Monday, 29 December 2008

Training Tip: Nearly Free Laser Pointer

When I got started in training, the pencil-type laser pointer was over $100. Needless to say, I found other ways to point at the screen  (hand shadows being the primary one).

Recently, I finally broke down and got a laser pointer, which I keep in my trainer kit. The cost?  Only $3, in a clearance bin at Walgreens. It was sold as a cat toy: a way to put a spot of light on the wall for cats to chase around. (It also puts up an image of a mouse, a butterfly, a star, and my favorite, a smiley face.)

The use of laser diodes in mass-market equipment such as CD and DVD players has lowered their production cost so far that now they can be sold as toys, not $100 professional tools.  I don't care what it says on the package, it's a dandy training aid.

On the other hand, training is often compared to herding cats, so maybe the package description is appropriate.

NOTE: Do not put this in your carry-on luggage. It's considered a weapon and forbidden by the TSA, so pack it with your trainer kit in your checked luggage.

UPDATE 2/4/2011:  Laser pointers no longer appear on the TSA's list of prohibited items, and haven't for some time.  Thanks to reader LaserPointers for asking me to research and update this post.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Oracle Database 11gR1 on VMWare

I've just finished creating the test environment I'm going to use to prepare for the 11g OCP upgrade test. Instead of installing directly on a lab machine as I've done before, I decided to do this one inside a VMWare virtual machine. Here are some notes on what I did, while they're fresh in my mind.

Don't you just love the Internet?  I found an excellent step-by-step install guide by John Smiley, and it really shortened the learning curve. It also contains links to the download sites for Oracle Enterprise Linux 5, which is functionally similar to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, and Oracle Database 11gR1.

VMWare layer: 

I created a VM with 1024Mb memory, a single 20GB hard disk, one network adapter bridged. I don't plan to do RAC scenarios with this image, it's just for the basics, so I kept it simple. I can add more virtual hard drives to it later to practice ASM.

Linux layer:

I used Oracle Enterprise Linux 5, downloaded from Oracle.  I followed the install instructions from Oracle-Base, which included details on disk partitioning. OEL5 includes 5 CD images as .iso files, but the install only required the first 3.

On my first attempt, I did as the Oracle notes suggested and did a default install of packages. But this led to problems later with missing libraries needed by various RPMs. So, I started over, selected "Customize Now" instead of "Customize Later," and followed instructions I had used successfully with 10gR2 in terms of which packages to include and not:

    • GNOME Desktop Environment
    • Editors
    • Graphical Internet
    • Text-based Internet
    • Development Libraries
    • Development Tools
    • Legacy Software Development
    • Server Configuration Tools
    • Administration Tools
    • Base
    • Legacy Software Support
    • System Tools
    • X Window System

This worked much better.

I then followed the Oracle instructions exactly for preparing the OS for Oracle, in terms of adding several additional RPMs, setting kernel parameters, creating security groups and creating the oracle user.

Oracle installation:

My first try failed due to unzipping all the files on my Windows machine and burning an ISO image. I got permissions errors when trying to start the Oracle Universal Installer. So, I reburned the image with just the ZIP file as downloaded by Oracle, and unzipped it within the Linux environment. The rest of the install was textbook.

Throughout, I used the VMware Workstation 6.5 snapshot feature, taking snapshots of the base Linux machine, Linux machine plus additional packages, Linux machine plus customizations for Oracle, and finally after the successful install.  I connected with sqlplus and was rewarded with the opening banner giving the version as

Let the studying begin!  Oh wait, it already has.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

New Oracle Certified Associate (OCA) Requirements

New candidates for Oracle's entry level DBA certification must now pass an exam on SQL, in addition to the existing requirement for passing the Database Administration I test. The Oracle Certified Associate (OCA) credential is the first rung in Oracle's 3-step DBA certification ladder. The change went into effect December 1st, 2008.

According to the Oracle University website, any of four exams will meet the requirement:

  • 1Z0-001: Introduction to SQL and PL/SQL

  • 1Z0-007: Introduction to 9i SQL

  • 1Z1-051: Oracle Database 11g SQL Fundamentals I

  • 1Z0-047: Oracle Database SQL Expert

Existing OCAs and OCPs do not have to fulfill the additional requirement. Their upgrade paths remain the same.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Training Tips: Use an Electronic "Whiteboard"

Training on-site at customer locations is sometimes challenging. Every classroom is set up differently, and that means having to be adaptable to the tools available.

