Seven years, four hundred posts

The first post to this blog was made on September 14th, 2007. Since then, seven years have gone by, I have moved twice, changed jobs as many times, gotten married and become a father, and embarked on a bachelor’s degree. The blog has gone from being hosted on Blogger to being hosted on WordPress, and I have moved it from a subdomain to the primary domain where you find it now.

By no means the first online presence I have had (the first was hosted by IBM back in 1996, the second was on now defunct GeoCities), this blog is the one over which I have had the most control, from which I have learned the most, and which has offered the most permanence.

This is the four hundredth entry I have made. They range from my forays into Linux to the sunk cost fallacy, and everything in between (and a lot of things not connected at all. They all belong here due to the simple fact that I say they do.

I have no plans to stop writing now. I have far too much still to cover, such as my forays into Linux and OBIEE. The topics will continue to be varied, and other topics to come are book reviews, change management and really, whatever else I find the time and inspiration to write about.

Mac OS X: Change what programs load on startup

I like having my Mac start a set of programs each time I boot it, yet there are others which, under normal circumstances, would be set to load on boot that I only want to be running when I want them to be. Luckily, deciding what programs to start on boot – or not – is a simple enough proposition. Here’s how:

  1. Open System Preferences, then Users & Groups
  2. Go to the Login Items tab
  3. Click the lock to make changes, and input your admin password when prompted
  4. To remove programs: Highlight the programs you don’t want to load, and click the minus sign to remove them
  5. To add programs: Click the plus sign, and navigate to the program in question

That’s all there’s to it.

ETL at a glance

Business Intelligence, at its core, is about taking data from different sources, compiling the data into a format that can be used, and running reports on that data. The process of compiling the data is called extract, transform load; ETL for short. If you are going to work with Business Intelligence, you need to have, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of ETL. Here’s a quick overview:

Extract means connecting to all the data sources you have, such as payroll, accounting, inventory, sales etc. (basically any system or data source that can provide you with base data for statistic analysis), and extracting the raw data.

Transform means adapting the data from their disparate formats to one where the formats are the same between datasets, to fit the needs of the business.

Load means loading the transformed data into a system designed to run reports on the data, such as a data mart or a data warehouse.

Once the data has gone through ETL, you can either run analysis to get reports from the data, or run it through ETL again to load it into a different data store.

Starting out with OBIEE

Here it is. The reason I chose Oracle Linux over all the other distros out there. Over Debian-based Ubuntu, with which I am somewhat familiar, and over Fedora-based Red Hat, which is commonly used in enterprise environments. The reason I chose Oracle Linux, is that I want to learn more about Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition, OBIEE.

The learning curve with configuring OBIEE is significant, to say the least, which is why I recommend running it under Oracle Linux on a Virtual Machine, snapshotted at regular intervals. That way, when you run into a roadblock, you can make a note of what went wrong, revert to the last snapshot and avoid that particular roadblock the next time around.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will be chronicling my journey through getting OBIEE set up. Don’t worry; there’ll be other stuff in there as well. For now, here are a few links that I have found useful:

One important difference between Debian and Fedora

Before starting out with Oracle Linux this summer, my experience with Linux had been more or less confined to Ubuntu, which stems from Debian. Oracle Linux, on the other hand, stems from the Fedora project and Red Hat. Though they both build on the same kernel, they diverge from each other in a few important aspects. Software available in the repositories for Debian are divided into free, non-free and contrib. All software available in Fedora’s repositories are free.

To me, the single most significant differences between Debian and Fedora (and by extension between Ubuntu and Oracle Linux) is how software is distributed. Anyone who has used Ubuntu knows the apt-get command. Try that in Oracle Linux, and you get an error. Apt-get simply doesn’t exist. The reason is that Oracle Linux doesn’t use the apt-get dependency resolver, but rather one called yum. Add to that different formats (deb and rpm), and package managers (dpkg and RPM), and you start to see the level of difference. For a list of yum commands, have a look here.

There are other differences, too, I’m sure, but none are as important for basic use and understanding of operation of the OS as the ability to install software.

