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My first book is now physically in my hands. August 22, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Instrumentation, PL/SQL, publications, SQL, writing.
Tags: , ,
4 comments
Proud "parent" of a bouncing baby book

Proud “parent” of a bouncing baby book

Today a box arrived from Oracle Press. In it were a few copies of “Real-World SQL and PL/SQL” which I co-authored with Arup Nanda, Brendan Tierney, Heli Helskyaho and Alex Nuitjen. I know I only blogged about the book a couple of weeks back, how I became involved and the impact it had on my life for several months. But as I can now physically handle and read the final article, I could not resist putting up a quick post on it. Honestly, I’ll stop being a book bore soon.

My contribution to the book was three chapters in the section “Essential Everyday Advanced PL/SQL”. The idea was to covers some core, standard ways of using PL/SQL which are often overlooked or implemented without considering the impact they can have. There are a few things I cover that are often talked about, generally regarded as a good thing to do – but so often are not done! So just to quickly summarise my chapters:

Chapter 6 is about running PL/SQL from SQL, ie calling both built-in and user defined functions from SQL. It’s a great way to compartmentalise your business logic and extend the capabilities of Oracle’s SQL implementation in an easy and seamless manner. Only people are often unaware of the potential performance and read consistency impact it can have, or how Oracle 11g and 12c help reduce these issues.

Chapter 7, “Instrumenting and Profiling PL/SQL”, covers something that I feel is a major oversight in many PL/SQL development projects. Instrumenting your code, any code (not just PL/SQL), is vital to producing an application that is professional and will continue to work correctly for many, many years. However, it’s a bit like washing your hands after going to the loo – we all know it is the correct thing to do but so many people just don’t! Without instrumentation it is almost impossible to see how your code is performing, where time is spent and where problems are when they occur. I’m sick of having to guess where the problem is when people report slow performance when some basic and light-weight instrumentation will tell you exactly where the problem is. And as for profiling PL/SQL, it’s one of the rarest things to be done but it is so helpful.

It physically exists

It physically exists

Chapter 9 is on using PL/SQL for Automation and Administration. Like many people, I have automated many tasks with a PL/SQL harness – backups, partitions maintenance, metric gathering, data life-cycle management, regular data loads. You end up writing the same sort of process over and over again and usually there are several versions of such controlling frameworks across a company, written by different people (and sometimes the same people!). A large part of this chapter takes the code for creating the examples from chapter 6 and the instrumentation from chapter 7 and builds up a simple but comprehensive framework which can be used to control almost any data load or administrative task you need to do with an Oracle database. The key thing is it can be used for many, many processes so you need only the one framework. So you don’t have to keep writing them as it’s boring to keep writing them. And because the framework demonstrated includes instrumentation, the framework you implement will be easy to monitor and debug in years to come. I have to confess, I kind of wrote that chapter “just for me”. It is my standard automation framework that I now always use, so I can concentrate on the actual task being done and not the nuts-and-bolts of controlling it, and I’ve wanted to properly document it for years.

Something all the authors agreed on is that whilst most technical books describe how elements of a language or feature work, they do not really talk about the “how and why” you do things. The stuff you learn by using the language for a long time and doing a good deal of things wrong. In this book we attempt to put in some of that “how and why”. In my chapters there are a few anecdotes about when things have gone wrong and, as a result, you learn some of the “how not”🙂

I’m at a lot of conferences over the next few months, including OOW16, DOAG16 and UKOUG Tech16. If you get a copy of the book and want it signed, you’ll find me very happy to do so. Many of my co-authors are at these events too, so you could get us all to scribble all over the book. NB this will not work for electronic versions🙂

BTW do you like the t-shirt?

Spot the Oracle Faces April 15, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in history, publications.
Tags: ,
2 comments

My wife has been going through old photo’s from her mother today, trying to find a picture of Uncle Stan. In the box of photographs was also a magazine – an Oracle magazine!

Oracle Magazine award winners 2003!

Oracle Magazine award winners 2003!

As you can see from the front cover, it is the Oracle Magazine from the end of 2003, with the Oracle Magazine 2003 Award Winners on it. The tiny photograph on the bottom right is me🙂. Sue’s mum, Di, seemed to be more interested in what I did at work than my own mum (but then Di was like that).

