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Friday, 1 February 2008 Dereel Images for 1 February 2008
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The day started early today, with the dogs barking outside. We had fenced them in, we thought, but Tony found a way to escape. Out to bring him inside, and in the process found a UPS screaming its head off in my office: we'd had a power failure, and it had killed the last of my el-cheapo UPSs. Fortunately nothing important was connected to it, so just turned it off and back to bed.

I'm writing a chapter for a new book from O'Reilly. I suppose it's a sign of the times that the contract arrived like this:

Hi, Greg!

Here's the contract.  Please fill in the bracketed spaces with your information, sign it, a
nd send it back.  If you have any problems, please let me know.

[-- Attachment #2: ContributorAgreement.doc --]
[-- Type: application/msword, Encoding: base64, Size: 1.9M --]

[-- application/msword is unsupported (use 'v' to view this part) --]

The text of the paragraph was all on one line, of course. But once O'Reilly was a UNIX company. Now people expect of me that I have Microsoft “Word”. sigh.

Into town for various things, including looking for insurance for the cars. That proved to be both cheaper and more varied than I had expected, and I fear I'm going to have to do some more research.

While in town also found some of our mystery flowers for sale. Here the photo taken two years ago, then the ones I found today:


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They're Mandevillas, and the one I saw today is called “Crimson Fantasy”

While there, also bought some seeds for Chinese cabbage. No mention of the fantasy name wombok on the package, just like in the same company there's no mention of Chinese cabbage on the “wombok”s in the food department. Isn't that a good way to avoid confusion?

Back home, and built a better prison for the dogs:


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I'm a little ambivalent about the matter, though. Since we've taken to locking them in, kangaroos have eaten a lot of our small shrubs:


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Probably it was only the dogs keeping them away.

Later did a survey on Lightspeed. These people always irritate me with their stupid and badly formulated questions. Here I answered almost exactly as requested. The text in blue below the logo is an error message.

 
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It seems that I wasn't allowed to enter the suggested $ character. And here they don't seem to know what “positive” means, let alone consider that maybe there are people who never print their photos:


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And the market relies on the results of such surveys to decide what to produce.


Saturday, 2 February 2008 Dereel Images for 2 February 2008
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Another barbecue today, this time not as hectic as four weeks ago. I had invited quite a few people, but in the end only Kelly Yeoh, Paul McKenney, Giuseppe Maxia and Colin Charles arrived. I suppose the distance is an issue. Had quite a pleasant time; the temperature was higher than promised, but not as high as last time. About the only issue I have is that taking photos in the barbecue area is something I still need to work on:


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Looks like fill-in flash is needed, but the toys in the camera wouldn't be enough.

Since then, I have taken to reprocessing these photos. The results aren't as good as they could be, because I stored the photos only in JPEG format rather than raw, but here's this photo as it was reprocessed on 25 January 2012. Moving the mouse over the image will switch between the old and the new version. The difference in appearance is due to distortion correction in the new image.


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Sunday, 3 February 2008 Dereel Images for 3 February 2008
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David and Fifi left for Singapore today, so down to see Loes Pearson to get some documentation witnessed for them.

Playing around with external flash in the barbecue area this afternoon. About the only real conclusion was that it's possible, and that I probably have to experiment to get things right:

 
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Revisiting this article on 8 years later I note that my processing methods have significantly improved the results:

 
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But I still haven't solved the flash problem.

Somehow I'm ending up doing more and more on the computers; today at any rate I decided that it was time to install new software. Both dereel and eureka have systems that are well over a year old, and the changes to X have made it difficult to upgrade things. Installed 6-STABLE and started trying to install the ports, not helped, it seems, by a recent cable fault in the Near East: files downloaded at under 1 kB/s:

      569 IP eureka-ext.lemis.com.51210 > niue.belnet.be.62630: .  ack 2760861 win 64240
 1.135857 IP niue.belnet.be.62630 > eureka-ext.lemis.com.51210: P 2760861:2762321(1460) ack 0 win 8192
   100705 IP eureka-ext.lemis.com.51210 > niue.belnet.be.62630: .  ack 2762321 win 65535
17.127152 IP niue.belnet.be.62630 > eureka-ext.lemis.com.51210: P 2762321:2763781(1460) ack 0 win 8192

I had to leave the installation of Emacs to run overnight.


Monday, 4 February 2008 Dereel Images for 4 February 2008
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In this morning to find the Emacs port waiting in some dialogue. How I hate interactive ports!

Continued with the installation of the new machine, updating my system upgrade HOWTO in the process. There were still lots of bumps.

Another thing I have to do is to install Apache on delicious, Chris Yeardley's Apple, the only UNIX machine she has. Decided to do that on boskoop, my Apple, first. That worked well enough from Fink, but for some strange reason they didn't have any PHP packages. Asked Rasmus, who is also an Apple fan, on IRC. He pointed me to MacPorts. To my surprise, it seems to be a FreeBSD Ports Collection lookalike, even to the point of storing the tarballs in almost the same directory hierarchy, which almost makes it possible to use the same directory structure to store them for both FreeBSD and Mac. Whereas FreeBSD would store a gettext tarball as /usr/ports/distfiles/gettext-0.17.tar.gz, MacPorts stores it as /opt/local/var/macports/distfiles/gettext/gettext-0.17.tar.gz. The different place in the tree isn't an issue—a symlink would solve that—but the extra subdirectory of distfiles is.

The disadvantages of the Ports Collection show up when building on an old machine. boskoop is a 400 MHz G4, and it took most of the afternoon to build PHP5. Then it occurred to me that it probably wouldn't mesh with the Apache 2 that I had installed with fink, so set to installing that too; but that died with some obscure error not made any easier by the fact that MacPorts is an order of magnitude less verbose than the Ports Collection, at least by default. And finally it occurred to me that Chris doesn't have development tools on her machine, that they're probably no longer available (Mac OS 10.3), and that a download of the current ones is over 1 GB, more than we can afford to pull in over satellite. So it looks like we're going to have to find a different solution for this one.

In the evening, suddenly realised that I had made a better approach for the Black Box Project, and confirmed that, yes, indeed, all the stuff was in place. Damn! Apart from other issues, it means that my system upgrade HOWTO is all wrong.


Tuesday, 5 February 2008 Dereel Images for 5 February 2008
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Spent all day building software for the new dereel. At least things are looking more reasonable now.

Message from Daniel Nebdal today reminding me that I can set BATCH=yes to stop interactive ports prompting. That's true, but my experience is that most interactive ports refuse to build when BATCH is set. The correct way is probably to save the options file, and that's what I plan to do.

The IRC client that I use is ERC, a set of Emacs macros. For reasons that don't make much sense, it depends on Emacs chess, and that fails to build in conjunction with Emacs version 22. Spent some time trying to excise Emacs chess from ERC, but in the end gave up.

Chris Yeardley along in the evening with Jenny Judson, who's from the North-East of the state. Spent a long evening discussing teaching horsemanship.


Wednesday, 6 February 2008 Dereel Images for 6 February 2008
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The Bureau of Meteorology has been promising rain for two days now, but finally it came, with a vengeance. We had a total of 69 mm rain, 50% more than the average monthly rainfall for February. About 60 mm of it fell between 15:00 and 19:00.

Clearly a day for working inside; somehow didn't get very much done, though.

