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June 2014
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Sunday, 1 June 2014 Dereel Images for 1 June 2014
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Winter arrives
Topic: general, gardening Link here

First day of winter today, and it showed. It rained most of the day, and it took me forever to take my house photos, at shutter speeds as low as ¼ s. And the results look correspondingly dreary:


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Network outage!
Topic: technology Link here

Since the advent of the National Broadband Network, our network troubles are over—aren't they? Today I discovered that I had lost connection round 16:10. Called up Aussie Broadband support and went through the usual debugging steps. At least he didn't ask me to reboot my computer, but he did ask if I had a spare router lying around. I did, and it also got no connection.

How do you debug this kind of problem? The NTD is pretty much a black box. We know that it's an Ethernet bridge, but how exactly does it work? What do these constantly flashing LEDs mean? On powerup it goes through a whole cycle of undocumented (to me, anyway) flashing LED sequences, but it presents an Ethernet carrier almost immediately. Will (the Aussie support person) told me that he could see some kind of connection, but he was hazy about what it was. He checked the NBN outage notices, but found nothing, so he lodged a fault with NBN.

Of course, connectivity came back at about 17:08. What caused it? What kind of reliability can I expect? Sent a message out on Facebook and got confirmation that a number of other people were affected too. Whose fault? Aussie or NBN? I forgot to ask what ISP the others use.


Selling cameras on eBay
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

It's time to get rid of my old Olympus E-30. eBay's the place to do that, of course, so collected my photos and set off to list it.

Things have changed at eBay, not only the massive breach of security they had a few weeks back, and which they didn't report to their users until much later—I heard about it on the radio news. But they've also changed their listing policies since I last sold something, so it was a little slow.

But that wasn't all. After filling out all the fields, I got a message:


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OK, what policy? They don't say. Tried removing the photo. Same message. And what about the weight? The “Weight” text is a broken link, and I can't find anywhere on the form to enter the weight. And after a couple of attempts, I got another message:


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That appears to refer to their own image—maybe. Clearly things are severely broken.

eBay, I've been using you for 15 years now. Isn't it time to get your act together?


More NiZn fun
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Another set of NiZn batteries were discharged today, this time in the indoor “weather station” thermometer. Nothing unusual, two AAs in series. But this time the end voltages were 0.360 V and 1.685 V. The latter is hardly discharged at all, but clearly there's something seriously wrong with the former. I have about 6 cells like that. I'm getting the feeling that they're reaching the end of their life.


Monday, 2 June 2014 Dereel Images for 2 June 2014
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How far can a dog run?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Lately while walking the dogs I've been letting Nikolai off the line along the last straight of Kleins Road, round here:


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I then let him run to the junction (I think) of Swamp Road, then putting him back in the line when we enter the forest. Zhivago is already off the line at that point, and from time to time they play with each other.

Today was a little different. They both headed off east to the lagoon (which is just to the right in the photo above), and they didn't come back. By the time I went down to follow them, they were round the north side, nearly a kilometer away. No question of following them. But then Nikolai came back, shot past me and went back to Yvonne and Tanya. Zhivago took a little longer, but he also came back.

So: should we let them do that? It's too far for my taste, but clearly they need more exercise.


Tying up the planning permit
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

First thing this morning, called Mathew Mertuszka at the Council. And second thing. And third thing. First time round I left a message, but it took until lunch time to find that he wasn't in the office.

In the meantime Tessa Ambrose had sent me new requirements for the house that apparently hadn't been recognized beforehand, including the information that we couldn't get a building permit until we had a septic tank permit (construction costs: $13,486). She also quoted for water tanks: $17,758.45 without the pump. That's clearly not competitive, so went out looking for details. First a call with Barb at the council, who told me that it would probably take 2 or 3 weeks to get the permit, and who gave me a whole list of plumbers without phone numbers.

Went looking for them in the phone book, which was not very informative: I only found about half the numbers. The main ones in Ballarat seem to be Billy den Ouden and Mari Hendriks—is it a coincidence that they're both Dutch? The only one I could get on the phone was Billy den Ouden, who gave me a quote for a septic for $9,720 plus another $2,591 for a pump. It seems that sewers no longer work without a pump if the land is flat, unlike the three systems we had at Wantadilla and here.

But quotes like that suggest that there's some margin for error. Called up Stewart Summersby and asked his advice. He recommended Mari Hendriks, who was due to call back in the evening. He did that, but he can't come to inspect the site until Saturday—at 9:00! Still, he sounds like the bloke we need, in particular because he can do the water tanks as well (den Ouden can't), so we'll have to live with that.

The other news was that apparently we don't need concrete tanks for everything, which is just as well given the price. While looking through old notes I found our estimates: $5,000 each for water tanks and septic system. I fear we'll come closer to double that.


Online activations: failed
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

We've been waiting for the activation of a SIM card from ALDI mobile and two debit cards from ANZ bank. It's not clear than any of them have worked. The last thing I heard from ALDI mobile was:

        Transferring your number can take from 4 to 48 business hours to
complete, and we appreciate your patience.

        Whilst you are waiting for your transfer to complete, you can track
the progress of your order by logging in to your account using your
account number (instead of your mobile number).

        Your account number is: and your account password is: . Once you have
logged in you can change your password to something more memorable.

Now isn't that handy? Clearly I can't “log in”, but what has happened to the activation? That was sent 5 days ago, and assuming that “48 business hours” doesn't mean “6 business days”, it should have been completed long ago.

That's not the only one. Round the same time I activated our new debit cards—maybe. Mine told me it was successful, but when I tried to activate Yvonne's, it told me that it failed. And Yvonne has now confirmed that yes, indeed, it hasn't been activated. Was it ever? Is mine? Why not? Why do banks have such incredible problems with computers and security?


Network outage: aftermath
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Updated my Facebook post about Saturday's network outage. Yes, at least one person affected wasn't using Aussie Broadband, so it looks like an National Broadband Network issue. When I have time I'll chase that one down.


Panoramas of new house
Topic: Stones Road house, photography Link here

I've been making photos, mainly panoramas, of the garden for nearly 7 years now, but clearly it's going to stop when the new house is complete. Time to set up a new series. It's not easy to guess where to start, but clearly now is the time. Here are the first three views, from the north-west, the west and south-west of the house:


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The fourth view is from the driveway, and I can't make up my mind how to centre it:


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All this will presumably resolve itself in the course of the next 12 months or so.


Tuesday, 3 June 2014 Dereel
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More house issues
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Finally got on to Mathew Mertuszka at the council this morning. He clarified a number of things: we still need a building permit for a shed, but a building surveyor can do that. The only water tank that needs to be out of non-combustible material is the fire-fighting tank for the CFA. Apart from that, the only (big) issue was this stupid Biodiversity stuff. It seems that the rules have been changed since the end of March, and now we really do need to go through this rigmarole. What a pain! I couldn't bring myself to call them up, but I'm going to have to do so soon, once I can be relatively confident to keep a civil tongue in my head.

But we can get started with the shed. Called up Widespan and finally got on the John Farquhar, who came up with some additional charges, more than offset by a 5% discount. Now we just need to find somebody to issue a building permit and erect it for us. Hopefully it can be the same person.

And JG King had still more charges to make. Clearly we don't need them to install tanks and septic system at their exaggerated prices. But I got Yet Another Unexpected Charge: $2,669 just to connect to our septic tank and water tanks. In addition, it seems, they won't be able to sign a contract for another 4 to 5 weeks. When construction starts is anybody's guess, but I can't see it being before August. I'm getting more and more fed up with these people. Today's additional connection charges are more than we have paid them already. Is it time to reconsider our builder?


SBS news: maybe?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

One of the more interesting services of SBS is the foreign language news service they offer. I regularly watch Al Jazeera, and since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis I've been watching Deutsche Welle news as well.

SBS has streams in various definitions, in particular SBS HD (1080i) and SBS 2 (576i). Some programmes, like DW news, are broadcast on both streams, and since my reception is so bad, I record both to be surer of getting a good recording. And so I notice the size of the files.

Resolution isn't everything, of course. Compression makes a big difference to the size of the image. For a long time, the DW news on SBS HD was about 2.3 GB in size, while the SBS 2 version was 900 MB. Then on 11 April they changed the data rates. To what? Who knows? The information in the Transport Stream is wrong, and shows the 1080i stream to be slower than the 567i stream. But the sizes diverged, to 650 MB and 3.3 GB. That makes sense to me.

Today, though, they must have let the apprentices run the show. The recordings were suddenly 1.8 GB and 1.2 GB, both in 576i—and without sound! Later in the day they had recovered, and Al Jazeera was at the normal size again—but the wrong programme! Instead of news they had some technology programme, something I really don't need to watch. I wonder if there's anybody at SBS keeping an eye on these things.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014 Dereel Images for 4 June 2014
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Starting work
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Off to the house site this morning to meet with Stewart Summersby and plan the driveway and power connections. It looks as if the obvious entrance, pointing straight at the garage, isn't the optimal one, because we need a hammerhead to turn in. But that's minor, and there's a good chance that Stewart can start on Friday. Finally things are starting to happen.


More house specification frustration
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Several messages back and forth with Tessa Ambrose today. By late afternoon we had agreed that our people would connect water tanks and septic—and despite this meaning less work for JG King, they didn't credit us with anything. I am getting really fed up.


eBay workaround
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It took a while, but finally I have an answer from eBay about my listing problems. In fact, the support person (later identified as Jehan) went to a lot of trouble and just about listed the item for me. The problem? Who knows? He suggested clearing all cookies, which might have made a difference, but a lot of those cookies are unrelated to eBay, and any script that is so confused by them is clearly badly written. I wonder if this has been reported to the software development people. I suspect not, since they didn't ask me for any more details.


Thursday, 5 June 2014 Dereel Images for 5 June 2014
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Still more house pain
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Finally got round to calling DEPI about the “biodiversity offsets” today. It took them something like 10 minutes to find the right bloke, Nick Jaschenko in Ballarat, and of course he wasn't in. He called back a little later and confirmed my worst fears: yes, doing it on-site is not the way to go. The registration alone would cost me over $1,000, and the other requirements, like setting aside 1 ha for the purpose and making annual reports, make it impractical.

The alternative is to buy credits. And looking at the small amount I need, it will only cost about $1,000—he says. It seems that the going rate is $35,000 to $50,000 per credit. But first I have to find somebody to sell it to me, and he sent me a list of only 7 brokers.

One fear didn't materialize: Nick was very friendly and helpful within his limitations, and we had quite a constructive discussion. But I still consider this to be utter nonsense. Yes, protecting biodiversity is a laudable aim. But is this the way to do it? Looking at the list of brokers, half of them have only a mobile phone number, and none have addresses. This looks like another opportunity for fly-by-night operators.

Apart from that, we finally have a preliminary quote from Tessa. We now have the credit for the components they don't need to supply, but only because I was “insistent”: $1,398! I'd certainly insist on that sort of thing again.


Dogs running on the new property
Topic: animals Link here

In the afternoon over to the new property with the dogs, and let them run together for the first time since I don't know when. They ran around like fury for a few minutes while I tried to get my camera together, and by the time I did they had calmed down considerably.


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I must be more prepared in future.


Friday, 6 June 2014 Dereel Images for 6 June 2014
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Failure after failure
Topic: general, multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Woken up at 0:57 by the UPSs beeping: another power failure. That's so common here that I don't do more than confirm the fact.

But it wasn't the only failure. My nightly mythfilldatabase run failed. Why? This stuff is so opaque that I really don't know. Tried re-running shepherd, which seemed to have forgotten everything it ever knew, and at the end it could no longer communicate with mythtv:

2014-06-06 14:46:45.044 XMLTV config file is: /home/mythtv/.mythtv/.xmltv
2014-06-06 14:46:49.110 Error in 1:1: unexpected end of file

Huh? /home/mythtv/.mythtv/.xmltv is a directory, not a file. What went wrong there? Confirmed that I could get the data with shepherd—for a while. And then it claimed it couldn't find oztivo.net. What went wrong there? I was about to send Warren a mail message when I discovered we were off the net. Again!

