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Friday Philosophy – If Only I Was As Good a Programmer As I Thought I Was Aged 22 January 29, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, Programming, Uncategorized.
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6 comments

I saw a tweet that made me smile a few days ago:

programmer quote

Like many of you, I started out my working life in IT as a computer programmer. Like some of you, I still am a computer programmer from time to time. I don’t think I’ve had a year of my working life when I did not do either some application development programming or some database infrastructure programming. I am constantly writing small (or not so small) SQL or PL/SQL programs to do what I do in Oracle.

I started programming in school, I did an “O” level in computer studies (the exams we sat in the UK aged 16, up until 1988!), and I was pretty good at the programming as compared to my fellow class mates. My first “real” program played Noughts and Crosses (tic-tac-toe to our American cousins and maybe others) and version 2 was unbeatable. Which at the time I thought was pretty cool.
but Wikipedia now tells me is pretty easy:-). I also remember someone in the year above me unrolling some huge printout of the role-playing game he was writing (you know, the old textual “you have walked into a room where there is a lion, a bar of soap and a chandelier, what do you want to do?” sort of thing) and telling me I would never be able to do it. I just looked at the code and thought: Why have you hard-coded every decision and used all those GOTOs? Some sort of loop and a data block to look up question, answers and consequences would be much smaller and easy to extend? I don’t think he liked me voicing that opinion…

I did not do any programming of any consequence as part of my college course but after that I started work as a computer programmer (sorry “analyst programmer”) in the National Health Service. Again, I seemed better at it than most of those around me, fixing bugs that others had given up on and coding the tricky stuff no one else wanted to touch. And after a year or so, I was convinced I was a programming god!

I wasn’t of course. Part of it was my juvenile, naive ego and the other part was that, fundamentally, many of those around me were bad programmers. Anybody decent either did not join in the first place or got a better job elsewhere that paid more than the NHS did. I eventually did that myself and joined Oracle. Where I realised that (a) SQL confused the hell out of me and (b) when I started using PL/SQL there were plenty of people around me who were better at traditional programming than I.

I think it took me about a year to feel I was damned good at both of them. Guess what? I was wrong. I was simply competent. But after a year or two more I did two things that, for me, finally did make me into a good programmer:

  • I went contracting so I worked in a lot of places, saw a lot more examples of good and bad code and I met a lot more programmers.
  • I think I hit mental puberty and woke up to the fact that I needed to listen and learn more.

Since then, I think my own opinion of my coding skills has generally dropped year on year, even though I would like to think I continue to get better at actually constructing computer programs and suites of programs.

So yes, I wish I was as good a programmer now as I thought I was aged 22. And after 25 years at it (actually, pretty much 35 years at it on and off!) just like Rich Rogers (or is it John D Cook? I can’t quite decide if it is a quotation or not) I think I am finally getting moderately good at writing programs. If I continue to follow this trend, on my 65th birthday I will be convinced I can’t program for toffee and yet will finally be a Good Programmer.

I wonder if  anyone would still employ me to do it by then?

Friday Philosophy – Database Dinosaurs January 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, working.
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14 comments

I’m guessing many of you reading this are over 40. I know some of you are actually beyond the half century and a couple of you are….older! If you are younger than 40, just print out this and put it in an envelope marked “read a decade later than {current date}”. It will have become relevant for you by then…

beware the network admin

Beware the network admin – creative commons, Elvinds

So wind back your memories to those glorious days in your first role working with IT. For most of us it was half our lives back or more, when we were in our early 20’s or even in our teens. One of you was 18, I know, and I knew one guy who started as a salaried, paid programmer at 16. Do you remember those old guys (and occasional gals) you met back then? Often with beards, an odd sense of “style” and a constant grumbling murmur that, if you listened closely, was a constant diatribe about the youngsters “not getting it” and this UNIX thing not being a “proper OS” {fill in whatever was appropriate for the upstart OS back when back where for you}.

Don't annoy the DBA

Don’t annoy the DBA

You are now that person. I know, you don’t feel like it – you can still do all this technology stuff, you program better now than ever, you know how to get the job done and you have kept up with the tech as it moves forward. And you sure as hell do not look as weird as those oldsters did! Well I have bad news. You do look as weird as those old guys/gals to any youth about {and is that not a good thing, as most of them look a right state} and you have probably not kept quite so up with the tech as you think. You have to keep partly up-to-date as the versions of Oracle or whatever roll on, else the career becomes tricky. But as I’ve realised this last few weeks, you probably use old coding techniques and ways of doing things. This is maybe not a bad thing in you day-to-day job as these older ways *work* and doing it that way is quicker for you than spending time checking up the latest “time saving” shortcuts in the code you write. I’ve had that brought home to me recently as I’m working in PL/SQL at the moment and I am using some code I initially wrote back in the last century {I love saying that} as the basis of an example. It works just fine but I decided I should re-work it to remove now-redundant constructs and use features that are current. It is taking me a lot of time, a lot more than I expected, and if I was writing something to Just-Do-The-Job with slightly rusty ways, I’d have it done now. That is what I mean about it not being such a bad thing to use what you know. So long as you eventually move forward!

