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September 2011

Oracle Open World 2011

This year I have the opportunity to attend Oracle ACE Directors briefing before the Oracle Open World 2011 event which is taking place at Oracle Headquarters. It is great to get almost all important things which will be announced in several days packed together and communicated by those responsible people in Oracle. So I am really thankful for this opportunity. A lot of ACE Directors gathered here and it is nice to meet old friends and make personal contacts with all those who we know only by name.

Invalid Hints are Silently Ignored? An Invalid USE_HASH Hint Transforms a Sort-Merge Join into a Nested Loops Join

September 30, 2011 How many times have you heard or read that the Oracle Database query optimizer may freely ignore hints if it so chooses?  How many times have you heard or read that the query optimizer silently ignores hints that are invalid?  I was recently reminded of both of these concepts while reading the book [...]

Mastering Oracle Trace Data seminar with Cary Millsap

As I mentioned before, Cary Millsap was over in Europe recently and included a short trip to London to deliver his 1-day Mastering Oracle Trace Data seminar.

By the time I found out, it was a little late to organise an onsite at my current client's place and in this business climate it's difficult to get a number of people out of the office at the same time. However, Cary did me a favour and was good enough to come into the office post-lunch and give people a taster, which wowed people (he always does) and was much appreciated, based on the subsequent feedback.

But I was determined that the newest member of our team, Sana Ahmed, and I would attend the full seminar the next day. Sana is the intern on the team. (Actually, that's just a running joke. She used to be an intern on our team but is now a fully paid-up graduate employee and a super-smart one at that!)

So after a sleep-over at my place, Cary was fully rested for what turned out to be quite a long walk to the course venue! The worst bit was the final part of the trek, after we picked up the heaviest bag on the planet containing the course notes and T-shirts!*

However, it was well worth it, because the course notes were one of the best aspects of the course. Rather than having a flat copy of his slides which would be shoved to the back of a shelf and remain untouched until the next house move (we've all been there surely?), he produced a lovely miniature book containing a detailed article about each section. (Apologies for the lousy photo but I'm sure you'll get the idea. The production and typesetting are really first class ...)

There are several benefits of this approach :-

1) I know from personal experience on both sides of the Overhead Projector (man - remember them?!) that there's a pretty severe limitation on just how much information you can absorb effectively in a day while just listening to someone. This way, you can go back and check after the course that you understood things correctly.

2) It's a book, so you can read it on a train or a plane or in the bath and I, for one, find important information much easier to absorb from a paper copy.

3) You can get a lot more information from the course than any human being could take you through verbally.

Throw in Cary's usual top-notch presentation style and a limited personal license for the tools used on the course and it all seemed like a bit of a bargain to me. I know Sana had lots of fun! In fact, I'll finish with a couple of quotes from my memory of the chat conversations at work ...

- "Your friend is really cool" ;-)
- "I don't understand how people can work on this stuff without understanding how it all really works."

She'll go a long way! Here's a class snap with me pulling a stupid face, as usual. Sigh

*Yep, that's my position in the Oracle community finally sealed - Cary Millsap's book-carrier! ;-)

PL/SQL Challenge: October SQL Quiz Questions by Me…

I’ve done quite a few certification exams, so I’ve seen a lot of OCP questions in my time. In the past I’ve been openly critical of some of the OCP questions, but always said that it must be a really tough job to create the exams. With that in mind, when Steven Feuerstein asked me if I would be interested in providing the October questions for the SQL quizzes on the PL/SQL Challenge, my first reaction was OMG!

After the initial panic/fear/denial had subsided I decided to bite the bullet and get a feel for how hard a job it really was. I would love to say it was really simple, but that would be a complete lie. :) The initial questions themselves were pretty easy to write, but the fine tuning to make sure they were properly focussed and reduce the chances of accidentally misleading people was quite a big job.  The team of question reviewers deserve medals for helping me knock the questions into shape. Big thanks to all those involved.

During October, you will be able to judge for yourself how well I got on by trying the SQL Quizzes. In addition to the normal feedback channels, feel free to contact me directly and let me know. Please be gentle. :)



Table rebuilds

Here’s a question from the OTN forum that I’ve seen fairly frequently in the last couple of years:

I have a table abc(c_date date, c_id varchr2(20), c_name varchar2);
The table is already range partitoned on “c_date” column and I have lot of data in that table.
Now my task is to create the hash partions under range; hash partiton needs 16 partitons.
I dont want to create another table with range and hash partitons and migrate the data. The amount of data I have is 3 terabytes.

