Archive for the ‘Non-Oracle’ Category.

Worlds Greatest Guitarist

I am constantly amazed by how people, myself included, occasionally over exaggerate. It’s pretty common in normal speech but it seems to be almost required in marketing material. Words like Greatest, Biggest, Most Effective, Fastest, Fluffiest, Zestiest, etc… I sometimes wonder how people come up with this stuff. For example, I ran across this video on utube:

Best Guitar Improvisation Ever

Entertaining no doubt, but “Best Guitar Improvisation Ever”???

Who voted on that? Were professionals allowed to compete, like say Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana, Buckethead, Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Clark, Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Andres Segovia,  …  ? (sorry if I left off you’re favorite, but you get the idea)

Some of it is shameless self promotion, but I blame most of this stuff on marketing guys. I don’t hold it against them, they have to make a living too. But they do a couple of things that amuse me.

  1. They make the previously mentioned exaggerated claims.
  2. They make up official sounding statistics to support their exaggerated claims.
  3. They write their own quotes (and attribute them to people that they wish had said them).
  4. They are obsessed with “look and feel” stuff (“It’s more important to look good, than to feel good”).

Let’s begin with bullet number one (exaggerated claims):

Here’s a couple of outrageous claims I ran across (names altered or withheld to protect the guilty).

  • “Joe and Bill are recognized as the two best-selling Oracle Authors in the world.  With combined authorship of over 25 books, Joe & Bill are the two most respected Oracle authorities on the planet.  For the first time ever, Joe & Bill combine their talents in this exceptional handbook.”

  • Did you know that there’s a way to burn 3 to 15 pounds of fat PERMANENTLY and SAFELY . . . WHILE YOU SLEEP?! 100% Guaranteed!
  • “Because you haven’t just found people who know a little bit about what you’re going through – you’ve found the undisputed heavyweight Oracle experts.”

That last one was bad enough without emphasizing the outrageous claim by using a bold font. And just to show I’m not playing favorites, that one is from the web site of the company I work for!

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Common Sense Law

I read in the Fort Worth Star Telegram this morning that the Texas legislature had passed a law (Texas House Bill 171) which requires school administrators to use common sense. I guess there has been a problem with this in the past (actually the bill explicitly states that there has been a problem – “School administrators are allowed to consider mitigating factors but sometimes choose not to exercise common sense.”). At issue was strict “no tolerance” policies in some school districts whereby kids were getting sent to alternative schools for infractions as absurd as leaving a baseball bat in the car, leaving fishing tackle (including a knife) in the car, forgetting to take a pocket knife out of a pocket, getting beat up (that’s right – both participants in a fight get the same punishment).

Oddly enough, no one voted against this bill. How could you vote against “common sense”. Can’t you just see the negative political ad next election …

You know the unflattering black and white images, with the voice over saying something like:  “My illustrious opponent voted against Common Sense. Surely you don’t want to elect someone who doesn’t even believe in Common Sense!” …

During dinner, my daughter asked me what I was going to do at work tomorrow. I told her I was going to try to use common sense, even though it wasn’t required by law in my profession. At least it doesn’t yet… But imagine if we could just get a few more organizations in a few more states to start taking this idea seriously. Just imagine what could happen. Reminds me of that bit from Arlo Guthrie’s song – Alice’s Restaurant:

“… And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it’s a movement. …”

(by the way, if you’ve never heard “Alice’s Restaurant” you should go buy it from iTunes right now – I mean right now – don’t even finish reading this – do it now!)

Anyway, this common sense thing sounds like a great idea that could really catch on. I can think of a few organizations where common sense could really be valuable (a lot of them are in Washington). Although I’m not sure how they would enforce it… But that’s a job for another day.


