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Friday Philosophy – Why I Volunteer for User Groups May 22, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Private Life, UKOUG.
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I’ve just noticed a new page about me popping up on the UKOUG web site – It’s in the section about volunteer case studies, alongside people like Joel Goodman, Simon Haslam, Carl Dudley, Jason Arneil, Brendan Tierney and others who have been stupid good enough to give time and effort to the UKOUG.
{You can get to the page by going to the UKOUG home page (www.ukoug.org) and clicking the Membership or Member Activities tab and Case Studies & Testimonials under that and finally Volunteer Case Studies. Phew. Or follow the link I gave at the start and click on the other names.}

I’m not sure how long I’ve been up on there but only a couple of days I think.

Anyway, Why DO I volunteer for user groups?

The little bio covers most of it but I thought I would put some words here on my blog too. I volunteer because, fundamentally, I am a socialist (with a small ‘S’) – I feel that we are all better off if we all help each other. I’ve been helped by people in my career (presenting stuff I don’t know, giving advice), I guess I feel that I should return that favor. Many of the people who have (and continue) to help me stand nothing to gain personally by helping me. In fact, one or two have helped me when, strictly speaking, they are helping create a rival for work opportunities. I try to do the same to those around me. I know, it sounds a bit “Disney film teaching the kids to do right” goody-two-shoes, but that is the core of it. And there are some other aspects to it too…

Why do I volunteer for the UKOUG specifically? Because they are THE main user group in my geographic area and provide the most support to the Oracle user community here in the UK. Most of the people involved in the UKOUG are just nice people too. But I also support and volunteer for smaller user groups, mostly by either promoting their meetings, going to them or presenting. I started presenting at the main UKOUG conference back when Dido, Eminem and Christina Aguilera where in their hey-days. I also went to the RDBMS and similar SIGs and before long I was presenting at them and then got sucked into chairing one of them – the Management and Infrastructure SIG. I’ve been slowly sucked in more & more as the years role by.

That has led on to me presenting at other user groups in different countries. Actually, I used to do quite a bit of presenting abroad (mostly the US) around 10 years ago, but that was part of the role I had at the time and my employer paid the bills. No employer to pay the bills now, but then as it is my time I try to make presenting abroad also a chance to have a short holiday, I try to take a day or two one side or the other of the event to look around. And actually, it is nice spending time with other people who present at or attend user group meetings.

Another part of it is I just like presenting. This is not quite so Disney Nice Guy, there is an aspect that is more selfish, that standing up, being listened to and telling people stuff that maybe they don’t know makes me feel better about myself. Better about myself? OK, I’ll let that stand for now but it is more that it makes me feel I am achieving something and having an impact. That I am useful. Fundamentally it is still a desire to help and presenting does not scare me (I know it is scary for a lot of people, but then a lot of people are not scared of heights and I am – it all balances out). But with a slice of “look at me!!!” thrown in.

There are also rewards for the effort. I’ve got to know a lot more people as a result of presenting, blogging (and now tweeting) than I would have had I stayed just one of the audience. For me it has helped me make more friends. As I said above, part of what is now nice about user group meetings for me is meeting friends I’ve made who are also on the speaker circuit and there is inevitable a few drinks in the evening whenever there is a user group. It also gives you more exposure in the community and helps lead to job opportunities – or at least that is the theory. No one has yet offered me a job because they liked my blog post or presentation!

That leads me to the last aspect of volunteering. Some people volunteer primarily for selfish reasons. To get bragging rights, get it on their CV’s, to help them get sales contacts or better jobs. The odd thing is, people who do it for those reasons tend not to last – as volunteering for user groups is a lot of hard work to get those rewards. You can usually spot them as they are the ones who don’t actually do a lot or complain all the time about the coffee being bad (actually, usually the coffee IS bloody terrible) and other things. Don’t get me wrong, some of those rewards do come with the volunteering, but if someone is volunteering primarily to get them, it does not seem to work out for them. Or maybe that is my socialism coming out again :-). Fundamentally, I think volunteering only works if, at the core of it, you want to help other people. Maybe that is why other volunteers are such nice people to hang around with.

Why do you do it? (or not).

Friday Philosophy – Know Your Audience May 7, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, Presenting, publications.
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There are some things that are critical for businesses that can be hidden or of little concern to those of us doing a technical job. One of those is knowing who your customers are. It is vital to businesses to know who is buying their products or services. Knowing who is not and never will buy their products is also important (don’t target the uninterested) and knowing and who is not currently buying and might is often sold as the key to ever growing market share and profit. But fundamentally, they need to know who the current customers are, so they can be looked after {I know, some businesses are shocking to current customers, never understood that}.

This should also be a concern to me.

Why? Well, I “sell” something. I don’t charge for it, but I put out my blogs and my tweets and my presentations. I’ve even stepped up to articles. So I am putting a product out there and I want people to use it. Any of us who blog, tweet, facebook or in some way communicate information are fundamentally trying to talk to people. It’s fine to just put stuff out there and see who comes, but if I am doing this in order to reach an audience, well, who is my audience?

