Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Troubling ... what has happened to our country?

Have you heard about this? Does it not just make you wonder what has happened to our country when a man risks life in prison for recording the actions of police out in public? Does this not make you worry that slowly but surely we have a country that is turning into a police state and that our freedoms are being eroded away slowly. Frankly I find this story very concerning and upsetting. What is happening to this country if we can not keep an eye on our police, who are supposed to be working for us?

Of course, I respect that the police do sometimes get setup, that sometimes something taken out of context can be misunderstood and go viral and I understand that the police are concerned about such things. However in a free society we need to error on the side of liberty and freedom. I think that the presence, or likely presence of recording devices will make the police think twice about their actions. This can have negative consequences, causing an officer to hesitate making a decision that can have deadly results. Still, even this possibility does not seem to tip the balance of the basic right and principle that what is public is public.

This country was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty. There are clearly risks associated with such things and we accept those risks as citizens of this country. Being free, by it's very nature, is a riskier proposition than being regulated and controlled. It seems that many are willing to trade safety for freedom, and I wonder if they really consider the long term consequences of such an act.

At any rate, in my mind this is a clear case of abuse of governmental power. I think it needs to stop, now.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kidney Stones - Part Two

Again, this has nothing to do with Oracle....Sorry.... I feel like my experience with kidney stones might comfort someone else in the same situation, so I want to share my story.... maybe you will benefit from it someday.

So.... you have a kidney stone, or rather like me, you have seven. I've already talked about the experience and surprise in finding I had stones here. It was so different than my previous experiences with stones which involved pain to major degrees.

So, after discovering I was a stone factory it was time to see the urologist. Very often the urologist will just take a sit and wait approach to smaller stones. Anything under 5mm has a fair chance of passing in a month or two, and it's always better for them to pass than anything else. While there is often pain, the pain can be managed.

Still when you have large stones > 5mm or, like me, you have a family of stones larger than the Brady bunch, it's time for alternatives. My alternative was laser based lithotripsy. You can follow the link to find out the details of the procedure. It's considered non-evasive (though you will pee blood for a while) which I think is a big positive. I don't like the idea of them cutting into me unless there is no other alternative. It just seems that the overall risks go way up as soon as they start opening you up, and I'm all about risk mitigation.

Even with the notion of it being non-invasive, it still involves a hospital, as it is an out-patient surgical procedure. It also involves a surgery room, anesthesia (general), and recovery. I'll talk about all of that later. Bottom line, at least for someone who has never had surgery (except for my wisdom teeth) it seemed like a big deal.

If you get nervous about these things (and most of us do) I strongly advise you get something from your doctor to deal with the anxiety. I know many of us are reluctant to take such things, but I have to say that all of this was much nicer not being accompanied with nerves, stress and anxiety. I think sometimes being strong means accepting that you are human and that you need to sometimes do things, like take medicines, to improve your overall experience in life. In the case of surgery, this is one of those times. Ask for and take the anti-anxiety medicines before the surgery. You will be glad you did. I was.... I wasn't nervous at all... which is unusual for me where needles are sure to be involved.

No food or drink after midnight is the rule of course. I hate that.... not because I eat or drink after midnight usually, but because knowing I don't MAKES me thirsty. They also don't let you take certain types of medication several days before like ibuprofen or aspirin... It seems like Tylenol is still in, which is good if you get a headache the day before surgery.

I checked into the hospital at 6am and they were quickly calling me back to start the process. They made me put on on the dreaded hospital gown. Ugh. That in and of itself is a humiliating experience. Then you lie on the gurney and they poke you with the IV. I think of the entire experience this was the single worst event of the whole thing. I hate needles. Hate. I mean real hate. Despise, you get the picture. However, I will say in an effort to be positive, that they got the IV in fairly easily ..... I held my arm real still and, like I always do, I kicked my legs are the needle went in. Somehow that made me feel better.

Another thing you need to bring with you to the hospital is a really good friend. Lisa came with me and she really made the experience much better than it might have otherwise been. She also provided some post-operative commentary which was... interesting.

After the IV (and the associated saline drip) I awaited my fate on the gurney. It didn't take long for them to come get me and wheel me out to the surgery area. They pulled me into a hallway outside the surgery room and the anesthesiologist gave me some kind of relaxant through the IV. To be honest, after that, I don't remember anything..... I was effectively in la la land.

