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Broken Technology – Watching Smurfs Play Tennis July 7, 2012

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

 

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

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

Crowd scenes are particularly good :-)

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

OUGN 2012 Second Day – Out on the Open Seas March 23, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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As I said yesterday, I am not one for blogging about conferences. So what the heck, I’ll do another post on this one :-).

You might have picked up on the fact that I am not very good on the sea and have a lot of nervousness about this idea of spending 2 days on an ocean-going liner. So today is the day we move over to being on the water, the OUGN conference proper. I’m delighted to say I am not the only one nervous about this boat lark, Marie Colgan {or, as I should be calling her, “The Optimizer Lady” – since Doug Burns christened her back at the UKOUG 2011 conference} feels the same. There is nothing better to reduce one’s apprehension about something than finding someone else who is just as if not more anxious about it. I suspect this is an evil way to think but I can’t help it.

The day went well, my overview of VLDBs could have maybe been a little more polished – I think I was trying to cover too many topics and not spending enough time on anything, apart from “why a small number of spindles is bad” which I spent too long on. But I did make two points that I think are major considerations with VLDBs and are actually not very technical. (1) If you are going to have to look after a massive database, try very, very, very hard to keep everything as simple, standardised and controlled as you can. (2) Find other people to talk to about VLDBs. Most companies that have them are reluctant to talk, either because of the industry type (Defense, Banks, Pharma) or a perceived giving away of corporate advantage (Banks, Pharma, Utilities and pretty much all companies really).

Anyhow, having done my talk I was now free for the next 2 days to enjoy other talks, socialise, relax – and keep internally checking if I felt nauseous or not. The sea has turned out to be very calm and the boat very stable. But I keep checking and, of course, that makes me feel a little anxious – and thus ill.

However, I have to say that the travel sickness pills I have been taking do seem to be very effective. They are effectively in making me feel woozy. But, and this is important, not ill. I’m having to rely on beer for the latter.

One thing I really, really like about this conference. Everyone is stuck on a boat, they can’t escape. Which means you get to see lots of people all day and it makes the whole thing have a nice sense of community.

Right, Maria is about to present again. I’m going to go and sit in the front row and sway lightly from side to side. Apparently it makes her feel even worse…

OUGN 2012 First Day – First Panic March 21, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Perceptions, Private Life.
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I’m not really one for blogging about conferences – I mean who cares what someone else saw being presented? But this is the first time I have stopped moving long enough (and been in contact with the internet world) to blog and my brain is too fried to do a technical one.

The journey here was very smooth and the train from the airport to central Oslo makes the ratty, tatty, confined coaches of the UK look as awful as they really are. So I arrive in the central station and decide I will need some local Kroner to pay the taxi to the hotel. So I find an ATM, put in the card and ask for money. Card refused. Huh? But I rang my bank at the weekend and let them know there would be transactions from a foreign country (after some issues a couple of years back my wife always lets the bank know when she will be away and she made me do the same). I tried another ATM from a different company. Refused. OK, damned bank, I’ll use my other card. Refused. Errrr…… In a foreign country, no idea really where I am, not got any local currency. Not looking good.

I wander into Oslo looking for a real, proper bank. Most Norwegians speak perfect English, maybe if I still have problems I can go in and ask. Find bank, go to ATM, about to ask for money….Notice the figures being suggested on this ATM are a lot smaller than the last place. Yes, I had my mental decimal place in the wrong location and I had been asking for almost £1,000 rather than £100. No wonder the request got refused (I keep my daily limit low, it stops be buying too much rubbish on any given day).

So, I head off to the event, get there for Lunch and have a great afternoon. My presentation on IOTS went well and, as I said yesterday, I think I’ll put it to sleep for a while now.

I saw Harald Van Breederode talk about Oracle Database Smart Flash Cache before I did my slot and I always like to hear Harald talk. It was good as ever, but I found myself not so much interested in the idea of using SSD-type storage as an extra “slow SGA” extension (as opposed to a “fast storage” extension) but more that in 3 or 4 years, memory-based storage will be the default and a whole swathe of my knowledge will once more become redundant. I mean, how important will it be to keep physical reads down via things like IOTs once physical reads are relatively cheap? You won’t really care much about expanding your SGA with a secondary cache when you have 4TB of main memory and 100,000 IPS (inputs per second, we will have to see how much faster Output can be made with memory-based storage).

