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December 2008
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Monday, 1 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: gardening, general Link here

CJ along today for the final step with the verandah: attaching some wire mesh at the north end to grow climbing plants. That proved to be much more difficult than we had expected: we put a board (decking material) at the top to hold the mesh in place, but the beam we were screwing it to was so hard that I could barely get the screw in; instead it dug its way through the board:


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Still, it wasn't supposed to be a long job, and even with the unexpected problems it only took a little over an hour.

Also moved the washing line, for the second time in a little over two months. In late September we concreted it in closer to the house, and later discovered that it was too close: the wind blew the clothes against the side of the house. Also we've decided to convert that area into a vegetable garden, so we moved the clothes line to the other side of the house. Hopefully we've learnt from our mistakes.

In the afternoon planted some more plants around the verandah, including the Jasmine that we bought three months ago. It's not looking overly happy, but then, neither are the two that we planted shortly after buying them. I wonder if they'll pick up when it gets warmer:


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Tuesday, 2 December 2008 Dereel Images for 2 December 2008
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Topic: gardening Link here

Now that the verandah is finished, we have another problem: the swallow's nest. The swallows are clearly not happy about sharing the area with us, a sentiment that we share, since they make such a mess. Gradually they seem to be there less and less often—last night they must have found somewhere else at least for a while—so it's about time that we remove the next. We'll do that on 1 January 2009. Wrote a letter of notice.


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Our citrus trees are still looking anything but healthy:


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Decided that it might be the wind, which has been particularly annoying lately, and started putting protection around them. The mesh in the photo (of the grapefruit) is part of that; the rest will be plastic foil wrapped around it. It should also keep them warmer.

Also spent a fair amount of time putting more plants and furniture on the verandah. It's beginning to look quite usable already, though it'll be at least a year before it's even close to the way we want it to be. It's gratifying to note how little wind gets to the verandah, even when it's quite windy in the rest of the garden.


Wednesday, 3 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden, and wrapped more plastic around the grapefruit tree. It'll be interesting to see how it works out.


Topic: technology, general, multimedia Link here

We've had some very poor TV reception today, notably from ABC; the other channels haven't been as bad. And reception for ABC Classic FM radio has been bad for as long as we have lived here, though the quality varies from bad to unintelligible. Called up ABC on 13 99 94 and spoke to Elaine. To my surprise, discovered that all of ABC's Ballarat stations have an ERP of 100 kW, which seem excessive. It's also difficult to believe: local Ballarat radio (109.7) comes in much better than Classic FM (105.5 MHz).

Regarding TV, they say that the coverage is normal (in contrast to Barry Robinson, who said the area was marginal). I asked about satellite, and was told they had it on their web site (http://www.abc.net.auforward/receptionforward/services). But currently there is no digital service, since they have no space on the transponders. Spent a bit of time investigating, but it doesn't look very promising. So maybe I should try a newer version of MythTV. Spent some time trying to download an image of MythBuntu from the mirror server, but the speeds were terrible, and in the end gave up and loaded it from the canonical server. That, of course, took the rest of the day.


Thursday, 4 December 2008 Dereel Images for 4 December 2008
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Topic: general Link here

Into town with Yvonne this morning to take the Holden Commodore to John Stevens, the car electrics man. The brake lights had been coming on at random even when it was parked, and it had drained the battery a couple of times. John had thought it would be the brake light switch, and indeed it's a horribly unreliable item—I think we've replaced it at least 3 times—but it's not clear how that would cause the problem. John agreed, and we disconnected the controller for the trailer brakes instead to see if that improved the situation.


Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

To Aldi, who had a surprising number of USB items on special, and I bought a USB 2.0 hub and set of adaptors for $10 each, a multiple smart card reader for $15, and a dual DVB-T tuner for $79. The last two weren't on display: I had to ask for them, and they went and got them from the store room. It seems that there were too many thefts of these things.


Topic: general Link here

On the way home, finally had a haircut—the first time since July—then set to installing Mythbuntu.


Installing MythTV
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

It's been nearly two years since I last installed MythTV. In that time, the installation procedures have not improved noticeably. Mythbuntu comes with lots of documentation, including a nicely formatted installation manual. Unfortunately, the contents are less inspiring. For some reason, the manual describes installation from the Live CD in some detail, and hardly mentions the installation from the normal installation CD beyond saying, roughly, “accept the defaults”. Then, later on, in the chapter on mythtv-setup, it states:

As long as you setup a separate partition for /var/lib during the initial setup, the default option here - /var/lib/mythtv will work fine...

If for some reason you chose a file system other then XFS or JFS for this partition, choose to delete the files slowly. This will avoid some nasty bugs related to using ReiserFS or ext3.

The default Ubuntu installation installs a single partition—a good thing, in my opinion—and “formats” it as ext3. By the time you get to this part of the manual, there's no turning back without restarting the installation from scratch.

Chapter 9, “MythTV Backend Setup”, shows a screen that just doesn't appear. It also doesn't explain how you get from the installation disk to this point at all. When I tried it, I got:

 
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Where are the buttons at the bottom? Off the non-resizeable display! And when I continued I got a strange question:

 
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Not that I got a choice of response; the program continued anyway, and asked me if I wanted to run mythfilldatabase. Clearly a lot of work to be done.

Took another look in the installation manual. There's a chapter on “Trouble Shooting”, which sounded like a good place to start. The whole chapter consists of three lines! They point to forums and the IRC channels, of which I have already had more than I can stand. So took a look at the FAQ section. Two questions, neither of which look to me as if they were the most frequently asked. I didn't find anything at all relating to setting up the database. Clearly the document, though a good idea, is anything but complete. Here's another example:

Mythbuntu Control Center (MCC)

The Mythbuntu Control Centre is the main area for configuring different items within Mythbuntu. It strives to prevent having to use the command line to reconfigure items. Instead, an easy to use pyGTK interface is provided.

Well, that's one opinion. But where is it? Despite the claims, it's not MCC. It's also not mcc. In fact, it's python /usr/share/mythbuntu-control-centre/bin/mythbuntu-control-centre (and yes, it's spelt centre, not center), and it runs from the command line if you want to type all that in. Somehow all this software is forgetting the UNIX approach of many small, independent programs, and that on a system is designed to run headless. So now I have a script called MCC.

MCC looks quite pretty, but it doesn't help set up a database. In fact, nothing does. In the end went into mysql and took a look for myself: there was no mythconverg database, and the passwords were wrong, apparently because of a host name difference (cvr2 vs. cvr2.lemis.com? Not sure). In any case, fixed that and was able to move on. But getting that far took a couple of hours, and your average TV viewer isn't going to go under the covers into the database. Like many before him, he'll give up.

Getting my environment to the new system was an issue, too:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/5) ~ 10 -> mount dereel:/ /dereel
mount: /root/dereel: is not a block device
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/5) ~ 11 -> mount -t nfs dereel:/ /dereel
 mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on dereel:/,
        missing codepage or helper program, or other error
        (for several filesystems (e.g.  nfs, cifs) you might
        need a /sbin/mount.<type> helper program)

I've never seen that before. Some searching showed that there was no NFS on this system! It seems that Linux is doing everything to become more Microsoft-like. Admittedly, I was able to install it across the net relatively easily, but again, how long does it take?

Running MythWeb was another issue:

 
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Which INSTALL? It proved to be /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/INSTALL, but to find that I first had to rebuild the locate database, which is different under Linux (at least under Ubuntu): run updatedb(8) (and yes, on the positive side Mythbuntu does install the man pages, and they helped me find it). But  INSTALL looked like instructions for building an Apache httpd.conf by hand. I can't recall that being that difficult in the previous version. The Installation manual does mention MythWeb, but that's all: there's a header with no content. MCC offers to set a password, but it doesn't seem to help much: it seems to be a .htaccess file.

Looking at that, though, it seems that the .htaccess file is a broken symlink:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/5) ~ 26 -> l /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/.htaccess
ls: cannot access /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/.htaccess: No such file or directory
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/5) ~ 27 -> ls -al /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/.htaccess
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 28 2008-12-04 12:43 /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/.htaccess -> /etc/mythtv/mythweb-htaccess

l is an alias for ls -lL. Isn't Linux ls fun? But removing it didn't help either; as the message says, it's a database login issue. More digging to be done.

In the meantime, rebooted the machine to install another tuner card which I bought early last year and which I couldn't find a driver. The good news is that Mythbuntu does have a driver for it. The Aldi tuner is another matter, but then I hadn't really expected that to work out of the box. Jürgen Lock suggested suggested http://linuxtv.org/wiki/index.php/DVB-T_USB_Devices, which I'll look up when I think it's worthwhile. One obvious stupidity about this device is that it has two antenna connections:


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How do they expect you to connect to that? It comes with two toy antennas, but even the manual says to use a wired connection if you have it. It just doesn't say how to do so without an expensive splitter.

After all that fun, decided it might be worthwhile to try the latest KnoppMyth distribution. That's on our mirror server, too, and I wasn't in a hurry. A good thing too:

 
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Not that it came to that: the download aborted after about 200 kB. And I don't have enough free bandwidth to download from elsewhere.

That wasn't the only fun: part of the USB purchase was to mount the sensor for the wireless keyboard for teevee in a place where it worked more reliably. Put it on a hub just under the projector, and—it didn't work at all! Not even when the keyboard was right next to the sensor. There must be something about the hub; on replacing it behind my armchair it worked as well as before (I need to hold the keyboard a bit to the right for it to react). I wonder what the issue is there.


Topic: gardening Link here

On a more positive side, continued the move in to the verandah, this time placing the barbecue almost below the swallow's nest (and protected by newspaper after we had finished). There's almost no wind there, and it makes a big difference to the cooking times.


Friday, 5 December 2008 Dereel Images for 5 December 2008
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Topic: food and drink Link here

Somehow nothing went right today. It was bread baking day, and the mixer fell apart on me—not such an issue in itself, since it was 15 years old—but where do we find a suitable replacement? And of course I had to finish kneading by hand, and the bread had to stick to the pan, so that I tore the bottom out when removing it.


Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

On the MythTV front things weren't much better. It took me several hours to finally get MythWeb working. Things looked a lot clearer in hindsight:

Next came the issue of the ALDI DVB-T tuner. Took a look around http://linuxtv.org/wiki/index.php/DVB-T_USB_Devices, which suggested that the chip set is supported, maybe. The kernel reported:

[  493.136015] usb 1-1: new high speed USB device using ehci_hcd and address 2
[  493.279644] usb 1-1: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
[  493.441211] usbcore: registered new interface driver hiddev
[  493.445811] input: Afa Technologies Inc.  AF9035A USB Device as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:10.3/usb1/1-1/1-1:1.1/input/input6
[  493.448447] input,hidraw0: USB HID v1.01 Keyboard [Afa Technologies Inc.  AF9035A USB Device] on usb-0000:00:10.3-1
[  493.450319] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbhid
[  493.451247] usbhid: v2.6:USB HID core driver

It's amusing that the company has the same name as Tony Arthur's AFA, for whom we did the Black Box project. The LinuxTV pages report the AF9005, AF9013 and AF9015, and there's a good chance the AF9035 is compatible with one of them (probably the AF9015). But what a pain to install the drivers! Decided to try it out on pain, my Microsoft box, first.

That was fun in itself. The autorun feature didn't, and I had to start things manually, with a nice window that, even on a 1024x768 laptop—absolutely typical Microsoft fodder—managed to render incorrectly:

 
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And, of course, when I had finished installing the driver and the software—including a 27 character “License key” (and that for software that comes for free with the hardware, and won't work without it)—it wouldn't run: it crashed continually. Rebooted, and was told that the driver wasn't installed. Tried again, and finally it worked. Interestingly, the driver reported the chip set as an AF9015, so my guess was right that Linux will probably support it. The user interface was bearable, but of course the scan with the toy antennas found nothing whatsoever:


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Took the photo above and downloaded it to dereel to get it up quickly to show people. Then I turned the camera off—without umounting the file system! How I hate this bug that makes the system crash when I do that! It would have taken about 30 minutes to get back up again, except that I had forgotten to mount a backup file system earlier, written the backup to the root file system, and filled it up. In the end it took nearly an hour, and about 90 minutes until the fsck on /home had finished.

