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Friday Philosophy – Doing DOAG (& a Little, Light, Hem-Touching) November 24, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
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1 comment so far

This week I’ve been at annual DOAG conference. DOAG is the German (Deutsch) Oracle User Group annual conference. It’s my second time there and I very much enjoyed it, meeting lots of people & seeing some great talks. I also got a request to do more Friday Philosophies, so…

DOAG is now the biggest Oracle User Group conference in Europe, it overtook the UKOUG conference a few years back. Do I see this as “competition”? Well, a little bit of me does because for several years I was involved in organising the UKOUG tech conference – and a part of me would like “my” conference to be the biggest. But that is just misplaced, juvenile pride – really there is no competition between us. DOAG caters to the German Oracle User community (and nearby countries), UKOUG to the British Isles and, to a certain extent, Ireland and the closer parts of mainland Europe. If there is any competition then it is for presenters. I know that sometimes presenters have had to pick between the UKOUG and DOAG as they can only manage so much time doing these thing. But I also know many presenters who do both. Also, both conferences are lucky enough to receive many more, very good presentation abstracts than they have presentation slots for. There will always be a great selection of presentations at both conferences.

There are some aspects of DOAG that I really do wish we could replicate for UKOUG. The first is the venue. Not only is the space they have at the Nuremberg conference centre so much larger and and better suited than the ICC in Birmingham, but it costs them “a lot less”. It might be outside of town (and Nuremberg is a nice town) whereas the UKOUG conference is almost in the middle of Birmingham, but at DOAG you get free transport as part of the conference pass. The second is the catering. The food at DOAG is very, very good; coffee is available at all times; you can get real, decent coffee from some places (in the UK you need to go find a place that will sell you decent coffee); DOAG end the conference with beers and light snacks – the UKOUG conference tends to fizzle out.

But for me, though it is a close-run thing, I do ever so slightly prefer Birmingham and the UKOUG conference. I find it a little more relaxed (certainly there are less suits in evidence) and, on a personal level, I know so many more people there. I like knowing where the pubs & restaurants are and which ones are terrible! And somewhat ironically, our German Christmas Market is not only in full swing during the conference, but it is bigger than Nuremberg’s. But how many wooden toys, Gluhwein and sausage do you need in your life?

I did have a somewhat bizarre time with my presentations at DOAG though. First, I had to cancel a presentation. I was preparing a new one on the philosophy & process of performance tuning but due to some back pain issues (or rather the impact this had on my sleep and the pain medication had on my brain) I was utterly failing to get it done. So with only a week to go I had to ask if they could replace me. I hated doing it so late, I know what it is like organising these conferences and losing talks when you have printed the agenda is a real pain. Plus you now need to find a replacement. But I also know they would not appreciate a poor talk, so I let them choose. They chose to drop the talk.

But I honoured my other two presenting slots. The first was at 11am the first day and I experienced that thing that most presenters secretly like – it was so popular there was only standing room! As a result, the DOAG organisers asked if I would repeat it the next day or last day. Of course! However, as it worked out, they asked me to repeat it later that afternoon as one speaker was lost in transit. There was of course no time to really advertise the change. So I repeated the talk 4 hours later in the largest auditorium I have ever presented in – to 27 people. They of course were scattered around the room like lost souls. I guess it was using a room that would otherwise have been empty, and the session was recorded I think. But it did feel odd.

In between these two talks, I saw a couple of other people present. And in one talk, my phone kept buzzing. That was unusual, especially as it was a German number. I eventually exited (from the front row) and took the call. It was DOAG! They wanted to know why I was not at the interview I had agreed to do. “Because that is on Tuesday!”. Pause. The confused lady on the phone said “Yes. It IS Tuesday…” *sigh* – did I mention the pain meds and my brain? That was embarrassing. I had to go back into the room, to the front, get my stuff and wave an apology to Chris Saxon & Heli Helskyah before scuttling off to this interview. Which I did very badly.

My final talk was interesting for other reasons. The talk was on calling PL/SQL from SQL and the impact it can have on performance and the point-in-time reliability of the results (if your called PL/SQL function itself runs SQL). I’ve discussed this topic with Bryn Llewellyn, the product manager (distinguished no less) of PL/SQL & EBR, in the past and I was able to catch up with him just before the talk. Then he came to my talk. I’m presenting in front of the Oracle employee who owns the tech I am talking about. No pressure. Then I look around the crowd and it is liberally scattered with other senior Oracle technical people, OakTable members, Oracle ACEs…

This is an unappreciated, small problem with becoming friends with these people. The bas…. good fellows and ladies come to your talk – and heckle.

Well, it keeps me honest and the heckling that did inevitably happen was all good-natured, and corrected a couple of slightly weak bits of my talk. So the crowd got a better talk than they otherwise would have.