This highlights one of the things I really like about conferences, meetings and chatting to fellow techies in the pub. The actual main topic or point might well be interesting but the secondary thoughts and ideas can be just as striking. I was talking to Uwe Hesse after the talks had finished and part of that was about learning new stuff and training courses. It made me realise that it is way too long since I ran any training courses. I love running training courses.

OK, I’ve had a rest, back to socialising with fellow OUGN 2012 attendees.

Friday Philosophy – The Inappropriate Use of Smart Phones February 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
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16 comments

I’m kind of expecting to get a bit of a comment-kicking over this one…

I never much liked mobile phones – Yes they are incredibly useful, yes they allow countries that lack a ground-based telephony network to create a nationwide system, yes they allow communication all the time from almost anywhere. That last point is partly why I dislike them. {Actually, I don’t like normal phones much, or how some people {like my wife} will interrupt a conversation to dash across the room to answer it. It’s just a person on the phone, it will take a message if someone wants to say something significant. If someone calls your name out in a crowd, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively? No, so what act that way over a phone?}.

However, I hold a special level of cynical dislike for “smart” phones. Why? Because people seem to be slaves to them and they seem to use them in a very antisocial way in social and even business situations. It is no longer just speaking or texting that people do, it’s checking and sending email, it’s twittering and blogging, it’s surfing the net and looking things up. I have no problem with any of this, I do all of these things on my desktop, laptop, netbook. But I don’t do them to the detriment of people who are there in the flesh – whilst supposedly in a conversation with mates at the pub or carrying out a transaction in a shop or using the coffee machine at work or, basically, standing in the bloody way staring at a little screen or rudely ignoring people who I am supposed to be interacting with.

The below is my phone. It makes calls, it sends texts, it might even be able to work as an alarm clock (I am not sure). It does not do anything else much and it was ten quid {actually the below might be the version up from the really cheap thing I have}:

I was pondering this rude (ab)use of Smart Phones in a meeting this week. It was a meeting to discuss a program of work, what needed doing and by whom. It was a meeting where everyone in the room was involved, each person’s opinion was important and we all had a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. So why did over half of the people not only have their Smart Phone out but were tapping away, scrolling through stuff, looking at some asinine rubbish on Facebook {yes, I saw you}? One or two people in the room might have been able to argue that they needed to keep an eye out for important emails or calls – but really? Are things so incredibly important and only you can deal with them that you can’t just play your full part in a meeting for an hour? I was so annoyed by this that I missed half the meeting internally moaning about it…

I just see it as rude. It’s saying “while you people are talking, I can’t be bothered listening and I certainly don’t need to give you my full attention. And I don’t even care that I’m making it so obvious”. Or “I am buying this item from you and we need to deal with the transaction but you are so inconsequential I don’t even have to pause this conversation about which cafe to meet in next week. You do not deserve more than 15% of my attention”.

I supposed that is what really gets my blood slowly heating up, it’s that it has become accepted to be so rude. Just walk down the street, head down and eyes fixed on your glowing little screen, making no attempt to navigate with your fellow city dwellers. I made a decision 2 {correction, 3} years ago that, if you are walking along staring at your phone and you are going to collide with me, you ARE going to collide with me if you do not become aware of me and make allowances – and I am lower down than you, I braced my shoulder and I am going to win this one. If they are so fixated on that bl00dy screen that they do not heed any attention to others, people ping off me like they’ve been thumped by a tree stump. It now happens a lot and I always “win”. I’m surprised no one has punched me yet.

If I was a manager again I would introduce a simply rule. No Smart Phone in your hand unless you have a stated reason for doing so. There are many valid reasons, which will all be related to the meeting. Otherwise you are just being disrespectful. If you feel the meeting does not apply to you or this section is not relevant, fine. Sit still and listen anyway. You might actually find it useful to know what everyone else is doing. Stop playing bl00dy mental chickens or whatever or updating your status to “bored”.

I will hold strongly to these opinions. Right up until the minute I finally buy that iphone I’ve been considering getting. I really want to be able to check my twitter account during meetings, you see.

