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Wednesday, 1 July 2009 Dereel Images for 1 July 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

Spent some time playing around with gphoto2 today, with the pleasing discovery that it does work, though only after setting it setuid root. There's also a graphical interface called gtkam. Spent some time installing that, not helped by ports conflicts and incorrect dependencies, and finally got it running. It uses the same interface as gphoto2, but for some reason it couldn't find the camera, though gphoto2 had no particular problem with it. In this case, setuid root didn't help; firstly it's a GTK+ program and refuses to run setuid, and secondly running it as root didn't help either. So back to looking at gphoto2, which persistently refers to directories as folders and seems to have little understanding of structure:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/ttyp3) /dereel/home/grog 2 -> gphoto2 --list-files
There is no file in folder '/'.
There is no file in folder '/store_00010001'.
There is no file in folder '/store_00010001/DCIM'.
There are 85 files in folder '/store_00010001/DCIM/100M1093'.
#1     100_0021.MOV               rd 14922 KB video/quicktime
#2     100_0022.JPG               rd   816 KB 3648x2736 image/jpeg
#3     100_0023.JPG               rd   742 KB 3648x2736 image/jpeg
#4     100_0024.MOV               rd 37722 KB video/quicktime
#5     100_0025.JPG               rd  1904 KB 3648x2736 image/jpeg

As far as I can tell, I need to refer to the files by the number at the beginning rather than the file name, which makes it really difficult to embed it in a script.

The “particular problems” seem to be related to Yvonne's camera ; a couple of times I wasn't able to detect it with any computer, including boskoop, the Apple. Resetting the camera worked around that problem, but I hope I won't have to do that too often.

Also decided to do some comparison photos with the cameras at my disposal, and spent a lot of time doing that, only to find that I hadn't done all my settings correctly. In addition, comparing the photos is a nightmare. I need to think of a programmatic way of naming the files.

That work involved a lot of reading files in, of course, which I do on boskoop. The Kodak “EasyShare” software is quite happy to access other cameras:


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On the other hand, it has this horrible “You must not see everything” attitude so prevalent in “modern” software: it insists on showing thumbnails, but not more than 24 of them at a time—and this on a camera that can store over 2,500 full-sized JPEGs on an 8 GB card:

 
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The window has a resize tab, but it can only be resized horizontally, and the program doesn't use the additional space:


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Spent some time looking for a way to select multiple photos; it seems that you can mark the beginning of a sequence with left button and the end with control-left button. But it's not a lexical list: the programmers are obviously so fixated with the graphical view that it selects a rectangular group of photos, shown highlighted in yellow:

 
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Kodak isn't the only company to write software like this. It's the norm, not the exception. Am I the only person to find this more than slightly stupid?


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Another indication of the current attitude to computers is the “E-book reader”, typified by the Amazon Kindle. This is a special-purpose portable computer, of course. But why? Discussed it on IRC, where people tried to convince me thaht “electronic paper” has nothing to do with LCD screens. The technology is different, of course, and compared to LCDs it has both advantages and disadvantages; but I'm left with a “and never the twain shall meet” impression. I'd far rather see laptops evolve into something similar. It would also make sense in the context of yesterday's experience with the B&H Photo Video catalogue.

Another sign of the times is the Wikipedia image of the Kindle, which shows an incorrectly punctuated text: the words terribleodds are written without a space. Yes, that can happen, but is this the kind of image you would choose to demonstrate the device?


Topic: general, gardening Link here

The windy weather continues, and when I got up this morning I found a couple of emergency services trucks removing a branch from the road, just about 40 metres from our driveway:


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It also managed to blow over not one, but three of the wire meshes we had put around our saplings to protect them from kangaroos, although two of them were weighed down with star droppers (iron stakes):


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It wasn't until the evening that we discovered that part of the branch had fallen across our fence, and the emergency services people hadn't thought it worthwhile removing it:


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On a more pleasant note, the garden is still full of flowers, and the Hibiscus that I have grown from a cutting of my uncle Max is not just growing, but flowering in the middle of winter:


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Topic: opinion Link here

Two years of retirement

Today's also the first day of the new financial year, and it marks two years since I officially retired. What's it like?

In many ways, I'm now living in the same way that I did for a few months in late 1972 after leaving university and before getting involved in gainful employment. As then, I don't have much money, but I can choose what I want to do, and I have plenty to keep me busy. Yes, I'm (much) older, but that has less to do with my way of life than the lack of obligations to others. When I retired, I thought I'd watch lots of TV, but it seems that I don't have time for that. No wonder I was always so busy when I was working.

So: work is just an interruption in getting on with your life. My advice is to have nothing to do with it.


Thursday, 2 July 2009 Dereel
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More gphoto2 fun
Topic: technology, photography Link here

More work on gphoto2. One of the issues was running gphoto2 as setuid root. Discovered some documentation which suggested setting the permissions for the device instead, including information on how to set the permissions for FreeBSD that I hadn't seen before—more below. Unfortunately, the program doesn't do what I want: I can't look at the files, compare them with what's already on disk, and only load the new ones. That's not quite as simple as it seems, since I put each file in a directory related to its date, so I first need to extract the date from the file. And that's not the way gphoto2 works: I don't have the standard file access primitives. It seems that they're working on it, but it's not there yet.

Took a look at the source with a view to implementing a function to do what I want. After a lot of chasing around, found the calls to the underlying libgphoto2 library. Went looking for the documentation, which proves to be empty.

Round about here I gave up. I'll put up with reading in the entire memory card and then throwing away the files I don't need. But why is all this stuff so difficult? It's an interface to files on the camera, and interfacing to file systems has been known for decades.

Directories or folders?

I've already grumbled about gphoto2's use of the word “folder” for “directory”. Maybe I was too harsh: it doesn't do it all the time. From the man page:

       -L, --list-files
           List files in folder.

       -m, --mkdir NAME
           Create a directory.

And then it occurs to me that the word “folder” is part of the dichotomy between operating system and GUI. To the best of my knowledge, on UNIX, Apple and Microsoft, both the command and the underlying system call to create a “folder” is mkdir. No wonder people get confused.

FreeBSD device permissions, updated

I've been playing around with USB device permissions for some time, and I still didn't have it right. You can put an entry into /etc/devfs.conf, but that only applies to existing devices, and doesn't work for hot pluggable devices. Then I found the instructions in the gphoto2 documentation:


Topic: opinion Link here

Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals have lost the plot

Received one of these horrible letters with tear-off ends in the mail today. It's not clear why it needed to be so complicated, since it was only advertising material from the Liberal Party of Australia, represented by Senator Michael Ronaldson. And what material! They've spent the last few weeks slating the Labor [sic]Party for alleged misconduct, including the claim of a mail message which I mentioned last month, and which proved to be fake. Not surprisingly, the opinion polls show the Liberals in general and their leader in particular to be very much out of favour: instead of coming up with any useful suggestions, they just try to denigrate the current government.

What do you do when you're in a hole? If you're Liberal, it seems the answer is “keep digging”. This letter was fully in keeping with their recent behaviour, and although I don't have much respect for either party, it greatly annoyed me, not least because of the trouble I had to go to to open it:


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What I can read from this message is:

Sent a letter to Senator Ronaldson asking for an explanation, and even attached a http://tinyurl.com/senator-ronaldson tag to it. I strongly doubt I'll get a reply, but in principle a representative (even a senator, I suspect) is expected to reply to letters from constituents. We'll see, but I'm not holding my breath.


Topic: general Link here

A couple of days ago, somebody offered some encyclopaedias on our local Freecycle web site, and I thought we might be able to use another one. Today Yvonne went in and picked them up. I wasn't quite expecting the quantity:


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That's five complete encyclopaedias and also a couple of dictionaries. Somehow it's sad to see that these books, all in excellent condition, are of no use to people any more. I think I'll keep one of them; what do I do with the other four?


Friday, 3 July 2009 Dereel Images for 3 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Black hole MTAs

I made a mistake with my mail message to Senator Ronaldson yesterday: I addressed it to senator.rolandson@aph.gov.au instead of senator.ronaldson@aph.gov.au. That seems to be a common typo; just by chance today I was discussing a Debbie Ronald with somebody, and he spelt her name Debbie Roland.

People make mistakes, and that's why MTAs bounce these messages. But did it? No. There's a possibility, of course, that this misspelling is so prevalent that they've put in an alias pointing to the correct address. But there's a way to find out: I sent a message to greg.lehey@aph.gov.au, and it didn't bounce either.

Why? Is this just another broken MTA? Quite possibly, but I've heard opinions that this is to avoid reverse spamming people whose names have been used in spam messages. That sounds to me like throwing the baby out with the bath water.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

The test photos I took a couple of days ago are still waiting for classification. It's a real pain just identifying each photo. What I need is a better way to name the files, so I can recognize them from the name. And clearly the naming should be related to the EXIF information.

So how do I do it? I already have a function that extracts information from EXIF texts, but it's in PHP. So how do I use it? There's a php “shell”, but every time I've tried to use it, it does nothing until I exit, and then echos my input. It took me some time to discover that, for reasons I don't understand, I need to enter <?php at the start; otherwise it just echos the input.

With that, was able to make good progress and output commands like:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp8) ~/Photos/20090703 211 -> php ../getexif.php  *.exif
ln Piccola-Lilac-1.exif E-30-1-80-sec-f-3.7-36.0-mm-200-ISO
ln Piccola-Lilac-2.exif E-30-1-80-sec-f-3.7-36.0-mm-200-ISO
ln Piccola-Lilac-3.exif E-30-1-100-sec-f-4.0-54.0-mm-200-ISO

That should make things simpler.


Topic: gardening Link here

I really should be doing something in the garden, but it's pretty miserable outside. Did some much-needed weeding and returned with frozen fingers.


Saturday, 4 July 2009 Dereel Images for 4 July 2009
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Topic: gardening, general Link here

Somehow the weather was miserable today. It wasn't any colder, there was no more rainfall than on other days, and there was little wind. But the sky was grey and there were continual showers, so much that I was barely able to take my weekly photos of the garden. Spent most of the day in the house as a result.

On the other hand, the rain of the last few days means that we finally have more than a few drops of water in the dam:


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Topic: photography Link here

Playing around with macro photos in the garden in the late afternoon:


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These were taken with Olympus lenses, though I tend to take these with the Super Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 lens from my Pentax Spotmatic, now well over 40 years old. It works well enough in manual mode, but focusing close involves continual changes of extension tube. Wouldn't it be nice to have a 25 mm f/1.4 lens with macro facility to 1:1 magnification for my Olympus? Yes, it would be, but there's no such beast. Sigma does a 24 mm f/1.8, but it only goes to 1:2.7 macro, and Panasonic/Leica do a 25 mm f/1.4, but it only focuses to 38 cm.

Did a bit of discussion on IRC and was surprised to hear that most people suggested focal lengths in the order of 105 to 150 mm. That could take up quite a bit of space. The pond photo was taken with the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6, and it was complicated. More thinking needed.


Sunday, 5 July 2009 Dereel Images for 5 July 2009
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Topic: general, technology Link here

No power failure today, but two brownouts in quick succession that took down lagoon and one of our clocks.


Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Electronic communication: one thing at a time

One of the strangest things I've come across is Twitter. Somebody suggested that I sign up, but I think it was more of a nasty joke. Who can communicate meaningfully in 160 characters?

That begs the question, of course, about how many people can communicate meaningfully in more than 160 characters. In recent days I have had continual problems getting answers in mail messages. I don't think it's relevant that the worst offenders have an AOL account.

Clearly one of the problems is not relating the answer to the question. I don't know why this should be, though clearly the habit of separating the response from the original message (usually in reverse chronological sequence) makes the problem worse. But this issue existed to an even more extreme extent with old, paper communication.

