Category Archives: Web2.0

Spending time on Excel-SQLite, C, VBA Callbacks & Twitter

Haven’t posted here in a while as my spare time has been soaked up programing, well actually refactoring would be more exact.  My xLite “SQLite empowered Excel” codebase has grown over the years and required a serious makeover to get rid of stuff I no longer use and to generally make it more robust.  I also decided to add some extra functionality to my VBA friendly C wrapper for SQLite (based on Pivotal Solutions’ pssqlite.dll) which meant I had to re-acquaint myself with my long lost C skills, so doing reminded me how much I like C. Close to the metal programing if not exactly super-productive is nevertheless super-powerful.

The new improved xLiteSQLite.dll now has a built-in CSV loader (both file based and string based – handy for loading Palo HTTP API responses into a table). It also returns a one columned variant array of CSV values for quick rendering via “text-to-columns” code (by far the quickest way of handling large dataset pasting into Excel).

I’ve also added the ability to create SQlite UDFs (user defined functions) in VBA (thanks to http://stackoverflow.com/users/4007/rpetrich).  This is a very powerful feature as it allows SQLite selects to act as a “loop controller” calling back to  Excel/VBA functions to process each row, really useful for ETL tasks. And not just scalar UDFs but aggregating (aka group-by) functions too, allowing the use of Excel’s powerful array functions in SQLite statements.

All in all, the changes to the xLite VBA code and the C wrapper makes Excel backed by SQLite a seriously good micro-ETL tool. Combined with Palo, the result in a truly wonderful micro-BI platform; a cost-effective toolset for these recessionary times.

Of course I’d be lying if I said code was the only reason I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties, I’m afraid I’ve a confession to make, Twitter has hooked yet another sucker, me! 

I’ve found I’ve settled in to the whole micro-blogging thing with ease, and have managed to make contact with people I would not have encountered otherwise, as well as reconnecting with others that I’d lost contact with.  So if you too are all-a-twitter then do please follow gobansaor-on-twitter.

Advertisements

Windows on EC2 = SMEs on EC2

The announcement that Win2003 is now an an option on EC2, is very significant, that and EC2’s exit from beta status with an SLA in tow, means that AWS is now very much more appealing to the great unwashed, the SMEs. i.e. the businesses who form the backbone of most of our economies.

Large companies and start-ups are comfortable in the world of Linux servers but most small companies are Windows to the core.  This may not be “right”, this may not be how it “should be”, but it is so.   Even within large companies, departmental computing is largely a Windows only enclave, with MS Office (and Excel in particular) as the backbone and MS SQL Server as the database of choice (or is that, no choice).

The other interesting thing is that my fear that EC2 SQL Server Standard instances would be licensed as per Oracle has not come to pass (Oracle while making a “big thing” of their recent EC2 cloud conversion, still insist on traditional licensing for EC2 database instances). SQL Server Standard is available on a pay-as-you-go model, brilliant!.

Even if running Win2003 as a server doesn’t catch your fancy and in fact you would much rather get rid of your existing Window’s laptop to be replaced by a cool new Apple Mac. Unfortunately you still need the ability to run Windows-only software, why not use EC2 as your on-demand pay-as-you-go Window’s desktop replacement?  Simply configure a Windows AMI with your required software (you may have to use something like this, if software is only available on CD); you could then use Jungle Disk to easily share data (via S3) between your new shiny Mac and the AMI.  Power up and down as required, easier than using VMWare or Parallels and @ 12.5c per hour, probably cheaper too.

Clouds no longer pass by Windows.

Amazon today announced that later this year, Windows Server woud be available on EC2. No details on cost and licensing etc. but this is major.  Up until now, that portion of the business world who are pure MS shops (a very large percentage especially amongst SMEs) were excluded from taking advantage of Amazon’s amazing (and getting more amazing everyday) EC2 platform

From my point of view, as with Oracle’s announcement last week, this releases yet more of my “legacy” skillset for deployment in the clouds. Although I’ve been involved with  *nix servers for 20 years or so, as corporate servers became more locked-down (and removed to the control of 3rd party data centres) I lost day-to-day experience of using them; in latter years my main ‘hands-on’ platform was Windows, either my own PC or local departmental NT servers. Windows on EC2 will allow me to use a whole new set of Windows only software (e.g. RSSBus or XLsgen) and of course SQLServer.

The lack of SQLServer on EC2 has been a major problem for me as a datasmith; there’s an awful lot of data out there sitting in SQLServer databases, but currently if I need to “cloud burst” such datasets I would have to first extract the data to, say, csv files and then load the data on to a Linux compatible database. But with a SQLServer instance running in the cloud, I could simply use SQLServer’s native backup/replication tools.  No more need to download data to my “ground-based” PCs resulting in quicker turnaround and fewer data security risks.

On the licensing front,  I’m presuming that the OS licence will be on a pay-as-you-go basis, but what about SQLServer and other server products?  Will MS do an Oracle on it, i.e. require a traditional upfront use-it-or-lose-it payment or will they the go the radical (but I thing inevitable) path of a licence-by-the-hour. 

First RedHat, then Sun, then Oracle and now Microsoft; the mighty beasts of our industry have acknowledged there’s a new mighty beast on the prowl, dressed as a humble bookseller no less!

Twitter – the penny drops!

