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March 2013
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Friday, 1 March 2013 Dereel Images for 1 March 2013
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Real world adieu
Topic: technology, opinion, gardening Link here

Nearly 2 years ago I took over maintenance of the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens web site in hope of contributing something to the cause and getting a better understanding of the Real World. I suppose that I've been successful in those aims.

But it's been a pain! Clearly gardeners aren't the most technical people in the world. And even more clearly I don't have the interpersonal skills to be a webmaster. But the site is still almost completely devoid of content, and what little content I get usually comes in forms that require much correction before they can be put up at all. Today I spent over an hour correcting typographical, grammatical and spelling errors in the President's report for the recent Annual General Meeting. While proof-reading, I read:

The membership is nearing 300, Raoul Dixon keeps the labour intensive database in immaculate order. With increasing demands we have decided to have a professional database producer create a programme for our needs in the future years. Thank you Raoul for your continued diligence.

“Labour intensive” is a direct reference to the web-based interface to the membership database that I installed relatively early on, based on phpMyEdit. Yes, it's not the slickest thing on earth, but it works, and it's an order of magnitude more appropriate than maintaining it with Microsoft “Excel” on a laptop without backups. And one of these days, I wanted to produce a better interface, really I did.

But it's not that much work even so. One or two members at a time: bring up the page, click “Add” or “Change”, do your changes. About the only issue is that the buttons aren't where they should be, and it requires some scrolling to find them. But no, without even talking to me about it, they've opted for a “professional” alternative. Thank you Groggy for your (amateur) efforts. I'm not often offended, but now is one of those times.

And they've decided to redesign the web site, again without discussing with me. I thought it looked devoid of content, but it seems the real problem is that it looked too old-fashioned. And I will be allowed to host it, requiring installation of CMS made simple and maintaining it with those tools. I've taken a look, and it's yet more work for me, and threatens to make my work even more arduous.

But what would advantages would a web site redesign bring? The new layout is probably what they're thinking of: the Association of Friends of Botanic Gardens have had their site done by the same company, and it seems people like what they see. But what they see isn't what I see. Depending on which browser I use and the magnification I choose, menus overrun into the next line or into oblivion, and text that should be side-by-side gets placed at different heights:


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I may be cynical, but this seems to be typical of CMS systems. And is that layout really so much more attractive than the current FBBG site?


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In any case, as I said, the real issue is content. Our site has precious little of that. But compared with the AFBG site, it doesn't look bad at all. The entire AFBG home page contains two paragraphs. How do you become a member? No idea. Clicking on “Membership” leads nowhere: the left side menu items are all self-referential. But still, it's “professional”: it cost lots of money, whereas I made the amateur's mistake of only saving money for the Friends. Time to bow out.


Saturday, 2 March 2013 Dereel
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No day for photography
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day today, at least in theory. In practice it was windy and sunny, pretty much the worst weather for panoramas. Tomorrow promised to be less windy, so postponed until then.


No day for computing
Topic: technology Link here

Somehow things didn't go well today. It started when I came in and found a message from Wolfgang Riegler telling me of an incorrect dependency in the enblend port. Fixed that and got Edwin Groothuis to commit it, and he then discovered that removing the port left an empty directory behind. Normally that's handled by a @dirrm line in the pkg-plist file, but this port doesn't have a pkg-plist: it's all in the Makefile. Spent some time reading the porter's handbook without finding out how to remove a directory. Should I revert to a pkg-plist after all? It makes sense to minimize the number of files in a port, since they're all small, usually smaller than the minimum fragment size. There are 16719 pkg-plist files in the Ports Collection, using a total of 174.3 MB, of which only 145 MB are useful data.

But how do to it? The ports collection has reached an incredible complexity. On the tuit queue.

And then I have an “issue” with my new mouse. I've mapped button 4 (or is that 9?) to button 2, the one that all mice used to have, and which has now been replaced by a scroll wheel. But the scroll wheel on this mouse has switches that are activated by pushing left or right on the rim of the wheel. And left is button 2. In principle, this is what I want. In practice, it's far too sensitive, and I continually have the mouse vomiting over some window or another when I move it. Time to remap that button.

That should be straightforward enough. moused runs the mouse with this invocation:

usr/sbin/moused -m 2=4 -p /dev/ums0 -t auto -I /var/run/moused.ums0.pid

The -m 2=4 tells moused to map physical button 4 to logical button 2. So how about this?

usr/sbin/moused -m 2=4 -m 4=2 -p /dev/ums0 -t auto -I /var/run/moused.ums0.pid

Tried that out, and for some reason it didn't work. While I was experimenting, the mouse stopped working At All. It wasn't the mouse itself: it still worked in text windows (/dev/vtyX). So it was something to do with X. And about the first thing I'd suspect is hald, the hardware abstraction layer daemon. But that was running. How do I restart it? The canonical way to restart system services is a script in /etc/rc.d, but I couldn't find anything there. Nothing helped; in the end I had to reboot, something I hate doing. And it still didn't work. But then, it never does the first time you start X after a boot. On the second attempt it did. Somehow there's too much flakiness in this area.

I later realized that hald is a port, and so the start script is /usr/local/etc/rc.d/hald. But by then I had rebooted, and discovered a couple of additional processes:

UID  PID PPID CPU PRI NI   VSZ  RSS MWCHAN STAT TT     TIME COMMAND
 560  1792     1   0  20  0   45084   5848 piperd   Is   ??     0:07.78 /usr/local/sbin/hald
   0  1799  1792   0  20  0   31296   4192 select   I    ??     0:00.05 hald-runner
   0  1848  1799   0  52  0   24216   2776 kqread   I    ??     0:00.01 hald-addon-mouse-sysmouse: /dev/ums0 (hald-addon-mouse-sy)

Somehow hald-runner and hald-addon-mouse-sysmouse had silently died during my testing. Why?

As if that wasn't enough, my network connectivity once again went to hell. At one point found:

Mar  2 16:04:01 eureka fstats: Cell found: -> 81e3 8fc48e8
Mar  2 16:04:01 eureka fstats: Cell lost: 81e3 8fc48e8 (6)
Mar  2 16:04:01 eureka fstats: Cell found: -> 81e3 8fc48e8
Mar  2 16:04:02 eureka fstats: Cell lost: 81e3 8fc48e8 (6)
Mar  2 16:04:02 eureka fstats: Cell found: -> 81e3 8fc48e8
Mar  2 16:04:02 eureka fstats: Cell lost: 81e3 8fc48e8 (6)
Mar  2 16:04:02 eureka fstats: Cell found: -> 81e3 8fc48e8

The (6) is the RSSI, which is adequate, so it's not a signal strength issue. I'm pretty sure that this is confusion in the modem firmware caused by excessive jumping, and power cycling the modem cured it. But although I had a connection the whole time, connectivity was terrible. I saw a new record for latency:

64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=215 ttl=55 time=381811.907 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=216 ttl=55 time=380851.412 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=217 ttl=55 time=379869.812 ms

That's 6 minutes, 22 seconds. A high-speed carrier pigeon could do better.

Clearly I should have been doing something else today.


Yet another power failure!
Topic: general Link here

Yet another power failure today, just before 18:00. That's an unusual time, and today it was particularly bad, because we had planned to cook a special dinner tonight, which should have started at about 19:15. And these power failures always take 2 hours to fix. Cursed loud and long and considered our options: postpone? Sounded like a good idea. But we still needed to do something in the evening, and it was getting dark. And we have a generator that we almost never use. Why not? It's not strong enough to start the bore pump, our main reason for buying it, but it's rated at 2 kW. So dragged it out of the shed and connected up various standard lamps in the kitchen, and even tried to run the friteuse (2 kW) with it. And it worked, though the motor got much louder. Strangely, the voltage regulation wasn't bad: 237 V no load, about 227 full load. That's better than what Powercor manages.

And then the power came back—“only” 47 minutes. That's a total of 3 hours, 26 minutes so far this year. We're on track for another 20 hours per year.

Decided to leave the generator where it is. We'll need it again far too soon.


Sunday, 3 March 2013 Dereel Images for 3 March 2013
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Panoramas: the nadir again
Topic: photography Link here

House photos again today, and for the fun of it tried to complete the verandah centre panorama by adding a nadir shot. The problem is, of course, that you can't mount a camera on a normal tripod and take an image pointing straight down. I've tried this before with a hand-held image, but the results weren't spectacularly good.

Today I tried implementing something I had seen somewhere that I can no longer find: hold the tripod at an angle. Normally I take my photos with only the central column of the tripod extended, which positions the entrance pupil at 1.29 m from the ground. If I extend the first of the tripod leg sections, I can lean it over and position the entrance pupil at that height when the legs are 1.17 m from the centre of the panorama:


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That didn't work quite as well as I had hoped. First, inevitably, my feet get in the way, and in the first attempt the camera strap did too:


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Removing the feet was no problem, and the fact that the images weren't exactly vertical isn't important; what I need is a coverage of the relatively small area under the tripod. But stitching was a real pain, and it still didn't mesh correctly. I gave up on the normal image, where things would just be really distorted, but the flash panorama would have been nice. But what I got was (click on image for flash version):

Click to view flash panorama

I suppose it's better than the last time, but only just. In addition, though there was relatively little wind today, it wasn't little enough for good HDR renditions:


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I suppose I should take one of the individual component images and graft in into that position.


Sunway rotators: expensive junk
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

It's been less than 2 months since I got a replacement for my defective Sunway rotator. I didn't mention it in my diary, but it must have been the end of January. And already the new one is showing the same signs of wear! I can only assume that this is a basic manufacturing defect. So what can I do? Can I with clear conscience sell it on eBay? And with what should I replace it? The Manfrotto rotator that I have is clearly of much better quality, but it's also much more expensive. Coincidentally I see a used one for sale on eBay for $125, but it's in the USA, and the postal services charge like a wounded bull—another $48 just for the cheapest postage.

But then there's this Chinese panorama bracket that I've looked at before:

Panorama bracket Image

It used to cost $90, but those times appear to be gone: the cheapest I can find now is $130. But with postage it would still be cheaper than the used Manfrotto rotator, and it's a complete panorama head with rotator. Only the rotator is less useful, since it only has two positions (15° and 24°). I almost only use 45° increments, so I could use the 15° position for that and skip 2 detents every time. But sometimes I need 36°, and that can't be done. In addition the 24° setting is a little silly, since it gives a total of 15 steps for a 360° sweep. That means the minimum useful multiple would be 72°, rather too much for most lenses.

But do I need a new panorama bracket? Maybe. I've noticed lately that the Fotomate rails that I'm using aren't as rigid as they should be: even when tightened, the rail can move in the saddle. It's not serious enough to go out and buy a new bracket, but at this juncture I should consider it. First, though, to contact Ed Horka, who told me about his experience a couple of months ago.


Besoffen wie eine Strandhaubitze
Topic: language, opinion Link here

Recently in a film we heard the term “besoffen wie eine Strandhaubitze”, roughly translatable into English as “pissed as a newt”. The American equivalent appears to be “drunk as a skunk”. But the literal translation is “drunk as a beach howitzer”. That doesn't make much sense. But then, why do we have a web browser in the TV? Went looking and found this explanation (third answer, Google's attempt at translation here). The expression is really “voll wie eine Strandhaubitze” (“full as a beach howitzer”), not “besoffen wie eine Strandhaubitze”: because of the high angle of fire howitzers are prone to filling up with water. Now where do newts and skunks fit in?


Monday, 4 March 2013 Dereel Images for 4 March 2013
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More weather station software
Topic: technology, general Link here

Peter Jeremy came up with this weather station software site today. It seems to do roughly what my software does (hopefully with fewer warts), but I haven't really looked at it yet.


Tuning the bread rolls
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

The last batch of bread rolls wasn't as successful as previous ones: I had made them too flat. It's difficult to judge, since they rise in all directions after being formed. Took some photos to give me some kind of reference. Here after being formed, after rising, and after baking:


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These were 110g of dough, intended for hamburgers, and coincidentally they came out just the way I wanted. The diameters appear to be about 80 mm when rolled out, 105 mm after rising, and 115 mm after baking. I hadn't expected that much difference after baking.


More panorama head investigation
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

More investigation of the Fotomate panorama head today. It's not looking as attractive any more. A number of people have commented about difficulties with the rotator, and Ed Horka, who has one and finds it very good, hasn't actually used it: he lives in Canada, and is waiting for spring. So set to looking at the thing more carefully. Ed has done a writeup of the thing, a sort of replacement for the missing manual, and it includes this image:

That shows clearly that the profiles of the rails are the same of my existing rails, though the saddles appear to be different. And one of the issues was that these rails wobbled in the saddles. Does that happen with these saddles as well?

Apart from that, there's one thing that my current head does that the Fotomate doesn't: the ability to mount the camera in landscape mode:


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On the other hand, the Fotomate has a better horizontal rotator and a spirit level on the horizontal rail. And by all accounts it's sturdier. Is that a good reason to buy a new head?

As if to prove the point, looked at the broken Manfrotto head again and discovered that it's relatively simple to remove the rotator. Problem solved—almost. The Manfrotto rotator has a ⅜ screw at the top, while the Sunway has a ¼" screw—and that, of course, is what the bottom rail has. How do I expand it to ⅜"?


Tuesday, 5 March 2013 Dereel Images for 5 March 2013
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Hot weather and no end
Topic: general Link here

We're almost a week into autumn, but the hot weather shows little sign of abating. Of the 5 days so far this month, the maximum temperature was over 30° on 3 of them. Yesterday the maximum was 35.9°, today it was 35.6°, and there's more hot weather in store. Once again spent most of the day inside.