This time things were different. The illegibly marked LED in the middle of the NTD was red:


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I really needed to take a photo of the device to decipher what it says: ODU. What's that? Outdoor Unit? That seems to be a term used in microwave technology, but it doesn't really say very much. It wasn't until some time later that Jürgen Lock found a document that I hadn't seen before, which describes the status lights and their “meaning”, for (very) end users:

POWER INDICATOR       INDICATOR       MEANING       ACTION
      GREEN       Power On       No action is required.
      NO LIGHT       No power       Check the NBN connection box is plugged in and switched on.
STATUS INDICATOR       INDICATOR       MEANING       ACTION
      GREEN FLASHING       Normal Operation       No action is required.
      GREEN       Device is in test mode       No action is required.
      AMBER FLASHING       Device is starting up and initialising       No action is required.
      RED       There is a system fault       Contact your service provider for assistance.
OUTDOOR UNIT INDICATOR       INDICATOR       MEANING       ACTION
      GREEN       Online       No action is required.
      GREEN FLASHING       Activity       No action is required.
      RED       Offline       Contact your service provider for assistance.
      RED FLASHING       There is an error       Contact your service provider for assistance.
SIGNAL INDICATOR       INDICATOR       MEANING       ACTION
      RED       Low signal strength (no fault)       No action is required.
      AMBER       Medium signal strength       No action is required.
      GREEN       High signal strength       No action is required.

In passing, it's interesting to note that this description seems incorrect. I've never seen the ODU LED show continuous green. It's always flashing, even when no (Ethernet) traffic is passing. And the signal indicator is three LED, as shown in the diagram.

Without that valuable advice, called up Aussie Broadband and spoke to Brad, who didn't seem to know that information either. He put me through the usual rigmarole of power cycling, etc, and even checking the carrier indication on the NTD, conveniently located pointing to the floor, where I could only see it with a mirror. And he wanted me to disconnect and reconnect the cable, during which I discovered that the housing is not designed for Ethernet cables:

 
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And of course it made no difference, but Brad wanted to know why the second LED wasn't on. It took me a while to convince him that it couldn't go on if it wasn't there.

While we were talking, the net came back. First the status changed, and some time later we had a connection again. But the outage lasted from 12:30:43 to 13:52:16, nearly 1½ hours. And that's not just the second outage this week. Apart from the one on Sunday, there were two short ones, one yesterday, one this morning. Posted on Facebook and got the confirmation that it was an National Broadband Network fault, not Aussie. I hope things will get a lot better.

But they didn't. Later in the afternoon we had another outage! This time I didn't have to go through any rigmarole: Eli from Aussie told me that there was a general outage in Dereel and Ballarat-but apparently nowhere else in the area—and that NBNCo was looking at it.

That took a while. We were down from 15:43:44 until 18:32:20. That's a total of over 5 hours outages in the last 5 days. I hope we're going to get an explanation. But in the meantime it's time to reconsider not having a POTS connection to our new house.


Breaking ground
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Stewart Summersby over to the site today to prepare the driveway:


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It's not much, but after nearly 6 months since we purchased the property. And there's still no end to the issues we have.


Summer flowers in winter
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

The summer was pretty terrible, as I noted in my garden photos page. But now that winter has started, we're seeing a number of flowers that I hadn't expected, notably this Kniphofia that normally flowers in summer:


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It's not very happy, but that's not surprising. We also seem to have more roses than in the middle of summer, and even a Canna is trying to flower:


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On the other hand, the first Hellebores are already flowering:


Change of diet
Topic: animals Link here

Over to the building site in the afternoon to walk the dogs and took some completely useless videos. Zhivago caught a Rosella and ate most of it:


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It seems that it was sick—it didn't even try to fly away when Zhivago approached it. Yvonne even thought that it might have been dead. But I'd rather they didn't start eating birds.


Vertical panoramas
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

The light down Kleins Road today was quite pleasant, and it occurred to me to try to capture the atmosphere with a vertical panorama, showing some of the tall, dead trees in that area. The results weren't a success:


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There are two issues: firstly, this is a Miller Cylindrical, and the clue is in the name: it projects differently horizontally and vertically. But it was the best I found.

The second issue was the way the trees are falling over to the sides. That's the opposite of the normal converging vertical syndrome. Tried straightening it with the help of DxO Optics “Pro”, but the results still look completely out of proportion:


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More experimentation needed.


Saturday, 7 June 2014 Dereel Images for 7 June 2014
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Planning septic tanks
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Over to the Stones Road property this morning to meet Mari Hendriks, the plumber, and talk about the septic tank. Yes, it can be done, and he seems to be the bloke to do it, but I won't have a price until I get my permit. And he won't help me with that. Looks like I'm not out of the red tape yet.


More MythTV pain
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Spent some more time reluctantly looking at my MythTV problems today. Once again, I see the value of keeping a diary: I got an almost identical error message 18 months ago. And it looks as if once again a shepherd update broke things. Unfortunately, the solution isn't the same. I'm going to have to accept the fact that my MythTV installation, installed over 5 years ago, is too old. Can I bear reinstalling it?


Sunday, 8 June 2014 Dereel Images for 8 June 2014
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MythTV: the agony
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

So what do I do with my MythTV problems? I have at least three alternatives: address the immediate problem by modifying or updating the grabber software, install the latest version of MythTV, or install something else altogether.

Fixing the problem in the current release has two significant disadvantages: it's probably only a matter of time before a new shepherd update will break it again—after all, I had the same issue 18 months ago. And it also requires me to learn more PERL than I want.

Installing a new version of MythTV makes more sense, but how much work will it be? This has always been like pulling teeth. So when Jürgen Lock suggested that I install VDR, it made a lot of sense, particularly since he has adapted it to FreeBSD. In the new house I could then run only one computer instead of the current two.

But that's still a lot of work, especially since it probably doesn't support my current tuner cards. Not a big issue: Jürgen found some compatible tuners for under $10 each. But there's no way to get them before my programme data runs out. Daniel O'Connor suggested using the EPG, the electronic programme guide (or is that EIT? That's what Myth calls it).

I've tried that before, but the quality of the information was terrible. But in the short term it's better than any alternative I could think of, so I tried it. First problem was getting mythtv-setup to work correctly; alternately it offered just a North America grabber and all possibilities. Finally got it to use EIT for both tuners, and restarted myth. No programme data got inserted. Looking at the log file, I found:

2014-06-08 15:35:43.942 TVRec(1): EIT scanning disabled for this card.
2014-06-08 15:35:58.992 TVRec(2): EIT scanning disabled for this card.

Why that? Daniel O'Connor suggested that I look at this page. That helped:

Under “2. Capture cards“, open “Recording options“, check that “Use DVB card for active EIT scan” is on.

There's nothing on that page to suggest that you should select “Recording options”, but sure enough, “EIT scan” was off. Fixed!

But still nothing happened. Well, not much:

2014-06-08 15:46:36.565 TVRec(1): EIT scanning disabled for all sources on this card.
2014-06-08 15:46:51.756 TVRec(2): EIT scanning disabled for all sources on this card.

That's a marginally different message. What does it mean? Google knows, and pointed to this page, which worked around one more bug in MythTV:

Eventually got it to work by:

1) using dvbsnoop to get the missing dtv_multiplex data

2) set useonairguide to 1 for all channels in the channel table

3) set useeit to 1 in the videosource table

Last one took awhile to discover.

And sure enough, videosource had useeit set to 0. Set that to 1, and finally it worked!

2014-06-08 15:54:20.661 EITScanner (1): Started passive scan.
2014-06-08 15:54:23.690 EITCache: Wrote 32 modified entries of 32 for channel 2002 to database.
2014-06-08 15:54:24.638 EITCache: Wrote 32 modified entries of 32 for channel 2021 to database.
2014-06-08 15:54:25.526 EITCache: Wrote 90 modified entries of 90 for channel 2022 to database.
...

In the process also found a more verbose invocation for starting mythbackend:

 /usr/bin/mythbackend  --verbose important,general,eit --daemon --logfile /var/log/mythtv/mythbackend.log --pidfile /var/run/mythtv/mythbackend.pid

The good news is that the quality of the EPG has improved, so I can probably stick with it, maybe even after the upgrade. The only issue is the extremely limited number of programme categories, half of which appear to be “Unknown”. That makes the programme display considerably more difficult.


The weekly eBay pain
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Last week I tried to sell my old camera on eBay Australia. The problems I ran into were clearly bugs. Somewhat to my surprise I got a well-thought out answer to my bug report a few days later, offering workarounds for the bugs.

But I didn't want to list it on a Wednesday. I have a hypothesis that from the seller's perspective the best time for an auction to finish is on a Sunday afternoon, when lots of people can watch it run to completion. It also seems reasonable to have a 7 day auction—anything longer tends to get forgotten. So that meant putting it up on a Sunday afternoon.

Back to the incomplete item description. Yes, now it had weight information, though it's not clear why. I still couldn't add any more photos (“Maximum 12 photos. 1 loaded. You can load 0 more”). OK, just get the thing listed. “You can't sell internationally at this time”. The reasons specified all didn't apply, but who cares? I don't think anybody outside Australia would be interested anyway. So I selected “no international sales” and tried again. “You can't sell internationally at this time”.

Grrr! This stuff is still broken. How about listing it on eBay USA? Tried that, and it would have worked, except that the item location has to be in the USA. But it suggests that the problem is in the (very different) Australian eBay software. OK, how about trying with a Microsoft-based client? No change. Maybe the partial listing has a trauma and can't be saved? It would be easier to start again anyway. But this time it didn't understand the string “Olympus E-30”, and I had to manually select a category. It did find a stock photo (which I'm not allowed to use because the camera isn't new), but when I tried to enter one of mine, it took me back to the “please select category” page, even though I had already selected one:

 
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So once again I can't list the item. What's wrong with this site?


Monday, 9 June 2014 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 9 June 2014
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Alternatives to JG King?
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

It's coming on 6 months since we signed an agreement with JG King. At the time we were talking about having the house completed in September, three months' time. Now it's looking like it'll take at least another 6 months.

What went wrong? Even then we weren't expecting the planning permit until April. That was only delayed by one month, and if we had known, we could have had it much earlier than April. What has really taken an eternity is the JG King bureaucracy. Tom Tyler told us we didn't really do much until we applied for the planning permit. So we applied for the permit on 31 March and told Tom on 4 April. The planning permit came through on 30 May. We're still waiting for the contract, and it doesn't look as if we'll get it this month. Why?

Yesterday Mari Hendriks told me that Simonds build houses in 17 days. That sounds like enough difference to consider changing. After all, all we have spent so far is $1,500, which includes a soil test that other builders might accept. So off into town—alone, since Yvonne is fed up to the back teeth with the whole matter—to see what the competition looks like.

As it happened, first to Simonds. The advertised build time isn't 17 days, it's 14 weeks—a little over 3 months. And that's only for houses built with no changes. But they have others, and a guaranteed build time of 5 months, which might still prove to be faster than JG King.

Then on to look at the other builders. Most were closed! Today is one of the many birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II, in this case of Australia, and I had expected the place to be crawling. In fact, apart from Simonds and JG King, only Metricon was open. They have a reputation for being more expensive, but it was worth checking. I told the representative, Tim Britt, about our problems with the contract, though I didn't think it appropriate to mention the name of the builder. It seems I didn't need to: “Ah, that was J.G. King, was it?”. They seem to be known for that.

I looked at the plans first, and decided on the one that I liked most; by chance, it was one of the display homes there, so in to take a look. About $25,000 more expensive than the Adelphi II that we're currently planning, but that depends on the details: we're well over $25,000 over the base price with this house. Back home with lots of brochures. What should we do?


Enchiladas: ¡No, gracias!
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne bought some ready-made Salsa verde at ALDI the other day, so we decided to make enchiladas verdes to compare it with my own salsa.

That didn't quite work out: I thought I had some in the freezer, but I didn't. So we just made the enchiladas with the ALDI sauce, which had a surprisingly gloopy consistency. And it didn't taste much good—not because of the sauce, but because I've come to the conclusion that I don't like enchiladas very much.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014 Dereel Images for 10 June 2014
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Continuing the driveway
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Stewart Summersby along this morning with the address for the gravel for the driveway. We're only putting the rough stuff on at this point: we can do the rest after the house is complete and there won't be so many trucks going over it. To be delivered tomorrow. At least some things are moving.


