Editing blog from mobile: trying out Android WordPress, Photo Editor and Snapseed

I’m trying out working with photos on my Nexus 5 Android phone and uploading the results to Pondering Creek.

My original photo was taken in Wurzburg, Germany, 2014 on my N5 using the stock android camera (re-sized from 2000 x 1480 to 640 x 474 to save bandwidth):













Using the Android app Photo Editor, I re-sized the image to 640 x 710 then, using Snapseed I cropped the image and used the automatic adjustment settings, resulting in:


The WordPress app worked fine for intial layout of this post, but it was a pain to try to edit and move things around. I finally moved to my laptop to finish off adjusting the actual size of the photos shown above.

Ello: a new social networking site

I recently ran across Ello, a new social networking site. I’m not going down the road with the is it a Facebook killer debate.

Join me on Ello!

Join me on Ello!

Not interested.

Could care less.

I’m far more interested in the clean design of the desktop UI, no ads, and (so far) much better privacy polices than, ummm, other sites who shall no longer be named.

Ello also appears to be a great place to meet creative folk. There are a ton of artists in almost every medium posting great content. Who knows where this will go, but it is a fun ride at the moment.

Currently, Ello is in beta and, thus, is a work in progress. Joining is by invitation only. However, invitations are not that hard to score.

I have set aside two invites for Ponderingcreek. I’ll email invite codes to the first two folks to ask for them in the comments.

Another option to find invitations is to take a look at Ello-Invite.com or /r/ello2 on Reddit.

I’m hanging about on Ello as @mitchemberlin, so give me a follow. My Ello avatar is shown above. Once I figure out how to do it, I’ll add an Ello link to my follow me side bar.

For more information on Ello, take a look at Dave Winer’s blog post or the Ello about page which is open to everyone.

Robinson Crusoe and the Future of Storytelling

by Mitch Emberlin

I am concluding week one of The Future of Story Telling, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered by iVersity. This free eight-week course consists of a series of videos augmented by quizzes and linked material. The course also includes “creative task” assignments each week. The first creative task requires us to tell about a book that impacted our lives.

So, THAT’s writer’s block…

As a life-long enthusiastic consumer of storytelling, I never imagined struggling so hard to find my topic for this creative task assignment. But, struggle I did; my brain just flamed out. I finally started free writing about stories I remembered reading and enjoying most from my childhood. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is the story I kept coming back to as I worked through this process.

My assignment, should you choose to accept it …Robinson_Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, entered my reading life early. The story, about a man shipwrecked and on his own and the ways he coped as a castaway on a remote island (this was pre-Gilligan, folks), fascinated me. I’ve always been a “re-reader” and this is a book I revisited often. Numerous scenes stand out in my memory: Robinison’s salvaging what he can from his wrecked ship and then again from, at least, another later shipwreck (I haven’t re-read it in a while and can’t remember if there was more than the one additional wreck later in the book); his building the large dugout canoe only to discover, when finished, it was too large to move to the water (even as a child, I related to grandiose projects gone awry); building his fort and digging out a cave (we won’t talk about Dad’s reaction to the hole I dug in the back yard) and, subsequently, planting so many trees around his fort that they became an impenetrable forest. All of these scenes excited my imagination.

Defoe’s depiction of a castaway making do with only the things he had at hand, or made, certainty channeled the Walter Mitty (who is still alive and well) in me. The later appearance of Friday and the subsequent rescue of Friday’s father as well as, eventually, Robinson, held a lesser appeal to me then. I was more interested in the guy on his own, all by himself, and his story of how he got by. The appreciation of Defoe’s nuances regarding loneliness, class, and race only emerged later as I re-read the book when I was older.

At the time, probably around eight years of age or so, Robinson Crusoe was just a fun read that stuck with me through the years.

But, I digress a bit

In actuality, it was a comic book that led me to the story. The favorite TV cartoons of this particular time were the classic Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and, always, Popeye. Any local television station worthy of the name at that time had its own Captain (Dan, or Bob, or Joe … pick one) hosting Popeye the Sailor cartoons. Between cartoons, the Captain joked around – on live TV – with a gaggle of local kids lucky enough to score tickets to the show. One day, I got a letter in the mail. It included my ticket to the Popeye show. For whatever reason, I no longer remember, we arrived at the studio a bit late. As one of the last of the 15 or so kids, I climbed up on the end of the top row of bleachers. A harried staffer handed me my freebie bag. In the bag was a Classics Illustrated comic book. I was as aghast as any full-blooded 8-year old boy could be to discover: Cinderella!!! Or, maybe, Snow White. I’m not sure at this late date. I do remember a lot of pink. About that time, Captain Dan(?) walked in, apparently saw the look on my face as I held the comic book, grabbed another comic book, shoved it into my hands, and said, “Here. This is a good one.”

