Shuttersparks

Welcome to my musings on whatever topic catches my eye, plus stories, recipes, handyman tips, welding, photography, and what have you. Oh, and analog/digital hardware design, and software. Please comment on the blog post so everyone who visits can see your comments.

Category: STEM (page 2 of 5)

RSS Simplified For Users

What is RSS and how can it help me? Blogging is on the rise again so this question comes up often today. The easiest way to answer it is to understand why RSS was invented. So here’s a quick overview, skipping lots of details you don’t need to know to use RSS.

Back in the 1990s, I’d begin a session online by visiting the Yahoo news page. Then I’d pull up the Yahoo business page, then Reuters, then the BBC. Then I’d check on the forum I ran and another forum run by a friend. Then I’d check the Usenet groups I followed. All of this was done by manually clicking on bookmarks, waiting for the page to load, and navigating up and down pages. Internet connections were much slower then and page loads were often slow. What’s more, if nothing had changed on that web site, I just wasted my time loading it. During the day, I was busy. I’d check back on some sites, but not all, so I would miss things.

All this clicking and waiting was tedious and annoying, so a better way was invented. There were a couple of false starts, then RSS was born around 1999 or 2000.

The idea behind RSS is for a web server, upon request, to deliver a “hidden” web page that contains a summary of content in a precise format. RSS defines the format. The file is encoded in XML so it’s easily decoded by a computer. This file is called the “RSS feed”.

Web designers decide what information is provided in the feed. It contains, at least, things like article titles, dates, and a snippet of each article’s text. It can include much more as the web designer wishes.

With the RSS standard in place, it became possible to create RSS Reader software. To use a reader, you configure it with the RSS feed addresses of all the web sites, blogs, and forums you want to stay on top of. From then on, the RSS reader updates itself automatically and shows you the latest stuff from all your sites, gathered together in one place. There are many RSS readers to choose from that will display information in a way that pleases you. No more manual surfing to a dozen different sites or wasting your time on sites that haven’t changed. RSS Readers keep track of which articles you’ve read and lots more. For instance, most readers can be programmed to alert you if certain key words are detected. This can be extremely useful.

Any web page that’s equipped to deliver an RSS feed will either have a link that says “RSS” or an icon that looks like this.

RSS Icon

If you click on that link, you’ll get a page of “gibberish”. That’s the gibberish your reader wants to see. If you’re curious, take a look at it. XML is text designed to be readable by machines and humans.

What you actually want to do is right click on the link or icon and select “Copy Link Address”. Then paste the link into your reader software. Your reader will explain how to do it. Usually there’s “add site”, or “add source”, or a plus sign to add another feed. That’s all there is to it. Since blogs have a low rate of change, it’s reasonable to follow hundreds of blogs and not be overwhelmed with information.

I hope this helps. Happy Blogging!


RSS Reader Solutions to Consider

It was suggested to put some recommendations here. I think it’s a good idea. However, to be honest, I haven’t tried lots of readers, so I’ll have to do some research. There’s a wide range of readers out there. Some are very simple and run from a command line. Others are big and loaded with features. There are also web-based readers. All recommendations are welcome. Please comment below about any readers you like or dislike, and why.

Years ago, this would have been easy: use Google Reader. Done. Google Reader was an excellent, very cool product, but they killed it. So, nevermind that.

EDIT: I’ve deleted what was written here before because I still don’t have a solution that I like for myself, and some of the info I presented was false.

Specifically, I was using Liferea on Linux. I like it a lot. I’m fairly picky about how a reader UI is layed out and Liferea was perfect. Liferea also supports podcasts. It’s considered the best reader for Linux by many. Every article that mentions Liferea says it supports various sync protocols like Tiny RSS, The Old Reader, etc. and Inoreader, and has since 2012. So, I beat my head against the wall, trying to get Liferea connected to my Inoreader account. Nothing worked.

Then I found some release notes from September 2018 and buried there was a little note: “Inoreader support removed. API broken.”  !?   Thanks a lot.

So, back to square one.

NOTE: This doesn’t have to be as complicated as I’m making it. There are dozens of readers that work fine and provide easy solutions. For example, you could set up with Feedly on your web browser (feedly.com) and be up and running immediately. For Android there’s a Feedly app. Problem solved. This may be the best way for a beginner to get started. Or, you could use the browser-based Inoreader (inoreader.com) and install the Inoreader app on your phone. Boom, solved.

