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Analysing UKOUG Presenter’s – I Know How You Performed. June 16, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
Tags: , , ,

This last few days I’ve been analysing how well received previous presentations (since 2006!) have been at the UKOUG tech conferences. It’s interesting to look at the information. I’ve learnt some interesting things about all those well-known-names :-)

Like many conferences and user group meetings, during the conference and shortly afterwards the UKOUG ask attendees to feed back on the presentations, keynotes and round tables that people go to. If you chair a session, one of your tasks is to request people do the feedback forms. Talks are judged for several aspect (concept, quality of slides, presentation skills, overall value and a couple more) from 1 (very poor) to 6 (excellent). You can also add a free-text comment. The reason for an even number of possible scores it to prevent a non-committal middle score. Why not 1-8 or 1-10? I don’t really know, but I did see a blog post recently about using a wider range and it seemed to not really add to the overall benefit of the feedback as the very top and very bottom scores were never used. This information is compiled and fed back to the individual speakers, along with the average scores across the event. Speakers are very keen to know how they did compared to everyone else {no egos involved here :-) } and also any specific comments on their efforts. It is important to us speakers, we need to know if you liked or disliked what we did so we can improve. Or sulk.

This is an example of the feedback we get (one of mine, of course).
Speaker Scores

Something that has annoyed me for many years is that the speaker scores are not formally analysed and fed into the speaker selection process for future UKOUG conferences. I used to get really quite vexed by this {ie bad tempered and, well, annoying & complaining to the UKOUG office}. I suspected they were going to do to me what you should always consider doing to some loud-mouthed complainer and say “well, if you are so passionate about this – you damn well do it!”. So I offered to take the data and process it.

The information I received was not the raw feedback forms, but the average scores per talk – the information actually passed back to the presenters. Which is perfect for my purposes. I analysed data from 2006 to 2014 {though 2008 was missing), so a pretty comprehensive data set. SIG talk feedback is also missing, I’ll work with the UKOUG office to incorporate that for version 2 of the analysis.

Compiling all the data into a single rating per speaker is more demanding than first seems. Isn’t any data analysis project? Rather than consider all areas speakers are judged on I decided to score people on only two dimensions (areas to you and I) – presentation skills and overall value of the session. When we judge papers those are the two main things we want to know – can the person present well and do they usually give a talk people value.

Some of the challenges were:
– What to score speakers on – I’ve just said what I chose.
– People’s names. I need to group talks on this but it’s a free-text field of course so I had to clean that. I stripped off title, edited variations and then reviewed. For women, their Surname can alter with marital status {I find it rather archaic that this is still very common and almost exclusively impacts women. But then, I offered to my wife we use her maiden name as our married one and she was fine to take mine.} But you also get variations on first name, spelling mistakes and alterations of title. I had to solve that to group scores.
– The number of feedback forms received for a given presentation. If a presentation only gets one feedback form, how reliable are the scores? If it gets 5 feedback forms, how reliable is that? 35 forms? I came up with a weighting based on the number of feedback forms where if only 1 feedback score was given, it held less weight than 5, that held less weight than 15… etc.
– Oddities of eg co-presenters or the “speaker” actually being a facilitator, as is often the case with Round Table sessions.
– The data, as held in Excel, being “damaged”. ie it caused my analysis issues as things had been done to the data to support other purposes – what was important to the UKOUG organising the conference that year. Sorting those issues out took up most of my efforts.
– The fact that I was using Excel as the analysis tool. I’m a SQL guy!!!! But the thing is, with a relatively small volume of data and a need to constantly visually check alterations, some things are just much easier in a tool like Excel than SQL. And some things are way harder.

In the end, I got a set of scores that helped us on the Agenda Planning Day (well, it did in the database stream) and hopefully will develop over the years. It would be wrong of me to discuss how specific Oracle Names did, especially any who did poorly, but the scores informed our deliberations this year and should do so for years to come. If you want to contact me directly and ask me how you did – I won’t tell you (or anyone else). But I can talk about more generic things I discovered.

Over all presentations from 2006 to 2014
the average number of feedbacks for a session is around 10
The average for Presentation Skills is 4.6
The average for Overall Value is 4.5

So almost 4.5 out of 6 as the average scores, which is “Good” to “Very Good”.

NB I do not calculate my averages in the same way as the UKOUG office.

Because I weight my scores and remove zero values (and probably a couple of other differences, such as I already have averages not the raw scores) my average scores do not compare and are higher to the ones they issue for events. I think I am a harsher judge :-)

So what were some of the interesting things I discovered?

