• Almost-Weekend Update

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 187.5#, 13% BF

    Just thought I’d check in, and brag (I was pushing 200# in March)…

    The Sporting Life: The bike training continues apace, by the way. I’ve seen some definite improvement, in strength mostly. Endurance, not so much, but it should be coming. I have started riding Lehigh and Sals again, and I even broke out the singlespeed last night for Jacobsburg. What I really need is long road rides, sigh.

    Meantime, Anne and I also signed up for the Hersey Half Marathon in October. Her sister, and a bunch of her nieces and nephews are doing it too. I should — hopefully — be ready in time.

    Reading: I just finished The Mathematician’s Shiva, by Stuart Rojstaczer. Very good book, an awesome, well-written and well-structured read, with a great story — by turns funny and heartbreaking — with a lot of interesting math and science tidbits thrown in. It’s the story told by a professor of his mother, a towering figure in the world of mathematics who passes away, and the chaos that descends on their family when all her former students, acolytes, and adversaries come to pay their respects. There are also many jumps back to her early life, her work in mathematics, family history and dynamics, and academic and international politics. Just a really good book.

    RIP Joe Martin: I had a funeral of my own to go to recently. My cousin Joseph Martin passed away a few weeks ago. He’d been suffering for many years with Huntington’s Disease, and had been institutionalized and bedridden for probably the last fifteen, and now his struggle is over.  So sad, he was one of my older cousins, just two years older than me, and was the one I studied, as a pre-teen and teenager, for what “cool” was supposed to look like for me in a year or two.

    The wake and funeral were both in his home town on Long Island, and many of his old friends and hockey teammates came, as well as a large portion of the Long Island side of my Dad’s extended family. The funeral home was just up the block from where Joe grew up — the last time I was there was 2002, for his mother’s funeral, and he was buried in the nearby cemetery with his mother. My cousin Wayne came up from Florida; he brought the ashes of his parents, and after Joe’s service we had a small ceremony at the cemetery, where they will be buried with their daughter, my cousin Suzanne who died at 19 in 1967. (We stood around and marveled at the massive trees that weren’t even there when she was buried.) A sad day, but one with a bit of closure, and it was good to see so many of my relatives, and hear so many stories…

    GRAMPS, QGIS, Postgres: All that family talk, and all the photo albums that were bandied about, got me thinking about geneaology again, so I got that GRAMPS program up and running, and started updating what I had in there. I have about 250 people listed, but for many of them I don’t have much information other than where they fit in the family tree. Birth dates, death dates, where they lived or worked or got married, even for relatively close relatives I’m missing information. Working on it, along with everything else I’m fussing with.

    It’ll be a whole other post, but I’ve also been playing with Geographic Information Systems using GRASS and QGIS (mostly QGIS), and that led me to start messing around with databases. I’d already installed and played with MySQL for a while, but even if it’s everywhere MySQL is not all that advanced (especially for GIS), and so I also got PostgrSQL/PostGIS up and running.  I played with those for a bit, but sort of ran out of interest. Until…

    I started thinking again about one of my pet peeves (lack of information about old family photos), and since I was hyped up about metadata after reading a book about it, I thought I should be able to do something to capture or store that information, especially electronically, when or if they got scanned. (I’m talking about who took the picture, when/where it was taken, who are the people in the photo, stuff like that.) Anyway, there are all sorts of methods, including embedded metadata in the image files (like EXIF data for digital photos, only these are XML-based and show different info); even GRAMPS could be used with a little work, but I finally decided on a Postgres database using LibreOffice Base to be the front end. I have been on a steep learning curve — mostly LibreOffice, and mostly YouTube tutorials with droning voice-overs, so I do it when Anne’s not around — ever since.


  • Wrong On Many Levels

    I was driven indoors with all the recent snow and cold weather, and set up my road bike on the trainer in the basement. I hadn’t done all that much so far, but the other night I decided — dammit! — to finally get in a workout, and to make it more palatable I’d listen to a RadioLab podcast.

    Big mistake. I should clarify that it wasn’t a terrible failure in terms of riding the trainer, since it did make the time go faster, but I was forced to a realization I’d been moving towards for a while: I just don’t like RadioLab all that much. Back in the day, it seemed to have a good premise, and the shows seemed interesting and scienc-ey, but there was always something that seemed off, some side comment that they liked good stories better than the truth (what science buff would say that?), and their production habit of letting a guest speak a few words before fading out and having the hosts radiolabsplain, and their slow drift from science-related stories to whatever it is they’re now pushing.

    The podcast I listened to was about a woman hired in the 1960’s to teach dolphins to speak English — she actually lived in a half-submerged apartment, with an adolescent male as her subject and roommate. The institute doing the research was led by  a former physicist, who had once heard what he thought were human-like sounds coming from captive dolphins, and who was also an enthusiastic consumer of LSD for “research purposes” — one of those guys, in an era full of them…

    Pure hubris and ineptitude. Dolphins can hear and make many sounds, but they are not physically equipped to make the sounds required for human speech (a fact that these guys bumped up against, apparently without noticing), and no matter what their intelligence, their psychology is not human psychology, and “if a lion could talk we wouldn’t understand it,” as the saying goes — a meaningful conversation with a dolphin might not even be possible, in English.

