Mike Ault's thoughts on various topics, Oracle related and not. Note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are not contributing to the overall theme of the BLOG or are insulting or demeaning to anyone. The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

50 Years and Counting

Well, I had a milestone of sorts last week, I turned 50 years of age. Odd, I don’t remember it like it was 50 years, and I don’t feel (mentally at least) like it’s been that long. Of course since life expectancies keep increasing and mine is a long lived family I may not even be middle aged yet…

As a teenager just getting into the work world I dreamed of being an oceanographer, then that morphed into a physicist or nuclear scientist. I worked in the Navy (1973-1979) as a machinist mate which actually means I repaired machines (vice a machinery repairmen who did machining work) and, since I was on a nuclear submarine, did laboratory and health physics work. Health physics means taking radiation surveys, cleaning up spills of radioactive water and materials and things dealing with keeping the rest of the crew (and outside world) from getting contaminated by the reactor. As a chemist I was responsible for maintaining the chemical balance in the non-radioactive steam plant and in the radioactive reactor coolant to help reduce corrosion and monitored the coolant loop for levels of radioactive material.

So, I was a nuclear chemist and health physicist for a while, then got out of the Navy and concentrated on being a Nuclear Chemist (1980-1990). Essentially I followed recipes to test water samples. The most fun part of the job was gamma spectroscopy. Essentially a gamma spectrometer was a chunk of ultra pure germanium super cooled by liquid nitrogen with a 2000 DC volt charge across it. When gamma rays interacted with it they would be absorbed (a certain fraction of the time) and during this process electron-hole pairs would be formed, the charge differential would sweep the electrons to the charge collection system which would amplify the signal. Some other electronics would then convert this analog data into a digital signal and result would be a number that through various mathematical convolutions you could use to determine the energy level of the original gamma ray.

Of course any one sample from a nuclear reactor coolant loop could have dozens of radioactive elements in it, each giving off one or more gamma rays, plus the normal background radiation (which we mitigated with lead shields). So a given gamma ray spectrum from a sample could hold dozens of gamma ray energy lines. I have included an example below. These lines could lay virtually on top of each other. In the beginning of the nuclear age a sodium iodine detector (essentially a chunk of salt) was used and it would produce scintillations whose brightness would correspond to the energy of the incident gamma ray, however the peaks produced would be wide (20-30 Kev FWHM) and difficult to analyze. The peaks would be hand plotted then the areas under them computed on a slide-rule and it would take days to analyze a single sample. With the germanium detectors the peaks would be nice and crisp (1-2 Kev FWHM) so it would be easier to see the peaks. However, we used computers to do the analysis of the germanium spectrums and what had taken days now took 11 seconds.

Fission Product Spectrum (From: Gamma Ray Spectrum Catalog, 1974, Aerojet Nuclear, R.L. Heath) Posted by Picasa

The first article I got an award for was “Gamma Emitting Isotopes of Medical Origin in Sanitary Waste Samples”, a real page turner. Anyway when I started in the civilian nuclear field I did about 90 percent chemistry and 10 percent computers, by the end of the 10 years I worked in the civilian field I was doing 90 percent computers and 10 percent chemistry. I was working at Tennessee Valley Authority when Marvin Runyon ( unaffectionately called Marvin Runyaoff ) was brought in to clean up TVA. His clean up, due to union rules and contracts, consisted of firing (laid-off) all of the junior people (read, the ones with the new ideas, new concepts and new ways of doing things) and keeping the old timers ( status quo, keep things the way they are, let’s not types) since I only had 3 years of staff time, I was let go.

I determined that Nuclear power had limited upward mobility so taking a deep breath I leaped into the computer world. I had been working with the Informix and Ingres databases and had been the database administrator and developer for the VAX-VMS based systems in the Sequoyah Nuclear Training center, I saw an advertisement for an Oracle DBA job working with Aerojet on a NASA project so I sent in my resume. I was called in for an interview so I quickly picked up the book (at that time there was only one) on Oracle and read it on the flight to the interview. I believe I got the job because I was the only one who showed up for the interview. The job was in Iuka, Mississippi at the old Yellow Creek nuclear site, sold by TVA to the government to be the site for the factory building the replacement boosters for the space shuttle. I guess you could say that ultimately I owe my career in Oracle to the Challenger shuttle disaster since the Iuka plant was a direct result of that incident. I finally finished my degree in ’92 in computer science with Kennedy-Western University. I had over 140 credits from various classes and courses I had taken or CLEP’ed while I was in the Navy, but no clear concentration to give me a degree. I took that and a bit of life credit and some additional course work and parlayed that into a computer science degree.

Since then I have worked exclusively with the Oracle database system on VAX-VMS, HPUX, Sun Solaris, AIX, Linux, Windows (various) with Oracle versions 6.0.22 to I have been to 14 countries, 20 States, two sets of Islands (The Canaries and Los Rochas Archeapeligo) given dozens of lectures and presentations, taught thousands of folks how to use, tune and maintain Oracle, and wrote 2 dozen books. I’ve even had a couple of fiction short stories published.

During this 50 years I also met and wed my wife of 32 (almost 33) years, Susan, had two wonderful daughters (Marie and Michelle) and come this October will be a Grandfather.

It has been quite a ride, this first half (third?) of my life. I have ridden and repaired (and steered) nuclear submarines, stood next to a nuclear reactor, flown in jet aircraft, sailed on surface ships and cruise liners, parasailed, driven bicycles, cars, motorcycles, trucks, boats learned to fish, hunt, scuba dive, dance, sing, play the guitar, play the dulcimer, work with wood, work with chemistry, and work with computers. I’ve watched my daughters be born, grow up, get married and now get to watch as they bring new life into the world. I’ve dealt with the death of loved ones, the horrors of the world, the joys of life. I’ve read well over 3000 books, attended 14 different schools from kindergarten to my college degree. I’ve learned a bit of tolerance, how to love and thankfully not too much how to hate, learned to love God and praise powers higher than myself.

I’m looking forward to what the next 50-100 years brings.