• 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.

  • More Infrastructure

    I did a Sals ride with Renee last week, and had a really tough time: I felt almost incompetent, screwing up all sorts of easy things and just not feeling strong or competent. I noticed that my feet would not stay clipped to the pedals, and also that the brakes were almost bottoming out, and since I knew that bad riding would never be my fault or issue, I focused on those as the sources of my problems.

    The brakes were easy: I picked up new pads and replaced the worn ones. Brake replacement used to be the most tricky part of bicycle maintenance, but each new generation of braking technology has made a quantum leap in ease of use (even as the brakes themselves became more complicated), to the point where my biggest problem was not over-thinking the job. Pull out the old pads, slap in the new ones, done — they even do their own adjusting afterward.

    My pedals/cleats were a different matter. I noticed that they (the cleats) were in fact worn, and even kind of broken, and I had spare cleats ready to go, but I could not get the old ones off my shoes: corrosion had welded the bolts in place, and I was practically stripping my Allen wrenches trying to loosen them. In the end I had to get new shoes — the originals were old, had multiple other issues, and they owed me nothing; this was really just the final straw. I got a new pair of Bontrager shoes and installed the cleats.

    Yesterday morning I did a towpath ride, just a test run for my new stuff. Everything checked out fine, and I even did a little bit of playing around with the heart rate monitor, riding in various zones and trying to find my maximum heart rate. This meant that I was pushing pretty hard at some points, and I managed to finish the ride much quicker than usual. Bonus!

    I hopped in the shower afterward, and just for laughs I stepped on the scale. This wasn’t my usual “official morning weigh-in” protocol by any means, it was a warm ride and I was probably dehydrated, but I got on the scale anyway and it read 180.0 pounds. I hadn’t seen that number in a while! I spent the rest of the day chugging water, and my weight was back up at 184 pounds this morning. Oh well…

  • Grit And Flow

    So I’ve had my new Garmin Edge 830 fro a week or two now, and my verdict is: meh, it’s better than the 810 but it’s not magic. The map it comes with is OK, but I plan to put an OSM map on instead — I think I can do this, but I’m not going to try for a while — and there are a bunch of other features I haven’t explored yet, which don’t do much for me (yet), such as connectivity to Strava, map connectivity to TrailForks, and some new MTB measurements: Grit, Flow, and Jump.

    “Jump” seems pretty straightforward, it measures something about how much or how well you jump on the bike, but “grit” and “flow” remain a mystery to me, even after reading their explanations. “Grit” apparently is a sort of trail difficulty score, based on turns and elevation changes, while “flow” senses the rider’s performance as a function of maintaining momentum. Maybe they’re useful, but they sure don’t seem to tell the whole story — where does rockiness, or trail roughness generally, come into the equation? We’re talking Pennsyltucky riding here, after all…

    Anyway, for now the unit shows me where I am and where I’m going, and I can explore what I think of the other, new features over time.

  • Interim Report

    I have the first part of my new Python project (reading and analyzing data from my Garmin): it can now extract (or calculate) distance, time, moving time, maximum speed, average speed, average moving speed, maximum and average heart rates, time in each heart rate zone, and calories for the overall ride and each lap, as well as a linestring of the path taken, and starting points for each lap. For now I only store some of these in my database, but I may add them later — that’s a database task. Here is the output for a ride where I hit the “lap” button a lot:

