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August 2009
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Saturday, 1 August 2009 Dereel Images for 1 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

The first day of the month I do a complete level 0 dump of my system. Today was the first time I used pbzip2 instead of bzip2. The result: parts of it are excellent. My own home directory (44 GB) was dumped in less than 2 hours, far faster than before. But then I came in and saw the message

/: write failed, filesystem is full
Segmentation fault

Strange. Of course I wasn't dumping to the root file system. Further examination showed that pbzip2 had SIGSEGVd while dumping the /home/var file system and left a 756 MB core file in the root file system. It did it again for the /src/FreeBSD hierarchy. Why? The size of the core file is one indication: when I came in later, the pbzip2 process had exceeded 1 GB in size and was merrily swapping away. Maybe it ran out of swap or process space.

Somebody called only “kimo” sent me a message a couple of days ago suggesting somewhat laconically that I try another parallel bzip2. I was going to write back “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. But it looks like pbzip2 is broke, so I need to follow up on this one.


Topic: photography Link here

My E-510 is sold. I got $430 for the body, and last October I sold the lens for $120. That's $550 back for a camera for which I paid $999—not too bad.

Today was the house photo day, of course, and I'm gradually been getting a certain amount of routine. Time for something different, a night panorama:


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I expected the lighting to be an issue, and it was. One of the things I wanted to do is to illuminate some of the background, as shown in towards the right of the image. That was done with the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital flash, which didn't show itself from its best side. It has remote control, of course—but only the Olympus remote control, which requires the flash on the camera to fire. That works, but it's not what I want for this shot. Still, I have a separate remote control which I bought a while back, which can control any camera—but only when the transmitter is behind the receiver! In one case I didn't want it that way, and it didn't work.

Still, I have another Mecablitz, the old 40 CT 4, and I can run that with a flash cable. The receiver also has a cable connection, so all I needed was the cable. Did a bit of digging and found a brand-new flash cable, still in its original packaging. Judging by the label, I must have bought it about 20 years ago at Hertie in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe:


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Opened it up and—it was an extension lead, with a female connector at one end! Reading the description, you'd have to speak French to recognize that: both in English and German it just said “flash lead”. It's no use to me (it was only 1 metre long), but I suppose it's too late to take it back now, especially since Hertie is closing down.

Finally just gave up on that one. I'll have to get a new cable some time. In the meantime, there was enough to do. Mounted the flash on my old el-cheapo tripod (so it's not completely useless) with the receiver pointing in the right direction; that's the illumination in the panorama. The lighting was from the two studio flash units that I bought last year, which proved to be rather difficult to handle in the confined space, giving rise to one accident (second image):


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Still, it's a start, and I should be able to refine the setup. Exposure is simpler than I had feared: I need to adjust the remote flash to match the ones beside the camera, and then set the flash exposure to the aperture and the external light to the shutter speed. Since the camera's on a tripod, I can go as slow as I like.


Sunday, 2 August 2009 Dereel Images for 2 August 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

Before the Olympus E-510 goes, I wanted to finish a comparison that I started a month ago , and took photos at various sensitivities using both cameras, and also Yvonne's Kodak M1093 IS camera for the fun of it. The result? The E-30's better, but not by much. Here's a 400x300 section of photos taken with the E-510 and E-30 respectively, at 1600 ISO:

 
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At high ISOs (it goes to 6400), the Kodak redefines the term “unacceptable”:

 
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Ugly spray unit repair
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally I have repaired the arm of the spray unit. It now works, but how ugly it looks!


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It brings home to me how difficult it is to get professional-looking results. But at least it should now work for a while. All I need now is a dry day without wind.


Topic: general, animals Link here

Chris Yeardley along for dinner in the evening. As usual, more silly photos:


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Monday, 3 August 2009 Dereel Images for 3 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Finally my c't delivery problems seem to be over. Today I received issue 16, dated 20 July 2009, by surface mail, about the time it used to take. Yes, they've added the country to the address, but probably the real reason is that they've gone back to sending them from Switzerland:


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How can Deutsche Post take 2 months when the Swiss only take 2 weeks?

Unfortunately, it also brought back another thing I had noticed in the past: very frequently, the magazine arrives in poor condition:


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This didn't happen with any of the issues I received since the problems started, so it appears that it could be connected with the surface mail from Switzerland.


Topic: photography Link here

So, what do I do about long telephoto lenses? I've already established that cheap glass is really cheap glass, and that it's not worth anything. The alternative is an expensive lens (and B&H have a 1200 mm f/5.6 Canon lens for only $120,000) or a mirror. There are plenty of mirrors around at prices I can easily afford, and from what I've heard the image quality is pretty reasonable. But how do you focus the things? They don't have a diaphragm, so the depth of field is even less than for other long telephotos. And a modern DSLR is not really suited for manual focusing.

But now there's this “AF confirm sensor” stuff, a little chip and some contacts that fake the feedback from an autofocus lens. I suspect this is only necessary because the camera manufacturers didn't consider the issue: the autofocus sensors are entirely in the camera, and all the lens needs to do is to adjust the focus. That doesn't happen in manual focus lenses, even with this adaptor.

Still, they're not expensive, only about $20 by themselves, and when combined with a lens adaptor they're only fractionally more expensive than without the adaptor. The cheapest I have seen cost about $27 including postage. Spent a lot of time investigating what's on the web, and came up with a summary that was out of date almost before I finished writing it. The lack of documentation in the most cases leaves me wondering how many different kinds of chip are really out there, but I've gradually come to the conclusion that there's only one, the Dandelion, which is now in its fourth revision. And the revision is important: the fourth revision includes information about focal length (important for image stabilization) and the ability to fine tune the focus, and also the ability to specify a lens name for the EXIF data. Who offers them? tagotech in Singapore do, but only in the form of the naked chip PCB which needs to be stuck to an adaptor, something I'd rather not do myself. The result? I still don't know what to do.


Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got around to spraying the weeds, not before time. For some reason my Chinese cabbage does not germinate well, and only 2 of the 6 I planted last time have come up. Decided to plant them as seedlings and transplant when they're big enough, but ran out of light after I had filled the tubes.


Tuesday, 4 August 2009 Dereel Images for 4 August 2009
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Topic: technology, gardening Link here

I seem to have spent most of the day surfing the web today, not an occupation I relish. But there are things to buy, and the web seems the obvious way to do it.

It's time to buy new seeds and other plants for the spring. I have a membership with the Diggers Club, and they've sent a catalogue with all sorts of interesting things in it. I've made a list of what I want. But how do I order them on the web site? Apparently I have to start again from scratch; all my preparations are useless, because they have organized the web site completely differently. The catalogue has an old-fashioned order form: a table with product number, description, quantity and so on. Wouldn't it be nice to have the same thing on-line? If it's there, it's well hidden. So instead of using the web as intended, I'll write an email with a list of what I want. What a waste of a web site! It's not as if Diggers are out of line here, of course.


Topic: photography Link here

Still more consideration of autofocus converters. I sent a message to big_is yesterday, asking for more details, and by evening still didn't have a reply. They're $5 cheaper than RJ camera accessory store. But if they don't communicate now, when they want to sell something, what will happen later?


Topic: gardening Link here

Finished my planting and did a bit of weeding. I should have done more spraying yesterday: then I would have been able to transplant the Erysimums that have taken over the east garden. But today it was raining, and who knows when I'll be able to continue.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009 Dereel Images for 5 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Another c't magazine arrived today, issue 17, dated 3 August 2009—only 2 days ago. Got confirmation from a friend in Germany that he had only got his issue on Monday. It was apparently sent on 30 July 2009, clearly by airmail. Given that the surface mail is working properly, that seems unnecessary.

As if that wasn't enough, there was also a note in the letterbox that I should pick up a parcel from the post office (30 odd km away). Chris picked it up in the afternoon: two more issues of c't, issue 13 (which I've been trying to get for over a month), and issue 14, which I've been trying to tell them I no already have. That's 4 issues so far this week.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Some time after 28 February 2006 we bought a Sunbeam kitchen slicer, after first deciding that it was no good. I didn't record when we changed our minds, but it couldn't have been much later. We've been using it for slicing bread ever since, but lately it's been labouring. Is that my bread, or is the slicer already wearing out? Recently ALDI came up with a special offer, a slicer for $69, and since we can always return the things, we bought one to try it out.

You can certainly tell that it's a cheap unit: the finish is pretty terrible, and the thickness adjustment is very primitive compared to the Sunbeam (on the left). The Sunbeam has a nice, large knob with clear distinction down to 1 mm, while the ALDI unit has a tiny little scale (on the right of the adjusting knob), which is also out by 2 mm:


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It also doesn't have a safety switch—a big plus in my book. But it works! It cuts bread more cleanly than the Sunbeam, and certainly with less effort. Is that because the Sunbeam is failing, because my bread is heavier than typical Australian bread, or because it has the wrong kind of knife? We were concerned about the last point when we bought it: it's much finer:


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It's also possible that it needs sharpening. I wonder how to do that. The obvious first step is to try it cutting sausage.


Topic: animals, photography Link here

Found another spider under the fridge, this time very dead, but clearly a Huntsman. Took some photos for comparison with the spider I photographed last month:


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It's difficult to recognize the features, but the features round the head look very different. I get the feeling that these are not the same kind of spider. Still no idea what the first one was.


Topic: gardening Link here

Gradually, as spring approaches, we're doing more work in the garden. Finished spraying the weeds by the fence to the SE paddock, and did a bit more pruning. We should transplant the Erysimums soon.


Thursday, 6 August 2009 Dereel Images for 6 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

PayPal and the Turing Test

The money for the sale of my camera was due today, and I went to look at my PayPal account. Sure enough, there it was: “eBay Payment Received (Unique Transaction ID #6BS391477R976912N)”. All details looked good:


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All OK, right? Well, no. I left out one minor detail that turned everything on its head: the real page looked like this. See the difference? The one line: “Status: cancelled”.

That's horrible! How can the page be titled “eBay Payment Received” when it hasn't been?

I'm not the only person who's confused. The winning bidder (whom I call buyer fred on those pages) seems terminally confused:

look all im doing since last week was sending money from my bank to paypal so in my paypal account have money right?

Did you charge to my paypal account or my bank account because it seems that when i check my bank account you tried to
+get money there so that is why it was cancelled. because i have no money in my bank account. they are all being sent to
+paypal.

OK, he's new to eBay, so I prepared a reply telling him what to do, tempered by my extremely negative experience with PayPal in the past. They now have a phone number you can call, so did that and spoke to Andy. It went something like this:

Grog       The display on the web site is extremely misleading.
Andy       The payment has been cancelled.
Grog       Yes, but then it shouldn't say “payment received”.
Andy       The payer didn't have enough money in his account.
Grog       I know that, but that's not the point.
Andy       Let me explain how this works.
Grog       I understand how this works. I'm complaining about the misleading info on the web site.
Andy       You should have received a mail message. Maybe it got lost.
Grog       I didn't receive a mail message, and I'm not talking about mail.

This went on for a while, and finally I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was connected to somebody with the unlikely name Ty (and these people are all surprised when I ask how to spell the name). She repeated exactly the same litany, and seemed absolutely incapable of understanding that the page was misleading. In fact, I don't think she understood that I was saying that the page was misleading, or even that she knew what “misleading” meant.