And the Hem Touching? Well, go back a few years and we did not have the breadth and diversity of information the web now provides for us. In fact, we are talking back in the 1990’s when there was nothing like google and blogs and Oracle Base. What information was out there for Oracle was much more paper-based (you know, actual books & magazines!) or the odd word document that was emailed between people. One name I saw on such things quite often and who taught me an awful lot back then was Craig Shallahammer. Well, Craig was at DOAG, I’d seen him in the crowds once or twice. And after this talk he came up for a quick chat. I might have been presenting now for a good few years and met many of the best known people in our world of Oracle and I’m generally immune from the desire or need to go “Oh! You’re xxx! I’ve read all your papers!!!!”. But I did a little with Craig, as he was from my “Oracle childhood”. And he was very nice about it.

So all in all, an excellent few days. I’ll try and come again next year. Maybe if I finish that talk on the philosophy of performance tuning, they’ll let me do it?

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Friday Philosophy – What Makes a Community? November 10, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Perceptions, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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1 comment so far

Earlier this week Daniel Westermann asked a question on twitter: “What is community?”

What is a community?

Daniel was not specific about if this was a work/user group community or a wider consideration of society, but my first thoughts were about the Oracle community (or communities) that I have been involved in. By community I mean anything from a national or regional user group; a regular, geographically agnostic conference; a special interest group; even just a bunch of people who meet socially who share a common interest (such as London Oracle Beers which I help run). You could actually think of it as the world-wide collective of all such smaller Oracle communities.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and you can see my answer in the right. Quite obviously an Oracle community needs a shared interest in Oracle, in some aspect of it or a broader view. All tech communities focus on a brand of tech, I don’t think you get a “computers” community as it is just too broad. But the parts that make up the community are, I think, alwyas the same.

1) A large group of people willing to take part
+
2) A medium group of people willing to share
+
3) A small group of people willing to drive the community

Taking a regular conference as an example, the first group are the delegates. If not enough people are willing to pay for it and turn up then your conference will fail. The second group are the speakers and people who will help with organising. The third group are the ones who get the second group involved, manage the effort and sell the idea of the conference.

Community at UKOUG

That third, small group is the key. If you lack that, you have no community. Sometimes, especially for smaller groups, that third group could be very small, even just one person. Delegates and speakers can come and go but it’s not so easy with the drivers of a community.

For several years we had a small but active Oracle user group in the centre of the UK, in Birmingham. It was run by one person, Mike Mckay-dirden. He almost single handedly started it up, organised the venue and corralled some of us speakers into coming over to talk. It ran successfully for several years but then Mike decided he could not keep doing it. He stopped, no one took it over – and the community died.

With larger communities such as UKOUG or DOAG there will be several people driving it all forward and usually, if one drops out you can keep going until another driven person turns up to help. But it is always a very small group of people doing a hell of a lot of work.

Over the years I’ve watched some communities get stronger or weaker and even die off as those key, driving people change. You can tell who they are, they are the ones who look knackered all the time :-). The LOB is in danger of dying as a couple of the driving people are no longer around and I can’t get to London very often now.

The chances are that as you are reading this blog you are part of an Oracle community. If so, I’d encourage you to support the drivers in those communities. If you lose them, it could really badly impact your community. Would I encourage you to become one of those drivers? Well, I would. But you have to want to do it yourself – it’s a lot of hard work and sometimes it feels like none of the first and second group really appreciate what you are doing, which can be very demoralising. And it eats up a lot of time.

I went from being one of the large group willing to take part to a member of the medium group willing to share pretty quickly. After a few years I stepped up to being in the smaller group, for a couple of groups actually. I took those steps up because I wanted to, not with any real expectation of gain (I could see it was going to be me working “for free”!). But I am absolutely sure that I would not be where I am now if I had not. I would not be an OakTable member, I would not be an Oracle ACE Director, and I would not be a known international speaker if I had not at least joined the middle group. Joining the band of drivers introduced me to a lot of really nice, really helpful people too.

This blog has been all about Oracle communities but I think the three-group-theory might apply to all communities. I’ll have to think on that a little longer before I voice an opinion. One thing I do know – It’s really nice being part of communities.

Free Webinar – How Oracle Works! September 15, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, internals, Knowledge, Presenting.
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3 comments

Next Tuesday (19th September) I am doing a free webinar for ProHuddle. It lasts under an hour and is an introduction to how some of the core parts of the Oracle RDBMS work, I call it “The Heart of Oracle: How the Core RDBMS Works”. Yes, I try and explain all of the core Oracle RDBMS in under an hour! I’m told I just about manage it. You can see details of the event and register for it here. I’ve done this talk a few times at conferences now and I really like doing it, partly as it seems to go down so well and people give me good feedback about it (and occasionally bad feedback, but I’ll get on to that).

The idea behind the presentation is not to do the usual “Intro” and list what the main Oracle operating systems processes – SMON, PMON, RECO etc – are or what the various components of the shared memory do. I always found those talks a little boring and they do not really help you understand why Oracle works the way it does when you use it. I aim to explain what redo is, why it is so important, what actually happens when you commit, how data is written to and read from storage to the cache – and what is actually put in the buffer cache. I explain the concept of point-in-time view, how Oracle does it and why it is so fantastic. And a few other bits and pieces.

