Shallow Thoughts

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

Thu, 30 Apr 2015

Stile style

On a hike a few weeks ago, we encountered an unusual, and amusing, stile across the trail.

[Normal stile] It isn't uncommon to see stiles along trails. There are lots of different designs, but their purpose is to allow humans, on foot, an easy way to cross a fence, while making it difficult for vehicles and livestock like cattle to pass through. A common design looks like this, with a break in the fence and "wings" so that anything small enough to make the sharp turn can pass through.

On a recent hike starting near Buckman, on the Rio Grande, we passed a few stiles with the "wings" design; but one of the stiles we came to had a rather less common design:

[Wrongly-built stile]

It was set up so that nothing could pass without climbing over the fence -- and one of the posts which was supposed to hold fence rails was just sitting by itself, with nothing attached to it. [Pathological stile]

I suspect someone gave a diagram to a welder, and the welder, not being an outdoor person and having no idea of the purpose of a stile, welded it up without giving it much thought. Not very functional ... and not very stilish, either!

I'm curious whether the error was in the spec, or in the welder's interpretation of it. But alas, I suspect I'll never learn the story behind the stile.

Giggling, we climbed over the fence and proceeded on our hike up to the very scenic Otowi Peak.

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[ 11:38 Apr 30, 2015    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 21 Apr 2015

Finding orphaned files on websites

I recently took over a website that's been neglected for quite a while. As well as some bad links, I noticed a lot of old files, files that didn't seem to be referenced by any of the site's pages. Orphaned files.

So I went searching for a link checker that also finds orphans. I figured that would be easy. It's something every web site maintainer needs, right? I've gotten by without one for my own website, but I know there are some bad links and orphans there and I've often wanted a way to find them.

An intensive search turned up only one possibility: linklint, which has a -orphan flag. Great! But, well, not really: after a few hours of fiddling with options, I couldn't find any way to make it actually find orphans. Either you run it on a http:// URL, and it says it's searching for orphans but didn't find any (because it ignors any local directory you specify); or you can run it just on a local directory, in which case it finds a gazillion orphans that aren't actually orphans, because they're referenced by files generated with PHP or other web technology. Plus it flags all the bad links in all those supposed orphans, which get in the way of finding the real bad links you need to worry about.

I tried asking on a couple of technical mailing lists and IRC channels. I found a few people who had managed to use linklint, but only by spidering an entire website to local files (thus getting rid of any server side dependencies like PHP, CGI or SSI) and then running linklint on the local directory. I'm sure I could do that one time, for one website. But if it's that much hassle, there's not much chance I'll keep using to to keep websites maintained.

What I needed was a program that could look at a website and local directory at the same time, and compare them, flagging any file that isn't referenced by anything on the website. That sounded like it would be such a simple thing to write.

So, of course, I had to try it. This is a tool that needs to exist -- and if for some bizarre reason it doesn't exist already, I was going to remedy that.

Naturally, I found out that it wasn't quite as easy to write as it sounded. Reconciling a URL like "http://mysite.com/foo/bar.html" or "../asdf.html" with the corresponding path on disk turned out to have a lot of twists and turns.

But in the end I prevailed. I ended up with a script called weborphans (on github). Give it both a local directory for the files making up your website, and the URL of that website, for instance:

$ weborphans /var/www/ http://localhost/

It's still a little raw, certainly not perfect. But it's good enough that I was able to find the 10 bad links and 606 orphaned files on this website I inherited.

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[ 14:55 Apr 21, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 16 Apr 2015

I Love Small Town Papers

I've always loved small-town newspapers. Now I have one as a local paper (though more often, I read the online Los Alamos Daily Post. The front page of the Los Alamos Monitor yesterday particularly caught my eye:

[Los Alamos Monitor front page]

I'm not sure how they decide when to include national news along with the local news; often there are no national stories, but yesterday I guess this story was important enough to make the cut. And judging by font sizes, it was considered more important than the high school debate team's bake sale, but of the same importance as the Youth Leadership group's day for kids to meet fire and police reps and do arts and crafts. (Why this is called "Wild Day" is not explained in the article.)

Meanwhile, here are a few images from a hike at Bandelier National Monument: first, a view of the Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins from above (click for a larger version):

[View of Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins from above]

[Petroglyphs on the rim of Alamo Canyon] Some petroglyphs on the wall of Alamo Canyon. We initially called them spirals but they're actually all concentric circles, plus one handprint.

