Posted by: Peter Scott | May 23, 2008

A time not to shop

It’s a holiday weekend in England and that means our local shopping centre is hosting yet another collector’s fair. Unlike the others there will not be a Dalek, Wookie, Blake’s-7 cast member in sight, and probably none of those autograph hunters that actually look like Vogons, Klingons or extras from the Lord of the Rings. Instead, it is a collection of geriatric retired sportsmen (but probably still fitter than me!)

I guess my colleague, Mr R, will be impressed that some of Spurs UEFA Cup winning team will be there (was 1963 really the last time Spurs won anything ;-) ) it impresses me too as Jimmy Greaves’ aunt used to live a couple of houses from me and Terry Dyson used to teach sport at my old school – maybe I’ll go and look them up… maybe not.

Posted by: Peter Scott | May 13, 2008

I really need to get a new passport!

I am currently in Paris getting ready to participate in a training course – makes a change to be trained, usually I am the one doing the training.

For me, getting to Paris is simple, I walk to my local station (less than ten minutes), catch a train to London (about 30 minutes) then the short walk to the Eurostar terminal and catch the Paris train. Less than two and a half hours later I would be walking in Parisian streets on my way to the hotel. The same journey by air would be a lot more convoluted with driving, parking and airport shuttle buses added into the mix. And if I go with a budget carrier no food – unlike my ticket today which gave me a meal and wine on the journey and way too much coffee.

So why do I need a new passport, well it’s got a couple of years to go before it expires, it is machine readable so I can get in the USA on a visa waver but the significant thing is the photograph – today the French border police took one look and smirked…

If only we were in Schengen zone then I would not have such hassle!

Posted by: Peter Scott | April 19, 2008

Warm, snowy Denver

Readers of the other blog, the more technical one, will know that I have been at Collaborate 08 in Denver, CO. I’ll write about the presentation itself over on the Rittman Mead blog – and I’ll post up the paper so that the interested can take a look.

When I was booking my flights I found that I could get a good deal on flights from British Midland and using the direct United Airlines route from London to Denver, especially as I could part pay in frequent flyer points. I suppose that seats are perhaps slightly smaller that BA’s but for a person of my modest stature it doesn’t matter that much. The plane flies quickly, the meals are not toxic and at the end of the day all I am doing is travelling so is there any value in paying for ‘extra comforts’?

The out bound flight was a few minutes late leaving (unlike Mark’s flight with BA which was cancelled) but we more than made up time on the journey. By one of the odd, small world things the passenger next to me was also going to a conference in Colorado, but not my one, but the odd thing was that her department head when she was a PhD student was a friend of mine. Two meals and two snacks later we arrived in Denver and were told by the ground staff to walk as quickly as possible to the border control as another transatlantic flight was just 2 minutes behind and if we got to the hall first we would be out first. I guess it took just ten minutes to get to the head of the line and be processed and then on to the shuttle bus to the hotel.

The hotel was just across the street from the convention center and my room actually overlooked the large blue bear at the doorway to the halls, so little chance of getting lost later in the week. Forced myself to stay up to 9:30 PM (or 4:30 AM UK time) in the hope of getting more in the swing of US time – did this by sitting in the bar drinking cranberry juice and eating a pulled pork sandwich, If I stayed in the room I would have fallen asleep. The strategy didn’t quite work – I still woke around midnight and then seemed to wake hourly before deciding enough was enough and down for a 6:30 breakfast; then on to the convention center to pick up the bag, tee-shirt, water bottle and speaker gift before braving the hotel gym followed by a short walk along the 16th Street Mall to find a store that sold Fruit Loops… don’t ask!

First event of the conference was a speakers induction session with a guest speaker explaining about giving impact followed by the SIG social which gave me my first chance to meet strangers – bumped into Jeremy Schneider whose blog I dip into – nothing wrong with a DWer being widely read! Towards the end of the evening Mark rang to say he had arrived (24+ hours late) we agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning which again turned out to be at 6:30 AM…

Mark and I have written about the technical sessions and the move from heat to snow overnight so I won’t duplicate that here (except in the blog title, oh, and this paragraph) but you must not forget the social aspects of the conference – I met people that I only knew of through their presence on email or the internet, amongst others (and meaning to offend the omissions), Dan Norris, Ameed Taylor, the team from Vlamis Software Solutions, many of the Oracle product management guys; it was great to associate faces with them all. I also met up with old faces – the Apex Evangelists, Alex Gorbachev, David Kurtz (who used to live 500 yards (or metres would be close enough) from me in when we both lived in Reading), the various UKOUG folk.

