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Tuesday, 1 May 2012 Dereel Images for 1 May 2012
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More weeding
Topic: gardening Link here

I have completed weeding most of the area in the south-west of the eastern bed that I've been working on, and already new grass shoots are popping up between the mulch. So I sprayed the with glyphosate the other day, and now I'll have to wait for it to die off. In the meantime worked on other areas of the garden, including to the south of the verandah, where the grass is intermingled with various bulbs which are popping up. What a pain! Spent nearly an hour doing a couple of square metres. If I ever get on top of this, I must really ensure that it doesn't take off again.


Where does that malware come from?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

After months of inactivity, the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens have come back to life. Today I got a number of mail messages from the mail address that I'm trying to close down: it's in the TransACT domain ncable.net.au, so not only does it not reflect our domain, but it also ties us to TransACT. The more I look at that, the less sense it makes.

One of the messages looked very dubious:

From fbg@ncable.net.au Tue May  1 11:28:06 2012
Received: from 203.208.114.27
        (SquirrelMail authenticated user fbg@ncable.net.au)
        by webmail.ncable.net.au with HTTP;
        Tue, 1 May 2012 11:28:06 +1000 (EST)
Message-ID: <49325.203.208.114.27.1335835686.squirrel@webmail.ncable.net.au>
Date: Tue, 1 May 2012 11:28:06 +1000 (EST)
Subject: Email update request
From: "Friends of Ballarat Botanic Gardens" <fbg@ncable.net.au>
To: groggyhimself@fbbg.org.au
User-Agent: SquirrelMail/1.4.9a

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: e-mail verifications
From:    Admin@ncable.net.au
Date:    Sat, April 28, 2012 9:41 pm
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Webnews From ncable.net.au Customer Services This Message
from ncable.net.au We want to alert you that we are deleting
all old email account to create more space for the new
account,To prevent your email account from being closed,
Please click on the link below or copy and paste the URL into your browser:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDV0mZxZRk9CZzBrZGdHTk4MNJmhWdc6tMQ

Regards,
Ncable.net.au Helpdesk Security Department.

Doesn't that look familiar, the old phishing trick? But look at those headers. Those are the complete headers, and they show the message originating from our own (shared) mail address. Is one of us spamming our own mail address? How do I catch them?

Spent several hours turning this over in my head, and then I found another one (this one somewhat shortened):

Received: from 203.208.114.27
        (SquirrelMail authenticated user fbg@ncable.net.au)
        by webmail.ncable.net.au with HTTP;
        Tue, 1 May 2012 11:30:32 +1000 (EST)
Message-ID: <49345.203.208.114.27.1335835832.squirrel@webmail.ncable.net.au>
Date: Tue, 1 May 2012 11:30:32 +1000 (EST)
Subject: Gmail information
From: "Friends of Ballarat Botanic Gardens" <fbg@ncable.net.au>

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Your Gmail address, ballaratbg@gmail.com, has been created
From:    "Gmail Team" <mail-noreply@google.com>
Date:    Tue, April 24, 2012 3:50 pm
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Congratulations on creating your brand new Gmail address,
ballaratbg@gmail.com.

This one might look dubious, but it's valid, and it really comes from Google. It relates to the email address I set up last week. But the headers show that it comes from ncable.net.au!

On further investigation, it seems that this is a forwarded message. Genevieve was working on the computer today, and it seems that she cleaned up the mailbox, forwarded the messages to those people she thought most appropriate, and deleted the originals—thus hiding the origin of the messages. My best bet is that the first message is malware (dubious subject, and why should TransACT want me to go to a Google site for things like that?), while the second is clearly legitimate.

But that's an impossible state of affairs! How can you just strip off the headers when you forward something? Google mail doesn't do that. Maybe SquirrelMail doesn't have to either, but I don't see any knobs to tune it—including the all-important auto-forward function. I think it's really time to get rid of the mail address altogether. An auto-respond function would be good there, but it doesn't offer that either.


Replacing projector lamps
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

It's been nearly 2 years since I bought my Sanyo PLV-Z700 TV projector. On the whole it has worked well, but today the “replace lamp” LED lit up. There's nothing obviously wrong with the lamp. The lamp lifetime is given as 2000 hours in full power mode and 3000 hours in economy mode—I think. There's no mention of any specs in the 220 page instruction manual (20 pages each for 11 languages), and the web site is particularly light on specs. On investigation I discovered that it has just passed the 2000 hour limit, 2006 in fact. And for some reason it was running at full power, though I had set it to run in “economy mode”. So it looks to me very much as if the indicator is set to come on after a specified number of hours rather than based on the real condition of the bulb. After resetting the bulb counter, the indicator went off again.

On the other hand, is it a good idea to continue until the lamp grows dim? There's a real danger of explosion, and though I don't think I'm anywhere close to that, is it worth the risk? The good news is that projector bulbs have come down significantly in price since last time I had to buy one. Then I paid $545. Now I can get a replacement for as little as $118, though that one doesn't have a housing. Presumably it's intended to fit in the old lamp housing, but they don't say how to do that. The cheapest complete lamp (from the same eBay seller) is only $139, so I think it makes sense to buy that one.


Pizza advances
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Pizza again for dinner today. We've been working forever on getting the base to rise properly, and today we made significant progress. In the electric pizza ovens, bake the base alone for 5 minutes from both sides, then put the topping on and bake for another 12 minutes, again from both sides. That's actually faster than the way we have been doing it so far. Today the bases rose so much during the first bake that one of them fouled the upper heating element. Next time round I'll reduce the amount of dough by a third.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012 Dereel
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Migrating from TransACT
Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday's experience made it clear that we should migrate email for the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens from TransACT to gmail as soon as possible. The first step, of course, is to forward the messages from TransACT until we can wean people from sending them there in the first place—a problem not made any simpler by the fact that messages continue to be sent from that address without a Reply-To: header.

But how? I couldn't find anything. So I tried calling TransACT technical support at 13 30 61. “Optus regrets that the number you have dialled has been disconnected”. Repeatedly. So I finally found the normal, non-toll-free number in Canberra, 02 6229 8000 (thank God for VoIP!). Called them, explained to the receptionist that there was a problem with getting through on the toll-free number. “Never mind, I can connect you”. No indication that she thought that that was a problem for TransACT. “It's probably just a problem with the phone company”. No recognition that it might be a problem for TransACT. She promised to report it and put me in a wait loop that took forever. After 20 minutes somebody answered and told me that they had clearly made a mistake, the technician should have been on site yesterday. Clearly not my case, and he put me back in the wait loop. Another 10 minutes and I was connected to Tahlia, who was reluctant to spell her name, and who told me I had come in on the wrong number, and that I should have called the Victorian number. I was about to complain that it was the only number I could get, but she did connect me, to Ruby, after a total of about 45 minutes.

I first asked Ruby how to set up SquirrelMail to not strip the headers off a message when forwarding. She didn't understand. “Where did you get SquirrelMail from?”. She thought that it was something installed on my machine. It seems that they don't call it by its name, just “Webmail”. When I finally explained it to her, she didn't know what a header was. “The standard SMTP headers”. “Where is this on your screen?”. “You understand SMTP, right?”. “Yes, I've heard of it”. So I asked to be connected to somebody who understood the question, and she told me she would get somebody to call me back.

Finally Sean called back and first wanted me to give him access to the mail account before he could tell me anything. He appeared to be asking for passwords over the phone. How do I know who he is? Not very encouraging from a technical support manager. But he finally confirmed that no, there's no way that you can configure SquirrelMail to keep the headers when forwarding messages. Indeed, he has been a technical support manager for some years now, and he doesn't know of any program that keeps the headers when forwarding. And I didn't know any other that strips them.

In any case, he was more help with my second question. I could configure SquirrelMail to automatically forward to another address. I asked him to step me though the necessary mouse clicks, and once again he wanted to get into my account to do so. In the end, it proved that I couldn't do it from my interface, but that he could, something that Raoul Dixon later confirmed. And yes, it worked. And didn't store the message in the local inbox any more. That's a little faster a transition than I had planned, but I suppose it will work.

Later I checked: yes, it seems that most Microsoft space MUAs strip headers when forwarding messages. I had never noticed before.


Projector lamp life
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Got round to ordering a new lamp for my Sanyo PLV-Z700, choosing the one with the housing for $139. Also did some investigation of the projector itself: it seems that it doesn't save the lamp intensity setting in its configuration, and every time I turn it on again, it goes back to full intensity. Ugh.


Still more press interest
Topic: general Link here

A visit today from Pauline Olszanka, a freelance reporter for The Telegraph, wanting to know how to find my doctor friends whom I mentioned last week. It seems that Ben Leach has written an article damning them, to be published in this weekend's “Sunday Telegraph”, and she wanted to hear the other viewpoint, something my friend doesn't want to do—incorrectly, in my opinion. There's not much I can do without permission, but it's interesting to see how much interest the matter has generated.

It's interesting to note that Ben has also called her in the middle of the night. In addition, an editor of the “Sunday Telegraph” also did so. I had assumed that Ben's action was due to stupidity, but this suggests that Hanlon's razor does not apply here: it now looks like downright arrogance and lack of consideration.


Thursday, 3 May 2012 Dereel Images for 3 May 2012
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Unable to start X
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office this morning to discover my mouse limping. It moved relatively smoothly over the root window, but it kept “sticking” when moving over other windows. I don't understand the details of the mouse processing in X in any detail, but at the very least it needs to send messages to the window, as a quick play with xev indicates:

MotionNotify event, serial 27, synthetic NO, window 0x6a00004,
    root 0x501, subw 0x0, time 2584229172, (128,68), root:(133,89),
    state 0x0, is_hint 0, same_screen YES

Looking at my X server, it had been running for a while, and had hit nearly a gigabyte of memory:

USER         PID %CPU %MEM   VSZ   RSS    TT  STAT STARTED      TIME COMMAND
root       54016  0.0  4.9 994904 153136  v0  S    24Apr12  86:15.86 /usr/local/bin/X :0 -auth /home/grog/.serverauth.539

So it seemed a good idea to restart it and see what happened. What happened was that I had no mouse at all. Going back to the vty where I started it, there was some spurious message from hald, which unfortunately didn't get saved—something about invalid context, I think. So tried restarting moused, but that didn't help. And restarting hald just didn't work if I started it by name: it just stopped with return code 0 and no messages.

Spent a bit of time messing around in the dark (without X) and finally found that I had been here before, though not under these circumstances. To restart everything, it should be sufficient to enter:

/usr/local/etc/rc.d/dbus start
/usr/local/etc/rc.d/hald start
/etc/rc.d/moused start ums0

In my case, dbus was still running, so probably it should first be shut down, but I didn't try that.

And yes, after restarting everything, my mouse problem went away.


Email, gmail and other strangenesses
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

More playing around with the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens email today. Further investigation of the issue of headers in forwarded mail messages show that I was just plain wrong, and Sean is right: just about no MUA, not even mutt, preserves headers in forwarded messages. I was really thinking of bouncing, not forwarding, and that's something that Microsoft-space MUAs don't seem to understand.

In the process, discovered things about gmail that were less than pleasant: apart from an inability to configure many things (like date formats, for example), I can't find any way to edit outgoing messages. Yes, it opens up a form on the web browser, but unlike most forms, I can't redirect this one to a real editor. Normally I use “It's All Text” to redirect the form to an emacsclient, but for some reason gmail turns off this function—probably to implement its own mini-editor. That makes it quite painful, especially since the editor doesn't understand Emacs key bindings.


