I had a weird thought the other night. There are a couple of programming tasks on my massive “to do” list that I figured I’d power through in the first few months of retirement before I started spending hours and hours alternating between training in my kayak and touring on bikes with my wife.
Well, life doesn’t always work out the way you intended and none of my todo items has been checked off because the pain that last year made it uncomfortable to sit for too long, and which was just on the “barely tolerable” end of things by the end of a normal length kayak race has now progressed to absolutely intolerable for even short stints at a desk chair or kayak. I’ve spent about 15 minutes total all winter in my erg, and haven’t even put my kayaks in the water. Normally by this time of the year I’d have 30 or 40 hours on the erg and about the same on the water. And I limit my sitting at my desk chair to short periods to deal with bills and paying taxes and the like. Even the library easy chairs are uncomfortable verging on painful these days.
But back to my weird thought. I have a new iPad. I can’t afford a new laptop. So I was thinking that for those programming tasks, what I might try is to install “code-server”, which is a hosted version of Visual Studio Code, on my linux server. This gives you the full power of a pretty extensive IDE available through an iPads web browser. I could try coding up one of those projects using that, maybe using the git integration to push the app to a free heroku instance for testing and debugging. I wonder if that’s doable?
Well, in order to find out, first I’d have to install code-server and make it available through my web server. Oh, what’s this, it appears you need to use nginx as your web server rather than Apache to do that. Well, no problem, I’ve been intending to make that switch to make it easier to use LetsEncrypt to put everything behind https like I should have years ago. Oh wait, one of my sites uses Perl fastcgi. Looks like there’s some extra hoops you have to jump through to configure that. And also convert all my .htacess files into clauses in the nginx configuration files.
Sigh, this is going to be a full in yak shaving exercise, isn’t it? I just wish the pain killers I take to be able to sleep at night didn’t leave me dizzy and disoriented all day, or that they actually killed the pain instead of just knocking me out.
Woke up this morning to an email from Linode saying my linode server has been running at 200% CPU. Logged in, and sure enough CPU is high, and there are a bazillion “firefox-esr” processes running. Did a kill-all on them, and the CPU immediately dropped to reasonable numbers. There was still a “geckodriver” process running, and when I killed that it went into zombie state instead of going away. I had to do an /etc/init.d/apache2 reload to make that one go away.
Did some tests, both from the nightly “scrape the whole damn site” cron job and the web site’s “scrape one flight plan when the user clicks on that flight plan” and I’m not currently seeing any orphaned firefox-esr or geckodriver processes. So it appears that when I scrape, I correctly close the Webdriver connection which correctly stops the firefox and geckodriver processes.
So I guess I need to keep an eye on this and see if I can figure out what the client is doing to make the website fail to close the Webdriver connection. Or maybe I left some turdlets around on the system when I was doing testing? I don’t know.
For my sins, I wrote a website for a friend’s company that relies on scraping information off another company’s website. The company I’m doing this for does have a paid account on the third party’s website so there’s nothing ethically dubious going on here – I’m basically taking off information my clients had put into the third party site.
I couldn’t figure out the third party site’s authentication system, so instead of pulling in a page and parsing it using BeautifulSoup, I use Selenium to attach to it like a web browser.
The third party site, however, is utterly terribly written. It’s full of tables nested within tables, and missing closing tags and everything else that reminds you of the old “FrontPage” designed sites that only worked on IE. They don’t consistently use ids or names or anything else to help me find the right bits of data, so I’ve had to wing it and parse things out using regular expressions all over the place. But worse is that every now and then they change things around a bit in a way that breaks my scraping.
The way I’ve been scraping in the past was I used the Selenium “standalone” jar, attaching to this java process that pretends to be a web browser without actually being a browser. Which is important, because I run the scraping process on my web server, which is a headless linode, and like most web servers doesn’t even have X11 running on it. (Some components of X11 got installed on it a while back because something needed something that needed something that needed fonts, and voila, suddenly I’ve got bits of X11 installed.)
This method has worked great for several years – when I’m debugging at home I use the version of the Selenium webdriver that fires up a Chrome or a Firefox instance and scrapes, but then when it’s working fine I switch over to the version that connects to a java -jar selenium-standalone.jar process. I don’t know what the official term is, so I’m just going to call it “the selenium process”.
I tried a bunch of different ideas, and followed a bazillion web links and tried a bunch of things from those places. Nothing worked. Eventually I had to give up and install Firefox on my web server, and an optional piece of the selenium api called “geckodriver” that launches Firefox. Fortunately selenium knows how to launch Firefox in a headless manner (although installing it did drag in even more bits of X11 that I don’t actually want or need). That actually worked on the site, after I figured out how to put the geckodriver file somewhere on the path and get the geckodriver.log file put somewhere useful. But I’ve got it done for now. Until the next gratuitous change.
