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June 2010
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Tuesday, 1 June 2010 Dereel Images for 1 June 2010
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Chrome on FreeBSD
Topic: technology Link here

Google Chrome (or is that Chromium?) is gradually becoming available for non-Microsoft systems, and there's now a version available for Linux—but of course none for FreeBSD. But now somebody with the anonymous name “Sprewell” has prepared a port, and I spent some time trying to port that. Didn't even get that far: one of the dependencies is another set of inofficial ports for ALSA, and one of them failed its configuration for reasons I still don't understand. Although the source of the test program looked completely harmless (even the preprocessor output), the compiler produced some completely unexpected error messages, apparently related to conditional expressions—but there were none at the specified location, and the messages appear to have come from the preprocessor. The test was superfluous, so I plan to hack the configure script to remove it.

Also continued installing ports on Yvonne's new computer. This takes forever!


Magshop explains
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Contrary to my expectations, I did get a call back from Amanda from Magshop, explaining why my subscription had vanished. It's all completely normal: my old subscription has expired, and I haven't received the first issue of the new subscription yet. That's understandable, right? Of course not. I told her that I considered this breakage. Her response “What would you like me to do?”. I asked if she could fix the web site. No, she couldn't do that, so there isn't really much that she can do. I didn't even get round to asking why it entered my birth date as 11 April 2010.


Indianmeal moths, continued
Topic: food and drink Link here

Bread baking today. Discovered lots of Indianmeal moth larvae in the rye flour. My methods of getting rid of them are clearly not as good as I thought. After my experience 6 weeks ago, I have been observing that a few larvae come from somewhere in my collection of grain and flour and climb to the ceiling. It seems that I have been able to kill most of them, and I was coming to the conclusion that I was getting the better of them. But it seems that only some of the larvae climb to the ceiling—possibly those in the uncrushed grain. Those in the flour seem to be quite happy to stay there, and I found a couple of adult moths as well. Sieved the flour into a new container and found about a dozen larvae:


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There are even live moth larvae in the chapati flour that I had put in a deep freeze for 2 weeks. Cold obviously doesn't seem to worry them.


Still more panorama hardware
Topic: photography Link here

Spent some time investigating the various kinds of panorama hardware that I've identified. Nodal Ninja has won many prizes, but it can't even mount the camera in landscape format! I'm amazed that people can make such expensive hardware which doesn't even do the simplest things.

At the other end of the scale, the “Nodal Samurai” can do just about anything you want, simply because you build it the way you want. But it doesn't have a rotator, and it doesn't have any adjustments. That got me thinking that there's probably enough general-purpose hardware out there to be able to build what you want. The LensPen rotator could do that job, and I could build most of the rest with the kind of macro focusing rail that I already have:


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There are clearly solutions. What completely baffles me is that the established products don't deliver them.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010 Dereel Images for 2 June 2010
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Chrom(ium) on FreeBSD: impasse
Topic: technology Link here

Continued with attempts to install Google Chrome (or Chromium) on my machine today. Fixed the ALSA utils port by removing the test in the configuration, and moved on to Chromium itself. That was less than successful:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp6) /usr/ports/www/chromium 151 -> pkg_delete icu-3.8.1_1
pkg_delete: package 'icu-3.8.1_1' is required by these other packages
and may not be deinstalled:
gimp-2.6.4,2
ufraw-0.15_1
hugin-2009.4.0
...

Clearly I can't remove that port; too many of the programs I use depend on it. Jürgen Lock tells me that it's only in the way for the build, not at run time, so packed it up and moved it aside. Did that, and ran into other problems downstream:

  cc -O2 -fno-strict-aliasing -pipe -pthread -fno-exceptions -Wno-unused-parameter -Wno-missing-field-initializers -D_FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 -fvisibility=hidden -m32 -march=pentium4 -msse2 -mfpmath=sse -fno-strict-aliasing -I/usr/local/include/nss -I/usr/local/include/nss/nss -I/usr/local/include/nspr -O2 -fno-ident -fdata-sections -ffunction-sections  -DDISABLE_NACL -DCHROMIUM_BUILD -DNSS_ENABLE_ECC -DNSS_ENABLE_ZLIB -DUSE_UTIL_DIRECTLY "-DSHLIB_PREFIX=\"lib\"" "-DSHLIB_SUFFIX=\"so\"" "-DSHLIB_VERSION=\"3\"" "-DSOFTOKEN_SHLIB_VERSION=\"3\"" -DNDEBUG -DNVALGRIND -Inet/third_party/nss/ssl/bodge -MMD -MF out/Release/.deps/out/Release/obj.target/ssl/net/third_party/nss/ssl/ssl3ecc.o.d.tmp -c -o out/Release/obj.target/ssl/net/third_party/nss/ssl/ssl3ecc.o net/third_party/nss/ssl/ssl3ecc.c
In file included from net/third_party/nss/ssl/derive.c:45:
net/third_party/nss/ssl/bodge/blapi.h:525: error: expected '=', ',', ';', 'asm' or '__attribute__' before '*' token
net/third_party/nss/ssl/bodge/blapi.h:528: error: expected '=', ',', ';', 'asm' or '__attribute__' before '*' token

Yes, I can look at that. Some other time


Network woes, on and on
Topic: technology Link here

My problems with my satellite connection continue unabated. SkyMesh had promised to look into it a couple of weeks ago. Sent a mail message to Paul Rees, and got some action pretty quickly from Kear Stephens who walked me through a lot of tests. He seemed to think that this was related to uplink problems and ran me through a lot of speed tests, all of which worked fine. Then he switched me to a different chain, whatever that must be; it's at least partially related to the link hardware. I must look it up. It seems that I was on the first chain of link 508 (“link” and “chain” sound familiar in other contexts; is that the basis of the term “chain”?), and he moved me to the second. All of that worked fine. Then, while we were talking, it dropped out. At least Kear is no longer claiming that it's my hardware, but of course, like me, he doesn't have a clear idea what it is. My guess is that this is “normal”, and that other people haven't been paying as much attention.


More Indianmeal moths
Topic: food and drink Link here

Sifted the chapati flour today and found many more larvae. These were dead and black, though, possibly because of the freezing. Or were they just a different kind? Here yesterday's live ones, then the dead ones.


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Thursday, 3 June 2010 Dereel → Geelong → Dereel Images for 3 June 2010
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Trip to Geelong
Topic: general Link here

Off to Geelong today to the periodontist. In the three years since I started this regular attention, things have improved greatly, but he still wants to tidy up around the molars next time.


MSY Geelong
Topic: technology Link here

While in Geelong, went to the new Geelong branch of MSY, conveniently within walking distances of the periodontist. I've already commented about the unsavoury ambiance and the long queues at the shops in Melbourne:


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But there was none of either in this shop. It looks more like a normal shop, and I even got some good advice about reliability from Michael, the store manager (there's only one other person there). Definitely a better choice than the ones in Melbourne, even if I go to Melbourne on the same day: Geelong is pretty much on the way.

Bought a 1 TB disk for a second photo backup. I've been becoming increasingly concerned about a double data loss: the main disk with the photos dies, and I then discover some problem with the backup. What I intend to do now is alternate the two disks, so that if one does fail, most of it should still be on the other backup. I can arrange for the rest to still be on the flash card in the camera, so I will have two complete backups of all photos—until the disks fill up, which looks like being in about 2 years' time at the current rate.

Also bought some new UPSs, so once again we have just about everything on UPS. I don't want to change the UPS in the office yet, since there's a lot of work involved (much of it just tidying up the office), so boskoop (the Apple) and pain (the Microsoft box) are still without UPS.


Magic mushrooms
Topic: gardening Link here

We have Amanita muscaria in the garden:


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I wonder how they got there.


Friday, 4 June 2010 Dereel
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Blast from the past
Topic: technology Link here

More building ports today. I've discovered that, in fact, most of them are still available in binary form. Some years ago I ran into problems with binary packages, and I've been building them ever since. Today the pain went on: package configuration of vlc failed with the strange message Library libm.so.4 not found, required by cut. Huh? The version of libm on this system was libm.so.5, so at least libm.so.4 wasn't there. But it was fairly clear that cut didn't require it:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) /usr/ports/multimedia/vlc 38 -> ldd /usr/bin/cut
/usr/bin/cut:
        libc.so.7 => /lib/libc.so.7 (0x2808e000)

Did vlc (or whatever dependency it was that wanted it) have its own version of cut? Did some further investigation and discovered two errors on my part: for some reason, I had ~grog/bin in my PATH ahead of the normal directories, and secondly I had written a program called cut, a slight modification of the normal cut utility. And since I NFS mount my home directory, it was there even on this freshly installed system. A double case of “don't do that, then”.

Went looking for further strangenesses in my .bashrc file and found this gem:

uuprogress ()
# display the progress of a uucp transfer from system $1
  {
  while [ -f /usr/spool/uucp/$1/T* ] ; do
  echo `date '+%H:%M:%S';ls -l /usr/spool/uucp/$1/T*`
  sleep 30
  done
  echo >/dev/acu0 +++
  sleep 2
  echo >/dev/acu0 ath
  }

I wonder how long it's been since I used that. It can't have been since I left Tandem Computers in 1992.


More SBS reception problems
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

I'm still having difficulties with SBS reception. A while back I got a startling improvement by rebooting the machine, but lately it doesn't seem to be helping. It happened again last night, bad enough that I had to throw away the recordings. Tried again today and had no trouble, but it looks as if I'm not out of the woods yet. But what's causing it? It can't be the tuners, because all three have the same problem. It can't be the antenna and associated hardware, because I don't get this kind of problem on other channels. And it doesn't seem to be a pure signal strength issue, because of the extreme fluctuations between perfect reception and almost uselessly bad reception. Rebooted again just in case; I'll have to keep my eyes on it.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Winter is gradually making its presence known. The birches have lost nearly all their leaves, caused more by the winds we had a couple of days ago than by the cold, and the tomatoes have died back after the mild frost a week or so ago. Spent much of the afternoon removing dead tomatoes and pruning back very lively Osteospermums. That also meant that finally the compost heap has reached capacity. We have three bays, and this was the third, so first I had to move the remaining compost out of the first bay. It was certainly worthwhile:


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Saturday, 5 June 2010 Dereel Images for 5 June 2010
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No diary updates?
Topic: technology Link here

Mail from pmarin (no other name) telling me:

Subject: broken feed (http://www.lemis.com/grog/diary.xml)

Your feed has not been actualized in this week. The last post is titled "Experiments".

Strange. What could have caused that? The specified URL, http://www.lemis.com/grog/diary.xml, doesn't exist, but the 404 document redirects it happily to the correct URL (http://www.lemis.com/grog/diary.xml.php). Is his RSS feed getting confused by the redirect? Asked and found that he is using bloglines, with whom I also have an account. Logged in—they want a Captcha as part of the login, and not the easiest to read:

 
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Dimensions of original: 616 x 295, 16 kB
Display this image:
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Display all images on this page as:
thumbnails    this size
Show for Sunday, 6 June 2010:
thumbnails    small images    diary entry

I'm sure they'll make themselves really popular with their users like that. And yes, it doesn't work for me either. I have two feeds, one for each of the URLs above. The one with the redirect did exactly what pmarin said: the last entry is in the middle of the entry for 27 May 2010. The other (correct URL) stopped even earlier, though when I came back, it had caught up with the incorrect URL. I haven't found other aggregators that have the problem, and the RSS validator gives it a clean bill of health.

While investigating the problem, ran into something else:

Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.

Please contact the server administrator, webmaster@bloglines.com and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log. Apache/2.2.9 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.9 OpenSSL/0.9.8b Server at www.bloglines.com Port 80

It looks like bloglines has general problems. But while looking at the source for last month's diary, discovered another article which had caused validation problems. I had put an <a> tag outside an item, and it had complained. So I fixed it, and the validator is happy. But that was two articles before the last one that has been picked up. Did bloglines get that article before I fixed it and then refuse to continue? Who knows?


Limiting the photo flood
Topic: photography Link here

When I started taking weekly photos of the house and garden nearly 3 years ago, there was only one, which I'm still taking today, and it's certainly one that has shown the most change:


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By the next week there were four of them (none of the other three are still on the current list), and it increased from there. With additional views and HDR and panoramas, I have got to the point where two weeks ago I took a total of 119 photos and published 56 on the web. Last week wasn't typical: because of the windy weather I didn't do the HDR step for the panoramas, but I still published 51. That included all the components that went into the panoramas. Who looks at this stuff? I do occasionally if something goes wrong, or if I want a detail of something. But there's no reason to put it on the web. So, from today, I'm omitting the component photos for the panoramas, which reduces the count to 18 and makes it a lot easier to see the interesting stuff.

Today's photos were also interesting because of the fog, which gives a rather unusual appearance:


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Flowering herbs
Topic: gardening Link here

It's surprising how many culinary herbs have pretty flowers. The latest I've seen are Vietnamese mint (left) and Tarragon:


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This is French tarragon—there's no mistaking the flavour—and according to Wikipedia, French tarragon seldom flowers. I suppose it depends on the conditions.


