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May 2011
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Sunday, 1 May 2011 Dereel Images for 1 May 2011
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Autumn with a vengeance
Topic: gardening Link here

The mild autumn weather stopped abruptly with the change of month:

Click to see larger image

That was coupled with rain, so did almost nothing in the garden. Hopefully I'll find time to regain the momentum of the last few days.


Cannibal rats
Topic: general, animals Link here

Today my rat trap paid off, also confirming that yes, indeed, the noise from the roof was made by rats and not some other animal. But once again the rat was horribly mutilated, and again I've put the photos on a different page. It looks like another rat had eaten large parts of the dead one.


Refining panorama processing
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Yesterday's panorama photo of the verandah wasn't quite as good as usual; I suspect that hugin chose some inappropriate control points. It's surprising how different the automatic control points are from the ones I would have chosen. Normally I would have refined it, but I had other experiments in store.

In particular, lens distortion must be an issue in the matter, and I can compensate for that with DxO Optics "Pro". In addition, there are possibilities to do the HDR processing directly with hugin, and I could do all the processing in 16 bit mode.

Started by creating some JPEGs of the images:

DxO `grep verandah-centre makejpeg | sed 's: .*::; s:JPG:ORF:'`

makejpeg is the file that I create with a mapping between camera image name (first the camera name, then my own). DxO is a script that then links them to a new, empty directory and allows me to start the DxO application against it.

That wasn't enough, though: DxO insists on remembering the previous things I have done. They're done, dammit! But after I processed the JPEGs, I was confronted with (partial window):

 
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Now I would have had to choose every second image, 72 times. What a pain! Moving the JPEG images out of the directory didn't help; DxO knows better. Still, I was able to change to a different directory (click) and back again (click), and the images were no longer there. But I still wasn't out of the woods. DxO claimed that the images had already been processed, and refused to do it again:

 
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Finally I deleted all “projects”, in the process also deleting any other settings. It seems that there's an easier way: select “New Project”, not from the “Project” tab (that would be too easy) but from the “File” tab. But that probably means that it will accumulate lots of useless cruft in some unexpected place.

Then moved on to hugin. The panorama consists of two rows of 12 views each (spaced at 30°), and each view consists of 3 images bracketed 1 EV apart, a total of 72 images. My current technique is to merge the images for each view using align_image_stack and enfuse, but hugin has its own HDR functionality, so tried it directly, rather stupidly with the TIFFs (total size a little over 5 GB). That sort of worked, though the preview image looked funny:


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Selected HDR, which greatly improved the preview image:


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Went off to do something else. Came back and found:

May  1 17:18:54 dereel kernel: pid 51513 (hugin), uid 1001: exited on signal 6 (core dumped)

The last thing I want to do is analyze that, so tried again with JPEG. This time it started stitching, but there was still no joy:

Loading next image: 00-710017.tif
Creating blend mask: 1/6 2/6 3/6 4/6 5/6 6/6
Optimizing 0 distinct seams.
Strategy 2:

enblend: an exception occured
Mask is entirely black, but white image was not identified as redundant.
gmake: *** [00-71.tif] Error 1

Looking at that output, it was at image 17 of 72. I've seen this kind of message before, and I suspect that it relates to the dynamic range in some strange manner. But for the moment, this approach seems to be a dead end.


Nemo and the kangaroos
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne out in the paddocks with Nemo today, when he saw a mob of about 20 kangaroos. Despite all our calls, he went off after them into the lagoon. Not for the first time. The problem is that it's very dangerous. If he catches a kangaroo, it will probably kill him. Spent some time considering what to do, but so far we don't have much of an idea. I suppose it might help to make it more difficult for him to get through the fences.


Royal wedding
Topic: general, opinion, multimedia Link here

Somewhere in the background I had heard that there would be a wedding in the British Royal Family, and gradually I heard more details. The one that annoyed me most was that the planned ABC programme “The Chaser's Royal Wedding Commentary” had been canned, apparently by Prince Charles, who proves to be the father of the groom. Prince Charles spent some time at school in Australia, but as the commentator in The Age said, “unfortunately, Charles missed the classes on the Australian sense of humour.”

So I wasn't really very interested in the proceedings, unlike Yvonne, who (noblesse oblige?) was quite interested and recorded a number of programmes, but surprisingly not the wedding ceremony itself. This evening, by chance, we found that a recording ostensibly of something completely different on Channel 9, notorious quick change artists, was in fact the end of the wedding ceremony, starting shortly before the exchange of vows, and we decided to watch it.

Things have come a long way since I last watched something like this (coincidentally the wedding of Prince Charles 30 years ago). This was in impeccable 1080i, which was completely adequate in view of the relatively slow movements. I was educated at King's College, Taunton, a High Church school, and as a music scholar (strictly “exhibitioner”), I was involved in the chapel choir. Though I'm not Christian, I enjoy the ceremonies, in much the same way as people can enjoy fairy tales without believing in them. And this was a very impressive High Church scene.

But the actors! It was bad enough when Prince Charles messed up his lines at his own wedding, but Prince William barely got his lips apart to say “I will”. And when reading out the vows, they had to be prompted phrase for phrase for the “With this ring I thee wed, With my body I thee worship honour, With all my worldly goods I thee endow All my worldly goods I with thee share”. Those are words that most people know by heart. At least Prince William, as a public personality, should have better presentation skills than that.


Monday, 2 May 2011 Dereel Images for 2 May 2011
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Another rat gets away
Topic: animals, general Link here

Woken up this morning by a sudden bang on the roof, followed by a lot of less violent banging. Clearly a rat had got caught in the trap. Gradually the banging died down as the rat died.

Later up on the roof. Yes, the trap had been sprung, but there was no rat: it must have been able to escape. Somehow these traps don't seem to be strong enough to kill a rat outright.

In the evening, Piccola was showing great interest in the under-floor vents for the gas-fired heating, which we don't use. There must be mice down there, so set up some traps, and managed to fire one on my finger. Not a nice feeling, but not much more than that, certainly no wound or bruise. A mousetrap is a small version of a rat trap, and I get the feeling that they're all too weak.


Panoramas with images processed by DxO
Topic: photography, technology Link here

My previous attempts at making HDR panoramas were less than successful, but they didn't really have anything to do with DxO Optics "Pro". Today tried the old method, up to a point: my way of creating HDR images wasn't very portable, so first updated the HDR script to optionally group the images into a specific number of images of the same view, allowing me to create multiple HDR mapped images from a list of arbitrary names.

Did that, and got worthwhile results. Here the verandah panorama from the weekend, and then the one done today. They look pretty much the same until you look at the details. The new one is still not perfect, but the discontinuities are considerably less. The dynamics are also better in the second (DxO) image, as the mouseover comparison of the first image shows:


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There's still more to do, notably playing around with 16 bit intermediate images. But it's slow, and it uses amazing amounts of memory.


More garden progress
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's better again, and both of us out into the garden. One good thing about lots of weeds is that when you take pull them out, you have something to show for it. I started the middle bay of the compost heap only a couple of days ago:


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The north bed looks so different that we're reconsidering what to plant in it. No decisions made yet.


Royal Wedding, continued
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Watched the rest of the Royal Wedding today, or as much as we could stand. It was from Channel 9, not our choice, and once they started leaving the cathedral we got a commentary so nauseatingly superficial that we turned off the sound. Callum Gibson had suggested that Prince William's mumbled “I will” might have been due to the poor recording equipment, and that's possible, but it certainly wasn't delivered in the fashion you'd expect of a person of that stature. And the couple chose a prayer to say at the end of the ceremony—and let one of the celebrants, I think the Bishop of London, read it out!

The whole thing looked badly prepared and disinterested from start to finish. About the only person who behaved in the manner I would have expected was Philip of Greece, who despite his 90 years was the kind of presence I would have expected of everybody, not people yawning, going to sleep or scratching their noses:


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The procession to the Palace was also not what I would have expected. The front right horse pulling the carriage was continually turned to the left, somewhere a horse escaped (lost its rider? We didn't see him). It's visible in the middle of the rear guard behind the carriage in the first image, and on the bottom left in the second. Coming to the end of The Mall three riders were supposed to be trotting (I think), but only the front two were, while the one at the rear was in a canter. Judging by the way he rode, he was just having difficulties with his horse:


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All in all, a bit of a shambles. Are royal events always like that? I can't recall it in the past. I'll have to get the recordings of previous events and compare.


My cousin is dead!
Topic: general, opinion Link here

The real news of the day, though, was that Barack Obama reported that Osama bin Laden is dead, giving many opportunities for misinterpretation. Here a screen shot from ABC News:


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I'm surprised: I had personally thought that he had been dead for years. But the Americans are over the moon, as if the death of one person in the background would make that much difference. They've promised to display his corpse, which under the circumstances sounds like a very good idea.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011 Dereel Images for 3 May 2011
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Under the weather
Topic: general, gardening Link here

The weather is cool and moist again, and for some reason I didn't feel very well. Had planned to go into town today, but cancelled that and stayed at home watching TV instead. The moisture was enough that I didn't do more than a little token pottering in the garden.


O[bs]ama: conspiracy theory
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Only yesterday I was saying:

They've promised to display his corpse, which under the circumstances sounds like a very good idea.

And then I read an ABC news item where the US claim that they had buried him at sea “in accordance with Islamic tradition” (which forbids burial at sea).

What kind of nonsense is that? Until yesterday, I had assumed that Osama was dead. Then Obama comes and claims that he has just been killed, an enormous coup for him (Obama) at the beginning of his reelection campaign. His announcement was fitting: bringing the terrorist attacks of 10 years ago into the foreground, emphasizing the tear-jerks. And now, conveniently, they've disposed of his body. You don't have to be very cynical to have your doubts there. Doubtless Obama is a better man than his predecessor, and he has a better understanding of the world outside the USA, but he's still in charge of a military might with people and views whom I (and not only I) distrust. You can't argue the burial away with the argument that he couldn't be buried anywhere on land: after the identification they could still bury him at sea, or blast him out into space. That would be more in keeping with the American military. As it is, they have a serious credibility issue.


Panoramas made with TIFF images
Topic: photography, technology Link here

More work on panoramas today. As planned, tried making the verandah panorama from TIFFs images instead of from JPEGs. The results were surprising:


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Moving the cursor over the image switches from the JPEG-based panorama (cursor off) to TIFF-based one (cursor on). I can't see any difference apart from a slight difference in framing. hugin reports two values for control point alignment, the mean error and the maximum, both in pixels. They were:

Image       mean       max
      error       error
Out-of-camera       2.3       84.6
DxO JPEG       2.1       7.0
DxO TIFF       2.7       14.3

That's surprising, to be investigated yet further. I'm assuming that the maximum error with the out-of-camera images was due to distortion, but why should the results with TIFF be worse than the results with JPEG? I'd assume that the image geometry is the same. Maybe it has something to do with the strange way hugin chooses control points.


Time to rearrange the furniture
Topic: general Link here

We've been living here nearly 4 years now, and in that time we've come to terms with the strange layout of the house. Click on the plan to enlarge it and make it legible:


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With the exception of the bedrooms, everything is open, and many rooms are long and thin. We set up the lounge room at the other end of the house, in a room that was rather narrower than we would have liked (bottom left on the plan, marked “RUMPUS”). Here's what it looked like without furniture, when we moved in:


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But it had the advantage that it was more easily darkened for the projector, while there are all sorts of windows round the other lounge room (marked “LIV”), which we've been using as a “music room” almost since moving in (the second photo was taken on 9 October 2007):


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As usual, the plan isn't completely accurate. The door to the bedroom in the middle of the eastern side is opposite the door of the room marked “STUDY”, and the possibility we're thinking of at the moment is to use the lounge room and project on that part of the wall visible from the lounge room. The main issue is blocking off the light from the skylight above the hallway, which also shows the section of wall:


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It would nice to be able to use the room marked “DIN” as a dining room, but it's only 2.7 m wide, and it's really cramped. We've already had fun trying to use it like that:


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So the current plan is to move the big table (currently not in use) into the old lounge room, where it will be big enough. That'll keep us busy.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011 Dereel Images for 4 May 2011
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Time for new hardware
Topic: technology Link here

Recently, while processing some photos, discovered some processes were crashing. Looking at top showed me:

Mem: 2280M Active, 203M Inact, 370M Wired, 85M Cache, 112M Buf, 49M Free
Swap: 3072M Total, 3063M Used, 9412K Free, 99% Inuse, 2372K In, 1012K Out

That's telling me that, in addition to 3 GB of main memory (the maximum my i386 machine can address), I'm using another 3 GB of swap and running out, and I'm also paging heavily. I clearly need more memory, but the only way I can use it is to migrate to amd64. That's as simple as installing a 64 bit version of FreeBSD, so I'll probably do it.

Did some investigation and discovered, to my surprise, that my current machine is 2½ years old, and since then people have moved from DDR2 to DDR3 memory, which of course is cheaper. Considered the alternative of replacing the machine, but it's more money than I want to spend right now, so it looks like I'll buy another 2 2 GB DIMMs and replace one of the 1 GB DIMMs, giving me a total of 6 GB—still not as much as I would like.

But what memory speed? When I bought the hardware, I went through a lot of trouble investigating, but unfortunately I didn't write everything down. So went to the AMD web site to see what they recommended—and found nothing! The only references were very superficial specifications. There used to be much more, and it's probably still there, but there are no links, and nothing I can find on Google helped. Finally Daniel O'Connor found a document on Gigabyte's Russian mirror, but that just gave a list of memory chips that had been tested with my motherboard. About the only indication is that the motherboard only handles one DDR2 1067 DIMM per channel, and mine are all the same. In the end gave up and relied on memory: I think it's DDR2 800. Why are these things so difficult to find?


DxO improves your image
Topic: photography, technology Link here

While working on some old photos, found the collection for my 60th birthday party (coincidentally about the same time I built the “new” machine). They didn't look too good, and on investigation it seems that I had taken them only in raw format and converted to JPEG with ufraw. At the time I had had some problems with those conversions, and so it seemed a perfect example to use DxO Optics "Pro" on.