Connected pain up to the house antenna and retried the scan, and it worked fine, finding all feeds, in the process (apparently) showing that it doesn't make any difference which one antenna connection you use. It's a bit bare bones, but it has the real advantage over MythTV that it Just Works. And it shows that it can't handle the ABC transmissions either—lots of dropouts. So at any rate it's no better than the tuners I have already.

Or is it? Went back to cvr2 to run mythtv-setup, which after years I still find horribly confusing. Used the version on ceeveear as a guide, and discovered that you can't really transfer a Shepherd installation from one system to another. And I'm still confused about the relationship between the channels and the scan. Which comes first?

Did a complete scan on both tuners. The first one found nothing at all; the second one found them all, but only half the names. What's wrong this time? Tried a sample recording, and it failed, with the strange message:

2008-12-05 18:27:59.554 Connected to database 'mythconverg' at host: cvr2
2008-12-05 18:27:59.558 DVBChan(3:0) Error: SetChannelByString(Please add): CheckChannel failed.
                        Please verify the channel in the 'mythtv-setup' Channel Editor.
2008-12-05 18:27:59.559 ChannelBase(3) Error: Setting start channel 'Please add' failed,
                        and we failed to find any suitible channels on any input.
2008-12-05 18:27:59.591 DVBChan(4:1) Warning: Your frequency setting (0) is out of range.  (min/max:177000000/858000000)
2008-12-05 18:27:59.601 DVBChan(4:1) Error: Tune(): Setting Frontend tuning parameters failed.
                        eno: Invalid argument (22)
2008-12-05 18:27:59.603 DVBChan(4:1) Error: SetChannelByString(1): Tuning to frequency.

What's all that about?

As if that weren't enough, this version of Linux has annoyances and what look like bugs that I haven't seen before:

If that's the best that “Open Source” can do, it's no wonder that people are losing interest. From my point of view, the most interesting thing about “Open Source” is that it should offer superior technology. But what I'm seeing, not only from “Open Source” but also from Apple, is increasingly a copy of Microsoft, and not even a good one.


Saturday, 6 December 2008 Dereel Images for 6 December 2008
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Topic: animals, general Link here

Out riding today for the first time in months, this time with Chris as well. Once again we didn't get far: Yvonne was riding a relatively untrained mare, and she decided she didn't like what Yvonne was doing and bucked her off. Didn't do her much harm, but it wasn't clear how she (the mare) was going to continue, and it looked like rain, so we returned home. Once again only a 45 minute ride, and of course the rain didn't show.


Topic: technology Link here

One of the nice things about http://tinyurl.com is that you can allocate your own names. Not many people seem to have taken advantage of this, so most of the names I try are available. Of course, it's a one-way encryption: if I forget the URL, there's no way of finding it again. So I've created a web page with a list of what I've allocated.


Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

MythTV, part three

Somehow I'm not making much progress with Mythbuntu. In particular, the hangs greatly get on my nerves. Decided to try the alternatives. I still can't access my ISP's mirror server properly, so stuck to the CD's I downloaded a few months ago.

First was KnoppMyth version R5F27. This is a newer version of the distro I installed a year ago. It's quite disappointing; nothing seems to have changed, not even the incorrect display of the installation program, which tends to drop the first character of some fields, notably IP addresses. More importantly, though, it still uses MythTV version 0.20, which I don't want. Even the change log for the latest version doesn't mention 0.21. So gave up on that pretty quickly.

What next? Maybe straight Ubuntu would be better. I had a CD of 8.04 which I had installed for my nephew Chris a couple of months ago, so tried that, vainly looking for a way to tell the brain-dead installation program that I wanted to specify my own IP addresses. Got it installed in spite of that, and set to adding the multimedia site to my /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://ftp.sunet.se/pub/os/Linux/distributions/debian-multimedia unstable main
deb-src http://ftp.sunet.se/pub/os/Linux/distributions/debian-multimedia unstable main

That didn't work out of the box: apt refused the site because it didn't recognize the key. Found an incantation on Ubuntu forums that gave me most of the information:

gpg --recv-keys [key_id]
gpg --keyserver pgpkeys.mit.edu --export [key_id] | apt-key add -
apt-get update

I had to look for the --keyserver line; the explanation assumed that you already had a key server defined in some GPG configuration file, which hadn't been set up.

Then set to trying to install the mythtv package. No go; it depends on mythtv-frontend and mythtv-backend. I thought that these dependencies were automatic in Debian. Am I wrong, is the package broken, or is there some other reason why the dependencies had to be done manually? Went further and further down the dependency tree

root@cvr2:/etc/apt# apt-get install --force libasound2 libmyth-0.21 mythtv-backend mythtv-frontend mythtv

Then I ran into a brick wall:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
  libmyth-0.21: Depends: libasound2 (> 1.0.16) but 1.0.15-3ubuntu4 is to be installed
E: Broken packages

With more help from Google found an incantation for sources.list referring to intrepid, but that didn't work either:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
  libxi6: Breaks: gnome-settings-daemon (<= 2.24.0-0ubuntu1) but 2.22.1-0ubuntu1 is to be installed

That message makes no sense to me, but clearly it's a mismatch. Possibly there's a way to solve that one, but it's clear that it would be simpler to install “Intrepid Ibex” (more intelligible as Ubuntu 8.10). Now to find a CD.

Isn't “Open Source” fun? It's so much fun that I can hardly bear it.


Topic: gardening Link here

More garden stuff

We were really happy when we found a Calendula plant in the north garden in late summer. We planted it and some of its descendants in the east garden, where they have been growing like fury ever since. But Yvonne decided that they were too intrusive, so today we removed them:


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It's funny how little difference it seems to make. Yvonne has planted Leucanthemum vulgares there in their place.


Sunday, 7 December 2008 Dereel Images for 7 December 2008
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Topic: brewing Link here

Brew day today, and for once most things went smoothly. About the only thing that went wrong was that my digital thermometer started showing wrong temperatures, about 20° higher than reality—it reported the water temperature in the HLT as 102°. Spent some time investigating without finding anything wrong, and then it started behaving again. I wonder if that's the device or the sensor. I had thought that it might have got wet, but on taking it apart there was no moisture, and rather cleverly theb ottom of the unit is taken up with the battery, so it's unlikely that there would have been a problem. On the other hand, the board does show some indication of having been wet, but it's almost certainly in the past:


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My brewing vessels still aren't big enough! The 50 litre mash tun is sufficient for the base malt (9 kg in 30 l of water), but I decided to steep the caramel and crystal malts separately. In passing it's interesting to note that they still seem to contain some unconverted grain, but they won't have any amylase in them, so maybe they should go into the main mash. In the following photos the caramel in the caramel malt is amber in colour, and in the crystal malt it's almost black; but there are still white spots of what must be unconverted starch:


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Went to more trouble to avoid fermenter overflows during aeration: only racked 25 l of the wort and aerated that for 20 minutes. A good thing too:


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The foam made it all the way to the top of the fermenter, a good 40 litres, and it didn't subside: 30 minutes later I had to wash it down with the remaining wort.


Topic: technology Link here

Ubuntu install, day 4

I still can't access my ISP's mirror server, so considered the alternative of upgrading the existing Ubuntu 8.04 installation to 8.10. The good news: it's possible, though in this particular case it's slightly complicated by the fact that 8.04 is a “Long Support Release”. Good documentation is available on the web site, presumably a place that will change in time. The only down side is that I would need to download 607 MB, the equivalent of an installation CD. Since this is a fresh installation, it doesn't make any sense to me, but it's certainly a good thing to have for existing installations.


Monday, 8 December 2008 Dereel Images for 8 December 2008
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Topic: technology Link here

I still can't access the Wideband mirror server:

 
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In addition, I still have the VoIP issues that I reported in October, and there's still this issue with downloading Apple updates. Called up—using VoIP and getting (barely) acceptable quality—and spoke to Michael, who suggested—of course—that they should upgrade the firmware on my satellite modem. They did that, taking me off the air for a very short time, and of course it didn't make any difference. Called again and spoke to Rick, who was rather upset to discover that the modems require Microsoft “Internet Explorer” to work at all, and promised me that Brendan would call back. He didn't.

In the meantime, did some more exploration. Now even “Internet Explorer” can't access the modem (and no, of course the firmware upgrade didn't fix it):

 
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I've seen that before, and it's gone away again. I don't know what's causing it, whether it's a bug in “Internet Explorer” or in the modem, or quite possibly both. In the process tried the standard Microsoft solution, rebooting the machine, and got my first blue screen of death in years. After rebooting, got a summary:

 
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I suspect that this is related to the ALDI TV tuner software that I installed a couple of days ago. It has probably not been tested with the ATI driver that seems to have crashed here.

While enduring this pain, investigated the other issues. One was that the ATA thought that the date was 1 January 2003. It understands ntp, but for some reason I still have problems with ntpd on dereel, so decided to use an external server instead. But that meant changing IP addresses to the NAT range of the satellite modem—and then all registrations failed, even the first!

ADSL, one more try

The poor performance of satellite, along with “quozl”s information about Telstra's changes in their wireless networking, made me think about trying again. Spent about 10 minutes looking for the correct page, and didn't make it. It appears to be http://www.telstra.com.au/nextgnetwork/index.htm, though—why should a search for “wireless networking” find it, after all? On the way, though, I found a different page that reminded me once again that the Dereel exchange has a DSLAM. Thought it would be worth trying to apply again. Spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fill out their stupid web forms. I had to choose an @bigpond.com mail address, of course. Last time groogle@bigpond.com was available, but of course, that's now dead for ever. Others that didn't work include grog@bigpond.com, unavailable@bigpond.com, available@bigpond.com, anything@bigpond.com, nothing@bigpond.com, braindeath@bigpond.com and ohthepain@bigpond.com. Clearly there are more rules than they put on their web site. Finally settled for boundlessstupidity@bigpond.com. I have little hope that it will actually work, but it's certainly worth the try.

Apple Computer: left hand, right hand, and helping the competition

Also took a look at boskoop, for which a number of software updates were waiting. The Apple Software Update is still broken, so I had to fetch the updates manually. Checked what I did last time, and managed to find it more easily. The site is http://support.apple.com/downloads/, and searching for the update mentioned in “software update”. Download the appropriate package, click on it multiple times, and it can be installed. That worked fine for the security update, but then I discovered that there was an update for “Safari” available too. Downloading that seemed to be made deliberately more difficult. First I was given a list of platforms: Tiger, Leopard, Panther and maybe more. I know that they represent the version of Mac OS X 10 (as they write), but which is which? On the web site there's only a name; on the machine, there's only a number. There's no excuse for that.

Finally found out that my version, 10.4.11, is “Tiger”, and set off to load it:

 
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Clicked on the “Download” button and got:

 
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There was more on the page, of course, but the only “Safari” I could download was for Microsoft. After a bit of thought, decided that it must have been because I was using firefox on FreeBSD, so tried again with the previous version of “Safari” on boskoop. Success:

 
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After downloading the image, and only then, I got the message that the package may contain an “Application”, and would I like to “download” it? Is this stupidity, or yet another example of bad language? But it wouldn't open: it was the wrong version, for “Leopard”. On further examination, it proved that the browser-specific download page had come up with the wrong default set. Why? The identification string that the browser sent to the web server is (here from my own server log):

boskoop.lemis.com - - [08/Dec/2008:17:14:04 +1100] "GET /grog/index-local.php HTTP/1.1" 200 10797 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X 10_4_11; en) AppleWebKit/525.18 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.2 Safari/525.22"

That should be clear enough, once you find out that 10.4.11 is “Tiger”. If the web programmers go to the trouble of checking the browser version, and only allowing Microsoft downloads for non-Apple browsers, why can't they at least set the correct defaults for Apple browsers?

