Shallow Thoughts : : May

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

Fri, 29 May 2020

M is for Merging ("Dissolving") Several Geographic Shapes

[San Juan County Council Districts]
San Juan County Council districts
[San Juan County voting precincts]
San Juan County Council voting precincts

For this year's LWV NM Voter Guides at VOTE411.org, I've been doing a lot of GIS fiddling, since the system needs to know the voting districts for each race.

You would think it would be easy to find GIS for voting districts — surely that's public information? — but counties and the state are remarkably resistant to giving out any sort of data (they're happy to give you a PDF or a JPG), so finding the district data takes a lot of searching.

Often, when we finally manage to get GIS info, it isn't for what we want. For instance, for San Juan County, there's a file that claims to be County Commission districts (which would look like the image above left), but the shapes in the file are actually voting precincts (above right). A district is made up of multiple precincts; in San Juan, there are 77 precincts making up five districts.

In a case like that, you need some way of combining several shapes (a bunch of precincts) into one (a district).

GIS "Dissolving"

It turns out that the process of coalescing lots of small shapes into a smaller number of larger shapes is unintuitively called "dissolving".

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[ 17:43 May 29, 2020    More mapping | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 25 May 2020

L is for Lovely Lenticular, and Lift, and Lost Airplanes

[Complex cloud formation]

Driving down to Española a few days ago, I was struck by this lovely cloud formation -- a lenticular cloud over the Sangre de Cristos, with something more cumulussy in front of it.

Though admittedly, lenticular clouds aren't particularly uncommon here. The Sangres, in particular, seem to form eddies that lead to all sorts of interesting lenticular cloud structures.

Lenticulars apparently are good indicators of lift: glider pilots seek them out. I guess if we had more moisture in the air, we might have seen some lenticulars over the field Sunday morning when we were flying R/C planes at Overlook.

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[ 14:57 May 25, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 21 May 2020

K is for Knitting

[knitted water bottle cozy] Seems like during the lockdown, everyone's taking up new crafts -- sewing, bread baking, or whatever. I was a little ahead of the game. Last winter I learned to knit. I'd crocheted a little when I was a teenager, but I'd always seen knitting as much more complicated.

It started because I couldn't find a decent headband. I'm not a big fan of hats, because migraines, but sometimes my ears get cold on hikes. I was dissatisfied with the headbands I found in outdoor apparel stores: they tend to be too narrow to cover my ears, too tight, overpriced, and don't come in many colors either. I bought one but wasn't happy with it. I decided I could probably learn to knit my own headband before I found one I liked.

Los Alamos has a great knitting community, as it turns out. (I suspect most communities do). Doris, a friend from Toastmasters, is an avid lifelong knitter (I knew that from her Toastmasters talks, of course), and she steered me to some good beginner books and gave me hints on which size starter needles to buy, including a set of circular needles since everything I was interested in making lent itself to knitting "in the round". But Doris also gave me a list of four different times the local knitters met in person, including one very convenient weekly meeting at the White Rock Library just a few miles from home.

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[ 17:02 May 21, 2020    More misc | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sun, 17 May 2020

J is for Juniper

The robins have all gone now. I haven't seen one in several weeks. Instead, we have ash-throated flycatchers trilling their songs as they float among the junipers, plus a few hummingbirds (broad-tailed and black-chinned), mountain chickadees nesting in the birdhouse outside the bedroom, singing Bewick's wrens and spotted towhees that I hardly ever see, and a few bright-colored western tanagers stopping by for some suet and sweet stuff (oranges and jam) on their way farther north. I wonder where they eventually nest. Most range maps ( 1, 2, 3) show them breeding here, but nobody on the birding lists seems to see them for more than a few weeks in spring.

And, as I type this, a chipmunk! We so rarely have chipmunks that they're very welcome guests. This one's been hanging around for three days. I wish it would find a mate and stay here all summer. They're a lot more common out by the canyon edge.

