Sunday, January 29, 2006

Daniel Fischel: Corporate Kiss Ass

Just read a fascinating article in the Chicago Tribune (registration required to read it) about Daniel Fischel. Now before we go any further, I will admit to being jealous of this fellow. He's a professor, which is already pretty cool, but also serves as an expert witness at $1000 an hour for corporate cruds like Chalres Keating, Michael Milken and Jeffrey Skillin, and has collected tens of millions of dollars from his investments and countersuits.

Having said that, I am just glad that I have lived my life so that when a newspaper reports on me, they cannot offer this sort of reflection from a supposed admirer:

"He believes in what he says. He's a man of integrity in that sense."

Oh, yeah, that sense. The sense known as self-delusion. Hey, President Bush probably also believes in everything that he is doing. But not Cheney, no, no, I think he knows exactly who he is killing and the names of the people who are enriched as a result of those deaths. But W? Who knows? He might be just about as oblivious as Ronald Reagan, who would apparently fall asleep while meeting with other "leaders" of the G7.

The Trib also offers a sidebar of "Daniel Fischel on Michael Milken". Let's cut to the chase on this one with a quick summary:

1. At the time Milken pleaded guilty to six felonies, he said "What I did violated not only the law, but all my principles and values."

2. Fischel's response to a question ("You contend...Mr. Milken did nothing illegal?"): "That's right." Hey, just an honest difference of opinion, right?

3. Fischel received well over $20M as a result of his "professional" associations with Milken.

This is quite a guy!

Movie Idiocy: The Island

I watched The Island last night (warning: reading this blog might spoil the movie for you, so please do watch it first). It met my low expectations fairly well. Sci-fi flick with a big budget ($120M), cute stars, and derivative plot. And that (element of the plot) is the focus of my Movie Idiocy blog today.

[What is Movie Idiocy? I like to watch movies, but I also like to complain about stuff. So -- perfect combination -- I will complain about movies. In particular, I will from time to time point out elements of movies that I consider to be truly idiotic.]

Call me a whiner, but I am frequently dumbfounded by how a company can spend $100M and more on a movie budget but not seem to be able to find someone who can write a script that doesn't have gaping wide holes in it.

I don't mean that the movie might rely on an idea that is outlandish. Outlandish is fine, cool, perhaps even really interesting. I mean that a movie should start from certain (preferably few and simple) assumptions and then stick to them honestly. Put us in that world and play by the rules.

Sure, most movies have a hard time doing this -- primarily because their producers and directors don't really care. And by this I mean that they don't seem to have much respect for us, the watchers. Either they think we are stupid or they think that we don't care. We just want another does of eye candy to help us get through another two hours of existence.

Does that sound like you? Doesn't sound like me.

All right, well, here is an example from The Island: the heroine, Scarlet Johansen, is captured by the Bad Guys (private security firm, best in the world, really know their stuff, uh-huh) right near the end. They take her back to Silo 3 and prepare to harvest her organs (whoops, gave something away). She is lying on a surgical platform, covered by a sheet. The security goon gets all creepy on her and then steps away...and pans back, we see her full body, and she reaches under the sheet, down near her crotch...

And pulls out a gun! A gun she took from the home of her best friend clone's original! And she shoots the creep in the knee!

A gun? You mean Blackhawk Security (could they be slyly mocking Blackwater Security, which is sucking up our tax dollars like crazy in Iraq?), world renowned, top-flight former Seals, etc., didn't think to frisk her for weapons? And she could lie there on that platform, wearing what seems to be tight fitting clothes, covered by a sheet and no one notices the gun?

I can't even make a joke about being glad to see me. She's a woman!

So...that is totally idiotic. Now you might say: Steven, chill. The movie is pretty stupid all around. They spent $120 million to create a movie about cloning that is itself a clone of several other movies (the producers of one of which actually sued them for copyright infringement). Their product placement is so blatant and pervasive that it seems mostly like an advertisement for Microsoft (Xbox and MSN in particular).

