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

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Presenting, Uncategorized.
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7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Martins_1

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

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

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

Friday Philosophy – Level of Presentations March 8, 2013

Posted by mwidlake in Exadata, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Presenting.
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7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Present (UKOUG TEBS 2012) November 27, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
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3 comments

The annual UK Oracle User Group Technical and E-Business Suite conference is fast approaching and rather than just say “hey everyone, I’m going to present at a conference” I thought I would say why I present at conferences (and SIGs (and any opportunity I get) ).

The UKOUG TEBS conference is the one that is, in my eyes, the UKOUG conference. It covers E-business suite and the core database stuff – DBA-type things and developer-type things. The things I am interested in. You can see the details and agenda via this link. If you would like to see someone else’s view of this year’s conference, from a delegate’s perspective, check out this post by my friend Big Dave Roberts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve personally got more out of the UKOUG TEBS conference than when I have been lucky enough to go to Oracle Open World. For me, I want to see user stories and opinions as well as the Oracle company line – and user groups give far more of that. UKOUG is the biggest and most encompassing of the European conferences, but check out and attend your local user groups if you are not based in the UK (or are in Scotland) – I’ve been to a couple now and all have been good.
{Oh, I should add, I am not presenting at the main TEBS conference, for the first time that I’ve made it there in…10 years! I’m presenting on the OakTable Sunday. I get to fully enjoy the whole 3 days of TEBS this year, as a normal punter!}

So why do I present?

First up, I am lucky that presenting does not scare me. Oh, I get nervous before I start and I worry about my material and doing a decent job of it, but I never feel sick or faint before starting(*). I’ve got some good friends who know as much or more about database technology than I and, in a social situation, they will let fourth with eloquence and passion about some topic. Usually in a pub. But the idea of formally presenting fills them with the heebie-jeebies if not the screaming abdabs. Or, when they get up to talk, they morph from erudite and eloquent {ie they speak clearly, concisely and interestingly) into stuttering, uncomfortable rabbits caught in the lights. And they quickly drop back from it. It’s a real shame as they have a lot to say. Actually, it is a blessing as it leaves space open for me :-)

Secondly, I want to be noticed. There, I’ve said it. I’m pretty sure that 75%+ of the regular speakers at conference want to be noticed and that is a factor in why we do it. Oh, of course, we can wrap it up as “marketing your skills” or “maintaining a presences” but that’s fluff. We want you to see us talk and we want you to like what you see. Well, not the physical aspect of it, that would be weird, but we want you to either think we know what we are talking about or enjoy listening to us prattle on. We want to be appreciated. That’s not so noble, huh? But true.

As a sub-topic to “I want to be noticed” let’s deal with getting work. For me personally, speaking has never got me a job. Asking around friends and contacts most people are the same in that Presenting does not get most of us any work. Maybe it’s a factor when I get interviewed but no one has once come up to me after a talk and said “can you come to our site and be paid a vast sum of money to solve this problem”. I’d love you to be the first, though…

Third, and this may seem noble – or corny or self-worthy – but I talk because I want to teach. I want you to have in your head the knowledge I have in mine, preferably with less pain and anguish than it took me to get it in mine. I love teaching people stuff. It is a common trait to the OakTable network. We teach and we demonstrate why we think what we think. Usually. I can’t decide if I prefer making something that is broken work or teaching people more. Those two are why I do what I do. Frankly I gave up on making a “significant difference” years ago, I’ll stick to making lots of insignificant differences.

Fourth, I get to meet people. It’s taken a while as, except in small groups, I am not great at being sociable. That might seem odd given I said I like to be noticed, but I don’t like to be noticed as a fool and for reasons I will side-step, I’m not too great at judging how I am coming across. Plus I cannot remember names or faces, which is tricky sometimes. Actually, a lot of actors are not “social people”, for some they act because they can’t “do” people. Anyway, presenting has opened doors to me by meeting other presenters who know their stuff, non-presenters who know their stuff and, generally, people. Most of whom have been nice.

