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Infrastructure and Management SIG – new date September 13, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I ought to just mention that the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG has moved from Tuesday September 20th to Tuesday September 27th (so two weeks from today). It had to be moved as we had a bit of a problem with the room booking. It will be in the usual venue of the Oracle City Office in London and is, of course, free to members of the UK Oracle User Group. {If you are not a member, you can come along for a fee – but if you are interested in coming along to see what a UKOUG Special Interest Group meeting is all about, send me a mail}.

So, if you fancy some free information about:

  • Getting the best out of your intel hardware (and BIOS in general) {Steve Shaw from Intel}
  • The latest on Oracle GRID and OEM {both presentations by customers not Oracle, one by Niall Litchfield and one by ‘Morrisons’,though Oracle supported us very well by finding one of the customers!)}
  • A presentation and discussion on Outsourcing by Piet de Visser 
  •  A consideration of how deep into the technology real-world DBAs need to go to solve issues (Neil Chandler and myself)
  • An Oracle support update

Well, register for the event and I’ll see you in two weeks!

UKOUG Oracle Conference agenda now out September 5, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I just wanted to drop a quick post to say that the agenda for the UKOUG annual conference is now out. You can check out the schedule here.

They seem to have dropped the TEBS (Technical and E-Buisiness Suite) out of the title, I think because last year the UKOUG staff kept getting asked if it was the annual Oracle conference they knew and loved from prior years. And of course it is. (Other “application” sides of the Oracle world, like JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, have their own dedicated, named UKOUG conferences).

There is also a return of the Sunday OakTable stream. For those who have not come across it before, it is a chance to see some presentations by members of the OakTable in a smaller and more accessible room. ie you feel better able to ask the presenters awkward questions :-).
I’m not sure of the exact details of registering for this part of the event but the agenda shows the talks that are happening (in fact, if you click on the “view the full 2011 agenda” icon on the agenda home page, it shows Sunday by default). I managed to get along to the OakTable Sunday a few years ago and loved it – I’ll be on the opposite side this time, I’m priviledged to have been asked to fill one of the slots.

As ever, the conference has a massive and wide-ranging agenda, with mini-streams like EXA(data/logic) and MySQL on Monday,APEX on Wednesday… The number of papers and the general quality that are submitted to the conference goes up and up each year and a lot of effort goes into not just picking well know speakers but also a mix of new presenters and ensuring topics get covered. It’s hard, but during the selection process sometimes there are 4 or 5 talks we know are going to be excellent but are all on the same or similar topic – some have to be dropped to ensure the breadth of topics is still covered. The number of slots a single person is allowed to have is also controlled, again to maintain space for a wide range of presenters and presentations. All in all, it is not a simple task and even now some tweaks are going on (to fill topic gaps, finalise the exact scope for a talk or to allow for people who suddenly find they cannot present anymore). You can rest assured though that, all in all, it will be an excellent conference.

Next presentations August 24, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I’ve got a couple of presentations coming up.

The first is at the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG on Tuesday 20th September. I chair this SIG and it is all about how to manage Oracle when you have lots of databases, very big databases or a particular need to know a bit more about the rest of the IT Infrastructure. You can find the schedule here. The aim is to talk at a technical level but not the deep-dive of some of the RDBMS or HA presentations as we want to cover a wider brief.

As I say, one thing we do is look at the hardware your Oracle databases and application servers need to run on. This meeting we have Steve Shaw from Intel talking about getting the most out of your Xeon-based servers, but the general concepts apply to other platforms. If you are old enough, you will remember how you used to set up “HIMEM.SYS”, “EMM386.SYS and try to keep as much of the first 640K of your memory free. You might even have got down and dirty with you BIOS settings. We did it as the performance boosts were significant. Well, we don’t do that sort of thing anymore and Steve’s talk will probably make you want to! It still is a free way to get more out of your hardware.

Piet de Visser is also coming along and I always really enjoy his presentations. This time he is covering something of interest/concern to many of us – Outsourcing. I think that will be a pretty lively session.