Next thing I remember was waking up in the recovery room. The first thing I remember is that they were telling me they were taking my catheter out. Great, I didn't know they had put one in.... Of course, I was so out of it that I didn't notice much when they pulled it out. I do recall a thought like, "oh.... that wasn't so bad." and it wasn't. Really, that kind of became the theme of this whole experience really, "not so bad".

During the surgery they went in, blasted the stones to hell, and removed them. Apparently they also put my kidneys through five kinds of hell because they hurt for quite some time after the surgery. Poor things. With the surgery done, they put stints in the ureters to help deal with the swelling. These stints would later have to come out... and that was fun, not. 

I don't remember anything after that until I was in my little private room. I remember they were worried about my blood oxygen levels. They kept telling me to breathe and I was like I AM breathing. I kept hearing this damned alarm go off all the time, and that was annoying. Apparently the alarm didn't like the way I was breathing. I could hear my heart going on the monitor ... beep, beep , beep, beep... I remember thinking, you know, it would be totally uncool to hear this thing go beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee before I blacked out and had a heart attack, realizing that was my heart stopping and that something really bad had happened. Of course, that didn't happen and thank God for that!

After a while the alarm stopped going off, I stopped telling terrible jokes (apparently under the the influence of anesthesia I tend to be really funny or at least I try... LOL ) and it was finally time to go home. Once home, I just slept the rest of the day pretty much.

The next day I was up and I was so full of energy and that continues to this day. It was like night and day after the surgery. The pain killers kind of wacked me out and I was peeing blood out like crazy, but I felt better. My kidneys hurt like hell to be honest, and so it was good that I had pain medicine. I continued to pee blood for the next 10 days. It decreased over time and was almost over before my 10 day after surgery appointment with the doctor.

Ten days later I was at the doctor for my post-op appointment and to have the stints removed. I will say that having the stints removed was perhaps the single weirdest experience in my life. I expected to feel totally humiliated but I really wasn't. I think after being in the hospital I got past the humiliation thing. To remove the stints they insert this small scope in your penis (no anesthesia). it has a camera at the end and also there is this little "grabber" that the doctor can move around and use to grab the stint and pull it out.

Now, most men probably just groaned at the idea of something being shoved up their penis. I have to say that it didn't really hurt. It was uncomfortable, but not painful. It was also interesting because you can watch the tube travel into your body and watch as he finds the stints and removes them. It's kind of an odd feeling really as you go through this process, but it's not too bad. So.... if your reading this and waiting for that appointment, don't fear it.... it's a bit odd but it's over in like five minutes or so.

I bled pretty good again after that, and felt some more kidney pain for a day or two. Right now, about a week after that appointment, I still hurt off and on and need pain pills from time to time. I find that I bleed off and on and it's mostly associated with physical activity. I also find blood clots or scar tissue in the blood and that seems to be normal. I'm still surprised how much blood I do have at times, because I'll go a little bit without any blood and then I'll get some deep red. I think it's normal and it's getting less and less frequent.

I have a follow up appointment in 30 days, and all seems well now. The experience really wasn't bad. People who have had stones in the past have a 60% chance of having them again. So there is a possibility I suppose that I'll go though this again. I'm trying to do the things I need to do to avoid stones.... drinking a lot of water, avoiding salt (to avoid dehydration) .... I'm doing a little less well at watching what I eat I'm afraid (reducing protein and the like).

With respect to work, I was off and on for the first two weeks or so. The first two weeks I was able to engage in work on and off. Sometimes the pain and the pain pills would get in the way. I'm in my third week now and really starting to feel like I can engage full time.

So... that's my kidney stone story. Such as it is. If your going through it, I hope this helps you to worry a little less about the process and the experience.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Heraclitus was a philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ. He was big on the idea of Change being the a central part of the universe (the only constant is change). Right now my life is full of change and it's an interesting experience.

The technology world is full of change of course. It is truly a constant in our lives and I've often talked to non-technology people (and a few who are in the field) that are amazed at the change, and our ability to adapt. Adaption is truly the key.

My life in the last year has been one of major change. Some of it has been some of the worst change imaginable, and some of it has been very positive. Right now my personal life is in a state of a great amount of change, with relationships changing, kids moving to college, getting married, and so on. Some people cope well with change and some do not. I like to think I'm among those that do. Still change, even good change, is a source of stress and one needs to make sure that perspective is maintained during change. One also needs to maintain a sense of self during change and try to maintain a sense of self.

Right now, I'm going through the start of a divorce and my last child has headed to school. Both are changes that impact me deeply on many different levels. The divorce is peaceful and agreeable as such things go... though it's still deeply painful for us both I think we both can be proud of how we have approached the whole thing.