Ran through that, taking over an hour again, and somehow ending up with TIFF output—one of the settings I gave stuck, and I forget how to reset it. I wish these packages would only save settings when you ask them to. Spent some time running cursors over illegible icons, only to discover that the description popped up under the cursor arrow (something that I can't capture from the screen). Finally got the images, and... I couldn't see much difference between the images.

On the other hand, I've already seen how difficult it is to compare different renditions of the same image, even when they're side by side. That's why I developed the mouseover compare technique, where you can swap the images in place. Cursor over the following image shows the old one (ufraw), cursor off shows the new one (DxO):


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Now it's clear that DxO shows a great improvement. It looks as if it's worthwhile after all. If only it wasn't so emetic to use.


Topic: gardening Link here

It's cool again, and I didn't feel like doing much, but Yvonne wanted to get rid of the dead hops, so out to lend her moral support. When we installed the original wooden beds in the eastern garden about 3 years ago, we planted some spring-flowering bulbs—Narcissus, I think—in one of them. After removing all the weeds, I found them still there, and having multiplied nicely:


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After separating them (far too late in the season, but what can you do?) I ended up with 32 bulbs, a couple damaged enough that they might not survive:


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Planted half of them, along with another 3 that I had found elsewhere. The rest will have to wait until tomorrow.


Thursday, 5 May 2011 Dereel Images for 5 May 2011
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Catching the rats
Topic: general, animals Link here

Yvonne off shopping today, and I asked her to bring back some rat traps and peanut butter. I suppose it's indicative of how far our lifestyle deviates from the mainstream that she didn't know what peanut butter was. She didn't much like the smell when I showed it to her. Still, it's for the rats, not for her.

Up on the roof, we finally had some success, a rat as long as the trap:


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Took it down and gave it to Lilac, who couldn't eat it all:


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Showed the rest to Piccola, who wasn't very interested, though she did later drag it behind the barbecue and ultimately left it there:


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The new rat traps look more sturdy. We'll see how well they work. They're clearly designed by somebody with no understanding of mechanics:


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The hook on the latch is intended to hook on the bait, but on the new traps it's at the wrong end of the latch, closer to the pivot. Still, I don't need the catch for peanut butter, so it shouldn't make any difference.


Preparing to move the lounge room
Topic: general, multimedia Link here

While up on the roof, attached some cardboard to the outside of the skylights in the hallway, with the result that the illumination on the new screen dropped from 20 Lux to about 0.1 Lux. That's more than enough.

Prepared to move the equipment until I realised that I had forgotten the audio equipment. That's not much work, but enough to think about. Maybe tomorrow.


The remaining daffodils
Topic: gardening Link here

Again the weather was cool, so didn't do much outside. Planted the remaining daffodils; hopefully they'll come good.


Friday, 6 May 2011 Dereel Images for 6 May 2011
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Rats escape
Topic: animals, general Link here

I put out three rat traps last night. All went off. All of the rats escaped. What a pain! Still, I suppose they're getting used to the things, so sooner or later we'll catch them.


Technical terms for rat traps
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Had a long discussion about the rat traps with Edwin Groothuis, whose native language isn't English, and had some difficulty describing them to him. Somehow it's not clear what terminology I should use.

A good start is of course Wikipedia, but the page on rat traps doesn't go into very much detail. There's more information on the mouse trap page. It takes a bit of reading to come to some conclusion. I'll refer to these photos of the trap at rest and “armed”:


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The trap has a wooden base, on which the other components are mounted. On the right a metal strip is mounted on a pivot. The bait is placed on this strip, which I call “trigger”, and which Wikipedia calls “trigger” or “trip”. It usually contains a notch for attaching solid food. In the middle is a spring-loaded rotating bar, which is held in place by the pin on the left until the rat pushes the trigger down.

Somehow this whole description sounds messy. How can I express it better?


USPS and tracking
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I've had things sent by United States Postal Service before. Even the cheapest form, “First Class International”, offers what they call tracking, as I discovered a couple of years ago. On that occasion I received a lens in record time—only 6 days. It had the tracking ID LJ 237 183 639 US. Their tracking service tells me that they're still waiting for the shipper to bring the package to them.

When I bought my panorama head last week, the seller offered a better quality of USPS shipping, “Priority Mail International”. At the time I decided that it couldn't harm to get it even faster, so paid the extra. He got it to the post office in record time, and the tracking seemed to work. Until last Friday, when it left Chicago and disappeared from view.

That was 6 days ago, and despite the more expensive rating, it has already taken considerably longer than the last USPS package. Has something gone wrong? Did they entrust it to idiots like UPS to deliver it this end? Did some investigating and found a number for USPS: 1-800-222-1811, which I can't call from here. Asked a friend in the US to call them for me, and in the process looked at the tracking page again. It arrived in Australia yesterday:

Out of Foreign Customs, May 05, 2011, 4:16 pm, AUSTRALIA
Into Foreign Customs, May 05, 2011, 4:10 pm, AUSTRALIA
Arrived Abroad, May 05, 2011, 4:10 pm, AUSTRALIA
International Dispatch, April 29, 2011, 4:41 pm, ISC CHICAGO IL (USPS)
Arrival
Processed through Sort Facility, April 28, 2011, 2:09 am, MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55401
Electronic Shipping Info Received, April 27, 2011
Acceptance, April 27, 2011, 11:47 am, MINNETONKA, MN 55345

I suppose you have to put up with the upside-down chronology, but at least it's there. They don't say where in AUSTRALIA it landed, but I presume it was Melbourne or Sydney, both UTC+10. Chicago is currently UTC-5. So it arrived 5 days, 8½ hours after leaving Chicago. Where has it been? At least it got through Customs quickly, 6 minutes after arrival. So it should be here on Monday. That's nearly 2 weeks, much worse than my last experience.


Rearranging the lounge room
Topic: general, multimedia Link here

Continued with the rearrangement of the lounge room, which didn't take too long, though getting used to the new arrangement will take longer. About the only surprise was the location of the projector, still provisional. It'll get mounted on a shelf above the window, but I first tried to put it on the same strange stand (from a bedside table arrangement) that I had it on before. That was never very satisfactory, but now it's on carpet, not boards, and it was very wobbly. Went looking and found an old wooden sideboard that Yvonne had bought 20 years ago, somewhat against my wishes. It had had tarnished metal wheels, which I removed relatively soon after purchase, and since then it's just been a side table. But it's the ideal size for the Hi-Fi components, something that I've been looking for for years. It'll stay for that after the projector is relocated:

 
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And how is the new room? Cramped at the moment, of course: the cupboard on the left needs to be relocated to the old lounge room, which will become a dining room.


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After that I can move the Hi-Fi components to the wall, and we'll have another metre of width. That will also allow us to increase the size of the display, which is currently limited by the edge of the cupboard. That's a good thing, too: one unexpected issue is that I can no longer read the text on xterms on the screen. Previously the screen was 3.5 m away, and now it's 5 m. In the meantime I'll have to choose larger fonts.


Saturday, 7 May 2011 Dereel Images for 7 May 2011
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Panoramas with DxO
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Photo day again today. The first Saturday of the month is special, since I take a few more photos than normal, and managed to just about completely fill up an 8 GB memory card. Decided to process the raw images with DxO Optics "Pro", and after fighting my way through the windows, was presented with the information that the conversion (415 images) would take 6 hours, 20 minutes.

Let that run and tried stitching them together from the JPEGs, intending to catch up with the real images later. That proved to be more work than I wanted, since many of them required masking. I need to look at the bleeding edge version of hugin to see whether they've fixed the mask handling. Currently it's painful. Wouldn't it be nice to have a mask that you could invert and apply to another image, so that you could put an image together exactly out of two partial images taken from the same position. As it is, I found it a little easier to take a screen shot of the mask on the first image of a pair with xv, and use that to set the second mask. Still not what you'd call computer-assisted.

That got to be enough work that I gave it up and waited for the DxO run to finish. I think I'm going to have to do this in batches, one photo at a time, so DxO can do its thing in the background while I process the ones it has finished. Started doing that and found that the treatment of EXIF data is very irritating: it doesn't keep them, and when I use exiftool it doesn't seem to copy the Maker Notes, so I don't get the crop factor in the data, and I have to enter it manually. I think I'll fake something when copying the data.

That wasn't the only problem: I ran out of swap, and X crashed Yet Again. In the end had to give up with only a couple of panoramas completed. Next week should be less of a stress.


Tidy rats
Topic: general, animals Link here

Into the garden shed this morning to see what had happened to the rat trap. A rat had cleaned it:


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It had cleaned all the peanut butter off the trigger without setting the trap off. What a pain! The weather was pretty cool, so didn't bother going up onto the roof. I really need to find another way to catch them.


A new dining room
Topic: general Link here

When we left Wantadilla, we also lost our dining room. Chris Yeardley got the table, because it was too big for anywhere in this house. But with our rearrangement, we had a room available where we could put one of our old conference tables from the KfW. Did that today. It's still looking pretty bare, but things will change when we move the cupboard in.


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Inaugurated the room with a fondue de fromage.

Now we need to find a place to put all the junk. We've already commandeered the guest room for my photo stuff. The bed is now up against the wall, and when we have guests we'll have to remove the photo stuff and erect it again.


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That's not much more work than making the bed, so it should be bearable. But why do we have so much difficulty finding place? It's a big house, and there are only the two of us here.


Sunday, 8 May 2011 Dereel Images for 8 May 2011
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Bleeding edge Hugin
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Continued with my panorama processing today, and it took me until midday to complete—a day later than normal. This mask processing adds a lot to the time, as of course does DxO Optics "Pro".

Clearly time to investigate the development version of hugin. That's in a Mercurial repository, and it was relatively straightforward to get a clone. Building was another matter. It uses cmake, a program with which I haven't been able to make friends, and according to the somewhat confusingly named instruction file INSTALL_cmake, building is as simple as

cmake -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=/usr/local .
make
make install

That didn't even get started: it couldn't find wxWidgets:

CMake Error at /usr/local/share/cmake/Modules/FindPackageHandleStandardArgs.cmake:91 (MESSAGE):
  Could NOT find wxWidgets (missing: wxWidgets_FOUND)
Call Stack (most recent call first):
  /usr/local/share/cmake/Modules/FindPackageHandleStandardArgs.cmake:252 (_FPHSA_FAILURE_MESSAGE)
  /usr/local/share/cmake/Modules/FindwxWidgets.cmake:831 (FIND_PACKAGE_HANDLE_STANDARD_ARGS)
  CMakeLists.txt:154 (FIND_PACKAGE)

Neither could I. You'd think that you'd have a port called wxWidgets or some such, but the closest I came was /usr/ports/x11-toolkits/p5-Alien-wxWidgets. But then I found, in /usr/ports/graphics/hugin/Makefile (the real hugin port):

CMAKE_ARGS= -DwxWidgets_CONFIG_EXECUTABLE=${WX_CONFIG}

Clearly there's some magic there. Added a target to the Makefile to print out CMAKE_ARGS, and was surprised to find:

 cmake -DwxWidgets_CONFIG_EXECUTABLE=/usr/local/bin/wxgtk2u-2.8-config -DCMAKE_C_COMPILER:STRING=cc -DCMAKE_CXX_COMPILER:STRING=c++ -DCMAKE_C_FLAGS:STRING=-O2 -pipe  -fno-strict-aliasing -DCMAKE_CXX_FLAGS:STRING=-O2 -pipe -fno-strict-aliasing  -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX:PATH=/usr/local -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE:STRING=Release -DTHREADS_HAVE_PTHREAD_ARG:BOOL=YES -DCMAKE_THREAD_LIBS:STRING=-pthread -DCMAKE_USE_PTHREADS:BOOL=ON -DCMAKE_EXE_LINKER_FLAGS:STRING=-pthread -DCMAKE_VERBOSE_MAKEFILE:BOOL=ON .

That failed too, for more normal reasons: it wanted a newer version of libpano13 than I had installed. Mañana.


More TV reception problems
Topic: multimedia Link here

It's been nearly two weeks since I had more than sporadic problems with TV reception, but today it hit back badly. Two recordings were had corruption bad enough to kill the recoder:


Recoding 2008_20110507192700.mpg (Shrek-the-Third-2011-05-07-1927)
Mux rate: 15.64 Mbit/s
2011-05-08 14:43:21.649 20.2% complete
2011-05-08 14:43:23.683 Frame 7 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 1266652820
2011-05-08 14:43:23.699 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 1266734600
2011-05-08 14:43:23.733 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 1267122068
2011-05-08 14:43:23.765 Frame 11 > 5. Corruption likely at pos: 1267771420
2011-05-08 14:43:23.852 Frame 22 > 21. Corruption likely at pos: 1267844364
2011-05-08 14:43:23.983 Increasing ringbuffer size by 1328120 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:23.995 Increasing ringbuffer size by 207720 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:23.997 Increasing ringbuffer size by 483440 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:24.037 Frame 12 > 11. Corruption likely at pos: 1268438632
2011-05-08 14:43:24.052 Increasing ringbuffer size by 1339210 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:24.055 Increasing ringbuffer size by 1339210 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:24.079 Increasing ringbuffer size by 387880 to avoid deadlock
2011-05-08 14:43:26.740 22.0% complete
2011-05-08 14:43:36.807 25.5% complete
2011-05-08 14:43:41.405 Deadlock detected.  One buffer is full when
                the other is empty!  Aborting

This was recorded from WIN on tuner 1 (the default). Once again the errors seemed to be concentrated over a small part of the film, though the subsequent abort made it difficult to be sure. But looking at the image suggests that that was the only problem. This film started and finished:

2011-05-07 19:27:02.282 Started recording: Shrek the Third: channel 2008 on cardid 1, sourceid 2
2011-05-07 22:00:00.561 Finished recording Shrek the Third: channel 2008

That means that the errors would have corresponded to the time frame 19:57 to 20:01. Then there was another that went completely mad:

Recoding 2006_20110508115700.mpg (Trail-of-the-Pink-Panther-2011-05-08-1157)
Mux rate: 5.34 Mbit/s
2011-05-08 15:51:06.097 12.5% complete
2011-05-08 15:51:07.029 Frame 6 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 812827400
2011-05-08 15:51:07.063 Frame 18 > 16. Corruption likely at pos: 812892072
2011-05-08 15:51:07.222 Frame 7 > 6. Corruption likely at pos: 813372600
2011-05-08 15:51:10.902 Need to insert 432 frames > max allowed: 20.  Assuming bad PTS

This was from PRIME, again on tuner 1. This time it just spewed out lots of the last line until it died, so it's not clear how long the damage lasted. But looking at the recording, it seems that once again it was only a very short period. This recording started and finished:

2011-05-08 11:57:02.545 Started recording: Trail of the Pink Panther: channel 2006 on cardid 1, sourceid 2
2011-05-08 14:30:00.789 Finished recording Trail of the Pink Panther: channel 2006

So in this case the damage would have started round 12:15. Again, nothing obvious. This seems to be a completely different issue from the cable problems: the majority of the recordings were correct with no corruption, and even these two appear to have had only localized problems. The best guess I have here is some kind of external interference, made worse by the low signal levels.


