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December 2011
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Thursday, 1 December 2011 Dereel Images for 1 December 2011
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To the doctor, yet again
Topic: general Link here

Off to Ballarat today to hear the results of the tests I had done last week. Everything OK; but the cough is still there. It seems to be completely out of the ordinary. And the rash on my leg hasn't responded to any kind of treatment. I'll go back on Monday and have (another) punch biopsy.


The lunatic fringe wakes up
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It would have been too much to expect that the new NBN tower would get erected without a fuss. Wendy McClelland is up on her hind legs again, and has distributed another set of fliers (though not to me) warning of the “microwave radiation tower”, and again naming the owners of the property. It's very low on content, even less so than earlier ones; apart from the facts (the NBN will be giving information sessions), the only statement of any relevance is:

...and have connections to it by pulsing microwave radiation out at the people which radiates us all.

The mind boggles. I have no idea what she means. But then, she probably doesn't either. Apart from that, it's clear that she is running out of material: most of the flyer is identical with the flyer she sent out complaining about her misunderstanding of my tower maps 8 months ago:


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Still, she'll annoy us. Spent some time gathering information to update my documentation of the issue, including collecting all the fliers that Wendy has distributed over the years. I still need to rearrange the analyses that I have done of most of them.


Replanting
Topic: gardening Link here

Didn't get round to much work in the garden, but benefited from the current cool weather and transplanted a couple of plants: the small Alstroemeria stapricamil “Camilla” that we bought a year ago and planted in the middle of the garden. It had proved to be too small for the location, and it's now next to the Strelitzia reginae further forward. In the process it lost a number of stems. I don't think that will be a problem:


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Also moved the Strobilanthes “Goldfussia” to where the Alstroemeria had been. It's looking decidedly less happy. Let's hope that the new location will suit it better:


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Friday, 2 December 2011 Dereel Images for 2 December 2011
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USB and eSATA: more pain
Topic: technology Link here

Started a routine backup of my photos today. I back up to an external disk, which should be connected by eSATA, but I've had trouble with that: hot plug doesn't seem to work The disks also have USB interfaces (of course), but I've had trouble with that too. So until I sort out the eSATA hot plug issues, I've been backing up to a system where I don't care so much if the system crashes. Currently that's Yvonne's system, lagoon.

But today things didn't work as expected:

Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: <ST2000DL 003-9VT166 > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: ugen1.2: <Sunplus Technology Co.,Ltd.> at usbus1 (disconnected)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: umass0: at uhub1, port 1, addr 2 (disconnected)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): AutoSense failed
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: GEOM: da0: the secondary GPT table is corrupt or invalid.
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: GEOM: da0: using the primary only -- recovery suggested.
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Synchronize cache failed, status == 0xa, scsi status == 0x0
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): lost device
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): removing device entry

That's not one serious error: it's two. First, the GPT table is corrupt, suggesting wide-ranging corruption on the whole (2 TB) disk. And secondly, the USB interface didn't work. That raises several questions: What has gone wrong? What component has failed? How do I recover? Can I trust the remaining data on the disk?

The easiest thing to check was the USB interface to lagoon. Took the disk to teevee, the lounge room computer, and tried there:

Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: ugen1.2: <Sunplus Technology Co.,Ltd.> at usbus1
Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: umass0: <Bulk Only Interface> on usbus1
Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: umass0:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x0000
Dec  2 11:23:45 teevee kernel: umass0:3:0:-1: Attached to scbus3
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus3 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: <ST2000DL 003-9VT166 > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029043 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: GEOM: da0: corrupt or invalid GPT detected.
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: GEOM: da0: GPT rejected -- may not be recoverable.

At least this one didn't have any USB problems. But that just managed to show me more problems with the GPT, and it didn't create the /dev/da0p1 that I needed to look at the partition. gpart didn't recognize any GEOM: the disk was somehow dead in the water. I was able to dump the initial sectors of the disk, and they seemed to contain valid data, but I don't understand the format completely.

So was it maybe the USB interface? The enclosure has an eSATA interface too, but my eSATA card was in defake, which I had lent to Chris Yeardley. But Chris was finished with defake, so went to her place and picked it up, bringing the second backup disk while I was at it. And when I put that in lagoon, things worked as expected:

Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: ugen1.2: <ST> at usbus1
Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: umass0: <ST ST2000DL003-9VT1, class 0/0, rev 2.00/3.00, addr 2> on usbus1
Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: umass0:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x0000
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: umass0:0:0:-1: Attached to scbus0
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: <ST ST2000DL003-9VT1 3.00> Fixed Direct Access SCSI-4 device
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)

So: whatever it was, it had to do with the specific disk. The two disks are identical, but the probe messages differ. Checked the geometry:

=>        34  3907029101  da0  GPT  (1.8T)
          34  3907029101    1  freebsd-ufs  (1.8T)

That should be identical for both disks, so if all else failed I could copy the first 34 sectors from one to the other. But first I wanted to check the eSATA interface, which meant bringing up defake. That wasn't helped by the fact that I had done some undocumented changes to the config when I gave it to Chris, including changing the root password to something I now forget. Finally got it reconfigured, connected the disk via eSATA, and—nothing. The system didn't see it. Tried the other disk:

Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0 at siisch0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: <ST2000DL003-9VT166 CC32> ATA-8 SATA 3.x device
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)

Hot plug works! Could it be that I only ever tried hot-plugging with the other disk? But I wasn't completely free of problems. When I tried mounting it, I got the dreaded

Dec  2 13:44:35 defake kernel: WARNING: R/W mount of /photobackup denied.  Filesystem is not clean - run fsck

Why is that? I've seen too many of them. Is it some issue with writes to the disk not completing before umount? fsck worked fine with no problems, but it's still disturbing.

In any case, it's now clear beyond any doubt that the original problem was in the disk or its USB/eSATA adapter. Took it out of the case, put it into defake, rebooted, and:

Dec  2 14:17:13 defake kernel: ad10: 1907729MB <ST2000DL003 9VT166 CC32> at ata5-master UDMA100 SATA 1.5Gb/s

And the disk did not require fsck. So the problem was with the enclosure and its minimal electronics. Left the disk in defake, and I'll leave it there until I can get another one, probably next week.


More TV recoding errors
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I've been following the TV reception problems for some months now. I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that there are several issues, few of which are related to my hardware (which is what I originally thought). In particular, there are some recurrent programmes that consistently fail, while others record well. Many recordings are fine most of the way, and then suddenly fail catastrophically, and it seems to be at least somewhat related to date and time. All this points to some kind of interference. At some point I'll move the information to a database and do some analysis.

But things aren't that simple. If it's interference, it's strongly dependent on the frequency. Last night I had:

Programme       Date       Start       End                   Daisy chain       File       Number of
name             time       time       Channel       Tuner       position       size (GB)       recoding errors
Mickey Blue Eyes       1 December 2011       20:27:02.732       23:05:00.488       2080 (GEM)       2       1       12       0
In Her Shoes       1 December 2011       20:27:02.999       23:50:00.610       2006 (PRIME7)       1       3       5.7       11, died at start

Those two recordings started at (almost) exactly the same time, yet one had no problems, and the other was uselessly mutilated. What causes that? I suppose it could be interference on some specific frequency, but I would have expected interference to be less specific than that.


A new view of the origins of Unix
Topic: technology, history Link here

Warren Toomey has written an article entitled “The strange birth and long life of Unix”. It's good reading, and it gave me an insight that I didn't have before. I know Warren has researched this stuff carefully, and even apart from that it also has a ring of authenticity about it. An excellent addition to the collection of Unix history.


More garden rearrangement
Topic: gardening Link here

My work in the middle east garden stopped for an unusual reason: I found it difficult to tear out all the strawberries that were growing there. We had eaten some of the ones I picked a couple of days ago, and they didn't taste bad. So, as planned, finally got round to putting the old wash trough on the north verandah, not helped by a Jacky dragon who was in the area and didn't want to move:


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It later became clear that this wasn't a Jacky Dragon at all, but a Blue-tongued lizard.

I know that they tend to freeze when threatened, but I had thought that if I pushed him with the handle of a garden fork (in the photos), he would go away. Not so. We left him and attended to another issue, what to do with the pot that had contained the mini-pond on the east verandah. After finishing the real pond, it was somewhat superfluous. After some discussion, put it in the Japanese Garden:


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Then back to the trough. The dragon was gone, and with some difficulty we moved it to the west end of the verandah, filled it with soil, and Yvonne planted the strawberries:


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Strangely, there don't seem to be any fewer plants in the east garden. I suppose I should start a giveaway action.


Saturday, 3 December 2011 Dereel Images for 3 December 2011
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More panorama problems
Topic: photography Link here

House photos again today. Most went smoothly enough, but I'm still playing around with the lighting of the verandah panorama. Apart from the fact that 24 full-power flashes don't do the flash unit much good, they don't always do the picture quality much good either. I end up with overexposed areas like this, taken 2 weeks ago:


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So last week I tried using TTL flash. That has the advantage that the illumination is more even, but I take three images of each view, and I only want a flash on the first one. That works with a full-power flash, since the flash unit then takes a couple of seconds to recover. But with TTL, it only uses a fraction of the power, and it's quite happy to fire on all three images. So I need to take one image, turn unit off, take the other two, turn on again, reposition, repeat. It's not easy, and I made a couple of mistakes. But then something strange happened: the camera forgot its sequences. This looks like something I saw a couple of days ago. In this case, it missed one of the brackets:

PC039039.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 1
PC039040.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039041.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3
PC039042.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039043.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3
PC039044.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 1
PC039045.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039046.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3

Looking back at the sunset photos I processed last Wednesday, that proved to be a completely different issue: I had numbered the photos incorrectly. But what made the camera drop a sequence here?

As a result, I only took flash photos of the lower row. I think that's a mistake. Here the last three panoramas: two weeks ago, full flash; one week ago, TTL flash on all images (except the zenith, for which I never use flash); and today, TTL flash on the lower row only:


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Today's wasn't the best; I do need to use flash for the upper row as well. But is there more to it than that?

As if that wasn't enough, I had another subject: my office is in a filthy mess, and it's time to tidy it up. First, though, some “before” photos—a panorama, of course. That's not the easiest, due to the extreme perspective issues, and the resultant panorama didn't want to fit at all. Tried an incremental approach, like I did in August, but didn't get beyond the lower row, and that with enormous errors, particularly round the 3rd of the 5 monitors:


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Why do I do these things?


Instant cannelloni
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Cannelloni have been on our menu for decades. The recipe we use comes from Time-Life's “Die Küche in Italien”, a German translation of a book published in 1968, which I've had for about 35 years. It goes into some detail to explain how to make the tubes out of pasta fresca, but that's a lot of work, and nowadays you can buy “no-cook” tubes.

That's what we did today—San Remo cannelloni tubes. The result: terrible. You need much more liquid to cook the tubes, but this particular one seems to be particularly bad. It wasn't as if the pasta was just uncooked; it tasted like glue. Possibly it would have been better with even more water, but there's no warning on the packet, and I'm not convinced. For the moment, at any rate, it's a brand to avoid.


Sunday, 4 December 2011 Dereel Images for 4 December 2011
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Power: failed or not?
Topic: general Link here

Power failure this morning at 0:41. Or was there? My radio alarm clock in the bed lost power, but nothing else seems to have done so. This is clearly not the 2 second “autorecloser” style power failure.


More radio and TV reception problems
Topic: general Link here

Despite the power failure, turned the radio on at 7:00 this morning and heard—noise. There was almost no signal to be heard. It went on all morning until it finally recovered. And I also had no less than three TV recordings that were completely useless—one, which should have been about 5 GB, recorded only 4.9 MB of nothing recognizable. All the more reason to believe interference or transmitter problems.


