Things are good! First off, open source work.
Form Tools 3 is primed and ready to become the standard build next month. All the major issues were ironed out in the alpha so as expected, the beta period has been extremely mellow. A few issues have been reported and fixed, but nothing of any great consequence. Unless something remarkable happens I’ll be dropping Form Tools 2 from the download page around the weekend of April 15th.
I’ll also be doing some cleanup. The forums will be closing (end of an era!) and all support will be moved to github. It’s time. Maintaining a forum is a job unto itself, and much as I respect MyBB, none of the plugins I installed were able to fight off the neverending spam – that alone forced me to reconsider why we have the forums going. Once the forums are shut down, finally I’ll be able to get formtools.org off the blacklist from many search engines. Yup, it’s been that bad.
Best of all, I’ll be able to start work on the next release of Form Tools; after all these years, new code at last! FT3 was just a refactor, albeit a massive one. FT3.1 will be rewriting the entire installation and upgrade process so all users will now just download the FT core, and pick and choose what modules + themes they want right within the installation script. This will allow me to drop tens of thousands of lines of code running on formtools.org for the Custom Build script, download package generation, grunt build processes, etc. etc. Best of all it’ll be better for the user.
Work is going well too. I was assigned time to work on a project to investigate and demonstrate the feasibility of moving our client-side codebase to React/Redux, which has been met with approval so far. Let’s see how that all goes, but I’m extremely pleased – this would be a massive improvement for everyone.
Tomorrow I’m off to Hong Kong for the week to go birding so I’ll be mostly incommunicado until I get back and I’m de-jet lagged. I’ve spent the last 3 months swatting up on the birds of Hong Kong, so actually getting to see some of these birds in person is wonderful. Hope my gammy ankle holds up to all the walking I have planned… As always, I’ll post a few of the better pictures I take.
Good grief, it’s almost February and I never summed up the previous year’s birding. What a slacker.
So here we go. I chose to cut down on my birding in the second half of the year to focus my time on open source work, but despite that, 2017 turned out to be pretty damn great for the birds. Most of the highlights were from trips, but I did pick up a couple of great new BC birds: grey partridge (looousy looks, but enough to confidently ID) and a black-backed woodpecker near Grand Forks, BC.
But yes, 2017 was all about the trips. In April I visited Salt Lake City for a conference, but it ended up providing some of the most memorable birding of the year. I added a mere 4 lifers, but wow, what lifers! Snowy plover, pinyon jay, black rosy-finch and some glorious greater sage grouse on the lek. The pinyon jay took the most work – almost a whole day finding them, and the black rosy-finch the least – right where they were supposed to be the little beauts. But the sage grouse was the star of the trip: have you seen these things? Good lord, they defy belief. I left the hotel around 4am to get to the lekking grounds before dawn and when I arrived, still pitch black, the party was already in full swing. Lekking etiquette (“lekiteque”?) forbids getting out of your car so you don’t disturb the birds, so all my photos were taken by contorting my body into ungainly positions in the front car seats. Still, I was still lucky to get a few great shots of the birds. A definite highlight of the year; I’d go back in a heartbeat.
The following month I headed off to Paris – again for a conference – then spent a couple of weeks driving up through Belgium to the Netherlands with my wife. She enjoys the great outdoors, but for some bizarre reason, the prospect of getting up before dawn to look for some small ugly brown bird doesn’t fill her with excitement. Weird, I know (as they say back in Yorkshire, “there’s nowt so queer as folk”). So I tried to temper the trip with a few non-birding activities such as doing cultural stuff (tick!), drinking lots of Belgian beer (tick!) and visiting Parisian sights like Le Louvre and La Tour Eiffel (tick!) but when I look back on the trip I mostly remember the birds. It was great finally seeing a whole slew of species I remember from growing up in the UK, like I was finishing something I’d started a long time ago. Robins (real robins), blue tits, great tits, eurasian jays, greenfinch, dunnock and more. Birds I must have seen countless times as a child but never properly registered.
Probably the highlight of the trip was Belgium. We stayed in Bruges and visited a place called nature reserve called Het Zwin a couple of times. It was that good. Highlights of the trip included great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, mediterranean gull (very different!), garganey, eurasian spoonbill, bluethroat (hot damn), northern lapwing, black redstart and a common kingfisher.
