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Sunday, 1 August 2010 Dereel Images for 1 August 2010
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NTP: too finicky for modern computers?
Topic: technology Link here

I've had lots of issues with NTP over the years, and more and more I'm giving up on running the ntpd daemon: it seems too fussy. Poor timekeeping hardware is a fact of life, and we've had issues with UNIX timekeeping accuracy—without NTP—for as long as I can remember. Some months ago I stopped using ntpd on my external machine, which is a virtual machine. Instead I run ntpdate at regular intervals; it's not nearly as fussy.

Recently I have been seeing similar problems on cvr2.lemis.com, my computer video recorder. I did the same thing there, except that, at least for the moment, I'm displaying the output of ntpdate. It suggests that the clock gains about 2 ms per minute:

 1 Aug 08:46:32 ntpdate[1815]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002139 sec
 1 Aug 08:47:32 ntpdate[1817]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002128 sec
 1 Aug 08:48:32 ntpdate[1819]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002131 sec
 1 Aug 08:49:32 ntpdate[1821]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002129 sec
 1 Aug 08:50:32 ntpdate[1823]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002129 sec
 1 Aug 08:51:32 ntpdate[1825]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002130 sec

But sometimes that's not the case. This is getting the time from dereel.lemis.com, on the same network, which is synchronized to four external servers. This example continued this morning with:

 1 Aug 08:52:32 ntpdate[1827]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 08:53:33 ntpdate[1829]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 08:54:33 ntpdate[1831]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 08:55:33 ntpdate[1949]: no server suitable for synchronization found

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /recordings 46 -> ntpdate dereel
 1 Aug 08:56:10 ntpdate[1951]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.150021 sec
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /recordings 47 ->
 1 Aug 08:56:33 ntpdate[1952]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.140502 sec
 1 Aug 08:57:33 ntpdate[1954]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.115489 sec
 1 Aug 08:58:33 ntpdate[1957]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.090361 sec
 1 Aug 08:59:33 ntpdate[1959]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.065123 sec
 1 Aug 09:00:33 ntpdate[1961]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.039789 sec
 1 Aug 09:01:33 ntpdate[1963]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.014346 sec
 1 Aug 09:02:33 ntpdate[1965]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset 0.002806 sec
 1 Aug 09:03:34 ntpdate[1967]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.006571 sec
 1 Aug 09:04:34 ntpdate[1969]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.001989 sec
 1 Aug 09:05:34 ntpdate[2092]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.004155 sec

What was that all about? When I entered the same command manually, it worked. Looking back, I see that the same thing happened in the middle of the night:

 1 Aug 00:16:39 ntpdate[23671]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002305 sec
 1 Aug 00:17:39 ntpdate[23790]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:18:39 ntpdate[23792]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:19:39 ntpdate[23794]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:20:39 ntpdate[23796]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:21:39 ntpdate[23798]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:22:39 ntpdate[23800]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:23:40 ntpdate[23802]: no server suitable for synchronization found
 1 Aug 00:24:40 ntpdate[23804]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.165361 sec
 1 Aug 00:25:40 ntpdate[23922]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.139640 sec
 1 Aug 00:26:40 ntpdate[23924]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.114256 sec
 1 Aug 00:27:40 ntpdate[23926]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.088778 sec
 1 Aug 00:28:40 ntpdate[23928]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.063217 sec
 1 Aug 00:29:40 ntpdate[23930]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.037558 sec
 1 Aug 00:30:40 ntpdate[23945]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.011177 sec
 1 Aug 00:31:40 ntpdate[23947]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset 0.003465 sec
 1 Aug 00:32:40 ntpdate[23949]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.003604 sec
 1 Aug 00:33:41 ntpdate[23951]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset 0.000072 sec
 1 Aug 00:34:41 ntpdate[23953]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.001847 sec
 1 Aug 00:35:41 ntpdate[24071]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.001476 sec
 1 Aug 00:36:41 ntpdate[24073]: adjust time server 192.109.197.135 offset -0.002038 sec

Initially I thought that it might be related to the activity on cvr2, but there's no clear correlation. On Peter Jeremy's suggestion, started logging information from dereel's ntpd. We'll take another look tomorrow.


UPS and disk woes
Topic: technology Link here

Today was the first of the month, involving a complete backup of my systems. For dereel, that involves running dump and tar, piping the result through pbzip2 and writing to a disk on another system. pbzip2 is a parallel process that uses all available processors, and it manages to max out my 4 processor system. Today, not for the first time, the UPS started screaming “overload”. I don't think that's the case: I suspect it's not prepared to deliver the same power that it once did.

Not really an issue: over a month ago I bought new UPSs, including one for dereel, but “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”, since it involved taking down the system. Today it was clearly broke, so I swapped the “850 VA” 500 W UPS for the new “1850 VA” unit, which I think means 1000 W. The VA ratings are just plain lies: they assume a cos φ of 0.6, which implies big electrical motors. But on the new machine I read “Not to be used with fluorescent tubes or non-computer peripherals”. It's not clear what a “non-computer peripheral” is, but it's equally clear that the UPS is designed for computer power supplies, which are required to have a cos φ of above 0.95. So at best the 1 kW UPS can supply about 1050 VA.

On reboot, noted a console message:

Aug  1 11:07:37 dereel kernel: WARNING: /dump was not properly dismounted

That's a disk that I use for dumps from other machines. Some time ago, when I was having problems with the system, I disabled automatic fsck for the disk, which doesn't really do any harm: soft updates were enabled, so I could still use the drive. But clearly it was a good idea to run fsck, so I did.

I wasn't quite prepared for the result: it found what appeared to be over a million lost files, overflowed lost+found and ran for over an hour. The contents of lost+found showed files that must have come from an older incarnation of /dump:

/dump/lost+found/#0762030/Minimalist-wide/buttons/.svn/text-base:
total 1
-r--r--r--  1 grog  lemis   8438 Mar 10  2007 DVD_PLAY.png.svn-base
-r--r--r--  1 grog  lemis   6086 Mar 10  2007 DVD_PLAY_off.png.svn-base
-r--r--r--  1 grog  lemis   6409 Mar 10  2007 DVD_RIP.png.svn-base

Most of them seemed svn-related. I wonder where they came from. At the end of the hour, the file system looked pretty much the same: the files were all relatively small, and the file system is 250 GB in size.

While waiting for that to happen, and in preparation for potential problems, connected up the ALDI 1 TB disk that Yvonne bought on Thursday. It appears to be a Seagate drive:

Aug  1 15:22:56 teevee kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 target 0 lun 0
Aug  1 15:22:56 teevee kernel: da0: <ST310005 28AS > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Aug  1 15:22:56 teevee kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Aug  1 15:22:56 teevee kernel: da0: 953869MB (1953525168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 121601C)

It also has an eSATA interface, which could potentially be interesting, but currently I have nothing to drive it with. All in all a good buy for $79—the drive I bought from MSY in June didn't have eSATA, and it cost $15 more


Winter still here
Topic: general, gardening Link here

The days are getting longer, and there are indications that winter is coming to an end, but not as quickly as I would like. Today the weather was noticeably cooler, and we got much more rain than we're used to. So didn't do much outside apart from a bit of pruning, planting some cuttings of Iceberg roses in the process. I really should finish the greenhouse.


Cameras: full circle
Topic: photography Link here

My very first SLR camera was an Asahi Pentax SV, which I bought on 24 July 1965:

 
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This camera has a clip-on light meter on top: the SV itself had no electronics whatsoever. I've had a number of cameras since then, and I still have a Pentax Spotmatic. But one thing I don't have is a macro lens that works with bellows and other extensions. I have a Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro, but it only extends to 1:2 magnification, and the only way to extend it further is with the Olympus EX-25 extension tube, which costs an arm and a leg and only extends to 1:1. I can't use it with anything else because it doesn't have an aperture ring, and the only way to set the aperture is via the camera electronics. I've discovered that you can set the aperture like that, power off the camera, remove the lens, and the aperture will stay at that setting. But that's of little practical utility, and it mars a lens that I find otherwise superb.

I've also tried taking extreme close-ups with the 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Takumar that belongs to my Spotmatic. Unfortunately, the results aren't very good. The lens is designed for normal focal lengths, and there are a couple of trade-offs to get the wide aperture. But the Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4 has a very good reputation, and the old ones extend to 1:1. Interestingly, the newer ones don't: they had an “automatic” aperture (normally full open, but stops down when the shutter is released and opens again afterwards). This seems to have been difficult to achieve with a focusing system that extends the lens by fully 50 mm, so they limited it to 35 mm, giving only 1:2 magnification. Since I can't use the automatic diaphragm with my Olympus E-30, it has no advantage for me.

But is this lens so good? The Olympus has 11 elements, including one with “extreme dispersion” (dark green):

 
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By contrast, the Macro-Takumar is basically a Tessar design with only 4 elements:

Macro-Takumar cutaway view

So I didn't want to invest too much money in such a lens. But the few that come on the market command surprisingly high prices, typically in the order of $150, about a third of what I paid for my Olympus macro lens. I've been looking for some time, and finally I found one on eBay—with a Pentax SV. Despite that, I got it for $50, less than half the normal going price for the lens alone or for the EX-25 extension tube. I suspect that was because the vendor got the details wrong: he wrote 55 mm f/4 instead of 50 mm f/4. Apart from the fact that there never was a 55 mm macro lens, the photos make it very clear:

 
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Amusingly, these photos (which included EXIF information) were taken on a day where I took photos of equipment for doing exactly the kind of macro photography I'm talking about. As I wrote:

All I need now is a real macro lens.

So now I'll get the same camera again that I bought 45 years ago. I wonder if I should keep it for sentimental value, or sell it again.


Monday, 2 August 2010 Dereel Images for 2 August 2010
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NTP and satellites don't mix
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of my NTP problems today. As I suspected, NTP does not appear to be robust enough for my satellite IP environment, as the following graph shows:


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Both delay and offset increase until they go off the scale and ntpd performs a step change. After the change, it answers any request with the error status “unsynchronized”; it takes several minutes to recover. Thus the problem. I don't suppose there's much I can do about it until I get a real Internet connection.


Rainy day
Topic: general, gardening Link here

We're supposed to be in the middle of a decade-long drought, but I haven't seen that the rainfall in recent years has been significantly lower than historical values. The annual summary for 2009, the hottest year on record shows that Ballarat had 553 mm rain instead of the normal 693 mm (elsewhere they claim it's 690 mm), but many other places in the area, notably south and west of here, had much higher than usual rainfall. Port Fairy had 868 mm compared to the average of 664 mm, 30% more than usual. We don't have records for Dereel, but until the end of July this year Ballarat has been closer the historical average: 345 mm instead of 369. That was before the last weekend, where we had 42.2 mm in Ballarat and 33.7 mm here. So no work in the garden. The pond even has water in it, despite the porosity of the soil:


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So no work in the garden today. Now why is the lagoon still dry?


Flowering succulent or triffid?
Topic: gardening Link here

Ten days ago I noted that one of our unidentified succulents was developing a long asparagus-like flower stem:


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Since then it has grown greatly, and has bent over. I'm getting concerned that it may break or pull the plant out of the pot:


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It was clearly growing towards the light, so I've turned it round 90°. It looks as if it's going to turn back to where it wanted to go:


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Now if I only knew what it is.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010 Dereel
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Preparing for spring
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow I'm not getting the big things in the garden finished. I need help from CJ to put up the wind breaks, and I need to borrow his tin snips to make the glass clips for the greenhouse. I could have worked on the pond, except there's still water in it. So did a bit of weeding and pruning; the salvias and osteospermums in the bed to the south of the verandah have grown amazingly. In the meantime, Yvonne started preparing new pots for the spring.