Tying up the contract
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

I've decided that Tessa Ambrose is not particularly used to correspondence by email—why should she be? So to move things faster, I've taken to speaking to her on the phone and confirming the conversation by email. Today we had two calls, and it looks as if we have tied most things up: we'll connect power for water pump (and sewage if necessary) via the shed rather than via the house, since otherwise they require not only a power point on the outside wall, far from anything that can use it, and also a junction box, something that neither Stewart nor Mari understood. And there should be no problems with the downpipes from the gutters to the underground pipes to the water tanks.

About the only thing that could be an issue is the frame for the TV. Normally this sort of thing is attached to walls by going through the plasterboard into the studs. But JG King houses have metal frames, so they don't have conventional wooden studs. How do we connect it? Tessa volunteered the information that she had no trouble with her TV, which is bigger than ours. That sounded promising—until I asked if she had a JG King home. No, normal wooden studs.

It seems that it is possible to screw into the C-shaped profiles that JG King use, but it seems that they haven't found it necessary to come up with recommendations. Maybe we'll have to put wood behind the wall. That's OK for the immediate question of the TV, but what happens in a few years' time when we replace it?


More recording problems
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I've been keeping an eye on my TV reception quality for nearly 3 years now, and I still don't understand why sometimes things are normal, and sometimes the image quality is completely unacceptable, to the point where no data at all are recorded. I've eliminated most things, including the tuners and cabling.

But since my reconfiguration of the system over the weekend, things are different. Recordings on tuner 1 are consistently fine, and recordings on tuner 2 are consistently unusable. Why? I didn't do anything with the hardware. It looks as if it must be something to do with the configuration itself, which is certainly confused: it had lost the names of the tuners, for example. One possibility might be that the tuners get tuned to a different frequency. But so far I can't see anything in the database that would explain the problem. What a pain these things are!


Wednesday, 11 June 2014 Dereel Images for 11 June 2014
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JG King: No joke
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

After yesterday's discussion with Tessa Ambrose I had the feeling that we were finally making headway towards getting a contract signed with JG King. And then today I received dead tree mail from Tessa with another item that she hadn't mentioned yesterday:

Client to provide electrical plan with exact locations of all electrical works prior to contracts being produced.

And this from somebody who had refused to give us details of the electrics, and who told me yesterday—after the mail had been sent—that there were no further details to discuss! You'd get the impression that they're trying to annoy me. Whether it was intentional or not, they certainly succeeded. I was just getting to the point where I accepted all the changes, unexpected costs and delays, and then this! How many more unexpected events are we going to have to put up with?

I had previously made a joke of the name, “Jgking” → “Joking”. But this is no joke any more. I'm seriously annoyed.


Driveway paved
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

The driveway now has the rough first coating of stones:


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It happened very quickly: the stones were delivered today, and Stewart had already spread them and left by the time I arrived at 11:00.


Planning the septic tank system
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

My main reason to go to the building site was to measure out the land for the septic tank system. That worked well enough, though there's less space than I thought. Called up Michelle Newman at the council and discussed details with her—everything seems straightforward enough. Before they process the application, they (Michelle or an unnamed colleague) need to inspect the site, and by chance she was going to be in the area this afternoon, so she said she would try to make it if she had time. I waited at home all afternoon, but it seems she didn't make it.


Parting from my old computers
Topic: Stones Road house, technology Link here

What do I do with all the old computers, books and listings in the shipping container? I haven't looked at them in years, and we don't want to take the container with us when we move. Chris Bahlo wants to buy it, and we should move it before the winter sets in and the ground gets too soft. So today Stewart and Craig came by and picked up many of the old computers, and also my old brewing fridges, to be scrapped:


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I couldn't bear to look.


TV reception: next attempt
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

So why is my TV reception so bad on tuner 2? Cables after all? The antenna cable went into tuner 1, and from there a daisy chain cable went to tuner 2. Turned it around so that it went from tuner 2 to 1:


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That shows the connections after changing. The white cable is the antenna going into tuner 2.

The results? The problem remained with the tuner. What now?


Air conditioning impasse
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

I've been neglecting the air conditioning quotes. So have the people I contacted. About the only one who was still in the running was Ian, surname unknown, from Celsius, who send me a quotation for a Mitsubishi VRF system at the end of last month—with only one internal heat exchanger, and using more power than our mains connection can provide!

On my suggestion that that wouldn't work, he went back and had another chat with Mitsubishi. Yesterday he sent me his second quotation—a split system unit rather like the Fujitsu units that we have here at the moment. I am singularly dissatisfied with the Fujitsu units, in particular the almost complete lack of temperature control. That's because the temperature sensors are located in the unit, compounded by the fact that they're out of the air flow and above the pipe sensor.

Today I finally got Ian on the phone and asked him where the units measure temperature. He didn't understand. Why I finally explained, he said yes, they're in the unit. He didn't understand my explanation that to control a quantity, you first need to measure it. And the quantity I want controlled is the room temperature, not the temperature inside the internal unit. “You're the first person who has ever had problems with that”. Well, maybe the first person who has made it clear to him that that is a problem, or who has identified this as a cause for problems which doubtless many people have. He suggested I talk to the techies at Mitsubishi, and he would get me the phone number when he got back to the office. But he didn't. Instead I got a mail message:

Hi Greg further to our phone discussion this afternoon. The multi head system that we have offered allows you to control the temperature in each room and the head units have temperature sensoring devices which allow you to do this.

With regards your point of view about the accuracy of the temp control etc and your comment regarding design etc your are entitled to your opinion but this is in our opinion is not correct.

This being the case with regards your specific needs it would be better for you to consult with other heating and cooling companies.

Still, he had one point right: clearly I need to find somebody else, who, if he also doesn't understand the issues, is at least prepared to quote for what I want. What a pain!


Thursday, 12 June 2014 Dereel → Bannockburn → Dereel Images for 12 June 2014
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Submitting the septic tank application
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Off to Bannockburn this morning with my application for the septic tank. Spoke to Barb, who was rather surprised that I came down just for that. But now it's in, and she has given it a preliminary vetting. The inspection will probably happen next week.


Getting a committment from JG King
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

This latest requirement from JG King is still irritating me, but today I was able to sit down and write a mail message asking for explanation and also a request for clarification of dates, and for completeness' sake a machine-readable copy of the dead tree document that she had sent me. In reply I got only the document copy, along with the indication that she didn't know the word “machine-readable”, which fortunately is in the OED. No mention of the more serious issues.


TV reception problems, next step
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I've had TV reception problems for years, and I've been keeping notes in my diary. Why didn't I look there earlier? It seems that almost exactly three years ago I had the same problem: fine-tuning was disabled. And so it was again today. Set the flag; now to see if it helps. It wasn't helped by random variations in each direction. I seem to recall some issues with frequency, but so far I haven't been able to find them.


Canis lupus
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Watching Loup on TV today. What interested me most was now Nikolai reacted. We've already established that most dogs don't pay any attention at all to what goes on on TV, while cats do. But Nikolai very definitely did, to the point of going up to the image of a wolf on the screen and touching it with his nose.

The film itself was interesting. It appears to be taking place in Siberia in the present, but it's the story of a reindeer herdsman who, instead of killing some wolves he found, makes friends with them. On the one hand it's suggestive of the way dogs first became domesticated, but it's also a bit too fast. Maybe the cubs would have made friends with him, but I can't imagine any amount of domestication would domesticate a wolf that grew up in the wild. And the way the (only) male catches a rabbit (are there rabbits in Siberia?) shows that he has never really caught one:

 
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Our dogs always hold things by the “neck”, even if it's not an animal:


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Particularly the way Tanya carries her sticks puzzled us: why not hold it in balance? Because that's not what's in her genes, clearly.

Oh, and talking of genes, one thing's now clear: dogs are descended from wolves, not jackals or other canids. Thus the change in the binomial name from Canis familiaris (familiar dog) to Canis lupus familiaris (familiar wolf dog).


Friday, 13 June 2014 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel
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JG King: The ultimate insult
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Call on the phone from Tessa Ambrose this morning to tell me—only—the depth of the sewage outlet from the house: 0.6 m below surface, which won't make Mari happy. I asked once again why she hadn't told me about the electrics. Apparently she had in some email. Still no reason not to mention it on the phone.

And yes, they need an schedule from the electrician so that the other workers (“trades”) on site don't accidentally damage something. I asked about the absence of markings for smoke detectors on their own plans, and she confessed that they had never put them there. Still, Stewart was there, so I got him to talk to her, and he agreed to submit a marginally marked-up copy of her own plan. We will be able to make changes on-site, and of course Stewart will keep the supervisor informed.

And the rest? Still no reaction to the fact that she had once again sprung this item on me, nor for the dates. I had to explicitly ask her, upon which she came up with the following schedule:

That's a delay of nearly 6 months, and at least 9 months from now!! She asked innocently if that were inconvenient, and I told her how much of a delay that was. She started blaming Tom Tyler again—dammit, for me Tom and Tessa are just part of JG King, and they should stand up to their mistakes rather than finger-pointing. But that's OK: she found a new culprit—me! It seems that I should have ensured that Tom put all the right things into the new home estimate. I hung up on her.

When I had calmed down a bit, sent her another mail message, copying her manager Wayne Jones, asking for an immediate and unreserved written apology. None came. It's looking more and more like we'll have to change builders.


Alternatives to JG King
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

JG King's building schedule is so slow that even now, 6 months after starting, it could be faster to get some other builder to take over. There's a certain cost involved, of course—maybe—but I've lost confidence in the company. Time to go to Ballarat and see what others can offer.

First, though: what about the reputation of the builders? Product Review Australia has a ratings page for Victorian builders, which includes a surprising number of builders in other states. JG King got only 2.1 points out of a maximum of 5. The best was Hotondo with 4.5. And Simonds, whom we are considering, got only 1.8. The other one I looked at was Metricon, who got 3.0, pulled down by at least one review saying basically “These reviews look terrible! I'm not going to touch them!”.

So: what to do? Off to Hotondo to take another look at their offerings. Yvonne was rather taken by their “Gippslander” range, only two sizes: too small and too big. They're probably more expensive than we can afford, but that's to be seen. Then to Lucas and took another look around. More sites were open, but not many. Yvonne doesn't want to go near Dennis Family Homes, and in the end the only other house we looked at was Dimension, which was probably the most expensive of all, and not very interesting. Took another look at the Metricon display homes, but in the end decided they weren't quite as interesting as I had thought on Monday.

At Simonds Colette was not there—at our periodontists in Geelong, as it proved—so we just left behind our requirement list and went again.


Still no improvement in reception
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

So did the fine-tuning help with my TV reception? Not so far. But I've also noticed particularly bad radio reception, so maybe there's some interference causing the problems. I have enough other stuff to do to be bothered with chasing it down right now.


Saturday, 14 June 2014 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 14 June 2014
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New mouse
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While in town yesterday, I picked up a new 6 button wireless mouse from OfficeWorks. It represents a new low in documentation:


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And that's really everything.

The fun started when the receiver wasn't detected when I plugged it in to the keyboard hub. Only when I put it in a port on the motherboard did I get:

Jun 14 08:28:18 eureka kernel: ugen1.9: <MOSART Semi.> at usbus1
Jun 14 08:28:18 eureka kernel: ukbd2: <MOSART Semi. 2.4G Keyboard Mouse, class 0/0, rev 1.10/3.00, addr 9> on usbus1
Jun 14 08:28:18 eureka kernel: kbd4 at ukbd2
Jun 14 08:28:18 eureka kernel: ums1: <MOSART Semi. 2.4G Keyboard Mouse, class 0/0, rev 1.10/3.00, addr 9> on usbus1
Jun 14 08:28:18 eureka kernel: ums1: 5 buttons and [XYZT] coordinates ID=3

Keyboard? This is a mouse! And though I count 6 buttons, and the “instructions” claim 8, the probe only finds 5, and only 4 work for me. I suppose the scroll wheel counts for another 2. But what about the arrows on the scroll wheel and the buttons on the left?