Lizzie, my youngest at 18, is amazing and doing well as she begins her college career. So now, the house is doubly empty, doubly quiet. In the wee small hours of the morning indeed....

Yet life goes on and so shall we all.... There is so much to be thankful for and so much that life gives us that we need to appreciate. God have given us a wonderful life here on this planet and it's up to us to make the best of it. :)

Now..... back to thinking about my next Oracle related post...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kidney Stones.... My story.... Part One

This story started some time ago. Over the last, oh, maybe 6 or 8 months, my body seemed to be wearing down. I was having all sorts of issues with becoming tired, feeling weak, my bowels stopped working for a few days, I would get this on and then off fever and in general I really started to feel like crap.
At first I thought this might be associated with medications I was taking (depression, blood pressure, cholesterol). I talked to my doctors about the meds and we did some adjustments and it really didn't have any impact. I was just getting worse and worse.

One week I'd just had enough and went to the local instant care provider. I had just run down in a major way, and felt like crap. My bowels stopped working, I had no fever at the time but I was to the point that I was needing to lie down for a nap every 3-4 hours. I also had developed a slight pain on the lower left side of my back that week for the first time. Now to me this was a warning sign, because I've experienced pain in this location before and that was when I had a kidney stone previously. However, the previous stones ranked a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale and this thing was like a .5 or so. The doctor and I figured it was a small stone passing and that it would be on it's way soon. We both wondered if my problems were related to the stone and so he gave me some pain meds in case the stone started hurting worse and I went home.

Two weeks later I was worse physically. I was even more tired, worn out and just always feeling sick. This time I was not feeling the stone at all and I was more concerned that I had some infection in my intestines somewhere. I went back to the instant care clinic and they decided to CT Scan me.

I sat in the office of the Clinic, wondering what it could be. I had all sorts of things going through my head... cancer? some weird virus? Flesh eating bacteria?

The doctor opened the door and came in the room. On his face was the look of someone who just had seen something they had never seen before.... Looking at his face I said to him, "Um.... you are not allowed to give me very bad news."

He looked at me and laughed. He said, "Sir.... I have never seen someone with this many kidney stones ever. You are my patient of the day. You have seven kidney stones in your body. If you had a fever you would be in the emergency room now".

SEVEN stones? These were not small stones either. The smallest was about 3mm and the biggest was over 10mm in size. They were spread all over creation, from my kidneys to the ureters and in between. Seven little nasty looking stones. The doctor gave me a referral to a urologist and I left the instant care clinic knowing that I'd found the reason for my troubles, and knowing that for the first time in my life (aside from having my wisdom teeth removed) I was going to have surgery. For a man 45, when you realize that your going to have your first surgery ever, you all of a sudden start to feel old. Very old.

I'll get to the surgery in a later post and my post operative care.... I think there are some interesting things to share there. What I want to share from this experience is that not all kidney stones hurt like hell. It was a lesson in not making assumptions. For months and months these stones were in my body and because I did not recognize the symptoms as being stones and rather attributed them to something like a virus, I ignored the problem and it got worse. The moral of the story then is that if you start feeling bad, it's worth getting it checked out. Also I think there is a second moral .... be active in your health care. I believe I should have asked for a CT scan on the first visit to the instant care clinic because I knew something was wrong. Sure we thought it was a smallish stone, but the other things going on in my body should have made me realize that this was not the work of a single little stone going down my urinary tract... one that was so small that it wasn't hurting me in any way. In retrospect, clearly based on all my symptoms, something else was going wrong and I should have realized it.

Next time I'll post about my hospital experience. I have to be honest, as far as such experiences go, I don't think it could have gone any better. Frankly, it was amazing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Holistic DBA – And there were numbers 6,7,8,9 and 10. (Part One)

We are almost at the end of our journey (and really are just beginning) to becoming the holistic DBA (well my vision of one anyway). We have freed ourselves of the ordinary day to day tasks that can be automated and reported on and now we have time that we can allocate to a number of things. We don’t keep re-inventing the wheel. We have our tools in place and reporting to advise us of any problems. We have also worked on our communications skills. Maybe we have read a book, or just practiced some of the ideas that I presented in my previous post.

One thing to keep in mind is that all of these priorities never really stop. They are iterative in nature. We can’t stop looking for a better tool, or more efficiency. By the same time, we can’t get bogged down in it either.

Now comes what may well be your most important legacy to the organization – priorities 6 through 10. 