We also have to prepare for the new vegetable garden: there were two Lilly Pillys in the area, and I transplanted one. I'm not sure it's going to survive: it had a long tap root which I severed. Many Eucalyptus have a similar root structure, and I know that they can't be transplanted. So I'll wait to see what happens before I transplant the other.


Political parties: which understand computers?
Topic: opinion, technology Link here

The coming election is interesting because of the complete lack of interest that the candidates for prime minster arouse. As Laurie Oakes put it, they're political pygmies.

And what about the Internet? Labor gives with one hand—the National Broadband Network—and takes away with the other—Stephen Conroy's idiotic network filter. But we don't get the benefits of the NBN, which seems to think that satellite communications are an appropriate technology for outlying regions. All we've heard from the Liberals is that they would scrap the NBN.

So, I idly thought, what does this say about the use of computers in the parties? I took a look at the candidates and the technology behind their mail and web sites. The AEC has published a list of candidates for the electorate of Corangamite, so I looked more carefully. Presumably they have an option of what contact information they supply. Some provide addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, others don't. It even differs between candidates for the same party. It's interesting that the Australian Labor Party (alp.org.au) have email addresses @australianlabor.com.au. Why? To make it more difficult to write? This domain seems to exist only for email. There's no www.australianlabor.com.au, and it doesn't even have an A record, only MX:

australianlabor.com.au  mail exchanger = 5 alt2.aspmx.l.google.com.
australianlabor.com.au  mail exchanger = 10 aspmx2.googlemail.com.
australianlabor.com.au  mail exchanger = 10 aspmx3.googlemail.com.
australianlabor.com.au  mail exchanger = 1 aspmx.l.google.com.
australianlabor.com.au  mail exchanger = 5 alt1.aspmx.l.google.com.

So Labor uses Google Mail for their email communications. I'm amazed.

Looking at the web sites, the Democrats (who I thought were dead), the Greens and the Australian Sex Party use Linux (the Greens used to use FreeBSD; I wonder why they changed. The Sex Party appears to be hosted in Houston, Texas; most of the others are at least hosted in Australia. The Liberals and the Citizens Electoral Council (interesting only because the Greens put them below the Climate Sceptics on their how-to-vote card) run Microsoft, as does the Australian Labor Party—now. Until a couple of months ago they were running Linux. From the change of IP address, it looks like they have changed their hosting arrangements, and they're not interested enough in the technology to want to determine the software. The Climate Sceptics are interesting because they have recently changed their web site name from http://www.climatesceptics.com.au/ to http://landshape.org/news/. They, too, are running Linux, apparently in Seattle, USA.

So what does this all mean? It's interesting that, with the exception of the Climate Sceptics, the smaller parties all use Linux. Maybe it's nothing more than a reflection of what the web hosting companies are running nowadays. None of the candidates give me the feeling that they use computers gainfully in their everyday life.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010 Dereel Images for 4 August 2010
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Goodbye Λκουλ
Topic: technology Link here

OK, I've had enough fun with Λκουλ. It might have been worth trying to get the wireless card to work, though I fear it would have meant writing a driver, but basically a resolution of 1024×600 is just not enough, especially when the web browser reduces the effective height of the display to 376 pixels. So replaced the original software and packed it up. It'll go back tomorrow.


Castrating Nemo
Topic: animals Link here

Nemo off to the vet today for castration. All went well, but he was surprisingly subdued in the evening.


Succulent growth
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was cool and wet again today, so spent most of the day indoors. But we have plants there too: this succulent I've been observing has disproved my theory that it's following the light: it has now straightened out again, away from the light, and I suspect it has grown a couple of centimetres since the last photos. Even the buds at the end are getting further apart. Ended up propping up the stem on our Hanukkiyah:


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Thursday, 5 August 2010 Dereel Images for 5 August 2010
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Erecting the wind breaks
Topic: gardening Link here

CJ over this morning, and we got the rails up for the wind breaks pretty quickly:


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The next step was to attach the bamboo slat screening. I had intended to nail them to the rails, but the things looked too flimsy, and the slats weren't even all the same length:


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No help from the packaging: there's a photo of the screening standing up, but with no visible means of support. Probably the manufacturer couldn't think of anything either, and the photo was taken with people holding up the ends. CJ came up with the idea of nailing them beneath the metal strips that we had used for the verandah, which looks like a good idea. But we didn't have enough, so I'll have to go and buy some. Another half-finished job. Then the weather got worse, so I didn't do anything else either.


Mystery succulent: Gasteria
Topic: gardening Link here

One of the things that continually puzzles me is how to identify plants. Today it was the mystery succulent with the long flower stem. Did some searching on the web and really came up with an identification: it's a Gasteria carinata var. verrucosa “variegata”, to give it its full name. Found some reasonably plausible growing recommendations: looks like it shouldn't get any water at the moment, despite the fact that it's flowering. Other photos suggest that there's not much more to expect of the flowers: none of them show the flowers opening. We'll see about that. At the moment the stem is growing over a millimetre per hour. Put up a glass jar (all I could find) to mark the current position of the tip:


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Dereel phone tower: plain lies
Topic: opinion, general Link here

Wendy McClelland has sent a letter to the editor of the Golden Plains Miner, the local newspaper, making claims that she must know are untrue: we don't need a tower because the one in Corindhap will cover us, and we don't need it for networking anyway because we will soon get “nano-fiber optic cabling” from the Government. Neither is correct: as the Optus project leader said, and I mentioned last month, we can't expect much coverage from that, and we've already confirmed that the National Broadband Network doesn't care about Dereel.

So why does she make these claims? Is she lying, or just not checking even the most basic facts? If she makes such claims about things that can easily be shown to be incorrect, why should anybody believe her when she makes claims that are not so easy to disprove? Wrote my own letter to the editor. I wonder what will happen in the mid-term.


Somebody wrote my cook book
Topic: food and drink Link here

For some years now I've been toying with the idea of writing a cookbook for people with a technical background, tentatively titled “Groggy's high-tech cookbook”. Beyond thoughts about the material, it hasn't got very far. And now I've been scooped: Jeff Potter has written “Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food” Took a look at it on Safari. It's certainly not the book that I would have written, but it's close. Probably one to buy.


Friday, 6 August 2010 Dereel Images for 6 August 2010
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Rats in the garden shed
Topic: general, gardening Link here

We've had some damage done in the garden shed for some time:


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At the time we thought it was a possum, but the droppings make it clear that it's a rat. Piccola is delighted and spends much time in the shed, but she hasn't caught it yet. Yesterday Yvonne bought a rat trap—out of plastic, which I thought might be a little too weak. But I wasn't prepared for what I saw this morning:


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The rat had somehow tripped the trap without being hit. Not only that: it had eaten the part of the trap that holds the bait. Here's a comparison with an intact mouse trap of similar construction:


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That'll have to go back. Hopefully the rat hasn't now learnt enough that it won't get caught in a trap any more.


Sarah Henderson: I don't care about (most of) your problems
Topic: opinion Link here

Last month I wrote letters to Darren Cheeseman and Sarah Henderson, the two main candidates for the seat of Corangamite, outlining the concerns that I have with the local infrastructure: network connectivity, power reliability, bushfire protection, mobile phones and TV reception. Today I got a reply containing an express prohibition of publishing the contents, so I can't. She only addressed one of my five points, mobile phones.

Well, that's something, I suppose. But the other four issues were all more important to me than mobile phone coverage. This response implies that she doesn't care about the others. So: should I put her ahead of Labor because she replied, or behind because she doesn't intend to do anything about the real issues?


Transplantations
Topic: gardening Link here

The sun's shining again, and I forgot to go into town to buy the metal strips for the wind break, so did some weeding and transplanting. At least one plant, a Euphorbia “Diamond Frost”, which we bought some months ago, is already looking very unhappy:


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Transplanted a daisy bush and planted the Pelargonium “Rhodo” that we got in the Ballarat Gardens in Spring last November. By contrast with the Euphorbia, it's looking quite happy:


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Gasteria: growing by leaps and bounds
Topic: gardening Link here

The glass bottle I put behind the head of the Gasteria has done its job and proved that the head has grown by about 3 cm since yesterday:


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Looking at the way it grows, it appears that it'll grow at least another 20 cm.


ABC: deliberately reducing picture quality?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

I've already complained about the ABC's idiotic or politically motivated decision to stop broadcasting high definition TV. But it seems that's not enough; the standard programme is now 576i, the same resolution as we've had for 54 years. That would be bad enough, but it seems that some of their own productions deliberately make it even worse. Today I watched an ABC production “The Making of Modern Australia”, reasonably interesting, but with appalling picture quality. It's not immediately apparent from the images, but the details of the flagstaff at the right change from one frame to another, far more even than the low resolution would suggest. The details below are from a stationary image, so motion isn't involved. At a “normal” size it's almost acceptable:


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But the flagpost at the right shows artefacts 3 pixels wide, and they move from one frame to the next:

 
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The result is a very visible flickering. There are more artefacts of this nature in the image, notably to the right of the tree. The image is new material, as far as I can tell, so there's no reason why it shouldn't be recorded in 1080p.

This doesn't happen with other programmes, only with ABC. I've seen it on multiple programmes, but only since they got rid of their HDTV broadcast. The kindest thing I can think of is that they're deliberately mutilating their broadcasts so that people can't steal it. But is that acceptable for a public broadcaster?


Saturday, 7 August 2010 Dereel Images for 7 August 2010
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Pruning for spring
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was nicer today, so did more work in the garden, in particular some pruning. In previous years I wasn't sure how to prune the Aloysia triphylla (Lemon Verbena). Last time I erred on the side of caution with one bush, and cut the other back hard a bit too late in the spring. Both survived (until I pulled the second one out to build the wind break currently under construction), so today I decided to prune the other one hard:


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I have no worries that it might not make it.


Sunday, 8 August 2010 Dereel Images for 8 August 2010
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Slow and unsteady
Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden, and again not much. I'm gradually getting the shape of the garden pond sorted out, but it's heavy work, and I'm beginning to feel my age. Still, if I continue like this it should be finished in a few days.

Also some more weeding. In the area to the south of the verandah, and only there, I've discovered a new plant. It's almost certainly a weed, but which?


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Example programs in textbooks
Topic: technology Link here

Chris Yeardley is learning a new programming language this semester—C++. I suppose it's “modern”, but I've given my reasons why I stopped using C++ years ago. Still, one of her assignments interested me: solve a Sudoku puzzle. Their textbook is Introduction to Programming with C++, by Y. Daniel Liang, and it includes downloadable source code for this program, but only for the standard 9×9 puzzle. Chris has to modify it for a 16×16 version. That sounded like fun, so I took a look at it.

