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Days -1 and 0 of UKOUG Tech 14

The UKOUG user group conference is one conference I have wanted to get to for a long time, but never managed to before. This year, with the change in job roles to being a database architect in the DBaaS team within the Enterprise Manager product management group, I finally got the go ahead to submit some papers. I was notified some time back that one of them had been accepted (Snap Clone) and one shortlisted (DBaaS), and I was asked by one of my colleagues to help out with the Enterprise Manager round table. Just before I came over to the UK, the UKOUG folks asked me to also present the DBaaS presentation, so now I have something on each of the 3 days the conference is scheduled for.

Day -1

This blog post, however, is about getting to the conference, and the SuperSunday session before the main conference starts (hence the Day -1 and 0 part of the title). As you can imagine, the only part of the conference I really wasn’t looking forward to was getting here. Being from Canberra in Australia, the trip was supposed to be about an hour Canberra to Sydney, 15 hours or so Sydney to Dubai, and nearly another 8 from Dubai to Manchester.

The first leg wasn’t too bad. I had about an hour in Qantas Club before getting on the plane to Sydney, so I managed a couple of beers there. :) I must say I was quite surprised by the flight to Sydney. As is often the case around this time of year, afternoon storms were sweeping through so I was expecting either delays or a bumpy ride. However, the plane left on time and it was a pretty smooth flight, so full credit to the Qantas pilots for getting me there relatively comfortably. The plane was unfortunately a Dash 8. The downside of that is I had to check my laptop bag as premium luggage (that is, leave it at the foot of the stairs) and carry my laptop and iPad on board. That’s a bit more problematic at the moment as I’m on crutches with my ongoing knee and back problems, so that slowed down a lot of things.

Once I got the laptop bag back again in Sydney, it was a bit easier going on the crutches, as I could put everything in the laptop bag and hobble around – slow but I get there. Transferred across to the international terminal at Sydney, and hit Qantas Club again. Thankfully I asked what gate the plane to Dubai was from – it was about as far from Qantas Club as you could get! So I asked them to organize a chair to get me there. The plane was delayed by about half an hour because of the storms, so I had time for a couple more beers. :) A lovely young lady arrived with a wheelchair for me, and I was glad she did! I might still be walking there if I had to get there under my own speed!

Once I got on the plane, I found out (as did a lot of other people!) that the plane wasn’t going to Dubai – at least not directly. We flew to Bangkok first. This time it was pretty bumpy most of the way, because of the storms and presumably the back end of the Philippines hurricane. We lost another half hour along the way, so I suppose they were finding their way around the storms as well as they could. I still managed to get quite a bit of sleep along the way (no doubt the mixture of the beers and painkillers helped ;) ).

When we got to Bangkok, we were told we had about an hour stopover, and given the option of either getting off the plane or staying on board. If you left, you not only had to take all your bags with you but you also had to check through Security again. Since I had a good bottle of Australian red in my luggage to share with Lothar Flatz, I decided not to risk losing it at Security (as has happened before) and elected to stay on the plane. A lot of people got off, so there was plenty of room to stretch out on the plane as well. I also managed a reasonable amount of sleep on the Bangkok to Dubai leg. It turned out that the stopover in Bangkok worked fairly well for me. With both back and knee problems raising their ugly heads, two 8 hour flights (well, three if you count Dubai to Manchester as well!) is a much better option than 15 hours plus in one go which it would have been if we’d flown direct to Dubai.

The downside of the two delays getting to Dubai, though, was I now had 24 minutes to get off the plane and get to the gate for the next leg. It’s quite a hike through Dubai airport if you’ve never been there – up two escalators, a fairly circuitous walk and then down two escalators again – but I made it! At a fairly fast trot on crutches, which wasn’t great for either my back or knee, so the first thing I did when I got on the plane was down some more drugs (no time for beers in Qantas Club this time!)

