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The Fall and Rise of the ACE Program August 26, 2022

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, Perceptions, User Groups.
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5 comments

As the title of this post indicates, something bad happened to Oracle’s ACE program. Really quite bad.

But it is now being fixed – and the fact that Oracle admitted it had made a miss-step and is correcting it can only be applauded. In my experience Corporations tend to be quite poor at admitting they messed something up.

I’ve intended to write something about the whole sorry mess for a while but I held off as it felt like kicking a friend when they were down. But the ACE program is now coming back and I think there are some interesting things to learn, or at least think about, in respect of what happened (and is happening). And I wanted to record it as my own reminder of what happened.

First of all, if you do not know what Oracle’s ACE program is, there is a summary to the left. Fundamentally, it is Oracle’s program to recognise skilled people who communicate about Oracle.

The ACE program has had it’s ups and downs and it has evolved over the years, but basically it exists to recognise and, in some ways support, non-Oracle-employees who try to show the community how to get the best out of Oracle. It is a community outreach program with the inevitable taint of marketing that comes with any vendor-sponsored program.

So What Happened?

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020 it had a massive impact on everything, including the Oracle community. A key part of the community has always been User Groups, conferences & meet-ups – and Covid-19 meant we were not doing those anymore. (For example see this Post about UKOUG postponing the Irish conference in March 2020). The ACE program did what it could to help the community continue and basically pivot their events to being on-line & remote. Webinars via Zoom & Teams replaced in-person events.

Maybe it was this Covid-19 change that prompted something, I don’t know, but in the spring of 2021 it was announced by Oracle that the ACE program was being overhauled – and the Mother Hen of the program was no longer in charge. A lot of us long-term ACE members were not too happy about losing our Mother Hen, especially the way Oracle went about it (Oracle, like many US companies, really can be utterly awful when it comes to their staff. Do you know how much holiday US employees don’t get?). Someone I will refer to as Crazy-Beard man was taking over. I did not know this initially but Crazy-Beard man had the ear of someone powerful in Oracle and Crazy-Beard man had apparently made a bid for the ACE program. This was an aggressive takeover of the program.

Well, OK, the ACE program was moving and being put under the DevRel community and we ACEs could do nothing substantial about the shoddy treatment of one member of staff (though some of us made our feelings known). Maybe the ACE program would now get the staffing and financial levels it needed to boost its impact? (It had been clear to many of us for years that the ACE program never had the resources it really needed to manage several hundred members, especially given what hard work some of us presenter Prima Donna types can be). Maybe this change would be good for the program? Let’s wait and see.

It wasn’t.

Everything stopped. The news letters, the communication, the interaction. We just got the same webinar month after month… after month – “It’s all going to change! And it’s going to be really cool!! And it’s going to be exciting!!!!! Whoooop!!!!!!!” And the tone was as I just indicated, it was like watching a pop-culture Tik-Tok program for teenagers.

After a few months of nothing but “It’s going to be cool!” ACEs started asking what was actually going on. When would any of this new stuff happen? Or, even, any of the old stuff? When would outstanding ACE nominations be processed? When would we hear about new Oracle offerings? What was the rest of the community doing? But all we got were more occasional webinars where we were told again how “cool” it was going to be. And how exciting… And, well… whooop. Yeah, whooop. But nothing really concrete was offered. Except for the odd thing, like anyone was going to be able to be an ACE. Huh? What the hell is the point of a program to recognise significant contribution if everyone can be a member? What you are proposing is a chat channel, not a recognition program.

ACE members asked “when will you have something, anything, actually happening? Some real, tangible part of this cool, exciting, whoop you keep selling to us?”. The reply was just empty blather about working really, really hard to get things ready. I’m sorry, most ACEs recognise bullshit when we smell it. Working “really, really hard” generally means floundering about desperately looking for quick wins.

This new DevRel team had also totally misjudged the tone to use with the ACE program. Most ACEs have been IT professionals for a couple of decades – or more. We like fun, we like social interaction, most of us like a few beers at a conference bar. But jokey job titles and blatant efforts to fake “cool” that might be OK with the sub-30’s are not going to mesh with us. OK, we could maybe live with that naïve method of communication . But what was far worse was that the new people running the ACE program clearly had no clue what the ACE program was, who we are, what we do. Crazy-Beard man seemed to think we were all DBAs. Some of us are, most of us are not. C-B man did not even recognise the “Oracle Names”, the people who are famous in our little world for talking about Performance,APEX, Security, SQL.

So it seems the new people had done virtually nothing to get to know anything about us ACEs. If they had sat down with Mother Hen for a couple of days and talked with her about the program they would have improved the situation hugely, but they seemed to regard everything that had gone before as wrong and to be burnt to the ground. This was brought into sharp focus when an ACE and well known member of the European Oracle community (she chairs the European Oracle User Community for goodness sake) tried to contact C-B man and got no response, at all, from several attempts. Eventually a bunch of other people prodded him and asked him what the hell he was playing at.

In the Pit Of Nothing.

So there we were. All ACE program activity was on hold, the only communication was empty posturing, the tone was wrong, the new people in charge knew nothing about us. Nothing was happening.

Only something was happening… ACEs talk to each other. We gripe, we complain, many of us act like the old men in the box on The Muppets, but that is just the world-weary cynicism we use to hide that we really care about the Oracle community. And we hated what was happening. And most of us were detaching from the ACE world. I took ACE off all my social media and I even wrote an “I resign” letter. Most of us present and talk and blog and teach because we want to do those things. We became ACEs as almost an accident of that. We don’t need the ACE program. It was nice to be ACE, it was a badge of honour and some of the things the program had done were helpful. But fundamentally we were active in the community as we wanted to be. Being recognised as ACE was just a nice pat on the back really.

Another thing that was happening was that some of the more engaged Oracle Product Managers and community-centric people in Oracle, especially around the core database tech, had also become very uncomfortable about what was happening with the ACE program. These people within Oracle could see this palpable shift by the ACE community towards antagonism. I’m friends with several of these people (as are a lot of the people in my world of EU/US speakers & conference organisers) and these PMs were talking with us and echoing back into Oracle the growing alarm bells.

We ACEs were not happy and our friends in Oracle were not happy. But at least we knew things could not get much worse with the ACE program.

Oh boy, were we wrong.

The Meeting From Hell.

Oracle brought a new person into the DevRel team to look after the ACE program. I guess he had other duties too but the side we saw was he was to be the main person for our community. I’m going to call him “Tony Wheeler” as he came from the automotive industry and his whole attitude was that of a second hand car salesman – someone who thinks he’s nailed sounding sincere but actually he can’t fake it. What we call in the UK a “Wheeler Dealer”.

{Note, I had to correct this bit, I originally said the person who organised this meeting was from DevRel, my bad}

A senior lady from the database area realised this whole situation was now an utter mess (she also stepped in to make sure Mother Hen was done right by). She organised a meeting between the new ACE program owners in DevRel and the ACE community, so we could have a frank discussion. It was brave and I think it was totally the right thing to do. But I don’t think anyone predicted how badly the meeting would go…

The meeting started OK. We had some more of the blah blah about how things were “going to change and be cool and be great, and Whoop!” – but unlike all the prior one-way traffic of earlier webinars, this was a proper two-way discussion and the ACEs were allowed to speak. The ACES quickly made the point, calmly but with a tone of considerable frustration, that this “it’s going to be great” had been the case for ages now, but nothing was actually happening. And, frankly, what was so wrong with what the ACE program had been doing before it all stopped in early 2021? And this total lack of any activity by the ACE program was a real hinderance to our communities.

Tony Wheeler said this is what he wanted, he wanted to hear our passion and what it was we felt was wrong. So some of the ACEs (myself included) told him what was wrong. It boiled down to “It wasn’t broken, but you broke it anyway, and then promised cool/great stuff – none of which has materialised. Please just put back what worked and then plan the New World Order.

Tony did not like that.

When he said he wanted to know what we felt it turns out he did not like what we felt. Tony had lied.

Tony went on the offensive. He told us we were afraid of change and everything the ACE program had been was shit (he literally said “shit” or “crap”, I can’t remember which) and he was tearing down the shit and making it better.

He told a bunch of 200+ people who have made their careers on constantly learning the latest stuff in technology that we were afraid of change.

He told 200+ evangelists for Oracle, many of whom explain Oracle’s cloud offerings, that we were stuck in the past.

He told 200+ people that the program we’d known for years and were pretty happy with was trash and we had no clue how shit it was. His Oracle employee badge was barely dry but he was happy to burn the whole past down to the ground.

Wow. This guy was a badge-wearing psychopath.

Our social media groups flared. It was bad enough on the official meeting chat channel but in our twitter groups, DMs etc the scorn was heaped high. Yes, we were angered, but the main reaction was derision. This buffoon Tony Wheeler, with no idea who we were, had rocked up and tried to insult us for not being willing to accept what was new. Friend, most of us got onto this program exactly because we work on, fundamentally understand, and described what was new.

And he also told us the ACE Program we liked was shit and the people organising it in the past were shit. He was brand new to Oracle Corp but he “knew” what had been before was shit. He also thought we were all DBAs (*sigh*). When it was pointed out we wanted the “shit” back and he could take his promised new world order and shove it he basically lost the plot. And the argument. And any respect. I’ve never seen someone burn bridges so fast in my life as he pretty much insulted everyone on the call.

To make it worse Mother Hen was on that call. I can tell you, whilst Tony Wheeler was bad mouthing the old program there were dozens of us on Twitter, the meeting chat channel, DM’s to her, everything, expressing our outrage at this and our support for Mother Hen.

I can only assume this tactic of bad-mouthing the existing way of doing things had worked for Tony Wheeler in the past. Tell people who oppose him that they are scared “of change” and can’t move forward and attempt to burn everything in the past. It’s like a dictator running a scorched earth policy in a war. It never ends well.