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What do those symbols mean? Somebody on IRC told me: the one at the top means “Internet Explorer” and the one at the bottom means “Microsoft Outlook”. So the designers of this mouse have confused hardware functions with specific programs that they expect the user to use. Even if you're using Microsoft, there's no reason to assume that you'd use those specific programs.

I had a more immediate problem, though: the thing didn't react. After a bit of experimentation, discovered that the oval thing at the bottom side of the scroll wheel was both the advertised but undocumented on-off switch and also an LED that briefly goes on when it's pressed:

 
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If not used for a while, it turns off. Presumably the power consumption of the device is so high that this is necessary.

And the Microsoft buttons? xev showed no reaction. Presumably they generate keyboard events, but I wasn't able to detect them. Still, I wasn't really looking for buttons there. The mouse does its job, and it slides well on the desktop.


New house, next attempt
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Call from Colette Jackson of Simonds this afternoon. She had a quote for me based on the specifications I left with her yesterday. She didn't want to tell me on the phone: we had to come into the office. Oh well, why not? Off through the pouring rain to see what she had put together. Very expensive! A total of $256,060 including BAL 19 and site costs. How does that compare to the JG King offering? We've been through so many iterations that I don't really know. Back at home, compared the base prices as well as I could:

Item       JG King       Simonds
House       Aldelphi II       Marriott 3016
Area       223.77 m²       224.92 m²
Base price       200,900       189,900
Additional room             5,706
Flooring       5,883       17,568
Planning       1,500      
Site costs       14,000       10,000
BAL 19       8,000       10,000
Total       230,283       233,174

The difference for the flooring is because Simonds doesn't supply any flooring, while JG King supply carpets.

So they're comparable, especially since so many items are just estimates. The difference in site costs could be due to the results of the soil test, which JG King have seen and Simonds haven't. In addition, the quote we got from Simonds only addressed a few of the items I have on my requirements list. Getting into the nitty-gritty is even more of a pain.

But wait! There's more! The 14 week specials are still available, even if the sign outside the display home now says “all taken”. They have a house for $174,000, including flooring and a few other odds and ends. It's only 194(.84) m², but we could modify the garage as my office, like I had planned earlier. Back home, seriously considering that alternative. It took a while to sink in that we're comparing the $189,000 and realistically $10,000 for flooring for the Marriott with the $174,000 for the Westbury. For that difference I can only barely build a separate garage and convert the existing one to an office. Is it worth it? I think not.


Bureaucrats piss off experts
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Pene (pronounced “Penny”) Kirk, the vet, and her partner Don Larpent over for dinner tonight. Pene is seething: she has been participating in a programme to teach schoolchildren about how to behave with dogs, a plan that Yvonne had also been interested in. But Pene has decided to give it up: a week or two ago she had a session at a school in Linton, where the children had a great time. They wrote it up in the local newspaper, and everybody was happy.

Everybody, that is, except the bureaucrats. One of the people running the programme noted that some of the children had collected hair from Pene's dog, who was moulting, and made small balls of it. No matter that moulting is a normal function, nor that the dog had been washed immediately before the event, nor that a qualified vet had confirmed that there was no risk to the children: the bureaucrats know better. I'm reminded of so many other issues with Victorian bureaucrats.

And that wasn't the only one! On an earlier occasion she was at a kindergarten in Sebastopol. The kindergarten teacher told her off for saying “excellent” to the children.

What? What's wrong with that? It seems that 4-year-olds don't know that word, and they're not capable of learning. How will they learn if they don't hear any words they don't know? Sheesh.

On a more pleasant level, discussed the change of the binomial name of dogs. Pene pointed out that dogs and wolves can freely cross-breed and produce fertile offspring, thus justifying the classification as Canis lupus. That doesn't work with other canids. We discussed that further, and somehow I got to the consideration: “Have there been any known cases of interbreeding between humans and chimpanzees“? Pene: “Tony Abbott”.


Sunday, 15 June 2014 Dereel Images for 15 June 2014
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Preening the alternatives
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

So now we have two potential builders as an alternative to JG King. The time frame is interesting:

Builder       Contract       Building       Probable
      available       starts       completion
JG King       mid-July       early August       April 2015
Hotondo       early July       early August       January 2015
Simonds       early July       early August       January 2015
Simonds express       early July       early August       November 2014

So clearly JG King are way out of line. Yes, it will cost probably $1000 to $2000 to change, but that's probably less than we would save on the bridging credit. And based on my current experience, I have no confidence that JG King will really complete by the time they say.

The only issue is: we like the house. After looking at the others, only the Marriott from Simonds seems comparable, and even then we'd have to make more adjustments. So we're no closer to a solution.


JG King: analysing the delay
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

When we signed the agreement with JG King, we were talking about having the house completed in September. Now it's looking like it'll take at least another 6 months. What went wrong? There are two separate tracks: getting permits and doing the paperwork with JG King. We were sure that the former would take much longer than the latter: Tom Tyler had told me something about 2 weeks. Let's look at where the delays crept in:

Permits

We had reckoned with 3 months for the planning permit. That would have been the end of March. But Tom told us that we couldn't apply for the planning permit until we had the soil test report. That took until 28 January, 6 weeks, and 4 weeks longer than promised.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
42 days       Tom Tyler       Incorrect information about requirements

In fact, it turned out that we didn't need the soil test for the application. But that turned out not to be so important.

I set to applying for the planning permit immediately, and the following day I discovered that I had to provide a Bushfire Management Statement. Getting that was much more painful than I had expected, and in the end I decided to get the statement prepared by a consultant. That took until 14 March, a delay of—coincidentally—43 days.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
43 days       Greg       Too late applying for the BMS

These delays don't add up; it's a total of 43 days. If we had applied for the BMS in time, it still wouldn't have arrived before the soil test.

But we're not done yet. I couldn't make sense of the verbiage in the statement, and it proved that there were errors in it, in particular missing buildings. Finally clarified things on 24 March, more or less.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
10 days       McClellands       Incorrect wording of BMS

It sounded like a good idea to talk to the council about whether they'd accept it. Called up on the same day and discovered that I couldn't get an appointment for another week.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
7 days       Golden Plains Shire       Delay for appointment

On 31 March I finally talked to the planning people in Bannockburn and handed in the application for the planning permit. It was granted on 30 May, 61 days after application.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
-31 days       Golden Plains Shire       Faster than estimated

If we had done everything right, assuming that the 43 days for the BMS were typical, and going on our previous assumptions, the permit would have been issued on 6 May. So we lost 24 days.

JG King planning

Tom Tyler had told me that we would need about 2 weeks to get the contracts issued, and indeed that seems to be typical, that the building permit would be a matter of 2 or 3 days, and that building had to commence within a week after that. So on 8 April, shortly after applying for the planning permit, I called up Tom and got his mobile voice mail. Based on his statements, it didn't seem to be urgent, so I waited to see how long it would be before he called back.

That's now nearly 2½ months ago, and we're still further from the contract than the original estimate of the total: if we're lucky, it'll be another 4 weeks. What went wrong here?

Tom didn't call me back until 14 April, 6 days later, and suggested a meeting a week later to finalize the plans. We met on 21 April and—I thought—addressed most of the issues. We were still confident of being in the house by the end of November.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
13 days       Tom Tyler

We still needed to provide Tom with a list of the extras we wanted from their promotion. We tried to do that immediately, but a number of questions popped up. We tried to contact Tom, but he wasn't available, and it wasn't until 30 April that we were finally able to send him our list of extras.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
9 days       Tom Tyler       not available

Nothing happened until 14 May, two weeks later. Tessa Ambrose called me because I hadn't replied to the SMS that she had sent to my mobile phone.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
14 days       Tessa Ambrose       not known

I restrained myself from commenting about the appropriateness of the medium, discussed things with her, and agreed to do things by email. She sent a requirements document that—of course—had a number of things missing, and a large number of items were still “Provisional”. I sent her back a reply clarifying the things that Tom had left out. I also flagged a couple of clerical errors.

In the next week we had a number of exchanges. Some of the quotes were completely hair-raising. Without any explanation she added $1,500 for “category B drawings”, whatever that may mean, and changed some of the agreed prices. She quoted $2,653 for roughly 80 m of unterminated fibre (about $1 per metre), and we spent some time trying to get the electrics straight. This wasn't helped by the apparent lack of communication inside JG King with their electricians. In my first message I made a request for wiring information, and it wasn't until 27 May that I received a completely inadequate reply: “I have discussed this with my manager and he has advised that we would never provide the wiring layout. It is the responsibility of your electrician to design this layout”. This kind of poor communication delayed things further.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
13 days       Tessa Ambrose       poor communication?

Round here the planning permit arrived, which I sent to her in machine-readable form. She then discovered that there is no sewage or running water in Dereel—something that she could have guessed. Since it seems to make a (surprisingly high) difference in price, she should have asked in advance. This suggests to me that she doesn't have the experience to do the job. Instead she blamed this on Tom, not for the first time. That's none of my business.

To be on the safe side, I pointed out to her that—like everywhere in Victoria outside the cities—we have no mains gas. No, she didn't know that either, and came up with more extra costs as a result.

On 13 June she called me up with information about the sewage outlet, something that she should have done by email. She didn't address a number of serious points in a previous email, and I had to ask her specifically, particularly in regard to this question:

I should also reiterate that we are very unhappy with the slow progress of this project. It's been 6 months since we started, and we still don't even have a contract. Please give us a definitive date when we can move in, with contractual penalty if you do not reach this date.

She gave me a schedule that would basically have us moving in in 10 months. This is based on her claim that she had submitted the plans to drafting on 3 June. Why so late? The plans have been unchanged since 20 May.

So where do we go from here? According to her explanation, it will take 4 weeks for the plans, another two weeks for the contract (why?), another two weeks for the building permit and yet another two weeks to start construction. That's a total of 10 weeks instead of the two I had been promised.

Delay       Responsible       Cause
42 days       JG King       not explained

And the building time? I had been told an absolute maximum of 7 months, usually more like 5. But Tessa says “March, maybe April”. That sounds like at least 8 months to me.

Based on the sales pitch, we should have been able to expect the contract two weeks after I contacted Tom, on 22 April. Instead it looks like it'll be ready, say, 14 July. That's not two weeks, it's well over three months! We can probably then leave the issue of when construction starts—that's not completely out of line with what Tom said. But he suggested that we would have the project completed probably within 5 months. Now Tessa is saying (effectively) 8. Another 6 months!

Step       Delay
Contract       83 days
Building       91 days

Tessa has blamed everybody except herself for this problem, although it's clear that she's very much part of the problem. Instead I had to hear:

The length of time this has taken is not unusual due to the number of changes you have made and the clarifications that have had to be made due to many items being left off your initial quote.

What changes? I've been back and checked, and the only changes I made were because of ridiculous things like the cost of fibre. The only thing that we have added was a sliding door in the pantry, at her suggestion. That shouldn't blow things out from 2 to 14 weeks.


Garden flowers in early winter
Topic: gardening Link here

It's two weeks into winter, but you wouldn't know it. It's a lot warmer than in previous years:

mysql> SELECT date, time, avg(outside_temp), min(outside_temp)
FROM observations
WHERE month(date) = 6
  AND day(date) < 16
GROUP BY month(date), year(date);

+------------+----------+-------------------+-------------------+
| date       | time     | avg(outside_temp) | min(outside_temp) |
+------------+----------+-------------------+-------------------+
| 2010-06-15 | 23:59:22 |    7.884307900359 |               0.5 |
| 2011-06-01 | 00:00:59 |  8.71938064527554 |               0.1 |
| 2012-06-01 | 00:00:34 |   8.6995156990135 |               1.1 |
| 2013-06-01 | 00:00:14 |   9.5333892890934 |               2.1 |
| 2014-06-01 | 00:00:38 |  10.3035396488181 |               3.1 |
+------------+----------+-------------------+-------------------+

And we've had enough rainfall that things are looking relatively happy. I even have a rose that looks relatively fresh:


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The plants in the greenhouse don't show the neglect they've been getting:


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And, as always, the first spring bulbs are already flowering:


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Monday, 16 June 2014 Dereel Images for 16 June 2014
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Continue with JG King?
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Still no apology from Tessa Ambrose in the mail today, but I did hear from Tom Tyler: he's taking over the project. No suggestion of apology from him either, not that he needed to, but I found it inappropriate to criticize the tone of my last message to Tessa.

