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When do We Learn #2 October 20, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions.
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4 comments

I exchanged a couple of mails with a friend a few weeks back about how the same topic can arise in a couple of blogs at the same time. Well, I had just blogged myself on when we learn and, blow me over with a feather, that Jonathan Lewis goes and post in a similar vein. He must be nicking ideas off my blog :-) {and yes, I am being tongue-in-cheek here}. We both post thought about needing spare capacity in your life to be able to spend the time to really understand how something works. Yes you learn a lot in the heat of a crisis, but you rarely reallu understand the details, ie become an expert, without having time to digest and qualify that knowledge.

I did write a long comment on his posting, including some links back to my own meandering thoughts on the topic, then realised that I would come across as a bit “me too” so I trimmed it and took out the links. But that is part of why I do my own blog, I found I was spamming other people’s pages with my diatribes and so decide to spam my own. {And I know I am meandering, I’m a bit sleep-deprived, stream of consciousness at the moment}. So here I can refer back to my own stuff and say “me too”, but you are already here reading this, so you only have yourself to blame :-)… Anyway, I wanted to refer back to a very early blog of mine about how much knowledge is enough. I try and make the point that you do not need to know everything, you can become a small-field or local expert just by being willing to learn a bit more.

Jonathan raises the point that he does not have a full time commitment to one client and so he has the luxury to investigate the details and oddities of what he looks into. He suggest this is a large part of why he is an expert, which I feel is true, and I am very happy to see one of the Oracle Names acknowledging that relative freedom from other pressures is key to having the luxury to chase down the details. Those of us in a full time role doing eg DBA, development or design work, have more than enough on our workday plates to keep us too busy. We cannot be top experts, we have a boss to satisfy and a role to fulfill. {Jonathan does not mention that chosing a career where you have luxury of time is also a pretty brave choice – you stand a good chance of earning a lot, lot less whilst working very hard to establish enough of a reputation to be able to earn enough to feed yourself and the cat}.

But this is not a black and white situatuation. There is room for many of us to become experts in our domain or in our locality. Our breadth of knowledge may never be as wide as others, we may not know more than anyone else in a given area {and let’s face, logically there can only be one person who knows the most about a given topic, and that one person is probably in denial about their superiority, which seems to be a defining quality of an expert – it is not so much humility I think as an acknowledgement of there being more to know and a desire to know it}. However, most of us can become the person in our organisation who knows most about X, or who can tie A, B and C together in a more holistic way than others (and that can be a real trick you know). There are always the top experts that you can call on for the worst problems, but you could become the person people come to first.

My advice would be to not try and learn everything about all aspects of Oracle, because you can’t, but rather learn a lot about one or two areas {and consider areas that are more unusual, not just “tuning SQL” or “the CBO”} and expand just your general knowledge of the wider field. And never forget that there is more to learn. So long as you are taking in more knowledge and understanding, you are improving. The best way to do it? Don’t just read other people’s stuff, try teaching someone else. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid I realise I am when I try and show someone else how something works. But that’s OK, so long as they learn it’s fine. If I learn as well, it’s great, and I nearly always do.

I’m getting on a bit, I think I am finally getting the hang of the idea that the more you know the more you realise you don’t know, I wish I knew that when I knew nothing.

Friday Philosophy – when do we learn? October 17, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Private Life.
Tags: ,
5 comments

I’ve had a theory for a while that there are two times when we learn:

  • When we are under extreme duress
  • When we are under no duress at all

I think all technicians would agree with the former. We learn a lot when something very important needs doing urgently, like getting the database back up or finding out why the application has suddenly gone wrong {Hint, very often the answer is to find What Changed}. Another example is when a decision has been made to implement something a manager has seen a nice sales presentation on and they really like the look of it. We technicians have to make it actually work {and I admit to once or twice having been the Manager in this situation :-). I apologise to my people from back then}.