Preparing for winter
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather is getting cooler. Earlier this week we had an overnight low of 2.3°, and we've had temperatures (barely) below 0° in May in previous years. Time to move some things to the greenhouse, notably the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis that suffered so badly 2 years ago and also the Mandevilla, which is still in full bloom. I have my concerns about the hibiscus, which is particularly prone to attack by white flies, of which the greenhouse is full, but the alternative is worse.

Also moved a number of plants from the shade area, notably the rose cuttings I made a month ago. Despite the time of year, many of them have taken well. At the time I put half of them in the shade and half in the greenhouse. Both have struck, but clearly the ones in the greenhouse are doing better (first photo):


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The Salvia (I think the cultivar is “limelight”) is flowering, though not as colourfully as I've seen on the web (second image). Hopefully we have the correct plant.


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  Salvia limelight

The Mirabilis jalapa that I planted from seed two weeks ago have now all germinated, and even the one attacked by fungus has recovered. The yellow ones were ready for transplantation, so did that and put three of them in the greenhouse, where the temperatures are clearly lower than in the house. The other three can stay in the bathroom; I'll see how they go.


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What haven't (yet) germinated are the Kniphofia seeds that I planted at the same time. Went out searching on Google (“germination” is your friend) and found some stuff on the GardenWeb “growing from seed” forum, including the suggestion that they might like to be stored at a low temperature for a month before they want to germinate. Took some of them and put them in a plastic bag with some moist paper, then put the bag in the fridge. They'll come out at the beginning of next month. The greenhouse is obviously the place for the ones I have already planted.

Signing up for GardenWeb was interesting: I already appear to have a login, but I've lost the details, so I signed up again. More clever password security ideas: you can use any special character you like, as long as it's black:

 
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More flash issues
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I took the photos of the rose cuttings with the Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro lens, the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital flash set to TTL measurement and the ring flash attachment. Once again I had exposure issues, and the images were far too dark. I don't understand why: the TTL measurement should compensate for the light falloff due to the ring flash. But what I got, without any further processing, looks like this:


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That was taken at f/11 and 24°/200 ISO. To get good exposure at that distance (about 30 cm) I would need a guide number of about 3.3. In fact, the unit has a guide number of 58, and the ring flash couldn't possibly have reduced the output by that much. Further experiments suggest that the only criterion for the exposure is the aperture. At 30°/800 ISO and f/8 I got a histogram that was 1 EV brighter, but still underexposed:


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If it had really been a limitation of the flash unit, it could have been up to 3 EV brighter. So it can't really be that. What about flash exposure compensation? I moved back to 24°/200 ISO and set 2 EV more flash exposure. The first image, taken at f/11, looked pretty much the same as the very first image taken without flash compensation, and I got an image 1 EV brighter than the original image at f/8 and 2 EV brighter at f/5.6:


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The whole thing suggests that the exposure is just not working. ISO speed makes no difference, exposure compensation makes no difference. It's almost worth thinking about using manual flash, but that requires lots of calculation.


Friday, 4 May 2012 Dereel Images for 4 May 2012
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Another network hang
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Into the office this morning to find us off the Net again, since nearly 9 hours. The ppp process was running, signal strength was normal, no messages in /var/log/ppp.log. But a ping gave me ping: sendto: No buffer space available. Restarted PPP, and things worked again.

Somehow there are too many things that can cause link interruptions. When I started keeping records, it was to monitor ADSL line quality, and I had good metrics from the modem to help me. Now the problems can be this horrible flaky Huawei 1762 USB toy, the link itself, or the Optus network behind it. Once it gets to Internode, I have not (yet) had any further problems.

But hopefully I won't have to put up with this much longer. The three weeks' period for lodging an appeal with the VCAT against the radiation tower expired last week, and so far I have not heard of any such appeal. If that's the case, and Peter of Daly International is right, we could have the National Broadband Network service up within 2 months. Here's hoping.


Forwarding and maintaining headers
Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday I had to admit I was wrong: most MUAs discard most headers when forwarding email, even mutt. Well, maybe.

The real issue is what is meant by “forwarding”. There are three different approaches:

  1. Simply forward a message the way an MTA would do, putting in a Resent-From: header to show what has happened. In this case, of course, the headers are intact.

  2. Create a message containing the quoted text of the old message. This is only marginally different from a reply, and though there's nothing to stop the MUA from including the headers, typically they don't do so, presumably because there's normally no way to suppress the display of the uninteresting ones.

  3. Create a new message and add the old one as a MIME attachment. In this case, the original message is completely unchanged, with all headers exactly as when received. This is what SpamAssassin does, for example. Callum Gibson showed me today that you can get mutt to do it this way too, by setting the variable mime_forward to yes.


Finally, a new keyboard
Topic: technology Link here

It's been three months since I started looking for a new keyboard. Surprisingly, my current one, now pushing 23 years old, has recovered somewhat and now no longer bounces as much as it did. In the meantime I've been looking for a cheap Sun Type 7 keyboard, which looks relatively similar and has a USB connector:


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  Type 7 keyboard

In particular, there are 10 keys in 2 columns to the left of the main keyboard. Yes, I know, they have special functions under Solaris, but in the end they only generate scan codes, so I can modify a key map to get them to generate F1 to F10. Similarly—I most sincerely hope!—I can remap things to generate Ctrl and Meta in the correct places. The only concern there is that some broken keyboards have a hardware CapsLock key that can't be remapped, but I haven't heard of that from Sun.

The problem I had three months ago was that the only keyboards I could find were in the USA, and the postage would have been about double the price of the keyboard. So I put in a search on eBay Australia, and finally one showed up, postage only half the price of the keyboard.

But what do I need to connect it to my computer? I looked at a lot of web pages back in February, but I forgot to write them down. I won't make that mistake again. After a bit of searching, discovered that at least the Type 6 has its own keyboard description in X, and it seems that the Type 6 and Type 7 have the same scan codes, so there's very little to do. Still, I found a number of interesting pages, coincidentally several of them from FreeBSD users, though the information is not FreeBSD-specific. There's some interesting general detail on this page, though the most important is probably the link to this description of setting up XKB. One detail on that page is wrong, though: it refers to {XROOT}/lib/X11/xkb. Nowadays ${XROOT} expands to /usr/local, so this would be /usr/local/lib/X11/xkb, but in fact it's /usr/local/share/X11/xkb. Still, useful stuff. And it indicates that the keyboard should work, so I bought it.


Attacking white flies
Topic: gardening Link here

Did some investigation of the white fly I have in the greenhouse, and discovered that it's so common in greenhouses that it's frequently called “Greenhouse White Fly”. The Wikipedia page is currently pretty rough, but this page from the South Australian Research and Development Institute looks helpful. The species is presumably Trialeurodes vaporariorum, and they can be controlled in multiple ways: with sprays (surprisingly, nobody mentioned the pyrethrum that I have been using, though it seems effective), with Encarsia formosa, a small parasitic wasp that is also very sensitive to the insecticides, and with traps, which can be as simple as fly strips. As they say, spraying is difficult because they hide in their thousands on the underside of the leaves, so I think I'll try this last approach first.


Saturday, 5 May 2012 Dereel Images for 5 May 2012
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Optimizing photos
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day today, and for once things went relatively smoothly. I've more or less decided not to use multiple-exposure HDR any more for these photos; even the slightest movement makes things look fuzzy. But how should I expose things? There's a difference of up to 3 EV between the illumination of the individual components of some panoramas, and I've already seen cases where the brightened shadows look washed-out as a result. Today I tried exposures ⅔ EV and 1 EV apart for a couple of panoramas (first one in each pair is exposed less, with mouseover alternation):


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Which is better? Difficult to say. The contrast was relatively mild today, but what differentiation there was in the sky is gone. On the other hand, the detail of the garden looks better. But that's just normal lighting, and it has nothing to do with HDR.

While I was at it, went back to some of the images I took 3½ years ago. They looked terrible! I knew that at the time—I had been using ufraw without the appropriate profiles, and I had later improved things a little—but it really hit me in the face today. Ran the raw images through DxO Optics "Pro" and compared them. It's like night and day:


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It's not just the gradation: somehow the old ones look unsharp. The difference in size is due to ufraw not trimming the edges of the image the way other software does. But it looks like I have a lot of reprocessing to do.


Pommes soufflées revisited
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Another attempt at pommes soufflées today. Cut the potatoes in 3 mm slices as planned, and fried them the first time in fat at 150°.

Did the second frying in the “small” friteuse, the one we normally use for things which tend to dirty the fat. We use the fat that has already served a term for frying clean things in the “big” friteuse, and by the time we throw it out it tends to smoke noticeably. I had put that down to the age of the fat, but today I measured the temperature. I had already noticed that the thermostat of this friteuse is generous in its heating, but I wasn't expecting the 215° that I measured when I set it to 190°. No wonder it smoked!

In any case, after cooling down to about 195°, I was marginally more successful than last time. But some of the potatoes started to inflate in the first bath, and it was still only a minority of slices that blew up in the second. So it seems that the first bath, at 150°, is still too warm. I'll try 135° next time. And the fact that they didn't stay inflated suggests that the 3 mm is too thin. So next time I'll try with 4 mm.

None of this takes the kind of potato into account, of course. Maybe it's just not possible to get good results with the varieties we get here in Australia.


101 uses for a dead computer
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Once upon a time a computer was something expensive. Now we're throwing out computers that could still run rings round a CDC 7600, the supercomputer of my youth. Talking with Chris Yeardley after dinner and discovered that I had at least 20 computers, not counting motherboards, in and around my office, most of them functional and a number belong to Chris. Chris suggested that we should write an article “101 uses for a dead computer”, so I brought out a handful of laptops and we started playing around:


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Of course, a name like that wouldn't go unused for long, and indeed it's the title of a book by Mat Wahlstrom. But we only found that out later.


Sunday, 6 May 2012 Dereel
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Fighting the white fly
Topic: gardening Link here

Yvonne bought some fly strips (or “Fly glue traps” according to the packaging) in town today. They're supposed to be good against the white fly infestation I have in the greenhouse, and it looks as if they are. Within minutes I had hundreds on the strip, and in less than a day I had what appears to be most of them:


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At any rate, when I shake the leaves, no more flies fly out. There are still some there, but they could be the dead ones. Now to wait for the remaining eggs to hatch and join their ancestors.


Adekolas: trial by press
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've made a couple of comments about Ben Leach of the Sunday Telegraph and a doctor friend of mine over the last couple of weeks, and out of respect for what has been going on, I didn't mention names. But now he has published his article, so it's clear that I was referring to Rapinder Adekola, whom I met last spring. I contacted her a couple of times and at least got her to talk to Ben, for what difference that makes. She hasn't told me enough for me to be able to verify her side of the story independently, but it really does read strangely. About the only thing of interest is that they state that James used Rapinder's email address for the matter. That could sound suspicious, but I confirmed last year that yes, indeed, he did that to me too, for no obvious reason. But I can't see that it's sinister.

Hopefully this article won't make things too bad for her.


