• Category Archives tech talk
  • Computers and programs, maps and GPS, anything to do with data big or small, as well as my take on the pieces of equipment I use in other hobbies — think bike components, camping gear etc.

  • SuperWolf BloodMoon

    We watched the lunar eclipse the other night, going out every half hour or so for quick peeks — it was cold out! — until just a little after midnight. We used binoculars to get more detail, and we had a perfect view. We caught the very first appearance of the shadow, watched the gradually growing coverage until it was complete and the Moon was a dark red ball, and finally saw the shadow begin its retreat before we called it a night. (We saw photos later where the occluded Moon looked blue, but for us it was red, a deep and rusty, almost brownish red.) The show was awesome in all senses of the word, and “Superwolf Bloodmoon” sounds like a great name for a band — maybe names for two bands…

    Updating The Databases

    I’ve been updating my Sals trail map in QGIS, and I think I now have most of the new trail name/blaze changes, definitely all the changes I could verify on the ground, documented. I’m working on actually making a big paper map from all my data, which requires that I now learn some actual cartography skills. I put that project away to let it simmer for a while, and went back to my list of trail amenities.

    In terms of actual, usable data, that list is a hot mess: restaurants and bars have closed or changed names, new establishments have opened, many long-established places were still missing from the list (because they were never on OpenStreetMap, my primary source), and, worst of all, most of the amenities had no other information than name and location. I spent a good part of the last few days adding and removing establishments, and finding phone numbers and other contact info, and generally updating the list. I still have a ways to go, but Bethlehem is starting to look complete.

    The final database update was for my family tree, which I maintain in GRAMPS genealogy software. (The problem was that I might have “intercalated” an imaginary person into the tree: there is a Dorothy Murphy in my database, a distant cousin who might have had a niece Dorothy Mahoney, and either Dorothy Mahoney married Tom Hagenberg, or Dorothy Mahoney never existed and it was Dorothy Murphy who married Tom Hagenberg. My database had the “Dorothy Mahoney is real” version.)

    This issue came up a few years ago in conversation with my parents, but I never got around to fixing it in GRAMPS, and eventually forgot which version was correct. I happened to be looking at old photos the other day though, and there was Dorothy Hagenberg, handing out cake at a child’s birthday party in the late 1940’s, and the whole thing was back in my face… A little email correspondence this week with Mom got the family tree straightened out, and fixing it in GRAMPS was surprisingly easy — Dorothy Mahoney is no more. There’s a lot of missing information in this database as well, but at least that one known error has been corrected.

    Cello Time

    My cello playing has been coming along, not in leaps and bounds but I am progressing… I’ve got a few songs under my belt now, and I am working on possible duets with Anne, and my lessons are starting to get beyond the very basics — I’m now working on the regular basics…


  • WTF, Facebook?

    I’ve been getting more and more disenchanted with Facebook lately, as it seems to be getting less useful and more intrusive as time passes. The kicker was when I was talking, in the real world, about a product with someone, then later got ads for that product when I clicked on a FB page — coincidence? (Granted, this may have been Google’s work…)  Since I also found myself acting like a Facebook addict with it on my phone, or maybe more like some Pavlov dog, obsessively checking every notification (which in the meantime were becoming less relevant — so-and-so was live, or added to her story!), I decided to quit cold turkey. I logged out of the Facebook app on my phone, did the same for  Facebook Messenger, and removed both from my home screen so I wouldn’t be tempted. Life started getting better…

    I also found myself around the same time, ticked off by a peripheral friend who got into a political comment war (on a news page) with someone and, seeing that I was a mutual friend of that person, attempted to drag me into it. (The worst part of it is that my peripheral friend was basically right and the other person really is an ass, but this was straight up cyberbullying as far as I was concerned.) Unfriend. Unfriend them both! And that’s exactly what I did — then I went through my friend list and unfriended another 50 people, and did another 40 the next day. (There were people in there who had passed away — that was tough to do, but necessary — and  people who I know but don’t particularly like or communicate with, and many I didn’t even recognize.) I also removed myself from a bunch of groups. Suddenly FB seemed a lot more manageable, and life started looking even better. Until…

    We were out the other night, and I happened to mention FB and how I had logged out, when all of a sudden I started getting Facebook push notifications again! This time I’m sure it was a coincidence: the app, which I had not actually removed from my phone, got updated, and probably logged back in on its own afterward. But: Zombies! Facebook push notification zombies! I un-installed the app, and also Messenger.