The term “litany” is probably more appropriate than it seems. I suspect that most of these people produce their responses from a script (“prayer book”), which would also explain why you can't interrupt them: they'd lose their place. It's even possible that PayPal actively discourages thought, since it can lead in the wrong direction. The result is that most of these people fail the Turing Test.

Discussed the matter on IRC, where the general opinion agreed with me—by no means a foregone conclusion on that channel.


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Paypal: Curate's egg?

Despite all the trouble that I've had with PayPal, they did one thing right: their contact phone number page requires you to log in. It then produces your registered phone number (in E.164 format), the primary email ID you use for PayPal, and a six-digit PIN valid for one hour. It also refers to an account number which may be used to verify your identity.

This is so much better than what the banks ask for (name, address, date of birth, etc). Firstly you can't even get a PIN until you log in, and even if you forget to delete things at an Internet cafe, or somebody sniffs your traffic, you still have to produce a bank account number to back it up.


Topic: technology Link here

c't: Catching up

Another postal pickup slip in the mailbox this morning. Yvonne picked it up—another two issues of c't magazine, this time issues 10 and 11, apparently sent by surface mail on 29 May 2009. That's particularly strange, because I had already received replacement copies some time ago, and also the original issues some time later. Started writing a list of which issues I received when, somewhat hampered by lack of records. That makes six issues that I have received this week alone (16, 17, 12, 13, 10, 11).

In the evening, received another mail message from the Heise subscription department, telling me—without further details—that the problem had been fixed and that I should now be getting my magazine as normal. They're also giving me 10 free issues—presumably in addition to the 9 duplicates I have already received. After dealing with PayPal, it's like a breath of fresh air.


Transplanting Erysimums
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got round to transplanting the Erysimums (the purple bushes in the “before” and “after” photos below). Problem: we have far too many, and after moving all I could find place for, and bringing a few to Chris (who also got the roses), things hardly look any different:


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I'm also a little concerned about whether the Erysimums will survive transplantation. We've had varied experience in the past: we've had transplanted bushes die on us, and yet all these bushes were single twigs only a little over a year ago:


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The roots look strange: they go down about 20 cm (probably the length of the original twig) in about 3 cm thickness, and then taper out to nothing.


Topic: photography Link here

More thoughts on long telephoto lenses. Rokinon have an 800 mm f/8 mirror that, for some reason, is currently being sold very cheaply, in this case for under $200 US. Decided that, with the help of a Dandelion, it would be worth the trouble and ordered one. It's also being sent by USPS First Class International mail, which is surprisingly cheap. Especially in view of my experience with deutscher Post, I'd be happier if I had more details on the transit time than “varies by country”, but I've been told that it's not too bad. We'll see. At least I get a tracking number.


Friday, 7 August 2009 Dereel Images for 7 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Apple have released another security update, so tried to install it, and once again ran into trouble. It's not clear why. My problems in the past showed an extremely slow download rate followed by a complete abortion of the transfer. This time I seem to have had three different problems. The transfer of the security update started normally and ran at a reasonable speed, and then failed after a little over 50%, producing an error window for about 3 seconds, just long enough for me to look at the display and note it was there. Something about a network error. That's not impossible, but I had no difficulty loading it from my FreeBSD system, and the installation went without further problems. It could have been a network problem, but I see too many cases where the Apple transfer fails and the FreeBSD transfer goes without a hitch. At the very least, the Apple downloader should be more resilient.

Updating “QuickTime” was different: this seems to be a genuine issue with Apple's software update. After multiple (successful) downloads, I got the same message each time:

 
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Potentially this could be data corruption, but not several times over.

The issues with updating “iTunes” were similar, but not the same. I didn't see any error message for a direct attempt, just a red cross to the left of the icon, whatever that may mean. Went off looking for a place to download it from the Web, and once again was bitten by this stupidity that would only offer me a version for Microsoft. Callum Gibson followed up on this and found that you could fool the web site by getting firefox to pretend it was Safari, which enabled him to load an Apple version of the software. He pointed me to the URL, which I was able to download with sensible tools in no time at all:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypi) /var/tmp 18 -> ftp  http://appldnld.apple.com.edgesuite.net/content.info.apple.com/iTunes8/061-6715.20090715.cfR54/iTunes8.2.1.dmg
Requesting http://appldnld.apple.com.edgesuite.net/content.info.apple.com/iTunes8/061-6715.20090715.cfR54/iTunes8.2.1.dmg
100% |*****************************************************************************| 79150 KB  328.76 KB/s    00:00 ETA
81050406 bytes retrieved in 04:00 (328.76 KB/s)

But when I came to install it, I had a number of problems. Firstly, I had rebooted the machine after installing the security update. I haven't found a way to get Apple to automatically mount NFS file systems where I want them, so I've written a little script. And I haven't found a way to get Apple to run scripts automatically after reboot (something like /etc/rc.local), so I run them manually. And this time I had forgotten, so I get an error message:

 
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No, this isn't because it's a directory, not a “folder”. I mounted the file system, verified that it was there, and still got the same message. Apparently “Finder” doesn't check again: if it wasn't there last time, it can't find it again. So I moved the file to /var/tmp:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp3) ~ 1 -> mv /dereel/home/var/tmp/iTunes8.2.1.dmg /var/tmp/

That worked, of course. But when I came to install it, I got the strangest message I've seen in a long while:

 
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No idea what that meant. Corrupt file? file(1) tells me:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp3) ~ 1 -> file /dereel/home/var/tmp/iTunes8.2.1.dmg
/dereel/home/var/tmp/iTunes8.2.1.dmg: VAX COFF executable not stripped - version 376

That looks like corruption, doesn't it? FreeBSD file(1) says the same thing. But it seems that this is “normal”: Apple's file(1) doesn't even recognize its own files:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp3) ~ 4 -> locate .dmg|xargs file |grep -v cannot
/:home:grog/JavaForMacOSX10.4Release7.dmg:                                          VAX COFF executable
/:home:grog/MPlayerOSX_1.0pre8.dmg:                                                 VAX COFF executable not stripped
/:home:grog/Safari321Leopard.dmg:                                                   VAX COFF executable - version 376
/:home:grog/Safari321Tiger.dmg:                                                     VAX COFF executable

Compared md5 checksums with Callum, and discovered they were different. Downloaded the file again, and the checksum was different again. And again it was a VAX COFF executable. My best guess is that Apple puts some tracking information in everything that you download, and that's what's changing the checksums.

So what's wrong with the file? Maybe it's a newer format than my version of Mac OS can understand. Ultimately, though, I don't care: I don't use iTunes, and the only reason to install it was to have the software update screen empty. So I'm giving up. I just idly wonder whether this is the reason for the red cross on my direct installation attempt.

c't: problem solved?

So far this week I've received 6 issues of c't magazine. So what was in the letterbox this morning? A seventh, of course, issue 13 sent deutsche Post surface mail. That should be the end of it, though, as far as I can see.


Topic: photography Link here

More problems with the sale of my Olympus E-510 today; it seems that the buyer is pretty inexperienced in these matters. Certainly the problems we had during the day suggest that many people are thoroughly confused by these web sites. By the evening he had sent me three email messages, two of which were filtered out by Spamassassin, but we still didn't have a conclusion.


Topic: gardening Link here

More work on the Erysimums, and I've now done as many as I want to do at the moment. I'm still rather concerned about how unhappy they look after transplantation:


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Pulled one last one out, took it over to Chris and planted it there, also removing most of her roses. At home, planted a “Captain Cook” Callistemon in its place.


Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Still wondering why the ALDI kitchen slicer worked so much better than the Sunbeam, took the blades off to compare them—something that you need to do relatively frequently to clean them. They're the same size, but not the same mount. By comparison, the Sunbeam blade is the same mount as my old AEG slicer, whose blade fell from its mountings some years ago.

The Sunbeam blade had a distinctly noticeable ridge on the blade, which clearly would influence its ability to cut. Sharpened it in the electric knife sharpener, which seemed to work quite well, and replaced it. We'll see tomorrow how well it works.

The ALDI slicer was a different matter. Put the blade back, tightened it up, and it was completely off centre, wobbling about 5 mm. Took it off again to take another look, and the entire mounting came with it:


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It would seem easy enough to put it back together, but look at that strip of metal over the central pin: that's an excuse for a bearing. Putting it together is difficult at best, and I have to wonder how long such a primitive construction would last. It's a good thing that ALDI takes their goods back with no questions asked; that's what they'll do this time, too. Hopefully the Sunbeam is now OK.


Topic: general Link here

It's getting cooler again—by the time we went to bed, the outside temperature was barely over 0°. That shows off our horrible Fujitsu air conditioners from their worst side. After several hours running, with the “thermostat” set at 30° (the maximum), we had the following situation in the bedroom:


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That's not because they can't heat any better, though the terrible insulation doesn't help much. It's not trying, because it thinks it's warm enough. What a crock!


Saturday, 8 August 2009 Dereel Images for 8 August 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

More fun with the camera sale today. My buyer finally had the money, but even with PayPal's help he wasn't able to complete the transaction. Decided to send him another request for money, and ran into new problems:

 
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The trouble was, there was nothing wrong with the email address: buyer fred <msuser@msn.com>, just as the standards dictate. But PayPal wants only the msuser@msn.com, and the message doesn't tell you that.

The good news is that he got the message, and he was able to process it, so I now have my money. And the display on the PayPal web site confirms my objections to their presentation. Here the cancelled transaction, then the successful one:


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Some details were different: apart from the not-so-obvious difference in the status, the shipping address is now missing (why?), and the sum has changed—they've deducted fully 2.46% of the total sum for their service. That's more than many credit cards. I'll have to reconsider offering PayPal for my other auctions, or asking a surcharge for it (handling charge, I suppose).

To be fair, when I looked at the page again later, it had changed. It now contained the following at the top:

 
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That's good if you know you have to wait for it. But it should have been there immediately, and it's the wrong way round: there should be something there saying “Not OK to post” until it is.

And then Fred came back and asked me if there's a lens with the camera, after I had gone to great lengths to make it clear that it was only a body.

That wasn't all: later in the day I received email asking me to rate my experience with PayPal support. I filled it in as you'd expect; it's a pity they don't send you a copy of the information, though. I should collect it somewhere.


Topic: gardening Link here

Another frost this morning—now that I have an external thermometer, I know the temperature dropped to -0.9°.


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I had been expecting it, but decided not to remove any plants. We'll see how well they cope. The one I'm expecting to do worst is the Chlorophytum, which looked like this:


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Our Spathiphyllum is also showing signs of rebirth:


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Topic: food and drink Link here

Tried out the Sunbeam slicer this morning: success. So it was just the blade. I wonder how it got that blunt in just 3 years; our previous one lasted 15 years without getting blunt, and they appear to be the same make. Maybe it's the difference between a fine blade and the sawtooth one on the old slicer.


Topic: photography, general, animals Link here

House photos again today. Processing the verandah panorama came up with quite a good result, but the devil (or the cat) was in the detail:


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Topic: animals, general Link here

The weather was nice in the afternoon, and Chris suggested we went for a ride. It was my first time in almost 5 months, and Chris jokingly asked if my saddle had gone mouldy. Yes, it had:


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We didn't get moving until after 4 pm, and it started getting quite cool, so we didn't stay long. Still, it's a good thing that we finally got round to doing something. I wonder why I ride so little.