I've finally had some interest shown in the Savary jeune bassoon of 1842 that I've had for 15 years and have advertised for sale for about 10 of them. It looks like the restoration costs would be higher than the person expected, so it's not going to go, but he did send me some interesting photos of other instruments:


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Thursday, 7 February 2008 Dereel
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Woke up with this great idea about how to structure photo displays. The problem: in places like this diary, I show a number of photos—see the graphs below. If you click on them, the page is redisplayed with all images larger, approximately 450x600 pixels (0.27 MP). The real photos are usually much larger still, up to 10 MP. That's too large to do the same thing again—I've already had cases where a number of large photos caused firefox to eat up more than a gigabyte of memory—so currently I go to the raw photos page. The trouble there is that the photos are in no obvious relationship to the photos on the referring page. For example, for yesterday the PHP reads:

    <?php
    showphoto ("Photos/20080206/Sautermeister-3.jpeg");
    showphoto ("Photos/20080206/V-Rust-and-Dubois-2.jpeg");
    showphoto ("Photos/20080123/Triebert-bassoon-1.jpeg");
    ?>

These photos were taken on two different days, and the two taken yesterday are only two of 19. What I want is something like the big photos page, but with the sequence defined in the calling page (in other words, the sequence shown in the code extract above). In the middle of the night it dawned on me that I could use the showphoto function to build up a list dynamically and pass it on with POSTDATA. When I sat down to do it, the problem became clear: I don't finish building up the list until the end of the page, but by that time I have emitted the HTML. What I need is a two-pass system, and I still need to think out the best way of doing that.

Also has a phone call from Wideband technical support, who wanted to hear about how my connectivity was. It's still not spectacular: the enlargement of the following graph shows clearly a 2 hour outage just after midnight on 6 February:

 
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Callum Gibson also noticed something else: the green line (connectivity) shows periodic fluctuations. It's worst between about midday and 8 pm, and he suspects, I think correctly, that it's a load related matter. This graph also shows the effect of some changes that Wideband made on 4 February: particularly the smoothed graph shows much less fluctuation. Unfortunately, though it's better, we're still seeing a lot of dropped packets.

While pondering that issue, the satellite connection dropped out. After an hour I called support and was told that they were still searching. Tried out rebooting the modem without BST, but this time it didn't make any difference. The only difference is that without BST there's a time out, not an ECONNRESET. That confirms my previous suspicion that the ECONNRESET was coming from BST.

While calling Wideband support heard a voice mail message, left this morning, from somebody at Telstra calling about my complaint, and promising to call back.

Over the Chris Yeardley to check out her connection. No problem. It proved to be a routing problem that got sorted out after about 2 hours.


Friday, 8 February 2008 Dereel Images for 8 February 2008
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Mail from Giuseppe Maxia today, pointing me at his blog entry for last Saturday. I particularly like the picture of Chris pushing Darah. This one's an external link, so there's no larger version.

Giuseppe Maxia's view of Dereel

In the last few days I've seen issues with the TV programme information that I have been getting from the Australian TV Guide: instead of being up to date for the following week, it had dwindled to a couple of days. There are alternatives, noticeably shepherd, which collects information from multiple sources. I had tried and given up installing it some time ago, but clearly there was now a need.


Installing shepherd
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Shepherd's designed for Linux, of course, which makes it more difficult to describe how to fix it, though they have quite a reasonable description, somewhat marred by the use of some of the more stupid HTML constructs:

 
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It starts with pulling down the source file, of course. They suggest wget, but it's only one file, so on FreeBSD ftp or fetch work fine. Then I ran into perl hell:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypm) ~/CVR/shepherd 116 -> perl shepherd

ERROR:
Mandatory module 'Algorithm::Diff' not found.

Please see the Wiki at http://svn.whuffy.com/wiki/Installation
for details on how to install this module.

I don't do perl, and just finding the module took some time. This one's in /usr/ports/devel/p5-Algorithm-Diff, but I don't know how many more I needed. Then it dawned on me that I needed to run it on ceeveear anyway, and that runs Linux, so didn't try any further.

Running on Linux wasn't completely plain sailing:

=== mythtv@ceeveear (/dev/pts/2) ~ 11 -> perl /dereel/home/grog/CVR/shepherd/shepherd
shepherd v1.2.37 (linux)

Reading configuration file: /home/mythtv/.shepherd/shepherd.conf
Reading channels file: /home/mythtv/.shepherd/channels.conf
Migrating channel "TENHD" to "TEN HD".
Updating channels file.
Lock failed.
ERROR: Another instance of Shepherd is already running.  Exiting.
There was no other shepherd, so I stopped mythfrontend. That didn't help either.
=== mythtv@ceeveear (/dev/pts/2) ~ 12 -> perl /dereel/home/grog/CVR/shepherd/shepherd
shepherd v1.2.37 (linux)

Reading configuration file: /home/mythtv/.shepherd/shepherd.conf
Reading channels file: /home/mythtv/.shepherd/channels.conf
Checking for channel migrations...
Ignoring unsupported channel for region 81: "TEN HD"
Lock failed.
ERROR: Another instance of Shepherd is already running.  Exiting.

About the only interesting difference there was the way it handled TEN HD. So I tried strace, which showed me:

flock(3, LOCK_EX|LOCK_NB)               = -1 ENOLCK (No locks available)
write(1, "Lock failed.\n", 13)          = 13
write(1, "ERROR: Another instance of Sheph"..., 65) = 65

ENOLCK? Why are no locks available? Well, it was returned from a call to flock, so what does the man page say?

=== mythtv@ceeveear (/dev/pts/2) ~ 70 -> man 2 flock
No manual entry for flock in section 2

How I love Linux! Why does Debian install every byte separately? The FreeBSD man page doesn't mention ENOLOCK, so went back to find what file it was trying to lock. That has to be a return from open, so searched backward for the regular expression open.*= 3 and found:

open("/dereel/home/grog/CVR/shepherd/shepherd", O_RDONLY|O_LARGEFILE) = 3

/dereel/home is the /home directory on dereel, the machine I first tried it on. So it's an NFS locking issue and an error message that jumps to conclusions. Copied shepherd to the local directory and it worked. Some of the output was interesting. It's quite verbose, so I've abbreviated it here.

Configuring.

Step 1: Region Selection

Select your region:
 (126) ACT
...
 ( 98) VIC: Western Victoria
...
 (102) WA: Regional
Enter region code:
 [67,90,63,71,102,78,107,79,93,88,106,82,126,74,85,95,83,75,94,108,114,184,69,81,98,101,66,73,86
 (default=94)] 98

Step 2: Channel Selection

Shepherd offers two methods of channel selection: Guided and Advanced.
Guided is easier; Advanced allows manual entering of XMLTV IDs.

Would you like Guided channel selection? [yes,no (default=yes)] n

Your region has 11 Free to Air channels:
 ABC, ABC2, SBS, SBS News, 7HD, TEN HD, Imparja, WIN, Prime, TEN, Seven.
I've never heard of Imparja. I suppose I should examine it.
Each channel you want guide data for needs a unique XMLTV ID.  You can type
in an ID of your choice, or press ENTER to accept the suggested [default],
or type in "n" to skip this channel.