    So now I went on FB on my laptop, and saw what these notification actually were — they had nothing to do with me or my interests; they were basically clickbaity come-on’s. It’s almost like every time I tried to push them away, Facebook ramped up their desperate, annoying attempts to stay in my face.

    This may hurt me in the end, since I’m sure there’s FB stock buried somewhere or other among our mutual funds, but I can’t help feeling a bit of schadenfreude over their recent, and no doubt well-deserved, stock slump.


  • Updates

    So, remember back in May, when I had that hissy fit over embedded Garmin rides? Well, I happened to be visiting my other blog, where I noticed that a Garmin frame was actually displayed correctly. WTF? I checked some posts here, where I had ride posted, and sure enough, there they were — everything was as it should  be. I’m not sure what happened to make them work, though there have been several updates to Firefox since May, and I also changed my browser’s cookie policy recently. Either of those might have fixed the frame problem, or both working together, or maybe it was even an update by Garmin that did it. However it might have happened, the righteous justification for my most recent GIS project just evaporated. Now I’ll have to continue just because it’s fun…

    Speaking of Python projects, I went back and added a dialog box to my FreeCAD Re-Entrant Throat script, and got it running today. There’s no error checking (yet), but it works. So that’s another project that’s suddenly, perilously, close to ending.

    UPDATE 2018-12-05: I added the input error checking (non-negative values, some constraints on design parameters based on other parameters) bringing up an error alert and looping back to the input dialog until all errors are fixed, before running the calculation code. Works great, and I had a lot of fun playing with it until I realized that RET’s are kinda boring…


  • Back on the Python Train

    I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting with FIT files, and C and ogr2ogr and… I’ve decided to use Python for my latest GIS project.

    I was able to extract some (but not all) of the data I need from the fit file using GPSBabel and, in an unwieldy process, send it as a CSV to PostGIS via ogr2ogr, and do the final processing within the database. What GPSBabel did not get did not get me was the lap info — I’d need to write some kind of program to extract it myself , and any real processing I’d need to do — aggregating my track points into a line for example, or timestamps and GPS positions into average speed — seemed more suitable for doing in a program anyway.

    Meanwhile, I had downloaded the ANT/FIT SDK, and it contained a C library as well as usage examples. These were all written to be a part of some Windows-based IDE’s build process, but they were easy enough to put into Makefile format and get running and, by modifying and re-writing the examples, I managed to extract all the necessary data from the FIT file. The next steps were to process and aggregate the data into summary form, and (using OGR libraries) to add the summarized activity data as a record into my database.

    I did some Googling for advice on how to go about this, but I got few hits for doing it in C and many for Python: basically there’s a library for reading FIT files, and multiple libraries each for processing geometry data and connecting to PostGIS, and the code for my first attempt came to about two dozen lines. It feels slow, but I noticed that my C program also took some time to read and process the points in the file — the Python version isn’t really slower in comparison, and writing the code was soooo easy that using Python was worth it for that reason alone.

    I need to finish my little piece of code, then I can use it on my machine as a standalone program. The next step after that is to find out how to use it from a website — there are several ways, and they all seem easy enough — and build a front end to access my activity data. Knock on wood, but the worst of the learning curve is over.