So what is the real problem? The average mail message from mainstream users appears to be full of extraneous junk, but that's usually not visible to people who view their mail in HTML form. Basically, I'm baffled, and I have been for years. The only thing that I can see that would help would be to interleave original message and answer, as I recommend in a document I wrote over 10 years ago. At the time I had hoped to make a difference; but the almost complete lack of editing capability in “modern” user interfaces makes it impractical.

So: maybe Twitter has a use after all. You can barely express a single concept in 160 characters; certainly more than one concept is almost impossible. And it's easier to get an answer to a question if there's only one.


Topic: photography, gardening Link here

More playing around with extreme close-ups today, this time with a 135 mm lens and bellows:


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Certainly the results were better than yesterday, but there are many possible reasons for that:


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Each of these images is about 1.5 cm across. I'm left wondering about the “rough” surface of the last two images. Is it real, or is it a problem with the lens? In any case, I can't see any particular advantage in the longer focal length, and it certainly limits the magnification I can get with the bellows to about 2:1. With the 50 mm Super Takumar and the additional extension tubes I can get about 6:1.


Topic: gardening Link here

It may be the middle of winter, but we still have a surprising number of flowers still in bloom:


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Topic: technology, photography Link here

I use boskoop, my Apple, to copy files from cameras to dereel. I could use dereel directly, and it's a lot faster (the Apple appears to only have USB 1.1), but bugs in the FreeBSD USB stack mean that if I forget to umount the camera before turning it off, the system panics.

Today I got an unexpected message during copying:

cp -p /Volumes/E-30/DCIM/373OLYMP/P7040796.ORF /dereel/home/Photos/grog/20090704/orig/P7040796.ORF
cp -p /Volumes/E-30/DCIM/373OLYMP/P7040797.ORF /dereel/home/Photos/grog/20090704/orig/P7040797.ORF
cp: chflags: /dereel/home/Photos/grog/20090704/orig/P7040797.ORF: Operation not supported
cp -p /Volumes/E-30/DCIM/373OLYMP/P7040798.ORF /dereel/home/Photos/grog/20090704/orig/P7040798.ORF

Further investigation showed that the file in question (on a FAT-32 file system, of course) was read-only. But that's not what Apple thinks:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp5) ~ 6 -> l -oR /Volumes/E-30

/Volumes/E-30/DCIM/373OLYMP:
total 176
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog  -    13763032 Jul  4 11:56 P7040796.ORF
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog  uchg 14368164 Jul  4 12:01 P7040797.ORF
-rwxrwxrwx   1 grog  grog  -    14069447 Jul  4 12:01 P7040798.ORF

Why is that? FreeBSD reports the file as

-r-xr-xr-x   1 grog  grog  -    14368164 Jul  4 12:01 P7040797.ORF

Setting it uchg makes little sense. I wonder what the rationale for that is.

And how did this get set? After a while, discovered that this is a feature, not a bug. When switching back from “image view”, I accidentally pushed the AEL/AFL button, which in this mode “locks” the image (indicated by a green key symbol).


Can't focus tele
Topic: photography Link here

While taking those photos, had a strange problem: my Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 lens wouldn't focus at all, not even manually. Took one (useless) photo like that, which at least gave me the EXIF data. Comparison with the previous photo showed that the lens wasn't seen. All lens parameters were either missing or default:

-Lens Type                       : Olympus Zuiko Digital 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 (release 1)
+Lens Type                       : None
-Lens Serial Number              : 256006812
+Lens Serial Number              :
-Lens Firmware Version           : 1.300
+Lens Firmware Version           : 0
-Max Aperture At Min Focal       : 4.0
+Max Aperture At Min Focal       : 0.0
-Max Aperture At Max Focal       : 5.6
+Max Aperture At Max Focal       : 0.0
-Min Focal Length                : 70
+Min Focal Length                : 0
-Max Focal Length                : 300
+Max Focal Length                : 0
-Max Aperture At Current Focal   : 4.0
+Max Aperture At Current Focal   : 0.0
-Lens Properties                 : 0xc047
+Lens Properties                 : 0x0

After removing the lens and replacing it, things worked again, so maybe it's just dirty contacts. Hopefully this isn't a sign that the lens is dying: conveniently, the warranty expired a couple of months ago.

Also did some comparisons of the E-510 with the E-30, and for good measure took both JPEG and raw images. The JPEGs from the camera looked the same, but the ones I created with ufraw looked very different. ufraw is really very bad with the default parameters (first image). Previously I had set the parameters to +0.3 EV exposure, colour contrast 1.2 and saturation 1.6 (instead of 0, 1 and 1), along with a strong positive gamma curve (second image), but that didn't give the same results as the JPEGs. Finally came up with new parameters: no curves, exposure “compensation” of +1.3 EV, contrast normal and saturation 1.9. That gives the third image, which relates quite closely to the JPEG from the camera (fourth image).


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This is quite frustrating, though. ufraw tells me that the image is overexposed, and it's difficult to know whether it's right (for once) or not. All of this begs the question, of course: why bother? I could just as well use the JPEGs from the camera. And I think that's exactly what I'll do: I'll set the camera to record both raw and JPEG, and in the majority of cases I'll use the JPEG, keeping the raw image for hand-tuning those cases where the JPEG isn't good enough.


Monday, 6 July 2009 Dereel Images for 6 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

In relation to my comments on black hole MTAs, Jürgen Lock brought my attention to the article Backscatter: What is it? How do I stop it?. It confirms what I had heard that the black holes are anti-spam. To quote the article:

Don't bounce mail after accepting it from a remote site. If you run an unpatched version of Qmail, or some other MTA that accepts all mail, then later sends bounces for some of that mail, then you are at the heart of the problem.

That's not as bad as it sounds: the key is to not return mail that you have accepted, not to not inform people that the address doesn't exist. But why should a primary MX accept all mail? It seems that Qmail does it, but it doesn't make sense. The key is to reject as much mail as possible instead of accepting it.

Secondary MXs usually accept all mail—that's a good reason not to have active secondary MXs. If your primary MX goes down for an extended period of time, something that is pretty seldom nowadays, you can still activate the secondary until it's back up again.


Topic: general Link here

Issue 10 of c't arrived today, later than any issue so far—it was dated 27 April 2009. And I'm still getting no response from their subscription department about the issue of the address labels. This is costing them money too; when will they listen?

The weather is still relatively cool, and just keeping the house warm is an issue, not helped by the appalling insulation. The air conditioners have their own issues with temperature control, but if they worked correctly, they would still have problems deciding where to measure the temperature. I measured it today when the hall thermometer was showing 23°. Near the floor it was 19°, and in head height it was about 26°.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Singular, dual, plural

Looking for macro lenses brought me to http://www.four-thirds.org/en/fourthirds/lense.html. For some reason, some spelling errors really get on my nerves, and this is one of them. It looks to me like an attempt to revive the long-dead dual number (for two people) in grammar: singular “lens”, dual “lense”, plural “lenses”. Why is this error so prevalent? Until a couple of years ago I had never seen it.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Another attempt with the ALDI pizza cookers today, this time with a normal amount of dough and more care not to foul the heating elements. The result? Success:


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Well, relative success. The pizze still stuck to the pan, and I think they could have been a little better done from beneath. But both of those can be addressed: I think I'll oil the “non-stick” pan (really just enamel) with olive oil, and cook from below a little longer.


Tuesday, 7 July 2009 Dereel Images for 7 July 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

More work on my photo web pages today. The code I have “just growed” and ended up in quite a mess. Somehow passing information to web pages is a real mess. POST is not appropriate for this kind of web page, because I want to be able to quote specific URLs to point at specific pages, so I need to use GET. But there are lots of parameters, and I end up with URLs like http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/Photos.php?dirdate=20090708&image=Pond.jpeg&imagesizes=111111112#P-Pond-8. I can probably improve on that a little, but the real issue is that I need to build up these argument sequences when building the link URL. I've already had strangenesses like the “display one image” page: normally if I click on an image, I get a bigger version of that image. But on this page, it went back to the display of all images on the page. Things really came to a head with the limited view code I put in recently, where things didn't work properly at all.

Ended up writing a function to create the parameter lists. But it's such a mess! Compared with a C program, it looks a mess, and I'm left wondering how much CPU time the whole thing uses.


Topic: animals, general Link here

Finally the weather is suitable for some of the projects we're planning in the garden, and today CJ and Sue came along and started work on a roof in front of the shed and some fencing.


Topic: photography Link here

Long telephotos, stability and focus

I've been discussing the issue of long telephoto lenses with friends for some time. The cheapest are undoubtedly the mirror lenses—you can buy an 800 mm f/8 mirror lens for about $250—but they have the severe disadvantage of having no diaphragm. That means that you can't improve the depth of field over the aperture at which you focus.

And depth of field is what long telephotos don't have. Extrapolating from Wrotniak's depth of field tables, at 200 metres—about the distance from our house to the rim of the lagoon—an 800 mm f/8 on a 4/3 camera would have a depth of field of about 10 metres (5 m either side of focus).

Tonight was full moon again, so out to take some photos. The good news: after cleaning the contacts on my Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6, I didn't have any more trouble with it communicating with the camera. But in semi-darkness, the autofocus is almost useless, and manual focus with DSLR viewfinders is pretty useless. In the viewfinder, it looked really sharp, but the results were photos that I normally wouldn't have bothered processing:


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That was at f/5.6; possibly I would have had something useful if I had stopped down to f/22. And it's exactly that that you can't do with a mirror lens.

What do I do next time? I suppose it's time to use the “Live View” viewfinder with magnification and see if that works better.


Wednesday, 8 July 2009 Dereel Images for 8 July 2009
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Topic: gardening, general Link here

Another frost today, the most severe so far this year. The bird bath froze to a thickness of about 6 mm:


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This also gave me a chance to observe some other areas. The area in the garden where I'm planning tomatoes was completely unaffected:


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It's clearly too early to plant tomatoes. But it does suggest that we'll get away with it in October.

The verandah was a different matter: I nearly slipped on the edge going down into the garden:


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Also, this kind of frost involves a significant amount of moisture, and once it started thawing, we had a lot of water dripping off the beams in the verandah:


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That clearly limits the efficiency of the roof.


Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We don't need no steenking temperatures

We've bought some bread mix from Laucke, who are located opposite the school Yana went to in Strathalbyn. Took a look on their web site and was startled to see:

Why the primary mention of degrees Fahrenheit? Australia's a metric country, or at least it pretends to be. There are possible reasons, of course, like old ovens with markings in Fahrenheit. But even then, the temperatures should correspond, and they don't. 400° to 420°F correspond to 205° to 215°C. 190° to 200°C correspond to 374° to 392°F. 440°F is 227°C. 210°C is 410°F. This information is so incorrect that it's useless. Which temperature range should you follow? Sent an email to them, but didn't get a response within 24 hours.

Laucke goes on to recommend weighing instead of volumetric measures, very much in keeping with my recommendations.. But then they state (markup is original):

We take the normal “Standard Cup“ to contain 230 ml or grams of water, but “Metric cups“ contain 250 ml of water.

Well, there's another one. A “normal "Standard Cup"”. What's that, apart from being something different from all the other myriad volumes I've seen? The markup is original.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

RAW, raw, JPEG or JPG?

A couple of days ago I decided not to use the raw version of the images from my camera unless I wanted to process them specially. More by coincidence than consequence, spent some time today reading various web page opinions on the choice. Andrzej Wrotniak thinks that raw images aren't worth the trouble, since the JPEG image generated in-camera is already optimized:

Actually, an experienced photographer will usually have the exposure, white balance, and contrast set so that an out-of-camera JPEG will be just fine; in such cases going through the raw stage means extra hassle, time, and storage space.

