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February 2009
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Sunday, 1 February 2009 Dereel Images for 1 February 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

I've been keeping a satellite link statistics page for some time now, and the results have been less than encouraging. Satellite links suffer from high latency, of course—a round trip ping is limited by the speed of light to 480 ms. But that doesn't mean that the packets should get lost, and the latency I really get out of the link is much higher. Here's what I've seen in the last 24 hours:

satellite link statistics

This is a good day, but lots of pings are failing, and the average time to download a small web page is 2 seconds (1 / TCP speed). I've also had a ping -a running for the last few days. The -a option means “beep if a packet is dropped”. The continual beeping got on my nerves, and I stopped it:

--- www.lemis.com ping statistics ---
26330 packets transmitted, 25430 packets received, 3.4% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 586.205/1180.124/5092.674/254.790 ms

Look at those times! An average of 1.18 seconds round trip time, more than double the already slow 480 ms that the laws of physics impose, and well over 10 times what it would be with ADSL. How any packet can take over 5 seconds to get from here to Canberra and back is beyond me. Where has it been hiding? And 3.4% packet loss is Just Plain Unacceptable.


Topic: gardening Link here

Now that it's a little cooler, did some more work in the garden. The Calendulas that we pulled out less than 2 months ago have come back in force:


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We had already planned to plant some in the back of the garden, up against the paddock, in the hope that maybe the kangaroos would develop a taste for them and leave other things behind. Today I uprooted 25 seedlings from the patch (see where they came from? No, I don't either; there must be a couple of hundred there), and planted them along a dripper line:


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They're not looking happy yet, but they're tough as old nails, and I suspect they'll make it. If not, there are plenty more there, and I can be a little more gentle with them.

Yvonne also got into the act: we have a Grevillea rosmarinifolia up against the verandah, and the whole time we had been building the verandah we had been considering removing it. It's prickly, and unlike most Grevilleas it doesn't flower very long, and the flowers are hidden by the foliage. So next spring we'll put something else there, probably creepers that really grow. Yvonne thinks we might be able to transplant the Grevillea, and despite my doubts I suppose it's worth a try, so today she had a go at pruning it in the hope that a pruned tree would be more likely to survive transplantation:


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Topic: photography Link here

Also some random photos in the garden. The Chlorophytum comosum we planted in pots a few months back are looking good now:


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The birds are using the bird bath more, but somehow I don't have the right background for photos:


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I should probably plant something behind the bath.


Monday, 2 February 2009 Dereel Images for 2 February 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

As expected, the Calendulas that I planted yesterday recovered well overnight:


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By the afternoon it was warm again, and they were looking decidedly less happy, but I'm fairly confident that they will survive.


Topic: photography Link here

Somehow felt restless and didn't do very much all day. Finally got round to looking at the tutorials on the DVD that came with the digital photography special; they don't look too bad, but boskoop, my old 400 MHz G4 Apple, is clearly too slow to display them. Managed to get them to display on this flaky combination of FreeBSD, firefox and Flash—at least for the moment.

Also took a look at the software on the DVD. There's a new version of Ashampoo Photo Optimizer. I have been using version 1 for some time and find it quite useful. I had already considered upgrading to the new version, but some of the advertising made it sound less interesting. Trying it out today confirmed that impression: it now offers brightness, contrast and gamma adjustments, but without any kind of numbers, and other software already does that. And it has even more of a toy interface than the previous version. Conceivably there's something there of interest, but I can't be bothered going through the pain of mangling the interface.


Topic: opinion, technology Link here

ANZ “Internet“ Banking—the horror, yet again

A few bills to pay today with ANZ's emetic “Internet” Banking. I've complained about this before, but it still infuriates me every time I use it:


Topic: technology Link here

Even more email strangenesses

I've been railing about email problems for over a decade now. My original checkin of the email tidiness page was in April 1998:

revision 1.1
date: 1998/04/12 06:50:48;  author: grog;  state: Exp;
initial checkin

Ten years ago I thought that people might listen to my suggestions about how to communicate more effectively. Now I know they won't. Email messages which look more like random junk are more prevalent than ever before, and I've had people who couldn't find what they were looking for in the mess they created. Send two questions to somebody in the Microsoft space and you can expect that they will answer only one.

One thing that I've become more and more aware of, though, is the inability to reply to the people who are involved. It would seem that the Cc: header is unknown in the Microsoft space—but it's not. All Microsoft and Apple MUAs seem to be able to handle it well, even if Apple manages to put the text Cc: at the bottom of the box it builds to make up for the tiny window it uses for the response. So why is it? In the last couple of days I have had several mail exchanges with various people, where it's clear that all involved should be kept in the loop—and in every case the responses I have received have been addressed only to me.

You can't blame this on the software vendors (indeed, much of this behaviour is not the fault of even such emetic MUAs as Microsoft “Outlook”): both “Outlook” and Apple's mail offer equally simple buttons “Reply” and “Reply All” [sic]. This seems to be a case of following the sheep in front of you. But it's really amazing that almost everybody in the Microsoft space seems to do it.


Tuesday, 3 February 2009 Dereel Images for 3 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

The weather's changed again, and now it's almost “foggy” (visibility less than 1000 metres):


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CJ and Sue along today to chop down the fallen branch:


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It's a lot more spacious now.


Wednesday, 4 February 2009 Dereel
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Topic: opinion, technology Link here

I've been using the term “Microsoft space” a lot lately, and today I spent much of the day trying to define it. It's not easy; about the only thing that I can say is that I use the word “Microsoft” in recognition of the leading part that Microsoft has played in establishing this view of computing. It also includes Apple and much of Linux, and it relates to some of the things I mention in my paper Why I hate OpenOffice. It's also much longer than I intended, and I probably need to sit back and think about what I want to do with it.


Topic: photography Link here

Also spent some time listening to the tutorial on the GIMP on the DVD from c't's digital photography special. The information is not bad, but it's a pity it relates to GIMP 2.4, while the software version on the same DVD was 2.6.


Topic: gardening Link here

More chopping of branches off the conifer, this time not because of any danger, but because it looked funny. Also more work on protecting the flowers from the kangaroos; our Gazanias are looking unhappy again.


Thursday, 5 February 2009 Dereel –> Melbourne –> Dereel Images for 5 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another power failure in the middle of the night! I'm beginning to seriously consider solar power as at least a backup.

Up early to go to Melbourne to do our quarterly shopping and pick up Carola, who was booked into the Hotel Spencer, a backpacker's hostel. First called up the hostel, where we were told that she wasn't booked in. I asked if they had the correct spelling of her surname (Schlanhof), and they looked again and found the booking, but said that she hadn't arrived. So what were we to believe?

Off to Melbourne and to the hostel, in Spencer St. I suppose it's normal that that kind of place is a dump, and this one lived up to it. After a while Yvonne found somebody, they checked the room where Carola should have slept, and nobody was there.

Off to the Queen Victoria Market, which was just round the corner, and called the number (in Austria) that we had been given by the hostel; potentially it's her mobile number, and I got voice mail. Then (on the third attempt) Carola got through to Yvonne and told her she was at the backpackers, and confirmed the address (475 Spencer St).

Back to the hostel—still no Carola. Decided that the value of 475 might be a variable and headed south. On the way, Yvonne got another call, from a German speaking man, who told us that she was on the corner of Spencer St and Flinders St. Down there and picked her up. It seemed that she didn't know she had ended up in the wrong hostel.

It would be nice here to give links to the “My map” that I created for the day's destinations. But somehow there are a lot of straightforward things still missing from Google Maps, and this appears to be one of them. I wish they'd fix them before taking photos of every street on Earth.

