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February 2012
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Wednesday, 1 February 2012 Dereel
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More laziness
Topic: general Link here

After yesterday's return to garden work, I should have continued today. I didn't, or only barely. Why? No idea. But despite the fact that I don't seem to be doing very much, I don't seem to have time for anything. I suppose I could claim that it's “planning”: one of the reasons that I didn't do much in the garden is that I keep reconsidering where to plant things. Some day, maybe soon...


Nickel-Zinc battery reliability
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've been quite happy with the Nickel-Zinc batteries I bought a few months back, and so I bought some more. They arrived yesterday: 8 AA size and 4 AAA size. It took me a couple of days to charge them: that's 4 loads (for some reason the charger handles only 2 AAA batteries at a time), and each takes 5 hours.

And one AAA battery didn't charge properly. After the charge cycle was complete, one battery had 1.836 V, which is about normal, and the other only 1.699 V, which is definitely too low. In the course of time that dropped to 1.368 V. A second time round it didn't charge at all, but later I got it to go as high as 1.7 V, but after a few hours it fell back to 1.62 V. Clearly it's defective.

It's always possible that a battery is defective, of course, and as long as it's only one, it's not even statistically relevant. But it begs the question: how reliable are NiZn batteries? And more generally, how reliable are other kinds of battery? I've already spent some time monitoring the charge of my Lithium-Ion batteries for my camera. Time to do something more general.


Thursday, 2 February 2012 Dereel Images for 2 February 2012
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Bookshops: a thing of the past?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Into town today to talk to Peter O'Connell about my finances. Things are looking pretty bad around the world, but we agreed that, at least for the moment, things in Australia aren't looking too bad.

Had some time to spare after that, so wandered around the shopping areas. Some things have changed: there used to be five different bookshops in the central area, and I've noticed that at least 3 have closed down, including big names like Dymocks and Angus & Robertson. Why? Is it the economy? Or is it the competition from online sales? I suspect the latter, but I can't make up my mind whether it's a good or a bad thing. It's good to be able to browse books before you buy, but there's so much more choice online, and the prices are so much lower (I think) that I can't really see a future for walk-in bookshops, at least not in smaller cities.


New focus rail
Topic: photography Link here

I've also received my new focussing rail for my panoramas. The previous one was too short, and I couldn't quite position the lens with the horizontal axis of rotation through the entrance pupil. This one is nearly double the length, and there's no issue there. But it's from the same manufacturer, and it has the same mounting plate as the other—completely smooth:


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As a result, the plate doesn't grip properly, and this is the reason for the sag that I have noticed in a couple of panoramas. What to do? The obvious thing is to stick a layer of rubber on them, like they do elsewhere. But where to get the rubber? Off to Spotlight, where a helpful assistant helped me look for things, but at the end I decided that they didn't have what I needed. But they did come up with the idea of going to Clark Rubber, back in town. Didn't have time for that today, though.

There are other issues with the rail: it has a scale centred round the middle screw (⅜", conveniently fitted with a ¼" adapter), but the marker is offset by 2.2 cm. Here it's centred over the hole:


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Then there's the issue that you can't position the camera everywhere on the rail: as the photo above shows, there are two slots and the hole in the middle, separated by about 2.6 cm. And of course, the correct position for my camera with the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 lens is in that area. If I put it in the middle, I have the same problem as with the shorter rail. If I put it at the closest end of one of the slots (it's symmetrical), the lens is so far back that it potentially enters into the field of view of the lens:


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It doesn't quite, fortunately, at least not with the standard crop, but it's only barely out of the field of view. ufraw doesn't crop, and there's a slight shadow visible at the bottom of the image:


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And then there's the issue of the sheer length of the thing. It makes it almost impossible to look through the viewfinder. Maybe I should have bought a shorter rail. But why are these things so difficult?


New bread flours
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I've been making my bread according to the same recipe for years now—since I started with sourdough I have baked an estimated 45 loaves. I used 800 g of rye flour and 500 g of “Manhattan Light Rye” bread mix, really 87.5% wheat and only 12.5% rye—really light. Now the flours have both run out at the same time, so closely that I finished them both off in the same loaf. And we've bought new flour, this time plain wheat flour and rye. That's clear enough: I can get the same proportions with 438 g of wheat and 862 g of rye.

I didn't quite do it that way, though. In the end I used 900 g of rye and 400 g of wheat, but I partitioned them differently across the fermentation steps:

Step       Old       New
1       150 g MLR       200 g rye
2       350 g MLR       400 g wheat
3       800 g rye       700 g rye

The results were surprising. The first step hardly seemed to ferment at all, but after being left overnight (the normal procedure) the second step looked fine. But the third step was close to a catastrophe: first it required a good 50 ml less water, and it turned into something like glue. I was able to handle it in the end, and the bread looked OK after baking, but it was amazingly different from previous loaves.

What's the difference? The Manhattan Light Rye had unspecified additives, which I thought were for flavour and consistency reasons, probably related to the use of yeast and high proportions of wheat. But that wouldn't explain why the rye was so slimy, nor why I needed so much less water. My best guess is that the rye flour is different, at least because it was moister (that would at least partially explain the difference in the use of water, though 50 ml is still a big difference), or maybe it's just a different kind of rye. We'll see in the coming months.


Repairing the lawn mower
Topic: general Link here

Our lawn mower has been out of commission for some weeks now. I didn't mention it at the time, but it would start, run for about 20 seconds, then stop again, not to be restarted for a while. It had all the indications of a blocked float valve in the carburettor. I didn't feel like looking at it myself, so asked CJ Ellis to come and take a look.

That he did today. The maintenance manual didn't give any help (“take the mower to an authorized retailer”—in itself a problem with this kind of vehicle), but we got the thing removed, with more involvement on my part than I had wanted. It started when I tried to demonstrate the behaviour to him. The battery was dead. Not just discharged, but completely dead, as we discovered over a period of time. It had always been a little weak, but it seems that last time I left the ignition turned on, and that killed it completely. The (digital) battery charger showed 0.3 V and refused to even try to charge it (“Err”). Put some jumpers on it from the Commodore, in itself a problem making contact, but even after bringing the voltage up to about 12 V, the charger couldn't even maintain that voltage. So it looks like we (finally) need a new battery.

I had thought that we just needed to remove the air filter and take the lid of the carburettor. It wasn't anywhere near that simple: we had to completely remove it and dismantle it:


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And then we found no evidence of dirt. I'm beginning to wonder if my diagnosis is correct. But we won't find out until we get a new battery.

Now that I have an air compressor, we used that to blow out the channels in the carburettor. As if we hadn't had enough frustration already, the compressor stopped working. Further investigation showed that the power switch wasn't working. The external switch is just a plunger, and it seems that internally it should be spring-loaded to the “on” position—a strange design in itself—and that this spring loading was no longer working. Put it manually to “on”, and now we'll have to turn it on at a different switch: if I turn it off again, it'll stay off until I dismantle the switch again.


The ghost of Kenyalang Park
Topic: general, history Link here

45 years ago my father opened an office in Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, to build Kenyalang Park, a large housing development. I did some surveying work on it myself in the time I was in Kuching.

Today I got a call from John Ting, an architect in Melbourne, who is writing a book on the architecture of Sarawak, and wanted more information about it and my father's activity in Sarawak in general. It seems that he's from the Ting family who ran the local supermarket at the time I was there (and not to Ting Pek Khing, the rags-to-riches story of the boy selling oranges in the Open Market in Kuching who became one of the richest builders in Malaysia, with the help of my father). Clearly John was looking for more details, but all I could find were two very poor quality scans from my father's CV, showing the place in construction 40 years ago:


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I wish I had taken more photos in those days, and not lost the ones I did take.


Friday, 3 February 2012 Dereel Images for 3 February 2012
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Still more TV woes
Topic: multimedia Link here

This USB tuner I have (Winfast DTV Dongle Gold, bought only a year and a half ago) has been pretty flaky: it seems that it will hang up for no apparent reason. To add insult to injury, MythTV insists on using it in preference to the other two tuners. So I've taken to removing it from the computer and only replacing it when I need three tuners.

That was the case yesterday. But now the thing doesn't seem to work at all. I suppose 18 months is a normal life for USB toys—the web page has moved and lost all its images too—but it gets on my nerves. And I have a third PCI tuner, but no PCI slot to put it in. What a pain all these things are!


Coming up roses
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

The red rose that I transplanted far too late this spring lost all its leaves and looked very unhappy for a while. But then it recovered, and now it's in bloom—at a time when less badly treated roses around it are not doing very little. But it's pink:


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Yvonne doesn't like pink flowers, so I suppose it'll have to go after all.


Garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

I should be attending to the weeds in the north garden (where the rose is growing), but it's becoming apparent that I've neglected the vine on the verandah too much, so spent some time attending to that. Putting up wires to train the vines along is a surprisingly strenuous task, and I'm still not finished. But I need to do something soon: there are shoots all over the place that require training. Two more wires and I'm done.


The spammer's apprentice
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Received another unlikely looking spam today:

From webmaster@vamrad.by  Thu Feb  2 06:00:06 2012
Delivered-To: groggyhimself@freebsd.org
Received: from mac.mir.by (ns.mir.by [93.125.59.1])
        by mx1.freebsd.org (Postfix) with ESMTP id 7AFAB8FC18
        for <groggyhimself@freebsd.org>; Wed,  1 Feb 2012 18:47:11 +0000 (UTC)
Received: by mac.mir.by (Postfix, from userid 2077)
        id 4429CAD823B; Wed,  1 Feb 2012 21:37:34 +0300 (FET)
To: groggyhimself@freebsd.org
Subject: <? print $subject; ?>
X-PHP-Originating-Script: 2077:helpus.php
From: Frank Lincoln <flincoln777@gmail.com>

Does nothing get tested nowadays?


Saturday, 4 February 2012 Dereel Images for 4 February 2012
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Iterative improvements in house photos
Topic: photography Link here

Saturday again, and more house photos. Today was the first day with the new, longer focusing rail. It's useless! Or at least it is for the crucial verandah photo. The zenith shot requires the camera to be pointing directly upwards. That works with the short rail:


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But the new rail is too long and fouls the bottom:


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In fact, just about any rail longer than the short one is too long, since it would foul the base of the panorama bracket otherwise.

That doesn't make the bracket useless—most panoramas don't have a zenith shot, and if I use other lenses I'll need the extra length. But it just goes to show how difficult the minor things about panorama hardware are. I can probably fix this specific issue by drilling a hole further back than the slots, which would also have the advantage of more consistent positioning of the scales.