Strange weather for summer
Topic: general, opinion, technology Link here

Since writing my weather station software, now a couple of years ago, I've been continually monitoring the results for errors. So this one caught my eye today:

5 days temperatures

On checking, though, it's correct. The highest temperature of the last 5 days was 23.9°, at 0:53 on 30 November 2011. I'm continually amazed how variable the day's temperatures are.


New proteas
Topic: gardening Link here

Yvonne and Chris visited Lisa Graber today to have a horse covered, and Yvonne came back with a number of plants: a number of Buddleja davidii seedlings, a Betula pendulis birch tree—just what we're trying to get rid of, except that this one has been trained as a bonsai plant, and some large Protea flowers:


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Yvonne didn't know Proteas before, and she's quite taken with them. Doubtless we'll have some soon.


Removing strawberries
Topic: gardening, technology Link here

More work on the middle of the eastern garden today. Planted a number of bulbs, I think Hippeastrum, in what was once bed number 2, and set to to remove the remaining strawberry plants, which proved to be carrying a significant number of worm-eaten fruit. I must have collected 50 plants of various sizes, and there are still a number to be done. Sent out a message on Freecycle, which their software showed (almost) correctly in the preview window and then wrapped unappetizingly in the final post.


Monday, 5 December 2011 Dereel Images for 5 December 2011
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Another disk crash
Topic: technology Link here

Coming into the office this morning, the first thing I noticed was the disk access light on dereel: full intensity. The system was still running, but further investigation showed that the disk subsystem had hung itself up again. The log files showed a similar problem to the one I had last month:

Dec  4 21:24:38 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 19
Dec  4 21:24:38 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00080000 ss 00000000 rs 00080000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:25:37 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 27
Dec  4 21:25:37 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 08000000 ss 00000000 rs 08000000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:27:35 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 8
Dec  4 21:27:35 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000100 ss 00000000 rs 00000100 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:28:41 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 24
Dec  4 21:28:41 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 01000000 ss 00000000 rs 01000000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:29:40 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 21
Dec  4 21:29:40 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00200000 ss 00000000 rs 00200000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:32:03 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 7
Dec  4 21:32:03 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000080 ss 00000000 rs 00000080 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: REDZONE: Buffer overflow detected. 4 bytes corrupted after 0xcb38f900 (128 bytes allocated).
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: Allocation backtrace:
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #0 0xc0b4ad8a at redzone_setup+0x3a
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #1 0xc08cdd40 at malloc+0x100
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #2 0xc049e6d4 at camq_resize+0x34
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #3 0xc049e766 at cam_ccbq_resize+0x36
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #4 0xc04a0427 at xpt_dev_ccbq_resize+0x37
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #5 0xc04a059d at xpt_start_tags+0x6d
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #6 0xc04a7442 at probedone+0x822
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #7 0xc04a3f31 at camisr_runqueue+0x2e1
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #8 0xc04a408f at camisr+0x13f
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #9 0xc08b737b at intr_event_execute_handlers+0x13b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #10 0xc08b8a3b at ithread_loop+0x6b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #11 0xc08b3eba at fork_exit+0xca
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #12 0xc0c15f64 at fork_trampoline+0x8
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: Free backtrace:
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #0 0xc0b4ad19 at redzone_check+0x179
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #1 0xc08cda88 at free+0x38
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #2 0xc049e712 at camq_resize+0x72
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #3 0xc049e766 at cam_ccbq_resize+0x36
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #4 0xc04a0427 at xpt_dev_ccbq_resize+0x37
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #5 0xc04a059d at xpt_start_tags+0x6d
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #6 0xc04a7442 at probedone+0x822
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #7 0xc04a3f31 at camisr_runqueue+0x2e1
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #8 0xc04a408f at camisr+0x13f
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #9 0xc08b737b at intr_event_execute_handlers+0x13b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #10 0xc08b8a3b at ithread_loop+0x6b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #11 0xc08b3eba at fork_exit+0xca
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #12 0xc0c15f64 at fork_trampoline+0x8

Once again it repeated itself with different slot numbers, along with essentially the same backtrace:

Dec  4 21:33:22 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 12
Dec  4 21:33:22 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00001000 ss 00000000 rs 00001000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:33:54 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 3
Dec  4 21:33:54 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000008 ss 00000000 rs 00000008 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:34:51 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 20
Dec  4 21:34:51 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00100000 ss 00000000 rs 00100000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000

So: what is it? Everything points to the disk controller rather than to the disk—amusingly like my issues with USB disks a few days ago. I had a spare controller, so moved the disk to it:

Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2 at ahcich2 bus 0 scbus2 target 0 lun 0
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: <SAMSUNG HD103SJ 1AJ10001> ATA-8 SATA 2.x device
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: Command Queueing enabled
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: 953869MB (1953525168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)
...
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2 at ahcich3 bus 0 scbus3 target 0 lun 0
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: <SAMSUNG HD103SJ 1AJ10001> ATA-8 SATA 2.x device
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: Command Queueing enabled
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: 953869MB (1953525168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)

We'll see if that works around the problem.


To the doctor again
Topic: general Link here

Into town to have a biopsy done on the rash on my leg. In the end it wasn't a punch biopsy after all—not surprisingly, since it's directly on my shin—but a scraping (I think that's the term she used). And afterwards I had to wait 20 minutes with a heavy bandage round my leg before I was allowed to walk, and I need to keep it bandaged for a few days, a far cry from what normally happens when I cut myself.


More new plants
Topic: gardening Link here

While in town, dropped in at Formosa Gardens to look for a Protea for Yvonne. Found a Protea cynaroides “King White”, and also an Echium candicans “Pride of Madeira”—the latter seems to be less a cultivar name than the common name for the species.

Back home, and exceptionally managed to plant both of them within a couple of hours. Put the Protea in the eastern (dry) bed, not far from the Leucospermum cordifolium. The branches are quite long already, and it's pretty windy there, so I was concerned that they might break off. But it's too big for the plastic wind protection tents that we have, so ended up cutting part of the ALDI toy greenhouse that David Yeardley gave me some months ago and wrapping it round some bamboo stakes. The results are more interesting than pretty, but I suppose it'll do the trick:


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Put the Echium in the north bed, which required significant removal of ground cover:


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Only later did I read the Wikipedia page for Echium candicans:

In the state of Victoria, Australia, it is considered to be a high weed risk and an alert has been posted by the Department of Primary Industries.

I suppose it can't be that bad if they're offered for sale here.


Fewer old plants
Topic: gardening Link here

Madeline (I think) was the first person to come and pick up our giveaway plants. It's amazing how many things we were able to give her, including stuff that wasn't on the list, such as Viola tricolor and Tropaeolum, both plants that reproduce like fury. I hope she's happy with it all.


More network issues
Topic: technology Link here

Came back in from the garden to find that we were off the network. No signal strength issues, but no connectivity. I'm used to this now: more often than not it's not an issue with the connection, but with this horribly flaky Huawei USB modem (there, USB again). So popped the modem and reconnected it. ppp process redialled, established connection—and still not connectivity. Stopped and restarted the ppp process, and it worked. Do we have software issues here instead of (or as well as) hardware issues?


Tuesday, 6 December 2011 Dereel Images for 6 December 2011
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NBN fixed radio: the details
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Off to the Dereel Hall this afternoon for the information session about the NBN fixed wireless tower. Wendy McClelland, her husband and one supporter were standing outside, I think distributing pamphlets—they didn't offer me one—and exposing themselves to strong electromagnetic radiation, one of the few sources that is, indeed, proven to cause cancer: the sun.

I had expected the session to be some kind of presentation, but in fact it was much less formal: a series of posters talking about different aspects of the project, not a “session” at all. Met Scott Weston for the first time—he came in just after me—and spent some time talking to him and Peter . Also met Gabriel from Ericsson and an engineer from NBN, both of whom were able to give me some details about the technical side of things.

As Peter had indicated, the connections will be LTE, specifically TDD, at 2300 MHz. The speed quoted was 12 Mb/s downstream, but there was some disagreement about whether this was the minimum or the maximum. Peter said it was the minimum, but Gabriel gave more specific speeds: downlink maximum 12 Mb/s, guaranteed 500 kb/s. Uplink 1 Mb/s maximum, 150 kb/s guaranteed. The NBN engineer wasn't so sure; I suspect this might be an area that isn't cast in concrete. Certainly 12 Mb/s is nothing special nowadays: Telstra do a maximum of 22.6 Mb/s with their 3G technology, and I've heard of up to 80 Mb/s with LTE. And even my current HSPA connection has uplink speeds that can exceed 1 Mb/s.

There's other stuff, though, that makes the difference. The tower will be connected to the backbone network via a microwave link of (probably) 200 Mb/s, and there's a Point of Interconnect (PoI) in Ballarat. The bandwidth of this link is enough to ensure no contention. But that would be reached with only 17 stations downloading at 12 Mb/s, another indication that the 12 Mb/s is more likely to be a maximum. My understanding from the NBN engineer is that they're not expecting there to be enough contention to lower the speed below the maximum except in exceptional circumstances.

More interesting is the latency: 20 ms to the PoI, about a quarter of what I have with HSPA. That would probably be enough to make a switch worthwhile. But then there's the question of cost: they mentioned a wholesale price of $25, which without further qualification is not very meaningful. But the statement that it would be the same price as an equivalent fibre connection is very meaningful. Internode's pricing for a 12/1 Mb/s link is $50 for 30 GB traffic, or $70 for 300 GB. Those are both more than the $40 I'm paying now, but only a little, and I only get 9 GB traffic.

One of the advantages of “fixed wireless” is that the NBN can plan the availability better. In general they plan for a coverage range of 3 to 5 km, which is fixed before construction begins, so they're in a better position to guarantee bandwidth.

The equipment is a fascia mount antenna, which also contains the modem, and an internal box that looks like a 4 port Ethernet switch, which the NBN call (but don't document) a Network Termination Device (NTD), rather than the more common “Network Termination Unit” or NTU:


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The NTD is the small box at the bottom, on top of the antenna mount. The NBN engineer tells me that it's more than a switch. The connection from the external to the internal unit is standard Cat 5e Ethernet, but the wireless link is layer 2, and the box converts the layer 2 to a layer 3 interface. I don't understand that. Switches are layer 2, so how can any conversion take place? But as the NBN engineer explained, it does mean that you can have multiple connections to different ISPs. Presumably the real purpose of the box is to provide some form of authentication. But that's an issue we haven't discussed at all yet.

The tower will look pretty much like a mobile phone tower: three antennas pointing at (nominally) 120° from each other, each with a maximum power of 20 W. As one of the posters indicated, the closest you can get to the antennas is 430 m, at which distance the EME represents 0.0041% of the ARPANSA exposure limits:


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It would have been nicer if they had specified it in μW/m² and compared it with other sources, but if I read the recommendations correctly, 0.0041% corresponds to 41 μW/m². That's at the closest point, on an uninhabited stretch of road. Round here, still not far away, it would be closer to 2.5 μW/m².

It appears that I read the recommendations incorrectly. At 2300 MHz, the ARPANSA limits are 10 W/m², so the values above would be 410 μW/m² and 25 μW/m², for all the difference that makes.

And the location of the tower? They considered a total of four places, including the Dereel Hall area and the north-east end of our property, and also a place in Swanson Road close to the airstrip:


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It's interesting that they note one of the reasons for rejecting our site as the lack of power: there's a power cable that goes straight past the site. But being too far west is certainly an issue.

The fact that our site was mentioned made me wonder whether Wendy had inside information when she published her slanderous claims about me in March. But no, the NBN engineer told me that they didn't start looking until 1 June 2011. They want to be finished by June 2012, but that will depend on how many spanners Wendy wants to throw into the works. Hopefully they'll deal with them quickly.

So: is it a worthwhile offering? Doubtless. Is it optimal? Definitely not. Give me fibre any day. But it's not likely that we'll get that.


More garden giveaways
Topic: gardening Link here

Three more people came along today to pick up plants. I hadn't expected them to be so popular. One even took nearly all the Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda corms. She'll have fun with them—there must be enough for a couple of hectares, but no, she wanted them all.