ALDI sells out-of-date rice
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Indian food again today, mainly to try out our new stainless steel thali plates (which proved to be disappointing; I don't think we'll use them again). Got some rice that we bought from ALDI recently, and also found some from Safeway. The Safeway rice expires at the end of December 2011, but the ALDI rice was already expired! The date code is 200711, clearly November 2007.

But how can that be? We didn't shop at ALDI until we moved here in July 2007, and rice doesn't expire that quickly. They must have given us old stock.

Then the penny dropped: stupidity. Instead of putting an unambiguous date on the package, they abbreviated 20110720 as 200711. Why do people do this? Don't they want to be able to communicate? It's also interesting to note that it still expires much earlier than the Safeway rice, which we bought earlier.


Cat and dog
Topic: animals Link here

We've had Nemo a week now, and he seems to have grown already. He's gradually making acquaintance with the cats. Lilac clarified her stance when he was too pushy, and he learnt what claws are, but clearly he's still trying:


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Sunday, 6 June 2010 Dereel Images for 6 June 2010
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20 years of UNIX on the desktop
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

20 years ago I set up Tandem Computers' new European UNIX Technical Support department, and we needed computers. Other Tandem employees used PCs with Microsoft, but clearly that wouldn't do for our department. What should we buy? Rhod Davies wanted SPARCstations, but we didn't have the budget for them, and in the end we bought some Intel 80386-based machines running at 20 MHz, I forget whether 8 or 16 MB memory, 300 MB SCSI disk, QIC-150 tape units, 20" NEC 5D monitors with 1024x768 resolution, WD 8003 Ethernet cards, and Interactive UNIX System V/386. Tandem made its own 80386 machines, but for some reason we went outside, probably because of the case requirements.

I won't say that the things worked perfectly. Installation (from floppy!) was a pain, and the network was glacially slow—ftp speeds of about 30 kB/s across 10 Mb/s Cheapernet. But we got it up and running quickly, and found ways to get most things done.

A couple of years later, the free BSD UNIX versions came out, and I got onto the bandwagon. And since then, things have just been evolution (not necessarily progress), as my recent discovery of a UUCP-related function in my /.bashrc shows. Initially I had a second computer running Microsoft, but in the course of time it became more and more painful, and in the end I stopped using it at all. People have always said “UNIX on the desktop will never work”, but it has for me. The real issue is commercial, not technical: computer software needs a marketing machine to reach the masses. Microsoft has one. Apple has one (and proves that you can even put UNIX under the desktop on a mass-marketed machine, though admittedly they do their best to hide it). Even Linux has marketing machines in various forms. But Microsoft shows most clearly that the success of a computing platform is market-driven, not technology-driven.


FreeBSD: the pain continues
Topic: technology Link here

Things continue to evolve. Over the last week I've been rebuilding Yvonne's computer, lagoon, with the latest version of FreeBSD, and on the whole things didn't go too badly. Finished installing the ports today and tried to fire it up under X. Things went badly. I've seen this before, but last time I gave up. This time I continued.

The issue is still that the X server requires HAL to work. It has it as a dependency in /usr/ports/x11-servers/xorg-server/Makefile, but to run it also needs to start hald, and it doesn't. It also doesn't document the fact. But I heard on IRC that it was needed, so I tried:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) ~ 132 -> hald
=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) ~ 133 ->

No change. X still started without keyboard or mouse. Checking showed that hald had exited immediately with completion status 1, but without any message anywhere I could see (I forgot to check /var/log/Xorg.0.log, however). So tried:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) ~ 133 -> /usr/local/etc/rc.d/hald start
Cannot 'start' hald. Set hald_enable to YES in /etc/rc.conf or use 'onestart' instead of 'start'.
=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) ~ 134 -> /usr/local/etc/rc.d/hald onestart
/usr/local/etc/rc.d/hald: WARNING: $dbus_enable is not set properly - see rc.conf(5).

To its credit, it did tell me why it wouldn't start the first time—other packages don't do so, and again you think you have started the service when in fact you haven't. And after that, things appear to work. So I now have this addition to /etc/rc.conf:

--- rc.conf.local       2010/06/06 07:27:23     1.23
+++ rc.conf.local       2010/06/06 08:11:59
@@ -57,3 +57,8 @@
 ifconfig_re0=$HOSTIP
 ifconfig_fxp0=$HOSTIP
 ifconfig_vr0=$HOSTIP
+
+# Work around terminal breakage in the X installation.  X requires
+# hald and dbus, but it doesn't configure it to start.
+hald_enable=YES
+dbus_enable=YES

This is another nail in the coffin of FreeBSD. What new user is going to install it if he can't even work out how to start X? On the same hardware, Ubuntu installs and works out of the box. There's a certain “submit patches” mentality in the FreeBSD project, and it's lethal. Ubuntu is nice and comfortable for people who want what it provides; once you get outside that area, it becomes more difficult. Somehow that's preferable to gratuitous changes that mean that even people like myself with decades of experience can't get the bloody thing to start.


Photo workflow: difference of approach
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Reading HDR: An Introduction to High Dynamic Range Photography by Jack Howard today. I was looking for some advice on how many images I should take, and at what exposure intervals, but all I got was advice on how to set the exposure compensation. Then I looked into chapter 5 and read:

Copy the LDR source image series to your computer using your normal file transfer workflow and put the files in your normal photo storage architecture, and keep the folder window open.

I suppose that's the problem I have: I had to read it a couple of times. This word “workflow”: what does it really mean? I understand it to mean the sequence of steps needed to produce a result, but in photography it seems to be taking on a meaning of its own. Or does it really take more than one operation to copy files to the computer? And what's an “architecture”? It looks like he means “storage hierarchy”.

In any case, he's jumping to conclusions, at least as far as I'm concerned. On the one hand, he says “using your normal file transfer workflow”, but then he talks about some “folder window”. I have a script that copies the files in, creating any necessary directories as it goes, and resets the modification timestamps to the time of creation. No “folder windows” involved. I've tried to think how I would rephrase the statement, but the more I try, the less it becomes:

Copy the images from the camera to the computer.

Is it even worth saying that? He carries on with:

It's up to you whether to move or copy your LDR source images to a new folder outside of your normal photo archiving architecture. The HDR generation and HDR processing functions are non-destructive in relation to the source files,...

So why not combine the two? Why copy twice? And this mention of “non-destructive” is probably necessary, given the current state of the art, but it still sends a shiver down my spine.

The issue he mentions is serious, and he comes up with a reasonable file naming strategy within the limitations of point-and-click. The real issue is that it's so far from the way I do my work that it's difficult to relate.

I'm still rethinking my own current structures, which is one of the reasons why I read this stuff. But my approach is completely different:

There are more steps before the photos end up on the web, of course, but that's the basis of the normal photo processing. But, as Jack Howard says, HDR requires more. Each final HDR image has at least two LDR component images. Where do I put them? How do I identify them?

Currently I'm only doing this for the house photos, where I use yet another script to convert files based on the chronological order of their modification timestamps. There's an input file housephoto-notes, which contains stuff like this:

# Photos of Kleins Road property:
# 6 shot panorama, MANUAL EXPOSURE from sprinkler S of SE bed, 9 mm
3 to-house-1+0EV        N corner of SE verandah
1 to-house-1+1EV
1 to-house-1-1EV
3 to-house-2+0EV        N post of new verandah
1 to-house-2+1EV
1 to-house-2-1EV
3 to-house-3+0EV        SE corner of garden bed
1 to-house-3+1EV
1 to-house-3-1EV

The first column is a work in progress: it's intended to be a score to apply to the interest value of the photo, but so far I haven't got round to evaluating it. The second name is the name to give to the image, and the third, if present, is just a comment for me. Clearly this represents three images of each location, exposed with normal exposure, +1 EV exposure compensation and -1 EV exposure compensation. The sequence and the intervals are dictated by my camera, which can't do more than 1 EV either way.

By contrast, Howard advocates storing each image in its own directory, and giving it names (in the case of the first of the three HDR images implied above) of to-house-P6057028.JPG, to-house-P6057029.JPG and to-house-P6057030.JPG. This says nothing about the relative exposure, and I can't imagine how painful it must be to do all that in a point-and-click environment. He does state “There's a lot of file mapping and folder navigation involved in this process”.

My script converts this into this part of a makejpeg file:

orig/P6057028.JPG to-house-1+1EV.jpeg 0 1
orig/P6057029.JPG to-house-1-1EV.jpeg 0 1
orig/P6057031.JPG to-house-2+1EV.jpeg 0 1
orig/P6057032.JPG to-house-2-1EV.jpeg 0 1
orig/P6057034.JPG to-house-3+1EV.jpeg 0 1
orig/P6057035.JPG to-house-3-1EV.jpeg 0 1

In my current processing, I don't use the +0EV files: my assertion (which I tried in vain to confirm or deny from Howard's book) was that 2 EV exposure difference is close enough. Certainly the more photos you use, the more chance there is for the subject to move and cause visible blur. I overexpose all of them by close to +1 EV, so these images are really 0EV, 1EV and 2EV from a “normal” exposure. I currently move the sources for the +0EV to a subdirectory orig/0EV. That's why the makejpeg fragment doesn't contain any reference to them.

Finally I run the HDR script, which usually gets invoked from yet another script, but typically like this:

HDR to-house-1.jpeg to-house-1*EV*

That creates the HDR image to-house-1.jpeg. After that, the images are no longer important, and get put in a subdirectory Components.

This still has some rough edges, but it works relatively well. In particular, it requires very little attention on my part. It takes a while, of course, but it's the computer doing the work, not me.


Monday, 7 June 2010 Dereel
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X and HAL don't mix
Topic: technology Link here

So yesterday I finally found out how to start HAL and confirmed that X worked with it. But that was running as root and with twm as window manager. Running it as yvonne and using fvwm2 was a whole different matter: the screen was completely corrupted, and none of the mouse menus worked. Tried various combinations and found that either non-root or fvwm2 were enough to make the thing go crazy.

Finally found a build parameter WITHOUT_HAL for x11-servers/xorg-server. Set that (via make config), rebuilt the server, and it ran. There are still loose ends, and I'm writing up the procedure for next time, something I've been procrastinating on for nearly 7 years. So it's still not finished.

In fact, it proved that this problem wasn't related to HAL. The second problem seems to be a bug in the Radeon driver, and it's intermittent. The workaround I chose involves disabling DRI, but there may be others.


Panoramic hardware, yet again
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I'm still pondering what to do with panorama mount hardware. The criteria I stated last month are still valid, I think. And you can achieve them all with home-made equipment, up to a point. The issues with home-made brackets such as the “Nodal Samurai” and the wooden head are mainly flexibility and configurability.

In particular, I want something that will allow me to pan in a horizontal plane. Traditional pan and tilt heads swivel on the vertical axis of the tripod, which is only completely vertical when the tripod is mounted on a plane, or when the lengths of the tripod legs are adjusted. At the moment I do the latter, but it's painful, made even more painful by the fact that adjusting any leg affects the level in two directions, since there are only 3 legs. Ideally I could mount my pan and tilt head on top of a ball head, but of course the threads are different, and I'd be concerned about stability.

Went looking Yet Again for this particular piece of hardware. In the process, took a look at what Adorama have to offer. In the past I've bought my photo equipment from B&H, because their web site isn't as painful. For some reason, the Adorama web pages seem to cause the X server to use incredible amounts of CPU time, even when they're not doing some silly animation. But they have quite a selection of QTVR Panoramic & Object Equipment. QTVR? Another example of the emphasis on the code rather than on the data. Who cares how you process the image? The hardware is related to the raw images, not the final result. But it seems modern to concentrate on the process rather than the results.

I have already mentioned the very cheap LensPen rotators. Adorama have their own version, the Adorama Panamatic PMTC-1, for about the same price. From the reviews, it appears that it's made out of plastic, and the reviews were all very negative, particularly with regards to stability. And that's with the camera mounted directly on top. Put a panorama bracket on it, and the offset weight will probably break the thing altogether.

Then there's a surprisingly cheap (for the manufacturer) Manfrotto Basic QTVR Panorama Head Adapter for only $50. Surprise! According to the reviews, it doesn't seem to do anything. I wonder what the purpose is.

There are still others that I need to investigate. A somewhat orthogonal item (in multiple senses) is the Stroboframe Vertaflip PHD. It's also called a rotator, but it just switches the camera between horizontal and vertical orientation while maintaining the lens axis—one of the criteria I mentioned last month, and one that nothing so far has fulfilled. Looking at the construction, it's clear that it can only maintain the axis in these two positions, but that's enough. Also from the construction, the camera needs to fit one of its preconceived ideas of distance between base plate and lens axis. But it gets good reviews, and it's not very expensive, so it looks like a good choice.