Of course it does not help that you work on a legacy system, namely Oracle. I am not the first to say this by a long, long shot, Mogens Norgaard started saying this back in 2004 (I can’t find the source articles/document yet, just references to them} and he was right even then. If you think back to those more mature work colleagues when we started, they were experts in legacy software, OS’s and hardware that did in fact die off. VMS went, OS/2 died, Ingress, Informix, Sybase and DB2 are gone or niche. And don’t even mention the various network architectures that we had then and are no more. Their tech had often not been around as long as Oracle has now. And I know of places that have refreshed their whole application implementation 3 or 4 times – and have done so with each one based on a later version of Oracle (I do not mean a migration, I mean a re-build).

Or the Sys Admin

Or the Sys Admin

The difference is, Oracle has had a very, very long shelf life. It has continued to improve, become more capable and the oracle sales & marketing engines, though at times the bane of the technologist’s lives (like making companies think RAC will solve all your problems when in fact it solves specific problems at other costs), have done a fantastic job for the company. Oracle is still one of the top skills to have and is at the moment claiming to be the fastest growing database. I’m not sure how they justify the claim, it’s a sales thing and I’ve ignored that sort of things for years, but it cannot be argued that there is a lot of Oracle tech about still.

So, all you Oracle technologists, you are IT Dinosaurs working on legacy systems.

But you know what? Dinosaurs ruled the earth for a very, very, very long time. 185 million years or so during the Mesozoic period. And they only died out 65 million years ago, so they ruled for three times as long as they have been “retired”. We IT Dinosaurs could well be around for a good while yet.

We better be as there is another difference between when we started and now. Back then, we youth were like the small mammals scurrying in numbers around the dinosaurs(*). Now we are the dinosaurs, there does not seem to be that many youth scurrying about. Now that I DO worry about.

(*) the whole big-dinos/small scurrying mammals is a bit of a myth/miss-perception but this is not a lesson on histozoology…

Friday Philosophy Guest: Open Source Projects January 15, 2016

Posted by amitzil in Architecture, Friday Philosophy, Guest Post, Perceptions.
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4 comments

This post is Guest Post by my friend Liron Amitzi, an Oracle Ace, presenter and instructor who specialises in Oracle design & infrastructure. You can find his blog over here.  And with that, over to you Liron:-)

 

I have been wondering about open source projects for a while. I’ve talked to quite a few people about it, and still don’t really understand some of it. So I decided to write a post about my thoughts regarding this issue.

I’m not going to talk (or even mention) specific projects, but it is very interesting to me how these projects run.

During the years I have worked with quite a lot of open source software and I like some of it a lot. I completely understand how small projects work, such as text editors, small schedulers and others. With these relatively small projects, I can easily see that someone needs such software and simply sits down and writes it (alone or in a small group). When it is ready, I can see that they want to share it with the world – and open source is perfect for that. I can even understand that they will want to update it, add features, support it a little bit, etc. Another side to it that I can see is a developer that writes software to get his reputation going in the community: in order to get a job, an interesting project or simply fame.

However, I’m quite puzzled with the big open source projects, such as databases, queue management, large monitoring systems and more. I know that behind at least some of these software products, there are actual companies that invest money and people. And I don’t really understand how it works as companies need to cover their expenses, salaries, and of course, make a profit.I know that there are many ways to make money out of open source projects. Some companies charge for support, some for education & courses, and some for professional services & consulting. However, in some cases the companies that provide these services are not related to the company that sponsored the development.

So what makes a company develop or support a development of an open source project? I can think of a couple of reasons:

  • As the software will be free and open source today is very common, it will get this software many potential customers and foothold
    After getting a foothold, the company can charge for specific features or other complementary software.
  • Business decisions can also be a cause. A company that makes a lot of money from software might decide to give some back to the community so people will “like” the company more.

Still, when it is a big software project and requires a lot of resources, I can’t see why a big company will go for open source.

  • First, they can make it a freeware without releasing the code.
  • Second, at the bottom line, they will have to make money on this somehow.

So, if they release the project as an open source but charge for education or professional services, I guess that the education and professional services will cost more, so at the end they will make the same amount (and we will pay the same amount) as with licensed software and cheaper courses and professional services.

Am I missing something?

What do you think? I’d love to know.