  • Well, for starters, scores for a given presentation rarely hit as low as 3. In fact, except for a small number of stand-out-bad talks, most scores of 3 were where only 1 feedback score was received, some with 2. We don’t seem to like giving low feedback scores. The same goes for 6. I only saw 6 if the number of feedback forms was 1 or 2. So reliable scores are between 3.01 and 5.99 really.
  • As I was stripping off people’s title by manual replacement runs, I know how many Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr etc we get. Miss and Ms go up – and down – over the years. It varies a lot, but Ms is becoming more common. What is disappointing is the consistently low number of presentations by women. But I know that in the years I have been involved, the proportion of presentations by women is in proportion to the number of submissions, or even a tad higher. Come on ladies, represent your constituents! Some of the highest speaking scores are by women.
  • Another thing I get from the person title, we get no papers submitted by Professors, Colonels (or any military bigwigs), members of the clergy or peers of the realm. Or members of royal families. They are simply not trying are they?
  • On a personal note – I am Utterly Average. Over 8 years I fall number 296 and 298 out of 623 speakers for Presentation Skills and Overall Value respectively. Have you any idea how much that damaged my ego?!? I was gutted! Where I am a little more unusual is my average number of feedback scores, which is 21.6, in the top 15%. I’m massaging my ego with that (it’s all I’ve got!).
    {what is really vexing is I dug out my scores from earlier years and they were better than my running average – and my scores are pulled down by one talk in 2010 where I really bombed. Have you any idea how tempting it was for me to delete that one talk out of the data set?}
  • Some speakers, a small number, always-always-always get high votes, mostly as they are excellent but with an added slice I suspect of of, well, they are deeply respected. But interestingly, even well known people (what I think of as the ‘B’ list and even a couple of ‘A’ listers in my opinion) can bomb. Some regularly. I mean, if you saw the scores for….no, I won’t say :-).
    But the scores for individual speakers can and do vary. I saw one speaker, who in my opinion is a brilliant technician and a fantastic speaker, be up in the high 5.8’s for one talk and then down in the low 3’s for another. That made me dig in further and there are several people I know and hold a similar opinion on who have high and low talks. So that makes me feel that the user feedback scores are generally reliable and even respected speakers will get a poor score if the talk misses it’s mark. The best just simply never miss the mark, or not by much.
  • Not to be too harsh, but if you score 4 or below for either presentation skills or overall value and got 3 or more feedback forms – you bombed.

But bombing occasionally is OK. I’ve bombed (well, this close to bombed) and I’ve learned. Many excellent presenters have bombed. We all alter in our presenting skills over time. Most of you get better over time – I’ve got a tiny bit worse! But if you bomb all the time? Then maybe presenting is not your thing. It is not the only route to spreading the word, maybe try writing. But, again to be harsh, if you can’t present we owe it to the delegates of the conference not to select you to present.

Those of us organising the content know, as a group, who the best speakers are. We ensure that they get slots. And we have a good feel for who the better speakers are and they get looked on “favorably”. We do this as we want the best content and experience for the audience. Eric Postlethwaite may be a genius at VPD and know it inside out, but if they present like a cardboard cut-out with bad breath then the session will be a failure. Judging scores are the top filter but we on the planning committee keep in mind how good a speaker is. What worried me was that this was not scientific, it was word-of-mouth and gut-feel, which is why I spent many days in Excel World to take the raw feedback and convert it into scores. I want the audience feedback to influence the content.

If you speak (or have spoken) for the first time and your scores are below average, don’t worry too much. As you can see from the above, you are up against a pre-selected set of known, excellent speakers. Hitting average is actually something of an achievement (and I would say that as I am Mr Average!).

One thing jumped out at me. I looked at all the comments (and I do mean all) for a couple of years and I noticed that you get the odd person who tries to “make a point” by adding the same comment to all the speakers’ feedback forms they fill in. Don’t do that. The speakers do not deserve your ire at the conference. It’s childish of you. If you want to raise an issue with the conference as a whole, don’t spam it on the speaker feedback forms, you dilbert, be an adult and contact someone involved in the conference organisation direct. Oddly enough, we DO like to have people come and say what you felt did not work, but spamming it on all the speaker feedback forms is just non-directed trolling.

I said I would not name names, it is not fair. But I’m going to name one though, and this is based on MY opinion of what I have seen looking at the stats. This is not official UKOUG opinion. Connor McDonald? Your presentation skills are awesome. I wanted to edit your scores down through pure envy. You are a good presenter, sir.

