Category Archives: Diary

Git me a Hub’bery

Sometime ago I crossed my machine synchronization threshold. I routinely work on four operating systems, three laptops, a few servers, a bunch of phones and so on. I synchronized the directories I cared about while forming deep and rewarding relationships with file sharing services like Dropbox. Dropbox is great but its success has attracted the attention of paranoid IT micromanagers and it’s now frequently blocked on internal corporate networks. The beSOXed imbeciles that set IT policies will not rest until it’s impossible to do useful work on corporate assets and people wonder why there is so little return on IT investment.

Living without Dropbox and its many peers is annoying but tolerable provided humble USB ports are still useful but restricting plug-in drives is now standard not-operating procedure in most companies. So if you cannot share files or use USB what’s left? Would you believe GitHub?

GitHub is close to total global dominance in the geeky code sharing world. I would not have expected a version control system to attract a fiercely loyal and dedicated cult following but it has. Linus Torvalds, the Linux demigod, started Git when he correctly observed that all pre-Git version control system were fundamentally flawed because they enshrine the overlord peon hierarchy. The overload, usually some IT nitwit, manages the entire code submission, review and backup process and the peons, that would be us, bend over take it. Until Git appeared the majority of programmers despised and detested version control. It was just more IT management bullshit.  We put up with it because version control is a necessary evil and paychecks are even more necessary evil. We only wished things could be less evil and then Git appeared.

Git dumped the overlord peon hierarchy and adopted the radical notion that all repositories are created equal. When you synchronize Git repositories everything is synchronized. Your local copy contains everything the source does. This makes Git a superb peer-to-peer file distribution tool. Not only are you distributing files you’re also distributing their complete histories. This, almost biological replication model, has resulted in an explosion of Git repositories and the rise of hub sites like GitHub. Git’s dominance would not be possible if it was centrally managed. It’s succeeded because it’s harnessed market chaos.

I’ve used Git for over a year and I have often thought about pushing JOD source to public repositories. This weekend I bit the bullet and set up public repositories. Now it’s easy to Git me a Hub’bery!

Election Reflections

About the only surprise coming out of the recent US election was Puerto Rico’s foolish vote to seek statehood. People, you don’t board the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg. In time Puerto Ricans will learn what Quebec separatists have already painfully absorbed. If fence-sitting is your main tactic for extorting favors from larger entities stay on the goddamn fence. The minute you hop off the larger entity goes back to giving less than a crap about you. The new independent senator from Maine should pay attention. Nobody in the larger United States, or anywhere else for that matter, cares a whit about Maine. It only comes up in postcards featuring lighthouses. As a person from an even smaller state Montana, (yes tiny Maine has more people than Montana), I am not belittling you I’m merely pointing out that there aren’t enough of you to tip elections one way or the other so the political establishment will not, can not, and never will give a fresh firm shit unless you’re in position to extract favors. Sending a fence-sitter to the senate is smart politics but only if he stays on the fence! The people of Montana weren’t smart enough to elect an independent and reelected a garden variety Obama stooge. This only makes sense if you want to be ignored.

My Iranian born wife is a new American citizen and this was her first presidential election. She reliably cancelled my vote so the political establishment sucked a big goose egg out of our household. During the interminable election I kept reading about couples fighting about their partner’s choice. Some went so far as to “misplace” ballots and get snotty about driving each other to the polls. In my naive, brain-dead youth, I used to swallow, “think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, hogwash. I really felt that my relationship with my country was vitally important, certainly more important than a possibly temporary spouse. People get divorced all the time but their countries abide. Well, not really, I’m a dual citizen; my wife holds three citizenships. Countries matter but if you don’t value your wife or husband more than your country you’re either in a bad marriage or you’re a moron. In a few short years, when our runaway fiscal train finally jumps the rails and plunges into the abyss, a good spouse will be far more valuable than bankrupt government social programs. For lucky bastards like me that’s already the case.