So how many of the people on the magazine do you recognize? If you’ve met them, you should be able to identify a few – even though we are all at least 13 years older than those pictures. If you click on the image, you will get a larger version which might help. It is SO long ago that I don’t think there is an electronic issue of the magazine online, not even in the Oracle Magazine archive. But then, who wants to know about enterprise grid computing in 10g now? I could not even find another copy of the front cover in my 90-second search.

I’m not really one for looking to the past but I do enjoy the odd reminisce. It’s good to see what happened in the past (be it good or bad) and where it has left you in the present. There seems to have been quite a bit of this going on around me this week. Some people on the OakTable have been sharing pictures with the group of a similar vintage (so way before my time), I was talking about how we got into presenting and the Oracle community with Brendan Tierney over the last couple of days and at home we have been looking back even further. The “Uncle Stan” I mentioned was a POW in WW2 in Singapore and he painted the Changi Murals when he was there – painted to help keep up the spirits of those in the infirmary at the time. We will visit The Changi Museum to see the replicas and read the history when we are out there in 2 weeks and, if we are lucky, we might even get to see the originals.

Getting the 2003 Oracle magazine “Beta tester of the year” award was my first real step into the Oracle community. I’d only just started presenting (I think once at UKOUG Tech conference & one SIG, a couple of Oracle Life Science conferences plus being the “friendly face of the end user” at an Open World in 2002 talk…maybe 2003. I never even got on the agenda for that one). I got the award more as the representative of the work done by people in my team, ie their work, as opposed to mine – and for a long while I felt a bit guilty about it. But as a good friend pointed out, it was a team that I had built, doing work I guided and, between myself and Shanthi Sivadasan, we had it all running well and we were doing stuff that no one else would own up to doing (and that HP offered to help us with – and we ended up helping them!).

So back to the magazine cover. Who can you spot? Some I am pretty sure are no longer anything to do with the Oracle scene, but some still are…:

Arup Nanda, DBA of the year (oTY)
Tim Sharick, CTO oTY
Ronan Miles, IT Manager oTY
Peter Charles Smith, PL/SQL developer oTY
TonyJambu, consultant oTY
Bob Magan, developer oTY
Jeroen Baltussen, web services developer oTY
Harvinder Singh Saluja, Jdeveloper oTY
Arno Van Der Klok Java developer oTY
Matt Rhoades, BI developer oTY
Arnaud Bontemps, Portal developer oTY
Tom Copeland, Open Source developer oTY
{how many “X develop of the years”? How many “DBA-types” of the year? Oh yes, 10g was supposed to be the death of the DBA – again}
Jamie Kinney & Grant McAlister, Linux Innovators oTY
Hoosh Asfar, Early Adopter oTY
Mogens Norgaard {who?}, Educator oTY
Tom Kyte {another obscure one}, Oracle Book Author oTY
Jason Hunter, Oracle Magazine Author oTY
Me, Beta Tester oTY
Andrew Clarke, OTN contributor oTY
Rick Hamilton, Architect oTY

A Book of Friday Philosophies? February 18, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Private Life, publications, writing.
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10 comments

It has been suggested to me by a friend (not a publisher!) that I should do a book of my “Friday Philosophy” posts. I’m not sure. I’d like to know what people think.

If you read my blog but “Friday Philosophy” has somehow passed you by (how could they, most of my posts now are Friday Philosophies!) they are usually posted at the end of the week and deal with the non-technical side of working in IT. They are my thoughts and experiences on management, development paradigms, things that seem to still be wrong after 2 generations of programmers have painfully learnt the same lessons. Some have nothing to do with IT. The occasional one is about my life. Nearly all have an element of humour in them (even if it is only when I am laughing at myself and my own stupidity).

I’ve never really meant them to be more than a bit of light relief for people to read at the end of the week, but also to make people think.

A few older posts that have stood the test of time (ie people still occasionally look at them) are:

Oracle Performance Silver Bullets
CABs – An Expensive Way to Get Nowhere
Do Good DBAs Need PL/SQL Skills?
The Small Issue of Planes, Trains and Coaches
The worst Thing About Contracting
The Worst Person In IT I Have Ever Met
The Best Person in IT I Have Ever Met

The person suggesting I make them into a book says there is simply nothing else like them out there – Books on IT are about, well, IT. Books on management are about making you a better manager and tend to be very earnest about it. My Friday Philosophies sit in a wilderness between the two, a bit of fun but thought provoking (so I am told).