Robinson Crusoe. Cap’n was right. It was a good one.

It wasn’t long before a full, unabridged copy of Robinson Crusoe arrived in the mail. My dear parents, now long since at rest, never considered books a luxury. Toys might have to wait for birthday or Christmas; books seemed to just appear. Frequently.

Robinson Crusoe was also my gateway drug book to other stories such as Wyss’ Swiss Family Robinson, Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. Defoe’s work certainly wasn’t the first book I read, but his story is the one I remember the most as immediately enthralling me and inciting a passion to find other stories that evoked similar emotions.

What about you?

What stories resonate through the years for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Join the 65K+ of us

If you are interested in the The Future of Storytelling MOOC, click on the link for the course’s iVersity page. You can also follow on social media by going to Facebook or going to Twitter and following @StoryMOOC or search on #StoryMOOC.

I’ll be hanging about on Twitter as @ponderingcreek.

Grammar Practice for Crafting an Effective Writer MOOC


I am currently in week three of Coursera’s Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade (check out #CEWTT on Twitter). I am enjoying the class and find it just what I need to re-boot and re-learn long forgotten  writing skills.

If you want a refresher in English grammar and writing, I recommend you check out this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Oh, the things I have forgotten

Each video module of CEWTT ends with an ungraded quiz that offers the viewer practice on what they have learned. However, each quiz only includes a few questions. The readings in course materials also have a few examples for each part of speech under discussion.

The graded quiz at the end of each week allows one attempt; although once submitted, there is a short explanation after each question that provides a good reference.

Online module writing assignments also offer the student the chance to practice and a final writing assignment for each unit results in peer review feedback. Or, at least, I hope it does; as of this writing, we haven’t hit the deadline for the first round of peer review.

Given the amount of rust on my grammar and writing skills, these quizzes and assignments are not enough for my practice needs. I still find my self struggling to pick out the individual parts of speech in a particular sentence. Like many folks, I tend to write intuitively, not consciously thinking about sentence structure. That process is probably a good thing for getting down the first draft, but when switching to editing mode I quickly get into trouble.

I’d like to change that.

Time for a Question Bank

A search for a source of good, grammatically correct sentences in the public domain led me to John Muir and the rich descriptions in his book, The Yosemite. Muir’s book is available at Project Gutenberg and is free to download and distribute in accordance with the Project Gutenberg license.

I downloaded the plain text version, re-formatted the book’s text file into separate sentences, and ran a pseudo-random sort so I would not get distracted into reading Muir’s superb prose instead of concentrating on the individual sentences. This re-formatting effort left me with over 1,800 separate sentences. That should keep me busy for awhile.

Here is my first practice session using my question Mr. Muir’s sentence bank.

Please let me know in the comments if you see any mistakes.

Nouns and Pronouns

Find the nouns (common nouns and proper nouns) and pronouns.

  • After waiting still another day the expedition started for the Valley.
  • The most familiar and best known of all is the common robin, who may be seen every day, hopping about briskly on the meadows and uttering his cheery, enlivening call.
  • The correspondence between the Hetch Hetchy walls in their trends, sculpture, physical structure, and general arrangement of the main rock-masses and those of the Yosemite Valley has excited the wondering admiration of every observer.
  • There are many other comparatively small falls and cascades in the Valley.
  • But I was unable to find a ship bound for South America–fortunately perhaps, for I had incredibly little money for so long a trip and had not yet fully recovered from a fever caught in the Florida swamps.
  • The most influential of the Valley trees is the yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa).
  • Groups of two or three are often found standing close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a former generation.
  • Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.
  • Thus, in three days the round trip had been made to the Valley, most of it had been explored in a general way and some of its principal features had been named.
  • Two of the largest specimens, as we have seen, are in Yosemite; one of these, more than eight feet in diameter, is growing on a moraine; the other, nearly as large, on angular blocks of granite.

QGIS Tutorial 2: Exporting part of a vector layer to its own shapefile

In the first walk-through using QGIS v. 2.0.1, we loaded the US Census Bureau’s Tiger/Line Shapefiles for all counties in the US as a vector layer. We then filtered the layer to show the state of Vermont. However, all counties in the US are still  there. If we go back to the Query Builder and clear the STATEFP = 50 query, the vector layer will return, showing the counties for the entire United States. Assuming we want to work with all of the counties in the United States, this is great.

