Saturday, October 20, 2007

Disclosure & Bloggers

With the recent "can of worms" that Jake blogged about on his Blog, I thought that Mary Ann Davidson kind of hit it on the nail when she blogged about "Disclosure".

I've blogged about this previously but thought that it is worth mentioning again.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day where each blogger is to blog about the environment related to their topic/theme.

I am in IT so what can I blog about which would be relevant. Well, I recently attended Gartner Symposium ITxpo where "Green IT" is a key theme for the Symposium and Gartner expects this to be an ongoing theme for the IT industry for the next 3 to 5 years.

Michael Dell as one of the keynote speaker spoke about Dell's commitment to the "greening" of their line of products (better power consumption and preservation, better disposal of raw materials, etc).

We will be mandated to do whatever is possible to ensure that our IT infrastructure do not impact the environment negatively so power consumption is one that will be looked at seriously over the next 12 months and reduction of obsolete IT components to be recycled instead of being dumped into the City dumps.

I would think another factor should include the reduction in paper usage. We generate a vast amount of paper (from printers and photocopiers) so given that the price of LCD monitors are way cheaper than they are now, it should be easier to read entire documents on screen rather than printing them out. I think re-educating folks in the organization to think before they print or photocopy as I see a lot of printouts left at the printer for days and they get chucked at the end of the week or folks printing out manuals (I've been guilty where I would print out a section of manuals to read while waiting for my kids to finish their activities).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gartner Day 2

Sorry about the lack of updates but been busy with the Gartner Symposium. Last evening (Tuesday), it was the "Attendee Appreciation Event" which was held at Disney's Animal Kingdom where the park was partially opened for the attendees to partake. Obviously the event was "pitiful" compared to Oracle OpenWorld where last year, Oracle had Elton John as the headliner and Billy Joel for this year's OOW. The event at Gartner was "okay" with minimal amount of food (unlike Oracle where the food/drinks were still flowing towards the end of the night) and there were only three rides opened during the 3 hours event.

I spent most of Tuesday's sessions learning about SOA and "multi-enterprise SOA" and attending the Exhibitors' hall which is minimal compared to OOW. One of the sessions attended was on the "Top 10 technologies for 2008" with Social software being one, "Green IT", Business Process managment, Web 2.0, Virtualization and Unified Communications among the top 10.

The keynote yesterday was a panel session with 4 CIO discussing the issues facing them in dealing with their CEO and Executive Management team citing the Wall Journal's survery of the differences in priorities by the CEO's and their respective CIO's. That gap has been discussed for the last 10 years and it seems that little headway is being made in general so that was interesting.

Today's planned sessions are mixed with no central theme ranging from Security to Applications Management and the keynote speaker is Steve Ballmer who will probably be on his key on how Linux has violated a whole bunch of unidentified Microsoft's patents....Yawn...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Gartner IT Symposium 2007

Here I am at the Gartner 2007 IT/Expo Symposium in Orlando, Florida. This is my first Gartner Symposium and I'm struck by the age of the attendees who would be in the older group. This is not surprising as Gartner is geared towards the CIOs and IT Excutives/Managers group but it was something that stood out where you don't see a lot of the younger folks (under 30). The weather is hot and muggy but otherwise it was good. The family is here with me but on their own (as most sessions are running 'til late).

One sessions that I attended talked about the "death" of generic IT. That is, if you are purchasing off-the-shelf software and trying to minimize customization, you are generic IT. The feeling was that in order to differentiate your organization from your competitors, IT gives you the edge but if you are "vanilla-ize" your ERP/CRM implementations, you are not giving yourself the edge required.

Another one that I attended was a roundtable on using Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, YouTube, Wikis, blogs, etc to bring value to the business. Here, I think the challege is not with the technologies itself but with the governance and "rules of engagement". How do you protect the organization from "entries"/"postings" that may be subjected to legal proceedings? How do you protect yourself from falling into the trap of regulations and legislation like Freedom of Access to Information, the US Patriot Act, etc. I think Wikis are great in allow the internal staff to capture and enhance the corporate knowledgebase in terms of business processes and the fact that our workforce is aging and thus, the potential loss of knowledge that these folks has.

Hopefully as the week goes by, there are more and more of these interesting sessions where I leave with food for thought for the priorities in my work environment.

Catch you all later1

Friday, September 21, 2007

The big news for Canada

Most of the news last week in Canada has been on the fact that the Canadian dollar is almost at par with the US dollar. The last time that it was at par was in 1976 (more than 30 years ago). What is so special about it? Well, depending on which perspective you are coming from, there are ramifications. For example, as a consumer there are savings to be had depending on what products are being purchased. Produce and diary products are way cheaper in the US than in Canada but not everything could be brought back into Canada. Books are cheaper in the US, for example, Steven Feurestein's Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices retail for US$19.79 on Amazon.com but it's CAD$48.95 on Chapters.ca!


A friend of mine recently got all his paperwork completed to bring a brand new Honda CR-V back into Canada from the US. The savings to him was about $10,000. Music CDs and DVDs are not cheaper but airline flights are. I know that the car manufacturers have provided directives to the US dealers to ensure that they don't sell new vehicles to non-US residents which I thought was absurb and there is currently a class action lawsuit launched in Toronto against the car manufacturers associations in both the US and Canada alleging price fixing and collusion.

Me, I am going to enjoy doing some shopping (big ticket items) to save some serious $$$. ;)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Latest supercomputer!

I found this news very interesting indeed. The latest supercomputer is here and it is not controlled by government or private agencies. Instead, it is under the control of (most likely) criminals and the question being asked is "what do they planned to do with it?"

It's scary but just imagine the possibilities and none of them are good at all. I think it might be prudent for the white hats to look into distributing a "good" virus to undo the botnet.

Concurrent Usage for E-Business

Blogger seems to have lost the last entry that I posted earlier this week. I didn't check and now I can't even remembered what it was that I posted about.

Anyhow, there was a number of stuff to post but I thought I would focus on a current technology issue that we are facing with our Oracle E-Business project. Our test lab has been running some performance scripts on our E-Business test environment and found that it was lacking. For example, one of the test was to see how many concurrent users the environment can support. According to the results, the environment maxed out at 80, 81 concurrent users with the systems statistics showing that all four CPU were at 100% max and subsequent attempts to increase the users resulted in failures (i.e. Error 404 - Page Not Found). Now, I'm perplexed as our initial sizing done with Oracle and HP showed that our old server (application tier) was able to support 200 users (i.e. 2 CPU x 650MHz with 16Gb RAM - PA-RISC processors) and our new server (application tier) is a 4-CPU x 1.6GHz with 32Gb RAM - Intel processors). My expectation was that we should be able to support 100 users without any problems but the results showed only 80 (at the very max). Now I understand that it's an apples and oranges comparison but surely a 4-CPU x 1.6GHz Intel Processor can't be slower than a 2-CPUx650MHz PA-RISC Processor or were there something else afoot that I am unable to grasp. Obviously there is a disconnect somewhere and I need to find that before we can say that our current hardware for the E-Business environment is unable to support our internal usage much less allow us to expand in the future.

This is causing a fair amount of concern for us as we are scheduled to go live with the Order Management modules within the next four weeks. For those readers who has E-Business Suite at their place of work, what are your hardware specifications for your application tier? We are debating whether we will be able to scale horizontally by adding another node (application) and a load balancer to the environment and have everything ready (tested) within 4 weeks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Some interesting and informative blog postings

Some of the recently added postings caught my interest and I thought I should point them out in the event that you might not have seen them.

Coskan's post on recovery, "When you lose your controlfile backups". This would be a good interview question.

Tanel Poder's posts on "Advanced Oracle Troubleshooting Part 1 and Part 2".

Laurent Schneider on "Cascade Delete".

