This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Final Thoughts

During the conference (particularly on my blog), I’ve taken friendly pot shots at a number of people, but the truth is that this conference is a huge undertaking, put on in large part by volunteers, from the conference committee (putting in huge hours to review papers and choose speakers, and then making sure every speaker is where they need to be when they need to be there) to the speakers themselves (coming up with a topic, researching and preparing an abstract, a paper and a power point presentation) and the board members (except Ian, I still have no idea what he does.)

Seriously, I’ve made some gentle fun of a number of people, Stan Yellott, Ian Abramson, Judi Hotsinpeller, Rich Niemiec, the board, the attendees, Disney, Paul & Pradeep (my co-workers) and, I’m sure, others. I hope everyone realizes that I do this because it’s kind of hard to be funny (at least for me) without pot shots. I certainly take a fair number at myself as well.

So to everyone I’ve taken a shot at (named or unnamed), please know that I appreciate the things you bring to the conference, from the great (volunteer work) to the small (attending the conference, so that there’s an audience to justify it’s continued existence), and know that it was another great year.

Except for my rental car company. They deserve whatever scorn and derision I can possibly heap upon them.

Cheers from the conclusion of IOUG-A Live! 2005, the last ever Live! I learned a lot, networked more, and if I managed to walk away with a bag full of free swag as well, that was merely an added bonus.

I hope to see everyone at Collaboration 2006 in Nashville.

Copyright © May 4, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day Three, afternoon

This will be my final humorous blog entry from IOUG-A Live! 2005. I do intend to post a “final thoughts” post, but it will not be funny. Which won’t be any different than the rest of these entries, except by intent.

Prior to the talk on “Semi-joins” and “anti-joins”, I took one last stroll through the vendor room to check whether I’d won any of the prizes being given away. Surprisingly, I didn’t win (although I’m holding out slim hope for a couple of the drawings to be held after the conference). I did, however, get a chocolate latte thanks to my friends at the SAP booth, and strictly speaking, that meant more to me than an iPod. (To give you yet another example of how un-cool I am, I’m not yet 100% certain what an iPod is).

After the joins talk, it was off to Mike Ault’s discussion comparing Oracle on Solaris 9 vs RedHat 3.0 Linux. I didn’t get much out of it, but in fairness, I only attended it because there was nothing of particular interest or use to me during the hour, and Mike is generally an entertaining and informative speaker.

(By this point in the conference, I was really starting to wind down. Like a gourmand at a feast, I had reached the point where my brain was full. It was suggested I repartition my memory, or perhaps coalesce, but as I did not have a sufficient back-up strategy, I was unwilling to take the risk. I had done about 50 jumping jacks, hoping to compact the data, but to no avail).

Finally, it was time to head to my final educational session of the conf… er, symposium (I’ll get that right eventually), with the lyrically economical title “Advanced SQL Application Tuning: Find the Proverbial Needle in the Haystack”. As I walked into the room, I was struck by the fact that yet again, I’d accomplished something usually impossible: I’d once again managed to get my boss to pay me for a week while not requiring my presence in the office. If I could just find 51 more valid conferences, I could achieve the ultimate goal of any of the legion of Dilbert-esque workers out there, to get paid without that pesky requirement that we produce anything beyond carbon dioxide.

In the interest of truth (and because I know my boss has been known to peruse my blog), I have learned quite a bit this week, refreshed my memory on some things I’d forgotten, and refreshed my networking list of experts I can call upon when the fecal matter hits the high RPM rotating blades. It’s interesting to me that “networking” and “going out drinkin’ with the guys” are indistinguishable to the casual observer, the only measure being how quickly someone with more intelligence than you can be contacted when all hell breaks loose. Nevertheless, I’d successfully networked to the point of inebriation with several of the biggest names in the Oracle DBA and development world, and at the end of the day, the only thing better than that is that it was all covered by my conference admission fee.

Anyway, back to the final session of the conference. The long and the short of it is that I’m as important as I always felt I was. One might think this is an odd and rather self centered conclusion to take from a session that never mentioned me once, but I’ll explain. The speaker contends that there are five levels of tuning, and while most sessions (this is true in my experience) seem to focus on the first three (RDBMS, Hardware and Operating System), that in fact the best “bang for the buck” is usually found in tuning inefficient programs and poorly designed queries, and that’s where I come in. If I were not out there, writing inefficient programs and poorly designed queries, there’d be nothing for you DBAs to tune, no miracle worker reputation for you to gain. Don’t thank me, I just do it because you’re that important to me.

