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Getting Your Transaction SCN – USERENV(COMMITSCN) January 19, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in development, performance, SQL.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

A few days ago I was introduced (or re-introduced) to USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) by Jonathan Lewis. This is an internal function that allows limited access to the SCN of your transaction.

I was trying to find a way to get the actual commit SCN easily as it struck me that Oracle would have it to hand somewhere and it would be unique to the change and generated very efficiently. I could not find anything to do it so I asked Jonathan and he pointed me straight to this post he did about it a while back. What a nice chap. However, the post is from 1999 (last CENTURY!) so I thought I should just check it out first…

I’ll say up front that this is an undocumented feature of a now-deprecated function. Well, almost undocumented – older SQL reference manuals mention that ‘commitscn’ returns a NUMBER as opposed to the VARCHAR2 returned by most parameters you can use with USERENV, but it does not list it as a valid parameter for that function.
USERENV has been deprecated since Oracle 10g (see the old 10g documentation link here about USERENV) and you have been instructed to use SYS_CONTEXT(‘userenv’,’parameter‘) as described in the 12c database SQL reference manual here. However, there is no way to get the commit SCN from SYS_CONTEXT that I can find, so I thought I’d check out if USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) still works. It does, on my version of Oracle 12.1.0.2!

There are some strict limits to this function. To begin with, you can’t select it, you can only use it on insert/update:


-- attempt a simple select of the SCN
mdw> select userenv('commitscn') from dual;
select userenv('commitscn') from dual
               *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-01725: USERENV('COMMITSCN')  not allowed here

--But I can use in an insert,
mdw> insert into test_scn (seq_no,vc1,scn_no)
  2  values (100,'abcd',userenv('commitscn'))

1 row created.

mdw> select * from test_scn where seq_no=100

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
       100 abcd         11144739

-- Now commit my new record
mdw> commit;
Commit complete.

mdw> select * from test_scn where seq_no=100
  2  /

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
       100 abcd         11144753

--LOOK at the value for SCN_NO now! Compare to before the commit!

If you look at the above you will see a couple of things. The first is that, as I said, you cannot SELECT the function USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’).
The other is, though a value is put into the column when I insert a row using it, and I see that when I query the information back, it changes when I commit. This is because Oracle is recording something at the point of commit, not at the point of the SQL statement running – and the new SCN is only generated when you commit. A lot could have happened since I did the INSERT, I might have gone for a cup of tea and a batch job kicked off doing 1 million transactions, each with it’s own SCN. So though a placeholder of the current SCN is put into your view of the table row, the value put in the actual table is generated at the time of the commit.

Another limiting rule is that you can only reference USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) once in a transaction, for one row. If I try and create 2 rows using the function in the same transaction I get an error, if I try to update more than 1 row I get an error:

mdw> insert into test_scn (seq_no,vc1,scn_no)
  2  values (101,'abcd',userenv('commitscn'))

1 row created.

mdw> insert into test_scn (seq_no,vc1,scn_no)
  2  values (102,'abcd',userenv('commitscn'))

insert into test_scn (seq_no,vc1,scn_no)
            *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-01721: USERENV(COMMITSCN) invoked more than once in a transaction

-- now test updating several records
mdw> commit;
Commit complete.

mdw> select * from test_scn;

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
         1 AAAAAAA      11143743
         2 AAAAAAA      11143746
         3 AAAAAAA      11143749
         4 AAAAAAA      11143774
         5 AAAAAAA      11143777
       100 abcd         11144753
       101 abcd         11145543

mdw> update test_scn set scn_no = userenv('commitscn');
update test_scn set scn_no = userenv('commitscn')
       *
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-01721: USERENV(COMMITSCN) invoked more than once in a transaction

-- but one row works
mdw> update test_scn set scn_no = userenv('commitscn') where rownum =1;
1 row updated.

USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) is old, undocumented and limited in use. So why am I looking at it, let alone even telling you all about it? {Apart from the fact that a lot of you *love* this sort of obscure, tid-bitty stuff}. Well, as there is no replacement for it that I am aware of. You can get the current SCN in a couple of ways, the easiest probably being to get it from V$DATABASE:

mdw> select current_scn from v$database;
any key>

CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11146718

However, that is the last SCN used at the time you check it and is not the SCN when you commit. ie it is a different thing. I always find it irksome on those odd occasions when something is deprecated in Oracle with nothing really to replace it.

I just demonstrate again that USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) is a little special below, and not the same as just selecting SCN from V$DATABASE. Before I go any further, I think the value USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) puts into the table is the actual COMMIT SCN minus 1. I mostly think this as Jonathan said so:-). I do see each time I run this test that the first select from V$DATABASE and then my insert and a commit straight away results in a value in the table 2 higher than the select.

Further iterations (2nd and 3rd in this case) show the value selected from V$DATABASE and the value inserted into TEST_SCN immediately after are the same, and are 3 higher than the previous iteration. I anticipated an increase of two, once for the change to the UNDO tablespace for the insert and once for the insert. I am not sure where the third one comes in.

However, in the fourth iteration I have a PAUSE in my SQL*Plus script between checking V$DATABASE and doing my insert and, in a second session, I do some simple inserts and commits {it does not matter what, so I don’t show it}. Thus the difference between the SCN I collected from V$DATABASE and the value inserted into the table.
Finally, in the fifth iteration, I check the value in V$DATABASE, do the insert, query it back and see the two are the same. And THEN I pause so I can do some changes and commit them in my second session. After I’ve done that I continue my first session which commits my latest insert into TEST_SCN. I check the values actually stored in the table and, just as at the top of this post, you see that the value actually preserved in the table is a later SCN than the placeholder one. It is doing something special.

(the below has the noddy code to create my test table and sequence as well as the test)

-- test_scn1
--create table test_scn (seq_no number,vc1 varchar2(10),scn_no number)
-- create sequence scn_seq;
select current_scn from v$database;
insert into test_scn values (scn_seq.nextval,'AAAAAAA',userenv('commitscn'));
commit;
select * from test_scn;
select current_scn from v$database;
insert into test_scn values (scn_seq.nextval,'AAAAAAA',userenv('commitscn'));
commit;
select * from test_scn;
select current_scn from v$database;
insert into test_scn values (scn_seq.nextval,'AAAAAAA',userenv('commitscn'));
commit;
select * from test_scn;
select current_scn from v$database;
pause 'commit some stuff in second session and then press any key'
insert into test_scn values (scn_seq.nextval,'AAAAAAA',userenv('commitscn'));
commit;
select * from test_scn;
select current_scn from v$database;
insert into test_scn values (scn_seq.nextval,'AAAAAAA',userenv('commitscn'));
pause 'commit some stuff in second session again and then press any key'
select * from test_scn;
commit;
select * from test_scn;
select current_scn from v$database;

-- the output of the test
mdw> @test_scn1

--check V$DATABASE SCN
CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147809

-- Create and commit 1 row
1 row created.
Commit complete.

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
-- note that the inserted SCN is 2 higher than the current SCN.

--Same steps, 2nd iteration
CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147814

1 row created.
Commit complete.

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
        12 AAAAAAA      11147814
-- select SCN and inserted SCN are the same, 3 higher than first iteration

-- same steps, 3rd iteration
CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147817

1 row created.
Commit complete.

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
        12 AAAAAAA      11147814
        13 AAAAAAA      11147817
-- select SCN and inserted SCN are the same, 3 higher than first iteration

-- 4th iteration, a pause
CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147820

'commit some stuff in second session and then press any key'
-- I did indeed change and commit some stuff in second session, before I create my record in test_scn

1 row created.
Commit complete.