Friday Philosophy – Christmas Cheer and Business Bah-Humbug December 23, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life.
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7 comments

For many, today is the last working day before Christmas and the festive season – So I sincerely wish upon everyone a Merry Christmas.. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, well the intent of my wishes still holds – I hope everyone; whether working or not; religious leanings for, against or indifferent; has an enjoyable few days during whatever end-of-year festives you have.

I’m going to be miserably now. You might want to stop reading here and maybe go to the shops for that last spell of retail hell or some other Christmas tradition. It’s probably best if you do…

You see, despite the best wishes above, generally speaking I am not a big fan of Christmas and have not been for as long as I can remember. It is not the principle of Christmas I am not keen on {I rather like both the religious and secular aspects of the whole thing, especially the seeing-people part like Di and Bri and ringing up old friends}, it is what Business does to it. Like many people, I really object to the bombarding we endure of advertising, selling and down-right commercialist bullying for what seems to be 3 months on the run-up to Christmas. I know, I know, many people make this very same point ad nauseum around this time. What ticks me off the most is that I don’t think it would be an easy thing to change, for the fundamental reason that the businesses that are so set on telling us that Christmas will not be as good as it could be if we don’t buy their food to make us fat/get expensive presents for the kids to break/buy this bottle of smelly stuff so we get more sex/buy this booze cheap, probably for the same reason as the smelly stuff {or to help ignore the lack of sex}/take out a loan to make this Christmas REALLY “special” and you can pay it off for the whole of the rest of the year and be miserable as a result, {pause to catch breath…} as I was saying, any business that sells more stuff as a result of their advertising, no matter how much it annoys other people or adds to the degrading of the whole Christmas experience, will do better than a company that does not. And so will out-compete less tacky, crass and manipulative businesses.

That’s the huge problem with Christmas and other celebratory times. We live in a commercial society and commercial selection pressure means those companies that can squeeze the most out of a situation to sell tat will win. They give not a hoot about if we enjoy ourselves really {we are back to the smelly stuff and booze again, aren’t we?}, it’s profit. Oh, if enjoying ourselves in some way aids them in getting more profit then they won’t object, but it is not in the company mission statement of 99% of companies – and any that it is in are doing it for cynical, commercialist reasons.

So, all successful businesses are Evil and are ruining Christmas for us all {OK, so that’s a bit of a big leap, stay with me….} So, have your revenge!!!

Next year:

  • Don’t buy stuff people probably don’t want. No adult wants 95% of what they get so….get nothing.
  • Tell everyone “I have all the stuff I need, buy yourself something instead – treat yourself on me”. You can buy the stuff you really want from the savings from point 1.
  • Having established the principle of reciprocal meanness above, that’s all that shopping hassle ditched.
  • Get normal food you like {and that does not play merry hell with your digestive system}. Preferably stuff you can freeze or keep a while, so you don’t need to go into the supermarket after Dec 20th.
  • Turn off the TV in December {or at least record everything and skip the adverts}. There is no decent TV in December anyway, it is all being saved up for the end of the month and, heck, even that is pretty awful.
  • Don’t read the paper. Or if you do, if you must, first four pages and last four pages only and scribble over adverts with a felt-tip pen. You’ll get the gist of world events and if your team is winning or losing.
  • That company you work for, that thinks paying you a wage means it owns your soul? It’s Evil, you owe them nothing they are not getting out of you already, so have a nice break at Christmas. {Unless you work at the same place as me, then they will need you to fill in for me as I will be on holiday}.

You will now be more relaxed, less stressed, have more time and generally be a nicer person. Take people to the pub, spend more time with people who like you being around (and this will be easier due to the people who no longer like you as you did not buy them any socks or a rubbish “humorous” golf book). Do things you actually enjoy. This year it is just going to be me, my gorgeous wife and the cat over Christmas and Boxing Day. The cat is really happy about this as we both like scratching the cat’s ears.

I might invite some neighbours over. They won’t come as they have to fulfil their awful Christmas Obligations – but they will like the fact they were invited. Heck, if they do turn up I’ll be in such a fine, happy mood I will even be nice to them.

Go and walk the hills of Mid Wales with your brother and relax.