Spammers in glass houses
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Recently I have been inundated with spam with subject lines like Employment you've been searching! and New job vacancy - see details. Much of it came from people I know, notably in the FreeBSD project, but even more came from me myself. The messages clearly come from combinations of user and ISP that can be broken in to, and about the only thing they have in common is a line matching the regexp please reply to .*@employmenteu.com,with, notably with a missing space after the comma.

So, is somebody trying to discredit employmenteu.com? Looking at the whois data, it seems not:

   Domain Name: EMPLOYMENTEU.COM
   Updated Date: 04-may-2012
   Creation Date: 04-may-2012

Registrant Contact:
   Jordan R. Harrison
   Jordan Harrison supp@email.com
   410-854-0150 fax: 410-854-3421
   2102 Marie Street
   Odenton MD 21113

That's a lot of information for a spammer, in particular that it was registered just as this wave of spam started, though the address is invalid. And they only have an MX record. No A record, no web site. And their allegedly authoritative name servers (ns[12].jobcenter-coordination.com., a name significant in itself) don't want to know about it. But there's enough information there for a DDoS attack on them. That would be amusing.


Bread improver: not for sourdough
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I baked another loaf of my sourdough bread yesterday. The recipe has pretty much settled now: flour, sourdough, water, salt, caraway seed. But in the days when I was baking yeast bread, I had things like bread mixes and “bread improver”, and there's still a lot of the latter left over. So yesterday I put in 30 g of it to see what difference it would make.

It didn't make much difference. It certainly didn't improve things. But the sourdough aroma was missing, or at least greatly reduced. Did the “improver” bind it? In any case, something not to be repeated.


Monday, 7 May 2012 Dereel Images for 7 May 2012
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Photo reprocessing, again
Topic: photography Link here

I still can't get over how much my photo processing has improved since 2008, and today I spent much of the day reprocessing. I started taking raw images on a regular basis from about August 2008, and today I went through a number of collections dating from then.

One particular day surprised me, though. It didn't look like the others, but it also didn't look “right”. Here is one image between the images from the week before and the week after:


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How did that happen? I set to looking at what was wrong and discovered I had already reprocessed the directory. The creation timestamps of the images pointed to 18 January 2012, and the diary entry explained the rest.

Unfortunately, I didn't write down the settings at the time, and I didn't save the information, something that I must investigate. But I suspect I used the “postcard” settings, which are clearly too gaudy. I've found the also-gaudy “HDR Artistic” settings to be more appropriate, so today I started reprocessing the images again with those settings, giving myself no less than three different ways to look at the images. It'll be a while before I have them finished.


Catching missing images
Topic: technology, photography Link here

All this photo reprocessing brings a danger, of course: I could rename or remove an image to which I have referred on a web page. I already have a 404 document that sends me email if a page on my site refers to a non-existent page, and that has greatly improved things. But you don't get a 404 for a missing image. On the other hand, nearly all my images are generated by a PHP function, so it's (relatively) easy to check whether the image exists or not. The difficulty is mapping the URL to the local path name. I got that done, and I was still having it claim that the images didn't exist.

Debugging PHP is relatively clunky, and in general I put print statements in the code. Gradually I was reduced to using explicit path names:

  if ($localimagepath != "/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj-2.jpeg")
    print <<< EOS
      <pre>
      '$localimagepath'
      '/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj-2.jpeg'
      </pre>
...

And I ended up with stuff like:

      '/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj-2.jpeg'
      '/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj-2.jpeg'

It's at times like this that you begin to doubt your sanity. But HTML isn't WYSIWYG. Looking at the HTML source shows a completely different view:

      '/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj&#45;2.jpeg'
      '/home/grog/public_html/Photos/20081031/tiny/cj-2.jpeg'

That makes sense: the image name gets sanitized to HTML entities where the characters could be a problem. The character - by itself isn't a problem, but -- can be interpreted as the end of a comment. All I needed to do was to take the original file name before sanitization, and it worked, and I output code like:

There should be an image http://www.lemis.com/grog/Photos/20080906/tiny/house-e.jpeg here, but it is not present on this server. The webmaster has been alerted. Come back soon.

And how it worked! Error messages started pouring in, for errors that most people, myself included, had never noticed. So I removed the display and just sent the mail messages. I'll reinstate when things become sane again.


A little weeding
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow didn't get much work done in the garden today. The cool weather doesn't help, but it wasn't cool enough to stop weed growth, so spent a bit of time weeding. I'm still not convinced I can stay ahead of the weeds.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012 Dereel Images for 8 May 2012
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Still more reprocessing
Topic: photography Link here

Fixing up the photos for 6 September 2008 seemed to be a straightforward enough thing when I started yesterday, but somehow it kept me going all day. First I reprocessed the photos with the “HDR Artistic” settings, and discovered that there was (almost) no difference. Clearly this was the way I had done it before. It took me some time to realize that I had taken two complete sets of images on that day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and had only processed the afternoon photos. So the difference wasn't due to the processing: it was due to the time of day. Here the comparison with the images from the morning, which clearly look better for this particular viewpoint:


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And the best part of a day's work and a gigabyte of uploaded images just for that!


More Powercor pain
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Powercor isn't my favourite company because of the pain they cause me, but there are other aspects which cause problems too. Yesterday somebody came by to look at the vegetation on the property to see if it was endangering the overhead power lines. He decided that yes, it did, and that he would be back soon to trim the trees involved.

I'm not happy with that. I've had bad experiences with ETSA in the past, where the tree trimmers removed trees that never could have endangered the power lines. So it was with mixed feelings that I read a sheet of paper posted in our letter box today:


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Isn't there something wrong here? Verbally he says he'll do it himself, and then I get a letter telling me to do it. He doesn't say which trees, but Yvonne had noted a couple of trees that had been marked:


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Why? Does X mean remove and T trim? Neither is appropriate. Those trees don't come within 2 metres of the power line, and they haven't changed in the 5 years since I first saw the property. Tried calling up Vemco, couldn't get in touch with the engineer (apparently Travis Hewish). Hopefully we're not in for more annoyances.


NBN tower: the lunatic fringe continues
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Bad news from Amy Boyd of the Golden Plains Shire Council: somebody (not yet known who, but we can guess) has put in an objection to the erection of the NBN tower. That means it goes to the VCAT to waste our time and their money. Now it's unlikely that it will be operational before Christmas.


Still more weeding
Topic: gardening Link here

A flock of Estrildid finches, which I know better as Prachtfinken, have taken to bathing in the mini-pond that we have now placed in the Japanese Garden. We didn't notice it until this morning, when all we saw was a lot of water spraying around behind some of the bushes. Yvonne though that the sprinklers were running at the wrong time.

But that's the problem: the bushes. We couldn't see the birds because of them. The main one proved to be a volunteer yellow Marguerite daisy bush, and then there were lots of weeds, including some large-leafed clover-like plants and some kind of vine, which was gradually strangling the other plants in the area:


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Spent a lot of time removing what I could of that; the whole area needs an overhaul, and in the end we decided that, instead of transplanting the daisy, we would give it to Chris. Gradually we have enough plants in the garden, including a surprising number of bulbs, which I should really rearrange after they have finished flowering in spring.

Also removed a couple of the petunias in that area. It's the end of the season, and they haven't flowered well. I think it's a little dark for them there, so I've planted them in some of the hanging baskets currently spending the winter in the greenhouse.


Computer crash
Topic: technology Link here

dereel, my main machine, crashed (or rather, hung) this afternoon. Nothing in the log files, which is normal enough. That's why I log remotely to another machine, in this case cojones, the machine that is connecting me to the Internet until the NBN radiation tower is finally complete. But something went wrong there: syslogd hung itself up a month ago and I didn't notice, so there's no evidence of what caused the hang.

On the bright side, this happens so seldom that it's worth mentioning here. w3.lemis.com has been up for 1318 days (well over 3½ years), and it's still going strong.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012 Dereel Images for 9 May 2012
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Keyboards: end of an era?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

My new Sun keyboard arrived today (left). Not quite what they advertised (right):


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  Type 7 keyboard

In particular, the Return key is completely different, and that was one of the aspects I looked at before ordering it. I'll have to see whether I can come to terms with it or not. In addition, it has British key caps (£ over the 3 key, for example), and there's at least one extra key to the left of the Z key, marked \ and |, but in the default map it produces < and >.

The correct way to handle these keyboards is in the X configuration, but that would mean restarting X, something I'm reluctant to do. So I just plugged it in to see what it would do.

It worked! It seems that just about all the keys that correspond to a normal modern PC keyboard also generate the same codes. The ones on the left, of course, generate ones that the default X configuration doesn't know. But that's what xmodmap is for. So I played around with that for a while, not helped by the fact that it doesn't know whether to output in hex or decimal:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/16) ~ 16 -> xmodmap -pk | grep Control
     66         0xffe3 (Control_L)      0x0000 (NoSymbol)       0xffe3 (Control_L)
    109         0xffe4 (Control_R)      0x0000 (NoSymbol)       0xffe4 (Control_R)
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/16) ~ 17 -> xmodmap | grep Control
control     Control_L (0x42),  Control_R (0x6d)

It wasn't that difficult to remap everything, and now I have a keymap file that will do the mapping. I've mapped the 10 keys to the left of the main keyboard to F1 to F10. On my old keyboard I have the keys F11 and F12 where the Help key is, but no Esc key to the right, so I've mapped Help to F11 and Esc to F12. Ugly, but it works.

Somehow, though, it marks the end of an era. Commercial computers have been around since UNIVAC I in 1950, about 62 years. I have used the same keyboards, from Northgate and Avant, for 22 years, over a third of that time.

And how do I like the keyboard? It's much quieter than the Northgate, and it doesn't feel quite the same. In the course of time I'll get used to the different places for some keys. And I have a whole lot of keys that I could use for strange remappings.


Still more photo processing
Topic: photography Link here

Somehow spent most of the day reprocessing old photos. It's amazing how much better they look now. It's a pity DxO Optics "Pro" is so slow and clunky.


Thursday, 10 May 2012 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 10 May 2012
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Finding a Justice of the Peace
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Chris Yeardley and I have had some documents which needed to be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace. Normally we get Loes Pearson to do that, but we haven't been able to contact her for over a month. I finally called up the Department of Justice to ask if something had happened to her, and was connected with Jerry (a woman), who was only too happy to find another JP for me—not what I had asked. It seemed that she had neither any idea why nor concern for the possibility that a JP had gone missing. I asked to speak to her superior, and got a call back a little later from Jan Szuba, who wasn't really able to help much. They don't appear to track JPs, though he did note the fact. What happens when one dies? There must be some way to keep the lists up to date.

You can find a JP online, of course, assuming you have the right browser and enough patience. Some clever Javascript programmer has written a form that offers no features not available in plain HTML, and implemented it so that the text disappears when you enter it, at least on my firefox. And when you finally get a result, you have to select it by letters of the alphabet, after which it paginates in a far-too-small window and truncates text to make it illegible, as in the top line here:


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Still, Yvonne had told me that there was one on duty at the Police station in Ballarat, so off there and got my documents witnessed by a JP whose name I forget, and who doesn't appear to be in the list, but who was quite informative. He complained about the list on the web site too, and told me that Loes is on holiday and has sent her apologies. So why didn't the people at the Department of Justice know that? “They don't know anything”.


