The village idiot

If you are not familiar with the term Village Idiot, then Wikipedia provides a sufficient definition from which I can base this blog post.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_idiot

“The village idiot … is a person known for ignorance or stupidity”

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been flying a bit.  First was OpenWorld and OracleCode in New Delhi in India, and from there, I was heading straight from there to Cleveland, Ohio for the GLOC users conference for the first time.  Being a fairly seasoned traveller, this should have been a relatively straightforward affair.

Well… things didn’t turn out that way. 

To get to Cleveland, first I had to get to the United States, so I had two flights, as you can see from the picture  – one from New Delhi to a transfer in Shanghai, and then from Shanghai to San Francisco. 

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The problems started due to the simplest of issues.  The night before I was due to fly, I picked up my itinerary, saw “11:40pm” and thought “Cool…I can sleep in tomorrow, do some AskTOM, get some work done, and stroll out to the airport after the evening traffic has subsided”.  And I did precisely that.  I got to the airport at about 9pm, paid my driver, collected my suitcase and headed over to the airport entrance.

For those of you that have not been the India, the airports work a little differently.  You cannot actually enter the airport unless you have a valid ticket.  I assume this is both for security reasons and due simply to the volume of people that pass through the doors.  At the entrance, security personnel check your passport and ticket and let you in.  I produced my details and after a short pause, the officer looked at me and said:

“You cannot come in”

I asked why ?  I had given him my passport and all my flight details. 

He said “Your ticket is no longer valid”

And that’s when it hit me….The boarding time for both of my flights was 11:40… But for the first flight, it was 11:40am, and for the second flight was 11:40pm.  The night before, I had checked the wrong itinerary – I was mentally cued in to the time being “11:40” so when I saw “11:40pm” I assumed I was looking at the right document.

So this was the start of problems.  Here I was, on the sidewalk, not even being able to enter the airport, having missed a flight that left some 8 hours before I even got to the airport.  This first leg was with Air India, and the second leg was with United, so I was already thinking – how am I going to re-arrange these flights and get everything coordinated across two carriers. 

But first things first…I wandered down to the one part of the airport where you are allowed to enter – the ticketing section.  And, now nearly 10pm, no-one was manning the Air India desk.  So I tried calling them, and even whilst on hold, I realised the futility of this, because if you’ve ever stood outside in Indian traffic, you cannot hear a single thing.

I knew I would not be flying anywhere tonight so the next job was to get to an airport hotel….and of course, there are no onsite airport hotels at New Delhi airport Smile  So then it was a case of walking from taxi to taxi outside the airport trying to see if any of them take a credit card (which is rare for taxis in India) because, like most people, I had carefully spent all of my Indian currency because I thought I was about to leave the country !  Finally a car that looked less like a taxi and more like a hotel car was driving past, so I flagged him down, and asked him which hotel he was from and how far away it was.  5km later I was at a hotel, now nearing midnight, and the job of sorting out flights commenced.

Sorting out 2 flights with different vendors is not pleasant.  To try avoid the hassles, I phoned my travel agency because they’d have access across carriers.  After 20 mins (on mobile phone international roaming rates!) of “Please hold, your call is important to us” I gave up.  So first it was a call to Air India to see if I could get on the same flight tomorrow, but I could book nothing because then it was a call to United to see if I could get the next day flight from Shanghai. Then back to Air India to actually book, and then back to United and book with them.  Rest assured, on a mobile phone with brittle coverage, nothing is more annoying that voice-controlled automation ! 

Bot: “In a few words, tell us how we can direct your call”…
Me:  “Flight Reservation”
Bot: “I think you said ‘Cargo’. Is that right?”

I dont know why…but it does indeed make you feel better to swear at a bot Smile
So after a couple of hours of sweat and tears (and expense) I have more or less the same flights booked for 24 hours later.  I get some much needed sleep to let the adrenalin seep out…

Next morning, I’m back where I started – at the airport entrance, but this time, I’m straight through the entrance with no difficulties…phew.  After the standard 30min queue to check in, when I get to the counter, the Air India agent says to me:

“I’m sorry…We cannot check you in”

I go pale…. “WHY ?!?!?!”