Fifth, and this is quite rare. I get asked. If you ask me to present the chances are I will say “ohh, yes please!!!!” We are back to my second point about being noticed, aren’t we? Caveat. If you ask me to present and you live thousands of miles from the UK, as I have no employer to fund my demands for limousines and four-star hotels, I might have to say no. Unless you buy me a LOT of beer.

That is why I present. You probably now expect me to say something to encourage you to present but, mehh, if you want to, just do it. If you don’t, don’t do it. It’s not for everyone. Except you over there. Yes, you know who you are. You need to present more. :-)

(*) I confess, when I do a talk that is aiming to be funny, I get very nervous. When I do my “disasters” talk I can get very nervous as the whole idea is that people will be amused. If I get the feel of the talk wrong I can look preachy or obnoxious or bitter or daft or all four and more. But it is still the talk I most enjoy giving.

Next Public Appearance – Scottish SIG on 29th Feb February 13, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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2 comments

Who’s up for a beer or whiskey in Edinburgh on the evening of 28th Feb?

I’ve been promising myself I’d do the Scottish SIG for three or four years but life has always conspired to stop me. However, at last I am going to manage it this year.

The meeting is on the 29th February at the Oracle {was Sun} office in Linlithgow. You can see the schedule and details here. As ever, it is being chaired by Thomas Presslie, though I {and I suspect Mr Hasler} will be hoping he is not forcing drams of Whiskey on people before 10am in the morning, as he did at the last UKOUG conference…

I’m presenting on Index Organised Tables again, following up on the series of posts I did {and have still to finish}. As well as myself there is also Tony Hasler talking about stabilising statistics {one of the key things to stable and thus acceptable performance from a very knowledgeable man}, a presentation by Wayne Lewis on Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel 2 {which I understand is Oracle Linux with the extra bits Larry wants in there before they have gone through to the official Open Source release} and Harry Hall talking about all the new stuff on OEM 12C. If he says Cloud too often I might lob something heavy at him :-) {nothing personal Harry, I’m just tired of the C word in connection with Oracle already}. Additionally, Gordon Wilkie will also be giving an Oracle Update.

Part of the reason I want to do the Scottish SIG is that I really like Edinburgh {and Scotland in general – wonderful geography}. My original intention was to take my wife up there and make the trip into a short break – but she has to go to the US that week and I have a new client that needs my time, so it will be a dash up there the evening before and back in the afternoon.

So, is anyone around in Edinburgh from late evening on the 28th of Feb and fancies showing me one or two nice pubs?

Headlong rush to Conference – Preparing the Presentations November 29, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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6 comments

With only a few days to go before the UKOUG conference this year I’m preparing my presentations. I know pretty much what I want to say and, for the IOT talk at least, it is not as if I do not have enough material already prepared – some of which has been on the blog posts and some of which has not. (though it did strike me that I could just fire up the blog and walk through the thread, taking questions).

My big problem is not what to say – it is what not to say.

I’ve always had this problem when I want to impart knowledge, I have this desire to grab the audience by the throat, take what I know about the subject and somehow just cram the information into the heads of the people in front of me. All of it. I want them to know everything about it that I know, the core knowledge, the oddities, the gotchas, how it meshes with other topics. It’s ridiculous of course, if I’ve spent many hours (days, weeks, 20 years) acquiring experience, reading articles and learning, I can’t expect to pass that all on in a one hour presentation – especially as I like to provide proof and examples for what I say. But I think the desire to do so is part of what makes me a good presenter and tutor. I bounce around in front of the audience, lobbing information at them and constantly trying to judge if I need to backup and give more time to anything or if I can plough on, skipping the basics. Hint, if you are in the audience and I’m going too fast or garbling my topic, then I am always happy to be asked questions or told to reverse up a little. I’ve never been asked to speed up though :-)

It gets even worse. If I am putting myself up there to talk about a topic then I don’t want to be found wanting. I want to be able to handle any question and have a slide or example up my sleeve to demonstrate it. It’s exhausting and, again, pointless. At somewhere like the UKOUG there is bound to be someone who knows something I don’t know about any topic.