6. Help users to help themselves
7. Work to understand and correct bad behaviors with respect to the organizations data policies. 
8. Work to understand and correct bad behaviors with respect to the organizations data designs.
9. Work to understand and correct bad behaviors with respect to the organizations application designs.
10. As befits the organization, your abilities, and time keep up with current data related technologies.

Number 6 is a particular favorite of mine. This is of the “teach a man to fish rather than fishing for him” kind of thing. How familiar is this to you?

DBA: Yeah? (hey, you’re a little grumpy, you have not really recovered from the weekend yet)
APP Developer: Hey Tiny (you hate when they call you Tiny), I have this SQL code in module 4405 of the zantax application that’s running slow. Can you look at it and fix the database?
DBA: Yeah, sure.

You then proceed to spend quite a bit of time (in between swigs of Mountain Dew Code Red) ferreting out the running code, getting the execution plan, and chasing down the problem.

What’s the problem here? I mean, we are DBA’s. We are the lords of our domain! Right? If we are, let us build a better domain because this one is sick as a dog.

What’s wrong is this is not a scalable operation first of all. I know that there have been many times that I have had several calls at once (particularly after a new application release). There is one of me, thirteen developers and 10 problems all at once. It’s a classic queuing problem, anyway my queue does not process things any faster when they are piling up (in fact, it probably slows down). This is where priority 6 comes into play. It is the DBA being proactive, and teaching the developers (and even damagers) how to do things like bring up execution plans, understand them, figure out what’s wrong, craft a solution and test it before you ever hear about it (you probably already knew about it from OEM reports, but that’s beside the point. Even better, in our previous work perhaps we have arranged for developers to receive Top SQL reports on a daily basis, hmmmmm)? 

I thought about adding another item to my list that was “Do everything you can to make your job scalable” or “Do everything you can to get others to do their job, so you can do your job”, but it didn’t quite seem to fit. Helping users and developers to help themselves is the better solution. How do we do that? Well we put on classes, we teach the mysterious dark arts of writing good SQL. We suggest to hiring managers that they might question their prospective hires about SQL and writing efficient SQL code. We need to turn this ship around, we need to change the paradigm such that the people writing the code, are the ones writing the tuned version of the code. We need to put the onus on them.

Your response might be, “Well management does not support that.” Really? Have you talked to management about that? If so how? Did you just walk in and blow up about all the idiots in the development group who could not code themselves out of a box. Did you throw in a lot of hot air or did you offer calm, level headed, solutions. Does your group just grouse about the duh-velopers in meetings, or does someone decide that enough is enough and today things change. Managers – You are expected to be the leaders, it’s you they will look towards for leadership and to follow. I know it can seem overwhelming at first, but just little steps…. Little steps and you can get an awful lot done.

Having completed steps 1 through 6, how much free time do you think you will have on your hands? Will we have freed up 20% of your time? 50% of your time? I suggest to you that if these steps have not freed up at least 50% of your daily workload, then you are not doing something right. You are still out there coding something cool in Java or Perl….maybe you are taking the time to read one of Craig Fergusons books (and I can get behind you on that one!)  You still can’t let go of your built in DBA desire to tune SQL code or something else has you not making the most of your newly found free time. That’s where the remaining steps come in. 

By moving to these steps we are moving away from being tactical DBA’s and we are moving towards becoming strategic DBA’s. You might fear the notion that I’m trying to push you along this path, making you leave your cherished million lines of perl code behind, the dark nights of overtime while rebuilding some tables in your database and all those fun, cool, technical things that you do that really offer, in the long run, no real value to your employer, and in fact, increase costs, significantly.

I feel like I’m writing a book here. Still, these are just my observations and my view of what will ultimately make for a successful data organization.  I still have more to say, but it seems like I have said enough for this post. So, I’ll try to finish my thoughts in the final installment.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Political - Social Security and other entitlements...

So, I'm going to spawn off into a non-Oracle direction. I was reading this article today. In the article is indicates that social security disability will be out of money pretty soon (2017) and the general Social Security fund will run out of money in about 20 more years (I suspect sooner). I know that there is a lot of finger pointing going on with Social Security and who is to blame. I want to point a finger that might be unpopular but I think it's the truth. Who is to blame for all of these problems? Seniors that's who. I also blame anyone over 18 of course, but I think the seniors deserve a special place in the Social Security Hall of Shame.

