Value of Improving One’s Knowledge

24 03 2013

March 24, 2013

As I type this blog article I am in the middle of reading a second book on the topic of Windows Server 2008 R2.  I bought the books several months ago, possibly even a year or two ago, and just had not found the time to invest in reading yet another dry IT-related 1,500 page book.  I would much prefer to read an exciting Oracle Database book, but those books seem to be in short supply (and I really do need to finish these two Windows Server 2008 R2 books so that I can move onto the Windows Server 2012 books, the Exchange Server 2013 books, and the Oracle Database 12c books that will be released eventually).

Three years ago I put together an article about finding the motivation to keep reading through various IT books, and offered a suggested reading list for people interested specifically in various aspects of Oracle Database (totally unrelated, but I recall that the word aspect was a pet peeve of one of my college English professors… he would say, “What is an aspect?” – I probably have used that word about five times since then).  I think that my list of suggested books is still a decent list.  However, Kyle Hailey recently put together a related article, “Where to begin with Oracle and SQL” that is excellent, and a bit more up to date than my list – the only book on Kyle’s list that I have not read is written by Dan Tow.

So, for people working in the information technology (IT) disciplines, how much effort do you put into improving your knowledge, or just maintaining that knowledge?  Do you actively try to break things, in the hope of discovering a solution?  Do you participate in discussion forums, such as the OTN forums or Usenet?  Do you read magazines, books, and various online articles?  Or, do you simply continue to perform the same actions that you have for the last five, 10, or 20 years (if the RULE worked just fine back then, why change)?

I try to read at least a couple of IT focused books a year.  For many of the Oracle Database specific books read since mid-2008 I have tried to write formal reviews of those books, posted to  One of those reviews stretched to 35.5 typewritten pages!  Early yesterday morning a reader left the following comment attached to that review:

Mar 22, 2013 11:43:09 PM PDT SavvyShopper says:
Charles, you seem Very Intelligent(?) and should then Write a Book, fixing all these issues, than writing so much … 🙂 How do you get so much time , if you are really “Working” ??

Oddly, the person deleted their comment a mere two hours after I posted a reply.  My first reaction to the comment was “must spending time expanding one’s knowledge be mutually exclusive to being employed?”  That was not the first time that someone using Amazon left a similar comment attached to one of my reviews:

Mar 31, 2011 12:37:49 PM PDT Wanda A. Cadogan says:
And don’t you ever wonder how guys like Mr. Hooper have so much time to write a 24 page review?

Is it really that hard to believe that guys like Mr. Hooper take notes (sometimes extensive notes) while reading technical publications?

I noticed that SavvyShopper had previously reviewed a couple of Oracle Database related books, as well as a couple of woodworking products.  Quite a while ago I toyed a bit with woodworking (a bit in woodworking…. cuts both ways), as a matter of fact I thought that I was headed to college to become a woodworking instructor.  So, I possibly have an odd connection with SavvyShopper, might this be an opportunity for a teachable moment?  I noticed too that in one of his reviews that SavvyShopper appeared to be struggling with the concept that a softwood can in fact be harder than a hardwood.  I am a little disappointed that SavvyShopper deleted his comment after all the effort that I put into formulating a reply:


Thank you for leaving your comment.

Some of my book reviews, especially when there are many errors in the book being reviewed, tend to be very long.  I read computer related books to improve my knowledge, whether that means that I am simply reminded how something works, or I am learning something entirely new.   Investing effort (and occasionally an excessive amount of time) into improving my skill set is important to me, and I hope that it is important to other people in the IT related professions.  The Oracle Database book reviews that I post to Amazon are mostly a by-product of that self-improvement process.

I am still happily employed at the same place where I have worked for more than a decade as an IT professional.  Making time for expanding one’s computer skills through reading sometimes means sacrificing time spent with hobbies or other outside of work activities.  I believe that it is that sacrifice that is an important ingredient in the formula for long-term gainful employment.

Woodworking is a hobby of mine, and judging by your reviews on Amazon, woodworking may also be one of your hobbies.  I see that you gave a thin kerf Forrest Woodworker II saw blade a 2 out of 5 rating (coincidentally the same rating that I gave to this book), primarily because you found that the blade did not impress you when cutting pine and redwood while building one project.  Pine, much more than redwood, leaves deposits of pitch on the face and sides of saw blade teeth (kerosene (or Simple Green) and an old toothbrush will remove the pitch deposits, but I think that there are commercial spray on products on the market now that serve the same purpose).  This buildup of pitch effectively reduces the saw blade’s ability to cut smoothly.  The thin kerf body of the saw blade that you reviewed is less resistant to flexing in a heavy cut, so combined with the pitch build up on the blade, you probably did experience poor quality cuts.  If you mounted the saw blade on an inexpensive saw with a weak/bad bearing setup, that will also explain the poor quality cut that you received.  If you want a treat, mount a regular kerf Woodworker II on an older, properly tuned 3HP or 5HP Unisaw (or Powermatic Model 66) and witness the glass smooth cuts in (even three inch thick) hardwood such as poplar, oak, walnut, or hard maple.

Getting back on topic of your comment, I currently have very little extra time to put into writing.  While probably not your intention, I do not see a book that summarizes mistakes found in other books and the accompanying corrections as selling more than a couple of dozen copies; based on some Oracle book authors remarkable ability to abuse the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), such a book could also become a legal nightmare for the publishing company.  I have been approached a couple of times to see if I had an interest in writing a book on the topic of Oracle Database.  At this time, I simply cannot make that commitment (writer’s block, lack of available free time, required reading to stay current in the computer-related field, wanting to spend more time working with non-computer related routers and bits, etc.).