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

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

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

Anyway, Why DO I volunteer for user groups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you do it? (or not).

My First Published Article April 21, 2015

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

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

Tips on Submitting an Abstract to Conference April 17, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,

<.. The tech15 committee and my role
<…. Who plans the Tech15 content

The call for Papers for UKOUG Tech15 has gone out. This is how most of the content for a large conference is sourced, by asking the community to submit abstracts for consideration. With smaller conferences and user group meetings the organisers can often get enough talks by hassling asking people they know.


Firstly, I would encourage anyone who has considered talking at conference but never has, to submit an abstract. We could easily fill the whole event with known speakers but we don’t. We have a policy of having some New Blood at every conference. {If you are in the UK and want to try out presenting then a great way to do so is by presenting at a smaller user group meeting, like for example the next RAC/Database UKOUG SIG meeting on July 1st :-) – It’s a friendly, relaxed way to get into presenting. Get in touch with me if it appeals to you}.

You can click on this link to go to the submission page, but before you do…

When you submit an abstract for a conference, you are not actually at that point communicating with your potential audience. You are communicating with the handful of people who are tasked with going through all the submissions and selecting the papers. With the UKOUG conference you are also communicating with the volunteers who will judge abstracts. And we, the agenda planning committee, take those judging scores very seriously. It is a large part of how we attempt to ensure we select the talks on topics that people want to hear about, as well as the people who you want to hear talk.

So when you get to the field where you describe your proposed presentation (the abstract) I would suggest you don’t want to be “teasing the audience” at this point. The people who are judging and selecting the papers are seasoned conference attenders. A catchy title might get you noticed but if the abstract does not clearly state what your talk is about, what you intend to cover and who you expect your audience to be, it makes it less likely that your abstract will get selected.
Also, if you have looked at the call-for-papers page and associated notes and have seen that we are particularly interested in some area (eg “what you need to know about ….” for the database stream) and your paper is addressing it, it is worth making that a little bit obvious. The agenda planning day is hectic, we get tired and tetchy and our brains start to leak out of our ears. If your abstract is clear about what you are talking about, you are increasing your chances of selection.

In years gone by we have given the people the option to give two versions of your abstract – the one for judging and the one for promoting your talk (that is the one that gets put in the conference notes and your potential audience will read and decided if your talk is worth their attention). However, many people felt this was asking for the same information twice so we have reverted back to a single abstract this your. However, you can change your abstract text after your talk has been accepted {but note, we are wise to people trying to change the actual content of the talk later on – we LOOK at the changes!}. So sell your talk to the committee and judges now and worry about the catchy reference to your favorite movie afterwards.

I used to make my submission abstract humorous (well, in my eyes) but I don’t anymore, or at least I tone it down. If anything, I make the abstract factual and simple. As an example:

How Oracle Works in 50 Minutes
This is a high level but technical talk about the key processes that underlie the Oracle database. I describe what an instance is and how the server process is the gateway to the instance. I cover how the redo mechanism works and why it is critical, how data is moved into and out of memory, delayed block cleanout, what a commit IS, the importance of the undo tablespace and how a read consistent image is maintained for the user. The intended audience is new DBAs or developers who have never been taught how the database works and at the end of the talk they will understand how these key processes work.

OK, the description is a bit boring but you know exactly what my talk is going to be about and if it will fit in your conference.

So what happens when you click on the above link to submit an abstract? You will see the below front screen:

Submission Screen

Submission Screen

I would suggest you not only read this screen but also check out the menu on the left of the screen. Look at the “Hints & Tips” and also the stream you are intending to submit to (eg “Systems” if you want to present on Exadata). If you are unsure which area your talk fits in, check them all out.

the big red Submit an Abstract will actually take you to the same place that the left menu “Speaker Application” takes you too. The first step of submitting an abstract is actually saying who you are and registering on the system. If you are willing to judge abstracts (ie you ticked that box) you will then get to indicate what topics in what streams you are willing to judge. THEN you will be put into the “Speaker Lounge” and you can enter your abstract by clicking the “Submit” button.

When you come back to the system, you can go straight to the Speaker Lounge, the system will show you your details again so you can correct anything. You will see what abstract(s) you have submitted and click on them to check or change anything, or click on “Submit” to add another abstract.

Think carefully before you submit 15 abstracts. As a general rule, more than 3 and you start to reduce your chances of having a paper selected. People judge your papers will score you down if you submit too many, it’s like you dilute your judging scores over all the abstracts.