I missed the very end of the meeting (I had a family commitment that took priority) but I’m told it was pretty much closed down by the senior database lady who called it, in shock.

I have only one last thing to add in respect of the Meeting From Hell.

Tony Wheeler asked me early on to feed back to him personally what they were doing wrong, what they should start doing again, how they could undo some of the damage. And I agreed to do so. People who know me well know I can fly off the handle and be very negative in-the-moment. But, if I have the opportunity to sit down and gather my thoughts, I’ll do my best to put together something honest but positive. I had said to him I would do this thing so, despite my real anger about him and the whole situation, I put down on paper (well, virtual paper) some thoughts on how things could be improved and sent it off.

I never even got an acknowledgement. The spineless bastard asked me to put my effort in to helping him save what he had messed up and he never even said “thanks”. He might think he knows people but, man , he does not.

So I forwarded a copy to a couple of other people at Oracle – people with a better attitude, just as a record.

The Positive Outcome

That bonfire of a meeting sent shock waves bouncing up and down the management structure in Oracle. It’s one of the very few events I am aware of when the community reaction had an impact on Oracle, though I also know that the internal backlash by Oracle PMs and others to the meeting was also fierce.

Tony Wheeler’s behaviour had been totally unacceptable. His lack of professionalism and his ability to alienate pretty much everyone else involved sealed his fate. He went. I know nothing of the details but it’s like he was sent “swimming with the fishes”. If I ever come across him again I will point-blank refuse to engage with him. He is on a very special list of only about 5 people in my whole career who I will simply not tolerate.

Crazy-Beard man is now out of the DevRel group, but still in Oracle. Maybe I missed it but I never saw anything from C-B man admitting he messed up, let alone apologising, which is a shame . I continued to follow him for a while on Twitter (keep your friends close, keep your not friends closer and all that) and whenever he appeared I wondered what he had taken away from this. I won’t say I’ll never respect him, but he’s going to have to do something pretty bloody high-end awesome for me to see him as a positive force now. Maybe saving baby kittens in Ukraine would do it for me.

Mother Hen, who had been snapped up by the core database group, has been given back the ACE program. It’s a work in progress, so much damage to fix and also there were already things she knew needed improving. I’ve had some nice chats with her, I really hope she gets the support she needs to get the ACE program back on track.

The head of DevRel admitted it had gone badly wrong and needed to be fixed, and committed to making that happen. That admission of fuck-up is, in my experience, almost unheard of in the business community, I hope Mother Hen got a bloody good pay rise out of this.

And in the last week or two the Oracle ACE program has re-launched. It is mostly as it was but with a few changes, and I think more changes will take place while also keeping things working.

Lessons To Learn

This post is already too long but I promised we could learn from this.

The first thing is Communication. It is *vital*! I think it is the absolute key thing to any community at all, be it tech, work, personal, anything. Empty or lying communication is poison, you will be found out and it will erode your community like acid.

The second is “do not make a bid for something you do not understand”. You will kill it. C-B man made a play for a group he did not appear to understand, he certainly did not know the key players and how the ACE program worked, and he (or people working for him) killed it. It remains to be seen if dedicated people who were badly treated can resurrect it.

Third is tailor your communication to your audience. Don’t try and be Tik-Tok & youth to a bunch of people who are mostly parents to those who might appreciate your naïve attempt, and would rather you all just acted your age. No one likes the Corporate Executive who tries to use teenager slang to appear cool, all the teenagers know it is fake – and they are using last year’s slang anyway.

Fourth is do not hire bullshitting arseholes. And if you do, never let them run free in a meeting with external people.

Fifth is, if as a corporation with an outreach program you mess up, your only real workable option is to apologise and step back. I’ve never really seen a corporation do that as they are invested in never admitting a mistake. In this case Oracle did admit the mistake with the ACE program and reset. I’m going to give them some kudos for that.

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Friday Philosophy – On The Return To Physical Gatherings December 3, 2021

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
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In my last post I talked about why I had decided to return to attending physical events, even while having reservations about it. The event, UKOUG’s annual conference at the Oval cricket ground in London (a wonderful premises to spend time in), happened at the start of the week. So, how was it? Did I feel safe? How did they look after us?

The Event

Sorting out a few technical AV issues before a cracking session on hacking

I’ll just start with a couple of paragraphs on the actual event and then move on to how I found it all.

The conference itself was very, very good. It covered both Tech and Apps over 2 full days, with a speaker/volunteer evening event the day before the conference. The Oval was generally a nice venue but the number of issues I saw with AV… Boy they need to sort that out! As for the evening event on the roof terrace – great for Covid security, terrible for avoiding hypothermia! I heard a few people who said there could have been a bit more technical content and there were some slots where there were too many “Oracle Names” at the same time or two talks on the same topic, but unless you have helped organise the schedule for a large, complex event like this, you have no idea how hard it is! This was not helped this year by a larger-than-usual drop-out of speakers just before the event due to the new Omicron covid-19 variant. The variant itself was not the problem (there are very few cases outside Southern Africa yet), it was how countries were changing their travel and isolation rules. Coming to speak at a conference than then having to spend 10 days locked down when you get back to Switzerland is a big ask. I used to take complaints about there being too many good session clashing as almost a complement – there was just too much good stuff to see.

I have to take my hat off to the board, office, and volunteers who put the conference together. It’s always been a challenge and that was with an office of over a dozen people and a small army of volunteers, with the board having oversight. To survive Covid-19 and the massive drop in revenue, UKOUG has had to par right down to 3 staff and the board have been very, very hands-on. The conference this year was nothing to do with me, I had to step down from the board last year. For the first time in over 10 years I had nothing to do with the event at all, I was there purely as a delegate. I hope I made this clear to all the people who thanked me for the event! It was strange being just a delegate after over 18 years of either presenting, hosting, planning, or fronting.

Being With People Again

As anyone who regularly reads my sporadic blog output or follows me on social media knows, I’ve been very cautious about Covid-19 from the outset. I’ve kept away from people, followed all the guidance, and actually gone beyond the official rules as I’ve kept abreast of what professional epidemiologists, medics, and virologists have to say. But as I covered in my previous blog I had made the decision to go to the conference despite my general caution. I’m double vaccinated, had my ‘flu jab, I know the majority transmission is via aerosol droplets so I can do some things to reduce the risks. I love the community and conferences, it’s pretty much what I have focused on for 5 or 6 years, so for me I decided it was worth the risk. I utterly respect anyone who comes to the opposite conclusion.

As I said in that post, the part of attending the conference I was most anxious about was getting there. I ended up travelling into London with a friend, Erik van Roon. He had been amazed at how few people on the London Underground were wearing masks, often sat under signs saying it was mandatory. That’s what happens when you have a government that does not lead by example, ignores their own rules, and no one enforces any restrictions. I hate being on UK public transport at the moment. We both wore our masks. The trip in on the train was OK as it had come from the airport. Most of the other people were from other countries and were happy to wear masks. None of them passed out or spontaneously died… On the London Underground is was about 50/50 mask wearing but, thank goodness, it was remarkably quiet and quick. I’ve never done that route so quickly and quietly except at 10pm at night. Despite the pleasant company I had, I really disliked the trip and I was glad when it was over.

We had a gentle introduction to “crowds” on Sunday night when we had a speaker/volunteer gathering at a club in central London, just off Leicester Square. I have to confess that for the first few minutes, as more people arrived, I got a little anxious and had to concentrate on not showing it {standing in a room screaming “get away from me you plague-ridden vermin!!!!” is likely to dent the atmosphere}.

However, the room was waaaay bigger than it needed to be for the numbers there and there was a wide open doorway out onto an outside balcony. I would have preferred more mask wearing but I noticed people were standing in looser circles than normal. Most people avoided physical contact. After the first half hour I found the experience easier than I thought I might, partly I think as I knew most of these people and (utterly wrongly) thus unconsciously felt they were “safe”. That’s an oddity of human behaviour, we tend to treat people we know as safer than strangers, even when logically we know it is not true. Also, of the people I actually knew, I was sure they were vaccinated. I don’t personally know many people who are Covid-19 denialists. One thing I did do is not go for food when it came out. It was platers of stuff with people crowed around them. No thanks. But later on more food came out and people had wandered off, so I had some of that. This might sounds a bit “off” but I’m probably at more risk from Covid-19 than most. If I get a bad spell of it, it’s probably hospital time again and I don’t like the idea…

As the evening wore on and alcohol was consumed, people did relax more and distances shrank, but then so did the number of people there. I confess that when, at the end of the night we moved on to shorts, I totally stopped worrying about how many SARS-CoV-2 particles there might be. The lesson there is that increasing alcohol consumption decreases bio security. Who knew? (sarcasm).

The Big Crowd

Next day came the real test. Would I find being in crowds worth it for the event?

Martin Klier explaining why PDBs can impact each other

I should say at this juncture that everyone at the event was double vaccinated or had had a negative test prior to the event (or at least should have) and I know checks were made. I could not guarantee to you that everyone was checked, but that was the intent. {update – see the comment by Neil Chandler for more details on the steps taken to keep us all safe}. I had personally also taken lateral flow tests for 2 days before attending and did more during the event. I didn’t want to be Typhoid Mary All foreign speakers/attendees had had to do tests as part of their trip here (though ask me some time how well all of that was handled!!!) so I knew I was safest with my overseas friends.

Even so, walking into the keynote talk I found unnerving. But also really welcome. People, “my” community, lots of men and women with a shared interest and a desire to learn or teach. And not via (excuse my French) bloody Zoom or MS Teams or some other sodding screen.

