Category Archives: Macintosh

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.

Taking WPS 3.01 for a Quick Spin

I’m writing this today from the testing facilities at MineQuest Business Analytics, the center of the BI Universe. Haha! I’ve always wanted to write that as an opening line.

Anyway, I finally installed the latest GA release of WPS v3.01 on all the machines here. It took me a little while to setup all the configuration files so that WPS will use the optimal disk array for work among other things. Just thinking about this, it’s probably the first time I’ve ever had the exact same release on all the desktops and servers.

I wanted to test out the WPS Link technology more thoroughly. For those folks who are unfamiliar with WPS Link, it allows your workstation version of WPS to link to a Linux server for the purposes of submitting WPS code. So, basically you need WPS on both the desktop and on the Linux server. I have WPS on a Mac, a desktop, laptop and a VM running XP. My desktop host is running Vista x64.

One thing that I do like when I’m on the Mac is that the fonts just seem nicer than on Windows. It’s just a bit more aesthetically pleasing to me. The Eclipse Workbench is available across all the platforms except for z/OS as far as I can tell. On Linux, the fonts are similar to the Mac in style but seem a bit heavier. I imagine a lot of that has to do with the platform and font support from Apple on OS X versus the Linux Open Source Community.

Interestingly, I can submit my code on to the Linux Server from all these clients and it works amazingly well. The server is a small box with four cores and only 8GB of RAM but lots of disk space. I ended up setting some options such as setting MAXMEM and SORTSIZE to a reasonable level so that everyone will play well together. Small jobs are almost instant. I’ll start testing with some large jobs next week.

I’ve stated before that sizing a server for a workgroup isn’t always easy. But with 16GB of RAM and four cores of compute power, you can run four to eight simultaneous users quite readily. When you think about the compute power you get with WPS on a server, factoring in the price versus our competition, it’s just so small business friendly and startup friendly.

Don’t forget there’s still time to get into the action to win a Google Nexus 7 Tablet. If you register to take out a WPS evaluation before September 30th, 2012, you will automatically be registered in the drawing for the tablet. Certain conditions apply so read the the earlier blog post for all the details. You can request a WPS evaluation by going to the MineQuest Business Analytics website at the WPS evaluation page.

Try WPS and Enter to Win a Google Nexus 7 Tablet

Have you ever found yourself interested in exploring and evaluating the capabilities of WPS (pronounced whips), a SAS language compatible software application? Whether you are looking at ways to save money on reduced license fees or expand your BI infrastructure, WPS is a high value, low cost alternative for many organizations who are currently using the SAS System.

WPS implements the BASE language including old and new style macro’s and the data step with functions, formats and informats. WPS also includes the most popular BASE PROCS and some graphics including GCHART, GPLOT and GREPLAY.

WPS Core supports 41 Base Procedures.
WPS Engine Modules supports 24 database and access engines.
WPS Statistics contains 15 Statistical Procedures.
WPS Graphics supports GCHART, GPLOT and GREPLAY.

Remember, WPS is priced inclusively, meaning you don’t pay separately for each module. You can learn more about WPS by visiting  our web site at: http://www.minequest.com/WPS.html. Also, available for download is a brochure that describes WPS in more detail including a list of supported PROCS and database access engines at: http://www.minequest.com/downloads/WPS_General_Overview.pdf.

As they often say, the best way to learn about something is to try it. Between August 10, 2012 and September 30, 2012, you can become eligible to win a Google Nexus 7 tablet by taking out a free 30 day evaluation copy of WPS on Windows (desktop and/or servers), Linux on x86 or Mac OS X. You must request your evaluation from MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC, an authorized WPS reseller. See Rules for drawing for more information.

Rules for drawing: Only one evaluation request per person. Must be a resident of the United States or Canada. Must not be a current WPS license holder or have taken out an evaluation in the last nine (9) months. Requests for evaluations must be made through MineQuest at: http://www.minequest.com/ReqEval.html . Drawing to be held on October 3, 2012

 

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 is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Bridge to R v3

The newest version of the Bridge to R is finally done. The Installation and User Guide has been written and the sample programs have been updated. This release is a milestone for us because we have the Bridge to R running on three major platforms. These platforms are Windows (both desktop and servers), Mac OS X on x86, and Linux on x86.

The manuals are available online and can be found at http://www.minequest.com/Bridge2R.html and select the appropriate guide from the left hand side of the page. We will be revising the guides over the next few months as we port some additional utilities over to the OS X and Linux specific versions.

We will continue to provide the Bridge to R to customers who license WPS from MineQuest as a no cost solution.  If you have licensed WPS from another reseller or from World Programming, there is a cost involved to acquire the Bridge to R. The cost for the Bridge is $240 on a desktop (Windows or OS X) without regard to the number of logical CPU’s on the workstation.

The cost for the Bridge to R on a Windows or Linux server is $599 annually per logical CPU. Running R on a large server is advantageous because you can often access  much more memory than a desktop traditionally offers and servers tend to have faster CPU’s.