That wasn't the only issue. When it was done, it wanted me to reboot the machine—after installing a web browser! Why on earth should that be necessary? And the download progress indication brought home to me how tiny the fonts are on this machine since it decided—of its own accord—to change the screen resolution from 1024x768 to 1600x1200 when I changed the monitor and connected a BenQ P992 monitor to it. Now clearly I'm not unhappy about the higher resolution, but the fonts haven't scaled, and the progress bar is in 5x7 pixel fonts, which on this screen correspond approximately to 4.5 points:


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How do you change it? There's nothing obvious on the “System Preferences” page, just ways of dithering to make up for the abysmally low resolutions that Apple seems to prefer. Searching the “Help” brought me to the term “font panel”. That sounded like what I'm looking for. But where is it? I still don't know. Searching “Help” for the term brought a number of hits, none of which look like telling me where the bloody thing is:

 
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Topic: gardening Link here

How much water does a Brachychiton need?

The Brachychiton rupestris that we bought last autumn has not fared as well as most plants:


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We had thought it was dead, but then I discovered that it's still trying hard:


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Maybe it's not as drought-tolerant as I had thought. Added a dripper line; we'll keep an eye on it.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

The first dinner on the verandah

Finally the weather is better, and today we were able to eat dinner outside on the verandah for the first time:


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Tuesday, 9 December 2008 Dereel Images for 9 December 2008
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Topic: general Link here

The weather may have been fine last night, but overnight it rained quite a bit, and kept it up. I wish that had happened earlier.

A surprising amount of strangely addressed mail in the mailbox this morning:


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The first one was, of course, typical of Telstra: I had reported this strange problem last month, and they had promised to fix it. And, of course, they didn't.

The other two are more interesting. The second address is from Spotlight, from whom I got a “VIP card” a couple of months ago. No idea how they changed “Greg” to “Grog”, though clearly there's a precedent, and I suppose most of their customers are women. And the third is the text I entered when the broken subscription software for “Gardening Australia” insisted that I enter a suburb name before it would accept the subscription. Ah well. Called up Telstra and got another promise that it would be fixed, though it took a while to make him understand that I needed a copy without anybody else's name on it. He told me his supervisor would take care of that. And I always thought Telstra people operated without supervision.


Topic: technology Link here

Wideband quality deteriorating?

Wideband still hasn't called back about the bandwidth and VoIP issues, so called back again and spoke to Matthew, who told me that Brendan had passed the information on to John, and that John would call me back “if he's not too busy”. He didn't.

Also more discussion on the matter of the mirror server, and discovered that I had the wrong mirror server URL: I had http://mrwl.mirror.wide.net.au/, and Matthew told me that it should have been http://mirror.wide.net.au/. Tried the latter, and it worked. That would be straightforward enough, except:

  1. http://mrwl.mirror.wide.net.au/ is the address I got from their web site.
  2. Both sites have the same IP address. So why does one work and the other not? Clearly it's an issue with the web server, since that's the only thing that knows the site name. But how can that be?

Suggested that it was time to update the web site. As of two days later, as I write up this diary, the change hasn't happened.

Later checked my “Web Mail” and found a lot of stuff had been sent there instead of to my real email address, including information that Wideband has merged with another company. Also discovered that I was still paying $95 for an old 3 GB on peak / 3 GB off peak, though that tariff no longer exists and has been replaced by one for $85 for 3 GB on peak / 6 GB off peak.

After getting fed up waiting for John to call me back, called the accounts people to cancel my VoIP and asked for a refund, and also asked for a refund for my excess payments for the IP tariff. I spoke to Jay, who told me that I had been sent mail saying that changes wouldn/t happen automatically, and that I should check for myself. But the entire web mail, untouched since about March, shows no such message, and he couldn't tell me when it had been sent. And, of course, he didn't have the authority to perform a refund, and the person who did was out to lunch. He said I would be called back. I wasn't.

That wouldn't be particularly unusual—most ISPs and Telcos I deal with offer this level of incompetence—but in the past Wideband was the exception. It's a pity they've changed.

A completely separate issue is the reliability of the link, which has always been dubious. The only way to download from the mirror server is with HTTP, which doesn't provide for restarting an aborted transmission. Tried three times to download a DVD image, and the furthest I ever got was about 600 MB. The result: 2 GB of data transferred, none of them usable. Why don't they offer an FTP interface? Then people could restart the transfer.


Topic: general Link here

Chris to dinner in the evening.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008 Dereel –> Maffra –> Briagolong Images for 10 December 2008
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Topic: general, technology Link here

Off to Briagolong today to visit my father, so of course I had to receive a message with a “final draft” for “Beautiful Architectures”, along with a deadline: this evening US time! Took a brief look at it and found the first image had the text “Luter processor bus” (should be “Interprocessor”), and decided that there would be no way to make that deadline. Why is it suddenly such a hurry?


Topic: brewing Link here

Stopped in Melbourne on the way to Briagolong to pick up some malt. They now have an interesting brewery setup on display:


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I particularly like the disconnects, and the silicone tubing makes more sense to me now. Maybe I should change my design and use them too.


Topic: general Link here

Uneventful drive to Maffra, marred by some idiot who decided to overtake without checking if anybody (I) was in the space he was using. At least now he's immortalized:


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My father's not looking any better. He's had an operation on his shoulder, and he's not recovering well from it. Sad to see him fade like that.

To dinner in Briagolong with Freda, Gill and Jasper. Freda had booked a table in Gill's name (Kline). We ended up with a table with the name “Klien” on it. What is there about that spelling that attracts so many people?

Ate a “Chicken Snitzel”, of which I had never heard before. Gill said “what, you've never heard of a Chicken Snitzel, after all the time you've spent in Germany”. Me: “Yes, that's probably the reason”. I'm not sure why they called it a Snitzel; it's straight chicken breast, and I always associate Schnitzel with something flat. But it tasted quite good.

Gill and Kline sold their theatre a few months back, and now they're using some of the proceeds to extend the house. Rather them than I!


Thursday, 11 December 2008 Briagolong –> Dereel Images for 11 December 2008
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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Off relatively early this morning and headed back home, stopping off in Springvale to shop for East Asian ingredients. I've never been to Springvale before (I think), though I lived my first years in Nunawading, at the other end of Springvale road.

I had hoped for Vietnamese, and even brought a book with some recipes to get ingredients for, but The Age's book didn't mention any, so I didn't bother. When I got there, of course, the place was full of Vietnamese shops. Not all the food was of spectacular quality, but the prices were good. Found various Chinese Cabbage, not all good, and not all with recognizable names—this second one just adds to the confusion.


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The offerings are surprisingly one-sided, though: it took me a long while to find Malaysian (really Indonesian) foodstuffs, and I didn't find any useful supply of Indian stuff.

On to Malvern to the Wursthütte (or is that Wursthutte? The URL seems to think so), which had a reasonable if not exceptional selection of sausages, then continued, looking for petrol. One good thing about the current world financial crisis is that crude oil prices have dropped by two-thirds over the last few months, and today I saw petrol for as low as $0.957 per litre. Didn't fill there—I had seen others for the same price (with my discount vouchers). But they put up their price by 9 cents per litre between the time I left Springvale and I arrived in Melbourne city, so I would have had to pay $1.059. In disgust, drove on and filled up at APCO in Lara for $1.009. In Ballarat APCO accepts the supermarket discount vouchers (for half their face value), but no such luck in Lara.

Back home. This is only the second time I've spent a night away from home since we moved here, and I had forgotten how much it disrupts normal life.


Friday, 12 December 2008 Dereel Images for 12 December 2008
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Topic: general Link here

Into town this morning for the results of the blood test taken three months ago, but first to the opticians to finally get my glasses made up—it's been three months since I had my eyes tested, too.


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While waiting for service, heard the manager on the phone to a computer service. He had had difficulties with downloading some document, and asked if he could download it with a different extension. He also asked if he could save it to his USB stick. Then he wrote down a URL, something like https:\\foo.com\bar.

What's wrong with this picture? Clearly not the fault of the manager, who is just one of the victims of current “state of the art”. But it's frustrating:

Of course, I was wrong: he couldn't copy his file to his USB stick. USB sticks are standardized; they offer a SCSI interface, and about the only difference between them is the capacity. But he was using Microsoft “Windows 98”, and it didn't have a “driver” (probably just a parameter specification) for his USB stick. But on the other hand my Microsoft “Windows XP” wanted a driver for a USB keyboard the other day. Wouldn't it be nice if Microsoft would adhere to standards?


Topic: general Link here

Then to Warehouse Sales and Big W to look for kitchen machines, which cost much more than I expected, up to $450. I'll have to do more investigation.

As a result, the wait at the Eureka Medical Centre was refreshingly brief, only a couple of minutes. And for the first time in a long time, every single parameter was within limits.


Topic: general, opinion Link here

“Curing” diabetes

My results remind me of a radio interview with Dr Neal Barnard I heard while on my way to Melbourne the other day. He claims that Type 2 Diabetes is reversible. It's difficult to contradict him based on what little he said, but it didn't exactly fill me with confidence. He claims that lipids are the problem, and used comparisons between human and dog jaws to claim that humans aren't intended to eat meat. He claimed that the Chinese and Japanese have had very low levels of diabetes until they came in contact with Western food, when they suddenly started eating more meat. His diet is Vegan—not even milk allowed. He didn't go to the point of claiming that humans aren't designed to eat dairy products, but by eliminating fish he invalidates his claims about the change in Japanese diet. The fact that he's a vegan by choice, unrelated to diabetes, suggests that he has found a problem for his solution. He also seems to have convinced US government agencies of his approach, which is worrying.

More to the point, though: what's “reversible”? I suppose in his book I'm cured too. I don't think I am. Can his patients pass a Glucose tolerance test? If not (and I'm sure I fall in this category), they're not cured. Obviously it's good to achieve normal blood sugar levels, but it's irresponsible to suggest to patients that they're cured when they do. People don't tell alcoholics that they're cured when they no longer get drunk.


Topic: general Link here

More funny addresses

This seems to be the week for funny addresses. Today I received two more:


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The first is from c't magazine, and shows how they have forced the address into a German sequence, with the post code before the name of the town.

The other is from Popular Photography, to which I subscribed on 17 September 2008. They have finally, after nearly three months, sent me the first issue of my subscription. Why did it take so long? And the address doesn't look like it's been forced into a US style address. It came from France (maybe they confuse Australia with Austria), and it looks pretty much like the previous one, except that they've tried to force the state into the post code as well. And, of course, it's modern just to truncate things.

The interesting thing in nearly all these addresses is that they're the result of inflexible and inadequate computer software. The people who write the programs don't provide sufficient flexibility for valid addresses which they don't know about.

Last day of Hanukkah

Today was the last day of Hanukkah.

Well, no. According to chabad.org it doesn't start until 21 December 2008. That's what comes of relying on the FreeBSD Jewish calendar.

We always let the candles on the Hanukkiyah burn down to the end, and place bets on which will go out first. It's quite a gamble, since the length of the candle has little to do with the outcome. Towards the end they burn at completely different speeds, like this one which went on for ever:


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As a result, they last longer. The candles almost always go out with a pronounced puff of smoke:


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Saturday, 13 December 2008 Dereel Images for 13 December 2008
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Topic: general, gardening Link here

The spring rains have finally come! In 36 hours we had 83 mm rain. The only problem is that it's 3 months too late: in September we had 36.6 mm, in October only 20.7, and in November 64.1 mm. But there's nothing we can do about the failed hay crop now.

Spent the day inside as a result, not even taking most of my usual house photos:


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At least the rain gives me the opportunity to identify leaks in the roof of the verandah. There are more than I would have liked. I wonder how to get up there; I don't think the roofing is strong enough to take my weight.


Topic: technology Link here

Another go at installing Ubuntu on cvr2, this time 8.10. The installation worked relatively well, including the XFS root file system, which had caused problems before. Even the installation of mythtv went relatively smoothly, modulo problems with the satellite link. Now to face the problem of configuring the mess again.


