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UKOUG Conference Survival Guide November 29, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, humour, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

I’ve been going to the UKOUG conference for about… Well, most of this century. I think this year (2017) will be my 14th visit. Not only that but I’ve helped organise the tech side of the conference for several years. I was the Database Stream or whole Tech Stream lead for the last 3 years (though, this year, blame others as I passed over the duties to Neil Chandler as Tech17 lead and Chris Dunscombe as Database lead). I also grew up 30km North of Birmingham, in a little city called Lichfield – but to be honest that does not help as my family was from Nottingham and we went there to shop.

So with my many years of experience, here is my Survival Guide to UKOUG Conference in Birmingham.

Oh, and just to be clear. I sometimes say “we” when talking about organising the conference. It is habit. I was not involved this year.

Getting There

Train

A lot of people arrive by train, coming into the main train station, Birmingham New Street. This used to be a dark, horrible, Stygian nightmare of a train station but now it is bright, clean and has a nice shopping centre above it. It is just a 10 minute walk up the road called New Street, through the German Market and then bearing left-ish (probably past the Birmingham Town Hall) towards Broad Street where the conference centre (the Birmingham ICC) and most hotels people stay in are clustered. There are underpasses or bridges to take you over the horribly busy road that is in the way.

There are a few other train stations in Birmingham city centre (Moor Street, Snow Hill and Five Ways ) but I have never used them, sorry. Apparently you can walk to the ICC from them. Or get a taxi, but as it is Christmas and Broad Street is very close to the shopping areas, expect a slow taxi journey.

It is probably too late for this advice, but buy UK train tickets as soon in advance as possible. Train fares in the UK are stupidly high (for a crap service) and the sooner you book, the less eye-wateringly expensive it is. The UK is about the only European country where the trains are run privately for profit rather than by the government, which is why they are so “efficient and good value” here. Not.

Plane

Again, a bit late for advice on your actual plane route but if you come into Birmingham international get the train in. The service is regular and quick. Taxies, especially at this festive period, are likely to be slow and expensive. I have never tried Uber in Birmingham but UK Uber is in a lot of trouble at the moment as they have been accused of not vetting their drives much.
If you are coming into London, again get the train. From London Euston to Birmingham NEW STREET (not Birmingham International, that is the airport). It takes about 90 minutes.

Automobile

If you are driving into Birmingham then in some ways it is good, in some ways it is terrible. For example, the A38M gets you deep into Birmingham pretty quickly and smoothly but, like a lot of cities, at times the route is a bit confused and, as it is Christmas, the centre of Birmingham itself will be hell to drive around. Once you get near the centre the traffic will just stop.
I advise you allow for at least half an hour or more extra for driving into or out of Birmingham than you expect. If you arrive on Saturday or on Sunday afternoon add an hour.
If you are leaving by car on Wednesday afternoon, I suggest you consider having a final coffee or light meal in Birmingham before you go. Trying to drive out of the Broad Street area between 4pm and 6pm is something I do not want to have to do again in my life. One year (when it snowed a bit) it took me 2 hours just to get onto the M42 that circles the East and South of Birmingham.

If your hotel has reserved parking, great. If not then good luck. Check the UKOUG web site for suggested car parks, plan which car park you go for and remember, Saturday and Sunday all public car parks will be very, very busy. I had such a nightmare last year when I arrived on Saturday that I am parking 20 miles away and coming in by train!

Once There…

Once you are at the ICC you won’t need public transport – unless you booked a hotel a distance from the conference, in which case you are on your own. Or you are local and coming in and out each day. In which case you know the place and you are on your own.

You can walk to enough bars and restaurants as you could want, taxies in the evening for a couple of miles are not too bad. Access for wheelchairs is pretty good in the UK, there is step-free access to the ICC. I have a nasty feeling you cannot go across the canal to the main bars & restaurants from the back entrance of the ICC by wheelchair, but you can go via Broad Street.

 

Food & Drink

The UKOUG conference is great for breadth and depth of content. It is not so good on the catering front…

Coffee & Tea

It seems like a small thing, but getting a cup of tea or a coffee at the UKOUG conference can be a bit of a trial. Unlike other conferences, such drinks are not always available. I know, it’s mad. I’ve tried to argue about this when I’ve been involved in organising the conference but the ICC charge silly amounts for constant provisions of these conference basics and the UKOUG want to use the provision of drink and food to drive footfall through the exhibition. When it is the allotted time for Tea/Coffee, the queues are of course bad. And the ICC staff take some sort of evil delight by directing you to a different queue. Which turns out to be just as large or, occasionally, not even open yet. (They do this at lunch time too).

To make things worse, providing drinks as an exhibitor seems to be a real challenge too. I looked into having my own stand a couple of years back, with decent coffee. To provide anything more than the odd jug of real coffee would have cost me a fortune, if even possible.

I would advise you just hang about a bit. Maybe get a biscuit before someone who is trying to get a week’s calories from just the conference food hoovers them all up. Then get a coffee/tea once the rush dies down.

There are water coolers around, so you can get water. If it does not run out. Don’t drink water from the bathrooms, it is not “potable” unless otherwise stated – it will be going through a tank  which may or may not have a dead pigeon in it.

However, on the floor below the main conference reception area (so technically outside the conference) there is a coffee company that will sell you something approaching coffee or tea. And if you go out of the “back” of the ICC  and over the canal, there are some coffee places out there.

I suggest you get a bottle of water and keep it filled and with you. The conference rooms can be warm and if you “enjoyed yourself” the night before you could be dehydrated from that too. I used to get tired and suffer headaches until I realised I was constantly dehydrated.

Conference Food

The lunch will be OK. Probably. It varies from year to year. Last year we had a buffet as opposed to a “real” meal and, I have to say, it was a hell of a lot better than the slime provided the year before. If you are vegetarian or have allergies I hope you said so when you registered. In any respect, let your needs be known to the catering staff or the UKOUG staff. If the member of catering staff you are asking does not understand you, go ask someone else. It’s just not worth the risk.

The food provided on Tuesday evening is OK and, if you are determined, you could eat enough to count as a meal. But most people will go outside the ICC for evening meals and drinks. I would recommend you do so.

Drinking and Eating in Birmingham

The conference is in central Birmingham. There are lots of options. If you go out the “back” of the ICC (the opposite side to the main entrance, where there will be some sort of winter fair) you will go over the canal and find many plastic bars and restaurants. You know, All Bar One, Wagamama, Pizza Express, Slug and Lettuce. If that is your thing, you will be happy.

The conference centre is on Broad Street. If you come out the main entrance where the fair is, go right and then once at the road, go “back” along the side of the conference centre. If you come out the back entrance, head left (by the canal or once you have reached the bars). If you are not on Broad Street within 1 minute, you went the wrong left. Here there are more bars, restaurants, even an executive gentlemans dancing club. I have no idea how entertaining  executive gentlemen getting groovy is, I never popped in. There is a lot of choice of types of food up and down Broad Street, though the national cuisine of curry is most in evident. Please do not ask me to recommend anywhere, I loose track of where has been good. Use an App.

