my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oracle Shell Scripting

I remember seeing Jon Emmons' announcement on the Oracle News Aggregator and I've had it in my "wanted" list on bookjetty for ages.

This week I discovered Jon's Oracle Shell Scripting: Linux and UNIX Programming for Oracle (Oracle In-Focus series) at the NLB and have just enjoyed a good read of it.

I wish more DBAs had read this book. In fact it should be mandatory to get an OCP certification!

Let's face it, most Oracle installations are running on a *nix variant, and you can't be a DBA if you are not comfortable at both the SQL*Plus and shell prompt. To be a good and efficient DBA in my book, I want to see evidence of thinking smart, and repetitive task automation. When I see so-called DBAs who are happy to type the same "select .. from v$.." query every day of their working life, I doubt their brain is switched on, and I find it really, really scary to think they have the sys/system passwords!

They say tool usage is a sure sign of advanced intelligence in birds. And the same applies to all of us in IT. The three examples I look for at an Oracle Database installation are:
  • RMAN
  • Grid Control
  • Shell scripts

If none of these are present, then I tend to presume the real DBA has long left the building. Even if you are using third-party alternatives, do you continue to re-evaluate the Oracle capabilities with each new release?

Jon Emmons' book is of course more focused than this. It perfectly fills a niche, with an approachable, practical and comprehensive coverage of shell scripting from a DBA's perspective.

I can see the ideal audience for this book is people who are reasonable familiar with Oracle administration but are new to shell scripting. This book will rapidly teach you all you need to know on the scripting side (and let you skip alot of stuff you can learn later).

In other words, if you are a DBA who has just been assigned to manage a Unix-based system for the first time in your career: get this book. Forget all the (great) general Linux/Unix/shell scripting books for now. Don't even think the Oracle docs will teach you what you need to know. Oracle Shell Scripting: Linux and UNIX Programming for Oracle (Oracle In-Focus series) is what you need!

If you are coming the other way though - an experienced Linux admin being told that from Monday you also need to manage an Oracle database - I'd say this book probably doesn't have much to teach you. There's much more you'd need to learn about Oracle first (after telling your manager he's crazy), and there are really no scripting tricks in the book that you shouldn't already know. The main benefit you get would probably be a few pages in chapter 6 that cover the tricks of using sqlplus in a shell script - all in one place rather than having to tease it out of the Oracle docs (see this related question on stackoverflow).

Hot Pink Flying Saucers and Other Clouds

I stumbled upon Hot Pink Flying Saucers and Other Clouds in Kinokuniya last week. This is a mischievous little "gift book" with some 30 utterly amazing pictures of "clouds that look like things". I had to get it, despite the fact that the 3" x 5" format just doesn't do the subject justice. If anything deserved to be a full size coffee table book, this is it!

The book is produced by the Cloud Appreciation Society, and a magical gallery of images is available on their website. It truly reinvigorates your faith in mankind's inner child that organisations such as this exist.

At The Cloud Appreciation Society we love clouds, we’re not ashamed to say it and we’ve had enough of people moaning about them.

The book has made me look afresh at the skies of Singapore. Living here you don't tend to spend a lot of time looking up. The tropical humidity and general lack of turbulence make saturated blanket cloud cover pretty much the norm. We don't have a big weather section in news broadcasts, and no-one really talks about the weather. At night you are lucky to see the glimmer of a dozen stars (half of which turn out to be 747s coming in to land at Changi).

But, no, since picking up "Hot Pink.." I've been drawn to looking up, and I think my prejudices might be misguided. Not everyday, but I realise now there is a little more interesting action going on than I had assumed. I have my camera on standby now, ready to catch any flying saucers, dogs, ducks, or skateboarders that may make an appearance in our skies.

As an aside, you can join the society for just £4.00 + postage. I was really impressed by the playful and transparent disclosure of how membership fees are applied. Certainly the best I've seen for any club or association, short of ploughing through a really dry P&L statement. Makes me want to sign up, simply as a nod to the good job they have done! NB: as of 22-Jun-2009, the image link on the cloud costs page appears to be broken.

PS: shortly after posting this, I discovered another cloud lover here in Singapore. Anonymous_X has been posting cloud pictures on The Clouds Represent My Heart site since August!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The New Yishun Library

Well, weekdays being weekdays, I didn't manage to get up to Yishun last Thursday in time to enjoy Issak's world-exclusive, personally-guided bloggers' tour of the new Yishun Public Library before the doors were thrown open to the masses on Friday 14th.

I did pop in on Sunday though ... along with the rest of the masses. I mean masses. Just collage a few hundred faces on this picture and you'll get the idea:

The new library stretches across the entire upper level of both the old and new extension of the Northpoint shopping centre (correction: it only seemed that way. Apparently it's just in the new extension). That's a pretty huge space, and aside from some scary cubes in the kids' area, it's pretty much all given over to the collection itself.

