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March 2012
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Thursday, 1 March 2012 Dereel Images for 1 March 2012
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More thoughts on ball heads
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Mail today from Michael in South Australia about yesterday's article about levelling bases. He pointed at another product from Really Right Stuff, a Universal Leveling Base. Yes, it's designed exactly for that. In principle it's a ballhead without the panoramic base (not needed here) and a 35 lb (15 kg, which they don't say) load limit. For RRS it's a bargain at only $199.

What advantages does it have? The load limit, almost double what the cheaper ballheads have. And, as far as I can see, that's all. It has a maximum adjustment range of 15°, arguably not enough, and it still doesn't have a level indication, which is about the only problem I have with the cheaper heads. So really not enough functionality and too much money.

I had, in fact, come across this item before, but it didn't seem to offer anything, so I didn't mention it. And that brings me to the question: why does Michael always point to Really Right Stuff? You could get the impression (which I believe is incorrect) that he's being paid by them to do so. But he doesn't use this kind of equipment himself; he's just seen other people doing so.

He's not alone. Lots of people tell me that I'm looking in the wrong place, many of them people who have never done it themselves. But that presupposes that they understand what I'm trying to achieve, so clearly I'm not expressing myself well enough. Others have recently told me that my quest for shadow detail in the garden photos is misplaced, and that I should take photos when the sun isn't shining. From there it's only a small step to say “choose different motives”. My issue here is to test the limits, and I'm having fun doing it. Sure, if I had the money I could spend $2000 or so for some really pretty equipment, and I'd have fewer (but not no) problems. But that's not what I'm trying to do.


Spirit level accuracy
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

One of the potential issues with the el-cheapo spirit levels available on eBay is their accuracy. Spent some time today investigating: I have a 3-way flash-shoe-mount level which would potentially do the trick. But is it sensitive or accurate enough?

Sensitivity is relative, and I can compare the deflection of two levels to find that out. I have a bubble level on the tripod, and one on the Manfrotto levelling base. The Manfrotto is much more sensitive; by the time the bubble leaves the limit circle, the one on the tripod hardly seems to have moved. So that's a way of checking that.

Accuracy of a linear level is also relatively easy to measure: it's accurate if the bubble is equidistant from the limit marks when the base is really level. You can measure it by setting it to “level”, then rotating the level by 180° and replacing on the same surface. If it was showing “level” before, it should show “level” afterwards. Otherwise the marks are in the wrong place. You can fix that by finding a position where the bubble stays in the same place (not equidistant from the limit marks). It should be easy enough to mark the middle of the bubble, and hey presto! you've made it accurate again.

So I put the 3-way level on the plate on the side of the levelling base and took some photos. If anything, the 3-way level seemed more sensitive than the bubble level, but the 180° switch suggested that the level was, in fact, somewhat off-centre:


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Looking at the level on the left in the first image and the right in the second image, it looks as if it is, indeed, slightly off-centre. It's not so bad that it would be a problem, but it's noticeable.

But those photos weren't as pretty as I wanted them to be. In particular, though I had centered the bubble level on the left, it looked off-centre because of the angle of the camera. Spent an inordinate amount of effort to get good images from exactly above, and found:


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Here there's much less error. The same applies to the perpendicular level. I'm still not 100% clear about the accuracy, but I get the feeling that it might be both more sensitive and more accurate than the round one in the levelling base. There are also fewer issues with parallax. The real recognition appears to be that this is probably splitting hairs; from past experience it's clear that the software isn't that sensitive.


Autumn with a vengeance
Topic: general, gardening Link here

First day of autumn today, and it showed. Last Saturday we had a maximum temperature of 41.3° and a minimum of 22.4°. Today it was windy, rainy, and we had a top temperature of 16.1°, over 25° less than 5 days ago. Didn't do much in the garden, but had to clean the water filters (surprisingly clean), and also did some pruning. There's so much work to do!


Friday, 2 March 2012 Dereel Ballarat Dereel Images for 2 March 2012
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Woken by the police
Topic: general Link here

Woke a little later today, and was just considering getting up when I heard somebody banging on the door. Out to take a look: a shaven-headed bloke holding out some kind of identification card. He proved to be Steve Oliver from the Ballarat Police, and he was looking for the people across the road at number 50. It seems that they're wanted for questioning about a theft in Wiltshire Lane. I wonder if that's why they moved out last week. Beyond telling him that the house belonged to Ray Nottle, there wasn't too much we could say. But it's interesting how small a world we live in: it seems that his mother-in-law, Diane O'Brien, who lives in Colac, has a 4-month-old long-haired German Shepherd Dog puppy called Lexy (I think), and she's part of the group in Ballarat where Yvonne trains on Sundays. And his mother gets lessons from a horse trainer whom we don't know, just down Snowgum road (continuation of Kleins Road).

That wouldn't be so unusual in itself if it weren't for the distances involved. Steve lives in Enfield, only 10 km away. His mother-in-law lives in Colac, 70 km from here and 100 km from Ballarat. What a distance to go to train a dog!


Walking Nemo again
Topic: general, animals Link here

Yvonne and Nemo's Delta society test is next week, so Yvonne wanted to go into town once more to train his social skills. This time we went to the Botanical Gardens, specifically the shore of Lake Wendouree:


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From the point of view of socialization with dogs it was a bit of a waste of a time: we only saw one, and his owner saw Nemo and promptly changed direction. But we had a couple of people who were interested, and he's gradually learning to be less enthusiastic with strangers:


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Chris' chooks
Topic: general, animals Link here

Chris Yeardley inherited a number of chickens from her brother Jonas when he returned to Germany. One of them, apparently a bantam cross, has had chickens, and Chris thought it prudent to protect them from predators. So Nemo had to give up his cage until they're bigger:


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Saturday, 3 March 2012 Dereel Images for 3 March 2012
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More house photo experience
Topic: photography Link here

The weather was bad again today—the Bureau of Meteorology had forecast rain and high winds, not what I needed for my house photos. But they were wrong about the winds, and I was able to get my photos done relatively early, and they would have been completed by 13:00 if CJ hadn't shown up. Despite that, they were finished earlier than on any other recent occasion.

And the results? It was overcast, of course, and the shutter speed for some of the sequences was as low as 1/20s. In view of previous experience, I took the verandah panorama without flash, which greatly improved the control point recognition. But the shadows really aren't good enough. Here a comparison with two weeks ago, when the weather conditions were similar, but when I used flash. In particular the detail to the extreme left, round the barbecue, are not nearly as good this week (second photo):


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Next time I'll try the ring flash.


Lawn mower: finally!
Topic: gardening, general Link here

CJ showed up just before lunch, bringing some terrible weather with him, to get the lawn mower to start. We had cleaned out the carburettor a month ago and discovered that the battery was so completely flat that we couldn't start it, and the horrible jumper leads that I have wouldn't get good enough contact to start with the aid of the car battery. So I bought a new battery and tried again, but it still wouldn't start. Then I discovered some issues with what proved to be the choke linkage and solved them in my usual manner by ignoring the problem.

As I feared, the linkage required complete removal of the carburettor again. We also established that it was connected to one of the two wrong holes in the choke lever. Why are they there? To annoy people like us? More likely because the carburettor gets fitted to different engine configurations, I suppose. Finally fixed all that. Still no start. Then CJ took the carburettor apart again and discovered he had replaced the float upside down, so it completely blocked the fuel flow. Put it back, tried again. Still no start.

Finally we discovered an electrical cable connected to the bottom of the carburettor. Or, more to the point, it wasn't. Connected that, and finally got the bloody thing to start. I wonder what the purpose of the cable is.


Who believes in DVD region codes?
Topic: multimedia, opinion, technology Link here

A few weeks back I recorded The Birdcage, an American remake of La Cage aux Folles, and not nearly as good. So we tried to find the original at the Central Highlands Regional Library. The results were predictable:

 
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There were a total of 13 suggestions, none of which even remotely matched the search term. So no go? No, there are plenty more libraries, but by (severe) default the web form only searches the local library. You have to press the “Search ALL libraries” button, and that really found something, though you have to recognize it:

 
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Il vizietto? Italian? 2003? This is a French film made in 1978. But yes, this really is the same DVD. To confirm that, you need to check a couple more pages. First select the title:

 
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That doesn't say much more, but there's a “Catalog” [sic] record. Selecting that finally gets:

 
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Finally the name “La cage aux folles”, even though they claim it's Italian. Yes, it's the French title of a Franco-italian co-production, but it's the one by which it's known in English. I had to add the Italian title to the Wikipedia page, and there's no certainty that somebody cleverer than I won't remove it again. Why do they call it by the Italian title only?

One reason is less obvious: “Technical details: Region 2”. That shouldn't even work here in region 4. Yes, technically versed people can modify their DVD players to not check the region code, and maybe some are even sold that way. But it's amazing that a government-funded library should have DVDs that, strictly speaking, assume that the borrowers will break the law to watch them.

The other details are interesting too. The page shows that these DVDs are in stock in Carlton and Fitzroy, adjacent inner-city suburbs of Melbourne, where there are presumably still many people of Italian descent. There were when I lived in Carlton as a boy, at any rate. Thus the Italian title and region code: it's really an Italian DVD, with no English text at all on the box, and the subtitles are in Italian only (despite what the library record says).

But what about the year 2003? Clearly that's Just Plain Wrong, probably the year the DVD was pressed. And “catalog” instead of catalogue? That's American, of course. Doubtless dictated by the abysmal web software they use. But wouldn't you expect people in libraries to be able to spel good?


Sunday, 4 March 2012 Dereel Images for 4 March 2012
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Finally some garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

I've really been dragging my heels in the garden over the last few weeks. March flies and wet weather are at least partially to blame, but probably not as much as my general laziness. But things don't wait. The vine on the verandah is getting its annual attack of caterpillars (which respond well to pyrethrum), and there have been a couple of things I need to do in the greenhouse. The Murraya koenigii (curry tree) that Peter Jeremy brought nearly two years ago needed repotting, especially as it was sharing its pot with a vigorous Betula pendula (silver birch) seedling. Found a bigger pot and put it in:


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Somehow I'm still not having much luck with my Chiles poblanos. The new ones aren't as unhappy as the first one, which still hasn't produced any fruit, but they're not happy either. Put them into larger pots, which proved to be very necessary:


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But that's not the only problem. The fruit are wilting:


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I'll see how they get on in the new pots.

Also finally got round to mulching the north-central bed that I stared over two months ago. There are already plants there, so weed mat was too complicated. Put some newspaper underneath instead, a slow business, and I only got a fraction done. Much of the area has so many weeds that I'll have to spray again, but at least I have made a start.


Monday, 5 March 2012 Dereel
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Slowly in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow I'm not getting much done in the garden lately. Today a bit more weeding, and finally decided to dig out the remaining potatoes which weren't quite ready last time I harvested two months ago. They're still not ready: I harvested one entire potato where I had expected to find dozens, and the other plants are apparently still not ready.

Also started removing some of the Watsonias from the garden. Hopefully I'll get them all out this time; they seem to be particularly hard to remove completely.


Offensive comments
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Mail from Michael in South Australia, who took offence at my comments a couple of days ago. He considers that my statement suggests that he is being paid by Really Right Stuff, though he points to his mentions of many other brands in the past (so far in the past that I needed help locating them).

I don't read my text that way—on the contrary, I say that I don't believe he is being paid, though others could come to this conclusion. But I had never intended to make any accusations on his integrity. It's not my intention to upset people, and for whatever reason Michael is upset, I hereby apologize.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012 Dereel Images for 6 March 2012
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More garden dawdling
Topic: gardening Link here

A little more work in the garden today. I now have all the Watsonias south of the verandah, and also generally weeded the place. Also some pruning of the Osteospermums and Buddleja further south again. Now I just need to tidy up the mess. What a racing pace I have!

Our Salvia “diesaustraliea”, the unidentified one we bought last Australia Day, has grown like fury, but only now has it started to flower with a flower that reminds me of mint:


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Compared to the other Salvias, it's not very interesting. Here a Salvia leucantha on the right:


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I think I'll take it out again.


Animals in the verandah?
Topic: gardening, animals, general Link here

For some time I've seen Piccola looking at the Hardenbergia violacea round the middle post of the verandah:


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Something must be up there, but what?