I’ve also believed for a while that the other time you learn, or at least can learn, is when things are unusually quiet. When work is just at it’s normal hectic pace, it’s hard to spend the extra effort on reading manuals, trying things out and checking out some of those technical blogs. You spend all your spare effort on The Rest Of Your Life. You know, friends, partners, children, the cat.

So I think you need some slack time to learn and that is when the most complete learning is done. Yes, you learn a lot when the pressure is on, but you are generally learning “how to get the damned problem resolved” and probably not exactly why the problem occurred; did you fix the problem or just cover it over? Did you implement that new feature your boss’s boss wanted in the best way, or in a way that just about works. You need the slack time to sort out the details.

When do we get slack time? Weekends and holidays. How many of us have snuck the odd technical book or two into our luggage when going on holiday? {And how many of us have had that look from our partners when they find out?}.

Well, at the end of this week I am going on two and a half weeks holiday, over to New England in the US. A few days in Boston, up through Maine, across to Mount Washington to a little hotel where we had possibly the best meal of our lives, down to Mystic and then over to Washington to see some friends.

I am not taking any manuals. I am not taking any technical books.  I am not taking a laptop with Oracle on it. I am not even likely to blog for the duration. Why? I have not been as mentally and physically shattered as I am now since I finished my degree 20 years ago. I just want to switch off for a while.

So I am revising my theory of when we learn. I now think we learn when:

  • When we are under extreme duress {that just does not change}
  • When we have spare mental capacity and the drive to use it.

Right now, I think I have the mental capacity of a drunk squirrel. So from the end of next week, I’m going to sleep, read sci-fi, eat and drink well and maybe do a bit of culture.  The computers and the learning can wait for a little while.

Friday Philosophy -Do I think Oracle is Rubbish? October 8, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions.
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This should be a “Friday Philosophy” posting really, but heck it’s my blog, I can do what I want {quiet smile}. Besides, by the time I finish this, it might well BE Friday. Oh, heck, I’ll just change the title now to a Friday Philosophy one…

I’ve been reviewing some of my blog this week {it is coming up to 6 months since I started so I was looking back at how it has gone}. Something struck me, which is I can be pretty negative about Oracle software and even Oracle Corp at times.

I mostly seem to pick up on oddities, things that do not work as first seems, even outright bugs. I do not often post about “this is how this cool Oracle feature works” or “I used this part of Oracle to solve this problem”. Partly the reason is that there are a lot of blogs and web pages about “how this feature works”, so the need is generally already met. Partly it is that I, like most people, are more interested in exceptions, gotchas and things going wrong. If it works, heck you just need to read the manual don’t you?

So, do I like Oracle?

Yes. Over all I really like working with Oracle. This is because:

  • I can store and work with pretty much whatever data I have ever needed to with Oracle. It is rare for me to be utterly stumped how to achieve something, though it could take time and maybe be a tad slow or a little inelegant, but it can be done.
  • Despite my recent complaints, you can chuck a hell of a lot of data at Oracle. Back in 2002 I was asked if I could put 7 or 8 Terabytes of data into an Oracle database. I did not even pause before saying “Yes!” – though I knew it would be a big job to do so in a way that was maintainable. I’d now feel the same about a couple of hundred TB.
  • The core technology works really well. We all complain about bits and pieces admitedly, but if I have a complex SQL statement with 15 tables and 25 where clauses, I don’t worry about the database giving me the wrong answer, I worry about the developer having written it wrongly {or Oracle running it slowly, but that keeps me in work, hehe.}. I can back up Oracle in many ways and, once I have proven my recovery, I know I can rely on the backup continuing to work, at least from an Oracle perspective. I’ve never yet lost any production data. Do I worry about transactional consistency? Never. Maybe I should, I’ve seen a couple of blogs showing how it can happen, but in my real-work life, I never even think about it.
  • Oracle does continue to improve the core products and they will listen to the community. It might not seem like it at times, I know, but they do. It can just take a long time for things to come through. As an example, I worked with the Oracle InterMedia developers back with the Oracle 10 beta program in 2003. They {well, to be specific, a very clever lady Melli Annamalia} were adding stuff back then that we and others needed that did not get to see the light of day in 10GR1, but was there as  a load of PL/SQL to do it in 10GR2. Melli said she was adding it into the code base as ‘C’ as well but it would take a while. It did, I think it was part of the 11G release.