Chris along for dinner, and of course more crazy cat photos:


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Sunday, 9 August 2009 Dereel Images for 9 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

More playing around with the Apple software update today (Why? Just curious, I suppose), and managed to get both iTunes and QuickTime—and they both failed with the same message:

 
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I wonder how that can happen. Also installed a Safari update, which went without incident, but it insisted on rebooting immediately—after installing a web browser! Yes, it said so in advance (that's the meaning of the funny arrow-link symbol at the left of the entries in the photo above), though I still don't understand why, but at least Microsoft gives you the choice to defer it.

As it happened, I was using the scanner at the time, and the scanner doesn't play clean with shutdown requests, so the shutdown was aborted. Who says that bugs never cancel each other out?

Avant Stellar keyboard: the pain

Using the Avant Stellar keyboard brings back to me why I stopped: the firmware is really broken. Today I once again had the situation where I typed in Alt-Backspace (delete word backwards under Emacs), and the keyboard added a Ctrl, shutting down my X session. Decided that this was a little silly, and that I should remap the keys with xmodmap. Spent a good amount of time with that, only to discover that you can't remap Caps_Lock with xmodmap on this particular keyboard: it remains Caps_Lock even if you remap it. And you can't just remap some keys with the keyboard firmware: the remapping gives them the same key number as another key, so xmodmap can no longer differentiate between them. Ended up using the keyboard remapping, but removing the “Terminate Server” function.


Topic: gardening Link here

A bit more work in the garden. Now the Erysimums are gone from the central part of the garden, planted a few Alyssum seeds there, and Yvonne continued with poppies and Gypsophila. It was too cool to really enjoy things, though, and didn't do much else except a bit of pruning.


Topic: multimedia Link here

There's yet another new TV channel on the air, “GO!”, operated by Channel 9 “MSN”. It's interesting to note that the names of these new channels don't seem to have any relationship to the existing ones, and they've done a very good job of hiding any information on the channel, helped by the name, which just invites false positives. Even the Channel 9 web site search function didn't find it.

To my surprise, we can receive it here. Spent some time reconfiguring MythTV to receive it, with the surprising result that it just seemed to work, though pulling down the programme guide took forever (well, long enough that I couldn't be bothered waiting).


Topic: photography Link here

I've been eyeing the Olympus ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 50mm F2.0 Macro lens for some time and waiting for a cheaper one to appear on the market. They seem to be very popular: I see lots of (positive) reviews, but I've only ever seen one used one on the market, and that was an ex-demonstration model. Today one came in on eBay Australia, and didn't even attract too much attention—only from experienced bidders, it would seem. The first bid was less than 6 minutes before the end of the auction, another followed 40 seconds later, I put my bid in 1 minute and 17 seconds before the end—and somebody put in a higher bid 1 second before the end of the auction. Still, it was lower than mine, so I got the lens for about the same price as a used one in the USA, but with cheaper postage. That should be enough for the while: I'll have 5 Olympus mount lenses and another 3 Pentax mount lenses that I can use with the adaptor.


Monday, 10 August 2009 Dereel Images for 10 August 2009
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Topic: gardening, general Link here

Finally into town today for my blood test, this time at the alternative place, which proved to be much quieter than the Base Hospital last month, and was seen to in a matter of minutes. If I had arrived 5 minutes later, I probably wouldn't have had to wait at all. And then I discovered that I didn't need to be fasting for the blood test! I could have done it any old time.

Then down to Curtis St to try out a new barber's shop, but was mightily put off by the ambiance, and fortunately discovered in time that I didn't have any cash, so off to find an ATM, and decided against returning.

Back at the car, discovered that the intermittent issues I've been having with the starter motor are no longer intermittent: the starter no longer worked at all. Called Yvonne to come and pick me up, and off to finally post the E-510. Thank God that's over.

Yvonne showed up and we tow-started the car, then off to John Stevens to get him to repair it. But he was off sick, so we just left the car there and went home again, stopping at Formosa Gardens to buy some fertilizer and a few flowerpots.

Back home, wanted to plant some stuff in the pots, but the weather was too bad, and ended up doing some reading, something I normally don't seem to find time for any more.

Partially against my better judgement, bought a grain mill attachment for the Kenwood mixer on eBay in the evening. I'm still greatly concerned about the reliability of the units, but they seem to be the most reliable I can find in Australia, and I need something to replace the Bosch unit.


Tuesday, 11 August 2009 Dereel Images for 11 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Mail from Tom Maynard today, explaining why so many eBay auctions receive bids only seconds before the end: they're placed automatically by a “sniper”. He also pointed me to a couple, one completely free, and the other with a limited free account that allows up to 5 bids a week. Excellent idea—I'm surprised I didn't find out about this earlier.

There are issues, of course: because of the way they work, you have to divulge your eBay user name and password to them, so there's the potential for abuse. There's no reason to believe that any of these facilities are dishonest, but to be on the safe side, I think I'll change my password each time I use them.

Another strange thing is one particular limitation of the version with the paying and free accounts: with the free account, it places the bid 8 seconds before the end of the auction. The paying one places it even closer, only 5 seconds before (but configurable).

Why? Less than 30 seconds before the end of an auction, almost nobody raises their final bid. All you're left with are the bids that have been decided some time in advance. And in case two are the same, it's the first that wins, in this case the free account. I suspect that this detail hasn't been fully considered.


Topic: general, gardening, food and drink Link here

Quiet day somehow. Did some “cooking” (preparation of sourdough and kimchi) and some gardening (planted a lot of seeds in preparation for the coming of spring), and that was about that.


Topic: photography Link here

The buyer of my E-510 body apparently wasn't expecting it to be only a body, and now he's looking for a lens he can afford. He's sent me a couple of questions about auctions for lenses, all of which have so far been unsuitable. I've written an introduction to what to expect.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009 Dereel Images for 12 August 2009
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Topic: photography, gardening, general Link here

A note in the letterbox this morning telling me that two of my eBay purchases had arrived. I also still hadn't heard back from John Stevens about the fate of my car, so decided to go into Ballarat. John was there, but still looking a lot the worse for wear. He had had trouble looking at the car without the dongle for the ignition immobilizer, which I hadn't been able to fit under the door of the office. It looks as if it might be related, so he's going to disable the immobilizer. I can't see anybody stealing an 18 year old Mitsubishi Magna with 250,000 km on the clock.

Off to Formosa Gardens again and bought some Lobelias for the verandah.


Topic: photography Link here

Back home and looked at my new toys. The ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 50mm F2.0 Macro is as I expected, but somehow it's not as much fun as the other lenses. After all, I already have two other lenses that cover this focal length, and the real use is only for macro photography. Like any further lens I'm likely to buy, including the 800 mm mirror that hasn't arrived yet, it's not going to see as much use as the ones I already have.

The other toy was the M42 adaptor with the dandelion chip. That wasn't so successful: it came without any instructions, and following the instructions on the web, it just plain Didn't Work. Checked the contacts, but they looked OK:


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At least it gave me an opportunity to use the new lens. Wrote to the vendor, who confirmed that I used it the way it was intended, and who suspects it might be because I'm using an E-30, with which he doesn't have any experience. I doubt that, but it's certainly a possibility. Now where's the E-510 when I need it?


Topic: gardening Link here

More planting work in the afternoon. Discovered that the Lobelia punnets contained many more plants than we had expected, a total of 14 plants. We only needed 6 for the pots, so planted the rest in the garden. I wish I had a good feeling for what they look like. Somehow all photos are so vague.


Thursday, 13 August 2009 Dereel Images for 13 August 2009
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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Yvonne went shopping today and came back with lots of things: another eBay purchase (grain mill) and lots of stuff from ALDI: a power usage meter, an active antenna for TV, and a microwave oven for less than $50.

Initial playing around with the antenna suggests that it is completely non-functional: a piece of wire does better. But that was connected to a radio, and I can well imagine that some brain-damaged designer deliberately filters out the FM radio band. To be investigated.

The power meter is designed to be connected to the main power connection to the house, making it completely useless for 3 phase connections. We don't have that, but an examination of our switchboard suggests that I should take the warning seriously to only have it installed by a qualified electrician. And I don't know if I want to rely on the thing enough to do that.

The microwave oven was simpler: they're established technology, and this one seems as good as any other. It has its differences in the user interface, of course, including unnecessary keys (to set the clock, you press CLOCK then Cancel before entering the (ugly 12 hour) time). But it does have a numeric keypad, unlike the Panasonic, which cost nearly 5 times as much. I suspect it'll stay.

The grain mill was the most interesting: it is obviously a Kenwood version of my Bosch grain mill, and some parts are identical. About the only thing that differs are the connections for the housing and the scroll.

But this similarity made it very clear that the mill was anything but unused. The scroll (right) is badly damaged, much more so than the 30-year old Bosch scroll on the left:


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I won't be able to use that. Sent a message to the vendor, who called me back apologetically in the evening: as I had guessed, he hadn't known. Now to see what a replacement scroll will cost.


Topic: photography Link here

Had to play around with my new macro lens, of course. It's funny to have an f/2 lens on the camera. Did some comparative shots to get a feeling for the depth of field. Some worked out OK, like this Narcissus at f/2 and f/4:


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In others, the depth of field was clearly far too limited:


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And in at least one case, I wasn't able to use full aperture. The following photo was taken at 1/5000 s and f/4; at f/2 I would have needed 1/20000 s.


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Topic: gardening Link here

In the process it's interesting to keep an eye on the Chlorophytum that was exposed to the frost the other day:


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A comparison with the photo immediately after the frost shows that the browning of the ends is new. If that's all the damage it took, it'll be easy enough to bear.


Friday, 14 August 2009 Dereel Images for 14 August 2009
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Topic: general Link here

I hadn't intended to go into town again so soon, but a number of things ganged up on me: I ran out of carbon dioxide for the beer kegs, my 800 mm mirror lens arrived, and John Stevens finally had my car ready. The first one would have been enough to go into town—I'd die of thirst otherwise—but the third meant that Yvonne had to come with me. Over to pick her up, where they were breaking in a horse.


Topic: photography Link here

Took some really horrible photos:


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Why are they so bad? There are a number of reasons:


Topic: general Link here

Into town, where the gas people (really fire extinguisher people) weren't there. Off to pick up my car: there was nothing wrong with the starter motor. The problems were caused by the immobilization device, which had decided not to pass anything through to the starter motor relay. That's not the first time that we've had trouble with that thing; 7 years ago I had similar problems. The biggest nuisance is that the brain-dead radio in the car forgot all its settings when the battery was disconnected (to stop the security device from screaming), and there's no way to set the frequencies directly: you have to search for them, and it only finds anything if the signal strength is sufficient. And that's never the case with ABC Classic FM in Ballarat.

Picked up the lens, off to get my cylinder filled up—they were back by the time I got there—and off to look for a new radio for the car. Despite price drops, they're still more expensive than I can justify. I don't use the car enough, as is clear from the fact that today was the first time I have I filled up the petrol tank since the end of May.


