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Monday, 1 November 2010 Dereel
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Telstra BigPond: we don't do networking
Topic: technology Link here

Call from Simon at Telstra complaints today, referring to the complaint I put in last week. First, he wanted me to give him my date of birth to confirm who he was. I pointed out that “security” is a two-way thing and asked him how I should know who he is. His reply: “I'm Simon from Telstra”. He refused point blank to give his date of birth, and said that he would close the case if I didn't give him mine. This infuriates me, but the information is available on the web, so there's no security issue.

Simon then claimed that I wanted Telstra to configure some settings that are outside the scope of my support. As I suspected, “Rome” didn't understand the complaint enough to formulate it correctly:

Wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com.

I had already commented on the fact that he didn't understand the difference between clients and servers, and I had repeated, forcefully and several times, that this had nothing to do with postfix, nor with incoming mail. I am continually baffled by the complete lack of knowledge of these people.

I got very little out of Simon in a phone call that lasted 75 minutes. I pointed him at the terms and conditions of service (http://my.bigpond.com/pond/oct/Part-A.pdf), which he agreed was the contract we had. I then pointed at the FAQ stating that Telstra does block port 25. He asked how many messages I sent at once, and I told him that didn't make any difference: the problem was in their network. He then came up with the amazing claim that they don't support customers using networks. I asked him what they did do, but he didn't have the understanding to answer that question.

Clearly he was confusing networks in general with LANs, but even then it doesn't make sense: the device that they sold me, 3G21WB, has the buzzword title “BigPond Elite Wireless Broadband Network Gateway”. If that's not for LANs, what is it for? I asked him where in the contract he found that claim, and he put me on hold for some time and came back with a page http:forward/forward/telstra.com.auforward/customer-termsforward/home-familyforward/bigpond-servicesforward/additional-servicesforward/index.htm, which he claimed was also part of the agreement. I asked him where in the contract there was a reference to that supplement, and of course, once again, he wasn't able to tell me.

And once again he continually told me I should contact BigPond premium technical support, who would solve the problem for me. I told him that a third party can't do that, that the problem was in Telstra's network (whatever that may be), and he said that they could contact Telstra under those circumstances and do something about it. I pointed out that the problem has already been identified, and he said that he was neither willing nor able to do anything about it.

Since I had him on the line, I asked him why my service had been disconnected last Friday. He told me that my connection was still up and running, and that I should contact Telstra Premium Support. I had to walk him through his notes before he finally found comments from Matt last

Unable to use network due to pending return status. Was hoping to use existing modem until replacement came.

I asked him once again how Telstra Premium Support could help there, and he came up with some nonsense that I didn't listen to. He explained—again—that Telstra deactivate USIMs when they send out a replacement. He didn't have an answer to my question why they do this, only that normally the equipment is defective, so it doesn't make any difference. But last week Obbie only sent out a replacement because I told him I had another modem which worked.

There's still no excuse for this behaviour, and it has cost me another month with SkyMesh. I told him I expected Telstra to pay for that, and he conferred with his superiors about this, but came back and said “No”. They're prepared to offer 3 days refund on my tariff (never mind that it will be at least 5 days), but that's all. So it looks as if we're off to the TIO again. What an appalling company!


Battery problem solved?
Topic: photography Link here

Sent a message to the German Olympus Forum about the battery problems I've been having, and got an interesting reply from Reinhard Wagner, the forum moderator. He suggests that the problem is that the material used for cheap batteries can be old. It makes sense to extrapolate that, since the BLM-1 battery is no longer used in any new camera, they're probably selling off old stock. Not a pleasant consideration.


Google translate: a hard nut to crack
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

The message I sent to the German Olympus Forum was in German, of course, and many people I deal with don't speak German. So, once again, I put Google Translate to work. Translating natural languages is a very complicated issue, and you can't expect things to be perfect, but the results are amazingly bad:

Original:       So richtig glücklich getroffen war die Wahl wohl nicht.
Translation:       The choice seems not to have been a happy one.
Google:       my day was taken as the choice is not well:

Where does this “my day was taken” come from?

Original:       Sie hatte nicht dieselbe Ausdauer wie die anderen beiden.
Literally:       She had not the same stamina as the other two.
Translation:       It didn't have the same life as the other two.
Google:       You not had the same stamina as the other two.

This is just plain grammatically incorrect. Batteries are feminine, so you say “she”, not “it”. The German word “Sie” can mean “she” or (formal) “you”; the verb inflection (usually) determines which is intended. In this case the verb is “haben” (to have), and the form “hatte” means “had” in the singular 1st or 3rd person; for hysterical raisins the word “Sie” meaning “you” is in 3rd person plural, so “you had” would be “Sie hatten”. The n at the end is missing, so it's clearly “she had”. And the word order is neither English nor German.

Original:       Aufgeladen, in die Kamera gesteckt, 36 Aufnahmen gemacht. Dann war das Teil tot.
Literally:       Loaded, in the camera stuck, 36 shots made. Then was the part dead.
Translation:       Charged, put in the camera, took 36 shots. Then the thing was dead.
Google:       Charged in the camera put, recordings made 36th. Then there was the dead part.

It's not clear where the ordinal th comes from here. The translator could almost be forgiven with the second sentence, though I would expect it to do better than that.

Original:       Aufgeladen, in die Kamera gesteckt, 750 Aufnahmen gemacht. Dann war das Teil tot.
Literally:       Charged, in the camera stuck, 750 shots made. Then was the part dead.
Translation:       Loaded, put in the camera, took 750 shots. Then the thing was dead.
Google:       Charged, the camera plugged in, recordings made 750th. Then was part of the dead.

This one blows my mind. The only difference from the last example is the number. And the translation is completely different. How can that happen?

The whole thing makes me wonder how Google Translate works. I suppose I should investigate.


More greenhouse progress
Topic: gardening Link here

Gradually the rain is subsiding. Last month we had 92.8 mm rain in Ballarat, not that much more than the average 67.1 mm, but it seems wetter than usual. Today was bearable, though, and I spent some more time on the greenhouse, finishing the glazing on one side. I now have only the other side and the roof to go. 40% done? Still, it means that I can put things in the greenhouse and they'll be out of the wind, so moved a lot of stuff there from other places. The thing is already looking useful.

In the process, found a clue to the age of the greenhouse, and more particularly when it was dismantled. A little over 17 years ago:


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Tuesday, 2 November 2010 Dereel Images for 2 November 2010
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Replacing the disk in dereel
Topic: technology Link here

Finally I've found time to replace the dying disk in dereel. Why did it take so long? I want to get it right, of course, but there are other issues, including the location of the computer, in a corner of the room behind my monitors. That makes it almost completely inaccessible.

