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Friday Philosophy – Tech Writing Is Like Religious Art July 8, 2016

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

I’m putting together an article for Oracle Scene at the moment – I’ve delayed it for a couple of issues as we wanted the space for other tech articles, but my time has come. And I’m finding it very hard going. Why?

I’m not an expert on religious art (or religion… or art) but one thing I know is that with religious artifacts, especially things like sculpture, furniture, and plaques, they often differ from non-religious art in that the back of them is as well done as the front. I.e. if there is an ornate plaque to be created and put on the wall of a secular building, all the effort goes into the front. The back is likely to be simple or even rough. With a religious plaque, the chances are that the back will be just as well crafted as the front.

The reason is that God can see the back of it. God will know if you skimped on your devotional art to him/her/them. The whole piece has to be of quality. If it’s a secular piece then no one generally sees or cares about the back and, if someone was to try to take your plaque off the wall, you’d smack their hands and tell them to leave it alone.

When I present, teach or (to a certain extent) blog I mostly care about what my audience will see. If I do a demonstration script I can put it up, show the results and move on. The chances of you actually running the script are low so it does not matter if I had to tickle things a little (fiddle with the SGA settings, alter my session, pre-warm my cache) to get it to work as intended. Similarly I can tell you the message I have and not worry too much about the messy details (but IO have to be ready to answer any awkward questions).

But with something written and published, which is going to be there for a while and people can refer to it and test it all out with ease – you can all potentially see “the back of it”. This raises my normal fear about making mistakes in public to the level of paralysing paranoia.

There you go, I think of you all as Gods. That’s a nice place to finish the week, don’t you think?

Friday Philosophy – Brexit & the Misplaced Blame Culture. July 1, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
21 comments

This is not going to be a rant about Brexit and how the selfish, stupid and simply fearful were led by a jingoistic & deceitful bunch of career politicians to show the worst side of the UK. Well, maybe a bit… It’s more about something that struck me about Brexit in respect of who is to “blame”. And there are aspects of this that are echoed in our own industry.

I feel that there is a strong element of “the chickens coming home to roost” with Bexit. By this, I mean things were done by our politicians and our media that unintentionally led to this fiasco – and a lot of those who are presently supposed to lead the UK, who are currently dismayed at the Brexit vote are, in fact, partially responsible.

For years UK politicians have blamed the EU for many of the woes and issues in the UK. We’ve constantly been hearing how “Brussels will do this” or “The EU will force us to do that” or “we can’t do what ‘we’ want as it is dictated by the EU”, painting the EU as a distant evil that reaches out it’s fingers to damage our nation. The media is even worse, the endless stupid and easily disproven stories of bent bananas being banned or bar maids not being able to show cleavage just being used as a way to sell papers or get ratings. Often, what the politicians have said about EU legislation is at best a misrepresentation of the situation and, at worst, an outright lie. But it shifts the blame to some distant group who is not going to fight back.

The end result is that for many people the message has stuck. If you look at the various graphs of which areas voted for brexit and indicators of education, there is a strong correlation with high Leave vote and low Education. It’s not scientific, but listening to the opinions of those shown by the media who wanted to leave or stay, you’d not expect a team of leavers to beat a team of remainers in a quiz. The easily swayed were swayed.

So when our politicians show utter dismay at the vote for Leave then they should be considering the number of time they attacked the EU, blamed it for stuff in an attempt to absolve themselves of blame and, most importantly, knowingly lied for political gain. The out-going Prime Minister spent years using the EU as a monster in the corner he was fighting for “Our” benefit and gaining concessions as the UK was so important. All to help improve his standing or shift the blame away from his government. It is part of what made his campaigning to stay in the EU such a hard pill for many to swallow. To cap it all, one of the main campaigners to leave, Boris Johnson, started back-peddling on the claims he had made and supported before the counting had even finished.

Why do I think there is something similar in our industry? Well, how often have you rung up a company to complain when things have gone wrong – and been told “it’s the computer”? I suspect that many of you, like myself, often suspect it was not “the computer” as it does not makes sense for whatever the problem is to be down to “the computer”. It might be someone messed up entering data into the computer and, sometimes, it really is that the computer system has gone wrong. But, just like with the EU, “the computer” is seen as a nameless, distant and out-of-our-control entity that blame can be easily shifted to, partly as people will now just accept that it is “the computer”.

Two instances stick in my mind about this “blame the computer” attitude. Once, a few years back, was when there was a brief spell where my wife was having outpatient visits to a hospital. We had a holiday booked and knew it would clash with the appointment next month – but the specialist said this was fine and to book 2 months ahead. The receptionist did not see it this way, a holiday was no excuse and she would book us in for the next month and we would have to cancel. (??? yes I know, not her decision to make). I challenged this and told her to just book it. She still refused and when I insisted she check with the specialist – she still refused, saying there was no point as the computer system would not allow it. I reached over, tapped a single key and the next month’s schedule was up on her screen. I’d taught people how to use that system. Her whole demeanor screamed that she knew she could skip a month and had been caught out. She had no trouble now booking the appointment and pressing the correct key to get back.