OOW 2007

It looks like I won't be attending this year's OOW as my role within my organization has changed. One of the other managers will attend instead. Darn! I might end up going to Orlando for the annual Gartner Symposium instead so if any of you readers are planning to attend, drop me a line and maybe we can organize for a meetup.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Monster.com security breach

So, Monster.com (one of the world's biggest online job seekers site) suffered a huge security breach. Now what? I've registered with Monster years ago (around 2000) but have never gotten any responses from them over the years other than notifications from alert agents that I'd set up years ago.

Obviously like everything else, if someone from Monster.com or other company contact you regarding potential job opportunities, common sense has to prevail especially when it comes to divulging personal and sensitive information without checking out the companies. We do use Monster.com to post vacancies and now will probably need to revisit that particular approach.

On a different matter, with the current spotlight on things/products made in China, I'm reminded by how much stuff in N. America (in fact, in the Western world) are made in third world countries where anything could and can happen. Take software for instance, a number of commercial software products are developed overseas and Oracle is definitely no exception. We had an incident a while ago (which I can now blog about) with a commercial package from a well-known software organization (no, not Oracle).

One of our administrators was trying to install this product (in use for a number of years in our organization) on a new server and was running into some problems (it was a new install on a Linux server which we have never installed the product on Linux previously) so he decided to poke around to see what parameters could be specified with the install. Using a Unix dump utility, he dumped the software executable and something suspicious. Beside the list of valid parameters, there was a string "Death to the Infidels" and since it was a dump not a reverse engineered effort, he has no way of telling whether it was part of a command or a constant string. We had to contact the National law enforcement in Canada and turn everything over to them (documentation, software CD's and a formal signed statement). It took months before we heard anything and it turned out to be nothing more serious than an embedded string but it could have been worse.

I am sure that the software development for the product has been outsourced and whatever QA processes/procedures in place did not managed to catch the "flaw". Nowadays, with the global economy and village being almost next door (through the miracle of technologies), how can we be sure that there are safeguards in place to protect us from malicious code embedded in the software products that we use daily? Can we be assured by our vendors/partners that they have done everything possible to safeguard us against threats by "insiders"? What is there to guarantee that the next software product that you purchase to help run your organization might not have a time/logic bomb set to go off to do the most damage? Software testing the hell out of the product still do not guarantee that every single line of code is tested and working according to specifications especially if you are looking at a major product like Oracle RDBMS. According to Oracle Magazine, Oracle 10g has more than 100,000 automated tests so you can imagine the number of lines of code for Oracle.

Anyhow, food for thought, eh?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oracle Licensable components

Recently I attended a half-day 11g launch locally in Vancouver where the local Oracle office invited a couple of Oracle Directors from San Francisco to talk about 11g. Obviously there are too many 11g features to talk about so a few were highlighted and it dawned on me that a number of these highlighted features requires additional licenses on top of the usual RDBMS Enterprise Edition. A way to get more revenue for Oracle?

Do you know what components/add-ons/options are licensable?

Fortunately Oracle Corporate site does provide a list ( it is not comphensive or exhaustive) but it's a start and a more complete list is available here. I know that Mark Brinsmead of Pythian had blogged about another component that is not on the list, namely the AWR. The AWR is actually part of the Oracle Diagnostics Pack.

You can also check out Howard Rogers' link to the actual list of licensable options for Oracle RDBMS EE.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Back from vacation

It has been a blast for me, taking two complete weeks off work and with "limited" access to the Internet although I have my Blackberry. I came back to over 2000 email messages in my work inbox with around 440 of them being meaningful, the rest were either alerts or notification messages.

I'm now busy trying to catch up on news (the pile of newspaper) and also what is happening in the Oracle community. I know that registration for OOW07 opened just before I left for vacation and that a few of the bloggers like Eddie Awad, Lewis Cunningham, Tim Hall, etc have confirmed that they will be attending (for free as Oracle ACE directors) but have to foot their own transportation and lodgings. I am not sure whether I will be attending this year as my role within my organization has changed (one of the negatives of the new job).

My vacation took me from Vancouver to Seattle where we flew to Las Vegas and then drove to Los Angeles (Anaheim to be exact) and back again to Las Vegas. We were supposed to drive from LA to Palm Springs and back to Vegas before flying back to Seattle but change plans to stay longer in LA and a few more days in Vegas. Overall, the flight to Vegas from Seattle were about $150 cheaper per person than flying from Vancouver to Seattle. We weren't able to fly directly from Vancouver as the family did not all have valid passports (a requirement from the US Homeland Security) but we were able to use photo identifications and proof of Canadian citizenships to cross the border by land.

A view from the room at MGM Grand. Las Vegas was a blast and there were a couple of occasions that I didn't get back to the hotel until the wee hours of the morning. We were traveling with another family and my friend manages to win a few hundred dollars each outing whereas I am more prone to losing although with this trip, I managed to come out ahead by a couple of hundred dollars. The kids had a blast at Disneyland in Anaheim and also enjoyed the kids arcade in Vegas. One thing that always amazed me about Vegas is the amount of power utilization by the various casinos and how they could sustain that kind of consumption, seemingly in a middle of the desert.

Oh well, back to catching up on my e-mails and the various happenings within the Oracle community.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Some thoughts on the ACE program

You know with the recent revamping of the Oracle ACE program and the recent spat between a couple of well-known individuals in the Oracle community and subsequent related blog entries in the Oracle Blogsphere, I wonder where these two individuals fit within the Oracle ACE program. A quick check to the Oracle ACE site reveals that one of the individual is already an Oracle ACE but not the other. What gives?

The criteria to meet are as follows:
Oracle ACE Qualifications ACE

To qualify for the Oracle ACE award, candidates should meet as many of the following qualifications as possible.

  • Oracle-related blog
  • OTN discussion forum activity
  • Published white paper(s) and/or article(s)
  • Presentation experience
  • Beta program participant
  • Oracle user group member
  • Oracle certification
Let's see, said individual definitely meets the first four criteria, not sure about the fifth one "Beta Program Participant" and I believe he meets the sixth one as an "Oracle user group member". I am not sure about the last one though but a quick check at his resume listed on his site indicated that he is a "Certified Oracle Professional" and a "Certified Oracle Database Administrator" so yep, he meets the last criteria. So out of the 7 criteria, he is confirmed for 6 of them and the requirements stated that "candidates should meet as many of the criteria as possible". Did no one nominate the fellow (I don't believed that!)? I downloaded the nomination form to see whether there was additional criteria but found none. You can draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, I just found it interesting but then who am I to criticize as I definitely don't meet the criteria at all (didn't even meet a single criterion) plus I'm pseudo-anonymous.

Bottom line: With "experts/gurus" abound, the best advice has been given by numerous folks but I will point you to Lisa Dobson's post which to me, capture the mantra that everyone should follow. Keep in mind, even the experts are wrong sometimes and all those titles, letters after their names don't mean that they know all. In closing, I wish that the Oracle ACE program will include a criterion on "Ethics and Conduct". I expect my staff to be professional in their dealings with each other, the clients and the general public, why should I expect less from the gurus/experts?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Data consistency and accuracy

Earlier this week, a private contractor working for the City of Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver) dug their backhoe into a high pressure oil pipeline (a video of incident) sending about 1,400 barrels of crude oil high into air covering the neighbourhood and eventually leaked out into the Burrard Inlet. It took half of an hour before the pipeline was switched off and two hours before the oil boom were deployed to ensure that the oil slick is contained.

Now the clean-up begins and the finger of blame is circulating trying to land on someone or organization. The city is saying that the oil company didn't give the city accurate information as to where the pipeline was located (apparently it was 9 metres from where it should be on the map). It is going to take months for the clean-up and obviously health issues for the residents as well for the wildlife that will be affected within the immediate area.

I just wanted to underscore the importance of data accuracy & consistency. I know that many organizations are facing similar problems but you would think with today's technologies (GPS, thermal mapping, etc), it should be a no-brainer to verify and map the exact location of the pipeline.