Last week was interesting. On Monday I was on my way to lunch with a couple of co-workers (Randy Johnson and James Garner) when the SUV in front of us launched itself off of a bridge. It looked like a scene from a car chase on a movie (but without the explosions). It just launched off into the air and then disappeared from view. I’m guessing the drop was 40 or 50 feet and the SUV was doing maybe 45 or so. James was driving and he was able to pull over into a parking lot right next to the bridge. We all bailed out and went running down the steep embankment. The SUV was floating in the middle of the lake. The front end was under water but we could still see the passengers through the front windows. They looked like they were in shock. You know how time seems to slow down when adrenaline gets released in your system. Well this was definitely one of those experiences. We spent what seemed like forever trying to get their attention and to get them to roll down their windows so they could crawl out but they never moved (it was probably like 15 seconds). Then Randy says, “We gotta get them outta there” (we’re from Texas, so that’s the way we talk). And about 3 seconds later he’s ditched his shoes and wallet and phone and he’s in the water. And I’m thinking “Rats, I guess I better go help him”. Meanwhile, James has dialed 911 and is running back up to his car to get a crow bar to break the window out. So I jump in and start swimming the 50 yards or so to the vehicle, which is surprisingly hard to do in blue jeans by the way. Another couple of guys follow us into the water as well, so there are four of us altogether.

So Randy is first to the SUV and he is at the front trying to get the passengers to wake up and roll the windows down, but he doesn’t get much response from them. Meanwhile, a couple of us swim around to the back of the truck and start trying to get the hatch open. It ended up taking three of us to get it opened. Once the door was open, the water went rushing in and in a matter of about 15 seconds the whole thing was underwater. There was a very scary couple of seconds while the passengers were clambering over the seats to the back hatch and the water was rushing in. Fortunately they were able to climb towards the back and we were able to pull them both out and then pull them back to shore. Did I mention how hard it is to swim with blue jeans on?

I really believe that the passengers were in serious risk of drowning and that if Randy had not jumped in as quickly as he did they may not have made it out. They were pretty shook up. And had the vehicle sunk before we got them I think it’s unlikely they would have been able to get themselves out. We would not have been able to help as you couldn’t see 2 inches in that water. And the water was a lot deeper than I expected. After the SUV sunk we were briefly treading water above it and I never kicked anything.  Anyway, here’s what Randy looked like in my mind’s eye on Monday:

Randy Johnson – SuperDBA

I felt more like this guy (did I mention the blue jeans, hard to swim in thing):

Kerry Osborne – Swimming in Blue Jeans

So what to do after a heroic water rescue? We went to Taco Diner and had lunch on the patio. No one even asked us why we were dripping big puddles under our chairs. Then we went back to the office, got our stuff and took the rest of the day off. It was a good day!

Shopping Trip

This evening I went to the grocery store with my wife, Jill. It was an interesting trip. I have to admit that I took a sneak peek at the shopping list before I agreed to go, and seeing that there were only 7 items on the list, I figured I could earn some extra points without spending too much time. Sneaky, I know, but I am a little weird about optimizing my time. By way of example, one of the main reasons I have a pony tail is because I once calculated how much time it took to get a haircut every month. The calculation went something like this:

Haircut Calculation
Time Primary Action Snide Comment
0.50 Commute to the barber shop Everything is a half hour away in Dallas
0.25 Wait for an open barber chair Not totally wasted because you could read the 6 year old copies of Field and Stream or the 10 year old copies of Lowrider Magazine – just in case I ever decide to go fishing in my newly restored 57 Chevy
0.75 Actually getting my haircut Takes a little extra time because of barbers need to give advice on everything from re-wiring a house to colonoscopy
0.25 Paying up Again takes a little extra time to listen to advice on tattoo removal (not that I have any tattoos, much less any tattoos that need to be removed, but it just seems rude not to act interested, especially to a guy that’s basically in charge of you public image)
0.50 Commute back to wherever Can take longer if it’s raining because nobody can drive in the rain in Dallas

So that’s a total of 2.75 hours per haircut. Multiply that by 12 times a year and that comes out to 33 hours per year. So that’s almost a whole work week. That just seemed like too much time to commit to such an unrewarding task, so I quit getting my hair cut.

But I digress.

Back to the shopping trip. Like I said, the list had 7 items on it, so I expected a quick trip. Well we get into the store and Jill asks me to get a shopping cart. I’m thinking a little hand basket thingy would be fine, because I’ve seen the list! But I don’t want to tell her that (I’m still being sneaky), so I get the shopping cart. And we proceed down the first isle, stopping every two feet or so to put something in the basket. By the end of the first isle we have at least double the number of items on the list, and by the way, nothing has been marked off the list yet. Just to give you an example, we ended up with 4 bags of chips (Lays Bar-B-Que, Tostitos Scoops, Fritos, and Sun Chips). We’d have had one more (because part of my family likes the Scoop Tostitos and another contingent likes the flat Tostitos) but we had to draw the line somewhere. It wasn’t all my wife’s doing either. We were both throwing stuff into the cart like we were expecting a hurricane to cut off food supplies for the next several weeks. By the time we got out of the store we had 17 bags of groceries. They were the small plastic kind (which I don’t really like – I always say paper when they ask – but I digress again).