Free to Air Channels:
( 1/11) "ABC" (new)
        Looks like MythTV channel #-: "ABC" (ABC)
        [ABC-Vic] ? return
( 2/11) "ABC2" (new)
        Looks like MythTV channel #-: "ABC2" (ABC2)
        [ABC2] ? return
...
( 4/11) "SBS News" (new)
        [sbsnews.free.au] ? SBSWN
( 5/11) "7HD" (new)
        [7hd.free.au] ? 7HD
...
( 9/11) "Prime" (new)
        [prime.free.au] ? Prime-Vic
...
(11/11) "Seven" (new)
        Looks like MythTV channel #-: "Seven" (SEVEN)
        [Prime-Vic] ?
ERROR: You have entered identical XMLTV IDs for Seven and Prime ("Prime-Vic").  Exiting.

Clearly there's a misunderstanding here. I wonder where. From what I see, 7 and Prime are the same channel, and that's what shepherd suggests at the end. OK, try again.

...
Would you like Guided channel selection? [yes,no (default=yes)] return

* Guided Channel Selection *

High Definition TV (HDTV)

If you have a HDTV capable system and are interested in
having Shepherd's postprocessors populate HDTV content
then Shepherd will need to know the XMLTV IDs for the HD
channels also.  HD related SD channels are required.
The new 7HD channel is populated with programs from the first related SD channel.
http://svn.whuffy.com/index.fcgi/wiki/FAQ#MyhighdefinitionHDchannelsaremissingprograms
Do you have High-Definition (HDTV)? [yes,no (default=no)] yes
'TEN HD' is going to be populated from 'TEN'
'7HD' is going to be populated from 'Seven'

Do you have PayTV? [yes,no (default=no)] return

Your MythTV has 27 channels.  Shepherd offers 16 channels of guide
data for VIC: Western Victoria (11 free-to-air, 5 HDTV, 0 Pay-TV).

Please associate each MythTV channel with a Shepherd guide data
channel.

Guide data sources:
( 0) (no guide)                    ( 9) TEN
( 1) 7HD                           (10) TEN HD
( 2) ABC                           (11) WIN
( 3) ABC2                          (12) ABCHD
( 4) Imparja                       (13) ImparjaHD
( 5) Prime                         (14) PrimeHD
( 6) SBS                           (15) SBSHD
( 7) SBS News                      (16) WINHD
( 8) Seven
MythTV channel -: ABC ? 20
Unknown #: 19

Huh? Where did 19 come from? I did a lot of fiddling around before I got to what I think is the correct answer. It all depends on correct interpretation of the prompt:

MythTV channel -: ABC ?

It's not asking for a MythTV channel number: it's trying to present one, and it's asking for the corresponding guide data source. In this case, there isn't a channel number, so the program shows -, but the correct answer is still 2 (ABC). That becomes clearer when we get to the channels that do have a channel number:

MythTV channel 20: ABC HDTV ? 2

Next came the option to reconfigure from an existing grabber. I was using OzTivo, so chose that, and it seemed to work.

Finally got a display of what I had (again somewhat shortened):

VIC: Western Victoria (98).  27 MythTV channels.  16 Shepherd channels.

   #  MythTV Channel                 Shepherd Guide Data
 --------------------------------------------------------
      ABC                            -> ABC
 201  ABC DiG Jazz                   -> -
 200  ABC DiG Radio                  -> -
  20  ABC HDTV                       -> ABC
  22  ABC TV                         -> -
   2  ABC TV Victoria                -> -
      ABC2                           -> ABC2
  55  MyTalk                         -> -
      Nine                           -> -
   6  PRIME Ballarat                 -> Seven
  60  PRIME HD                       -> Seven
  61  PRIME View 1                   -> Seven
  62  PRIME View 2                   -> Seven
  63  PRIME View 3                   -> Seven
      SBS                            -> SBS
  31  SBS 2                          -> -
  30  SBS HD                         -> -
  33  SBS NEWS                       -> -
  38  SBS RADIO 1                    -> -
  39  SBS RADIO 2                    -> -
      SBSWN                          -> -
   5  SC10 Ballarat                  -> -
  50  SC10 HD                        -> -
      Seven                          -> Seven
      Ten                            -> -
  80  WIN TV HD                      -> -
  80  Western Vic                    -> -

Next I had to connect the thing to MythTV, which went surprisingly well, though the thing ran for over an hour pulling down not only programme information, but also IMDB data. At the end of that, I still didn't have data for ABC2 that went beyond Sunday, but to make up for it, the categories of many programmes had been changed, messing up my custom queries. There was also no sign of the IMDB data in MythWeb. Still, on the whole it went better than I had expected. I just wish I could trust multimedia software more.


Saturday, 9 February 2008 Dereel Images for 9 February 2008
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Shepherd doesn't solve everything
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

The transition to shepherd didn't exactly solve all my problems. ABC 2 was still missing, and I managed to have multiple programmes scheduled for recording—even on tuner 1, which doesn't really work. Looks like I need more delving into the database to fix that.


Microsoft illiteracy
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've been subscribed to C't for nearly 25 years. It's one of the best computer magazines, and the only one I read on a regular basis. About the only problem is renewing my subscription: the subscription department is firmly anchored in the twentieth century. They send subscription renewal notices by (surface) mail and expect payment by bank transfer. That works fine in Europe, but for me it means that the renewal notice doesn't arrive until after the “pay by” date, and it involves bank charges of about 25% of the total sum. Recently I sent an email to the subscription department asking them to send the renewal notices by email and to arrange for payment by PayPal or credit card. I got an immediate response saying that my message had been received and that I would get a response soon. Two days later I sent a reminder.

Finally, a week later, I received a reply telling me that they weren't able to send subscription renewal notices by email (why?), but yes, I could give them the credit card details and they would process the renewal. No mention of PayPal. Oh, and would I include the original correspondence as an attachment? That would make things easier to follow, since the email is processed by a team. And this where I had included all the necessary information where it was needed, and not as an unrelated attachment.

I also got a second message, with no relationship at all beyond the subject line; neither an attached message nor quoted messages, nor a Message-Id, from a Tanja Mödinger of the ZENIT Pressevertrieb GmbH, a company apparently without its own web site, also inviting me to send her my credit card details. How did she get hold of it? After some searching it seems that ZENIT handles Heise's subscriptions. But the first impression I got was that somebody had intercepted my mail and was phishing for the credit card information. And why two different replies, one asking for superfluous attachments, the other supplying no corroborative information?

I had worried about this for a while, but finally sent off a message with the information. Today I got a reply, attaching my message, along with my credit card details, and asking for the same information again!

Somehow the whole Microsoft world seems incapable of handling more than the simplest email. Here are some of the more obvious problems I see:

  1. The inability to process text easily leads to the habit of attaching everything, including irrelevant and overly long signatures, stupid disclaimers and other irrelevant information.
  2. This in turn means that people don't quote messages when they reply to them.
  3. That again leads to people missing points in answers.

    It may seem that keeping a reply separate from the original message is not significantly different from replying to a paper letter; but it is: in the case of the paper letter, you can put the original to one side of the reply. In the case of a computer, assuming an environment typical not only of Microsoft, you only have one display and it takes a lot of juggling to show things side by side. What you then have is not only the original message, but also components which in a letter would have belonged to the (presumably discarded) envelope, perhaps recursively if you can stand to keep up a Microsoft mail thread for a depth of more than one or two messages.

    I don't know when I last received a proper reply to an email with more than one point from people in the Microsoft space.

