02 April 2012

Final beta test for PL/SQL Challenge 2.2

Dear players,

I invite (no, rather, I implore) you to visit beta.plsqlchallenge.com and help us do a final round of testing for release 2.2 of the PL/SQL Challenge website. We've added many new features that will help you get more out of our growing repository of quizzes and resources.

You can log in using your normal username and password; the beta database contains all quiz results and player data through the end of March. The quizzes you can play, of course, are not the same as those you will find on the production site.

Feel free to give us feedback through the form on the website or in comments to this post.

Many thanks in advance,
Steven Feuerstein

Activity Points

Up through 2.1, the only reflection of your activity on the PL/SQL Challenge was your ranking in the daily PL/SQL quiz, or some other quiz. Of course, the vast majority of players will never find themselves in the top rankings for these quizzes, but they nevertheless spend lots of time and effort at the PL/SQL Challenge improving their skills. In 2.2, we now award points to players for all of their activities on the site (taking quizzes, submitting quizzes, reviewing results, engaging in discussions about quizzes, etc.). Your points total now appears next to your name. Click on the Players menu button to see the points of all players.

Practice Quizzes

Prior to 2.2, you could take a quiz when it is initially offered, and then review results and answers through the Library afterwards. You could not, however, take past quizzes if you'd missed them, no could you re-take a quiz. Now, you can set up practices based on past quizzes, specific features about which you want to learn more, or your favorite authors. You can also use the unique Autotune feature: the PL/SQL Challenge will automatically create practices for you, based on predefined criteria.

Quizbook: Quiz as PDF

One of the most long-sought enhancement requests on the PL/SQL Challenge, the Quizbook feature makes it easy for you to generate a PDF document of one or more quizzes. These can be formatted as an offline test (no answer information included), a player scorecard (showcasing your performance) or a knowledge document, containing all answers and resources. You can save and reuse your Quizbooks, as well as sharing them with other players.

Note 1: we are still finalizing the PDF layout and content, so don't be surprised if something is missing or, well, ugly, but also do not hesitate to tell us what you think needs to be changed. And if, by the way, you have experience with Jasper Reports and would like to help improve our report definition, please let me know.

Note 2: You may have to disable your popup blocker to see the PDF document in your browser; we are working on getting this fixed ASAP.

On-Site Discussions

Rather than discuss interesting aspects of quizzes on the PL/SQL Challenge blog, you can now start or answer a thread directly on the Quiz Details page. You can also ask for help (it must be related to the topic of the quiz) or even post an objection to the quiz. In other words, if you think there is something wrong with the quiz, you can register your concern on both the post-quiz feedback page or on the Quiz Details page. You can also easily see if another player has already submitted a request for a correction.

Submit Quiz Wizard

It is now much easier and quicker to submit a quiz. Rather than fill out a long "all or nothing" form - and possibly lose data if there is an interruption, you can now enter a minimum amount of information, save your quiz, and then return later to finish and fine-tune the quiz.

And Lots More...

We have re-designed and re-organized the Quiz Details page (accessible through Library and other pages) to make it easier to navigate through and access the ever-growing amount of information presented. We've moved the Feedback, FAQ and Blog links from the main menu to hyperlinks in top right corner of the page - to make room for our new features. The Winners page is now under the Players tab on the main menu.


  1. One player send the following feedback:

    I have just checked beta site. There are a lot of good new features there. I will just mention some: practice, retaking quizes, quizbook and so on. What is not clear: trophy1, trophy2, 3 and 4 - what do all those trophies mean? Could not find explanation.

    And what I don't like So significant change in scoring... :( A lot of new ways to get points - some are doubtful to me. Week 100% - might lead to extensive cheating. 2 * Week 100% = Quarter 100% - not too equal Viewed Quiz Results - I hope only once? points for comments - might lead to cheating, when friends or colleagues will approve comment And what is most important - the competition will be less clear and transparent Example: you compete with somebody for the first place. Before final day you have advantage 100 points. You take the last quiz well and feel good. But tomorrow you might find yourself to be only the forth or in the tenth place. Other guys just published a lot of threads, comments, filled it their profiles and so on. What does it have in common with PL/SQL language and challenge?

    My response:

    We will add explanations of the trophies, but generally they reflect different levels of accomplishments.