Faith a guilty pleasure

Faith Korean TV

Faith Korean TV

It’s a quiet Labor Day weekend in the drivel dome [1] and your fearless reporter is a tad bored. I could help with the housework or get out and exercise but I have better things to do. Last night while trolling the intertubes for something to watch on Hulu I came across a transcendentally awesome Korean TV series called Faith.  I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t fallen off the skeptical horse. I’m still the same old judgmental know-it-all bombastic boomer asshole you’ve come to know and love. The series Faith has, as far as I can tell after many long hours of couch research, nothing to do with religious faith. This is one of the many reasons I adore this show.

Faith is basically another Asian martial arts epic. After the demise of the demigod Bruce Lee it’s been mandatory for Asians residing east of Himalayas and south of Siberia to work martial arts into the plot whether it makes any damn sense or not. The Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese and other East Asians all follow Bruce’s mandate with various spins. Naturally, the most odious and predictable martial spins come from the mainland Chinese. With few exceptions mainland martial arts goes something like this.

Evil plots are afoot that are threatening the unity of the homeland. Nefarious forces, mostly internal, sometimes external, are plotting to bring down the well-ordered Middle Kingdom. A charismatic badass plans to exploit disunity, dishonor the people and shit all over the ancestors. Something must be done! The ruler, usually a wise emperor, or a really hot empress, tasks some typically reluctant super warrior to off the badass. The super warrior may have ambivalent feelings about the current ruler but never about the homeland. Sure the current ruler is a decadent pussy boy with weak Kung Fu and that’s too bad for him but damn, the country is not going down on my super warrior watch. Predictable mayhem ensues, bodies pile up, evil almost triumphs, gloats too much, and then falls to a combination of super warrior martial arts and old-fashioned hubris. In the end the homeland is saved and the closing credits suggest the super warrior might get some serious tail. I find it interesting that Hollywood is constantly destroying western civilization while mainland Chinese films forcefully reiterate that the homeland will always abide. I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been an original mainland Chinese martial arts film since Bruce’s glory days.

Thankfully the South Koreans are not like mainland Chinese. Without the burden of an oppressive humorless government forever threatening serious consequences for plot wrong-think South Koreans can show some humor and originality. Faith is an excellent example. We know right away this is not standard martial arts because the bad guys are mainland Chinese threatening to overrun little Korea.  Even odder, our hero and heroine are the oddest of couples. He’s a tall 14th century ultra-ninja-oid that can shoot lightning bolts from his hands while she is a ditsy 21st century plastic surgeon.  It’s your basic boy meets time wormhole meets girl story. Faith only gets better after the hero drags the ditsy surgeon back to the 14th century. The result is a comical, martial arts, chick-flicky, self parodying guilty pleasure.  You can see the cast members thinking WTF between their lines and is there a better endorsement than that?

[1] Analyze the Data not the Drivel is not suitable for succinct self-deprecating self-reference.

Where’s the Olympic beach?

Readers of this blog know that I do not approve of the Olympics. What started out as an eccentric bit of 19th century classics nostalgia has morphed into the expensive, corrupt, drug fueled, real-estate orgy we endure today. Whatever athletic ideals the Olympic movement espoused died on national and corporate altars decades ago.  By the time the first national anthem sounds the real gold has long since traded hands. It’s disappeared into offshore accounts, kick-back schemes, hidden payoffs and good old-fashioned high roller whoring. Despite the waste, drugs and corruption the public still bends over and begs flaccid IOC sodomites for more because only the Olympics decides pressing issues like who can best tumble on a mat and catch a ribbon!  What’s wrong with you people?

My normal Olympic reflex is to head for the hills and ignore the damn circus. In 2008 I was deep in cell phone blocking redwood forests so I didn’t hear a peep about the Olympics. This year I’m not so lucky.  Work and family obligations have kept me firmly locked in the Olympic vise. On my own I would change channels or read but I’m not on my own.  My wife enjoys the games and her elderly demented mother enjoys them even more.