I've though in the past of moving the machine, so today I finally did it. It's still behind the monitors, but at the other end, where I can get at it relatively easily. Putting it there turned out to be much easier than I had expected—in the past I had pulled muscles and damaged things trying to do this kind of work—but putting in the new disk wasn't as easy. The machine already had two SATA disks, and the power supply had 4 PATA power connectors, but only 2 SATA connectors. So I had to copy the data to a USB disk and then back again to the new disk.

I had already copied most of the data (about 650 GB) to the USB disk, so the obvious tool for getting the rest copied was rsync. For some reason, I always make a mess with rsync options, and today was no exception. The disk contains many source trees, including the complete BSD sources, and they have many broken symlinks or symlinks pointing to the /usr hierarchy. And the rsync invocation included the -L (“transform symlink into referent file/dir”) option, which complained loudly about the broken links and merrily copied the files from /usr in the latter case. Finally found what I think are the correct flags:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp4) /src 19 -> for i in *; do echo --- $i ---; rsync  -Hzav --partial --delete-after $i /mnt; sleep 1; done

The sleep 1 is to give me a chance to interrupt the operation if something goes wrong; otherwise it's almost impossible to get a ^C in there before the next rsync starts. But that's just theoretical: I had made such a mess of the disk that I decided to start again with tar. And, of course, that took all day.


Planting our new plants
Topic: gardening Link here

I've been meaning to finish the greenhouse for some time, but there are always new things that get in the way. One of them was the plants that we bought over the weekend, which really needed to be planted, so did some of them. Planted the Corydalis and the Clematis recta near the corners of the verandah:


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Yvonne planted some of the ground cover:


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Also found some plants that we had not marked clearly when propagating them, in particular this plant, clearly a Lonicera or Honeysuckle:


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The buds that are showing are clearly not of the same type as the ones we already have. This must be one of the cuttings we got from Nancy Brewer last year. They're looking surprisingly happy; I think I'll plant them in front of the garage.


David Yeardley: certified old fogey
Topic: general, food and drink Link here

Today was David Yeardley's 60th birthday, so we cooked a birthday dinner for him. Main course was Tournedos Henri IV. It went OK, but not without some hiccoughs. In particular, the Yeardleys arrived late, and the friteuse decided to turn itself off in the meantime (why do they do that?). And, of course, it didn't say anything. Lights still on, display still showing set temperature (190°). By the time I twigged, the temperature had dropped to 110°. Fortunately it didn't distract from the taste.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010 Dereel Images for 3 November 2010
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Into town again
Topic: general Link here

Off to Ballarat to meet with Peter O'Connell. While I was at it, returned the power monitor. I had expected some issue, but when I told them how it performed, they took it back with no problems.


Telstra internet: the pain continues
Topic: technology Link here

In town also picked up the replacement wireless modem. Back home, connected it up and got a signal, briefly. But it didn't even try to connect, or at least, it didn't log the fact. The 3G9WB logs the entire PPP connect script, but this thing said nothing and also didn't connect.

Decided once again to try a direct connect between the modem and pain, my Microsoft laptop. Last time I came to the conclusion that the problem was that I had to be using DHCP, and I wasn't. But that's easy enough to change, so did that and tried again, and this time I didn't get the warning about static IPs. But it still didn't find the modem:


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How do I “ensure the power light on the front of the network gateway is a steady green colour”? It's blue at the moment. Clearly yet another indication of incorrect documentation. On the 3G9WB it's green, but they don't sell that one any more. Further experimentation showed that pain had somehow got an IP address in the range 169.254/16, the one that the installation had complained about last time. How is that even supposed to work when the modem has the fixed address 10.0.0.138? I wasn't able to communicate, anyway. After a while the modem lost its signal, so gave up, took the USIM card out of the device and put it in the 3G9WB, which still had a signal and made a connection, but couldn't authenticate:

Nov  3 14:36:32 pong-gw pppd[480]: Connect: ppp0 <--> /dev/ttyUSB0
Nov  3 14:36:34 pong-gw pppd[480]: Modem hangup
Nov  3 14:36:34 pong-gw pppd[480]: Connection terminated.

That almost certainly means “PPP login refused”. But why? Did they change my password, or have they really restricted the new USIM to only work in the modem they delivered? The only way to find out is to call Telstra “Technical support”.

Did that, and found that the brain-dead voice menu understands “Technical Support”, so got through relatively painlessly this time. Spoke to Vin, who wanted to know whether the other modem was Telstra or BigPond. I was surprised about that and asked what the difference was; it seems that there's a separate Telstra service. Possibly they have less brain-dead support. Up to about 2001 I had a dialup connection called “Telstra BigPond Direct”, with service people who knew what they were doing. Even in those days, “Big Pond Toy”, as I called them, were brain-dead. Asked him for contact details, and was given the number 125111. He then wanted to know whether I had a prepaid or postpaid “plan” (i.e. tariff). I told him I didn't have a USIM for the device, but he kept trying to tell me that I was probably connecting to a different network, and that he would check for outages. I had to ask for his supervisor before he broke out of the loop.

He did then decide that maybe the problem was with the password, so he reset it for me, but I still couldn't connect with the 3G9WB, so it's beginning to look like the USIM really is locked in this time. He did, however, say that he was going to escalate the issue and get somebody to come out and take a look at the problem on-site, so maybe we will get something this time.

A little later a call from Au (female), who walked me through some of the stuff that I had already done with Vin, but which (it seems) he forgot to document. Frustratingly, the 3G9WB lost its signal too. Is there a second problem here?

In retrospect: if I had known what a problem this was going to cause, I should have just kept quiet and used the 3G9WB. Now, after four weeks of trying, I still don't have a connection,


Disk migration, continued
Topic: technology Link here

So finally I had the complete, up-to-date contents of /src on my USB drive. Connected up the new disk in the computer, partitioned it and built a new file system. But what newfs parameters? Somehow the whole program is upside down: instead of saying how many cylinder groups and how many files you want, you have to say how large each cylinder group is, and either average file size or number of bytes per inode, which sounds pretty much the same thing to me. In addition, there are various dependencies that mean you may not get what you ask for. Played around and came up with the following invocation, which sets a volume label src, soft updates, average file size 64 kB and one cylinder group per 500,000 blocks (256,000,000 MB):

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp6) ~ 11 -> newfs -L src -U -g 65536 -c 500000 /dev/ad8s1d
/dev/ad8s1d: 953867.2MB (1953520000 sectors) block size 16384, fragment size 2048
        using 5191 cylinder groups of 183.77MB, 11761 blks, 23552 inodes.
        with soft updates
super-block backups (for fsck -b #) at:
 160, 376512, 752864, 1129216, 1505568, 1881920, 2258272, 2634624, 3010976, 3387328, 3763680, 4140032, 4516384,
...

Unfortunately, all those parameters didn't make any difference; that's exactly what you get if you go for the defaults. I need to investigate this in more detail. I thought that at least the number of inodes could be influenced, but that I have is:

Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used  Avail Capacity iused     ifree %iused  Mounted on
/dev/ad8s1d         923856 666058 183889    78% 5168294 117090136    4%   /src
/dev/da0s1d         923856 666058 183889    78% 5168283 117090147    4%   /mnt

That's one inode for approximately 7.7 kB, close enough to the default, and about 25 times as many as I need. What happened to my -g option?