I would suggest you do NOT go out in a gang of 20 and expect to get seated. Go out in a gang of 4 or 6, maybe 8 and you will fair better. If you want a bigger group, use your search app of choice and book somewhere.

I would also suggest you be willing to walk more than 5 minutes, it really increases your choice and places are less busy. There are some nice Chinese and Thai places a little further out and lots of other food choices. For drinking I like the “Wellington” pub and there are a couple of other real-ale places scattered about but near by.  There is also the *speaker’s pub* but I won’t tell you where that is as you will all go there and I won’t be able to get in. I’ll happily take you there though. Let’s just say it is much improved since it was renovated and stopped smelling or urine.

Most people end up in the bars and restaurants near the ICC but if you walk back towards New Street (not all the way to New Street!) you will find the German Market where you can get Gluhwein and other bars with more character.

As the years have gone on, I’ve been more likely to pop out from the conference to get lunch or have a quiet coffee. It helps me keep fresh for the rest of the talks I go to.

Alcohol

Alcohol is of course utterly optional. But it seems a lot of British people and international conference presenters opt for it. There should be non-alcoholic options at all UKOUG organised social events. If there is not, feel free to complain like hell as it has been an issue once or twice and should not be.

Given you do wish to partake of the odd alcoholic beverage I feel I would like to offer some advice. That last pint in the hotel bar before you go to bed? Why is it always that one that is bad? I try and keep things in moderation until the last night at least Trying to concentrate on index internals whilst the Hangover Pixies bang hammers on the inside of your skull is not easy.

As a general rule, alcohol is not available in the conference during sessions.

As a general rule, after all sessions are finished, alcohol seems to be appreciated by many.

If you are not English (and in particular if you are from the US) you should be aware that our pints are a bit bigger than a US pint or a half litre. Also, though I know that the US have finally got their heads around “craft beer”, English beer (especially Real Ale) tends to be a bit more flavoursome and stronger than what many people thing of as beer, namely lager. You can get lager from most of the bars around the ICC and nasty, bland pap it is too. I’ll be holding out for beer that is brown, above 5 degrees C and is not mildly fizzy. Preferably delivered from the keg via hand pump, not just pressure-squirted out of a tap.

 

The Conference

Firstly, I’ll admit my prejudice. Other conferences have their own selling points, I actually personally prefer a few of the smaller national conferences, but for breadth of content and the technical validity of what is on offer, I don’t think you can beat the UKOUG conference. DOAG is on a par and is a little larger, but I think is less relaxed than the UK experience. Oracle Open World is a massive, ball-achingly on-message sales and marketing event that frankly I can live without. The UKOUG conference is independent of Oracle and, though we love having their presence and speakers, you will get talks that are not all “Oracle is the best”. You even sometimes get Oracle corporation speakers letting slip the occasional negative word or admission that something could be better. We put things in the water to make them more honest. Yeast, barley and hops, mostly.

Sessions

The UKOUG conference is big. Tech17 has something like 12 concurrent streams, 3 or 4 of which are database, a similar number across development and middleware. And you can move between Tech17, Apps17 and JDE17 as you wish now.

There will be times you want to see more than 1 session on at the same time. Sorry, this is impossible to avoid for the organisers. I’ve spent days in darkened rooms working on the agenda in the past. We try to make sure that talks in the same technical area (e.g. Database) are not on similar topics, we try not to put popular talks/presenters in small rooms or against each other. We try to look across the agenda so that a database-based talk on PL/SQL is not clashing on a PL/SQL talk about database management. But it is impossible. We organisers make mistakes or we simply do not see what is obvious in retrospect. Add to that short-notice changes in speaker availability and other run-time issues, the planning is not ideal.

But the main reasons we get such clashes is that:
(a) We have no control over what you lot are interested in. You might be passionate about APEX and database performance, or in-memory and Java. There are too many variables to plan to suit everyone
(b) There are so many good talks submitted by known speakers we could pack the event with only known, established speakers that you all want to see. And we don’t as we want to encourage new speakers and new topic areas.

So, when there is a clash, please try to be mellow and just accept that the UKOUG put on SO MUCH good content you are going to have to miss something.

And for when there is nothing at all you want to see? Sorry, it will probably happen too, it’s called random variation. Read below for suggestions.

Try to plan your day and what sessions you are going to. I have a piece of paper or the full agenda and I put big circles around the talks I intend to go to, so that I don’t have to keep thinking about this stuff as my head fills with new information.

Go to one or two sessions outside “your” area. It’s good to expand your viewpoint. Some of the best, most useful talks are ones I had to go to as I was chairing them. So now I throw a couple of oddities in each year. This is of course an ideal thing to do if you hit a point where there is no talk you really want to see. Rather than go see a talk you have seen before or a speaker who is well known, go see a talk on something you know nothing about.

HAVE A BREAK. If you feel your head is full or you cannot concentrate anymore, skip a session and chill. Have a coffee. Chat to people. When I first started coming to UKOUG conference I would go to 7 or 8 talks in a row. I did not really remember the last couple from day 1 or 2, or most of them from day 3. Because I was too tired to process new information anymore. Now I take the odd session out and, over all, I learn more. Pace yourself.

GIVE FEEDBACK! You buggers are getting worse and worse each year for filling in the feedback forms. I know, you all think you will do it online later. You won’t. You never do. I know, I’ve been reviewing the feedback for years. Fill in that paper form. And be honest. Don’t give everyone 5 or 6 for everything, apart from Derrick who was crap and you give 1 or 2 for everything. Of course, any talk I do (I’m not doing one this year) is 6’s across the board. But use the whole breadth of the scoring. (update, see the comment section).

Those feedback scores not only help the presenters personally, we use them when planning who gets to talk in future years. We really wish you would just tell us what you did and did not like. Please.

Speakers

Speakers are there as they want to be there. Well, most of them. So feel free to go talk to them when you see them around and about. Obviously don’t rudely butt in when they are deep in conversation with someone else, but of course you can chat to them in a queue for bad coffee or when you bump into them in the exhibitors hall. Oh, if you are between them and the nearest loo and they have a slightly determined look in their eye – leave them alone. And don’t follow them in! Yes, I had that once. I did not want to talk to that gentleman about Index Organised Tables right at that moment.

In my opinion, the worst time to try to talk to a speaker is… just after they have spoken! They need to get out of the way of the next speaker, you might be one of 4 or 5 people vying for attention and (true for me at least) often just after presenting you hit a bit of a lull in cognitive ability. I actually don’t tend to go to a session after I have presented as I know I won’t concentrate. So do ask your question, but ask it a little later when you see them about.