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
        12 AAAAAAA      11147814
        13 AAAAAAA      11147817
        14 AAAAAAA      11147831
-- larger gap in SCN (11147817 to 11147831

-- 5th iteration, pause now after insert and before commit
CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147834

1 row created.
'commit some stuff in second session again and then press any key'
-- I did indeed change and commit some stuff in second session 

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
        12 AAAAAAA      11147814
        13 AAAAAAA      11147817
        14 AAAAAAA      11147831
        15 AAAAAAA      11147834

-- Notice the current_scn from V$DATABASE and the last row in the table match, 11147834..

Commit complete.

    SEQ_NO VC1            SCN_NO
---------- ---------- ----------
        11 AAAAAAA      11147811
        12 AAAAAAA      11147814
        13 AAAAAAA      11147817
        14 AAAAAAA      11147831
        15 AAAAAAA      11147842

-- But after the commit the SCN in row "15" has increased to 11147842.

CURRENT_SCN
-----------
   11147851

-- and the next check of V$DATABASE SCN shows the usual increase of 3 by the commit.

As you can see from the above, USERENV(‘COMMITSCN’) is doing something a little special and, despite all the limitations, I might actually have a use for it…

Friday Philosophy Guest: Open Source Projects January 15, 2016

Posted by amitzil in Architecture, Friday Philosophy, Guest Post, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
4 comments

This post is Guest Post by my friend Liron Amitzi, an Oracle Ace, presenter and instructor who specialises in Oracle design & infrastructure. You can find his blog over here.  And with that, over to you Liron:-)

 

I have been wondering about open source projects for a while. I’ve talked to quite a few people about it, and still don’t really understand some of it. So I decided to write a post about my thoughts regarding this issue.

I’m not going to talk (or even mention) specific projects, but it is very interesting to me how these projects run.

During the years I have worked with quite a lot of open source software and I like some of it a lot. I completely understand how small projects work, such as text editors, small schedulers and others. With these relatively small projects, I can easily see that someone needs such software and simply sits down and writes it (alone or in a small group). When it is ready, I can see that they want to share it with the world – and open source is perfect for that. I can even understand that they will want to update it, add features, support it a little bit, etc. Another side to it that I can see is a developer that writes software to get his reputation going in the community: in order to get a job, an interesting project or simply fame.

However, I’m quite puzzled with the big open source projects, such as databases, queue management, large monitoring systems and more. I know that behind at least some of these software products, there are actual companies that invest money and people. And I don’t really understand how it works as companies need to cover their expenses, salaries, and of course, make a profit.I know that there are many ways to make money out of open source projects. Some companies charge for support, some for education & courses, and some for professional services & consulting. However, in some cases the companies that provide these services are not related to the company that sponsored the development.

So what makes a company develop or support a development of an open source project? I can think of a couple of reasons:

  • As the software will be free and open source today is very common, it will get this software many potential customers and foothold
    After getting a foothold, the company can charge for specific features or other complementary software.
  • Business decisions can also be a cause. A company that makes a lot of money from software might decide to give some back to the community so people will “like” the company more.

Still, when it is a big software project and requires a lot of resources, I can’t see why a big company will go for open source.

  • First, they can make it a freeware without releasing the code.
  • Second, at the bottom line, they will have to make money on this somehow.

So, if they release the project as an open source but charge for education or professional services, I guess that the education and professional services will cost more, so at the end they will make the same amount (and we will pay the same amount) as with licensed software and cheaper courses and professional services.

Am I missing something?

What do you think? I’d love to know.

About Liron

Liron Amitzi and Steven Feuerstein

Liron Amitzi and Steven Feuerstein

Liron Amitzi is originally from Israel and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. I met Liron at the UKOUG Irish User Group conference in Dublin last year and again at Oracle Open World 2015, when it struck me that he looks a lot like  Steven Feuerstein (Liron is on the left). Liron has been an Oracle ACE since 2009 and has helped run the Israel Oracle User Group since 2011. He specialises in High Availability solutions, design, infrastructure, performance and recovery. As well as presenting he is also an instructor and lecturer in Oracle course.

