Wednesday, February 15, 2012

RMOUG Training Days Conference - Day 2 & 3

After a full day of intensive talks, networking and blog promoting I'm zapped. I hand drew mind maps of all the presentations and will post them as soon as I'm able. In the near future I'll try creating these directly into digital form using iThoughts and a Bamboo stylus.

Here is the first map on the fantastic keynote given by Cary Milsap from Method R Corp on "Happiness and Learning". Delivered with the spirit of a TED talk it was a welcome way to start the conference and a great surprise as far as content goes!

Cary Milsap's Happiness & Learning Keynote
Cary gave a similar talk in the UK, which is available on YouTube: Part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

It reminded me a lot of a TED talk I recently saw by Richard St. John, author of the "8 To Be Great," book.

Here a few mind maps I did at some of the talks:

Times Ten: High Performance In-Memory Database
Simon Law, Oracle

SQL Developer Tips & Tricks (download Jeff's updated PowerPoint slides)
Jeff Smith, Oracle

End-to-end Java: Decide when to use Java within your DB and best practices
Kuassi Mensah, Oracle

Beyond SQL: No SQL and Not Only SQL movements
Marshall Presser, Greenplum / EMC

Difficult Decisions
Steve Wille, Great-West Life and Annuity

Modern Database Design
Heli Helskyaho, Miracle Finland Oy

Denver is such a beautiful place and RMOUG is a great conference!

Presentations & Vendors
Denver Convention Center

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

RMOUG Training Days Conference - Day 1

The Rocky Mountain Oracle User Group (RMOUG) Training Days Conference launched this week. It is a three day conference hosted at the Denver Convention center, focused on Oracle products and technologies. There are four different tracks this year covering: Database Development, Java, .NET and Oracle Application Express.

Traveling & Buffeting

RMOUG Keynote Overview
The morning began with a two hour keynote presentation, that was fairly well orchestrated. Highlights included new Oracle 11g features, Java interoperability, Oracle Enterprise Manager and open source language compatibility. During the presentation I drew this MindMap, which helped keep me engaged:

RMOUG 2012 Keynote MindMap

Hands-On Labs
The first day of the training days focuses on hands-on labs. I chose to participate in the Java track. You can work through the Java lab exercises using a virtual machine (VM), which has the labs and software ready to go. You'll need to create a free Oracle account and then download Oracle VirtualBox and the pre-configured Oracle Linux VM.

Oracle on the Brain
The VM includes the following software:
  • Oracle Linux 5
  • Oracle Database 11g Release 2 Enterprise Edition
  • Oracle TimesTen In-Memory Database Cache
  • Oracle XML DB
  • Oracle SQL Developer
  • Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler
  • Oracle Application Express
  • Oracle JDeveloper
  • Hands-On-Labs (accessed via the Toolbar Menu in Firefox)

The following user/passwords are used in the VM environment:
  • Database: sys/oracle, system/oracle
  • OS: oracle/oracle, root/oracle
  • APEX: workspace: obe, username: obe, password: obe

After a full day of hands-on labs you too can have Oracle on your brain! (Bag not included.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Really Getting Back to Basics

The SICP Wizard
With my interest in SICP and programming I've decided to really get back to the basics. Mathematics!

My lack of critical math skills intertwines why it has taken so long to get into programming professionally and why this endeavor remains such a challenge. I dabbled with BASIC when I was 12, had a fleeting interest in Assembly, checked out Pascal, yet to my dismay the youthful curiosity I exhibited became an itch, which would fester and burn into my soul throughout my early adult life. My programming pipe dream turned a reality when the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself for me to pursue this passion and learn on the job. Released from the rut I had worn with time spent in systems administration, I was free to fly to creative heights not yet envisioned.

Programming was not something I studied much in school. I did take a semester of C, twice in fact due to low grades, but it was my failure to attain above a high enough average in my college pre-calculus class, which barred me from getting into the computer science program. This is the story I would tell people why I had become derailed from programming professionally for so many years when I had such early potential. Time for me to stop spinning this deterministic tale and choose a new reality!

I'm not slow to learn, but math and programming knowledge don't come easy. I've wondered about this and am have come to the conclusion that I'm missing some key stones in my foundation. There is a reason that universities have mathematics prerequisite for computer science student. While an argument can be made that you don't need to know much math to program, it really does help, particularly if you there are intuitive blocks in understanding or you try to tackle something like SICP. I believe to have found the key to my trouble, why programming has been such a tough journey aside from the fact that I'm passionate about it. This time around I've also got a few tricks up my sleeve, which will add momentum and keep things lively.

Khan Academy's Math Topics
A thirst yearns in my belly to learn about calculus and linear algebra, to go beyond what I had the chance to study in school. I plan to spend 3 months watching Khan Academy's videos on their multitude of arithmetic topics. I'm thinking of the whole endeavor as a big time-box! I seek an intuitive, pragmatic and deep understanding to unlock the mysteries of computing.

Relearning math is a wonderful gift I'm giving myself. Conviction fills me with assurance this gift will keep on giving. Conquering mathematics will  provide me with immeasurable practical benefit and psychological confidence. My excitement is not mere hyperbole. I don't just plan on reading and watching lectures, I plan on working many maths and sharing the journey with my readers!