The other was when I actually caught one of my own team taking a call from an irate user and they, a computer programmer, said “the computer’s down so I can’t do that”. The system was not down, it’s just he did not know what the problem was and so cited the “evil box” explanation. I was really pissed off with him, one of the few times I actually lost my temper and went a bit postal on one of my people. “If you, of all people, wrongly blame the computer then how much is that damaging trust in our systems?”.

I’m not sure quite how the “blame the computer” is going to harm us in the same way as “blame the EU” has, but I can’t help but feel that whenever we try to shift the blame from what we control to a remote and blameless entity, we are at risk of “the chickens coming home to roost”.

One last thing. I know very few young people in the UK will read this but, for any who do: A lot of us older people also voted remain, just not enough. I’m sorry that, as a group, we older people voted for a future that you, as a group, you younger people did not want. Remember, don’t trust rich, old people. Or anyone who says “I’m not a racist but…”

Private Life – When the Pond Came Inside June 17, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in off-topic, Private Life.
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2 comments
It's not deep - but it's still unwanted!

It’s not deep – but it’s still unwanted!

This week my plans were thrown into chaos when our house flooded. Before I go any further I should state that everyone is fine, no structural damage was done and we were about as lightly flooded as you can be whilst still being, well, in the situation of having dirty, contaminated water in your home. Let’s just say our garden pond partially relocated into our house but brought with it a strong hint of Septic Tank.

I tweeted about it and my wife put some pictures up on Facebook and so people have been in touch to ask how things are. I don’t have a personal blog as well as this work-based one (and I treat this one as my personal blog anyway) so I’m putting some information and pictures up here. I won’t be mentioning Oracle or Office Politics.

Cup half full or half empty? This one is 3/4 full of rain

Cup half full or half empty? This one is 3/4 full of rain

So, why did our house flood? We live no where near a river. In fact, we live on a large, elevated plateau about 50 meters higher than almost everywhere 3 or 4 miles from here. But we do have a couple of square miles of clay-soil fields a few meters higher than our hamlet, just to the South of us. And the brook in our garden is part of the system that drains it. This has never been a problem in the last 10 years, even when it has rained solidly for a week. However, on Tuesday we had just over 2 inches (about 6 cm) of rain fall in about 30, 35 minutes. That is not a lot in some parts of the world, but in the South East of England, it’s very, very unusual. I’ve never seen rain like it in this country before, at least not lasting more than a few minutes of a “cloud burst”. I knew roughly how much rain had fallen as I had left a cup outside that morning, but one of the neighbours has a weather station and that accurately recorded it As I said, the soil around here is clay and it has been dry, so the rain did not have time to soak into the soil much. It just drained into the ditches and brooks…

There is a pipe down there - and it runs over the grass if it needs to

There is a pipe down there – and it runs over the grass if it needs to

It’s just like a database performance issue – it is not so much the volume of data you process but the speed at which you need to process it. Your physical discs can only write so much data in a minute. If you try and process too much, it all goes wrong.

When it was raining it was so extreme I actually took a couple of pictures and a video – before I was distracted by some water leaking through the roof as a gutter was being overwhelmed. I was really annoyed about the 3 or 4 liters that came in and that I had to mop up. Little did I know what was coming…

After the rain stopped I went and checked the brook and garden – it was fine. There was some standing water across much of the garden and it was flowing off into the brook and away. But then I saw one of the neighbours had a problem. There was water still flowing down the road and the brook on their side of the road was overflowing, it was threatening to get into their house. I went and got a spare sump pump I have but I could not find the attachment to put the pipe on it! By the time I had cobbled something together, the water was in their house. But the pump stopped it getting worse. Huzzah!

It's all starting to look bad...

It’s all starting to look bad…

What I had not noticed was that my brook had been rising fast. I went back to my house to find I had a stream flowing past my front door. I’d never seen that happen before… Oh crap. The brook had filled my pond and it had overflowed one small section, where another neighbour had reduced the bank height whilst building an extension. (No, not on purpose and neither of us had realised it might be an issue). I went and got my pump (which was now redundant at the first house) but it can only shift about 5% of the volume going past the front of the house – It was not a raging torrent like you see on TV when major floods are reported, but it was a strong, steady, increasing volume of water that was creeping up the front of the house. Some spade work helped increase the flow and move the water on it’s way, I figured it would not breach the front door now.

"She'll nay take the strain, Capn!" Brook about to blow?

“She’ll nay take the strain, Capn!” Brook about to blow?

