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  • This Week Today

    Stopping by again…

    Mapping: I had, and still have, a few technical issues to deal with, but the full Lehigh Valley database is now in PostGIS, along with elevation data — bogus elevation data, that’s one of my technical issues — and the demo map can now route with the new database. But it’s got the slows, it’s got the slooowws… With about 3200 road segments in the “toy database,” it could route in about 1-2 seconds, but the full-map version took about 6 seconds per routing task — and there may be multiple routing tasks in each route, from start point, to via point and then through subsequent via points, and finally to the endpoint. Unacceptable!

    I did some searches online, and sure enough there are a lot of people complaining about pgRouting performance and looking to speed it up. The general consensus: there are a few things you can do, including tune your database, but the actual bottlenecks are the pgRouting algorithms. Some suggested using osm2po, another program that converts OpenStreetMap data for databases but can  also do routing: tried it and it’s blindingly fast – d’oh! (Unfortunately, I didn’t see much there in the way of customized, dynamic cost functions, so I can’t see how to turn it into the the answer I’m looking for.) I tried a bunch f the Postgres/PostGIS performance-tuning tips anyway, and they did seem to help a little.

    I eventually came across one potential solution: route only on a subset of the roads in the database, using a bounding box. For each pair of points to route between, I find the smallest rectangle that contains both, then expand it by 2000 meters in every direction (like a buffer zone); this is my bounding box, and the routing search is limited to the roads that touch or fall within that box. This seemed to do the trick: my routing times are back down to about 1-2 seconds.

    Except near — wait for it — those confounded bridges. The valley is broken up by the Lehigh river, with occasional bridges, and if there are no bridges within the bounding box for a route that needs to cross the river, no route will be found. Meanwhile, when routing points are on a diagonal, the bounding boxes are fairly big, but routing points that run mainly east-west or north-south produce long, skinny bounding boxes. I found a few “dead zones” where routes couldn’t be found, especially east-west ones north of Northampton, routes with skinny bounding boxes where the bridges are a little sparser. My original bounding boxes were expanded by a buffer that was only 1000 meters; I went to 2000 meters in an attempt to alleviate the bridge problem. This didn’t solve it entirely, but it did help, and there was no real performance hit going from 1000 to 2000 meters. I’ll probably look at distances between bridges, and revise my buffer zone to be just bigger than say, half that distance.

    Reading: I picked up Don DeLillo’s Underworld again, intending to just read the first part. I love the first chapter but never finished the book because I found the rest boring; now I am engrossed and don’t know what I was thinking back  then.

    Listening: WXPN has been playing “The 70’s, A-Z” this past week, every song they have in their library that was released in the Seventies, played in alphabetical order. We’ve been following along religiously, and it’s been fascinating and fun but they’re only up to “T,” and it gets wearing. Full disclosure: the radio is off right now…

    The only time they weren’t playing the 70’s was for their Friday “Free at Noon” concert at the Word Cafe, which this week featured Russ’s band Cherry. So, we went down to Philly with Ray and Lorraine, where we met Frank and Patricia, and Ben, and Gabby, and we all watched the show and then went out to lunch with Russ at the White Dog Cafe. As always, we spent a few minutes at Penn Books before the ride home. All the talk in Philly, among us and overheard on the street, was about the upcoming snow on Saturday…

    By the way, Saturday was Luminaria Night in Bethlehem, here is a photo of ours:

    candles in bags on sidewalk
    Luminaria Night

    One last thing: here is what I wrote ten years ago.


  • Updates on Various Things

    Just kicking back this morning, before going with Anne over to the Bike Co-op for the afternoon…

    Reading: I just finished N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I took to it well enough at the beginning, but it actually became a chore to read: I put it down for a week, and read the last third in two sittings, closing the book with a sense of relief yesterday. Strange because I really liked her award-winning “Broken Earth” trilogy, and the style and voice were very similar; Anne said that maybe the author worked a few bugs out of her writing between her debut and the trilogy, and that may be so but I didn’t really see it. All I can say is that I really recommend the trilogy, but don’t feel the same about this one. I think it’s also first of two, but it’ll be a while before I read the sequel.

