Category Archives: Apple

Some thoughts on a rainy Monday

The more I use Linux, the more I come around to understand just how much I can do with it. As a matter of fact, I could easily do without Widows and switch 100% of the way over to Linux if I wanted. The desktop(s) and business applications have really gotten that good.

Windows 8 just soured me on the whole MS ecosystem. When they bolted on the Metro interface on a server OS — that was the last straw for me. Who ever made that decision to strap on a touch interface to a server should be let go. Shown the door. Asked to leave…

I have Apple hardware here in the office, and it runs well, but I just have not been able to embrace it like so many others have. Apple makes some fine hardware and there’s a load of support for Office productivity applications as well as analytical apps. WPS runs quite well on OS X as well as R. As a matter of fact, I see a lot of R users who work on OS X as there preferred platform.

But Linux, and specifically Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04 have been especially good. I don’t have memory issues when I run large simulations in R that require a lot of RAM. With Windows, that is often a problem, trying to allocate a large block of memory and there’s not sufficient contiguous memory to hold a large array, vector or data frame. The memory management is significantly different under Linux than under Windows.

Use of NVidia’s CUDA framework seems to be predominantly used on Linux and not Windows. I’m not sure why that is to be honest.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles stating that MS is working feverishly trying to get Windows 9 out the door. No doubt (at least in my mind) it has to do with the terrible Metro interface and people staying away in hoards. Of course, you can slap Start8 by Stardock on Windows 8 and it makes it useable by implementing the start button, and kudos to Stardock for doing such a thing, but I still can’t find a way to embrace MS on the desktop any longer.

An interesting phenomena that I have been witnessing is how much analytical and scientific development has been happening over the years on the Linux platforms. There are a lot of tools out there that are helpful if you are a data scientist or working with “BIG DATA” as it pertains to Linux. My experiences in reselling WPS is that there is an equal amount of interest (perhaps more) in using Linux on servers than in running Windows servers. Cost is one factor but performance is also a factor. Linux often out performs Windows Servers dollar for dollar and CPU second to CPU second.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Cool and Useful Software

I always enjoy reading other folks blogs on how they work and the tools they use most every day. It’s a great way to learn about new tools and how to work more efficiently. I have to rave about the phone system we use here at MineQuest. We use VOIP and our provider is VOIPO out of Texas. The quality is tremendous as well as the support. The cost is amazing for what you get. The benefits of VOIPO are numerous for a small business, but the one I like the most is a softphone. I can travel and still be able to use my phone system almost as well as if I was in the office. You can visit the VOIPO web site to get pricing and view all the features that they offer.

Of course I use Skype. I can use Skype to call overseas and to text message with friends, family and business contacts. I have contacts that are almost always on Skype and the number of Skype contacts that I have just continues to grow. If you want or need to do business overseas, then Skype maybe the only way you can do so cost effectively. I hope to see more integration of Skype into other products and services and the availability of an easier to use API. If you don’t have at least a free Skype account, you should visit the Skype website and get Skype today.

I recently started to use a new Linux distribution called ZorinOS. I have version 6.1 and essentially, ZorinOS is Ubuntu Linux with the coolest GUI interface. With ZorinOS, you can change the interface to mimic Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X and the Ubuntu Unity Interface. If you are a Windows User and want to start using Linux with minimum fuss and frustration, ZorinOS is something to try. Check out the ZorinOS website to learn more.

I also signed up for Microsoft’s Office 365. There are a number of plans available and you can see all of them at the Microsoft web site. But if you have multiple machines like I do, desktop, laptop and a Mac, Office 365 gives you five simultaneous installs for $100. This is an annual license and I love that I get Outlook on all my desktop machines. I love the simplicity and the fact that I get cloud storage to store my documents so I can access them from anywhere.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Slowly Getting there…

Gosh, have you ever had one of those weeks where everything seems to work against you? That has been the last week or so for me. I tend to make lists of tasks that I want to accomplish for the next seven days. One of the tasks was to update the website and push out a Study Edition of the Bridge to R for WPS (which we refer to around here as Bridge to R SE). Our grand plan was to release the Bridge to R SE for both the Macintosh as well as for Windows at the same time.