Who Plans The Content of UKOUG Tech15? March 26, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,

<..Who are the Tech15 committee and my role
….submitting an abstract..>

When you go to a conference like UKOUG Tech15 there are hundreds of talks given over several days and a dozen or so streams. Who decides what is presented and how do they decide?

You do. Well, I’d say you have about 60-70% of the input, if you are a member of the UKOUG (and I know many reading this are not – but you are probably members {via your employer, if not personally} of other user groups. And, if you are not, you can probably benefit from joining one.) The point is, the members of the UK Oracle User Group have a fair say in what gets talked about at the UKOUG conferences. And, though not all are run in the same way, I know several of the large oracle conferences run on similar principles. You also provide the raw material, the proposed talks. That is open to each and every one of you, member or not. Anyone can offer a talk.

What about the other 30-40% of the input? Well, that would be me :-). {Note, British ironic humour}. As I mentioned in my first post about organising Tech15 I am the Lead for the database area this year, and some people did blame me last year for the content – but being the Lead does not put me in charge. There is a technical committee that decides what they feel should be the overall structure of the conference and have the final 30-40% say in what talks are given.

I’ll go into more details about aspect of the paper selection process in future posts, but the general structure is thus:

  • The steering committee meet for a kick-off meeting and decide on:
    • Who is in which committee (though this is pretty much sorted out before the meeting).
    • the general structure of the event – The major areas (Database, Middleware, Development, Business Analytics and Hardware/OS/Engineered), the number of streams each major area gets each day, the length of sessions and if anything is happening outside the main 3 days of the conference.
    • How we handle the labeling of topics in our streams (endless discussions there!).
    • Topics and considerations that we feel are important to our streams that should be mentioned in the call for papers.
    • How we will run the sub-committees and overall committee – again, this is generally known but we look at what we learnt the prior year and change accordingly.
  • The call for papers goes out (it will be the 13th April to 10th May this year). This is advertised by the UKOUG, being sent to previous paper submitters, the User Group members and is announced in the UKOUG mailings, tweeted and several other avenues. The committee will have suggested areas to submit for, but what is submitted is up to the presenting community – and this can alter our thoughts on content.
  • Judging – From 20th April to close to the Agenda Planning Day, volunteers and members of UKOUG are asked to judge the paper abstracts. These scores are important for the next step…
  • Agenda Planning Day – the steering committee members get together and spend pretty much a whole day reviewing the abstracts, the judging scores, the slots available, what we know of the speakers and presentations, the spread of topics, percentage of established and new speakers and half a dozen other things to come up with the rough agenda. It’s a bit of a bun fight, but we get there in the end. Every abstract is looked at along with it’s judging score.
  • Speakers are informed if their papers are accepted, rejected or we would like them as reserves – and the speakers confirm or decline acceptance or reserves (and occasionally question rejections). Sometimes a speaker will be asked if they would modify a submission.
  • The technical committees may well try and source some papers where we feel a topic is under-represented or to fit with some other aim (like a stream at a given level).
  • Reserves are slotted in to replace any speakers who decline and any clashes, alterations and agenda tweaks are dealt with as they arise.
  • The agenda is launched (ie we say what is on it) mid July.
  • From the agenda launch to the start of the conference, any paper changes are handled as they come up – usually a speaker pulling out or needing to change dates but occasionally other issues.

Why is it called “Paper Selection” when people are talking? Why do we talk about abstracts? Well, conferences pretty much started off as scientific conferences and you would submit you scientific paper – and then read it out to the conference. The abstract is a brief “why you should read my 35 page argument with long, impressive words for why I think hyaenas are more closely related to cats than dogs” {they are}. We inherit those terms.

So you can see that the steering committee has a fair input, so how do WE get chosen? Fundamentally, it is via a call for volunteers from the UKOUG community. The UKOUG ask people to volunteer in their regular emails to members/volunteers. (Volunteers have to be members of the UKOUG but the membership may well belong to a company. The UKOUG keeps track of the nominated contacts for an organisation, who are responsible for the membership management, but also the individuals who have helped out at any time under that membership. As an example, someone in purchasing or HR may be the nominated contact for the memberships a company has with UKOUG, but it is members of the technical IT staff who come to the events and may start helping out).
The office UKOUG staff/board members may well ask one or two of the experienced volunteers known to them to take a lead and help chose which volunteers to accept. Or, more commonly, to go and pester people they know to step up and volunteer! New volunteers are always part of the mix, we recognise that without new people and perspectives we will stagnate, and they challenge us when we say “we always do it this way”.

