Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Isn't She Beautiful?

What can I say? I just have to share this wonderful photo of a smiling Loey Lucille....

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The PL/SQL Whisperer

That is my new nickname, after my latest round of trainings in Europe.

I spent two days in Berlin, training 25 developers at an event sponsored by DOAG. Then I headed over to the Netherlands to spend a couple of days with 37 developers at an AMIS-sponsored training.

But on Tuesday, after I completed the first day of training without the assistance of a microphone, my voice said "Bye, bye!". I woke up Wednesday morning to discover I had lost the ability to speak above a whisper. DOAG hustled, did what was necessary, and brought in a portable microphone/speaker system. AMIS made certain to have the same ready to go on Thursday.

And so for three straight days, I whispered about new features of PL/SQL in 11g and much more besides. The attendees were very good natured about this less than optimal situation. One person said it made the whole class more exciting - it was as though I was giving away secrets, that no one should hear- except for the very special people in attendance.

Several students in the Dutch class even found themselves whispering to me when they asked a question - whispering, it turns out, is socially contagious! And I was quickly anointed the "PL/SQL Whisperer." Well, I can think of worse names, but I sure hope that soon I will recover my voice.

This was only my fourth business trip all year, which is a truly wonderful change from previous years (a less than fantastic result is that I will lose my Platinum status on American Airlines next week, so it will be tough to even get exit row seats when I do fly).

It was, unfortunately, a bit of a hard week on the road. Besides losing my voice, my flight on Wednesday from Berlin to Amsterdam was cancelled. I had to reroute through Zurich, but the flight to Zurich left late, so while I was able to just make the connection to Amsterdam, my bag did not follow along with me. By the end of the first day of training at AMIS offices, I had quite the five o'clock shadow. But the bag was delivered on Thursday, so it wasn't really such a big deal.

And then on Friday, I celebrated the end of a long week with a night in Amsterdam. Had a nice dinner with good friend, newly-minted Oracle ACE, AMIS consultant and father of three wonderful children, Patrick Barel. Then I went back to my hotel room to catch up on email and call my wife via Skype.

But the wireless network was not available. So the manager dutifully visited my room with an ethernet cable and (as far as I could tell) had to jam the cable a bit forcefully both into the wall and into my laptop. That made me uncomfortable. And still no Internet access.

So then he agreed to let me use the Internet in a different room - which led to a very irritating discovery: the ethernet plug would not come out of the back of the laptop. The spring that holds the cable in place had snapped. Manager Jon poked at it for a while, making me more uncomfortable, but it would not come out. Oh, I was very bummed and finally gave up, had him cut the cable so I could take the darn thing home, and figured I would have to have a technician get it out.


But then the day manager visited in the morning before I left for the airport. He had better tools and was able to quickly remove the plug. Whew, what a relief.

Both classes went well (of course, the students might feel differently, I suppose) - the PL/SQL community in Germany and the Netherlands is wide and deep: lots of very experienced developers attended. So I learned a few things along the way, which will soon make themselves known in PL/SQL Challenge quizzes.

I also made an interesting discovery about how students concentrate on and extra information from the hundreds of slides and hours of talking I give them to them in a two day class. I covered FORALL in the class, also its SAVE EXCEPTIONS clause. I showed slides, ran code and talked about how if at least one statement raises an error, Oracle will save the exception information and then raise the ORA-24381 error. I talked about how you should avoid writing an exception handler like:
and instead you should declare your own exception and assign it to this error, so
you can write an exception handler like:
WHEN my_errors.forall_failure 
Then right at the end of the course, I talked about avoiding the hard-coding of error numbers and showed -24381 again as an example.

In the AMIS class, we ended with a short quiz. Two players tied for highest score (they selected 19 of 21 choices correctly across 5 questions - quite good!). So it was necessary for these two hotshots to engage in a sudden-death tiebreaker. The way I do this is I show a slide with a question and the first person to answer correctly wins.

The first slide asked: "Which feature of PL/SQL does this number relate to?" And then I showed "-24381". I thought there would be an instant response, given how often I showed and mention this number in the class.

And I was shocked to discover that neither of the students recognized the error code. I stared at them, surprised. Really? When I talked about it, referenced it multiple times, in the last two days?

Well, OK. We went on through several questions without success and then Christian Rokitta identified correctly that the optimizing compiler was first introduced in Oracle Database 10g. So congratulations to Christian for his first place showing, and to Danny Ven for the other score of 19 and his second place.