Tuesday, 8 June 2010 Dereel Images for 8 June 2010
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X under FreeBSD: finally
Topic: technology Link here

Now that I have X running on lagoon, put the final touches on the configuration and moved it to Yvonne's office. Turned on. Same screen corruption as before: windows only partially rendered, the text at the top repeated, first in mutilated form, then correctly, and lots of black. The window manager menus appeared only as text and didn't go away again. Back to my office. By some random method, involving starting with different configuration files and as different users, got it working again. Back to Yvonne's office. The same method didn't work either. What a pain!

Gave it up to work on something else, but did mention it on IRC. Callum Gibson came up with a bug report which described similar problems, including a workaround: disable DRI. Tried that and Bingo! it worked. I suppose I should tone down my accusations about the quality of the FreeBSD X implementation. It occurs to me that, contrary to my recollection, I had never run X on this motherboard before—it's the one I bought in Melbourne last month, and it has an on-board chipset. And X has always had problems with certain drivers. That doesn't forgive the port for not configuring HAL when it has built a server that requires it, however.

Another version of this report included comments, including the suggestion to use one of these options in the config file:

    Option "AGPMode" "4"
    Option "BusMode" "PCI"

I'll try that some time, but at the moment I'm just so happy to have the machine working again. So is Yvonne, who had also decided that GNOME wasn't her thing.


New lawnmower
Topic: general Link here

The push mower I got in the spring has one serious disadvantage: it's a fair amount of work to push it, so I don't. The grass is getting longer and longer. Yvonne has offered to do it instead—but only if we buy a new ride-on mower. So we're looking for a new (well, seriously second-hand) one. Into town to look at a number of them—another useful thing about the GPS navigator is that it can solve the travelling salesman problem. We had five different places to visit, including Gays Hardware, and it calculated what could have been the optimum itinerary, better than Google Maps, which won't even let me enter the itinerary correctly: in Howitt St I had to turn right, but Google Maps doesn't only not let me, it takes me to the junction of Gillies St and has me do a U turn where I'm not allowed.

That was the good part. I had set the itinerary preferences “shortest”, and because we live on a dirt road, we can't exclude them. As a result it took us down a little dirt road that we decided not to follow. The recalculated route through Sebastopol was so inaccurate that I couldn't follow it, and I took a couple of wrong turns as a result. I think it's essential to use the 3D view for this kind of terrain: it shows directions rather than “left” or “right” where the terms don't make any sense.

The first stop was at Westag, who are really a dealer in earth moving machinery. There we saw a Greenfield mower that was really out of our price range—$2200—but it seemed worth taking a look anyway. The interesting information was that this unit is capable of handling high grass and bracken fern. Then on via Gays to Hendersons, whose address (“corner of Mair and Princes St”) our GPS navigator couldn't find. They showed us an older Greenfield unit for only $1200—but it looked the part, and although it seems to run well, it's probably a little too old and knocked around.

Next to Torquepower, where they had a Rover Rancher for $1500 with a 90 day warranty. It didn't look bad, but like our old mower, it had a deep tear in the (plastic) covering for the seat, and Yvonne wanted to have it fixed. André (or is that Andr'e?) told us that it was just as good at cutting high grass and bracken as the Greenfield, and the cutter housing is made out of steel, while the Greenfield's housing is made of aluminium. That sounds worse, until you run into a stump or something. Then you have the choice of replacing the Greenfield housing or knocking the dents out of the Rover housing.

On, through roads that are not supposed to be through roads, to Ballarat Mowers (“on the corner of Norman St and Creswick Road”). The navigator found this junction, but there's nothing there. In fact they're on Creswick Road about 100 m north of the junction, but by the time we found that, we'd been across the junction and had to turn around. They had two mowers there, for $1000 and $1500. Both looked in surprisingly good condition, but Darren told me that the cheaper one probably wouldn't handle our terrain. The other is a McCullough, and only 3 years old. Why is it so cheap? It has a manual gearbox, while all the others have automatic, but that in itself isn't necessarily a problem. It also has a 42" (about 1.07 m) wide cutter. In general it looks like the obvious choice, but I can't understand why it's so cheap. Back home to consider whether to buy the Rover or the Mccullough.


Do-it-yourself panorama hardware
Topic: photography, general Link here

At Gays I wanted to see what off-the-shelf hardware is available for use in building panorama brackets. They have some nice, sturdy L brackets, which look like they would do the trick, and it seems that the kind of screw used for tripod mounting is easy to find. These are 3/8" screws, the kind used on tripods, but the ¼" screws they also had exactly fitted my Nikon “Coolpix” L1.


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It's interesting to note in passing that these brackets don't come close to the low prices of the “Nodal Samurai”, some value of $2.50: they're at least $7 each. But the real question now is how to put them together.


Chrome/Chromium: first impressions
Topic: technology Link here

Between working on the other problems, also managed to get Google Chrome to finally compile. The port calls itself “Chromium”, but it installs an executable called chrome. It only runs on lagoon at the moment: it depends on too many newer versions of software already installed on dereel. And despite that, it manages to render photos on dereel:0.1 faster than the local firefox. Certainly an interesting thing.

On the other hand, configuration is strange. There seems to be no way to get rid of tabs; I'd have to see how annoying that is. Certainly it compensates for one of my main objections to tabs, the limited number you can have before the title texts become so truncated that they're completely useless. chrome doesn't seem to have much of a solution for that (though an “empty” window shows an overview of the current tabs). But it evens the playing field by making the icons just as bad. Here icons from three pages displayed by firefox and chrome:

 
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I'd certainly need to fix that. Also, it seems much less configurable than firefox. In particular, I haven't found any way to set a proxy. The corresponding setting in the configuration menu tries to access a Google web page—not an easy thing to do on a system with no direct connect to the Internet and without a proxy. To be investigated.


SBS reception: almost useless
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

My ongoing problems receiving SBS TV are getting worse: reception is now impossibly bad, and rebooting no longer makes any difference. What's causing it? Our antenna points straight into some conifers, so it would be understandable if all reception were bad, but I don't have the same problems with other stations. For the moment it looks as if we no longer have SBS. Normally that would be quite a problem, since it's one of our favourite broadcasters, but at the moment there seems to be some football competition going on, so they're no longer broadcasting the kind of thing we want to see.


Nemo panics
Topic: animals, multimedia, technology Link here

Nemo is growing fast, and he's also getting more active. In the evening he ran around behind our armchairs while we were trying to watch TV, and got himself tangled in USB cables. By the time we had him disentangled, he had disconnected the sensor for the remote control for teevee. We watched the film without it—I can control the display from the keyboard as well—but when we finished the film, the computer paniced:

current process         = 900 (lircd)
panic: page fault
#6  0xc0a9306b in calltrap () at /usr/src/sys/i386/i386/exception.s:159
#7  0xc07d07a0 in clear_selinfo_list (td=0xc4c01230) at /usr/src/sys/kern/sys_generic.c:1065
#8  0xc07d289c in kern_select (td=0xc4c01230, nd=8, fd_in=0xbfbfed34, fd_ou=0x0, fd_ex=0x0, tvp=0x0)
    at /usr/src/sys/kern/sys_generic.c:794
#9  0xc07d2a7e in select (td=0xc4c01230, uap=0xe6c55cfc) at /usr/src/sys/kern/sys_generic.c:663

That looks as if lircd is trying to talk to the now very remote control sensor. Rebooted and removed the last film—before background fsck had finished. Another panic!

dev = ad8s1d, block = 1, fs = /spool
panic: ffs_blkfree: freeing free block
#3  0xc098be3d in ffs_blkfree (ump=0xc4c9dc00, fs=0xc4b7e000, devvp=0xc4c36228, bno=1, size=16384, inum=6)
    at /usr/src/sys/ufs/ffs/ffs_alloc.c:1895
#4  0xc099f518 in indir_trunc (freeblks=0xc563ea00, dbn=1507022976, level=0, lbn=61001740, countp=0xe4a3ac4c)
    at /usr/src/sys/ufs/ffs/ffs_softdep.c:2899
#5  0xc099f4d7 in indir_trunc (freeblks=0xc563ea00, dbn=1504279040, level=1, lbn=58722316, countp=0xe4a3ac4c)
    at /usr/src/sys/ufs/ffs/ffs_softdep.c:2895
#6  0xc099f4d7 in indir_trunc (freeblks=0xc563ea00, dbn=1504279008, level=2, lbn=4196364, countp=0xe4a3ac4c)
    at /usr/src/sys/ufs/ffs/ffs_softdep.c:2895
#7  0xc099f7e8 in handle_workitem_freeblocks (freeblks=0xc563ea00, flags=0) at /usr/src/sys/ufs/ffs/ffs_softdep.c:2749

That shouldn't happen. But that's FreeBSD 7.1, so not worth worrying about too much.

On the next reboot, the system decided not to initialize the network card correctly. That's a recurring problem with this machine, only right now it was particularly annoying. The three-finger salute brought the usual “syncing buffers” dialogue—but it didn't stop! Probably this, too, was due to fsck. After 5 minutes, pressed the reset button—and the machine didn't reboot at all! Powered down, up, and finally had the machine running, after only about 30 minutes. GROWL!


Wednesday, 9 June 2010 Dereel Images for 9 June 2010
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Chromium/chrome: proxy configuration
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Finally put lagoon on a direct connection to the Internet and found the proxy configuration page for Chromium. It seems that it really doesn't have any way to configure the proxy from the browser. Presumably this is because of the beta status, but it's still pretty useless. It seems that it understands GNOME and KDE proxy settings, but for other environments it refers to non-existent man pages:

For other desktop environments, Chromium's proxy settings can be configured using command-line flags or environment variables. These are documented on the man page (man google-chrome or man chromium-browser).

But where are the man pages?

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 4 -> man google-chrome
No manual entry for google-chrome
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 5 -> man chromium-browser
No manual entry for chromium-browser
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 6 -> locate google-chrome
/src/Photos/grog/20080916/google-chrome-2.gif
/src/Photos/grog/20080916/google-chrome-3.gif
/src/Photos/grog/20080916/google-chrome.gif
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 7 -> locate chromium-browser
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypd) ~ 8 ->

The files found are screen shots of my first attempt. No man page. “Documentation” that refers to the non-existent man pages. That's supposed to be beta? I wouldn't even call it alpha. Fortunately others have come before me, in general with the same negative impression, but some document what to do about it. Some other time.


Emacs pain
Topic: technology Link here

One of the things I do in the source of these pages is to write out some characters in HTML entity form so they don't confuse Emacs' syntax highlighting or HTML's strange view of the world. One of those is the " character, used typically for quoting, but also as the abbreviation for inch. In the latter case, I write &#34; instead. So wouldn't it be nice to use a variant of quoted-insert to do it automatically?

The source of quoted-insert is available, of course. The help text links directly to it. But how do I convert a character into a string representation of its decimal value? It took me and others on IRC half an hour to find out. Emacs has copious documentation, but it's not easy to search, and the implicit conversions are not “intuitive”, not even after you've been using Emacs for 30 years. The answer: number-to-string. A character is a number, so it makes sense—after you've thought about it for a while. The rest was simple:

;; Like quoted-insert except that the inserted code is a valid HTML entity.
(defun html-quoted-insert (arg)
  (interactive "*p")
  (let* ((char (let (translation-table-for-input input-method-function)
                 (if (or (not overwrite-mode)
                         (eq overwrite-mode 'overwrite-mode-binary))
                     (read-quoted-char)
                   (read-char)))))
    ;; Assume character codes 0240 - 0377 stand for characters in some
    ;; single-byte character set, and convert them to Emacs
    ;; characters.
    (if (and enable-multibyte-characters
             (>= char ?\240)
             (<= char ?\377))
        (setq char (unibyte-char-to-multibyte char)))
    (if (> arg 0)
        (if (eq overwrite-mode 'overwrite-mode-binary)
            (delete-char arg)))
    (while (> arg 0)
      (insert "&#" (number-to-string char) ";")
      (setq arg (1- arg)))))

That's not the only issue I had with Emacs today. Yvonne is still happy with her new machine, but she had a particularly irritating problem: Emacs stopped working. Further investigation showed that it was, in fact, working, just at a snail's pace: a single kill-line could use up to 30 seconds of CPU time. Further investigation showed that it had something to do with flyspell mode. But why? Why don't I find anything like this on the web? Yvonne doesn't like flyspell anyway, so it's not a particularly serious problem for her, but I use it all the time.


More web breakage
Topic: technology Link here

I'm getting more and more 404 errors of the form:

Date: Wed,  9 Jun 2010 05:09:10 +1000 (EST)
Subject: FAILURE: /grog/documentation/pus/porting_unix_software/typeref.pdf <- http://www.lemis.com/index.html

Referrer:       http://www.lemis.com/index.html
Referenced URL: http://www.lemis.com/grog/documentation/pus/porting_unix_software/typeref.pdf
Remote host:    ec2-75-101-200-147.compute-1.amazonaws.com
Remote IP:      75.101.200.147

It's not clear how it returned that referrer—it doesn't exist—but the correct URL is http://lemis.com/grog/Documentation/PUS/porting_unix_software/typeref.pdf. Something, probably a broken scraper, has downshifted the entire URL. There are enough of these messages, all of which I have to read, that I decided to adapt the 404 document to tailor the message to this particular requestor.