For example, I like to draw on whiteboards as I talk, but many classrooms have such a big pull-down screen that the whiteboard is almost completely covered. It's a hassle (and distracting) to constantly raise and lower the screen.

My accomodation to this was to open a Word document, set the font to 24 pt. Arial, and use it to type my notes. It was awkward at first, but after a while, I found I really liked this approach. I can use the notes during review on future days without messing with bulky easel pads. And I email the entire whiteboard document to the participants after class is over, which makes a good "after sale" reminder of the value I've delivered.

I'm still struggling with how to draw diagrams: the tools in Word are a bit primitive.

One tip: back up the whiteboard to a flash drive before you leave each day. Some classroom environments reset themselves upon logout, and your documents might not be there the next day. Also, some on-site training rooms are shared spaces that others might use between class sessions. Be prepared: backup!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Planning: Top Down, or Bottom Up?

Training professionals, like all knowledge workers, need to plan their time. There is always more to be done than time available, and choices have to be made. These choices become commitments -- and once made, these commitments need to be tracked to ensure we follow through on them.

What city am I in next week? Has the venue been prepared? Did I send the course materials ahead? Which course is it, so I can pack the right Instructor Guide?

Two popular approaches to planning systems are top-down (or values-driven) and bottom-up (or action-driven).

An example of the top-down approach is the Franklin-Covey Planner. Their process starts with writing a personal mission statement that embodies your personal values. "Begin with the end in mind," says Steven Covey, and work backwards from that. The mission statement leads to long term goals in the various roles in your life, such as spouse, parent, worker, church member, etc.  These long term goals in turn lead to shorter term projects, and eventually, daily tasks which are tracked on the pages of the Planner. Your purpose becomes a compass that guides you in daily decisionmaking.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, works from the bottom up. You start by itemizing every "open loop" or unfinished commitment in your life, and taking them one at a time, determine if there is a next action to be performed. Any action that takes 2 minutes or less is done immediately, and longer actions are either delegated or scheduled on a calendar or action list.  Allen contends that as you gain control over execution, your mind will become freer to strategize what's important to you.

So which system is right: top-down, or bottom-up? The answer for me is "both." (Your answer, of course, may vary.)  I have done some work identifying my personal values, and I use a paper-based Franklin-Covey Compass planner. (Classic size, wire-bound, weekly format, in case you're interested.) But I don't use it the way that Franklin-Covey says to use it: instead, I use it as the calendar component of an overall Getting Things Done (GTD) filing system.

I've been working with planning systems for over 35 years now, constantly refining and adapting as my needs change.  And I still miss things occasionally. But my systems help me do the best job I can of fulfilling my commitments, both to others, and to myself.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Training tip: Nothing works every time

When you use checklists for service delivery, as I do, it's easy to slip into a routine. In fact, that's what checklists are designed to do: take best practices and make them a habit.

But nothing works every time. Doing the same training game at the same point in a given course may seem like a "best practice," but ignores the most important thing, which is the needs of the students in the class. People are different, and that means you can teach the same course dozens of times and no two deliveries will be exactly the same.

For example, there is one training game I usually play on the last day of a certain class.  It nicely sums up the material in the class, and it's a lot of fun.  Usually.  But I know from experience that if the class is smaller than 6 or 7 people, that game isn't going to work. So I have to substitute something else.

Or, if the people in the class find games distracting and prefer a more straightforward presentation, I have to adapt my style to what will make them comfortable enough to be open to learning.

Checklists can be a wonderful tool to ensure a base level of service delivery, a "good" class. But it's going beyond the checklist to personalize the experience that makes a class not just good, but great.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

A Training Lesson from Bruce Springsteen

Tom Peters had an epiphany the other day: his first Bruce Springsteen concert.  Initially miffed by the pouring rain (and at being dragged there by his wife), he nevertheless described himself as "Earth's newest Bruce Groupie":

Well, the storm abated, The Boss showed up—and I, one of Earth's newest Bruce Groupies by midnight, was mesmerized by the most amazing piece of performance art of any sort I've ever seen (65.8 years) or ever expect to see. Three+ hours, non-flagging energy, no intermission at all—he ran to a little table and threw ice water on himself a couple of times without breaking stride. If ever there was a time when the word "excellence" was not hyperbole, this was it. The repertoire was great, but so what. The passion & energy & performance [P.E.P., "pep"—God help me] per se was the point, the whole point, and nothing but the point.