Still, they've found somebody else for me. Will things happen faster? Tom has promised to try to speed things up, but can he? It's fairly clear that he (like Tessa) has little influence on the other parts of JG King. But if we've made a point, it might help speed things up a bit.


High telephone bill
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've been using the phone a lot lately, of course, and so many people seem to only have mobile telephones. That makes a big difference to my phone bottom line:

Category       Calls       Call Minutes       Inc. GST
Fixed to Mobile       17       47       $13.20
International       1       9       $0.19
Special       12       43       $2.00
National Untimed       44       123       $5.50
TOTAL       74       223       $20.89

Roughly 20% of the call time was to mobile phones, but it cost ⅔ of the total. And it's about 13 times as expensive as calling a fixed number in Germany.


No safe place for dogs to run
Topic: animals, photography, opinion Link here

Today was Nikolai's birthday, and we took the dogs—again—to Stones Road to run around a bit. I'm still having great difficulty taking video, especially because they run straight past me:

But then Nikolai saw a kangaroo—I think—and the three of them disappeared into the undergrowth at the west end of the property. We went down to take a look, but of course there was no sign of them: there are too many holes in the “fence”.

Off in the car to look for them. Which way?


View Larger Map

In the past we've seen kangaroos leave heading south-west across Bliss Road, but the dogs seemed to be veering north-west towards Progress Road. So we headed that way, wondering if we'd ever see them again. But not far from the back of our property we saw Zhivago and Tanya crossing the road. And while we were loading them into the car, Nikolai came out behind them from the scrub. So no harm was done, but it's clear we can't let them run there again until the fencing has been done.


Roasting meat: another data point
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne returned from shopping last week with a thing called a “Pork Loin Roast Satay”. That proved to be a normal loin roast coated in something that looked vaguely like satay sauce, and presumably contained peanuts, something that Yvonne doesn't like:


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The interesting question was how to cook it. It weighed 600 g. My cooking time page suggested 50 to 80 minutes per kg, but this one was relatively thin, about 8 cm in diameter. Most cooking time charts don't take the shape of the meat into account, but clearly it's important. I did it in the table oven at 190°, and it took 45 minutes to reach 78°. Despite the thinness, that's 75 minutes per kilogram. How do I factor that in to my table?

And the taste? Not overly satay-like, but a nice piece of meat. And in this case I think that the conventional wisdom is correct: 78° is a little on the low side. At least for this kind of meat I'll aim for 80° next time.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014 Dereel
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Biodiversity offsets: legally sanctioned fraud
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Finally got a quote for my minuscule biodiversity offset: $5,995! That includes a brokerage fee of $1,320. And that for removing four trees and a little grassland. Somehow that's completely ridiculous. We could replant the trees elsewhere on the property, and if the grass is that important, we can find methods to enhance the proportion (currently 25%) elsewhere on the property.

On the other hand, this only relates to construction work. At any later time I'm allowed to create a garden, in the process removing the native vegetation. What has got into these people? Tried calling Nick Jaschenko, but he's on leave until 4 August 2014. His replacement is Jeff Miller, phone 5362 0727, but he wasn't available and didn't call back. I'm not sure he could help anyway.


Towards a contract
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

On other matters, things seem to be progressing on the JG King front. A long discussion with Tom Tyler, who told me that the plans will now be finished on 26 June 2014, and that we should be able to sign the contracts by early July, start building in mid- to late July, and be completed after their target of 140 days. That would put our completion date in line with what we had hoped, the anniversary of signing the estimate 6 months ago today.


USB catastrophe
Topic: technology Link here

I know that FreeBSD release 9 has issues with USB, particularly—for some reason—on eureka, my main machine. So when I connect cameras or backup disks to it, I first switch to /dev/ttyv0 to avoid this strange X bug that causes the mouse to hang.

But today that didn't work. The display hung, and I couldn't get any response even after disconnecting and reconnecting keyboard, mouse and other things. I had to reboot. How I hate rebooting!

My troubles weren't over, though. I had no networking! After some cursing and investigation, discovered that natd wasn't working: although it was configured, I had put in my own firewall rules, and natd only gets started if I use the standard firewall configuration.

That took the best part of an hour, and then we were about to go to walk the dogs. First I had to send a mail message to one of the builders—and it didn't get transmitted to our external server. More cursing, and discovered that it was the firewall again. Why now? I had reinstated exactly the rules I had had before the reboot. But I had changed some of them only a few hours ago, mainly to stop all the external TCP session setup attempts, like these:

Jun 17 07:40:39 eureka sshd[20761]: reverse mapping checking getaddrinfo for 194.51.174.61.dial.wz.zj.dynamic.163data.com.cn [61.174.51.194] failed - POSSIBLE BREAK-IN ATTEMPT! [preauth]

And it seems that in the process I killed access from localhost and didn't notice it. That's in the standard firewall scripts, of course, but not in mine. Time to revert to the standard version.

Then, while walking the dogs, Yvonne asked me “how do I make a mailbox read-write again?”. That's a problem I had seen before, usually on boot, and a reboot “solved” the issue. Ended up rebooting lagoon (Yvonne's machine) as well, but afterwards the mailbox was still read-only. A message appeared at the bottom of the screen indicating an flock() failure, and I got a singularly useless log message;

Jun 17 15:07:55 lagoon kernel: NLM: failed to contact remote rpcbind, stat = 0, port = 0

What's that? It's a TLA that I don't recognize, but it seems to stand for Network Lock Manager. But if it's locks across NFS, that should be handled by rpc.lockd. Was it running? No. Started it, and things worked again. But why wasn't it running? I can only assume that it had something to do with the network problems on startup.

Later, when things had calmed down, I discovered that I had seen exactly this problem before, but I must have forgotten it.

What a day!


Wednesday, 18 June 2014 Dereel Images for 18 June 2014
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Eagle's nest?
Topic: animals Link here

Yesterday while walking the dogs we found a strange pile of wood chips and feathers on the ground. And, of course, I didn't have a camera with me. I must remember to always carry a camera when walking the dogs. Today I brought one with me:


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It was certainly very big if it was a bird's nest. Here's a comparison


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I took it apart, but apart from the feathers, it was just twigs. Yvonne thought that it might be a nest of a Wedge-tailed eagle because of the feathers, which all are a little browner at the tip.


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Problem: wedgies are dark in colour. But the nest (if it is one) does resemble this image from Wikipedia:

Wedge-tailed eagle nest


Biodiversity revisited
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Finally got a call back from Jeff Miller of DEPI and discussed the biodiversity credits once again, at length—nearly 40 minutes. Key recognitions: the Biodiversity Equivalence Units (BEU) are roughly, but not completely, proportional to the area in question, and the Strategic Biodiversity Score (apparently not SBS) relates to the importance of the location. It seems that the 0.08 for our location puts it pretty much at the low end of the scale, whereas he used the Grampians National Park—apparently his main interest—as an example of a high strategic biodiversity score.

But do we even have “native grass” on our property? Don Fortescue had only found a little Wallaby Grass, which apparently looks like this:


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There's very little of that. What we have looks more like this:


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How much, if any, native grass is there there? The thin stems, perhaps? Jeff also mentioned Kangaroo Grass, Blue Devil (a name with so many false positives that I can't be bothered to look for a link) and spear grass, an unidentified species of Stipa, and which apparently produces corkscrew-shaped seeds that bore into sheep. I seem to remember Brad M[uü]ller of the council mentioning all except Blue Devil. Time to find somebody who can identify all of them. Interestingly, it seems that Kangaroo Grass is widespread round the world. Can it still lay claim to being Australian?

The other thing that makes this business so completely ridiculous is that the amount of native grass is only marginally of interest: is it more or less than 25%? If it's less, we don't need an offset. If it's more, it doesn't make any difference how much more: it requires the same offset.

But back to the report. When I ran this emetic web program (apparently called nvim, and the only allowed way to calculate offsets), I had great difficulty specifying the exact areas I was clearing. And based on the information I had been given at the time, it didn't seem important. But now I see that I really only need to clear a surface of 284 m² for the house, 74 m² for the shed and 300 m² for the arena, a total of 658 m². But in the report I stated 1850 m². So it seems that it would make sense to re-submit my application. And given the relationships, do we need a covered arena? If not, we save a further 300 m². That would save us thousands.


Progress on house erection
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Talking to Stewart Summersby about the electrical plan today, and he pointed me to Don Biddle, phone 0409 082 351, who's a builder. He could even build a house substantially similar to the JG King one. But no more cheaply, so why bother? As Stewart said later on when he brought the documents, their prices are generally not bad.


Saving a trapped kangaroo
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Went walking round Westons Road in the afternoon, with the intention of finding our way into the Enfield State Park which, like I, still thinks it's called Enfield State Forest. But at the end of the road we found what appears to be a state road leading back south-west to Grassy Gully Road, so we followed that. It borders on the north-west to the Mitchell's property:


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And there we found an amazing sight:


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It was an Eastern grey kangaroo which had apparently tried to jump the fence, got both its hind legs caught between two rows of barbed wire, and fallen so that it couldn't get them out again. Yvonne wanted me to save it. How? I didn't have wire cutters on me, and who knows what it would have done to me? In addition, it required damaging the Mitchell's fence. In the end we decided to call the wildlife rescue people. And of course I didn't have a camera with me. I must remember to always carry a camera when walking the dogs. The photos above were taken after we had called the rescue people.

Continuing on the state road was interesting: there was a gate at the end, fortunately not padlocked, and we came across a few more kangaroos. Nikolai went wild, and one kangaroo jumped in panic back and forwards between the fences (only 1.2 m high!), without even trying to jump over them or the gate. Finally it belted past us, straight towards Yvonne with Tanya and Zhivago, and jumped right over them. What I would have given to get that photo!

Then Yvonne headed off to the Marriott's, where she called them up and gave them details of where it was, and also our phone number, while I picked up the car. Back home 40 minutes later I got a call from Vince, who was currently trying to hoist another kangaroo out of a mine shaft, and gave him the GPS coordinates of the gate on Grassy Gully Road. He called again round 18:30 saying that he couldn't find the gate, so I set off looking for him. He was at the other end of the road! It seems that he had had difficulty entering the coordinates, and apparently the receptionist with whom Yvonne had spoken hadn't given the details, so they were examining a different rusty gate.

Up with them, where they first put a rug over the kangaroo's head and then freed it:


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Next, Vince examined the animal, which they eventually decided was a female about 4 years old:


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It seems that they can have issues with their hips, and also the injuries could have severely damaged the tendons in the legs, but gradually it was able to move its feet. But the fact that it didn't try to escape suggested that there was some considerable damage done:


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Vince decided against sedating it, and just put it on the back seat of the car, not without some difficulty. Note for next time: turn it on its back and push it in tail first:


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I was very surprised how calm the kangaroo was during the entire operation, which took less than 15 minutes. I had expected that even if it were unable to walk, it would thrash around and not let anybody touch it. But about the only time when it showed any resistance was towards the end of the attempts to load it into the car, where it picked on Vince's jacket:


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Thursday, 19 June 2014 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 19 June 2014
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Blood tests, haircuts and Epacris impressa
Topic: general Link here

Into town this morning for somewhat belated blood test (should have been on 14 May 2014, but I've just been too busy) and haircut (nominally due on 12 May 2014).

And that was all. It seems hardly worth driving 70 km for that. On the way home, driving through Enfield State Park, I found that the place was full of flowering Epacris impressa, so decided, for the fun of it, to drive the length of Misery Creek Road, which proves to end just north of Berringa.

Just by chance, I had been reading about Mendelian inheritance while waiting for my blood test. Nothing new to me, but worth reviewing. One of the topics discussed was incomplete dominance, with the example of snapdragons: the red colour is dominant, but there's a recessive white version (the gene for red is deactivated). But heterozygous flowers aren't red, they're pink.

And so, it seems is the case with Epacris impressa. At the east end of the park they're red.


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On the way they disappeared, but towards the west end I found pink and white-flowered ones:


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That seems to be nothing unknown, but for me it was a discovery. As was Misery Creek Road: I'm sure it was named after the conditions on the goldfields of the day, but in fact it's much prettier the further you get west. It's a pity that it'll remain a little too far to take the dogs for a walk.


