Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kathy Sierra has done it again!

Kathy Sierra has done it again with a pair of really good blog entrys. They sort of tie in with the areas for improvement blog entry of last month. There the discussion was focused on why people are not always permitted to focus on their strengths – here she is talking about how anyone could potentially become expert in almost anything just by working at it.

The first entry on “Square One” talks about how focusing in on the basics is what makes superior performers – just that, superior performers. If you get the concepts and apply them consistently (and correctly) time after time after time – you are on your way. What are the fundamentals for database developers? I think I wrote many of them in this book. The database architecture, what the various bits of Oracle are (files, memory, processes) and how they interact. Sort of like understanding your operating system and how it functions for example. Locking and latching (extremely, hugely important – extremely, hugely ignored by far too many). Concurrency controls (perhaps the most important thing – but perhaps the most misunderstood – even by those with years and years of experience). Redo and undo – what they are, how they work together, how to minimize their generation under certain conditions, why “just turn it off” is not a smart statement to make. Tables, Datatypes, Partitioning, and so on. I refer to that book as “my concepts guide” (does NOT mean you should not read the real one! Just that if I had written the concepts guide, it might have looked like that book). Hopefully, this year I’ll get to finish my concepts guide with part two (that is the goal anyway).

I cannot tell you how many times I get questions like “where can I find the internals guide to Oracle, what the redo log file format is, the X$ table documentation, an inclusive list of all undocumented commands, etc….”. My answer is always “so, you’ve memorized the concepts guide – that is good, I haven’t completely done that myself”. They always say “well, no”. Sometimes I’ll ask them a list of questions about how Oracle works – things I consider “elemental”. Silence… That is when I tell them, forget the “mystic, magic, cool in theory internal stuff – learn and master the basics and you’ll blow way past someone who has learned a handful of really cool internal tricks”.

Master the basics – I still am. You don’t see me resorting to tons of internal tricks to demonstrate how Oracle works – you don’t need to. There are times for internals, but that is mostly in the realm of support (mostly).

The second article really resonated with me – “How to be an Expert”. I really liked the chart with the X-Axis labeled “Years or decades”. Years or decades – think about that. Too many people are looking for instant “expert status” and they try to obtain that by “cool internal stuff”. Thinking “If I know the internals and others don’t I’ll be better because I know something they don’t”. Problem with that theory is – someone like me will blow right past you with the fundamental basics. That is why these two articles by Kathy go together so well – master the basics and keep mastering them, and then incrementally improve (I’m never happy with my last cool SQL solution – always looking for a new, better way to do something) forever.

Like I frequently say “I learn something new about Oracle every day”. I’m looking forward to the Hotsos Symposium this week – I should learn a couple of new things. Some advanced, some basic. But if you look at my list on that blog entry – nothing “internal” really (Jonathan Lewis and his V$/X$ talk might be the closest I come to internals).

Yesterday, I didn’t really work with Oracle stuff. I went caving with my son. This is a shot of us at the end of the day (after 6 hours in the cave).
I did learn something new however – I learned I never want to do a 300 foot (American Football field length) belly crawl ever again – yet alone twice in one day. The passage was narrow both in height (my belly on the ground, my helmet and sometimes my back would hit the ceiling) and width (I could at points touch both walls with my hands. I found it to be an uncomfortable experience (uncomfortable doesn’t really describe it fully). When I popped out the other end after what seemed like an eternity – that was when I found out the only way back out of the cave was to belly crawl back the way we just came, well, I was not pleased. I don’t know which crawl was harder – the one on the way in when I didn’t really know when it was going to end – or the one on the way out when I did.

I have more bruises today than I’ve had in a long long time.


Anonymous paul said....

Tom - after a walk with our wives and my 4 year old daughter I foolishly agreed to continue with my friend to just go up a bit further. After a few minutes climbing I realised the only way down was to keep climbing up. It was also a very good idea not to look down. Never again ...

Sun Mar 05, 02:51:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Georg Breazu said....

Hi Tom,

I am as always amazed about how you manage to do all this things: your Oracle job, asktom, this blog, write book, review books, travel, seminars, conferences, family, get your sleep and now caving. It's great for your son to have a father how shares his interestes and passions even if he is not really interessted in them.

