Where’s Ben?

Posted on Aug 14, 2019 in Blog, Open Source Projects | 1 comment

Doing open source is a funny thing. Even though in the back of my mind I know I have a choice to develop and release free software, it doesn’t always feel that way… I feel awful when I’m not busy supporting my projects and actively developing.

For the last few weeks I’ve hardly contributed anything at all – and it’s eating away at me! My weekdays have been busy with my day job and commuting, and my weekends have been packed with a continual stream of activities like doing up the house, visiting parents for their 50th wedding anniversary, helping a composer friend with a programming project and, okay yes, clambering up mountains and going on hikes in pursuit of unknown species of fauna and flora. (Hey, it’s addictive what can I say).

Anyway, I just wanted to write a quick note to say I ain’t dead, and I’m sorry if I’m shirking my responsibilities. For the next week or so I really want to get this home project done (building a wall so we have space to grow more veggies) and then try to spend more time back with the software. So bear with me.

On the positive side, since last week my company has allowed me to work from home full-time. This saves me 3-4 hours commuting time a day which is massive.

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generatedata updates

Posted on Jul 8, 2019 in generatedata.com, Open Source Projects | 1 comment

So! Fancying a change from Form Tools for a while, I thought I’d return to generatedata and do a few updates.

In the very short term (few days) I’ll be working on 3.3.1, which will include random data sets for the remaining top 20 countries that visit the site. Four to go, I think.

Following that I’m going to revamp the front-end. The backend code, although not awfully efficient, isn’t all that bad – but the FE is extremely dated and far too large. I’ll be moving away from ye olde requirejs and onto React.

To be honest I’ve been looking around for new designs for the site but nothing’s really struck a chord. So for now I’m just going to begin re-implementing the functionality and see what comes of it.

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2018 birding sum-up

Posted on Jan 29, 2019 in Birding, Blog | 0 comments

Good grief, February’s almost upon us and I haven’t written up a post about last year’s birding. Amazing how time time flies.

All in all, not a bad year. Not great, but not bad. I picked up 273 lifers in four countries, starting off with a trip to Hong Kong in early April and ending with a 2 1/2 week trip up the East coast of Australia.

Hong Kong isn’t exactly the first place you think about for birding, but since I’d never been to Asia before, flights were affordable and it’s easy for us honkies to get by there, I thought I’d take a week and go exploring. I won’t say it was the most idyllic of destinations, but there were certainly great spots when you looked for them – but admittedly it was hard to avoid the drone of cars. Mai Po and Tai Po Kau in particular stood out. The former is a migratory hotspot for birds found at the NW corner of Hong Kong (and a bureaucratic nightmare for birders to visit alone – trust me, get a local guide); Tai Po Kau is a quiet, macaque-ridden forest nature reserve where I picked up all manner of wonderful forest birds including orange-bellied leafbird, silver-eared mesia, scarlet and gray-chinned minivet and black-throated laughingthrush. Wow. I’d go back to Hong Kong for either of those locations alone.

Next up, in late June I spent a long weekend doing a roadtrip down to Oregon and California to target a few North American species I hadn’t yet seen. In retrospect it’s hard to believe I drove for over 40 hours that weekend, but worth every minute. I actually did extremely well, only missing out on two target species. I saw green-tailed towhee (my last north-of-mexico towhee species), tricolored blackbird (thank heavens they sound totally different to red-winged), sagebrush sparrow, ferruginous hawk, oak titmouse, wrentit and nuttall’s woodpecker. Memorable trip.

Lastly, in October my wife and I flew to Australia in pursuit of exciting birds and marsupials. We flew from Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns, then back through Sydney. Brilliant trip, we crammed a tremendous amount in there: from snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef to taking a pelagic from Sydney, visiting the Blue Mountains, heading up to Daintree for a boat trip up the river, and had a great few days in Lamington park, south of Brisbane communing with the leeches.

Gah, the birds were really too numerous to mention… I ended up seeing a whopping 244 species – and considering I was with a non-birder and didn’t do any actual birding tours (the exception being the pelagic off Sydney) it felt like a real coup. Still, I have to mention a few highlights:

  • Seeing a group of rainbow bee-eaters in Cairns on the last full day of the trip. They’d been my #1 target bird the whole trip but I just dipped and dipped and dipped… And they were worth the wait. Gorgeous birds, constantly squabbling amongst themselves – and such precise flyers.
  • Southern cassowary! Holy crap! We saw one up close at a famous place we stayed at (The Cassowary House) but also were lucky enough to see one cross the road as we initially arrived in Cairns. Crazy.
  • Bowerbirds! Satin, regent, tooth-billed and great. Seeing a satin bowerbird at its bower was one of the highlights of my life.
  • Birds of paradise! I saw both Victoria’s and Paradise riflebirds.
  • I saw 5 wandering albatross out in the ocean. Remarkably dorky birds! Especially when they were seen next to the ever-so-trim black-browed albatross.
  • Wompoo and rose-crowned fruit doves. Hot damn.
  • Noisy pitta. Beautiful! I heard many of them, but saw only one. Shy little sod, but I managed to get a decent look. Quite startlingly lovely.

Anyway, by the time Dec 31st rolled by I tallied my list and found I’d reached 1316 species on my life list.

