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Time for Bed, said Zebedee November 15, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
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Zebedee has just boinged onto my TV screen on his big-spring lower body and told us all that it is “time for bed”. I concur Zebedee. Good night everyone!

zebedee

For those of you who are not of UK origin and of “a certain age”, Zebedee was a character on the BBC Children’s TV Program The Magic Roundabout. At the end of the program (5 minutes of oddly surreal kids entertainment) more often than not Zebedee would arrive (if not already present as part of the narrative arc) and announce “Time for Bed” and that would be the end of the program. I won’t go into the rest of the details but for those of us who grew up with it, Dougal, Florence, Brian, Zebedee and Ermintrude the cow were large in our childhood. Dylan though was odd… {for anyone wanting a nostalgia trip, try this episode}

Well, for me it is “Time for Bed” children. I started working in IT almost exactly 24 years ago on the 13th November 1989, arriving wearing my new (cheap) suit with (shiny) briefcase clutched in my hand at a (tatty) office block in Bristol owned by the NHS. It housed their regional computer department for the South West of England.
And on the 15th November 2013, I will exit a much plusher office, no suit on, no briefcase, and I will go home and, for many complex reasons, I will “retire”. This does not mean I will stop working in IT and it *may* result in me being a more regular blogger and more of a teacher than I have been for 2 years, but let’s just see, Boys and Girls.

What it does mean is I am stopping doing the 2 hour commute into and out of London every day, wasting my life. It means I am not signing up for 6 months on a single project on the basis of a couple of 30 minute interviews. I am also not signing up for 4 weeks and then finding it becomes six months – as when that happens it is *always* 6 months of misery trying to undo the work of a dedicated hoard of hopeful but under-skilled youngsters being forced to do a job they lack the training for by people who should not be allowed anywhere near management positions (as they see “management” as a way to gauge their importance, polish their egos and garner more cash – rather than as a role that should encompass “nurturing, developing, admonishing and making the most of your team(s)”.). It means I won’t have to play by corporate rules any more, which is good as I am finding it harder and harder and harder to do that without coming home and being really quite mean to my cat, and she does not deserve that as she is friendly and quite forgiving really. Neither does my wife deserve it, but if I am mean to her, she punches me.

What I do hope will happen is that, after a couple of months to get a few things sorted, I will continue to get the odd call I seem to get about once a month where someone would like me to just help out with a specific problem. Occasionally I have been able to say “yes” and it has been interesting and enjoyable, but usually I have been in the middle of one of the situations that resulted in my rant above and have had to say no. If I do get the calls, it will be great. I would like to earn enough so I can still do the conferences and present and meet people and talk about interesting problems and drink beer. If not, I have a lot of other things I want to have a crack at.

So I am not sure what awaits me now. But I am “retired”. I have calculated that from now to my demise I can afford to buy a tin of beans every day until I die. Plus some bread, so beans on toast is possible. That is enough. I did not retire 9 months ago (as was my original plan) so, as a result, now I can afford once a week to buy a very cheap bottle of wine. Something better than Blue Nun. If I get more work, I could step up to beans and cheese on toast. Hmmmm!

A loss from the UK User Community – Graham Gilbert July 17, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Perceptions, Private Life, UKOUG.
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Last week, as part of organising the AIM and Database Server joint UKOUG SIG tomorrow {which I should have blogged about but just never got around to}, I was made aware of the fact that a man called Graham Gilbert died back in April.

Anyone who has anything to do with the RDBMS parts of the UK Oracle User Group probably knows Graham as he ran the RDBMS SIG for years and years and years. For the rest of you, you missed out as Graham was a Jewel. I can’t say he was a close friend, after all I was not aware he had died, but I was saddened by it – and that is unusual as I am particularly sanguine (callous?) when if comes to death. {For example, on hearing about the death of my own father, who I did actually like and get on with, my immediate and on-going response was “damn, that’s inconvenient”}.

I was saddened as Graham was one of those rare beasts – a person who helped, encouraged and supported people. Everyone who met him seems to have liked him. {If you DID meet him and not like him – I don’t want to talk to you, OK?!} In fact, when I got the first hint of Graham having died, I got in touch with some mutual friends and asked if they had heard anything. The response was a consistent “No – but let me know as Graham … (various citations about how he had encouraged, helped or been kind to them)” followed.

