Friday 20 July 2012

Sightseeing in Costa Rica

After the Costa Rica conference some people stayed on for a day to journey to a volcano, the jungle and a river boat ride.

We met very early with a quick breakfast and the chance to say goo bye to Sheeri and Tim who were flying home and unable to do this trip, although both had done something similar in Ecuador which i had missed. Then it was back to the university to take the coach at 7am, except if course 7am LA time was nearer 7.30.

First stop was the church which although in ruins now had never actually been finished, there were simply too much seismic activity here. Then it was up to the Izuru volcano, and I never tire of seeing these geological phenomena. It as fascinating to see where one crater that had been 85 m deep was now full of ash from the last eruption of the next crater in 1963.

Then it was back down from 3000m to the rain forest but first a Costa Rican breakfast, which seems to be identical to lunch and dinner. Eggs, fried or scrambled, meat, some salsa, rice and beans and fried plantain (banana). This one however was excellent.

Our guide Mauricio was very knowledgeable and had great English except every sentence started with 'my friends'. After what seemed a very long drive through the rain forest with many traffic jams , e later discovered that this was the main highway to the port, we turned off towards the river.

We were met with welcome refreshments and fresh fruit and then it was off down the river with Mauricio pointing out many birds, turtles, iguanas, 3 large caiman and howler monkeys are we travelled to our next stop. Lunch.

Costa Rica is also known for it's smaller wildlife frogs and butterflies and not so small snakes. To ensure his guests always get to see these animals Mauricio has some captive and it was good to experience the full range.

Back on the boat to return to the bus and the journey back to town. One thing I learnt in all Latin America was that driving skills are very different from ours. Lights in the dark did not seem mandatory on our mini bus which was very scary. Overtaking large lorries is OK on either side and closed eyes for passengers is often a must. Also seeing armed guards in car arks for the lorries was disconcerting but in general I felt much safer than the guide books or travel warnings suggested.
For my final evening, we ate Asian fusion, Sergio, Graham Wood, his partner Joan and myself. I don't think any of us wanted any more beans!

Costa Rica

So the final leg of the tour, San Jose, Costa Rica. We arrived at the hotel late afternoon and having discovered that the university where the conference was being held was jut next door e decided to relax by the pool. That evening we asked the hotel taxi to take us somewhere local to eat but actually it was all chains, pizza hut, a taco place, tapas and even a Hooters! In the end we decided on Outback which seemed really expensive but the company was good.

The conference itself was excellent 5 streams and somewhere just short of 200 people. There were some students but most were end users. I was meant to speak on should I upgrade or go straight o fusion but having polled the audience decided o swap to the more generic how oracle have changed apps development which I gave for the BCS. It seemed to go down well and I got  the what is happening to forms and reports question. I think grant Ronald would have Been proud of me although later I discovered that shay from that team was in the audience, he should have given the answer.

 The organisation was very good, with a student allocated to each speaker to ensure we had everything we needed, drinks and snacks available all day including a hot lunch. Nothing was too much trouble for our hosts. That evening they found us a local restaurant which however unknown to them did not serve alcohol, still that is what the hotel bar is for.

So the tour was over and although after weeks or more on the road people are ready to go home, it is hard to say goodbye. This tour had it's challenges, but also highlights and overall the user groups achieved their objectives. What I really enjoyed was the local Oracle who travelled with us, Mauricio from Costa Rica and that lovable rogue Sergio from Brazil, and the ACEs Plinio from Peru, Joel and Ronald from Costa Rica. Everywhere we go we try to encourage local speakers and their participation was great.

Thank you Justin, Lillian and Viki and especially Francisco for making it happen and to all those who welcomed me into their conferences. I spent quality time with old friends and made new ones on the tour. Delegates asked not many but a few questions that make doing this worthwhile.

Monday 16 July 2012

Time Out to Finally See Central America

 We had a free day in Honduras and having seen very little of Trinidad and even less of Guatemala we were determined to see something of Honduras. Tegucigalpa where we were staying is not the typical tourist haunt and we didn't want to spend most of the day travelling so our intention was to try and find something local.

I have a personal challenge to do as many open top bus tours as possible in my life and have taken it for granted that most cities have these, but not in Tegucigalpa. The guide books tell you of companies that will create a tour but there appeared to be no, turn up for tours. we did think we had agreed with the university for someone to show us around but I think we had a communication problem and we were on our own. No problem we are resourceful, intelligent people, we were not beaten.

With Sheeri as our interpreter, and armed with a welcome to Honduras Tourist booklet, we pointed at the Statue of Christ, the most popular tourist destination and had a taxi driver from the hotel take us. This may seem very simple but the travel advice we get from Oracle Travel and other websites suggest that Honduras is one of the most dangerous places on earth.

As a Christian I expected to be moved by the statue of Christ and I was but in a different way, what I really liked was that as well as being a tourist attraction the park in which it stands appears to be a place that locals come to just hang out, away from the city and to enjoy just being there.The statue looks out over the city and it was beautiful to see both birds soaring and planes landing beneath us; unfortunately I was not quick enough with the camera to capture either event.

