Saturday, April 30, 2011

A new book about APEX - with a big heart

John Scott, of Apex Evangelists, a friend, highly respected Oracle technologist, and APEX expert, has just published his (well, he led the collaborative effort involving some 12 contributors) latest book on APEX, Expert Oracle Application Express.

His first book was of great assistance to Eli, my son, who has rapidly become a very competent APEX programmer, and I am sure this new book will be of even greater help.

If you work with APEX, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book, not only because technically it should be quite excellent (disclosure: I have not yet read it myself), but also because all the authors have agreed to donate 100% of their royalties to two memorial funds set up to support the families of two APEX technologists who died: Carl Backstrom in 2008 and Scott Spadafore in 2010.

As John says in his blog, "If you are only going to buy one APEX book this year, please buy this one!"

You'll benefit and so with the families of Carl and Scott.

Monday, April 11, 2011

PL/SQL Channel ready for your viewing!

Now that I've decided to stop my constant traveling, I need to find another way to transfer my expertise to the hundreds of thousands of PL/SQL developers around the world. My latest initiative in this area is:

Yes, the PL/SQL Channel, featuring over 27 hours of detailed and tightly focused videos, showing you how to use many of the most important features of the PL/SQL language. You can watch these videos as often as you like, any time you like - and it costs just $395 per year, per developer (with discounts for multiple subscriptions). Compare that price to the $1000+ you will pay for one day (about 6 hours) of top-quality Oracle training - that you experience once and then struggle to internalize and apply to your development efforts. So visit PL/SQL Channel to sign up for a free trial and check out the videos.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Boost your (and your children's) immune system now!

I'm sure you've all read about how bacteria mutates over time and renders antibiotics harmless to them. And that the more and more widely we use antibiotics, the more rapidly the mutations occur, and the more difficult it is to produce new antibiotics that will beat the infections.

So...what happens when we run out of effective antibiotics entirely? What happens when scientists and pharmaceuticals companies are unable or unwilling (due to the unlikely return on investment because the bacteria mutates rapidly and renders the drug useless) to produce drugs that kill the bacteria?

According to a scary article in the highly-respected Scientific American, "many lethal infections that antibiotics have held at bay for decades might soon return with a vengeance." (sorry, subscription required to read the whole article).

No, really. We may in the very immediate future face a world in which bacterial infections routinely led to deaths. To give you a sense of how far down this path we have gone, did you know that there is at this very moment an epidemic of a very dangerous and difficult to defeat bacterial infection sweeping through the hospitals in our nation?

From the article: "The expanding epidemic has forced hospitals to reassess the efficacy of their infection-control measures....protocols include washing down patients with antiseptics every day and cleaning the surfaces in patients' rooms, down to the smallest joints and nooks on monitors and computers, as often as every 12 hours."

In other words, our health care system is currently battling simply to keep the infection contained within hospitals and not let it leap into the general population. And it looks like we are losing the battle.

Still, antibiotics are prescribed widely and casually. Worse - and this is really hard to believe - livestock is still being fed round-the-clock a low dosage of antibiotics to stimulate growth. I kid you not.

So I think that we need to do some worst case planning. Corporations today hold sway in our government (supposedly of the people, by te...oh, forget it) and will not allow any policies that reduce their short-term profits. Antibiotics will continue to be used in excess, and pharmaceutical companies will not develop a pipeline of new drugs.

It is, therefore, time for each and every one of us to do the only thing we can do: boost our immune systems to strengthen our bodies' ability to fight the infections. Fortunately, the way to do this is easily accessible to most Americans:

1. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, especially dark greens like broccoli, spinach, kale. Avoid "factory food," including processed foods and fast food. In fact, just eat food, not food products.

2. Turn off the television and move your body; get some exercise!

Sure, you can take vitamins, supplements that supposedly boost your immune system, etc. - but from what I have read, there is no clear and wide consensus that these non-food delivery mechanisms of isolated components really do help all that much.

There are, on the other hand, endless studies (not to mention common sense) to show that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, complemented by an active lifestyle, will make you stronger, healthier and happier.