The main verandah images are gradually getting there. Today I took two zenith images, offset by about 10° (which, coincidentally, would have allowed me to use the long rail). The control point detection was better, but still not perfect.

From an exposure point of view, I tried filling in the dark areas of a couple of the photos, with reasonable success. Here the shade area with the washed out colours, with and without flash fill-in, once again with mouseover alternation:


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Clearly here the first photo shows much better gradation at the right of the tree fern and shade area.

Also tried the same thing in the centre of the garden, where I've had problems in the past. I did today too, not helped by the wind, but it was marginally easier with flash, and again the results are better, though it's not as obvious as with the previous photo:


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The difference in the details between the photos is also surprising. That was the wind, and it makes it clear why stitching this image is such an issue.

Then there's the view from the verandah to the pond. That's an issue because there's only a small area round the bird bath that needs illumination. How do I do it? A little flash just isn't enough, because the overall exposure doesn't need it, and it illuminates evenly:


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The biggest difference there is the vines on the left. So I tried manual flash with a longer focal length of 85 mm (also manually). That illuminated the area round the bird bath better, but completely overexposed the vines and Hardenbergia in the edges:


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In the end I took photos from different series and masked them. Most of the images here come from the series taken without flash, including the left-hand side of the left-hand image, and only the area round the birdbath gets the full-power flash.


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It's still not perfect, but it's getting better. One of the issues was the illumination round the bird bath. It looks as if the focus of the flash gun went to the right of the bath, but looking at the original component image, that doesn't seem to be the case:


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More refinement necessary.


Get the right equipment
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Andy S (I should know the surname, but he hides it) has been following my experiments with panorama photography, and suggests I should get the right stuff—in fact, the Really Right Stuff. For example, I could get a rail and clamp set for the special price of only $200. The web page doesn't give useful details like length, and neither does the manual (yes, a manual for a rail!), but reading the scale and comparing with the product number suggests that the length is 192 mm. Is it better? It too has two slots and a hole in the middle. It's more solid, and requires Allen keys to screw things together. And it has a bullseye spirit level.

The length is intermediate between the two rails I have. The price is over 10 times as much. What do I get for that? It still has similar disadvantages. It, too, would not fit on my panorama bracket. It might not block the viewfinder as much, but only because it's shorter. And it's not clear that the one wouldn't also intrude into the field of view. If I waste $15 on a rail, I can live with it. If I spent $230.43 (including postage) on the same thing, only to discover it wasn't what I needed, I'd really be pissed off.

Then there are things like NodalNinja. They offer rotators and brackets too. The rotator looks pretty much like what I have, and (without postage) costs about 50% more than the Sunway. The panorama bracket doesn't look that bad. For $239.95 (+ guessed $35 postage) I could get effectively the same thing as I bought for $90 (including postage) in November—except that I can't mount the camera in horizontal orientation. In summary, though, “get the right stuff” is what I'm trying to do. I can spend more money and still end up with the same issues, or even worse.


Back to drought
Topic: gardening Link here

Last year we had really good rainfall, and the two halves of the dam stayed joined from September 2010 until December 2011. Things have gone downhill since then, though. Here's what it looked like a year ago and what it looks like now:


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The effects are showing elsewhere, too. A number of areas in the garden that looked as if they were adequately watered last year are now showing signs of dryness, notably south of the verandah. Even the Watsonias are looking unhappy. Put in some more drip line and a sprayer. With any luck that will reinvigorate the roses and Clematis on that side of the verandah too.


Sunday, 5 February 2012 Dereel Images for 5 February 2012
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Strange weather
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Another day when I didn't do anything in the garden. The normally dry summer is making itself evident again. Woke up with temperatures in the high 20s and winds of up to 40 km/h, hurling up dust all over the place. But it didn't stay that way. By mid-afternoon the temperature dropped below 15°, and it started to rain.

5 days temperatures

In the morning it was too windy, and in the afternoon the rain kept me away. I could have attended to the vines on the verandah, of course—in fact, I should have—but I found some excuse.


New growth
Topic: gardening Link here

Our Bromeliad is flowering:


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Things are happening in the greenhouse, too. The Murraya koenigii (curry tree) that Peter Jeremy brought nearly two years ago was the only survivor of a number of shoots, and it didn't do much until January last year:


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It grew quite happily for a while, and then stagnated. About a month or two ago a Silver birch seedling established itself in the pot and rapidly outgrew the Murraya, which had hardly changed. But now it's growing again, and has almost doubled in size in the last month:


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High time for a bigger pot, I think.

The first Chile poblano that I grew from seed hasn't had an easy time of it. It got hit by aphids early on, and later by root rot:


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Amazingly, though, it has survived, although it's a continual fight against aphids. And today we have the first flower:


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It's no longer the only one, though—three other seedlings germinated, and I have been able to keep the other plants free of aphids, though I don't like the look of that ant on a flower:


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Cockatoo time again
Topic: animals Link here

Lately we've had a lot of cockatoos around here, screeching their heads off. Today I tried to take some photos, not helped by the light. But I saw something surprising:


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That's a Corella on the left and a Sulphur-crested cockatoo on the right. It's unusual to see different species together.


Monday, 6 February 2012 Dereel Images for 6 February 2012
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Right stuff is right!
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Message from Michael in South Australia today about my “right stuff” article. He agrees with Andy S. He points me at this video, showing how easy it is to put a Really Right Stuff panorama bracket together:

I really hate watching Youtube, but I looked at this one. It serves to confirm my dislike. It's badly produced, and he didn't stress the important information. In particular, he didn't explain how to adjust the position of the entrance pupil in line with the upper rotator. But it works, and it works well. The result looks pretty much like what I discuss in much more detail last month.

There are differences, of course:

And what does it cost? It's difficult to say, because this arrangement doesn't correspond to their bundled offerings. Searching through the myriad pages, I think that I could get an alternative from these components, starting from the bottom:

All this comes to a total of $773.54, including $43.54 postage. Of course, there's an easier way if we don't want exactly the configuration in the video: their Panorama Packages. There are two possibilities:

So we have four possibilities, all of which offer roughly equivalent functionality. The solutions above still require a leveller and a detenting rotator. I'm still looking for a leveller, so I leave it out of this discussion. If I took the Sunway DDP 64M rotator in each case (another $170.92), the prices would look more comparable:

Clearly my solution is less than a third of the price of the cheapest Really Right Stuff solution. What do I lose? There's no degree scale on the upper rotor. The L plate isn't adjusted to my camera (a moot point, since Really Right Stuff doesn't have one for my camera anyway). The workmanship is not as good. And that's about all.

Probably Andy and Michael (and potentially many others) are missing something: I already have a functional solution. The issues I describe in my diary are just that, details, and they have solutions. If I spend up to $1,000 more, I will still run into many of these issues.


Wind damage and planting
Topic: gardening Link here

Out to check the rain gauge this morning and found some results of yesterday's wind:


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I'm not too worried about the Canna (first photo), since they only last a week or so each, but I was quite unhappy about the Alyogyne. I had already given it a post to steady it, but it snapped off at ground level. The roots on the one side of the Alyogyne were torn out, but the rest looks OK, so I rammed in a Star dropper and tied it to that. I hope it survives: it's one of the longest flowering trees we have.


Pond issues
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

In the afternoon, went past the garden pond and heard a particularly noisy fish. On further investigation, it popped out of the water and showed its head briefly before submerging again and popping up somewhere else: a Little Cormorant. It finally flew off, leaving at least one very agitated looking fish there. What do we do about that? Wire netting?

That wasn't the only problem. Every time we have stronger winds, the water irises tip over, and I have to get in the pond to put them back in place again. Clearly not a thing to do once a week, especially when the weather gets cooler. Today decided that an outer pot resting on the ground might help things.

And that caused a chain of events. We didn't have a spare pot, but had an ornamental grass in a suitable pot that we had planned to plant anyway, once it had finished flowering. That's the case now, so tried to get the grass out of the pot, not helped by the silly ridge inside, and used that. So far it looks more stable.

That left us with the grass, of course. Where should we put it? Somewhere near the pond, but there are a lot of plants that we intended to plant round there. So we ended up clearing the weeds and planting a number of plants:

So now, gradually, we're getting most of our plants planted. Hopefully I'll get the rest done soon. We still have a few trees in small pots that we brought with us from Wantadilla nearly 5 years ago. High time to plant them as a wind break to the north-east.


Alternative panorama exposures
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Peter Jeremy came out with an obvious alternative solution to the “verandah east” exposure issues that I discussed on Saturday: take the photos in the afternoon, when the sun is coming from the north-west. Tried that today, and the sun promptly disappeared. But of course it worked better, and without flash. Here Saturday and then today, once again with mouseover alternation:


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That in itself isn't a solution, though. Firstly it won't be as good with sunlight, and secondly my real intention here is to find a good way to expose these problem images.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012 Dereel Images for 7 February 2012
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Little work in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Yesterday was a bit of an exception in gardening: we did something significant. I tried again today, but didn't get beyond a few barrowloads of mulch and a bit of work on the vines over the verandah. It's so tiring, not helped by having to move lots of heavy pots, and I'm still not done. The last two wires still need to be completed, and after that I'll have to prune back lots of shoots that went off in the wrong direction.


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I really need to look at this at least once a week. Still, one way or another it should be complete next year.

Also a bit of attention to the area south of the verandah. Things are growing there again, but there's still evidence of lack of water. On investigation, discovered that the whole irrigation circuit in the area was set to run for only 20 minutes per day, as opposed to 30 (and in one case 40) minutes for the others. That explains a number of things. Also spread some fertilizer in the area to be on the safe side.


Baby dragons?
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Under the Paulownia kawakamii (“Sapphire dragon”), something strange fell on my hand. After quickly shaking it off, I took a closer look:


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What is it? A baby dragon? Until I looked at the photos, I wasn't even sure that it was a spider. But it is, an Austracantha minax or Jewel Spider (or, for the Americans, “Australian Jewel Spider”—it seems that there's a similar looking animal elsewhere). What a strange looking animal!


Still looking for a keyboard
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

My current keyboard is a Northgate OmniKey keyboard manufactured in August 1989, 22½ years ago. It's no longer in the best of condition, but in all that time I haven't found anything that I would like to replace it with. Things are getting desperate, though. The r key, in particular, is bouncing badly.

