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November 2009
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Sunday, 1 November 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

Jana left today to return to Germany, and we're alone again after 10 days of almost continual guests. It's nice to have guests, but it's good to be alone again, too.


Topic: gardening Link here

More puzzling about where to plant things, and discovered that we had misjudged our Itea ilicifolia. Based on the photos, I had thought it would be about 1 metre high; in fact, two different pages, from the UK and a catalogue from Melbourne both state that it's 4 metres. They also appear to prefer part shade. A good thing I checked that before planting it. Now we need to scratch our heads again.

Pulled out about 2 metres of irises, and Yvonne took them over to Chris and, I suspect, planted them for her. Planted some of the new Iris graminea (“plum tart iris”) in their place, along with some Antirrhinum (snapdragon) seedlings that I had planted far too thickly. Pulled them apart before planting; I'll see how well they survive.


Topic: photography Link here

Still more scanning negatives. I'm more than half way through the album now, and it's getting on my nerves that I can't find the notebook where I wrote the exposure details.


Monday, 2 November 2009 Dereel Images for 2 November 2009
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Wine performance issues
Topic: technology, photography Link here

I've noted in the past severe performance issues running the Ashampoo photo optimizer, a Microsoft-based program, with wine. They're clearly related to the X interface: it's the X server that uses up all the time, sometimes as much as several seconds just to select a box on the window. The problem just “went away” fairly soon after I installed it—otherwise I probably would have given up—but it has returned a few times recently. Today it took over a minute of X server CPU time for the initial screen to complete building, and the remainder was just as slow. Just for the fun of it, I shot down another resource hog, firefox, and the problem went away.

So what's the cause? My guess is that there's something internal to the X server which becomes really inefficient when more than a certain number of some resource is in use—but which resource?


Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got round to calling up the Banksia Greenhouse Centre in Wantirna South (03-9801-8070) about the greenhouse parts. Doreen told me that they're no longer available, but there's a possibility that the parts for the newer greenhouses will fit. The bloke who knows won't be there until Wednesday, so we'll have to wait until then.

Also called around about lawn mower repair, which proved to be more difficult than I thought; only after the fourth call did I get hold of David Chestnut, 12 White Horse Road (5330 3233), who like others wants to keep the thing until he's ready to work on it; it seems that making appointments is too much trouble.


Topic: animals Link here

It seems that I misjudged the problems with the baby magpie. It was still in a tree, after all, and it seems to have been fed by parents. So maybe it was really just near the nest, and we never saw the nest itself. In any case, it's still alive and has been calling a lot.

Today I saw a whole lot of magpies converging on the veggie patch. Went over, chased them off—only one returned—and discovered that the baby magpie was in the potatoes, Piccola was observing it, and the magpies were trying to chase her away:


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Brought Piccola back inside. These magpies can get nasty.


Tuesday, 3 November 2009 Dereel Images for 3 November 2009
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Firefox rendering
Topic: technology Link here

While checking links, discovered a new firefox page, advertising the new release 3.5. I hope it renders things better than 3.0.4 that I'm using at the moment. Here's firefox rendering its own web pages:

 
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It's quite possible that this is a firefox configuration problem, but it's certainly not an obvious one.

Wine problems: shm related?

Discussing my problems with Ashampoo photo optimizer and wine. Some people suggested that it's related to one of the ugly sisters, shm. Took a look with ipcs and found that yes, indeed, wine allocates quite a bit of memory, about 7 MB (column SEGSZ):

Shared Memory:
T       ID      KEY MODE        OWNER    GROUP    CREATOR  CGROUP  NATTCH    SEGSZ    CPID LPID ATIME    DTIME    CTIME
m 15269889       0 --rwa------ grog     lemis    grog     lemis         2   305600   96588 1427 15:10:09 no-entry 15:10:09
m 10289154       0 --rwa------ grog     lemis    grog     lemis         2    36864   96588 1427 15:10:09 15:10:09 15:10:09
m  7864323       0 --rwa------ grog     lemis    grog     lemis         2    43780   96588 1427 15:10:10 no-entry 15:10:10
m 10878980       0 --rwa------ grog     lemis    grog     lemis         2   147456   96588 1427 15:10:09 15:10:09 15:10:09
m  4784136       0 --rwa------ grog     lemis    grog     lemis         2  6563020   96588 1427 15:10:10 no-entry 15:10:10

CPID is the PID of the wine process, and LPID is the PID of the X server. This was when the system was reacting “normally”. I'll have to wait for it to slow down again and see what's going on then.


Mower repair
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Finally got round to taking the (ride-on) lawnmower in for servicing, which first involved borrowing Chris' trailer. And that involved Chris getting the tractor out to remove the hay which was still on it. Got back home and ran into the next problem: no proper ramps. We had borrowed some half-high ramps, but they didn't quite do the job, and after a bit of head-scratching managed to heave the thing onto the trailer.

Then there was the issue of the tie-down straps, which have a patent ratchet tightening mechanism which always confuse me. Today was no exception, but we finally made it, and brought the thing to David Chestnut in Cape Clear.

While in town, decided to so some other shopping, and off to a place in Hertford St. where they sell statues. After some deliberation, bought a pagoda and a Buddha (I think), which we ended up putting in the “Japanese Garden”:


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Also stopped at Mountain Scenery and ordered some pine chip mulch, which they wanted to deliver right away; had to get them to put it off an hour to make sure we would be home. Then to Gays and bought some tomato plants. Yes, I have plenty of my own grown from seed, but they still look so unhappy that I don't know if they'll make it. But why are the names of the tomato breeds so strange? “Low Acid”, “Big Bang” (or some such). That doesn't relate to any of the names I've seen, and I ended up buying the same kinds that I have already sown: Cherry, “Rouge de Marmande” and Roma.

At Gays, also looked around the garden section, which they have renovated, but which still lags way behind most of the competition. Did find a couple of interesting plants, though—not to buy, but to notice. First was the Pimelea ferruginea, of which we have one. I had always thought it was some kind of Hebe, but it seems it comes from Western Australia:


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Also a Kalanchoe, which indeed looks like the plant I have planted in the Japanese garden:


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Back home, spent most of the afternoon in the garden, including taking delivery of the mulch and planting the tomatoes, and also planting experimental plants in some small multi-opening pots that Chris had given us. We're not quite sure what they're good for, so we planted forget-me-nots, snapdragons (from my copious supply of seedlings), violets and a Sedum “gold mound”. We'll see how they progress; I expect to pull some of them out again.


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Wednesday, 4 November 2009 Dereel Images for 4 November 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

Spent most of the day in the garden today, mainly weeding. It's been relatively moist lately, and that made it much easier to get the weeds out root and all. Yvonne is also busy rearranging her toys in the Japanese Garden. I can see a number of changes coming.


Topic: photography Link here

Also tried out my new 10 dioptre close-up lens in combination with the macro lens. The first question was the sharpness. It was not as good, I'd say. Here's a Sedum flower taken from the same camera position, first with the close-up lens and then without:


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The difference in size puzzled me at first: the camera was mounted on a tripod, and I didn't move it or the flowers between the two shots. But of course in close-up photography it's not the position of the camera that's the issue: it's the position of the lens. And without the close-up lens, the focus moved the lens forward about 16 mm, thus increasing the magnification. The sharpness was definitely better without the close-up lens:

 
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Is it acceptable? I'll have to think about that. The maximum close-up I could get with full extension was certainly about double the size, probably with acceptable sharpness:


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The question about the detail is: are those green fringes chromatic aberration or part of the anther? It's about 0.5 mm across, so it's difficult to see without a microscope. Maybe I should be using microscopes for this sort of thing.


Topic: gardening Link here

Phone call from John Bram today about the greenhouse parts. He didn't have an answer, only questions, so took some photos for him and put them together on a greenhouse page. Hopefully we can find a solution that isn't too expensive.


Thursday, 5 November 2009 Dereel Images for 5 November 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's better again, so spent a lot of time in the garden, mainly pulling weeds. We've decided to restructure the surrounds of the east garden, notably in front of the garage and behind the birches, and that involves removing a lot of existing ground cover—the third compost heap is full already, and we've had to tread it down.

Also found a number of bulbs in the north bed. I think some of them are Freesias, but there appear to be two different kinds of bulb:


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The second kind are much more plentiful, and they are interesting in that they have developed multiple bulbs at different positions along the stem:


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I wonder if that's normal, or whether it's indicative of the primary bulb being too deep.


Friday, 6 November 2009 Dereel Images for 6 November 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

Another day spent mainly in the garden. Apart from weeding, did some work tying up climbing plants: the “Phyllis Bide” rose and the ornamental grape vines that we planted in April. The latter gave me a lot to think about. All the books on training and pruning deal only with wine grapes (Vitis vinifera, like these vines), and they show only one stem. But both of these came with three. What to do? Cut off two of them? I was about to do so when it occurred to me that the people who grow these plants probably know what they're doing, and they must have some reason to leave three stems, so I left them. I'll train them up two or three wires and let them grow in different directions at the top.

Also pruning the Climbing Iceberg roses. I only planted them a couple of months ago, but they're very vigorous and blooming already, even before the established roses. Decided to try to propagate the cuttings—it seems that Iceberg is one of the few which can handle this treatment. We'll see.


Topic: photography Link here

Finally I've finished scanning in the contents of my 1964-1966 negative album, 1803 of them. Why? Many of the photos are of abysmal quality, some I don't even recognize, and I can't identify people, dates or events for many. Still, it could be interesting. I've decided not to try to identify them until I find the notebook I kept at the time, which may be never; in the meantime, I'm just putting them in arbitrary directories.


Weekly power failure
Topic: technology, general Link here

Another power failure while I was in the garden. It can't have been long, because cvr2 didn't fail, and the UPS it's still connected to can't keep the machine running for more than a second or two. But boskoop, my Apple, lost power and rebooted. As is normally the case, the monitor was disconnected, and as a result it came back without any monitor support. Rebooting it under those circumstances is a real pain; you can't just connect a monitor and expect it to display anything on it. This behaviour must confuse typical Apple users if, for example, you knock the monitor connector off and boot it. Under those circumstances, with only a single computer, I can't even think of a clean way to recover. And in this case, it happened during a scan operation, and I had quite some work to find out what I needed to rescan.


Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Also rearranged things on the verandah—it's time it stopped being a storage place for plants I'm growing. In the process, moved our David statue back into the garden. Later in the evening, Piccola went to investigate it, climbed up on it and knocked it over. Of course I didn't have a camera handy, but since she stayed in the area, I thought it was worth getting one. Unfortunately, she didn't try again.


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Saturday, 7 November 2009 Dereel Images for 7 November 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's getting hot again—it hit 32.5° today—and so activity in the garden was limited, though Yvonne found the courage to dig out 10 of our Silver birch seedlings and plant them in pots. One of our options is to plant them where the cathedral was and make a birch forest.


Topic: photography Link here

Found a reference to an interesting article about digital sensor “sensitivity”. The page shows massive breakage on Apple and FreeBSD, though not on Microsoft, even with the same version of firefox:


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As usual, the problems probably stem from incorrect assumptions of the display resolution on the part of the web programmer. It's clear that the Microsoft image is much smaller (compare the photos of the cameras).