    Two Hours Before The Mast: I did my usual Wednesday volunteering at the Canal Museum yesterday. The canal boat is now in dry-dock for the winter, and Scott E is trying to get as much maintenance done on it (especially things like painting) in the nicer weather as he can, so yesterday I helped prep the deck for staining. Mostly this meant sanding, and the sanding I did was mostly “trim work” with a small vibrating sander, near fixtures and in corners where the bigger unit couldn’t fit — I did this for about two hours until the little sander overheated and turned off.  I thought of it as “swabbing the deck,” but showed remarkable restraint and did not talk like a pirate.

    Mapping: The routing website is now essentially — well, not done done, but the functionality is pretty complete. It routes, with a few glitches (but I added error handling so it doesn’t just choke without apologizing), it modifies routes based on user preferences for hills and visible recommended streets, and it can export the route as GPX; the final steps for website usability are to add printing capabilities for the directions, and add some explanatory content. (Finishing the job means building the real database — and finding a place to put it online.) I’m pretty happy with how this came out so far, it’s actually fun to play with.

    Listening: Not to eMusic, that’s for sure. I’ve used them for years to purchase music, and once they were both a good deal at a flat 49 cents a song (with no DRM: download it and it’s yours), and a good source for whatever I was looking for. Then in about 2010, they bought into some of the more mainstream catalogs, changing their price structure — more popular stuff became more expensive, some songs required you to buy the entire album — to accommodate the new sources. This actually  drove away many of the better and more obscure labels, leaving eMusic no better than any other generic source, at least in terms of selection. Now the major labels are gone again (I think), and the catalogs are mostly things I don’t care about. So every month I pay $15, which gives me $17-$18 in credit to use or lose that month, and I hardly ever even check in anymore to see their new offerings — and whenever I go there to search for something specific, they don’t have it. It’s time to move on.

    On the Home Front: We are busy researching ovens, in preparation for our new purchase.


  • Some Photos of Our Pittsburgh Trip

    We were out in Pittsburgh over the weekend; Anne and I went with Ben to her nephew Mike’s wedding. An awesome time (though exhausting), hanging and partying with Anne’s siblings and their kids. We drove up Friday morning, the wedding was Friday night, we went to Mattress Factory, an art museum, on Saturday, followed by a picnic at Anne’s brother Bill’s place, and drove home Sunday. Boom!

    So anyway, here are some of the pictures I took.


  • Some Photos From Our New York Trip

    I took a bunch of pictures in Watkins Glen and the Corning Museum of Glass, thought I’d show some of them here.

    In Watkins Glen, we camped at the state park, and there was a trail basically from our campground to the trails along the Glen, and then into town. It was cool and convenient, but the park was very crowded, overcrowded actually, and so it wasn’t as much fun as if we had the place (relatively) to ourselves.

    The Museum of Glass was also very cool, but it really wasn’t a museum about glass per se, with history of glassmaking, chemistry and physics of glass, etc, which I would have liked — they had that, but it was more geared for kids, and in the “kid section” — but more an art museum, and museum art history, where the common medium is glass. Early artifacts, modern creations… the craziest part was the gift shop, where I saw several items in the $10,000-$50,000 price range and fragile as, well, glass, just sitting out on pedestals where kids were running around and anyone could bump into them…

    Anyway, here are my photos


  • The View From Musikfest

    Pretty good night last night: we went with some of Anne’s orchestra friends and saw a trio (violin, piano, clarinet) doing Mozart and a few more modern classical pieces at the Moravian Church, then grabbed a beer at the Sun Inn, which was amazingly quiet compared to the street just outside. Left there, went home for some quick food, then caught Scythian — or the first half of their show anyway, thunder and lightning clearing the metal-pole tent. Doug & Lori joined us, as well as John & Donna who stopped by their place to grab some Scotch they got in Scotland. Much fun ensued, studying the relative merits of different Scotches… (This morning started a bit more slowly than we’d planned.)

    We caught another chamber music trio earlier this week, as well as a Faroese folk singer one evening; both of these were at the Moravian Chapel behind the church — these both were firsts for me, being inside these buildings. We also saw the Skatalites at Volksplatz, but other than that, and last night’s rained-out adventure, we’ve been avoiding Musikfest after dark. With age comes wisdom?