About Liron

Liron Amitzi and Steven Feuerstein

Liron Amitzi and Steven Feuerstein

Liron Amitzi is originally from Israel and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. I met Liron at the UKOUG Irish User Group conference in Dublin last year and again at Oracle Open World 2015, when it struck me that he looks a lot like  Steven Feuerstein (Liron is on the left). Liron has been an Oracle ACE since 2009 and has helped run the Israel Oracle User Group since 2011. He specialises in High Availability solutions, design, infrastructure, performance and recovery. As well as presenting he is also an instructor and lecturer in Oracle course.

Friday Philosophy – Inspirational Tweets: Why Do They Annoy Me so Much? December 11, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
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5 comments

A few weeks ago I saw this on the Twit Sphere:

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Wow. Deep. Meaningful. Let me follow that twitter account.

No. Let me not. I looked at the account and it was just an endless stream of “Inspirational Tweets” and very little comment or content. For some reason I can’t quite understand, this sort of thing gets on my nerves. No, that’s is not strong enough. It makes me unreasonably bad-tempered and angry. The first draft I wrote on this topic was a ranting diatribe of swear-words and invective {I love that word} that was completely beyond acceptable.

So I’ve been wondering, why do twitter accounts that put out lots of Inspirational Tweets annoy me so much? We have all seen them. In fact I have a couple of friends I follow on twitter who at times put out half a dozen Inspirational Tweets a day. I have to sometimes mute or “unfollow” them for a while. I think part of it is that if an account puts out half a dozen Inspirational Tweets a day, they can’t really mean them very much can they? If I had a set of short phrases that summed up important aspects of my life, such as “Always be nice to cats” then I can’t help but feel that they should be few in number and really mean something to me. They can’t really mean something to me if I have 200 of them.

Another reason is that so many of these Inspirational Tweets are actually just trite such as “when you listen, it’s amazing what you can learn” or even asinine such as “I love dramatically looking out windows on public transportation”. Yes, that is a real one. Of course, most of us put out some stupid tweets and we all have different tastes or interpretations of what is worth saying.

So I am not sure why I find them annoying – but I do. If you put out such tweets and I follow you & then unfollow you, follow you etc or I seem to go quiet (you might be on temporary mute) then just ignore it. I think it’s more my problem than yours. But you have annoyed me.

Why? Why follow me?

Why? Why follow me?

As a secondary rant of the day, I get really annoyed with these fake accounts that follow you or like a tweet of yours but having no connection to your world. Some of course are just another way of advertising something (usually soft porn it would seem – I usually spot them from the start as the account picture is some young women who can’t stop buying clothes 2 sizes too small and describes themselves as “bisexual and always follows back”…Yeah, I’m convinced). But recently I’ve had a lot of follows or likes from accounts, again apparently from young ladies, but now there are often two of them in the picture. Their tweet streams are just an endless flow of retweets, “clever” lines, the inspirational ones of course and nothing, not a thing where there is a conversation with someone else. But no soft porn. I can’t work out what these ones are actually aimed at. They don’t seem to be selling or promoting a specific thing, though they often have some films or makeup adverts retweeted, but if this is what they are selling, the content is drowned out by the stupid stuff and they are missing their audience. I’m pretty sure the content is generated though as I looked at a couple of them and the same quotes and “humorous” utterances seemed to make appearances across accounts.

If anyone could tell me if this is some type of advertising or it really is some attempt by teenage girls to increase they number of twitter friends just as a “look how many followers I have” (though I thought twitter was more an older persons thing) then I’m curious to know. It’s got to be sales, hasn’t it?

Perhaps I should stop worrying about these things and either mute or block them as them come up. Oh, I do:-)

Friday Philosophy – Sex in The Office December 4, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

Sex in the office. It’s a bad idea – you can get hurt falling off the swivel chair or desk and there is the ever present danger of the stapler…

Though accurate, the title is of course misleading to make you look at this blog. I’ve actually been thinking about the ratio of women to men in the office, the impact it has and the efforts put in to address it. If you have somehow missed it there is something called “WIT” – Women in Technology – and it is part of an ongoing drive to get more women into the traditionally male-dominated careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics {STEM} and to help them stay there once they are in the industry. I can’t say I’ve been aware of this next aspect until the last couple of years but apparently a women is more likely to move out of IT as they get older than a man is.

There is a morning meeting on WIT at the UKOUG Tech15 conference on Tuesday at 8pm (details here) and it is open to men as well as women. I hope to be there as it is a topic I am interested in and support. However, I have to say I have some ambivalence towards it too. Why? Because at some of these meetings you get a bit of “men-bashing” and also things get suggested which are positive discrimination – and I am not a fan of discrimination, even when you put the word “positive” in front of it.