Greenhouse plans
Topic: gardening Link here

Received the plans for my greenhouse today, or at least most of them. The original was apparently on a single A2 sheet, and Grant had copied them onto A4, unfortunately missing some of the details. Tried to stitch them together, but for that you need some kind of overlap. At least I have a photo of what the finished result should look like. It's not that different from what I have:


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It's interesting to note that the greenhouse was not made by Christie garden products , but by a company called H E Gardner. Also the one in the illustration doesn't have the corner braces, and it does have arch gussets on every rafter, as I had suspected. That makes a total of 19 arch gussets, and I only have 5. How important are they? More studying needed.


New lawn mower: decisions
Topic: gardening, general Link here

In the end I let Yvonne decide which lawnmower to buy, and as I suspected, she decided on the McCullough MC17542ST lawnmower. I suspect that one of the main reasons was that the seat is in good condition. Yvonne in to pick it up. Based on our previous fun loading mowers onto the trailer, she borrowed some ramps from the shop, so we had no problems there. Did a little trial mowing after unloading it: it's a lot more powerful than our old Rover, and it does a smoother job of mowing too. So far I'm happy. For some reason, all the hits we found on the web are in German, but one of them is a complete (English) instruction manual.


Barricade against Nemo
Topic: animals Link here

After yesterday's problems with Nemo and the TV computer, Yvonne set up a barricade:


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So far it seems to have worked.


Thursday, 10 June 2010 Dereel Images for 10 June 2010
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New mower: first experiences
Topic: gardening Link here

Out to mow the lawn with the new mower today. It did quite a good job until I ran into some wire mesh hidden in the grass, which caused it to stop dead. And the knob on the attachment clutch lever (as the instructions call it; the lever that engages the cutter) was gone.

Spent a few anxious moments extricating the mower from the mesh, which wasn't as difficult as I thought, and the mower seemed none the worse for it—it stopped so suddenly that I have the feeling some safety mechanism had stopped it. But the knob was nowhere to be found. How do you find something like that in long grass? And of course there's no reason to believe that it had fallen off exactly there; it could have come unscrewed and fallen off anywhere along the way. Searched, but didn't find it. And of course I couldn't continue mowing, because that would almost certainly destroy the knob if it's still there.


More pain from amazonaws
Topic: technology Link here

My 404 document modifications seem to be only half the solution to the email problem. amazonaws, which proves to be part of Amazon.com, continued to request downshifted URLs all day. You'd think that Amazon wouldn't use such broken software. Still, it's time to stop sending me mail if it's them. Also found a surprising number of hits for photo pages, many of them invalid:

On 9 June 2010 you had a total of 59452 HTML hits.
Top 30 hits:
   1083 /grog/photos/photos.php
   1073 /grog/Albums
   1047 /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985
    573 /grog/photos
    559 /grog/photography
    529 /grog/photos/Photos.php?size=2&dirdate=20100527
    527 /grog/photos/Photos.php?size=2&dirdate=20100526
    526 /grog/photos/Photos.php?size=2&dirdate=20100529

On a normal day I don't see /grog/photos/Photos.php in my top 30 at all, and the highest number of hits for an individual page is usually my diary with about 150 hits. And the date format is YYYYMMDD, so the URL http://lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 produces nothing useful. Even the presumed URL http://lemis.com/grog/photos/Photos.php?dirdate=19851210 or http://lemis.com/grog/photos/Photos.php?dirdate=19851210 show nothing. What's going on here? Took a look at the logs, expecting to see one system bombarding me with these invalid requests, but they were coming from all over the place:

proxy4.oz.nthu.edu.tw - - [10/Jun/2010:02:04:01 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.1" 200 15703 "http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
proxy4.oz.nthu.edu.tw - - [10/Jun/2010:02:04:03 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.1" 200 15703 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
p2158-ipad07tokaisakaetozai.aichi.ocn.ne.jp - - [10/Jun/2010:02:09:14 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.0" 200 15617 "http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
p2158-ipad07tokaisakaetozai.aichi.ocn.ne.jp - - [10/Jun/2010:02:09:16 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.0" 200 15617 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
187-5-99-114.cpece301.ipd.brasiltelecom.net.br - - [10/Jun/2010:02:09:41 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.0" 200 15617 "http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
187-5-99-114.cpece301.ipd.brasiltelecom.net.br - - [10/Jun/2010:02:09:44 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.0" 200 15617 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
host4.volti.com - - [10/Jun/2010:02:10:05 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.1" 200 15666 "http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"
host4.volti.com - - [10/Jun/2010:02:10:06 +1000] "GET /grog/photos/photos.php?startdate=10121985&enddate=10121985 HTTP/1.1" 200 15666 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)"

About the only consistent thing I could find is that they came in pairs, and that the first one is a referral from http://www.lemis.com/grog/photos/photos.php. That's quite possible: that page allows you to type in start and end dates. But why should 511 people around the world type in the same invalid start and end dates? I'm baffled.


Strange iostat values
Topic: technology Link here

While doing something relatively boring, ran iostat. How does it get these values?

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp7) ~ 18 -> iostat
      tty             ad0              ad4              ad8             cpu
 tin tout  KB/t tps  MB/s   KB/t tps  MB/s   KB/t tps  MB/s  us ni sy in id
  25 -193 16.30   3  0.05   8.52  30  0.25   7.93  62  0.48  -19 -1 -3 -2 124

Solving the SBS problem
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Over to Chris' place in the afternoon to see how cvr2 handled SBS reception there. Good, it seems, though I couldn't get mplayer to display anything on the screen. The symptoms look similar to what happened with zaphod trying to run xv last month. Is there something strange about the way the X server is set up in Ubuntu?

In any case, that raises another problem: it's our antenna system, and what do we do about it? The clear culprit must be the trees to the west of the house, as I had already noted when we installed the antenna. Looks like we're going to have to move the antenna somewhere else.


Friday, 11 June 2010 Dereel Images for 11 June 2010
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Network cabling confusion
Topic: technology Link here

Over to Chris' place today to pick up cvr2. It was behind her TV, connected to the antenna, but not to the network. There's an RJ45 wall socket there, but the other end wasn't connected:


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But which way were the wall sockets wired? T568A or T568B? It's pretty straightforward: On T568A, the green wires are at one end, on T568B it's the orange ones. Took a look and found:


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On the face of it, that means that they're T568A. But the rest doesn't match. The first wire should be green/white, and green/white is in second place. Next should come orange/white and then blue, but we get blue/white in fourth position. Went looking, but didn't find anything beyond Peter Jeremy's comment that many sockets don't translate 1 to 1 to the connector; this makes the wiring “easier”, once you know what it should be. Wouldn't pin number markings help? But no, there are none. There was something stuck on the base under the wires, which would clearly help the person who installed it, but now the wires obscure it. Chris somehow came to the conclusion that the pinout was the same as on the patch panel, but that's clearly not the case. It does seem, though, that all these connectors resequence the pins. She also had a wall socket insert from ALDI which conveniently showed the correct connections on the side, where you can still see them when it has been wired up. And it has a pinout corresponding to the patch panel:


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In the end, Chris managed to decipher the markings under the wires and came to the conclusion that it must be T568A. Wired up the patch panel accordingly—how much easier this is than RJ45 plugs!—and it worked, modulo the laptop trying to steal the IP address of another system. Yet another example of how just a little more documentation would save a lot of work. And, for future reference, the pinouts, looking from these positions:


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Existing wall socket             ALDI socket
Left       right       Left       right
7       2       3       5
8       1       6       4
6       3       7       1
4       5       8       2

The patch panel, oriented as shown, has the sequence 8, 7, 6, 3, 2, 1, 4, 5, which is effectively the ALDI pinout upside-down.


Flash: double failure?
Topic: photography Link here

Taking photos of small things like the Ethernet hardware isn't easy, and it wasn't helped by problems with my studio flash system. Normally I connect a sync cable to one of them and let the other one fire as a slave. But today it didn't:


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Did a bit of investigation, and the second unit really wasn't flashing. Why not? There's no way to turn slave flash off, so it can't be that. Position? Damage? Tried flashing directly at the sensor with my Mecablitz, and it really didn't react, so it's not position. Connected the sync cable to that flash unit, and the other one didn't slave flash either. In the end I had to use my ring flash, which shows some problems too.

But why have both units stopped slave flashing? It seems unlikely that both would fail in the same way at the same time. And just as I was finishing, one of them did fire in response to another flash. No idea why.


SBS reception problems: solved?
Topic: multimedia Link here

So I recorded an SBS programme at Chris' place last night, and it seemed to be OK, though there were a couple of minor dropouts. Must be the antenna, then. Brought it back here, and it recorded another one. Perfect!

What's wrong here? Yesterday I tried recording something and got nothing but damage. And now it's working again? I'm beginning to wonder if there's something in the antenna cabling. At least it means that I shouldn't call in an antenna man right now.


Saturday, 12 June 2010 Dereel Images for 12 June 2010
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HDR images: still more experiments
Topic: photography Link here

Today was house photo day again. It was sunny and there was almost no wind, so tried a few more experiments with the HDR photos of the garden. In the past I've only done some in HDR, those that looked bad without it. Tried a few more today. The difference in the shadow detail in this view is clear (left normal photo taken on 1 May 2010, right taken today and processed as HDR):


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But should it be 3 or 5 photos? Did a comparison with the photo to the verandah, which has quite a dark area in the background to the right. The 5 exposure version (right) handles that much better. On the other hand, it looks a little more washed out. More experimentation needed.


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On the positive side, tried shooting directly into the sun (difficult to avoid at this time of the year), and despite the el-cheapo polarizing filter (which allegedly causes lots of flare), the results were quite acceptable:


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Slave flash problems solved
Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with the studio flash units today to try to understand why they no longer respond to external flashes. Found the reason: the modeling lights overload the sensors. If I turn the modeling lights off or shade the sensor, it works fine. Presumably that's the result of repositioning the umbrellas. Now I need to think of what I can put in front of the sensors to shade them.


Salsa verde (briefly) revisited, civet de lapin à l'estragon
Topic: food and drink Link here

We were planning enchiladas verdes for dinner this evening, at least partially to use the green tomatoes left over. Then I found my recipe (if that's the word) from last year, where I wrote:

The problem: the “salsa” is very runny. I need to think more about where I go from here.

So clearly nothing to burden Chris with. We'll look at that some other time. Instead went looking for a recipe for civet de lapin à l'estragon, an idea we got from a film we're watching on TV at the moment. Found one recipe that looked OK, and Yvonne cooked that. Amusingly, it calls itself civet de lapin à la tomate, but in fact it has both tarragon and tomato in it. But why are all these web recipes so illegible?


Yet Another Power Failure
Topic: general Link here

Short power failure just before midnight.


Sunday, 13 June 2010 Dereel Images for 13 June 2010
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UPS: It works better if you plug it in
Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday's power failure was very brief, but for some reason lagoon restarted—strange, considering that I now once again have UPSs for each machine. But it seems you have to plug them in for them to work, and in the course of moving machines around, I had connected lagoon to the wrong power cable. Doh!

That wasn't the only issue: Yvonne reported that her mailbox was read-only—again!. But clearly the reason couldn't be the same. Tried with my mailbox, but that worked. But ktrace told me:

  2578 mutt     NAMI  "/home/grog/Mail/postponed"
  2578 mutt     RET   open 4
  2578 mutt     CALL  sigprocmask(SIG_BLOCK,0x80cd67c,0)
  2578 mutt     RET   sigprocmask 0
  2578 mutt     CALL  flock(0x4,LOCK_SH|LOCK_NB)
  2578 mutt     RET   flock -1 errno 45 Operation not supported

That's all over NFS, and for some reason rpc.lockd wasn't running. Why? A bit late to find out now. Did what I hate to do and rebooted the machine, and then it worked. That still leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.


Enchiladas verdes
Topic: food and drink Link here

Finally got round to preparing the enchiladas verdes, involving quite a bit of research and even more work. Much of the work comes from the fact that most recipes are difficult to read, especially when your hands are covered in masa. In addition, I'm still having difficulties with making tortillas, and ended up messing up three of them, accompanied by much cursing.

There are two different ways to make the enchiladas: fried or baked in the oven. I chose the latter and ended up with something that looked like cannelloni. As usual, the quantities are an issue. One recipe wanted 150 g of green tomatoes for the quantities I was making, and another wanted 500 g. I opted for the latter, since I had enough. The Spanish recipes I found also all wanted lettuce in the sauce, but we didn't have any. Next time, maybe.

