Gunnar 'Nick' Bluth

Tags:   postgresql    fosdem    pgconf-eu    pgconf-de    telegram    world-of-tanks    diablo   
Category:   Interviews   
Interviewed by: Andreas Scherbaum

PostgreSQL is the World’s most advanced Open Source Relational Database. The interview series “PostgreSQL Person of the Week” presents the people who make the project what it is today. Read all interviews here.

Please tell us about yourself, and where you are from.

I’m Gunnar (aka. “Nick”) Bluth, born in ‘73, married with two grown-up kids. I grew up in Münster/Westfalen in Germany, where I repatriated to in 2016 after living near Frankfurt/M. for 13 years. So I’ll probably also rot here ;-)

The “Nick” nick stems from the 80s movie “The Sure Thing” btw.

I’m freelancing in IT since 1997, focussing on FOSS since ~1999 (I was among the first few dozen RHCEs in Europe) as a trainer, Linux/UNIX sysadmin, DBA and (SQL) developer.
I spent many years at several banks, but have also seen ISPs, telcos, startups etc., from 3 to 80.000 employees.
For the last five years, my main gig is being a PostgreSQL DBA at ELSTER, the german electronic tax system. Recently, I added a part-time job for the Bafin to that, and also still do trainings from time to time (these days, PostgreSQL of course).
On top, I own and run a small company (Pro Open GmbH) with (currently) 2 employees and a couple of freelancers.

Gunnar 'Nick' Bluth (left)

Gunnar 'Nick' Bluth (left)

How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies?

I spend far too much time playing World of Tanks, Diablo III and Empire Deluxe (or generally, in front of my computer).
Every other year or so, Blender catches my attention for a while. Usually, these phases lead to some money spending (graphics cards, tablets, Blender Cloud) and no useful output. But the skills and equipment may come in handy one day (Want to have a crappy monkey head included in some footage? Contact me! ;-).
Then I have two old pinball machines, which mainly collect dust (as they strain the tennis elbow when used too much, and they’re also not exactly low noise).

We acquired a campervan a few years ago, of which the general idea was to spend weekends doing water-related things like SUPping, wakeboarding etc. Which didn’t really work out all too well yet, mainly due to me commuting so much and $wife working many weekends… and that pandemic thing… :/

Recently, I joined a dutch fishing club, so once we’re through the COVID sh*t, I’ll hopefully put that to good use (the border less than an hour from here). I never came around to getting the fishing permit you need in Germany, so my fishing ambitions were limited to Sweden vacations before (I wasn’t aware about the Netherlands… d’oh!).

Oh, and of course I’m a big admirer of malt based beverages, preferrably to be consumed with friends ;-)

Any Social Media channels of yours we should be aware of?

Last book you read? Or a book you want to recommend to readers?

My current on/off books are “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari and “NSA” by Andreas Eschbach.
I love essentially everything by Neal Stephenson (although the more recent ones are not as epic as e.g. Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age etc.).
The other day I learned that there are people out there that have not (or only once) read “The Lord of the Rings”, the Hitchhiker Trilogy and “Das Boot”, which may make some of their interactions with myself a bit awkward (I refer to these more often than I’m aware of myself ;-).

Any favorite movie, or show?

My lack of knowledge in that area is legendary (to my roommate in Nürnberg, at least). There’s some movies and mini series I don’t get tired of watching every now and then, like e.g. TLOTR, Harry Potter, Ronin, Léon, Band of Brothers, Lethal Weapon, Rick & Morty, …
Strangely enough, I did not watch TBBT before 2020, but then binged it.
I’m looking for a copy of a french 80s movie btw., “Les Spécialistes”. If someone happens to know where to find it, give me a shout (I’ll need the german version though, my french will never suffice).

How would your ideal weekend look like?

Did I mention fishing? Add a bit of (beer and sun and ($wife or $friends)) to the mix, and it’s probably sold ;-)

What’s still on your bucket list?

Losing weight and quitting smoking…
TBTH, the last 20 years have been mostly about getting the offspring raised, I yet have to accomodate to the new situation.
I have kinfolk in South Africa that I’ll hopefully visit one day, also Canada is tempting.
I already bought and renewed an old house once (never again!).

What is the best advice you ever got?

KISS (I nowadays amend POLA to that, “policy of least astonishment”).

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

Back in the late 90s, I was pitching on a job that involved an Access “database”. So I got me a book and started delving into the topic. A bit later (200[01]), I was doing MySQL (3.23) learning the hard way why transactions and constraints are a Good Thing™.
So then I stumbled over PostgreSQL and started fiddling around with it (getting it up & running was quite a PITA back at the time).