Topic: brewing Link here

Back home and connected up the gas cylinder and observed carefully. I have a horrible feeling that I have a gas leak somewhere. But how do I find out where? Cart the whole thing off and put it in the bath?


New lens
Topic: photography Link here

Despite being the cheapest alternative (USPS First Class Mail), the lens arrived very quickly; it was only sent on 7 August 2008 US time, 6 days ago. That compares favourably with UPS. So do the prices: only about a third of what UPS (or more expensive USPS) postage costs. I wonder why nobody uses it.

One reason could be the “tracking”, of course, which just plain Doesn't Work. I've been trying to follow that shipment since it was shipped, but even after arrival it was claiming that the packet hadn't been picked up yet:


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Anyway, it's here, and it's as described. Set off to compare the results, using the same setup as last time:


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The first result: it works, and there's no comparison with the horrible additional lens I tested in February. But focusing was (as expected) a nightmare, even with Live View and 10x magnification. Even with two tripods, there was a significant amount of camera shake, and the adjustment is far too coarse; it really needs a fine adjuster. The results aren't impossibly bad, but it's difficult to decide whether they're low contrast, shaken or just out of focus. Here full frames taken with the mirror (left) with its dedicated 2x adaptor, giving a focal length of 1600 mm f/16, and the Hanimex 300 mm f/5.5 with 2x and 3x converters (giving 1800 mm f/33):


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On the face of it, the Hanimex photo looks sharper. I need to look a lot more at the individual photos. I should also consider a different subject.


Saturday, 15 August 2009 Dereel Images for 15 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Apple have released yet more updates. And whatever my new installation problem is, it seems to be here to stay:

 
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All the downloads failed with the same message, and it's repeatable. I can't believe that this is corruption in the download, and there'd be a lot of noise if all these packages really had corrupt checksums, so I've got to assume that it's a configuration problem with the machine. But where? I really don't want to know, but in contrast to iTunes, I need some of these updates. What a pain!


Topic: gardening Link here

Some of my seedlings are coming up very quickly indeed. But there's an issue with fungus:


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This isn't the first time I've seen things like this, but strangely I've never seen any advice about how to avoid or handle it. Took the lid off the seed tray and put them outside, where hopefully they won't be too unhappy.

The Ipomoea seeds looked different, as if they were dying:


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On closer examination, it looks as if the dirt on the end is just the remains of the seed.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Cooking Indian food again today, a variant of alu tikka from a Women's Weekly cookbook. Used the new grain mill for the first time. As expected from the condition of the scroll, it didn't manage all of it. Left the output, right what was left in the housing:


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Putting it through the Bosch unit gave the following results (middle: output of Bosch, right: left behind in Bosch housing):


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Topic: general Link here

Chris along to help us eat the food this evening. She's not happy with the service, and will make a comment in her diary that I poured red wine into her white wine glass. You read it here first.


Sunday, 16 August 2009 Dereel Images for 16 August 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

Somebody suggested that I try out Panorama Maker 5 Pro (there's no non-Pro version) today. It's commercial software, but it claims to do some things that hugin can't, including panoramas in two dimensions. Downloaded it and ran into a brick wall: another codec overrun error message. It's fairly clear that something is wrong with boskoop—but how do I fix it?


Topic: general, gardening Link here

Very strong winds overnight, with the result that we have another nail in the coffin of our “cathedral”:


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I fear there won't be much left this time next year.


Topic: general Link here

Presumably another effect of the bad weather was a power failure at 2:57, which lasted for 5 hours. Somehow I had expected it to take that long. I can't imagine people out there in the dark in this kind of weather. Still, it's annoying. 19th power outage this year.


Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with the new mirror lens today, and did some detail comparisons with the Zuiko DIGITΛL ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 telephoto. Result: it's not as good. It's a far cry from the horrible supplementary lens that I tested in February 2009, but I can get more detail by blowing up the images taken at 300 mm with the Zuiko than taking photos native with the Rokinon. Here Olympus left and Rokinon right, 25% of the width of the Rokinon image:

 
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I can almost certainly sell it on eBay, but it means that I still don't have a long tele solution.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Yvonne ran into trouble today with the (old) slicer. Yes, the blade is now sharper, but somehow the geometry has gone to hell:


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The gap at the top of the blade is about 1mm thinner than at the bottom. That's not even obvious when slicing bread, but when making thin slices of celeriac it's very obvious. How did that happen? The various parts of the slicer are screwed onto a frame, and I could add some shims, but first I want to understand how it happened. It's unlikely that the guide got bent: it's still completely flat.


Topic: brewing Link here

A bit of beer keg maintenance: ran out of stout, and had to refill. Now I have no stout left, and not much Groggy Ale, so it's high time to go to Melbourne and get some ingredients. Also tested the gas lines and found the leak. No wonder they're difficult to find; it was, as I half suspected, at a T piece, but it only leaked when the hoses were hanging in a particular direction.


Monday, 17 August 2009 Dereel Images for 17 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Anders Langworthy contacted me about the problems I've been having with my Avant Stellar keyboards. He confirms that they're not atypical:

I have have used 5 or 6 different ones (a client loves them and has them all over the office). I have experienced the “sticking on” problem. My recollection is that it only occurred with certain keyboard/computer combinations and not others, but I could be mistaken. The very annoying amnesia “I'm going to forget all my programming” problem is ubiquitous, however. I have the reprogramming keystrokes memorized to the point where it happens nearly subconsciously. And on occasion the keyboards appear to choke and hard lock, requiring a power off. So, not perfect, but better than the alternatives.

A pity, really. I wonder when somebody will come up with a real viable replacement for the Omnikey keyboards.


Last rose of winter
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow spring is in the air. It's no warmer than it has been, but there's something that suggests that it's going to warm up. Certainly the flowers are in on the act: the last rosebud of autumn has held up through the winter (certainly helped by my decision not to remove the bush), and today started a sort of half-hearted bloom:


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The first of the Irises that Lauren Gordon sent me is also blooming:


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As if to mark the point, Will Tatnell along to prepare to carry out the earthworks that we planned at the end of autumn. More discussions, and off into town to buy some gravel. On the way stopped off at a scrap yard in Sebastopol looking for a second-hand car radio. The cheapest (and nastiest) they had cost $50, and of course didn't have the right connectors. They gave me the name of a radio company, Thomas, somewhere off Sturt St. To be investigated at a later date.


Tuesday, 18 August 2009 Dereel → Melbourne → Dereel Images for 18 August 2009
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Topic: general, food and drink, brewing Link here

Off to Melbourne today to do things I've been putting off for nearly 3 months, in the process throwing Chris out of bed to borrow her mobile fridge. For some reason it's always so much stress, and today I decided to take it easier, stopping off to take a few photos, like this little creek just east of Bannockburn:


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In Melbourne, to Grain and Grape and picked up some supplies, then decided that I should try some new shops before going to the Queen Victoria Market. Off through the toll tunnel, where the exit signs were so bad that I missed my exit and went as far as Toorak Road before I could turn around and pay yet more toll to get to be about as far from my destination as I was when I started. What a waste of time and money!

After 45 minutes I finally got to Minh Phat in Nicholson St, Abbotsford and found a parking space. Big shop, lots of stuff, but not much of what I needed. I don't think I'll come back soon: it's difficult to get to and difficult to find parking.

Next I wanted to go way out to The Dutch Shop in Blackburn, but by this time it was 12:00, and the market closes at 14:00. Decided to go back to the market, but passing through Johnston St I saw a number of Spanish restaurants, and thought that I might find some Mexican food—one of the things I was looking for was Masa harina that didn't fall apart when you pressed the tortilla. Got out and took a look around and found the Casa iberica which (fortunately) proved to be rather ineptly named: there was lots of South American food there, in fact more than I have seen anywhere else. Got my tortillas, and also a different brand of masa harina which they said would hold together better. Amusingly, La Casa Iberica is also in my Foodie's guide, immediately above the entry for the Dutch Shop.

By this time there was no hope of reaching the market before it closed. On to the La Parisienne Pâté and spent far too much money on cheese and foie gras, then on down Grattan Street to where I lived 50 years ago. The house is still standing, but only just, and they've removed the outside staircase under which I built my first chemistry laboratory:


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Things look very different from the last time I was here, nearly 9 years ago. They've completely changed the front, and they've pulled down the ivy that was round the back of the house:


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Across the road to the University and had lunch on what used to be the sports ground when I went to school there. Things have changed so much that I had difficulty working out where the school used to be, but it must have been at the top of these stairs, to the left:


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The old Teachers' Training College is still there, very much walled in by the surrounding buildings:


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Back home and decided to try a new way, via Werribee across the Brisbane Ranges and through Stieglitz, Meredith and Mount Mercer, running into significant trouble with Melbourne traffic in the process. The map shows the route I took, not quite the route I would take next time. The sun was low, and photos were out of the question; in fact, the light was so strange that I had difficulty recognizing the road from Meredith to Mount Mercer, and I missed the turnoff and ended up going 20 km out of the way. Still, it's a viable alternative.


Topic: animals Link here

Back home, and there was a new horse: Darah, who is finally back from Chris' place. It seems that Yvonne and Chris had been making bets how long it would take for me to notice, but in fact it was only a couple of minutes. Does this mean I'll get to ride more?


Wednesday, 19 August 2009 Dereel Images for 19 August 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

CJ along today with some hay and some time, so he set to chopping down the collapsing trees in the cathedral, not without difficulty:


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Things are going to look very different when he's done:


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Topic: general Link here

While he was there, also moved the big table out of the “dining room” into the garage. It was far too big for the narrow room, so we moved the old, ex-Mike Smith Memorial Room kitchen table in there, and hopefully I will now have a bit more space for my photography:


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Thursday, 20 August 2009 Dereel Images for 20 August 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

My seed trays are germinating nicely, but sometimes I wonder if I've done the right thing. On the one hand, last year our Ipomoeas hardly germinated at all, and this year they're going fine:


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On the other hand, they're in the house, and I think they're not getting enough light:


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Will Tatnell finally along today to do the earthworks we've been planning for over 3 months. He made pretty good progress, though his Bobcat was a little large for some of the work, and we had to leave the smallest for some other solution. Still, things have changed a lot, as Saturday's house photos will show:


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Friday, 21 August 2009 Dereel Images for 21 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

It's becoming clearer all the time that getting good software for “Open Source” systems is getting more and more difficult, especially in the multimedia arena. So it's time to think about setting up a virtual machine server so that I can provide an environment for programs I want to run. But which virtual machine system? I understand the principles well, but I've never actually done it. Took the DVD from one of my copies of issue 17 of c't and installed the Debian/Xen server they supplied, but it came with almost no documentation (even the article referred to last year's article), and clearly they wanted to install an environment that I didn't want to have, so instead decided to try the NetBSD version, involving downloading the latest ISO.

While I did that, did more investigation of the Apple software download problem. Why did I get a different SHA1 checksum every time? At the time I thought it was some kind of branding of the binaries, but then I noticed that Apple publish SHA1 checksums for the binaries on their web site. And mine didn't match.