I know who my audience is. I’m British. I live in the UK, 75% of my presentations are in the UK, 95% of my work has been in the UK. I drink tea as a hobbie, queue as only the British know how, want my ale at room temperature and I am self-deprecating in my humour. At least, I’d like to think I am, but please forgive me if I fall short of your expectations.

My Audience is UK:

Who comes looking from where

Who comes looking from where

My Audience is American.

Dang!

As you can see from the above, my reasonable assumption was wrong. Those are stats I pulled from my blog about visits by country for a recent period. Most of my audience is in the US. For this particular period the UK is my second highest audience and India is third, but I dug in a little more and at times my Indian audience is higher than my UK audience.

Other countries move up and down but the above graphic is representative – European counties, Canada, South America and Australia all are prominent areas for me, and South Korea – big technology country, South Korea, so I should expect a reasonable showing from there. However, I’ll just let you know that last year (different graph, I hasten to point out) I had only 1 visitor from the Vatican, Vanuatu and Jersey (part of the UK!) each. I’m a bit gutted about Jersey, having worked there once, but the Vatican? Does the Pope need a VLDB?

I have noticed a spike of interest in a given month by a country if I go and present there, but it does not last for long.

What about my Tweet world? The below shows where my followers are from:

Peeps wot Tweets

Peeps wot Tweets

It is nice that this graph emphasises that “others” outside the top 10 are larger source of audience tham any individual country, but it shows a similar pattern to my blog. I’m mostly talking to my American cousins, the home crowd and our friends over in India. I suppose if you think about the number of people working in IT (and, to a lesser extent, just simply living) in countries across the global, the numbers make a lot of sense. If I was doing this analysis on a database of the raw data I’d now be correlating for population size and trying think of a proxy I could use for “IT Aware”.

So now I know who my audience is. Does this mean I should alter the tone of my posts to be more American or International, or is the British flavour of my erudite utterances part of the appeal?

I have noticed one change in my output over that last year or so, as I have become more aware of the geographical spread of my audience. I tend to explain what I recognise as odd phrases (above paragraph allowing) or UK-centric references a little more. And I try to allow for the fact that not everyone visiting my blog speaks English as a first language. But in the end, I have to use the only language I know. However, I don’t think I appreciate well when I am using colloquial phrases or referencing UK-centric culture. I’ll try harder.

One thing I do resist is WordPress trying to auto-correct my spelling to US – despite the fact that the app knows I am in the UK. Maybe I should spend some time trying to see if I can force the use of a UK dictionary on it? I won’t accept corrections to US spelling because, damn it all chaps, English came from this island and I refuse to use a ‘Z’ where it does not belong or drop a ‘u’ where it damned well should be! And pants are underwear, not trousers, you foolish people.

There is another aspect of my blog posts that I find interesting, and it is not about where my audience is – it is about the longevity of posts. Technical posts have a longer shelf life. My top posts are about oddities of the Oracle RDBMS, constantly being found by Google when people are looking at problems. A couple of the highest hitters I put up in 2009 when almost no one came by to look. However, my “Friday Philosophies” hit higher in the popularity stakes when first published but, a month later, no one looks at them anymore. Stuff about user groups and soft skills fall between the two. Some of my early, non technical posts just drifted into the desert with hardly any notice. Sadly, I think a couple of them are the best things I have ever said. Maybe I should republish them?

No Local Oracle User Group? Oh Well, Go to a Bar… April 28, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, User Groups.
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Is there no local Oracle user group in your area? Do you wish you could share experiences with like-minded people? Is there no opportunity to talk about the technology you work with? Do you feel you would benefit from expanding your network of friends and contacts? But without a local user group it’s really hard to do any of that! – At least face-to-face. And, let’s face it, meeting for real really does beat meeting on-line. I know, you are sad about it.

Well, go to a bar. Have a drink, it might make you feel better. Especially if you go with Dave in your team. Ask your friend across town along who also works with Oracle Tech. And maybe she could bring her friend who is an Oracle DBA too.

Well done! You now have an Oracle User Group!

It really is that simple to start a user group. You do not need an organisation, you do not need membership and you do not need presenters. You just need three of you and a place to meet. I might be saying a bar above (or, in England, it would be a local Pub, my good chap) but it can be a coffee house, a cafe, a wine bar, the local library maybe or anywhere you can meet easily and relax. Obviously increasing from 3 to 4 to 5 etc makes it all more interesting with more stories, tips and experiences to share.

I’m in a user group just like that, it’s called the LOB – London Oracle Beers. We started in around 2009, 2010. Initially it was myself, Neil Chandler and Doug Burns occasionally meeting for a pint or three (and later arguing about who started LOB). Soon Pete Scott was joining us, then Dawn, then Graham {what happened to Graham?} then Martin Bach… It got serious when I put together a mail list. We’ve been going ever since and although the regularity of the meetings fluctuates, as does the size of the group, it seems to keep going at between once a month to once every 3 months. Thinking about it, we are due a get-together.

