Saturday, October 28, 2006

OOW2K6: In the rearview mirror

Back in the UK, all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. Hmmm, that sounds like an idea for a song...

I survived my Meet The Experts session alongside Tom Kyte with my dignity intact. The relief that Tom recognised me was only slightly diminished by the fact that he confused my blog with that of Andy Campbell. To be fair a lot of people do. Still at least I managed to get a word in edgeways, which puts me one up on Tim Hall ;)

I also managed to get the six (six!) freebie T-shirts home without bursting my suitcase. It was only an hour in the queue to get through the security checkpoint. A minor spat broke out because the officials fast tracked some people whose flight was about to take off. The bloke who had been at the front got quite vocal and it was about to kick off: "Flip you!" "No, flip you!" (or words to that effect). Fortunately the staff calmed it down. But, really, picking a fight in a place where the cops are armed and on edge is just such a dumb idea.

With hindsight it was a really great conference. On Monday it seemed like the infrastructure might crack under the strain but the organisers had done a superb job. It rarely seemed like there might be forty thousand people in the Moscone Center - except possibly whilst queuing for lunch on the Wednesday before Larry's keynote. The conference seemed to lack a big idea. The announcements there had been on the Next Generation database seemed more like 10gR3 rather than version 11. All that changed with the Unbreakable Linux announcement. Suddenly it's penguins all over the place. So how does Oracle 11L sound?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

OOW2K6: If it's Wednesady this must be SF

Jonathan Schwartz was the first keynote I attended this conference and it was very impressive. He wore a sharp suit with a well-chosen tie, designer specs and a neat pony tail. His delivery was smooth and business-like, with the occasional wry aside. In short very much not Scott McNealy. The other difference was that Scwartz seems more interested in the process of IT than in the servers as such.

In his analysis Moore's Law means that selling servers to shops and small businesses is a shrinking market. Eventually those people will ditch their servers altogether and just use networked services to run their business. So Sun are going to focus on the segment of the market whose needs are going to grow - that is, anybody with a data centre. The highlight of his presentation was the unveiling of Project Blackbox. The maximum size for a data centre ought to be the biggest thing you can move, which is a shipping container. And that is precisely what Project Blackbox is: a data centre in a shipping container. Have a lorry deliver it to your site and just plumb it in. If you need to move your data centre unplumb the box and put it on another lorry (or train or cargo ship). Now that's commodity IT.

I've already blogged about Larry's keynote but I should have confirmed that, yes, they did have live penguins on stage. Weird. Afterwards I was talking with Todd Trichler . A couple of months back I had been joshing him about an Oracle distro and he had told me not to believe everything I read. Now I know what he meant.

Before Larry's keynote there was a ceremony to recognise the twentieth anniversary of Oracle's listing on NASDAQ. Apparently this is a big deal over here but I found the whole thing slightly bizarre. Still, the crowd in Hall D seemed to enjoy it. Maybe it was one of those things where you really had to be there.

In the evening I met up with my other LogicaCMG colleagues. There were eight from the Netherlands, seven from the Scandanavian countries (from our recent acquistion of WMData) and one other Brit besides me, which is a good presence here. The evening was great. Everybody had shamingly good English. I drank beer and wine and I do not have a hangover. This is a bad sign so it's just as well that I'm flying back to the UK this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

OOW2K6: Larry's keynote

So the big news is Oracle are going to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux for 60% less than Red Hat charge. That will teach Matthew Szulik to buy JBoss. Oracle Unbreakable Linux will be the RHEL source code stripped of proprietary text and images and with Oracle bug fixes added.

Larry was adamant that this was not about Red Hat, it was about business. Oracle want their clients to be able to use Oracle on grids of Linux clusters. One of the barriers to adoption of Linux is the problem of having bug fixes backported to existing versions of Linux. This is the key differentiator of the Oracle service. Oracle's Linux Engineering division will fix bugs which will be available as patches for Support customers. This is not just Oracle database customers using RHEL, but anybody using RHEL who wants to sign up. Oracle will release the bug fixes to the Linux community including the distro vendors. Finally they will incorporate them into every extant version of RHEL and compile the binaries. The resulting RPMs will be available on the Oracle web site to be downloaded by anybody for free. As the icing on the cake Oracle are going to indemnify their Support customers against any legal fall-out from the SCO court case(s).

