Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A trip to Australia, Singapore, Seoul

I wrote this a few days ago...] Once again, at 35000 feet, on my way from Tokyo to LA - returning from two weeks in "APAC" - Asia Pacific theater. I spent a week in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne and Perth) then three days in Singapore and finally a very fast day in Seoul. All because there were enough Oracle developers in each of these locations who actually wanted to listen to what I have to say. What a lucky fellow I am!

Here's a recap of the highlights of my trip....but first, you can see all my photos at:


Looooong flight from San Fran to Sydney, but I got lucky and they put me into a premium economy seat (Qantas), so I slept for 5 hours and worked for 8. Arrived Monday morning and headed over the Quest office. My big public event was on Tuesday, but Monday evening I presented a PL/SQL Quiz to the Sydney Oracle Meetup group organized by Alex Gorbachev. That was fine. I got to drink some beers first, so that my explanations were properly slurred. And, as is so often the case, I made my quiz questions too hard. Out of the 25 people there, the best anyone could do (3 people) was 5 out of 10 right. So then we did a tie-breaker. I figured the tie-breaker was for the really sharp folks. So my first tie-breaker question was:

Explain which feature of PL/SQL is related to this number: -24381

They just laughed at me. Are you laughing, too? Sure, it's obscure...but I bet some of you know the answer. Oh well....anyway, someone finally won - a copy of my soon to be released Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition (up through Oracle 11.2).

Well, my seminars in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth went very well. Sponsored and organized by the AUSOUG, we had lots of enthusiastic attendees and many excellent questions. I renewed my acquaintance with several Oracle ACEs (and ACE directors) including Tony Jambu and Chris Muir. I like Australia. Not only are the folks generally friendly, but there is lots of interest in PL/SQL and many advanced developers. My kind of country.

I didn't have much time to wander around Sydney or Melbourne, so my photos are very "hit or miss"....

I visited Perth for the first time (western edge of that enormous island continent) and presented to some 100 Oracle technologists on Friday. They were very pleased to have me there - apparently very few people ever bother to go to Perth. But when they do - the weather stinks. "Oh, Perth is great - warm and sunny," they told me. I arrive and find it overcast and windy. On Saturday, my free day....40 km/h winds! Apparently Tom Kyte had the same bad luck. I presented from 9 to 4, more or less, and very few people fell asleep. We played Set and Mastermind, and did some PL/SQL, too. It was a great day.

And the poor weather was not going to hold me back. I walked all over, discovered the impossible triangle, enjoyed the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and spent some time in Kings Park. In East Perth, I came across a remarkable sculpture of an "impossible triangle" devised by Sir Roger Penrose in the 1950s. As you move around it, the different unconnected edges gradually merge into what appears to be a triangle with "one side". Penrose's work served as inspiration for a number of M.C. Escher pieces.

You can check out my impossible triangle photos at:

Many thanks in particular to Chris Muir and Conner McDonald (they sacrificed a night of their lives to have dinner with me - and Chris even let me hold and snuggle with his three month old baby), as well as the rest of the AUSOUG officers and volunteers who made my events a success! Thanks as well to Ling, Silvana, Ceci, Alf and others at Quest Australia who helped make the week such a fine and productive time.

Then on I went to Singapore. I must admit: I really like Singapore. I like the weather (hot and humid), so much like Puerto Rico. I like the people: all sorts of people from all over, very informal, very easy going, great sense of humor. I even like the way the society it works - it's not a democracy; there is no free speech (though there is, I discovered a Speakers Corner, kind of like in London, where people can openly complain, once they get permission from the nearby police station). Instead, the government offers a trade: we will give you a decent quality of life, subsidizing housing, health care, public transport, etc. - and in exchange, YOU WILL BEHAVE. Criminals are treated most severely and lots of things are crimes. I am not saying I want the US to be like this, but it is lots easier to criticize such a setup from afar. From inside, it seems pretty nice. As long as the economy goes OK, and they have been hit hard, being very dependent historically on the US and UK financial industries. Hopefully the recovery is under way.

But there sure are lots of enthused PL/SQL developers. The Quest folks told me that even before they sent out the first email invite, they had people calling to reserve their seats. They had a waiting list of over 20 people, who kept calling: "Can I attend? Can I please attend?" I did a full day of presentations (same as in Perth) and then that evening I was to fly off to Seoul (red eye). After the event was over, Jason and Mark were asking me: "Have you ever had a foot massage?" Well, sort of but not really. So off we went - I got a foot massage, then a great dinner of chili crab (a Singaporean classic - very tasty and very very messy), then back for another full body massage that was just fantastic - then off to the airport....8 hours later, I arrived in my hotel room in Seoul (9 AM). Got a few hours sleep, anyway.

Before continuing with my "saga".....many many thanks to Clara, a truly professional and highly competent events organizer. Once again, she did a fantastic job pulling the third Oracle Experts Day together. Thanks also to Jason, Mark, Stanley, Beth and everyone else in the Quest office for making my stay so enjoyable (Beth even let me drive her car! Crazy lady!). And finally, most of all thanks to Gayathri for being so generous with her time and not only driving me to the Night Safari but even spending the evening walking around there with me.