However, my focus is a single state. It is easier to carve out a single state shapefile, save file size space, computer memory and avoid having to deal with multiple queries later in the project.

Saving a smaller subset of the vector layer as a shapefile
  • click on Project | Open (or, Project | Open recent) and load the QGIS project for Vermont
  • in the Layer pane click on the layer file name, tl_2013_us_county, to ensure it is selected/highlighted
  • in the Layer menu, select Save as… (if Save as is grayed out, the layer file name was not selected)

QGIS 02-06b

The Save vector layer as dialog box will appear.

Hopefully, ESRI Shapefile is selected as the Format. If not, click on the drop down box and select this option. Note the entry I typed into the Data Source box. Documenting the source of the original data might prove useful when I need to re-work my map a year or so from now.

Also, click the check box for Add saved file to map.

Once satisfied with the settings, click on the OK button.

QGIS 02-07b

A typical Windows save dialog will launch. Navigate to where you want to save the new shapefile and save it.

Please help…

I am still looking for a way to set a default save or working directory in QGIS…without success. So far in my experience, QGIS does not always go back to the last used location. If you know how to set a default working directory within QGIS, please share in the comments.

If you forget to check the box for Add saved file to map or, for some reason want to wait and add the layer later, the process is the same as with the first walk-through; either:

  • use the Layer | Add Vector Layer, or
  • using Window’s explorer, drag the new shapfile to the map pane

Regardless of the method used, we should now have two layers in our project:

QGIS 02-08b

Notice the the check box for the tl_2013_us_county is selected. Click on the x and turn this layer off. We could just remove the entire US counties layer by clicking on the layer name and then using the Layer | Remove Layers (or, control-d, or by right-clicking on the layer name), but this layer might prove useful later. Turn it off for now.

Let’s take a look at our new shapefile
  • double-click on the smaller Vermont shapefile name in the Layer pane
  • click on Layer | Properties (or, double-click on the shapefile)
  • under General note that Query Builder is now empty

Outside of QGIS, navigate to the saved location via Windows Explorer and take a look a the file size. The new shapefile is much smaller than the original .

As with any project:

  • save  early
  • save often
Please comment

Please share in the comments any thoughts, correction, tips or tricks relating to this walk-through.

Next time: adding county level data to the shapefile

QGIS: A getting started tutorial on a free Geographic Information System

I needed a map. Actually, a pretty simple – I thought – map. I had some county-level data for my state and I wanted a GIS that:

  • color-filled each county for its particular data value
  • created output easily printed on standard letter-sized paper
  • produced a professional looking map
  • didn’t require a Ph.D. in Geographical Information Systems
  • didn’t require a second mortgage to acquire

Enter stage right: QGIS: A Free and Open Source Geographic Information System.

QGIS is a powerful mapping system that is both open source and community supported. If you are, like me, a neophyte to GIS, it is well worthwhile to spend some time on the QGIS website looking at their documentation and different levels of support. An Internet search on QGIS will also result in many hits and other sources of support.

Consider yourself warned

What follows is the first of several tutorials of how I got QGIS to produce the map I needed. I need such maps only two or three times a year, so this tutorial avoids recreating that nasty wheel in several months time.

However, I am not a GIS expert by any means. There are, undoubtedly, more elegant ways to accomplish the task documented here besides my duct tape and bailing wire approach.

If you follow the steps in this, and subsequent, tutorials I strongly recommend you proof your work! It is very easy to totally corrupt data while presenting a perfectly normal looking map. The result of such an error is a map that might present the exact opposite of what the data really says.

First step: find and install the QGIS software

The QGIS Standalone Installer is available free at the QGIS website by clicking on the Download Now button. I grabbed the 64bit, v2.0.1 for Windows 7. The software installed like any other Windows program.

The download and subsequent install did require patience. It is a large file, on the order of 180+ megs, and takes awhile to download as well as install.

The QGIS install offers the opportunity to download several example data sets. Normally, I go ahead and grab things like this when I’m learning a new system. However, the files are very large, so I skipped this step.

As with all things in life, Your Mileage May Vary.

Shapefiles: the backbone of our GIS map

Remember those counties I wanted to color code? For that, I needed ESRI shapefiles.

There are many sources of shapefiles. The United States Census Bureau provides TigerLine Shapefiles as well as many other GIS data products. For this project, I used the 2013 TigerLine Shapefiles via their ftp site.