But it's not the only keyboard of that kind that I have, and in the past I've found that if I rotate between them, the bounce tends to recover. So today I went to see what I could find: two Avant Stellar keyboards, both with defective keys, and three other OmniKeys (I thought I had five, but I can't find the fifth), all with their own problems. Tried them in turn and found: one had a defective Control key and a couple of flaky keys; another had really severe bounce in the Space key; the third had a broken clip on the Enter key.

With a bit of chopping and changing (moving parts from one keyboard to another) I can probably get a few more years' life out of them. But as I've commented before, this is stupid. Why can't I find a modern keyboard that will satisfy me? There's also the issue that PS/2 keyboards are obsolete, and the modern replacement is (shudder) USB.

So what do I need from a keyboard? The keys should feel “right”, of course, but most modern keyboards, even the cheapest, aren't too bad in that respect. But they're clearly designed by people who can't touch-type. In particular, about 25 years ago the function keys were moved to where you can no longer find them without looking at the keyboard. For some reason, they've also done it with the Esc key. That's the biggest issue I have. Others, such as the location of specific keys (`/~ and the Ctrl and Alt keys) depend on the use of the keyboard, and they can be relatively easily remapped (except for those brain-dead keyboards that hard-wire the completely useless CapsLock key). And though the “Inverted T” arrow keypad layout makes no sense at all, it's not really that painful, though like any keypad it requires moving the hand from the main keyboard.

So: the big issue is to find a keyboard with function keys on the left, where I can access them without taking my eyes off whatever else I'm looking at. They must be available. Time to start looking.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012 Dereel Images for 8 February 2012
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Vines: finished
Topic: gardening Link here

More work on the verandah today, and finally got the wires up for the vines. I should have done it long ago, as some of the unwanted shoots showed. The one that grew out of the Hardenbergia in the first photo came, as I feared, from the other side. It was 3.5 metres long, almost the depth of the verandah:


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Removing all the shoots is counterproductive. They shouldn't stay, but at the moment they're providing shade, so I decided to just cut off the tips in the hope that that will allow other shoots to grow. The extraneous ones will come off in the winter, when it will also be easier to trim them.

Also looking for a place to plant the Iris-like plants that we bought on Australia Day. Once again looked at the area south of the verandah, but the soil there is really pretty terrible. Managed to drive my pick through some tulips that somehow had not only survived but thrived there, cutting one of the bulbs in two. I suppose I should plant it separately and see if it (they) survives.


Thursday, 9 February 2012 Dereel
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More laziness
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Another day with little to report. Spent lots of time messing round at the computer, finally spread a bit of mulch on the north bed, and that was about that.


Friday, 10 February 2012 Dereel Images for 10 February 2012
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Finding a new keyboard
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Spent some more time looking for replacement keyboards today. The one must is a function key block on the left—as I discovered in Wikipedia, others agree with me:

Early models of Enhanced keyboard (notably those manufactured by Northgate Ltd.) maintained the layout with function keys on the left side, arranged in two columns of six pairs. This layout was more efficient for touch typists but was superseded in the marketplace by that with F-keys along the top.

But where can I find one? I recall having found a number of links a while back, but I can't find them any more. Looking on eBay and similar didn't help much. And it's not as if I can buy just any keyboard with F keys on the left, either: I already have a very dubious one which I refuse to use.

But then I have at least two other keyboards which almost fit the bill: Sun Type 5c and Sun Type 6. The main problem is that they're electrically incompatible. Did more investigation and came up with a number of pages describing how to build USB adapters: http://kentie.net/article/sunkbd/ describes what appears to be a prototype to adapt a Type 6 keyboard, but it requires a lot of work, including programming microcontrollers. http://gis.sakura.ne.jp/sunkey/sunkey_e.html describes a similar one for a Type 5 keyboard, but it doesn't even have a circuit. http://www.buzzard.me.uk/jonathan/sunkbd.html, also for a Type 5 (is there any difference?) gives much more detail, even a PCB mask.

But again it requires a microcontroller. As a kernel hacker, I'd rather minimalist hardware and a kernel driver. The first link above provides some Sun documentation for the keyboard protocols, which show it to be 1200 bps at TTL levels. It should be relatively trivial to connect it to a serial port, or a serial/USB adapter. But I'd much rather find something that doesn't need any custom hardware at all. More searching needed.

Of course, even that may be overkill. The Type 7 keyboard has a USB interface, and they're available. But I've found various reports on the web suggesting that people have had trouble with them, I don't have one, and though they're relatively cheap second-hand (from $29), they're all in the USA, and they want more than double that price for shipping. And what happens then if I find that I don't like it? So for the time being I'll investigate the option of a TTL to RS-232 level adapter.


More panorama hardware woes
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

It looks like rain tomorrow, so I pulled my house panorama photos forward to today, which coincidentally allowed me to try taking them in the afternoon instead of the morning. And once again I had trouble with the base plate for one of the sliders. These are the standard base plates used to attach cameras to tripods:

They have a separate locating pin which fits into the indentation under the camera. Or do they? I had a recollection that all cameras had that kind of indentation, but on examination, the only camera with such an indentation was my Olympus E-30. I have 5 other SLRs here: an Asahi Pentax SV, an Asahi Pentax “Spotmatic”, a Pentax Z1, a Canon 20D and (on loan) Chris Yeardley's Nikon D70. None of them have the indentation. The only other camera I found was a Samsung video camera:


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Never mind. The plates are a bit uncertain too:


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The ones on the left with the pins are the cheap Chinese plates. The expensive Manfrotto one (bottom right) has holes, but no pin. Neither does the plate that came with the panorama bracket (top right), though the underside has some rather useless screws with Allen keys that may be removable:


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There's a problem here, though: the recess on the Olympus (above, just outside the plate area) is too far from the main tripod mounting hole:

 
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And the recess in the Samsung is so large that it only roughly holds the thing in place. There seems to be little standardization of these things. In any case, it seems reasonable that I should drill a recess into the base of the rail, remove one of these silly Allen key screws and replace it with something longer to fit into the recess. More investigation required.


Little garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow didn't find much time for the garden, but I really want to get the mulch in the north beds done, and did put some in, by hand. Hopefully it will help significantly in keeping the weeds down.


Saturday, 11 February 2012 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 11 February 2012
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Revised tortilla quantities
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We ate “tacos” yesterday evening, and we were left with lots of Pico de Gallo and Guacamole, so it was clear that we had to eat huevos rancheros today. In the process, both yesterday and today, continued trying to refine my tortilla recipe, and today tried a mixture of 50% blue, 50% yellow masa. The results weren't too bad. The blue masa tastes stronger, but it doesn't stick together well, and it's difficult to roll out thin enough. This mixture is easier to process, and the results look interesting:


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As I go on, I'm using more and more water in the mix, and so far it has proven better that way.


Into town
Topic: gardening, general, photography Link here

Into town for various minor reasons today, picking up some pea straw mulch I had found on Freecycle, and coincidentally also some some dumpling sauce that she had also promised me, with the unlikely name “Wun Hung Low”. Also to ALDI, and bought a table-top vise with a ball joint which might come in handy for taking macro photos, and Yet Another GPS navigator—will this one have better maps? And looked at some plants at Formosa Gardens, in the process discovering the identity of the Iris-like plants that we bought on Australia Day. They're Dietes iridioides, or maybe Dietes grandiflora. Here our flower and two labels:


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Based on the names and the Wikipedia description, it's probably the former.


More keyboard ideas
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Mail from Ian Donaldson about my keyboard problems, suggesting I look at the Northgate “Ultra Plus”. I suppose the combination of the length of this thread and the description have obfuscated things. He found the information at http://www.northgate-keyboard-repair.com/, where the keyboard is really called “Ultra Plus”. But of course it's an OmniKey Plus, and it's identical to what I'm trying to replace:

OmniKey Plus

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But he has a point. He suggested buying a new (i.e. different, reconditioned) one, but I don't need that. I can repair the existing ones. It seems ridiculous, but I have all the equipment I need, and it's less fiddly than building PCBs with microcontrollers. I might have a go at it.


Photo processing pain
Topic: photography, gardening, opinion Link here

Spent most of the day processing photos. The greenness of a year ago is well and truly gone now:


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That caused unexpected problems stitching the images: there weren't enough obvious places for the control point detectors to find communalities, and I had to manually complete at least half of the panoramas. But the results weren't too bad, and finally I have a panorama of the verandah with almost no detectable discontinuities:


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Sunday, 12 February 2012 Dereel Images for 12 February 2012
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Setting names for photos
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Chris Yeardley has been on holiday in Việt Nam, and I'm helping her bring her photos on line. One of the (many) reasons I don't do this with commercially available software is that I want to give titles to my photos, not names like 100_4984.JPG or even (shudder) 36836231@N00/2423055893. Yes, you can do that. I've tried it with various products, and you'd think that they deliberately make it as complicated as possible.

My current method works much faster: a little script that displays image name and details and prompts for a name. It uses GNU readline, so I can copy the name I apply to one image and apply it to the next with a different extension. Typically I'll have names like Pelargonium-1, Pelargonium-2 and Pelargonium-3, so I can copy the text Pelargonium- and just add a digit. Independently of this, I use xv to display the images.

Still, it's not easy to remember what you've done, in particular the sequence numbers. This is most evident in my monthly flower photos, where names such as the example above may be spread around through a list of 130 odd photos. And Chris ran into this problem today as well, exacerbated by the fact that she only had a single screen, so the xv image display overlaps the xterm window with the script. It was interesting to watch Chris use it—she's the first person apart from myself ever to do so—and it became clear that something better was necessary.

But what? I already have a script that builds web pages with “contact prints”, which simply shows all the images reduced on one page. But it should be possible to write code that accepts text input, sets default names, automatically completes the pelargoniums and checks for duplicates.

But how? I suppose the correct answer is “JavaScript”, but I don't know that well enough. Straight HTML with PHP should also do the trick—but how do I get a page to submit the contents of all forms? My first approach looks like this:


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Each input field is associated with a photo, so it can't be in a single form. How do you do that? Can you do that? None of the documentation I found, either on paper or on the web, tells me that. So, once again, it's a lot of guesswork and experimentation.


Alibi work in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

I spent most of the day looking at my photo software issues, but I did find enough time to get out and finish mulching part of the north garden bed. Much more needs to be done.


