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I’m also a writer

by on Apr.14, 2010, under Personal

For those of you who don’t know, I occasionally write for Linux Format. As I’ve got an article coming out in the next issue (available on April 29th), I thought I’d have a check to see if the PDF’s are available in the subscribers area yet.

Unfortunately, they’re not, however, I did notice that my first article for Linux Format has now been released to the general public.

If you head on over to Issue 121, you’ll find my tutorial “Security: Protect your server” has a “Click here to read!” link underneath it.

One of my other articles for them, “Super Snooper”, has also found it’s way onto TuxRadar, and, while it doesn’t have the pretty artwork (or a mugshot, or any mention of me, it seems!) that the magazine does, it’s still well presented on the site!

Let me know in the comments if you’ve any feedback to either of them!

Along the same lines, I’m thinking that I want to write a book (mainly so that I’ll eventually come first in Google, rather than what used to be second and now for some reason seems 7th :( ). But what should I write about? I’ve a few thoughts, and the one that I feel like I want to write the most is about “becoming a Google Ninja” (using Analytics, Website Optimiser, etc etc to their full potential) – but – I don’t know – would people be interested in buying that?

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Everything but the Kitchen Sink

by on Dec.07, 2009, under Personal

Transforming data is hard. When I joined my current company, there were stupendous amounts of Perl/PHP/Bash/<insert random programming language here> scripts that would run on a cron job and do magic things to our data. They’d create reports, they’d tell the purchasers when we were running out of stock, they’d synchronise data between our Frontend and backend databases, they’d collect, they’d collate, they’d do everything and anything.

Except, with all these scripts, in all these random languages, written by a multitude of previous developers (at different skill levels), they weren’t particularly maintainable (and sometimes, they weren’t particularly readable or understandable either – imagine a 6000 line perl script that pretty much ran different permutations of the same data over and over again)

Enter Pentaho, and specifically it’s “Kettle” project. (since renamed “Pentaho Data Integration”), a tool that lets you manipulate your data in pretty much any way you can imagine, in the simplest and easiest way imaginable.

That’s right, it’s a GUI for data manipulation.

I know a lot of you are probably sceptical right now.  The first time I ever saw this was when a previous boss of mine put it forward as a potential solution for one of our problems (getting our orders from the front end database down to the office/warehouse).  I saw it, and I thought “GUI? Nah, that’s not how real programmers do things!”, so after the development team put forward another proposal to solve this, and it got accepted, I thought I’d never see the thing again.

That was until my current boss started playing with it, trying to work out what it was doing so that he could get these evil GUI based scripts into something manageable, like nice, pretty code.  Thing s, when my boss plays with things that he doesn’t know about, he tends to read up, research, and, 9 times out of 10, change his mind.

We wiped the previous server (it was rather noisy! We’re glad it’s no longer switched on!) and set up a new server to house our “BI platform”.  Starting off with a few scripts, my boss learnt to love this tool, and then, as I’m his “2nd in command” (aka general lackey) – started making me learn how to use it.

Again, I was sceptical, I didn’t want to learn, and I put up resistance, but my boss was going away for nearly a month, and by this time, a few of our key business processes relied on Kettle, so, grudgingly, I sat down, and started to learn.

You may be wondering now, why I started off this story talking about all those magical and wonderful scripts that no one seemed to know the inner workings of.  These scripts, as I’ve already mentioned were unwieldy, and at times, god-damned awful.  The plan was to move them to the BI system (as my boss had been doing already).

I like to think of Kettle as a bridge between the process-flow diagram, and the code.  I started converting these scripts, and I was astonished by the fact that most of the conversions I was doing was converting a long perl script into 3 or 4 “Integration steps”

I’m totally besotted with this program now.  Any time I have to do data manipulation, I turn to it.  I can’t describe how (once you’ve got used to it’s quirks) easy it is to use, how simple it is, and how much it just makes sense. Best of all, most of those evil scripts are gone now, and replaced with “pretty” diagrams that do the work for you.

If you have to play with large data sets on a regular basis, I urge you to try it out.  You can buy me a beer for reccommending it next time you see me at $conference.

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SSH Host Completion – zsh Stylee

by on Dec.06, 2009, under Personal

Ok, so recently, Richard Johnson and Michael Lustfield blogged about tab completion for SSH hosts.

I’m an avid user of zsh, and have my own way of doing this (liberally stolen from Daniel Silverstone).

Now, this requires a little setup to start with, as some Linux Distributions have a habit of creating “hashed” known_hosts files.  So, what I’ve done, is before I ever SSH into a host, I add the following line to my ~/.ssh/config

HashKnownHosts no

From here, I can then add the following line to my ~/.zshrc

zstyle -e ':completion::*:*:*:hosts' hosts 'reply=(${=${${(f)"$(cat {/etc/ssh_,~/.ssh/known_}hosts(|2)(N) /dev/null)"}%%[# ]*}//,/ })'

Now, when I try and ssh into a host, I can use tab completion to complete any host I’ve previously ssh’d into and any new hosts I ssh into get automatically added to the list

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(UK) The Gadget Show – PC vs Mac

by on Nov.30, 2009, under Personal

Today, an episode of “The Gadget Show” aired in which they compared PC and Mac to put on their “wall of fame”.

I was shocked that there was no mention of Linux at all in their rundown.