See you again in 2010!

My last day was in Seoul - just one day, which was most unfortunate. But we put it to good use. They (Chaeyoung, Jihee, Jackson, Yuji and everyone else) pulled together an event of 100 people - which is very remarkable, considering that very few people are comfortable with English there, so we needed a translator (who apparently left much to be desired), and of course that reduces the number of people who will attend. It certainly reduced the numbers of words I could speak and and number of demonstrations I could do. But we had pocket references for everyone and I even remembered to bring my business cards, so I signed lots of books and mostly got the names right, and correctly offered my business card to many. Everyone seemed pleased with the results.

They told me in advance: plan to wear a suit and bring your business cards. I did both - and then ironically Raymond, the Quest country manager, showed up for lunch and the evening presentation dressed in a polo shirt, jeans and sneakers. "This is an event for developers!" he said. "They don't get dressed up." So I was dressed like a sales manager, and he was dressed like a developer. I was very jealous.

He also make a point in his introduction to tell people how old I am (just about to turn 51). People generally say that I look younger than my age, but I found that in Singapore and Korea, they were really blown away by my age. In Singapore, over and over people said "I can't believe you are 50." But usually they don't bother to mention it in the introduction. Jihee, Quest marketing manager, explained that in Korea alot of respect is paid to the elders. So I think that Raymond felt that it was important to tell people (mostly young developers) that I was actually OLD - and they should therefore listen to what I had to say. OK!

And the folks at Quest took very good care of me, taking me out to lunch (Mongolian - excellent food) and then dinner at a famous, traditional Korean restaurant. I was told (by friends in the US) to expect to drink lots of soju (Korean whiskey), get very drunk, and sing karaoke. Instead we had a seemingly endless delivery of very tasty and interesting dishes, along with some rice wine, and no one insisted that we go out and sing. Maybe that's because they knew I was running on 3 hours of sleep, and had to leave the next morning at 8:20.

So that's it. Two weeks away from home, and I added another country to my list of those I have visited (South Korea). I spoke directly to something like 400 developers and hopefully will have a ripple effect on many more. I greatly enjoyed visiting Perth and Seoul for the first time, and enjoying once again Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore.

I remain amazed, deeply gratified and feeling just downright lucky that so many people are interested in hearing what I have to say and reading what I write (both book-wise and code-wise). My deepest thanks to all those who organized the events and all those who feel they have something to learn from me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another idea for more equitable pay distribution

A long time ago, on my old and very colorful website (thanks to the artwork/design of Chris Silva, my son), I offered my thoughts about excessive executive compensation and an idea for avoiding the enormous gaps between rich and poor in our supposedly democratic country: 25X&NOMORE. Here's the basic idea:

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

Why would I suggest something like this? Because we have a serious problem in this country:

"The pay disparity between CEOs and U.S. workers is increasing to alarming levels. In 1965, CEOs made 44 times the average factory worker's salary. Today, CEOs make 326 times the average factory worker's pay."

Oddly enough, corporate America has not heeded my call. Nor has Congress. Ah well...sometimes all you can really do is be a prophetic and wise voice in the wilderness. This makes you (and pretty much no one else) feel a little bit better.

I recently came across another effort to achieve similar goals: Open Year ("It's good to share."). It's quite different from my idea, depending on social networking and influence models. I think you will find it interesting and I encourage you to check it out.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Travel tip: Big fat neck pillow great for feet!

I am flying from San Francisco to Sydney. Fourteen hours. Not fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class. And when flying coach and trying to sleep, I find that one of my biggest problems is finding a comfortable position for my feet. If I plant them flat on the ground, my legs are not relaxed and it is hard to sleep. If I stretch them out (as far as the seat in front of me will allow, anyway), then my feet dangle forward or to the side and they end up stressing my ankles. Keeping me awake and needing to shift position.

Who knows? Maybe somebody out there somewhere sells something specifically for this problem. I have not found it. I have found, however, an alternative that works really well.

Lots of companies sell inflatable neck rings that are supposed to help support your head and make it easier to sleep. One particular such ring is big and fat: the Komfort Kollar.

I don't find it all that useful to wear around my neck. I recently realized, though, that if I put it on the floor in front of me, I can comfortably nestle my feet in and on the ring. I can then sleep more easily. Simple, cheap solution to a vexing (at least to me) problem.

OK, three more hours to Sydney! I slept for about 5 hours and now I am wide awake and ready to type type type. So far on this trip I have:

* written my latest ODTUG magazine column, Confessions of a Quick and Dirty Programmer
* put together a quiz and answers for my Sydney Oracle Markup presentation and pizza for later this evening
* continued enhancing the Code Tester backend to support automated testing of object types
* eaten too many sweet snacks
* written a bunch of Q&As for a database of quiz questions I am constructing (about which you will hear lots more very soon)

Back to work!

[ And now I am in my hotel in sunny, bright, too-cool Sydney, after some 25 hours of flying...time to exercise, eat breakfast, and head to the Quest office! ]