You can see this if you look at {and I really hope this works} this section in the UKOUG 50th Anniversary edition. I could not put better what Patrick Hurley said about Graham gently encouraging people to be part of the community.

As I have said, I did not know Graham well, but I did share a few pints with him after RDBMS SIGs on a couple of occasions. On one such occasion we were discussing the fact that he had run the RDBMS SIG for so long – I was thinking of stepping down from the SIG I was running but no one was showing signs of stepping up if I did. Graham gave a gentle sigh and observed that “many people would like to help – but the day job or the effort or a lack of confidence gets in the way. You just have to encourage them.” So why had he been the RDBMS SIG chair for so long? “Well, I would rather not, but it just seems to fall to me. It needs doing and it is not really a burden, I just don’t want to be seen as making it my empire. I can ask people to present but not take on the whole thing!”. My quotes will be inaccurate but that was the gist of it. He encouraged people to advance themselves or take part but seemed reluctant to burden anyone. I wonder now if he ended up running it for so long as he was just so damned good at it and we wanted to keep him? I bought him a pint (I nearly had to argue with him on that one) as he was being so nice to me and encouraged me to keep doing my SIG so long as punters turned up.

Graham, for me, epitomises the User Group mentality. We help one another and we do it as we want to, well, help each other. I’ve met a fair few ….arseholes… who do user group stuff for the CV or to get recognition or some other personal gain. You can quickly spot them as they want the label but do very little for it, or do loads for 6 months and then drop out the picture when they realise it is not giving them that immediate reward they wanted. I don’t like those people, it’s like people who do stuff for charity and then thrust it down your throat. They did it for themselves, not the recipient. Thankfully I know many people who do the user group stuff because they “just want to help” and many of them never present (as presenting is not their thing) or blog or crow. They just help. I must try and be more appreciative of them.

Well, Graham did his bit quietly and consistently for years and years, because he wanted to help. He helped a lot of us. A round of drinks will be bought tomorrow after the SIG in his honour. It’s the least we can do – and I mean the least.

Hey Mum, I’m Famous!!! April 28, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life, Uncategorized.
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I got a mail this week from Richard Harrison:

“Hi Martin
See you made it in to oracle magazine this month.That’s the pinnacle of any oracle professionals career – all downhill from here on in :-)”

I was not aware of my sudden raise to fame, but Richard is right – I’m in this month’s “peer to peer” section, which just gives some details about recent Oracle Ace’s I think. I’d forgotten that I had done a form they sent me before Christmas, answering a set of questions. It is interesting to see what they picked out of all my answers to include.

I think most of us would feel it is nice to see something about ourselves in print (so long as it is not derogatory or critical, of course!), though when I come to think of it, I don’t really know why it is nice – other than the rather self-serving feeling of having our egos polished. And as my friends I drink with would (and probably will) comment, my ego certainly does not need much polishing :-). I’ve of course made it worse by blogging about how famous I now am. Polish, polish, polish.

Don’t worry, my wife stepped in to put me back in my place. “You could tell your mum when you next ring her – not that she’ll be impressed at all!”. Thanks wife. She’s right. My mum will just say “that’s nice” in a tone that in no way convinces me she means it, and will then proceed to talk at me about her new cats, what’s on TV and all the terrible things going on in the world, according to the “Daily Mail” (An utterly horrible and vacuous daily tabloid paper her in the UK).

So thank you for the heads-up Richard. I’m looking forward to the rapid decline of my career as you predict… :-)

The Three Tenners- OUGN 2013 April 26, 2013

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

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

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

The Martins doing a terrible "Three Tenners" joke

The Martins doing a terrible “Three Tenners” joke


Thanks to Bryn for the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-forming the Martin Cluster in Norway April 5, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Presenting, Uncategorized.
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Later this month, on April 17-20th, I am presenting again at the Norwegian Oracle user group (OUGN) spring conference {modern browsers will allow you to translate any Norwegian if you need to} . I loved it last year, as you can see from my third-day post on it. I’ve been lucky to attend some very good conferences over the last few years but those three days at the OUGN conference last year were, I think, my favourite single event to date. If you are within striking distance of Oslo and can negotiate the time out of the office, I would strongly recommend the event. If you can’t negotiate the time, heck, take a holiday and go anyway :-)

Part of what I really enjoyed about the event was the fact that two of the days are spent on a ferry/cruise ship from Oslo to Kiel and back. And oddly enough, that is what initially put me off going to the conference – I am very susceptible to Sea Sickness. I had no problems though, partly due to the large quantities of travel calm pills I swallowed, partly due to the good weather, but mostly because the talks were excellent and the atmosphere was fantastic. I don’t mean “hey, it was a bit like a holiday” {though in some ways it was as it was such fun} but because the speakers and the attendees can’t escape, at least not without a long swim, everyone is around all day and all evening. It just adds to the whole event. I spoke to more “new” people during that conference than I ever have before.