Will this stop me complaining and whining on about bits of Oracle I don’t like or that do not work as they should? Absolutely not. As Piet de Visser said on a comment to one of my recent blogs, it is beholden on us Users to keep Oracle Corp honest. But I thought I ought to mention, at least once, that I do actually like Oracle.

I Like Oracle, OK?

Grudgingly :-)

A Tale of Two Meetings – 11GR2 and MI SIG October 5, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Perceptions.
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7 comments

Last week I attended two Oracle events, each very different from the other.

The first was an Oracle Corp event, giving details of the new 11GR2 release and what it was introducing. It was in a nice hotel in London with maybe 250, 300 attendees and all quite swish.

The other was a UK Oracle User Group meeting, the last Management and Infrastructure SIG for 2009. 30 people in the Oracle City office and far more unassuming {And note, as I chair the MI SIG, anything I say about the day is liable to bias…}.

Both events were useful to attend and I learnt things at both, but I also found the difference between the two quite interesting.

Oracle 11G Release 2

The official Oracle 11GR2 presentation was where you went for the definitive information on what Oracle Corp feel are the new features of 11G R2 that are of interest (though some of it was not R2-specific but general 11G).

Chris Baker started off by telling us “there has never been a better time” to move to the latest technology or a greater need to gain business advantage through using said latest technology. You know, it would be really nice, just once, to go to such a corporate event and not be given this same thread of pointless posturing? I know it is probably just me being old and grumpy and contrary, but after 20 years in the business I am sick to the hind teeth of Keynotes or Announcements that say the same empty “Raa-Raa” stuff as the previous 19 years – the need “now” to get the best out of your technology has been the same need since the first computers were sold to businesses, so give it a rest. Just tell us about the damned technology, we are smart enough to make our own decision as to whether  it is a big enough improvement to warrant the investment in time and effort to take on. If we are not smart enough to know this, we will probably not be in business too long.

Sorry, I had not realised how much the Corporate Fluff about constantly claiming “Now is the time”, “Now things are critical” gets to me these days. Anyway, after that there were some good overviews of the latest bits of technology and following form them some dedicated sessions in two streams on specific areas, split between semi-technical and management-oriented talks, which was nice.

There was plenty of talk about the Oracle Database Machine, which appears to be exadata version 2 and sits on top of Sun hardware, which is no surprise given the latest Oracle Acquisition. I have to say, it looks good, all the hardware components have taken a step up (so now 40Gb infiniband interconnect, more powerful processors, even more memory), plus a great chunk of memory as Sun’s “FlashFire” technology to help cache data and thus help OLTP work. More importantly, you can get a 1/4 machine now, which will probably make it of interest to more sites with less money to splash out on a dedicated Oracle system. I’ll save further details for another post, as this is getting too long.

The other interesting thing about the new Oracle Database Machine was the striking absence of the two letters ‘P’ and ‘H’. HP was not mentioned once. I cannot but wonder how those who bought into the original exadata on HP hardware feel about their investment, given that V2 seems only available on Sun kit. If you wanted the latest V2 featries such as the much-touted  two-level disc compression is Oracle porting that over to the older HP systems, are Oracle offering a mighty nice deal to upgrade to the Sun systems or are there some customers with the HP kit currently sticking needles into a clay model of top Oracle personnel?

The other new feature I’ll mention is RAT – Real Application Testing. You can google for the details but, in  a nutshell, you can record the activity on the live database and play it back against an 11g copy of the database. The target needs to be logically identical to the source {so same tables, data, users etc} but you can alter initialisation parameters, physical implementation, patch set, OS, RAC… RAT will tell you what will change.