I am not exactly sure what to conclude from the inability to recognize the -24381 code. Perhaps students in my courses are confronted with so much information that they automatically filter out low level details. That way, they will be able to concentrate on the bigger picture.Certainly, people usually do not complain about how little I cover in my classes or how slowly I go through the material. And right at the beginning, I tell them to focus on principles and concepts, don't worry about all the technical details.

So I guess they took my advice!

In any case, now it is 4 AM on Sunday and I am (a) back in Chicago (hurray!) and (b) awake due to jet lag and (c) still without a voice and (d) most sadly, without a PL/SQL Challenge website. For some reason, it is unavailable but hopefully that will be fixed really soon.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Gingrich the Man - When the bar is set very low

Here's what Newt Gingrich says about himself:

"I don't claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anyone else."

Wow, now that's truly inspiring, Newt. Not.

Mostly it just tells you how terrible the field of Republican candidates for President are, for 2012 - with Gingrich himself admitting it.

Isn't it strange that in a nation with the power and prestige of the United States, in a nation with just two parties competing for power, that the Republicans are left to choose between the likes of Bachman, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, Cain, Romney and Huntsman? 

Of course, Huntsman seems lots more human, rational and sane than the others (except for the Mormon part, to which "rational" surely does not apply - as it does not apply to Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, etc. - by definition). But he doesn't stand a chance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gingrich the Historian: Bring Back Child Labor!

"It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid," said the former House speaker Friday at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

Newt Gingrich considers himself to be a "historian," which dictionary.com says means "an expert in history; authority on history." And history is, in turn, "the branch of knowledge dealing with past events."

Perhaps Gingrich really is an expert on past events, in that he knows that they happened, and even perhaps what happened. For example, he is likely aware of the horrific abuse of children in the past, before there were "truly stupid" laws governing how and when children could work. He is probably not so aware of widespread problems today of child slavery and abuse - 'cause it's not in the past and he is a historian.

But he also seems to be a blithering idiot. How else to explain his belief that you could pay some really poor children in a school to clean up after the other, better-off children, and that this would be a good thing (instill a work ethic, and so forth)? Was he ever a child? Perhaps his grasp of personal history is terribly weak. Children can be incredibly cruel beings.

How long would it take before some evil bullies started taking dumps right on the floors in the bathroom stalls? Or deliberately eating and then puking up lots of disgusting stuff? The children who took these jobs would become laughingstocks of the entire school, objects of scorn and abuse.

But, OK, suppose that wasn't the case. Suppose that all the children in the school are really nice to each other, and would never think of doing such awful things to one another?

Presumably the school has more than a handful of really poor children, anxious to put the janitor father of some other children out of work (thereby sending the whole family into poverty) so that they can work their way out of laziness and someday become a grown-up janitor (but not at a school).

Which of these deserving and desperate children get the jobs? How do you choose? Or perhaps you rotate the honor, so that the income (surely well below minimum wage, that job killer, right, Newt?) and lessons are spread across many young minds and bodies? But then the lesson will be diluted. They might only be able to pull themselves up by a quarter of a bootstrap, which might not be enough in the 21st century.

And so on.

We all had a great laugh at Herman Cain's expense when he couldn't come up with an answer to how he felt about Obama's actions in Libya. And that was pretty funny (and awful, too, when you consider that this man claims to want us to take him seriously as a possible finger on the button of nuclear destruction). 

But why isn't Gingrich being similarly mocked and taken to task? He is supposed to be some sort of deep intellectual, fully informed about past events, ready to take on the future. And this is the best he can do? Offer up some half-assed, incredibly destructive, completely un-thought-out call to return to a past in which children were routinely abused and taken advantage of in order to increase profit margins?

Shame on you, Newt Gingrich. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My First Song for Loey

Loey is a busy, active little baby. Eating very well, but in between feedings she is a wiggly little package. A few nights ago, I was holding her but she couldn't find a comfortable position. So I got up and walked around with her, bouncing her gently, and she quieted  down right away.

I Like to Move Around, Grandpa
by Steven Feuerstein, copyright 2011

I don't like to sit around in one place.
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Hoist me on your shoulder,
Bounce me on your legs.
I don't like to sit around, Grandpa.

Rock me in your arms,
Rub my belly on your head.
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Move around, move around, 
Move around, move around, 
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Swing me slowly side to side,
Rest me on your shoulder.
I don't like to sit around, Grandpa.
Hang me facing down,
Across your long arms.
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Move around, move around, 
Move around, move around, 
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Later, much later, I can move on my own.
I like to move around, Grandpa.
But now I'm too little and I can't walk.
So you've got to move me 'round, Grandpa.