Swimming snails and growing fish
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Found something interesting in the pond today:


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It seems to be a perfectly normal snail, and it was on a water lily leaf. How did it get there? When I first saw it, it was nearly completely in the water, though it clearly didn't like that much. But it must have swum there in the first place.

Our goldfish have been hiding almost since we put them in the pond, but they're gradually showing themselves again. The small ones have grown by almost 30%. I wonder what they're eating—insects on the surface, maybe.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011 Dereel
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NBN info day, the aftermath
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Call at 8 am this morning from Prue Bentley of ABC local radio regarding Wendy McClelland and the topic of the NBN info session yesterday. She wanted me to participate in a news programme on the subject, but unfortunately I didn't get to the phone on time, so she followed up with an email: “I tried your home number but it wasn't working... do you have another phone contact?”. I replied, but didn't hear back from her—clearly it was too late.

The ABC did publish an article on the web site, though. It's interesting that they don't mention “DATA”, only “A couple who live at Dereel, south of Ballarat, is considering taking legal action... Wendy and Stuart McLelland say they are worried radiation from the National Broadband Network (NBN) wi-fi towers could be carcinogenic.” But more interestingly, where are the others? Are they alone after all? In passing, the factual accuracy is interesting. They misspelt “McClelland”, and they refer to the tower as “wi-fi”. But then, what can you expect when you invent silly terms like “Wi-Fi”?

Later got a phone call from Pia Akerman of “The Australian”, who didn't want to talk about the merits, just what I thought about the alternative of fibre or wireless. There's no question that fibre is better, of course, and that's what I told her, also explaining that there wasn't a hope of getting fibre in the next 10 years. I also sent her a link to my writeup of yesterday's events. But what she wrote gave the impression that I agree with Wendy. Of course, if she were to achieve a fibre connection for Dereel, I'd be very grateful. But I don't see the slightest hope of that. Another case of creative reporting.

This article cleared one thing, though: it includes a photo of Wendy with 8 people in the background. So there are a couple more:

“The Australian” photo of Wendy McClelland and her “DATA”

It's interesting to note that Wendy is holding an NBN information kit in her left arm. What's the significance of that? And “retired IT worker” for me? I tend to call myself a computer industry has-been, but “IT worker” sounds like a euphemism, just as people use the term “sex worker” to mean “prostitute”.


Weed matting
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got around to putting down weed mat round some of the more deserving plants, notably the Araucaria bidwillii and the Podocarpus elatus (Illawarra plum). Also finally planted the Photinia × fraseri robusta that we bought three months ago. I would have planted more, but the temperatures shot up again, and we had a top temperature of 35.8°, compared to just 18.5° three days ago. Wouldn't it be nice to have mid-range temperatures?


Another power fluctutation
Topic: general Link here

Partial loss of power this evening at 21:10, enough to set the UPSs screaming, but not enough to affect even the bedside alarm clock. There seem to be a lot of these lately. What's causing them? And what do you call them? I had always called them brownouts, but it seems that that's a more prolonged condition, and also intentional.


Thursday, 8 December 2011 Dereel → Geelong → Dereel
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Too hot to garden
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Another hot day today, a maximum of 36.1°. I had intended to continue my work in the garden, but in the end only did some work in the greenhouse, which was also in dire need: repotted the Chile poblano and attended to the “Giant tree tomato”, which really needs much more in the way of support. Also pruned the passion fruit, which is developing too many side shoots. Planted the prunings; there's a good chance they'll strike.


Electromagnetic radiation causes cancer!
Topic: technology, opinion, general Link here

Probably the main objection that Wendy McClelland has to wireless communications is that they cause cancer. Nothing we can say can prove otherwise. One of the problems, of course, is that electromagnetic radiation, in sufficient dosage, really does cause cancer. How much? As I've noted previously, the presentation of the data doesn't make it easy to compare. I established that the maximum radiation from the NBN tower would be about 41 μW/m². But what's the level of solar radiation? Discovered a new word, “Insolation”, along with some typical values: about 1 kW/m² in bright sunshine. There are more specific pages at Aussie RV products, which shows an average of 5.1 kWh/m² per day in Melbourne, and the Bureau of Meteorology, which shows a map of Victoria showing a current insolation of about 33 MJ/m² per day. The site is broken and won't return average values for a year, so the two are not completely comparable. Aren't units wonderful things? I'm reminded of Andy Tanenbaum: “The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from”.

In any case, divide Joules per day by the number of seconds in a day (86,400) to get Watts, so 33 MJ in a day is an average of 382 W, spread over day and night. So the average insolation in Melbourne is just shy of 10 million times as much as the highest level of radiation from the tower. Put another way, to get the same amount of radiation from the tower as Wendy got standing out in the sun for an hour, she would have to be exposed to the tower for about 2,800 years. And even that assumes that the effect is cumulative.


To Geelong again
Topic: general Link here

To Geelong in the afternoon to a regular periodontal checkup. Looks like I'm going to need some more serious work on my gums.

I had planned to do other things, like visiting Bunnings, but it was too hot, and in addition the car was misfiring—looks like I may have problems with the ignition circuit, probably related to this silly theft alarm which has given me problems a couple of times in the past. So put that off until tomorrow. On the way home, finally got some rain, and things cooled down. At home, in the 2 hours from 16:08 to 18:08, the temperature dropped from 35.1° to 19.1°—an average of 0.13° per minute.


No supplies from MSY
Topic: technology Link here

While in Geelong, dropped in at MSY to replace my external disk enclosure. Yes, it's under warranty, so they'll send it off, and at some time I'll get a replacement. But they didn't have any eSATA enclosures, so I left with nothing. I wonder if it's worth going there any more.


Friday, 9 December 2011 Dereel Images for 9 December 2011
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The cost of cheap medical treatment
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've had this funny cough since mid-September, and I've been to the doctor about it a couple of times. The interesting thing was that it started just after a previous visit to the doctor, and I thought I might have caught an infection in the waiting room.

There had been a change of doctor since then, and I told her the background, including my suspicion that it had something to do with my previous visit. She gave me a broadband antibiotic—$2.60 per pill!—and asked me to come back if it was still there. It was.

The next time round she considered asthma. I had had asthma as a child, and that wasn't completely impossible. So ended up buying lots of inhalers. Did they work? Hard to say, since the change isn't immediate. But in the meantime I had decided that no, they didn't. And it's not clear why I ended up buying two inhalers to treat acute attacks of asthma when the last attack was nearly 50 years ago.

So I did a bit of thinking. I had started new medication just before the cough started, Coversyl. Checked the side effects and found:

Rare and mild, usually at the start of treatment.

Cough
...

So when I went into town today, I asked about the side effects of Coversyl. Immediate response: “cough”.

So I had been on a wild goose chase this last month, and I had bought medication costing nearly $100 in total, all barking up the wrong trees. Not happy. She prescribed me an alternate product, Micardis, without mentioning any side effects. We'll see.

The real reason for the visit, though, was the skin lesion on my shin. That proved to be lichenoid keratosis, and it seems that she has already removed most of it. Otherwise there's the option of cryosurgery. But is it correct? This time it was the laboratory, of course, but reading a more detailed description, it doesn't seem to match the symptoms.


Identifying bulbs: the book
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

It's becoming more and more clear that I don't know the identity of the bulbs and corms that I collected. There are at least Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda, but the more I look at it, the more I get convinced that there's a third kind there too. So I've borrowed lots of books from the libraries. So far, they're no help. Very few of them are designed to help identify plants—you buy them at the “nursery”, right? Found one with the promising title “Bulbs”, by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, which did publish photos of live plants including the corm/rhizome/whatever, but they seem to have run out of steam in the middle. In particular, there's not a single photo that matches the corm on the left in this photo:


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But then, it doesn't mention Chasmanthe either. Part of the problem may be that the book was published in 1981 in the UK, so long ago that the publisher doesn't want to know. Maybe things have changed significantly in that time. Still, I have about 12 other books to look at, though a number are clearly uninteresting. Wouldn't it be nice to have a single web resource for this sort of thing?


First Stelitzia of summer
Topic: gardening Link here

The Strelitzia reginae is suddenly in bloom again:


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There don't seem to be as many flowers this year, but this one is much bigger than last year. Somehow some of the rhizomes have died back; I wonder if that's because of the competition it had until a couple of weeks ago.


Saturday, 10 December 2011 Dereel Images for 10 December 2011
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Still more verandah panorama issues
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day again today. The Bureau of Meteorology had predicted rain, so of course it was bright sunshine all day long:


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Still more fun with the exposure for my verandah photos. This was the brightest day since I started experimenting with the flash output. Last week I used normal TTL flash for the first image of each group of 3, but that proved not to be as bright as I had wanted (the intention was to have an overexposed image), so today I overexposed by 3 EV. Apart from finally draining a set of Nickel-Zinc batteries, that proved not only to be too much, but it also created problems with the zenith shot, where I don't use flash (since the roof is reflective). The results were this kind of difference, showing the zenith shot and a couple of random upper layer shots to which the zenith had to attach:


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Hugin couldn't find any similarity between the zenith and others, and I had to stitch the panorama manually.

So: what do I do next time? Less flash, I suppose, and somehow I need to find a way to expose the zenith with flash as well.


Lilac and another rabbit
Topic: animals Link here

Over ten years ago I found our cat Lilac with a baby rabbit in her basket. That time round I didn't have the presence of mind to take photos, so when it happened again today, I first took photos and then investigated:


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In the first image, Lilac is meowing, not hissing or anything else. Part of the chest of the rabbit was wet, but it's not sure what Lilac had intended: lick or bite? It seems that she has conflicting instincts. In any case, the rabbit was alive, but scared to death, and in the end I took it outside to let it escape. Arguably that was the wrong action: rabbits are pests, after all.

When I came back an hour later, it was still there, dead, so I let Lilac come and pick it up. She ate the front half, and Nemo was a grateful recipient for the back half.


Recharging Nickel-Zinc batteries: how fast?
Topic: general, photography, technology Link here

After discharging the (Nickel-Zinc) batteries in my flash unit, had a chance to see how they recharged. I haven't measured the charging time, but I guessed it to be about 5 hours in the “fast” charger, quite a difference from the 2½ maximum stated on the Wikipedia page. Confusingly, that refers to a document published by the maker of the charger:

Fault conditions:
Stop Charge [sic] if any of the following conditions occur:

It's not quite clear how you charge a battery with a voltage less than 1.6V, but that's probably one of these typical inaccuracies in this kind of document. Another document, also by the maker of my charger, shows a charger with a slightly different appearance boasting “Enjoy a quick charge in little as 1.5 hours*”. That * leads nowhere, but in the small print it says “Charge two AA or AAA NiZn batteries in 1 to 1.5 hours, or charge 4 AA batteries in about 3 hours.“.

That's still a lot less than the 5 hours I estimated. Could I be that wrong? A closer look at the charger says no:


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So what's going on? Except for the colour, and the completely unfounded claim “fast”, this unit looks pretty much identical to the one in the web page, even down to the detail that it will charge 2 AAA or 4 AA batteries (in the middle two slots):


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It's difficult to be sure from the advertising photo, but it looks as if the moulding for the white charger is the same as for the black one, including the two arcs at the top and the cutouts immediately above and below the batteries. Conceivably the right-hand LED is green, which would make sense—mine keeps the LEDs on until the batteries are charged, and then turns them off. But why is the black one (5 hours) marked “fast” when the white one (ostensibly 3 hours) isn't?

Stupidly, I didn't measure the voltage before charging, but after charging the voltages were pretty consistent: two with 1.861V (including the one that I had previously marked as having a low voltage), and one each with 1.860V and 1.859V. Possibly the voltage is also dependent on external considerations such as contact impedance in the charger.