I have not mentioned Oracle Corporation involvement. Strictly speaking, people from Oracle are not volunteers and are certainly not members. They are Oracle Liaisons. The UKOUG gets good support from Oracle, we have talks from them, we have some SIG meetings in their offices. Oracle Corporation of course is happy to talk about the latest/greatest aspects of Oracle and if they can get us all fired up for an extra cost option, so much the better for them. But the relationship is generally balanced and varies over the years – and is influenced by individuals. Some people who work for Oracle will push to be allowed to help out the UKOUG, some product managers are more than happy to come and give talks about free, standard or old features as well as the shiny new stuff. Others I am sure see us as an annoyance. The input we get from the Oracle Liaisons is very helpful and appreciated – but don’t think it buys acceptance of whatever Oracle Corp want. I had to help deal with an Oracle product manager last year who was upset that their area had very few talks. It got as far as them almost demanding some slots. However, the number of talks submitted and the poor judging scores for those few that were told us on the committee that the user community were not currently interested in that topic. So no talks. Faye and I talked it over, I gave the logic and reason and she was good enough to then deal with Upset Product Manager.

I have helped with the agenda planning day a couple of time – I think I got pestered to help way back in 2007 or 8! – and I have been a SIG chair and deputy chair as well as a regular presenter, so I am a known soft-touch for helping the UKOUG. A key aspect to my being the Lead is simply that I have more free time than most other volunteers, so I can be got hold of and can spend a bit of time thinking about things and making decisions. This can be important on the run-up to the actual event as you sometimes need to make decisions quickly and a group discussion may not be the best way to do it. I might check with a couple of others (and I usually do) but the key thing is to make a decision in the timeframe allowed.

So that is who the Agenda Planning committee are and where we fit in. We are volunteers, filtered and guided by some old hands but with new blood each year. We aim to guide and give structure but the talks submitted are what anyone wants to submit. Judging scores by the community are key to paper selection and though Oracle Corp supports they don’t get to dictate.

And if all else fails, blame the committee Leads.

Creating UKOUG Tech15 – The View from the Inside March 3, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,

….Who plans the content of Tech15>
……Tips on submitting and abstract>

At the end of last week I was contacted by the UKOUG who asked me if I would agree to be on the planning committee for the annual technical conference this year – Tech15. Not only that but I was privileged to be asked to repeat my role from Tech14 and be the Lead for the Database area. I am of course happy to do so.

UKOUG_Tech15 Banner
Why do I mention this? Well, this year I intend to share what is involved in helping to organise the content for an event like this, to give a view from the inside. This will mostly be by postings to my blog but also on twitter (@mdwidlake – see the little “twittering” section on the right margin of this page).

Most of the logistical work required to run the conference is done by the team at UKOUG. The UK Oracle user group is large enough that it has a small, dedicated team of paid staff – it needs to, pure voluntary efforts by people with day jobs simply could not run something that is the size of a small company. The office team, helped by the board-level volunteers like Debra Lilley and Fiona Martin, decide on and book the venue (I’m pleased to say that 2015 we are returning to the ICC in Birmingham after 2 years “holiday” in Manchester and Liverpool, and will be on the 7th-9th December – see the Tech15 announcement here) and deal with the hundreds of issues there, including catering. They of course run the registration system, the negotiations with sponsors and vendors wishing to participate, promotion of the event and all the other tasks that go with running any conference, be it I.T., politics, businesses or science fiction. We volunteers do not get involved with any of that, the office staff are highly proficient at such things. Also, that side of it is probably not of much interest to you lot so I won’t say much about it. I’ve helped with the logistical side for smaller events (Tech & Life Science conferences and, yes, a science fiction convention) and most of it is dull and very job-like.

We volunteers do the part that the office staff would struggle with, which is decide on the content. I’ll describe the process in a later blog or blogs but as we volunteers work with the technology we know the subject matter, what is current and coming and, between us what the audience is likely to be interested in. We also have input into decisions about how content is delivered and the things that surround it – the social events, the timing of the talks, any pre-event activities. Basically, aspects that will impact the attendee enjoyment are generally passed by us.

That is the part I’ll mostly try and share with you as we go through the process. For now, I’ll just mention that my friend Anthony Macey did this nice piece about being a volunteer for Tech 2014

Usually when I blog it is very obviously my opinion and no one else’s. I don’t feel the need to have that usual weaselly disclaimer to absolve others of any association with what I say. However, for postings about preparing UKOUG Tech15 I will be in some ways talking about the efforts and actions of others and could be seen as representing the UKOUG. I am not – all opinions and errors should be heaped on my shoulders alone. I did take the step of asking the UKOUG if they were happy for me to run this series of blogs and if they wanted oversight of the postings – they were good enough to say that they were happy for me to do it and that they would not require oversight. So I have their blessing but am a free agent.

