Steven's Big Head

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spacerMy World &Welcome To It

I couldn't possibly leave computer technology stuff completely off of my site. That would be dishonest. It absorbs way too much of my life to be left out.

What I refuse to do is fill up this site with all the explicitly technical content that you can already find more appropriately located elsewhere. So you can click on one of the links to the right or (since I am making a concerted effort to jazz up my sight with "more than words")...

To read my "high tech diary" and otherwise engage non-commercially in the world of Oracle PL/SQL, visit the:

To find out about how you can spend your money very wisely on software tools I helped created that will transform your ability to work with Oracle technology, please scoot on over to:

My Books

My "claim to fame" in the world of computer technology are my books on the Oracle PL/SQL language. Here are the covers and a brief description of these books:

My first book and my best seller. We've sold over 100,000 copies of Oracle PL/SQL Programming. I was originally the sole author, but as of the second edition share authorship with Bill Pribyl of Datacraft.

My second book; it doesn't sell nearly as well, but I really like the moth -- and it debuted my first significant commercial software product, PL/Vision.

My third book and it is a beauty. 900 pages of information about, well, Oracle Built-in Packages. And I am lucky enough to share authorship of this book with Charles Dye and John Beresniewicz.

In addition, we will be publishing two "quick references" for PL/SQL developers (one on built-ins is already available, the other for the PL/SQL language itself will be out in May 1999).

My fourth book, Guide to Oracle8i Features, is my shortest to date (except for two quick references). Oracle8i contains an amazing amount of new technology and we wanted to get it into the hands of developers before a third edition of my first book was ready. This book was also a landmark for me, as I decided to include examples based on issues that are important to me (healthcare, unions, immoral CEO compensation, war crimes, gun proliferation, etc.). We have gotten lots of "feedback" as a result.

I am unstoppable. My fifth book, produced with the support of Andrew Odewhan and many others, offers an extensive of exercises (and solutions) for beginners, experienced developers and experts.

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Imaginary Conversations

Did you have a secret and invisible friend when you were a child? Did you have imaginary conversations with someone no one else could see? Well, I am a grown up so I am not allowed to admit to such things, but what I do instead is have imaginary conversations with real (and usually fairly well-known) people. Enjoy!

Larry Ellison

Ever since I drove Larry Ellison back from Racine Wisconsin in my '85 Honda Civic (this is back in 1990), he and I have been a close, though wildly incompatible pair. I was the one, for example, who laid it out for him straight: "Larry," I told him one evening as we worked out together at the Oracle gym, "you are never going to be able to present yourself as a goofy, goody-two-shoes like Bill Whats-his-name." (I had learned long ago to never actually say the word Gates around Larry)

I watched him push through his bench presses. "You should go for a different image. How about a hard-driven, hard-living man of tremendous sexuality?" He grunted, which I took for interest. "How about if we get you on the cover on GQ? And stop shaving every day. Nobody shaves every day if they want to look slightly menacing. And we'll start taking you around to the hot bachelor parties. You've got to stop picking your girlfriends from the employee base at Oracle Headquarters. Creates too much distraction for the sales force."

Outside observers often date Oracle Corporation's turn-around (on Wall Street) to the hiring of Ray Lane. Absolute nonsense. It was only when Larry and I solidified our strategy for putting him out in the public eye as an irresistible hunk that the Gartner Group cut him slack on the need for 100% growth per quarter.

So when this Java thing started getting attention, I felt that it was only reasonable to draw on our friendship to make sure my butt was covered. I called Larry on his Testosterone, I mean, Testarossa, car phone. I had to shout over the sound of the wind and surf as he cruised Highway 1.

"Larry! Tell me it isn't true what they say about PL/SQL."

"PL/SQL? What's that?" Larry shouted back.

"C'mon, big buddy. You know, Procedural Language extensions to SQL and all that. I wrote the book on it. I sent you a signed copy for Boss' Day. Listen, the word on the street is that PL/SQL is out and Java is in. That you are going to stick a Java Virtual Machine in the engine and let people write Java stored procedures."

He sighed. The background noise died away. I heard an odd squawking in the background. A McDonald's drive-thru! "Steven, the pressure is amazing. McNeally from Sun, those stuffed shirts at IBM, they are figuring this is their last chance to stop Gates. I've gotta go for it."

"Larry, I would never ask you to help me at the expense of your crusade against the Bill Monster. Just cut me some slack on PL/SQL. You've got, what, a million lines of PL/SQL code wrapped up in your financial applications. Another quarter-million PL/SQL developers around the world? Remember, Larry, they're not going anywhere. PL/SQL is your language and it's a damn good one. Those programmers arentt going to learn Basic and most of them aren't going to learn Java." I could tell that wasn't enough for him. I would have to make this personal.

