Repairman Jack : By the Sword

By the Sword is the twelfth book in the Repairman Jack series by F. Paul Wilson.

Jack is hired to find a battered old Japanese sword. Unfortunately, there are some other people looking for it, including a group of Yakuza, a group of self-mutilating Japanese monks and people from a US religious cult. This is not going to be easy…

We are gradually getting closer to the end of times, so things are getting progressively chaotic and weird. Despite how ridiculous the plot sounds in a one-liner, it actually moves along quite well. As I’ve said before, I’ve become so desensitized to the dark nature of the books, I’m able to see past the grimness. I’m not sure if that should worry me or not…



Fedora 17, Xfce and Cairo-Doc…

Followers of the blog will know I’ve been using Fedora as my main desktop/server OS for quite some time. I tend to use the default settings as much as possible, so that meant I switched to GNOME3 (when graphics cards allowed) and was generally not too displeased with it. I know a lot of people hate GNOME3, but I found it OK…

I think using XP at work has made me appreciate the simplicity of the old-style menus, so in a little fit of “I need a change”, I switched my window manager to Xfce. It’s quick and kinda basic as far as the interface goes, but feels really comfortable and familiar. So as not to get withdrawal symptoms from all things spangly, I’ve installed Cairo-Doc to get a posh little OSX-like doc at the bottom of my screen.

I’m not sure how long this new look will last, but so far I dig it.



When host credentials attack…

I was using Grid Control to do a DB recovery test yesterday and something rather unusual happened which I can not remember seeing before.

I turned the DB off and moved all the files (spfile, controlfiles, datafiles, FRA contents etc) to a new location for safe keeping. One of the system administrators restored the most recent backups from tape to the disk-based backup location. I then started the recovery…

One of the first steps in the recovery process (using GC) is to enter the host credentials for the DB server where you are doing the recovery. Every time I tried I was told they weren’t correct, even though I could use the same credentials to log in to the server using SSH… Strange…

To make a long story short, if I was logged into the GC as the SYSMAN user, the credentials were recognized. If I was logged in as my own user (a super administrator) credentials for the “oracle” user on the DB server were reported as incorrect.

I did a similar test on another database server a couple of weeks ago and I don’t remember any problems there…

If I get time I’ll go back and see if I can figure it out, but for now, if in doubt, try the SYSMAN user first… 🙂



OTN Tour of Latin America: Wrap-up…

The OTN Tour of Latin America is over for me. Several brave souls continue on to the second leg in about a week. For those playing catch-up on my little adventure, you can read the posts here:

These OTN tours are a great experience and I would advise anyone who gets the chance to take part in a tour to do it, but keep in mind the following points:

  • These tours require a massive investment of time. This tour has taken about 17 days in total for me. For some of the speakers this meant taking annual leave. For others it meant unpaid leave. Not everyone is able to commit this amount of time and potential lost earnings.
  • The conference agendas were rather fluid for the days preceeding the conferences. In some cases, people were dropped off the agenda entirely, only to reappear the day of the conference. It can be a little unnerving arriving at a country, not knowing if you even have a slot to present.
  • The breakdown of the audiences varies quite widely. It’s worth having a few spare presentations prepped before you start the tour. On several occasions we switched presentations around when it became apparent what we planned to present was not suitable for the audience. I started the tour with 2 presentations. I came home with 4.5. You’ve got to be flexible when you do this stuff.
  • We didn’t always know where conferences were taking place before we got to the country. We quickly got into the habit focusing only on the next country, rather than worrying too far in advance.
  • You spend a lot of your own money on these tours. The Oracle ACE program generously provides for the travel and hotel room bills. Some local user groups pay for social events in the evening, which is greatly appreciated, but there are still many other costs that come out of your own pocket. Paying for visas, exit taxes associated with some countries, subsistence costs and things like laundry services all come out of your own pocket. It’s a mere fraction of what you would have to pay to fund the whole tour yourself, but you should be aware it’s not a free ride.
  • It’s hard work. For the whole of this trip I was constantly tired. I feel like I need a holiday now to get over it.
  • There seems to be some misconception that we get paid to do these tours. We definitely do not!