How to Start a Small, Social User Group

There is one thing that IS needed for a user group like the above, and in fact for the others I am going to mention.

You need someone to regularly say “let’s meet”.

It does not need to be one person, it can be shared between several people. In the current LOB it is mostly myself that sends out a call but Neil does too. Anyone in the group can make the call and occasionally others do (Dawn, Pete) and some ask me to make the call on their behalf, which I do even if I can’t attend. But that’s really all you need, someone to make the call.

The other thing you need to do is, as a group, invite some others along. Not everyone you can think of, for a social user group let it grow at a steady, organic rate. People drop in and out of user groups so you need to constantly keep an eye on things and if the numbers drop, ask a few others. People’s lives and circumstances alter so they can’t come or they just decide they’ve had enough and that’s fine. For this sort of social-centric user group I would suggest you stick to inviting friends and friendly contacts and try not to let it get too large (A nice problem for a user group to have!)

So Just Do it! If you do not have a local user group and you want one, be the person to ask a couple of friends and if there are 3 or more of you, make that call. And a month or two later, make the call again. The worst that will happen is that it won’t take off and, if it does not, you know you tried (and not many people will know you failed :-) ). I’d honestly be surprised if it does not at least take off for a while.

The Presenting User Group

Another sort of user group is where you start off by wanting it to be a bit more structured, to have presentations involved. This does take more organisation: a location where you can present (it does not have to be the same place each time), someone to present and it helps if you have a sponsor. As having somewhere to speak may well involve renting a room and it’s nice if you can offer some drinks and snacks. You don’t need a lot of sponsorship (if any). Ask some local Oracle-centric firms, the worst they will say is “no” and the best they will say is “sure, here is enough money for some pizza and Rohan in the Dev team is happy to talk about Blargh at the first meeting”. But work out what you need (say rental on the room and enough for a couple of Samosas for everyone) and only ask for what you need. Your sponsor may well want to put up a banner or have someone say something but that is part of the deal.

I’m involved in two such user groups in the UK at the moment:

Oracle Midlands run by Mike Mckay-Dirden. They are about to have their 8th meeting (Follow the link <- over there), on the 19th May in their usual location in Aston, Birmingham. I managed to get to most of their first meetings, spoke at one and sadly missed the last couple due to timing clashes. Might be true for this next one too :-(. Mike does brilliantly on this, he got a local firm (or part of the firm) Red Stack Technology to sponsor him and he has the gall to ask Oracle Ace Directors and other known people to speak :-)

Club Oracle London was started by Jonathan Lewis (I think prompted by the LOB and also what Mike was doing – but don’t blame Jonathan if I have my facts wrong) and is sponsored and run by e-DBA but with a very light touch. This will be their 4th or 5th meeting. I’m speaking at this one and I’ve been to all of them. Again, follow the link for more details and to register for the event on Thursday.

If you visit my blog often or follow me on Twitter you will have seen me promote these events. I’m very keen to support smaller, local user groups.

Again, it needs someone to Make The Call and also get at least the first speaker(s), but you can share the load for that. The other difference is that you probably want to spread the call a little wider. Tweet about it, use Facebook and all those other social media things.  Tell all the people you know who might be interested and ask them to spread the word as you want a reasonable crowd for the speaker.

There is more to organising these more formal user groups but nothing that one determined person or a small group of fairly determined people cannot make happen.

Larger User Groups

The next step up are the large user groups where you have membership and paid-for events, like national, regional (or state in the US) user groups. You need a run up to create one of those! However, they are still user groups, they are all part of the “environment” of the total user community.

These user groups can still be created by a small number of people but doing so is a bigger task and I suggest you contact other people who are involved in such things and really plan what you want to achieve – it’s a topic beyond a single blog post like this. But it can be done and it can grow out of the two sorts of user group above.

I would like to highlight that starting your own local, small user group should be no barrier to being part of the large user groups. I attend, promote and present at the small user groups. Heck, you could say I run one with the LOB (along with other people). However, I am an active member of the UKOUG, deputy-chairing a Special Interest Group that meets 3 times a year and I’m involved in organising the content of UKOUG Tech15 (See the banner -> over there -> – at the time of writing the Call for Papers is open ). We can all live together.

 

Getting Speakers

If you want a speaker at your event (which you can have at the social sort of user group but you need to make sure the speaker is not expecting a projector and can’t user powerpoint!) then you can ask someone in your group to do it, you can do it yourself (we all have knowledge and experience to contribute) or you could try to get a speaker outside your group.

If you are trying to start up the more formal Presenting User Group then a known name will help draw people to your event. But there is the danger that not enough people will turn up for the speaker! You will worry about that. Well, don’t. Just be honest with the speaker about the numbers you expect and be realistic. In many ways I personally like smaller crowds and I know other speakers who do. I’d rather have 5 enthusiastic people than 50 indifferent ones.