I’m not trying to explain to people the absolute correct details of what goes on with all these activities that the database does for you. I’m attempting to give people an understanding of the principles so that more advanced topics make more sense and fit together. The talk is, of course, aimed at people who are relatively new to Oracle – students, new DBAS or developers who have never had explained to them why Oracle works the way it does. But I have found that even some very experienced DBA-types have learnt the odd little nugget of information from the talk.

Of course, in an hour there is only so much detail I can go into when covering what is a pretty broad set of topics. And I lie about things. I say things that are not strictly true, that do not apply if more advanced features of Oracle are used, or that ignore a whole bucket full of exceptions. But it’s like teaching astrophysics at school. You first learn about how the Sun is at the centre of the solar system, all the planets & moons revolve around each other due to gravity and the sun is hot due to nuclear fusion. No one mentions how the earth’s orbit varies over thousands and millions of years until you have the basics. Or that GPS satellites have to take into account the theory of relativity to be as accurate as they are. Those finer details are great to learn but they do not change the fundamental principles of planets going around suns and rocks falling out of the sky – and you need to know the simpler overall “story” to slot in the more complex information.

I talk about this picture.

I start off the talk explaining this simplification and I do try to indicate where people will need to dig deeper if they, for example, have Exadata – but with a webinar I am sure people will join late, drop in and out and might miss that. I must remember to keep reminding people I’m ignoring details. And amongst the audience will be people who know enough to spot some of these “simplifications” and I think the occasional person might get upset. Remember I mentioned the bad feedback? I got accosted at a conference once after I had done this talk by a couple of experts, who were really angry with me that I had said something that was not accurate. But they had missed the start of the talk and my warnings of simplification and did not seem to be able to understand that I would have needed half an hour to explain the details of that on thing that they knew – but I had only 50 minutes in total for everything!

As I said, this is the first Webinar I will have done. I am sure it will be strange for me to present with “no audience” and I’m sure I’ll trip up with the pointer and the slides at some point. I usually have some humour in my presentations but that might not work with no crowd feedback and a worldwide audience. We will see. But I am excited about doing it and, if it works, I may well offer to do more.

As a taster, I explain the above diagram. A lot. I mostly just talk about pictures, there will be very few “wordy” slides.

I invite you all to register for the talk – as I said, it is free – and please do spread the word.

click here to register for the Webinar

Friday Philosophy – New Conference, Same Sad Old Faces Up Front June 2, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting.
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5 comments

I’ve been on the Oracle conference presenting circuit for well over a decade now and I must confess I enjoy it. Part of this is that I see lots of friends at nearly every conference – even in countries I have never been to before. This is because many of those friends are fellow presenters, who have been presenting for well over a decade now…

There he goes again, banging on and on and on…

This is not totally true of course, there are some relatively new presenters, even a couple I can think of that have been presenting for only a year or two (Pieter, Frank…). I’m proud to say that there are some less-experienced presenters I actually helped get going at this lark and even a couple who are better at this than I am.

But the truth of it is, if you were to go to 5 conferences in one year across Europe (or maybe even 5 across the USA, let me know) you will keep seeing the same bunch of mostly older faces up there, sometimes even doing the same talk (or talks) – That is maybe not such a bad thing as the real audience, the local Oracle community members, are mostly from that region, won’t have been to the other conferences and get to see current talks that have been trialled and tested and tweaked elsewhere.

However, if you go to the same conference 5 years in a row – you will STILL see the same bunch of mostly older faces up there (all getting slowly older, greyer, wrinklier – except for those who hit Mid-Life-Crisis and suddenly develop gym-bodies and oddly darker hair…. 🙂 ). Again, maybe not a bad thing as these are the people who like presenting, get selected again based on the fact the audience liked what they said, they did not lie too much and did not get too many things wrong. And most of us try to not do the same presentation 2 years in a row, so the material moves on {I do repeat presentations after a year or two’s break, usually updated and aimed at the newbie audience, but that’s just me}.

So is this “same old faces” a problem? Most of us conference organisers agree that it is as people drop off the presenting circuit or seem to run out of material. So you need a new influx. And you need younger presenters to keep the older ones on their toes (or just help them on and off the platform). And younger or just new people to give another perspective or add their considerable experience to the mix. One of the newer presenters I can think of is actually retirement age and a great addition to the circuit.

But the problem is, how do you encourage new presenters? You lot reading this who do not present are a damned hard bunch to motivate to give it a go! Now, I know that presenting is not for everyone and that some of you would rather stick your arm in a wasps’ nest than present, but some of you can bang on for ages in a social situation and actually know your stuff. So how do we get you to present?

The same ideas come up. One is to say you only need to present for 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes we will even organise a full session made up of such short session to let people give it a go. It does not seem to work to me, you get one or maybe two new people and then fill the other mini-sessions with experienced people – who then complain about how hard it is to do a decent talk in such short time!