So now I’ve scared you off talking part, I guess I should to tell you why you really need to get involved:

  • Some of the speakers on the tour I have met before, some I knew via the internet and some were new to me. It is surprising how much of a bond you can develop in such a short time. I’m not the type of person that is quick to consider someone a friend, but there are people I’ve only known for a few days who I now consider my friends. I don’t know if I will ever see them again and that makes me sad, but I will definitely not forget them.
  • There are great Oracle communities around the world that us English speakers never get to experience. This is one way to bridge that gap.
  • It’s a very humbling experience to know that most of the attendees are listening to you present in their second or third language. Even more so when they have the guts to approach you to talk about the content of your presentation. It kinda makes you ashamed to be a lazy Brit who only speaks English… Badly…
  • Above all, it’s a really fun experience.

I need to mention a few people for their sterling work in getting me through the tour:

  • Sheeri Cabral for translation services and general organisation skills. I just piggy backed on her (and Debra’s) flight plans, hotel bookings and relied on her Spanish to get me through assorted airports and shops etc.
  • Debra Lilley for being a little island of (near) sanity on the occasions when I was starting to lose the will to go on.
  • Tom Kyte. Watching you present reminds me I must try harder. It was nice to see you out at the social events too. It’s been a few years since you’ve knocked around with us. 🙂
  • Melanie Caffrey. You are a scream and I suspect we would have seen less of Tom at the social events if you hadn’t been around. 🙂
  • Graham Wood. I know we are a similar age, but if you don’t mind I would like you to adopt me. You can be my Oracle dad… 🙂
  • Sergio Tribst. Where do I start with you dude? Quite possibly the most consistently amusing person on the tour. A top bloke!
  • Noel Portugal. What a cool guy. Such a pity you only came to the first couple of events. Hopefully we can meet up at another event so you can  find out how annoying I can be…
  • Shay Shmeltzer for juggling worthy of the Cirque du Soleil.
  • Joel Pérez and Ronal Vargas for my Spanish lessons. Sorry I’m such a terrible student.
  • Plinio Aribizu. Yeah.. init! 🙂
  • All the other speakers I chatted too.
  • All the attendees for coming and listening to my sessions.
  • All the conference organizers for making the events a success and keeping us entertained.
  • The Oracle ACE program and Francisco for making this happen.

Enough of the mutual appreciation society… 🙂 Next time…



OTN Tour of Latin America: Costa Rica…

In my previous post I mentioned feeling like a class traitor by paying for someone to do my washing. Well it gets worse. Sheeri and I (but not Debra) got a random upgrade to business class for the 1 hour flight from Honduras to San Jose, Costa Rica. I think that was the first time I’ve ever flown business. So much room. Seats wide enough to fit my ample butt. Tray cleared as soon as you’ve finished eating… A little taste of the good life, before I go back to coach for my big trip home. 🙂

We got to San Jose in the afternoon and spent a little time by the hotel pool. Not being a sun lover, I spent that time sitting fully dressed on a sun lounger with a towel over my head.

In the evening we got a taxi to a local place to get some food. Unfortunately, we were dropped off at a location favoured by tourists, which gave us a choice of chain restaurants from every location in the world except Costa Rica. I wasn’t particularly proud that the first food I ate in Costa Rica came from an Outback Steakhouse. Added to that, it was extortionately expensive…

The next day was conference day. We arrived and were assigned individual helpers for the day, which was a nice touch. All the attendees were together for the introduction speech, then split up for the 5 conference tracks. My first session was in the main auditorium after the introduction speech, so I had to watch the packed room empty, leaving a few brave souls. 🙂 I tried to do before (awake) and after (sleeping) photos at the start of the session, but some of the acting left a lot to be desired. Check out Graham Wood’s “excited face” in the first shot.

He does a pretty good impression of sleeping in the second too…

I got some questions at the end of the session. One of the attendees sent this photo of me leaning forward while listening to a question.

I’ve leave it for you to decide what the caption should be. 🙂

Later, I went along to Graham’s session on ASH, which I’d seen before, but was worth watching again. The room was full, so I gave up my seat for one of the paying attendees (it seemed only fair) . As the presentation continued, the room got increasingly hot. By the end I thought I was going to keel over. 🙂

A little while later it was my second session. This one was in a smaller room, but pulled a bigger crowd, so people were standing up at the back and sitting on the floor. Being up close and personal with the audience is much better for me. I just feel like I connect better. After this presentation it dawned on me that it was the end of the tour, which came with very mixed emotions.

In the evening we went out to a place serving Costa Rican food, which was much cheaper than the tourist stuff we ate the day before. The lack of alcohol caused some discent amongst the ranks, but everyone survived. 🙂

Some of the gang are off out for a Jungle tour today, but unfortunately it is time for me to fly home, so I’m missing out on seeing yet another country. I must come back and do it properly next time. 🙂

Big thanks to Ronald Vargas for organising this leg of the tour and thanks to the Oracle ACE program for making this happen.



PS. When I get home I will write a wrap-up post to summarise the whole LA OTN Tour experience.

PPS. More photos here.

OTN Tour of Latin America: Honduras…

I mentioned the trip to Honduras at the end of my previous post. We landed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with no dramas. A couple of guys from the University were there to meet us, which was a nice touch.

When getting foreign currency from an ATM, I would suggest you ignore anything Debra Lilley tells you to do. Her expert advice lead me to draw out the equivalent of $10 US, rather than the $100 US I planned to get. We couldn’t even pay for our food. 🙂

When we got to the hotel, the first thing I did was throw a whole bunch of clothes into the hotel laundry service. Paying someone to do my washing made me feel a bit like a class traitor, but my previous abortive attempts at drying wet clothes in my hotel room left me with little choice. Having your boxer shorts returned individually wrapped in cellophane bags is quite funny, but paying $57 US for the privilege is not. At least I don’t smell like wet dog anymore… 🙂

Apart from the washing service, Honduras seems to be a pretty cheap place from a UK/US tourist perspective. On the first evening we went out to eat at a local place, scouted out by Melanie Caffrey, which was really cool. The bill for the group (about 10 people), including drinks and a tip came to about $110 US.

The following day it was conference time. We were all shipped to the University in a minibus, where we settled in for the day (10:00-19:00). The audience was a little tricky, since it was predominantly IT students, who weren’t necessarily Oracle focussed. Thanks to the expert tuition of Joel Perez and Ronald Vargas, I was able to introduce myself in Spanish, which was a good ice breaker. You don’t want to know how much time they spent coaching Debra and I at dinner the night before. Joel came to my presentation and videoed my attempt at Spanish. When I get the URL I’ll post it here. 🙂

People were very shy about asking questions in front of the whole group, but after both presentations I got some 1-to-1 questions. It’s always nice when that happens.

The next day Debra, Sheeri and I took a whistle-stop tour of Tegucigalpa using a taxi. The driver only spoke Spanish, so it was up to Sheeri, our translator extraordinaire, to organize everything. It was a brief tour, but really enjoyable. Having a day off flying and presenting was a blessing. I was starting to feel like I was losing the plot, but I feel much better now.

You can see some photos from Honduras here.

Big thanks to Jonathan and the rest of the Honduras gang for looking after us and the speaker gift, and thanks to the Oracle ACE Director program for helping to make this happen.

In a couple of hours we will be flying to Costa Rica, which is the last stop before I return to Birmingham.