Back to the market and did some shopping:


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Then out to Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Road, Brunswick, where the harmony was less than perfect: Yvonne had bought a liqueur called “Perfetta Armonia” there on previous occasions, but they no longer carry it. From there to Footscray, having dinner at a Vietnamese place on Hopkins St called (I think) Dong Que. The food was acceptable, but barely—Yvonne's “seafood noodles” had only three pieces of squid and nothing else.

Then across the road to the market, where we were sorely disappointed. The fish was uninteresting and not the freshest, and the vegetables were downright bad. I found some completely soggy ginger in one place, but nothing much that we really wanted to buy, except—accidentally—some green tomatoes. Green tomatoes are Mexican, and normally you wouldn't find them in a south-east Asian context; but here they were on offer as “ripe” tomatoes.

Home, annoying ourselves that the APCO petrol station in Lara had been offering petrol for $1.069 a litre on our way to town, and on the way back they had gone up to $1.279. We should have struck while the iron was hot.

In the evening, dinner on the verandah—the March flies are here already, unfortunately.


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Topic: general Link here

For Carola's sake a wallaby, presumably the one we saw on Monday, showed up, and it was even joined by a kangaroo, the first time we've seen both kinds of animal together:


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Early to bed.


Friday, 6 February 2009 Dereel Images for 6 February 2009
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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Huevos rancheros for breakfast today, making clear how horrible these Safeway tortillas are. They're so tough that you can't even cut them with a serrated knife, and I ended up using a pair of scissors:


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I really must start making my own.


Topic: animals Link here

Carola is an energetic person, and her main intention here is riding, so despite the heat (mid-30s) off into the forest to make our horses sweat:


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Only later did we realise that it was a day of Total Fire Ban, and we weren't allowed in the forest—I think: I can't find any regulations that forbid riding during a Total Fire Ban, but it does make sense.


Topic: general Link here

It was too hot to do much outside today, so spent some time playing around with the idea of using a single source file both for my diary and the RSS feed. There's really only one file with two different names, and the code recognizes what it has to do in the time-honoured way, by the name. It required surprisingly little code; hopefully I haven't introduced too many bugs.


Saturday, 7 February 2009 Dereel Images for 7 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another stinking hot day—about 45° and thus nearly as hot as last week. In Melbourne it was even hotter, a high of 46.4°, compared to only 45.1° last week. This is also apparently the highest temperature ever recorded in Melbourne, if the Bureau of Meteorology is to be believed.


Topic: opinion, general Link here

Total fire ban and a warning of conditions similar to those of Ash Wednesday. Another chance to check out the appalling quality of the DSE bushfire site. One of the fires reported appeared to be at the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre (reported as “Clonbinane Equestrian Centre”), run by Andrew Maclean. Kept a careful eye on that one, for at least half an hour, after which it disappeared from the list! What a disaster!

If I had only known what a disaster it really was. This was part of the worst bushfire Victoria has ever experienced. As of 1 March 2009 it is still going. Reports that the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre has been completely destroyed have fortunately proved to be false.

And the site is so slow, probably because of the continual refreshes that it performs, and navigating it is such a pain! The only good news was that there were no fires in our area, and that by evening the temperature had dropped to under 30°, though not as suddenly as in Melbourne, as this graph from the Bureau of Meteorology shows:

Image

The horizontal resolution is 18 pixels per hour, or 3⅓ minutes per pixel. At 16:13(⅓), the temperature was 45°. In 10 minutes it dropped to 31.7°, a drop of 1.3° per minute. And it dropped almost as fast a second time later in the evening.


Topic: gardening Link here

Part of the fire danger today was the result of the high winds, which made themselves felt in the garden. They were so high that Hugin was not able to create one of my panorama shots: presumably the leaves were too different from one photo to the next.

Round midday I turned on the sprinklers again (normally they run in the small hours of the morning), but that wasn't enough, and a couple of hours later some of the plants were looking decidedly limp: jasmine, tomatoes and even the Cape daisies, so I gave them another go.


Topic: food and drink, general Link here

Spent most of the afternoon cooking—somehow I had underestimated how long it would take. Carola is a near-vegetarian (she also eats fish), so I did a lot of Indian and Malay food, including writing down a recipe for ikan goreng and not yet writing down a recipe for deep-fried cauliflower.

Also tried out the rice cooker again, this time with Basmati rice. Complete disaster: it stopped cooking in the middle, leaving the rice just a little cooked, and I had to complete the operation manually. I suspect that the dish wasn't properly seated, and the temperature sensing mechanism decided that it was hot enough. That unreliability makes it worse than useless.


Topic: general Link here

In the evening, Diane Saunders and her friend Lynn arrived from South Australia to spend a couple of days; on the way they passed a serious bushfire near Horsham. Lynn is thinking of buying a horse from Chris.


Sunday, 8 February 2009 Dereel Images for 8 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Finally it's cooler, and the news came trickling in about yesterday's bushfires. The warnings were correct: the situation was not only as bad as Ash Wednesday, it was a lot worse; by the end of the day we heard reports of 75 deaths, compared to “only” 47 in Ash Wednesday, and the number is sure to rise further.

Barbecue today—it was a seems that Total Fire Ban, but seems that Total Fire Bans don't include gas-fired barbecues close to a house, so we were in the clear. Apart from Carola, Diane and Lynn, the Yeardleys came along with some friends from Singapore, so for the first time we had a really large number of people—11—on the verandah.

That's not counting the flies, of course. We engaged in a typically Australian pastime:


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Watching TV in the evening—“Rain Shadow”, apparently the last episode. It's not a very good series, but it was filmed in Callington, not far from where we used to live. In this episode, somebody went to great lengths to make a fake map with new names for all the places in the area, including Mount Barker, which they called Blackford—not once, but twice, with different levels of renaming:


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Other places are Slate Hill (Wistow), White Flat (Kanmantoo) and Paringa (Callington). It's amazing that they'd go to such trouble for what was presumably a low-budget series.


Monday, 9 February 2009 Dereel Images for 9 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another bloody power failure! This is getting to be really annoying.

Off to Sovereign Hill today for the first time. CJ and Sue are volunteer participants and got us in for half price, and were happy to show us around. That was quite worth while: CJ knew all the things that were worth seeing, and dragged us from one to the next at the right times. On the other side, of course, he also knew the people running the place, with some unexpected results for Carola, caught panning for gold without a license and clapped into irons:


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Normally it's only the staff who get this kind of treatment.

One of the more interesting things I discovered was that Lola Montez, better known in a Bavarian context, spent some time in Ballarat and caused quite a stir here as well. Saw a reenactment of the case where she whipped the editor of the Ballarat Times:


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There's also quite a collection of old steam machinery there, a thing close to CJ's heart:


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On the way out, Yvonne managed to cause a stir by tripping over a box in the main street. The methods of treating her scratches seemed a little draconian:


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All in all, though, a surprisingly pleasant experience. We're by no means done, but we'll wait until the next visitor to see the rest.


Tuesday, 10 February 2009 Dereel Images for 10 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

The weather has certainly changed in the last few days. On Saturday, we had 45°; today it was only 16°:

 
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Into town to talk to Peter O'Connell today, taking Carola with us to do some shopping. After that along to Avalon Nursery, only to discover that they are closed on Tuesdays. To Mount Buninyong instead, braving the drizzle to climb up the lookout tower; even from the top, there's no panoramic view. A little disappointing.