Sunday, 14 December 2008 Dereel Images for 14 December 2008
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Topic: technology Link here

More work on getting cvr2 up to speed today. The stock kernel found the two DVICO tuner cards, but not the ALDI dual tuner. Worked my way through the LinuxTV wiki, cleaning up in the process, and started the instructions for How to install DVB decice drivers. That went well enough installing the packages, but then I got:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/3) /usr/src 71 -> hg clone http://linuxtv.org/hg/v4l-dvb
destination directory: v4l-dvb
requesting all changes
adding changesets
adding manifests
adding file changes
transaction abort!
rollback completed
** unknown exception encountered, details follow
** report bug details to http://www.selenic.com/mercurial/bts
** or mercurial@selenic.com
** Mercurial Distributed SCM (version 1.0.1)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/bin/hg", line 20, in <module>
    mercurial.dispatch.run()
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 20, in run
    sys.exit(dispatch(sys.argv[1:]))
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 29, in dispatch
    return _runcatch(u, args)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 45, in _runcatch
    return _dispatch(ui, args)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 364, in _dispatch
    ret = _runcommand(ui, options, cmd, d)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 417, in _runcommand
    return checkargs()
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 373, in checkargs
    return cmdfunc()
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/dispatch.py", line 358, in <lambda>
    d = lambda: func(ui, *args, **cmdoptions)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/commands.py", line 535, in clone
    update=not opts['noupdate'])
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/hg.py", line 230, in clone
    dest_repo.clone(src_repo, heads=revs, stream=stream)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/localrepo.py", line 2124, in clone
    return self.pull(remote, heads)
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/localrepo.py", line 1484, in pull
    return self.addchangegroup(cg, 'pull', remote.url())
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/localrepo.py", line 2016, in addchangegroup
    if fl.addgroup(chunkiter, revmap, trp) is None:
  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.5/mercurial/revlog.py", line 1199, in addgroup
    textlen = mdiff.patchedsize(textlen, delta)
mpatch.mpatchError: patch cannot be decoded

What is that junk? It's a python stack trace, of course, and it took me quite a while to realize that it seems to be the “wrong” way round: the most recent functions are at the bottom. That's unusual, but perfectly in accordance with my hate of reverse chronological documents. It's just unusual in a stack trace.

But what does it mean? Python seems to encourage people to produce a stack trace when an error message. The error was repeatable until I tried doing it under my own user ID. It looks like addgroup is related to user groups, but why should it fail as root?

After installing v4l-dvb and rebooting, the system found the USB tuners, but that was about all:

Dec 14 14:15:20 cvr2 kernel: [   27.694865] firmware: requesting xc3028-v27.fw
Dec 14 14:15:20 cvr2 kernel: [   27.711877] firmware: requesting xc3028-v27.fw

That kept repeating at intervals. There never seemed to be any failure, but it was clear that the firmware wasn't being loaded. Off again to the firmware page, which led me to a page for the XC3028. The download instructions were somewhat bizarre, apparently because of copyright restrictions:

# In order to use, you need to:
#       1) Download the windows driver with something like:
#               wget http://www.steventoth.net/linux/xc5000/HVR-12x0-14x0-17x0_1_25_25271_WHQL.zip
#       2) Extract the file hcw85bda.sys from the zip into the current dir:
#               unzip -j HVR-12x0-14x0-17x0_1_25_25271_WHQL.zip Driver85/hcw85bda.sys
#       3) run the script:
#               linux/Documentation/video4linux/extract_xc3028.pl

This one doesn't tell you where the script is; it's in the v4l-dvb directory installed via mercurial. And the script isn't executable, so the incantation is really:

$ perl v4l-dvb/linux/Documentation/video4linux/extract_xc3028.pl

After that, it loaded the firmware, but there still seems to be more to be done, probably additional modules. But that was enough pain for one day.

In the process managed to hang the machine again. Clearly it's a more widespread issue, since this is a different release of a (marginally) different distribution. I've changed my mind about the cause, though; I suspect it's not securityfs but NFS. I've seen many NFS hangs between FreeBSD and Linux in the past. I wish they'd get rid of the problem.

As a result of that, had to reboot the machine with an invalid /etc/fstab: I had copied in the entire fstab from ceeveear, and I had two entries for the root file system:

# filesystem            mountpoint      type    options  dump   pass
UUID=9cabb045-fd7d-46f4-910e-65164a387429 /               xfs     relatime        0       1
/dev/hda1               /               ext3    defaults,errors=remount-ro      0       1

I suppose these UUID-style mounts make sense, but they certainly also make the fstab look ugly. It seems that the first line worked for the mount, but the remount-ro on the second also took effect, and I couldn't change the fstab. How do you remount a Linux file system? On FreeBSD it would be mount -u /, which isn't very clever, but it took a while to find the corresponding incantation on Linux:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) ~ 3 -> mount -o remount,rw /

Masochism?

I've been exchanging a few mail messages with Michael, the South Australian without a surname. He took issue with my recent left hand, right hand comments:

Are you a masochist or something?

Software Update on an OSX machine works out what needs updating based on the version of the software installed, downloads the correct package, and installs it. You have the option of ignoring particular updates permanently or temporarily from the interface if you so wish. Why on earth would you make it harder for yourself by manually searching out the package and manually installing it?

So I went back and checked, and found that I hadn't adequately explained that software update stopped working for me about 3 months ago, so I updated the diary entry. But it seems that Michael still wasn't happy:

If the software update is not working on the machine, that's where your energy should be spent - fixing it would save you masses of time and diary entries about broken stuff that really works out of the box for every OS X system I have ever seen. (and I've seen quite a few). Of course, if you just want the opportunity to criticise the system because it's not working for you when you try and use it in a broken fashion without fixing basic problems with it, go ahead, knock yourself out. :)

Here I have to disagree on a number of points:


Topic: general Link here

Happy birthday Chris

Chris' birthday today, so we cooked a paella. More silly photos:


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Monday, 15 December 2008 Dereel Images for 15 December 2008
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Desktop navigation: icons or text?
Topic: technology Link here

One of the most obnoxious things I've found about the new firefox 3.0 is the tiny icons that appear in conjunction with fvwm2 when I iconify a window. The following images are not scaled, but in original size.

Firefox icons

There's a maximum of three letters to identify them, and the fact that there are so many is at least partially because I can't work out which is which without running the mouse over them (at which point the text is expanded). It was bad enough before with 50x50 pixel icons, but these are only 16x16.

But what's causing it? “Modern” people use things like GNOME or KDE, which use their own equally confusing icons:

 
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Spent quite a bit of time working my way through what documentation is available for fvwm2 and firefox and made a number of discoveries:

So now I'm happy. But it's worth thinking about: the “modern” approach is the completely illegible GNOME desktop. Clearly you can't work like that, and the browser provides “tabs” to work around the problem. So the individual application is taking over window manager functionality because the window manager is inadequate to the task. So is the browser, of course: by default you only get one window. It's also interesting to consider the amount of space wasted by duplicate icons. The whole framework is really just that—a frame—and it's too inflexible.

Web breakage, yet again

Got a newsletter from Motormouth today. Amongst other things, they track cheap petrol stations. Tried their “advanced search” and got:


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That wasn't repeatable: next time round I got a relatively legible page which told me that they only considered state capitals. But while looking at it on IRC, somebody discovered this gem in the HTML:

<LINK href="\css\styles.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet">

How can that possibly work? Even if it runs on a Microsoft machine, it's still a local file name. And it even contained the name of the perpetrator:

                <meta content="www.justingreenwood.com" name="creator">

Progress on DVB?

More work on cvr2, not helped by the fact that the machine keeps hanging. So far I haven't found enough evidence to point to or against my suspicion that it's an NFS problem. But clearly documentation is missing: in particular, how do I load the modules specified on the DVB-T USB page? It took a while to discover that module loads are not loadmod, that the old insmod is now also deprecated, and that the correct name is the not very intuitive modprobe. But that didn't work either, because of some compatibility issue that I couldn't follow up on because the bloody thing hung again.


Tuesday, 16 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Somehow spent most of the day working on trying to get V4L to recognize this USB tuner, ultimately without success. There are so many details that are unclear. In particular, how do you load the firmware?

About the only thing I did discover was that it can be confusing to upgrade your kernel via the Ubuntu upgrade system after having installed v4l: it stores a configuration file in v4l-dvb/v4l/.version, which in my case contained the text:

VERSION=2
PATCHLEVEL:=6
SUBLEVEL:=27
KERNELRELEASE:=2.6.27-7-generic

Removing it allowed me to build for the updated kernel (PATCHLEVEL 9).

I have gradually come to the suspicion that the hangs are due to NFS. With the help of wireshark, confirmed that the connection was an NFS V3 TCP connection. Tried using UDP, and so far there have been no more hangs. But it's too early to be sure.

Choosing UDP mounts is not the easiest thing to find out. The information is spread around the man pages mount(1) and nfs(5). I now have the following entries in /etc/fstab, which are equivalent but not transparent:

dereel:/                /dereel         nfs     rw,udp          0       0
dereel:/home            /dereel/home    nfs     rw,proto=udp    0       0

The resultant output of mount is:

dereel:/ on /dereel type nfs (rw,udp,addr=192.109.197.135)
dereel:/home on /dereel/home type nfs (rw,proto=udp,addr=192.109.197.135)

When using mount directly, the incantation is:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/0) /home/grog 5 -> mount -o udp dereel:/ /dereel
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/0) /home/grog 6 -> mount -o proto=udp dereel:/home /dereel/home

Apple software update—no luck

So now Apple has a new software update available. The obvious thing was to try it out and see if the automatic update would still fail. It did, but for other reasons: as I mentioned last month, there's a bug in the Apple IP stack which stops me accessing the Internet directly. The interface has two IP addresses, but it sends them out via the wrong one, so it gets no response. I'll have to wait until I get my firewall sorted out, after which data will be routed via dereel. In the meantime, though, that's a very good reason to want the alternative of downloading via the web site.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008 Dereel Images for 17 December 2008
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Topic: technology Link here

An interesting failure message in my web server log today:

72.171.0.142 - - [17/Dec/2008:02:00:11 +1100] "GET /grog/styles.css HTTP/1.1" 404 1265 "http://www.lemis.com/grog/diary.php" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.0.4) Gecko/2008102920 Firefox/3.0.4"

That's the reference I posted a couple of days ago:

<LINK href="\css\styles.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet">

But how can any browser even begin to interpret this, let alone firefox version 3?

More work on the USB tuner, and finally gave up. It's clear that the device isn't being recognized, and I'm out of ideas. Instead turned to setting up mythtv on the new Ubuntu installation. And the passwords didn't match again! I'm pretty sure this is a virgin install, so something must be broken.

Also—finally—a bit more work in the garden, which I've been neglecting a bit of late. Put in some more beds around the terrace, and planted them with vegetables (mesclun, lettuce, spring onions and some more radishes, a French kind which the Australians call “French breakfast”, and which the French eat in the evening.

Multimedia: give up and use Microsoft?

It's been over four years now since I started trying to build a usable computer video recorder. I still don't have anything I'm happy with, and still everywhere I go, I run into new problems. Why don't I give up and use Microsoft? The installation of the ALDI tuner worked after only the second or third attempt.

It's not because I'm a died-in-the-wool Open Source person, and in this case it doesn't even cost me anything, because every laptop comes with Microsoft whether you want it or not, and the tuner came with the software. The real issue is that the whole Microsoft world is such a dead end: you can't do anything that Microsoft didn't envisage, and the idea of automating things or importing different programme data is almost certainly foreign to them. That's a (possibly well-founded) prejudice, of course, and I suppose I should try it out and see what happens.


Topic: technology, opinion, general Link here

Your tax dollars at a loss

Got a questionnaire this morning:


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What do we have to do with the Great Ocean Road? We're over 100 km from it. And look at that heading, obviously a poorly processed JPEG. Judging by the dirt on it (yes, it's really on the print; I checked the scanner and the original) it's been scanned in on a dirty scanner. I get the feeling they changed the survey without changing the header text. Is this really a genuine survey? The questions themselves were so poorly formulated that I didn't know how to answer most of them. I suspect it's an undergraduate student project. But how much taxpayer money went into this project?