Tried the same load to my remote web site and got the correct checksum. With rsync I was able to fix the data. Tried it with the NetBSD ISO on w3.lemis.com (external site) and dereel.lemis.com and found:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypc) /src/ISOs 12 -> sha1 i386cd-5.0.1.iso
SHA1 (i386cd-5.0.1.iso) = c59d5d68231dbb738701e1ec0777f2ad9070ea9d
=== grog@w3 (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 10 -> sha1 i386cd-5.0.1.iso
SHA1 (i386cd-5.0.1.iso) = 6ebc24fb51ce8f5fab13c7af3f5bbcf01a5ed41a

The EOF was the same, and so was the modification time stamp. Clearly the corruption was in detail. To save downloading the entire 200 MB again, decided to use rsync, which should be more specific.

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypc) /src/ISOs 13 -> rsync -vc w3:i386cd-5.0.1.iso i386cd-5.0.1.iso
i386cd-5.0.1.iso

sent 108614 bytes  received 292358 bytes  8623.05 bytes/sec
total size is 240371712  speedup is 599.47

The -c option for rsync is needed because the file size and modification timestamp are the same, and without that option it wouldn't do anything. After that, the checksums were correct. So by complaining about Apple I've been shooting the messenger; it seems that just about every larger file that I've downloaded has been corrupted somewhere. In this example, I've had nearly 300 kB of data downloaded to fix the binary.

How can that happen? TCP should catch this sort of thing. But that's the problem: the satellite connection doesn't use TCP: instead, it uses BST between the satellite modem and some point beyond the satellite link. And it looks as if the error detection of this BST implementation isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Sent a message off to Wideband support; I wonder what they can do about it.

To confirm that this really was the issue, installed the latest Apple security update, which installed without a problem. But downloading to w3 is an issue, because most downloads nowadays seem to want a web browser with Java and Flash and irrelevant stuff. You can't just point ftp (or wget if you're using Linux) at the URL and pull it down: there's no obvious way to find the URL. Fired up wireshark on one file and confirmed yes, indeed, there's a perfectly normal HTML request in there and struggling to get out.

So, currently my workaround for this really serious bug is:

  1. Run wireshark (or better, probably ngrep) to capture the HTTP request.

  2. Run ftp to pull in the package locally.

  3. Run ftp to pull in the package remotely on w3.

  4. Run rsync -c to fix the breakage.

There are a couple of potential improvements: first, omit step 2 (step 4 will automatically pull in the whole file) and secondly repeat step 4 until the SHA1 checksum matches (it has done every time so far). What really gets me, though, is that currently just about every file has data corruption. Apple was the only one that noticed.

After all this, installed NetBSD as planned. It's as spartan as ever, and didn't even install any of the packages collection. Had plenty of other stuff to do, so deferred it until later.


Topic: photography Link here

Arcsoft Panorama Maker 5 Pro and hugin

One of the things that I was able to do as a result was to test Panorama Maker 5 Pro. It lived up to my fears. On startup, it automatically changed directory to ~/Pictures, showing lots of icons for files which had been deleted, but for which I had forgotten to remove the second (shadow?) file that Apple insists on putting in the directory. The only choice I was give was to “Open Panorama”, which suggests to me that there should already been an existing panorama. It showed the usual too-small window with truncated file names, in the directory ~/Pictures. Tried selecting “New Folder”, but that really tried to create a new directory, or so it seemed. It put the “folder”, with an absolute path name, in what must have been the current directory. Clearly the directory name is wrong:

 
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Clearly they don't want you to just specify the name of the directory you want: you have to search for it, directory node for directory node. Did that and got this display:

 
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That shows 26 of the 1630 entries in the directory Photos, conveniently truncating some of the names. About the best thing that I can say about this is that they are sorted—still better than the pain I had with Facebook last month, where I had to navigate the same directory tree unsorted.

OK, these programs must have some way of accessing files without going to all this pain. Clearly I need help. And, of course, there's a Help tag at the top of the screen. I clicked on it and was taken to the middle of the help text. After going to Home, discovered that there's no tutorial (or it's so well hidden that I didn't find it). And the description is horribly fragmented (probably intended for the tiny windows that GUI developers seem to love), so I was continually changing page, not helped by the fact that the contents were often barely related to the title. For example:

 
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OK, “Select Media Files” (why Media?) seems to be what I want. Clearly you need the browser:

 
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That again does into another window telling me how to select “Folders”, “Favorite Folders”, Calendars, Activity History and Tags—all sorts of things, just no files. But I don't want to “browse my system”! I just want to select the files I want (they're called verandah-1.jpeg to verandah-5.jpeg, so the wild card verandah-?.jpeg will select them all). Why do I have to go through this rigmarole? It's also interesting to note that the directory browser dhows only a subset of the entries in the directories: symlinked directories, notably ~/Photos, are missing, so I couldn't even access my photos. As we'll see, it does accept symlinked files. I suspect that this omission is due to the lack of understanding of file systems which seems typical of the GUI generation.

Finally selected a file, and was immediately transported to this window:


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The text is written in black on dark grey to make it easier to read, and there's no way to return to the Browser window. In fact, I couldn't find any way to do anything useful. It seems that the different shades of grey at top and bottom indicate whether you can select the buttons or not, but the colours are so unusual that I'm sure I'm not the only person who has difficulty deciding which are selectable and which are not. So I stopped the “Application”.

For what it's worth, this problem isn't unique to Panorama Maker 5 Pro: hugin has it too, and so, it seems, do all the “user friendly” GUI programs out there. It's one of the reasons why I avoid using them. How do you fix this problem? I don't know how in this horrible impoverished GUI world, so I used real tools, the way I did for hugin. I created a new directory, ~/panorama, and linked in the files that I wanted:


=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp4) ~ 1 -> mkdir panorama
=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp4) ~ 2 -> cd panorama
=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp4) ~/panorama 3 -> ln -s ~/Photos/20090815/verandah-?.jpeg .
=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp4) ~/panorama 4 -> l
total 10
-rw-r--r--   2 grog  1001  2187855 Aug 15 13:43 verandah-1.jpeg
-rw-r--r--   2 grog  1001  2156420 Aug 15 13:43 verandah-2.jpeg
-rw-r--r--   2 grog  1001  2072975 Aug 15 13:44 verandah-3.jpeg
-rw-r--r--   2 grog  1001  1943281 Aug 15 13:44 verandah-4.jpeg
-rw-r--r--   2 grog  1001  1776191 Aug 15 13:44 verandah-5.jpeg

Then I restarted Panorama Maker 5 Pro, which promptly forgot any reference to a directory and went back to the ~/Pictures directory. Fortunately that's right next to the ~/panorama directory, so I was able to select it directly. It came up without a listing, just thumbnails of the (symlinked) images in the directory:


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It's a good thing I didn't have more files in the directory; apart from the difficulty of navigating potentially thousands of files, it takes for ever. I found another directory, ~/foo, with over 4000 entries, all symlinks to files on dereel. Clearly this was some test I did a while ago. Selecting this directory takes several minutes, all the time maxing out my puny CPU and displaying the reassuring text “Ready” at bottom left. When, after 2½ minutes of CPU time and much more elapsed time, it completed, it displayed photo thumbnails in what proves to be chronological (and not reverse chronological!) order:


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Look at the scroll bar on the right to get an idea of how much you need to look through.

Still, this is looking more promising. Back to the ~/panorama directory, it had already selected the box “Auto-Select by Group”, so all I needed to do was to press “Next” at bottom right. Nothing happened.

That's fairly typical for Apple: they love to do things without showing that they're doing them. Presumably the Microsoft hourglass or the Apple twirling wheel are too negative. But after a while I realised that this thing was really not doing anything. Messed around and discovered that I first had to select one of the photos; then they all developed a tick box, along with a red frame round the image I had selected:


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Then I pressed “Next”, and it went off and did its thing, surprisingly quickly, and produced an image which looked good. I told it to save the image to the file q.jpeg. It went away, apparently did something, but there was no q.jpeg in the directory. In fact, there was no q.jpeg anywhere. It had gone and save the file as ../Pictures/q.jpeg.JPG!

On the other hand, the results were really quite good. The result had a single obvious discontinuity in the top middle, but on the whole it looked pretty good. It didn't have the duplicate cat, though that might be more luck than anything:

 
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The poor quality of the Arcsoft image isn't the fault of Arcsoft: this is a demonstration version, and it limits the size of the saved panorama to (in this case) 1678 x 583, while the hugin panorama is 4522 x 1481. I see no reason to believe that the image quality of the paid version of Arcsoft would be worse than that of hugin. Apart from that, it wasn't quite as good as my manually created hugin image, though that's not a fair comparison. A better comparison would be an automatically generated hugin panorama. Went out and did that, and hugin showed itself from its worst side:

 
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So what I ended up was an only partially automatically generated hugin panorama. Here the Panorama Maker 5 Pro image left, the “automatically” generated hugin image in the middle, and the manually generated hugin image at the right.


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Like hugin, Arcsoft loses the EXIF information; I still need to run exiftool to copy that across. In summary, Arcsoft seems to do at least as well as hugin:

In the middle of all that, another power failure—only one second long, but enough to confirm that the UPS on cvr2 is completely dead. Grrr.


Topic: gardening Link here

So now we have our garden earthworks done, and there's plenty of follow-up work to do. In principle we should have worked in the garden all day long. In fact, the weather was terrible—yet again heavy winds and rain, also a bit of hail—so we stayed in the house most of the day and didn't do much, though I did put most of my seedlings out where hopefully they'll get sun without being blown away.

Finally got a reply to my mail to Diggers Club—16 days after I sent it, followed by four reminders. And of course, they're in the Microsoft world, so he put the answer separate from my message and missed out some of the questions. When are people going to become literate?


Tortillas de masa harina
Topic: food and drink Link here

Pollo en adobo for dinner tonight, mainly so that I could make some Mexican tortillas (which have nothing to do with Spanish tortillas). My previous attempts haven't been overly successful: the tortillas tended to fall apart before I could bake them. I suspected an issue with the ratio masa harina to water, so I went off looking for recipes.

As usual, the recipes didn't agree on the quantities. One wanted two cups of masa and 1 1/3 of water; another wanted 2 cups (8 oz (227 g) or 250 g (8.8 oz)) of masa and 1½ cups (375 ml; this is an Australian book, so the quantities correspond in this environment) of water. A third book suggests 175 g masa and a “good” 250 ml water. About the only thing they all agree on is that the dough should be pressed between two pieces of waxed paper.

So what did I do? I took 100 g of masa and 150 ml water and tried adding it until it looked right. It didn't; I had to add a total of 175 ml water to 100 g masa before I got anything like a dough.

The results were pretty much like last time: the dough was easy enough to press, but it stuck to the waxed paper and fell apart while being peeled off. I was able to make a couple by peeling off one side of the paper and putting that side in the Comal, and peeling the other off when it was a bit firmer. Made up for it with some of the pre-made tortillas I had bought at the same time. They're much thicker than mine; that's probably part of my problem. More experimentation needed.