I waded across the torrent (this was the point when the wellington boots become redundant as the water went past them and up to my knees) and checked the back garden, where the brook runs around the house. If it gets too high it normally overflows at one point and along a shallow depression which is there to take such unusual conditions. This was indeed happening – but such was the volume of water, there were pinch-points that have never been an issue before. The large tree you can see on the right is where that photo of the water going into a pipe is. Usually if the volume is too large for the pipe, it flows over the grass in a smooth way. Only this time it had a couple of “rapids” and was backing up towards the pond… And then the pond overflowed along several meters at once and I stopped taking pictures!

The first trickle of doom?

The first trickle of doom?

I now had a similar flow around the back of the house to the front and both were still rising. I could see it breaching our french doors into the lounge, it was almost game over. The first trickle has appeared and I could see the level creeping up

I checked next door and they had already flooded from the front (their house is lower than ours), with about 6 inches in the house. Would they mind if I increased the flow from our back garden to theirs, to try and stop us suffering the same fate? They graciously agreed to this so I set too with a spade and dug a drainage channel. It worked! Hundreds of gallons rushed away and the water level by those doors dropped below the threshold. Huzzah, let’s crack open the wine!

The creeping doom working along the floor (sorry, poor shot)

The creeping doom working along the floor (sorry, poor shot)

Only, why is there a large puddle growing at the other end of the lounge? In the centre of the house? Parts of the house are old, some bits of it go back around 300 years. We have internal walls that were once external walls. The water was coming up through the floor at one of these junctions, it was somehow getting under the house and in through this gap. Game over, I had defended the perimeters but been taken by a sneak attack from below.

Over the next hour or so the water leaked in through that gap and covered most of the lounge and hall carpets. I was able to move most things that could be harmed up off the floor. Another room at the back of the house (the base of a windmill) also flooded, this time through a door that I could not defend – but the floor is 6 inches lower in that room then the rest of the house. Again, I moved as much as I could but Sue lost some bits for making her hats😦. The water never got more than about 2, 3 inches deep

No carpets and the drying process starts

No carpets and the drying process starts

The really annoying thing is that it was not just flood water with mud and dirt in it. Where I live we have no main sewer. We all have septic tanks or similar devices. When they flood the liquid contents get washed out. There were no signs of excrement floating on the water but the smell is very distinct. This is not water you want soaking into your curtains!

By early evening it was all over. The flow from the fields and down the brooks subsided and the pond level dropped. I pumped out the standing water next to the windmill and the water in the lounge (mostly) drained back down though the floor. I was up until about 2am using a carpet cleaner to suck up the worst of the water in the entrance hall – I knew I had to make that room passable as it links all the ground floor rooms together.

Anyone need some bits of carpet, slightly soiled?

Anyone need some bits of carpet, slightly soiled?

Since then it has been a case of ripping up the carpets and moving the stuff I could not move out of the places that got wet on my own. All carpets are now out of the house, most of it is in a skip. Now we are drying the rooms out and moving stuff again so we can move around the house and “live”. I’m not sure how many times I can empty a bookcase, move it and then fill it again with the books before I decide to stop reading books for the rest of my life:-)

Our insurance company has been very good and all in all the whole flooding experience has been one of inconvenience than anything serious. I certainly would not like to go through it again and I think I know a couple of things I can do to help prevent it happening again.

So all in all, not a great week – but it’s only “stuff” that has been harmed and, in the great scheme of things, not a disaster. Just incredibly inconvenient. It will all be sorted soon.

IMG_2651

Friday Philosophy – Half Million Views May 27, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy.
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4 comments

I only noticed yesterday that I’ve had just over half a million views on my blog since I started it back in 2009.

ScreenHunter_101 May. 27 13.31

I think that is direct views on the blog and does not include the odd syndicated place such as the Oaktable website. Though in my case, I don’t think syndicated views make much difference:-)

I know that there are many Oracle blogs and sites that get this volume of traffic in a couple of months, maybe even a few weeks for the top 2 or 3 (I should get Tim Hall drunk and ask him about OracleBase) but I’m still proud of keeping this blog going and that a small number of hundreds pop by each day Except weekends and holidays, when I am relieved to say most people find something way better to do than look at my blog! I also do not know how the number of views relates to the number of individuals who have at some point (whether once or a hundred times) looked at something on my blog. If 20 visits is the average, that would be 25 thousand people have been to my blog. That’s a small town!!!

Admittedly my blog is more my Friday Philosophies rather than deep technical content these days and it is the technical content that accounts for the bulk of visits to my blog, so I am slowly aging out!

Maybe this will be the prompt to do what I keep saying I’ll do (for about 4 years now) and do more actual technical content – you know, things with a SQL statement in it or a chunk of PL/SQL…

So to everyone who has popped by – thank you very much.

Tech 16 – We Want Your Abstracts on SE, Real-World & Practical Topics May 25, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

The Call for Papers is open for the UK Oracle User Group annual TECH conference. It’s in Birmingham, in December, and is being co-located with the JDE & Apps conferences too (and the call for papers is open for them also).