In my previous life as a data management professional, the mantra has been single source of data but I have since recognize that it is okay to have multiple copies of the same data as long those copies are from the official source and is the single point of truth for the organization. Can you imagine the nightmare if you have multiple copies of the same data but each with a different value and no one is sure which one value is the correct value?

My group is currently dealing with data inconsistency for a particular project which went live earlier this year. The problem was that someone decided to use the same field/column for two separate attributes. This is never, never okay in the world of data management/data modelling but worst is the fact that the decision was never fully shared and documented for the rest of the project team so you can see why certain things are no longer consistent when the meaning of said field changes depending on other attributes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Choice of desktop OS

Back in April of this year, I bought a new Dell AMD desktop which comes with Vista installed. I gave that a twirl for a month and thought maybe I should go with Linux so that I can install Oracle on a "proper" OS and also Vista applications are tough to come by.

I am finding that Linux (I chose Ubuntu) has similar problems where I was not able to use the software that comes with my various devices (digital camera, especially plus DiVX/DVD player) and the wife likes to use IE as her default browser so now I am looking at:

a) Going back to Vista and try to work around the lack of software;
b) Stay on Ubuntu and look for corresponding alternate software that I need;
c) Go back to Windows 2000 (my original desktop of choice);
d) Go to Windows Server 2003 (I've a 5 client licence for this); or
e) Another flavour of Linux like Red Hat/Centos.

I've tried (c) and having issues with getting the software patched/updated with all the various patches/security updates/service packs without having to connect to the Internet before having the PC patched. I probably will have to revisit my approach although I have used my old desktop to download the various patches/service packs, etc.

I also need to spend some more time searching for alternate software that I need that will run on Ubuntu or Centos. With Windows Server 2003, I'm reluctant to do so until I learn more about securing it (is that an oxymoron?).

I will try and post my experience as I go about searching for the "prefect" desktop.

Monday, July 23, 2007

An apology to Kevin Closson

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to blog about the spat between Burleson and Lewis but decided not to BUT I left a comment on Kevin Closson's blog referring to the spat. This is definitely the wrong thing to do as if I was not willing to use my blog to comment on, why should I use someone's blog to comment.

Kevin, my sincere apologies (please remove all comments I left pertaining to that particular post).

I should also strive to stay out of the fray between the various Oracle experts as it does not help but it sure was easy to get "sucked in", though.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The "Golden Rule" of People Management

I was going to blog about the current spat between Jonathan Lewis and Don Burleson on the OTN forums over LGWR and LGWR_IO_SLAVES but then decided that it wasn't worth the web space that it occupies. So, I will blog about a non-technical subject, managing people.

People management is a complex subject and there are numerous books published by folks smarter than I on the subject. Here's my take on it.

I've always tried to manage according to my belief that you should treat your employees the way that you would like to be treated. This is true not just at the workplace but also in life. Now, it is not always that simple but it is one principle that I try to adhere to. Like-minded folks tend to get along better than not and working towards a common goal is a good way to align beliefs and principles. Anyhow, back to subject on hand. Why is this important? Let say that you want to be treated respectfully and if you respect your employees then why would they respect you? It's simple and effective BUT there is a caveat. The caveat lies in the assumption that your belief is the same or similar with others. For example, if one of your employee is distrustful of others, their natural belief is that everyone is distrustful of them too so that is going to be a hurdle that will have to be handled. One way is to show by example and it will take time.

There are obviously other principles at play but this is one that i use daily in my life. Give it a try.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

EnterpriseDB, Oracle-compatible open-source RDBMS

I recently received an e-mail from Ziff-Davis for a free webinar to take a look at EnterpriseDB which is quoted as the "World's Leading Oracle-compatible" database. It went on to describe that FTD (the flower company) save 83% in Oracle licencing costs and got a 400% improvement in performance by moving their reporting database from Oracle to EnterpriseDB Advanced Server.

That got my interest but unfortunately I was unable to attend the webinar but I did look up more information on EnterpriseDB to see what the fuss was all about. Apparently EnterpriseDB is based on PostgresSQL but is a relational database management system. There is a write-up on O'Reilly's blog on it dated approximately 2 years ago (2005).

Obviously I'm curious as to how "compatible" EnterpriseDB is to Oracle (what version?) as one of the claim on the EnterpriseDB website boasts "Run applications written for Oracle unchanged on EnterpriseDB - Save 80%". Further details reveal that "Making the switch from Oracle requires little or no modification to existing applications. Using our Migration Toolkit, the process is often completed in minutes. In fact, our clients report that more than 75% of their applications are 100% compatible, requiring NO changes to run on EnterpriseDB" so it depends on your application. What I am interested in is the Oracle-compatibility features and what features are NOT compatible (I have not gone through the documentation but hopefully it's documented somewhere).

EnterpriseDB is "open-source" meaning that it was built on top of open-source Postgres SQL but it has proprietary extensions which includes Oracle-friendly (read compatibility) features. EnterpriseDB is free for 30-days or you could go with the limited edition which is free but limit to 1 CPU server, 1Gb RAM and 6Gb of data. Peter Eisentraut has begun to install EnterpriseDB and blog about his experience and hopefully he will blog more about his experiences as he progress with his experimentation.

Update: July 21/2007 - Kevin Closson has an entry on his take on EnterpriseDB. He went and sat in on the webinar that I mentioned. I suggest that you take a gander at his post.

Monday, July 16, 2007

11g - Would you upgrade?

Now that Oracle 11g has been officially launched, the big question is "Would you upgrade and if so, why?".

Remember that this is still 11g R1, sure it has been through an extensive beta testing phase but it has not being in the real world yet :0.

Let's look at the top then reasons (according to me) that you might want to upgrade:
  1. You want the latest and greatest toy to play with;
  2. There's one neat new feature that will solve all your problems;
  3. Your Oracle sales person gave you a free toy with the upgrade;
  4. You wanted to contribute to Larry Ellison's retirement package;
  5. You have nothing better to do at work;
  6. Your boss told you to do the upgrade;
  7. Tom Kyte/Jonathan Lewis/Insert Oracle Expert Here told you so;
  8. 11g sounds better than 10g;
  9. You want ensure that your Oracle E-Business Application version is in line with the database version (11i & 11g);
  10. You like the fact that it took 30 years to get to 11g.
If you said "Yes" to any of the ten reasons above, can I advise you to stop and think again. I would advise that you check out all the documentation and whitepapers on 11g plus monitor the various blogs in the Oracle community as the experts take 11g through its pace and note issues/concerns that might applied to your environment.

Since 11g is not generally available yet, I would assume that CPU July 2007 is included in the base code. Regardless, I would think that once it is available, the OTN website will be busy with everyone looking to download the software. I for one, now that I have wiped Vista and install Linux on my new desktop will definitely be looking at installing 11g with the starter database to play around.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Miscellaneous

It's the end of the first week for me in my new role as the Manager of Application Services with my employer. I spent the last three years managing the Database & Midrange group with the same employer before given this opportunity to take over the application development & support group. It was a short week for me as I took a day vacation in conjunction with Canada Day and went camping with the family. That was great as I didn't bring along my Blackberry and turned off my personal cellphone for the duration of the trip.

My first week was mainly spent on restructuring discussions with the CIO and other IS managers and I think we have a good first draft, meeting individually with each of the employees to get to know them, understand their roles & responsibilities, their challenges, and their perspectives on what is not working and what is working. So far, it's 6 down and another 24 to go. The first couple of days, it took me a while to stop going back to the DB group as a matter of habit and referring to the acting Supervisor instead of going directly to the DBAs.

In the meanwhile, in the Oracle Bloggersphere, Tim Hall and Steven Chan got their articles stolen by folks who have no morals and yet so "stupid" as to leave references pointing back to the original article. For those of you who don't know already, the world is becoming a very small place and while you might work locally, your reputation might not. As an employer, I do use the Internet search engines to reference potential candidates who applied for employment or contract work and I can bet you that I am not the only who does this.