At most conferences the presentations at the end of the day tend to be less well attended and there can be a feeling of wind-down, especially on the last day. A fair number of people feel the need to make an early exit to get home before the worst of the traffic or are under pressure to get back to the office and just sort out some issue that is pressing. The people around in the evening tend to be the presenters and the conference die-hards and so are usually the same sad old bunch of geezers and gals :-) . However, on the OUGN Boat this is not the case. All sessions tend to be well attended and in the evening nearly everyone is out having something to eat, a few drinks (those North Europeans sure do like the odd drink, but in a relaxed and affable way) and just being sociable.

Over the last few years the conference has developed a reputation for being technically strong too. This is of course partly due to the excellent atmosphere attracting good presenters and the good presenters in turn help make the conference better. popular and well attended – and that in turn attracts presenters. A nice positive feedback loop. I certainly learnt a lot of stuff last year and I cannot think of a poor presentation that I attended. Hmm, maybe one of mine was a little weak :-| . The organisers do an excellent job of helping the presenters feel relaxed and appreciated too. For example, I was nervous about the boat part of the trip to they gave me one slot on the mainland the day before we sailed and suggested I could bail out at Kiel if I was suffering. As a presenter, that sort of consideration counts for a lot. I don’t want or expect to be treated like some minor celebrity and I was not, but for the whole conference I just felt like the organisers appreciated my taking time out from work and flying out to come and present.

The final reason I am looking forward to the event (and thus the odd title) is the re-forming of the Martin Oracle Cluster :-) – this is myself, Martin Nash and Martin Bach. We all do several conferences a year, we all used to go along to the London Oracle Beers and we have become good friends. Other Oracle Martin’s are welcome to join us – At the OUGN last year there was also Martin Büchi, who I had not met before, but this year I think we are the only Martins presenting. We just don’t seem to have managed to re-from the cluster for many months now, partly as Mr Bach returned to Germany.

Martins_1

Martin Nash – Martin Büchi – Martin Bach – Martin Widlake
Thanks to Øyvind Isene for the picture.

I suppose I should mention what I am presenting on? Well, as I mentioned in my last Friday Philosophy, I am concentrating more on introductory presentations. You can see my official agenda here. I am doing:

  • an introductory presentation on Row Level Security, VPD and hiding rows or columns of data {it will be interesting to see how large the audience is for that one!}
  • an introduction to SQL tuning where I cover the absolute basics, but hopefully in a way that allows those new to it (or maybe even not so new) to treat tuning as a logical and sensible process, as opposed to Black Magic of favourite hints and arcane practices
  • my disasters talk. I love giving my disasters talk. I’ve “been in the vicinity” of a lot of disasters and I only ever talk about things I have seen first hand, so no urban myths.

Friday Philosophy – Level of Presentations March 8, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Presenting.
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This FF is a bit of a follow-up to the one I posted last week on PL/SQL skills and a comment made by Noons on how much knowledge you need to be an OakTable member.

I have a question to answer and I would appreciate other people’s opinion. Should there be more intro talks at conferences? If so, should the experts be giving them?

I am an OakTable member (and really quite worryingly proud about that) and I guess that means I know a lot about some aspects of Oracle. But also, and this is a key part of being asked to be a member of the OakTable, I both try and base my “knowledge” on scientific testing of what I think I know (be it by myself or others willing to show their workings) and I try and pass that knowledge on. I don’t think there is a member of the OT that does not abide by those two concepts.

This is not false modesty on my part, but most other people on the OT know a shed load {UK colloquialism for “really quite a lot”} more than I do about the Oracle database and how it works. Some of them are so smart I can’t but secretly dislike them for it :-). But I have a reasonable stash of knowledge in my head and I am a stong proponent of those last two factors. In particular, I want to put what I have in my head about {ohh, let’s pick partition pruning} in other people’s heads. Which is why for the last 4 years most of my presentations have run over horribly. I must get every detail into the audiences’ heads, even if they don’t want to know it!