Another is to specifically ask at SIGs and smaller meetings if anyone fancies trying out presenting, in the small and friendly arena that they have just experienced. You know, the one where after presenting the presenter cannot really hide in the crowd and everyone there knows if you did a good or bad job… We do get the occasional new presenter but not really. And I suspect most of them would have submitted papers eventually (and I’m ignoring the issue of new presenters getting papers selected, I’d need a whole post on that).

Another route it to co-present and this is the one I have used a small number of times. You get someone you know, who understands the material, to share a presentation with you. If they stumble or forget what they were saying, you can just nudge things along, and hopefully cope with any tricky questions that might worry the new person. It worked once (and you now see his sad, old face ALL the time), partially worked the second (though I’ve not seen her present for a while) and utterly failed the third.

The UKOUG is trying this at the next UKOUG Tech conference, but in a more formal way. They are getting some of us more experienced presenters to offer ourselves to co-present with new people. I’m not sure how well this will work if we experienced presenters are not finding the inexperienced presenters ourselves. Can you imagine someone who has never presented before wanting to step up to the podium with one of the Oracle Names, unless they also know them? If you said something wrong, would they correct you in front of everyone (no, probably not, we are generally nice people). Anyway, it’s something to try and I am happy to help. The UKOUG have started promoting this a little, but I don’t think everyone is going to find it appealing. In fact, my friend Dawn saw this and thought it sounded…:

Creepy! That made me laugh.

Nevertheless, if you are a potential new presenter or just inexperienced and you want to present on something I also know about, I’d be happy to consider co-presenting with you. Just let me know. And generally speaking, if co-presenting appeals to you but not with me {I would not blame you}, get in touch with the UKOUG.

About the only way I know of really getting new presenters is… to get people drunk and make them agree to it. Then remind them about it endlessly until they feel obliged to do it. It does work, but it ends up being a self-selecting set of new presenters, i.e. people I drink with, which rather annoyingly tends to be sad, old men. I’ve tried drinking with young, vivacious women but I usually get asked to leave the club, as I am coming over as creepy.

So, if you are someone who has considered presenting or would consider it – what would help you give it a go? Tell me, I’ll see if I can arrange it.

Top and Tailing Bulgaria. November 9, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Meeting notes, Presenting.
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Tomorrow I head off to Bulgaria for the BGOUG Autumn Conference 2016. I’ve only been to the Bulgarian user group once before, having heard from so many people what a fantastic user group conference it was – and they were right. Milena Gerova and her team do an amazing job of organising it and make everyone feel really welcome. So I am really looking forward to my return.

Bryn always gets a good crowd but this was typical for  Bulgaria (sorry it's blurry)

Bryn always gets a good crowd but this was typical for Bulgaria (sorry it’s blurry)

In one of those strange quirks of fate, I’m “opening” the conference and also “closing” it. I.e. my first session is in the first slot on the first day and my last is, well, the last slot on the last day. In between I’ll be enjoying the other talks, doing a third session myself and trying to avoid repeating the “6am with the crazy Ukrainians” experience of last time!

Having the first slot on the first day is just perfect for the session I am doing “The heart of Oracle – How the Core RDBMS Works”. A while back I realised that there are a lot of experienced and highly capable Oracle practitioners who do not actually know some of the basics of how the database software works {if I look in the mirror I see one of them}. That is, why redo is so important, what goes into the redo stream, that all table and index data is accessed via blocks (until you get to that fancy engineered systems stuff) and it is blocks that go into the SGA buffer ache, what a consistent get is or how Oracle finds a block of data in memory. That last one I had no clue about until about 6 years ago, I had made some stupid assumptions.

When you discover these things or tell someone about them, a common response is “Oh! That makes so many things make more sense! I wish I had known that from the start…”. So this talk tells people about these things and, though it understandable by anyone who has only got as far as writing their first SELECT statement and was originally aimed at those new to Oracle, most experienced people take something new from it that helps make all those more detailed talks make sense. It really suits all levels. Thus having it at the start of the conference will hopefully help give them a better understanding of the core framework of the Oracle RDBMS into which knowledge of specific areas can slot into.

The location in Pravets is lovely

The location in Pravets is lovely

The final session is equally suitable for everyone. Which is good as it is the only session available at that time! It is a “Discussion Over Beers About Oracle Database” – beers are available to all. It’s a fun and relaxed way to round off the event, with questions coming from the audience. I loved the session last year and this time I’m up on the panel. Bryn Llewellyn was sniping from the audience last year (as only Bryn can) so they are doing what you should do with any troublemaker, which is to put them in charge :-). So Bryn is also on the panel, along with Joze Senegacnik and Tim Hall.

Sometime in between those two bookends I’ll do my talk on clustering data for better SQL and overall database performance but more importantly I’ll be listening to many of the other great talks. I’ve looked over the agenda and I know I will have the complaint common in any conference with good contents – more than one talk I want to see at most points in the day. Thankfully, having been a bit of a conference tart this last few months, I have seen some of them already which makes my decision making easier.