Oracle Linux: Unable to connect to FTP server in terminal

In order to keep the virtual harddrive on my VM as small as possible, I prefer keeping installers on a network share that I can connect to through FTP. The terminal command for connecting to FTP servers handily enough is ftp. When running that command, terminal returned “Command not found”. It turns out that FTP is not installed on Oracle Linux by default.

Installing it is easy enough, though. In terminal, as root, run the command yum install ftp. Answer yes to all questions and hey presto; FTP is installed. The lesson here: Never assume a resource is installed. I’m sure I’ll run into more of these down the road, and it’s a good lesson to have learned, thought I suspect it is one that I will be reminded of time and again.

Oracle Linux: Unable to connect to the internet

When first installing Oracle Linux, you may run into being unable to connect to the internet. You may make the mistake of thinking that the problem is with the network settings on the host-side, and try to futz about changing what type of network connection the VM connects to. Don’t bother, it isn’t going to do any good, and you will only get annoyed.

The problem is caused on the client side, and is simple enough to solve; here’s how:

  1. On the VM, go to System > Preferences > Network Connections
  2. Highlight System eth0, and click Edit
  3. Check the check box marked “Connect Automatically”
  4. Click “Apply”

You’ll get prompted for a root password, then you’re done, and you should now be able to connect to the internet.

The Cloud Storage Price War is upon us

Back in March, Google announced that they were massively slashing the storage prices for their customers. Previously $4.99/month for 100 GB, and $49.99/month for 1 TB, they cut the prices to $1.99 and $9.99, respectively. Beyond that, they are charging $99.99 per 10 TB, meaning that 40 TB will set you back $399.96. Now, in and of itself, that is interesting, but when compared to the pricing of competitiors, it gets downright impressive.

For example, Dropbox charges $9.99 per month for 100 GB while Apple’s iCloud service runs you $20 per year (or just about $1.67 per month, billed annually) for 10 GB.

Apple and Google have their market dominance funnelling users to them; Apple because iOS users have the option of using iCloud to back up their iOS device, and Google because GMail users use Google Drive for email already, Dropbox has no such funnelling of users and income. Hence, their lack of movement on the pricing front seems ill adviced to me.

Dropbox are banking on their existing user base staying faithful, while attempting to innovate on whatever front they can. The only place where they have an advantage, and only over one of their competitors, is the iOS app’s automatic photo upload feature, which I would expect to see implemented by Google shortly.

Unless Dropbox find a way to remain relevant, I don’t think they will last long. Time will tell.

Run Control Panel applets with elevated permissions

Sometimes, you want to launch a Control Panel applet with elevated permissions. Normally, you would right-click the program you want, and select to run as an administrator. However, the control panel applets don’t give you that option, and so we need to go deeper.

As it turns out, the Control Panel applets are all located at C:\Windows\System32, and denoted by the .cpl file type. Simply right-click the one you want, and off you go. Alternatively, you can open an elevated command prompt, and run the command command applet.cpl, where applet.cpl is the name of the applet you want to run. What are those names, you ask? Here you go:

   Control panel tool             Command
   -----------------------------------------------------------------
   Add/Remove Programs            control appwiz.cpl
   Date/Time Properties           control timedate.cpl
   Display Properties             control desk.cpl
   Fonts Folder                   control fonts
   Internet Properties            control inetcpl.cpl
   Keyboard Properties            control main.cpl keyboard
   Mouse Properties               control main.cpl
   Multimedia Properties          control mmsys.cpl
   Network Properties             control netcpl.cpl
   Password Properties            control password.cpl
   Printers Folder                control printers
   Regional Settings              control intl.cpl
   Sound Properties               control mmsys.cpl sounds
   System Properties              control sysdm.cpl

Note that this list is in no way exhaustive, but it should do for most applications

Force uninstall when installer is unavailable

Imagine the scene; you are having a problem with a program, and the manufacturer tells you that the solution is a complete uninstall followed by a reinstall. You go to uninstall, and Windows tells you that it can’t find the installer. Looking around, nor can you. So, now you’re up a certain waterway without a certain rowing implement, aren’t you? Not necessarily.

Luckily, Microsoft has created a tool which automatically finds the registry keys in question, and lets you remove them. The tool is called FixIt, and is intuitive to more or less a fault. Keep in mind that the tool does not support the runas command, and must be run by a user that has local administrative privileges.