Seriously, as a developer (and database designer) who understands the importance of proper query tuning as well as coding efficient algorithms(*), it’s always an ego boost to sit through an hour of someone telling me how important the core focus of my entire career is. (I should say, this was one more session presented by a DBA trying to blame developers as the source of all bad SQL, and while that may be true, I still contend that a developer who produces bad SQL is a bad developer. Just like a DBA who can’t keep his… database up is a bad DBA. There are inept people in all walks of life, stop assuming that I am one just based on my job description. Please, it's much more valid to assume I am one because of the incompetent blather on this blog.)

(* Named after Al Gore, obviously)

And with that session, all there was left to do was attend the closing session (“10g, Do You Really Need A DBA Anymore?”). As this was a panel consisting primarily of DBAs, the surprising conclusion was that yes, you really do, quite the opposite of what we developers know to be true. (If I’ve managed to fan the flames, just a little bit, of the DBA – Developer war, I will have done my job).

And actually, I don’t really believe that little dig. DBAs are very important, for any number of real reasons, but I think the most important one is so that we developers have someone to blame poor performance on. DBA, contrary to popular belief, is an abbreviation for the Latin words for “scapegoat”. It’s true. Look it up. By the time you’re done, I’ll be gone.

And then the spontaneous coalescing of nerd power began to disperse, spreading out across the country and across the globe, having learned (if nothing else) a few more key buzzwords with which to bamboozle their management into further raises. I will miss them, these Techies in the Mist.

Copyright © May 4, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day Three, morning

If you’ve been following this blog (and shame on you if you have, don’t you realize you’ll never get those brain cells back?), you already know that my first talk of the day was given by Rich Niemiec, who “phoned in” a mere 133 slides for a two hour presentation. Nevertheless, Rich kept the crowd laughing and well educated, showing once again why he’s considered one of the top speakers at Live! (there were people standing in the back and not a free seat in the house, in one of the largest session rooms in the entire conference center).

Rich began his talk, in typical Rich style, by engaging the crowd with humorous stories while the last stragglers filed in. Clearly, Mr. Niemiec missed his calling, and the stand-up world is the worse off for it. And who can possibly know what drives a man to make such poor choices. CEO of a major consulting company when he could be living in a one bedroom apartment over a garage somewhere, struggling to get laughs nightly from jaded audiences. Clearly, Mr. Niemiec has no sense of proportion.

Also in typical Rich style, his anecdotes, jokes and pre-talk patter carried on for a good 10 minutes after official start time, and then at some point, you realized that it had BECOME the talk with no discernable break or segue. I learned a lot about Statspack, lessened only by the fact that, not being a DBA, I had no idea what the heck he was talking about. Nonetheless, I was entertained, and got enough of an inkling that I’ll be able to go home, read the paper on which the session was based, and end up with… no more understanding than I have right now. He’s just that much smarter than the rest of us.

Following the session, I sprinted downstairs to post the “Breaking News” onto the blog, thus proving that I have clearly lost all prospective and have started to believe I’m an actual reporter, or that anyone actually cares. I then slammed down a quick lunch and then sprinted back upstairs in time for the start of the annual “Brownies with the Board” meeting. (Yes, I’m using poetic license when I say I “sprinted”. Ambled, waddled or moseyed (all words much more appropriate) do not convey the sense of hurry which I felt during the walks in question). Strictly speaking, this was not “after the session”, because Brownies with the Board began roughly at the same time as Rich’s session was ending, in the room directly next door. Fifteen minutes past Rich’s session end time, we were still hearing applause and cheers through the wall.

During Brownies with the Board, we learned, surprisingly, that every board member had a batch of accomplishments in the past year. The web coordinator worked on the web site, the publisher of the Select Journal put out four quarterly issues, the marketing director found new ways to marked the group, and director of Education Ian Abramson successfully made it through another year without being deported back to Canada. The Board: Working hard so that those of us who don’t can make jokes at their expense.

By the way, the lunch today was once again wonderful, consisting of food with an Asian flavor, salad with a ginger dressing, lo mein noodles, rice, oriental-style chicken breasts, beef with broccoli and egg rolls, all of it wonderful. Paul and Pradeep, my co-workers and first time attendees, will be so disappointed next year if the food returns to it’s previous standards. This year, we ate like kings.

In uncharacteristic fashion for this blog, I will actually present one important fact: This was the final ever IOUG-A Live!, next year the conference will be done in conjunction with several other groups’ conferences (OAUG and Quest) for Collaborate 2006 in Nashville, TN. On a personal note, this means that I’ve attended every Live! ever (prior to my first attendance in Dallas, the event was called “IOUW” or “International Oracle Users Week”).