I noticed that the crowd was spread out far more than normal, people were sat with spare seats by them or between their little group and the next one. The windows were open. The turnout for the conference had been higher than the organisers had feared, especially given the hype of Omicron variant for the prior 2 or 3 days, but we were well below 50% capacity for the venue, I would say 30%. It helped that, unlike most conference venues, all the rooms were in a long row with windows/doors outside on at least one side. Thinking back, it was also nice to be at a conference where there was natural light in every room.

As the conference progressed it remained the case that people kept a little extra distance (though I moved away from some people who got too close) and everyone seemed relieved to be having a fairly normal conference experience. We had coloured badges on to indicate how hands-on we wanted to be. Green was “touch me if you want”, yellow was “I’m happy to be in your presence but no tongues” and red “Keep the hell away from me!”. I can’t remember meeting any reds (well, they should have been keeping the hell away from me) and I was yellow. A few people said they were surprised I was yellow – they can’t know me that well! I hope the colours were different enough for anyone colour blind to work it out as there was no text on the button (kiss me quick/I’m terribly British so no touching/bugger off).

The only times when there were a lot of people together where breaks and the evening event. All the catering staff were masked & gloved, generally they were putting your food on a plate and giving it to you at the end, no finger food or standing coughing over sandwiches. Even the tea/coffee was prepared for you and handed over. Having said that, on the first day I decided not to join in (helped by the fact it was all dry, brown food) and I went out and got something. Again, my lungs are shot so I take extra precautions.

The evening event was, as I said above, in the open air and with lots of space. I did not feel anxious about it at all. The venue was originally booked for June when the terrace would have been stunning. At the very end of November during a cold snap, you were in more danger from the cold than any virus.

The final thing I’ll cover is masks. Very few people wore masks. It’s the one aspect of the whole experience I was not happy with – and yet I was not wearing my mask. Trying to talk with people when you have a mask on is harder. I also personally find wearing a mask for long difficult. I was strapped to ventilation machines for a week, unable to breath enough on my own to keep me alive, and as a result I sometimes get very anxious wearing a mask. I’ve still got poor lung function and, though I am generally OK wandering around or going for a walk on the flat, any incline is a challenge and forget trotting or running at the moment. A set of stairs can leave me gasping on a bad day. A mask makes me breath that little bit harder so it’s tiring. But I always wear one on public transport or in shops. I find people who claim masks “poison you” farcical, given how many people in medical or dirty jobs wear them all day just fine. If I can wear one with my problems, they can. But at the conference I didn’t wear a mask and I am not really sure why.

Something a friends said to me during the conference was that if he heard of someone going off to a big party, especially now with the new variant in everyone’s mind, he’d think they were mad. But we came to this conference. It’s called cognitive dissonance, hold two opposing opinions at once. OK, it was not a party, it was something we do as part of our careers (or in my case my hobby), but really it was something we did not NEED to do.

Was I glad I went? Yes. Was it sensible? Probably not. Would I do it again next week? Absolutely not. For one thing, I count myself as a risk to others for the next week or so. Would I do it next Spring? Depending on unknowns with the pandemic and whether I can manage the flight (or go by land) probably.

I love conferences and other meetings. I don’t take part in the community for my career anymore as my career is over, I do it as I like many of the people I meet in the Oracle sphere and I love the sharing of knowledge. It’s important to me and I will take some risk, if I feel that those around me are going to also be sensible. I would not go on a holiday to the costa del sol at the moment as I know what the average UK tourist over there is like, and I would not go to a night club (but then, I don’t like them!). But another conference? Yeah….

All rooms opened out onto the famous Oval cricket grounds. Don’t ask me to explain the rules of cricket.

Community is Communication – #JoelKallmanDay October 11, 2021

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, UKOUG, User Groups.
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My life is not just Oracle and the Oracle community. I’m part of a couple of other communities as, I hope are we all – be they your hobby, an interest or pastime, the church, your friends. And the key to community is, I feel, communication.

2 days old

I was thinking of this a few weeks ago in another, important (to me) part of my life, which is fostering cats for a local pet charity. I’ve had cats for most of the last 40 years of my life and I’ve missed them since our last one died about 6 years ago. For a mixture of reasons we decide that rather then get another “forever” cat we would temporarily look after cats that needed care before being rehomed permanently.

We’ve had several cats now and it’s something we enjoy doing. What has not been so good, at times, has been interacting with the staff at the charity. There have been several situations where we have tried to contact them and either the reply is slow to come or does not happen at all. We do understand that they are often dealing with a fast moving or unclear situation and, especially with Covid-19 at times effectively removing most of their volunteer staff, more things to do than they have hours to do it in. But when you are asked if you can take on a new cat in an emergency and you drop your plans to do so – and then hear nothing for 3 days before being told “Oh! No, we organised to support the current owner in keeping it”, it’s… vexing. Especially the third time in a row it happens.

It nearly made us give up on them, the communication was just so lacking and poor.

2 weeks old

But to balance that, there is an online facebook-type group for all the fosterers and they are much better. We put up pictures of our fosterlings, swap tips, and generally support each other. It’s good communication. I say this despite a lot of the communication having a tone that just is not me (“Ohhh, isn’t paddy pooky so *cuuuuute*! It makes my hearty warty ache!”). However, that’s more my problem than theirs and in fact I modify how I say things a little to suit the general tone (Mrs W looks at some of the things I put on there and says “YOU wrote that?!?!” – yeah, it’s the style they like).

Similarly communication is vital in our Oracle communities. From organising an event to letting people know what your user group is doing, communication is at the heart of it all. Part of it is simply having some communication. If you never hear from a group you are involved with it is, just like with a friend who never gets in touch, hard to maintain the interest. Lack of communication can kill a community really quickly.

On the other side of the coin, over-communication is not good. When I was president of UKOUG one thing I pushed for was for us to communicate with the membership a little less. We used to send out monthly updates and also lots of emails about events and other things. It was too much, I knew people who simply ignored any email from UKOUG as it was endless. I don’t think we got it quite right when I was there, but we altered things so that fewer emails went out and they were more varied. Instead of a monthly update there was an update from the CEO one month and one from me as the president on the other month, with a different flavour and a modified focus.

3 weeks old

The final killer is empty communication. Saying stuff people are not interested in or saying “great things are coming” but nothing substantial about what that great stuff is. Teasers are OK but only if the tease gives a hint of what the new, cool thing is (and it actually is new and cool – so many commercial things are decidedly not cool, let alone interesting, and telling us you are excited about it makes me question how vacuous your life is…). Repeatedly saying “great things are coming” but not what they are sends a clear message of “we have no idea what we are going to do but don’t want to admit that”. There have been a lot of issues with that until recently with one particular Oracle Community area. It’s improving but they have a lot of work to do to make people reconnect with them again.

I love the communities I am in. I am passionate about the Oracle communities I am part of. If I want to help keep those communities vital and active, I need to help with the communication. I can’t think of a single community I am in that I am enjoying where communication is not at the core of it.

This post is part of the #JoelKallmanDay and, if you knew (or even just knew of) Joel , you will know why I chose this topic. Joel was a passionate, effective communicator and a rock within the APEX community.

Friday Philosophy – My First Foray Into I.T November 13, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions, Private Life.
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This is the first computer I ever used. The actual one. It is a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. It was at the heart of a long, terrible family feud – the source of much angst, anger, and even fist fights. Blood was spilt over this machine. Literally!

Picture of a Spectrum home computer

The actual first computer I ever used

Anyone who lived in the UK in the early 1980’s and is currently about half a century old will recognise this box with the grey, rubber (sometimes called “dead flesh”) keyboard. It was the model that came out after the Sinclair ZX81, which is itself a classic of early home computers, and sometimes the ZX Spectrum was called the ZX82. The Spectrum could put colour on the screen (up to 8 different colours at a time!), had a resolution of 256*192 pixels, the Z80A CPU ran at 3.5MHz, and it could make a sound. A beep, basically (for a wide variation of too few hertz to hear to too many hertz to hear and all tones in between, and of any duration – but it was still just a beep).

The Spectrum was initially a rival in the UK for the Commodore VIC 20, BBC Micro, Atari 400 and, later, the Commodore 64 (C64). They all had their advantages, the Spectrum’s was it was cheap! Even the more expensive 48K version (as opposed to the basic 16K) was cheaper than most rivals. Sinclair Research even tried to make out it was superior to it’s rivals as it was simpler and had fewer chips inside it. That was pure marketing BS of course. But the Spectrum and the C64 were probably the most common home computers in the UK in the early 80’s and they remainder popular even when more capable machines came out. They might not have been the best machines technically, but they both ended up having a huge number of games you could play on them, and that’s what counted. In my local computer games shop most games were for the Spectrum, then the C64, and all other machines got lumped together in a corner at the back.

The Spectrum was the first computer in the Widlake household. My dad agreed to buy it for my older brother Simon, who made a strong argument that it was an educational tool – and the early advertising material for the machine made a lot of it’s suitability as a such, with lots of worthy software for doing graphs and learning computer languages. About the only game available for it on release was chess. Dad was of the opinion Simon was the genius in the family – Simon was going to go to University! (At the time no one in the family had ever gone into higher education, only about 5% of people in the U.K. did then. As it turned out, all three of us kids went into higher education). So Dad felt it was worth spending the money, as he felt computers were going to become something. He wasn’t wrong.

But before Dad agreed to get Simon the Spectrum, he made Simon agree it was something the whole family was to have access to. He was to share it with myself and Steve, the eldest. Simon agreed.

Spectrum with games and tape recorder

The spectrum needed a tape record and a TV to be used

So the Spectrum arrived. Back then, home computers almost never came with everything needed to use them. The Spectrum, like several rival computers, needed a cassette tape record to save and load programs from tapes, and a TV on which to show the image. Simon had his own tape recorder and he was of the firm belief that, except when Dad wanted to watch the news, he could use the family TV whenever he wanted. As he was a genius after all.