Topic: technology Link here

Jason (I think) and mate from Skybridge in this evening to install a new, improved satellite modem—I thought. What they brought with them was another IPX 3200. I told them to take it away again, but they told me that they had already registered the changeover with IPStar, who had closed for the day a few minutes earlier, and they couldn't get any other modem to work until tomorrow morning at the earliest. Contacted Wideband and spoke to Matthew, who told me that the new Beta software (RC 018), not exactly reassuring terms, was much better than before, and that they had had no more problems with data corruption. So they installed the thing. At least it seems to work—so far. We'll see if this problem with the BST is still there. One way or the other, I'm not at all happy, and I made that clear when signing the docket.

Jason told me that the web server now worked with other web browsers than Microsoft “Internet Explorer”, but I can't see any evidence of that. Even with “Internet Explorer” it doesn't work right, but then my “Internet Explorer” appears to have been installed without my permission by Telstra's wireless software, and for some reason it kept bringing up the wireless menus, though there's no longer an interface there. What a mess this Microsoft is!


Wednesday, 11 February 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Into the office this morning to discover that the satellite modem didn't hang, at any rate, but the display suggests that the connection is now even slower:

satellite link statistics satellite link statistics

It's difficult to see, but it looks as if the “TCP speed” has dropped slightly after the installation.

The reliability of the link is also not significantly better. On installation, I started a ping to my external web server, and stopped it about 18 hours later:

--- www.lemis.com ping statistics ---
60994 packets transmitted, 59373 packets received, +4 duplicates, 2.7% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 584.478/1286.446/4726.096/348.935 ms

Those duplicates look like a worry; I haven't seen them before. And there's still 2.7% packet loss, and the average ping time of 1.28 seconds is really unacceptable even on a satellite link. I think it's time to find an alternative to this form of Internet access.


Topic: general Link here

The temperatures are still low—today we had a maximum of 15°, which is 32° less than the all-time high only a couple of weeks ago—and the bushfires are gradually less of a threat. They've brought a surprising number of people out of the woodwork, though: yesterday Yvonne's sister Vera wrote to hear what was going on, and today I got a phone call from Conny Wölk, with whom I worked about 15 years ago. He's now in Switzerland, half retired. He reports of a surprising number of top-notch people we know who are disillusioned with the current computer marketplace (and that's what it really is!) and have found alternative things to do.


Topic: gardening Link here

A bit of work in the garden, and planted another 30 calendulas. The others had done quite well. Now only 30 more to go.


Thursday, 12 February 2009 Dereel Images for 12 February 2009
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Topic: opinion Link here

I've had many occasions recently to complain about the SBS web site. One ongoing problem is that the link for the “Regional” programme took me to a page for Tasmania with the emetic, space-embedded URL http://www.sbs.com.au/schedule/2009-02-12/SBS Tasmania. OK, I can guess past that breakage, and I've been downloading a page http://www.sbs.com.au/schedule/2009-02-12/SBS Regional instead. But lately that hasn't been working; I get a page with three sections saying “No program [sic] data available”.

Today I called up SBS by phone (not an easy number to find; true to webmaster form, never the twain shall meet. For future reference, the number is 1 800 500 727) and was told that there is no difference between the programmes in various parts of Australia. That begs the question why they make this distinction in the first place; possibly it's yet another indication that web masters live in a parallel universe. She told me that she would report the problem; I won't hold my breath to see it fixed.


Topic: general Link here

To the Yeardleys for a barbecue in the evening, somewhat marred when we left by the discovery of one of their cats lying dying on the road.


Friday, 13 February 2009 Dereel –> Melba Gully –> 12 Apostles –> Port Campbell –> Dereel Images for 13 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Off early today to the Great Ocean Road. After some discussion, didn't go to Otway Fly, but tried Melba Gully instead. It's a bit run-down, but quite worth visiting. I think I've decided I don't like the commercial atmosphere of Otway Fly, but it's not clear whether Mait's Rest or Melba Gully is better. Melba Gully probably wins because it's much easier to get to. One annoying thing was the mention of “Triplet Falls” on the information at the entrance, with no indication of where it might be:


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There was also no mention of the place in any of the maps, nor anywhere else we looked. It wasn't until I got back home that I was able to search the web and find the Visit Victoria Triplet Falls page—another one with a URL not intended for human consumption. It's just on the other side of Lavers Hill, on the road to Beech Forest—even the “Visit Victoria” page refuses to divulge how far. So if we want to see it, it's another good 180 km round trip and a bit of searching.

Then on towards the 12 Apostles, finding a wildlife park on the way where Carola could finally stroke her wallabies:


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This is now the third time I've been to the Apostles, and it's gradually becoming clear that there's not much to see there. They're very impressive, of course, but they don't change much. Took the opportunity—again!—to take photos with my new telephoto lens, this time another one. The photos aren't bad, but with the exception of better clarity on some shots, they're not much different from last time.

Then on to Port Campbell for lunch—at 15:30—and got some fish and chips at a place called “Splash” on the east side of the main street—the food was considerably better than what we got at Apollo Bay 18 months ago.

Back via Camperdown, and again up to Mount Leura to take a look around the surrounding countryside. This time the weather was good, but it's surprising how difficult it is to find a lookout that doesn't have some obstacle somewhere in the 360° view.


Topic: photography Link here

Back home to process the photos—once again hugin didn't like my panoramic photos, and I'm going to have to investigate how to do it manually.


Topic: technology Link here

My fears about the new satellite modem have confirmed themselves: it's showing the same problems of TCP hangs that I've seen from the very beginning. My link monitoring software shows:

satellite link statistics

This is a very specific issue: I'm unable to set up new TCP connections, but existing ones, even to the same site, work with no problems. ping speeds (ICMP) and UDP are also unaffected. Looking at the raw data for the same time, I see things like:

1234514699 3.09         # Fri Feb 13 19:45:02 EST 2009
1234514767 75.01        # Fri Feb 13 19:47:22 EST 2009
...
1234515894 75.01        # Fri Feb 13 20:06:09 EST 2009
1234515962 75.01        # Fri Feb 13 20:07:17 EST 2009
1234516029 16.94        # Fri Feb 13 20:07:26 EST 2009
1234516097 2.17         # Fri Feb 13 20:08:19 EST 2009
1234516166 2.58         # Fri Feb 13 20:09:28 EST 2009

The time 75.01 is the time it takes for the TCP connection attempt to time out; currently my scripts have a bug which makes it difficult to determine when the connection fails, but they did here. There is a difference, however, in this behaviour: it recovers from the situation. With previous firmware revisions, only a reset would help. Now you just need to wait for 20 minutes of no network access, and Voilà! it comes back again.

What a crock!

Matthew's promise of less data corruption also doesn't seem to have come to fruition:

5257 files to consider
Received disconnect from 203.10.76.45: 2: Corrupted MAC on input.
rsync: connection unexpectedly closed (9 bytes received so far) [sender]
rsync error: unexplained error (code 255) at io.c(632) [sender=3.0.4]
Fri Feb 13 09:27:33 EST 2009

Called up again and spoke to Nathan, who wasn't able to access the modem either. He promised to investigate and send me mail on the outcome. He also came up with a new excuse for some of the breakage: “The web browser CGI was written for Microsoft Internet Explorer”. So it's not a bug, it's a feature. The sad thing is that this probably means that people have no intention of fixing the bug.


Saturday, 14 February 2009 Dereel Images for 14 February 2009
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Topic: general, photography Link here

Photo day again today. For the first time since we've been here, the dam is completely dry:


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High time for more rain. Other indications are the state of the shade trees to the north-east of the house. One in particular looks as if it has had it. Here the appearance a year ago and today:


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The stuff in the foreground is mainly foliage from the sunken branches. More “progress” at the “slide show“ page.