The gist of the page is that the sensitivities of the sensors can be off by up to 1 EV—or at least, that seems to be the implication. The values for my Olympus E-30 showed that it was off by -0.7 EV at most ISO settings, but by +0.3 EV at ISO 100, meaning that ISO 100 and ISO 200 are effectively the same. That can't be right, and the fact that they came up with the same results for other cameras pointed to errors in the DxO tests. So I did my own tests and came out with what you would expect—almost. The following were taken with my E-30 with manual exposure. In each case, the aperture was f/8. In my experience, the accuracy of the aperture is lower than that of the shutter, so for the first two I set the shutter at 1/250 s, and for the third I set it to 1/500s. The first was set at ISO 100, and the other two it was set to ISO 200. If the DxO claims are correct, the first two should look the same, and the third one should be noticeably darker:


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So DxO is wrong, right? Well, no. These photos are the result of the in-camera JPEG conversion. Looking at the raw images paints a very different picture:


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Run the cursor over any image above to compare with the out-of-camera JPEG image. The difference in size is due to the processing.

Since writing this page, I have reprocessed most of the images I took on this day, but the ones above are as I processed them at the time. With better processing, they look like this. Again, run the cursor over any image above to compare with the previous DxO results. In this case I have no explanation for the difference in size:


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But of course that almost completely eliminates the differences.

Why is that? There's clearly more to this than meets the eye, and I ended up writing a page on the subject. I'm still not finished; I need to do a lot of thinking. One implication, though, is that “ISO 100” is not really any slower than ISO 200, and maybe I'm not doing myself any favours by using that setting.


Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Fondue bourguignonne for dinner today, and in view of the weather, had it on the verandah, taking over 1½ hours to complete:


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I've decided that it can't take the place of fondue de fromage, but that would have been ridiculous in this weather.


Sunday, 8 November 2009 Dereel Images for 8 November 2009
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MythTV crash
Topic: technology Link here

cvr2 has died again. Rebooted and it came up from the second disk, which made it look very much like there was something wrong with the first one. Removed the second disk (on second try; the first time I removed the wrong disk), and it came up fine, thank God—I was half expecting a repeat of the XFS offset superblock bug. This time was probably due to overheating. But why do all these Linux distributions have splash screens that hide the boot messages? The only time you ever look at a booting machine is if you want to know what's going on.


Topic: general Link here

Another hot day, top of 34°, and so again we spent most of the day inside.


Topic: brewing, photography Link here

I'm finally running out of excuses not to brew again, and so spent some time in the afternoon crushing malt, finishing off the batch with the moths in it. Found another one in reasonable condition and took some more photos, mainly to compare the close-up lens for the Zuiko digital ED 50mm F/2 Macro. The moths are about 1 cm long, so even with the close-up lens I had to crop the image. The results are interesting. Here's the top of the moth first with the closeup lens, then without:


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There's not much to be seen there at normal magnifications; but cropping tells a different story. Here's the underside of the moth's head, first with the closeup lens, then without:

 
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The image without the closeup lens is at native resolution in the “thumbnail” representation (300x225); the one with the closeup lens has been cropped to (roughly) match, and has a resolution of 527x395. Clearly the closeup lens does bring some advantages.

Also, for the fun of it, took another photo with the 50 mm f/1.4 Super Takumar and bellows. I think it'll be the last: the results are just not sharp enough, and I can't see any way to improve matters. At first I thought that the coloured reflections in this image were chromatic aberration, but after comparing with the other images I've come to the conclusion that they're real. On the other hand, the smallest detail is only marginally better than the other two, although this image has a resolution of 2017x1512, 45 times that of the unaided Zuiko.


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Monday, 9 November 2009 Dereel
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Topic: brewing Link here

Brew day today. The more I brew, the less I enjoy it. Today I decided to do a single infusion mash, which certainly made things easier, but I suspect I've had a lower yield than normal. But I think that, for the moment at any rate, I'll buy wort for my normal brews.


Topic: general Link here

Things weren't made any easier by the fact that the temperatures were really high again today. The temperature hit 30° by 9 am, and for the first time in days we decided it was too hot to have breakfast on the verandah. The recorded high temperature was 36.7°. Hopefully this isn't an indication of how the summer will develop. But my concern is interesting: in previous lives I wouldn't have even bothered mentioning the fact. Now that we spend more time outside, it's more of an issue.

It's not just the temperature, either. By the evening the temperature had dropped enough for us to have dinner on the verandah, but we weren't alone. The insects have come to life, and I suspect that our time of eating on the verandah is over for this spring.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009 Dereel → Geelong → Barwon Heads → Dereel Images for 10 November 2009
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Death in the night
Topic: technology Link here

Accidentally tried to access one of my pages from the external web site today (http://www.lemis.com/ instead of /), and got no response. Suspecting satellite problems again, took a look and discovered that www.lemis.com (really bilbo.ozlabs.org, a Linux machine) was really down, and that nobody knew what had happened.

While looking for a spare xterm, discovered one that had been connected to bilbo, conveniently with a lot of syslog messages showing the cause:

Message from syslogd@bilbo at Tue Nov 10 04:28:07 2009 ...
[918204.839237] Oops: 0002 [#1] SMP
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8029d1a4>] ? kswapd+0x0/0x633
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8029d1a4>] ? kswapd+0x0/0x633
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff802d13ba>] ? clear_inode+0x6c/0xc3
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff802d184b>] ? shrink_icache_memory+0x1f2/0x228
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8025437a>] ? kthread+0x54/0x80
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff80210aca>] ? child_rip+0xa/0x20
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff80254742>] ? autoremove_wake_function+0x0/0x2e
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff80254326>] ? kthread+0x0/0x80
[918204.839266] last sysfs file: /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1e.0/0000:01:03.0/irq
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff80210ac0>] ? child_rip+0x0/0x20
[918204.841194] Stack:
[918204.841194] Code: 83 ff ff 74 17 f0 ff 0f 0f 94 c0 84 c0 74 05 e8 ab 6e 20 e0 48 c7 43 b0 ff ff ff ff 48 8b 7b b8 48 85 ff 74 1d 48 83 ff ff 74 17 <f0> ff 0f 0f 94 c0 84 c0 74 05 e8 85 6e 20 e0 48 c7 43 b8 ff ff
[918204.841194]  ffff880053137d58 ffffffff802d15b4 0000000000000246 ffff880056cd0738
[918204.841194] CR2: ffffffffff1fffff
[918204.841194]  0000000000000000 0000000000000080 0000000000000080 ffffffff802d184b
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8029af7e>] ? isolate_pages_global+0x0/0x22c
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8029d648>] ? kswapd+0x4a4/0x633
[918204.841194] Call Trace:
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff8029cdda>] ? shrink_slab+0xe0/0x153
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff802d15b4>] ? dispose_list+0x58/0xfd
[918204.841194]  [<ffffffff802348e4>] ? __wake_up_common+0x44/0x73

What that means is only marginally clear. It's nice to see that Linux has some kind of diagnostic mechanism, but I suppose there are still no processor dumps. It's also interesting to see how many crashes—apparently like power failures—happen in the small hours of the morning. Still, the system was up without too much difficulty.


Topic: gardening Link here

First thing in the morning—it was still stinking hot—did some weed spraying. It's time to spread the mulch, but first we need to kill of the (mainly) grass that is growing in that area.


Topic: general Link here

Periodontist's appointment today, in Geelong, and we had intended to go together and visit the Bellarine peninsula first. But CJ wanted to come along, so we postponed that. Given the continuing high temperatures—today we hit 38°—that wasn't such a bad idea. CJ came along and looked at more trees (of the cathedral) which need removing, but he didn't have the equipment. Also looked at the hops, which are in desperate need of tying up. We'll probably end up with the same solution we had in Wantadilla: two high posts with a wire across.

About the only thing we did get done was to reinstate the washing line, which seems to have been a continual problem. Hopefully that's the end of it now.

In the afternoon into Geelong alone to the periodontist, where all looked well, then set off into the Bellarine as far as Ocean Grove and Barwin Heads, where they filmed SeaChange. There's not much to recognize, but it was amusing that the bridge, one of the central parts of the story (it needed repair or rebuilding) is currently under repair:


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Apart from that, the place offers a couple of good panoramic views, the first from the west end of the bridge, the other from the head lookout:


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Back home across country. In Victoria, with its ridiculously low speed limits, it's faster to take the back roads: less traffic and fewer speed restrictions, and the same speed limit as on the main roads. Google Maps doesn't understand this: it claims a time of 1 hour, 41 minutes going through Geelong, and 2 hours the way I went. In fact, it took me about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Google Maps also show a great reluctance to change the itinerary to avoid the main highways, as evidenced by the number of points on the way on the map. The biggest town I went through was Inverleigh, which seems to be upriver from Barwon Heads: crossed the Barwon river again just before entering the town.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009 Dereel → Melbourne → Dereel Images for 11 November 2009
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Death in the night, again
Topic: technology Link here

bilbo went down again last night, and again I got a stack backtrace:

Message from syslogd@bilbo at Wed Nov 11 03:47:30 2009 ...
[61911.308408] Oops: 0002 [#1] SMP
[61911.308437] last sysfs file: /sys/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1c.5/0000:02:00.0/irq
[61911.313002] Stack:
[61911.313002]  ffff880053137d58 ffffffff802d15b4 0000000000000246 ffff88005318ca48
[61911.313002]  0000000000000000 0000000000000080 0000000000000080 ffffffff802d184b
[61911.313002] Call Trace:
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff802d13ba>] ? clear_inode+0x6c/0xc3
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff802d15b4>] ? dispose_list+0x58/0xfd
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff802d184b>] ? shrink_icache_memory+0x1f2/0x228
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8029cdda>] ? shrink_slab+0xe0/0x153
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8029d648>] ? kswapd+0x4a4/0x633
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8029af7e>] ? isolate_pages_global+0x0/0x22c
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff80254742>] ? autoremove_wake_function+0x0/0x2e
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff802348e4>] ? __wake_up_common+0x44/0x73
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8029d1a4>] ? kswapd+0x0/0x633
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8029d1a4>] ? kswapd+0x0/0x633
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff8025437a>] ? kthread+0x54/0x80
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff80210aca>] ? child_rip+0xa/0x20
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff80254326>] ? kthread+0x0/0x80
[61911.313002]  [<ffffffff80210ac0>] ? child_rip+0x0/0x20
[61911.313002] Code: 83 ff ff 74 17 f0 ff 0f 0f 94 c0 84 c0 74 05 e8 ab 6e 20 e0 48 c7 43 b0 ff ff ff ff 48 8b 7b b8 48 85 ff 74 1d 48 83 ff ff 74 17 <f0> ff 0f 0f 94 c0 84 c0 74 05 e8 85 6e 20 e0 48 c7 43 b8 ff ff
[61911.313002] CR2: ffffffffff0fffff

Clearly that's related, though nobody seems quite sure what is causing it. General consensus is that it's some file system corruption, which reminds me of the case study I put in my kernel debugging tutorial, starting on page 74. The funny thing is that the stack traces look contradictory: yesterday we had shrink_icache_memory+0x1f2/0x228 calling clear_inode+0x6c/0xc3 calling kswapd. Today we had shrink_icache_memory+0x1f2/0x228 (the same location) calling dispose_list+0x58/0xfd calling clear_inode, which didn't call anything. I suspect this is some artefact of the way Linux does stack backtraces.

