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.

Conferences

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.

Read More

Hong Kong birding

Posted on Apr 9, 2018 in Birding | 0 comments

Back in Canada! Great trip, I saw 137 species of birds, 95 of which were lifers. Still, glad to be returning to my normal life. There’s a pile of work (and emails) to get through.

Click on the image for a few photos of the trip.

Hong Kong, 2018

Read More

Open source, work, Hong Kong

Posted on Mar 30, 2018 in Birding, Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 2 comments

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.

Read More

2017 Birding sum-up

Posted on Jan 21, 2018 in Birding, Blog | 0 comments

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.

Read More