Oh, and you know those Oracle Hero Names? I’ll let you in on a big secret. They are just people, like you are. Obviously smarter and more handsome/pretty than you, but just people. Do you object if someone chats to you? No. So chat to them. And you don’t need to have a question you can, like, just talk to them like they are normal people. Apart from Tim Hall, he is strange. (Joke!)

Social

Conference is anything but just sessions. You are surrounded by people who all have an interest in Oracle, many of whom have a shared interest with you. Sessions are great but often the best stuff comes from conversations with people. It can be hard to talk to people you don’t know, but then those people you don’t know often feel the same. Come and talk to me, I hardly ever tell people to go away.

There are social events Monday and Tuesday nights. Come to them. Relax. Drink Whisky (Monday tech Community Networking). Or water. And chat.

If you get into a good discussion with someone and a new session is about to start, well maybe change your plan and go to the same session as them. Or. Don’t go to a session. If you have found someone who has had the same slow-death-by-frustration as you with feature X or implementing Payroll version 666 then spending half an hour with them might be the best thing you both get out of the conference. It’s what the Oracle Community is all about.

Odd Stuff

Toilets

I have not noticed queues outside the ladies loos. This is because IT is still a distressingly  male-dominated sphere, most conferences even more so. Though UKOUG try to encourage a better balance, one benefit for the ladies is no queuing for the loo. Men however, may need to queue! The problem is, several talks will finish  at the same time and those in need head off to the loos. The same ones as everyone else, right next to the hall you were in. Take a tip from me, if your bladder can hold on for 95 seconds, go and find a loo away from the hall. The ones down by halls 10 and 11 are quieter, it is worth seeing if there are loos by a hall that is not in use. I have my “favourite” loo, where it is always quiet. I’m not telling you where it is.

Wandering Around the Area – Safety

You will be safe in the vicinity of the ICC, Broad Street, down towards the centre of Birmingham. Of course, be sensible! Don’t wander down some dark alley on your own and don’t tell a bunch of Youth they look stupid with their trousers around their assholes (still a fashion thing for some here in the UK, I don’t get it). But you and your mate(s) will be safe wandering around where there are bars & restaurants. If you suddenly realise you are surrounded by only dark, lightless buildings – you are probably STILL safe. But maybe go back towards the bars. If I was a lady on my own, I would like to think I would not feel threatened on the main roads and thoroughfares. But I’ve never been a lady on my own. Several of those ladies I know who frequent the conference are at ease walking back to their hotel on their own. Though as a gentleman I find it tricky to let them do it, but that’s my latent sexism coming out.

Weather

Birmingham in Winter is world renowned for it’s warm climate and sunshine. Or more specifically, for how it is NOT warm and is only rarely sunny. As I type this I am looking at the long-term weather forecast and see no snow is predicted. But last time I told people there would be no snow – it snowed. (We do not get snow like say Canada or Norway gets snow. We get an inch or two that confuses everyone driving a car.)

It will be cold, I can be absolutely sure of that. A few degrees centigrade above freezing in the evenings, with a breeze. You will need a coat, gloves and a hat will help. If you are from America, it will be about 40f.  You will still need a coat, hat and gloves. Maybe throw in a scarf.

It will almost certainly rain at some point.

German Market and Shopping

I should not be encouraging you to leave the conference for a period of time, but in the evening the German Market and lots of shops are open. I personally don’t bother with the German Market anymore as I’ve been there soooo often (and, as I said on social media recently, you only need so many wooden toys and sausage in your life). But it is well worth a visit if you have not been before, or at least not for a while.

I know some people who include a mooch around the shops as part of their conference experience.

Coats and Luggage

It is warm in the ICC and blinking cold outside in Birmingham in December (see weather). So you will probably want to drop off your coat and maybe your luggage. There is a cloakroom in the ground floor of the ICC where you can do so. They will charge you a British pound or two. People complain about this charge. A lot.

You work in I.T, you are paid well, you do not want for money to pay for food and water. Just pay the damned pound will you? Take it off whatever charities you contribute to if it bothers you that much. Just don’t keep complaining at me about it.

If you stayed in a local hotel, they should be willing to hold on to your luggage for you on the last day. Depending on which hotel you are in this might not be convenient of course. If you do, how many of you will tip them more than a pound for doing so?

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Friday Philosophy – What Makes a Community? November 10, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Earlier this week Daniel Westermann asked a question on twitter: “What is community?”

What is a community?

Daniel was not specific about if this was a work/user group community or a wider consideration of society, but my first thoughts were about the Oracle community (or communities) that I have been involved in. By community I mean anything from a national or regional user group; a regular, geographically agnostic conference; a special interest group; even just a bunch of people who meet socially who share a common interest (such as London Oracle Beers which I help run). You could actually think of it as the world-wide collective of all such smaller Oracle communities.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and you can see my answer in the right. Quite obviously an Oracle community needs a shared interest in Oracle, in some aspect of it or a broader view. All tech communities focus on a brand of tech, I don’t think you get a “computers” community as it is just too broad. But the parts that make up the community are, I think, alwyas the same.

1) A large group of people willing to take part
+
2) A medium group of people willing to share
+
3) A small group of people willing to drive the community

Taking a regular conference as an example, the first group are the delegates. If not enough people are willing to pay for it and turn up then your conference will fail. The second group are the speakers and people who will help with organising. The third group are the ones who get the second group involved, manage the effort and sell the idea of the conference.

Community at UKOUG

That third, small group is the key. If you lack that, you have no community. Sometimes, especially for smaller groups, that third group could be very small, even just one person. Delegates and speakers can come and go but it’s not so easy with the drivers of a community.

For several years we had a small but active Oracle user group in the centre of the UK, in Birmingham. It was run by one person, Mike Mckay-dirden. He almost single handedly started it up, organised the venue and corralled some of us speakers into coming over to talk. It ran successfully for several years but then Mike decided he could not keep doing it. He stopped, no one took it over – and the community died.

With larger communities such as UKOUG or DOAG there will be several people driving it all forward and usually, if one drops out you can keep going until another driven person turns up to help. But it is always a very small group of people doing a hell of a lot of work.

Over the years I’ve watched some communities get stronger or weaker and even die off as those key, driving people change. You can tell who they are, they are the ones who look knackered all the time :-). The LOB is in danger of dying as a couple of the driving people are no longer around and I can’t get to London very often now.

The chances are that as you are reading this blog you are part of an Oracle community. If so, I’d encourage you to support the drivers in those communities. If you lose them, it could really badly impact your community. Would I encourage you to become one of those drivers? Well, I would. But you have to want to do it yourself – it’s a lot of hard work and sometimes it feels like none of the first and second group really appreciate what you are doing, which can be very demoralising. And it eats up a lot of time.

I went from being one of the large group willing to take part to a member of the medium group willing to share pretty quickly. After a few years I stepped up to being in the smaller group, for a couple of groups actually. I took those steps up because I wanted to, not with any real expectation of gain (I could see it was going to be me working “for free”!). But I am absolutely sure that I would not be where I am now if I had not. I would not be an OakTable member, I would not be an Oracle ACE Director, and I would not be a known international speaker if I had not at least joined the middle group. Joining the band of drivers introduced me to a lot of really nice, really helpful people too.