Of course, you don't have to be an inept undergraduate to produce documents of this quality. O'Reilly, one of the biggest publishers of computer books, is certainly in the running. Here's the heading of a contract which I sent them back months ago with a digital signature, but now they want a manual (and easily copied) one as well:


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Merry Christmas from Woolworths!

Got an email from Woolworths' Everyday rewards campaign today, wishing me a Merry Christmas:


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OK, I manipulated the URL, but somehow I still found it funny. I suppose it's a borderline breach of security.


Thursday, 18 December 2008 Dereel Images for 18 December 2008
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Topic: technology Link here

So I've given up for the moment on the USB tuners for my CVR. Got some feedback from the Linux-DVB list suggesting that my issues were due to the HID driver eating the device before the DVB drivers could get at it, but I'll follow that up when I have more enthusiasm. Today turned my attention to setting up MythTV on the other two tuners, the ones that didn't work with the previous installation.

I didn't make that either. I still have these MySQL authentication issues. I'm sure I haven't changed anything, so it looks like a basic installation issue. How can that happen?


Topic: general, technology Link here

I've been keeping rainfall data since last August, but it's difficult to get an idea of trends. Wrote a program to analyse the data and produce output that gnuplot can process. That worked after a few surprises, but how useful are the results? Here an example of smoothed rainfall data averaged over 10, 30, 90 and 365 days:


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The problem is, what does it say? This is with Bézier smoothing, which doesn't work at all well: everything seems to fit (or be fitted) into a fixed frequency cycle, and in this case the high rainfall a few days ago lets it go off the scale. More thought required.


Topic: technology Link here

Y2K again

When writing the program I needed a way to create a day index. I did that decades ago, about 1978, so I dragged out the procedure I had written then, in TAL. It needed a bit of work, and after I had finished, it occurred that I could have taken a time_t and divided by 86400 (the number of seconds in a day). But converting this procedure to C brought back how my programming has improved in that time, and how views have changed. “Jahr” is German for “Year”, and the -- is a comment delimiter.

if Jahr > 99 then if (Jahr := Jahr - 1900) > 100 then return -6; -- Jahr > 2000

Topic: general, opinion Link here

Dereel phone tower, a year later

In August last year Wendy McClelland became active to “protect” Dereel from the dangers of a mobile phone tower, and I wrote a document stating my viewpoints. At the time it was academic, but now it seems that Optus really is interested in setting up a tower here. That would be good, because it would almost certainly mean that we'd get UMTS from Optus, and of course usable mobile phone signal strengths. But of course Wendy still has her issues. Chris brought a copy of the Ballarat Courier of 13 December with the article:

Dereel tower plan opposition

A Dereel resident is warning of the potential health risks to a planned communication tower.
Optus has submitted plans for a 50m high tower next to the Dereel Country Fire Authority and Dereel Soldiers' Memorial Hall and Community Centre in Swamp Road.
Resident Wendy McClelland said it would be too late to complain about the radiation once the tower was built.
She said the high frequency pulsed microwave radiation emitted from communications towers was a proven health risk.
Ms McClelland also said the tower would stop people from living at Dereel.
“Residents have only a small window of opportunity in which to lodge their objections”.

There's also another article with more useful details of what the project entailed, including the statement:

Last year the council formally adopted the Rokewood, Corindhap and Dereel Integrated Urban Design Framework.

Most Dereel residents listed improved access to broadband and mobile coverage as a priority.

I certainly wanted to object, to Wendy's nonsense. “Proven health risk” indeed! She hasn't addressed any of the factual information I posted a year ago. So I called up Optus to try to get some details. I didn't have much hope, but even those hopes were dashed. A couple of examples on my way from one place to another:

Optus person: Hello, this is Frieda, how can I help you today?
Groggy: I hear you're building a mobile phone tower near where I live in Dereel.
Optus person: Do you have a problem with your bill?
Groggy: No, I'm talking about a mobile phone tower.
Optus person: How can I help you with your bill?
Groggy: It's not a bill. I'm talking about a mobile phone tower. Have you understood me?
Optus person: No.
Groggy: You know what a mobile phone tower is, right?
Optus person: No.
Groggy: Can you spell your name for me?
Optus person: P-E-T-E-R.

So I explained to him that mobile phones needed transmitters as part of the network, and then asked:

Groggy: Do you understand now?
Optus person: No.
Groggy: Peter, can you connect me to somebody who knows what a mobile phone tower is?

Later:

Optus person: Hello, technical support, this is Peter.

They really were both called Peter. This one was easier to understand, and also understood more easily

Groggy: It looks like I've been connected to the wrong department. I'm looking for somebody who can tell me about the new mobile phone tower in Dereel.
Optus person: You should contact your local council.
Groggy: They can't help me with the technical details. I want to talk to somebody in your publicity area.
Optus person: We don't have any department that does that.
Groggy: I can't believe Optus is so disorganized that they don't have anybody working on selling their technology.
Optus person: Hold on, I'll check (long pause with emetic music in the background) The people you want to talk to are Corporate affairs, 02 8082 7850. I'll transfer you (another long pause, no music) Sorry, I can't connect you. I'll get somebody to call you back.

That was, of course, the last I heard.


Topic: technology Link here

Wideband resolution

While I was going through this pain, decided to follow up on other things which hadn't progressed. Wideband still hadn't called back as promised last week, so called up again and spoke to Matthew, who told me that my VoIP account still hadn't been cancelled, and though he was able to cancel it, he wasn't authorized to refund anything. He confirmed, though, that the new bandwidth tariffs had been in place for some time, longer than the 3 months that he had been working for Wideband, and claimed that a letter had gone out to me at the time. Finally he was able to put me through to Veronica, who agreed to refund the VoIP, but refused to refund anything for the time where I was paying more for less service: “We put this information up on the web site. That's why we ask you to use our webmail service, so that you can see this sort of thing”.

Obviously I wasn't happy, and made it clear that I would document the entire matter. She said that I should first wait for a call back from management, which happened in about an hour, from Philip Britt, Managing Director. He was more helpful and agreed to a refund. That's reasonable, but it's a pity it had to go so far before getting resolved.

Telstra: ADSL?

Also called Telstra about ADSL, once I found the phone number (13 76 63), and spoke to Matt, who told me it was a good thing I called today: that was the last day he could guarantee that I had the line up and running before Christmas. That sounded too good to be true, and of course it was. A couple of hours later I got a mail message:

Thank you for your BigPond® Broadband application.

Unfortunately, we need to perform some additional work on your local telephone network before we're able to confirm that
+you can receive ADSL.

As soon as this work is done, we should be able contact you to confirm your service availability and advise you of the
+next steps.

Nothing about a time frame, but clearly this means the same thing it has always meant: “No”. So it looks like the URL that I (finally) found for the UMTS service will be useful after all.


Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Food Safari revisited

SBS Television has started a new series of Food Safari, and today we watched the new programme on German food. To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. Sure, it was a little one-sided, but not as bad as some of the others. But, of course, though the people in the programme really seemed to be able to speak German, they deliberately mispronounce things. In the recipe for schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (which they spell Schwarzwälderkirschtorte) they start with some “Kösch”, which no German would recognize (Jürgen Lock suggested it might be a misspelling of “Kölsch”).


Friday, 19 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: general, technology Link here

Spent much of today documenting yesterday's events. Optus didn't call back, of course—I suppose I might as well give up on that. Turned my attention briefly to the Apple software update and discovered that the network connectivity issues aren't as serious as they seem: it uses the http proxy server, which is on dereel. Tried that, ready to perform measurements, but it Just Worked. So I suppose it probably really was just a network issue.


Saturday, 20 December 2008 Dereel Images for 20 December 2008
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Topic: general, photography Link here

House photo day again today. It's becoming more routine, so I did some thinking about some of the strangenesses of ufraw: I can set transfer curves, and I can save them (in one of these stupid sticky directories, which ufraw won't let go of), but I can't load them again. The man page says:

CURVE can be the filename (without path) of any curve that was previously loaded in the GUI.

In other words, it ignores standard usage and hides it somewhere, but it's not saying where. I haven't been able to find it, and it's certainly nothing to do with the files I saved. So I set to looking at the source code, in the process discovering that ufraw had been updated from release 0.13 to 0.14.1 (why do so many of these Linux-space programs have revision numbers less than 1?). Disaster! The results changed completely!


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What caused that? After several hours of investigation, I still have no idea. There are plenty of knobs to turn, but these two were done with exactly the same parameters. In the process tried dcraw, which came up with different results again:


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In many ways it looks better than either, but there are precious few things you can do with the results. The images above are pre-optimizer; after optimization they look like this:


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Probably I need go get more acquainted with netpbm, but only dabbled enough to discover that extracting the EXIF information from the raw Olympus file was non-trivial, and the code of dcraw is completely illegible, so ended up going back to ufraw 0.13.

While playing with dcraw, though, played around with extracting the thumbnails from the raw file. To my surprise, they're 1600x1200, not thumbnails even by my generous definitions. And they're just as dark as the other images. Here the thumbnails before and after optimization:


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Topic: general Link here

And that was the day. Chris along for dinner in the evening, during which we had another power failure.


Sunday, 21 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: general, gardening Link here

It's been over 9 months since we dug the trenches for the irrigation and the power for the garden shed. We've been using the irrigation most of this time, but I still haven't got round to connecting up the power line, which goes between the big shed (“garage”) and the little one (garden shed). Today I finally drummed up enough enthusiasm to do the little remaining work—put a power point in the garden shed and connect the other end to the fuse box. Not much work.

Somehow it never turns out like that. I have hundreds of screwdriver bits, but for some reason all the “standard” PZ2 size ones have disappeared. Spent far too much time looking before I found some by chance in an unopened box of el-cheapo drill bits, I think from ALDI. Set off to the garden shed, where I got through the wood panel and the surprisingly thin corrugated iron with no particular problems, and then tried to screw the power point housing to the wood. Simple, eh?

It took me 10 minutes to finally get two screws in. I'm not sure what's wrong with these screws, but the bit slipped terribly, and before I had got a single screw in, the previously brand-new bit looked like this:


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That's not just slippage, of course: the screw was unmarked. But even apart from the appalling quality, I never used to have this kind of problem. Am I doing something wrong in my old age, or are the screws incorrectly made, or am I using the wrong bit? In any case, after getting the power point attached, I was so discouraged that I didn't even try the other end.


Topic: technology Link here

Instead I turned my attention to other frustrations: the ALDI USB DVB-T tuner. I had had a suggestion on the Linux-DVB list that I should disable the probe by the HID driver with the incantation:

options usbhid quirks=0x15a4:0x1001:0x0004

Where to put it? They didn't say, just that it was for modprobe. Found a man page (written by Rusty Russell years ago) which mentioned a file /etc/modprobe.conf and a directory /etc/modprobe.d. I had the latter, so put it in a file in that directory and rebooted. Nothing. Spent quite some time trying to work my way through Linux documentation, which is horribly fragmented, but couldn't even find anywhere to tell me what the options line meant, beyond modprobe.conf(5), which told me that the individual module used the parameters. And what's in usbhid(5)? It doesn't exist, and I couldn't find any documentation.

It was looking as if this could be a Ubuntu issue, so tried the #ubuntu channel on freenode.net. That wasn't the answer:

<groggy> How can I disable the USB hid drivers?
<groggy> I've tried putting in a quirk entry, but it doesn't seem to work.
<ActionParsnip> groggy: sudo rmmod <whatever>
<groggy> "Module is in use".
<groggy> I don't want it to start up, and I should be able to disable it in
         modprobe.d/                                                    [11:43]
<groggy> I have:
<groggy> options usbhid quirks=15a4:1001:0x0004
<ActionParsnip> groggy: lsmod will show you whats loaded, you can remove
                whatever you wish
<groggy> ActionParsnip: As I said, it refuses because it's in use.      [11:44]
<groggy> $ modprobe -r hid
<groggy> FATAL: Module hid is in use.

