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Pentaho Data Integration is damn cool

I have worked on two small projects with Pentaho Data Integration.  If you’re looking for a business intelligence tool that lets you manipulate large amounts of data in a performant way, you definitely want to take a look at this.  The version I’m working with is a couple of revisions back, but the online support is pretty good.  It’s way more developer-efficient than writing java, though debugging is more difficult.

Why is it so cool?  It lets you focus on your problem–validating and transforming your data–rather than the mechanics of it (where do the CSV files live?  what fields did I just add?  how do I parse this fixed width file?).  You can also call out to Java if you need to.

There is a bit of a learning curve, especially around the difference between transformations and jobs.  I bought my first tech book of 2011, Pentaho Kettle Solutions.  These projects weren’t even using Pentaho for its sweet spot, ETLing to a data warehouse, but I have found this to be an invaluable tool for moving data from text files to databases while cleaning up and processing it.

Source Code Escrow

Have you ever considered asking a software vendor to put their source code in escrow? I recently broached the topic with a vendor I was evaluating. They didn’t seem too happy about the topic (at first, they were a bit sarcastic [“does Oracle do software escrow?”] and then they deleted tech support forum post). I did a bit of research, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on software escrow. Here are two interesting articles: Are you just following the herd? and Source Code Escrow.

Just having started thinking about the topic, my thoughts are still up in the air, but here’s my first reaction. Source code escrow makes sense when the following conditions are met:

  • The software is not open source (duh)
  • The software is or will be crucial to your business
  • The company is small or the future of the company is up in the air
  • You (the purchaser) have the technical capabilities to support the software should you receive it, or you’re willing to invest in those who can
  • You are willing to pay more for source that will be escrowed

I think of source code escrow like a warrenty on a car, or a professional license of open source software (like RedHat or Alfresco). It’s not for everyone (a car mechanic isn’t going to buy the warrenty) but it’s a nice option to have. And, to stretch a metaphor, if you’re going to soup up your car and build a livelihood on it, it’s nice to have a warrenty.

Gray Tiles with Google Maps

Just thought I’d put this out there, since it caused me much gnashing of teeth.  If you have google maps on your site, you want to make sure that the max-width is set to none: img{ max-width: none; } or you’ll have a nice gray screen where your maps are supposed to be, but no error messages at all.  See below:

Google Map with Just Gray Tiles

DualPhone 3088 Skype Phone, a few months on

A few months ago, I reviewed a skype phone that we purchased from Amazon, the DualPhone 3088.   I wanted to follow up after actually using it for a few months.  As a refresher, we bought this phone to reduce the number of minutes we spent on our cell phones.  It has both landline and skype phone capabilities, but we are not using it as a landline.

The pluses:

  • costs are as low as expected.  We’re paying $13.52/month for phone service that can call normal phones anywhere in the world, and receive calls from any phone, on top of our internet service that we were already going to pay for.

The mehs:

  • Overall phone costs haven’t gone down.  First we wanted to wait because of I had acquired a new phone and wanted to see how the data plan affected costs, then we looked at the next tier lower of cell phone plans and worried about minute overages.  We’re making an effort to use the home phone more now, and hopefully in the next month or two will cut our cellphone plan back.  (If we had a financial emergency, such a cell phone plan transition would happen much more quickly.)
  • There is intermittant outages, but not worse than a cell phone (yes, I have at&t).

The minuses:

  • the phone feels cheap–my SO refers to it as a ‘toy phone’
  • You can definitely tell when someone else is using the internet–downloading a movie or large file affects phone conversations
  • Every two to three weeks you have to re-register the phone with the base station.  This procedure varies in complexity–sometime it can be as simple as following a few steps (the user manual explains them [PDF]) but sometimes you have to sign into skype again.  The firmware hasn’t been updated since 2009, so I don’t expect this problem to ever be fixed.

In conclusion, I would not recommend this phone to anyone except an early adopter or someone trying to cut costs radically.