Category Archives: General

What I’ve learned going to conferences

With ODTUG 2009 just around the corner now, I thought I’d do a quick reflection on some of my observations and feelings about the (now many) conferences that I’ve attended in recent years.

I first started going to (Oracle related) conferences a few years back, firstly as an attendee then I took the jump and started presenting (and have immensely enjoyed presenting…even when laptops die, projectors don’t work and demo’s fail dramatically…).

Anyway, here are a few rambled thoughts about attending conferences (from an Oracle conference perspective).

Regimental Planning…or Go With the Flow?

If it’s your first conference, it’s going to probably be a bit overwhelming at first (particularly if it’s a big one like Oracle OpenWorld), however take a deep breath and make sure you check all the daily updates. Priorities change, sessions get cancelled etc, so don’t get too hooked up on trying to meet your original ‘schedule’, sometimes going with the flow is a better approach. My first OpenWorld conference I felt like I’d ran a marathon by the end of the week, because I’d been literally running between East and West Moscone to catch different sessions.

Presentation Nightmares

If it’s your first time as a presenter, expect something to go wrong. Laptops die, projectors sometimes don’t work, I’ve even seen ‘clickers’ seem to get possessed by demons. However remember, the audience is there to see you succeed, we want you to do a good job. Anyone who has presented before knows that horrible feeling when you go to run a demo and the machine just hangs (or blue-screens), don’t get too chewed up about it…try and ad-hoc for a couple of minutes and you’ll be surprised how often taking a mental step-back can stop you panicking into a worse mistake (I once saw someone almost do a full DB recovery during a session because something hadn’t worked).

Don’t be Shy!

It can be very overwhelming when everyone else seems to already know each other and nobody knows you. But do make an effort to introduce yourself to people (how else will they ever know who you are?). At ODTUG I’m looking forward to meeting lots of ‘old friends’, but they’re only ‘old friends’ because we’ve previously taken the time to get to know each other!

This also extends to introducing yourself to some of the more ‘famous’ Oracle types (you know who they are), remember it’s a rare opportunity to actually get to speak to some of those people who wrote the books sitting in your office, or whose blog you read daily etc. I remember a few years ago I was chatting to Jonathan Lewis about something and almost as an aside mentioned something about a problem I’d been having (some very obscure issue with pipelined functions and the CBO) and he mentioned something which gave me a ‘lightbulb moment’, as soon as I got back from the conference I fixed an issue that had been causing problems in production for weeks.

Remember, we’re all at that conference because we share a love/passion/interest for something (even if we might disagree about certain aspects of it!).

Early Breakfasts and Early Nights

A lot of the Oracle conferences are in the US and when they’re on the West coast it means one thing…a lot of very jet-lagged Europeans (and antipodeans etc). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up, bright eyed and ready for the day ahead only toΒ  look at the clock and seen that it’s 3am. It can be quite funny to play the “Where in the world is my hotel room neighbour” from, based on what time their shower goes on in the morning.

This of course has a side effect, if you happen to be talking to someone and they yawn during the conversation, don’t be offended, it’s probably not personal! A lot of people have probably travelled quite far to attend the conference and it takes some of us a while to figure out what day it is, let alone what the time is.

Plan some extra time for sight-seeing

If you’re not on a tight schedule, try and fit in an extra day or two to at least see some of the local sights. Admittedly this can be a difficult one to swing by your boss (or whoever else is footing the bill for your trip). However I always take the view that it seems silly to travel all that way and either sit inside a conference centre, a hotel room or a bar all day and never step out into the sunlight.

I remember one of the most memorable times I’ve had at a conference was when Carl Backstrom took me around San Francisco and gave a great guided tour (including some great bars and food).

Pack light (during the day at least)

Sure, that 17 inch laptop looks great on your desk, but let me assure you…you’ll soon get tired of lugging it around the Moscone Centre for 8 hours a day all week long. Remember also that at most conferences they’ll be giving you ‘goodies’ to take back with you (often another bag/rucksack).

Behave in a presentation how you would want people to behave in yours

This one always amazes me, I have been in presentations where someone has –

  1. talked pretty much non-stop to the person next to them
  2. repeatedly received calls on their phone (and never switched it onto mute).
  3. actually had a phone conversation which was so ‘urgent’ they couldn’t bear to leave the presentation throughout.
  4. brought in a contender for the world’s loudest bag of crisps (chips for American readers)…seriously….if you need to eat in a presentation try bringing in something quiet!

I just can’t understand why someone would go to a presentation and not actually want to pay attention to it? Why waste your own time (as well as potentially denying that seat to someone who did want to see the presentation?).

