my recent reads..

A case of severe backblogarrythmia

My backblog is giving me the irits. And what's worse I join the sad club of people who thought they cleverly invented a new word!

Backblog - Overflow of incidents you intend to write about on your weblog.

However, perhaps I can claim backblogarrythmia as my own:
.. a disruption in the regular flow of weblog posts, often caused by overwork, booze or a new romance. Primary symptom is the backblog, which in turn can exacerbate the problem through increased levels of performance stress. Treatment: JFPS*.

I used to work in a factory where I swear one of the leading hands had a personal goal of inventing a new word everyday. He'd casually call over something like "Hey, pass me the gumlicker would ya?" and take great pleasure in our confusion. He'd be mock-shocked of course at our "ignorance", and delight in explaining the word and how stupid we were for not knowing it. Crazy thing is, he'd always have a great and usually convoluted etymology.

He did this pretty much every day I knew him. Just an average working class bloke, with an average education. But I always secretly admired and envied his creativity with words, wondered where the inspiration came from, and whether he'd use the gift for anything more than keeping his workmates from boredom.

Me? The only words I invent tend to arrive as serendipitous typos. Yesterday's effort:
Museover - particularly thought-provoking and succinct tip or pop-up text that is displayed when you hover your mouse over an icon or word.


Update 27-Jan: It's official: museover and backblogarrythmia are in the (pseudo)dictionary

* just fucking post something
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The Elements of Style (Illustrated)

I raved about Robert W. Harris' When Good People Write Bad Sentences a few weeks ago. Since then I saw Jeff Atwood's post making the point that great coders bring many of the same skills used in writing to their programming. Jeff cited the Strunk & White classic, The Elements of Style.

So I thought may be it's time to check it out again. I have vague memories of seeing it back at school; I certainly don't remember studying it in any concerted way.

I was unsurprised to discover that the core of the book remains a concise litany of rules of correct English usage. Exactly the kind of un-engaging treatment that I praised When Good People Write Bad Sentences for avoiding.

This part of Elements of Style is remains a great reference guide; you wouldn't really want to just read it like a book. It makes me wonder why we don't have these style guidelines built into our word processor and editing software. Sure, we have spelling and grammar. But as these books prove so well, the correct words in the right order does not alone make for good style.

I did, however, read the illustrated Fourth Edition from 2000. It has two surprises that take it beyond a simple reference book.

First, the quirky "American Modern" illustrations by Maira Kalman are a delight to browse.
His first thought on getting out of bed—if he had any thought at all–was to get back in again.
His first thought on getting out of bed—if he had any thought at all–was to get back in again.

Second, we have the new chapters added by E.B. White such as "An Approach to Style". These provide much more interesting reading, with a humorous vein in the same class as "When Good People Write Bad Sentences".
Another segment of society that has constructed a language of its own is business.

Its portentious nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure, executives walk among toner cartidges, caparisoned like knights. We should tolerate them-every person of spirit wants to ride a white horse. The only question is whether business vocabulary is helpful to ordinary prose. [...]

A good many of the special words of business seem designed more to express the user's dreams than to express a precise meaning.

DeGarmo and Lister had a name for that in Peopleware: Management by Hyperbole!

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Code formatting and line continuations with Javascript and CSS

I've had a question up on stackoverflow recently in an attempt to get a nice solution for adding a glyph with CSS to indicate a wrapped line (e.g. in a command line sample).

With a few good suggestions, I had a reasonable solution but it still required a bit of manual markup to prepare the example. Then I saw Pranav Prakash's post about syntaxhighlighter by Alex Gorbatchev.

With a few tweaks (see the stackoverflow question for the details), I'm now able to combine the best of both worlds: great formatting and syntax highlighting with syntaxhighlighter and also line continuation glyphs. Here's an example of the result:

public class HelloWorld {

public static void main (String[] args)


System.out.println("Hello World! But that's not all I have to say. This line is going to go on for a very long time and I'd like to see it wrapped in the display. Note that the line styling clearly indicates a continuation.");



NB: if you have javascript disabled, or reading this through a newsfeed (or if I hit a bug) you may not see the full effect. Here's a screenshot of what should be appearing above:

Now I just need to go back and update the code formatting in all my old posts. Basket!
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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).
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