There were video messages of support from Dell, HP, AMD, Intel, Accenture, EMC, NetApp, etc. The glaring omission was Sun. And apparently nobody from Red Hat was available to comment.

In the Q&A someone asked whether the death of Red Hat was just an unintended side effect of this. Larry replied, "This is capitalism. We are competing." Yeah, right. Someone else asked about adding storage to the Oracle technology stack, like Network Appliance. Larry grinned, "there's always next year".

UKOUG: Linux Installfest

The Linux Installfests are a great feature of OTN night at Open World and I thought it would be brilliant if we had something similar at the Conference. Fortunately Todd Trichler thought the same and it's happening on the Friday of the conference (November 17th). Bring your laptop and get expert help to install Linux and Oracle. Or just turn up to acquire free Linux distro packs and Oracle software. Sue Harper will be giving a presentation about running SQL*Developer on Linux. Also Bryce from Linux engineering will be on hand to explain the details of the Linux kernel to anybody who wants to go deeper.

In short, something for everybody whether you're a Linux virgin or a battle-scarred veteran. The Install fest is free but you do need to book your attendance during registration. If you already have booked your place for the UKOUG 2006 and would like to add the Oracle on Linux Install-fest to your booking, call the registration office on 01252 77 14 93. If you have any other questions please contact Julius Kisielius.

UKOUG: The conference needs you!

In the midst of Open World as I am I'm stil preparing for the UKOUG Annual Conference which is in November. There are still a number of sessions which require chairing. If you would like to attend the conference but your company's free places are taken or if you are an individual who doesn't belong to the UKOUG then volunteering to chair some sessions is a great way to get into the conference for free.

What is Session Chairing?

The UKOUG like to ensure that every presenter is introduced and that each session is managed well and kept to time. All session chairs will be given guidelines on what to say or do, and you will be given the speaker introductions in advance.

If you have any further queries regarding what session chairing entails, please contact Lauren Gee-Edwards on 020 8545 9689

Session Terms & Conditions:

Please check the amount of sessions needed to be chaired throughout your attendance at conference. All Volunteers will only receive a full conference pass when chairing the minimum amount of sessions.
  • 2 Day attendance = 4 Sessions (minimum)
  • 3/4 Day attendance = 6 Sessions (minimum)

Please be sure to go in and check your selected sessions on your personal 'session chair agenda' to confirm that you can be dedicated to all the sessions you have selected.

If you have any problems please contact Lauren immediately.

How to sign up

There are 2 steps to complete:

A) Click this link to be taken to the Session Chair registration page. Please ensure you fill out all information within the correct fields.

LOGIN: Type in your username and password that will consist of your email address and a password of your choice. This will take you directly to an agenda that all volunteers will have access to.

INSTRUCTIONS: Please ensure you read the 'instructions for use' before selecting your sessions as this is a new process.

B) You must register yourself for your conference pass. The registration page is here. Whilst there you can book accommodation & dinner tickets if you wish to do so.

OOW2K6: Freebie frenzy

Tuesday was definitely more chilled than Monday. Most people have registered, figured out the spatial relationship between the various venues, sussed how to use Schedule Builder and just generally got over the "OMG I'm at Open World" rush. So although there were probably even more people it didn't seem as crowded. The city is noticing the effect. Open World was the lead story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. It wasn't a hatchet job but there was a distinct edge to the story.

My big mission for Tuesday was to scope out the exhibition halls. The main hall is the size of an aircraft hanger and crammed with stands vying for our attention. Several companies are using golfing games as a way of attracting people. Must be some kind of putting meme in circulation. Other stands have draws for a Harley Davidson, a Vespa scooter or a Segway. But most are just giving stuff away: T-shirts, stress balls, wooden puzzles and flashing geegaws. The coolest freebie I got came from Unisys, who have a 256M Flash drive with dimensions of 1*3*0.2 centimetres. In fact it is so small that they have to give you a special wallet to hold it lest you lose it.