Obviously, the more geographically local the speaker is the more likely they will say yes  and asking the stellar stars is likely to get a “no” as they are simply too busy – but if they are Local-local, they may say yes! Remember, potential speakers have to earn a living so are not available at the drop of a hat and some only do conferences. Again, the worst you will get is a “no”.

I’ll make an offer – If you decide to start such a group in the UK and you need a presenter, let me know. I can’t promise but I’ll try to oblige. If you are further afield I’m afraid it is less likely I can help as I have to pay my own travel and expenses. But you never know, the odd jaunt over to Europe does happen.

Also, try looking up local Oracle ACEs and OakTable members. Again,they might say no, they might say yes but Oracle ACEs and OakTable members are generally inclined to help, it’s a large part of why we have those labels.

 

As the annoying advert says “Just Do It”

So in summary: If you want a user group and there is not one, maybe you can start one. If you want it to be a little more formal with presentations, look for a sponsor and ask some local Oracle Names if they would present.

Good Luck!

My First Published Article April 21, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, publications, UKOUG.
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I’ve been blogging now for almost 6 years and presenting at conferences for… 12 years (really? Good grief!). I’ve even written and delivered several courses, ranging from 1 day to 3 days in length. However, up until now I’ve never been what I would term published – ie managed to persuade another organisation or person to publish something I have written.

That changed a few days ago when the latest UKOUG “Oracle Scene” magazine came out, which included the first of a small series of articles I am doing on how the Oracle RDMBS works – the processes and activities that underlie the core RDBMS engine. It’s based on my “how Oracle works in under an hour” presentation where I give the audience an overview of things like the redo mechanism, what a commit *is*, how data is moved into and out of memory and which parts of memory it resides in, how a point-in-time view is maintained… things like that. Many people don’t really know any of this stuff, even skilled and experienced developers and DBAs, as you can get by without knowing it. But understanding the core architecture makes a lot of how oracle works make more sense.

The below is a screen shot of the title and first paragraph, but you can use the link above to see the whole article.

Title and first paragraph of the article

Title and first paragraph of the article

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to publish something other than via my blog and presentations. I know part of it is the fear of putting something out there that is wrong or misleading. If it is on my blog, heck it’s only a blog and I stick to things I give test cases for or my thoughts and opinions (which are intrinsically open to interpretation). My presentations are certainly put “out there” but again I of course try to ensure what I say I can back up. I think the key thing is that in both cases it is very obvious who you can blame if it turns out I have made a mistake. Me.

But when something is going to be published I feel that (a) it might be taken more seriously so I need to make extra sure it is correct and (b) if I get something wrong or, more concerning, mislead anyone then the people publishing the article could also be put in a poor light. I think that is what has made me wary.

The irony is that the first thing I get published, I know that there are some inaccuracies in there! The article (and also the presentation it is derived from) is an introduction to a lot of technology and I have to simplify things and ignore many exceptions to keep it small and easy to digest. It’s how it works 90% of the time and you need to know that so you will better understand the exceptions and finer detail I don’t have time to tell you about. For the physical presentation I spend a minute at the top of the talk saying I have simplified, occasionally lied, but the overall principles and feel is correct. I had to drop that bit out of the article as, well, it took a lot of words to explain that and the article was long enough already!

Another reason NOT to publish is it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare the material in a way that is polished enough to be printed and I know from friends that the actual financial payback for eg writing a book is very, very, very poor. No one I know makes enough from royalties on technical books to make the effort worth while {though there are other less tangible benefits}. But I have time at present so I can afford to do these things.  If you want to make money out of publishing, write about a load of elves, an often-wimpy trainee wizard or something with sex in. Or all three together.

I did nearly put a technical book together about 10, 12 years ago, called “The Little Book of Very Large Databases” as it was something I knew a lot about but the issues were rarely discussed publicly – most VLDBS were (and are) run by financial organisation or “defence” {why can’t they be honest and refer to themselves as “Killing & Spying”} and they don’t talk. O’Reilly was doing several small, A6 booklet-type-books at the time that it would have suited. I can’t do it now, I know nothing about Cloud and some of the 12C features that would help with VLDBS, so I missed the boat. I regret not giving it a go. However, there is a possibility I might be involved in a book sometime in the future.

I have to thank Brendan Tierney for hassling me into doing this series of articles. I’m not being derogatory when I say he hassled me, he did, but Brendan did so in a very nice way and also gave me the odd toe in the backside when I needed it.

I also have to thank Jonathan Lewis. If this article had been a book he would have got a huge mention for being my technical reviewer. He was good enough to look over the article and let me know a couple of things he felt I had over simplified, some things with the flow and also something I had simply got wrong. You know that bit in books about “thanks to Dave for assisting but all mistakes are mine”. Well, I always thought it was a bit overly… defensive? Well now I don’t.