“You do not have a visa for China.”

I tell him I do not need one, because I’m not staying there – it is just transit.  But apparently with the re-booking of the flights, they are no longer “connected”.  So now I have to prove that I indeed have a connecting flight out of China, and my existing hard copy printouts are useless, because they refer to a flight that already left yesterday !  And thus, here I am, at the checkin desk, trying to once again navigate the stupid voice bot as I try to contact United over shoddy cell service with international roam, so they can tell my Air India checkin agent about my flight.  I’ve discovered this is not a good way to be popular in an indian airport, with 500 people queued up behind you because you have become a bottleneck.

After 10mins on the phone, passing it back and forth to the agent and myself, I am finally allowed to check in.  My Air India agent is very apologetic and offers to check my bags all the way through to San Francisco to make transit more convenient.  I am thankful for small mercies at this point.

8 hours later and touchdown…I have made it to Shanghai.  Unsurprisingly, all of the signage is in Chinese, so navigating my way around is not easy.  For the life of me, after much wandering, I cannot find the International Transfer. Eventually I give up and figure, even if I go out through Customs, I can just come back through security in the normal way.  After another long queue, I get to the front of the line at Customs, and the two officials, resplendent in their semi-automatic machine guns, look at my passport, and my ticket, pause, and just shake their head.

That’s all.  Just a shake of the head, and I’m not allowed to pass.

Now I’m panicking.  I’m starting to think of that movie where the guy could not get out of the airport for months. 

I ask why, but their English is just as good my Chinese, ie, non-existent.  I can feel the sweat on forehead, so I’m sure they are starting to think I’m a terrorist or threat to the nation in some way.  And they are mighty big machine guns.

Some feeble gesturing and “sign language” from me doesn’t seem to be helping but at least I’m not being locked up yet.  Eventually one of the officials gets my onward boarding pass to San Francisco, and points at the sign on the wall, which is mainly Chinese but I can make out that it is referring to “24 hours” being the limit you can stay in the country without having a visa.

Now I’m very stressed and very confused.  I’ve given them my onward boarding pass, which shows I’m (hopefully) out of the country in 5 hours…so what could possibly be the issue. More desperate hand waving from me.  The official gets my boarding pass and circles two items:

Departure Date: May 12
Boarding Time: 23:40

and then points to the “24 hour” sign again.  And then … the penny drops.  My flight leaves at 00:30 on May 12, but the boarding pass says “Boarding at 23:40” (which is actually boarding on May 11 for a May 12 flight!), but the Customs person is interpreting this to be late at night on the 12th, which is more than 24 hours…hence violating their entry rules.

So now it’s me drawing pictures of clock hands, and calendars, and departure boards …. and after 10 terrifying minutes, we finally are in agreement – I can indeed pass through and pass back to leave the country !  At this point, I’m still not even sure if I was meant to come through Customs but at least I’m seem to be making some progress. 

It’s at this moment I realise that Friday night is peak hour at Shanghai airport.  Often as travellers, we’re critical of security checks when the queues are long and only a handful of staff are working.  I cannot say this about Shanghai.  They had every single departure check open, and equally as many X-ray machines all going concurrently – perhaps as many as 15.  But it counts for nought when a bazillion people are trying to fly somewhere.  I spent 2 hours in the familiar snake lines going through the standard departure checks and x-ray screening before finally getting to the United departure gate with about 40mins to spare.

The stress finally seems to be over…I sit and relax.  And then…

“Paging Mr Connor McDonald…can you come to the gate desk urgently”

By this point, I’m convinced that I will never be seen again by family and friends.  I trudge up to the desk. 

“We’re sorry sir, but the Air India checkin agent should not have checked your bags through to San Francisco.  As you’ve seen, there is no international transfer in Shanghai – all passengers must retrieve their bags when transferring”.

