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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:


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140601/big/garden-centre.jpeg
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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:


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140601/big/eBay-policy.gif
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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:


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140601/big/eBay-quality.gif
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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:


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140602/big/house-from-nw.jpeg
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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.


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140605/big/Zhivago-Tanya-Yvonne.jpeg
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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:


https://lemis.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/grog/Photos/20140606/big/NTD.jpeg
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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: