Oracle Code … Not for database people ?

imageJump over to the Oracle Code home page and you will see the “mission statement” of the Oracle Code conference series:

“Learn from technical experts in sessions for developing software in Java, Node.js, and other languages and frameworks.”

You might hence be thinking that “old school” stuff like (relational) database technology has no place at such a conference, and certainly the agenda looks slanted away from database technologies.  But I think you’re wrong Smile and here is why I think that.  I did a talk in Bangalore last week at the Oracle Code event there (which by the way was a wonderful event, so thanks to all that came along) on some SQL language techniques.  After the talk, one of attendees came up to me, thanked me for the talk and said this (I’m paraphrasing):

“It was really interesting to see all the stuff that you could do in SQL.  I’m a Java person, and whenever I have complicated data requirements, I have always simply retrieved the data from the database and then done the complex part of the operations in Java.  But your session has convinced me to explore doing some of that in SQL”

It is so easy to have a bias for the technology(s) that you are most capable with.  I am just as guilty of that as anyone. I’ll generally look for a SQL or PL/SQL means to solve a business problem before considering other options that may actually be more appropriate.  But here we had an attendee who was happy to consider looking outside his sphere of expertise to focus on optimal solutions to problems rather than just solutions that sat inside his “comfort zone”.  That really struck a chord with me, and made me feel like the entire trip was worthwhile. Because when we have a bias toward a particular technology, it is easy to lulled into an argument that other technologies are inappropriate for any usage.  And then suddenly we’re into a shouting match about why technology “X” is the best and that anything that is not technology “X” is junk.  We all lose when that’s the case.

So there’s an argument to made that Oracle Code is indeed not for database developers, but in the same way, it is not for middle tier developers, and not for front end developers.  Oracle Code is about creating the balanced developer – a developer that has expertise in one (or more) areas but more importantly, can understand the whole stack and have an impartial, unclouded (no pun intended) view of the benefits of all layers in the application stack.  Because that balance ultimately leads to a better development community, and better opportunities to maximize the benefits of each of the components in the array of technologies that now permeate our development careers.

So whatever your area of expertise, Oracle Code has something for you, and and perhaps the best thing you can do at an Oracle Code event, is attend something outside your current area of expertise.

Top Ten Travel hints and Tips

Well, let me be honest right at the top here.  These are not travel hints Smile  These will not help you in any way.

This is me having a whine and a rant about a minority of people that I occasionally encounter when travelling.

Yes, this can probably be best described as me and my first world problems, but I need to expunge these so that next time I travel, I don’t lose my head, and stuff some poor unsuspecting innocent passenger“under the seat in front of me or in the overhead locker” Smile

So sit back, relax and enjoy Connor’s “Travel Tips” Smile  (possibly NSFW)

1) Boarding pass

The term “boarding pass” stems from the Latin derivation: “The pass you need to present in order to board the bloody plane!”

So you know what ? At some stage, there is going to be a person who wants to see your boarding pass.  Incredible eh ?  And do you know where this happens ?  In every freakin’ airport !  We don’t need to suffer while you present a bemused expression to the security person asking for boarding pass, whilst you say “Oh….do I need my boarding pass ?  Let me hunt for it in the bottom of my bag for 15 minutes”.  On a recent flight, I even saw someone launch into a debate with the ground staff about why they have to present their pass!  Seriously ?  Were you trying out for the school debating team ?  Just keep it in your pocket or in your hand, and you’re done.  Easy !

2) Security check

There’s also going to be some people who want to X-ray your stuff.  Do you know where this happens ?  In every freakin’ airport !  And that huge placard that just about hit you on the head as you entered the security checkpoint said something along the lines of:

  • Take out your laptop
  • Empty your pockets

or we can take that down to real simple terms…. Metal and electrical stuff – bad.  Human body – good. Pretty….simple….concept.

But that’s ok, you can just ignore all that, because nothing makes a security officer feel more complete, than watching that bag of yours go though the X-ray machine 4 times, each time with one less electronic device in it, combined with your silly grin and shrug of the shoulders…. And they’ll ever happier when you follow that up with you carrying your wallet, phone, pocket knife, kitchen utensils, meccano set, your complete IKEA Applaro outdoor furniture setting, and a Milwaukee ride-on lawn mower, all stuffed in your jeans pockets, so that body scanner sounds more like Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum fairy.

