If I do get the calls, it will be great. I would like to earn enough so I can still do the conferences and present and meet people and talk about interesting problems and drink beer. If not, I have a lot of other things I want to have a crack at.

So I am not sure what awaits me now. But I am “retired”. I have calculated that from now to my demise I can afford to buy a tin of beans every day until I die. Plus some bread, so beans on toast is possible. That is enough. I did not retire 9 months ago (as was my original plan) so, as a result, now I can afford once a week to buy a very cheap bottle of wine. Something better than Blue Nun. If I get more work, I could step up to beans and cheese on toast. Hmmmm!

A loss from the UK User Community – Graham Gilbert July 17, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Private Life, UKOUG.
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Last week, as part of organising the AIM and Database Server joint UKOUG SIG tomorrow {which I should have blogged about but just never got around to}, I was made aware of the fact that a man called Graham Gilbert died back in April.

Anyone who has anything to do with the RDBMS parts of the UK Oracle User Group probably knows Graham as he ran the RDBMS SIG for years and years and years. For the rest of you, you missed out as Graham was a Jewel. I can’t say he was a close friend, after all I was not aware he had died, but I was saddened by it – and that is unusual as I am particularly sanguine (callous?) when if comes to death. {For example, on hearing about the death of my own father, who I did actually like and get on with, my immediate and on-going response was “damn, that’s inconvenient”}.

I was saddened as Graham was one of those rare beasts – a person who helped, encouraged and supported people. Everyone who met him seems to have liked him. {If you DID meet him and not like him – I don’t want to talk to you, OK?!} In fact, when I got the first hint of Graham having died, I got in touch with some mutual friends and asked if they had heard anything. The response was a consistent “No – but let me know as Graham … (various citations about how he had encouraged, helped or been kind to them)” followed.

You can see this if you look at {and I really hope this works} this section in the UKOUG 50th Anniversary edition. I could not put better what Patrick Hurley said about Graham gently encouraging people to be part of the community.

As I have said, I did not know Graham well, but I did share a few pints with him after RDBMS SIGs on a couple of occasions. On one such occasion we were discussing the fact that he had run the RDBMS SIG for so long – I was thinking of stepping down from the SIG I was running but no one was showing signs of stepping up if I did. Graham gave a gentle sigh and observed that “many people would like to help – but the day job or the effort or a lack of confidence gets in the way. You just have to encourage them.” So why had he been the RDBMS SIG chair for so long? “Well, I would rather not, but it just seems to fall to me. It needs doing and it is not really a burden, I just don’t want to be seen as making it my empire. I can ask people to present but not take on the whole thing!”. My quotes will be inaccurate but that was the gist of it. He encouraged people to advance themselves or take part but seemed reluctant to burden anyone. I wonder now if he ended up running it for so long as he was just so damned good at it and we wanted to keep him? I bought him a pint (I nearly had to argue with him on that one) as he was being so nice to me and encouraged me to keep doing my SIG so long as punters turned up.

Graham, for me, epitomises the User Group mentality. We help one another and we do it as we want to, well, help each other. I’ve met a fair few ….arseholes… who do user group stuff for the CV or to get recognition or some other personal gain. You can quickly spot them as they want the label but do very little for it, or do loads for 6 months and then drop out the picture when they realise it is not giving them that immediate reward they wanted. I don’t like those people, it’s like people who do stuff for charity and then thrust it down your throat. They did it for themselves, not the recipient. Thankfully I know many people who do the user group stuff because they “just want to help” and many of them never present (as presenting is not their thing) or blog or crow. They just help. I must try and be more appreciative of them.

Well, Graham did his bit quietly and consistently for years and years, because he wanted to help. He helped a lot of us. A round of drinks will be bought tomorrow after the SIG in his honour. It’s the least we can do – and I mean the least.

Hey Mum, I’m Famous!!! April 28, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
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I got a mail this week from Richard Harrison:

“Hi Martin
See you made it in to oracle magazine this month.That’s the pinnacle of any oracle professionals career – all downhill from here on in :-)”

I was not aware of my sudden raise to fame, but Richard is right – I’m in this month’s “peer to peer” section, which just gives some details about recent Oracle Ace’s I think. I’d forgotten that I had done a form they sent me before Christmas, answering a set of questions. It is interesting to see what they picked out of all my answers to include.