Saturday, 22 August 2009 Dereel Images for 22 August 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

AUUG: Another nail in the coffin

Mail from Stephen Rothwell today, telling me that they're shutting down the AUUG web site machine. I suppose they're going to replace it, but I'm amazed by the amount of secrecy about the whole matter: I used to be one of the lead administrators of the box, and I'm the only one to have ever physically accessed it; but now I haven't been told of any plans to change it, or what they are. Still, I fear that they're going ahead with this “AUUG Preservation Society” thing.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

Arcsoft Panorama Maker Pro: the down side

Photo day today, and after my net positive experience with Panorama Maker 5 Pro, decided to try comparison panoramas made with hugin. It's a good thing I did: it seems that my success yesterday was beginner's luck. Here's what Panorama Maker Pro made of some of the panoramas. First, the verandah panorama that worked so well yesterday. For some reason, it completely confused Panorama Maker Pro, which apparently ignored two of the component images and showed off its specific features by putting the other three images vertically:


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For some reason it also changed the colour balance.

OK, that was “auto”, a good chance to try to tell it to do it horizontally, and that worked. I've always known that the verandah panorama is a tricky one due to the depth of field, though hugin would never have generated such complete nonsense. The one from the north-east of the garden has never given hugin any problems, but it confused the hell out of Panorama Maker Pro (second image):


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Somehow it managed to get the photos in the wrong order, with the result that the house was included twice. Maybe it didn't like the amount of overlap, but that should make things easier, not harder. Went into the manual stitch mode, where it again ordered the photos in the wrong sequence, conveniently omitting the names in the display:

 
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I had named the files garden-ne-a.jpeg to garden-ne-g.jpeg, left to right, so the one in the middle should in fact have been on the extreme right. The only way to find out the names (shown here) was to position the mouse on the image and wait a second or so, after which the EXIF data summary appears. To fix things, you drag the photos to where they fit, a thing that takes forever on my old Apple.

After doing that and restitching, things look better, but not much:


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Here's the opposite effect from the duplicate cat in the panorama I did yesterday. This time Arcsoft has given me a duplicate lime tree. Here a detail from the hugin panorama, and what Arcsoft made of it:

 
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Show for Saturday, 22 August 2009:
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Show for Saturday, 22 August 2009:
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This is an order of magnitude worse than the duplicate cats. The duplicate cats occurred because the cat had physically moved between the component photos. Here the lime tree clearly hasn't moved: the software hasn't been able to recognize that the images are the same. And the difference in angle must come from the software: these shots were taken from a tripod with a pan head, not a ball head (which could have changed the angle).

It also made a mess of the panorama from the north, again including the house twice. Of the four panoramas I take, it only got one right first time, the simplest one. When I started taking photos this morning, I was seriously considering buying Panorama Maker Pro. It's a good thing I did more tests; now I wouldn't use it if it were free.


Topic: general Link here

The return of the swallows

On 1 January 2009 we demolished the swallow's nest in the verandah:


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Predictably, they haven't taken “no” for an answer, and they're back. This time they appear to intend to build a nest on the light above the door:


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I can almost certainly stop them by putting a plastic bag over the lamp, but first I'll try to get some more photos.


Topic: general Link here

Chris around for dinner tonight. No new photos, but she insisted I put red wine in my white wine glass. What are we coming to?


Sunday, 23 August 2009 Dereel Images for 23 August 2009
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Topic: general Link here

The CD player (that's what I call it; it includes a tuner, and the manufacturer calls it a “Micro HiFi System”) that I bought less than five months ago is showing typical signs of age: it frequently can't recognize a CD when I put it in. That's a Sony, too, a brand you'd expect to be more reliable. Still, it appears to have a one year warranty (I declined to take up the offer of a 4 year extended warranty for only 135% of the purchase price), so it'll have to be repaired.

In the meantime, put back my nine-year-old, flaky unit. Slowly and painfully. Why do so many of these little things take so much effort? All I really needed to do was to move antenna, loudspeakers and power to the other unit. What happened was:

  1. I wanted to have both units connected at the same time. The power board was full, so I had to go and find another. I had one elsewhere which wasn't full, so I could change them around; but the other one had lots of battery chargers, all conveniently made just a little too wide to fit next to each other. Fixed that by removing some; I don't need them all connected all the time.

  2. The new unit has a fixed power cord, while the old one had a pluggable one. After some searching, found one of the right kind (figure 8 profile), but it had a US plug on it. Found an adaptor, plugged it in, and it didn't work.

    Went looking for the multimeter and confirmed that yes, there was no power on the figure 8. Found another cable, tried again, same result. It proved to be the adaptor that was defective. I've never seen that before.

  3. The antenna connection on the Sony is some strange proprietary thing, while the old unit has a 75Ω socket. But whatever I used to have in there is now gone. I must have had a piece of wire hanging out of it, but now the (female) connector is so damaged that I couldn't get another one in. Went looking for a 75Ω extender into which to put a piece of wire. And, of course, it was too thin, and even crimping the pin didn't help, so I ended up having to solder it in.

Finally it worked, but what a pain to do something that should just be a simple changeover.

The swallows have decided not to build a nest on the light fitting after all; instead they chose a place which I can't conveniently monitor from inside the house, so I just removed it:


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I suppose we'll see more reconstruction attempts. I'm reminded of Astérix et le domaine des dieux.

The “weather station” I bought from ALDI a few weeks ago has proved to be quite useful, but it's a stand-alone unit, and I have to transfer things to the computer manually. That's clearly sub-optimal. What I need is a unit with USB interface (well, preferably Ethernet, but they don't seem to exist), preferably one that I can use with FreeBSD or possibly Linux. Went out looking on the web and found a program called Wview, surprisingly enough apparently written primarily for FreeBSD—but it's not in the Ports Collection. And it runs a relatively limited number of weather stations, which also seem to be excessively expensive.

Looked on eBay and found only one model that has a USB connection. And of course none of the vendors bother to say what the model number is. Much searching ensued, after which it became apparent that it's a rebadged Fine Offset WH1081 (also known as the Watson W8681). Even more searching found an archive of what appears to be the USENET news group sci.weather, with an indication that somebody has written code for wview to support the WH1081, that it runs under NetBSD, and that it hasn't been committed yet. No way to contact the author. Spent some time looking for a web-based USENET interface, but it seems that any USENET interface today costs money.

Finally wrote a message to the other bloke in the thread, who had conveniently posted his home page URL.


Topic: technology Link here

As a result, returned to installing NetBSD on one of my machines. Downloaded the pkgsrc tarball, and of course it had errors in it. Another double load and rsync. And then it occurred to me that each automatic fetch would also have the same problem. This data corruption is really a royal pain.


Monday, 24 August 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Wideband support changed the firmware in my satellite modem today, and sure enough, my data corruption problems went away. So it seems that this version of firmware caused continual data corruption—and nobody knew! It's amazing what people will put up with.


Topic: technology, general Link here

Mail from Dave Tyson today, confirming that the Fine Offset WH1081 weather station will work with NetBSD, and sent me some code he had written. That's standalone code; the driver for Wview was written by Steve Woodford, and he was rather difficult to contact:

Aug 24 08:00:16 w3 postfix/smtp[18124]: ABFEB3BAC7: to=<steve@example.org>, relay=dungeon.example.org[81.187.219.212]:25, delay=4.6, delays=2/0.02/1.5/1.2, dsn=4.7.1, status=deferred (host dungeon.example.org[81.187.219.212] said: 450 4.7.1 <steve@example.org>: Recipient address rejected: Hmmm, I think you're running Windows. Chances are you're a spam-spewing zombie, but just in case you're not, you may try again MUCH later. Failing that, try using your ISP's email smart host. (in reply to RCPT TO command))

How did he get the impression that this was “Windows”? It was FreeBSD, of course. Played around a bit and ended up sending it from Ozlabs, a Linux box.


Topic: gardening Link here

CJ along today with a tractor to continue demolishing the cathedral. It's not a pretty sight. Here are views taken 3 months ago, and again now:


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I wonder what we can plant there.


Topic: general, photography Link here

The weather was pretty terrible today, high winds and rain, and spent most of the day playing around with photo processing.


Tuesday, 25 August 2009 Dereel Images for 25 August 2009
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Topic: technology, gardening Link here

Got a reply from Steve Woodford today, along with lots of code. It's all for NetBSD, and by chance I have just installed the latest version of NetBSD (with the intention to use it as Dom0 for Xen), so the clear next thing to do would be to complete that installation.

It seems to be years ago since I last had a NetBSD machine running—not exactly something for an ex-NetBSD developer to be proud of. But that means I had quite a bit of configuration to do to get it up and running the way I want, and in the meantime I'm running close to my IP traffic limit for the month (at least for peak traffic, between 12:00 and 24:00), so had to defer until tomorrow.


Topic: gardening Link here

Of course, another thing I need to run this weather station software is the corresponding hardware. There are plenty of weather stations on the market, both “Buy It Now” and auctions. Which do I buy? For some reason, the “Buy It Now” units came with free shipping, something that people underestimate: I can return the unit if I don't like it, and I get the purchase price refunded, but not shipping. So buying it cheaper is offset by the $25 shipping I would lose if I returned it. The “Buy It Now” units cost $129; decided that I could bid up to $91 on the auctions, making a total price of $116.

And people continually bid higher! After the third one went for $106 (total of $131), decided that the other bidders weren't quite rational, and bought one with “Buy It Now”. Now to see when it arrives.


Tortillas de masa harina, try 2
Topic: food and drink Link here

So was my problem making tortillas compounded by them being too thin? Tried again today with the quantities suggested. I still needed a ratio of about 1.7:1 of water to masa harina, but this time I made only 4 tortillas from 100 g masa, and pressed them more carefully until they were just the width of the tortilladora.

The resultant tortillas were really easier to remove from the waxed paper, but not much. In addition, the paper creases easily, leaving creases in the tortilla. Clearly I need to find something better to press the tortillas in. That'll be my next step, once I've thought it over.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

More configuring kimchi today, adapting my FreeBSD method, in particular the ports infrastructure, with surprising success. The biggest issue was the location of the source trees (/usr/ports and /usr/pkgsrc) and the object trees (/usr/local and /usr/pkg). The locations weren't hard-coded, but I haven't (yet) provided for changing it based on uname.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's still terrible, wind and rain, but we need to move ahead before spring catches up with me. Planted some Acacia myrtifolia between the parking area and the house; hopefully it will become a reasonable windbreak. The seedlings are quite old—we brought them with us from Echunga, so they could be 3 years old—but they're still in tubes. Used this new technique they're talking about of planting them much deeper, burying the bottom of the stem in the ground. We'll see how that turns out.


Thursday, 27 August 2009 Dereel Images for 27 August 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Into town today early to catch the ALDI specials, which start at 9:00 on Thursdays. We don't normally bother to be there at the very beginning, but I was interested in the car radio they had on special (only $89), with CD player (of course) and MP3 player using either SD cards or USB sticks. Last time we tried to buy one, they were gone by 10:00 on Thursday.

Made it to ALDI at about 8:58, to find that they were already open, and that there were lots of shoppers there. I hadn't needed to worry: they had dozens of them. Got one and confirmed that the connector was different from the one on my Mitsubishi—this was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It proves that Mitsubishi has used at least three different proprietary connectors in the course of the last 20 years, while the radio has an “ISO” connector. On to look for the radio shop that they told me about at the scrap yard last week, and discovered that it was John Thomas, the same people I love so much for their help with the Kenwood Chef mixer. They said the name “Thomas”, of course, but I hadn't associated it with car radios.