Friday Philosophy – In Search of a Woodlouse December 16, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, humour, Private Life.
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5 comments

I don’t carry business cards around with me. I just never, ever think to get some done (either properly or with my trusty printer) and maybe this says something about my personal failings to sell myself. If anyone wants to contact me I tell them my email address and if they look confused I just say “ahh, Google me”. You see, having a very odd Surname means I am easy to find. {Reading this back I guess it could be interpreted as saying “I am so famous you will find me” but that is way, way, way from my meaning – I am going on the very unusual name that I have and nothing other than that!}

If you google (Bing, Alta Vista, whatever) “Widlake” you will get, probably on the first page – Brian Widlake who was a BBC journalist and had a key interview with Nelson Mandela; Widlake Farm B&B down in Looe, Cornwall ; a court case with BAA (nothing to do with me); an accountancy firm called Holmes Widlake; Me! Hey, not bad for some IT geek! It shows there are not many “Widlake”s out there.

If you search on “Martin Widlake” it’s pretty much just lonely little me. This is good as it means I am easily found. In the past I’ve searched on the names of friends and found it really hard to identify the exact person as there are so many people called “Kate Bush” or “Nicole Kidman” or “Stephen Hawking”.

However, my suggestion is seriously flawed and I should know this due to a conversation I have at least once a week. “And your name is, Sir?” “Martin Widlake”. Pause, faint sounds of rustling paper…”I’m sorry, could you say that again?” “Martin Widlake, with an ‘I’” (rustle rustle rustle) “I’m sorry sir, I can’t find any ‘Woodlock’/’Woodlake’/’Woodleg’/’Wideleg’/’Wiglig’ at all.” {choose word of choice, there are several more}. Carefull spelling ensues and even then, something in the brain of some people cannot shake off the “Wood” and get to “Wid”. And yes, I know about the Martin, Martyn and suggestion about ‘I’.

I had someone come up to me at the OUG conference last week and say they had tried to track me down after last years’ event and could not. No “Martin Woodlouse” to be found. *sigh*.

“martin oracle” does not help, it finds that toe-rag Martin Bach {OK, I admit it, Martin Bach is pretty damned hot at Oracle, and oh so annoyingly a nice bloke), Martin Nash in Oracle Corp {fair enough, and again a nice bloke} , James Martin the cook {what the…? but that will please the realcuddleytoys}, oracle religious Association but I ain’t going anywhere near that…I’m a page or two in, which is not bad actually, I can be happy with that.

My wife has it just as bad. She had a nice, obvious Surname {Parker} before I conned her into marrying me {and I did suggest we adopt her Surname when we married}. She joined one company a few years back where, due to her speaking a couple of eastern European languages, they decided she was (phonetically) “Susan Vidlaaackay”. They seemed to find the real Surname more confusing than their assumption.

So, I am easy to find, but only if you actually know me and my odd Surname. Otherwise, “Martin Woodlock”, “Martin Woodlake”, “Martin Woodleg”, “Martin Wiglake”, “Martin Widesnake” {if only}, “Martin Wiglig”, “Martin Wideneck”, “Martin Wicklick”, “Martin Widelake”, “Martin Windleg”, “Martin Woodlouse” and (my favourite) “Marvin Wetleg” are all terms I somehow need to get into web search engines, if I want people to find me with ease.

Does anyone know of any other takes on my name that people think they know me by? Any rude suggestions or ones based on my being shorter than R2-D2 will be deleted with prejudice!

I’ve Been Made an Oracle Ace. December 5, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, UKOUG.
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14 comments

I tried to come up with a witty title but after only first day at the UKOUG conference, OakTable Sunday, my brain is already a little fried…

So yes, last Friday evening I received an email from Oracle Corp informing me I had been nominated for and been accepted as an Oracle Ace. I’d just accidentally blown away some of my slides for a presentation I’m giving this week and I was a bit weary of the whole community thing, so it gave me a real lift. It would have given me a lift anyway, but the timing seemed very nice – it re-invigorated me and it also meant that I could now mention my Ace-dom at conference. Endlessly. I never won prizes at school so this sort of thing goes to my head. Sorry.

Of course, my wife keeps my feet on the ground. I wandered over to the kitchen to tell her…
“Hey, Sue, I’ve just been made an Oracle Ace!”
“That’s nice dear – empty the cat’s litter tray while you are there, it stinks”.
*sigh*

It means a lot to me to be an Oracle Ace. I’m not going to pretend to be all unconcerned over it or say “oh no, not me, I am not worthy of that” like I did {and still do} over being a member of the OakTable. In the last 10 or 12 years I’ve done a lot for Oracle Corp (some of which is public, some of which was working with Oracle on testing things and talking to other Oracle customers about getting the most out of the technology) and also with the UK oracle community so I kind of feel the Acedom is an earned reward for that. But I am also very grateful for it, it is still a relatively rare accolade and Oracle have to feel that you are benefiting the wider community to bestow the award on you.