ScreenHunter_100 May. 25 10.02

If you are a Standard Edition (SE) expert, have a real-world story to tell about how you used Oracle (good or bad!) or want to teach others how to get going with some aspect of Oracle, I really want to see your abstracts.

You can register as a speaker and submit abstracts here at this link. You have until June 1st, so that’s just under a week. Plenty of time:-)

I love this event, I’ve been going since 2002. Last year was the best for many years, almost everyone I spoke to felt it had regained the energy of prior years, attendance was up, lots of new faces were there and, a real sign of a good agenda, people complained that they were having to pick between excellent talks.

A couple of things have changed a little in the last two years, which I think have increased the overall appeal of the UKOUG conference.

First is that we now have “introductory streams”. These are talks that need no or little prior knowledge of the topic and give you all the information about it to get going. The conference had become a little too “expert-focused”, packed with great talks about esoteric aspects of tuning or internals that many of us love – but not everyone is ready for or interested in. We will still have lots of those, but we are giving more talks for those who are not experts (yet). This will be the third year we are doing this due to it’s success. If you are an expert, how about offering a paper that gets people started? Such talks tend to get much larger and enthusiastic audiences.

Second is the Standard Edition stream. This was really popular last year, the first ever dedicated stream of sessions for SE at any conference. Lots of you use SE but like the small kid in the schoolyard, it tends to get ignored. Last year we chose introductory talks, for obvious reasons, this year we are aiming for more depth – can you talk for 45 minutes about an aspect of SE, help people really make the most of it?

Third is more emphasis on real-world experience based talks. They are always the most popular, especially if they are about things not working out as the theory or Oracle Sales Guys would make out. The UKOUG is a User Group, we want to share good, bad and ugly. Personally I’d love for someone to step up to the mark and give some talks about real Cloud adoption or why Cloud is NOT the answer to all requirements.

Of course, we are always interested in the latest-greatest, just-released and did-you-know-about type talks too. But to be honest, we get lots of those:-)

Speaking at Oracle Midlands on Tuesday 17th May May 12, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

As the title indicates, I’ll be speaking at the UK Oracle Midlands event on Tuesday evening next week. Details can be found here (and that link should mention the next event if you click it in the future).

oracleMidlands2

I’ll be talking about PL/SQL being called from SQL and how you can “extend” SQL by writing your own functions. That is a relatively well known thing to do but the potential impact on performance and the 12C improvements to reduce that impact are less well known. Maybe even more significantly, calling PL/SQL functions from SQL breaks the point-in-time view most of us take for granted with Oracle. More people are blogging and talking about this but it is still not widely appreciated. Is this a potential issue in any of your systems?

Joel Goodman is also presenting, on storage fragmentation. Joel is one of the best presenters on Oracle tech on the circuit and knows his stuff inside out.

I really love the Oracle Midlands user group, I’ve been to a few of the meetings and presented there one-and-a-bit times before. It meets in the evenings and lays on some free refreshements at half time (Samosas when I have been there!). It’s a real, dedicated, ground-roots user group. Annoyingly (for me) most of the meetings for the last year or so have been when I could not get up to the Midlands for them (it’s not a hard or long journey, it was just the timing was always wrong).

Red Stack are good enough to support/sponsor these events and do so with a light touch. You know they are there but it is not a hard sell, so kudos to them. Mike McKay-Dirden is the person behind these meetings and, with this being the 15th such meeting, I must take my hat off to Mike for running such a successful group.

So, if you are able to get to Birmingham (UK! Not USA…) on Tuesday evening, you should do so for an excellent, free learning opportunity. I hope to see some of you there!

Friday Philosophy – Visiting the Changi Murals by Sue’s Uncle Stan April 29, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life.
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2 comments

No tech or management this week – this Friday Philosophy is about something in my home life.

First Mural,. Image from www.rafchangi.com

First Mural,. Image from http://www.rafchangi.com

This week we are in Singapore, our first ever visit. The main reason that we have come here is to look at some pictures painted by Sue’s Uncle Stan. They are also called the Changi Murals. Stanley Warren painted these murals when he was gravely ill in Changi during World War 2. He was a POW, captured with the taking of Singapore by the Japanese. Conditions were extremely poor in the POW camps, and across Singapore as a whole. During the occupation thousands died from disease and malnutrition.

Stanley had been a graphic artist before the war and he did some painting whilst he was in the camp of what he saw. He was a deeply religious man and when people knew he could draw his fellow POWs asked him to draw murals on the walls of a chapel they’d built at Bukit Batok. Not long after, he was so ill with amoebic dysentery that he was moved to the Roberts Barracks hospital in Changi, block 151. I don’t think he was expected to live. Whilst he was there, he heard a choir singing in the local chapel for the hospital and his talking to the padre after that led to a request for him to paint some murals on the walls there.

