Thursday, 21 January 2021

2020 Blog Review


select apex_string.format(q'[It's been %s days since my last confession]' 
                         ,trunc(Sysdate) - date '2020-04-14'
) "G'day World" from dual
G'day World
It's been 282 days since my last confession

It's been so long, the Blogger UI has changed. I don't think I like it. Maybe another thing to consider adjusting in the new year...

It's also been four years since my last blog review, and I promised this one may be a doozy.

2020 was something else, right? I spent a good portion being thankful that I 

  1. kept my job
  2. could work from home
  3. live in such a remote city, which helped keep my family & friends safe

Aside from the APEX@Home event in April, I decided to scale my extra-curricular work right down, hence the lack of blog activity over the past year. I've kept active in the forums, because looking through those helps give my brain a bit of a reset when focus starts wandering.

But I wanted to be sure I had the time, energy, or whatever it was I needed to power through whatever 2020 potentially dished out.

Thankfully, from my end of the world, things are relatively OK. I've been to a few outdoor gigs, and aside from a few regular adjustments, life is kind of normal. Kind of. We're not completely insulated from the outside world, and things could change in a moment.However, I've used this down time to improve my investment game, should my IT career start to falter.

But that leads onto another astonishment for the year. I saw a lot of people I knew outside tech lose their jobs, though thankfully most of them had options elsewhere. Meanwhile, I'm presented with numerous avenues. I happened to choose a new avenue.

As of the end of January 2021, my tenure at Sage Computing Services comes to an end after 13 years. 

When I look back, it's staggering what I've done with the support of Penny at Sage.

  • Transitioned from Forms based development to Oracle APEX.
  • I published a video series using Oracle APEX. 
  • I published a book involving Oracle APEX. 
  • I was recognised as an Oracle ACE.
  • I spoke Kscope. Twice. Well, two cities, 5-6 sessions, I think.
  • Helped create some amazing project work with an amazing team.
  • Found a great work-life balance.

And I still have the yearn for more.  I have two more ideas for video series I still want to explore, and one could work as another book.  

It was a really tough choice leaving Sage, but yet again, Penny supported me through the options, and I'm fairly sure I've found a project that's the perfect fit for me, and it was hard to ignore.

And for a moment there I felt like I was presented with the cliche of red vs blue pill.

Development or ...

I'm not sure which one represents the world of development, but I didn't identify a managerial style job back at University - so while I 'manage' a lot of things as a developer, my passion is cutting code.

Therefore, the coming years are going to be explored as a contractor at a new firm, while I return to a past client to transition them from Forms to Oracle APEX. The good & bad news: I built a bunch of those Forms!

2020 project challenges were tough. I'd be kidding myself if I didn't think 2021 projects at a new location will be any different, but I'll be looking to step up my skills & habits while I'm at it.

Hopefully you'll be hearing more from me via this medium in 2021.
I've missed it, and I'm ready to come back.

And here's to seeing James Webb Space Telescope finally launch this year!

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

How to stay sane ... when things change.

From an e-mail I sent to colleagues, I thought I should also share it here (revised):

I'm known as the office optimist. And I do literally have many things to be grateful for. I still have a job, I’m able to work from home, and I have a decent study setup. And I’m an experienced introvert, this shelter-in-place business is no problem for me. I feel like one of the last people who’d go stir-crazy.

But recently I felt I had a crappy week. Worst in some time, and nothing really to do with current events. A vital piece of software kept flaking out on me, and I felt I didn’t achieve what I was aiming complete.

I opted out of an attempt at a virtual Friday Happy Hour for related reasons, even though I timing worked out that probably could have given it a go.

In hindsight I understand this is also in part due to a number of reasons I just made up for myself, to justify “not coming”, such as feeling like the audio will be awkward, or even just setting up the video/audio feed.

I’ve been listening to a few select podcast to keep up to speed with current events, Deep Background with Noah Feldman being one of them. But this particular episode from 27th March, "How to stay sane during a pandemic", seemed to have been a fly on my wall. I found it really hit the nail on the head, and I feel there’s messages in there that will speak to all of us, from a professor in happiness, no less.

Noah interviews Laurie Santos, from The Happiness Lab. Well worth the listen.

I hope you’re all doing ok.

Oracle APEX @ Home

The world has obviously lost a number of in-person conferences in recent times, but luckily we have people like Martin who asked the APEX community to jump, and they responded "how high?"

And out comes 24 hours of 24 speakers with APEX @ Home, on April 16th 2020. A lot of regular speakers appear to have pulled out some awesome sessions, and then there's my dinky one on APEX logic suggestions.

It's an AskTOM Office Hours session, so it's also recorded for later viewing, but you'll miss the chance for live Q&A.

And you'll also miss the challenge Connor put out there - to get a virtual selfie with all 24 speakers. Good luck with that.