Monday, 9 May 2011 Dereel Images for 9 May 2011
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Backup strategies for photos
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Mail from Michael Hughes today, asking how I back up photos. That's certainly an interesting topic. Digital technology has made many things easier than before, but it's also easier to completely lose images. Paradoxically, it's also easier to keep multiple backups, and that's what both Michael and I do.

I've been backing up my computer for ever, of course. In the days of CP/M and MS-DOS I used floppies. They were slow, expensive and unreliable. Later I used tape, both QIC and some strange format that I now forget. It was slow, expensive and unreliable. About 18 years ago I moved to DDS storage, which proved to be a little faster, have a little more capacity, but it was still expensive and unreliable. I also briefly used a DLT tape drive, but it was an older model, and tapes were so expensive that I never tested the reliability.

In the end, I gave up on tape altogether, and for nearly 9 years now I have been backing up to disk. The difference is surprising: from the outset I noticed an increase in speed, and it was clear that they were cheaper: at the time an 80 GB disk drive cost about as much as a 40 GB tape cartridge. They've also proven to be much more reliable—I can't recall a single loss of backup disk, though clearly that's possible.

In that time, though, disk capacity has increased markedly. My total disk capacity at the time was about 80 GB. Now I have:

Filesystem  1048576-blocks    Used  Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad4s1d           9916    7796   1326    85%    /
/dev/ad4s1a           9916    7647   1475    84%    /destdir
/dev/ad4s1e         439117  129710 274277    32%    /home
/dev/ad6s1a         923856  735787 114160    87%    /Photos
/dev/ad8s1d         923856  313848 536099    37%    /src
/dev/ad1s1d         236579  232739   1473    99%    /dump
total              2543241 1427530 928812    61%

Those values are in MB, so I have a total of 2.5 TB of disk space, of which about 1.4 TB are in use. But looking more carefully, 230 GB are on /dump, clearly a backup disk (for other systems on the network), and 735 GB are on /Photos, not surprisingly my photo disk. /destdir is a second root file system, which I only use when I'm upgrading, so it doesn't need backup either. I'm left with a much more manageable:

Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used  Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad4s1d           9916   7796   1326    85%    /
/dev/ad4s1e         439117 129710 274277    32%    /home
/dev/ad8s1d         923856 313848 536099    37%    /src
total              1372889 451355 811703    36%

I used to back these file systems up to other systems on the net, but lately I've been using a USB drive directly connected to the system. I'm not sure I'm completely happy with that, but for the time being it seems to work. I dump the the root file system and make tar backups of individual file systems on /home and /src. The reason for the difference is due to the size of the file systems: a complete dump of /src would be about 200 GB in size after compression, and restoring files from an archive of that size takes forever.

On the first day of each month I do a complete backup, on Saturdays I do a level 1 dump and tar backups since the beginning of the month, and on other days I do level 2 dumps and backups since the previous level 1 or level 0 dump. I keep two level 0 dumps (beginning of this month and beginning of last month) That works well, and I get by with about a total of 500 GB.

Photos are a different matter. They're as good as not compressible (though some of the smaller accompanying files are), so there's no point wasting time with a compressed dump. But that leaves me with (currently) nearly 1 TB of backup. That's different enough to take a different approach. Since compression doesn't have much effect, I keep duplicate file systems and use rsync to keep them synchronized with the online file system. I have two disks, one of which is always at Chris Yeardley's place. On Sundays or Mondays I swap the disks, so that the one at Chris' place is up to a week out of date, but since I take most of my photos at the weekend, that's not a big issue. That way I have a total of four copies of most photos: the one on my disk, the one on the external web site, and the two backup copies. Once I have at least one backup copy of the images, I erase the flash cards in my cameras.

Michael does a number of things differently. He backs up DLT, and he keeps no less than 5 backup copies. That would become very expensive with my amount of data. I haven't looked at tapes for nearly 10 years now, but it seems that the highest capacity DLT tape is DLT-S4, with 800 GB. They call it “800 GB/1.6 TB”, but the latter value is an estimate after compression, and that won't work for compressed images like JPEG and raw images. These tape cartridges are available on eBay for $140 each. By comparison, you can get 2 TB external disk drives from about $110.

He also keeps CRC signatures for each file on disk and regularly checks them for any corruption. That's certainly worth thinking about, though it's a lot of work for any reasonable data volume.


ALDI Traveler Z14: First and last impressions
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yvonne has been having trouble with her camera, a Kodak M1093 IS, for some time. I've been reluctant to blame just the camera, since “it works for me”, but today I tried it again, and it's definitely defective. It often gives up trying to focus properly, and even when it thinks it's in focus, it's completely off. I took 8 photos of the garden today, every single one of them completely out of focus. So it's timely that ALDI have a new camera on offer this week, a Traveler Z14 (something that they manage to keep out of the announcement, though Google finds more details). The price looked right, the resolution is higher than anything I've ever had, and we can give it back within two months if we don't like it.

Today I tried it out. It has a surprising number of options, but what are the photos like? Went out on the verandah and took a photo of the bird bath, in bright sunshine. The flash went off. Tried again at full focal length. More flash. A couple more attempts gave me camera shake, despite the shutter speed, and a completely different white balance:


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Tried again with the flash turned off, and got an exposure of 1/30s at full aperture—in bright sunshine! Another photo had an exposure of 1/12s at f/6.5 (full aperture at the longest focal length), or EV 9.0. By comparison, my E-30 took the same scene at 1/250s at f/6.3, or EV 13.3. That's only a tenth of the exposure! It's not due to the sensitivity: both cameras claim a sensitivity of 200/24° ISO. In general, all the photos I took with it were exposed about 10 times as long as my Olympus did. There's clearly something very wrong here.

On top of that, the images are terrible. Here a comparison with my Olympus. No prizes for guessing which image is which:


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It's possible that tweaking some of the settings might improve things, but that's enough. It's supposed to have image stabilization, but I haven't seen any evidence of it. The focus is glacially slow; even when taking sequential images of the same subject, focus takes about 1 second in bright sunlight.

In summary: the best thing about the camera is that I can return it for a full refund. That's what I'll do. I still need to investigate what camera to buy for Yvonne, who is particularly keen on the smallest possible camera. That will require some investigation.


Panorama head: finally
Topic: general, photography Link here

Into town to talk to Peter O'Connell about my investments. He's not very optimistic about the market, and it seems that the best thing to do is cash investments; at least we get good interest in Australia. To be observed.

My panorama head has finally arrived after only 12 days. It's just what I asked for, but I fear not what I want. Played around with it to see how to get it to do what I want, so far with very limited success. To be investigated more fully.


A rose arch
Topic: gardening Link here

On the way home, stopped off in Napoleons to take a look at an arch for training roses that Yvonne had seen at the roadside plant sales yesterday. We've been thinking about that for some time, and the price ($30) was right, so I took it.

But how? It was too wide to fit in the boot of the car, and I couldn't dismantle it. It originally came in 3 pieces which were screwed together, but of course the screws had seized up. In the end, stuck it sideways in the back window and drove home, very slowly:


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Tuesday, 10 May 2011 Dereel Images for 10 May 2011
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First frost of winter
Topic: general, gardening Link here

It's been really cool lately:

5 days temperatures

The lowest temperature measured by the weather station was 0.7°, and the highest was 13.6°, but it lies. We had a frost, and even inside the greenhouse, the temperature at the top dropped to -0.1°. That caught me by surprise: I had wanted to put the Mandevilla in the greenhouse before any frost, but fortunately it seems the frost wasn't heavy enough to affect most of the garden, just some of the Tropaeolums. I had thought that that would have been the earliest in the year we've ever had a frost, but I see that two years ago we had not one but two in April, and the lowest temperature I ever recorded with the weather station was on 22 May 2010.

So why didn't the weather station report a lower temperature? Presumably because it's an inversion, and the temperature sensor was mounted too high. I need to move it further down. The cables are long enough, and it would make changing batteries a lot easier. The only problem is that the unit is designed to be mounted on the rod with the others, but there should be a way round that.


Manfrotto 303PLUS panorama head
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Spent some time looking at the new Manfrotto 303PLUS panorama head. Parts of it are excellent.

It's worth looking back at the criteria I identified a year ago:

  1. Rotate the camera about the nodal point.
  2. Level the camera independently of the tripod.
  3. Switch from horizontal to vertical orientation, preferably without remounting the camera.
  4. Rotate the camera in specific increments for equally-spaced images.

Interestingly, it does all this, but only because I didn't state criterion 1 carefully enough. It should read:

  1. Rotate the camera about the nodal point in both vertical and horizontal axes.

And it doesn't fulfil that criterion. It only rotates around a vertical axis:


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In addition, it requires that the camera lens axis be horizontal. That's an extreme restriction, and it makes me wonder what they were thinking of when they designed it. It's not cheap—the new price at B & H is $400, without the levelling base shown in these images. Even a normal pan head can tilt, and the Manfrotto 804RC2 costs only $68.

What's needed, of course, is pretty much the same as what I have already put together, a second pivot with a horizontal axis. That's as simple as an L bracket between the two slides:


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Or it should be. A problem becomes clear when you try to mount a camera on the thing:


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The problem is that the camera now has to point 90° from the way it was intended. And that doesn't work, because the mounting plate is hexagonal, so you can only mount it at 30° either side of the correct direction. And then the axis of rotation doesn't go through the nodal point, as the third image shows.

I still need to work out what to do here. The plate is mounted with screws (see the second photo above with the L bracket), so I could drill new holes and mount it at 30° from where it was intended. But in view of the resale value (and resale is very much on the cards), I suspect it would be better to buy another el cheapo focusing rail on eBay.

Apart from that, the supplied L (“elbow”) bracket, apparently part number 340, is more than puzzling. It must be one of the most baroque pieces of equipment I have seen. I've already commented on the hexagonal mounting plates, but it's amazingly complicated. What it should have is some kind of adjustment, so that the lens axis doesn't change when you switch from horizontal to vertical. That's not provided for. Instead, it has a second screw (⅜") for large cameras, an alternative mounting point for a Nikon MD4, a “safety peg” for heavy telephoto lenses and another peg whose function is neither described nor clear, but which can be seen in the middle of the first image below:


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And for all that, I can't easily mount my Asahi Pentax SV vertically on it. If I mount it as shown in the instructions, the lens axis is always too far to the left, not above the axis of rotation of the head. I can mount the camera the other way round on the bracket, and then I can adjust it correctly, but that only works with vertical orientation. When I try to mount it horizontally, a funny and apparently useless projection from the MD4 mount fouls the mounting plate:


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Instead, I need to turn the camera around on the bracket to point in the opposite (originally intended) direction. And when I do that, I also have to adjust the horizontal position by about 1 cm. That's not the intention.

Of course, who takes panoramas with an SV any more? I certainly don't. I chose it for these photos because I needed my Olympus E-30 to take the photos, and the SV is a nice looking camera. I considered the possibility that the problem only exists because the SV is so small (it is, after all, a full frame camera), but the same problem occurs with my E-30 as well.

Apart from that, the build quality is excellent. The levelling plate works, though I'm sure the range is nothing like what I need; I'll find myself playing with the tripod legs again, I'm afraid. But I'm puzzled that a company like Manfrotto could build such a badly conceived system. Was it a design study done by students?


DxO and Olympus "Viewer 2"
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Coincidentally to my investigation of DxO Optics "Pro", I found an article about raw converters in the c't special Digitale Fotografie 02/2011. This is a different article from the one I mentioned last month, and it pays more attention to the kind of operations you'd expect from a raw converter, notably correction for lens aberrations. It seems that there aren't many converters that do this kind of correction, but the article mentions that the Olympus converter (not tested) is one of them. I've used it before and have been impressed—negatively—but it's becoming clear that all photo processing software has significant issues. Went looking and after considerable searching on the Olympus web site found a reference to Olympus Master 2 as an “accessory” for the E series cameras. Was that the free one or the one they wanted money for? The other one was called “Studio”, and the names are so meaningless that I can't recall which is which. All I could find was that it was no longer available for download, and that I should download Olympus Viewer 2 instead. There's a name that means something, and it's clear that it's not what I want: I want to convert, not view.

But that's what it does! It seems to be a replacement for both “Master” and “Studio”, and it's free (as it should be), though I had to enter the serial number of my camera to download it. That's easy: it's in the EXIF data of every photo. But why? Who would download the software if they didn't have Olympus images to convert?

On the positive side, they seem to have improved things a lot. Last time it drove me mad. Now it just irritates me. They've made it look more like all other commercially available software, white on anthracite text and all, with a directory tree on the left to make you search instead of allowing you to just enter the directory name:

 
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This one had an additional trick up its sleeve, though: I couldn't slide the tiny scroll bar down to the directory I wanted. I tried 3 times, and in each case, shortly before I got to the bottom, the display popped up to the top again. I don't know whether I accidentally got off the scroll bar, or whether the software didn't expect that many directories—I suspect the later. Got round that problem by creating a directory 00-is-what-Oly-Viewer-is-worth (highlighted), into which I was able to link the images I wanted, in much the same way as I have worked around the “features” of hugin and DxO.

I had an immediate test case. In one of the photos I took of the panorama bracket, the left-hand flash unit didn't fire. That's a known problem: it's a slave unit, and the modelling light interferes with the receptor. Normally I turn the modelling light out, but this time I forgot. So clearly a case for raw conversion.

Tried first with DxO, which was glacially slow. Finally got a result that looked relatively good, but it was also brighter than the others I had taken. Here the uncorrected image, the corrected image, and the one it's supposed to resemble:


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It was so painful adjusting with DxO that I gave up at this point. Started playing around with “Viewer 2”, but there are lots of things I needed to understand better. At least it's fast enough to be usable, and yes, it applies lens-specific corrections, presumably only for Olympus lenses, but with the exception of the old Macro-Takumar, that's all I use. More experimentation needed, but I suspect that when the free trial runs out, I won't buy DxO.


Wednesday, 11 May 2011 Dereel Images for 11 May 2011
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Freezing weather
Topic: general Link here

It's been really cold since we moved the lounge room—today's highest outside temperature was 9.5°—and we've had difficulty keeping warm. That's not because of the new location; by rights it should be warmer, but the outside weather has been cold. But that's maybe not the only contributing factor. Today I finally got round to cleaning out the air filters in the air conditioning units. Yes, they were very much in need of it, but would it make that much difference?

The answer is a definite “yes”. We had had difficulty getting the temperature in the lounge room from 17° to 21.5° over a period of several hours. Within 30 minutes it had climbed to 23°, and we had to turn the units down. Clearly I should clean the filters much more often, probably on the first day of each season, when I also clean the water filters.

Also, at about 12:15, relocated the external temperature and humidity sensor for the weather station to about 1.5 m above ground level. The result was immediate, a drop of 2° in the reported outside temperature:

5 days temperatures

It's not clear that that was the only reason, but it's noticeable.


ALDI Traveler Z14: second chance
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

We discussed the poor performance of the ALDI Traveler Z14 on IRC, and people suggested that I should have set it to defaults rather than to the “P” setting, which allows more tweaking of the settings. It's still here (will go back on Friday), so went and took some more photos, this time in AUTO mode and using my 5 year old Nikon “Coolpix” L1, itself not a particularly good camera, for comparison. Yes, the exposure times now look more in line (in fact, they're pretty much what they were last time, but then it was bright sun and today was pretty overcast), though they still seem to be about 1 EV lower than what the Nikon got (somewhat skewed by different choice of ISO sensitivity). But the picture quality is still terrible, and the digital image stabilization, whatever that is, is useless. Here two shots taken at 1/60s and 1/30s respectively, which I can normally hold well enough without shaking. The following photos are in pairs, the full frame and a 600×450 pixel selection. The Traveler has 14 MP (2 MP more than my Olympus E-30!), while the Nikon has only 6 MP, so clearly the size of the crop is different, but that way the “small” images render directly.


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I took the remaining photos with the Traveler mounted on a tripod, so any unsharpness here is not due to camera shake. The first pair is taken with the Traveler, the second with the Nikon. The details show that it's still not at all sharp, and there is clear serration (or pixellation?) on the leaves. The colour is also very washed-out. The Nikon is better in both regards:


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The photos of the birch trees show amazingly poor resolution, far worse than the Nikon. There are clear JPEG artefacts round the leaves:


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One issue is probably the JPEG image size. The 12 MP JPEGs from my E-30 are typically about 7 MB in size, and the 6 MP JPEGs of the Nikon are about 2.5 MB. The original JPEGs for the Traveler photos above ranged from 3.5 to 7.7 MB. Clearly there's been some pretty aggressive compression there.

So: in summary, no, it's still a terrible camera. About the only thing that I'm no longer so sure about is the discrepancy in the exposure that I saw last time, but that could have been due to the way the exposure measurements are performed.


A new camera for Yvonne
Topic: photography Link here

Yvonne's camera is clearly no longer usable, and next week she's off to Albury for a dog training seminar, and clearly she'd like to take a camera with her. Spent a lot of time looking for something for her, hampered by a number of things:

In the end, took a look at the Budget Camera Shootout published in Digital Camera Resource and decided on the IXUS 105, or maybe the American name PowerShot SD1300 IS, or perhaps the IXY 200F as it's called in Japan. Why do they do that?

The were available from Hong Kong for $148, including postage, but I found one in Australia for $156.85, so in view of the urgency, I bought that one. Then I discovered that I had misread the model number. And I had Bought It Now! The vendor offered returns, so I contacted them and asked if I could do an immediate return. No, the return was just an exchange if the thing was DOA. So I had to bite the bullet and pay a $15 restocking fee, and then buy the one from Hong Kong (thus lowering the loss to $6.15). They say that the postage will be fast; we'll see. But what a pain this all is! It took me half the day.


eBay: Make it even more painful
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

As a result of the camera purchases, I was involved in eBay's horrible messaging system much more than I would have liked. I got mail messages (in eBay's barely legible format) from two of the vendors and sent them replies. eBay refused one of them:

Oops. We weren't able to send your message to some-vendor, because the email address you used to send this message, gurgle@lmeis.com, isn't linked to your eBay account.

To keep eBay safe, we need you to send messages from a registered eBay email address. This will prevent your messages from being blocked in the future. This is easy enough to fix, just do one of the following:

    Set up gurgle@lmeis.com as an additional email address for sending messages. To do this:
        In My eBay, click the "Account" tab and then click "Communication Preferences" in the drop-down menu.
        In the section titled "Delivery Options", click the "Show" link next to "Notification Delivery Format".
        Enter the same email address to send member-to-member messages.
        Click Save.

    Change your registered eBay email address to gurgle@lmeis.com. Go to http://pages.ebay.com/help/account/updating-registration-information.html to learn how.
    Send your messages from groggedup@lmeis.com. This is the email address you already have registered with eBay.

For assistance, you can contact eBay Customer Support at: http://pages.ebay.com/help/contact_us/_base/index_selection.htm

OK, the intention is good, but which message? No Message-Id:, no content. I had to go back and check, and discovered that the address in question had been sa-member@ebay.com.au (not the name above), while the other one had been to a gmail address. So off to follow the instructions. They were wrong. You can't add additional email addresses, only change them. To be sure, I followed some kind of help link on the left and was redirected to an error page. Unfortunately, I don't know which; later the link was no longer there. I sometimes get the feeling that eBay tests their software on their customers. You'd think that they would have their act together by now.


More reception problems
Topic: multimedia Link here

Another corrupted recording today:

Recoding 2062_20110510235700.mpg (It-Runs-in-the-Family-2011-05-10-2357)
Mux rate: 10.42 Mbit/s
2011-05-11 14:32:24.889 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 24256888
2011-05-11 14:32:28.758 1.6% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:30.111 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 128444984
2011-05-11 14:32:33.763 2.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:34.735 Frame 7 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 212199360
2011-05-11 14:32:35.684 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 230259768
2011-05-11 14:32:38.822 4.3% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:43.555 Frame 6 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 376316780
2011-05-11 14:32:43.823 5.7% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:44.301 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 390096616
2011-05-11 14:32:44.477 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 391794068
2011-05-11 14:32:48.824 7.0% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:49.932 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 490494632
2011-05-11 14:32:53.825 8.4% complete
2011-05-11 14:32:54.124 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 560676348
2011-05-11 14:32:54.543 Frame 7 > 5. Corruption likely at pos: 569330740
2011-05-11 14:32:58.831 9.6% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:00.322 Frame 7 > 6. Corruption likely at pos: 671805968
2011-05-11 14:33:03.859 11.1% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:08.865 12.5% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:10.444 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 854565280
2011-05-11 14:33:13.874 13.8% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:48.984 24.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:50.544 Frame 6 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 1694954608
2011-05-11 14:33:53.985 26.6% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:08.865 12.5% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:10.444 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 854565280
2011-05-11 14:33:13.874 13.8% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:48.984 24.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:33:50.544 Frame 6 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 1694954608
2011-05-11 14:33:53.985 26.6% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:29.558 52.4% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:30.603 Frame 6 > 5. Corruption likely at pos: 3502789304
2011-05-11 14:35:31.308 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3508492472
2011-05-11 14:35:34.563 53.5% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:39.571 54.8% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:43.692 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3699150416
2011-05-11 14:35:44.576 55.8% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:45.630 Frame 11 > 10. Corruption likely at pos: 3726505544
2011-05-11 14:35:49.581 56.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:51.556 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3812971068
2011-05-11 14:35:53.342 Frame 9 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3830220068
2011-05-11 14:35:53.529 Frame 6 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3832670648
2011-05-11 14:35:54.099 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3844160080
2011-05-11 14:35:54.582 57.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:35:56.192 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3880264916
2011-05-11 14:35:59.591 59.1% complete
2011-05-11 14:36:03.617 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 3989542548
2011-05-11 14:36:04.609 60.2% complete
2011-05-11 14:36:29.730 66.1% complete
2011-05-11 14:36:29.836 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 4398900328
2011-05-11 14:36:34.748 67.3% complete
2011-05-11 14:37:14.960 77.5% complete
2011-05-11 14:37:16.766 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 5196825532
2011-05-11 14:37:20.039 78.9% complete
2011-05-11 14:37:20.527 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 5257375444
2011-05-11 14:37:25.078 79.9% complete

The log file produced amazing numbers of error messages. Why does this happen just some of the time?


Thursday, 12 May 2011 Dereel Images for 12 May 2011
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More raw conversion comparisons
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I still haven't got my head (or my stomach) around Olympus Viewer 2, but I do need to do some more comparisons before my test license for DxO Optics "Pro" runs out. In particular, I haven't done any comparison of lens distortion yet. I know from past experience that my Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD, otherwise an excellent lens, has severe barrel distortion at full wide-angle and close up. Here's an example, taken about 20 cm from an A4-sized test chart:


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Running the cursor over the image shows what DxO makes of it: much better. It's also better at longer focal lengths (also meaning further away, of course). Here it is at 60 mm focal length (left), still not as good as the Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro (right). It's clear that I'm right to use the macro lens for any close-up work.


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But the images themselves, taken with on-camera flash, are terrible. I need to take better images and then compare them with Olympus.

In the process, had to load a number of DxO “modules”. It proves to be very simplistic about that; it can't download the modules directly when it finds they're needed. At the very least you need to abort the processing, and then there was some way to get it to load the ones it wants, but it didn't show today. So I tried loading all 8 combinations: 4 lenses for two cameras. I already had 3 of them, but that didn't stop it loading all 8 anyway. They're quite big—I think I loaded about 120 MB in total.


Frustration with Manfrotto panorama bracket
Topic: photography Link here

So I've come up with a plan to work around the serious defects of the Manfrotto 303PLUS panorama head. In the process I found that I can reposition the mounting for the L bracket slightly, which would solve the adjustment problem I mentioned a couple of days ago. Or I should be able to:


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The problem is that one of the screws was done up so tight that the Allen key killed the socket, and I can't get it out. Spent quite some time trying to drill it out, but paradoxically it seems that the rest of the screw is so solid that I can't drill through it, and I want to avoid damaging the rail itself. Somehow these screws are another indication of brain damage in the design of the rail. For some reason there are two different screws with different shapes, though the thread is the same:


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Why do they do that? It doesn't make any sense, and it seems that the dished recess for the right-hand screw makes it easy to overtighten it. It's clearly stuck to the rail and not the mount, which I can move slightly, but not enough to unscrew it. I'll have to consider alternative ways of removing it. What a pain!


Friday, 13 May 2011 Dereel Images for 13 May 2011
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Olympus Viewer 2
Topic: photography, technology Link here

As planned, did some playing around with Olympus Viewer 2 today. It's amazing how much reading I need to do for any of this stuff. Somehow the whole approach is different.

I won't complain about the file name selection any more; all commercial software has that problem. But according to the help (which only showed up when I downloaded a 12 month old update—why didn't I get that version from the web site?), I need to process every image individually. Maybe that's what they mean by this silly word “develop”—they're still thinking in terms of darkrooms and chemicals. It's possible that I'll find a way to apply the corrections to a set of images, but it's not the way they present it, and I haven't found one yet.

The conversions themselves? I didn't do many, and I haven't got round to doing the presentation yet. But it certainly does a good job with automatic correction of lens distortion, notably the close-up with the Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD at full wide-angle. Strangely, though, it didn't do an automatic correction of the chromatic aberration. If I really have to do that manually every time, I don't think I'll bother.

But I'm not done yet. This takes an amazing amount of time to investigate.


Web browser crashes: state of the art?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Over the last couple of days I've noticed a surprising number of segmentation violations on my system. Most are from my weather station software, which continues to die in nasty ways inside the USB stack, but there are a surprising number of browser-related crashes:

May 10 12:00:03 dereel kernel: pid 29151 (npviewer.bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 10 15:16:41 dereel kernel: pid 28882 (firefox-bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 10 18:46:07 dereel kernel: pid 16828 (firefox-bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 11 11:10:35 dereel kernel: pid 81847 (firefox-bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 11 14:08:08 dereel kernel: pid 1799 (hald-probe-volume), uid 0: exited on signal 6 (core dumped)
May 11 14:08:08 dereel kernel: pid 1800 (hald-probe-volume), uid 0: exited on signal 6 (core dumped)
May 11 17:15:03 dereel kernel: pid 22489 (squid), uid 100: exited on signal 6 (core dumped)
May 12 10:31:26 dereel kernel: pid 34298 (firefox-bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 12 13:29:29 dereel kernel: pid 11486 (npviewer.bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 12 13:45:03 dereel kernel: pid 11957 (operapluginwrapper.), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)
May 13 13:04:18 dereel kernel: pid 9458 (firefox-bin), uid 1001: exited on signal 11 (core dumped)

Is this really the best we can do?


Officially winter
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather isn't as chilly as it has been, but there are warnings of more frosts. Finally got round to moving the Mandevilla into the greenhouse for winter. I'll consider that a sign that winter is here.


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It's still flowering happily. It'll be interesting to see how it survives the winter. In previous years it only just survived.