I work in the UK and I’ve worked in IT now for 25 years. The ratio of women to men in technical roles does not seem to have changed much in most of that time and has stayed at around 10% to 20%, depending on the business area. My first job was in the national health service and the percentage of women was about 20%. I’ve also been in teams where there is not a single woman. I much prefer there to be a higher percentage of women where I work than 10% – and this is not for any creepie “they are more pretty” or similar reasons, it is because when it is all or mostly men, the atmosphere is like a never-ending boy’s locker room. Juvenile humour, constant swearing and biological jokes are good fun for a while, but not day in, day out. Rightly or wrongly, when the sex ratio is more balanced, so is the humour and behaviour. I’m told women are just as bad when they are in a male-free environment – but I would not really know, would I?

I think over the last 5-10 years there has been some movement though, I think we are finally moving towards a more balanced ratio. Actually, no , it would be more accurate to say we are progressing to a less unbalanced ratio.

There is no question about the technical ability of women and I am confident in my own attitude towards having women in technical roles – I’ve hired, promoted, supported and reprimanded enough women over the years to demonstrate I don’t have any issues there. But I don’t think we will ever have equal numbers of men and women across the technical roles in IT.

Why do I think this? Because it is about numbers, percentages and factors. I have to quickly point out that I am not talking about individuals here and there are individual exceptions to everything I say, but I do run the risk of upsetting people…

One factor is the Autistic spectrum. Or maybe I should be saying Aspergers, as that term was supposed to indicate people with reduced empathy but not reduced cognition (intelligence or learning speed). I was talking to a friend about this a few days ago, the fact that when you look at people working in IT there is a tendency towards us being poor at understanding people, uncomfortable dealing with other humans and being happier working with things. ie somewhere in the mild end of the  Autistic spectrum. Obviously this is not true of everyone in IT and probably is only relevant to, ohhh, 83% of us {Joke! It is probably less than 50%}. It is certainly true of me and a few of my best friends, ironically. Technology particularly appeals to those of us who are on that spectrum, especially when we are younger, as it is easier for us to deal with something other than people. It is also true that you are less likely to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum if you are a woman than a man. Add those two together and over a large enough sample, like the working population, you will see a significant effect. Men as a population are more autistic, IT appeals to the autistic, you will get a bias towards men in IT. It does not mean all men in IT are autistic.

Another factor is of course that when children come along it is nearly always the woman who takes the lead in childcare. It does not have to be that way, it certainly should not be expected let alone forced. I’ve known couples where the father stops work and takes the main parental role (and they always run up against a lot of sexism about that, so it’s a two-way street ladies!) but it is still relatively rare. And taking time off work has an impact on career development and skills because you are not doing the job during that time. I know that when I have not done something for a year or two my skills degrade (I did not do much PL/SQL development work for a couple of years and I was rusty as heck when I went back to it properly). What is wrong is the tendency for that pause in development to be continued when people come back to work or work part time. We can help address that by making more effort to support people (women and men) coming back to work to continue onwards from where they left off, not be expected to stay still. But, over the whole industry, taking a break to concentrate on family is going to have an impact on not only the raw numbers of women in IT at any time but also career progression relative to age. Again, I stress this is not about individuals, it is about ratios and percentages.

Another aspect is that if you have a break from what you do as a career, it is an opportunity to ask yourself if you still want to do it. If you don’t have a break you are less likely to question your job and more likely to just keep turning up and doing it. Some women drop out of IT due to sexism – but some drop out as they just decide to try other things. On average men are less likely to have such a break and just trudge on, week-after-week, year-after-year.

There are other factors beyond those three but the point I am making is that I don’t think the ratio between women and men in technical roles will ever be 50:50. I would prefer it to be 50:50 but I don’t think it will be. I am also not arguing in any way about being complacent about sexism at work, not promoting women or anything like that. The fact that I don’t think we will ever have parity of numbers does not condone sexism in any way. Everyone should have the same chances and support. I’d like there to be no need for positive discrimination as we don’t have any discrimination – it is all about the individual and ability. As my friend Pete Scott put it on twitter when this post first went up – Humans In Technology is where we want to be – HIT

Friday Philosophy – We Could Be Heroes! {just for one day}. November 6, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

At Open World I overheard a snippet of conversation which went something like this:

Bob – “How’s it going? Did the last talk go down well?”
Bill – “Sure, it was on time, the audience seemed to like it.”
Bob – “Will you be here next year?”
Bill – “Errmm….” pause…*sigh*… “I don’t know…. I’ll see how I feel.”
Bob – “Oh? In what way?”
Bill – “It just that, at Open World… I have to fend off two dozen people just to go have a pee!”

Wild horses could not drag out of me the name of the person who said that (though several pints and the offer of a curry might do the trick – try me). It both made me smile and made me think. There are down-sides to becoming highly respected in your sphere.

There are definitely different levels of renown and respect in the relatively small world of the Oracle Database Technologist. I’m not doing bad in that respect; I’d put myself in the third of the seven circles, maybe tapping on gates of circle two. Occasionally I think it would be nice to be either technically or entertainingly good enough to join the Big Names in the innermost circle – but I really don’t think I can face the Hem-Touching!

