Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Musings on seashells

Not C shells, seashells. The offline version of the Guardian is giving away wallcharts of flora and fauna and yesterday's was Seashells. Whilst reading it with my son I was struck by the peculiarity, indeed the suggestiveness, of some of the names given to seashells. There are the obviously sniggersome: knobbed whelk, dog cockle, winkle (even Fred found that funny). Then there are the obscure trades from the Victorian underworld: ocean quahog, queen scallop. We have insults from a Hardy novel: common piddock, thick tellin. Finally, the unpleasant medical conditions: warty venus, spiny helmet.

Any of you who think I'm making too much of this are invited to consider the Linnaean name for the grooved razor clam: solens vagina.

Monday, June 26, 2006

First sighting of 11g!

A colleague was showing me a Metalink note (#4463574.8) he was reading whilst trying to diagnose PLS-0123. The thing that grabbed me was that this bug was not reproducible in 11. This was my first sighting of a mention of version 11 of the Oracle database, albeit still qualified as future version.

To answer the burning question, yes it still has the G for Grid suffix. Although I suppose that may be subject to change under marketing pressures.

Has anybody seen an announcement of features for database 11g? I know there's been some stuff about Forms but not much else. Presumably there will be lots of under-the-hood tweaking for Fusion but what else?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Vale billg!

So Bill is reprioritising his life. He's swapping his failure to stem the tide of computer viruses for vaccination programmes against human ones.

Actually it is too easy to mock Gates's tenure at MicroSoft. Nobody makes that much money without getting a lot of things right. On the same day as Gates made this announcement Joel Spolsky publishes an article recalling his time managing the Excel team. In it he explains just what it was that made billg so good.

UKOUG DE SIG Report: Birmingham 13-JUN-2006

Well, the Development Engineering SIG has survived Birmingham once more. I must admit there was a point when it seemed cursed. I had two presentations penciled in for the June SIG since the beginning of the year but in the event neither speaker could make the date. Then at the last minute Zend couldn't provide us with a technical presenter so we had to pull their talk on PHP too. Still, on the day it went pretty well. Everybody who had booked turned up and we had a couple of walk-ins too.

The agenda was focused on the more traditional aspects of Oracle development. The morning kicked off with, er, me talking about Unit Testing Utplsql. This had been billed as a talk on QUTE, which I had chosen as a goad to spur me into learning this new tool. Alas, work and other commitments conspired to deprive me of sufficient time to do this properly and it didn't take me long to run into several problems with QUTE. So I had to fall back on Utplsql, which I know well and which also works. I was (shamefully) still polishing my demo code on the train up to Brum. Fortunately none of the delegates had seen my previous 2003 talk on this topic and none of them were using Utplsql either. Whilst this mean my presentation taught them something new it is vaguely depressing that in 2006 there is still such a low take-up of automated unit testing.

Next on the agenda was Kavitha Prakash from Oracle Support, who talked about tools for monitoring network traffic in web Forms applications. This was a neat introduction to an esoteric area. Kavitha is an old friend of the SIG and offered us a couple of topics; I chose this one because I think networks are an area most of us ought to know more about. I had hoped this would be interesting, at least in part, to people other than Forms programmers and I think it was. I certainly shall be downloading Ethereal and monitoring my own network traffic.

Filling the tricky slot between coffee and lunch was Alan Maxwell from Oracle Consulting, with a presentation on BPEL. Whilst this was I think the fourth or fifth time I have seen an Oracle employee do the Loans demo there were several interesting nuggets in Alan's talk. To start with Oracle are positioning BPEL away from just web services and more towards general workflow (one of the test cases Alan mentioned has no web elements at all). I was also taken by the notion of using BPEL in just parts of a process (say by adding new steps to an existing set of tasks). So we don't have to BPEL-ise an entire workflow in one step. Finally there were a couple of tantalising mentions of the Rules Engine; this is a topic I shall pursue in the future.

After lunch Duncan Mills, J2EE evangelist and SIG stalwart, presented some techniques for getting more out of ADF. Specifically this was targeted at people who know how to achieve a certain UI effect in Forms but are stymied when it comes to doing the same thing within JDeveloper. I know how that feels. Anyway Duncan's presentation demonstrated how far JDeveloper has come since the first version of BC4J which I used back in 2000. Most of the techniques Duncan showed involved taking the stuff generated by drag'n'drop wizards and making changes in the underlying XML files. So we still have to know a lot more about the ADF plumbing than we needed to know in Forms. On the flip side JDeveloper offers a lot flexibility than the 4GL black box.

What was nice was to talk to a couple of first-time delegates afterwards. They both seemed impressed with the SIG. Assembling the agendas for this SIG is a tricky task. We have such a wide constituency that it is hard to get the balance right between breadth and depth. We need to cover a range of tools and technologies but people won't turn up for a single talk out of the whole day. I think we pulled it off this time but I shall await the critique results with bated breath.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The walls of Butrint

Whilst on holiday in Corfu last week I took the opportunity to visit the site of Butrint in Albania. This is a world heritage site, being a city that's been repeatedly occupied and built on by the various cultures that invaded Albania between the seventh century BC and the fourteenth century AD.

As a whole the site itself is oddly unimpressive. Most of Butrint is still covered, so the site comprises a number of isolated ruins separated by woodland. This makes it hard to get a sense of the scale of the place unlike, say, Pompeii or Herculaneum. Still it is worth visting as some of the individual pieces of the site are very interesting indeed.

The original walls of Butrint Posted by Picasa

This is part of the city walls built in the 4th century BC by fleeing Trojans (the gateways are far too small and narrow to allow the ingress of a giant wooden horse...) It is difficult to get a sense of scale from this photograph, but the wall is built of blocks of stone about 60cm wide. Each block is irregularly shaped to fit together sturdily.

Roman refactoring Posted by Picasa

Now this is how some later conquerors - the Romans - rebuilt the broken city walls in the 2nd century AD. Initially they attempted to reassemble the walls using the original stone blocks but it was too difficult to fit the pieces together. However, the Romans had a technology that the earlier builds lacked: mortar. So they broke the blocks into smaller, more regularly shaped pieces and built the walls anew. The walls are still resisting the overturning moment almost two millenia later.

In other words, it is easier to build lasting structures out of small reusable components than out of large specialised chunks.