Be social (or ‘beer is a great social leveller’)!

Sometimes, actually I’ll go so far as to say almost always, the best parts of the conferences happen in the evenings.

Again, this can be a very difficult one to swing by your boss to convince them to send you to the conference. However socialising with your peers at these events can be a huge benefit to your company, not only in the knowledge and extra insight you might gain, but also from the contacts you’ll build up.

As the title says, beer can be a great social leveller, everyone there is there to enjoy the experience and socialising in the evenings is a part of that experience.

There can be some great technical debates, discussions and disagreements going on in the corner of that bar, you might overhear that single snippet of information that makes all the difference to your project when you get back home, or you might hear something blatently incorrect that you can challenge and correct (it’s just as important to dispel incorrect information as to propagate correct information in my opinion).

Wrap Up

Perhaps one of the most important things, once the conference is over and you get back home is to make use of your new found knowledge. Dig back through your notes (you did take notes right?) and find those 2 or 3 things that made it worthwhile for your boss to send you to the conference, because that is the best way to make sure they agree there and then for you to go again next year.

Charting the rise of Application Express

A recent post by Dimitri on whether APEX is still worth looking at (read the article to see the context!), and in particular the comment by David Peake

For some proof points look at the number of APEX sessions at Oracle Openworld 2008 = 38

reminded me that I still had an old post sitting in my drafts folder regarding the numbers of sessions related (directly or indirectly) to Oracle Application Express at the conference I’ve attended in the last couple of years, so I’ve dusted off the post (this one now!).

So since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s the chart –

APEX Presentations Totals

Note: I have just included the Collaborate, ODTUG, OpenWorld and UKOUG events as those were the ones I attended. There were many other events during those periods where there were Application Express topics being presented. Also note that there are no released figures for OpenWorld 09 and UKOUG 09 yet.

There are a few different ways to interpret these figures, firstly cynics might say, “ahh but look how the number at Collaborate 09 is less than 07”, or “look how the number at UKOUG 08 was less than 07”, well remember that the APEX abstracts are competing with lots of other abstracts to make the final cut into the accepted presentations.

Looking at 2008, it was a huge increase (not far off double) the number presentations that were given in 2007.

Currently in 2009, even with just the ODTUG and Collaborate figures to go off, we have around as many as there were in 2007 and almost half as many as there were last year (and remember we still have the OpenWorld and UKOUG figures to add to that).

So…in my opinion, yes Application Express is definitely growing, it’s certainly a good time to be involved with it.

UPDATE: I created a small APEX application on top of the data behind that chart, so you can see the session details, break by presenter etc.

You can access the application here, if you are aware of any omissions, errors or additional conferences that should be included drop me a mail/comment and I’ll try and update it.

Signs you might travel too much

Flying Last year I did a lot of travelling, sure…not as much as some people probably did, however it was still a heck of a lot of travelling (at last reckoning around 50 or so flights).

This year is shaping up to be similar to last year (perhaps even more travelling!), so here’s my thoughts on some signs you might be travelling too much (in no particular order other than how they sprang to mind):

  • You always know where your passport is at any point in time (seriously, when I didn’t travel that much I would always have that mild panic of “where’s my passport?”…not any more.
  • You recognise many of the people at the immigration desk in another country.
  • You can recognise exactly what the flight meal is just by the smell of it, even the desserts.
  • You always carry spare laptop batteries for your flight, even if you plan to sit in a seat with power…because odds are that it won’t be working the day you really need it.
  • You’ve had your luggage lost…(you were expecting that one right?)…but here’s the kicker, you’ve had your luggage lost and you’re actually not that worried about it, because hey…these things happen when you travel alot, worrying and shouting about it won’t make it turn up any faster.
  • You realise that the only essentials you really need, are a passport, boarding card and a credit card. Everything else can be bought, borrowed or improvised (see above).
  • You have been stopped by the LAPD for turning right on a red-light…at a ‘Do Not Turn Right On A Red Light’ sign…with the LAPD car right behind you.
  • You start turning right on red lights, even though you’re back in your home country which has no such law (see above).
  • You have (at least once) got into your own car and thought “Where has the steering wheel gone?”…only to realise you’re back in your home country where they put things on the *correct* side πŸ˜‰
  • You got that free airline upgrade. Upgrades are harder and harder to get these days, but the sheer number of times you travel means that the odds are that one day you’re going to have something really horrible happen during your flight that the airline has to compensate you for…in that sense upgrades are the peak before the next trough.
  • You have more than 3 types of currency in your wallet at any point in time.
  • You use your iPhone to mark the GPS location of your car in the airport carpark.
  • You have, at least once, returned back to your country to a different airport than you left your car at (see…now the GPS location one doesn’t seem so silly does it?).

