Shallow Thoughts : : writing

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

Thu, 21 Nov 2013

Dinosaur Doggerel

I woke up thinking about dinosaurs.

Specifically, Pachycephalosaurus, the bone-headed dinosaur, and her long-crested cousin Parasaurolophus (pictured at right).

The previous night, I had been reading The Know-It-All, A. J. Jacob's entertaining account of his adventures reading the whole Encyclopedia Britannica. I'd left off in the Ps, which included a very short entry on Pachycephalosaurus (A.J. is not particularly into dinosaurs).

Drifting along in a typical insomniac "I wish I could get back to sleep" haze, I couldn't help noticing that Parasaurolophus was six syllables -- in fact, it was a double dactyl.

And that meant it was a prime candidate for my favorite verse form, double-dactylic doggerel, a form with fairly strict rules which require, among other things, that the second line be a double-dactylic proper name. And as double-dactylic junkies know, once you've noticed a double-dactylic name, you can't rest until it's turned into a poem.

So now I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about Parasaurolophus. Now, even aside from its mellifluous name, Parasaurolophus and the whole Hadrosaur family are pretty interesting. The biggest puzzle is why they had those elaborate bony crests. Decoration for mating purposes? Fighting, like horns and antlers on modern hoofed mammals? But in the late 1990s, CT scans of hadrosaur fossils revealed long air passages inside the crests of many Hadrosaurs, including Parasaurolophus ... and those air passages were connected to the nasal passages. That led to suggestions that the crests might have been tuned for sound production -- a built-in wind instrument.

[computer model of Parasaurolophus crest] In Scientists Use Digital Paleontology to Produce Voice of Parasaurolophus Dinosaur a team at Sandia made computer models of the air passages, and you can even listen to sound files of what Parasaurolophus might have sounded like. The sound is wonderful, like a trombone. Sandia's pages use a, <embed> tag that didn't work for me in Firefox, so if you have trouble with their links, I've separated out the wav file URLs: songLQ.wav (588k) and a higher quality version, song2.wav (2.7M).

Anyway, I never did get back to sleep, but I did end up with some insomniacal doggerel:

Dinosaur, schminosaur
Parasaurolophus
How do you use that
Magnificent crest?
"I play trombone in the
Dinosaur orchestra
All hadrosaurs play, but
I am the best."

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[ 15:49 Nov 21, 2013    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 13 Jan 2011

Article: Arch Linux

My latest article on Linux Planet is a review of Arch Linux.

I've been quite favorably impressed with Arch. It's a good, solid, straightforward distro that's very well suited to folks who like to administer their systems via the command-line -- or who want to learn how to do that.

I've been running it on my laptop for a few months, because it has excellent performance, without a lot of the bloatware you see in a lot of other distros, and it boots fast.

The only real problem I've had involves fonts. I see nasty font artifacts -- sometimes subtle, a line or a few pixels missing from certain letters -- but sometimes severe, as in this screenshot or this one. In the article I talk about some solutions I've found that make the problems less bad, but I haven't found any way to make them go away entirely.

Unfortunately, since the font problems are worst inside browsers and I use my laptop for presentations at conferences, this may eventually drive me off Arch. I hope not -- I hope I can find a solution -- because otherwise, Arch has been nothing short of a pleasure.

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[ 19:36 Jan 13, 2011    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 15 Oct 2010

Snakes on a Couch! Using Python with CouchDB

Part II of my CouchDB tutorial is out at Linux Planet. In it, I use Python and CouchDB to write a simple application that keeps track of which restaurants you've been to recently, and to suggest new places to eat where you haven't been.

Snakes on a Couch, Part 2: Where do you want to eat?

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[ 20:00 Oct 15, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 23 Sep 2010

Snakes on a Couch! Using Python with CouchDB

I've been learning CouchDB, the hot NoSQL database, as part of my new job. It's interesting -- a very different mindset compared to classic databases like MySQL.

There's a fairly good Python package for it, python-couchdb ... but the documentation is somewhat incomplete and there's very little else written about it, and virtually no sample code to steal.

That makes it a perfect topic for a Linux Planet tutorial! So here it is, Part 1:

Snakes on a Couch! Using Python with CouchDB.

I have a rather fun application for the database I introduce in the article, but you'll have to wait until Part 2, two weeks from now, to see the details.

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[ 10:55 Sep 23, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 09 Sep 2010

Hugin part 2: Rescuing Difficult Panoramas

[tricky Hugin panorama] Part 2 in my Hugin series is out, in which I discuss how to rescue difficult panoramas that confuse Hugin.

Hugin is an amazing program, but if you get outside the bounds of the normal "Assistant" steps, the user interface can be a bit confusing -- and sometimes it does things that are Just Plain Weird. But with help from some folks on IRC, I found out that a newer version of Hugin can fix those problems, and worked out how to do it (as well as lots of ways that seemed like they should work, but didn't).

Read the gory details in: Hugin part 2: Rescuing Difficult Panoramas.

There will be a Hugin Part 3, and possibly even a Part 4, discussing things Hugin can do beyond panoramas.

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[ 13:58 Sep 09, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 26 Aug 2010

Painless Panorama Stitching with Hugin

[Hugin panorama] A couple of weeks ago in my Fotoxx article I discussed using Fotoxx to create panoramas.

But for panoramas bigger than a couple of images, you're much better off using the Linux panorama app: Hugin.

Hugin is very impressive, and much too capable to be summarized in a single short article, so I'm planning three. This week's article is a basic introduction: Painless Panorama Stitching with Hugin.

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[ 14:11 Aug 26, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 12 Aug 2010

Fotoxx: the Greatest Little Linux Photo Editor You've Never Heard Of

Dave stumbled on a neat little photo editor while tricking out his old Vaio (P3/650 MHz, 192M RAM) and looking for lightweight apps. It's called Fotoxx and it's quite impressive: easy to use and packed with useful features.

So I wrote about it in this week's Linux Planet article: Fotoxx, the Greatest Little Linux Photo Editor You've Never Heard Of.

At first, I was most impressed by the Warp tool -- much easier to use than GIMP's IWarp, though it's rather slow and not quite as flexible as IWarp. But once I got to writing the article, I was blown away by two additional features: it has an automatic panorama stitcher and an HDR tool. GIMP doesn't have either of these features, at all.

Now, panorama stitching used to be a big deal, but it isn't so much any more now that Hugin has gotten much easier to use. (My article in two weeks will be about Hugin.) Fotoxx isn't quite that flexible: it can only stitch two images at a time, and can't handle images with a lot of overlap. (But Hugin has some limitations too.)

But HDR -- wow! I've been meaning to learn more about making HDR images in GIMP -- although it has no HDR tool, there are plug-ins to make it a bit easier to assemble one, just like my Pandora plug-in makes it a little easier to assemble panoramas. But now I don't need to -- fotoxx handles it automatically.

I won't be switching from GIMP any time soon for regular photo editing, of course -- GIMP is still much more flexible. But fotoxx is definitely worth a look, and I'll be keeping it installed to make HDR images, if nothing else.

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[ 14:44 Aug 12, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 30 May 2010

Kdenlive part 2: adding transitions, sounds and titles to your movies

I've been so busy with Libre Graphics Meeting -- a whirlwind of GIMP caucuses, open source graphics, free art and sharing of ideas -- that I forgot to notice that part 2 of my kdenlive article was up on Linux Planet.

Making Movies in Linux with Kdenlive, part 2: Spice up Those Kdenlive Videos.

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[ 02:45 May 30, 2010    More writing | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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