All mistakes are mine. I want no blame falling on the people who helped me!

I still can't take my Bio too seriously

I still can’t take my Bio too seriously

My Oracle Life of Clubbing & Harmony March 31, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting.
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Last year I promised myself I would do more conferences & presenting and that it would include more events further afield, such as in Europe. I can’t say I managed it in 2014 (Liverpool for the UKOUG Tech14 did not count as a foreign country for me, even if I found a couple of the locals hard to understand) but 2015 is proving more successful. I attended the OUG Ireland conference 2 weeks ago, for my first trip to that country, and I learnt recently that I have papers accepted for Harmony 2015. This conference is a joint event between the Oracle user group of Finland, the Oracle user group of Estonia and the Latvian Oracle user group.

The conference is on the 11th and 12th of June in Tallinn, Estonia. I know that a few of my friends I’ve met in the flesh will also be there but also some people I only know online and who I’m looking forward to meeting for real {and one who I am not sure if I have met in the flesh or not!!!}. That’s part of why I like going to conferences; It is nice to get to know people via electronic means but there is nothing like actually being in the same room and chatting, especially if it is relaxing over a coffee, beer or a meal.

However, I am particularly happy to be going to Tallinn as my wife has been there and loves it. We are trying to organise it so that she can come over as well, but she has her own travel commitments that vary from week to week. Sue knows how to say “can you punch my ticket” in Estonian – and she assures me this is not a euphemism for anything.

In case Sue cannot make it, she has given me the book she learnt from, so I can learn Estonian myself:

Learn Estonian - in Russian!

Learn Estonian – in Russian!

First I have to learn Russian though… Yes, it’s a Russian “How to learn Estonian” book.

Have you any idea how much pleasure she took in doing that to me?

So that is the Harmony. What about the Clubbing? That would be Club Oracle London, which is a user group I mention each time there is a meeting. It is in London in the evening and there are 3 talks, beer, pizza and lots of chat between the crowd & the presenters. I’m doing my Disasters talk at the next meeting on the 30th April. Click that link to register and secure your place, it’s free. The other presenters are Svetoslav Gyurov and Dominic Giles. Dom is being particularly brave and is offering to answer any questions people have about the database {“as honestly as I can”}. I’ve known Dom for years, he used to come over to the place I worked when we were doing a lot of beta testing of Oracle. He secured his place in my admiration by not only thoroughly knowing his stuff but also when he told me off for being pathetic and not pushing the new tech and that I was being a wimp. Utter honesty from the vendor works for me.

I’ve currently got nothing else organised for 2015 conference-wise (apart from the small issue of helping define the technical content for UKOUG Tech15! So I guess I will be there. Oh, and probably a couple of SIGs). I keep saying I’ll try to do Bulgaria but again I’d like to get that to work with going with Sue. And of course, I could put in for Oracle Open World 15, but it’s a loooong way to go and costs me a lot. And Larry does not seem to want to talk to me anymore.

Extra session at OUG Ireland – Oracle Lego. March 12, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in database design, development, Presenting.
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I’m now doing a second session at OUG Ireland 2015. {This is because one of the accepted speakers had to drop out – it sometimes happens that, despite your best intentions, you can’t make the conference and it is better to let them know as soon as you can, as they did}. This will be a talk called “Oracle Lego” and it is one I put together a couple of years ago when I decided to try and do more introductory talks – talks aimed at those who are not {yet} experts and who I think tend to get ignored by most conference and user group agenda. So it is aimed at those new to oracle or experts in other areas who have never really touched on the subject.

“Oracle Lego” is about the basics of database design. I have a personal soap box I occasionally get on that very little real database design seems to occur these days. There are exceptions, but often the database design seems to be a quick brain-dump of what the developers or business analysts know they need to store information about and the first-cut set of tables gets created – and then endlessly modified as the development rolls on.

Guess what, we don’t build houses, cars, ships, bridges or garden sheds like that – and there is a reason. If you build things piecemeal as you go along and with bits you either have to hand or have to quickly get, you end up with a pretty poor shed. In fact you don’t end up with a shed, you end up with a shack. With a leaking roof and a door that hits the potting table when you open it. I don’t want a shack and I never, ever want to go over a bridge or sail in a ship built “on the hoof” like that!

Further, just as with a proper architectural or engineering design, a database design does not fix the solution in stone, there is still scope for modification. A bespoke house plan gets tweaked and modified as you do the build and you realise what can be improved when you see it – but you do not suddenly decide to dig out a basement and change from wood walls to stone when you have already constructed the ground floor! I’ve seen database “designs” like this.

There is also more to doing a database design than coming up with tables that hold the records we want to store: We might want to consider if storing similar things in the same table could be better than a table for each “type” of something; How we index those tables and relate them together can have a huge impact on how easy it is to get the data out and store it in the first place; The expected volume and life cycle of the data may require us to consider eg archiving; The very-much-ignored aspect of physical placement of data and clustering of data.