I like that Oracle kind of responded to Mark Brinsmead's open letter to Larry Ellison on opening up access to AWR and ASH data as a matter of promoting the product. I am big fan of Oracle's policy of allowing free download of their software (full versions) for research and personal use as it promotes and allow the Oracle community to try out new features and basically play around with the product to see what it can do and what is possible. These translates into the same folks applying what they have learned in their workplace (possibly generating additional revenue for Oracle).

Another thing to check out is Lex de Haan and Toon Koppelaars' new book on "Applied Mathematics for DB Professionals" and apparently it won't be an easy read as you will need to have a Mathematics background and most IT professionals do (after all, you have to learn how to do binary, hexadecimal calculations) and if you are DB professional, more than likely you will have a basic grasp of set and logic theories.

Oh, before I forget, I recently attended a half day seminar (actually only stayed an hour or so because of prior commitments) held by Oracle, NetApps and one of their local partners. I learned more about NetApps but I can tell you that I was not too happy with the Oracle presentation component as the presenter kept putting down DB2, SQLServer and other databases which I thought was pretty much classless and there were DB2 users there who might be interested in looking at getting Oracle/NetApps for their organizations but I can tell you that those attendees did looked too pleased at all. Think about it, a lot of organizations tend to have multiple database vendors and might have one preferred over others but if I am one where DB2 is preferred but am open to other databases for niche or specialized applications, I won't be too happy to have an Oracle employee trashing my preferred DB vendor (it will make it seems that I'm too stupid to give up a "bad" product for a better one). Note to Oracle marketing and sales, please do not bash other db vendors (you can compare products and featurs) but when you make it point to bash others, you are lowering your standards of conduct and give a very poor impression of the professionalism expected from a world-class organization.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Is Database Administration for Suckers?

Tim DiChiara over at Eye On Oracle has a post titled "Database Administration is for suckers" where one of his reader posted their disillusion with being a DBA. Stephen G, the DBA in question, basically complains about being a DBA and the bad hours (on standby, lack of appreciation, excess hours, etc) that comes with it. He went on to say that if he has the opportunity to start all over again, he would rather be an accountant or a lawyer instead.

Predictably, there was a ton of comments with folks agreeing and disagreeing with Stephen G's assessments. I think it is how you approach your job/career. If you are looking at making big dollars with minimum hours, well, those are far and few between that those who got it are not going to give it up.

Me, I operate from a few principles which I think applies to this situation and I think it is true for all kinds of jobs. These principles includes:
  • doing the best job that you can with pride;
  • enjoy your work;
  • be learning; and
  • work yourself out of the job.
I think the last one probably warrants an explanation than the first three as they are pretty self-explanatory. Most people goes "Huh? Why would you do that?" when I told them of the last principle mentioned. Most good consultants do that as a principle, they cross-train and transition over to the employees so that they can leave for their next assignment. Employees should similarily be doing the same. By doing so, you are freeing up your time to enable you to focus on the advanced & strategic tasks. In this way, you can work yourself to a better position bringing more value to the organization.

If you don't and only work to ensure that you are the only one who knows the systems/applications or whatever that you do thinking that you have just ensured "job security". Well, you haven't as you have now put yourself in a position where you have become a liability to the organization. How are you going to be able to take time off your job for training, vacation, etc? The organization is now at risk if you leave or if something happens to you so the logical thing for management to do is to cross-train someone else to learn about the system. The purpose of this cross-training is not to free you up for the more advanced and strategic tasks but rather it is to insure the organization against losing you whether deliberately (you leaving for greener pastures) or accidentally (you getting hit by a bus).

Getting back to Stephen G, each person have choices and the fact that he stuck around for 20 years in the same career say something but if you are not happy with your current work situation, then my suggestion is that you do something about it (i.e. either work to change the job or go somewhere else). Easier said than done, I know but again it is about choices. Remember that you spent roughly a third of your day at work so it is in your best interest and health to ensure that you enjoy the work and the people that you work with.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Interviews again or why they aren't useless

I blogged briefly about my organization looking for contract DBAs and interviewing candidates and recently Eddie Awad spoke about "Why resumes are useless" and reference Andrew Wulf's "The Stupidity of Interviews". Both blog entries received a fair amount of comments from folks who largely concurred with Andrew's assessment. I would agreed that resumes/interviews are not prefect and is a "hit & miss" way of identifying suitable and qualified candidates. I wouldn't classify them to be useless though as the "success" of the resume/interview process actually depends on how it is being handled and managed.

For example, if your organization has a dedicated HR department who vetts resumes and forward those which seems to meet the qualifications listed to the hiring manager basically means that if the candidate do not make an effort to highlight and identify where s/he meets the position qualifications, then s/he can't blame anyone but themselves for not taking the effort to "customize" their resumes. Eddie mentioned this as a negative about resumes being made to order. I would rather see that the candidate has taken the time to do so although if the only "customization" was to prefix the resume name with the hiring organization, then that isn't customization but rather an indicator. I've seen resumes from folks who don't qualify but they sent in their resumes anyway. As an example, I'd seen a resume from someone who has no IT background nor training but they submitted their resume for an IT position. It would be okay if the position indicated that it was a trainee-level and the organization is willing to invest to train the successful candidate BUT not if one of the qualifications are "years of experience in a similar position".

Andrew Wulf wrote "Resumes seem to be mostly useless, virtually no one actually reads them before the interview and they seem mostly not believed. In this way resumes become a kind of worm to dangle in front of the recruiter or HR fish, just enough to hook some interest, but are discarded afterwards. The actual contents are expected to be padded or invented so they may as well just say "DUDE KNOWS CODE".

I do and I actually tried to match up what was summarized in the cover letter or the first page to ensure that we are on the same page as to the candidate's experience. I've seen resumes from OCP candidates who don't have any work experience and resumes from DBAs who have been working in their field for the last 15 years but when you dived into the details of their resume, you quickly realized that 10 of those years were spent on basic operational stuff like create a new database, create users, ensure that backups are done (usually via Export) but no experience in the more advanced stuff like recovering databases due to corruption, cloning, securing databases, etc. I totally agree that it is very difficult to tell from the resume whether the candidate is what they say they are and hence the need for an interview or a series of interviews. Depending on the level of the position, I would say that have 5 interviews for a programmer is probably an overkill but 5 for a senior executive level is not. A friend of mine got interviewed for a senior Excutive position and the whole process took 6 months and a number of interviews. He told me that he ended meeting all the Executives before a decision was rendered.

Andrew also wrote about how he wished that candidates (for programming positions) would bring in something they wrote. I would say that "Yeah, go for it" and ask the candidate to do so when arranging for the interview time. The good candidates comes prepared with samples of deliverables of projects that they have been involved previously keeping in mind to not violate any confidentaility agreements and/or disclosure.

Depending on who does the interviews (and I am assuming that it would be the hiring manager plus at least a co-worker), it is often necessary to structure the interview into two or more sections. There are no particular order but the sections should include (a) section to validate technical skills and knowledge; (b) section to identify required "soft skills" and experience. The technical skills validation is pretty self-explanatory but the other section would include things like communications, teamwork, work habits, approaches and philosophy to type of position. This is not easy to explain in writing but basically you want to ensure that the candidate will be a good/great fit for the organization taking into consideration the corporate culture, the kind of team that needed to be build and the gaps that you have. It's like building a sports team as you might not want to have several prima divas on the team who might fracture the team into various camps but you want a team who can work well together and are committed to achieve common goals. You should and could also include assessment of the candidate's potential too and how you would approach that is totally up to the interviewer.

