Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Tue, 05 Jul 2016
I'll be at Texas LinuxFest in Austin, Texas this weekend.
8 is the big day for open source imaging:
first a morning Photo Walk led by Pat David, from 9-11,
after which Pat, an active GIMP contributor and the driving force
behind the PIXLS.US website and discussion
forums, gives a talk on "Open Source Photography Tools".
Then after lunch I'll give a GIMP tutorial.
We may also have a Graphics Hackathon/Q&A session to discuss
all the open-source graphics tools in the last slot of the day, but
that part is still tentative. I'm hoping we can get some good
discussion especially among the people who go on the photo walk.
Lots of interesting looking talks on Saturday, too. I've never been
to Texas LinuxFest before: it's a short conference, just two days,
but they're packing a lot into those two days and but it looks like
it'll be a lot of fun.
[ 18:37 Jul 05, 2016
More conferences |
permalink to this entry |
Sun, 03 Jul 2016
A few unusual nature observations noticed over the last few weeks ...
First, on a trip to Washington DC a week ago (my first time there).
For me, the big highlight of the trip was my first view of fireflies
-- bright green ones, lighting once or twice then flying away,
congregating over every park, lawn or patch of damp grass.
But the unusual observation was around mid-day, on the lawn near the
A grackle caught my attention as it flashed by me -- a male common
grackle, I think (at least, it was glossy black, relatively small and
with only a moderately long tail).
It turned out it was chasing a sparrow, which was dodging and trying
to evade, but unsuccessfully. The grackle made contact, and the sparrow
faltered, started to flutter to the ground. But the sparrow recovered and
took off in another direction, the grackle still hot on its tail. The
grackle made contact again, and again the sparrow recovered and kept
flying. But the third hit was harder than the other two, and the
sparrow went down maybe fifteen or twenty feet away from me, with the
grackle on top of it.
The grackle mantled over its prey like a hawk and looked like it was
ready to begin eating. I still couldn't quite believe what I'd seen, so I
stepped out toward the spot, figuring I'd scare the grackle away and
I'd see if the sparrow was really dead. But the grackle had its eye on
me, and before I'd taken three steps, it picked up the sparrow in its
bill and flew off with it.
I never knew grackles were predatory, much less capable of killing
other birds on the wing and flying off with them. But a web search
on grackles killing birds got quite a few hits about grackles
killing and eating house sparrows, so apparently it's not uncommon.
Daytime swarm of nighthawks
Then, on a road trip to visit friends in Colorado, we had to drive
carefully past the eastern slope of San Antonio Mountain as a flock of
birds wheeled and dove across the road. From a distance it looked like
a flock of swallows, but as we got closer we realized they were far
larger. They turned out to be nighthawks -- at least fifty of them,
probably considerably more. I've heard of flocks of nighthawks
swarming around the bugs attracted to parking lot streetlights. And
I've seen a single nighthawk, or occasionally two, hawking in the
evenings from my window at home. But I've never seen a flock of
nighthawks during the day like this. An amazing sight as they swoop
past, just feet from the car's windshield.
Finally, the flying ants. The stuff of a bad science fiction movie!
Well, maybe if the ants were 100 times larger. For now, just an
interesting view of the natural world.
Just a few days ago,
Jennifer Macke wrote a
fascinating article in the PEEC Blog, "Ants Take Wing!" letting
everyone know that this is the time of year for ants to grow wings
and fly. (Jen also showed me some winged lawn ants in the PEEC ant
colony when I was there the day before the article came out.)
Both males and females grow wings; they mate in the air, and then
the newly impregnated females fly off, find a location, shed their
wings (leaving a wing scar you can see if you have a strong enough
magnifying glass) and become the queen of a new ant colony.
And yesterday morning, as Dave and I looked out the window, we saw
something swarming right below the garden. I grabbed a magnifying lens
and rushed out to take a look at the ones emerging from the ground,
and sure enough, they were ants. I saw only black ants. Our native
harvester ants -- which I know to be common in our yard, since I've
seen the telltale anthills surrounded by a large bare area where they
clear out all vegetation -- have sexes of different colors (at least
when they're flying): females are red, males are black. These flying
ants were about the size of harvester ants but all the ants I saw were
black. I retreated to the house and watched the flights with binoculars,
hoping to see mating, but all the flyers I saw seemed intent on dispersing.
Either these were not harvester ants, or the females come out at a
different time from the males. Alas, we had an appointment and had to
leave so I wasn't able to monitor them to check for red ants. But in a
few days I'll be watching for ants that have lost their wings ... and
if I find any, I'll try to identify queens.