This blog has been all about Oracle communities but I think the three-group-theory might apply to all communities. I’ll have to think on that a little longer before I voice an opinion. One thing I do know – It’s really nice being part of communities.

Taking Off One of my Community Hats – Oracle Scene December 19, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Oracle Scene, UKOUG, User Groups, writing.
Tags: ,
2 comments

For the last couple of years I’ve been involved in “Oracle Scene”, the UKOUG magazine about all things Oracle. Click the link to see the current edition, which is free to view to everyone, member of the UKOUG or not.

I take of my OS deputy editor hat - and they give me one to keep :-)

I take of my OS deputy editor hat – and they give me one to keep 🙂

I first became involved by writing an article for Oracle Scene. In fact it was the first thing I’d written that was published by a third party. This led to me helping with content selection and then content sourcing and, before you knew it, I was deputy editor for Tech content – helping out the main Editor, Brendan Tierney. We were soon joined by Toby Price as deputy editor for Apps content and the three of us were aided and assisted by first Brigit Wells and then Karen Smith from the UKOUG office.

I’ve really enjoyed helping put together the 5 or 6 issues I’ve been involved in. As a deputy editor I help source content (i.e. hassle people to submit articles), take the feedback from the content review committee, help make the final choice of the articles (with of course a focus on the tech ones) and together we decide on the running order in the magazine and which articles get mentioned on the front cover. I’ve also helped copy edit a few articles, especially those written by people for whom English is not their first language. I find it somewhat amusing that I do this as I am dyslexic. However, the professional layout company we use pick up on the spelling errors I miss (or introduce!). I also hunt down and remove all incorrect uses of the term “premise” and American spellings where it is not a technical term (did I mention my OCD tendencies too?). For the previous issue (Autumn 2016) I took on most of the role as editor as Brendan was busy with his day job. That is one of the nice things about having a small team, you can cover for each other but it does not become “decision by committee”, which I am not at all a fan of.

However with some recent changes outside my Oracle community life (nothing bad, just changes) it’s time for me to take off some of my community hats, especially those that need a constant, regular input. So I’m having to hang up the OS deputy chair one. But to my delight, at the UKOUG Volunteers drinks at the annual conference, Karen, Toby and Brendan presented me with an “Oracle Scene retired deputy editor” baseball cap, which was really nice of them. So I take off a virtual hat and get to put on a real one.

I still intend to submit articles to Oracle Scene and I’d encourage all of you to consider doing so. It is one of the very few publications in the Oracle arena that is still physically printed as well as published electronically. You can get copies at any UKOUG event and there are usually some in each UK Oracle office. And if you are in the UK (or very close by) and would like to be involved in a small but fun team, ask me (or any of the OS team) about becoming a deputy editor for Oracle Scene.

And guys, thanks once again for the hat and the fun we have had doing this.

UKOUG Tech16 Day 0 – Car and Curry Chaos! December 5, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in conference, humour, off-topic, Private Life, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

This year I decided to come to Birmingham a little early for UKOUG Tech16, coming up on the Saturday. I drove up to Lichfield where I grew up (15 miles North of Brum – which explains the touch of Brummie in my accent) in the morning to see my mum. Once we had discussed her various ailments and prejudices for a few hours and I’d unblocked her vacuum cleaner I set off into Birmingham to get to Jury’s hotel for 18:00. I was sure the shoppers would be pouring out of the city centre by then and it would be quietening down.

How wrong can you be! The A38 into the centre of the city was a crawl for the last 5 miles, with lots of random lane changes by people confused by the delights of inner-city town-bad-planning – or just frustrated enough to be attempting a freestyle game of “dodgem cars”. I know a sneaky way to get over to the back roads behind Broad Street and my hotel -but either the recent road changes have removed it or the density of traffic hid it from me, so I had to follow the herd.

When I finally got to the hotel – the car park was coned off. And there were dozens of cars circling the area trying to find anywhere to park, avoiding the hoards of revellers set on drunken debauchery who would lurch into the road at irregular intervals (usually going ” Wayheeeyyyy!” or “Heeheheheheheeeehehehee”). I put the car where I felt it would not receive a ticket in the near future and checked into the hotel. “Can you let me into the car park”. No. “I’m here for days!” Go park somewhere else. “Where?” I dunno, over that way somewhere. *sigh*

I decided to check out the car park on foot. There were 2 spaces on the top floor! So I got the car, whipped around to the entrance -and found some git in a blue car already removing the cones to sneak in. I tried to follow but the attendant came over and stopped me. “But I know there are spaces, I checked!”. He’d actually seen me do this and told me to try and take a ticket. It refused to give me one. It was not that the car park was physically full but the tech would not issue a ticket if it thought it was full. I started to back out and he stopped me. “Just wait – someone will leave soon” and he put the cones behind my car. Within 5 mins he was proved right, I got a ticket and went to one of my identified spots. Which was still empty. The blue car had been abandoned in an odd place…
I was very thankful to the attendant who had been so nice to me.

After that fiasco I dropped my stuff in my room and met Dave Roberts & Brendan Tierney in the Jury’s bar for a couple of relaxing pints. Relaaaaaxxxxx. Dave knew of a massive, £4M curry house that had just opened, about 2 mins up the road. It was 3 levels of basement. We decided to give it a go!

The establishment itself had curtains up at the doors -all away across the doors. You could not see in. Was it open? We approached the doors and it was opened for us. Inside was a swish reception area and three people to great us. 3? We asked for a table for 3. And they did that bloody annoying thing all posh restaurants that are up their own arse do.

“Does Sir have a reservation?”
“No”.
Pause, hard stare at us and in a cold voice “I will check if there is space for you….sir” (no capitals in ‘Sir’ anymore).

This check consisted of him wandering away for 5 seconds, coming back and saying “I think we can fit you in”. We were led down an odd tubular corridor, down through one floor that was obviously not yet in use, another floor that looked fully kitted out for diners and to the lowest floor with maybe 70, 80 tables in it. And less than 1/4 occupied. Veeeery full! So why the snotty attitude you tits?

So we sat down and quite soon one of the waitresses came over (there seemed to be about 1 for every 2 occupied tables) and she took a drinks order. She was not sure what beers they had but ho hum, the menu had them in. Then another of the under-utilised staff came and took our food order. Everything we asked for, she would look dazed and say “I really need to get used to these names” and we would have to point at the item in the menu. They were highly unusual items of Indian cuisine – such as a Lamb Korai or Chicken Tikka…. Hmmmm.

We chatted and sipped our beer. And chatted. And sipped. And chatted some more about ?how long? – and watched the table next to us get a bit short with waiting staff and the “man in charge” had to come over and appease them. And then he came over to us and asked if everything was OK. Brendan was a star “We ordered almost an hour ago so shall we just settle for the beers or are we likely to get any food soon?”.