The remainder of the year was depressingly unbirdy in nature until December when I spent a little over a week in Panama. Holy cow. In that short time I saw no less than 226 species, 122 which were brand new to me, taking my life list over 1000 at last. I spent the first few days at the famous Canopy Tower, just north of Panama City, then headed over to the Canopy Lodge in the Anton Valley, west of Panama City. There were really too many birding highlights to mention, but I’ll name a few just to make birders jealous: 3 more motmots (rufous, broad-billed, whooping), 3 more manakins (white-ruffed, blue-crowned, golden-collared), black-chested jay, tropical screech owl, black and white owl (my 1000th bird! Woke me up at 1am hooting like a barred owl), emerald, bay-headed, tawny-crested and silver-throated tanagers, spot-crowned barbet, blue cotinga, blue dacnis, shining honeycreeper, great tinamou, plain antvireo, russet antshrike, fasciated antshrike, green shrike-vireo, moustached antwren, streak-chested antpitta, yellow-eared toucanet, stripe-cheeked woodpecker, southern lapwing, tawny capped euphonia and… bay-breasted and mourning warblers (at last).
All in all a great bloody year; final bird count: 1040. Almost makes me glad I don’t have kids. There’s no way I could pull this off with sprogs around.
Bring on 2018
I’d originally planned on doing a BC Big Year this year, but canned the idea once I realized how little time I’m going to have beyond my day job.
So instead, this year I’m going to continue in the vein of the last: I have two trips currently planned. First I’ll be off to Hong Kong in early Aprils, then in the fall my wife and I are going to visit Australia. I spent 10 days in Sydney a few years back when I was first getting into birding, and have always somewhat regretted my time there. I mean, how is it possible to spend 10 days in Australia and only see 25 species of birds? Baffling. We’re planning on spending a couple of days in Sydney, then spend the rest of the time up in Cairns (birds of paradise! Bower birds! Cassowary!). It promises to be a good trip.
Here in North America, I’m targeting only three species. The western screech owl (stiiilllll haven’t seen that sucker), the green-tailed towhee (long on my list of birds to see) and the sharp-tailed grouse.
Let’s see how we do.
Now a brand new year has rolled in, I find myself taking stock of where I’m at as a developer, and frankly I’m feeling pretty frustrated! Other than working an Electron project last year at my day job, I’ve been using exclusively old technologies for some time. That takes a toll. It’s not so much just working on the “cool new stuff” as is being aware that there are simple better ways to do what I’m doing.
Last year the majority of my time was spent working on the Form Tools 3 upgrade. It’s now finally approaching the end of the alpha phase with all modules, themes and the core having been converted to object-oriented, PHP7-compatible code. That’s pretty great, and in some respects I already trust it more than Form Tools 2.
Nevertheless, it still doesn’t use the most current of technologies. I’m deliberately supporting as far back as PHP 5.3 to maximize compatibility with people’s server environments, which of course prohibits using any of the more modern features of the language. And client-side it’s positively archaic: it still uses jQuery and per-page object namespacing to provide interactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it: it’s served its purpose well. But holy cow do I ever need to do something more modern to keep me engaged.
So! Here’s the plan for the coming year. For the first couple of months I’m going to continue fighting the good fight to get Form Tools out the door. Once v3 is the official build I’m going to start converting parts of the UI to React/Redux, starting with a brand new in-app upgrade system. I learned my lesson with FT3 – a massive rewrite of an application of that size just isn’t feasible. From here on out, the approach will be incremental updates.
The current upgrade process relies on the user’s installation passing details of what they have installed to the Form Tools website, which then intelligently constructs a new package of available components with the appropriate compatibilities. The plan is to do two things here:
- phase out the website as the key player. The custom CMS powering the Form Tools website will continue to be the single source of truth for available component versions and compatibilities, but instead it’ll now simply provide a REST feed of the information which can be accessed by the individual installation.
- have the Form Tools installations themselves download the source code directly from the github repos and install/upgrade the components directly. No more manual downloading of content from the website and FTP’ing it to the server.
The backend of Form Tools will never be cutting edge, but the front-end has far more room to modernize. This is what I’m going to be focusing on. I think it’s a sensible way to stay sane. ;)
I spent a little over a week down in Panama this month. As always, here are a few pictures from the trip. That little beauty shown to the left is a crowned woodnymph. I saw a great number of them.
Very birdy place. 226 species seen, 122 lifers. Highlights: 3 more motmots (rufous, broad-billed, whooping), 3 more manakins (white-ruffed, blue-crowned, golden-collared), black-chested jay, tropical screech owl, black and white owl, emerald, bay-headed, tawny-crested and silver-throated tanagers, spot-crowned barbet, blue cotinga, blue dacnis, shining honeycreeper, great tinamou, plain antvireo, russet antshrike, fasciated antshrike, green shrike-vireo, moustached antwren, streak-chested antpitta, yellow-eared toucanet, stripe-cheeked woodpecker, tawny capped euphonia and… bay-breasted and mourning warblers (at last).