For me as a tuning/architecture guy this is very, very interesting. I might want to see the impact of implementing a system-wide change but currently this would involve either only partial testing and releasing on a wing and a prayer or a full regression test on an expensive and invariably over-utilised full test stack , which often does not exist. There was no dedicated talk on it though, it was mentioned in parts of more general “all the great new stuff” presentations.

Management and Infrastructure SIG

RAT leads me on to the MI SIG meeting. We had a talk on RAT by Chris Jones from Oracle, which made it clearer that there are two elements to Real Application testing. One is the Database Replay and the other is SQL Performance Analyzer,  SPA. Check out this oracle datasheet for details.

SPA captures the SQL from a source system but then simply replays the SELECT only statements, one by one, against a target database. The idea is that you can detect plan changes or performance variations in just the Select SQL. Obviously, if the SELECTS are against data created by other statements that are not replayed then the figures will be different, but I can see this being of use in regression testing and giving some level of assurance. SPA has another advantage in that it can be run against a 10g database, as opposed to RAT which can only be run against 11 (though captured from a terminal 10g or 9i system – that is a new trick).
There are no plans at all to backport RAT to 10, it just ain’t gonna happen guys.

The SIG also had an excellent presentation on GRID for large sites (that is, many oracle instances) and how to manage it all. The presentation was as a result of requests for a talk on this topic by people who come to this SIG and Oracle {in the form of Andrew Bulloch} were good enough to oblige.

The two Oracle Corp talks were balanced by technical talks by James Ball and Doug Burns, on flexible GRID architectures and using OEM/ASH/AWR respectively. These were User presentations, mentioning warts as well as Wins. Not that many Warts though, some issues with licence daftness was about it as the technology had been found to work and do it’s job well. Both talks were excellent.

The fifth talk was actually an open-forum discussion, on Hiring Staff, chaired by Gordon Brown {No, not THAT Gordon Brown, as Gordon points out}. Many people joined in and shared opinions on or methods used in getting new technical staff. I found it useful, as I think did many. These open sessions are not to everyone’s taste and they can go wrong, but Gordon kept it flowing and all went very well.

 

The difference between the two meetings was striking. Both had strong support from Oracle  {which I really appreciate}. Both included talks about the latest technology. However, the smaller, less swish event gave more information and better access to ask questions and get honest answers. There was also almost no Fluff at the SIG, it was all information or discussion, no “Raa-Raa”. But then, the lunch was very nice and there were free drinks after the Corporate event {we shared rounds at a local pub after the SIG event – maybe one round too much}. 

I guess I am saying that whilst I appreciate the Big Corporate event, I get a lot more out of the smaller, user group event. Less fluff, more info. Thankfully, Oracle support both, so I am not complaining {except about the “there has never been a better time” bit, I really AM sick of that :-( ).

 So if you don’t support your local Oracle user group, I’d suggest you consider doing so. And if, like so many sites seem to, you have membership but don’t go along to the smaller events, heck get down there! There is some of the best stuff at these SIG meetings.

Friday Philosophy – Cats and Dogs October 2, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
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2 comments

I like cats. Cats are great. I don’t like dogs. I’ve been attacked by a nasty bitie dog and that is my reason. And dogs growl at you. And woof.

This is of course unfair, I have been bitten by cats lots more than dogs (seeing as I own cats and have never owned a dog, this is to be expected), cats scratch, cats hiss at you and yowl and they have been known to leave “presents” in my slippers.

My animal preference comes down to personal, even personality, reasons as opposed to logic. A dog needs attention, a walk twice a day, they follow you around and always want attention and tend to be unquestioning in their affection. Cats can often take you or leave you, will come when called only if they had already decide to come over and the issue of who owns who is certainly not clear. If you do not keep your cat happy, there is always Mrs Willams down the road who Tiddles can up and go and live with instead.

