Birds

Of the things that have happened this week, birds have been the common thread.

As I write this, I am under siege by a male chaffinch and possibly some accomplices. There seem to be quite a few about now, at least from the calls I can hear while I work. But what this one chaffinch is doing that's so egregious is flying up to the windows, sitting on the sill, and pecking. Going outside, it became clear what was going on. Some small snails had set up home in the space between the window and the wall, and the chaffinch was attempting to use his inadequate hovering skills to get some of them for dinner. By the next day there were only two left, but the bird kept at it. In the end I had to stuff a towel in the crack so it would cover the window and not cause the bird any injury due to his persistence. So he moved up to my bedroom window, and soon after dawn (currently around a quarter past six in the morning) I heard the familiar pecking.

Later in the week, this just led to me capitulating to the rhythms of the natural world, and going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. With the lovely sunny mornings I think that infuriating bird has done me a favour. By midweek, four ewes and a lamb were grazing in the little wood next to where I live now. They're great neighbours, not too loud and keep the grass tidy, and are reasonably friendly. And the chaffinch has given up on the snails.

Trail camera

Relatives have said that I'm not reminding them enough of these videos, but they are always available from https://heathens.club/~palm93/video/ - I just post them here too because I like to reflect on how the wood is changing.

One of the main ways the wood is changing is that, for the first time since I moved here, it's no longer necessary to wear wellies to get there. In fact, I don't even need to wear wellies to get into town now.

The weather was amazing on Saturday. I actually needed sunblock for the first time this year. Dan came over. We had lunch at the local farm shop and a big curry for dinner. In between these culinary events, we went to the woods. We used two tarps to put up a large shelter, and then took a look at what we'd captured on the the cameras. With spring being in full effect, there is a lot going on, and the videos are therefore pretty long. Combined, they are about half an hour in length.

This week's haul features furtive foxes, athletic squirrels, a domestic cat, mice, robins, moorhens, song thrushes, blackbirds, wood pigeons, as well as lots of the promised rabbits munching on the vegetation. We don't see much of the magpie this week. Maybe the nest is now complete. The stag's antlers are growing more now and you can clearly see that he's shedding them, especially in some of the extreme close-ups you can see here. They are an extension of his skull and they can grow 2cm per day. Much later in the year will come the rut, or the breeding season, and he'll need them then. But he seems to be doing all right with the two does he hangs around with now. Maybe during the rut there's the chance he might lose them if he can't battle other stags.

We started off with Campark cameras and unfortunately we've noticed two separate faults in these so far. Big Clive's relaxing videos have been on the television quite a lot this week. Inspired by him, I did some battery testing with the multimeter and noticed a sharp discharge rate in one of the cameras. It batteries were hot to the touch. We're now stepping away from the Campark range and experimenting with the different entry-level cameras that are available online and we plan to do a little round-up of our experiences with them at some point. We'll also be making our own, of course, but we need to find (or print) a good waterproof enclosure.

Besides camera fun, we spent a good few hours in the woods just relaxing, listening out for birdsong, looking for animal tracks and traces, that sort of thing. Around 3pm we could clearly hear air raid (civil defence) sirens. Those of us of a certain age will have watched the leaked government civil defence films Protect and Survive: The Warnings and Protect and Survive: What To Do When The Warnings Sound, as well as the associated, officially published literature from May 1980. They — we — therefore will closely associate hearing this exact unsettling sound with the grim and hopeless news of an imminent and disastrous nuclear attack on the UK. With some relief, we realised that they were only being used in this case to signal the endpoints of the two-minute silence to remember Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Later, with the rainbow sunset fall over the cowshed, we walked home. Just before nightfall we saw the three deer running accross the fields by the lane. Once home, while waiting for curry, Dan read up on some of the birdlife we'd seen. We'd observed blue tits chatting to each other over long distances, and pheasants wandering here and there. In between these glimpses into the natural world, I made a couple of JS8Call contacts. Dan noticed that JS8 is itself not unlike the blue tits' communication network, just on a bigger scale. Chatting to Frank DB1FW near Mannheim in Germany made me surprise myself at how, despite not having been to Germany in years, I could have a conversation in German about the ring-necked parakeet. Later, I made fleeting contact with Julian OH8STN of the wilds of Scandinavia, whose interests include portable, low-power, off-grid communications. However, the ionosphere decided we weren't to chat for long. Maybe another time.

Go

I've been playing a fair bit of Go with Chris B this week. The games have been great, teaching me to be aggressive, and trying to play a bit further away from Chris's stones. The other big lesson that's finally sinking in is when to leave a situation alone and work on another part of the board. Even on a 9×9 board. I think the ability to recognise this would probably make a huge difference. 9×9 is rather brutal, in which fighting is characteristic, and it's unforgiving of mistakes. It's not so heavy on strategy, at least compared to 19×19 go, though surprisingly there is potential of several situations on the board at once. It's a great choice for a short correspondence game or a lunchtime match.

Besides this, I've got to a point with my 9×9 go board teaching tool where most of the bugs are ironed out. It now interfaces with analysers like GNU Go, but not directly. When rendering the board, the tool checks with a 'position server' to see whether the position has been analysed in any sense. If not, it queues the position, as well as its equivalents under rotational and reflectional symmetry, plus the symmetry arising from reversal of the stones' colour. This queued job causes the computation of the position and its main continuations for analysis by one of the worker programs running on each of my various computers here and there. However, if the position has been analysed, it will grab from the server things like estimated score, good next moves, and how far through the game we think we are. This means it's fairly fast to explore the game tree while not having to wait for analyses to finish. It's all still a bit rough but I hope to deploy it somewhere for people to play with in the next few weeks.

Next week

Dan and I planned a trip for Monday. Monday, because my colleagues at word were happy to let me swap working on Sunday (a day when tons of people will be visiting nice places) with Monday (when, in theory, fewer people would be). We were originally planning to go to Glastonbury, but the four hours that that would take on Somerset's rather inadequate public transport would lead to unnecessary exposure. It'll be the first time I've left Bradford-on-Avon in months, and, because I'm risk-averse, it'll be a walk in the countryside around Wellow and in particular Stoney Littleton Long Barrow. Who knows, we might even have a pint somewhere.

Aging

Recently, the lower bound on my lifespan passed 214 days and I missed it, whatever that means. But maybe counting our age in days exponentially makes sense in a way because time seems to speed up as we get older. A base of two seems a bit extreme though. I wonder if I'll make it to 215 days.