Saturday, 14 May 2011 Dereel Images for 14 May 2011
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House photos with new hardware
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

House photo day again today. I had intended to take the photos with the new panorama hardware, but it wasn't really ready. About the only thing I used was the Manfrotto 3416 leveling base, which even Manfrotto doesn't want to know about. They have replaced it with the model 338, which looks pretty much identical to me. So I mounted that on the tripod, replacing the ball head I had previously been using, and put the pan and tilt head on top of that:


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What did I get out of that? It wasn't all positive. On the one hand, I got much better leveling—the spirit level is much more sensitive than on the old ball head—and the base was much more stable than the ball head, which tended to move when I adjusted the pan and tilt head. But on the other hand, as I suspected, adjustments are less than perfect. Firstly the 120° orientation of the adjusting screws makes it difficult to adjust correctly, and then there's a very limited adjustment range further hampered by the lack of any “reset to mid-point” functionality. So I had to resort to changing the length of the tripod legs, which is exactly what this base is supposed to eliminate. Once again, it seems, an expensive tool that doesn't really do what it is intended for.

Last week I took photos into the sun with additional images where I blocked out the sun with my hand. That was a great improvement, but I'm not there yet. I blocked out too much, and as a result the images look burnt out in areas where it's not necessary:


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Today I tried with something smaller, a teaspoon:


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It's still not perfect—probably that's not possible without retouching with GIMP or similar—but it's a lot better.


Trailer ramps and photo hardware
Topic: general, photography Link here

We've been given some free trailer ramps via Freecycle, but when Yvonne went into town to pick them up yesterday, she discovered they wouldn't fit into the car. Today I borrowed Chris Yeardley's LandBruiser and went in to pick them up.

While I was there, dropped into Ballarat Bolts and Fasteners in the rather vain hope to find a replacement for the damaged screw in the panorama head. To my surprise, they had an almost exact replacement, just about 1 mm longer—something that is no problem at all. I had been fearing that I'd have to order one from Italy and pay real money for it, but the thing cost 35¢. so I bought three of them to be on the safe side.

Then on to Gays to look for various bits and pieces, some of which I found. Found a better-looking extractor for the damaged screw, but no hardware for mounting the projector or closing the skylight. I suppose I'll have to go to Bunnings, but not today: Chris needed her car back.


ALDI raclette, try 2
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

A few weeks ago we bought a new raclette oven from ALDI, and today was the inauguration. We tried this once before, but the grill was too uneven, so it went back.

The good news today: it's more even. The bad news: the element is too far away from the plates, so it barely heated them. Dragged out our old, tatty one and used that instead. One of the best things about ALDI is that you can take things back if you don't like them. But it's a pity; with only a slight difference in design the thing would have been just what we were looking for.


Sunday, 15 May 2011 Dereel Images for 15 May 2011
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Finishing the panoramas
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Continued working on my panoramas today, in the process running into more annoyances with DxO Optics "Pro". There was a bug in one of the scripts I wrote to work around DxO's deficiencies (no EXIF data, wrong directory), and I accidentally truncated a number of files to 0. No problem, just run the conversion again.

But how? DxO knows that the files have been converted, and that's once and for all. To quote John 19:22, “What I have written, I have written”. There seems to be no way to do it again. What if you want to try two different conversions for different purposes? No idea. Deleting the output files doesn't seem to help. In the end I created a new “Project”, something that I really don't want at all, and processed the files again. Why do people make things so difficult? All I want is a program that takes input and creates output. Run it again, it does it again.

Processing the panoramas took me until lunch time. The trick with the spoon improved things, but as I suspected, it's not really sufficient. I'll put up with the current situation for the time being.


Panorama bracket: more frustration
Topic: photography Link here

After that to the garage with my new tools to drill out the defective screw from the panorama bracket. Total failure. Despite the fact that I was able to strip the socket for the Allen key—though I may just have completed what somebody else started—I was unable to drill a hole into it. The instructions with the screw extractor stated that I should drill a 4 mm pilot hole for it. I had bought a new set of drill bits just in case, but it wasn't up to the strength of the screw. Despite cooling the bit several times, it burnt out before I got more than 1 mm into the screw.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the extractor had a strange socket that I've never seen before, about 5 mm square. I have no idea what kind of handle would take it, but I don't have one. Put it in the drill—probably not a good idea—but it didn't engage in the screw, either because it was too hard, the pilot hole wasn't deep enough, or both. So I tried drilling out the screw with a 6.5 mm bit, also brand new, in the hope of removing the head. That bit, too, burnt out before I got more than about 1 mm into the screw:


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Clearly this is a particularly hard screw—I haven't had anything like these difficulties before. So how do I get it out? For the moment I'm stumped. I'm also amazed that the Allen key socket of so hard a screw could be damaged by a normal Allen key.

And in view of this problem, WHY did Manfrotto use this kind of screw? I've established with the new screws that they sit extremely firmly, and even a slight overtightening makes it very difficult to undo them. I can imagine that I'm not the only person to run into this problem.


Monday, 16 May 2011 Dereel Images for 16 May 2011
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DHL: Fast delivery without excuses
Topic: general, opinion, photography Link here

I've been following the progress of Yvonne's camera over the weekend. Although I paid for it on Wednesday, it didn't get sent until Friday evening, by DHL. It got to Australia pretty quickly, and I was expecting to see it here today. But what did the tracking page say?

Awaiting pick up by recipient as requested as of: May 16, 2011 09:55

Called up DHL on 13 14 06—I had to find the phone number in the phone book, since it's not modern to make that kind of information available on the web—and spoke to Jodie, who told me that the courier passed by our house at 9:55 and found nobody home, so he took it to Sebastopol Post Office. It seems that they had entrusted the parcel to a third party called Eparcel, so they can't do anything about it.

That's nonsense, of course. I was here the whole time, and if DHL wants to get somebody else to deliver, fine, but they're still responsible. Asked to be connected to her superior—why do I always end up having to do that?—and while I waited listened to the blurb they have instead of music: “Rely on DHL”, “Fast delivery without excuses”. At least I had some ammunition by the time Angela replied.

That was informative in both directions. It seems that eParcel is a service of of Australia Post, who don't deliver here—something that Angela didn't know. I asked why they entrusted the delivery to a lesser class of service, which she also couldn't answer. I asked for compensation, and she wanted to send me a claim form by email, which, based on my experience with this kind of company, I really didn't want to do. But she said it would be OK, and she would wait on the phone until it arrived.

Indeed, the message did arrive, and so we left it at that. Only later did I read it:

[-- Attachment #2: AU Claim Evaluation Form.ZIP --]
[-- Type: application/x-zip-compressed, Encoding: base64, Size: 552K --]

[-- application/x-zip-compressed is unsupported (use 'v' to view this part) --]

Sigh why do people do this? Saved the archive, and looked at it:

Archive:  /var/tmp/AU Claim Evaluation Form.ZIP
  Length      Date    Time    Name
---------  ---------- -----   ----
   464896  07-21-2009 09:23   AU Claim Evaluation Form.doc
---------                     -------
   464896                     1 file

I might have known. Just dealing with this kind of environment drives me mad. Decided to get away from it all, pick up the camera and visit a couple of new plant nurseries on the Midland Highway somewhere near Meredith, if my calculations were correct.

Picked up the new camera, and then the navigator wanted to take us through Ballarat, though Meredith is in the other direction. Set off anyway and then checked. It seems that my calculations were wrong. Both places are on the other side of Ballarat. Gave that a miss and decided to take a look at the Buninyong Botanic Gardens instead, which I believe is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year—not that you'd find that out from the web page, which appears not to have been updated in 3 years.

The gardens are tiny. If I can extrapolate from the description, it's 10 acres (4 ha), only about 3 times the size of our current garden. But it's quite pretty:


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The new camera
Topic: photography Link here

Back home and took a look at the camera. It came without any instructions, just a CD-R with a copy of the manual, which I had already downloaded last week. The manual states all the names it knows for the camera: “PowerShot SD1300 IS”, “IXUS 105” and “Digital Elph”. It also contains the advice “Make sure you read this guide before using the camera”.

Checking the following page, it seems that this document is only supplied in PDF form. There should have been a “Getting started” document, a warranty card and a “Canon Customer Support” leaflet. Of all these, there was just a single sheet of paper written in Japanese except for the text, in the middle of one page, “This warranty is valid only in Japan”.

But then, it isn't a “PowerShot SD1300 IS”. It also isn't a “IXUS 105”, nor is it a “Digital Elph”. It's an IXY 200F, as both the box and the camera itself say:


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The image on the manual doesn't have anything written where the IXY is on this case, but it seems that the other models have their model number instead.

It's a little early to say much about the camera. It makes a solid impression (“heavy”, as Yvonne would put it), and it's not noticeably smaller than the Kodak M1093 IS. The USB connection seems to be particularly useless: you can't charge the camera with it (you need to put it in the charger), and it doesn't want to provide a mass storage interface. I suppose it's modern to require special software to access special devices, something that people recognized as a serious problem 40 years ago, and for which Unix in particular found good solutions. Yvonne took some photos with it and despite the image stabilization managed to get camera shake at 1/60 s. But then, that happened with the Kodak too.


Correcting underexposure
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I took two photos at the Buninyong Botanic Gardens: the first time round I discovered I had the camera set to manual exposure, which proved to be 3.7 EV underexposed:


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Not a problem, since I noticed it and took a correctly exposed version. But it's interesting to see what my software can do. Tried DxO Optics "Pro" and Ashampoo photo optimizer, both individually and in combination. The results, though not as good as correct exposure, and surprisingly good given the extreme underexposure. Here Ashampoo, DxO and both:


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This was all with automatic settings. I suspect I could do even better with a few manual tweaks, but DxO is so horribly slow that I couldn't be bothered.


Cats and dog
Topic: animals Link here

Nemo is still taking a long time to make friends with the cats: he's far too enthusiastic, and though they want good relations, it turns them off. Today we saw some indication that things might be getting better:


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More data corruption
Topic: multimedia Link here

Another damaged recording today, again with tuner 1:

Recoding 2032_20110515214700.mpg (Could-This-Be-Love?-2011-05-15-2147)
2011-05-16 16:29:00.449 71.8% complete
2011-05-16 16:29:02.689 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2856525956
2011-05-16 16:29:03.232 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2861586352
2011-05-16 16:29:03.662 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2866086508
2011-05-16 16:29:05.466 74.0% complete
2011-05-16 16:29:07.138 Frame 4 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2916465996
2011-05-16 16:29:07.212 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2917868852
2011-05-16 16:29:07.235 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2918127916
2011-05-16 16:29:07.802 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2924954760
2011-05-16 16:29:07.818 Frame 3 > 2. Corruption likely at pos: 2925158740
2011-05-16 16:29:08.909 Deadlock detected.  One buffer is full when
                the other is empty!  Aborting

The first 70% of this image were fine, and so were the others I recorded. I'm beginning to think that this kind of problem relates to external interference. I think that's one of two or maybe three different problems.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011 Dereel Images for 17 May 2011
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Down to earth: 5 years long
Topic: general Link here

Five years ago I returned from a particularly gruelling journey to BSDCan in Ottawa. I had travelled over 200,000 km by plane in the previous year, and was thoroughly fed up with travel, air travel in particular. I wasn't to know it again, but that was the last time I was in a plane. I've been flying most of my life—the last period when I didn't fly for 5 years started in 1951, when I was 3 years old—but air travel has changed. It used to be fun, people used to care about the passengers and make them comfortable. Now it's mindless thugs finding gainful employment annoying passengers as “security consultants” and flight conditions more reminiscent of cattle transports. I don't miss it.


USB reliability
Topic: technology Link here

Received a 5 m USB extension cable in the post today. That's just what I need to connect my 3G modem to dereel, my main machine: the antenna cable is too short, and an extension would weaken the signal still further, so it made sense to use a digital connection.

Things worked out of the box: disconnect the modem on the cojones, the other machine, connect to dereel via extension cable, and start PPP again. It worked so well that my TCP connections didn't even drop!

Well, for a while. Then I discovered:

May 17 13:03:10 dereel kernel: ugen5.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus5 (disconnected)
May 17 13:03:10 dereel kernel: u3g0: at uhub5, port 4, addr 2 (disconnected)
May 17 13:03:10 dereel ppp[31895]: tun0: Warning: deflink: Unable to set physical to speed 0
May 17 13:03:10 dereel ppp[31895]: tun0: Warning: deflink: tcsetattr: Unable to restore device settings
...
May 17 13:03:20 dereel root: Unknown USB device: vendor 0x12d1 product 0x140c bus uhub5
May 17 13:03:20 dereel kernel: ugen5.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus5
May 17 13:03:20 dereel kernel: u3g0: <HUAWEI Technology HUAWEI Mobile, class 0/0, rev 2.00/0.00, addr 2> on usbus5

There were many more. The device had gone away and come back. The PPP connection survived, at least this time. But it happened again and again in the course of the afternoon, and my network link statistics page shows 4 dropouts, one of which lasted nearly an hour: on that occasion the device didn't come back, and I had to manually remove and replace the device.

What's causing it? I've had USB issues on dereel before, and when I connected my USB backup disk, some strange things happened:

May 17 15:09:14 dereel kernel: ugen5.3: <Sunplus Technology Co.,Ltd.> at usbus5
May 17 15:09:14 dereel kernel: umass2: <Bulk Only Interface> on usbus5
May 17 15:09:14 dereel kernel: umass2:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x4000
May 17 15:09:15 dereel kernel: umass2:7:2:-1: Attached to scbus7
May 17 15:09:40 dereel kernel: da1 at umass-sim2 bus 2 scbus7 target 0 lun 0
May 17 15:09:40 dereel kernel: da1: <ST350041 8AS > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
May 17 15:09:40 dereel kernel: da1: 40.000MB/s transfers
May 17 15:09:40 dereel kernel: da1: 476940MB (976773168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 60801C)

The messages are normal enough. But it took the system 25 seconds to recognize the device, which isn't normal. Then it had write errors, and the modem disconnected again:

May 17 15:17:02 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim2:2:0:0): AutoSense failed
May 17 15:17:02 dereel kernel: g_vfs_done():da1s1d[WRITE(offset=369902485504, length=131072)]error = 5
...
May 17 15:17:02 dereel kernel: g_vfs_done():da1s1d[WRITE(offset=369902354432, length=131072)]error = 5
May 17 15:18:07 dereel kernel: ugen5.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus5 (disconnected)

Finally gave up and connected the modem back to cojones, still with the extension cable. And again I had the same problems. Removed the extension cable and all was stable again.

So I have identified the “cause”. Or at least, I've identified a workaround. I've seen sporadic disconnects like this before, even without a cable, and there's no reason—yet—to believe that there's anything wrong with the cable. But clearly I'm going to have to rethink my connection strategies.