It also asks the question: what's causing it? Spent some time discussing it with Stephen Rothwell, who considered it to be a hardware issue. I greatly doubt that. He's fallen back to an older kernel, but if it's file system corruption, that may not help.


Topic: gardening Link here

The hot weather continues. We're using a lot of water, but lots of things are flowering, including our ClematisPerle d'azur”, which according to the books shouldn't flower until autumn:


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Our Crassula perforata also appears to be developing flowers, and other succulents are blooming:


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At least one Canna survived from last year and is now blooming, and we have a new kind of Iris that I don't recall seeing before:


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In addition, the Lonicera (honeysuckle) looks poised to flower, and the lemons are flowering too:


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About the only thing that doesn't look as happy is the Jasmine, which seems to have finished flowering. Somehow I had hoped that they would flower continuously.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

We haven't had much progress with the greenhouse, and I hadn't head from John Bram, who only works Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so decided to go into Melbourne and combine it with a shopping spree at the Queen Victoria Market. Made good time to Melbourne, then got caught in a change of routing which put us on the Kingsway exit—from which it's almost impossible to find your way to the city. After a lot of head-scratching, found our way back to Kingsway in the correct direction—but that would have required a right turn, and no right turn is allowed. There must be some canonical way of getting to the city from there, but in over 5 years so far I haven't found it. What a mess Melbourne traffic is, and particularly Southbank!

Found my way up to the corner of Flinders and Spencer St, and after only 30 minutes we were at the Queen Victoria Market—to find it shut! I had forgotten to check the days of opening; effectively every day except Monday and Wednesday. Did some shopping at Min Phat, then on to La Parisienne Pâté, where we left without spending too much money.

On to the Banksia Garden Centre, to find John Bram and discover that he's really John Bramley, and that he had sent me a reply. Presumably another damned false positive. He said that the new-style fittings would work, but after looking at them, I'm not so sure. In particular, the middle roof beam now looks very different:


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I'll have to compare these pretty carefully, but at the moment it's looking like custom-made brackets.

While at Banksia, Yvonne found a plant that promises to eat European wasps:


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It sounded like it might also like flies, as the second photo confirms, so brought one back with us. Also did a bit of shopping in the (plant) nursery, but it was still so hot, and we ended up buying only some seeds and a Salvia.


Topic: general Link here

Decided to go back home via the South-Eastern Freeway, and down Springvale Road to get there, passing a large shopping centre in Glen Waverley, where we had some lunch and found quite a reasonable delicatessen:


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Then on to Caroline Springs to look for a Metricon display home, but didn't find it. It's normal enough that these display houses are built in newly settled areas, and the street wasn't on my 6-year-old Melway map. But the traffic! Traffic jams in the middle of the afternoon! And this is a new, highly cramped suburb that can only get worse in the course of time. There's a single road leading in to it, impeded by a series of roundabouts (today I coined the German word “Kreischverkehr”), and they're building further and further to the north. Some of the landscaping looks quite nice, but I'd go mad if I had to live in a place like that.

Nearly did so just looking for the place—no signs, of course, and they even have four different kind of sign for the street names, including three white on black, one of them in cursive script, and one kind with no sign at all.

Escaped and back home. How can people want to pay money to live in places like that? We weren't considering it for a minute; we just wanted to see what the display home looked like. But even that was too much.


Topic: gardening Link here

While we were away, the weather must have been terrible. Many of the plants were showing acute signs of stress, and one of the Petunias looked as if it was altogether dead:


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A few days ago, it looked like this (here a heavily blown-up image from my verandah photos):

 
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Many other plants also looked unhappy. Hopefully this heat wave will go away soon.


Topic: general Link here

In the evening, yet another power failure—and for once not in the small hours of the morning, but at 21:03 while we were watching TV. This is getting beyond a joke. This time it took me 15 minutes just to report it, by which time it was well-known, and once again it took out the entire network from Buninyong southwards. And it took them over 5 hours to fix.


Thursday, 12 November 2009 Dereel Images for 12 November 2009
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Powercor: death to computers
Topic: technology, general Link here

The morning after a power failure is always a problem while I pick up the pieces, but this time things looked pretty good. I had powered dereel on (need to do it manually) after the power came back at 2:16, and Yvonne confirmed that she could work normally. brewer and kimchi were up as well, and all seemed OK.

But then brewer went away, and when I went out to look it the display was blank (yes, the new one does have a display), and pressing the reset button just gave me repeated beeps. Brought it inside and remounted the memory, after which it came back normally. Why did that happen?

kimchi was another matter: I got a continual stream of

Nov 12 09:59:36 kimchi wviewd[3154]: <1257980376216> : readStationData: preposterous station pressure! 549.099976

Wunderground and my own weather records showed complete nonsense. How do you debug that? I don't even know where this information is coming from. I can't debug the wviewd daemon, because it's tied up in this horrible startup script with lots of dependencies and System V semaphores. I tried stopping and restarting wview a few times, but it didn't help. Tried renaming the archive files—they've proven to cause problems in the past—but that didn't help either.

This is ridiculous. What this daemon should be doing is simply reading the data from the device at specified intervals and storing the data in a database, and that can be debugged easily. Clearly a bit of error checking is a good idea (that's what these messages are about, after all), but the complexity of the code is mind-boggling. Decided to write my own.

Problem: documentation, of course. Where do I find what the device does? Read through the code, which shows some of the worst programming style I've ever seen. Got somewhere, but I couldn't find a man page for libusb. It turned out that it has HTML documentation, but by the time I found that, I no longer had time. In addition, there's the very real question of whether the power outage yesterday didn't damage the weather station; I haven't seen problems like this before, and they cropped up immediately after the power failure. I should probably try it with the software they supplied.

One thing, though, that seems to justify the decision to write my own transfer daemon: the information returned by the station is in metric units, sort of. The wind speed, for example, is in units of 0.1 m/s. wview translates everything into American units first, and if you select metric units it translates them back again. In the process it loses a lot of accuracy. 0.1 m/s is 0.36 km/h; wview stores in units of 1 mph (1.6 km/h), and that's what my records show.


Topic: general Link here

Phone call from Eddie Barkla of Powercor regarding my complaint last night. It seems that the problem this time was that a car hit a pole, and as a result the entire power for the region was interrupted. Didn't get much else of use out of him: he seemed to think that 5½ hours interruption was acceptable, that the semi-rural area in which we lived didn't justify a ring main, and that basically nothing would change. Clearly Powercor is not interested in providing better service. I need to find if there's another way to get our power delivery out of the 19th century.


Topic: gardening Link here

Planted some of the plants we bought yesterday; we still need more pots for the little Salvias, but put two of them into hanging baskets. Yvonne also bought some ornamental grasses—Cordyline australis and Phormium—and planted them. Things are filling up.


Friday, 13 November 2009 Dereel Images for 13 November 2009
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Tower of Babel
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of the weather station issues this morning. Fired up kimchi and started wview, and—it worked! That proved to be without the archive data, so tried reinstating that, and, not surprisingly, it failed again. Clear case of corrupt old data. Moved it out again and restarted and—it still failed!

More playing around. Ran ktrace to see what data was coming across. In the middle of that, saw the strangest thing:

=== root@kimchi (/dev/pts/0) /var/tmp 21 -> ls -l ktrace.out
-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  111578 Nov 13 08:43 ktrace.out
=== root@kimchi (/dev/pts/0) /var/tmp 22 -> ls -l ktrace.out
Shared object "libutil.so.7" not found

That didn't go away. Established that libutil.so.7 still existed (echo is your friend), but without ls I couldn't examine it in more detail. Also couldn't shut down, and ended up doing a hard reboot; but the system didn't come back up, showing another of the strangest messages I've ever seen:


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Fatal breakpoint trap in supervisor mode? What's that? Anyway, it was clear that I wouldn't get this system back up, so went looking for a NetBSD CD-ROM, didn't find one and ended up firing up swamp to burn a new one. Installed a rescue system, took a look at the recently modified files, and found only one unusual one:


# find /mnt -mmin -180 -type f | xargs ls -lrti
...
6200918 -rw-r--r--  1 root     wheel      111578 Nov 13 08:43 /mnt/var/tmp/ktrace.out
...
9178666 -r--r--r--  1 root     wheel    23750767 Nov 13 08:49 /mnt/lib/libutil.so.7.15

That's pretty big for a library, and I confirmed that it was different from the copy on the rescue disk (which was made from the same distribution). On a hunch, did:

# kdump /mnt/lib/libutil.so.7.15

   660      1 wviewd   CALL  ioctl(0xb,USB_SET_SHORT_XFER,0xbfbfe028)
   660      1 wviewd   GIO   fd 11 wrote 4 bytes
       "\^A\0\0\0"
   660      1 wviewd   RET   ioctl 0
   660      1 wviewd   CALL  read(0xb,0x805ed98,8)
   660      1 wviewd   GIO   fd 11 read 8 bytes
       "\^P\0\0-\0\0\M-@\^C"
...

So somehow, in mid-trace, ktrace switched files and wrote to a file which was read-only. How could that happen? Replaced the file from the rescue system and rebooted without any problem, but the problem with the weather station continued.

libusb: Tower of Babel

Turned my attention to my own code, which had stalled yesterday because of lack of documentation. Looked for the HTML documentation, and it wasn't there either. Discovered the code in /usr/ports/devel/libusb, including a complete list of HTML pages in pkg-plist, but it didn't get installed. Looked for the documentation on the libusb project home page, and with great difficulty found the API documentation, which wasn't brilliant: it didn't even say which header files to include. Found a file called libusb.h, which appears to be the only one. But it wasn't on my system!

Looked again at the code in wview and found references to a file called usb.h, which appears to have been written by the same person, Johannes Erdfelt. But the contents were only marginally related. There's nothing in the comments in usb.h to tell me where it came from, but contains things like:

#define USB_CLASS_PER_INTERFACE         0       /* for DeviceClass */
#define USB_CLASS_AUDIO                 1
...
void usb_init(void);

By contrast, libusb.h contains:

enum libusb_class_code {
     LIBUSB_CLASS_PER_INTERFACE = 0,
     LIBUSB_CLASS_AUDIO = 1,
...
int libusb_init(libusb_context **ctx);

So the two files are completely incompatible, but they both (I think) claim to be libusb. Further investigation shows that the first file (usb.h) is from libusb release 0.1.12, and the latter is the libusb 1.0 API. Gratuitous changes, it would seem, requiring much recoding.