Within 5 minutes we had our starers. The waitress came over and asked who was having the chicken and I said yes – and she gave me the fish. To be fair it was hard to tell as, like many up-market restaurants they were creating an “atmosphere” by keeping it too dark to clearly make out items on the table. But the added interest was that every couple of minutes or so the lighting would raise a little, only to dim again the next minute.

The starters were very nice, to be fair, and once we had swapped them around we enjoyed them. And the mains came soon after. Mine was too salty but other than that nice enough. But certainly not as nice as the price indicated it would be.

We ate the food and left, pausing on the way out to point out to each other the dust and poor finish in certain areas 🙂 It had been an entertaining evening but not for any of the reasons the restaurant would want is to remember it for.

We retired to the bar in Jury’s and enjoyed a couple of drinks with some other conference early arrivals before retiring at a reasonably sensible hour. Day zero was over and I felt ready for Super Sunday and the rest of the conference.

For tradition’s sake I left my cashmere jumper in the bar. I do it every year.

Friday Philosophy – Hello….?Dave? December 2, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, UKOUG.
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8 comments

In 2 days time the UKOUG Tech16 conference starts. I love this conference, I’ve been to all but 1 one of them in the last 15 years – but I am not going to go on about why I like it so much again.

Gratuitous Minion Picture

Gratuitous Minion Picture

I’m going to tell you one reason I don’t like it. Names! Names of people I know. Names of people I have known for years and who I’ve seen and spent time with at many of the UKOUG Tech conferences. Yes, I have mentioned before that I am terrible with names (and all memory task to be frank) and I know others have the same problem. But for me, the annual UKOUG conference is particularly bad – and I’ve even started developing some anxiety about it.

Why is UKOUG Tech particularly bad for me?

  1. I’ve been going to it for so long I know many, many people there from prior conferences, some of whom I have met a dozen times now, had meals with, got drunk with… Let’s stop there.
  2. There are a lot of people there who I meet at other UKOUG events and other conferences. We have a LOT of speakers at this conference and I must know 75% of the database ones and half the others.
  3. As I present every year at UKOUG and now help organise the event, lots of people recognise me – but I don’t really recognise them!

That last point is an interesting one, it’s similar to when people who work in television met “the public”. Sometimes those members of the public assume they know the television personality – as they see them on TV so often. So when I present or chair a session people see me and are reminded who I am (I usually admit my name when I present). I might have spent time chatting to them so I DO know them – but with my memory and the fact that I do not have a regular reminder of their name, in my head they are either Dave or Sarah (if I can’t remember your name, mentally those are the names I give you. I can usually determine gender…).

One example is John Lancashire. I’ve known John for years & years, we get on really well. We always catch up with where we are in our jobs, what odd things have happened in our lives and the like. We had a chat on Facebook a couple of days ago and plan to meet up again this year at the conference. Only whenever I meet him for some reason I want to call him Richard or Patrick and I have to run through the counties of Northern England to try to remember his last name to trigger his correct first name. All the time I’m internally screaming “He knows I’ve forgotten his name! He knows, He’ll be offended!”.  Women seem to get particularly miffed if you get their name wrong. Maybe that is why, as a young man, I was utterly incapable of “chatting women up”. Name anxiety kind of makes you nervous.

So the name thing is particularly bad for me at UKOUG and part of the reason for this post is as an up-front excuse and to say “sorry!!!”

But the other reason for it is – I am not alone in this. Lots of us struggle with names and those who don’t probably can’t understand why we do – we just do!

So it would be really nice, everyone, if you could wear your badge so your name is easy to see. So not on your belt, not in your pocket and please try and not locate it near your groin or your breasts, as it unnerves people when I stare at them in those locations. I have to confess that I am a repeat offender for having my badge down by my crotch as, well, I’m short and the lanyards are long. I have to remember to shorten it. (The lanyard, not the crotch).

One thing I forgot to ask the UKOUG to do this year is do what the Bulgarian User Group do – make sure the name is on both sides of the badge. That really helps and the UKOUG ones seem to always spin to the none-name side.

So if I meet you at a conference and I look panicked, it’s probably name-anxiety. And if I call you Dave or Sarah you know exactly why. What’s bad is when I meet a Dave and call them Patrick.

From Forms to DB v12.2 via Ask Tom, the Real World Performance Team, & The Optimizer Lady – UKOUG TECH16 next month November 7, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG, User Groups.
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In just under 1 month the annual UKOUG conferences are happening – Tech16, Apps16 and JDE16

screenhunter_124-nov-07-13-05

All three run from Monday the 5th December through to Wednesday the 7th in the centre of Birmingham, at the International Conference Centre – and if you are registered for the main conference you can register for free for Super Sunday the day before the main conference kicks off. Places on Super Sunday are limited and are allocated on a first come first served basis.

{I do not usually sat this but -this post is my opinion, not sanctioned by UKOUG. I may do a lot for the UKOUG but I’m just a volunteer not a member of the board or employee}.

I’ve been coming to the UKOUG Tech conference for pretty much the whole of this century. I think I started in 2002 and I have only missed one year since then and I come for the whole event every time. Why am I so keen to make it to this particular conference? Because it has a huge breadth of technical content and the UKOUG is independent of Oracle – that last point is vital and some people do not realise that UKOUG is an independent user group. They are not financially supported by Oracle and they can put on whatever talks they want to. I like to think we have a mutually beneficial relationship with Oracle but it is not a marriage!

As a result of that independence we (and I can & should say “we” as I am involved in organising the conference) do not have to follow the current sales and marketing direction of Oracle Corporation. If you have seen any Oracle marketing activity over the last 2 years you would have picked up on a slight “cloud” bias from them. If you went to Oracle Open World 16 then you would have had 5 days of being force-fed cloud, cloud and more cloud. Cloud is going to save the world it would seem.

Only Cloud is not everything. Many companies that use Oracle are not going to cloud-based systems yet, some have no interest in cloud offerings and though only a fool would ignore Cloud, most technicians are here and now still mostly dealing with traditional services that are hosted somewhere on your premises.

So what do we have at Tech16? Up to 14 concurrent sessions running through each day. Have a look at the agenda here. There are 3 or 4 database streams on each day, at least two streams covering development and pretty much 3, at least one whole stream dedicated to Systems (including engineered solutions like Exadata), Big Data and Business Analytics, plus other streams on each day.

The 12.2 version of the database is out. But it isn’t. It’s in the cloud but it is not in OTN to download. So where exactly is it? Even now, that is not clear and Oracle Corp is not helping to make it clear. But it will be at the conference. We have talks on 12.2, what is in it, what is new. So if you want to know the latest, you will be able to get a lot of information about it at UKOUG Tech16. It’s not 100% clear if it will just be called “next generation” or not. After all, when it is generally available maybe Oracle will call it something else. I’m hoping for Oracle Twelveteen.

