• 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.

  • Huckleberry Hounds

    Posted on by Don

    We just got back from a trip to Brady’s Lake to pick blueberries, the high-bush kind that may or may not actually be huckleberries rather than blueberries — these are big berries, and huckleberries are supposedly smaller (and grow on evergreens), so I’d still go with blueberries. Two hours of picking, and I think we got more than three quarts — and it looks like there’s a lot more to be had as the season progresses. No bear sightings, though…

    Yessssssss! Successsssss! The keyboard crapped out on my laptop a few weeks ago, with the “S” key sticking more and more — very frustrating. I finally brought it in to a repair shop yesterday, where I had the keyboard replaced, as well as the insides cleaned (like, the fan/air vents) and the heat sink refurbished. I thought it would be days, but he called in about an hour saying it was done, and I picked up my cool-running, feels-like-new laptop that afternoon. Sweet!

    No Bearings On The Case We rode to Anne’s orchestras summer picnic yesterday, along with Shari, an orchestra-mate who lives in our neighborhood. It was a reasonable distance, maybe 14 miles one way, but we were going slow and I wanted to be wearing normal clothes/shows when we arrived. So, I took the Iguana, for its first big ride since I re-worked the headset last Tuesday at the CAT office. That was a bit of a disaster: I took off the stem, lock nut and spacers, then as I was taking the upper race off all the ball bearings fell out of the bottom bearing and scattered bouncing across the floor. Turns out the seal was gone, and the bearing cage was mostly gone, so once I loosened the fork there was nothing holding them in. I managed to retrieve most of them and replace the missing ones, put them into what was left of the cage with a whole lot of grease to act as “glue,” and put it all back together. This is a temporary fix until I can get a new bearing/cage assembly, but despite everything, the bike’s steering feels better now than it has in years.

  • Dissolution

    Posted on by Don

    Beautiful weather so far this week, but I haven’t been able to get out quite yet. I did get to do some trail work at Sals on Sunday, while Anne did some hiking with Deb, so there’s that. Tomorrow is my volunteer day at the Canal Museum, and I’ll be riding over.

    QGIS vs GRASS vs SAGA: I’ve been trying to work with some more geoprocessing tools, specifically Dissolve (where several regions that touch or overlap are combined into a single shape — their borders are “dissolved,” hence the name). I set up some small test shapes and tried dissolving them. It worked perfectly well with GRASS, but with QGIS the two shapes did not actually become one. I tried using SAGA, and got the same failure — WTF? I thought at first that both programs were broken, but then found out that the two shapes weren’t actually adjacent, there was an infinitesimal sliver of empty space between them; technically, they didn’t actually have a common boundary for these two programs to dissolve, while GRASS apparently has a built-in tolerance to handle slivers like this and just ran with it. The more you know…

    More Maps: Check out Walking Purchase Park on the MTB Project. There were a few trails already done, but I added a bunch more, and it should now hopefully be a useful guide to the trail system there.


  • Winterized

    There is still snow on the ground, but what’s been falling, overnight and all day so far, is freezing rain. Things have quieted down since last week’s big move, so today we slept in and are doing indoor hobby things: Anne is sewing upstairs, and I spent the morning getting various QGIS add-ons up and running.

    This is really a story for another post, but I’d had trouble running SAGA through QGIS (when I was doing those online courses), even though I had SAGA running on my laptop. There had been some upgrades since that misadventure, so I gave it another try the last week, but it was still broken. Then I got sucked in: I sat down and read the error logs, realized that QGIS was calling the SAGA routines with outdated command line parameters, and managed to batch fix the QGIS end of it — 250 commands fixed with a simple, multifile search-and-replace, two minutes and I was done. And it worked!

    I got so excited that I SAGA’ed the shit out of a bunch of data, realized I had no current use for the tool, and decided to install and play with a bunch of other processing add-ons, like hydrological (flow and runoff) modeling with TauDEM, satellite image processing using Orfeo, and statistics using R, which I already had installed. TauDEM and Orfeo seemed to work fine, but R didn’t so I spent some time getting that figured out. I think I like the idea of these tools more than actually using them, because I get a lot of satisfaction out of getting them to work.

