Woods, WRTs and Wéiqí

The pandemic restrictions are relaxed tomorrow, but looking back on the last year, I notice that in many of my friends and myself, we've adapted somehow rather than just enduring things. Part of how I have (unconciously) adapted is by finding and developing interests and trying to enjoy what's immediately around me.

Richard Feynman said,

I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

It seems to be true. I seem to be able to get interested in nearly anything just by trying to dig deeper into it. I don't even know if what I'm doing when I explore things like radio or go or coding or machine learning is what I 'should' be getting into, but maybe it doesn't matter. It's fun, but more than that, since all this, I'm far more happy with my own company. Certainly in recent months, the question has often been what I can do with my day rather than complaining to myself about when the pandemic will end.

Anyway, enough of this. If you're reading this then you'll want to see some trailcam footage, right?

Nature

Each week the footage is getting better and better. One of the cameras, though, is having trouble saving to the SD card, so we replaced the card with a new one. You may have noticed what people are calling 'teleporting bunnies' on previous videos. This is what was happening there.

There are now three cameras in the woods, one by the stream, one along an animal run, and one in a small enclosed area that we know the deer like to hang out in. A fourth is coming on Friday. You will see some of the shots have only the temperature in Fahrenheit at the bottom. These are from a higher-spec camera which we're quite happy with.

As usual, you can see this week's video or the associated photos.

Making an appearance this week are magpies, rabbits, hares, thrushes, pheasants, squirrels, the ever-controversial badger, and of course our now-familiar deer.

🏕️ Chilling in the woods

Dan visited on Saturday with some new equipment. He's really keen to get out on his motorbike for day trips in the area, and so he's looking at versatile equipment to put in his backpack. Among them is a large black tarp. It looks simple but it's really quite a useful thing to have. After we'd got the trailcam footage, Dan used a system of bungees to make a shelter out of the tarp. Its elastic structure meant that it could be pushed about by the wind or even fallen upon and it would spring right back. Plus, it could be put up and taken down in a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, I had a lie down and the sound of the wind coming and going proved quite soporific. I fell asleep in the woods after not very long.

Bees and other flying insects

Despite all the honey bees we're seeing, none have taken up residence in our bait hives. A neighbour told us she had heard buzzing from the border in her garden. She said they might have been wasps. We got excited, of course, particularly because we wanted to try out Dan's BBWear Ultra Bee Suit and see if it was as sting-proof as it says. However, the noise was coming from the sheer numbers of bumblebees out. Dan and I love watching these guys go around their day.

The other bee-related thing I came across this week was while watching Samin Nosrat's Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat. In the episode about acid, she visits Yucatán. As well as learning about bitter oranges, salsas and recados, she visits beekeepers in Tixcacaltuyub. There, honey is made by stingless bees called Melipona. I'd never heard of these bees. The film shows them keeping the bees in the traditional Mayan way, in boxes without frames, and making up for their lack of defences by providing measures like water channels to keep ants out. They produce a fraction of the quantity of honey than the European honey bees do, but it was interesting to appreciate how beekeeping differs across the world and from different traditions.

Recycling old technology

How could anyone throw away a WRT54G router? It is the best selling router of all time. For a long time, when people thought of a router, they'd imagine its flat shape with the two antennas coming out. If, like me, you bought lots of them over the years, you also know they stack perfectly.

I have four WRT54G routers. They ran Tomato firmware and did, well, routing. I wanted to give them a new life, though, and my goal on Monday was to turn three of these routers into a little server farm to move my web site onto. Ultimately I'd like to make it solar powered, because off-grid is cool, but for now I just wanted some web servers I could load-balance the very small number of visitors this site gets. OpenWrt is a great firmware, accessible with busybox as well as a web interface, for these Broadcom routers. It's even better if you want to hack and experiment. One issue is how small the flash and RAM is in the router by modern standards. Even before you install anything, there is only 1.7MiB free for web file. However, the web interface is a good thing, because it can be hijacked to produce a web server without taking up any more room. The downside is that the last version of OpenWrt which fit on this router was OpenWrt 10.3.1 (appropriately codenamed Backfire). It's nearly ten years old now, dated 21 December 2011.

I didn't quite complete this, but I have been serving web pages from home. Not quite complete, because HTTPS is the norm now, and I didn't want to be http-only. I'm too cool for that. The problem right now is that such old firmware considers the state of the art to be TLS 1.0 (January 1999), TLS 1.1 (April 2006) and TLS 1.2 (August 2008). Right now the farm uses TLS 1.0 but maybe with a bit more work, specifically compiling my own version of OpenWrt, I can get up to TLS 1.2. TLS 1.3 came out in August 2018, though, so maybe that's the limit.

Radio

Today the 80m antenna is up because I attempted to join the CDARC net on 3655kHz LSB. Last week conditions were very clear but today there was so much noise I could only make out the sounds of people's voices but not what they say. It sounded like someone was blowing a football whistle over the top of the channel. My classmate Bryan M0IPO did a few tests afterwards. We found some problems but maybe next week I'll get through to Cambridge. Talking to some of the club afterwards, the general consensus was that the next issue to tackle was antenna height, so I'll be looking at getting a temporary mast to get the antenna radiating in more directions than directly upwards.

Other than this I've toyed with JS8Call a bit more, mostly on the 80m band, but it's really lit up this weekend on the 40m band. A 'QSO party' was announced for this weekend, so it might be that. I could hardly find a slot to transmit on. JS8Call has an open API, so I might also have a go at coding up something like a network graph visualisation or something to assist with the store-and-forward stuff at some point.

The gemini version of this blog appears to have a reader! I heard from ~ew aka Erich DL7TUX, who is into data modes and operating with low power. Hopefully we'll get to make contact over the air soon.

Go

I don't mind admitting here that I mostly use OGS to play quick small-board games with Chris B when I need a quick break from work. I think the ocassional distraction onto another task for two minutes is good. This week, though, we've had a lot of work to do, and I've fallen behind with my games. However, once all the work had been finished and committed, I wrote a simple web app which will take any 9×9 game state and explain what's happening on the board at a basic level, such the life or death status of groups and the number of liberties they have. The user can see the legal moves and explore the game tree from that point. The app will detect rules being broken, and the game state can be shared around because it all sits in the URL, a bit like with edit-tf. What I'd really like to add before making it available, though, are two things. Firstly, I'd like to be able to visualise the stones' influence, that is, their impact on the rest of the board. This is sometimes thought of as the 'light' that the stones radiate. This is a good intuitive analogy, and one I'd like to approximate in the UX, a bit like Color Go Server does, or influence maps in Sabaki. Secondly, I'd like to give the user some idea of a good move. This means not only consulting stored jōseki but also (in the background) having a strong Go engine like GNU Go find some good continuations and any estimates of score that come with it. I might even try to identify common stone patterns, such as eyes forming, and flag them up to the user. Finally, I'd like it to be possible for users to comment on particular board positions and ask questions.

This is about 40% done and I'll try to deploy whatever I have ready by early May to show everyone. Hopefully it will be a good teaching tool for newbies like me, making the board easier to read while identifying possibilities. The game looks beautiful but is also incredibly deep given its basic rules. If I can uncover one level of that depth it would be cool.