After the “Brownies with the Board” (which, by the way, did not include any brownies this year. Also, three of the board members were absent. This is an excellent trend in efficiency, so mark my words, within three years, “Brownies with the Board” will consist of one attendee, sitting in the back with a box lunch and several questions he or she shouts to the ether, in the vain hope that the Universe will answer. Which is probably just as informative as anything Ian has ever said. Could this parenthetical remark be any longer?) I attended a session on Semi-Joins and Anti-Joins, thus named because if the title had referenced “Exists/In and Not Exists/Not In” (as we all know semi- and anti- joins better as), no one would have attended. The session was actually quite informative and well attended, with many of us milling about in the back, until the conference committee, on pain of a severe “wedgie” from the fire marshal, made everyone find a seat.

This was, to me, somewhat counter intuitive. The room was filled with DBAs and developers. Logically, if it had burned down killing everyone inside, the rest of us would move up in value and command better salaries. Why does no one ever see the GOOD side of massive tragedy?

Seriously, the session was a good one, although it mostly covered information I already knew.

Final note: This will probably be the last blog entry until I get home. By the time the afternoon is complete, the Internet Café (my one connection with the internet) will have been closed for the final time, so my closing session write-up will have to wait.

Copyright © May 4, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

IOUG-A Live! 2005 Breaking News!

You heard it here first, the king has been deposed, there’s a new king of slide over-saturation! This morning for my first session of the day, I attended Rich Niemiec’s “Tuning Using Statspack” session. This was a two hour session, and so I was fully expecting about 500 slides. Instead, Rich was merely “phoning it in”, coming in at a paltry 133, a pale shadow of Robert Freeman’s 200 on Monday. The King is dead, long live the new King!

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day Two, evening

Tuesday evening consisted of a lot of hitting. Hitting the wall of exhaustion. Hitting the last session. Hitting the beer at the party. Hitting on the cute waitress. Being hit by her burly waiter boyfriend. Okay, the last two didn’t happen (a fact which I stress because my wife is always the first to read these essays).

When we last left off, I was about to head off to the last session of Tuesday, “New Oracle Features for Developers” delivered by TUSC’s Tony Catalano. Say what you will about TUSC (and don’t think I didn’t hear what you were saying about them, when you thought no one was listening), they do good presentations, and this was no exception. I had seen this particular presentation before, but as we at my company have upgraded to version 10g since the last time, the whole thing has taken on a much more practical, much less theoretical feel to it. Plus, in a world of DBAs, it was very nice to be in a session dedicated to my kind, the developers, those who actually WORK for a living. I mean, let’s face it, the DBAs may set up and manage the database, but if we didn’t fill it, it’d be pretty useless. (Don’t mind me. I’m surrounded by THEM. It’s hard not to get a little insecure and lash out.)

Oh, and I won a TUSC t-shirt, an achievement at an Oracle User Conference comparable to breathing in a lungful of air and saying I “won” some oxygen. I mean, I appreciate the shirt and all, but really, I can’t remember going to an Oracle conference (and I’ve been to quite a few) where I didn’t come home with quite a few new t-shirts, and there’s always a TUSC shirt in the bunch. Then again, if they read this one, I can pretty much guarantee that NEXT year, I’ll be the one conference attendee who goes home without one.

Following Tony’s presentation, it was time to head upstairs to the main conference hall for drinks, more fried greasy (but oh so yummy!) appetizers, then dinner. Little mushroom quiches, some kind of deep fried chicken ‘n’ cheese balls, and I think there were one or two other munchies as well, but those two were my downfall. By the time they seated us for dinner, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to put it, fat tummy or no. I stood around conversing with Paul and Pradeep, the developer and DBA from my company who had attended with me this year, asking how (as first timers) they were enjoying the conference. I mention this only so that you’ll know who “we” is throughout the rest of this essay (as though this were some burning oversight which, if not mentioned, would ruin your enjoyment of the rest of the piece).

While seated at the table waiting politely(*) for dinner to be served, Stan Yellott walked up behind me, a fairly startling occurrence. Stan is never a small man, but when he’s standing just behind you and you are seated, he’s positively monstrous. I recall slurring out some drunken joke about the last time I’d stood underneath something which towered above me so, a few days later someone crashed a plane into it.

(*I heard that snicker from those of you who know me. I can be polite. I just choose not to be.)