Being an Ace has already had some impact on me. I met my friend Neil Chandler at the conference, he is the person who nominated me (Oracle tell you who nominated you). “Hey, Neil, due to you I’ve been made an Oracle Ace! Thank you very much!”. “Great Martin, well deserved – so let’s have beers tonight and you can thank me properly”. “Errrr, I’ve been invited to an Ace meal this evening….”. “Well get you! Only just an Ace and too good for us commoners huh? You’ve changed, You’ve really changed….”

The Ace meal was good and much appreciated but I ate too much spicy stuff and boy I’ve got bad indigestion {and more unpleasant symptoms} now.

So it seems, based on evidence so far, Being an Ace loses you friends and makes you feel unwell. This is not what I was expecting….

:-)

{It’s OK, Neil and I had beers before the meal and he forgave me in the end – on the condition I provide him with more beer soon}

Friday Philosophy – OK, so I am on Twitter Now November 18, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life, Twitter.
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2 comments

Not a very exciting Friday Philosophy this week I’m afraid, just a self-publicising announcement that I am now on Twitter. I’ve put the wordpress widget on the blog for a while (days or weeks, I don’t know), my twitter name is MDWidlake. {I was a little surprised mwidlake had gone already but that says more about how rare I consider my surname to be than naivety, I hope}. It seems you can click on a part of the widget to follow me, which is a pretty safe thing to do as I am not very verbal as yet.

As I said, I’m not very active at the moment, I’m more following just a few friends and seeing what people use Twitter for. So far it mostly seems to be about:

  • Random stuff posted when bored
  • Complaining about work or, more specifically, tasks that are proving trickier than hoped
  • Drinking
  • Random stuff posted when bored
  • Articles that have caught someone’s eye
  • …or more often, about tweets about articles that have caught someone’s eye
  • Chatty stuff that only makes sense between social peers (and isn’t that one of the main points of something like Twitter?)
  • Random stuff posted when bored
  • Cuddly toys. I think that is a result of low sample size and that Doug Burns is away at a conference. I worry about his sanity sometimes.

Niall Litchfield, Neil Chandler and Doug Burns were right {thanks again for your advice, gents}, there is some nice stuff on there and I’ve already seen some articles and web pages I found interesting via it – but I have also failed to get on with proper work-like stuff I should have been doing as a result.

I also like the chatty extension to real social engagement that Twitter gives but I hold out on my final decision as to whether this makes up for the negative impact it seems to have on real, meeting-in-person socialising.

The interface to Twitter seems a bit, well, rubbish to me. I know, I’ve been on there for all of a week and I am probably missing the Bleedin’ Obvious  but it seems the stuff I see in Timeline, the default view, is just a subset of what people I follow say. I suspect that it’s got something to do with whether the person the tweet is replying to is on my follow list. To understand half the social stuff you have to go clicking around on people’s full tweet history and follow the thread back. Surely there is an easier way than this, maybe some connect-by tree-walk SQL could be invoked…

I’ve already dropped one person off my “following” list. I only followed one celebrity and I decided I could live without the random musings of Simon Pegg. I can imagine people get addicted to following several dozen b to z level celebs, maybe it’s like constantly living in some sort of poor quality reality tv show {Personally I tend to avoid all reality TV, I prefer reality. Except that I am forced to watch that dancing thing on BBC by my wife. And like most men who make that sort of defence, I can’t quite explain away why I still watch it if she is away…}.

So, don’t expect too much in the way of interesting, witty, insightful or even existing tweets from me as yet, but if you want to follow, heck you can always drop me like a sack of manure any time you like :-).

Friday Philosophy – Should I Be a Twit? October 21, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

Something I have been pondering for a while now is should I join in with the “happening crowd” and sign up to Twitter? I know, I’m two or three years behind the times on this, but more and more people who I like have signed up – even Doug Burns now uses twitter and he used to be negative about it in the same way as I. I’ve asked a few of these friends what they think.