But then I was told that libusb (a “standard” interface) has been included in FreeBSD 8.0-RELEASE. Went to look at my 3 month old 8.0-CURRENT system (swamp again), involving a disk swap in my test machine (previously kimchi). That didn't work: the system didn't come out of self test, not even to the point of displaying anything on the screen. It wasn't the disk: the system didn't get that far, and it didn't respond even with not disk. My best bet is a defective power supply, which would also explain the strange issue with overwriting the wrong file. And that's a typical consequence of one of these power failures.

Unfortunately, I didn't have another power supply—I get through quite a few of them—so went looking for Yvonne's old machine and used that instead. Found a man page for libusb, the first ever. But the contents!

SYNOPSIS
     #include <libusb20.h>

     int
     libusb20_tr_close(struct libusb20_transfer *xfer);

A third interface! And the names include the version number! What kind of nonsense is that? Libraries are for making things portable, not incompatible. I'm told that the latest version of 8.0 RC has a different interface, so started installing that on swamp. But that takes hours, so left it at that.

In the meantime, set to installing the “Easyweather” software supplied with the weather station on pain. That turned out to be easier than I expected: I had already done it. And it confirmed my suspicions: the station is defective. The pressure readings are all over the place, typically in the order of 1700 hPa. It also showed bugs in Easyweather: it was unable to ignore the incorrect readings, making it only marginally functional.

I've drawn a number of consequences from this experience. Firstly, of course, I need a new weather station, and I ordered one; hopefully I can get Powercor to pay for that and the repairs to kimchi.

But more importantly: the whole approach to USB access seems broken to me. It reminds me of the Bad Old Days 40 years ago, where access to every kind of device was different. And there were lots of people who explained why that had to be, and why you couldn't access a card reader with the same subroutines as a printer or a magnetic drum. Then came UNIX with a unified approach and showed that yes, indeed, you can. But it didn't last long: the rot started with interprocess communication, and networking used a different interface again. And now it seems it's a free-for-all. USB is here to stay; why aren't there better interfaces in the kernel to make things like libusb unnecessary? I've decided to use the kernel interfaces now, though I fear that it will mean incompatibility with Linux.


Topic: general Link here

Call from Eddie Barkla, considerably friendlier than yesterday. He has arranged for the transfer of the $100 that was due to me last year, and also gave details of the current problem: a car had hit a pole in the north of Sebastopol, somewhere near the crossing of Hertford St (the Gleneg Highway) and Tait St. Apparently there's an underground crossing there of a high voltage line (which in Victoria means 22 kV). I'll go and take a look at it next time I'm in the area, but the location suggests that most of Sebastopol must have been taken out as well—hardly what you would call a “semi-rural” area. The duration of the outage was apparently due in part to a problem with a control switch in a substation.

He also referred to the repair that was done last year. At the time I had expressed my concern about the way the junction box was mounted (and noted my doubts about whether it would get fixed). Eddie had contacted the repair people about the matter, and they replied to tell him that the matter had been attended to. It's difficult to see how. Here a photo taken last year, and one taken today:


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And apart from that, Eddie has a brother who collects and repairs clarinets. He wanted to know if he could contact me. Interesting the ways you come into contact with people.


Saturday, 14 November 2009 Dereel Images for 14 November 2009
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Tower of Babel, continued
Topic: technology Link here

Finally swamp finished its upgrade—and it turned out I had installed 9.0-CURRENT! I need to start all over again, preferably with a new disk. The libusb man page for 9.0-CURRENT appears to be the same as on the old 8.0-CURRENT, with these silly libusb20_tr_close and friends. Got confirmation from somebody running 8.0-BETA that the man page there reflects (at least superficially) the libusb 1.0 API. Still, it seems to be too much work to me.


Topic: photography Link here

Spent a particularly long time with my house photos again today. The verandah panorama is still not as good as I want it, but I seem to be making progress. Did a second series of photos in the evening, with one more photo. The results are quite good; I think I'll stay that way. Here the morning panorama, then the evening one:


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Topic: general Link here

Chris around for dinner tonight. We were all a little tired, for no obvious reason. Maybe it's the weather. Still managed a couple of silly photos:


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Sunday, 15 November 2009 Dereel
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CAR and CDR revisited
Topic: technology Link here

What does car mean (in a computational sense, of course)? It's one of the oldest LISP constructs, of course, but I've been continually irritated by people who state that it's an acronym for “Contents of the Address Register” (and that cdr stands for “Contents of the decrement register”). All this goes back to the IBM 704, which really did have something called a decrement register (it was a reverse index register: instead of adding the contents to the base address, the computer subtracted them). But the 704 didn't have an address register. So what do they stand for?

Went looking for some documentation on the 704 instruction set, which is difficult to find. The best I could find was by John Savard, but it didn't give enough detail. Spent some time updating the Wikipedia IBM 704 page, in the process coming across a document on LISP by John McCarthy, in which he states that car stands for “Contents of the Address part of Register number”, not quite the same thing. But what does “register number” mean? My guess is that it's a memory register, i.e. core store. In those days, core memory was a very new concept, so that's plausible. It's a pity that such details get lost.


Topic: gardening Link here

The hot weather continues, but I found some time to do some work in the garden, including planting some more hanging baskets and a couple of wall-mount boxes. Somehow the verandah keeps filling up.


Monday, 16 November 2009 Dereel Images for 16 November 2009
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USB code pain
Topic: technology Link here

More playing around with the weather station program today, and in the end decided to go with the current libusb implementation, with guidance from the code in wview, after discovering that it's still supported in the more recent versions of libusb, and that there's documentation of a kind:

Name

usb_open -- Opens a USB device

Description

usb_dev_handle *usb_open (struct *usb_device dev);

usb_open is to be used to open up a device for use.

usb_open must be called before attempting to perform any operations to the device. Returns a handle used in future communication with the device.

And that's the entire documentation. Apart from the interesting use of the term “open up”, it supplies no description of any kind of what happens if things go wrong. What return value? Where is the error information stored? I still don't know, but I found an undocumented function usb_strerror that suggests that it uses something akin to errno (maybe even errno itself). And the HTML is so ugly!

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
<HTML
><HEAD
><TITLE
>usb_open</TITLE
><META
...

Worked my way through the code, which simplified considerably as I understood it. It seems that the sequence is:

  1. Call usb_init to start the whole thing off.

  2. Call usb_get_busses to get list of the USB busses on the system. The list members contain a list devices that describe the devices attached to the bus. Search each of these lists looking for an entry with studly members idVendor and idProduct that match the device we're looking for:

      for (bus = usb_get_busses (); bus; bus = bus->next)
      {
        for (*devp = bus->devices; *devp; *devp = (*devp)->next)
        {
          if ((*devp)->descriptor.idVendor == vendor
              && (*devp)->descriptor.idProduct == product )
            return 1;
        }
      }
      return 0;                                     /* not found */
  3. Open the device with usb_open.

  4. Claim specific interfaces of the device with usb_claim_interface.

After this, the wview code goes off and issues multiple calls to usb_get_descriptor, for reasons that aren't documented and which don't make much sense to me. One of the calls was incorrect: it read in the wrong descriptor, but then, it ignored it anyway. I suspect a lot of this code has migrated from one package to another, and since it doesn't do any harm, and removing it might, it stays. I'll have to experiment, but currently I'm doing the same thing.

There is other code that is seems more obviously redundant:

  1. Before looking for a device, the code calls usb_find_busses to find out how many USB busses are connected to the system. The documentation claims: “find all of the busses on the system. Returns the number of changes since previous call to this function (total of new busses and busses removed)”. This seems self-contradictory to me, or it's using the word “find” in a non-obvious way.

  2. It also calls usb_find_devices to see how many devices are connected. It's not clear what use this is, and in my case it returned 0 for no obvious reason. Possibly it's a permission issue, but without documentation there's not much you can do.

That's as far as I got. Potentially I just need to read now, but I decided to run ktrace against wview to see what low-level requests are sent, and by coincidence the device “worked”: it returned correct temperature and wind values, and the pressure was within the thresholds, though obviously wrong. So I left it running.


Topic: animals, general Link here

Cats under the house

Almost as soon as we moved in to the house, we became aware of a blue-white cat that wandered around our property. He's fairly timid, and we never made contact with him, but from time to time we'd see him. Lilac wanted nothing to do with him

Lately he's back—maybe Piccola is more friendly to him. And in the past couple of days he started calling from under my bedroom at 5:30 am:


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He wouldn't let up, and he timed his calls to coincide with me just dropping off to sleep. After a couple of hours, I gave up and got up. In the course of the day considered what our options were. There are clearly at least two:

  1. Fence off the underside of the house so that cats can't get under there. That's probably not a bad idea anyway, but it'll take a while.

  2. Spray him with water from the garden hose. When he came back in the evening, tried that. No more calling, anyway. We'll see how long that lasts.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather's cooler now, quite pleasant temperatures in the mid-20s, and spent some more time in the garden. We've decided to remove the fat Carpobrotus edulis in front of the garage and replace it with a few bushes. That proved to be more work than I had expected—from the original small cutting we have several beds of the stuff, and this one alone must have hundreds of kilograms. Got rid of enough to plant and mulch the “Gruß an Aachen” rose, and then gave up. We've sprayed Glyphosate on the stuff, but that'll take a while.

Also put nets on the Nectarines and cages over the strawberries. Not too early: the birds have already eaten all our cherry tomatoes, and we need to find something to cover the plant with.

A new insect (or one I can't recall), here on the remains of a grapefruit flower:


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I wonder if it's dangerous.


Tuesday, 17 November 2009 Dereel Images for 17 November 2009
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USB library debugging: the pain
Topic: technology Link here

Continued with my work on the USB interface of the Fine Offset WH-1081 weather station, and got the code completed relatively quickly. I'm becoming more and more dubious about some of the calls, and there are weirdnesses like having the data stored in two different places, but at least I now understand what's going on.

So: ran it. Nothing happened, not even a SIGSEGV. Put the thing in gdb—that's easy, in contrast to wviewd—and discovered it was hanging in the very first read. It seems that to read from the device, you first need to send a control message. The reference code I have is full of manifest literals which make it completely unclear what's really going on:

    // Construct a 'read page' message
    msg[0] = 0xa1;
    msg[1] = (addr >> 8) & 0xffu;
    msg[2] = (addr >> 0) & 0xffu;
    msg[3] = WH1080_PAGE_LENGTH;
    msg[4] = 0xa1;
    msg[5] = msg[1];
    msg[6] = msg[2];
    msg[7] = WH1080_PAGE_LENGTH;

    ...
        if (usb_control_msg(devh, USB_TYPE_CLASS + USB_RECIP_INTERFACE, 0x9, 0x200, 0, msg, len, 1000) > 0)
            return len;

With gdb I was able to confirm that I had set the values correctly—but it didn't read anything. Have I missed out something? Why does this call just hang instead of time out? I can see what's going out to the device with ktrace, but that has very little to do with the calls I've made. The library is the obstacle. It doesn't provide a significantly greater level of functionality than the raw ioctl calls, but it does obfuscate the matter. I need to work out how to continue.