As I discovered years ago, there are really some advantages to C++, and in some ways I wish I had stuck with it. But for the fun of it I converted it back to C. With my previous experience of this sort of thing, I thought it would be easy, especially since the program uses almost no specific C++ features. There's stuff like this, of course:

  cout << "Enter a Sudoku puzzle:" << endl;

I have always found this << construct incredibly ugly, but of course it's trivial to convert it into a (much shorter)

  puts ("Enter a Sudoku puzzle: ");

But the real issue I had was with the parameter passing. Liang allocates an automatic 9×9 array in the main function and pass it as a parameter to the other functions, so you have things like:

int getFreeCellList(const int grid[][9], int freeCellList[][2]);
void printGrid(const int grid[][9]);
bool isValid(int i, int j, const int grid[][9]);
bool isValid(const int grid[][9]);

Is this good practice? I don't know. In a purely functional programming language it would be. The alternative, which I would have used, would be to declare the grid globally and refer to it directly. But in general you don't want programs with side effects, and this would be one. On the other hand, language restrictions require you to specify the bounds of all except the first array dimension, and that makes it not only extremely ugly, but also impossible to choose different array dimensions at run time. I suppose you could set them to a maximum value and only use as many elements as you want, but that looks tacky too.

The other issue was the use of const. Sounds like a good idea, but, not for the first time, I couldn't find a way to get C to accept it. I didn't try very hard, since the whole issue is moot if I change it to a global array. Interestingly, the copy of the code that I downloaded is not quite the same as the version that Chris gave me, and it doesn't include the const statements.

The whole thing took me a couple of hours, mainly wondering what the “correct” way is. It's also interesting to consider to what extent sample code in books perpetuates itself through the people who learn from the books.


Monday, 9 August 2010 Dereel Images for 9 August 2010
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Going shopping
Topic: general Link here

Into town today for a number of things, including picking up my “new” Asahi Pentax SV and buying some hardware and a rat trap with metal components. Also to RACV to get an insurance quote. I'm currently with Elders, and they have significantly hiked their prices since last year. RACV proved to be over 20% cheaper, so started signing up for that, and then discovered that they wanted a payment of $40 per year to perform direct debit. What kind of stupidity is that? It makes life easier for all concerned. Why should I have to pay for it? Disgusted, cancelled the policy.


New Pentax SV
Topic: photography Link here

Back home, played around with my new toy. Despite careful checking, it proves that it didn't have the lens I had expected. As I wrote last week, I thought it was a Macro Takumar 50 mm f/4. In fact, it proved to be an SMC Macro Takumar 50 mm f/4, with an “automatic” diaphragm, which I also mentioned as having no advantage for me. I should have noticed that from the photos, but I was misled by the age of the camera; in fact the lens is considerably newer. The optics are identical, but I note that the newer lens is supposed to have a better coating, so I now have the disadvantage of a shorter focus range and the advantage of better coating and a better resale price. I can live with that (the intention was to use it with bellows or extension tubes anyway), and it wouldn't have stopped me buying the camera, but I'm annoyed with myself that I didn't recognize the difference.

Both camera and lens are in really good condition for their age, far better than my Spotmatic. It's also interesting to note how small the SV (the black one) is, even smaller than the Spotmatic (same depth and width, but about 5 mm less high):


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That has to do with the electronics, of course. The SV is completely mechanical and has no light meter. I can't see myself ever using it, but at the price (possibly negative), it's a nice collector's piece.

Set to to do some comparative photos with my three 50 mm lenses (the others being the 50 mm f/1.4 Super Takumar and the Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro), and chose the contacts of an old 2½" disk drive as the subject. That proved to be quite good, particularly because of the sharp delineations and high contrast.

The results? Here corresponding ones with the Zuiko, Macro-Takumar and Super-Takumar at approximately 1:2. At this level, they all look OK.


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I still need to analyse them, but it seems that the Macro-Takumar is much better than the Super-Takumar. None of the lenses really made me happy at very close range: I'm wondering if this isn't a matter of diffraction effects. I'll analyse the photos tomorrow and hopefully come to more understanding.


Modifying EXIF data
Topic: technology, photography Link here

One of the problems I had were the EXIF data for the photos taken with the Takumars. They're completely mechanical, of course, and the camera can't record any information, so I had to modify my scripts to put it in manually. That shouldn't be a problem for exiftool, but how? The man page exiftool gives some information, but not nearly enough, and refers to a man page Image::ExifTool::TagNames, which I couldn't find.

I later discovered that this is because it's a perl module, and perl wants you to use perldoc.

Found the documentation on the web, but I still wasn't out of the woods. The documentation refers to only one lens parameter:

         0xfdea   Lens                      ExifIFD    string/

But exiftool itself outputs information like:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 482 -> exiftool orig/P8099432.ORF |grep -i lens
Lens Type                       : None
Lens Serial Number              :
Lens Firmware Version           : 0
Lens Properties                 : 0x0
Lens ID                         : None

Which do I use? Images taken with the Olympus macro return:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 485 -> exiftool orig/P8099394.ORF |grep -i lens
Lens Type                       : Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro
Lens Serial Number              : 010110933
Lens Firmware Version           : 1.008
Lens Properties                 : 0x4003
Lens ID                         : Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro

By trial and error, I found that I can collapse these tag names by removing spaces and downshifting, at least in the cases I was looking for. So I tried setting “Lens Type” or “Lens ID”, but that didn't work:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 487 -> exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -lensid="Ashai Optical Co SMC Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4" P8099422.JPG
Warning: Expected one or more integer values in XMP-aux:LensID (ValueConvInv)
Nothing to do.
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 488 -> exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -lenstype="Ashai Optical Co SMC Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4" P8099422.JPG
    0 image files updated
    1 image files unchanged

Finally found a tag “Lens Model”, which Olympus doesn't set. But it works:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 489 -> exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -lensmodel="Ashai Optical Co SMC Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4" P8099422.JPG
    1 image files updated
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttype) ~/Photos/20100809 490 -> exiftool P8099422.JPG  | grep Lens
Lens Type                       : None
Lens Serial Number              :
Lens Firmware Version           : 0
Lens Properties                 : 0x0
Lens Model                      : Ashai Optical Co SMC Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4
Lens ID                         : None

So I had to modify the PHP scripts to look in two different places. That works, but why is it such a pain? Why does the documentation use two different forms of name and expect you to guess the correlation? I suppose there are other things that I could try, so this is probably not the end of my playing around.


Beer: good, bad and undrinkable?
Topic: food and drink Link here

I've slowed down almost to a standstill with my brewing efforts until I can get my infrastructure woes sorted out. In the meantime I've been trying various commercial offerings. Today to Dan Murphy's and bought two relatively cheap beers: Cascade Premium Light and “Original” Oettinger Pils. Tried them both, and wasn't very impressed by either. The Cascade has taken an approach to lighter beers that I think is designed to make people choose full-strength beer instead: it seems to include a significant quantity of malt (or maybe barley or wheat) roasted in a way that reminds me of breakfast cereals. My own approach has been to use the same malts as for full-strength beer and increase the hopping level. I think I'll be able to finish the Cascade, but I doubt I'll buy any more of it.

The Oettinger is another matter. It tastes just plain boring. It, too, could do with more hops (“Pils” indeed!). But possibly I'll get used to it. Despite the name, the beer comes from Gotha, and not from Oettingen.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010 Dereel Images for 10 August 2010
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Rain check
Topic: gardening Link here

CJ was going to come over today and help me with the myriad remaining jobs in the garden, but just as he was planning to leave, we got a few drops of rain. It was also dark and dreary, so we decided to put it off until Friday. That proved to be the correct choice: we got some pretty heavy rain in the course of the day, a total of 10.2 mm for the 24 hour period, and the top temperature only hit 8.7°. Still, during a lull in the rain I managed to spread some fertilizer on the north part of the garden (up to the smaller succulent bed) and also do all the roses and citrus plants.


Perl man pages: installed after all
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of the missing documentation for ExifTool today. Somebody told me about perldoc, apparently what you need to read perl documentation. And yes, the documentation was there, in /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/man/man3/. But why can't man do this? Why do I need another program?

Ah, that's because perl isn't a UNIX-only language, and the documentation is in a different format. Or at least, that's what I was told. Took a look at /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/man/man3/Image::ExifTool::Olympus.3.gz and found that it was groff source, so tried running it through the mandoc macros:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp6) ~ 166 -> zcat /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/man/man3/Image::ExifTool::Olympus.3.gz | nroff -mandoc
Image::ExifTool::OlympUser)Contributed Perl DocumenImage::ExifTool::Olympus(3)

NAME
       Image::ExifTool::Olympus - Olympus/Epson maker notes tags

So they are man pages. Why perldoc? Because they're in the wrong place? Adding /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/man to the MANPATH environment variable was all I needed to get man to display them.

Further investigation showed that the real issue was that my .bashrc predates FreeBSD. FreeBSD has a file /etc/manpath.config with details of which paths to set, and it includes:

# added by use.perl 2008-10-19 15:59:46
OPTIONAL_MANPATH        /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/man
OPTIONAL_MANPATH        /usr/local/lib/perl5/5.8.8/perl/man

But I set MANPATH in my .bashrc, so it didn't get set. Time to overhaul the file.


Macro lenses: analysing the results
Topic: photography Link here

As planned, started trying to analyse yesterday's macro photos of the pins on a 2½" disk drive today. That was a non-starter. Despite being mounted on a sturdy tripod, most of them had noticeable camera shake:

 
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I've seen this before:

 
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It's due to the image stabilizer in conjunction with a lens which doesn't report its focal length. For some reason, my camera still had a manual setting for 800 mm, and the image stabilizer compensated for movement which didn't exist. So I had to start all over again.

Even this image showed something, though: there's no detail. It looks like it's out of focus, but it isn't. It doesn't seem to be diffraction either. So today I took fewer photos and compared them.

The results? First the good news. The image quality of the SMC Macro-Takumar 50 mm f/4 was much better than that of the 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Takumar. In particular, the Super-Takumar has considerable chromatic aberration and flare. Here photos taken with bellows (about 3:1 magnification) with the Macro-Takumar (left) and the Super-Takumar (right), first at the centre, then at the edge:

 
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I'm not sure about the difference in contrast. I suppose I should investigate that more.

The bad news: not a single photo was satisfactory. They all show the same kind of minimum feature size that has irritated me before. The following three images were all taken with the Macro-Takumar. The first two are taken at closest focusing distance (about 1:2 image size), and the third is with extension tubes (about 1:1 image size). The first image is taken at f/5.6, the other two at f/22:

 
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As you'd expect, the depth of field of the image taken at f/5.6 is far less than that of the other two; but the base of the pin is sharp. At f/22 the depth of field is considerably better, but the overall sharpness isn't, maybe due to diffraction. And at 1:1, the sharpness is better (since the image is bigger, which doesn't show here). But the outline of the dust on the pin is still unsharp.

What about the Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro? The closest I can come with it is 1:2, since a single extension tube would cost considerably more than I paid for the Macro-Takumar, the SV and the postage combined. I do have a 10 dioptre close-up lens, though. With those, I can get:

 
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That's still not sharp enough, but there's not much in it, and arguably the last photo is the best.

But wait, there's more: mount the Macro-Takumar on bellows and get an additional extension of 184 mm. In conjunction with the extension tubes (61 mm) and the extension of the lens itself, (26 mm), I would have a total extension of 271 mm, giving me a magnification of about 5.4:1. But what image quality would I get at that magnification?


