Trans: Latin prefix implying "across" or "Beyond", often used in gender nonconforming situations – Scend: Archaic word describing a strong "surge" or "wave", originating with 15th century english sailors – Survival: 15th century english compound word describing an existence only worth transcending.

Category: Featured (Page 2 of 2)

New App:  KML Search and Convert

Written in R; using GDAL/EXPAT libraries on Ubuntu and hosted with AWS EC2.

New App:  KML Search and Convert

Here is an simple (beta) app of mine that converts KML files into Excel-friendly CSV documents.  It also has a search function, so you can download a subset of data that contains keywords.   🙂

The files will soon be available in Github.

I'm still working on a progress indicator; it currently lets you download before it is done processing.   Know a completely processed file is titled with "kml2csv_<yourfile>.csv".

...YMMV.  xD

INFO: Deploy a Shiny web app in R using AWS (EC2 Red Hat)

Info on deploying a Shiny web app in R using AWS (EC2 Redhat)

As a follow-up to my post on how to create an AWS RStudio server, the next logical step is to host some useful apps you created in R for people to use.  A common way to do this is the R-specific tool Shiny, which is built in to RStudio.  Learning the syntax to convert R code into a Shiny app is rather subtle, and can be hard.  I plan to do a more thorough demo on this- particularly the use of the $ symbol, as in “input$output”- later. 🙂


It turns out hosting a Shiny Web app provides a large number of opportunities for things to go wrong….  I will share what worked for me.  All of this info is accessed via SSH, to the server running Shiny and RStudio.


I am using the AWS “Linux 2” AMI, which is based on the Red Hat OS.  For reference, here is some extremely important Red Hat CLI language worth being familiar with and debugging:


sudo yum install” and “wget” are for fetching and installing things like shiny.  Don’t bother with instructions that include “apt-get install”, as they are for a different Linux OS!


sudo chmod -R 777” is how you change your directory permissions for read, write, and execute (all of those enabled).  This is handy if your server disconnecting when the app tries to run something- it is a simple fix to a problem not always evident in the logs.  The default root folder from which shiny apps are hosted and run is “/srv/shiny-server” (or just “/srv” to be safe).


nano /var/log/shiny-server.log” is the location of current shiny logs.


sudo stop shiny-server” followed by “sudo start shiny-server” is the best way to restart the server- “sudo restart shiny-server” is not a sure bet on any other process.  It is true, other tools like a node.js server or nginx could impact the success of Shiny- If you think nginx is a problem, “cd /ect/nginx” followed by “ls” will get you in the right direction.  Others have cited problems with Red Hat not including the directories and files at “/etc/nginx/sites-available”.  You do not need these directories.  (though they are probably important for other things).


sudo rm -r” is a good way to destroy things, like a mangled R studio installation.  Remember, it is easy enough to start again fresh!  🙂


sudo nano /etc/shiny-server/shiny-server.conf” is how to access the config file for Shiny.  The fresh install version I used did not work!  There will be lots of excess in that file, much of which can causes issues in a bare-bones setup like mine.  One important key is to ensure Shiny is using a root user- see my example file below.  I am the root user here (jess)- change that to mirror- at least for the beginning- the user defined as root in your AWS installation.  See my notes HERE on that- that is defined in the advanced settings of the EC2 instance.


BEGIN CONFIG FILE:   (or click to download) *Download is properly indented

# Define user: this should be the same user as the AWS root user!
run_as jess;
# Define port and where the home (/) directory is
# Define site_dir/log_dir - these are the defaults
listen 3838;
location / {
site_dir /srv/shiny-server;
log_dir /var/log/shiny-server;
directory_index on;


Well, the proof is in the pudding.   At least for now, you can access a basic app I made that cleans csv field data files that where entered into excel by hand.  They start full of missing fields and have a weird two-column setup for distance- the app cleans all these issues and returns a 4 column (from 5 column) csv.

Download the test file here:   2012_dirt_PCD-git

And access the app here:  Basic Shiny app on AWS!

Below is an iFrame into the app, just to show how very basic it is.  Give it a go!


How to Query KML point data as CSV using QGIS and R

How to Query KML point data as CSV using QGIS and R

Here you can see more than 800 points, each describing an observation of an individual bird.  This data is in the form of KML, a sort of XML document from Google for spatial data.