None of that explains why I got a reply to my message asking for the information that they attached. It could be pure stupidity on the part of the respondent, of course, but I can't help feeling that there's something else out there as well. Maybe the long lines? I've checked the appearance of the message as displayed by Microsoft “Outlook”, but apart from some deliberate mutilation, there's nothing that would make it obviously more difficult to understand.


Sunday, 10 February 2008 Dereel Images for 10 February 2008
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The perfect fried egg
Topic: food and drink Link here

It's surprising how difficult it is to make a perfect fried egg, one with the white closely surrounding a perfect soft yolk:

So today I tried an alternative: steam them. I used small Chinese saucers, buttered so that the eggs wouldn't stick:


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The steaming took a surprising amount of time to cook the whites, about 6 minutes. By that time, the yolks were done too:


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In addition, the anti-stick measures didn't work:


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So that's another unsuccessful experiment. Is it worth continuing? To be considered. The real question is why the yolks cooked so much faster than the whites in comparison with frying. It must be related to the thickness. More consideration needed.


Upgrading dereel
Topic: technology Link here

Made another attempt at upgrading dereel today, not completely successful. What's the best way to move a complete image around? It used to be that you could just copy a partition with dd, but now I can't overwrite the disk label any more. tar isn't really an alternative, at least because it doesn't back up sockets, but also because I can't find a way to get it to restore all permissions correctly. It doesn't help that it's been rewritten to be less like GNU tar—successfully, unfortunately. The last thing we need is gratuitous differences. Probably the correct solution is a -d option to bsdlabel, which erases the label and allows writing to the entire partition. But I didn't feel like doing that today; probably dump(8) is the workaround, though I'm no longer sure that it's the solution for anything.


Darah has Greasy Heel
Topic: animals Link here

For the past few days, Darah has had a wound above the left rear hoof. It looks disconcertingly like Greasy Heel to me, and the whites of her eyes look inflamed:


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The only strange thing is that it's usually associated with moist conditions, not quite what we have here. In any case, it looks like a case for the vet tomorrow.


Topic: general Link here

We've rather stalled on our “moving in” activities in the last couple of months. The dining room still looks like it did a month ago, and I really need to move it into the garage. That means making space in the garage, of course, so for the past couple of days I've been moving crates from the garage into the container. I had originally intended to put my overflow computers (the ones that used to be in the Mike Smith Memorial Room) into the container, but it gets really hot in there, even on a relatively cool day like today, so I can't even put magnetic material in there. Instead it'll be books and old hardware, which will hopefully handle the heat.


Monday, 11 February 2008 Dereel Images for 11 February 2008
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Letter in the mail from Telstra, apparently from the person who called me last Thursday, and written the same day, claiming “Due to my not being able to contact you”. I suppose it's typical that “contact” means “call on the phone”, but where's the attempt to call me back? In typical Telstra fashion, it had the date wrong and ignored most of what I said. In particular, there's no commitment to fix the broken software, neither the modem driver nor the billing software. And after all the trouble I have had contacting them, and the fact that they didn't do anything at all until 11 days after I wrote my letter, they gave me 10 business days to answer or have the matter closed. Or maybe it was even worse—the letter also states:

If I do not hear from you by close of business on the 12 July 2007, we will consider this matter resolved and your complaint will be closed.

Started writing a furious letter, and then decided to cool down first instead.

Only later did I look at the date more carefully. It had expired more than 6 months previously.

Vet along today and confirmed our fears: Darah has Greasy Heel. He's not too worried about her chances; she should be OK in a week or so. Our main concern was that we had a case with Shaleema some years ago where it took lots of time and money to heal her. But in this case it looks like we caught it in time.

Somehow didn't get much else done. I really need to get my chapter on Tandem together, but of course I can't find any of my old documentation. It looks as if I'll have to stick to what's on the web.

Still playing around with the perfect system upgrade. Even dump and restore aren't without their problems. At the end of the restore, you get the message:

Set directory mode, owner, and times.
set owner/mode for '.'? [yn] n

If you answer y, it does strange things to the directory permissions; in my case, the permissions for /usr were set to drwx------, with the rather strange result that I couldn't log in, getting the message /usr/local/bin/bash: cannot execute.


Tuesday, 12 February 2008 Dereel
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Continued with the upgrade of dereel today, and finally was successful, after a fashion. At any rate it should make it much easier for future occasions.

Things that needed attention were:

Also more work round the house, and this time finally removed the insides of the front dog shed, which I had started over three months ago and then given up on because of the perceived amount of work involved. Today I finally finished it—took me about half an hour.


Wednesday, 13 February 2008 Dereel
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More work on tidying up the loose ends of the dereel upgrade today. The good news is that it's relatively little, but it kept me busy. Now I need to fix my HOWTO to reflect what I've done.

Apart from that, more tidying out the garden shed. It didn't look that dirty, but I managed to remove an incredible amount of dust, without it being all. At least I'm getting the feeling of making headway again.

Also looking at the book chapter for “Beautiful Architecture”. It's supposed to be 10 to 15 pages. I wonder how to keep it that short.


Thursday, 14 February 2008 Dereel Images for 14 February 2008
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Gradually the problems with the ABC programme are becoming clearer: the web site is broken beyond any reasonable expectation, even for “modern” web sites:

 
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The first photo shows the result of just trying to access the home page: it's a truncated message showing that the access has been successful, and that the data is cached. The second almost works: it's supposed to be today's programme for ABC2, but it's 6 days out of date.

At one point it looked as if ABC had realized that they're not in the ISP business and changed their domain name to www.abc.com.au, so tried that URL, only to find that the 404 page doesn't know the difference between an invalid URL and one that isn't found (and the home page at that!). This is Australia's national broadcaster; can't they do better? Even a bit of minor testing would have found these bugs. It really seems that the entire Internet community is falling apart.

Didn't do much during the day. A bit of work on my Tandem chapter, which involved a bit of work moving the packing cases that were in the garage into the shipping container, finding some old course material in the process. Also a bit of work in the garden shed, not nearly as much as I should have.


Friday, 15 February 2008 Dereel
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Another day where I didn't seem to get much done. Found some wide-throw sprinklers in the shed:


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Put them in the garden in the hope that it would save me some work, but it looks as if the devices are designed for higher pressure than the pump can push down the hose, and from time to time they just stopped rotating, making more work, not less.

AUUG seems to be moving one step closer to dissolution; finally sent out a message offering to continue as a low-key entity. I wonder if anything will come of it.


Saturday, 16 February 2008 Dereel Images for 16 February 2008
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Woken in the middle of the night by another power failure, which went on for a longer time than usual and ultimately became three. The power first failed at 0:54 and didn't come back completely until 3:14, a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Into the office after breakfast to clean up the mess, which was considerable. Two of three UPSs had decided to stay powered down (not even charging!) after being discharged, and the only machines still running were tvremote (a laptop that had weathered everything) and ceeveear, one of the machines connected to the sole still functional UPS. The others were:

Why did the UPSs not come back? They both required a long press on the “on” button before they would do anything. Does some misguided manufacturer consider this a feature?

When they did, both dereel and lagoon rattled like a machine gun: must have been the dust on the power supply fan. Fortunately it went away after a while. I must find a way to keep them clean. dereel also didn't display anything on the monitor; after a bit of messing around, decided that the monitor (the LG 900B that I had put there a couple of days ago) didn't like the frequency of the BIOS display, which was strange. It stabilized after a while.