Wednesday, 7 March 2012 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 7 March 2012
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Financial reporting software
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Into town today to talk to Peter O'Connell about my investments. It seems that the visit last month didn't reset some timer they had, so we ended up doing it again. As a result, there wasn't much to talk about, but their computer person is retiring, so we discussed what they'd be doing to replace him, and I suggested that they should take the opportunity to review the problems they have with their reporting software.

Once upon a time people wrote programs to do this sort of thing. But that's out of date. Now you buy a package, in this case Visiplan from Iress, that does exactly what the designers intended it to do. I suppose it's an indication of the way their software developers think that I couldn't find a product page for Visiplan, not even with their search function, and of course the name itself is so far from being obvious that I might just as well have chosen this Visiplan, and I kept calling it Visicalc instead.

My particular concern was to know how individual investments perform. That seems simple: you buy a parcel of shares at a certain price, and the report should show you how much you would have have gained or lost were you to sell it now. But this one doesn't, and they haven't found a way to get it to do it.

Now Iress isn't a niche player in the Australian market. With some other product they have 95% of the market. During our discussion I discovered that the customization facilities are very limited, and it owns the data. There is absolutely no way to access it except with Visiplan, so I couldn't put together some SQL to do what I want (and presumably just about everybody else wants).

To be fair to Iress, the problem is more complicated than it seems. My example is the simplest. What happens if I buy a parcel of shares, sell some of them, buy some more, sell some more and so on? The current software lists the transactions, adds up the sums bought and sold, and prints a total: so much money for multiple transactions, so many shares remain. But what interest is that? What I have sold is no longer of interest in gauging current performance. And Cameron, one of Peter's colleagues, pointed out that it doesn't handle dividend reinvestment at all.

Why is such obvious functionality missing? An obvious workaround to get the result would be to categorize each investment separately, which would at least work when the whole parcel gets resold. Maybe it's possible to frob the system to ignore past sales, so if I only sell part of a parcel, the remainder gets kept in the calculation at the price it was worth when I sold the rest of the parcel.

I'm not an accountant, and I need to think this over. But why? Why haven't accounting software people solved this problem already? The more I see modern software packages, the less I like them.


Time for a new car?
Topic: general Link here

While in town, heard some funny noises from under the bonnet of the car. I've heard them before: they come from the steering and indicate that I'm low on power steering fluid. Down to Ballarat Automotive, where they topped it up for me—for free! This time it looks as if things are OK, but I'm reminded of the problems we had ten years ago, where (if my memory serves me correctly; my diary doesn't) the repairs were very expensive, possibly more than the car is now worth. Time to think about a replacement.


Thursday, 8 March 2012 Dereel Images for 8 March 2012
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15 years back in Oz
Topic: history Link here

Fifteen years ago today I returned to Australia! What a time it's been, longer than my entire time in any one place in Germany.


Saving injured animals
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Yvonne back from one of her many trips to Chris Yeardley today with the news that she passed a dying rat on the way home, and that I should go and kill it for her. A dead rat is a good rat, of course, so it sounded like a good idea, but the reason she didn't run over it herself was because she couldn't face the thought of what it would look like. It can't look as bad as what this one did to itself, one of the few that I have caught.

By the time I got there, it was dead. But it's strange how it died. It looked almost like a shot through the heart, though clearly it was a bit lower:


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I wonder what did that, and how.


Grilling kidneys
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Grilled kidneys for dinner today. Not the perfect success. I had estimated 5 minutes on the (closed) barbecue, but after 10 minutes they looked roughly OK—on the outside. Some were still raw on the inside, and we had to finish them off in the microwave oven. I need to think about how to do this next time. I suspect the extreme moisture had something to do with it.


Friday, 9 March 2012 Dereel Images for 9 March 2012
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Centrelink: financing Australia Post
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Centrelink is the obfuscatorily named Australian Department of Social Security and All That. Now that we're reaching Old Age, it's time to find out about our pension entitlements. So a few days ago I spent an hour on the phone chasing their information line, since the web site didn't have anything useful. We're looking for pensions from the UK and Germany for me, and from Switzerland, France and Germany for Yvonne.

Yesterday the documents arrived. Well, some of them: three envelopes, one with a German form for me, and the other two for Yvonne with the forms for Germany and Switzerland. And that was all.

Today the other shoe dropped: separate envelopes again for the UK for me and France for Yvonne. And another three letters telling us that these documents would soon come. Why three? Yvonne got two telling her about the French form. That's no less than 8 letters where one would have done.


House photos early
Topic: photography, opinion, technology Link here

We're off to Geelong tomorrow for Nemo to take his Delta society test. That's normally the day I take my “house” (really garden) photos. So I had the choice of taking them today, tomorrow afternoon or Sunday. Despite the predictions of the Bureau of Meteorology, there was as good as no wind today, so it sounded like a good idea to take the photos today, in the afternoon.

The sun was shining, however, so I had a couple of considerations:

There was no question about the “garden SE” photo, the one with the shade in the north. That had to have flash. And the others? I didn't finish the verandah panoramas by evening, but the “garden centre” photos were a surprise. Apart from the lighting, the lack of clearly recognizable features makes it difficult for the automatic control point detectors. But they found enough points in the one without flash—it was the one with flash that caused the problems.

And the results? The first impression was of severe distortion between the two images, probably caused by incorrect control point detection. But that proved not to be the case: it's just indicative of the distortion that even a moderate amount of wind can cause. Here the two images, first with flash, then without, switching over with mouseover:


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The improvement in illumination with flash is barely recognizable. Still more head-scratching to do.


More garden laziness
Topic: gardening Link here

The house photos gave me the perfect opportunity not to do any work in the garden, of course. But the lack of wind, combined with warm, sunny weather, make it imperative to spay some weed killer, and I did in a few sensitive areas where wind would be a particular problem. I still need to finish weeding and mulching; then the wheelbarrow will be available to transport away the prunings I made yesterday.


DxO Optics “Pro”: User causes product misbehaviour
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Mail back from DxO support today. As I had reported, DxO doesn't handle EXIF data correctly for Olympus cameras—at least the two I have had—if the EXIF data has been modified, even in accordance with the standard. In my case, I had added an Author tag, and this caused DxO to fail silently.

But DxO support sees it differently: today I got a reply telling me that this was a user error, and that I shouldn't mess with EXIF tags if I don't know exactly what I'm doing. That's fine: I do. They don't explain why they don't detect this error, nor why they don't document this “limitation”. But that's what you get for buying commercial software without source. Maybe this attitude goes some way towards explaining the glacial speed of the product, why it takes them such a long time to bring out an Apple version of their software after they have brought out the Microsoft version, and why there's no Unix (X) version.


Saturday, 10 March 2012 Dereel → Geelong → Portarlington → Dereel Images for 10 March 2012
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δ Nemo
Topic: animals, general Link here

Off to Geelong (really Newcomb) with Nemo today for his Delta society test. Finding the place was the first issue: yes, the GPS navigator took us straight there, but there was nothing to indicate it. Finally found our way in, and although we were over half an hour early, he was able to do his test very early.

He didn't do well. He pulled on the line, he was distracted by other dogs, he jumped up on people. The whole test, scheduled to take (only) 15 minutes, was over in 5. And he passed! Into the shed for an ID photo (which Yvonne will get next weekend), and that was that:


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Took some video of the exam with Yvonne's camera. Here's the best, where he is surrounded by noisy crowds:


Bellarine peninsula
Topic: general, animals, opinion Link here

While we were in the area, took a look around the Bellarine peninsula immediately to our east. Off in the direction of Portarlington along some singularly boring roads, so turned off at Clifton Springs with an eye to getting down to the beach, but where we were was 20 m higher than sea level. Finally to Portarlington, where it dawned on us that we're just not very interested in that sort of thing. It's clear that this is a weekend getaway for people from Melbourne, who presumably pile into their cars on Friday evening, belt down to Portarlington, put up their tent 1 metre from the next tent and lie in bed all night listening to their neighbours getting drunker and drunker. Yvonne was so put off (not by the drunken neighbours) that she couldn't even be bothered stopping to buy some of the local mussels.

Finally found a bit of relatively abandoned beach and let Nemo out to run around, his first time on a beach. To my surprise he didn't look overly surprised when he tried to drink the sea water.

Then back home via Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. It seems that the Bellarine Peninsula is divided into overcrowded tourist towns (at the weekend, anyway) and boring plains in the middle. I can't see a reason to come back.

Getting home wasn't the easiest, either. Apart from the fact that the journey was nearly 130 km, it seems that people love to put road works traffic lights in the middle of nowhere and leave them to run at maximum delay:


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This one took a full minute to change after the last (and first) car came in from the other direction.


More photographic insights
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

A lot of photos to process today: the photos of this morning and also the rest of yesterdays panoramas, in which I discovered I should have taken a few more (the “once a month” shots).

The verandah panorama taken with the ring flash proved less effective than I had hoped for. Here first the image with ring flash and then with ordinary flash (with mouseover comparison):


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I get the impression that the flash wasn't bright enough with the ring flash attachment. And interestingly enough, this time the normal flash version had no difficulties with the control point recognition, though the one with the ring flash did.

Where I did have difficulties with the control point recognition was the “cathedral” panorama. Now that we have trees growing in many different places, I tried a new position, closer to the Schinus (pepper tree). But that resulted in a couple of images that were almost impossible to correlate. Neither the automatic control point generator nor I could find good control points. The result looks acceptable, but I'm pretty sure that it's incorrectly stitched.


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And then there were the photos I took this morning. In Portarlington I took some photos on the beach which were less than successful: here a partial panorama, where the exposure was to hell, and it occurred to me 7 images into the sequence that I had not checked the height of the subjects in image 8, so I chopped off Yvonne's feet and completely removed Nemo:


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I couldn't be bothered to go back and start again, and the quality of the image bears that out. The blotches appear to be attempts by DxO Optics "Pro" to get better image quality out of the individual images.

The other issue is with Nemo himself. He's so black that it's almost impossible to get any shadow detail in him:


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I should try overexposing next time.


Sunday, 11 March 2012 Dereel Images for 11 March 2012
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More photo web stuff
Topic: photography, multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Still more photo work today. I've been dragging my feet on how to present video clips on my web site. As I've commented before, I'm no fan of sites like Flickr and friends, and I host all my own photos. But there are a couple of reasons to do it differently for video clips: firstly, they're big, and secondly web browsers don't handle them as well as they do still images. So it made sense to upload the clips to YouTube.

The first step was to edit the clips. In the first clip my habits as a still photographer got the better of me, and I tried moving to portrait mode for better framing. You Don't Do That with video. So I needed to cut it off.

What video editing I have done has been with Project X, but that doesn't do AVI, so Jürgen Lock recommended avidemux2. Tried installing from the binary on the FreeBSD FTP server, but gave up when I caught it trying to upgrade my Perl installation—I've had enough pain with that in the past. Instead, installed on defake, which worked well until I tried to run it. Then it vomited all over the xterm, setting it into an invalid state, both for the xterm settings and the terminal driver settings. This is what it did to an empty screen:

 
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This was avidemux2's inimitable way of saying “Sorry, you forgot to set your DISPLAY environment variable.

After setting that and a couple of other hiccups, things went well.

I already have a script for recoding files for publishing on YouTube. It manages to shrink the images by about 95% compared with what comes out of the camera, with noticeable reduction in quality. But as long as I have to pay so much for traffic, I'll have to put up with that. So: upload the image to YouTube. That's easy enough, and I've even been able to get valid HTML to display things. But I wanted to add them to my daily image page, and I wanted to be able to access the local copy here, to save on speed, traffic and resolution. Spent a fair amount of time doing that, with only limited success. In particular, I still don't have local access done, and I'm still not sure how to ensure the sorting of the images. But on the whole it doesn't look too bad.


Using the Spotmatic again
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Last night I had spent some time talking to Chris Yeardley about old cameras, showing the viewfinders of the Asahi Pentax SV and “Spotmatic”, in the process noting that the Spotmatic viewfinder was a great improvement on the SV—and both are much better than any modern DSLR I have seen.

The Spotmatic has had a film in it since late 2006, when I put one in to make some photos for the sale of Wantadilla. Those images have almost certainly faded beyond recognition, but there were still about 8 left on the roll, so out into the garden to finish it off.

