Oracle Scratchpad

October 18, 2012

Philosophy 19

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:13 pm GMT Oct 18,2012

We’ve reached that time of year (Autumn, or Fall if you prefer the American term) when I’m reminded that tending a garden is like tending an Oracle database.

This is a picture of the oak tree on my front lawn, taken about 4 hours ago. Looking at it now it shows hardly any sign of the coming winter and little of the colour that let’s you know it’s preparing to drop its huge volume of leaves, but yesterday morning I spent the best part of an hour raking up leaves that had dropped over the course of the previous week.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be out be out with my leaf rake every few days to clean up the mess – and I’ll look down at the mess that’s on the ground, then look up at the mess that’s waiting to join it, and then I’ll do just enough work to make the lawn look just good enough to keep my wife happy for a few more days until I get sent out to do it all over again.

You can spot the analogy, of course – it’s important to think about how much effort it’s worth spending to get to an end result which is good enough for long enough. There’s no point in spending a huge amount of effort getting a fantastic result that is going to be obliterated almost immediately by the next problem that gets dumped in your lap. When the tree is nearly bare, I’ll do a thorough job of clearing the leaves, until then, 95% is easy enough, and good enough.

Footnote: avid arboriculturalists might wonder why the tree is lop-sided – being a little light on the side towards the road – it’s the sort of thing that happens when a tree gets hit by a lorry.

September 24, 2012

Philosophy 18

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:28 pm GMT Sep 24,2012

A question I asked myself recently was this:

Which is the worst offence when publishing an article about some feature of Oracle:

  1. Saying something does work when it doesn’t
  2. Saying something doesn’t work when it does
  3. Saying something does work when in some cases it doesn’t.
  4. Saying something doesn’t work when in some cases it does.

I don’t think it’s an easy question to answer and, of course, it’s not made any easier when you start to consider the number of cases for which a feature does or doesn’t work (how many cases is “some cases”), and the frequency with which different cases are likely to appear.

June 26, 2012

Philosophy 17

Filed under: Oracle,Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:17 pm GMT Jun 26,2012

You need to understand the application and its data.

A recent request on OTN was for advice on making this piece of SQL run faster:

delete from toc_node_rel rel
where   not exists (
                select  *
                from    toc_rel_meta meta
                where   rel.rel_id = meta.rel_id


April 4, 2012

Philosophy 16

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:49 pm GMT Apr 4,2012

I couldn’t help laughing when I saw this.

March 30, 2012


Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:56 pm GMT Mar 30,2012

Here’s a wonderful lesson from Cary Millsap – be very careful if you ever want to sell him anything – that reminded me of a Powerpoint slide I had produced for a presentation a few years ago. It took me a little time to track it down but I finally found the slide, reproduced below, in a presentation called: “The Burden of Proof” that I had given for the Ann Arbor Oracle User Group in 2002. (The picture of the Earth is the Apollo 17 image from NASA):


August 30, 2011


Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:32 am GMT Aug 30,2011

Here’s a quote that says it all:

Dr Joseph Lykken of Fermilab – in response to some (negative) results from the Large Hadron Collider that suggest the simplest form of SuperSymmetry is wrong:

“It [supersymmetry] is a beautiful idea. It explains dark matter, it explains the Higgs boson, it explains some aspects of cosmology; but that doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Mind you, Feynmann got there years ago:

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

July 15, 2011

Philosophy 15

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:19 pm GMT Jul 15,2011

If you run a query that is supposed to return one row from a large table, and there’s a suitable index in place you would probably expect the optimizer to identify and use the index. If you change the query to return all the data (without sorting) from the table you would probably expect the optimizer to choose a full tablescan.

This leads to a very simple idea that is often overlooked:

Sometimes it takes just one extra row (that the optimizer knows about) to switch a plan from an indexed access to a full tablescan.

There has to be a point in our thought experiment where the optimizer changes from the “one row” indexed access to the “all the rows” tablescan.

If you’re lucky and the optimizer’s model is perfect there won’t be any significant difference in performance, of course. But we aren’t often that lucky, which is why people end up asking the question:  “How come the plan suddenly went bad, nothing changed … except for a little bit of extra data?” All is takes is one row (that the optimizer knows about) to change from one plan to another – and sometimes the optimizer works out the wrong moment for making the change.

March 25, 2011


Filed under: Oracle,Philosophy,Troubleshooting — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:51 pm GMT Mar 25,2011

“There is no space problem.”

If you saw this comment in the middle of a thread about some vaguely described Oracle problem, which of the following would you think was the intended meaning:

    There is a problem – we have no space.
    We do not have a problem with space

Wouldn’t it make life so much easier to choose between:

    We are not seeing any Oracle errors.
    We are seeing Oracle error: “ORA-01653: unable to extend table X by N in tablespace Z”

(That’s just one of many possible space-related errors, of course.)

February 17, 2011

Philosophy – 14

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:48 pm GMT Feb 17,2011

Paraphrasing Yogi Berra:

    “It ain’t committed until it’s committed.”

If you’re wondering why it’s worth remembering this odd comment – it addresses the (commonly asked) question:

    “does the redo log contain uncommitted data as well as committed data?”

