The Joy of Cat Intelligence

As a cat owner, being surprised by cat intelligence delights me. They’re not exactly smart like a human, but they are smart in cattish ways. The more I watch them and try to sort out what they’re thinking, the more it pleases me to discover they can solve problems and adapt in recognizably intelligent ways, sometimes unique to each individual cat. Each time that happens, it evokes in me affectionate wonder.

Today, I had one of those joyful moments.

First, you need to understand that some months ago, I thought I had my male cat all figured out with respect to mealtimes. I had been cleaning up after my oafish boy who made a watery mess on the floor from his mother’s bowl each morning. I was slightly annoyed, but was mostly curious, and had a hunch. A quick search of the web confirmed it: my cat was left-handed. Not only that, but I learned this is typical for males, whereas females tend to be right-handed. Right away, I knew what I had to do: I adjusted the position of their water bowls relative to their food, swapping them from right to left; the messy morning feedings ceased. I congratulated myself for my cleverness.

You see, after the swap, as he hooked the kibbles with his left paw out of the right-hand bowl, they would land immediately on the floor where he could give them chase. The swap caused the messes to cease because before, his left-handed scoops would land the kibbles in the water to the right; he would then have to scoop the kibble out onto the floor, sprinkling water everywhere! Furthermore, the sodden kibble tended to not skitter so much, decreasing his fun. Or so I thought. Clearly, I reasoned, having sated himself on the entire contents of his own bowl, he turned to pilfering his mother’s leftovers for some exciting kittenish play. I had evidence to back it up, too: he and his mother both seem to enjoy this game, a regular fixture of their mealtime routines. She, too, is adept at hooking out the kibbles, though mysteriously, without making a mess in her water, whichever way the bowls are oriented. I chalked this up to his general clumsiness of movement vs. her daintiness and precision, something I had observed many times before.

Come to think of it, lately, I’ve been seeing more mess around his mother’s bowl again. Hmm. I don’t know why I didn’t stop to consider why …

And then my cat surprised me again.

This morning, with Shadow behind my back as I sat at my computer, finishing up his morning meal at his mother’s bowl, I thought I heard something odd. Or rather, I didn’t hear something. The familiar skitter-skitter sound of kibbles evading capture was missing. So I turned and looked. My dear, devious boy had squished his overgrown body behind his mother’s bowls, nudging them ever so slightly askew to fit the small space. Now the bowl orientation was swapped back again. Stunned, I watched him carefully flip out a kibble with his left paw. Plop! Into the water on the right. Concentrating, he fished for it. A miss! He casually licked the water from his paw. Another try. Swoop! Plop, onto the floor. No chase now, just satisfied munching of his somewhat mushy kibble. And then it dawned on me that I had got it somewhat wrong. Yes, he enjoyed Chase the Kibble, like his mom, but I never recognized he had been indulging in a favourite pastime, peculiarly his own …

I had judged his mealtime messes as accidents, a very human way of thinking about my problem. Little did I know, it was deliberate! His private game was Bobbing for Kibbles. I don’t know if it’s the altered texture, or dabbling in the bowl, but whatever the reason, due to my meddling, he had been deprived of this pleasure. No worries, a thwarted cat will find a way. And that is the joy of cat intelligence.

Annual Hike with Ryan: Salt Marsh Trail, 2016

Once again, Ryan Neily and I met last month for our annual hike. This year, to give our aging knees a break, we visited the Salt Marsh Trail for the first time. For an added level of challenge and to access the trail by public transit, we started with the Shearwater Flyer Trail and finished with the Heritage Trail. It was a perfect day both for hiking and photography: cool with cloud cover and a refreshing coastal breeze. The entire hike was over 25 km and took the better part of the day to complete. Good times, great conversations, and I look forward to visiting these beautiful trails again!

