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.

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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