It wasn't exactly plain sailing from there. The problems I had included:

In the afternoon, while syncing to my visible web site, got a number of messages like:
2090667 100%   29.87kB/s    0:01:08 (xfer#830, to-check=551/44302)
20080216/big/garden-w.jpeg
Received disconnect from 203.10.76.45: 2: Corrupted MAC on input.
rsync: writefd_unbuffered failed to write 32768 bytes [sender]: Broken pipe (32)
rsync: connection unexpectedly closed (567446 bytes received so far) [sender]
rsync error: unexplained error (code 255) at io.c(462) [sender=2.6.9]

They occurred at different places, and finally went away. On the face of it, this means some kind of data corruption in the data received by the remote rsync process. But where? Sure, data can get corrupted on satellite links, but that's what TCP checksums are for. My suspicion currently is this already suspect BST/NettGain implementation.

We had invited Chris Yeardley to dinner in the evening, and Yvonne wanted to make some Sri Lankan food from the SBS Food Safari, and had bought some chicken thighs to make a chicken curry. Unfortunately she hadn't bought any lemon grass, which was absolutely necessary, so we had a panic session looking for something else to cook:


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The fresh food people

Finally decided on Chicken Tanduri, and then we had our next surprise: our “chicken thighs”, bought at Safeway in Sebastopol, were not that at all:


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As Chris put it, they might better be termed “arse end of chook”. Yes, they were a “special”, and cost $0.60 less than proper thighs, but they contained mainly back, fat and parson's noses—one parson's nose on each piece, and included detached pieces of chicken fat hidden under the surface. Fully 25% was waste before we even started, and as the bones show, only about a third of the content was chicken thighs at all. So, after allowing for the loss of weight through cooking, from our “1.6 kg” we got maybe 800 g meat, about $8 per kg. For that price we could have had filet.

So, should I go back to Safeway and complain? Yes, probably I should, but I'm not going to. I've had too much trouble with their merchandise, and on the occasions I've taken things back, some disinterested pimply youth takes it back with bad grace as if I were trying to pull a fast one. No question of raising the issue with management. You'd think they'd try harder now they have additional competition from ALDI across the road. We'll vote with our feet too.


Sunday, 17 February 2008 Dereel Images for 17 February 2008
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Since I've upgraded the system, I've had trouble with my nightly cron job to update my local copy of the FreeBSD CVS repository:

====== Sun Feb 17 04:00:00 EST 2008: Getting CVSUP updates
Parsing supfile "/src/FreeBSD/cvsup/cvs-cvsupfile"
Connecting to cvsup-master.freebsd.org
Connected to cvsup-master.freebsd.org
Server software version: SNAP_16_1h
Authentication required, but could not open "/var/log/.cvsup/auth"

Strangely, it works fine if I run it from the command line. What's different? There's no directory /var/log/.cvsup/, and locate tells me:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp2) ~ 26 -> locate .cvsup/auth
/home/grog/.cvsup/auth

So why's it looking in /var/log? As Peter Jeremy commented, it's probably related to the cron environment, but what in that would point it at /var/log, and why has it happened just now where “nothing has changed”?

Over to Chris Yeardley's today to take photos of Samba's first ride:


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Chris had offered the use of her camera, a Nikon D70, but I preferred my own because I was used to it. The value of that was particularly evident when I used her video camera to take some video of the action. What model is it? It's difficult to say. It's clearly from JVC, but what's written on it is:

And that's all, until you turn the camera upside down. There I read: Model No GR-DVL820EA. Is that the correct model number? Could be, but I've seen too many devices with one name clearly visible and a different one under the device.

Using it was another matter: where's the zoom knob? After spending some time searching for it, Chris told me: it's the button labeled “VOL.” (and not “Volume”, though there's plenty of space):

 
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Later I tried playing things back. That was straightforward enough, I thought—but I couldn't find the STOP button:


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It's the one marked “BACKLIGHT”, but it didn't occur to me until I recalled the symbol.

It's not clear what the provided software was, but it didn't seem to do much in the box. I connected it via USB to boskoop, which usually has a lot to say about things that crop up on the bus, but it didn't see anything this time. Why can't they just present it as a disk storage device?

JVC isn't alone in this, of course; I was thrown on to it because it's not quite the same as the camcorders I've been used to, and so I read what was written on it. That seems to be a waste of time. I don't know if it's because a lot of the products are designed by people with a non-European background, but I suspect that's part of it. So, definitely, is the desire to be “clever” (I'm sure the marketeers use other words, like “branding” or “market image”, the latter intended to be positive). But when car manufacturers call their cars KIL (using the Greek characters ΚΙΛ), and follow it up with the slogan “the power to surprise™”, you can't help wondering how much market research they've done.

We're still having trouble with the ABC2 program. I took another look: abc.net.au seems to be broken, while www.abc.net.au seems to be OK (or at least doesn't show basic web programming errors).

Spent the afternoon preparing more systems to run only on demand, rather than all the time. That proved simpler than I thought. FreeBSD doesn't exactly make saving sessions easy, but there are a few things that make coming back to a known state easier:

  1. In /etc/gettytab I added the entry:
    autogrog|al.9600:\
           :al=grog:tc=std.9600:
    
  2. In /etc/ttys I changed the entry for the main vt (the first one that comes up on boot):
    ttyv0  "/usr/libexec/getty autogrog" cons25  on  secure
    

    This logs me in automatically without a password.

  3. In my .bashrc file, which I keep the same for all machines on the network, I added:
    if [ `hostname -s` = "teevee" ]; then
      # On teevee, start X automatically from ttyv0.
      if [ `tty` = "/dev/ttyv0" ]; then
        DISPLAY=:0 startx &
      fi
    fi
    

    This starts X automatically.

  4. Finally, in .xinitrc I added:
    case `hostname -s` in
    
      teevee)
        (cd /spool/Images && /usr/X11R6/bin/xterm -name "xterm-lx"  \
        -bg BlanchedAlmond -s -sl 2048 -sb -ls -j -rw -display :0.0 -geometry 100x50+15+0 \
        -fn fixed -e /usr/local/bin/bash) &
        (cd /spool/Cooking && /usr/X11R6/bin/xterm -name "xterm-lx"  \
        -bg BlanchedAlmond -s -sl 2048 -sb -ls -j -rw -display:0.0 -geometry 100x50+15+0 \
        -fn fixed -e /usr/local/bin/bash) &
        (cd /spool2/Gardening && /usr/X11R6/bin/xterm -name "xterm-rx"  \
           -bg BlanchedAlmond -s -sl 2048 -sb -ls -j -rw -display :0.0 -geometry 100x50-15+0 \
        -fn fixed -e /usr/local/bin/bash) &
        (cd /spool2/Docco && /usr/X11R6/bin/xterm -name "xterm-rx"  \
        -bg BlanchedAlmond -s -sl 2048 -sb -ls -j -rw -display :0.0 -geometry 100x50-15+0 \
        -fn fixed -e /usr/local/bin/bash) &
      ;;
    
      tvremote)
        maintain x2x -north -to teevee:0 &
    esac
    

    On teevee, this starts 4 xterms in each of the directories in which I have films. On tvremote, it ensures that the connection to teevee:0 keeps getting retried until it comes back.