Still, I go back to my original, core complaint: if your budget is going to be $100M or more, surely you could set aside enough money to find a decent author who could think through a plot so that it didn't contain holes that make us feel stupid for watching it. Hell, pay me just $500,000 and I will do it. Guaranteed. No logical gaps. No obvious stupidities.

Monday, January 23, 2006

So you want some PL/SQL content, eh?

Not surprisingly, many people visiting my blog wonder why I am not talking about PL/SQL.

Hey, it's a great language, and it's made my life a thing at which I marvel daily, but there's more to life than PL/SQL, and so far I am using this blog as an outlet primarily for non-PL/SQL thoughts -- though I expect as I settle into this thing more and more PL/SQL-related posts will appear.

Having said that, I do publish a monthly PL/SQL newsletter - OPP/News - and you can click here to sign up for the newsletter.

You can read previous editions of the newsletter by clicking here.

And here are some excerpts that you might find interesting...

December 2005

Tip of the Month: Insights into PL/SQL Integers

When it comes to declaring and manipulating integers, Oracle offers lots of options, including INTEGER, BINARY_INTEGER, PLS_INTEGER, POSITIVE, SIGN_TYPE...the question that immediately comes to my mind is: how much of a difference in performance does the choice of datatype make in my program? I put together a script to analyze precisely that: the integer_compare script set. It comes in two flavors: integer_compare.sql, which can used in Oracle Database 10g (relies on DBMS_UTILITY.GET_CPU_TIME to compute elapsed time) and integer_compare_pre_10g.sql, which can used in versions earlier than Oracle Database 10g (relies on DBMS_UTILITY.GET_TIME to compute elapsed time).

November 2005

Useful Code of the Month: Emulate primary key and unique indexes

The summer reading package shown above demonstrates a very powerful technique: emulation of primary key and unique indexes in collections, relying on string-based indexes for concatenated indexes and string values in the key or index definition. Unfortunately, you have to write a whole bunch of code to take advantage of this technique -- or do you?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The wonders and frustrations of the Honda Insight

I bought a Honda Insight back in 2000, probably one of the first to drive this remarkable little hybrid car in Chicago. The dealer tried to get me to pay $5000 over list. Ha!

Over the last 5+ years and 45000+ miles (I avoid driving whenever possible), I have averaged 49.8 MPG. As good as the EPA ratings? Of course not, but I never expected that. I am really really happy with this peppy, aerodynamic, gas-stingy vehicle.

Unfortunately, there is one big, bad thing about the car: it is absolutely horrible when driving in snow. The car is so darned light that it just rides on the merest layer of snowflakes. It also rides, very very low to the ground. Great for gas mileage, but....

Last night, Veva and I drove up to Milwaukee for the opening of Chris's latest show: Public Display of Affection. I knew that snow would be falling, but we figured we could make it in the Insight (Chris already had our all-wheel drive Subaru wagon up in Milwaukee). So we spent almost four hours driving the usual 1.5 hour trip through heavy snow on unplowed highways. My hands, legs, neck were tied in knots. It was very rough going, but I kept my snowflake of a car on the road.

On the way back, they finally plowed the highways and all was well, until we got to a tollbooth. There, suddenly, the plowing on the left lanes stopped and I went headlong into snow that must have been 10-14 inches high. So what, you might ask?

So I spun to the left, almost turned all the way around. Got myself straightened out, and we went on, but it sounded like we were dragging big chunks of ice with us. Ugh. Finally got off at next exit and found that the hard plastic layer of something or other that protects the undercarriage from the road had come peeled away from the car and was both scraping and dragging.

How pathetic. How irritating. Especially since I'd finally gotten around to canceling the collision coverage on my car. How totally predictable.

So I make a vow to myself: do not drive the Insight in any sort of heavy snow.

Friday, January 20, 2006

What will I allow on my blog?

So I have finally dipped my toe into the vast sea of blogging, and it also immediately has raised very interesting questions for me.