If anyone has any questions about the conference and how it is organised, please feel free to get in touch. I can’t answer questions on everything, but if there is some aspect of how it is organised that your are curious about then please ask (so long as it is notwhy did my talk on blargh get turned down“).

Learning for free – UK User Group Meetings Coming Up February 20, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG.
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There are a few user group meetings coming up in the UK over the next week or two.

Note, you need to register to attend any of these, follow the links.

First is Club Oracle London, which are evening sessions held in London with 3 talks plus free beer and pizza. The next meeting is Thursday Feb 26th at 103a Oxford Street, kicking off at 18:30. You can register for this free event here and also see more details. In brief, Simon Haslam is talking about Oracle Database Appliance, Martin Bach on 12C new features the marketing guys don’t push and finally Phil Brown giving a virtualisation case study, how NOT to do it.

On the 3rd March there is the 8th meeting of Oracle Midlands – again an evening event but this one is in Birmingham. Again, it’s free and samosas {lots of samosas!} turn up half way through to keep you going. Held at Innovation Birmingham near Aston University, there will be Chris Saxon on using Edition Based Redefinition to release PL/SQL to busy systems (ie the PL/SQL code is constantly being executed) and Tim Hall talking about Pluggable Database and why this new feature can “break” things. Tim is good enough to say how you fix the broken (I wonder if the single logwriter will crop up?). They give away some free stuff too!

Finally, on the 4th March and back in London there is the next next UKOUG RAC, Cloud, Infrastructure & Availability SIG. Bit of a mouthful that but we can’t come up with a snappy name that covers the remit of the SIG. We are trying a new format for this SIG, inspired by the two above events. We still have a full-day’s-worth of content but we start at 15:00 and go on into 20:00 in the evening. We hope that this will allow more people to attend without feeling they need to lose the whole working day to it. NB this event is free to UKOUG members but you can pay to come if you (or usually your employer) are not a member. We have talks by Jason Arneil on 12C ASM, Dave Burnham talking about free text searching, David Hickson presenting on linux OS resource management and Jamie Wallis from Oracle on TFA – Diagnostics for the Cloud. Plus a panel session where we discuss whatever you want to discuss!

I’ll be along to Club Oracle London and the RAC CIA SIG but sadly not Oracle Midlands – just can’t squeeze it in which is a real shame as it’s an excellent event.

If time, travel requirements and inclination allow, there are usually beers at a local pub after all the above where you can continue to talk about oracle stuff. Or not. It’s usually a mix :-)

Finally, a quick plug for the OUG Ireland on 19th March. This is a full, one-day conference with more speakers than I can cover, held in Dublin. There are loads of excellent presenters, many are Oracle Aces, Oaktable members and experts in their field. I’ll be there doing my favorite talk, but I’ll do a separate blog about that.

UKOUG Tech14 Suggestions for Intro Talks and My Picks of the Rest December 4, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Meeting notes, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,
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As I mentioned in my last post, we tried to organise a thread of intro talks into day one and two of this year’s UKOUG Tech14 conference (you can see the agenda grid here). It was not complete but I thought I should pull it into it’s own post and add in what I would recommend from the overall agenda for people who are relatively new to Oracle RDBMS.

Monday 8th

  • 08:50 – Welcome and Introduction
    • Get there in time for the intro if you can, as if you are newish to the tech you are probably newish to a conference.
  • 09:00 RMAN the basics, by Michael Abbey.
    • If you are a DBA type, backup/recovery is your number one concern.
  • 10:00 – How Oracle Works in 50 Minutes
    • My attempt to cover the basic architecture in under an hour.
  • 11:30 – All about Joins by Tony Hasler
    • Top presenter, always good content
  • 12:30 – Lunch. Go and talk to people, lots of people, find some people you might like to talk with again.
  • 13:20 – Go to the Oracle Keynote.
    • The keynote itself is shorter than normal and afterit there is a panel discussion by technical experts.
  • 14:30 is a bit tricky. Tim Hall on Analytical Functions is maybe a bit advanced, but Tim is a brilliant teacher and it is an intro to the subject. Failing that, I’d suggest the Oracle Enterprise Manager round table hosted by Dev Nayak as Database-centric oracle people should know OEM.
  • 16:00 – Again a bit tricky for someone new but I’d plump for The role of Privileges and Roles in Oracle 12C by Carl Dudley. He lectures (lectured?) in database technology and knows his stuff, but this is a New Feature talk…
  • 17:00 – Tuning by Explain Plan by Arian Stijf
    • This is a step-by-step guide to understanding the most common tool used for performance tuning
  • 17:50 onwards – go to the exhibition drinks, the community drinks and just make friends. One of the best thing to come out of conferences is meeting people and swapping stories.