Dementia and the Olympics are perfect for each other!  Last night while watching women’s beach volleyball my mother in-law complained about the game’s chief virtue: bikinis on tight female bodies.  She wanted to know why these women were so shamefully dressed.  My wife calmly explained that they were playing a game that’s normally played on the beach. “Where is the beach?” my mother in-law retorted.  Indeed, where is the beach?   It’s a perfect metaphor for the billions flushed down the Olympic sewer:  connected cronies get rich, the proles ogle some fine ass and the taxpayer doesn’t even get a real beach to pound sand on! Again, what’s wrong with you people?

Click for more beach volleyball butts.



JOD now runs on the Mac

The J addon JOD now runs on Macs. You can update JOD, or install it for the first time, with JAL. JOD now runs on all the major J hosts: Windows, Linux and the Mac.

To keep track of host specific features I have started a series of version documents. The Mac document is here.

At the upcoming J conference, (July 23-24, 2012), in Toronto I will show an iPhone version of JOD. And, as a reward for attending the conference and my little presentation, Writing Portable J addons, I will be raffling off hardcopy printed versions of the JOD manual.

An updated PDF version of the JOD manual is available here. For more see The JOD Page.

Venus puts a period on our Time

I left work early yesterday to scoot down to Forest Park, one of St. Louis’s best city parks, and take in the transit of Venus. The St. Louis Astronomical Society conducted a public outreach event on the grounds of the World’s Fair Pavilion. The pavilion sits atop a small hill with a good view of the western horizon. Many club members had set up telescopes for the public. Some scopes projected images of the sun and others used solar filters.  It was another large daytime star party. Hundreds of people showed up and patiently waited in telescope lines to get a glimpse of Venus crossing the Sun.

World's Fair Pavilion

Worlds Fair Pavilion in St. Louis’s Forest Park on Venus transit day.

The mood was curious and somber; parents urged their children to look and remember. Many dutifully complied but you could see they were more interested in running around the pavilion than watching a little black dot. Maybe some will remember in the decades to come; maybe one or two will live to see the next transit but for the rest of us the little black dot of Venus is a “period” to the sentence of our time. We will never see Venus’s silhouette on the Sun again.  Venus will circle on punctuating future epochs but we, my friends, will soon cease to exist — period.

Sunspotter solar transit projection

A Sunspotter transit of Venus projection.

RAW development rubs me Raw

I’m exhausted. For the last four nights I’ve been up late Lightroom’ing the pictures I took on my little Arizona annular eclipse trip. I’m a new Lightroom user and I’m not entirely impressed with the program. It’s a first class general RAW developer but I don’t think it’s as good as Capture NX when working with Nikon NEF files. For the nonce I will keep Lightroom’ing away; you have to master something before you can have a valid opinion about it!

lake powell boat at dusk

Lonely Lake Powell boat at dusk

As annoyed as I am about Lightroom I know, from bitter experience, that when I first process images I only see problems. The composition sucks. The colors are off. Things are too dark or to light. After a few dozen disappointments the mood darkens and I wonder just who the fuck took all this shit? But I solider on, waging relentless pixel warfare, because in few years, when I’ve forgotten about light curves, sharpening parameters, edge masks, color spaces and all the technical hoo-hah that goes into digital image making, I start seeing the pictures not the flaws. I sometimes catch myself looking at my old pictures and wondering just who took all these great shots. You change your mind about pictures!

This is why I don’t use “star” ratings. Most image management systems have ratings. Lightroom has a five-star system, Thumbsplus does something similar and every image management tool I’ve looked at has a comparable feature. Obviously the masses expect and demand ratings. Too bad the masses are wrong. In the long run ratings are meaningless. You really see this with restoration projects. I’ve spent days restoring pictures that what I would rate as total crap if I had just shot them. Yet here I am spending long hours on yesterday’s crap.