What do I mean about “Hem-Touching”? It’s something a few friends and I came up with at the UKOUG Tech conference about 5 or 6 years ago to describe people who will approach one of the Oracle Names with a mixture of awe and fear in their eyes and just want them to acknowledge their presence,be allowed to speak, maybe to touch the hem of their cloak. If you go up to the balcony that is above the exhibition hall at the Birmingham ICC, you can sometimes watch an Oracle Name walk through the exhibition and see some people suddenly swerve and hurry towards them – especially if the Name currently has no one with them. I’ve even seen someone suddenly stop when another acolyte gets to their hero first. I don’t know why, these people will speak to more than one person at a time. And the thing is, people in the UK and Europe are generally more reserved than our cousins in other continents, so we are less forward in, well, being forward.

Am I being mean to these people? Well, a little I guess, but it’s mainly because of the little story I started with. I’m friends with some of the Names and I know a lot of them are uncomfortable with Hero Worship. Being respected and held in high regard is great, most of them are very happy about that, as they have worked damned hard and long to be knowledgeable enough to hold that position. But when people treat them like a living saint or the bestower of blessings, it’s just a bit weird. This is just an area of technology after all, not the eradication of Malaria. They are “just” people – OK, they are people who are usually very smart and very capable, but they are also people who are happy to share and teach – otherwise they would not be at the conferences sharing and teaching. Most of them are idiots in other areas of their lives too, we all are.

I’ve never felt the need to hero-worship myself. Not because I do not deeply respect people who achieve great things, it’s just not in my psychology I think. I did not put up any posters in my bedroom of the people I most respected when I was a teenager. I used to know a Nobel Prize Winner (though I doubt he’d recognise me in the street now) but when I met him the first time I had no idea who he was and just treated him like a person – and we got on fine. He treated me like a person too. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very smart academics, many of the Oracle Names and even the odd traditionally famous person. It’s amazing how like people they are – if you treat them like people.

I’m certainly not above being pleased when someone I respect mentions me or refers to something I have done though. I’ll grin like an idiot on the rare occasions someone has name-checked me in a presentation or they tell me they liked something I said. I’m tickled pink when a Name follows me on twitter. But I feel hero worship is not what they want. Respect yes, being told you appreciate what they have taught you fine. Going shiny-eyed and asking to touch the hem of their coat, weird; don’t do it.

Oracle Names are people, treat them as such. They’ll probably appreciate you more if you do.

And if you ever find yourself in a group of several others, all trying to say “hello” to some gal or guy you just saw presenting, and they are looking a little uncomfortable and shifting from foot to foot and looking towards a door over there – let the poor sod go to the loo will you?

Friday Philosophy – 3 months, 3 conferences October 16, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Tech15.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

Flights are booked, hotels reserved, plans made. Don’t ask about talks prepared, just don’t:-)

This is not the usual list of “I’m going to this talk and I’m seeing that speaker” blog that people write before an event – well it is a little – it’s more about the different flavors of conference we have available to us.

I have an Oracle conference a month until the end of the year and I’m really looking forward to all of them. Each is very different. I know I am lucky to be able to do this sort of thing, that is go to so many conferences, and partly it is because of being an ACED. But fundamentally it’s come about as a result of the decision I made back in 2003 to give something back to the community that I’d learnt so much from, and even more so when a couple of years back my wife gave me permission to do less stuff that pays and more stuff that I enjoy. Oracle Community stuff.

First up of course is Oracle Open World 15. This includes a couple of days before hand with the ACED briefings. We get a heads-up on what is happening with the direction of Oracle Tech and Oracle expect us to feed back what we think. After 25 years in the business and dozens of conferences, this will be a first for me so I will be a newbie again (hmm, maybe not so new thinking about it, I’ve been on Customer Advisory Boards and Beta tested in the past so it will be interesting to see the difference). I’ve said in the past how I was not so fond of my prior Oracle Open World experiences. Too big and too razzmatazz for my repressed British personality. But the huge difference between this time and 10 years ago is not my being ACED, it is being a member of the community and looking forward to seeing so many people, catching up and talking about all things tech.
Elton John is apparently doing the appreciation event. I’m hoping for “Yellow Brick Road” era stuff and none of that modern post Y2K stuff…
Oh, and don’t forget, there is also the Oaktable presence at OOW, OakTable World. It’s free to all at OOW15 and if you want technical meat on your presentation bones, that is where you will find it.