Tried to get an adaptor cable, and of course they didn't have one. Spoke with Darren, who appears to be responsible for installations, and he told me that they normally just cut off the cables from the radio and replaced them with a socket for the car—throw the standard connector out and replace it with a non-standard connector! As a result, they had the Mitsubishi connector in stock, but not an ISO connector. That does nothing to improve my opinion of the company, and it is completely ridiculous in my case, with a brand-new, standards compliant radio and an 18 year old car which hit the quarter of a million km mark as I arrived at ALDI:


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On to JB HiFi, where they would have changed my CD player with a demonstration model—hopefully for the first time—but they didn't have any. It would take 4 to 6 weeks to repair, because they send the things away, but there's a chance of a repair shop in Ballarat—but I have to find that out myself. Also asked about mounting equipment for car radios. No dice.

On looking for the local JayCar outlet in Bridge Mall, but they have closed up shop and moved way out of town, to Ring Road. It doesn't sound like they're doing too well, and I don't know how many people would go that far. At Strathfields they had some connectors, but not for Mitsubishi; conceivably they could get them in. To Dick Smiths, where they had components to build your own cable. But it wasn't clear that the clips were the right size, and I didn't really feel like going down that path.

Then to talk to Peter O'Connell about my investment portfolio. Things are looking a lot better than a few months ago, but the delay in funds transfer from the UK has cost me over $50,000 so far, and there's still no end in sight.

Then out to Howitt Street to a place called Autobarn, and struck lucky: a connector for ISO to old-style Mitsubishi connectors, just what I was looking for:


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Yes, it had a second connector on it too, presumably for additional functions which my old radio doesn't have, but the main connector is identical. Out to the car, put it in and it powered up and worked, but there were no speakers. Still, a minor issue.

Back home and examined in more detail. Yes, the connector's the same, but the pinout is different:


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The image of the plug (right) is laterally inverted, so the pins should correspond. In fact, only four pins do correspond. Went back looking at what I wrote about the last time I worked on this cable, and though I mentioned a fair amount, I didn't mention the details I needed today. I won't make that mistake again. Set to to analyse the cables and wrote a HOWTO with the exact pinouts and what I needed to do to change them. It proved that this cable was designed for a radio with four speakers, with the + connections on the main connector and the - connections on the secondary connector. It's amazing that they should do something like that; it's a gratuitous and completely unneccessary incompatibility. They should have put the rear speaker connections on the secondary connection; that way they'd have remained compatible both ways.

Still, the analysis worked well: after refitting the connectors, things worked first time, a far cry from the pain I went through 7 years ago.


Topic: technology, general Link here

Next was getting used to the player. By ALDI standards the instructions are quite good, but I still needed to understand how to store MP3 files on a SD card so that the player would recognize them. The first issue was getting a file system. FAT32, of course, and since I was going to be using (or at least trying) SDHC cards, decided to use the Apple.

Aside: I've already complained about the use of the term format instead of “create a file system”. But you don't format a memory card in the traditional manner. Maybe I should accept this one; it's certainly less of a mouthful than “create a file system”.

So how do you “format” an SD card under Apple? It seems reasonable to assume that you'd use “Disk” “utility.app”, but there was nothing obvious in the menus. “Help” drew a blank on “format”, and “new file system” brought lots of false positives and nothing useful. Finally, with help on IRC, I found it: “Erase”. Isn't that just what you want to do with a brand-new data medium?

Created the file system and copied some MP3 files to a card. Does it understand directory structures? What file names? Tried a bit of everything, with the result that the player rejected the card silently, just moving on to the next input source. Tried again without the subdirectories, and that seemed to work, even if the file has a long name. But it doesn't try to interpret the name, which must be quite a pain with an 8 GB SDHC card: 30 CDs worth of files (potentially 800) and no way to navigate. It does (continually) display the contents of ID3 tags (Artist, “Album” and Title), so I suppose I'll need to work on that.


Topic: photography Link here

Taking the photos of the cable and connectors reminded me of how difficult it is to hold small objects like that. You'd think there would be lots of gadgets on the market, but I haven't seen any of them. Ended up with makeshift tools, and it's obvious.


Friday, 28 August 2009 Dereel Images for 28 August 2009
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Topic: general, gardening Link here

Spring is on its way, and the temperature hit nearly 20° today. Should have done some work in the garden, but somehow found an excuse not to do so.

CJ along again today to finish demolishing the cathedral:


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He's off on holiday to Birdsville on Monday, and he wanted to get things chopped down before he left. He managed that, but left behind a lot of branches which we had to cart off and burn—it seems that the fire danger season is starting on 1 September 2009. That kept us busy much of the afternoon, so much so that I didn't get any photos. There's not much left of the trees now.

Checked the Sony Australia web site to find who can repair my CD player. Result: 5 service centres in the state, four of which are in Melbourne and the fifth in Geelong. And then the text:

If an Authorised Service Centre is not found near your region, please call 1300 13 76 69 for more locations

And yes, the sentence wasn't terminated. This is the web, after all, and not a printed publication. Called up the number and spoke to Heidi, who wanted all sorts of information, including model number, purchase date, where I bought it and what was wrong with it before she divulged that Greene's TV service, 149 Humffray St, North Ballarat could look at the thing. She also gave me a reference number and told me that she would send email to Greene's.

Into town with Chris in the late afternoon, she to pick up her car and I to take in the CD player. They hadn't seen the email, of course, but found it. The positive side is that they took that as sufficient authorization to repair the unit under guarantee, and didn't want to see the receipt. Clearly a good loophole for getting Sony equipment repaired after the guarantee expires.

It seems that there's still something wrong with my phone. I went in to an Optus centre a while back, and they had no problems contacting it. Today Yvonne tried and got the same message as before: “the number you have called is not connected”.

What's the difference? The telephone network, I fear. I originally had the number with Telstra, but changed it over to Optus last year. I suspect that Telstra has messed things up and not registered the changeover. It worked for Yvonne's phone, so this isn't an automatic problem.


Saturday, 29 August 2009 Dereel Images for 29 August 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

Plenty of rain overnight, almost putting out the fire and leaving lots of unburnt wood behind. In spite of all, the fire didn't go out completely:


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Had to wait some time for the rain to stop before I could take my garden photos. The cathedral is a thing of the past. Here the comparison with what it was like when we first started using it:


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Topic: technology, music Link here

More playing around with getting music in MP3 format onto the SDHC card for my car radio. Despite earlier pain, I decided to use Apple's iTunes to copy the music from CD:

OK, fire up iTunes and look through the menus for “copy CD” or “import CD”, presumably in the “Files” menu. Nothing. There's “Copy” in the “Edit” menu, but it's not clear what it does; probably copy text for some reason. “Store” looks promising, but none of it makes any sense. “Turn on Genius”—maybe I need a genius to understand the simplicity—or “Authorize computer”, whatever that means. It certainly doesn't store anything. “Advanced” creates versions and subscribes to podcasts. Nothing relating to copying CDs.

OK, if all else fails, read the manual. All else failed. I read the manual, all two pages of it. It failed too. For once, I didn't need a too-small window and a scroll bar. The introduction consists of a single window with no links to further documentation:

 
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I'm sure that video tutorials are useful the first time around, but as the only method of documentation? The big issue is that they're sequential, and it's difficult to jump around. So I entered “copy cd” to the help and got a whole lot of irrelevant information, the most important of which was apparently “Usage rights for iTunes Store purchases”:

 
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With a lot more effort, finally found Applespeak for “copy CD”: it's Advanced/Create AAC Version. I had already been warned in a c't article that Apple imports as AAC, and you then have to convert to MP3. But this was a selection for which even “Help” doesn't bring anything useful:

 
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To be fair, once you've found out what the method is, the help topics help with the details. But it's the first step that's missing.

Apple lovers: before writing to me about the above, wait until tomorrow's entry.

Started copying a CD, which seemed to work. But where was it putting it? No information, of course. I'm supposed to be locked in to iTunes, so why should I know the location of the data? In my case, because I didn't want to have the pain of working out how to copy the data to the SDHC card. I know how to do that: cp(1), a simple program that does one thing, does it right, and has been around for 40 years. Went searching and found:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp3) ~ 10 -> find . -mmin -5
...
./Music/iTunes/iTunes Music
./Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent
./Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent/Bach_ Magnificat, Cantata #80
./Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent/Bach_ Magnificat, Cantata #80/01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1. Magnificat Anima Mea.m4a
./Music/iTunes/iTunes Music Library.xml

So the data is being stored in files with path names like “Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent/Bach_ Magnificat, Cantata #80/01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1. Magnificat Anima Mea.m4a”, replete with no less than 19 spaces. More importantly, it's stored in a hierarchy with the performer first and the work second, which makes no sense to me. But then, iTunes considers Bach's Magnificat to be a song.

Things went from bad to worse when I later copied further CDs, including more by Philippe Herreweghe:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music 20 -> l
drwxr-xr-x   3 grog  1000  102 Aug 30 08:29 Barbara Schlick, Catherine Patriasz; Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Ghent
drwxr-xr-x   3 grog  1000  102 Aug 29 16:55 Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent
drwxr-xr-x   4 grog  1000  136 Aug 29 19:40 Trevor Pinnock_ The English Concert

All these are works by Bach, but you'd have to know it. You'd also have to look carefully to realise that the first two entries refer to the same performers.

Anyway, I had my AAC files, and I needed to find a way to convert them to MP3. More searching, during which I found something that the author of the c't article apparently didn't know: you can import directly to MP3. There's no import option: instead, you have to go to “Preferences” and set a format there, every time you want to change it.

So finally I had my MP3 files and copied them to disk. Conveniently, Diane Saunders rang at this point. She was on her way from Meadows to visit us for a few days, but had got her car bogged down on the side of the road while turning near Rokewood, so I had to go down to tow her out—just what I needed to try out the MP3s.

They worked fine. Sort of. The player recognized the ID3 tags and displayed names like BACH| and some other weirdnesses, and truncated the name of the first movement (“Magnificat anima mea dominum”) as MA MEA. My guess here is that this is a collaboration with the Gracenote database, which has done away with the Dominum, and the implementers, who seem to have truncated the title to the last 6 characters; that could have been iTunes, of course.

More seriously, though, the tracks were out of sequence. Confirmed that I hadn't accidentally selected this brain-dead “Shuffle” function: it had really assigned numbers to the files out of sequence. I suspected that maybe it was just ignoring the names and reading the directory entries in sequence. Back home, tried to take a look at the directory to confirm the sequence of the entries in the directory. How? hexdump is your friend:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 9 -> hexdump -C /Volumes/MP3-8G/
...
00000190  68 00 5f 00 20 00 4d 00  61 00 00 00 67 00 6e 00  |h._. .M.a...g.n.|
000001a0  30 31 42 41 43 48 7e 31  4d 50 33 20 00 1e 66 8c  |01BACH~1MP3 ..f.|
000001b0  1d 3b 1d 3b 00 00 30 8a  1d 3b 22 30 b4 3b 37 00  |.;.;..0..;"0.;7.|

That's a bit sparse, of course; I only need the text on the right. Read the man page, only to find that hexdump doesn't have that format. It did state, however, relating to the -C option:

Calling the command hd implies this option.