[ 09:28 Jul 03, 2016
More nature |
permalink to this entry |
Sun, 26 Jun 2016
We had a little crisis Friday when our server suddenly stopped
accepting ssh connections.
The problem turned out to be denyhosts, a program that looks for
things like failed login attempts and blacklists IP addresses.
But why was our own IP blacklisted? It was apparently because I'd
been experimenting with a program called mailsync, which used to be
a useful program for synchronizing IMAP folders with local mail folders.
But at least on Debian, it has broken in a fairly serious way, so that
it makes three or four tries with the wrong password before it
actually uses the right one that you've configured in .mailsync.
These failed logins are a good way to get yourself blacklisted, and
there doesn't seem to be any way to fix mailsync or the c-client
library it uses under the covers.
Okay, so first, stop using mailsync. But then how to get our IP
off the server's blacklist? Just editing /etc/hosts.deny
didn't do it -- the IP reappeared there a few minutes later.
A web search found lots of solutions -- you have to edit a long
list of files, but no two articles had the same file list.
It appears that it's safest to remove the IP from every
file in /var/lib/denyhosts.
So here are the step by step instructions.
First, shut off the denyhosts service:
service denyhosts stop
Go to /var/lib/denyhosts/ and grep for any file that
includes your IP:
grep aa.bb.cc.dd *
(If you aren't sure what your IP is as far as the outside world
Googling what's my IP
will helpfully tell you, as well as giving you a list of other sites
that will also tell you.)
Then edit each of these files in turn, removing your IP from them
(it will probably be at the end of the file).
When you're done with that, you have one more file to edit:
remove your IP from the end of /etc/hosts.deny
You may also want to add your IP to /etc/hosts.allow,
but it may not make much difference, and if you're on a dynamic IP it
might be a bad idea since that IP will eventually
be used by someone else.
Finally, you're ready to re-start denyhosts:
service denyhosts start
Whew, un-blocked. And stay away from mailsync. I wish I knew of
a program that actually worked to keep IMAP and mbox mailboxes in sync.
[ 12:59 Jun 26, 2016
More linux |
permalink to this entry |
Sat, 18 Jun 2016
I haven't had a chance to do much astronomy since moving to New Mexico,
despite the stunning dark skies. For one thing, those stunning dark
skies are often covered with clouds -- New Mexico's dramatic skyscapes
can go from clear to windy to cloudy to hail or thunderstorms and back
to clear and hot over the course of a few hours. Gorgeous to watch,
but distracting for astronomy, and particularly bad if you want to
plan ahead and observe on a particular night. The Pajarito Astronomers'
monthly star parties are often clouded or rained out, as was the PEEC
Nature Center's moon-and-planets star party last week.
That sort of uncertainty means that the best bet is a so-called
"quick-look scope": one that sits by the door, ready to be hauled
out if the sky is clear and you have the urge.
Usually that means some kind of tiny refractor; but it can also
mean leaving a heavy mount permanently set up (with a cover to protect
it from those thunderstorms) so it's easy to carry out a telescope
tube and plunk it on the mount.
I have just that sort of scope sitting in our shed: an old, dusty Cave
Astrola 6" Newtonian on an equatorian mount.
My father got it for me on my 12th birthday.
Where he got the money for such a princely gift -- we didn't have
much in those days -- I never knew, but I cherished that telescope,
and for years spent most of my nights in the backyard peering through
the Los Angeles smog.
Eventually I hooked up with older astronomers (alas, my father had
passed away) and cadged rides to star parties out in the Mojave desert.
Fortunately for me, parenting standards back then allowed a lot
more freedom, and my mother was a good judge of character and let
me go. I wonder if there are any parents today who would let their
daughter go off to the desert with a bunch of strange men? Even back
then, she told me later, some of her friends ribbed her -- "Oh,
'astronomy'. Suuuuuure. They're probably all off doing drugs in the desert."
I'm so lucky that my mom trusted me (and her own sense of the guys
in the local astronomy club) more than her friends.
The Cave has followed me through quite a few moves, heavy, bulky and
old fashioned as it is; even when I had scopes
that were bigger, or more portable, I kept it for the sentimental value.
But I hadn't actually set it up in years. Last week, I assembled the
heavy mount and set it up on a clear spot in the yard. I dusted off
the scope, cleaned the primary mirror and collimated everything,
replaced the finder which had fallen out somewhere along the way,
set it up ... and waited for a break in the clouds.
I'm happy to say that the optics are still excellent.