He quickly lost the TV argument, the last thing our parents wanted was to lose the power of distraction that the TV provided for the other two kids – especially me as I watched a lot of TV and was a right PIA when I wasn’t. Steve did not watch a lot of TV but as he wanted nothing to do with the computer, it would have been really unfair on him to not get to see the few things he wanted.

However, Simon had a back-up plan. I had a portable black & white TV (so much for those 8 colours) and Simon was older & bigger than me. So he took possession of my TV. I complained to the court of Mum & Dad but the Tyrant justified his acquisition of the resource on the grounds that he was going to have to share his Spectrum, a far more valuable resource, with me – so it was only fair?!? “Yes” I agreed, but only when I was not using MY TV for MY watching of what ever (probably crap) I was wanting to watch. The court came down on the side of the Tyrant, but with caveat of the plaintive upheld. Tyrant could use the TV when Plaintive was not watching it. It turned out that the reality of the situation was that Simon was still bigger than me and to my considerable surprise “I didn’t want to watch anything” whenever Simon wanted to use his – err, sorry, “our” – Spectrum.

The next blow to the plans of Tyrant bigger brother was that it turned out his tape deck (the one in the picture) was crap. Most games would fail to load from it. But my tape recorder worked just fine for this purpose, it was a really quite nice JVC model… So, yes, you guessed it, another possession of mine was now to be treated as his – sorry, “our” – possession, still on the basis of shared access to the Spectrum.

So Simon used my stuff as and when he wanted, but did he share? Well, sort of…

Sinclair User Magazine

Those of us of the correct vintage who got into early home computers would buy magazines like (in our case) “Your Spectrum” or “Sinclair User”. Inside there would be long code listings of programs. Simon “let me” read the text of the code out to him to help him type it in more easily. Or, if he was in a really good mood, he would let me type the code in on my own – whilst he was doing something else (like seeing his friends or watching the colour TV or picking on the cat). If I finished typing it in I was not allowed to play it until he got back. Yeah, like I paid any attention to THAT rule…

These games you laboriously typed in often had bugs in them, especially if they had a lot of code. Some were down to entering the wrong code in, more were down to the actual code really being wrong – quality control was non-existent. And, to give him his due, Simon was really very good at finding and fixing the bugs. Once there was a flight simulator in the magazine, spread over a couple of issues. I think it later got developed further and become “Psion Flight Simulator”. But the version in the magazine did not work properly. Simon found and fixed the bugs and even got them published in a later copy of the magazine. It taught us both that software could be wrong and that it could be fixed. I did fix some of the games myself, especially if I had been left typing it in and got it finished. And sometimes Under Orders from the Tyrant (who was out setting light to papers in people’s front doors or something…)

But I was not allowed to play with the computer myself without permission, and certainly not if he was out. Apparently I was old enough to enter code for him unattended but not to load up “Meteor Alert” or “Ant Attack” and have fun. You’d think from this I was maybe 8 or 10, but I was actually about 14 and more than old enough to recognise hypocrisy and injustice. I would say that’s what older siblings are primarily for, to teach you about these philosophies. Not by saying “this is something you should not do, oh younger brother of mine” but by amply demonstrating for real what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such bullying and unfair treatment. But my oldest brother felt no need to deliver such life lessons, so I could be wrong.

Simon would let me play “with him”. This usually took the form of him playing the game and, once he lost, letting me play until I lost – and then we would swap again. Sounds fair? Not really, as a lot of the time he would be playing on his own or with his friends and I was not invited. He would be using “our” TV and “our” tape recorder but it was still His computer and he was not letting me join in. So given my lack of practice and that I was younger and not so good at computer games as him, when he did let me join in his go would last 20 minutes and mine would last 2 minutes. Basically, he liked to be beating someone. I was better than him at a couple of games, one being “Attic Attack”, as I had learned the layout. We never played Attic Attack. Oh, he did play Attic Attack. He played it on his own, trying to get better, good enough to beat me…

I could beat the Tyrant at Attic Attack

After maybe a year, 18 months, things came to a head. Simon was never going to play fair, in his mind it really was his Spectrum and also now his TV and his tape recorder. After all, as he kept telling me, his computer was the more expensive item. Only, in reality, it was less expensive than my contribution combined. I started playing on the Spectrum when he was not in, as far as I was concerned I’d put more into this pot than he had and I was not going to accept this shit. I could not use it against his will when he was there but once he was out, I damned well was going to get some of my fair share. As you can guess, this did not go down well with him when he found out and the Tyrant did what all bullying, older brothers did and he physically asserted his authority. He’d hit me. I was not really pleased about that, so when he’d go out I would absolutely bloody well would play on it if I wanted to or not, out of spite & defiance (and also to keep my edge in Attic Attack) – and it would repeat. It came to a head when he made my nose bleed – and it dripped on the computer. That was, of course, my fault… “If you’ve damaged the Spectrum I’ll kill you!” Oh, I’m so sorry for bleeding on things after you hit me. Maybe that should teach you something…

It was now warfare.  Screw you, I said, you’ve never shared as agreed, keep your Spectrum, it’s useless without my bits. I banned him from using my equipment. A ban which he now ignored of course. I went to the court of Mum & Dad, but not only was Simon “the genius” but he was, back in reality, a lying & manipulative sod and he made out he was sharing and I was being a spoilt child and I was told I had to share as he was (!!!!). So I took things into my own hands – and I started hiding the cables to my tape recorder and taking the plug off my TV. Yes, I physically removed the plug from the cable and hid it. He tried to work around my sabotage, one day I came home from somewhere to find he had plugged the Spectrum into the family TV and he’d got hold of a spare power cable for my tape recorder and he was using it, despite me banning him from it, playing games with his mates.

I went utterly, lost-the-plot nuts. I demanded my stuff back and an apology or something or let me play too and he was having none of it. So I tried to take my tape recorded back and he tried to stop me, but I was so mad I got hold of it (I think I was finally getting strong enough to fight back a bit) and, shouting something like “and you used it to load that game, so I’m taking THAT as well!” I kicked the power plug out the Spectrum. Game gone, no tape player to load one up, games afternoon with his friends was over and there was nothing he could do about it. He went BERZERK, trying to wrench the tape drive back off me and hitting me but I was so furious I held my own and I think I even kicked his computer again. He was straight off to Mum saying I was trying to break his computer. And this time, the Court of Mum & Dad finally realised Simon was being a little shit. He could not deny he had used my things, even though I had told him he could not, and he could not claim I attacked him first (his usual stance), as his mates backed me up and said Simon had hit me first. Yeah, his mates dobbed him in it!  I think they found it all hilarious.

This led to a full judicial review and this time the voice of the Plaintive was heard. I might have been a little sod but I had never tried to break stuff before and I utterly refused to accept it when The Tyrant lied that he shared at all – why would I be this mad and and even taking the plug off my TV? Simon had not helped himself in other ways as he’d been caught bullying me by Mum recently and been in trouble at school. Timing was on my side. He was told to play fairly or else… have his precious Spectrum removed. Dad would monitor.

Amstrad CPC 464

This was my Amstrad, I bought it, Simon was not using it.

After that, it got a bit more equal. I did get some time on the Spectrum myself (though I did sometimes have to get enforcement from the judiciary) and I did not just play games. I had typed in a lot of programs for Simon and fixed a few of them, so I slowly learnt how to program. I wrote a couple of my own simple games and put in stuff from magazines I wanted to try but Simon had no interest in.

But it never did really completely end. He could no longer stop me using the Spectrum. But if I was using it and Simon decided he wanted it, he would just bully me, or tell dad I was stopping him “learning” (I am not so sure what you learn from playing “Jet Set Willy”). That Spectrum came, for me, to represent what a selfish, lying, bullying, devious shit my older brother was. I swore one day the Spectrum would be mine.

And then it all changed, I got my own computer, an Amstrad CPC464. I bought it with my own money I earnt from months of back-breaking fruit-picking work (Simon was “too good” to do manual labour, so he had no money). It had not been bought by Mum and Dad, it was in no way a shared resource, it was totally mine. And guess what I said to him when he asked (well, demanded) to use it?

Yes, he could Fuck Right Off. He had his Spectrum.

And if he tried his old tricks of hitting me, it would be a more equal fight (he was still taller and older than me but manual labour had made me a hell of a lot stronger), so he decided against that. He could keep his crappy Spectrum.

The irony was that, even though my Amstrad was a much more advanced and capable piece of kit, the Spectrum and it’s vast library of games was still the best option for fun.

Well, the Spectrum is now mine. I picked it up from Mum’s house this week. Simon passed away many years ago, so it’s been sitting in a drawer for almost 2 decades. Being a Friday Philosophy I guess I should now tell you what the Spectrum now means to me, the healing process, what we can learn from this? How family, in the end, is more important than mere possessions? Stuff like that?

Well, I can.

I learnt that Simon was always a bullying, nasty, selfish, self serving sod and he got no better as he got older. So there.

And the Spectrum is now mine I guess.

But I don’t have a TV with the right socket to plug it into, and I know already – that tape drive won’t load games…

Friday Philosophy – Is The Problem The Small Things? August 7, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in ethics, Friday Philosophy, off-topic, rant, User Groups.
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Something has been bothering me for a while. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s been depressing me. It’s you. Well, many of you.

Well, it’s not MY problem!

What do I mean? Well I’ll give you an example. A week or so ago I went out in the car to get some shopping. A few minutes into the journey, as I go around a gentle bend, I see there is a car coming towards me – on my side of the road. I had to brake to give it space to get back over and I see it has swerved to avoid a branch in the road. As you can see in the picture, it’s not a huge branch, it covers less than one lane. I’m past it now so I go on to the shops and get my stuff.