In my case, I’m very picky. I want to use a native reader on my laptop, not a browser reader, and have it sync with an Android app on my phone. I want a reader with a certain layout that is largely text based, not graphical. I want podcast support. I could even set up my own server to provide the sync service.  This becomes complicated because I’m picky. So, don’t use me as an example. This is easy to set up if you’re not so picky.

The Mythical Dogma of Climate Change Denial

Some actual numbers. (Engineers like things quantified.)

Atmospheric CO2 was identified as a greenhouse gas over 100 years ago. We’ve been measuring it ever since. Technology has allowed us to measure atmospheric CO2 over ever longer time scales. Polar ice cores contain tiny air bubbles that allow us to measure atmospheric CO2 over much longer time periods. We have a clear picture of what the atmosphere has been like over the past several hundred thousand years, and longer. It’s been over 40 years since Hansen made his forecasts before Congress on what would happen in the future with respect to CO2 and climate change, and it’s all come true, and it continues to get worse. Atmospheric CO2 is now at the highest level it’s been for over a million years.

Yet, there are many people who believe that climate change is a hoax. A favorite meme that I see is that volcanoes put more CO2 into the atmosphere than humans. I was listening live when that rumor began.

In the early 90s, I enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh. I enjoyed his style of pretending to be highly educated and ridiculing politicians and social movements. I was listening on the day he began his long stretch of daily comments about the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, in the Philippines. He claimed that it put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than humans ever have. I hadn’t considered the numbers involved carefully before so this seemed possible to me. It didn’t occur to me that a famous personality with millions of listeners would just make something up and present it as fact.

Mt. Etna, Paroxysmal Eruption

Silly me. As an engineer, I decided to look into this Mt. Pinatubo thing and see what the numbers really were. If what Rush said was true, there’s nothing we can do about global warming. It’s a natural process and we have to deal with it.

What I found shocked me. Rush’s claim was so far beyond false, so ridiculous, there are no words for it. Not only do humans utterly overwhelm the output of Mt. Pinatubo, but we overwhelm all volcanic activity on the planet combined.

The problem here is comprehending the magnitudes of numbers. There are 7 BILLION people on the planet. Most people have trouble visualizing a thousand. Then imagine a thousand thousands. Most are completely lost at this point, and we’ve only reached one million. Now take the million and imagine a thousand of those, to get to one billion. Then times seven. The Bible said to be fruitful and multiply. Well, we did that. There are 420 million tons of human flesh walking around right now.

If we gave each person on Earth a 10 by 10 foot square of land, we’d occupy 25,200 square miles. Of course, I’ve lost everyone again because few can imagine a space that big. And, we need vastly more space than that in order to grow the food we eat, process our waste, obtain fresh water, and so forth.

Our impact on the planet is far greater than anything I had imagined. We are already using nearly all of the arable land on the planet to grow our food. Yes, we fly in planes and look out over vast spaces. There’s plenty of room. Actually, there isn’t because the majority of that space is not arable land. You can’t grow food in the Rocky Mountains, or Himalayas, or in the desert, Northern Canada, or Siberia.

There are vast regions of the Pacific Ocean that are fished out, stripped down to the bare seafloor, to satisfy our need for protein. Fishing fleets scrape the seafloor itself, leaving nothing but bare sand. When astronauts look down at night, whole regions of the Pacific Ocean are lit up by vast fishing fleets.

So, seven billion people, and half of them cook over open fires. Wood averages 50 percent carbon, by weight. So a pound of wood contains 1/2 pound of carbon. When you burn that pound of wood, each carbon atom combines with two oxygen atoms to form 1.7 pounds of CO2. Burning a pound of wood results in 1.7 pounds of CO2. With 3-1/2 billion people doing this, it adds up fast.

There are more than a billion cars (a thousand millions) driving around every day, burning gasoline. Everyone must eat. We humans slaughter 800 million chickens every day. Imagine the feed and farming required just to raise 800 million chickens every day. Farming burns fuel. Fishing fleets, and a billion cars, and trucks, trains, airplanes, ships, and power generation all burn fuel. Everyone living in northern climates must heat their homes in winter by burning large amounts of some kind of fuel.

Here are the numbers. Total volcanic activity, including undersea volcanoes produces 200 million tons of CO2, annually. Human activity produces 24 billion tons of CO2, annually. It’s not even close. We humans generate 120 times as much CO2 as all the volcanic activity in the world combined. In just two weeks, we generate, as much CO2 from burning wood for cooking, as the sum of all volcanic activity in a year.

To say that one volcano in the Philippines generated more CO2 than humans have ever produced?? Wow. In one fell swoop, I saw Rush Limbaugh for what he is.

