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Friday Philosophy – Memory (of the Human Kind) November 14, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Uncategorized.

One of the Joys of having been around for a while (I’ve hit that point where I occasionally find myself working with people who were not born when I got my first job in IT) is that you start to re-learn things. Well, I do. {I have to point out that, this being a Friday Philosophy, you will learn nothing yourself, especially not about Oracle. from this opost. If you want Oracle knowledge you might want to pop by Dion cho, Tanel Poder or Richard foote}

Several times over the last couple of weeks I have learnt something “new” and realised a little while later that I already knew it, but had forgotton (BLEVEL is one, consistent gets being impacted by array fetch size is another) . This is not something to be proud of – not knowing something you once did is far worse, and slightly worrying, then never having known it…

I like to think that it is all the new stuff I am learning, pushing previous knowledge out of my brain’s buffer cache {if it is not warmed by re-using it}, but I suspect that it might just be an uptime-related memory leak. A bit like having your database open for a few months and doing a lot of work that includes massive PL/SQL in-memory tables and hash joins (pickler fetches). No one seems sure of the exact mechanics, but after a while you have a hell of a lot less spare memory in your serever than you started with 🙂

Maybe the memory loss is closer to the “pickler query” analogy than I thought, you can preserve soft tissue for a long time in alcohol. I’ll have another glass of wine and think on that.

This Forgetting Stuff was actually a major factor to my starting a blog. I was in the process of putting a load of notes on Oracle Odditites and things I had learnt from years past onto a web site so I could get at it from wherever I was in the world, and a friend told me I was being stupid – I should put them on a blog. So I did. There are only two little issues with this.

  • I can’t remember what I have already put on my blog.
  • I’ve forgotten where I put the ZIP disk with the notes on.

So I was contemplating this drift of knowledge and two things struck me.

1) I reckon that the very best people, in any area of expertise, are blessed with excellent memories. There is a comedian in the UK called Stephen Fry, and he is renowned for being stunningly clever. I think he probably is stunningly clever, but he also remembers everything he has learnt (Rory McGrath is another UK comedian with a perfect memory, but somehow he lacks the charm of Stephen Fry, and he has a beard, so not so highly renowned).
2) My poor memory is not maybe such a bad thing. I don’t have to get so upset when a whole chunk of my Oracle knowledge becomes obsolete. I used to be really good at sizing objects and utilizing space, taking into account the 5-block minimum, getting the extents to fit nicely into the datafiles, little scripts to resize segments into a small but sensibele number of extents to reduce wasted space, considering initrans, pctfree, pctused… Pretty much all pointless now 🙂


1. coskan - November 14, 2009

You are not alone, memory is the biggest problem for me as well, the worst part is I am younger and i dont have kids yet, I even started to eat Marmite (I was at Hate side of you either love it or hate it debate) to boost my memory with vitamin-B but still cannot remember most of the things and It is going bad everyday I get older.

mwidlake - November 15, 2009

I don’t have kids either – I suspect that, over all, the presence of prodgeny does not impact your memory, just you ability to concentrate (A friend of mine has said to me he can only work from home as there are 3 shut doors between him “the most important things in his life – those bl00dy children”).
I stuck with cats. You can throw a cat out into the garden at 3am in the morning and not expect a visit from Social Services the next day. With children, the situation is less clear…

2. Bernard Polarski - November 16, 2009

I do suffer of the same problem. The solution for me was to store all my knowledge into Smenu. It is my repository of what I ever had to use. I came very early in the job to acknowledge that hours spent over a topic, and subsequent SQL derived of this study, six month later, will be like murmurs in the wind. So when I study something in depth, I code the sql, being mine or copied from internet, into this tool. After years of piling (and compiling) this knowledge, I reached the minimum Olympic level to pretend survive in this job.

3. dombrooks - November 16, 2009

I’m a fully paid up member of the “can’t remember” club. But, on the plus side, you don’t have to buy many new books. Once you’ve finished the latest one, you can start again back at the concepts manual and it’s like you’ve never read half of it before.

Coskan – eating Marmite for the fringe benefits when you don’t like it, that’s extreme. There have to be easier ways man 🙂

4. mwidlake - November 16, 2009

Bernard, that is maybe a tool I should look into. I just have lotes of notes in noteped or wordpad format. I also try and keep lots of little scripts {who doesn’t?} to look up thinhs.

Dom, I’m just hoping that the small number of books you have are not from Rampant :-). I find with books I often only read the first half as whatever was giving me time to read it ends (like someone gives me a job). I should start re-reading my collection from the middle pages.

And you are right about Coskan, that really is extreme. I feel ill just watching my wife eat marmite. I think Coskan is a little odd {It’s OK guys, I know him!}

5. oakesgr - November 18, 2009

I’ve been discussing this very subject recently with colleagues. I used to have a superb memory, to the point where my family refused to play games like trivial pursuit with me because I could remember just about every answer in the game. I’ve even had friends of the family come up to me and say ‘oh you’re Graham. You’ve got a photographic memory haven’t you?’

Well over the last few years I’ve realised that my memory is shot to pieces. It really is quite depressing. It’s almost got to the point where I don’t even try to remember, I just go straight to the docs.

Recently I’ve started to forget entire conversations with my wife, but that could just be me drifiting off, or her accusing me that I’ve forgotten to do something just to win an argument!

mwidlake - November 19, 2009

I occasionally call my wife the wrong name. What is particularly bad is I call her Steve! (My brother is called Steve, wife is called Sue. My brain correctly provides the information that the person’s name starts with ‘S’ but then takes the first record it finds…)
Drink more wine/beer/whisky Graham, and blame the memory on that rather than advancing years 🙂

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