More possum problems
Topic: gardening Link here

The ornamental vine on the verandah is coming up nicely, and I trimmed some of the shoots back so that I can train it along the rafters:


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Went to trim the other one, but it wasn't necessary:


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It looks like a possum got there first. Maybe we've been blaming kangaroos for a lot of possum damage. Now how do we get rid of them?


Weigh those utensils!
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Baking bread today. In the evening added some flour to the existing dough, and the (electronic) scales went crazy, going up and down as I added flour. OK, I knew how much I had put in already, so I should have been able to restart the scales, weigh the result and calculate how much I had put in—if I knew the weight of the mixing bowl. I had actually looked at the weight in the morning, and thought of writing it down, but I didn't. I seemed to remember that it weighed 424 g, so calculated things based on that, but the resulting mixture looked pretty thin. Added a little more, and it looked OK, but it brings back to me how important it is to know the weights of everything.


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The other Telstra
Topic: technology Link here

No call back from the Telstra technicians today, but I did get round to following up on the concept of a different Telstra offering. And yes, it exists: it's called Internet Direct, or maybe Telstra Business now, and it appears to be the successor organization to “Bigpond direct“. I'm sorely tempted to try them, but I should first give the current clowns a chance to get their act together.


newfs parameters
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of the parameters to newfs today, helped by some code-reading by Peter Jeremy: the option I need for inodes is really -i. The option that I used, -g, sets (struct fs).fs_avgfilesize, which is only used to control directory inode allocation. It's not obvious to me why that should be different from the number of inodes.


Next greenhouse increment
Topic: gardening Link here

More work on the greenhouse: put some panes in the rear wall. I'm gradually getting to the end of my materials: there are only 12 large panes left (we need about 18), and the rubber seals are also running low.


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I will have to get some new ones to finish the side. The “glass clips” that I bought 3 months ago are also running low. That annoys me particularly, since I probably only need one more, and I probably could have got it for no additional price at the time. I've decided to put in everything that I can first. Then I'll be in a better position to know what I need.

Over the last couple of months, despite all good intentions, we've bought lots of plants and not planted them. Some of them are looking none too happy as a result. Today planted some rather sorry-looking Alyssum and Petunias:


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Hopefully they'll be OK.


Utensil weight revisited
Topic: food and drink Link here

Baked my bread today, and finally had a chance to weigh the mixer bowl. I recalled correctly: 424 g. So I ended up putting 55 g more flour in the bread than was needed. Fortunately it doesn't seem to have made much difference to the bread.


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

While we were in the garden, there was another brief power failure. It didn't seem to do much harm. Now we have most things on UPS, the 2-second kind of failure is just a question of resetting lots of clocks.


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A day in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

Spent most of the day in the garden today. More greenhouse work, and ran out of the metal strip for the clips. It proves that my guess as to the amount of strip I needed was wildly inaccurate. I had bought 4 lengths (of about 90 cm, a metric unit) in the assumption that that would be enough, and even a couple of days ago I thought that another strip would be enough. But today I calculated rather than guessed, and discovered I'd need another 4. Yvonne was in town and picked them up for me. To be on the safe side, we got 5—as I guessed, still for $5.

I now have all the side panes in that I can fit; I'm missing a couple of lengths of glazing strip, so I can't do the last one. Also symbolically put in a roof pane, but I think now's the time to count what I have and buy what I need.

Also did some repotting. I've had a couple of seed trays in the bathroom (lightest place) for a couple of months now, but after moving them to the greenhouse they're outgrowing the trays. Potted 12 tomatoes, of which 3 will stay in the pots in the greenhouse, and also a rather sickly looking Lonicera that I think is the same as the others that I found a couple of days ago.


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The weather last weekend was so bad that I didn't get round to doing my monthly flower photos, and, surprisingly, only a few new flowers seem to have come up since the end of September. Some of the prettier are the combination of deep purple Clematis and Nasturtium:


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I had never known that Nasturtiums could climb that high—they're up to 2.5 metres. Even more surprising is our Camellia japonica, which we bought full of buds last month. Some of the buds have flowered, others are still closed, but a large proportion have fallen off. Today I found out why. It's developing new buds:


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Why should it do that? Clearly it's feeling happier in its new pot, but that is really strange.


USB disk problems?
Topic: technology Link here

I make my photo backups on two external USB disk drives, which I use alternately. Recently I've seen a couple of issues that are potentially worrying. First, there are error messages from the disk driver:

Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): READ(10). CDB: 28 0 0 0 0 bf 0 0 10 0
Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): CAM Status: SCSI Status Error
Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): SCSI Status: Check Condition
Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): UNIT ATTENTION asc:28,0
Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Not ready to ready change, medium may have changed
Nov  5 10:20:26 teevee kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Retrying Command (per Sense Data)

OK, a drive can spin down, and indeed the medium had changed. But why the log messages? The disk wasn't mounted (this was, in fact, at mount time), and I can't recall seeing them earlier. Is that something to worry about?

The other one looks more ominous:

Nov  5 10:20:29 teevee kernel: WARNING: /Photos was not properly dismounted

That calls for an fsck, which I did. No problems, but especially on an archive device it's unnerving. Is it possible that the device “bounced” on the mount request, went offline and immediately online again? But then I would still need to repeat the mount request, and I didn't do that. To be observed.


Telstra level 3
Topic: technology Link here

The promised technicians from Telstra didn't contact me today, but I did get a call from Robert , the case manager for the incident. He makes a more sensible impression than his predecessors, and he even gave me his surname, a first with Telstra, but the lack of organization is showing badly: it was about the same thing that Simon called me about on Monday. About the only thing that I got in addition was the claimed subject of the complaint: “T VoIP not working”: “Customer wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com”. How can anybody be so stupid? I didn't mention VoIP. And, for the record, it works fine on the Telstra network.

There's not much he can do, of course, until the technicians deign to attend to the problem. I got connected to Telstra on 20 October 2010 and disconnected on 29 October 2010, nine days later. It'll be at least 10 days after disconnection before I get reconnected—an up time of less than 50%. Robert tells me that the issue has been escalated to level 3, the highest they have. He has offered to let me terminate the contract early with no financial impact, as if this were unusual in the circumstances, and even not to charge for the time without service. I still think I'll let the technicians do their thing.


Saturday, 6 November 2010 Dereel Images for 6 November 2010
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Another garage sale
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne found me in the garden before breakfast and told me that the Nottles were having a garage sale in preparation for moving out, and that we should go there immediately. A garage sale is nothing unusual, even in our area, but this was directly across the road, the second one in the same house this year. It's amazing how many people have lived there since we moved in: the Nottles are the fourth, and soon, presumably, we'll have a fifth.

