Hike at Blomidon Park: Late Summer, 2015

I had the wonderful privilege to go camping and hiking with my kids’ scouting group, the Pathfinders of Tantallon SDA church. The day started with a quick trip to Pugwash with one of the leaders to bring back some chairs to their school, and then we headed back out to Blomidon to meet up with the group. Click the photo below to start the slideshow.

The road trip started early to fetch some chairs
The road trip started early to fetch some chairs – click to start
The smudgy truck windows make an interesting filter Still an hour or more away from our first stop More funky filtering, this time with trees participating Wentworth valley – taken over the cluttered dash We disturbed a great blue heron’s breakfast at Wallace The beach at Pugwash SDA Camp where we loaded the chairs Trucking along past Truro After dropping off chairs, finally approaching Blomidon Getting very close to Blomidon Some bikers out to enjoy the views Interesting white berries Interesting red berries My first up close look at the point with my hiking buddy, Dave, on the first day An experimental panorama. Not sure I have the knack for keeping the horizon straight. We must bring the group out here tomorrow! Fast ringneck snake! Hard to get a clear shot Pre-dawn over the campground The first blush of coming dawn The Moon and Venus just before dawn Evergreens surrounding our camp site, pre-dawn Seems I’m still the only one up Half of the tents on the spacious group site Half of the tents on the spacious group site My daughter, the artist My two youngest and their best friend Some relaxing down time after breakfast Not sure who said what, but apparently they were hilarious. 🙂 The smoke was a bit much for my eldest Geoff entertaining the troops Dave making breakfast Dave making breakfast Breakfast just wrapping up Relaxing while we finish breakfast Looks like that needs some tweaking A bit too smoky The whole group The whole group Just goofing around Who’s winning? Enjoying the last embers of the breakfast fire before heading to Jodrey Trail I admire this young lady’s great eye for photography She has some sweet gear A lot of old hardwoods out here Dave did this hike with me yesterday – Excellent hiking buddy! Words can’t describe how much more stunning these views are in person All the cameras came out Got to get that perfect shot! A tree clinging to the eroding ground above the sheer cliff A lookoff on Jodrey Trail A lookoff on Jodrey Trail Lining up her shot /a> A lookoff on Jodrey Trail A lookoff on Jodrey Trail A lookoff on Jodrey Trail A fern with sharply serrated sturdy leaves I’m not familiar with Breaking camp at group site 404 One final chance to enjoy the view from the park entrance before heading home

McIntosh Run “Hike the Greenbelt” event, August 2015

Just came back from a wonderful time hiking with my daughter at the finale Hike the Greenbelt event at the Backlands/McIntosh Run! This photo slideshow is from my HP snapshot camera which unfortunately has dust in the lens. But I felt it was more important to get them up soon than to get them perfect, so please click the photo below to start the slideshow. I want to thank everyone who made this event a success, and not going to name specific names as I’m sure I’ll miss someone important. But thanks especially to Martin, the leader of our group.

Marcos Zentilli explaining geology of the region. Click photo to start slideshow.
Marcos Zentilli explaining geology of the region. Click photo to start slideshow.
Barrens Barrens Barrens Barrens DIGITAL CAMERA Jack Pine in Jack Pine 😉 DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA Part of the waterway DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA

BLT Bike Trail – Early Summer 2015

This is one of my regular walking routes, from home to Five Island Lake and back. It’s about 15 km. I usually walk too briskly to capture the many visual delights of this route. Today on the trip out, I stopped and took several photos to share with you.

An early morning walk up the BLT bike trail. Click to start the slideshow.
An early morning walk up the BLT bike trail to Five Island Lake (pictured here) and back. Click to start the slideshow.
The walk starts from our subdivision. It’s cool and clear when I leave.

Saskatoon berries Saskatoon berries Saskatoon berries Dew on leaves Dew on leaves Pitcher plants Something’s attacking this alder. Maybe woolly aphids?

Wild strawberries Wild strawberry Wild strawberry Wild strawberry Wild strawberries Daisy Daisy Vetch Vetch Water lily Water lily

Sensitive fern Squirrel! Cranberry Lake Cranberry Lake

Bluff Trail – Early Summer 2015

Here’s a photo journal of a walk I just completed around the Pot Lake loop of the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail. Hope you enjoy it!