It's funny using the camera again after all that time. I've sold the extreme wide angle Sigma lens (18 mm, horizontal FOV 90°, compared to only 87.7° for my current widest lens, the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6), so all I had was the standard 50 mm f/1.4 Super Takumar, which was rather limiting after being used to effectively free choice of focal length. I kept forgetting to wind the film on and to turn the light meter on. And with the deterioration in my eyes I need to keep my glasses on, which meant that I couldn't see the corners of the viewfinder. But that could be solved—why can't they build viewfinders like that any more?

Finally finished off the film. Given the small number of frames left, it was more difficult than I had expected. I'll be vaguely interested to see the results.


Chicken snitzel
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

What's a Schnitzel? In German, it means something like (wood) chip. From the mid-19th century, the Austrians used the term “Wiener Schnitzel” to refer to a deep-fried, crumbed thin slice of veal from the leg.

Things have definitely changed. In Germany, they don't eat much veal, so they came up with „Schnitzel Wiener Art“ (Viennese-style Schnitzel), made from pork and fried in a pan—not the same flavour at all, but recognizable.

And then a few years back I came across what I considered to be the Australian contribution: Chicken Snitzel, a concept so strange that I couldn't work out what it is, though I note now that it's known in Germany too. So recently I suggested to Yvonne that she buy some pre-made chicken snitzels, and today we tried one of them.

That's right, only one. Schnitzel are supposed to be thin, and when we make Wiener Schnitzel we make about 5 for the two of us. This thing was simply a breaded chicken breast, something like a chicken Cordon bleu without the filling. It didn't taste bad, of course—fried chicken breast is a good enough dish—but where's the added value? Why “snitzel”? It's about 10 times the thickness.

It's worth mentioning, though, that the German recipe also leave the breast in full thickness. We're considering slicing the meat first to make it thinner.


Monday, 12 March 2012 Dereel Images for 12 March 2012
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Interest in Guardian operating system
Topic: technology, history, opinion Link here

Mail from Jonathan Lafleche this morning. He's studying Computer Engineering and wants to do a presentation on the Guardian operating system, and asked me for some suggestions based on my article in Beautiful Architecture. And, of course, he wanted some anecdotes. I already had one, but there are others that I hadn't written up yet, so finished the draft of the CPU failure at 16:04. Those were the fun days.


Bore pump problems
Topic: general Link here

Chris Yeardley has a problem with her bore pump: it doesn't work. Discussed it with her a bit—there are a number of irritations that these things can cause—and finally over to take a look. Under the 200 l drum it looked pretty straightforward, with a certain amount of evidence of poor installation:


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That black thing sticking out of the side of the junction box is an incorrectly mounted sealing ring. And, as Chris said, it don't work.

I was about to say “get an expert”, when I thought we could at least look inside the junction box. And there I saw what I didn't expect:


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The condenser at the top had completely melted away, and the contacts had come apart from the body. How did that happen? It's easy enough to replace, but is the melting the cause of the problem (it's sufficient, since the thing is now open circuit) or the result of the real problem? Time to ask an expert. If it's just the condenser, she's in luck.


Piccola out at night again
Topic: animals Link here

Piccola didn't come home again last night, and we couldn't find her anywhere. We've already established that she can hide very well, and this morning she came back again, stayed in the house all day, and then wanted to go out again. No go, of course, but I can see us having fun with her in the immediate future.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012 Dereel → Bannockburn → Dereel Images for 13 March 2012
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NBN tower: planning committee speaks
Topic: general, opinion, technology Link here

Off to Bannockburn with Scott Weston to the Golden Plains Shire Planning Committee meeting to discuss planning application P11-334: Development of Land for a Telecommunications Facility at Crown Allotment A4D, parish of Dereel (Colac-Ballarat Road), in other words the NBN communications tower.

To my surprise, the part of the agenda for this item was printed 2 sided on A4, was 2 cm thick and weighed 500 g. It included all the submissions and their names and addresses, which was interesting. The opponents were, in the order they were placed in the agenda:

There were two submissions in favour of the proposal: Scott's and mine. Mine was very short, but Scott produced a list of 93 households (188 people) in favour of the tower, including me of course. He also pointed out the importance of such a facility in emergencies such as bushfires.

First Amy Boyd described the situation, and summarized the possible grounds for objection. The following is a paraphrase of the agenda items, followed in each case by the way she addressed them:

  1. Visual impact. All objectors are concerned that the proposed facility will have a detrimental affect on the appearance and amenity of the surrounding area. They believe the proposed structure is incompatible with the surrounding rural land use of the area.

    This is a valid concern, but council does not consider the presence of the tower to have an adverse impact. On the other hand, there are the people who actively want the service.

  2. ARPANSA guidelines are outdated and not reflective of more recent research. The objectors are concerned that the standards in which the application has been assessed against are not reflective of the most recent and up-to-date research and should be disregarded on these grounds.

    This is irrelevant to the decision. The ARPANSA guidelines are binding, and the emissions in this case are well within the limits.

  3. Vegetation along the boundaries should be retained. The applicant has indicated they are willing to retain the trees.

    This point was accepted and will be part of the permit conditions.

  4. Health concerns. Objectors are concerned that Electro-Magnetic Energy (EME) emissions from the proposed facility will adversely affect the health of surrounding residents.

    The emissions are well within the limits, and potential health issues are not a basis to refuse the application if the relevant standards are met.

  5. Property devaluation. The objectors believe that the visual impact of the facility and perceived health concerns will reduce the values of surrounding properties.

    It's difficult to put speculate on property values, but it's not a material planning consideration. VCAT has consistently refused this line of argumentation.

  6. Satellite would be the preferred alternative if fibre optic is not an option. It has been suggested satellite would be more appropriate than a tower for the surrounding area as it would be less detrimental to residential areas and pose no health risks.

    NBN are the experts here, and although they include satellite in their offerings, they consider fixed wireless to be the most appropriate for Dereel.

After Amy, the opponents and then the proponents were allowed to speak. Wendy came first, and said that she was speaking for herself and her husband. It's not clear if that's even acceptable, given that the submission was in the name of “DATA”. She was told she could speak for 5 minutes. She said she wanted to speak for 10, including for her husband; but he was not registered, and she was only allowed 5. In fact, she spoke for 12 minutes before the chairman finally shut her up.

The following is based on handwritten notes, not something I'm good at, so it's possible I misunderstood something. She started off by saying that the whole process had been unethical, characterized by lies and deceit, and (if I understood her correctly) after 6 weeks she had still not received answers to her questions sent by registered mail on 9 March 2012.

Then I have some note about her not getting truthful answers before she wandered off on the topic of “smart (electricity) meters”, a completely unrelated topic. They would fail because of their uncorrectable flaws, and we should use analogue meters instead.

Back (vaguely) to the topic, she claimed that the Shire and the NBN were forcing this tower upon us in the middle of town, and to hide the fact they had relocated the town sign so that the tower was outside of it. She demanded that the town sign be replaced in its original place.

She herself had had a microwave overload in 1998, and she can't tolerate pulsed microwaves any more. She quoted as an expert John Paterson, the loony who stole a tank and drove around destroying mobile phone towers some years ago.

She made some other allegations that I didn't understand, such as being fed outright lies at the presentation on 6 December 2011 (I didn't think she even went in) and that frequencies over 300 GHz were safe. But maybe I got it wrong.

Scott spoke briefly and basically reiterated his submission. In view of all that had been said, I didn't see any reason to say anything more.

Next Councilor Cotsell, apparently the president of the planning committee, spoke. Wendy's words had had their effect: he made it clear that the council take their responsibility seriously, and accusations of deceit or lies were insulting. He wouldn't go along with alarmist conspiracy theories, and he pointed out that the emissions could be a thousandfold higher without exceeding the APANSA guidelines. He agreed that electromagnetic radiation could be dangerous, but it all depended on the frequency and the power. He confirmed that the nearest house (not that of the Kaminskis) was 516 m away. About the only doubt he had was whether the trees round the site would last much longer. All in all, he made a convincing impression that he understood the issues well. I was certainly impressed, as I was by the whole session. My opinion of the council has risen as a result of this meeting.

Council then voted unanimously in favour of the application. It will be handed to the ordinary meeting of the Council on 27 March 2012 at 16:00.

Afterwards

After the meeting closed, had a quick chat with Peter Carapelotti, who gave us a timeline. In the unlikely event that Wendy and Co go away and shut up, they might be able to start construction in May and be complete by the end of June. In all probability, though, we're all expecting her to make things as difficult as she can, which means going to VCAT. This will put things back by at least 6 months.

Afterwards I had a chat with Councilor Cotsell, who was still seething from the accusations. I suspect that Wendy has done herself a great disservice here by accusing Council of corruption. It's just another indication of how little understanding she has. Until now I thought it was limited to technical issues.

While we were talking, another councilor came by and told me he had found my name on the web while looking for information on better brewing. Amusing how things overlap.

The town sign

The town sign is so irrelevant that it's silly. But we were also convinced that it wasn't true. We went and took a look, and we still thought it wasn't true. But when I got home, I asked Yvonne, and Scott independently checked. Indeed, the sign had been near Grassy Gully Road some time ago, as this Google StreetView shows. Oh well. At least we did our homework. But it looks as if it has been in its new location for more than the few months since the application was lodged.

Smear campaigns and EMR measurements

Later still, Scott found the following text in Wendy's submission (in the name of DATA):

Smear and hate campaign against myself At the DI & NBN public information session on 6/12/2011, a Dereel resident Scott Weston handed out four pages headed DATA which was put out by http://dereel.com.au/ and also by Greg Lehey on his website. This is a continuing smear and hate campaign. It has been waged over the past few years by Scott Weston and Greg Lehey to discredit me in the local community and turn people against me which has now proved to be successful. It has also made many other people scared to oppose the tower as they feel threatened and get backlash from some of these bullies. People are hiding. It is all lies about myself, about the tower and about the radiation which is all designed to try to get a tower here. People actually believe what these two IT computer people say including that the single wire antenna attached to the gutter of the Dereel CFA shed has more radiation emitted from it than a full size microwave radiation base station or tower. Some local people can be extremely gullible with no common sense or reasoning powers.

I like the term “smear campaign”—so much so that I used it against her when she made her slanderous accusations a year ago. Once again, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. She's right that both Scott and I have attacked her views—this document is another example—but I believe we have always done it objectively, not objectionably.

The paragraph before is typical:

For people's own safety we suggest everyone purchase an electromagnetic radiation (EMR) measuring device which measures in milliGauss (mG) and a radiofrequency radiation (RFR) including microwave radiation measuring device which measures in microwatts per square meter (uW/m2). The cheapest is from www.radmeters.com based in Israel - they sell both. Costs are approximately $145 and $170 respectively. Allow two weeks for delivery which is included in the price. You can then see for yourself what levels of radiation you are exposed to in various locations.

Once again you'd get the impression that they're a sales outlet for these people.


Yet another neighbour across the road
Topic: general Link here

We've been interested by the number of people who have lived across the road at number 50 Kleins Road. Currently it's empty again, but in the nearly 5 years since we have lived here, there have been 6 different occupants. Now I know one more: Scott Weston's parents built the house about 35 years ago, and he lived there until 25 years ago.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012 Dereel Images for 14 March 2012
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Investigating the mobile tower claims
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I'm still puzzled by what Wendy McClelland said yesterday, and the information she submitted to the council. She spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the town sign, which seems to be completely irrelevant. On fighting my way through reading her submission, things become a little clearer:

6.5 "the isolation and location of the facility". We have previously established that this site is NOT isolated. It is only 200 meters to the 'Community Hub' in the centre of Dereel of which will be in the highest radiation exposure radius of the tower at between 300 and 500 meters. See Municipal Strategic Statement Clause 21.03 - map on page 7 of 17.

I'm not sure what this map is. It doesn't seem to be in the supplementary information she submitted. She did submit a printout of this map, which clearly shows the “Community Hub” on the corner of Swamp Road, Ferrers Road and Colac-Ballarat Road. The township ends at the corner of Rokewood Junction Road and Colac-Ballarat Road, which places the tower barely outside the borders.

6.5 "The rural setting of the proposed facility and the isolation and location of the facility buffeted from neighboring views by the existing extensive remnant vegetation on site means amenity impacts are minimal".

Possibly this DI & NBN statement is referring once again to the Haddon West area as it certainly has little relevance to the Dereel tower position which is a kilometer inside the Dereel township area on the main road through the township, certainly not isolated and has many houses in close proximity which will be in clear view of the monopole and radiation emitting antennas on top of it.

