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It's a Wonderful World

From:Philippe Caquant <herodote92@...>
Date:Monday, April 12, 2004, 15:23
Reading "Oracle Concepts" makes me think a lot.This is
typically technical documentation, of course. But what
is the difference with "normal", everyday language,
and concepts ?

The language is a first sight English. Syntax seems to
be normal English syntax, and I bet phonology would be
the usual one too. True, there are numbered titles
(such as: Part III - The Oracle Instance", and also
some schemas here and there. There are specialized,
technical terms, but they usually are built on usual
English words (ex: "SGA" = System Global Area; "redo
log files", and so on). What is more striking is the
absence of a lot of usual words, like flowers, plants,
animals, human names. So it is both a restricted
vocabulary (a subset) and a specialized one (an

So I wondered about the referent world. Apparently,
there is nothing human, not even living, in that
world. Sure, the doc refers to concepts like "users",
"system administrator", or even "you", but it looks
like those concepts are completely abstract. Users and
System Administrator could very well be programs, and
not human beings. (I'm not quite sure about "you", and
yet it seems that this is more or less a synonym for
"System Administrator".

Even more striking, this is not a 3-d world ! There is
so to say nothing spatial, topologic, even less
geographic, in it. There are no concepts like
"length", "width", "heigth", etc. There is no distance
quantification neither. The only concept referring to
spatiality I found up till now is namely "distant" or
"remote". But that only means that something is, or is
not, on the considered computer. For ex, if you
consider the system supporting Oracle Server, then
Server processes are local, and Client processes are
not. There is of course data transmission between
Client and Server, but this seems to be immediate, the
data don't take any time to travel. (Of course they
do, because they are limited by the speed of
propagation in the wires, for ex, but as long as that
documentation is concerned, this is not relevant). One
might think that there is something topological, for
ex when it is said "Oracle allocates a memory area
called the SGA", and that SGA includes Context Areas,
Database Buffer Cache and Redo Log Buffer, but it
fact, it is not so. There is absolutely no mention of
where one of this areas can be found in respect with
the other ones, or with other areas: is it up, down,
on the right, behind ? Such concepts do not exist
here. It is purely logical and conceptual. You only
know that there is such a thing as a memory area in
the computer (and also a disk area), and that Oracle
uses part of this memory area for its own purposes.
Surely there must be a possibility to know that in a
very particular place inside the computer, there is a
chip, and that in this chip, there is a located place
corresponding to a bit having a special meaning for
Oracle, but it's just irrelevant here. You know that
you can quantify memory (measured in bytes, kilobytes,
megabytes), and you can use such quantification when
setting Oracle parameters, but that's all.

So this is very different from historical-geographical
concepts, like when you say that Hitler occupied
Poland. You can locate Poland in respect with Germany:
it's on its Eastern side. When you say that Oracle
"occupies" a memory area for its own purposes, this is
not at the same conceptual level, even if you can
quantify this memory just as you can quantify (in
squared kilometers) the territory Hitler occupied.
(Yet there is another topological concept: some memory
areas are described as "contiguous" - but are they
really so in the machine, or is it again purely
conceptual ?)

Time exists in such a world. For ex, "the three steps
to starting an Oracle database and making it available
for systemwide use are: 1/ Start an instance. 2/ Mount
the database. 3/ Open the database. This is a logical,
but also a temporal order. Past, present, future
exist. Some moods also seem to exist, for ex
eventuality, or condition. For ex, "in unusual
circumstances, a previous instance might not have been
shut down "cleanly" [...]. In such situations, the
database might return an error [...]"

Is there meaning in such a world ? Sure there is,
because there are goals to be fulfilled. The whole
Oracle System has a goal: to provide data access to
(several) users, in an efficient, secure, etc. way.
Things don't happen at random (except when light goes
off unexpectedly). There are a lot of mechanisms,
concurring to fulfill the main goal, and the
sub-goals. So there is a Oracle behaviour. Is it
really different, in essence, from the behaviour of
living beings ? Living beings mainly try to feed
themselves, to develop and to reproduce themselves.
Oracle doesn't. Its behaviour is differently oriented.
And yet, at a higher level of abstraction, this looks
somehow alike to me. There are goals, causes,
consequences, and strategies (methods). [Of course,
you might say that all this has been developed by
human conceptors, not by Oracle itself; but if you
take an individual human being, all that is written in
its genes also doens't depend from him]. Also
striking, the comparison of the "instance" definition:
"the combination of the SGA [memory area allocated]
and the Oracle processes is called an Oracle instance"
with the possible definition: "the combination of a
(human) body and a (human) mind is called a human
being". In both cases, these are entities, while their
separated components are not (a superior organization
level has emerged).

This is all a very schematic and incomplete analysis.
I don't mean to say that a Oracle DBMS, or any DBMS,
is similar to a human being, of course. But I find it
quite exciting to compare the concepts needed in our
usual world, and in a DBMS world. And if you read all
these elucubrations to this point, thanks for your
patience !

Philippe Caquant

"High thoughts must have high language." (Aristophanes, Frogs)

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