What I've wanted to do, but haven't had the time, is roughly plot the time zone differences for each speaker. I'm talking at 8pm, but I bet it's all over the shop for every speaker, at various times of the day!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Inspect Element Deep Dive, with Oracle APEX

In my previous post about tweaking APEX classic reports, most of the settings were "low-code" configurations. All except the final line of JavaScript that moved the radio group from its default location, to the region's title bar where we'd normally find buttons.

But how did I conjure that statement?

When I wrote my book on jQuery in APEX, my general premise was each web page can be queried like a database can, you've just got to learn how to apply the filters to find the relevant component.

Browser Tools

In most browsers, if you right-click on any component on the page, then choose 'Inspect Element', you'll see a window appear showing you what the web page looks like prior to markup.

I can also use F12 in Chrome on my laptop to bring up this console window, but don't presume that's the same anywhere - I borrowed a laptop for a webinar once, and it put the laptop in aeroplane mode. I digress... you can dock this console window to the bottom, side, or have it floating elsewhere.

Where is my item?

If I inspect the radio group, it will take me to the specific radio option, in this case 'Accounting'.

As I move the mouse up the tree, different portions of the page will highlight, signifying exactly what part of the page the HTML represents. Sometimes you'll also see orange & green, signifying margin & padding respectively.

Find the relevant component on the page with help from highlighting

I kept going until I found the P29_DEPT_Z_CONTAINER, which holds all of the contents of my radio group item P29_DEPT_Z. The id property allows us to 'query' this page using the filter (selector) #P29_DEPT_Z_CONTAINER.

I can wrap this selector with the $() function to return that portion of the page, a portion I would like to move somewhere else.

You can also see what happens when you enter this in the console window - it returns a result.

What function do I use?

I use this jQuery cheatsheet to help identify the relevant command I need. Sometimes there's alternates depending on what expression is on either side of the equation.

In this case, I want to take my radio group, and append it to somewhere else on the page.
$('the object I want to move').appendTo('where it is going');

Where is it going?

The next step is to identify the part of the page where my snippet of HTML will be going.

I can use the same inspect element technique to locate a region already dedicated to placing buttons.

Find the destination using the same technique

Here I've located my zhuzh region by the Static ID I've applied (purple), and there is a div the represents the location of the buttons. I can identify this part using one of the classes (red)

Classes are prefixed with a dot when used within selectors

You need to take care when determining which selector to use. IDs should be unique (but aren't necessarily), and classes certainly aren't unique.

A pairing of ID and class is often an effective combination, but you need choose the right class. One you've added your own is often safe, and you can inject classes into the page using various APEX attributes. They can be anything.

This t-Region set of classes is defined within the Universal Theme. One early problem with APEX was these classes would change from theme to theme, as we didn't have a universal theme, so migrating custom code could be awkward.

The UT has changed some classes over time, but documented ones should remain constant.

Verifying the selector

Using the find function in the Elements tab allows you to test your selector, test how many results are returned on the page. If I just use the class, I actually get two results - one for each standard region I have on the page.

Count components on the page by searching in element tab

Combining these selectors will ensure I only get the button class for the relevant region. This is what forms my destination selector in the appendTo().

Testing the move

We can test the final command in the Console tab of the browser tools.

$('#P29_DEPT_Z_CONTAINER').appendTo('#zhuzh .t-Region-headerItems--buttons')

If I test this without using the #id selector, then the radio HTML will be appended to both regions.

Test your command within the runtime page

Once you're happy with the result, you can add it to the relevant portion of your page. In this case, I put it in the page attributes 'Execute on Page Load', though often it's within a dynamic action.

Playing with CSS

While we're here, it would be remiss of me to mention how you can play with the CSS attributes in the browser tools.

Play with styling on the rendered page

In this example I found the background colour property of the radio group label, and turned it green.

This was done without re-rendering the page, but it's only relevant until I do re-render the page, just like when we applied the console command to move the radio group.

But it's a great way to test/tweak CSS commands to see the result before applying it as CSS content rendered with the rest of your page.

The syntax would be similar, we would take a selector, but in the same syntax as what's found in the Styles sub-tab. You can copy/paste from the tab if you're not sure.

.t-Region-headerItems--title {color : red}

This CSS in the page would apply the styling during render of all page markup, but we could also do this on demand with jQuery, with just a slight adjustment to the syntax - and this is but one variation.
$('.t-Region-headerItems--title').css('color', 'red');


These concepts can arm you with some nifty behaviours, above and beyond what comes with APEX.

Or to think of it a different way, if can really empower your use of dynamic actions, as the same instruments can be wielded as a jQuery selector, dynamic action condition, part of set value action, to name a few.

Doing this with an Interactive Report also provided extra challenges.

See a video on how to action this blog here, and the app here.

Happy APEXing!

Tweaking Classic Reports

I like classic reports in Oracle APEX.

They're so versatile, and while it may not look it in this example, adjusting particular declarative settings can make a real difference in a small region displaying pivotal data.