A complaint I hear from people over and over again every year is that there is nearly always 2 or more talks of interest at any time, for almost any point in the conference. Whilst I sympathise with how annoying that is, what this indicates is that we get so many excellent talks submitted to the conference that we are able to pick only good ones :-).

This is not to say we get the scheduling totally right. With so many streams, with each delegate’s sphere of interest being different and with the juggling that happens as some speakers have to ask for slot changes or pull out (stuff happens, sometimes a speaker cannot make the event no matter how much they would like to), the ball is occasionally dropped and talks on very similar topics occur at the same time that would have been better spread apart. If this happens, please let one of the organising staff know so we can track how often we get it wrong and learn for next year. (But please, don’t shout at anyone – a lot of people put a lot of effort into this).

As for the content, it is across the board. We have talks on Forms as we realised is was a missing area and is still used by lots and lots of people. We have our introductory pathways that are explained in the conference brochure – a recommended itinerary of talks for people new to that area of tech. We had deep dive stuff for the ner… very technical people. And we have some of the best speakers in the business plus the official word from Oracle. Connor McDonald is doing the Database keynote and a couple of other sessions and the other half of “Ask Tom”, Chris Saxon, is presenting too – and both will be taking questions. “SQL Maria” Colgan will be talking about in-memory and the Real World performance team is represented by the evergreen Graham Wood. I know I’ve concentrated there in the DB part of the conference but it’s the area I know best and the one the majority of you looking at this blog will be interested in.

This did not happen at one of the socials. You did not see this

This did not happen at one of the socials. You did not see this

There is another reason I come to the conference (overlooking the slight issue that as I help organise it I am not going to miss it!) which is the social side. Other conferences have social events that secretly we at the UKOUG are envious of – but the larger you get the harder it is to organise special events but we try to ensure there is plenty of stuff going on after the talks. We make sure there are a couple of events each evening that we can all get together at – Exhibition Drinks, Community Drinks and the Tuesday party. Drinking is not obligatory but meeting people is!

Or this - move along, nothing to see

Or this – move along, nothing to see

I go to UKOUG TechXX for the content. I stay up until late for the social. If you have never been before and you have the opportunity, well I’ve been coming along for 13 or 14 years. I must think it’s worth it.

Tech 16 – We Want Your Abstracts on SE, Real-World & Practical Topics May 25, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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The Call for Papers is open for the UK Oracle User Group annual TECH conference. It’s in Birmingham, in December, and is being co-located with the JDE & Apps conferences too (and the call for papers is open for them also).

ScreenHunter_100 May. 25 10.02

If you are a Standard Edition (SE) expert, have a real-world story to tell about how you used Oracle (good or bad!) or want to teach others how to get going with some aspect of Oracle, I really want to see your abstracts.

You can register as a speaker and submit abstracts here at this link. You have until June 1st, so that’s just under a week. Plenty of time 🙂

I love this event, I’ve been going since 2002. Last year was the best for many years, almost everyone I spoke to felt it had regained the energy of prior years, attendance was up, lots of new faces were there and, a real sign of a good agenda, people complained that they were having to pick between excellent talks.

A couple of things have changed a little in the last two years, which I think have increased the overall appeal of the UKOUG conference.

First is that we now have “introductory streams”. These are talks that need no or little prior knowledge of the topic and give you all the information about it to get going. The conference had become a little too “expert-focused”, packed with great talks about esoteric aspects of tuning or internals that many of us love – but not everyone is ready for or interested in. We will still have lots of those, but we are giving more talks for those who are not experts (yet). This will be the third year we are doing this due to it’s success. If you are an expert, how about offering a paper that gets people started? Such talks tend to get much larger and enthusiastic audiences.

Second is the Standard Edition stream. This was really popular last year, the first ever dedicated stream of sessions for SE at any conference. Lots of you use SE but like the small kid in the schoolyard, it tends to get ignored. Last year we chose introductory talks, for obvious reasons, this year we are aiming for more depth – can you talk for 45 minutes about an aspect of SE, help people really make the most of it?

Third is more emphasis on real-world experience based talks. They are always the most popular, especially if they are about things not working out as the theory or Oracle Sales Guys would make out. The UKOUG is a User Group, we want to share good, bad and ugly. Personally I’d love for someone to step up to the mark and give some talks about real Cloud adoption or why Cloud is NOT the answer to all requirements.

Of course, we are always interested in the latest-greatest, just-released and did-you-know-about type talks too. But to be honest, we get lots of those 🙂

Presentations & People, Friends & Fun, Whisky & Wet Laptops – UKOUG Tech15 December 10, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG, User Groups.
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Whisky?
Wet laptops?
I’ll get to them…

The UKOUG Tech15 conference ran earlier this week, from Super Sunday on the 6th through to the final sessions finishing at 16:20 on Wednesday 9th. In fact, I see on twitter that some people kept the fun going into Wednesday evening. I have to admit up-front my personal Bias – I was the database lead for the volunteers doing content and agenda planning. If you did not like anything about the Database stream content or how it was organised, please blame me and PLEASE either let me know direct or the UKOUG office. We can only try improve to things if we know they need improving.

UKOUG conferences suit everyone - at all levels

UKOUG conferences suit everyone – at all levels

So, having stated my bias, I actually thought tech15 was the best UKOUG Tech conference we have had in a few years. I feel this was helped by our return to the ICC in Birmingham as, for us old hands, it just felt like coming home. Also, the venue just works for us. Admittedly the spread of rooms over several levels can be a bit confusing for the new delegates & presenters, but you soon get used to it and the signage is pretty good (but I know we need to do better for some of the smaller Executive rooms hidden in what feels like the janitorial basement of a “Die Hard” movie – I love the irony that the “executive” rooms are in the least plush part of the place). Over the years we have worked out {mostly} how to make the space work best for us.

Just like the rooms, I feel the main conference works for people at all levels, just like my friend Svetoslav and I :-). {for some reason people often want to take a picture of us two together…}. For the last two years we have specifically included introductory-level talks and aimed to suggest an introductory thread running through the conference. This year there was a thread for each and every stream. The idea is that if you already know your technical area, the topics of interest to you, and those speakers you feel talk to you then you are able to pick you talks quite easily (apart from the inevitable clash of 3 talks at the same time that are great – sorry!). The intro pathways are intended to help those who are new to the tech (or just that area), who cannot easily work out what is suitable or accessible. Plus, there is some importance to helping guide beginners to presenters who are easier to digest. Some presenters are technically very, very strong – but you need to actively listen rather than expect to be entertained.

Where are the bad guys,  Bruce?

Where are the bad guys, Bruce?