The IT Blight of Working During Holidays December 24, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in humour, on-call, Private Life, working.
Tags: ,
6 comments

I’ve been thinking today about those people in IT who are going to have to either work or be on call during the festive period. Twitter has become a lot more quiet today and most of the activity is not-work-related. My blog traffic is now a trickle and there is a general feeling of doing more family, non-work things for a couple of days, which I think is good for all of us from time to time. Maybe more times than current working culture and practices allow for.

The endless daily grind - even at Christmas

The endless daily grind – even at Christmas

But in the IT industry, especially if you are an administration-type (DBA, Sys Admin, Network Admin, stuff like that) there is often a need to do work at this time as systems are quiet or can even be shut down. Some places do release and upgrade work over the quiet period, so developers and designers can be pulled into festive-season work too. Even if you are the sort of organisation that has a code freeze for Christmas/New Year, there will be a rota of people who need to either monitor systems or respond if something goes “Bang!”. Those of us “blessed” with those roles will be on the on-call rota, tasked with at the least staying sober and often with monitoring duties. For some people in some organisations, you know you will in fact have an endless stream of “why in the heck am I having to do this” tasks to do.

I’ve done my share and I feel for those who are made to work over this time who really would rather not. In fact, I’ve done more than my share. Actually, A lot more than my share. You see, I do not have children – my wife and I established very early on in our relationship that producing new versions of me was a damned bad idea, even if new versions were leavened with her better characteristics {and if they got her worst ones along with mine, ohhhhh terrible consequences}. So as someone with no children there has always been more pressure on me to take more than my 1/number-in-team share of the Christmas, New Year, Easter, Bank Holiday etc work. I’ve also come under pressure not to take time off during school holidays, to cover for those who need to do so for the sake of fitting in with the kids. Now, I don’t want to go away on holiday when everywhere is covered in kids as kids are too self-centered, noisy and annoying (ie very like me) for me to put up with. But I would like occasionally to have a week off, in the summer, to sit in the garden. But the biggest pressure has always been over taking more of the Christmas work. Because, I am told, it is important family time – it’s for the kids

I get that, I do. But then, if you have kids they are actually your fault. You did things to have them. Trust me, I’ve got a degree in biology, I know where kids come from:-). At the start of my working career I was fine to take on more of the work/monitoring/staying sober duties. But as the status of not-having-kids lasts a lot longer than having-young-kids (or more recently, with people my age, young-grand-kids) it had been a constant expectation of me for about 20 years – until I stopped playing. I stopped on the grounds, after 2 decades, that I had Done My Bit. I threw my toys out my pram and said I deserved my share of time off at Christmas (to pick said toys up, of course). I solved the problem more recently by trying to be unemployed at such times.

Anyway, forgive the rant, I feel better now. But my extra-Christmas-Duties have made me realise more how much of a pain it is to have to work when most people are enjoying themselves. So I feel for those that are having to do it and do not want to. I truly know how it is and all I can say is “thank you for doing your bit”. Especially if you have done it despite having young kids. And especially if you have had to do it for 20+ years to cover for all those damned work-shy parents (joke!).

The ironic thing is that this year I will be working over Christmas. But I don’t mind as it is my choice. And I am doing so in warm sunshine, with a glass of wine, and in fact I can stop whenever I like. That is the joy of writing over doing stuff people need to be done now.

Merry Christmas everyone, especially to the unwilling workers.

Miserable Dark Days of Winter Relieved by Data December 22, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in humour, off-topic, Private Life.
Tags: ,
2 comments

This post is all about my fascination with short day times and hits on my blog on the topic, it is not even to do with why the day time is so short in the UK, Europe & US right now. This is nothing to do with Oracle databases or working in IT – go elsewhere and look at eg XKCD or Dilbert now if that is your thing…

I’ve blogged a few times at this time of year about the oddity of when evenings start drawing out being around a week before the shortest day, and even about how I have become fascinated by how popular this off-topic post has become. Worry not, I shall not go over that date-discrepancy material again or how we in the Northern Hemisphere wrongly think our winter is when we are furthest from the sun {when in reality it is when we are closest!}. If you want to know all that stuff I updated this post to cover the details for 2015.