ALDI GPS receiver: a step backward?
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Took a first look at the GPS receiver I bought from ALDI yesterday. It uses different software, and so far I'm unimpressed. The maps are as bad as ever. The street where I live is still not there (it's only been here for about 100 years), and the fantasy streets that have been added to the east in the last couple of years are still there:


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My house is in Kleins Road, roughly on the l of the “Please tear off” foil. It's shown as less important than the (non-existent) road going off to the bottom through the arrow of the More tab. Finding addresses is now an order of magnitude worse. Previous versions allowed you to select “City Centre” or “Street middlepoint”, but now it seems that you must select one of the streets it knows and a street number that it knows in that street.

Admittedly, I haven't checked the manual—in my experience, that wouldn't help—but the fact alone that the maps are still broken means that it will go back. The rest just makes it even worse.


Monday, 13 February 2012 Dereel Images for 13 February 2012
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Contact prints page
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Got various feedback from people reading this diary about how to make a single form to include all my <input> tags. The one I looked at, from Peter Jeremy, included <span> tags inside the form. That appears to work, but according to the definitions at http://www.w3schools.com/html5/tag_form.asp it shouldn't:

The <form> element can contain one or more of the following form elements:

This is for HTML 5, being the latest and greatest, but things aren't significantly different for other versions. You can't put general content inside a form. This appears to be Yet Another Example of where the HTML syntax is unnecessarily restrictive. What I'm trying to do is pretty much what almost any Tandem Pathway program would have done 30 years ago. Why do I have to break the rules to do it?

Spent some time playing around with that, iteratively improving things, and doing other things in between. It's getting there, but it's a long way from finished, and it grates that I'm breaking the rules.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 Dereel
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More contact prints and HTML insights
Topic: technology, opinion, photography Link here

Yesterday's diary prompted more response. In particular, Edwin Groothuis pointed at the HTML 4 specification, which says:

An HTML form is a section of a document containing normal content, markup, special elements called controls ...

That's not quite the same as what the w3schools document, but on re-reading that document, it doesn't make it clear that the listed elements are the only ones allowed. Still, that's HTML 4, and one day we'll have HTML5 (and save spaces in the process) What does that say?

A form is a component of a Web page that has form controls, such as text fields, buttons, checkboxes, range controls, or color pickers. A user can interact with such a form, providing data that can then be sent to the server for further processing (e.g. returning the results of a search or calculation). No client-side scripting is needed in many cases, though an API is available so that scripts can augment the user experience or use forms for purposes other than submitting data to a server.

That's about as vague as the w3schools document, and it introduces more bad language: abuse of the word “experience” to mean “impression”. I suppose language has to evolve, but why entrust it to buzzword marketeers? Does it have to eclipse existing usage? Or are we to suppose that there are no experienced people left? There's also a term “non-normative” whose meaning is not immediately evident.

The rest of the HTML5 document shows that yes, indeed, I can do exactly what I want with the <form>, so I did. With a bit of work, it did what I told it. Now I need to think about how to make it easy to use. One clue might be in that “user experience” comment: do it in JavaScript. But that requires more experience than I have.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012 Dereel Images for 15 February 2012
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Into town yet again
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Into town today mainly to for a checkup with a podiatrist, who told me what I expected, that there was nothing wrong with my feet, scraped off the soles, and warned of dire problems with my feet if my diabetes got worse. Good to have confirmation of my expectations.

Also got a new battery for the lawn mower. A few months back I bought a car battery from Sebastopol Auto Parts for $87, but today they wanted $75 for a lawn mower battery, or preferably $80 for a much better one. How little difference there is in price! On, on CJ's prior recommendation, to R & J Batteries in La Trobe St., where they also wanted $75, but ended up giving it to me for $70. They also have UPS batteries there—I must take a look at what I could use.


Yet Another Useless Web Site
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While in town, to the Ballarat Library, which had just informed me that the DVD that I had returned on Saturday was available for pickup. So was “South Pacific”, so I picked up that, and then discovered it was a BBC Documentary, not the musical I was looking for. This web site is really impossible! Last time I had spoken to them about it, they sang the praises of how good it was, so this time I asked to be shown how to do it and was helped by a Senior Librarian. First question: “What is the PIN number of your library card?”. It wasn't necessary, and I didn't give it. But I don't suppose it'll stop her asking somebody else next time. She showed me a couple of non-obvious tricks, but she still wasn't able to perform some normal searches. “Java? Is that a computer language?” At least I made my point, and she told me they're considering a replacement web site. Hopefully I was able to give her some useful input.


Bunnings obstacle course
Topic: general Link here

To Bunnings to buy some odds and ends, and looked through the outside garden area. I get the impression that they deliberately place obstacles to shopping trolleys in the aisles:


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New water plants
Topic: gardening Link here

At Bunnings picked up a water lettuce (Pistia) of unspecified species, and Yvonne (shopping separately) bought a Salvia uliginosa (“bog sage”) (and yes, yet another Salvia), which grows in the marginal areas:


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What she didn't buy was a plant that also caught my eye, a Cyperus involucratus or “Umbrella Sedge”:


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For some reason, most aquatic plants are very expensive, and this one was no exception. But there's an easier way: we have something very similar growing in the north garden, and there had been a number of self-seeded plants that I put in pots only a couple of days ago. But at the time I didn't know that they tolerated aquatic conditions. Maybe they don't, but it's worth risking one of the plants to find out:


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Photo naming page: success
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Today was the first day I used my new photo processing web page in earnest. It's still pretty bare-bones, but it includes one feature that makes life easier: a single , (comma) in a field tells the page to take the previous name (less trailing number) and append the next sequential number: after the image Bunnings-blockade-1, a comma will generate the name Bunnings-blockade-2. I can already see the use of a ! to say “continue doing this until you find another specification”. And I can see myself playing with this for some time to come. PHP is much more malleable than shell scripts.


Finally identification pages
Topic: gardening Link here

I've been trying to identify various plants for some time, with only limited success. Today, while looking through the PlantNET of the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, I found a page for identifying some kinds of Salvia. It doesn't help with the ones I have, but it's the first time I've found this kind of information on line, and it's not limited to Salvia. Maybe there's wording in there that will help me search for more extensive identification pages.


Thursday, 16 February 2012 Dereel Images for 16 February 2012
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Police states don't need to be efficient
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Just before Christmas, Yvonne got caught doing 122 km/h on the open road. You'd think that that wouldn't be a problem, but in Victoria the speed limit is 100 km/h, and speeds are policed much more stringently than petty issues like drug trafficking or burglary. So the policeman stopped her, wasted a breath test tube on her, and said she would receive a penalty notice.

But none came. Could the policeman have lost the details? In any case, we weren't too upset. But yesterday a reminder arrived, by some stroke of bad luck. Based on the address, it should never have got here:


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I suppose it's typical of the attitude of these people that they've turned the name around without indication. What if it were for my friend Olufemi Adekola? Or is that Adekola Olufemi? Of course, it doesn't have to be a non-European name to be confusing. In Germany 30 years ago I had neighbours called Peter Phillip and Otto Adolf.

But Enfield? We live in Dereel. Yes, there's a hamlet called Enfield 10 km away, but what does that have to do with us?

How can that happen? Apart from a really draconian fine, they want to put 3 demerit points in her driver license. And for that they need (and have) details of her driver license, where the address is almost correct:


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And there, again, the address is wrong! The house number is 47. These details are important. How can the authorities make this kind of mistake not once, but twice? This kind of incompetence stands out from minor lapses keeping to an imposed speed limit inappropriate to the road conditions. In this case, though, Yvonne reported the error long ago, and they put a sticker with the correct address on the other side.

Things wouldn't be so bad, except that they wanted $20 more to pay for the delay caused by their incompetence. Yvonne called them up and was told to write a letter explaining the problem. They had all the evidence in front of them (address to which the summons was sent, address on the driver license). But no, Yvonne had to write a letter. She did so, handwritten, with the request that they drop the excess charges (which still seems to be a matter that they can decline), and asked for an explanation about how this could happen in the first place. I don't have much expectation that she'll get that—but why shouldn't she? The authorities are supposed to be for the public good, so they should be accountable.


More animal damage
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

We've largely given up putting kangaroo protection around our plants: they don't seem to be nearly as bad any more. But the problem isn't gone, and this morning I saw a rabbit wandering round the garden—and a few minutes later, Piccola looking rather active, and no more rabbit.

But there has been some damage, of a nature that I'm not sure I can explain. It's not rabbits. The climbing roses in the south of the garden must be particularly tasty:


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I've already had to put protection around the Japanese maple that has barely grown since we got it 3½ years ago—the leaves had all been eaten off—but the Japanese ornamental cherry is now nearly 4 metres high and beyond the reach of any animals we've seen round here. The lower limbs, though, are a different matter:


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The leaves are eaten off up to about a height of 2 metres, far larger than a kangaroo. I suppose they pull them down to their heads with their forepaws. They've also been at the Alstroemerias in front of the verandah, not in itself such a problem, since they die off anyway:


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Piccola's new hiding place
Topic: animals Link here

From time to time lately we've had increased problems finding Piccola in the evening. Normally she comes at 18:00 for food, but sometimes, like today, she didn't.

But earlier on I had been messing around in back right hand side of the garage, when suddenly something above my head said “Meow!”. There was Piccola on top of some side cupboards, about 2.2 m off the ground. When she lay down flat, she was almost invisible. So when she didn't come, I went to check. Yes, still there, and very annoyed that I was able to catch her and bring her inside. Hopefully she won't abandon that place now.


Limits of DxO Optics “Pro”
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

I've found that when processing garden photos with DxO Optics "Pro", they generally come out best with the “HDR Artistic” “preset”. There are limits, though, apparently when the contrast is very low. Here a comparison of one of yesterday's photos done with the “Artistic” and “Realistic” presets:


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The artefact at the bottom on the first image was generated by the software.


Another crash
Topic: technology Link here

dereel crashed today, out of the blue. There used to be a time when computer crashes seem to happen like this all the time, for no particular reason. But while that may still be the case for Microsoft-based machines (I really don't know), it's now very seldom on any of my BSD machines. I wonder if it's an indication of hardware problems (something that people love to blame software issues on).

The thing that did get me was the time it took to fsck my photo disk. OK, it's 2 “TB”, of which 60% are in use, and it has over 400,000 files on it:

Filesystem  1048576-blocks    Used  Avail Capacity iused  ifree %iused  Mounted on
/dev/ada1p1        1907196 1137008 751115    60%  401226 688948   37%  /Photos

It took 2 hours, 40 minutes, mainly in phases 1 (2 hours) and 5 (30 minutes). Phase 5 stuck at 92% for 27 minutes of that time. I wonder why. One thing that did hit me was the slow I/O transfer rate, only about 40 to 50 transfers a second in phase 5. Is that because of extreme seek distances? I suppose it's time to read the source.