Dinner consisted of salad, rolls, wine, more wine, and finally a plate of highly out-of-focus food. It was delicious, but the cooks at the Swan and Dolphin simply must work on their presentation. Two of everything, sort of weaving around with each other, not a bit of it distinct or in focus. However, to the best of my recollection, the plate contained a piece of beef tenderloin with gravy, a piece of chicken, two carrot sticks (which I ate) and two asparagus spears (which I did not) and a small pile of mashed potatoes. Other than the asparagus (which I regard as a cruel joke played upon humans by our creator) it was all delicious, once I could corral it to the corner of my plate and make it stop swirling, so I could get a fork into it.

The whole meal was topped off by a dessert that I’m not sure how to describe. You’ve read enough about my big gut to get a sense that I rarely turn down something to eat, particularly something sweet, but this was not to my liking at all. It seemed to be a sort of super-light cheesecake with strawberry sauce. Not to insult the chefs, but you have to understand, I grew up in the New York City area, and to me, if cheesecake isn’t heavy enough to plug a hole in your car tire in an emergency, it’s simply not cheesecake. Cheesecake should harden your arteries merely by being in the same county. It should require at least two large bakers to lift out of the oven. There should be a very real risk that if you were to insult the wrong person, you might find your feet encased in one, as you are thrown into the river.

This cheesecake on the other hand felt like something you might use to stucco your ceiling if you never outgrew the 70s disco era. This was the Styrofoam of cheesecake. The balsa wood. The helium balloon. For the first time ever in my life, I said “No” to dessert. It was a strange feeling. Perhaps this is what self control feels like.

Dinner completed, it was time to head over to Disney’s Pleasure Island. I was a little bit nervous about writing this section of the essay, because of course it’s well known that what goes on at Pleasure Island STAYS at Pleasure Island. But then I remembered that that’s not THIS Pleasure Island but a club in Manhattan that… well, of course I’ve never been to, but, um, this friend of mine went, and he told me about it.

So anyway, over to Pleasure Island we went and, in typical IOUG-A Live! fashion, it began to rain just as we left the convention center, got progressively harder the entire time we were at PI, and then tapered off as we were walking to the car, having decided to give up for the night, stopping completely by the time we reached our hotel room. I don’t know why the IOUG insists on forgetting to order the NICE weather for outside parties. This was a lot of fun, but really, how much could it cost to slip the weather man a few bucks to have it be nice out?

Regardless, the attraction of Pleasure Island is largely night clubs. There’s an R&B dance club, a 70s disco dance club (bring your stucco dessert!), a contemporary dance club, a “rock ‘n’ roll beach club” and a top-40 dance club. If you’ve never been out dancing, there are two things these clubs have in common, the dancing and an ambient volume high enough to be detected on other planets. I don’t know if you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, but I’m fairly sure Disaster Area was playing in one of the clubs.

I am not a dance person. I was not blessed with natural grace and dexterity in the sense that I’ve been known to trip over medium pile carpeting. This left me with two main options for my Pleasure Island experience. The Comedy Warehouse (an improv comedy club) and the Adventurer’s Club, described by someone at the Comedy Warehouse as “more wacky and zany”. The Comedy Warehouse was fun (we attended two shows), although it suffered from the same problems most regular improv shows do: It felt like the improv was merely a surface thing over a very structured standard show. Kind of like if I were to bake a cake from a box mix, then throw a couple of strawberries on the top and claim that it was “my own recipe”. (Have you noticed that most of my analogies are food related? Does this really surprise anyone?) Nevertheless, the strawberries didn’t come with this particular show, and they did make it tasty, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

In between the two improv shows we went to the Adventurer’s Club, which was more scripted, but sort of a show which takes place in the audience. Ostensibly, you’re being shown around this exclusive club, introduced to all of the secret handshakes, and then made a member of the club. Since the players were interacting with the audience (rather than up on a stage) there was certainly an improvisational aspect to it, and on the whole I enjoyed it quite a lot, although frankly I was surprised at the level of sexual innuendo, this being Disney and all. Perhaps, as my co-workers were trying to tell me, I really WAS the only one asked to surrender his personal bits for the duration of his stay.

In the end, Paul, Pradeep and I had a pretty good time, finally making our way back to our hotel rooms to a late bedtime. And as they have just (as I wrote that last sentence) knocked on my door asking if I’d like to join them for breakfast, that’s it for this installment.

Tomorrow (actually later today): Day three. Yet more sessions, more information and the conclusion of the conference… all with the objective eyes only way too much beer and partying the night before bring to a day.