Here is the email I just sent to them in response to the show:-

Date: Mon, 30 Nov 2009 22:16:28 +0000
From: Martin Meredith <mez AT debian DOT org>
To: gadget.show AT northonetv DOT com
Subject: PC vs Mac – Yes, you mention windows

But both PC’s and Mac’s have the ability to run a little thing called “Linux”

Linux is the base of an operating system that’s been around for years, often
making innovations BEFORE Windows or Mac are able to.

It’s an Operating system that’s written by the people, for the people, which
shows in the fact that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of distributions
available to download and use – for FREE!!!!

A large motive behind the Linux movement is the fact that it’s completely free.
Both in the sense of Free Speech, and in the sense of Free Beer.  You don’t have to pay for it, and you can do what you like with it.

Compare the above to a Mac.  With a mac, you’re limited to the hardware you can use, you’re limited in the functionality, etc etc.  Comparing to Windows, you can see the benefit of the price.  Constantly upgrading windows can cost a LOT of money.

Ok, Linux does have it’s flaws.  Some hardware isn’t supported correctly, and a lot of the software you’ll find on the shelves of your local shop probably won’t work with it.  But, nowadays, with the advent of the iPhone, and to a lesser extent, Android based Mobile Phones, people are coming to expect easily available software.

Enter the package Manager.  Most distributions of Linux now offer an easy way to find and install applications,  and some go a step further and give you an application that makes life even easier (See attached screenshot)

Linux also has the benefit that, like the Mac, the fact that it’s not Windows,
and something that 90%+ of people use, it’s not a target for Viruses.  Add that
to the fact that it has Least Privileged Access built in (Think Windows Vista
“are you sure that you want to run this program as an admin?”), and has done
since the very beginning, and it makes it one of the most secure operating
systems you can find.

Linux has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years, and is surely a
competitor for any operating system out there.  While it may be unfamiliar,
with the advent of new technology, it’s perfectly placed.  This has been shown
by the fact that until Microsoft made a sly move to relicence Windows XP for
netbooks, it was hard to find a netbook with anything but a Linux based OS on it (and all those who tried out my eeePC 701 when it was new and shiny out of the box tended to prefer what was on that than Windows!)


Regards,
Martin Meredith

Freelance Writer for Future Publishing
Debian Developer – http://www.debian.org/
Ubuntu Developer – http://www.ubuntu.com/
Deputy IT Manager for Mobile Fun Ltd. – http://www.mobilefun.co.uk/

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Things that make me angry …

by on Nov.09, 2009, under Personal

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My Hobby…

by on Oct.12, 2009, under Personal

Freaking out the freaks on Omegle.

Omegle

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Call for… stickers

by on Oct.09, 2009, under Personal

Random plea for free stuff.

If anyone out there has any geeky stickers (or anything a bit random for a sticker) lying around, please send them to me!

I’d rather not put my address on the intarwebs, so please feel free to email me on martin AT sourceguru DOT net if you have something to send me, and I will happily send you out a Stamped Addressed Envelope.

The stickers will be put to good use decorating my laptop ;)

Edit:-

I’ve just realised that sending a SASE to another country really doesn’t work particularly well, different countries use different stamps after all!!!!
I’m trying to think up a solution, but please let it be known that I am in the U.K., so if you’re outside and want to send me stickers, you may have to help me come up with a solution for getting round the whole stamp thing!

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Most Awesome Warranty Ever!

by on Oct.09, 2009, under Personal

If this product should fail in your lifetime, we will replace it at no charge. If the proeducts is damaged by aggressive music listeners sliding a rail, sliding down the emergency ramp of your aircraft, slammed in your locker, slammed in your car door, run over by a car, running into a wall, getting run out of town, mountain biking, road biking, sky diving, beating your boyfriend unmercifully, getting beat down by the man, blown up in an accidental experimentation with flammable substances or damaged in any other every day experience, it means you are living your life the way we want our product used! In these, or any other damaging events, we will replace the product for a 50% discount from retail.

Skullcandy rock! – I’m loving my new headphones

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Geeky Lights

by on Oct.03, 2009, under Personal

I’m an avid reader, and normally curl up in bed at the end of a long day with a book.  However, since I’ve  been in my current flat, I’ve had a bit of a problem, as I don’t like to leave a light on while I’m sleeping.

So, seeing as my bed is at the opposite end of the room than my light switch, and I also tend to sleep on the side furthest from the light switch, my night-time habit would be something like this:-

  • Turn on light
  • Walk to other side of room.
  • Walk round bed
  • Turn on bedside lamp
  • Walk back around bed
  • Walk back to light switch
  • Turn off light
  • Walk back to bed, and around it
  • Get into bed
  • Read
  • Turn off bedside lamp
  • Sleep

Not exactly good when you’ve had a hard days work, and just want to curl up and read a book until you fall asleep.

On Wednesday however, I stumbled across a range of products on the net, and ordered a remote control light switch, and also a remote to go with it. My bedtime arrangements are now:-

  • Turn on light
  • Walk to bed
  • Get into bed
  • Read
  • Turn off light with remote control
  • Sleep

A lot more easier!

Have been playing with the remote from my office, and I think that if I were to order more switches, I’d be able to turn on/off all the lights in my flat from my desk.

Another neat feature about these lights? They can be programmed to use any button on any remote control!

Oh, and also, The Birmingham Jam is going pretty well!

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