I'm inspired by energetic performance, because I see training as performance. The students expend a lot of energy, and they get empty. Where do they get more? By and large, from us, the trainers. By directing their attention and planning their energy output, we can help them budget it. And we can break up the material with energizers and other fun things that fill them up again.

I know it's been a good class when I feel just drained from all the energy I gave away, but happy that those I gave it to had a good experience. Makes me feel a little like a rock star.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Oracle on VMWare

One of my current projects is building VMWare virtual machines that I can use to practice installing Oracle 11g and third-party products.  I found some great "cheat sheets" at the Oracle Base website:

  • Oracle DB 11gR1 RAC Installation on OEL5 Using VMWare.  This one covers setting up Oracle Enterprise Linux 5 on VMWare virtual machines in a configuration designed to be used as a RAC node (e.g., dual network interface cards). It's the whole meal, from soup to nuts. The level of detail is great.
  • Oracle Enterprise Linux 5 Installation.  This is a step-by-step, generic setup of OEL5 suitable for adding other software (like Oracle) later. It's not Oracle-specific, but a good overview.

Both of these have lots of screenshots and the little tips that head off disaster.

I do have a couple of qualms, though.

Now that Oracle has released their own virtualization solution, OracleVM, they are not likely to ever support VMWare-based solutions. Part of me says I should be building these VMs on OracleVM. However, Oracle VM requires a separate machine to run, and VMWare doesn't. Plus, VMWare is a clear market leader at this point. Because these machines will be used as learning aids, not production, I don't think it's a big risk.

The other thing is using Oracle Enterprise Linux as the O.S. instead of something more generic. The only reasons I'm going this way are that the cheat sheets use it, and it is a free download.

But clearly, things have come a long way since people were first struggling with Oracle in virtual environments years ago.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Training tip: Warm up your voice before class

Classroom training is a performance -- a vocal performance, like singing or acting. As a trainer, my voice is an important asset to my job, so protecting that voice is important.

One thing I've learned to do before class each day is to warm up, just like a singer warms up. Here's my routine.

Before warming up, I drink some water to make sure my throat is moist. Then I start by singing the musical scales (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) up and down very softly. This acts as a diagnostic: I can usually tell pretty quickly how strong my voice is that day, if it's scratchy or clear, wavering or rock solid.

Then I add a bit more power, a bit more volume. I do some more scales, then go directly from low C on the scale (do) to an octave higher (DO) and back down again (do) a few times.  I notice how quickly my voice was able to make the change, and how closely I "nailed" the note.

Next, I'll sing a familiar song, especially if the radio is on. This means singing notes in different order than just the scales.  Again, I watch the transitions, looking for places where my voice may be a bit weak today. Then I know in the classroom I'll have to moderate my volume or I won't have a voice left by the end of the day.

Finally, I'll talk.  I put a smile on my face and say, "Good Morning!  Welcome to the Training Center.  My name is Bob Watkins, and today, we'll be talking about..."  I may ramble a bit about what we're going to cover that day: this helps me focus as well as lets me hear how I'm sounding.

I often do this warmup in the car while driving from the hotel to the training location. It looks funny, but when I hit the classroom, I'm ready to go. And, I don't run out of voice about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, as I used to before I adopted this warmup routine.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Not about the coffee

With all due respect to my colleague Jon Emmons, whose blog "Life After Coffee" can be found on my Blogroll, there are times when it's not about the coffee.

While working on my blog redesign this morning, I listened to a two-part podcast, by Curt Rosengren of The M.A.P. Maker blog. This is one of my favorite blogs for getting and keeping motivated.

The podcast series was an interview with the former president of Starbucks Coffee Company, Howard Behar.  (I learned a lot about Starbucks in the 12 years I lived in Seattle before moving to Dallas. They were even one of my customers: I taught customized Oracle classes there.)

In his new book, Howard says that in a successful company like Starbucks, "It's Not About The Coffee," it's about the people. Some great takeaways from the podcast:

  • We spend most of our time growing up being told "No" to things. Subconsciously, we feel we've arrived as an adult when we have the power to say "No" to others. But it's much more fun to be able to say "Yes" instead, especially to customers.
  • We sometimes wear many hats, being different people in different situations. Howard's philosophy is to "Wear One Hat," that is, be yourself. Align your values and outlook with a job that fits you.
  • If you're having what Howard calls a "gray day," accept that. He talks to himself (sometimes out loud!) and asks, "What's up with this gray feeling?" and then, "It's okay not to be UP today." The simple act of giving himself permission to be how he is, often dissipates much of the gray feeling.