Copyright © May 3, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day Two, afternoon

What is the most important advice we experienced conference attendees could give to the new folks? Clearly, that’d be “Don’t miss the free beer!”, but only slightly behind that would be “Pace Yourself”. Among marathon runners, there is a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall” which involves (I’m guessing) running headlong into a brick wall rather than having to keep running all the way to the finish line. Or maybe not, my own personal body has never run for more than twenty feet without needing an extensive break and a half liter of water. On the rare occasions when I’ve really pushed myself, I have had other things on my mind (say when there was a free iPod at stake, or possibly danger to one of my children).

Around mid-afternoon on the second day of the marathon that is the modern user conference, the highly tuned, well oiled mechanics of my body hit a low point. If this were my own personal time, and my own personal money paying for the trip, I’d say “The heck with it” and go back to the hotel room for a nice nap before the afternoon. As it is being paid for by my boss’ budget, and I am being paid to attend, I would never admit to… I mean, I would never do any such thing. Even when the tryptophan in my lunch starts making my eyes droop. Even when the first post-lunch topics available hold no interest or important information. Even when, with my sleep apnea, there’s a very real risk that my snoring could set off the convention center’s early Earthquake warning system.

And so, head hanging like a beaten dog, I dragged myself from the vendor floor and up the long, tiring escalator steps to the second floor to attend: “iSQL*Plus in Oracle 10g: Ready for Prime Time”. You have to love Oracle’s marketing department, seeing the way the world is working, take an existing tool, throw a new access method on the front (in this case, internet availability), then throw an “i” on the front or back of the name and call it a new feature. So by this logic, when I write these essays, they are essays, but when I post them to my blog, now they’re iEssays. iSQL*Plus is web database access. Does it really take an hour to tell us that?

And then came the second truly wonderful session I’ve attended this year: “Oracle 10g SQL Tuning Secrets” presented by Donald Burleson. Mr. Burleson is an engaging speaker, with lots of great information, and apparently a life long addiction to uppers. Really, this man presents his material with the same zeal as a used car salesman in a late night TV commercial, but with far less reliance on lies, exaggerations and outright BS. Want to know how strong his personality is? Part way through his session, he lost the mic momentarily and I, sitting in the back of one of the largest rooms at the conference, didn’t notice based on the volume, only based on the more natural tone to his voice. This man clearly loves tuning SQL. He also clearly disagrees with the presenter from this morning, who advised bringing every table design into 5th normal form.

My only beef with Mr. Burleson is when he advanced an assertion which is at the heart of the DBA/Developer war: that developers believe “If I write a query which returns the right answer, my job is done, it’s the DBA’s job to tune it”. I am a developer, and to me this is like a chef saying “If my soufflé rises, it’s someone else’s job to make sure it tastes good”. Mr. Burleson, on behalf of GOOD developers everywhere, thanks, but we’ll handle tuning our own SQL. Just make sure you and your fellow DBAs give us sufficient privileges to access the tuning tools we need.

Following the tuning talk was another break (technically, there are vendor presentations during this time, but as I am neither interested in any of the vendors nor energetic enough to stay awake through a marketing talk, I choose to re-define the term “break” to be inclusive). I wandered the floor of the Vendor Hall for the 15 minutes between the end of the session and vendor floor closing time, at which point I had several options:

· Write this afternoon’s update, knowing that I’d then have to include the final session of the day in the morning’s update.
· Find some beer, thus ensuring I’ll fall asleep during the final session of the day.
· Find a quiet place and lie down for a nap.

As good as option 3 sounds, I have two co-workers here with me, and the odds that my boss would take kindly to my being seen napping during the conference are about equal to the odds that while I’ve been gone he’s granted me a 50% pay raise. Thus, here I am typing away in a corner, looking for all the world like I’m accomplishing something of great pith and moment, instead of blathering away words which will be read by (most likely) 10 people, 7 of whom are directly related to me (and 2 of whom will have a lot of questions, like “Daddy, what’s a DBA?” and “Daddy, why do you like beer so much?” and even “Daddy, how can you say 5th normal form ISN’T the ultimate for data storage? Don’t you realize that anything less leaves you open to potential data integrity problems?”).

The last session of the day starts in about 20 minutes, after which is the dinner and then the Big Party at Pleasure Island. I just have time to post this and grab a Dixie cup of water from the kind volunteers at the side of the escalator before kicking into high gear for the last leg of the day’s run.

Copyright © May 3, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day Two, morning

Before I begin, I finally found out the name of the “woman whose name I never caught” from last night’s review: Judi Hotsinpiller. Was this important enough to bother filling in? Yes, because I’m not feeling particularly funny this morning, and I’m hoping that I can make up with names like “Hotsinpiller” what I lack in personal sense of humor. (Judi is a very nice person, and one of the very rare attractive members of the technical community, so by no means should her last name be held against her. Nevertheless, being the sort of person who would sacrifice his own grandmother to make up for personal failings, she gets offered up as the sacrificial lamb to the gods of humor.) Hotsinpiller, Hotsinpiller, Hotsinpiller. It’s just fun to say!