These same illogical preferences riddle IT I think. People make decisions for what I sometimes term “religious” reasons. As an example, I’ve worked with a lot of people who either are strongly for or against Open Source. There are logical and business reasons for and against Open Source, but it seems to me that many people have decided which they prefer for personal reasons {often, Open Source people tend towards anti-establishement and anti-corporation views, Open Source detractors tend towards supporting business and personal wealth}. They then will argue their corner with the various pros and cons but you know there is no swaying their opinion as it was not derived from logic.

In the same way I will not stop preferring cats to dogs. And I know I personally have a couple of Religious decisions about IT that are not based on cold logic {And I am not changing them, OK!}.

I think it helps to realise that people do make decisions this way (some make most of them this way, most make some decisions this way) and it’s not worth getting that angry or annoyed when someone seems to be intractable in their stance against your ideas. After all, you might have made a “religious” decision which side you are on and they can’t understand why you don’t agree with them :-)

opinions formed in this manner are difficult to change. They can and do change, but usually only over time and in a gradual way, certainly not from someone saying to them they are an idiot for preferring Sybase to Ingress and verbally berating them with various arguments for and against.

So, if it is only a work thing {and heck, computers and software really are not that important} be passionate, but try and be a little flexible too.

This post was, of course, just a shallow excuse to include a link to a Cat thing – my favorite cat animation. Sorry Dog lovers {It’s your own faulty for liking nasty, smelly dogs}.

Data Dictionary Performance – reference September 29, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in internals, Perceptions.
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1 comment so far

I’ve got a couple more postings on Data Dictionary performance to get where I plan to go to with this, but if you want to deep-dive into far more technical details then go and check out Dion Cho’s excellent posting on fixed object indexes.

I was not planning on getting into the sys.x$ fixed objects as you need SYS access to look at them, which not everyone has, but this is where Dion goes. His posts are always good, I need to check them far more.

As a soft-technical aside, I often mention to people when doing courses on SQL or writing standards or even the odd occasions I’ve discussed perception, that we Westerners are taught to read from left to right, top-to-bottom and we pick out left justification very well. Code laid out like the below we find easy to read:

select pers.name1                surname
      ,pers.name2                first_forename
      ,pers.nameother            middle_names
      ,peap.appdate              appointment_date
      ,decode (addr.name_num_ind
                 ,'N', to_char(addr.housenum)
                 ,'V', addr.housename
                 ,'B', to_char(addr.housenum
                              ||' '||addr.housename)
                                 house_no_name
      ,addr.address2             addr_street
      ,addr.address3             addr_town
      ,addr.address4             addr_dist
      ,addr.code                 addr_code
from person              pers
     ,address            addr
    ,person_appointments peap
where pers.addr_id     =addr.addr_uid
and   pers.pers_id     =peap.pers_id
and   pers.active_fl   ='Y'
and   pers.prim_cons   ='ANDREWSDP'
and   peap.latest_fl   ='Y'

But this is not true of other cultures, where people do not read left to right, top to bottom. I have had this confirmed just a couple of times when people who were born in Eastern cultures are in the course/conversation.

So I was very interested to see Dion’s Korean version of the blogpost I reference above (I really hope this link here to the korean version is stable).
The main body of the page is on the right, not left, but the text appears to be left justified.

Of course, I am horribly ignorant, I do not know which direction Koreans read in :-(. I could be spouting utter rubbish.

Friday Philosophy – Disasters September 4, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions.
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4 comments

Some of you may be aware that I occasionally do presentations called something like:-

“5 Ways to Progress your Career Through Systems Disasters”

The intention of the presentations are to comment on things I have “been in the vicinity of” going wrong in I.T. and ways to avoid them, in a light-hearted manner. Having a bit of a laugh whilst trying to make some serious points about project management, infrastructure, teams, people and the powers of chaos.

I’ll see about putting one up on my Web Site so that you can take a look {check back this weekend if you like}

The talks usually go down well but there are two potential issues in giving the talks:

  • The disasters or problems, if in some way my fault, could make me look like an idiot or incompetent.
  • If it is known who I was working for when I “witnessed a disaster”, it could make that company look bad.