Certainly Haddon is irrelevant, but who mentioned it?

7.1 Visual Amenity and Setting

"this proposal is for the installation of a 40 meter monopole on the outskirts of Dereel".

The proposal is not on the outskirts of Dereel. It is over one kilometer inside the township boundary regardless of the Dereel township sign recently removed and relocated south along Colac Road to accommodate this tower.

So that's the rationale for the town sign. I'm pretty sure it was moved long before this site was chosen.

There are far more houses around this proposed tower location than from the other end of Dereel inside the Dereel sign at one kilometer or even at two kilometers.

Well, we can check that, though things aren't helped by Google Maps, which show the centre of town pretty much where Wendy says it is, in the middle of nowhere:


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This photo was taken as close as I can judge to where the pin is, though StreetView appears to put it about 30 metres further south. Two houses are visible just left of centre. Clearly this isn't the centre of Dereel. The site of the proposed “pulsed radiation tower” is to the left of the clump of trees at the right-end vanishing point of the road, about 250 metres away. The town sign is on the other side of the road, really only about 50 m further on. According to Wendy,

7.1 "the location of the proposed facility is -within a fairly isolated faring zone (FZ) outside the township of Dereel". This statement is totally wrong. Is this statement again referring to Haddon West?

(a) It is not outside the township zone - the Dereel township sign was recently moved south one kilometer - tailor made for this comment.

As the map she submitted shows, it is outside the township zone. So is her claimed location of the Community Hub in the photo above.

(b) It is in a high profile prominent position of open grazing and farm land that motorists will view on entering Dereel, and also from the majority of Dereel's residents who live in a radius of up to two kilometers - this distance is considered very close.

And yes, there are two points 7.1. But this is nonsense, and Wendy knows it. She has lived here for years, and she knows where things are. Motorists entering Dereel won't see the tower at all, because it will be hidden behind the trees. And the only houses that will see the tower from the south will be the houses I have identified and maybe one or two others, not including the Kaminskis (who are hidden behind the trees at the left end of the road), herself or Lorraine Caranza, whose view of the tower would also be marred by trees:


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Based on other information, it seems that the houses that will have a direct view are all in favour of the tower.

The location of the town sign is still irrelevant, but at least now I understand why Wendy mentions it. If she takes this issue to VCAT, I think she should be prosecuted for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Her claims are just plain lies.


GPS and Google maps—accuracy guaranteed
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

I've been bitching and moaning about the quality of online maps since before I moved to Dereel, but things haven't improved much. I started a Google Map of Google maps breakage round Dereel years ago, but so far they have only fixed some of the problems.

Still, I have a GPS navigator, with maps from naviextras.com, who pride themselves on the accuracy of their maps, and stress that they do their own independent checks—or at least they said last time I was able to find it on their web site. Clearly they wouldn't have the same broken data as Google Maps.

You'd think so, but in fact there are many errors common to both map sets. Their location of Dereel town centre appears to be identical to that of Google Maps, though finding that is difficult. Here's what you need to do to find the coordinates of an address using my version of Nav N Go iGo 8.3.4.117940: first you find the location with the find menu (address, POI, whatever), and then go to find/coordinates. The default value in the coordinate menu is the location of what you just found.

So I did that, and got the coordinates -37.8175488, 143.7546456. How does that compare with Google Maps? I don't know an easy way to get their coordinates either—you can hold down the Shift key and it will show them to 3 or 4 places of decimals (probably close enough), but the only way I know to get the exact way is to save to a custom map and then edit the HTML of the description. This gave me the coordinate -37.817546, 143.754625. According to my GPS navigator, this is 1 metre away. According to Google Maps, it's the same place. What an amazing coincidence!

There are others, too. On the way home down Swamp Road I was shown a road off to the left:


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This road doesn't exist, and unlike other non-existent roads, it doesn't have a name either. But it's there on Google Maps as well. Why are these maps so bad? Why do they keep inventing new roads? In some cases they may be data from official survey information, which includes roads that have fallen so far into disrepair that they are unrecognizable, or are just a right of way as a planned road. But this particular one doesn't seem to fit into either of those categories.


Piccola out on the town again
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Another night when Piccola didn't come home until morning. Unlike the last time, this time she had something to eat and went right out again. Found her in the garage in the afternoon, and brought her inside, but what do we do now? Keep her inside all the time?


Thursday, 15 March 2012 Dereel Images for 15 March 2012
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Dereel maps and NBN tower
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Spent a little more time talking about the pulsing (or is that pulsating?) radiation tower today, and also about the maps. I've already mentioned the map that Wendy supplied. Here an excerpt:


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The black circle to the right of the middle is the “Community Hub”, and the proposed location of the tower is in the area to the north, just the other side of the township limit. But look at the lagoon (which they choose to call “Swamp”): it shows a road going south from the south side of it. That's the non-existent road I commented about yesterday. So it does, indeed, look as if the errors come from the council.

This map shows a number of other errors as well. It also shows an extension of Kleins Road south to the edge of the map, and it gives the impression that Swamp Road follows the edge of the lagoon to the extreme east, and then turn towards the Colac-Ballarat Road, and that Ferrers Road (marked outside this detail as “Ferrars Road”) starts some distance from the Colac-Ballarat Road. In fact, Swamp Road continues directly towards Ferrers Road, which it joins on a T junction. That road is shown too, and maybe it can be forgiven here, since the primary purpose of the map is to show zoning. But the misspellings of road names are puzzling, and the map gives the impression that it has been drawn by hand. Who does that nowadays?

Also found a site that gives guesstimate valuations for houses that are not for sale. Given that the Kaminskis claim a loss of value of between (pluck out of the air) $60,000 and (pluck out of the air) $100,000, it would be interesting to see what that means in relative terms. The map claims that the address is 3 Swamp Road, which agrees with the number on the post (it's on the corner), and a “rough guess” of a price between $125,500 and $159,500. That was done before the planning application was done, but now the date has been updated, though the price remains. Clearly the estimate has not taken the effect of the tower into account.

That's a “guessitmate”, of course. How accurate is it? A while back we considered selling our house and were told we could get between about $330,000 and $350,000 for it. This page gives a guesstimate of between $345,600 and $439,600 for our house. So if their accuracy is similar, the lower value is more accurate than the higher, and the Kaminski's house might be worth about $125,000. And they seriously expect anybody to believe an unsubstantiated claim that a microwave tower out of sight 500 metres away is going to drop that value by up to 80%?


Very little garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

It's been over a week since I started mulching things in the garden, and during that time I've done almost nothing. I've had the wheelbarrow full of mulch standing around in the garden for over a week now, and finally Yvonne wanted it back, so I had to find somewhere to put the mulch. Most of the areas are waiting for weeds to die off, but I finally found something near the Ficus benjamina that we transplanted some months ago.

And that's where I had been planning to plant the white Abutilon that we bought nearly a month ago. Once again ran into trouble with the soil: the original place where I wanted to plant it was full of gravel, so planted it about 60 cm away. Spread mulch. And that was all. I really need to do more work in the garden.


GUI progress
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It's been some years since I wrote my What I want from a GUI rant. At the time I was getting extremely frustrated with GNOME, and this was a reaction.

Since then, I've solved my GNOME problems in a simple and elegant manner: I stopped using it. But times have changed. I think I'll leave this page the way it is, and if I come up with anything new to say, I'll write a different page. In the meantime, a quote from Peter Jeremy sums it up:

GUIs have advanced in the past 6½ years. We now have “rubber” windows that wobble when you try to move them. And icons that bounce around the bottom of the screen whilst the associated piece of bloatware struggles to start.

Amen.


Friday, 16 March 2012 Dereel Images for 16 March 2012
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Disaster after disaster
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Lots of things to record on TV tonight, and so I needed to use my external tuner for the first time in earnest. It has a USB disk interface, and though I was able to record something onto a USB stick a while back, it looked as if it wasn't fast enough, and in any case it wasn't big enough.

Not a problem: I have piles of old PATA disks lying around, and with a little searching I found an external PATA/USB housing. Put an 80 GB disk in it. Confirmed in lagoon, Yvonne's FreeBSD system, that it was a Solaris partition, clearly not what the tuner wanted. What did it want? I made my last recording with FAT32, like just about every other multimedia device.

When it comes to FAT32, Microsoft is the expert, of course, so plugged it in braindeath, the Microsoft I have on loan from Chris Yeardley. No new hardware appeared, nothing. It doesn't help that I don't do Microsoft, but it told me the new hardware had been inserted and was working correctly. Went to the “Control Panel” to look for ways to partition a disk, and found nothing. It seems that I should have gone to “My Computer” and clicked on the drive letter. Isn't that a beautiful indication of where menus fail you?

But there was no drive letter. Alex Wilkinson told me that I should be running DISKPART.EXE, which disconcertingly wouldn't tell me which disk I was working on (“disk 1”, “disk 2”, both non-removable). I would have been much happier with something like FORMAT D:, but there was no D: “drive”. There was a G: with some contents, clearly something on this machine. Was that drive 2?

In any case, this all looked far too dangerous, so put the disk back on lagoon and created a FAT32 partition on it, not helped by lack of documentation: what partition ID should I choose? Finally found that it was 11, so created a partition table, but my mtools config appeared incorrect, so I couldn't run mformat against it. Still, after that braindeath finally recognized the disk as drive D:, told me that it wasn't “formatted”, and offered to format it:

 
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That's right, I had the choice of formatting it with NTFS or nothing. “Nothing” was equally helpful:

 
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Still, there's always FORMAT.EXE—isn't there? Well, up to a point. I forgot the /q option, so it went off for about 40 minutes writing to the disk before coming up with the message:

 
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Callum Gibson came up with this page showing some of the myriad limitations of FAT32, but it suggested that using a 64 kB cluster size should work. Not for me:

 
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None of this was helped much by the fact that just about every time I ran into one of these problems, the system refused to recognize the disk any more, and I had to remove it and reconnect it.

 
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By that time I had decided to try it in boskoop, my Apple. It recognized the disk, but came up with another upsetting message: root disk has failed:

 
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Tried copying it to the new disk (which happened to be larger) with dd, which despite the block size specification of 32 kB insisted in transferring in 4 kB chunks. But that failed with what proved to be unreadable sectors on the root disk:

=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) / 8 -> dd if=/dev/disk0 of=/dev/disk1 bs=32k
dd: /dev/disk0: Input/output error
1032+0 records in
1032+0 records out
33816576 bytes transferred in 110.483766 secs (306077 bytes/sec)

Started running a backup on that, and moved on. The problem was with the size of the disk, so found a 20 GB disk and tried that. That proved to be no use: it was 200 GB, not 20. Then I found a 40 GB drive that I was able to partition. But then I couldn't talk to it with Microsoft. When I tried to start some program that I needed (I forget which), Microsoft claimed that the program was already running. In the end, decided on the standard Microsoft workaround and rebooted. And then I couldn't log in again: my mouse appears to be dead, and I couldn't click on the login button. Fortunately, after some considerable swearing, discovered that the VNC connection was working, so managed to connect after all.

In the meantime it occurred to me: mformat doesn't work, but doesn't FreeBSD have a FAT32 format program built in to it? Indeed, it does, with the somewhat archaic name newfs_msdos. And it works:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 22 -> newfs_msdos /dev/da0s1
/dev/da0s1: 3999616 sectors in 62494 FAT16 clusters (32768 bytes/cluster)
BytesPerSec=512 SecPerClust=64 ResSectors=1 FATs=2 RootDirEnts=512 Media=0xf0 FATsecs=245 SecPerTrack=63 Heads=255 HiddenSecs=0 HugeSectors=4000185

braindeath recognized that, so off to put it in the tuner. Reception was terrible, so checked the antenna cables: the antenna connection was looped through the tuners in cvr2. Twiddled the cables, and of course cvr2 crashed. Powered it off and had no antenna connection at all. Much cursing and experimentation and discovered that one of the two tuners (both the same model number, but different design) didn't pass the antenna data through when powered down. And when I rebooted, one of them didn't show up. I had to power down, reseat the boards and power up again before they were both found. So I still do have trouble with the mechanical connections.