New lamps for old
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Yesterday I received a phone call from somebody with an Indian accent, sounding like a typical telemarketeer. I listened, and he claimed—without identification or substantiation—to be offering free energy-saving goods on some Victorian government scheme: energy-saving light bulbs, water-saving shower heads and “smart” power boards. I had heard about this a couple of years ago, but I wasn't aware of anything happening at the moment, and there was something in the way he acted that reminded me more of my experience with support scams 2 years ago. Still, something for nothing sounds like a good bet, and maybe it was legitimate, so we arranged for somebody to come by today.

By this morning, though, I was more concerned that maybe they were just using a few globes as a way to enter the house and look around to plan a burglary, or some such. Called the police on 03-5336-6000. That's difficult in itself. They have a 10 item voice menu with pauses in between so that you need a minute before you can even decide which item you want. In my case, there was no obvious selection, so selected 7 (crime investigation or some such), which proved to be wrong, but the bloke there was helpful anyway (though he couldn't tell me a good menu choice), and suggested what I had assumed: no entry without identification.

When they came, there were two of them, again both Indians (I suspect Tamil), and they both carried identification tags round their necks saying that they were from Green Solutions Australia. One set to to replace the 10-odd incandescent globes that I had still not changed myself, finally coming up with a total of 17, including some for which my globes had been too long: these ones are more compact, though they're slower to fire. And he had to take the old globes with him, not primarily to stop me re-using them, but to prove that he had really installed the globes. He checked the shower heads and found them both to be water-saving models, something that I greatly doubt. But then, it's our water.

The other found my alibi TV and installed a “smart power strip” for it, the DVD player and the two VCRs. What's a smart power strip? It has an infrared receiver that apparently triggers on any reception. When then the power usage of the TV drops to standby, it counts 60 seconds and turns the power off altogether. Next time you hit any remote control key, it turns power on again, then you need the TV remote control to turn on the TV.

So: it saves power by turning the TV off completely instead of consuming power in standby. It also has a timer (1, 2 or 3 hours) for people who just forget to turn the TV off. But when it comes back on, it turns on all consumers. It's installed now, and it seems that it also has surge protection, but the rest seems to be a waste of time, at least for me. And this bloke had to take a photo of the strip after installation, in particular the bar code of the serial number. It seems that their conditions of employment are particularly harsh: one mistake and they don't get paid.


Riding Wotan
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne's horse Wotan (half Islandic-why isn't he called Óðinn?) has barely been ridden, and today she tried him for only the second time:


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Flowering eucalypts
Topic: gardening Link here

It may still be hot, but at least one gum tree is in bloom:


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Spider-infested chilies
Topic: gardening, food and drink Link here

My Chile poblano are maturing nicely—most of them. A couple had a little puncture mark near the top, and this one was shriveling around about a third of the circumference:


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The spider-like web suggested what I would find inside:


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I wonder how to keep them out.


Thirty years of audio data storage
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Edwin Groothuis pointed me at this image on the web today:

Amazing how times change, and in particular how much content is now served by the Web.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013 Dereel Images for 6 March 2013
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Still more hot weather
Topic: general, opinion Link here

When is this damn hot weather going to stop? Today we hit 38.5°, more than 3° more than any March temperature we have had in previous years:

mysql> select date, max_temp from daily where month(date) = 3 and max_temp > 35 order by max_temp;
+------------+----------+
| date       | max_temp |
+------------+----------+
| 2010-03-04 |     35.1 |
| 2010-03-16 |     35.2 |
| 2013-03-05 |     35.6 |
| 2013-03-04 |     35.9 |
| 2013-03-06 |     38.5 |
+------------+----------+

And there seems to be more to come. When will it end?

On the positive side, this year we have had almost no March Flies, though they normally start in mid-February (clearly they haven't made the transition to the new calendar yet). Is that due to the heat, or to biological control? Since we moved here we've seen a drop in the number of normal flies too, and in South Australia we had no March Flies and fewer normal flies. We attributed that to the dung beetles that CSIRO had spread in South Australia. Did we bring some with the horses? Or did they arrive by other means? In any case, fewer March Flies is a Good Thing.


Wendy McClelland exposes scam
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne pointed me at an article in the Hepburn Advocate today. Wendy McClelland has taken pity on all us poor souls who were “conned” by the NBN:

NBN endeavoured to convince the public to want Wi-Fi radiation broadband via a proposed tower to deliver at speeds of 5-12 megabits per second.

NBN staff stated it was faster than satellite broadband.

Most residents who attended were duped by the con.

Count me as one of the residents who was “duped”. It seems that Wendy has been reading this old news article, without understanding it. I don't know where she got the 5 Mb/s figure, and clearly “Wi-Fi” can deliver much higher speeds, up to 600 Mb/s, but what I noted at the time that latency for the fixed wireless system is in the order of 20 ms. Geostationary satellites have a latency of 480 ms, and there's no way to change that. A clear win for fixed wireless.

So I put in a comment on the Hepburn Advocate site. It needed moderation, and it didn't get published. Is this an indication that they only want the lunatic viewpoint?

In fact, there's more interesting satellite technology out there: a new, non-geostationary satellite system that claims “the reach of satellite with the speed of fiber”. That's quite some claim. It's difficult to see how they justify it, since the markup of their page is so broken that I can't find the link, but I think it might be this one. In general, the page give less information than this news article. In summary:

It's not clear what they want to do with these ground stations. The advantage of satellite is that individuals in the middle of nowhere can get coverage. But the ground stations they're planning are in Perth and Dubbo, both well supplied with terrestrial coverage. What's the point? I don't understand it yet.


Fixing the Mecablitz, continued
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I've been dragging my feet about fixing the Mecablitz 58 AF-1. It's been nearly 4 weeks since I last did anything, mainly because of the difficulties in working on the thing. Today I continued until I ran into the next problem. Removing the end of the flash tube was simple: just unsolder it. But getting the new tube in was very complicated. It needs to be pushed between two wire loops which hold it in place and supply the trigger voltage. The first image shows the reflector with one loop at the right; the second is the back of the reflector. The horizontal wire is part of the same clip that has the loops in it.


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It seemed to be a good idea to completely remove the reflector to avoid damaging any of the wires, and I've disconnected the trigger wire in these images.

I tried to remove the little board that holds the zoom sensor, but I couldn't find a way to disconnect it without damaging the frame.


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So I'm a little bit further, but still not done. So near, yet so far!


Thursday, 7 March 2013 Dereel
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No end to the hot weather
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Over the past few days I've been getting more and more frustrated about the continued hot weather, but the weather forecast showed that the end was in sight. And then today I discovered that the Bureau of Meteorology has changed their minds. It's going to get even hotter! Yesterday was the highest March temperature I had recorded, at 38.5°, 3.3° higher than the maximum March temperature of previous years. But that was yesterday. Today we had a maximum of 39.1°!

Looking through the web, it looks as if it will get yet hotter. Today they had forecast 33° for Melbourne, but for the beginning of next week they're expecting up to 37°. Why is it hotter here? I don't know, but I'm sure it's not inaccurate measurements. I have four thermometers outside the house, and they all show consistent temperatures. In addition, the local Wundermap shows consistent temperatures from stations round this area. On the other hand, as I write this the temperature here is 29°, while in Ballarat it's 31°, and in Melbourne temperatures are up to 32°. So maybe the higher temperatures next week won't be as bad as I feared.

It seems that my impressions of the heat last month weren't as inaccurate as I had thought:

mysql> select month(date) as "Month", year(date) as "Year", avg(avg_temp), avg(max_temp) from daily where station_id="outside" group by month(date), year(date);
+-------+------+------------------+------------------+
| Month | Year | avg(avg_temp)    | avg(max_temp)    |
+-------+------+------------------+------------------+
|     1 | 2010 | 19.6071145765243 | 29.6516130508915 |
|     1 | 2011 |  20.107765782264 | 28.8354840432444 |
|     1 | 2012 | 20.7547058597688 | 30.6161291676183 |
|     1 | 2013 | 19.8185312209591 | 30.6354837725239 |
|     2 | 2010 | 20.9573736871992 | 30.0071430206299 |
|     2 | 2011 |  18.444929429463 |            26.75 |
|     2 | 2012 | 19.5774965943961 | 29.2241377994932 |
|     2 | 2013 | 20.9049405029842 |   31.35714333398 |
|     3 | 2010 | 18.3907494391164 | 26.5709677665464 |
|     3 | 2011 | 16.2882914389333 |  23.741935483871 |
|     3 | 2012 |  16.369142593876 | 24.2806451859013 |
|     3 | 2013 |  21.732339314052 | 32.3428570883615 |
...

The average temperature in February was lower than 3 years ago; only the maximums were higher, 4.6° higher than two years ago. And the average temperatures for March speak for themselves, though of course they will drop by the end of the month.

There's a lot of talk about this on the web. The Age has an article Melbourne faces 10-day heatwave, which doesn't look good, and the Climate Commission has published a report titled Angry Summer, pointing out all the records that have been broken, both from heat here and rainfall further north. Climate Change? I didn't expect it to be this sudden. But all over the world the weather had been catastrophic this year. Hopefully it's not a sign of worse to come. And then I continually get spam from these idiots, whom their ISP (Westnet) haven't taken to task despite complaints. Grrr. May they rot in Hell, Hay or Booligal.


Understanding pensions
Topic: general, opinion Link here

We've been dragging our heels on applying for our old-age pensions, certainly not helped by the fact that 5 countries are involved: United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Germany and Australia. Switzerland proved to be a simple one to deal with: Yvonne worked there for less than the year necessary to qualify for any pension. I worked in the UK for about 5 months, more than the one month qualification period, but I don't know if it's worth applying. But France, Germany and Australia are very definitely worth it.

Yvonne has been eligible for pension in France since her 60th birthday, and we've finally heard back from the Assurance retraite: despite her relatively short time there (48 trimesters) and her relatively low income at the time, she is eligible for a pension of 125.25 € per month from last August, or alternatively 185.11 € if she starts on her 65th birthday. It's not difficult to calculate that the break-even point there would be shortly before her 67th birthday. Why the big difference?

More investigation showed that the real pension at age 65 was 116.53 €, and that the balance of 68.58 € was a “majoration du minimum contributif”. What's that? It doesn't say, and even the FAQ didn't help much. But further reading suggests that this is an adjustment to bring her up to the minimum pension, and that it depends on what other pensions she might get. In this case, I suspect it would disappear altogether. But that's not the only kind of payment that depends on other pensions: the Australian pension diminishes if other pensions are paid (by 50% of the other pension, I think), and can thus can disappear completely. My guess is that this would be the case with the French majoration too. So we have a situation where each influences the other. In our case, I suspect that the French payment will disappear completely, since her payments from Germany will be an order of magnitude larger, but there must be cases where there's no clear answer at all. What a pain this all is!


Friday, 8 March 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 8 March 2013
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A real engineer
Topic: photography Link here

How do I get a ⅜" thread for the Manfrotto rotator in my focussing rail? A thread cutter, of course. But I went looking for one of those a while back and found nothing useful. Called up Ballarat Bolts & fasteners and got the name of Marcus Deutscher, surname unpronounceable, at 18 Davey St., phone 5332 7127—an “old-fashioned engineer”. Called up; yes, he could do it, so into town to find him. Yes, the description is correct—his workshop looks like what I remember from 40 years ago. He brushed off the metal shavings on his coat and did the whole thing in a matter of minutes at a price lower than the cost of buying a thread cutter.


Making sausages, take 2
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Our last attempt at making sausages was quite successful. The only issue was the equipment needed to make the sausages: the hand mincer we bought was less than useful, and at $70 it was also quite expensive, so we took it back.

We still have plenty of sausages, but by chance ALDI had two mincers on special a couple of weeks ago: an electric mincer for $80 and a hand-cranked mincer for $15, both with sausage fillers—what a comparison with the price of the mincer we bought in January! So we bought both to try them out. The electric mincer is in fact quite good—better than our current mincer, for which we paid about 500 DM decades ago, so we may keep it just for that.

Yesterday Yvonne bought some meat, and today I was going to make the sausages—and damn Megameats had given her the wrong cuts. OK, they were still belly and shoulder, but the shoulder still had the skin and bone, and the belly was so lean that they sold it as “roast”. Useless!

Did some thinking, and came to the conclusion that we could save it by adding some fat. And just by chance I had a slab of pure pork fat in the freezer, so we added that. The new electric mincer did a much better job of mincing than the old one, so we'll probably keep it for that, especially since the cutting disks from the old one fit. But the nozzle was so wide that we couldn't get the casings on it. Back to the hand-cranked one, where the nozzle was shorter, and this time we got things done relatively smoothly.

And the results? Terrible! The sausages all burst during frying, and the consistency of the filling was horrible.


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Did I put in too much fat? It was only 440 g out of a total of 2 kg, a relationship that I recall seeing somewhere on the web. Was it the quality of the ingredients? Possibly. In any case, it looks like we have wasted 2 kg of meat. As Yvonne said, it's a good thing that things went well last time; if we had had results like these, we probably would have given up altogether.


Saturday, 9 March 2013 Dereel Images for 9 March 2013
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A nadir, finally
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Last weekend's attempt at a full 360°×180° panorama of the verandah wasn't overly successful. One of the issues I had was finding appropriate control points: the floor was too uniform and repetitive. Today I tried the trick of putting a few flowerpots on the floor in the range both of the nadir and the lower row of the panorama. That worked nicely, though I still have issues with the alignment of the floorboards, probably relating to the accuracy of the positioning. Still, the result isn't too bad:

Click on image to display flash panorama.