Yet Rush’s little prank caught on. Ridiculous as it is, it’s still commonly quoted 25 years later.

Please comment below.

Polar Outbreak, January 2019

The big news right now is the record low temperatures in the Mid- and Upper-Midwest. The Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana are experiencing extreme low temperatures and high winds, bringing the chill down to dangerous levels of -40 to -60 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions are expected to set numerous all-time record lows.

I blogged about this a month ago, on December 28th. It was expected. The only question a month ago was how far south it would go.

You might ask, who am I? I’ve been an amateur meteo guy for over 50 years, I’m an engineer, and from 1998 to 2005 I did marine weather forecasting — guiding yachts at sea, talking them through dangerous weather conditions using marine SSB radio. So, I have some experience with these things and know my way around a 500 millibar chart.

With this polar outbreak, as expected, climate change deniers, including Donald Trump, jumped on this phenomenon with foolish comments like “we need more global warming.”

The key question that a smart person would ask is how did I know a month ago that this was going to happen? I knew because I observed two masses of very warm air in equatorial regions rise to the stratosphere and move north. I knew that those warm air masses would disrupt the circulation around the pole (the so-called Polar Vortex), destabilize it, and push a large mass of extremely cold air out of the polar region and south over Canada to the USA.

What I didn’t know was how far south it would reach. But, about a week ago, it looked like a pair of north-south ridges were forming that would squeeze the cold air mass and vigorously squirt it south, well into the USA. Then, I knew the cold blast would be severe. This squirting effect also meant high winds and severe wind chill — what I call a Blue Screamer. That’s what we’re going to get tomorrow (Wednesday) and into Thursday.

The bottom line here is that the cause of this outbreak is warm air that came from the tropics. Global warming doesn’t mean a perceived increase in warmth. Not yet, anyway. Raising the average global temperature by one degree doesn’t result in feeling warmer all the time. It results in more violent and severe weather, both cold and hot. The amplitudes increase. Temperature swings get wider. The winds become more violent. We’ll set both high and low temperature records as this proceeds.

The workings of Earth’s atmosphere are extremely complex. I know it may seem contradictory, but the next two days will bring us record-breaking cold and high winds — as a direct result of global warming.

Please comment below.

Heads Up. Heavy Weather Coming

It pays to study long-range weather forecasts. I’ve been an amateur meteorologist for 50 years so weather always interests me, but sometimes it pays real dividends. CNN just published an article about the severe winter weather that will hit the Colorado / Nebraska area in the days after Christmas.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/25/us/weather-christmas-week/index.html

I knew this was coming two weeks ago. It affected my decision to start my drive from Montana to West Virginia as soon as possible. I was glad when my departure moved up from Dec 16 to Dec 15. I had my choice of I-70, I-80, or I-90. All had good conditions for the entire trip. I-90 is the shortest route, but I chose the most southern route, I-70, in order to get into warmer temperatures as quickly as possible. This was only partially successful, because a cold air mass out of Canada ended up reaching about 100 miles farther south into Kansas than I expected and engulfed I-70 in cold air. The weather was fine, but when you sleep in your car, the outside temperature matters. So, here comes the weather system I was avoiding. It’s going to directly affect all three Interstates, 70, 80, and 90.

However, that’s not why I’m posting this. There’s a coming change on the horizon. The Northwest and much of the country, including West Virginia, has been experiencing above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation — a mild winter. This results from the weak El Niño combined with the Alaska High. But the models now show that ridging will set up over the middle of the country over the next two weeks. This will not affect the Pacific Northwest but it will have some major effects on the Eastern USA.

In a couple of weeks, the Northeast from West Virginia and Maryland up to Maine will likely plunge into a period of extended cold temperatures and high precipitation. Very cold and lots of snow are what the models call for. Mid-January to mid-February, which is the coldest part of winter anyway, will actually be cold and snowy. Be ready.

50th Anniversary of Computer Programming

For what it’s worth, I celebrate a milestone this month, October, 2018. Fifty years ago, I learned to program a computer, in October of 1968. The machine was an IBM 1130. The first language I learned was Fortran IV. Computer programming bit me so hard that I completed the entire four volume IBM programmed learning course in three days of almost non-stop immersion. I was already deep into electronics and astronomy, and the computer complemented both of those fields. For several years, programming became almost an obsession.

In rapid sequence I learned Fortran IV, 1130 machine language, RPG, and APL. I was hooked. Below is an old grainy photo of the very machine I learned on.

Please comment below.

“My” IBM 1130

This is What Disagreement Looks Like

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