The thing is, I am not sure there is a market for it. After all, if you have never heard of me (and close to 7 billion people have not) why would you buy a book by me about opinions on the IT industry? If you know me you can just search my blog for “Friday Philosophy” and read them all. As far as traffic to my blog is concerned, with a few exceptions, they are one-shot pieces. Friday Philosophies tend to get a bigger immediate hit than technical posts but within a week most of them are hardly looked at again. Several of the technical ones get a steady trickle of hits that far outweighs their initial popularity. I know that people search for specific technical terms and not “opinionated view of smart phones” and that has an impact, but even so…

In theory it should be a lot less painful than the living hell of writing (only a part!) of a technical book. I have a lot of material, I can review & tweak them, add some new ones, wrap the lot up into areas. It should only take a week… A month… Maybe 2 or 3 months.

Also, I would not be looking to make any money on this. As in, even less then the very little you get per hour’s effort for doing a traditional book. I doubt a professional publisher would be interested in it, due to the lack of an obvious audience. But maybe a self-published tomb for a few pounds/dollars?

What does anyone think? A thunderous silence will tell me what I need to know….

It does not help that I am not sure how to pluralise “Friday Philosophy”.

Friday Philosophy – Publishing rather than Presenting December 18, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Oracle Scene, publications, writing.
Tags: , ,
6 comments

Have you ever considered writing articles on Oracle subjects? Unlike presenting, there is no need to stand up in front of a scary crowd, remember what it was you wanted to say and risk someone calling you out from the crowd & accusing you of being an idiot {NB people worry a lot about that last one, but I have only seen it happen once – and no one much liked the person doing the calling}. Presenting is not for everyone. But it is not the only way to engage with people or share your knowledge. When you write an article you get to take your time, ensure you are saying what you want to say and you can correct it over time. You can also ask friends to check it over for glaring mistakes or badly written prose before you submit it. I do.

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

I can’t say I am an expert, I’ve only written a few articles for publication myself, but I have also been helping out with Oracle Scene in my role as deputy editor. I’ve reviewed a lot of material and helped one or two people update their articles. But there are some ways in which I think publishing is a superior way of communicating when compared to presenting. As I mentioned before, you get more time to “deliver” the material. When you present you will have prepared your slides or demonstrations and, I’d hope, you have practiced it. But the actual delivery is “Bang!” you’re up. What you say, you say, what you don’t is not going to be said – unless it is on the slides (which people may or may not read). With an article, what you actually put out there is something you can check and hone until you are happy. Or you get too close to the submission time to mess about any more…

A published article is there and it will stay there. Presenting is gone as soon as you finish it (unless it has been recorded – and my experience is that recorded presentations do not get watched that often). Many more people are likely to see an article than see you present, especially if you get it into something like Oracle Magazine… Or “Hello”, but that is pretty unlikely for an article about HR apps in the Cloud. That persistence is also a bit of a drawback I find, as I am even more concerned about getting it right. I don’t want to have something that people can constantly point at and say “Hey, that Widlake guy! He actually still USES the Buffer Cache Hit Ratio!”. But it drives me to produce something of a slightly better quality, I feel, than when I present or blog.

I obviously blog quite a bit but I hesitate to say that a blog is quite the same as having something published. When I blog it is me having my say to an audience that chooses to come by and look. If I mess up, you all know who messed up. If I publish, I have to produce something good enough for someone else to say “yeah, that is good enough to be in my publication”. And if I have messed up, I’ve messed up a bit of their publication. I can actually modify or remove anything I blog, it is under my control. However, when I do an article in a magazine, it is fixed once it has passed the copy edit check. So blogs are different, they are “softer”. I would say, though, that web sites that give information in a more formal way, like the wonderful Oracle Base by Tim Hall or fantastic oracle-developer by Adrian Billington are more like published material. A kind of half-way-house.