Kind of makes sense for a library in a mall: drop in; pick up and move on. Side thought: my cynical mind wonders if the centre management insist the library limit the study space and reading corners. Can't have people inside a mall being distracted from spending money for too long, can we?

Sunday was very busy, and it did show up a few "scalability" problems in the layout. With hindsight, NLB may regret jamming the kids area right up to the entrance, having the customer service queue cut across the walkway, and not making space for a few more checkout machines. There seemed to be a perpetual log jam of people trying to get through the kids area to the adult collection. I guess things will quieten down over the next few weeks, but the floor plan could do with a few tweaks before the library can comfortably handle crowds like this on a routine basis.

I didn't mind too much - this once! After all, there's something very reassuring and downright wholesomely right about a LIBRARY opening attracting so much interest.

mrsburdak did make the blogger preview and posted a great photo tour. Also didn't pass up the opportunity to campaign on a few of the hot issues for library users in Singapore;-)

  • The whole website confusion (and broken: go to and click on a menu. Doh!)

  • Messing with the Dewey system by thematically arranging the library. Yep, I also find myself having to check every aisle to find the right section (I dare you to guess which section a book about google maps hacks is in). DBAs call that a "table scan" and hate them like the devil's spawn:-/

OK, so nothing as important as Obama still failing my spell checker, but it's emotional and heady stuff for people who love their libraries.

As I do;-) And now with Yishun I have a fantastic, fully stocked library a door-to-door bus trip away (rather than walk and bus, or walk and train).

PS: thanks Ivan for putting out the call to bloggers about the new library. Hope you continue to get bloggers involved (can't get us to turn up? Make your own: teach the kids to blog at the library). Libraries and blogging are a perfect match in my book.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

When Good People Write Bad Sentences

uush .. I take a deep breath and prepare for the perilous task of blogging about a book that is all about writing well.

I know my writing can be lazy and prone to opacity (to all except me of course), but I do enjoy reading about writing.

However, too many books attempt to just lay down the law - albeit with a garnish of humorous anecdotes - and any 'learning' is short-lived.

Robert W. Harris' When Good People Write Bad Sentences doesn't make this mistake. He knows the problem is not that we don't know the rules. The root cause of our troubles is more fundamental.

(also available from the Singapore National Library)

Bad writing is an addiction; an -ism that is given to misdirect your pen. We are gripped by malescribism.

And just like any other condition, a cure is possible given the right intervention. Which is what this book provides (as you can probably guess, planting tongue firmly in cheek is the first prerequisite to recovery).

In 12 easy steps, we learn to overcome our denial, pride, and insecurity, then find the courage to begin the journey to enlightenment:
  • Accept the fact that bad writing happens.

  • Admit you've willingly made writing mistakes .

  • Believe that Standard English can heal you.

  • Stop writing weak sentences.

  • Stop writing formal sentences.

  • Stop writing overweight sentences.

  • Stop writing unclear sentences.

  • Stop writing careless sentences.

  • Stop writing unpersuasive sentences.

  • Stop writing incongruous sentences.

  • Stop writing unstructured sentences.

  • Stop writing unsightly sentences.

If I can only recommend one book on the craft of writing, this is it. Wherever you use English - school reports, blogs, business proposals, or novels - this book can help you do so more effectively, more efficiently and more enjoyably.

The Recovering Malescribe's Bill of Rights

  • I have the right to embrace Standard English.

  • I have the right to respect my inner child-writer.

  • I have the right to improve my writing skills without aiming for perfection.

  • I have the right to create sentences without being motivated by bad emotions.

  • I have the right to spell better than those around me.

  • I have the right to be grammatically correct.

  • I have the right to punctuate correctly without apology.

  • I have the right to edit my work.

  • I have the right to cooperate with my readers.

  • I have the right to give myself permission to be a healthy writer.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Eleven Fire Crackers

OK, plugging in my iPod now to drown out the friggin jingle bells playing in the background. It's barely November, I'm in Singapore ... so who invited Bing Crosby and a troop of reindeer godammit??

Spinning thru albums at random I crank up the volume on Eleven Fire Crackers, and instantly remember why this was a 2 second buy decision back at some music store in Shinjuku.

I picked it up while working in Tokyo a few years back. I was going crazy over the local bands, and this album by ELLEGARDEN was kind of lost in all the great music at the time.

I think I just listened to it about 3 times today. This is wild, energetic J-Rock at its best, a little pop and heavy on the grunge. I guess what sets them apart from other bands in the genre - like Uplift Spice, another of my favourites - is that many songs are in English. Vocalist 細美武士 Takeshi Hosomi's accent is undefinable and intriguing. Could be Orange Country one moment, pure cockney the next. A little like Hyde in English.

Having just rediscovered ELLEGARDEN, it's sad to now discover I am just a month late - they officially suspend their activities indefinitely in September 2008 and go onto other things.

So no chance to see them live anymore (at least as ELLEGARDEN), only go back and checkout their other albums. I can't imagine anything better than Eleven Fire Crackers. But maybe I have some treasures to discover yet...