    It was fairly obvious that these people were not really trained in animal research, and eventually there were ethical lapses: the woman managed to keep her boss from giving the dolphin LSD, but she herself had a “sexual relationship” with it. (Bad enough, but if they really thought that the dolphin was a sentient being like a human, then their test subject was a prisoner and their experiments were psychological torture, and the whole thing was an ethical failure.) I wasn’t surprised to hear that the funding dried up…

    Mind you, this whole story was told from a point of view very sympathetic to the researchers. I got off the bike thinking “WTF did I just listen to?”


  • Cairo and Lua and Conky, Oh My!

    Screenshot at 2016-02-14 18:59:19I’ve been playing a lot with the “eye candy” aspect of my computer setup lately. Not sure why, but I really got into the Compiz “window cube” decorations — I now have a whole bunch of medieval alchemy images hiding behind my ordinary screen (a close-up of the Crab Nebula), revealed when I spin the cube.

     

    I also decided to put a bunch of screenlets, or desklets, or desk accessories, or whatever they’re calling them these days. I found the screenlets program and I really wasn’t all that impressed, but it led me to the program called Conky, which does pretty much the same thing, only much more impressively. The only problem is that Conky has an unwieldy, text based configuration, which in turn can call the Lua programming language to do fancy effects, and Lua in turn uses the Cairo graphics library. I had no idea any of these things existed…

     

    Screenshot at 2016-02-14 18:58:37So I spent some time learning something about these new languages, and now, besides the floating clock screenlet in the upper right, and a few screenlets for RSS feeds floating here and there, on the right side I have a simple conky reporting my laptop’s hardware stats. I don’t know if I need more than that, but may play with it some more just as a learning experience, and to candy-coat my screen some more.


  • And It Came Down, It Came Down Like…

    It’s coming down like it did 20 years ago, almost to the day — “it” being the snow, and it’s been dumping here since last night around 9:00. I just came in from a second shoveling of our sidewalk and porch, and I’d guess that we already got 24″, though it’s also very windy too, and straight snow depth is hard to tell because of all the drifts. I haven’t even tried digging the cars out yet.

    (The papers have all been talking about the “Blizzard of ’96”  lately, and contrasting it with this winter, which has been snow free and relatively warm up until today. Well, we got our party…)

    Today has mostly been sitting here, playing Internet radio and playing with the computer, and occasionally shoveling. We may try snowshoeing tonight, or cross-country skiing later (or tomorrow), though the snow seems like the wrong consistency. We shall see — tomorrow is pretty much going to be “Winter Wonderland” time; going out right now seems too much like work.


  • A New Year, A New Blog

    Just kicking back on a Sunday afternoon, playing with the computer and brewing beer…

    As you may know from my post at the old place, some changes are in the air for this new year — and for the record, I did give my notice at work, on my first day back from Christmas break, negotiating a deal where I would be laid off at the end of February (thus getting severance pay, which is not insignificant) — but there have been a few other changes I made over the winter break:

    Computer Upgrade: The operating system on my laptop was Ubuntu 10.04, which was so old it was completely unsupported. This was basically because I didn’t like the newer Ubuntu window/desktop setup, so I procrastinated and procrastinated, until the software on my machine was obsolete, and my only upgrade option was a complete re-installation of a more modern system, which would mean all sorts of headaches. But the time finally came, headache or no, and I started getting ready to make the move.

    The one good thing about a complete re-installation was that I no longer constrained (by simplified upgrade convenience) to stay with Ubuntu. There are all sorts of Linux distributions out there, including one based on Ubuntu called Linux Mint, which purports to keep the user interface more like the older ones, even while using the new underlying architecture. Long story short, I installed the latest Mint system.

    I’ll fill out the longer story later in other posts, but so far I’m pretty happy with the new system, even though there have been a lot of growing pains and I’m still having my frustrations.

    Biking Goals (An “Uh-Oh Moment”): My friend Renee did the Shenandoah 100 last year, and had a blast doing it. She knew that I’d done similar things in the past, so prior to her race she asked me for advice, tips etc, and then came back after the race aglow with war stories, and said “we should totally do the Wilderness 101 together next year.” All this enthusiasm already had me going “hmmmmm…” and Anne was also like “you should do it,” so I am going to race the Wilderness 101 this summer.

    The decision to do this was made a few months ago, but the training regimen I put in place only began in earnest at the start of the year. Given the fact that I DNF’ed the last time I raced the W101 (in 2009), and my strength/fitness/endurance/etc has only gone down since then, I have a lot of work to do, even though my only real goal is to finish. I just finished two weeks of easy rides on the Lehigh Towpath, and I already feel both exhausted and like I am falling behind. Welcome back to the rat race, Mr. Kelly…