I’m presenting as well, with Neil Chandler on the topic of how deep you should dive when solving technical issues. To 10046 trace or not.

We meet in Oracle’s city office, so handy for anyone in or around London or for anyone coming in from North of London (the office is 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station and three stops along the underground from King’s Cross St Pancras). We’ve still got to finalise one or two agenda slots but they will be real-world talks about Enterprise Manager/GRID control. One fixed item on the agenda is that those who wish to retire to a pub afterwards to continue the discussions.

You may have noticed the little logo for the UKOUG TEBS conference appearing at the right of this blog. The agenda is not quite public yet so I cannot say too much, but I will be presenting at the event, on Index Organized Tables. I’ll be showing demonstrations of some of the things I have been blogging about and expanding on areas, joining it all up into one session. I might also be presenting on database design but that talk is being discussed and finalised at present. The UKOUG team have a lot of things that they have to pull together and organise just for the presentations, never mind the rest of the conferences such as the exhibition hall, catering, registration etc. I’ve been involved in helping with the agenda organisation this year, in a minor way, so I’ve seen it all from the inside.

The TEBS conference is, for me, the meeting highlight of the year. I’ve been to Oracle Open World and, interesting though it is and with some fabulous presentations and events, it is just too big, corporate and company line for me. Oh, I’d go again when the opportunity arises, but for me the UKOUG TEBS conference has a much better feel to it, you still get a load of great talks from Oracle about the latest/greatest, but you also get loads and loads of talks by many of the best in the field and the talks are independent – no pressure to be upbeat about Oracle or avoid any negative messages. In fact, if you honestly feel something in Oracle is worth avoiding, you are free to present and say “Don’t Do This!” :-)

I had planned to go to more of the European conferences this year but it did not get myself organised. For me, as an Independent consultant, I need to present to justify the trip and I keep failing to get the submissions in on time.

Telling the Truth in IT March 17, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I’ve been doing presentations for many years, mostly on Oracle Technology, occasionally on management topics. However, my favorite presentation to give is one about when things go wrong.

The title is usually something like “Surviving Survivable Disasters” or “5 ways to Seriously Screw up a Project” and, though the specific examples and flow may vary, the general content is the same. I talk about IT situations that have gone wrong or things that strike me as daft/silly/mindless in IT. My aim is to be entertaining and have a laugh at the situations but I also want to explore what causes disasters and how we might go about avoiding at least some of them.

When doing the presentation I have a couple of ground rules:

  • I must have witnessed the situation myself or know personally, and trust, the individual who is my source.
  • I do not name organisations or individuals unless I am specifically given permission {by individuals that is, organisations never get named. Except one}.
  • I try to resist the temptation to embellish. It’s not hard to resists, a good disaster usually stands on it’s own merits.

It’s a great talk for introducing some light relief into a series of very technical presentations or for opening up a day of talks, to get people relaxed. It’s also the only talk I get seriously nervous about doing – if you are aiming to be entertaining and you miss, you stand to die on stage. The first time I did the talk I was physically sweating. However, it went down a storm. I did it 4 or 5 more times over as many years and it always went down well.

However, about 4 years ago I did the presentation just as I was about to go back to being self employed. After the talk a very good friend came over and said something like “Really entertaining talk but…maybe you should tone it down? A lot. Potential employers are going to take a dim view of you doing this, they will worry they will appear in the next talk”. I protested that I never mention companies or people and, surely, all organisations are able to admit that things go wrong and it is to everyone’s benefit if we all learn from them? My friend was adamant that though companies want to benefit from other disasters, they never, ever want to in any way be the source of that benefit. He was sure it would be very damaging to my potential career. Hmmmm…. I could see his point.

I was already scheduled to do the talk again in a couple of months and I took heed of his advice for it. I toned down the material, I removed some of the best stories and I added several disclaimers. I also died on stage. It went from an amusing 45 minutes to a preachy and stodgy affair.

I have not done it since.

The question is, should I have pulled back from doing that talk? Is it really going to harm my potential employability? (After all, no work has ever come my way from presenting). Why can’t we be honest that issues occur and that learning from them is far more valuable than covering them up? After all, do we believe a person who claims never to have made mistakes?