The code was all put together and running quite nicely on both OS platforms when our Mac Mini started experiencing some strange behavior. At first I could not get the mouse to work properly. The mouse buttons were backwards and the scroll button didn’t function at all. Then I noticed that at times when I rebooted, it would not ask me for my password credentials. Finally, when I would go into System Preferences, I could not open any icon. It was as if it was locked down.

So, off to the Apple Store to have a Genius look at it. I explained the problems and he plugged in a monitor, mouse and keyboard. As we was testing everything I said was not working, it of course worked for him. As he continued to look at the system, funky things started happening. First the video output flashed a few times and then stopped working. He quickly checked his cables and switched to the HDMI port. After a few minutes, the HDMI video stopped working. My Mac as disintegrating right before our eyes!

Long story short, the Mac is in the shop and I expect it to be back in a few days. Once I get the machine back, I can restore the Bridge to R and compile it and make it available as an SE version. I’m excited to make the Bridge to R available for WPS users who 1) want to learn about R, and 2) want to learn about the Bridge and evaluate it at their own leisure.

You can register to download the Bridge to R SE at MineQuest.com or by clicking here. The Windows version is available immediately. The OS X version will be available in a few days. If you are an OS X user and select the OS X build, we will keep your registration information and send out an email and the appropriate links as soon as we build and upload the latest version.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.

Introducing WPS Version 3

It’s a new year and version 3 of WPS is out and available. There’s a lot of new items in this release and I think it has been well worth the wait. I personally feel that this is the block buster release that will turn heads in the corporate environment due to so many added features. With version 3, World Programming has made the software more friendly and easier to use, added new procedure support both statistically and in the core language, and added support for more language elements.

I’ve been beta testing WPS 3 for a few months now and so I’ve had a bit of time to try the software out and evaluate it extensively. Below is a list of items and features that really stood out to me in WPS V3. It’s far from being exhaustive but these are probably the most pertinent for many WPS users and SAS customers who are considering WPS as an alternative to SAS.

Workbench Support on Additional Platforms

The Eclipse workbench is available on Unix, Linux, Windows, AIX, Solaris and OS X platforms. The GUI that you’ve been using on Windows is now available on all the platforms except for z/OS. Amazingly, the Eclipse Workbench is identical (and I mean identical) across the platforms. Now when companies and organizations add servers to their data center and the users will have the same identical experience (read no learning curve) on all the platforms.

Apple OS X Support

WPS has been available on Apple’s OS X for a while, but now it has the Eclipse Workbench as the GUI. The WPS implementation on OS X is native, meaning you don’t have to run Parallels or Boot Camp to run WPS on your Mac. WPS is a true 64-bit implementation on OS X. The technical specifications for the Mac OS X implementation is that it needs to be an x86 chip and you will need version 10.5 (Leopard) or higher. WPS V3 works fine on Lion as you can see in the screen shot below.

Click here to view larger image.

About a month or two ago I bought a Mac Mini just to test WPS and to port the Bridge to R over to it. The Mac implementation is a bit prettier than on Windows or Linux in my opinion. It may be the font, but it does look nice as you can see in the image above. In testing WPS on OS X, I was amazed how easy it was to transfer my knowledge of the WPS implementation on Windows over to OS X.

There’s a lot of folks who love their Macs and WPS running natively gives the Mac faithful a SAS language compatible system that takes full advantage of their hardware. Mac users give up nothing over the Windows or Linux versions of WPS and desktop pricing for the Mac is the same as for the other desktop platforms. I’m excited for the university students where there is a preponderance of Macs and I can see the take up of WPS because of the hardware and operating system support.

Linux Support

As mentioned earlier, the workbench is also available on Linux. I have it running on both Ubuntu 10.4 LTS and Fedora 13. As you can see in the screen shots below, WPS looks the same on each of the platforms. One thing to note about the Linux version, it is only available as a server license. But for shops that have a Linux platform, WPS executes exactly like the Windows version in that it provides the end users the same experience as it pertains to the GUI.