You can spend weeks dedicated to learning about database design – but you can also learn a lot in 60 minutes, ie the basics. And it really is like Lego – once you know the basics you can build up a really complex design. And you learn stuff doing it (and turning it into a real system), just like you do the first time you build a Lego robot (or dog or house or car or bridge or spaceship or whatever). So the second time you build your Lego robot you use the same design basics and layer on top what you learnt last time.

So that is the aim of this talk, the basics of database design.

The strange thing is, last time I did this talk I asked the audience how much database design they did. Every single one of them was already an experienced and capable database designer! So why had they come to this intro talk? They had three reasons:

  1. It was the only talk on database design at the conference, and one more than they were used to getting.
  2. They had picked up their database design skills on-the-job and thought a “reminder” of the basics would be good.
  3. It was cold outside and all the other talks appealed less.

So, this time I am hoping some of the audience is new to database design and I get to teach them great stuff they did not know. If it is all experts again, I think I’ll have to retire this particular intro talk, at least for conferences.

As you can see from the agenda grid here, I’ll be talking at 10:15. You can’t link to an abstract of the talk yet, that just needs to be twiddled into place.

Update – Peter Scott stopped by this blog and it prompted a thought. He felt it was too much at a tangent to add as a comment but I felt it was a very valid and valuable point – so check it out over here on his blog.

BTW Pete has started blogging more, on his thoughts and opinions on Data Warehousing. Personally I think it is worth catching them.

{Oh, and in case any lawyers stop by, “Lego” is of course the copyright name of a popular plastic construction toy, made by the Danish company The Lego Group, that children love playing with and adults hate walking on in bare feet. Did anyone not know that?!?! I have no link to The Lego Group and no plastic bricks will form part of my talk.}

Return of the Disasters – OUG Ireland 2015 February 23, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting.
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In just under a month I’ll be off to Dublin for the 2015 OUG Ireland conference. It takes place on Thursday the 19th of March. I’m doing my favorite presentation to present, on I.T. disasters I have witnessed and what you can learn from them (so now the title of this blog makes sense and maybe is not as exciting as it suggested). It is also the talk I get most nervous about doing. I tend to put a bit of humour into any presentation I do but if it is predominantly a technical talk, it’s fine if the humour falls flat. When I am intending to be entertaining, as I do with this one, there is more at stake!

not_the_best_thing_to_drop

Back in the mid-2000’s I used to do this talk once or twice a year but these days it tends not to get accepted for conferences. I suspect it is partly as I had done it a good few times and partly as it is hard to place it under the categories Oracle Technical conferences have. Is it technical? Is it project management? Is it entertainment? It is actually a bit of all of them. They are all true stories and each one highlights how we should not do things, be it some of the pitfalls of project management or where disaster tolerant hardware turned out not to be.

I’ve mentioned this presentation a couple of times in my blog. Once early on in 2009 when no one came by here very often, where I go into why I toned down the talk {concern over impact on my career/perceived professionalism} for a while and the impact of that decision {a bland and rather poor talk}. It crops up again in a post in 2013, which I think is the last time I gave this talk. I am not sure I did a very good job of it then either, as I was not well during that trip (not helped by rough seas but I was ill for other reasons). Thus I am looking forward to giving it another airing and, as I no longer worry too much about the career, I might just let rip a little more. I have a few more disasters under my belt since I originally wrote the talk, so I might include one or two of them…

The OUG Ireland conference itself is a fair-sized event, running from 09:00 to 17:30 or so, with 7 concurrent tracks covering Applications, Cloud, BI, Database and Development. I’m astounded by the number of Oracle Aces, Oaktable members and other top knowledge sharers who will be presenting {Update – Brendan Tierney has put together a list of all ACEs presenting}. I’ll have several hard decisions about which talk I go to at any given time. I’ll certainly be at Maria Colgan’s Tech keynote at the end of the day though, I’m hoping for another offer of a date* ;-).

To my shame, I have never been to Ireland before and it’s only just over there {points West}, about 90 minutes by plane. So I am turning up Wednesday lunch time and staying to late Friday afternoon so that I can look around and spend some time with fellow presenting friends (and anyone else who I bump into).

All in all, it is a trip I am greatly looking forward to for various reasons. If you can get along I encourage you to do so. And, if you are there and see me around, come and say “hi”.

{* Note to lawyers, this is an in-joke}.

Conference Organisation from the Inside – UKOUG Tech14 November 20, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, UKOUG.
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An interesting experience I have had this year is being more involved in helping organise the annual UKOUG Oracle Technical Conference – Tech14. I fully intended to blog about things as we progressed, but it never happened got going so I did not.. But I thought it would be interesting to do a couple of blogs about it now, for anyone interested, as the conference itself approaches.