More lawn mower woes
Topic: gardening Link here

So now I have a new battery in the lawn mower. I charged it overnight and tried to start it. No joy, just some scraping noises. Took a look at the carburettor and discovered that we had not attached one of the linkages, possibly the choke. And try as I might, I couldn't get it through the guide slit. What a pain these things are! And how well it demonstrates how out of touch I have become with this kind of work. Another one for CJ if I don't succeed next try.


Friday, 17 February 2012 Dereel Images for 17 February 2012
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DETA: dangerously incorrect documentation
Topic: general, opinion Link here

The dimmer on the light in the lounge room has been flaky for some time. There must have been some intermittent internal connection, and from time to time the lamp would just go out. So a couple of days ago I picked up a new one, a DETA 6121B, a combination of dimmer and light switch. Conveniently the wires to the dimmer unit weren't connected to the switch, but it looked pretty much like the old one, and so I shouldn't have had any trouble just connecting the wires the same way.

But it comes with a wiring diagram which disagrees:


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That's straightforward enough, apart from the incorrect colours. According to IEC 60446, the colours should be brown and blue. Red is obsolete, and black is now one of the phase colours, not neutral as was implied here.

That doesn't make any difference in my house, which uses its own version of incorrect colours: red and white. But it's not very important: they correspond to the red wires in and out. The circuit is symmetrical, so either way round is OK. Just forget the black wires to the right-hand contact in the diagram.

Tried that, greatly hampered by the short length of the cables, which barely reached contact 2. Powered on. Nothing. Much cursing. Strangely, still nothing. Removed the thing again and checked the resistance of the switch contacts. It's a SPDT switch with common at the top of the diagram (contact numbered 2), and L1 and L2 (the switched contacts) are left (marked C) and right (marked Loop). The connector at the bottom (numbered 1 on the diagram) is not connected internally. But that's the power input on the circuit diagram. So this circuit is Just Plain Wrong. It can't possibly work.

Checked back with the old switch. Yes, it was shown correctly. In particular, the dimmer is connected between contacts 1 and C, and the (single) power cable is connected between 1 and 2. Connected up the new dimmer like that, and surprise! it worked. So not only is this circuit incorrect, they can't even blame it on some new rearrangement of the switch. It's Just Plain Wrong. Looking at the identification symbols on the diagram, it's clear that C is Common, and 1 and 2 are L1 and L2: the switch is shown rotated 270° from the actual position. But even then it doesn't make sense. With the switch in one position, it works. With the switch in the other position, the dimmer contacts are shorted together. Why that?

It took a while for me to realise something far more sinister: in principle, this circuit is symmetrical. From the functionality viewpoint the input cable and the output cable are interchangeable. Change the text “Lamp” and “Power”, fix the errors, and it will work just as well. In fact, I don't even know which way round mine is, and I'd guess that applies to most domestic situations. But what happens if the neutral line is there, connected to the right-hand contact (“Loop”)? If the power is turned on, it will work as before. When you turn the power off, however, you short-circuit phase to neutral. Sure, that will blow a circuit breaker—hopefully. But what manufacturer supplies components with such dangerously inaccurate documentation? It was after closing time when this occurred to me, but I'll call them up on Monday. This should require a recall of all these components.


Saturday, 18 February 2012 Dereel Images for 18 February 2012
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House photos, next round
Topic: photography, animals Link here

House photos again today. For the time being I'm using the old macro rail, which clips directly into the dovetail clamp on the panorama bracket, so it didn't slip the way the new one has been doing. That gives me a bit of time to decide how best to stop the slippage. Started early because of the low wind, and this proved to be a good idea: things were much easier than last week, and by early afternoon I was pretty much done.

About the only thing of interest was the dam photo. It's really low now, and the horses were walking all over it. Took a total of 20 images and stitched the best together later on. Here a year ago and today:


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More Nickel-Zinc experiences
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

Changed the NiZn batteries in my flash gun today, and recharged them. Nothing unusual in that—almost. I had forgotten to turn the flash gun off last week, and though it shuts down automatically after a while, it's a soft shutdown (it has a real mechanical power switch). But the voltages were interesting: before recharge, 3 of them were in a normal range, and the fourth was so low that the standards say it's defective. But they all recharged happily:

Battery       Charge date       Before       After
9       20120218       1.695       1.866
10       20120218       0.789       1.845
11       20120218       1.682       1.884
13       20120218       1.659       1.875

Yes, battery 10 had the lowest voltage after charging, but only barely. It'll be interesting to keep my eyes on it.


Electrical wiring: a different viewpoint
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Mail from Mal White about yesterday's article on the dimmer. I suspect he has misunderstood a couple of things. But he raises a couple of interesting points:

In Australia, only a licensed electrician can work on fixed wiring.

That's doubtful. Yes, you see this again and again, and it's repeated on the instructions. But it's clearly a case of CYA: there's no restriction on the sale of these devices—Bunnings isn't a trade outlet, and most people who buy electrical fittings there aren't licensed electricians, nor do they intend to get a licensed electrician to install them. That's not Bunnings' fault: if the government were interested in enforcing this legislation, they would ensure that outlets like Bunnings either didn't sell them, or at the very least informed their customers of the law. The instruction sheet isn't enough: the important parts are so wrong that it's best not even to look at it.

Mal also writes:

Australia's wiring regulations are not aligned with European standards, at least when in comes to cable colour.

Well, not quite. I went back and checked, and we're both right (or wrong). International standard IEC 60446 does apply in Australia—you just need to take apart a power cable some electronic device to see that. In the old days, single phase wiring had red for active (live), black for neutral and green for earth. Now they're typically brown (active), blue (neutral) and green/yellow (or sometimes just green) for earth. That's completely in compliance with IEC 60446.

Other countries had dangerously different colours. In the 1950s my father bought an electric drill, back in the days when plug sizes (outside Australia, anyway) weren't standardized, and when you had to buy a plug separately. He connected the red conductor to the active pin and nearly killed himself: in Italy at the time red was the (very poorly chosen) earth conductor. Clearly international standardization is very important, and that's why it happened.

But in houses it's different. The wiring stays there for a long time, and there's certainly a lot of wiring with the old colours. So it's no surprise that AS 3000:2007 allows different colours from IEC 60446, including black and red. But those are only some of the colours, and I hope they're working towards a harmonization.

In any case, Mal found weaknesses in my article, so I've modified it.


Sunday, 19 February 2012 Dereel Images for 19 February 2012
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More photo processing
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Chris Yeardley over this morning for a Nasi Lemak breakfast, and to continue processing her photos with my new, super-duper web forms. She brought a book on JavaScript with her. I suppose the best thing we can say is that she found my software better than the previous attempt. In the end she finished naming the things and left the conversion to me—not unreasonable, considering that my software is not just undocumented, but under active development. It was also interesting to see how few assumptions I had made that the software was in my directory hierarchy, though I needed to make a fair amount of relatively trivial changes.


Garden photos with new software
Topic: photography, gardening, technology Link here

While Chris was doing her thing, I took my monthly garden photos. They're a particularly good test for the new software, since there are about 150 of them, and they have names like Petunia-1 and Petunia-2, but those names are interspersed with other images. Managed to get that sorted out, and also used my first-ever HTML5 feature: the autofocus attribute to tell the browser where to position the cursor. All worked surprisingly well, but it also makes clear that I'm like the man who only has a hammer: every problem looks like a nail. I really need to convert this stuff to JavaScript.


Garden flowers in late summer
Topic: gardening Link here

Summer's nearly over! And once again we have flowers that we have never seen before:


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This is the plant we bought last Australia Day, which supposedly should keep animals away. It doesn't do that, and it still looks and smells like cat mint to me, but it's clearly not the same thing. Anyway, the flowers are nice.

The Epilobium canum that we bought in Lambley Nursery last year is now flowering happily in front of the verandah, though the Eryngium bourgatii that we bought at the same time has finished flowering:


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A year ago we bought a Lilium formosanum, which looked pretty, but which only bore a single flower. I was beginning to think that it wasn't worth the trouble, but this year it has grown significantly. I had expected it to produce multiple bulbs, but instead the existing one has produced many more flowers:


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More surprises are these pods and this flower:


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The pod is from an Acanthus, which we've had since we moved in (and had great difficulty removing). But this is the first time I've seen a seed pod. The flower is growing in front of my office window, and it looks like the Romneya coulteri (also called Californian Tree Poppy) that we bought in Lambley Nursery last December, and arguably the foliage is similar. It's about 10 metres from that bush, which is now past flowering, so it's conceivable that it has self-seeded. Possibly it's a better place than where we planted it: it has long, spindly growth, and it doesn't seem to like the wind.

Another interesting plant is this. It's probably a weed, but it's taking a long time to flower if it is, and I can't recall having seen it before. I'll keep my eyes on it.


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The roses were looking pretty unhappy last month, but they seem to have recovered a bit. In particular, the Iceberg roses (first photo) on the south side of the verandah are flowering again. I suspect inadequate irrigation explains multiple problems, like why the Osteospermums still aren't flowering.


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The Salvias are nearly all flowering now. Here a Salvia “Bonfire” that I got from the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, and while the “Salvia diesaustraliae” that I got last Australia Day has never flowered, it looks like it's trying now:


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The Solanum laxum cuttings that Yvonne brought back from Albury last winter have taken well, and finally one of the creepers is flowering:


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One of this kind of succulent has bloomed before, but didn't look overly happy. This one is behind the pond, and it's getting more water, which it seems to enjoy:


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And the Zephyranthes are also starting to flower now, a little later than last year.


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A number of plants have survived disadvantages. The Alyogyne huegelii that got blown over by the wind two weeks ago has not even stopped flowering—it's as happy as ever. The Aloysia citrodora that we transplanted and then didn't water now has sufficient water, and it's recovering enough to flower, though it still has a way to go before it's as big as it used to be:


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One of the Cyclamens that I got from the Friends in early October has hardly stopped flowering, and now most of the others have joined in, though the first two (kept indoors) have lost most of their leaves:


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My carefully nurtured Chile poblano plant has suffered from multiple problems, including root rot and particularly vicious attacks of aphids. It's still alive, but not looking healthy. On the other hand, some of the seedlings I planted in spring are now looking much happier, and the first fruits are appearing:


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Monday, 20 February 2012 Dereel Images for 20 February 2012
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Introducing Nemo to crowds
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne is thinking of getting Nemo certified for the Delta society, who visit people in hospital with dogs. The certification requires a number of abilities, including—obviously—behaving correctly when meeting strangers. So Yvonne thought that we should take him down Bridge Mall and give him some experience:


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He certainly wouldn't have passed the test today, but he's learning.