Sunday, 11 December 2011 Dereel Images for 11 December 2011
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Attending to the veggies
Topic: gardening Link here

There are a number of things in the garden that I've been neglecting, and today I looked at some of them. One was the plants that I have been trying to raise from seed for some months now—that's fairly simple, since most of them either didn't sprout, or they died. Found three Chile poblano seedlings which looked relatively healthy, and planted them.

In the process, looked at some particularly unhappy looking tomato seedlings in the greenhouse. Some of them are beyond hope, but others, despite being in too small a pot, might still make it. So off to plant them in the veggie garden, another area that I have been neglecting for too long. It's somehow discouraging to see the plants I have planted so carefully (OK, not so carefully) being outdone by chance seedlings:


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That also makes it clear that it's high time to weed the patch. But there are other urgent things to do to, including pruning the ornamental vine on the verandah, which is now covering most of the beams and joists, and which will hopefully cover the entire area by the end of the season.

The tomatoes aren't the only area where chance seedlings outstrip my plantings. Two months ago I planted some Lobelia seeds, and they're only barely visible (about 2 mm across, in an egg carton), while a grass bush has a chance infestation of happy looking flowers that must have self-seeded from last year's flowers:


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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure this morning at 4:55. High time to claim some money from Powercor.


Seedlings: the compost heap test
Topic: gardening Link here

Discussing my lack of success with seeds yesterday, Peter Jeremy commented: “You shouldn't get discouraged until the veges growing out of your compost heap outdo the ones you planted and nurtured”. But that doesn't help. Here's my compost heap and some of the plants that, I think, won't make it:


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Another plant that I think won't make it is the Ficus benjamina. I had already noted that there was more sun in the area than I had expected, but it took very unkindly to the situation. Here two weeks ago and today:


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It may recover, but I don't have much hope.


New plants in early summer
Topic: gardening Link here

A surprising number of new plants and flowers have cropped up over the past week. One is a grass that we planted a long time ago, and which we had never expected to flower:


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And then there are the Mirabilis jalapas, which are just now coming into flower:


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The plants in the Japanese Garden are also coming into their own. I'm particularly happy with the appearance of the Eryngium bourgatii:


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Elsewhere, the Stachys byzantina are gradually coming into flower. I'm still not sure that they're completely in bloom, but they look much nicer than the one in Wikipedia (last image):


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Work on the east bed
Topic: gardening Link here

For once the weather was neither too hot, too cold nor too windy. Spent some time weeding the north bed—which I've done before—and extracted enormous quantities of weeds from a very small area. Clearly I need to mulch as soon as I've removed the weeds.

And I had plenty of space in the east bed that I needed to mulch, including beds where I wanted to plant the remains of the seedlings I got at the beginning of last month. Put in several barrowloads of mulch and planted the remaining seedlings:


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Solanum flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

One of the interesting things about the genus Solanum is how similar the flowers look:


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These are Solanum tuberosum (potato), Solanum suaveolens (a creeper) and Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) and some kind of weed. So what's this one?


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Going by the colour, it should be a weed. In fact, it's a potato, I think Kipfler.


eBay status messages
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Bought a strange device on eBay today, a combined flash card and SATA disk docking station:

Image

I'm not convinced that it will work well, but it wasn't expensive, so we'll see. But what got me was the quick shipping:

Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 18:46:15 -0700 (GMT-07:00)
From: eBay <ebay@ebay.com>
To: groggyhimself@lemis.com

Hi groggyyourself,
We are writing to inform you that we have shipped the
item 110786777659 to you! Normally the shippment to worldwide is used to
take 8 to 25 business days,because it is a Cross-border
transactions.

After adjusting time zones, two things are clear: this message was sent less than 80 minutes after I purchased the item, and at 9:46 on 12 December in Hong Kong, where the seller does business. Yes, it's possible that they really did send it that early, but given the delivery time, you'd expect them to do that sort of thing in the evening.

There have been other similar cases, notably with the Nickel-Zinc batteries that I bought a couple of months ago, also from Hong Kong. On that occasion I received a similar message telling me that the item had been shipped on 27 September 2011 (US time), really 28 September 2011, but the post stamp showed that they had been shipped on 10 October 2011.

“Fwaggle”, or maybe Jamie (surname unknown) on IRC came up with the explanation: this message is automatically generated when the mailing label is printed. That would also explain the incorrect time zone and the early morning in the correct time zone. It seems that eBay can't think of a better text (“being processed” comes to mind), and the seller can't do much about it.


Still more TV recoding problems
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

TV reception is still very flaky. I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's interference. Today I found a recording floundering round 900 MB after an hour of “recording”. Clearly it was toast, but it was worth trying recording on other tuners. Tried recording the same programme on another tuner, and a different programme at the same time on the third. The results:

Programme       Date       Start       End                   Daisy chain       File       Number of
name             time       time       Channel       Tuner       position       size (GB)       recoding errors
All I Want       12 December 2011       11:57:05.212       14:30:00.028       2006 (PRIME)       1       3       1.1       22, died at 51%
Test recording       12 December 2011       13:57:35.363       14:32:00.274       2006 (PRIME)       2       1       0.3       42, died at start
Test recording       12 December 2011       13:58:32.614       14:33:00.804       2203 (SBS HD)       3       2       2.4       0

This shows two things: firstly, it's nothing to do with the cabling to the tuners, since the good recording was in daisy chain position 2. And clearly the problem is related to the channel—either transmission problems or interference at specific frequencies. I'd call them up, except that I'd just end up talking to script readers.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011 Dereel Images for 13 December 2011
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What use are gardening books?
Topic: gardening, opinion, technology Link here

So now I have a total of 13 books from two different libraries about bulbs and other like plants. I've already established that one of them doesn't show any corm that looks even remotely like this one:


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What about the others? The plants I know are Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda. I finally found the answer: the third kind is Crocosmia. But the books didn't help much, beyond showing some flower images that I can correlate with my older photos. Here's an overview of the coverage. The numbers are the number of books that fulfil the requirement:

            Image for       Other       Image of
Plant       Mentioned       identification       image       Tuber
Chasmanthe       2       2       0       0
Crocosmia       12       8       4       0
Watsonia       10       4       7       1

That's really not much use. Most of the images of the Watsonias don't show enough of the plant to help distinguish it from Crocosmia, and I'm sure I've confused them in the past.

What's wrong here? For this kind of information, books are obsolete. Photos are expensive to print (“A picture is worth 1000 words, but a good photo takes a million bytes”). Books get out of date easily (the oldest one in my collection was published in 1967, and even the newest is 5 years old), and they're constrained by size. Many are also geographically constrained: only one of the books appears to refer to the Southern Hemisphere, and so indications like “flowers from September to October” are meaninglessly ambiguous.

Clearly we need a web database, and Wikipedia is doing a good job in that direction. But somehow it seems to be tied up in copyright issues; that's particularly evident in the photos. Hopefully the future will bring less, not more copyright restrictions.


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More laziness
Topic: gardening Link here

Didn't have much to do today, so did little of it. Spent a little time mulching, pruning and tying up creepers, even planting a Jasminum polyanthum. Also transplanted a couple of volunteer begonias, one from the pot with the Mandevilla and the other from a too-dry part of the succulent bed north of the verandah; put them both in the bed round the Ginkgo, where there's a third plant. I wonder where they came from.

About the most energetic activity was mowing the lawn, which Yvonne did. And then she ran out of petrol, filled the tank, and the thing wouldn't start again. On the face of it you'd think that was flooding, but the behaviour wasn't typical: after a while, it started again, ran, and then stopped, which suggested fuel starvation to me. Played around looking at the fuel and air filters, both OK. Does the system need bleeding? No mention of it in the manual. So left things at that; we'll see in the morning.


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Chasing the reception problems
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Once again TV reception is terrible, at least on some channels. Over the months I've eliminated a number of causes, including poor cables—I think—and cross-talk between the tuners. And more and more it seems to relate to specific channels and specific times of the day.

But at the moment it seems to be happening all the time on some channels. At the very least, I need to find a way to monitor what's going on. One starting point is the program femon that I looked at a few months ago. It's like tzap, but it works when MythTV is running. The output is a little hard to interpret, but I can change that—if I could find the sources. Did a bit of looking and found

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/4) ~ 190 -> locate femon.c
/src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/4) ~ 191 -> ls -l /src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis  3332 Jan 18  2004 /src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c

So it's part of szap, whatever that may be. Went looking on Google and relatively high up on the hit list came a message from Jürgen Lock, directly above the Schweizer Zuchtgenossenschaft für Arabische Pferde web site, something that addresses other interests. Jürgen was on IRC, so I asked him. He reminded me that szap is the satellite equivalent of (terrestial) tzap, and pointed me to another mail message with pointers to the source, accessible via Mercurial:

hg clone http://linuxtv.org/hg/dvb-apps
cd dvb-apps/util/szap
gmake 'CFLAGS+=-I/usr/local/include -DO_LARGEFILE=0'

That didn't build under FreeBSD, but I didn't need it to. It didn't build under Linux in its entirety either, but I didn't need most of the stuff. What I did need was lib/libdvbapi and, of course, utils/femon. That worked and showed slight changes since the version I have. A bit of playing around with the source enabled me to add a few options (reporting interval and output format) that helped me get something more like what I'm looking for.

For once, hacking the source was simple. What's more interesting is to know what I'm looking for. The code of the program is split into a couple of gratuitous functions that I gradually removed again: it just required more and more parameters, and ended up being a little silly. But basically it calls a function dvbfe_get_info (), presumably in libdvbapi, which returns info in a struct dvbfe_info. Took a look in that and found little further of interest except frequency, which would have been really useful, except that it was always the same, and didn't match any valid frequency (round 134 MHz). So for the moment I'm looking at things like this, for a good channel (SBS, at least for the moment) and a bad one (PRIME):

2011-12-15 10:40:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 193, S/N 202, noise -10
2011-12-15 10:41:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 199, noise -6
2011-12-15 10:42:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 195, S/N 203, noise -9
2011-12-15 10:43:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 200, noise -7
2011-12-15 10:44:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 200, noise -6
2011-12-15 10:45:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 195, S/N 204, noise -10

2011-12-15 10:41:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 180, S/N 159, noise 20, 488277 block errors, 2214 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:42:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 182, S/N 164, noise 17, 30353 block errors, 1 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:43:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 185, S/N 169, noise 15, 258438 block errors, 28 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:44:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 169, S/N 151, noise 18, 6496 block errors, 2435 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:45:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 188, S/N 176, noise 12, 23614 block errors, 27 uncorrectable errors

By contrast, the old version of femon reports, for adapter 1,

status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  61% | ber 102521 | unc 7078 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  60% | ber 102521 | unc 3085 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  72% | snr  66% | ber 102521 | unc 27 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  60% | ber 303808 | unc 27 | FE_HAS_LOCK

Is that an improvement? I don't know. Certainly measuring signal and signal-to-noise ratio in percentages doesn't make much sense to me. Bit it certainly makes it very clear which tuner is receiving a good signal and which is receiving a bad one.

The real issue is: what do these numbers mean? My intention here is to distinguish between poor signal (fault of the transmitter or propagation) and noise (potentially interference). If I can believe the numbers, it would seem that both applies. And I still need to find a way of correlating the output with a frequency, which may require going through the MythTV logs and creating separate information about which frequency the tuner is tuned to at a specific time. It certainly makes a difference.