Monday, 18 February 2008 Dereel Images for 18 February 2008
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More and more things to do are piling up, and I really need to get down to work on them. The first item, of course, is just to write down what I need to do and find a way to manage them. A web page! So spent most of the day doing that, and not the things that I really need to do.

Somehow PHP string handling is difficult. There are hundreds of functions, of course, but no pointers, and somehow everything I know about C just made it more difficult.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008 Dereel Images for 19 February 2008
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Finally got round to doing at least one thing on my “to do” list and called up Telstra about my complaint. Prithie told me that she had, in fact, tried to call me a number of times over several days. Somehow that doesn't ring true: I'm almost always here, and nobody else has trouble calling me. Agreed to the financial settlement, and that I would terminate my contract “without penalty”. What penalty? Telstra haven't fulfilled their contract. But when it came to taking back the modem (which can only be used with this service), she had to contact her supervisor, who, as usual, wasn't available. She promised to call by the end of the week—why these long times on their side and short time requirements from me?

There's more spam going around, with random duplication of characters. This was all on one line, of course:

Real men!  Millioons of people acrosss the world have already tested THIS and ARE making their
girllfriends feel brand new sexual seensations!  YOU are the best in bed, aren't you ?  Girls!
Just the candidate for regular expressions. Put this in my .procmailrc:
:0 B :
* M+i+l+i+on+s+ +o+f+ +p+e+o+p+l+e+ +a+c+r+o+s+ +t+h+e+ +w+o+r+l+d+ +h+a+v+e+ +a+l+r+e+a+d\
+y+ +t+e+s+t+e+d.*g+.*+l+f+r+i+e+n+d+s+.*s+e+x+u+a+l+
/home/grog/Mail/Caughtspam/funnyspam

I've broken the expression across two lines to make it legible. It won't work like that; it must be on a single line.

But it didn't work! Spent some time checking the regular expression, which are notoriously easy to get wrong, but this time it was right. Finally took a look at what was in the mail spool:

Real men!    Miillions of people acrooss the world have already tested THIS=
 and ARE making their girlfriennds feel brand new sexual sensationss!   YOU=
Damned quoted-printable! Changed the expression:
:0 B :
* M+i+l+i+on+s+ +o+f+ +p+e+o+p+l+e+ +a+c+r+o+s+ +t+h+e+ +w+o+r+l+d+ +h+a+v+e+ +a+l+r+e+a+d+y+ +t+e+s+t+e+d
/home/grog/Mail/Caughtspam/funnyspam

:0 B :
* g+.*+l+f+r+i+e+n+d+s+.*s+e+x+u+a+l+
/home/grog/Mail/Caughtspam/funnyspam

That's probably overkill; the first one should get all of them. In the first day I filtered over 50 of these things. High time that something was done about this spam situation, though.

The north-east part of the garden, near the laundry, is ridiculously overgrown.


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There are several rose bushes, daisies, viburnum, something that promises to be a hibiscus, and a nectarine tree (the big one on the left). It's full of fruit:


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We eat nectarines for breakfast, so it sounds like an ideal match. It isn't: the tree needs incredible amounts of water to stop it from dumping its fruit and leaves. I water it for 20 minutes most days. Even then, the easiest way to tell when the fruit are ripe is when the birds start eating them. The result is a lot of rotten fruit:


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What can I do? Cover the whole tree in netting? That's too much work. Get rid of the birds? But we like them, at least the ones that eat the fruit. On the whole I think we should continue to buy the fruit and chop down the tree to give (some of) the other plants room to grow.

Preparing for an all-grain brew again tomorrow, the first in over a year. It doesn't help that the shaft of my grain mill is broken; I spent quite some time grinding 7 kg of malt by hand.


Wednesday, 20 February 2008 Dereel Images for 20 February 2008
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Another letter from Prithie at Telstra in the mail today, dated 18 February, and written 7 business days after the previous one. It's interesting for a number of reasons:

Clearly there's a big discrepancy between what they do and what they say.

Spent a lot of the day doing my first real brew in over a year. Things didn't go too badly, but I'm still suffering greatly from too-small vessels.

Despite my dislike of volumetric measures, sometimes they're necessary: I need to know how much grain will fit in the current mash tun. For future reference, it's about 7 kg. But the density of uncrushed and crushed grain is significantly different:


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The jug weighs 81 g empty, so those weights are 414 g and 721 g respectively, representing densities of 0.33 and 0.58 respectively.

A surprising number of people have commented on my observations about PHP, C and pointers a couple of days ago. They show me a number of things:


Thursday, 21 February 2008 Dereel
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My work is piling up more and more, and somehow I only attend to it at a snail's pace. Instead, today promised to commit a fix to sa(8) that was causing some people grief. It didn't compile on FreeBSD 6.3, so installed 8-CURRENT on swamp, the first time in well over a year that I've had a machine running -CURRENT. It still didn't compile there! For some reason, I had to build a complete world for it to find the necessary header files.

Gradually the TV landscape is changing: new programmes are coming on line, along with more distinction between normal and HD TV. Today decided to rescan the broadcast landscape, removing the non-functional tuner card in the process; I can try new software on that in another box without disturbing my fragile TV reception. Strangely, the changes went ahead with few difficulties, though it's clear that the distinction between normal and HDTV still confuses MythTV:


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The blue box in most of the image is a description of the programme highlighted in yellow, on SBS. The line below is the same programme on SBS HD; the E indicates that it won't be recorded. The only way I've found so far to manually disable the ones I don't want. And that means keeping around the descriptions of the normal definition programmes.

Callum Gibson tried sending me mail today, but it didn't come through. On further investigation, it turned out that he had sent it to my mail address @lemis.org. But that's not me, never has been. Instead, whois tells me (somewhat shortened):

Domain ID:D140671446-LROR
Domain Name:LEMIS.ORG
Sponsoring Registrar:Gal Communication (CommuniGal) Ltd.  (R41-LROR)
Registrant Organization:balata.com ltd
Registrant Street1:12 Harcourt Road
Registrant City:Central
Registrant Postal Code:3705
Registrant Country:HK
Registrant Phone:+85.230101205
Registrant FAX:+85.230101205
Name Server:NS1.PARKINGSPA.COM
Name Server:NS2.PARKINGSPA.COM

And, of course, it has a web site, though at least this one doesn't look much like porn. How I hate domain name squatters!

That got me thinking, though, about a particularly nasty feature of domain squatting: they can pick up accidentally misdirected mail. Potentially that could have serious consequences; all the more reason for encrypting mail. It wasn't an issue this time: the message wasn't sensitive, and it couldn't be delivered anyway.

There's still hope in the world! I can't believe it had anything to do with my cookery bad language rant, but there are indications that the Australian industry is coming to its senses: today Yvonne came back from shopping with a bag marked “spring onions” and containing spring onions. This was from Coles, one of the signatories to the bad language decision. Looking on their web site, I find that their search engine has no hits for “wombok”, but two for “Chinese cabbage”. And later we watched Food Safari on SBS, to see people really mutilating the Kimchi manufacturing process, which they made from Chinese cabbage, and not “wombok”. Even the web page states:

Chinese Cabbage - long and barrel shaped with tightly packed, crinkled green/yellow leaves, Chinese cabbage or wombok is commonly used for making kimchi.

Only a couple of weeks ago they were still using words like “eschalotte” and “wombok”.