In general I agree with his opinions, but I think he's wrong here.

Ken Rockwell comes to pretty much the same conclusion, though some of his opinions seem to be tempered by the fact that he has worked with the people who developed the JPEG algorithms. So why does he call it JPG? He also writes things like:

Raw files are just the raw sensor data. It isn't a picture until it is processed further.

He appears to be implying that a JPEG (sorry, JPG) is a picture. That's nonsense: it isn't a picture until it's displayed somewhere. And JPEG isn't even a necessary step between raw images and the display, as programs like ufraw show.

Both of these people are missing something: if something goes wrong with the conversion to JPEG, you have much less leeway to fix it if the JPEG is all you have. And I've continually had issues with exposure and white balance. Maybe I don't fit Wrotniak's definition of an “experienced photographer”, and it seems that I don't take nearly as many photos as Rockwell, who can easily fill an 8 GB memory card with JPEGs (sorry, JPGs). At least for the while, I'll continue taking double images.

Replacing the Kodak camera?

One of the annoying things about Yvonne's new Kodak M1093IS is that it seems to have problems with the USB interface: from time to time no computer will recognize the interface, and I have to reset the camera to defaults before it will work. That's not the end of the world—Yvonne uses the defaults anyway, and even if she didn't, she could remove the memory card and put it in a card reader—but I was wondering what the problem is. Called up Kodak's hot line and was told I could replace the camera free of charge. That sounds like a good idea, but there are down sides:

Anyway, they sent me an email message with RMA and other information:

---Attachment: text/plain
<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"><SPAN style="FONT-FAMILY: Arial">Greetings <SPAN style="FONT-SIZE:12pt; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">
...

Presumably this is identical to the HTML version, where I read:

PROBLEM DESCRIPTION: having diff downloading photos in 2 computers; computer does not recognize; dop: 25/06/09; pop: yes; DOA case

Given the accuracy of that description—only a fraction of the detail I gave—I'm currently inclined to forget the whole issue. I suspect it's a firmware problem anyway.


Thursday, 9 July 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Microsoft improves its EULA

People complain—rightly, in my view—about the difficulty of understanding End User License Agreements for commercial software. They're ridiculously long and usually presented through tiny windows which makes it almost impossible to scroll. I certainly limit my agreement to what I'm asked to do. For example, I limit my acceptance of this license agreement to what is presented to me:

 
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There are signs, though, that things are better, notably http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/eula/pro.mspx:


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That's even shorter than the BSD License!

We're Telstra. We don't need to care.

Exciting news in the letter box today: a brochure from Telstra “BigPond” telling me that ADSL was available in my area. Called them up, of course, and of course it wasn't true: there has been no change, and there is no ADSL anywhere near here.

So why did they send out this advertising? Stupidity, incompetence or an effort to stifle the satellite competition? I don't know: I'd trust Telstra to do any of those, though stupidity and incompetence sound the most likely. Asked them to take a complaint, and was connected to Kelly, a supervisor—something I haven't been able to find in earlier dealings with Telstra's Internet services—only to be told that they could take a complaint, but their policy is not to reply to it (“feedback”). When I asked if that meant that they didn't care, she told me she didn't appreciate my tone.

Her other statements were just as strange: the reason for the advertisement was that ADSL is available elsewhere in my “suburb”. But it isn't. The nearest ADSL is 10 km away, far enough to make it a waste of time and money to distribute advertising material in this area. And, it seems, BigPond is partially government-owned. That one seems very unlikely , but it's certainly worth following up.

c't delivery woes

Since mid-March I've had continual problems with the delivery of c't magazine, and they're continuing. There's every reason to believe that the problem is in the new mailing labels, as I commented a couple of months ago. Since then I've been trying to get some sign from them that they have even recognized the problem; instead, they have changed the delivery method to airmail, still with the same labels. Today I got a partial response to my request to resend all issues since issue 12 (current is 15, but at the time it was 14). The parcel included issue 11 (which I didn't ask for) and 12, but not 13 or 14. How do I get through to these people?


Topic: general Link here

We've been here two years already! And we still have the boards for shelving in the hallway. I suppose it's time to do something about it.


Topic: general, technology Link here

Home theatre: the luxury

It's summer at the other end of the world, so there's nothing but sport on TV, and our backlog of recorded films is running low. Chris lent us a DVD of “Australia”, so decided to copy it to teevee to watch it.

Problem 1: teevee no longer has a DVD drive, so fired up swamp, my test box, to copy it. And it failed. It seems not to be able to decrypt the DVD any more. Is that because it's running a pre-release version of FreeBSD? In the past I've been able to use vobcopy to copy encrypted DVD files, but this time it didn't work, and mplayer failed too—not only with this DVD, but with others as well.

Never mind, I can connect a USB DVD drive to teevee, right? Yes. But that didn't work either. I could have sworn this once did work. More investigation needed.

Never mind, we have a new DVD player. Put the DVD in there and tried to switch the projector to HDMI input. Problem 3: no reaction: the batteries in the remote control were flat. Never mind, I have plenty of batteries. But then I had to deal with the user interface of the DVD remote control:


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The important buttons aren't the blue diamond in the middle—that's only intended for navigating menus. Clearly the designers of the device assume that once you start watching a DVD, you'll continue to the end. The “play” button is directly below the “menu”, so after stopping for some reason, you can easily end up back in the main menu.

One of the things that I had to get used to with teevee and mplayer was the transition from the traditional VCR searching via faster forward and reverse to stepping forward and backwards a certain amount of time. I didn't have any firm idea which I preferred, but this DVD uses the VCR method (after all, it's all simulated VHS, right?). And on revisiting it, I've decided I really don't like it. It certainly doesn't help that the other controls are so difficult to find. But to go back and view the last, say, 10 seconds again—something that I do relatively frequently—the mplayer method requires a single key press. The VCR method requires you to find and press the “search backwards” key, then move your fingers back to the “play” key in time to stop and replay. I've now decided that the former is preferable. Higher-speed search might still be a good thing for some other purposes (“where was that scene?”), but not for this.

Still, finally we could watch the film. What a load of junk! We watched about 40 minutes of it, where a half-caste aboriginal kid spoke with an American kiddie accent that I could barely understand, emphasizing the fact that he was half-caste by putting in the occasional “um” like the Americans do to indicate that they're supposed to be Red Indians. The landscape around the homestead kept changing, and I had the distinct impression that the sun was moving the wrong way across the sky. The bulk of the film appears to be about droving some cattle to Darwin—I thought most droving went south to Marree. The female lead plays an Englishwoman who has a surprising command of American words such as “twister”, which weren't in use in England at the time, and even in the USA were not in common use in 1955 (if I can believe the Oxford English Dictionary). Almost everything in the film seemed obviously wrong, a US-centric view of Australia. If it hadn't been for Yvonne, I would have stopped watching it. A good proof that new films don't have to be good.

Things don't end there, though: while discussing the film, I wanted to check some details on-line. That's straightforward enough with teevee: just start a firefox and look things up. But that doesn't work on a DVD player, any more than I can use the mouse to point out specifics of a still frame. I suppose I could work out how to switch inputs on the projector, but that's a pain in itself.


Friday, 10 July 2009 Dereel Images for 10 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

“Broadband” for everybody

As if to emphasize the distinction between ADSL and satellite, my satellite link has been particularly flaky lately:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1247061600        2        143   99.83% #  9 July 2009
1247148000        9       5924   93.14% # 10 July 2009

For the fun of it, power cycled the modem, and it came back for a while and stayed up for about 10 minutes before going down again. Called up Wideband support, spoke to Nathan and discovered that there was currently no outage, so it looks like I have a local problem in addition to the general reliability issues that plague this service. And once again I was asked to disconnect the signal cables to “let out the static”, though this time I didn't need to leave them to drain for 20 minutes. And this time I got quite upset.

Things came back briefly and then auto-disconnected with an explicit logout, which Nathan thinks was initiated by the modem. Tried again and it stayed up, but it looks as if we have hardware problems as well.

Also playing around with mail relaying. For some time now I've been sending my mail via an ssh tunnel to ozlabs.org, for reasons I no longer recall, but there should be no reason not to send it directly via our “new” (only 1 year old) server, so set that up and tested it, only to run into various problems with SpamAssassin. But it seems to work now, as a number of people confirmed.

Yet another copy of issue 11 of c't (dated 11 May 2009) arrived this morning. The stamp on the plastic envelope showed that it had arrived in Australia on 7 July 2009. Where are they storing these things?


Saturday, 11 July 2009 Dereel Images for 11 July 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

Open source graphics software: the best you can get

I've already mentioned the problems I've had with Yvonne's Kodak M1093IS camera, which frequently needs a reset before a computer will recognize the USB interface, but that's not the only irritation. Today it seemed that a whole plethora of bugs have ganged up on me to make life a misery.

The first issue is that gphoto2 doesn't work under FreeBSD unless it runs setuid root. Some ioctl fails with an inappropriate error message. That's probably a FreeBSD kernel issue, but lagoon, Yvonne's computer, is still running 6.2, so the first thing that I need to do is to upgrade the system to a more modern version. And USB support has currently been rewritten, so I should wait until 8.0-RELEASE before doing that.

Then, for reasons that make no sense whatsoever to me, gphoto2 insists on copying all data to a temporary file, rather than directly to the final file. It creates the temporary file with mkstemp, which creates the file with the fixed permissions 600—and owner root, of course. The subsequent copy maintains permissions and ownership, so the calling program can't do anything with the files.

Simple enough, right? Just do a chown (fd, getuid (), getgid ()) and the matter is solved. Well, sort of. First of all, I don't subscribe to the tenet that it's a benefit of “Open Source” that you can go in and change things. Secondly, I still needed to find where it happened. But that didn't take too long.

Changed gphoto2 and ran it again. The files were still created belonging to root. OK, that's what debuggers are for:

Breakpoint 1, main (argc=-1077944460, argv=0xbfbfdf60, envp=0xbfbfdf74) at main.c:1560
1560            const struct poptOption generalOptions[] = {
(gdb) c
Continuing.
gdb in realloc(): error: pointer to wrong pagebgphoto2/2... |--                                       -   5.1%
Abort trap: 6 (core dumped)

That was repeatable, and I didn't find a way around it. Spent some time searching for all possible places where the permissions could be set, tripping over code like this (gphoto2/main.c, line 379):

int
save_camera_file_to_file (
        const char *folder, CameraFile *file, const char *curname
) {
        char *path = NULL, s[1024], c[1024];

Sometimes I think people deliberately look for the most bizarre layout of characters that they can think of. This isn't the only emetic code. The source is full of things like:

/**
 * \brief Generic Error
 */
#define GP_ERROR                        -1

...
                                if (NULL == fgets (c, sizeof (c) - 1, stdin))
                                        return GP_ERROR;

So it's replacing the specific error from fgets with a “generic error”. But I suppose that's the price you pay for using libraries.

Finally ended up with the most primitive debugging tool of all: printf (). And the printfs didn't appear! A quick check of the executable with strings showed that the printf strings hadn't made it to the executable. Why? Who knows? It compiled the file (for some reason the object from main.c is called gphoto2-main.o), and everything looked right, but it didn't make it. But I have better things to do than debug builds of this quality. Did a make clean first and all was well. A couple of hours of cursing and swearing seem to be the cost of using “Open Source” software nowadays.