We kicked off with Super Sunday which was focused on more technically deep-down material. It was bigger than ever before and we had 7 streams, two on Database. I have to take my hat off to Brendan Tierney who was unable to get to Super Sunday on time – due to storms between Ireland & England on Saturday – but still managed to present! Mike Vickers on the Business Analytics committee swept into action, found a video of Brendan doing a similar talk elsewhere and made it happen. The session went well, I heard it was great to hear Brendan but not have to put up with him actually in the room 🙂 {JOKE! He’s a good friend}. Super Sunday was fully booked well before the day, we had a great crowd and everyone seemed to really enjoy the event. I only heard good feedback – apart from one thing. How did we make the mistake of putting Connor McDonald in such a small room? Our bad, so sorry about that :-(.

Getting back to the main conference, we had a Standard Edition stream this year, on Monday. We gave a full stream to this, 7 sessions, a big chunk of the Database content that day. It was a bit of a risk but when Joel Goodman suggested it at the planning kick-off meeting we agreed it was an area we ignored and felt there was a need for. Joel had been inspired by Jan Karremans, Philippe Fierens & Ann Sjökvist (of “SE Just Love It” fame) who had all started evangelising about it. Again, I heard great things about the sessions I did not get to, really enjoyed what I did and it seems we were serving a need in the community. So, doing what we should be doing as a user group, which is heartening. I actually think Oracle Corp is listening to the user community on this one and modifying its position, which is of course great for everyone.

Database Keynote

Database Keynote

I missed out on the conference keynote by Neil Sholay. I am allergic to conference-wide, oracle-business-direction talks. It would seem I should get over myself as I missed a cracking and insightful presentation. People I talked to said it was the best conference Keynote that had heard in a long while.

I feel I do have to mention two other sessions and those are the panel Q&A ones on the DB stream – I advertised them before the event and they were an Optimizer panel (by Jonathan Lewis, Maria Colgan, Chris Antognini and Nigel Bayliss – who is the new SQL Maria 🙂 ) and the Database Keynote which was part presentation and then an open Q&A. Dom Giles & Maria Colgan took questions with their boss, Penny Avril, and these questions were totally unsighted. Some came from people before the session (and a big thankyou to the people at the curry the night before for adding *significantly* to that) and then the audience came alive and asked what they wanted. In both sessions Neil Chandler & I played “Dick and Dom” or “The chuckle brothers” maybe, putting forward the questions and trying to get to the audience members brave enough to ask at the time. I think by the end of the second session we almost knew what we were doing.

I won’t go into other sessions as I saw so many good ones and heard about many, many more. I asked around a lot and the general consensus is we had content people wanted across all sessions, streams and days. But please provide us with session feedback, it is very important to the speakers and the organisers.

quite a crowd wishing to try a dram

quite a crowd wishing to try a dram

The other side of conference is, of course, the social side. I spend as much time now out of sessions as in them, catching up with friend and meeting people I have never come across before or, the special joy of a conference, meeting someone in the flesh you previously knew only via social media, email or reputation. The best place to catch up with a lot of people is at the evening socials organised by UKOUG. This year a few of us added a “secret” element to the Community Drinks, which is that several of us brought along whisky to try. We know whisky (or even alcohol) is not everyone’s taste but it was just a bit of fun, an extra dimension to everything else on offer. And boy it worked. It got crowds around the tables and then others with no interest in the whisky came to chat to the crowds and it was all very amiable. The only “problem” was, so many of use brought along a bottle (or even two) that we had something like 18 whiskys {from all over Scotland as well as Irish and Welsh). The idea came from and was done by the community, to benefit the community, which is just perfect “User Group”. I’m going to acknowledge Thomas Presslie & Neil Chandler for that.

The Irish was popular, but not the JW Red Label?

The Irish was popular, but not the JW Red Label?

As well as the organised UKOUG social events there are plenty of people going of in smaller or larger groups to have a meal or sit around a table in a quieter pub, which is where you get to really know people. I wish I could do more of that, but with only 3 days I inevitably get to the end of the conference and think “I never had a nice pint with X… or Y… or….” well, enough for a couple of goes through the alphabet. I try and do more by hanging about in the hotel bar but that can be a dangerous thing to do! Even though I established a reputation for having a Nice Cup Of Tea at around 11pm.

Then there is the final part of conference for me. I’m there to help. All of us on the committees, the UKOUG volunteers and of course the UKOUG staff are there to try and make sure presenters and delegates alike have a good experience. Some presenters, like Zahid Anwar, Mike Dietrich, Chris Lawless and Chris Saxon step in with only a couple of weeks or less to fill a hole in the agenda that opens up. Some people will even step in to provide a talk at the drop of a hat. And we nearly had that this year in three incidents I know of directly. The first I already mentioned, with Brendan being replace with a video of himself. But we had someone we could have asked if the video did not work out. Zahid lost his laptop en-route and had to chase it across the train lines of the Midlands. He contacted me and I pre-warned people we might need to do a quick swap, but got in just in time. As for Chris…

Chris Saxon came over to me about 16:00 on Tuesday. “Hmm, I have a bit of an issue. My laptop got wet and has stopped working”. Chris was not doing a normal presentation, he was doing demonstrations. We fired up his damp laptop and it could not see his disk. So I looked up the local Maplins and sent him that way and I went to my hotel and got my own laptop. We managed to take his disk out the laptop and put it in an external caddy, via which I could see the contents when we plugged it into my machine. After messing with permissions we got the bare necessities over to my machine and then Chris worked his magic to make his “SQL Magic” session work on this foreign machine. He was very grateful, which is nice, but it’s sort-of what we are there for. I want him to be able to present and you guys & gals to see it. So I was more than happy to help it happen.

The one downer was that I now had to be there early Wednesday morning before his session, to get my laptop to him and allow him a final test. That would have been fine if I had not been naughty and stayed out way too late Tuesday night. I did not get anything like enough sleep before I got up a bit too late and rushed over to the room he was presenting in. But it happened and, I have to say, Chris was remarkably calm and organised throughout the whole experience.

BTW for anyone who was in the actual session and saw me “storm out” when he slagged off my machine – he knew I was going to pop out. I was “a bit tired” from the night before and had not even sipped a cup of tea, so I had to get something to eat/drink or fall over. I did come back and take my seat again but I know a couple of people thought I had thrown my toys out my pram 🙂

It was a great conference. I can’t wait for UKOUG TECH16. Next December. In the Birmingham ICC.

UKOUG_Tech15 – One Last Big Conference to Round Off 2015 and it’s a Cracking One December 2, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG, User Groups.
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It is December so it must be time for the UKOUG annual Tech conference. And it is! It is being held from Monday 7th December to Wednesday 9th December at the ICC in central Birmingham, UK. You can see full details here at their main website. It is taking place at the same time and location as the Apps15 and JDE15 conference. Of course, I am both blessed with inside knowledge and biased as I have helped with the organisation this year, specifically on creating the database stream content. But I am sure this year, on it’s return to the conference spiritual home of Birmingham, it’s going to be the best Tech15 conference in years.