Restoration work also changes your attitude about duds. In my film days I ruthlessly pruned my slides and negatives trashing exposures that didn’t meet my standards of the time. Now I curse that delusional jackass for throwing away my precious originals. It’s surprising how useful duds are; they fill in missing details and remind you of your ever-changing opinions.  Save your duds I guarantee you will feel differently about them in a few years and, of course, others will have completely different takes.

eclipse fans

Annular eclipse fans

The Wahweap Wow

Glen Canyon dam

Glen Canyon dam

Last weekend I was in Page Arizona to visit my parents and catch the May 20th 2012 annular solar eclipse. Page is a little town that owes its existence to the construction of the Glen Canyon dam in the early 1960’s. The reservoir behind the dam, Lake Powell, has appeared in so many movies that it should collect royalties. Charlton Heston crashed his spaceship here in the first and only good Planet of the Apes movie.  John Travolta nuked the place in Broken Arrow. Even Jesus Christ used Lake Powell as a Dead Sea ringer in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Page, the dam and Lake Powell did not disappoint. I had a great time toodling around shooting pictures. I only had one day which was partly devoted to the eclipse but I saw enough to give Glen Canyon an unqualified thumbs up. If you’re into rocks, desert and water this place is bucket list material. Like MacArthur I will return.

Wahweap Overlook eclipse fans

Wahweap Overlook eclipse fans

While pleased with Glen Canyon I was surprised by the large number of people who turned out for the annular eclipse. The US park service in conjunction with local amateur astronomers set up viewing grounds on Wahweap Overlook and ran full size shuttle buses from the nearby Carl Hayden dam visitor center. At least four busloads of eclipse fans were carried to the overlook where they joined more amateur astronomers and serious eclipse photographers that had set up dozens of telescopes and cameras for the big show. There must have been at least four hundred people on Wahweap Overlook and Wahweap was only one of many sites where people set up to watch the eclipse. It’s gratifying to see that when a real star puts on a show the audience is huge.

Before the eclipse started, and during the early phases when the Moon was creeping on the Sun’s disk, I walked around looking through telescopes. Two scopes stood out. One expensive large aperture Hydrogen Alpha scope served up gorgeous high-resolution views of the Sun. In Hydrogen Alpha light solar prominences , filaments  and photosphere mottles are clearly visible. The big Hydrogen Alpha scope put on a good show but bang for the buck went to a 15 dollar light funnel that a 14-year-old made by hand and attached to a small refractor. His makeshift funnel projected the brightest and clearest white light image of the Sun. I told him his projection was the best; he was happy to hear it.

iPhone image captured by holding eclipse shades over the lens.

As the eclipse approached the annular phase I set up my camera. I didn’t have the right filter, only a 4D neutral density, but I thought I’d give it a try. When the light ring formed I fired off a few shots. The filter didn’t cut enough light so I immediately gave up and went to plan B. Plan B consisted of covering the lens of my  iPhone with eclipse shades and Phd’ing it.  I took a few frames and managed to catch the ring. It was a minor triumph of iPhoneography.  After that I just gawked through my eclipse shades while the Sun and Moon wowed the masses with their dance. The crowd burst into applause when the ring broke but, sadly, the performers declined an encore.

Lake Powell houseboats

Lake Powell houseboats

As I have already said, annulars are not in the same awe-inspiring class as totals but this annular, falling where it did, was special. From the overlook you could see the lake, the dam, towering red rock formations and of course the sky. The perfect ring of light was just the icing on the cake of a Wahweap wow!

GPX from Google Maps KML J Script

In preparation for my Arizona jaunt to watch the May 20th annular eclipse I spent a few hours on Google Maps selecting locations to visit.  Here are my prime targets.