I’ve always resisted the whole micro-blogging world, probably due to the comments made by people about how much dross is tweeted and what a time sink it can be, something the people I asked all mentioned. And partly, being candid, because I know one of my faults is to shoot my mouth off before engaging my brain, especially if annoyed. If it takes 20 seconds to do a tweet, I shudder to think some of the things I might have put out there in the heat of the moment or when in the pub. Pub talk is fine, so long as it is kept in the pub. With a blog, it takes me so long to write them I tend to calm down before sending, if I am angry.

Also, tweets are not my style. I don’t know if you have noticed but I can be a little verbose {this means I spout several sentences where 5 words would do}. Can I be succinct enough to say anything anyone else would want to read?

That’s the writing of tweets, what about the following? I could just be a passive follower. But how many? This is part of the advice given to me by Neil Chandler and also Doug, to only follow a few people so that you do not just drown in an endless feed of stuff. I guess that anything good gets re-tweeted and so you see stuff not just by those you follow but the best bits of what they follow? Neil also suggested that part of what makes twitter work is joining in, don’t just be passive.

Something about Twitter that does bug me a lot, and this is just part of the whole texting/smartphone/constant communication thing of modern life, is when people you are spending social time with just sit staring at their bloody phone. I just find that really rude and I also think it’s a bit depressing when you see three or four people in the pub or restaurant, all staring at their smartphones and not communicating with each other. You might as well stay in bed. Alone. {Oh good grief what a terrible thought! Do couples who do social media now just sit in bed with their phones in front of them, ignoring their supposed love of their life?}

But of course there are advantages to Twitter. There is a lot of interesting stuff that goes on only in the twitter world and some of the tweets I have seen have been hilarious. It’s far more lightweight than blogging, something you can do in a quiet moment. Though Doug suggests this is why you get so much dross about travelling, people catch up on twitter when bored and also tweet then. Niall Litchfield made a very interesting point to me in that it allows you to keep up on a large range of topics and see new ideas and thoughts more. I like that. In fact, Niall sent me an excellent list of reasons for and against, which I’ll {almost} finish on.

From Niall:

*************

Reasons for :

- I get vicarious updates from a large number of sources on a large number of subjects. (Oracle,SQL,Science,Politics)
- It can suit my short and acerbic style from time to time.
- More people are doing it
- It indirectly promotes me (albeit with a somewhat misleading image)
- I find stuff I wouldn’t otherwise have found
- I have engaged with product managers I probably wouldn’t have done

Reasons not:
- time wasting
- addictive
- it promotes me in a misleading way
- it can annoy others

I like it because I’m an information junkie and like to keep abreast of stuff in several areas. It can be a colossal waste of time and irritate immensely.

*************

I think I might well give it a go and that leads to my last thought. If I am going to enter the world of twitter, I am going to have to get a new phone. My current one is so basic that it does little more than just make and receive calls. But a single charge lasts a week.

Returning to the Day Job. October 18, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
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7 comments

Having the Summer off. It’s something that quite a few IT contractors and some consultants say they intend to do…one year. It’s incredibly appealing of course, to take time off from your usual work to do some other things. Asking around, though, it is not something many of us self-employed types who theoretically could do, actually have done. I think it is because, although the theory is nice, the reality is a period not earning a living – and the background worry of “if I take a break, will I be able to step straight back into gainful employment afterwards”?

Well, purely as a service to all those who wonder about it, I decided to sacrifice myself to the experiment and do it this year. I had the summer off. {I know, I picked what turned out to be a very average summer weather-wise, but you just never know in the UK}. I’d finished a job for a client that had turned from a small number of weeks to several months of full-on seven-days-a-week effort and I had a load of domestic things that desperately needed some attention and my potential next job evaporated. I also have to acknowledge that I am in a somewhat lucky position. We do not have kids so the financial worries and potential impact on the innocent does not exist and my wife has been remarkably tolerant. How did it go? In a word, “great!”. I am a lot healthier and a lot more fired up to get on with work as a result of a few months away from the coalface – but I’ll save the second half of this post for some of the boring details of what I got up to {which you may well want to skip}.