Salt Marsh trail hike, 2016. Click to start the slideshow.
Salt Marsh trail hike, 2016. Click to start the slideshow.
We start here, on the Shearwater flyer trail.
We start here, on the Shearwater flyer trail.
Couldn’t ID this bush. The berries are spectacular! A pond to the side of the trail. Different angle for dramatic lighting effect. Rail bridge converted to foot bridge. Cranberries! Reviewing our progress. From the start … Map of the Salt Marsh trail ahead. Off we go again! First glimpse through the trees. Appreciating the cloud cover today. Salt-marshy grasses. Never far from rocks in NS. Rocks all laid out in stripes. Lunch & selfie time. Ryan attacking his salad. Vantage point. A bit of causeway coast. Plenty of eel grass. Costal flora. We head for the bridge next. Impressed by the power of the flow beneath. Snapping more marsh shots. Ripples. Gulls, and if you squint, a copter. More ripples. Swift current along this channel. Until it broadens out and slows down. Nearly across. Heron! Sorry it’s so tiny. Heron again, before I lost it. Ducks at the head of the Atlantic View trail where we rested and then turned back. Attempt at artsy. Nodding ladies tresses on the way back. Several of them. Sky darkening, but we still have time. A lonely wild rose. The last gasp of late summer. Back across the marshes. A short breather on the Heritage Trail.

Here’s the Strava record of our hike:

Retiring as a Debian developer

This is a repost and update of my retirement letter sent privately to Debian last month, July 10, 2016. At that time I received many notes of appreciation and good wishes which I treasure. Now, I’d like to say goodbye to the broader Debian community and, as well, indicate which of the cleanup items have since been addressed in strikethrough style and with annotations. Also, I’d like to stay in touch with many of you, so I have added some comments oriented towards those of you who are interested in doing that after the letter.

When in 1995, on a tip from a friend, I installed Debian on my 386 at work and was enthralled with the results, I could not have foreseen that two years later, friends I had made on channel #debian would nudge me to become a Debian developer. Nor when that happened did I have any idea that twenty years later, I’d consider Debian to be like family, the greatest free software community in the world, and would still be promoting it and helping people with it whenever I could. Debian quietly, unexpectedly became a part of what defines me.

My priorities in life have changed over that time, though. I have shifted my attention to things that are more important to me in life, such as my family, my health and well-being physically and spiritually, and bringing all I can to bear on the task of preserving our local wilderness areas and trails. In the latter area, I’m now bringing all of what Debian has helped shaped me to be to the table, launching some ambitious projects I hope will bear fruit in the coming years, and make a measurable contribution to help us hang onto our precious natural preserves where I live.

Unfortunately, as I’ve poured more time and energy into these things, I’ve increasingly not been giving my packages the care they need. Nor do I have any roles or goals now for any of the Debian projects I was previously involved in. So, after much careful deliberation, and as much as it pains me to say it, it’s time to retire as a Debian developer. It has been a great privilege to work with you, and to meet many of you in New York at Debconf 10. I plan to be around online, and will continue to take an interest in Debian, lending a hand when I can. Thanks for all of the fun times, for all that I’ve learned, and for the privilege to make awesome things with you. I’ll treasure this forever.

So much for the soppy bits. 🙂 Now, business. These things remain to clean up upon my departure, and I’d appreciate help from QA, and anyone else who can lend a hand. My packages are effectively orphaned, but I haven’t the time to do any of the cleanup myself, so please speak up if you can help.

  1. Debian Jr.
    • O: junior-doc. The junior-doc package has been awaiting an overhaul by whoever revives the project since I gave it up years ago. I’m still listed as maintainer and that should be changed to Debian Junior Maintainers <debianjr-maintainers@lists.alioth.debian.org> if they want it. Otherwise, it is orphaned.
    • I should also be dropped from Uploaders from debian-junior, the metapackages source. Fixed in git.
  2. Tux Paint. This is a very special package that deserves to go to someone who will love it and care for it well. There are three source packages in all:
    • O: tuxpaint
    • O: tuxpaint-config
    • O: tuxpaint-stamps
  3. O: xletters. This is a cute little typing practice game and needs a new maintainer.
  4. XPilot is co-maintained by Phil Brooke <pjb@debian.org>, so he should replace me as Maintainer. Phil said he’ll pick up xpilot-ng and will also look at xpilot-extra.
    • xpilot-ng
    • O: xpilot-extra (recently removed from testing due to my neglect, and not co-maintained by Phil; it’s unclear if anyone really uses this anymore)
  5. GTypist is co-maintained by Daniel Leidert <dleidert@debian.org> and should replace me as Maintainer.
  6. My ruby packages. A group of packages that I brought into Debian as dependencies of taskwarrior-web, which I never completed. Maybe they’ll be useful in and of themselves, and maybe not. In any case, they are maintained by pkg-ruby-extras-maintainers, but I’m the sole developer in Uploaders and should be removed: Fixed in git.
    • ruby-blockenspiel
    • ruby-parseconfig
    • ruby-rack-flash3
    • ruby-simple-navigation
    • ruby-sinatra-simple-navigation
    • ruby-term-ansicolor
    • ruby-versionomy
  7. Debian Live stuff: I am listed in Uploaders for live-manual (fixed in git) and debian-installer-launcher (fixed in git) and need to be removed.
  8. O: eeepc-acpi-scripts. The defunct Debian EeePC project has just this one package. Recently, the mailing list was asked about its status, and it was recently NMU’d. To my knowledge, nobody from the original team remains to take care of it, so it needs a new maintainer. I should be removed from Uploaders, and since the Debian Eee PC Team no longer exists, it should be removed as maintainer. It is effectively orphaned unless someone speaks up.