Fondue again
Topic: food and drink Link here

Another fondue de fromage in the evening, this timea with my white sourdough bread. Not a resounding success for a number of reasons. The bread's not right for the dish, and we ended up with more religieuse at the bottom of the caquelon than I have seen in some time:


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Wednesday, 11 August 2010 Dereel Images for 11 August 2010
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More rain
Topic: gardening, general Link here

The weather yesterday may have been unpleasant enough, but today was worse: not just showers but heavy rain, a total of 32 mm (of which the weather station only recorded 25.8 mm). Stayed in the house nearly all day.


Practical macro photography
Topic: photography Link here

My test photos weren't overly spectacular, but more “normal” macros can be fun. Spent some time taking some photos of the Gasteria carinata. I'm still wondering whether the flowers will open; you'd think it would be a necessity, but all I've ever seen is what I got today:


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It's still growing like fury, about 4 cm per day, and the head suggests it's less than half done:


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I'm still wondering how long it will continue fit on the mantelpiece.


Catching the rat
Topic: animals Link here

One of the results of the bad weather was that I didn't get round to looking for the rat until the evening. When I did, yes, we had caught a rat. But I still wasn't prepared for what I saw. The rat was so mutilated that I've put the photos on a different page. Follow the link if you dare. Part of the head and a forelimb appear to have been gnawed off. At first I wondered whether the rat could have done that itself while dying, but the best I can think of is that another rat came along, stole the bait from the dying rat's mouth and then continued gnawing. It seems that rats can be cannibals.

The cats were delighted, of course:


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Thursday, 12 August 2010 Dereel Images for 12 August 2010
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Still more rain
Topic: general Link here

Yet another day of rain! Not as heavy as the previous two days, but it's still getting on my nerves. We've had a total of 49.2 mm over the last three days, about 8% of a typical year's rainfall. So, once again, spent the whole day inside.


Kangaroos ever closer
Topic: animals Link here

We're seeing lots of kangaroos lately, and we're continually chasing them away. But it's been some time since I've seen this many from my office window:


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Not surprisingly, they were pretty wet.


National Broadband Network: buzzwords and widening the gap
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

The name of the Australian National Broadband Network contains a buzzword that no longer has much meaning. What is “broadband”? I suspect it's the up-and-coming word for “Networking”. It's not alone amongst the meaningless, sliding-scale terms. There's ”super-fast“, “ultra-fast” and “high-speed”. What do they mean? Which is the fastest? When I first heard of “broadband”, it was in conjunction with ISDN, and it implied what still earlier had been called a primary channel, 1500 or 2000 kb/s. I suppose that's still “broadband”, but most certainly not cutting-edge.

The NBN is gradually coming on line with speeds of up to 100 Mb/s—in areas which, it seems, are all catered for by ADSL. It's not surprising that the interest is only marginal. Most people don't seem to be concerned about the difference between 20 Mb/s and 100 Mb/s.

But there's one word that hasn't entered the buzzword jungle: latency. And it's the most important one of all. It's been a while since they stopped talking about long fat pipes, but the problems haven't gone away. I'm told that some people on fast urban (fibre) networks have a round trip time of 4 ms. Most ADSL I have seen is in the 10-20 ms range. My typical RTTs with satellite connections are in the order of 1000 ms (one second). And that seems the most obvious reason I can see that it can take me up to 2 minutes to load a web page which others can load in a second or two. It's not the link speed: that's reliably 1 MB/s or more. But the latency kills, and it seems that nobody who is running the NBN scheme understands that. So, while the people with fast connections get faster connections, people in smaller towns get no benefit.

As Callum Gibson puts it:

What the NBN gives us is freeways to a lot of people with a 3 lane driveway, joined together by some highways and some people still with dirt tracks. And I won't be happy until grO0gle stops complaining about his internet connection, dammit!

Amen.

The NBN is—marginally—an election issue. At least the Labor have recognized the need for a better network infrastructure, though the way they have gone about it seems really bizarre. There must be some good reason why they can't force Telstra to split their network infrastructure into a separate publicly held company, but nobody in the media has even mentioned the trade-offs involved. It's still better than what the Liberals appear to be offering—only 12 Mb/s, considerably less than many people can get now. I suspect the latter is simply an indication that the politicians involved have no idea of the concepts.


Golden Plains Miner and press objectivity
Topic: opinion, general Link here

This week's Golden Plains Miner newspaper arrived today. They didn't print my letter to the editor. Instead they printed another letter from an opponent of the mobile phone tower with more nonsense, this time by a D Breen:

In a democracy the majority rules! ... The majority doesn't want a tower. ... The majority has spoken.

Clearly the editor of the Golden Plains Miner has spoken. I never thought much of the newspaper, but if they can't even present both sides of a dispute, they're completely useless.


Friday, 13 August 2010 Dereel Images for 13 August 2010
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Erecting the wind breaks
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally the rain has stopped, and CJ came over to help me put up the bamboo wind breaks. As we had suspected, that was more complicated than we would have liked, not helped by the poor quality of the screens themselves. As a result we discovered—too late—that the wiring holding the slats together was asymmetric, and we had put one up upside-down. CJ thought that we might be able to keep it a secret, but I told him that it would be all over Google within a couple of days.

It didn't take long, but it wasn't as pretty as I had hoped, and it didn't change the appearance as much as I had expected:


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The next step is to hang some old fencing mesh over the “outside” (away from the verandah) and plant it with creepers. We would have done it today, but I need to buy some staples. After that we'll see how well it works against the wind—if, indeed, it can withstand it.


DVDs: why bother?
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne borrowed a real, commercial DVD from Chris yesterday, “Where the wild things are”, and today we tried to watch it. It says “region 4” on the package, without specifying what that means; but after checking, it seems to include Australia, so it should be OK. What happened? The thing started playing and got itself locked in a loop explaining why DVD piracy is such a bad thing. We couldn't watch the DVD. I'll have to copy it to disk so we can watch it, presumably exactly what the DVD industry doesn't want me to do. Protecting intellectual property is a valid thing to do, but why does the industry (in this case, Warner Brothers) have to annoy their customers? I know this has all been said before, but it still annoys me.


Saturday, 14 August 2010 Dereel Images for 14 August 2010
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Home alone
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne and Chris left today for Olivaylle, this time without me. They'll stay overnight and return tomorrow with a couple of horses. That leaves me here by myself. In principle, it doesn't change much, but it's been such a long time since I've been here by myself that it felt strange.


High winds and rain
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather didn't help. The rain has let up (it would be too much to say that it has stopped), and instead we had high winds, the second windiest day since I started keeping records.

mysql> select date, max(wind_gust) from observations where wind_gust > 39 group by date;
+------------+----------------+
| date       | max(wind_gust) |
+------------+----------------+
|
2010-07-10 |           48.1 |
| 2010-08-14 |           39.7 |
+------------+----------------+

One result actually happened yesterday, but I didn't find out until today: another part of the Cathedral has broken off:


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The rain has made its presence felt, though: the dams are as full as I have ever seen them, even fuller than the first of the photos I took on 10 November 2007, a week after the heaviest rainfall we've had here so far. Even the lagoon has puddles of water in it:


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And it's still raining. Will we see the two halves of the dam join up?


HDR and wind don't mix
Topic: photography Link here

Today was also photo day (so was 10 July 2010, the windiest day on my records), and once again I had difficulty with the photos, which I do in high dynamic range. Basically, there's no solution: either take the photos and put up with the double images, or take single low dynamic range photos. I chose the former, though I wonder if I shouldn't reconsider: the LDR images are there as part of the HDR group, so I could always reprocess them.

I did reprocess some of the photos I took two years ago, when we were just starting to build the verandah. Some of the photos were pretty terrible. At the time I was taking only raw images and converting them to JPEG with ufraw, obviously not very well. In the meantime I've been able to tune it better, so tried that and got a considerable improvement. In general, though, I think my current procedure is better: take dual format photos, raw and JPEG, use the JPEG when it's OK, and convert the raw image when it's not.


DVDs: Why not pirate them?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

My comments yesterday about the difficulty of using commercial DVDs aren't original, as I mentioned at the time. A couple of people have pointed me to an image URL which sums things up nicely:

Why pirate DVDs
Sunday, 15 August 2010 Dereel Images for 15 August 2010
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Fending for myself
Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Yvonne spent the night at Olivaylle, so I had to fend for myself today, including preparing dinner for when she and Chris returned. That's not a big problem, since I do a lot of cooking anyway, but in practice we divide responsibilities: I cook some dishes, Yvonne cooks others. Today we had “gyros” on the menu. That's not the real döner kebab, which is roast on a spit: instead we chop the meat up, marinate it and then fry it on the barbecue. But how fine to chop it? What marinade? Yvonne didn't write down what she does, so I had to experiment, and came up with this recipe. Also had to make tzatziki, which caused less head-scratching. Found a recipe on the web and adapted it. It later proved to be slightly overloaded with garlic, and I think I'll experiment a little more before writing anything up.

Apart from that, had to bake some bread, cooked some nasi lemak, made a Weißkrautsalat, tided up the kitchen and somehow managed to spend most of the day there.


Computer crashes: not always the obvious hardware
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Between cooking, managed find time to look at the TV programme on cvr2.lemis.com. But I couldn't: it had been down for 2½ hours, truncating a recording in the process. Went to the cupboard to see what was going on. It was running, but no display, and the keyboard didn't react to the NumLock key: dead in the water. Rebooted, which worked fine, with no obvious reason for the crash. Shut the doors, went back into the office and—it was down again! It took a couple of repeats to realise that it was related to shutting the door; possibly the power lead was loose. The time it went down was probably when I put the bread pan in the cupboard to keep it warm. Reseated the power cable, moved the computer further from the doors, and had no further trouble. But it's strange that the computer should wedge from that sort of problem.


Gasteria blooming
Topic: gardening Link here

Our Gasteria bloom continues to grow, and, as suspected, the first flowers are opening:


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The tips of the flowers are about 2 mm across. In the last image I can barely make out a yellow stamen. More photography required.


End of an era
Topic: general, animals Link here

Yvonne and Chris back in the evening, having brought three horses with them: Jorge is giving up his horse breeding operations, and he ended up giving them three horses: Zarzuela for Yvonne, and Capricho and Chewie for Chris. There's really an “end of era” feeling about the whole thing, and it seems there was rather a sorrowful parting.


Monday, 16 August 2010 Dereel Images for 16 August 2010
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Inspecting the dam
Topic: general, animals Link here

The rain has let up a little today—so far this month we've had over 90 mm rain—so off with Yvonne and Nemo to investigate how full the dam was. The two halves still haven't quite joined:


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As we got to the fence to the lagoon, we saw a number of kangaroos. Nemo was not on a leash, and headed in their direction. I was just saying “Never mind, he won't get through the fence” as he went through it. In a couple of seconds, he was gone, and we followed with thoughts of kangaroos tearing him to pieces. We finally saw him almost on the other side of the lagoon, and he came back little the worse for wear:


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I had thought the marks on his legs were mud, but they proved to be burrs, which Yvonne had difficulty to remove. Did some thinking about the dangers of kangaroos. They have two basic ways of killing dogs: tear their guts out, or drown them. Before they do that, though, they need to be cornered, and I suspect they just outran Nemo. And maybe it's a blessing in disguise: last time a dog chased kangaroos round here was about a year ago, when Diane Saunders' dog Roxy chased them off the property. After that, we didn't see any kangaroos around here for six months or so.

By coincidence, got a call from Diane in the evening. Roxy had been chasing kangaroos again, and one nearly drowned her. Di thinks that it must have been a young one, because an adult would have torn her guts out. Anyway, Roxy is OK, but it's a timely reminder that kangaroos can be dangaroos.