Stanley had to paint the first mural bit-by-bit, he was too unwell to work for more than a few minutes at the start. They also had to use material stolen or obtained as they could. In the first mural there are some areas of blue – that came from a few cubes of billiard cue chalk. He had so little that it ran out after the second mural. The first mural was completed just in time for Christmas and he was carried back up to the wards and could only hear the service from there, no one knowing if the latest bout of dysentery would kill him or not. But it didn’t. Over the next few months Stanley drew four more murals as his health waxed and waned. The amazing things it that, despite the condition he was in, under a brutal regime with very little hope for survival, his message was all about reconciliation. The figures in the murals are from all races and the messages of reconciliation are constant through the murals.

Stanley Warren

Stanley Warren

You can read more about Stanley and the Murals at the wikipedia link at the top of this blog, at the RAF Changi association page here or in an excellent book about them by Peter W Stubbs, ISBN 981-3065-84-2

Stanley survived his time as a POW in Singapore and with the end of the war he came home. Stanley is actually Sue’s great uncle – his older sister was Sue’s paternal grandmother. After the war he became an art teacher and had a family. As well as being Sue’s great uncle, He also worked in the same school as Sue’s father and she saw a lot of him, so she knew “Uncle Stan” very well. And, of course, she knew all about the murals.

The story of the murals does not stop with the war as, after the war (during the later part of which the murals were painted over with distemper, when it stopped being a chapel) the murals were re-discovered. They became quite well known and there was a search for the original artist. When Stanley was found they asked him to go back and restore them. He was not keen! He’d spent years trying to forget his time and what he had endured as a POW. But eventually he was persuaded and over 20 or so years made three trips back to restore them. He still did not talk about the war much but the Murals are part of the family history. Stanley died in 1992, having lived a pretty long and happy life given where he was during the 1940’s.

Sue has long wanted to see the Changi Murals and, with the lose of her mother 2 years back, this desire to link back to another part of the family has grown stronger. So we organised this trip out to Asia with the key part being to visit Singapore and the Changi Murals.

There is an excellent museum about the history of Singapore during WWII, especially the area of Changi and the locations which were used to hold POWs and enemy civilians, the Changi Museum. It includes the murals. Only, it does not. This is a new museum which was built a few years back and it has a reproduction of the original Block 151 chapel, with all the murals. The reproductions are very accurate we are told and there is a lot of information in the museum – but they are not the originals as drawn by Uncle Stan.

Mural in the museum

Mural in the museum

We only really realised this a couple of weeks before we were heading out to Thailand (our first stop) but we felt it was not a problem as almost every web site that mentioned the murals said you could organise to see the original murals. Only, you can’t really. Someone at some point said you could, and maybe then it was easier, but none of the current articles tells you how to request to see the originals. They don’t even give a clue who to ask. They just repeat this urban myth that you can organise to see the originals. The only exception to this is the Changi Museum web site that lists an email to send a request to – but the email address is no longer valid! (prb@starnet…).

We managed to contact the museum and Dr Francis Li tried to help us, but he could not find out the proper route to make the request at first and then hit the problem we later hit – not much response.

After hours and hours on the net, failing to find out who to ask, I contacted a couple of people who had something to do with the Murals. One of them was Peter Stubbs, who wrote the book on the Changi Murals that I mentioned earlier. Peter was wonderful, he got in touch with people he knew and they looked into it and after a couple of days he had found out the correct group to approach – MINDEF_Feedback_Unit@defence.gov.sg. You email them and you get an automated response that they will answer your question in 3 days. Or 7-14 days. It’s the latter. We waited the 3 days (if you have dealt with government bureaucracy you will know you can’t side step it unless you know HOW to side step it) but time was now running out and I sent follow up emails to MINDEF and Mr Li.

Mindef did not respond. But Mr Li did – to let us know he had also had no response from MINDEF and had gone as far as to ring up – and no one seemed to know about how to see the original murals.

So we were not going to get to see the originals, which was a real shame, but out first full day we did go up to the Changi Museum. It was a very good, little museum. The museum is free. We took the audio tours which cost a few dollars but to be honest all the information is also on the displays. There was a lot of information about the invasion by Japan and what happened and the reproductions of the Murals were impressive. They also had some duplicates of some of the press stories about the murals, from local papers as well as UK ones. There are a lot more press stories than the museum show, we know this as there is a collection of them somewhere in Sue’s Mum’s stuff that we have not found yet.

It was quite emotional for Sue of course, and something well worth us doing. It really brought home to us an inclination of what he and the other POWs had gone through, and yet Stanley did these murals of reconciliation and belief. Of course we don’t really know what it was like, nothing like that has happened to either of us – we just got a peep into that horror.

IMG_2377

The rules of the museum said “No photographs” – but we ignored this. These murals were the work of Sue’s Uncle Stan! (we noticed several other visitors were also ignoring the rule anyway). Most of the pictures are poor, no where as good as others you can find on the net (most from the originals) but they are important to us. I only include a couple in this blog.