"Larry, without PL/SQL, where would I be? I need this language. I've already got two books on the topic and a third coming out in 1998 -"

"You're kidding me," he cut in between bites on his McMuffin. "A third book? How in my name are you finding so much to write about with a language like PL/SQL?"

"Don't underestimate your developers, Larry! And it's not just books we're talking about here. RevealNet is selling the PL/Vision Code Library , the first third-party library for PL/SQL. In 1998 we'll be automatically generating PL/SQL packages with PL/Generator and pretty-printing everyone's code with PL/Formatter. This is getting big, Larry. We need PL/SQL to keep comin' on strong - and you do, too."

I don't know how many times I'll be able to pull a favor from Larry in exchange for getting him on the cover of GQ, but it worked this time. In a few short minutes we straightened everything out. He promised to actually increase the headcount for the PL/SQL development team. He would make it clear inside and outside of Oracle that PL/SQL is here to stay, that PL/SQL and Java address different segments of the marketplace. There is room for both, and there is enough money (keep those support fees rolling in!) to maintain a strong organization for future PL/SQL work.

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Bill Gates & Monopolies

Things have not been going well for Bill Gates lately, and I think that is a damn shame. I mean, it's one thing to have companies like Netscape and Sun giving you a hard time. But when the Justice of Department of the "most powerful nation on Earth" also decides that you are a major nuisance and that you need to be reigned in, well, it's enough to get a guy down. I was not, therefore, terribly surprised when right after the Real Madrid soccer team won the European Championships on Thursday night (causing the entire city to erupt in celebration) my phone rang.

"Are you done watching the game?" came a voice still clear after several bounces off of satellites. "I didn't want to bother you while the battle royal was still raging."

"Bill? Is that you?" I immediately switched off the television set, the tinny sounds from the speakers immediately replaced by the wild cheering and honking from the streets. "Yep, all done. Great time to be in Madrid - unless you want to get some sleep. What's up?"

"Aw, you know. It's Klein, the Justice Department, everybody really. I am starting to get the impression that maybe people don't like me..."

It may seem to strange to some of you that Bill Gates would be concerned about such things. But it's true; he has not worked so hard over the years making his operating systems easy to use (some people with a nasty streak might say "usable") to make a big pot of money. No, he has gone to these great lengths because he feels a compulsive need to please people - so that they will like him. I am certain it has something to do with the way he was raised, but it is a place I refuse to go in my relationship with this richest man in the world.

I reassured him that he is still well-loved, but that quite frankly he has a real problem on his hands. "And it's not really with Internet Explorer," I told him. In fact, I had decided that the time had arrived to come quite clean with Bill, really let him know how I feel.

"See, Bill, the problem is much bigger. The problem is that you have become way too successful. Let's face the facts: Number one, Windows is the de facto, monopoly standard for operating systems on Intel machines. Between 95, 98 and NT, you've pretty well sown up the business. And, let's be honest, not because they have been stellar products, but simply because people don't really have much choice anymore.

"Number two: computers have been an integral part of human life - even if only in a negative way so far: they are used by companies to more ruthlessly extract more profits from people.

"Number three: a computer's operating system is the critical layer of code for any computer. It's not like you can use a computer with an operating system.

"Bill, your problem isn't trying to decide what should or should not go into Windows. Your problem is that you should no longer be having to make those kinds of decisions."

Bill sputtered. "What? What are you talking about? Do you think I should resign? You think that will solve anything? You want me to abandon my baby, the company I grew from nothing, to the whims and wiles of the marketplace?"

"Not quite. Keep Microsoft, but give up Windows. It's too important to controlled by any one company. And your company pretty obviously has an awful lot of trouble writing a decent operating system. So give it up. Take the high road and prove yourself the Man of the Millenium. Propose to the other Bill (Janet Reno's boss) that an international commission be set up that would take over responsibility for maintaining and enhancing Windows. This commission would have access to the best minds in the world and would ensure that this fundamental, critical technology is deployed in ways that improve the lot of people around the world, that realize the true promise, in other words, of the Era of the Computer.

"At a minimum, you are looking at a selection of Times Magazine Man of the Year. I am figuring you are also a shoo-in for a variety of Nobel Prizes, including the Peace Prize, depending on how things go."

From the strange noises coming over the line, it sounded like Bill was having a little bit of a fit. I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but I also knew with the absolute certainty born of an elevated sense of self that it was the right thing to do.

"Give up Windows? Are you crazy, Steven? Why, even if I was willing to do that, the Microsoft Board of Directors would never agree. And the shareholders? Our stock would dive into the toilet. I would be the laughing stock of CEOs the world over!"