I think most of us would feel it is nice to see something about ourselves in print (so long as it is not derogatory or critical, of course!), though when I come to think of it, I don’t really know why it is nice – other than the rather self-serving feeling of having our egos polished. And as my friends I drink with would (and probably will) comment, my ego certainly does not need much polishing :-). I’ve of course made it worse by blogging about how famous I now am. Polish, polish, polish.

Don’t worry, my wife stepped in to put me back in my place. “You could tell your mum when you next ring her – not that she’ll be impressed at all!”. Thanks wife. She’s right. My mum will just say “that’s nice” in a tone that in no way convinces me she means it, and will then proceed to talk at me about her new cats, what’s on TV and all the terrible things going on in the world, according to the “Daily Mail” (An utterly horrible and vacuous daily tabloid paper her in the UK).

So thank you for the heads-up Richard. I’m looking forward to the rapid decline of my career as you predict… :-)

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

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

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

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

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RMOUG – Here I Come February 9, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Meeting notes, Private Life.
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Well, I’ve just finished pushing the last few bits into my suitcase for my trip to the US for the Rocky Mountain User Group Training Days 2013.

It is a few years since I went to the US for pleasure (3 years?) and much longer since I went there on a combined work/pleasure trip – as I HATE going through US immigration.

I was tempted into this trip when I met up with a fellow OakTable member Tim Gorman at the Slovenia User Group last October. Tim was a true gentleman throughout that conference (and this is not to detract from the kind ministrations of Jože Senegačnik who was a wonderful host and also a fellow OakTable member) and he suggested I put forward a talk or two to the RMOUG training days conference. I was in two minds due to my huge dislike of being shouted at by the {I am sad to say, usually bl00dy unfriendly} members of the US immigration services. I mean, I went to Moscow in around 1994 and those chaps in the USSR were positively oozing cordial welcome compared to the hard-nosed and antagonistic attitude of the US chaps a year or two later!

Anyway, Tim swayed my opinion in a simple and direct manner. He mentioned Skiing. I went skiing in 1992. My one and only Skiing holiday. I loved it, I spent 2 weeks going from terrified starter to someone who could swish down Blue runs with the rest of them, the occasional Red run towards the end. Not Black, I saw enough sad-looking stretchers coming down from the Black runs as I sat in the bars at the bottom to think there was something to be scared of there – and when I chatted to the barman in my chosen watering hole he told me how so many of them were us Brits who had lost the brains to realise what our limits were.

So, I will be at the conference doing my bit about “first things to know about Exadata” and then I will be up in the mountains, scaring myself on hills that when I was 20 looked like a walk in the park…. What is the betting I do not get as far as Red runs this time?!?

Friday Philosophy – Work Inside Life August 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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I know, the usual phrase is “Life Outside Work” but I like to think that, no matter how much we may like our jobs, our overall life is the key thing.

I was prompted to write today’s Friday Philosophy when I was reading Neil Chandler’s blog a few days ago and saw that he had posted about his up-coming {and now in progress} Banger Rally. He and some mates are doing something very cool in their spare time, taking part in a rally from, basically, Calais in France to Naples in Italy, in a “banger”. This is a UK (and wider?) term for an old, tired, worn out car. The most they could spend on the car was £250 and it has to go over some pretty extreme mountain passes. I presume it also has to carry the set of 4 people involved too, so not a lot of weight there then, Neil :-). You can follow their progress at this blog. I was in a pub in Leeds with Neil when he was considering one car for this rally.

I can’t claim that I do anything as striking as Neil’s current jaunt when not working, but I do like to spend some time doing things that are nothing to do with IT at all. For me, this tends to be physical tasks like cutting down trees with my chainsaw. Or building structures in the garden with wood (OK, half-building them – I constructed the below platform and another out into our pond maybe 18 months ago, both still have no balustrade around them and there is a 45cm gap between the bank and the pond platform – NEXT weekend I’ll maybe finish one. Maybe.)