  • New Project: Down the Rabbit Hole and Still Digging

    I started looking into my new project the other day. The first steps will have to be extracting information from GPX or FIT files, and adding the information to a PostGIS database. I managed to do this in several ways, mostly through a combination of GPSBabel and ogr2ogr, though no single way has done exactly what I want yet: ogr2ogr automatically adds GPX data to the tables in a manner similar to what I want, but extension data (heart rate, temperature) is not treated the way I want, while the FIT data needs to be extracted first into a format readable by ogr2ogr, and then put in the right table form after being put in the database, all of which turned out to be surprisingly easy. (Even so, I may just choose to go with adding the data from GPX for now.)

    The biggest problem I’ve run into so far is that GPSBabel does not extract all the data from the FIT file, and FIT is a proprietary, binary file format — I can’t get lap information, for example, just by scanning the file with awk or something. I may have to download and use the (again, proprietary) FIT SDK, in a C or other program I write myself. This may fit in well with what else I have to do, since I can call the parts of ogr2ogr I specifically need, directly from C.

    Before it gets to that point though, I have to decide what I especially want to do with this data, which will tell me what I need to extract, what I need to save, and what I can disregard, or discard after processing. Do I want to build a full-blown replacement for Garmin Connect, where I keep all relevant data? Or do I want to just build something, like a web badge, to show a minimum of data about the ride, data like distance, duration and a map of the ride, with maybe a link to the ride’s Garmin activity page? I am leaning towards the minimalist approach (which would entail just saving one record per activity, with fields containing aggregate data), but I think I want at least some of the individual track point data because I may want to graph things like elevation or heart rate.

    But maybe I don’t need to keep trackpoint data to build my graphs on the fly. Maybe I can make small graphs as PNG’s or GIF’s for the badge, and store those images in the database — hopefully they would be smaller than the trackpoints themselves. Alternately, I could store the entire FIT file (which is actually pretty small) in the database, and extract whatever I need on the fly. (I would still do a one-time analysis to get and store my aggregate data, since this might be a little too slow for on-the-fly data generation.) These choices will depend on the results of all the little coding/database/GIS experiments I’m doing now, extracting, converting and aggregating sample data.

    Ten Years Gone: This is what I wrote on this date in 2008. We voted today, and I remain hopeful, but it is certainly not as happy a day as that one was, and even with good news I don’t think we’ll match that day.

     


  • It Is Done

    My second GIS routing project is now finished; I just added the final touches to the front end a few minutes ago. It can be improved in several ways — the routing engine could be quite a bit faster, for one thing — and the data it runs on, from OpenStreetMap and other sources, should be updated periodically, but This Project version 1.0 is basically done. (I suppose I should add a write-up here before I put the thing to rest, but you know what I mean: the program/website itself is complete and fully functional.)

    That means I need a new map project. The routing experiment was meant to have three projects, or rather one project done three ways: one each using QGIS, pgRouting, and GRASS, before I decided to branch out into separate projects. I’ve now got the first two completed, but I have no idea what to do for the GRASS project — I guess it will just have to wait until inspiration strikes. In the meantime, I may go back to the first project, or at least glean some of the results from it, to help build a web page for the Lehigh Towpath, something I can add to my old bike page. This may also morph into some trail promotion project in real life.

    Yesterday was pretty nice, if cool, and Trick or Treat was really fun. Today is chilly, rainy, and windy, and I spent the day inside with no regrets. We’re going to see a concert, featuring Anne’s violin teacher, tonight in Palmerton.


  • Race Day

    Well, we’re back from the half marathon in Hersey, and now back also from our nap…

    The race started at 7:30 AM, so we had to be there at say 6:30, so had to leave the house at 5:00, meaning we all had to get up by 4:30. We were all in bed by 9:00 last night, but it was still a hard morning. We got there about 6:45 — crazy parking traffic — and that was almost like “just in the nick of time” considering the bathroom lines, but Bruce & Heather lined up with no problems and the race went off without a hitch, then just as the race started we met up with Lorraine.