And that was all.

Finally, after more googling, found a reference in the MythTV wiki, with the important information that this configuration is used by the initial RAM-based kernel, so after changing the directory you need to run:

update-initramfs -u

That runs for a surprising length of time—about 20 seconds. After that, and after the reboot, I finally had a free device. A bit too free: the driver didn't want to attach to it. But there are so many parts of the puzzle still missing. How does the firmware get loaded? No idea.


Topic: gardening Link here

Back into the garden and finally planted the Nandina domestica that Max gave me (as a dry twig) on my last birthday. It's already looking quite happy.


Monday, 22 December 2008 Dereel Images for 22 December 2008
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Topic: gardening Link here

Woke up to hear a lot of noise outside, and found that heavy winds had blown away the protection for my two citrus trees. This grapefruit in particular is looking very unhappy; I think I'm going to have to transplant it or (maybe “and”) lose it:


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Topic: general Link here

Wendy McClelland is active again, of course, lobbying against the phone tower. This morning I received a letter in the letter box enclosing a petition begging not to be condemned to “such a fate”. This annoys me considerably; I don't suppose I should let it. But it's annoying that anybody with more energy than understanding can go and make unsubstantiated claims like this.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

Spent a little time looking for GUI interfaces to netpbm, and came up with flimp, which looks good. It's not in the FreeBSD Ports Collection, but it downloaded and compiled without difficulty. But then it didn't do anything useful; first I had to tell it to show all files in the directory—every time—and then the “load file” function didn't do anything. Maybe I should read the documentation more carefully.


Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Spent most of the day messing around with cvr2. The big issue is how to tune the tuners to local Ballarat frequencies. Any normal TV or set top box, and any commercial tuner software, does this automatically. MythTV does it too, but it hides the results somewhere that I haven't been able to find. And last time I tried, I didn't get any useful results. This time I did, but they weren't very good; Channel 10, for example, was completely missing.

Spent some time looking for frequencies, and found some with Wikipedia and others with VK3KHB. One problem: they didn't match what I had in my channel list file, which I had got from DTVforum. Clearly a digital feed only has one frequency, while an analogue feed has a video frequency and an audio frequency, and that's what's shown in the tables I refer to above. It also makes sense that the digital feed frequency should be somewhere between the video and the audio frequency. But the difference isn't constant. For example (all frequencies in MHz):

Channel       Video frequency       Audio frequency       Feed frequency       Feed - video
SC10 (40)       611.25       616.75       613.500       2.250
ABC (41)       618.25       623.75       620.625       2.375

So, I thought, maybe the table in DTV forums was wrong. What's 125 kHz between friends? Enough, it seems. The tuner found ABC at 620.625 MHz, but not at 620.250. It did find some signal, but not enough to identify the streams.

Somebody on IRC pointed me at w_scan, which, as I only later discovered, I had also tried last year. It failed last year, and it failed today. Today, though, I found out why: it has fixed assumptions about the channel frequencies, presumably those available in Germany (it's a German program). It really needs to be modified to use a table of frequencies. But that's more pain than I want to go to right now.

Also more playing around with the MySQL authentication issues, and in the end removed and reinstalled the entire package—and it worked! Did I somehow make a mess the last time round? Anyway, all I need to do now is to install a programme grabber and I can use it, after a fashion.


Topic: gardening, general, photography Link here

The kangaroos are back, though keeping their distance (about 30 metres). Took some photos with my Olympus 70-300 mm f/4-f/5.6 lens and my old Pentax thread Hanimex 300 mm f/5.5 lens and 3x teleconverter; I've been keeping the latter for such long shots, since the Olympus can't go beyond 300 mm. But I wonder if it's worth the trouble: the quality of the shots is much worse. On the one hand, the contrast is poor (probably due to the teleconverter), and focus and hand-holding is a real issue. Most importantly, though, it doesn't seem to give even as much detail over the Olympus lens. Here photos taken with the Hanimex (left) and Olympus (right). They all have a lighter-coloured band across the middle: that really exists—it's a fence wire in the foreground, and not any kind of problem with the processing. The first two are before optimization, the second two after, and the Olympus has been enlarged to match (the dreaded “digital zoom”):


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There really seems little reason to continue using the Hanimex.


Tuesday, 23 December 2008 Dereel
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Topic: photography Link here

Did a little more playing around with flimp this morning. The results weren't encouraging. I was able to load a JPEG file, but it showed an excerpt of it at full scale—in my case, this means about the top right 3% of the photo. Attempting to load a raw file caused a message on the starting terminal (nothing on the GUI):

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp3) ~/Photos/20081220/orig 35 -> flimp PC205591.ORF
fopen: No such file or directory
anytopnmpbmtext: A line of input text is longer than 624 characters.Cannot process.
 returned 0
fread1: No such file or directory

Possibly there's some way around this, but so far it doesn't fill me with confidence.


Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

More work with MythTV on cvr2, taking up much of the day. The next part of the ordeal was installing shepherd. That had taken a long time last time round, but fortunately things have improved since then. The instructions are OK, but I still found it worthwhile writing my own.

In the process, found where MythTV hides the frequencies for digital programmes: in dtv_multiplex.frequency, exactly where you'd expect. I wonder why I didn't find them earlier. I can only assume that I looked at some other time when the fields were empty; clearly it can't work without them.

The subsequent mythfilldatabase run took 2½ hours. While I was waiting, out in the garden and connected up the other end of the power connection to the garden shed which I had started on Sunday. That worked relatively well, except that I discovered that the circuit breaker I had bought was in fact just a switch, so I connected it to an existing RCD, at least temporarily. But when I turned on a low-power 11 W lamp, it tripped the RCD, reliably. I can't see anything wrong in my work or the materials, so I have to assume that the cross-talk along the power cable was tripping it. Connected to a normal circuit breaker and had no further problems. This isn't the first time I've had trouble with RCDs; sometimes I think they're more trouble than they're worth.

Also did a bit of tidying up in the garden, including a lot of trimming. Somehow I'm getting behind in this.

Back inside and tried recording something with cvr2. No luck:

2008-12-24 13:33:29.755 DVBChan(1:0) Warning: Your frequency setting (0) is out of range.  (min/max:174000000/862000000)
2008-12-24 13:33:29.783 DVBChan(1:0) Error: Tune(): Setting Frontend tuning parameters failed.
                        eno: Invalid argument (22)
2008-12-24 13:33:29.824 DVBChan(1:0) Error: SetChannelByString(2): Tuning to frequency.

What's that? Did a bit of googling and found relatively few hits, but one of them was very similar to mine: strangely, it's exactly the opposite of my “where does MythTV store the frequencies” issue: for some reason, dtv_multiplex.frequency was set to 0 in some cases. Why? This is still a book with seven seals.


Wednesday, 24 December 2008 Dereel Images for 24 December 2008
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Topic: general Link here

Christmas is here, and it started off well: a cheque in the mail for $1,690 from one of my investments, followed up by a call from Peter O'Connell with the information that he could sell one of my stocks and rebuy them for 20% less, thus getting another $1,280. The world economy may be in a real mess right now, but not everything is bad.

Christmas also meant that we spent much of today doing our Christmas cooking. Somehow I wasn't really in the mood today, and it dragged a bit.


Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Also more work on MythTV on cvr2, and fixed the frequencies in the dtv_multiplex table. Interestingly, those that had been found were not the same as the ones I had found to be optimal. In particular, is ABC 620.500 MHz or 620.625 MHz? I found that the latter works well, though it's not documented in many places, while the former is what you'd calculate from the frequency tables, and what MythTV set both on ceeveear and cvr2. Is this one of the reasons for the poor ABC reception that I had a couple of weeks ago, and which now seems to have improved?

To get this far meant first spending more time looking at the structure of the channel and dtv_multiplex tables. Finally I understand the relationships:

mysql> SELECT channel.chanid, channel.channum, channel.name, channel.sourceid,
    ->       dtv_multiplex.frequency, dtv_multiplex.mplexid,
    ->       channel.serviceid
    -> FROM channel, dtv_multiplex
    -> WHERE channel.mplexid = dtv_multiplex.mplexid
    -> AND channel.mplexid IS NOT NULL
    -> ORDER BY channel.name, xmltvid, channel.sourceid;
+--------+---------+-----------------+----------+-----------+---------+-----------+
| chanid | channum | name            | sourceid | frequency | mplexid | serviceid |
+--------+---------+-----------------+----------+-----------+---------+-----------+
|   2201 | 201     | ABC DiG Jazz    |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       695 |
|   2200 | 200     | ABC DiG Radio   |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       694 |
|   2020 | 20      | ABC HDTV        |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       688 |
|   2002 | 2       | ABC1            |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       689 |
|   2021 | 21      | ABC1            |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       691 |
|   2022 | 22      | ABC2            |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       690 |
|   2023 | 23      | ABC3            |        2 | 620625000 |       3 |       692 |
|   2006 | 6       | PRIME Ballarat  |        2 | 655500000 |      16 |      2382 |
|   2060 | 60      | PRIME HD        |        2 | 655500000 |      16 |      2400 |
|   2061 | 61      | PRIME View 1    |        2 | 655500000 |      16 |      2401 |
|   2062 | 62      | PRIME View 2    |        2 | 655500000 |      16 |      2402 |
|   2063 | 63      | PRIME View 3    |        2 | 655500000 |      16 |      2403 |
|   2003 | 3       | SBS             |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       849 |
|   2031 | 31      | SBS 2           |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       851 |
|   2030 | 30      | SBS HD          |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       848 |
|   2038 | 38      | SBS Radio 1     |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       862 |
|   2039 | 39      | SBS Radio 2     |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       863 |
|   2033 | 33      | SBS World News  |        2 | 634625000 |       9 |       850 |
|   2055 | 55      | SC Ten          |        2 | 613500000 |       2 |      2114 |
|   2005 | 5       | SC10 Ballarat   |        2 | 613500000 |       2 |      2050 |
|   2050 | 50      | SC10 HD         |        2 | 613500000 |       2 |      2082 |
|   2080 | 80      | WIN HD          |        2 | 592500000 |       1 |        10 |
|   2008 | 8       | WIN Western Vic |        2 | 592500000 |       1 |         1 |
+--------+---------+-----------------+----------+-----------+---------+-----------+

The important things here are mplexid, which associates several channel records in channel with a single transponder record in dtv_multiplex. Thus all the ABC channels are on mplexid 3, at a frequency of 620.625 MHz. I'm still trying to get my head around serviceid. You'd think it would be something like the video and audio PIDs in channels.conf, which for ABC HDTV looks like:

ABC HDTV:620625000:INVERSION_AUTO:BANDWIDTH_7_MHZ:FEC_3_4:FEC_AUTO:QAM_64:
TRANSMISSION_MODE_8K:GUARD_INTERVAL_1_16:HIERARCHY_NONE:516:0:688

I've found a for a nice documentation page for channels.conf, but unfortunately it doesn't match this file. It's clear, though, that the last value in channels.conf is the serviceid in the dtv_multiplex table. Is it a way of finding the others? I wish the documentation were more uniform.

The other obvious things in this table are channel ID and channel number, obviously related. You'd think that one would be enough.

After all that, did some recordings, which worked well for the most part. It seems that SC10 HD and WIN HD broadcast at least partially only trailers, but shepherd doesn't know that. I can see more problems before I finally get this machine running properly.


Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Chris over for dinner, and of course we ate far too much.


Thursday, 25 December 2008 Dereel Images for 25 December 2008
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Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Today was Christmas day, but it's seeming to be becoming less and less important. Spent a lot of time with MythTV on cvr2, and I think I've had enough for the while. At least I have most things working.