I intend to MindMap as I cover topics to help retain what I'm learning. I plan to use Anki, a spaced repetition flashcard system, to help commit formulas and theorems to permanent memory. I will time-box to ensure I spend time on this endeavor. Learning need not create pain, it should invoke pleasure, induce passion and spur motivation. A supportive system tailored to your specific brain type can only help in this quest. Learning is hardwired into human nature. So why would so academic and professional workplaces alike  rob and unwittingly undermine our ability to indulge our minds in creative growth? As guardians of our minds we must grab hold the reins and till our mental soil, keeping the synapses fertile for growth!

Few adults regard learning as an enjoyable past time, however, children instinctively know how to learn with fun. Fun things are easy. Learning produces a joie de vivre, stirring passion and igniting creativity from a intimately human place deep within each of us. When you indulge in your passions success becomes a snowball, building to an avalanche. Utilize tools which work leverage how you think. Continually search for new ways to keep learning fun. Start today and it will never be too late.

I'z gonna eat maths for breakfast!
The BetterExplained blog writes an intriguing series of articles with a philosophical bent on "intuitive teaching". Human intuition contains immense raw power. Think about the great brains before us, who walked those first steps onto a moonscape of problems and brought light to bear where there was none. Their experiential forays into uncharted territories are rich for our emulation and study. Let us drink from the cup of intuition, the shared consciousness from which the giants of our collective pasts tapped.

With a strong footing in mathematics rising on my horizon, I humble the thought that I might dip into the wizards goblet of wisdom and help others pursue their dreams banishing frustration and building fun!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Two Weeks of Time-Boxing

A few weeks ago I came across the Pomodoro technique, a detailed system for using time-boxing as a time management strategy for becoming more productive and liberating oneself from procrastination. My initial reflections on using the Pomodoro technique have been positive and I plan on continuing to work with the techniques outlined in the book.

Undisciplined Mind
Why do I have trouble managing my time and why would I need a system to help me with this? My biggest problem: Self-discipline. I let my passions sway my interest. When it comes to buckling down and working on something I'm not emotionally invested in, I've found the technique of time-boxing to have great value. It is odd to get over the feeling of having to put yourself on a timer in order to be productive, but there really are immediate benefits by applying this technique.

The first time I ran a timer and decided to focus on a single task I realized how strong my mind pulled in many directions. I'm not a fan of multitasking, so it was a great surprise to me how hard it was to have extreme, singular focus on a single task for a set period of time.

Even though I only fit in a single time-box the first day, the sweet taste of supreme focus was a breath of fresh air from my chaotic attention span. The biggest problem I had with my initial time-boxing was dedicating the time I needed to a time-box without getting distracted. If I became distracted and left my task for more than making note of the side thought, then I wouldn't count the time as was suggested in the Pomodoro book.

Once I missed a time-box I was reluctant to start time-boxing again, as I didn't feel I could commit to a full 25 minutes of work since my mind was going in many directions for the moment. I know it sounds uncontrolled, but perhaps if you give it a try, you might have a similar time with it. In the first week it was difficult to get more than one to two time-boxes completed in a day, although I didn't set any goals, I was just playing with the experience of working within a 25 minute time-box.

What I began to notice by the second week was that the technique got me going on unsavory tasks, which were primed for procrastination. Whether I had low interest in a task, perhaps the effort loomed to large, or the work felt too mundane for my mood, giving myself a time-box, which contained the effort to a closed amount of time was something I could commit myself to. As I continued to practice the technique I found myself chipping away at tasks, that otherwise would have been sidelined until the built up pressure from procrastination became so great, that I would need to work through the night or on the weekend in order to catch up.

Time-box to the rescue!
There is a lot to be said for the feeling of being on top of your tasks and in control of time. It is a liberation to be ahead of time. That is the payoff for planning and action. Dare I say freedom? Whenever I find myself behind on tasks, my emotions sink, motivation wanes. The time-box is a buoy of productivity, pulling my energy back up from the depths and getting me back on track, albeit in small manageable increments.

Time-boxes have also helped limit time spent on things that I feel take away my balance. They might be things I enjoy, or are not important for the "bottom line", but they are necessary for my good functioning. Things like reading, re-editing blog posts, studying flashcards, practicing the craft of programming, journaling, drawing, woodworking, the list goes on! These are all important to me, but there are just too many things I want to do. If I spread myself so thin, that I'm able to delve into all these areas, my chances for mastery in any one area are slim. Problem is I don't know how to properly balance my time spent on all these interests. The Pomodoro book states that one should not time-box pleasurable activities, but I've found a time-box has the potential to possibly be a useful method for incorporating more balance into my life. Right now it is food for thought in this arena.

I still have issues accomplishing more than a handful of time-boxes in a given day and for now the time-box has been more useful as a task starter than a project finisher. Notwithstanding this is an interesting start and the next phase is to begin working towards concrete goals for how many time-boxes I wish to accomplish and tracking my progress in a useful manner.

Throughout this experience I've begun to think more about how I spend my time and where my energy goes. I want to make sure that I am truly living life, that is with passion, purpose and zest - not the soap. I'll discuss this more in a later post where I begin to think about the concept of "life design" and how to find a symbiosis between productivity enhancing life hacks and meaningful purpose. For now I wish you happy time-boxing and luck with getting all of your tasks started... and finished!