The pain of compact cameras
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

When I drove down Misery Creek Road, I only had Yvonne's old Canon IXY 200F with me. It should produce good enough photos. It doesn't. Just about every image was out of focus, and I didn't notice until I was back home. What a pain! I must remember to always carry a real camera when moving around.


The pain of real cameras
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Of course, I did have a real camera with me during the camera rescue. And some of them had terrible flare:


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What's that? I can think of a number of possibilities: dirt on the sensor, dust on the lens, insects flying close to the camera. Dirt on the sensor seems unlikely, since the pattern changes from one image to the next. Here's the same crop of the two images above (1200×900 pixels, offset 1200+0):


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And dust doesn't seem to be the issue either, since other similar images are almost completely free of the spots:


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Insects also seem unlikely, firstly because even if they were out of focus, there would be some indication of their shape, and secondly they couldn't disappear so quickly: those two photos of Vince carrying the kangaroo were taken 3 seconds apart. I'm baffled.

Still, it's worth looking at the lens. I saw no dust—until I shone a bright torch over it. Then there was plenty to be seen. But it's really difficult to highlight it, and to get a good photo took me a total of 18 attempts, from those that didn't show much via those that made the lens surface look completely pitted to one that showed so much more dust than I could imagine:


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It's difficult to see this in perspective: under normal light it's difficult to recognize any dust at all. And I have difficulties in believing that it's the cause of my problems.


Biodiversity from a different viewpoint
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Phone call from Peter Gavin today, one of the biodiversity consultants. At the moment he doesn't have any credits to offer, so it seemed pointless discussing it with him. But he came up with a surprising number of interesting insights.

Most importantly, he confirmed that the price of the only credits I had been offered was pretty much on the high side, but also that the people from DEPI didn't have any idea about the prices. In fact, few people had an idea at all. There are plenty of people who say things like that about others, of course, but Peter could back it up with plausible information. One of the most important things was that the trees I wanted to remove (Acacia melanoxylon or Blackwood) didn't require an offset, since they're not “canopy trees” (effectively eucalypts). And like me, he also has his doubts about the claimed 25% native grass in the area that needs to be cleared.

The problem: assuming we can prove it, we'll need somebody like Peter whose authority the council will accept. And he, too, will cost money, and in addition, he can't do anything until the end of next month. So I'm not out of my deliberations.

Other things of interest: it's not absolutely necessary to use nvim to create the biodiversity map. It seems that he creates a GIS map and feeds that into nvim. Probably not something that I can do.

In addition, each council has its own schedule of which species are worthy of protection and thus require offsets. They're in section 52.17 of the Planning Scheme, which I still need to inspect.


Another new borzoi?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

It seems that Yvonne has been conspiring with Ron Frolley to buy another dog from him. Today she finally talked to me about it. He's 4½ months old (born on 3 February 2014), and he's a half-brother of Nikolai—or is he? They have the same father (Ch. Zoloto Zoviet Iliyoskin, called Yoshi):


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Niko's mother is Ch Zoloto Zoviet Zoe, a littermate of Zhivago, while the new dog's mother is Zoloto Zoviet Zandra, also a full sister and littermate of Zoe. So how closely related are Nikolai and the new one? Clearly more so than if the mothers had not been so closely related. I need to think it through.

But Four borzois? We have difficulty handling the three we have already. But Yvonne had a solution for that: sell Nikolai, the only dog who has ever liked me. And almost before I knew it, she had tipped him out of his basket:


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And why? She always wanted a black dog. And this from somebody who, six months ago, had wanted brindles: that's why we bought Tanya. In any case, Nikolai is black (and white). But no, the dog she has her eye on is completely black, apart from the white patches.

We can afford four borzois. But can we handle them?


Friday, 20 June 2014 Dereel → Melbourne → Warrandyte → Dereel Images for 20 June 2014
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New dogs, continued
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

I was really unhappy about Yvonne's idea of buying a new dog, and didn't sleep well. In the end I came to the conclusion that the only practical way of handling it would be to give Zhivago back to Ron—after all, he was his favourite. But when I got up, Yvonne had come up with a different “solution”: sell Tanya, her favourite, and a dog with the most beautiful brindle coat. I was flabbergasted. So was Chris when she heard. I'm reminded of women who change their dogs to match their new handbag.

Not in the best of moods, retired to my office. Gradually Yvonne worked on me: maybe we could handle four dogs after all. OK, OK, we could always take him on trial. At least take a look at him. Why do I get myself talked into these things?

Off to Melbourne round 11:00, taking Nikolai and Tanya with us. Going to Melbourne always involves a visit to the Victoria Market, which closes at 13:00. Fortunately the traffic was good, and we got there round 12:40, so I dropped Yvonne outside the entrance and off to park the car—they're now charging a minimum of $8 for parking! Found a parking meter outside where I was able to park for 37 minutes for only $4, and inside to discover that they (now?) shut at 17:00 on Fridays, and on other weekdays they're also open until 14:00. Bought far too much cheese and the usual sausage from the Poles, then off to Casa Iberica, mainly for masa. In passing, it's worth noting that there's a similar URL http://www.casaiberica.com.au/ that currently redirects to https://spanishfoods.com.au/, which I think I must give the prize for being the most broken web site I have ever seen. It is completely content-free:

 
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There's so little information there that I don't even know if the company really exists, let alone where it's based. But it appears to have nothing to do with our Casa Iberica.

Then on to Warrandyte. We didn't stay long. Ron is not feeling his best, and for Yvonne it was a foregone conclusion that we would pick up the dog. And so it was. We put Tanya and Nikolai together with the other puppies, most of whom were about the same size as Tanya—and she was afraid of them, including the one that Yvonne had chosen. That's him on the right, chasing Tanya in the foreground out of the field of view:


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Made very good time through Melbourne—only 12 minutes from the end of the Eastern Freeway to Citylink, something that usually takes more than twice as long. And that in Friday rush hour! Got home round 17:45 and spent a while trying to acclimatize the new dog (pedigree name Zoloto Black Jack, whom we will call Leonid, shortened to Leo).

Nikolai and Tanya were with us at Ron's, but they didn't really see much of Leonid after we left, and they didn't get to know him until back home. The reactions were very interesting: Tanya was jealous, while Nikolai really took to him, and soon they were lying together on the lounge-room floor:


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I wonder if Tanya would have been so disapproving if she knew that her own presence depends on her getting on with him.


Saturday, 21 June 2014 Dereel Images for 21 June 2014
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Acclimatizing Leonid
Topic: animals Link here

Leonid is only 4½ months old, and there's no reason to believe that he has been house-trained. Normally Yvonne keeps the dogs in her bedroom overnight, but under the circumstances it seemed a better idea to leave him out in the dog run. We couldn't leave him alone, of course, so we put Nikolai in with him. Nikolai was not amused. Round 3 am I heard Leonid whining, and a little later I heard something on the verandah: Nikolai. Somehow he had broken out; we found out later how:


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Clearly we need better fences in the New House. We also discovered that Nikolai had shat in the water bucket. Yvonne thinks, possibly correctly, that it was out of protest.

How do you walk four Borzois? With difficulty, it seems. We took them for a short walk to the “Eagle's nest” before breakfast.


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After breakfast Jenny McArdle (who last visited us six months ago as Jenny Jones) and her friend Aimée arrived for a lightning visit, so we took them for a longer walk.


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Also discussed the Eagle's nest again. We found a different kind of feather in it:


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Jenny (vet student) agrees with our assessment that it was really an eagle's nest, and that the feathers probably came from prey.


DxO modules: body difference
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

One of the most important features of DxO Optics “Pro” is the set of lens correction modules. They really make a big difference, and they do a better job than Olympus' own “Viewer 3”. But they're paired: not just a lens, but also the camera body that it is connected to. That's particularly irritating for Four thirds lenses on Micro Four Thirds bodies: they're not supported.

But how much difference does the body make? For the fun of it, tried taking some photos with Yvonne's E-PM2 and telling DxO (via EXIF) that it was an E-M5. It worked!

How much difference did it make?


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Run the cursor over the images to compare with the partner. I can't see any difference at all. Now if I could only tell it that the body was a Four Thirds body; but so far that has failed (“This combination is not supported”).


More TV reception problems
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Somehow my “fix” to the MythTV configuration didn't do the job. I'm still getting really bad reception on tuner 2. About the only thing I have eliminated is the cabling: tuner 2 is the first tuner in the daisy chain, and it's the one with the problems. It looks like I'll have to try to recover the old tuner database and see if there's something obvious about the differences.

That's not the only problem. Recently just about every new programme has simply not been recorded. Looking in the log file, I find things like:

014-06-20 16:04:25.698 DB Error (change_program):
Query was:
UPDATE program SET starttime = '2014-06-21T22:32:44',     endtime   = '2014-06-21T23:28:51' WHERE chanid    = 2002 AND       starttime = '2014-06-21T22:32:34'
Driver error was [2/1062]:
QMYSQL3: Unable to execute query
Database error was:
Duplicate entry '2002-2014-06-21 22:32:44-0' for key 1

2014-06-20 16:04:45.874 JobQueue: Commercial Flagging Starting for Al Jazeera News recorded from channel 2032 at Fri Jun 20 15:28:00 2014

This looks like a problem with Al Jazeera news, but in fact it appears to be a tidy-up of the program table. And somehow the start and end times look strange. I haven't seen any before that don't start and end on the minute. Time for some MySQL maintenance, but in all likelihood the duplicate keys (where did they come from?) will be gone by then.


Sunday, 22 June 2014 Dereel Images for 22 June 2014
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Midwinter roses
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Today was midwinter's day, but the garden still has flowers. In particular, the “Phyllis Bide” climbing rose that Laurel Gordon brought us five years ago is still flowering well enough for Yvonne to make a vase arrangement of it:


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Flash photography insights
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Taking the photos of the roses wasn't easy. It was in the evening, so I needed flash. But just firing a flash against the flowers doesn't look at all good:


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OK, that's what bounce flash is for:


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Only this time the flowers themselves are underexposed.

But wait! This mecablitz has a second flash tube in the body. So did its predecessor, which I got 5 years ago, but I've never used it. How does it work? Went looking through the menus and found nothing useful. RTFM time.

First discovery: they call the tube a “second reflector”. Yes, like all flashes it has a reflector, but without the tube there would be no illumination. And they've chosen the most ridiculous symbol I can think of to represent it: silly second tube symbol . Armed with that information, I was able to turn it on. It only has four brightness settings: Full, ½, ¼ and 0. And with the exception of 0, they're all too bright for this scenario. Ended up taking the final image with the secondary flash set to ¼ and with my finger covering about ⅔ of the opening.


Roasting lamb
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Last week Yvonne bought the biggest leg of “lamb” I have ever seen: 1.75 kg without bones, and in a net. How long do you roast it? It seems that I hadn't written that up. I set it for 63°, and it took nearly 2 hours—and was overdone. I think I must have put the temperature probe in an air pocket. Next time I'll put it at the end we're likely to eat.


Monday, 23 June 2014 Dereel Images for 23 June 2014
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DxO PRIME: Worth the trouble?
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

DxO Optics “Pro” is one of the slowest programs I've ever used. Even on a relatively fast machine it takes about a minute of CPU time per image. But clearly that's not slow enough: the latest version includes a noise reduction algorithm that slows it down to about 15 minutes of CPU time on my machine. Is it worth it?

I've been taking photos of the dogs with the camera sensitivity set to 33° ISO (1600 linear), and there's some noise to be seen. Today I tried the effect of PRIME. It's hard to see:


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It's not until you magnify the detail images to their original 600×450 crop and run the cursor over them that a small difference becomes apparent. I suppose the fact is that the noise at 33° ISO just isn't enough to make recovery worthwhile.


Biodiversity woes continued
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

More considerations of the biodiversity question today. Got round to following up on Peter Gavin's suggestion of looking at section 52.17, and found the schedule: empty. But then I found the planning scheme, which includes not only 52.17 but (unsurprisingly) 52.16, which also relates to the clearing of native vegetation, and there are lots of exceptions. As Peter had said, only canopy trees count, so the Acacia melanoxylon don't require permission.