Another garden task recently was building our wood-fired, mud-constructed pizza oven. My wife and I went on a 1-day course to learn how to make a mud-based pizza oven and then spent, ohhhh, about 10 days over 8 weeks building one! We dug a big hole in the garden to get some clean clay (we live in an area that is on top of clay), stole some straw from the horse that lives at the bottom of our garden (long story), bought some sand (because nicking it from beaches is both illegal and bad form) and mixed up our first batch of clay-sand-straw. Add in some old bricks and we got started. It took about 30 lots of mixture, a few alterations to the ratios as we went, but we ended up with this monster.

If you are wondering what the white stuff on the oven is, some ants decided to build their nest in the oven, between the layers I guess (you build the inner oven first and then add several extra mud layers to give insulation and a larger thermal mass, so that the oven stays warm longer).

Like anything, if we did it a second time we would probably make a much better job of it as we learnt so much from the first attempt. One of them was to invite friends with young children over to see us during the build. Kids love the idea of treading the mud mix and you can get a suprising amount of work out of a single ten-year-old (and very insistent I get the age right) German girl if they are allowed to get very muddy.

I found the whole process very relaxing (but very tiring) as you do not need to use too much brain power, slapping the mud mixture on the outside is deeply cathartic and you end up with something useful. Well, slightly useful.


Having built it we then had to learn how to fire it. As an ex-boy-scout I thought this would be easy. Getting the fire going is not too hard, you need to keep it burning well for about an hour to heat up the oven and, one big tip, don’t use any damp wood or wood that “spits” (like willow). Having a burning log explode and shower your almost-ready pizza with charcoal embers can lead to angry garden scenes and considerable bad language.

We can just about get a 9″ pizza in there. The pizza in this shot is actually about 6″. The oven was designed to take a 12″ pizza but, errm, I forgot to allow enough space to one side to push the fire into as well.

Another major thing to keep in mind? That arch! You can’t put anything in the oven that is larger than that hole. More importantly, you can’t get anything out that won’t easily come back through that hole. Sticking your arm inside to jiggle things about is also tricky as it gets up to around 300C! {for US readers – about a millon F}

As you can see, the results are anything but professional! And, compared to nipping down to the shops to buy a pizza and just slamming it into the kitchen oven, it takes a lot, lot longer. But you can drink beer or enjoy a bottle of win and sit in the garden whilst getting the mud oven fired and hot. Last weekend we had friends over and the ladies made the pizzas, I cooked them and the other gentlemen helped us work through the beer collection and ate. As for taste? Fantastic.

My wife is far more artistic than I and she makes decorative cakes, sews and now even makes hats when not auditing IT systems (Have you ever been involved in an IT audit and the person knows how to make lists and check them – but can’t plug in a PC? Well, Sue was once a DBA and also a Unix Sys Admin, so when she audits you, she finds what you are hiding!). As such, maybe as an industry we should encourage her hat-making

So what, if anything is the point of this Friday Philosophy, other than to show off my pizza oven and my wife’s hats?

Well, I see this outside work activity as important in the workplace as well, especially if you are having to manage people. Firstly, it is important, I feel, for us all to do something we really enjoy to relax and re-energize (and this can be “computers” for IT people, but as I get older I notice more of my friends who were utterly technology-focused in their 20’s are now moving more towards non-IT hobbies).

Secondly, what people do in their spare time can tell you a lot about the person and what keeps them happy. If they have hobbies that are artistic and their IT job is very regimented, it could indicate they would be happier with some more less rigid task in the mix, say some design work. If they have NO outside hobbies, you are probably working the poor dears a little too hard!

Thirdly, and I have seen this for real, you may have a person or a team that is not performing well in the office – but it turns out a lot of them do interesting and challenging things at home. Someone who can motivate themselves to be a part-time fireman or has the dedication to train each day for a sport has skills and energy. Why, as their manager, am I not seeing much of these traits in the office? Because they are not happy and/or motivated. So I have an issue to sort out. I don’t manage people at present, but I still find it interesting what people do and achieve outside the office as it can indicate that they have talents and skills not being seen in the workplace.

I wonder how I can introduce my chain-saw skills into performance tuning?

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