I was dissatisfied with my initial post, so have reduced the size to improve load time, changed the gallery software and have rewritten many of the captions.

My favourite stunted tamarack, clinging to the rocks.
Click this photo to start the slideshow.
The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail is a series of four loops. Today I’ll tackle only the first in order to get as many pictures as possible, and because when hiking solo, I prefer to stay on the more heavily traveled part. In late summer, I’ll probably do all four loops with my friend Ryan again. Meanwhile, I’ll stay in shape coming out here when I can for shorter walks. The trail starts here. Right away, even before heading between the marker stones, there’s a pretty view of Cranberry Lake off to the right. Pink lady slippers have been plentiful this year! All along the trail, you can find hundreds, if not thousands of these. Boardwalks provide dry passage across the boggy bits. The pitcher plants are thriving, too. The vines with tiny, round leaves are wintergreen. Tasty! I’ve not seen anything larger than a deer out here. Roots and rocks are a recurring theme. Many feet beating down on the first loop have packed the earth hard and have exposed more roots than you’ll see deeper into the trail system where fewer hikers travel. Step carefully. Sheep laurel is an eye-catcher. To me, they look like little, pink jewels. Yellow markers clearly mark the Pot Lake loop. At crucial junctures there are some signs to point you the right way. If you’re looking only at your feet, you may see black circles marked with arrows on some of the rocks, also pointing the way. The vegetation varies from scraggly and clinging to the rocks, to lush and green. The path is wet in parts. Nothing impassible, though. On the first loop in particular, and even within only the first kilometre, there are some pretty stunning views of the lake. Very quickly, you’ll find yourself perched up top on the rocks. On this stretch, you need to hop a bit from one rock to the next. Just as quickly as you ascended, you descend back down to the lake again. A good place to stop and have a snack. The start of the first loop, itself. I chide myself for not having discovered this trail until about 2007, even though we moved out here in 2005. It’s a treasure we’re indebted to the WRWEO for preserving. Leave some comments in the box, if you like. You’ll find these maps along the way to track your progress. Remember to follow proper trail etiquette. A particularly steep climb! Despite the best trail maintenance efforts, water still goes where it wants! Good to have boots. Another steep climb. This tree is chattering at me. Raising quite a racket. What’s in the hole? I patiently wait with my camera to get a good shot of the tree’s occupants. Mother woodpecker, feeding her babies! As the feeding continues, the chirping intensifies! Up on top of a big rock with a view over the lake is another favourite stopping place for a snack. The view at my snack break rock. I never get tired of it. There are some pretty big boulders. Next time I’ll bring a friend to stand under it for scale. Another terrific view. A stream just before the first portage. This portage connects Cranberry Lake with Pot Lake. The portage is clearly marked. The Pot Lake end of the portage. One of several upturned trees, with the roots now forming a wall along one side of the trail. The spiral of the roots mimics the spiral split in this boulder which you can walk all of the way into until you reach the centre. Rocks and trees and trees and rocks … White pine catkins. Suddenly the close forest opens up into a wide view all around. My favourite stunted tamarack, clinging to the rocks. Last year’s cones. This year’s aren’t out yet on this tree. I love the tamarack’s delicate new needles. These blueberries have a head start. Can’t wait until it’s time to harvest them. Nearly at the top of the Pot Lake loop. This is Pot Lake, itself. I was struck by this one little blighted berry, showing a blush of distress-induced colour amongst the green ones. Another view, nearly at the top. A sign beneath the map: Rare Plant Species: Mountain Sandwort – Arenaria groenlandica. Use caution and stay on designated trails. Avoid disturbing habitat. Finally, the top. A map to mark your progress. Probably three-toothed cinquefoil, right at the base of the faded sign. Whichever species it is, it’s a pretty, delicate little thing. After passing the sign, the view from the top over Cranberry Lake, indeed both lakes, is a reward worth climbing all of the way up to see. Some other hiker has left a cairn. The descent is not too steep at first. The approach down to the back side of Pot Lake from the top is marked by exposed bedrock and scrubby plants. Finally back to some cover, which is welcome on hotter days. A ferny fairyland. It’s not all abrupt ups and downs. Here’s an easy, winding stretch of trail. Cinnamon ferns. Ambling along. Rounding the end of Pot Lake. Not very long after reaching the lake, the path climbs several metres up above it. There are some nice, rootless bits on this side of the loop, giving your ankles and knees a break. This guy seemed extremely agitated to see me. A new tamarack cone! Did I mention I like tamaracks? The steep descent back to Cranberry Lake again. Finally back where the loop starts.

