Oracle ACE Program : Thanks Folks!

As you will know from my previous post, I picked up the “UK Speaker Award” at UKOUG Tech 14. I’ve already done a bunch of thank you messages, but I’d just like to take a minute and thank the Oracle ACE Program for the part they have played in this.

Many of you will know, I was invited to the ACE program because of my online contributions to the Oracle community. Prior to joining the program I had not done any public speaking and had not been part of any user groups. I hadn’t even attended a SIG or a conference before. The first conference I ever attended was Oracle OpenWorld in 2006, where I picked up the “Oracle ACE of the Year” award. It was only from that point on that I started to present.

If I had not been invited to the program, I doubt I would have ever tried to present at an Oracle event. Even if I had taken the plunge, I doubt I would have done enough presenting to come away with a speaker award like this. The amount of people I’ve met over the years and the amount of advice they have given me on presenting has been invaluable.

I know I’m not the best presenter out there and I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but I honestly don’t believe I would have come this far without the help of the Oracle ACE Program, so many thanks to everyone involved in the program, both organisers and ACEs alike, for all your help over the last  8 years. It is very much appreciated!



UKOUG Tech 14 : Monday

The day started with a taxi ride into New Street station to get the 06:01 train to Liverpool Lime Street. I was a little dissapointed that the train was a sprint train, so there were no tables and no power sockets. When the ticket guy came through I asked about an upgrade to first class and it was only £25 for the return journey, so I paid the extra to get a table and a power socket. Two 90 minute journeys are so much more bearable when you can actually do something useful on them. From Lime Street, it was a quick taxi ride to the ACC where I picked up my pass and headed straight to the room for my first session.

I was up in the first block of speakers at 09:00 for my virtualisation session. I expected a very small crowd for a virtualisation session in the first slot of an Oracle tech conference. I got into double figures, so I was happy. I got some questions at the end also, which is always nice.

After chatting to Peter Scott and Richard Foote about Richard’s fake tan and botox, I went to the speaker lounge and spent some time chatting to a variety of people. I also got my Christmas present from my dad. I was kind-of surprised and the size of the cheque, but I promised not to tell the wife or daughter how much he gave me! They are jealous types.

Next up was Robyn Sands speaking about “Why Solid SQL Still Delivers the Best ROI”. Being a database guy I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m going to agree entirely with what Robyn says. 🙂 A few of the key points included:

  • Good database and application design pays off many times over.
  • Set-based processing in the database will always out pace row-by-row processing, either in the database or in the middle tier, for large data sets.
  • If you can’t use set-based processing, array processing typically beats row-by-row processing.
  • Threading to fake parallelism is not a great replacement for true database parallelism, but it can give advantages in some circumstances.

There are always exceptions to the rules, but bad programming gives bad performance. The test harness used for the demos is really neat. It really does hammer home the point in a very clear way!

SpeakerAwardSmallI chatted through lunch and didn’t actually make it to the food. 🙂 After lunch it was off to the keynotes, where the UKOUG gave out some awards. I picked up a “UK Speaker Award” for last years session on “Improving the Performance of PL/SQL Function Calls from SQL”. The award was based on the speaker evaluations, which makes it feel kind-of special. I wasn’t too happy with my performance during that particular session last year, but obviously some of the folks in the audience felt different. Just goes to show you can’t be objective about your own performance. I’ll no doubt act all blasé about it, like it does’t matter, but I’ll secretly get a t-shirt printed to wear around the house. 🙂 Thanks to everyone who filled in the evaluations. It is very nice to get a pat on the back like this from time to time…

The keynote overran and I was sitting near the front, so I was a bit nervous about leaving early. As a result, I was the last person to arrive at my session. My second session was an introduction to Analytic Functions, which seemed popular. The room was full and Tom claimed he was turned away. I think he was on the wind-up! It’s always better to have a smaller room that’s full, that a large room that feels empty. 🙂 I was a bit “giddy” during this session. I think it was a combination of things including lack of food, adrenalin, excitement over the award, having a few friends in the audience and it being my last presentation of the year. I remember it feeling like a fun session for me. Not totally sure how that translates to the audience reaction though. As an example of my “giddiness”, about 3/4 of the way through the session I noticed Dawn on the front row, right in front of me, stopped and said something like, “Oh. You’re here!”. I must have looked like I was on crack! 🙂

During the Analytics session I try to break things down to the simplest possible terms, so this is more like a teaching session than a conference presentation. Analytics is something you just have to get your hands dirty with. No amount conference presentations will actually make you feel comfortable with them, so rather than trying to get heavy, I’m trying to get people over the first hurdle and get them started. The response from this session is usually pretty good, but I’m always worried someone will miss the word “introduction” mentioned in the abstract and turn up expecting some deep dive type session. It’s always good when you learn stuff during sessions you present and I learnt a couple of things thanks to Stew Ashton. Happy days!