3) Boarding the plane

A few budget airlines have a policy where the seats are no allocated, you simply take what is available as you enter plane.

But the huge majority of airlines offer an incredible, amazingly sophisticated service for you as a passenger.

It’s called …. AN ALLOCATED SEAT.

You’re going to get one.  Incredible isn’t it ?!?!  Whether you like it or not… there is a seat on that plane that is waiting for you… JUST FOR YOU!  It doesn’t matter if you are the first person on the plane, or the last person on the plane, you are going to get that seat.  Because we’ve all seen the unholy hell of a nightmare that results when a passenger does not arrive for their seat after they’ve checked in.  Staff run around in a total panic like headless chickens yelling out “MR SMITH !!! URGENTLY PAGING MR SMITH!!!!”.  Every airline employee involved with that airline’s imminent departure is thoroughly invested in getting you to the your seat so the plane can leave, and they can see the back of you and go grab a coffee.

Do you know what this means ?  It means that when the boarding announcement is made, you do not have to charge the gate like the Orc army in the Lord of the Rings.  Do you know why airlines board the plane in a particular order ?  So they get can the damn plane into the air and on it’s way! That is sortta a prerequisite of travelling by plane to a destination – at some stage the plane has to get into the air for this to work ! You are not trying to storm a battlefront, or escape a stampede of bison, or get a limited edition of the AskTom commemorative sticker Smile.

So surprise surprise … if you wait for your boarding zone to be called, you will actually get to your destination faster.  And as a bonus, we can all get away faster.

4) Carry on

There is probably some unique set of circumstances out there, or some incredibly rare set of events put in motion, that means on this particular day, on this particular flight:

  • you are emigrating to another country never to return, AND
  • the aircraft is doing an emergency shipment of food to a stranded herd of Nepalese mountain goats, and hence the cargo hold is full of hay.

but unless both of those conditions are true, then sorry, you do not need to bring a metric tonne of belongings spread across 34 bags into the cabin.  If you don’t carry so much junk with you, you’re also less likely to needing riot gear to rush the door (see 3 above) worrying that you won’t be able to find storage space for those 34 bags you’re lugging.  And if you had listened to me in #1, you’d have your boarding pass in one hand, and only one hand left for carry-on luggage.  That’s ample!

5) Your seat

“Wow, I walked onto the plane, and every row number was just in a random order throughout the plane”

… said no passenger on any airline ever.

It’s pretty simple.  The numbers start low and get higher.  It’s a lot like …. hmm… what’s the term I’m looking for …. oh yeah, counting! Smile  Don’t get me wrong – we’ve all done the “walk mistake” or “sit mistake” where we end up 1 row adjacent to where we should have gone.  No problems with that – it’s easy to fix.  But how on earth did you get down to row 64 when your boarding pass said “Row 17”.  What happened in that long slow walk down the plane where you missed the numbers 18 through 63 ?  I reckon I know why you missed those numbers – you were looking for storage bins to put your 34 carryon bags, plus the IKEA Applaro outdoor furniture setting that’s in your back pocket (which would be uncomfortable to sit on for the flight) Smile

Now, if you’re going to take me to task on this one and tell me that things might be more complicated on an A380 because of it’s multi-deck system, then I’m still not budging.  See #3 above.  When the boarding call announcements are made, the ground staff will tell you which door to take to the plane.  But you might have missed that during your Ussain Bolt impersonation trying to be the first person on the plane Smile

(Caveat: If the standard decimal Hindu-Arabic number system is not native to your language…you get a leave pass for this one)

6) The loo (toilet, rest room)

There’s plenty of ridiculous research studies performed each year, so perhaps somewhere, in some remote corner of our planet, there is a study being conducted to see in how many ways in a confined space a male can pee and deliberately not hit the target.

An aircraft is not one of the places…. Ugh.

7) Your phone

I think I side with the majority here, in that I’m pretty confident that using mobile phone is not going to cause any problems to the plane.

But … unless I work as an electronics/avionics engineer for that airline I’m flying on, that is not my decision to make.  It’s not yours either.

