Open Insights 41 – Roshomon Effect


Issue 41 – Roshomon Effect

  February 1, 2008

by Sean Hull

It’s now the end of our third year publishing the Open Insights newsletter. We thought we’d celebrate by relaunching our popular blog Oracle + Open Source.  The design is new, there’s a lot more content, things are easier to find, and overall it is indexing great on Google, even better!

Like what you see here? Forward us to a friend. And let us know if you have any suggestions or comments. They are always welcome.

In This Issue:

1. Feature: Roshomon Effect

2. Conferences/Speaking

3. New Articles

4. Audio Interviews

5. Current Reading

6. Lightweight Humor

7. Miscellaneous

8. Past Issues

9. Technical Articles

10. About Heavyweight Internet Group

1. Feature: Roshomon Effect

There is a pretty famous Japanese film called Roshomon. During a trial, participants in a murder tell the series of events through their eyes. They retell truths, half-truths, and even falsehoods. In the retelling, we the audience, are given the chance to see the events unfold from three mildly, and sometimes thoroughly different perspectives.

This metaphor has many parallels in the real world, from discussing politics on one side or the other, to discussing global tensions, history, and current conflicts. For us in business, and especially in consulting, this is a challenge we face everyday.

The Client View

Here I’m referring to the economic buyer. This is the individual who controls the budget, and who has to manage costs, while executing on the technology iniative. This person sees the big picture, but may not always follow all the underlying details. Their perspective requires seeing the forest for the trees, seeing the whole project from a mile high, or longer term than just what we’re faced with today.

The Employee View

Here I’m referring to coworkers, and folks you would be working with day-to-day to get things done. These people tend to be detail oriented, and may focus on the theory, but miss the high-level business perspective. Sometimes these folks may feel you’re an asset, a way to get things done quicker, while others may feel somewhat threatened, as though bringing in a consultant implies not a shortage of resources, but somehow a shortage of knowledge and expertise. In the end, either can be the case, but it does not have to be adversarial. This can be an opportunity, if it is managed and presented that way.

The Consultant View

A consultant acts both as a part-time or temporary employee, but also as a corporation. What does that mean? Well it means they have a bottom line, like any business, and seek to minimize costs, and maximize profits. Their means to this end is by basically making the client happy, improving their position, or otherwise solving some business problem. I’ve met many consultants over the years who saw their job to be solving technical problems. By focusing too much on problem solving, they missed the clients high-level needs. This can often be solved by better communication, but sometimes it means listening to what the client wants, even when it is in conflict with some technical or general best practices engineering goal that may not be relevant at the moment.

How do we reconcile these perspectives?

Well studying the Roshomon Effect can certainly help. It requires a lot of patience, and endless communication. Storytelling works well, weaving illustrative stories, and analogies that really

express things in a way the client can understand. And that’s not just retelling the story of what you’re going to solve for them, but also what challenges you’re experiencing day to day. It also means at times tiptoeing around existing staff, keeping them happy, being personable, and relating to their concerns, but at the same time keeping the clients paramount, and the end goal.

This is a dance, there’s no other way to say it. It’s an art, surely. Sometimes the client has a good sense of your goals, and can express where they want to go in terms that you, the consultant can understand. Sometimes, they can only see their needs right now. There are certainly times when a client imagines that they are your only client, that they need you now, and you must be available, since you’re working for them. So it is also important to share your challenges, not by complaining, but by really putting each issue or challenge in it’s proper perspective.

I can’t emphasize storytelling, and retelling enough. By continually discussing a current challenge or project, you and the client iron out, detail, and review the specifics in terms that make sense to the both of you. Since you do have different perspectives, and each line item, and project milestone has a slightly different meaning to each of you, the more you discuss, mull over, and deliberate, in the end the more you’ll see eye to eye.

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2. Conferences/Speaking Engagements

Last April was the Collaborate 2007 conference in Las Vegas Nevada. I ended up giving two talks, one on Monday, and one on Tuesday. I’ve uploaded video of both of them.

In other news, we’ve submitted a series of five abstracts to the IOUG Collaborate 2008 Conference and another five to the O’Reilly MySQL Conference in April 2008.  You can find them on our relaunched Oracle  + Open Source site by clicking "abstract", or by following this link.