Botanical Gardens in autumn
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

It was nice sunny autumn weather today, so while in town, I dropped in at the Botanical Gardens and took a few panoramas. They weren't the best: in sunshine it's almost impossible to avoid shadows of the tripod in a 360° panorama, and in one case I missed out a shot, so I ended up with:


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But even the other one doesn't look particularly good. I've managed to get a partial shadow of the tripod, and the sun is just too obtrusive:


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So maybe they're both candidates for some more extensive retouching.


Powercor trimming
Topic: general Link here

Finally got a call back from Travis Hewish of the Vemco Group about the trimming work. It seems that the letter he left wasn't as contradictory as it appeared, just misleading. It referred to the supply lines from the transformer to the house (“low-voltage service line”). That should be clear enough, except that some power suppliers in Australia use the term “low voltage” to refer to the 10 kV supply lines.

This also explains the issue with the clearance. 60 cm is the minimum for the 230 V house supply line, but it's round 5 m for the 10 kV lines, and the regulations have changed recently. But I asked him to let me know before anybody went on to the property, and he refused. “We're allowed on the property whether or not you want us there”. Clearly somebody who has received new powers and is intent on wielding them. Looks like we'll have fun there.


Photo reprocessing: enough!
Topic: photography Link here

Continued with my reprocessing of old photos today, looking at the ones taken on 23 May 2009. I should have read the diary entry before doing so. I had found duplicate photo series of the garden, and processed them all, but it seems that the first series was taken with a graded grey filter mounted the wrong way round, which is why I didn't process them. But I did today, and the results were much better. In particular, I was trying to get more detail in the sky without losing shadow detail. With DxO Optics "Pro" I got results that more than compensated for the graded filter. Here images with the graded filter the wrong way round (left) and the right way round (right), first as processed 3 years ago, and then as processed today:


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It's interesting that I don't use the graded filter any more. But one way or another, I think I've done enough reprocessing for the moment.


Specs for Sanyo PLV-Z700
Topic: multimedia Link here

I'm planning to mount my projector higher, above the window in the lounge room. How do I do that? I could hang a column from the ceiling, but it's quite high there, and the mount I have uses four screws in a square about 25 cm apart, which doesn't match Australian ceiling constructions. So I thought of putting a shelf there instead, but it proves to be surprisingly difficult to find something appropriate. It took a long while for me to think of looking for a wall mount bracket. And yes, they're available, and not significantly more expensive than the shelf would be.

But what load limit? Some support 10 kg, others 15. What does my projector weigh? Sanyo's “documentation” doesn't say, and neither does their web site. Finally found some specs elsewhere, even containing a link to Sanyo's now-lost spec sheet. Answer: it weighs 7.5 kg. So the smaller (and cheaper) ones should do the trick.


Friday, 11 May 2012 Dereel Images for 11 May 2012
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Half-hearted weeding
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally I've put my photo stuff on the back burner and got round to doing some other things—a little. More weeding south of the verandah. It's amazing how long it takes to clear even a small area.


Better rat traps, better rats
Topic: animals, general, opinion Link here

My new cage rat trap didn't do too well last time a rat entered: it was on a shelf, the rat knocked it over onto the ground and got out. So this time round I put it in the barbecue with the lid down, where it wasn't so easy to knock it over. But that's all right. It didn't need to:


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Another useless trap. No wonder people use poison.


Saturday, 12 May 2012 Dereel Images for 12 May 2012
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More photo experiments
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

It's mid-autumn, and it shows:


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I still have issues getting good shadow detail in my images. In the image above I went back to the HDR techniques I've been using earlier, but in general that doesn't seem to be the best choice. One of the main issues is that when taking panoramas, the canonical instructions are to give each component image the same exposure. That gives rise to images like this from the north view sequence (in this case without any further processing):


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Clearly that's completely underexposed (3 EV, in fact), but another image to the left is correctly exposed (for the highlights):


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I pass these images through DxO Optics "Pro" and then hugin, and get this:


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That's quite impressive, but looking at the cypresses to the right of the centre, it's clear that the image has run out of steam. There's just not enough shadow detail in the original:


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If I exposed that image correctly, I'd get (again before processing):


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So why this rule that you should expose all components equally? Clearly it has to do with exposure blending, and my experiments in the past with varying the exposure were less than successful. But I've installed a newer version of enblend now, so decided to see if it could handle them any better.

The results were mixed. Here the same panorama again, this time the one processed with DxO (above) and the one created with automatic exposure. Running the mouse over either image (preferably after enlarging) shows the alternate image:


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On the other hand, the sky around the cypresses loses detail. That's clearly because it's underexposed.

And the others? On the whole, the results were better with automatic exposure, though I had problems with the one from the Japanese garden, coincidentally the first one I tried.


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Somehow the exposure difference was too much in the area of the sky above the left end of the house, leaving streaks in the sky:


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Another one that caused problems was the “garden SE” image, with both bright sunshine and the shade area. Here the results looked much better, but not perfect:


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The trouble here was the extreme contrast in the single image on the left. Enblend rendered the plants in the shade area well, but the sky above was completely burnt out. I had taken both series at the same time, so using the hugin mask functionality, I was able to mix and match from the two series:

 
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Here the image component outlined in red is from the manual exposure sequence, and the one in cyan is automatically exposed. The results don't look at all bad:


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Also tried one of the verandah, this time without flash, so the results aren't completely comparable:


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Still, there's room for experiment there too.

In passing it's interesting how well today's photos stitched. Some of the panoramas had a maximum error of less than 1 pixel.


The return of the kangaroos
Topic: animals, general Link here

The kangaroos are coming closer to the house. You wouldn't see it from the extension of one of today's panoramas:


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Well, not until the images are shown at full size. There are quite a few on the left:

 
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Too cold for gardening
Topic: gardening Link here

Out to do some more weeding this afternoon, but it was really too cold. At least I have the old “succulent” bed (the one south of the verandah) weeded now.


How many chapatis?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Had chicken tanduri for dinner this evening, with Chris Yeardley as usual on a Saturday. You're supposed to eat tanduri naan with that, but I've never been successful making that, and I'm gradually getting my act together with chapatis, so that's what I made.

How many? Yvonne eats very little, and I only made one for her, but I eat 3 or 4. Chris has a normal appetite, so I made a total of 8, a slow business—it took me half an hour just to bake the things. And we had 2 left over. I can't recall now whether I ate 4 and Chris only one, or whether it was 3 and 2. In any case, I think I should base my calculations on about 2½ per person, Yvonne excepted.


Sunday, 13 May 2012 Dereel
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Slow day
Topic: general, photography Link here

Didn't do much today. It was quite cool, so spent some time playing around with yesterday's panoramas and improving the selection of EXIF data that I display on the web pages.


The last of the bulbs
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Yvonne bought some unspecified species of Scilla (cultivar “Blue Bells”) and Tritelia (cultivar “Spring Star”) a couple of weeks ago, and I've been puzzling where to plant them. But time's getting on (though on the package both claim that they can be planted up to early winter), so finally got round to planting where we had planned.

But that didn't work well. In the recently overhauled north part of the east garden, discovered that the horse manure we had spread has its own grass seeds in it, so we're going to have to let them germinate and then spray them. That's easier if there are no bulbs to avoid. So I stopped there after planting a few Tritelias and spread the rest round the north bed, the south-east corner of the east bed, and to the south of the verandah, where I have also tidied up recently. Removed a large number of giant Echium seedlings in the process. They're pretty, but each of them grows to such a tree that I wouldn't know what to do with them:


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Lots of bulbs are popping up now, and it looks as if some (Narcissus?) will flower in the next couple of weeks, so gave them another helping of fertilizer. Also transplanted the red Mirabilis jalapa seedlings, which are now looking a bit better. It's amazing how much more slowly they came than the yellow ones.


Chicken “parcels”
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne has been experimenting with “chicken parcels”, chicken and accompaniments wrapped up in puff pastry and baked. They don't taste bad, but somehow there's still something missing. Today she used Parmesan cheese and bacon, but it didn't make a big enough difference. Maybe we should approach with something like a Chicken Cordon Bleu wrapped in puff pastry next time.


Monday, 14 May 2012 Dereel Images for 14 May 2012
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Garden in late autumn
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

Autumn is gradually drawing to a close, and today I took my flower photos. There's nothing special to mention, but we seem to have flowers from all seasons at the moment. Here summer, autumn, winter and spring:


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Electric collar: useless!
Topic: animals, technology, opinion Link here

It's been nearly a month since we got a new remote control electric collar for Nemo. This one worked—once. The contacts to the skin look dubious, but the real problem seemed to be battery consumption. Since there were no instructions, and there appeared to be no way to turn the receiver off, I removed the battery after every use. Despite that, the battery was flat within an hour or two of use. So we bought a new one—$7.50, a significant proportion of the $28 we paid for the collar. And it was drained in a similar time. So we ordered a pack of 8 from China (also about $7.50 for the lot), and they arrived today.

Off down the road to measure the range of the thing. According to the packaging it's 200 metres. According to the seller, it's 800. Put one of the batteries in just before testing, after measuring the voltage: 6.46 V. Yvonne stood on the road and I drove off, stopping every 100 metres and holding the device out for clear line of sight. At 100 metres she had to press several times before anything happened. At 150 metres there was no response. On the way back I got a response on about the third attempt at 120 metres.

Back home, measured the voltage of the battery again. 6.40 V. Clearly the battery consumption is as useless as the rest of the device. Sending it back is out of the question: the (registered) postage would cost $26. Sent the seller a message suggesting that this warranted negative feedback, and got a response offering me another one, a waterproof version of the one we gave up on last December. Should we try it? I suppose it won't cost anything, and maybe it will work. But it seems that these things are all just a waste of time.


BBC documentaries: the accuracy
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Some months ago, in an interview, Margaret Throsby mentioned the idea of a high-quality BBC documentary. At the time I was reminded of Mohandas Gandhi's quoted reply to the question about Western civilization: “I think it would be a good idea”. But today I saw one that epitomizes all that is horrible in BBC documentaries.

At the end of the Second World War, millions of people were displaced. Most left by foot with whatever goods they could carry. This was immediately after the war, long before the escapes from the “so-called” DDR (“German Democratic Republic”). On checking, I discover it was about 12 million civilians, and just about anybody who has lived in Germany knows some. My own father-in-law was one of them. His sister saw how one of her cousins was eaten by a wolf.

So when I saw that the BBC had created a documentary entitled “The Long March To Freedom”, describing exactly such an event, I was interested. Never mind the fact that the people who were driven from their homes considered it exile, not freedom: it didn't bother to mention the real problems. This film is about the (“only”) 300,000 allied prisoners of war who had to do the same thing, without the encumbrance of their worldly goods.

OK, nothing wrong with that, though you'd expect some mention of the fact that there were so many more civilians being displaced. But how they present it! Why does BBC so often throw the (in this case particularly unappetizing) presenter into your face? Or tell the story of individuals?


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And that's not all. They even took a load of (British, of course) schoolchildren to Poland to “reenact” the event:


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The rest of the (first episode) appears to show a specific story of the individuals interviewed in the programme. Potentially there's something of interest there, and it's certainly a topic that interests me. But the form of the presentation and the lack of overview makes it completely uninteresting. And this is a “high class” documentary?