In a nutshell, the interview/hiring process is a "dating ritual" to see if there is chemistry and fit between the organization and the candidate. In closing, I wish the best of luck to those who are currently seeking employment and for those who are considering moving, ask yourselves whether you are leaving for the right reasons and if so, best of luck in your search. As they say, "The best time to look for employment is when you are employed" as this way, you can evaluate the organization and be prepared to turn them down if the organization does not seems to be a good fit.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oracle & Acronyms

I attended a one-day workshop (hands-on lab) at the local Oracle office here in Vancouver today learning about Oracle RAC and try some hands-on labs to install, configure and maintain a RAC environment. One of the things that struck me was how many acronyms were being used in this one-day workshop.

RAC = Real Application Clusters
FaN = Failover Application Notification
ASM = Automated Storage Management
TAF = Transparent Application Failover
OCR = Oracle Cluster Registry
OUI = Oracle Universal Installer
VNC = Virtual Network Computing
CRS = Cluster Ready Services
CRSD = Cluster Ready Services Daemon
CSS = Cluster Synchronization Services
VIP = Virtual Internet Protocol
GSD = Global Single Database
ONS = Oracle Notification Server
EVM = Event Manager
RDBMS = Relational Database Management System
JVM = Java Virtual Machine
OLAP = Online Analytic Processing
HTML = Hyper Text Markup Language
SID = System Identifier
GUI = Graphical User Interface
OCI = Oracle Call Interface
JDBC = Java Database Connector
CPU = Central Processor Unit
DBA = Database Administrator
OS = Operating System
Gb = Gigabyte
Mb = Megabyte
URL = Uniform Resource Locator
EM or OEM = Enterprise Manager or Oracle Enterprise Manager
SQL = Structured Query Language
CRM = Customer Relationship Management
DBCA = Database Configuration Assistant
SSH = Secured Shell

Phew! I'm sure that there are more that I either missed or have taken for granted. No wonder the business folks in our organizations look at us IT geeks with glazed eyes.

Oh, although the one-day workshop does not delved into a lot of details, it does give me a good overview and concept of how the whole thing should work and it does take me away from the office which allows me to focus on the subject at hand. Now, only if I can find the time to play around with it more on either my home PC or/and laptop.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Moving on...

I have been with my current employer since August 2004 and originally I was hired as the Data Architect but unfortunately I did not end up doing any data architecture work. Almost immediately I was given the DBA team (2 DBAs) to manage and that grew to 3 before the end of the year. Most of my time was spent on assessing and managing the team plus the database environments. In fact, approximately 60% of the time was spent managing one particular employee who thankfully was no longer with us and the rest was trying to educate and impress on the team for good DBA practices like keeping current with releases, patches and fixes, planning and scripting typical tasks, etc. Currently the team includes 3 DBAs (2 senior and 1 intermediate) and 2 Unix Administrators and we are looking to expand by an additional 3 senior DBAs (2 contract and 1 permanent). Why the growth? A couple of reasons; my employer has bought into the Oracle technologies (RDBMS, Application servers and Applications) and the role of the DBA is evolving into the Application area (i.e. Application DBA). We have also in the tail end of completely separting our Production environment from our Non-Production environments and eventually the DBA group will focus on more of a Development DBA role with second tier for Operational DBA (most typical Operational tasks will transition over to our Operations group who should be able to do the typical create user, reset password stuff via OEM).

Anyhow I am moving on as I have recently "won" the Manager of Application Services position within the IS Department. "Won" as in competing with other applicants/candidates (both internal and external) for the position which has been vacant since July of last year. There are a number of challenges for the Application Services group. One will involve a reorganization of the current Application Services group to better position ourselves to support the Oracle technologies stack as we have gone wholesale with Oracle. I will still try and keep current with the Oracle RDBMS but I suspect that I would be spending more time with Oracle Application Server, Oracle Applications, BPEL Process Manager and possibly JDeveloper.

The trick now is to ensure that I can transition off my current position and the project work that I'm currently working on to someone else so that I can focus on my new position and the various challenges there.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Interviewing for DBAs

We are currently looking for contract DBAs and also a permanent full-time Senior DBA and I spent a good part of last week and this week reviewing resumes and conducting interviews.

Thankfully, there are a lot of interview questions out on the Internet. One of my senior DBA's favourite was "What was the most dangerous thing that you have done as a DBA?" and we get a wide ranging and variety of answers to that one. The good thing with this one is that there is no right or wrong answer but rather it provides us with an insight to the candidate's perspective of what is considered to be dangerous actions or actions that requires special attention and care.

We threw a few technical questions in the mix to allow us to gauge the level of technical expertise and knowledge of the candidates as we have found that 10 years spent creating database does not equate a senior level of knowledge and expertise as a DBA. Other questions are designed to identify the candidate's natural behaviour under stress or their thought processes in identifying and resolving issues.

One thing for sure is that it is practically impossible to judge simply from the resume but we still use the resume as our filtering mechanism on who should be interviewed and who shouldn't. I normally scan the resume for the type of work and organization that the candidate has worked for in the past where they picked up their DBA experience. For example, if someone put down that they spent 3 months at a small organization and was heavily involved in implementing RAC, 10gAS, DataGuard, replication, tuning, OEM, OID, RMAN, etc., then I got to question how much experience was picked up for each individual technology within the 3-month period. The other thing that I watched out for is whether someone spent the whole period doing DBA work or whether it was a combination of DBA, System Administration and/or Development work.

I can tell you that it is still a hit and miss exercise as one of my contract "hires" turned out to be a dud and I am still searching for the perfect process to hire the right person.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sometimes tried and true methods do not work

You all are probably thinking "How could that be?". Well, it wouldn't work all the time because the action is on "people" who are as dynamic as anything.

The background to this was that a supervisor in another group sent out an email thanking a couple of her employees for their hard work and effort. One of my DBA was also heavily involved working with these guys on the same task and the email distribution list included him and a few others. My DBA was a little miffed and basically thought that he wasn't appreciated too. I told me not to worry too much about it and yes, I agreed that it doesn't help with the team work and team spirit that we were trying to encourage within the IS group. Guess what, the same thing happened again the very next business day. The same supervisor sent another email thanking another employee in her group for his hard work and effort on another task where another of my DBAs was involved and assisted greatly in tuning and resolving the troublesome query. My first reaction was to do a "reply-all" thanking my DBA and saying something like "I'm sure XXX didn't mean to exclude you from his appreciative e-mail." but I thought better of it and decided to speak to XXX about it the next day.

I spent a good portion of the evening thinking and comptemplating how to approach the subject without coming across as "angry" or even making the divisive between my group and XXX's group wider than it already is. One that I decided on was to go to XXX asking for his help in dealing with an issue. Oh boy, that didn't go well at all even when I told XXX that normally I wouldn't have bothered if it happened only once but in this case, it happened twice on two consective days. His reaction to the first email was that he wasn't aware that my DBA was also involved and admit that he might have missed my second DBA on the second email. Basically, XXX's reaction was that I should have sent out an email thanking my DBA for their effort even though I know that my DBA don't need me to tell them that they are doing a fabulous job handling the daily challenges.

Oh well, chalk that up to more bridge-building work to be done for me with XXX and his group.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Projects and Project Managers

It is really interesting to see that no two projects are alike even if the project objectives are the same. For example, implementing Oracle E-Business, depending on the organization and the project manager in question, things are done differently and even if things are done the same, the results might be totally different!

The challenge has always been to ensure that the project team understands and is committed to ensuring that the project deliverables are defined, planned, accepted and delivered on schedule and within budget.

A good part of project management is to identify and manage risks as the project progresses and a key component is good communication to and within team members. When a project manager strives to manage communication by acting as the "middle person" or the hub, then you can be sure that things are going horribly wrong. Now the project manager decides who should or shouldn't have the information and meetings are usually conducted with the incorrect audience or key personnel are missing. Another sign that your project might be in trouble is the project manager is overwhelmed but refuses to ask or accept assistance with a third sign being the project manager's focus was managing to the next milestones with no clear project plan other than what is being focused on.