[Unusually artistic cairn in Lummis Canyon] And finally, a cairn guarding the bottom of Lummis Canyon. All the cairns along this trail were fairly elaborate and artistic, but this one was definitely the winner.

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[ 14:01 Apr 16, 2015    More | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 06 Apr 2015

Quickly seeing bird sightings maps on eBird

The local bird community has gotten me using eBird. It's sort of social networking for birders -- you can report sightings, keep track of what birds you've seen where, and see what other people are seeing in your area.

The only problem is the user interface for that last part. The data is all there, but asking a question like "Where in this county have people seen broad-tailed hummingbirds so far this spring?" is a lengthy process, involving clicking through many screens and typing the county name (not even a zip code -- you have to type the name). If you want some region smaller than the county, good luck.

I found myself wanting that so often that I wrote an entry page for it.

My Bird Maps page is meant to be used as a smart bookmark (also known as bookmarklets or keyword bookmarks), so you can type birdmap hummingbird or birdmap golden eagle in your location bar as a quick way of searching for a species. It reads the bird you've typed in, and looks through a list of species, and if there's only one bird that matches, it takes you straight to the eBird map to show you where people have reported the bird so far this year.

If there's more than one match -- for instance, for birdmap hummingbird or birdmap sparrow -- it will show you a list of possible matches, and you can click on one to go to the map.

Like every Javascript project, it was both fun and annoying to write. Though the hardest part wasn't programming; it was getting a list of the nonstandard 4-letter bird codes eBird uses. I had to scrape one of their HTML pages for that. But it was worth it: I'm finding the page quite useful.

How to make a smart bookmark

I think all the major browsers offer smart bookmarks now, but I can only give details for Firefox. But here's a page about using them in Chrome.

Firefox has made it increasingly difficult with every release to make smart bookmarks. There are a few extensions, such as "Add Bookmark Here", which make it a little easier. But without any extensions installed, here's how you do it in Firefox 36:

[Firefox bookmarks dialog] First, go to the birdmap page (or whatever page you want to smart-bookmark) and click on the * button that makes a bookmark. Then click on the = next to the *, and in the menu, choose Show all bookmarks. In the dialog that comes up, find the bookmark you just made (maybe in Unsorted bookmarks?) and click on it.

Click the More button at the bottom of the dialog.
(Click on the image at right for a full-sized screenshot.)
[Firefox bookmarks dialog showing keyword]

Now you should see a Keyword entry under the Tags entry in the lower right of that dialog.

Change the Location to http://shallowsky.com/birdmap.html?bird=%s.

Then give it a Keyword of birdmap (or anything else you want to call it).

Close the dialog.

Now, you should be able to go to your location bar and type:
birdmap common raven or birdmap sparrow and it will take you to my birdmap page. If the bird name specifies just one bird, like common raven, you'll go straight from there to the eBird map. If there are lots of possible matches, as with sparrow, you'll stay on the birdmap page so you can choose which sparrow you want.

How to change the default location

If you're not in Los Alamos, you probably want a way to set your own coordinates. Fortunately, you can; but first you have to get those coordinates.

Here's the fastest way I've found to get coordinates for a region on eBird:

Then look at the URL: a part of it should look something like this: env.minX=-122.202087&env.minY=36.89291&env.maxX=-121.208778&env.maxY=37.484802 If the map isn't right where you want it, try editing the URL, hitting Enter for each change, and watch the map reload until it points where you want it to. Then copy the four parameters and add them to your smart bookmark, like this: http://shallowsky.com/birdmap.html?bird=%s&minX=-122.202087&minY=36.89291&maxX=-121.208778&maxY=37.484802

Note that all of the the "env." have been removed.

The only catch is that I got my list of 4-letter eBird codes from an eBird page for New Mexico. I haven't found any way of getting the list for the entire US. So if you want a bird that doesn't occur in New Mexico, my page might not find it. If you like birdmap but want to use it in a different state, contact me and tell me which state you need, and I'll add those birds.

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[ 14:30 Apr 06, 2015    More nature/birds | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 01 Apr 2015

One-antlered stags

[mule deer stag with one antler] This fellow stopped by one evening a few weeks ago. He'd lost one of his antlers (I'd love to find it in the yard, but no luck so far). He wasn't hungry; just wandering, maybe looking for a place to bed down. He didn't seem to mind posing for the camera.

Eventually he wandered down the hill a bit, and a friend joined him. I guess losing one antler at a time isn't all that uncommon for mule deer, though it was the first time I'd seen it. I wonder if their heads feel unbalanced.
[two mule deer stags with one antler each]

Meanwhile, spring has really sprung -- I put a hummingbird feeder out yesterday, and today we got our first customer, a male broad-tailed hummer who seemed quite happy with the fare here. I hope he stays around!