Botanical gardens in late summer
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

While in town, also went to the Botanical Gardens, partially to walk Nemo, and partially to see what it looked like at this time of year. The latter wasn't very interesting, apart from some well-known plants:


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The did have an exhibition of Fuchsias, however. Now that the ornamental vine covers most of the verandah roof, I've been thinking of replacing the Petunias in the hanging baskets with something better attuned to the lighting levels, and Fuchsias were one of my prime choices. They had a very interesting collection, unfortunately not for sale. I'll have to ask the Friends if any are to be had:


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Instead just bought a white Abutilon. I shouldn't do this until we know where to plant it, but I have a good idea.


Ballarat Library: another false positive
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

While in town, also dropped in at the Ballarat Library to pick up a couple of DVDs I had requested. One was “The Italian Job”, coincidentally (in 1969) one of the first films involving computer-related crime. The web site couldn't find one in the Ballarat library, but that didn't stop it offering me 13 irrelevant titles. Finally I found one, and of course it was wrong again: it wasn't fiction. That's two out of three DVDs in the last couple of weeks that, thanks to inadequate documentation. Now that I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, took another look (“search all libraries”). 10 titles, all of them either “DVD” or “Videorecording”. Some of them even have dates: 2002, 2003, 2004. It proves that there was a remake done in 2003, and that seems to be more popular (at least with librarians) than the original 1969 version. But what's 2002 and 2004? After much searching, discovered that the 2004 version was the 2003 version, and the 2002 version (available in Myrtleford and Mildura) is the 1969 version. So I put a “hold” and got this information, which makes it immediately clear which one I am going to get:

Hold(s) Placed
The Italian job [videorecording]
DVD F ITAL
Pickup at: Ballarat Library

Looking at the HTML is even more revealing. It had many empty lines, which I've removed here:

      <div class="defaultstyle" colspan="4"> <!-- Print the items on which holds were placed -->
      <p>
      <!-- check if holds failed and or placed-->
      <strong>Hold(s) Placed</strong><br/>
 The Italian job [videorecording] <!-- title -->
 <br/>DVD F ITAL <!-- call number -->
          <br/>Pickup at: Ballarat Library<br/><br/>
         </p>
</div>

I particularly like the colspan specification.


ALDI brings you technology first
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Also while in town, dropped in at ALDI and bought one of this week's specials: a DAB+ radio, for only $30. They had been on sale since Saturday, and the numbers had dwindled from an estimated 80 to an estimated 30.

Back home, tried it out. It only has a rod antenna. It did its search and came back with the information “No coverage”. So off to check where there's coverage. That's simple: state capital cities only. No coverage in Dereel, no coverage in Ballarat. So ALDI sent hundreds of these devices to their three outlets in Ballarat (and presumably similar quantities elsewhere) where they can't be used except as a normal FM receiver. Isn't it good that you can return the things with no questions asked? But I wonder if heads will roll.


Finishing Chris' photos
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Spent much of the afternoon working on Chris Yeardley's photos. In principle there's no hurry, but it required significant uploads—there were a total of 575 MB of photos, which also overflowed the tiny disk we have available on the server—and today was the last day of our monthly ISP billing period. We had 1.2 GB (out of 9 GB) over, so it was clearly the day to do things.

Lots of experiences in the process, mainly related to resetting the camera times. I've seen this before with the Hackers barbecue two years ago, and I wrote a program to do that at the time. But it's still amazingly complex, and it's far too easy to do it twice or in the wrong direction. Apart from that, I found myself revisiting code I wrote years ago, and also installing my own infrastructure for her. Nothing really difficult, but somehow there were so many things going on today.

We certainly used up our quota. Today's also traditionally the day where Yvonne soaks up our remaining allowance with YouTube downloads, and we ended up overrunning our quota by a small margin:

Day       Download       Upload       Total
20/02/12       469.7       878.0       1347.8
Above Period Total       4043.7       5100.9       9144.5

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 Dereel
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Next power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure at 4:11 this morning. That's the fourth this year. This time last year we had already had 9 failures, and it would be tempting to hope that things are improved. But the year before that it was 7, the year before that it was 5, and the year before that 4. So maybe it's just random fluctuation.


wview: Mine is better than yours
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

About 2½ years ago I bought a Fine Offset WH-1081 weather station, which of course came with software only for Microsoft, and so even before I bought it, I had to find software that could talk to it.

That was a set of patches to an old version of wview that ran only on NetBSD, an operating system that I no longer have running all the time, so I had a fair amount of work to do: apply the patches, migrate from NetBSD to FreeBSD, and update the patches to the latest version of wview.

I never finished. Somewhere along the line I gave up and wrote my own software instead. Why? wview is a relatively complete system, but it gave me so much pain that I thought it would be easier to write my own software. I was right.

It seems that the author of wview has recently become aware of something I said, though he doesn't say what. Today I received a message from him that shows that the best tradition of the USENET flame is not yet dead:

Finally, your entire attitude about other people's work truly is emetic. You are either becoming senile (and thus a moron) or you are just a moron.

In passing, this use of the word “emetic” is interesting. I use it a lot, but few others do. On asking, it proved that he had, indeed, copied my usage. To quote Charles Caleb Colton, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.

Still, he raises some questions. Why did I dump wview? It's a mature system with many features. I didn't do it lightly. There are a number of reasons. Looking back at my diary of the time, I find:

There are other issues, like hard-coded pathnames such as /usr/local, which made it a pain with NetBSD, and two different databases (sqlite3 for the configuration and MySQL or PostgreSQL for the weather station data), but they're just uglinesses, not enough reason to drop the product.

So what options were left? Modify wview to do what I want? Yes, that would have been a possibility, but for that it's too ugly. By the time I came to the conclusion to ditch it, I had spent over two months work. Despite significant pain with libusb, I had my own version up and stumbling in over a week, and it had replaced wview in two. It would be incorrect to say that it has worked to my satisfaction over the last more than two years, but I've never had the pain that I had with wview.

What would I do now? wview now supports the my weather station. Maybe it's more stable. But it still won't do some of the things that I want. So I'll compare the code carefully and possibly come up with some improvements in the protocol, which is still flaky.

There's more to say, but I'll wait for the results of further correspondence with the author.


Bread and revisiting old recipes
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

It's been at least 35 years since my wife and I started collecting a series of Time-Life cookbooks. In general, they're very good, though there are the usual issues: although they were German translations, they measured things in US units such as cups, and they had some strange substitutions. One that I didn't notice initially was for pollo en adobo, a Mexican recipe for chicken in mild chili sauce. The recipe calls for:

6 dried ancho chilies; substitute dried chilies

In Germany I had never seen an ancho chile. They're anything but normal: big, black and almost completely mild. We substituted normal chiles, as the recipe asked, and created something that nearly blew our heads off. It wasn't until a few years later that we visited Mexico and discovered the truth.

So I modified the recipe. But not enough. We made it today, for the first time in 3 years. Yes, now the chiles are correct, but other quantities aren't. We started off with things like ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon powder and ½ teaspoon of ground coriander, clearly far too little. On the other hand, there was too much sauce. I've been gradually modifying the quantities, but we're still not there. Today it was 2.5 g of cinnamon (about one stick) and 4 g coriander, in ⅓ of the quantity of liquid, and we're gradually getting there. It seems that my oldest recipes are also the least reliable.


More bread experience
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

The pollo en adobo wasn't the only experience today. Three weeks ago I baked the first loaf of bread with some new flours, and the results weren't quite what I expected. The big difference was that I was using pure wheat flour instead of “Manhattan Light Rye” bread mix, but the different amount of water needed puzzled me. So we bought a small pack of Manhattan Light Rye, and today I tried with the new flour and the old recipe. Result: yes, again I needed 40 ml less water. Presumably the flour itself made up for the rest of it. I hadn't expected there to be so much moisture in flour.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012 Dereel
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Swallowing fuchsias
Topic: gardening Link here

This morning Yvonne pointed out something to me that I should long have noticed: one of the fuchsias was completely overgrown with Lonicera. Removed that to find significant bare spots. Here before (first image) and after:


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In general, though, I've been so busy lately that I have neglected the garden. Wanted to do something about that today, but the March flies kept me at bay, as this image from the ozanimals.com web site shows:

March fly

Spread some fertilizer (and ran out of it), pruned some Cannas, and that was about that.


Cleaning glasses
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've been wearing glasses now for nearly 50 years, and I still haven't found out how to keep them clean. Somehow they always seem to smear, something that is particularly evident in sunlight and when driving at night. I don't have the same issue with my camera lenses, but I suppose they get treated better; certainly they're less exposed to the kinds of fats that cause the smearing. Decades ago I took to washing the glasses with detergent, but that tends to cause the frame to corrode.

Last month I picked up some new glasses, and they gave me a “$20” cleaning kit: microfibre cloths and some kind of spray-on cleaner. They promised that they wouldn't smear. They didn't deliver. The spray-on cleaner left residues, so I'm back to detergent, though now, because of the new, softer plastic lenses, I'm using the microfibre cloths to dry them, with only moderate success. Am I the only person to be this fussy?


Thursday, 23 February 2012 Dereel Images for 23 February 2012
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Finally some planting
Topic: gardening Link here

It's been the best part of 2 months since I started reorganizing the north central area of the garden. But then I had issues, including heat, wind, weeds and laziness. I got as far as removing the gazanias and spraying some weed spray, but it didn't work very well, and so it just dragged on. There were a couple of plants in pots waiting to be planted, but I didn't want to do so until I had killed off all the weeds. So far, the weeds seem to be winning. And the plants are looking clearly unhappy, so I decided to plant first and fight the weeds later—exactly what I originally didn't want to do.

So I braved the March flies and at least got as far as planting the hot little root balls into the considerably cooler soil. There's a Dodonea viscosa (I think) that we brought from Wantadilla, and which has spent over 5 years in a pot, the Correa reflexa that we bought last winter, and the Plumbago auriculata that we bought on Australia Day. But I still haven't found space for the new Abutilon and the Dietes that we bought on Australia Day. Hopefully the March flies will let up soon.