But back to those robins. We had a banner winter for robins this year. Some years, we only have a few; other years, there are hundreds whinnying to each other in our piñon-juniper woodland yard.

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[ 18:41 May 17, 2020    More nature | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 09 May 2020

I is for Introvert

Social distancing is hitting some people a lot harder than others.

Of course, there are huge inequities that are making life harder for a lot of people, even if they don't know anyone infected with the coronavirus. Distancing is pointing out long-standing inequalities in living situations (how much can you distance when you live in an apartment with an elevator, and get to work on public transit?) and, above all, in internet access. Here in New Mexico, rural residents, especially on the pueblos and reservations, often can't get a decently fast internet connection at any price. I hope that this will eventually lead to a reshaping of how internet access is sold in the US; but for now, it's a disaster for students trying to finish their coursework from home, for workers trying to do their jobs remotely, and for anyone trying to fill out a census form or an application for relief.

It's a terrible problem, but that's not really what this article is about. Today I'm writing about the less tangible aspects of social distancing, and its implications for introverts and extroverts.

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[ 13:57 May 09, 2020    More tech | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Change to the Blog: Index Page Only Shows Summaries Now

Recently, I was dealing with the RSS page for a local newspaper, and being irritated at how it had the full text of every story on the RSS page, not just the first few paragraphs like most sites do.

And then I realized that Shallow Thoughts has the same problem. In my defense, I set up this blog a long time ago (2004). And nobody complained, so I guess I just never noticed. Anyway, I think it's kind of rude to put the whole story on the index page; it's much more friendly (and the index page loads a lot faster) if there are just intros for each story, letting the reader decide whether to click through.

And then I had to figure out how to do that. PyBlosxom is semi-orphaned, but there are actually still a few developers (I submitted some fixes last year to get Shallow Thoughts working under Python 3, and they were quickly accepted) and everything still works. And the documentation is pretty good, too; it turned out I just needed to enable the "Readmore" plugin and add a couple of configuration lines.

So now the index page, both in HTML and RSS, is much shorter and should load much faster. I hope the change is welcome and doesn't cause any problems for anybody!

And now, on to today's "I" entry ...

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[ 13:56 May 09, 2020    More blogging | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 07 May 2020

PulseAudio from the Command Line

Controlling PulseAudio from the Command Line #tags linux,audio,pulseaudio,ubuntu,cmdline

Controlling PulseAudio via pavucontrol is all very nice, but it's time consuming and fiddly: you have to do a lot of clicking in a lot of tabs any time you want to change anything.

So I've been learning how to control PulseAudio from the command line, so I can make aliases to switch between speakers quickly, or set audio defaults at login time.

That was going to be a blog post, but I think this is going to be an evolving document for quite some time, so instead, I just made it a page on the Linux section of my website: Controlling PulseAudio from the Command Line.

I also wrote a Python script, pulsehelper.py, that uses some of these commands to provide clearer output and easier switching. It even uses color and bold fonts if you have the termcolor module installed. Like the document, this script is likely to be evolving for quite some time.

Happy listening and recording!

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[ 12:21 May 07, 2020    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 04 May 2020

PulseAudio via GUI: Pavucontrol

(Note: this is not an alphabet post. You may have noticed I'm a little stuck on I. I hope to get un-stuck soon; but first, here are a pair of articles on configuring audio on Linux.)

I'm a very late adopter for PulseAudio. In the past, on my minimal Debian machines, nearly any sound problem could be made better by apt-get remove pulseaudio. But pulse seems like it's working better since those days, and a lot of applications (like Firefox) require it, so it's time to learn how to use it. Especially in these days of COVID-19 and video conferencing, when I'll need to be using the microphone and speakers a lot more. (I'd never actually had a reason to use the microphone on my last laptop.)

Beginner tutorials always start with something like "Go into System Preferences and click on Audio", leaving out anyone who doesn't use the standard desktop. The standard GUI PulseAudio controller is pavucontrol. It has four tabs.

[Configuration tab in pavucontrol]

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[ 18:04 May 04, 2020    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]