The result? Not bad. I have no idea how authentic they are, but they tasted better than the Tex-Mex fast food that I know.


Monday, 14 June 2010 Dereel
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Understanding dircproxy
Topic: technology Link here

My satellite connection has been relatively stable over the last few days—the last dropout was on 10 June 2010—but I can't expect it to stay that way. And every time I have a dropout, my IRC connections fail, and due to a bug in ERC, they don't automatically reconnect. Another problem with ERC is that logging currently doesn't work for me either. It looks as if dircproxy could be the answer to both of those things. Read what little documentation there is and set up an entry in ~/.dircproxyrc:

connection {
    password "0yQAVGRreDrUE"   # empty
    server "irc.sample.org"
    join "#secret"
}

The #secret channel doesn't have a password, but dircproxy wouldn't start without a password entry, so I encrypted a blank password. Started ircII for a test, entered name and blank password. What I got wasn't quite what I expected:

*** Connecting to port 31337 of server localhost
-dircproxy- Looking up your hostname...
-dircproxy- Got your hostname.
*** Closing Link: grog[grog@localhost] (Login Timeout)
*** Connection closed from localhost: Remote end closed connection
*** Connecting to port 31337 of server localhost
-dircproxy- Looking up your hostname...
-dircproxy- Got your hostname.
*** Closing Link: grog[grog@localhost] (Login Timeout)
*** Connection closed from localhost: Remote end closed connection
*** Unable to connect to server localhost
*** Use /SERVER to connect to a server

Wireshark showed that it was sending a PING to the server and getting a PONG back. And then nothing. After a number of tests, tried entering:

/join #secret
Please send /QUOTE PASS <password> to login
/quote pass
*** Not enough parameters (from dircproxy)

So clearly it requires a password. But the channel didn't have one. Through a lot of experimentation, discovered that the password wasn't a password at all: it's an identification for the channel. If you need a channel key, you put it on the join line:

      join "#secret secterkey"

But it seems the only way to find that out is to try it out. Why do people have to reuse terms in unexpected ways and then not document the fact?


X: other solutions for keyboard problems
Topic: technology Link here

Mail from Gheorghe Ardelean today, suggesting an alternative to hald to get the X server to recognize the keyboard:

Now I see that you got no keyboard and mouse on FreeBSD after installing. The same happened to me many times and I have never used hald to fix it. What I am doing is adding to the ServerLayout Section the following:

Option  "AllowEmptyInput" "false"

I haven't tried it, but it's worth remembering.


Finally mowing the lawn
Topic: gardening Link here

I've given up the search for the knob of the cutter lever of the lawnmower. Spent some time mowing, not helped much by the fact that the battery was flat. It seems that Darren was less than accurate in his description of the machine: he had told Yvonne that it was 3 years old, but the battery has an install-by date of September 2005. Looks like we may have to replace it after all. Apart from that, though, it does a good job, much better than the old mower.

While I was out there, Allie from Enfield Mini-diggers came to take a look at what we wanted to do to dig the pond. We've been trying off and on since January to get somebody to come and commit to doing the work, including every day last week. To our surprise, they can do the work this week—almost too little notice for us. We still haven't finalized the shape and the depths.


Walking the dog
Topic: animals Link here

Nemo is growing well. He's not quite 11 weeks old, but he clearly needs a lot of exercise. Today off into the forest for about a 2 kilometre walk to try to tire him out, the first time we've done something like that on foot for years—I think since we lived in Rosbach in the 1980s. He doesn't seem to tire, and once again was very active in the evening.


Tuesday, 15 June 2010 Dereel Images for 15 June 2010
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Do what the computer says!
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Heard from Sue Blake today. She has to contact Centrelink from time to time. What's Centrelink? Isn't it obvious? It's the Australian Social Security Department. Everybody knows that.

Recently, though, it seems they've made further efforts to confuse people. Their clientele is clearly not particularly computer literate: many are old and have no computer experience at all. But when you call on the phone, you have the ubiquitous phone menus that you have to navigate. One of the items they want to know is the pension number (they don't seem to have found a “modern” name for that). That's a real pain to enter at the best of times. You used to have to type it in via the phone keypad. I'm sure there were many mistakes there, especially with the older people. So they've made it easier: just speak it into the voice non-recognition software.

Sue doesn't sound particularly unusual, but the software didn't recognize the number. It seems to have contained the digits 0 (“oh”) and 55 (“double five”). I don't use that kind of term, but probably the majority of people do. And the software doesn't recognize it. As Sue discovered when she was finally connected to somebody vaguely human, she was doing it wrong.

Why? Are computers there to help us, or are we there to help computers? This is only one example—look at just about any big commercial web site for similar examples. My bank requires you to enter sums with two decimal places, but won't accept a comma ($ 12,345.67). Credit card numbers have four groups of four digits (1234 5678 9012 3456), but the bank requires that they be entered as 1234567890123456, thus making it much easier to make a mistake and more difficult to recognize it. This kind of arrogance is completely at variance with the Real World, and it's also not in the interests of the companies who do it. The spaces and commas are important information that allows programs to recognize when somebody may have input incorrect data. It seems that the computer programmers of the world have forgotten what their purpose is.


Rubbish collection: total obfuscation
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Received a 30 page booklet titled “Guide to Waste Collection Service” from the Golden Plains Shire in the mail today. It's apparently an annual thing, but this is the first time we have received one. It doesn't tell us about rubbish collection, just “garbage”, whatever that may be. It's not an Australian word, and the OED describes it as:

  1. The offal of an animal used for food; esp. the entrails. Rarely, the entrails of a man.
  2. Refuse in general; filth. † Also used for garble n.1
  3. fig. Chiefly in the sense of worthless or foul literary matter.

Yes, I know it's used in the USA to mean rubbish, though even there it doesn't seem to be the primary word: the Wikipedia page redirects to Waste, and it's clear that that's what they mean. You're not allowed to put offal in the garbage bin, which eliminates definition 1 above. Of course, given the content of the book, it might be a self-referential term (definition 3). But why use incorrect terms? It also comes up with a word “Hardwaste”, which isn't defined, and it isn't in the OED. Clearly they're trying to outdo Centrelink with their confusion.

It warns that collection times might change, but it doesn't tell how. For the last 3 years we have had rubbish picked up every Wednesday, and goods for recycling every second Wednesday. That doesn't seem to have changed, but they include both a calendar to stick on the fridge, with alternate weeks conveniently marked in pink and pale blue, and 12 pages of “Street Index to Collection Days” (their capitalization), which specifies collection days and a colour marker specifying the week of recycling collection—conveniently marked in green and yellow. The only description of what it means is on this page:


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My colour is yellow. What does it mean? I don't have the faintest idea. The calendar has completely different colours, as they show at the bottom of that image. Why does the council need to go to so much expense to provide unintelligible information?


cvr2 dying?
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

SBS reception seems to have been fine for the last few days, but in the evening, cvr2, my computer video recorder, froze up. Why? I found out almost by coincidence, and after I rebooted it, the SBS reception was bad again. Because of the reboot? Because I moved the antenna cable? I'll have to look more carefully tomorrow.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010 Dereel Images for 16 June 2010
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TV reception: nothing but trouble
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Took another look at cvr2 today. It wasn't encouraging: the reception quality varies, and in the course of trying things out managed to get completely useless reception on all programmes. What's causing it? I suspected the antenna cable, but replacing it didn't make things any better. The connectors? That's not a typical problem with conventional TV. About the only thing that points in a specific direction is the fact that the system froze up yesterday. So maybe something on the motherboard is dying.

Got a confirmation of that hypothesis with some strange results while trying to run mplayer: it reported an unsatisfied reference in a library (libcairo, I think), and indeed it was: instead of a normal identifier, it was just junk. That went away after a reboot, but suggested that maybe the memory was flaky. Replaced that, but there was no other improvement.

Gradually it became clear that there are two issues: one is to find and fix the problem, and the other is recording the current TV programmes. Beyond the flaky library entry, I still have no idea where the problem lies. Cloned the disk—that alone takes 3 hours—and took the machine over to Chris, where it worked. But it did that last week too, and when I brought it back it continued to work. A whole day of investigation, and I'm still not much closer to a solution.

One of the backup methods I use for cvr2 is to save a complete compressed image of the disk. There's not much on the disk apart from the recordings, and a compressed image of the 200 GB disk takes up about 1.5 GB. But only if the deleted recordings are zeroed out.

I have a little program for that. It creates a file and writes binary 0 to it until the file system is full, after which I can then delete it. But that always gives me problems under Linux, because Linux file system structures are still firmly anchored in the 20th century with signed 32 bit offsets, so the largest files you can create are 2 GB. To create larger files, you need to specify O_LARGEFILE in the open request. But that doesn't work either unless you first specify _GNU_SOURCE; otherwise the tangled mess of header files reads in the wrong one. It seems that the best way to find out what you have to do is to read /usr/include/features.h, since by default Ubuntu doesn't install man pages.

FreeBSD has had 64 bit off_t since release 1.0. When is Linux going to catch up?

Another thing that always amazes me is how long it takes Linux to delete a file:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/3) /recordings 33 -> ls -l
total 183851
-rw-r--r-- 1 root mythtv 192780857344 Jun 16 14:20 foo
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/3) /recordings 34 -> time rm foo
real    0m29.423s
user    0m0.000s
sys     0m1.112s

Bad TV reception == bad bread
Topic: food and drink, multimedia Link here

Today was also bread baking day. What does that have to do with TV? Nothing in principle, but the cupboard with cvr2 in it gets warm, about the right temperature to let the dough rise. But today it was cold, because I had moved the machine into my office. So I had to keep the dough warm some other way, in the oven. Somehow it didn't work as well: there seems to be a symbiosis not just between yeast and Lactobacillus, but also between sourdough and computers. The bread didn't rise as much, and for some reason, despite normal baking times and quantities, it was a little moister than usual—possibly that's related to the lack of rising.

I had also intended to bake my first bread with the kimchi-based sourdough starter, but in view of the general issues, decided to leave it until tomorrow.


Rubbish collection: the council's view
Topic: general, opinion Link here

A surprising amount of discussion on IRC today about the Golden Plains Shire rubbish collection documentation. Is salmon pink the new yellow? Is steel blue the new green? Or the other way around? There's some reason for doubt about this one: according to the way I interpret my calendar, our collections are in pink weeks, but the last collection was today, so in two weeks it would be 30 June 2010, a steel blue week. Are the colours of the calendar on yesterday's scan correct? Was this document put together by somebody who is colour blind? Am I colour blind? (No, I'm not).

The image of the calendar is unsharp, but that's the way it was printed. The original really looks like this:

 
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Called up the council and spoke to Helen, who didn't understand the problem: clearly yes. And maybe the colours didn't quite match, but it was close enough. So much for our theory of colour-blindedness. But she didn't do the booklet. That was Bill, and he's not in this week. Was promised a phone call on Monday.


Thursday, 17 June 2010 Dereel Images for 17 June 2010
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More power failures
Topic: general Link here

The weather has been pretty rough lately: cold, windy, rainy. Had a couple of brownouts and one very short power failure, this time short enough to do almost no harm. Things were different in Ballarat, where Yvonne had gone shopping: parts of town had had a power failure which lasted over 4 hours, and which severely disrupted her shopping.


Sourdough wheat bread
Topic: food and drink Link here

Finally got around to baking a sourdough wheat bread from my new kimchi-based starter. How do you do it? I started off with the same basic recipe as for sourdough rye: build up in three steps, in this case 150 g, 200 g and 300 g of flour. But how much water? In my sourdough “rye” (in fact, 2 parts rye, one wheat), I use 560 g of water to 1300 g of flour. The ratios are different for wheat. Looked in the cookbook that came with the Kenwood mixer. The “basic bread” recipe takes 300 ml or water to 450 g of wheat, clearly a 2:3 ratio, or 67% as much water as flour. But then, the same recipe translates into ancient measures, presumably Avoirdupois: ½ pint of water to 1 lb of wheat, not so clearly a ratio of 5:8, 62.5%. Or maybe it's intended to be American measure, in which case the ratio is 1:2 or 50%. Some help.

Tried adding water until it looked right, and found that I was right with about 330 ml of water for 656 g flour, or pretty much the 50% that I don't think the recipe really intended. Decided to add a little more, and ended up with 386 ml (59%). But as I left the dough to rise, it became clear that that was far too much liquid. Possibly it's the sourdough eating up some of the flour.

It rose at about the same rate and to the same extent as the rye starter does, though the starters aren't related (beyond the new one having been created in places where the old one has been). After 5 hours, baked for 60 minutes (the pan is only 2.2 l, about half the size of the big one I use for the rye bread). First impressions are OK. We'll try it tomorrow.