Friday Philosophy – Team Ice-Cream and Telling Offs

If you manage people, it helps if they don’t dislike you. Sadly, this can be the default starting opinion for some people who have never been managers (we all know someone who “has never had a decent manager, they are all bloody idiots”). Frozen dairy products might be a route to easing this situation.

I mention this as we in the UK are having an unusually warm start to autumn, an Indian Summer as we call it. I used to work in a place that had an on-site cafe and a nice area outside to sit. If the weather was warm and I knew my team was not facing some crisis, I would occasionally pop my head around the door and announce “Team Ice-Cream!”. Anyone who wished could come down with me and I would buy them an ice-cream of their choice and we would sit out in the sun for 15 minutes and talk rubbish.

I’ve done similar in other situations. Taking the guys to the pub is the obvious one and it usually is appreciated, but in some ways it is less successful. I think this is because people will come to the pub because they want a pint and will put up with any idiot willing to provide a pint of Fosters (why is it so many of the “all managers are idiots” brigade drink some brand of nasty lager?). People will come for a tea/coffee or an ice-cream only if they are at least ambivalent to the provider. If you really dislike someone, who cares about an ice-cream? The serious malcontents will stay away and this helps identify people who really are not happy with you {so you can beat them mercilessly of course – or, if you’ve progressed beyond the school-yard, put some thought into why they are unhappy and what to do about it}.

By the way, this is very different to everyone going to the pub/restaurant in the evening and spending hours telling people what “you really think” and trying to impress Jessica the new trainee/intern. Such team building events generally need much more planning.

It’s a cheap bribe, should you resort to such shallow tactics to make people like you? Well, it’s only a cheap bribe as I said above. The trick to it is that it has to be {almost} spontaneous, such that the team are not expecting it, and not all the time. I’m not sure the teams I have done this for have always appreciated that I made special effort to do this either after a hard period of work or when there had been some malcontent within the team (people fall out, it impacts the rest of the team). The way I look at it, it also has to be a team thing and not an individual thing as the sitting around talking rubbish is a key part to the team being a team. Even if it is just over a cup of nasty coffee in the basement – that particular company’s canteen was not the best.

Oh, I should mention that I have access to a wife that makes wonderful cakes. Left-over cake is a brilliant “team ice-cream” substitute, it is both “cheap” so not a bribe but also appreciated as someone put effort in. My wife in this case. I Never claim I made the cake. well, not often.

TeddyBear Picnic Cake

That’s the carrot. What about the stick? When it comes down to it, you are there to guide the team and the individuals in it and get the best you can out of them. Not being disliked is important but you are not there to be their friend either. If someone transgresses you need to correct them.

In my opinion one of the very worst things a manager can do is dress down a member of their staff in public. That is not correcting them, that is either an attempt to humiliate them or an attempt by the boss to scape-goat the blame to a subordinate. Neither is morally correct and both are highly likely to engender considerable dislike or even hatred.

I distinctly remember one situation where I was in a team meeting and the boss’s managers came in and wanted to know why a recent change had gone so badly wrong. The manager’s response was immediate, he picked one of the team and said something like “It was him, he didn’t test the change properly”. It was so obvious that the sub-text was “it was not my fault”. In reality the sacrificed staff member was not at fault but the boss sure as heck was. A manager gets paid more as a boss and part of the reason is that you take both the credit and the blame for your team’s efforts. This action by that boss did not make us scared of failing and thus work harder, it made us distrust the man and demoralised us.

Sadly it is something I’ve seen a lot over the years and never by what I would call a good manager. I just don’t understand why these people think a public dressing down is going to inspire the target or the audience to work more effectively.

If I’m in the situation where, in a meeting or discussion, it becomes obvious one of my guys has screwed up we discuss how to sort it out as a team. Then after the meeting, the transgressor and I have a private conversation. This has several benefits:

  • I am not publicly humiliating them or scoring points in front of a crowd.
  • Neither of us is playing to the crowd and so are more likely to be honest.
  • Things can be said that stay private. I’ve had team members mess things up because they have more important issues on their mind that they are uncomfortable with the team knowing about. I’ve had to tell a guy this is chance #last and the next step is disciplinary.
  • This never happens, but there is a very small theoretical chance I could have misunderstood and, in fact, it’s my fault. You look a right idiot if you attempt to dress someone down in public and it turns out to be you.

As I said, that last point has never happened to me {yes, this is an outrageous lie :-) }. I’ve experienced that last point from the other side as well. In a large meeting I had a board member pushing me as to why we had not finished a project on the date I promised. I kept giving vague answers about “other things coming up” and it would be done by a new, given date. She would not let it go though so eventually I had to say “It is late because you told me to do other stuff as top priority, I raised this project and you told me to delay it. So it is late because you changed the priorities. That would make it your responsibility.” She was very angry but it had been her choice to do this publicly.