I want to know which points have “pair” or “female” in the description text nodes using R.  This way, I can quickly make and update a .csv in Excel of only the paired birds (based on color bands).



Even if there was a description string search function in Google Earth Pro (or other organization-centric GIS/waypoint software), this method is more

robust, as I can work immediately with the output as a data frame in R, rather than a list of results.


First, open an instance of QGIS.  I am running ~2.8 on OSX.  Add a vector layer of your KML.

“Command-A” in the point dialog to select all before import!

Next, under “Vector”, select “Merge vector layers” via Data Management Tools.


Select CSV and elect to save the file instead of use a temporary/scratch file (this is a common error).

Open your csv in Excel for verification! 







The R bit:

# query for paired birds

#EDIT:  Libraries

data <- data.frame(fread("Bird_CSV.csv"))

pair_rows <- contains("pair", vars = data$description)

fem_rows <- contains("fem", vars = data$description)

result <- combine(pair_rows, fem_rows)

result <- data[result,]

write_csv(result, "Paired_Birds.csv")











Visual NH Research Update :)

Olive-sided Flycatcher (Is Says, "Three Beers!! [please]"

Walking to work in the morning


Song Sparrow

Common Yellowthroat Warbler

I'll let the photos to the talking:  welcome to my world! 🙂 !!!!





Solar upgrades!

Solar upgrades!

Incredibly, the hut we are working from actually had another solar panel just laying around.  🙂
This 50w square panel had a junction box with MC4 connectors, the standard for small scale solar installations.  As I was unsure how to know when we are running low on electricity reserves, I decided to make some adjustments.

Additional 50w solar panel

(Everything is still solder, hot glue, alligator clips, and zip-ties I’m afraid…)
I traded my NEMA / USA two-prong connection with two MC4 splitters, such that both panels can run in parallel (into a standard USA 110v extension cord that goes into our hut).  This way we should make well over one of the two 35ah batteries-worth of electricity a day.

Dual MC4 splitters to extension cord

I also added a cheap 12v battery level indicator.  It is not very accurate (as it fluctuates with solar input) but it does give us some insight about how much "juice" we have available.  (I also wired and glued the remote-on switch to the back of the input for stability.)

Added battery indicator and button


Research Year Two: Three Photos

Male Common Yellowthroat Warbler

The field season has officially started in Northern NH!

Male Common Yellowthroat warbler (COYE):   This fellow is defending a small territory in a patch of open thicket.   These warblers rely on early succession forest- patches of substrate that haven't  really grown in yet- to build cryptic, ground-level nests.  They develop complex systems to divert/confuse predators away from their nests.


Female Black-throated Blue Warbler (BTBW):  I was lucky to see this female.   She is paired with a male who defends a large mature forest territory.   They have quite a few BTBW neighbors, which makes for a lot of skirmishes among the males over land.  The females are often silent and move very fast...

Male Mourning Warbler (MOWA):  This is a rare bird here.   Even more amazing, it is defending a territory in our research site- and trying to chase out a male COYE while doing so.  The two species "share" resources, which means thy can't stand each other.   🙂   Each time the male COYE sings near the MOWA, it gets berated and chased away- and vice versa.   It appears the COYE isn't budging either, probably because it hasn't had this domestic, neighborly problem before.


Female Black-throated Blue Warbler

Male Mourning Warbler

Gathering point data using Compass 55 on Apple iOS

Keeping track of birds is tricky!

Attached is our team's workflow with Compass 55.    From the Kml, we go into Google Earth Pro - ArcGIS Desktop (arcmap).   QGIS is sometimes used too.





Intro to the AWS Cloud 9 IDE

The Cloud 9 IDE is the fastest way I have come up with to develop web-based or otherwise "connected" programs.    Because it lives on a Linux-based EC2 server on AWS, running different node, html, etc programs that rely on a network system just work- it is all already on a network anyway.   🙂  There is no downtime trying to figure out your WAMP, MAMP, Apache, or localhost situation.

Similarly, other network programs work just as well-  I am running a MySQL server over here (RDS), storage over there (S3), and have various bits in Github and locally.   Instead of configuring local editors, permissions, and computer ports and whatnot, you are modifying the VPC security policies and IAM groups- though generally, it just works.