Of late I have started to feel that I present in the wrong way. I take a subject, I write down what I know about it and I try to present that knowledge. I’ve only picked topics I feel I know well and in which I can handle almost any question the audience asks. For me to be that confident I have to have used that aspect of Oracle technology a lot and had months, if not years of experience. You cannot pass that on in 1 hour. I’ve already said I am not that smart, but I learn over time. So I started to strip out the basics and present just the clever stuff, which shows how fabulous I am. {British self-deprecating sarcasm, please}. Just like so many other experts. Hell, if we are experts, we should be talking expert stuff!!!

To balance that I think there is a gap in what is talked about at conferences. I know this is felt by some conference organisers and attendees too, but there is just way too much “impressive smart stuff” and not enough “how X works in the real world, for people who have never done it”. Not 10,000 feet up sales pitch rubbish that gives no substance, but talks on a topic where you can go from level 1 for knowledge-free beginners to level 5 for the 25 people at the conference who know this stuff inside out – and the talk stops at level 2. I’ve made a decision to try and address that gap, which is why I now offer more talks on “an intro to Exadata” and “how to get going with performance tuning” than the smart stuff.

The problem is, how many people, probably mostly young people, go to conferences? Am I wasting my time trying to offer these talks if no one going to the conferences wants them? Do people going to conferences, generally speaking, want the technical nitty-gritty or do they want the intro stuff? Yes, I know there is a spread but where is the real need? I suppose I thought of this recently when I did a talk on Index Organized Tables and almost everyone in the room already used them. Then, a few hours later, I did an intro to database design. Almost everyone in the room was a seasoned database designer… I doubt I said much of real value to either audience.

That leaves my last point about should the experts do intro talks? A problem with experts doing intro talks is the expert knows it all. It can be hard to remember what you really needed to know at the start (and also, my own problem, knowing what to drop out the talk as, really, it is “being smart as an ego-trip” that the new people can do without). But if you are not an expert, can you handle the What If questions? I have played with this issue with my Intro to Exadata talk. I wrote the draft when I had very little real experience and I have only modified it as I gained more experience. I’m glad I did as when I revisited the presentation recently I started putting loads of stuff in that only makes sense when you are used to it’s peculiarities. Thankfully, I realised this and stripped most of it out again. So well, in fact, that one person who wrote about the talk said “it was nice to see someone talk about it who was an Oracle expert who obviously knew little about the topic”. Well, something like that :-)

Enough. I would appreciate other people’s opinions and experiences on this.

Friday Philosophy – Do good DBAs need PL/SQL Skills? March 1, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, PL/SQL.
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This Friday Philosophy was prompted by a discusion between some OakTable people about did we think “good” DBAs should know PL/SQL? Not all the tricks, bulk processing, using all the built-ins, but able to write PL/SQL with cursor loops and some exception handling that could eg cycle thorough tables and archive off data or implement some logon trigger functionality.

My response was “that depends on the age of the DBA”.

If you had asked me that question 15 years ago I would have said Yes, a good DAB would and should know PL/SQL.
If you had asked me 10 years ago I would have said I’d hope they would and most DBAs I respected has some PL/SQL skills.
If you had asked me 5 years ago I would have sighed and had a little rant about how they should but the younger ones don’t and that is wrong.

But now, I would say that no, a good DBA does not need PL/SQL skills as so often they have so many other things they have to do and the tools to manage the database are somewhat better than they were. But inside I would still be thinking any DBA beyond their first year or two in the job would benefit from knowing the basics of PL/SQL.

It seems to me that a DBA now is generally expected to look after a very large number of instances, application servers, agents etc and all their time is taken doing the bread-and-butter tasks of backups and recoveries, patching, duplicating data, raising SRs (and that seems to take more and more time each SR every year), unlocking accounts, sorting out permissions…

Not only that but there is more and more to Oracle that a good DBA needs to understand as the technolgy gets more complex. Oracle has tried to make Oracle look after itself more but the result seems to be that for larger systems there are more moving parts to go wrong – and when they do it is often the DBA who has to sort it out. As an example, you no longer need to set several instance parameters to allocate memory to the components of the PGA and SGA. Just set the Memory Target. But if the system starts to throw odd errors about components being out of memory, the DBA needs to sort that out. They need to know about the dynamic memory adjust ments and check them out. They need to understand that certain components are now calculated in a different way, like the log buffer size. And probably they will have to revert back to the old parameters so they still need to know all about that!