Brian Behlendorf on Open Source software

The most interesting presentation I attended yesterday was Brian Behlendorf, ex of Apache and now of Collabnet, talking about what makes open source software so successful and how companies can apply the same techniques to their own internal projects. Brian described open source projects as a laboratory for exploring ways of collaborating. These projects are loosely coupled networks of creativity and sharing, supported by tools and practices to encourage participation. Like Soylent Green, open source is made of people. It has to work with the grain of human psychology because there is no way to coerce coders to work on the software. Good software is just an emergent property of such networks.

Brian listed his three principles of Open Source:
  1. Complete transparency into
    • code authoring and decision making
    • scheduling and prioritisation (the roadmap)
    • discussions around technical trade off

  2. Participation at every level from casual user to core developer
  3. The right to fork

I was particularly taken with his analysis of e-mail usage. Open Source project members are dispersed around the world and working in their own time so e-mail is the only feasible means to hold discussions on any aspect of the project. Because e-mail is asynchronous people are not pressured into answering immediately. So, although the medium of the discussion is casual, the actual content is considered and researched. Furthermore the emails form an audit trail of every discussion and decision, complete in a way that meeting minutes and formal design documents just aren't. The email archive is a tremendously valuable resource when a new person joins the project and needs to understand a why a particular feature works the way it does. This runs counter to the traditional argument against working at home, which is that we get better communication and better decisions when people are together in the same office. Perhaps we should always communicate by email, even when discussing something with the person at the next desk.

Brian's suggestions for turning internal projects into open source projects are:

  1. Break silos by implementing transparency, not just to the code but to all the project's collateral.
  2. Encourage cross-team collaboration with ad hoc projects and special interest groups.
  3. Tackle monolithic apps and inertia, from the bottom up.

This all requires a different approach to project management, with less focus on Gantt charts and more on managing complex processes (like gardening or air traffic control). So that should be easy then.

Bloggers offline

A number of us Oracle bloggers congregated at the Thirsty Bear for a few sherbets. Strangely few American bloggers showed and none of the Oracle employees. I met Steve Karam, the Oracle Alchemist, who is ridiculously young to be an OCM, and the amazing Lucas Jellema, who being Dutch pronounces his name like a cough and not the way I've been saying it all this time. The party split at 09:00pm into those who wanted to hear Sir Elton and those who didn't. We in the latter camp rounded off the drinking in the traditional British way, which is with a curry. The first place we tried had, bizarrely, stopped serving food (this was before ten). Fortunately the 24-hour Naan and Curry house opposite the Hilton did us proud. It was almost like being in Tooting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

OOW2K6: Manic Monday Pt 2

I had a slight schedule clash yesterday afternoon. Steven Feuerstein's 10 Things NEVER to do in PL/SQL started at the precise time that Tom Kyte's Database Worst Practices ended but they were in buildings a brisk ten minutes apart. So I decided to attend Steven's talk. I'll be hearing Tom speak at the UKOUG Conference but Open World is my only opportunuity to hear Steven. This was a good call.

I'm tempted to gloss his talk as Chicken Soup for the PL/SQL Programmer's Soul, because it was full of sound advice: drink lots of water, take regular exercise, play mind-developing game with your kids. He didn't quite say "eat up your greens" but it was definitely implied. This is, of course, sensible advice. The rest of his equally sensible points were on best practice in software development in general, although obviously focused on PL/SQL. Ask for help. Don't trust a guru just because they've written a book: verify everything. Share code and ideas.

I liked this talk a lot precisely because it dwelt on process. The tendency for conferences is to focus on features and functionality, which is useful but such information is usually obtainable if you know how to use the documentation and Google. So it's a nice change to hear somebody talk about ways we can make ourselves better programmers and do our jobs more effectively. People do take exception to some things Steven has written. But over the course of ten books it is inevitable that he has said stuff that is incorrect, dumb or just doesn't jive with our world outlook. But at least he admits it when he's been wrong. I think if we all applied the practices in his books rigourously in our coding we would universally be writing better code than we are right now. Of course, never take a guru's word for anything ;)

I think Steven will have trouble launching his new acronym on the world. He was talking about having a Single Point Of Definition for everything - formulas, business rules, SQL. This is like the Pragmatic Programmers' Don't Repeat Yourself rule. The thing is, spod is already a word, at least in England, and it's not complimentary. So the statement "I'm going to SPODify my code" is likely to be met with the rejoinder "Don't you think it's spoddy enough already? Why not try improving it instead?"