After another chatting session in the speaker lounge, it was off to see dad speak about “AWR: Looking Beyond the Wait Events and Top SQL”. This meant missing Tom’s “AskTom” session, but family comes first! 🙂 I really liked this session. The main point dad was making was people often jump into the top-5 wait events and try to fix the problem, without doing the necessary prep work first. Guilty! Instead, people should look at the information in the AWR report and try to build a picture of the system and application architecture, before trying to fix the problem. In many cases, this process will actually highlight the problems. This is not an exhaustive list, but the sort of things he highlighted were:

  • Check the spec of the hardware at the top of the report. Specifically the core count.
  • Check the number of sessions. Is it excessive compared to the core count. Ideally it should be 1-10 times the core count. More than that may represent a problem.
  • Is the number of sessions increasing during the sample time (start compared to end)? Is this normal or a session leak?
  • Is the number of open cursors excessive? Is it growing? Is this a cursor leak, which suggests bad application code?
  • On the load profile, is the DB CPUs per second is higher than the number of cores, you are CPU bound. This will probably make other waits “over-report” as they are really CPU bound. Maybe the contents of the top 5 waits is an artefact of being CPU bound. Can you trust them?
  • If there are a high number of rollbacks compared to transactions (commits), the application is doing lots of work only to throw it away. Bad application design.
  • Check out the init.ora settings for non-default and hidden parameters that look suspicious. Are these necessary or legacy?

Only after you’ve built up this picture, should you jump to the top 5 waits and the top SQL sections. Do they confirm your picture of the system built up from the previous investigation?

I’m pretty sure I will end up at the same conclusions when looking at an AWR report, but I think this approach is much better than the way I do things, so I will try to adapt and see how it goes. If you didn’t manage to see the session, you should download the slides and check them out. I think there is a lot of value there. Well done dad!

After the last session we headed off to the exhibition hall to socialise for a bit. I talked to a whole bunch of people, which is the best bit about conferences. I also got my first food of the day, a chocolate fish from the Dbvisit stand. 🙂 I spent quite a bit of time talking to Jacco Landlust, who is always a great source of info. His advice has been incredibly valuable in plugging up the gaping holes in my middle tier knowledge.

At about 19:40 I shot off to the station and got on the 20:04 train home. A table and a power socket again. Awesome. I also managed to scrounge and extra strong mint of someone, which was the second meal of the day. 🙂 I got to Birmingham at about 21:45 and stuffed some food down my face before getting a taxi home.

So that’s the last conference of the year. Let’s see what 2015 brings…

Thanks to my company for paying for the train ticket and letting me have the day off work as a “training day”, rather than holiday, especially having just got back from a three week “holiday” doing the OTN APAC tour. 🙂 Thanks to the UKOUG for inviting me again and making sure everything ran smoothly. Thanks to all the attendees this year and to everyone who filled in their evaluations from last year. Cheques are in the mail. 🙂 I’ll do a separate post about the ACE Program



Agile Morning

You may have noticed some tweets from me on Friday morning on the subject of Agile methodologies. Work arranged for a couple of speakers to come in to speak to us on the subject.

Our company is made up of three types of people.

  • Those that are fully invested in agile and use it on a day-to-dat basis.
  • Those that think they know agile and perform some bastardised version of it.
  • Those that need a warm up before they can even say the word agile.

If I’m honest, I fit into the last group. 🙂 I understand the approach and know some of the terminology, but I’ve never worked in a truly agile team, just those that play at it. I’ve also seen terms like agile, RAD and extreme programming used as an excuse to avoid doing the job properly, so there is a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

In the recent office reshuffle, the DBAs have been put into a development team. We are still responsible for all production stuff as well, but we share the office with a development team and as usual, will be involved in a number of projects. As a result, getting involved in the whole agile thing is quite important…

The first speaker up was Kay Johnson from IBM, who has been involved in the rollout of agile throughout IBM. She started off with an overview of agile, then talked about how to scale agile through a company as large as IBM. It’s interesting that even the CICS team at IBM now use agile methodologies. Kay is a really enthusiastic speaker and great at getting the crowd involved. I really enjoyed the session. If you get chance to see her speak, you really should make the effort.

Next up was Gavin Barton from the BBC, who was talking about how the BBC has implemented agile throughout the web team. Gavin was a very relaxed and confident speaker, very open and honest when answering questions. Once again, you should definitely make the effort to go and see him if you get the opportunity to hear him speak. As you would expect, there was a lot of common ground between what he said and what Kay said, but it was good to hear how two sets of people arrived at similar conclusions via different routes, and of course some of the differences between the two.