Upgrading to 64 bit
Topic: technology Link here

Finally found some cheap RAM for dereel, 4 GB for $40. Now I can increase memory from 3 GB to 6 GB, which means upgrading to 64 bits. Downloaded a boot-only amd64 ISO version of FreeBSD (in the record time of 5 minutes, 56 seconds), and planned to boot it on cojones. The boot failed with the message “kernel doesn't support long mode”. Further investigation showed that this was a masterpiece of obfuscation: it means “Hardware doesn't have a 64 bit mode”. Why kernel? Looks like a bug to me.

Tried another machine, which I also thought did 64 bits, but no luck. It's funny: when I only wanted 32 bits, all my hardware supported 64 bits. Now it's (almost) the other way round: I do have 4 machines that support 64 bits, but they're all in use. I'll wait until Yvonne leaves for a long dog weekend and install it on her machine first.


Image stabilization
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I was rather surprised that Yvonne managed to get camera shake at 1/60 s in her photos yesterday, but it matches what I saw with the Traveler Z14. Tried a couple of forgettable photos of Yvonne in her office, one with the Canon IXY 200F and one with the E-30. The Canon chose a shutter speed of 1/10s, so I set the Olympus to the same.

The results show some camera shake with the Canon (first two photos), less with the Olympus:


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The fuzziness in the Canon shot is much more pronounced laterally than vertically, so it's camera shake, not focus. Presumably it would have been OK at 1/60s, but it's also clear that the Canon produces a considerably worse image than the Olympus, and that the image stabilization isn't nearly as good. But I suppose that's to be expected. On the other hand, the white balance looks better.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011 Dereel
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Localizing USB flakiness
Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday I established beyond reasonable doubt that my Huawei E1762 USB modem doesn't work reliably with the new 5 m USB cable. But who is to blame? According to the standard, the combination should work. We've established that it's not the motherboard, since it happens with two different ones, including the one where it has been running relatively reliably for months.

The new component is the cable. So, let's connect some other device with it. First I tried a disk drive. Complete failure:

May 18 13:22:44 dereel kernel: usb_alloc_device: set address 2 failed (USB_ERR_STALLED, ignored)
May 18 13:22:46 dereel kernel: usbd_req_re_enumerate: addr=2, set address failed! (USB_ERR_STALLED, ignored)
May 18 13:22:48 dereel kernel: usbd_req_re_enumerate: addr=2, set address failed! (USB_ERR_STALLED, ignored)
May 18 13:22:49 dereel kernel: ugen5.2: <Unknown> at usbus5 (disconnected)
May 18 13:22:49 dereel kernel: uhub_reattach_port: could not allocate new device

But, bad as that seems, it's a feature, not a bug. This is a 5 m extension cable, which means I also needed a short pigtail cable, bringing the total length to over 5 m. So the only things I can use with this cable are direct plug devices like USB modems, USB memory sticks and card readers.

Tried an SD with the card reader. As Daniel O'Connor pointed out, you shouldn't really need to perform any I/O if the device just goes away. But it didn't: it connected just fine and stayed that way for well over an hour, longer than the Huawei modem ever managed. So I tried copying data from the card with dd. And there I ran into problems:

=== root@dereel (/dev/pts/10) /src/ISOs 74 -> while :; do dd if=/dev/da1 of=/dev/null bs=128k ; done &
dd: /dev/da1: Input/output error
761+0 records in
761+0 records out
99745792 bytes transferred in 107.906362 secs (924374 bytes/sec)

May 18 14:54:52 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): READ(10).  CDB: 28 0 0 2 f9 0 0 0 80 0
May 18 14:54:53 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): CAM status: SCSI Status Error
May 18 14:54:53 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI status: Check Condition
May 18 14:54:53 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI sense: ILLEGAL REQUEST asc:26,0 (Invalid field in parameter list)

That looks like the kind of thing you'd expect, and it occurred several times in various flavours:

May 18 15:15:33 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): READ(10).  CDB: 28 0 0 0 4b 0 0 0 80 0
May 18 15:15:33 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): CAM status: SCSI Status Error
May 18 15:15:33 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI status: Check Condition
May 18 15:15:33 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI sense: ILLEGAL REQUEST asc:26,0 (Invalid field in parameter list)

May 18 15:21:49 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): READ(10).  CDB: 28 0 0 2 d4 80 0 0 80 0
May 18 15:21:49 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): CAM status: SCSI Status Error
May 18 15:21:49 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI status: Check Condition
May 18 15:21:49 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI sense: ILLEGAL REQUEST asc:26,0 (Invalid field in parameter list)

May 18 15:35:56 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): READ(10).  CDB: 28 0 0 0 ab 0 0 0 80 0
May 18 15:35:56 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): CAM status: SCSI Status Error
May 18 15:35:56 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI status: Check Condition
May 18 15:35:56 dereel kernel: (da1:umass-sim1:1:0:0): SCSI sense: ILLEGAL REQUEST asc:26,0 (Invalid field in parameter list)

But is that the cable or the SD card? The SD card is over 6 years old, and potentially it's flaky. In addition, it's a different kind of problem. The device doesn't go away. Tried again without the cable, and again ran into trouble, though possibly a little less. So it seems that USB is just flaky, at least in my experience. How I'd like to see something more reliable.

It's also interesting to note the transfer speeds. They're not spectacular, but that can be due to the old card. But with the cable the successful transfers had speeds between 922956 and 934461 b/s, while without the cable they were in the range 880813 to 884423 b/s. That's a significant difference; what causes it? Can it have a bearing on the problem?


Slowly in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather hasn't been conducive to garden work lately, but there's plenty to be done. Removed another hop rhizome, taking about an hour to do so. It's tiring work, and there are still another two to be done.

Put them off to some other time and attended to the overgrown bed that I last worked on two weeks ago. Spent yet more time trying to remove the stump of the River Red Gum that we tried to remove 18 months ago. Got through the lateral roots, but it's still firm as a rock. Looks like I'll have to cut down under it. Also found yet more bulbs:


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I had difficulty finding space for the ones I found two weeks ago, and I still don't know what to do with these ones. It's amusing to think that at the time I bought them, I was concerned how few there were.


Preparing for 64 bit upgrade
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne is off to the High Country on Friday for a weekend playing with dogs, and in that time I hope to be able to upgrade at least her machine to AMD64. Last time I did an upgrade I ended up downloading lots of tarballs, and by chance my monthly traffic quota runs out tomorrow, so it made sense to upgrade defake, my background installation VM, to the latest and greatest kernel and ports. That worked fine, but I was still amazed to note that I managed to download 1 GB of tarballs, including another version of this amazingly large Qt Everywhere, for which the canonical site is apparently still under construction:

-rw-r--r--  1 root  lemis  211768512 Nov  9  2010 /src/FreeBSD/ports/distfiles/KDE/qt-everywhere-opensource-src-4.7.1.tar.gz
-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  213659173 May  4 18:10 /src/FreeBSD/ports/distfiles/KDE/qt-everywhere-opensource-src-4.7.3.tar.gz

Next I need a disk. I think I'll put the new system on an external USB disk so that I can easily test it on different machines.


Thursday, 19 May 2011 Dereel Images for 19 May 2011
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More 64 bit upgrade preparations
Topic: technology Link here

I can't actually start installing my amd64 version of FreeBSD until tomorrow, because I need Yvonne's computer to do the bootstrap, and she's not leaving until tomorrow. But I still had some time to prepare the disk I was going to use.

I have a surprising number of external USB disks: three 1 TB and one 500 GB. I use two of the big ones for photo backups and currently the little one for other backups, but both that disk and the third 1 TB disk contain older copies of my /src file system and various other junk. My intention was to move the backups to the third 1 TB disk and use the 500 GB disk as a bootstrap disk for amd64.

That's simple: copy the backups across, wipe the file system, and we're done. But what if there's other stuff on there that I had forgotten about? Years ago I wrote a program, mklinks, that does various comparisons and editing of similar source trees. In this case, it made sense to remove all files from the USB disks that existed in the same form on /src, so started doing that. It's not a fast job at the best of times, and I further slowed things down by monitoring the progress.

Then I saw a message fly past on the log window, something about fatal swap_pager errors. The top window showed that I had plenty of free swap space, but the system froze solid—not the first time I've seen that. Swap management seems to be a weak point in FreeBSD. Theoretically it could be I/O problems, but I've seen too many occurrences of this syndrome (and very little elsewhere) to believe that. Unfortunately the way the machine crashed means that the log messages got lost. I half expected that, and should have taken a photo.

Continued with the mklinks, and after a couple of hours the second disk was finished. But the one that started first was only half way through. Checked and found that the second was running soft updates, so umounted the first, set soft updates, and started again.

Went out to help Yvonne, who has been rebuilding the car to ensure that Nemo doesn't wander round to the front seat. When I got back, the machine had frozen. No error messages, just dead. I've seen this before, but I had thought it was fixed. And once again an overflowing lost+found directory. In the end, decided it wasn't worth the trouble. Confirmed that, apart from the /src copy, there was nothing of interest on the disk, so ran newfs on it. But what a day! Two unrelated crashes! It helps confirm my prejudices against USB. Maybe I should check eSATA—one of the disks has a connector.


Central Victoria: culinary wilderness
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne went shopping today, looking for various foods that I need for the cassoulet that I am planning for Saturday, and also masa harina. There's a new gluten-free shop in Sebastopol, Victoria, so I suggested she go there and ask about the masa harina. As I had guessed, they had never heard of it, neither under that name, nor maize flour, nor anything else. They didn't have it, of course.

Even more surprising: it took her 7 different shops before she found dried white beans, which I had thought were a staple. No smoked food, of course; fortunately we have some deep-frozen. I'm continually amazed.


Slow progress in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow I'm not making much progress in the garden. It's been windy lately, and I've had to tie down the Alyogyne huegelii, which has nearly been uprooted. Did a bit of weeding—I really should be planting things.


Friday, 20 May 2011 Dereel Images for 20 May 2011
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Installing AMD64
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne off with Nemo this morning to visit Jenny Judson near Myrtleford, leaving her computer behind for me to play around with. The plan was to boot with my new 8.2-RELEASE bootonly disk and then build a STABLE kernel from sources. It didn't quite work out that way.

It seems that this “bootonly” disk contains, well, only /boot: the kernel and a couple of helper files for the bootstrap. And it's 50 MB in size. Well, what's on the CD is. It's a lot more once it's properly installed. The bloat of ages looks like this:

# du -sk /boot /src/UNIX/Sixth-Edition/rkunix
326962  /boot
28      /src/UNIX/Sixth-Edition/rkunix

A modern kernel with helpers is over 10,000 times the size of the kernel of the Sixth Edition of Unix! From my point, however, the problem was different: I didn't have enough to get the machine up and running. What's the purpose of this disk? It has all the scripts to install a complete system, but the userland isn't there. Checked on the download sites: the next smallest CD image is about 750 MB, and I only had 550 MB quota left for the rest of the “month” (midnight today). That's a hard limit: when I hit it, I lose connectivity. So I would have had to wait until tomorrow, and even then use over 8% of my month's traffic quota to download it.

Went looking and found a collection of 7.0-RELEASE AMD64 CDs, probably sent from Peter Jeremy some time ago. The obvious thing to do would be to install from them and then build from source as before. Problem: the bootstrap died on me. It seems that there has been some change in hardware in the intervening 3 years, and the boot doesn't know how to handle it. Tried a number of different approaches (it's nice to have a functional system on the other disk):

  1. Run the install script on the 7.0-RELEASE CD (it's effectively unchanged since the days of floppies and the first release of “The Complete FreeBSD”). That worked, but the boot loader still died.

  2. Replace the /boot hierarchy on disk with the 8.2 version. Still no go; it seems that the part of the boot was in the boot blocks.

  3. From the 8.2 CD, rewrite the boot blocks with the newer ones. That worked.

FreeBSD isn't really designed so that userland and kernel from different releases should work together. But it did, and I was able to build a new system without any further problems. Started building ports, again with relatively few problems, though one looked ominous:

===>  Cleaning for cvsup-16.1h_4
===>  cvsup-16.1h_4 does not support GUI on amd64, please disable X11 option or use net/cvsup-without-gui instead.

I don't need cvsup's GUI, of course, but it's been concerns with incompatibilities between i386 and amd64 that have kept me from upgrading for so long. Didn't even try to configure the machine—yet. I had other things to do.


More garden progress
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's nicer again, and so more work in the garden. Finally got all the bulbs planted, both the ones I dug out the other day and the ones we bought at Lambley Nursery nearly a month ago. Most of them are in the garden area east of the verandah. Also more attention to the weeds in the north bed; there's some satisfaction in removing large quantities of weeds, though there's no point unless I get out all the roots too.


Saturday, 21 May 2011 Dereel Images for 21 May 2011
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New system build, continued
Topic: technology Link here

Carried on running the ports build of the amd64 system in the background all day long, in the process modifying my method somewhat. Many years ago I changed the layout of my file systems. Traditionally the systems are /, /usr, /var and maybe /home. I have incorporated /usr with / and split /var between / (system-related directories such as /var/db and /var/run) and /home (user-related directories such as /var/mail, /var/spool and /var/tmp). Over the years I've increased the size of the root partition. In the last edition of “The Complete FreeBSD” I recommended 4 to 6 GB. My current machine has 10 GB, and for the new machine I chose 20 GB.

Nevertheless the file system filled up during the build: the Ports Collection is in /usr/ports, and in the course of building it accumulated about 12 GB of files before overflowing the file system. Clearly I need to move the ports to /home as well, though it doesn't really fit that well.