Debian Live Rescue needs some love

You may have noticed that Jessie no longer includes the useful rescue flavour of live image, formerly included in Wheezy and earlier releases, and neither will Stretch unless you take action. This is my second public call for help this year to revive it. So if you care about rescue, here’s how you can help:

  • First, try a self-built image, based on the old live-image-rescue configuration. While Jessie still contains the live-image-rescue configuration for live-build as a starting point, to successfully build this image for yourself, you need to edit the package lists to drop or substitute any packages that aren’t in the archive. As of writing, this includes libphash0, mii-diag, denyhosts, hal and emacs23-nox. (Tip: for the latter, substitute emacs24-nox.)
  • Join or form a team to maintain the rescue metapackages in the long term. All of the official Debian Live images are based on metapackages that are looked after by various other teams, (principally the desktop teams,) with rescue being the sole exception. The old package lists include some forensics packages, so you may wish to contact Debian Forensics, but I don’t want to presume they’ll take it on.
  • Have your team decide on what a rescue system should include. You might start with the old lists, spruced up a bit just to make the image build, or you might take an entirely different tack. This is your project, so it’s up to you.
  • File a bug on tasksel, preferably with patch, to include a task-forensics and/or task-rescue task (or whatever you decide the task or tasks should be called).
  • File a bug on the live-images package to include your work.

If you have any questions not answered in this post, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, talk to the Debian Live team on irc — I’m SynrG, and hang out with the team at #debian-live @ irc.oftc.net) — or drop us an email at debian-live@lists.debian.org.

Eleventh hour upload of tuxpaint

I have just made an eleventh hour upload of tuxpaint, tuxpaint-config and tuxpaint-stamps. With luck, this will make it in time for the Nov. 5 Jessie freeze deadline so it goes in as an unassisted migration. Coming soon to a mirror near you!

Bluff Wilderness Trail Hike, Summer 2014

Happy to be back from our yearly hike with my friend, Ryan Neily, on the Bluff Wilderness Trail. We’re proud of our achievement, hiking all four loops. Including the trip to and from the head of the trail, that was 30 km in all. Exhausting, but well worth it.

On the trip we bumped into one of the people from WRWEO who helps to maintain the trail, and stopped for a bit to talk to swap stories and tips about hiking the trail. Kudos to Nanci for helping keep this trail beautiful and accessible. We really appreciate the tireless work of this organization, and the thought they’ve put into it. It’s a treasure!

Invisible CSS animations on Iceweasel consuming CPU

Thanks to bernat on #debian @ irc.debian.org for helping me track down this bug and devise a workaround.

When working on my wife’s netbook, I noticed that when idling on Facebook in iceweasel 24.3.0esr-1, the process was taking far too much CPU. I then retested on a wheezy system with the release iceweasel from mozilla.d.n, which at that time was 26, and I later upgraded to 27. Same problem there, too, on both versions. In fact, it seems the slowdown was amplified by the fact that I was running iceweasel in vnc4server, not the worlds most efficient X implementation.

Even with all these versions tested, I have yet to file a Debian bug, as I will need some time on a system where the slowdown is noticeable and I’m using a current Debian version. But I wanted to post now to give props to bernat for his help. If you think you have this issue, go read his article linked above, which contains the workaround.

Wifi roaming on the move redux

It has been nearly six years with a netbook and five since I last wrote about wifi roaming from the bus to stay on irc without a costly celluar link during the daily commute.  Since then, some readers have asked me to share my refinements to the method in a followup post. So here it is.