I found the whole thing quite amusing, although I don’t think Jill really did.  I asked if I could check the list while we were checking out, just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. She didn’t really appreciate my humor. (we did forget one of the things on the list by the way)

Anyway, the experience reminded me that trying to get too clever can often backfire. It also reminded me that I am predisposed to make that particular mistake. Implementing a tricky solution to a problem, while it may be intellectually stimulating,  is often not the best approach. The experience reminded of a talk I did a couple of years ago (Creative Problem Solving for Oracle Systems) where I talked about several tendencies that all of us have (to a greater or lesser extent). And how those tendencies can interfere with our ability to solve problems. One of the points of the talk was that being aware of your tendencies can help you avoid pitfalls.

Like Clint Eastwood said, “A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations”.

Oracle Performance For Developers …

This week I attended the Hotsos Symposium – It was great as usual. There are more smart guys at this event every year than you can shake a stick at. In fact, I often learn as much from the attendees as I do from the presenters.  Here’s a fancy link to the presentation I gave:

Note: I struggled a bit with how to label myself, since I don’t really have an official title. I thought about calling myself a “Senior Oracle Specialist”, but that sounded a little too puffed up. Especially the “Specialist” part. So then I thought maybe “Senior Oracle Guy” would be a little more down to earth. That was better, but it sounded a little too old, like a Senior Citizen. And since I am still in my late 40’s (OK very late 40’s) I am still quite a ways from being a “Senior” I think. Then I thought maybe I should go with something more generic like “Nice Guy and All Around Prince of a Fellow”, but that seemed a little too uninformative (and beside, my former partner used to have that on his business cards). So I decided to go back to the “Oracle guy” idea and considered using something like “Very Experienced Oracle Guy”. That sounded OK, but “Very Experienced” is really just code for old. So I was back to that, how to say old, but not too old. “Oldish” – that’s what I ended up with, mainly because I ran out of time to think about it any more (probably a good thing).

I was originally scheduled to deliver my talk on Tuesday afternoon. But when I checked in on Monday morning, Becky Goodman asked me if I would mind swapping time slots with Stephan Haisley, who had a “conflict”. His slot was first thing in the morning on Wednesday. So I said sure. Only later did I find out that the conflict was related to the Tuesday night party, which has a tendency to stretch into the wee hours of the morning. Stephan’s a smart guy and he was thinking ahead. He realized that he probably wouldn’t be at his best, first thing on Wednesday morning. As Clint Eastwood said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations”.

Anyway, the talk went pretty well but I did have one embarrassing moment. I’ve been doing Oracle stuff for a long time, so I often run into people that I haven’t seen for a while (sometimes a very long while). I’m pretty good with faces and places, but names sometimes escape me. Isn’t it odd how our brains work? I can remember minute details about some arcane unix command that I haven’t used in 10 years, but a guy’s name that I worked closely with for half a decade can escape me. How does that happen?

I’ve gotten used to it, but occasionally something even more bizarre happens. Like getting a couple of bits of memory cross wired. This actually happens more often than you would think. Try this on a friend. Get them to say “Silk” five times as quickly as they can.  Like … “Silk, Silk, Silk, Silk, Silk” …  Then immediately ask them what cows drink. Almost without fail they will say “Milk”. Of course they know that cows don’t drink milk. They know that cows drink water. But for some reason the word “Milk” just comes rolling off their tongue. Why? Because the word “Milk” sounds almost the same as the word “Silk” and you’ve just made them access the part of their brain that stores the word “Silk” several times in a row. In addition, you have asked them a question with a word (cow) that is very closely associated with the word “Milk”. And finally, milk is a liquid that people drink. So there are 3 very strong associations in your brain, even though you know that it is not the correct answer to the question.