Getting going:   The only prerequisite is you have an AWS account.  Students:  get $40 EC2 dollars below:
Open the cloud 9 tab under services.



Setup is very fast- just know if others are going to be editing to, understand the IAM policies and what VPC settings you actually want.


Know this ideally a browser-based service; I have tried to come up with a reason a SSH connection would be better and didn't get any where.

For one person, micro is fine.   Know these virtual "RAMs" and "CPUs" are generous....





The default network settings are set up for you.   This follows good practice for one person; more than that (or if you are perhaps a far-travelling person) note these settings.  They are always editable under the VPC and EC2 instance tabs.



That's it!   Other use things to know:

This is a linux machine maintained by Amazon.   Packages you think should work and be up to date (arguably like any other linux machine I guess...)  may not be.  Check your basics like the NPM installer and versions of what your going to be working on, it very well may be different than what you are used to.

In the editor:

You have two panels of workspace in the middle- shown is node and HTML.   Everything is managed by tabs- all windows can have as much stuff as you want this way.

Below there is a "runner" (shown with all the default options!) and a terminal window.  Off to the left is a generic file manager.



I hope this is useful, it sure is great for me.


Using ESRI ArcGIS / ArcMap in the AWS Cloud

Selling AWS to... myself   🙂

Why struggle with underpowered local machines and VMs or watered-down web platforms for heavy lifting,  learning and work?

In addition to using ESRI software on mac computers, I am a big fan of the AWS WorkSpaces service (in addition to all their other developer tools, some of which are map-relevant: RDS for SQL and EC2 Redhat servers  for data management for example ).

Basically, for between ~$20 and ~$60 a month (Max, and not factoring in EDU discounts!), a user gets to use a well-oiled remote desktop.   You can download and license desktop apps like ArcMap and GIS products, file managers, and more from any computer connected to the internet.  This service is not very savvy; you make/receive a password and log right in.

A  big plus here of course is the Workspaces Application Manager (WAM); small sets of licenses can be administered in the same way desktops would, with extra easiness due to the "they are already really the same cloud thing any way".

Another plus is any client- netbook, macbook, VM, etc- will work equally well.  In this regard it can be a very cheap way to get big data work done on otherwise insufficient machines.  Local storage and file systems work well with the client application, with the caveat being network speed.








Using ESRI ArcGIS / ArcMap on Mac OSX: 2 methods

Edit 07/26/2020:
Check out the expanded GIS notes page here!

Using ESRI ArcGIS / ArcMap on Macs: 2 methods

I need to run ESRI products on my MacBook Pro.   QGIS is always the prefered solution- open source, excellent free plugins, works on mac natively- but in a college / research environment, the only option that supports other people and school machines is ESRI.  Despite the annoying bureaucracy and expense of the software, some things are faster (but not better!) in ESRI, like dealing with raster / multiband data.

First, you need a license.

I went about this two ways;

My first solution was to buy an ESRI Press textbook on amazon.  A 180 day trial for $50- when taken as a college course, this isn't to bad.  🙂   The book is slow and recursive, but a 180 days to play with all the plugins and whistles allows for way deeper learning via the internet.   🙂

Do know there is a little-documented limit to the number of license transfers you may perform before getting either lock in or out of your software.  I hit this limit, as I was also figuring out my virtual machine situation, which would occasionally need a re-installation.

My current solution is “just buy a student license”.   $100 per year is less than any adobe situation- so really not that bad.  

Now you need a windows ISO.

Follow that link for the window 10, 64 bit ISO.  YOU DO NOT NEED TO BUY WINDOWS.  It will sometimes complain about not having an  authentication, but in the months of using windows via VMs, never have I been prohibited to do... anything.  When prompted for a license when configuring your VM, click the button that says "I don't have a license".  Done.


Option one:  VirtualBox VM on a thumbdrive - download for the VM software, Suitable USBs.  the VM will take up most of a 128gb flash drive- ~70 gb just for windows and all the stuff you'll want from a PC.  Add ESRI software and allocated space for a cache (where your GIS project works!), bigger is better.   Format all drives in disk utility as ExFat!  this is important, any other file system either won't fly or could wreak havoc (other FAT based ones may have too small file allocations!