Glad to hear you did a 6 hour caving trip, did you like it (don't think about the crawl) ? You never know how long the cave will be, what will await you outside the light cone of your lamp or after the next corner or pit ...

It can get worse, like crawls so tight that you have to expell all the air from your lungs to be able to pull yourself forward a couple of more inches for a length of 300 meters, similar crawls under water (sump diving) or even on vertical pits where you have to be on a rope, but it's so tight that it's dificult to use the descending gear because you can't reach it.
Nevertheless the lure and thrill of the unknown and sometimes really beautifull underground sightseeings are worth the hole effort.

Hope you will go caving again !

Best regards,
Georg, Germany

Sun Mar 05, 03:38:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

My wife the caver is curious as to what cave you were exploring.


Me, I stay back at the lodge with a cup of coffee while my wife and kids don the helmets, LEDs, etc.

Sun Mar 05, 06:27:00 PM EST  

Blogger Noons said....

anaon, you got it in one: if there is one activity that'll be forever blocked from me, it's caving!

I'm terminally claustrophobic, complete irrational panic if anything boxes me in. I can't even be in the middle of a bunch of people without panic taking over. Wide open spaces: that's me.

All my respect to anyone able to do this sort of thing.

Sun Mar 05, 10:58:00 PM EST  

Blogger Andreas said....

I did this once but get stuck in one of the smaller parts between two caves. Took me and the rest of the gang about 10 minutes to get me unstuck.
Caving is for folks who think that their live with Oracle products is not adventerous enough :-)

Mon Mar 06, 02:50:00 AM EST  

Blogger Roderick said....

One of my (many) recurring nightmares involves getting permanently wedged while crawling around some tine cave or building vents. So for that kind of adventure, I stick to visiting places like the Crystal Caves of Bermuda or some Hawaiian lava tubes.

I guess for computer software, you just have to understand two basic things -- 0 and 1. Everything else derives from there. It is a simple matter of inventing imaginative ways to manipulate those two things by leveraging layers upon layers of code, written by several people, and sometimes distributed across machines, in such ways to model the real world in a scalable manner. :-)

Mon Mar 06, 04:21:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I like the dual themes of mastering Oracle concepts and caving. Both involve penetrating below the surface, often crawling forward
in unfamiliar surroundings, and using skill to avoid getting stuck in one place for too long ;-)

Mon Mar 06, 05:16:00 AM EST  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

My wife the caver is curious as to what cave you were exploring.

We were in Senaca Rocks in West Virginia. I was along with the boy scouts. (Yes, yet another blog I'm doing - along with the soccer one for my daughters travel team)...

I'm terminally claustrophobic,

I discovered I am at least a little bit that way. If it were not for the fact there were 13 year boys doing it in front and behind me, I would have froze in place.

If I would have gotten stuck or anything like that - I would have "not been in a good way". I was in the group that crawled down the wrong tunnel - the crawl split into two and we went left when we should have gone right. That was a momemt of "fear" (and dread, knowing we had to try to spin around and go back the way we came - adding more feet to the crawl).

I shall be looking for caves with hand rails and stairs from now on ;)

Mon Mar 06, 07:47:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

> We were in Senaca Rocks in
> West Virginia.

For anyone in that area, there is a really nice inn in Monteray. The building is about 150 years old; Rommel is said to have stayed there while studying the Valley Campaign.

> I shall be looking for caves with
> hand rails and stairs from now on

Mammoth Cave has a good deep cave tour with steps and handrails (Frozen Niagra). The caves in New Mexico (Carlsbad) actually have room to stand up - I was amazed after being in Mammoth.


Mon Mar 06, 08:00:00 AM EST  

Blogger Joel Garry said....

I shall be looking for caves with hand rails and stairs from now on ;)

Highly recommend Lehman Caves if you should ever find yourself way out in the middle of nowhere in the Utah/Nevada desert.