Move around, move around, 
Move around, move around, 
I like to move around, Grandpa.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"God Told Me to Do It"

Such a statement made by, say, a murderer would be a strong indication of mental illness.

So what does it say about a Republican candidate for President of the United States?

Like Herman Cain, who said in a speech today to a national meeting of young Republicans:

"That's when I prayed and prayed and prayed. I'm a man of faith — I had to do a lot of praying for this one, more praying than I've ever done before in my life. And when I finally realized that it was God saying that this is what I needed to do, I was like Moses. 'You've got the wrong man, Lord. Are you sure?'"

We are left to assume, I suppose, that God, that all-powerful, omniscient being responded in an appropriately deep, manly tone: "YES, HERMAN CAIN, I AM SURE."

As opposed to another completely reasonable reaction, which would be to blast Herman Cain with a bolt of lightning, frying him to a black crisp for doubting the word of the Lord

Or maybe he just prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed....

for sooooooooooooooooooooo long that he started hallucinating from dehydration and/or hunger.

Any way you look at it (bad judgement, delusions or arrogance), this man should be kept far away from the White House.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oh, Frabjous Joy, I Am a Grandfather!

Our very first ever in the whole wide world grandchild - our granddaughter, Loey Lucille - was born at 9:54 this morning, 30 October 2011. Ah, what a glorious feeling! Everyone is doing well, excellently, and Loey Lucille is clearly thriving from the get-go. Her father, my son, Chris, has posted the first three photos of what is sure to be a deluge of multimedia recording of Loey's life at his Facebook page.

But I have to post a photo here as well, so we can all celebrate this beautiful new life right here, right now, no hyperlinking required! And now (a week later), I am happy to announce that you can visit:

Loey Lucille on Flickr

for lots and lots of photos.

Here she is, in all her chubby, puffed-up glory:

Welcome, little Loey!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wanted: Your Ideas for Enhancements to PL/SQL

On November 9, I will be doing the keynote presentation at the 100th member meeting of the Northern California OUG. The day before that I will visit with the PL/SQL development team at Oracle HQ.

It's always great to catch up not just with Bryn Llewellyn, the PL/SQL Product Manager, but also some of the developers themselves (those very special human beings who actually build the programming language at the center of so many of our lives). They'll interrogate me to get a sense of what developers are doing (and not doing) with PL/SQL out there in the "real world." And I'll find out whatever I can about new features in the upcoming release of the language (in this case, 12.1).

I usually take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to also tell them about what I'd love to see added to (or fixed in) PL/SQL. Of course, my ideas are limited to my own experience. So I thought I would ask all of you for your ideas.

What changes in PL/SQL would make the biggest difference for you and your applications?  

Feel free to reply to this post with your thoughts. You can also visit ILovePLSQLAnd.net to vote on a set of enhancement ideas, and even submit your own for consideration.

I'll pull together all the ideas I receive and present them to the PL/SQL team. But I must warn you: I don't expect to come out of this meeting with a list of confirmed enhancements planned for future PL/SQLs. That simply isn't the way Oracle plays the game. Instead, you'll just have to hold your breath until some future version of Oracle Database delivers the enhancement you requested.

Thanks in advance for your input!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hurray! Romney getting more Wall Street money than Obama

In the 2008 election campaign, Obama was the #1 recipient of contributions from Wall Street firms and individuals. Employees of Goldman Sachs, alone, contributed $1 million. I don't know about you, but when I heard of this, I was very worried. Is he really going to stand up to the very companies who paved his way to victory? Did he make a "back room" deal to let these robber barons and their underlings avoid prosecution and come out financially whole?

Well, the verdict is in: whether or not he made any sort of deal, Obama did make an enormous mistake in continuing Bush's policy of handing over hundreds of billions of hard-earned tax dollars to a small number of companies and individuals to bail them out from their mistakes. He did not make sure (remember this was when Congress was controlled by Democrats) that these plutocrats accepted reforms to the way they do business to avoid it happening again.

No, it was "Here's all the money you could ever dream of, with no strings attached."\

Amazingly, after everything Obama has done for Wall Street, now that he is making noises about the rich paying their fair share, Wall Street is turning on the President, and showering Mitt Romney with their largess.

Well, I say: GOOD RIDDANCE! We need a Democratic candidate for President who is not beholden to Wall Street and the rich; who is willing to say clearly: "Class warfare? They are the ones waging class warfare against the middle class and poor of the United States."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Smartphones and Hotel Rooms

My friend told me at Oracle Open World in San Francisco how much he likes his new smartphone; he uses it for so many things, the interface is really nice....he is so pleased with it.