I made my voice as soothing as possible: "Not so, Bill, not so. First of all, I am not suggesting that you will no longer receive compensation for Windows. Certainly, you would be able to continue to gouge - I mean, be paid for your prior investment and development. But it wouldn't be quite so much, you see, and it would be paid to Microsoft as royalties in some form, from this international commission."

I paused to let a bit of thoughtful silence drift over the line. Then I pursued my quarry: "But those are just the details, Bill. Think about Ted Turner. He said he'd give away $1 billion over 10 years to the United Nations and he was treated like a saint. Heck, he might even make money on the deal, when his accountants work out the tax breaks. We are talking about something much bigger here. We are talking about you, Bill Gates, acting out of selfless love for humanity, establishing a new baseline for corporate responsibility. The transfer of Windows technology to an international standards body would truly be building a bridge to the 21st century."

More silence. I knew that I was making progress. Finally, a long sigh and then: "All right, Steven. I see your multiple points. I...I...I...I think that I could do what you are saying." He sighed again. Then I heard in the background say: "Honey, what about Larry?"

And then a chill ran down my spine. No, no, please don't engage the Bill-Larry ego battle. But it was too late. Bill's voice filled the phone fill with a grim determination.

"I will pursue your idea, Steven, with one condition: Larry Ellison has to give up his crown jewels as well."

I gulped. This was not, however, totally unexpected - and entirely reasonable. Or was it?

"Bill, I see your point. I will get in touch with Larry and let you know what he says."

By the way, when I mentioned this idea to some of my students in Madrid as we dawdled over lunch, it generated some really contentious debate (conducted in Spanish, and some of which I even was able to follow). Finally, one person said to me: "And what about PL/Vision? Would you be willing to give up PL/Vision and let everyone have I for free?"

I said yes and I also solemnly promise now (though, really, I would need to also obtain assurances from my partners at RevealNet) that after PL/Vision generates $5 billion in revenue, I will make it available to an international commission on the Future of PL/SQL!

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Larry Responds to Bill

In my last diary entry [this was originally written in the PL/SQL Pipeline Diary; see above for this last conversation], I reported on a conversation I had with Bill Gates about the fate of Windows and Microsoft. OK, just to set the record straight: about these conversations with the likes of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and anyone else I mention in this column who earns more than $1 million per year. I am making them up. All of them. I didn't really suggest to Larry Ellison that he get on the cover of GQ. I didn't really tell Bill Gates to hand off Windows to an international commission. These are things I would say given the chance, but, ah, those opportunities (and the requisite courage required) don't easily present themselves. So unless we tell you otherwise, I am talking satire here, folks, a spoof.

So in this conversation, I urged him in the strongest possible terms to give up technical control of Windows. It was too successful and too critical an element of software to be managed by one company. It took some convincing, but finally he began to see the correctness of my way. At that point, however, he dug in his heels and stated in no uncertain terms that if he was going to give up Windows, then Larry was going to have to make a similar sacrifice.

I was surprised initially at this demand. I knew that Larry had a significant preoccupation with Microsoft and Gates, in particular, but I hadn't realized that it went the other way as well. I told Bill I would see what I could do.

A week later, I caught up with Larry when he gave a speech at a public school in Chicago about how every kid should have a networked computer. Larry's gotten really chummy-chummy with former General (hey, did you know that he was the first investigating officer of the Mai Lai massacre? He gave the whole thing a fine whitewashing...). They are both very hot on getting lots of middle-class people to volunteer their time and money so that as our government bails out completely on poor people and their children, rioting will be kept to an absolute minimum.

It's the strangest thing to see someone of Larry Ellison's intelligence and power visit a public school, observe the crumbling walls, the old text books, the metal detectors, and then talk about how absolutely critical it is to make sure that every student has access to the Internet. Surely he can see that that is not the first priority for spending and improvement in our educational system.

Well, anyway, right after the talk and the photo ops with little kids of color showing Larry how to use a mouse, he got a serious craving for some BBQ ribs, so needless to say we headed to that most authentic of Chicago eateries: Michael Jordan's restaurant. With forty foot long banners depicting the famous #23 in action hanging on the restaurant's façade, we were clearly visiting the shrine of a man who was like unto a god in this world. I hoped, in fact, that Jordan's overwhelming presence would give Larry a sense of humility that might make the conversation go more easily.

I didn't wait for the ribs to land before diving into the topic at hand. "Larry, you've got a real opportunity in front of you. What would you say if I told you that Bill - uh, I mean, Mr. Gates - was willing to give up technical control over Windows for the good of humanity?"

