Notifications are Evil

I just received yet another promotional email from Apple, touting a new, improved watchOS2 as well as new colors and wristbands. And I’m not buying.

Wearable devices have two reasons to exist:

  • To gather data more conveniently
  • To present data more conveniently

Interrupting you by beeping, buzzing or tapping you on the wrist with clever haptic alerts are not reasons to buy yet another device.

A large part of all wearable devices are various health activity trackers. If you want or need this data, fine, get a device that gathers those.

Some wearable devices present data more conveniently. For a number of specific jobs and situations, devices like Google Glass will be the right tool for the job. For other use cases, having information available on your wrist might be useful. I don’t mind my watch knowing that I’m in the airport and automatically placing my boarding card on my wrist display.

Most people leave their devices at the default notification settings, which allows way too many notifications and alerts to disturb them. Adding another device will lead to more notifications, and notifications are evil. Turn them off!

The Cost of Running Abandonware

Are you running software that is no longer supported by the original vendor or developer? You’ll be in trouble sooner or later. This kind of software is known as abandonware, and running it incurs both big risks and high costs.

If you write or purchase and implement a software system and then don’t maintain it, you will experience an initial cost and then a stable plateau where the software doesn’t cost you anything to run. However, sooner or later you cannot make your abandonware run on new operating systems or new devices. At that point, your cost increase dramatically as you’ll be desperately looking for rare and expensive consultants to keep the system running.

If you decide to keep your software up to date, you will have an on-going cost, but it will be predictable and yoo won’t suddenly be down because of an automated Windows update.

No professional manufacturer would run machinery for years without maintenance. But mysteriously, some IT organizations think that their software will run forever without maintenance. It won’t.


I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. For more tips, sign up for the Technology That Fits newsletter at and follow @techthatfits.

Oracle Standard Edition One is Gone

As of, there is no longer a low-cost Standard Edition One license. From Oracle Database Licensing Information:


Oracle Database Standard Edition 2 (SE2) is available starting with Oracle Database 12c Release 1 ( For, Oracle Database Standard Edition One (SE1) and Oracle Database Standard Edition (SE) are available.

That’s effectively a tripling of the price for small databases – we used to pay $5,800 list for a SE1, but now have to pay $17,500 for a SE2. It seems Oracle has stepped up its efforts to chase away smaller customers.

Why Communities Beat Vendor Support

Most users of technology need someone to support them. They might need help with initial implementation of the technology, troubleshooting something that no longer works, or to apply the technology to a new problem. There are three support models: Vendor support, Community support and Vendor/Community support.

Vendor or Community Support

In the Vendor Support model, every user of the technology contacts the vendor directly. The vendor can potentially establish a competent and effective support organization, but it can often be difficult to explain and resolve non-trivial issues.

The Community Only approach is the only possible solution for open source projects, and is one where a number of key experts provide support for users through blogs and support forums. Each user can access several viewpoints on difficult problems and often reach a solution quicker than through vendor support.

The ideal support structure is a combination of these two: The Vendor/Community support model. Each end user has access to both the vendor and a community of experts outside the vendor. This model only works well when the experts have good communication among themselves and to the vendor.

When you evaluate technology, look for a vendor that has a formal program of support for independent experts.


I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. As an Oracle ACE Director, I am a member of Oracle’s expert program. For more tips and graphics like these, sign up for the Technology That Fits newsletter at and follow @techthatfits. 

The End of the All-Powerful DBA

The Ashley Madison security breach has again turned IT security (and the lack thereof) into front page news. Nobody in IT should be surprised that hacker attacks like this one is possible – after all, the Ashley Madison CTO managed to easily hack into a competitor’s website.

The problem all unsecure sites share is the all-powerful DBA, and that role needs to be reconsidered. You can take two different approaches:

  • Enforcement
  • Trust but verify

Both of these approaches need to involve an IT security officer whose job is security and only that. The security officer should be a person not involved in database or system administration and should not share an office with the DBAs. The security officer belongs in your compliance organization and is more akin to an auditor.

If your data is truly sensitive, you should decide to enforce security (and accept a cost in lost productivity). With this approach, you place hard restrictions on what users can do. This includes securing that the DBA can’t read sensitive data and can’t grant access. Only the security officer can grant access and you ensure that nobody has both DBA and security officer roles.

If you focus more on productivity than absolute security, you can decide to trust but verify. You don’t place hard restrictions on your data, but monitor who accesses data. In this approach, the DBA can still read data, but not change the logging level or delete logs, and the security officer read these logs.

The problem is that most organizations follow a trust paradigm without the verify, and that is the way to Edward Snowden, the U.S.Office of Personnel Management and Ashley Madison. If you want to be secure, the all-powerful DBA has to go.

Will Artificial Intelligence Take Your Job?

Science fiction writers and futurists have been predicting the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence era for decades. If you predict something for long enough, it is likely to eventually come true, and Artificial Intelligence is starting to live up to its promise. The march of the robots will affect different professions in different ways.

The Robots are Coming

The first jobs that went to the machines were routine manual tasks like workers used to perform on an assembly line.

The next jobs to go are routine cognitive tasks, and these have been disappearing for years now. Much of what system and database administrators used to do falls in this category, as does day-to-day middle management.