All this boils down to – Reward the team in public. Chastise the individual in private.

OOW2011 ACE Directors Briefing

After a happy and uneventful direct flight (what a joy it is to use those
words!) to SFO, I emerged into sunshine and arrived at the Sofitel near Oracle
HQ around about tea-time to rest before today's ACE Director Briefing. Once the
Cuddly Toys had settled on their settee ...

(... and checked the luggage allowance for
the return trip. They think they're taking it home!), I caught up with mail then
popped down to the bar, just on the off-chance I *might* find some Oak Table
types there ;-)

As the others had abandoned me to go for food, I settled
on a quick drink before adjourning to my room for some nice room service and
some more slide-polishing ;-)

Well, that was the plan but then James Morle
turned up and then Cary Millsap and then Alex Gorbachev and then .... Well, the
conversation and drinks flowed and, before I knew it, it was 1am and I'd had
nothing to eat! Sigh

Fortunately, the food at the ACE D Briefing is
pretty good and to my taste. Hooray!

I was surprised at the high turn-out of people at the Oracle Conference Centre - there must be 100+ ACE D's in attendance. I must confess I wasn't sure how
much I'd enjoy the briefing - too many buzz-words and chat about technology
areas I don't give a monkey's about! I've been very pleasantly surprised so far.
Even areas that I had less interest in such as the Dev Tools stuff were
listenable because the OTN people managed to line up decent speakers. There are
also more upcoming announcements or additions to existing announcements in the
database domain and not just Fusion Apps or middleware. I'd rather not go into
the detail because even the subjects we can blog about at this stage probably
need more thought so it might be after I've attended more presentations next
week. (Added later - I'm glad I decided not to blog about the announcements or might have had to edit this post down a little ;-))

I'd already arranged to meet some friends from Oracle later in the afternoon so skipped out after the Exadata Q & A for coffee, chat and a bit of a sneak preview of the ASH Analytics part of OEM 12 courtesy of JB in the company of a couple of other Oak Table types. But pretty soon it was time to walk back to the hotel for a couple of quick beers with Marco before going to bed early to wake up early to keep polishing slides!

All in all, I really enjoyed my first day much
more than I expected and I'm able to look forward to tomorrow (erm, today ...)

It's a shame the part about going to bed early didn't work quite as well as planned, but the chat and company here are too good. Fortunately the getting up early part did work so now I suppose it's back to those damn slides again :-(

Disclosure - I'm attending the briefing and Openworld 2011 courtesy of
the Oracle ACE Director program, which is covering my expenses. The time off
work, Cuddly Toy incidentals and sizeable bar bills are on me.

Oracle Database Appliance: Storage Performance — Part 1

Today I want to show what kind of IO performance we can get from Oracle Database Appliance (ODA). In this part, I will focus on hard disks. That’s right — those good old brown spinning disks. I often use Oracle ORION tool to stress-test an IO subsystem and find it’s limits. It’s a very simple [...]

Oracle Big Data Appliance — What’s Cooking?

Many analysts are suggesting that a big data appliance will be announced at this OOW. Based on published Oracle OpenWorld focus sessions on (PDF documents), the following technologies will most likely be the key — Hadoop, NoSQL, Hadoop data loader for Oracle, R Language. Want more details — you have to wait for them. [...]

Arrived at San Francisco (OOW & ACED)

There were no real dramas on the way from Birmingham to San Francisco, which makes a change for me. :)

I got to San Francisco at 16:00 local time and told myself I would go to bed at 21:00 at the latest. I trotted off to the gym, got cleaned up and went down to the bar to say hello to some people. Fatal mistake. I did my normal trick of talking incessantly until about 01:00. Luckily I was not drinking pints of “jetlag” like others I could mention. :)

So at about 01:00 I was in bed. I woke up at about 04:15. :( If nothing else it meant I got to catch up on all my emails and go to the gym again. I think there are going to be a few very tired people during the ACED meeting today. I apologise in advance if I fall asleep in your session.

As always, I’m a little daunted at the start of this week. Having 2 days of ACED meetings followed by the main 5 day conference is a lot more difficult than it sounds, especially when everyone knows enough to make you paranoid about your own abilities. Having said that, I know it’s going to be fun and I know I’ll be glad I came.



PS. Already missing the people I know can’t make it this year. Excited about meeting up with everyone again.

PPS. Must remember to speak less and listen more.

PPPS. Must try remain calm this year, not act like a kid in a sweet shop. :)