Fundamentally, when I worked every day, every week in the City I just hated having to travel to work in the dark, sit in a dull room all day and then drag my backside home in the dark. It was hammered home to me how much I hated it one year when I worked in a huge open-office environment where I sat in the center of the building – on the ground floor of a 10-story-building. I stared out into the “Light Well” in the center of the building. There was no “Light”. Even at midday on a day blessed with cloudless sunshine, there was no real light. What we got was a grey illumination over the plastic bags, scraggy weeds and dead pigeons that littered the ground at the bottom of this light *pit*. I used to escape into the light at lunch time but such was the culture of the office that actually taking a lunch break was a sign of weakness and lack of dedication. Screw ’em, I took my lunch time as I remembered being human once…

HIts on my “evenings Drawing out” blog

HIts on my “evenings Drawing out” blog

During that particular job, someone in the team left. They had found the tunnel and they dug like crazy and got beyond the perimeter fence. So a desk came up two “deeper in” the mine. But, and this was the crucial thing, it looked out in the direction of a real, stuck-to-the-outside-of-the-building window. I had moved my stuff onto his desk and my chair in his place before the smell of his daily burrito had faded at all. My boss at the time was not happy – “Why have you moved?”. “Well, the space came up”. “Did I say you could move?!?”
“Put it this way, I can now see if it is still daylight and maybe make out if it is raining or not. I could move back, but then I could start randomly killing my work colleagues – What do you prefer?”. He shut up.

I think I have established that I do not like the lack of daylight that Winter brings and I do not even live that far North. My friends in Scotland, Norway, Finland and a host of other would countries would scoff at my distress. But I do now have a distraction. Even as we approach and pass the day on which evenings draw out, drop down to the dismal point when the daytime is shortest (today, if you read this on the day of publication) and slowly start to pull out of the pit of winter, I watch with fascination the number of hits on my obscure web pages on the topic. My blog is all about Oracle tech and IT angst. It is not about astronomy, astrology (spit) or astrophysics. I have done 4 posts on this in 5 years and just one gets a low-but-steady trickle of google hits. And as we pass through the darkest section of the year, I watch the hits and stats on that page. As a world-wide thing it is irrelevant, as a percentage of my site hits it is a not-considerable-but-not-quite-insignificant post either. But I watch it as it distracts me from the winters’ gloom. I love the fact that there is a “june” peak when those in the Southern hemisphere find it and a larger “December” peak when the Northern hemisphere stumble across a post on a nerd’s blog site that tells them what they want to know – when it starts to get lighter.

Anyway, today (shortest day this year, December 22nd) I escape. I’m going to Madeira. It is pleasantly warm and gets 10 hours of daylight compared to 7.5 in the UK. I’ll take that. But I’ll keep watching the post all the way through December and in to January, maybe into February, as the hits on the post decrease and the evening daylight increases.

It’s a bit early, but Happy New Year everyone:-)

Friday Philosophy – Publishing rather than Presenting December 18, 2015

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

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

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

os57cover

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

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

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

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

Friday Philosophy – Inspirational Tweets: Why Do They Annoy Me so Much? December 11, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

A few weeks ago I saw this on the Twit Sphere:

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Wow. Deep. Meaningful. Let me follow that twitter account.

No. Let me not. I looked at the account and it was just an endless stream of “Inspirational Tweets” and very little comment or content. For some reason I can’t quite understand, this sort of thing gets on my nerves. No, that’s is not strong enough. It makes me unreasonably bad-tempered and angry. The first draft I wrote on this topic was a ranting diatribe of swear-words and invective {I love that word} that was completely beyond acceptable.