Hanging with Eddie

I met Eddie Awad in the Feuerstein talk and we did a tour of the Moscone South exhibition hall. The big hit of the open hour was the EDS stand. They were giving away these cool-looking blue lagoons (a cocktail, m'lud) with a flashing "ice cube" in them. Major queue for those. Another stand had a guy riding a Segway to drum up trade for a presentation about their product. Eddie managed to blag a ride on the thing in return for watching the presentation. I always thought that people on Segways look a bit dorky but Eddie managed to make it look cool. Before boarding the vehicle Eddie handed me his camcorder, which is why the video on his site is not up to his usual standard.

OTN Night at the Oasis

This was a bit of an odd one. Every conference seems to do it: put a group of overwhelmingly male software geeks of an unathletic disposition into a big room and play really loud dance music at them. This year OTN had hired some lithe female dancers in bizarre costumes to really point up the contrast. In one of the other rooms there were some low stages with exotic dancers of various persuasions - contortion artiste, snake dancer, belly dancer. It wasn't actually a burlesque show but I found it a bit disturbing. Oh, and the bars closed an hour before the event was due to end. On the plus side I got to talk with my Dutch colleague Roel Hartmann, Oracle's Sue Harper and some people from the UKOUG.

Monday, October 23, 2006

OOW2K6: The madness begins

It's only Monday and the Moscone Center is already showing some strain. At one point I was stuck trying to get from the Exhibition Hall to Room 104, a distance of about thirty yards. But the only path was through a chicane formed by the queue for coffee going west and the queue for email access going east, with a stream of other people travelling the opposite way. I/O bottlenecks, we got 'em!

The policy of closing the exhibition halls during the keynotes is already getting annoying. There are thousands of people who physically can't get into Hall D and they need something to do. Shutting the exhibition halls just creates crowds of lost-looking people with nowhere to sit.

My choice of sessions yesterday seems to have been remarkably prescient. Chuck Rowzat's keynote devoted a lot of time to the new BI Suite functionality which Mark talked about. Perhaps Oracle really did buy Siebel just to get its BI Analytics software. And Andrew Mendelsohn's talk on the Future of database technology revealed that 11g will automate the partition and compress strategy that Tim Gorman presented.

The other stuff in 11g is geared towards managing change, so maybe we should steel ourselves for a suffix change: 11c anyone? Some of this is going to be a hard sell because Oracle are not backporting these features . "If you upgrade to 11g it be easier for you to upgrade when 12g comes out!" is not a compelling marketing message. But I suppose the hot patching functionality does build on the automatic database management stuff which distinguished 10g. Interesting show of hands: a large majority of people in this session were still using 9i.

Then it was showtime. Apparently my session was sold out, although in the end it wasn't quite full - perhaps some people found the prospect of lunch more appealing - and everybody who wanted to got in. Mostly it went alright (I think). The one problem I had was using SQL*Developer to run the test script but TextPad to edit the code. My laptop frequently froze during the context switching so I was only able to run about half of the demo. I'm not sure why that happened: I had been careful to disable my virus scanner before I started the session. Maybe it was something to do with running through the big screen. Still it gave me the opportunity to get some cheap laughs at the expense of java.

At least now I can relax and enjoy the rest of the conference. If I can somewhere to sit, that is.

OOW2K6: Sleepy Sunday

The first presentation of Open World for me was Tim Gorman's talk on Scaling to Infinity. Obviously I didn't read the abstract properly because this took me by surprise. Instead of being a way to gently ease myself into the spectacle Tim's talk gave me some very useful insights that are immediately relevant to my current project. "All databases are victims of their own success" was especially resonant. Tim's key point was that we can only scale VLDWs if we design them properly from the startpoint. In particular we need to avoid any heavyweight DML (i.e. UPDATE and DELETE) and use partioning smartly. One of my pending tasks is to improve the elasped times of queries in the searching datamart. I think in the light of Tim's talk I am going to have to revisit my implementation (which uses bitmap indexes and partioning) as I'm not sure it's going to scale to infinity.