Web kludges

This diary is primarily for my own use, but it also gets aggregated into the ACM Queue blog roll. It's not really very suited to that: most of the content isn't relevant to ACM, which is why I subdivided the diary into topics (categories) months ago. That's a fairly general thing to do: many people read this diary but don't want to know about certain aspects.

The problem that remains with ACM Queue is that this document is a diary, and the headings are the date. So while other people's posts have meaningful titles, mine only has the date:

 
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In the end, decided on a kludge: a fourth parameter to daytitle, the header function for the day (the other three are the date, the location information and the topics mentioned on that date). If the topic is exactly c (computers), and if it's an RSS feed, I use this fourth parameter instead of the date. A kludge, yes, but sometimes you need kludges. The real problem with them is that they have a habit of coming back and biting you.


Topic: animals, general Link here

No cat screaming this morning! I got a good night's sleep. So the hose does seem to have helped. But it wasn't perfect—he was back again in the evening. Yvonne has decided he's hungry, so we put some poison^Wcat food out for him. I'm not sure that's a good idea.

Another folded magazine in the mail today:


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Why do these people do this? We have a new postal delivery service (for some reason they don't call them postmen, or even postpersons), and last time they did that, I called up and asked them not to do it any more. Maybe a sign on the letter box would help.


Topic: gardening Link here

We're planning to put a pond in the front of the garden. Currently it's a flower bed, and we had a surprising number of Cannas in it, which are now growing happily—too happily, given that they had to be moved. Decided to do it earlier rather than later, and planted them in four different places further back in the garden, near the Hakeas. We'll give the rest away, and I can see the rather boring Hakeas disappear in the near future too.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009 Dereel Images for 18 November 2009
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Debugging despite black box libraries
Topic: technology Link here

Back to looking at my weather station code today. I was hanging in a call to usb_interrupt_read, and the obvious assumption was that I had not copied the sample code correctly. But how do I compare that? Discovered that, with a couple of tricks, I could use gdb on wviewd: I just needed to stop it becoming a daemon, which you do with a specific parameter to the undocumented function radProcessInit—why use the standard tools when you can write your own?

--- daemon.c    2009-11-18 12:32:01.000000000 +1100
+++ daemon.c~   2009-09-07 10:00:54.000000000 +1000
@@ -852,7 +852,7 @@
     if (radProcessInit (PROC_NAME_DAEMON,
                         wviewdWork.fifoFile,
                         PROC_NUM_TIMERS_DAEMON,
-                        FALSE,                      // TRUE for daemon
+                        TRUE,                      // TRUE for daemon
                         msgHandler,
                         evtHandler,
                         NULL)

Then I just needed to start the wview processes, stop wviewd, remove its pid file, and I could run a new copy. That helped, but it only confirmed that I hadn't forgotten any calls.

So, what next? Checked with ktrace and gdb to see what calls were issued by each library function. usb_interrupt_read surprised me: I had already established that it had set errno to 6 (ENODEV: device does not exist), and then I saw that one of the things it did was:

  2857      1 wh1080   CALL  open(0xbfbfe208,2,0xbbbf3d4e)
  2857      1 wh1080   NAMI  "/dev/ugen0.01"
  2857      1 wh1080   RET   open -1 errno 6 Device not configured

Why was it doing that? I had already opened /dev/ugen0.00 with the less surprising usb_open. And how do I find out why? Found the sources to libusb, and found, in usb_interrupt_read:

  fd = ensure_ep_open(dev, ep, O_RDONLY);

There's an implicit call to open in there! Talk about lack of POLA! Looked through the code of ensure_ep_open, but it delved into cookies in internal structures and ultimately turned me off with some preprocessor macro whose definition I couldn't find. To add to the problem, it seems that the i386 function entry sequence has changed in gcc version 4, so reading the assembler code was particularly painful.

Looking at the kdump output again, I discovered I had only read half of it:

  2857      1 wh1080   CALL  open(0xbfbfe208,2,0xbbbf3d4e)
  2857      1 wh1080   NAMI  "/dev/ugen0.01"
  2857      1 wh1080   RET   open -1 errno 6 Device not configured
  2857      1 wh1080   CALL  open(0xbfbfe208,0,0xbfbfe228)
  2857      1 wh1080   NAMI  "/dev/ugen0.01"
  2857      1 wh1080   RET   open 4

What on earth is that? The second parameter to open is located in a different place the second time. Different parameters? Further checking confirmed that yes, wviewd did exactly the same thing. So I had been looking in the wrong place for a couple of hours. The reality proved to be far less interesting: I had incorrectly counted the length of the data returned, and a call to usb_interrupt_read will hang if there's no data, even if I set a timeout.

Spent a lot more time trying to access the data, not helped by not knowing whether the device is big-endian or little-endian. It turns out that it's little-endian, but the USB bus parameters are big-endian. Got some kind of (obviously incorrect) data out of the thing and then gave up for the day.

40 years of Internet

While following up on my changes to the RSS feed for ACM Queue, looked into James Gosling's blog. It seems that the date assigned to the beignning of the Internet is 29 October 1969—coincidentally the day I first got involved with computers (though I didn't write my first program until the following day). Amusing.


Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Bushfire information web site, now even worse

Back in January I complained about the DSE web site and its bushfire information page. It included a table artificially constrained to the width of the map above it, and a horizontal scroll bar to access all the information. It also had JavaScript mouseovers to find information on specific fires.

They've changed that now: there is no longer a horizontal scroll bar, and the mouseovers are gone too. But they haven't got rid of the too-narrow table, made even narrower by shrinking the map. Here's a comparison with the map as it was then (I only copied the upper half) and the current map at the same magnification:


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The result is that even with Microsoft “Internet Explorer”, the de-facto standard for bad web programmers, it doesn't render with all information:

 
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Went looking for the source of the table, but it was well hidden by some idiot. Why are they trying to hide so much? This is supposed to be an unrestricted information page.

The bushfires last summer were a catastrophe which struck at the heart of Australia. There was a Royal Commission as a result. One of the outcomes should have been to improve communication. Instead they made it worse. I consider that to be criminal negligence.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Eccentric eggs

Some things happen so frequently that you get used to them and don't stop to wonder why. For example:


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The yolk of this egg was at one end, leaving a lot of uncooked white in the middle. Why does this happen? Is it possible to recognize such eggs from outside? Is there a way to recover (obviously before cooking)?


Topic: gardening Link here

The Spathiphyllum that we mistreated has been slowly recovering, though one of the had developed no new leaves at all. But the stems hadn't died, so we left it there. And now it's flowering, along with one other one:


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Topic: photography Link here

Histograms, exposure and other lies

I took the photos of the Spathiphyllum with my studio flash stuff, which always requires a bit of tweaking. I do manual exposure with the shutter speed set to 1/250s. The first one I took at f/8, which normally seems to work, but this time it was a little dark, and the information histogram on the camera showed a couple of stops underexposure. So I opened up a couple of stops and tried again. It still showed underexposure.

In the end, tried all apertures from f/2 to f/22—a difference in exposure of 7 EV, or 121:1—and in each case the camera showed roughly the same histogram, and the results (before any processing) look pretty much the same. Here are the originals at f/22, f/5.6 (the one I chose) and f/2:


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Sure, the exposure is different, but not by a factor of over 7 EVs, and the last two look pretty much the same (and slightly underexposed). I thought it might be something to do with the display on the camera, or with the JPEG processing, but UFRaw shows the same behaviour:

 
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And the different colour of the f/2 photo (right hand), from ambient light, shows that it clearly did expose longer. The flash on the camera would probably have compensated for the exposure, but the studio flash units are completely manual. I'm still scratching my head.


Topic: animals Link here

The swallows are trying to make a comeback to the verandah! I removed their nest at the beginning of the year, and they made a couple of attempts before settling in the garage, arguably an even worse place. But today I found the beginnings of a nest on top of the light fitting:


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That's gone now, but I'll have to be vigilant.


Thursday, 19 November 2009 Dereel Images for 19 November 2009
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Weather station: success
Topic: technology Link here

Continued with my weather station software today, gradually cleaning up the strangenesses. It now reads the station every 30 seconds and prints the results:

 Page  sv  IH    IT  OH    OT   hPa    abs    rel    Wind  Gust Dir Rain
 1490  11  45  22.6  24  30.2   93.6   93.6  983.4   5.6  13.3 NW   0.0
 1490  11  45  22.6  24  30.2   93.6   93.6  983.4   5.6  13.3 NW   0.0

The pressures are completely wrong, of course, but the device is defective. My new one arrived today (and I'm back on the net), and I was able to confirm with it that the pressures are read correctly, modulo the fact that the device wants you to set the relative pressure manually.

What next? Store the data in a database, maybe get other data—Steve Woodford sent me a program that read all sorts of maxima and minima, though I'm not sure it wouldn't be more robust just to calculate them. And, of course, write web pages to access the data.

Setting up a WH-1080 weather station

The new station required setup, of course, and the documentation, though copious, is difficult to read. Here's what I do to set it up for my purposes. I find the device itself particularly unpleasant to use—I hate touch screens, and this one has particularly poor display contrast. In addition, many of the functions (read maxima and minima, for example) are destructive readout: you can only do it once. So all I do is to set it up for computer access.

Basics: to set parameters, first press the area of the screen that you want to set. The value will blink, and roughly in the bottom middle a + and a - sign will appear, also blinking. You can now do one of three things:

  1. Change the value by pressing + or -. The buttons auto-repeat if you press them for longer than 3 (!) seconds.

  2. Move on to the next setting by pressing the selected area again.

  3. Cancel or complete by pressing any other area of the screen. There's also a timeout after which the device completes and saves the current settings (including any changes).

The parameters are not easy to recognize: there's no text to tell you what you're setting, though some of them cause hints to blink. Others are completely confusing, and the documentation doesn't help. I set the following fields:

Date

Press the date field (roughly bottom centre). The entire date lights up. The parameters are:

Time

Press the time field (bottom left). The entire time changes to something like 1cd5. The parameters are:

Pressure

The pressure field is centre right. The parameters are:


Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

DSE web site revisited

Seems there's more to the DSE bushfire information page than I realized. Yesterday I noted that the map had got much smaller, and that the JavaScript popups were gone. Well, yes, but not lost. If for some reason you click on the map (it wouldn't be because of any indication on the page), you'll get a bigger version, with JavaScript popups. But why?


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Weather station: experiments
Topic: technology Link here

So now I have a little program that can talk to the weather station. What other secrets does it hide? Steve Woodford sent me one program, but it seems that this machine has about 64 kB of memory accessible via the USB bus, and the manual states that it can store 4080 readings. At 16 bytes per reading, that suggests that the archive records take up all memory except for the first 256 bytes. The previous incarnation of the program shows that it updates a specific memory location at frequent intervals, and that there's a field stating how old the entry is. Every 30 minutes it moves on to a new slot, so the archive entries show 48 records per day and should last for 85 days. There's no direct date storage in there, but you can use the “age” field in the archive records to determine the age of the previous one.