Traditional Dancing is a Traditional Entertainment (and my shot is traditionally blurry!)

Traditional Dancing is a Traditional Entertainment (and my shot is traditionally blurry!)

Another thing I am looking forward to is enjoying the hospitality & entertainment that BGOUG is so famous for. The conference is in a hotel that is not that near many other things, which could be a problem. But the organisers make sure that we are entertained in the evening and the food last year was great. This made even better by spending time talking with the delegates and other speakers in the evening. Last year I was struck by how engaged the audience was during sessions and how enthusiastic they were to learn & share outside of them.

Just like The Polish user group conference I went to in October, BGOUG has the three things a great conference needs: Excellent presentations; good organisation; an engaged audience. For some people there, this will be their 10th or 20th time (or even more) at the BGOUG conference. Nothing says more than that.

Pint with Oracle User Group – First International POUG (Polish) Conference October 14, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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4 comments
Kamil kicks it all off: Apparently water has bacteria in it - so drink beer! (stolen from Pieter v.Puymbrooeck)

Kamil kicks it all off: Apparently water has bacteria in it – so drink beer
(stolen from Pieter v.Puymbrooeck)

Last week I enjoyed being at the first international conference that the resurrected Polish Oracle user group has put on. I say enjoyed – I actually mean really enjoyed! Why did I like the conference so much? Three major components came together.

(Before anyone rushes to mention the Polish custom of entertaining you with alcohol, that was not one of the three parts. It was the fourth instalment of the trilogy…)

Let’s start with a little history. I first came across Kamil Stawiarski just a year or so back. I had blogged about Pragma UDF and how it improves the performance of PL/SQL functions called from SQL – and then came across his blog post on it. About the same time he came across mine and we got in touch. He’s an “Oracle DBA type” and his company is called ORA600! {if you had not noticed, so is mine}. The similarities do not stop there. He loves beer+presenting (for some reason I have this reputation…) and using an axe. I am a little more technical – as I use a chainsaw as well as an axe. In respect of Oracle Technical, I’ll give Kamil the prize in that. The biggest difference is I am old enough to be his dad. I might adopt him. Anyway, Kamil came to the UKOUG Tech15 conference, we met up and he asked me (as well as several others) if we as international speakers would support him running a conference in Poland? Of course! I had so much in common with Kamil, he and his travelling companion Adam were so friendly, positive and knowledgeable that it was an easy decision.

A date was chosen, Kamil let us all know and those of us who could went along. The conference took place in Warsaw on Friday 7th to Saturday 8th October, with a speaker’s meal on the Thursday. There were two streams during the conference, one mostly on database topics and the other mostly on development & BI. We had a lot of well-respected and talented speakers including Jim Czuprnski (who has Polish roots), Joze Senegacnik, Piet de Visser, Heli Helskyaho,Phillipe Fierens, Neil Chandler, Sabine Heimsath… Apologies to the others I have not mentioned. Why did we all turn up? Because we were asked to. Most of us presenters just enjoy presenting (as we crave attention and being asked to present appeals to our egos 🙂 ). Being serious, if you want to organise an Oracle conference or user group meeting, don’t be afraid to ask people to consider coming along. The worst we will do is say “no” (and please be cool if we do; we all have other calls on our time).

What a set of Mug Shots :-)

What a set of Mug Shots 🙂

With this cunning trick of simply asking people he thought could speak well to come speak at his conference, Kamil had got himself a bunch of good speakers, one of the three things you need for a good conference.

Speaker gifts

The speaker gifts were just so apt!

The next part that is key is the organising of the conference. So Kamil set too organising it. Well, I say Kamil orgainised it, he actually got Luiza Koziel to organise most of it, which he says was one his best moves! So he, Luiza and probably half a dozen people I should thank but have not (I really should get a list of the volunteers), spent a lot of time and effort planning the event. Update – Kamil let me know the names. In his words:

Rafal Rebecki- he found all sponsors.
Pawel Chyliński, Adam Jagielski and Radosław Kut – always ready to help with every issue we had challenging us
Kamil Kozieł – directly responsible for all marketing stuff like website and social media
Adam Boliński- help with organising speakers and preparing agenda he was also one of the sponsor
Of course Luiza Kozieł – she was responsible for everything 🙂 finding venue, organising hotel and gadgets. she did most of the work

I’ve helped out with many conferences & meetings, from the huge behemoth that is the UKOUG Tech conference to small SIGs and special interest groups. It takes a lot of work – much, much, much more work than you can appreciate until you do it yourself. They sorted out a suitable venue, they compiled the abstracts for the talks and speaker profiles (often not an easy task, some of us are such prima donnas), put together the web pages for it and advertised the event well. During the event they smoothed out the issues that invariably crop up and they looked after all the delegates and speakers. The food at the venue was excellent, both the speaker’s meal and the conference party were fantastic, signage at the venue was good, crowds were managed and encouraged back into sessions at the appropriate time. There are a dozen other things that go to making the mechanics of an event work and, from what I could see, it was all done well or quickly resolved such that I did not notice.

