Shallow Thoughts : : 08

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 08 Jan 2017

Snowy Winter Days, and an Elk Visit

[Snowy view of the Rio Grande from Overlook]

The snowy days here have been so pretty, the snow contrasting with the darkness of the piñons and junipers and the black basalt. The light fluffy crystals sparkle in a rainbow of colors when they catch the sunlight at the right angle, but I've been unable to catch that effect in a photo.

We've had some unusual holiday visitors, too, culminating in this morning's visit from a huge bull elk.

[bull elk in the yard] Dave came down to make coffee and saw the elk in the garden right next to the window. But by the time I saw him, he was farther out in the yard. And my DSLR batteries were dead, so I grabbed the point-and-shoot and got what I could through the window.

Fortunately for my photography the elk wasn't going anywhere in any hurry. He has an injured leg, and was limping badly. He slowly made his way down the hill and into the neighbors' yard. I hope he returns. Even with a limp that bad, an elk that size has no predators in White Rock, so as long as he stays off the nearby San Ildefonso reservation (where hunting is allowed) and manages to find enough food, he should be all right. I'm tempted to buy some hay to leave out for him.

[Sunset light on the Sangre de Cristos] Some of the sunsets have been pretty nice, too.

A few more photos.

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[ 19:48 Jan 08, 2017    More photo | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Using virtualenv to replace the broken pip install --user

Python's installation tool, pip, has some problems on Debian.

The obvious way to use pip is as root: sudo pip install packagename. If you hang out in Python groups at all, you'll quickly find that this is strongly frowned upon. It can lead to your pip-installed packages intermingling with the ones installed by Debian's apt-get, possibly causing problems during apt system updates.

The second most obvious way, as you'll see if you read pip's man page, is pip --user install packagename. This installs the package with only user permissions, not root, under a directory called ~/.local. Python automatically checks .local as part of its PYTHONPATH, and you can add ~/.local/bin to your PATH, so this makes everything transparent.

Or so I thought until recently, when I discovered that pip install --user ignores system-installed packages when it's calculating its dependencies, so you could end up with a bunch of incompatible versions of packages installed. Plus it takes forever to re-download and re-install dependencies you already had.

Pip has a clear page describing how pip --user is supposed to work, and that isn't what it's doing. So I filed pip bug 4222; but since pip has 687 open bugs filed against it, I'm not terrifically hopeful of that getting fixed any time soon. So I needed a workaround.

Use virtualenv instead of --user

Fortunately, it turned out that pip install works correctly in a virtualenv if you include the --system-site-packages option. I had thought virtualenvs were for testing, but quite a few people on #python said they used virtualenvs all the time, as part of their normal runtime environments. (Maybe due to pip's deficiencies?) I had heard people speak deprecatingly of --user in favor of virtualenvs but was never clear why; maybe this is why.

So, what I needed was to set up a virtualenv that I can keep around all the time and use by default every time I log in. I called it ~/.pythonenv when I created it:

virtualenv --system-site-packages $HOME/.pythonenv

Normally, the next thing you do after creating a virtualenv is to source a script called bin/activate inside the venv. That sets up your PATH, PYTHONPATH and a bunch of other variables so the venv will be used in all the right ways. But activate also changes your prompt, which I didn't want in my normal runtime environment. So I stuck this in my .zlogin file:

VIRTUAL_ENV_DISABLE_PROMPT=1 source $HOME/.pythonenv/bin/activate

Now I'll activate the venv once, when I log in (and once in every xterm window since I set XTerm*loginShell: true in my .Xdefaults. I see my normal prompt, I can use the normal Debian-installed Python packages, and I can install additional PyPI packages with pip install packagename (no --user, no sudo).

[ 11:37 Jan 08, 2017    More | permalink to this entry | comments ]