When I was in the Boy Scouts, I helped an archaeology student dig up an Indian grave in a cave. Found a human skeleton and two deer skeletons. Would be considered un-PC these days, I suppose. Added some verisimilitude to those scary campfire stories. :-)

Mon Mar 06, 09:29:00 AM EST  

Blogger jimk said....

I couldn't have done it. I am just a wee bit large in the mid section. (grin)

I was SCUBA diving in the Cayman Islands and on the first dive of the day we did a deep dive. (If you do multiple dives in a day then you should do the deep dive first and then go shallower as the day goes on.) I was last in line and we went into a short tunnel at about 90 feet depth. Since it was day and the visibility is like 150 feet most of us didn't carry a light (we weren't doing cave dives). The tunnel was dark and since I was last the people ahead of me blocked the view of the exit (or so I thought). When following other people you don't want to get too close because they could accidently kick off your mask with their fins. While we all know how to put the mask on underwater and expel the air. (gently press on the top of the mask, look towards the surface and blow air out your nose, the water will exit from the bottom seal of the mask.) Having the mask come off underwater and in a tunnel would be a very disconcerting thing.

About 5 feet into the tunnel it took a jog to the left. (left for 3 or 4 feet and then right again) Of course, I followed and by now it was pitch black. My tank gently bumped on the ceiling and I knew the bottom of the tunnel was right there since I was using my hands on the bottom.(sandy bottom) So here I am in a tunnel of unknown length, in pitch black at 90 feet depth with people somewhere in front of me. I couldn't turn around and I probably couldn't back out. (ever try to swim backwards in a narrow space in the dark)

I didn't panic, but I was very very uncomfortable. I just kept telling myself that the exit was just ahead, take my time, take slow deep breaths. (at 100 feet depth you are at 4 atmosphere's of pressure so each breath contains 4 times more air than on the surface. This means that a 80 cubic foot tank is effectively as large as a 20 foot cubic tank on the surface. - not large. You can suck down a lot of air at 100 feet.

Finally, the person in front of me exited the tunnel and I saw the deep blue light of the wall. At 100 feet (the tunnel had a down wards slope) things are like twilight. I relaxed and breathed much easier.

The name of the tunnel was tunnel of love due to some local lore of a couple of discovered divers - in a compromising position. (rumor, probably not true, but it gives the tourists a good laugh over a bawdy visual image. While it is possible - the water is 80 to 82 degrees even at 100 feet and you can dive without a wet suit - with all that gear etc. I doubt it)

The rest of the dive was uneventful.

Mon Mar 06, 01:08:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Nothing like Spelunking!

Mon Mar 06, 06:35:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


A bit off topic - not about being an expert, but anyway:

What are your thoughts on delegating work? Maybe you could blog on this sometime.

Tue Mar 07, 03:47:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Jack said....


I am extremely claustrophobic -- I almost freaked out at Disney World waiting to get into Space Mountain ride ... fortunately, the queue line opened up into a wide open space ....
That said, just reading your experience of crawling through the cave gave me the heebies ...

Tue Mar 07, 07:43:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Peter said....

Right Tom, that's it - just look at the proportion of comments on caving compared to Oracle. FORGET ORACLE! You have found your niche (stuck half way down a cave, laptop to hand, just, blogging furiously as the claustrophobia sets in... :-) )

Tue Mar 07, 04:23:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Any good Cave locations out here in the Bay Area, California?
Would like to hear about the ones here.....

Thu Mar 09, 01:37:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Marc Blum said....

hi, yes, it's all about the basics. If you're into playing a musical instrument, you really know, how important it is to get the basics really down. You can't run if you don't know how to walk. You won't never improvise over fast changing altered chards, if you don't know how to play over a major triad. cheers

Tue Mar 14, 07:42:00 AM EST  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Happy b-day, Tom! Beware the ides of March!

Wed Mar 15, 08:29:00 PM EST  

Anonymous Samuel said....

Hi Tom,

This is off the Topic under discussion right now. I just want you to tell me how to retreive information from

I have tried retrieving information on how to embed an image in oracle but was not able to retreive any information relating to that. The process over there is so complex

Please help.


Mon Mar 20, 02:59:00 PM EST  


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