3. New Articles

Eight Ways to Hack Oracle – Part I

Eight Ways to Hack Oracle – Part II

Oracle, MySQL and Postgres – Feature Comparison Part I

Oracle, MySQL and Postgres – Feature Comparison Part II

Open Source Technologies for Oracle DBAs Part I

Open Source Technologies for Oracle DBAs Part II

4. Audio Interviews

In our most recent interview we had the opportunity to talk with Norman Yamada CTO of Millburn Corporation.

Norman shares with us his experiences providing world-class computing solutions, and the pros and cons of doing it with open source.

We’ve also moved our podcast to Odeo for Audio Podcast hosting. It is a great service, and provides all the RSS and subscribe links automatically. So please subscribe if you haven’t already!

5. Current Reading


Curveball – by Bob Drogin

A lot of non-fiction books read more like documentaries than a good story, but this book is a real exception.  Drogin weaves this like a spy thriller, and indeed it is one.  A former nobody and possible taxi driver turned engineer, defects to germany, and to get better treatment, and all the associated perks, begins telling a tale of Iraq, mobile germ factories, and a million other half truths. 

Lacking any other solid source, and in a run-up to a war that seemed inevitably, the intelligence community latched onto his unsubstantiated story.  This is a real case of believing what you want to believe, and seeing what you want to see. 

It’s fascinating because it plays squarely into the perception topic I discussed in Luntz’s "It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear" review.  The climate in the US, especially in the intelligence community after September 11th was such that only one story, only one angle, only one conclusion would be considered.  Fascinating read, and highly recommended.

Supercapitalism – by Robert B. Reich

Friedman’s "The World Is Flat" surely shook up a lot of us, describing the power and leveling influence of the global markets.  Reich’s book Supercapitalism discusses it in a lot more detail, considering strengths, failings, and what we need to do to keep it working for us.

Starting in the 50’s and 60’s where this model made the US incredibly wealthy and successful, and spread that wealth around so everyone really benefited, he moves forward to our Wall Mart present.  He emphasizes that we cannot expect corporations to do anything that isn’t to improve their bottom line and returns to investors.  If we want to make them accountable, we need to use the democratic process, and legislation to change "the rules of the game". 

He also gets into the influence of campaign contributions which go to both parties.  As he explains, this is inevitable as your competitors are sure to do the same.  Interestingly, he doesn’t suggest we ask corporations to be more fair, but rather, suggests we enact laws to protect investors, whose own money, and returns are ultimately being diverted from their own pockets.  Interesting stuff!

6. Lightweight Humor

A little inane humor to brighten up your day…  Jessica Hagy has this cute little blog called indexed.  She uses index cards to illustrate little truisms, often with funny comments on venn diagrams.  Here’s a funny one the relationship of status to money.

7. Miscellaneous

We all want to optimize our sites for Google.  I mean other than a select few, that’s where most of our traffic comes from, so the more our site plays well with Google, the more users, readers, customers, and clients will find their way to us.

Most of the SEO material I’ve read has been pretty sparse, and unclear.  But I’ve been following the topic over at my good Felix’s #comments blog, and I’m starting to get it.  So you can too!  Take a read: Google loves me, again!

If you haven’t been following the news on the topic, take a look over at this NY Times piece: Silicon Valley Start-Ups Awash in Dollars, Again.  Personally I don’t think there is much hysteria this time around, sure there’s some, but not much.  The industry is more mature now, and computers in general have lost their initial wow factor, so people are general more sober, and able to step back and see what is actually useful, can make money, is making money, or might well make money.  That’s the root of investing smart.

8. Past Issues

Issue 38: Are You Fast Failing

Issue 37: A Real Open Book

Issue 36: Rarity of Excellence

Issue 34: Hindsight Is Always 20/20

Issue 33: Market For Experts

Issue 32: Different Heritages

Archive: Past Issues

9. Technical Articles

Oracle DBA Interview: click here

Tools for the Intrepid DBA: click here

Oracle9i + RAC on Linux/Firewire: click here

Migrating MySQL to Oracle: click here

MySQL Disaster Recovery: click here

10. About Heavyweight Internet Group

In a nutshell, Oracle. Everything related to and surrounding the database technology we specialize in, but specifically setup, admin and tuning of Oracle technology. I have 10 years experience with Oracle, wrote a book on the technology, and write and lecture frequently. I’m founder and senior consultant of the company. In capacities where your company might hire Deloitte, AIG, or Oracle Consulting we can bring the same level of service and experience, at about half the price. Simple equation.

Looking for a top-flight DBA? Visit us on the web at