So what’s the point, well  … The first day of the Symposium, I ran into a guy that I have known for several years and that I had in fact shared office space with just a couple of years ago. His name is Jeff Holt and he co-wrote a book with a guy named Cary Millsap called Optimizing Oracle Performance. So I see Jeff, walk over with a big grin on my face, shake hands with him and say “Hi Kevin!”.

And he just looks at me like I’m crazy (which he does pretty well, by the way). And I realize what I’ve done and say “I’m sorry Jeff, I do know what your name is”. And he looks somewhat dubious but accepts my apology. The thing is, I have done this to Jeff several times in the past. I explained to Jeff that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for me calling him by the wrong name. I used to work with a guy named Kevin Holt and for some inexplicable reason, Kevin’s name always comes out when I think about Jeff. Maybe it’s because my brain stores data by last_name and the cells holding the first names have become damaged in some way, maybe I’ve used the name “Kevin Holt” a lot more than the name “Jeff Holt”, maybe my brain was more impressionable when I was younger and so the earlier memory is stronger. I’m not sure. Anyway, I pretty much just wrote it off as one of those questions for which there is no answer.

But I digress, back to the embarrassing moment during my presentation: So the talk is going along well and I get to this page where I reference Cary and Jeff’s book and I look at the big overhead and the reference looks like this:

Cary Millsap & Kevin Holt. Optimizing Oracle Performance
O’Reilly, 2003.

Of course to me it looked like this:

Cary Millsap & Kevin Holt. Optimizing Oracle Performance
O’Reilly, 2003.

Yes that’s right. Not only did I call him by the wrong name when I ran into him, but I actually typed it wrong on my presentation. To make matters worse, Cary Millsap is in the audience with a puzzled look on his face. So I have to apologize to him while the rest of the audience looks on. Then as soon as the talk is over, I fix the presentation materials and resubmit them (hopefully wiping out any trace of my cross wired brain). This whole experience gets me really thinking about how my brain is working and why it continues to make this repeated error. It seems unlikely that just knowing two guys with the same last name would cause such a problem. I know lot’s of people with the same last name, and I don’t get their first names mixed up.

So I start racking my brain to see if I can come up with any other explanation. What other associations do I have with the name “Kevin”? Well for starters, my only brother’s name is Kevin. We were born only a year apart so when I was a kid, almost every time I heard my name it was closely followed by his name (usually it was at the top of some adult’s lungs due to some trouble we were stirring up). In fact, the old folks often couldn’t be bothered  to keep us straight, so even when we weren’t together (which was rare) they often just combined our names (Kervin was the most common version – Kevrry was a lot less common – for obvious reasons). So anyway, I do have a very strong association between my name and my brother’s name. Then it occurred to me that my first name sounds just like Cary Millsap’s first name. Hmmmm. Cary and Jeff are closely associated (at least in my mind) as I mentioned before. They co-authored the book and have worked together at the same company (first Hotsos and then Method-R) for the last decade or so. I’ve known Cary a long time, but only met Jeff 4 or 5 years ago. So I’ve only ever known Jeff to be associated with Cary. You probably can see where this is heading. I believe my brain does something like this old school fill in the blank problem:


Fill in the Blank with the Word that Connects the Other Two Words

Cary (which sounds like Kerry)  ____________   Holt


It’s like a little pattern matching or free association thing. My brain just wants to put the word “Kevin” in that spot as the link between the other two words.

By the way, there have been lots of studies done over the years about how our brains store memories, how we retrieve them, how we forget things, etc… Some of those studies have indicated that most long term memory is semantic based while short term memory is more acoustic based. So most people would tend to mix up words that sound alike (like milk and silk) in short term memory while mixing up words that mean the same thing (like auto and car) in long term memories. Of course there are other studies that prove we all have some long term acoustic memory (being able to identify specific accents for example). The fact that I am a long time musician and that I play mostly by ear is probably a contributing factor as well. I am said to have a “good ear” which means that I can reproduce music pretty accurately after a very short exposure to it. So I think all that extra exercise my brain has done has made me more likely to store long term memories with an acoustic or “sound alike” kind of memory organization. By the way, if you are interested in this kind of stuff, there is an excerpt from a survey of the literature which discusses several of these studies here: Human Memory by Elizabeth Loftus.

So that’s my story and my rationalization for why it happened. And for what ever it’s worth, I’m sorry Kevin, err… I mean Jeff! –  I guess my brain just has a mind of it’s own.