Topic: technology Link here

More pain with the satellite modem today. How can anybody install such a load of junk? Called up Wideband and spoke to Jay, who told me that the firmware version I had (RC 018) was not the best—in direct contradiction to what Matthew said on Tuesday—and that they would install RC 029 on Monday. Who knows if that will bring any improvement. I am getting thoroughly fed up with these people. At the beginning they were helpful, but it's unacceptable that such basic problems as continual loss of connection and the inability to communicate with the modem are still with us after over a year. And this excuse “the modem is designed to work with Microsoft ‘Internet Explorer’” is an insult to any normal definition of interoperability. I've never seen a site on the web that would only work with “Internet Explorer”. I think that one way or another, a formal complaint is necessary.

Also mail from Peter Nicholson, enclosing a graph of data from his IPStar link. He's with Aussie Broadband, arguably a different ISP, so the comparison of his data (left) with mine (right) is particularly interesting. Unfortunately he doesn't have the TCP data.


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Both these graphs are from the same time frame, so you'd expect the dropouts to be the same. But they're not, not by a long shot. In particular (and rather unusually), I didn't have any link dropouts during that period, while Peter had 15. So maybe this does have something to do with the ISPs after all. I wish a few more people would send me their data.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Spent most of the afternoon cooking Indian food. More attempts at masala vada, with some improvement over the last time I tried.


Sunday, 15 February 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general, opinion, gardening Link here

Carola left today to visit Laurel Gordon in Tasmania. Problem: she had some seeds with her, Eucalyptus and Calendula. They were to take back home, but there are quarantine regulations in Tasmania, and we didn't know whether she could bring them in to the state. Took a look at the AQIS web site, where I didn't even try to find out more than a contact phone number. That proved to be easy enough: it's 1-800-020-504. And it's only open during normal office hours.

With a bit more effort found the airport phone numbers. Melbourne is 03-8318-8200 and continually engaged. Got through to Hobart on 03-6214-6020 and discovered that there are, indeed, restrictions. It's up to the individual AQIS officer whether he's prepared to let it through on the understanding that they'll not be unpacked in Tasmania, and also whether they're prepared to hold them until she leaves again. How completely unacceptable.


Topic: animals Link here

Then we had to go off riding before Carola left, and even Yvonne was getting a bit tired. Smoke haze on the way back home—the weather forecast had warned of that, presumably from last week's bushfires—but I didn't like the way the haze seemed to be concentrated in the area coming from our house, so off back home to find, of course, that nothing was wrong. It's strange you can't smell this smoke.


Topic: technology Link here

This satellite connection is appalling! It must be an order of magnitude worse than when I got rid of it a year ago:

satellite link statistics satellite link statistics

I count a total of 86 failed TCP connections in the data files for the graphs above, meaning at least 90 minutes of inability to communicate. During that time, as before, existing TCP connections worked normally, and ping showed “only” 1.5% packet loss. This upgrade to the next flaky firmware had better show significant improvements.


Monday, 16 February 2009 Dereel
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Topic: gardening Link here

The kangaroos are learning to tip over the wire mesh we have put around many shrubs, and they've eaten all the leaves off the oak sapling yet again. Time to connect it to the electric fence, I think.


Topic: photography Link here

I've been spending far too much time lately trying to choose a new tripod for my camera. How difficult it is! They all seem to be too short, and I can't find any useful information about the heads at all. Why should a ball head be better than one with levers? How do you pan with one? Maybe that's all taken care of, but no documentation describes it.


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Today somebody posted a good example of the extremes of modern GUI software, apparently Microsoft “Word”. I suppose that's just the result of extremes of configuration, but it certainly makes a point.


Topic: technology Link here

Satellite modem problems: “resolved”?

The problems with the satellite modem continued all morning, and finally I called up Wideband, spoke to Michael, and asked him when the firmware upgrade would be done. He promised to call back, and did so, saying the modem would be upgraded within 30 minutes, and that it could be off the air for up to 30 minutes. It really did happen within the time frame, but the “off the air” was so short that it hardly registered in comparison with the “normal” dropouts:

satellite link statistics

The update was the last dropout, just before 12:30, and it lasted only about a minute.

The only immediate result of the update was the confirmation that the web application is still broken. My copy of Microsoft “Internet Explorer” wouldn't look at it either, just wanting to save it to disk. Decided to upgrade to the latest version, which was fraught with difficulties. The “Software Update” appeared to hang, so I went to the Microsoft support site and follow the link to “Internet Explorer 7”—which came up in German! It also didn't give me the option of downloading a different version. Set the country to Australia and tried again—still the German version! But this time I got the option of downloading the Australian version, and did that.

The pain wasn't over—it then went out looking for “Internet Explorer” updates. After about 10 minutes of no activity, installed wireshark, which showed no obvious external activity. But I couldn't stop the search! The stop functions were unclickable. In disgust, put the box to sleep.

In the meantime, took a look at why this page doesn't work on any other browser. It proved to be written in relatively legible Javascript. Callum Gibson pointed me at the “Error Console” for firefox, which told me (requiring me to painfully copy each message):

Warning: Expected identifier for pseudo-class or pseudo-element but found ' '.  Ruleset ignored due to bad selector.
Source File: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/cb.css
Line: 5
Warning: Error in parsing value for property 'CURSOR'.  Declaration dropped.
Source File: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/cb.css
Line: 26
Warning: Error in parsing value for property 'CURSOR'.  Declaration dropped.
Source File: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/cb.css
Line: 29
Warning: Error in parsing value for property 'FILTER'.  Declaration dropped.
Source File: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/xWebGateway.cgi
Line: 0
Warning: Unknown property 'moz-opacity'.  Declaration dropped.
Source File: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/xWebGateway.cgi
Line: 0
Error: uncaught exception: [Exception... "Not enough arguments [nsIDOMHTMLTableRowElement.insertCell]"  nsresult: "0x80570001 (NS_ERROR_XPC_NOT_ENOUGH_ARGS)"  location: "JS frame :: http://sat-gw.lemis.com:8080/xmlcode.js :: update_tab_control_view :: line 220"  data: no]

What does that mean? Clearly the last is a bug, probably the reason the thing doesn't run. Does “Internet Explorer” simply ignore the bug? And I suppose it's typical of this kind of broken software that cb.css contains:

BODY {
        FONT-SIZE: 15px; MARGIN: 2px 10px 2px 0px; COLOR: #000000; BACKGROUND-COLOR: #CDCDCD
}
INPUT
        FONT-SIZE: 14px
}

How can they know what resolution monitor I'm using?


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Considered calling up the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, who implemented the Broadband Guarantee. What did I get?

The following error was encountered:
    Unable to determine IP address from host name for www.dcita.gov.au

OK, that's common enough on this flaky link, but this time the problem persisted. Further investigation showed that the agency has changed its name to the even more emetic Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). “Department of Broadband” indeed! Who's responsible for Narrowband? Who's responsible for narrow minds?

And they have taken down the old web site, instead of redirecting! They still have an archive web site that could have handled a redirect. In fact, it would be even simpler than that: both the DCITA archive site and DBCDE are running on the same machine (Apache/Red Hat), so it would have been as simple as a VirtualHost entry. What stupidity! They're still in the phone book (with the new web server name, which I suppose they think is a URL), so it's clear that they don't think of the web in the same way as the phone system. How can I expect to get any technical sympathy for a department which so clearly shows its complete and utter incompetence in technical matters? Gave up in disgust.