If you wonder what the small picture of a man in a hat is, below the mural, it is one of only two we have by Uncle Stan. He painted this when on a school holiday in Spain with Sue’s dad also. We have no idea who the picture is of!

It is a great shame we did not get to see the original murals in the room in which her great uncle Stanley Warren painted them, as part of the chapel that was so important to people in such awful circumstances. After we got back from the museum we finally received a response from MINDEF. It was a simple refusal to consider granting us permission to see the murals as they only allow it for surviving Singapore POWs (there will be very few of them now) and direct family (whatever that limit is). I can’t help but feel that was a little inflexible of them, even a little heartless, and was applying a blind rule without consideration of the specifics of the situation.

When Sue is next going to Singapore, with me or not, I’ll see if I can make them relent and grant access to Sue to see the originals.

Irrespective, we got to see something of Uncle Stan’s murals, and that was worth all the effort.

Friday Philosophy – The Singular Stupidity of the Sole Solution April 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Hardware.
Tags: , , ,
13 comments

I don’t like the ‘C’ word, it’s offensive to some people and gets used way too much. I mean “cloud” of course. Across all of I.T. it’s the current big trend that every PR department seems to feel the need to trump about and it’s what all Marketing people are trying to sell us. I’m not just talking Oracle here either, read any computing, technical or scientific magazine and there are the usual adds by big I.T. companies like IBM and they are all pushing clouds (and the best way to push a cloud is with hot air). And we’ve been here before so many times. It’s not so much the current technical trend that is the problem, it is the obsession with the one architecture as the solution to fit all requirements that is damaging.

No clouds here yet

No clouds here yet

When a company tries to insist that X is the answer to all technical and business issues and promotes it almost to the exclusion of anything else, it leads to a lot of customers being disappointed when it turns out that the new golden bullet is no such thing for their needs. Especially when the promotion of the solution translates to a huge push in sales of it, irrespective of fit. Technicians get a load of grief from the angry clients and have to work very hard to make the poor solution actually do what is needed or quietly change the solution for one that is suitable. The sales people are long gone of course, with their bonuses in the bank.

But often the customer confidence in the provider of the solution is also long gone.

Probably all of us technicians have seen it, some of us time after time and a few of us rant about it (occasionally quite a lot). But I must be missing something, as how can an organisation like Oracle or IBM not realise they are damaging their reputation? But they do it in a cyclical pattern every few years, so whatever they gain by mis-selling these solutions is somehow worth the abuse of the customer – as that is what it is. I suppose the answer could be that all large tech companies are so guilty of this that the customer end up feeling it’s a choice between a list of equally dodgy second hand car salesemen.

Looking at the Oracle sphere, when Exadata came along it was touted by Oracle Sales and PR as the best solution – for almost everything. Wrongly. Utterly and stupidly wrongly. Those of us who got involved in Exadata with the early versions, especially I think V2 and V3, saw it being implemented for OLTP-type systems where it was a very, very expensive way of buying a small amount of SSD. The great shame was that the technical solution of Exadata was fantastic for a sub-set of technical issues. All the clever stuff in the storage cell software and maximizing hardware usage for a small number of queries (small sometimes being as small as 1) was fantastic for some DW work with huge full-segment-scan queries – and of no use at all for the small, single-account-type queries that OLTP systems run. But Oracle just pushed and pushed and pushed Exadata. Sales staff got huge bonuses for selling them and the marketing teams seemed incapable of referring to the core RDBMS without at least a few mentions of Exadata
Like many Oracle performance types, I ran into this mess a couple of times. I remember one client in particular who had been told Exadata V2 would fix all their problems. I suspect based solely on the fact it was going to be a multi-TB data store. But they had an OLTP workload on the data set and any volume of work was slaying the hardware. At one point I suggested that moving a portion of the workload onto a dirt cheap server with a lot of spindles (where we could turn off archive redo – it was a somewhat unusual system) would sort them out. But my telling them a hardware solution 1/20th the cost would fix things was politically unacceptable.

Another example of the wonder solution is Agile. Agile is fantastic: rapid, focused development, that gets a solution to a constrained user requirement in timescales that can be months, weeks, even days. It is also one of the most abused terms in I.T. Implementing Agile is hard work, you need to have excellent designers, programmers that can adapt rapidly and a lot, and I mean a LOT, of control of the development and testing flow. It is also a methodology that blows up very quickly when you try to include fix-on-fail or production support workloads. It also goes horribly wrong when you have poor management, which makes the irony that it is often implemented when management is already failing even more tragic. I’ve seen 5 agile disasters for each success, and on every project there are the shiny-eyed Agile zealots who seem to think just implementing the methodology, no matter what the aims of the project or the culture they are in, is guaranteed success. It is not. For many IT departments, Agile is a bad idea. For some it is the best answer.