    This players has strong feelings about a "significant change in scoring." But there is no CHANGE in scoring, if by scoring you mean the daily quiz ranking. We have simply added another way to measure your participation on the website. Suppose you are strongly committed to improving your PL/SQL skills, but (a) you cannot manage to play every day and (b) you are not, and will not for a long time be, an expert. So you can make extraordinary efforts and yet your ranking remains high (though hopefully steadily improving over time).

    The activity points offers a way to demonstrate your efforts at improving your knowledge of PL/SQL and your expertise in writing PL/SQL programs, and they are not intended to be competitive, at least not in same way as the daily quiz (and other quiz) rankings. It's just like the points system at websites like Stack Overflow. You might not be able to rate very high in competitive play, but you CAN rate high in your engagement with discussions, with studying the knowledge available on the PL/SQL Challenge site, and so on.

    I hope this makes sense. I actually never thought that there would be anything objectionable about this.


  2. Hello Steven,

    I just made a first quick visit on the beta-site, and I only can say a single word: AMAZING :) :) :)

    All what the PL/SQL Challenge developer team has accomplished
    here is simply GREAT !
    I can only express once again the frustration I feel by not having any experience with APEX development ... when I see so many exceptional features implemented, I have a feeling of "well, maybe it is too late to start with a product that is already so mature ?" , though , there is always a hope, at least theoretically :)

    I am sure it will take us some time to get familiar with all the nice new features, so just a few quick comments:

    1. As I understand from your answer to the previous post,
    the scoring for the competition itself will continue to be
    calculated in the same way, and this is ok.
    Together with this, I can only welcome extremely positively
    the idea of rewarding players for their overall participation
    on the web site.
    I do know very well how dedicated you should be for putting
    aside other things and committing yourself to the
    PL/SQL Challenge under its many aspects, and it could be
    really frustrating if, let's say it directly, no one remarks
    your endeavors if you are not ranked among the top leaders,
    so, I can only say "Chapeau" for this idea !

    2. Regarding the Quizbook feature, I would suggest a small
    addition that I suppose might be trivial enough
    to implement in comparison with the exceptional filtering
    already existing:
    For the Knowledge base option, if possible, to allow for
    simply filtering by a chosen period (From Date, To Date),
    that would allow us to create a Quizbook of ALL the quizzes
    played in a given period, in the same order as they were
    played, for our future possibility "to re-live the life
    later !".
    Of course, such a date filtering can come in addition to the
    other existing ones or simply be used alone for a complete
    history book, in fact the best-seller that once I suggested !

    I am sure I will continue to praise further all the new features, I only need the time to dive deeper :)

    Cheers to the whole team, you can be really proud of your accomplishment !

    Thanks & Best Regards
    Iudith Mentzel
    ( a frustrated "non-knower" of APEX )

  3. Plain text and code font sizes are less than in 2.1. Rather, ones are too small :(

  4. Iudith, great idea about a date range for the Quizbook. We have added this (this is for Quizbooks by Competition).

    Vitaliy, could you please clarify your concern about text and code font sizes? Where is this happening? Can you zoom in, in your browser, to increase the font size?

  5. Most of plain text in Library, Question, Ranking now has different font ("Trebushet MS" instead of former "Tahoma") which, having the same font size, looks smaller but occupy more space.
    Regarding code I now can not confirm any changing the font.

  6. Similar to the existing version, when viewing an individual's profile, the graphs only present the first 12 months of activity, rather than the most recent 12 months and/or all activity if greater than 12 months, with no option for changing the date range or viewing all activity.

  7. We have added your chart request to our ER list.

  8. One player asked for the following:

    Enhance the Library page as follows: 1. Allow players to search library by technology (topics tree), competitions (current view) or author. 2. Add indicators to the quizzes to show if there is an objection, discussion, etc. and the last date on which a comment was made.

    I have also been thinking for a while that the Library page needs work. But I am also concerned about "jamming" lots of information into the current interactive report on the Library page.

    So what do you think of the following:

    1. Add a selector at the top of the page for the technology of interest (PL/SQL, SQL, etc.) and also one for author, letting you focus your searches on quizzes by a particular person.