30 minutes later I’m coming back. And I’m thinking to myself “I bet that branch is still there.” And it is. I can see it from maybe 300 meters back. The two cars in front of me barely slow down and they swerve past it. An oncoming vehicle that *I* can see coming, let alone the two cars in front of me, has to slow down for the swervers like I did. That slight bend means you get a much better warning of the obstacle from the side of the road it is on and as it is on your side, it’s really your responsibility so slow or even briefly stop, but the people in front of me just went for it. They did not care.

I did not swerve. I slowed down. And I put on my hazard lights, and stopped about 20 meters back from the branch. I double checked that no car has appeared behind me and I got out the car. In 20 seconds (including taking the snap), I’ve moved the branch off the road with no danger at all and I’m back to my car.

I know, you would have done the same.

Only no. No, you would not have.

Some of you would like to think you would have stopped and moved the obstacle.

I suspect most of you would claim, if asked, that you would have stopped and moved the branch.

And of course all of you would have slowed to avoid inconveniencing others.

But reality shows that nearly all of you would not.

As I left the scene, I was wondering how many people would have passed that branch in that 30 minutes I knew for sure this small branch had been an obstacle on the road. I’m going to let people going the other way off, as they would have to do a u-turn to come back to it, so how many people would have had to swerve past it?I know that road well, it would have been hmm, 4 or 5 cars a minute going past in one direction – certainly more than 3 cars, less than 10. So well over a hundred drivers would have seen that branch from a distance, most would have been able to safely slow and stop – and yet not one of them had. I have no idea how long the branch had been there, it was not too beaten up so maybe not long, but it could have been a couple of hours. It was easy to avoid – especially if you swerved with little concern for any on-coming traffic…

It turns out I’m the one in a hundred.

Are you thinking “well, it’s not my job to move branches of a road!”

So who’s job is it? And if you could label it as someone’s job (let’s go for someone in the “highways agency”) how do they get to know it needs doing? I don’t know about you but I see dozens of highways agency maintenance people on every journey I do, just cruising around looking for things that need doing. {sarcasm}.

When was the last time you saw something that needed doing in a public place and took the time to think about who should be told, try to contact them, get told to contact someone else, find out it’s not their job but are asked to ring Dave, who you do ring and he says thanks (before making a note to think about it, whilst probably muttering “this is not my job, I’ve got major roadworks to look after”). Hell, it’s easier to stop and move the branch.

Generally in life, in so many situations, I am constantly wondering why someone has not done X (or has done Y). Why don’t you reach for the jar in the shop the old lady can’t quite reach? Why don’t you hold the door? Why did you drop that litter when the bin is JUST THERE! That person  in front of you buying a parking ticket can’t find 10p in their purse to make the correct change? You have loads of 10p pieces… some in your hand already.

This is what is depressing me. Even though nearly everyone likes to think they are the nice person who will do a little for the common good, the reality is that most people won’t when it comes to it – but most people think we all should, and you tell yourselves you do the little things. You are telling yourself now, aren’t you? You are trying to think of the little things you have done for the common good. If you can think of a half dozen in the last month then you really are one of the good guys/gals. If you can only come up with a few…and actually most of them were ages ago… well, sorry but you are the problem.

The strange thing is that, having just insulted you all, as a group you lot are much more likely to be in the 1% than normal. Even though out of the general public not even 1 in 100 people would put in a little effort to move that branch, out of the people reading this, I’d say 10% would. Because I spend a lot of time in the Oracle user community, packed with people who give up their time, knowledge, even their holidays, to speak at conferences, help organise meetings, answer on forums, write blogs, answer questions on twitter, and all that stuff. Many of you reading this are active members of the User Community doing not just small things but often large things for the community. That’s why the community works.

To the rest of you, instead of liking to think you would move the branch or claiming you would (as everyone wants to be thought of as the nice guy/gal) just occasionally move the branch. Or pick that piece of litter up. Or do something small that cost you so little but it just would be nice if someone did it.

No one will thank you.

But you will know you did it. And you are becoming no longer part of the problem but part of the solution. I’m not asking you to give 10% of your salary to charity or give up an important part of your life, just do a bit of the small stuff.

If more of us do it, we will have a better world. If someone had moved that branch soon after it fell, I would not have had to  avoid some swerving dickhead, and the person I saw later would have not had to avoid people who could not even be bothered to slow down or stop briefly. And, in the worst case, that needless accident need not have happened. It really is as simple as spending 1 minute moving a branch.

Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. It’s really, really, really easy.

 

COVID-19: The Current Situation in the UK and June. May 30, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in COVID-19, Perceptions, Private Life, rant, science.
Tags: , , , ,
7 comments

I’ve not said anything about Covid-19 for much longer than I expected, but really it has been a case of watching the coming peak come and go, pretty much following the pattern of Italy, Spain, Belgium and France. I plan to do a post soon which pulls together the current scientific position, but for now I wanted to record where we are and where my gut feeling (based as ever on reliable scientific sources and not so much on what the daily government updates would like us to think) says we will be in a month or so.

The number of UK recorded deaths where C-19 was present, and detected cases

We’ve not done very well in the UK. If you are based in the UK you may not be aware of the fact that most of Europe think we have,as a nation, been idiots – failing to learn from other countries, late to lock-down, lock-down was not strict enough, too early to open up, our PPE fiasco… I can’t say I can disagree with them. We have one of the highest deaths-per-million-population rates in Europe, exceeded only by Spain and Belgium. But it could have been worse. A lot worse.

I’m truly relieved my predictions in my last post were (for once) too pessimistic. I misjudged when the peak in deaths would be by over a week – it was 9 days earlier than I thought, happening around the 11th April. As a result of coming sooner, the peak was lower than my little model predicted. Even allowing for that, the increase in number of deaths did not mirror the increase in cases (I used the cases pattern as my template for deaths). I think this is because the UK finally started ramping up it’s testing rate. The more testing you do, the more of the real cases you detect, so some of the increase in cases was simply better testing and not continuing spreading. That’s what happens when the source of your metrics changes, your model loses accuracy.

Deaths are directly related to real case numbers, it does not actually matter how many cases you detect. This is part of why case numbers are a much poorer metric for epidemics, whereas deaths are better. The best metric is a random, large sample for those who have had the disease – but we still do not have reliable, large-scale antibody or similar tests to tell us this.

If you look at the actual figures and compare to what I predicted for the peak of deaths, I seem to have been pretty accurate. I said 1,200 to 1,500 around the 20th April and the peak was 1,172 in the 21st April. But I was predicting hospital deaths only. Up until 29th April this was the number reported each day but since then the daily number of deaths reported included community (mostly care home) deaths. The previous figures were altered to reflect this and the graphs to the right are based on these updated figures. Hospital deaths seem to have peaked at 980 on the 11th April, so I was wrong.

I think it is crucial in science and technology (and actually, just in general) that you be honest when you are wrong – even if (like in this case) I could made a fallacious claim to have hit the nail on the head.

The bottom line is, we are well past the first peak and it did not overwhelm the NHS. It got really close and our issues with personal protective equipment was a scandal and must have resulted in more illness and some avoidable deaths to our front-line NHS staff. But, apparently, saying so is Political.

All in all we followed the pattern of European counties that were impacted by Covid-19 before us and implemented similar country-wide lock-downs.

One difference between us and other European countries that have been hit hard is our tail of cases is thicker and longer. We have not been as rigorous in our lock-down as those other countries (e.g we did not have to have written permission to leave or enter an area and children were not utterly forbidden from leaving home, which are just two examples how our lock-down was softer). I know it might not feel like it, but we were not.

What really concerns me is that we are easing lock-down measures so soon in the UK. Our daily new case rate and number of deaths are both still really quite high. The figures always drop over the weekend, especially Sunday and Monday (due to the numbers reported being for the day before). Over the last 3 days (Wed to Fri) we averaged 1998 new cases and 371 deaths per day. If you think Covid-19 has gone away, every single day there are 371 families who sadly know different.

I understand that the economy is important, that unless things are being manufactured, services provided, money earned and spent, that a large part of our society is not functioning. Maybe I don’t really appreciate how important it is as economics has always looked more like a dark art based on greed than anything logical, but some people feel getting back to normal business is critical and the long-term impact of not doing so is potentially as serious as Covid-19.

I also know that not being able to go to places, eat out, have a drink in the pub, meet up with friends in a building or in more than small numbers is frustrating. For many, not seeing your family and loved ones who are not in your home is very upsetting.

I’m sure that parents are desperate for kids to go back to school (partly for education and partly as it turns out kids are a lot of work), couples need a bit of time apart, people are missing their jobs. Nearly all of us have never had to spend so much time with a very small number of other people.

But I’m also sure that what we don’t want is in 4-8 weeks to have to go into the same level of lock-down as we spent most of this spring in. And the next lock-down may be even more draconian as there is a difference now to where we were at the second week of March when we should have locked down first.

SARS-Cov-2 is now endemic and prevalent across the UK. It is everywhere.

At the start of an epidemic the disease is growing in a small number of places, so usually (such as was the case with MERS and SARS) you can contain it by strong isolation and tracking efforts in those areas it occurs, as most of the population are not exposed. This is why you cannot contain seasonal ‘flu epidemics by isolating people, it does not work if it is wide-spread enough. ‘Flu simply flows through the population and it does in some years kill a lot of people.

With Covid-19 right now, If our R(e) – the effective reproduction number – goes above 1 anywhere across the UK, Covid-19 cases will rapidly increase in that area. And with restrictions being lifted across the whole UK and in England especially, I am privately convinced the disease will burst fourth again in many, many places and it is going to go very wrong again. I think the government is being utterly disingenuous about the impact of opening up schools and my friends who are teachers and medics have no doubt this is a significantly more dangerous step than it is being sold as. It might be the right move, but lying about it’s potential impact is not helpful long-term.

