Tools to scrape data from a website

This is another one of those notes-to-self for later, and perhaps to inspire others to try. Putting the log back into blog. While I’d love to learn enough Python or what-have-you to scrape the data from a website, the following tools got the job done.

  • Import.io to do the heavy lifting of scraping. The best option I found in an exhaustive half hour of searching and testing.
  • Open Refine to split columns where I wanted, though that’s only a part of its power
  • Using a spreadsheet as a crowbar to make sure the data was in the right columns. Open Refine probably is the right tool, but good ol’ LibreOffice Calc got the job done.

And pen and index cards, to note what I did so before I try and scrape data from another site, I’ll do a better job.

My two sources for weather information

I rely on two indicators for weather: my sinuses and Forecast.io.

When I’m already congested, a strong weather front will give me a blinding headache. (Like today.) But that’s not helpful for you, or Daisy, our bichon frise, who hates having a potty walk in the rain.

I recommend Forecast.io for amazingly accurate hyper-local, minute-by-minute weather forecasts, which sometimes (alas, not quite, today) gives the dog enough time outside to do what she must.

The Unitarian van mission

I usually write about Universalist polity, but some chat a few weeks ago about “Beyond Congregations” reminded me about the English “Unitarian van mission” of more than a century ago, and interest that stirred up here in the United States.

http://www.unitarianhistory.org.uk/hsalbBUH4.html
Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society

 

Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society
Courtesy, Unitarian Historical Society

 

I’ve found references as far back as 1908, with its evident zenith in the 1910s. According to Georges Salim Kukhi, himself a London Unitarian preacher in 1919, there was more than one van, indeed, four that roved Britain. The vans have not only a pulpit, but sleeping quarters and room for print material. They were fitted with technically-advanced acetylene lamps!

Preachers, sometimes lay preachers, would address the crowds from the van; sometimes they’d be harangued. But it seems there was also a desire for information:

The Unitarian Van Mission in England allows its out of doors audiences to ask questions and finds frequent anxiety for information concerning the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden the veracity of Balaam’s ass the truth of the whale and Jonah incident and other Old Testament marvels.

They would also distribute publications.

I’ve not been able to find evidence of a Unitarian van in the United States, though there was a stated desire and a bit of embarrassment that that the gung-ho Americans didn’t do it first! (In fact, there was something called a van mission in Kansas in 1896. That’s something to research.)

But there is this charming report about an initial, and similar measure, in Massachusetts around 1903 that relied on camping in outpost towns, with audiovisual equipment (a stereopticon).

 

Things to try out

Now, with the preaching done for the day, I’m trying out three technology fixes:

  • to find the best (that is, most appropriate and quickest to learn) tool for modifying images for a website, social media and the like.
  • to see which of the static web development tool would work best for something like a church website, particularly reviewing Jekyll, Middleman and Pelican. Even better if I can use the super-cheap Amazon S3 service with it.
  • to try out the lightweight Midori browser, so we’ll see how that goes.

You might note a theme of lightening up.

Tool to search news broadcasts

Internet Archive has a tool that searches news broadcasts back to 2009, but since it’s fairly new, you may not have heard about it. Lots of uses, but I’m thinking particularly of those preachers who heard of, or were told of, a news segment but then don’t have access to it.

I thought a demonstration was in order, but so many of the searches were old or sad (funerals, vigils) that when I came across this 2014 Fox News segment with a Unitarian Universalist named John “Mac” McNichol, who is a living kidney donor, I knew I had to share it.

Serving the online church

I’ve signed up for so many accounts to manage my business relations with companies lately that I wonder what services a church — say, program-sized or larger — might offer online. I’m not suggesting that this suite of services already exists, or that everyone would find it desirable, but the such online services might expand utility to members (perhaps) with little or no added cost in staffing or facilities.

This list is far from exhaustive; just a few possibilities that occur to me over the course of about a half hour, in no particular order.

  • make financial pledges and special gifts
  • set up auto pay from credit card or checking account
  • download charitable donation letter
  • call for donations for affiliated charities
  • change address
  • take online trainings
  • register for space-limited events
  • download coloring pages for children
  • manage prayer circles
  • sign up (and get reminders) for church volunteer roles
  • get emergency alerts from authorities
  • offer feedback for quality improvement
  • apply for (and resign) membership
  • share alerts for road closures or public transportation re-routings
  • provide workflows to access public services
  • prepare and record special ceremonies (weddings, funerals)

Coding for …?

In my experience, attempts to introduce technology lessons for lawyers means an opportunity for clergy, too. Small-firm lawyers and clergy very often have this much in common: a need for technology, perhaps more than is currently thought, and few opportunities to learn about it, even though they have a deep educational background. I mentioned this resource for typography, later generalized. (Bookmark that second link; you can thank me later.)

So I intend to follow Coding for Lawyers the same way. Using Markdown (lesson2) for sermons — I do — is something I’d recommend for those who just need to “get it on paper” with a minimum of fuss.

Thanks to @internetrebecca (Rebecca Williams) for the citation.

Universalist National Memorial Church debuts new website

So, I made it to church Sunday, was greeted and then asked: how you seen the new church website. I had seen a preview, but not the release.

Seeing as I was the lead on the last revision a decade ago, I knew it was overdue for a refresh. And a new breeze is blowing…

I’m glad to point to Universalist National Memorial Church’s site at universalist.org.