Preparing for the new pond
Topic: gardening Link here

So now it looks as if Ron from Enfield Mini-diggers will come this time next week and excavate a pond for us in front of the verandah. It's not as if the area is empty now:


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The pond will take up the area to the left (where there's currently a rosemary bush) and straight ahead (which currently appears unplanted, but in fact it contains a number of bulbs and irises). So we need to do quite a bit of work to do before he comes. Where do we put things? Spent some time looking around without coming to much conclusion beyond that we would remove the Osteospermums round the bird bath to the right, and plant some things there.

The wind has made its presence known: half the leaves are off the Sapphire Dragon tree (Paulownia kawakamii). For the first time, it's also bearing a lot of buds that should bloom in early spring:


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Chasing the TV reception problems
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

I'm still no further with my TV reception problems! Put a tuner card in a completely new machine and ran tzap to see what the signal strength was like. Result: nothing on any channel. That must be an issue with the antenna system. Pulled the plug on the antenna amplifier and replaced it, and... the machine spontaneously rebooted! I had seen this a day or two ago with the old system, but I had taken it as an indication of hardware problems. Possibly it's related to the amplifier: maybe it produces a spike on power-on.

Clearly this was getting me nowhere. No sync (“lock”) on the tuners, so I couldn't find anything. Dragged in the TV, which has been living in the music room without an antenna for a couple of years now, and connected that to the antenna—shades of 3 years ago, when we first connected things up:


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The result: the reception was about as good as it was 3 years ago. Acceptable, but not spectacularly good. But if it hasn't deteriorated, it can't be the problem. Tried jiggling around with the cables, and possibly SBS got slightly better (it was, in fact, better than the established commercial channels). On the other hand, with nothing to perform measurements, it could have been a coincidence. Plugged back into the computer, and it worked. So after all this testing, all I can confirm is that there's some intermittent problem that bites me. It's not the computer, probably not the tuners (affects all three of them in a similar manner), and so far I can't see anything wrong in the antenna cables, though everything points in that direction. Potentially it's the “mast-head” amplifier at the bottom of the mast. What a pain!


Friday, 18 June 2010 Dereel Images for 18 June 2010
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Preparing for the pond
Topic: gardening Link here

There's a lot to think about before the pond gets dug, not the least how we're going to line it. My current thought is to put in a plastic liner, but all the books I have read tell me that the material is expensive and easy to damage. The alternative would be concrete, but that could also be expensive. And I need to know before I dig, because it'll make 10 cm difference.

Then there's the irrigation, which will be fun. When I laid it, the garden was pretty empty. Since then, things have changed a lot, and it'll take some time just to find the hoses. Fortunately, it looks as if the amount of change isn't that great.

Finally, where do we put the things that we take out of the pond area? That includes both plants (two rosemary bushes, one so big that it may not survive, a dwarf Callistemon, an Iberis sempervirens which had been swallowed up by Snapdragons, and various spring bulbs and irises). That's not to be seen in isolation: we also have a number of other plants in pots on the verandah, waiting for somewhere to be planted.

Removing all the Osteospermums was an obvious first step, so did that. The first photo is before removal, and is taken from a different place. It shows the bird bath behind the Cannas.


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Took the rest over to Chris' place, where she will replant it. She suggested throwing it into the lagoon; that would completely destroy the ecosystem, I fear.


Digital TV: still no explanation
Topic: multimedia Link here

While moving things around, picked up cvr2 from Chris' place, where it had recorded a couple of programmes. Despite the better antenna system, there were still errors in the recordings, and my own ones done here don't seem to have been any worse. Also swapped our big TV with her smaller one, an advantage to both of us. Why are these big old TVs so difficult to lift? There are a couple of cutouts for lifting, but they're in the wrong place.


Animal TV: for the stupid
Topic: multimedia, animals, opinion Link here

Now that we have a new dog, we're watching various TV programmes about animals. One was an episode of Border Security: Australia's Front Line about customs sniffer dogs. Very disappointing: given that most people in Australia travel by air, they should be used to sniffer dogs. But all the details in this episode seemed wrong. Even the dogs didn't look right, and certainly weren't nearly as well trained as the customs dogs. Maybe that's why they pawed at the items instead of sitting next to them.

But why do people watch this junk? Has commercial TV eaten peoples' brains? They must know that the situations depicted are so far from reality as to be uninteresting.


Saturday, 19 June 2010 Dereel Images for 19 June 2010
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Refining the house photos
Topic: photography Link here

Gradually I'm getting into a useful routine with my weekly weekly house photos. I'm doing nearly all of them as HDR images now, with advantages. But there's one problem with HDR: since the images aren't taken at the same time, things can move, and that shows up as very noticeable blur on the resultant images. So I take 3 images offset by 1 EV, in the sequence +0EV, -1 EV and +1 EV (which my Olympus E-30 can do automatically in about 400 ms), offset the exposure by about +0.7 EV, then throw away the 0 EV image. The resultant two images are exposed at about -0.3 EV and +1.7 EV, and that seems to give good results.

The problem is with the images of the verandah, which need flash (and plenty of it). The flash fires on the first of the three images, the one that is exposed at about +0.7 EV. Clearly the flash skews these values, but the HDR software can take care of that—if the image is included in the processing. At the moment it's not, and I had to change my standard processing to fix it. That was necessary, as the second image shows:


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Preparing for the pond
Topic: gardening, general Link here

As planned, into town today to look for material for lining the pond. Bad idea. We've got so used to shops being open “all the time” that we didn't expect people to shut at midday on Saturday, and by the time we got to town, most of the shops that we wanted to visit were closed. Found some foil 4 metres wide at Bunnings for $35 per running metre. That's marginally cheaper than pre-formed ponds, but is it worth it? What about self-laid fibreglass as a liner? Fibreglass used to be a choice material for do-it-yourself projects, but it seems to be out of fashion nowadays.

We did manage to identify one of the plants we bought at Napoleons last month. It's black Ophiopogon japonicus, better known as Mondo grass:


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Then to Formosa Gardens, where we found something very similar to the grass bush that grew by our bird bath, though the appearance isn't exactly the same. The first two images are of our grass, which I called “reeds” at the time:


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It appears to be Ficinia nodosa.

While we were there, bought a Strobilanthes anisophyllus “goldfussia”, which looks like it's about to flower soon. Then on the way home stopped again at the roadside plant sale in Napoleons and bought some more plants: a Veltheimia viridifolia, some succulent that resembles a Haworthia, and a plant that looks like it'll be a tree, but which has the remains of small flowers:


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Arguably we shouldn't buy things we don't understand, but I liked the look of the last one.


Compact camera pain
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

When I'm moving around, I carry my old Nikon “Coolpix” L1 with me in case I need to take the odd photo, such as the garden plants above. I was quite happy with it before I bought my Olympus E-510, and even afterwards it took a while for me to appreciate the advantages of the Olympus.

That's long gone now, though. The most obvious problem is setting the zoom correctly: it's all done with the two buttons, and it's almost impossible to get it exactly right. But that's nothing compared to the other problems. Today I spent nearly 5 minutes trying to take photos of the labels of various plants, but I couldn't get it to focus correctly. It has this horrible habit of choosing the focus point at random, and there's no manual override. It also lies about being in focus. The result is that I didn't find out until I got home that one label I had photographed was so completely out of focus that I could barely read it:


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When I finally deciphered it, with the help of the Ashampoo optimizer, it proved to be a label for Vallisneria, which is something completely different. They had just reused the label to write something on the back, and hadn't crossed it out. What a pain!

It also has problems with flash, so fill-in tends to burn out the image (here another unidentified plant from Napoleons):


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Overlap of seasons
Topic: gardening Link here

So we're about a quarter of the way through winter. I get the feeling that the microclimate in the garden is changing; certainly many plants are still happily flowering, and the spring flowers are already appearing:


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More flash woes
Topic: photography Link here

Taking the photo of the flowers was not easy. Once again I ran into trouble with my flash units not firing as slaves. It seems to be related to the position of the umbrella: if I put the umbrella further from the flash unit, it works, but there's less light and it's more sharply bundled. If I position the umbrella where I want it, they don't fire. Fixed that with a PostIt sticker in front of the sensor:


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But still I ended up with some very pronounced shadows, as the image of the flowers above (the best of a bad lot) shows. It looks as if the left-hand unit was firing much more brightly than the right-hand unit. Why? The image with the modeling lights didn't show the shadows. Is the right-hand unit weaker? They're the same model, both set to deliver maximum power. If I could only find a good light meter that really registers flash intensity.


Linux file deletion
Topic: technology Link here

My comments about Linux file deletion a couple of days ago brought a couple of observations from other people. Peter Jeremy wondered whether it was maybe normal to do that much I/O on deleting a big file, and that maybe FreeBSD did so much better simply because of soft updates. Certainly it would be interesting to try it some time with soft updates disabled.

Also received mail from Harald Arnesen today:

I wonder which file system you use. Deletion of a several gigabyte file is nearly instantaneous for me. It's far slower under FreeBSD (8.1-BETA).

I wonder if he has soft updates turned off. I first noticed this phenomenon with ext3, and it was one of the reasons that I installed XFS on this system.

But what does a file system need to do to remove a file? It's only metadata, and not even all of it. Under normal circumstances the data itself doesn't get obliterated, as the times show. It took 30 s to remove a 200 GB file. If the file system had zeroed it out, for example, at 50 MB/s, it would have taken 4000 seconds, well over an hour. But, looking at UFS as an example, you need to update the directory entry (there will only be one), the inode and the bit maps. You don't need to do anything with the indirect blocks any more than with the data.

Clearly the bit maps are the big issue. How much data is that? With 4 kB blocks, 200 GB represents about 50,000,000 blocks. A 4 kB block can store about 30,000 bits, so in the best case you need to write about 17,000 blocks. At 200 transfers per second, that makes 8 seconds. That's the best case, so I suppose 30 seconds isn't that unreasonable. I must do some measurements.


Sunday, 20 June 2010 Dereel Images for 20 June 2010
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Relocating plants
Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden relocating the plants in the future pond. Most went where the Osteospermums were, and in preparation also removed the cannas and Dianthus near the Eiffel Tower and yet more irises, and took them over to Chris. Moved the bulbs, the sole remaining iris (I think Iris graminea, of which I recall planting at least 5) and the Iberis sempervirens into that area, along with some Watsonias to take over when the bulbs are done. Now there's just the rosemary and one Callistemon to move. We'll do the latter when we know where, and the rosemarys will have to wait until Thursday, when the Carpobrotus are removed.


Telstra sell-out: what you see is all you get
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

The news of the day: Telstra has agreed to sell its copper infrastructure. I'm sure a lot of ISPs will be happy about that, and it could mean that we finally get ADSL or similar connections here. Somehow we got the announcement before the press heard of it. But it reads strangely:


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That was with acroread on FreeBSD. Looking at it with Apple's Safari was very different:


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Diary entry for Sunday, 20 June 2010

 

What's wrong here? FreeBSD broken again? No: it renders correctly with xpdf. But it's not acroread's fault either: it's Telstra's. The document doesn't say what created it, but it was almost certainly a WYSIWYG tool like Microsoft “Word”. And somebody set the fonts by marking the area and clicking on some icon. Only they marked incorrectly, or maybe they added text later (I particularly like the way the word “Value” diminishes in size), and parts of it ended up in a different font, one that looks the same. But presumably acroread couldn't find it, and it replaced it with a default font that looked very different. To think that people write books with this kind of software!


Shedding light on the flash problems
Topic: photography Link here

More flash photos, and spent some time trying to work out the problems I had yesterday. Progressively reduced the power of the left flash, with no change—not even when I turned it off altogether. Then it dawned on me: I was triggering with the on-camera flash instead of via sync cable. And I've already established that the on-camera flash does a pre-flash whether you want it or not, so it triggered the studio flashes too early, and all the illumination I got was from the on-camera flash. Since the camera was on its side, that gave a shadow to the other side.

Somehow there are too many details to remember about the use of flash. Certainly the Olympus system is overly restrictive.


Monday, 21 June 2010 Dereel Images for 21 June 2010
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Senator Conroy improves Internet connections
Topic: technology Link here

Letter from Senator Conroy, minister for “Broadband”, Communications and the Digital Economy. It's clear that an election is coming up: they're revising the Broadband Guarantee, and they're setting new standards for traffic and reliability. I'll investigate in more detail later, but it looks like the points they're addressing are the ones I've been complaining about all the time. The question is whether they'll solve the problem.


ANZ bank: firmly stuck in the 13th century
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Into Ballarat this morning for a number of things: first had a haircut, then to the bank to transfer some money: their “Internet” banking system had a limit way below the value of the transfer, and I was forced to go to the bank. But that didn't help either: they don't transfer money to this particular Australian bank. I could get a money order for $28, or I could change my bank. I think I should do the latter. What good is a bank that can't transfer money?


Shopping in Ballarat
Topic: general Link here

On the way into town, the GPS navigator hung again. This time to ALDI in Sebastopol and showed it to the manager there, Heath. I now have two ALDI managers who can confirm the problem.