Not only are we relaxing social distancing steps too early, but I feel the government has utterly bolloxed up (technical term meaning “done a jolly poor job of”) the messaging. As examples:

  • The very clear “Stay at Home” became the vacuous “Stay Alert”, which no one seems to be able to clearly define and every one seems to have a different interpretation of.
  • We were given contradicting and non-nonsensical rules such as you could see one family member from outside your household in the park, but you could have people come and view your house. So if you want to see your mum & dad at the same time, put your house up for sale and have them view it.
  • Parts of the UK (Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland) have said they were not consulted on changes, they do not agree with them, and they are doing their own thing. That’s not confusing to people is it?
  • The whole Cummings affair. Dominic Cummings did break the rules, he acted like a selfish idiot, he lied about what he did, he had pathetically stupid excuses (“I drove my child around in a car to test my eyesight” which shows he either does not care at all for other people’s safety or has too low an IQ to be allowed out on his own). The issue is not that one arrogant, self-important person decided the rules do not apply to him. It is that the government fail to understand that not sanctioning him is being interpreted by many to mean they can make up their own minds about which rules apply to them and which they can ignore. Continuing to say “look, get over it” is simply coming across as telling us all to bugger off.

To help steer us through this crisis, we really needed a government with both the mandate to introduce new rules and also the acceptance by most of the population of those rules, and at least acquiescence from the majority to put up with limitations placed upon us. What we have now is a not just the hard-core “we won’t be told what to do” people that would always be a negative factor in limiting the spread of a disease, but a large number of angry, confused, worried people across the country. Almost everyone I personally know in the UK feel angry, confused, worried, and mostly with a progressively declining respect for the government and their advice.

I know I’m not very good at understanding people, it does not come naturally to me. If someone does not think like I do, I can have a devil of a job working out why. But I’m pretty sure that here in the UK a lot of people are going to start saying “to hell with the lock-down rules, everyone else is ignoring them and I’ve not seen anyone die in front of me…”

I went to see my Mum this week. I had to drive 100+ miles to do it. Unlike in Dominic’s case, it’s allowed now and I have no Covid-19 symptoms. I took a mask, I took my own food, we sat in her garden (I got sunburn, so Covid-19 might not get me but skin cancer might). I assured myself she was OK and that her tech will keep working so we can stay in touch. And I felt a little naughty doing it.

But I made a conscious decision to do it now – as I think SARS-CoV-2 is about at it’s lowest prevalence in our population right now (end of May 2020) than it is going to be for months. Admissions and deaths are going down and I expect at least deaths to continue to do so for another week or two. Personally I am deeply worried that in 4 weeks time new cases, hospital admissions, and deaths will be going up again. I don’t want them to be but I’ll be (very happily) surprised if they don’t go up  – what we see in cases & deaths at any point in time is based on the level of spread one or two weeks ago respectively. I suspect that as I type our R(e) number is going up and will exceed 1 this week.

If you don’t agree with me, just keep an eye on what the scientists are saying. Some are already making noises of anxiety as an article on the BBC is already saying today. Scientists tend to make cautious statements such as “we do not think this is wise” or “we feel there is a danger in this choice of action”. It’s a normal person’s equivalent of screaming “Are you bloody idiots?!?”.  Once again, the experts are saying we should do one thing and the government are doing another. It’s not gone too well to ignore the scientists so far.

There is a T-shirt you can get at the moment, which I really must order a dozen of.

“All disaster movies start with someone ignoring a scientist”.

 

 

Friday Philosophy – Concentrating and Keeping Calm. April 3, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in biology, COVID-19, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Private Life, science.
Tags: , , , ,
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I was talking with a friend this week (via a webcam of course) about how he had been looking & looking at some misbehaving code for days. His team mates had looked too. It was not working and logically it should work. None of them could work it out. The problem turned out to be a small but obvious mistake.

My guesses for UK cases & deaths. Do Not Trust

This of course happens to us all occasionally, but we both agreed that, at the moment, we have the attention spans of a goldfish and are as easily distracted as a dog in squirrel country. I asked around a few other friends and it seems pretty much universal. All of us are making cups of tea and then taking the milk into the lounge & putting the cup of tea in the fridge. Or walking into the kitchen and asking who got the bread out to make lunch. It was you. The cat is wondering why I open the pouch of cat food and then leave it on the worktop and go do my email for 20 minutes. She’s getting annoyed.

Why are we all failing to function? Because we are all worried. This is one of the things anxiety does to us.

The whole COVID-19 thing is stressful – the feeling of being trapped inside, concern for friends and family, the ever growing numbers of infected & dying. I actually think if you are not at all worried then you are either:

  • Not understanding the situation
  • In denial
  • A total sociopath
  • Someone who should not be allowed out alone
  • Have reached a level of Zen calm usually only attainable by old oriental masters/mistresses

I’m by my nature often in camp 3 above, but even I am worried about this and I know it is making me tetchy and less able to focus. I’m struggling to keep my mind on things. Except on COVID-19. I tend to handle things I find unnerving by studying them and I probably spend about 3 or 4 hours a day looking at the latest information and scientific output on COVID-19. However, I note more things to “look at later” than I actually look at, as I am trying to manage my stress.

After an hour I make myself get up, go trim some roses, play a computer game, read a book. Anything to distract me. I’ve even started talking to the other person in the house and my wife is finding that particularly annoying. Sue seems easily annoyed and quite distracted at the moment. I wonder why?

Another way I cope is I talk with people about topics that are causing me stress. If I can’t talk, I write. Thus I wrote this Friday Philosophy – think of yourself as my counsellor.

I’ve seen a lot of social media “memes” about how long ago the 1st of March feels like, when we first started worrying about this. It seems like months ago, yes? To me it seems like a year. I started worrying about this a good while before the 1st March. I think the worry started about early/mid-February. Why? Because I’m a genius of course. {Note, this is called British self-deprecating sarcasm – I’m not a genius!}. No, the reason I picked up on all of this early was that chance primed me to.

I have a background in biology and some of the job roles I have held over my career have been in healthcare and the biological sciences. One role last year was working with a small biotech company working on immunology. So I take an interest in this sort of thing, it’s “my bag”. I was also pretty ill in December with Influenza (and yes, it WAS influenza, type A – I am not “the first case of COVID-19 in the UK”). So I was convalescing at home and took a specific interest in a new illness spreading through China that was influenza-like… And was worrying the hell out of the Chinese authorities who were coming down on it in a way we have not seen before, even with SARS and MERS.

My play spreadsheet.  I should leave this to the experts really

I have to confess, I initially suspected (wrongly, I hasten to add) that this new disease had escaped from a lab. The way it spread, that it seemed to be ‘flu-like, the rapid response by the authorities. I don’t doubt research into modifying diseases goes on – by the UK, China, USA, the Vatican, by every country with a biotech industry. I know we have the tools to directly mess with genomes, I did it myself, crudely, 30 years ago and I know people now who do it now, with considerable accuracy, for medical and other altruistic reasons. However, genetically engineering an organism leaves traces and when COVID-19 was sequenced there was no sign of this and it could be tracked to similar, previously known samples. I might even know some of the people who sequenced it and checked. But, anyway, that suspicion also made me watch.

The rate of spread in Wuhan was as shocking as the authority’s response and then through February the scientific analyses started appearing. The R(0) number (infection rate) and the high case fatality rate were both high. I’m not an epidemiologist but I had been taught the basics of it and I knew what was coming. No, that’s not right, I suspected what was coming, and I was worried. It was when the number of countries with cases started to increase that I felt I knew what was coming. By the end of February I was sure that unless something huge happened to change it, 2-3% of people, everywhere, would be killed. This was going to be like Spanish ‘flu only quicker (as we all travel so much). I became “The Voice Of Doom”.

On 2nd March I recommended to our CEO that UKOUG cancelled our Ireland event (people & organisations were pulling out so it was making it financially untenable anyway, but my major concern was that this was going to explode in the population). Thankfully the rest of the board agreed. I created my tracking spreadsheet about the 5th March. So far it’s been depressingly good at predicting where we are about a week in advance, and not bad for 10 days. I leave it to the experts for anything beyond that. All so depressing so far.

But Something Huge has happened. Governments did take it seriously. Well, most of them. And those who took it seriously soonest and hardest have fared best. The social lock-downs and preparation work that is going on in the UK is going to reduce the impact down dramatically and, more importantly, give us time to try and find solutions. But it still worries me. And I think they could have done it sooner. But most of the world is taking this very seriously – as it is very serious.

Part of me wants to keep watching how COVID-19 develops, and maybe writing more articles on it. I’ve had some really nice feedback on the first two and I want to do a post on where we might go in the coming months and why. But part of me wants to stop as it is making me very anxious and I’m sick of losing my cups of tea, or being stared at hard by the cat, and the wife asking me what the hell am I doing with the spanner and tin of peas.

I can’t easily listen to the government announcements each day as it is obvious, if you look at the scientific data and what medical professionals are saying, that they are simply not being candid. It’s all “we can beat this in the next few weeks” and “we will get you testing kits this month that are utterly reliable” despite the fact that’s going to need a scientific miracle to do that, let alone develop a reliable vaccine. I understand we need to keep positive but I think bullshitting the population now is only going to make telling them anything they will believe in 2 months even harder. In 6 months time when there is still no reliable vaccine and so many people have been wrongly diagnosed and the first few countries have had this rip through them almost uncontrolled, the lack of candid honesty will come back to roost. I worry about that a lot.

So I’m worried and I’m worried I’m going to be worried for months and months and months.

But for now I’m going to go for my daily (local) walk along a path I know will be almost empty of people and relax.

 

* Note, the graph and the spreadsheet are just “decoration”. They are my wild guesses on what may happen and have no reliability at all. Just saying

 

 

 

Friday Philosophy – Presenting Sex January 24, 2020

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Presenting.
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These slides are from the first ever presentation I did. And yes, the presentation was at work.