Prawns and squid
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

For years I have had a certain aversion to fish and seafood, somewhat to my own disappointment and definitely to that of Yvonne, who would gladly eat it most of the time. I suspect it's because of the very limited varieties available in Australia (amazing when you think that most of the population lives on the coast). Last week Yvonne bought some squid tubes, and we fried half of them in batter. That didn't taste bad. Today I recalled a recipe I had eaten when I lived in Malaysia for prawns and squid, and found a variant in Passmore and Reid's “The Complete Chinese Cookbook”. Surprise, surprise! It's basically just a kind of stir-fry, but it tastes very good.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012 Dereel Images for 15 May 2012
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Victorial police: in dubio contra rem
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Last month Yvonne received an enforcement order notice for a speeding fine. This was the culmination of a series of errors by the police, and in each case we were required to submit applications in writing to get it revoked. Today we got a reply to the latest one:


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Not sufficient grounds? The police have stuffed up twice, causing the extra costs. This looks suspiciously like the third one. What grounds would they deem sufficient? It's enough to shake any remaining confidence in the judicial system. But somehow, through no fault of our own, we're getting deeper and deeper into a mess of the polices' making. And what happened to the principle of In dubio pro re?


Retouching the Botanical Gardens panoramas
Topic: photography, opinion, gardening Link here

Spent a bit of time trying to improve the panoramas I messed up last week, using GIMP. The results are less than stellar. Running the mouse over either image (preferably after enlarging) shows the alternate image:


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I need to learn more about how to use GIMP, or possibly find something less painful to use.


New projector lamp: not brilliant
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Yesterday I received a replacement lamp for my projector. Despite the item description, it was a copy. Here old and new:


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Put it in the projector, and the results were less than illuminating. First indications show that it has 10% less light output than the old, worn-out one, and the lighting is uneven. Sent a message to the seller, and they claim that this is “normal”. Looks like another fight, but first I need to investigate more carefully.


Blood pressure monitors
Topic: general, opinion, technology Link here

While taking things apart, also took a look at my old blood pressure monitor. I'm pretty sure the inaccuracy is due to the too-fast release of pressure, and I suspected that it might be possible to adjust it. Found the release valve under the circuit board (on the right in the second image, connected by the blue cables):


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Unfortunately there's nothing there to adjust. I suppose I could find a clamp and put it on the hose.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012 Dereel Images for 16 May 2012
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Physiotherapy again
Topic: general Link here

For some months now I've had a dull pain round the thumb joint in my right hand. One doctor told me that it was arthritis, and definitely not gout, but didn't prescribe any treatment. Another told me that it was pretty certainly gout, and that despite normal blood urate levels, I should increase my dose of Allopurinol. Clearly not very trustworthy diagnoses.

So today, finally, off to see Heather at MCPhysio. As some variant on the demonstration effect, I had no pain in it, and she had to prod a bit to get any sensation of pain. And she agreed with the first doctor: probably arthritis. But she gave me a massage and a bandage and some hints on how to live with it, and the good news that if it gets too painful, there are good replacements. She should know: she has the same complaint herself. Apparently it's common among physiotherapists.


Backing up the Friends
Topic: gardening, technology, opinion Link here

While in the area, dropped in at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens to visit Genevieve Lowe at the Friends. It seems they have a new computer for the accounts, and there's no backup. Coincidentally Liz Gilfillan, the president, walked in, and I got authorization from her to buy a 1 TB USB disk for backups. Down to Officeworks, where the prices for external disks blew me away—up to $279 for a 2 TB unit, and the cheapest was $127. That's a big difference from last June, when the cheapest 2 TB unit was $98. Is that still the effect of the Thai floods last year? Even the 1 TB drives seemed to be over $100, but finally I found one with almost identical specs to the other, from Seagate, for $78.


HTML mail revisited
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While at the Friends, Genevieve asked me how to incorporate the FBBG banner in outgoing emails.

Aaargh! HTML mail with gratuitous images! The horror!

That's been my standpoint since HTML mail first came out, but I'm beginning to wonder how tenable it is. HTML is still an issue for email, and certainly I'd hate to see us send out messages only in HTML, but in some cases it makes sense. Is this one of them? Maybe. The typical Friend is probably used to it, and getting a message only in monospace text would probably appear unprofessional. I can see my stance softening, anyway.


In dubio pro quo?
Topic: language, opinion Link here

I've known and used the term “In dubio pro re” (“in case of doubt, for the matter [at hand]”) for decades, most recently yesterday. But when I looked it up in Wikipedia yesterday, I couldn't find it. Instead I found in dubio pro reo, interestingly with a strong German flavour. But why reo? Clearly this is ablative, and res is in the 5th declension, so the ablative would be re. Even if there were a differing ablative form, it would be more likely to be rea, since res is feminine.

Looking for in dubio pro re on Google didn't help much, since Google seems to have lost the ability to perform an exact search: it returned mainly hits for “in dubio pro reo”. After some time I came to a different translation: the indirect object is not (ablative of) res (thing, matter) but of reus or rea, an adjectival noun in the second and first declensions meaning “defendant”. So it does make sense. But is my usage just incorrect memory, or from a different tradition? Certainly there are many others who use it too, and also others confused by it, as indicated at the bottom of this exchange.

As far as I'm concerned, there's doubt, and in case of doubt I'll go for re.


Comparing projector lamps
Topic: multimedia Link here

It's annoying that my new projector lamp is even dimmer than the old one it was supposed to replace, but it's puzzling that it also has uneven colour. And the seller doesn't want to know about that, of course:

For the color discrepancy,i asked our egineer,it would be problem of color panel,please kindly inspect the machine.
Because the bulb only have one of function,it is lighting or no lighting.

So I replaced the old lamp and tried again. Colour even across the screen. Put in the new lamp. Colour uneven again. How can that happen? At any rate got some images with the relative readings of the old and new lamp:


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Now to calculate the effective brightness of the old lamp when it was new, and to work out a way to show the colour difference.


Thursday, 17 May 2012 Dereel Images for 17 May 2012
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Changing jobs
Topic: history, opinion Link here

When I lived in Germany, employment rules were very rigid. You joined a company at the beginning of a month, you left at the end of a month (frequently the end of December of the year you turned 65), and periods of notice were extreme, up to 12 months on either side. There were exceptions, of course, and I seem to have been exceptional in many ways. For example, 36 years ago today I joined Karstadt AG. And when I left, by some strange coincidence, not to mention a lot of negotiations, I was able to reduce my period of notice from 6 months (to the end of a quarter) to about 4, so it was on 17 May 1982, 30 years ago today, that I joined Tandem Computers. How time flies!

Time may fly, but I don't. As if that wasn't enough, today is also the anniversary of the last time I travelled by aeroplane, six years ago. I don't miss that.


Friends General Meeting
Topic: gardening Link here

To the General Meeting of the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens this morning, the first I've been to. It seems that it's not annual, nor strictly bi-annual: there's one in May and one in August.

There's nothing much to report from the meeting, except that more people are gradually coming round to the idea that we need a real web site. After the meeting we had a presentation by John Ditchburn talking about how he grows vegetables in his small (1100m²) urban garden. He made it sound so simple, but it seems that I'm not the only one who has had trouble growing vegetables: Mike Sorrell told a heartfelt story about growing capsicum (that's right, only one fruit) that reminds me of my own efforts recently.


Backing up the Friends' computers
Topic: gardening, technology, opinion Link here

The real reason for my attendance was to complete some of the jobs I had with the Friends' computers: a “new” CRT monitor for one with a damaged LCD monitor, setting up an account for non-privileged users on their new laptop, and installing the new backup disk. The latter proved more difficult than I thought. Yes, it's trivial to install a USB disk, but the box said it contained backup software. So it did, too, an “extended trial”, after which you have to buy it. Somehow that's not my style, so I gave up. I'll have to investigate what we can use instead.

While I was there, had an experience which explained a bit why people use mail services like Gmail: no setup required. Lorraine Powell wanted to give Raoul Dixon a file. Simple, right? Send it as an attachment to an email message. Well, no, that box isn't on the net for some reason (the most obvious being a missing net cable), so first she had to copy it to a USB stick and plug it into the new laptop. And then? Set up Microsoft “Outlook”? No way. Use gmail and just attach it. Yes, it's clunky, but anything that requires climbing through directory trees on the back of a mouse is clunky, and at least this doesn't need any setup.


Friday, 18 May 2012 Dereel
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USB problems software, not hardware?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

For a long time I've had continual problems with a number of different USB devices on a number of different computers. About the only thing in common—most of the time, anyway—is the operating system: FreeBSD. Is there some problem there? Or are most USB devices just flaky? It's not as if I haven't had USB problems with other operating systems, after all, and the fact that it happens less often might just be due to the fact that I don't use them as often.

Today I had a number of disk errors while backing up my photos. It could be the disk, of course, but there was something funny about them. I use rsync to do the backup, and it reported I/O errors (EIO, or 5 as reported). But it continued. Looking at the system log, I saw lots of:

May 18 11:51:45 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): AutoSense failed
May 18 11:51:45 lagoon kernel: g_vfs_done():da0p1[WRITE(offset=443382513664, length=131072)]error = 5
May 18 11:51:45 lagoon kernel: g_vfs_done():da0p1[WRITE(offset=443382644736, length=131072)]error = 5
May 18 11:51:45 lagoon kernel: g_vfs_done():da0p1[READ(offset=1596956100608, length=2048)]error = 5

What does “AutoSense failed” mean? It sounds like a USB error, not a disk error. And the write and read errors look strange for a number of reasons. I found another case in the log files from the day before with many more errors, but the offsets didn't match today's ones.

The offsets spanning the whole disk suggest that the file system is accessing the superblocks. Offset 65536 is a typical offset for the main superblock. And clearly the system did try to write there. But the other offsets don't seem to match, so this could just be a coincidence. But disk errors don't normally span the whole disk. There's something else going on here, and I suspect it is related to the first message: “AutoSense failed”. Is that maybe a retryable error that isn't being retried? Or am I maybe making holes elsewhere in the file system?


Tidying up the verandah
Topic: gardening Link here

The last couple of days have kept me out of the garden, but today I got back a little: the verandah has been getting increasingly messy, and the dropping vine leaves meant that I really had to tidy things up. In the process, started moving some of the plants elsewhere—it's gradually becoming too cluttered.


White cabbage salad
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Ćevapčići for dinner tonight, for which Yvonne wants a Weißkrautsalat, literally “white cabbage salad”, but close to the English coleslaw. And my recipe calls for apple, which we didn't have.

Went out on the web looking for alternatives, and found more that I could be bothered looking at. None of them wanted apple. One went to great lengths to exclude olive oil, others wanted olive oil and no other, and few resembled each other. In the end, tried one with raw carrot and balsamic vinegar instead of the lemon juice I normally use. Also, for the fun of it, tried garlic.

The results? It didn't taste very different. Certainly the carrot was barely noticeable, as was the balsamic vinegar. The garlic came back and hit me later on, clearly far too much. So I'll probably go back to the old recipe, possibly with carrot or nothing instead of the apple. Clearly this recipe is particularly flexible.