It would have been too easy if that had been the last problem. Backing up my own photos, I got thousands of messages:

Jul 11 12:42:24 dereel kernel: 34563904788480, length=16384)]error = 5
Jul 11 12:42:24 dereel kernel: g_vfs_done():da0s1d[READ(offset=492034563904788480, length=16384)]error = 5
Jul 11 12:42:24 dereel last message repeated 883 times

Error 5 is EIO, of course, and the first assumption would be that the disk (6 weeks old) is on its way out. But that offset is ridiculously large, much larger than any disk on the market. It looks more like data corruption to me, and had me worrying about the extent to which I can rely on my backups. It also took down the computer, of course, and when I brought it back up (on swamp, my test machine) it tested fine. This is a USB drive, and I'm wondering if it might have been a power supply problem. Certainly I should rethink my backup strategy.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather today was terrible—some of the strongest winds we've had in a long time. They blew all the chairs off the verandah, in the process knocking over a Canna, brought down more branches in the street, and of course knocked over the kangaroo guards:


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On the positive side, we have the first timid daffodil of spring:


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Topic: photography Link here

As a result of the weather, gave up on my weekly photos; tomorrow should be better weather.


Topic: general Link here

The cool weather and the terrible insulation in our house has us thinking. There's a possibility that we might be able to subdivide the property in the near future, and that it might be cost-effective to build a house in the north of our property and sell this one. Into Ballarat to the display houses in the north, where we had been a couple of years ago, and checked out the houses. Yes, it does look like a distinct possibility. We'll have to investigate a number of things, of course, and my comments of two years ago about the stupid layouts still apply. That should keep us interested for a few weeks.


Sunday, 12 July 2009 Dereel Images for 12 July 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Out to the north-east paddock to take a look round this morning, and found what could be a reasonable site for a new house:


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That's from east to north-west. There's a view of the lagoon slightly to the middle of the image, and we're a long way from the road. As a bonus, there's even electricity available, which would make it cheaper than having the house up against the road like people so like to do.


Topic: gardening Link here

When we built the verandah, we pulled out a Grevillea rosmarinifolia which didn't seem to bloom much. Today, while off to look round the property, found Lilac stalking some honeyeaters in another bush, which proved to have a surprising number of flowers:


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It also seems to have grown considerably in the last 12 months. Maybe there's a place for some of the cuttings we took after all.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

JPEGs: not all they're cut up to be

This week's house photos were the first I took using combined JPEG and raw images. I'm glad I kept the raw images; not for the first time, many of the JPEGs came out far too dark, and I had to process the raw images. In the process, of course, ran into problems with my scripts. I now have to deal with five different kinds of image file names. All remain as they are, of course, despite a prevalent attitude in photographic software that you should overwrite files:

The first three JPEG file types are in order of increasing desirability: if I have a .jpg, I don't need the .JPEG, which can be recreated from the .ORF file if needed. And though I wouldn't throw it away, I also don't need the .JPG file if I have one of the other two, so I need to move it out of the way. Spent some time working on that logic, but I fear it's still not finished. I think it's time to learn a more powerful script interpreter than bash and friends.


Topic: general Link here

To the Yeardley's for dinner. It seems that David has only just come home, but he's off to the North China Sea tomorrow.


Monday, 13 July 2009 Dereel Images for 13 July 2009
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Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Spent some time looking through builder's web sites this morning, looking for interesting off-the-hook house designs. It wasn't easy: all the myriad issues of modern computer technology came back to bite me.

Web browsers: “Open Source” killers?

The first issue was that my web browser (firefox running on FreeBSD) just wouldn't display most of the sites. Why?

Jul 13 12:42:02 dereel kernel: pid 61567 (npviewer.bin), uid 1004: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)

That's the flash plugin wrapper, and it's a common event. The browser doesn't report this error, of course—maybe it doesn't even notice—but the result is that I end up with a hanging page. On occasion I've been able to kill firefox and restart it—the “recover session” option is my favourite—but this time it didn't work.

OK, I'm not married to FreeBSD. cvr2.lemis.com, my CVR, runs Ubuntu, so started firefox on that. Some configuration error: no Java. Why is that? I thought firefox ran out of the box on Ubuntu.

This is probably one of the most serious problems facing free operating systems: if there's one program that must work, it's a web browser. I'm continually having problems with them. Maybe the upcoming Google Operating System will change that, though my initial experiences with Google Chrome didn't have me wanting to change over.

Moving on, tried boskoop.lemis.com, my Apple.

MacOS X: the computer you'll learn in a day

I've been coming closer to MacOS X in the four and a half years since I first got one, but I still find it incredibly frustrating. “Safari”, in this context a web browser (there's also another closely related Safari), is no exception. It started to load the page I was having so much trouble with, and then gave the impression it had finished (the “Loading” display at the right of the URL window goes away), but it was clearly still loading stuff. How do I know when it has really finished? Most browsers have a status line at the bottom, but Safari doesn't, at least by default.

Still, maybe there's an option? Went through the “preferences” and checked everywhere, but there was nothing. Asked on IRC, and was told to use the “View” menu. Sure enough, there's a “Show Status Bar”, and it did just what I want.

What's wrong with this picture? The whole idea of menus is that they structure otherwise amorphous options into something easy to follow (look at the mplayer man page for an extreme example of unstructured options). But I followed the appropriate menu and didn't find it; it was hidden elsewhere. There are only two ways to find that: brute force searching or inspired guesswork.

Next, of course, there were multiple sites to look at, all with multiple pages that downloaded at a snail's pace. My normal procedure when doing this kind of web search is to open new windows for each page and then cycle through them by lowering the top page until I find something useful.

That doesn't work in Safari. In fact, it doesn't seem to work on Apple: how do you lower a window in Mac OS? I don't know, and despite trying, I couldn't find out. It's very possible that you can't. And without that functionality, it's almost impossible to navigate multiple windows. Even within Safari, it's difficult; you need to select a menu item and then select windows based only by a (probably truncated) name:

 
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On my normal X screen, scrolling through those four windows would take four key presses without moving the mouse more than once. With Safari, I need to find the Window menu, click, move the mouse to select the appropriate window, and then click again. That's painful! I've discovered that you can tab through “Applications” with Cmd-Tab, and through individual windows of an “Application” with Cmd-~, but that seems so complicated by comparison. I can also select the title bar of a window with exposed title bar and raise the window, but I haven't found a way to lower a window. And that's a much more useful function, since by definition it's visible.

But wait, there's a solution: Tabs. With Safari, for the first time I've seen how Tabs can help. It's still not much, but you can select what you want directly without lots of menu navigation. And I think that's the reason they exist: it's the only solution people have found to the mess that is modern window management.

I mentioned this on IRC and got general disagreement. I was left with the feeling that I couldn't explain the issues. How do you explain light to animals which live in perpetual darkness? It's the same kind of problem.


Topic: general Link here

Just after breakfast this morning there was a knock on the door; Graham, a neighbour from about 1 km away on the Dereel-Rokewood Junction Road, had seen two black dogs kill a lamb and maul a sheep at Helen and Robert's (still don't know the surname) across the road. Called the police, who sent out a ranger, and then over to take a look—it was clear that the sheep wasn't going to survive. They had pulled the coat off and bitten through the shoulder to an artery, and it was slowly bleeding to death.

The dogs? From the description (two dogs, both black, one larger than the other), everybody assumed that they were the dogs from next door. Quite possibly they were, but I'd not want to jump to conclusions. Graham got the collar off one of them, with the registration, so it'll be easy enough to catch them. It's sad, though, to note that even friendly dogs can go off and become dangerous. I don't suppose we'll have to put up with their barking much more.


Topic: technology Link here

Finally I have tidied up all my diary pages to the point that they pass the w3.org validation. What a pain! And it doesn't even mean that there are no other errors. It doesn't catch missing images, for example.


Tuesday, 14 July 2009 Dereel Images for 14 July 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I must be crazy! After writing up about web browsers, I looked into the chromium web site and even considered downloading the code. Got as far as installing the prerequisites before I came to my senses. But that in itself was interesting:

Fetched 59.3MB in 2min25s (408kB/s)
Fetched 40.5MB in 1min32s (438kB/s)

That's the fastest transfer I have had at home, ever, including unlimited speed ADSL line I briefly had at Wantadilla. It's a pity that the satellite links have so many down sides.

Spam fighting: RTFM

Somehow my SpamAssassin configuration changes (local.cf) aren't sticking. Went—once again—to the documentation site, and once again marvelled at the almost complete lack of useful documentation. About the best they had to offer was the README file, which has a section entitled “Customising SpamAssassin”, mentioning files and directories that don't exist on my system. That's partially the fault of the FreeBSD Ports Collection, of course; people choose directory names that differ from the default, partially to fit into the FreeBSD directory hierarchy, but partially, it seems, at random.

Went off looking for files with some combination of upper and lower case “SpAmaSSasSin” (aren't StudlyCaps a little dated now?), and found two directory hierarchies: /usr/local/share/spamassassin/ and /var/db/spamassassin/3.002005/updates_spamassassin_org/, the latter presumably from some update program. There's also a file /var/db/spamassassin/3.002005/updates_spamassassin_org.cf which proves to be a list of other files to include:

# UPDATE version 759778
include updates_spamassassin_org/10_default_prefs.cf
include updates_spamassassin_org/20_advance_fee.cf
...

I added a line

include /usr/local/share/spamassassin/local.cf

and things started working again.

What's wrong with this picture? SpamAssassin is a widely used program. The “documentation” was of No Use At All, and I had to manually search for the answer. I thought initially that it was the FreeBSD port's fault, but it seems that it might have been because I have run the update program. And where is that documented?


Topic: photography Link here

Time to sell some of my photographic equipment. I have hardly used the E-510 since buying the E-30, and it's been even longer since I took any photos with my 18 mm Sigma lens for the Pentax. Also, my telephoto comparison a few months back show that the quality of the 300 mm Hanimex lens is so much less than that of the Olympus 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 telephoto that it's hardly worth keeping (though this one is borderline). So they'll all get put on eBay. Spent some time taking photos:


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Wednesday, 15 July 2009 Dereel Images for 15 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Smacking Mac OS and Safari

Not unexpectedly, Monday's comments brought a response telling me that I was being unfair to Mac OS:

So let me get this right.

You tried to load the house designer site on BSD/Firefox and it failed.

You tried to load the same site on Ubuntu and it failed.

You tried to load it on Mac OSX/Safari and it loaded fine, but you decided to spend your time
spanking the system for not fitting your preconception of how it should work.

It's not quite that simple. I thought I smacked FreeBSD and Linux too. But the real issue are my “preconceptions”. My expectation from a computer is that it should be a useful tool, not a way of life. I shouldn't have to learn an artificially restricted way of doing things. When I upgrade to a newer version of the OS, I shouldn't have to relearn things. I should have the choice myself.

There are clearly many people who like the way Apple does things. There are many reasons for that—probably they have less experiences of computers than I do, they can't type as well, they use computers for more limited purposes. And clearly Apple should make things as easy as possible for them. But that shouldn't mean making things more difficult for me or others like me: the system is just not configurable enough. Arguably X window managers are too configurable, but the functionality I'm talking about (raising and lowering unrelated windows with a mouse click) has been around for longer than the 20 years I've been using X. I find it useful. Why should I have to change?

It's raining in Broken Hill, the Internet is cancelled

The satellite availability has been pretty terrible lately. It was down in the morning, and in the afternoon it went down again for over an hour:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1247493600        1        105   99.88% # 14 July 2009
1247580000        2      11794   75.28% # 15 July 2009

Given the doubt I had about the reliability of my satellite modem, called up Wideband support and spoke to Ashley, who told me that the outage was caused by heavy rain round the uplink site at Broken Hill, and that the outage this morning was scheduled (but unannounced) maintenance.