And this still looks like a report. You should see what else they can do.

Left region is default settings, right region has a few options set

Base Behaviour

The classic report is straight out of the wizard, this example performs a cross join to inflate the data set.
select e.* from emp e cross join emp e2
where :P29_DEPT is null or e.deptno = :P29_DEPT

A where clause has been added to filter by Dept, if supplied.

Page Items to Submit

Note one of the most important properties in APEX - Page Items to Submit, in this case nominating the P29_DEPT item.

There is a Dynamic Action defined on Even Change for the item, which simply refreshes the nominated region.

Simple Dynamic Action

If we don't set Page Items to Submit on the region, then the database won't know about the change made on the browser. Any item specified in this list upon refresh will have the current value set in the browser sent to APEX session state (a key/value table in the database), so when the query binds the value, the database knows what the browser knows.

So when I select a department, the employee list refreshes to show the relevant department.

Make Left look like Right

This may seem like a long list, but it doesn't take long at all once you know where to click. I estimate 23 clicks, as of 19.2.
  1. Modify Region properties
    1. Change Template Options for region
      1. Tick Remove Body Padding
      2. Tick Show Region Icon
    2. Add Icon: fa-list
    3. Add Static ID: zhuzh
  2. Modify Report properties
    1. Change Template Options for report
      1. Tick Stretch Report
      2. Report Border Horizontal Only
    2. Change Pagination Type to Search Engine.
    3. Sometimes you may which to turn Heading Type from Custom to Off, or at least disable the sort (by adding order by to SQL, or disabling sort on columns)
  3. Modify Item properties
    1. Change Type to Radio Group
    2. Change Number of Columns to 4 (something relevant to your list. Usually useful for items with small number of options)
    3. Change template option Item Group Display to Display as Pill Button
  4. Modify Page Property
    1. Set Execute when Page Loads
      $('#P29_DEPT_Z_CONTAINER').appendTo('#zhuzh .t-Region-headerItems--buttons')
      This moves everything holding the radio group together, to a spot made for buttons in the region.
      Not something I do often, but can be an economic use of space.


We've found the search engine pagination style great for touch devices, but I tend to prefer the Display Position on the Left, and at the Top, or at least Top & Bottom.

Report Template Options offer a facility to hide pagination when all rows displayed, but I've never seen it consistently work as I expect, so I continue to use my own JS library call for that.

The static ID can be whatever you like, so long as it doesn't clash with other IDs on the page, such as item names.

See my next post for more detail on how I derived that line of JavaScript, and what you can do with the browser tools.

See a video on how to action this blog here.

Friendly URLs in APEX 20.1

We can finally add 'native' to the list of choices when it comes to 'prettified' URLs, as Oracle APEX 20.1 honours the statement of direction with a simple checkbox in application properties.

APEX 20.1 Application Properties - Friendly URLs

I tried this with old & new applications, and it appears to be case insensitive.

APEX also appears to honour either format, regardless of the setting.

It contains the workspace name, application and page aliases (if present), however this obfuscates key reference information a developer users hourly ;p

I wonder if there will be a related API?

I know some people yearn for this, but is it really that prettier than the original?,P6_MODE:7566,R

Time may tell. It usually does.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

APEX Component Settings for Switch

While I point out a 'hidden' setting for Switch items in APEX, I want to comment on two related item types found in Oracle APEX => radio buttons and checkboxes.

1) Radio button

I really think the standard Template Option for radio groups should 'Display as Pill Button'

It really provides a simple and effective UX when a small set of options are on offer. Touch devices can select the option as if it's a button, and mouse users only need one click, compared to a select list requiring two. And the click doesn't need to be precise for those tiny radio group circles. I wish the application builder adopted the pill button approach more often.

And it's real easy to hook a dynamic action on change of the radio group, perhaps to refresh a classic report with data limited to the selected option. (Don't forget to add page items to submit!)

2) Switch

The Switch item was the answer to a number of methods of deploying an "iPhone-like" on/off switch.
I actually wrote an (internal) item plugin to do just this, but I much prefer using the native option.

A frequent question relates to how switches are rendered. If you don't see what you expect, have a look in Shared Components -> Component Settings.
Application -> Shared Components -> Component Settings

Personally I prefer the 'Pill Button' look, for reasons above. I find the APEX Application Builder seems more washed out with all the Switches in the properties bar, compared to the more softened On/Off pill buttons. If I could change this at the builder level, I would.

The offerings will vary depending on your APEX version, and if the application's Universal Theme has been refreshed

Application level settings for plugins can also be found in Component Settings, in addition to built-in APEX feature tweaks. These can something you choose to review after an APEX version upgrade.

3) Checkbox

It seems the humble HTML checkbox will always be extant, regardless of the pain it brings to tabuler forms. However, it suffers the same precision requirement as the native radio group selections - though better deployments allow selection using the label as well.

Go with the Switch (as a pill).

What do you think?