Tracking the DxO bug
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Right from the beginning using DxO Optics "Pro" I had a problem that it didn't preserve the EXIF data from the original images. Not that big a deal: I wrote a little script to copy the data from the source. But after all, this is commercial software, and I am entitled to support, so I sent in a problem report and got a very quick response: “It works for me”. That wasn't a “case closed” situation, though: they gave me the source of an image to compare with, and a lot more details of how to report the problem.

Today I (finally) got round to downloading the image, which wasn't easy. It took me about 4 hours and 18 attempts to get it; the connection kept timing out. Tried the image, and how about that! It worked. Also tried some comparable images with Chris Yeardley's Nikon D70S, and that worked too. So what's the issue? To be thought about.


Image quality: Olympus or Nikon?
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Part of investigating the EXIF issue with DxO Optics "Pro" involved taking similar photos with my Olympus E-30 and Chris Yeardley's Nikon D70S. Some time ago I had considered moving to Nikon, and one of the issues was better dynamic range. Times have changed since then, and now I can process the images with DxO's “HDR” “preset”, so when I took my photos, I chose subjects which could benefit by this kind of processing. The results were interesting. It proves that there are at least 4 different levels of processing:

And the results. First the Olympus. Moving the cursor over the images gives the next sequential image with wraparound.


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It's clear that each step improves the shadow detail. But what about the Nikon? Again, of course, it gets better all the time. But what really got me was the last image, the optimized one:


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I don't quite know what to make of the very last image. It doesn't seem to have much to do with DxO, but I don't understand why there's such a big difference.


Friday, 24 February 2012 Dereel Images for 24 February 2012
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DxO bug: found?
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Yesterday's experiments showed that the EXIF data problem with DxO Optics "Pro" was limited to my images from my Olympus E-30. Even DxO's own images didn't trigger the problem. But why? What's the difference? Different firmware? That's hardly likely to change the image file format.

Then it occurred to me: for each raw Olympus file that I read in, I perform (effectively):

exiftool -overwrite_original_in_place -author="Greg Lehey" $i

Could it be that? Tried adding an author entry to DxO's trial image and bingo! it (silently) didn't copy the EXIF data. Tried it on one of the raw images from Chris Yeardley's Nikon, and things still worked correctly. So it's an issue with Olympus and custom EXIF data. Now to prepare a report, including—as requested—logs of what I've done.


HDR images: Olympus and Nikon
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

The other thing that I noticed yesterday was a difference between the shadow detail in the “HDR” “preset”. Tried again today with one of the weekend photos, the one east from the verandah. Here the results, first Olympus, then Nikon:


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Which is better? Out of the box, the colour temperature of the Nikon seems better. And maybe that's indicative of better shadow detail. Still more investigation needed.


Fish stocks
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

Last November we bought 5 new fish for the pond, bringing the total to 6. Three of them were goldfish, the other three were darker in colour but probably also related. Since then, the pond got so murky that we could only (sometimes) see the golden ones, and a couple of weeks ago I found a Little Cormorant in the pond. He didn't eat any of the golden ones, but the others?

For some reason the water is clearing, and we can now see deeper into the water. Yes, the darker fish are still there, but they're not very big. Still further investigation shows that they have made up for it by increasing in number. I counted 6 of them: they've had offspring already. It's still not clear if all of the original fish are there, but for the time being it looks as if we're winning.


ALDI “Set-top box“
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

The third tuner on cvr2, my TV receiver box, has died. Yes, I can buy a new one, but a number of reasons speak for getting a “set-top box”, a modern word for “tuner”: the price isn't significantly different, you can use it to watch TV directly, it's a separate piece of equipment, so it probably won't fail at the same time, and it's kosher when calling up TV stations reporting reception problems: in the past when I've reported problems, they asked me what equipment I had, and when I told them it was a computer, they weren't interested in investigating. ALDI had one on offer a couple of weeks ago, so I bought it, and today (first time I needed 3 tuners running at the same time) I set it up. It has a USB slot for mass storage, so I dragged out an old random 8 GB USB stick and tried it out. “USB device inserted”. “No disk found”. I guessed—correctly—that the latter message meant “what kind of partition is that?”.

So: create a FAT32 file system on the stick. How do I do that? I have enough pain with FreeBSD USB interfaces that I didn't even try. Put it in boskoop, my Apple, instead. “Partition type not recognized. Initialize?”. OK, tried that. After 5 minutes of “erasing”, while iostat showed about 40 single-sector I/Os a second, I gave up. No way to cancel, so I just pulled the stick, and after a while the programApplication stopped with no comment.

Put it into braindeath, the Microsoft XP box I have on loan from Chris Yeardley. It told me I had to reboot before it could do anything with the stick. I thought those days were over. So I put it in dereel, my FreeBSD box, and ran mformat, which was happy enough, though it, too, only managed 40 I/Os a second, so maybe that's a function of the stick. But it finished in a fraction of the time I waited on the Apple. I wonder if Apple really tries to write the entire device.

Once in the tuner, it was relatively simple to record a programme. And I could take it out and plug it into teevee, the TV player computer, and play it. Almost. This stick is so slow that I couldn't seek, and there were reception problems that I didn't have on a simultaneous recording on cvr2. They could really be reception problems, but at that speed it could just be data overrun.

All in all, though, not a bad result. Now I need to find a spare USB disk and try again with something that can handle the data rates.


Saturday, 25 February 2012 Dereel Images for 25 February 2012
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Car boot sale again
Topic: general Link here

Another hot day today, a maximum temperature of 41.3°, so I was happy to spend the day mainly inside. But Yvonne wanted to go to the monthly “car boot sale” on the main road where the General Store used to be, so off to take a look. The weather had taken its toll: there was almost nobody there. That didn't stop Yvonne, though, who got a floor vase and wanted to buy some second-hand glasses.

The glasses made more sense than it would appear. We've been looking for (perfectly normal) wine glasses like that for months, but it seems that we will have to go to Melbourne to find them. These ones looked like almost exactly what we were looking for. But they didn't want to sell them to us, not alone: they were in a box with all sorts of other junk, and they only wanted to sell it complete, for $5.

But I didn't want all the stuff, so I offered $4, and got it for that price and the undertaking that I would recycle the box (specifically, that I would tear it up and put it on the compost heap). There's really a lot of junk in there. Apart from 6 good glasses, there were lots of old-fashioned ones, an electric knife, other kitchen equipment, and the following:


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That's a glass of the kind we wanted, but with a ring about 5 mm wide broken off the top, leaving only a small tip, and then some kind of aid to giving up smoking, an unidentified but broken ornament, a lolly paper and what appears to be a cinnamon stick, but which has long since lost any aroma.


A whole day processing photos
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day again today, and the Bureau of Meteorology let me down. Yesterday they forecast light winds, 10-15 km/h, which isn't too bad, but this morning it was 40 km/h, decidedly a problem. If I had known that, I could have taken the house photos yesterday. What the weather station actually recorded was a maximum gust of 27.5 km/h, but that caused significant problems with stitching the panoramas—most of them needed manual intervention.

And I made many more panoramas than usual, in particular to compare Chris Yeardley's Nikon D70s with my Olympus E-30. One problem with this particular camera is that the flash doesn't work; even if it did, I don't have an appropriate flash unit for it. So for the two difficult panoramas, the verandah centre and the shade area (“garden se”) I took three different sets of images: one as normal, E-30 and flash, then E-30 without flash and D70s without flash.

The processing took me all day, not helped by the requirement to manually adjust almost every panorama. I didn't finish the “garden se” panoramas, but I did make the verandah centre ones. The results were interesting. As I've been having lately, the normal verandah centre panorama requires significant manual tweaking. The one without flash didn't. The one with the Nikon required many more images, since the shortest focal length I had was the standard AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED at 18 mm, equivalent to a 27 mm full-frame with fields of view 66.5° horizontal and 47° vertical, while with the Olympus I had the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 at 9 mm, comparable to 18 mm full frame (88° horizontal, 72° vertical). So I had to take many more images to get the same coverage. I also had significant problems with the Nikon autofocus, which sometimes took several attempts to find focus. I should have been able to use manual focus, but I didn't have a manual and couldn't work out how to set it.

The results? Independently of the comparison between Olympus and Nikon, it's clear that the “HDR” functionality of DxO Optics "Pro" is insufficient to bring out shadow detail in bright sunshine. Here the garden centre panorama after processing with DxO, and after further processing with Ashampoo Photo Optimizer. Clearly it's struggling.


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The violet-tinged shadows round the Salvia microphylla to the right are clearly lacking in any detail. Here's a comparison with last week:


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Looking at the verandah, the flash version got so completely confused that by the time I finally got it converted, it was standing on its head—not that that was a big issue to fix. The Nikon's orientation sensor had difficulties deciding which way it was pointing, so I ended up with some of the images on their side, but Hugin didn't have any difficulty with them. Here a comparison: Olympus flash, Olympus no flash, Nikon no flash:


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Which is best? The rafters in the Nikon version look brighter, and so does the area round the barbecue at the extreme left, and the colour balance is generally a little different. But there's no clear winner there. Interestingly, the individual Nikon images got converted surprisingly differently. Here two consecutive component images:


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It's surprising that Hugin was able to recover the colours.

So what have I learnt so far? Nothing definite from the Nikon, but clearly I can't rely on DxO alone to get the shadow detail I need. What I really need is a camera with a 16 bit deep sensor instead of the 12 I have now, and which Olympus is still using in their newest offerings. Why do people keep increasing the number of pixels instead of their quality?


Sunday, 26 February 2012 Dereel Images for 26 February 2012
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Obligations fulfilled
Topic: general Link here

Unpacked the junk box today—and there's really some junk in it! Lots of accessories, some unused, for unknown kitchen equipment (not delivered), lots of measuring spoons with dubious units. What's “½ cup?” on a spoon? But we've been there before. I had undertaken to tear up the box and put it on the compost heap, so I did:


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Another day of photo processing
Topic: photography Link here

Finished the my photo processing that I started yesterday, with no spectacular revelations. Once again it seems that the results from the Nikon Nikon D70s (first image) were better than those from the Olympus E-30:


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It's clearer when looking at some of the shadow detail. Again, Nikon first, then Olympus:


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Why is that? An obvious answer would be “deeper pixels”. Looked at the Nikon D70s manual, but it didn't reveal anything that complicated in the specs, just that it had a 6 MP sensor. Went looking at DxO's camera comparison pages and finally found a page, to which I can't link directly, that showed that they both have 12 bit pixels, and that the Nikon has marginally less dynamic range than the Olympus. So why the difference? Is it just processing? The shadow under the tree fern is very much lighter in the Olympus photo than in the Nikon photo, so it's quite possible. Still more unanswered questions. But wouldn't a 16 bit sensor be nice?