How much work would it be to fix the remaining jaggies in the floor? Hard to say. One thing that I did thing worth fixing was the Dichondra, which once again showed significant signs of ghosting:


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This time I added one of the component images of the corresponding view and used it alone. Here the component and the tone-mapped result:


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The difference between the two images is more easily visible with mouseover alternation: run the mouse cursor over the images. With that, I managed to greatly improve the appearance:


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Who needs swap?
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

An unexpected effect of the completed verandah panorama was that Hugin decided that the optimal size was considerably larger than before. Although it has always stitched a full 360°×180° panorama, even when the bottom was missing, today the calculated size increased considerably:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/4) ~/Photos/20130309 105 -> identify ../20130303/Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg
../20130303/Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg JPEG 13068x6534 13068x6534+0+0 8-bit DirectClass 21.2MB 0.000u 0:00.000
Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg[1] JPEG 21866x10933 21866x10933+0+0 8-bit DirectClass 44.21MB 0.000u 0:00.000
=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/4) ~/Photos/20130309 106 -> ls -l ../20130303/Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis  21200630  3 Mar 12:41 ../20130303/Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis  44207375  9 Mar 16:23 Pano/verandah-centre.jpeg

So instead of an 85 MP panorama, I ended up with a 239 MP panorama; surprisingly, the image sizes don't reflect that. But the system certainly noticed.

At Tandem in the late 1980s, we (European System Support Group) received one of the first of the new giant memory boards, a whopping 48 MB. We didn't know how to fill it up; indeed, we once spent a whole day watching the memory manager working its way through the physical address space. And of course there was no swapping at all.

Times have changed. I established long ago that I need lots of memory, and my machine now has 8 GB. That's still trailing edge, of course, but most of the time I have plenty of memory free. But today I saw the first process to use 20 GB of address space:

  PID USERNAME    THR PRI NICE   SIZE    RES STATE   C   TIME   WCPU COMMAND
45206 grog          1 106    5 20064M  5723M RUN     0  26:21 93.07% enblend

It ran for ever, merrily swapping as it went:

Swap: 10G Total, 3044M Used, 7195M Free, 29% Inuse, 15M In

And once I thought that big RAM meant that I wouldn't need any more swap. How times change.


Sunday, 10 March 2013 Dereel
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Continued heat
Topic: general Link here

The heat continues. It's not as bad as in the summer, but unbelievably hot for March. Somehow didn't get very much done during the day.


Bread tins: where?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I've been looking for a suitable bread baking tin for some time now. The one I have has the main disadvantage that it's not non-stick, so I have to cut baking paper to size every time. It's also a little on the large size. But the ones I can find on the web are tiny! There's almost nothing which will give you bread anywhere near the size of a “normal” loaf. On the other hand, we didn't buy the one we have to bake bread in. I don't know why we bought it at all, probably for cake, but it was a normal standard item at our local supermarket in Alsfeld years ago.

So how about looking for cake tins? Did that too. It's amazing all the different kinds of cake tins you can buy—letters, comic figures, fake boobs—in fact everything except a normal large cake tin. I'm still no closer. Why is this so difficult?


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure this evening at 22:29.


Monday, 11 March 2013 Dereel Images for 11 March 2013
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Heat wave continues
Topic: general Link here

As promised, the weather continues to be extremely hot. Today was the 9th day in a row with maximum temperatures over 33°, and the tendency is increasing:

mysql> select date, max_temp from daily where date > "2013-2-28" and station_id = "outside" order by date;
+------------+----------+
| date       | max_temp |
+------------+----------+
| 2013-03-01 |     24.3 |
| 2013-03-02 |       27 |
| 2013-03-03 |     33.2 |
| 2013-03-04 |     35.9 |
| 2013-03-05 |     35.6 |
| 2013-03-06 |     38.5 |
| 2013-03-07 |     39.1 |
| 2013-03-08 |     37.2 |
| 2013-03-09 |     38.3 |
| 2013-03-10 |     36.4 |
| 2013-03-11 |     41.1 |
+------------+----------+

That has never happened before; until this year the maximum was 5 days, starting on 29 January 2011, and this year we had two runs of 6 days starting on 22 December 2012 and 13 February 2013. And there's no doubt that tomorrow will be the tenth straight day. Once again I was completely lethargic and did almost nothing except for watching TV.


Confused plants
Topic: gardening Link here

The heat is once again having its effect on the plants in the garden. It seems that extreme heat affects them in the same way as cold does. One of our Azaleas has started flowering:


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And finally the Clematis maximowicziana that we bought nearly 2 years ago has started flowering:


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TV cooks: idiots?
Topic: food and drink, multimedia, language, opinion Link here

Watching TV this afternoon, notably a programme called “World Café: Asia” hosted by Bobby Chinn. So far I have seen episodes showing food from Chennai and Melaka. Bobby is probably quite a passable cook, but you wouldn't think so from seeing this programme. Why do people have to mispronounce names so much? Even after being told the correct pronunciation, he pronounces the vowels wrong and emphasizes the wrong syllable. You'd think he was trying to annoy people.

But he did show one interesting recipe in the programme about Chennai: Karivepilla era varuval. I don't speak Tamil (or Tæmíl, as Bobby insists on calling it), but karivepilla is clearly an adventurous spelling of karuvepillai (கறிவேப்பிலை), possibly influenced by Malayalam kariveppu. And I know that: it's Murraya koenigii or curry leaf, which I've been growing in the greenhouse:


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And this after a scene where he said “add a little curry” and added leaves that didn't even look like curry leaves. Still, the dish looks good (which is probably why it's not on his web site): it's king prawns cut open and spiced with a spice mixture including, of course, curry leaves, and then grilled.

Then today I saw his programme about Melaka. Melaka is special because of the Peranakan cuisine, and I had never heard of some of the dishes, such as Ayam buah keluak (misspelt in the title of that particular recipe). But then he purported to make Hainan chicken rice—by frying a chicken drumstick. The whole point of Hainan chicken rice is that the whole chicken is cooked slowly in water at about 80°, for about 2 hours. Why do people do this? Clearly they go to a lot of trouble to prepare these shows; surely they can get their basic facts right.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013 Dereel
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Polishing my ports commit bit
Topic: technology Link here

News from FreeBSD portmgr today: I have my ports commit bit back, after having given it up some years ago for “safe keeping”. It's a little tarnished, but nothing that a bit of cleaning won't fix. Some years ago I mentored Edwin Groothuis for a src commit bit. He has a ports commit bit, so I asked him to be my mentor while I did the cleaning.

A week or two again a beta release of Hugin came out, so it seemed reasonable to add a new port, graphics/hugin-devel, for that: the FreeBSD port of Hugin has been lagging quite a bit lately. Spent much of the day polishing that—this method of specifying source packages is very brittle, and Hugin does its best to stretch it. Finally, though, had it done, and sent it off to Edwin for critique.


Network pain continues
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've more or less resigned myself to the fact that my network connectivity is barely acceptable. Roll on the radiation tower! It's hardly worth mentioning the disconnects any more, but they continue unabated. Each of these represents a successful reconnect after a dropout:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/4) ~ 125 -> grep myaddr /var/log/ppp.log
Feb 25 20:12:36 eureka ppp[1982]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.58.27 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 26 13:12:31 eureka ppp[1982]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.82.100 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 27 02:05:54 eureka ppp[1982]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.127.130 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 27 09:29:38 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.61.68 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 27 15:22:14 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.116.108 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 27 16:06:23 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.113.98 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 27 17:22:40 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.86.185 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Feb 28 18:11:28 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.123.230 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  2 12:22:02 eureka ppp[2717]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.45.167.11 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  2 16:04:46 eureka ppp[2514]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.114.21 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  2 18:54:07 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.79.170 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  4 09:07:02 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.8.41 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  5 08:54:48 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.83.235 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  6 12:44:28 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.11.75 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  6 20:34:43 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.98.155 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  7 10:38:03 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.78.131 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  8 15:29:29 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.39.174 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  9 11:51:17 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.20.29 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar  9 16:00:42 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.86.143 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 10 14:02:39 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.4.192 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 11 01:48:27 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.71.142 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 11 10:46:07 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.4.5 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 12 09:30:55 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.98.147 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 12 12:47:11 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 121.44.121.60 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1
Mar 12 16:48:53 eureka ppp[2335]: tun0: IPCP: myaddr 118.209.112.54 hisaddr = 10.1.0.1

When I got this service two years ago, apart from the occasional problem, I could keep the link up for weeks at a time. And I can't do anything about the current situation.


10 days heat wave
Topic: general Link here

As expected, our heat wave continued for a tenth straight day:

mysql> select date, max_temp from daily where date > "2013-3-2" and station_id = "outside" order by date;
+------------+----------+
| date       | max_temp |
+------------+----------+
| 2013-03-03 |     33.2 |
| 2013-03-04 |     35.9 |
| 2013-03-05 |     35.6 |
| 2013-03-06 |     38.5 |
| 2013-03-07 |     39.1 |
| 2013-03-08 |     37.2 |
| 2013-03-09 |     38.3 |
| 2013-03-10 |     36.4 |
| 2013-03-11 |     41.1 |
| 2013-03-12 |     33.9 |
+------------+----------+

mysql> select min(max_temp), avg(max_temp), max(max_temp), avg(avg_temp) from daily where date > "2013-3-2" and date < "2013-3-13" and station_id = "outside";
+------------------+------------------+------------------+------------------+
| min(max_temp)    | avg(max_temp)    | max(max_temp)    | avg(avg_temp)    |
+------------------+------------------+------------------+------------------+
| 33.2000007629395 | 36.9200000762939 | 41.0999984741211 | 25.8278263092041 |
+------------------+------------------+------------------+------------------+
Click to see larger image Click to see larger image

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler, but it might still make 30°.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013 Dereel
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Committing ports: the bureaucracy
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Review of my new port from Edwin Groothuis this morning, suggesting a couple of modifications, including noting conflicts with the normal Hugin port. That required testing, including building both ports a couple of times, but finally I was ready to commit. Not quite what I expected:

Path "head/graphics/hugin-devel/distinfo" is missing the svn:keywords property (or an fbsd:nokeywords override)

What does that mean? No idea. Discovered a PortSubversionPrimer, resplendent in missing spaces, which told me about properties, and that I needed svn propset to set them. More careful reading showed that I needed to add entries to ~/.subversion/config, something that I had done years ago (coincidentally exactly 4 years ago today) for the src tree and then forgotten. Finally committed!

Well, all bar the bikeshed. Message from Eitan Adler telling me all that was wrong in my Makefile, not completely backed up by the documentation, and suggesting I should have put it past a ports committer before committing. It seems that the OPTION syntax has changed, for reasons that I don't understand, and so I'm not allowed to just copy an old Makefile: all of the things he objected to were there before I came along, and are still in /usr/port/graphics/hugin/Makefile.

There's probably a good reason for all this, but the first impression is that this is pure bureaucracy. It's so far from the porting that I wrote about in Porting UNIX Software—but then, I started that project when Eitan was only 1½ years old. How times have changed.


Finally a building block?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

With autumn, it seems, come new property listings on the web. Today found a newly listed property in Enfield which looked interesting: 2.9 ha in Inglewood Drive, only 880 m from the Enfield Radiation Tower. Off to have a look; it's not at all bad, and in particular there are the right amount of trees: not enough to be dangerous or keep the horses from feeding (in fact, there are three horses on the property right now), but enough to screen off the relatively dense population. It could be the one we're looking for.


Finally cooler
Topic: general, opinion Link here

After 10 days, the weather has finally cooled down:

Click to see larger image

It appears to have been worse here than in Melbourne, where they're talking of only 9 days with maxima over 30°. Even Ballarat had 7 days over 30°. Here we had 10 days over 33°, while Melbourne only had 8. The maximum temperature in that time was 41.1° here and “only” 37.1° in Melbourne. On the other hand, I've seen higher temperatures on WunderMap, so it's possibly just a question of how they measure things.


Microsoft update fun
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Microsoft released patches for its operating systems today, apparently something they do every month. Now that I have a “real” Microsoft box, it seems to be right to upgrade. But of course my network link wasn't up to it, and rather than wait forever, decided to postpone. Clicked the “stop download” button, and got:

Code 80244023 Windows Update encountered an unknown error.
              Get help with this error

I've seen this one before, and at the time decided, presumably correctly, that it meant “network connection interrupted”. But surely after explicitly interrupting the network connection, “Windows” Update shouldn't consider it an unknown error. Microsoft is a never-ending source of amusement.


Thursday, 14 March 2013 Dereel Images for 14 March 2013
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Preparing to move house
Topic: general Link here

The plot of land that we looked at yesterday still looks very good. A little expensive, maybe, but doable. But somehow I can't get moving on it. Finally got round to contacting the estate agent and getting the information, but what I really need to do is create a list of things that we'll need to do, and even more importantly a list of expected costs. And we'll have to find a builder, and somebody to tidy up the site, which has a number of weeds and dead trees.