    Speaking of wisdom, I realized that my use of categories here (“the sporting life,” “cultural ramblings,” etc) has caused me to fragment my writing, trying to keep myself to one subject per post. I usually don’t have enough to say about any one thing to sustain a full post though, not on any regular basis at least, so my posting has dropped off and I’ve ended up not writing about anything. Therefore, I think I’ll make a conscious effort, to go back to my previous diary-like mishmash of whatever pops into my head, or into my life. Thus…

    Reading: The other book I read in Canada was A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles. This is the story of a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for life in a luxury Moscow hotel. The novel has som many surprising twists that anything else I reveal would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that this was a great book, and well worth reading.

    What else has been going on? I was back volunteering at the Canal Museum on Wednesday, but while there I heard that they had so many bike rentals last weekend that they needed to get some of the spares out of storage, and their tires were low on air, etc. So, I went in yesterday and went through all the bikes, making sure that they would be ready for use if needed this weekend. I also did some volunteering at CAT on Tuesday, building up a bike with Anne. In terms of actually riding bikes, Anne and I did a road ride, with lunch in Riegelsville, and Doug and I rode Jacobsburg on Thursday. Yesterday was rainy, and tonight threatens more, so if I ride tomorrow it’ll probably be a road ride.


  • The Expanse

    Just before we went on vacation I picked up James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth and latest in the sci-fi series “The Expanse.”  I read about half the book before we even left, and finished it not long after. Six novels so far — and last night I downloaded (and devoured) a short story in the same universe, “The Butcher of Anderson Station” — and I still can’t get enough. Now I have to wait, maybe subsisting on Kindle short story downloads, until the next installment comes out in a few months…

    The books are total “space opera” adventures in a future several hundred years away, in a well-built storyworld consisting of overpopulated Earth, independent Mars, and a hardscrabble society of “Belters” living on asteroids and the moons of the outer planets, where a billion-year-old alien artifact is found that triggers unimaginable upheaval.

    I won’t say more, but will say that I highly recommend it.

     


  • Where Does The Time Go?

    I’m not sure where it’s gone, but here I am all alone… Anne is at a knitting convention; she should be home tomorrow, but I’ve been on my own the past few days.

    So, what have I been up to, this past week and this past month? Lets see:

    Riding: I got out at Jacobsburg yesterday, and I got in a towpath ride the day before — a fairly hot lap too, for me and for this time of year, which I guess is why the ‘Burg was so tiring. Today I helped out with Bike Smart Easton (kid’s biking education program) at Calypso Elementary, but otherwise took it as a rest day, and tomorrow I may ride either Sals or Nox. I’m supposed to help with a Sals trash cleanup tomorrow, so that may influence my decision, one way or another.

    Travel: We just got back from visiting Emmi and Kyle in Durham, where we participated in the March for Science in Raleigh, among many other things, except riding: we did a run the first day we were there, and it was sunny for the march, but otherwise it was a rainy, rainy visit. Plenty of good but heavy food, some bookstores and coffee shops, and some really cool night spots — our typical Durham visit.

    We also did a short trip to Rehoboth Beach about a month ago, just a few days to do some riding and visit Dogfish Head Brewing.

    Reading: I’ve been obsessing over the “Expanse” series, by James S.A. Corey. More on this later but it’s some seriously good space opera, and I’ve read five of the six published books (out of a total of nine planned).

    I’ve also been doing a bit of volunteering at the Canal Museum, and also quite a bit of playing with the mapping software, but those’ll have to be other stories.


  • I Am Not Your Negro

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 191.0#, 13.5% BF

    We saw I Am Not Your Negro last night, the the documentary about James Baldwin. Unbelievably good — it cut between Baldwin himself in speeches, interviews etc, other documentary footage from various eras (60’s era riots, lynchings, Ferguson) and movie footage, especially of movies from when he was a kid, with a voice-over of his writings (mostly musings from an unfinished project, a tribute to Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King — “three friends who had been murdered” as he put it at one point), read by Samuel L. Jackson. More a “time to face some things you already know but have trouble admitting” story than an eye-opener, the structure, and Baldwin’s own powerful words, made for a very intense movie.