For me personally, a successful project is one which meets its stated objectives, on time, within budget and the project team wants to work together again. Too many times, I've seen projects delivered on time, within budget but no one wants to work for the project manager or with each other again.

What options do you have when you are stuck on a project that seems to go nowhere? I would suggest talking to the project manager (it could be that you were put in the wrong role) first. If nothing else works then you are stuck and the probably recourse is to remove yourself from the project.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, our E-Business implementation project is in trouble (we already delayed the implementation twice already) and this time around, a detailed project plan was done with the help of all the team leads (testing, development, training, implementation, etc) BUT the project manager was not replaced and is still doing the three things that I mentioned above. He is managing communications by having the team leads reporting on progress on a daily basis and a weekly get-together to drill them on why tasks are delayed or not completed according to schedule. The problem with this is that proper focus was not given to tasks on the critical path. I would think that if a task is not on the critical path and has slack, I wouldn't worry about whether it is late according to the schedule but rather that if tasks on the critical path, then effort has to be spent to determine the impact and what can be done to resolve/reduce the impact to the project and schedule.

I've questioned and provided comments on some of the issues that I'd seen: planning wasn't completed as dependencies between each sub-teams have not been fully defined (e.g. system testing for a particular component starts before development for that component has finished); resources are overallocated (e.g. person A is shown to be busy on multiple tasks (100% for each task) on a given day). The response that I got was "What do I suggest should be done to resolve these issues?". Arghh!

Despite all these challenges, the folks who are doing the work are totally committed to the project, working really, really hard and lots of hours to ensure that things are done and completed and working correctly. That is one of the positive from this project. We are now about 12 to 13 weeks away from implementation and heavily into testing and resolving defects or identifying workarounds if we are unable to fix.

The plan is for my group to support the system after go-live and I am recommending that there be no "enhancements"/"changes" be made to the system for at least two months in order to ensure that it is stable. I am also recommending that the post-project review be handled by someone other than the project manager to ensure unbiased input and frank feedback from the project team members.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

20 years after "Man in Motion" tour

In a couple of days, it would be the 20th anniversary of Rick Hansen's "Man in Motion" world tour where Rick Hansen, a paraplegic in a wheelchair decided to go around the world in a wheelchair to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injuries research. I remembered the event as I was about to finish my final examination for my degree in Toronto. It was inspiring to see this 27-year man trapped in a wheelchair since 15 to decide that he needed to do something. It is no less inspiring than Terry Fox when he did his run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

Some facts from Rick Hansen's tour 20 years ago (source: Vancouver Sun - May 19th, 2007):
- 160 wheelchair tires worn out;
- 2 years on the road;
- 34 countries visited on 4 continents;
- 40,000+ km traveled;
- 8 hours average spent on wheeling;
- 1,000+ baseball caps received;
- 200,000+ letters of support; and
- robbed 4 times.

There are many awe-inspiring stores of the human spirit and let us hope that this is what will help humankind take the right steps in the right direction instead of boneheaded things like the Canadian Parliament's move of making a politician issue of questioning Hockey Canada's appointment of Shane Doan as the team captain for the IIHF World Hockey Championships or the fact that the politicians are able to quickly pass into law a bill giving themselves a 29% - 59% pay increase and a lucrative pension plan ($4.00 public money for every dollar contributed by the politician).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Global Knowledge 2007 IT Salary & Skills Report

Recently I got an email inviting me to download the 2007 IT Salary & Skills Report from Global Knowledge. Although the report did not indicate whether it is specific to a country/region, I have to assume that given that the company is headquartered in the US, that the report is specific to the US IT industry and that salary figures are in US dollars.

It is an interesting read but even though the report talked about certifications (e.g. CISCO, Microsoft, etc.), Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) was not mentioned at all. The average salaries were where I expected them to be with no big surprises except maybe for training where 31.2% indicated that their employer did not offer employer-paid training at all. For IT professionals, that's a death sentence meaning that you will have to pay out of your own pocket (after-tax dollars) to keep your skills current. I am guessing that a good number of this percentage are most likely independent consultants who basically have to pay for any training out of their own pockets but if you are an employee, then I would ask "Why would you work for an employer who has no interest or see no value in your skills and knowledge?".

Training is a major factor in the IT industry as technologies changes so much and so quickly that you will be obsolete if you can't keep your skills current. I have been in the IT industry since I graduated from college in 1985 and constant training through the years have provided me with skills and knowledge that has allowed me to progress and develop in the business.

Like any survey, the results are just gauges to be used to judge where you are in the spectrum but it does give you a good gauge of whether you are being compensated fairly for your skills, knowledge and experience.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Posting a comment to Pete F's blog


I was attempting to post a comment on Pete Finnigan's blog when it comes back and showed me a preview of the post and a confirmation button to post it.

Clicking on that button gave me:

I tried it again and got the same thing. Maybe it's me ;)

I didn't know that! (or an obscure bug in 9.2.0.5)

My guys at work came across a very obscure bug in one of our Oracle 9.2.0.5 databases the other day. A SQL Loader script that has been working for a long while started failing with an ORA-03114 and the corresponding SQL Loader error was "SQL*Loader-941: Error during describe of table". A quick look at the script to verify that nothing has changed and that everything looks good with the correct username and password being used, etc.

A search of Metalink provided some links describing similar problems but not really related to what we were experiencing. Fortunately looking at the trace files generated in the user dump directory provided some clues Publishto where the error was occurred and searching Metalink on those gave as Metalink Note: 343199.1 (if the database was started up by other means than from SQL*Plus, the bug might occur) which at first glance seems to gives us pause as to "Huh?" and "We didn't do that..." reaction. A further clue in our log directories showed that the script had ran successfully a couple of days prior which provided a "missing link". Oh yeah, we had shutdown the database for a cold backup and restarted it using RMAN. The note indicated that the bug would occur intermittently when the database has been started up using other means other than from SQL*Plus. So we shut down the db and restarted it from SQL*Plus and tried the script again, it worked! Wow! so, what is different in the process of database startup when doing that from SQL*Plus compared to doing that from RMAN? Unless someone can compared the two code, I'm afraid that we will never know. The Note did said that the bug was fixed in 9.2.0.7 so hopefully that "fix" is carried to 10g too.

It was a very good feeling that we were able to "fix" the issue.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Buying a PC from Dell Canada

I just wanted to blog about this experience with ordering a PC from Dell. As many folks know or should know, Dell sells online and through the telephone directly to the consumers. There are no storefront or retailers hawking Dell products (maybe not entirely true as Dell have kiosks in some shopping malls) but the main sales channels for consumer products are through their website and telephone sales force.

In early March this year, there was a deal for a Dell desktop E521 with AMD dual-core processor and a 22" widescreen LCD monitor for just slightly over CAD$800. I went through the process of customizing my PC (type of CPU, memory, HDD, etc.) , entering the discount code given and paying for it. Final confirmation was to be sent to my email account. Well, nothing happened over the next couple of days; no e-mail and I had no order number. I phoned their telesales and checked with the sales representative on the status of my order. Nope, I was told that no orders were in the system that matched my mailing address or even my name. I was worried since the discount code was only valid on a short period and was told to place my order again which I did and gave a ball park figure for the price that I recalled from placing the online order. I got my system delivered about a week later which was quite surprising as I had expected it to be longer.

The kicker was a month later, I got a confirmation e-mail from Dell Canada telling me that my online order has been received and is now confirmed. Wait-a-minute, how could that be? Somehow my online order has been sitting in limbo for a month and nobody knew? Wow, Dell must have some server with serious memory cache (that can keep at least a month's worth of data). To make a long story short, I was told that it was too late to cancel the order as it had already shipped (took them 3 days to assemble and ship - damn quick, I must say) and I am to refuse delivery so that the shipment will be returned and my credit card credited with a full refund when the shipment arrives back at Dell. That one took about 2 weeks to happen as the courier company had to try three times to deliver the package before affirming that it is undeliverable.