Last time we didn't find much to buy, but this time we ended up with a surprising amount of stuff, including furniture, tools, shade cloth and a couple of shelves that will fit well in the greenhouse. Also got a butane-fueled flame-thrower that's supposed to be good for weeds. My preliminary attempts don't confirm that. Hopefully I haven't spent money on a white elephant.


A whole day spent with photography
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

Garden photo day again today, and I'm still experimenting. I've added a new panorama of where the “cathedral” used to be. It's deliberately not taken from the same place as the old ones, but this comparison will give an idea of how things have changed:


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It'll be a while since the birch trees (currently hardly visible) change the area, but I'll take photos from time to time.

I've also extended a number of panoramas. Here the east garden in front of the verandah two months ago, one month ago and today:


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The weather was very windy, and under those circumstances it's difficult to get good HDR photos, since the leaves move from one shot to the next:


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This causes two problems: the movement is seldom as bad as this one, and it usually just makes things look unsharp, and it also makes it very difficult to stitch the results together. This one (which should have been part of the verandah panorama above) was so bad that I had to discard it; surprisingly I still managed to get a 360° panorama.

But do I need HDR? My previous experiments say “yes”. But they're also based on a constant exposure, and typically the panorama from in front of what is now the vegetable patch had very poor shadow detail without it. What happens if I let the camera determine exposure for each component image? Tried again today:


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Which is which? Initially there doesn't seem to be much difference, but in the shadows round the fence, in the background to the right of the fence, and the verandah of the house it's clear that the HDR image (below) is better. There's not much in it, and the lack of sharpness detracts from the results. Maybe I should decide for HDR or LDR depending on the wind.

One way and another managed to take 398 photos, a total of 7056 MB, and the work directory for the day, with all the intermediate images, came to 8619 MB. And it's been less than two years since I filled a 1 GB CF card for the first time! But that was before panoramas and HDR. And the difficulties stitching the fuzzy HDR photos kept me busy until dinner time. Even then I had to give up on one of them. A whole day!


Strange Sarracenia
Topic: gardening Link here

Our Sarracenia died back for the winter, as it's supposed to do, and now the first shoot of the spring is coming:


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That's a funny looking shoot; none of the others looked like that.


Sunday, 7 November 2010 Dereel
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Lots of garden stuff
Topic: gardening Link here

Out this morning to continue work on the greenhouse. It was quite windy, with unexpected results:


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Those were the new shelves I bought yesterday. I wouldn't have expected them to blow over. Fortunately, the glass they landed on was broken already. That was about the only positive side of things. Things kept blowing away in the wind, and my tools kept disappearing. I wanted to mount the doors, and that needed some adjustment, but I couldn't find appropriate spanners: the bolts were mounted in such an unfortunate place that I couldn't get normal tools around them. Spent nearly an hour trying to mount the doors, and in the end gave up. The only thing I really “achieved” was to wash the 5 panes of glass I needed to complete the doors. I'll continue when there's less wind.

Instead looked at other things I needed to do round the garden. We still have lots of plants that need planting, and we identified a few places for plants. Also planted a number of seedlings into pots, and finally planted the Mesclun lettuce and the few remaining basil plants in the vegetable garden, which still isn't looking very happy.

Finally took a look at the irrigation system, which was in need of it. The Osteospermum at the south-east corner of the house had grown over the tubing, pulling a union apart at the corner. And there were plenty more things to lay, notably in the south and in front of the verandah. There's still plenty to do, but at least I have achieved something.


Monday, 8 November 2010 Dereel Images for 8 November 2010
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Back to FreeBSD software
Topic: technology Link here

It's been well over a year since I last committed to the FreeBSD source tree. But today I got a mail message from Ulrich Spörlein asking why setchannel didn't get installed. I was going to write back and ask “why ask me?”, but checked and discovered it was a program I had committed four years ago as part of the still-uncommitted cxm driver, and since forgotten. Time to remember some things again. Started bringing my test machine up to the current version, not without difficulties: I had put it in a USB housing for my laptop experiments, and swamp, my test box, didn't like it. And in addition I had difficulty changing /etc/fstab after installing it as an ATA disk and booting it, so the whole affair took over half an hour just to get the machine booted.

That was nothing compared to the build, though—5 hours, 38 minutes. This is an Athlon XP 1700+, not a ball of fire, but a whole lot faster than the 50 MHz 80486 that I used for my first FreeBSD systems, and there the build only took about 1½ hours. The WITNESS code has a lot to answer for.


Pottering in the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

What do I do in the garden now? The greenhouse needs glass and rubber “glazing strip”. Did some counting—I need a total of 31 panes. Now I need to call around to see where I can get the cheapest supply. The glazing strip is less obvious: I have some that doesn't fit anywhere, probably because I used shorter ones where they should have gone. It looks as if I don't need very many, though.

In the meantime, I had plenty to keep me busy. The mesh in front of the garage needs shortening, and started on that, but it's a fiddly business, so gave up after doing about half of it. Turned my attention to the corner south of the verandah, which started off like this:


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We've decided to remove the Osteospermums (Cape daisy) on the left and allow the other succulent to cover the area. The Salvias will also be cut back, and the Irises will go altogether. To make up for it, we'll plant the Echium in the corner. Again, got about half-way and stopped.

Last year we planted a number of Lobelias, all of which died for reasons we still don't understand. But they self-seeded vigorously, and now we have Son of Lobelia. Yvonne planted them to the east of the Japanese Garden, while I laid the irrigation, which this time was particularly annoying.


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We're gradually getting rid of the plants that we need to plant, but there are still some surprises. Where did this come from?


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There's no label on the thing, and I have little idea what it is. I can't find any mention of it in my diary. I suppose we could just plant it and see what it does, but where? The dark foliage suggests that it wants at least part shade.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010 Dereel Images for 9 November 2010
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Garden laziness
Topic: gardening Link here

There's so much to do in the garden! And I did so little. The weather was surprisingly warm, with a maximum of 30.4°. In the greenhouse I measured 33.4°. I need to think of how to attach shade cloth in front of it.

Put a few more panes in the greenhouse. I now have all the walls complete, though one of the panes is cracked and needs to be replaced when I get the new glass cut. Also more attention to the wire mesh in front of the garage, but still didn't get it finished.

The Lonicera (honeysuckle) on the north side of the verandah is flowering:


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It looks like a good choice to go with the Jasmine, which is now in full bloom, but which won't last much longer.


Reenabling the third tuner
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

I've been running my TV receiver with only two tuners for some time now, but today I really needed all three. Did some more playing around and finally established which physical tuner corresponds to which device. Results: the USB tuner at the end of the antenna daisy chain is /dev/dvb/adapter0, the second (/dev/dvb/adapter1) is the one at the right of the motherboard (looking from behind), and the third (/dev/dvb/adapter2) is to the left of the second. I wonder if there's a way to reassign them. I have a suspicion that there are issues with the USB tuner, possibly because it's at the end of the daisy chain.