Saturday, 19 May 2012 Dereel Images for 19 May 2012
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More panorama experiments
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Last week I did experiments with multiple alternate exposures from the same position and aligned together, but stitching only one version. That allowed me to make several panoramas with different appearance, and was particularly useful in the case of the “garden SE” panorama that includes the shade area and the sky. Today I looked at two other panoramas. One of the problems with the verandah panorama is the lighting in the back corner, so today I put a remote-controlled studio flash in the room next to it and let it fire on that area:


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On the whole, that didn't look particularly good. It's supposed to brighten up the area, not throw a shadow of the window frame onto it. And the alternate image is clearly too dark at the back. In addition, the flash didn't fire on the next image to the right, because the on-camera flash was pointing in the wrong direction. But I tried stitching the results anyway. I had three choices: the image with flash, both of the images above, or the image without flash. The results of merging the images are interesting. The first attempt did quite a good job of averaging the two photos:


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But that was with the area at the extreme left. When I moved it to the centre, the blending changed:


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Between those two images, I didn't do anything except move the centre of the image. I need to read more about how exposure averaging works.

The other panorama was the one taken from the north-west corner of the house. This time I took a complete series with and without flash. Here with flash, merged, and without flash:


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This one was probably taken on the wrong day, since the shadows are not too bad even without flash. But it's interesting how in this case the merged image looks almost identical to the one taken only with flash.

The other thing I wanted to do was to get the angles of view of the panorama into the EXIF data. To my surprise, hugin already does this, putting the information into the User Comment section:

User Comment                    : .Projection: Miller Cylindrical (11).FOV: 360 x 180.Ev: 9.90

The only problem was that it doesn't copy most of the EXIF data, so I had been reinstating it from an original. Fixed that by copying the appropriate fields from the original TIFF output, and then spent some time getting my PHP scripts to interpret that and display it in the JavaScript popup that occurs when the mouse goes over the image, only to discover that the values are Just Plain Wrong in most cases. For the verandah panorama it gave a horizontal field of view of 360° (correct) and a vertical field of view of 180° (wrong; that would imply a complete sphere, which I don't have. And it gives a field of 260° horizontal by 104° vertical for the image above; in fact, the horizontal field of view might just approach 180°, and the vertical field of view of the lens is only 87°, from which a certain quantity has to be deducted because of the way the images overlap. I'd guess it wouldn't be more that 65° in that image.

Looking at the way hugin does it, it's clear that the calculations need to be modified. It seems to give the overall field of view of the Fast Panorama preview window, it doesn't take cropping into account, and the calculations look wrong anyway:


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That'll be something interesting to hunt down.


Sunday, 20 May 2012 Dereel Images for 20 May 2012
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avidemux2: the inflexibility of Microsoft under X
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne wanted to upload a video to YouTube today, but it was too long, so she asked me to cut it into manageable pieces for her. Not a problem: I've been there before with avidemux2. So I fired it up, processed, saved it and... couldn't find the result. On further examination, I found:

=== grog@defake (/dev/pts/0) /Photos/yvonne/20120425 13 -> avidemux2_gtk Maureen-on-Morena-1
*************************
  Avidemux v2.5.6
*************************
(hundreds of lines of debug output omitted)

So the cwd was /Photos/yvonne/20120425. But there was nothing there. Tried again and looked at the save page and found:

 
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This horrible program has completely ignored the current directory and saved it to the same place it did last time. Why?

The answer is simple, of course: modern GUI environments have done away with many of the conveniences of UNIX, including the concept of a working directory. avidemux2 has a working directory, but ignores it. Why do people put up with this? Is it the fault of avidemux2 or of GTK+?


More hugin strangenesses
Topic: photography, technology Link here

While playing around with hugin exposure blending, managed somehow to create a completely nonsensical stitching pattern:


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These were the same images as I had been processing all the time, and they lined up well. And this was just after reading in the .pto project file that had already lined them up correctly. What was wrong? After a bit of checking, discovered that during my EXIF copying experiments, I had accidentally copied the EXIF data from a panorama to one of its components. But why should that have caused the problem? Possibly field of view issues. But I didn't think of that at the time and just restored from a backup, so I will never know.


On seeing the first daffodil in autumn
Topic: gardening Link here

As I had half expected, the first spring bulbs are already with us, with a nice backdrop of summer flowers:


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The mutilated Cymbidium is now in full flower, and it has a second flower spike on the way (just visible on the left here):


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The last Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is coming up:


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And so are the “Lilli Marleen” roses that I had investigated two weeks ago. Strangely, the ones from the shade are looking better, and the ones that have been in the greenhouse all the time are looking worse. Here two weeks ago and today, first the ones that were in the greenhouse all the time, then the ones from the shade:


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I wonder what causes that, and whether it's serious.


ALDI mini-greenhouse: our stringent quality specifications
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Last month Yvonne bought a “Garden Greenhouse Box” on special at ALDI. We've already had fun with another ALDI greenhouse, and we have a real greenhouse, but this was more a germination box which I could move around as the conditions warranted:

greenhouse box

Time was getting on, so today I finally got round to assembling it. What a pain! I don't think I've ever seen such a complicated assembly, and I certainly wasn't expecting it in something as simple as a box:


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I needed three different kinds of spanners and a heavy-duty screwdriver (nothing supplied), and it took me the best part of an hour to assemble the lid. Then I got started on the frame, which is held together by screws in aluminium profiles. But they don't fit! According to the instructions, the bottom profiles should be attached to the verticals at the same height:

 
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But that doesn't work:


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The ends of the profiles foul each other, so in these photos the cutout for the screw on the left can't come closer than about 1 cm from the channel where the screw belongs. It would be possible to fix that by cutting off about 1 cm of the end of the inside profile, or by mounting one above the other, but there's a simpler solution: it goes back. I wonder how they assembled the box in the example. Did they maybe fix it on that one box and then not bother to fix the rest? I can see them being overloaded with returns.


Cooking rice
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Cooking rice is not difficult, and I've known how to do so since I was a child. You wash the rice, add water, boil until the rice absorbs all the water, cover and wait for 20 minutes. But not everybody agrees. Even today there are people who say you should boil the rice in lots of water, like potatoes, and pour away the excess water and nutritional value at the end. More important, though, are cultural differences. I learnt the method above in Malaysia, but as I discovered decades ago, many cultures put fat and salt into the rice as well. I do this now with Indian food, where the fat is usually ghee, but that tastes surprisingly bad with Chinese food.

But how much water do you use? In the past I have gone by eye and sometimes used too much (making the rice bloated and mushy) or too little (making it hard and possibly even uncooked). Today, for the first time ever, I tried weighing things. For 423 g normal long grain rice I added 504 g of water. After cooking, the result weighed 891 g, meaning that 36 g of water had evaporated during cooking.

But that's not important: the rice was too hard, probably because I cooked so much (normally I only do 200 g) and didn't adequately compensate for the additional depth of the rice. Next time I'll try 550 g.

None of this applies to Basmati rice. There I typically use less water, but that's another experiment.


Monday, 21 May 2012 Dereel Images for 21 May 2012
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Sick Lilac
Topic: animals Link here

Our cat Lilac has not been well lately. She's 15 years old, not nearly as agile as she once was, and appears to have become incontinent. But yesterday I saw her having difficulty urinating, so there's also the possibility that it was just a case of Cystitis. Today Yvonne took her to the vet for examination. Given her age, I wasn't sure that I'd see her again. Interestingly, as soon as she saw the cat carrier, she headed straight for it and didn't want to come out again:


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That's unlike Piccola, who was coming with her for a vaccination, and who resisted strongly. The vet found yes, bladder full, unable to urinate, so much so that she was not even able to extract urine for a test. So we decided to treat her for Cystitis and see if that helps. The alternative would be to put her down.

Antibiotics don't work immediately, of course, and she was quite unhappy in the afternoon. Found her sitting in the garden, something I've never seen before, accompanied by Piccola:


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I was half expecting her to die at some time in the afternoon, but she's still here. It'll be a day or two before we can hope to see any improvement.


Grapefruit harvest
Topic: gardening Link here

We bought our first grapefruit tree nearly 4 years ago, and it did so badly that they gave us another tree for free 8 months later. They both came with a fruit already on the tree, but apart from those, we only ever harvested 2 others—a total of 4 fruit from 2 trees in over 3 years. But that seems to have changed this year. The trees aren't much bigger, but they're bearing fruit, one of them despite the fact that it is being attacked by far more vigorous Hebes:


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There are over 30 fruit, and they're ripening unevenly. There were leaves in the way, giving patterns like this:

 
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So I trimmed off the leaves round the fruit; hopefully that will help. Also found a fruit that had fallen off the second tree. It's not very big:


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Hopefully the others will be better.

Also did some more weeding. I think I'm going to have to keep up an hour a day until I can start all over again, and then probably do an hour a day for ever more.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012 Dereel Images for 22 May 2012
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Battery life: time, not usage
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Until about last Christmas I took HDR sequences for my weekly garden photos; after that, I only do it in exceptional cases, using DxO Optics "Pro" to compensate for the limited dynamic range. Apart from other issues, this has reduced the number of photos I take by over 50%. The effect on my battery life is interesting. Between 31 July 2011 and 24 December 2011 (146 days), I took 10,309 photos and recharged the batteries 7 times. That's an average of 20.86 days or 1,473 photos per battery charge, and 70.6 photos per day. Between 24 December 2011 and today (151 days) I took a total of 5,257 photos and recharged the batteries 7 times, an average of 21.57 days or 751 photos per battery, and “only” 34.8 photos per day. So it seems that the duration is more important than the number of photos taken. That could be a coincidence, but it's certainly interesting how close the durations are.


More lighting woes
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Once upon a time, life was simple. If a disk died, it was a head crash. If a domestic light fitting failed, it was the globe. Neither seem to be the case any more. I've already had trouble with the light dimmer in the lounge room, but when the light failed there last night, I first replaced the globe. No go. So today I took another look at the dimmer. Yes, one of the too-short wires from the dimmer had come out of the terminal. Put it back, and things still didn't work. Spent some time head-scratching, not helped by my own unclear documentation 3 months ago.

Much of the problems I had were due to the fact that the detail of the wiring didn't match the layout of the device, and I had thought that possibly my particular dimmer had had the switch mounted incorrectly, rotated by 90°. But looking at the installation notes again, I saw a detail that I hadn't seen before:


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The first detail (second image) was incorrect, but on the same page there's a second showing how it really is (third image):


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I had followed the wiring, after correction, and put the second wire from the dimmer at the terminal marked 2 in the last drawing, and that's where it came out again. But that circuit doesn't make any sense anyway. At least in my circumstances, it makes more sense to make the connection from the dimmer to the lamp via the Loop terminal, which is conveniently closer to the dimmer connections.

But once again I'm flabbergasted. Why the incorrect documentation? And why did they mount the dimmer so that the wires can only just barely reach the contacts?


PHP: can't find preg_match
Topic: technology, gardening Link here

I've been dragging my heels on getting the membership lists for the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens online. It's a non-trivial amount of work, and I took the easy way out and used phpMyEdit to do the work. Put that up on the server and found:

Fatal error: Call to undefined function preg_match() in /usr/local/www/data/pedit/phpMyEdit.class.php on line 2787

Huh? preg_match() is part of the base PHP installation, and has been for ever (well, since 4.2.0). Went and checked: my server is deliberately not up to date (that would require rebooting and destroying the current uptime of 1332 days), but it's not that old. On checking, discovered that it was 5.2.6, which according to the manual requires serious effort to disable.

