Friday, November 25, 2005

I am Officially part of US History

Well, at least that's what the United gate agent told us before we began to board our flight from Washington Dulles to LAX this past Tuesday. You see, we had some "very special guests" on board. United Flight #197 was officially re-named to TURKEY-1. I'm not kidding - every Air Traffic Controller from Dulles to LAX referred to our flight as this, most with bewilderment.

I've been flying on United for over 10 years now, and I've seen some pretty dumb things, both on the part of them and their passengers alike. I've had 5+ hour delays for no apparent reason, seen drunk passengers denied boarding, even saw an older man punch a woman. I thought I'd seen it all. Wrong.

As I was checking in, I asked if my upgrade had gone through, with little hope as it was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in the US, one of the busiest travel days.

"No, sir, I'm sorry, first class is checked in full. With 2 turkeys."

"I'm sorry, but I think I just heard you say that there are 2 turkeys flying in the first class cabin today."

"Yes, sir, these are special turkeys. They were pardoned by the President himself."

"This is a joke."

"No, I'm afraid not."

So I essentially got bumped back to coach for a pair of Turkeys.

After most people on the plane expressed concern that our tax dollars bought out the entire first class cabin, the pilot reassured us that the entire trip was paid in full by Disney. And out of respect for the turkeys, there were no turkey sandwiches on this flight. Just those made from their tasty cousin: chicken.

You see, with national disasters like Katrina & Wilma and the earthquakes in Pakistan, it makes perfect sense to pay at least $25,000 (figuring about $1,500 a seat for 12 first class seats, plus at least 2 or 3 additional seats in coach for the photographer & marketing people and I'm guessing $5,000 for a police escorted motorcade from the White House to Dulles, but I've never priced one out, so that figure could be way off) to fly 2 "pardoned" turkeys clear across the country, so that if history repeats itself again, they will die in a couple of weeks anyways.

My suggestion to the United "customer service" manager was to get a photo loading a turkey on the plane at Dulles, not actually fly them, and once the plane get to LA, get another photo of 2 stunt-double turkeys being off-loaded. If any city can find 2 stunt-double turkeys, it's Los Angeles. Then, take the $25,000 or so that was just saved and perhaps buy a whole bunch of chickens & hams (out of respect for the turkeys, of course) and feed those to people who actually need them. However, as the media reported, no one took my suggestion seriously.

So we took off 45 minutes late, as evidently the "be at the airport 1 hour early" doesn't apply to turkeys. To me delight, the turkeys were quiet and did not smell, unless you were right next to their cage. We had a "gobbling" contest, people told turkey jokes, and the First Officer even conducted a Turkey Trivia Contest. The only redeeming qualities of this whole fiasco was that the 1st prize in the Trivia Contest was a bottle of Wild Turkey and that we somehow made it to LAX 10 minutes early.

Since nobody will believe this without proof, here is a photo of the United Baggage handlers strapping the turkey's cage into 3A & B:

Here is "Marshmallow", the Official Turkey of 2005 of something, shot from the 2nd row in coach through the "peep-hole" in the blukhead that used to be closed before 9/11.

And here is a close-up of "Marshmallow":

As soon as we landed and taxied to our gate, I got up and got off the plane as fast as I could, as the news media was anxiously waiting by our gate, cameras locked & loaded.

So when your children learn about Thanksgiving in the US, perhaps they will read about the story of TURKEY-1, as I am now officially part of US History.

I hope everyone had a safe & enjoyable holiday!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Happy Turkey Day

Tomorrow, I'm off to Los Angeles for the remainder of the week to visit with my wife's family for Thanksgiving. While LA isn't exactly my favorite city, it should be a good time catching up with her family & friends. We're going to see a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show on Wednesday, so that should be interesting. Amy Smart is the guest, and Def Leppard is performing outside – that alone is a reason to make the trip!

I'm putting the finishing touches on my MAOP Keynote and technical session. I've also changed the topic of my Technical Session to Integrating Oracle HTML DB with the Oracle eBusiness Suite. I simply didn'y have time to get the Oracle Forms presentation in order, hence the last minute change. At one of my current contracts, I've been working extensively with the eBusiness Suite and HTML DB, so I think that this will make for a good story, with lots of advise and best practices.

If you plan on attending the Keynote on Friday, I will say this – it will be something very different than I’ve done in the past. Hopefully, different will be a good different, not a bad different!

Anyways, to the US readers, have a Happy Thanksgiving! To those overseas, enjoy a full week of work! :)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Best Widget Ever!

If you haven't already tried it, give Konfabulator a shot. It's basically Apple's "Dashboard" for the PC (and Mac). (Konfabulator actually came first) It used to cost $20 or so, but since Yahoo! purchased them, it is now free.