I never used to worry too much about this when I worked permanently for a company that was pretty relaxed about “stuff happens, it is good to share”. After all, if I looked like an idiot then that is fair enough and if I said anything that could be linked back to a prior (or current) employer {which, I hasten to point out, I did aim to avoid} then, well, sorry. But I only said things that were true.

However, when I returned to being self-employed, a good friend of mine took me to one side and suggested such talks could harm my career. I argued that it was not malicious and was helpful to people. My friend argued back that potential employing companies would not look so favourably on this, especially if they suspected that they may one day feature.

Hmmmm…. This was true.

So I toned down the talk…

The next time I did the presentation, the sanitised one, it was not such a hit. In fact, it was a bit rubbish.

The question is, should I have toned it down? Hands up anyone who has not personally done something unbelievably stupid at least once in their working life? Can everyone who has worked for an organisation that has not messed up at least one I.T. project please also raise their hand?

I can’t see any raised hands from here :-)

We all make mistakes.
All companies get things wrong at times.

Something you find when you start presenting or organising events is that the talks people most appreciate and learn the most from are about things going wrong.

So why can’t we all be grown-ups about admitting them, talking about them and learning? Personally, when I have interviewed people for jobs, I am always impressed by someone who will admit to the odd failure, especially if they can show what they learnt from it.

Oh, if anyone is reading this before offering me a position, I never made a mistake in my life, honest. I never deleted every patient record from a hospital information system, I was not even on-site when the incident didn’t happen. And if anyone suggest otherwise, it was a long time ago when it didn’t happen. ..

{I got all the data back, anyway. Never start work without a backup…}

Spending Time in London August 4, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Perceptions.
3 comments

I’m currently working in London, to the west of the centre but within coverage of the underground system. As a result, getting to and from home and work takes a looong time. This gives me a little time to do stuff on my netbook on the train, but if it is really busy and when I am on the tube it is not possible to do this. It’s wasted time.

To keep as much of my sanity intact as I can and reduce the amount of time I spend doing nothing but wondering why all other commuters appear so unfriendly {I know, most of them are thinking exactly the same :-)}, I opt to stay in London a couple of nights a week. The benefit of this is that either I have nothing to do in the evening and I can read manuals and do this blog {or alternatively watch rubbish on TV or read a book}. Or I can go and drink beer with people I know. I don’t know that many people in London, I have to confess, but I have had a couple of very enjoyable evenings so far.

Tonight was with Doug Burns. I don’t know Doug that well, but have enjoyed talking to him at UKOUG meetings and exchanging emails/comments on blogs. It was excellent to spend a couple of hours and maybe one too many beers with Doug and talk about what can only be described as an eclectic range of topics. I also managed to mug him for his excellent presentation on AWR for the next MI SIG meeting in October. I hope that last beer was not too much and he remembers…

This is part of the whole Oracle Community thing. It’s good to Blog, it’s good to go on forums and it is good to exchange emails, but you can’t beat meeting in person, either at conference, at user group meetings or just because you are in the same town that evening. I find once you have met, communicating is a lot easier {I had an excellent night in Newcastle with Piet de Visser about 18 months ago and now we exchange rants and thoughts quite often}. So, if anyone out there is in London and fancies a beer, you could drop me a line. I’ll buy the first one if you ask nicely.

Right, where was that manual on oracle wait interface…Oh, “Celebrity animals have got talent on ice” has come on the TV, maybe I’ll watch that.

COC – The Chain of Optimistic Communication July 1, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Management, Perceptions.
Tags: ,
3 comments

Well, after the very long, technology-based post of yesterday, a smaller one today, on a management theme.

I came up with this concept of the Chain of Optimistic Communication about a year ago, in one of my presentations on disasters. As a potential disaster, I’ve converted the relevant PowerPoint slides into a Flash movie. This is the flash movie. The second slide is an animation of what the Chain of Optimistic Communication is, the rest is some thoughts on it’s impact and how to avoid it.