You can still register for the event. If you or your organisation have UKOUG membership and you have not registered yet, you are really missing out. If you are not a member, you can still register and pay for the conference alone – or join the UKOUG membership at a level where conference passes are included which makes way more sense. Information can be found at this link

If technical content is your thing, you might still be able to register for Super Sunday {Update – Super Sunday is now fully subscribed, but you can ask to be on the waiting list}, which is free if you are registered for the main event. Details can be found here but in summary it is a 7-stream afternoon of deep dives into database, development, APEX, Business Analytics and Integration topics with speakers such as Connor Mcdonald (half of the new Ask Tom – how many slides will he cover?), Mark Rittmam of Rittman Mead fame, Luca Canali from CERN, Product manager of PL/SQL and EBR Bryn Llewellyn (with guest appearances by Jonathan Lewis and Stewart Ashton)… Basically, lots of good stuff.

Not just this bunch of ACE's and ACEDs...

Not just this bunch of ACE’s and ACEDs…

There is of course lots of technical content in the main Tech15 conference and a whole host of top presenters – and also new presenters, some of whom are sure to become the big names of future years. As a User Group, the whole aim is to grow the knowledge and expertise of every member of UKOUG.

I just can’t pick names from the list for the main conference so I’ve stolen an impressive tweet put out by Sten Vesterli about the number of Oracle ACEs and ACE Directors who are presenting at Tech15. I did a quick count and it looks like about 58 to me!

You might be more interested in the official word from Oracle as to the direction of the company and the technology. We have lots of presentations by Oracle themselves, the conference keynote by Neil Sholay on Re-imagining the role of IT for Digital, and technical keynotes for all of the specific streams. I’ll make a special call out for my “own” database keynote, which is something special this year. Dominic Giles, Penny Avril and Maria Colgan will give a review of What’s New and then take questions – any questions – from the floor. No questions placed by them, real questions. You can see details (and how to submit questions) at my blog post about it here.

There is also the Exhibition Hall where we have something like 60 exhibitor, all happy and willing to show you what services and solutions they can offer you. And a free pen :-). This is where we all gather for coffee and lunches and mingle with exhibitors and attendees alike.

I’ve been going to the UKOUG Tech conference for well over a decade now, I have only missed it once in that time (and that was for a Significant Milestone Holiday) and I go for 2 main reasons:

  1. The technical content I have mentioned already.
  2. The social side.
but all of this bunch too

but all of this bunch too

Tech15 is a huge conference for a user group with several hundred people there –  and yet there will be a hundred plus people there I know. It is such an established and friendly group that though I meet some people only at the conference each year they have become good friends. For me personally, this is now the main point of the conference, but then I guess we all have different things we want to get out of the event.

The social side is very important. On Monday evening there is the  Community drinks. This is where there will be people from each of the SIG (Special Interest Groups) run by UKOUG to talk to you about their party of the community and give you a beer, wine or soft drink. There are rumours that some whisky tasting will be on offer….

After the Community Drinks most people head out to one of the many bars or restaurants around the conference centre. You will find a crowd in All-Bar-One or one of the other places over the bridge from “the back” of the conference centre. Later on you may well find a bunch of people in the bars of the larger hotels.

On Tuesday we start with Exhibition Drinks in the exhibition hall for an hour or so and then there is the Big Birmingham Bash – from 18:45 until late with various entertainments, drinks and food. We join up with Apps15 and JDE15 for this. Again, if this is not enough for you then you and your friends can move on to the surrounding bars and restaurants after.

I’m really looking forward to the event and meeting lots of old friends there, as well as people I only know virtually who are managing to get to the conference this year. I’ll be there from Sunday, I know I will learn a lot over the four days, have a good time and probably stay out too late. I’ll be worn out by Wednesday – but it’s worth it.

A Different Type of Keynote & Jonathan Lewis Panel Session at UKOUG Tech15 November 27, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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Technical people tend not to enjoy Keynotes at conferences. We are allergic to content-light “there has never been a better time to invest in our products” fluffy, frou-frou, big picture talks. We want how-it-works meat on the bones of what is served up to us.

OK, it's a very poor photo but the best I have of Dom presenting. Sorry Dom.

OK, it’s a very poor photo but the best I have of Dom presenting. Sorry Dom.

Well, at the UKOUG Tech15 conference this year (Birmingham ICC 7th-9th December) we have a treat for you – The Database stream keynote is technical AND you get to ask whatever questions you want – questions about Oracle RDBMS technology that is.

Dominic Giles, Maria Colgan and Penny Avril have agreed to be up on stage and, after the first half telling us about some of the things introduced at Oracle OpenWorld 2015, they will take questions. Questions they do not know are coming. Real questions. From people at the conference. Your questions. These are not questions that have been placed by them or checked with them before hand.

Dom does this at smaller user groups; he stands up and asks for any questions from the audience and he just tells it the way he sees it. His incredible knowledge of the product is matched only by his humour (so no huge expectation for you to live up to there, Dom!). Maria and Penny are similarly endowed with knowledge and great presentation skills and are willing to give this a go for us. Brave people.

{I think in the photo Dominic has just been asked about why something in Oracle does not work – and he’s trying to decide whether or not to kill the person who asked…}

You will be able to ask questions on the day, at the session, but you will also be able to post questions at the UKOUG information desk on Monday and I am happy for you to send me any questions you have (mwidlake@btinternet.com or leave a comment on this blog – I don’t think Maria, Dom or Penny drop by here very often so they won’t see them…:-) ). Of course, there is no point asking a question if you do not intend to be at the conference and at that session!

Having run similar sessions to this at smaller events, I know that you need some questions to get the ball rolling and then, with a little luck, the audience warms up and asks questions. The key thing is, no matter the source, the panel do not know the questions before-hand. I’ve seen sessions like that, with placed questions, and it just comes over as fake.

Why did I mention Jonathan Lewis? Well, on Monday at 11:20 he is doing another panel session taking questions, with Nigel Bayliss, Christian Antognini and Maria Colgan (again – we work them hard). This session is focused on the Cost Based Optimizer. We already have enough initial questions but if you are curious about the optimizer and performance, maybe ask your own question from the floor, it’s a must-see session. Jonathan talks about this session in this blog post.

So at UKOUG Tech15 you have two panel sessions in the database stream where you can ask questions. We also have several “Roundtable” sessions across the whole agenda which are perfect for asking questions too. If you have never been to one, a Roundtable session is more a discussion in a smaller group, with one or two experts “officially” there as well as usually some unofficial experts in the crowd. Panel session are “pose your question, get expert answers”, roundtables are more interactive, more like a conversation in the bar. They can get quite lively (but fights are rare) :-).

All in all, we are aiming for a good dose of interaction between presenters and delegates. And never forget, most of us presenters are more than happy to chat and answer questions throughout the conference. Just don’t ask hard questions if you meet us in the evenings, when we are half-drunk…