Day two began poorly, I woke late, missed breakfast, got to the convention center only to find out there was no coffee to be had. Perhaps now you get an idea of why I’m not feeling funny. Checked e-mail, called my wife, posted the “last night” addendum, and then it was off to my first session of the day, “Denormalization Debunked in an Hour.” Pleasant speaker (entertaining, personable, and with the most important feature one can have in public speaking: An accent), but five minutes into the topic, I realized I was not going to agree with his conclusions. I’m sorry, Mr. Speaker, I’m not a normal guy, I don’t see why my table design should be. (As with many things in life, data normalization is a tool, to be employed when appropriate and set aside when not. A screw driver is an excellent tool, but you set it aside when the job you are trying to accomplish requires… sobriety.)

A half an hour break between sessions allowed me to spend some time in the vendor room (which was now open), and I found the Holy Grail! The lost tomb of King Solomon! The remains of Amelia Earhart! The Lindburg Baby! I found something even more exciting than all of these: COFFEE!!!!! Awake, alive and refreshed, time to chat for a short while with my friend Darryl and then head to my next topic: “Oracle Materialized View and Some Super Interesting Uses!”

A note to future speakers: Don’t bait and switch. If you use terms like “Super Interesting”, it would sure be nice if it was. Don’t get me wrong, the speaker knew about Materialized Views, and he happily told us all way more than we probably ever cared about. But there are some topics which are not and simply never will BE “super interesting”. Economics 101. Anyone else’s medical problems. Belly-button lint. And we can add to this list “Materialized Views”. That complaint notwithstanding, this was a reasonably useful session.

And then, I was faced with a quandary. The next session was a half hour “Quick Tips” session. I could listen to quick tips on Query Tuning, but as I am quite proficient in this area, I’d be most surprised if they could in half an hour cover anything new to me. Similar problems apply to the other available topics of interest, “Regular Expression Functions in Oracle 10g” and “Understanding Those Ugly Cursors”. OK, so let’s see who’s speaking. Loney, okay, he’s always a good speaker with great information. Mullins, don’t know him. Hotsinpiller. We have a winner. When the topics don’t decide for you, always opt for the best last name.

In this case, it really didn’t matter, because 5 minutes into the session, my loaner cell phone, set clearly (I’ve checked) on VIBRATE/SILENT mode, begin ringing at a volume normally reserved for airport landing strips. People three conference rooms down started filing out, certain that an air raid signal was sounding. It’s a good thing I’m happily married, because if I’d had any illusions of chatting up Ms. Hotsinpiller, I would have come across as less of a clod had she encountered me with my equipment stuck in the escalator. (For those with dirty minds, an earlier conversation had discussed that my pack was unzipped, and it looked like my laptop might fall out and become damaged on the escalator.)

My phone call completed (after all that, a wrong number), there wasn’t enough time left to the session to bother returning, so I got an early jump on the lunch rush. I’m happy to report, today’s lunch was even better than yesterday’s. I didn’t try everything, there was too much, but what I did have included: Caesar Salad, Marinated Mushrooms & Artichokes, Pene Pasta Primavera w/ Peas, Chicken Piccata and pizza. Desserts were Canolli, tiramisu and some sort of rum cake thing. If there’s anything about this particular conference which will be memorable (besides the name “Hotsinpiller”), it’ll be the food. I’ll be remembering the food for weeks as I strive to get back down to my fightin’ weight (a mere 250 lbs).

Lunch now complete, and a serious e-mail jones going, I’ll post this now and get back to conference life.

Later: Yet more sessions, more freebies in the vendor room, and tonight, the BIG PARTY.

Copyright © May 3, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day One, continued

This morning, I would like to begin with an addendum to yesterday’s musings (in much the same way that I expect tomorrow to comment on my drunken debauchery at Disney’s “Pleasure Island” tonight, more on that later). After posting the essay in question, I did in fact attend the vendor room opening, did in fact consume several beers and enough grease to solve our nation’s foreign oil dependency. There was clearly WAY more oil in the munchies than we’ll ever find under ANWR. A quick walk (or perhaps “stumble”) around to the various vendor’s booths followed, searching for products of real use such as free t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, pencils, yo-yos, finger rockets and rubber balls with LED lights in them that flash when you bounce them.