2011-12-15 16:15:16.087 TVRec(1): ASK_RECORDING 1 0 0 0
2011-12-15 16:15:16.159 TVRec(1): Changing from None to RecordingOnly
2011-12-15 16:15:16.194 TVRec(1): HW Tuner: 1->1
2011-12-15 16:15:16.370 Started recording: Sea Princesses "The Missing Princess": channel 2022 on cardid 1, sourceid 2

2011-12-16 00:01:30.735 TVRec(1): ASK_RECORDING 1 29 0 0
2011-12-16 00:02:03.090 TVRec(1): Changing from None to RecordingOnly
2011-12-16 00:02:03.124 TVRec(1): HW Tuner: 1->1
2011-12-16 00:02:03.257 Started recording: Carnage: channel 2032 on cardid 1, sourceid 2

It seems that the tuners remain tuned to the old channel (in this case ABC 2) until changed. The corresponding femon output after tuning to channel 2032 (SBS 2) was immediate:

2011-12-16 00:00:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 146, S/N 194, noise -49, 22660 block errors, 1288 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-16 00:01:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 151, S/N 198, noise -48, 357 block errors, 1294 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-16 00:02:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 205, noise -12
2011-12-16 00:03:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 192, S/N 206, noise -14

But this also suggests that the noise was lower before. I'm beginning to wonder whether the signal-to-noise ratio has any meaning, or whether it's just an absolute signal quality indicator.


Still more laziness
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

Again didn't do much in the garden. Established that the lawn mower started without any problem, so presumably, despite all indications to the contrary, it really was flooded. But that's Yvonne's job, and she had other fish to fry:


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In the afternoon did a bit of pruning, a bit of weeding, and a bit of attention to the irrigation. I really need to develop more drive.


Friday, 16 December 2011 Dereel Images for 16 December 2011
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Reach out and touch someone
Topic: animals, technology Link here

We've been considering a remote controlled “electric collar” for Nemo for some time. The idea is to give the dog a mild electric shock if it is disobedient. Traditional dog trainers are, of course, horrified about the idea of giving the dog an electric shock, and it took us some time to accept the idea. From a purely training point of view, of course, most trainers accept that animals must be punished for disobedience, though rewards for good behaviour are much better. But in general punishment requires the proximity of the animal. Horse trainers can sing a song about that one.

So any device that can give the animal the impression that it can't get away from you that easily can be a good training help. We've used water pistols on puppies and kittens for years, and it hasn't broken them. On the other hand, we once had a Borzoi bitch—a real bitch!—who continually used her speed to get away from punishment. One day we chased her with a horse, and she was so shocked that she left home and had to be picked up a couple of kilometres away. So caution is required.

But after Nemo nearly got himself killed chasing a kangaroo last month, it was clear that the electric collar might be the lesser of two evils. And any training tool can be abused. You shouldn't use whips on dogs, but Yvonne typically goes walking with a stockwhip over her shoulder (shown in use courtesy of Rob Pike in the third image):


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The purpose of the whip isn't to hit the dog—that would severely injure it—but to make a noise to which it pays attention.

The collar arrived today, and it took me 10 minutes to work out how to use the thing, greatly hindered by the instructions. It seems that every time it powers up, it needs to be synchronized with the remote control (wait for beep from collar, press function button on remote control, wait for second beep from collar). And the collar powers down (only) after a certain time without movement. That means you can't leave it on the dog, or the batteries will drain quickly, and every time you put it on the dog, you have to resync.

Still, the idea of the vibrator and the sound signal is good. An intelligent dog will react to that, and will probably never need more than one or two shocks to remind it of what would come next if it disobeys. All that is in the future, though: the instructions recommend that the dog wear it for a month to get used to it before using it at all. I think we can restrict that to a week: Nemo is used to having a harness on when he goes for a walk, and this doesn't make much difference.


Identifying bulbs, more uncertainty
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

So I've identified that I have at least three kinds of similar looking bulbs or corms. The only ones I'm reasonably sure about are the Watsonias, which have bulb-like corms and flower in the summer. They have alternate flowers:


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The Crocosmias are similar, but their flowers are much closer together:


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On the face of it, not much similarity. But I'm not convinced. The Watsonias start off with shoots which look almost identical to those of the Crocosmias. Today I took some more photos:


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On the face of it, the first two (same plant) are Watsonias, and the other is a Crocosmia. But I can't see a clear distinction. The Watsonia is flowering, the “Crocosmia” is not. I wouldn't be sure that they're not the same kind.

What I have established: we have two different flowers that bloom in the spring (tra la), and at least one of them has the flattened corms. But there's also this one, which at one point I had considered to be a Chasmanthe floribunda. But apart from the time of blooming (July to September), it looks almost the same:


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About the biggest difference is the height of the flowers, way above the leaves. Is this what happens when it's finished? Looking at the photos, it looks as if this is the same “plant” (clump of corms) as the second photo above:


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On the face of it, these flowers look almost like little onions. Maybe it's something else again that I have forgotten; certainly there's only one place that looks like that, (now) to the south-east of the pond.

There are yet other flowers of interest at the moment. The Strelitzia reginae seem to have somewhat varied flower forms. Last year I had a double flower, one pointing in each direction:


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This year, possibly from the same rhizome, I have a double-decker flower:


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The top half is on its way out, but the one below is now coming.


GSDCV Christmas Dinner
Topic: animals, general Link here

In the evening into Ballarat for the Christmas dinner of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Victoria, complete with quiz and prize awards:


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Saturday, 17 December 2011 Dereel Images for 17 December 2011
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More house photo pain
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

House photos again today, and once again problems. For one thing, it was windier than I would have liked, making merging HDR images difficult—how I wish people would come out with digital sensors with a higher dynamic range. I also managed to take most of the photos with the focussing rail set off by a couple of centimetres, which in fact didn't make as much difference as I had feared. In addition, discovered what looks like a firmware bug in my Olympus E-30. I'm taking the verandah photos in groups of three, and only the first is supposed to have flash. So I take one image, turn the flash off, and take the other two. I get it right in the majority of cases, but it seems that when turn the flash off at the wrong time, the camera firmware hangs. I think it happened last week, and I solved the problem by powering off the camera. Today it hung twice, and each time it recovered when I turned the flash back on.

Last week I set the flash to +3 EV, which proved too much. This time I set it to +1EV, and also used flash to take the zenith shot (twice, in case one reflected), and in fact that worked out quite well, within lighting limitations. But it's becoming increasingly clear that a simple flash for one of the images isn't enough. I'm still getting some areas overexposed, and the lighting is so different that Hugin has difficulty identifying the relationships. So did I. Here a dark corner, the column close to the camera, and the zenith. All three should join:


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Apart from that, I managed to take the upper layer of images at too low an angle, so the zenith shot wasn't enough to cover the top of the sphere. But by the time I found that out, I couldn't be bothered any more. Next week will be better, I hope.


Nemo's Christmas Dinner
Topic: animals, photography, opinion Link here

Last night everybody was given a “Christmas dinner” for their dogs:


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The texts to the bottom left and right are the places for the dog to put his foot. So, of course, Yvonne had to try it out:


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Nemo had been told to wait for a signal before eating, and I had wanted to take another photo of him finally eating the food. But the flash unit—again!—gave me problems. It fired at full strength, and of course by the time it had recycled, Nemo had eaten it.

What causes that? It happens now and again. My best bet is that the contacts between camera and flash aren't as good as they should be; they're based on decades-old technology and are probably not well-suited to high-impedance digital circuits. I suppose I should try keeping them cleaner, but it'll take a while to see if it makes any difference. Somehow flashes are more trouble than all other things put together.


Governments and technology don't mix
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

In Australia we've had to put up for years with incompetent legislators interfering in the network infrastructure. Twelve years ago they brought out the Broadcasting Services Amendment Act (BSA), designed to stop filth on the Internet, or some similarly vague idea. It was passed, implemented and forgotten. And somehow it seems appropriate that the Government web site with the text of the act should be overloaded on a Sunday morning:

 
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Today I can't even easily find a clear reference to what it was intended to do. I know that when I got some spam that was (marginally) obscene, I contacted the ACMA and reported it, only to be told that the BSA did not apply to email.

But now we have a new government, and a new minister for “Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy”, whatever they think that means. And he, too, wants to stop filth. He'll censor the Internet! Everybody in the industry tells him that it's impossible, but he knows better, and it's Going To Work. Well, at least it's going to take a lot of work.

From time to time, people in more enlightened (or is that backward) countries point to our legislation as an indication of our repressive regime—less often of downright stupidity. And of course, China's—relatively effective—censorship is completely unacceptable in a Western society, and Hillary Clinton called for an end of censorship, apparently likening it “to the rise of communist Europe, warning that a new "information curtain" threatened to descend on the world unless action to protect internet freedoms was taken”.

That's easy to say when other countries are doing it. But there are at least two legitimate issues here: firstly, the Internet does need some kind of regulation, like any other part of society, despite what the freedom fighters say. For example, few people would disagree that something should be done to stop spam, and the abuse of the Internet for distributing child pornography is particularly ugly. Secondly, though, and far more important, those who seek to regulate it must understand it. And, worldwide, they don't.

Now the problem has hit (the United States of) America. That's probably a good thing. A large proportion of the world's most influential techies are either American or Americocentric. And now the US Congress has shown that they're by no means lagging behind the idiots in other countries, and have brought out a bill designed to break the Domain Name System. With the best of intentions, of course—aren't they always? It's called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in itself a good idea—you'd think. But it's censorship. How does that match Clinton's statement? And what does it have to do with the DNS? Well, that's how they're going to implement it: intercept DNS replies, it seems.

There are so many reasons why this is stupid, and many people have already published them. But it goes to show that, like the rise to power of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, this isn't really a national issue: it could happen anywhere. I'm reminded of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Iolanthe”, first performed in 1882. It's about the inability of Government (here the British House of Lords) to do anything useful. To quote from the chorus ““When Britain Really Ruled the Waves”:

And while the House of Peers withholds
Its legislative hand,
And noble statesmen do not itch
To interfere with matters which
They do not understand,
As bright will shine Great Britain's rays
As in King George's glorious days!

It's amazing how modern that operetta still appears. Other songs presage changes that happened in the British government over a century later. Wouldn't it be nice if legislators could understand it?


Sunday, 18 December 2011 Dereel Images for 18 December 2011
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Another quiet day
Topic: general, photography, gardening Link here

Another day with little to show for itself. Spent the morning finishing off my house photos, and in principle should have done some work in the garden in the afternoon. But once again it was so windy that I couldn't be bothered. Pulled out some more of the flat corms, which I still haven't identified to my satisfaction. It seems that a lot of them didn't flower, though they're clearly past flowering now. Maybe they are all Chasmanthe floribunda after all. I should take them in and show them to the Friends and ask.


Computers or technology?
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

I have divided my diary entries into 10 different categories, regarding various things I do. Many blog systems have an order of magnitude more, but I think 10 are enough; in general it makes more sense for people to display all and skip stuff that doesn't interest them. But the titles of these categories awake certain expectations: the term “computer” increasingly leaves out large areas of digital technology. I also have “photography” and “multimedia”, and frequently the topics overlap.

That's OK, since I can choose as many topics as I like, but maybe the tag “computer” is misleading for many topics. So I've renamed the topic to “technology”, really short for “digital technology”, which would be untidily long. That's retrospective, and I'm not convinced it's the right choice, so it may change again. But it's clearly the right choice for things like the nitty-gritty about digital cameras and digital TV reception, so if I change it again, it probably won't be back to “computers”.


Monday, 19 December 2011 Dereel Images for 19 December 2011
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To the doctor again
Topic: general Link here

Into town this morning to see the doctor; a routine checkup for my blood pressure. Surprise: the appointment was tomorrow. But they measured my blood pressure anyway, and found it a little low. So the doctor saw me anyway and took me off the medication for a while. Time to maintain better records of my blood pressure.


Coming to terms with Microsoft "Windows" 7
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

DxO Labs have come out with a new version of their DxO Optics "Pro" package, which I tried some months ago, and which I had ultimately found too slow for serious use. The new version, they claim, is up to four times faster (“a remarkable speed”).

But, again, it only runs on Microsoft and Apple, and the Apple version always lags the Microsoft version. So tried once again to borrow the computer that Chris Yeardley lent me last time. Surprise: I already have it, and I'm running my Internet gateway on it. But this is just for a test—I must really get the 64 bit version of FreeBSD running on dereel so that I can run Microsoft in a VirtualBox with sufficient memory—so she offered to lend me her main laptop, with 4 GB memory, until the end of the week.