Did some recordings on all three, and confirmed once again what I have experienced before: there's some loose connection somewhere that hangs up the system when I move the antenna cables. I wish I could find what it is. Tried tidying them up a bit, and hopefully things will now be a little more stable.


ALDI hammock
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne bought a self-supporting hammock at ALDI yesterday, and this evening I decided to assemble it. It's obviously intended as a portable unit: it includes a carry bag. So you'd think it would be easy to assemble and disassemble. It's not. The instructions don't help, of course, but I followed them as best I could and ended up with something like this:


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I had to unscrew the two cross-bars in the middle to insert them at all. The two end pieces are intended to fold up and become the ends, but they don't. The instructions don't say how, but clearly the axial rods in the middle are turned out of form by 90°. There's a strap at each end which looks as if it's been completely misplaced:


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There's also a strange method of attaching the end parts: a plastic sleeve limited by a pin that is not just too big, but held in place by a plastic-enclosed nut on the end that doesn't screw all the way down. If you do, you just push off the plastic part:


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This must be one of the strangest constructions I've ever seen on sale. One thing's for sure: if I ever get it assembled, I'm not going to disassemble it unless we decide to return it.


Wednesday, 10 November 2010 Dereel Images for 10 November 2010
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More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

More planting today. It's becoming clear that a lot of my laziness over the last couple of months was a consequence of the injury to my leg a couple of months ago. Now that it has healed up, I'm getting more work done, and by no means too soon. Finished the work to the south of the verandah, planting the new Echium and Geranium dissectum, and also old Daphne that we had planted in the cathedral area a couple of years ago, and which didn't look at all happy there. Here's the way it was before, and how it is now:


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Planted some rather sorry-looking petunias to the left after taking this photo. They wouldn't have shown up anyway. Also planted the everlasting daisies (what's the botanical name? It could be Rhodanthe or Xerochrysum) in the garden to the north of the house:


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While at it, discovered that the Alstroemeria are now blooming:


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There are plenty more coming; I wonder how long they'll bloom for.


Another clogged water filter
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Once again we had a clogged water filter, this time in the bore pump. That's only 12 days since the last time. And the stuff in it looks different from the way it used to. Here photos taken 18 months and 12 days ago:


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In the past the sediment seems to have been sandy; this looks more organic in nature. I wonder what goes on down there 50 metres underground. It's also interesting to note the change in appearance of the filter itself. I should find a better way to clean it.


ALDI hammock
Topic: general Link here

Spent more time playing around with the ALDI hammock today. No luck. It's possible that it has been put together incorrectly, and that these straps are in the way. But the more I look at it, the more I think it's just plain dangerous, so it'll go back.


X input methods
Topic: technology, general Link here

How do you enter non-standard UTF-8 characters when using X? “With great difficulty” is the obvious answer. I can remap the keyboard for a very limited number of characters, or use the only marginally documented “Compose” key to convert chords into characters. And that's about it at the X input level. Then I can write Emacs macros to do pretty much the same as the compose key, with the advantages that I know what the bindings are, and I can generate any character I want, while the compose key limits me to some undocumented subset.

Then there are web sites like Wikipedia, which offer a clickable menu at the bottom of the edit pages, offering a number of more common alphabets. Under the circumstances it doesn't work too badly. OpenOffice also has something similar. Wouldn't it be a good idea to have something like that as a keyboard for X?

Did some searching, and so did some others on IRC, but we didn't find a real keyboard. What we did find were programs like gucharmap and KCharSelect, part of KDE. Tried installing gucharmap, but ran into problems with my out-of-date ports collection. I didn't dare to try KDE; every time I do, I run into some other dependency problem.

Decided to try it on cvr2, my Linux box. Had trouble there too:

Err http://au.archive.ubuntu.com intrepid/main Packages
  404 Not Found
Err http://au.archive.ubuntu.com intrepid/restricted Packages
  404 Not Found
Err http://au.archive.ubuntu.com intrepid/main Sources
  404 Not Found

In fact, it found nothing. If I have this right, this URL resolves to http://au.archive.ubuntu.com/pub/ubuntu/archive/dists/, and there's no intrepid there. Is this a problem with AARNet, or is my installation so old that I can no longer get updates? Discovered that I already had the package installed, so tried running it—it even has online documentation! But it doesn't seem to need it: it's fairly clear what it does, right?

 
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So I clicked on a character. Nothing. Clicked on another. Nothing. RTFM:

3.2. To Create a Text String

To create a text string in the Text to copy field, perform the following steps:

  1. Select a character set from the Script or Unicode Block list box.

  2. Insert characters in one of the following ways:

    • Double-click on a character button in the Character Table tabbed section, to insert the character in the Text to copy field.

    • Click on a character button in the Character Table tabbed section, then press Return to insert the character in the Text to copy field.

    • Click on a character button in the Character Table tabbed section, then drag the character to the Text to copy field.

    • Click on the Text to copy field to give focus to the field. If a text string is already in the field, click on the text string at the point where you want to insert the character. Press a character key on your keyboard to insert that character into the field.

What a complicated method! I can understand that the text has to be created in the same window, which is a disadvantage of the implementation, but why double click or click/enter? More importantly, though, it doesn't support IPA, which is the real reason I wanted it. But it's not the most recent version, so maybe they've fixed it since then. I'd still like to see something more integrated with the X server.


Thursday, 11 November 2010 Dereel Images for 11 November 2010
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Too hot to work
Topic: gardening Link here

The temperatures were high again today, over 34°, and I didn't feel like doing very much. Finished off the mesh in front of the garage, just in time it would seem: the hops I planted there are attacking everything in sight, and I had to cut one of the roses free from them.

Apart from that, tidied up some of the Arum lilies that Yvonne had cut down yesterday. And that was about that.


Everlasting daisies
Topic: gardening Link here

Instead did some research into “everlasting daisies”, and came up with an interesting page explaining that they're all Australian, and that there are two or three different genera: Rhodanthe, Xerochrysum and maybe Schoenia. By comparing photos, it seems that ours is a Xerochrysum bracteatum. Here photos from the page and from the mother plant last week:

Xerochrysum bracteatum (everlasting daisy)  
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Still more network problems
Topic: technology Link here

My Telstra BigPond service has now been non-functional for nearly two weeks, and I've been back to satellite for that period. And now the satellite is playing up again. Between 10:34 and 12:22 I had no less than 10 dropouts, a total of nearly 17 minutes. Why? Took a look at the Microsoft “Internet Explorer” display, the only browser that the modem supports, and found that the modem link was up, though the connection was down. That seems to contradict what SkyMesh say. Took a screen shot, and during the processing found something interesting:


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Signal strength and EsN0 were both normal, but now the status was no longer “Messaging” (connected) but “Logging Off”. What does that mean? It suggests to me that the other end initiated it, not an indication that there's anything wrong with the modem. And a lot of the time when it was connected, the package loss rate was ridiculous:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypo) /var/tmp 50 -> ping www
PING www.lemis.com (203.10.76.45): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=2 ttl=55 time=2706.503 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=3 ttl=55 time=1705.457 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=4 ttl=55 time=727.115 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=7 ttl=55 time=764.967 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=10 ttl=55 time=753.931 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=15 ttl=55 time=685.339 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=19 ttl=55 time=642.429 ms

--- www.lemis.com ping statistics ---
30 packets transmitted, 7 packets received, 76.7% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 642.429/1140.820/2706.503/725.863 ms

And that was all. For the rest of the day the service was OK. I really can't see how they can blame this on the modem.