What prompted this thread is that I have been asked to do the talk again – and I have agreed to do so. I’ll be doing it next week, with the title “5 ways to advance your career through IT Disasters” for the UK Oracle user group Back to Basics event. This is a day of introductory talks for people who are fairly new to Oracle, the brain-child of Lisa Dobson. Lisa realised a few years ago that there were not enough intro-type presentations, most technical talks are by experts for fellow experts {or, at least, people wanting to become experts}.

I’m very happy to support helping those who are new to Oracle and I think it is important that people who are new to IT are exposed to what can go wrong – and any advice that might help them avoid it. After all, it’s better they learn from our mistakes than just repeat them again. OK, they’ll just repeat them again anyway, but they might spot that they are doing so just in time :-)

Is this a good idea? What the hell, I want more free time to do things like this blog – and get on top of the garden.

Advert – UKOUG conference, end of November October 30, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The best Oracle event in the calendar (in my opinion) is only a month away now. From Monday 30th November to Wednesday 1st December the UK Oracle User group Technical and E-Business Suite (TEBS) conference is running. {Being old-school I still think of it as the UKOUG conference but the user group also run other conferences for eg Siebel, Peoplesoft and the up-coming JD Edwards event, dedicated to those segments of the constantly growing world of Oracle}.

I love the TEBS conference. I loved it when I knew almost nobody else attending it because of the breadth and quality of the technical presentations. When I was a manager I liked the fact I could mix going to the technical stuff to going around the demo booths and seeing if any of the services on offer were of interest. And now that I know more people who attend the event, I love catching up with them and also meeting new people who maybe I only knew before by name or reputation.

The social events around the conference are no where near in the same league as those at Oracle Open World – which means that the UKOUG ones are not massive and unfeeling, but of a size where you can bump into friends and be introduced to other people. {And, I should add, the UKOUG staff do an excellent job of organising them}. I’d say half the people I know in the Oracle world I met at the conference.

So having said how much I like the conference, the question is, am I presenting this year? There seems to be an inverse relationship to the number of years I have been attending and the number of talks I do. Back in 2004 I did 3, in 2005 and 06 it was 2, 2007 was 1. 2008 I had to skip the event and last year all my proposed talks were rejected. I blame the fact that the quality and number of abstracts submitted goes up each year.

The good news (or bad news, depending on your opinion) is that I am presenting again this year, first thing on Tuesday at 08:45

My SQL is suddenly performing badly and nothing has changed. Why?

I’m actually very nervous about this presentation as I want to not only describe why SQL might change how well it performs but also demonstrate the reasons – and how you detect them. Demonstrations take an age to prepare and, as fellow presenters know, have this nasty habit of dying under your feet. I’ve not got a lot of spare time at present so I already feel I am behind schedule!

I’ll also be curious how many people from the MySQL field drift into the room thinking it is part of the MySQL stream {which runs on the Wednesday}. Sadly the talk will be of no use at all to them as it is very specific to Oracle!

Despite the presenting duties, I’m really looking forward to the event. I’d love to meet anyone who reads my blog, whether you like it or not. Just stop me and say “hi” if you see me around.

Advert – MI SIG on 5th October September 13, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The next UK Oracle User Group (UKOUG) Management and Infrastructure SIG is coming up in a few weeks – 5th October in the Oracle City Office. You can find the latest agenda here. If you do not know what we (the MI SIG) cover, it is basically technical topics at a slightly broader level. So not so much example code but how feature X works or how to use Y over 100 databases plus. We also touch on management issues, which I always worry will put some potential attendees of,f but in fact nearly always goes down very well.

We have an excellent line up of topics and presenters for this meeting. Does Exadata work in the real world? Peter Scott will be presenting some of what he has learned doing this. Want to know about oracle’s latest licensing options and how to save money? Alex Sandercock from Turnstone Services will be talking about that. Confused about how storage is changing and how the database interacts with it? James Moorle will cover that one.