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

Must have been 7.2/7.3 or so, around 2001/2002. In 2003 or 2004, I helped an Informix DBA design & set up “my” first production PG (7.4, IIRC), which was still humming along, allocating disk space (nobody ever set up a regular VACUUM ;-) in early 2009.
The first PostgreSQL centric job then was in 2005/2006, hacking a ZOPE based ticketing system at a cable provider.

I “studied” economics for 7 semesters. Knowing how accounting and VAT works does help when you’re self-employed, but apart from that, nah.

What other databases are you using? Which one is your favorite?

Working in IT (esp. large organisations) involves being exposed to a lot of different DBMS. So I had contact to Oracle, Sybase, Informix, DB2, M$ SQL, MySQL and some even more exotic ones over the years.
My last bank job was in fact SQL Developer on SQL Server.
And I refuse to answer the other question… what an affront!!! ;-)

I spent a metric ton of time working on training materials recently, which will probably be released under some Open License.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

My most time-consuming contribution is probably co-moderating the @PostgreSQL Telegram channel. I sometimes feel like I’m for that channel what Tom Lane is for the mailing lists or RhodiumToad is for the IRC channel ;-)
Apart from that, I help out (& gave a couple of talks) at conferences, keep the packagers busy (sorry to be a PITA, Christoph & Devrim!), advocate where- and whenever opportunities show up.
Recently, I contributed a bit to postgresql_anonymizer and the PostgreSQL support of Icinga2.
Oh, and I still get occasional GitHub pull requests for the ODBC FDW which I briefly struggled to get “up to speed” (now at CartoDB).

Any contributions to PostgreSQL which do not involve writing code?

Essentially all of them ;-)
Pro Open sponsored the PGConf.DE 2020 and hosts the weekly #PostgresFriends Jitsi conference.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

With my DBA hat on, no doubt it’s pg_stat_statements . An absolute must-have!
From a developer/architect perspective, I love the possibilities that Multicorn et. al. offer.

What is the most annoying PostgreSQL thing you can think of? And any chance to fix it?

Mass deletes; you inevitably run into locks/blocking transactions. I’d really fancy LIMIT for that. And I don’t care about the order my old records get deleted in, all I want is an easy way to limit the maximum time other transactions may block…

What is the feature you like most in the latest PostgreSQL version?

Of the PG13 features, the index deduplication thing will probably benefit most users (and my clients…), so I’ll go with that.

Adding to that, what feature/mechanism would you like to see in PostgreSQL? And why?

LIMIT for DELETE, as it is really annoying sometimes.

Which skills are a must have for a PostgreSQL developer/user?

psql is for PostgreSQL what vi is for UNIX (administration). I can’t take anyone serious who says “I’m a UNIX admin” and then fires up nano to edit a config file.
So, I don’t expect everybody to know every feature of psql, but one should at least feel comfortable with it for everyday work.
CTEs and window functions, FILTER and other modern SQL features are still not all too common among users, thus I get to see a lot of ugly SQL92. That should change…!

Which PostgreSQL conferences do you visit? Do you submit talks?

PGConf.EU , PGConf.DE , FOSDEM PGDay at least. Yes, sometimes.

Do you think Postgres has a high entry barrier?

Apparently, it’s still higher than PlaygroundSQL (and its fork PlaygroundDB) or “NoSQL”.
Then again, getting any serious RDBMS up & running (properly) is a bit of work, and I think PG does a pretty good job at it once you have the basics learned.

Do you think PostgreSQL will be here for many years in the future?

Absolutely. We’ve only just begun picking up momentum.

Would you recommend Postgres for business, or for side projects?

Both. I myself even use PG as a calculator (I usually have a psql open somewhere anyway), which sometimes strikes people when they realise… ;-)

Are you reading the -hackers mailinglist? Any other list?

I’m subscribed to quite a lot of them, but only really read -announce (and -admin /-performance when time permits, which is usually never).

What other places do you hang out?

Telegram, as mentioned, my IRC sessions (“nickbluth”) are in a screen, so even if you see me there, I’ll probably not reply, sorry.

Which other Open Source projects are you involved or interested in?

None at the moment.

Anything else you like to add?

Visit conferences! The PG community is very welcoming to start with, and conferences can be a great kickoff to make some in-person contacts.
Oh, and: Wear a mask! Wash your hands!