More Gasteria macros
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

I'm still not happy with my macro photos of the gasterias, and it'll probably be a long time before I am. Planned to take some photos inside the narrow trumpet of the flower, and got as far as a series taken with the SMC Macro Takumar 50 mm f/4 at various apertures. Here images at f/22, f/8 and f/4:


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Of course the depth of field drops off as the aperture increases. But a careful comparison shows something down-like on the petals, here the top left green patch on the photos above:

 
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There's very little in it, but is it possible that the central photo (taken at f/8) shows it most clearly? That would fit the theory of a trade-off between depth of field and diffraction. This is an area about 0.3 mm across, but I'd still expect it to look sharper.

Apart from that, yes, there are several anthers visible inside the flower:


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I wonder if there's any way to get a good photo of them.


Australian banking system: firmly in the 19th century
Topic: opinion, general Link here

Last week I tried to get insurance at RACV, only to discover that they wanted to charge me $40 for direct debit—something that should be cheaper, if anything, since it lessens the administration effort. On consideration, though, it appeared that the consultant had been confusing direct debit with monthly payments. Today called up the RACV sales line and was connected to Lucy, who asked a couple of security questions—date of birth, address and telephone number, all easily findable on the web—and then told me that she had the details of the insurance policy stored, and wanted to go through it. I asked her if it was true that they would only do direct debit on a monthly basis, and she confirmed. I asked her why, and she said that they would only do direct debit on a monthly basis, not exactly an answer. After a bit more running round in circles I asked her to get me a statement from the people who made the decisions, so she connected me to her superior, Janine.

Janine understood the question, and, it seems, picked the most likely explanation out of her answer book: they can't do it annually because of the legally required 21 day cooling off period before renewals. Otherwise they would be debiting money from my account without my permission. That's nonsense, of course; they'd do the same if it were monthly. But I couldn't get her to understand that the answer she was giving didn't relate to the question.

Finally she connected me up another level to Lee, who first took the time to find out the reason: it seems that they did it up to about 7 years ago, but then stopped because of lack of demand. That makes more sense, but it opens up all sorts of questions: why is there so little demand, and what additional programming effort is required to do annual debits instead of just monthly ones? I'm amazed.

Discussing it on IRC, though, showed another issue: almost nobody does direct debit. To quote Andy S (he hides his surname): “direct debit is pretty evil”. But why? Are people really so in love with cheques and required actions to pay bills that they don't want it any easier? One possibility seems to be what happens when funds are debited without authorization. In Germany, where direct debit is the standard way to pay recurring debts, you can get an automatic annulment of any direct debit from your account. What happens after that is another matter, of course, but at least you have control. In Australia, it seems the law doesn't allow it, which also means that there is no mechanism in place for such an annulment. I'm amazed that we're still living in such primitive times.


Copy protection: more cartoons
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I was shown another cartoon about copy protection today:

Criminal usage

Of course, there's a solution that's obvious, legal and effective: don't buy any of this stuff. I never have done, and I won't until companies stop trying to tell me how to live my life. And if I want to see a film, I wait until it comes in TV.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010 Dereel Images for 17 August 2010
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Election campaign worsens
Topic: opinion, general Link here

Thank God it's only 5 days until the federal election. This time round seems to have been particularly stupid, and the most important topic seems to be how bad the rival party is, followed at some distance by the issue of refusing human rights to asylum seekers (they're both in favour, but differ in their approach to punishing them). If I believed all the propaganda material I receive, I'd have to put both major parties at the bottom of the list, and the only problem I would have would be to the order. Labor ahead of the Liberals or behind them?

Today I got no less than three letters from the two candidates. Sarah Henderson sent both an “Action Contract” and an “Action Plan”, with contents that only marginally matched. The “Action Contract” promises to tackle climate change and reduce CO2 emissions; the “Action Plan” outlines what she would do if she were elected, including $200 million for better roads (making it easier to emit CO2) and only $500,000 for the environment, all invested in third-party projects. She even promises bushfire protection measures—for some parts of the Surf Coast, presumably because it's closest to her office, or because that's where the tourists go, and a total of $200,000. As Edwin Groothuis put it, it's a Climate Real Action Plan, with an appropriate acronym.

Darren Cheeseman was more frugal: a picture of a little girl asking “Mum, why can't we have pizza tonight?”. I thought of possible answers before opening: imbalanced diet seemed the most likely. But no, it seems that Mum has fallen prey to her employment contract and was no longer doing overtime and is thus earning less money. Although she now has time, she still buys pizza rather than makes it. I would have thought that working normal hours and having time for your children would be an advantage, but I suppose there's a reason why the party is called “Labor”.


The revenge of the kangaroo
Topic: gardening Link here

We haven't seen any kangaroos since Nemo chased them away yesterday, but there are definite indications that they've been here:


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Hopefully that's not an indication of things to come.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather is getting better, and more plants are coming into flower. Right now it's the wattles (Acacia baileyana and Acacia pycnantha):


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I'm noticing a strong correlation between the weather and my inclination to do any work in the garden. CJ was supposed to come along this morning and help put up the fence around the vegetable garden, but he didn't show. Spent the time doing some weeding and attending to the greenhouse, which needs it. Finally made the clips for the roof glass, and in principle we could now complete it, but somehow I was feeling a little tired, and decided to take the afternoon off.

That wasn't to be: CJ showed up with Sue and came in with his tractor to put the posts in, involving removing some of the low-hanging branches of the Eucalypts. I had to finally transplant the other Lilly Pilly, after establishing that the first one, which I transplanted two weeks ago seems to be happy enough where I have put it.

Just before the last post, CJ ran into trouble: a hydraulic leak that, after some investigation, proved to be coming from what looks like a fissure in a pipe under the driver's seat. It was enough to mean that he can't drive the tractor home, so he left it here until he can come over and repair it. He's pretty busy the coming couple of weeks anyway, so it looks like we'll have to wait before we can finish the vegetable garden.


Zarzuela arrives
Topic: animals Link here

While I was working in the garden, Chris and Yvonne arrived with Zarzuela, who had been at Chris' place for the last couple of days. Yvonne put her in the west paddock, with the other horses in the north paddock, but that didn't seem to please Zarzuela. We had turned the electric fence off to do the garden work, which was right up against the fence, and so Zarzuela just went through the fence, breaking off an old post in the process. And we can't even repair it at the moment, because CJ's tractor is out of service.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010 Dereel Images for 18 August 2010
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Another windy winter day
Topic: general, photography Link here

How the weather changes from day to day! Yesterday was mild, sunny and windstill, and we did lots of things in the garden. Today was like last weekend, but cooler and with higher winds:

mysql> select date, max(wind_speed), max(wind_gust), min(outside_temp), max(outside_temp) from observations where wind_gust > 39 group by date order by max(wind_gust);
+------------+-----------------+----------------+-------------------+-------------------+
| date       | max(wind_speed) | max(wind_gust) | min(outside_temp) | max(outside_temp) |
+------------+-----------------+----------------+-------------------+-------------------+
| 2010-08-14 |            19.7 |           39.7 |               9.1 |              12.3 |
| 2010-08-18 |            25.6 |           41.7 |               7.7 |               9.8 |
| 2010-07-10 |            23.6 |           48.1 |              10.9 |              11.9 |
+------------+-----------------+----------------+-------------------+-------------------+

Spent most of the day researching panorama hardware, in the process writing up a web page on the subject. And that's about all I did.


Thursday, 19 August 2010 Dereel → Melbourne → Dereel Images for 19 August 2010
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Into the Big Smoke again
Topic: general Link here

Off to Melbourne this morning for a number of things, including buying food. Over to Chris' to pick up her fridge. Now that we have the navigator as well, we need an adapter to connect both to the cigarette lighter socket. I bought one a while back, but today was the first time I needed it. Plugged the fridge in and... nothing happened.

I had received a notification that my latest laptop was waiting for me at the Post Office in Sebastopol, so went to Melbourne via Ballarat to pick it up, and also dropped in at the shop where I had bought the adapter. After much messing around discovered that you need to really push the plug in with some force. It seems to click before, but there's another couple of millimetres travel before it actually clicks and makes contact.


Laser printers: cheaper than 4 HDMI cables
Topic: technology Link here

In Melbourne first to MSY in Brooklyn, where I bought another HDMI cable. 2 m cables cost $5; 3 m cables cost $20. On the other hand, since my laser printer currently has paper feed problems, and since it's relatively expensive in toner to use a colour printer to print the occasional black and white printout, checked the price of cheap laser printers, and got a Samsung ML-1660 printer for $77. Somehow the price relationships are all crazy.


German food again
Topic: food and drink Link here

Then to Fleischer's, the German butcher in Boronia, where Yvonne had a field day. Last time I was there, with Chris, I spent about $25. Today we spent nearly 10 times that much. We won't need to come back for some months. And this time almost everybody was speaking German, including the other customers.


Banksia Garden Centre
Topic: gardening Link here

From there to the Banksia Garden Centre, where we bought a few plants, but unfortunately the greenhouse and water plant section was closed today, so we didn't get much done. Did manage to identify one plant:


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We have one of them in the garden, but we didn't know what it was.


Random shopping
Topic: general Link here

On to Dandenong South to pick up a “crate” for Nemo. It's really a collapsible cage, but it seems that it's a good thing for dogs. I bought it on eBay for $100, while normally the prices are closer to $250. I had had some trouble getting pickup instructions, but the pickup itself went simply enough.

Then to Hindustan Imports to try to return some Tali plates that I had bought a few months ago, and which we decided we didn't like. They couldn't take them back because it had been so long, and the owner of the shop had just gone back to India for a month. They'll contact us, though; nice of them, given that we have used them once. After that to Springvale for a late lunch and to buy some vegetables, then headed off home.

We left Springvale at about 16:20, and had to head through the middle of Melbourne in the rush hour. It wasn't as bad as I had feared, and we had crossed the West Gate Bridge by 16:50, and arrived in Werribee at 17:10. But then things went to hell: long queues, and we had to find a petrol station (to which the navigator conveniently misguided us). Looked for a different way out of Werribee, avoiding the town centre, and finally got out at about 17:50. To do so I had to outsmart the navigator, which wanted to take me down the most congested route; it looks as if the best way is to select a “via” in the direction I want to go, rather than the destination, and then remove the fake via point when I've got past the congestion. Ultimately across country via Anakie and Meredith, arriving home at the surprisingly good time 18:50, roughly as fast as you can go without breaking the speed limit.


Wieder mal Abendbrot
Topic: food and drink Link here

To celebrate our purchases, had a German-style “Abendbrot” (literally “evening bread”) in the evening:


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New laptop: problems
Topic: technology Link here

Also unpacked the “new” laptop (a Dell Inspiron 5100, because I have two similar models already) that I had bought on eBay last week. It was advertised as being extremely slow, which it was, so went into the BIOS to see what was going on there. But I couldn't change the page: it looks as if the keyboard is defective. That's not what the vendor told me. More investigations tomorrow.