Coming back to “cloud”, I think I have something of a reputation for not liking it – which is not a true representation of my thoughts on it, but is partly my fault as I quickly tired of the over-sell and hype. I think some aspect of cloud solutions are great. The idea that service providers can use virtualisation and container technology to spin up a virtual server, a database, an application, an application sitting in a database on a server, all in an automated manner in minutes, is great. The fact that the service provider can do this using a restricted number of parts that they have tested integrate well means they have a way more limited support matrix and thus better reliability. With the Oracle cloud, they are using their engineered systems (which is just a fancy term really for a set of servers, switches, network & storage configured in a specific way with their software configure in a standard manner) so they can test thoroughly and not have the confusion of a type of network switch being used that is unusual or a flavor of linux that is not very common. I think these two items are what really make cloud systems interesting – fast, automated provisioning and a small support matrix. Being available over the internet is not such a great benefit in my book as that introduces reasons why it is not necessarily a great solution.

But right now Oracle (amongst others) is insisting that cloud is the golden solution to everything. If you want to talk at Oracle Open World 2016 I strongly suspect that not including the magic word in the title will seriously reduce your chances. I’ve got some friends who are now so sick of the term that they will deride cloud, just because it is cloud. I’ve done it myself. It’s a potentially great solution for some systems, ie running a known application that is not performance critical that is accessed in a web-type manner already. It is probably not a good solution for systems that are resource heavy, have regulations on where the data is stored (some clinical and financial data cannot go outside the source country no matter what), alter rapidly or are business critical.

I hope that everyone who uses cloud also insists that the recovery of their system from backups is proven beyond doubt on a regular basis. Your system is running on someone else’s hardware, probably managed by staff you have no say over and quite possibly with no actual visibility of what the DR is. No amount of promises or automated mails saying backs occurred is guarantee of recovery reliability. I’m willing to bet that within the next 12 months there is going to be some huge fiasco where a cloud services company loses data or system access in a way that seriously compromises a “top 500” company. After all, how often are we told by companies that security is their top priority? About as often as they mess it up and try to embark on a face-saving PR exercise. So that would be a couple a month.

I just wish Tech companies would learn to be a little less single solution focused. In my book, it makes them look like a bunch of excitable children. Give a child a hammer and everything needs a pounding.

Wednesday Philosophy – A Significant Day (but only to me) April 20, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, history, off-topic, Private Life, working.
Tags: ,
3 comments

Today is a significant day. Well, to me it is – to the rest of you it’s just a Wednesday in the latter half of April, in the mid 20-10’s. Because we count in 10s (probably due to the number of flexible pointy bits on our front limbs, but that is a much debated argument) we have “magic” numbers of 10, 100, 1000 and multiples thereof. As geeks we also have 2,4,8,16,32 etc. And as nerds (but nerds who appreciate certain literature) we have 42. But today is not significant to me for any of those magic numbers.

Today I have been classed as an adult for twice as long as I was classed a child. 2/3rds of my life ago I hit 16 (which means I hit 48 today) and I was legally responsible for my own crimes, allowed to have sex as I saw fit & get married (which suggests those 2 options were open to me at that point – but if you were a lady and met me back then, neither was likely!) And I was allowed to smoke cigarettes – though the age limit for that has since changed to 18 in the UK. And drink in a pub – so long as someone else bought the booze and I was having a meal.

I could also leave home, get a job, draw benefits or join a group that was legally allowed to shoot at people, or in turn be shot at (armed forces – and yes, I know they do a lot more than that). But, best of all, I could have ridden a moped, a lawn tractor (oh yes, yes, yes!) or flown a glider.

In reality, many of the above still needed parental consent and you truly become an adult in the UK at 18 (so I could write almost the same stuff as this in 6 years’ time too), but back then it felt like you were stepping out of shorts and into long trousers. Except for girls. They tended to step out of skirts and into shorter skirts, if memory serves. (If anyone thinks I’m being sexist, when I was 16 the girls were half a decade more mature than most of us boys and they *did* all start raising their hem lines). And I still wear short trousers when I can get away with it.

At age 16 I also chose what subjects to study for my “A” levels, the exams we do in the UK which help decide what college courses we can go for. I chose all sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) and threw in maths (not “math” mind you – though I’ve never been able to decide which contraction is more silly; we don’t do “Econ” or “Econs” ,”chem” or “Chemy”). I did the physics just so I did not have to do this waste-of-time subject called “general studies”, that no one could tell me was of any use for anything but seemed almost mandatory. No, I never did find out if “gens” ever helped anyone get a job, career, college course or anything. Anyway, it turns out it was a wise move as I was found to be useless at maths at “A” level but pretty good at physics. Who knew? All I knew was I was going to be a surgeon or a scientist. Or maybe a coroner, I quite fancied being a coroner. Well, that worked out as planned, eh? I’ve never put my hands on a living brain, never extracted a dead brain and never tried to work out how a brain works. I’ve just created a few small brain-replacement tools to allow people to use their brains for more interesting stuff.