Tuesday, 17 February 2009 Dereel Images for 17 February 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

The strawberries are finally bearing more than one fruit a day! And the March flies are guarding them fiercely. If it would only rain!


Topic: technology Link here

So far it looks as if my new satellite modem firmware is working better than the old one. Finally managed to install “Internet Explorer” release 8, which worked, but then came up with the startling message:

Internet Explorer 7: Jetzt herunterladen-Telstra BigPond Home Internet Explorer.

Where on earth did it get that from?

After I got it working, it still offered to save the file from the satellite modem—this was a clean install, with the exception of importing defaults from firefox. Reset everything, didn't import the defaults, and it finally worked. Even more surprisingly, I checked the configuration and found NetBIOS enabled. No idea what for, but I know I don't need it, and it's a potential security issue, so I disabled it, forgetting that I'm in the Microsoft Space, so it rebooted.

To my amazement, the TCP sessions survived the reboot. Yes, they'll do this on a real modem too, but the modem maintains state for BST, so it's to be expected that it loses this state when rebooted. I wonder if it has found a way around that, or whether it wasn't a real reboot.

More horrible GUIs

People have shown me some more horrible GUIs. Time to create a page to collect them.


Topic: photography Link here

More thoughts on camera equipment

In the afternoon, more research into tripods. Documentation is still an issue. Finally came across a supplier in Shanghai with at least well-documented offers at prices that don't look too bad, with an amazing diversity of prices and pictures which ultimately proved to be the same tripod offered in three different currencies and with three alternative combinations of purchase price and shipping costs, as well as Buy It Now and auction options. The prices ranged between $49.90 and $120.59, but after factoring in the postage, they all came to the same thing. Normally I'd avoid a vendor like this, but the feedback was surprisingly positive, in particular in relationship to the quality of the product, so bought one.

Which price? There's a refund option if you don't like the product, but of course you lose the shipping costs. So the free shipping seems to be the way to go, especially as it was $1 cheaper. Hopefully things will be OK.

Also did some investigation of telephoto lenses. I need something that goes beyond my current 70/300 mm lens, and to make it worthwhile it should be at least 800mm. At that length, there are a few options:

  1. A real telephoto lens with autofocus and automatic exposure. B&H offer only one such lens, a Sigma 300-800 mm zoom for $7,199—way out of my price range.

  2. A cheap telephoto lens with manual focus and manual exposure, such as the Samyang 650-1300 mm lens I have seen around. Apart from the obvious problems of manual focus on a modern DSLR, which isn't really designed to help, this thing has no diaphragm, so you can't even stop down for more depth of field. It's claimed to be “f/8-16”, but that's dependent only on the focal length. The price is OK, but the reviews I read of it were horrible.

  3. Use a teleconverter. That sounds like a good idea, but Olympus teleconverters are very expensive, and the strongest one is only 2x, so I wouldn't get beyond 600 mm. It would also drop the maximum aperture by 2 stops.

  4. Use a screw-on magnifier lens, which fits on the filter thread of the lens. This maintains automatic focus and exposure, and doesn't (I think) alter the maximum aperture. They're cheap, but I've read bad reports about them too, though not as bad as the Samyang lens.

  5. Stick to what I have now, using a Hanimex Pentax thread 300 mm f/5.5 lens with 2x and 3x teleconverters, which even gets me as far as 1800mm f/33. This one has the great advantage that it costs me nothing, but the disadvantages of alternatives 2 and 3, and also the disadvantage I've already noted that the photo quality is worse than “digital zoom”, just using the Olympus lens at 300 mm and cropping.

Decided that the only reasonable alternative at the moment was alternative 4, and found a suitable-looking lens for $129 on eBay from onlinedigitalshop. Send a message stating what I want to use it with, and received a reply telling me it should be fine, so bought one. I'm still not sure that was the correct thing to do, but we'll see. It, too, can be returned, limiting my exposure to about $30.


Topic: opinion, technology Link here

Mail rants—nothing new

For reasons I forget, I was reminded of a series of rants I had with Fritz Jörn, starting over a quarter of a century ago. Fritz has some good ideas, but in comparison with me he's GBS's “reasonable man”:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all
progress depends on the unreasonable man.
                -- George Bernard Shaw

Fritz was the marketing manager for Tandem Computers GmbH in the 1980s, and he sent out various press releases by email—not for reading, but for printing. The result is one of my oldest rants.


Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Dereel
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Topic: gardening Link here

Mail today from Max (surname unknown) from Albany WA, identifying a few more of my mystery plants. Gradually we're coming closer to solving the mysteries—only 5 left, and one of them is half solved.


Topic: technology Link here

More problems with the satellite connection today:

satellite link statistics

Just before the end of the first outage, called up Wideband, and Nick was unable to confirm what was wrong, but suspected that the southern beam for Victoria was out. So nothing to do with my satellite box, just general unreliability. I wish these people would get their act together. And this time, of course, my TCP sessions went to hell, so yesterday's experience must have been related to a soft restart.


Topic: gardening Link here

The kangaroos are becoming a real nuisance; today found that they had attacked the Hardenbergia on the centre column of the verandah and defoliated it up to about a metre. They had also tried to pull away the stem, but fortunately it was wired on, so the stem and the upper leaves survived. The wire was stretched by about 10 cm, though. I suppose I should plant a large surface of Gazanias near the fence: they grow like fury, and the kangaroos like them. First we need some rain, though.


Thursday, 19 February 2009 Dereel Images for 19 February 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

My free copy of “Beautiful Architecture” arrived in the mail today. After I submitted the last set of corrections, they didn't send me a new draft, and I had feared the worst. With justification; there are still things in there that I had tried to correct several times. This isn't the first time I've had trouble with the O'Reilly production team. It's really frustrating.

I suppose there's some grounds for cautious optimism that the latest version of the satellite modem firmware is working better; I haven't seen any further evidence of purely TCP hangs. From that point of view, I now have a new modem which makes less noise, but is otherwise no better than the one I had before. And the packet loss rate is still unacceptable:

17530 packets transmitted, 16957 packets received, +1 duplicates, 3.3% packet loss

I should probably change my statistics pages to reflect the packet loss rate.


Topic: gardening Link here

Time to do some work in the garden, but it's so hot again. We still have temperatures in the mid-30s, and the rainfall this year has been negligible, only 8.4 mm:

rainfall statistics

The bad part are the 10 and 30 day rainfall averages (red and green). We desperately need rain!


Friday, 20 February 2009 Dereel Images for 20 February 2009
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Topic: technology, food and drink, general Link here

Baking day today. While putting away our new mixer (bought last month), discovered a crack in the housing round the beater connector:


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How did that happen? Is it serious? Inside is a metal connector, and the thing still seems to work, but for how long? It's still under guarantee, so called up Kenwood service at 1 800 126 659 and got the phone number of their Ballarat repair people, John Thomas & Co.: 5331 3099. Doubtless it will not be too difficult to fix, but it has shaken my trust in the brand more than a little.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was more bearable today, in fact quite pleasant, with the exception of these damned March flies. I did some work in the garden adding more irrigation—the drought has shown clearly where not enough water is getting through—and had to carry a can of fly spray to ward off the flies.

How to kill a kangaroo

How do you kill a kangaroo that you don't see, or at least get rid of the bastards? As the weather gets dryer, they are becoming more and more invasive. This evening I saw three of them in the garden, not 10 metres from the verandah, and chased them away before it occurred to me that I should have got some photos. They didn't go happily, either—it took Yvonne a separate attempt to chase them back to the swamp. They're doing a lot of damage to the garden. I've thought of poison, electric shocks and shooting them, but all seem to be a lot of work. There must be a simpler way.