The software

On the server:

  • openssh-server
  • screen
  • irssi

On the client:

  • screen
  • wpasupplicant
  • isc-dhcp-client
  • openssh-client
  • openbox
  • sudo & gksudo (optional)
  • urxvt
  • wavemon (optional)
  • three shell scripts (provided below)

Putting it together: on the client

Make sure if you have a wireless manager installed (such as NetworkManager) it is configured to skip your wireless interface, disabled entirely, or if possible, removed. Set up /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf and /etc/network/interfaces for roaming, as per the instructions in /usr/share/doc/wpasupplicant/README.modes.gz. Don’t forget to add yourself to the netdev group if you are not in it already.

In /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf, list common names of open networks. Normally the catch-all network that associates with any essid, i.e. the first stanza below, works well. However, occasionally the strongest signal is neither one of the common networks nor an easily accessible network (e.g. web portals), so having a list of common open networks helps to quickly select from among those instead. The more you travel, the more of these will discover and add. Just use reconfigure from wpa_cli to reload your edited list each time you add a new one.

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
network={
        key_mgmt=NONE
}
network={
        ssid="default"
        key_mgmt=NONE
}
network={
        ssid="linksys"
        key_mgmt=NONE
}
...

Since you’ll be using ssh repeatedly to connect and it has to be fast, make sure your server is set up to accept your key and use ssh-add so that you only have to enter your ssh key password once.

You can tweak isc-dhcp-client to make connections faster. In /etc/dhcp/dhclient.conf, use:

backoff-cutoff 1;
initial-interval 1;

Here are a few scripts I wrote to facilitate quick roaming from one open AP to another and reconnect to irssi running in screen, to break a connection and try the next one, and to recover from occasional lockups (more about that later).

~/bin/screen_reconnect

This is a script to reconnect continuously via ssh to a screen session:

#!/bin/sh
reset
while ! ssh -t 10.9.8.7 'screen -UDr' 2>/dev/null ; do echo -n "." ; sleep .1 ; done

Just substitute the IP of your own server here. Using an IP instead of domain name makes the connection faster because a DNS lookup is not required.

~/bin/wifi_reassociate

This script closes any open ssh sessions and informs wpa_supplicant to attempt to connect again.

#/bin/sh
/sbin/wpa_cli rea
killall ssh >/dev/null 2>&1

~/bin/wifi_killall

This optional, somewhat ugly script addresses an issue I hope you never have. On my ASUS Eee PC 1001PX, occasionally scanning stops. When this happens, and I have never figured out why, apparently ACPI events are blocked. At this point wifi becomes unusable and ACPI sleep is inhibited. By trial and error I found that if you bring down the interface, kill all network-related processes, and bring it up again, ACPI events are unblocked and wifi is usable once more (and any pending request to sleep will finally happen). The script requires sudo, and to use the openbox key binding, gksudo.

#/bin/sh
sudo ifdown wlan0
# in case any of these are hung
sudo killall dhclient3
sudo killall wpa_cli
sudo killall wpa_action
sudo killall wpa_supplicant
# in case any of these are *really* hung
sleep 1
sudo killall -9 dhclient3
sudo killall -9 wpa_cli
sudo killall -9 wpa_action
sudo killall -9 wpa_supplicant
sudo dhclient -r
sudo ifup wlan0

Openbox

Since certain actions need to be performed repeatedly and quickly, it is useful to have hotkeys bound in your window manager to the scripts. In ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml, key bindings for <alt>-r to reassociate and <alt>-d to disconnect a hung connection would look like:

  
<keyboard>
  <!-- My keybindings -->
  <keybind key="A-R">
    <action name="Execute">
        <execute>/home/synrg/bin/wifi_reassociate</execute>
    </action>
  </keybind>
  <keybind key="A-D">
    <action name="Execute">
        <execute>gksudo /home/synrg/bin/wifi_killall</execute>
    </action>
  </keybind>
</keyboard>

Putting it together: on the server

There is very little to do here. Just start screen, and start irssi in screen. Running screen on the client as well as the server means you should either bind the screen meta keys to a different key sequence on each system, or else learn to press meta twice to pass through meta to the server screen as needed. I use the latter approach. Alternatively, you could use a tabbed terminal on the client, or separate terminals per client process instead of screen. This is a matter of personal taste.