The answer is: yes.

When a session is creating redo change vectors it doesn’t know whether it is going to commit or rollback. But a session has to be able to store an arbitrarily large list of change vectors somewhere, and that list has to appear in the redo log (ideally “instantly”) if the session commits – so Oracle avoids delays on commit by putting the change vectors into the redo log as they are created***.

If you view the question from the opposite extreme, the recovery mechanism has to be able to deal with uncommitted data anyway because there are, after all, several scenarios where data that definitely was committed cannot be recovered; for example, recovery until end of log file 9998 because log file 9999 was destroyed and simply doesn’t exist – how can the code handle transactions that were not committed until part way through file 9999 if it only knows how to handle committed transactions ?)

*** Not strictly true from 10g onwards where Oracle introduced a delaying effect aimed at reducing competition for the redo allocation and redo copy latches for “small” transactions.

[The Philosophy Series]

February 9, 2011

Philosophy – 13

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:32 pm GMT Feb 9,2011

If you see a comment like “X is a bad idea” this does not mean “some mechanism that is vaguely ‘not X’ is a good idea”.

If, for example, I say:

    “Histograms will not work well on character strings that are more than 32 bytes long and generally similar in the first 32 bytes”

that is absolutely not the same as saying

    “It’s a good idea to create histograms on character strings that are less than 32 bytes long.”

If this were a purely mathematical world we could invoke symbolic logic and point out:

(A => B) <=> (¬B => ¬A)

which means my statement is equivalent to:

    if you have a histogram that is working well then the data is not character strings of more than 32 bytes with generally similar values in the first 32 bytes”

Of course, being Oracle, you may find that someone, somewhere, has exactly such a histogram that appears to work brilliantly for them – but that will be because the optimizer has messed up the arithmetic so much that they are getting a great execution plan for completely the wrong reason … so they need to watch out for the next upgrade or patch release in case the optimizer gets enhanced.

[The Philsophy Series]

October 10, 2010

Philosophy – 12

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 5:46 pm GMT Oct 10,2010

Here’s a useful description I heard recently from philosopher Daniel Dennett:

The canons of good spin:

  1. It is not a bare-faced lie
  2. You have to be able to say it with a straight face
  3. It has to relieve skepticism without arousing curiosity
  4. It should seem profound

It seems to describe a lot of the stuff that our industry publishes on the internet.

[The Philsophy Series]

June 30, 2010

Getting Help

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:31 pm GMT Jun 30,2010

I hope people won’t take this as a suggestion that I want them to start using this blog like a forum – but I’d like to highlight a note written some time ago by Randolf Geist on the OTN DBA Forum: HOW TO: Post a SQL statement tuning request – template posting It’s worth following his link to the related posting by Rob van Wijk.

If you want to post a question on the Oracle forums, or newsgroups, or the list servers, (or even raise an SR) you need to think a little carefully about the information that you know but aren’t telling everyone else about. Even following the suggestions from Randolf and Rob it’s still likely that someone will ask you for more information – but at least with their guideline you’ve given other people a possible starting point for understanding your problem.

May 20, 2010

Philosophy – 11

Filed under: humour,Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 7:02 pm GMT May 20,2010

The English language is full of irregular verbs, for example:

I am hypothesising about possible explanations
You are guessing
He’s talking rubbish

Addendum: The point, of course, is that your interpretation of an individual’s words may be critically affected by who the individual is. The use of the expresssion “English irregular verb” to describe this phenomenon was current around the time that I was at University.

[The Philosophy Series]

May 11, 2010

Philosophy – 10

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:56 pm GMT May 11,2010

The most significant question to ask when thinking about adding a new index:

“Will the index eliminate significantly more work than it introduces (at the moments when it really matters) ?”

A few examples of “moments that matter”:

  • Bulk housekeeping
  • Highly concurrent OLTP activity
  • Frequent high-precision reporting
  • Acceptance testing for side effects

[The Philosophy Series]

March 29, 2010

Philosophy – 9

Filed under: Philosophy — Jonathan Lewis @ 6:54 pm GMT Mar 29,2010

There is an old joke about an engineer, a mathematician, and a philosopher sitting together in a train travelling from London (England) to Cardiff (Wales) ***

As the train crosses the border, the engineer glances out of the window and exclaims: “Oh, look! Welsh sheep are black”.
The mathematician responds: “No; all you can say is that there is at least one sheep in Wales that is black.”
The philosopher corrects both of them: “Gentlemen, all you can claim is that there appears to be a sheep in Wales that seems to be black on one side.”

(Trust me, in 1970, this was quite funny).

The point of telling the tale is this: the best viewpoint to take when trouble-shooting an Oracle database is that of the mathematician – don’t, as the engineer did, leap to extreme conclusions based on just one observation , but don’t, as the philosopher did, get so stuck into such tiny details of theoretical correctness that reasonable assumptions are swept aside.

*** Footnote: for those not familiar with the geography of the UK: “The UK” is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and “Great Britain” is the union of England, Scotland (most of the top half of the island), and Wales (the lump at the left hand side, excluding the thin pointy bit at the bottom).

[The Philosophy Series]

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