• COVID Memories

    Just a few things from early last year, documented — probably, but not necessarily, in chronological order — for posterity:

    • The news about the new disease in Wuhan, China started coming out in late December 2019, and I remember it being obvious even then that this would be bad.
    • Even so, it wasn’t all that obvious right away that it was already here. I remember going to a doctor’s appointment, and she asked me if I’d managed to avoid that “nasty cold going around.” Only much later did this start to seem like foreshadowing.
    • I managed to avoid that “nasty cold,” but Anne did not — she had something in early February that was like the flu from Hell. It lasted for a bit more than a week, and there were a few times in there where I though we’d need to go to the ER. We did not make the connection to the pandemic until “loss of sense of smell” became more well known…
    • There were a number of people we knew, parents/grandparents of friends etc, who died in this time period, of things like pneumonia or “flu.” Nobody thought to test at the time.

    I’ll probably write more as time and memory permits. By the way, this is what I wrote fifteen years ago.

  • Contact!

    I get email through my contact form, not much of it but a few arrive every week, and almost all of it is spam. I have things in place to block spammy comment form submissions, based on phrases that spammers (but hopefully not legitimate form users), might use, phrases like “Oakley Sunglasses,” “internet marketing,” and variations on “nude” — I got a whole cluster of these nudie offers a few months ago, and was a bit surprised that I hadn’t already blocked them, and actually hadn’t had a need to, until that point…

    Anyway, I still get a few spam emails through the contact form, but at this point they’re really vague, with innocuous wording, and enhancing the blocking efforts to catch them has become a diminishing returns / choose-your-battles kind of thing so I let them slide. Every so often I get a doozy though, and here’s one I had to share:

    From: [SOME FAKE NAME]
    Subject: Delivery of your email messages.

    Message Body:
    Hi! donkelly.net

    Did you know that it is possible to send message fully legal?
    We sell a new legal way of sending message through feedback forms. Such forms are located on many sites.
    When such commercial offers are sent, no personal data is used, and messages are sent to forms specifically designed to receive messages and appeals.
    Also, messages sent through communication Forms do not get into spam because such messages are considered important.
    We offer you to test our service for free. We will send up to 50,000 messages for you.
    The cost of sending one million messages is 49 USD.

    This message is created automatically. Please use the contact details below to contact us.


    You’re spamming me, through my contact form, to offer me your awesome contact-form-spam service? Gotta lotta damn gall I tell ya, and your phrasing… It seemed almost too provocative, as if they were fishing for someone to reply with a piece of their mind, and thus hand over their legitimate email address. Oh well, I (mostly) didn’t rise to the bait, and for this form submission I made an exception: I found a way to block similar messages.

  • Another Bite At The Apple

    I finished those online courses on SQL. There was a bit of cognitive drift into “other data models” (i.e., JSON and XML) towards the end, but all in all it was a positive experience: I really did learn a lot, and more important, I’m now very comfortable using these new things I learned.

    (The XML foray was an interesting thing in its own right: these courses — and this is probably true of most “free courses” on the internet — are about 10 years old, which translates to “about the time XML’s heyday was starting to fade.” The course touched on XQuery and XSLT, but there was a definite “we suspect you won’t need to know this in the future” vibe about the lessons, and here in the future I had a hard time even finding a way to run the demos, and much of my internet research consisted of reading articles with names like “Why Should We Care About XML Anymore?” I eventually resorted to a bash script — brutishly practical, my workhorse go-to — to invoke the bloated, oh-so-elegant Java classes I found online to perform the queries.)

    Anyway, I was pretty impressed with myself, both for sticking it out and for actually learning something from these courses. I think that the “internet course” format is something I take to pretty well, at least the ones I found at edX, and in fact something I enjoy spending my time with. Naturally enough, I decided to continue by taking another set of courses, and this time I’m giving R another go. I’m about halfway through the third course, in a series on data analysis put out by Harvard, currently working through visualization (graphs) and ggplot, and once again I’m doing well and loving it — so far. Only time will tell.

  • The Other Snow Toys

    For what was probably this winter’s last hurrah, I met Doug and Lori at South Mountain on Thursday to get in some snowshoeing. The conditions were pretty good for the most part, except on some of the South-facing slopes — the snowshoes gripped fine, but the upper layer of snow itself would shear off and slide down like mini-avalanches (we’re only talking like 6″ or so), making the hills a bit slippery. The sun was out though, and the temperature was pleasant and the sky was a deep blue, and we had a grand time in the fresh air.

    Snowshoeing is inherently less exciting than other winter activities, but it’s good exercise and a good way to enjoy the scenery, and in the interest of equal time I thought I’d post some of my recent snowshoe photos to go along with my skiing post, so here are some shots I took on a recent hike at Sand Island:

  • Snow Crash

    Hi. I’m back. How fares the world?

    I haven’t posted much lately, because I haven’t felt like I have much to say, but I have been up to things and getting them done: I finished that SQL course, I got all my photos through the end of 2019 onto Flickr, and… uh, well I guess that’s about it.