Problem: it runs “Windows” 7 (a number that I don't understand; shouldn't it be at least 8?). First thing, of course, was to connect it to my network. I even know how to do that under “Windows” XP. It involves going to the control panel and selecting various non-obvious menu items. I suppose it's the same here, but now there are different non-obvious menu items:

 
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I don't run a DHCP server in my network, so I needed to set the IP address manually. “Internet options”? Of course not. That's a browser function! Instead, I finally found it under “View network status and tasks” → “Change adapter settings”, conveniently hidden in a side bar. After that, things looked much the same as under XP.

Next was to mount Samba shares. What are my options?

 
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Clearly that's sharing. But that tab led me to a concept called variously “homegroup” and “HomeGroup”. Much querying and I found a pretty picture showing two systems on the network: the laptop and cvr2, my MythTV box, a “MythTV AV Media Server“. That was certainly unexpected, and to my surprise I was able to connect to it and view videos with no more than a few mouse clicks. Score one for Microsoft (or was that MythTV?).

But I couldn't find my Samba servers, and there was nothing to tell me how to do it. Found an article on the Samba web site, which worked, but it wasn't until I worked my way through that I discovered it didn't do what I wanted to do.

Then Callum Gibson suggested I should try a different tack. Start “Windows Explorer” and... Wait a while, how do I start “Windows Explorer”? No idea. It's not there in the list of programs:

 
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Have they changed the name? How would I know? In the end, I chose “Search programs and Files”:

 
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It seems that the canonical way is to press (Broken window key)-E. What's wrong with this picture? Programs have had names since the mid-1950s at the latest, and menus haven't changed that. They've just claimed to make it easier to find programs. At least “Windows” 7 fails here: I had a couple of other people trying to help on IRC, with comments like:

<Darius> they hid the start menu shortcut for explorer pretty well in win7

Finally I got it started and dragged a “short cut” (apparently an emasculated graphical symlink) to the root window, then started it. I had to select not networking, but “My Computer”—isn't that obvious? No. Microsoft have changed the terminology, or maybe it's because the computer really belongs to Chris Yeardley. Anyway, the menu item is now called “Computer”, another gratuitous confusion. Then I was able to select “Map Network Drive” the way I've been used to it. And it didn't work. Ran the “troubleshooter“ with a predictable outcome: “Troubleshooting couldn't identify the problem“. Finally discovered that I couldn't ping either. The problem was in my DNS settings. I needed to set the equivalent of these two lines from /etc/resolv.conf:

domain lemis.com
nameserver 192.109.197.135

For that I had to go through a hierarchy of 9 menus and set things in two different places, and I had forgotten to set the domain name (sorry, “Append these DNS suffixes“). After that, things worked OK. Maybe that was the only problem.

So why was it so much trouble? Mainly because of the terminology and the location of the individual settings. I don't know if the current arrangement is the result of history or careful deliberation, but the evidence suggests the former. Then Microsoft has gone and changed names and terminologies, and introduced “homegroups” where you'd expect to find SMB shares, and then hid the SMB share elsewhere, so it would have been reasonable to assume that “HomeGroups”, too, were an obfuscatory renaming of SMB shares.

In any case, it finally worked, after only about an hour, and though I can't use remote desktop (why would anybody want that in a “Home Premium” system?), I was able to install TightVNC to access the system remotely even more slowly than I already do with the Apple. So, at least for the experiment, things work. But how can people live with this stuff?


DxO Optics "Pro" 7: first impression
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

So finally I got Microsoft to the point where I could install DxO Optics "Pro", another 200 MB of package. It downloaded relatively quickly, and once again I was left scratching my head as to how to use it. But it's user friendlier now: it now allows you to select files instead of “projects”, like all other programs in the Microsoft space by clicking on silly icons. For the test I had chosen the photos I had taken on 10 December 2011, all 371 of them. And of course it had to display icons for all of them, which took about 5 minutes.

Finally I was able to tell it to process the images (convert them to JPEG). Estimated time: 5 hours! It would only have been 3 with Olympus Viewer 2. Let it run, and to my surprise it was finished in 70 minutes, roughly the 4 fold increase in speed that they had claimed. So maybe there is some use in the thing after all. Next I need to compare the output from the two programs and also see how fast Olympus Viewer runs on this platform.


More procrastination
Topic: gardening Link here

Not surprisingly, I didn't get much else done today. Did a bit more tidying up in the greenhouse, which is getting emptier and emptier. Also some wide-ranging planning. The weeds are gaining the upper hand again, and I think I'm going to have to remove the plants from some areas, spray and mulch, and then replace the plants. That should work for plants like Gazanias.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011 Dereel Images for 20 December 2011
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Playing with DxO Optics "Pro"
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Spent some time this morning considering how to compare the results of DxO Optics "Pro" with other image processing methods. Came up with a relatively mechanical system where I take two trees with files with the same name and generate 5 crops from each: top left, top right, centre, bottom left and bottom right. Then I created a web page with each image, using the established technique of mouseover image switch to show a direct comparison of each image.

The first attempt was simply a single line per image (old and new), so it's not immediately clear what part of the original image it represents. In addition, I made the mistake of comparing a big directory—371 images—so I had a total of 3710 small images to compare, a total of 174 MB of them, quite a bit for a single web page. I'll have to try something a little more sophisticated. Even so, though, it showed some interesting details. Here an extract from that page. In each case, the image on the left was processed by DxO and changes with mouseover to the version processed by Olympus Viewer 2:

The original version of this entry showed two images, one changeable (the one kept below) and one static like the changed version. That proved to cause significant problems with the RSS versions.

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The underexposure here is deliberate. This crop (extreme top left) shows much better shadow detail in the Olympus version. This may be unfair, since I turned exposure compensation off on DxO, but I didn't think it was on with Olympus either. Like all the images, it shows significantly different distortion correction. I'll need to experiment further to decide which corrects distortion better—possibly Hugin can be the judge of that.

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Here there is significantly worse chromatic aberration with Olympus. But that's manual; conceivably I could get just as good results with a little tuning.

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Here again the exposure is not as good with DxO, and the chromatic aberration is better.

In summary, though, I'm surprised by the good quality of all the images. These are the extreme corners of the image at natural size (the pixels are rendered one to one). At the 100 dpi resolution of my screen, the entire image would be About 100 x 75 cm in size. But I'll have to do more work to make it easier to compare the images.


Into town yet again
Topic: general, gardening Link here

It was rather stupid that I went into town yesterday for today's doctor's appointment, because I had to go to the optometrist today anyway. Took the opportunity to get a haircut—it must have been four months since the last time.

Then on to the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens with some of my flat corms for identification. I don't know whether I should be happy or sad that nobody could positively identify them. Bruce Holland at first thought that they might be Watsonia, a surprising idea from an expert, considering that my Watsonias had completely different corms. But when I told him the flowers were orange, he said they couldn't be Watsonia: Watsonias were blue, again not what I knew. Yvonne C wasn't sure either, but decided that they were some kind of invasive species, and didn't want any of them. She's certainly correct that they're prolific, but I haven't seen any evidence of invasiveness.

Back inside and talked to Bruce again. He grabbed a big book—which didn't show the corms—and came up with a picture of Chasmanthe floribunda. So yes, it seems that at least these ones are Chasmanthe. And the summer flowering ones? And this one in the garden?


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In any case, checked further in the Big Book and found Bruce's blue Watsonia, a different species from the ones I have. At least that clears the doubts about his expertise.

Did a bit of talking to Mike Sorrell and Maree (surname forgotten). Mike gave me Yet Another Buddleja “for Christmas”, one that apparently has very dark blue blooms when they first open, and Maree convinced me to buy a Campanula cochlearifolia “Bavaria Blue”, a blue flowering ground cover and the sort of thing we need in the garden.


Optometrists with new tools
Topic: general Link here

To Specsavers after that for an eye test, once I found them—they were nowhere near where Google Maps put them. They're certainly a busier place then Kevin Paisley “fashion eyewear”, and they had some interesting machines to check my eyes even before I was sent in to the optometrist, including an eye pressure measurement done with a puff of air, and a retinal photo.

The eye test itself was nothing special; slight deterioration, as I would expect, and a choice of new glasses. Finally I think I'm going to have to give up with glass lenses; they're almost impossible to find, and they seem to significantly limit my choice of multifocal styles. So I'll try plastic—again—and maybe this time it'll be OK.


Yahoo!: Why should we care if you get spammed?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Another unsolicited mail message today:

Date: 19 Dec 2011 10:22:48 -0000
From: saopun Moderator <saopun-owner@yahoogroups.com>
To: groggyhimself@lemis.com
Subject: Welcome to the saopun group
Message-ID: <1324290168.511.9229.w8@yahoogroups.com>

I've added you to my saopun group at Yahoo! Groups, a free,
easy-to-use service. Yahoo! Groups makes it easy to send and receive
group messages, coordinate events, share photos and files, and more.

Description of the group:
------------------------------------------------------------------------
ebey4qk1012u04ge8u1

Complete your Yahoo! Groups account:
...

The description is enough to know that it's spam of some kind. The correct thing to do with this should be to send it to abuse@yahoogroups.com, and they should deal with it. But I've already established in the past that Yahoo!, like other quality sites such as Google, want you to fill out web forms to complain about what they have allowed happen to you. So off again to try it out. But this time I didn't find any way to send the offending mail, just a really clever (and suboptimal) tip to tell me how to unsubscribe. Clearly they don't care.

In fact, to unsubscribe all you need to do is to reply to the message. It contains a header:

Reply-To: saopun-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com

And of course that results in a “Do you really want?” message from Yahoo! But it's really objectionable that these sites seem to care less and less about the fact that people are being inconvenienced by actions stemming from their sites.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011 Dereel Images for 21 December 2011
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Nemo does another runner
Topic: animals, technology Link here

Yvonne returned from the morning walk this morning without Nemo: he had done another runner into the lagoon, and returned later with proof that there's still water in the lagoon.

Clearly he hasn't learnt from his experience in the Wimmera last month. Time to put the electric collar into action—if he will pay attention to it. Tried it out, and it wouldn't register with the remote control: it was full of water. That's a clever construction. Took the collar apart to dry it out; hopefully it will still work when it's dry again.


More photo comparisons
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Spent much of the day playing around with methods to compare software, and finally came up with a set of pages showing comparisons between the four corners and the centres of photos processed in two different ways. It was a lot of work, and it's not perfect, but it shows a surprising number of things. Firstly, the DxO “HDR” function makes so little difference that it's barely recognizable. I spent about 10 minutes trying to work out why my mouseover function no longer worked, until I realized that the images were effectively identical (though with careful examination minor differences were apparent).

Took a number of photos with different lenses. In each of the following examples, the DxO version is with the cursor away from the image, and the mouseover version was converted with Olympus Viewer 2. In each case I used the standard settings. This one was taken with the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 telephoto at 70 mm. Here the “thumbnail”, which shows a significant difference in the framing between the two programs:

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There's noticeable chromatic aberration at the top left corner, and DxO seems to do nothing to correct it. Olympus doesn't have automatic correction for chromatic aberration, and I had thought that would be a great advantage of DxO, but this suggests that it's not much use:

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Where DxO does seem to be better is with the issue of sharpness. Here the leaves of the Acacia in the centre and bottom right look considerably sharper:

This should be before-PC210272.jpg-centre.jpeg.  Is it missing? This should be before-PC210272.jpg-bottom-right.jpeg.  Is it missing?

But is that enough? Paying $100 for good software isn't much, but is this good enough? On the whole, I prefer the gradation of the Olympus Viewer. More investigation needed, including comparisons with Saturday's photos.