It has been a real struggle getting the agenda together for this meeting, I can’t believe we have ended up with such a strong one in the end. I mean, I am not even having to bore everyone with my voice again.

The first problem was I just failed to get the organising started. As the Chair, it is my main function to sort out the meetings. It was always “tomorrow” as I had so much on for every “today”.

The second problem was we were up against Oracle Open World. We had a few people “in hand” who had indicated they would be happy to do a talk for us, but were scheduled to do OOW. I thought it was a bit mean to turn us down for some obscure vendor event in the US. So we moved our event by a month.

The final problem was that we still had trouble with speaker availability, as it was now so close (it might not seem close if you are considering going to a meeting, but if you are being asked to sign up to preparing and giving a presentation, 5 weeks is not a lot of notice).

It all came together in the end, with the help of the co-chairs, especially Neil Chandler.

I know I have said this before, but I struggle to understand why SIG meetings are not flooded with people coming to them. It is free training in effect (if your organisation is a member of the UKOUG – £80 otherwise, I think). All the presenters are experts, often presenting similar talks to those given at Oracle Open World or the UKOUG Conference. OK, it is a day not working in the office but as well as the “free training” you meet up with other people who have similar work issues as you. I find it invaluable to have a circle of external people I can occasionally say “What do you think of this” to. The meeting other people is aided by us retiring to a pub after the event, for those inclined to do so.

I try to get to SIGs when I can and in fact, if I was not at my own on the 5th, I’d like to be at the modelling and architecture one – I’ve been meaning to get to that one for ages.

What, me? An OakTable member? August 23, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
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The title rather gives it away, but I have been invited to become a member of the OakTable network. For anyone not aware of the OakTable, it is a group of some of the very best Oracle practitioners around and you would recognise many of the names in the group. Most of them also present at conferences around the globe and set up the Oak Table challenge at various of these venues, where they try and address any oracle-based question you might have.

All of them are very bright, all are very knowledgeable.

Which is where I come a little unstuck. Without wanting to sound like some vapid actor at a Hollywood award ceremony decrying “I am so unworthy of this nomination”, whilst secretly thinking “I so deserve this”… Well, my initial thought when receiving the invite was “I am so unworthy…”. I’ve had the weekend to think about it though. And I still think “I am so unworthy…”

I’m actually on record as suggesting that we might also need a “Formica Table”, though the only online reference to it I can now find {I MUST put my old presentations on my web site} is from the archives of Andrew Clark’s Radiofreetooting blog about a presentation I did at the UKOUG in 2007. {Follow the link and search for Widlake or Formica, it is way down the bottom}. If you can’t be bothered looking at the original, Andrew said this:

I was particularly taken with the Formica Table. This would be a forum where “not bad” DBAs answered questions which fitted 95% of all scenarios; sort of an Oak Table For The Rest Of Us.

I think his quote of me was actually better than the original. The idea was that the real experts on the Oak Table {is it actually one word guys? “OakTable”!?} deal with the hard, tricky, complex issues and this secondary formica table could deal with the rest of the world. Because I could just about cope with formica level. The intention being, of course, that I would sit on said plastic-laminate-coated-chipboard table.

Am I being falsely modest here? I do not think I am. I know I am good at what I do and I know I have achieved some impressive things. I also know most people who employ me ask me to stay longer (and I usually do). But I am realistic. I’m very good but I am not fantastic (at Oracle anyway :-) ). And no way as capable as many OakTable members. But the people on the OakTable have some other things in common. From the home page of the website:

The OakTable network is a network for the Oracle scientist, who believes in better ways of administering and developing Oracle based systems.

The impression I get from spending some time with the handful of members of the OakTable that I already know is that they generally all feel that you need to not only be knowledgeable about Oracle (or whatever area of knowledge you are interested in) but you need to be able to demonstrate and show that the knowledge is real. You create test cases and try things out. Just saying “you should use a large block size for data warehouses” is just not really enough, it is so much more powerful if you can say why you think this is so and then produce test cases to show that. And if someone produces a test case to show the opposite, well you need to reconsider. It is what is at the core of the scientific method. You test things and have to adapt or change if the tests refute your theory. If someone will not provide test cases or real-world examples to support their facts, they are in fact, opinions. Which is fine, just don’t sell them as facts.