Wrote an option to dump the entire memory, and had a surprising amount of trouble. In the end, it turned out that the memory above 0xda00 was invalid. That might make sense, since I haven't had the station for 85 days, but if I understand the algorithm correctly, the current entry should have been at the top of the address space, and in fact it's round 0x1900. More head-scratching required. It probably makes more sense to improve the program to the point where it can replace wview and then look at the other things later.


Open gardens
Topic: gardening Link here

This extended weekend is the Ballarat Open Gardens “Ballarat Gardens in Spring” event, where 11 gardens are open to the public. Headed off to take a look.

On the way we stopped at David Chestnut's lawn mower shop to talk to Craig. The ride-on mower we took for repair a couple of weeks ago turns out to be in very bad shape, and it's hardly worth repairing it; it would be more practical to buy a new (well, different, overhauled) one, but the cheapest they had available cost $1,650, too much to pay considering that we're gradually replacing the lawn with ground cover. Instead we agreed to take an overhauled push mower, for only $180, and he was prepared to give us $150 for the old mower, even without the new battery that I bought for it a couple of months ago, so I'd end up paying only $30 and having a new battery which I could try using in a UPS. The only thing was that the mower wasn't there, so we would have to come back for it.

The first garden was Nancy Brewer's garden, near the Eureka Stockade. It's a small plot of land, but she has managed to cram an amazing amount of stuff in there:


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She also had plants and books on sale, and we ended up spending $69 and leaving with some cuttings of a Cotyledon orbiculata, also known as Pig's ear (or so we're told: the photo in Wikipedia looks like another Cotyledon that we have) and also some cuttings of Lonicera, and Fuchsia (which people here pronounce “Fuschia”), a surprisingly cheap and pretty pot with various succulents (Sedum, if I can believe the label), various small succulents and an Abutilon which I forgot to photograph before potting:


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That took less time than we had expected, so decided to go on to Buninyong to see Jill and Ian Salathiel's “Maison Le Guier” , a very different place. Nancy's house is old, and the garden is small and crammed. “Le Guier” is new, big and uncluttered. The photos below are some of the most cramped areas.


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They didn't have any plants for sale, but Yvonne managed to scrounge some ground cover from Jill before we left.


Topic: animals Link here

Back home, and we couldn't find Tony, our whippet. He stays outside most of the time, but he's usually not far from the house. While Yvonne wondered what to do, we got a call from Chris: Tony had turned up over there. It's not far, only about 1.5 km, but he almost never goes there by foot, and we're still wondering why he went there in the first place.


Potting new plants
Topic: gardening Link here

In the afternoon planted our newly-found treasures—a total of 7 Loniceras, 3 Abutilons and a whole lot of the ground cover, two of which we planted directly into the soil between the Acacias and Grevilleas at the eastern side of the Japanese garden. There's a moderate hope that they'll strike directly, not lessened by the first rain in nearly 3 weeks and a startling drop in temperature, though not to the same extent as in Canberra, where I read (after fixing the upside-down representation):

Date/Time
EDT
Temp App
Temp
Dew
Point
Rel
Hum
Delta-T Wind Press
QNH
Press
MSL
Rain
since 9 am
Dir Speed Gust Speed Gust
°C °C °C % °C   km/h knots hPa hPa mm
20/01:53pm 33.1 21.1 6.6 19 14.8 NNW 59 76 32 41 1009.9 - 0.0
20/01:56pm 26.2 15.9 13.9 46 7.5 NNW 61 78 33 42 1010.4 - 0.0
20/01:59pm 24.8 17.6 13.7 50 6.7 N 44 54 24 29 1009.8 - 0.4
20/02:10pm 30.4 26.8 10.4 29 11.7 N 20 24 11 13 1009.1 - 0.4

If you can believe that, that's a temperature drop of 8.3° in 6 minutes—that must be some kind of record, even more than the drops in Melbourne last summer. But then the temperature went back up again by 5.6° in the following 11 minutes. Is this genuine, or equipment problems?

Our temperature drop was less pronounced, but in the course of the afternoon it dropped from 30° to 16°, and we got a reasonable amount of rain. Not too early, either: the weather of the last 10 days has killed off a lot of my seedlings, and I spent a considerable amount of time throwing away dead plants.

What I really need, of course, is the greenhouse, which has been on hold while we consider how to replace the missing parts. A call from Doreen at the Banksia Garden Centre, left on the answering machine, helped: they can supply the plastic plugs (which I think they call Gussets). But I didn't get round to calling back to confirm.


Topic: animals Link here

Found a bit of black dirt on Piccola's head. It was difficult to get at, and then we realized it was moving—a flea! Our animals don't have fleas; it must have been brought in by this stray cat we've been having trouble with. Yvonne went off and came back with some Carbaryl which she had brought back from France, and which had expired 11 years ago, and powdered all the animals. They needed it. Hopefully we'll get rid of the things quickly.


Topic: food and drink Link here

Mail from Tom Maynard about the eccentric eggs:

The cure for this is to store your eggs, in their carton, on the side. Simply secure the carton with a rubber band, and store the carton on its side in the refrigerator. This will cause the yolks to move to the center of the egg.

This implies that the cause is due to differing densities of yolk and albumen—and well it might be. But I find that it only happens to some eggs, so there's more to the explanation than that. It's also difficult to test. But it's certainly worth a try.


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More open gardens
Topic: gardening Link here

Continued with the Ballarat Gardens in Spring stuff today, not helped by the difficulty of finding the places. Only one of the three was easy to find on Google Maps. The first one was Jane and Russell Luckock's “Anembinya”, in 80 Granny White Lane, Mount Buninyong. But Google Maps doesn't want to know; it insists that the address is 80 Granny Whites Lane, Buninyong. I wish they'd correct this kind of error; if I hadn't seen the road by visual inspection, I wouldn't have found it.

Up to the house, while the weather gradually deteriorated. The property has “breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside”, but there was none of that to be seen today, just rain and haze, and we very nearly turned back. Decided we might as well take a look, though I decided to leave my camera in the car; we took Yvonne's Kodak M1093 IS instead. The property is very nicely laid out, and I got some reasonable photos:


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It's the detail that counts, though; the layout of the main garden, to the north-east of the house, is particularly pretty, and it left me wondering how we could achieve something similar. One answer is clear: it has taken them 21 years so far to get to where they are, and they're still working on it.

No plants for sale here, but Yvonne got Jane to give her a cutting of a Pelargonium “Rhodo”, so named because the white flowers look rather like a Rhododendron.

On to “Coolalie”, in Lal Lal Estate, the furthest from town, and one where neither our paper maps nor Google Maps were able to help. When we got there, nobody was about, just a table with the takings from previous entries. We weren't overly impressed with the appearance of the place, which was relatively small, so we decided not to press the point and headed on to “Avebury” in Navigators. Another nice garden, but I think we've gradually seen enough:


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Plants for sale here too: we bought an amusing kind of Hellebore with circular leaves, and an unspecified ground cover.


New lawn mower
Topic: gardening Link here

Then back cross-country into town, and dropped in at David Chestnut's, where I discovered that Craig doesn't work on Saturdays. Neville had been informed, though, but by David, not by Craig, and the conditions were different: no mention of removing the battery, but we could do a direct swap without the $30 difference. That's fine: I didn't have a real use for the battery anyway. So now we have a light two-stroke push mower that looks like it has seen better days, but which cuts well. What more does a lawn-hater need?


Topic: animals Link here

Then on to Whiteys and bought some flea treatment for the animals; that should keep them flea-free for a month, and hopefully by that time there won't be any fleas left in the area.


Topic: photography Link here

More thinking about the house photos today. As the result of various minor tweaks, the panorama of the verandah is gradually getting better, though flash exposure is still complicated. The lighting today was particularly dark, so I needed to reduce the fill-in flash. Did some comparison photos with different levels of fill-in flash:


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Unfortunately the flash levels aren't stored in the EXIF data; this was manual flash on the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital at “18” mm focal length with, respectively, full power, 50% and 25% power. I think that the 50% is probably the best choice here, but I'll continue playing.

Today was quite an intensive photo day; I ended up with 1,182 MB of photo data, mainly from the house photos and the open gardens.


Topic: general, food and drink Link here

David Yeardley's back in town, and he and Chris came along to help us eat all the Wiener Schnitzel that Yvonne had bought. Yvonne eats very little, and she tends to under-cater, but we had plenty of dessert and cheese, so nobody went hungry.


Sunday, 22 November 2009 Dereel Images for 22 November 2009
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Weather station: database support
Topic: technology, gardening Link here

The weather has changed completely in the last couple of days. After 10 days of hot, dry weather—we had no rain and temperatures up to 38.6°—we collected all the rain we've been missing for the month, a total of 72.9 mm today, on top of another 15.7 mm yesterday. The temperatures were similarly different, only 18.9°—nearly 20° lower. Spent most of the day inside as a result, and apart from the weather station software, also produced a Google map of the gardens we visited on Friday and Saturday. Google Maps is an interesting idea, but it's a real pain to use, and there are many things I either still don't understand, or which are just plain bugs.


Topic: technology Link here

As planned, decided to defer the archive record handling of the weather station in favour of storing the results in a database and creating a web interface. First step was to define a database and code to store the information. That was unexpectedly easy, and I had time to write a second program to report the details, using mmap shared memory. That took a little longer—I've forgotten some of mmap's weirdnesses—but was still not difficult. In general, I think so far I have taken about as long to write this program as I did to install and configure wview. Next is to interface with Wunderground, and to create a basic web page. Then I'll be able to turn off kimchi, which is currently running the new weather station and supplying both Wunderground and my own web site. That will save both power and my nerves: since the power failure last week, I'm running an old machine with a noisy northbridge fan that really irritates me.


Topic: gardening Link here

We've been planning to chop down another tree for some time, and CJ came along over a week ago, but was concerned about how he could get it down without damage. No need any more. The part we wanted to remove came down by itself, along with one that we had really wanted to keep, and they miraculously missed all the things they could have damaged. The first photo, taken 5 months ago, shows what it used to look like:


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Topic: general, opinion Link here

A couple of days ago I replaced my old ride-on lawn mower with a push mower. Or did I? I've been informed that a push mower is not just a mower you push, but one that has no engine. The kind of mower I have is, apparently, just a mower. That's unsatisfying, of course: all lawn mowers are “mowers”. There must be some way to describe a lawn mower of any kind that you push. I call it a push mower, but if that term has already been used for a subset, there should be some other specific term (“push motor mower”?)


Topic: food and drink Link here

Peter Jeremy has a thought about the eccentric eggs I mentioned a few days ago. He drew my attention to the Chalaza, the membrane that holds the yolk in place. Clearly this eccentricity must be related, but the Wikipedia page doesn't say anything about it. More research needed.


Monday, 23 November 2009 Dereel Images for 23 November 2009
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Weather station: done?
Topic: technology Link here

On with the weather station today, and once again achieved my goals. Interfacing with Wunderground was more complicated than I had expected: they have relatively detailed instructions about the protocol (it's encoded as a web URL), but unfortunately it appears to be incorrect. It states that you can omit just about anything, so I omitted dew point data, since the station doesn't provide it, and you can calculate it from temperature, pressure and humidity. But it continually reported a dew point temperature of -73.3°, which proves to be close enough to -100 °F that I suspect this is some default value that is inserted if you don't supply it. That's in contrast to other fields, such as pressure, which are just left blank if you don't supply them.