So unless a DBA is an old hand and “grew up” with all this, they have no time to develop PL/SQL skills. Thus my response was “that depends on the age of the DBA”.

Should a good DBA know SQL?

Yes. I still see that as a given. Buttons, widgets and assistants will only get you so far.

RMOUG – Here I Come February 9, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Meeting notes, Private Life.
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Well, I’ve just finished pushing the last few bits into my suitcase for my trip to the US for the Rocky Mountain User Group Training Days 2013.

It is a few years since I went to the US for pleasure (3 years?) and much longer since I went there on a combined work/pleasure trip – as I HATE going through US immigration.

I was tempted into this trip when I met up with a fellow OakTable member Tim Gorman at the Slovenia User Group last October. Tim was a true gentleman throughout that conference (and this is not to detract from the kind ministrations of Jože Senegačnik who was a wonderful host and also a fellow OakTable member) and he suggested I put forward a talk or two to the RMOUG training days conference. I was in two minds due to my huge dislike of being shouted at by the {I am sad to say, usually bl00dy unfriendly} members of the US immigration services. I mean, I went to Moscow in around 1994 and those chaps in the USSR were positively oozing cordial welcome compared to the hard-nosed and antagonistic attitude of the US chaps a year or two later!

Anyway, Tim swayed my opinion in a simple and direct manner. He mentioned Skiing. I went skiing in 1992. My one and only Skiing holiday. I loved it, I spent 2 weeks going from terrified starter to someone who could swish down Blue runs with the rest of them, the occasional Red run towards the end. Not Black, I saw enough sad-looking stretchers coming down from the Black runs as I sat in the bars at the bottom to think there was something to be scared of there – and when I chatted to the barman in my chosen watering hole he told me how so many of them were us Brits who had lost the brains to realise what our limits were.

So, I will be at the conference doing my bit about “first things to know about Exadata” and then I will be up in the mountains, scaring myself on hills that when I was 20 looked like a walk in the park…. What is the betting I do not get as far as Red runs this time?!?

Friday Philosophy: It’s Not What you Know – It’s What you are Getting To Know. December 7, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Perceptions.
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This has been a good but tiring week. It started with the UKOUG TEBS conference where I saw lots of people I know, a few who I didn’t but now do and I had good times in pubs and restaurants. One evening culminated in my singing part of “Two out of Three ain’t bad” in the style of a munchkin with Nial Litchfield in a pub at 1am, which I am sure he woud rather forget about – so if you know him, ask him about it. For me that was the indicator to go lie down in the dark and sleep. Irrespectve of drunken singing, I must had talked about 20 topics with 40 people over the conference, exchanging ideas, tricks and war stories.

I also presented on the Sunday, teaching people. I went to many fine presentations through the week and learnt stuff, balancing the knowledge books. This included one talk on Wednesday where I found out I had been teaching people wrong on Sunday! *sigh* Oh dear. And it is something I have been getting wrong for years. I’ll check the fine detail before I blog about that though. I now hate SQL Maria for pointing out my error – which is unfair but that’s life. Sorry Maria, I’ll buy you a beer sometime to make up for it.

After all that, I came back to work to find we had some big issues with one system. I won’t go into the details but there were half a dozen of us working on it, coming up with ideas, knocking each other’s suggestions down or agreeing with them – and coming up with working solutions. None of us could have done it alone and I reckon most of us learnt a couple of things in the process (such as how bad some of the app design was :-) ).

So all in all, a week of learning that has worn me out but left me happy and that is what I like about my work life at present. I am working with people who know stuff and who want to know stuff. I am in a role that exposes me to a lot of issues. I am working for a boss (and team) who let me take time out from the official job to learn stuff too. I suspect it is going to end soon though as the company I am working for are taking large numbers of people to the carpark and shooting them (figuratively speaking only, I should point out). It will be a shame if it does end. But then, just as when I worked with the best IT person I ever worked with, I’ll be happy I had the experience.