If I combine a few of the take-home messages from both speakers, it would go something like this:

  • Agile is not an excuse to avoid planning and documentation. If anything it requires more discipline than the traditional waterfall approach. The point is you don’t spend so long planning that the requirement has changed by the time you come to code. Likewise, you don’t spend months producing documentation nobody will ever read. Keep it all direct and to the point.
  • Agile is about being user/business driven. Work with the user/business to give them what they want. Don’t assume you know better.
  • Sprints should be no longer than 2 weeks. Gavin suggested for many things they do, 2-3 days is actually better. As Kay said, there is always a way to break stuff down to something smaller, so even massive projects can be broken down to 2 week chunks.
  • Sprints should produce something that is production ready, even if it hasn’t completed UAT and doesn’t make sense to release it on its own. That means the developer should have confidence in what they have produced. A sprint might be one function or one page that can’t be released on its own, but in itself is production ready.
  • Each sprint should include planning and a retrospective look at how things went so you can learn from previous successes and failures.

I’m going to stop here before I embarrass myself with my total lack of knowledge. 🙂 Suffice to say, it all sounds really great providing you invest in it. Do a half-hearted version of it and it’s going to suck. Kind-of like everything in IT I guess.

It was a great morning. I’d like to personally thank Kay and Gavin for taking the time to come and speak to us and of course Dawn for organising it. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it has come away with a really positive view of the event.

I’m not going to act like I’m Billy-Agile now, but over the coming weeks as I get agiled-up, I will no doubt mention it a little. Especially how it fits in with the DBA role. I think that is something that is not so obvious as it maybe is for the developers. Please bear with me. It’s a learning curve and I will make mistakes, but I’m more than happy for you to call me on them… 🙂



UKOUG Tech14 : It’s nearly here…

TECH14_ResourcePk_IS_v1I’ve literally just picked up my train tickets for Monday’s trip to Liverpool for UKOUG Tech14!

I’m only going to be there for Monday, so I’ve got a lot to pack in. I’ll be doing 2 sessions, at 09:00 and 14:30, so if you don’t want to come to my sessions, but want to meet up to chat, grab me before or after them. Geeking out is much more important than the sessions. 🙂

I thought I might be able to make the Sunday stuff this year, which I usually have to miss because of my nephew’s birthday party (got to get your priorities right). I thought I might make it this year because his birthday is on Wednesday (today), but they decided to do the party on the weekend following, rather than the weekend preceding, so no luck. One of these years the stars will align and I’ll get to do the whole event!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to meeting up with everyone again. Hopefully I will get to see the wife and kid. Not sure if dad (and master of social media) is going to make it this year…



Home Kit Update

A little over a month ago I wrote about my new ReadyNAS 104. Since then I’ve done a couple more purchases.

After much deliberation and consultation with others I eventually turned off my brain and bought a new Mac. I got the top of the range MacBook Pro. The stuff from website describes it like this.

15-inch: 2.5GHz with Retina display

  • 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz
  • 16GB 1600MHz memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based flash storage
  • Intel Iris Pro Graphics
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB GDDR5 memory
  • Built-in battery (8 hours)

I am comparing it to a 5 year old 13-inch MacBook Pro (SSD and 8G RAM), so not surprising this new one is incredibly fast. 🙂 The screen is very good, but retina is overkill really. I can’t comfortably use it on anything higher than 1680×1050. On 1920×1200 is a pretty much unreadable on a lot of stuff. You can’t even run it at max resolution unless you hack around. It was very expensive, but so far I am very happy with it. If it lasts anything like as long as the last one did, then it’s a good purchase.

Since this is supposed to be my new desktop machine, I invested in a new ultra-wide monitor to go with it.  I got this one.

It’s brilliant! It’s a touch shorted than my previous monitor, but a lot wider, so it feels like a double-width screen. I have that sitting above my laptop so if my mouse goes to the top of my laptop screen it moves into the big monitor.

I can’t bring myself to give up my old Linux (Fedora 20) desktop completely, so I’ve moved it to the other side of the desk until I can break the habit.


The main server I use for my bigger stuff is in another room. It’s too noisy to keep in this room. 🙂 I should probably get rid of everything except the new laptop and monitor. Most of the other stuff is quite old now…

I’ll be doing UKOUG Tech14 with my old laptop. I’m still not 100% convinced that everything is installed and tested on the new laptop yet and I don’t want to risk a bad conference for the sake of showing off. 🙂



Inspirational Quotes : Skin Game

I’m reading Skin Game by Jim Butcher and a couple of things jumped out at me last night. First, one about interpreting facts.

“You have an array of facts in front of you that can fit any of several truths. You have to choose what you’re going to allow to drive your decisions about how to deal with those facts.”

The next one is about fear.

“… fear is a terrible, insidious thing… It taints and stains everything it touches. If you let fear start driving some of your decisions, sooner or later it will drive them all. I decided that I’m not going to be the kind of person who lives her life in fear…”

Nothing really new here, but occasionally your hear the right words at the right time and they hit you with extra meaning…