    Anyway, there will be no outdoor sports activities today, or even outdoors at all given the general nastiness in the air (and slipperiness on the ground). We’ll probably go out to the usual later with John and Donna — we went out to Easton last night with them, but found Two Rivers and Porters both completely  full up, and Black & Blue still closed, so in effect we did the “Beermuda Triangle” without any beer, drove back to Bethlehem, and went instead to the Beef Baron, which was a nice change of pace.

  • Another Win Is Another Win

    Wooo! Did the Superbowl of Chili yesterday with Eric and his neighbor George, and we had a beer-and-chili-fueled blast, if you’ll pardon the pun. No morning run, but that’s fine, Anne and I may do a hike in Jim Thorpe this afternoon.

    Meanwhile… My WordPress page (you’re looking at it) uses a theme called Raindrops, which I like a lot of course, but it seems to be a hobby project of some guy in Japan, and there is a persistent error in his code. Specifically, he’s missing a closing anchor tag in the function that creates “featured images,” so that on a page with a featured image, everything after the image is part of the link back to the image’s page. It’s easy enough to find and fix (I did it) but my attempts to contact the author about the error got me nowhere.

    Like I said, fixing this error is easy enough, but the Raindrops theme gets updated a lot, and when it does, the file with the corrected code gets overwritten (with a newer version of the buggy code). Every update would find me going in and manually re-doing the fix — it got old.

    WordPress themes are built so that one can refer to another, as in a parent theme and a child theme, and the child would inherit from the parent theme all its attributes (layout, behavior etc) except those specifically overridden by the child theme, which can also add functionality etc. This seemed to be ideal for my needs: I could create a child theme, which would only override that one bad function with my corrected version.

    My first look at this, several months ago, made me think it wouldn’t work: the original theme’s function coding has to be set up to allow itself to be overridden (each function is tested to see if it does not already exist before being defined), and I could have sworn that my parent theme was not set up like this. I looked again more recently though, and sure enough, everything was good. (Maybe I was mistaken in my first look at the code, or maybe this was added in one of the theme’s many upgrades.)

    So I’m good to go, and late last week I sat down and made my child theme, and that all worked out fine. The real moment of truth came this weekend: the parent theme had an upgrade, and the upgrade didn’t break my website. Success!

  • Experiments in Routing, Part 2

    This is my second post in a series, where I report back on my results from playing with various ways to use routing, in QGIS and related programs. My immediate task is to identify those cycling amenities that are nearest to access points along the Lehigh Towpath. You can read Part 1 (the introduction) here. In this post, I’ll be using the QGIS built-in Network Analysis Library. Follow along after the break…

    Continue reading  Post ID 721

  • Experiments in Routing, Part 1

    This is the introductory post for a hopefully four-part series about using QGIS to find the shortest path between two points, not shortest as the crow flies, but following a given network of roads. This is called routing, it’s what’s Google Maps and other mapping software uses, and it relies on graph theory and network analysis to do its job. I’ll talk about the what and the why of this little experiment here; the how (for three different versions of how) will be the subject of subsequent posts.

    UPDATE: Part 2 can be found here.

    The reason I’m looking at all this goes back to my interest in cycling tourism, and my attempts to identify cycling-accessible amenities — convenience stores, restaurants, hotels, that sort of thing — along the Lehigh Towpath. My first attempt (you can find it here) basically looked at a region, within a mile (as the crow flies) of one section of the Lehigh River, and searching within that region for the amenities I was interested in. That was an interesting project in its own right, but, as I said in my earlier post, it didn’t really solve the right problem:  there are many places within a mile, or even a quarter mile of the river, that are not anywhere near accessible from the towpath: they may be on the wrong side of the river, say, or not near a towpath access point. To be considered accessible, the points of interest would need to be within a mile (or whatever arbitrary distance I end up choosing), by road, of an access point on the towpath.

    map of roads near lehigh river
    Data gathered, and almost ready for routing.