If you have never helped organise a conference or user group meeting then you probably think there is not a lot of work involved. You would be quite wrong. If you have been a volunteer at one, as in you have presented or chaired sessions, then you will have more understanding – but still probably fall short of the mark in estimating the effort involved. There is a lot involved.

The UKOUG is, I think, the largest Oracle User Group in the world and the annual conference has grown significantly since I first got involved around the turn of the millennium {which is now quite a while back – yes, we are all getting quite old}. In fact, it is now a set of conferences and events dedicated to Oracle E-Business suite, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Hyperion and regional conferences for Ireland and Scotland (sorry Wales) as well as the annual technical event that used to be the single conference. This year Tech14 is in the same location as Apps14, which covers most of the application areas I just mentioned. I rather like the fact we are returning to being in the same place but still have two events as it matches the reality of the two groups. There is a lot of cross-over between apps and tech for some of us whereas for many, you belong in one camp or the other. It’s a bit like do you like football or rugby…

So where did I fit into the picture? Each year the UKOUG approach some of it’s volunteers and asks them if they would mind giving them a little bit of help with the conference that year. Any that do not run away quickly are corralled into a room at head office in Wimbledon and bribed them with tea, coffee and biscuits. We are arranged into being the content committees for various areas. I was part of the committee for the Database stream and ended up being the Chair. This does not make me any more significant, it just means if someone has to make a decision when the committee is split or they just want a quick answer to a question (such as “can Dave swap his presentation slot with Senthil’s”), then it will be me the office contacts. OK, I suppose it means I have a little more input but as everything is open, others on the database committee (or others) can cry foul.

There are also committees for Middleware, Development, OS & Engineered systems, Business analytics… I am sure I have forgotten one! In many ways the Database stream is easiest as I do not think it has as broad a remit as, for example, development, and the core database is the core database. But we also have the largest community and thus the largest number of papers put forward and streams to organise.

So What do the committees do? Our responsibility is primarily to agree on the technical content of our steams. ie What presentations go into it, the order of them, plan any threads or themes to run through a day or several days and ensure that at any given time there are talks, roundtables and workshops across a spectrum of topics and not 4 all on backups or ADF. Sounds easy? No, it’s not. I’ll go into why in a later post.

We also help with decisions about wider issues for the conference – when the keynotes occur, who to ask to do the keynotes, the evening events and some wider issues like that. However, the actual location and timing of the event is set in stone before we get involved – it has to be as those major decisions have to be made over a year in advance. Personally, I think the venue at The Liverpool ACC is a good one. I can understand some people feeling Liverpool is a bit far to go but in reality it only takes an hour or two longer to get there than to what was the traditional home of the conference in Birmingham. And frankly, I was tired of Birmingham and the usual pub I ended up in was getting truly ratty and unpleasant. The ACC is at Albert Doc and a lot of bars, restaurants and ,I suspect, nightclubs (for those who like loud music and terrible lager at a premium price) are in the area.

Most of the work planning the actual conference is of course done by the office staff and I know that for smaller user groups all the work is done by volunteers – I’ve done a couple of myself too – so some of you might think we volunteers for the UKOUG conference have it a bit easy. But the conference is massive and we do {most of us} have proper jobs to do too. So if something is not as you would like at the UKOUG conference, or in fact at any conference, it is probably not through lack of effort. Just let us know {nicely, please} and we will try and not make the same mistake next time.

Audio semi-Visual Presentation on Clustering Data in Oracle November 12, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in performance, Presenting, SQL.
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I suppose it had to happen eventually but one of my presentations has ended up on YouTube. It’s a recent presentation I did for the Oracle Midlands user group in September.

The topic is (as the title of this blog post hints at!)Boosting select performance by clustering data. The video consists of the slides I presented, changing as the presentation progresses, with my audio over the top. It goes on for a bit, close to an hour, but you could watch a section and then go and do something else before watching a bit more.

I have to say, it is very odd hearing my voice (and the slight touch of the “brummie” {Birmingham} accent coming through) and I do wince at the places where I blather or say something slightly wrong or make a joke that involved a visual element that is lost. Oh well, at least you don’t see me wandering around and jumping up,literally, to point out bits on the slides.

I’m glad to say I will be repeating a slightly more polished version of the presentation at this year’s UKOUG Tech14 conference in December. I was a bit under the weather back on September the 16th, due to having just returned to the Working Life, and with this perfect example of what I did then I should be able to make the next shot at it a cracker… maybe.

On the topic of Oracle Midlands, I like this user group that is run by Mike Mckay Dirden, the meetings consist of evening presentations in Birmingham with a bit of support from Redgate. This includes half-time samosas to keep you going. The next meeting is described here and is on Tuesday 25th November. This meeting has two presentations by my friend Bjoern Rost, who is an Oracle Ace Director {gasps of appreciation from the audience} and a consummate presenter. I wish I could make it there as I would like to share a pint with Bjoern (well, he’ll have wine or a cocktail I suspect as he is not a beer fan) as well as some of my other friends up that part of the country.