As I write this (to be posted later),
I just came in from beautiful views of Hyginus Rille and the
Alpine Valley on the moon. On Jupiter the Great Red Spot was just
rotating out. Mars, a couple of weeks before opposition, is still
behind a cloud (yes, there are plenty of clouds). And now the clouds
have covered the moon and Jupiter as well. Meanwhile, while I wait for
a clear view of Mars, a bat makes frenetic passes overhead, and
something in the junipers next to my observing spot is making rhythmic
crunch, crunch, crunch sounds. A rabbit chewing something tough?
Or just something rustling in the bushes?
I just went out again,
and now the clouds have briefly uncovered Mars. It's the first good look
I've had at the Red Planet in years. (Tiny achromatic refractors really
don't do justice to tiny, bright objects.) Mars is the most difficult
planet to observe: Dave liks to talk about needing to get your "Mars
eyes" trained for each Mars opposition, since they only come every two
years. But even without my "Mars eyes", I had no trouble seeing the
North pole with dark Acidalia enveloping it, and, in the south, the
sinuous chain of Sini Sabaeus, Meridiani, Margaritifer, and Mare Erythraeum.
(I didn't identify any of these at the time; instead, I dusted off my
sketch pad and sketched what I saw, then compared it with XEphem's
Mars view afterward.)
I'm liking this new quick-look telescope -- not to mention the
childhood memories it brings back.
[ 08:53 Jun 18, 2016
More science/astro |
permalink to this entry |
Thu, 09 Jun 2016
I needed to merge some changes from a development file into the
file on the real website, and discovered that the program I most
often use for that, meld, is in one of its all too frequent periods
where its developers break it in ways that make it unusable for a few months.
(Some of this is related to GTK, which is a whole separate rant.)
That led me to explore some other diff/merge alternatives.
I've used tkdiff quite a bit for viewing diffs,
but when I tried to use it to merge one file into another
I found its merge just too hard to use. Likewise for emacs:
it's a wonderful editor but I never did figure out how to get ediff
to show diffs reliably, let alone merge from one file to another.
But vimdiff looked a lot easier and had a lot more documentation available,
and actually works pretty well.
I normally run vim in an xterm window, but for a diff/merge tool, I
want a very wide window which will show the diffs side by side.
So I used gvimdiff instead of regular vimdiff:
gvimdiff docs.dev/filename docs.production/filename
Configuring gvimdiff to see diffs
gvimdiff initially pops up a tiny little window, and it ignores Xdefaults.
Of course you can resize it, but who wants to do that every time?
You can control the initial size by setting the lines
and columns variables in .vimrc.
About 180 columns by 60 lines worked pretty well for my fonts
on my monitor, showing two 80-column files side by side.
But clearly I don't want to set that in .vimrc so that it
runs every time I run vim;
I only want that super-wide size when I'm running a side-by-side diff.
You can control that by checking the &diff variable in .vimrc:
If you do decide to resize the window, you'll notice that the separator
between the two files doesn't stay in the center: it gives you lots of
space for the right file and hardly any for the left.
Inside that same &diff clause, this somewhat arcane incantation
tells vim to keep the separator centered:
autocmd VimResized * exec "normal \<C-w>="
I also found that the colors, in the vim scheme I was using, made it
impossible to see highlighted text. You can go in and edit the color
scheme and make your own, of course, but an easy way quick fix is to set
all highlighting to one color, like yellow, inside the
highlight DiffAdd cterm=bold gui=none guibg=Yellow
highlight DiffDelete cterm=bold gui=none guibg=Yellow
highlight DiffChange cterm=bold gui=none guibg=Yellow
highlight DiffText cterm=bold gui=none guibg=Yellow
Okay, once you can view the differences between the two files,
how do you merge from one to the other? Most online sources are
quite vague on that, but it's actually fairly easy:
|]c ||jumps to the next difference
|[c ||jumps to the previous difference
|dp ||makes them both look like the left side
(apparently stands for diff put
|do ||makes them both look like the right side
(apparently stands for diff obtain
The only difficult part is that it's not really undoable.
u (the normal vim undo keystroke) works inconsistently after
dp: the focus is generally in the left window, so u applies
to that window, while dp modified the right window and the undo doesn't
apply there. If you put this in your .vimrc
nmap du :wincmd w<cr>:normal u<cr>:wincmd w<cr>
then you can use du
to undo changes in the right window,
still undoes in the left window. So you still have to
keep track of which direction your changes are going.
Worse, neither undo nor this du command restores the
highlighting showing there's a difference between the two files.
So, really, undoing should be reserved for emergencies; if you try
to rely on it much you'll end up being unsure what has and hasn't changed.
In the end, vimdiff probably works best for straightforward diffs,
and it's probably best get in the habit of always merging
from right to left, using do. In other words, run
vimdiff file-to-merge-to file-to-merge-from,
and think about each change before doing it to make it less
likely that you'll need to undo.
