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My first book is now physically in my hands. August 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Instrumentation, PL/SQL, publications, SQL, writing.
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4 comments
Proud "parent" of a bouncing baby book

Proud “parent” of a bouncing baby book

Today a box arrived from Oracle Press. In it were a few copies of “Real-World SQL and PL/SQL” which I co-authored with Arup Nanda, Brendan Tierney, Heli Helskyaho and Alex Nuitjen. I know I only blogged about the book a couple of weeks back, how I became involved and the impact it had on my life for several months. But as I can now physically handle and read the final article, I could not resist putting up a quick post on it. Honestly, I’ll stop being a book bore soon.

My contribution to the book was three chapters in the section “Essential Everyday Advanced PL/SQL”. The idea was to covers some core, standard ways of using PL/SQL which are often overlooked or implemented without considering the impact they can have. There are a few things I cover that are often talked about, generally regarded as a good thing to do – but so often are not done! So just to quickly summarise my chapters:

Chapter 6 is about running PL/SQL from SQL, ie calling both built-in and user defined functions from SQL. It’s a great way to compartmentalise your business logic and extend the capabilities of Oracle’s SQL implementation in an easy and seamless manner. Only people are often unaware of the potential performance and read consistency impact it can have, or how Oracle 11g and 12c help reduce these issues.

Chapter 7, “Instrumenting and Profiling PL/SQL”, covers something that I feel is a major oversight in many PL/SQL development projects. Instrumenting your code, any code (not just PL/SQL), is vital to producing an application that is professional and will continue to work correctly for many, many years. However, it’s a bit like washing your hands after going to the loo – we all know it is the correct thing to do but so many people just don’t! Without instrumentation it is almost impossible to see how your code is performing, where time is spent and where problems are when they occur. I’m sick of having to guess where the problem is when people report slow performance when some basic and light-weight instrumentation will tell you exactly where the problem is. And as for profiling PL/SQL, it’s one of the rarest things to be done but it is so helpful.

It physically exists

It physically exists

Chapter 9 is on using PL/SQL for Automation and Administration. Like many people, I have automated many tasks with a PL/SQL harness – backups, partitions maintenance, metric gathering, data life-cycle management, regular data loads. You end up writing the same sort of process over and over again and usually there are several versions of such controlling frameworks across a company, written by different people (and sometimes the same people!). A large part of this chapter takes the code for creating the examples from chapter 6 and the instrumentation from chapter 7 and builds up a simple but comprehensive framework which can be used to control almost any data load or administrative task you need to do with an Oracle database. The key thing is it can be used for many, many processes so you need only the one framework. So you don’t have to keep writing them as it’s boring to keep writing them. And because the framework demonstrated includes instrumentation, the framework you implement will be easy to monitor and debug in years to come. I have to confess, I kind of wrote that chapter “just for me”. It is my standard automation framework that I now always use, so I can concentrate on the actual task being done and not the nuts-and-bolts of controlling it, and I’ve wanted to properly document it for years.

Something all the authors agreed on is that whilst most technical books describe how elements of a language or feature work, they do not really talk about the “how and why” you do things. The stuff you learn by using the language for a long time and doing a good deal of things wrong. In this book we attempt to put in some of that “how and why”. In my chapters there are a few anecdotes about when things have gone wrong and, as a result, you learn some of the “how not”🙂

I’m at a lot of conferences over the next few months, including OOW16, DOAG16 and UKOUG Tech16. If you get a copy of the book and want it signed, you’ll find me very happy to do so. Many of my co-authors are at these events too, so you could get us all to scribble all over the book. NB this will not work for electronic versions🙂

BTW do you like the t-shirt?