I used two drives, a 128 and a 64- this is great because I can store all my work on the 64, so I can easily plug it into other (school) machines running windows ArcMap and keep going, without causing issues with the massive VM in the 128.  

Installation is straightforward, just install EVERYTHING on the usb drive and it will be fine.   🙂

Problems:   Stability.   Crashes, and python / some other script modules do not work well.  This is a problem.  ArcAdministrator gets confused about all kinds of things- FWIW, if you are googling to delete the FLEXnet folder to solve authentication file issues, move to option 2 🙂

Speed is down, but actually the ~same speed as our school "super" PCs- (though I happened to know they are essentially glorified "hybrid" VMs too!) .

Option two: OSX Bootcamp

This way, you will hit "option/alt" each time you restart/boot your computer to choose from win/osx.   This is easy to install, as it is mac and mac = easy.

Big Caveat:  it is much harder to install windows externally  (on a usb, etc) from bootcamp.  I didn't succeed in my efforts, but there could be a way....   The thing is, it really wants to run everything like a normal intel based PC, with all installations in the usual place.  This is good for the mac performance, but terrible for the tiny SSD hard drives we get as mac users.  I have a 256gb SSD.  I have an average of < 15 gb wiggle room here, and use every cloud service in the book.

If you need to manage your cloud storage because of a itsy mac SSD, my solution is still ODrive.

I use Amazon cloud mostly with odrive, but I use a personal/school OneDrives, Dropboxes, Google,  etc.  with only the occasional hiccup.   Also, all of the AWS tools are great and cheap- EC2, S3, Cloud 9, lambda, RDS.... Great way to do your work outside of your mac via the internet.


ArcMap and GIS stuff is blazing fast on my modest 2015 i5/8gb macbook pro.  Comparing a huge, mega ATX+ school computer to my mac on boot camp, I am running large raster filtering operations significantly quicker than other folks doing the same type of work.   That is GOOD.



How to make a AWS R server

When you need an R server and have lots of data to process, AWS is a great way to go.   Sign up of the free tier and poke around!

Creating an AWS Rstudio server: - using both the R snippet (works but the R core bits are NOT present and it will not work yet) and the JSON snippet provided - the suite being installed

Follow most of the AWS blog AMI info, with the following items:

AMI:  Amazon Linux 2 (more packages and extras v. standard)  

  • t2.micro (free tier)
  • IAM policy follows AWS blog JSON snippet
  • Security Policy contains open inbound ports 22, 8787, 3838 (the latter two for R server specific communication)
  • Append user, username:password in the blog post’s initial r studio install text (pasted into the “advanced” text box when completing the AMI setup


SSH into the EC2 instance

sudo yum install –y

sudo yum-config-manager --enable epel

sudo yum repolist


sudo yum update -y

sudo yum install -y R

sudo rstudio-server verify-installation


Access the graphical R server:

In a web browser, tack on “:8787” to the end of the Instance’s public “connect” link.  If it doesn’t load a login window (but seems to be trying to connect to something) the security policy is probably being overzealous……..


Notes on S3-hosted data:

  • S3 data is easiest to use if it is set to be public.
  • There are s3-specific tools for R, accessible as packages from CRAN directly from the R interface
  • Note data (delimited text at least) hosted in S3 will behave differently than it does locally, e.g. spaces, “na”, “null” need to be “cleaned” in R before use.  


There we have it!



My Fragile-Bodied Guide Scooter Safety

I like scootering.  I like riding and learning tricks so much I think it it safe to say 94% of all my major injuries occur from skatepark mishaps….  Which is part of the reason I really don’t ride much anymore, because there is an extraordinarily good chance I am either still recovering from some injury from last time or am still certain I will surely break something again and am not ready for that extra burden of healing just yet.  🙂

Below is my (in process) Fragile-Bodied Guide Scooter Safety.


Continue reading

Birding Beyond Binos: Find eBird Data for Fun!

eBird is an indispensable tool for the modern, savvy birder.  It even rolls with my lingo on the home page:

Birding in the 21st Century!  What's not to like?

There are a number of key parts to the ebird experience as a viewer, only a few of which I will cover on this page.

The two most essential parts of ebird include the ability to learn about and enjoy birds when we can't get out into the field, and know where to go/what to expect when we can.