So I’ve been wondering, why do twitter accounts that put out lots of Inspirational Tweets annoy me so much? We have all seen them. In fact I have a couple of friends I follow on twitter who at times put out half a dozen Inspirational Tweets a day. I have to sometimes mute or “unfollow” them for a while. I think part of it is that if an account puts out half a dozen Inspirational Tweets a day, they can’t really mean them very much can they? If I had a set of short phrases that summed up important aspects of my life, such as “Always be nice to cats” then I can’t help but feel that they should be few in number and really mean something to me. They can’t really mean something to me if I have 200 of them.

Another reason is that so many of these Inspirational Tweets are actually just trite such as “when you listen, it’s amazing what you can learn” or even asinine such as “I love dramatically looking out windows on public transportation”. Yes, that is a real one. Of course, most of us put out some stupid tweets and we all have different tastes or interpretations of what is worth saying.

So I am not sure why I find them annoying – but I do. If you put out such tweets and I follow you & then unfollow you, follow you etc or I seem to go quiet (you might be on temporary mute) then just ignore it. I think it’s more my problem than yours. But you have annoyed me.

Why? Why follow me?

Why? Why follow me?

As a secondary rant of the day, I get really annoyed with these fake accounts that follow you or like a tweet of yours but having no connection to your world. Some of course are just another way of advertising something (usually soft porn it would seem – I usually spot them from the start as the account picture is some young women who can’t stop buying clothes 2 sizes too small and describes themselves as “bisexual and always follows back”…Yeah, I’m convinced). But recently I’ve had a lot of follows or likes from accounts, again apparently from young ladies, but now there are often two of them in the picture. Their tweet streams are just an endless flow of retweets, “clever” lines, the inspirational ones of course and nothing, not a thing where there is a conversation with someone else. But no soft porn. I can’t work out what these ones are actually aimed at. They don’t seem to be selling or promoting a specific thing, though they often have some films or makeup adverts retweeted, but if this is what they are selling, the content is drowned out by the stupid stuff and they are missing their audience. I’m pretty sure the content is generated though as I looked at a couple of them and the same quotes and “humorous” utterances seemed to make appearances across accounts.

If anyone could tell me if this is some type of advertising or it really is some attempt by teenage girls to increase they number of twitter friends just as a “look how many followers I have” (though I thought twitter was more an older persons thing) then I’m curious to know. It’s got to be sales, hasn’t it?

Perhaps I should stop worrying about these things and either mute or block them as them come up. Oh, I do:-)

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

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG, User Groups.
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7 comments

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.

Friday Philosophy – Sex in The Office December 4, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
11 comments

Sex in the office. It’s a bad idea – you can get hurt falling off the swivel chair or desk and there is the ever present danger of the stapler…

Though accurate, the title is of course misleading to make you look at this blog. I’ve actually been thinking about the ratio of women to men in the office, the impact it has and the efforts put in to address it. If you have somehow missed it there is something called “WIT” – Women in Technology – and it is part of an ongoing drive to get more women into the traditionally male-dominated careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics {STEM} and to help them stay there once they are in the industry. I can’t say I’ve been aware of this next aspect until the last couple of years but apparently a women is more likely to move out of IT as they get older than a man is.

There is a morning meeting on WIT at the UKOUG Tech15 conference on Tuesday at 8pm (details here) and it is open to men as well as women. I hope to be there as it is a topic I am interested in and support. However, I have to say I have some ambivalence towards it too. Why? Because at some of these meetings you get a bit of “men-bashing” and also things get suggested which are positive discrimination – and I am not a fan of discrimination, even when you put the word “positive” in front of it.