For me the trick is to pare it down, to keep reminding myself that if the audience leaves with more knowledge than they came in with, that is a win. If they actually enjoyed the experience I’m even more happier. Maybe I should forget the topic and just take drinks and nibbles…

So, I’m currently doing what I always do, which is trying to force myself to remove stuff that is not directly relevant whilst still leaving a few little oddities and interesting items. Plus getting the 200 slides down to something more reasonable – like say 120 :-)

If I can get it down to one slide per minute (some of which I skip on the day as they are there for anyone downloading the talk) then I’m OK.

Of course, having done this, the day before the course I’ll do one last “final review” – and add a couple of dozen slides to just clarify a few points…

Friday Philosophy – PowerPoint Picture Pain July 21, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour.
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16 comments

The title does not refer to the agony of sitting through a presentation with loads of pointless graphics and zip-all content. Rather, it encompasses the agony of trying to produce some decent graphical content for PowerPoint. Or Word or any other software-based method of presenting information. I think we generally had better presentations when we had overhead projectors or flip charts and I go “powerpoint naked” to present sometimes.

However, I do present quite often using the ubiquitous PowerPoint. I spend hours on my slides, both trying to put good textual content into them for both the actual presentation and also for anyone who downloads them later. I also spend ages trying to put together graphics as we humans are visual creatures and a good {let’s pause for a second and stress the word good} picture or diagram can help enormously. I did a little animated graphic a few years back to show how DNA is unzipped and duplicated, allowing the near perfect transmission of our DNA as cells divide. Modesty prevents me saying it was good but {drat, I just said it} but several people told me it really helped them understand something that text descriptions struggle to put across.

{Hmm, OK, I’ll see if I can get this to work. Try this how-dna-duplicates powerpoint show. It shows how the two strands of DNA are “matched”. A, C, T and G are the 4 letters of the DNA and each one is associated with its “pair” in the second strand. A to T, T to A, C to G and G to C. Split the pair into two strands and you can make each a perfect copy of the original by adding back the pairs. Understand? Oh, and there are very, very, very rare copy mistakes, in this case a C is matched to a T rather than an A. Go on, fire up the slide.}

The reality is though that most of my presentations have very average slides. When you present for the UK Oracle User group they are good enough to solicit feedback from the audience and feed it back to the presenter. You get scored on topic, content, style, slides, charisma, sex appeal… The lowest part of my score is always, Always, ALWAYS the slides. This started getting on my nerves so one year I tried really hard on the slides. It was still my weakest point.

The thing is, I have never had a graphics team (let alone a whole marketing department) to help me out. Either I have worked for a company with no such thing or I have been a lone consultant doing what I can in my spare time. It is especially frustrating as large companies that do have access to teams of graphic artists seem to present with a large number of very pretty, very well drawn slides with zip-all content and the graphics add almost nothing to understanding (and we are back to the first line of this posting). In fact, I often find that slides with lots of pretty icons representing part of the technology stack with chunky arrows sweeping across them showing flow to be {cough} pointless to my understanding. One thing I have picked up from all those pretty pictures though is that a feeling of depth and texture is very effective in altering how a slide looks.

So, I decided for my posts on Index Organised Tables I would spend some time messing around with such things in PowerPoint. My Graphic of the Thread is:

I’m quite pleased with it, especially as in doing so I found out quite a bit about how to use the gradient fills, shadowing, 3D formating and rotating of simple shapes. It is certainly better than my previous stock graphic for an index:

I think most people would agree, it is an improvement. But is it two days worth of effort improvement. Yes, that is how long I spent messing around with the image options in PowerPoint to replace a flat, uninspiring green blob with 3 lines on it to represent an index into a nicely shaped, pseudo-3D image with a tad more information. *sigh*.

I guess I can now convert other flat pictures made up of boxes, triangles and lines into something that look a bit more like a professional diagram than something knocked up by a database geezer late one evening the day before the presentation. But if it does not help me produce a diagram that aids understanding rather than just presentation fluff, like those marketing slides I’ve just wasted a lot of time.

I tell you what though, having spent so long on that diagram, I’m going to use it to death :-)

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