There were also ruins in the park which made us at least feel we had seen some of the local history.

We then negotiated with the taxi driver to show us the town and he stopped in a few places including a model village of Mayan structures, and as long as you got the camera angle right it looked like we had visited far more that we actually did. We also visited the main square and drove past at lot of other sights. The taxi driver gave us a great day out and the cost was very good.

We also had time in Honduras to relax a little at the hotel and one of the things I learnt was that not only is Tom Kyte king of the database, he is pretty good a Jenga too.

Honduras was definitely the cheapest destination on the tour, as long as you ignored the hotel cost. Tim Hall may have laughed at my money conversion skills but actually $10 went a long way.

Saturday 14 July 2012


So having left Guatemala we headed off to Honduras, not a long flight only about 90 minutes, and the journey was really good fun. There were nine OTN tour people on the flight; Myself, Tim Hall, Graham Wood, Sheeri Cabral, Tom Kyte and his wife, Joel and Ronald from Costa Rica and Sergio from Brazil. If anything had happened to that plane it would have been a very quiet conference.

As Tim Hall has already said exactly a third of the people on the plane were OTN, a math calculation I can manage, unlike the local currency. I drew out what I thought was about $100 but actually it was $10, even worse I told Tim Hall to do the same. Today we will try and find something cheap to spend our vast amounts of currency on.

The conference was in a university, not uncommon on these Latin American tours but what was unusual was that the audience was almost all students and although they were doing ICT it was not necessarily Oracle based. What I loved was we had our own OTN Tour wifi network.

There were 3 streams and the number of delegates in most sessions was quite small, however Spanish speaking speakers did better. This tells me that not only do they have good local speakers and it was great to see ACE speakers from Latin America present, but that they do need interpreters.
The day was also very long, it started 10am stopped for lunch at 12 for an hour and then continued until after 7pm. Lunch was entertaining it appeared to be freshers week and a local celebrity was singing in the courtyard.

I gave my 'What does Fusion Apps tell you about your own Enterprise' which I had to adapt to explain about old versus new programming ideas; explaining that there are applications that are not Java, do not have social embedded and where UX was defiantly just UI.

Later in the main auditorium where each delegate had about 20 seats each, I gave my 'Consolidation to The Cloud', a light hearted look at Consolidation and the benefits based on the use of my smart phone. I got a few laughs so I felt quite good but was really conscious of my fellow tour speakers being in the room. The feedback from Tim Hall especially was that same old chestnut 'Stop apologising for not being technical', and also apologising that my high heels sounded like tap dancing without the rhythm as I moved around the stage.

At the end of the day we discovered the students got a certificate for attending, perhaps even a credit. So I do hope they found the day useful. There were some Oracle users and in particular a couple of female DBAs who really had lots of questions which always makes you feel you did some good.

I again listened to the Tom Kyte presentation on What We Are Still Doing Wrong, and I love how he talks about about people who don't tell you the actual problem they have, and I am thinking of developing that as a posting because for me at the business end it is where people don't articulate the business impact of issues that makes me mad.

Today we have a free day in Honduras, Tim Sheeri and I are having a tour with Jonathan from the university. This tour has very much been about last minute changes and surprises and I very much think our sightseeing tour will be similar.

Friday 13 July 2012

Learn Something New Every Day

These OTN Tours are hard work, but they are also fun. Readers may not be interested but I wanted to share a little story from last night in Honduras.

So not long ago I talked about pushing myself to learn something new every day, and people laugh about my trips into technology; but one area I have very little skills in is languages.

Again I am saying how impressed I am when foreign speakers listen to my talks in English and I take it for granted that their ability to understand

Anyway Joel Perez from Costa Rica decided to teach Tim Hall and I some simple Spanish, and written here in Spanish it looks incredibly simple, but it took us all evening to try and get this to sound fluent and never achieved it.

Hola Debra, ¿cómo estás?
Hola Tim, estoy bien
¿Qué estás haciendo aquí?
Estoy comiendo con mis amigos

hallo Debra, how are you?
hallo Tim, I am fine

What are you doing here?
I am eating with my friends
However it was such good fun and Tim was intending to start his presentation with Good Morning, my name is Tim etc but in the bus on the way over he got confused and said, Hallo, My name is Tim, what are you doing here? Not the best introduction for a conference presentation, but very funny.

But he did good for real, better than me who never even tried.

Thursday 12 July 2012


180 people attended the GOUG event which was fantastic and much more than the 100 they expected and 150 they wanted.

Less so was the length of our trip, we arrived at 10pm after a long afternoon and evening flying to Panama (where I bought a hat), and onto Guatemala. and we left today at 10am, 36 hours in what we believe is a beautiful country, a land of perpetual Spring. Still we spent a long time in the tourist shops at the airport looking at postcards of what we should have seen.

We had quite an empty flight for the last leg and were well looked after by the attendants who seemed to think asking for a whisky meant a VERY large glass. So when we arrived at the airport a trip to the bar was in order, mainly for some food. Graham Wood joined us and it was great to catch up.