Next in line for elimination by computers are unique cognitive tasks. With the ability to handle ambiguous inputs and iterate and learn quickly, AIs will be moving into this area shortly.

Interestingly, the last jobs to be taken over by computers and robots are the trades. Unique manual tasks like fixing the plumbing or repairing a machine requires both high intelligence and manual dexterity. This is the kind of jobs that the DARPA robotics challenge tries to address, and this is going to be the last place where computers and robots will put you out of a job.


I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. The above is an extract from this week’s Technology That Fits newsletter. For more, sign up here: and follow @techthatfits.

Is Your Office Bad for You? Measure!

The other day, I was working at a customer site and had forgotten my noise canceling headphones (BTW, if you still don’t have a pair, I recommend Parrot Zik 2.0  – they’re awesome).

I could feel my productivity plummet each time other people in the large open office started discussing things, and it’s not just me. There is a lot of research showing that open offices are bad for many people, and since I track my subjective happiness (the “Life Score”), I notice that I’m one of the people not meant for open offices. My coping strategy is avoiding on-site work in open plan offices and failing that, headphones.

Does your office environment negatively affect you? To find out, start regularly writing down how happy you are with your life on a scale from 0 to 10. This gives you data to find out what work environment is best for you.


I’m writing about the Life Score in my upcoming book. For more tips on leading a happy, healthy and meaningful life in IT (and to be notified when the book is out), sign up for The Spiritual Programmer newsletter at and follow me on twitter @spiritualprog


Why Big Data gets it Wrong

As a young man, I commanded an anti-aircraft gun platoon. We had one radar unit which tracked enemy aircraft and controlled two 40mm guns.

When I started, our radar and calculation vehicle was all analog with vacuum tubes and rotating spindles. It took hours to start up, but on the other hand kept the crew warm during winter. The radar tracked the aircraft, the analog computer calculated the distance from aircraft to each gun, calculated shell flight time and where the aircraft would be, and then instructed the guns where to turn and how high to elevate.

It was amazing that the whole contraption worked, but it did. Well, almost. When everything was set up, we would release a bright red ballon with a radar reflector, lock onto that and tell the computer to aim straight for the target. Then we looked through the barrel of the gun and had a little box to make small adjustments until the tracking was spot on. After dialing in the guns using the “cheat box”, we could hit our practice targets.

During my time in the air force, our analog computer was digitized. Now everything was carefully calculated by computer, so our beloved cheat box was not considered necessary. And we couldn’t hit a thing.

Too many modern systems are built on the assumption that careful calculation will provide a definite answer. But your input data is very rarely as correct as you think.

If you are using buzzword-compliant systems based on Big Data and Deep Learning, you’re making the mistake the designers of my updated gun system did. By all means let the system calculate and suggest, but let real people make the decisions and provide them with the equivalent of my “cheat box” so they can adjust the system to the real world. That’s the only way to build a system that will meet business needs in the real world.


I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. For more tips, sign up for the Technology That Fits newsletter at and follow @techthatfits.

More Talk, Less E-mail

“Do you have a moment?” the project manager asked. Looking at his face it was clear that I needed to find a moment. So I got up and followed him into a meeting room.

A developer and a user were in loud disagreement about whether a specific Excel report from the system was correct or not. They each had printouts proving their point – a misformatted report and a correctly formatted one, and the Jira issue had been back and forth dozens of times. Mysteriously, they had argued for 15 minutes based on their respective pieces of paper without bothering to sit together in front of the system to try to reproduce problem.

We opened the system and pulled the report several times and it came out correctly. Probing further, we discovered that the user did not produce the report himself, but received the Excel sheet via email from someone else who “checked” the report before sending it to the user. Unfortunately, the checker opened the report and saved it in his old version of Excel before sending it, thus causing the problem

If you have a dispute about functionality, don’t hide behind email and comments in an issue tracking system. Sit the developer and user in front of a system and have them diagnose the problem together.


I help people and organizations use appropriate information technology to achieve their goals. For more tips, sign up for the Technology That Fits newsletter at and follow @techthatfits. 

The Value of Your Time

Do you know what your time is worth? This is important, because you should use this information to guide your life. Let me tell you how.

First, you need to estimate what you make per hour.

  • If you are an employee, divide your yearly salary by the number of hours you work per week x the number of weeks. If you are haunted by the specter of unpaid overtime, remember to use actual worked hours, not what your contract says.
  • If you are a freelance consultant billing by the hour, your time is worth whatever your average billing rate is.
  • If you are a freelance consultant working on fixed price projects, you need to register your time to calculate in order to calculate what you make per hour.

This number is what an hour is worth to you right now – it is the exchange rate between minutes and dollars. You can use this to guide decisions about how to spend your time and money.

Some decisions are simple math: If it takes you half an hour extra to drive to a cheaper shop, are you saving more than the cost of the 30 minutes? If you save $200 by taking a flight with a connection instead of direct, is it worth the extra travel time?

Other decisions cannot be calculated as easily, but the value of your time can still guide you. Do you think knowing another programming language or technology would get you a better job? How much more would you make, and how many hours would it take to acquire the necessary skill?

Figure out what your time is worth – and act accordingly.


For more tips on leading a happy, healthy and meaningful life in IT, sign up for The Spiritual Programmer newsletter at and follow me on twitter @spiritualprog