The flight from Dubai to Manchester was probably the worst leg of the lot. I was seated in the pointy end of an A380, which was quite comfortable, but the rows beside me and behind me both had parents with one child each who seemed to have no clue whatsoever how to keep their babies quiet. As a father of three kids, I know how hard that can be but these people didn’t even seem to try to keep the kids quiet! The mother directly behind me was so loud talking to her child that I could hear her (and the little boy) even when I had ear plugs in, headphones on and the music turned up fairly loud. So much for any chance of sleep on that leg!

As I expected when I got to Manchester, my name was called out and I was directed to the baggage counter. I had made the connecting flight but of course the bag hadn’t. Still, 24 minutes isn’t much time to get bags from one plane to another, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. The lady who took all my details was very pleasant, which must be a hard thing to achieve when you probably deal mostly with quite irate people (some of the other people that were having their details taken were much less polite about it than I was!)

Anyway, I wandered out to be met by a good friend who had volunteered to pick me up and take me from Manchester to Liverpool (about an hour’s drive west from Manchester, depending on traffic). It was great to catch up with Phil, and find out what a number of people I hadn’t seen for a while on the Oracle scene in the UK were now up to. He dropped me off fairly close to the hotel as it turned out (the hotel I’m at is in Liverpool One, a pedestrian only region). I think all the rooms are actually apartments, so it’s quite comfortable and more roomy than the normal hotel room you get. I had booked it through the UKOUG web site as it was the closest one (in terms of physical distance) offered, so I was quite annoyed when I got out and about to find there were other hotels MUCH closer still. Normally a 10 minute walk from the hotel doesn’t bother me much, but it’s all a bit harder when you’re on crutches. Of course, being the time of year it is, the weather in Liverpool isn’t fantastic. As I walked around the place today, there were times when I wasn’t sure if it was snowing, hailing, raining, or all three and the damn wind is nearly too strong to walk into. In Australia, we’d call it a lazy wind – it cuts right through you because it’s too darn lazy to go around you. :)

When I got here, the hotel was still getting my apartment ready, so I left my laptop bag with them and wandered off to see where the conference was (always good to know before you have to there in earnest). It wasn’t open, so I went down to Albert Dock and had a look round there for a while. Nice place, as you can see from the pictures:






And of course, being Liverpool you’ve got to have a mention of the Beatles. :) Here’s a picture of them made out of jelly beans.


I stopped while I was at the Albert Docks for lunch – fish and chips and mushy peas and beer. How English was that! :)



After some more touristing around Albert Dock, it was back to the hotel, and time to catch up on some sleep. Here endeth Day -1. :)

Day 0

Being a good Catholic lad, day 0 started out with breakfast while I googled for the nearest Catholic church with mass at a reasonable time, which today meant sometime in the morning as SuperSunday at the conference started at 12:30. I found there was a mass at 8:30 at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, supposedly 20 minutes walk from the hotel. I left 45 minutes before mass, knowing full well I would get totally lost and I was gonna be slow anyway on the crutches. And of course, both were true and I ended up finally getting into the cathedral 10 minutes after mass started. I must say the cathedral itself is quite magnificent. Unfortunately, it was a bit dark in the cathedral itself, so my photos didn’t turn out very well (you can see plenty on Google Images), but here’s one from outside:


When I got back to the hotel from the cathedral, my bag had arrived from the airport, complete with my gloves, scarf and hat that I could have done with on the walk back! I unpacked the suitcase, only to find my suit had a hole in it! Not sure if that was there before (the suit is getting a bit old now ;) ) or from the trip over. Anyway, I went back over to the conference to register and attend SuperSunday. SuperSunday is advertised as an additional day of free technical content for Tech 14 attendees. There were a couple of sessions I wanted to see, one on Profiling the Database Writer and Log Writer by Frits Hoogland and the other on Advanced Diagnostics Revisited by Julian Dyke, both co-Oak Table Members with me. I haven’t had a chance to see either present before, though I knew both of them were really good technical people with a deep knowledge of Oracle Database internals.