More weather station flakiness
Topic: technology, general Link here

For some reason the wireless communication between the external and internal components of my weather station has been particularly flaky lately, and there have been long periods of time with no readings. Changed the batteries, but the old ones weren't particularly discharged, and it didn't help, so finally got down to complete some modifications I had started years ago to ensure that I don't try to save invalid readings. What a series of functions just to read a page of weather data from the unit:

/*
 * Read routines.  There are lots of these:
 *
 * read_station reads 8 bytes from the station, the maximum it can deliver.
 *
 * read_station_page calls read_station 4 times to read a "page" (32 bytes).
 *
 * read_valid_station_page calls read_station_page repeatedly until it gets two
 * copies that are the same.
 *
 * read_readings calls read_station_page and populates a preliminary readings
 * structure.
 *
 * read_valid_readings calls read_readings until the values returned make sense.
 */

And for once Powercor came to my aid: years ago they half destroyed the internal unit, with the result that it shows random pressures, but is otherwise OK. Just what I needed to test the changes. Now things look better, though I'm not reporting broken readings.


eBay batteries don't arrive
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Some months back I had the first non-arrival of an eBay item: some batteries. I got a refund, re-ordered the batteries, and all worked well. Then at the beginning of last month I ordered some more batteries from two different eBay sellers, and neither of those packages arrived either. Finally got the refunds for both of them. Is there something about batteries that causes these problems?


NBN: Yes, no, maybe
Topic: technology, opinion, general Link here

One of the good things about the new property is that it's only a stone's throw from the Enfield radiation tower. We could get good network coverage there immediately. Out of idle curiosity, went to the NBN rollout map to see what the coverage was like, and in the process discovered a link at the top overwriting another text and saying “Find a service provider”:


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Followed that, and discovered that the link forgot where I was: I was presented with a map of Australia. Entered the address again and got:


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Why? The background is still purple, indicating coverage. Followed the link to the rollout map and tried again:


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I can only hope that this web site doesn't reflect on the technical excellence of the service. Tried again and found a second link to the information:


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Followed the link on the popup, which took me to yet another page showing the address, but requiring me to reenter it anyway; and finally I came up with a list of ISPs. Aren't computers wonderful?


More progress with the Mecablitz
Topic: photography Link here

It's clear I'm afraid of damaging something while replacing the flash tube in my Mecablitz 58 AF-1. It's been another week since my last attempt, where I was stuck trying to insert the tube into the reflector. One reply said that I should remove the trigger wire, but that alone wouldn't explain it. Today I took it off anyway—and discovered that it was wound round the tube several times, preventing insertion even as far as these silly wire clips. After that I was able to get it in:


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I'm not convinced by the contact between the wire clip and the tube (left below: the vertical object to the left is part of the reflector):


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The obvious thing to do is to try it out. But it seems that it needs to be assembled before it can be tested: another posting says that the unit will display a zoom error if the reflector isn't assembled correctly. More procrastination.


Friday, 15 March 2013 Dereel Images for 15 March 2013
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More land investigations
Topic: general Link here

Followed up on the plot of land in Enfield today. Called up Peter O'Connell to talk to him about it, but he is away until the middle of the next week. Then Bram Gunn, who will come out again on Monday to see what he thinks we can get for the house, and Bernie Massey, the estate agent selling the property, who tells me a number of other interested parties are “circling”, and that it could go away quickly. But then, as an estate agent, what would you say?

More important is that it will cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to have electricity connected. I wonder why they bother; that sum would go a long way towards installing a self-sufficient solar electrical system. And it seems that they don't have sewage after all, so we'd still be in for another $5,000 or so for a septic tank. And then there's the unknown of how much it will cost to tidy up the site.

Off to take a look again, this time with some photos:


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Around to talk to the neighbours on Clarkes Road, who adjoin the rear of the site, and spent quite a bit of time talking to one of them, to the point that we decided to postpone the next neighbour until tomorrow. Didn't get the name, but she told us various interesting things, the most concerning of which was the gorse on the property: it seems it's almost impossible to eradicate.

Back home, on the way picking up a phone number of a bloke capable of tidying up the site, and arranged to meet him on Sunday. His quote will have a significant effect on our decision, but at the moment it's beginning to look as if the property is too expensive for what it is. They're asking $149,000 for 2.8 ha, but with all the trees on it the effective usable area is only about 1.5 ha. That's enough for us, but we've seen other larger properties for as little as $80,000.


Sausage maker
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Back home to find a box outside the front door, a sausage maker that I had bought on eBay: a courier had delivered it without getting a signature. I feel tempted to wait a week and ask where it is.

The machine itself doesn't look bad. It's all (not particularly high quality) stainless steel, and it looks as if it will make good sausages. It came with an “instruction manual”, a piece of paper scrunched up in a plastic bag that also included a replacement seal. The instructions are possibly bad even by the standards we've come to expect from cheap Chinese devices. The diagram of the device has been squeezed to fit the (nonstandard sized) page, and it's almost unrecognizable. But image manipulation works wonders (second image):


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So now to try the thing out. Some Dauerwurst (apparently a word without a real English equivalent), maybe? Went looking for some recipes, and found this and this, neither very convincing. Maybe I should borrow the Child book again.


Garden in early autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

Today's the middle of the month, time for the early autumn garden photos. There aren't many. The recent heat wave has really messed things up, as is visible from the Hebes:


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About the only thing of interest is our first Protea flower, still developing:


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Hopefully things will improve in the next month or so.


Saturday, 16 March 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 16 March 2013
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House photos: faking HDR
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

House photo day again today, and for once the weather was ideal: overcast and almost no wind. Particularly the relatively low contrast suggested that I could be less rigorous about exposure.

Background: the canonical rule for taking panoramas is: expose all the images the same. That means same shutter speed, same aperture, same focal length and same focus distance. If there's too much contrast, take multiple images of each view, bracketed 2 EV apart, and create HDR images for each view.

I've been doing it differently: I allow the camera to set the shutter speed. I take 5 images spread 1 EV apart (the maximum spread my camera can manage), offset by +1 EV, then discard the intermediate images, so the images I use are exposed at -1 EV, +1 EV and +3 EV. I then rely on enblend to correct the exposures.

That works well enough as long as the adjacent images aren't too differently exposed; otherwise it can cause problems, particularly for the control point detectors. So today, given the relatively small difference in brightness, I took single images and paid attention to the images to ensure that no adjacent image was exposed more than 1 EV differently from its neighbour. In the case of the verandah, I also took some individual images exposed 2 EV more, and offset slightly so that enblend wouldn't run into trouble:


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That worked surprisingly well:


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With the verandah east panorama, taken when the sun was coming out of the clouds, I also tried a different approach to the exposure problem, different focal lengths:


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And that, too, stitched well:


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Clearly there's more experimentation to do, but the approach seems worthwhile.


Looking for a new house
Topic: general Link here

Off to Ballarat in the afternoon to see what kind of house we could get for $180,000. It's difficult to say. The pricing is somewhat uneven. Simonds, whom we like quite well, have houses in the range, in particular that is on special until 7 April.

I didn't mention which one, and the link that I had put here is now dead as of December 2013.

But it comes without floor coverings (apparently), and we need to buy packages with other useless stuff in them to get them. And the site preparation costs run round $12,000, depending of course on the site. Also to McMasters, who had houses in the range. They looked a little bit more expensive, but then the site costs are supposed to be only $6000, and it seems that they include floor coverings. And finally to JG King (whom I always read as “Joking”), but the bloke there was tied up both times we went, so took some brochures home to look at. Plenty to think about.


Conisidering power options
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Spent a lot of time in the afternoon considering how to power the new house. Paying $10,000 to $15,000 just for a connection to Powercor's flaky grid seems obnoxious. Spent some time looking for complete solar electricity solutions on the web. As I suspected, $50,000 will buy a reasonable stand-alone system, as this overview shows, though the relative pricing is a little confusing. They include a generator to bridge lack of sunshine, and expect it to be running for up to about 45 minutes a day in the winter. I suppose a lot depends on the cost of running the generator and the life expectancy of the batteries. Much more to follow up on.


Encouragement from Powercor
Topic: general Link here

As if to encourage me to select an off-grid solution, another power failure this evening at 20:52, this time for nearly 3 hours. How I hate Powercor! That's 6 hours, 21 minutes and a total of 14 unplanned failures this year. At this rate they'll break last year's record.


Sunday, 17 March 2013 Dereel Images for 17 March 2013
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Don't enhance test(1)
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

A couple of weeks ago Peter Jeremy made some modifications to test(1) and with approval of his mentors (John Baldwin and myself) committed them to the head of the FreeBSD source tree. The changes are summarized in the man page:

     file1 -nt file2
                   True if both file1 and file2 exist and file1 is newer than
                   file2.

    file1 -ntXY file2
                   True if both file1 and file2 exist and file1 has a more
                   recent last access time (X=a), inode creation time (X=B),
                   change time (X=c), or modification time (X=m) than the last
                   access time (Y=a), inode creation time (Y=B), change time
                   (Y=c), or modification time (Y=m) of file2.  Note that
                   -ntmm is equivalent to -nt.


     file1 -ot file2
                   True if both file1 and file2 exist and file1 is older than
                   file2.  Note that file1 -ot file2 is equivalent to file2
                   -nt file1

    file1 -otXY file2
                   Equivalent to file2 -ntYX file1.

That didn't meet with universal approval: Jilles Tjoelker, apparently the maintainer of sh(1), objected. To summarize his objections:

I don't accept any of these arguments:

To make this clearer, here are alternatives to compare the creation timestamp of file1 with the access timestamp of file2. The first is Peter's modification to test(1); the others are from Jilles.

/bin/test file1 -ntca file2
test -n "$(find -L -- file1 -prune -newerca file2 2>/dev/null)"
[ $(stat -f %c file1) -gt $(stat -f %a file2) ]
[ $(stat -f %040.9Fc file1) \> $(stat -f %040.9Fa file2) ]

The complexity of the alternatives is clear in the two examples using stat(1). The first one is simpler, but only checks full seconds of the timestamps, while the second one also checks the nanoseconds. Or does it? When I tried, I found that it set the nanosecond part to 0. Why? To be researched.

The big issue here is that there's a conflict: standardization on the one hand, utility on the other. How can we reconcile the two? One solution would be an extensions mode, where non-POSIX extensions like -ntca (and also -nt) would be allowed. Discussion is ongoing.


Getting nanoseconds from stat(2)
Topic: technology Link here

The 0 in the nanoseconds from stat(1) puzzled me, so I went to take a look. And how about that: the stat(2) system call returns the fields set to 0:

=== gdb -> Return
336                                     rc = lstat(file, &st);
=== gdb -> Return
339                     if (rc == -1) {
=== gdb -> p st
$1 = {
  st_dev = 129,
  st_ino = 11732393,
  st_mode = 33188,
  st_nlink = 1,
  st_uid = 1004,
  st_gid = 1000,
  st_rdev = 47224992,
  st_atim = {
    tv_sec = 1363569201,
    tv_nsec = 0
  },
  st_mtim = {
    tv_sec = 1350666025,
    tv_nsec = 0
  },
  st_ctim = {
    tv_sec = 1350666025,
    tv_nsec = 0
  },
  st_size = 25013,
  st_blocks = 52,
  st_blksize = 16384,
  st_flags = 0,
  st_gen = 0,
  st_lspare = 0,
  st_birthtim = {
    tv_sec = 1350666025,
    tv_nsec = 0
  }
}

All the tv_nsec fields are 0! Why that? Peter Jeremy told me that it works correctly in FreeBSD version 10, but not in earlier versions. But it seems that the real reason is very different: Konstantin Belousov responded with the information that the sysctl vfs.timestamp_precision needs to be set to 1; it seems that the default is 0. Now isn't that obvious?


More house research
Topic: general Link here

Spent some time in the morning comparing the house brochures we brought back yesterday. Both the Simonds and the McMasters houses could be a possibility. But JGKing seemed to be out of our price range: we're looking at a maximum of $180,000, and the cheapest price they had was closer to $190,000.

Warrick Pitcher, the bloke we're looking at to tidy up the new property in Enfield, was supposed to come by this afternoon and take a look. Gave him a call as arranged, but it seems he had more work to do than he had anticipated, and couldn't make it today. Put it off a day or two.

Next a call from Dann Thompson of JG King. He had done some surprisingly detailed research and even identified the site. I told him that we couldn't afford the prices, and it eventuated that he hadn't given us the correct price lists: in fact they have houses (too small for us) starting at under $130,000, and they have something in our price range that could be suitable. So arranged to meet him in Enfield on Wednesday afternoon to take a closer look.

Then I got a call from Bernie Massey to tell us that another person had made an offer for plot, for the full sum. They must be in a hurry. So I said “OK, you win a few, you lose a few”. But no, Bernie said it was subject to finance, and he'd prefer us, because we pay cash. Clearly we're not in a position to make a decision yet: I need to talk to Bram Gunn (coming tomorrow) to sell the old house, Peter O'Connell to get a sanity check, Warrick to get a quote for tidying up, Powercor to get a quote for electricity, and a whole lot more. So he said he could hold off until tomorrow, then Tuesday, then Wednesday morning. But we can't give him an answer before Wednesday afternoon. This, too, it seems, is OK. I'm left wondering how real this other person is. If it's true, it seems highly unethical to not submit his offer to the owner immediately.

Chris Bahlo was in town today looking at houses too, and she picked up the price list from Dann. Then off to show her the property, in the process establishing that it must be quite wet in the winter. We had established that there's a winter creek, and to judge by the debris it flows to the north, and at some volume. If we dig a dam, that would be the place. And the site didn't raise any alarm bells for Chris.


Sausages: failure
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Ate Bratwurst for dinner again today: two of the first, good batch, and one of the new, dubious batch. They all started off the same size. After frying, things were noticeably different:


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Strangely, the new sausage didn't taste bad, just not like a sausage. We'll have to do something else with them. Now we have the new sausage machine, it's time to make new sausages anyway.