In November, Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd, it is a totally different experience, the Bulgarian Oracle User Group Autumn conference. This is purely a tech conference, no dancing girls, no laser-show keynotes and not a hint of Elton John. Just a shed load of top presenters (so many ACE badges next to names) with a good showing of local talent too. Several of the speakers are coming to it from DOAG, a conference I was seriously considering putting papers forward for but decided not to, as I felt I was too busy at the end of the year – and then I got sweet-talked into putting forward abstracts for Bulgaria. Next year I’ll try for DOAG. This will be my first time at a BGOUG conference but I know from my friends that it is like many of the smaller European conferences. It has a more inclusive, friendly feel as you see the same people over and over again for the couple of days and spend time getting to know people pretty well and often having longer, more involved discussions about whatever tech you are working with. I’ve been really well looked after by the organisers already, helping me sort things out and advising me on what to do outside the event.

I’m combining this one with a short holiday with my wife. (She speaks Bulgarian so she will be very helpful in ordering beer in local bars). One down side to going to more conferences is that, as she travels a lot herself for work, some months we don’t see a lot of each other. It will be really nice to wander around Sofia together for a few days. The ironic thing is that her employer, actually her department, is doing some work out there that week – and they did not schedule in the only person in the team who speaks the language!

Finally there is “my” conference. Mine as in I feel it is my home conference, being in the UK and one I have presented at or helped organise for 12 years now. The UKOUG Tech15 conference. This is from Monday 7th December to Wednesday the 9th, and if you get registered in time you can also be at Super Sunday on the 6th (half a day focused on deeper tech talks). Again, a conference that puts technical content at the top and the sales sides comes along for the ride. It is a very large conference, vying with DOAG to be the biggest after Oracle Open World. We are less show and more tell than OOW but it lacks the personal feel of smaller conferences. We are back in Birmingham for this one and I have to say it’s all looking set for a great event. Registrations are significantly up on the last couple of years at this stage, the exhibition is selling well and we have great content lined up. I need to tweet more about Tech15, both about how such an event is organised (I know some of you liked hearing about that) but also about some of the things that will be happening. I’m quietly excited about a couple of things. The only problem is that, by the time I get to the actual Tech15 conference I am usually a bit spaced out and knackered from all the prep work and by the end of Wednesday (the last day) I’m physically drained – but with a head full of new information.

As I said, all three conferences have a different vibe and which one you prefer is down to what you want from your conference.

After all that I’ll be done with conferences. I refuse to go to any more until the following year…

Which reminds me, I better start putting in some abstracts and seeing if I’ve got stuff people want in their conferences next Spring.

Friday Philosophy – Be Moral or Be Sacked? October 9, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy.
Tags: , ,
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How far will you bend your moral stance to keep your job?

This post was prompted by a Twitter discussion over the recent VW Emissions scandal development where software engineers are being blamed. Let’s just skip over the rather trite and utterly unbelievable proposition that a couple of rogue software engineers did this “for reasons unknown” – and the fuel engineers, mechanical engineers, and direct managers did not realise “hey, our engines are more efficient than we knew was possible, never mind seen”. Plus the testers, change control, release managers, etc were all circumvented by the rogue software engineers…. It would have to be incompetence of unbelievable levels for the whole stack of management up to the top did not in some way at least know about this – and I personally am sure they condoned or even demanded the results.

What made me think was a comment by a friend that the software engineers must have at least colluded and thus are at least partially responsible – and it struck a chord in me. What constitutes collusion? and would you or I do it? I’ve been in a very similar situation…

Back in my first job I worked for one of the regions of the UK National Health Service, as a programmer. An edict came down from high. Government high. We were to make the waiting list figures look better. “We” being the NHS management initially but, as I guess they were powerless to really do much about the reality of the situation, it come down the levels until it was realised it was the data used to show how the waiting times were doing that could so easily be changed.

I was given the job of altering the Waiting List Reports in a few ways. A key one was how the date you started waiting was measured. No matter how often the hospital cancelled your appointment or sent you home not having done the procedure, the date from which you started waiting remained the same. However, if you were offered an appointment and for any reason you could not attend – ANY reason, be you ill in another way, have a responsibility you could not avoid, were only given a day’s notice – the date you were waiting was reset to the day of the refused appointment. Of course this was utterly unjust and we were told it would not really mean Mrs Smith who had been waiting 3 months would now have to wait another 3 months – “it would be handled”. But it made the figures so much better.

I refused. In the first place it was a con, in the second I doubted all the Mrs Smiths would be handled as the NHS, even back then, was in a right state.

To this day I am proud I refused.

My colleague was given the task instead – and she did it. I asked her how she could do it? We had some shared political and philosophical views. How could she do something she knew was utterly false and misleading? Her answer was simple.

“You’re lucky – you can afford to take the risk. I’ve just got married, we have a mortgage and I have …other responsibilities – I can’t afford to damage my career or get sacked. You can.”

She was right. I did not know it then but she was trying for a baby, so yeah, getting sacked would have been devastating. On the other hand, I had no dependents (no one loved me), no mortgage and I was already muttering about leaving. She had in effect been bullied into doing a task she was morally against. And she knew, if she did not do it someone else would and she would have taken the hit.