The big issue is still tuning. As documented in yesterday's entry, I think I understand it, but there seem to be two conflicting channels.conf files, the one docuumented and the one I get from dvbscan. Yesterday's example was:

ABC HDTV:620625000:INVERSION_AUTO:BANDWIDTH_7_MHZ:FEC_3_4:FEC_AUTO:QAM_64:
TRANSMISSION_MODE_8K:GUARD_INTERVAL_1_16:HIERARCHY_NONE:516:0:688

Of this, the only fields I can be sure about are:

I suppose I'm going to have to analyse the code further.

Some of the MythTV programs have new options. By default mythfilldatabase gets started from the crontab entry:

52 * * * * nice mythfilldatabase --graboptions '--daily'

It's not clear what that does, nor why so many punctuation characters, but when I took a look, there were about 20 processes apparently just hanging around, all started at 52 minutes after some hour. Fixed the crontab to perform the old behaviour.

I also couldn't get mythtranscode to work: it failed to connect to the database with silly messages:

Recoding 2020_20081225150000.mpg (2020_20081225150000.mpg-2020_20081225150000.mpg)
2008-12-25 11:18:47.449 New DB connection, total: 1
2008-12-25 11:18:47.467 Unable to connect to database!
2008-12-25 11:18:47.467 Driver error was [1/1045]:
QMYSQL3: Unable to connect
Database error was:
Access denied for user 'grog'@'localhost' (using password: YES)

QSqlQuery::exec: database not open
QSqlQuery::exec: database not open
2008-12-25 11:18:47.518 DB Error (KickDatabase):
Query was:
SELECT NULL;
No error type from QSqlError?  Strange...

2008-12-25 11:18:48.304 MythXMLClient::GetConnectionInfo Failed - (604) No Security Pin assigned. Run mythtv-setup to set one.
2008-12-25 11:18:48.304 Cannot login to database?

Cannot login to database?

Would you like to configure the database connection now? [yes]

I had seen this before and not understood it. Now I do. What this means is:

The real issue, though, is that I do have access to the database as grog. So why is mysqld denying the connection? With the help of strace I discovered:

open("/usr/share/mythtv/mysql.txt", O_RDONLY|O_LARGEFILE) = -1 EACCES (Permission denied)
open("/usr/etc/mythtv/mysql.txt", O_RDONLY|O_LARGEFILE) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
open("/home/grog/.mythtv/mysql.txt", O_RDONLY|O_LARGEFILE) = 3
read(3, "DBHostName=localhost

# By defau"..., 8191) = 1114
read(3, "", 8191)                       = 0
close(3)                                = 0
open("./mysql.txt", O_RDONLY|O_LARGEFILE) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)

This is only marginally in keeping with UNIX security: first it tries to open two different global password files, /usr/share/mythtv/mysql.txt and /usr/etc/mythtv/mysql.txt, but not the file /etc/mythtv/mysql.txt, which according to the instructions is the canonical name. When that fails, it finally does (marginally) the right thing and looks for /home/grog/.mythtv/mysql.txt, which somehow ended up there without my knowledge and most certainly without any useful documentation. And that file contained a random password, which of course didn't work.

Where did it come from? It seems to get created the first time any of these programs runs. On 26 April 2007 I noted:

2007-04-27 09:58:46.012 Unable to read configuration file mysql.txt
2007-04-27 09:58:46.012 Trying to create a basic mysql.txt file
2007-04-27 09:58:46.023 Writing settings file /home/grog/.mythtv/mysql.txt

The fact that it had just created it didn't stop it try to use the values, of course, and end up in the same mess as shown above.

About the only other thing I could handle was the number of duplicate entries in the programme listings, sometimes up to four of them. It proved that an earlier attempt to configure the tuners had left junk behind in the channel table with no corresponding information in the dtv_multiplex table. This information was also being presented in the programme information, though there would be no way to tune it. Added the following patch to /usr/share/mythtv/mythweb/modules/tv/includes/programs.php:

@@ -149,6 +149,8 @@
     // Loading a group of channels (probably all of them)
         else
             $query .= ' program.chanid IN ('.$these_channels.')';
+    /* grog: Don't list for phantom channels */
+        $query .= ' AND (channel.mplexid IS NOT NULL OR channel.freqid > 0)';
     // Requested start time is the same as the end time - don't bother with fancy calculations
         if ($start_time == $end_time)
             $query .= ' AND program.starttime = FROM_UNIXTIME('.$db->escape($start_time).')';

ABC HDTV       Channel name.
620625000       Transponder frequency, in this case in Hz. It can be Hz, kHz or MHz.
688       Service ID. I'm not 100% sure of this—I marked it as “requiring further documentation” in the dvbscan documentation—but it matches the info in the dtv_multiplex table.
Topic: general Link here

It's another week until we demolish the swallow's nest, and many have already left, but two remain. I thought it would be better to encourage them to leave rather than force them, so today I experimented with a plastic bag in the nest. They weren't happy:


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Topic: gardening Link here

Two months ago we bought various herbs, including a small pot of Borage. It's not small any more, and we had to replant it:


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Topic: general Link here

Chris along again for dinner to help us get rid of the turkey. This time we did take some silly photos:


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Friday, 26 December 2008 Dereel Images for 26 December 2008
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Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Mail from James Andrewartha today, pointing at a forum posting containing the interesting information:

DVB parameters vary from network to network. Centre frequencies are typically 2.25MHz above where the vision carrier would be if the channel was used for analogue. There is an allowance for +/- 125kHz to lessen interferrence from/with adjacent analogue channels.

That makes perfect sense, but it's a pity that it's not substantiated in text. At the very least you'd expect it to be documented on the broadcaster's web sites.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Bread baking today. I couldn't face the thought of spending $400 odd on a heavy duty mixer, so a few days ago I bought not one, but two devices from ALDI: a mixer that didn't look too bad, and another of the bread machines that I had already tried some months ago. I had already established that the “bread” that this machine (and all other bread machines I know) produced was not up to my expectations, but conceivably it would knead well and make reasonable dough.

The results were not what I expected. The bread machine failed the self test of its electronics, it would seem: 5 seconds or so after powering on, it started beeping continuously and displayed Err in the display. This particular device comes with an almost worthwhile instruction book, including a whole page of “Troubleshooting” with a number of problems, all of which assumed that the system actually worked. Called up the support number, but after 40 minutes on hold decided I had better things to do.

The next was the mixer. It's misnamed: after 10 minutes (maximum time before you have to turn it off to cool down for 15 minutes), all I had was:


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Dragged out an old Krups mixer that I had considered too weak to knead bread dough. It produced far better results in a minute or two, after which it proved my consideration and overheated. Over to Chris and borrowed her mixer, which did the job. What a pain!


Topic: general, opinion Link here

ALDI: “Our stringent quality control standards”

Those weren't the only things we bought from ALDI. Today Yvonne returned with two wireless door chimes and two digital power switch timers. The chimes didn't look too bad: for $15 you get a transmitter (door push) and a chime. It worked out of the box, it worked at the range I needed, it made enough noise, and I was able to find a melody that wasn't too emetic. About the only thing it wouldn't do was to listen to two different buttons at the same time. I think one button would have served two receivers, but it proved not to be necessary. So the second one can go back unopened.

That was the theory, anyway. Just before we went to bed, the receiver started ringing continuously, and wouldn't stop until I removed the batteries. Nothing else would shut it up, and it continued as soon as I replaced the batteries. I suppose I should be happy that it didn't happen in the middle of the night.

The digital power switch timers were a different matter. They include batteries to maintain the timer when main power is not connected. But when I opened the battery compartment to put in the batteries, what did I see?


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No contacts? There are slits on the right where the contacts should go, but there are none. Opened the other one—exactly the same thing. It wasn't until I put them back together that I saw the cover of the battery compartment:


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I've never seen the contacts in the cover before, and it doesn't seem to make any sense; it's confusing, introduces two more contacts, and it's easy to bend the pins.

After that, the thing still didn't work: all segments of the display came on and stayed on. It proved that there's a reset button, and pressing that made the thing come to its senses. It remains to be seen whether it will work properly.


Topic: gardening Link here

The borage plant that we transplanted yesterday was not very happy about the matter. Yvonne had chosen a place which wasn't covered by the garden irrigation, and the weather was quite warm, about 30°. By mid-afternoon the plant was looking spectacularly unhappy. Watered it thoroughly—I expect it will pick up.


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Spent some time putting in more irrigation. Also checked the pump water filter: there's a certain amount of grit in there. Hopefully it won't continue: modern pumps don't like that much.


Saturday, 27 December 2008 Dereel Images for 27 December 2008
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Topic: gardening Link here

Our borage has recovered remarkably quickly:


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Topic: general Link here

We had bought two of the ALDI door chimes, so today opened the other packet—the one that I had intended to send back unopened. It worked—up to a range of about 15 metres, not nearly enough. The other one had worked at at least 30 metres. So both go back, and I'll look for something that I can rely on. I've known for some time that ALDI's quality is variable, but I fear it's becoming more constantly bad lately.


Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We had intended to make empanadas de horno today, after Yvonne had seen a recipe in SBS Food Safari. That wasn't enough, though. In Australia they use bad language, so we can't be sure what this means:

quantity       ingredient       step
1 kilo       of minced beef (choose mince that includes some meat fat)       1
180-200g       chopped shallots       1
180-200g       brown onions       1

Do they really mean shallots, or have they succumbed to the marketing stupidity and used the word “shallot” to refer to spring onions? There's no way to tell here. Added a comment (which claimed to have been posted at 04:33, which it most certainly was not). I wonder if anybody will do anything about it. They certainly didn't moderate it.

The real issue, though, is the dough. The SBS recipe cops out and says “short crust pastry”. The recipe I had in my old Time-Life book, which is usually pretty reliable, wanted 200 g of flour and 250 + 30 g of butter, which seems excessive, especially since they didn't say what to do with the 30 g. Went off looking for other recipes, but found nothing convincing, and lots of cups. How much does a cup of flour weigh? I suppose I should weigh one. In the end gave up in frustration.


Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Also spent more time looking at TV broadcast frequencies. First ran a series of tests with both of the tuners on cvr2 at three frequencies: the one in the “Australian channel table” that MythTV uses, then offset by 125 kHz in either direction. The results were interesting:

Peter Jeremy expressed doubt that the frequency offsets are exactly +125 kHz, and he has every justification. He came up with official information for every broadcast tower in Australia (including, interestingly, the mobile phone towers). Took a look at the information for Lookout Hill, which showed that it has 74 assigned frequencies, including the ABC digital TV channel at 620.6250000 MHz—exactly the frequency I had come up with. Things aren't as clear for Southern Cross, with 613.5 MHz: I measured 613.625 MHz, and the AVerTV card didn't find anything at 613.5 MHz. The same applies to WIN. What's the truth? About all I can say with confidence is that the frequencies at Lookout Hill are either not offset, or they're offset by +125 kHz.

The new MythWeb has a very different layout on some pages. In particular, on the “recorded programmes” page there's a link to file names like http://cvr2.lemis.com/mythweb/pl/stream/2022/1230361980.asx. Selecting this in the browser brings up the usual firefox pain:

 
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How I hate this interface! After waiting for it to scrub through the file system hierarchies, one directory at a time, I finally managed to enter /usr/local/bin/mplayer—after about 30 seconds of wasted time—and selected the “Do this automatically for files like this from now on”. After pressing “OK”, a little “Downloads Complete” message popped up from the bottom of the display—and that was all. A second click on the icon started everything from the beginning, including having to choose the helper application all over again. Clearly something has gone wrong, but what? And why do these brain-dead browsers all refuse to report errors?

