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Friday Philosophy – To Physically Meet Or Not? October 29, 2021

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
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We are seeing a slow return to user groups having physical events, or hybrid ones where some people stay at home and use zoom (other remote networking solutions are available) and other people physically come along along to the venue. Some people are now happy to meet physically, some would like to but their company will not support it, and some people don’t want to come within spitting distance (quite literally, given it is now pretty much established that SARS_CoV_2 is primarily spread in airborne droplets of saliva) of other humans.

I miss this

Most of us have taken part in virtual conferences or meet-ups since Covid-19 first arose. Let’s face it, though they are better than nothing, remote events are not exactly a proper replacement for being in the same place, chatting with old friends, making new contacts, and seeing people talk about topics in the flesh. And presenting remotely is a very different experience (as I covered in this post on training remotely) and takes a different skill set to live presenting, and many presenters really do not enjoy. I’ll do it but I am not keen and I have mostly stopped presenting remotely at user group events. I know some people prefer virtual events but the majority don’t – which is fine, we are all different.

So what to do? Keep home and keep safer but continue to miss out on what a physical event brings, or take an increased risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 and go? It’s a difficult choice for many people.

I’m returning to physical events. But I fully understand anyone who does not want to, especially if they live with (or are themselves) at higher risk, such as having a relative who cannot be vaccinated.

For a different opinion you can go look at this post by Brent Ozar. He sums up a few reasons for still keeping away from physical events.

I really miss this

I’m double vaccinated, I have a good understanding of Covid-19 (as anyone who was reading my blog last year will know), both how it is transmitted and what it does to you. I’m going to return to going to physical events but I am going to take precautions – not just to protect me from the infected hordes but also to help prevent me from infecting the hordes. I will be attending the UKOUG tech 21 conference at the end of November and I am really, really looking forward to it.

The UKOUG Tech 21 conference organisers will be taking many precautions themselves over ventilation, number of attendees etc. I was still on the board of UKOUG in the spring of 2020 and we were the first user group to deem physical events too risky and cancel one, the first I think to make a solid call of having no physical events in 2020 at all, one of the first (if not the first) to organise a proper multi-stream virtual conference. UKOUG have demonstrated a real focus on the safety of it’s membership and yet try to keep the oracle community breathing (see what I did there). I was really proud that UKOUG listened to myself & Neil Chandler, looked at the science, and made decisions that protected the membership to the cost of the user group itself.

I’ll be wearing my mask when I travel to the event. I know, in some countries it would be deemed madness to not wear a mask on public transport but, despite all the signs saying it is mandatory, the UK government have not attempted to enforce such rules at all. And when they sit in parliament in a crowded room, not a mask is to be seen usually. They have failed to govern or lead effectively on Covid-19 since day one. I was not a fan of masks initially, if you asked me 2 years ago I would have laughed at the general public using them as viruses & bacteria are massively smaller than the pores in non-medical-grade masks, most people have not been shown how to wear them (and still don’t know), are useless at not touching the mask or keeping them clean, and often just wear them as a pointless chin warmer. But it’s been demonstrated that masks are very good at catching the droplets of saliva that we expel and so greatly reduce the wearer transmitting SARS-CoV-2, and somewhat mitigate against breathing in tainted droplets. They help.

Once I am there I am staying at a local hotel (I could have done the trip in and out from home each day), walking to the event, basically minimising my public transport usage.

If there is any finger or buffet food offered, I ain’t touching it. It only takes one infected person coughing when serving themselves to massively increase risk.

I won’t be shaking hands (or bumping elbows, a practice I have always thought was bloody ludicrous, especially when we were told to cough into our arm to contain it – “Hey, touch my plague infested arm!!!”) or hugging people unless it seems very important to them. So pretty much no one I know in the IT sphere. Licking other delegates and wild sex is definitely out this year

If anyone is coughing, spluttering, looking flushed, complaining they feel hot but “it’s just a cold” I am not staying near them. If Covid-19 taught us anything it is that we should not regard people who go to work/meet people even when they are ill as heroes but as lunatics. And employers who encourage or force such behaviour are not only abusive but mad. You want all your staff to get ‘flu?.

I’ll probably wear a mask quite a lot as I cough a lot these days, as a result of having crappy lungs. I don’t want to make people feel unsafe and there is always a chance I could be carrying SARS-CoV-2 and not realise.

I’ll be taking a lateral flow test every day and for a few days before the event. They are not desperately good at detecting the virus when you first have it but it’s some indication. If one says you DO have Covid-19 you almost certainly do. If I can I’ll get a proper PCR test a few days before.

I would have already started going to physical events if I felt safe to fly. This is nothing to do with Covid-19 though. I was supposed to be at POUG2021 last September (they had much lower Covid-19 levels than the UK so I would have been safer there than the UK!) but my lungs have never really recovered from my fun with ‘flu a couple of years ago and any demands on them above a steady walk and I can’t do it for long. I might be fine in a plane, but taking a four hour flight and finding out I’m not is not a clever idea. I could get tested to see how I would cope with the reduced pressure and O2 levels of a flight but the UK NHS has been under extreme pressure for most of this year and I see my getting the test as a frivolous waste of their resources, even if they would agree to do it.

Another aspect of remote events is a lot of them have been put on free to the delegates or considerably cheaper than a physical event. This makes physical events look expensive and introduces the complexity of do the organisers have two fee structures, for physical and virtual attendance. You can reduce the costs of your venue by having fewer people actually there but it’s not really proportional. Many user groups, especially those that have any sort of organisation behind them (like most of the big ones such as DOAG, UKOUG, POUG) incur costs just by existing and the drop in income caused by Covid-19 has been crippling. Conferences that delegates pay for, and membership fees for user groups, keep these groups going and if people (or more often companies) stop paying for them… You are going to lose your user groups.

A final consideration is how the UK is doing Covid-19 wise. The UK is doing bloody awfully and has done so for most of the year. The one thing we did, that the government pretty much left our National Health Service to sort out, was immunising everyone who would and could do so. Our case rates are, excuse my language but I am a little vexed by this, fucking awful, about the worst in the world compared to our population size (poor Ukraine and Romania win there as the moment). The vaccines and steadily improving treatment methods are keeping death rates at only terrible. But if we get another large spike, UKOUG will cancel and I would not go anyway.

I MISS THIS!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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