Monday, 18 March 2013 Dereel
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More house investigations
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Bram Gunn along this morning to take a look at the house and discuss what we would get for it. After 1½ hours the result was: just as much as last August. But now that it's looking more likely to happen, discussed lots of things, and came away with a lot of useful ideas, including alternative builders.

Did a bit of phoning round. The big item is the connection to the power grid. Called up Joan Hobbs at Powercor, but she wasn't there. Left a message and got no call back.

How are we going to heat this place? It's clear that heat pumps are no longer the way to go. And gas isn't an option in that area. What's left? In Australia people are tougher than in Europe, and many rooms simply don't get heated. And that's the explanation for the barn-like main living areas: put a wood-fired “slow combustion” heater somewhere in that area, and it'll warm it all.

That doesn't help the other rooms much, of course, which is probably why they keep inter-room insulation to a minimum. There's the alternative of European-style “hydronic” central heating with hot water, but that's not very popular here. It would be relatively simple to put a wood-fired boiler outside the house and run hot water through the system, but that would be relatively wasteful of energy. Why not combine the Australian and European methods and have the “slow combustion” heater also heat water for the other rooms? The obvious reason would be lack of intercept: in Europe it wouldn't be adequate, and in Australia nobody's thought of it.

Did a bit of checking on the web and found that that's not the case. That kind of equipment is available, though it's difficult to correlate the multiple web sites that seem to be offering the same equipment. In particular the somewhat inappropriately named energy company http://www.enter-shop.com.au/ is running a CMS that appears designed to ensure that the links will shrivel, while Wise Living, apparently the manufacturer, declines to mention prices. In any case, this page shows a 20 kW slow combustion heater with hot water production, capable of 20 kW for prices under $3,000, and this page shows units with 30 to 50 kW for prices round $6,000. How much do we need? Our current reverse cycle units generate a maximum of 19.2 kW, and that's just about adequate for this house. But one of the reasons for moving is to get a more energy-efficient house, so 20 kW should be adequate. But maybe there's other stuff out there that would do the job too, and we certainly need to investigate a compound device that also uses solar energy to heat the water, and of course to use the system for household hot water as well. Still a lot to research.


Do-it-yourself pano head
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Tom Maynard sent me a link to this page today, a do-it-yourself panorama head:

Image

There are more details of the construction here. It's nothing for me, since I have one already, but at first sight it doesn't look bad. Comparing with my requirements for panorama hardware, we have:

  1. Rotate the camera along three axes about the entrance pupil of the lens (often incorrectly called the nodal point).

    Fulfilled, but only for one specific camera/lens/focal length combination.

  2. Level the camera independently of the tripod, to make it possible to rotate the camera about a vertical axis.

    Not part of this particular device. As I've mentioned elsewhere, this is not a disadvantage, since the mount can handle that.

  3. Rotate the camera in specific increments for equally-spaced images. At the very least, provide angular markings so that you can set them yourself.

    Yes. This device even includes a home-made rotator, though only in 30° increments.

In addition, there are a number of things that make life easier:

  1. Provide a level indicator (usually a spirit level).

    No.

  2. Provide scales for accurately positioning the camera, in particular a scale parallel to the lens axis to help set the entrance pupil position.

    No. For me, this is the biggest disadvantage of the head: it doesn't allow positioning along these axes at all.

  3. For rotators: allow setting the start position.

    Apparently not.


End of an era: death after 3737 days
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Somebody pointed me at this slashdot story today: a machine shut down after 3737 days of uptime (that's over 10 years, 2 months).

"After running uninterrupted for 3737 days, this humble Sun 280R server running Solaris 9 was shut down. At the time of making the video it was idle, the last service it had was removed sometime last year. A tribute video was made with some feelings about Sun, Solaris, the walk to the data center and freeing a machine from internet-slavery."

That makes my own current 1632 days seem like nothing.


Smart meters: interesting information
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Phone call from Eddie Barkla of Powercor today to explain the recent power failure. A possum in Magpie, just south of Sebastopol. And that took down power for 3,500 people for 3 hours. ETSA did it in 2.

My real issue, though, was that it takes forever to report a fault. It seems that smart meters help there too: they report the information, though currently the network isn't dimensioned to take all the reports when a large-scale outage comes. But it seems there's hope on the way. Eddie checked the information reported by my meter: power failed at 21:51:23 (I had guessed 21:52) and was restored at 0:47, as I knew. He also commented on power usage. At the time we were talking, it was only 400 W, which seems reasonable, and the spikes he mentioned all made sense. So where does my 2 kW average come from? Time to get some smart meter software.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel
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Preparing to move house
Topic: general Link here

More investigation of the plot in Enfield today. Called up the shire council and spoke to Robyn, who had great difficulty finding the plot, although I gave her both address and lot number. When she did find it, she read out to me what I already knew from the map, but interpreted overlay DDO5 for me: it means that we had to build at least 10 m back from the street and 5 m from other boundaries, not a problem in the slightest. We'll need a (town) planning permit, which will set us back $460 and 2 months, though we can submit the building application at the same time. She wasn't able to give me the BAL rating, but gave me the number of the CFA in Ballarat (5329 5510), where I should have been connected to Brendan Brown, but he wasn't in. Left my number for him to call back, but he didn't. Still, I can't imagine that the rating will be very high: this block is not in a bushfire overlay, and even the plot in Westons Road that we were looking at last September has only 12.5. This property looks much better than that.

Then on to the dreaded call at Powercor. This time I got on to Joan Hobbs, but it seems that Enfield isn't her area, and I was connected to John Willowhite (5327 2221) where I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the connection would only cost about $2,000, and not the $10,000 to $15,000 that Bernie had told me.

Also spoke to Bryce at Central Highlands Water about water connections, and got some surprisingly detailed quotes: $211.08 tapping fee, $99.30 for the meter, and $111.75 for plumbing industry consent, whatever that is. So although there are a number of things to do, none of them seem to be likely to break the bank, especially after the $8000 odd better than expected result from Powercor.

So: things are looking good. Went off to talk to the neighbours, but even before leaving decided we could also take another look at the McMaster display house, so arranged to do that too, and only stopped briefly at the site to check mobile phone signal levels. I don't know where the mobile phone radiation tower is, but it's not the one directly across the road. Nevertheless, signal strength was excellent, which means that we can do without a land line altogether.

On into Ballarat, on the way deciding to make an offer for the land, so called up Bernie Massey (0438 396 877) and left a message. Then to McMasters and spoke with Catherine Bray (0438 389 395), who was surprisingly flexible: just about any changes we wanted could be done, and the charges would just reflect the difference in work required, which could even mean that it comes cheaper. That's good, because some of their offerings are nothing close to what we would like. In particular, the “Lifestyle” specification is supposed to be better than the “Essentials” specification, which is why it adds $7,000 to the price. The only difference that would be of interest to us is a shelf and power point for a microwave oven, and the sanitary fittings of “Lifestyle” look Just Plain Terrible.

On to talk to Bernie. They're asking $149,000, and we offered $140,000. Bernie's face dropped. “But I have an offer for $149,000. Here, look”. And he showed me a yellow copy of a document which really showed $149,000. He thought I could still get it for $145,000 because I was paying cash. OK, so I raised my offer to $145,000. I hate doing that, but we've been looking for a long time, and this is the first block that we like, so it seemed worthwhile. Called up Peter O'Connell (just 100 m down the road) to confirm how we would pay for it, and ended up going down to discuss it with him. All our term deposits are maturing at the wrong time, of course, but we should be able to manage both that and the house with few difficulties.

Finally to Plumbtec to look at the sanitary fittings they had on offer. Not much, and at horrendous prices—saw a sink mixer almost identical to the one I bought last August. I paid $58.50 for ours; the one we saw today is tagged at $220. Clearly a good thing that we can supply our own.

Back home, and got a call from Bernie. I had given him Yvonne's mobile phone number, but then also a business card with my mobile number on it. I haven't used my mobile number in years, and it seems it has been reallocated. In any case, it seems that the seller has already accepted the offer, so he wanted us to come in tomorrow morning and sign the contract. That won't work: we have various horse people coming, so we put the appointment off until Thursday.

More thinking about the offer I made. I've already had my doubts about Bernie's integrity, and showing me offers made by other people sounds very unethical. Other people have also suggested that he has a dubious reputation. But: he didn't want a written offer from me. Why not? And when did he get that offer? I have a suspicion that what he showed me was really the sales contract signed by the seller, which of course would show the sum $149,000. Let's get this contract signed first, and then we can investigate further. I strongly suspect that there has been no other offer, but the seller should know that.


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure this evening at 21:34. Only a short one, but the UPS failed again immediately. What's wrong with these things?


Wednesday, 20 March 2013 Dereel
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Heating systems research
Topic: general, opinion Link here

So we're heading towards our (well, my) 6th house, and the first new one since 1979. In the course of that time we've had various heating systems: in the first three houses, in Germany, it was hydronic central heating, but in each case the boiler was different: external wall gas heater, normal gas boiler, and mineral oil-fired boiler. Back in Australia, we were shocked to discover that houses mainly didn't have central heating. On the advice of some government bureau in Adelaide we installed reverse cycle ducted air conditioning in Wantadilla, which proved to be very difficult to regulate.

When we moved in to the house in Dereel, it had ducted gas-fired heating, but no cooling. The vendors told us that it cost them up to $800 a month to heat the house in the winter—and that to a temperature of 18°! Clearly not an option for us, so we decided to use “split system” reverse cycle air conditioning, where each room has its own internal unit. That should offer ideal temperature control, but Fujitsu made such a mess of the heating regulation that it's as good as useless, as I've described elsewhere. In addition, continual increases in power prices make it even less attractive for heating. For cooling, of course, air conditioning is pretty much the only game in town.

So much for the background of the research I started a couple of days ago. Spent much of the day researching more details. The advantage of the primitive “slow combustion heater”, at least in our situation, is that the fuel is practically free: dropped timber from the trees on the property. But there are down sides, notably the fact that you have to feed the thing. In the middle of winter that's not such an issue, but what about situations like at the moment, when it's quite cool when we get up, but soon warms up. We turn on an air conditioner for about 20 minutes, during which it warms up the house, and then the increase in outside temperature takes over.

In addition, there are other sources of heat than combustion. Solar energy has been used to heat water round here for decades. Solar energy alone is inadequate to heat a house in the winter, but a combined solar/wood-fired hot water/hydronic system would make a lot of sense. And maybe it's available. What I need to do first is to decide which house to build, and then I can start telephoning around.


LibreOffice install
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I don't use things like Microsoft “Office” or clones. But since I've started using a Microsoft box, I should maybe consider it, especially as I could do with a spreadsheet right now to calculate costs for the house. I don't want to spend money on it, of course, but then there's LibreOffice. Today was the last day of my billing month for Internet traffic, so I downloaded it both for Microsoft (after their page gave up trying to identify my Vista box as PPC MacOS X) and FreeBSD.

Score one for Microsoft. Installing on Microsoft was no trouble at all. Installing the binary package on FreeBSD was such a pain that I gave up. First I had to install Yet Another version of perl (why do I always have trouble with this package?), and then finally I got a whole lot of “warnings”:

=== root@eureka (/dev/pts/7) /src/Downloads 86 -> pkg_add libreoffice-3.5.6_1.tbz
pkg_add: warning: package 'libreoffice-3.5.6_1' requires 'ca_root_nss-3.13.6', but 'ca_root_nss-3.13.5' is installed
pkg_add: warning: package 'libreoffice-3.5.6_1' requires 'pciids-20120906', but 'pciids-20120625' is installed
pkg_add: warning: package 'libreoffice-3.5.6_1' requires 'png-1.5.12', but 'png-1.5.11' is installed
...

Warnings? It seemed that they stopped the install. And I gave up.


Counting dogs, Golden Plains Style
Topic: general, opinion Link here

While looking through the web site of the Golden Plains Shire, found a document entitled Code for the Keeping of Dogs , though it made it clear it referred only to greyhounds. Read it idly. It certainly shows that the employees are no mathematical geniuses. Here the limitations:

Number of Dogs Permitted (per allotment)

No more than four (4) dogs will be permitted on an allotment having an area less than two (2) hectares. The density of dogs over the age of 3 months to the site area should not exceed the following maximums:

Well, we have (will have) 2.8 hectares, so according to that rule we should be allowed to have 28 dogs, far beyond anything we would contemplate. But let's look at these transitions:

It's a good thing that the introduction describes these values as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. But who came up with these values?


Thursday, 21 March 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 21 March 2013
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Another lost dog
Topic: animals Link here

Another dog ran onto our property today. Last time it proved to belong to a neighbour, but we didn't recognize this one.

Put a posting on the local Facebook group, but it wasn't long before one of our neighbours came looking for her. I suppose we should go looking for the neighbours first next time.


Ports: Upsetting the apple cart
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Processing the photos of the stray dog proved to be a problem: exiftool had disappeared. I don't know why, but since it's a perl module, it's reasonable to assume that the reinstallation of the new perl version yesterday removed it. I wonder how many other ports have disappeared. I note also that the fonts used by wine seem to have changed. One more reason not to upgrade ports on a production machine until they've been tested elsewhere.

On the other hand, it seems that I do have LibreOffice installed. No idea how that happened. I looked for an obvious executable yesterday, something like /usr/local/bin/libreoffice—and that's exactly what was installed, admittedly a symlink. And it seems to work, so all is relatively well.