Saturday, 21 February 2009 Dereel Images for 21 February 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

Why does my weekend photo processing always take so long? It should be becoming more routine now. But somehow I still end up spending 2 hours every Saturday.


Topic: general, animals Link here

Our next building project is already on its way, building another shed for horses and hay. The way the weather's been lately we'll probably need to plan for more hay than we had hoped. Round to CJ's place to take a look at one he has built; he also has some second-hand building materials that we should be able to use.


Topic: gardening Link here

Killing kangaroos is probably not an option, but Juha Kupiainen came up with one that potentially might be: drive them away with ultrasonics. The web site is rather strange (no pricing or other information, just “enter your phone number in this form in the format that we think is right”), but I'm still dubious after my experience with kangaroo whistles. Still, it's worth following up on.


Topic: technology Link here

A bit of culinary experimentation in the evening: we have this Vietnamese mint, but we don't really know what to do with it. Faked up a chicken and pine nuts recipe, which tasted surprisingly good. I won't put any thyme in next time, though.


Sunday, 22 February 2009 Dereel –> Macedon –> Daylesford –> Dereel Images for 22 February 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

ABC Gardening Australia has a new moderator since the end of last month, Steve Ryan. Today he opened up his garden under the open garden scheme, and we decided to go and have a look. Just finding the place was difficult: he lives in Macedon, on the road from Melbourne to Bendigo, but all the documentation put the address in Mount Macedon, so of course Google Maps didn't find it. The Open Gardens web site included a Melway reference, but it proved to be a small-scale map that covered Bendigo to Ballarat, and was completely useless for finding the street. Finally found it in VicRoads, which didn't do a very good job either—we found at least three errors on the way, roads which were supposed to be there but which were not.

Found our way there without much difficulty, and, as I had feared, found that we weren't the only ones—they came in their busloads, thus solving the problem of finding the place. Spent about an hour looking around and getting a number of ideas for our own garden. Also noted that not everything that Steve touches is automatically successful. This one appears to be a Buddleja globosa (the dried-out flowers in the middle of the photo). It does very well in our garden:

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


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He also had plants for sale, at horrendous prices. To be fair, he specializes in rare and exotic plants, and they have their price—beyond what we currently want to pay. We were quite impressed by the pond, and Yvonne liked some of the succulents:


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Also got some ideas for the verandah from a similar construction on one of his houses:


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It looks as if we're going to have to put a water feature or two somewhere.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

Took a different way back, via Mount Macedon, Woodend and Daylesford, mainly because I've never been there before. Discovered that Daylesford has a reputation of being a gourmet centre, and as we went through—at 13:00—found that the weekly Farmer's Market was still in full swing, so in to take a look:


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It's built around the railway station complex, where they still have old tourist trains:


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Yvonne found some of the succulents she liked the look of, as well as others, and we also found some Victorinox kitchen knives, so we were $50 poorer by the time we left.

Back home and spent some time assessing the work we need to do to improve the layout of the garden.


Topic: opinion Link here

Drive slow when safe, fast when dangerous

I've complained frequently about the ridiculously low speed limits in Australia, and particularly in Victoria: on a straight, multilane freeway such as the Prince's Freeway between Melbourne and Geelong, you are typically limited to 100 km/h. On less well built roads, such as the Gippsland freeway, which is only two lanes and somewhat twisty, you're allowed 110 km/h. You'd think this were contradictory, but it seems to be part of a plan. When it's icy, you're called upon to drive at 40 km/h:


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I suppose that says more about the level of ice that they expect than anything else, but in a state where the drivers are bludgeoned into obeying what the authorities want (today we were continually stuck behind people doing 20 km/h or more below the speed limit), it's downright dangerous.


Monday, 23 February 2009 Dereel Images for 23 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

It's still hot! And today they were predicting more bushfire activity, though it didn't seem nearly as bad as two weeks ago. Still, we did get 5 new bushfires, including one near Daylesford, where we passed through only yesterday. If only it would rain! I did note that there was some rain almost exactly where the Daylesford fire was, but it was almost certainly not nearly enough.


Topic: photography Link here

Doing some idle thoughts about electronic flash. How do you measure the intensity? For portable flashes, such as on-camera, it's a guide number, which makes perfect sense to the person using it manually, as long as the manufacturer hasn't lied about the conditions. But studio equipment measures the power input to the flash tube, in the strange “unit” watt-seconds, a reinvention of the Joule. That's a more honest but less useful measure: you can be sure it's correct.

But how do you compare units rated in these ways? There are many steps between the power input to the tube and the light hitting the subject:

  1. First it needs to be applied to the flash tube. Most units can apply only part of the power available, but that's not as important as the maximum power that can be applied.

  2. The tube converts some of this power into light, some into heat, and some into sound. The proportion of light is important, but I've never seen any numbers.

  3. Then the light has to be directed at the subject. In general this is done with reflectors, but they can be of different materials, and they can be direct or indirect, especially with studio equipment. Reflectors can be adjusted (usually only approximately).

    Round about here things start getting more complicated. Guide numbers also take this sort of thing into account—it's one of the ways that manufacturers lie about the output of their units.

So how do you compare them? If you're on a forum, you say “you can't compare ” or “This is like converting weight of a car to miles per gallon”. This really means “I don't know how to compare them”, and it's no help to anybody.

Clearly there is a correlation, if you define your reference conditions. For example, for a specific reflector/diffuser setup, a studio flash will have both a guide number and a power input, and with the appropriate factor you can calculate one from the other. It's not a direct conversion: firstly, Joules are Joules, while guide numbers depend on the unit of length in use, and they're proportional to the square of the light output. So if, for sake of argument, 100 J corresponds to a guide number of 30 metres at 100 ISO, 400 J correspond to a guide number of 60 metres (or a little under 200 ft, if you're still using those units) at the same sensitivity.

Still, it's worth having a rough idea. I've checked the specs of some units and found:

So I assume that the conversion 100 J = guide number 30 is a good rule of thumb. It's not much more than that: when taking close-up photos, I put my lights at a distance of about 1.5 metres, and I typically use f/11. At that distance with two lights with a guide number of 32 (combined guide number 45), I'd expect to use about f/30. But that's bounced off a couple of umbrellas and diffused through a light tent, by which time the “guide number” for an individual unit has dropped from 30 to 12. There's a reason why guide numbers don't work in that environment.


Topic: gardening Link here

Also more thoughts on how to structure the garden. One thing I need to factor in is that this will, of course, take years. How do I ensure that it looks good in the meantime? One of the things we're also considering, of course, is the choice of plants. One thing that has become abundantly clear is that we need wind breaks, and we'd like something that attracts birds, but I can't find a good overview. Is Grevillea tetragonoloba as good a choice as its sellers claim? Would it make a good hedge?

In the evening, we had another attack of Corellas, unfortunately too late in the evening to get good photos:


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People can say what they want about resolution, but it's time for better low-light performance. These photos were taken at 1600 ISO, and the quality is only barely acceptable. It's time for sensors with 100,000 ISO (and not 102,400 ISO, as the current trend seems to be) with better quality than this.


Tuesday, 24 February 2009 Dereel Images for 24 February 2009
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New toys
Topic: photography Link here

All three of my recent eBay purchases are now here: a memory card from Hong Kong arrived in the post, and the tripod and the supplementary telephoto lens have arrived at the Sebastopol post office. It's interesting that the memory card took a week from Hong Kong, while the tripod took only 5 days from Shanghai, and the lens, from Queensland, took about the same time.