ALDI power monitors
Topic: general Link here

ALDI had some power monitor sockets on special today, so Yvonne brought back three of them, costing less than half what the non-functional system from Jaycar did. They don't look too bad: they do pretty much what I expect, and they even measure and display cos φ. I'll see how they work over the next week or so.


The Nottles move on
Topic: general Link here

Lee and Ray Nottle only moved in across the road in late February, but they're moving out again tomorrow, heading for retirement in the Dominican Republic. Invited them over for dinner. They've got a lot ahead of them, but everything seems cheap enough there, with the possible exception of health care. But then, they've never been sick in their lives, and they're not planning to do so now. I hope things work out for them.

Ray proved to be a good Chris substitute in one area:


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Friday, 12 November 2010 Dereel
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Things that go drip in the night
Topic: general Link here

Woke up at 4:00 and noted an irregular noise which proved to be the shower dripping. Tightened up the taps (old-fashioned rubber washer things), but it wouldn't stop. In the end hung the shower head by its cord (which conveniently didn't quite reach the ground) and put a cloth underneath it to stop the dripping noise.

But why did this happen? I suppose I'll have to take the taps apart and see if there's any dirt in there, but it's still strange that it starts hours after the last use of the shower, and that the drip intervals are different from one to the next. That doesn't make sense to me.

I had just about got back to sleep when there were a couple of very loud thumps on the roof. Out onto the verandah to find two possums climbing down the northern pole, confirming my suspicion that they got up to the roof that way. Chased them off, and Lilac came along and wanted to go into the house, where she started meowing at the top of her voice. Put her in the laundry and was about to go back to sleep when a stray cat came past outside and meowed for a while before moving on. Why do these things all happen at once?


More leftovers from the garage sale
Topic: general Link here

Last night was the last night the Nottles spent in their house. Now the beds are gone, and they're spending their last week in Australia in a caravan park. They still had a lot of stuff left over for the garage sale, free to the first takers, so over and picked up various odds and ends, including a few gardening books and some cement waterproofer. The latter will come in handy for the pond.


Pond planning
Topic: gardening Link here

As if to make the point, CJ and Sue came by this afternoon to have a cup of tea and discuss the plans for the concreting. This mainly means buying cement and “cement mix”, a term that seems to mean “gravel and sand mix”. It still looks as if it'll be a while before we actually get anything done: the weather started off being pretty hot (32°), but by evening it had dropped to 14°, and later in the night we got considerable rain.

Click to see larger image

We'll need at least 4 dry days in a row to do the work, so it could be a while.


Panorama brackets: stability
Topic: photography Link here

One of the problems I've been having with my vertical panoramas is keeping things in position. The big issue is the screw that holds the focusing rail to the L bracket, on the top left:


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In this configuration, the weight of the camera and the flash are too much for the little holding screw, and the whole thing sags as seen here. Yes, I can tighten up the screw—I have used a little pipe wrench for this purpose—but I'm wondering if the screw itself has the tensile strength. It's very possible that the screw will snap, leaving a thread inside the focusing rail. Clearly what's needed here is some auxiliary support, so put one together out of some offcuts of the floor of the verandah:


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It's quick and dirty, and it requires a new piece of wood for each angle. But with the 9 mm wide angle lens, you really only need three angles, and one is the angle in the first photo (wood length 0 mm), so I only needed two pieces of wood, though it did take me a while to trim them to the right length.

The real question, though: do professional adapters do any better? I've seen lots of complaints about the stability of expensive brackets. I'd be really unhappy if I bought one and discovered that it was less stable than what I have now.


Telstra BigPond: enough is enough
Topic: technology Link here

It's been a week since I last heard from Telstra BigPond about my non-functional network connection. I had planned to get back to them on Monday, but the technicians who were supposed to contact me by the end of last week still haven't shown any sign, so I decided to wait a little longer. No response. As of this morning, I have had the “service” for 23 days, 14 of which were without service.

And then I got a call from Jarrod Taylor. No, not a support person. A colleague of Bob Lynch, the situation manager. But Jarrod is also the situation manager; clearly the term doesn't mean very much. And again he wanted to talk about “Customer wants to configure postfix email client using outgoing and incoming mail server mail.venus.com”, though I had told Bob that I could live with that. No mention of the fact that my service is disconnected. I suspect that all my problems have been lumped together in one report, and that's the first paragraph.

Last week Bob Lynch made a sensible impression. Jarrod did not. I explained to him, as I explained to Bob last week, that the report was almost completely unrelated to the problem, and that blocking port 25 was not my main concern, that the lack of service was, and the fact that they had disconnected me for procedural reasons was breach of contact. I had to explain it three times, and the third time he told me that my service was up and running.

I told him that I no longer wanted to have anything to do with their shambles of an organization, and that I wanted the refund that I had been offered last week. He said he couldn't do that. I pointed him at http://tinyurl.com/bigpond-mobile, which he entered and then said “that's not relevant”. On further investigation it proved that Telstra blocks tinyurl.com, and he wasn't able to access it. He also told me that the problem is certain to be a minor technical issue at my end, and that he would get technical support to contact me.

Finally I got it through to him that I had no connection at all, and he said something like “that's not a serious problem”. He again offered to get the technicians to contact me, so I gave him until this evening for them to do so and left it at that.

20 minutes later he called back. He had spoken to a techie, who said “there's nothing to do. His operating system doesn't support the connection”. I wonder what he said to the techie. venus.com? Or is the techie another of these script-book toting idiots with whom I have had far too much to do?

In any case, he's prepared to refund everything, even the time when I used the service. So I'm back in the same position I was at the beginning of last month, but at least I still have my sanity.


Saturday, 13 November 2010 Dereel Images for 13 November 2010
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Rained out
Topic: general Link here

The bad weather continued overnight, and by morning we had had 19 mm of rain. Or did we? According to my weather station, it was 0.3 mm.

That can only mean one thing: spiders. And yes, they were there. This photo was taken from the verandah, because it was still raining:


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More cleaning up, once the rain let off a bit. After that, things seem to work properly. I wonder if I should plan in a weekly or monthly attack of fly spray.