The Census Bureau also provides a web-driven download site. In this particular example, Counties (and equivalent) provides the same county shapefiles for the entire US as the FTP site.

Tip: Even more sources of shapefiles

Many state governments now maintain their own GIS programs and offer free data, including shapefiles, on their websites. For example, an Internet search for Vermont shapefiles resulted in a hit on Vermont Center for Geographic Information. A bit of nosing around on the website, and I wound up on their Geospatial and imagery page with all sorts of goodies. The county shapefiles were under the Boundaries (Admin-Political) theme.

I’ve found similar pages for other states as well. Many of these sites have already done some of the heavy lifting of database management by incorporating such things as census data and the like in the shapefiles.

In this tutorial, I stuck with the TigerLine shapefile for U.S. Counties. I downloaded the zip file and extracted it to a subdirectory in my Documents area.

Get started with QGIS and load that shapefile

Fire up QGIS…the first time it will take a bit to load and then  a rather daunting screen pops up:


Add the US County shapefile as a vector layer.

  • hit control-shift-v, or
  • select the Layer menu | Add Vector Layer

Either way, the following dialog box should pop up:


Using the default settings, Browse and navigate to where you extracted your shapefiles and select, in this case, tl_2013_us_county. If, like me, you like to be able to see file extensions, it will have a .shp ending.

Thanks to a tip from Nathan in the comments, I learned that you do not have to unzip the shapefile. You can also simply drag and drop the entire zip file into the QGIS map canvas. Once done, you can select the tl_2013_us_county.shp vector file and then click OK.

Either way, you should end up with something like this:


If you are curious at this point and want to play around with the file, you can zoom in with the zoom in-out buttons QGSI01-05 and the information button QGSI01-06 to take a look at various counties around the U.S.

However, we need to filter these results down to a manageable chunk.

Filter the shapefile for a particular state

Having the county-level maps for the entire United States is all well and good, but it is a bit…busy.

Time to carve out just one state: Vermont.

The Green Mountain State only has 14 counties and this number will make it easier to demonstrate working with county-level data later in the tutorial.

In the Layers pane, on the left-hand side of the main QGIS page, double-click on the shapefile tl_2013_us_county. Be patient, and you will be rewarded with the Layer Property dialog for the shapefile:


A tip if you can’t see all of the QGIS command buttons

I’ve noticed, sometimes, some of the QGIS boxes are too big and the bottom row of buttons cannot be seen. If this happens, use the cursor to grab the top of the box and make it a bit smaller. You should then be able to position the box so that you can see all of the command buttons.

Build that query and filter out Vermont
  • be sure General is selected on the left-hand side of the Layer Properties screen
  • click on the Query Builder button


Now, filter for Vermont’s FIPS code, designated by the STATEFP field. A quick Internet search shows that Vermont’s FIPS is 50. So,

  • double-click on STATEFP under Fields
  • click once on = under Operators
  • click once on All under Values
  • scroll down to 50 and double-click
  • click once on the Test button

and, you should be rewarded with:


  • click OK in the Query Result dialog
  • click OK in the Query Builders dialog box.
  • click Apply in the Layer Properties dialog box
  • click OK in the Layer Properties dialog box

Finally, click on the Zoom-Full icon button QGSI01-11 and SHAZAM

Vermont in all her glory:


Save the project by going to Project and Save as. The save routine is pretty much the same as with any Windows software. However, notice that the default directory is buried in the Programs area; so, you might want to navigate to your ‘My Documents’ and create a subdirectory there for QGIS Projects. That way, the project will be easier to find when we come back to start entering data and mapping the results.

Please comment

If you have any problems or know of better ways to accomplish the task shown above, please share in the comments.

Next post: Working with the Vector Layer

Gleanings from the Twitterverse and Blogosphere

Interesting content that I ran across this week; mostly on archaeology, but I also ran across and really liked Open Culture’s report on Nabokov’s nature drawings of butterflies.


Converting website URLs to ebook format

I love my Nook Simple Touch. It is light weight, easy to use and has a microSD slot allowing a huge digital library on the go. So, I’ve kept an eye out for a way to toss some of the articles I run across into ebook format for later reading. Calibre has the capability to capture URLs and convert them to all of the ebook formats the program handles. The biggest problem I’ve had with Calibre is it only converts one address at a time and captures everything on the page including all of the ads and assorted links and minutia which clutter up the formatting on the Nook.

Readlists.com is a web-based solution offered up by the folks at Readability. From the homepage, you see the day’s featured Readlists. Scroll down to the bottom of the homepage and you will find an easy to miss “Recent Readlists” button which will let you scroll through other Readlister’s gleanings. You can view any of these Readlists online or download as you see fit.