Repairing the mixer
Topic: food and drink, general Link here

So today looked like a good day to go into town and do various odds and ends that were waiting. Had a haircut, picked up the parcels, and took the Kenwood mixer to John Thomas for repair, where they told me they thought the thing had been dropped, possibly before I got it. That sounds unlikely to me; certainly we never dropped it. Strangely, they weren't certain about the warranty, though it clearly stated “6 months manufacturers warranty”. They promised to get back to me, but didn't.


New photo toys
Topic: photography Link here

Back home and unpacked my new toys, which weren't as satisfying as I had hoped. The tripod cost 5 times as much as the old one, and though it's probably better, there's not much in it. I still don't understand the advantage of a ball head; it makes panning much more difficult. Maybe I'll buy a different head.

The supplementary telephoto lens was a whole different matter. It was a complete disaster, an order of magnitude worse than my worst fears. It has extreme chromatic aberration and flare, and it can't focus to infinity. The problems are evident even in most of the thumbnails below; click on the photos to enlarge them and the enormity of the problem becomes apparent. To quote “Andys”, one of the semi-anonymous people on IRC, they look like they've been taken through the bottom of a coke bottle.


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The photo above (whole frame, then a detail from top left) was taken at maximum focal length (3x300 mm). It shows unbelievable aberration. The one below (whole frame, three details) was taken at minimum focal length (3x70 mm). It seems to be worse at the edges: the last detail, from the middle, is not quite as bad.


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At 3x100 mm I get this (again full frame and detail):


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By contrast, here's the same thing taken with the same Olympus lens without the supplementary tele, set at 300 mm:


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The furthest focusing distance appears to be about 15 m. Here it is set manually; it can't quite get as far as the post. Beyond this point, the lens no longer focuses.


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It also confuses the auto-focus on the Olympus lens. Here's a photo taken at 3x300 mm with auto-focus:


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That kills one of the advantages I attributed to this approach, that I could still use auto-focus. But after focusing manually, it's still much worse than the Hanimex lens I already have, the one that I was trying to improve on. And I know I can improve on the Hanimex: just use the Olympus telephoto lens by itself and crop the result (“digital zoom”). The following photos show:


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In summary, then, the supplementary lens is worse than useless. It makes worse photos than when it's not used.

So how could this happen? Surely nobody can be happy with this kind of “quality”. What good is a telephoto lens that can't focus further than 15 m? It must have something to do with the lens I've attached it to, something I thought of in advance. Thus this mail exchange with the vendor (tidied up from eBay's usual emetic format):

> I'm interested in this item for use with an Olympus E-510 and 70/300 Olympus telephoto (58 mm filter
> thread).  I've heard some horror stories about supplementary lenses; do you see any problem with
> this combination?

The 3x Telephoto Lens will fit to the 58mm Lens with an adaptor which will be included in the
package. There will not be any problem. We have not received any complaints from our past customers.

So I wrote another message asking for suggestions, and got the startling reply (original format):

The 3x
Telephoto Lens will fit to the 58mm Lens with an adaptor which will
be
included in the package.

Clearly another case of inability to read email, and also an indication that this is a standard response. I sent another message back again. There's still no need to leave negative feedback, nor even to mention the name of the vendor; it could be a simple misunderstanding, though he's stretching my patience. How many people try this sort of thing on a long tele lens? Still, that's why I asked the vendor, and he'll need to do something.


Wednesday, 25 February 2009 Dereel Images for 25 February 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with lenses today. Got another message from the vendor of the broken supplementary lens, not offering any explanation, but offering a refund. I suppose I'll take that, but I'm still not happy. I don't have a standard lens on my Olympus with which I can test the supplementary tele—the filter thread on the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD is 72 mm—but my old Pentax Z-1 with the 28-85 Takumar has the right size thread, so put it on there. There's no film in it, and I wouldn't buy one just for that, but it's clear that the lens wouldn't work well there either: there's extreme vignetting up to about 60 mm, and beyond that the same chromatic aberration patterns show up.

Also found a couple of old video wide angle supplementary lenses that I had bought decades ago. One of them—a fisheye—also fitted the Pentax, and from what I can see the quality was better. I think that's the answer: these lenses are designed for video cameras, where they may work well, but this vendor is advertising them for digital SLRs, and they're a catastrophe there.

Yvonne into town, bringing back Natalie, a friend from Byron Bay, and an Olympus EC-20 teleconverter kindly lent to my by a friend in Alice Springs. That gave me the opportunity to do a reasonable comparison of the various options at my disposal:

In the process discovered the advantages of having two tripods. The new one isn't much better than the old one, but one holding the camera and another propping up the lens makes it an order of magnitude more stable. Also noted that I need to cover the viewfinder in these slow lens photos; otherwise the exposure is greatly falsified. I'll write up a separate page over the next couple of days.


Topic: general Link here

Bushfires coming closer

On the way home this afternoon, Yvonne saw a pillar of smoke. Checked the DSE site and found yes, indeed, there had been a bushfire in Dereel, but it was last week and now controlled. It wasn't until much later that they reported another fire, today, in Enfield—also “controlled”.

A couple of things worry me about this:


Thursday, 26 February 2009 Dereel Images for 26 February 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

Mail from the vendor of the supplementary telephoto lens, telling me something that I had already discovered:

5. Do not use the camera wide angle mode while telephoto lens is on camera

6. This will cause black borders and tunnel effect around lens

Shouldn't this have been part of the advertisement?

Spent most of the day working on my telephoto comparisons, which clearly showed that the supplementary telephoto is of no use whatsoever. It also confirmed my opinion that the Hanimex 300 mm lens is so much worse than the Olympus that it's no use either. About the only thing that's still in the running is the EC-20. I should probably do more testing there.


Topic: gardening Link here

How much water does a Salvia microphylla need? 5 months ago I made the decision to prune back the one round the old petrol pump as new flowers appeared, which they did quite nicely, and now the new growth is as high as the old growth was. But it's looking straggly; here the appearance in October and now:


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On the other hand, the soil is still moist to the feel, at least under the mulch. Put a dripper line in there anyway; we'll see if that improves things.


Topic: food and drink Link here

More cooking. Spent a surprising amount of time looking for a good recipe for seekh kebab, not to mention the reason why it's spelt “seekh” and not “sikh”. It seems it's a Farsi (“Persian”) word, and has nothing to do with the Sikh people. Results weren't too bad; for the first time I got a consistency that didn't fall apart on me.


Friday, 27 February 2009 Dereel Images for 27 February 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another day of extreme fire danger! Spent a lot of time looking at the DSE fires site, which told a grim story: 8 new fires, and unlike Black Saturday, as they seem to be calling the event, they were mainly to the west of Melbourne—three or four of them in the Portland area. And once again the site showed how completely useless it is: we had another couple of fires of 20 m², and the fires in Portland disappeared without trace later in the afternoon. Surely people can handle this information better.


Topic: technology Link here

Daniel O'Connor sent me some patches for FreeBSD months ago, but we've changed our repository to subversion, and I still haven't got my head around it. Spent a lot of the day updating swamp.lemis.com, my test machine, to the latest version of FreeBSD 8-CURRENT. Soon I should finally get round to committing the patches.