The other common thread is a willingness (and perhaps a worrying compulsion) to teach. I’ve seen many of the OakTable present and I know a lot of them do courses all over the globe. Sometimes it is paid work, often it is not, it is done as a benefit to the community. That is nearly always the case with user group presentations.

I’m figuring that is why I’ve been invited to join. Technically, most if not all the OakTable are a step or three better than me and I reserve my right to respect that. But I really believe in demonstrating what you think is going on with Oracle is what is really going on and I have an almost worryingly compulsive willingness to teach.

So, have I turned down the invite? Are you kidding!?! It’s great to be invited and I really look forward to having more to do with this bunch of talented and helpful people. And I am also looking forward to contributing my little bit to the group and, through it, to the wider Oracle community.

It is slightly ironic that I have been asked to join a group of people right now who are characterised by their willingness and drive to scientifically investigate and then disseminate information on Oracle-based technology when I have spent the last month doing nothing of the sort. I have been digging ditches, cleaning out ponds, chopping down trees and doing major DIY, all of which I am utterly unsuited to but I enjoy. So I now feel obliged to stop that, pick up a keyboard and continue to investigate the edges of my ignorance. I’ll try and keep you informed of progress.

Oh, and I have another problem now. How do I get the OakTable Icon onto this blog? Somewhere on the right I think…

Saturday Philosophy – The unbelievably small world of VLDBs June 12, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in VLDB.
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Yesterday I posted about the potential for a Oracle in Science community within the UK Oracle user group {and wider for that matter, there is after all a world Oracle Life Science community but it is currently less vibrant than it was, sadly}.

My friend and occasional drinking partner Peter Scott replied to say he felt there was “a place for a SIG for stonking great databases” {now wouldn’t SGDB be a better TLA than VLDB? :-) }.

Well, I would agree but for one small detail. An apparent lack of anyone willing to be part of the community.

When I was building a very considerable VLDB {and I’m sorry I keep going on about it, I’ll try and stop soon} back in the early to mid 2000’s I seemed to be working in a vacuum of information, let alone prior experience. Yes, there was stuff in the Oracle manuals about how big things could theoretically be made and some vague advice on some aspects of it, but an absolute lack of any visible Oracle customers with anything even approaching the sizes I was contemplating. 2TB was about the limit and I was already way beyond that. Was this because I really was pushing the boundaries of database size? Well, I have since found out that whilst I was up there just behind the leading edge, there were several databases much, much bigger than mine and others already envisioned that might hit the Petabyte level, let alone Terabyte.

The thing is, no one would speak about them. At all.

We were left to do it all pretty much from scratch and it would not have been possible if I had not spent years building up with VLDBS as the definition of a VLDB size increased, plus of course cracking support by the other DBAs and Systems Admins around me. And to be fair, Oracle Corp helped us a lot with our efforts to build these massive databases. Interestingly, one Oracle Consultant would regularly tell me that our systems really were not so unusually big and there were plenty larger. He usually said this when I asked, exasperatedly as something else failed to scale, if Oracle had every tested things at this level :-). But despite constantly asking to meet with these people with massive systems, so we could exchange war stories and share advice, and being promised such contacts by Oracle, they never materialized except for CERN – who we already talked to as a fellow scientific organisation – and Amazon, who it turns out did things in a very different way to us {but it was really good to talk to them and find out how they did do their big databases, thanks guys}. Both were at the same scale or just behind where we were.

This is because most of the people with massive oracle databases will not talk about them as they are either run by the largest financial organisations, are to do with defense or in some other way just not talked about. In his comment Peter refers to a prior client with an OLTP-type system that is now around the PB scale. I would be pretty sure Peter can’t say who the client is or any details about how the system was designed.