The Evolution Of Sex

My first real job after college was as a trainee analyst programmer for the National Health Service and, as part of the “graduate training program”, we attended a short course on presentation skills. As you would expect, we all had to do a presentation at the end. As most of us had never had a job before and we were dull with no interesting hobbies, most of the presentations I could see being put together around me were a little… boring. I decided to try something different.

If you think the photographs with this article are a little poor with odd reflections, that is because the original images are printed on transparent acetate sheets and were displayed by putting them on an overhead projector – a large box-thing with a blindingly bright light that shone through the acetate sheet and cast the image onto a screen or wall via a mirror/lens bit. Laptops had not been invented back then and I’m not even sure a PC (if you could afford a PC 386SX) could drive a projector. This was all manual – you had to change sheets by hand. At least you never had problems with connecting the overhead projector to the acetate sheet, you simply put the sheet on upside down and back-to-front and had to re position it 3 times before you got it right. This is important, I could not quickly flick between images.

When I put up my first sheet, with the cute little couple holding hands, our tutor screeched and said to one of the other delegates “Oh God! I thought you were kidding when you said what he was presenting on!”. Before I could even take this opening image off the projector sh had stepped forward and told me I could not present this.

“Why not?” I asked, “we are all adults!”. She refused to let me swap to my first proper slide, “This is not the sort of topic that is suitable at work.”

Stand off.

“Well, what do you think I am going to talk about?”. Our tutor was now quite flustered. “I think we all know what you are presenting on – and I shudder to think what the next slide is going to be of!” (or something like that, this was a long time ago). I had no choice. I got her to come closer and look at my next couple of slides…

Her relief was visible. She could immediately see the next slides were not based on “The Joy of Sex” or similar publications and after she’d looked at each of my acetate sheets carefully (just to make sure) I was allowed to continue.


Of course, this had somewhat diluted the tension & expectation that had been building up, but I felt I had milked the initial surprise as much as I was going to be able to. I moved onto the next slide and most of the audience was disappointed by the lack of limbs, bodies and appendages to be seen. As you can see to the left, the next slide was an odd set of little diagram of dots & letters and what many of us would now recognise as a sort-of family tree diagram. As some of you know, my degree had been in genetics (and zoology but that is bye-the-bye).

There is a very interesting thing about sex, as in sexual reproduction. What is the point? Well, apart from the immediate pleasure for animals like us that seem to enjoy the initial act, why do we mix the genomes of two organisms to produce new offspring? It is not mandatory, many organisms (especially plants and bacteria) employ asexual reproduction. All the children are effectively clones of the adult. There is no finding a mate or the need for pollen to arrive, the actual process biologically is a lot simpler & more reliable, and you don’t need males running around using up resources for, let’s face it, a pretty small contribution to the effort. Asexual reproduction is a lot quicker, simpler, needs less energy. A species that does away with sex can out-compete sexy competition.

 

My little talk was all about that, about why you have male and female, why mixing the genes from two individuals and, over time, across the gene pool of your species, is beneficial. I won’t bore you with the details here.

That first presentation of mine went down very well and it was remembered by everyone there. A lot of people (who had not even been there for the premier of that talk) mentioned it to me when I left the company. It made an impression on me too – if you can grab people’s attention at the start of a presentation, it really helps make it a success.

And, of course, as anyone in marketing will tell you – Sex Sells.

In this case, even the lack of sex.

Friday Philosophy – Community Means So Much December 27, 2019

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Private Life, User Groups.
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There have been a few things in the last month that have really brought home to me how much I personally receive from the Community. In my case, my Community is primarily the Oracle User Community – The end users who come together to share knowledge, the Oracle employees who support this, and the companies that support the end users. For most of you reading this, you are part of the Oracle User Community, but most of you will be (I hope) in other communities too through your other interests, be they religious, music, hobbies, sports, charities etc.

My community. I even like some of them 😃

At the start of this month (December 2019) I was at UKOUG’s Techfest2019, our annual December conference which is now focused just on Tech. As “El Presidente” of UKOUG (an unofficial modification of the official title of President, dropped on me by friends with a similar sense of humour as myself). I represent the whole of our membership, be they tech, business applications, or data analytics. But my background is Oracle Technology and so I naturally know more people in that sphere. And I’ve known some of them for over 15 years. There was close to 500 people at the conference on a couple of days and I recognised probably 2/3 of these people, and knew half enough to swap pleasantries. More importantly, a couple of dozen of those people have become good friends.

Conferences, to me, epitomise the community. We exchange knowledge, we learn, but we also have fun and we socialise in a way that I feel you simply can’t via social media. I like nothing more than meeting someone in the flesh that I have only known on-line, having a chat or a coffee or a beer or even a meal. It can really help make that connection that moves acquaintance to friendship (we’ll skip over those rarer occasions when you meet in the flesh and realise they are simply not your cup of tea!).

UKOUG conferences have become a little weird for me over the last few years, due I think to my roles in helping organise parts of the event and now being UKOUG president. I get a lot of positive feedback and personal moral support from people. I’d goes as far as to say I receive genuine affection from some people. I’m told how much they enjoy the event, how much better the coffee is, and sometimes what is not so good about the event (which I need to know), but always in a constructive manner. And people take the piss out of me. Oddly enough, especially with men, you know you are liked when you get good-natured abuse. I get a lot of abuse. In my head it is 95% good-natured 😃.

You had to be there for it to make *any* sense

The downside is I just can’t spend time with all the people I want to spend some time with. I’m getting better at moving about and trying to chat with as many people as I can, but I can only sit down and have a coffee or beer and socially catch up with so many people in the time I have. And not all my time is my own, I have to be President and do things. On that note, I apologise for any mental health issues caused by me taking my clothes off on stage this year…

The care of the community was really brought home to me after Techfest19, when I came down with ‘flu which then ganged up with secondary lung infections and put me in hospital for over a week. I only posted to Facebook (briefly) during this period (I did not want to shout it out over Twitter, which is like talking to the world). For me Facebook is friends & family. Even so, I got so many notes of concern and good wishes. And when I did put up a blog post when I was getting better, I got another burst of support and concern – and that was really nice. If I was not involved in a community, I would not have got that.

But there was another aspect of that show of affection by community that surprised me. My wife Sue is in her own community, that of millinery & hat making. There is not a lot of crossover between that world and the Oracle world! Sue had had the same ‘flu as me but without the extra “fun” I had, and she was having to try and help me in hospital as she struggled to recover herself. And her millinery community gave her so much support and care, which spilled out to include me.  And as Sue has a bit of a foot in the Oracle community also (she has presented at a UKOUG event in her own technical right and has joined me at conferences and met some of my Oracle friends), some of my community reached out to her to check how I was – and how she was coping. That was lovely.

Another aspect of community is the sharing of technical help. I’m a member of the OakTable network and as well as sharing our knowledge with the wider community (we are pretty much all presenters, bloggers, explainers), we help each other. None of us knows the whole Oracle stack or the related tech. During December there were several threads from people you would know as experts going “guys & gals, I’m confused by this” or “I’m seeing X and I suspect Y but I’m just not able to prove it”. And each time people stepped in and helped. Even the big Oracle names need help from the community. So you see, it does not matter if you are brand new to a technical area or lauded as the God of Tuning, everyone at all levels learns from the community.

The Oracle ACEs at Techfest19, core to supporting the Oracle user community

I’m not happy with a lot of things going on in the world at the moment. The UK is becoming more nationalistic, more jingoistic, fundamentally more tribal and distrusting of “them” – foreigners. I hate it. Our right-wing, Conservative government is milking this, encouraging this attitude. You also see it in the US & Trump with his MAGA and his talk of beating other countries with trade embargoes or military might. I know other European countries are seeing a rise in the worst aspects of nationalism and tribal distrust or even hate of “not our tribe”. It really upsets me and makes me worried about where our nations are going.

I think none-tribal communities like the Oracle one, the Millinery one, like most hobby ones, can help dispel this. It’s harder to dislike people from other parts of the world when you engage with them and know, on a personal level, they are the same as “us”, whatever “us” is.

And on my own personal level? I get out of my community five times what I put in.  This month I have received in plenty.

I’d encourage you all to get more involved in your communities and consider joining new ones.  And if you get the chance to physically meet members of your community you only know through screen & smart phone, put the effort in to do so. It can convert acquaintances into real friends and I think most of us would benefit from more friends.

I’m not sure I’ll post again this year, so Happy New Year everyone. And thank you.

 

Philosophy – Treating Illness As A Performance Issue December 24, 2019

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Private Life.
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Firstly, I’m on the mend. This is not a post about “oh woe is me, I am so ill”. But I have been rather ill.  I’ll just give you the highlights: The highs of UKOUG Techfest19 at the start of the month were followed very quickly by me developing full-blown influenza (Type A). After about 5 days of being ill in bed I realised I was fighting for breath just laying there. I analysed the problem and came to the conclusion “something else is very wrong and paracetamol is not the answer”. I was taken into hospital and put on increasingly powerful ventilating machines until they could get enough oxygen into me to keep me (sort of) functioning. I’d developed secondary infections & pneumonia, seriously reducing my lungs’ capacity to exchange oxygen & carbon dioxide. {Update – no, I was not an early, uncrecognised COVID-19 case. If that was so my type of influenza would have almost certainly come up as unknown – the two viruses are quite different}.

Wearing this thing was like being up a hill in a force 8 gale!

A normal oxygen (O2) blood saturation level is 100. Below 90 is a cause for concern. A constant level below 85% is medically deeply worrying as 80% and less is harmful to several organs and confusion/unconsciousness are likely. Below 75% and you are almost certainly unconscious. I do know that when I first got to hospital they could not get me up to 85% and they could not understand how I could still talk and be (mostly) rational. I went from nasal O2 to a face mask to a machine that blew damp, warm O2 up my nose and finally a pressurised face mask. Next step was sedation and full mechanical ventilation – but they did not want to do that. My blood O2 became my main metric and I followed it like a hawk.