Click here to view larger image.

Many shops run Red Hat as their preferred version of Linux and WPS does run just dandy on that platform. I find that many of the larger customers we have do use Red Hat, but I suspect that the smaller businesses use Ubuntu or Fedora instead.

AIX and Solaris

The workbench is also available on these platforms. I don’t have a license or even a machine to run these two implementations on, but I would suspect that the experience is identical to the Apple and Linux versions discussed above.

WPS Link

This is an exciting feature that is being introduced in WPS 3.0. WPS Link is a Client/Server architecture that allows you to remotely execute code on Linux or Unix servers. So for example, you can be running WPS on your Windows or Mac OS X desktop and submit your WPS code over to a WPS Linux server. The log and listing files come back from the remote machine to your desktop. WPS Link is different from SAS/Connect in that this is just a client to execute your programs on the remote box. You can’t upload and download files from the desktop to the server. But, if a lot of your processing takes place on the server and that’s where your data sets reside, this is a nifty solution for processing data on a remote server.

WPS Link is easy to setup from you WPS Desktop. Simply go to the Server Connection tab and select Local. Right mouse click on Local and you get a drop down menu. Select New || Server Connection || Remote SSH.

From that point you get a dialog box where you simply fill out the hostname (or IP Address) the Connection Name (how about “WPS Remote Server”) your user name and the Launch Command. The Launch command was the most difficult part for me. It’s simply the location of the folder where WPSLinks module is located. On my server it is:

/home/minequest/wps-3.0.0.0.19782-private/bin/wpslinks

Make sure you have SSH running on your Linux server and you will be able to remotely start WPS on the server from your desktop!

Submitting code from the desktop to the WPS Server is relatively easy. Simply go to the Submit Icon and you will find a downward facing arrow next to it. You can select whether you want to run the code Locally or on the Server. One of the cool innovations with WPS Link is that you can have multiple servers registered and choose which WPS server you would like to run your code on. Note the options in the drop down menu shown below.

WPS Link comes standard as part of your WPS purchase. So if you license WPS on the desktop, WPS Link will be available to you as part of your desktop license. Also be aware that in this first release, WPS Link requires WPS running on an AIX, Solaris, Linux Servers and Linux on Mainframe System/z. I suspect that you will see Windows Servers being supported in a later release. But for our customers running large volumes of data on Linux or Unix, this feature will be very welcome.

One other note of importance on WPS Link. You can connect from a desktop to a server and server-to-server. You cannot link from desktop-to- desktop.

Procedure Support

In version 3, World Programming has added support for the following statistical procedures.

  • T-Test
  • GLM
  • GLMMOD
  • STDIZE
  • PRINCOMP
  • DISTANCE
  • FACTOR

Database Engine Support

One of the things that SAS does that I really don’t like is the up-charge for database engines. With WPS, you get the database engines as part of the WPS license. You don’t buy these separately. With version 3 of WPS, there is now support for an XML Libname engine and Sybase databases.

If you’re a shop that has a few different databases from different vendors, it would be financially wise to take a look at WPS just for the cost reduction with the included access engines.

Other Enhancements

WPS has now implemented multi-threaded support for PROC MEANS and PROC SUMMARY. It’s always fun to look at the execution time for CPU and Real Time when dealing with multi-threaded procedures. From some of the WPS documentation you can see that the multi-threaded support that is used in MEANS and SUMMARY has made it into procedures that make use of this code such as PROC TTEST and I assume PROC CORR.

Also, for those of you who were unaware, PROC SORT is also multi-threaded and is very fast. If you do a fair amount of sorting in your environment, it would be beneficial to be running on a 64-bit platform and load up with memory. The more memory you have available to WPS, the more data it can store in RAM when sorting and this results in faster sort times.

There is now an import and export wizard for importing files into WPS and writing out WPS data sets to text files. This is pretty big in my opinion. I could never remember the PROC IMPORT statements even though I use them often. Probably everyone uses a code template for importing and exporting but this just makes life easier.