I previously stated that I would not allow anonymous comments on my blog. A previously-anonymous commentator then signed himself or herself up with the name "Hater of Liberals" and posted a response, which I approved.

And I now find myself thinking that I am not going to allow any more posts from a person with a blogtag like "Hater of Liberals."

Yet when I ponder taking such an action, I then challenge myself with thoughts like this:
  • Am I afraid to hear views that are very different from my own, and very challenging?
  • Isn't that a form of censorship, which I generally abhor?
  • Why not let the, ahem, ideas flow freely, so that we can all learn from each other?
After thunking on it some more, I realize that my discomfort with "Hater of Liberals" comes down to this:

The world is full of brutal, hate-filled, and/or greedy people. They make the world a much uglier, harsher place. I can't stop them from existing, but I can keep them off my blog. haters on my blog. I will not accept comments from people with hateful tags. I will not publish comments that contain vile, spiteful, malicious comments.

So Hater of Liberals can now change his/her tag and then perhaps his/her comments will make it onto my blog. Maybe not.

My boys

I have two sons, Chris and Eli.

Chris is an artist with incredible depth and talent. I encourage you to visit and experience his vision of the world and life. You will be richer in all ways but $$ as a result.

Eli is currently attending university and spending gobs of his time learning about and playing jazz guitar. I am beyond thrilled and amazed that I have a son who is an accomplished musician.

Check out a short music video of Eli's band, Ela, at the Middle Mind Project. Click on the "ela_cigarette song" link. That's Eli playing the guitar solos.

Ah, the joys of Daddyhood!

A change in how you can post to my blog

I have decided to change my blog settings so that you must be a registered user at Blogger in order to post a comment.

It doesn't take much time and it doesn't cost anything. You also can hide your identity just as much as you want or need ot.

I realized that I very much don't like having people post fairly acerbic comments without having to have some kind of identification as to who they are.

So, goodbye Anonymous, hello minimally-accountable Commentators!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

I can't watch TV programs that have laugh tracks -- I can barely tolerate programs with a live audience doing the laughing. I find myself wondering as the chuckles, guffaws and weird sounds wash over me: is there someone to the left of the stage holding up a "LAUGH LOUDLY" sign? I feel like laugh tracks are a mild form of coercion. They are telling us what they think we should find funny. Yuck.

I also have a hard time with sound tracks in movies that are otherwise working hard at being real. Are the characters hearing that dramatic music? Couldn't I please just experience the story as the characters are?


As we hear again and again, the gap between rich and poor is growing in this country (one of the many awful legacies of Ronald Reagan). Hand-wringing from some, glee from others.

A solution, or partial solution, to this problem is quite straightforward, I think: pass a law that stipulates the following:

The highest-paid employee of your company shouldn't earn more than 25 times what the lowest-paid employee is paid.

For more on this topic, visit a now mostly hidden part of my website: 25X&NOMORE

What kind of nut? I particularly like cashews and almonds

Ah, the world of blogging! I just found this comment about me on another blog:

"I'm a big fan of Steven Feuerstein, as everyone knows. However, it looks like this is a non-techie blog. Which is fine, I guess, but I'm a fan of his techie thoughts. Occasionally his socio-political thoughts crept into his work, and it usually made him look like a nut, but I digress…"

Now, I gotta say, I don't think my skin is too thin. I don't really mind if you think I'm a nut, or CALL me a nut, but I think you should at least actually back up a statement like "made him look like a nut" with an example or two. So feel free to pop offer to my blog and offer some specifics!

Perhaps this is a reference to my fourth book (now out of print), Oracle PL/SQL Programming: Guide to Oracle8i Features, in which I decided to skip the usual "emp-dept" examples and use more interesting sources for my material, such as union busting, earth killing, war criminals, etc.