Tuesday 9th

  • 09:30 Maria ColganTop 5 things you need to know about Oracle Database in-Memory Option
    • This is actually the Database technical keynote, about one of the key new technologies.
  • 10:30 Introduction to Oracle Application Express by Joel Kallman
    • APEX, as it is often called, is a simple but powerful way to develop applications. It’s probably THE most common thing that DBA-types don’t know and  wish they did?
  • 12:00 If you know any Java then Jacob Landlust on What all DBAs need to understand about JDBC Configuration or else Pete Finnigan on Secure, Review & Lock Down your Oracle Database.
  •  14:00 Chris Lawless on Zero Downtime Migrations using logical Replication
    • Good as he covers the principals of such things which teachers you a lot
  • 15:00 A bit of a struggle for a general Intro talk so I will plump for…Tim Gorman on RDBMS Forensics: Troubleshooting Using ASH as I know Tim will explain why understanding and solving performance issues is a science, not an art
  • 16:30 Tom Kyte on SQL is the best Development Language for Big Data
    • If you are new to Oracle, you pretty much have to go to at least one Tom Kyte presentation.
  • 17:30 Jonathan Lewis Five Hints for Efficient SQL
    • If you are new to Oracle, you pretty much have to go to at least one Jonathan Lewis presentation :-)

Oh, what the heck…

Wednesday 10th

  • 09:00 Jonathan Lewis Fundamentals of trouble shooting Pt1
  • 10:00  Jonathan Lewis Fundamentals of trouble shooting Pt2
  • 11:30 Tim Gorman on three types of table compression
  • 12:30 Tom Kyte More things about Oracle Database 12C
  • 14:30 Alex Nuijten Oracle 12C for developers
  • 15:30 Neil Chandler Goldengate – Migrating my first TB


Each year I struggle more and more to get to all the talks I want to, partly as there are so many clashes of good talks but also I end up in interesting conversations with old friends and suddenly realise I’ve missed a talk. Or my brain hits “full” and I have to take a breather.

However, my intended agenda is:

  • 08:50 Welcome and Intro to delegates prior to…
  • 09:00 Martin Bach on Oracle 12C features that didn’t make the marketing top 10
  • 10:00 Myself, HOw Oracle works in 50 minutes
  • 11:00 Coffee and recovering!
  • 11:30 Hmm, I want to go to four… Maybe Robyn Sands, Why Solid SQL still delivers the best ROI.
  • 13:30 Oracle Keynote panel
  • 14:30 Tom Hall on Analytical Functions..Or maybe Larry Carpenter on Active Data Guard…
  • 16:00 Antti Koskinen , Undocumented 11g.12c Features Internals
  • 17:00 Graham Wood, AWR: looking Beyond the Wait Events and Top SQL


  • 09:30 I have the pleasure of chairing Maria Colgan’s Database Keynote, Top Five Things you need to know about Oracle Database in-Memory option
  • 10:30 Joze Senegacnik, Most common Databse Configuration Mistakes
  • 12:00 Richard Foote, Oracle database 12XC New Indexing Features
  • 14:00 Damn… I’ll plump for Maria Colgan on IN-memory and the optimizer. Sorry Tim and Chris
  • 15:00 Now Tim, on RDBMS Forensics and Ash
  • 16:30 Chris Antognini on adaptive query optimization
  • 17:30 it better be Pete Sharman, hot over from Aus, doing deployment best practices for Private cloud, as I am chairing him


  • 09:00 Patrick Hurley, Adventures in Database Administration.
  • 10:00 Me, on boosting performance by clustering data
  • 11:30 Richard Foote, indexing in Exadata
  • 12:30 Tom Kyte, More things about Oracle 12C
  • 14:30 chairing Ganco Dimitriov on the importance of having an appropriate data segmentation
  • 15:30 Last one, 3 to chose from… Neil Chandler on Goldengate I think

Drive home and sleep


How do you Explain Oracle in 50 Minutes? December 2, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, conference, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,

I’ve done a very “brave”* thing. I’ve put forward a talk to this year’s UKOUG Tech14 conference titled “How Oracle Works – in under 50 minutes”. Yes, I really was suggesting I could explain to people how the core of Oracle functions in that time. Not only that, but the talk is aimed at those new to Oracle technology. And it got accepted, so I have to present it. I can’t complain about that too much, I was on the paper selection committee…

* – “brave”, of course, means “stupid” in this context.

