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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

OUGN 2012 Third Day March 26, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Private Life.
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The last day of the three (and second on the ferry and of the conference proper) had a lot of talks I wanted to see, especially Dan Morgan talking about “Insanely large Databases”. It was a good talk, with an interesting interlude when a very loud announcement let us know we had docked at Kiel. Dan handled it with aplomb. Dan was talking about one specific experience he had suffered recently and he covered quite a few things I did and some I planned to but never got that far – but he had more technical details about the issues he had encountered, so all in all probably of more immediate use to the audience than my talk. It was a very good session. I have to confess, there were times I laughed out loud as memories flooded in, prompted by his wise words – I fear others may have interpreted differently but, honestly, I was laughing tears of shared pain.

I was also looking forward to seeing Uwe Hesse talk about Dataguard. I’d had the pleasure of spending a lot of time and a few beers chatting with Uwe over the last few days. His presentation was very well done (as it should be, he’s a professional trainer! He exceeded my expectations, though). And I loved the last bit, where he demonstrated how, under 11G R2 (R1 as well???), if you have a physical standby, a block corruption can be fixed “on the fly” and invisibly to the end user. I just love that feature and, though I knew about it already, seeing it demonstrated and the errors appearing in the alert log – though the user query runs fine – was sweet.

The rest of the sessions I saw were also good {Maria Colgan on preventing sub-optimal plans which was, mostly, about avoiding implicit data conversions, which I think all developers and designers should have drummed into their heads with rubber hammers; Doug Burns on those OEM performance graphs which continue to get better and better} – but I had to given in and go for a sleep. These anti-seasickness pills seem to work but make me dozy. I’d love it if those anti-travel-sickness pills were really placebos and I had a placebo side effect :-)

The last day was rounded off with a nice meal and one or two (or three, or four) beers in a bar and some excellent times. I of course spent time with the Other Martins (we could not disband the cluster too easily), Doug, Holger, Maria, our Norwegian hosts and many more of the other people there. If only I had managed to fit in the other 10, 15 people I wanted to see but I’m getting old and I was very, very, very tired.

I have to say, it was one of the best conferences I have ever been to. OUGN 2013? Get yourself on that boat.

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away March 20, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, VLDB.
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I’m just doing some last minute preparation for the Norwegian User Group Spring Seminar. This is quite a large conference with 5 concurrent streams and a very good line-up of presenters. You can see the agenda here.

What is also a little unusual about this conference is that it is mostly on a boat, or rather a ship. When I was first asked if I would put forward a talk or two I declined – as I am very prone to being sea-sick. Truls Bergersen, who helps organize the event, got in touch with me a few weeks later and said “we are doing a day on land first, do you want to present then?”. Sure! That would be great! So I am, I’ll be doing my talk on Index Organized Tables once more {and then I think I’ll put it to bed for a couple of years}.

Now, I am not exactly sure what made me agree to this, but then Truls asked if I would consider doing another talk I had suggested, on VLDBs (Very Large DataBases), the following day. Yes, why not?

Only, the next day we are on the ship. I’m a bit nervous about this. I don’t think that a good presentation should include the presenter going green and dashing for the door (though I did have a similar experience at Oracle Open World once, as a result of an all-you-can-eat Chinese meal the day before, but as it affected “the other end of things” you really don’t want details of that).

Thankfully, I’ve not been worrying about sea-sickness for the last couple of weeks. That will be because my laptop hard disk died and I lost everything on my still-new machine. It was still so new that I had not started backing it up properly – after all, there was nothing on there I could not replace easily.

It has been a real trial to replace all those things that I could easily replace. At least I had the presentations and some other critical bits on my temporary USB stick backup…

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

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, UKOUG.
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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?

The end of the Management and Infrastructure SIG – What Next? October 10, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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The 27th September was in some ways a sad day for me. It was the last of the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure Special Interest Group meetings. This SIG was dedicated to looking at how you cope with Oracle as part of a large or complex organisation. The last audience was bijou and compact but the speakers were cracking, as is confirmed by the excellent feedback everyone received from the post event critique forms.