Buying land
Topic: general Link here

Into town this morning to see Bernie Massey and sign the contract to buy the Enfield property. That's pretty fast, considering that we first saw it a week ago. But that's the easy part. We still need to choose a house, and there are lots of things we'd want to change in any of the “off the shelf” offerings. After signing the contract, brought it round to Curwen-Walkers, the conveyancer, to have them check the contract, then to Bunnings to look for “floating floor” tiles. They're not expensive—in fact, they're cheaper than carpet:


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But laying them is more expensive than the tiles themselves—we were quoted a range of $24 to $26 per m². It might still be worthwhile.

Then on to see Hotondo Homes, whom Bram Gunn had recommended and whom I had called on the phone yesterday. They don't have any display homes in Ballarat, but they have an office, and they had prepared a folder of brochures for me, notably including proper plans. At first sight they don't look bad, but we'll have to do a lot more checking to be sure.


Megameats: no thanks
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I was quite upset by the meat we got from Megameats a couple of weeks ago. The quality of the meat they gave us was instrumental in the failure of my last batch of sausages. Today we needed to make another batch, so off to Davis to buy the meat. But they didn't have any lamb shoulder, so reluctantly off to Megameats to buy it there. They had it with bone for $4.99 per kg, a surprisingly cheap price. Asked them to give it to me without the bone, which they did—and the package cost $9.99 per kilogram! Various excuses, including the work needed to remove the bone, but that's inexcusable. Took the package with bone. They're pretty much my last choice now.


Zhivago and Bindy
Topic: animals Link here

A few weeks back Yvonne met Zali, who's new in the area and who took a great liking to Zhivago. Yvonne gave her the address of Jeanette Lees in Shelford, and last week she bought Bindy, one of the bitches we were looking at last September, who also happens to be Zhivago's daughter. They're in Enfield, so off thither with Zhivago in the evening to let the dogs play a bit together:


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Zali and Steve moved to Enfield last October. We were talking about real estate agents, and Zali said “Whatever you do, don't have anything to do with Bernie Massey”. We burst out laughing—she didn't know that we were dealing with him. But isn't it amazing how many negative reports I've heard about him?


Piccola in mortal danger?
Topic: general, animals Link here

Today we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, so back home to prepare a good meal. Yvonne called the cats for feeding. Piccola frequently just doesn't come. But this time we heard her calling, feebly, from somewhere round the kitchen. Checked all the cupboards, fridge, even deep freeze, but couldn't find her. Gradually the calls became weaker, and finally they stopped altogether. Where was she? Dragged out a ladder and checked the roof. Not there. Our best guess was that she had been bitten by a snake and had dragged herself under the house to die, where we couldn't get her out. What a way to spend our anniversary! I was about to suggest we put the food away and keep it for another day, when I walked out and found Piccola in the best of health, having caught a rabbit about as big as she was. Presumably the faintness of the call was to avoid losing the rabbit.


Zhivago and rabbits again
Topic: animals Link here

Went in to the house to get my camera to take a photo of the rabbit, but he wasn't that badly incapacitated, and I came back to find him wobbling off into the garden. With a little bit of convincing we got Zhivago to follow him and catch him. I didn't get it on the camera, but I saw how he killed it. He shook it backwards and forwards and presumably broke its neck:


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Zhivago had already eaten, so we took the rabbit away from him after he had eaten about half of it. And of course it was really Piccola's catch, so I brought the remainder in and gave it to the cats. Lilac got stuck in, but Piccola didn't want to know:


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Friday, 22 March 2013 Dereel Images for 22 March 2013
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Yet more animals stuff
Topic: animals Link here

Yesterday I reported a surprising number of animal topics, but it wasn't all. Today Yvonne found a dead possum in Zhivago's cage:


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I wonder how it died.


House choice: Eureka!
Topic: general, multimedia, opinion Link here

Spent much of the day investigating more house-related things, without coming to much of a conclusion. The urgent thing to do now is to apply for a Planning Permit, but it looks like that won't be possible until Monday, and I'm still wondering whether to do it myself or to get somebody to do it for me.

One of the things we want is a “home theatre”, a room for watching projected TV. That's a significant cost, but it's a considerable part of our life, and it seems worth it. We've been using projectors for nearly 8 years, and we've got used to the big screen (2.5 m diagonal). But the image quality doesn't match that of LED TVs, and recently they've got much bigger. This week ALDI has a 58" (1.47 m) TV on offer for $888. That's about a quarter of the price of a new projector (and, coincidentally, a quarter of the screen size), but it is probably big enough. So: if we buy an LED TV (not necessarily the one from ALDI), we save a room. That seems to be a good tradeoff, especially since the trend is for LED panels to become bigger, and I can imagine that projectors for home use will gradually die out.


Insulation: in the stars
Topic: general, opinion Link here

One of the things I noted in the quote I got from McMasters the other day was “6 star insulation”. What does that mean? Went looking, found lots of web sites, and I still don't know. The main web site appears to be NatHERS, which says of itself:

NatHERS provides a framework that allows various computer software tools to rate the potential energy efficiency of Australian homes. NatHERS defines the minimum set of information that must be used by all software tools.

And here's me thinking it defined maximum energy loss from houses. They had lots of other links, including one that purported to talk about star ratings, but in fact said nothing at all beyond “Houses rated at 10 stars are considered thermally comfortable without the need for artificial heating and cooling.”. They had a link to another document, but it's broken. About the only document that gave any kind of information at all was Wikipedia, which suggests that a 6 star house will use less than a third of the energy of a one star house (the kind that was being built 15 years ago) and only about a seventh of the energy of a 0 star house (to which, I presume, our current house belongs).

That's all good news, but there seems to be a lot of misconceptions about house insulation. In particular, nobody talks about the floor, and discussing it on IRC, it became clear that people don't think about that. Australian houses still don't have double-glazing; is that because heat loss through the windows is still less than through the floor? I wonder what rating a modern German house would get.


Sausages, try 3
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Third attempt at Thüringer Rostbratwurst today, with the new sausage machine. The pork shoulder I bought yesterday weighed 1.438 kg. After removing the bone and skin, I had 1.163 kg of meat left over, along with 155 g skin and 118 g bone. That raises the effective price of the meat from $4.99 to $6.17 per kg, still a long way from the $10 that Megameats wanted yesterday.

This time I was more careful with my proportions, using almost exactly a 2:1 ratio of shoulder to belly, for a total weight of 1.75 kg. For that I used 5 g pepper, 4 g of caraway seed, 15 g of garlic, 35 g salt, and 2 g of marjoram. I had intended to use 4 g, but that's a lot of marjoram.

Filling the sausages with the new machine was a breeze! The only issue was avoiding overfilling them. But there was quite a bit left over. We gave up trying to force it into skins and made something akin to ćevapčići instead:


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And what did they taste like? Good, better than the first batch. At least part of that might be due to the use of freshly dried marjoram; I think what we used last time came to Australia with us 16 years ago, and it wasn't fresh then. But they burst again! It seems that we were lucky first time round. Reading this document (from the people who sold me the casings), it seems that there are many reasons why this could happen:

So there are a number of things to try, including the recommendation to grill them rather than to fry them in a pan. That is in fact the correct way to make them (“Rost” means “grill” in German). It looks like it'll be a while before we have our act really together. At least the flavour is better now.


Saturday, 23 March 2013 Dereel Images for 23 March 2013
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Allowed dogs: a graph
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Mail from Daniel Nebdal today, who was amused by my article about the number of greyhounds allowed on properties in the Golden Plains Shire. He wrote a little script to produce a graph:


Enfield property: what did we buy?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

More thoughts about planning permits this morning. Where do we put the house? Yvonne and I discussed the matter looking at maps on the computer. Yvonne suggested a place at the extreme north-west of the property, while I said what we had been looking at was in the middle of the property. After some discussion, it proved that we were both right, modulo definition of “property”. Here's the area round the entrance gate:


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The gate is pretty much across the road from the garage of the house on the other side:

 
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But looking on the map, we found that the border is far further to the south-east:


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It's difficult to show with Google Maps, because the property boundaries don't show on the “satellite” view, but a close-up reveals that the boundary line runs to the middle of the property on the other side of the road:

 
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And then we noted that the adjacent property is not the residential property to the north-west of the property we thought we bought: it was the property we thought we bought, with the boundary pointing at the road to the north-west (Briardale Ave, not marked here). In fact, what we had been viewing was two separate properties, only one of which we had bought.

How could we make that mistake? Certainly Bernie Massey didn't help, but he did send us plans of the property. Is that enough? Off to Enfield to take another look. To start with, there's no fence dividing the two properties. Looking round the location of the boundaries, found a junction in the fence with an interesting peg next to it:


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The second one is a wooden post about 5×5 cm and painted white. It's in the right place to be the boundary post. But it's a long way from the sign on the gate:


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My car is visible on the left of each image. It hadn't been moved between taking them. And that's where one of the two Harcourts signs is; the other is even further from the boundary post:

 
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The first two images are details from the second panorama above. To the best of my guessing, the gate is opposite the right-hand edge of the house opposite. At a guess, not overly helped by the inaccuracy of my GPS navigator, the boundary post is at -37.72561°, 143.80663°, the gate with the first sign is at -37.72493°, 143.80609°, 90 m away from the boundary post. The navigator somehow saved the wrong coordinates for the other sign, but it is probably another 50 m away. There were no signs at all on the property that was actually for sale.

So: yes, we signed a contract that clearly identified the property on paper. But there's a reason to view properties before you buy, and that's the important part of the decision. In this case, all signs that I could find were on the wrong property. And the brochure that they made available on the web also clearly shows parts of the adjoining property. Bernie also gave no indication that the property was smaller than what we saw. Even without all the nasty things other people have said about him, I find it difficult to believe that an estate agent can be that stupid; it smacks more of deliberate misrepresentation, possibly a criminal act.

What do we do? We're still thinking. We have until Monday evening, or maybe some time on Tuesday, to cancel the contract, and maybe we'll do that. Given the gravity of the error, it's possible that we could cancel it even after that date. But we could also reconsider the part of the property in the contract. Took a look around: it's much more densely wooded than the other half, and it would require a lot more work. We could no longer connect to the transformer I was thinking about, which is a long way from the real property, but there's another transformer on post 14616, so possibly the electricity connection would not cost any more. But we'd have to remove a number of trees. Took a photo of one potential site:


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After that, in to Ballarat to do further house research, then home.


Sunday, 24 March 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 24 March 2013
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Enfield: more evidence
Topic: general Link here

The photos I took yesterday show the location of the various places on the Enfield property, but it's not that clear how the gate lines up with the house on the other side, and the Harcourts is not as legible as I'd like. On the way into town, took two photos as close as I could get to 180° apart, in the process noting that mid-morning isn't the best light for that sort of thing:


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Lots of Borzois again
Topic: animals, general Link here

Into town to Yet Another Dog Show, where Ron Frolley and Stephen Zuidefeld were showing some of their dogs (Nigel, yet another Zhivago son, and Ginger). By the time we got there there was only the “best of breed” to do; Ginger was in that class, and if I understand it correctly, came runner up:


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We had Zhivago with us, and we were rather interested to see how he reacted to Ron (he was “his” dog before we got him). To our surprise, a very lukewarm reaction:


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They had a couple of people there who were interested in buying a Borzoi, Luke and Natasha Fraser, she from Belarus. They had also brought two other dogs: Tiga, whom we looked at and liked 6 months ago, and Zoe, who proves to be a litter mate of Zhivago. They were really very happy with the dogs, and it looks as if Ron will breed another litter, now that he has enough people interested in advance:


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We had been very taken with Tiga when we first saw him and Zhivago, and we took Zhivago mainly because he was more obedient. But looking at Tiga now, we both agree we prefer Zhivago.

Back home and had lunch, with a very interesting discussion. Ron has been around and had lots of interesting stories to tell; in particular, they match my own experience. After lunch out to take the dogs for a walk; unfortunately, only Zoe was allowed off the leash:


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Zoe and Zhivago ran around a bit, and Zhivago moved a lot more than he normally does. I think a second dog is what he needs to keep him more active:


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Back home, and Ron and Steve had to head off. Zhivago had gradually got round to being happy to see him, and after they packed the dogs away, Zhivago got quite confused, waiting outside the car to be let in:


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A pleasant afternoon, but somehow we're not used to heavy meals in the middle of the day, and we were pretty much out of whack for the rest of the day.


Monday, 25 March 2013 Dereel
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Batteries: finally
Topic: general Link here

To my extreme surprise, one shipment of the batteries that I bought on eBay 51 days ago finally arrived—via a slow boat from China? It would be tempting to think that batteries need to be sent by surface mail, but there was no indication that the content of the package was batteries. I wonder if the others will turn up.


Enfield: yes, no or maybe?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Called up Curwen-Walker's office (5331 3511) this morning as soon as they opened, spoke to Leeanne and told her the story of what had happened. It was rather amusing to hear a gasp from the other end when I said we had been sold the wrong property. Of course the contract will be cancelled, and I made an appointment to talk to John Curwen-Walker on Wednesday at 15:00.

Then decide to call Bernie Massey after all (5333 1144). He did a very good job of appearing surprised—maybe he was. He blamed the vendor for not showing the property to him, but said that he takes (I hope he meant “accepts”) responsibility for the error, and of course I would get a refund cheque for the deposit when I came in on Wednesday.

