Monday, September 17, 2007

The presentation you attend when not attending a presentation

Everyone is talking about going to OpenWorld and I'm jealous. So I'm proud to present: Oracle ClaytonWorld. For those not familar with Australian slag, "Claytons" was a non-alcholic drink, sold under the slogan "the drink you have when you are not having a drink".

What I'm looking at is presentations without a presenter. You can 'attend' on your own at home, with your work-mates in a conference room, as a user group in a hired function room (or the pub if there isn't a football game on [or its just England getting hammered in the Rugby]) or pretty much anywhere with a large screen.

There's a fair bit on offer, with special thanks to Quest, Hotsos and Pythian.

You don't have to fit it all in a couple of days and I'd prefer to watch a presentation or two a week (or each month for if shown by a user group), but it is possible to schedule up your own two-day conference.

An Oracle conference must start off with some Oracle spiel about the new wonder of the database world. It's a tradition, old charter or something. The 11g launch got a webcast from Oracle which fits the bill.

After that, I'd recommend a Flash movie on SQL injection from Console Pictures. It's one of those things you can watch, but don't have to take detailed notes, so makes good material for a morning session. It also puts you in a 'security' frame of mind for the rest of the stuff you listen to.

After coffee, you can pick some more of Oracle's "Web Events".
I may try a look at Warehouse Builder or Data Warehousing with 11g

After lunch, you can continue courtesy of Quest software's provisions on YouTube including Steven F.'s PL/SQL best practices and Common mistakes in PL/SQL programming for Developers, Database Change Tracking and Testing 10g RAC scalability for DBAs, and
Data Modelling for the models thrown out of London Fashion Week for being too skinny.

Then developers can finish off the first day with Carl Backstrom's preview of Apex 4.0
[The 'AVI' appears to be an 'OGM', but he recommends an appropriate player.]

For the DBAs, Pythian have their Goodies, a video camera recording of their "guided debates". They have that live, unrehearsed feel, just like the Blair Witch Project but without the hype.
They include Flash Recovery Area, Disk IO Basics and Parallel Execution Basics

The second day is "Oracle Performance Day", thanks to Hotsos.
Mike Rothouse pointed out Hotsos's Monthly Newsletter earlier this week but if you look at, you'll find a treasure chest of over a dozen webinars. You need to get to the list of events, then go to recorded events. They need the WEBEX Player (which also comes with a recorder so you can roll your own).

If there is anyone not interested in performance, the "Files" link on AskTom also gives a presentation on "Content database". That isn't much of an alternative, but that's because EVERY-ONE should be interested in performance.

Finally, to finish up the conference, , the Man himself can be there in the form of "The Things You Know" (Thanks to Don Seiler for the pointer in his blog )

There's plenty more presentations, papers and podcasts that can be downloaded. Unfortunately, without that Audio/Visual combination, that's just a step too far away to be a Clayton's presentation. More like swigging the dregs or sniffing the empty bottle at the end of the night.

You can see that I've got nothing for the Apps crowd. Primarily it is because that's not my area, so I don't look for anything there. I'm not saying it isn't out there, just that it would be under my radar. Similarly with Java or Fusion. If you've got any pointers, schedule your own conference (or just add a comment for individual items and see if there's enough material).

While we have plenty of volume for a conference, the major contributors are Oracle (of course), Hotsos, Quest and Pythian. We could probably do with a little more breadth and some independents would be welcome. Maybe we can really annoy Oracle if anyone knows of something about EnterpriseDB ? Links are welcome.

I'm afraid you'll have to assemble your own goodie bag though. Still maybe we can build up some interest amongst those of us in places too insignificant to rate a real conference. [I dunno, we can host APEC but not a decent Oracle meet-up. Maybe I should switch to Python ]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Oracle self-education budget

I'm contemplating how hard to hit my budget.

My AUSOUG membership is due for renewal, and registration for the conference in Melbourne is open too. The membership is about $150 and gives access to their quarterly magazine and (most) of the conference presentation material. There's also the occasional meeting in Sydney.
The conference, including travel and accommodation, would be in the region of $1000. While the experience last year was good, I don't think I can justify the dollars.