It’s always been a SIG with a small crowd come that came along, but it was also a SIG that some of us were screaming out for. Those SIGs and meetings dedicated to the hard-core technical sides of the Oracle RDBMS are of course great and much appreciated. But for those of us trying to manage a couple of thousand instances of Oracle/application server, or trying to look after the database within the sort of corporate IT forest that FTSE 100 organisations have to have, some of us were really keen to better understand the rest of the IT infrastructure, methods to look after such large Oracle estates and also the human side of things – that word “management”. I know that the word “management” in the title put a few people off the events, but for others it was the management side (human AND technical) we desperately wanted.

So, why has it ended? Well, it hasn’t really – we are merging with the RAC&HA SIG, chaired by David Burnham and his deputies. There is a lot of crossover between our areas and we found we were often using the same speakers. You do not tend to have RAC if you are not a large oracle site and you tend to be very interested in High Availability if you have a lot of Oracle stuff to look after. So, from next year, we will be the AIM SIG – availability, Infrastructure and Management SIG. It might not be a snappy label but it describes what we will be about. Details of this new SIG will be discussed at the conference in December, anyone with any thoughts on the subject is more than welcome to contact me.

This leaves me with one important task and that is to note my thanks and indebtedness to some of those who helped with the SIG.
The UKOUG staff have been great at supporting the events, especially (during my stint) Michelle Ericsson (who is now doing funky DJ stuff in the USA) and Marisa Harris, who picked up our SIG for this last meeting and was great at hearding her errant Chair and Deputy Chair into doing what we needed to do.

We have had a succession of good guys from Oracle help us out. Tony Clements was our first and longest serving Oracle buddy and Simon Moreton took up the cause after Tony went to pastures new. Mike Edgington pitched in at short notice when Simon was not available to us for this last meeting, even presenting. Special thanks also go to Andrew Bulloch who has been fantastic at giving or organising talks for us by Oracle on Enterprise manager and Grid.

Finally and most importantly I’d like to thank Neil Chandler. Neil has been the deputy chair since the SIG started and is probably – no, IS – the person who has done the most to support the M&I SIG through it’s life. Neil’s one of those people who does not push himself to the fore as he should (except maybe in the pub), resisting presenting and firmly holding one step back from being the chair. I don’t know why, he presents very well and he knows a lot of stuff.

To everyone who came to any of the meetings and especially those who allowed themselves to be drafted into presenting duties, thank you very much indeed.

Infrastructure and Management SIG – new date September 13, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I ought to just mention that the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG has moved from Tuesday September 20th to Tuesday September 27th (so two weeks from today). It had to be moved as we had a bit of a problem with the room booking. It will be in the usual venue of the Oracle City Office in London and is, of course, free to members of the UK Oracle User Group. {If you are not a member, you can come along for a fee – but if you are interested in coming along to see what a UKOUG Special Interest Group meeting is all about, send me a mail}.

So, if you fancy some free information about:

  • Getting the best out of your intel hardware (and BIOS in general) {Steve Shaw from Intel}
  • The latest on Oracle GRID and OEM {both presentations by customers not Oracle, one by Niall Litchfield and one by ‘Morrisons’,though Oracle supported us very well by finding one of the customers!)}
  • A presentation and discussion on Outsourcing by Piet de Visser 
  •  A consideration of how deep into the technology real-world DBAs need to go to solve issues (Neil Chandler and myself)
  • An Oracle support update

Well, register for the event and I’ll see you in two weeks!

UKOUG Oracle Conference agenda now out September 5, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I just wanted to drop a quick post to say that the agenda for the UKOUG annual conference is now out. You can check out the schedule here.

They seem to have dropped the TEBS (Technical and E-Buisiness Suite) out of the title, I think because last year the UKOUG staff kept getting asked if it was the annual Oracle conference they knew and loved from prior years. And of course it is. (Other “application” sides of the Oracle world, like JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, have their own dedicated, named UKOUG conferences).