I work in the UK and I’ve worked in IT now for 25 years. The ratio of women to men in technical roles does not seem to have changed much in most of that time and has stayed at around 10% to 20%, depending on the business area. My first job was in the national health service and the percentage of women was about 20%. I’ve also been in teams where there is not a single woman. I much prefer there to be a higher percentage of women where I work than 10% – and this is not for any creepie “they are more pretty” or similar reasons, it is because when it is all or mostly men, the atmosphere is like a never-ending boy’s locker room. Juvenile humour, constant swearing and biological jokes are good fun for a while, but not day in, day out. Rightly or wrongly, when the sex ratio is more balanced, so is the humour and behaviour. I’m told women are just as bad when they are in a male-free environment – but I would not really know, would I?

I think over the last 5-10 years there has been some movement though, I think we are finally moving towards a more balanced ratio. Actually, no , it would be more accurate to say we are progressing to a less unbalanced ratio.

There is no question about the technical ability of women and I am confident in my own attitude towards having women in technical roles – I’ve hired, promoted, supported and reprimanded enough women over the years to demonstrate I don’t have any issues there. But I don’t think we will ever have equal numbers of men and women across the technical roles in IT.

Why do I think this? Because it is about numbers, percentages and factors. I have to quickly point out that I am not talking about individuals here and there are individual exceptions to everything I say, but I do run the risk of upsetting people…

One factor is the Autistic spectrum. Or maybe I should be saying Aspergers, as that term was supposed to indicate people with reduced empathy but not reduced cognition (intelligence or learning speed). I was talking to a friend about this a few days ago, the fact that when you look at people working in IT there is a tendency towards us being poor at understanding people, uncomfortable dealing with other humans and being happier working with things. ie somewhere in the mild end of the  Autistic spectrum. Obviously this is not true of everyone in IT and probably is only relevant to, ohhh, 83% of us {Joke! It is probably less than 50%}. It is certainly true of me and a few of my best friends, ironically. Technology particularly appeals to those of us who are on that spectrum, especially when we are younger, as it is easier for us to deal with something other than people. It is also true that you are less likely to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum if you are a woman than a man. Add those two together and over a large enough sample, like the working population, you will see a significant effect. Men as a population are more autistic, IT appeals to the autistic, you will get a bias towards men in IT. It does not mean all men in IT are autistic.

Another factor is of course that when children come along it is nearly always the woman who takes the lead in childcare. It does not have to be that way, it certainly should not be expected let alone forced. I’ve known couples where the father stops work and takes the main parental role (and they always run up against a lot of sexism about that, so it’s a two-way street ladies!) but it is still relatively rare. And taking time off work has an impact on career development and skills because you are not doing the job during that time. I know that when I have not done something for a year or two my skills degrade (I did not do much PL/SQL development work for a couple of years and I was rusty as heck when I went back to it properly). What is wrong is the tendency for that pause in development to be continued when people come back to work or work part time. We can help address that by making more effort to support people (women and men) coming back to work to continue onwards from where they left off, not be expected to stay still. But, over the whole industry, taking a break to concentrate on family is going to have an impact on not only the raw numbers of women in IT at any time but also career progression relative to age. Again, I stress this is not about individuals, it is about ratios and percentages.

Another aspect is that if you have a break from what you do as a career, it is an opportunity to ask yourself if you still want to do it. If you don’t have a break you are less likely to question your job and more likely to just keep turning up and doing it. Some women drop out of IT due to sexism – but some drop out as they just decide to try other things. On average men are less likely to have such a break and just trudge on, week-after-week, year-after-year.

There are other factors beyond those three but the point I am making is that I don’t think the ratio between women and men in technical roles will ever be 50:50. I would prefer it to be 50:50 but I don’t think it will be. I am also not arguing in any way about being complacent about sexism at work, not promoting women or anything like that. The fact that I don’t think we will ever have parity of numbers does not condone sexism in any way. Everyone should have the same chances and support. I’d like there to be no need for positive discrimination as we don’t have any discrimination – it is all about the individual and ability. As my friend Pete Scott put it on twitter when this post first went up – Humans In Technology is where we want to be – HIT

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…

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