Most of the "widgets" are borderline-useless, with a few exceptions:
  • Calendar - nothing like always having a small calendar on your desk
  • Weather - Complete with the forecast, its the next best thing to being outside
  • Wireless Network Status - a meter which shows the signal strength of your WiFi connection
There are many, many more - from dozens of clocks to your favorite movie characters who will say their funniest lines when clicked.

But perhaps the most useful one I have discovered is Knut August Johansen's iTunes Companion. This one stands out above the rest, as it truly automates a tedious task - it fetches album artwork & details from and imports it into iTunes for your existing songs. It will also optionally fetch the Album name, Year, and Track Number and import that into iTunes as well.

I've thrown a number of songs at it - from ABC to ZZ Top - and it seemed to work a good 95% of the time. Simply amazing!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

MAOP Conference Presentations

I'll be presenting the Keynote Presentation at this year’s MAOP Annual Training Conference on Friday, December 8th at George Washington University. My topic will be "The Best Free Tool That You're Probably Not Using" and will obviously mention Oracle HTML DB a couple of times.

I'm very excited, as this will be my first keynote presentation. I've seen my share of them, and understand that the topic needs to be more business-focused as opposed to technical. As this year's conference theme is "Leveraging your Oracle Investment", I figured that would be a good theme for my presentation as well.

I'm also going to be doing a technical session: Making the Switch: Migrating Oracle Forms Applications to Oracle HTML DB.

Before the flame way starts, let me say that not all Oracle Forms applications should and must be migrated to anything. The point that I will attempt to convey is that Oracle HTML DB is a viable platform for some Oracle Forms migrations, should anyone feel the need to do so today.

If you're in the Washington, DC area, consider attending, as there will be several interesting presentations, including a Java/HTML DB track.

Migrating MS Access to HTML DB Article

My article "Migrating to Oracle HTML DB" was just published in the Nov/Dec issue of Oracle Magazine. It talks about the high-level steps required to migrate from MS Access to Oracle HTML DB.

To summarize: Oracle HTML DB is one of the best platforms to use when considering migrating MS Access applications to the web. However, there is no "silver bullet" approach – each MS Access application should be examined and then migrated (or not) to HTML DB accordingly.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Oracle 10g eXpress Edition

Lots of activity about Oracle XE over the past couple of days! I figure that I just wouldn't be "cool" if I didn't weigh in on the topic, so here goes: Brilliant!

Here's why: Pure simplicity. Take the situation which happened today: I download Oracle XE and go to install it on my laptop. Download took about 1 minutes, install another 4-5, and I'm was up & running, HTML DB and all.*

My officemate, at about the same time, decided to install Oracle Enterprise Edition and HTML DB on his laptop, just so he could learn HTML DB and perhaps close a piece of our production environment. Needless to say, the download of 10gR2 alone took longer than the install of XE. I was gleefully clicking away, while he sat there, counting the bits as they flew by.

This is one of the largest benefits of Oracle XE – small, compact size with most of the power of the Oracle Database. While Oracle software has always been available for anyone to download, what was the use if you know that legally you couldn't afford to use it for production. It was like test driving a Lamborghini - sure, it could be a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, your time is better spent researching cars that you can afford (appologies to anyone who can afford a Lamborghini) With that barrier removed, I think that many shops who went with other databases on purely a cost basis will take another look at Oracle.

But is it really ready for production? While some may argue that remains to be seen, I would think that aside from the initial glitches, yes, it is. It's not a new set of code – rather, it's the Oracle kernel stripped down and contained in a finite disk & memory space. It would be interesting to see something like running on Oracle XE. It shouldn't be hard, as moving the HTML DB application is trivial – all that would have to be moved is the data, which isn't all that difficult, either.

Truth be told, Oracle XE is going to force many organizations to take another look at Oracle, based purely on cost. Many of these organizations will find that they like what they see, and for smaller projects, may need nothing more. A significant number of these organizations may even upgrade to SE One, SE or even EE, as their needs expand.

As a small business, I couldn't be happier! Hosting my own sites in HTML DB just got a heck of a lot cheaper for both me and my clients. And I feel 100% confident that should their needs outgrow XE, they can easily transition to one of the for-cost editions of the database.

As a final thought, I can't help but think of the poster hanging on the wall in the Parter Technology Center in Reston, VA: It's a picture of an F-16 with the Oracle logo, shooting down a bi-plane sporting the dBase or some other now-defunct database vendor's logo. The caption reads: "Oracle: The Last RDBMS" With the introduction of Oracle XE, we could be witnessing the beginning of a fresh round of the Database Wars, but this time, at the workgroup level.

*(Note: I did have an issue which some friends at Oracle helped to resolve. My username on my laptop (Scott Spendolini) has a space in it. There is a bug in the XE installation script which doesn't correctly add that user to the ora_dba group, and thus HTML DB doesn't work. A workaround is available on the XE Forums here. I'm told that this bug will be fixed before production. That's why it's labeled BETA!)