It created quite a stir for a while there. Some people really hated it, others enjoyed it immensely. Tim O'Reilly, the owner of O'Reilly Media, took a personal interest (I suppose that when a reader sends an email saying "I will never buy another O'Reilly book", he should take a personal interest). I thought he would give me a hard time and giving him some heartache, instead he invited me to write an article about why I did this. You can find my article and associated threads at:

Here's a bit from the beginning:

I Don't Like Your Examples!

by Steven Feuerstein

I have been writing books about the Oracle PL/SQL programming language for the last five years. In 1999, O'Reilly published my fourth book, Oracle PL/SQL Programming Guide to Oracle8i Features, which created a bit of an uproar among my readership, caused considerable discussion within O'Reilly, and led to my writing this article.

Why did this book cause a sensation? Consider this excerpt from Chapter 2:


Let's look at a simple example. Suppose you are responsible for building a database to keep track of war criminals for the International Court of Justice. You create a package called wcpkg to keep track of alleged war criminals. One of the programs in the package registers a new criminal. You want that register program to always save its changes, even if the calling program hasn't yet issued a COMMIT. These characters are, after all, fairly slippery and you don't want them to get away.

The package specification holds no surprises; the transaction type is not evident here:

... PROCEDURE register (
culprit IN VARCHAR2, event IN VARCHAR2);
END wcpkg;

The package body, however, contains that new and wonderful pragma:

PROCEDURE register (
culprit IN VARCHAR2, event IN VARCHAR2)
INSERT INTO war_criminal (name, activity)
VALUES (culprit, event);
END wcpkg;

And now when I call wcpkg.register, I am assured that my changes have been duly recorded:

wcpkg.register ('Kissinger', 'Secret Bombing of Cambodia');


Now, I expect it's not every day you pick up a technology text and read a charge that Henry Kissinger is a war criminal for the secret bombing of Cambodia.

Is that nutty? I say that "nutty" is the world in which Kissinger is a respected elder statesman, raking in the big consulting bucks.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The sun, the moon and the stars

I am an agnostic. In fact, as our Subaru wagon's bumper sticker attests, I am a "militant agnostic". That is, I don't know and you don't either.

What do I mean by this and why would I stick my hand into such a bee's nest?

First, I am an agnostic: perhaps God/some omniscient all-powerful being exists out there somewhere (or everywhere), perhaps not. I just don't know. I have no personal experience that this is the case, no convincing proof, and no faith.

Second, I am a militant agnostic, because not only do I not know about the existence/non-existence of God, but I also am convinced that no one else knows either. You might believe, you might have faith, but that is different from knowledge.

And now...why would I get into this highly contentious issue? Because I actually took some time to read a little bit of the Torah/Old Testament the other day. This is not something that I usually do. In fact, it is likely something that I will do only when I am really bored and the only thing to read is the Torah.

Hey, that must mean I was in a synagogue recently!

Yes, that is indeed the case. I attended the Bar Mitzvah of my cousin, Matthew. Now, don't get me wrong: I was very proud of Matt and very happy to be there. And when he sang the mitzvot, the blessings, and read his Haftorah, I was paying full attention. In between those high points, however, there were some, let us say, less enthralling moments. And so I turned to the Torah, and where else to start but at the beginning?

So I start reading about creation and soon was stunned to come across the following passage:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (

This seemingly direct translation is commonly interpreted as follows: On the fourth day God created the sun, moon, and stars. (

Now, I understand that there are many, many (some might say "too many") people in this world (referred to as "fundamentalists") who believe that the Torah is the very word of God, to be followed strictly and literally, not interpreted, not put into "context" or relativized for the changing times. (

Well, for those people I have a question: do you actually believe, as this portion of the Book of Genesis baldly states, that the moon is a source of light -- and do you believe that God has this same understanding? Way back when, as in thousands of years ago, human beings thought that the moon was just like the sun: a source of light. One source illuminated the day (the sun) and the other illuminated the night (the moon). Now humans generally understand and accept, so far as I know, that the Moon simply reflects light from the sun; it does not provide any light of its own.

I can certainly understand that the humans of 2000, 5000 or 10000 years past would not have known this. But surely God, the all-knowing, all-powerful whatever-it-is that supposedly created the sun and the moon, knew that the moon wasn't spewing out any lumens of its own.