Ready to roam

Here is a typical setup for roaming on the bus:

In a terminal (I use urxvt), first ssh-add, then start screen with these three processes running in separate virtual terminals:

  • /sbin/wpa_cli
  • screen_reconnect
  • wavemon (optional)

March of the dots

Most of the commute, just enjoy watching the dots march by, waiting for a new connection. If you estimate a connection is unusable, press <alt>-r to reassociate immediately, giving the next network a chance. If the connection is already firmly established, this might not work on the first try. If the dots don’t resume immediately, wait a bit and press it again. This might take a few tries.

Changing selected networks on the fly

Use wpa_cli when you need to do some fine-tuning of network selections on the fly. While normally you can just watch the march of the dots until a connection is acquired, sometimes you can improve your chances of connecting to a good network by manually controlling the selected candidate networks here.

For example, by watching the speed of the bus relative to known “good” APs, you can predict which networks are more likely to succeed. Rather than connect to any arbitrary network, you might select a specific one by id, and then later when it goes out of range, revert to the original configuration, e.g.

> select_network 5
...
> reconfigure

You can use tab-completion in wpa_cli to type these commands quickly or else just abbreviate the commands.

Another common scenario is when you pass through a business area with many captive portal hotspots. These rarely make good choices because they either require a password not known to you or else you can’t click through “I agree” in time before the bus moves on. In this case, you might just disable the catch-all stanza and let the common open network stanzas you listed (“default”, “linksys”, etc.) do the work:

> disable_network 1

Become a type ahead wizard

While running, a continuous stream of periods fills the screen, which provides you with a highly visible cue that no available APs are in range. When the movement stops, you know a connection is being attempted.

While waiting to connect, you can type ahead any comments you want to make in the current irssi window (taking care to remember which one you are in!) While having periods interspersed in what you type may be disorienting at first, you get used to it.

There is a point when a connection is first established and ssh is accepting input, but anything you type can no longer be seen while you’re typing. Depending on whether the connection was completely successful or not, what you type now may or may not finally be sent. For best results, only type ahead before the dots stop moving.

Eventually you can become skilled enough at this to type ahead a comment in one channel, switch channels with /win # and continue typing ahead in the new channel, all buffered until the next few seconds (or even fraction of a second) of connection time.

Fine-tune antenna direction with wavemon

When the bus has come to a standstill, you may find wavemon useful to pull in a weak signal. Because wavemon has continuously updated signal level and link quality bars, you can use it to fine-tune the antenna position. Just turn your laptop until the bars are at their maximum.

Captive portals

I have not figured out how to do any automation for this, so it really is a crapshoot, as it is likely the bus has moved on by the time you’ve managed to manually navigate the login through a captive portal. But in rush hour, you may have the luxury of time to connect to these as you pass them. I have recently learned about the CoovaFX Firefox plugin which automates logins to captive portals. I’m going to give it a try to see if it helps. Update: I can’t recommend this plugin, as it is not compatible with Iceweasel >= 23.0. Also, the standard it is based on, WISPr, appears to have an uncertain future. That, coupled with the fact that the plugin appears to not be open source means I’m still looking for alternatives.

Summary

If all of this sounds a bit nuts to you, well, it probably is. But after half a decade enjoying free access to irc from the bus, it all seems perfectly natural to me! If you try this method and like it, please let me know in the comments. Likewise, if you have any improvements to the process or scripts, please share them!

Taskwarrior new blog, getting involved

The Taskwarrior Team has just started a blog, kicking it off with a series of articles about development of Taskwarrior itself. Go, team!

Almost from the moment I started using Taskwarrior (thanks to Jakub WIlk for an excellent job maintaining this) I knew I had finally found the todo system that I could love. Right away, I started hanging out with the Taskwarrior community at #taskwarrior @ irc.freenode.net and found out what an awesome bunch of people they are, both developers and users alike. I have plunged in with bug reports and feature requests, and am helping get more Taskwarrior-related things into Debian. In NEW right now I have uploaded several of the dependencies needed by my ITP of taskwarrior-web. It’s looking like I’ll have that finished later this month or early next month. Also, I have uploaded a wheezy backport of Taskwarrior itself (aka ‘task’) which, if all goes well, enters the archive next week.