After that it was up to the icy wastes of the Hilton's sixth floor to watch "Tiger" Mark Rittman dicing with death. Or at least exploring the slapstick possibilities offered by the trailing radio mike's cables. Beforehand Mark had expressed a concern that he wouldn't be able to fill the ninety minute slot on the new BI Suite EE. But in the end he ran out of time, with material still to do. Who would have thought Mark could be so talkative? I had better quickly say that Mark's presentation was coherent and informative and didn't feel incomplete. And he coped gracefully with the inevitable failure of one of his demos.

In the evening the ACEs dinner was nice, although I drank too much wine and didn't eat enough food. I almost got stuck with the bill after the manager mistook me for Andrew Carr. Well, I thought she said "Are you Andrew Clarke?". It doesn't help that we are both balding, bearded and British. Fortunately I eventually managed to introduce her to the right Brit, otherwise I'd be there still, washing dishes. I ended up seated next to Steven Feuerstein who wanted to know whether my presentation was going to focus on utPlsql (which it does). He thinks Code Tester (formerly QUTE) is a much better tool and he's certainly convinced me to take a second look.

I was awake again at 02.00am so I went through my presentation once more. Just as well: I ran my scripts and the first test failed with ORA-01438: Value larger than specified precision allows for this column.  I know I've joked about breaking my demo but this wasn't funny. Eventually I figured it out. The EMP.EMPNO column is NUMBER(4,0) and I had simply run the code so often that my EMPNO_SEQ had clocked 10000. After I dropped and recreated the sequence the scripts ran fine.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

OOW2K6: Weather update

The Oracle slogan for this year is Better Information, Better Innovation. Here is an instance of innovation. The conference bags contain a Fujitsu-Siemens branded umbrella, which makes a change from the usual mouse mats and stress balls. Unfortunately the current weather situation demands sunscreen instead. Did I just say "unfortunately"? Tee hee!

I'm writing this after the speakers' meeting, which included some facts about the conference. Apparently there are over forty thousand registered attendees but on the peak night there will be delegates staying in just fourteen thousand hotel rooms. So either Kent Graziano isn't the only person looking to crash on somebody's floor or else the conference is going to be livelier than we might have imagined.

OOW2K6: ACEs high

Well here we are again. I've already guided one lost resident of Phoenix to the Moscone Centre (or Center, I suppose). She asked me if I was from round these parts. I guess SF is so unlike the rest of the US they just expect its residents to speak with English accents.

Anyway, I met up with Mark Rittman and Tim Hall in the King George yesterday. All of us had been on the go since the crack of dawn BST but we agreed the best thing would be to stay awake until bedtime PST. So we did a mini-pub crawl: an "Irish" pub round the corner from the hotel and then down to scope out the Thirsty Bear. Mark was happy with it as the location for the Bloggers' lashmeet-up on Tuesday. This was the first time I had met Tim in the flesh. I think it went okay although at one point I found myself ranting on and on about Warrior. Why? I haven't read a graphic novel in twenty years! I think I got away with it.

We managed to still awake until 10.00pm PST. The beer undoubtedly helped. Unfortunately I still woke up at 2.00 in the morning (the beer again). So I ended up running through my presentation and polishing the demo. I hope I didn't break any of my code. That would be so ironic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

OOW2K6 Keynotes

Oracle has published the schedule of keynote speakers for Open World.  To be frank for me  keynotes are usually the least appealing component of most conferences.  Keynote speakers tend not to to leaven their marketing spiels with humour or insight.  Which is fair enough, they're executives not court jesters, but it can make for some turgid speeches. 

Still, one of  the advantages of attending Open World is the opportunity to see most of the big beasts of the IT savanna.  With the (understandable) exception of Microsoft and IBM the main players in chips, boxes and wires are all present. This means that the speeches are more interesting because there's more needle. Obviously everybody bashes Microsoft and IBM.

The ones that look the most interesting are:>

Tuesday, October 24 8:30 a.m.-9:15 a.m. PT

Mark Hurd, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, HP is talking a little early in the morning after OTN Night.  But it will be worthwhile turning up for just the last ten minutes to see whether he takes questions on employee surveillence.

Wednesday, October 25 10:00 a.m.-10:45 a.m. PT

Jonathan Schwartz, Chief Executive Officer and President, Sun Microsystems, Inc.  has the hardest task of the week.  Scott McNealy was easily the most entertaining keynote speaker I saw at previous Open Worlds.  Is Schwartz going to try to match his predecessor's charm or will he play Iron Chancellor Brown to McNealy's Blair?