Finally got round to connecting the disk to the tuner. Two messages: “Unknown error, leaving”, followed by “No disk device detected”. On further investigation, discovered that those 3999616 sectors were only 2 GB. Somehow I had managed to create a tiny file system, and presumably “Unknown error, leaving” was the tuner's way of saying so. Now wouldn't it be nice to output the real size in MB or GB in that complicated message? Back to lagoon, repartitioned and tried again:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 34 -> newfs_msdos -F 32 /dev/da0s1
/dev/da0s1: 78137024 sectors in 1220891 FAT32 clusters (32768 bytes/cluster)
BytesPerSec=512 SecPerClust=64 ResSectors=32 FATs=2 Media=0xf0 SecPerTrack=63 Heads=255 HiddenSecs=0 HugeSectors=78156162 FATsecs=9539 RootCluster=2 FSInfo=1 Backup=2

Put that in the tuner, and it spontaneously rebooted. But then it worked. 2 hours just to format a disk! Why do all these things go wrong at once? And why is it so difficult to initialize a disk with Microsoft?


Saturday, 17 March 2012 Dereel Images for 17 March 2012
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure during the night, at 22:28 last night. That's only the 5th this year; this time last year we had had 11. Are things getting better?


Hardware failures continue
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

In this morning to check how the recording on the USB disk went. I didn't need to look. I could hear it: “Wheee-CLICK Wheee-CLICK” from the disk. It had failed.

It wasn't the only thing. I think my backup of the Apple completed, but by the time I looked, the xterms were gone. ruptime told me that it had stopped talking to the outside world last night at 22:28. That's the time of the power failure. Coincidence? It's not clear how it could be connected, though, since the computer is on a UPS.

The machine was in fact sleeping, and I was able to wake it. But it couldn't access disk; presumably that's why rwhod died. Tried to reboot it, but after briefly activating video, it died again. Has the rest of the machine died? Or does it require a functioning disk to do the power-on checks? The latter sounds unlikely. Spent some time trying to copy the disk in defake, which worked modulo the errors on the disk. I'll try to boot with it later.


Preparing for autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

It's still quite warm, but autumn is just round the corner, and there are lots of things to do. Started by digging up the gladioli and putting them into paper bags, and also did some weeding. I think, on the whole, that the weeds are winning. I need to find a less labour-intensive approach for next year.


Sunday, 18 March 2012 Dereel Images for 18 March 2012
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Flowers in early autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

Monthly garden flower photo again today. Compared to a year ago we have a number of new plants. Not many of the Celosias and Salvia “Bonfire” that I got from the Friends of the Botanical Gardens have survived, but some of them look quite good:


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Then there are others that have shown up for the first time in any quantity: the Campanula cochlearifolia that I picked up at the Friends, the “Dog repellent” that we picked up last year on Australia Day, and the orange flower that we picked up this year. The last looks quite nice, but I'm not sure it's in the right place:


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The Solanum laxum cuttings that Yvonne picked up in Albury last autumn have taken, but they're only now starting to flower in any quantity:


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The self-sown plant just outside my office window really appears to be from the Romneya coulteri in the garden. It's looking a lot happier; presumably the position is more suited.


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Somehow things aren't looking as happy as last year. The red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis on the verandah has stopped flowering. The Korean Hibiscus is flowering, but very little, and the daisy bush next to it that used to flower all the time has no flowers on it at all:


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The Petunias on the verandah are also flowering, but the overall impression is less than happy:


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The roses are also not as pretty as last year. Last year the Rose “Gruß an Aachen” flowered prolifically, but this year it just has a bud on it. The Rose “Monsieur Tillier” is flowering, but very little. The daisies I planted around it have died, and even the Pyrethrum is looking less than happy:


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I think the key here is either watering or fertilizer, probably the former. Last year was very moist through the summer, so any shortfalls in watering wouldn't have been as much of a problem. It's particularly obvious in the view of the area round the roses:


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On the left of the arch are the “Gruß an Aachen”, “Monsieur Tillier” and the Pyrethrum, and the whole area looks dry. On the right are thriving rose “Lilli Marleen” and red petunias. So it seems the best approach is to ensure more water in the whole area.

A thing that suggests that this approach is correct is elsewhere in the garden. I had similar problems south of the verandah, and I've increased the water flow there. Now the roses are coming back, and the Osteospermums have started flowering again. And the first timid Clematis of autumn is also to be seen:


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A surprising number of flowers are flowering out of season. I've been watching the Cyclamen all summer, but now we have an Azalea:


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Then the Cymbidium is producing a shoot, and there's at least one bulb that I can't recognize. Maybe it's its flowering time now.


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A number of native Australian trees are coming into flower, including the Syzygium in the north-east part of the garden (the other one is looking much less happy), a Eucalyptus in the extreme north, and the Grevillea that we brought with us from Wantadilla and which has been struggling to keep alive for 5 years now:


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The Gaura lindheimeri that we bought last Easter has looked rather unhappy, and it still does, but at least it's flowering. On the other hand, the Alyogyne huegelii that got knocked over by the wind last month doesn't seem to have noticed, and is flowering happily away:


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A surprising number of Salvias are flowering. The red Salvia microphylla that we've had since we moved in reliably flower for most of the year, and the Salvia leucantha also do well:


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Now we have the Salvia “Phyllis fancy” as well. It looks pretty, but it's surprisingly non-obvious from further away:


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The mystery “Salvia diesaustraliae” from last year on Australia Day is now flowering properly, and it still looks like mint to me (second photo). And then there's the Salvia uliginosa that we bought last month is also flowering happily:


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A number of other plants aren't new, but I'm happy with them, notably various Fuchsias and the Epilobium canum:


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Some of the ground cover plants are looking quite happy. I'll have to reconsider the whole ground cover stuff based on how well they can keep weeds at bay:


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In previous years we've had surprisingly little luck with Ipomoea (morning glory), but this year looks better:


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I wonder how long they'll continue blooming. But at least we will get lots of seeds from them.

The Hebes have finished flowering long ago—almost. We still have a few pockets where they're continuing:


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In fact, they're a problem: they self-seed prolifically, and they're clogging up the Japanese garden, along with various weeds and the odd Silver birch:


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Another new thing this year, not really plant-related, is the number of spiders that build webs with a single wrapped-up Eucalyptus leaf in the middle, in which they hide:


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I wonder if they're the Austracantha minax (Jewel Spider) that I saw last month. I suppose I should take one apart.


Repairing the Apple
Topic: technology Link here

More head-scratching about boskoop, my Apple, today. Why did the machine not complete the self test? I needed to find out whether this was a second problem or a consequence of the first, so over to Chris Yeardley's place to look at DELICIOUS, her almost identical machine (no idea why the name is shouted). It was powered down, but came up happily when I turned it on, though the “display on/display off/display on” behaviour occurred here too. The second “display on” was preceded by disk access sounds. Open up, disconnect the disk cable and... exactly the same behaviour as I had seen on boskoop. So it really does look like the machine won't boot without a functional disk, not even display an error message. What a pain! Admittedly, this is a very old machine. Hopefully modern Apples are more reasonable.

Borrowed the machine and brought it home, and this time connected the monitor to the DVI port instead of the VGA port. That was marginally more sensible: the display stayed on all the time, and when it tried to access the disk, it displayed alternating tiny images of a question mark and a smiling face (why smiling?) reminiscent of something from the 1980s.

So: what's wrong with my disk? Put it in the machine as a second disk and took a look:

 
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OK, that makes sense. First backed up the entire contents of the disk with dd, and then selected Repair Disk. Almost identical messages:

 
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That's all I had time for today. Clearly I'm in for some fun if I can't find a recent backup.


Monday, 19 March 2012 Dereel Images for 19 March 2012
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More Apple disk recovery
Topic: technology Link here

On with the disk recovery today. The real issue is backups. I'm religious with backups, and I make backups every evening—on my FreeBSD boxes. With others it's not as simple, because they're not powered on all the time, and in the case of commercial operating systems, tar doesn't seem to be the way to go. So I've been making disk images, so that in case of failure I can just copy them to a new disk. And in between I make some half-hearted backup attempts—too seldom, it seems. The directory /src/dump/boskoop was empty, and a locate boskoop found nothing of interest. Only later did I find that I had changed the spelling: Boskoop is a Dutch town famous for its apples, but the name is often called Boskopp in German, and when I got the box I didn't know about the Dutch town. Only later did I change the spelling. So what I found was:

-rw-r--r--   1 grog  wheel      4173914809 Jul 20  2006 boskopp.tar.gz

That's not exactly recent, and it's just a tar archive. It would also miss a lot of the installed software. I made a tar archive as soon as I saw the problems, but I don't know if it completed, and there are bound to be holes in it. Went looking round a pile of old disks and found a 250 GB drive with a hand-written label on it: eureka: /dump 1.VIII.2008 | dereel /dump 22.XI.2008 and another: Dying 8.VIII.2011. That looked like it might contain something, so formatted another 250 GB drive and mounted both on defake. Fortunately the dying disk was readable, and I managed to copy most of the data across before the destination disk filled up; it seems that the 250 GB drives weren't quite the same size. Copying the remainder failed: the disk remembered that it was dying, and hung up. But there was nothing missing that I needed, and what I did find was:

-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  16596907252 Dec 24  2009 boskoop.disk0.bz2

Still not the newest, but probably most of what I want is on there. Copied the image to the disk, put it in Chris' DELICIOUS, and run Disk and Utility.app:

 
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I wonder why that was. Maybe because the disk was in use when I backed it up? Ran Repair and sure enough, it worked:

 
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Now to back up that version, which will take another few hours across a 100 Mb/s network.


More than your usual garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

What causes plants to grow poorly and not to flower? I can see a number of options:

  1. Not enough water. This is what I suspected yesterday.

  2. Not enough fertilizer.

  3. Too much competition from other plants.

  4. Incorrect location of plant.

Today went to look at the water supply to the roses and the Korean hibiscus. The roses had nice, moist soil, so it can't be that. There are few other plants around them, so it can't be that either. Incorrect location? Other roses are growing well in the same location. So it must be fertilizer. Or maybe time: I've already done some work in this area a few weeks ago, and maybe they just need time to recover. In any case, spread some more fertilizer and left it at that.

The Korean hibiscus is another matter. There's lots of undergrowth round there, and maybe it's getting too much competition from the weeds. But I can't recall having put much fertilizer in that area, so put some there too.

Another plant that isn't looking too happy is the Passionfruit in the greenhouse. Somehow none of the potted plants there are looking very happy. But I've propagated a number of cuttings, which are growing well, so despite the season planted one of them against the mesh to the north-east of the garden. We'll see how it goes.


More pizza thoughts
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I've been making pizzas in these funny electric “pizza ovens” for a single pizza. I'm still not happy with the bases, but today I tried pre-cooking them for 2 minutes from both sides, and only then putting the topping on.

The results were interesting: the bases rose significantly, so much so that we had difficulty with the top of the pizza fouling the top element, but they also tasted much better. They could have been done even more, which suggests a reduction in the quantity. Currently I've been using 150 g of flour and 5 g of yeast for each pizza; I think I can reduce that to 100 g and 2.5 g.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012 Dereel Images for 20 March 2012
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Reinstalling MacOS X
Topic: technology Link here

Finally finished backing up the reconstituted disk for boskoop, so put it in the machine and tried to boot from it. Nothing. No error messages, not even these silly 1980s images, just a greyer apple on a grey screen, with a twirling baton underneath.

Where do you go from there? There were several possibilities: part of the boot blocks could be missing, or maybe it didn't like the fact that the disk wasn't the same size as the image. But wouldn't a bit of text help?

Tried a number of things. Copied Chris' system disk (10 GB!) to a 20 GB disk and tried to boot from that. It worked fine, so it can't have been the size issue. Callum Gibson suggested it might be a lack of “blessing”, which appears to be a rather pompous term for an entry pointing to the kernel to boot. As This page describes, it can be checked with the bless command:

finderinfo[0]:   3321 => Blessed System Folder is /System/Library/CoreServices
finderinfo[1]:      0 => No Blessed System File
finderinfo[2]:      0 => Open-folder linked list empty
finderinfo[3]:      0 => No OS 9 + X blessed 9 folder
finderinfo[4]:      0 => Unused field unset
finderinfo[5]:   3321 => OS X blessed folder is /System/Library/CoreServices
64-bit VSDB volume id:  0x21404BB75523415F

The number here (3321) is the inode number of the directory (which this page calls a “Folder”). But that was set correctly too; it's difficult to see how it could not be. Another page, Mac OS X: Gray screen appears during startup gives advice, but none of it worked.