So I’m in hospital, very unwell (but not dying {update – at least they didn’t tell me at the time. They told Sue I was seriously ill and would probably be put into a medical coma} ), under excellent care. And I’m almost, but not quite, totally incapacitated. To me it was a bit like I was a computer system with a serious deficiency of CPU power. Or a toy robot with failing batteries. Energy conservation is paramount. So what do you do in this extreme situation? Turn off everything you don’t need turned on, and save energy for things you have to do.

Turning things off was relatively easy. After all, I was connected to a load of monitoring technology and breathing kit so I was not going wandering about. I didn’t move much. If I needed to sit up I was not going to use those stomach muscles, the bed was powered and would move me about. If I wanted something from the table besides me (like a drink) I’d relax, breath deep, get my Blood O2 up –  and then get it. A little rest and then I’d e.g drink or look at the phone.

Some things I had to do (or insisted on doing) and I realised how much energy they took:

Having a poo

It takes a lot more energy to have a poo than you think. I was just about mobile so I was allowed to look after my toilet needs. They would bring me a commode, position it so I could get there still attached to the ventilator keeping me going, remove some of the monitoring (but not all, heart monitor and blood 02 had to stay on) and get me ready to swap to the commode. And then leave me alone for 10 mins. I think at first they hung about by the door listening for a thud, and I had a call button. Getting onto the commode was OK (breath-breath-breath, move, pant for a minute like you just sprinted 100m… relax), but the actual job itself uses more abdominal muscles than you probably every realised. Tiring.

All the monitoring kit was on one arm. The one I normally use to “tidy up” with. Using the other hand was very odd. And again, tiring, I had to take it in stages!

My PICC line. patch in armpit, line along vein almost to my heart.

Post event I would need to rest and let the blood O2 lift back above 90% and then I could shuffle back to the bed and press my button. The nurse would come in, congratulate me, and attach any removed monitoring. I’d lay there and wait for the O2 to get back above 90% and the bloody monitoring machine would stop pinging.

For 3 days this was the hardest thing I did, it was my main exercise…

Eating

Actually chewing & swallowing was easy. But to do that you have to get the food into your mouth. Holding your arms up to eat is hard work! I took to cutting up what I had (if it needed cutting up), having a rest, then eating with one arm, mostly balanced on the table with brief bouts of effort to ferry morsels to my mouth. I was incapable of lifting a pint. Even more incredible – I had no desire to lift a pint!

I’d have a little rest after eating and I found I had to listen carefully to my body about how much to eat. Anything more than about what you would feed a cat in one sitting, and I would lay there, 2 or 3 hours later, conscious of the need to move that food out my stomach and into my gut. Who knew the mechanical side of digesting needed effort.

Washing

You can’t have a shower if you are attached to breathing machines. And I was not able to leave my room anyway as I was an infection risk to other patients (I had ‘flu remember). Plus, at first, no way could I do all that waving arms, applying shower gel and the rest of the business. So it was washing with a bowl, cloths, and lots of towels. If I took it steady I could do this myself, except my back and, oddly enough, my legs. lifting them up was exhausting! Nice nurses did those bits.

Weeing

I’m a man, weeing was not an issue. They give you an endless supply of little bottles with a hole towards the top. So long as you tuck the relevant part into the hole (having sat up using the bed) you just “let go” and pressure does the rest. No energy. The first time is worrying – “what if I miss, what if I fill the bottle”. The bottles are designed to be bigger than a human bladder.

This pushed warm, O2 laden air into my lungs and Was My Friend

However, if you do what I did and then drop the bottle of wee on yourself, do not attempt to sort it out! I did, I stared trying to use a towel and get out the wet spot and I nearly went unconscious as my O2 plummeted from the effort.

What you do do is call the nurse and say “Nurse, I just poured my own wee over myself and I’m wet”. Nurse will remove your wee-covered clothing (a hospital smock), un-plumb you from some machines, move you to a chair, plumb you back in, and then clean up the bed, bedding, floor etc. They don’t either laugh at you or grumble. You just sit there feeling like a pillock.

Nurse will then ask how much you had wee’d. Why? I’m on a high dependency ward, they measure everything. A key thing is fluid in (via saline drips and drinks) and fluid out – blood taken for observations and weeing. I knew I was getting better when the weeing increased compared to drinking. This is because my lungs had swollen with fluid and, as they recovered, they released the fluid. A pair of swollen lungs hold a lot of fluid!

It had been a good wee, I guessed 350ml. It certainly was enough to make me and the bed very wet.

Coughing

Having a good cough (which I did a lot of, of course, what with all the lung issues) would send my blood oxygen plummeting. Again, lots of abdominal muscles and the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle between your lungs and stomach) are used in coughing. If I could, I would build up to a good cough, conserving my strength and getting my O2 up in preparation for a real good go. But if it caught me by surprise, it could drop the blood O2 dramatically. But the good thing was, coughing helped expand the lungs and I recovered quickly and was “better” for half an hour.

Thinking

At rest, your brain uses about 20% of your total energy. This is true even for stupid people like Donald Trump :-). Biologically it’s very interesting that humans have such large brains and put so much energy into it – far more than any other animal (in relation to body size). Our brains makes us different to all other animals, ie “intelligent”, but at a significant energy and nutrients cost.

If my blood O2 dropped too low I would start shutting down. This is why people with breathing difficulties pass out, once blood O2 goes below a certain level, your higher brain functions stop to reduce demand and protect the rest, unconsciousness comes quickly.

Thinking was hard. I’ve never been one for just sitting there “thinking of nothing” but I did an awful lot of that in hospital. It was my brain saving energy.

Socialising was a real drain. I could do the 2 or 3 mins with the nurses or docs when they came to do observations (oh, so many observations in a high dependency ward!) or put drugs in me, take out my bood (Oi! I wanted that blood! I was using it to ship the small amount of O2 I can absorb!). I had to be really on my game when the docs popped in once or twice a day as this was my opportunity to try and ask smart questions like “so we have a diagnosis, what is the prognosis?”. Don’t worry what it means, medics live by it so asking them makes them think you know some of the secrets… Docs don’t tend to tell you much in my experience, unless you can ask pertinent questions and show you understand the answers. They seem to think ignorance (on the part of the patient) is bliss. If I knew when the docs were going to be in, I’d try and have a pre-visit snooze so I was at the top of my game.

Where it was hard was dealing with Mrs Widlake. Mrs Widlake was wonderful, she would ask me what I wanted and the next day she would bring it in, let me know what was going on, if people had been in touch, who was annoying her. And kept me company. It was very important to me.  But after about 1/2 an hour I would start shutting down, the thinking (and talking) reduced my low energy levels. We worked out a solution. She would come in, give me my new book and the bizarre, random items I asked for and chat to me. After 1/2 an hour she would go have a cup of tea in the visitor’s room whilst I zoned out, then came back for more chat. Resource management and time sharing! Sue did not want to leave me alone but after a few days we both accepted that a daily visit in sections, kept to maybe 3 hours, made the best use of the resources available. It was a bit like my batch processing window!

My Nemesis – The Evil pin-Ping-PING machine!

Monitoring

So I was managing my resources and finding out which ones took effort. But like any good system, you need monitoring, real-time feedback. And boy was I monitored! I was on a high dependency/close observation ward. Every hour, every single damned hour all night too, they would come and do blood pressure, record my heart rate and O2, measure my wee, what I had eaten, temperature etc, steal blood.

But the main thing was the machines I was attached up to. They constantly monitored. And pinged. Oh god, did they all bloody Ping. If a chest sensor fell off or I sat on the connector, that machine would ping. If a drip (drug or fluids) ran out, it would Ping. Breathing machine ran out of water? Ping Ping Ping! The ventilator had to up pressure or I moved too much (I duuno why) – Ping Ping Ping.

But the worst, my nemesis (and also my KPI) was the blood O2 monitor. If I dropped below X, usually 86 or 88, it pinged & pinged & pinged. If I dropped below 85 it would up the volume and multi-ping: “ping-Ping-PING! ping-Ping-PING! ping-Ping-PING!”. You could not even cheat it by taking the monitor off, as then it went ping-bloody-crazy. All those tasks I mentioned above that took effort? They all made this blasted machine ping or ping-Ping-PING!

The one biggest challenge to me during my stay was not boredom, not pain (I was lucky, no pain other than what they inflicted on me putting in drains etc, or headaches due to low O2), not fear – it was trying not to go crazy due to the the pinging. I did everything I could to stop the pinging. The only time I really lost it with the nurses was one night as I improved and they changed the warning levels up to 90 and every time, every time I started to fall asleep it bloody ping-Ping-PING’d. I told the nurse to turn the levels back down else I would rip the damn thing off the wall. She said she could not, as she was not qualified to make the decision. “Well find someone who can as, if it does not let me sleep, I will lose my shit”.  It’s the only time I swore at any of the people looking after me. It got turned down.

This is exactly like having OEM monitoring a database and alerting on a KPI such as CPU usage when usage spikes and is actually OK. Just endless, endless false alarms. What the damn things should have done (in my opinion, for me) was only Ping if I was below a limit for over a minute, or went down to critical. Then it should go absolutely crazy.

And it was not just my machines. Other people in the ward had their own pinging machines. They. All. Pinged.

I’m back home now and recovering. I can breath unaided and slowly, slowly I am able to do more without running out of breath. Like have a shower or make my own cup of tea. Give me a month (I’ve been told it’ll take a month) and I should be back to sort-of normal. I won’t be running marathons or using the axe in the garden for a while. I’m still treating myself like an under-resourced computer and dolling out effort where best used. But each day another core comes on line and I can expand the extra effort. I think it’s called getting better.