I could go on, but I won’t….additions to the list very welcome though!

Carl Backstrom – A great loss

I woke up to the news this morning that Carl Backstrom has been killed in a car accident.

I’m not going to post a link to the news article directly, as it contains some distressing details that some people might not wish to read, however the news has been confirmed by various Blogs and (reliable) people on Twitter.

For those who didn’t know him, Carl was “Mr AJAX & Javscript” in the Application Express World, he was responsible for some incredibly cool features in the APEX tool and was always helpful with the APEX community.

However more than that, Carl was a really cool and great guy. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carl at many of the Oracle events in the last few years and would often send him “hey dude, what’s up with my javascript here?” messages on MSN in the small hours and he would always answer them, without fail.

Carl was definitely a good friend, I’ll miss him a lot and I’ll never have another whiskey without checking for flies first!

One of my fondest memories about Carl (and I have a lot) was the day he took Dimitri and me for a guided tour around San Francisco and showed us sights that we never would have seen otherwise.

My thoughts are with Carl’s family and friends at this difficult time.


OTN Forums – Change the look and feel yourself

The recent OTN Forums update has been heavily blogged/Twittered/posted about already, so I’m not even going to touch that one.

However, one thing that a few people have focused on (pardon the pun) is that the update has changed the way that viewed threads are displayed in a very light grey colour, making them a bit hard to read, as shown in this screenshot.


One option is obviously to petition the folks at OTN to try and get the look and feel changed (personally I don’t find the grey colour too bad, but I can see how it could be a problem to some people). However, obviously the OTN folks are never going to be able to please everyone at the same time.

Fortunately there is a way to change the look and feel yourself, not only of the OTN site, but of any website. Now I’m not going to get into ‘Browser Wars’ here, but if you use Firefox it is pretty simple, since you can use tools like Stylish and Greasemonkey to custom sites. If you use IE then there are other plugins around you can use.

I use Stylish (actually I use Stylish *and* Greasemonkey but that’s another story) and once you have installed the plugin you can create new styles for any website you visit. For example if I create a new style for the OTN forums like this:

@-moz-document url-prefix( {
a:visited {
color:#00007F !important;
text-decoration:underline !important;

Then the next time I visit the OTN Forum (actually immediately if you have stylish already enabled) then the visited links should be in a darker blue colour, like this:


Now I’m not saying this colour scheme is any nicer (in fact I think it’s a bit harder to read, but it does show how you can easily style any website yourself if you don’t like the design.

If you modify the layout, feel free to let me know and perhaps we can start a collection of OTN Forum skins?

8 Things…my turn

Well, the craze at the moment is the whole ‘8 things’ thing and whilst I heartily agree with Howard about the potential this has for making the aggregators work overtime, it would be rude (and very bah-humbug) to not take my turn after being tagged by Tim Hall.

So my turn for 8 things about me –

  • I’m a very keen scuba diver and was taught to scuba dive by a french ex-Special Forces instructor, my first dive-buddy was an ex-KGB agent (seriously).
  • I’ve almost been ‘lost at sea’ twice whilst diving. The first time the dive boat hit some shallow rocks cracking the hull (luckily we made it back to shore before the flooding got too severe), the second time due to strong currents we surfaced well away from the dive boat and spent the next few hours bobbing around aimlessly waiting to be found.
  • As a child I always wanted to be an Airforce Pilot, right up till the first time I saw a computer, the rest is history as they say…
  • I took a year out before going to University and worked on a building site. I loved the job immensely, however working outdoors in Newcastle in winter when the rain is so heavy you can’t see 10 feet ahead has now made me appreciate just how ‘cushy’ working in an office is, despite how much we ‘IT people’ might complain about our jobs, we should be thankful that we can still feel our fingers and toes when it gets cold outside.
  • When I went to University, I was the first ever male to register in the Hall of Residence where I stayed as it was previously an all-female Hall and it was the first year they were allowing men to stay (from memory around 300 women and 18 men).
  • The only food that I absolutely hate is turnip. Can’t stand the stuff, you can’t make me change my mind on that one.
  • I usually can’t watch old films that are in black & white, no matter how good they’re supposed to be.
  • I proposed to my wife (or then fiance) in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

As Howard points out this is almost a pyramid scheme blogging craze, so there aren’t that many people for me to nominate as ‘next’, so rather than going for 8 people I’ll just go for two Flavio Casetta and Carl Backstrom it’s your turn!