The first objective is fulfilled with the "Species Maps" button under the "Explore Data" tab.
This tool allows us to find and track birds and their friends (such as "migrant warblers") around the world.   This is a great way to get a handle on migrations, local owls (owls are great!) and other species that can otherwise "fly under your radar".


Here, with the species tab open, I tell eBird I want to know the whereabouts of the blackburnian warblers.  



Instead of showing me all the individual sightings ever, I specify this month range (Aug-Nov) and the last ten years option.

It turns out they are all over the place right now, having migrated up the eastern seaboard.    So...

...Using the next date range (you can be more specific than I) we can see where they migrate on the south-end of things.



Wow!!  they are all pretty much in South America, as our frosty winter has set in here in the north.  

As you may well imagine, this is an amazing tool to discover patterns and predict when birds may arrive and depart, letting us effectively, "bird from home".

Not a problem!



The second objective is equally simple with eBird: what can we expect from a location, bird wise?


Using the "Explore Hotspots" tab now, I can search for my local county.  YMMV on what criteria you will need, be it city, county, etc. 

All these little upside-down pears show up.  Similar to the first foray, we can specify dates from the dropdown tab- but really, just use the right hand button and specify "Past Week" or "Past Month" (as I have done here).   Now, the color code represents recent activity!   plan your trip and pack your bags!

I hope this is helpful breaking the ice into the world of eBird- it really fires up your birding lifestyle and ability!


MPCNC: It moves!

These are some photos of the current MPCNC project coming alive in the Sulliwood basement. The MPCNC is a (relatively) low cost, 3d printed CNC (computer numerical control=does stuff by itself)- featured here is the spindle (actually a drywall cutter) and a mashup mk8-style extruder. Below, you can see what I see before it is cutting time in the CAM module of Fusion 360. That object is half of a "trial run" pottery stand for someone's art show....

The MPCNC awakens!

Patchwork MPCNC extruder and hot end...

Double-sided MPCNC gcode, just for the holder part.....


...For this design:

Birding Beyond Binos: 5 Bird apps vs. “the Guide”.

We all have a favorite bird, animal or plant guide.  Peterson is the best at drawing; Sibley takes the best pictures.  Kauffman ties it all together; National Geographic makes a solid reference and Audubon is great for fast looks.

While these books will always have a place on the shelf or table, the depth of content and portability of smartphone apps and trustworthy (e.g. reaserch related or associated with a big bird organization you recognize) websites truly foster the next level of ecological acuity.

[I will cover apps for iPhones and iPads- these are tools I have available and find to be indispensable.]  Like the shelf of guides they can replace out in the field, there is always room for another guide- and, generally speaking, cost significantly less than the least expensive print guide on your shelf.

  1. iBird PRO -

This app does it all: view photos, range maps, sounds, and similar birds, and search by band code, Latin/common name.  The sound recordings are pretty good and can be looped individually or as a species playlist (good for playback in research situations).  Similar bird songs are playable at the bottom of each species- great for learning and verifying nuances between similar songs.  The illustrations are “ok”- better than what I could do (obviously) but nothing quite like Peterson or Kauffman.  There are two more (add-on) engines in this app I have not used:  the local birds function by GPS (BAM) and a “humanized” search tool to pinpoint the bird you are looking for (Percevia).

  1. Audubon Birds

Audubon Birds has come a long way, and generally will offer more of a comprehensive written overview on each bird- going into feeding, behavior, breeding, and habitat discussions.  They seem to have added eBird integration (far, far superior to their “nature share” tool) which allows for both a mobile search into the unfathomably large user-based data set for local birds and a way to add your own data to eBird (though traditionally, the best way to do that is from a computer).

  1. Audubon Owls

This app is only a small vignette on owls; there seems to be more info geared solely about owls here than in Audubon Birds- photos, videos, tips, and tricks

  1. Merlin Bird ID

Despite the hardcore Bird Photo ID algorithms and location-based searches, this is geared toward those who may be starting out, and want to up the ante.  You fill in a few parameters about a bird sighting (this will not help with bird sounds), then it will generate a list of probable birds.  Supposedly, if you get a good photo of the bird on your phone (Digi scoping/Wi-Fi upload?) It can id the bird visually.