Friday, 20 August 2010 Dereel Images for 20 August 2010
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Who to vote for made easy
Topic: opinion Link here

Thank God the election campaign is coming to an end! Both candidates have thoroughly annoyed me, but today the worst of all arrived:


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Apart from the extremely undignified behaviour, it's clear that this is a coordinated action by the Federal Liberal Party. Just insert the names of the two cogscandidates for each electorate. Apart from that, the accusations are just plain misplaced. None of the accusations relate to actions for which Darren Cheeseman was responsible. After all, to the best of my knowledge no illegal immigrants arrived on the shores of Corangamite during his tenure—using the Liberals' stupid logic, that should be good. About all that this has achieved is to greatly annoy me and decide my voting order for tomorrow: the Liberals come bottom. Wrote another letter to Sarah Henderson telling her so. A couple of weeks ago I was undecided, but now I really hope that the Liberals lose.


Laptop repairs
Topic: technology Link here

Investigated the problems with the new laptop and found:


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The photo on the left is the “new” Inspiron 5100, and the one on the right my old Inspiron 1100. Both have only 1 DIMM, but in the factory they insert the memory in slot A first. That suggests that somebody has removed one of the DIMMs. In addition, they one in the 5100 was only 128 MB. No wonder the machine was so slow.

Called up Dell's “Premium Service phone support” on 1-800-054-429. It took them 54 minutes to answer, and when they did, I was connected to sales. I wonder what a “regular” support line would be like. Fortunately, they were able to connect me to support with only minimal waiting, and they were able to tell me the configuration of the machine as delivered: 2 128 MB DIMMs. So one of them has been removed; it's difficult for the vendor to claim he didn't know why it's so slow. Put in the 256 MB DIMM from the Inspiron 1100, and it worked a lot better.

The keyboard was another matter. Only about half of the keys worked. Connected a USB keyboard to confirm that the problem was local to the keyboard, and then swapped keyboards with the 1100, helped by the online service manual which I couldn't find on the Dell web site, but which Google found with no difficulty. About the only issue was removing the cover above the keyboard; the manual didn't make it clear that it also covers the hinges:


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After replacement, the keyboard worked—better. Other keys now didn't work. So what's the problem? I had half suspected the cable connection, but it looks OK:


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So I'm no further. What do I do next? The Inspiron 1100 was functional except for a defective lid, so maybe I should put the display of the 5100 on it. But when I tried to power it on this morning, it just powered off again. More investigation needed. Somehow I'm getting the feeling that God doesn't want me to have a kitchen computer.


New laser printer
Topic: technology Link here

After that, turned my attention to the new laser printer. That was fairly straightforward, but it didn't print anything. With the help of people on IRC, established that it doesn't follow standards: instead it uses something called SPL (“Samsung Printer Language”), a proprietary protocol so obscure that I can't even find a useful web link for it. And of course I need special drivers, and they're only available for CUPS, software that drove me mad years ago. So I connected it to pain.lemis.com, my Microsoft box, and installed the supplied drivers. It works, it's even relatively fast, and one day I may take the plunge and install CUPs on a FreeBSD box.


Nemo's cage
Topic: animals Link here

Put together the cage that we bought for Nemo yesterday:


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After a while, we got the hang of it, and it proved that Nemo quite liked it:


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It seems that we need to leave the door open for a few days until he gets the hang of it, but so far things look good.


Saturday, 21 August 2010 Dereel Images for 21 August 2010
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Inspiron repairs, continued
Topic: technology Link here

So I currently have the following partially defective Inspiron laptops:

So, as I noted yesterday, the most obvious course of action would be to swap the displays between the “new” 5100 and the 1150. Got started on that and ran into problems:


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This is the area under the keyboards of the 5100 and the 1150 respectively. The display has already been removed from the 5100, which is straightforward enough, but on the 1150 there's no socket there, and the cable goes under the metal cover:

 
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That's not what the manual shows, but it covers only the 5100, 5150 and 1100, and not the 1150. Looks like I will need to dismantle the displays and swap the panels. What a pain!


Still more flash strangenesses
Topic: photography Link here

While taking the photos of the laptops, ran into strange problems with flash exposure. The initial ones (above) worked fine, but then I took a photo of the two laptops together, and got extremely underexposed images. Here one with normal exposure (left) and 2.3 EV overexposure (right):


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It seems to be related to the position of the flash head. The ones taken above were taken with the head pointing down 15°, which is necessary for close-ups. After resetting it to its default position, things looked very different (again normal exposure (left) and 2.3 EV overexposure (right)):


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All four photos were taken with the same camera settings (1/60s, f/8), so this must be something in the mind of the flash unit.


New plants
Topic: gardening Link here

A bit more work in the garden, and planted the two surviving Abutilons from the ones we propagated last November, and also replanted the unhappy looking Fuchsia from the ex-Cathedral to the corner of the new wind break area, where it will be out of all except early morning sun. Also planted a Banksia “Honeypot”—our first Banksia—in the dry eastern part of the garden. Also a bit of work on the greenhouse, removing the roof gussets in preparation for putting on the flap mechanism at the top.


Sunday, 22 August 2010 Dereel
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Nemo and tracking
Topic: animals Link here

Off to Sebastopol this morning to take Nemo to the local chapter of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Victoria to get him started with tracking. That was a non-starter. Since finishing his puppy training only a month ago, he has forgotten a lot of the material, and we had to start all over again. Back home in no too happy a frame of mind, having made fools of ourselves and achieved nothing.


More Inspiron musings
Topic: technology Link here

I'm still trying not to have to rebuild the display panels on my Inspiron laptops. Further investigation reveals that the “old” 5100 (the one I bought in July 2003) can charge the battery that came in the new 5100, just not the new battery I bought a couple of months ago. Is there some issue with the battery? It charges without problems in the 1150. Anyway, that means I could use the 1150 as a charger (the laptops all only take one battery), use the old 5100 as a kitchen computer and one of the others as a replacement for pain.lemis.com, which is always on mains power and which I usually access via rdesktop, so the keyboard issue isn't serious. In preparation, did a backup of the disk image of pain, which took all day.


Spring in the air
Topic: gardening Link here

The winter has been relatively cool and decidedly wet, but today it was neither. We had a very mild frost on the paddocks, but it didn't reach the garden, and later in the day the temperature was highest we've had all month, it was sunny and there was little wind. Took advantage of the latter to spray weeds and also the grass in the ex-cathedral, where we're planning to plant some birches. Also more work on the greenhouse, and finally got a section of the roof flaps in place, after discovering that all the work we did yesterday had been unneccessary.


Monday, 23 August 2010 Dereel
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More mild weather
Topic: gardening Link here

Another day with mild weather, and did a little more work in the garden. Finally got the roof on the greenhouse. It doesn't look pretty:


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That sag in the middle of the roof is not very reassuring; I suppose that's the purpose of the arch gussets, of which I have far too few. More head-scratching.

Also planted the Alyogyne huegelii “West Coast Gem” that we bought last Thursday, in front of the garage, and planted tomato, basil and petunia seeds, which I'll keep in the bathroom (coincidentally the brightest room of the house) until I finally get the greenhouse finished. Also more weeding, which will probably keep me going for ever.


Updating photo albums
Topic: animals, general, photography Link here

It's been a while since I set up photo albums for Piccola and Nemo, so spent some time bringing them up to date. locate and grep are my friends: I was able to sift out the photos with:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp6) ~/Photos 241 -> locate Piccola | grep big > /tmp/Piccola

That, along with a few Emacs commands, enabled me to build the page almost without typing any data. Also created a similar page for Lilac; considering she's coming up for 14 years old, it's about time.


Inspiron repairs, slowly and unsteadily
Topic: technology Link here

The next step in my Inspiron saga was to put the disk from pain (Inspiron 5100) into the Inspiron 1150. It has two operating systems on it, and FreeBSD ran fine. Microsoft “Windows” didn't. It spontaneously reset, and the second time around I was given an option to boot into safe mode, which produced a list of what looked like driver names and then reset. Tried the disk from the other 5100 (only Microsoft), and got similar results, though this time it was a Blue Screen of Death instead of spontaneous reset. I wonder what's wrong there. The Inspirons are strange in that the disk is on the secondary IDE controller, but that's the same for all of them; otherwise FreeBSD would have had difficulty mounting the root file system.

Gave up on that one. The good news was that the data on the disk wasn't damaged, and I could still boot Microsoft on the original pain. Now it's back to replacing the frame for the display on the 1150. Started on that, but didn't have enough time.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010 Dereel Images for 24 August 2010
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Last rose of winter
Topic: gardening Link here

Spring is only a week away. The rose bush in the north garden bed has had a bud on it since autumn, and I was hoping that it would hold out until the first day of spring, but warm weather of the last couple of days has it ready to bloom:


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This isn't the first time: we had this situation last year as well, but this year it lasted a week longer. Maybe next year...


Greenhouse progress at a snail's pace
Topic: gardening Link here

So it seems that putting the arch gussets in the middle of the greenhouse should help cure the sag of the roof. It did, though it still looks a little uneven. Here before and after:


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Now I just need to put in some of the last screws, in the processing changing some for flatter-headed ones, tighten them up, glaze the greenhouse and we're done! I was spared the work of looking for an excuse not to do it immediately by the arrival of yet more rain. This month is in the running to be the wettest August on record (since 1908) in Ballarat. So far they've had 150 mm there (compared to “only” 113 here), and the wettest August (in 1909) had 167 mm.


Consequences of rain
Topic: general, animals Link here

I had just got into the office when Yvonne called from Chris' place. Chris' brother Jonas and his wife Patrizia are going back to Germany for a couple of years, and they've had a shipping container with the belongings they're not taking with them delivered to Chris' place. And because of the extreme wetness, the truck had got bogged down in the paddock. They had been trying to get him out for a couple of hours, and they asked me to come over to help tow him out, Chris using a tractor and I their Landcruiser. That didn't work, and Yvonne and I went looking for somebody with a bigger tractor. We found that, but not the owner, so came back empty-handed.

Got back just in time to see Chris moving the Landcruiser, dragging along Nemo, who was tied to the front of it. Fortunately nothing went wrong, but it brought home to us that if you must tie a dog to a vehicle, it should be clearly visible from the driver's door.

After that, they tried again, and finally got the truck out; it must have taken 3 hours.


More aggressive MTA settings
Topic: technology Link here

I've taken to updating my spam blacklists again, but in one case it didn't work. I've been meaning to revise my Postfix main.cf file for some time, and finally got around to doing it—to find that a whole lot was missing, including the entire smtpd_client_restrictions and smtpd_recipient_restrictions. Fixed that up, and am now refusing invalid reverse lookups as well (reject_unknown_client_hostname). It's amazing how much that rejects. For the 24 hours to midnight UTC I get:

=== root@w3 (/dev/ttyp1) /usr/local/etc/postfix 55 -> bzcat /var/log/maillog.0.bz2 | grep "cannot find your hostname" | sed 's:.*from=<::; s:>.*::' | sort | uniq | wc -l
    1522

The uniq catches the retries, so these are all individual spam attempts.

Also did some thinking about rejecting mail from systems in RBL, but that may be a little too aggressive.


Sourdough infection?
Topic: food and drink Link here

Time to bake another loaf of bread today, but the sourdough starter surprised me:


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Normally the starter looks like the one in the first photo, but this one has something that looks like worms on it. To the naked eye it looks surprisingly like powdered yeast, but the details don't seem to match. It doesn't smell obviously bad, and maybe it is yeast, but I need to investigate first. I haven't thrown it away, but I suspect I won't bake anything with it.