So although I think there is a real need for a “stonking great databases” forum, I think there is a real problem in getting a user community of such people/organisations together. And if you did, none of the members would be allowed to say much about how they achieved it, so all you could do would be sit around and brag about who has the biggest. There is an Oracle community about such things, called the Terabyte Club, but last I knew it was invite-only and when I managed to get invited, it turned out that mine was biggest by a considerable margin, so I was still not meeting these elusive groups with 500TB databases. Maybe there is an Oracle-supported über database society but as I never signed the official secrets act might not have been eligible to play.

If I am wrong and anyone does form such a user group (or is in one!) I would love to be a member and I would strive to present and help.

I’ll finish with what appears to be a contradiction to what I have just written. There already is a UKOUG User Group that deals with large systems and I chair it – the Management and Infrastructure SIG. {sorry, the info on the web page could do with some updating}. Part of what we cover is VLDBs. But we also cover Very Many DataBases (companies with thousands of instances) and Very Complex DataBases plus how you go about the technical and management aspects of working in a massive IT Infrastructure. It might be that we could dedicate a meeting to VLDBs and see how it goes, but I know that whilst many who come along are dealing with database of a few TB, no one is dealing with hundreds of TB or PB database. Either that or they are keeping quiet about it, which takes us back to my main point. The MI SIG is probably the closest to a VLDB SIG we have in Europe though, and is a great bunch of people, so if you have a VLDB and want to meet some fellow sufferers, we have our next meeting on 23rd September in the Oracle City office.

Friday Philosophy – The Science of Oracle June 11, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes.
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The title to this blog is very misleading. It is not about scientifically understanding how Oracle technologies work or even about the technology itself.

It is actually about the fact that a lot of scientific organisations, both academic and commercial, work with Oracle technology in ways to do directly with the science {as opposed to using it for CRM, HR or tracking students and results, which they also do but I’m not interested in that}.

If you have worked in Academia or charitable scientific organisations it can be a little suprising that Oracle is used so much, as it is expensive and corporate – there is a tendency to be poor and anti-corporate in such environments. But the thing is, Oracle is able to handle large amounts of complex data, in many formats, in many ways, and most programming languages can easily access the data in the database. You can achieve a lot with just PL/SQL and Java of course.

Commercial scientific organisations, like large Pharmaceuticals, use it for the same reasons of course, but for them the cost is not such an issues {I can imagine IT managers in such organisations going “It damn well IS an issue!” but trust me, not in the same critical way}.

What is the point of this blog? Well, it’s about user communities. The scientific community have a tendency to push the Oracle database further than most Oracle users do. Take data volumes. I worked for many years for the UK-side of the Human Genome Project and part of what I did was create an Oracle database that scaled to 100TB. Even now that is pretty large but I was designing and implementing it back in 2004-2005. The data volumes CERN are going to have to handle for the Large Hadron Collider just dwarf that, and they only hold summarised data of summaries of the actual raw scientific data generated.

Another aspect is coping with very rapid change, for example systems to support lab processes. This is similar to your standard factory management system except that the level of change can be daunting. The process can change, well, weekly, as the science and techniques improve in the lab. Those scientist might even completely change what they are doing when some unexpected avenue opens up. I say “might”, seemed to happen every month.

In scientific organisations there tends to be more openness about what and how they do things. Academic and charitable scientific organisations tend to put less barriers in the way of exchanging knowledge than corporations do and so that encourages more exchange of information. When I was working in the area I was positively encouraged to go to conferences and present. Obviously this is not always true and scientific corporations, like Pharmaceuticals, have gained {rightly or wrongly} a reputation for being very reticent about sharing any knowledge at all. But often the individuals involved will share.

So, the scientific community push areas of the technology very hard, they tend to be an open bunch of people, cost is often critical and, the final thing I have not mentioned, is that they often speak a language only vaguely recognisable as English, due to the jargon. Sounds like a community to me.

The real reason I mention all this is that it looks like, after about 4 years of considering and discussing having a science SIG {Special Interest Group} in the UKOUG, I will finally be putting together an agenda for an initial meeting for such a thing. I wonder if it will be a success?

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