A key thing about 16 for me was that most of the people who were not academic or decided they would rather try and earn an income rather than sit in school rooms anymore left school at that age, and that included a large swathe of the floor-knuckle-scraping thugs who had made the last couple of years at school such a deep, deep joy for me. A few of the goons stuck around as there was very little work around back then (thank you Margaret) but the worst of them went off to… oh, I don’t know what they did, but as I did not see them generally around I think a lot of them ended up in prison or in factories where they were kept out of society’s way for 8 or 10 hours a day or something happened to them to stop them being arseholes. For me, 16 was when I started to actually enjoy life more.

I’ve changed a lot since I was 16 and of course the world around me has too. The career I’ve ended up having is nothing like I expected I would back then – and has in fact been, to a large extent, using stuff that did not even exist back then. Computers were around, but they were not common. Relational databases were more theoretical than practical and as for the internet & smart phones, you had to look at Sci Fi to see anything like that. Maybe it is a good thing I never planned a career given how much things have changed. I wonder if we should be teaching today’s 16 year olds to not even think about a career but more think of how they can make the most of whatever comes along. ‘cos it’s all gong to change.

I wonder what the next 1/3rd will bring for me and what I’ll be up to when it has become 1/4th.

Spot the Oracle Faces April 15, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in history, publications.
Tags: ,
2 comments

My wife has been going through old photo’s from her mother today, trying to find a picture of Uncle Stan. In the box of photographs was also a magazine – an Oracle magazine!

Oracle Magazine award winners 2003!

Oracle Magazine award winners 2003!

As you can see from the front cover, it is the Oracle Magazine from the end of 2003, with the Oracle Magazine 2003 Award Winners on it. The tiny photograph on the bottom right is me:-). Sue’s mum, Di, seemed to be more interested in what I did at work than my own mum (but then Di was like that).

So how many of the people on the magazine do you recognize? If you’ve met them, you should be able to identify a few – even though we are all at least 13 years older than those pictures. If you click on the image, you will get a larger version which might help. It is SO long ago that I don’t think there is an electronic issue of the magazine online, not even in the Oracle Magazine archive. But then, who wants to know about enterprise grid computing in 10g now? I could not even find another copy of the front cover in my 90-second search.

I’m not really one for looking to the past but I do enjoy the odd reminisce. It’s good to see what happened in the past (be it good or bad) and where it has left you in the present. There seems to have been quite a bit of this going on around me this week. Some people on the OakTable have been sharing pictures with the group of a similar vintage (so way before my time), I was talking about how we got into presenting and the Oracle community with Brendan Tierney over the last couple of days and at home we have been looking back even further. The “Uncle Stan” I mentioned was a POW in WW2 in Singapore and he painted the Changi Murals when he was there – painted to help keep up the spirits of those in the infirmary at the time. We will visit The Changi Museum to see the replicas and read the history when we are out there in 2 weeks and, if we are lucky, we might even get to see the originals.

Getting the 2003 Oracle magazine “Beta tester of the year” award was my first real step into the Oracle community. I’d only just started presenting (I think once at UKOUG Tech conference & one SIG, a couple of Oracle Life Science conferences plus being the “friendly face of the end user” at an Open World in 2002 talk…maybe 2003. I never even got on the agenda for that one). I got the award more as the representative of the work done by people in my team, ie their work, as opposed to mine – and for a long while I felt a bit guilty about it. But as a good friend pointed out, it was a team that I had built, doing work I guided and, between myself and Shanthi Sivadasan, we had it all running well and we were doing stuff that no one else would own up to doing (and that HP offered to help us with – and we ended up helping them!).

So back to the magazine cover. Who can you spot? Some I am pretty sure are no longer anything to do with the Oracle scene, but some still are…:

Arup Nanda, DBA of the year (oTY)
Tim Sharick, CTO oTY
Ronan Miles, IT Manager oTY
Peter Charles Smith, PL/SQL developer oTY
TonyJambu, consultant oTY
Bob Magan, developer oTY
Jeroen Baltussen, web services developer oTY
Harvinder Singh Saluja, Jdeveloper oTY
Arno Van Der Klok Java developer oTY
Matt Rhoades, BI developer oTY
Arnaud Bontemps, Portal developer oTY
Tom Copeland, Open Source developer oTY
{how many “X develop of the years”? How many “DBA-types” of the year? Oh yes, 10g was supposed to be the death of the DBA – again}
Jamie Kinney & Grant McAlister, Linux Innovators oTY
Hoosh Asfar, Early Adopter oTY
Mogens Norgaard {who?}, Educator oTY
Tom Kyte {another obscure one}, Oracle Book Author oTY
Jason Hunter, Oracle Magazine Author oTY
Me, Beta Tester oTY
Andrew Clarke, OTN contributor oTY
Rick Hamilton, Architect oTY

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