Thursday and my flight home came too quickly – shared a ride back to the airport with John Scott and Dimitri Gielis – checked in to be told my seat will be allocated at the gate, declined the offer of an upgrade to business class for $250 (the bed seat may be worth while, but the ‘better’ food wouldn’t) as it happened I sat right at the back next to a chatty Colorado girl who promptly told me I had been drinking the wrong beer all week and it should have been ‘Fat Tire’. And I broke my Heathrow touchdown to home record – 2 hours 5 minutes from landing; that’s taxi to the stand, deplane (and I was right at the back) through border control, pick up luggage, clear customs, catch the train to London, cross to Euston and catch a train back to Milton Keynes then travel to my house

Posted by: Peter Scott | April 16, 2008

Conferences

Loads of other Oracle bloggers have already mentioned it, but the call for papers for UKOUG 2008 is open. I know my colleagues at Rittman Mead are all busy writing abstracts for submission. I am not sure if I will get along the Birmingham meeting in December – the BIWA summit is on in the midst of the UK meeting and there is a chance that I might be out in Redwood Shores for that one (I have until August to put in my abstract!)

You may have noticed that I have not posted here recently – most of my new posts have been on the Rittman Mead blog. So if you have missed my stylish prose then take a look there; however I will start to use this blog again soon for the less technical posting

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 14, 2008

Articles

A few day’s back I said that I would post the piece I wrote for the Evaluation Centre on the Rittman Mead web site – here it is along with many of the other pieces the team have written.

 

The keen eyed reader may spot a change in style over at the corporate site!

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 10, 2008

Indexing the unusual

For many years I had an interest in non-standard indexing and exotic data types, that is things that weren’t NUMBER or VARCHAR2. In fact before I came in to data warehousing I was involved in indexing free text such as conversation transcripts and and narrative reports; some of this was pushing the technology of the time, but was as achievable. As Noons pointed out in passing on a response to yesterday’s piece technology moves on and we will soon have to resolve the challenge of developing new indexing techniques to cope with the grossly unstructured such as HD Video and recorded sound.

I briefly discussed this last year on my blog and probably also over at Datageekgal’s blog (and congratulations Beth on the new job!) The indexing needs of the security services, medicine and a whole host of organisations that need to index patterns within a LOB type object will spawn some pretty clever indexing methods, and hopefully some of those will become accessible through database vendors products.

In a way there are some similarities with data mining, except that a LOB could (I think would) contain bit patterns for more than one index key value. We are probably talking about non-unique indexes, as for non-archival purposes researchers are usually concerned with finding similar records.

But one good thing about the need to index LOB contents is that they are usually non-volatile, a recorded conversation or a DNA sequence is historical fact and is not going to change so perhaps index updates are not going to be important. Most of the building blocks to do this type of indexing are already available (especially if we choose to create an index of the “index” by using some form of indirect table approach) the only bit to do is to write the domain specific code to identify the keys values in the LOB… hang on that’s the hard bit!

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 9, 2008

Data Warehouses are not dead, yet

One of the reasons that I left my old job to work with Rittman Mead Consulting was to get back to technology. Don’t get this wrong, I really did enjoy managing people and having responsibility for a BI practice, but that was at the expense of involvement in a lot of the delivery of systems; for every one day of project work, I tended to spend eight doing “other stuff”, and I was getting to miss the buzz of being at the sharp end of a project, well maybe not missing the 2:30am coding whilst eating a slice of pizza stuff (which is a young person’s game)

Recently, I have been set the challenge to grow the amount of data warehouse and data quality work I am involved in and perhaps at the same time help dispel the perception that Rittman Mead Consulting just do short engagements and training; in the three months or so I have been here I have spent just three days delivering training and 2.5 months on-site with a single customer developing a data warehouse, so that notion is a bit of a myth anyway. Maybe the new Rittman Mead web site will feature some of the longer term type of engagements we are involved in.