This Autumn, I am mostly being a Conference Tart. August 12, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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The first half of this year was a little quiet for me on the presenting front. I was concentrating on writing and also on organising events, as opposed to going to them, so most of my trips were for personal reasons (that means “holidays”…). I presented at the Ireland conference and a few UK user group events but that was it – quite a few European events this spring fell on dates I was not available (including the Israeli and Finnish conferences where I was asked to attend and would have loved to). Or, oh the shock of it, my submissions were not accepted! {How dare they🙂 )

However, the final third of this year is the total opposite. I’m at a conference at least once each month from September to the end of the year. In the spring this year I decided to make up for my poor showing speaker-wise by offering talks to a few more events. I knew I would probably do Oracle OpenWorld as, being an Ace Director, the Oracle OTN program is incredibly kind to us and help us attend the conference itself and the ACED briefings just beforehand. Despite my best efforts to scupper my own chances of attending OOW16 (I did not respond to an email I should have for ACED and I only submitted technical talks and not fluffy cloud ones) the ACE program have sorted me out and I’ll be there. I’m not presenting (unless my status as standby for the EOUG lightning talks and OakTable World morph into actual slots) but it’s nice to do a conference with no duties.

In December it is the total opposite for UKOUG Tech16. This is “My” conference, as in not just my home conference and the one I nearly always present at, it is the one I help organise. This year I am the project lead for Tech16, rather than the Database community lead role that I filled for the last two years. It sounds like a promotion and it sort-of is, but in reality there is less work than being a community lead, as I have a lot less to do with organising the content and agenda. But I will have duties to do at the event as well as the one presentation I am doing (I keep it down to one presentation when I have other responsibilities) so for me it is quite a demanding conference.

Between these two book-ends I decided to offer talks to DOAG in Germany and I was asked to speak at the Slovenian and Croatian user groups, which I was delighted to do. DOAG accepted two of my submissions so that was 5 conferences, which is a nice number.

Then the Polish user group announced their next conference and I had promised “the other ORA600” to submit for that one. Then last week I was asked to consider doing the Nordic OTN tour. I said yes to both. The Nordic OTN tour is not finalised yet but it looks like it could be 3 or 4 meetings in different countries on consecutive days.

On top of this, my wife is relocating to Switzerland in October for work and I’ll be trying to assist with that. So I’ve had to put together a spreadsheet of where and when I’ll be. It’s all rather busy. It would be foolish to add to all of this.

So I plan to submit to the Autumn Bulgarian conference too because, well, it’s a cracking conference.

The saving grace? Most of the conferences I am going to have asked me to do the same presentations. So I only need to prepare 3 (or is it 4… I’ll check my spreadsheet).

Why do I do all these conferences? Because (a) I actually like presenting and sharing what I know and (b) I meet people and make new friends. So, if you are at any of the above events, come over and say “hi”.

I suppose I should update my “Appearances and Meetings” page.

The Book. August 4, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in PL/SQL, SQL, writing.
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6 comments

I’ve just added a picture to the right side of this site. It is for a book about SQL and PL/SQL. If you look at the image of the front cover, at the bottom is a list of authors and, near the end, is my name. It’s all finished and at the printers, but it is not out yet – It should be published in the next few weeks.

The British part of me wants to mumble and say “oh, yes, hmmm, I did contribute to a book… but I think you should concentrate on the chapters by the other chaps, they are proper experts, very clever gentleman and lady… I was just involved in a couple of lesser chapters…”

The part of me that spent weeks and months of late nights and long weekends writing it wants to scream “Look! LOOK! I damn well got it done! And it was way more painful than any of my author friends told me it would be as, despite their best efforts, I did not get How Hard Writing A Book Is!
I BLED FOR THAT BOOK!”

And the final part of me wants to say “If you buy this book, would you mind awfully sending it to me and I’ll cut out my chapters and paste in new ones with a few more things covered and a bit more clarity and I really should have mentioned… and I’ll send it back”. Apparently this is exactly how Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet felt about all their books, so I feel in good company in that respect. I re-wrote one chapter 3 times and I still think I could do it better. Think? I know I could do it better!!!! Next year I’ll do it better than the current better…

How did I get involved in this… nightmare? It was Brendan’s fault. I hate Brendan. My wife hates Brendan. My cat, before she passed on, hated Brendan. When I am drinking beers with him in September, around the fun-fair that is OOW16, I’m going to suddenly turn around and hit him Really Very Hard somewhere soft. Somewhere reproductive I think…

It was, I believe, March 2015 that Brendan Tierney asked me if I had ever thought of writing a book. I said “yes” and explained how I’d had some ideas back in my Teens about what “intelligent aliens” would really be like and the oddities of people – but then found Mr Adams had covered that way better than I ever could. And then I had thought about a spoof on Dungeons and Dragons but then found Pratchett had that totally covered and I now had only one idea left… “No…” he said “I mean a technical book – about Oracle”. Oh! After all, he said, I blogged, presented and wrote articles. What was the difference?