Graham Wood Presenting
 The agenda had changed constantly but these things happen and I gave two presentations, Should You Upgrade or go straight to Fusion Applications and my non serious Consolidation to the Cloud. Every session was full and I even got questions which in itself is great as the culture is few people will ask a question in the room, they wait till afterwards. This was also a spanish seaking country where we were not translated, I never ceased to be amazed at how good other people are with languages.

Full room looks on as Tim Hall clears something off the bottom of his shoe

 All the presenters were interviewed by the Galileo University where the event was held and they were capturing thoughts on why the user group and universities should work together. Something as you know I am keen to do in UKOUG.

My name in lights
After the event we were taken for a meal close to our hotel to sample the local food and we had a great, relaxing evening with wonderful people and good friends. Thankyou Carlos and your team for the invitation.

Tuesday 10 July 2012


First Impression of Trinidad was how big it was. I have visited Barbados, Antigua and a few other islands before but Trinidad was not quite what I expected. It is beautiful but I without stepping in the ocean doesn't quite feel like we have been in the Caribbean, however the welcome from our hosts was truly Caribbean.

We are staying in the Hilton, known locally as the upside down hotel as reception is on a cliff top and the rooms are on floors beneath. We must stop going to Oracle travel hotels and find out in advance which is closest to event. Last night after the conference we were entertained by the user group in the Hyatt next to the event which would have been easier to stay in.

The conference was hosted in a government building with a mixed audience so I think each of us tweaked our presentations a little but it was fun and a good debate around Oracle Licensing rounded off the day.

Patanjali gave his great How Fusion Middleware Built the Fusion UX presentation and I followed with a demo of Fusion Apps and the great 'Should I upgrade or go straight to Fusion Apps?' question. There were a number of organisations in the audience asking just that question.

I was particularly impressed that my employer Fujitsu was one of the two sponsors at the event and I had the opportunity to meet with them earlier in the day.

The Trinidad User Group or their official title of Eastern Caribbean Users' Group have been going 20 years and it was great to be able to talk to them about UKOUG and how to encourage local speakers. Afterwards one of the board, Ryan took us back to the hotel and gave us a little tour including eating young coconuts from one of the many sidewalk vendors.

As ever too short a visit, new friends and great memories.

Latin America North OTN Tour

I had the honour of taking part in the #LAOTN North Tour of Central America. I missed the first two legs, Columbia and Ecuador because it was UKOUG Volunteers' Day and Paper Selection Day which obviously I did not want to miss.

I actually took part in the tour whilst on vacation, but being a European I have far too much vacation anyway. I flew into Barbados where I took a holiday afterwards to go diving.

The legs of the tour I did were:

    9th July Trinidad
  11th July Guatemala
  13th July Honduras
  16th July Costa Rica 

I also got to see a little of Honduras , Learn even less Spanish and go exploring in Costa Rica

Thank you to Lillian, Viki, Justin in OTN and especially Francisco Munoz Alverez for making it happen.

 It was great to have Oracle friends like Tom Kyte, Graham Wood , Shay Shmeltzer and Patanjali on board.

  Local Oracle who joined the trip, Sergio from Brasil and Mauricio from Costa Rica.

Fellow ACE Directors Sheeri and Tim Hall

And most of all the local ACEs Plinio Arbizu from Peru, Joel Perez from Venezuela and Ronald Vargas Quesada from Costa Rica. 

Everywhere we go we try to encourage the local talent to take part and share their knowledge with their neighbours.

Monday 9 July 2012

Volunteers' Day

UKOUG only works because of its volunteers and so a very important day in our calendar is the Volunteers' Day each July where we get the opportunity to say thank you.

This year we hoped to build on previous year feedback and ensure that as well as saying thank you the day is valuable to those who attend. All of us continue to have more pressures from work, family etc on our time so it has to be a worthwhile day and not just the opportunity to have a nice meal at the end of the day.

Council member Jeremy Duggan was the MC and the man behind the event, but as always every great man needs an even greater woman behind him and in this case it was Aimee from the office. (Only joking Jeremy).

Too much time is wasted on hearing reports so Jeremy had each of us limited to a short talk, although and I know  keep going on about it, why was I limited to 10 minutes and yet Lisa got 15? (Joking again). Still it worked, the audience appreciated the quick summaries of what we had done. Fuller reports were all made available before the event, although I already see the call for us to have them as youtube clips for next year. This could be my chance for fame.

We then spent the rest of the morning in community groups followed by a great Lunch. The afternoon was given over to volunteers having the opportunity to hear about and contribute to Council Task Groups. This I thought and feedback confirms was the best part of the day. All too often we ask for input and it is the next year before volunteers see if we have listened. These task groups are working now, making decision about UKOUG works and our strategy. At the end of the day the decision was drop the community time, the volunteers work as communities already but give them more input into UKOUG working.

He may not have liked it but those attending decided Jeremy did a great job an hired him again for next year and he agreed subject to Aimee being on board.

And of course we finished off the day with a great dinner, chat and putting the world to rights over a few glasses of red wine.

Just to confirm it as the badge says, we love our Volunteers' Thank You