Heli Helskyaho's crowd is a nice example of how busy the sessions were

Heli Helskyaho’s crowd is a nice example of how busy the sessions were

The organisation was great, the speakers were fantastic, what is the third thing you need?

The final thing is sort-of beyond the control of the organisers. For a conference or meeting to work you need an engaged audience. The audience does not have to be huge (though full rooms really help) but they have to be there mentally as well as physically. POUG got an excellent, large crowd of delegates. As a presenter I like it when I feel looked after. A speaker’s meal is great, havng registration and any admin done for you by the “office” is a help. There are lots of “nice” things you can do for the speakers but, for me at least, there is only one absolute. What makes a conference great for a speaker is actually having delegates who want to be there and want to hear presenters speak – and who then are chatting between themselves, challenging the speaker “experts”, asking questions in sessions, continuing discussions outside the presentations and generally making that “buzz”. Lots of things can be done by both the organisers and, to some extent, the speakers to help this. But in the end it comes down to having an involved audience. And in Poland we had that in spades. It was very, very “buzzy”.

Don't water the speakers after midnight!

Don’t water the speakers after midnight!

Obviously the organisers can prime the pump by getting the speakers and organisation right and I think it helped that the people leading the conference were relaxed and yet determined that everyone had a good time. But in the end, I think the delegates take some of the credit for making the conference so good.

All in all it all came together wonderfully in Poland last week. It’s in my top three conference experiences. (I won’t confirm where or which the other three are – It changes depending on what aspects I am thinking about).

The end of the conference summed it up. Just as in Ireland earlier this year, the last session was an open, “panel” affair with some speakers at the front and an intention to get the audience involved. At POUG we had a discussion about why DBAs are so arrogant and Developers so useless. Of course, neither statement is true all the time and it led to a lively, good-natured and often very funny discussion. The organisers had ensured that this could roll on if there was the desire to do so and the audience demonstrated that there was. I am sure we went on for twice the allotted time! Finally POUG stepped in and closed the conference (in a very nice way).

The DBA-Dev "love" - thanks to Kiran Tailor

The DBA-Dev “love” – thanks to Kiran Tailor

I’ve got lots of stories to tell about the POUG conference but that can be in another post – or simply when chatting at other conferences or in a a bar. Some of them involve the use of alcohol as an enabler in IT.

I hope there is another POUG next year. I hope it is even half as good. I especially hope they let me come back!

This Autumn, I am mostly being a Conference Tart. August 12, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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The first half of this year was a little quiet for me on the presenting front. I was concentrating on writing and also on organising events, as opposed to going to them, so most of my trips were for personal reasons (that means “holidays”…). I presented at the Ireland conference and a few UK user group events but that was it – quite a few European events this spring fell on dates I was not available (including the Israeli and Finnish conferences where I was asked to attend and would have loved to). Or, oh the shock of it, my submissions were not accepted! {How dare they 🙂 )

However, the final third of this year is the total opposite. I’m at a conference at least once each month from September to the end of the year. In the spring this year I decided to make up for my poor showing speaker-wise by offering talks to a few more events. I knew I would probably do Oracle OpenWorld as, being an Ace Director, the Oracle OTN program is incredibly kind to us and help us attend the conference itself and the ACED briefings just beforehand. Despite my best efforts to scupper my own chances of attending OOW16 (I did not respond to an email I should have for ACED and I only submitted technical talks and not fluffy cloud ones) the ACE program have sorted me out and I’ll be there. I’m not presenting (unless my status as standby for the EOUG lightning talks and OakTable World morph into actual slots) but it’s nice to do a conference with no duties.

In December it is the total opposite for UKOUG Tech16. This is “My” conference, as in not just my home conference and the one I nearly always present at, it is the one I help organise. This year I am the project lead for Tech16, rather than the Database community lead role that I filled for the last two years. It sounds like a promotion and it sort-of is, but in reality there is less work than being a community lead, as I have a lot less to do with organising the content and agenda. But I will have duties to do at the event as well as the one presentation I am doing (I keep it down to one presentation when I have other responsibilities) so for me it is quite a demanding conference.

Between these two book-ends I decided to offer talks to DOAG in Germany and I was asked to speak at the Slovenian and Croatian user groups, which I was delighted to do. DOAG accepted two of my submissions so that was 5 conferences, which is a nice number.

Then the Polish user group announced their next conference and I had promised “the other ORA600” to submit for that one. Then last week I was asked to consider doing the Nordic OTN tour. I said yes to both. The Nordic OTN tour is not finalised yet but it looks like it could be 3 or 4 meetings in different countries on consecutive days.

On top of this, my wife is relocating to Switzerland in October for work and I’ll be trying to assist with that. So I’ve had to put together a spreadsheet of where and when I’ll be. It’s all rather busy. It would be foolish to add to all of this.

So I plan to submit to the Autumn Bulgarian conference too because, well, it’s a cracking conference.