Frits was first cab off the rank at 12:30, and he warned us at the start that he had a lot of material to cover and had only been able to cover Log Write at DOAG a few weeks back. This time he at least managed to get a start on the Database Writer material, but still didn’t have enough time to finish it. Given the level of interest from attendees, I think he could have easily broken the presentation in two to cover the lot. Pity he only had one slot. :) However, what he did manage to cover was covered very well, and it was great to see someone present and backup everything they covered with facts (in this case largely from trace files and strace output). Far too often, you see people presenting “facts” with no backing – you’re just expected to take the presenter’s word for what they say.

Unfortunately, I was a few minutes late when I went to see Julian do his presentation. When I stuck my head in the back of the room, I realized that was all there was room for – my head! I’m almost certain the presentation would have been closed down by fire wardens in the US as there were certainly more people in the room than it was supposed to cater for. So I still haven’t seen Julian speak – oh well, maybe another time.

However, the best value of the day was not in the presentations, interesting though they undoubtedly were. The best part, as is often the case, was the networking you can do. I caught up with Richard Foote, David Kurtz, Marcin Przepiórowski and Bjoern Rost before Frits’s presentation, then spent some time talking with James Morle and Frits before people started streaming out from the second presentation for lunch. I also had time before lunch to say a quick hi to Jared Still and Mark Bobak before they headed into a presentation. While I was having lunch I managed to have a chat with Joel Goodman, Marc Fielding and a few others. Joel and I chatted about his plans for rolling some of the Oracle Expert Summits he’s been organizing throughout the UK and Europe into the Asia Pacific region, so look for some of those to start up sometime in the near future. After that I tried to get into Julian’s talk, but Michael Abbey and I both decided there wasn’t enough room left, so we chatted for some time. It was the first time I’d met Michael in person, but both of us knew of each other even though we hadn’t met before. One thing I hadn’t realized was Michael has been working for Pythian for the past 10 years or so. They certainly have some impressive people at Pythian! Just before I left, Debra Lilley (my Irish wife ;) ) arrived, so I stopped and chatted to her and James Haslam (UKOUG CEO) for a while. James is from a hospitality background rather than an Oracle one, but given his position hospitality is more important anyway!

There were no presentations in the final session at SuperSunday that I wanted to see, so I decided to head back to the hotel to stretch out my back. On the way, I stopped off at a couple of stores – one to get a lock for the laptop as I didn’t have a spare one to bring with me, and the other to get a replacement suit so I can look suitably dashing for my presentations. ;) Then it was back to the Spice Lounge for the Oracle ACE Dinner that Debra Lilley had kindly invited me to. Again, this was a great chance to catch up with some people I knew but hadn’t had the chance to physically meet yet, as well as meet some people that I wasn’t familiar with.

At this stage, it’s probably worth raising an issue that many of us who present regularly would be familiar with. A lot of people know us by name, because they’ve seen us presenting at some conference or another, or at some training event that those of us that have been instructors have run. The end result is that many people can come up to me and greet me by name. If you’re lucky, I’ll remember your face, but a lot of the time I’ll have no clue that I’ve interacted with you before. It’s a problem a lot of us face – I discussed it tonight with Maria Colgan and she hits exactly the same issue. If we’re lucky, people at conferences have their name tags on so we can surreptitiously glance at that to come up with a name. But if we don’t greet you by name, please don’t take it as a personal affront. It’s not meant that way by any means. So if you come up to someone you’ve seen present before, it’s probably worthwhile saying “Hi, I’m Joe Bloggs, I saw you present at XYZ conference in 20xx” so at least we have a means to identify where we met before. Otherwise, I might resort to the generic “Hi, how are you?” sort of greeting (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

So that was Day -1 and day 0 of UKOUG TECH 14. Tomorrow, there’ll be a lot of interesting presentations to get to, and again, lots of interesting people to meet. I’m looking forward to it, so if you’re at the event, come up and say hi!