Why do I say that? First, it was their generation that started this whole really bad idea. It was their generation that figured the government could do the job better than the individual. It was their idea to start funneling money to a big federal government and not demand accountability, not demand that the money be protected or reasonably invested. Instead, they allowed politicians to control this large amount of money. They played Russian roulette with the future generations for their own benefit. They started a huge, largely uncontrolled social experiment and just plowed into it.

Over time the program just snowballed into so many things it was not originally. Everyone got on the bandwaggon of course, from the liberals to the so-called conservatives adding more and more burden to a program that was already going in the wrong direction. We all like freebies, don't we? Free drugs, free medicine and health care (free is a relitive term of course). It turns out that this stuff really isn't that free. Also things like social security and medicare start to interfere with the market and in the end result in higher prices, not lower. One of the reasons health-care is so expensive, I believe, is because it is abstracted from us to a large degree. We pay our co-payments, we see hospital discount the total costs due to insurance agreements and we are happy.... we don't have to do much except write a small check and we don't have to consider the cost/benefit of the services.

That's not to say that I don't think that providing health care is important. I'll even agree that lower income folks need some assistance in keeping healthy because part of how we keep this society working is making sure that those who do not have continue to have opportunity. In my mind, we always need to provide opportunity. I just think there are better ways of doing it.

As with so many other personal liberties we give up to our government, they will willing to give up their money for a promise. Now it seems that as time progresses, they might get their promises fulfilled, but the future generations will instead end up working harder, Saving less, being taxed more, and having far less in the end to show for what they have done. All of this in the name of Social Security benefits that the ancients gave to themselves, mortgaging the futures of generations. This to me was selfish, thoughtless but not surprising. We humans often have grand ideas and want to help people (and ourselves). When it comes to the implementation of those grand ideas we get petty, selfish, bicker, steal, and we see the truth, money corrupts and corrupts completely.

Of course now, those same people who setup this pitiful system, this house of cards, are on the front lines of making sure they get their share. The great ponzi scheme that is Social Security is starting to fall. We see the likes of the AARP and other groups supporting the ancients fighting for their "rights" and their "entitlements". Why won't the ancients stand-up, and accept that they have made a huge mistake and that something needs to be done. Why can't they accept that they have had a major part in a failed program, and that since they took the lead in building it, they should take the lead in taking it down? These people often are ones who have fought for our freedom, fought for the future of the United States and what we are. Where is there resolve now, where is there willingness to sacrifice for the good by supporting the deconstruction of this failed program.

I am not suggesting that we need to just pull the support from the ancients or even those a generation removed from the ancients. Clearly we have this program in place, people depend on it and we need to make sure that those who can't survive any other way are protected (and even perhaps have their services improved). Still, it's clear, this program can not survive as it's currently constituted. If you are an ancient who is sitting with several million dollars in the bank, healthy and really have no need for social security, perhaps you might be willing to step up to the mark and just let your benefits go away. I'm sure there are a number of ways we can reduce the outlays over time that will preserve the benefits for the ancients who need them, while phasing out the program for later generations.

So what do we do about those later generations? We teach them to save. We teach them the process of diversification of assets. I know my five kids have all graduated from High School and in doing so had little knowledge about assets, asset management, or how to prepare for your future. We need to educate the people. We need to ensure that people to save, but not by sending money to the government, this is the more inefficient method of saving that there ever was.

As for the political types who see the money coming into Washington as power, for those who see it as an opportunity to redistribute income or an opportunity to gain political clout or any other number of really scummy and immoral reasons, you need to stand up and realize the destruction your kind of thinking has wrought on this economy and our society.

I know that on both sides there is a polarization that will never end. There are also a large number of those who don't care and won't take the time to understand because they are happy to have someone watching their back (even if it is the government who is poised to stab you at the same time if your not careful). There are those who are too lazy to really understand what is really going on, who are willing to look past the TMZ's, Comedy Channels and Extra's of the world.

That leaves those of us in the middle, who are rational, non-polarized and who actually care about both people, basic morality (and I'm not talking about religion here) and fiscal responsibility of the individual and the government to stand up and take the lead. We need someone who can work the media, who can communicate to the people, who can remain humble through the process and yet make the case clear. I wish we could find an ancient to do this, someone who was part of the generation that started this disaster, for that voice would be the most powerful of voices. What we need is a leader.... one that will stand up and say in his ancient voice (I'm thinking a Charleston Heston type here).... "You will not take my freedom from my cold dead hands."

What will it take to turn this around? What will it take to actually strengthen our society so it is more self sufficient and more people actually are actively interested in their futures? I don't know.

Ok... enough politics for now. More later...
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