    What else have I been doing? A lot of shoveling, and a lot of XC skiing. We got hit with a huge storm a few weeks back, with maybe 30″ of snow dumped on us, and we’ve been getting another 3″-4″ every few days ever since, and up until yesterday also we’ve had really cold temperatures — ideal conditions for skiing. I got out maybe two or three times a week this whole past month, and (until yesterday) the conditions were spectacular.

    Here are some shots from the early storm:

    After another storm I got out for some more pictures:

    I got in some snowshoeing as well, but that’s never as much fun… Sunday I misjudged conditions and blew off skiing to trudge around Sand Island, then had to see all the Facebook posts of awesome XC fun. I tried to make up for it, and went out yesterday in the snowfall, but things were so warm and sticky I broke my boot…

    It might be for the best: the air feels like spring and the light looks like spring, and the temperatures will be almost 50 by the end of the week — the XC season is probably over around here. But it was good while it lasted!

    And with that I will leave you with another GoPro masterpiece on YouTube:

  • Organization Man

    It wasn’t quite new-year’s-resolution level, but I’ve been having a sustained burst of productivity lately, or if not productivity then at least activity: I have been much better about cello practice; I’ve been more on top of bills, and housework, and exercise (i.e. morning calisthenics, not the biking); I’ve been making progress on learning SQL; and I’ve even chipped away at the greater part of my Flickr photos backlog. And I’ve managed to get all this done, to become my new, more organized self, through the use of my simple, lowly to-do list.

    I’ve written about my to-do list before. It’s basically just a text file; in the morning, or sometimes the night before, I’ll write what I want to get done at the top of the file, then as the day progresses and I do things I can mark the tasks done. If I don’t get to something it’s no big deal, it’s just not marked done and I can add it to the next day’s tasks (or not), but at any idle moment during the day I can see at a glance what I could be productive about, and the process gives me a chance to think about what I want to accomplish, what I ought to be doing, what might be more or less urgent, etc, for any given day. I also add specific appointments (a doctor visit, an afternoon ride with someone) to the end of the list, so I remember to budget my to-do tasks around them. The structure is pretty simple:

    Sunday 1/17/2021
    exercise (done)
    dishes (done)
      phone (done)
      gas (done)
      electric (done)
    study sql
    blog (started... running notes go here until it's marked done)
    @1:00 group road ride (done)
    Saturday 1/16/2021
    dishes (done)
    exercise (done)
    cello (done)
    study sql (done)
    flickr (done)
    work on bikes

    And so on.

    (I also keep a separate file, a spreadsheet that I call my “food diary,” where I keep track of everything I eat each day, but that does not get used nearly as much as the to-do list. It has a different pedigree, being something I saw once about behaviorist approaches to dieting, and has been much less successful in keeping me engaged enough to use it.)

    I find that I am more energetic in the late morning or early afternoon, but that may also be because the morning is when I’m selecting my day’s tasks, and therefore thinking more about them, rather than it being an issue of afternoon energy levels. The one thing that does sap energy levels — the thing that wrecks any given day’s remaining plans — is biking. Any day with a longish bike ride, nothing seems to get done after the ride…

    Anyway, here’s a product of one of my previous to-do lists: my first cycling video, posted on YouTube. The raw GoPro video quality is very high and the files are huge, so I spent some time learning how to process the clip into a format with reasonable values for both quality and file size. It looked great, but YouTube has taken to throttling quality to conserve bandwidth during this COVID-level use era. Here it is:

  • Remembering Professor Cochin

    I saw this bit of craziness today, small potatoes for a day full of crazy but there it was:

    Next thing I know I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of stupid… apparently this really is a thing, especially on TikTok — “if she was blind and deaf, how could she possibly learn to read and write?” It’s weird and a bit scary that people could be like this, but it’s also pretty laughable, especially since I had a blind and deaf professor in college.

    I just Googled him, Professor Ira Cochin, and saw that he’d died only recently — his obituary says he passed away at 91 in 2016, but he already seemed a million years old back in the ’80s when I had him. (I was young.) According to the internet, he was a leading authority on optics and gyroscopes,and eventually became a professor. Years later he went blind, then a few years after that he lost his hearing. (If I remember right, he lost one eye in an accident, then eventually lost sight in the other from diabetes. I forget what caused the deafness.) Each time, he stepped back and reconfigured — this included a stint at the Helen Keller School for the Blind and Deaf — then kept on going.

    He was not my favorite professor — he was irascible, and paranoid, and had a taste for annoyingly bad multilingual puns, but he also managed, better then most professors, to keep his classes engaged. He constantly solicited yes-or-no feedback by having us rap on our desks (which he felt in his shoes), he had invented a lot of devices to help the disabled handle various tasks, and he had assistants who communicated with him with a form of tactile sign language modified for blind people. Granted, he wasn’t disabled from birth like Helen Keller, but he was still pretty amazing. I still have his textbook on dynamics somewhere in the house.

    So here’s to “Dr. Ira,” because nothing stopped him in this world.

  • Looking Forward

    Morning weigh-in: 180#, 8.5% BF

    An official weigh-in!