Topic: photography Link here

The first stage of the telephoto lens comparison is over now, but I still need to play around with this EC-20 teleconverter I have on loan. Took a number of photos, again far too late in the day; the results were mainly useless, and only these two showed any merit:


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The main problem is focus: the lens can auto-focus, some of the time, but it's so slow that I'd prefer to set the focus and then change to manual focus to keep the distance. And there's the issue: depending on where the bird lands, it'll be in focus or not. And under these lighting conditions I needed full aperture (f/11.2, as it reports). More thought (and light) required.


Topic: general Link here

To the Yeardleys for dinner; they had had an accident with the deep freeze, and suddenly there was lots of meat to be eaten.


Saturday, 28 February 2009 Dereel Images for 28 February 2009
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Bloody kangaroos! They've knocked over the protective mesh and eaten all the foliage off our one remaining Dodonaea:


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The remains are barely visible against the background of mulch. About the only consolation is that it's not the first time, and it has recovered before. They're unlikely to have another go at that one for a while, but I'd rather they ate more of the Nasturtiums, which recover better:


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Topic: photography Link here

Photo day again today, giving me a chance to try out my new tripod in earnest for the first time. I had already puzzled about the utility of a ball head, and today I got my answer, I think: they're not nearly as good as the old pan and tilt heads. The one advantage is that you can easily tilt the camera on its side, which isn't easy with a pan and tilt head. The significant disadvantage is that you can easily tilt the camera on its side even if you don't want to. Taking my panoramas was a lot more difficult as a result. Looks like I need a new head.

One of the things it did demonstrate is a significant disadvantage of the new xD card: it's slow! Taking the panoramas of the verandah stalled because the write buffer for the card was full. On further examination, it's a type M card, which only manages a write speed of 2.5 MB/s, only about 13% of my CF card. I suppose it's fast enough for most things, but it's obvious enough to be annoying.

My Olympus E-510 camera has a rather interesting feature: it has support for panorama photos. For reasons best known to Olympus, it only works with an xD memory card. Until last week, I didn't have one, and instead I my weekly panoramas of the outside of my house using hugin. It's not clear what additional functionality the camera provides, but it is a pain the whole way:

Finally it created a panorama of sorts. As I had feared, the overlap wasn't enough, and the exposure was uneven. According to the instructions, the focus and exposure remain unchanged for the set of photos, but it doesn't look like it. Here the “normal” panorama created by hugin, followed by the Olympus panorama, the latter uncropped:


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The joins between the individual photos are very clear, while with hugin I have to look carefully to see them. Here are three details of the preceding photos:

 
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Here the hugin image (the first) shows an offset column, but that's all. The Olympus photo shows duplication of one of the Canna flowers and severe discontinuities in the roof structure.

 
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I can't see anything wrong with the hugin image here, but the Olympus image shows two problems: firstly the obvious discontinuities, and secondly the missing detail at bottom centre, caused by lack of enough images.

 
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Here there's a minor discontinuity in the hugin image, and—surprisingly—none in the Olympus image. But the exposure is completely different; possibly the light changed between the two images, and it couldn't handle it.

In sum, then, another “feature” that I can forget about. I can't see any advantage in it.


Topic: technology Link here

More MythTV pain

To make things complete, looking through the MythTV programme information, I discovered that there was no information for ABC2. For some reason, shepherd hadn't loaded it.

How do you debug this kind of problem? With great difficulty. Shepherd starts by refusing to run more than once a day. You can work around this with the marginally documented --notimetest option, but only if you run shepherd directly. It doesn't work in its normal incarnation as tv_grab_au. I've already worked around that by changing the contents on /usr/bin/tv_grab_au:

#!/bin/bash
~mythtv/.shepherd/applications/shepherd/shepherd --notimetest $*

Then shepherd insists on checking for updates Every Single Time it is run, taking about 15 seconds to complete. There's an option --noupdate, but it doesn't work for me.

Those are just problems in running shepherd at all, of course. Why didn't it load any data for ABC2? That sort of information is in the configuration file shepherd.conf, but that's full of status information and gets changed all the time. diff shows hundreds of lines like:

                                          'max_reliable_days_per_chan' => {
                                                                            'QCTV' => 4,
-                                                                           'TVS' => 3,
                                                                            'SBS News' => 4,
+                                                                           'TVS' => 3,
                                                                            'Access 31' => 4,
-                                                                           'C31 Adelaide' => 4,
-                                                                           'Channel 31' => 4
+                                                                           'Channel 31' => 4,
+                                                                           'C31 Adelaide' => 4
                                                                          },

It's not clear what Adelaide channel 31 has to do here; it can't be from when I was in the Adelaide area, since this is a completely clean install. And I have no idea what TVS is, but the changes seem completely gratuitous; they're just changes in sequence. There's so much stuff in there that it's impossible to guess what change might relate to the problem. So I ran shepherd --configure to check if the channel mappings had changed, and found, amongst other things,

Guide data sources:
( 0) (no guide)                    ( 7) SBS
( 1) ABC HD                        ( 8) SBS HD
( 2) ABC1                          ( 9) SBS News
( 3) ABC2                          (10) SC10
( 4) Imparja                       (11) WIN
( 5) Prime                         (12) ImparjaHD
( 6) Prime HD                      (13) SC10HD
MythTV channel -: ABC2 ?

That MythTV channel - indicates that it thinks there is no “channel number” (a remnant of obsolescent analogue technology) associated with ABC2. But why not? Probably left behind by one of my attempts to add tuners to the system. A quick query showed:

mysql> SELECT name, callsign, channum, chanid, xmltvid, mplexid, visible
       FROM channel
       WHERE callsign = "ABC2";

+------+----------+---------+--------+------------------+---------+---------+
| name | callsign | channum | chanid | xmltvid          | mplexid | visible |
+------+----------+---------+--------+------------------+---------+---------+
| ABC2 | ABC2     | 22      |   2022 | abc2.shepherd.au |       3 |       1 |
| ABC2 | ABC2     |         |   1005 | abc2.shepherd.au |    NULL |       0 |
+------+----------+---------+--------+------------------+---------+---------+

So there were two entries, a valid one and an invalid one. There are a number of invalid ones, and I've been scared to remove them in case I break something else in MythTVs house of cards. But there was a valid one too; why didn't channel 22 show up? Went off looking for what queries shepherd makes, but couldn't get the mysqld to trace; presumably it was built without the corresponding trace code. Instead (this is Linux) used strace to look at the traffic. That's a bit of a pain too; you can get it to dump the complete buffer read in, but you have to do it by file descriptor. There appears to be no way to tell it to dump for all file descriptors, or just for all reads. If there is, it's well hidden. And in the process managed to get a couple of hangs and had to kill the strace process and mysqld, which restarts automatically.

Finally extracted the following three queries:

SELECT j.id, j.chanid, j.starttime, j.inserttime, j.type, j.cmds, j.flags, j.status, j.statustime, j.hostname, j.args, j.comment, r.endtime, j.schedruntime FROM jobqueue j, recorded r WHERE j.chanid = r.chanid AND j.starttime = r.starttime ORDER BY j.schedruntime, j.id;

SELECT  chanid, starttime, lastupdatetime, recusage, hostname FROM inuseprograms;

SELECT  name,callsign,channum,xmltvid FROM channel;

Clearly the one I'm looking for is the last one, and of course it looks as if it should find all channels. And it does. So why doesn't shepherd find the channel number?

I still have no idea. In the end, I just assigned channel number 4711 to the second record, and it worked, as I could see from the verbose output of running shepherd. But I still had no data for ABC2 in the database. For that, it seems, you need to run mythfilldatabase and let it invoke shepherd via tv_grab_au. After several hours, I had worked around the problem. What a pain!


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