Well…this explains why I could not find the international transfer….there isn’t one !  And then comes the kicker..

“…So we’ll need to go back through Customs and collect your suitcase and come through security again”

There was long pause at this moment… a long pause where I considered the well being of the person telling me this, and what the implications would be if I were to remove their spleen with the plastic fork I had been eating my salad with Smile

“NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  I bellowed at them, knowing that I could no way make it back in time, and moreover, there was no way I was going through the explanations of 24hour clocks again.

The result ?  I did get on my plane and I did land in San Francisco…albeit a day later than originally planned.

The suit case ?  Well… it didn’t.  So the next day, I was back in a taxi, heading out to San Francisco airport to pick up the suitcase that made its own way on its own schedule to San Francisco.

So there you have it.  All of this grief…and why ?  Because I could not read a piece of paper correctly.  I’m not just the village idiot.  I think if you took the village idiot from the all villages, and then made a village of those idiots…then I’d be the village idiot in that village !

So I’m writing this post somewhat as part of my “penance”.  After all, if you can do something as silly as I did, then it only seems an appropriate punishment to share it with one’s peers 🙂

Hack-a-Mongo

I was reading an article today about how 10,000+ Mongo installations that are/were openly accessible on the internet have now been captured by ransomware, with nearly 100,000 other instances potentially vulnerable to the same issue.

Now, since I’m an Oracle blogger, you may be inclined to think the post is going to jump on the “bash MongoDB” bandwagon, but it’s not.  I am going to bash  something…but it’s not MongoDB Smile

I’m going to steal a quote from … of all things… Jurassic Park Smile

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”

In this age of DevOps, Agility, reactive-this, and responsive-that, there is an understandable desire to have a goal of “deliver fast and often”.  But I’m not attacking the various methodologies and processes out there that espouse the new age of fast and furious delivery.  Because, to my knowledge, none of them ever had a goal of “fast delivery no matter what“…they had a goal of fast and flexible delivery whilst adhering to the unchanging fundamental principle of delivering high quality, secure and robust software.  It may be functionally incomplete, or have compromises in (for example) the user experience, but we never meant to compromise on the core principles.

So when I see stories about MongoDB (or any software technology) being exposed for reasons of poor security, my lament is not for the technology but the part when a developer, or administrator, or manager, or anyone in the chain of processes that skipped an appropriate assessment of security, in effect, playing a game of Russian Roulette with their customer’s personal details.  I don’t think there is even a defence of “ignorance” here, because the moment anything is deployed in an organisation, surely the first question that must be asked either before the deployment, or even in that awkward moment afterwards when you discover something was deployed without your knowledge is … Is it secured?  And if no-one can answer that question, then surely that’s the immediate death knell on that application right there ?

If “hand on heart” a team can claim that security measures are in place, and then these are circumvented, then that’s defensible – perfection in security is such a moving target nowadays.  But it seems a stretch to think that 100,000 Mongo teams out there all did a diligent crack at securing their system before getting all excited about having their application live Sad smile

So if you’re building applications with the latest Micro-agile-internet-of-things-reactive-responsive-Java-scripted-open-source-media-rich-blahblah approach…that’s super cool.  But that’s not a Leave Pass from being responsible when it comes to security.

What you "liked" last year…

Well…when I say “liked”, what I mean is “the stuff you all clicked on a lot” last year. Whether you liked it or not will remain one of those great mysteries Smile

The top 6 posts from 2016 were:

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/ora-14758-last-partition-cannot-be-dropped/

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/exchange-partition-those-pesky-columns/

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/compressed-partitions-are-not-compressed-tables/

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/pluggable-database-and-restricted-sessions/

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/parsing-no-big-deal-eh/

https://connormcdonald.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/are-your-sql-plus-scripts-going-to-ell/

Nice to see a 12c post in there – 2017 is the year I think most people will be moving to 12c if they have not done so already.