Wednesday, October 25 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. PT

Larry Ellison, Oracle Chief Executive Officer will almost certainly be impossible to see live.  If you don't know somebody with influence who can reserve you a seat and you don't want to blow a roadie to get a backstage pass your only option is to start queueing before lunchtime.  Probably best to watch it on TV from the comfort of a bean bag somewhere in the Moscone Centre. 

powered by performancing firefox

Monday, October 09, 2006

OOW2K6: The buzzstorm gathers

So less than a fortnight to go until Open World and as Eddie Awad has pointed out, the Oracle blogosphere is picking up on it.  OOW2K5 was the time when I really got into blogging.  One of the things Oracle get right is providing large villages of PCs, locked down to do nothing more than run a browser.  (what a keen idea! maybe Oracle should market this concept.  They could call it, I don't know, a network computer...).  So it's easy to get access to the internet at points around Moscone centre without lugging a laptop around.

Connecting with your peers

Oracle have introduced an interesting innovation this year: Connect.  This is just a gussied up forum site but with a social spin.  The point is to find other OOW attendees with similar interests.  So there are forums with threads and posts, as you would expect, but there are also channels for communicating privately with other attendees and arranging meetings.   There's a function to "Request Introduction" - which seems  like Jane Austen gone high tech - and another one to "Request Meeting", which is obviously a bit forward if you haven't been introduced.  The obvious intention is to arrange business networking opportunities, power breakfasts and other high concept stuff.  In practice I think it will mainly just groups of developers and DBAs arranging to discuss IDEs and ASSM over beers.  

The forums are groups set up by individuals.  Most of the current ones represent some aspect of the Oracle community.  There are ones for various user groups and Laurent Schneider has set up a couple that intersect with my interests: Oracle bloggers and OTN Forums regulars.  I have set up one myself, the Jetlagged Junta, although to be honest I've really not got any idea what I'm going to do with it.  At the moment the only group that is seeing much action is the OOW Newbies group, which is helping neophytes plan their conference.  Once Open World starts I think Connect could be a useful way for us to hook up with people who we only know by email address or forum handle.  And with forty-one thousand attendees we are going to need all the aids we can get.  

So I urge attendees to sign up for a Connect group.  If there isn't one to suit your interests create one.  Note that you have to tick a box on the registration form to enable your access.  If you didn't do this when you registered you will need to re-click through your registration form (I think the relevant checkbox is at the bottom of the third page). 

Airport security

I have almost finished my paper on PL/SQL and automated unit testing.  But I am finding it quite hard to get it all down in a way that is going to make sense to anybody.  I keep switching between explaining the philosophy of automated unit testing and explaining utplsql.  Still I'll get it done somehow.  At least I have the actual presentation under control: that has the potential to be far more embarrassing because it's so much more public and I'm doing a demo this time.  I was toying with trying to use VMWare
for that but having seen a VMWare demo go ka-blooie at the recent DE SIG I think I'll stick with an actual environment.  At least I know what I already have works and there's enough on my plate with the day job. 

What this does mean is that I have to sort out my carry-on luggage.  As I'm doing a demo as part of my presentation I will be bringing my laptop to the US.  In previous years I haven't bothered.  I hope I can take my laptop on board with me instead of having to check it in to the tender mercies of the baggage handlers.  Are we allowed liquids yet?  

I notice that the agreement between Europe and US Homeland Security about the sort of information that it will divulge about airline passengers has run out.  Apparently they didn't tell the US about passengers who have ordered kosher or halal meals, because that reveals their religion and so infringes their privacy.  But they did pass over the names of people who have ordered vegetarian meals.  Ignoring the fact that many people will order the veggie option because of their religion (Brahmins, Jains, Buddhists) just what did the US authorities do with this information?  Were they concerned that a cadre of militant vegetarians might stuff themselves with bean burgers over the Atlantic with a view to launching a poisonous gas attack in a confined area?  Or is it simply that anybody who doesn't eat beefburgers and fried chicken is inherently unAmerican and therefore worthy of suspicion?  

powered by performancing firefox