So what’s up for 2019…? That’s the question! This year I’m shooting for 1700 species, but it’s a tough target. In March I’m heading back to Costa Rica with my dad, which should be enormous fun. I don’t have any great hopes to add a lot to my life list (I’ve been to the Mexico & Central America several times and seen a lot there) but perhaps I’ll pick up another 30 birds or so if I’m lucky (a scarlet macaw should count for 10!). In June I’m going to JSConf Asia in Singapore and will spend as much time as possible hunting down birds in Singapore and nearby Malaysia. If I pick up 75 species there I’ll be happy – it’s not the ideal time of year to visit. But I don’t care: I could see another bee-eater species and my very first hornbill…! Lastly I’d been planning to visit east Africa late in the year but it’s possible that my wife’s health may rule that out. Still, we’ll see…

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Life update

Posted on Nov 4, 2018 in Birding, Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects, Training / Conferences | 0 comments

Been a while since I posted here! I do rather wish Github would offer some sort of feature where I could mention things like “I’m on vacation for 2 weeks! Will not respond!” or “I’m sodding busy. Check back in a week”. Once that happens, this website will serve even less purpose.


Compared to previous years I’d done gone to fewer and fewer events, sigh. Still, a couple of months back I attended the Open Source Summit 2018 here in Vancouver put on by the Linux Foundation. A big thanks to my company, Global Relay, for covering my ticket. It was extremely interesting – and cool to see Linus Torvalds in person – but overall, not too much that was immediately pertinent to my job as a boots-on-the-ground web developer.

Next week I’m heading down to Seattle for CascadiaJS, which I’m pretty excited about. I attended one once back in Vancouver a few years back: it’s a conference very much in the flavour of JSConf – earthy, but full of concrete information. Should be a fun couple of days – especially in light of the new React version that just came down the pipe. Curious to see people’s opinions on Hooks; I haven’t yet had time to play with them – just read the docs and see the flurry of Twitter posts about them.

Work / Life balance

The day job is going fine, I’ve slowly been hammering away at helping upgrade our old Sencha application over to React. I’ve almost finished a rewrite of a translation tool from java to node, which I’m quite pleased about. The code’s not bad and it gave me an excuse to play with esprima. Esprima’s a tool for converting JS code into an AST (abstract syntax tree) where you can manipulate and reconstruct the JS. Tremendous fun.

Sadly, a few months back the chap that runs a bus service from our island (Bowen) to downtown Vancouver ran into technical problems, so I’ve been mostly using BC Transit to get to and from work. Wow, does THAT suck. Commuting is now far more unpleasant and takes far, far longer than before. My spare time on a regular work day has dwindled to about an hour and a half: plus I’ve lost all that time I was able to work each morning/evening on the commute. Anyway, whine whine, I’m just saying I’ve had less time than ever to work on open source. Speaking of which…

Open source projects / Form Tools

Most of my focus has been spent on Form Tools, plodding my way toward 3.1 (rewriting the installation + upgrade code). It’s a little maddening: yes it’s a fair bit of work, but honestly if I had the time I could get it done in a few weeks. Instead it’s drawn out and out and out… sigh. Time, time, time. Today I’m going to try to get 3.0.9 out the door (just bug fixes) but it’ll be back to 3.1 very soon.

I also upgraded react-country-region-selector a couple of months back and if and when I get a little time I think I’ll rewrite it in Typescript. I didn’t particularly LIKE typescript – actually I thought it was an unbelievable pain in the ass & didn’t provide anywhere NEAR enough benefits for the difficulties that it introduces. But I’d like to give it one more shot where I have full control over how anal the linting settings are. The last time I used it it was in a Nazi regime where wasn’t permitted, Generics abounded and everything was cranked up to be as fastidious as possible. I strongly felt the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to Typescript usage and a more permissive configuration may make it worthwhile while cutting down on the “how-the-hell-do-I-satisfy-typescript?” headaches. Anyway, I’d like to give it one more go before writing it off completely, because there’s no question that working in plain JS after using Typescript you find yourself missing the odd thing.

Birds / Trips

A couple of months back, I decided to cut down on my local birding and I think this is the way it’s going to remain until something radical changes (like I become a millionaire). This was for a couple of reasons: not enough time and I was getting more and more into nature as a whole. I’d been using iNaturalist and started cataloguing and learning the various plants and insects in the area. Tremendous fun. But on the birding front, I just got back from a 2 1/2 week trip to Australia where my wife and went from Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns. Pictures here. I’d intended to track the other flora and fauna as I travelled, but there just wasn’t enough time on so short a trip so I just photographed the more outlandish things. Terrific trip though… I picked up some really incredible lifers: southern cassowary, bowerbirds (4 species), birds of paradise (2 different riflebird species), bustards, 4 more albatross species (including wandering!) and above all… rainbow bee-eater. I’ve wanted to see bee-eaters ever since I became a birder and these didn’t disappoint. Beautiful, charismatic birds, incredibly deft flyers that perpetually squabble amongst themselves. Great to watch.

Next year I’ve booked a trip to Costa Rica with my dad for mid-March. For the fall/winter it looks strongly like I’ll be heading to Kenya, and if I can afford it (and can get time off work) I may cram an trip to Singapore and Malaysia in in August. Then again, who knows. Lots of time for plotting…

Alrighty. Caught up. Now I’m off to pull up the potatoes from the garden and the rest of the day is on Form Tools. Seeya.

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