    That’s not something I’ll be doing much going forward — I’ll weigh myself occasionally, but probably not be documenting it obsessively the way I used to. I put it here as a marker of where I am right now: back in November I was 172#, and I was pretty happy with that number, but that weight really was because of the gastrointestinal thing I was dealing with. I am back up to my “correct” current weight, which is way lower than it was a year or so ago, but I do want to see my weight — the real, “correct healthy weight” number — go down another 10 pounds. I guess that counts more as a wish than a resolution, but there it is…

    As for actual resolutions, I guess I’ll stick with my usual ones: bike more, exercise more, play the cello more. I also usually put in something about “use the computer less,” but this year I don’t think so, instead I’ll just resolve to spend a greater percentage of my computer time in more guilt-free, productive ways: learn some skills, do some mapping projects, that sort of thing. I what I really need is another hobby, like the mapping, that uses the computer.

    Speaking of being productive with the computer, I’ve been doing a lot of photo curating lately. Slowly but surely I’m getting them organized & categorized in my computer’s photo app. I’m now done through 2019, so I am now just about a year behind, which doesn’t really sound impressive but it’s a big improvement from the mess I used to have.

    The other part of my photo curation — where I upload my selected “best photos” to Flickr, and then give each one a title and description — that’s also moving forward. I now have uploaded photos through June 2019, though I’ve only got them annotated through April. Still, I am making progress. (By the way, I now have 9,925 photos on Flickr — I’m closing in on my 10,000th photo!)

    Meanwhile, back in meatspace… I’ve been doing morning calisthenics, with some weights and yoga added in. The biking is pretty dead right now, though I’ve been getting out with Anne almost every day, for short rides around the neighborhood. Part of the problem, at least for mountain biking, is that it’s cold (and wet), but not nearly cold enough: trails are muddy and mushy.

    There’s also this: the bikes could use a little love right now. The Santa Cruz needs a bushing for the rear shock, and maybe some new shifter cables, and will need new tires soon especially in the rear, while the road bike could just use a good solid overhaul after this summer’s long rides.

    A few more for the to-do lists…

  • That Was The Year That Was

    Whew! Happy New Year’s Eve, 2020!

    I haven’t had much to say here, and still feel I don’t, but I guess I can do a little news update:

    • I bought us a new stereo receiver, which came today. It wasn’t quite a Christmas present… We’ve been without a stereo for more than a year, and I was messing with our system a few months ago and realized that the problem was that the receiver had crapped out, everything else still seemed to work, all we needed was a new receiver. And that’s the way I left it, until a few days ago when I finally ordered the one I’d selected back then. Some fussing with speaker wires — this was the closest I came to bourgeois Christmas assembly, probably ever — but it all went together and we are rocking out right now.
    • I got a GoPro video camera for Christmas from my Uncle Pat. I took it out on the towpath yesterday (my last ride of the year), and got one or two good videos at the start of the ride, but I must have banged the mount somehow because the rest of my clips were of the handlebars. I guess it’ll be a process…
    • I have not been outside for too much activity lately, but we got snow a few weeks ago and I managed to get in a few days of XC skiing. Twice with Doug & Lori, and once with Scott & Kellyn, all over at the municipal golf course.
    • I’m still working my way through those SQL courses. I’m almost done with the second one. In the meantime, I felt bad that I couldn’t even run my material take-off and header calculation programs anymore, so I got the code from my old laptop and got busy porting it to this machine. The MTO program worked out just fine, but I need to switch the header calc one to use Postgres instead of MySQL, which shouldn’t be too crazy.

    Anne got a bamboo steamer from her sister, and she’s making shrimp dumplings right now. We’re planning for some pork ones (with homemade kimchi) tomorrow, and that’ll be our pork & sauerkraut for the coming year. Tonight we’ll do jello shots to ring in the new year, and hopefully get in a bike ride tomorrow. Happy New Year!

  • New Project

    I’m coming to a close on the Trail Amenities project — rather, I’m running out of things to do with it — and I’ve been feeling a bit tired of all things GIS lately, so I’ve been looking for a new project, something that will teach me some new software or skill.

    My first thought was to get a better grasp of R, especially R graphics, and to do that I’d work with CDC COVID data. Early in the pandemic I was doing a lot of downloading, analyzing and graphing of case and death data, in a sort of “play along at home” mode. In a way it helped me get an emotional handle on things, in analyzing it myself I felt I regained a bit of control over the situation. At the time I was using the LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet.

    Anyway, when things started getting bad again I returned to looking at the data, and I used it to explore R, but I found I didn’t have the motivation or focus, though I did manage to get more of a handle on graphics. Part of my loss of focus was that the data magic was gone — I had COVID fatigue — but part was also that I constantly bumped up against realizing that the data manipulation would have been easier for me in SQL.

    I switched from the COVID data back to working with my trail amenities data, which gave me a chance to practice accessing my database from R, but in the end I realized I’d rather play with PostgreSQL than R so I decided that my new project would be to really learn how to work with PostgreSQL.

    And that’s what I’m doing. I found a series of free online courses on databases and SQL, from Stanford via EdX, and I’m working my way through them — I’m currently on the second course. This should give me a good handle on using SQL; the other half of what I want is database administration, which so far I’ve just been able to pick up in pieces here and there.