OK, how about a verbose boot? Startup keyboard shortcuts gives instructions. Problem: they didn't work. Tried the Option key, which should have displayed all bootable volumes, but instead it just failed to initialize the display. After about 5 minutes I got random flashes and gave up. Shift also showed nothing useful.

So I booted from the clone of Chris' disk. First thing was to set the network environment.

 
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Well, it wasn't OK, but I pressed OK anyway. And it came back. I couldn't get rid of it. Finally found this page, which suggested that it was a bug introduced in some update, and offered a workaround which worked.

All this went with running commentary on IRC. Somebody asked me why I didn't just reinstall. There were two reasons: I bought this machine used on eBay, and I didn't have the installation media, and it would mean reinstalling all the packages that I installed over the years. But then I went looking, and how about that! I did have the installation media. Well, it was worth a try. After all, I've been messing around with this problem for 4 days now. At first it refused to install on the disk because it detected a newer version of MacOS X on the disk, but I was able to override that. But it didn't give me a choice of partitioning: it installed in the original 60 GB partition and left the other 20 GB free:

 
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And then I had to register, including address and phone number. I don't want that, but since it didn't check, I gave bogus addresses. And then, before sending off the information, it asked for my system password. I'm damned if I'll give them that either, so I created a different one and changed later. Is this thing sending off sensitive information? I can't imagine so, or people would have decried it long ago. But it's certainly unnerving.

Next, of course, came software update. The installation media had revision 10.4.6, and the latest 10.4 version is 10.4.11. Started software update and got an error message

A networking error has occurred: Error NSURLErrorDomain -1100 (-1100)

It claimed that this meant that it couldn't communicate with the Internet—this after I had confirmed that I could. Started the suggested test program, which showed no problems. Scoured the web and found this page, which suggested a proxy issue. Removed the proxy, and things worked. But what's the problem with the proxy? To be investigated later.

Installation came in dribs and drabs. First time round was just an upgrade of the kernel and Java. Then another 5. Then another three. And hundreds of Java updates:

 
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In the meantime went out looking for other software. Despite its myriad shortcomings, I still use firefox, but it seems that firefox doesn't want to know my machine. After a bit of searching came up with tenfourfox, which installed and seems to work.

It was a good thing that today was the last day of the month, and I had 1.4 GB of traffic free. I used nearly all of it, 1205.2 MB according to my ISP:

 
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One other issue that irritated me was that the installed system insisted on setting the display size to 1280×1024, though the panel has a native resolution of 1920×1080. It wouldn't let me set any higher, and it wouldn't let me set any 16×9 format at all. After a bit of experimentation, discovered that that was dependent on how the monitor was connected. With DVI, I couldn't go beyond 1280×1024. With VGA, it worked correctly. Why does this happen on mainstream commercial software?

By evening I had the back of the thing broken. Now I have to restore my environment and (hopefully) programs that I don't want to reinstall from the net.


Mowing the lawn
Topic: gardening Link here

With our fun with the lawn mower, it's been quite some time since we last mowed the lawn (Yvonne's job). Today, on the autumnal equinox we finally got things done again. And I did a bit of pruning. Given the mess I had with the Apple, it's surprising I had time for anything.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012 Dereel
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure last night just after I went to bed. The one a couple of days ago was at 22:28; this one was at 22:41. Coincidence? I wish I knew what caused them.


Better network up times
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

My network connectivity is finally getting almost acceptable. The last outage was on 15 February 2012, 5 weeks ago, and the pppd connection was up for almost all that time, as a snapshot yesterday showed:

Time online: 39D 20:32:26
Mode: HSPA / SRVST: 2
RSSI:  -101 dBm (6)
Total: 5535.78 MB / 5916.93 MB
Now:   1222   B / 63.45 kB

But this morning the connection bounced, though the process continued running (it was started on 24 January 2012), I didn't lose TCP connections, and my outage page didn't register the problem. I thought that it might have had something to do with the power failure, but it was earlier:

Mar 20 21:06:38 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: LCP: deflink: RecvTerminateReq(23) state = Opened
Mar 20 21:06:38 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: Connect time: 3452798 secs: 6635648958 octets in, 5819389413 octets out
Mar 20 21:06:38 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: 10916972 packets in, 11132789 packets out
Mar 20 21:06:38 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP:  total 3607 bytes/sec, peak 471143 bytes/sec on Mon Feb 20 15:55:48 2012
Mar 20 21:06:41 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: deflink: hangup -> opening
Mar 20 21:06:41 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: bundle: Establish
Mar 20 21:06:44 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Connected!

So a total of 6 seconds disconnect. And look at those speeds: a peak (download) rate of 460 kB/s. If only it were like that all the time. Still, that's almost ADSL standard.


Completing the Apple reinstall
Topic: technology Link here

Continued with the reinstall of boskoop today, but much more slowly. Restored the tar archive I made last week—it appears to be complete modulo the unreadable files, and in the process I found all sorts of things I didn't know about, including lots of junk in the root file system, such as MP3 files and a directory called :home:grog, apparently an attempt to obfuscate normal path names) in the root file system. /:home:grog contained what appears to be something like downloaded DMG files. I wonder where the “Finder” claims it is really located. My home directory (/Users/grog/) was nearly 9 GB in size, most of it not put there by me: 1.4 GB of files gratuitously copied by iTunes (no thank you, ituNes, I do not want you to “manage” my music collection for me), and nearly 5 GB in ~/Pictures, 2 GB apparently by some program that was installed to annoy me with Yvonne's old Kodak M1093 IS camera, and 1 GB from “OLYMPUS Master 2”. As far as I can see, none of this is any use at all. I have completely given up using itUnes, the Kodak camera no longer works properly, and I have moved on from “Master 2”. I suppose one of the down sides of having programs “manage” software for you is that you lose track of what they're doing.

Apart from that, was able to restore a number of directories in /Applications, and the ones I checked seemed to work. Emacs no longer opens an X window remotely, but I recall that there was some other issue there, and I'm sure that it can be fixed. I still need to check the printer and the scanner, but in general there wasn't much work. That's not an indication of the relative ease of installing MacOS X and FreeBSD, though: I do almost nothing on the Apple, so there's not much work.


Pruning for autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, and it showed:

5 days temperatures

The temperature dropped continuously from yesterday 16:00 until this morning at 10:30. Clearly a sign that autumn is on its way. I've been dawdling all summer over garden work, but today I got a little done. While weeding in the area south of the pond, found some small onion-like plants. Maybe they're really onions; difficult to tell. Replanted them south of the verandah.

That's where we had the giant Echium that in spring. It's long gone, but it appears to have self-seeded prolifically. Took a number of the seedlings and planted them in pots, though I don't really know where we could put them. But by the looks of them, that'll be a decision we can make in a year's time.

The Wisteria floribunda that we planted years ago has finally started growing strongly, and I had to cut it back, in the process removing some old dead hop remains. Also pruned—probably far too late—the Passiflora in the greenhouse, which isn't looking happy, planted some of the clippings in pots—there's a good chance that they'll survive, though the time of year isn't ideal.


Thursday, 22 March 2012 Dereel Images for 22 March 2012
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Another wedding anniversary
Topic: general Link here

Today's our wedding anniversary—and I forgot! That's unusual: normally Yvonne forgets. A sign of increasing age? I hope not.


Nemo visits a nursing home
Topic: animals Link here

Off to Sebastopol with Yvonne and Nemo this morning to visit the James Thomas Court Hostel, his first experience in the Delta society programme:


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Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside, so this was all I got. He was quite excited when he came in, but after a while he settled down. The people there were relatively old and feeble, but I was amazed by how happy they were to see Nemo. I had expected that of a few—one person told me how she had had to give up her dog after moving in, and how she regretted it—but it seems that nearly everybody wanted to see him. Hopefully he'll be a little more disciplined in the future.


More USB disk pain
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Tomorrow we have no less than 6 potential candidates for video recording tomorrow at 21:00. I only have 2 tuners in cvr2, so clearly it was time to get a functional USB disk in the external tuner, like I tried last week. At least now I knew how to build FAT32 file systems on the disks, and that went relatively quickly. But I tried 3 disks, and they all died, with different reasons. That makes a total of four dead disks, all of which I thought were OK. Somehow the problem must be elsewhere; I suspect the USB enclosure now, or maybe the power supply. Why is all this stuff so flaky?


Friday, 23 March 2012 Dereel Images for 23 March 2012
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Edixa SLRs
Topic: photography, history Link here

In the 45 years between 24 July 1965 and 1 August 2010 I have bought a total of 8 SLRs, not an unreasonable rate until you look at the details. I bought the first four in a little over two years, and the last three in a little under three years. Amusingly, the first and the last were the same model, Asahi Pentax SV.

Another of the first four was a Pentax “Spotmatic”. The Pentax cameras are well known, of course, but not so the other two, both Edixas. Today I spent a fair amount of time investigating what information is available on the web, and also what my cameras might have been, seriously hampered by lack of documentation in both areas. One page has quite a list of cameras and photos, including something like my second Edixa, but (apparently) not the first.

I bought my first Edixa on 12 April 1966. What was it? At the time I mentioned a body only, model unspecified, and a pentaprism, but when I sold it I referred to an Edixaflex S with a 50 mm f/2.9 Meritar lens and only waist-level viewfinder. I can't recall, but it's possible that I had exchanged some components in that time. It was a “cheap” model with limited shutter speeds (according to the manual 1/25 s to 1/500 s, though camera in the photo below has a top speed of 1/1000 s). It appears not to have had any activation for automatic diaphragms, and of course it had no light meter. On the other hand it had interchangeable viewfinders and screens. It probably looked like this camera, described (in Japanese) here:

Edixaflex with 50 mm f/2.9 Meritar

On 15 September 1967 I bought an Edixa-mat Reflex D, serial number 273 753. This camera had better specs than the Edixaflex, including shutter speeds to 1 s, automatic diaphragm control and a pentaprism, but still no light meter. With this camera I had some difficulty with the automatic diaphragm actuation, as described here. It was a body only, but it could have looked like this:

Edixa-Mat Reflex D

Why did the Edixas die out? They were well-built cameras, and they had features that others didn't, notably the interchangeable viewfinder and focsusing screens. But somehow they didn't keep up with the times. They had a really confusing collection of models, all in principle the same, just with different details: shutter speeds of 1/30 to 1/500 (later Edixaflex), 1/25 to 1/1000s (earlier Edixaflex), 1 s to 1/1000s (Edixa Reflex B or C), 9 s to 1/1000 s (Edixa Reflex D), many (like my Edixaflex) without automatic diaphragm actuation. There were also compatibility issues between the Edixa and Pentax actuations, which I had to work around with my second camera. Later models had TTL light meters, but they no longer had interchangeable viewfinders, so they were competing directly (and not very well) against the likes of Pentax. Like so much of the German camera industry, they just failed to adapt, and nowadays they're almost unknown.


Saturday, 24 March 2012 Dereel Images for 24 March 2012
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NBN: The cost of delay
Topic: opinion, general Link here

So we could have an NBN “radiation tower” by the end of June if everybody agrees. I see little doubt that the coming council meeting will approve the project: it has been agreed on a government level that it is a Good Thing, and in Dereel we have a total of 5 people against and 188 people in favour. The objections presented by the opponents are irrelevant and knowingly incorrect.

But that doesn't stop them from exhausting all avenues of protest, including VCAT (and probably nothing else). We're all agreed that this will take about 6 months and (apart from costs to the plaintiffs) bring no further change. That's 6 months longer that we have to stay with our current networking infrastructure.

What does that cost? For me, the sums are:

That's a total of $736 for me alone. What about other people? You don't have to be with Internode, of course. There are cheaper ISPs, and most make it clear why they're cheaper when you need support. The only other acceptable ISP I know of that offers comparable service is Exetel. Their NBN plans start at 50 GB for $35, in contrast to $50 for 12 GB or $75 for 18 GB for wireless. Coincidentally the price difference is the same: $90 per month. If you're on satellite, things look different again: SkyMesh offers 30 GB for only $230 per month. In this case, after changing to Exetel, you'd be saving up to $195 per month.

That's only part of the story, of course. The prices I quote are for fibre, for the simple reason that there are no NBN wireless installations up and running yet. But the stated aim is for the prices to be the same, so I believe this pricing to be correct. And I haven't mentioned the speed differential, latency or reliability. NBN will be significantly better in all these areas.