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[ 19:25 Apr 01, 2015    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 27 Mar 2015

Hide Google's begging (or any other web content) via a Firefox userContent trick

Lately, Google is wasting space at the top of every search with a begging plea to be my default search engine.

[Google begging: Switch your default search engine to Google] Google already is my default search engine -- that's how I got to that page. But if you don't have persistent Google cookies set, you have to see this begging every time you do a search. (Why they think pestering users is the way to get people to switch to them is beyond me.)

Fortunately, in Firefox you can hide the begging with a userContent trick. Find the chrome directory inside your Firefox profile, and edit userContent.css in that directory. (Create a new file with that name if you don't already have one.) Then add this:

#taw { display: none !important; }

Restart Firefox, do a Google search and the begs should be gone.

In case you have any similar pages where there's pointless content getting in the way and you want to hide it: what I did was to right-click inside the begging box and choose Inspect element. That brings up Firefox's DOM inspector. Mouse over various lines in the inspector and watch what gets highlighted in the browser window. Find the element that highlights everything you want to remove -- in this case, it's a div with id="taw". Then you can write CSS to address that: hide it, change its style or whatever you're trying to do.

You can even use Inspect element to remove elements immediately. That won't help you prevent them from showing up later, but it can be wonderful if you need to use a page that has an annoying blinking ad on it, or a mis-designed page that has images covering the content you're trying to read.

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[ 08:17 Mar 27, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 19 Mar 2015

Hints on migrating Google Code to GitHub

Google Code is shutting down. They've sent out notices to all project owners suggesting they migrate projects to other hosting services.

I moved all my personal projects to GitHub years ago, back when Google Code still didn't support git. But I'm co-owner on another project that was still hosted there, and I volunteered to migrate it. I remembered that being very easy back when I moved my personal projects: GitHub had a one-click option to import from Google Code. I assumed (I'm sure you know what that stands for) that it would be just as easy now.

Nope. Turns out GitHub no longer has any way to import from Google Code: it tells you it can't find a repository there when you give it the address to Google's SVN repository.

Google's announcement said they were providing an exporter to GitHub. So I tried that next. I had the new repository ready on GitHub -- under the owner's account, not mine -- and I expected Google's exporter to ask me for the repository.

Not so. As soon as I gave it my OAuth credentials, it immediately created a new repository on GitHub under my name, using the name we had used on Google Code (not the right name, since Google Code project names have to be globally unique while GitHub projects don't).

So I had to wait for the export to finish; then, on GitHub, I went to our real repository, and did an import there from the new repository Google had created under my name. I have no idea how long that took: GitHub's importer said it would email me when the import was finished, but it didn't, so I waited several hours and decided it was probably finished. Then I deleted the intermediate repository.

That worked fine, despite being a bit circuitous, and we're up and running on GitHub now.

If you want to move your Google Code repository to GitHub without the intermediate step of making a temporary repository, or if you don't want to give Google OAuth access to your GitHub account, here are some instructions (which I haven't tested) on how to do the import via a local copy of the repo on your own machine, rather than going directly from Google to GitHub: krishnanand's steps for migrating Google code to GitHub

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[ 13:11 Mar 19, 2015    More programming | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 14 Mar 2015

Making a customized Firefox search plug-in

It's getting so that I dread Firefox's roughly weekly "There's a new version -- do you want to upgrade?" With every new upgrade, another new crucial feature I use every day disappears and I have to spend hours looking for a workaround.

Last week, upgrading to Firefox 36.0.1, it was keyword search: the feature where, if I type something in the location bar that isn't a URL, Firefox would instead search using the search URL specified in the "keyword.URL" preference.

In my case, I use Google but I try to turn off the autocomplete feature, which I find it distracting and unhelpful when typing new search terms. (I say "try to" because complete=0 only works sporadically.) I also add the prefix allintext: to tell Google that I only want to see pages that contain my search term. (Why that isn't the default is anybody's guess.) So I set keyword.URL to: http://www.google.com/search?complete=0&q=allintext%3A+ (%3A is URL code for the colon character).

But after "up"grading to 36.0.1, search terms I typed in the location bar took me to Yahoo search. I guess Yahoo is paying Mozilla more than Google is now.

Now, Firefox has a Search tab under Edit->Preferences -- but that just gives you a list of standard search engines' default searches. It would let me use Google, but not with my preferred options.