    2. Change from a single interactive report to a set of tabs:

    By Feature: click on this tab to select a feature from a tree (as you see in Practice and Quizbooks). Then click Next to see a report of all quizzes about that feature (or any feature below it in the tree). So you could, for example, check the "Dynamic SQL" feature and see quizzes related to dynamic SQL.

    Competitions: the current interactive report, focused on helping you see/check results of your answers to quizzes.

    Contested: shows you all quizzes for which a player has submitted an objection.

    Help Needed: shows all quizzes for which a player has submitted a request for help.

    Discussions: all quizzes for which there is a discussion posted.

    By breaking things up this way, each tab could show information that is relevant to that type of search.

    Looking forward to your feedback, SF

  9. First of all: nice work!

    Some observations:
    1. I choose 'Quizzes never played', maximum number of quizzes = 2
    I have chosen the features of the technology on which I would like to be quizzed and it showed there were 4 intermediate and 1 advanced in it.
    When I finished the wizard I got the following error:
    Error ORA-20000: Unable to Create Practice There are no quizzes for your practice. Please adjust your criteria.
    2. How can I review the practice quizzes I have taken?
    Is it possible to put auto complete on the field for username(email adress)?

    That's it for now.


    1. Marga,

      1. Before you choose the feature (and where it shows you the number of quizzes per feature), you also select the amount of time since you originally took the quiz. The default is a month. It is possible that all 5 of those were within the date range. So two things here:

      a. we should add logic to show numbers next to features that reflect the exclusionary date period (but I don't think that will be in place for the release).

      b. it could be a bug. Could you please send me an email (steven@stevenfeuerstein.com) with your email address used to log in to PL/SQL Challenge, and the specifics of your selections when setting up this practice?

      2. Auto-complete for login: I will look into it, but isn't this something that can be done by easily in your browser?

    2. Steven,

      1. I sent you an email with a document attached with screenshots (you must have received it by now).

      2. Sometimes, when I navigate to the plsql challenge site my loginname is filled in as Iudith also wrote, but sometimes it is not. It is not only a matter of how my browser reacts, because when I log in into my webmail, my username will appear when I type in a letter. I don't know if it is possible in apex to get this going. What I do know is that it is possible to accomplish an autocomplete list based on the contents of a column, especially if you use version 4.1 or higher.
      Well, we will see what the result will be.

      Kind regards,


  10. Hello All,
    Regarding Marga's question about Auto-complete:

    My browser always shows me the e-mail address already filled in
    on the Login page. I think it is a direct result of having cookies enabled in the browser.
    I even did not use the "Remember me" for having this done,
    which would probably mean to remember the password as well.

    It is not exactly the same as the Auto-complete, which would mean that you enter the first letter(s) only and have the others filled out automatically, but I think it is exactly what you need if you are the only one playing from the same browser.
    If several people use the same browser, then probably the cookie will always remember the last one used.

    Regarding the self-practice quizzes:
    As far as I understand, when you create a self-practice you also choose a time limit within which you are supposed to take the quizzes. Does this mean that at the end of this time your self-practice would be automatically deleted ?

    Could it be that further, even if not in this release, we could
    build a "dynamic" self test whose parameters only will be preserved indefinitely (under a custom name of our choice), while the quizzes list itself will be generated/optionally refreshed on demand each time when you ask for it, like for example:
    "Show me all the advanced quizzes of the last quarter".

    All the new features are great indeed, a fantastic work !

    Thanks a lot & Best Regards,

  11. Yes, unplayed (and closed) practices will be autmoatically removed.

    Regarding your idea for a "dynamic self test", very interesting idea. I will add that to our ER list for the future.

    Autocomplete: I am sure there is more we could do here, and I will also add that to our ER list.

  12. Regarding the auto-complete:

    Viewing the HTML source of the login page shows the input form with these parameters:

    <form action="wwv_flow.accept" method="post" name="wwv_flow" id="wwvFlowForm" autocomplete="off">

    autocomplete="off" tells the browser, that it should not remember what previously has been typed in the inputs. With autocomplete on, the browser remembers, so that next time you can just type the first letter or two and you get an automatic dropdown picklist where you can select what you typed previously in that input.

    Maybe it is an attribute of the form in Apex whether to generate the HTML form with autocomplete off or on?

  13. Thanks, Kim, I will look into that.