One of the things I liked about the Garmin VIRB 360 camera is that they actually say “Constantly record for more than 1 hour on 1 charge5 — without overheating” on their product page, which shows a lot more concern for continuous recording than GoPro. They also sell a cradle that gives external power. So I thought I’d be all set for the sort of 2 – 3 hour recordings that have been my holy grail since I got into race videos.
I’ve been running various tests with different combinations of external batteries, and never seemed to get more than 1.5 hours. And today while running a test, I just happened to be looking at my camera when I displayed a “High temperature alert” on the screen just before it shut down. Well, again, I’ve got to give them props in handling high temps better than GoPro – GoPro usually don’t even give you a beep before they shut down for high temps.
But I’m still left with the quandary on how do I keep my cameras from overheating. I’ve thought about covering my camera with tinfoil or attaching a computer CPU heatsink, but a 360 camera doesn’t give you much in the way of non-vital surface to attach things to. Freeze it? My Fenix can act as a remote for it, maybe I could just turn it off in the middle of a race when nothing much is happening?
I decided to make a jump and bought a used Garmin VIRB 360 camera. I was going back and forth about this camera, because it’s several years old and there’s been no hint that Garmin is considering updating it or even improving the support (there are posts in the forums complaining about bugs in Garmin VIRB Edit that have been unfixed since 2016).
But there are two extremely important factors that led me to buying it:
They advertised that it won’t overheat even with an hour’s continuous recording. Considering how many times I’ve lost a GoPro early in a race due to overheating, that’s a good thing to see an action camera care about. GoPro seems to feel that action cameras are meant to record short clips like a downhill ski run or a sky dive, not an hour or more of continuous action.
They make a “powered tripod mount” that allows you to connect your camera to an external USB battery in a water resistant manner.
There’s another cool feature I didn’t know about until I got it home – when it’s paired to my Fenix fitness watch, it will start recording when I hit start on an activity on the Fenix automatically. Also I get a warning on my watch when its battery is getting low. If I get the external battery working, I might prefer not to wait until I hit start to start recording, but it seems like this is a good way to record as much of a race as I can.
I have done a few shoots with it, and so far it seems to give just about exactly an hour of video even with GPS turned on and external sensors and devices paired to it. The video is pretty good quality, and I like the idea of a 360 degree video for seeing all the action in a race.
You should be able to move the viewport around by clicking and dragging or touching and dragging, or even moving your device around if you’re on mobile.
I’m still not sure if I’d rather put up 360 video on YouTube people and hope people see which direction the cool action is happening, or if I’d like to “direct” it.
Here’s a 360 video where I use the “reorient feature” to point the default view where I think the action is, but the viewer can move the viewpoint around manually, and then when I reorient it might get confusing.
Again, you can move the viewpoint around manually, but if you don’t you can see that I’ve tried to move it myself to track things of interest.
And here’s pretty much the same “reoriented” video, but converted to flat so the viewer can’t mess with the viewpoint.
In this one I still track points of interest, but you can’t drag the viewport around to look at things other than what I want you to look at.
The camera records what Garmin calls “G-Metrix” data – i.e. the speed and distance and heart rate and other data that I love to overlay on my videos. By recording it in the camera instead of taking it from my Fenix watch, it simplifies the process of getting the data on the video, but there are a couple of major problems with it
VIRB Edit lets you plonk a gauge on the screen, but it stays in the same place relative to the view, rather than to the viewport – i.e. when you move the viewpoint around, it scrolls off the screen. I’d rather there was an option to keep it static in the viewport as you move the viewpoint around. And this is still true even if you’re using what they call “Hyperframe” to convert the video to flat. You’d think once you made the video flat you could use gauges the way you do on a normal flat video.
There are a different set of gauge templates for 360 videos than for flat videos, and when you use Hyperframe, they still only show you the 360 templates.
VIRB Edit had terrible editing tools. You’d think the difference between doing “trim right” in VIRB Edit and Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) wouldn’t be huge, but Final Cut Pro has keyboard shortcuts as well as “blade” and “blade all” as well a the trims. When it comes to transitions and titles the differences are night and day – there are 156 transitions in my FCPX (some are 3rd party) and 5 transitions in VIRB Edit, and hundreds of titles in FCPX versus 1 in VIRB Edit. Add to that the fact that VIRB crashes with shocking regularity – like 3 times when trying to do that flattened video before I gave up and did it in Final Cut Pro X.
So yes, I can edit the footage in Final Cut Pro – I’m not sure if I can grab it directly off the SD card or if VIRB Edit has to do something first, but I grabbed a video out of the ~/Movies/Garmin directory and dropped it in to FCPX and it recognized it as a 360 video and I was able to point around and do 360 stuff immediately.
So now I’m trying to figure out what my future video workflow will be. If I’m going to always flatten the video, I might keep doing what I have been doing and making a blue screen video with gauges in VIRB Edit and overlaying that on the flat video in FCPX. But if I’m going to output 360 videos, I could stick the gauges down near my boat, and output the full video with the gauges in VIRB Edit then bring it into FCPX for cutting, adding titles and transitions.
Maybe I need to do both for a while and see what people like.