There are also some Alioth projects / lists that are defunct that I’ll need to talk to the Alioth admins about cleaning up in the coming days. One of these is <debian-eeepc-devel@lists.alioth.debian.org> and since it is still listed as the maintainer of eeepc-acpi-scripts, that needs to be sorted out before the list can be closed.

Thanks again, and see you around!
Ben

Stay in touch

For those of you who would like to stay in touch, here are some ways to do that:

  • Follow my blog: http://syn.theti.ca
    If you already do that, great! If not, welcome to my blog! For the past couple of years you may have noticed a decrease in technical content and increase in local trails and conservation oriented posts. You can expect more of the latter.
  • Say hi to me on irc: SynrG (also SynrGy) on irc.oftc.net (irc.debian.org) or irc.freenode.net.
    I still intend to hang out and offer support when I can, just no longer as a developer. Channel #debian-offtopic on either network is a good place to catch up with me socially.
  • Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SynrG
    For better or worse, a lot of the trails and conservation folks hang out here, and many of you in the Debian community are already my Facebook friends.
  • Look for my Bluff Trail posts on their site: https://wrweo.ca
    Providing tech support to this organization is where much of my time and energy is going these days. I post here once in a while, but do most of my work behind the scenes as a volunteer and, newly this year, as a board member.

Bluff Trail icy dawn: Winter 2016

Before the rest of the family was up, I took a brief excursion to explore the first kilometre of the Bluff Trail and check out conditions. I turned at the ridge, satisfied I had seen enough to give an idea of what it’s like out there, and then walked back the four kilometres home on the BLT Trail.

I saw three joggers and their three dogs just before I exited the Bluff Trail on the way back, and later, two young men on the BLT with day packs approaching. The parking lot had gained two more cars for a total of three as I headed home. Exercising appropriate caution and judgement, the first loop is beautiful and rewarding, and I’m not alone in feeling the draw of its delights this crisp morning.

Click the first photo below to start the slideshow.

Click to start the slideshow
Click to start the slideshow
At the parking lot, some ice, but passable with caution Trail head: a few mm of sleet Many footprints since last snowfall Thin ice encrusts the bog The boardwalk offers some loose traction Mental note: buy crampons More thin bog ice Bubbles captured in the bog ice Shelves hang above receding water First challenging boulder ascent Rewarding view at the crest Time to turn back here Flowing runnels alongside BLT Trail Home soon to fix breakfast If it looks like a tripod, it is Not a very adjustable tripod, however Pretty, encrusted pool The sun peeks out briefly Light creeps down the rock face Shimmering icy droplets and feathery moss Capped with a light dusting of sleet

Debian Live After Debian Live

Get involved

After this happened, my next step was to get re-involved in Debian Live to help it carry on after the loss of Daniel. Here’s a quick update on some team progress, notes that could help people building Stretch images right now, and what to expect next.

Team progress

  • Iain uploaded live-config, incorporating an important fix, #bc8914bc, that prevented images from booting.
  • I want to get live-images ready for an upload, including #8f234605 to fix wrong config/bootloaders that prevented images from building.