RSS: limiting expression
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Callum Gibson is the only person I know who always reads the RSS version of my diary. He had problems with my report on photo stuff yesterday. It proves that the JavaScript tricks I'm doing with the photos are incompatible with RSS, so I had to remove them and replace them with a link to the diary.

I never did like RSS.


Strange Strelitzias
Topic: gardening Link here

I've already noted the strange shape of some Strelitzia reginae flowers. Last year I had a clear double flower, one half pointing at 180° to the other:


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This year I don't have that, but there's another flower which seems to be a triple decker. The flowers should look like the first one, but the other seems to have three flowers on top of each other. The blue petal pairs (apparently a “nectary”) are present not once, but three times, though the older ones are dying off:


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The photo in Wikipedia is also a little strange:

Strelitzia photo from Wikipedia

Is this typical, or are the flowers simply very varied?


Thursday, 22 December 2011 Dereel Images for 22 December 2011
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Another power failure?
Topic: general Link here

Lately we've been having “almost” power failures. This morning at 1:27 I heard the UPSs beep, then stop, then beep again. My bedside alarm clock failed. But that was all; nothing else in the house had problems. Power failure or not?


More planting
Topic: gardening Link here

Once again we have lots of plants to plant, and gradually we're getting up enough enthusiasm to plant the area round the pond. We still have one kind of grass that I originally thought might be appropriate for the marginal area of the pond, but then decided that it wasn't. But I didn't know what it is, so I'm not sure how I decided. Made a compromise: split the pot into two parts and planted one in the marginal area and one outside. We'll keep an eye on the former and remove it if it starts showing signs of drowning.

Also planted the Campanula cochlearifolia and a couple of Pseudofumaria alba round the Strelitzia reginae to the south of the pond, and Mike Sorrell's Buddleja next to the original Buddleja globosa at the south-east corner of the house.

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

Then Yvonne wanted to transplant the Phormium “Jester” that we bought two years ago. It had completely filled out the pot, and Yvonne now wants it in the garden. Took half an hour to dig it out of the pot, and then we were no longer sure where we wanted it, so left it half out of the pot to decide.


Google Chrome: amazing!
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Chris Yeardley had some concerns about web site security related to Google Chrome. They were clearly unfounded—but how many times do I say things like that only to be proven wrong? Clearly it's worth trying out to be completely sure. Since I still have her laptop, tried installing Chrome on it. The download page I got was amazing:


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I'm amazed. What's clever about clicking on a web link? Is this an indication of the level of intelligence that Google expects of its users?

And yes, of course, there was no security issue.


Fixing RSS markup
Topic: technology Link here

Callum Gibson still wasn't happy with my copout in serving the RSS of my diary. It seems that there were two issues: relative URLs (a problem I've had to deal with again and again) and the onmouseover functionality. If I solved the first issue, I could at least display the “before” image, though experiments showed that onmouseover still broke the rendition in newsfox. Ended up writing a function to do the switch in HTML and just show the former image in RSS. I suppose Callum's happy now.


Electric collars: useless
Topic: animals, technology Link here

Nemo's electric collar was dried out today, and it works again. Went out for a walk to try it out. Not a revelation. The range seems to be about 10 metres when you're lucky, and you can't rely on it to work further away than 3 metres—less than the length of the leash. Nemo noticed the vibrator when it was set higher than about 30%, and looked at us with interest. Certainly nothing to stop him in his tracks. If the shock works at all, he did a good job of ignoring it.

There are two issues here, of course: is this particular device a good example of its kind, and does an electric collar make any sense for dog training? So far I'm tending to answer both questions with “no”.


Friday, 23 December 2011 Dereel Images for 23 December 2011
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Hard disk docking station
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Notification slip in the letter box today: a package had arrived for me. I've been waiting for a rotator for my camera, so went in to the post office to pick it up. And of course it was the other package, the eSATA docking station that I ordered at the same time. Sure, I want that too, but it wasn't nearly as important.

Unpacked the device and discovered it wasn't exactly what was advertised. Yes, it has two disk slots, but one's for PATA and the other's for eSATA:


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The instruction booklet proved to be only to describe how to use the supplied software (for Microsoft only, of course) and the on-device firmware for “hardware cloning”, copying a disk in an unspecified direction. Given that most PATA disks are much smaller in capacity than eSATA, it's not clear what us it is anyway.

Discovered I didn't have any free eSATA disks, so with some physical difficulty managed to insert a PATA disk, which, as far as I can tell, didn't power up. Tried with eSATA interface in defake, and got no response, possibly because the eSATA interface only works for the SATA disk (not documented, of course). Gave that up as a bad idea and connected to dereel via USB (Powercor has put paid to defake's USB subsystem) and inserted a handy 8 GB SDHC card instead. Success! Well, not complete failure:

Dec 23 13:27:43 dereel kernel: ugen5.5: <vendor 0x1a40> at usbus5
Dec 23 13:27:43 dereel kernel: uhub8: <vendor 0x1a40 USB 2.0 Hub, class 9/0, rev 2.00/1.11, addr 5> on usbus5
Dec 23 13:27:44 dereel kernel: uhub8: 4 ports with 4 removable, self powered
Dec 23 13:27:45 dereel root: Unknown USB device: vendor 0x048d product 0x1336 bus uhub8
Dec 23 13:27:45 dereel kernel: ugen5.6: <Generic> at usbus5
Dec 23 13:27:45 dereel kernel: umass1: <Generic Mass Storage Device, class 0/0, rev 2.00/1.00, addr 6> on usbus5
Dec 23 13:27:45 dereel kernel: umass1:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x0000
Dec 23 13:27:46 dereel kernel: umass1:6:1:-1: Attached to scbus6
Dec 23 13:27:46 dereel kernel: da1 at umass-sim1 bus 1 scbus6 target 0 lun 0
Dec 23 13:27:46 dereel kernel: da1: <Generic Storage Device 0.00> Removable Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Dec 23 13:27:46 dereel kernel: da1: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec 23 13:27:46 dereel kernel: da1: 7580MB (15523840 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 966C)

That's an improvement on the current USB card reader I have, which FreeBSD doesn't recognize. The problem was that the I couldn't read the card. I thought it was OK, but when I tried it later in boskoop (the Apple) with the old card reader, all I got was:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) ~ 2 -> ls /Volumes/8GB-2/
?ou??i??w&??p.e??nw     9u??????I??zi????.m5??  a???@qa??=eh.E??n??     u???$??<W?Z??.??Z???    ??2_A??y??1?.???FU

So: the card seems to be scrambled. Did it happen before being put in the docking station or later? To be investigated. In the meantime tried a disk, which didn't get recognized. Ran a camcontrol rescan on it, and the system gradually ground to a halt and had to be rebooted. I really shouldn't experiment with USB on dereel. But so far, the device hasn't exactly crowned itself in glory.


Geelong library DVDs: unreadable
Topic: general, opinion Link here

While in Ballarat, picked up two DVDs from the Central Highlands Library. Nothing special. Then in the afternoon, the truck from the Geelong Regional Library came along with another DVD for me. And this one, like so many before it, was unreadably damaged. From memory, I've never had a damaged DVD from the Central Highlands library, but about half of the DVDs from the Geelong library are unusable. Can I get them to fix it?


More pruning
Topic: gardening Link here

The vine growing on the verandah is growing like fury, and spent some time pruning it. I've decided to train some shoots between the rafters, pointing east or west where they can get held in place by the corrugations until they're firm enough to stand by themselves. Cut off a surprising amount of foliage. This will probably be the last year I need to do any training.


Saturday, 24 December 2011 Dereel Images for 24 December 2011
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House photos with DxO
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

House photo day today, and also the last day for the free trial of DxO Optics "Pro". Together they kept me going all day.

More firmware problems taking the verandah photos: there are clearly serious synchronization problems between my Olympus E-30 and the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital flash unit, including hanging the camera when the flash is turned off and not firing when it's turned on again, although it was charged. The latter problem went away when I power cycled the flash unit, but I ended up taking a total of 36 sets of images where I only needed 21.

Processed all the photos with DxO, first with the same settings as I used earlier this week. DxO didn't show itself from its best side. At startup it seems to hang. How many mouse clicks do you need to get these Microsoft-space programs to react? Sometimes it's a single click, sometimes it's a double click, and frequently the programs seem to ignore the mouse altogether. In days gone by they often showed an hourglass to say “Yes, I heard you, but I'm too lame to do much else now”. That way I at least know not to click any more, but that no longer seems to be modern. As it was, I ended up with some very delayed messages telling me “There can only be one”.

That wasn't the only problem. DxO go to some detail in their relatively voluminous documentation to stress the importance of the EXIF data:

DxO Optics Pro must always be the first program to edit your images. It is important to remember that EXIF data should not be modified or altered in any way, as this data is essential to insure[sic] the selection of the correct optical correction module and, therefore, the proper automatic optical corrections.

But how do you tell it to save the EXIF information in the output JPEG image? I don't know. I selected something that suggested it would give me EXIF output, but it only had the very barest of information:

File Name                       : PC250764.jpg
Directory                       : .
File Size                       : 2.9 MB
File Modification Date/Time     : 2011:12:24 13:30:01+11:00
File Permissions                : rwxr--r--
File Type                       : JPEG
MIME Type                       : image/jpeg
JFIF Version                    : 1.02
Resolution Unit                 : inches
X Resolution                    : 314
Y Resolution                    : 314
XMP Toolkit                     : Image::ExifTool 8.50
Author                          : Greg Lehey
Image Width                     : 4032
Image Height                    : 3024
Encoding Process                : Baseline DCT, Huffman coding
Bits Per Sample                 : 8
Color Components                : 3
Y Cb Cr Sub Sampling            : YCbCr4:4:4 (1 1)
Image Size                      : 4032x3024

And that's all. No camera information, no exposure details, just silly things like “Resolution”. And without this information, Hugin is dead in the water. Yes, I know the problem, and I have worked out a solution long ago. But why should I need it in a supposedly high-quality program?

The program does cater for having the contents of the directory moved while it's working; it has a “refresh” option which can be invoked by pressing F5, and apart from taking an eternity to create pretty icons of the photos, it seems to work. Most of the time, anyway. I had 187 images to process, but for some reason “Select all” chose only 55 of them—not once, but twice. A couple of times it just crashed, and it certainly loses count when these things happen:

 
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Many of the problems probably stem from the Microsoft attitude that the program should be in charge instead of just being a tool; I continually have to work around that. But in the end the conversions were OK,

After processing the photos normally, tried a couple of likely candidates with the DxO , and then selected some for processing with the HDR “preset”. How do I know whether it's been set or not? For this image or for all of them? I still don't know, but the results suggest that it has been set. There's clearly a lot to read up on here.

And the results? Parts of them were excellent. Here are four views with normal processing; moving the mouse over the image will change it to the DxO-HDR version:


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My impression is that the first two images are better with the full HDR processing, but the other two actually look better with the DxO processing of a single image. The first two images are also some of the most complicated. The first is, of course, the famous verandah panorama where I use flash to improve the gradation, and for the second one I took 5 images per position, using ones exposed at -1 EV, +1 EV and +3 EV. But that's the exception; normally I take 3 images and use the ones at +0 EV and +2 EV.

Even in these examples, though, DxO has clear advantages. Since each position is a single image, there's no ghosting, and in the second image the lack of halo round the tree at the back on the right is obvious. So there is some advantage in the software after all, and I bought it. It looks like it'll be a steep learning curve, though.