This week the break ends. As I write this I do not have a job – but today I start looking around and I start locking myself in my office for the day. I’ll be doing work, even if this consists of me simply catching up on technical reading and testing some ideas I have about Oracle internals and design. This should hopefully increase the technical content of my Blogs too. If anyone is working on a project that could do with some Oracle performance or system design work, I’d be happy to hear from you.

As you can see, the one thing I am terrible at as a self-employed person is the selling of my services. I’m sure I will not get much response from a simple “give me a job” line in a blog that, let’s face it, is being read mostly by technical-doing-people and not budget-holding-hiring-people. However, you might have noticed a green text box on the right of this page proclaiming “available for consultancy”. It’s a free thing for me to do and I intend to keep it there, swapping it for a red “unavailable” when I am busy. This might of course reveal how poorly I do in finding work – but that could be interesting of itself.

So, what have I done? I’ve kept my hand in on the Oracle front but what about non-IT things? Well, one thing was building a clay pizza oven. That took a day on a course and about 200 hours digging a hole in the garden for clay, cleaning up some old bricks, mixing up endless quantities of cobb with the clay, straw and sand, building it wrong several times and destroying a perfectly good Pizza in it.

The final product works though. We fired it up this last weekend and it got up to 300C and the pizzas we cooked in it were very good – allowing for the odd bit of ash and ember. Hint, do not use wood that spits, like pine and off-cuts from building work. If you are wondering about the big bits of wood in the entrance, that is some green oak offcuts which I popped in there after the last firing. The morning after using the oven, you can put in wood for the next firing and the residual heat helps dry it nicely.

A lot has been done around the garden, especially as I now own a chainsaw. Again, I got myself on a course to learn how to maintain the machine and keep the chain sharp. I had to modify some protective clothing to suit my diminutive frame and then about two dozen trees came down and had to be chopped up. {Monty Python’s lumberjack sketch obviously had a big impact on my development as a child}. I then took the chainsaw for an excursion to Wales and gave my brother’s garden the same treatment. I wonder if anyone local wants a load of trees cut down? :-)

A major task has been to organise and then oversee the start of some building work on the house. As anyone who has had such work done knows, it takes a lot of time to organise the work and then once it starts there are a lot of initial issues to sort out. Much like designing and building a new computer system, upfront design and project initiation can make the whole build run so much more smoothly. At least, I am hoping so!

The building work resulted in an odd little bit of computer work. One of the guys was complaining that his machine had started running slow and now it would start up only to shut down immediately. One of the other builders said “Well ask the governor, he does computers”. Of course, I utterly failed to explain that I do other types of computers and so this PC duly arrived. It was nice to do some IT that was not my normal area. It turns out this machine had a couple of nasty viruses which I had to sort out first and then protect the machine with some decent AV software. This was made difficult by the “Rapport” security software his bank had encouraged him to download, which was somehow blocking a windows update from working, as well as grinding the machine to a halt. The performance impact of the software was causing the windows update to take 10 minutes, it would fail and take 20 minutes to roll back and then force a reboot… and cycle through the update again. I temporarily fixed this by booting off a Windows CD and I could then remove the dodgy security software, despite it’s attempts to stay in place. But the machine was still terribly slow. Dixons had sold him the machine and seen fit to put in only 512MB of memory, for a Windows Vista machine. £10 got us an extra 1GB of memory and a machine that now worked. Payment for all of this effort was a couple of nice bottles of wine and a very happy builder.

The building work is still in progress and, of course, part of why my Summer off has come to an end is that the builders have used up the spare money I had from the last job. *sigh*. Mind you, the Summer off was supposed to end in September but as the weather suddenly improved I got permission for a time extension from the lone worker in the house. Has anyone noticed this blog posting is slowly becoming nothing but an excuse for me to stick up some pictures?

There have been a lot of far more mundane things to do on the domestic front but there has also been some IT stuff I have been up to – but I’ll save that for a another day and a more oracle-centric posting I think. Right, I better try and make the CV look more like I’m the best Oracle guy on the planet {OK, I’d have to change the name on the top}. It leans towards being understated honesty rather than overstretched impressive, and I know that is what potential employers like to see (I think it is better for the interview to indicate more skills than the CV, rather than the other way around) but agents seem to want you appear better than a bizzare child of Tom Kyte and Christian Antognini for them to put you in a pile other than “yet another bog-standard IT grunt”. If the agent won’t put you forward, you can’t make your case in the interview, can you?

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