So: the NBN tower could save up to 100 people between $123 and $228 a month ($63 if, like me, you just currently can't afford the data), or between $738 and $1170 over 6 months). Even at the lower rate, that's over $70,000 in damages, not to mention the convenience. Is it fair that people who have demonstrated their bad faith should do that?


Roast beef revisited
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Roast beef again for dinner this evening. I've been working on the roasting (really baking) times for a while, and the last attempt showed that the times I've been using in the past have been too short, and also the meat temperatures were too high. Today I aimed for 52°, arguably still too high (though Yvonne was happy), which took 60 minutes. That's close enough to the previous time (66 minutes for 54°) that I can at least plan when to put the meat in the oven.

The other issue was the Yorkshire pudding. In the past I have been cooking for 15 minutes, but although things weren't too bad today, I think that 20 minutes would be better next time.


New term: eye food
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Chris Yeardley was off somewhere last weekend beating people up, women this time. But they had a presentation about nutrition, in which the presenter brought up the term “eye food”. My first guess was “carrots”, but far from it. He meant food that had had eyes: meat, fish, presumably also lizards and spiders. This anti-vegetarian claims you can't live without it. Clearly 500 million Indians are living proof that he's wrong, but it's still an amusing term.


Sunday, 25 March 2012 Dereel
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Catching up with power failure statistics
Topic: general Link here

Only a few days ago it looked as if we were having fewer power failures lately. But since then we had another, and this morning yet another, all of them autorecloser events. Quite possibly this is an indication that it takes several failures before they go out and fix the cause.


A wasted summer
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Out into the garden again today to do the same old stuff I've been procrastinating about for the last 4 or 5 months. One is the area in front of the Buddleja globosa hedge on the right of this view:


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

I've been trying to fight the weeds there for months, just not strongly enough. The areas I have mulched are coming up with grass again, but the Dodonea viscosa that I planted there has already died for no obvious reason, and the Correa isn't looking too happy either. Is there something wrong with the soil? I had been planning to transplant a couple of already not very happy citrus trees there in the winter. Maybe I should reconsider.

And I've been trying to set up more of a wind break. The image shows about a 200° view centered on east, and the wind blows through from the house. We need a wind break there, in front of the pepper tree, like the Buddleja hedges to the south and north-east. Should we plant the Melaleuca decussata here? They're supposed to be good wind breaks. Did some trial digging in the area and found more gravel and stones. And questions: how far apart should I plant them? How big do the get? Depending on where you look, they can grow to between 1.5 m and 5 m tall, and nobody mentions the width beyond the suggestions in the nickname “totem poles” (or, in one case, “tottum poles”). And looking at the flowers, would they even fit in there? After more consideration, decided that a couple of blue-flowering Buddleja davidii would probably do better. But I won't be able to get any cuttings to strike before spring. So, once again, did nothing.

Somewhat frustrated, took advantage of a surprisingly windless afternoon to spray some weed killer. I wonder if the time and temperature were enough for it to have its effect. Also some of the eternal weeding, which seems to be a losing battle.


Monday, 26 March 2012 Dereel
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Strange USB disk behaviour
Topic: technology, multimedia Link here

Yesterday I set up the “set top box” to record two programmes onto a USB disk that I had borrowed from Chris Yeardley. Took a look today, and ran into a number of issues.

First was mtools, the software for accessing FAT file systems:

=== root@teevee (/dev/pts/5) ~ 3  -> mdir
Can't open /dev/fd0: No such file or directory
Cannot initialize 'A:'

Yes, I recall something about that. There's some config file, but where? RTFM time. But the man page doesn't go beyond mentioning the config file:

       ...
       the  second  drive on the Scsi bus (/dev/sdb). The default settings can
       be changes using a configuration file (see section  Configuration).

And that's all. The man page is incomplete, and there is no section Configuration. Finally found it on the web: for FreeBSD, the file is /usr/local/etc/mtools.conf or ~/.mtoolsrc. So I set drive A: to be /dev/da0s1a, and got:

=== root@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /usr/local/etc 14 -> mdir
 Volume in drive A is MEDION
 Volume Serial Number is 1114-1043
Directory for A:/

pvrrec~1     <DIR>     1980-01-01   0:00  PVRRECORD
hbpvr        <DIR>     1980-01-09  20:04
movies       <DIR>     1980-01-01   0:00  Movies
8f277a~1     <DIR>     2012-03-15   3:00  8f277add3f715d5975b356b5209211d3
        4 files             724 772 bytes
                    829 514 711 040 bytes free

That was funny, because I had seen other directories before. So I tried mounting it on the system:

=== root@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /usr/local/etc 16 -> mount -t msdosfs /dev/da0s1 /mnt
mount_msdosfs: /dev/da0s1: Disk too big, try '-o large' mount option: Invalid argument
=== root@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /usr/local/etc 17 -> mount -t msdosfs -o large /dev/da0s1 /mnt
=== root@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /usr/local/etc 18 -> l /mnt
total 2
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 May 24  2011 $RECYCLE.BIN
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Mar 15 14:00 8f277add3f715d5975b356b5209211d3
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Jan 10  1980 HBPVR
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Jul  6  2011 Movies
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Jan  1  1980 PVRRECORD
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Jul 15  2011 Recycled
drwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   32768 Jul  6  2011 System Volume Information

In passing, isn't it silly that mount refuses to mount a “Disk too big”, when it knows how to do it? To be fixed, I suppose.

But that's three more entries in the directory! Where did they go in mtools? And why didn't it show HBPVR, the directory I was looking for? On examination, it seems that the three additional directories are presumably system files that mere mortals—even those enlightened enough to use UNIX-like systems—aren't supposed to see. And the reason I didn't find HBPVR is that the name is compatible with the 8.3 file name convention, so it's just shown changed to hbpvr and not repeated at the right.

But my troubles weren't over: there were no files in the directory. That proved to be an issue with the set-top box: I had forgotten to exit the timer menu, and it was too silly to do anything while in the menu. Reminds me of the Bad Old Days of VCRs, where it took me several attempts before I could reliably record TV programmes.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow found enough energy to do some work in the garden. The petunias in the hanging baskets on the verandah are looking decidedly tatty, probably at least in part because of the increased coverage by the vine. Here images taken last year on 16 April 2011 and a couple of days ago:


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Clearly there's much less light getting in now. So I took most of them down, cleaned them up—it's a real pain when they're hanging—and put them in the greenhouse. I suspect we're going to have to find something else for the verandah next year, if indeed we put in any hanging pots at all in the middle.

While in the greenhouse, also tied up some of the tomatoes, which look as if they might even bear some edible fruit. Also finally planted one of the Dietes that we bought on Australia Day and which have been hanging around on the verandah ever since. One of them was flowering despite the treatment. Then more weeding, and finally got a couple of square metres tidied up. If I could just keep this up on a daily basis, I might be able to keep the place tidy.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012 Dereel
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Rechecking old disks
Topic: technology Link here

After all the disk failures the other day, I began to suspect the USB external housing was the real culprit, so put the disks in defake on the PATA interface. Most of them ran perfectly. One had a single unreadable sector, the very first. Did the housing somehow mess that up? After writing the disk with zeroes, there were no further problems, anyway. So the real culprit must have been the housing, made by Ritmo, not known for high quality. To quote Daniel O'Connor on IRC:

<Andys> nox: Ritmo = $30 ATX cases .... including "450W" power supply ;)
<Darius> Andys: only 20% chance of fire at full load!

So now to find a new housing, preferably with eSATA.


Tuning the garden photos
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

My weekly garden photos have now largely stabilized, but they could still look better. In particular, the “Japanese Garden” looks far too dark. Did some playing around with DxO Optics "Pro" to lighten it up, with little improvement. Here before and after:


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Clearly there's much more work to do and experience to be made.


Alibi work
Topic: gardening Link here

I'm really trying to keep up with the weeds now, and managed to clear a little more space, but it's going to be difficult to maintain for very long. Also managed to plant the other two plants (Dietes and friend).


Wednesday, 28 March 2012 Dereel Images for 28 March 2012
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How not to make sourdough
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Bread baking time again today. I keep three sourdough starter families and rotate them. It takes 2 or 3 weeks to eat a loaf (and yes, sourdough bread easily keeps that long without getting stale), so the starter I should have used today came from the loaf I baked on 1 February 2012. Normally I take 50 g of starter from the second step of the recipe. Then I add the remaining flour, water, salt and caraway, put in a baking tin, leave it to rise, and bake it.

On 1 February I got this wrong: I forgot to take the starter before adding the final ingredients. Never mind, a bit of salt and caraway never did anybody any harm—at least, that's what I thought. The results looked different. Here the resultant starter (left) compared to a good starter:


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It didn't just look different: it stank. It had clearly been infected. Why? It could have been salt or caraway (the dark flecks in the starter), but that seems unlikely. Another possibility is the ratio of water to flour: in the starters, it's 1:1. In the final bread, I have 1300 g grain to 950 odd g water, or about 4:3. It's clear how much drier the infected starter is. Is that the reason? In any case, a good indication of why it's important to keep several strains of starter.


What's that flute?
Topic: music Link here

Talking to Mohammed Ifadir on IRC. He's in Morocco, and he's learning to play the Nay, a kind of flute that I don't know much about. His issue is the extremely complicated Arabic tonal system (can you imagine ¼ tones? You certainly can't play them on a flute designed for normal fingers). But I went looking and found very little information on the voicing of the flute itself. It's end-blown, but is there a fipple? How does it compare to this instrument, which I have had for so long that I'm not sure where I got it, though it's possible I got it in İstanbul some 40 years ago:


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This is clearly a fipple flute. What about the Nay? The article doesn't say so, but the flute states that it isn't.


Continuing in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow I'm—barely—managing to keep up my momentum in the garden. I had intended to continue the weeding work in the north garden, but the almost complete lack of wind suggested I should do some weed spraying first, and then I dragged out the hand lawn mower, which I haven't used for months. To my surprise it started on the first pull of the cord, and I was able to get rid of some of the stuff I've been meaning to do for some time, notably the grass under this Salix melanostachys, under which I was then able to mulch:


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It's one of the plants that Laurel Gordon gave us over 2 years ago, and it's still only 50 cm high. Hopefully it'll feel happier now.


Old age pensions: book with seven seals
Topic: general, opinion Link here

We're getting older, and it's time to think about old age pensions. Apart from Australia, we have pension entitlements for up to 4 European countries: Germany (both of us), France and Switzerland (Yvonne), and England (I). Centrelink has sent me forms to fill out, but I've been procrastinating. Today I finally got down to looking at them. Switzerland is simple: you need to have been insured for at least 12 months to get a pension, and Yvonne was there for less than that time. Possibly the UK falls into that category too: I was only employed there from 2 December 1968 until 30 June 1969. So started on Germany first.

How I love German forms! This one was even worse, because it was bilingual English and German, and the questions didn't all match. Things as simple at “Last residence in Germany (place, city, country)”. What does that mean? What's “place”? It clearly corresponds to German “Ort”, meaning town, city or similar. And why “country”? Looking at the German, it becomes clearer: “Letzter Wohnsitz in Deutschland (Ort, Kreis, Land)”. That means “(Town, District, State)”. “Land” can be translated either as “state” or “country”. They could have clarified it by saying “Bundesland” instead of “Land”, but clearly here they mean the state. But why Kreis, a term that the translator clearly didn't understand? My last address was Schellnhausen 2, D-36325 Feldatal. But what they're asking for requires me to write “Feldatal, Vogelsbergkreis, Hessen”. Or should that be “Schellnhausen, Vogelsbergkreis, Hessen”? It all depends on how you define “Ort”. Even the German Wikipedia comes up with two different meanings, the more likely of which suggests that the term has no official meaning, and that the word should be “Ortschaft”. The official definition differs from state to state, and it's not clear what it means in Hessen. So: there's just no clear way to answer this question.

Even more confusing, and much more important, is the question of the kind of pension we're entitled to: Retirement benefits upon attainment of age 65, early retirement benefits, or a couple of others that clearly don't apply. But what are early retirement benefits? It seems that under some circumstances you can retire at 63.

When? There's a whole page of confusing information, referring to a “Wartezeit” (“waiting time”, translated here as “qualifying period”) of 35 or 45 years. Looking back at my records, they start on 1 October 1967, when I started studying at the University of Hamburg. That's—coincidentally—45 years. But is that how they measure it? Went looking at the DRV web site, which offered a search that gave me no useful information whatsoever, not even in the FAQ section.