Where a published article wins out over a blog is in audience reach. I know that lots of people who would never visit my blog will see it, maybe people who will remember the great article I did and even recognise my name. You never know, one day it might help me land a piece of work. A published article will also be read by people outside of my sphere, some people who are reading it for the Apps content might look over my article, especially one that is an introduction to a subject.

Another of the great things about a published article is it can be referenced back to or, if it is a printed publication, there on your desk to look at as you try things out on the computer. We all tend to have larger computer screens now and even multiple ones {I would struggle to go back to a single screen} and use online material, but nothing beats having a physical copy to read and move about the desk. It leaves the computer screens free for everything else and you can take the magazine or printout around with you when you don’t want to have a laptop or tablet with you.

I guess I am more proud of my publications in Oracle Scene than my blogs. My mum even paid a tiny bit of interest in me having an article in a “real” publication.

os57cover

And this leads me on to the real purpose of this piece. I’d encourage you to submit articles to Oracle Scene. The call for articles for edition 59, to be published in Spring 2016, closes on 11th January. You can find the editorial calendar here which tells you about the dates for the next and future publications. If you want an excuse to get away from the relatives this Christmas, why not write and submit an article? We are always looking for good articles and series of articles. Check out the current edition online {the current edition is free to anyone to view online} to see what sort of things we cover, which is all aspects of the Oracle tech and Oracle apps. We are particularly keen to get more Apps articles as they are currently under-represented, but we of course are also interested in technical pieces.

We are moving to publishing Oracle Scene four times a year and with more content each copy. With “Oracle Magazine” going digital-only, I think Oracle Scene is now the only physically published magazine on Oracle technology. Oracle’s “Profit” magazine is still available in print but it is mainly focused on the business side of using Oracle solutions. When I was in the US for OOW15 I mentioned Oracle Scene to a few people and that it was still a physical publication, as well as available digitally, and that seemed to be of interest to most of them. Physical copies are available at all UKOUG events and are placed in Oracle Offices. If you have ever sat in reception waiting to see someone in Oracle, there were probably a few copies near you! You may well have read some of it, whilst waiting for Larry to see you.

I’ll finish with a few words on what we look for in articles {I may well do a longer piece on this at a later date, especially if any of you tell me you would like to see it}. We avoid sales pieces. If you work for “United Mega Corp” and every sentence has “United Mega Corp” in it or you are just trying to sell United Mega Corp’s sales portal system, then you are unlikely to get your article accepted – you can pay for advertising space for that. However if you work for “Incredible IT Systems” and write a piece on using pluggable database and mention “Incredible IT Systems” once or twice, or that you have experience in the field you can offer to customers, all is good. Other than that, we simply want well-written articles that will help people use a feature of Oracle, better understand some aspect of their Apps offerings or allow a compare & contrast across possible solutions. Basically, we want to publish things that UKOUG members and the wider Oracle community want to read.

Go on, think about it. Give it a go. And if you actually want to spend time with the relatives over Christmas, write a piece for one of the editions later in the year.

Being part of the Oracle Scene… Quite Literally October 2, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Oracle Scene, publications, User Groups.
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1 comment so far

I have some advice for you all.

Do not get drunk with people from Ireland who claim to be your friend and, if you do, agree to no suggestions they might make whilst you are drunk….

I am now deputy editor of “Oracle Scene”.

os57cover

This is the magazine the UKOUG produce 3 times a year and you can click this link to see the latest issue. There are some very nice articles in there by the likes of That Jeff Smith (product manager of SQL Developer), Fanck Pachot, Philip Brown and prior (and up-coming) issues have contributions from the likes of Jonathan Lewis, Michael Abbey, Grant Ronald, Debra Lilley…

He sucked me into it by stages, a bit like anyone running an illegal street gang might. “Just keep a look out for us…. Just go in and nod when no-one is looking…. just hold this baseball bat for a bit…”. He got me drunk the first time and I agreed to attempt to write an article. He then got me drunk again and got me to agree to write a series of articles. I think I was actually sober when I agreed to review a few submissions. But I must have been very “happy” indeed when I said “Yes” to the being deputy editor…

Being serious, I’m actually very happy to help out though it’s one of those roles that is never going to garner me much notice in the community – but it is the sort of thing the community really needs. Just like people who volunteer to help organise user group meetings or chair sessions at a conference (more on that in a day or two) or help out with the administration of something behind the scenes. Those of us who present and blog and write get some reward in being noticed and recognized. But a lot of people do stuff with little or no recognition, doing it just to help the user community be a success. Maybe we should all keep an eye out for them and say thanks when we come across them.