All-in-all, the end results was good but not prefect as I still ended up paying about $70 more for my PC than I would have if the online order system had processed my order in a timely manner (a month is just too, too, too slow).

Hiring IT professionals

The other day a colleague talked to me about the temporary position that he is hiring for. The position is at intermediate level and has been advertised and the deadline has closed. He was going through the stack of resumes to shortlist qualified candidates. He was asking about what to do with resumes that obviously doesn't qualify and those that are questionable and wondered why folks would apply for positions tha they are unqualified for. For example, the position asked for at least 2 years of related work experience and there are many resumes from recent graduates of technical programs who don't have the required minimum years of work experience. I sympthazie with these folks as I was in that exact same situation when I first started out. I mean, how are you supposed to get experience if no one is willing to give you an opportunity to attend that experience? Well, one quick solution is to volunteer just to get the experience necessary and this can be done while at school or even after while seeking employment.

The other group are from folks who are not even remotely qualified as in no IT experience what so ever. For these folks, I would suggest that you go and register in some IT certification program.

The last group are from folks who are obviously over-qualified and yes, I've been there before. I have a couple of suggestions and the first one, being to tailor your resume to the position that the employer is hiring for. For example, instead of showing that you have been this or that (in terms of IT managerial positions), if the position calls for a hands-on technical person, then summarize your IT managerial positions and grouped them so that they don't take up 90% of the resume. I would further suggest that the cover letter contain an explanation of why you are seeking this technical position given the breadth of your IT experience. For example, prefer to be hands on with technology than to manage people or you have been hands on for the last x number of years and enjoyed the work tremendously. Obviously you will have to word it positively so that your potential employer doesn't think that you are a nutcase with mental problems.

It's not easy and the hiring process is a two-way street with the employer looking to hire the "best" candidate available and the candidate looking to join the "best" firm available. Each group has different drivers for what would consitute the "best". For example, the "best" candidate is someone who has the required skills and experience plus is a good fit for the organization in terms of the "corporate culture" and personality. I would also look for "passion" or "desire" in there too as I would definitely want an employee who is passionate about his/her profession and has the desire to add to their knowledge and experience.

For the candidate, "best" could be the best fit in terms of the whole compensation package with the desirable technical environment/challenges, balance between work and personal life (the individual's lifestyle), etc. I know that it's easy to say that the candidate is looking for all this when they are out of work but remember that the "ideal" period to be looking for employment opportunities are when you are still employed and not after.

For those of you looking and for those you hiring, good luck and may you find the "ideal" employer/candidate.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I have it pretty good...

The other week I was chatting with one of my colleague and the topic turned to work and work environment. Basically my colleague asked me if I can see myself working for my current employer 10, 20 years down the road and my reply was that I am not even looking that far down. It seems that he was getting pretty frustrated with some of the stuff that are inherent in the organization. We are a union-based organization and firing employees for just case is not an easy task and takes a fair amount of effort and time. I am also fielding quite a bit of employment opportunities now that the IT market in Vancouver has picked up pretty much over the last 12 months.

Anyhow, that conversation got me thinking about how good or bad I have it with my current employer.

- I work 7hrs/day for a total of 35hrs/week. Any time over that is paid at either 1.5 or 2.0 times the regular rate depending. It's 1.5 times for the first two hours after the end of your regular workday otherwise it is 2.0 times;
- I get paid an hour for every 3 hours of on-call time;
- I get 3 weeks of vacation to start and it increments for every year that I stayed (we have folks who been here 25 years and have 7 weeks of vacation!);
- I have approximately 2 weeks of special leave (e.g. Family illness, etc) per year which is to be used as needed;
- My wife's dentist told her that we have one of the better dental benefits plan in Vancouver;
- I have averaged about 3 to 4 weeks of training/conference per year since I've been here;
- If I want to, I could take a day off biweekly by working an extra 47 minutes for the other 9 working days which we term a flex-day;
- I am enjoying the work that I do now although there are challenges mostly to do with the softer side of IT work (people, politics and processes);

The downside is obviously the 3P's (people, politics and processes); we are not leading edge in technologies (and we don't have to be) and the compensation is not the greatest but other than that, it's pretty well good so I'm currently happy unless someone else can make me a better offer (and I'm not talking compensation).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kathy Sierra and Anonymity

Most of you would have heard about Kathy Sierra by now. If not, then I urge you to check out her blog entry where she wrote about receiving death threats and demeaning comments from various unknown persons. Some of said comments were posted on her site and some on other sites that may or may no longer exists. My best wishes to her and hope that she will make the decision to carry on blogging and presenting. I don't pretend to know what was going on with some of the folks that Kathy had mentioned (e.g Rageboy) and their opinions of Kathy but it seems that a small group of them have playfully picked on each other as is evident by this comment made by Kathy herself. Someone crossed the line from being funny to being a sicko. Obviously it opened up a can of worms with several journalists looking to explore and expand on the story. I attended a security and privacy conference a few years back where one of the keynote speakers was a lady, Joelle Ligon, who was cyber-stalked by her ex-boyfriend. It took a lot of hard work and perservence including a District Attorney who is sympathetic and committed to follow through to get cyber-stalking charges and conviction against the guy in question. All it took was a number of years and changes to existing laws to include cyber-stalking, online harrassment, etc. to get it all done.

Being anonymous on the Internet is not easy but it is also not terribly difficult if one choses to be truly anonymous. There is also the ability to deny and unless you are caught red-handed, it is pausible that your IP address was hijacked for such purposes. It all boils down to whether the authorities are willing to jump through hoops to track the predators as it will most likely involved authorities from various places including countries that might not have any corresponding criminal laws on such activities. This is one of the key reasons why spammers can continue to operate.

Obviously there are various folks who would claimed that this is why anonymity is not a good thing and that folks wanting to use the Internet should be registered and known. I would beg to differ and point out that Kathy Sierra is even more worried now that her personal information were posted. Anonymity is a double-edged sword and with the good comes the bad and it is how we react to the bad that will determine whether the good will win out in the end. If we stand up for what we believe in and not give in to the few who strived to turn a good thing bad, we will prevail.

I am hoping that the whole mess will eventually be resolved and that we find out who the true culprits.

Friday, March 23, 2007

CBC - Test the Nation IQ

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) is currently running a series on "Test the Nation IQ" and they have a website dedicated to the show (I have not seen the show) where they have a Test Your IQ quiz which consists of 60 timed questions broken up into several categories. I was curious and took the test. Apparently it collects some information like age, gender, location, etc just to get a generic profile. The test overall took less than 20 minutes and I was asked to estimate my IQ which I gave at 110 (with 100 being the average). Well, blow me down, I did much better than I thought scoring a 128! Areas that I did very well are Math (if you are in IT, this should be a no-brainer) and Logic (also a no-brainer for IT folks).

The only thing that I didn't like about the test is that you can take it again and it's same set of questions. I took it a second time about a week later and this time I scored a 133 as I remembered some of the questions. Anyway, I think the first go-around is probably the most accurate as you are timed (20 secs) and you really have to be alert and think things through. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Here's an IT Oxymoron

The other day a migration request came across my desk. We usually get migration requests to migrate code changes, etc. from Application Services for fixes to our production environment. This one, in particular, is an Oxymoron (in my opinion). The title of the request was "Purge Test Data from Production." which is like "WTF?, why are they testing against a production database anyhow?". I was so upset that when the project manager came over to my cubicle to explain that I just looked at him and said "You know what, I don't need any explanation and I don't really want to know nor do I care. Your request will be completed as requested since the request was signed off by the appropriate managers".

The first paragraph in the request was "We have been testing our application against the Production database...". Nuff said...and no wonder IT is not taken seriously as a profession at all if we keep shooting ourselves in the foot!