  1. eBird

If you are truly doing an eBird list for your trip, try this app for basic, quick additions- but I would not rely on it for media uploads or anything too crazy.  You can upload your checklist from the field then edit it later, though it is unclear if that is really a good idea in the scheme of data collection.

This is a list of the Bird apps I use on my phone, most getting use many times a week or even every day (iBird Pro).


New Business Site- Up And Running!

Check out my new Jess S. photography business website!  It is up and running, hosted by PSU's own Plymouth Create service.   If you have questions or inquiries, feel free to contact me!

If you are a student or faculty looking to build your website for free, you may contact me about that too (I work for the Plymouth Create team as well!)

Early Morning Guitar Session. ala Laundry

Guitar Practice:

Laundry is best done early in the morning.  The resulting time between cycles lets me do all kinds of things- below is a short guitar "shred" song inspired by Jeff Beck's most recent album, Loud Hailer- recorded in its entirety between washing and drying.   I recommend turning your volume down, modesty is not part if this song's vocabulary.


Boutique everything: When The Hobby Grows Up


Food.  Clothes.  Art.  Musical Equipment.  Consumer Design and Products.  Can a mere citizen enter the fray of cutting edge design and production?

As a hobbyist designer with a passion for, say, high end audio, the options for actually producing a quality, well executed product may seem lucrative and completely not worth while.  “It’s just a hobby” some say, or, “The cost of manufacturing tools or a bid at the factory floor in China are way bigger than my love for sound”, or, “nobody would ever purchase my design, there are so many other companies who have done this longer than me”.  These answers are all valid, but may not be the complete picture when it comes to local, boutique production.    

Can a passionate enthusiast use makerspace technology and peer support to bring small batches/limited runs of high quality products to a localized, niche market?

Could a food connoisseur use networking services to construct a timely supply chain for seasonal meals at local restaurants or cafes?

Would a local tailor be able to source materials and equipment to realise the material science and design they have always dreamed of for a coat in small batches?

Using cutting-edge makerspaces and the subsequent networking opportunities, I believe producing small batches of high quality goods and utilizing a local business/niche marketing approach or distribution system could increase the innovation and quality of any given local economy.

The idea of “group buys” is elementary in DIY audio circles.  Folks going in on a board design for fabrication will often drum up some enthusiasm on the internet or elsewhere, in a move to offset the high entry price of board manufacture.  I have noticed some folks take it a step further, and will not only complete the project they intended to, but perfect the project into a product and do a run of a few pieces to a few dozen and beyond.  This model is actually a great asset to the developing maker; offsetting the cost (or even making a few coins in profit!) of larger projects inherently makes bigger and better projects feasible.   

The folks building audio equipment in their basement, garage, or bedroom are, in essence, artists exploring art through avenues otherwise devoid of artisan qualities.  It is easy to reproduce sound commercially- Apple supplies those iBud-earPod-headBeats with every phone they sell.  Yet, the people in DIY audio are taking on audio components exactly how a great potter would craft a new bowl or coffee cup; functional sculpture, art in one of its oldest forms.

Screenshot of Jazzman's blog (

Below is a picture of one of the quasi-famous Jazzman ESL panels.  A true labor of love and work of art, Charlie has pioneered the processes required to build a ultra-top-end electrostatic loudspeaker, in the confines of the home, job, and hobby budget.  Now, Jazzman's speakers are built almost exclusively by hand, using careful measurement techniques to ensure tight tolerances instead of using machines that could do this automatically- making these panels really one of a kind and certainly not an option for even the most ambitious cottage industry entrepreneurs.

I bring these panels up simply to show what home-brew audio (or any labor-of-love-hobby) is about: craftsmanship, dedication, and a desire to learn.  falling right in with home-brew beer, local pottery, cooking, painting, tailoring,  and more, one can see from this artisanal point of view the value in these kinds of work.

Unlike some of these art forms found exclusively in art shows and galleries, only recently has there been an opportunity for individuals to reverse the commercialization of otherwise beautiful hobbies.

 Commercialization and hobbies: can we have both?