Yes, I know - the "same old, same old." - and so boring. Eat right, exercise - where's the fun in that?

It is time, however, to move beyond whining about how it's so much fun to eat chips and candy and watch TV. It is time to recognize that the arrogance and carelessness of humans, driven by our profit-motivated economies, have outstripped our ability to deal the consequences of our actions (think: Japan and nuclear power, "super bugs", climate change, Gulf oil spill...).

Please, at least apply the above advice to your children. Get them started now on a healthy diet and exercise regime. Oh, and let them play in the dirt. Keep their environment too clean and sterile, and that will harm their immune system as well.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

We should all support the NFL players

Like (I expect) many Americans, I have found it a little bit difficult to generate much concern over the looming possibility of a canceled NFL season. "Billionaires fighting with millionaires" is the most common, derisive view.

But I have two nephews who are working very hard to join that elite group of awesome athletes, and their interest has led me to look more closely at what is going.

I found a very eye-opening article titled NFL Lockout! in The Nation. This article is in the most recent issue, so it is currently only available to subscribers.

Consequently, first, I encourage everyone to subscribe to The Nation. Yes, it is a "left wing" news source. It is also one of the most highly-respected and long-published periodicals in our nation's history (it was started in 1856 with the following mission statement: "The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.").

Second, I provide excerpts of the article below, along with some of my thoughts.

1. NFL players have stated that they will continue to play under the current contract. In other words, they are not calling for a strike. Instead, the NFL owners have threatened to lock out the players and kill the season. If there is no football this next season, it will be due to the owners and not the players.

2. NFL players have asked that NFL owners open their financial books. "The NFL Players Association wanted access to ten years of financial audits so they could see why the most successful sports league on earth was claiming to be financially embattled. They wanted to know why the owners could feel justified in asking for 18 percent cuts in player compensation. They wanted to know why—despite all we now know about the brutal hazards of the sport—the owners could insist on adding two more regular-season games. But the owners refused to open the books."

3. The "billionaires fighting with millionaires" formula is very questionable. NFL players do make lots of money (the minimum starting salary for an NFL player is $325K) - but their career lasts, on average, 3.6 years. And they usually come out of those "careers" with serious and lasting damage to their bodies. As Dave Zirin explains in his article:

'It’s a workforce that draws almost exclusively from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s a workforce that will die some twenty years earlier than the typical American male. As Jaclyn Fujita, wife of NFL player Scott Fujita, wrote, "I don’t know that we were fully aware of the ultimate reality of the National Football League. We learned the hard way that he would work his ass into the ground, playing every defensive down and special teams, and would be the lowest paid man on the roster. That he would experience multiple concussions, but remain on the field. That he would suffer full ligament tears and shouldn’t have been walking, but team doctors would tell him it was a ‘minor sprain’ and should still play. That even though you have given your heart and soul to a team, they can easily replace you with a rookie who has never played in the NFL before."'

And Zirin concludes:

"Players are demanding to see the owners’ financial ledgers, to choose their own doctors and, for the first time in NFL history, to be treated like grown men. It’s remarkable that these twenty-first-century gladiators are praised by the media when they show so-called “manhood” on the field by playing through pain but are derided when they refuse to be treated like children.

"This is happening for one reason and one reason only. The owners want to show the players who’s boss. But it won’t just be the players who get hurt. Every stadium concession worker, every restaurant worker, every last person who, in these dyspeptic times, depends on the stadium to eke out a living will be affected."

Please take the time to read this article in full (subscribe!) or simply go, search for "NFL lockout" and read the freely-available blog posts on this topic, by the Zirin and others. At a minimum, we should understand the real issues between management and players, and not simply be disdainful of the complaints of "millionaires."

Hey and why not dream a little? Perhaps if NFL owners can be compelled to back up their "sky is falling" claims about their finances with accounting transparency, then other corporate "leaders" who have convinced our elected representatives to give them hundreds of billions of dollars could also be forced to at least be accountable enough to prove that they aren't just ripping us off and dooming future generations to poverty.