Edited: Replaced "taken off" with "completed" in "Your request will be completed as requested since the request was signed off by the appropriate managers".

Thursday, January 25, 2007

SAN problems.

It's has been a busy January for me. In December 2006, we had severe issues with our SAN (and just before the Christmas holidays too) where we suffered outages that spanned a week with the root cause being the Fibre Channel switches resetting themselves at the same time. This caused our Storage Management servers to attempt to take over from each other causing a never-ending loop.

Apparently there was a bug in the firmware of the switches which caused them to reset. An upgrade of the firmware for the switches were necessary and was planned for the weekend of Jan 20th, 2007.

The morale of the story is even though you are setting up high availability and redundancy, make sure not to forget to ensure that the redundant components are "timed" differently. So there is now an outstanding work request to have one of the Fibre Channel switch reset several months so that its "reset cycle" is different from the other one.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Daylight Savings Time 2007

Just in case this has not been emphasized enough, it is critical that IS organizations in Canada and the US start to look at the upcoming DST changes (scheduled to be in effect March 11, 2007) and seriously start the planning for the patches/upgrades that needed to be applied. At my organization, we have multiple databases and versions, application servers, E-business Suite, PeopleSoft and other third party software plus on top of that we have various OSes including Linux, Windows and Unix. The patch/upgrade is not restricted to your software and OSes but includes any devices that utilizes time (e.g. network switches, firewalls, routers, etc.).

Oracle has the following Metalink articles for Databases & Middleware and Oracle Applications (including E-Business and PeopleSoft).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Microsoft Vista/Acer/AMD giveaway

I've been following the "scandal" surrounding the Microsoft-Acer-AMD giveaway to various bloggers. There have been a lot of negative reaction to this giveaway with some bloggers actually receiving "death threats"! The gist of these negative reactions was that the blogger has been offered a bribe and taken the bribe. Well, things are not as black and white as it seems.

If the blogger is able to provide an unbiased review and disclose fully that the laptop was a "gift" sent by Microsoft to be used for review purposes, I don't see anything wrong with that. It becomes a problem if full disclosure was not stated as that would implied that the reviewer is biased because s/he has been paid a "fee". Even if the reviewer is biased and that is known from the outset, that would not be a problem at all and nobody would be interested in hearing from someone who is so biased (yeah, right!).

The thing that I can see that seems to create these issues was the fact that the readers of the bloggers expect the blogger to be unbiased and probably hold them to the same standards as journalists.

All in all, I wish Microsoft would provide me with a high-end laptop containing Vista and SQLServer 2005 for me review :D

Monday, January 01, 2007

Taking a page from Tom Kyte...

As the number of blogs and websites that I frequent grows, I am finding it tedious to keep my blog roll up to date and thought I would take a page out of Mr. Kyte and use an entry posting instead which I can edit easily and have my blog template point to that entry.

In no particular order:
Oracle-related Blogs
Tom Kyte's Blog - No further introduction needed.
AskTom - Not a blog but a Q & A and officially endorsed by Oracle (or at least Oracle Magazine).
Jonathan Lewis' Blog - again, no futher introduction needed. Jonathan recently started blogging and has already posted a number of very entries (things that makes you go "Huh? I didn't know that and I should experiment further to see how things works").
Eddie Awad's Blog - Based in Portland, Oregon; Eddie was "Blogger of the Year 2006".
Tim Hall - Based in the UK and movie-bluff (esp. the kung-fu kinds); Tim was "Oracle Ace of the Year 2006".
Kevin Closson - Hardware/Platform and Clustering topics related to Oracle Databases.
Lewis Cunningham - Guide to Oracle Technology.
Doug Burns - Doug loves his stuffed animals.
Peter Scott - Manager and DW/BI interests.
Pythian Group Blog - Oracle-focused consulting firm.
Lisa Dobson - Newbie DBA and worth the read.
David Alderidge - Mr. Oracle Sponge and DW "specialist".
Mark Rittman - BI "specialist" and social coordinator for Oracle bloggers :)
Amis Blog - A company-owned blog similar to Pythian.
Steven Chan - Oracle Applications Director. If you are involved in Oracle E-Business, then this is a definite blog for you.
Chris Foot - A Senior Oracle DBA and Oracle ACE
Andrew Clarke - Radio Free Tooting...on things Oracle
Steve Karam - Oracle consultant and calls himself the Oracle Alchemist.
Niall Litchfield - Frequent poster of various blogs and also comp.databases.oracle.server newsgroup.
Pete Finningan - Oracle Security specialist. Wrote a few books.
Howard J Rogers - Aussie-based but British-born Oracle Education instructor amongst others. I love his dry wit.
Bruce Schneier - I don't think Bruce needed any introduction but an expert on security (esp. encryption)
Rob Vollman - Another Canadian blogger.
Fairlie Rego - Another Australian-based Oracle blogger. Great stuff.
Jeff Hunter - Oracle, MySQL and other IT-related stuff.
Andy Campbell - Stuff that he should have known and that we should know too :D
Herod T - Yet another Oracle DBA and Canadian, eh.
Dimitri Gielis - I met Dimitri at the OOW2006 Bloggers' Meetup and he's an interesting person and heavily into APEX.

Non Oracle-related Blogs
Ririan Project - Interesting blog with interesting posts. Makes you think.
Ken's Blog - A fellow IT blogger who is currently involved in an IT company based in China. Mostly to do with Open Source Software.

Websites
Oracle OTN - If you are involved in Oracle and don't know about Oracle's OTN, then you are not involved in Oracle.
Oracle Metalink - Restricted site but easy enough to get access to.
Oaktable - "Experts" in Oracle technologies...the membership has grown over the years.
ZDnet News - US-based Technology-related news. Publishes eWeek, InformationWeek amongst others.
The Register - UK-based Technology-related news.

Updated: Jan 2/2007

Some observations over the last few weeks

This is a multi-entry post dealing with three points:
a) the Dizwell site. Most of you, if you don't already know, Howard Rogers decided to shut down his Dizwell site citing time constraints and also frustration with readers who seems to either can't follow directions or who seems to be demanding that they be spoon-fed with knowledge and refusing to learn/experiment on their own. There were several posts by other bloggers which indicated that HJR had a change of mind and decided to bring back Dizwell (and I sincerely hope he does as it is a very source of valuable Oracle information for the Oracle community) but when I last looked, it was still unavailable although instead of getting a "Page not found" error I got the following.


It seems that the error page also displayed the password used (erased in my picture) which I think is a security breach for if the error occurred not because of an invalid password but some other misconfiguration, then in essence, Drupal had just given the keys to whatever is in the MySQL database.

b) Oracle password hashes. David Litchfield has posted an entry to freelist containing C code which demonstrate that it is possible to get Oracle passwords if you know hashed passwords (stored in DBA_USERS) and the associated AUTH_SESSKEY and AUTH_PASSWORD from sniffing the packages on the network. Thanks to Paul Wright for pointing out the entry. I have yet to try out Litchfield's code to verify but that would mean that the hashed passwords stored within the database has to be protected and restricted. The question is how and what the impact would be.

c) There is a recently new blog called OracleBrains whose aim was to provide a source for Oracle information. I applaued the intention but I find it lacking in that it seems to restate stuff that are in the Oracle documentation and I find that a lot of the posts do not explain why but only show how which is as dangerous as certain things/changes should only be attempted after verification and under certain conditions. For example, their post on Oracle roles did not explain why you would get an error after you have switched role within your session and I could not be bothered to leave a comment on their blog as it required logging in with a WordPress account (another account to track). I for one is puzzled by their comment setup as it seems to referred back to the posting instead of showing the comments left by the readers and the folks at OracleBrains will post responses to these comments as another blog entry which is confusing as anything since you are now trying to following multiple postings dealing with the same subject/topic. Now this entry is not meant to criticize OracleBrains but to suggest some improvements as I am for more Oracle resources to be available on the Internet.