You bet.  As individuals get better at their craft and further down the hobbyist rabbit hole, (I personally) wonder where to draw the line as a hobby.  Don't!  We develop makerspaces to propel creation into hyperdrive; the next and last step in completing the artist's high-end project circle is selling the last project so the new batch can be justified.  Because rapid fabrication and makerspaces are "a thing" now, people need to understand what comes next with all those creative and production juices flowing.  I think many makers may not approach their custom brazed bikes,  amazing wooden trinkets, or tube guitar amps from the view a painter would monetize paintings- but they (we) should.  Art stores, art shows, audio meetups, DIY ecommerce sites, Etsy, craft conventions...  These are real venues we should be adding to our vocabulary as makers.  It is the last step to a full circle justification, and for me (in my hobby bird photography work for sure) it simply feels amazing to be at that stage of chatting it up with locals about where I took the picture of the merganser.  It takes way more effort than I or my fellow artists will let on, (learning high-end home printing, commerce, getting a materials supplier, website, etc) and marketing/selling is not NEARLY as glamorous as hacking away at our craft.

But, at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do.  Showing others through commerce the true value of maker craft not only educates and enriches, but increases the value in our local economies and local-maker-wizardry.

Sit spot #N.1: The GHO Talk

Great horned owls.   Except for the only exception feasible- Which is of course the Great Grey Owl who has decided to move to southern NH from its previous home in frigid Canada- the GHO is the ultimate, TOTL, high-ender of the hunters in New England at the very least.   There is a reason all the other members of the animal kingdom hate these "Bubo" eagle-owls as much as they do.   GHO's have every trick in the book, every bell, whistle, and gadget, making the whole evolution game seem wholly unfair to, say, an unassuming chipmunk.  I wanted to give a quick rundown of the key toys and tools the GHO has at its immediate disposal, why I care, and why everyone else should care.

By shudrburg -, CC BY 2.0,

The "ears"

GHO's ears are essentially their entire head.  The poky things are literally there to throw folks off, though the idea was originally to emulate some bark or a pair of pine cones, some think...  Though horns, ears, or party hats are probably ok too.  As I say above, one could say with a fair amount of accuracy the entire head is a single, huge ear; Those pretty concentric eye rings?  Chamfers and fillets on the face?   these are funneling, extracting every scuffle and heartbeat falling in the laser-like path of the big, round, swivel-face.  Remember: these owls are seeing with their ears.  The GHO is always sleepy during the day, even while other owls might be a bit active- ruling out light as a reliable system for vision.

Below I snipped a good description of the GHO system.  The asymmetrical face construction of a GHO also is used for "vertical" hearing- check this out:

"An Owl uses these unique, sensitive ears to locate prey by listening for prey movements through ground cover such as leaves, foliage, or even snow. When a noise is heard, the Owl is able to tell its direction because of the minute time difference in which the sound is perceived in the left and right ear - for example, if the sound was to the left of the Owl, the left ear would hear it before the right ear. The Owl then turns it's head so the sound arrives at both ears simultaneously - then it knows the prey is right in front of it. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!)"   (taken from:

Obviously, anything can hear something more in the left ear and less in the right ear and know roughly where it is.  However, "roughly" isn't in the GHO vocabulary.  Other studies have shown how owls crunch sounds at .00003 seconds; accuracy comes at the price of wildly complex brain structures that are solely used to draw auditory conclusions.   Think; each ear has a set of pre-decision-making brain structures, analysing in parallel  both the intensity of incoming sounds and the passage of time- synced perfectly to the other ear's set and the brain as a whole.  Look at it this way;  the GHO sensing system, with its multiple super-computing cores is physically 3 times the size of the one found in our usual "smartest local birds"- the crows and ravens.  No wonder the owls are always being bothered by crows- they must be so jealous!  (and GHOs are a unrivaled predator to crows if the tides turn nasty)

2. The wings

Firstly, our local owls are dialing in around 10lbs of lift capacity.  This makes even fat wild bunnies a piece of cake, no pun intended.  Supposedly, these wings are rather disproportional to the usual bird weight/wing lift ratio, though I wouldn't know.  Just assume the owl can lift around 2.5 times its body weight, at least as far as a nearby pine tree to start snacking.