The data set viewer has been enhanced over the previous release. You can view the variables labels instead of just the variable names. You can also show and hide variable columns.

Also supported for the first time is the SYSTASK and WAITFOR commands. I’ve been waiting for these two language statements to be supported for a while. As part of the Bridge to R on Windows there is a module called MPExec. MPExec allows you to run multiple programs in parallel. I’ve had to resort to using other methods in lieu of SYSTASK and WAITFOR to get this to work. Now that these two commands are available, we will update MPExec to use these features instead, thus MPExec will become portable to other platforms.

Performance

Performance has improved in each release of WPS and WPS v3 is no exception. With multi-threaded support for more procedures and better data handling, WPS is a very viable candidate to replace SAS at many organizations. MineQuest has many customers who run large data sets (millions, ten millions and hundred millions) of records through the WPS System and performance is more than adequate. These companies are able to save loads of money over the competing software system.

Expandability

With affordable pricing, customers can use WPS to perform reporting and analytics in areas and for departments that just wasn’t justifiable before. Using WPS in lieu of SAS allows many organizations to expand the analytics platform and run more data through the system. This is because such advantageous pricing allows them to purchase an additional server at great savings over our competitors.

Data Service Providers

We love Data Service Providers! Seriously, we find that DSP’s are some of our best customers. With WPS V3, licensing terms stay pretty much the same. World Programming LTD does not have DSP fees and you are free to use WPS to service your customers by providing them with data sets, reports and analytics. For any organization that is paying DSP fees, we can dramatically reduce your license fees. Your customer is your customer.

Caveats

Before you download the latest release of WPS, there is one caveat to keep in mind for upgrading. If you are using batch command files to run your jobs, you need to modify the name of the WPS executable in your .bat or .cmd file. The program name you want to use is WPS.EXE (as opposed to the former name which was WPSI.EXE).

Also in WPS V3 the WPD dataset has changed and is faster and more robust. You can still read WPD V2 datasets but V3 datasets are the default in this release.

Finally, you will need a new license key to be able to install V3. Don’t expect to simply download it and run it using the V2 key as you have been able to do previously. If you are a MineQuest customer, contact us if you want to upgrade to V3 and we will facilitate getting you a license key.

Evaluations

MineQuest is offering free 30 day evaluations of WPS V3. You can contact us at (614) 457-3714 to request an evaluation or by email. If you prefer to request your evaluation by email, send a request to info@minequest.com.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.

Life with a Mac Mini

Well I finally decided to break down and buy a Mac Mini. I’ve used Apple products before but have never become a fan because my consulting business has been mostly Windows platforms. I’ve also enjoyed the OS wars as it pertains to the Apple faithful and the Windows users.

One thing I’ve noticed is when I go to a college campus, the number of Apple computers to Windows computers. I ask nieces and kids of friends of mine who go to major universities the ratio of Apple computers to Windows computers. I’ve received feed back that the ratio is as high as 15 to 1 at some schools and the lowest has been a one-to-one ratio. That’s astounding to me and when I do visit a college campus, I often see at least a three to one ratio of Apple computers to Windows computers.

I brought the Mac Mini home and setup couldn’t be easier. It took literally five minutes to take it out of the box, plug the cables in, and press the start button. One thing I didn’t appreciate was the price gouging for extra memory. Apple wanted an extra $300 to take the machine from 2GB of memory to 8GB of memory. I went out to Newegg and found 8GB of memory for $29 after a $10 rebate. That in my mind is a huge price savings.

So far, I’ve installed R, Libre Office, and of course some of my other favorite statistical packages. Performance is OK, nothing stellar. But I didn’t expect that to be the case with a single 2.5 inch hard drive either.

This is a pretty decent little machine for developing and writing software. One of my goals is to have the Bridge to R running on the Mac Mini using the Linux version of the Bridge to R. I don’t expect any hassles in this respect.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest, LLC. and has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and a reseller of WPS in North America.