I still can't imagine an estate agent getting away with that kind of deception. And one thing is correct: neither property is identified on the online planning map. He said he had chosen the property next to property number 7, in the assumption that it was 5. It is, too, but what he signposted included the next property along, also unnumbered and next to the property identified with 29 (extreme top left corner; the numbers are barely visible until the image is enlarged):


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So maybe this is another case for Hanlon's razor.

I suggested that the price was too high for only half the property we had seen, but he said he that the price was based on the size of the land, not what he had seen; later he said that the price was what the vendor had required. The latter seems dubious. Normally the estate agent suggests a price that he thinks he can get, and the vendor decides whether it would be enough. At another point he said that the vendor hadn't been here in 25 years. I suggested that possibly the neighbour property belonged to the same person, but he knew it didn't—this after saying that he hadn't known that the neighbour property existed!

Spent some time preparing a Google Map of the locations of various components, not helped by the inaccuracy of Google Maps: the “satellite” and plan views are considerably different, and on the “satellite” view the boundary peg appears to be some distance from the road. My own measurements seem to be pretty much in agreement with the “satellite” view.

In the evening out to the property again to discuss it with Warrick Pitcher of Elaine Excavation, phone 0408 508 303, in the process noting that the “For Sale” sign had been relocated. He came up with lots of useful information, including about the location of the house, the background for the sewage treatment (it seems that the soil is not very absorbent, and the people in the small plots across the road started a class action suit against the council and won, so now the effluent goes off some long distance to be treated), and how Powercor connects electricity. We checked the boundary posts; I was right that the little white post was the boundary peg. There's no sewage connection on this property, only on plot number 3—another indication that this was once a single property.

It eventuates that clearing the trees is much cheaper than we expected—we could clear the entire forest in about 3 days, which would cost about $5,000. Removing a small tree would take about 5 minutes, including carting it off and putting it on a pile. A medium-sized tree, such as this one, would take half an hour, 5 minutes to remove and 25 minutes to cut up and cart off:


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An hour of work with the tools they use seems to come to between $160 and $200. Other things he could do were the septic tank and driveway. He wouldn't give us prices for the septic tank, since he does it with Marty Hendrix in Buninyong. He could do a 30 m driveway with turning corner, which with this soil would involve a fair amount of work and drainage. The drainage would cost about $1,200 to $1,600, and the driveway itself about $2,500. He gave us some insight into the planning process that were quite useful: we need to designate an envelope 50 m square in which the house and sheds will be built, and we may only clear trees in this area. He reckons he could clear that much in 5 to 6 hours. He also noted that we should have the property properly surveyed and the borders identified before purchase. It should also be clarified which party should draw the fence line between the properties; he recommended Derek (D & S) Morgan to do the work; apparently they live just round the corner.

All in all, a very useful discussion. One additional problem eventuated: March Flies. We have seen almost none this year, but a number gathered around us while we were discussing matters. Hopefully that's not a sign that they're more virulent here.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013 Dereel Images for 26 March 2013
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Getting a planning permit
Topic: general Link here

So we've established that the land in Enfield might still be worth the trouble. The two most important questions at the moment are: can we get a planning permit to build where we want on the property, and can we maybe subdivide our property in Dereel? I'll leave the latter matter to discuss with John Curwen-Walker tomorrow, but it sounded like a good idea to get somebody from the shire council out to take a look at the Enfield property. Called up on 5220 7111 and eventually got connected to Laura, who told me that they don't do that sort of thing, but suggested that it would probably be OK. She pointed me at clause 5217 of the Golden Plains Planning Scheme, which in particular allows removal of dead trees with a trunk diameter of less than 40 cm, so there shouldn't be too much difficulty.

Also a bit of information about the neighbour property: it hasn't been just recently divided, though there was some activity about 10 years ago, and it doesn't belong to the same people. Strange under those circumstances that there's only one boundary fence, there's no dividing fence, and there's only one sewage connection—possibly the fact that there's no dividing fence confused the sewage people too.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013 Dereel Images for 27 March 2013
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New TV
Topic: multimedia, opinion, technology Link here

Up early this morning and off to ALDI in Sebastopol to buy their special offer 58" TV, arriving just before they opened. A good thing to: they had about 9 of them, and they were all gone within about 5 minutes.

Back home after finally finding a way to transport it, and set it up. It's not just big, it's also heavy—38 kg if you believe the statement on the package. An amazing number of connections: 4 HDMI, VGA, even an Internet connection. The main issue was just moving stuff around, but I was able to connect teevee, my TV computer, to it with little difficulty. But that was at 1280×720. Getting it to work at 1920×1080 required reconfiguration, and when I tried it, I overflowed the screen boundaries. Why that? LCD panels should adapt automatically. Still, that's what xvidtune is for. But it wasn't installed. Tried installing it, bypassing ports hell and just installing it directly:

=== grog@teevee (/dev/pts/4) ~ 5 -> xvidtune
Unable to query monitor info

Looking at //var/log/Xorg.0.log, I found lots of:

(--) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0): Connected display device(s) on GeForce 210 at PCI:2:0:0
(--) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     SKYDATA S.P.A. BAUHN TV (DFP-1)
(--) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0): SKYDATA S.P.A. BAUHN TV (DFP-1): 165.0 MHz maximum pixel
(--) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     clock
(--) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0): SKYDATA S.P.A. BAUHN TV (DFP-1): Internal Single Link TMDS
(WW) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0): The EDID for SKYDATA S.P.A. BAUHN TV (DFP-1) contradicts
(WW) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     itself: mode "1920x1080" is specified in the EDID;
(WW) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     however, the EDID's valid HorizSync range (30.000-80.000
(WW) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     kHz) would exclude this mode's HorizSync (28.1 kHz);
(WW) Mar 28 10:25:52 NVIDIA(0):     ignoring HorizSync check for mode "1920x1080".

Yet anther device with broken EDID! Started playing around by hand and found another alternative: the TV configuration has a number of different interpretations of the signal (“Picture size”) with obvious things like aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3) and a couple of others that didn't make obvious sense. By default it was “Auto”, which appears to take a correct 1920×1080 signal and chop the edges off. There are a couple of others, notably “Scan”. That works fine for 1920×1080, but places smaller images, such as 1280×720, in the middle of the screen at natural scan rate. And then I discovered there's a second page of menu, with the selection “Full”, which expands the signal to full screen. Why hide it like that? It should be the default.

So: a fair amount of image resizing for my xterms and browsers, and the thing works reasonably well. Doubtless there's more tuning to come.

And then there's the issue of sound. The projector doesn't have a sound system, something I've never missed: I fed the sound into the HiFi system, which worked well. But now I have an HDMI connection and a TV with sound, I can connect to that. Or I should be able to. Looking at the dmesg output, I have:

pcm0: <HDA VIA VT1708S_4 PCM #0 Analog> at cad 0 nid 1 on hdac0
hdac1: HDA Codec #0: NVidia GT21x HDMI
hdac1: HDA Codec #1: NVidia GT21x HDMI
hdac1: HDA Codec #2: NVidia GT21x HDMI
hdac1: HDA Codec #3: NVidia GT21x HDMI
pcm1: <HDA NVidia GT21x HDMI PCM #0 DisplayPort> at cad 0 nid 1 on hdac1
pcm2: <HDA NVidia GT21x HDMI PCM #0 DisplayPort> at cad 1 nid 1 on hdac1
pcm3: <HDA NVidia GT21x HDMI PCM #0 DisplayPort> at cad 2 nid 1 on hdac1
pcm4: <HDA NVidia GT21x HDMI PCM #0 DisplayPort> at cad 3 nid 1 on hdac1

I still don't understand why there are so many pcm devices associated with the HDMI port, but I tried them all. Mplayer hung, and I had to shoot it down to get any reaction from the X session at all. Tried with mpg123 and got:

[audio.c:598] error: Error in writing audio (Invalid argument?)!
[mpg123.c:651] error: Deep trouble! Cannot flush to my output anymore!

What's causing that? Anyway, for the time being at least it looks like I'll stick with the amplifier, which almost certainly gives better sound.

And how is it? Smaller than the projector, of course, but the image quality is so much better.


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To watch the projector I needed to darken the room. The LCD screen is almost too bright, and I haven't found a way to change the brightness. I think it stays. Goodbye projectors.


Bushfire!
Topic: general, opinion Link here

It's unseasonably hot again. Yesterday the top temperature was 34.6°, and today it was 34.0°. But today there were strong north winds—ideal bushfire weather.

Yvonne back from shopping round 13:00, saying “That doesn't look at all good down Ferrers Road”. It proved that a bushfire had indeed broken out down there, though of course the web sites didn't know anything about it. The DSE web site and the CFA web site had nothing about Dereel, only “Warrambine, Corindhap, Barunah Park”. OK, we know Corindhap—it's about 7 km south of here. But where are Warrambine and Barunah Park? We did a big search on IRC, and I still don't know. Warrambine could be a bend in the road halfway from Rokewood to Shelford, but there's nothing convincing that we could find on the web, and it's possible it's a misspelling for something else. Barunah Park is on the map, but it's over 20 km from Dereel.

And of course we still can't follow the links for “more information”. Only this link for mobile devices works like that—up to a point. When the validity of the note expires, it doesn't just refresh to a new version: it displays a page saying that the information has expired, and gives a link to click if automatic redirection fails. Automatic redirection fails, and so does the link. You have to go back to the main page and start again.

In the course of the afternoon, the reports came thick and fast. After a while they started reporting Dereel instead of their non-existent locations. There was a relief centre in Rokewood, no, Linton. The location of the fire was 80 km north-west of Geelong, but then there was another one 30 km south-east of Linton. The first fire was travelling in a southerly direction, the second in a south-westerly direction. It's fairly clear that whoever (presumably two different hands) wrote these reports has little understanding of the terrain. Later in the evening the wind changed, and the fire (presumably re-)crossed Ferrers Road and was threatening Mount Mercer. But it was clear that the worst had passed, and that we had never been in any personal danger—in fact, apart from a bit of smoke in the distance, I didn't notice it personally at all. A far cry from the bushfire in Echunga six years ago, which was in fact further away.

As a result of the fire, the main BallaratColac road was blocked, and they diverted south-bound traffic via Rokewood Junction. The obvious place to do that would have been at the turnoff to Rokewood Junction Road, of course, but the police road block was about 500 m south at the junction of Ferrers Road and Swamp Road. Ferrers Road was blocked too, so they sent the traffic along Swamp Road, which turns into Kleins Road, where we live. As a result, we had lots of dust, almost as dense as the smoke on the other side of the main road, and lots of confused-looking people wondering where to go now. Went down to the road block—the whole Hall area looked like a fun-fair—and spoke to the policeman at the road block, who of course didn't know the area at all. It seems, though, that they had already been told, and were now sending people back to Rokewood Junction Road. I can understand that they didn't have the personnel to man a second block there, but couldn't they have put up a deviation sign?

The other interesting thing was the amount of news coverage it generated. It was even the main story on channel 9 news.

And of course, we got a number of phone calls asking if we were alright. The first was from a somewhat unexpected direction: Bram Gunn, estate agent extraordinaire. I was particularly touched by that one.


Thüringer Rostbratwurst vom Rost
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

After the problems we had with bursting sausages, tried a different approach today: don't prick them, and don't fry them: grill them. After all, that's the meaning of the term “Rostbratwurst”. It proved to take about 20 minutes in our grill oven on “high”, and the results are better, if not perfect:


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Two of them split, though both on the underside; it was on a metal tray. Possibly we should put them on something else, or grease the tray first. But they didn't open up the way previous ones did. And one of the sausages that split was from our first batch (the longer, thicker one second to the top), so there's nothing that we did wrong specifically with the last batch that caused them to burst—on the contrary, they seem to be less filled than the first batch. More experimentation needed.


Thursday, 28 March 2013 Dereel Images for 28 March 2013
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Bushfire: the day after
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Woke up to find that the bushfire in Ferrers Road had been anything but minor. It seems that many houses had been destroyed, though there were no reports of loss of life.

Via Facebook we discovered that there was a meeting in the Dereel Hall at 11:00, so up to listen to that. Not surprisingly, the place was packed, still with the fun-fair atmosphere of yesterday—in fact, it's a relief centre:


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In the Hall we had presentations by the various groups involved in the matter:


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We were given maps showing the extent of the fire:


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The real focus seems to be less Ferrers Road than Paynes Bridge Road, and notably Peter Dilley's house was pretty much in the middle of the area. I contacted him later and discovered that he had indeed lost his house, and that his dog had been killed too. He's now in Geelong with relatives. Somehow all of this is too close for comfort. Our own house is at the very top left of the detail (second) map. If the wind had come from the wrong direction, we could easily have been hit.

We were told that the fire had been contained, but conditions were still dangerous, and even residents weren't yet allowed back into the area. So my photos will have to wait.

There were rumours that it was arson. I asked whether that was the case, and the incident controller said that no cause had been identified yet.

The audience was surprisingly noisy. One had a screaming baby, at one point a mobile phone with an almost deafening ring tone went off, and the owner took at least 15 seconds to answer it, and then people started talking relatively loudly behind me. Turned around to glare at them, but couldn't identify them—just one person directly behind me, wearing a tie, who smiled wanly. I later discovered that he was the Premier of Victoria, Denis Napthine, whom I have never seen before, and whose name I still can't remember. It seems that he has only been in office for 22 days, but I can't recall hearing anything about it in the news. Somehow State politics takes a significant back seat compared to Federal politics.