Image stabilization: worse than useless?
Topic: photography Link here

The first photo I took of the weather station was with my Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 set at the maximum focal length of 300 mm, mounted on a tripod and with image stabilization. The result (here an excerpt) shows clear camera shake (first pair of photos below).

How could that happen? Took a look at the camera settings. Yes, the image stabilization mode was IS. 1, stabilization in both directions. About the only unusual thing was the indication at the bottom: Focal length 800 mm. But that's supposed to be only for manual lenses, and the EXIF data shows that the camera knew the focal length of the lens. Could it be a bug in the firmware anyway? I tried resetting the manual focal length (yes, you can do that even when an Olympus lens is fitted) and tried two more shots with focal length set to 10 mm and 300 mm. No difference. Then I turned image stabilization off. The result wasn't perfect, but it was better. Here with IS (first pair of images) and without IS (second pair):


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Why should that be? For the fun of it, took the same photos with my old Hanimex 300 mm lens. There the results were more what I'd expect. Again, the first pair stabilized and the second pair unstabilized:


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So image stabilization helps with non-Olympus lenses, but it really seems to be worse than useless in the case of the Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6. What's the problem? The fact that the lens doesn't have a tripod mount doesn't help, but it can't be the reason.


House photos after all
Topic: photography Link here

Somehow managed to find enough of a lull in the rain to take my weekly house photos. Now I have the wooden brackets for the panorama bar, I can get more consistent results. But I'm still having difficulty with the verandah panorama. It's much higher now, but I still have discontinuities. Here last week's “full” (360°) panorama, and then this week's:


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One thing that is becoming clear is that my positioning is not as accurate as I thought: I should probably position the camera so that the beam above it is straight. But the discontinuities are irritating. More manual playing around needed.


Dinner at the Yeardleys
Topic: general Link here

Over to the Yeardleys for dinner, another roast beef. David has a new toy, a mini Yorkshire pudding pan, which seems to work quite well once you sort out the timing.


Sunday, 14 November 2010 Dereel
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Finishing the garage screen
Topic: gardening Link here

It's been weeks since Yvonne and CJ put up the wire mesh in front of the garage. The intention is to let various climbers climb up it and screen the garage from the garden.

There's nothing new in this. Over two years ago we put up the fence posts and planted Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda, held up by wires. It wasn't a success: the Wisteria sinensis died, and the Wisteria floribunda has never flowered. I think it's too windy for them. Then last year I planted some hops, which showed some activity round the poles, but it could hardly be called a screen. Now we have the mesh, and I'm hoping to grow all sorts of things in the long run. In the short term, though, I want something that will grow quickly. The hops are still there, and now they have the mesh, they'll definitely spread. In between, despite relatively heavy rain, I transplanted a number of Tropaeolum (Nasturtiums, which they aren't) and one of the Lonicera that I couldn't identify the other day:


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That proved to be a cutting from CJ's friend Sue. She calls it a firecracker. It'll be interesting to see how it flowers. We only have two of them, so planted one here, and I'll keep the other for the north end of the garden.


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Panorama pain and partial solutions
Topic: photography Link here

Yesterday's less-than-perfect panorama of the verandah got on my nerves, so spent literally a couple of hours with Hugin trying to make it better. On the way I worked out a procedure that should make things less painful:

After a few hours, I was done. Was it worth it? No. Here's the automatic version followed by the manually stitched version:


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If anything, the new image was less well stitched than the old one. More head-scratching to do. The interesting thing is that the easy-to-recognize features like the beams are the most obviously broken ones. I wonder if I've made some mistake or misassumption with the panorama bracket.


More guests to dinner
Topic: general Link here

Chris around for dinner tonight. That's 3 meals with company in 4 days. She didn't stay long: tomorrow she has an exam.


Monday, 15 November 2010 Dereel Images for 15 November 2010
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Unexpected bird life
Topic: animals Link here

Early in the morning, before I got up, Yvonne saw a surprising sight in the garden:

 
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That's a Guinea fowl, an animal I have never seen before. I saw it later, but not long enough to get a camera. I wonder where it came from.


Watsonias take over the earth
Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden, and got a reasonable amount of weeding done. Also looked at the area south of the verandah. In autumn 2009 I planted a lot of bulbs and corms in the area behind the “old succulent patch”. Last spring the spring flowers bloomed nicely:


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Then in the summer we had two months of Watsonias, from 9 January 2010 to 6 March 2010:


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Things didn't stop there. The succulents in the garden behind grew like fury, and in the autumn we replaced the contents with smaller plants:


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The bulbs weren't a significant issue. But over winter that changed. The few Watsonias I planted seem to have multiplied 20 fold, and they were even encroaching on the unhappy looking grapefruit to the right:


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Decided to transplant the ones on the right, and removed some. Some? There are hundreds of the things. It seems that each corm sends out runners that create new corms at a distance of about 20 cm, creating a circular pattern that's barely visible in this photo:


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So I didn't replant the bulbs. They're too big to go along with other plants. I'll let these ones bloom this year, and then I'll put them where other plants don't have to try to compete with them. They do have one thing going for them: where they grow, there are no weeds. So maybe I should put them out in the areas which we've been trying in vain to keep weed-free.


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Olympus copying my motifs?
Topic: photography Link here

Took a look at the Olympus' German web site today—what a mess! Why do so many German companies, even more than elsewhere, seem to think that the purpose of a web site is to show how clever they are, rather than to inform people? Finally found what I was looking for (documentation downloads), but was interested by the home page, which seems to have copied an idea I took in winter 2009:


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Tuesday, 16 November 2010 Dereel Images for 16 November 2010
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Still more garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Our garden work spree continues. It's amazing how many things have grown like fury over the past 12 months, notably in the last winter. A mystery bush has popped up in the middle of the garden, just behind where we're building the pond. I don't know what it is, but it didn't look unpleasant, so I left it there. A year ago it was only a tiny little thing (behind the canna), and even six months ago it wasn't that big, almost completely hidden behind the cannas:


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But somehow during the winter and early spring all that changed, and it completely obliterated the view behind, even of the Paulownia kawakamii and the arums. So it had to go, and while I was at it, I removed another small clump of watsonias on the right:


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The watsonias are popping up everywhere. That little clump (only about 200 odd) will go to Chris:


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The “middle” succulent bed is also overfull. One weed in particular is of interest:


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The one in the centre is a potato. We've never planted potatoes there, but some popped up a couple of years ago and proved to be a particularly uninteresting variety, so I pulled up all the remaining tubers—I thought. The bed has been there since April 2009, when we called it a rock garden. Maybe that's a better name for it than “middle succulent bed”. But in that time, it has had only natural rainfall, and every time I see a potato sprout, I pull it out. And still they keep coming.

As I said after planting, it's full.


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The irises in the left and right corners expanded beyond recognition. The variegated ones on the left also looked quite unhappy, and the ones on the right are a kind that we want to reduce, so we replaced both of them with various succulents:


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Yvonne spread the variegated irises in many places, so that we can see where they feel happiest. The others go to Chris, who should now have enough plants to completely surround the house. Yvonne also started replanting the Euphorbias in the north garden, which is the next candidate for thinning out.


