Saturday, March 31, 2007

Passing the time in Zurich

Subject: A fine visit to Zurich

I am now en route from Zurich to Vilnius, Lithuania -- the third stop on my two week "Best of PL/SQL" seminar series for Oracle Corporation this spring. The weather has been wonderful in Zurich and Copenhagen - clear and sunny, and the students in my classes have given me lots of good ideas for better ways to use PL/SQL and excellent suggestions for improving Quest Code Tester.

Zurich was an especially nice stop. Generally, when I do trainings for Oracle the local Oracle office pays no attention to me until I show up at the training location. That's understandable; they're all busy and this is just a job. But it's really nice when people in the city offer some hospitality (and I did receive very warm welcomes in Talinn, Estonia and Prague last year).

This year, Zurich was most hospitable. I was told that I would be picked up at the airport. Well, that's happened before and it has always been a professional driver from the transport service favored by Oracle. So I expected something similar. instead, I was met at the airport by Lutz Hartmann, a DBA and former Oracle trainer, who had recently left Oracle to offer training independently. It was so nice to be driven by a tekkie, someone who actually wanted to spend some time with me. Lutz helped me for the next two days, with transportation, with logistics at the seminar, and also by arranging a really wonderful dinner on Thursday night.

He'd spoken with Laurent Schneider, the only person in Switzerland who is both an Oracle ACE and an Oracle Master. I'd met Laurent at a couple of Oracle Open World. He is a very, very smart fellow, with a passion for chess and just about any other game. Whenever we are together, he insists that we play chess. Needless to say, I have never beat him, and usually the game is so lopsided as to be embarrassing. But he is unfailingly polite about all that. In any case, Laurent also knew from OOWs past that I very much enjoy billiards. So at his recommendation, Lutz arranged dinner at a restaurant that was also a billiards hall. That was a fun, fun evening -- a great change from talking for seven hours a day (which I'd just done for three days straight).

I had high hopes for escaping playing chess with Laurent on Thursday, but he was too clever by half and soon we were huddled around a board, placed on a billiards table in very poor light. Time to play chess! And incredibly, after a dozen moves or so, I had a superior position. But then...we had to take the board off the table and move to a very awkward spot with even less light. In fact, I noticed that the way Laurent was sitting blocked most of the light to the board. I struggled valiantly in the darkness to maintain my advantage, but actually I was psychologically resigned to losing from the first move and sure enough I soon made a small and then large blunder -- and the game went to Laurent.

Now, I want to be very, very clear: I do not believe that Laurent deliberately made it hard for me to see the board and therefore cause me to lose the game. No, no, not at all. Just an innocent coincidence. No hard feelings....

The two day training (Best of PL/SQL) that brought (or is bringing) me to Zurich (and Copenhagen and Vilnius and Utrecht) was held at the former FIFA headquarters in the hills above Zurich Centrum. Really nice place with an incredible view. The best part of the location, though, was the foosball (table soccer) table that was in the lobby of the building. Both days, during the break for lunch, I demonstrated my incredibly lame offensive skills and my pathetic goalie capabilities while the Swiss handily outplayed me. Still, great fun....

This conference center was also in a very posh neighborhood (Sonnenberg) of Zurich, which is saying a lot, because Zurich is a very rich (and beautiful) city. The obsession with making, buying and wearing incredibly expensive watches should tell you lots about this city. This is the view out from the front door of the FIFA building up to the house across the street.


Laurent Schneider said...

you improved quite a lot since OOW 2005 and I will have to be very careful this November :-)

Steven Feuerstein said...

Aha! So you admit that you were not taking me entirely seriously. How insulting! How....utterly reasonable, given our past games.

Just kidding with you, Laurent. Thanks for the compliment!

Unknown said...

I spent four years in Germany station in Nue-Ulm; or is that Neu-Ulm :-) Either way, I find Americans are kind of uptight and seem to forget that even though there is business to attend to there are also social requirements; or they should be requirements. Glad to hear the Swiss gave you the hospitality that should always be given to a person of your stature. You help others all the time Steven to think about coding and life in a different way. I feel sorry for people that dont learn something new when they meet you; they should. So, here is a toast to the Swiss and remembering that people like to be treated as people and then lets talk business.

My hat is off to the Swiss.

PS: Good job Laurent. :-)