Finally, I ended up chatting with some friends, including Stan Yellott, a man who (and I say this with the utmost of respect) could not look more like a Wookie if he had the full force of Industrial Light and Magic’s SFX department behind him. To say that Stan is large and extremely hairy is like saying Disney World is mildly expensive. Nevertheless, Stan is extremely knowledgeable and a great guy, except for the fact that three years running, he has been in charge of selecting the conference committee, and three years running, he has opted not to select me. Proving that Stan is also an excellent judge of character.

The night ended up with a final session, “Ask Tom Kyte”. Tom Kyte is an executive with Oracle, who has his own section of the Oracle web page (named, surprisingly, “Ask Tom Kyte”) on which he plays, essentially, Dear Abby to the Oracle user community. Stan and I and a woman whose name I didn’t catch discussed what questions we might ask to liven up the event.

Stan suggested “I get the ‘jump to the left’, and I’m pretty clear on the subsequent ‘step to the right’, but I’m afraid I’m fuzzy on the instructions that follow that”, a clear indication of Stan’s age. I’m pretty sure kids these days do not find the Rocky Horror Picture Show as fascinating as we, for some reason, did. I was all set to ask “Mr. Kyte, we have an Oracle 10g database almost a terabyte in size, consisting of approximately 2000 tables, and so my question is: having just seen the new Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, what IS the ultimate question to life the universe and everything?”

And then we arrived and, contrary to our expectations, the crowd was about as animated as the Mona Lisa (the original, not the recent remake by Hanna Barbera). If there is a crowd of people less apt to loosen up with liberal application of beer, I really don’t care to meet them. Tom spent roughly fifteen minutes discussing why “Why?” is not only NOT a rude answer to a question, but actually the best initial answer to give in roughly 85% of cases. As boring as this may sound, it was actually entertaining and informative, and I’m almost certain I would have felt the same way sober.

Then the questions began, and I understand that this is a technical conference, but good heavens these were serious and boring questions (lightened only slightly when Stan revealed to the table that when he’d stood to take a picture, his pants… had not made the journey unscathed). Tom answered each question with care and with good information, but the beer was wearing off, the hour was getting late, and the eyelids were starting to droop, so making my excuses (don’t you love “vibrate” mode on cell phones? No one knows if it really went off or not!) I departed for my hotel room.

Oh, and I said earlier that I’d have more on Pleasure Island later. I will certainly have more on the TRIP to Pleasure Island tomorrow, but I wanted to mention: Only Disney could name a section of their theme park “Pleasure Island” and not conjure up images of 42nd street in Manhattan in the 70s and early 80s. They even say, without a trace of titter in their voices, that Pleasure Island is the adult section of the compound, and one knows immediately that by adult, they mean that there are night clubs and bars and things which are not age appropriate for children, rather than that one will be bombarded by signs advertising “GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!” in between offers of dates from women of questionable repute. Disney World really is like living in a movie from the 1950s, only with more realistic color.

Coming Up Later: Day two. More sessions, more information, and The Big Party. (Wow, deja vu!)

Copyright © May 2, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

Monday, May 02, 2005

IOUG-A Live! 2005 - Day One

[To my regular readers: I’ve decided to post a daily review of the Oracle user conference that I’m attending this week. Since it’s apt to contain a number of jokes which will really only be funny to fellow attendees, I’ve decided to post them each day, and not save them for the regular Friday postings. The exception to that is the description of my trip down here, which I’ll post this Friday as the normal Friday essay. One of the new powers I’ve gained as a regular columnist: Time Travel. – Liam]

It’s Day One of the Oracle User Conference (excuse me, Symposium) called “IOUG-A Live! 2005: Nerds Vs The Mouse”. The conference started this morning, and as of this moment (5:21pm) I am sitting outside of one of the conference rooms, having volunteered to collect “session evaluation” slips at the conclusion of this hour’s discussion. Shortly, the session will be over, and a torrent of 15 people (this was not one of the more popular topics) will stream out of this room, about three of which will hand me slips with SAT style balloons filled in, indicating that the speaker was of average effectiveness.

The reasoning for the survey forms is clear: Try to identify which speakers are effective so that in future years they can be given preference when selecting presenters for THAT year. However, in practice, virtually everyone ranks every speaker as “slightly above average”, neither wanting to say anything bad about the poor speakers, nor able to work up the enthusiasm to reward the excellent.

Thus far, the one constructive criticism I’ve received was from a gentleman from California who asked me to convey the message “The room is FREEZING”. Being from New Hampshire, sitting here in shorts (one of the few thus attired) and feeling (if anything) slightly too warm, it’s hard for me to sympathize. Clearly in the war between the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS, the HAVE NOTS must win (at least as far as clothing is concerned. He can put on a sweater. No one here wants to see me in less than I’m wearing now. My pasty white legs are quite sufficient, thank you.)