Friday, 22 February 2008 Dereel Images for 22 February 2008
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Not much happened today. Did some more messing around with the MythTV configuration, which now looks reasonably clean again. Discovered that the channels Prime 1, Prime 2 and Prime 3 appear to carry identical content to Prime Ballarat; it's not clear why they have 4 different channels, not even with a different resolution. Managed to hide the low-resolution versions of the channels, which may be a disadvantage when the programme content differs; but for the most time, having it there simply means duplicate entries in the programme listings. Somehow MythTV doesn't handle this partial overlap of programmes well.

Also a bit of planning our new garden layout. Lots of things to think about; I should go looking for some drafting software.


Saturday, 23 February 2008 Dereel Images for 23 February 2008
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Another day with little to show for itself. Spent some time considering the garden, which we're planning to change radically over the next couple of months. Some of the flowers we have are growing like fury, noticeably this aster which has been self-seeding all summer, and now even some of the new plants are flowering:


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Also saw a strange bird in the afternoon:


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According to our bird book, it's a Western Ringneck, and it doesn't occur east of the Flinders Ranges. Did some digging around on the web and discovered other reports of them in Victoria ( Sunbury). The general feeling was that it had escaped from an aviary.


Sunday, 24 February 2008 Dereel Images for 24 February 2008
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It occurred to me that I might find some food sources in the white pages, so went searching and did find a few on the White Pages web site. There was also a bar on the right entitled “Quick Finder™”, one of the items of which promised “Eateries/Dining”. Followed that and was completely astounded: one entry each for the Northern Territory and Tasmania, two entries each for ACT, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, five for SA and seven for NSW. A total of 20 restaurants for the whole of the 6th biggest country in the world—and then just a link to the phone number, which doesn't even work if you try to open it in a different window. What use is that to anybody?

I've finally given up on Telstra's “NextG” service, and we've established that VoIP over satellite is a lost cause, so I'm without VoIP again. Went back looking for the phone card that I bought in last August, and discovered that it has expired. So back to Telephonecards.com.au to buy another “Minute Max” card. This time only for $10—most of the $20 I spent on the last one have expired—and tried to pay again by credit card.

Verified by Visa: false sense of security

And again I had problems with this horrible “Verified by Visa” nonsense. Well, the idea isn't nonsense, but the implementation is worse than useless. Only last month I had immeasurable trouble because it wouldn't accept my password, and had to reenter it. Today exactly the same thing happened. On each case I spent over an hour trying to do something that should happen in seconds. The only difference was that last time they had changed the rules for passwords, and my password no longer fitted. But instead of giving a clear error message, or even an unclear error message, the program did nothing. Today exactly the same thing happened. So I pressed the “forgot password” button and was told that I would have to re-enrol. The “help” text that went with it must rank with some of the most utterly stupid I have ever seen:

 
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At face value, I interpret this to mean “In order to get a new password, you must re-enrol. In order to re-enrol, you need to know your old password”. They've left it as an implication that there's no way to recover the old password.

In fact, the statement is not correct. Probably this is meant to be a reminder not to forget the password. But I didn't forget it: I had it written down.

I went through all this last month. Today I finally got them to cancel it. In retrospect, that's a good thing. To register for VBV you need to know three things: card details (available on any imprint or printout, a copy of which the merchant keeps), the misnamed “security code” on the back, the only point of which appears to be that it doesn't appear on the printout, and my date of birth. All of this information is available to a merchant who gets my card in his hand (my date of birth is available in many places on the web; in countries like Germany it's required information to identify you).

So why couldn't I log in with my password? There are two possibilities, both horrifying:

  1. Once again VbV has lost my password or has reintroduced a program bug so basic that it can't even report the problem.
  2. Somebody has used my personal data to change the password.

I checked, and so far there appears to have been no abuse of my credit card, but who knows whether it could still happen? Either way I'd be happier without such a toy attempt at security.

More birds around here. We've had swarms of yellow-crested cockatoos in the past, but now they're long-billed corellas:


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Spent most of the day working on the chapter for the “Beautiful Architecture” book.


Monday, 25 February 2008 Dereel Images for 25 February 2008
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I'm having strange delays in accessing my local web server. What's causing it? Took a look at the traffic with tcpdump, using my new timing format, and found a lot of this sort of thing:

   100079 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.59111: .  ack 515 win 33304 <nop,nop,
        timestamp 800126698 799801858>
 4.908251 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.59111: .  1:1449(1448) ack 515 win 33
        304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800131608 799801858>
      123 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.59111: .  1449:2897(1448) ack 515 win
         33304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800131608 799801858>
...  lots of short responses
     1338 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.59111: P 8342:8591(249) ack 1054 win
         33304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800131632 799806890>
    99528 IP dereel.lemis.com.59111 > eureka.lemis.com.http: .  ack 8591 win 33304 <nop,nop
        ,timestamp 799806991 800131632>
 4.898794 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.59111: F 8591:8591(0) ack 1054 win 3
        3304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800136633 799806991>
...  Only those in the 4.9 second range
 4.898887 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.63978: F 8591:8591(0) ack 1054 win 3
        3304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800237800 799908129>
 4.898098 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.54803: F 8342:8342(0) ack 489 win 33
        304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800254683 799925008>
 4.898968 IP eureka.lemis.com.http > dereel.lemis.com.56363: F 8432:8432(0) ack 1054 win 3
        3304 <nop,nop,timestamp 800293577 799963890>

These delays of about 4.9 seconds appear to account for the sluggish response. But what's so special about 4.9 seconds? They're remarkably consistent: the last four are within 870 µs of each other, suggesting some kind of timeout. I thought it might be DNS lookups, but they take longer, and a second trace showed that there weren't any.

Got some feedback from Peter Jeremy about drafting software for designing the garden: dia, yet another GNOME application which claims:

Dia is designed to be much like the commercial Windows program 'Visio'.

Despite that, installed it and discovered that it has no help, or at least that the help doesn't appear when you ask for it. Neither does an error message. And of course there's no man page. I suppose that's par for the course for modern software. The program looks like it might be usable, though.

There are other signs that Microsoft is winning: Callum Gibson pointed me at Open Source Alternatives, which states

Our mission is to provide easy access to high quality open source alternatives to well-known commercial products.

All fine and good, but I'm left with the aftertaste that it's also saying “not quite as good, but usable”.

And Chris Yeardley sent me mail telling me that she had installed Apache, PHP and MySQL on her Microsoft box in a single download from apache friends. That's certainly a good idea; they're right when they say

Many people know from their own experience that it's not easy to install an Apache web server and it gets harder if you want to add MySQL, PHP and Perl.

Well, PERL is on all systems that I know, with the possible exception of Linux, but the rest applies. But then they go on to say

We don't like overpriced commercial software and XAMPP is our attempt to do something that shows free software doesn't have to be bad.

Of course not! But somehow even the advocates seem to be on the defensive.

Plans for restructuring the garden are progressing. Went out with a spray can of paint—too small, it eventuated—and marked out features on the grass. Fortunately the weather was right, dry and no wind, so later went out and sprayed weed killer on the lawn. We'll replace it nearly all with fast growing ground cover.

Chris over later in the afternoon, and out for a short ride with Nikita, whom Yvonne is breaking in. Here are Chris and Carlos:


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Tuesday, 26 February 2008 Dereel
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Despite all the work waiting for me, spent most of the day writing PHP code for my photos, which are a real mess at the result of a lot of hacking around. Gradually I'm coalescing things, but it's a slow business.