Test build notes

  • As always, build Stretch images with latest live-build from Sid (i.e. 5.x).
  • Build Stretch images, not Sid, as there’s less of a chance of dependency issues spoiling the build, and that’s the default anyway.
  • To make build iterations faster, make sure the config is modified to not build source & not include installer (edit auto/config before ‘lb config’) and use an apt caching proxy.
  • Don’t forget to inject fixed packages (e.g. live-config) into each config. Use apt pinning as per live-manual, or drop the debs into config/packages.chroot.

Test boot notes

  • Use kvm, giving it enough ram (-m 1024 works for me).
  • For gnome-desktop and kde-desktop, use -vga qxl, or else the desktop will crash and restart repeatedly.
  • When using qxl, edit boot params to add qxl.modeset=1 (workaround for #779515, which will be fixed in kernel >= 4.3).
  • My gnome image test was spoiled by #802929. The mouse doesn’t work (pointer moves, but no buttons work). Waiting on a new kernel to fix this. This is a test environment related bug only, i.e. should work fine on hardware. (Test pending.)
  • The Stretch standard, lxde-desktop, cinnamon-desktop, xfce-desktop, and gnome-desktop images all built and booted fine (except for the gnome issue noted above).
  • The Stretch kde-desktop and mate-desktop images are next on my list to test, along with Jessie images.
  • I’ve only tested on the standard and lxde-desktop images that if the installer is included, booting from the Install boot menu option starts the installer (i.e. didn’t do an actual install).

Coming soon

See the TODO in the wiki. We’re knocking these off steadily. It will be faster with more people helping (hint, hint).

The passing of Debian Live

Debian Live has passed on. And it has done so in not happy circumstances. (You can search the list archives for more if you are confused.) I have reposted here my response to this one thread because it’s all I really want to say, after all of the years of working with the team.

I’d like to add as a postscript, that while the focus of this article was to remain positive in the face of Daniel’s announcement of the closure of his project, that event has left a lot of users confused about the status of live support in Debian going forward. Read my posts here and here addressing that confusion.

On 09/11/15 12:47 PM, Daniel Baumann wrote:
> So long, and thanks for all the fish[7].
>
> Daniel
>
> [7] http://live.debian.net/project/downstream/

Enough bitter words have been said. I don’t want to add any more. So:

I’m proud.

Indeed, that long list of downstreams does speak to the impact you’ve had in inspiring and equipping people to make their own live images. I’m proud to have been a small part of this project.

I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that I was able to, through this project, contribute to something for a while that had a positive impact on many people, and made Debian more awesome.

I remember the good times.

I remember fondly the good times we had in the project’s heyday. I certainly found your enthusiasm and vision for the project, Daniel, personally inspiring. It motivated me to contribute. Debconf10 was a highlight among those experiences, but also I had many good times and made many friendships online, too.

I’m sad.

I’m sad, because although I made some attempts to liaise between Debian Live and the CD and Installer teams, I don’t feel I did an effective job there, and that contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in. If I did you or the project injury in trying to fulfill that role, please forgive me.

I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful that whichever way we all go from here, that the bitterness will not be forever. That we’ll heal. That we’ll have learned. That we’ll move on to accomplish new things, bigger and better things.

Thank you, Daniel. Thank you, Debian Live team.

Ben

Learning Nova Scotia Plants with Anki Flashcards

plants_of_nova_scotiaOne of the greatest pleasures of walking and hiking is to appreciate all of the many living things encountered along the way. A big part of that appreciation for me is to be able to identify individual species and learn the relationships among them. To that end, I would like to introduce a flashcard deck I created, based on the glossary of the excellent, and also free, Nova Scotia Plants, by Marian C. Munro, Ruth E. Newell, and Nicholas M. Hill, so that I could more effectively use the book as an amateur student of our local flora.

  • Download the book.
  • Download my Nova Scotia Plants glossary flashcard deck for Anki.
  • Install Anki for your platform and register at ankiweb.net.
  • Import the apkg deck file in Anki.
  • Enjoy studying the plants of Nova Scotia with these resources.
  • Comments are welcome here, and a review on ankiweb.net would be appreciated.

Creating the Nova Scotia Plants glossary for Anki

I authored the deck on Debian, using the free software utility pdftotext (from poppler-utils), the small shell script below to produce a rough draft, and a text editor to clean up any errors, inconsistencies, and artefacts caused by the conversion process, such as descriptions which wrapped to a second line.