The morning (and the conference) began with coffee, muffins, and a General Session during which we learned… um… someone help me out here. This is one aspect of technical conferences that I’ve never understood: the General Session. I know some people love them, coming out talking about how much they learned. These people are wrong. This morning, one of the speakers was Rich Niemiec, widely regarded as one of the most entertaining, most knowledgeable, and above all most VERBOSE speakers on topics relating to Oracle (and also consistent winner of the “Most PowerPoint Slides per 10 minutes of speaking time” award), and still I can honestly say that my morning would have been just as well spent asleep, getting well rested for the technical sessions.

The first hour of the day thus consumed, it was time to walk to the conference room for my first technical session of the day, entitled “Oracle Database 10g Release 2 Overview”. Not real creative, the titles of the technical sessions. This session would have been better if… aw, who am I kidding. This session wouldn’t have been improved by showgirl assistants and a million dollar prize at its conclusion. This is another down side of technical conferences: Beware of speakers speaking on topics directly relating to their own company. In this case, the speaker was a gentleman from the Oracle Corporation, the fine folks who make the product that has drawn this mass of technically adept but socially backward folks to Florida this week. Oracle speakers are clearly knowledgeable, but they lack a certain…. willingness to admit to any flaws, faults or bugs in their products. This may not be surprising, but when my goal as a database developer is to learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to get around what doesn’t, company line isn’t very helpful to me.

My second session of the day, a half hour “Quick Tips” session on Indexing was preempted by some important e-mails that I had to reply to from my office. As the session was aimed at beginners (a category into which I do not fall), it was probably not a big loss.

Which brings me to the source of much angst each year: What kind of lunch are they going to serve? I’m happy to say that this year, if today is any indication, the lunch is going to be wonderful. Most years, lunch consists of a box with a dry sandwich, a bag of chips (pre atomized for your convenience), perhaps some sort of pasta salad, a cookie or brownie, and an apple. Today, by contrast, we had hot chicken breast in a white sauce, steamed mixed vegetables, a salad, and three options for dessert, one of which was actually very tasty. (I tried all three. Hey, it takes work to maintain this sexy round body.)

After lunch, I attended a two-hour session titled “Top Oracle New Features”. Finally, a session that included more of what I came to the conference for, in the form of 200 (count em!) slides, almost all of them containing good and useful information. At the end of this session, I knew I could now justify the cost to my company of this little trip. I don’t want to give anything away, in case anyone opts to read the paper themselves, but don’t be surprised if it turns out the Automatic Storage Maintenance did it. (A little inside joke for other conference attendees. ASM is a new feature which is wonderful and fantastic, and will revolutionize how we manage databases… just as soon as Oracle releases a version in which it actually works correctly.)

Following this was another general session, the “Keynote Address” by an Oracle officer. Having learned my lesson in the morning General Session, I spent the time in the Internet Cafe answering some more e-mailed questions from the home office. Sure, my company didn’t have to send me all the way to Florida in order to do work back at home, but somehow I can never convince my co-workers of that. In fact, I suspect there’s more than a little jealousy that I’m in Florida. Maybe I’m over-reacting, but when my e-mail suddenly contains a whole lot more messages marked “URGENT!” trying to assign me new tasks, I start to wonder.

Which brings us to now. Not having learned my lesson, I trusted the name and description of a session entitled “The Industry’s Best SQL Just Got Better”, presented yet again by an Oracle shill…er, employee. After 10 minutes of discussion of XML (and a preview of the slides indicating that very little actual SQL would be discussed), I decided to depart and, having nothing else to do (the other session I was interested in was full by this point), volunteered to sit here and collect forms… a task which I have done poorly due to typing, but which I’ve just completed. This means it’s time to go down and witness (anticipatory music swells) the opening of The Vendor Room, plus the consumption of much beer and lots of little fried bits of food guaranteed to have a large number of technical weenies walking about exhausted tomorrow, after spending too much time on their hotel room toilets tonight.

So, in summary:

  • Don't trust speakers with a vested interest in what they're talking about
  • General Sessions are boring
  • There is good information to be had, if you look hard enough
  • "Symposium" is a way cooler name than the old name, "Conference"

Tomorrow: Day two. More sessions, more information, and The Big Party. (Alcohol being a mainstay of the party, tomorrow’s write-up (if there is one) will probably end before the party, and I’ll discuss it the following day).

Copyright © May 2, 2005 by Liam Johnson.

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