The saving grace? Most of the conferences I am going to have asked me to do the same presentations. So I only need to prepare 3 (or is it 4… I’ll check my spreadsheet).

Why do I do all these conferences? Because (a) I actually like presenting and sharing what I know and (b) I meet people and make new friends. So, if you are at any of the above events, come over and say “hi”.

I suppose I should update my “Appearances and Meetings” page.

Speaking at Oracle Midlands on Tuesday 17th May May 12, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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As the title indicates, I’ll be speaking at the UK Oracle Midlands event on Tuesday evening next week. Details can be found here (and that link should mention the next event if you click it in the future).

oracleMidlands2

I’ll be talking about PL/SQL being called from SQL and how you can “extend” SQL by writing your own functions. That is a relatively well known thing to do but the potential impact on performance and the 12C improvements to reduce that impact are less well known. Maybe even more significantly, calling PL/SQL functions from SQL breaks the point-in-time view most of us take for granted with Oracle. More people are blogging and talking about this but it is still not widely appreciated. Is this a potential issue in any of your systems?

Joel Goodman is also presenting, on storage fragmentation. Joel is one of the best presenters on Oracle tech on the circuit and knows his stuff inside out.

I really love the Oracle Midlands user group, I’ve been to a few of the meetings and presented there one-and-a-bit times before. It meets in the evenings and lays on some free refreshements at half time (Samosas when I have been there!). It’s a real, dedicated, ground-roots user group. Annoyingly (for me) most of the meetings for the last year or so have been when I could not get up to the Midlands for them (it’s not a hard or long journey, it was just the timing was always wrong).

Red Stack are good enough to support/sponsor these events and do so with a light touch. You know they are there but it is not a hard sell, so kudos to them. Mike McKay-Dirden is the person behind these meetings and, with this being the 15th such meeting, I must take my hat off to Mike for running such a successful group.

So, if you are able to get to Birmingham (UK! Not USA…) on Tuesday evening, you should do so for an excellent, free learning opportunity. I hope to see some of you there!

OUG_Ireland – Bread, Beer & Playing with the Big Boys March 7, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in conference, performance, Presenting, User Groups.
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The last banner turned out to be wrong

The last banner turned out to be wrong

ougire16-hp-gen-v1

Learning, sharing & a small dose of fear – Last week was the OUG Ireland conference 2016. It is the second time I’ve been to the Irish Oracle user group conference and this year it had grown from one day to two days – and that was a great success. The expanded 2-day event, as initially sized, booked up with several weeks still to go. More places were made available – and they all filled as well. You could tell this, at least in the sessions I attended – they were all busy and many were full. The whole event had a busy feel.

I was doing two quite different session. The first was my overview of the core Oracle technology, a broad-brush, broad-appeal session. At the other end of the spectrum, the second was about the details of context switching between SQL & PL/SQL, the impact it can have and the improvements in 12C to help reduce that impact. People are becoming more aware of this aspect of calling PL/SQL from SQL and also the potential to lose your point-in-time view of the database, which many take for granted. I actually dropped the loss of point-in-time view out of the talk as it made the session too long – but someone asked directly about it! So I spent the last 5 mins I’d left for Q&A talking about it. If I repeat the session somewhere, perhaps I’ll add those slides back in and just talk less rubbish about me earlier on.

Oren Nakdimon actually mentioned one of the 12C improvements (PL/SQL in the WITH clause) in his excellent talk on the first day “Write less (code) with More (Oracle 12c new features)” including one aspect I had missed. So I stole his material and added a slide into my deck for Friday. I’m glad I referenced him on that slide – as he was sat in the front row in my talk 🙂

(as an aside, this is my second time at OUG Ireland and the second time I’ve met someone from Israel who I shared beers with & spent quite a bit of time with – just one of those quirky coincidences in life. Oh, and I met his wife Inbal too and we had a chat about translating Sci-Fi from English to Hebrew! It’s not easy, but Klingon is easier to handle than you’d think).

See, no beer! (it's inside the podium...)

See, no beer! (it’s inside the podium…)

My other talk was on the first day and it was the one where I cover the core Oracle technology in a single presentation slot. It’s a bit of a Big Ask in 45 minutes but I tend to throw in less anecdotes or stories than normal in order to cover the material. However, this time I could not resist the temptation to include one, in order to continue the unfair myth that I can only present with a beer in hand…

I got a lot of great feedback about this talk, several people checked that they would be able to get the slides afterwards (they have been sent to the organisers and they should be put out in due course – but I can send anyone a copy), I got a few more questions during the conference, I spent about 30 minutes talking to one chap afterwards (about a very “interesting” project he is on where sense does not seem to be prevailing) and a lot of people said they enjoyed it. For a speaker, there is no better result and I was quietly happy. I might go as far as to say I was jolly chuffed.

I managed to get to a fair few presentations by others at this conference too and I did not see a bad one in the DB or Development stream. Jonathan Lewis and Joze Senegacnik were as excellent as ever (I think Jonathan was particularly on form) and I was reminded at how good Carl Dudley is at this presenting lark. I missed out seeing my Polish ORA600 counterpart, Kamil Stawiaski, due to a clash for one session and presenting at the same time as him on the other. But I got to have beer with him and his friend Adam Bolinski and a good few chats.