Wednesday, 25 August 2010 Dereel Images for 25 August 2010
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Erecting the wire mesh
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's cool and wet again, but we found time to do some work in the garden, putting up most of the wire mesh for climbing plants on the new wind breaks, using up the fencing mesh around the old vegetable garden in the process. Stopped for lunch after doing 3 of the 4 sections, and then it started to rain again...


More kangaroos
Topic: gardening, general Link here

The kangaroos have left us alone for a couple of days, but they're back again, and another found its way through the garden, apparently without doing any harm:


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Inspiron rebuild: success
Topic: technology Link here

Took another look at replacing the display panels in the Inspirons. I had every reason to be cautious. The instructions for dismantling the assembly seemed to be out of order: the image was in the section before the instructions, and it didn't quite match what I found:

Display panel
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In particular, the instructions show 4 screws on each side. Yes, there are 4 screws, but only two of them are needed. The other two are mounted at right angles to the image in the instructions, and they don't need to be removed to remove the panel. Here the right side of the panel in detail:


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The bracket at the left of centre does not attach to the panel, and the screws don't need to be removed. The two screws at the end have been removed, so the panel can be removed. This image also shows the broken hinge at the right.

More to the point, though: how do you separate the bezel from the top cover? The instructions say:

Starting at the bottom of the display panel, use your fingers to separate the bezel from the top cover and lift the inside edge of the bezel away from the top cover.

The alternative is to insert a small screwdriver, but that has the danger that it will damage the surface. But there's nowhere to put your fingers. After a bit of experimentation (after all, I have a damaged display cover to experiment with), discovered where the clips are located:

 
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They're the little E-shaped things on the top edge. After releasing one clip at the bottom, I was able to prise up the bezel enough to insert a screwdriver in the position of the next clip and not do any damage. After all that, finally got a machine together that had all the components I need. In passing, it's worth noting that the display panels are more different than I expected. In particular, the cables are different. Here the reverse of the panels for the Inspiron 5100 (left) and the 1150 (right):


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Clearly they're not interchangeable. But there's no reason to believe that the panel of the 1150 will die before the panel of my other 5100, so it could still be of use.


Thursday, 26 August 2010 Dereel Images for 26 August 2010
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Golden Plains Miner: better late than never
Topic: opinion, general Link here

I've already commented in a number of places on the fact that the Golden Plains Miner newspaper didn't publish my letter about the Dereel mobile phone tower, most recently (3 days ago) on the dereel.com.au web site. The Miner arrived today, and my letter was in it, in its entirety apart from some changes in format and typesetting breakage that partially obscured Wendy McClelland's name. So: are they just slow, or is this a reaction to the post on dereel.com.au? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but it's surprising that it's taken them 3 weeks to publish a letter.


Another car breakdown
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne off shopping this morning, but she called soon after to say that the car had broken down: “The lights all went on on the dashboard, and the battery has failed.” Well, I've heard this before, and so I asked if she had enough petrol. No, it can't be petrol, she still had 30 km to empty. So off to Enfield with a canister of petrol and got her on her way again. Also got a promise that she would fill up the tank when the computer showed less than 100 km to empty.


More climbers
Topic: gardening Link here

Yvonne came back with a number of climbing plants: a Solanum jasminoides, a Jasminum mesnyi and a Clematis cirrhosa. The latter appears to be the “Freckles” cultivar, though the label doesn't say so. In the afternoon put up the remaining length of wire mesh on the wind break and planted the creepers, also two of the three cuttings of an unspecified Lonicera that we got from Nancy Brewer last spring, and some cuttings that we had been growing from the Jasminum polyanthum and Lonicera that we had planted on the north side of the verandah. I had left some of the shoots to grow along the ground, where they readily set root. The jasmine in particular forms very strong roots about 20 cm apart and grows very long:


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This section must be over 2 metres long, long enough for one side of the wind break, and the roots were so long that we had to break them off to get them out of the ground. I wouldn't have expected it would be that easy to clone 10 jasmine plants.


Software installation: the pain
Topic: technology Link here

The disk that came with the “new” Inspiron 5100 had a bad sector, and on examination I discovered a 60 GB Fujitsu drive that I had used in an earlier attempt to get the kitchen computer running, so used that. It has plenty of space for two operating systems, so started with Ubuntu in the hope that it might handle ACPI better than FreeBSD. How I hate Ubuntu networking! It insists on giving me a DHCP lease, and unfortunately I still have my satellite modem set to deliver them, so I had to change the /etc/network/interfaces file. I know enough Linux to do that, so did it, and rebooted. And for some reason the system could no longer find the firmware file. Even when I reinstated the original file, it didn't work properly. My best guess is that this horrible GUI-based configuration, which doesn't even display text properly in the default configuration, has kept its own records which it won't reveal to me. It might be better to start the installation again with no DHCP server running; but that's a real cop-out.

So I moved on to install FreeBSD. In the course of time, it became clear that I haven't been keeping records well enough. After installing FreeBSD, I had to modify this horrible GRUB boot manager to recognize FreeBSD. I wrote of the pain last month, and the information there greatly helped today. But then I needed to update the /boot/grub hierarchy. I found out how to do that last month, but I forgot to write it down. Today I went through all the documentation I remembered, but I couldn't find out the canonical way of doing it. Looked through the man pages, but that didn't help much. They're both very short and just plain wrong:

NAME
        grub-install - manual page for grub-install (GNU GRUB )
SYNOPSIS
        grub-reboot [OPTION] entry

In the end used gub-mkconfig, but that requires an explicit output file, and I'm sure I didn't do it that way last time. After that I was able to boot FreeBSD, but didn't get very far: inserting the WLAN card caused a panic. I've seen that before, too. Put off further work for tomorrow.


Friday, 27 August 2010 Dereel
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Medical treatment: why does it take so long?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Yvonne woke up this morning with a very painful right thumb joint, possibly as a result of yesterday's exertion in the garden, and we decided that she should go and see a doctor. But where? The Eureka Medical Centre is such a pain. For some time I've been planning to visit MedicAid (what a silly name, given the US Medicaid programme). David Yeardley told me that they would give appointments from people out of town, but when Yvonne called, they didn't want to know. So off she went to Eureka, which took her a total of 4½ hours. Why can't these clinics make appointments?

And the result? Arthritis, it seems, though I have my doubts about how thorough the doctor was. He prescribed anti-inflammatories, not the most harmless of medicine, and didn't give Yvonne any advice or warnings at all. Fortunately the product (Celebrex) seems to be one of the less aggressive ones.


Odds and ends in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's still wet, and I didn't get much done in the garden. Finally spread some fertilizer in the main eastern bed, getting through about 5 kg in the process, and also tidied up the creepers round the new wind breaks. Also tried to save a Salvia that I had planted in that area and then trodden on, breaking the stem close to the ground. It's not beyond hope that it might recover, but it won't be needing what branches it had, so planted them in potting mix. That's how we got this plant, so hopefully it will strike again.


Software on kitchen computer
Topic: technology Link here

More playing around with the kitchen computer. Upgraded the FreeBSD system to the latest 8.1-STABLE, which took most of the day, and then looked at the issues of swap and kernel dumps. Since I have a Linux swap partition on the disk, it makes sense to use it for swap for FreeBSD as well, and that worked fine. But it didn't work as well for the dump device:

# dumpon /dev/ad2s2
GEOM_PART: Partition'ad2s2' not suitable for kernel dumps (wrong type?)

Apart from this horrible message framed as a question, that makes sense in many cases: you don't want a UFS file system as a dump device. But in this case it was annoying. Maybe I should fix dumpon to accept Linux swap partitions. As it was, decided to change the partition type to a FreeBSD slice (165/0xa5) and create a swap partition in that slice. And that failed with some unspecific error, perhaps because it was already in use as swap space.

Rebooted the system from the installation disk and tried it like that. That worked, but when I tried to reboot, GRUB was no longer able to boot it. Why? The partitioning and the contents of the FreeBSD root file system hadn't changed. It looks as if I might have to reinstall Ubuntu anyway, so decided just to install the FreeBSD boot0 boot manager in the partition table. That worked, and I was able to reboot FreeBSD normally again. And, to my immense surprise, I could also boot Linux: GRUB must leave something in the partition after all. Maybe it was just as a result of my attempt to do so earlier, but that claimed to have failed.

So, finally, I was in a position to insert my WLAN card and see what happened. A panic, of course, but I was able to get a dump and look at it. For the first time ever, I had a dump that was smaller than the kernel: this machine has 384 MB of memory, and the compressed dump came out at only a little over 40 MB, and a couple of MB smaller than the kernel with debug symbols. The crash was in wi_info_intr at line 1511, which doesn't look very plausible:

1510:                DPRINTF(("wi_info_intr: LINK_STAT 0x%x\n", le16toh(stat)));
1511:                switch (le16toh(stat)) {
1512:                case WI_INFO_LINK_STAT_CONNECTED:
1513:                        if (vap->iv_state == IEEE80211_S_RUN &&
1514:                            vap->iv_opmode != IEEE80211_M_IBSS)
1515:                                break;

Looks like I'll have to look at the machine instructions, but I'll leave that until the rest of the machine is usable.


Saturday, 28 August 2010 Dereel Images for 28 August 2010
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New panoramas
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

As the garden develops, it's becoming clear that some of my weekly photos no longer fit. Today decided to include two new 360° panoramas:


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That meant that one of the previous series is pretty much obsolete: the first photo incorporates not only the view, but also the standpoint from which I used to take it (the rightmost post of the verandah). Here's last week's photo:


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Things didn't go as smoothly as planned, and I ended up having to repeat a couple of panoramas. All in all I ended up with something of a record: 343 photos, taking up nearly 6 GB of original images and another gigabyte of generated images—7070 MB in total. A good thing I bought a new CF card recently; until then, I had only ever used more than 4 GB.


Massive Hugin breakage
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Before I got any panoramas, though, I was surprised by a completely unexpected problem. My normal processing takes two or three images with different exposures and merges them with align_image_stack, then uses hugin to stitch them together. Today I ran the script, selected the files to load, and pressed “Open”. And hugin crashed with a SIGSEGV. Why? I spent hours investigating, but I still don't know.

The last time I used hugin was to look at some settings. I didn't actually load any files. Did I change anything in the settings that might cause the problem? Restored the ~/.hugin file from a couple of weeks ago, but it didn't make any difference. So it looked like I needed a debugger. And for that, I needed to build it with debug symbols, something I've done before with some pain. But today it took a long time to get that far. First the port wanted to rebuild various packages, and with libglut-7.4.4 I ran into dependency problems:

checking for DRIGL... configure: error: Package requirements (x11 xext xxf86vm xdamage xfixes x11-xcb xcb-glx) were not met:

No package 'x11-xcb' found
No package 'xcb-glx' found

That looked like missing dependencies in libglut-7.4.4, and so the first step is to install it manually. But where are x11-xcb and xcb-glx? Nowhere. The only files I found with x11-xcb in their name was in a backup of cvr2, a Linux machine, and I found no file at all with the name xcb-glx. Searching for xcb was more fruitful, and it seems that the port x11/libxcb satisfies x11-xcb. But try as I might, I couldn't find what xcb-glx was supposed to mean. Neither of these texts shows up in any of the pkg-plist files in the Ports Collection. Why have the names been chosen? How does anybody expect people to find them?

