Friday, March 27, 2009

A chat with some of my favorite people: the makers of PL/SQL

On Tuesday this past week (March 24), I had the honor of spending some time at Oracle headquarters with two guys from the PL/SQL Team -- Charles Wetherell, the brains behind the optimizing compiler, and my long-time sparring partner Bryn Llewellyn, the public face of the team. I make the pilgrimage to HQ every year or so to share PL/SQL stories, meeting different team members each time.

I talk about what I am doing with PL/SQL and what I see out there in the big world of PL/SQL developers. They talk about what they are doing with the language, and where they see it going. They usually even pretend to give consideration to my viewpoints! Aw, just joking. They are most respectful.

Now that Oracle Database 11g Release 2 is well into its Beta Program, most of the developers at Oracle HQ are hard at work on the end-game activities -- while some are already starting to plan the content of the next major release. It was great to have the chance to talk, strictly off the record, with Charles and Bryn about their ideas for the next big steps in PL/SQL, and to put forward some of mine.

And while I cannot go into any details, I can tell you that it is very clear that Oracle remains committed to supporting and enhancing the PL/SQL language in very substantial and, in at least one case, for me, quite surprising, ways.

I can also report that the team generally pays attention to input from their users (PL/SQL developers). Not only that, but the ideas proposed and voted on at are treated with the utmost consideration. So please, please, please....if you have not yet visited this website, please do immediately and vote on the PL/SQL enhancements you feel would benefit you the most. When Oracle Database 11g Release 2 becomes generally available, I will update the list on to show what has been implemented.

And, as always after a meeting with my friends on the PL/SQL team, I am reminded of two things:

1. How glad I am that we have people of their caliber (real computer scientists) planning out and implementing changes to PL/SQL - and not people of my caliber (that is, largely self-trained and quite amateurish by comparison).

2. That for many years to come, PL/SQL will continue to be a truly fine language in which to write software and implement business requirements.

So, happy coding, my fellow PL/SQL developers! Rest assured; our future selves will be more productive and ever more pleased with the language with which we spend so much of our time.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Random reactions to Consumer Reports' Auto Issue

The mouths of real men don't water when they hear that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is going to hit the newstands. That's adolescent stuff.

No, real men get all excited when they hear that Consumer Reports is about to publish its latest Auto Issue.

Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports, and many other invaluable resources) is an amazing organization. They exist for one reason only: to provide unbiased information to consumers to help them buy the highest quality, safest, most reliable product that best fits our needs. CU accepts no money from corporations, and certainly nothing from the companies that create the products CU evaluates. CU has no axe to grind, no reason to do anything but totally objectively test and analyze stuff, to help consumers get the best deal (not necessarily the lowest price).

Companies are even barred from using CU results in their own advertisements (usages like "Look, CU says our car is the best!" are quickly challenged in court - and won).

The Auto Issue offers detailed evaluations of hundreds of cars, both new and used. It is a must-read for anyone planning to buy a vehicle (not that there's much of that going on these days). I definitely do not plan to buy a new car. I hope to never again have to buy another car again, in my lifetime. At least not one that uses gasoline. But it is still fun to read.

Here are some things that caught my eye:
  • First the cover: at first glance, it looks like many other magazine covers. Lots of bright colors, very nicely laid out, etc. But there is something really different about it: right on the cover, next to the titles of articles and sections in the magazine, are the page numbers on which those articles appear! Page numbers? Radical! Usually, magazines hide page numbers so you have to leaf through the magazine to find the article of interest, coming across ads in the process. Since Consumer Reports has no ads, there is no reason to do that.
  • On page 15, CR offers "Automaker report cards", overall scores of brands (Honda, GM, Hyundai, etc.), rather than particular models. Honda is #1 with a score of 78. 95% of the vehicles tested are recommended by CR. Incredible. Second is Subaru, with a slightly lower score but 100% recommendations (disclosure: we are a Subaru family; my wife loves the all-wheel drive). Toyota is third. Out of the 45 brands shown on the page, four of the last (lowest scores) five brands are Ford, GM and Chrysler, in that order. And, horribly, CR could not recommend even a single Chrysler model. That is just downright embarrassing.
  • Oddly, the cover shows a Honda Fit as the "top value" for 2009, but in its "Top Picks" section, the Fit does not appear. CR must have some very interesting algorithms for making its choices.
So the bottom line is that if you are thinking of purchasing a car, you would be downright nuts to not consult the Auto Issue first.

Best thing to do is subscribe online: just $26 a year gives you full online, searchable access to all of CR's information. You will recoup that small investment many times over, both in terms of money and value for you and your family.

One final comment: I believe that CU has the potential to radically transform the distribution of power in our capitalist society. Today, corporations push products at us, convincing us to buy their stuff mostly through manipulation (ads), coercion (high pressure sales) and ignorance (most Americans are poorly educated, non-critical thinkers). With CU, you can ignore the ads and focus solely on the data; at a minimum, you can use CU to avoid purchasing unsafe, nasty, poorly-designed products.

I strongly urge you to join CU today, and help make it more effective, able to test more products and take more action to protect consumers. It will be the best investment you make in 2009. I guarantee it.