It took over an hour to come back, and I immediately checked the rainfall in the area. None to be seen. I later found out that there had been rain, all of 0.8 mm in the town and 0.2 mm at the airport, spread over 24 hours—hardly enough to cause even a momentary outage, let alone over an hour. I suspect this is another case of a botched upgrade and a lame excuse to cover up for it.

c't: Still missing the point

Issue 15 of c't arrived today. That's a good enough time, since the publication date is 6 July 2009. But it would have been a day earlier if it hadn't been sent in a larger packaging, too big to fit in the letter box, and requiring pickup from the Sebastopol Post Office, 30 km away. It was also sent from a different country (Switzerland), along with a letter addressed to “Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren” (“Dear ladies and gentlemen”); clearly, as I suspect, I haven't been the only person to suffer from this problem. And the issue with the misplaced country is still there—it was completely missing in the letter.

So why don't they address my issues? This time they asked for a reply to a specific mailing address asking me to state how long it took to arrive. Given the prior experience, didn't answer that; instead, wrote a message to them asking them to contact me. We'll see whether they do that; I don't have much hope.

IRC clients: let's be illegible

For some reason, my IRC client (ERC, which builds on Emacs) has taken to hanging at random, and somebody recommended using weechat instead. Installed that, and immediately ran into problems:

 
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I can change that, of course, and maybe I will, but I wish I understood why people choose such illegible defaults. I suppose they're assuming black backgrounds.


Topic: general Link here

More checking on the possibility of building a second house. It would require subdividing the property, something that I thought was now possible, but it seems that the current zoning of the property requires a minimum plot size of 8 ha—exactly the size of our plot. That would seem to be the end of the story. But there's one problem: our property is the only one of that size in the area. So the current zoning discriminates against me and nobody else. Clearly that creates a possibility which I should explore.


Thursday, 16 July 2009 Dereel Images for 16 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

One of the things suggested in yesterday's email message was to check how http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/ works on boskoop, my Apple. Downloaded from the web site, once again getting some of the highest speeds I've ever had, about 450 kB/s—why does the “download” window not show the speed after it's finished?—and tried to install.

How do you do things on Apple? You click on an icon, maybe multiple times. So that's what I did. Nothing happened. Much discussion on IRC and experimentation later, I discovered that the “Finder” had got out of sync with reality:


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As the shell window on the left shows, the Firefox DMG is mounted, but the “Finder” doesn't show it. Instead it shows a removable device E-30 (in fact, some recollection of my Olympus E-30 camera. How do you get it back in sync? Attempts to “eject” E-30 failed (“this device is not mounted”, or whatever Applespeak is for that), so I resorted to the time-honoured method of “solving” problems on consumer computers and rebooted.

That “worked”, and I was able to install firefox, which worked out of the box. And with a bit of practice I could work around the lack of window lowering functionality with Alt-~, though it's still cumbersome. But I spent a lot of time trying to work out what was wrong, and I didn't find any documentation to help me. In addition, there's something seriously wrong with any software that can get out of sync with the operating system.

People told me that it was my fault for using umount to unmount the camera myself. But I don't: I've already established that the GUI doesn't find out when a file system is umounted, a clear layering violation. So use diskutil unmount instead, which should work. That begs the question why Apple supplies a standalone umount utility at all.

So how did this happen? I don't know. Most of the time I have boskoop asleep, but even if I put it to sleep while the camera was still mounted, disconnecting the camera would have woken it.

On the positive side, checked the TCP/IP connectivity with the new Apple kernel, and now I no longer have the problems that I discovered on 16 November 2008. Older kernels didn't handle IP aliases right and sent off datagrams with the wrong source address.


Friday, 17 July 2009 Dereel Images for 17 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

A keyboard for the 21st century

I've long maintained that keyboards are designed by people who can't type. Nearly all “advances” in keyboard design in the last 25 years have been targeted at people who can't type, and they make life more difficult for people who can.

I've been using the same keyboard style, Northgate OmniKey, for nearly 20 years:


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The most important thing to me is the location of the function key block F1 to F10, which are located where I can reach them without looking; the more “modern” location above the main keyboard block makes that as good as impossible. Then there are “nice to have” features like the Ctrl and Alt keys in the correct places. Modern keyboards have CapsLock, a completely useless key—even, it would seem, for non-typists—in a prime position. And the strange “modern” habit of distorting the arrow key block also irritates me. The OmniKey isn't perfect, of course: the location of keys F11 to F15 (there is no F16) clearly smacks of afterthought. I occasionally use F11 and F12, but F13 to F15 are just not worth the trouble.

The keyboards have been out of production for that length of time, and the ones I have are no longer in the best of condition. I gradually need to think about replacing them. Some time back somebody came out with a keyboard called the Avant Stellar, which looks very similar, and I bought a couple. But they have a number of annoying features, including forgetting the key mapping, and they make a horrible noise. And then we came to discuss on IRC that Sun used to make some nice keyboards (Type 4 and Type 5) before they succumbed to the “modern” way of doing things. Sure, they don't interface to a PC, but it won't be long before my OmniKeys don't either: everything will be USB. So I went out and searched, and sure enough, there's a SourceForge project to make an adaptor for Type 4 (and so presumably Type 5) keyboards to USB. I need to follow up on that one.

CFBSD: Moving on

When I released “The Complete FreeBSD” under the Creative Commons License in February 2006, the number of downloads overloaded our communal web server at http://www.ozlabs.org/. Samuel Greear of evilcode.net kindly offered to host it for me, and even created a subdomain grog.evilcode.net. But times are changing, and that's no longer available, so I've moved the files to our “new” (12 month old) web server w3.lemis.com, which still isn't completely configured. The disk space also isn't enough for my photos, so for the time being at any rate I'm going to have to spread the pages between w3.lemis.com and www.lemis.com, the latter running on Ozlabs.

Heise subscriptions: still no joy

As I feared, my mail message to Heise a couple of days ago received no reply. Spent some time writing up the problem (in German). Now I need to work out what to do next.


Topic: general Link here

Another frost this morning, again relatively “severe”:


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It cleared up pretty quickly though, causing a surprising amount of vapour as it thawed:


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Topic: opinion, photography Link here

Lets revamp speling

It's no secret that bad spelling irritates me. I've already commented about the prevalence of the misspelling “lense”, but I get the feeling it's on the increase. Today I found it in an article on the PopPhoto web site:

The 502 has 2.7-inches) and a wider lense (28mm vs. 35mm).

I wonder if we're going to see more of this abomination. I was given the choice of entering a comment—something I did once before, only to find it needed to be moderated, and never appeared—but this time I need a “TypeKey” or “TypePad” account. And while I'm sure that that's free, I'm also sure that it's more pain than I need, and that the author probably wouldn't understand.


Saturday, 18 July 2009 Dereel Images for 18 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

After yesterday's thoughts about keyboards, the obvious thing was to drag out an Avant Stellar keyboard and try it out. The one I found had, indeed, forgotten its key mappings. Both OmniKey and Avant Stellar have the “wrong” default configuration, with CapsLock next to the A, Ctrl bottom left and Alt further to the right. But they come with keys for the correct places:


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You need more than keys, of course: the keyboard needs to be remapped. The OmniKey does this in a typical 1980s manner with DIP switches, while the Avant Stellar is programmable. It came with a floppy (remember them?) with software for Microsoft “Windows”, which I have long since lost, but it is also possible to remap the keys manually.

My recollection was only partially correct: the keyboard isn't noticeably noisier than the OmniKey (maybe the OmniKeys have got noisier with age), but there seem to be timing issues. In Emacs, I frequently issue the sequence c-x c-s c-a (save file and return to beginning of line). For some reason, the c-x appears to frequently get lost, so Emacs sees c-s (search forward). I've also frequently seen the Ctrl key get stuck “on”, usually in conjunction with firefox. It's still not clear that I'll carry on using it.


Topic: general Link here

We were going to invite Chris to dinner tonight, but she had to take Vito, her big Maremma dog, to the vet: he had been badly mauled by a kangaroo. He's not in great danger, but it's another reason to keep them away from the house.


Topic: photography Link here

I'm gradually getting more practice with my house photos, and today I got them done in about 10 minutes before breakfast. But I'm still not happy with the rendition I get from the JPEGs, which very frequently (but not invariably) seem to be too dark. Here's a comparison of a panorama taken two weeks ago, and then today:


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Diary entry for Saturday, 18 July 2009 Complete exposure details

 

I prefer the former. My monitor has been calibrated, so the alternative is that I just don't like it that dark.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Finally got round to listing my camera gear on eBay; what a pain this is! In the process, tried out their “spelling checker”, which (surprisingly) found no spelling errors in my text. For the fun of it, put in the word “lense”, to which it didn't object either. Finally tried “lensecrap”, which it didn't recognize. But what alternative did it suggest? “Lense cap”:

 
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That's not the only example:

 
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I suppose it's normal for languages to evolve, but it's sad to see them evolving due to ignorance. Even Wikipedia currently reads:

The obsolescent spelling lense is sometimes seen. While it is listed as a variant spelling in some dictionaries, it is not a standard spelling of the word.

I think this is incorrect: there's no evidence that the word has been spelt that way in the past (the Oxford English Dictionary doesn't mention it, only an obsolete verb “lense” meaning “to make lean”). And the use seems to be on the increase, not decrease.


Topic: general Link here

More thinking about subdivision today. Yvonne walked the sides of the area we were planning to use, and measured her pace at 95 cm, which agrees with my estimate based on comparing her value for the street front with my measurement with the car (which has a kilometre counter with 10 m resolution): she measured 232 paces, I measured 220 m. The other side of the plot was 263 paces, corresponding to 250 m. That would give a total area of 5.5 ha, nearly two-thirds of the total area of the land—we think—and considerably more than we expected.

Went and checked our documentation. To my surprise, I have no official document telling me the exact area or other dimensions of the property. All I have is a document dated 11 August 1949, attached to what apparently passes for a sale contract, in which the area is defined as Bram Gunn told me on 12 June 2007:

On the Title Plan in the contract under "A26" is 20A,2R,4 3/5P. There are 4 roods in an acre and 40 perches in a rood. The land size is actually 20 acres plus 1/2 an acre plus another small portion of an acre.

Even then, I wasn't given the exact area, and I had to calculate it myself: 83,076.9 m². I'm amazed that this information isn't an obligatory part of the sales contract.

That wasn't all, though. I also checked the title deed, which had no mention—and it had our address entered incorrectly. No, for once not “Kliens Road”, though that's on other official documentation, but they got the house number wrong (46 instead of 47). House numbers in this part of the world are sparsely allocated: they are allocated as:

((int) (d * 50)) << 1 + l

where d is the distance from the end of the road in kilometres, and l is 1 for the left hand side of the road and 0 for the right. So our house is about 460 metres from the end of the road, on the left-hand side. There are a total of 6 houses in the street, with numbers ranging from about 24 to 60, but by chance Robert and Helen across the road have number 46. But how can this kind of error occur, again and again?

Still, the plan has angles and numbers on it. The north side (Yvonne's 250 metres) has an angle of 90° 9' and a length specification (I assume) of 1197, but without dimensions. I had assumed them to be feet, but 1197 feet are 365 metres, round 50% more. Working backwards, the unit would have to be about 250 / 1197 metres, or about 20 cm.. But what unit of measure of that length has ever been used in Australia? Is it maybe one hundredth of a chain? I'm astounded how difficult it is to get accurate information about the property.


Sunday, 19 July 2009 Dereel Images for 19 July 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

More playing around with keyboards today. The bugs in this Avant Stellar keyboard get on my nerves, and ended up returning to one of the OmniKeys. But that bounces too much, so dragged out the other Avant Stellar and reprogrammed it—after discovering that, for some reason, I had swapped the Rctrl andRalt keys. I wonder why I did that. I fear, though, that the bugs aren't related to the individual keyboard, and that I'll see them again with the new keyboard.