Brendan and Heli Helskyaho had come up with the idea for a book about SQL and PL/SQL which was not an intro book and not a huge tome about all aspect of either – but more about using both languages to solve real-world issues, based on real experience. It would be aimed at those who could write reasonable SQL and who could throw together a quick PL/SQL program/package but wanted to know more about how experts used the languages based on experience. They had Arup Nanda on board already as well as Alex Nuijten and Chet Justice. I knew these people! Arup is a brilliant DBA and teacher, Alex is one of the best presenters on the circuit and Chet is Oraclenerd! All are ACE Directors. So I said no – looking at the 5 of them, I was not an expert. I’m just a skilled-but-still-learning journeyman.

At this point Brendan got tetchy at me (‘being tetchy’, for non-UK people, means ‘easily annoyed but doing a very poor job of hiding you are annoyed’). “how long have you programmed in SQL and PL/SQL?” about 25 years – before PL/SQL was really ‘out there’…
“When did you last develop a production solution in PL/SQL?” About 2 months ago – it was cool, it was fully instrumented, restartable and used plain SQL for the heavy lifting…and bulk processed the rest…
“Who’s better at this than you”. Well, Adrian Billington, Boneist Dawn, Andy Clarke… for SQL Stew Ashton, Chris Saxon is sh1t hot… “so you can name your peers?!?”.
“what is the most challenging thing you have done with PL/SQL?” – I listed a few things…

The point he was making was, I’ve used both languages for two and a half decades to solve problems others had struggled with. OK, I am not the “Best”, but I’m not bad and I’ve done things wrong often enough to learn some lessons! I know I can deliver a solid solution that will either still be working properly in 10 years or, in my eyes more importantly, telling you why it is not. And the key thing was, as Brendan pointed out, I was happy to share.

So I agreed to contribute in a minor way.

And then Chet had to pull out for personal reasons – and guess who inherited half of what we was covering?🙂. I thus became an equal player. (Just a quick note, Chet stayed as our tech editor and he kept me “honest”. Everyone on the book helped me, the new guy, keep up.)

Writing a book is a lot, lot, lot harder than writing a blog or an article. I’d been told about this – I was a non-technical reviewer(*) for Jonathan Lewis’s “Oracle Core” and we talked a little about it the whole process – and there was a long, long discussion between the Oaktable members about the effort and financial reward of book authorship (“an awful lot” and “sod all” respectively). I still did not get it. If you are writing a chapter that is 20 times longer than an article it is not simply 20 times harder or takes 20 times as long. It is both, plus a dash more. Part of the reason is the need to get a flow through such a large body of text and I wanted to do that across my 3 chapters. The other is, somehow a book feels more important and you want to makes sure your mistakes are kept to a minimum – both for your own pride and so as not to mislead the reader. Also, as a shared book (and I was the only new author involved) I was very conscious of letting the side down.

So the reality was that for 6 months I worked on those 3 chapters and, during that time, I struggled to maintain my duties as a house husband, the garden went to hell and my regular exercise ceased. Occasional days were so bad that the cat went unfed and my wife had to cook her own dinner. The hard stares were difficult to take, as was my wife being annoyed with me. And I was only doing a few chapters!

But it is done and I am now looking forward to seeing a copy “in the flesh”. I think that will feel weird. One of my regrets in life is that I did not stay in science long enough to be published. I feel this makes up for that.

Would I do it again? No. I’d rather go back to commuting into London every day and I hated that.

Will I change my mind in a year or two? Maybe. I still have that one idea for a Sci-Fi book.

(*) I represented the “knows some stuff but is still learning” intended reader of Jonathan’s book – I was not correcting mistakes or advising him on technical content. I was saying “please tell me more about X as I’m still confused”. I rather enjoyed it.

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

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, writing.
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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.
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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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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.
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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.
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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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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.

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