As a result I am now strapped to the chair in front of my desk, preparing an attempt to explain the overall structure of an Oracle instance, how data moves in out of storage, how ACID works and a few other things. Writing this blog is just avoidance behaviour on my part as I delay going back to it.

Is it possible? I’m convinced it is.

If you ignore all the additional bits, the things that not all sites use, such as Partitioning, RAC, Resource Manager, Materialized Views etc, etc, etc, then that removes a lot. And if not everyone uses it, then it is not core.
There is no need or intention on my part to talk about details of the core – for example, how the Cost Based aspect of the optimizer works, Oracle permissions or the steps needed for instance recovery. We all use those but the details are ignored by some people for their whole career {not usually people who I would deem competent, despite them holding down jobs as Oracle technicians, but they do}.

You are left with a relatively small set of things going on. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a lot of stuff to talk about and is almost certainly too much for someone to fully take in and digest in the time I have. I’m going to have to present this material as if I am possessed. But my intention is to describe a whole picture that makes sense and will allow people to understand the flow. Then, when they see presentations on aspects of it later in the conference, there is more chance it will stick. I find I need to be taught something 3 or 4 times. The first time simply opens my mind to the general idea, the second time I retain some of the details and the third or forth time I start integrating it into what I already new.

My challenge is to say enough so that it makes sense and *no more*. I have developed a very bad habit of trying to cram too much into a presentation and of course this is a real danger here. I’m trying to make it all visual. There will be slides of text, but they are more for if you want to download the talk after the conference. However, drawing pictures takes much, much, much longer than banging down a half dozen bullet points.

One glimmer in the dark is that there is a coffee break after my session. I can go right up to the wire and then take questions after I officially stop, if I am not wrestled to the ground and thrown out the room.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments about what I should or should not include, I’d love to hear them.

This is all part of my intention to provide more conference content for those new to Oracle. As such, this “overview” talk is at the start of the first day of the main conference, 10am Monday. I have to thank my fellow content organisers for allowing me to stick it in where I wanted it. If you are coming to the conference and don’t know much Oracle yet – then I am amazed you read my blog (or any other blog other than maybe AskTom). But if you have colleagues or friends coming who are still relatively new to the tech, tell them to look out for my talk. I really hope it will help them get that initial understanding.

I had hoped to create a fully fledged thread of intro talks running through all of Monday and Tuesday, but I brought the idea up too late. We really needed to promote the idea at the call for papers and then maybe sources a couple of talk. However, using the talks that were accepted we did manage to get a good stab at a flow of intro talks through Monday. I would suggest:

  • 08:50 – Welcome and Introduction
    • Get there in time for the intro if you can, as if you are newish to the tech you are probably newish to a conference
  • 09:00 RMAN the basics, by Michael Abbey.
    • If you are a DBA type, backup/recovery is your number one concern.
  • 10:00 – How Oracle Works in 50 Minutes
    • I think I have said enough!
  • 11:30 – All about Joins by Tony Hasler
    • Top presenter, always good content
  • 12:30 – Lunch. Go and talk to people, lots of people, find some people you might like to talk with again. *don’t stalk anyone*
  • 13:20 – Go to the Oracle Keynote.
    • Personally, I hate whole-audience keynotes, I am sick of being told every year how “there has never been a better time to invest in oracle technology” – but this one is short and after it there is a panel discussion by technical experts.
  • 14:30 is a bit tricky. Tim Hall on Analytical Functions is maybe a bit advanced, but Tim is a brilliant teacher and it is an intro to the subject. Failing that, I’d suggest the Oracle Enterprise Manager round table hosted by Dev Nayak as Database-centric oracle people should know OEM.
  • 16:00 – Again a bit tricky for someone new but I’d plump for The role of Privileges and Roles in Oracle 12C by Carl Dudley. He lectures (lectured?) in database technology and knows his stuff, but this is a New Feature talk…
  • 17:00 – Tuning by Explain Plan by Arian Stijf
    • This is a step-by-step guide to understanding the most common tool used for performance tuning
  • 17:50 onwards – go to the exhibition drinks, the community drinks and just make friends. One of the best thing to come out of conferences is meeting people and swapping stories.

I better get back to drawing pictures. Each one takes me a day and I need about 8 of them. Whoops!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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