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Friday Philosophy – To Physically Meet Or Not? October 29, 2021

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
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We are seeing a slow return to user groups having physical events, or hybrid ones where some people stay at home and use zoom (other remote networking solutions are available) and other people physically come along along to the venue. Some people are now happy to meet physically, some would like to but their company will not support it, and some people don’t want to come within spitting distance (quite literally, given it is now pretty much established that SARS_CoV_2 is primarily spread in airborne droplets of saliva) of other humans.

I miss this

Most of us have taken part in virtual conferences or meet-ups since Covid-19 first arose. Let’s face it, though they are better than nothing, remote events are not exactly a proper replacement for being in the same place, chatting with old friends, making new contacts, and seeing people talk about topics in the flesh. And presenting remotely is a very different experience (as I covered in this post on training remotely) and takes a different skill set to live presenting, and many presenters really do not enjoy. I’ll do it but I am not keen and I have mostly stopped presenting remotely at user group events. I know some people prefer virtual events but the majority don’t – which is fine, we are all different.

So what to do? Keep home and keep safer but continue to miss out on what a physical event brings, or take an increased risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 and go? It’s a difficult choice for many people.

I’m returning to physical events. But I fully understand anyone who does not want to, especially if they live with (or are themselves) at higher risk, such as having a relative who cannot be vaccinated.

For a different opinion you can go look at this post by Brent Ozar. He sums up a few reasons for still keeping away from physical events.

I really miss this

I’m double vaccinated, I have a good understanding of Covid-19 (as anyone who was reading my blog last year will know), both how it is transmitted and what it does to you. I’m going to return to going to physical events but I am going to take precautions – not just to protect me from the infected hordes but also to help prevent me from infecting the hordes. I will be attending the UKOUG tech 21 conference at the end of November and I am really, really looking forward to it.

The UKOUG Tech 21 conference organisers will be taking many precautions themselves over ventilation, number of attendees etc. I was still on the board of UKOUG in the spring of 2020 and we were the first user group to deem physical events too risky and cancel one, the first I think to make a solid call of having no physical events in 2020 at all, one of the first (if not the first) to organise a proper multi-stream virtual conference. UKOUG have demonstrated a real focus on the safety of it’s membership and yet try to keep the oracle community breathing (see what I did there). I was really proud that UKOUG listened to myself & Neil Chandler, looked at the science, and made decisions that protected the membership to the cost of the user group itself.

I’ll be wearing my mask when I travel to the event. I know, in some countries it would be deemed madness to not wear a mask on public transport but, despite all the signs saying it is mandatory, the UK government have not attempted to enforce such rules at all. And when they sit in parliament in a crowded room, not a mask is to be seen usually. They have failed to govern or lead effectively on Covid-19 since day one. I was not a fan of masks initially, if you asked me 2 years ago I would have laughed at the general public using them as viruses & bacteria are massively smaller than the pores in non-medical-grade masks, most people have not been shown how to wear them (and still don’t know), are useless at not touching the mask or keeping them clean, and often just wear them as a pointless chin warmer. But it’s been demonstrated that masks are very good at catching the droplets of saliva that we expel and so greatly reduce the wearer transmitting SARS-CoV-2, and somewhat mitigate against breathing in tainted droplets. They help.

Once I am there I am staying at a local hotel (I could have done the trip in and out from home each day), walking to the event, basically minimising my public transport usage.

If there is any finger or buffet food offered, I ain’t touching it. It only takes one infected person coughing when serving themselves to massively increase risk.

I won’t be shaking hands (or bumping elbows, a practice I have always thought was bloody ludicrous, especially when we were told to cough into our arm to contain it – “Hey, touch my plague infested arm!!!”) or hugging people unless it seems very important to them. So pretty much no one I know in the IT sphere. Licking other delegates and wild sex is definitely out this year

If anyone is coughing, spluttering, looking flushed, complaining they feel hot but “it’s just a cold” I am not staying near them. If Covid-19 taught us anything it is that we should not regard people who go to work/meet people even when they are ill as heroes but as lunatics. And employers who encourage or force such behaviour are not only abusive but mad. You want all your staff to get ‘flu?.

I’ll probably wear a mask quite a lot as I cough a lot these days, as a result of having crappy lungs. I don’t want to make people feel unsafe and there is always a chance I could be carrying SARS-CoV-2 and not realise.

I’ll be taking a lateral flow test every day and for a few days before the event. They are not desperately good at detecting the virus when you first have it but it’s some indication. If one says you DO have Covid-19 you almost certainly do. If I can I’ll get a proper PCR test a few days before.

I would have already started going to physical events if I felt safe to fly. This is nothing to do with Covid-19 though. I was supposed to be at POUG2021 last September (they had much lower Covid-19 levels than the UK so I would have been safer there than the UK!) but my lungs have never really recovered from my fun with ‘flu a couple of years ago and any demands on them above a steady walk and I can’t do it for long. I might be fine in a plane, but taking a four hour flight and finding out I’m not is not a clever idea. I could get tested to see how I would cope with the reduced pressure and O2 levels of a flight but the UK NHS has been under extreme pressure for most of this year and I see my getting the test as a frivolous waste of their resources, even if they would agree to do it.