And I found myself thinking in response: I like not having a relationship with my phone.

I have a relationship with my laptop, and it's not particularly healthy.

So I am quite content to have my phone be a smallish, squarish lump in my pocket until someone calls or I need to call someone.

Yes, that means that I can't look up instructions to the restaurant at which I am meeting my sister-in-law and her family. That I can't play Angry Birds or a gazillion other game apps, many of them free or costing almost nothing.

I've decided that's OK. I don't really need to have the world at my fingertips. It's much more important to me to be in the world that is just beyond my fingertips and under my feet.

Think about this: when was the last time you experienced the earth - the very world in which your mind and body evolved to finally - in an unmediated fashion? When you were last truly in the world, not walking along a path in a nature preserve, not sitting on a chair in the lawn in your backyard, certainly not sitting in a cubicle working at your computer, but in a part of the earth that was untouched by human development, that simply was?


And while in San Fran (my first business trip this year without any family along, and only my second of the year!), I realized that my favorite part of a hotel room is the latch on the door - which ensures that no one can just stroll into my room. I have privacy and that makes it feel just a little bit like home.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today would have been the 82nd birthday of my father, Sheldon Feuerstein. I miss him lots. He was a man of many talents, sharp intellect, intense devotion to family (above all else), and a deep, gravelly voice that still echoes through my brain.

And he got better as he got older! His temper mellowed, he became more open-minded, willing to challenge long-held beliefs. He got less grumpy, and overall more positive and supportive.

Dad was never terribly satisfied with what he'd accomplished with his life, and constantly wrestled with regrets. That irritated me to no end, since he was so well respected by everyone who crossed his path. He applied his intellect and workaholic tendencies (which I seem to have inherited) to ensuring his family, and most importantly his wife, was and is financially secure.

Sure, he could have done some things differently. But so much of what he did and accomplished required no correction, no regrets at all. I suppose he just set the bar higher for himself, and that does seem like a better thing to do than setting it too low.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

PL/SQL Trainings in Germany and Netherlands in December

I swore over traveling just about a year and overall it's worked out very well. I am in San Francisco for Oracle Open World now, and it is only my second business trip of the year!

But as has usually been the case in past years, the end of the year gets a bit busy, and so I will be traveling twice more before the end of the year:

November 9 - Keynote speech at the 100th Northern California OUG Meeting

And then off to Europe in early December for two trainings:

Best of Oracle PL/SQL Two-Day Training
Sponsored by DOAG (German Oracle User Group)
Berlin on 6-7 December

Best of Oracle PL/SQL, Best Practices and New Features
Sponsored by AMIS
Nieuwegein, Netherlands on 8-9 December

If you live in Germany or the Netherlands or any place close by....please consider attending one of these courses. My trips to Europe will now be few and far in between, so take advantage of my "rare" appearance! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The ongoing saga of ridiculously insecure evoting machines

Argonne researchers 'hack' Diebold e-voting system


By Jaikumar Vijayan
September 28, 2011

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory this week showed how an electronic voting machine model that's expected to be widely used to tally votes in the 2012 elections can be easily hacked using inexpensive,
widely-available electronic components.

Roger Johnston, head of the Vulnerability Assessment Team at the U.S.  Department of Energy's science and engineering reseaech lab, said the hack, which requires about $25 and very little technical expertise, would let
cybercriminals "flip" votes gathered on Diebold Accuvote TS machines and change election results without raising any suspicion.

Johnston and his team have long warned about vulnerabilities in e-voting machines. And two years ago, the team demonstrated how a Sequoia touch screen e-voting machine could be similarly manipulated using ...

It's a bit incredible to me that after all the demonstrations of how easy it has been to hack these machines, the vendors would make a little bit more of an effort to at least avoid outright embarrassment.

Kudos to Argonne researchers for bringing this to our attention!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vroom Vroom

My friend, Dylan (3 yrs old), and his dad joined my family on Saturday for a birthday dinner (for me, I am now 53 years old). Also at the dinner was my good friend and all-around computer know-it-all, Joel (manages my websites, builds php/mySQL apps for me lickety-split and so on. For more info, visit his website). Joel drove up on his motorcyle and walked in with his big helmet and sturdy gloves.

Dylan was immediately entranced by this gear and in just a moment or two had put on the helmet and gloves. Then he asked (of course!) if he could ride on the motorcycle. A few moments later, Joel had hoisted Dylan up on the seat.

And then muffled "vroom, vroom!" noises leaked out from within that big helmet....Dylan was zooming along the highway of his mind!