Part of the problem is the conference format.

Firstly, there are some things that are simply best explored in a written format, either a book or a white paper. You have plenty of time to take the material in at your own pace, maybe testing examples or exploring any ideas that are prompted.

Workshops can be valuable, but you really need to be able to get stuck into that new area before the knowledge gets stale. I attended Penny Cookson's Apex workshop last year, but had forgotten a lot of it by the time I actually started using it. If your organisation intends to use Apex as a development platform, I'd recommend the session though.

Presentations have their place too. A good speaker can be entertaining, but a presentation has to have some intrinsic value. Sales presentations are an obvious example, but the value there is for the presenter more than the audience. The value of a presentation can be identified by a few questions.

  • Does the attendee get the presentation slides or a white paper at the end ?
  • If so, could they get the same understanding from the handouts without attending the presentation ? Is there 'added value' with the presentation, or is it an introduction to the real material ?
  • If not, how much information will they be able to remember two days later ? This last point is especially relevant to conferences, where people might attend a dozen different presentations in quick succession.
  • If the presenter starts editing the material to act solely as a reminder to those at the presentation, then are they more interested in 'being a presenter' than 'disseminating knowledge' ? Also a 'reminder' may work for a few days, but is unlikely to be effective a couple of months later and a presentation at an annual conference probably won't coincide with when the knowledge will be applied.

In all, I'm not convinced that a conference is worth the money from an education point of view.

So then I noted that Jonathan Lewis has penciled in an appearance in Sydney in March (and Melbourne too). That means no travel or accommodation issues for me. That counts for something as the AUSOUG conference last year are the only days when I haven't seen my kids. No news on costs for Jonathan seminar yet, but I've expressed an interest.

Finally, there's always a few books out there worth picking up. There's a book on Apex due out in a week or so. I'm also hoping that Tom's quietness is due to him working on his next book and Jonathan originally promised three volumes on the CBO and there are rumours that Harry Potter dies in the last book (but I may have got that confused with the evil Buffy Cash-Hitz).

Laptop security

There was a 1/8th page advert in Friday's Daily Telegraph (that's the Sydney tabloid paper) that caught my eye. A $20,000 reward for the return of a lost laptop containing "family photos and videos". There's a report here.

To me, that is a lot of money. The machine (an Acer TravelMate) is probably worth 5% of that. I accept that there are circumstances which could mean some photos could be irreplaceable (though generally I'd expect such photos to have at least been emailed to friends or family, or videos put onto a DVD to watch) . I can even accept that there are people who can put their hands on $20,000. The laptop was stolen from Wahroonga, which is quite a well-off suburb.

Now personally, I've got a couple of external USB drives and photos don't get erased from the camera until they are on both the PC and a backup drive. Our video camera is old enough to have tapes, which get kept rather than overwritten. And the only time I see $20,000 is in my dreams. So no-one would get that sort of money for my laptop. I'd guess for most individuals, backing up their data would remove any premium value fo their laptop. In this case, the backups appear to have been stored with the laptop.

But to a business, the value of their data on a laptop (even if it is backed up elsewhere) could be massively more than the cost of the machine. There's a whole mess of legal and compensation issues if the information is required to be kept confidential.

In my latest role, I've been supplied with a work laptop. I've taken precautions. Firstly, I added ClamWin, an open source virus scanner and did a scan. It may not be as pretty as some scanners, but I don't have to pay for it so I'm content. Then I added TrueCrypt (again, no dollars required) and created a couple of encrypted volumes. Any work data and documents can get recorded in those. Next of the freebies was Eraser and a single pass overwrite of unused diskspace. I set the PC to "Clear Virtual Memory Pagefile" on shutdown, and disabled hibernate too.

I won't fool myself that this is bullet-proof. I read the Security Monkey blog (and recommend it heartily), and should be looking at whole-disk encryption for a better level of lockdown.
However these precautions are sufficient for me to be able to sleep at nights knowing that someone casually browsing the disks won't pick up anything.