Then to Ballarat Bolts and Fasteners looking for a ¼" tripod screw socket. Somehow I didn't make myself understood; the bloke went off and, after about 5 minutes, came back with a screw. Why did it take him so long? I've found them without difficulty at every building market. When I finally got him to understand what I wanted, he told me I wouldn't find one. Maybe I should buy an old camera for the socket.

Midland Irrigation doesn't do pond liners, but they sent me off to Bartlett's in Ring Road. Bartlett's are a manufacturer, and they can sell me what is hopefully superior liner for $16.10 per m². For the estimated 20 m² I'm going to need, that's over $300.

On the way home, stopped in at the fibreglass place on Glenelg Highway. Their biggest pond insert costs $400 and is less than a third of the size of the pond we want. But they also sell materials to lay the fibreglass myself, and confirm that it can be done. Price is $12 per m² of fibreglass mat, and materials for 20 m² would come to about $240, so we'd have about $500 if we chose that solution. But after some reflection, I think I'll go with the liner: it's literally more flexible. If we find that we've formed a pond with the wrong contours, there's not much we can do about it. And by comparison, the liner from Bunnings is beginning to look good.

Our granite sand for the works on Thursday has arrived. It looks considerably darker than the sand we already have; hopefully it won't stay that way.


Tuesday, 22 June 2010 Dereel → Halls Gap → Telopea Downs Images for 22 June 2010
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Off to Olivaylle
Topic: general Link here

Up early this morning and off with Chris and Nemo to visit Jorge and Conchita de Moya at Olivaylle in Telopea Downs. We had planned to go to the Grampians to take some photos. The GPS navigator chose a route very similar to what I had painstakingly worked out three years ago. It seemed to make a couple of strange choices, and we ignored them, but it seems that they may have been better than we thought, since it didn't take us to the Western Highway at all.

In Halls Gap, the navigator deposited us in front of a stationery shop with the sign “tourist information”, and pointed me to another one across the road. The real one was 200 metres further down the road, but there were no signs pointing to it. Picked up a brochure which gave very little information on how to get to places, and the helpful bloke who explained it to us admitted that he didn't know why they didn't do it better. Had intended to go to the Balconies, which had figured prominently in the expensive and useless brochure that we had bought some time ago, but neither that nor Boroka lookout, the other one recommended to me, were described in the brochure. It proves that they're relatively close together, and that the Balconies are a 1 km (measured, I suspect, by guesswork) walk from a lookout alternately referred to as Reeds Lookout or Reids Lookout.

Headed off and discovered that the road was very twisty, much to Nemo's discomfort, so we gave up on Boroka and headed on to Re[ie]ds lookout. Nice view, but the air was very hazy:


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On to the Balconies, which had pretty much the same view as Re[ei]ds lookout, and the one rock (which, according to wikipedia, was formerly called “The Jaws of Death”; local documentation doesn't mention it):


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On to Olivaylle and presented Jorge with the painting that Yvonne had made of and for him, riding his mare Carinita. It's always a concern with this sort of surprise: we weren't quite sure how he would take it, but he was delighted, especially with the accurate depiction of Carinita, whom he recognized immediately, not an easy thing at the best of times considering the size of his herd:


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Gift horses
Topic: animals, general Link here

He wasn't to be outdone, though—by no means. He's in the process of selling off his horses, about 85 of them. One of the reasons we were here was to see which horses would be of interest. What we couldn't expect was that he would give Chris and Yvonne (equal) first choice of any horse in the herd—as a present. The herd includes about 95% of all Paso Fino horses in Australia. Yvonne and Chris were suitably preoccupied for the rest of the day.

Off to dinner in Kaniva, the nearest town, only 60 km away; more often they go to Nhill or Bordertown, but they're 80 or 70 km.


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One of the things I don't miss about the bush is the quality of the food you get. We had Chinese food, not the best we've had, and when Jorge asked for dessert, there was none. They had run out of ice cream on Saturday, and no new supplies had arrived. Also no coffee: the machine had broken down.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010 Telopea Downs → Dereel Images for 23 June 2010
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Choosing horses
Topic: animals, general Link here

Olivaylle has a number of houses for the employees, and we were put in one, where Max and Fiona Mitchell used to live. They left some months ago and now live in—Dereel. Quite a comfortable place, with its own kitchen, where we made breakfast:


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Spent the morning looking at horses:


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Annoyingly, the weather had turned cold and misty, not the best weather for either looking at the horses nor for taking photos. Yvonne and Chris have worked out a short list, including Esperanza, Zarzuela and Gitana, though Chris is still toying with the idea of one of the stallions. I can see them coming back this way again in the next few weeks, though I probably won't go with them.

Left for home just after 13:00, in fact earlier than the 13:30 I had planned, but it was just as well: we still only just arrived before nightfall. Irritatingly, the sun came out exactly as we were leaving.

About 60% of the way was over the Western Highway, and it proved yet again that the main highways are not the best way to go. The speed limits are no higher, but there's more traffic and more towns, and they slow things down. Left the road again at Ararat, and made much better time across the back roads.

Early to bed in the evening. I must be getting old—that was only 800 km in two days.


Thursday, 24 June 2010 Dereel Images for 24 June 2010
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The flood of photos
Topic: photography Link here

Spent half the day processing the 197 photos that we took on the trip to Olivaylle, including a couple of panoramas. The first (shown yesterday) didn't come out as well as I had intended: somehow I had a discontinuity between the end of the individual images and the beginning; possibly tripod problems. I was using the portable tripod, and it may have slipped. Also a second “panorama” for Chris, who admired the view to the east. But the light was wrong, and there was nothing much to see:


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Apart from that, just identifying all the horses took a while and a lot of help from Yvonne—long enough that I got a complaint from Chris.


Garden pond, next step
Topic: gardening Link here

Apart from that, Ron of Enfield Mini-Diggers was supposed to come today to dig the pond, but he got called off on something more urgent. I wasn't too unhappy: I still had plenty of preparations to make, and spent some time disconnecting irrigation pipes that went through where the pond or the path would now be. I had expected that to be quite a problem, but in fact it wasn't too bad.

Also potted the Veltheimia viridifolia, which proved to be root-bound. Maybe that's why it's looking less than completely happy. Chose a bigger pot as a result.


Stir fry steaks
Topic: food and drink Link here

We had intended to cook some Chinese beef and broccoli tonight, and Yvonne bought some “stir fry” beef for it. Each piece of meat would have yielded about 20 strips of meat for stir-frying, but I suppose the butchers intended it to be cooked like that:


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It reminded me of the “Cantonese steaks” that I knew as a kid. Looked around and found a recipe (for “Beef Steak Chinese Style”) in Pei Mei's cookbook. Adapted it accordingly, and it didn't taste at all bad.


Friday, 25 June 2010 Dereel
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Winter's here
Topic: general, gardening Link here

It's officially been winter for nearly a month, but today it seemed to come to a head. Not that it was particularly cold, but it was wet and windy, and as a result I couldn't be bothered to do the outside work that I had planned. Spent most of the day inside, reading new magazines to which I have recently subscribed, including Burke's backyard [sic] gardening magazine, which looks surprisingly like Gardening Australia magazine. I'll reserve judgement for the moment.


c't special “Digitale Fotografie”
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Another magazine was the new c't special Digitale Fotografie, which they're producing quarterly. It's certainly a different take on photography: I read an article on using manual focus lenses, which concentrated on German lenses (Zeiss, who don't have real links on their web sites, and Leica). They claim that they're better because they don't have autofocus, which doesn't make much sense to me—the fact that they're fixed focal length (“prime”) is easier to understand. And they point out that some of the old Leica R lenses project so far backwards that you might have to file off the end of the mirror on your camera. I can see that happening a lot. But the article was interesting. I've been thinking of buying an old Pentax Macro Takumar 50 mm f/4, but I haven't been able to decide how good it would be in comparison with modern lenses. It seems that some of the old German lenses are as good as modern ones.


Kate Lundy for minister!
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

One of the most extraordinary events of recent times was yesterday's change of Australian Prime Minister: almost before anything became known, Julia Gillard had replaced Kevin Rudd, becoming the first female prime minister of Australia, and had even been sworn in by the Governor-General, coincidentally the first female Governor-General of Australia and representative of the (female) Queen of England.

I'm not personally interested in whether a person in office is male or female; it's difficult enough to find good politicians of either sex without artificial restrictions. But I'd like to see one more female (coincidentally) in the Gillard government: Kate Lundy as minister for “Broadband”, Communications and the Digital Economy. Unlike the incumbent, she understands something about technology. It would be nice to say that she would dismantle this stupid plan for Internet censorship, and her publications suggest that this might be the case, though I suspect that that might involve more than just the minister. But at least she'd make more sensible decisions.


Satellite woes: unabated
Topic: technology Link here

My satellite connection is still unsatisfactory, even if the recent statistics have been better. But Skymesh has been dragging its feet on its claims that the problem is with my modem, and today we had a longer outage that didn't fit their claims that it was the modem spontaneously power cycling. The latter takes about 2 minutes, but this time I was off the air for 7 minutes, including my own modem reset. Called up the service line and got spontaneously disconnected. That's something that a change in minister might help alleviate as well.


Saturday, 26 June 2010 Dereel Images for 26 June 2010
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New view of the garden
Topic: photography Link here

Garden photo day again today. I've been taking essentially the same photos for over a year now, though I recently reduced the number of partial photos that I publish and put up only the panoramas. In view of the way we're extending the garden, today I started a new one, 180° south to north from the extreme east of the garden:


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I'm expecting that view to change significantly in the coming months.

While taking those photos, ran into trouble setting the camera parameters. I do the exposures with manual settings, and I wasn't able to set the shutter speed, which stayed at 1/50 s. It wasn't the adjusting wheel: in other modes it worked fine, just not in manual. It also doesn't seem to have been some glitch in the firmware settings: it stayed there after powering off and on again. This was done with exposure bracketing, and when I turned that off and back on again, I was able to set the shutter speed. No idea what caused that.


Training Nemo
Topic: animals Link here

We've decided that Nemo could benefit from some formal training, so into Ballarat this morning to the Happy Dog training school for the first of four training sessions. I've never been to anything like this before, and I didn't know what to expect. There was a bitterly cold wind, and we had to wait for a while, during which time Nemo was confronted with a number of other puppies, apparently without much supervision:


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Towards the end, though, one of the trainers came over and explained their behaviour and how to see that they were playing and not fighting: ears forward seems to be the biggest hint. Also learnt that a short yelp is all it takes for the other dog to stop playing and wait.

Then we were allocated to a trainer for Nemo alone, Ian, with whom Yvonne had spoken earlier. She had had her reservations, but the training was very helpful, and we got him to at least start to come, to walk at heel, and to drop.


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There's quite an emphasis on visual rather than auditory cues. It seems to make sense, though, especially when there's lots of action, so we'll have to learn them. After that, a series of games, to which Nemo took particularly well, in particular to the tunnels. Ian had thought they might be a problem, but he took to it like a duck to water.


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Took a lot of photos, in the process filling up my 4 GB memory card for the first time ever. All in all, very successful. Off to the library to look for a recommended book by Ruth Weston, but only found one by her husband David Weston, which, it proved, Yvonne already has.


Who are automatic settings good for?
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

The photos at the dog training show something else of interest. I take most of my photos on the P (“program”) setting, using what Olympus call “Center weighted averaging metering”, and the results are generally acceptable. When Yvonne took the camera, she changed it to the AUTO mode, about which Olympus says:

Allows you to shoot using an optimum aperture and shutter speed that the camera sets.

The results didn't quite bear that out. My images looked correctly exposed; the ones that Yvonne took were terribly underexposed:


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Clearly the automatic choice of metering (“Digital ESP Metering”, a term that says almost nothing) is to blame here. Of this Olympus says:

The camera measures the light levels and calculates the light level differences in 49 separate areas of the image. This mode is recommended for general use.

It's not 100% clear what any of this means. Where are the 49 areas? Presumably a 7×7 matrix. And how are they weighted? With ESP? It seems, though, that it has given far too much prominence to the sky. Fixed the exposure with UFRaw, which also tried to make the images even darker with the “auto” function, but after that discovered that the colour balance was completely off:


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This, too, seems to be related to the exposure: it's most pronounced in the underexposed images. ufraw tells me that the first image had a colour temperature of 4929 K, but the second one had a colour temperature of 5755 K. I wonder if this is a secondary effect of the inappropriate exposure mode. In any case, it appears that AUTO is pretty useless even for rank beginners.

In March 2017 i revisited this issue and also reprocessed these images. the ones shown above are what i created at the time. here's one of the comparisons with the uncorrected image, the image as improved by UFRaw, and the image as processed with DxO Optics “Pro”:

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How not to cook carrots
Topic: food and drink Link here

Dinner this evening was pork filet in spinach and puff pastry. The recipe called for baking the filet in the oven at 200° for 10 minutes, a stupidly inaccurate recommendation; in the end, it took 45 minutes. The filet is not very big, but the spinach and pastry provide good insulation, so it tends to take longer, not shorter.