    We walked around to several different vantages together, managed to see all our runners (Heather & Bruce, and Adelle & Liz who did it as a relay), and I even got a few photos. The whole thing was over by about 10:00. After navigating back through the parking traffic mess, we all met up for brunch at a place in Hersey. Good to get some food and to catch up with everyone, but it had been a cold, windy day and the place was chilly inside; we were glad to get back in the car and crank the heat. We were home by 2:00.

    New Tools Bring New Opportunities

    One area on my routing map has been a bit problematic: Rt 329 out of Northampton goes past a reservoir, or old quarry or something, and the DEM elevation data dips pretty hard right next to the road, as well as under it at a bridge. Since I find total ascent and descent for each road using interpolated DEM data at points along them, the roads that go over, or even just near, big elevation changes can have large ascent/descent values even of they are relatively flat.

    The bridges have had an easy enough fix for a while: I simply make the ascent and descent (and adjusted ascent/descent) zero for each bridge, and I do the same for very short roads connecting to the bridge, like abutments. In other words, I fudge the data… (I figure the bridges are all fairly flat anyway except some longer, river-crossing ones, and since those are pretty far apart their actual ascent/descent values won’t affect the routing calculations much.)

    Fixing these roads near the quarry was a bit harder. I didn’t want to set ascent/descent values down to zero for the whole long and moderately hilly road, but now that I can update the ascent/descent data much more quickly — this was that “the task went from several hours to under a minute” process improvement from the other day — I was able to do my fudging on the elevation-at-road-points data: I made the elevations in the “dipped” spots the same as the points just outside, then re-updated my database with the new script. It worked great, the roads now route more realistically in that area, and it took about 5 minutes to do.


  • Milestone

    So I’ve been messing with that Lehigh Valley bike commuter routing program again, and I have made some important strides:

    • I found a way to update the recommend routes easy/advanced, etc, by maintaining separate tables of these routes as linestrings (which I can add and subtract, draw and redraw), then updating the relevant field in the main table using a spatial join. The update process is now automated simply by running SQL files, one for each type of route.
    • I sat down with the workflow for updating the main map table, and managed to automate much of it — everything but the SAGA tasks, though I think I can automate them too, eventually. I also managed to streamline one of the more time-consuming tasks: Generating the ascent/descent tables used to take upwards of 12 hours when I first did it (using Python within QGIS), and my next iteration (using PostGIS) took about 20 minutes, but my latest method got it down to about 57 seconds. Fifty-seven seconds! All of these are now also stored as SQL files or functions, so they are available almost at the push of a button. (My goal is a shell script putting all of this together.)

    These were both pretty big deals, since they were the only things keeping the project from being truly functional. Before this, keeping the database up-to-date was like pulling teeth. Unfortunately, I decided to add some front-end functionality, testing to see if selected points are within the Lehigh Valley, and that’s been a bit of a struggle, but if I can find a host for the project I think I can go live really soon.

     


  • Housebound and Alone

    Well not really, but Anne is now into the second week of her bike adventure, and my stubbed toe — can you believe it? — along with the weather, kind of keeps me from wanting to be very active. So, what have I been up to?

    Well, for one thing, I’ve been trying to stay ahead of domestic disaster, here on my own. The Trail Summit kept me busy for a few days, then I went on a round of house cleaning: I straightened, dusted and vacuumed upstairs one day, then did the same downstairs another day, and in between I did some food shopping and ran errands. I also had a bit of an “infrastructure incident:” the support at the wall for one of the clothes hanger rods broke in my closet — I hung up some suits from the drycleaner the day before — so one errand was to Lowes, where I got the support but no other thing I needed. (We need a new kitchen clock, among other things.) This came on the heels of a completely wasted trip to a new phone repair place, which claims in their advertising, and in the “grand opening” article in the local paper, that they can fix just about anything. I show up, looking for a new battery and a replacement dust cover for the charging port — “we can’t fix that.” Yeah I was doing a slow burn after those trips…

    Anyway, I’m continuing with some minor repairs here, changing light bulbs, keeping busy, trying to stay on top of things. I got the phone parts, as well as a new Garmin battery, from Amazon, so when they show up I can do a little DIY repair. There are also a few things at Anne’s office that need doing, which I’ll probably tackle in the next few days. Keeping busy.