I've commented in the past about the tackiness of the FreeBSD ports for Apache, MySQL and PHP, and I really didn't want to look, but somehow I had to get it working. Asked Google and found a predictably large number of hits. But the interesting thing is that many of them are from FreeBSD, in particular this one, which referred to a file /usr/local/lib/php/20060613/pcre.so. Checked: no file. There wasn't even that directory, only /usr/local/lib/php/20060613-debug/ with the single entry mysql.so. Checked on my local machine: yes, /usr/local/lib/php/20060613/pcre.so was there, along with many others, including mysql.so. Copied it across and tried again on the off chance. No difference.

More experimentation, and restarted httpd to be on the safe side. Did it work? Of course not. Further examination with find -atime showed that the file had not even been accessed. But /usr/local/etc/php/extensions.ini had, and that looked interesting. It contained one line for the mysql.so, so I updated it:

extension=mysql.so
extension=pcre.so

After that, things still didn't work. But /var/log/httpd-error.log was helpful:

[Tue May 22 05:36:45 2012] [notice] SIGUSR1 received.  Doing graceful restart
PHP Warning:  PHP Startup: pcre: Unable to initialize module
Module compiled with module API=20060613, debug=0, thread-safety=0
PHP    compiled with module API=20060613, debug=1, thread-safety=0
These options need to match

That makes sense, especially given the name of the directory. Tried to build the port on the server, but how do you set debug? The only indication was in /var/db/ports/php5/options:

# This file is auto-generated by 'make config'.
# No user-servicable parts inside!
# Options for php5-5.2.6
_OPTIONS_READ=php5-5.2.6
WITH_CLI=true
WITH_CGI=true
WITH_APACHE=true
WITH_DEBUG=true
WITH_SUHOSIN=true
WITHOUT_MULTIBYTE=true
WITH_IPV6=true
WITHOUT_MAILHEAD=true
WITHOUT_REDIRECT=true
WITHOUT_DISCARD=true
WITH_FASTCGI=true
WITH_PATHINFO=true

Still, maybe the port looked in there, so I tried to build it and—it worked! Given that it is nearly 4 years out of date, I hadn't expected that, but fortunately I had the old tarball on the machine. And after that, finally I got phpMyEdit to run. But what a pain! And why was PCRE not installed in the first place? It's not my doing: I just installed the software that I was supplied with the machine.


Close that tcpdump!
Topic: technology Link here

While looking around the server for the PHP problem, found this:

USER      PID %CPU %MEM    VSZ   RSS  TT  STAT STARTED      TIME COMMAND
root    90550  0.0 20.4 135716 50768  p3- S    26Dec10 109:52.79 tcpdump icmp

19 months! Fortunately it was probably writing to the controlling terminal, which had gone away. I should keep a better eye on this box, though.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012 Dereel
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Don't trust “The Complete FreeBSD”
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

One of the reasons I wrote “The Complete FreeBSD” was to force myself to learn the things that I needed to document. And so, although it's coming on 10 years since the last edition, I frequently refer to it. Today I had the task of setting up access control for the private pages on the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens web site. Simple: it's on page 498 of the online version. Set up a .htaccess file, create a password with dbmmanage, and you're away.

And that's how I did it in the past. Problem is, it doesn't work any more. I got messages like:

[Wed May 23 04:58:40 2012] [error] [client 59.167.11.50] user grog not found: /mypages/

That's not a password mismatch: the server just couldn't find the user. Tried with my own local copy of the password file, and that worked, but that's not what I wanted. Looking at the files, though, the format is completely different. My old files had entries that look like this:

grog:jh45VzBDf2rlA

But the files that dbmmanage generated now were one of three different kinds of binary format. Clearly I needed another authentication module. Went looking through the web and found:

So I should have fixed the config file, but I was too lazy. I should revisit that some time. Instead I tried htpasswd, and it works. But it means that, now at any rate, the information in “The Complete FreeBSD” is wrong. Was it ever right? Looking at current documentation suggests that it wasn't, but I'm sure I tested it at the time. Should I fix it? Put up an errata page? Probably.


The importance of good documentation, part 817
Topic: general, opinion Link here

More discussion of my dimmer problems on IRC today. It's amazing how different people's viewpoints are. To summarize: I had difficulties with the dimmer because the documentation is incorrect, and because either the wires from dimmer to the switch are too short, or it is mounted in incorrect orientation.

But is the documentation incorrect? Callum Gibson says no. I'm referring to this image:


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To me, this says: “Connect the dimmer between the terminal furthest from the dimmer and the left-hand middle terminal. Connect the live (red) wires to terminals furthest from and closest to the dimmer. Connect the neutral (black) wires to the terminal on the right in the middle.” But Callum says that this is just a “block diagram”, and that there is no conflict between the two images on the instructions:


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I can't agree with this, and I suspect that Callum has the (dis)advantage of being told of the details before having to think it through himself. To be clear: in both these illustrations, the switch has the same orientation, with contact C on the left. In the first, the dimmer is shown near terminal 1, in the second near terminal Loop. My contention is that if people see these diagrams, they will assume that the first image is an accurate illustration. That's certainly what the instructions above that image state:

4. Connect the wires to the Light Dimmer as illustrated.

So that's an illustration, not a block diagram. In any case, there's absolutely no reason to draw even a block diagram in a way that could easily be misinterpreted. All that would be needed would be to put the dimmer to the right in the first diagram, or to dispense with it altogether and show the wiring on the more realistic second image.

Then there's the question of safety. Connect the dimmer with the wires exactly in the position shown in the first image, and nothing will happen (it won't even work). But the wires coming out of the wall both look the same, and with correct connections that's not important: it's symmetrical, and you could change the Power and Lamp connections without any problem. Do that with this layout, though, and one switch position would short-circuit live to neutral, because this is an SPDT switch. Callum says that this isn't important, because a licensed electrician will know what it is really like, and he wouldn't read the documentation anyway.

So: is this a device that should really be installed by a licensed electrician? On the face of it, yes: he is insured, so any problems would be covered, though as Callum observed, a problem here could make for an interesting court case. But I don't buy the “licensed electrician” thing in the first place. The only difference between this device and, say, an power plug is that the dimmer is hard-wired. And there's no such requirement for power plugs. Indeed, when I lived in the UK, there were so many different power sockets (2A, 5A, 13A and 15A) that the manufacturers of electrical goods took the cheap way out and supplied appliances without any plug at all: it was up to the purchaser to buy and connect the correct type of plug. And other things in the instructions are clearly not addressed to the electrician:

1. Turn power off at the switchboard.

I suppose it's typical of the instructions that they don't tell you to turn it on again when finished.

Clearly the SPDT switch adds an element of danger to the construction. It's not needed: an SPST switch with two non-connected terminals would be far preferable. To get it to work at all, the power needs to be connected to one of the switch outputs, not the input. And then when the switch is turned “off”, the dimmer is shorted out, which does no harm. I consider this an ugly kludge; Peter Jeremy considers it elegant. But at the very least it's a workaround for having used the wrong component. In principle an SPST switch would be cheaper. Presumably there are so few of them in use that it proves more convenient to use an SPDT switch instead.

The real surprise, though, is that Callum and Peter are both intelligent, level-headed people with good technical knowledge (especially Peter). Why did we have this discussion in the first place?


Revisiting the middle succulent bed
Topic: gardening Link here

It's been over three years since we planted the middle succulent bed, which at the time we called a rock garden. Things have changed completely in that time:


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As I guessed at the time, it's full. The only thing we planted in there after that time were the Cannas at the back left of the second image. And we have problems: things swallowing each other are only part of them. There's grass everywhere, not to mention a potato that has been there longer than we have lived here and won't say no, and there are tulips and daffodils trying to fight their way through the succulents in the middle. What do we do? Cut back a lot, of course, but maybe we should remove some of the plants. The tulips and daffodils in the middle are good candidates.


Thursday, 24 May 2012 Dereel Images for 24 May 2012
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Volunteer recognition
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Interesting document in the mail today:


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No accompanying letter, just a pin indicating, amongst other things, that last week was National Volunteer Week. Based on other things I have received, I suppose it's for the work I've been doing for the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. It's nice to be recognized, but I think that true volunteers don't do it for the recognition, but for the public good.


Retouching panoramas revisited
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Interesting message about Hugin in the mail today: how to fill in untidy pieces of the panorama. Just what I need for the panoramas of the Botanical Gardens I took two weeks ago, and which I tried to retouch with very limited success last week. Bruno Postle posted a link to a tutorial. The trick is to include additional images (in this case copies of existing images) without control points, but it left a few questions open.

After a lot of experimentation, found a way to do it. The rest of this entry will form the basis of a tutorial.

First align the base images:


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Clearly the hands in the sky need to go away. Running the cursor over the list of images shows that one of them is in image 8:


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In the Mask tab, mask out the hand:


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In this case, the same needs to be done in image 0. After that we have:


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The sun needs to go too (image 1):


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Find an image with similar looking sky. In this case, I chose image 5:


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In the Images tab add the image, which gets the number 10 (and yes, the file names here really are 00 to 09):


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Mask off the bottom of the image:


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It seems that the image gets positioned at the same place as the first image, which in this case partially fills the hole, but in general there's no relationship between the position of the image and where you want it to be:


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To position it correctly, go back to the Images tab, select the image and enter a yaw value, changing it until the image fits. Smaller values move left, larger values move right:


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Looking at the position of the image, it overlaps some of the trees:


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That doesn't seem to matter, but it's cleaner to adjust the mask. Because of the way the perspective changes, the bottom of the image is curved. It's probably better to create a new mask with a V shape, which then fits the panorama better:


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The preview image still looks pretty rough, but that's not important. enblend and enfuse will do their magic. Crop the image and stitch it. The Assistant tab will show two disconnected image sets, but that's not a problem:


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In this case, it will fail because images 0 and 1 cover the same area:

 
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That wasn't the way the original panorama was intended; they were supposed to be masked differently. But here only one of the images is necessary. Remove one of the two images (I chose image 1) and try again. Here's the result:


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Discussion

A number of things are a little strange:


Friday, 25 May 2012 Dereel
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The results of excessive austerity measures
Topic: general, opinion Link here

The current European sovereign-debt crisis is worrying many people, ourselves very much included: it is having a serious effect on the value of our investments. On the other hand, it's not clear how much good excessive austerity will do, and both Greece and France are currently trying to find another solution. Not surprisingly: in a democracy, voters are much more concerned about their local situation than the global one. Next month's Greek election could start a new, even worse phase of the 2007–2012 global financial crisis.

What's the alternative? I don't know. Discussing it with Yvonne, I explained my view that the Germans don't want to live beyond their means—very much a German trait anyway—and are thus resisting relaxation of austerity measures. Doubtless they're reminded of the last time they tried to do that, starting in 1933, where the country grew on debt that finally was paid off by conquests, dispossession and mass murder. Clearly nobody wants to go that way again.

But what's the alternative? There's a limit to how far you can tighten the belt. Then you might end up cutting yourself off at the waist. As Yvonne said, Übermensch and Untermensch. And then we'd be back in the same situation that the Germans want to avoid.


Winter coming
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Horrible weather today, heavy rain and wind. Not only did I not do anything in the garden, I didn't do anything inside either. Sometimes it's best just to watch TV.