Friday Philosophy – Know Your Audience May 7, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Blogging, Friday Philosophy, Presenting, publications.
Tags: , ,
9 comments

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?

My First Published Article April 21, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, publications, UKOUG.
Tags: , , ,
8 comments

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

Oracle documentation on a Kindle January 18, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in publications.
Tags: ,
7 comments

I recently bought myself a Kindle – the keyboard 3G version. Keyboard as I know I will want to add notes to things and the 3G version for no better reason than some vague idea of being able to download things when I am away from my WiFi.

So, how about getting Oracle documentation onto it? You can get the oracle manuals as PDF versions (as opposed to HTML) so I knew it was possible and that others have done so before. A quick web search will show a few people have done this already – one of the best posts is by Robin Moffat.

Anyway, this is my take on it.

1) Don’t download the PDF versions of the manuals and then just copy them onto your kindle. It will work, but is not ideal. PDF files are shown as a full page image in portrait mode and parts are unreadable. Swap to landscape mode and most text becomes legible and you can zoom in. In both modes there is no table of contents and none of the links work between sections. All you can do is step back and forth page by page and skip directly to pages, ie goto page 127. This is not so bad actually as quite often the manual states the page to go to for a particular figure or topic.

2) Do download the MOBI format of the manuals you want, if available. Oracle started producing it’s manuals in Mobi and Epub format last year. I understand that Apple’s .AZW format is based on .MOBI (Mobipocket) format. As such text re-flows to fit the screen of the Kindle. I’ve checked a few of the DBA_type manuals for V10 and V11 and Mobi files seem generally available, but not a couple I checked for 10.1. If there is no Mobi, you can still revert to downloading the PDF version.

3) You cannot download a set of manuals in this format and you won’t see an option to download an actual manual in MOBI format until you go into the HTML version of the document.

I can understand that it would be a task for someone in Oracle to go and create a new downloadable ZIP of all books in these formats or, better still, sets to cover a business function (like all DBA-type books and all developer-type books), but it would be convenient.
Anyhow, go to OTN’s documentation section, pick the version you want and navigate to the online version of the manual.

Here I go to the 11.2 version – note, I’m clicking on the online set of manuals, not the download option.


Select the HTML version of the document you want, in this case I am grabbing a copy of the performance tuning guide. As you can see, this is also where you can choose the PDF version of the manual

Once the first page comes up, you will see the options for PDF, Mobi and Epub versions at the top right of the screen (see below). I wonder how many people have not realised the manuals are now available in new ebook formats, with the option only there once you are in the manual itself?

I’ve already clicked the Mobi link and you can see at the bottom left of the screen-shot, it has already downloaded {I’m using Chrome, BTW}. Over my 4Mb slightly dodgy broadband connection it took a few seconds only.

4) I don’t like the fact that the files are called things like E25789-01.mobi. I rename them as I move them from my download directory to a dedicated directory. You then attach up your kindle to your computer and drag the files over to the kindle’s “documents” folder and, next time you go to the main menu on the kindle, they will appear with the correct title (irrespective of you renaming them or not)

5) If you download the PDFs I would strongly suggest you rename these files before you move them to the kindle as they will come up with that name. I have a booked called e26088 on my kindle now – which manual is that? {don’t tell me, I know}. I have not tried renaming the file on the kindle itself yet.

6) You don’t have to use a PC as an intermediate staging area, you can directly download the manuals to your kindle, if you have a WiFi connection. Go check out chapter 6 of the kindle user guide 4th edition for details, but you can surf the web on your kindle. Press HOME, then MENU and go down to EXPERIMENTAL. click on “Launch Browser” (if you don’t have wireless turned on, you should get prompted). I’d recommend you flick the kindle into landscape mode for this next bit and don’t expect lightning fast response. If it does not take you to the BOOKMARKS page, use the menu button to get there and I’d suggest you do a google search for OTN to get to the site. Once there navigate as described before. When you click on the .Mobi file it should be downloaded to your kindle in a few seconds. Don’t leave the page until it has downloaded as otherwise the download will fail.