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, off-topic, Presenting, Private Life.
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Seeing as I did a blog post about looking forward to my second Norwegian Oracle User Group spring meeting, I suppose I should say how it went.

Given the circumstances, it went well and I enjoyed the conference far more than I would have enjoyed being home for those days. Part of the enjoyment was the reformation of the Martin Cluster as mentioned in my last blog. A small part of that was the slightly childish humour I found in those situations when people introduce themselves when they meet at such meetings. I’d be chatting to Mr Nash, Mr Bach and usually one or two others and when a new person came along and asked names, the three of us would take it in turns to say “hi, I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin” – “I’m Martin too”. It was like a poor take on the “I’m Brian” pastiche of the Spartacus movie. Most people smiled.

At the Speakers Meal on the first night Bryn Llewelyn suddenly said something like “Well, let’s take a picture of the Three Martins – it’s almost like the Three Tennors!” It had to be done, I dug out three ten pound notes so we could have a picture of the Three Tenners. If only the idiot on the right had held his the same way around as the other two…

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

So, why did I say the event went well despite the circumstances? Because I was ill thoughout the event :-(.

I met up with some friends in London on Tuesday night before the conference, as I could not get into London and across to Heathrow in time for my flight in the morning. So I had to stay over. I know, you are all thinking I drank waaaay too many beers and was hung over the next day! I could not argue that I did not have several beers that night but it was more the 4 hours sleep and long walk that I blamed for how I felt. At the end of the evening I went out to Heathrow and I got directed to the wrong Premier Inn there {I was very specific about it being T5, I knew there were two hotels} and it took a while to get to this wrong hotel. Or rather half a mile past it. I new what side of the road the hotel was on (online maps with street view are so helpful) but it did not appear {as I am in the wrong place} and the bus driver who was going to give me the nod did so a stop or two too late. So I walked waaay back – and get told “Other Premier Inn sir”. OK, can you get me there “No, get a bus”. It’s midnight, the last bus was not so helpful. Shuttle bus? “No sir” Taxi? “Get the bus sir”. Sigh, not helpful. Well, that is what you should expect when you use budget hotels I guess. How far is it? “About 2 miles Sir”. I walked. It turned out to be over 3.

So when I met Martin Bach at the airport next day, I blamed the beer, long walks and lack of sleep. But as the day progressed I felt worse and worse and worse. Tuesday night might not have helped but this was more. We got to the venue and after lunch I did my talk on Row Level Security and masking data (which was packed, to my amazement) then checked into the hotel and went to bed. Thus I missed all other sessions. I managed the Speakers Meal (and it was jolly good, thank you OUGN) and then had a good night’s sleep. It did not help. The next day was a blur, half of it I was asleep but I did manage my second presentation, on Disasters oddly enough. Afterwards I went back to my cabin and only got up briefly to see about trying to eat some food, but the rough sea quickly made me decide not to bother. I managed two other sessions other than my own. One was a Martin talking (a very good one on making practical use of virtualisation) and the other was the Keynote by Cary Millsap, who did a talk that was more about life than Oracle. I had missed this talk at the UKOUG conference but had heard about it, so I was keen to see it. It was the highlight of the conference for me. I’ll probably do a Friday Philosophy on it “soon” but the main message was that Cary feels life always changes and it seems best when you are doing something to progress from a bad place to a better one, rather than ‘enjoying’ the better place. It’s a philosophy I have a lot of time for.

The last day was similar except that I seemed to perk up a bit in the afternoon and I finally got to see one or two more sessions. I did my final one, on “an introduction to tuning” and it was awful. I had a lot of material to cover and I knew I could pile though it on a good day, but this was a bad day and I simply could not keep my thread or progress through the material rapidly. *sigh*. At least there were not too many people there to witness the car crash. I’ll be interested to see how poor the ratings on my talks are.

So all in all I should count the event as a bit of a disaster. But I managed to honour my presenting duties and, despite spending half the time laying down in the dark, I had some fantastic conversations with people in the two evenings I managed to be awake. Oh, and thank you to the people who organised for them to play Happy Birthday to me in the Piano Bar at midnight on Friday (45 now), I might have been a bit quiet about it but I did appreciate that. It sums up half of what I like about the OUGN spring conference. I missed the first half, the excellent talks you get from what both years has been a very good speaker line-up, but the other is that everyone is around in the lunchtimes and evenings and you get to chat, find out other stuff, make new friends and just spend time with lots of people who are interested in some of the things you are, ie Oracle.

After the conference I did stay on in Oslo for a few day, my wife had come out to join me for my birthday weekend. We enjoyed the weekend but she kept on saying “you look dreadful” or “are you sure you are up to going out?” and “stop coughing you annoying bloody bas….” :-) I’m still coughing now and feel pretty rough, a week on.

I’ll be sure to try and be there next year. I hope I feel better by then!

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