Saturday, 26 May 2012 Dereel Images for 26 May 2012
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Still more panorama experiments
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day again today, and a particularly dark and dingy one. I've been taking all the photos at f/8, and the resultant shutter speeds went as low as 1/4 s:


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I'm still thinking about whether to take all images at the same exposure or not, but at least since enblend version 4, it seems that I get better results from variable exposure than fixed exposure. Here a couple of examples, first fixed, then variable, with mouseover alternation:


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Particularly in the second view, the lack of gradation the shadow of the Buddleja is very apparent. So I think that, for the time being at any rate, I'll stick with automatic exposure.


More letter box damage
Topic: general Link here

For some reason we've had continual damage to our letter box over the last couple of years. On 3 May 2010, not for the first time, it was clearly hit by something and the pole was bent, and on 31 December 2010 “horses” knocked it over. Some time later it was knocked out of the ground altogether, and I had to put it back. By that time I didn't even bother to mention the fact here. But today whoever it was completed his work:


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Why do they do it? Once again there are tyre tracks from the neighbours, but we don't have any reason to believe that they'd do a thing like that. The only people whom I know have something against me are the McClellands, but I can't believe that they'd try these things again and again. So it looks as if we'll need to find a replacement.


Winter on its way
Topic: gardening Link here

The cold, wet and windy weather of the last couple of days has taken its toll, and the garden looks very different. Here last week and this week:


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Removing the sun, continued
Topic: photography Link here

While discussing the issue of retouching panoramas on the hugin mailing list, Cartola questioned my use of my hands to block out the sun. I had thought it fairly obvious, but Cartola knows his stuff, so put together this description.


Animating panoramas
Topic: photography, technology Link here

One of the things that Cartola suggested months ago was that I should use some kind of browser plugin to animate my panoramas. One of the more promising looking ones was SaladoPlayer, which I tried some months ago and with which I ran into documentation problems. Tried again today and got as far as being able to install and display the demonstration panoramas, but to run my own I had to convert the format, which involved the use of SaladoConverter, a Java application. I have Java installed, but don't use it, and the first attempts to run it were less than encouraging:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/8) ~ 29 -> java SaladoConverter.jar
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: SaladoConverter/jar
Caused by: java.lang.ClassNotFoundException: SaladoConverter.jar
        at java.net.URLClassLoader$1.run(URLClassLoader.java:200)
        at java.security.AccessController.doPrivileged(Native Method)
        at java.net.URLClassLoader.findClass(URLClassLoader.java:188)
        at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoader.java:306)
        at sun.misc.Launcher$AppClassLoader.loadClass(Launcher.java:276)
        at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClass(ClassLoader.java:251)
        at java.lang.ClassLoader.loadClassInternal(ClassLoader.java:319)

That kind of error message reminds me of Python. Took a look with ktrace and found:

  7010 java     NAMI  "/src/FreeBSD/ports/graphics/saladoplayer/SaladoConverter-0.5/SaladoConverter/jar.class"
  7010 java     RET   stat -1 errno 2 No such file or directory
...
  7010 java     CALL  write(0x2,0xbf9fe930,0xa)
  7010 java     GIO   fd 2 wrote 10 bytes
       "Exception "
  7010 java     RET   write 10/0xa
  7010 java     CALL  write(0x2,0xbf9fe930,0x11)
  7010 java     GIO   fd 2 wrote 17 bytes
       "in thread "main" "
  7010 java     RET   write 17/0x11
  7010 java     CALL  write(0x2,0xbf9fc8ec,0x33)
  7010 java     GIO   fd 2 wrote 51 bytes
       "java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: SaladoConverter/jar"

What a way to say “Can't find jar.class! I wonder what the real problem is, but to work that out I'll have to learn a bit more about Java.


Sunday, 27 May 2012 Dereel Images for 27 May 2012
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Java hell
Topic: technology, opinion, photography Link here

Continued investigating my problems with SaladoConverter today. It looked as if I needed a CLASSPATH:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/8) ~ 59 -> export CLASSPATH=/usr/local/jdk1.6.0/lib
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/8) ~ 60 -> java SaladoConverter.jar
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: SaladoConverter/jar
...

At least part of it was just learning how to start it. It seems that the correct invocation was wrong. What I needed was:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/8) ~ 67 -> java -jar SaladoConverter.jar
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/8) ~ 68 -> echo $?
0

The only problem was, it didn't do anything. Only later did I discover that this is part of Java's inimitable way of reporting a SIGSEGV. It reported it not to the controlling terminal (not even with a non-0 exit code), but to a file hs_err_pid83795.log with about 120 lines of detailed information:

#
# An unexpected error has been detected by Java Runtime Environment:
#
#  SIGSEGV (0xb) at pc=0x822434d7, pid=83795, tid=0x8232f280
#
# Java VM: Diablo Java HotSpot(TM) Server VM (10.0-b23 mixed mode bsd-x86)
# Problematic frame:
# C  [libc.so.7+0x714d7]  free+0x47
#
# Please submit bug reports to freebsd-java@FreeBSD.org
#

---------------  T H R E A D  ---------------

Current thread (0x8313ac00):  Thread [stack: 0xbf9af000,0xbf9ff000] [id=-2110590336]

siginfo:si_signo=SIGSEGV: si_errno=0, si_code=1 (SEGV_MAPERR), si_addr=0xbf900000
...

I suppose I should do that, but only after upgrading to the latest version. In the meantime, I tried it on braindeath, my loner Microsoft box. First I had to install Java, confusingly called release Java SE 7 update 4. And then, according to the instructions, I had to (double) click on the “application”. What does that mean? I was expecting an icon, but I didn't find any. So I painstakingly climbed down the tree to z:\src\FreeBSD\ports\graphics\SaladoPlayer\SaladoConverter-0.5 and clicked on SaladoConverter. Not quite what I expected:

 
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So I clicked on OK and was taken to this page, which claims:

File Type: Java Archive File

File Extension: .jar
Description: Java Archive files contain one or more files that have been compressed and packaged into an archive file in the Zip format.

Software or information available at:

Clearly not what I'm looking for. So I tried to run it from COMMAND.COM:

 
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Unsupported major/minor version? Yes, SaladoConverter wants at least Java 1.6, but my understanding is that I installed Java 1.7. But when I checked, I got:

 
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1.4.2? That must be ancient. Removed all Java packages and tried again. The same Java executable was still there. Searching the disk showed a couple of other file names starting in JAVA.EXE with random appendages, some in other packages. This is a loaner machine, so I don't want to interfere there. But at the end of the day, once again I had to give up. At least it has brought home to me that FreeBSD isn't the only system with update issues.


New letterbox
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne thought she could remember letterboxes on special at ALDI recently, and I went looking through the old weekly fliers without success. But on return from training, she brought one with her. On more careful scrutiny, it proved that the special had been nearly 2 months ago, and this one had been marked down to only $40.

Positioned the thing considerably further away from the Everett's driveway. In the first image, the old box is roughly there where it used to stand. We concreted that one in, which didn't really help: part of the damage was due to snapping off the pole just above the concrete. So this time we took Chris Yeardley's advice and rammed a Star dropper into the ground and tied the pole to it. That way, if anything gets damaged, it'll be the dropper (or, more likely, the car that runs into it).


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Hopefully this one will last longer.


Marvellous mutant Mirabilis
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Six weeks ago I planted some seeds of Mirabilis jalapa, six each of the red and yellow varieties. All of them germinated, though the yellow ones are much more vigorous than the red ones. I have three of each kind in front of the window in the bathroom and another three of each kind in the greenhouse. But one plant is strange: instead of the usual leaf pairs, it has leaf triplets (second two photos):


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I've noted before that there are a number of hybrids, but this one is really interesting. I wonder what the flowers will look like.


Monday, 28 May 2012 Dereel Images for 28 May 2012
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Cracking the Salado
Topic: technology, photography Link here

My experience with SaladoConverter yesterday wasn't the best, but the promise of the rewards kept me going today—all day long. Clearly the problem I had with braindeath had less to do with Salado or Java than it did with the messed-up configuration on the box. I have another couple of Microsofts, including one in a VM, where I'm less concerned about messing things up. So I installed Java on it, and how about that! It worked!

There are still a number of loose ends with the conversions. The SaladoConverter documentation states that I need an equirectangular projection, and that's easy enough to make with Hugin. But SaladoConverter refused some of them with the laconic comment Invalid image proportions: pano.jpeg. After considerable investigation discovered that Hugin was stitching invalid equirectangular images. By definition, they should have an aspect ratio of 2:1 (half as high as they are wide), but the “Assistant” was giving wider images. It seems that the “Stitcher” does it right, once you find the “Stitch now” button hidden at bottom right.

So I had some converted files. What next? The SaladoPlayer documentation states:

With literally couple lines of .*xml configuration you can add navigation, maps, menus and varius multimedia.

So I checked. The sample configuration file is not exactly a “couple lines”—205 lines in all, not all of which are documented anywhere. Did some experimentation with the sample file and finally came up with a couple of scripts: the first sets up the directory structures to make it easy to do the typical Microsoft tree-climbing necessary to find anything, and the second, run after the conversion, builds up the configuration file based on what I have converted.

And of course it doesn't work. How do you debug XML files? Emacs nXML mode tells me that the file is Invalid, but I can't find anything in the help to help me debug it, and in any case the original file was also flagged Invalid. Still, it's progress. I did manage to get some images to display, just not with my automatically built config scripts.

Also managed to remove these silly Lens Flares that show up in most of them—it seems that some people, including Cartola and Edwin Groothuis, like it, but after all the trouble I have gone to to remove them from the images, I don't want some software package putting them back in again.

The other thing that I discovered is that I need to revisit my panoramas. Really only the verandah centre panorama makes any sense at all. I tried the view from the north for the fun of it, but it's far too limited a view. In addition, they're not really high enough resolution for this kind of use. The verandah centre panorama typically has a resolution of about 9000 × 6000, but zooming in stretches the resolution:


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Clearly I need to make images for the viewer at much higher resolution. And that means more images, longer focal length, less depth of field... a real can of worms.

A whole day and still not finished!


Updating Microsoft
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

While I was at it with Microsoft, finally paid attention to the warnings that kept showing up: “Your computer is in danger. Automatic updates are turned off”. I've always been afraid of automatic updates, but maybe they have a point. So I turned them on again and got 97 updates for braindeath and 111 for smart, the VM box. And after braindeath came back, I had no net connectivity. Given that I use rdesktop to access it, that's serious. Turned the KVM to the monitor output and saw a message saying “Malware removed. Click here for more information”, which disappeared before I could get the mouse there. After a while, network connectivity came back, but rdesktop still didn't work: some component (svchost.exe?) kept crashing shortly after logon. At least vncviewer still works, but that's a nuisance because it's much slower and it requires a lower display size. Somehow my fears were confirmed.


Deep fried feta
Topic: food and drink Link here

Years (I could almost say “decades”) ago, before I restarted keeping a diary, Yvonne and I first visited Jorge de Moya in Olivaylle. Sue, his business manager at the time, made dinner and served fried (or maybe baked) feta, which tasted very good. Yvonne has been meaning to try it again, but our experience with baked and fried Camembert made me hesitate. Today we bit the bullet. Cut the cheese into cubes, coat with breadcrumbs, and into the deep fryer at 180°:


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I stopped when small globules of molten cheese started to come out, about 2 minutes, but I think I could have left it longer. About the only thing to note is that feta is quite salty, and it needs no extra salt.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012 Dereel Images for 29 May 2012
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