Reverse Mystery Bugs

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

For a change this is about software bugs, not insects. :-) Ever have a reverse mystery bug? This is not one that’s hard to find or understand, but one that’s brutally easy to understand and fix. The mystery is how the code ever worked in the first place. I had one of those this morning.

The AppleScript I use to manage the quotes of the day on Cafe con Leche stopped working mysteriously. Running the script with the result log open made the problem obvious: it couldn’t find the file index.html in my cafeconleche directory. Well, that’s an easy fix. The file isn’t named index.html and hasn’t been for many moons. It’s named index.phtml (because it uses PHP to include some files). I changed the name of the file the script was trying to open to index.phtml, and all was well.

But here’s what I don’t understand: why didn’t this break yesterday? and the day before that? and the day before that? It was working just fine until this morning. was there a symlink from the old index.html name, and if so why did it vanish? Was my script updated previously, and somehow got replaced by an older version? And if so, how and why?
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#413 Red-billed Blue Magpie at the New Summer Palace

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Tuesday, Day #6, Beth was playing hooky from the electronic music at the conference, so I took her to visit the New Summer Palace (the one the Empress Dowager Cixi built after the Old Summer Palace was destroyed by the British and French Allied Forces around 1860.) In the cab ride over I saw two more of my “White-winged Starlings” (that I suspected were Crested Mynas) but once again I didn’t see them long enough or well enough to be sure.

The Summer Palace itself is very pretty: lots of people, temples, and palaces. We didn’t see half of them. Not many birds though, despite the large lake. (Lakes and water features are usually surefire bird attractors, but in Beijing most water was shockingly bird free except at the Old Summer Palace. The only water birds we saw at the New Summer Palace were a few Mallards in the lagoon at Suzhou Street.) Aside from the ubiquitous Black-billed and Azure-winged Magpies, most of the birds were painted:

Painting of swallows on building eave

There was a Hall of Listening to Orioles (for opera, think “nightingale” in English) but we didn’t see or hear a single oriole the entire trip. :-(

We climbed up to the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom, then walked down the back. There aren’t many hills in Beijing, and the emperors seemed fond of putting temples on top of the few hills they have. I don’t think we saw one hill the whole trip that didn’t have a temple on top.

Buddhist temple of the Sea of Wisdom from below

Walking down the hill, we headed toward Suzhou Street. On the way I heard a really raucous cry. I’d heard this same cry the day before at The Temple of Heaven Park, but hadn’t been able to track the bird down. This time I got luckier. It was a Red-billed Blue Magpie! I only saw it briefly, and didn’t get a photo, but it was unmistakable. This is a really impressive bird. In fact, after finding it inside the field guide, I realized it was also the bird on the cover:


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Green Heron

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Green Heron on rocks in harbor

Green Heron, Butorides virescens
Dana Point, 2008-05-10

#411 and 412 at the Old Summer Palace

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Saturday morning (Day #3) Beth was attending the conference so I decided to do some local birding. It took a bit of doing, but the kind folks at the registration desk managed to write “Please take me to the Old Summer Palace” on a piece of paper I could give to a cab driver. The disadvantages of a non-alphabetic language: they knew how to say the Chinese name of the Old Summer Palace, but it’s an uncommon name so no one knew how to write it. They ended up copying it out of my guide book. Nor did the first cab driver I tried no how to read it. Fortunately, the second cab driver understood it; and eventually I got there, paid my $10 Yuan admission, and walked in.

The first bird I spotted was a Black-billed Magpie, but soon after I found a different magpie, the Azure-winged Magpie, my first life bird of the day. This is very pretty bird, with an unusual distribution. They’re found in Spain, but then, for some reason no one understands, there’s a huge gap in their distribution until the middle of Asia. I didn’t get any good photos of Azure-winged Magpies thast day, but here’s one from a couple of days later at the Zoo:

Azure-winged magpie

Shortly after spotting the magpie, I met a Chinese birder, the first and only one I saw the whole trip. He was as excited to see me as I was to see him. Unfortunately his English extended as far as my Chinese: I could say “Nihao” and he could say, “Hello” and after that our conversation degenerated into a lot of pointing at trees and field guides. However in this process we were able to find a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and he was able to tell me that the crows we were seeing were indeed Thick-billed Crows, Corvus macrorynchos, not Carrion Crows. That made them life bird #412 for me. He also found a Great Spotted Woodpecker for me, and tried to teach me the Chinese word for Woodpecker (Sicha, I think if I’m remembering correctly). I tried to teach him the English word for “Magpie”. I’m not sure how much of that stuck with either of us, but it was the most significant interaction I had with a non-Anglophone Chinese the entire trip.
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Wooly Darkling Beetle

Friday, May 9th, 2008


Wooly Darkling Beetle, Eleodes osculans
Bolsa Chica, Orange County, CA, 2008-03-30, dusk

Eared Grebe

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

small pointy billed duck with golden tuft of feathers by ear
Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, 2008-05-06