Found a number of other documents on the topic—how many trees have died to print them? This one contained this gem:

It can be difficult for people who are not trained botanists, horticulturalists or natural resource managers to identify areas of native vegetation that don’t include trees.

Ran the nvim toy again and tried to enter the shape of the house and the shed. It's simply not possible; it's not designed to work with such small areas, and the jumps in the length of lines are in the order of 50 cm. And when you have a line, there's not much you can do with it except try to draw an unmeasured rectangle that approximates to it.

In the end had two quadrilaterals that approximated. One was 0.027 ha (for the 263.92 m² of the house) and 0.007 ha (for the 73.5 m² of the shed) for a total of 0.034 ha. And that gave me—not surprisingly—an offset amount of 0.003 units. Presumably so would 20 m² more or less. Given the price of these offsets, they could specify a higher precision.

Called up Peter Gavin, who still has not looked at my photos, but will do so soon. Also called Mike Sorrell of the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, who came up with the names of a couple of people who might be able to identify the grasses.

Finally got a second quote for the offsets from Nick Lewis, considerably cheaper than the ones we have been offered. In combination with the reduced offset, that could get us down under $1000 even if we have to buy one.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014 Dereel Images for 24 June 2014
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Yet more biodiversity
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Sent off mail messages to the experts that Mike Sorrell pointed me at today, and got responses from both of them. Mark Richardson of Planning for Plants said he couldn't identify from a photo, especially not in winter, so why not wait until the summer? That's a perfectly sensible answer, but clearly not one that I can do much with.

Roger Thomas, about whom I only know that he writes articles in the Ballarat Courier, was more certain: at least 50% native grass, in particular Weeping Grass. It's interesting to note how much difference in opinion there is. In any case, it's becoming clear that I'm going to have to bite the bullet.


Yvonne breaking up the family
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

It's becoming clearer all the time that Tanya's days with us are numbered. It's very painful: the only reason is because we have too many dogs, and she's like part of the family. But Jenny McArdle wants to buy her, and Yvonne thinks she's an ideal person to take her.

Maybe if I had time to get used to the idea it wouldn't be so bad. But Yvonne sprung it on me only 4 days ago. When we decided to get rid of Nemo, we were thinking of it for months, and I didn't have the relationship with Nemo that I do with Tanya. The pain!


Australia Post goes electronic
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Interesting paper mail from Australia Post today: they're going electronic. Instructions on how to set up an electronic mailbox, with the comforting URL http://www.digitalmailbox.com.au/, showing instantly that it's related to Australia Post. As an aside, why are people creating such long domain names lately? Not only do most people not type well, but the toys they use to access the web make it even more difficult.

Still, it was worth trying. Setup was easy modulo the stupid password rules. It seems that A2z is an acceptable password, but Don't break in isn't. And the confirmation email I got was typical of “modern” systems:

Content analysis details:   (4.0 points, 3.0 required)

 pts rule name              description
---- ---------------------- --------------------------------------------------
 1.0 HTML_FONT_FACE_BAD     BODY: HTML font face is not a word
 3.0 MIME_HTML_ONLY         BODY: Message only has text/html MIME parts

And security? The first part was setting up the account. No security checking at all, beyond potentially something in the background that checks that the name and address match some records they have. But that would require more intelligence than I'm prepared to assume. Still, security is particularly important on this site: one of the purposes is to pay bills, so they want credit card numbers and things like that. Not from me.

But they see it differently. The paper I received contained a FAQ list that I haven't been able to find online, including:

The digital mailbox employs industry-leading security practices, technology and features for all communications and transactions. This includes the use of the highest levels of encryption so you can rest assured your information is safe and secure with us.

But on the web site they state:

MyPost Digital Mailbox uses AES 128-bit encryption plus a range of other measures to protect your details and documents. So with bank-grade security in place, you can sleep easy knowing your information is safe and sound.

Apart from that “bank-grade security”, something that already raises my hackles, what's specially secure about 128 bit encryption?

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/13) ~ 216 -> openssl s_client -connect digitalmailbox.com.au:https
SSL-Session:
    Protocol  : TLSv1.2
    Cipher    : RC4-SHA
=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/13) ~ 217 -> openssl s_client -connect wikipedia.org:https
...
    Protocol  : TLSv1.2
    Cipher    : ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256
=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/13) ~ 218 -> openssl s_client -connect anz.com.au:https
    Cipher    : AES256-SHA

Not only do they not have “bank-grade security” (in comparison with ANZ bank, they have weaker encryption than Wikipedia, and it's not AES encryption at all. And who, apart from Australia Post, claims that RC4 is state-of-the-art? To quote the Wikipedia page, “RC4 has weaknesses that argue against its use in new systems”—exactly what they have done.

Beyond that, though, why? What good is this service in the first place? The last thing I want to do is to put my financial details anywhere on the web, not even on my own external server. Still, I have found one good thing about it: for some obscure reason they're giving away free postage stamps with it, so each of us can get 50 a year, probably more than we use.


Leonid the digger
Topic: animals Link here

It seems that Leonid has a propensity that none of the other dogs have. He digs:


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It seems that Tanya doesn't. When I called Yvonne to show her, she had filled it in again:


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Wednesday, 25 June 2014 Dereel → Bannockburn → Dereel Images for 25 June 2014
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Reading Microsoft “Word” documents
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Mark Richardson sent me a Microsoft “Word” document yesterday. How do I look at that? That's what a Microsoft box is for, right, and now I have one. Tried to “open” it, and discovered:

 
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“Windows can't open this file”. Why not? Sure, I don't have “Word”, but even Apple's base utilities can approximate to reading it. OK, off to search the web, which came up with FreeFileViewer. Installing that involved running the gauntlet of a whole lot of spamware:

 
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I got by without installing any, but I still had a registry checker that told me I had over 200 registry errors:

 
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Do I? I'm not knowledgeable enough to determine whether it's right or wrong, but why should I trust software that installs itself on my computer without so much as a by-your-leave?

In any case, it installed and didn't run correctly. Still More Broken Software? Or just a broken install? Then it occurred to me: OpenOffice. Yes, I hate OpenOffice, but it's better than the alternatives. Installed that, and it ran. And the document consisted only of three images! How people abuse document formats.


Biodiversity: done!
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

So it looks as if I can get by with the revised estimate of the biodiversity offset that I made on Monday if I just remove the horse arena that we didn't necessarily want anyway. Just as I was pondering this, got a call from Peter O'Brien of the Golden Plains Planning Department, so discussed that with him. He seemed optimistic, so called up Bram M[uü]ller of the Biodiversity people, and he was also agreeable. He also agreed that the Acacia melanoxylon were not canopy trees, and so they could be removed without problems. And to top it all he said we didn't need an offset for the arena, because it wasn't in use continually and grass could continue to grow. So all I needed to do was to fill out a PDF application and take it to Bannockburn, where I met Peter, he looked at the application and said yes, that's fine, and I'll get the revised permit in a couple of weeks. But I can buy the offset now, and hopefully nothing will delay commencement of building.

What a relief! I've been dreading this stuff, and life looked so much better when I left the council buildings. Even the weather seemed to have thought so: it had been really dark and unfriendly all day, but when I came out, the sun was shining.

In passing, it's interesting how even the people who administer this legislation find it unfair and inappropriate. Bram says that it will probably get changed some time soon. But too late for me.


digitalmailbox revisited
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Further discussion of Austraila Post's MyPost on IRC today. It seems that this isn't Australia Post's first attempt at something like this: they already have https://paypaperbills.postbillpay.com.au/, which seems to do exactly the same thing. And Jürgen Lock came up with Qualsys SSL labs, which gave results for digitalmailbox.com.au that were less than stellar: A-. Still, that's better than postbillpay.com.au and anz.com.au, both of which get a B, So maybe they do offer “bank-level security”. By comparison, FreeBSD.org, google.com and ozlabs.org all get A.

There's still a long way to go before you can trust any online financial institution, it seems.


Thursday, 26 June 2014 Dereel Images for 26 June 2014
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More Borzoi visitors
Topic: animals Link here

Visit from Cherree Benter and her daughter Alyssa today. They're friends of Ron Frolley and Steven Zuideveld, and they're on their way from Portland to spend the weekend at Ron's place and look after his dogs while Ron and Steven are at a show in Albury. Went for a walk in the forest while they were here:


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Also got my last chance to see Tanya in her role as branch manager:


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Dog photos
Topic: animals, photography, opinion Link here

I've taken lots of photos of the dogs since we got Nikolai and Tanya, but none of them have been posed. High time to get some of Tanya: she's leaving tomorrow, and we'll probably never see her again.

It's not easy getting good photos. In principle you want them with a completely blank background, but where do you get that? In a studio, of course, but we don't have one. The best I could do was the biggest blank stretch of wall I could find in the house, and even that wasn't big enough for Nikolai:


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Still, I got a large number of photos, which I still need to sift through. At least there are a few amusing ones:


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My camera hates Yvonne
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yvonne took some of the photos in the forest. They didn't come out well. Here one of mine, then one of hers:


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It should be almost impossible to get camera shake on an image like that with the Olympus OM-D E-M1. What happened? The EXIF data, which appears if you run the cursor over the images, shows that my image was exposed for 1/125 s at f/6.3 (EV 7.6), while Yvonne's was exposed for 1/20 s at f/22 (EV 8.5). At the focal length (56 mm, corresponding to 112 mm on a full-frame camera), it's not surprising that there was camera shake. But how did it happen?

Clearly it was accidental, but what caused it? The settings didn't last: 5 minutes after this image I took more photos, and exposure was normal again. I would have turned the camera off in the meantime, so it must have reset whatever it was. The first suspect is the so-called “Program shift”, which does exactly that. But how do you set it? The pitiful excuse for an instruction manual explains: set the rear lever to position 1 and rotate the rear wheel:

 
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But the lever was in position 2, and it's unlikely that you'd do something like that by accident. In addition, I couldn't find any information in the EXIF data that would suggest that.

Sent off a message to the German Olympus Forum and got a detailed email message back from Detlef Meinke, including screen shots and confirming that it was Program shift. So why didn't I see it? He pointed out that Olympus Viewer 3 detects that it's Program Shift:

 
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So where is that information in the EXIF data? diffing this image and one of mine, I see:

-Exposure Time                   : 1/160
-F Number                        : 5.6
+Exposure Time                   : 1/20
+F Number                        : 22.0
 Exposure Program                : Program AE

And that's all that's even remotely related. Clearly I need to look deeper.

The other question is: how did it happen? I can't really believe that Yvonne would have accidentally flipped the lever, turned the wheel and then turned the lever back. Is there another way to set Program shift? RTFM time. Unfortunately, the FM doesn't even mention Program shift in the index:

 
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Searching the entire PDF document didn't bring me any closer. By trial and error, discovered that pressing the “up” button of the arrow pad first selects some kind of exposure compensation function. In P mode, further presses on the “up” button reduce the aperture, while the “down” button increases it. Left and right decrease and increase the exposure compensation respectively.

So it seems that Yvonne has been picking up the camera rather carelessly and selecting and adjusting Program shift in the process. Don't do that, then.

But why did it take me so long to find out? Olympus' abysmally bad documentation. Now that I know what the problem was, I went back to look for a mention of it in the manual. Not a single mention. The menu charts in chapter 13 don't even mention what these buttons do.

Why is the documentation so bad? A couple of days I saw a used E-M1 for auction on eBay. The reason for sale?

I did not use this camera enough to keep it. I have never mastered the menu system on this camera because it is so extensive.

Olympus are really limiting their market with their poor documentation.


Sous-vide cooking
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

On Wednesday Yvonne bought a sous-vide cooker from ALDI. I know about the technique, but I haven't tried it out because of the initial investment—even at ALDI it was $200 including a vacuum sealer and vacuum bags. What if I don't like it? That's the great thing about ALDI: take it back, get a complete refund, no questions asked.

We still haven't used it, but I'm looking at it. It seems that you can use it to make sandwiches:


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And the instruction manual is up-to-date, replacing the title “Common problems” with “FAQ”. In particular, it all boils town to “it works better if you plug it in”:


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Friday, 27 June 2014 Dereel Images for 27 June 2014
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Goodbye Tanya
Topic: animals Link here

It's only been a week since Yvonne told me that she wanted to sell Tanya, and already she has left. Yvonne took her to the airport this morning, where at least she got a larger crate than Nemo:


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She made it to Sydney without mishap, and of course Jenny is over the moon. I'm not.