On the topic of Beer, as well as being forced to have one in my presentation on the first day (cough!), we had an excellent “presenters beers” on Wednesday evening before the event, organised by Brendan Tierney. Brendan had us meet up, on a foul and wet evening, at a pub with it’s own micro-brewery (so I was able to avoid Guinness which, I have to confess, outside of the Guinness Museum is Not My Thing) and my nephew Tim Hall’s (oracle) wife, Debra Lilley {they are not really married, but sometimes you wonder at the bickering…}, organised an excellent Oracle Ace meal on the Thursday night. I had to drop out early though as sleep deprivation was killing me (and only got worse for the final day – that was one of the noisiest hotels I have ever stayed in and I won’t be rushing back) but I did get to share the taxi back to the “Hotel Of Random Noise” with Debra (she was flying somewhere at early-O’clock the next day) and catch up.

I actually see the social side of conferences as just as important as the technical side. I have made some good friends with people at these technical meetings and the more you know people in the user community, the more you get out of it.

Well, Officer, It's yeast... Honest... Honest!!!! Argh!

Well, Officer, It’s yeast… Honest… Honest!!!! Argh!

So I’ve mentioned the beer. What about the bread? Well, I make sourdough. I have a pot of “starter mixture” in my fridge, which is a live culture of yeast in a slack dough mix. It’s alive (sorry, “It’s ALIIIIIIIVEEE!”), it needs looking after. It is, basically, one of the most boring pets you can have – but at least it never needs to be taken to the vet or does its business on the carpet. There are a few of us bakers in the Speaker Circuit. Jonathan is another one and so is Joze. And Joze also has a yeast colony pet in the fridge. We talked about our sour-dough pets at a conference last year and, as a result, Joze bought me a little bag of powder – dried mixture, stuffed with yeast. I’m going to start up a new jar of dough mixture, sourced from this powder. I’ll do a post about what happens.

There is one aspect of being given a bag of dried dough when on conference. You have to take it home. In your luggage. In my case, hand luggage. And in November, for the first time ever that I can remember, they decided to check my hand luggage. What if they did that this time?
“Is this your bag, Sir?”
“Yes”
“Is this plastic bag of a pale, dried mixture yours, Sir?”
“Yes Officer, but it’s OK it’s yeast!” – Bright Smile.
“Yes, of course it is Sir. Come this way.”
“But it’s just yeast and flour, it’s nothing dodggy!!!”
“Of course it is not Sir, and now my colleague here will now examine places you don’t want examining for more such samples”.

It added an extra level of excitement into what is usually a dull experience of international air travel.

The "rose" between two "thorns". If Thorns means The Best

The “rose” between two “thorns”. If Thorns means “The Best”

So that was the dose of fear? No. I did two talks at the conference but I had one other duty. At the UKOUG Tech conference last December, Jonathan Lewis hosted a Q&A session on the Cost Based Optimizer. We had Jonathan, Chris Antognini, Maria Colgan and Nigel Bayliss, with myself and Neil Chandler as Masters of Ceremony. ie, Question Wranglers. It worked really well, with some genuine-but-known questions to start until the audience warmed up, and they warmed up.

Jonathan decided to repeat this format in Ireland and he asked me to reprise my role, which I was delighted to do. I’m more than happy to fire in the questions to the experts, so long as I’m here at the side and they are there up on the stage.

One of our experts for Ireland had to drop out due to only being there on the Thursday. Jonathan asked me who can fill in. No problem, we have skills across the agenda, “Dave” can help. Dave said yes…but then no, it turned out Dave could not do it. So I was asked again who could fill and we got Jessica – but Jessica had to leave early. You can see what is coming, can’t you? We were out of replacements. A panel of 2 does not work really, you need three or more. So, I was promoted to Panel. Oh cr4p!

Alan Kelly stepped into the breach to be Question Master (Personally, I don’t know whether to thank Alan or not! But for the sake of the session, thank you Alan) and I joined two masters of the art on stage. Don’t get me wrong, this is not false modesty, I’m pretty good at this stuff. But I’m “Pretty Good”. Calm, Breath, Relax…

It was fine. Jonathan and Joze handled the tricky couple of questions and let me talk when I had stuff to add and the whole session was a hum-dinger. How do I know that? Well, the session was for 45 minutes at the end of the last day, on a Friday with all the usual pressures to get away and get home. And yet, despite that, we finally closed the session down after 90 minutes. I have to confess, I’m deeply proud of the fact I was able to play an active role and not just sit there.

All in all, I had a fantastic time and I think it was a cracking conference. Can I come next year? (Only, next year, can I keep to being Question Master! Alan can have a go up on stage)

Friday Philosophy – Publishing rather than Presenting December 18, 2015

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

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

Oracle Scene, Autumn/Winter 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

os57cover

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

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

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

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