{If the flash movie fails and you can read PowerPoints, you can download the
PowerPoint here}

{And another thing, It’s my first Flash attempt, I know the page numbering is duff, I know the layout is a little off, I might fix it when I have had some more sleep}.

If you can’t be bothered with the Flash movie {go on, it’s more fun than reading stuff!}, this is what the Chain of Optimistic Communication is:

  • You, the worker at the coal face are asked by your boss how the development of the new system is going. You tell your boss that it’s not going well at all and you list 3 things that have not been done, one that has been done and one that is partially done. You don’t mention that the partially done one you plan to do tonight, fuelled by coffee and whisky.
  • Your boss tells their boss that progress is being made, half the tasks are in hand but they “need to proactively re-address a resource mismatch or two”.
  • This top level boss tells the VP of development that all is in hand, resources are in place and all bases are covered, but more budget for planning would be wise. 
  • VP of Development reports to the board that the latest Agile development using cross-skilled resource pools is on track to deliver the milestone implementation. Or something.

ie all levels lie, ever so slightly optimistically as they communicate up the management chain.

As a result, the higher the manager, the more rosy the picture and the more out of touch they seem to the worker at the coal face.

When I presented this idea, I got a surprisingly positive response from the audience. It was the most common thing people talked to me about after the presentation, so I guess it struck a chord. Or else it was the point in the presentation when the sound of the caterers dropping a try outside woke them up.

Another side of the Chain of Optimistic Communication is that the higher the manger, the more they are led to believe all is OK and the more often, it seems to them, that apparently “under control” projects flip to become disasters when the rosy white lies have to be ditched when the reality becomes so grim. Often with no warning. No wonder managers get so many heart attacks and strokes.

 

{This is me just trying to get the flash movie to play with my website headers, it will disappear in a couple of hours flash movie}

The Sneaky WHAT Strategy!? June 15, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in biology, Perceptions.
Tags: , , ,
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OK, I can’t resist any more, I have to write a Blog about this. I apologise up front for any offence I cause anyone, it is not intended.

There has been a bit of a thread between my and Richard Foote’s blog about the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is his post on it. The Dunning Kruger effect (Jonathan Lewis told us what it was called) is where people have an over-inflated opinion of their own ability. Since the names of behavioral traits came up, I have been unable to get something out of my mind.

When I was at college I studied Zoology. In one lecture on animal behaviour we were told about the “Sneaky F*ck3r Strategy”. Yes, you read it right, that is what it is called. {I’ve stuck a ‘*’ and ‘3’ in there as I’m concerned I’ll blow up some web filters}.

It was described in the context of Red Deer. A single dominant male has a harem of females during the breeding season. Other big, strong males will challenge the Dominant Stag and, if they win, will take over the harem. So, this one Stag has all the lady deer at his disposal, only challenged by similarly large, aggressive males.

Well, not quite. What sometimes happens is that, when the dominant stag is fighting off a challenge, one of the younger stags will sneak into the herd and mate with one of the females. Thus the term “Sneaky F*ck3r strategy”. Genetic testing shows that quite a few of the deer born are not fathered by the dominant male! Further, the challenger distracting the dominant stag may not be that large and strong.

The one little twist added during my lecture was that it had been observed that one young male, male(A), would go and challenge the dominant stag whilst another young male(B) snuck into the herd. Then, a while later, male(B) would challenge the stag and male(A) would have his turn. I don’t know if that was an unsubstantiated embellishment but is suggests smart as well as sneaky.

I really thought she was pulling our legs about the name, but the lecturer wasn’t. It is a real term, used by real zoologists, though mostly UK-based. You can google it but I won’t blame you if you want to wait until you are not at work to do so!

Many people lay the credit for the name to John Maynard Smith But this article with Tim Clutton-Brock has an excellent description of the situation {click on “show Transcript” and I suggest you search for the word “sneaky”}. I am not clear if Tim did the original work on the subject though. For some reason I can’t fathom, wikipedia does not mention the strategy in it’s entries for either scientist…

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