In desperation, ran the build through ktrace, which showed the convolution of the build process. In /usr/ports/graphics/libGL/bsd.mesalib.mk found the following lines:

        .if defined(WITHOUT_XCB)
        CONFIGURE_ARGS+=        --disable-xcb
        .else
        CONFIGURE_ARGS+=        --enable-xcb
        .endif

So I put that into the Makefile:

--- Makefile    25 Mar 2010 23:11:22 -0000      1.24
+++ Makefile    28 Aug 2010 05:12:38 -0000
@@ -14,6 +14,7 @@

 USE_GL=                glu
 USE_XORG=      glproto x11 xext xxf86vm xdamage xfixes xi xmu dri2proto
+WITHOUT_XCB=

 .ifndef        WITHOUT_NOUVEAU
 EXTRA_PATCHES+=        ${FILESDIR}/mesalib74-configure

Success! I was finally able to build libglut-7.4.4. Then back to building hugin, which also worked. Fired it up, worried that it, too, might crash when I opened a file. But it didn't. It crashed much earlier, before the initial screen:

Fatal Error: Fatal installation error
The file data/splash.png was not found
at:/usr/local/share/hugin/xrc/

Strange. Went looking, and sure enough, there was a file /usr/local/share/hugin/xrc/data/splash.png. Why did it say it wasn't there? ktrace to the rescue again, and found:

  45615 hugin    CALL  open(0x8531070c,O_RDONLY,<unused>0x1b6)
  45615 hugin    NAMI  "/usr/local/share/hugin/xrc/data/splash.png"
  45615 hugin    RET   open 8
  ...
  45615 hugin    CALL  write(0x2,0xbfbfd790,0x6c)
  45615 hugin    GIO   fd 2 wrote 108 bytes
        "Fatal Error: Fatal installation error
         The file data/splash.png was not found
         at:/usr/local/share/hugin/xrc/"

Considering my options, decided to install hugin on cvr2, the video recorder running Ubuntu Linux. To my surprise, it installed a much older version of hugin, 0.7.0, nearly two years old. There have been three releases since then, and this one doesn't have the panomatic control point detector. Started it anyway, and it ran for a while, then crashed without a word. On reflection, some hugin components need lots of memory—gigabytes of it—and cvr2 doesn't have much memory. Off to the web site to look for binaries, but they don't do that for systems which provide their own. But there's a newer version of hugin there. The FreeBSD port is version 2009.4.0, and the current version is 2010.0.0. Downloaded that and frobbed the port to build it. First problem was in the file src/foreign/vigra/vigra_impex/png.cxx, which used setjmp and longjmp with jump buffers in a png_structp, part of libpn. The version I have defines, in png.h:

struct png_struct_def
{
#ifdef PNG_SETJMP_SUPPORTED
   jmp_buf jmpbuf PNG_DEPSTRUCT;            /* used in png_error */
   png_longjmp_ptr longjmp_fn PNG_DEPSTRUCT;/* setjmp non-local goto
                                               function. */
#endif
   png_error_ptr error_fn PNG_DEPSTRUCT;    /* function for printing
                                               errors and aborting */
...

And png.cxx doesn't define PNG_SETJMP_SUPPORTED. Fixed that, and also discovered I still need to apply the other patch that was already in the port, and finally got the port built and installed. What happened?

Fatal Error: Fatal installation error
The file data/splash.png was not found
at:/usr/local/share/hugin/xrc/

More debugging. This time I had debug symbols by default, and was able to find the place where it happened pretty quickly, in the function MainFrame:

    if (bitmap.LoadFile(huginApp::Get()->GetXRCPath() + wxT("data/splash.png"), wxBITMAP_TYPE_PNG))
    {
...
    } else {
        wxLogFatalError(_("Fatal installation error\nThe file data/splash.png was not found at:") + huginApp::Get()->GetXRCPath());
        abort();
    }

Where's bitmap.LoadFile()? No idea. The variable bitmap had been optimized out, and I had to single step to find out where I landed, in some library that opened the file and then for some reason returned 0. This is all PNG, which I don't use, so just commented it out:

/*    if (bitmap.LoadFile(huginApp::Get()->GetXRCPath() + wxT("data/splash.png"), wxBITMAP_TYPE_PNG)) */
    bitmap.LoadFile(huginApp::Get()->GetXRCPath() + wxT("data/splash.png"), wxBITMAP_TYPE_PNG);
    if (1)
    {

There seems to really be some issue with PNG images. On starting, I got an error message, but I was able to ignore it and finally build my panoramas. But what caused the problem? I still don't know, but my installation is nearly a year old, and nowadays that seems to be too old. I'll have to start upgrading, but I don't want to do it under pressure.


More cathedral demolition
Topic: gardening Link here

CJ popped over with a bloke he knows, Phil Higgins. Phil's son-in-law is building a house round the corner, and Phil has a bobcat, which we used to pull out the stumps in the cathedral, and also a couple of peach trees:


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Now things are looking much more open, and we can finally plant our birch trees:


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Poulet basquaise
Topic: food and drink Link here

Chris over for dinner, as usual on Saturdays, and today we made poulet basquaise (Basque chicken) for the first time in quite a while:


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Piccola growing up
Topic: animals Link here

Piccola is now 20 months old, and gradually she puts up with the same kind of treatment from Chris that previously only Lilac would accept:


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Sunday, 29 August 2010 Dereel Images for 29 August 2010
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Flowers at end of winter
Topic: gardening Link here

Today was the last weekend of the month, when I've taken upon myself to take photos of the flowers in the garden. Once again, to my surprise, there's a lot of stuff in the garden, though the survivors from autumn are looking less than happy, and most of the spring stuff has yet to take off:


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New trees
Topic: gardening Link here

Now that the stumps are out of the ex-cathedral, our plan is to turn it into a grove of birches with a couple of Australian native plants on the edges. Today made the first step and planted about half of them. They're all pretty tiny, but the position is recognizable (at least in the larger versions of the images) from the kangaroo protection mesh we've put around them. Here before and after:


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In the middle at the back is a Podocarpus elatus (Illawarra plum), and on the extreme right is an Araucaria bidwillii (Bunya Bunya pine). Both can grow to 40 m, but they won't do it in our lifetime. The birches are self-sown from the two in the east garden, which are clearly male and female. They're only about 30 cm high, but they're looking quite happy with themselves for the time of year:


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Flash exposure issues
Topic: photography Link here

Processing yesterday's photos of Piccola showed a problem that I see now and again. Flash exposure is completely wrong:


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These photos were taken 5 seconds apart with identical exposure parameters, but the first one is unrecoverably overexposed. It must be the flash unit (Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital), but why? Is the unit defective?


Sources of chromatic aberration
Topic: photography Link here

That wasn't the only strangeness. Juha Kupiainen has a new (well, to him anyway) 400mm f/5.6 Sigma telephoto lens for his Pentax K100, and today he went out taking photos, some of which looked less than perfect:


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Even at normal image sizes, there's notable chromatic aberration. Looking at details makes that very obvious:

 
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We spent some time discussing the matter on IRC. The funny thing is that the aberration is over the entire field of view, while typically it occurs in the corners. Andy S voiced the opinion that this was due to problems using lenses (like this one) which were designed for film cameras on digital cameras, as light coming at extreme angles relative to the lens axis can accidentally trigger the wrong receptors on the sensor. While possible, that seems unlikely to me, at least with a long telephoto lens with a correspondingly small angle of view. Looking at the Wikipedia article, this could be axial chromatic aberration. The real issue is: what's causing it? Is this as good as the lens is at full aperture? I took some test photos with various lenses in one of my comparisons. Here's a pretty ordinary Hanimex 300mm f/5.5 lens at full aperture:


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At the time I came to the conclusion that it wasn't a very good lens, but it's an order of magnitude better than the results that Juha got with his Sigma. Clearly it'll be interesting to see what happens when he stops it down, but I suspect there may be something mechanically wrong with the lens. I'll follow developments with interest.


Monday, 30 August 2010 Dereel Images for 30 August 2010
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More planting
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's gradually getting warmer, and it brings home to me how cool the entire winter has been. Today was the first day where the outside temperature hit 19° since the beginning of winter, and we felt more motivated to work in the garden. Planted another 5 birches in the cathedral area, and then on to work on the greenhouse replacing hex head bolts with screws and adding the glass clips for the roof until I ran out of screws.

I hate working on this greenhouse, and today it became apparent why: it's all a kludge, and I'm continually repeating work and wondering whether what I'm doing is right. I've had four attempts at putting up the roof trusses: the first time the wrong way round (the top mounted at the bottom), the second time with hex head nuts that were too thick to put the glass on top, the third time to replace the nuts with thinner screws, and now to put in the mounting clips for the roof glass. These screws are horrible! Turn the (electric) screwdriver too fast and it tears the heads off. I had to drill one out and replace it.


Chromatic aberration in telephoto lenses
Topic: photography, technology Link here

More thinking about Juha's chromatic aberration yesterday, and dragged out a couple of 300 mm lenses, conveniently the same angle of view on my E-30 as the 400 mm lens had on Juha's K100D, and took photos of one corner of the verandah, which gives higher contrast than the others I took.


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The results were interesting. The sharpness is a little complicated by issues of focus, camera shake and position, but there are some general things

The corners

These photos are the top left corner of the image, taken with the Hanimex 300 mm f/5.5 (left) and the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 (right), at f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and f/22:


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The tendril of the vine is blue in all the Zuiko images, but is it chromatic aberration? The beam above doesn't show any colour fringes. There's a much more prominent blue fringe along the stem of the vine in the Hanimex photos. On both lenses, the effect doesn't change much with aperture.

The centre


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In these examples, I took the exact centre of the image, so the crop isn't the same. In general, all of these photos look OK at any aperture. The Hanimex is softer than the Zuiko, but quite acceptable. The only thing of interest is that the images taken with the Hanimex seem larger: it seems that it has a longer focal length. I need to investigate that separately.

Conversion commands

Doing this stuff is painful manually. I used a couple of shell commands (not really scripts, since I entered them manually) to marginally reduce the pain. The photos in question came out of the camera with the file names P8300333.JPG to P8300345.JPG. First I needed to add EXIF data to the ones from the Hanimex:

for i in `jot 8 38`; do
   echo exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -lensmodel=\"Hanimex 300 mm f/5.5\" -focallength=\"300\" P83003$i\*g
done | sh
# An example.  I did this one manually for each aperture value
exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -aperturevalue="11" P8300342*

Then I cropped the images with ImageMagick crop:

 for i in `jot 13 333`; do echo convert -crop 900x900+0+600 P8300$i.JPG P8300$i-detail-2.jpeg; done

Finally I updated the EXIF data, in the process setting the modification time stamps to the original. That's important, because the photos on the photos page are sorted by modification timestamp:

for i in `jot 13 333`; do
   echo convert -crop 900x900+1566+1062 P8300$i.JPG P8300$i-detail-2.jpg
   echo exifcopy P8300$i.JPG P8300$i-detail-2.jpg
done | sh

The echo and piping to sh make it easier for me to confirm that what I pass to sh is really what I want. exifcopy is a little script I use to make it easier to work with exiftool.


Tuesday, 31 August 2010 Dereel
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Back to winter
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Yesterday had a definite feeling of spring, but it was only one day. Today we were back to the cool weather we've been having all winter, and though it didn't snow, it might as well have done so. Did a little work in the garden, pruning, but spent most of the time in the office and watching TV. Thank God it's the last (official) day of winter!


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