Went looking for algorithms to calculate the dew point. The Wikipedia page supplies both a simple and inaccurate formula and a more accurate one that requires wet bulb temperatures. Finally came across one that I'm going to have to check for accuracy, but at least returns plausible results.

Then worked out a simple web page to show immediate data; I can work on that at my leisure, since the info is also available on Wunderground, and I want to think about how to represent the data. Getting the info to PHP is interesting: I can't just use mmap like I did between the programs. So what format do I use? I can get historical data out of the database, but that seems a bit overkill for the current readings. In the end decided to write (programmatically) a PHP header file that contains the information. That worked, but it highlights the difficulties I have with PHP.

That meant I could swap weather stations, put the new one on dereel, and shut down kimchi. Ah, the peace! But it became clear that the barometric pressures were incorrect: Wunderground wants pressures relative to sea level, while I was sending absolute pressures. More searching for conversion formulae, and I have the feeling that somewhere the conversions to the old measures aren't correct: I'm getting about 1 hPa less reported on the web site than I thought I sent.

Other minor things need looking at. I get this about once an hour:

Can't write to device: error setting timeout: Inappropriate ioctl for device (25)

That looks like a driver issue to me, and it currently causes the program to stop. It should be able to recover (at least by closing and opening the station), but in the meantime I've just put the program start in a shell loop, which works, though it's not very elegant.


Topic: brewing, gardening Link here

CJ along in the evening with some 43 mm steel pipe, which we're going to use to suspend my hops. They're going to be about 5 m high from ground level, in two sections, held together by a bracket, so that I can take them down for maintenance. Put the bottom sections in the ground, and we'll do the rest tomorrow, including working out what kind of wire to attach, and how to attach the bines.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009 Dereel Images for 24 November 2009
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Weather station: refinement
Topic: technology Link here

So my weather station is working, and all I need to do is to refine things. I now have a date in the weather observations page, and things are working well with Wunderground—or are they? I still have this issue with the barometric pressure. Various sources, including Wikipedia and the wview source code, have a conversion factor of 0.0295299801 hPa to inches of mercury (well, Wikipedia has the reciprocal, 3.386389 for kPa to in Hg), but that doesn't seem to match Wunderground's view of the world. Empirically, discovered that it only registers to a resolution of 0.01 inch of mercury, which corresponds to 34 Pa, and comparison of a number of dual unit reports comes to an average conversion factor of 0.02953553, from which I could probably drop a couple of digits:

#define hPa_TO_inHg                   0.0295299801
/*
 * For some reason, Wunderground doesn't adhere to this constant.  By
 * observation, the constant must be something like this.
 *
 * 29.87 / 1011.4 = 0.029533320
 * 29.88 / 1011.7 = 0.029534446
 * 29.89 / 1012.1 = 0.029532654
 * 29.90 / 1012.4 = 0.029533781
 * Average          0.02953553
 *
 */
#define Wunder_hPa_TO_inHg            0.02953553

That now works within the constraints of resolution. And then I noted that my station had dropped off the WunderMap, possibly because of the number of strange readings I had sent during the day. Decided to wait until tomorrow before doing anything about that.


Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Tom Maynard wrote about mower terminology. His is US American, of course, but it seems that there's the term “reel mower” to refer to the old-style engineless mowers that I recall as a “scroll mower” (though a Google search suggests that this is not a common term), and that “rotary mower” is used to refer to those with a power-driven horizontally rotating blade. That includes ride-ons as well, of course.

The real issue, though, is what “push” means. Tom brought up the term “walk behind” to describe self-propelled non-ride-on mowers, but it seems that in the USA the alternative of push powered mowers is quite uncommon. Maybe that's why there's no clear distinction. The Wikipedia page largely agrees with Tom, but it does include the term rotary push mower. And that's what I have.

All this is largely irrelevant, however: I was talking (without mentioning it) about Australian terminology. Maybe I just had too small a sample set.


Supporting the hops
Topic: brewing, gardening Link here

CJ along to finish off the hop support. It wasn't a success. As I had feared, not only were the pipes too thin, but the clamps that held them together were completely inadequate. While pulling the wire at the top gently, I bent the assembly badly. A medium wind would have done worse:


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So it's back to the drawing board. Looks like thicker pipes in a single section, concreted in.

Since he was there, CJ turned his attention to the tree that fell down recently, and chopped it up. He doesn't have time to cart it away, so we'll have to do that tomorrow.


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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 Dereel Images for 25 November 2009
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Weather station: the graphs
Topic: technology Link here

I had really intended to do other things today, but my bare web page got on my nerves, so set to producing some graphs. I'm using gnuplot, which has the advantage that I have used it before and the disadvantage that it causes to curse and scream every time I use it. Much is definitely the documentation—who ever thought that GNU info was a good idea?—and I couldn't find what I was looking for. Asked on IRC and found I wasn't alone. Rusty Russell uses gnumeric, and Edwin Groothuis uses jpgraph2. They might be worth examining, though the descriptions suggest they don't quite fit into an a shell script environment. Callum Gibson still uses gnuplot, and send me some examples which I haven't looked at yet.

Finally got some semblance of sanity, and the graphs don't look too bad. I can tidy them up as time goes on; it's time I did some other things instead.


Thursday, 26 November 2009 Dereel Images for 26 November 2009
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Weather station: starting the other 80%
Topic: technology Link here

So now my weather station software is working and displaying useful information—80% finished, say? Today I started on the other 80%. For the first time since I've had it running, we had rain:

mysql> SELECT sum(rain) FROM readings WHERE reading_date = "2009-11-26";
+-----------------+
| sum(rain)       |
+-----------------+
| 17.100000679493 |
+-----------------+

How much did I report to Wunderground? 0.

The problem is the way the station records rainfall: units of 0.3 mm. One program reads the station once a minute, store them into the database and then resets the rainfall, while another program accesses the shared memory every 5 minutes and sends them to Wunderground—so at best there's only a chance of reporting 20% of the rain. Reworked that to maintain a cumulative count of the rain, while the second program maintains its own counter and only reports the difference. That seems to work (now—it took a couple of mistakes), but of course we didn't get any more rain.

More work with gnuplot, which still annoys me. After trying a minor change, ran my plot script again, and instead of writing to the specified file, it vomited raw PNG data all over my screen. There was nothing obviously wrong with the gnuplot script, and it took me some time to realise that it was sensitive to the file name. The file in question existed, and gnuplot didn't have the necessary permissions, so it printed an error message and then wiped it away by writing a flood of binary data to stdout. What a pain!

Tidied up the graphs with help from Callum Gibson and Peter Jeremy, though finding alternate fonts is beyond me. Still, most of the graphs now look good. The exception is, again, the rainfall:

Broken rainfall graph

Clearly I'm going to have to write something to smooth things. I'm beginning to understand why wview shows a bar graph; but even that requires some form of summation. I wonder if gnuplot can do that.

Another issue is the barometric pressure. How can you decide whether it's accurate? Looking at the weather observations in my area, I discovered that I was reporting a relative pressure about 15 hPa lower than the official weather stations, another station was reporting pressures another 9 hPa higher, and yet another was reporting a pressure 33 hPa lower—a total difference of 56.6 hPa! There will be differences, of course—that's why we have the stations—but this seems impossible. It's probably due to an incorrectly calibrated pressure sensor. But how do you calibrate them? Guessed that the offset is constant, so now my “configuration file” (still really a C source file) has an entry:

  config.pressure_error = -14.0;                /* offset of pressure measurements, hPa */

Yet another gnuplot replacement

Message from Jason Morgan suggesting that I use the R Project for Statistical Computing for that purpose, though he concedes that it's overkill. Took a look, and it certainly looks interesting. It has its own language that looks relatively legible, though I'll wait until I've looked more carefully before confirming that. Another interesting thing is that it's derived from software written at the University of Adelaide. But for the moment I've found how to bend gnuplot to do what I want, so I'll leave that for another time.


Topic: animals Link here

Things that go bump in the night

The last few nights I've been woken up by a dull thump outside my bedroom window (which gives onto the verandah). Suspecting kangaroos, I've taken a look, but seen nothing. This morning at 4 am was different: I saw what looked like a small wallaby on the verandah. Went to chase it off, and—it climbed up one of the posts of the verandah. Clearly not a wallaby, but a possum. It stayed there, motionless, only about a metre from me, possibly blinded by the light I had turned on. Possums have pretty sharp claws, so I wasn't going to try to touch it, but it waited while I went into the bathroom, came back with a bucket of water and threw it over it. Then it headed off along the left hand beam and ultimately jumped off and ran away. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that it would probably have waited for me to get a camera too.

Come daylight we found where it had landed: right in the middle of our Anigozanthos (“Kangaroo paw”), making quite a mess of it in the process. Propped what was left up with a bamboo rod; hopefully it'll survive. Also found some claw marks in the verandah post (10 cm across). I'm glad they weren't in me:


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Fortunately it doesn't seem to have eaten anything, but it might explain some minor damage we've seen over the last few weeks. I hadn't thought of possums, since this is the first time we've seen any here.

One thing we have seen is swallows. They're taking advantage of the wet weather to try yet again to build a nest under the verandah, where we removed the last nest at the beginning of the year. Removed several pieces of mud from two different places, and they kept coming back. Hopefully they'll give up soon.


Topic: gardening Link here

Still tidying up the remains of the tree CJ chopped down the other day. Things are looking very different now, and we need to work out what to put there instead.


Topic: general Link here

This time last year I omitted to mention that Elgas picked up three of the four gas cylinders that we had for the gas-fired heating. They refunded the price of the gas, but not the year's rental. Since it runs from 15 November, they're strictly within their rights. But now we have received a new invoice for the same cylinders. Called up, spoke to Peter and got that sorted out, including a promise of a refund for last year. Hopefully that's the end of that.


Friday, 27 November 2009 Dereel
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More new plants
Topic: general, gardening Link here

To Ross Creek with Yvonne today to look at some hay, and then on to Formosa Gardens with the intention of buying some Sphagnum Moss for our Staghorn Fern, which is looking decidedly unhappy:


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It's in a relatively good place, so about the only thing I can think of is that there's not enough moss there to retain the moisture.

Of course, that wasn't the only thing we bought. Plants are flowering now, and we came away nearly $120 poorer, amongst other things with some more pots and a 2 metre climbing frame for creepers. The latter gave us a lot of fun getting into the car, and Yvonne ended up travelling in the back seat with the frame on the passenger seat. Also bought an unknown Foosha^WFuchsia cultivar, a Convolvulus cneorum and a total of 3 creepers: Pandorea_jasminoides, Pandorea pandorana, also known as Wonga Wonga vine, and another deep violet Clematis, known only as “vagabond”, but the colour I originally wanted when we bought the Perle d'azur, which by comparison looks rather washed out:


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The collapse of the cathedral tree has left a number of shade-loving plants in the full sun, notably the ferns, and we've also noted that the Salvias we recently planted in the semi-circular pots weren't looking very happy, while the ones in the hanging baskets were looking much better. Maybe they need more soil. In any case, went though a mass replanting: the ferns ended up in the driveway, which is shady, and we planted the Convolvulus, the remaining Salvias that we bought two weeks ago where they had been. Put the Fuchsia in a hanging basket, removing a Geranium to do so, which we put in the small semi-circular pots along with some some Viola tricolor:


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Hopefully they'll get more vigorous.