Checked that and found a typical Apple implementation:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp5) ~ 11 -> hd /Volumes/MP3-8G
bash: hd: command not found

That still wasn't all. With another CD, I was presented with the question:

 
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Another of these silly too-small dialogue boxes. This one shows the stupidity from its best side: there's no way to enlarge it. Are these entries the same or different? How can I tell? What's the point of the question in the first place?


Topic: general Link here

That was enough for one day. Diane was here, and we spent an evening talking about her planned trip to Europe, the first ever.


Sunday, 30 August 2009 Dereel Images for 30 August 2009
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Topic: technology, music Link here

More playing around with CDs and MP3 today. First was to find out the cause of the out-of-sequence playing. It proves that ls -lf works on FAT-32 file systems too, and it confirmed that the information in the directory was out of sequence, but in the same sequence that the player played the tracks.

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 10 -> ls -lf /Volumes/MP3-8G/
total 109
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog   3619764 Aug 29 17:17 01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1.  Magnificat Anima Mea.mp3
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog   4724779 Aug 29 17:34 14 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 2.  Alles, Was Von Gott Geboren.mp3
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog   5941042 Aug 29 17:33 13 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 1.  Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott.mp3

So it ignores the file names and goes only by directory order. But how did this happen? The directory was empty when I started, so it can't be re-use of empty directory entries. Yesterday I said that cp does things well, but in this case it seems to be ignoring the sequence of arguments presented to it. I'm deliberately leaving these messy names in the page—aren't they ugly?

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent/Bach_ Magnificat, Cantata #80 26 -> cp -v * /Volumes/MP3-8G/
01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1.  Magnificat Anima Mea.mp3 -> /Volumes/MP3-8G/01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1.  Magnificat Anima Mea.mp3
20 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 8.  Das Wort Sie Sollen Lassen Stahn.mp3 -> /Volumes/MP3-8G/20 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 8.  Das Wort Sie Sollen Lassen Stahn.mp3
19 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 7.  Wie Selig Sind Doch Die.mp3 -> /Volumes/MP3-8G/19 Bach_ Cantata #80, BWV 80, _Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott_ - 7.  Wie Selig Sind Doch Die.mp3

The * in the invocation of cp expands to a sorted list of file names in the directory; but it chooses another sequence. Why? This seems to be a problem that exists with FreeBSD as well. I need to follow it up. In the meantime, there are obvious workarounds. After deleting all files on the card, tried:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Gent/Bach_ Magnificat, Cantata #80 27 -> for i in *; do echo cp -v \'$i\' /Volumes/MP3-8G/; done | sh

The quotes around $i are necessary because of these hundreds of spaces they put in the file names.

That wrote in the correct sequence. Put it in the player and yes, it worked, also in the correct sequence. But there was an empty track between each real track. Back in the house, found:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 22 -> ls -fal /Volumes/MP3-8G/
total 110
drwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog       4096 Aug 30 11:59 .Trashes
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog       4096 Aug 27 17:38 ._.Trashes
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog    3619764 Aug 30 11:24 01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1.  Magnificat Anima Mea.mp3
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog       4096 Aug 30 11:24 ._01 Bach_ Magnificat In D, BWV 243 - 1.  Magnificat Anima Mea.mp3

These are some Apple auxiliary information, and cp creates them even when the names don't match. I'll have to remove them afterwards, or maybe just copy the card with a real BSD box.

Also did some more CD copying and realised that there is, indeed, a simpler way to import CDs with iTunes: I had been mislead by the help headings and had chosen “New to iTunes”, in the expectation of a tutorial, when in fact I should have chosen “The iTunes Jukebox”, which offers “Import CDs”, just what I was looking for.

But it didn't work. According to the instructions, there should be a box labeled “Import CD” at the bottom of the screen. There wasn't. It took me some time to realize that the window was far larger than the screen. How did that happen? How could that happen? How do you resize a window on an Apple? You click on the bottom right-hand corner and drag to the approximate size you want. But how do you get to that corner? I don't know. I don't think you can if the window is so much larger than the screen: unlike with X, you can't push the top of a window off the top of the display; in fact, I don't know how to move a window at all without positioning on the title bar.

Solved the problem by temporarily increasing the resolution of the display, which was enough to show the bottom corner. But it kept coming back to this size; clearly I wasn't overwriting some default, but the Preferences didn't show me any option. I was told to use WindowZoom, which might work in the general case, but in iTunes it just switches to a compressed representation of the window. I still don't know how to resize it.

Once I got the thing at a size I could use, yes, “Import CDs”. It does pretty much exactly the same thing as AdvancedCreate MP3 Version, which begs the question what's “advanced” about the operation. In the meantime, other problems became apparent: the Gracenote database is horribly inaccurate and inconsistent, and in conjunction with it, iTunes copies CDs into individual directories with strange names (some of Händel's Opus 3 Concerti Grossi are stored in Håndel - Concerti Grossi, Op. 9 Nos. 1 - 4 (Vol. 28 of Händel Masterworks)_), and Bach's B Minor mass got split between the two directories Barbara Schlick, Catherine Patriasz; Philippe Herreweghe_ Collegium Vocale Ghent/Bach_ Mass In B Minor, BWV 232 [Disc 1] and Compilations/Bach_ Mass In B Minor [Disc 2], when in fact it should really be stored in one directory with a sensible name.

In the end, decided that the best thing to do would be to store the information on dereel, where I could back things up, and create a separate directory hierarchy with sensible names. That worked some of the time, and I now have a directory Bach_JS/BWV232 with links to the entries in the two directories. But that's a lot of work.

That meant putting in a symlink "Music/iTunes/iTunes Music" → /dereel/home/Music/iTunes, something that iTunes point blank refuses to follow. More work is needed to find out what to do there; in the meantime, rsync was my friend.

While messing around, read more about this “Genius” thing, and read the startling information:

Genius makes playlists from songs in your library that go great together with just one click.

What does that mean? I've already established that, say, Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto consists of three “songs”, and I suppose the term “library” is clear enough, but what does “go great together with just one click” mean? At the very best, it's near-English, but you have to have prior experience with this kind of terminology to be able to translate it into English.

Decided to try anyway, and it first asked for an email and password—and refused my password because it contained characters it doesn't like. More stupidity. When I changed it (probably to something like stupidity), it wanted my credit card information! You'd have to be a moron to do that, not a genius.


Topic: technology Link here

More trouble with my network connection today: excessive packet loss and correspondingly terrible throughput. rsync reported:

20071117/big/garage-w.jpeg
     1477324 100%    2.40kB/s    0:10:01 (xfer#33, to-check=35441/73534)
20071117/big/garden-e.jpeg
     1703624 100%    1.86kB/s    0:14:56 (xfer#34, to-check=35440/73534)

That should have been more like 30 kB/s. Went through with mtr to find the interesting information that the packet loss was not on the satellite link (first hop here):

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp8) ~ 6 -> mtr -r -w -c 100 w3
HOST: dereel.lemis.com                       Loss%   Snt   Last   Avg  Best  Wrst StDev
  1. sat-gw.lemis.com                       56.0%   100    0.3   0.3   0.3   0.8   0.1
  2. 192.168.1.9                             1.0%   100  1303. 1273. 1000. 2434. 220.2
  3. 203.169.16.37                           1.0%   100  1280. 1268. 1012. 2341. 205.0
  4. 203.169.16.25                           1.0%   100  1398. 1333. 1072. 2298. 188.1
  5. fa0-1.core1.syd.wide.net.au            15.0%   100  1389. 1352. 1031. 2231. 199.1

The packet drop rate at the first hop (satellite modem) is clearly yet another indication of how broken it is, but all hops from 5 onwards showed similar levels of packet loss, so I'd consider them representative. Sent email to support and got a reply relatively quickly, blaming IPStar. I'm beginning to wonder where the real issue is; we have three hops with good connectivity but no reverse DNS though the last two belong to networknoc.com, and things don't go downhill until Wideband gets involved. To be observed.


Topic: animals, general Link here

Diane brought her dogs with her, which requires a certain amount of coordination: they're not used to cats, and so we're doing a lot of hide-and-seek. Today Roxy was locked in the bedroom and got bored, so she chewed open some of Di's Vitamin D pills and swallowed about 50 of them. After a phone consultation with the vet, forced some salt water down her throat, and she vomited the lot out, including her breakfast. What a mess! But she seems no worse for the experience.


Topic: general Link here

Chris joined us for dinner. Somehow the photos weren't as silly as usual:


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Monday, 31 August 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology, music Link here

Another day spent playing with MP3 conversions. Got lots of stuff converted, but not much else to say. This effort originally started simply because my new car radio includes an MP3 player, nothing that I had particularly intended. But the investigations have proved to be a can of worms. How can anybody put up with the level of disorganization supplied by the combination of iTunes and Gracenote? Certainly nobody with a primary interest in classical music can. And yet the iPod is a best seller. Call me old-fashioned, but with the best will in the world, I really can't understand why.

One of the reasons for this activity was as a trial run to converting my CD collection (about 2000 CDs) to MP3 for ease of access and searching, With iTunes and Gracenote I would get neither. Spent some time doing lots of manual rearrangement of the files so that I can actually use them, greatly hampered by these horrible path names with spaces in them. Yes, people will probably tell me that I shouldn't be using old-fashioned tools, but if iTunes and friends are the alternative, I can even put up with this vomit-making stuff. But I'll need to do some serious thinking before I can convert my entire CD collection.


Topic: general Link here

Yvonne into town with Diane today to look for some new pills for Diane, unfortunately in vain; somehow, despite contacting her doctor in Adelaide, they weren't prepared to give them to her without written authority. What a police state we live in!


New weather station
Topic: technology, gardening Link here

My weather station has arrived, so spent some time looking at porting wview release 5 to NetBSD, something that apparently hasn't been done before. It's not in pkgsrc, and the instructions are pretty unclear. Spent some time porting radlib, not made any simpler by the fact—probably typical—that the installation directory (and thus also the -I include directory) defaults to /usr/local, even for NetBSD, where the default is /usr/pkg. Also discovered that the “standard” union for semctl arguments is missing in NetBSD:

/*
 * semctl's arg parameter structure
 */
union semun {
        int             val;            /* value for SETVAL */
        struct          semid_ds *buf;  /* buffer for IPC_STAT & IPC_SET */
        unsigned short  *array;         /* array for GETALL & SETALL */
};

After fixing that, got things sorted out, but ran into further problems with wview. Porting it is only the first part; after that I have to incorporated Steve Woodford's patches, written for version 4 of wview, and test them. I can see I'll be using the Microsoft software for a while.

Yvonne then returned with the weather station, and I spent some time putting that together, not helped by the fact that it is mounted on a two-part pipe, where one piece needs to fit into the other, and the other part had been partially crushed and needed to be straightened out. Apart from that, and the excessive lengths of interconnecting cable, it seems to be functional. Very poor contrast on the display, difficult-to-read instructions, and no non-destructive way of reading out the maxima and minima. I'll leave it running in parallel with the ALDI station for a week or two.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Indian food in the evening, and tried making chapatis with the tortilladora. Not an outright success: the first one stuck to the waxed paper in a way that tortillas never did. Tried oiling them, which worked well, but somehow they were still too thick—maybe the tortilladora is the wrong implement for chapatis. But at least I got results the first time.


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