Did a bit of experimentation without firefox, and nothing useful happened:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 14 -> mplayer http://cvr2.lemis.com/mythweb/pl/stream/2020/1230362820.asx

Playing http://cvr2.lemis.com/mythweb/pl/stream/2020/1230362820.asx.
Resolving cvr2.lemis.com for AF_INET...
Connecting to server cvr2.lemis.com[192.109.197.178]: 80...
STREAM_ASF, URL: http://cvr2.lemis.com/mythweb/pl/stream/2020/1230362820.asx
Resolving cvr2.lemis.com for AF_INET...
Connecting to server cvr2.lemis.com[192.109.197.178]: 80...
size_confirm mismatch!: 22611 28271
Error while parsing chunk header
Failed, exiting.
Resolving cvr2.lemis.com for AF_INET...
Connecting to server cvr2.lemis.com[192.109.197.178]: 80...
Cache size set to 320 KBytes
Cache fill:  0.08% (268 bytes)

Exiting... (End of file)

That looks like three different programs doing something, or maybe two with an unnecessary DNS lookup. With a bit of googling, found lots of irrelevant information, along with one that offered a workaround:

Adding the "-playlist" option seems to help but not sure why firefox doesn't do that automatically.

I can offer him several good reasons why firefox doesn't do that automatically: firstly, it's a workaround, not a solution, secondly it's not up to firefox to understand the options needed by helper programs, and even if it were, firefox would probably stuff it up.

See below about the discussion of workaround or solution.

Tried this workaround, which worked standalone—it's interesting that the “size_confirm mismatch!” has the same values, which look like problems analysing the header. firefox still refused. More investigation needed.


Sunday, 28 December 2008 Dereel Images for 28 December 2008
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Topic: gardening Link here

We must live far enough away from big towns that we don't get much in the way of pests in the garden, if you exclude the kangaroos. But today we found some strange insects in some of the few roses currently in bloom:


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Yvonne came up with some ancient pyrethrum spray, which she had used for the Hibiscus in Wantadilla. I had my doubts at to whether it would work, but it was surprisingly effective, killing them in minutes. So far we haven't seen these insects elsewhere, but clearly we'll have to keep our eyes open.

The garden is looking quite happy, but surprisingly few things are in bloom. We had a sudden explosion of rose blossom about 6 weeks ago, and then they all died off and for a while nothing came. They're not sick: we're getting more buds now, and in a few weeks I'm expecting more flowers. But why the pause? We've also seen this in the Osteospermum and the Salvias, usually reliable bloomers. Are we still not giving them enough water? By contrast, it's nice to see that our Hibbertia scandens are finally blooming, even if they haven't grown much:


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Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Spent more time trying to work out how to view MythTV streams via firefox, with only limited success. With the help of hexdump, established that the file that is transferred is not the stream itself; it's a description file, and the file name is one of these horrible things with spaces and special characters in it:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~/Photos/20081224 20 -> cat /tmp/McLeod's Daughters-Damned.asx
grog@dereel ~/Photos/20081224 520 ++ ^C
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~/Photos/20081224 20 -> cat /tmp/McLeod\'s Daughters-Damned.asx
cat: /tmp/McLeod's: No such file or directory
cat: Daughters-Damned.asx: No such file or directory
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~/Photos/20081224 21 -> cat '/tmp/McLeod\'s Daughters-Damned.asx'
grog@dereel ~/Photos/20081224 522 ++ ^C
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~/Photos/20081224 21 -> cat '/tmp/McLeod's Daughters-Damned.asx'
grog@dereel ~/Photos/20081224 523 ++ ^C
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~/Photos/20081224 21 -> cat "/tmp/McLeod's Daughters-Damned.asx"
<ASX version = "3.0">
<TITLE>McLeod's Daughters</TITLE>
<ENTRY>
<TITLE>McLeod's Daughters - Damned</TITLE>
<AUTHOR>MythTV - MythWeb</AUTHOR>
<COPYRIGHT>GPL</COPYRIGHT>
<REF HREF = "http://cvr2.lemis.com:80/mythweb/pl/stream/2008/1230374400" />
</ENTRY>
</ASX>

I could have saved myself some work (and an incorrect judgement) if I had read the mplayer man page:

       -playlist <filename>
              Play files according to a playlist file (ASX, Winamp,  SMIL,  or
              one-file-per-line format).

So it's not a bug that mplayer requires  -playlist to display this stream: it's a feature.

This horrible file name was at least one reason why I couldn't display the stream even when I set -playlist. firefox is too stupid to handle parameters to a helper application, so I had written a one-line script to do it:

mplayer -playlist $*

That didn't work, of course, because $* expanded to multiple names. Used the alternative, with which I suppose I'm going to have to become accustomed:

mplayer -playlist "$@"

I just wish I didn't have to. But this worked—once.

The next time round, firefox gave me the run-around again:

 
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Why? Spent some time looking in the file aptly named ~/.mozilla/firefox/7v0n6ir5.horrible_broken_firefox_with_no_understanding_of_UNIX/mimeTypes.rdf, and confirmed that the entry was there. So why doesn't it use it? This is all too difficult.

All this was on the FreeBSD port of firefox 3.0.4. Tried on cvr2 (Ubuntu 8.10) and it recognized the format out of the box, tried to play it with Totem Movie Player, which failed with much python vomiting in the background and a typically “modern” error message in the foreground:

 
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Tried with my mplayer script, and it worked. But it still asks every time, even though I've told it to do it automatically. This software is such a pain!


Topic: food and drink Link here

Yvonne decided to save me the agony of guessing what the authors of the recipes had really meant and made the empanadas de horno herself, using the Time-Life recipe. It confirmed my suspicions: after mixing the specified 200 g of wheat flour and 250 g of butter, she had to add another 200 g or so of wheat flour to get anything close to a dough. Why are recipes all so inaccurate? But the results didn't taste bad.


Monday, 29 December 2008 Dereel Images for 29 December 2008
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Topic: general, technology, photography Link here

This diary is getting bigger. As I write this, the month-to-date file for December 2008 is nearly 5 times the size of the diary for December 2000, and I'm now including photos—88 of them so far—while in 2000 there were none:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp0) ~/public_html 231 -> l diary-dec200[08]*
-r--r--r--  1 grog  lemis   37584 Dec 30 10:32 diary-dec2000.php
-r--r--r--  1 grog  lemis  152783 Dec 29 11:45 diary-dec2008.php
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp0) ~/public_html 232 -> wc -l diary-dec200[08]*
     770 diary-dec2000.php
    3353 diary-dec2008.php
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp0) ~/public_html 233 -> for m in diary-dec200[08]*; do grep showphoto $m | wc -l; done
       0
      88

One problem here is the way I present the photos: the standard view is “thumbnails”. Click on one and they all get larger. That didn't seem to be an issue initially, but with 88 photos the result can take a minute to load, and people like Peter Jeremy have started complaining. So I spent some time today thinking “aloud” (i.e. in an editor) of ways to make only some of the photos get larger. One of the big issues is HTML, of course, and the difficulty of sending state from one page to the next. Ultimately didn't achieve anything, though I suppose I now understand the problem better.


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

My first invoice from American Express arrived a couple of days ago, and today I tried to follow up their instructions to set up direct debit. They were not successful:


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Diary entry for Monday, 29 December 2008

 

To judge by the text, “this happens”. Contrary to the expressed expectation, it was repeatable, and each time I had to reenter all data. Yet another example of the “State of the art”.


Topic: gardening Link here

A bit of work in the garden—I wonder why I'm so lazy lately. I really need to sort out the compost heaps, but after knocking a couple of poles into the ground, put off the rest to some other time.


Tuesday, 30 December 2008 Dereel
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Beetles, compost, irrigation and raspberries
Topic: gardening Link here

Mail from Michael Hughes today:

The bug in the pictures looks a lot like a Japanese beetle. We have seen them the last couple of years here in Missouri (USA). They are pretty nasty bugs, they eat just about anything. I'm not sure if they have made it to Australia.

Took a look and found a Wikipedia article. There's another article about a beetle that's native to Australia, and which should be greener (the photo on that page doesn't show it, but the one in the link does), but I don't think it's that one either. In particular, mine are longer in proportion to the width, and the head is larger in proportion to the body. The only photos I have to go on are selections from the original photos, which don't show the beetles very clearly:

 
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Clearly I should have taken closer photos. But I fear we haven't seen the end of them, so there's still time.

Spent more time on my photo magnification code, and got it finished. Now I can select photos to enlarge or shrink individually. The problem was how to pass the information about the current size of the photos, since the PHP code didn't know about the photos still to come when it generated the code for any one photo. I solved that issue by having a “default” size: when generating the HTML for any one photo, the code knows about all photos that have occurred so far, and can specify their sizes and pass them to the new page. Thus the new page knows about all the photos that are not “tiny”, so any it doesn't know about must be “tiny”. I wish this weren't such a mess.

Also finally got our compost heap “finished” and full of the compost materials that we had been keeping elsewhere:


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It's not really finished, of course; I'm planning two further bays to the right, and one day I'll complete the job; but that will require moving the electric fence device, and there are plenty of things to do on the other side of the wall first.

It's interesting, though, to think about compost: my main intention is to get rid of garden waste. I bought a book on the subject a couple of months ago, but it seemed to have a different aim, to make “perfect” compost. In particular it expected about a cubic metre of material at a time, a thing that I can't do. The alternative it offered was a worm farm, on which I wasted too much money two months ago: the worm farm suffers from the opposite problem. So far it has consumed about 2 kg of waste.

So my idea is to put in anything that will decay, sooner or later. Well, tree trunks will decay too, but not sooner, possibly not in my lifetime. But what about small twigs? We have plenty of them, and they might decay in a year or two. Clearly I need a way to separate the stuff that composts quickly from the stuff that composts slowly, but also to ensure that things compost more evenly: while moving the old heap, it also became clear that my idea of allowing air at the sides was bad: it allowed the heap to dry out and thus not rot.

Now that things are moving again, laid some more irrigation pipes and finally planted the raspberries that Max gave me for my birthday. They're not looking happy, but I think they'll survive, and we should get some berries next year. Yvonne also planted the bottlebrushes that Max brought; hopefully they'll be of the size we expect, about 1.5 metres high.


Topic: technology, opinion, general Link here

Credit card security, continued

Called up American Express about the direct debit arrangement today, speaking to <mumble>, whose name proved, after multiple requests, to be Renee. She told me, after checking, that they had “issues” with their web site, and sounded rather relieved when I asked her to send me a form. But first she needed to ask some “security questions”.

Security questions to send a form? What breach of security could that entail? Still, I was interested to know what security questions she would answer, and not surprised that they constituted no security whatsoever—anybody who knows me, including just about all people reading this diary, could have answered them: “What is your full address, including post code?” and “What is the name of the supplementary card holder?”. About the only thing that stops anybody reading this diary from abusing my credit card is quite simply the number.


Wednesday, 31 December 2008 Dereel Images for 31 December 2008
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Topic: photography Link here

It's been over a year since I bought my Epson “Perfection” 4990 scanner, and I haven't really scanned in many old negatives. A number of reasons have contributed: I had other things to do, it proves to be quite difficult to get the negatives clean, the software is horrible, and the documentation non-existent. In particular, this scanner has a 48 bit mode, and you can set it to use it, but it stores the result in a JPEG file, a total of 24 bits, and I can't find a way to change it.

Went looking on Google and found a surprising number of offers for downloads of free copies of commercial software, many of them going through http://3d2f.com/, and not leading anywhere useful. Other links showed that SilverFast is very much commercial software, and there's no indication that it does any better than the software supplied with the scanner. Maybe I should try SANE again, but it's so painful.


Topic: gardening Link here

My citrus trees are still not very happy, particularly the grapefruit, though it has managed to get a couple of new shoots:


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So maybe the main problem is that the leaves are being eaten by something, and if I transplant it and spray it, it might yet survive. At least the Kaffir Lime is looking better, and has now developed a bud:


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Topic: general Link here

Chris around for dinner tonight, along with a bottle of Sekt—Henkell Trocken which, despite the name, was too sweet for our liking. We decided that the obvious time to celebrate the New Year was when it started internationally, somewhere just west of the date line; we chose the time in Kiritimati:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypa) ~ 200 -> TZ=Pacific/Kiritimati date -r 1230717600
Thu Jan  1 00:00:00 LINT 2009
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypa) ~ 201 -> date -r 1230717600
Wed Dec 31 21:00:00 EST 2008

To our surprise, Chris and I managed to stay awake until midnight our time, which we spent on the verandah—13°!


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