Topic: general Link here

More investigation of this mysterious title plan of our property today, and finally found out what these strange measurements are: they're links, 1/100 of a chain, which is 22 yards or 66 feet, at least in the British Empire. This makes the link the handy length of 7.92 inches or 20.1168 cm, pretty close to what I had estimated. At some time in the past I had got the impression that a link was ¼ of a chain, but that unit proves to be a rod. What a marvellous way to describe things in this metric country! It's interesting to note that Great Britain, one of the last outposts of the Imperial system, started a retriangulation of the entire country using the metric system in 1936.

Using these measurements, we can recalculate the area of the plot: the north side is 240.8 metres wide, the east side 191.3 metres. If the plot is rectangular—something that remains to be proved—that would make 4.61 ha, which seems more plausible. If, on the other hand, we take this as evidence that Yvonne's pace is not 95 cm, but 91.5, the west side would be 212.4 metres, so we'd have a parallelogram with an area of 4,86 ha.


Topic: gardening Link here

I've been pretty lazy in the garden lately—things are backing up, one thing waiting for the next. One of the more complicated issues is barely worth the trouble: the priming handle of my spray unit has bent badly, making it effectively useless. I have been planning for some time to strengthen it with a metal rod, and today got as far as drilling a single hole, only to discover that the screws I had bought were about 1 cm too short. Growl. I could buy a new unit relatively cheaply, but this appears to be the only model of its size on the market, and I'd end up with the same problem again.


Topic: general Link here

Chris and Fifi along for dinner tonight, the last time for Fifi before she returns to Indonesia on Tuesday.


Monday, 20 July 2009 Dereel Images for 20 July 2009
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Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

As I feared, the other Avant Stellar keyboard has the same problems as the first. Can I live with it? I need at least to find a binding for CapsLock (maybe one of the useless function keys) to turn it off when it turns on.

In the afternoon, cvr2, my Ubuntu-based CVR, crashed. Examination of the screen showed a traceback that may have been NFS-related. But when I rebooted it, it couldn't find the (XFS) root file system. After a lot of messing around, it appears as if the beginning of the file system has been overwritten, and none of the recovery tools could help.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it looks as if I had made a mess of my backups, and I have almost nothing left of the file system. Started thinking about installing a new version, though the thought horrifies me. Why didn't I make an image of the disk when I installed it?

Found a new disk and installed Ubuntu 9.04 on it, in the process finding out how to get the damn thing to let me configure the network interfaces. It failed miserably at reboot with an “Oops”, which proved to be related to the tuner cards. I can see this isn't going to be easy.


Topic: photography Link here

I've sold my Sigma 18 mm lens via Buy It Now. And looking at the listing, I discover that this horrible eBay “editor” has retained my test word “lensecrap”, though I had explicitly deleted it. sigh


Tuesday, 21 July 2009 Dereel
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Rebuilding cvr2
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

More work on rebuilding cvr2 today, with very little success. To start with it proved that my installation yesterday was wrong: the help text and the options at boot don't match, so I (apparently) ended up installing a modified recovery system, and it didn't have a lot of modules, giving me problems like this:

root@ceeveear:~# apt-get install nfs-kernel-server
root@ceeveear:~# mount dereel:/ /dereel
mount.nfs: No such device

Frustrated, turned my attention back to the defective disk, and asked on the freenode #xfs channel, where I discovered that my assumptions about the data structures were—almost—correct. The following dump shows the superblock.

00000000  00 b0 6a 02 00 10 00 00  00 a0 6a 02 00 10 00 00  |..j.......j.....|
00000010  00 10 fc 20 00 10 00 00  00 00 fc 20 00 10 00 00  |... ....... ....|
00000020  00 b0 0b 18 00 10 00 00  00 a0 0b 18 00 10 00 00  |................|
00000030  00 50 67 03 00 10 00 00  00 40 67 03 00 10 00 00  |.Pg......@g.....|
00000040  58 46 53 42 00 00 10 00  00 00 00 00 02 e1 9a 79  |XFSB...........y|
00000050  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  |................|
00000060  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 81  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 82  |................|
00000070  00 00 00 01 00 b8 66 9f  00 00 00 04 00 00 00 00  |......f.........|
00000080  00 00 5c 33 b4 a4 02 00  01 00 00 10 00 00 00 00  |..\3............|
00000090  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  0c 09 08 04 18 00 00 19  |................|
000000a0  00 00 00 00 00 02 d3 c0  00 00 00 00 00 00 01 18  |................|
000000b0  00 00 00 00 02 59 9c 5d  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  |.....Y.]........|
000000c0  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  |................|
000000d0  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 02  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  |................|
000000e0  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 01  00 00 00 08 00 00 00 08  |................|
000000f0  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  |................|

As I thought, the text XFSB represents an XFS superblock. But it should be at the beginning of the block, not offset by 64 bytes! So whatever caused the crash must have caused significant data corruption. Ran xfs_repair, which came out with its own comments:

root@naan:~# xfs_repair /dev/sdc1
Phase 1 - find and verify superblock...
sb realtime bitmap inode 18446744073709551615 (NULLFSINO) inconsistent with calculated value 129
resetting superblock realtime bitmap ino pointer to 129
sb realtime summary inode 18446744073709551615 (NULLFSINO) inconsistent with calculated value 130
resetting superblock realtime summary ino pointer to 130
Phase 2 - using internal log
        - zero log...
ERROR: The filesystem has valuable metadata changes in a log which needs to
be replayed.  Mount the filesystem to replay the log, and unmount it before
re-running xfs_repair.  If you are unable to mount the filesystem, then use
the -L option to destroy the log and attempt a repair.
Note that destroying the log may cause corruption -- please attempt a mount
of the filesystem before doing this.

What these messages didn't tell me was that xfs_repair had written a new, valid superblock, so now I could mount the file system read-only. Tried to do a backup, but ran into lots of messages of the nature:

cannot access /mnt/var/lib/mysql/mythconverg/gameplayers.MYD: Structure needs cleaning
cannot access /mnt/var/lib/mysql/mythconverg/housekeeping.frm: Structure needs cleaning

Decided—somewhat belatedly—to make a copy of the disk, and to do some recovery efforts on that. Running xfs_repair brought the same messages again, so I tried mounting the file system as recommended. No go:

root@naan:~# mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt
mount: Structure needs cleaning

There seems to be no way around that, so I took the alternative suggestion—this is a copy, after all—and ran xfs_repair -L, which worked and gave a presumably valid file system—and 3293 files in lost+found, including a number of database files and many kernel modules. I wonder how much I'll be able to recover.


Topic: technology Link here

Recovering the file system had one immediate advantage: finally I had the parameters for configuring my Ethernet card on Ubuntu. Why is it so difficult? By default it doesn't give you any choice: it looks for a DHCP server. On my network it finds one on the satellite modem, which assigns an IP address in the wrong range. And I can't fix it! The GUI application for setting manual IP address takes all the numbers, putting them into fields too short to take the entire numbers, saves them if you do it exactly correctly, but doesn't apply them. On the other hand, adding the information to /etc/network/interfaces works. But why so difficult?

Into town in the evening to a meeting of the Ballarat Linux User's Group (BLUG). It's my first time, and despite the small numbers, everybody knowing everybody else, nobody asked me who I was until I was leaving. Looks like they've got some interesting stuff planned.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

More recovery work on cvr2 today. Took the copied disk and checked it further, then put it into cvr2 and tried to boot. It succeeded! In fact, I seem to have lost nothing except the mythconverg database.

During my tests I made a number of copies of mythconverg, so went out to see what was left. Nothing much of use, it seems, but I did find:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/0) /var/log/mythtv 13 -> ls -l /var/backups/
total 16
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   2026282 Jul 19 08:06 mythconverg.sql.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   1647560 Jul 12 08:25 mythconverg.sql.gz.0
...

There were a total of 8 backups, apparently made every Sunday morning. I didn't even know they were happening. One point to MythTV, none to Groggy. Restored the most recent one, made only about 30 hours before the crash, ran mythfilldatabase, and I was away. What amazing luck!

I already have a number of copies of the file system on dereel, but it sounded like a good idea to have a compressed disk image on DVD which I can just copy to a disk and bring the previous state back to life. Problem: there's only one file system on the disk, and though it only has about 4 GB of permanent data on it, it's 200 GB in size. Even compressed, that would exceed 4.7 GB of data. Unless, of course, it were easy to compress. I have a program to help there: it creates a file and writes 0 to it until the file system is full.

This seemingly useless program ensures that the file system compresses really nicely. Compiled it for Linux, and then ran it. Not the result I expected:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/0) /var/tmp 29 -> /dereel/home/grog/src/zerofile  FOO
Can't write to FOO: File too large (27)
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/0) /var/tmp 30 -> ls -l FOO
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 2147483647 Jul 23 10:26 FOO

I've seen this before, of course, but it never fails to amaze me. The problem is that you have to tell Linux if you want any file to be larger than 2 GB, by setting O_LARGEFILE. I could do this, but I couldn't be bothered; used dd instead.

That took about 90 minutes, and the deletion took only 10 seconds, less than some of the times I've seen recently:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /var/tmp 42 -> dd if=/dev/zero of=FOO bs=128k
dd: writing `FOO': No space left on device
1473446+0 records in
1473445+0 records out
193127497728 bytes (193 GB) copied, 4325.8 s, 44.6 MB/s
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /var/tmp 43 -> sync
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /var/tmp 44 -> time rm FOO

real    0m9.921s
user    0m0.000s
sys     0m0.636s

Then copied to the dump file system on dereel. After about another 90 minutes, mainly CPU time in bzip2, the NFS connection hung. Why are we still seeing these problems? Whose fault is it, FreeBSD or Linux? I never have problems between FreeBSD systems, but I don't run enough Linux systems to find out if it happens in a purely Linux environment. Certainly it's a nuisance, and the fact that Linux considers NFS an add-on makes me suspect the Linux implementation first.

NIH

As the result of the problems I had, I recorded one—and only one—programme on the Digitrex DVD recorder. How do I get it onto teevee? In principle, it's simple: stick it into the DVD drive and copy the files across:

cat /cdrom/video_ts/vts_01_*vob > /teevee/spool/Docco/Medical-Mavericks-200907-22

But teevee doesn't have a DVD drive. In fact, since the black box days, the number of DVD drives I had has dwindled considerably. At one point I had nearly 10 of them, most of them burners. Now I have three: one in my test box (the one I used to recover cvr2), one in boskoop, and one that I move from place to place as needed. The only machine with a DVD drive that was running was boskoop, so I put the DVD in there. Nothing happened. Once again I'm left wondering how to drive this thing. On a FreeBSD box I have to mount it manually (yes, I know there are alternatives, but they're not out-of-the-box). On Apple, if it doesn't mount automatically, what do I do? Maybe there's a way, but as usual, finding the documentation is such a pain.

But why wouldn't it mount? It mounted fine on swamp, and I was able to copy the data across. Is this some kind of protection for presumed copyright owners? It's certainly not user-friendly by my definition.


Macro toys
Topic: photography Link here

New toy in the mail yesterday, but Chris and Yvonne managed to keep it from me until today—not that it would have made any difference given the TV disaster. It's a pair of perpendicular focusing rails for macro photography, shown here with my old Pentax bellows and Super Takumar 50 mm f/1.4:


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The bellows have their own rail, of course, but it's not convenient for focusing. All I need now is a real macro lens.


Thursday, 23 July 2009 Dereel Images for 23 July 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

eBay: Digital signatures encourage identity theft

Found an amazing mail message today. It had arrived a couple of days ago, but landed in my spam folder:

From failurenotice@members.ebay.com  Mon Jul 20 10:15:27 2009
Return-Path: <failurenotice@members.ebay.com>
X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.2.5 (2008-06-10) on dereel.lemis.com
X-Spam-Level: ***
X-Spam-Status: No, score=3.1 required=3.0 tests=BAYES_80,DKIM_SIGNED,
        DKIM_VERIFIED,HTML_MESSAGE autolearn=no version=3.2.5

-----------------------------------------------------------------
eBay sent this message to Greg Lehey (ebayname).
Your registered name is included to show this message originated from eBay.
Learn more at http://pages.ebay.com/help/confidence/name-userid-emails.html
-----------------------------------------------------------------

-----------------------------------------------------------------
There was a problem with your message
-----------------------------------------------------------------

Dear ebayname,

Because of security concerns, eBay did not send your recent email message
to otherebayname.

We blocked this message because it was sent in an encrypted format. We
don't allow encrypted emails so we can better protect all of our members
from identity theft and unwanted email.

Please send your message again without encryption.

Thank you for your understanding, and thank you for helping to keep eBay
members safe.

This is absolutely unbelievable. The remainder of the headers make it clear that this is a genuine message from eBay, though the content itself isn't so sure: later on I find the text:

Another eBay member sent this email to ebayname@lemis.com through the eBay
platform. eBay takes no liability for the sending of this email or its
content

What I discern from this is:

So, eBay considers signing your messages to be a security risk—maybe. Maybe it was somebody else. But then, that's typical of eBay. Looking for somebody to contact, I found a link on http://pages.ebay.com.au/securitycentre/index.html:

Find out who to contact when you need help.

But the link is not only incorrect, the redirection takes 10 seconds, demonstrating the breakage, and it takes me back to the main contact page.

eBay has been round for over 10 years. Have they still not learnt anything about security? To quote a discussion on IRC:

<callum> Wow - they are protecting members by forcing them to use plain text
         email.
<peter3G> Without digital signatures.
<callum> Yeah, I can see how that will stamp out identity theft.

Sorry, Apple
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of the DVD problems on boskoop today. One thing's clear: it's not the distinction between DVDs recorded on the Digitrex DVD recorder and others. I can mount normal commercial DVDs with no problem, whether they're video or data DVDs. On the other hand, I can't the DVDs I burnt myself, whether they're video or data DVDs. It's possible that it's because they're DVD+RW. I was pretty sure that the DVD drive (reported as MATSHITADVD-ROM SR-8585 Revision 1A28) handles DVD+RW, but maybe it doesn't. Until I have enough interest to investigate further, I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt.


ALDI weather station
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne back from shopping today with a “weather station” from ALDI. Basically an inside/outside thermometer (wireless connected), hygrometer and an inside-only barometer. I've really wanted something that I can connect to a computer, and this can't, but it's at a price only marginally above the cost of a normal thermometer, so it's worth trying. Surprisingly, it works quite well, and though the documentation doesn't tell you how to put the battery in the external unit (you need a watchmaker's screwdriver to remove the back), it does explain in almost enough detail how to do things. It also covers its arse by saying that the thermometers are accurate to ±1.5°C, so that the two could deviate by as much as 3°C. Fine for CYA, but who wants a unit that's so inaccurate? In my experience, they also never are.


Reply from Senator Ronaldson, true to form
Topic: opinion Link here

Earlier this month I grumbled about the stupidity of the current Liberal Party of Australia policies. I even went to the trouble to write a letter, to which I doubted I would get a reply.

Now I have received a letter from Senator Ronaldson, referring to this email. But is it an answer? I wrote:

In the process you are taking me and other constituents to be fools. Please explain your motives and what you would do differently.

There is no mention of this, or any other part of my message, just the acknowledgement that I don't agree—to what?. He certainly didn't explain why it would take the Coalition 30 years to pay off the debt. Clearly this is just another form letter, about what I should have expected. And it states “Further details are available on the enclosed fact sheet”. I wish I could find a way to equate the fact that there was no sheet with the claim that they had no facts.


Friday, 24 July 2009 Dereel Images for 24 July 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Twitter: make your password easier to guess

Somebody posted a link to http://twitter.com/ today, and I tried to follow it. I had to log in, and it told me that my password was invalid. That happens on far too many web sites and far too often, though I save my passwords in a file (yes, I know, you shouldn't do that, but the alternative is even less attractive). So how did it happen this time?

I sent in a password reset request, typed in the same password again, and the Javascript application confirmed that it was a strong password. Then I pressed “Submit” and got a message that the password contained illegal characters. Huh? Why should any character be illegal in a password? And why did it accept it last time?

My best bet is that they have changed the password rules, for reasons that obviously not even they understand, and invalidated mine. This isn't the first time I've been bitten by this stupidity. Verified by VISA has done it at least twice.

What has happened here? Only yesterday I was complaining about eBay. I don't consider myself more than an average user when it comes to security, for my definition of security. But the mainstream approach to security appears suicidal by comparison.

And then there is a document from Australia Post which refers to ICAO Technical Instructions for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, or maybe “Technical Instructions For The Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air” (their capitalization). The Auspost document states that they will no longer accept batteries containing lithium for transport by air. It's difficult to say whether this is a genuine ICAO recommendation or requirement, since the ICAO doesn't consider this kind of information appropriate for the web, and you have to purchase the document. But it begs the question why airline passengers should be allowed to carry items like laptops, phones and cameras, and how lithium batteries should be transported internationally. Yes, there are dangers involved, but there should be a better way to address them. In the meantime, it's clear that many people will ship lithium batteries by air, either deliberately or out of ignorance. And is this really just an Australian regulation? It almost looks like it. Are post offices worldwide going to require a declaration that parcels destined for Australia contain no lithium?


Topic: gardening Link here

I've been neglecting the garden far too long. Gradually the spring flowers are coming out, and it's time I did more preparation for spring. Did a little bit of work, but not nearly enough.


Saturday, 25 July 2009 Dereel Images for 25 July 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

Photo day again today; thank God it's getting easier, though I'm still reminded how many more settings modern cameras had than 40 years ago. And there was enough wind to change images from one shot to the next and to thoroughly confuse hugin with the verandah panorama, which is a particular challenge because of the depth of the image. Spent some time doing it manually, and then back to look at the results for last week. Despite what others say, I find that the JPEG output of my cameras at any rate is not as good as what I can get with relatively simple processing of the raw image. Here an example of one of last week's photos, first JPEG, then processed raw:


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There's not much in it, but the JPEG looks dull by comparison. There's much more difference in the panoramas:


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In particular, the automatically generated panorama has many jaggies, while I had almost none at all in the manually generated one—something that quite surprised me. Now if it weren't all so difficult to drive.


Sunday, 26 July 2009 Dereel Images for 26 July 2009
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Topic: general, photography Link here

Last night Piccola had pounced on a reddish stone which I had apparently brought in from the verandah into the bedroom. Today I went to pick it up, and—it moved! It proved to be a reddish spider, of a kind I haven't seen before, and clearly it wasn't in the best of conditions. But that's exactly the kind of condition I need for close-up photos: it's alive, but it won't move much. Spent much of the afternoon taking photos. It was about 1.5 cm wide:


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Let it out later, but it didn't get very far. It was obviously on its last legs.

So what kind of spider was it? The images are somewhat misleading, since it had pulled its legs in together. It briefly stretched them out at one point:


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There's some suggestion that it's a Huntsman, but the colour is unusual, and it was quite small—maybe not yet fully grown.


Topic: general, animals Link here

Chris along for dinner in the evening, and Lilac brought her contribution, a hind leg of a rabbit. I wonder where she picked that up, and whether she killed it herself. Gave it to Piccola to try, which greatly pleased her:


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Took a ridiculous number of photos—78 of them, about 1.4 GB total.


Monday, 27 July 2009 Dereel Images for 27 July 2009
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Topic: food and drink Link here

A lot to do as the result of yesterday's failure of the Bosch mixer, together with the potential end of the warranty on my Kenwood mixer. Called up Grays Online, the auctioneer from whom I had bought it, and spoke to Shirley, who was helpful and registered a case , and also gave me the name of somebody to speak to at De' Longhi. She voiced the opinion that the fact I was given a 12 month warranty card means that yes, indeed, the warranty is now extended to 12 months.

Checking the German Stiftung Warentest web site brought a number of hits on kitchen machines, in particular a test, unfortunately no longer very up-to-date (2001), but which gave highest marks to what looks like the successor to my Bosch mixer, and only “satisfactory” to the Kenwood Chef. One thing's clear, though: the prices have gone up a lot since I bought the Bosch, and even in 2001 they sold for € 230, about the price of a new Kenwood KM 300 mixer here.

So what to do? Went looking for electric grain mills, and they're even more expensive—the cheapest I could find in Australia was about $350. In addition, I can't be sure that they'd even be any good for crushing grain for brewing. Why is this stuff all so complicated?


Topic: technology Link here

Various things related to my c't subscription problems today: issue 12 (dated 25 May 2009) arrived, true to the two month rule, and I got a phone call from Björn Brüning of Swiss Post International Germany GmbH & Co. KG (or is that Global Press Distribution GmbH?), explaining what they're doing: they claim it has nothing to do with the location of the country name on the address label, but more to do with the fact that they had changed from sending from Switzerland to Deutsche Post, who claim that the shipping time is between 40 and 50 days, far longer than it has taken in the past, and only a little less than the actual time it has taken (about 65 days). They've changed back to Switzerland (indeed, I hadn't noticed, but issue 14 had come from Switzerland), and they hope that the matter is now settled. We'll see. I should have paid more attention to the address sheets in the envelopes. Months ago they said that they would send the issues airmail, but it seems that this was not the case for issue 12. Issue 13 isn't here yet—I suppose it'll show up in about 2 weeks—but I suspect that they sent it surface too.

An hour later, got a mail message, from Mark Alexander Cano of Heise-Verlag, apparently without any connection to the call from Björn Brüning. It confirmed my concerns about communication, especially as they have once again said they would send issue 14, although I've said at least twice that I have already received it. It did confirm, however, that a number of people have experienced the problems, apparently only in Australia and New Zealand.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009 Dereel Images for 28 July 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

I currently have my E-510 on sale on eBay, and I've received a couple of questions about the number of shutter activations. The first time round, I answered with the sequence number field from the last photo I took with it (P7267825.ORF, implying 7825 activations). But the second query included a reference to John Foster's page how to read the hidden information in your e-system camera , which includes the number of shutter activations:


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The first line (R:) gives the number of activations—6 more than I had expected. I wonder where they happened. Still, a nice thing to play around with. It seems there are a number of hidden things in the various camera models—he showed how to select ISO 50 and a completely unusable ISO 3200 on the E-500, but it doesn't work for me on the E-510. Now wouldn't it be nice if they could offer a way of selecting the EV steps with bracketed exposures? Currently there's only 0.3, 0.7 and 1.0 EV, which is too little difference for HDR photos.

It would also be nice to know what the D: (damage) page codes meant. The E-510 has no entries, but the E-30 has one, 8807. I wonder if that's related to the problems I had with the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 a while back.


Topic: gardening Link here

A little more work in the garden, mainly weeding. I wish I could get more motivated. More and more signs of spring are showing themselves.


Wednesday, 29 July 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

Raw image processing software: tower of Babel?

Somehow the lack of uniform processing software for raw images is frustrating. Spent a lot of time today investigating various aspects and software packages.

Colour profiles

In the past I haven't paid much attention to colour profiles; I assumed that software that knows the camera would automatically apply it. That proves not to be the case. There are a number of ways of getting a profile, including links from the ufraw color management page and this link which doesn't state its name, and which calls them “camera profiles”.