    Highly recommended — go see it.

    Afterward we went to a nearby pub that shall remain nameless, where the food was good and the beer was pretty decent, but it seemed one of those places — there are a number of them in the Valley, on the outskirts of urban areas — where there were noticeably no black people. (Admittedly, there were few people at all in there, and those few were annoying, so maybe I had a sour view of things.) There was also a whiskey ad on the wall, a mocking take on “Black Lives Matter.” Nothing serious, maybe a bit “edgy,” passive-aggressive even, but hey free speech and where’s your sense of humor?

    It could almost have been a scene from the movie, like a substitute for the outtakes from “The Pajama Game,” while the voice-over talks about white apathy and the emptiness of American lives. I guess that’s what great art does to you, it sensitizes you to the things it showed you.

    Anyway, not much else got done yesterday, though I did manage to lose another half pound. No ride today, since I’m going over to volunteer at the Museum, but possibly a road ride tomorrow.


  • Spook Country

    Next up on my reading list: Spook Country by William Gibson. This completes — years later, and read out of order — his post-911 trilogy (along with Pattern Recognition, the first, which I read first, and Zero History, the last). This suffered from Gibson’s usual outdated spy-cool and brand-name-dropping, and his penchant for odd technological whiffs, but I think it was the best of the three: besides and despite his flaws, it displayed his talent to build a gripping story (especially in the second half of the book), with realistic and engaging characters. I still think that the Sprawl trilogy was his best, but this was a good bedside companion for a week or so.


  • Hidden Figures

    We saw it the other day, basically as soon as it was out in a nearby theater. We happened to go on a weekday matinée, which is what we usually do, but unlike other matinées the place was packed — it looks like we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see this movie. And it did not disappoint: this was one of the few times where the movie audience applauded at the end. My advice: go see it. (You’re welcome.)

    The story follows three black women who work as “human computers” for NASA in the early 1960’s. “Computer” was actually what they were called; it was a real but low-status job for low-status (female, black) math whizzes in the days before electronic computers, and there were rooms full of them, like steno pools, at NASA. This being Virginia in 1961, our three heroines were relegated even further into the segregated “colored computers” pool. So with the budding Civil Rights movement as backdrop — and this movie excelled at backdrops, with an awesome period score and loads of what looked at least like archival footage — these women broke through racist and misogynist barriers, and got John Glenn into orbit.

    And then, just as electronic computers started to threaten their human computing jobs, they figured out how to be the ones to do the necessary work of programming those computers. (It wasn’t in the movie, but programming back then — difficult, exacting, requiring daily brilliance just like now — was another low-status job for “girls.”)

    One thing caught me though, not in the story itself but in how the movie was put together. I remember reading once about how some movies were subjected to audience polling, and changes based on that polling, before final release — I wasn’t quite aghast, but it kind of irked me that this was done, and I started seeing what I thought was poll-driven editing everywhere in the  movies I watched, and I thought I spotted it here.

    There were two (three) parallel stories going on: one (two) involving lowly employee showing them how it’s done, and the other showing the futuristic but inert IBM that NASA purchased being brought to life. The stories were finally brought together, mostly by the  juxtaposition of the two “TRIUMPH! THE END” endings, but at one point there seemed to be an aborted attempt at a connection…

    The top NASA engineers are trying to figure out some orbital mechanics and realize that they need a different mathematical approach, and Katherine Johnson says “Euler’s Method!” Eureka! But then that’s it: other than a scene where she reads up on the method  in an old text, there’s no follow-up. The thing is though, Euler’s method is a numerical method, made up of many simple calculations instead of a few sophisticated ones, and it’s prohibitively impractical as a tool without the electronic computer. I can almost see the missing scenes, where Katherine’s superiors despair of getting the answer in time because there’s just too many calculations, just as Dorothy Vaughan got that old IBM up and running in time to save the day — oh what might have been! …but that’s getting nitpicky, me dreaming up extra scenes, just because I wanted the movie to go on and on.

    This movie was morally affirming — righteous even, and patriotic — without being preachy, pro-science without being hokey, and overall a pleasure to watch. Go see it, and see if you don’t applaud too at the end.