After a lot of searching, I finally found that this term means “the sum of all years in which certain activities relating to the pension fund took place”. For the 45 year period these activities include obligatory payments into the fund, and bringing up a child under 10 years of age, but not voluntary payments. They don't even mention times of your own education. And if you fulfil all these conditions, you can start receiving a pension at the age of 65. Where did the retirement at 63 go?

In any case, one thing's clear: we don't fulfil even the 35 years under those conditions. So there's no hurry.

It's not as if only the Germans have this kind of nonsense. Centrelink have their own: on one we are asked:

Do you have any documents which confirm your residence in Australia during your working life? Suitable document are: ... marriage certificate, birth certificate, passport ...”

Now how does a birth certificate prove my residence? I have a spare copy, so I can send it. But it's easy enough to forge that sort of thing; why can't they confirm with the appropriate authorities that I have had a passport (clearly, since I've been to Germany), and with Yvonne that she is registered with the French embassy?

Have you provided proof of citizenship, either German or Australian?

That's fine for me. My birth certificate should work for that too, though they must have access to more reliable information. But Yvonne's French, so she can't. What difference does nationality make anyway? And if it does, DRV will know what it is, so there's no need for proof. Is this extreme short-sightedness or a limitation?

Maybe Yvonne needs to apply directly. I could call up and ask, but last time I tried, I got the telephone roundabout. Called 13 1673 and was told by a voice menu “This is not the correct number. Please call 136150”. 136150 told me this was not the right number, and I should have called 13 1673. All in all it took me an hour to get the information I wanted. So I'll wait until we have most of the stuff completed before I call them again.

How I love official forms!


Thursday, 29 March 2012 Dereel Images for 29 March 2012
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NBN coverage maps and providers
Topic: technology Link here

Arjen Lentz published a link on Facebook today: the NBN rollout map, including a search function conveniently not linked to URLs. It's clear that they haven't ironed out the wrinkles yet. According to the map, work started on the tower last July, while in reality the planning approval was only granted two days ago. Presumably “work” includes planning. And on the View all communities in the rollout, Dereel doesn't figure at all, though Enfield does.

Searching for Dereel brought this map:

 
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That's interesting because of the holes. Enlarging shows that Chris Yeardley's house is covered, but not all of the driveway is:

 
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It'll be interesting to see how accurate these maps are. If the Optus maps I looked at 15 months ago are anything to go by, it's indicative at best.

And which ISPs offer NBN services? Not many. One of the interesting things on the NBN map was the statement (which I can no longer find) that there are now 4000 customers. That's nothing! With so few customers, and so far none of them with wireless coverage, it's not surprising that there aren't many ISPs offering services. I've only found one that mentions pricing—it's the same as fibre for that speed. Based on my discussions with the NBN people, this seems to be a contractual requirement. But there are other differences, notably traffic and pricing. So far I have found:

  1. Internode, who offer prices between $50 and $140 for between 30 and 1000 GB per month. Traffic is counted in both directions, and they have a mirror server which is unmetered. Based on my experience with Internode ADSL, this is a useful feature.

  2. Exetel currently offer only a single tariff at the 12/1 Mb speed of the wireless connection. It offers 50 GB for $35 per month, and data is counted downstream only.

  3. iiNet offers tariffs with between 40 GB and 1000 GB for $50 to $80. Traffic is divided into “normal” and “bonus” data. Presumably the latter only available at inconvenient times, but I couldn't find any further information.

  4. SkyMesh, who offer between 15 and 1000 GB for between $30 and $80 per month. Like iiNet, traffic is divided into “normal” and “bonus” data, the latter only available at inconvenient times.

Clearly Internode is the most expensive. My guess is that the mirror server wouldn't make up for the higher prices, especially not if you wanted a lot, say the 1 TB per month tariffs ($80 from SkyMesh and iiNet, $140 from Internode). Exetel doesn't offer more than 50 GB, so it falls flat there. In the past my uploaded data quantities have been only a little less than the downloaded data, so it would seem that Exetel might have an advantage with unmetered uploads, but what I'm seeing recently is that my uploads (diary, photos) stay relatively constant, while the downloads (YouTube for example) are on the increase. So at these traffic levels free uploads don't make much difference.

And reliability? Based on previous bad experience, I would never go back to SkyMesh. iiNet is an unknown quantity, but given that the link is the same in each case, it's a possibility—if I need this amount of traffic. Exetel would be OK if I could really get by with 20 (or 40) GB of traffic per month, but since they don't offer anything else (and, I'm told, have a history of changing their tariffs), that looks like a dead end. Still, there's time before I have to decide. It's very likely that the ISPs will review their pricing when there's more interest.


More garden stuff
Topic: gardening Link here

On in the garden, and did another couple of square metres of weeding. The weather's warm, and the sun on the dried roots might help kill them off. That's my explanation for not mulching, anyway.

A while back we found some grass in the garden which is clearly a type of Papyrus. And that seems to thrive in boggy or marshy land, or even shallow ponds. So a few weeks ago I put some into a pot and put it in the pond. It didn't die, but it didn't grow much either, and kept falling over and completely submerging. Today I took it out and took a look. Yes, it hasn't grown much, at least not upwards, but it's certainly growing roots:


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Cut it out of the pot and put it in a bigger one, weighted down with a brickbat:


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I'll keep an eye on its progress.


Australia Post: blindingly fast delivery
Topic: general, opinion Link here

On 11 October 2011 I sent a paper copy of “The Complete FreeBSD” to Carlos Eduardo G. “Cartola” Carvalho, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. To my surprise, Australia Post claimed that it would take three months to get there. But Cartola was happy with that, and I sent it off.

Three months went by, no delivery. Last week Cartola contacted me and asked me to follow up. I dragged my heels, and was going to contact Australia Post Real Soon Now, but today I heard from Cartola again: today (for some definition of today, since it's yesterday in Brazil) the book has finally arrived, after 5 months, 18 days. Where have they been storing it? And is that why the postage was so expensive?


Network problems again
Topic: technology Link here

My network connection has been quite good lately—the last real outages (more than 5 minutes) was on 17 January 2012. But today it was time again:

Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Chat: Send: ATZ^M
Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Chat: Expect(5): OK
Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Chat: Received: ^M
Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Chat: Received: NO CARRIER^M
Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Warning: Chat script failed

That's different from what I received before, and it suggests that the problem is local rather than with the network. There are several towers around the area, so barring the possibility that the DATA people have “borrowed” some tanks and mowed them all down, I'd expect to get a connection (possibly only GPRS) with some other tower if one of them had failed, as happened the last time. But what is it? Antenna problem? Cable? Modem itself? I don't know, but I didn't want to start messing around at that time of the evening, so left it like that until tomorrow. I have little hope that it will recover by then.


Friday, 30 March 2012 Dereel Images for 30 March 2012
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Back on the net
Topic: technology Link here

Woke up early this morning pondering what could be wrong with my network connection. Everything pointed to the antenna or the modem itself, and it became clear that any damage there would take days to fix: everything came by post, and I don't know anywhere in Ballarat where I could find a replacement.

But this horrible antenna connector seemed a good place to start. There's no way to attach it properly, and it ends up hanging off the dongle. I've put a cable tie around it to keep it in place, but clearly this is one of the worst connectors I've ever seen:


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Into the office, confirmed that, as expected, I was still off the net, and checked the connector. It was a little loose, but it was undamaged. Closed up the outer shield connector, replaced the device and—it worked! So my concerns about the quality of the connector were justified.

Went looking through the log files, which had conveniently wrapped several times during the night. But I have a copy on dereel that went further back, and it told a different story. The first dropout was at 21:27:41, and it reconnected after the obligatory 30 second wait. But then I got:

Mar 29 21:28:32 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: SendConfigReq(111) state = Req-Sent
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: RecvConfigNak(111) state = Req-Sent
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP:  PRIDNS[6] 10.11.12.13
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP:  SECDNS[6] 10.11.12.14
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP:  PRINBNS[6] 10.11.12.13
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: MS NBNS req 130 - NAK??
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP:  SECNBNS[6] 10.11.12.14
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: MS NBNS req 132 - NAK??
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Too many IPCP REQs sent - abandoning negotiation
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: SendTerminateReq(112) state = Req-Sent
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: State change Req-Sent --> Closing
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: RecvTerminateAck(112) state = Closing
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: deflink: LayerFinish.
Mar 29 21:28:33 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: IPCP: Connect time: 15 secs: 0 octets in, 0 octets out

If I read this correctly, this was an error at the other end of the link. This repeated once, but then

Mar 29 21:29:25 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Too many IPCP REQs sent - abandoning negotiation
Mar 29 21:29:25 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Connect time: 19 secs: 748 octets in, 526 octets out

And only after that did I get the NO CARRIER. A couple of minutes later the ppp process was restarted, which I did manually, so it's very likely that the original problem was something else, and by messing around (popping and replacing the modem) I disrupted the antenna connection. I must be more careful.

Mar 29 21:29:28 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Chat: Received: NO CARRIER^M

Mar 29 21:31:46 cojones ppp[1709]: tun0: Phase: PPP Terminated (normal).
Mar 29 21:31:55 cojones ppp[77388]: Phase: Using interface: tun0

Life on the verandah
Topic: animals, general Link here

Out on the verandah this morning when I heard a noise up by the roof. It wasn't Piccola: she was on the ground in front of me. But it was above where she had been looking a few weeks ago:


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Further investigation showed a very sleepy possum, which didn't want to move even when we prodded it with a bamboo rod, though it did bite it:


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Getting photos was very difficult due to the Hardenbergia and Vitis. He stayed there all day, and in the evening he was gone. Took the opportunity to clean up some of the plant life; if he comes back, we'll see him better.


Autum flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

In the garden today and attacked yet more weeds. In the process found that a number of things are flowering. These appear to be the Crocus “Artibir” that we bought at Lambley Nursery last April.


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They seem to have increased in number since last year. The unhappy roses are also now looking better: here “Monsieur Tillier” and “Gruß an Aachen”:


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It'll still be a while before the Gruß an Aachen looks as good as it should, but it's already a great improvement. Also the Plumbago that I planted in the north of the eastern garden a few days ago is already flowering:


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Catching birds
Topic: animals Link here

While in the garden, saw Piccola going through the cat door with something in her mouth. On further investigation, it proved to be a little bird with a red stripe on its face:


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Yvonne tells me it is a Prachtfink. That's a kind of finch, and it was only after some investigation that I discovered:


The French or German term “Rossbiff”
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

One of the more amusing distortions of culinary terms is “rossbiff”. We can't decide whether it's French or German, and the hits I get on Google don't help either. The top two hits both claim to be Alsatian. “Ross” is a German word for “horse”, and it could almost be considered to refer to horse meat, though we always thought it meant roast beef. But this evening, while eating sliced cold roast beef, I discovered a sinister connection:


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Saturday, 31 March 2012 Dereel Images for 31 March 2012
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Lazy day
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Somehow I didn't get much done today. It was too windy for the house photos, so I put that off until tomorrow, and somehow didn't do much else.

Weeding is still on the agenda, though, and today I removed a whole lot from the north bed, and also from the east, where some plants were almost completely enveloped. Hopefully I can continue at this rate.


NBN tower objections
Topic: general, opinion, technology Link here

There's more discussion going on about the NBN tower. Scott Weston has found the decisions of previous VCAT hearings, notably a complaint about the tower built in Haddon, Victoria a couple of years ago. Like all such cases, the objections were dismissed, which in this case is interesting, because the applicant lived next door to where the tower was built, only 250 metres from the tower (as close as I can judge), and with a bit of effort she can see the tower from her house.

By contrast, the objectors to the Dereel tower live 640 metres from the site (Elaine J. Stroud-Kaminski and her husband Richard, who call it 500 metres in their submission) and the McClellands live over 2 km from the site. I'm located 1340 metres away. It's barely possible that I would be able to see the tower if I climb on the roof, something I'm planning to do once it's erected, but the others definitely can't. So if the Haddon tower was approved, there's no way that this one can be rejected. Hopefully the opponents will recognize that and not waste their money and our time.

How did I find the distances? There are several great circle calculators on the web. I used this one when I was setting up my Internet locations map some time ago—and forgot to mention it anywhere. It's not ideal, but it works, and it also has the option of displaying the circle on Google Maps.


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