Yvonne chose carrots and pumpkin as accompaniment, baked in the oven along with the pork. After 45 minutes, that carrots were still almost raw. Why? This is a standard way to cook vegetables with the Sunday roast, and it works well there. But there they're placed in the same pan, and the juices run out and at least partially moisten them. In this case there were no juices, both because of the cut of meat and the fact that it was wrapped in pastry. It seems that this moisture is critical to the carrots getting cooked at all.


Preparing for severe frost
Topic: gardening Link here

The Bureau of Meteorology forecast a “severe frost” for tonight, -1°. Spent some time bringing in the frost-sensitive plants. Winter is really with us now.


Sunday, 27 June 2010 Dereel Images for 27 June 2010
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In the bleak midwinter
Topic: gardening Link here

The “severe frost” forecast yesterday didn't eventuate: the overnight low temperature was +1.0°, though there was a little frost on the grass in the paddocks. After that, a cool but sunny day, and I decided to take photos of the few flowers left over from autumn or already there for spring. It proved to be more than I expected. It's probably worth doing this, say, once a month to see the progress. As if to welcome me, one of our roses (“Lili Marleen”) had a flower, and another is promising a bud:


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Some of the Geraniums (or is that Pelargoniums?) are flowering as if it were still summer:


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We already have some spring flowers: Hardenbergias, snowdrops and Arums:


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We've had daffodils as well, though at the moment there are only buds, and it looks like the Acacia baileyana will be out any time soon:


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TV programme guides: who to believe?
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Recently something funny happened with the TV programme guides that I collect from Shepherd, and the categories have been misrepresented. On Daniel O'Connor's recommendation, enabled the EPG on cvr2, my MythTV box. I don't know if it's an advantage; yes, I get other information, and I suppose the times are more likely to be accurate, but the categories are even worse. Many are just “unknown”, and they drop lots of information such as the guide ratings and the year of production (sometimes substituting 2000, for some reason). They also SHOUT A LOT. Interestingly, since shepherd runs once a day round 08:00, and the EPG is continuous, I can see both versions in the course of the day:


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Wouldn't it be nice to update the database rows rather than replace them?


lagoon: another NFS problem
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne's computer lagoon is turned off every night and rebooted the next morning to save power. Recently we've had a couple of cases where mutt reported her (NFS-mounted) mail inbox to be read-only, sometimes with reports that rpc.lockd couldn't lock the file. Looked again today, and sure enough, rpc.lockd wasn't running. Restarted it, but it didn't help. There must be other processes missing. Rebooted, which worked around the problem, at least for today. Saved a ps output of the functional version, so that next time it happens I'll be able to compare.


Monday, 28 June 2010 Dereel
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Catching the lockd issue
Topic: technology Link here

Whatever is causing this lockd problem on lagoon is becoming more frequent. It happened again today, and I was able to compare which processes were running today (failure) and yesterday (success). Yesterday it looked like this; the processes in bold were missing today:

USER      PID %CPU %MEM   VSZ   RSS  TT  STAT STARTED      TIME COMMAND
root      505  0.0  0.2  3348  1372  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.02 /usr/sbin/syslogd -l /var/run/log -l /var/named/var/run
bind      580  0.0  1.4 16544 10960  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.03 /usr/sbin/named -t /var/named -u bind
root      590  0.0  0.2  3380  1516  ??  Ss    9:30AM   0:00.01 /usr/sbin/rpcbind
root      686  0.0  0.2  3348  1492  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/mountd -r
root      688  0.0  0.2  3288  1360  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.02 nfsd: master (nfsd)
root      689  0.0  0.1  3288  1088  ??  S     9:30AM   0:00.00 nfsd: server (nfsd)
root      695  0.0  0.2 265468 1424  ??  Ss    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/rpc.statd
root      702  0.0  0.2  3384  1340  ??  Ss    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/rpc.lockd
root      748  0.0  0.3  4864  2348  ??  Ss    9:30AM   0:00.01 ntpd
daemon    815  0.0  0.2  3288  1172  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/rwhod
root      896  0.0  0.5  6708  3720  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/sshd
root      907  0.0  0.2  3376  1380  ??  Ss    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/cron -s
root      943  0.0  0.2  3408  1248  ??  Is    9:30AM   0:00.00 /usr/sbin/inetd -wW -C 60

So I was half right yesterday; today I did:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 2 -> /etc/rc.d/statd restart
statd not running?
Starting statd.
=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 3 -> /etc/rc.d/lockd restart
lockd not running?
Starting lockd.

I must fix that silly message. After that, things worked. But why did it happen? Fortunately I still had the scrollback to the boot messages, where I discovered:

Starting nfsd.
Starting statd.
Jun 28 07:52:28 lagoon rpc.statd: bindresvport_sa: Address already in use
/etc/rc: WARNING: failed to start statd
Starting lockd.
Starting local daemons:

Is this some kind of race condition? More investigation needed. It's also interesting to note that lockd died silently.


Pet tools: at what price?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Nemo is a long-haired dog, so we need something to keep his coat tidy. Jenny Judson recommended FURminator, which costs an arm and a leg—she mentioned a price of about $85, and I found some costing as much as $115. I don't understand how people can pay that sort of money.

Yvonne did a bit of research on cheaperoz.com and came up with an item on eBay for $11.99. I then took a look and found an auction with no bids, and due to end in 20 minutes. Dragged out my links to JustSnipe and placed a bid for 8 seconds before the end of the auction—with success. So we got the thing for $0.99. What a ridiculous price difference!


Tuesday, 29 June 2010 Dereel Images for 29 June 2010
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Networking not a government priority
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

As expected, Julia Gillard, the new Australian prime minister, has reassigned a few ministries. Unfortunately, “Broadband”, Communications and the Digital Economy was not one of them. The report in the mainstream press was interesting for the comments on the fact: without any exception I could see, every one was negative. I'm sure that the government is monitoring this kind of article at some level, but clearly a direct message to the Prime Minister('s staff) would be more effective, and I added a comment to that effect. Then I went looking for the Prime Minister's web site. The entire text:

On 24 June 2010, the Hon Julia Gillard MP was sworn in as Prime Minister by the Governor-General, succeeding the Hon Kevin Rudd MP.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has archived material from the former Prime Minister's website.

If you wish to direct any messages to the office of the former Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, please follow this link.

Now if that doesn't make a statement. Five days after shooting down the former prime minister, there is nothing on this web site except a link to the old one. You can still fill out web forms (which they choose to call “email”) to send to the ex-prime minister, but there aren't even contact details for the current prime minister. Yes, it all happened in a hurry, but 5 days after the event you'd expect somebody to have taken more time than the unpaid contributors to the Wikipedia pages, who made over 500 updates to the page for Julia Gillard and about 200 updates to the page for the Prime Minister of Australia in that time. Clearly this is not a government that understands the importance of the Internet to our future.

Another article shows how stupid Stephen Conroy's behaviour is:

Asked about his personal views of the amendments [to the Internet censorship bill], Conroy had a stronger statement.

"I'm not into opting in to child porn," he said.

We've had our share of FUD-mongers before. But this one seems unbelievably stupid. I can't see many people voting for Labor unless they come into the current century.


SkyMesh pricing
Topic: technology Link here

Mail from SkyMesh today, answering a message I sent on 17 June 2010. They're offering me a refurbished modem for the princely sum of $665.80, including $190 for installation. They have shown no conclusive evidence that the modem is defective, and they're not prepared to re-open the ticket I opened a couple of days after receiving the modem, well within the warranty time. That sort of money is more than I would need to set up a directional antenna for wireless Internet. I suspect it is intended to shut me up, as are the ridiculously long response times; why do they need 12 days to tell me the price of a modem? I think the time for official complaints is coming closer.


Nemo and the unfriendly neighbours
Topic: animals Link here

Heard a lot of squealing outside in the afternoon, and out to see what was going on. It seems that the neighbours have a new Golden Retriever, and it's aggressive. It chased Nemo all the way up to the verandah and bit him, fortunately not badly:


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That little white patch just below the eye is all that happened, just a scratch. But it could easily have been his eye. Over to talk to the neighbours, and got a promise to put up a fence and keep the dogs in. But wouldn't it be better if they trained them properly?

This was our first encounter with Sam, who remained a problem right up to the time we moved away from Kleins Road.


Relocating the Ficus benjamina
Topic: general, gardening Link here

In January we moved our Ficus benjamina from the window to the middle of the kitchen, where it's markedly darker. It didn't like the change, and has been constantly losing leaves faster than new one grow. Today we gave up and moved it to the lounge room:


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We'll see how it does there.


Colour temperature issues in panoramas
Topic: photography Link here

The photo above wasn't the first attempt at an HDR panorama of the lounge room. I used flash indoors and natural light outside, and left the lights on inside in the assumption that the flash would be brighter. It wasn't, and the results were impossible:


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It's not just as simple as changing the colour balance, since parts of it (outside) are correct. I suppose I could reprocess the images, and maybe that would work, but it's easier to take the photo again.


Salsa ranchera: the real recipe
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne bought some avocados recently, and that means guacamole. And guacamole means huevos rancheros. We've been making them with pico de gallo, amongst other things, but we're told that the real thing is salsa ranchera. Decided to try that today. But which recipe? Looked around and found two basic types, either a raw one pretty much the same as pico de gallo, or a cooked one. Clearly the latter was of interest, and I found a number. In the end decided to try ones in Spanish, and ended up basing things roughly on this one, which has the distinction of giving not only weights rather than ambiguous volumes, but also percentages. For that you can forgive them for transposing the “units” and “quantities” headings.


Wednesday, 30 June 2010 Dereel Images for 30 June 2010
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Salsa ranchera: the verdict
Topic: food and drink Link here

Huevos rancheros for breakfast this morning, with the newly cooked salsa ranchera. What's it like? It tastes pretty much like tomato sauce. More of the other ingredients might have improved it, but I don't think it's worth the trouble. I'll reuse the sauce as the basis for something else, and from now on it's pico de gallo for the heuvos rancheros.


Labor's attitude to the Internet
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Following on yesterday's discoveries about the government's personal indifference to the online society, went looking for ways to contact the Prime Minister. Since the official web site is effectively non-functional, went to the web site of the Australian Labor Party. That was horrifying. It started with a typical almost correctly formatted page with the title BETA: Labor Connect: Home | Labor Connect. BETA? This is the official site that has been there for years. That doesn't inspire much confidence. It includes varying banner ads, one of which offered me the chance to “Connect with Julia”:


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It also had a list of “Hot topics” in uneven capitals, including the ex-prime minster and the leader of the opposition, but nothing even remotely related to the Internet:

 
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Followed the link to “connect with Julia” and found I had to sign up. The password checks would do any bank proud. I started with the password Wake up!, but the page found:

The password does not include enough variation to be secure. Try:

    * Adding numbers.

So I tried stupid439, and got:

The password does not include enough variation to be secure. Try:

    * Adding both upper and lowercase letters.
    * Adding punctuation.

So in the end I tried one with lots of letters, numbers and special characters, and it was accepted. That's all fine and good, but this is just to contact the prime minister. Do I have to show three pieces of identification to send her a letter by Australia Post? Of course not.

That wasn't the only strangeness. The form wanted a “suburb”, but accepted “no suburb”, and offered the option of URLs for Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter—but not a personal web site. So I put my personal web site URL under Facebook, and it was accepted. Somehow this says something about the government's attitude, either to the Internet or to their constituents. Signed up and found no way to “connect with Julia”. After some searching, found a link to Julia Gillard: http://www.alp.org.au/kevin-rudd/12876.


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After a lot of searching, found a page entitled Join the Conversation. It's not clear how it's supposed to be structured, and there seems to be no provision for starting a new topic, so left my comments in the only thread available. What a mess! How can any web site be so badly organized.

This was all the status quo when I experienced it. I wrote this diary entry the following day, and while checking I found that they have fixed some things. I'd like to think that my comments have been seen and acted upon. The Prime Minister's web site has now been updated, and the primary link to Julia Gillard is no longer http://www.alp.org.au/kevin-rudd/12876 but http://www.alp.org.au/julia-gillard, apparently with the same content. Both are currently active. The hot topics still include Kevin Rudd, and another link looks as if it's part of the site, but in fact leads to a facebook page. I can imagine how much she uses it; I've been retired for 3 years, but I still find it too tedious.


More shrubs bite the dust
Topic: gardening Link here

Both Ron from Enfield Mini-diggers and CJ were due today to do some work, but the weather forecast was very negative, so they both postponed until Friday. The forecast also proved incorrect, and CJ showed up in the early afternoon, and proceeded to remove a number of shrubs from the north garden. The first photo was taken 10 days ago.


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We're planning to put up a fence there and grow creepers over it; that will hopefully keep out much of the wind and thus improve the microclimate on the east side of the house. Currently it looks very bare.


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