    The big thing I’ve been doing has been putting some finishing touches on my Lehigh Valley Commuter Bike Routing Project. I need to update the big database of streets (a daunting task), but I developed a way to quickly get streets that are a part of preferred routes, routes to be avoided, etc identified and updated. This has been a stumbling block, because I’ve had unused logic on the code, to prefer or avoid roads based on which preferred routes layers were visible, and I had no realistic “preferred routes” developed. With this new trick (short scripts to do the updating, based on spatial joins), I drew up a bunch of easy routes, more advanced routes, legal but inappropriate roads, and dirt paths, and added them to the database. Son of a bitch, it all worked!

    I also did a little site cleanup, making things work and look nicer; its close enough to done that I may show it to someone soon — it still has to live on my laptop, since I still have not found a free host that can/will handle pgRouting.

     


  • Odds & Ends

    Posted on by Don

    I have a bunch more photos to put up about the final leg of our vacation (Ben’s graduation), but before I get to that I have a few other items, and a few other vacation photos, I want to post that really don’t go anywhere else.

    Vacation Miscellany

    Just a few photos of things around the cabin. Our place apparently was a camp once, having multiple primitive cabins, etc, and had been refurbished — and had the main house added — after years of downward fashionableness and possible abandonment; three cabins were still standing, one converted into a sort of detached den or game room, and the other two converted into separate sleeping quarters. Behind the cabins, as things were now arranged, was a small pond with a dam at one end. I’m not sure how important the pond had been in the past — it had the look of a kiddie fishing area — but now it was brown and scummy, and working its way back to being a meadow. (The lake was a lot better, but the muck at the bottom made for unpleasant swimming. Only Alex and I tried, and we only tried once.)  There were other camp amenities, including a fire pit which we made use of on the chilly nights.

    Shapes and Clusters

    The clustering experiments were a success, but what I really want is to show the regions or neighborhoods where my cycling amenities are clustered. I’ve been trying several different ways to build a shape around a group of points:

    • Convex Hull: this one is pretty nice, it’s the shape you’d get if a rubber band were stretched around the points. It’s also built into both QGIS and PostGIS. Unfortunately, if the point cluster has concavities the convex hull won’t show them — an L-shaped cluster would get a triangular region.
    • Concave Hull: this one is also available in both QGIS and PostGIS, but I don’t trust it — I can’t find too much about how it really works, its very name doesn’t make all that much sense, and it requires parameters that are not as well documented as I’d like.
    • Alpha Shape: the most promising of the bunch, defined pretty rigorously in “the literature,” and I like the l looks of the shapes it makes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in either QGIS or PostGIS; it is available as a package in R, so I’ve spent some time this week getting R to run correctly after much neglect, then installing the “alphahull” package and trying it out. I managed to import my data and  create alpha shapes; now I have to find how to convert and export the shapes back into my database.

    There is one other method I just thought of, and pretty simple compared to these approaches: I could just make a heat map from the clustered amenities, then use a “contour line” function on the heat map raster. If the others don’t give satisfaction I may try this.

    Around Here

    Today was a brief respite from days of heavy, almost continuous rain — more is coming, starting tomorrow. I took the opportunity to attack the jungle that once was our back yard, managed to use up all the weed-whacker twine, and ran over a yellow jacket’s nest (no stings, but a fairly hasty retreat into the house for a while), and the yard looks much better if not quite 100% yet.

    We’ve also had a Warm Showers guest: a young Brit named Arron who landed in New York and is cycling across the US. He’s early in his ride, not quite acclimated to cycling, and he’s getting a real baptism by fire, or at least by rain and hills and poor road choice, but he was a trooper. He stayed for two nights before heading for Coopersburg.