PS. Drivers in Honduras like to use their horns a lot. I think the horn must be pressed every 3 seconds or the car stalls… 🙂

Virtualization Presentation…

Last year I wrote a post about how I was being driven crazy by silly things people try to do with virtualization. That spawned the idea to do an “introduction to virtualization” style presentation.

When I posted my abstracts for the OTN Tour of Central America I accidentally included the abstract for this presentation. It wasn’t until I was already on the road and reading through a conference agenda that I noticed this and had one of those “oh sh*t!” moments. 🙂 Since I had already put down a bunch of ideas for the presentation, I decided to write it, rather than ask for a change to the agenda. I’ve now presented this session a few times…

Over the years I’ve had several discussions with other presenters about the content of slides and I’ve now come to the conclusion that I should have an article associated with each presentation I give, kinda like a whitepaper. This frees me from feeling like I have to cram my slides with too much information, but still leaves the attendees with something they can look back on later, that has a more consistent message than a few bullet points.

The article that goes with this virtualization presentation is now available here:

I’ve purposely tried to keep it very light and devoid of technical information or vendor-specific bias. It’s meant to be the kind of thing you can present to a newbie, or non-technical manager, to try and cut through some of the mysticism associated with virtualization.



OTN Tour of Latin America: Guatemala (Continued)…

We arrived in Guatemala at night, went straight to the airport and parked ourselves in the hotel bar for a few minutes before bed. Seeing armed guards in front of the hotel restaurant was more than a little unnerving. On one hand, having the guards should make you feel safer, but on the other hand, the fact they may be necessary is a little scary…

In the morning it was straight off to the conference. Things started off with keynotes by Tom Kyte and Graham Wood, then the room got split into three for the regular presentations. I was speaking in the first time slot and got a good turn out of people. My demos worked and everything went well. Next up was a filmed interview, then I went to the speaker room to try and play catch-up with my online stuff. From this mornings post you will see how well that went. I spent half of my time laughing. 🙂

Later on I went to Graham Wood’s talk on the problems associated with badly managed connection pools. If you get the chance to watch, it is well worth it. The live demonstration clearly shows how badly large numbers of physical connections affect database performance. Think 1-10 database connections per CPU core. Any more and you are probably setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

During my second session there was a technical hitch, causing the projector to cut out intermittantly. Fiddling with the projector ate away at my time, making it a struggle to finish without rushing.

The last session of the day was a keynote by Tom Kyte. I got my 15 seconds of fame when one of his slides was a screen grab of one of my blog posts. Believe it or not, amongst all the book and film reviews he managed to find a post where I was saying something that sounded resonably intelligent. Who’da thunk it?

In the evening we got taken out to dinner by the user group. I ate far too much melted cheese, which left me feeling full and very happy. I also drank two different bottles of local beer. For a non-drinker, this is becoming far too frequent on this tour. When in Guatemala, do as the Guatemalans…

Early the next day we all piled into taxis and headed to the airport. Spending two nights and a total of about 36 hours in Guatemala didn’t leave any time to look around, but the people were really friendly and I had a really great time.

We flew to Honduras on a small plane. One third of the passengers were on the ACE Tour. I did a head count. 🙂

On arrival I threw pretty much all my clothes into the hotel laundry service. I wanted to do it in Guatemala, but we were there for such a short time I got worried they might not get back to me before we had to leave.

Thanks to Carlos and everyone in Guatemala, the country of eternal spring, and to the ACE program for making this happen!



PS. Very few photos posted here.

OTN Tour of Latin America: Guatemala…

The Guatemala event is over. I will write a proper post about it on the plane tomorrow, but I just wanted to share three photos from the speakers room.

To set the scene, Graham Wood and Debra Lilley are on my left and Tom Kyte is on my right. Debra was describing something that happened earlier in the week and I just completely lost it. I was laughing so hard, tears were streaming down my face. These tours are tiring and really hard work, but they are also extremely good fun!