More importantly however, these evidently powerful wings are dead silent.  The legend goes the mouse has no idea about its rapidly nearing demise until it feels the claws come in from above.  I personally believe this to be 100% accurate- every possible flight detail has been subject to evolutionary innovation, from the crinkled, broken shape of the beefy coverts and wrist to the micro-turbulent primary and secondary feather structures, all the way to those huge, fuzz-covered legs and feet.  These oversized fluffy feet, by the way, have a clamping force beginning to enter young snapping turtle territory...  ...You have been warned.

The micro-turbulences generated by the wings has sparked much intrigue over the years.  Each feather exhibits a subtle, diffusive, "spiky" shape- the idea being the "ripping" and whooshing of air you hear from most birds when they take off can be removed by softening the hard edges of the feathers and wing such that the overall acceleration and lift isn't hindered.  This acoustic principle is really the opposite of how their faces work, diffusing sound instead of funneling it in.  An intersting addendum in this GHO technology is how the coverts- the thick, leading edge of the wing- are formed.  Many other predatory birds, like the local supercar of aviation, the peregrine falcon, bank on really sharp, hard curves and edges in the coverts to squeeze as much speed and maneuverability into these big important body parts.  But not the GHO!  Without sacrificing effective speed or agility, the coverts are sort of rounded and "broken up" into smaller edges and curves, directing the air and subsequently sound into a more diffuse pattern.  Case to point:  the mouse example.  The general consensus on these coverts is these nubs are exactly the tool needed for the final swoop in to snatch the ground-dwelling prey.  Even at a steep, speedy angle, the GHO can silently hurdle to the ground without spooking anyone.  Amazing!

3. Other gizmos and gadgets:

The color and shape is its favorite spot to sleep.  The local white pine trees, especially the trunk, are prime real estate for sleepy GHOs after a night munching- so, the owl naturally looks like a white pine tree trunk (complete with two pine cones on the top).  Despite these owls being huge, they are rather common (in theory).  The chances of finding one with human vision is essentially impossible, so we must rely on other clues on its whereabouts.

The digestion system is the best among owls.   When the forest has been robbed of mice and chipmunks, GHOs can- and might even enjoy- eating frogs, big insects, reptiles, domestic pets...  The trick is they simply eat the whole animal.  There is no kerfuffling with fur here or teeth there; GHOs just go for it, 100% in.  This may contribute to the widespread success in the north east, with our crazy weather and prohibitive geological extremes other species struggle with.

In conclusion:

I hope this has been both educational and convincing enough to be enthused about owling.  Something this special and this relavent in the northeast is too important to ignore.


Develop A Limitless & Habitual “SoIThen_SoICould_” Ethos

Some call it yak shearing.  

Some call it the next step, and a method to never let the next step get in your way.

...So I then I learned to make custom blown vacuum tubes at home so I could build an amazing artisanal nixie tube clock.

...So I then looked up how to throw a bigger flower pot using wheel-thrown pottery techniques on youtube, so I could become a better and more refined artist.

...So I am building a CNC mill so I can make nice looking wood headphone cups for the DIY planar build.


Occasionally, I find myself looking into space and feeling like whatever the next steps may be in my various hobbies are remain unreachable, need to wait, cost more than I have, or is in someway not the right time to continue.  While some of these may be true, it does not mean all that remains is slow, unyielding time.  More often than not in these situations, I really am looking at a step that is unreachable or untimely, but is actually not the end-all and last step.   There is usually more than meets the eye; there are tasks to be done, as small as they might be, that will help a process along.  I think of this mathematician:

For example- I do not have access to all the tools I need to complete my projects; it is inherently exciting to think about the actual fabrication of evolving ideas.  That does not mean the tools needed to complete the projects are needed to do the peripheral learning and knowledge-gaining and scheming and planning.  We can easily see in writing, the cutting and buffing and bolting of things is just a tiny part of a huge commitment in time, learning, and design.  Have I exhausted all learning and designing time?  No!  I can always add an extra step between me and a goal, no matter how small.  Learn  Autodesk Fusion 360?   add that to the list.  Complete a few of their 10 hour instructional webinars?  That sounds important.  Learn to roughly mill and glue wood into end-grain orientations for future CNC-ing for the future headphone cup-rings?  I should do that too.


...Is your back hurting from your posture or your chair?  If so, you should learn better posture and/or build a perfect chair (and learn fine wood luthiery to make a snazzy inlay of your name, Blender and CAM to mill unique chair legs, etc, etc....)


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