#!/bin/sh
pdftotext -f 40 -l 55 \
  'Print Nova Scotia Plants complete manuscript.pdf' \
  glossary_raw.txt
egrep -v '^[ixvl]+$' glossary_raw.txt | \
  grep -P '^\f?[ a-z]+' | \
  sed -re 's/^\f?([^–]+)( [-–]+ ?|[-–]+ )( ?(.+))/\1\t\4/' \
  > glossary_import.txt

Nova Scotia Plants

The Anki flashcard deck is intended as a companion for studying Nova Scotia Plants, linked above, and available either as a single PDF file, or multiple, smaller PDFs per section or family. This ebook has been a constant companion to me on my tablet during my walks and to study in quiet moments of the day. It has enriched my enjoyment of nature in Nova Scotia immeasurably. I am indebted to the authors for the years of work they put into it, and for making it available to the public for free. I hope you get as much out of it as I have.

Anki for devices

One of the criteria I used in selecting Anki as my flashcard software is that it is available for Debian, but also should work on my devices. I use the free software, AnkiDroid, on my Android phone and tablet, available both in F-Droid and the Google Play store. I understand there is also AnkiMobile for iOS, but that is not free.

Feedback

Please take the time to give me feedback. I spent an afternoon and a morning putting these materials together to share, and am eager to hear if my work has benefited you. Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements, and don’t forget to leave a review at ankiweb.net.

Colours of Autumn 2015, Bluff Trail

My friend Ross Mayhew and I enjoyed a perfect Autumn afternoon yesterday, full of colours on the Bluff Trail. Not all of these photos do justice to the splendour and intricate detail I had hoped to capture, but I hope you enjoy them all the same. Click the photo to start the slideshow.

Late afternoon at the top of Pot Lake loop
Late afternoon at the top of Pot Lake loop
On my way to hike, the Canada holly hints of things to come Canada holly berries bright red and close to the branch (vs. dusky red false holly berries on long stems) Unsure which fern this is. Ross says Christmas, but the leaf margins aren’t serrated, but smooth. Sheltered by this mossy stump, a pretty mushroom Moss found climbing up a rotted stump, peculiar in that it has flat, fern-like fronds Ross and I spent a while examining this peculiar flat-fronded moss The reds of the huckleberries and maples were striking A tiny fern by a trickle of water across the path A familiar view overlooking Cranberry Lake, now in its fall splendour Brilliant Canada holly berries along the bog at our hike’s end

Cranberry Lake and nearby bog – Fall, 2015

On one of my regular walks with a friend, we decided today to walk part of the BLT Trail to Cranberry Lake and the bog just past it, an easy 5 km round trip.

On the trail to the lake, golds dominate
On the trail to the lake, golds dominate
A calm day, the lake like glass
A calm day, the lake like glass
In the bog, copper and golden hues
In the bog, copper and golden hues
On the margins of the bog, brilliant orange and red
On the margins of the bog, brilliant orange and red
The reds, dark greens and dead trees in counterpoint
The reds, dark greens and dead trees in counterpoint
At our turning point, my cranberry patch provided a puckery snack
At our turning point, my cranberry patch provided a puckery snack

Halifax Mainland Common: Early Fall, 2015

A friend and I regularly meet to chat over coffee and then usually finish up by walking the maintained trail in the Halifax Mainland Common Park, but today we decided to take a brief excursion onto the unmaintained trails criss-crossing the park. The last gasp of a faint summer and early signs of fall are evident everywhere.

Some mushrooms are dried and cracked in a mosaic pattern:

image

image

Ferns and other brush are browning amongst the various greens of late summer:

image

A few late blueberries still cling to isolated bushes here and there:

image

The riot of fall colours in this small clearing, dotted with cotton-grass, burst into view as we round a corner, set behind by a backdrop of nearby buildings:

image

image

The ferns here are vivid, like a slow burning fire that will take the rest of fall to burn out:

image

We appreciate one last splash of colour before we head back under the cover of woods to rejoin the maintained trail:

image

So many times we’ve travelled our usual route “on automatic”. I’m happy today we left the more travelled trail to share in these glimpses of the changing of seasons in a wilderness preserved for our enjoyment immediately at hand to a densely populated part of the city.