"I would say that you're full of rabbit droppings," replied Larry. "He would never do that, not in a million years, no way."

So I repeated to Larry my conversation with Bill (everything except that last part of the deal). He was skeptical but intrigued. He certainly liked the idea. The ribs arrived and he dove right in.

I made sure he didn't have a bone in his mouth when I finished up by relating Gates' demand that Ellison must also make a sacrifice. Larry sputtered in outrage.

"What? Like give away my database for free? Hah! That's ridiculous!"

"More ridiculous than letting go of Windows?"

"Absolutely. I mean, who would want it, unless you gave it away or didn't give a body any real choice about using it. It's buggy, slow and hard to use, and -"

"Larry," I interrupted, as gently as I could, "people say that about Oracle8, too."

Suddenly, Larry became very still. His eyes narrowed. I had gone too far. He was going to blow up. Well, at least he can't fire me, I thought to myself. I had quit first, years ago. But then the fire went out of his eyes and he slumped back in the booth.

"Yeah, they do say that, don't they. If only they knew how much we worked on that kernel, if only they knew just how complicated it all was..." He sighed. He looked up. "How about if we give 'em Oracle Forms?"

I had to suppress a loud guffaw. "Larry, you can't be serious. Oracle Forms? People aren't exactly beating down the doors to use that big chunk of software."

And at that very moment we looked each other in the eye, shocked with the same thought at the same time. "PL/SQL!" we both cried.

"Sure," said Larry. "I mean, yeah, everybody knows it's a proprietary language. But by placing enough people on the appropriate ANSI committee we have ensured that the standard for the programmatic language extensions to SQL will look an awful lot like PL/SQL. So we could hand over PL/SQL to the world community as a sort of fantastic 'head start' for all concerned."

Sounded good to me. But would it be good enough for Bill? Probably not -- unless the Justice Department has more success in the courts that we have seen lately...but it's a definite possibility. At this point, negotiations are likely to enter a highly secretive stage, but don't be completely surprised (and remember where you saw it first) if you turn on your television one day and find Bill and Larry giving a press conference, announcing their "gifts" to the world
.

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Internet Stock Rollercoaster

12/17/98 - Well, the newspaper is full of "interesting" today: President Clinton has decided that it is time to bomb another country. His favorite target for attack these days is Iraq, so the cruise missiles are flying. On the one hand, it is totally disgusting and reprehensible. On the other hand, the US-enforced and insisted upon sanctions against Iraq have already killed about 2,000,000 Iraquis, including over 500,000 children, so what difference do a few hundred more casualties matter?

But rather than rant about that (I'll do my "ranting" at a protest later today at the Federal Plaza in Chicago), I thought I would comment on the state of the NASDAQ when it comes to Internet-related stock. The Tribune Business section offered these two headlines:

"Profitless Amazon.com for true believers"

"Remarks touch off a dispute at CNBC"

The first headline introduced an article that told the wondrous story of Amazon.com: on 1/12/98, the stock sold for $25. On 12/16/98, it closed at $289, up $46 after CIBC Oppenheimer analyst Henry Blodget issued a "long term" estimate of $400 per share. As the Tribune noted, this "company has never made a profit and has no prospect of making a profit for at least another year.

The second headline informed us that "CNBC, the nation's largest business news cable channel pulled one of its guest analysts off the air on Wednesday after complaints over comments he made about an Internet stock whose value plummeted after the broadcast."

What did James Cramer say on his every-other-week appearance on "Squawk Box"? He called WavePhore a "big speculative bubble" and cautioned investors about "this arson part of the market".

Whoa! Hot stuff! Well, you are clearly not allowed to say anything negative about Internet stocks, which OBVIOUSLY are the focus of significant, intensive speculative activity on the NASDAQ. $289 for a share of Amazon.com? How can that be anything but absurdly speculative gambling? I just pity the poor individual investors who jump on the rollercoaster and then get dumped on later, as happened to so many people who invested in Iomega.

Poor James Cramer. He broke the code of silence. Now wouldn't it be great if people like Henry Blodgett are also chastised and even punished for the kind of reckless promotion and self-promotion (just think; every time you buy/sell stock those Wall Street companies that "own" the analysts get a commission on the activity. What a racket!) that end up hurting investors - and the economy as a whole, since nothing really productive is actually happening at all.

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My Books

Imaginary Conversations
Larry Ellison
Bill Gates
Larry Responds to Bill

Internet Stock Rollercoaster

Other Sites:

RevealNet

PL/Solutions

PL/SQL Pipeline

O'Reilly & Associates

 

© 1999 Steven Feuerstein. All rights reserved.