There you go, you can build up whatever set of oracle manuals you like on your ebook or kindle and never be parted from them. Even on holiday…

I’ve obviously only just got going with my Kindle. I have to say, reading manuals on it is not my ideal way of reading such material. {story books I am fine with}. I find panning around tables and diagrams is a bit clunky and the Kindle is not recognising the existence of chapters in the Oracle Mobi manuals, or pages for that matter. However, the table of contents works, as do links, so it is reasonably easy to move around the manual. Up until now I’ve carried around a set of Oracle manuals as an unzipped copy of the html download save to a micro-USB stick but some sites do not allow foreign USB drives to be used. I think I prefer reading manuals on my netbook to the kindle, but the kindle is very light and convenient. If I ever get one of those modern smart-phone doo-dahs, I can see me dropping the netbook in favour of the smartphone and this kindle.

Of course, nothing beats a big desk and a load of manuals and reference books scattered across it, open at relevant places, plus maybe some more stuff on an LCD screen.

Want to Know More about Oracle’s Core? October 19, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in performance, Private Life, publications.
Tags: , , ,
14 comments

I had a real treat this summer during my “time off” in that I got to review Jonathan Lewis’s up-coming new book. I think it’s going to be a great book. If you want to know how Oracle actually holds it’s data in memory, how it finds records already in the cache and how it manages to control everything so that all that committing and read consistency really works, it will be the book for you.

{Update, Jonathan has confirmed that, unexpected hiccups aside, Oracle Core: Essential Internals for DBAs and Developers should be available from October 24, 2011}

{Thanks to Mike Cox, who let me know it is already available to be reserved at Amazon}

Jonathan got in touch with me around mid-May to say he was working on the draft of his new book, one that would cover “how does Oracle work”, the core mechanics. Would I be willing to be one of his reviewers? Before anyone comments that there is not likely to be much about core Oracle that I know and Jonathan does not, he did point out that he had already lined up someone to be his technical reviewer, ie someone he expected to know as much as he and help spot actual errors. The technical reviewer is the most excellent Tanel Poder, who posted a little mention of it a couple of months back.

I was to act more like a typical reader – someone who knew the basics and wanted to learn more. I would be more likely to spot things he had assumed we all know but don’t, or bits that did not clearly explain the point if you did not already know the answer. ie an incomplete geek. I figured I could manage that🙂.

It was a lot harder work than I expected and I have to confess I struggled to supply back feedback as quickly as Jonathan wanted it – I was not working but I was very busy {and he maybe did not poke me with a sharp stick for feedback soon enough}. As anybody who has had to review code specifications or design documents will probably appreciate, you don’t just read stuff when you review it, you try and consider if all the information is there, can it be misunderstood and, if you find that you don’t understand a section, you need to work out if the fault is with you, with the way it is written or with what is written. When I read a technical {or scientific} document and I do not fully understand it, I usually leave it a day, re-read it and if it still seems opaque, I just move on. In this case I could not do that, I had to ensure I understood it or else tell Jonathan why I thought I did not understand it. If there are sections in the end book that people find confusing, I’ll feel I let Jonathan down.

Just as tricky, on the one hand, as I’ve been using Oracle for so long and I do know quite a lot about Oracle {although clearly not enough in the eyes of the author🙂 } I had to try and “not know” stuff to be able to decide if something was missing. On the other, when I wanted to know more about something was I just being a bit too nerdy? I swung more towards the opinion that if I wanted to know more, others would too.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the experience and I learnt a lot. I think it might change how I read technical books a little. I would run through each chapter once to get the feel of it all and then re-read it properly, constantly checking things in both version 11 and 10 of Oracle as I read the drafts and would not let myself skip over anything until I felt I really understood it. As an example, I’ve never dug into internal locks, latches and mutexes much before and now that I’ve had to learn more to review the book, I have a much better appreciation of some issues I’ve seen in the wild.

Keep an eye out for the book, it should be available by the end of this year and be called something like “Oracle Core” {I’ll check with Jonathan and update this}. I won’t say it will be an easy read – though hopefully a little easier as a result of my input – as understanding things always takes some skull work. But it will certainly be a rewarding read and packed full of information and knowledge.

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