Thursday, November 03, 2005

UKOUG Annual Conference: A retrospective

Walking along the canals of Birmingham on Sunday I was struck by how not like San Francisco it was. Not just the colour of the sky but the whole attitude of the place. The canals of Birmingham have been reclaimed from their industrial past and re-branded as a tourist attraction. What this actually means is a lot of canal side bars with aspirational names like Panama, Ipanema and Santa Fe (not particularly famous for it's canals). One ristorante has an Venetian gondola moored outside. Meanwhile dead leaves float in the canal and people scurry past in their windcheaters and overcoats. Still, you can't get a decent pint of IPA in St Mark's Square so it cuts both ways.

Another difference between Open World and UKOUG, as Mark Rittman has also observed, is that us UKOUG committee members were there to do a job, so blogging in real time was difficult. Here are my personal highlights from the annual conference.

Best Presentation: Developing your career through system disasters by Martin Widlake

An irresistible title and a first class presentation. It wasn't just cynical laughing at the dumb things people do, it also gave tips on how to turn those dumb things to your professional advantage. Martin was full of useful insights, advice and aphorisms. "Disaster tolerant software isn't". Compressed time scales "move us into our stretch zones and develop our resilience skills". Interestingly enough the presentation turned, briefly, into a lecture on the value of certain RAD/Agile practices, specifically, developing systems in discrete chunks that take no longer than three months to deliver. As Martin said:
You don't understand your users. That's okay because they don't understand you either.

This is the situation he calls the Knowledge Curtain.

Most Brain Stretching Presentation: Null values: Nothing to worry about by Lex de Haan

It wasn't the SQL that fazed me it was the calculus. I'm a historian, get me out of here! Lex delivered a through exploration of how NULL works in SQL and the relationship between the empty set and NULL. The key fact is that a NULL in a arithmetic expression returns NULL whereas group functions ignore NULL. He gave us some good hints for writing queries to handle NULL without getting the wrong results. Definitely a presentation to download and work through the examples.

Most Interesting Factoid: How To Handle Missing Information Without Using Nulls by Hugh Darwen

I always thought that the reason the relational theory crowd didn't like NULL was because they objected to the absence of meaning. Hugh said that if SQL had implemented NULL=NULL that would have been okay. Well, okay-ish. The absence of meaning would still be a problem but it's the additional work necessary to handle NULL that really rankles (I supect Fabian Pascal may take a different stance). Anyway, Hugh started his presentation with the observation that everybody in the audience had a vested interested in the badness of SQL and ended it with an exhortation to us to pester Oracle for better SQL. Guilty as charged, but I'm afraid I'm more likely to pester Oracle for a more complete Type implementation than I am to ask for changes to the SQL standard. Although I do think being able to SELECT * EXCEPT comm FROM emp; would be nice to have.

Worst Start To A Presentation: Performance from a Different Perspective by Mogens Nørgaard

There's never a good time to hear the skirl of the bagpipes but 9.00am is really bad. (My father was Scottish so I'm allowed to say this.) At last year's conference Mogens presented without shoes. This year he presented without trousers1. It might be a good idea to skip next year's presentation ;)

Most Depressing Fact: Does ADF live up to the hype? by Paul Jeynes

In 2000 when I was working on a project using BC4J with JDeveloper3.0 we had real problems getting any kind of assistance from Oracle Support or finding relevant How To documentation. Of course, in those days Java was still supported by the Server Tech guys because Support thought it was only used in the database. Five years on, ADF is here, Java is primarily used in the J2EE web environment and the quality of support does not seem to have improved much.

Most Intriguing Business Move: The Launch of Oracle Express Edition by Tom Kyte

As Tom observed at the start of his presentation this has already been widely blogged even before the launch but he still managed to generate a buzz. Obviously giving away a free database was (with hindsight) almost inevitable in the current database market. People do like free as a price. I think the interesting thing about Oracle XE is its potential as a MySQL killer. With Oracle XE you are going to get a reliable database with stored procedures, triggers and relational integrity. Furthermore, you've got an easy migration path if you exceed the (generous) limits or need certain enterprise features. Probably the only people who aren't going to choose XE are zealots in the Open Source and the Microsoft communities. Who'd have thought they'd end up on the same side? So, taken with the purchase of InnoDB, I think Oracle really has MySQL AB by the short and curlies.

The only thing Oracle can do to muck this up is not issue patches, at least for show stopping bugs and security holes. There's no point in encouraging thousands of new people to join the Oracle community if means exposing them to Oracle-focused worms. Whilst stealing Microsoft's shtick on helping developers and learners Oracle do not also want to give themselves Redmond's reputation on security issues.

Best Meal: The Oracle Blogger's Dinner by Mark Rittman

Actually this is not a difficult call as catering for over two thousand people over short periods of time rarely generates fine cuisine. Still, thanks to Mark for organising it and thanks to James Haslam of the UKOUG for sponsoring it. It was nice to be able to put faces to some of the blogs I read. I think next time we should wear badges with the name of our blogs. By the way, what is it with Chinese restaurants? The set menus are always ridiculously over-specified. The third course had far too many dishes. As the sole troublesome veggie I ended up with three dishes all to myself plus rice, on top of the previous two courses. Thank goodness I had been unable to fill myself up on prawn crackers beforehand.

1. To be fair Mogens did wear a kilt.


Anonymous said...

Lex's presentation was the first time I'd come face to face with predicate calculus since doing relational theory at University a few years ago.

Long enough that I was surprised to hear about 4th,5th and 6th Normal form.

Not quite so sure about the idea of everything being in 2-column 'tables', given the size of the commands to join it all back up again.

APC said...

>> Not quite so sure about the idea of everything being in 2-column 'tables'

And that's why Lex said also attending Hugh Darwen's talk was mandatory.

Anonymous said...

The word performant kept on croping this time (and at other events) not sure its being somewhat abused though ;-)

Pity there was not more stuff about Forms or even god forbid Reports.

Miseed Lex's presentation, what exactly is first order predicate calculus?

Laurent Schneider said...

> Oracle XE is its potential as a MySQL killer
yes, it is possible

> With Oracle XE you are going to
> get a reliable database with
> stored procedures, triggers and
> relational integrity
MySql v.5 contains that too... it was time for Oracle to react ;-)

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