If you have licensed WPS from MineQuest and desire a copy of the new version, contact us and we will begin shipping the files on Saturday, March 31st.

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.


Adventures in Porting

We’ve been busy porting the new version of the Bridge 2 R over to both the Mac and Linux platforms from Windows. The Windows release of the Bridge always allowed for the use of the Bridge from within the Eclipse Workbench. WPS didn’t have the Workbench as the GUI on the Max or Linux until version 3 which is the latest release. So, here’s what I found porting a large program that has to talk to different operating platforms (i.e. calls to the OS) for such things as delete files, move files, copy files, read directories, etc… and still interface with R.

The mundane part of porting was converting a lot of “\” to “/” throughout the code. In retrospect, we could have done a better job writing the Bridge in the first place to accommodate these conventions, but we didn’t have the intention of porting code back then either.

Here’s a couple of the gotcha’s that we experienced. When you read a directory on Linux or OS X, the structure is slightly different between the two and you have to accommodate that issue. The other BIG issue is that the pathnames are much longer on Linux and OS X when reading and writing to the WPS work folders. We ended up resizing our string variables to handle that specific difference.

The above might sound trivial but one think we discovered is that when you restart your server on OS X and Linux, the new work folder is contained inside the previous folder. For example, your original folder, let’s call it work1 is now hosting work2, your new folder. Now the path name is /work1/work2. But in reality, the names of the work folders are not work1 or work2 but long strings that can be hundreds of characters long. If you have a user who likes to restart their WPS Server, you can eat up a lot of string space quickly.

Since we store a lot of metadata for the Bridge 2 R inside the work folder, R has to be able to cope with very long filenames and I’m not convinced that it really copes all that well. Speaking of file names, here’s another anomaly between Windows and Linux/OS X systems. if you have a filename such as “myfile.txt ” (note the blank space at the end of .txt) Windows handles that just fine. Windows will interpret that as meaning you wanted “myfile.txt” However, if you write such a file or try to read a file with that name under Linux or OS X, then those two names are distinctly different. On Ubuntu or Fedora, that name shows up as “myfile.txt\” when you list the files from the terminal.

It took us about three days to port the Linux version of the Bridge over from Windows. Much of that time was spent dealing with the issues in the previous paragraph. We then took the ported Linux code and tested it on OS X. It took about 20 minutes to modify the section dealing with the difference in reading directories between the two platforms, and we then had a new version of the Bridge to R running on OS X.

In retrospect, porting the code over to Unix/Linux systems was worth the effort. It took a few days for us to do the porting and much of that was due to being naive about the new ported destinations. I will talk soon about the new enhancements (and a programming change users will have to make) in the Bridge to R in my next post.

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.

What We Use: Our Favorite Hardware Gear

I love to hear what other people and organizations are using in terms of hardware and software to not only run their business, but as personal productivity enhancements. I thought it would be fun to share what we have here in house for development. This particular post will focus on the hardware side.

Custom Linux Server – 16GB of RAM and 4 Logical CPU’s. This box is the basis for our WPS Development and Testing environment for the Linux platform. Lots of work space (three 640GB SATA III drives in RAID0) for temp work and four 640GB drives in RAID5 for permanent data sets.

Windows Server 2008 R2 – A four core CPU with 8GB of RAM with two arrays each having 2×1.5TB drives in a RAID1 array. There’s another 4TB of assorted space for business data. This box is used mainly for testing WPS Windows Apps and for backing up all the various desktops. It also provides us with remote connectivity when we are on the road.

Desktops – a number of assorted desktops from various manufacturers. All have at least 8GB of RAM and a couple terabytes of storage. All desktops have at least four cores so performance is decent.

Apple Mac Mini – This is a recent purchase. It’s a four core Intel i5 CPU and the box (if you want to call it that) had 2GB of RAM. I immediately upgraded it to 8GB but think it might be time to go to 16GB since memory is so inexpensive. The latest pricing for two 8GB sticks that would work in that machine is about $160.

All the desktops have dual monitors, even the Mac Mini. Btw, if you need to buy an adapter for the mini-Display Port for the 2nd monitor, check out the prices at MonoPrice.com. I paid less than $7.00 USD for an adapter to output to DVI.  Apple wanted $29.00 for it!

A couple of notebook computers. Both are dual core and are great for traveling but doing any hardcore development on them would be painful.

Printers – We just recently gave a Tektronix Phaser color printer to charity. In house we have a Canon MFC 4150 for everyday printing and a Lexmark 543DN color laser. Both are wonderful printers but the next one we buy will have to be wireless. The Canon just doesn’t support printing and scanning on the Apple OS X operating system.

Of course, we have the assorted headsets and telephone systems to compliment the business requirements that we have. It’s amazing how quickly one can load up on junk hardware. It’s very hard for me to throw or give older equipment away… it’s the packrat in me.

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.