Christmas again
Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Christmas eve this evening, and Chris Yeardley was there, as just about every Saturday. We're planning a real Christmas dinner on Tuesday, when our daughter Yana and also Nele Koemle and her mother Magda are coming, so tonight we just had a glazed ham. My mother made one decades ago, but I no longer had the recipe for the glaze, so ended up making up my own version based on recollections and a recipe in Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. Didn't taste bad, but somehow something was missing. I'm sure that the following had nothing to do with the food:


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Sunday, 25 December 2011 Dereel Images for 25 December 2011
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Coming to terms with DxO
Topic: technology, photography Link here

I returned Chris Yeardley's laptop to her yesterday, as promised. But that wasn't the best of ideas: now I have purchased DxO Optics "Pro" and don't have any machine to run it on, and that on the day of the month where I have the most photos to process. Over to Chris' place to borrow another machine, this one running Microsoft “Windows” XP. Setting up was amazingly easy compared to “Windows” 7, and I was going to praise it for ease of use until I discovered that this was a machine I had already borrowed and configured 8 months ago and been through similar pain then.

Still, the result was that I got up and running pretty quickly, though it's clear that this machine is nowhere near as fast as Chris' laptop. On the laptop it took me about 11 seconds per image; on this machine it took 70. That's quite an amazing difference considering that this machine is not that old and has a 2.8 GHz processor. It brings home to me how little the clock frequency means nowadays. But it also gives the lie to DxO's claimed fourfold speed increase: in April I converted 72 images in “over an hour”. With this version it would take 84 minutes, possibly even longer than with the old version. It's still on the machine; it might be fun to try it out for comparison if it accepts the same activation key.


Garden photos
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

Last Sunday of the month today, and time for the monthly photos of the flowers in the garden. In fact, I'm planning to move them gradually to the middle of the month, so until then I'll go in steps of 4 weeks.

Once again we have a number of flowers blooming for the first time. The Gladioli are just coming into flower, as are the Kniphofia:


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A number of the plants that we bought at Lambley Nursery are now coming in to season: the the Asphodeline liburnica that we bought three months ago and the Eryngium bourgatii. The Asphodeline is particularly spindly, and the flowers only open when they want to. It's pretty, but something that needs to develop to be really pretty. The Eryngium, on the other hand, is quite spectacular:


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And the Pyrethrum that we bought at the end of August is growing like fury, outpacing other daisy-like flowers, and apparently killing the flies fool enough to land on the flowers. Judging by the flowers, it's really Tanacetum cinerariifolium. The Agapanthus are flowering for the first time since planting, as is the Campanula cochleariifolia that I bought only on Tuesday:


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The Santolina chamaecyparissus is now flowering, as are the volunteer Begonias that popped up in the middle succulent bed and which I have now transplanted under the Ginkgo:


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Old plants coming back into bloom include the Buddleja globosa—a little earlier this year, I think—and the Cannas:

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


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The Watsonias are coming into flower in many places, including many where I thought we had removed them:


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Last year both kinds of Clematis flowered at roughly the same time. This year the darker blue “vagabond” has already flowered, and now the lighter blue “pearl d'azure” is taking over:


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Now that the Fuchsias are in the shade area, they're looking much happier than before. The only issue is that that area is already so cramped.


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The Gazanias are flowering as usual, though they don't always look as happy as they should be. I need to transplant them.


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The Hebes are also going from strength to strength. Like the Clematis, they're flowering in succession. The violet ones (first image) are coming to the end of their season, and two others are just coming into flower. There's still a pure white one which is on its way.


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My red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has now recovered from last year's chill and is flowering happily again. The flowers are up to 20 cm across. And this year the Korean Hibiscus syriacus has started flowering early—previously I haven't seen it flower until March.


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The Mirabilis jalapa are another flower that is particularly difficult to catch with the flowers open. The books say that they flower in the evening, but clearly the flowers can't read.


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For some reason, the Lonicera don't have much to show for themselves yet, though they're not looking unhappy. Some have flowered a little, but right now there's almost nothing. I wonder if it has been too warm lately.


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The roses are coming in force, but not always as pretty as they could be:


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DxO conversions: preliminary verdict
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

I processed all the photos above with DxO Optics "Pro" and the “realistic” profile for the “Single-shot HDR”. It's a good compromise. In some cases, I think it would have been better without, but it reminds me of the first film I took in an Asahi Pentax “Spotmatic”, over 45 years ago. I didn't even need to print the negatives; compared to the results I got with my SV (despite exposure meter), everything just looked so evenly exposed that I was convinced. These results were similar. Went to some lengths to compare them in more detail, including writing another script to generate web pages, but it's clear that I need to do more than that. Things have to be easy to handle the 170 photos I took today. So for today, at any rate, I've just left the “HDR” versions. Next I need to learn more details of DxO.


Lightning strikes
Topic: general Link here

In the afternoon, sitting at the computer, a sudden crackling noise came from the monitor in front of me (:0.2), sounding something like a short circuit or a spark. It was immediately followed by a loud thunderclap from outside to the west (towards Chris Yeardley's place). She had been outside the garden and saw the lightning strike somewhere close to us. No harm done, but the crackling noise from the area of the monitor suggests strong electrical fields just before the strike.

It had one effect: it clearly punched a hole in the sky, and all the water ran out. In what seemed to be only a minute, we had 2.8 mm of rain. From the IRC log, it can't have been much longer:

* gr0ogle gets hit by lightning.                                                           [15:12]
<fenix> hey, how close was that??                                                          [15:14]
<gr0ogle> I don't know.
<gr0ogle> Did it seem to come from my direction?
<fenix> sure did
<gr0ogle> I heard a sudden "snap" about 300 ms before the lightning.
<gr0ogle> From my monitor.                                                                 [15:15]
<gr0ogle> Nothing seems to be damaged, though.
<fenix> oops
<fenix> I'm surprised the power hasn't blipped
<gr0ogle> For the rest of you: fenix lives about 1 km direct line from me, so the flash
 must have been in that range.
<fenix> I was outside to close the car windows and was just looking across                 [15:16]
<gr0ogle> Certainly made a big hole in the sky.
<fwaggle> freaky :O
<gr0ogle> Ah, did you see it?
<fenix> :-)
<fenix> yep
<gr0ogle> How close to us or to you do you reckon?                                         [15:17]
<gr0ogle> It's that red blob on the inner circle at 270°.
<fenix> not sure, but the thunderclap was almost instantanous
<gr0ogle> Then maybe closer to you.
<fenix> Let's just say my first thought was if it hit @ your place
<fenix> naw, it came down well behind the trees in your direction                          [15:18]
<fenix> I just hope we won't get hail now
<gr0ogle> We just did.                                                                     [15:19]
* gr0ogle goes outside to count the animals.
<fenix> was it that bad??
<gr0ogle> No obvious damage.                                                               [15:21]
<gr0ogle> 2.8 mm rain in about one minute.                                                 [15:22]

fenix is Chris, of course.

It seems, though, that we got away lightly if this report is anything to go by. But we did get a marked drop in the temperature, in itself welcome:

5 days temperatures
Monday, 26 December 2011 Dereel Images for 26 December 2011
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure this morning at 3:17. That brings the total for the year to 37, two of which were probably just fluctuations.


Is my Microsoft pirated?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While bumbling around in a maze of twisty little menus, all different, on braindeath, Chris Yeardley's Microsoft XP machine, found a selection “Is my copy of Windows[sic] pirated?” or some such—I can't find it again to check. For the fun of it, selected it and got this page: “Server Error in '/howtotell' Application.”. The accompanying text relates to remote access, but I was accessing it locally. I wonder if it ever works.

That wasn't the only problem. At some point I got this:

 
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What's that? A bug, clearly, but what, and how do you solve it? Reinstall, I suppose, like for most serious Microsoft problems.


More experience with DxO
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Spent a lot of time playing with DxO Optics "Pro". Gradually I'm getting used to the idea of waiting 5 or 10 seconds to see if my mouse click had any effect or not. Why can't they give some visual feedback?

Didn't really come up with any real new discoveries. Time to RTFM, all 141 pages of it.


Yana returns
Topic: general Link here

Our daughter Yana came home for a few days in the evening. She had all her hair shaved off in March, and it's still growing back, blonde for some reason.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011 Dereel Images for 27 December 2011
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Planting before the guests arrive
Topic: gardening, general Link here

There's nothing like having guests coming to make you tidy things up. We still had a lot of junk on the verandah, including the remains of the Phormium “Jester”, so set to planting that. Split the plant into three parts, two of which we planted:


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We still need to work out where to put the third part.


Parsley and the dead VoIP ATA
Topic: food and drink, technology Link here

Things always fail at the most inappropriate time. Round midday I started work on the turkey stuffing, and couldn't find the parsley. Tried to call Yvonne, who was at the Yeardley's, and the phone started ringing immediately. Normally there's a one or two second delay while the VoIP network does its thing. Despite other failings, Telstra provides an apparently immediate connection. So clearly I was being connected via Telstra. Why?

Closer investigation showed a very hot, non-responsive ATA. Power cycling didn't help: it was dead. Not the end of the world: I have two of them from the days when I worked (homephone.lemis.com and officephone.lemis.com). officephone was dead so I just put homephone in its place. All done bar the configuration.

But the configuration was the fun. The last time I used homephone was in the bad old satellite days, and it was set up to connect to some long since departed network. Even the IP address was incorrect (hint, courtesy of Internode: fire up the machine, connect a phone, hit **** and you should get a Dalek talking at you. Hit 110# and it will read you the IP address).

But then came the setup for MyNetFone. I had my personal details (user number and password), but what SIP server? What else might I need to change? Spent 20 minutes searching the MyNetFone site for the details, downloading all sorts of documents aimed at new uses. Nothing to tell me the name of the server. Finally found a sample config that was really quite well done, and I was able to set the thing up in a couple of minutes without making a mistake. But why is this information so difficult to find?


The real Christmas Dinner
Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Nele Koemle and her mother Magda Delva along for dinner this evening. All went well, and in contrast to last year it was warm enough to sit outside on the verandah:


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And once again we had Pavlova for sweets. Once again, it seems, we forgot that Nele doesn't like Pavlova.


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Wednesday, 28 December 2011 Dereel Images for 28 December 2011
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Home alone
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Yana left for Adelaide via Melbourne early this morning, and we're alone again. It's nice having visitors, but I find myself getting more less and less sociable, and it's fun alone.


Camera image quality
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yana has training as a photographer, but for some reason she doesn't use her Canon 30D much any more; instead, she has a Canon IXUS 130, a close relative of Yvonne's IXY 200F, also known as IXUS 105. Even when we bought the latter camera, it was clear that the main reason for that choice was the small size and the image stabilization. Other qualities came a way behind.

And, indeed, that became very apparent when processing yesterday's photos. A large number of the photos were uselessly out of focus, like these two:


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And then I noticed the image quality. This photo is barely acceptable at screen width (2 clicks):


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There's significant flare and chromatic aberration at the corners. There's no obvious reason for that. Are the lenses really that bad? As far as I can tell, the lens is the same as the one in Yvonne's camera, so went and took roughly comparable photos with her camera and my own, not helped by difficulties deciding on the point from which Yana took her photo. Here the results and details. First, the images, which don't line up at all well. The first is with the IXUS 120 (or IXY 220), the second with the IXY 200F (or IXUS 105), and the third with the Olympus E-30. In all these sequences, mouseover gives a comparison with the next in line:


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Here are selections from the top left corner:

 
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Top right:

 
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And somewhere towards bottom left

 
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This suggests to me that there's something wrong with Yana's camera. Yvonne's isn't spectacularly good, but it's a lot better than Yana's. And the E-30 is much better than either.

All these cameras have roughly the same sensor resolution, and the aperture and focal length were the same for both Canons (5 mm, f/2.8). Possibly a smaller aperture would have improved the image quality, but the wide aperture seems intentional, since the sensor was set at 18°/80 ISO, and the shutter speeds were 1/500s and 1/400s.

OK, a DSLR is a different class of camera. But it took me quite a while to realize that, and I still don't know why Yana is happy with the quality of her images. Things aren't as obvious as they would seem.


The pond, 6 weeks on
Topic: gardening Link here

It's only been just over 6 weeks since we first put water in the pond. At that time I also added a couple of pinches of duckweed. It's happy. Here the pond seen from the verandah on 14 November 2011 and today:


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