After more than a month of trying, I still have not managed to renew my subscription to c't. My complaints of a couple of weeks ago seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Sent off a complaint to all I could find.


Wednesday, 27 February 2008 Dereel Images for 27 February 2008
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Had a quick reply to my complaint about the problems with my c't subscription, from the correct person at ZENIT, pointing out what his subscription team didn't know: there is a workaround to sending credit card details securely, via Heise's web site. So it looks as if we have finally solved that matter.

But then he wrote (translated):

You stated that a reply from us included your credit card details. Unfortunately I can't find them in the attached email traffic, or I have not been able to filter them out. Could you please send them again?

Of course, they were there at the bottom of the same message, not even particularly difficult to find. This is one of the best examples I've seen for the futility of attaching all previous correspondence to a mail message.

While investigating how he could have met it, noted that he was using Lotus Notes (which, as some of my friends who have to use it note, an anagram for “set lotus no”). Sent it to one of them, who confirmed that there were no particular difficulties finding the information, and also pointed me to Dreckstool, where Lotus Notes is currently in number 2 position on the hit list of all-time bad software.

More Telstra pain

Also received a letter from Prithie Naidoo of Telstra, agreeing to cancel my contract “without early termination feeds”, and warning that I would lose my email address. How stupid these people are. Of course no early termination fees apply, because Telstra is in breach of contract, and the fees are a contractual matter. And how can they take my email address back when it doesn't belong to them? She means the name I had to take, grroogle@bigpond.com, of course. But that's not my email address. I could understand her confusion, except that I made this point very clearly a couple of weeks ago.

More to the point, though, she refused to refund the cost of the modem. The reasoning she gave is confusing and based on “facts” that are either incorrect or the veracity of which are part of the complaint. She writes: “the month February [this month] where you have used over half GB”.

That's just plain wrong. I haven't used the service at all this month. Looking at the usage graph today shows that they have registered about 2 GB of traffic, apparently when I fired up ugliness on 7 February 2008 to try to access the broken web server in my satellite modem. If she has now seen “over half GB”, then the accounting system is worse than I thought.

But what does this have to do with refunding the cost of the modem? It's part of the contract, anda I can't use it without the service. On the other hand, I sense myself getting really angry about this matter. Is $250 worth so much anger? I decided not and wrote a letter pointing out the discrepancies in her letter, asking her to reconsider, but in any case to cancel the service and refund what money she is prepared to do. And, of course, based on prior experience, to confirm with me.

We have more mushrooms:


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Unlike the agaricus varieties that we've had in the past, they grow in dry conditions and stay in much better condition until they dry out. Spent some time investigating them; the best guess seems to be that they're something like Macrolepiota procera, also known as “parasol mushroom”, or Macrolepiota rhacoides, both eminently edible. But the danger exists that they might be chlorophyllum molybdites, which are poisonous. As the name might suggest, that mushroom goes greenish in old age and has a greenish spore print. Grabbed an old mushroom for a spore print. The gills certainly weren't greenish, but it was obviously too old for a spore print;


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What few spores came out were a beige colour.

The first web site also offers a CD-ROM:

First Nature Multimedia Guide to Fungi There is a lot more about this species and hundreds of other beautiful and fascinating mushrooms and toadstools on our CD-ROM for PCs with Internet Explorer.

Why do people do that? They're asking £20 for it, more than I'm prepared to pay, but why do they deliberately reduce their clientele to users of Microsoft “Internet Explorer” (which, incidentally, figures at number 10 at Dreckstool)?

The real problem with all these sites (and apparently the “Internet Explorer” specific CD) is that the photos are so lacking in detail. The photo of macrolepiota procera on one web site was tiny, and the largest resolution was 518x389. Others are no better. The CD screen shots suggest that the images there might be even smaller.

As if that weren't enough, the descriptions don't agree from one place to another. On the page quoted above, the juvenile macrolepiota rhacoides have pointed hats which later flatten out, while the macrolepiota procera don't, but become much flatter in maturity. Another site has photos of macrolepiota procera that look different again. On the other hand, my old German book set shows (a much better image of) macrolepiota procera which looks more like the macrolepiota rhacoides on the web site. Ours look more like the web version of macrolepiota rhacoides, but they don't have the domed juvenile form. My guess is ours are a slightly different variety from either of these. Are they edible? Who knows?


Thursday, 28 February 2008 Dereel
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I made the mistake the other day of jumping out of bed rather spiritedly in the morning, and somehow managed to pull a sinew in my left foot. That has gradually swollen up and left me hobbling around; I wonder why.

More work on the chapter for “Beautiful Architecture” today; I seem to be on target. That kept me going most of a relatively immobile day.

Also more research into the mushrooms. The descriptions are really quite a mess, and they keep contradicting each other. Probably the most interesting thing is that gene analysis has resulted in a reclassification of many mushrooms, and now macrolepiota rhacodes has been renamed chlorophyllum rhacodes on account of its similarity with the poisonous chlorophyllum molybdites. After some investigation, including a quite interesting paper from UCB, decided that my mushrooms could be chlorophyllum brunneum , or just possibly chlorophyllum nothorhacodes, a variety only reported from Australia in that paper with the obvious misspelling chlorophyllum nothorachodes. I'm still not sure, and Peter Jeremy pointed me at the Australian National Botanical Garden site; maybe they can help.


Friday, 29 February 2008 Dereel Images for 29 February 2008
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Into Ballarat today to talk to Peter O'Connell about my investments. The stock market volatility of the last few months has taken its toll, but what's more surprising is that the presentation of the data is not really conducive to getting a good overview. This isn't Peter's fault, or his company's: the whole industry seems to generate meaningless reports. Asked Peter where I could get a raw data download, but he didn't know.

Then off shopping, buying a surprising number of daffodils and other bulbs for the garden, and to do some catch-up shopping. There's more evidence that people are getting tired of bad language:


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While I was taking this photo, an unshaven, unidentified and unsavoury looking bloke came up to me and asked me what I was doing, and told me that it was a condition of entry that I was not allowed to take photos in the building. I told him that I had had no such information, and that I hadn't agreed to it. Thought about it for a while and then went back to look for him, but he had disappeared—just the qualities of a store detective, I suppose. Went looking for the manager instead, who was called Shane Darroch and looked the part. He told me that there was no problem taking photos for non-commercial use.

Back home, started thinking about downloading raw stock price data from the ASX web site, but couldn't find anything appropriate. While searching, found the terms and conditions for using the data, which includes:

You must not use any spider, screen scraper, robot, or other automated similar software or device ("Prohibited Device") to use or access the Site in any way whatsoever, nor can you use any Prohibited Device (or any similar process) to copy, download or monitor the Content, without ASX’s prior written approval. Search engines may access and index content on the Site provided that they obey the Robots Exclusion Standard and exclude documents with METATAG markings designed to preclude access including indexing, archiving or caching. Specific technical queries about search engine use should be emailed to ASX.

I can understand that commercial use should be restricted, but this clause, along with another about reformatting HTML content (hopefully fixing their markup breakage is OK), is effectively saying “you will look at this data only in the way that has occurred to us to present it”. And clearly it can't give me information relative to my portfolio. Why do people do this?

In the evening, discovered that our swallows are alive and well:


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It would be a lot more acceptable if they didn't make such a mess.


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