Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blogging tools

I've seen so many blogging tools over the past year or so... many of them seem like interesting projects that have generated lots of excitement.

Here's the part I don't get, though. Why? Had people honestly been going around saying, "Wow, entering my blog entries conventionally is such a time drain"?

I blog a few times a month, and the challenge is having something worth saying and choosing words to say it well - not slinging those words into Blogger's standard posting interface. It's hard to imagine how shaving seconds off that could honestly be worth choosing, installing, and understanding a blogging tool, much less writing one. Maybe if I blogged six times a day, but who would read that?

Maybe someone who "gets it" can explain it to me?

I suspect that this is one of these cases that's being driven by the coolness of the solutions, not the actual need for them. Mind you, I've got nothing against that. I have often spent three hours writing code to avoid a one-hour manual job. (Which is not as illogical as it sounds, because when you finish the manual job, somebody's bound to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry, but we need it done again..." Not that a logical consideration of that possibility is what drives me; I do it because it's fun.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

dumpfile diving

The oracle EXP utility generates a dumpfile which, although technically binary, actually contains lots of readable ASCII. Sometime I need to see this information, especially since dumpfiles don't provide a way (that I know of) of summarizing their contents and the conditions of their generation. In a perfect world, we'd never have to work from with dumpfiles burned onto scratched CDs by unknown parties and abandoned in the dusty corner behind the recycle bin, but this is not a perfect world.

Anyway, I just went through several techniques of examining a mysterious.dmp, and thought I'd share the experience. Much of it would apply to delving into any mixed binary/ascii file.
  • The worst way: more mysterious.dmp

    gave me frightening glyphs and angry beeps (xset b off to stop those), like R2-D2 invoking dread Cthulhu. Worse, my session would henceforth speak to me only in proto-Sumerian. I could kill the terminal window and open a new one, of course, but I still spent several hours plastering smooth curves over all the office's sharp corners, just to be safe.

  • Not quite so bad: less mysterious.dmp

    let me look at the file, making harmless marks of the binary characters, and didn't mangle my session's character set. Yay! I do need to make a habit of using less instead of more.

  • Still pretty painful: grep -a "what I'm looking for" mysterious.dmp

    The -a flag makes grep look into a file even though it's binary. It has no proper idea of where lines end in a binary file, though, so your hits can be really long. I had better luck grepping the files that resulted from the operations below.

  • Good: imp me@mydb show=Y file=mysterious.dmp full=y log=mysterious_contents.txt

    This gives you a clean-looking file (well, except for all the gratuitous quotation marks). It's also the only technique I know that you can use on Windows (without Cygwin). You don't get data contents, though, just DDL.

  • Best: strings mysterious.dmp > mysterious_contents.txt

    This GNU strings utility is really great! You get the ASCII, the whole ASCII, and nothing but the ASCII, quick and clean.
What I still don't have, though, is a way to examine a dumpfile and find out exactly what command was used to generate it. That would give all kinds of fantastic information: What instance was it? Which user did the export? Was it full? ... and so forth. If you know of a way to query a dumpfile for this kind of information, please comment!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Xubuntu is a variant of Ubuntu that uses the lightweight Xfce desktop environment, making it a good choice for low-powered systems.

Or so they say. So I dusted off (literally) a Gateway Solo laptop (Pentium II, 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM) and replaced its Windows 98 with Xubuntu 6.06. And that's what I'm posting from now! Go, Xubuntu! The only problem is that a naughty kitten tore several keys out of the keyboard several years ago, making typing difficult. And he would have to get the 'e', the little stinker.

I'm using a 2-year-old wireless card with it, though. I failed with my first attempt to make its old ethernet card work, and decided to take Tim Almond's advice and just use a known compatible device rather than go into ethernet-card archaeology.

Hmm, now there's a new working laptop in the house. Oh, the possibilities...

Monday, August 07, 2006


Cleanup of obsolete material continues.

I'm holding a boxed set of Oracle 7.3.4 Server software. It's still shrink-wrapped.

Can I really throw this out? 7.3.4 is where I started, after all. Then again, if I keep it, am I like the people who imagine that their comic book "investments" will pay off one day?

I love working in IT... yet it can be horrifying, realizing just how ephemeral our constructions are. If you're a mason, your work may outlive you by millenia. If you're a geek and you want your work to outlive you, you'd better get very sick or take up some dangerous hobbies.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

obsolete books

Following a recent run of absurdly good luck at user-group drawings, I must face the fact that my cubicle will not tolerate my current inventory of books.

"So throw them out". But... but... books represent knowledge, how can I just throw them out? Especially the ones that I never did get around to devouring... sure, those skills may have proven irrelevant to my work, but it's stuff I never learned! How can I give up on learning it, send Knowledge away unlearned?

Ahem. Anyway, psychological issues aside, does anybody know a good destination for mildly obsolete technical books? The recycle bin seems so brutal, yet how can I find somebody who'd want them? This is mostly Oracle and Java stuff averaging five years old...