In addition to this, there is some indication that multiple profiles may be needed for a single camera. I still need to get my head around this one.

What's in these profiles? So far I haven't found out. I haven't found any for Olympus, but I downloaded a couple from the pages above and took a look at them:

-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis     560 Dec 21  2008 AdobeRGB1998.icc
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  221848 Dec 21  2008 Nikon-D70.icm

These are the Adobe RCB1998 profile and a profile for the Nikon D70 (I changed the name to make it recognizable). They're both in binary, there's an enormous difference in size, and the names have different extensions, which may or may not mean anything.

Next, turned my attention to the various possibilities available: I have at least dcraw (amazingly, supplied as a single C file and a man page), UFRaw (of course), which bases on dcraw, RawTherapee, some commercial software, including CAPTURE ONE (why do they have to shout it?), which some people had recommended. I haven't considered Photoshop for a number of reasons: I'm looking for a raw image converter, not (as the Germans say) an egg-laying wool-milk-sow, but also because I know what a pain it is to use, and it's extremely expensive. Finally, of course, there's OLYMPUS Master 2 (more shouting), the software supplied by Olympus for the camera.

dcraw

Took a look at dcraw and found that the FreeBSD port is out of date, and it doesn't know about the E-30. Spent some time installing the latest version, with interesting results. Here a couple of photos taken with the E-510: first the JPEG from the camera, then a JPEG from ufraw using my modified parameters, and finally the JPEG created indirectly from dcraw:


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So far so good. I then tried another one with the E-30. The results were relatively good for this photo, which was somewhat underexposed. Here the camera JPEG and the dcraw output:


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It didn't always work that well, though. The first of last week's verandah photos failed badly:


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So what's the problem? The colours still aren't right, but in the first photo they “sort of” worked. In the second, they're so bad as to make it useless. The three dcraw photos have intensities that seem to vary in random ways. And dcraw doesn't have much in the way of knobs to tweak.

UFraw

I've been using ufraw for most of my conversions, though as I've noted, the parameters are not optimal. Tried setting “Input profile” to the only value available, “Color matrix”, which certainly made a difference. Here the output of ufraw with default values for brightness and contrast, but with 1.3 EV more exposure, and with and without the input profile, compared to the camera JPEG:


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Close, but no cigar. But it does suggest that if I find a colour profile for my camera, I might get much better results.

OLYMPUS Master 2

Somehow it seems ridiculous to go to this much trouble when the manufacturer supplies software to perform the task. Given the secretive nature manufacturers go around with the specs, you'd expect them to be able to deliver a superior converter. But it's tied up in so much horrible gooey stuff that it's a pain to use.

To adapt Hoare's Law of Large Problems, Inside every large program is a small program struggling to get out. I don't need the GUI, I just need the raw converter. Is there a way to talk to it directly?

Investigation of the software installed on boskoop found a number of interesting things. Firstly, the owner of the entire installed tree is trent, who must have been the person who sold me the computer years ago. He didn't install the software. But both Olympus packages were installed in his name, and everything else was either root or me (grog). This appears to be a strangeness in the Olympus install software; possibly trent was the first non-system user name it found.

More interestingly, find found—after I smoothed the feathers ruffled by these stupid path names with spaces in them—a directory with a single file:

-rwxrwxrwx   1 trent  trent  531228 Oct 30  2008 /Applications/OLYMPUS Master 2/OLYMPUS Master 2.app/Contents/PlugIns/CMRawDevelopPlugin.plugin/Contents/MacOS/CMRawDevelopPlugin

For a system which likes to hide file system structures, that's quite a spectacular path name. After some investigation with strings, found a reference to a file /Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.3.9.sdk/System/Library/Frameworks/AppKit.framework/Headers/NSEvent.h. Despite the lack of spaces in the file name, this looks very much like something from an Apple development package.

ktrace also showed:

  7991 OLYMPUS Master 2 GIO   fd 19 read 819 bytes
       "<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
        <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd"\
        >
        <plist version="1.0">
        <dict>
                <key>CFBundleDevelopmentRegion</key>
                <string>English</string>
                <key>CFBundleExecutable</key>
                <string>CMRawDevelopPlugin</string>
                <key>CFBundleIdentifier</key>
                <string>com.olympus.CMRawDevelopPlugin</string>
                <key>CFBundleInfoDictionaryVersion</key>
                <string>6.0</string>
                <key>CFBundlePackageType</key>
                <string>BNDL</string>
                <key>CFBundleSignature</key>
                <string>????</string>
                <key>CFBundleVersion</key>
                <string>1.0.0</string>
                <key>NSMainNibFile</key>
                <string>OMRawDevelopPlugin.nib</string>
                <key>NSPrincipalClass</key>
                <string>OMRawDevelopPlugin</string>
                <key>OlyBuildNumber</key>
                <string>210.000</string>
        </dict>
        </plist>
       "
  7991 OLYMPUS Master 2 RET   read 819/0x333

Further investigation with locate found a directory /Applications/OLYMPUS Master 2/OLYMPUS Master 2.app/Contents/PlugIns/CMRawDevelopPlugin.plugin/Contents/Resources/English.lproj with various XML files in it. Spent some time poring over them, without coming to much enlightenment. Probably I should identify the package that Olympus is using and see if there's enough information there to find out how to talk to the plugin.

Summary

None of this gives me the feeling that I have achieved much. I've learnt a little, but none of the software I've tried is usable. There are still a couple I didn't get round to trying: RawTherapee (what a name!) and CAPTURE ONE. Some time.


Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden. High time to prune things, and pruned the original Buddleja globosa back strongly. I have little doubt that it'll come back as strong as ever in a couple of months.

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


Thursday, 30 July 2009 Dereel Images for 30 July 2009
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Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Into Ballarat today for a blood test, annoyingly requiring me to fast. Of course, the only “fast” was the fact that I hadn't eaten—I was held up by a whole group of people driving at a snail's pace.

Finally made it to the Base Hospital, discovered I was at the wrong end, walked for miles and found a queue which would have taken at least 20 minutes (according to the optimistic estimate of the receptionist). I couldn't handle that on an empty stomach, so left again. I'll have to find somewhere else where fewer people are waiting—possibly earlier in the day would be better.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Then a little shopping. There's a new Korean food shop in Bridge Mall, so new that they were still unpacking their goods (mainly snacks). Their prices presumably reflect the cost of the location, but I wonder how many people will buy coconut cream at $2.52 per can when you can get it at Safeway for $0.79. Hopefully they'll survive; at any rate managed to get some chili flakes for Kimchi, which I had been looking for for some time.


Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Also bought some seeds at Big W and later at Formosa Gardens, where I also bought some seed potatoes. It's surprising how few varieties of seeds people have; I'll have to buy some from Diggers after all, though they're very expensive even without the postage.

I had thought that bad language was gradually receding, but it seems to be alive and well. Diggers have stopped offering Chinese Cabbage, and instead they're offering something called wongbok, a name I haven't seen before. And at Formosa another company had “wombok” seeds, which also didn't quite look like Chinese Cabbage. Wouldn't it be wonderfully confusing if they came out with two different names for slightly different varieties?

The best, though, was Mr. Fothergill's, who offered something called shallots, but looking like spring onions. According to the package, they're Allium cepa, which means “onions”; but one kind of shallot is Allium cepa var. aggregatum, under which name they also sold whole bulbs:


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So what's the story? There were also Allium fistulosum, one of the names for real spring onions (which the Americans call Scallions, or maybe “green onions”, just to add to the confusion). Can you grow shallots in spring onion form? I don't know, but I'd guess that Mr. Fothergill has got himself confused by the general confusion of terminology. I bought a different brand (made easier by the fact that Mr. Fothergill is also pretty much the most expensive).

Back home, planted the potatoes, which took up more space than I had expected, but it started to rain before I could do anything about the tomatoes.


Topic: technology Link here

Some time ago I changed my backup regime to run four backups in parallel so that I could run 4 bzip2 processes in parallel and max out the CPUs. That worked, more or less, but it certainly stressed the disk subsystem. It's been some time since James Andrewartha pointed me at pbzip2, a parallel version. Today finally got round to trying it out. And it works fine, leaving the system a lot more responsive than with the parallel backups. I should have done this earlier.


Friday, 31 July 2009 Dereel Images for 31 July 2009
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Facebook: the agony
Topic: technology Link here

Some time ago I signed up for facebook for some reason which I don't recall and which I didn't bother to register. Today I got a number of “friend” requests, two of which weren't flagged as spam, from people I know. So I accepted the request, checked a little and found that I should upload a photo.

I have my own photo arrangement, of course, and I've already stated what I think of online photo sharing sites. So I produced an image telling people to link to my photo home page. All I had to upload it with was this horrible, emetic, far-too-small window into my home directory, so I first needed to navigate each directory step individually with the mouse:


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I've ranted enough about the pain of navigating these far-too-tiny windows, but this time there was even more pain. ~/Photos contains one directory per day, along with a lot of other stuff which really belongs in a subdirectory, a total of 1610 entries. It's painful enough searching through that when the stupid web page only shows a part of 14 entries at a time, but this particular list was unsorted!

 
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I don't know whether that's firefox's fault or Facebook's, but what a pain! Found the image and uploaded it, only to discover that there's no way to display it in its original size, and so it's completely illegible. Added a comment with a URL, which Facebook obligingly rendered as a link. But I continue to be amazed what sort of pain people like putting themselves to.


Topic: gardening Link here

Mystery flower 16 blooms

For nearly two years I've been observing a plant in the garden with leaves that are vaguely reminiscent of a Sturt's desert pea, but which has grown to over 2 metres. I was half expecting them to flower, but all summer long they didn't. And now, after I had given up hope, they have flowered:


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Still no idea what they are, but I suppose I'll find somebody to tell me.

Spring on its way

The last few days, since we got the “weather station”, I've been keeping temperature statistics. That's particularly interesting since the closest weather forecast we can get is for Ballarat. We've suspected that the weather here is a little milder, but this is the first time I've had the ability to compare. Our comparisons with the maxima and minima from the Bureau of Meteorology bear this out:

#               Outside         Inside           Ballarat
# Date          Min     Max     Min     Max     Min     Max
2009-7-27       -       13.8    -       -       2.0     10.6
2009-7-28       5.8     14.6    -       23.2    4.7     11.2
2009-7-29       6.6     14.2    18.6    23.4    5.3     11.0
2009-7-30       5.6     13.7    18.2    23.5    4.3     11.0
2009-7-31       5.0     13.7    18.3    23.7    6.0     11.8

What also confirms this is that the hanging baskets with geraniums, which I took down in late autumn, haven't stopped blooming. Decided that we won't get another serious frost this year, and put them back up again. Let's pretend it's spring. And I still have lots of other work to do.


Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with colour profiles today, and installed CAPTURE ONE on my Microsoft box. And, of course, it's another thing with tiny windows and directory navigation by mouse. Decided I couldn't stomach it; my free trial lasts 30 days, and in that time I really should compare it.

One thing that it does have, though, is a colour profile for the Olympus E-30. Spent some time trying to find out how to tell ufraw about it. First, you select “Color management” (that's written Color management in ufraw), which gives you the first image below. Click on the mystery symbol Mystery symbol on the right and you get the second image—another mouse-navigable directory tree, though at least this one doesn't cramp you as much.

 
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And yes, ufraw understood the profile and made things very much more saturated and colourful, especially since it set the gamma to 1.0 and linearity to 0.0, both far from standard values. Played around a bit and chose the values set in the first image above, creating images that looked better, but still not as good at the JPEGs from the camera (for the case that they're OK). And I still need to change the exposure by +1.3 EV. None of this gives me the warm fuzzy feeling that people are on top of raw image conversion.


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