T Minus and Counting

Today I leave for vacation. This is the first time I’ve left the continent in more than 5 years. One of the best parts of planning a big trip is building anticipation leading up to the date. I took this anticipation and used it to try out the APIs for Alexa’s Flash Briefing, something I check every morning for my news podcasts.

Its very much a hack. The Alexa flash briefing it not so much an API as it is an RRS feed that you can push daily updates to. I didn’t want to set up a full RSS service just for the few weeks leading up to the trip so with some help from other blog posts I managed to use AWS Lambda behind an API gateway endpoint to mock out a bare bones RRS feed server. One that just decrements a number every day.

from __future__ import print_function
import json
import datetime

def respond(err, res=None):
 return {
 'statusCode': '400' if err else '200',
 'body': json.dumps({
 "uid": "1234",
 "updateDate": datetime.datetime.utcnow().isoformat() + 'Z',
 "titleText": str(days_to_trip()) + " days to vacation",
 "mainText": err.message if err else res['message'],
 "redirectionUrl": "https://yoururl.com"
 }),
 'headers': {
 'Content-Type': 'application/json',
 },
}

def days_to_trip():
 trip = datetime.datetime(2018,8,30,0,0,0,0,datetime.timezone.utc)
 today = datetime.datetime.now(datetime.timezone.utc)
 return (trip-today).days + 1

def lambda_handler(event, context):
 rawdata = "there are " + str(days_to_trip()) + " days until your trip to europe"
 reply = { "message": rawdata,
 }
 return respond(None, reply)

The date is hard coded the python is sloppy. But it did what I wanted, telling me every morning how many days I had left until my trip, and I was able to get it together in a couple of hours.

Soon they will start boarding for my flight and the adventure will start, the count down has reached zero.

A Spider’s Snack

I previously posted some pictures of a spider I found which had apprehended a wasp in its web. I also took the opportunity to take some video. It was very up close with a very small depth of field, making the video a little shaky and blurry. I have tried a little to correct for this with some post processing.

Outside of the shoddy camera work its still rather impressive, if you are not arachnophobic.

The previous post was Lucky Spiders

Subject Isolation

In photography there is a concept called subject isolation, which simply means make sure what you want people to see in your photo stand out. This is commonly done by using a narrow depth of field to cause an intentional blur of everything that is not the subject. This effect is often called bokeh, and its popularity is the reason that so many wide aperture lenses are being made to day.

I recently got the ‘thrifty 50’ 50mm 1.8 prime from Sony. With the aperture open to 1.8 this lens should have a very narrow focal plane and lots of background blurring. Throwing on a tube extender for some ‘macro’ shots narrows the depth of field even further. I went for a walk to the local rose garden, self assigned to practice some subject isolation and try out the new lens.

Finding a new Bug

My find this weekend while out for a walk is two new insects I’d not seen before. Unable to identify them on the spot I took some pictures and looked them up later. One was a Bald-Faced Hornet, walking along the ground. The other was a Mud Dauber, perched on a flower.

blog-DSC01987

Bald-Faced Hornet

blog-DSC01998

Mud Dauber

Lucky Spiders

Yesterday while walking home I cam across a seven legged spider. Like finding a four-leaf clover I’m going to regard this as a sign of good luck. I also found a spider which was lucky enough to catch a yellow jacket for a tasty meal.

Pink Haze

liDue to forest fires in Canada, Seattle has been covered in a haze of smoke. While we’ve been advised that could be damaging to breath for long periods of time, it acts as a massive light diffuser. In the early morning everything has an amazing orange-pink glow.

blog-DSC01748

Snow Lake and the Seven Dwarfs

Last weekend I hiked up to Snow Lake. This was as an unofficial work event, with many team members showing up. This is not unusual as in Seattle this is a common summer weekend activity. This hike was different as it was the last time many of would see one of our co-workers.

One of our team’s founding members work visas has expired and his every attempt to get another via the annual lottery had failed. Our friend and co-worker is no longer allowed to work in the US and so soon would be leaving us. Those with citizenship, myself included, often don’t understand how unnecessarily complicated and frustrating our immigration system is, but these cases are not rare. I work in an industry where most of my coworkers are not born in the us, many are working under the last year of their student visas or are H1B. They can’t plan more than a few years in advance because it is not a certainty that they will be picked in the Green card lottery before their current visa expires.

This is now the second of my co-workers who has gone through this. We are lucky that we work for an international company that has offices in Canada and other locations where one can move with job security. As the argument over illegal immigrants continues to dominate the media I want to remind us all that its not easy for legal immigrants either, and maybe improving the process would help both problems.

blog-DSC01519

Like Bigfoot; wandering off into the forest perhaps to never be seen again