He gave a pep talk and little else—until somebody complained about the lack of mobile coverage. His answer: “Yes, I'm aware of that problem. Victoria's a small state. It should have 100% mobile coverage. I'll get something done about it, and will discuss the matter with the Prime Minister”. Well, the real issue is well known, and I suspect it's too late to make any difference in that particular issue. In addition, I suspected that there's a difference between talk and results. But it seems that he did mean it seriously, as reported in this news article (which I think also shows the remains of Peter Dilley's house). It also has the Premier condemning arson, so it's looking increasingly like that. What drives people to do that sort of thing?

A number of people in that area had livestock, of course, mainly horses. It seems that the emergency management didn't have any good idea what to do with them. I offered to take some stock on our property, and was redirected to the appropriate person, who took me into another room where people were registering details. Not exactly well prepared: the girl who took my details first had to find something to write with.

One of the things that the CFA mentioned at the meeting was that they were concerned about the wind in the afternoon. So they should have been: it was the windiest day we have experienced:

mysql> select date, max_wind_gust from daily where max_wind_gust > 40 order by max_wind_gust desc;

+------------+---------------+
| date       | max_wind_gust |
+------------+---------------+
| 2012-09-23 |          56.4 |
| 2013-03-28 |          46.4 |
| 2011-09-03 |          42.5 |
| 2012-09-26 |          42.5 |
| 2013-03-21 |          41.7 |
| 2012-09-04 |          40.6 |
| 2012-09-05 |          40.6 |
+------------+---------------+

It appears that it was considerably windier six months ago, but at the time (round midday) we were in Melbourne to see a man about a dog.

Later in the evening I got a call about the livestock: had I found them yet, and did I have anywhere to put them? Clearly they hadn't accurately recorded what I had to say. And it seems that there are still people out there who need this kind of service.


Garden escapees
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

They've upgraded a strip of soil between the buildings of the Hall:


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Somehow they look like escapees from our garden—we have every single plant relatively prominently in our own garden.


Even more spam
Topic: technology Link here

Spam seems to be particularly bad at the moment. But when I started getting offers of Viagra (sent to an address that I only gave to Growmaster), I was puzzled. SpamAssassin should have filtered that out. Took a look at the headers: no headers from SpamAssassin. But it was running. What was wrong there? Decided to install the latest version, with some surprises:

===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-NetAddr-IP>=4.00.7 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-Net-DNS>=0.63 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-HTML-Parser>=3.46 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-libwww>=0 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-Encode-Detect>=0 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on package: p5-Mail-Tools>=0 - found
===>   p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8 depends on file: /usr/local/bin/perl5.14.2 - found
===>  Configuring for p5-Mail-SpamAssassin-3.3.2_8
NOTE: settings for "make test" are now controlled using "t/config.dist".
See that file if you wish to customise what tests are run, and how.

checking module dependencies and their versions...

***************************************************************************
ERROR: the required HTML::Parser module is not installed,
minimum required version is 3.43.

That was the first of many error messages. The FreeBSD dependency check found that p5-HTML-Parser was installed, but the perl dependency check found that it wasn't installed—a clear case of a port being removed incorrectly. This looks very much like more fallout from my upgrade of perl for the installation of LibreOffice last week.


TV IP configuration
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

More playing around with my new TV today. This is the first I've ever had with an Internet connection, and I was interested in what it could do. It has a main menu reminiscent of a computer display:


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That white window at top left is a window in natural size into the X display, showing nothing useful. But it has a web browser with an emblem reminiscent of firefox. Tried that, but I couldn't communicate with the global Internet. It had obtained an IP address via DHCP, amusingly enough 192.109.197.224, flachmann.lemis.com, but it didn't get a valid default gateway. I wanted a static IP anyway, so found my way through the menus to this:


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How do you set the IP address without a keyboard? Slowly and painfully. Clicking “OK” on the menu item gave me another, somewhat puzzling input menu:


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Class A? I want a class C address. And why this strange choice? Because they abused the word “Class” to mean “Octet”. To enter the address, I had to press the right arrow to increment the values of the individual octets—a total of 635 increments to get to 192.109.197.137. It would have been easier to decrement, but the interface doesn't provide for wraparound.

After that I was able to start a web browser, which defaulted to Google:


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How do you enter text? A slow-running commentary at the bottom of the screen tells you:

MENU keys-Open or close the soft keyboard

I tried that, but it didn't work for me. But what a horrible thought! This thing has a USB interface. If you really need to run a toy browser on the machine, you could at least connect a wireless keyboard. When I have time, I'll try.

Finally, for Callum Gibson, here's the remote control:


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Taking TV photos
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

The photo of the TV with surroundings proved to be a very difficult matter. The TV is so bright that the surroundings are almost unrecognizable. I had to merge two images to get anything useful, and even then the results were not spectacular:


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But those two component images are exposed fully 7 EV apart!


Friday, 29 March 2013 Dereel Images for 29 March 2013
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More TV stuff
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Finally got round to installing the new TV “properly”. It's still in the middle of the room, because the wall to the hallway is missing, and it looks pretty terrible. If we don't move house soon we may reconsider the location. But it works—almost. On one occasion I couldn't turn it on again. I had to power cycle it before it would turn on. I hope that doesn't happen too often. It's also clear that the screen illumination could be better: the corners are noticeably darker, though that's not obvious when viewing a film. Under the circumstances it's nice to know that I can take it back before the end of May with no questions asked. But I dread the thought of moving the thing again.

As planned, tried out a USB wireless keyboard on the thing. It works. But what a horrible interface! I think this must be some kind of browser for a mobile device (which the TV most definitely is not), chosen because it can work without a keyboard. Not for me.

Also did a little checking of what ports the device is listening on. HTTP. Not even HTTPS. Presumably that would change if it had to access an https URL.


Bushfire damage
Topic: general Link here

Now nearly all restrictions of movement in the area of the bushfire have been lifted. The only remaining one is a curfew in Paynes Bridge Road. Only residents are allowed in during the night, presumably as a precaution against looters. Today I set off to look at the damage done. It was quite depressing, and though I had intended to take lots of photos, I couldn't bring myself to do it. It felt like an invasion of the privacy of people who had lost everything. Although the fire was labelled “Ferrers Road”, Ferrers Road was in fact hardly involved—only a length of about 200 m on the south side:


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That in itself was interesting: it was the northernmost point of the fire, and it spread out south (along the wind direction) from there. That suggests that that's where the fire started, on the side of the road, not associated with any house. It's easy to see that that's consistent with arson.

As expected, the biggest damage was in Paynes Bridge Road, where just about every house had been involved. The image that went through the news, the one I thought could be the Dilley's house, was also of a house towards the southern end. And a house that Yvonne looked at six years ago also appears to be gone.

Up to take a look at the Dilleys' property. In previous times I had taken a couple of photos of the area:


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Now it looks like this:


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Saturday, 30 March 2013 Dereel Images for 30 March 2013
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More bushfire stuff
Topic: general Link here

The cleanup after the bushfire continues. They've opened a facebook page for people involved in any way, including donations. Clothes needed, it seems, and since we had lots of old stuff lying around, collected up a number of bags of stuff, much of it decades old, and took them down to the Hall. Looking at the amount they had there, I wonder if there isn't enough; after all, “only” 15 houses burnt down. Still, I suppose there's the question of finding stuff that fits.

Then on to take another look at the damage caused by the fire. Eighteen months ago I visited the Adekola family, who have since returned to England. I wonder if they would recognize this as being their house:


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I didn't see the house itself, but possibly it survived.

Then down Paynes Bridge Road again, and again didn't take any photos. Apart from the privacy aspect, it's quite difficult to find a place to get a good feeling for what it's like. In the end took a look back from Pinchgut Road:


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House search: one less candidate
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Our house search is on idle at the moment until we can evaluate whether we can subdivide our property; as a result of the bushfire, the earliest we can get any indication will be on Tuesday, when I intend to get advice on whether it's worth going to VCAT about the matter. Today I got a call back from David Major of Simonds, whom I had asked for a quote for modifications. We already have one from McMasters, so it should have been an easy comparison. And it was. We wanted windows in the garage instead of a garage door, since it is to become my office, and we wanted to put in hydronic (see, I can write it without “”) central heating. McMasters will do the former for no extra charge, and deduct the cost of their own (gas-fired) heating system for the latter. Simonds is more straightforward: they won't do either, at any price. OK, that simplifies the choice.


Facebook thinks for you
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I have a surprisingly diverse group of “friends” on Facebook—much of what scrolls past is written in scripts or languages that I don't understand. But Facebook sifts through this information and comes up with suggestions. On the Dereel 2013 Fire Help Page I get the following suggested members:

 
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You'd think that this were random, but no, it's always the same group of people. David Yeardley lives around the corner and would make a good member. That's probably a complete coincidence, because the others are so far from appropriate members that the mind boggles. Pam Hay is in Perth, WA, over 3,300 km away. And she's the closest. Lyndon Watts is a bassoonist in München, Camilla Sletbakk comes from Trondheim and lives in Brno, and Sudev Kombilath lives in Bangalore. How does Facebook come up with such ideas?


Sunday, 31 March 2013 Dereel Images for 31 March 2013
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Summer over?
Topic: general, gardening, opinion Link here

Today's the end of the first month of autumn. You'd hardly know it. In the garden, summer flowers are coming out, presumably held back by the extreme heat. This month was hotter than most summer months: maximum temperature 41.1°, average maximum temperature 30.7°. That's hotter than any February on my record, and a higher average than any December. And ten days with maximum temperatures over 33°, 8 of them consecutive. And to end it all a bushfire that claimed 16 houses. What a year!


Bushfires and mobile phones
Topic: general, opinion Link here

A number of people have now returned to homes less damaged by bushfires. A number of services are still out, notably power and telephones, it seems. And gradually a lack of coordination is becoming apparent. One post on Facebook refers to a policeman who took somebody back to her house and left her there with no car, no phone, and continuing residual fire activity. I'm not sure how accurate the report was, but another similar report went through Facebook, and it seems her only means of communication with the outside world was via the Internet. Hardly surprising that Wendy McClelland is particularly unpopular here at the moment.


Veggie patch: no thanks
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

The hot summer has kept me out of the garden for quite some time. My carefully weeded veggie patch looks as if I had never done anything:


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The (probably not so) carefully tied up tomatoes have collapsed, the birds have eaten lots of them, and even the ones that are edible don't taste noticeably better than the nice, clean uniform ones you buy in the supermarket. And as if to make fun of me, the tomatoes on the compost heap look better than any in the garden.

And then there are the potatoes. This time they look good, once I found them under the weeds. But that little clear patch in the middle on the left took me over 30 minutes to clear. Again, what's the point?


Xinerama for Hugin
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Hugin uses two separate windows, each capable of showing images. In one case, masking, it's useful to correlate the image in the mask window (left images) with the image in the fast preview window (right) to see the effects of the mask. In the following example I'm masking out my hand and checking that there are no gaps (shown in reddish-brown in the fast preview window):


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But although I have four monitors on my desk, Hugin can only display on one X display. I've tried to fix this programatically before with no success.

Today I tried again to get a TwinView display on a second X server. And again I failed:

(II) Loading extension NV-CONTROL
(WW) NVIDIA(0): Option "TwinView" is not used

Why? It's to leet to say. But then there's Xinerama. Tried that, and it worked out of the box. Now I have a single display over 4 monitors:

screen #0:
  dimensions:    8320x1440 pixels (2270x385 millimeters)

That's still only 11,980,800 pixels, many of which fall off the bottom of the monitors, but even with them it's less than that of my camera. Roll on high-definition monitors.

I hadn't really wanted to have more than two monitors joined together: programs that randomly place windows are a problem, because you never know where the window might appear. But Hugin has other windows, such as the control point window with its refusal to go away, so it's good to be able to put it on a third monitor. And this strange X bug puts Emacs even further off the screen:

 
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Strangely, one thing doesn't work: the Hugin fast preview window displays no image on monitor number 2 (the one with 2560×1440 resolution). Move the window right from monitor 1 across monitor 2 to monitor 3, and that part of the image on monitor 2 disappears, only to reappear on monitor 3. It's not the size: on server 0, where it's a separate screen, things work well. Not a big problem, since I can put the window on the first monitor, but puzzling.


Rearranging the lounge room
Topic: general Link here

The new TV will almost certainly stay, but it's not the prettiest sight, particularly from the hall:


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The trouble is that the room has a fireplace. That was once not a problem in the days where it also had a wall to the hallway, but now there's only a single uninterrupted wall in the room. Spent some time thinking, and finally decided to move everything through 90°, putting our armchairs there and the TV up against the fireplace:


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It's not ideal, but it's better, and probably the best we can do in this house. Everything is complicated by the layout! I never thought it could be that difficult.


SBS: We can do worse!
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I've complained about the SBS web site on numerous occasions, for example here. Most of it, though, has been related to markup breakage, and nine years ago I even gave it slight praise for presenting programme information where the other channels were content with presenting titles. Now, though, they've succumbed to the modern “appearance over content” syndrome. Here's the old and the new information for the evening of 27 March 2013:


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Here's a single programme description:


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Yes, the old one is far plainer than the new one. Is that a problem? Apart from the fact that the new markup looks untidy, where has all the content gone? Behind a link, of course—you have to click on the link for Every Single Programme of interest. What good is that? I used to look at the SBS programme because sometimes MythWeb doesn't always get things right. But what a comparison:


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So: SBS has made their web site useless to me. Bravo!


Find your Unicode symbol
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Found this site somewhere today. Nice idea: you draw in a symbol and it tries to find a matching Unicode character.


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