I’m a fan of most things Web2.0, not just for personal use but as business tools.  Over the last four years or so I’ve enthusiastically embraced Wikis, IM (Google Talk), RSS Readers et al. I could see the benefit and attraction of social network sites such as Facebook even if I’ve not partaken as such. Heck, I’ve even joined the ranks of “those who blog”.

But one aspect of this Web 2.0 stuff that had until now not really grabbed me as particularly useful is micro-blogging i.e. Twitter, Jaiku etc.

This morning two things I read brought home to me the benefits of this technology, particularly in a business environment; the penny had dropped!

The first was this post  “Ambient Awareness – The Cloud Killer-App” where this caught my attention …

To me, this is the essences of situational awareness. An ability to sense and understand your environment and the actions of others in that environment. Clive goes on to explain that sociologists have found that “weak ties”, such as those created by twittering, greatly expands an individual’s ability to solve problems.

Then I read that the winner of the top prize at TechCrunch50 is Yammer, yet another Twitter look a like, but this time with a difference; it’s designed to allow communication only between those within the same organisation.

Now that could be very useful, especially for organisations with a dispersed workforce or comprised mainly of teleworkers.  Such a tool could act not just as a means of keeping people in touch and aware of the general happenings with a company but could also be used a “lite command and control” tool where messages are used as a replacement for time-sheets and progress/activity reports.

As email was (and still is) the “internet as a wide-area-network” killer-app, micro-blogging may very well be the killer-app of the “always-connected internet”.

And in the spirit of sharing that is Web2.0, here’s some other things I discovered this week…

  • OutWit, a very useful Firefox extension if you need to automate the “harvesting ” of data (tables lists, photos,mp3s) from the web.
  • xlUnit – a unit testing framework for Excel VBA, now that’s something I could do with, OK it’s not quite there yet, but you can follow this Grumpy Old Programmer as he rolls it out.
  • Reverse Snowflake Joins Online, if you have a nasty bit of SQL that you need to visualise in a graphical format, then this online version of Alexandru Toth’s open source Python tool may be just what you need.
  • Quantivo, customer behaviour analytics in the cloud. If you’ve lots of sales data, but no in-house datawarehouse.
  • And if you’ve no sales data because you’ve no sales, then check-out Sales 101.

Cloudy skies, cloudy apps…

Just back from a break in Clifden, Connemara, summer is nearly over, the kids return to school today, back to work.

Aasleagh Falls, Co. Mayo

Aasleagh Falls, Co. Mayo

Counties Galway and Mayo were like the rest of the country last week, a tad wet, but unlike the developed east of the island, flooding was not a problem; a problematic drainage area is called a lake in the west.

This August has been the wettest and dullest I’ve ever experienced but at least I saw some sunshine earlier in the month thanks to Kristian Raue CEO of Jedox who kindly invited me to visit the company’s offices in Freiburg, Germany.  Freiburg is very green in both senses of the word, surrounded as it is by the Black Forest and its well deserved “eco-city” status.  Its also know as the warmest city in Germany, a reputation it thankfully lived up for this visitor from a rain-soaked Atlantic isle.

August morning, Frieburg Im Breisgau

August morning, Freiburg im Breisgau

If Freiburg left a positive impression on my mind, so too did Jedox.  The overall impression is of a company which intends to use a combination of quality, vision and the judicious use of open-source to build the Jedox brand into one associated with best-of-breed products and consultancy.  This vision can be seen in the evolution of Palo, from its “good enough” beginnings to its current near-best-of-breed 2.5 version, and from talking to some of those working on the product, best-of-breed status is not that far off.

Likewise, ETL-Server which is currently a Palo only “loader”, is to be further  developed into a true ETL tool, while continuing to offer MOLAP-centric specialisms.

I also got a glimpse of the next version of Worksheet Server. “Wow!”, is all I can say.

Existing web based spreadsheet products are fine for simple data analysis or basic data capture purposes but cannot compete with their client-based elder cousins when serious datasmithing is required.  Well, from the demo I saw of Worksheet Server in action, that’s about to change.  The look and, more importantly, the feel is similar to that of traditional spreadsheets, its interface with Palo is identical to that of the existing Excel add-in, and here’s the big one, its open source!  Game-changing or what?

But …

That might enable me to move a lot of my spreadsheet applications to the cloud, but what about those applications that are more suited to an MS Access type solution?

Then try out WaveMaker. It’s open source and built on industry standards, Hibernate,Spring and the Javascript Dojo framework but has the ease of GUI database development more usually associated with MS tools. The resulting applications are packaged as a WAR file which can be hosted by any standards based Java server (e.g. Tomcat or Jetty).  The latest version makes developing Ajax-fronted database applications even easier with the addition of layout templates.  Its existing ability to automatically bind interfaces to SOAP web services has been extended to REST web services by means of a new WSDL auto-discover tool.  And Chris Keene CEO of WaveMaker also informs me that …

We are also releasing a cloud-based IDE in October with Amazon – stay tuned…

We launched in February and will be announcing our first 7 figure deal this month. We run on Mac, Linux and Windows and are currently the #1 developer download on Apple.com (http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/development_tools/)

Our goal is to make it easy to build rich internet applications without complex coding – kind of a MS Access for the Web.

Jedox and Wavemaker the new breed of open-source businesses