And hope that whatever silly transient bug in meld drove you to use
vimdiff gets fixed quickly.
[ 20:10 Jun 09, 2016
More linux/editors |
permalink to this entry |
Fri, 03 Jun 2016
I love this place. We just got back from this week's free Friday
concert at Ashley Pond. Not a great band this time (the previous two
were both excellent). But that's okay -- it's still fun to sit on the
grass on a summer evening and watch the swallows wheeling over the
pond and the old folks dancing up near the stage and the little kids and
dogs dashing pell-mell through the crowd, while Dave, dredging up
his rock-star past, explains why this band's sound is so muddy
(too many stacked effects pedals).
And then on the way out, I'm watching appreciatively as the teen group,
who were earlier walking a slack line strung between two trees,
has now switched to juggling clubs.
(I know old people are supposed to complain about "kids today", but
honestly, the kids here seem smart and fit and into all kinds of cool
activities.) One of the jugglers has just thrown three clubs and
a ball, and is mostly keeping them all in the air, when I hear a bleat
to my right -- it's a girl walking by with a goat on a leash.
Just another ordinary Friday evening in Los Alamos.
[ 20:45 Jun 03, 2016
More misc |
permalink to this entry |
Sat, 07 May 2016
I recently let Firefox upgrade itself to 46.0.1, and suddenly I
couldn't type anything any more. The emacs/readline editing bindings,
which I use probably thousands of times a day, no longer worked.
So every time I typed a Ctrl-H to delete the previous character,
or Ctrl-B to move back one character, a sidebar popped up.
When I typed Ctrl-W to delete the last word, it closed the tab.
Ctrl-U, to erase the contents of the urlbar, opened a new View Source
tab, while Ctrl-N, to go to the next line, opened a new window.
(I know that people who don't use these bindings are rolling their
eyes and wondering "What's the big deal?" But if you're a touch typist,
once you've gotten used to being able to edit text without moving your
hands from the home position, it's hard to imagine why everyone else
seems content with key bindings that require you to move your
hands and eyes way over to keys like Backspace or Home/End that aren't
even in the same position on every keyboard. I map CapsLock to Ctrl
for the same reason, since my hands are too small to hit the
PC-positioned Ctrl key without moving my whole hand. Ctrl
was to the left of the "A" key on nearly all computer keyboards
until IBM's 1986 "101 Enhanced Keyboard", and it made a lot more
sense than IBM's redesign since few people use Caps Lock very often.)
I found a bug filed on the broken bindings, and lots of people
commenting online, but it wasn't until I found out that Firefox 46 had
switched to GTK3 that I understood had actually happened. And adding
gtk3 to my web searches finally put me on the track to finding the
solution, after trying several other supposed fixes that weren't.
Here's what actually worked: edit
~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini and add, inside the
[Settings] section, this line:
gtk-key-theme-name = Emacs
I think that's all that was needed. But in case that doesn't do it,
here's something I had already tried, unsuccessfully,
and it's possible that you actually need it in addition to the
(I don't know how to undo magic Gnome settings so I can't test it):
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface gtk-key-theme "Emacs"
[ 18:11 May 07, 2016
More linux |
permalink to this entry |
Fri, 29 Apr 2016
I haven't posted in a while. Partly I was busy preparing for, enjoying,
then recovering from, a hiking trip to the Vermillion Cliffs,
on the Colorado River near the Arizona/Utah border.
We had no internet access there (no wi-fi at the hotel, and no data
on the cellphone). But we had some great hikes, and I saw my first
California Condors (they have a site where they release captive-bred
Photos (from the hikes, not the condors, which were too far away):
I've also been having fun welding more critters, including a
roadrunner, a puppy and a rattlesnake.
I'm learning how to weld small items,
like nail legs on spark plug dragonflies and scorpions, which tend
to melt at the MIG welder's lowest setting.
New Mexico's weather is being charmingly erratic (which is fairly usual):
we went for a hike exploring some unmapped cavate ruins, shivering in
the cold wind and occasionally getting lightly snowed upon. Then the
next day was a gloriously sunny hike out Deer Trap Mesa with clear
long-distance views of the mountains and mesas in all directions.
Today we had
-- someone recently introduced me to that term for what Dave
and I have been calling "snail" or "how" since it's a combination of
snow and hail, soft balls of hail like tiny snowballs. They turned the
back yard white for ten or fifteen minutes, but then the sun came out
for a bit and melted all the little snowballs.
But since it looks like much of today will be cloudy, it's a perfect
day to use up that leftover pork roast and fill the house with good
smells by making a batch of slow-cooker green chile posole.
[ 12:28 Apr 29, 2016
More travel |
permalink to this entry |