So when the announcement to turn off or flight mode your phone is made – try this technique:  Stop using your damn phone.

Because even if there is only a 0.001% chance of your phone usage causing an issue on the plane, there is no way that you “Poking” or “Liking” your cousin’s new gluten-free sugar-free chocolate chip muffin recipe on Facebook even comes close to taking even that infinitesimal risk.  When they’re crawling through the wreckage of the plane to find your remains, that’s not so great a eulogy to have read out at your funeral: “Yes, John did bring the plane down with his phone by messing up its navigation, but at least he enjoyed cousin Susie’s Paleo muffins”

8) The seat belt sign

I’ve travelled a lot.  Like most people, I’m not a fan of turbulence, but there are some times when I am literally appealing to a higher power for sudden, unexpected, near catastrophic turbulence to hit the plane – even if we’re still on the ground!  It’s when we’re about to take off, or we’re about to land, because someone has decided it’s time to get out of their seat and and embark upon a voyage of exploration throughout the entire cabin.  You can see their mindset – “I paid for my ticket. Why should I have to abide by the instructions of the flight attendant?”. If they just could take their over-inflated sense of self-importance offline for a few minutes, they’d probably realise that that trip to the galley area to demand an apple juice, (because hey, apple juice is much more critical than the tasks that flight attendants are currently doing in preparation for take off) could probably wait for a few minutes until the seat belt sign is switched off.  Which it will be for 99% of the flight!

The other day, I was in a plane that was seriously 20 seconds from touching down, and some joker gets up and makes his way to the toilet.  They had been locked by the flight attendants because …. we’re busy landing the bloody plane!  But that’s lets face it, if a seat belt sign hasn’t deterred the passenger, then nothing as simple as a locked door is going to stop him either.  So he’s standing there trying to break down the door like a SWAT team doing a drug raid, whilst the poor flight attendant has to put her safety at risk to get this numpty to the sit the hell back down.

9) The baggage carousel

As well as SpaceX and cross-continental transport tunnels, Elon Musk has already invested billions of dollars into baggage carousels at airports. Baggage carousels are incredibly hi-tech pieces of equipment.  There is a series of highly sophisticated Bluetooth devices that scan every single passenger as they approach via the entrance hall – devices that measure each passenger’s exact distance from their shoes to the carousel down to the nearest millimetre.  These measurements are sent wirelessly to the luggage delivery staff who then proceed to deliver the suitcases in exactly the order of proximity of passengers to the carousel.  The closer you stand, the faster your bag will come out.

I don’t have any concrete evidence of Elon’s involvement in baggage carousels – but surely that must be the case, because what other reason could there be for people to jam themselves around the thing like sardines in a can, making it impossible for anyone to see or even pick up their bag. Oh, and here’s a great idea – grab that airport luggage trolley and jam it right up against the carousel as well.  Heaven knows, if you packed 34 items of carry-on, you probably have an aircraft carrier plus a 4-storey building jammed into your suitcase.  No way you’ll be able to lift that more than a couple of inches.

Pro tip:  Standing just 1 meter back from the carousel lets everyone easily see and grab their bags.  And there’s no Bluetooth either, or Elon Musk for that matter.  He’s got more important stuff to do than watch you make a fool of yourself around a baggage carousel. Smile

10 ) Your airline staff

This is perhaps the motivation for this entire post.  On a few flights recently, I’ve seen the flight attendants over stretched in their duties because they are spending so much time trying to get passengers to do what passengers are meant to be doing without explicit instruction.  Or even worse, people being just plain rude to them.  Man, that gets me wound up.  So wound up it makes me want to blog about it Smile

Whatever your profession, nothing is more insulting than someone coming up to you and basically announcing “Whatever task you are doing is not as important as you catering to my most trivial of needs right now”.  It’s disrespectful and demeaning.  At the end of my work day, I feel best when I look back at the day and think “I achieved a lot today”.  More and more nowadays, when I’m a plane sitting within eyeshot of a flight attendants, when the plane lands I don’t see a look of job satisfaction; I see “Thank heavens, these rude and ignorant people will be getting off this damn plane so I won’t have to deal with them again”.  That’s a really sad reflection on us as passengers.

So there’s my “travel tips” for you.  Happy flying Smile

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 🙂

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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