    Processing /home/don/Desktop/temp_stuff/zippy_towpath.fit
    Overall Ride Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 18:32:22
    Distance: 25.48 mi
    Elapsed Time: 2:01:10   Average Speed: 12.62 mph
    Moving Time: 2:01:08   Moving Average Speed 12.62 mph
    Maximum Speed: 28.62 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 143    Max Heart Rate: 160
    Calories: 977
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:02:29', '0:53:39', '1:02:17', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 975
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 1429
    Lap 1 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 18:32:22
    Distance: 2.55 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:10:14   Average Speed: 14.96 mph
    Moving Time: 0:10:13   Moving Average Speed 14.98 mph
    Maximum Speed: 28.62 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 121    Max Heart Rate: 149
    Calories: 78
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:02:29', '0:03:09', '0:01:49', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 82
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 120
    Lap 2 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 18:42:36
    Distance: 3.55 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:14:22   Average Speed: 14.84 mph
    Moving Time: 0:14:22   Moving Average Speed 14.84 mph
    Maximum Speed: 18.94 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 156    Max Heart Rate: 160
    Calories: 160
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:14:22', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 116
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 169
    Lap 3 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 18:56:58
    Distance: 0.40 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:01:51   Average Speed: 13.05 mph
    Moving Time: 0:01:51   Moving Average Speed 13.01 mph
    Maximum Speed: 15.24 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 149    Max Heart Rate: 156
    Calories: 19
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:01:51', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 15
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 22
    Lap 4 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 18:58:49
    Distance: 3.89 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:17:07   Average Speed: 13.65 mph
    Moving Time: 0:17:07   Moving Average Speed 13.64 mph
    Maximum Speed: 18.08 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 145    Max Heart Rate: 153
    Calories: 172
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:03:21', '0:13:46', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 138
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 202
    Lap 5 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 19:15:56
    Distance: 2.33 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:10:21   Average Speed: 13.50 mph
    Moving Time: 0:10:21   Moving Average Speed 13.52 mph
    Maximum Speed: 18.29 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 139    Max Heart Rate: 147
    Calories: 83
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:08:44', '0:01:37', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 83
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 122
    Lap 6 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 19:26:17
    Distance: 5.73 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:28:15   Average Speed: 12.17 mph
    Moving Time: 0:28:16   Moving Average Speed 12.16 mph
    Maximum Speed: 22.55 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 142    Max Heart Rate: 152
    Calories: 196
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:19:47', '0:08:29', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 227
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 333
    Lap 7 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 19:54:33
    Distance: 6.32 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:32:54   Average Speed: 11.53 mph
    Moving Time: 0:32:55   Moving Average Speed 11.52 mph
    Maximum Speed: 14.50 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 143    Max Heart Rate: 150
    Calories: 230
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:16:08', '0:16:47', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 265
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 388
    Lap 8 Stats:
    Start Time: 2019-03-15 20:27:28
    Distance: 0.70 mi
    Elapsed Time: 0:06:05   Average Speed: 6.94 mph
    Moving Time: 0:06:03   Moving Average Speed 6.99 mph
    Maximum Speed: 12.39 mph
    Avg Heart Rate: 146    Max Heart Rate: 158
    Calories: 39
    Time in zones: ['0:00:00', '0:00:00', '0:02:30', '0:03:36', '0:00:00']
    Estimated MET calories (dirt road): 49
    Estimated MET calories (generic MTB): 71

    There’s a little room for improvement — rounding errors cause a few problems with moving vs total times in some laps, for instance — but this is what I’m looking for. My next question is: do I want this to be a standalone program, with its own GUI and everything, or do I want to build a web interface?

  • Fun With Maps

    A friend sent me a video how-to to build a 3d map the other day, and while I thought it was really cool I didn’t want to use the software in the video. I have some pretty good stuff already, I thought, and tried to find a way to do it with either GRASS or QGIS. GRASS was a bit of a bust: I really hate the interface they use for 3d, and couldn’t find much on how to drape one layer over another — it used to be easy!

    QGIS wasn’t much better, but then I am a few versions behind. There is a plugin, however, which enabled me to make a 3D map website. So here’s mine:

    Old School Bethlehem in 3D

    I used the USGS topographic map from 1894, and “draped” it over the DEM I made for the Lehigh Valley cycle routing project (which DEM unfortunately has height in feet rather than meters, so the hill heights scale a bit big). The view in the picture is of Bethlehem and environs, with South Mountain and Lehigh Mountain on the left, and the Camel Hump, back when it was still Quaker Hill, in the upper right. Click the image and it’ll take you to the map website.

    I noticed, when playing with that topo map, that for things like roads it doesn’t align everywhere with current maps. The map was provided with a CRS by USGS, but I suspect it was guesswork: there is no projection or datum information on the map itself. (The corners do line up exactly.) This may be because of surveying inaccuracies, back then or even for modern maps — I’m mostly using OpenStreetMap, after all — or it could be that the roads themselves were moved or straightened over the years, or they guessed wrong with the CSR. I thought it interesting then, that on the 3D map the hills and contour lines line up as well as they do: the surveyors knew where the hills were, at the very least.

  • 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.