Another aspect of remote events is a lot of them have been put on free to the delegates or considerably cheaper than a physical event. This makes physical events look expensive and introduces the complexity of do the organisers have two fee structures, for physical and virtual attendance. You can reduce the costs of your venue by having fewer people actually there but it’s not really proportional. Many user groups, especially those that have any sort of organisation behind them (like most of the big ones such as DOAG, UKOUG, POUG) incur costs just by existing and the drop in income caused by Covid-19 has been crippling. Conferences that delegates pay for, and membership fees for user groups, keep these groups going and if people (or more often companies) stop paying for them… You are going to lose your user groups.

A final consideration is how the UK is doing Covid-19 wise. The UK is doing bloody awfully and has done so for most of the year. The one thing we did, that the government pretty much left our National Health Service to sort out, was immunising everyone who would and could do so. Our case rates are, excuse my language but I am a little vexed by this, fucking awful, about the worst in the world compared to our population size (poor Ukraine and Romania win there as the moment). The vaccines and steadily improving treatment methods are keeping death rates at only terrible. But if we get another large spike, UKOUG will cancel and I would not go anyway.


Community is Communication – #JoelKallmanDay October 11, 2021

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, UKOUG, User Groups.
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My life is not just Oracle and the Oracle community. I’m part of a couple of other communities as, I hope are we all – be they your hobby, an interest or pastime, the church, your friends. And the key to community is, I feel, communication.

2 days old

I was thinking of this a few weeks ago in another, important (to me) part of my life, which is fostering cats for a local pet charity. I’ve had cats for most of the last 40 years of my life and I’ve missed them since our last one died about 6 years ago. For a mixture of reasons we decide that rather then get another “forever” cat we would temporarily look after cats that needed care before being rehomed permanently.

We’ve had several cats now and it’s something we enjoy doing. What has not been so good, at times, has been interacting with the staff at the charity. There have been several situations where we have tried to contact them and either the reply is slow to come or does not happen at all. We do understand that they are often dealing with a fast moving or unclear situation and, especially with Covid-19 at times effectively removing most of their volunteer staff, more things to do than they have hours to do it in. But when you are asked if you can take on a new cat in an emergency and you drop your plans to do so – and then hear nothing for 3 days before being told “Oh! No, we organised to support the current owner in keeping it”, it’s… vexing. Especially the third time in a row it happens.

It nearly made us give up on them, the communication was just so lacking and poor.

2 weeks old

But to balance that, there is an online facebook-type group for all the fosterers and they are much better. We put up pictures of our fosterlings, swap tips, and generally support each other. It’s good communication. I say this despite a lot of the communication having a tone that just is not me (“Ohhh, isn’t paddy pooky so *cuuuuute*! It makes my hearty warty ache!”). However, that’s more my problem than theirs and in fact I modify how I say things a little to suit the general tone (Mrs W looks at some of the things I put on there and says “YOU wrote that?!?!” – yeah, it’s the style they like).

Similarly communication is vital in our Oracle communities. From organising an event to letting people know what your user group is doing, communication is at the heart of it all. Part of it is simply having some communication. If you never hear from a group you are involved with it is, just like with a friend who never gets in touch, hard to maintain the interest. Lack of communication can kill a community really quickly.

On the other side of the coin, over-communication is not good. When I was president of UKOUG one thing I pushed for was for us to communicate with the membership a little less. We used to send out monthly updates and also lots of emails about events and other things. It was too much, I knew people who simply ignored any email from UKOUG as it was endless. I don’t think we got it quite right when I was there, but we altered things so that fewer emails went out and they were more varied. Instead of a monthly update there was an update from the CEO one month and one from me as the president on the other month, with a different flavour and a modified focus.

3 weeks old

The final killer is empty communication. Saying stuff people are not interested in or saying “great things are coming” but nothing substantial about what that great stuff is. Teasers are OK but only if the tease gives a hint of what the new, cool thing is (and it actually is new and cool – so many commercial things are decidedly not cool, let alone interesting, and telling us you are excited about it makes me question how vacuous your life is…). Repeatedly saying “great things are coming” but not what they are sends a clear message of “we have no idea what we are going to do but don’t want to admit that”. There have been a lot of issues with that until recently with one particular Oracle Community area. It’s improving but they have a lot of work to do to make people reconnect with them again.

I love the communities I am in. I am passionate about the Oracle communities I am part of. If I want to help keep those communities vital and active, I need to help with the communication. I can’t think of a single community I am in that I am enjoying where communication is not at the core of it.

This post is part of the #JoelKallmanDay and, if you knew (or even just knew of) Joel , you will know why I chose this topic. Joel was a passionate, effective communicator and a rock within the APEX community.