Click on the big “Make a Readlists” button at the top of the homepage and you are ready to start cutting and pasting the URLs of the article or post that you want converted to ebook. Readlists lets you take a variety of links, drop them in line by line and then create an easy on the eyes ebook. You can then download your ebook, email it, or send it to your Kindle or iDevice.

So far, all of the URLs I have tried with Readlists have resulted in an ebook that formats well on my Nook very similar to the format I see when reading the site on Readablity.

While you can create anonymous Readlists you can also login via your Readability account. The advantage of logging in is you are able to manage your Readlists via your userid. However, this logging in via Readability is the biggest problem I have with Readlists: you cannot easily log out. Also, the only indication you have that you have successfully logged in is when you try to create a Readlist: your Readability userid will appear in the “Created by” statement under the Readlists title strip. Your userid is found at the top of the bar along the left hand side of the page once you hit “Make a Readlist”.

The only way I found to break the linkage between any future Readlist I created from my Readability userid was to force a logout in Readlists by using my browser’s (in this case, Firefox) security features to clear my cookies. I also cleared cache, active logins and site preferences at the same time — which might or might not have been overkill. Once I cleared these settings, my Readlists went back to anonymous.

If I am missing something here, like an obvious “logout” option on Readlists that I’m simply not seeing, please let me know in the Comments.

Using WordPress offline with XAMPP and Skype playing nice

I’ve spent the last few days playing more with the stuff behind the blog curtain. I prefer to develop my posts offline, drop in my formatting and links and see how everything looks before I actually go online and publish the post. So, I dusted off my offline install of WordPress which I managed to get up and running last year by following the directions I found on LifeSpy.

There are several different ways to get WordPress up and running on your local PC, but I found LifeSpy’s instructions the easiest to implement. Their version makes use of XAMPP which handles the install and set up of  an Apache web server, MySQL and PHP; all needed to get WordPress to cohabitate nicely on your desktop sans an Internet connection.

Sadly, the comments on this LifeSpy post seem to have disappeared; at least, I am unable to access them. During my original install of XAMPP I found the comments as helpful as the original post. Of course, this post is now at least a year old or more, so you might want to dig further for more up-to-date instructions if you want an offline version of WordPress. Regardless, my install still works even after being allowed to lie fallow for a year and the original post proved helpful when I couldn’t remember how to fire it up after so long.

This time I did run into problems with XAMPP.  The Apache server just would not start. Every time I tried to fire up XAMPP I got the message, Run this program only from your XAMPP root directory. A bit of searching on this error message led to the news that XAMPP and Skype (which I now keep running in the background so I can keep up with my kid) do not play well with one another. Both programs want to use port 80; if Skype gets it first, the Apache server will not start. Disable Skype and XAMPP fires right up and the Apache server runs fine.

Getting your cake and eating it too

Well, that’s nice. But what if you want to be able to use your offline WordPress and have Skype running in the background? Back to the search engines and I find that the folks over at the knowledgesutra.com forums offer up an explanation and the solution for me. Turns out that Skype uses port 80 as an alternate port. It is easy to turn this off in Skype by going to Tools | Options | Advanced | Communication and unchecking the box for Use port 80 and 443 as alternatives for incoming connections.

So far, this has worked for me. I did have to completely sign out and then quit Skype, restart and sign in again.

However, be careful! I haven’t a clue of the impact unchecking this option might have on the operation of Skype. On the “to do” list is to find out the significance of not having ports 80 and 443 available for Skype if it happens to want either of them.

If you can help educate me on the significance of these ports to Skype or have other thoughts, please share in the comments.

Dyeing clothes and falling into bogs since the iron age

The folks at PastHorizons report on an article from ScienceNordic about textiles that maybe those iron age folk tossed in the bog weren’t all criminals or sacrifices. They dressed nice too.

You need to get click happy on this one and click through all the links at PastHorizons. Lots of pics of the various textiles in both posts. Moving on to the original article, even more explanation at ScienceNordic. Both PastHorizons and ScienceNordic make it easy to send their articles to print or pdf. If you don’t have these sites in your bookmarks or RSS reader, you need to do so.

Make sure you don’t miss the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research. The Centre, associated with the University of Copenhagen, provides a wealth of information on textiles, cloth making technologies and the relationship of clothing to culture on their site. I have not had a chance to dig deeper into the Centre’s site, but it appears to cover a large part of northern Europe and beyond.