And I confess, I did not simply stand up, shout defiance and proudly walk out the room, head held high. I had a long chat with my union rep about what support I could expect if things got bad before I refused. I knew he was ready to support me.

There were repercussions. I already had a poor relationship with my manager. After I refused to do that work I had an even worse relationship with him, and now his boss disliked me quite a lot too. It was a large part of me leaving to join some no-hope database company.

So, I think there is a very large difference in colluding and being coerced.

The same argument goes up the stack too. I can imagine there were lots of people involved in the VW scandal who knew what was going on, did not like it but, “hey, it’s my job I am risking and it’s not as if I’m the one *authorising* this”.

I can’t say I’ve always held to my moral ground so strongly, I’ve done a couple of things professionally I wish now I’d also said no to. But I’ve also said no to a couple more.

{I hope the statute of limitations on mentioning governmental evils is less that 25 years…}

Friday Philosophy – Antisocial Social Media and Sociopaths September 25, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Twitter.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Twice, on consecutive days a week or so back, I realised that someone I knew on Twitter but did not know in real life… was someone I knew in real life. But I’d never made the connection! With one person it was not that their real name was missing from their twitter profile, it was just my brain had linked all I knew about them to their handle. In the other case, as far as I can see there is nothing to link their slightly obscure handle to their physical persona, despite the fact they are tweeting quite often about Oracle and also present at conferences. So that was simply not playing fair to hide their real identity in that way and I feel slightly aggrieved.

I’ve also had the experience of meeting someone in the flesh who treats me like an old friend, is being nice to me {possibly some sales-person-type I should back away from, I initially wonder?} but also knows a fair bit about me {Oh no! Creepy-stalker-type! Must-run must-run must-run} – before it dawns on me that this is actually Randolph Toddlepoddle who I have known online for 5 years, comments on my blog and I respond. But I’ve never met. And who is now wondering why I am being so unfriendly, am backing slowly away from them with a fixed grin on my face and scanning for exits. This has actually happened to me several times now. Thankfully only once with each person (I think – names & faces are not my forte}.

XKCD comic 741

I have a relationship with you lot? {shudder!}

The result is that I am sure that for some people I have two utterly separate relationships with them – the online one and the in-the-flesh one. (According to xkcd comic 741 I have a relationship with you as you read my blog. When can I meet the parents?).

Another aspect of social media I feel is a little tricky for me, personally, is keeping track of what people have said to me and things I’ve said I’ll do. I have a poor memory, I can barely remember conversations last week. With email I can file them away and find them later (mostly I just file them away and wonder why my email directory is so massive). But with Twitter and Facebook comments? OK, so you can search but it is slow and it is not great. Only today (as I type) I remember being given some advice by my friend Brendan about writing articles. I went and checked my email ( under “friends/Brendan” or maybe “ora600/articles”, I can’t remember). Nope. Could I have put it elsewhere in my email store of information and event? Nope, no where in my email I could find. Ahh, it was a twitter conversation. Damn. Now I need to step back and find it…

Maybe there is an app to tie all this stuff together for me but I would have to find it and learn it and the vendor will get bored or go bust in 2 years and I’ll lose the lot then. I’d rather mow the lawn.

Then there is the much-commented-on aspect of online comments where some people seem to sign up to a service or follow someone, just so they can be snide or criticise. No, this is not the usual rant about these phalluses (phalli?), It’s more that I don’t read user comments on the BBC web site much anymore as it lowers my already pretty sociopathic outlook on the human race (don’t get me wrong, many individual humans are wonderful animals – but as a pack they are a nasty and destructive species). It’s not that there are nasty or thoughtless people who put these comments up, we learnt there are people like that in the school playground (or even in the classroom – Mr Jenkins, you know who you are). It’s just that seeing what people can put on social media reminds me more about how dysfunctional people can be than meeting people in the flesh does. Being able to have some control over people you meet in the flesh means real people don’t tend to enhance my sociopathic tendencies as much as social media.

I follow a couple of “humorous” twitter accounts. They put the same stuff up all the time, sometimes it’s obviously fake and they “borrow” from each other like crazy. But it’s just a few tweets and if I find the repetitive nature of it or their take on humour gives me less amusement than annoyance, I can always do that “unfollow” thing. I am not in any way being forced to be exposed to it. I don’t have to start commenting all the time about “you got this from redit!!!” or “You spelt that wrong you moron” or “That’s not funny, I can tell it’s a paper bag on a baby”. I made the mistake a couple of weeks back of responding to one saying “Dude, thanks for pointing out the totally obvious, it had CLEAR passed me by”. Yeah, I told you I had sociopathic leanings – I went and did what they had done to annoy me, there was no need for me to read the comments if I knew it would annoy me.