And of course, nice to see a SQL*Plus post in there….I love it when the old simple tools still add value for people.

Thanks for supporting the blog in 2016 … I’ll have stacks more content again for you this year.

UKOUG 2016

Just a little video montage of the fun and learning from UKOUG.  A great conference every year.

I was fortunate enough to receive a Best Speaker award (from a 12c features talk given at the 2015 conference). I gave three talks, one of which was the Database Keynote for 2016 – I felt very privileged for the invitation to do so.  The slides for the talks can be found on the AskTom site under the Resources tab.

But for me, there were two highlights – one professional and one personal.

  • The professional one was the same as per most conferences – the ability to catch up face to face with IT professionals from both inside Oracle Corporation and the greater Oracle community.  Whilst we all “blog”, and “tweet”, and “discuss” in some way shape or form, you can’t still beat banter over a beer Smile I love it when casual conversation often leads to insights into technical areas that you hadn’t really even planned on chatting about.
  • The personal one was a little surprise my partner Genevieve sprung on me.  Secretly she had booked flight tickets to align with mine, and hence there she was at the airport at 3am ready to jump on board the flight with me to the UK.  It was an awesome early Christmas gift !

If I don’t get a chance to blog again in the next 48 hours, have a great New Year’s eve celebration wherever you are in the world.

Just one more week

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I’m off to UKOUG again this year.  It’s an awesome conference, and I’ll be doing three talks there.

On Monday at 3:30 it’s my first keynote talk Smile  “12 Things You’ll Love About the Oracle Database 12.2”, followed up at 6pm by “AskTom – One Year On”.

On Tuesday, at 3:30 I’ll be doing a talk for anyone want to come up to speed on all of the partitioning features with “Partitioning 101”.

A couple of the talks are in Hall 1, which is always nice for the attendees, but as a speaker, you can hardly see the audience since they are shrouded in darkness Smile

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Head on over to http://tech16.ukoug.org/ for all of the details.  If you’re coming the conference, feel free to pop over and say “Hi”.

OTN tour 2016 APAC

The OTN tour came to APAC this year, so it’s been a pleasure and privilege to be able to participate in some of the legs.  Being Perth born and bred, I know all too well that any travel to Australia from … well… anywhere except Australia, is a long haul, so I’m very grateful to the array of overseas speakers who gave up their time and comfort to make the journey.

My first stop was Sydney and I was glad to get back there for a few reasons.  One of them was to catch up with family and offload, oops, I mean “share” my young boys with their grandmother.  The highlight of the trip for them of course was travelling back home to Perth unaccompanied 🙂

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But another reason Sydney appealed to me was that even though there is a large Oracle community, somehow it has always been a struggle to get events there.  So to have a full day of content, with all rooms full of enthusiastic attendees was a highlight.

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One change I am noticing and am particularly grateful for, is the growing willingness of Australian audiences to participate and engage in presentations.  In most of my time as a speaker, or attendee, at Australian conference it has always been the norm for the audience to “bear silent witness” to the topic being presented.  But we seem to (finally) be undergoing a shift toward accepting that speakers are just IT professionals like ourselves, and there is a growing confidence to share ideas, interact, and engage in conversation.  I hope this trend continues – after all, it is probably the meeting of minds, networking of common goals and experiences that is of more value than anything else at these events.  I think of as being similar to AskTom – the ability to share and collective solve the challenges of software.

Next stop was the Gold Coast, and similarly, there was a relaxed yet enthusiastic audience.  At both cities, I’ve been talking about 12.2 and Exadata Cloud Express.  If you’re keen to get a look at 12.2, but don’t have the time or in-house facilities readily available, then this is a great way to do it.  You simply sign up, download a credential file and voila…a 12.2 database is yours ready to go.  (I’ve got a small blog post here showing how easy it is).

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A big thanks also to the Ace Program and Francisco Alvarez who invested so much time and effort into making this run so smoothly and successfully.

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