Am I missing something here, or does the Book of Genesis clearly and unambiguously reveal its human authorship?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Fortune cookie meanderings: The Potential Urge

My wife, Veva, has gotten into the habt of saving the most amusing fortune cookie fortunes and then attaching them to various photographs or artwork around the house, matching them up in ways that are sometimes apparent only to her.

As I am sure many of you are aware, these fortunes often seem to be written by people for whom English is likely not their primary language. The results are occasionally bizarre, entertaining or engagingly profound. One of our favorites:

You have a potential urge and the ability for accomplishment.

In fact, sometimes it seems as though the fortune was constructed by a computer program that semi-randomly throws words together or works through permutations of phrases.

For example:

You will never hesitate to tackle the most difficult problems.
You will never hesitate to tickle the most difficult problems.
You will never hesitate to tick the most difficult problems.
You will never hesitate to tack the most difficult problems.
You will never herniate to tackle the most difficult problems.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The pathetic democracy we call our own

So John Ashcroft is now a lobbyist (the "Ashcroft Group"). What a shocker.

And his firm brought in $269,000 last year. Small potatoes.

And $220,000 of that came from Oracle Corporation*. That's a lot of money from one company. It's almost as though John Ashcroft is Larry Ellison's own personal lobby lapdog.

And what did the singing former U.S. Attorney General (gads, it makes me shutter even to type that. What a farce of a nation we have become...) do for Larry? The Chicago Tribune told us on November 19, 2005 that "Less than a month after Oracle Corp. hired former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's lobbying firm, the Justice Department notified Oracle that an antitrust inquiry into its proposed $5.8 billion acquisition of a rival database software firm had been dropped."

Good deal.

I am embarrassed. Embarrassed to be associated with a company (however indirectly*) that will rely on the likes of Ashcroft to grease the skids. Embarrassed to be a citizen in the "greatest democracy in the world" when that great democracy has allowed its representatives to be entirely and thoroughly coopted (bought) by the same corporations and rich folk who benefit from the twisted laws these "representatives" pass. Embarrassed that I am not doing more and speaking out more about it.

Ah well. Time to go back to writing some more software.

* Disclosure: I am a little parasite on the great big body of Oracle Corporation. I used to be an employee (1987 to 1992) and now specialize in the Oracle PL/SQL language. I also own Oracle stock.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Statistically worth watching?

I know this is a bit dated, but I kept it in my "blogbites" file and offer it to you as an energizing start to your New Year":

From the Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, September 14 2005:

Headline: FDA panel rejects Abbot cancer pill

"Many drug industry observers were watching Abbott's submission because it used data that, statistically, failed to show the drug was effective in two clinical trials."

Yes, it does seem like this would be worth watching. After all, if the FDA will approve drug submissions even when the clinical trials don't prove their effectiveness, the possibilities for new "treatments" of "disorders" become limitless. I would have thought it was a no-brainer: no effectiveness, no approval. That there was even a question of which way the FDA might go says a whole lot about the cozy relations between Big Pharma and the FDA.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A new year....

It's Sunday morning, I was as usual up at about 7 AM. Back to work on sorting out the logic behind generating unit test code packages based on the test definitions in my new product, Qute (for more information, check out - warning: the product is not yet available, but I should have a beta ready in the next month).

It is sunny and, well, sure: WARM! here in Chicago. It is in the 30s and that is nothing to complain about. We had a cold December, but it looks like global warming is reasserting itself. Over the past 23 years of my life in Chicago, I have seen the winters get more and more mild (less snow, less extremely cold temperatures).

My wife figures Chicago is going to be hot real estate in the future: abundant access to fresh water (though not necessarily very clean water), away from the coasts that seem to be increasingly battered by massive storms. Tornados hit around us but never in the city itself.

Ok - I did it! I posted a note to kick off the new year, in my new blog that has a profile and everything. So more to come...hope your new year will be wonderful and rewarding!