A couple of years ago I contributed to an Oracle Database specific book with fellow OakTable Network members.  The technical standards of the members of that group are extremely high (do a Google search, if you are interested).  As such, I would estimate that I spent roughly eight hours per page writing, testing, proofreading, rewriting, proofreading, testing, rewriting, and proofreading again.  It was quite an experience, especially when Oracle Corporation announced the general availability of a new major version release a day or two before the first draft of the section of the book had to be submitted to the publisher – more testing, rewriting, and proofreading of the book section followed after that first draft was submitted.

Thank you again for leaving the comment.

So, do you go out of your way to learn something new every day, or are you more likely to “let it roll” for five, 10, or 20 years?  For the record, I have a rather large stack of unread woodworking magazines (most of the unread magazines range from 0 to 7 years old) sitting on the shelf that are waiting for the time when spending time expanding one’s knowledge is mutually exclusive to being employed (in the IT industry).

A new logo in development – resawn from 1 inch x 2 inch quarter sawn oak.

Bookmatch Arrangement #1:


Bookmatch Arrangement #2:


Bookmatch Arrangement #3:


The New Logo:




6 responses

25 03 2013

Charles, you open up a whole can of worms. I’ve been contemplating so many of the new technologies. It would make for a long blog post on its own.

Just in databases, have you seen all the big data and NOSQL databases listed by 451 Group?

How many db names can you remember and name without looking? How many have you managed to successfully install? How many have you used?

A few thoughts. What is the half life of a technology? It’s a lot to keep up with so many technologies. Even just the new versions of the same technologies. So much memorization. I can’t help thinking, it’s like learning yet another law degree, or, another spoken language, every few years.

On the other hand, a lot of woodworkers and building contractors made a good career constructing houses. But they used the same tools, materials, and technology pretty much for their whole career. Unlike tech contracting.

25 03 2013
Charles Hooper


Thank you for linking to that massive list of database products – I think that I saw that diagram once before, and I was suprised by the number of different database products (the good thing about standards… there are so many to pick from). I have experience with very, very few of those products – the same is probably true for most readers of this blog. Very good point about the rate of change in the IT industry – if you were an expert 20 years ago in an IT field, probably very little of that knowledge applies to current jobs in the IT field. All the more reason why continuing education is important in the IT fields.

Yes, things change in the woodworking/building trades, but at a much slower rate of speed. Learning is a more end-to-end building process of knowledge in that domain compared to the IT industry. The woodworking magazines that have been stacking up for the last 7 years will be just about as useful when I have free time later – thus the reason for continuing the subscriptions.

26 03 2013

I read yesterday your post with interest. It is not the first time I have seen interesting comments on your website but also on the web when it comes to give a specific rating to an Oracle Database book. I would like to thank you for what you do because I consider it much more difficult to read something and then to reread it, proofread it, test it … than to just take it for granted and keep on reading until the end of the book.
I am amazed at what you were able to discover sometimes and I could picture your work like a magnifying glass putting in plain view what was before invisible.
I agree when you say that we need to learn every day something new.
At my very low technical level in Oracle Database, I can truly say that making that brain work and let it discover new things every day is a challenge that is worth it. This way, my head is perhaps losing a part of its “hard wood” like constituents to become more flexible, more eager to learn and to welcome new things to replace older ones.
Thank you very much for the extra job you are doing apart from your day to day job !
We need more people like you to shake our certainties and to remember us that not moving forward after a while is like going back.

Jean-michel A., Nemours, FRANCE

PS : I have always liked the wood picture on top of your website. I now understand why !

26 03 2013
Charles Hooper

Jean-michel A.,

Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog. I appreciate the compliments. Reading, and then verifying what was read is a time consuming process. However, it is a technique that helps to make certain that only the correct information found in books (or magazines or web articles) is remembered, and inaccurate information found in those sources might still be useful for discovering interesting facts that mislead the author.

The wood picture at the top is a fake photograph of end-to-end bookmatched ( ) quarter-sawn ( ) oak – the original picture was not mirrored left and right to resemble a bookmatched pattern. I originally planned to replace the picture with an actual picture of end-to-end bookmatched oak – I might do that one day. (edit: March 26, 2013 9:00 PM – fixed, the logo is now a real end-to-end bookmatch of quarter sawn red oak) The symbol at the right of the picture is a mathematically generated “swirl” of a mathematically generated multi-step gradient brush stroke that was created using an image editing program that I created in 1997-1999.

27 03 2013

Nice wood working job. If I am not mistaken, on the last picture one can see that two pieces of wood have been adjusted ( thin black vertical line in the middle of the wood ).
Your software from 97-99 has certainly edited the picture so that it now does not exist anymore.

Jean-michel, Nemours, FRANCE

27 03 2013
Charles Hooper

The two boards were not yet glued together in the 4 pictures – I think that is why the thin black line is more easily seen in the third picture than in the last picture. Other than resizing the pictures to 20% of their original size, those pictures are not modified. When I created the new logo, in the image editing program I shifted the left board roughly 2 pixels to the right so that the “shadow” line at the ends of the boards would be less distracting.

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