Of course, I could just stop joining in; close my twitter account, delete the blog, remove my inconsequential presence on facebook. But then, I’m now in all these relationships (sometimes two or three times with the same person). How can I break up with so many people?:-)

Friday Philosophy – The Issue of Exceptions in your Mailing Lists September 18, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in development, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

A couple of days ago I got the below email about the next UKOUG Database Server SIG being full. That’s great to see! A full user group meeting. If I still wanted to attend, I could be added to the waiting list:

ScreenHunter_42 Sep. 14 11.25

It made me smile as, guess what, I was already due to be there. I was the last speaker on the agenda! It was going to be awkward if I failed to get from the waiting list to an actual place at the event, it could be a very quiet session…

As I said, it made me smile – I’m not having a go at the UKOUG over this. Because, as I’m sure many of you are aware due to the day job, removing people from a mailing list who are no longer going to be interested is not always easy (I know, it should be easy, but it just seems not to be). Anyone registered for an event should be on an exclude list for the event. But only for that event. And for that to occur you have to make sure that all speakers and committee are registered (as committee and speakers can be very poor at actually registering!).

Sales and promotion communications are one thing and, let’s face it, in the scheme of things damned unimportant – except to the company doing the sales. If you sell clothes and you mess up on your communications to me, I’ll have a poorer opinion of your company and I don’t mind having that poor opinion. I won’t buy your clothes, no skin off my nose. As a recent example on a personal level, my mother was having a new door and window fitted. She was contacted by a company that replaced a couple of her windows the year before and as the service was fine then and she knew she had to have the door replaced, she said yes. But then she got called by them again a month later asking if she wanted any more windows or doors – “But I just ordered from you, have you lost the order?”. They apologised and said it would not happen again. But it did, a couple of times – including the day before the new door was to be fitted, whilst she was waiting for a call about the exact time for the work the next day. A lesson in How to Confuse A Little Old Lady. The end result is, she won’t use that company again. Especially as the new door seems to have a fault they won’t come and fix. Maybe the inability to take a current client off the pester-list should have warned us off them.

But there are other communications where the need to take care of the exclusions or keep the lists timely are far, far more important. People get really upset if the hospital sends a reminder for a checkup to their father – who died last month, in that hospital. In that situation people are so sensitive that they can’t just accept it as an administrative cock-up. It is now seen as an affront to their dead relative’s memory and a sign the hospital do not care.

An even worse situation than the above is if the hospital wrongly records you as dead. It happens and it happens “quite often” as it is very hard to keep individual, accurate records on people who keep going and changing names, addresses and have the same name and date of birth as other people. I know this as I once had to write the software to do all the test cancellations and notifications required internally in a hospital that occur when someone dies. And I also had to write the software to undo all of that when someone realised the wrong person had been recorded as dead. {The functions were initially called “kill patient” and “resurrect patient” – They got renamed pretty damned quick when people outside the medical staff saw them. Medics have a dark sense of humour that most other people don’t!}. It happens and when you see how many people in a large hospital system have very similar details, you can appreciate why. I bet that right not, somewhere in the UK, is a hospital with two people of the same name & date of birth as inpatients and at least one has a chance of not surviving the experience.

As for sets of duplicate records as no one realised Sarah Twoddypottle is the same person as Sarah Poddytwoddle who came into A&E 4 years ago and neither knew their NHS number… 20 years ago I could have done a PhD on the topic of duplicate patient records, the situation was so bad – and not at all helped by people wanting “privacy” ie no joining up of national medical records. I digress.

People get similarly upset about money (some more so than medical!) – any attempt to offer someone a loan who is already in debt and won’t be accepted for a loan causes all sorts of anger and annoyance. It’s all seen as personal by the wronged customer when in fact it is just an impersonal business function. No, they don’t care about you Mr Postlethwaite, but they don’t not care about you either. You are just one of a million customers. Level of care for the individual is not part of the equation.

I’ll finish on an interesting one. Companies that offer gambling services have to abide by some strict rules about who they can promote their services to or even allow to use their services. To try and halt the horrendous increase in people gambling away money they don’t have there are strict legal rules about self-exclusion and cooling off periods. If you get into serious debt due to gambling you can state you are an addict and it was partly the fault of the company you gambled with. So they must not encourage you any more. At least not for 6 months. {NB I am not a lawyer, I may have the exact details wrong, but the gist is right}. After the time period they are allowed to advertise to the person again as it would be wrong and immoral (???) to exclude them forever. Besides, they are a good source of revenue…

It’s important to get your communications correct, timely and exclusion-aware. And just consider in what situations people might be especially sensitive to what they see as an impersonal system not caring about them or their nearest and dearest. Most people find it hard to accept that such mistakes are not personal, even when they are blatantly impersonal.

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