After selecting targets the next step is to load them onto my “GPS device.” Currently my GPS device is the MotionX GPS iPhone app.  MotionX can read GPX files in many ways but you need GPX files not Google Maps KML files. Converting KML to GPX is a recurring nuisance. I’ve used online converters for this chore but today, after being annoyed by this problem for the zillionth time, I dashed off a J script that transforms Google Maps KML to GPX.  The main verb gpxfrmapkml is shown below. The entire script is available here and in the files sidebar. Browse to the J Scripts directory. Happy KML to GPX’ing my friends.

gpxfrmapkml=:3 : 0

NB.*gpxfrmapkml v-- gpx from Google maps kml.
NB. monad:  clGpx =. gpxfrmapkml clKml
NB.   NB. download Google map waypoints as kml
NB.   kml=. read 'c:/temp/arizona annular eclipse.kml'
NB.   NB. convert to gpx and save
NB.   gpx=. gpxfrmapkml kml
NB.   gpx write 'c:/temp/arizona annular eclipse.gpx'  

NB. parse kml form waypoint table
dname=. ;'name' geteletext '<Placemark>' beforestr y
wpt=.   ;'Placemark' geteletext y
wpt=.   ('name' geteletext wpt) ,. <;._1&> ','&,&.> 'coordinates' geteletext wpt
hdr=.   ;:'phototitle longitude latitude'

NB. format gpx header 
gpxstamp=. 'Waypoints: ',(":#wpt),' GPX generated: ',timestamp''
gpxheader=. ('/{{headername}}/',dname,'/{{headerdescription}}/',gpxstamp) changestr GPXFRKMLHEADER
gpxtrailer=. GPXTRAILER

rvarbs=. idx htmlvarbs pkml

NB. all row varibles must exist in data header
assert. *./ rvarbs e. hdr
rows=. (#wpt) # ,: pkml
rows=. ((hdr i. <'phototitle'){"1 wpt) (<a:;(rvarbs i. <'phototitle'){idx)} rows
rows=. ((hdr i. <'latitude'){"1 wpt) (<a:;(rvarbs i. <'latitude'){idx)} rows
rows=. ((hdr i. <'longitude'){"1 wpt) (<a:;(rvarbs i. <'longitude'){idx)} rows


2012 Venus Transit and Annular Eclipse

I’m gearing up for two big eminent celestial events. On May 20th I’ll be near Page Arizona observing an annular eclipse of the Sun and on June 5th, weather permitting, I’ll be in St. Louis watching Venus creep on the disc of the Sun for the last time in my lifetime.

Eclipses and transits are spectacular events for amateur astronomers and innocent bystanders. Of the two eclipses offer the greater spectacle. In fact, for sheer unbridled awesomeness, it’s hard to beat a total eclipse of the Sun! You can add up all the World Cups and Super Bowls ever played and they would barely register on the logarithmic total solar eclipse spectacle scale. The one total solar eclipse I saw easily ranks as the greatest thing I’ve ever seen and I’m including the births of my children. The May 20th solar eclipse is annular so it’s not in the same galaxy as a total but annular’s have their charms. At maximum eclipse the Sun appears like a perfect blazing ring of light. In Page it will be 10 degrees above the north-western horizon: a good altitude for composing solar landscape pictures.

By comparison the June 5th transit of Venus will not be a big show. Without proper equipment you won’t be able to see it at all. During transit Venus looks like a little black dot on the Sun. The best way to see this event is with telescope or binocular projection. Under no circumstances should you look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection!  For safe transit viewing techniques look here. In 2004 I used binocular projection to view the last transit of Venus from Ottawa Canada. Transits of Venus come in pairs, eight year apart, followed by over a century before the next pair.  After 2012 you will have to wait until 2117 to see another transit of Venus. This is our last chance people. Yeah mortality seriously blows.

2004 transit of Venus from Ottawa Canada. I used 10x50 binoculars to project an image of the Sun. The little dark spot on Sun's limb is the planet Venus.