There is also a return of the Sunday OakTable stream. For those who have not come across it before, it is a chance to see some presentations by members of the OakTable in a smaller and more accessible room. ie you feel better able to ask the presenters awkward questions :-).
I’m not sure of the exact details of registering for this part of the event but the agenda shows the talks that are happening (in fact, if you click on the “view the full 2011 agenda” icon on the agenda home page, it shows Sunday by default). I managed to get along to the OakTable Sunday a few years ago and loved it – I’ll be on the opposite side this time, I’m priviledged to have been asked to fill one of the slots.

As ever, the conference has a massive and wide-ranging agenda, with mini-streams like EXA(data/logic) and MySQL on Monday,APEX on Wednesday… The number of papers and the general quality that are submitted to the conference goes up and up each year and a lot of effort goes into not just picking well know speakers but also a mix of new presenters and ensuring topics get covered. It’s hard, but during the selection process sometimes there are 4 or 5 talks we know are going to be excellent but are all on the same or similar topic – some have to be dropped to ensure the breadth of topics is still covered. The number of slots a single person is allowed to have is also controlled, again to maintain space for a wide range of presenters and presentations. All in all, it is not a simple task and even now some tweaks are going on (to fill topic gaps, finalise the exact scope for a talk or to allow for people who suddenly find they cannot present anymore). You can rest assured though that, all in all, it will be an excellent conference.

Next presentations August 24, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes.
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I’ve got a couple of presentations coming up.

The first is at the UKOUG Management and Infrastructure SIG on Tuesday 20th September. I chair this SIG and it is all about how to manage Oracle when you have lots of databases, very big databases or a particular need to know a bit more about the rest of the IT Infrastructure. You can find the schedule here. The aim is to talk at a technical level but not the deep-dive of some of the RDBMS or HA presentations as we want to cover a wider brief.

As I say, one thing we do is look at the hardware your Oracle databases and application servers need to run on. This meeting we have Steve Shaw from Intel talking about getting the most out of your Xeon-based servers, but the general concepts apply to other platforms. If you are old enough, you will remember how you used to set up “HIMEM.SYS”, “EMM386.SYS and try to keep as much of the first 640K of your memory free. You might even have got down and dirty with you BIOS settings. We did it as the performance boosts were significant. Well, we don’t do that sort of thing anymore and Steve’s talk will probably make you want to! It still is a free way to get more out of your hardware.

Piet de Visser is also coming along and I always really enjoy his presentations. This time he is covering something of interest/concern to many of us – Outsourcing. I think that will be a pretty lively session.

I’m presenting as well, with Neil Chandler on the topic of how deep you should dive when solving technical issues. To 10046 trace or not.

We meet in Oracle’s city office, so handy for anyone in or around London or for anyone coming in from North of London (the office is 5 minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station and three stops along the underground from King’s Cross St Pancras). We’ve still got to finalise one or two agenda slots but they will be real-world talks about Enterprise Manager/GRID control. One fixed item on the agenda is that those who wish to retire to a pub afterwards to continue the discussions.

You may have noticed the little logo for the UKOUG TEBS conference appearing at the right of this blog. The agenda is not quite public yet so I cannot say too much, but I will be presenting at the event, on Index Organized Tables. I’ll be showing demonstrations of some of the things I have been blogging about and expanding on areas, joining it all up into one session. I might also be presenting on database design but that talk is being discussed and finalised at present. The UKOUG team have a lot of things that they have to pull together and organise just for the presentations, never mind the rest of the conferences such as the exhibition hall, catering, registration etc. I’ve been involved in helping with the agenda organisation this year, in a minor way, so I’ve seen it all from the inside.

The TEBS conference is, for me, the meeting highlight of the year. I’ve been to Oracle Open World and, interesting though it is and with some fabulous presentations and events, it is just too big, corporate and company line for me. Oh, I’d go again when the opportunity arises, but for me the UKOUG TEBS conference has a much better feel to it, you still get a load of great talks from Oracle about the latest/greatest, but you also get loads and loads of talks by many of the best in the field and the talks are independent – no pressure to be upbeat about Oracle or avoid any negative messages. In fact, if you honestly feel something in Oracle is worth avoiding, you are free to present and say “Don’t Do This!” :-)

I had planned to go to more of the European conferences this year but it did not get myself organised. For me, as an Independent consultant, I need to present to justify the trip and I keep failing to get the submissions in on time.

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