Other things irritate, of course, particularly this emetic Java stuff, where you must download the tarball via a web browser (tough luck if you haven't built one), and accept a positively stupid license agreement:


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A licensee of FreeBSD? What's that? Since this particular tarball is only of use for FreeBSD, this is almost completely meaningless. And yet it's on the FreeBSD foundation web site. Clearly this is some requirement by SunOracle's ivory tower lawyers. It wasn't helped by firefox, which now gives no indication that it has actually started a download. After clicking on “Submit” a few times, went to look if anything was coming in. Yes:

-rw-------  1 grog  lemis  28508160 May 21 15:15 diablo-caffe-freebsd7-amd64-1.6.0_07-b02(1).tar.bz2.part
-rw-------  1 grog  lemis  26836992 May 21 15:15 diablo-caffe-freebsd7-amd64-1.6.0_07-b02(2).tar.bz2.part
-rw-------  1 grog  lemis  27557888 May 21 15:15 diablo-caffe-freebsd7-amd64-1.6.0_07-b02(3).tar.bz2.part
-rw-------  1 grog  lemis  43778048 May 21 15:15 diablo-caffe-freebsd7-amd64-1.6.0_07-b02.tar.bz2.part

Not only had it started a download, it had started four of them. And the key binding c-y no longer brings up the download window, so I couldn't stop it. Finally I found that they have changed the binding to c-s-y. Somehow this browser is getting more and more irritating

Configuration is proving to be more of a problem than I expected. I've already complained that the FreeBSD port of GIMP doesn't install the documentation. Now there's a configuration option to install it (but it still defaults to off). Checked that and discovered that by default (there's another configuration screen that you don't get presented) it installs the documentation in 13 different languages! And each documentation pack is about 30 MB. Stopped the damned thing after it had loaded 150 MB of largely irrelevant data. Why should anybody want more than one of these things?


ALDI microwave egg poacher
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

A while back we bought some “egg poachers” from ALDI. They're supposed to poach eggs in the microwave oven. The instructions were dubious, and we kept putting off trying them out:

  1. Simply [sic] bread egg into poacher ... and add one teaspoon of water over each egg.

  2. Pierce the yolk of the egg two or three times with a knife point. Place the poacher at the edge of the carousel, cook on MEDIUM for approximately 60 seconds

What does that mean? What's MEDIUM? How strong a microwave oven? And what happens if you want more or less than two eggs? Today I finally got round to trying it. Never mind that I hate pierced yolks; I thought I could try without. Put 5 ml water in the egg and didn't pierce the yolks. How do you centre them, anyway? They have a mind of their own. Decided that MEDIUM must mean about half strength, in my case 550 W. Tried it out and observed. Yes, the yolk exploded, but only after some time; by that time half the white had also exploded and gone rubber-hard, while the other half was completely uncooked. Here before and after:


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Is there any hope? What happens if I try at the lowest power level, 110 W? I don't know if I want to find out.


Too windy for photos
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Today should have been garden photo day, like every Saturday, but it was too windy. I should have done them yesterday: the weather forecast was correct, and they're forecasting more wind tomorrow and rain on Monday.

Still, did some photo processing, notably the egg photos. And for some reason the Ashampoo photo optimizer didn't want to run. It just hung there, and when I aborted with ^C, I got the message:

err:module:attach_process_dlls "winspool.drv" failed to initialize, aborting

What caused that? I really have no idea. Tried a new version of wine, but got the same problem I noted on 18 March 2011:

ELF interpreter /libexec/ld-elf.so.1 not found
Abort trap: 6

This appears to be related to the value of kern.maxdsiz, which I have set to 2048000000 bytes. Jürgen Lock tells me that that's no longer needed, but it's not something I feel like testing right now. We'll see what problems I run into with the new system.

Reinstalled the old version of wine and discovered that it wasn't a complete hang: it took several minutes to start up, and then it ran. No idea why. I'll see if I run into the same problems with the new system.


More cassoulet
Topic: food and drink Link here

Yvonne is away, so I can eat the foods she doesn't like, such as cassoulet. Spent most of the day cooking, throwing in a lamb Madras on the side for tomorrow or Monday. Chris Yeardley came to help me eat it, and we're agreed that, if anything, there weren't enough beans, even though I had taken nearly twice as much as most recipes ask for. On the other hand, was left over with a lot of broth. I need to modify the recipe.


Sunday, 22 May 2011 Dereel Images for 22 May 2011
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Ports build complete
Topic: technology Link here

Managed to complete the ports build today, modulo some problems:

And that's all I did. Other things, including distaste, kept me from updating the configuration.


Removing the Verbena
Topic: gardening Link here

We've had our eye on removing the Aloysia citrodora (Lemon Verbena) for some time, but it's really more like moving: we don't want to get rid of the plant altogether. Last month I took some cuttings, and finally a couple are showing signs of taking, so today was the big day:


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You can almost hear the Camellia behind breath a sigh of relief. The strike rate on the cuttings wasn't very high, so planted a few more as well.


Dead dishwasher
Topic: general, food and drink Link here

20 years ago we bought a Míele G 7760 commercial dishwasher for the riding school we were opening. We were really proud of it. It used 3 phase power (optionally single phase), had hot water intake and could run a complete programme, including drying, in as little as 22 minutes. Over the course of the years we've invested significant effort in infrastructure (3 phase power at Wantadilla, hot water intake and 15 A power point here).

Until today, it ran almost without problems. Then I thought: “It's a pity the upper tray is so close to the top. It's difficult to get glasses in there”. It must have been offended: this evening I found it stopped in the middle of a cycle, and further investigation showed that it wasn't pumping water out. Spent some time investigating the problem, suspecting a blockage, and found that confirmed when I couldn't pump water back in through the drain hose. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that there is almost certainly a non-return valve there. And since there was no obvious blockage to be seen, it's likely that the pump (which is still running, but rather quietly) is dead.

I suspect that's the end of the machine. Just taking it in for repair and having it looked at would cost about $60, and I expect a pump would cost $200. And then we still have a 20 year old dish washer. I can buy a new one for only a little more than that, and it'll use less power and water. So I'll go off to town tomorrow with Chris Yeardley's LandBruiser and probably come back with something new. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Monday, 23 May 2011 Dereel Images for 23 May 2011
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Belated house photos
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Today the weather was finally—just—good enough to take the house photos, with a few more parts of the new Manfrotto 303PLUS panorama head:


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Last week I just used the leveling head. This week I had the main part of the panorama head as well, including the rotator. How did it go? I've found more problems, of a more basic nature.

Firstly, yes, the leveling base is becoming a nuisance. It has only two advantages over the much cheaper ball head I was using before:

  1. It's more stable.

  2. It has a better spirit level, allowing more accurate adjustments.

But that's all. It's bulky and difficult to adjust, and in particular it doesn't have the range, so I'm still continually changing the length of the tripod legs. But if I do that, I don't need the leveling head except for the spirit level. And there must be a cheaper way to get that, possibly electronic.

And the panorama bracket? Well, the layout is almost unchanged, so there wasn't much difference except for the rotator with the click stops. That is “nice to have”, but it didn't stop me taking one shot too few on one occasion:


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I only took 11 instead of 12 shots, and there's a little bit missing at the bottom towards the right. I've left it that way because it's part of a series. Apart from that, there are disadvantages too: if I want to take less than a 360° panorama, the start and end points are important. The following 180° photo is made from 6 shots taken at 30° increments:


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Clearly the start and end points are important, and I used to do this by manually selecting directions 30° apart. But now I'm locked in to particular directions, and I can't select the starting point. The only way to move the head so that the start point is somewhere in between is to rotate the tripod. So I set it to 15° and took every second detent. Not quite the comfort I was looking for.

As if that wasn't enough, there are protrusions on the bracket that limit the angle that the camera can be turned towards the ground:


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In particular, the brass screw at the top right appears in the picture if the camera is tilted too far down. Of course, this bracket isn't designed for that sort of thing, but it's completely unnecessary and somehow an indication of the limited thought that has gone into designing the bracket.

In summary, I don't really have much more than I had before. The big part is still to come: rotating the lens about the nodal point when mounted horizontally.


Dish washers: not in the same league as washing machines
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Three months ago I bought a new washing machine, and spent a lot of time looking at the pros and cons of various models. Now I'm in the same situation with a new dish washer. But things aren't quite the same: last time I found various places in the Yellow Pages, and there was a used washing machine sales place that I went to. Dish washers seem to be much less popular. There's no entry for them in the Yellow Pages, and the people who sell used washing machines don't seem to be interested in dish washers. Got on to one repairer who handles Míele, and he confirmed my concerns: the last time he replaced a drain pump, it cost about $300. And that was presumably a domestic model that had been marketed in Australia. He suggested that the pump might be blocked, though.

Finally into town with Chris' LandBruiser to see what was available. The very cheapest started at about $550, and they went up to well over $2000. Again, it seemed that the cheapest units were available at the Good Guys, where the bloke also knew something about them. In contrast to the considerations with washing machines, there doesn't seem to be much difference in dish washers: the biggest one seems to be the ability to start the cycle in the middle of the night to take advantage of cheap electricity. Others are power and water consumption (both way less than our old machine) and the reconfigurability of the baskets. And that seems to have little to do with the price.

Didn't get as far as making up my mind today. I had already received a “VIP” invitation (“we have your address on record, so you must be a VIP”) to a special sale at Good Guys tomorrow evening, and the sales person told me that, although they didn't have details, there could be discounts of “up to 50%” and in any case probably well over 10%, so I'll have to go back then.

Back home to look at the dish washer. It seems that the pump is accessible from the bottom, so turned it over and took a look:


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The first photo shows the bottom plate, which seems to have been used by mice at some time. The equipment itself looks OK, but there's no obvious place where it could be blocked. Turned it back upright and tried again. This time no noise from the pump, and since that's the first thing that it does in any cycle, the thing was completely non-reactive. I suppose it's something like brushes, but who repairs motors nowadays?


Finally extracted the screw
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

While in town, dropped in at Ballarat Automotive and asked Paul Sperber to extract the screw from my panorama bracket. I had to wait in the reception, and I heard a surprising amount of banging from the workshop. After about 10 minutes he returned, confirming that the thing had been a real problem, and that he almost thought he wouldn't get it out. He had finally removed it by hammering in a Torx driver and twisting it out like that:


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Looking at the separated components confirms my low opinion of this device. The holder for the camera plate has a groove in it which in no way resembles the profile of the rail it fits on, and part of the screw thread is missing as a result. The third image shows the holder on top of the rail with the gap in between:


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Why do people build things like that?


Tuesday, 24 May 2011 Dereel Images for 24 May 2011
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New dish washer, continued
Topic: general Link here

So I've identified that the functionality of dish washers doesn't differ much, but there must be some differences. In principle I had decided to buy the cheapest I could find, a Dishlex, which the Good Guys were offering for $545. First looked at Choice, who have recently done a review of dish washers on the market, though their search for dishwashers compare and review hides it way behind more relevant topics like a three year old “Graters review and compare”. Fortunately, Google can find it, and that's how I found it. Members only. I would have happily paid a few dollars—Choice reviews aren't worth much more—for the privilege, but the only way I could do it was to join Choice, something I had tried before and found wanting. Went to the signup page anyway, but the whole web site left me with a sense of distrust, starting with their use of what appear to be Microsoft-specific fonts that fall back to Courier on my machine. Clearly there's less Choice on the web site.

So moved on and read reviews at http://www.productreview.com.au/. These are all user reviews, and it's clear that many of them vent their frustration by giving the appliances low ratings. But it's clear that Dishlex have significantly lower ratings than others, though the DX203WK did better than some. In particular, many people complained about dead electronics and leaking. Took a look at the overall ratings and found that 7 of the top 10 were Bosch units. Good Guys had had a very cheap one for sale yesterday, a SGU55E15AU for $656, while most of them retail for $1000 to $1500.

Checked the review and found that the specs were pretty much identical, but nobody had reviewed it yet. The Bosch web site was useless: it didn't even list it. Still, on consideration, decided that I'd be a whole lot happier with a well-known brand with a good reputation. I've had a Bosch dish washer before, in fact, in the 1980s, and it did a reasonable job.

But why the difference in price? It's the only “built-under” model I've seen on sale. To quote the Bosch web site:

A new concept that allows you to change your dishwasher to suit an existing kitchen, rather than the other way around.

A new concept? My last Bosch machine was built-under, and that's what I wanted today. So what they mean is “new to Australia”, I suppose. And presumably they're not selling as well as they had hoped. All the better.

The sale started at 18:00, but decided to arrive early and take a look. Arrived in plenty of time—about 17:15—and discovered that I could already get the discounted prices. Confirmed that there wasn't much else to choose from at that price, so got the Bosch machine for $600—only 12.5% less, pretty much the going rate for Good Guys, who always discount—and also a Vax vacuum cleaner for Yvonne, who's been asking for one for weeks. That was closer to their claims: list price $149, sale price $74, or 50.33% off.

Back home and arrived at about 18:10 to discover that Yvonne had already returned from Albury. Unloaded the machine, marvelling at the poor documentation, in particular on a packet that appears to contain some kind of explosive device, a “Powerball”:


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The funny rectangles at the left are the content viewed through a transparent window. What are they? Why doesn't it say? I think it's because this stupid company is too leet to describe their products. I've seen this before: they seem to delight in obfuscation. About the only new information I got was that the problem seems to be world-wide: both the machine and the pellets seem to be made in Germany. The only instructions on the back appear to be for illiterates, and the text, written in four point text in 27 languages, just tells me that the stuff is dangerous—but not what it is!

 
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There's a company to avoid on principle.

Put the machine together quickly enough, discovering that there's some enormous valve (presumably to guard against flooding) on the water feed, preventing me from installing it in the correct place. Put much of the backed up dirty dishes in and started the “Normal 45°” wash programme. The washer has a “time remaining” display: 141 minutes! The old Míele did the normal 55° cycle in about 30 minutes, including 9 minutes drying. Did a bit of RTFM and discovered there's also a “Fast 45°” programme that runs in 25 minutes, but doesn't dry. You'd think they'd have something in between. Started the fast programme, within 2 hours of buying the device, and it seems to have done well enough. It's certainly much quieter than the Míele.


More eBay pain
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Two weeks ago I accidentally bought the wrong camera for Yvonne on eBay. Discussed with the seller, who wanted a $15 restocking charge, which I paid, so I though that the matter was over.

Not so. On Friday I received a mail message from eBay in typical obfuscated form. Hidden in the mess was:

eBay opened an unpaid item case for Canon PSA3100IS Digital Compact Camera
A3100 IS SILVER , because jrandomseller either hasn't recorded your payment
or didn't receive it yet.