I suppose a good question to start with is “do people still develop data warehouses?” Mark brought up a similar idea the other week in his ‘future BI architecture’ piece which also attracted some good comments. Indirectly, I mentioned alternatives to DWs in my article on Real Time BI for the Evaluation Centre – I hope to either post the article here on the blog or perhaps on the Rittman Mead web site in the next few days. A lot of organisations have already invested in data warehouses, these will continue to need attention, either from the support perspective or for enhancement as new classes of information are added. Data warehouses still have a place in BI as way of facilitating the delivery of quality data to the reporting layer in an efficient way so I can’t quite see the death of the Data Warehouse just yet.

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 8, 2008

OLAP and summary management

So, why is someone who normally writes about data warehouses going to talk about Oracle OLAP, and in particular, cube organized materialized views?

I could run out the argument that I work in a BI consultancy and none of us here at Rittman Mead are 100% aligned to a specific expertise area; for example I do OBIEE and OWB as well as data warehouse design and performance. And besides, in my past I did look after one of the largest Oracle Sales Analyzer systems in Europe (ROLAP reporting on a couple terabytes of relational data), so there is quite a bit of Oracle Express Server (and OLAP DML) lurking in my past. But in reality my talk is going to look at the use of OLAP Cube Organized Materialized Views in the context of summary management and that, of course, is right at the heart of what I do!

Summary management has always been one of those ‘art form’ areas of DW/BI – which summary tables to build and how many of them are needed to balance performance, maintenance time and space usage. Query rewrite was great step forward in Oracle 9.2 (OK, it was there before, but I tended not to use it) at last, I only needed to map a single fact table (the base table) into the query tool, and for some third-party tools that was a significant thing. And now with Oracle 11g, the ability to transparently rewrite a query against the base fact table to a OLAP cube is a significant advance, it means that I needn’t think about the materialized views I need create since the cube effectively contains them all!  This is a bit of a simplification of course and I will say a lot more in the 50 minutes or so of speaking slot – so if you are Collaborate 08 – and that is just a month away, you could get to hear the whole talk.

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 5, 2008

Meetings and blogs

Mark Rittman mentions a couple of the meetings that I will be attending in the next few weeks; the first is  UKOUG BI & Performance Management event in Central London which is just a stone’s throw from an old office of mine, so at lunchtime I will be throwing stones at my old office. No, in fact I will be with all of my colleagues on the new Rittman Mead exhibition stand, so if you are at the event – (and there are still a few places left) why not drop by and say hello. Mark says I will be talking about data warehousing, but I am happy to talk about any BI topic, just as all of my colleagues can talk about DW. This event will also be an opportunity to meet up with my new colleague Borkur Steingrimsson – we spent a couple of weeks working together on a project in Iceland earlier in the year, but I suspect that it was too cold and dark for him so he went back to Belgium.

The other event Mark mentions is Collaborate 08 in Denver. This is going to be my first conference presentation in the USA, which fills me with a mixture of emotions (including fear!) – I am on first thing on the last morning. Truth be known I am looking forward to presenting, but even more so the chance to meet up with some new people, perhaps even readers of this blog – I know the majority of my readership (according to Statcounter) come from US based domains. So if you see me there come up and say “hi”.

Which brings me back to subject of the blog. I am seriously thinking of moving the technical content over to the company web site, maybe keeping the non-BI stuff and the truly random bits here, so in effect running this a personal blog. Looking at referrer stats on WordPress, most referrals come from blog rolls, feed readers and aggregators. But there also a few articles that very frequently get referred to; in number one spot is Doug Burns who linked to my small series on deadlocks, followed by Tom Kyte on test cases then Nicholas Goodman who linked to my series on data warehouse design and data modelling. So perhaps leaving the content here but putting a copy up on the company site is the best option

Posted by: Peter Scott | March 1, 2008

Other writing

Over the past couple of months I have been away from home a lot, the sort of working in another country away from home stuff; and staying a hotel with a relatively slow Internet connection prevented regular blogging forays. Oh and the long on-site days and the need to eat at night and other writing…

I have already mentioned the piece for Collaborate 08 on cube organized materialized views; and will write more on the topic later this month, but I have also written a piece for the Evaluation Centre on real time BI see here (registration required)

Any way I am home for a while, so over the next month I will probably get some time to write a few more pieces for the blog and perhaps even get time to drop by the Oracle forums again.

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