More on sous-vide cooking
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Spent some time looking for useful information on sous-vide cooking, and came up with Douglas Baldwin's page, which contains considerable detail. There's also a relatively well-hidden PDF version. Reading it you'd get the impression that sous-vide cooking can be quite dangerous, but then the Americans are a little paranoid about food cooked at low temperatures, as I've commented here and here. For once, though, the instruction manual sums it up relatively well:

Food cooked in the temperature “danger zone” (5°C - 60°C) for long periods could allow harmful bacteria to grow.

Presumably that's a typo, and should read 50°C - 60°C. But what are long periods? The instructions specify up to 8 hours for a leg of lamb, at 56° “or higher”. By contrast, the Douglas Baldwin document states (paraphrased):

At lower temperatures 50 °C to 65 °C, Bouton and Harris found that tough cuts of beef (from animals 0-4 years old) were the most tender when cooked to between 55 °C and 60 °C. Cooking the beef for 24 h at these temperatures significantly increased its tenderness (with shear forces decreasing 26-72% compared to 1 h of cooking).

For example, tough cuts of meat, like beef chuck and pork shoulder, take 10-12 h at 80 °C or 1-2 days at 55-60 °C to become fork-tender. Intermediate cuts of meat, like beef sirloin, only need 6-8 h at 55-60 °C to become fork-tender because the tenderization from the enzyme collagenase is sufficient.

Yvonne bought a beef roast this afternoon, so it looks like we'll base our first attempt on these values.


Saturday, 28 June 2014 Dereel Images for 28 June 2014
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Android and USB
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Discussion on IRC about keyboards for Android devices today. Jashank Jeremy opined that Bluetooth keyboards were no good. I've already been there, done that, and came to the conclusion that there wasn't much point attaching a keyboard to an Android. But Jashank had a different problem: the key spacing is too small, at least on the keyboards he tried.

But a couple of weeks ago, for a completely different reason, I blew $1 on a normal USB to micro USB adapter, which allows me to connect normal USB devices to the tablet. Would it work with a keyboard? Most people thought not. But they were wrong. It was recognized immediately:


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Daniel O'Connor thought it might have trouble with keys repeating, but that, too, worked fine. The only issue was the one I identified last October: what can you do with a keyboard on an Android?

But the real reason I bought the adapter was related to a thread in the German Olympus Forum. Jürgen von Esenwein wanted to buy an Android tabled with an SD card reader. I suggested just connecting a USB card reader, but Oliver Musch suggested that it wouldn't work without host mode. For $1 I was willing to experiment.

And? When I plug the reader in, it is recognized, but I can't find anything in the settings. How do you use these things? It seems that they have disabled all the familiar (“intuitive”?) interfaces, possibly create new ones, but don't document them. Once again I'm completely baffled.


Olympus documentation: more discoveries
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I've established that the “instructions” for my Olympus OM-D E-M1 don't describe how to set Program Shift with the arrow keys, only with the wheel. But what about Yvonne's E-PM2? It doesn't have a wheel. Took a look, and how about that? First the instructions for the E-PM2, then for the E-M1:

 
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The E-PM2 is older than the E-M1, so they haven't forgotten to document the function: they've removed the documentation. What amazingly bad documentation!


Sous-vide, finally
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We had planned to try sous-vide cooking with a beef roast, but today Yvonne prepared chicken tanduri, a dish where I've also had difficulties cooking correctly. So why not? What can go wrong?

The first thing, of course, was to decide on cooking times and temperatures. The instructions included a table that was partially convincing and partially woefully inaccurate:


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It seems that the people who wrote the documentation adapted the fish sorts to the local Australian market, but they only knew three, and they didn't know whether they were “white” or “oily”, so they put them in both categories:


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And the beef cuts are also strange:


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What's a Tenderloin? I know it's a cut of meat, but I'm always a little confused: it's not our language. It's a fillet (or “eye fillet” as they call it here). On the other hand, they've adapted to Australian conditions enough to include Scotch fillet, which the Americans call Rib eye steak.

More to the point, though, the temperatures look relatively plausible. The times don't:


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I've frequently had difficulties cooking chicken thighs on the bone, and in general the meat needs longer than the breast. By contrast I've never had difficulty with breast. On the other hand, all of the temperatures look plausible. Today's chicken was breast, and I guessed that an hour would be enough. It was all I had, so it had to be.

Understanding the instructions was easier than I feared, and almost everything Just Worked. The only issue is that the vacuum pump doesn't completely remove all the air, and so the bags floated. I put the second rack on top, but it only partially kept them down.

How accurate is the temperature control? I checked the liquid with my infrared thermometer and for a setting of 75° I measured 74.7°. So either both are very accurate, or they share the same inaccuracy. I'd tend to the former.

And the results? The meat was cooked. It didn't even look as pale as people warned. But it gave off a large amount of liquid, and the meat didn't taste any more tender, nor very different than cooked conventionally. There are a couple of possibilities here: temperature too high, or the marinade removes too much liquid. In any case, next time I'll try some spiced chicken thighs for 2 or 3 hours at 72°.


Sunday, 29 June 2014 Dereel Images for 29 June 2014
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More sous-vide documentation
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Peter Jeremy commented on yesterday's experiments with Sous-vide cooking, and pointed me at Jeff Potter's Cooking for Geeks. I had been a little irritated by the book, since it preempted my own intended title “Groggy's High-tech cookbook”, but looking at it again online via Safari Books Online, I have to admit that it has a lot of stuff that I would never have been able to put together. Safari is a pain to use, so it looks like I'll have to buy a copy.

One of the most interesting aspects is the suggestion that chicken should be cooked at between 60° and 65°, much lower than I had intended to try next time. As it states,

... but at this temperature (74°) the actin proteins will also denature, giving the chicken that unappealing dry, mealy texture.

For that alone it might be worthwhile.


Monday, 30 June 2014 Dereel Images for 30 June 2014
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Catching up on the house
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

It's been a few days since I have done anything about the new house, but gradually I'm going to have to do something. First question: what do I want from solar electricity? Came up with the following requirements:

  • Battery backing for at least 24 kWh.

  • Supply up to 3 kW.

  • Capability of maintaining 1 kW average continuous power.

  • Capable of starting 750 W water pump.

  • Maintain battery charge from solar panels for 95% of the year.

  • Grid fallback for the remaining 5%.

  • Connection for emergency generator.

This system will not feed back to the grid. We're planning to use it for low power consumption devices like lighting and electronics. In the summer we may switch other consumers to the system during the day, but this is not part of the requirements for this quote.

Based on the rule of thumb that our part of Victoria can supply the equivalent of about 3.5 full hours of sunshine per day, we assume that we can achieve these requirements with solar panels delivering 8 kW peak. The roof is oriented due north.

Called up Sean LePoidevin of Off Grid Energy to discuss things with him. He thought that the requirements were too high, told me that I didn't understand the difference between kW and kWh, and suggested I fill out what proved to be a Microsoft “Excel” spreadsheet, which he sent to me.

How do I estimate the power? The spreadsheet starts off asking about the power consumption of kitchen appliances, how many days a week you use them, and how long they run. That's all guesswork. In particular, they mainly have thermostats. If I have a deep fryer that consumes 2 kW and runs for 30 minutes 2 days every week, how much power does it consume? The naïve answer is “2 kWh per week”. But that's wrong. That's a theoretical maximum assuming that the thermostat is on the whole time, and that's never the case. The real power consumption depends on how long the thermostat is on. And how can I find that out? Measure it.

More to the point, though: I don't want to run kitchen appliances on this system. I want to run computers. Connected up some power consumption meters to the systems in my office and came to these values:

Condition       Power
eureka alone       150 W
eureka running, with monitors       250 W
eureka and dischord       340 W

That's a far cry from my 1 kW, but it's also a far cry from being all the computers in the house. There are also lagoon, cvr2, teevee and test boxes. If I assume they all use 200 W, that's a maximum of 1.2 odd kW, and then there's the TV, another 200 W, and lights. So 1.5 kW during the day isn't unreasonable. At night we should be able to power down most things, and hopefully in the new house cvr2 will go away (Jürgen Lock suggests a FreeBSD solution that could be integrated into teevee).


Shed builders
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Also chasing up shed builders, and got on to David Tudor (phone 0408 852 451), who sounds like a good bloke to do the work, and he also pointed me at Lee Widdison, phone 5338 8544, who has experience with Widespan and may be able to help with the building permit. Dave will get back to me with costs for the slab.


Microsoft “Windows”: 30 years and no window management
Topic: technology, history, opinion Link here

In December 1983, while in hospital recovering from an appendicectomy, Yvonne brought me a copy of Byte magazine describing Microsoft's new “Windows” display manager. I was excited: we had seen this before with Apple's Lisa computer, but this would run on commodity hardware.

By the time it actually appeared, it was less attractive, and gradually I wandered away from the Microsoft world. When I finally got a graphical desktop environment, it was X, not Microsoft, and I managed to stay out of the Microsoft space almost completely until I had to use it for my photographic software a couple of years ago.

Today I had to handle Sean LePoidevin's spreadsheet, sent as an email attachment. How do you do that? How do I even read the mail message? It seems that Microsoft's “Outlook Express” is no longer part of the base distribution (or I'm not Microsoft savvy enough to find it), but after all, that's what Thunderbird is for. Installed that and tried to configure it. The installer just hung. It wasn't until I iconified the (full-screen) window that I discovered that it had popped up (down?) a dialogue window underneath the main window.

Why? Clearly the dialogue window should have been on top. Is this Thunderbird's fault? Possibly, but I've seen it with other software too. For an environment that is so dependent on windows, why is window management still, after 30 years, so abysmally bad? No centralized window manager, so misbehaving programs can effectively lock up the screen, very few opportunities for manipulation, and despite all that effectively no options to specify how the windows should appear on the screen. And every release changes the rules. But at least it's clear why most users don't use full-screen windows.


Fixing the TV reception issues
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

It's been over two weeks since I tried to improve my TV reception. Setting fine-tuning seems to have helped tuner 1, but tuner 2 is still almost useless:

Programme       Date       Start       End                   Daisy chain       File       Number of
name             time       time       Channel       Tuner       position       size (GB)       recoding errors
Read It And Weep       28 June 2014       17:37:13.501       19:59:45.725       2062       1       2       5.1       1
Four Corners       28 June 2014       19:58:33.474       21:15:41.134       2024       2       1       0.7       died at start
The House Of Sand       28 June 2014       22:57:02.546       01:30:00.450       2032       1       2       2.4       3
Lower City       29 June 2014       22:57:04.110       01:15:00.653       2032       2       1       0.5       8, died at start
Melody's Smile       30 June 2014       01:17:02.781       03:55:00.722       2032       1       2       2.3       0

Finally I got round to restoring the old mythconverg database and taking a look at the dtv_multiplex table. That was instructive:

mysql> select transportid, frequency from dtv_multiplex order by transportid ;
+-------------+-----------+
| transportid | frequency |
+-------------+-----------+
|         563 | 620625000 |
|         880 | 634625000 |
|        2050 | 613625000 |
|        2461 | 655500000 |
|       12922 | 592625000 |
+-------------+-----------+

That was the old table. The new one had different frequencies:

+-------------+-----------+
| transportid | frequency |
+-------------+-----------+
|         563 | 620500000 |
|         880 | 634500000 |
|        2050 | 613500000 |
|        2461 | 655500000 |
|       12922 | 592500000 |
+-------------+-----------+

I seem to recall this from before, but it wasn't until after I reset the frequencies that I found a diary entry on the subject. Now to wait for another use of tuner 2. I don't really have time to record something specially to test it.


Android networking: there can only be one
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

One thing that really puzzles me about Microsoft networking is that every network interface has a default gateway associated with it. What does that mean? I just can't see how it can work, nor what the implementers were thinking when they did it that way.

But the poison is spreading: today I rebooted flachmann, my Android tablet, and for some reason a program started itself:


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Android's based on Linux! Why has this stupidity permeated this environment as well?


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