Yes, I know I am lucky to have such a good working life at present {but, you know something? I did take efforts to make it like this – maybe a future FF on that}.

So having said I like my working life so much, who is willing to bet I’ll be complaining like a spoilt child all next week?!?

Friday Philosophy – The Tech to Do What You Need Probably Exists Already November 30, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
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How many of you have read the Oracle Concepts manual for the main version you are working on?

This is a question I ask quite often when I present and over the last 10 years the percentage number of hands raised has dropped. It was always less than 50%, it’s been dropping to more like 1 in 10 and Last year (at the UKOUG 2011 conference) was the nadir when not a single hand was raised. {Interestingly I asked this at the Slovenian User Group 3 months ago and something like 40% raised their hand – impressive!}.

Why do I feel this is important? Well, do you know all the technology solutions available across just the core RDBMS with no cost options?. No, you don’t, you (and I) really don’t. If you read the concepts manual, even just skimming it, you will be reminded of a whole load of stuff you have only dim memories of and perhaps you will even see some features that passed you by when they were first introduced.

Of course, you would need to read a few more manuals to get the full picture, such as the PL/SQL Packages and Types References, as so much good stuff is introduced via built-in packages, and the SQL Language Reference, as SQL has been extended quite a lot over the last couple of versions. Dull reading indeed but I’d estimate that if you read those three you would be aware of 90%+ of the Oracle technologies that are available to you out-of-the-box and considerably more than all but a handful of Oracle Experts. You’d know more than I as (a) I have not skimmed the PL/SQL one for years and (b) I have a rotten memory.

My point it, you can’t consider using Oracle technologies you don’t know about or remember – and they could be just what you need to fix the problem you see in front of you.

I’ll give a couple of examples.

Problem, physical IO is too high, your storage system is bottle-necked.
Answers, Reducing Physical IO:
-First up, Index Organized tables. Some of you will be aware that I am very keen on IOTs and the reason I am is that I’ve used them to physically group data that the application needed to select over and over again. It can make a massive improvement to that sort of system. They are rarely used.
-Clustered Tables. Even less used, in fact has anyone reading this used them in anger in the last 10 years? Great for situations where you need parent-children or parent-children-type-1+parent-children-type-2 data. I confess, I have not used them in anger for years.
-Move table (and order them as you do it!) and re-build indexes to remove “dead” space. This one got a bad name, especially the index rebuilds, as people were doing it needlessly without appreciating what the intention was, but now I hardly ever see it done – even when it is of benefit.
-Compress your tables and indexes. With normal Oracle compress (no need for HCC). In tests I’ve done I pretty much always see a drop in physical IO and run time. Being candid, I can’t remember doing any tests and NOT seeing an improvement but I usually only test when I expect and improvement and I don’t want to give anyone the impression it will always help.

All the above were available in Oracle 7 or 8 and all have improved over the versions.

Problem, you want to carry out some long,complex data processing in PL/SQL and if a step fails, be able to handle it and carry on.
Answers:
– Savepoints. You can rollback to a savepoint, not just to the last commit. In this way you can break the task into chunks and, if something towards the end fails, you roll back one step (or several, your choice) and call an alternative routine to handle the exception.
– Autonomous Transactions. You want to record that an error occurred but not fail the original action or not save anything it has done to date. An autonomous transaction runs in it’s own sub-session and commits in it do not effect the calling session.
– Temporary Tables. You can put your working information in them as you progress and if you need to bomb out (or some evil DBA kills your session for running too long) the temp table contents just disappear. No clean up needed.

Maybe the above is not so fair, I have not been a proper PL/SQL developer for a while now, but I hardly see the above used. Especially Savepoints. I can’t remember not having savepoints available (hmm, maybe Oracle 6) and Autonomous Transactions and Temporary tables are Oracle 8 (I thought Temporary tables might be 9 but Tim Hall’s OracleBase says 8)

Another thing I have noticed over the years is that so often I will read up on some oracle feature I know little about, only for it to come up in the next few weeks! There is a psychological aspect to this, that we only remember these “coincidences” and not the more common situations where we read up on something which does not subsequently come up before we forget about it, but I think that it is also that we tend to use only a few solutions to solve the problems we see and adding another solution to our list means the chances are high it will be suitable for something soon.

OK, so it would help us all to read the manuals (or other Oracle technical books) more. Now the big problem is finding the time.

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