If you follow the long discussions in bugzilla, there are a lot of people patting each other on the back about how much easier the preferences window is, with no discussion of how to specify custom searches except vague references to "search plugins". So how do these search plugins work, and how do you make one?

Fortunately a friend had a plugin installed, acquired from who knows where. It turns out that what you need is an XML file inside a directory called searchplugins in your profile directory. (If you're not sure where your profile lives, see Profiles - Where Firefox stores your bookmarks, passwords and other user data, or do a systemwide search for "prefs.js" or "search.json" or "cookies.sqlite" and it should lead you to your profile.)

Once you have one plugin installed, it's easy to edit it and modify it to do anything you want. The XML file looks roughly like this:

<SearchPlugin xmlns="http://www.mozilla.org/2006/browser/search/" xmlns:os="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/">
<os:ShortName>MySearchPlugin</os:ShortName>
<os:Description>The search engine I prefer to use</os:Description>
<os:InputEncoding>UTF-8</os:InputEncoding>
<os:Image width="16" height="16">data:image/x-icon;base64,ICON GOES HERE</os:Image>
<SearchForm>http://www.google.com/</SearchForm>
<os:Url type="text/html" method="GET" template="https://www.google.com/search">
  <os:Param name="complete" value="0"/>
  <os:Param name="q" value="allintext: {searchTerms}"/>
  <!--os:Param name="hl" value="en"/-->
</os:Url>
</SearchPlugin>

There are four things you'll want to modify. First, and most important, os:Url and os:Param control the base URL of the search engine and the list of parameters it takes. {searchTerms} in one of those Param arguments will be replaced by whatever terms you're searching for. So <os:Param name="q" value="allintext: {searchTerms}"/> gives me that allintext: parameter I wanted.

(The other parameter I'm specifying, <os:Param name="complete" value="0"/>, used to make Google stop the irritating autocomplete every time you try to modify your search terms. Unfortunately, this has somehow stopped working at exactly the same time that I upgraded Firefox. I don't see how Firefox could be causing it, but the timing is suspicious. I haven't been able to figure out another way of getting rid of the autocomplete.)

Next, you'll want to give your plugin a ShortName and Description so you'll be able to recognize it and choose it in the preferences window.

Finally, you may want to modify the icon: I'll tell you how to do that in a moment.

Using your new search plugin

[Firefox search prefs]

You've made all your modifications and saved the file to something inside the searchplugins folder in your Firefox profile. How do you make it your default?

I restarted firefox to make sure it saw the new plugin, though that may not have been necessary. Then Edit->Preferences and click on the Search icon at the top. The menu near the top under Default search engine is what you want: your new plugin should show up there.

Modifying the icon

Finally, what about that icon?

In the plugin XML file I was copying, the icon line looked like:

<os:Image width="16"
height="16">data:image/x-icon;base64,AAABAAEAEBAAAAEAIABoBAAAFgAAACgAAAAQAAAAIAAAAAEAIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
... many more lines like this then ... ==</os:Image>
So how do I take that and make an image I can customize in GIMP?

I tried copying everything after "base64," and pasting it into a file, then opening it in GIMP. No luck. I tried base64 decoding it (you do this with base64 -d filename >outfilename) and reading it in with GIMP. Still no luck: "Unknown file type".

The method I found is roundabout, but works:

  1. Copy everything inside the tag: data:image/x-icon;base64,AA ... ==
  2. Paste that into Firefox's location bar and hit return. You'll see the icon from the search plugin you're modifying.
  3. Right-click on the image and choose Save image as...
  4. Save it to a file with the extension .ico -- GIMP won't open it without that extension.
  5. Open it in GIMP -- a 16x16 image -- and edit to your heart's content.
  6. File->Export as...
  7. Use the type "Microsoft Windows icon (*.ico)"
  8. Base64 encode the file you just saved, like this: base64 yourfile.ico >newfile
  9. Copy the contents of newfile and paste that into your os:Image line, replacing everything after data:image/x-icon;base64, and before </os:Image>

Whew! Lots of steps, but none of them are difficult. (Though if you're not on Linux and don't have the base64 command, you'll have to find some other way of encoding and decoding base64.)

But if you don't want to go through all the steps, you can download mine, with its lame yellow smiley icon, as a starting point: Google-clean plug-in.

Happy searching! See you when Firefox 36.0.2 comes out and they break some other important feature.

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[ 12:35 Mar 14, 2015    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]