Topic: general Link here

In the evening, had 14 mm of rain in less than an hour, and that was probably Powercor's excuse for Yet Another Power Failure after we went to bed. What really annoys me is that I have to report it every time. Last time it was widespread enough for other people to get there first, but this time round it wasn't the case, and I had to go through the rigmarole of being asked to go out and check the fuse box. Fortunately the power was down for less than 90 minutes, but that's still unacceptable. Interestingly, I was told that I could apply to have the power cables put underground—at my expense! That's a clear indication that they understand the unreliability of overhead cabling. The fact that they don't want to fix it is an equally clear indication of their lack of interest in maintaining a reliable electricity supply.


Saturday, 28 November 2009 Dereel Images for 28 November 2009
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Weather station: recover_powercor_breakage
Topic: technology Link here

The usual cleanup after a power failure today, but this time there was also a gap in my weather station readings:

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There are readings, but they're stored in the station's memory, and without a timestamp, just a “record age”, a number between 1 and 30 representing the time since the record was created. But we have the shared segment file, which contains the last reading, including the age, and also the timestamp of the reading, so it should be relatively trivial to write a function recover_powercor_breakage, in acknowledgement of Powercor's involvement in making it necessary, which would catch up with the current conditions and report a reading every 30 minutes.

And it was. But for the first time I got a hard ENOTTY at a particular place, setting a timeout no less:

 17202 wh1080   CALL  ioctl(0,USB_SET_TIMEOUT,0xbfbfe22c)
 17202 wh1080   RET   ioctl -1 errno 25 Inappropriate ioctl for device

Gave up on that—I still have current readings to record, and the information won't wrap around for 3 months, so I have plenty of time to investigate. Instead fired up kimchi again and tried debugging with the other station—and for the first time that I have noticed, I got an ENOTTY on NetBSD as well. That's really strange: there's no hardware and little software in common between the two setups. Is this some kind of bug in the weather station hardware? I suppose I should try it on Linux and Mac OS as well.


Topic: photography Link here

House photos today. Now that most of the cathedral tree is gone, I can extend one of my panoramas, and it's now 360°, though cropping removes a couple of degrees. That poses a problem: where do I start? Basically I can centre the panorama anywhere and it'll still make sense:


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In the end, to maintain POLA, decided on the second one, because the left side starts in the same place as the previous ones. But maybe I should centre them in the same place:


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Topic: gardening Link here

Got round to a little garden work. Tied up the Pandorea pandorana (Wonga Wonga vine), which will hopefully grow quickly:


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Goodbye Hakeas

When we moved in to the house, one of the main features of the eastern garden were three Hakeas, shown here in the middle of the photo:


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Things have changed a lot since then: the left-hand Hakea (behind the statue) got blown over and removed some months ago, the left parts of the big tree on the left are now also gone, and many other things have taken their place. The view has changed almost beyond recognition:


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But the middle two Hakeas were still there, and they're gradually getting in the way. It's a pity, but though they're still flowering trees, the flowers are so small that you can barely recognize them until you go up close:


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So, reluctantly, I agreed that they had to go and pulled them out with a car and a tow-rope. The view through towards the lagoon is much better as a result, seen here from the verandah:


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Now it looks as if the Carpobrotus that we planted behind them should go too. But there's no hurry about that.


Topic: general Link here

Chris along for dinner in the evening. For some reason I was so tired that I went to bed early.


Sunday, 29 November 2009 Dereel Images for 29 November 2009
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GUIs: computing in a void
Topic: technology, opinion, photography Link here

More playing around with the circular panorama today, and came to the conclusion that it would be best to centre the panorama in the same place that the previous, shorter panoramas were centered, conveniently a window on the house. Here again this week's panorama, then last week's panorama, then my previous candidate:


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In the process, decided to follow up on one of Hugin's features: saving and loading lens information. Finding out how to use it was the first problem: all the buttons on the screen are greyed out until you select an image. Then you can load or save lens information. But where? That's your choice, and the default seems to be whatever you last chose. That seems completely inappropriate for configuration information (though they do save a separate path); why can't they have a default configuration directory, like well-behaved programs do? I assume that it's the GUI mentality, or maybe a documentation problem in the C programming language. How often do you see this?

int main (int argc, char *argv [], char *envp [])

For reasons I've never understood, you almost never see the third parameter to main—but it's there, as far as I can tell, in all implementations of C. And this is what's implicitly missing in GUI software: the environment. Almost all it knows is what you explicitly tell it, with exception of a certain amount of historical information saved from the previous session. No PATHfirefox looks for system executables in your home directory. Hugin doesn't provide for specifying the lens on the command line—you can select it with the mouse, can't you? No current working directory—instead they use whatever you used last time, if they have that much recollection, and otherwise it's the home directory again. Hugin has a file ~/.hugin which (currently) contains:

startDir=/home/grog/Photos/bloody-stupid-hugin
actualPath=/home/grog/Photos/bloody-stupid-hugin/

The really upsetting thing is that it wouldn't be difficult to fix this breakage. It's just that the product managers who develop commercial software don't understand, and—for once I agree with Steve Ballmer—“Open Source” developers tend to copy commercial software, warts and all. O tempora! O mores!


Topic: gardening Link here

Removing the Hakeas was only the first step in widening the garden; we now have quite a large area in what is becoming the middle (or close to it), and it's full of Carpobrotus. What do we put there? Where do we put the plants we've bought? There's a temptation to see the latter as the solution, but it's not that simple. The area has a view to the lagoon, and the Salix melanostachys is too big for that position, and the Itea ilicifolia, apart from also probably being too big, seems to want different conditions—the difference also depends on whom you ask. Does it want light to heavy shade, or full sun to light shade? It seems not to like wind, though, and that's one of our main problems.

For the first time in years, mowed the lawn with a push (power) mower. Surprisingly, it's almost easier than the ride-on for the small areas I'm doing: it's so much easier to manoeuvre. But then it occurred to me that we have a more environmentally friendly solution:


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Also planted the Clematis “the Vagabond”, which was in great need thereof: one of the shoots had reached the top, turned around and grown back nearly half its height. After untangling, it was well over a metre high. The label says that it's pruning group 3 (Clematis viticella), like the “Perle d'azur” that we already have. According to my pruning book, they should flower late in the season on last year's growth, but clearly that's not accurate in this climate. But my book also divides the Clematis viticella cultivars into three groups, and the Perle d'azur can be pruned like a group 2 (Clematis “Nelly Moser”), so that it will flower twice in the year. No mention of the “Vagabond” in my book though, but the web page suggests pruning group “B 2”, whatever that means. Given the behaviour of the two plants, I'm wondering if I should worry.


Monday, 30 November 2009 Dereel Images for 30 November 2009
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USB debugging
Topic: technology Link here

This problem reading from my weather station is on the back burner, but it's burning. I've already established that the ENOTTY is a hard error: retries don't help. So the next thing to try was to reset the connection.

How do you do that? The obvious thing would be to simulate what happens when you restart the program, which normally works. So: calls to usb_release_interface and usb_close, followed by the correct initialization code.

Result: SIGSEGV out of a function called by usb_close. Briefly considered looking through the libusb code, but gave that up and just removed the call. That didn't work either: I continued to get ENOTTYs. So another avenue has stalled for the moment. Somehow this stuff should all be in the kernel on a par with other devices.


Topic: general Link here

Call from Eddie Barkla of Powercor to explain the most recent power failure: a recloser (he used a TLA that I didn't recognize) in Mount Mercer didn't reset, possibly due to a lightning strike, and they had to send a crew out to investigate. He seemed to think that the 83 minute outage was due to the number of incidents at the time (though I'm sure he wouldn't have accepted my suggestion that it was understaffing), but I suspect the problem was that they didn't know where it had happened and had to search for it.

He also explained an incident that had just occurred: a van with some electricity-related name came along and inspected a power pole on our property—without even trying to contact us first. It seems that they have taken the right to do so, another indication of how user-unfriendly the system is. I can request to be informed first—what happens if they arrive there when we're not there, and they let the horses out?—but it's up to me to know that and to perform the request.

The inspection—every 5 years—consists of examining the base of the pole and putting a capsule containing some boron compound to preserve the wood.


Topic: opinion Link here

Watching a documentary on the evolution of the Australian air industry in the afternoon. It seems that Hudson Fysh was at a meeting on 7 December 1941, when he heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

But they hadn't. And if the meeting had been on 8 December, the report still wouldn't have been their immediate concern; the invasion of Malaya shortly before was of much greater concern. But it was Pearl Harbor that was remembered, even by the people making this documentary. And clearly, even today, they have little understanding of time zones.


Topic: gardening Link here

Only a couple of days ago we had noticed that the new bright red Salvias weren't looking happy in the small pots we had screwed to the wall, and had planted them out in a garden bed in the expectation that they'd do better there. They didn't: here one in a hanging basket and one that I saved from the garden bed:


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At first I thought that the wind had done it, but looking at the damage, I'm beginning to suspect that possum again. Looks like we're in for fun with him. This one looked so bad that I put it in a pot, but I left the others where they were and covered them with some of the wire cages that we made for the strawberries.

Much more weeding in the garden today, and also more consideration of landscaping issues. We still don't know where to put the Eiffel Tower, as we've termed the metal frame for the climbers. But one thing that's becoming clear is that two of the plants, apparently Eucalyptus, in one of the front beds were also getting far too big. What are they? Why did we plant them there? Did we plant them there, or did they volunteer? Looking back at my diary, for once I drew a blank. A year ago there was nothing significant there except for another plant that was there from the beginning, a native that Yvonne had grown from seed in Wantadilla and brought here when we moved in, but these trees weren't there this time last year, and now they were already 1.5 metres high and looking like they wanted to go for 4 metres, so sadly there was nothing to do except to remove them.

I planted the trees on 23 December 2007 as Acacia drummondii, but didn't write enough in the diary to recognize it. That is now fixed. Clearly these weren't the right kind of tree. We grew them from seed, and it appears we got some contamination.

In the process also removed 2 wheelbarrow loads of Irises, with spectacular results:


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Discovered some neglected strawberries in the undergrowth. I suppose we'll have to protect them now that the birds can see them. Yvonne took the trees and planted them on the roadside, but I don't see the slightest hope of survival. Few Australian natives like being transplanted, and Eucalyptus typically has a long tap root that gets damaged when you dig them out.

While looking at the Eucalyptus, discovered a number of patches of caterpillars:


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I've seen them before, but I forget what they are. But they're certainly another reason to remove the host trees.


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