Clearly a misunderstanding, and I sent a message to the seller, who didn't respond. Why not? One indication was another message that I sent to him a week ago. The courtesy copy arrived only today, 6 days later and completely broken. The text part was (probably broken) HTML:

Content-Type: text/plain;charset=ISO-8859-1
To : jrandomseller
>From : groggyhimself
Subject: Other: groggyhimself sent a message about Canon PSA3100IS Digital
Compact Camera A3100 IS SILVER  #260705464584

<html><head></head><body><div id="begin_delimiter_header"></div><div
id="HeaderTextDilimiter1"><div>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp
+;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</div></div><div id="Header"><div><table border="0" cellpadding="0"
+cellspacing="0" width="100%"><tr><td width="100%" style="word-wrap:break-word"><table cellpadding="2" cellspacing="3"
+border="0" width="100%"><tr><td width="1%" nowrap="nowrap"><img
(etc)

I like the ID HeaderTextDilimiter1. But somehow eBay's site is completely broken, and new breakage continually occurs. Normally these messages are formatted well enough modulo the mess around them. And it seems impossible to send messages via their “email” system, so tried to find the phone number of the seller. Found a page which linked to http://help.ebay.com.au/Help/Getting_Started/eBay_community/Contacting_members#contact and promised to give the information. But it's 404. After much more frustrating searching, finally found another page, since lost again, which did finally get me the phone number. Called up, spoke to the vendor, and he promised to do something about it today; and he did. But it cost me 1½ hours of messing around, and I still don't know what to do next time. What a pain!


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure just before midnight. It's been longer than usual since the last one. Are things getting better?


Wednesday, 25 May 2011 Dereel Images for 25 May 2011
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Finishing the dish washer installation
Topic: general Link here

We got the dish washer running yesterday, but we still needed to install it in the correct place. That was hampered by the size of the Aqua-stop device on the inlet hose and the incorrect fitting for the drain hose. The former required cutting a larger hole in the wall to the sink cabinet, and the latter required fitting an adapter which was supplied with the machine.

The real problem was the instructions. They're terrible! In particular, there are two mounting brackets to hold the top front of the machine to the work surface above. There are two different instructions on how to mount them, and neither work because another instruction specifies to fit a rubber seal in the same place:


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So which do I choose? The first one doesn't make sense—there's no way to attach the machine to the work surface—and the second one requires removing the seal. In the end I stuck with the seal, which meant no brackets. The old Míele dish washer was stable enough like that, but despite all adjustments this machine is a little wobbly. So I'll do some more thinking, but it looks as if the rubber seal has to go and the second alternative be used to hold the machine in place.

That wasn't the only documentation blunder. The instructions refer to a stronger drying cycle, twice. One states that you should press a button labeled B, the other (worded differently) talks of a button with the Chinese symbol for river, 川. But the machine doesn't have either of these buttons. Clearly the instructions, ambiguous as they are, apply to one or more other machines. In addition, the manual appears to be printed for the Australian and New Zealand markets, since it gives details of power and water consumption according to Australian and New Zealand national standards. But the phone numbers on the back page are only for the United Kingdom and Eire. I'm left with the distinct impression that nobody cares about the document. Hopefully the machine itself is better.


Picking up the PDP-11
Topic: technology, general Link here

In April 1997, while we were in the process of moving from Germany to Australia, Hartmut Brandt gave me his PDP-11 (really an LSI-11/73). Despite the best of intentions, I never got round to powering it on, and well over a year I offered it to Alastair Boyanich. That was the background to the Hackers' barbecue that we held last year. But Alastair didn't show: he had trouble with the old car he was restoring. He finally made it here today with his father George to stay the night and take the computer tomorrow. Much fun was had by all:


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Thursday, 26 May 2011 Dereel Images for 26 May 2011
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Goodbye PDP-11
Topic: technology Link here

Spent most of the day loading the PDP-11, documentation, disks and software into Alastair's car:


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He had a trailer for the cabinets, but wanted to put the hardware in the back of his car:


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That required significant dismantling, and it took its time. From the Wikipedia page, this CPU appears to be the JAWS-11. This is the first time I've seen it. If we identified and counted the memory chips correctly, the machine has 4 MB main memory.

It proved that the storage conditions had been less than idea, and Alastair had to evict one rat from its home, much to the interest of Piccola. Clearly the others got out earlier. Here some of the remains, along with the Tandem LXN and a MicroVAX II which were also there, and which proved to be more difficult for rats to build their nests:


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Even after loading everything, we weren't done. Alastair had been rather generous with the size of the tarpaulin that he wanted to tie over the trailer. The first photo shows it folded fourfold. It took quite a while to shrink it to the size of the trailer and tie it down firmly:


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Finally everything was done, and they left. It had taken most of the day. And he only took one computer!


More USB problems?
Topic: technology Link here

Backing up photos today was less than reassuring. Lots of messages like:

rsync: recv_generator: failed to stat "/photobackup/Photos/grog/20090321/housephoto-notes": Device not configured (6)
rsync: recv_generator: failed to stat "/photobackup/Photos/grog/20090321/makejpeg": Device not configured (6)
rsync: recv_generator: failed to stat "/photobackup/Photos/grog/20090321/n-to-house-w-to-house.pto": Device not configured (6)
rsync: recv_generator: failed to stat "/photobackup/Photos/grog/20090321/n-to-house-w-to-house.pto.mk": Device not configured (6)
rsync: recv_generator: failed to stat "/photobackup/Photos/grog/20090321/verandah-e-verandah-se.pto": Device not configured (6)

It wasn't repeatable: after aborting the backup, disconnecting and reconnecting the USB cable, all was well. There were also no console messages, but I wonder if I shouldn't migrate to some more reliable method of backup, maybe eSATA. Time to check all the files, anyway.


Friday, 27 May 2011 Dereel
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Completing the dish washer installation
Topic: general Link here

The dish washer is still too wobbly, and it's not clear what the seal at the top is for (it doesn't seal the door), so removed it and put the angle brackets in at the front position, screwing them to the underside of the work surface. Now it's stable, but it still doesn't look right:


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It looks as if I'll need a new skirting board at the bottom.

So, that's done. And I have a number of things left over which are not mentioned in the installation instructions: 8 nails and a flat piece of metal, the width of the machine and about the depth of the plate which goes behind the skirting board. It's marked “Top” in English, French and German, and with an arrow pointing to “Front”, apparently good enough for all three languages:


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The “Top” text suggests that it might be intended to be mounted vertically, and it fits pretty well to the skirting plate at the bottom, though it's not clear why it should be needed. But arrow pointing to Front suggests that it's intended to be mounted horizontally. I really have no idea what its purpose is.

One problem with the baskets is that the plate holders are non-removable. In the old machine everything came out, leaving a flat basket which I could use for things like barbecue grills. Tried to fit it into the new machine, but to my surprise the new machine, with identical external dimensions, is smaller inside, and it doesn't fit. I wonder why it's smaller inside than a 20 year old machine.


Saturday, 28 May 2011 Dereel Images for 28 May 2011
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Garden flowers in late autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

Took my monthly garden flower photos today. It's clear that summer is over—in fact, autumn is nearly over—and there aren't nearly as many flowers as last month. Of those that are still looking happy, the Alstroemerias and the Begonias are particularly obvious:


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Those are the volunteer Begonias; the expensive tuberous one still has a couple of flowers on, but it's nothing to look at.

Flowers that seem to be really coming into their own now seem to be the Alyogyne, the Dahlia imperialis and the unknown ginger sort that had been looking relatively unhappy last month:


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Some of the Grevilleas are still flowering, and the Hardenbergia violacea is just starting:


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Some Hebe or another seems to flower most of the time, though they're gradually dying back:


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Some of the Salvias are also doing well, the Salvia microphylla that we have had here since the beginning, and the Salvia leucantha that we bought only a couple of months ago:


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Other things that are looking relatively happy are some of the Pelargoniums, the Tradescantia and the Vinca minor:


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In the greenhouse, this season's tomatoes are gradually dying back, though we still have flowers, and some of the new ones are also flowering. So is the lemon, and the creeper cuttings that Yvonne brought back from Albury seem not to have noticed that they have been cut and replanted. And the Mandevilla is still flowering happily:


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Sunday, 29 May 2011 Dereel
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Sourdough in Dereel
Topic: general, food and drink, brewing, gardening Link here

I started my next batch of sourdough bread yesterday, and by chance somebody on Freecycle asked for a starter today. Even more unusually, the person was in Dereel. Sent a reply offering to show them how I made the bread, but they didn't call back until I had started: it seems that Freecycle has significant delays in sending messages.

The person in question turned out to be Peter Dilley, with whom I had spoken about brewing last month. He came by with his wife Victoria and picked up the starter, lending me a couple of books while he was at it. He also left with one of the Pride of Ringwood hop rhizomes and a number of garden cuttings. Had an interesting discussion. We're planning to do some cooperative brewing sessions.


Bread baking books
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

The books that Peter lent me were “exceptional breads” by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington and “Bread” by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno. My only interest is in sourdough, and neither book handles it well. I found no mention of Lactobacillus in either book, just “wild yeasts”, though they use terms like poolish and levain (the latter the French word for sourdough), with undocumented explanations of the big difference between the two. I'm left with the impression that the books implicitly disagree on the meaning of the two. The suggestions about how to create and maintain a starter that remind me of my attempts two years ago: discard up to 600 g of starter every day. I bake once every two weeks and use 1.3 kg of flour. In that time I would have got rid of over 4 kg of wasted flour according to this method.

“Bread” does offer an alternative: the radical “old dough” method, effectively what I (and just about everybody outside the English-speaking world) do: save some of the dough for next time, though they appear to take the final dough before baking. But the recipes call for “starters” that are really just yeast and water. And both seem to think that a starter is a thing you can make in a day or two. No mention of the fact that rye needs sourdough, nor why rye is so popular in northern Europe (it grows in places that are too cold for wheat).

That doesn't mean that they're generally bad. But how much information do you need about baking in general? The parts that interest me are the fine detail, and that's missing.


64 bit upgrade, one small step
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne off to dog training this morning, so continued with the upgrade to 64 bits that had got interrupted last week. Things didn't work too much better today: got as far as checking out some configuration files when I got interrupted by Real Life. This is taking for ever, even though I'm nearly finished. I dread getting X up and stumbling.


Monday, 30 May 2011 Dereel Images for 30 May 2011
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Another USB crash
Topic: technology Link here

Somehow these USB disks aren't really reliable enough. I don't seem to lose any data, but there are continual strange messages that suggest things aren't all going well. Today the message was very clear: once again I froze the entire system. That's enough. From now on I revert to doing my backups over the LAN to some other machine that doesn't need to be up all the time.

While the system was down, put in the 4 GB of memory that I recently received. Now I have 6 GB, of which I can only use 3 until I finally get the machine running in 64 bit mode. But the extra memory had an unpleasant side effect: although it's all DDR-2 800 memory, and all from the same manufacturer (Kingston), the machine came back up running at 667 MT/s. Why? I didn't have time to play around, but clearly I need to check the BIOS settings.


4 years of Dereel
Topic: general Link here

Four years ago today Yvonne and I were looking for a new house in the Dereel area, and we first saw the house we're living in. I took a number of photos at the time, and every year since then I've tried to reproduce the views. It's becoming more and more difficult, but here's what I took today. The first is from the north-east of the house. The big difference here is the shade area at the left, of course, but it's also interesting to note the growth of the Callistemon bushes in the middle. I've already cut them back hard on one occasion.


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The east side of the house has changed so much that I wasn't able to establish the correct location for the photo:


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And the interesting thing in the south (apart from the fact that I was able to stitch a second-rate panorama from the photos of 4 years ago) is how much the bushes have grown. The Eucalyptus at the left now completely obscures the driveway and the water tank, while the Melaleuca at the south-west side of the house obscures the west side of the house. Even the birch tree to the east of the house is noticeably bigger. I wonder when they planted all these plants.


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Tuesday, 31 May 2011 Dereel Images for 31 May 2011
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Strange camera problems
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Yvonne asked me to take some photos of her riding Carlotta, so out onto the road. Carlotta is gaited, so it made sense to take some high-speed sequences. In all photos I used manual focus, because I can't count on the autofocus to do the right thing so quickly. I have a “focus once” function button on the camera, which performs an autofocus when in manual mode. Pressed that and took some photos. First took a single photo, then switched to high speed sequence. Here the first (normal mode) and the first of the sequence:


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Not only was the complete sequence out of focus, but it was overexposed by 2 stops. What went wrong? Took at look at the EXIF data, but there wasn't anything obvious to note. Here extracts of a diff:

-File Name                       : P5316639.JPG
+File Name                       : P5316640.JPG
-Exposure Time                   : 1/200
-F Number                        : 6.3
+Exposure Time                   : 1/125
+F Number                        : 4.0
-Special Mode                    : Normal, Sequence: 0, Panorama: (none)
+Special Mode                    : Fast, Sequence: 1, Panorama: (none)
 Focus Mode                      : MF; MF
-Focus Process                   : AF Used; 16
-AF Search                       : Ready
-AF Areas                        : (111,106)-(144,149)
-AF Point Selected               : (50%,50%) (50%,50%)
+Focus Process                   : AF Not Used; 16
+AF Search                       : Not Ready
+AF Areas                        : none
+AF Point Selected               : undef undef undef undef
-Noise Reduction                 : Auto
+Noise Reduction                 : (none)
-Drive Mode                      : Single Shot
+Drive Mode                      : Continuous Shooting, Shot 1
-Zoom Step Count                 : 16
-Focus Step Count                : 561
-Focus Distance                  : 7.07 m
-AF Point                        : Center (horizontal); Single Target
+Zoom Step Count                 : 31
+Focus Step Count                : 562
+Focus Distance                  : 7.915 m
+AF Point                        : Unknown (0x1f); Unknown (0xe0)
-Light Value                     : 12.0
+Light Value                     : 10.0

But why can the focus suddenly be “Not ready”? Did I maybe change the focus when I set the multiple exposure mode? Or is this what it says when I didn't manually autofocus before taking the image? Comparing with other images taken in sequence in manual mode, it seems not to be the case.

Only later did I discover that one of the sequence was recorded as having been rotated by 270°. Here a comparison with the following image, taken in sequence.


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