Monday, 27 February 2012 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 27 February 2012
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Big W: we don't care
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Into town for a blood test today, and also to Big W to buy a new “electric kettle”, really a jug. Our 30-year-old one has presumably a damaged element: it blows the RCD, and the $7.96 I paid for the new one is less than the cost of a new element.

But what a pain Big W is! In fact, there's a German pun in there: the letter W is pronounced like the word for pain, Weh. Trying to check out I found the following situation at the checkouts:


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Only one cashier, and a very long line waiting to check out. At other places they would add additional cashiers. Went to the information stand, but they were busy too, so spoke to Flo, the guard they always have at the entrance (why? They don't do that elsewhere). She couldn't care less, but said I could speak to the manager, but I'd have to move round to information, out of her field of view. By now information was free and was happy to accept my payment, so I asked Flo to relay my dissatisfaction to the manager. “I just work here. There's a complaints box over there”.

Yes, this is a cheap shop. Yes, Flo may be an exception. But does that kind of attitude do anybody any good? Quite possibly there's a work atmosphere there that explains it.


Cyclamen flowering times
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

While at Big W, looked through the garden department, though I didn't find anything to buy. But they had cyclamens there, and like the ones I have at home, they, too, were blooming:


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Those labels that could be bothered to say anything about the flowering time told me what I already thought: late winter and spring. So why are so many cyclamens flowering now at the end of the summer?


New web site with old computer documentation
Topic: technology, history Link here

While looking for information about the UNIVAC 1108 Master File Directory today, stumbled across bitsavers.org today. It's not new, and—most emphatically—neither is the content. It includes documents that were old when I entered the industry 40 years ago. It looks as if there's a lot to explore there.

My interest in the MFD was a supposition that it might have a relationship to the Unix directory structure. It doesn't. It is much more complicated, centralized, and has features that are rare today, such as file versioning at a basic level. That in itself is worth reading up on, on page 537 of the “programmer's bible”, UP 4144. This is the same manual that I had put on my desk on the first day of my working life, at UNIVAC in Frankfurt/Main on 2 May 1973.


Jehovah's witnesses take flight
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Like most people, I've run into the Jehovah's Witnesses several times in the course of my life. Unlike most people, I've talked to them rather than (directly) chasing them away. The first time was over 45 years ago, and I kept asking them questions until they left of their own accord. The next time (the same people) was 9 months later, though on this occasion only one of them left.

But at the time they had important information for me: the world would end in 1975. So my first question was: when will the world end? They were rather cagey about that, but agreed that it will not end in 1975. Instead they came up with questions like “do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?”. What does that question mean? That's what I asked them. What do you mean by “believe”? What do you mean by “Word”? Clearly it's not the usual term, since it's more than one word. And it's clear that even the books of Moses weren't written by Moses, since they contain content describing his death.

I don't really know that much about the Bible, and real Bible scholars would refute me at every turn, but it's fun discussing with people who want to discuss the Bible and aren't really that firm in it. For example, the younger (from the inscription on her Bible her name is probably Jazmin) didn't know that there were two copies of the Ten Commandments in the Bible. From her answer, it seems that the Jehovah's Witnesses quote Exodus 20. There was also the question of whether Jesus is the Messiah, given that the Messiah was supposed to liberate Jerusalem, not die there. Some of his Bible quotations were a little dubious, for example from the Psalms, but when he got to the Apocalypse it was clear that we were getting off topic. They thought so too, and said that they had to go and meet some friends—they wouldn't be lying now, would they?

It wasn't until they left that I realised that we hadn't discussed specific Jehovah's Witness beliefs at all. But that's now three times that I've talked them to exhaustion.


Tuesday, 28 February 2012 Dereel
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Back in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Slow day today, which at least gave me some time to attend to the garden, which I've been neglecting lately. Started yet again on mulching the north-central bed, which I started working on two months ago, braving the March flies, and was about ready to put some mulch down at one end when I discovered that Yvonne had taken the wheelbarrow to clean up elsewhere. Attended to the north bed instead: a while back I had mulched on one side, but the other side still looks very dry. I suspect that the Watsonias (now past flowering) have used up a lot of water and nourishment, so removed them, in the process finding a lot of smaller bulbs, probably Freesia and Sparaxis. Hopefully the roses will now be happier.


What use cookbooks?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We've looked at a number of cookbooks lately: about a year ago I bought a cookbook called “Culina Mediterranea” at a cheap book store (since closed down) in Ballarat. As the name suggests, it's about Mediterranean cookery. I already have lots of books about French, Italian and Spanish cookery, but this book also includes eastern and southern Mediterranean cuisine, and with a total of 380 recipes for $40, it seemed worthwhile just for them.

Then we bought a couple of cookbooks at ALDI: “At home and in the mood” by Luke Mangan and “The Press Cluβ” by George Calombaris. The latter proved to be too complicated for us, but we kept the former, and Yvonne has put lots of little stickers in the (mainly fish) recipes that she likes.

After that, Chris Yeardley found a book left behind by Fifi when she left: “500 Resep Lezaaat Masakan Indonesia”, published by Galangpress. Chris doesn't understand Indonesian, so she gave it to me.

And then last month I was at the mobile library trying to pick up some books, while the replacement librarian fumbled with the computer for somebody in front of me, and I found two books on the shelves: One Pot French by Jean-Pierre Challet and jamie does Spain, Italy Greece, Morocco, Sweden and and France, by Jamie Oliver. Neither looked particularly interesting, but they didn't cost anything, so I took them with me.

As if that wasn't enough, Chris Yeardley was in Việt Nam earlier this month, and she brought me back two cook books with surprisingly similar titles and authors: Những món ngon Việt Nam by Nguyễn Thu Hương and Những món ăn Việt Nam by Nguyễn Thu Tâm. Both have the badge of authenticity that they're in dual English and Vietnamese.

And then I spoke to Chris about Jamie Oliver, and she told me that he's apparently an advocate of good food as opposed to junk food, and lent me yet another book, Jamie's 30 minute meals.

That's a total of 9 books. One I have already returned. What about the others? To my surprise, Yvonne liked “One pot French”. It's not exactly as if we don't have lots of French cookbooks already, but we tried a number of recipes from it, and they weren't bad. We were thinking of buying the book, but gradually our interest petered out. I renewed it once, but I don't think I'll do so again.

The Jamie Oliver books are a different matter. Looking at the title “jamie does Spain, Italy Greece, Morocco, Sweden and and France”, it's clear what's most important. The title page shows not food, but the cook. And the book itself, 400 pages of it, contains about 60 recipes, grouped as two pages unrelated jumbled photos, one page recipe, one page related photo, and every so often, for good measure, another pair of photos related only to Jamie. I've never liked cookbooks that put the cook before the food, and this is no exception. We didn't find anything worth cooking in it. The same applies to "Jamie's 30 minute meals". Again unrelated photos predominate, and I just can't be bothered looking for the recipes.

We went through the Luke Mangan book and “Culina Mediterranea” and found many recipes we liked (more PostIt tags in the pages), but for some reason we haven't made many of them. In the case of Culina Mediterranea part of it is a question of ingredients, which we should be able to get in Melbourne. Clearly we need to look at them more carefully.

The universally intelligible part of the title “500 Resep Lezaaat Masakan Indonesia” says most of it: 500 (easy) Indonesian recipes. Also very cheap. Many of the recipes are duplicates with different instructions and different measurements. One recipe stands out: Rendang with 1 kg of beef and 300 grams of chili. I don't know if I'll ever use this book except for reference.

That leaves the Vietnamese cookbooks. They're relatively cheap and have few illustrations. While I don't like the Jamie Oliver approach, the opposite is also an issue, especially for cuisine that I don't understand well. But before we next go to Melbourne, we'll go through them. There's no difficulty getting just about any Vietnamese ingredients in Footscray.

In summary, though: the Vietnamese cookbooks are useful because they point me at a cuisine I don't know. Culina Mediterranea does the same for the North African cuisines. But the rest are, at best, suggestions that modify existing dishes, and you don't need that too often. And the prices per recipe of these books are remarkably different.


Wednesday, 29 February 2012 Dereel
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Levelling bases
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

It's been some time since I effectively completed my panorama hardware setup. Almost. I'm still using the Manfrotto 3416 levelling base. It has severe disadvantages:

What are the alternatives? Linhof had one that I can no longer find on their web site, but which would have been far too expensive anyway. It's effectively a kind of compact, heavy duty pan and tilt head. In passing, it's amazing how many photo equipment web sites hide their products or move the pages and hide the new ones not only from their own search engine, but from Google as well. It doesn't show up in their amazingly pixellated catalogue either.

In the past I've used the ballhead that came with one of my tripods. The ball diameter was probably only about 20 mm, and it wasn't really stable enough. But there are better ones. Really Expensive Stuff offer a BH-55 ballhead with a ball diameter of 55 mm and a maximum load of 23 kg, for $455.

For that price I could buy a cheaper ballhead and a good lens. What does eBay have to offer? Spent most of the afternoon researching, without coming to a real conclusion. What I did find was that there are a number of ballheads available, none as big as the BH-55. And they sometimes specify maximum load, ball diameter or both. A number are available in the price range $30 to $40 with maximum load of 8 to 10 kg. Those that specify ball diameters nearly all have 36 mm balls. Really Right Stuff also has one in this range, 8 kg and a 40 mm ball, for only $375, or about 10 times the price. There are more expensive heads on eBay, but they don't seem to get any better beyond the $40 mark.

What's the difference? Not much that I can see. In particular, neither has a spirit level on top. RRS offer a different model with a spirit level for $390, but it seems to be limited to L-plates. Some of the heads on eBay have a level—in one direction only! Many more have this stupid vertically-mounted compass built into some of the screws.

So the real issue is a spirit level. Can I find one? Not quite. Nearly all the levels I could find are designed for flash shoe mounting. Wouldn't you think there was a need for a stick-on level? I did find one, but it doesn't look very good. I suppose I should play around with the flash shoe mounted level I already have and see how accurate that is.

In all the eBay stuff, of course, there's a question of whether you believe them. One head contains the interesting information:

Features: Ball Diameter: 45mm Height: 105mm, Diameters: 90x112mm. Weight. .58Kg. Quick release plate 53x53mm Support 16Kg. 8.8 lb load capacity.

Is that really 45 mm? It doesn't look it. And the load information is clearly reversed.


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