    I didn’t really have a plan to make this happen yet, but with or without a specific plan, I figured my first order of business was to get the information I would use. That previous analysis used Google Maps, but I felt that their data was a bit encumbered (in terms of my rights to it), and it seemed that Google didn’t play as well as I’d like with QGIS anyway, so I decided to use the data available through Open Streetmap, for both the road network and the set of amenities. (I already had a collection of the towpath access point locations left over from a previous experiment.) I got those sets of data, and massaged them so that I only had the parts that fell within a mile of the bike paths in the Lehigh Valley. This gave me the data seen to the right, where the aqua lines are the road network, the red lines are bike trails (the towpath, plus the Palmer Bike Path), the red stars are trail access points, and the orange dots are the amenities (restaurants, fast food etc).

    (One note about the road network: You probably can’t see it at this resolution, but I made a point of excluding roads that are not practical/legal/safe for cycling, like US-22, I-78 and a few others. There are also a number of places, like the New Street and Hill-to-Hill Bridges, where roads or the trail are connected via stairways to the bridges above; after our own struggles, a few years ago, with stairs and fully loaded touring bikes at the Ben Franklin Bridge, I decided to also exclude stairways from my network.)

    So that gets us the data, what about the analysis? My first thoughts were to see if I could find all the points on the road network that were a mile away from an access point, then connect the dots to define a region, and then find all the amenities within that region. My second thoughts were that this approach would put me back in the same situation as my first attempt, since I could easily find roads that were not reachable within that region, such as bridges. (Bridges became my nemesis for a while.) I eventually decided that my best strategy would be to find the shortest route between each access point and each amenity, and select from the amenities based on the lengths of the routes I found.

    To perform the actual routing analysis, I have three options:

    In terms of a learning curve, I have some experience with networks in GRASS, and I feel at least a little comfortable with Python (and copy-paste, with scripts I find online), so pgRouting will probably be the most difficult for me to pick up. Meanwhile, the Network Analysis library can use the data I already have, but Open Streetmap deals with road networks in a way that’s not directly compatible with either GRASS or pgRouting — their topological models are different, but that’s an issue for a future post. I would have to either re-import the road network to get it to work with pgRouting, or further process the one I have for GRASS.

    Each one of these approaches will be the subject of its own post. Given that the Python approach is not the hardest, and my data is already in the form I’d need, I am going to try my hand with the Network Analysis library first. Stay tuned for Part 2, whenever…

  • QR Code Update

    I still have no idea what’s going wrong with scanning photographs of QR codes  (other than, say, generic image quality issues inherent in the process), but I’ve sort of abandoned the whole QR thing. The obsession ran its course, and there was also this:

    We went out last weekend with John and Donna, and also a friend of ours who is a programmer. She asked me about my recent projects and I said I was intrigued with QR codes, and she said something to the effect of “Oh, aren’t they a bit passé?”

    What?!?? I asked John, and he also felt that they were a technology that seemed promising maybe a few years ago, but eventually the buzz faded as they were seen to be superfluous — users could write information (or capture the info another way, like near field communication) as easily as they could use a phone to scan and capture it from a QR code.

    I went home and did a little Googling and — except in the marketroid world where it definitely seemed passé — the situation wasn’t nearly as dire as the picture my friends painted, but what I saw online did make me reevaluate their usefulness, to take stock as it were, and my interest, already waning, disappeared.


  • Oh, No Reason…

    I’m not sure why I did this exactly, but the other day I decided to download a QR code generator onto my phone. I have no real need, but it looked like a fun thing to play with, so I made a few codes (my contact info, “Hello World!” etc), then I thought it would be pretty cool to read and write them from the laptop, so I downloaded a program called qrencode to write them, and one called zbar to read them, and I had a bunch of geeky fun using all my new toys.

    Then I got the idea: what if I could take a picture of a QR code, with datestamp and GPS metadata added? I could then extract the QR data, and the time and place it was gathered, like maybe something an inventory program would use. I downloaded another program called exiftools, and found how to get the date/time and location from the photos, but the final step, extracting the QR data from the photo of the QR code image, was a failure. I have no idea why yet.


  • 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.