Aligning photos
Topic: photography Link here

I wasn't very happy with the “before” and “after” photos of the bush removal above. They were taken from the same position and at the same focal length (according to the camera and the EXIF data), but the magnification seems different. And inevitably the view is slightly different.

But that's what photographic software is all about. I need something that will adjust the size and view of the images to match. But what? Earlier this year I tried align_image_stack, which proved to be useless for more than two photos. But that's all I wanted here, so tried it again. It did something, but it was completely wrong; about the only thing it got right was a yaw correction.

Off to try hugin, which is as good as undocumented in this area. It found the control points with no difficulties, but it obviously didn't understand what to do with them, and produced a really strangely distorted “result”, possibly still thinking it should be a panorama:

 
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So I revisited a tutorial that I had seen before, but the instructions (“click here”) don't match the software. Followed them as best I could, and at some point hugin went off and did a lot of intensive calculation. I would have thought it was looping, but it produced sensible-looking output in the terminal window:

Total: 26000 Count: 143 Diff: 16
Total: 27000 Count: 186 Diff: 43
Total: 28000 Count: 206 Diff: 20

What does that mean? When will it stop? It went on all evening, maxing out one CPU, and without showing any sign of stopping. Clearly it's not a viable approach, but I'm interested to see how long it will run.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010 Dereel Images for 17 November 2010
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Garden slowing down
Topic: gardening Link here

For our circumstances we've been doing quite a bit of work in the garden this week, but today for some reason it slowed down. Did a little weeding round the bird bath and a little pruning, and that was it.

It's interesting to notice how some of our plants seemed to miss out on flowering last year; possibly it was the weather. We bought a Strelitzia reginae 2½ years ago. It flowered once shortly after purchase, and that was it. Last year it was looking pretty sorry for itself and didn't bloom at all, and this year the foliage isn't any better. But now it's promising no less than 7 flower spikes:


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On the other hand, my uncle Max gave me an ornamental Japanese maple for my birthday two years ago, and despite being planted in quite a protected position (something I wouldn't have thought necessary), it has suffered badly. For a while I thought it was dead, but now some leaves are coming up around the base:


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It's now considerably smaller than it was when I got it. I wonder what went wrong there.


Improving HSPA reception
Topic: technology Link here

So what do I do with my HSPA networking? Apart from terminal incompetence on the part of BigPond, there's still the issue of signal strength. Clearly the antenna is the clue to that. Three years ago it would have been difficult to erect it in a high place, but since then we've put Ethernet into the garage and also some posts in front of it. Today headed off with the intention of mounting the antenna on the side of the garage, but there's a lip in the profile which makes that difficult, so decided to put it on one of the posts in front instead:


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The modem is the white thing to the left of the power points. It's on the other side of the wall in the second photo.

And what difference did it make? Difficult to say. Previously I've been measuring the item called Signal Strength on the modem's web page accessible by Diagnostics/NextG™ (I suppose it's typical that it doesn't have real URLs). Last month I measured -94 dBm without the antenna and -89 with. Today I was getting values typically round -86 dBm, but ranging between about -83 and -90 dBm. Based on that, I'd guess the signal is about twice as strong (3 dB). That still translates to 2 bars on the graphical display, but if it stays at 2, I suppose things are OK.

But is that the correct thing to measure? More careful examination of the page shows a number of other signal-related parameters, including RSSI, Quality (Ec/lo) and RSCP. They don't move synchronously. Which should I be looking at? On the face of it, I suppose it should be RSCP.

In any case, it would be good to log this sort of thing. The modem's idea of logging is a little erratic: it logs startup and shutdown at priority LOG_EMERG, but it doesn't log signal quality at all, not even when it loses connection. And unlike any other device I've used, I can't write a script to retrieve the page and scrub it, because the programmers don't believe in URLs. The only way I could find was to run tcpdump and filter things out:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp6) /var/tmp 48 -> tcpdump -A -s 1460 host pong-gw | tr \\r ' ' | grep dBm
tcpdump: verbose output suppressed, use -v or -vv for full protocol decode
listening on re0, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), capture size 1460 bytes
-89 &nbsp(dBm)&nbsp[Low]</td>
        <td align='center'> -98 dBm</td>
-86 &nbsp(dBm)&nbsp[Low]</td>
        <td align='center'> -101 dBm</td>
-84 &nbsp(dBm)&nbsp[Low]</td>
        <td align='center'> -98 dBm</td>

And yes, the &nbsp without the ; are original. Removing the \r is necessary because, for some reason (presumably sloppiness), the web page includes a carriage return in the first line. But what a mess! This is a good example of where access to the source code would make all the difference.

Also packed the old 3G21WB modem to send it off tomorrow. They've told me what to send: modem, power supply and Ethernet cable. Not USIM. Not USB stick with their broken software. Not even the box in which it came. It wouldn't have fitted, something that we've seen before. It seems that Telstra only have one size of envelope for these things.


Hugin: processing and no end
Topic: photography, technology Link here

My hugin run continued through the day using 100% of one CPU. By the evening it had used 30 hours, and it seems to have started again. I don't need to use it, so I'll keep my eye on it and see if it ever finishes.


Thursday, 18 November 2010 Dereel Images for 18 November 2010
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More garden trickling
Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow the energy we developed over the last week or so is subsiding, but I did have enough left over to do some more weeding. In addition, the December issue of “Burkes Backyard [sic] arrived today, with the along with the diary item “harvest potatoes”. So I suppose it's high time I planted them. Somehow the vegetable garden doesn't seem to be taking off; possibly these drip lines that I put in aren't providing enough water. Time to try the mini-sprayers again.

While pondering that, decided that it was high time to plant some more herbs, and did coriander, dill, basil and also some radishes. In addition tried propagating some cuttings of Hibbertia scandens. I had done some hardwood cuttings in May, and they all died. But it seems they propagate best from softwood cuttings at this time of year, so I may be luckier this time.


Hugin, slow and steady
Topic: technology, photography Link here

My hugin process is still going, maxing out a CPU all day long, but producing output that suggests that it knows what it's doing. By the evening it had used about 50 hours of CPU time. Probably I should stop it, but I'm curious to know if it will come to any conclusion.


Friday, 19 November 2010 Dereel Images for 19 November 2010
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Preparing for a long dry summer
Topic: gardening Link here

More garden work: it's getting dryer, so it's high time to finish my overhaul of the irrigation system. Spent considerable time replacing the sprayers to the north of the verandah with drip line. Based on what I've seen in the veggie patch, I'm not sure they'll be sufficient, but the dam water is discolouring the weatherboards on the house. In the veggie patch did the opposite: added a sprinkler round the herb area. I can always remove it again if it proves superfluous.

Round the Ginkgo tried a ring of drop line connected via a 4 mm hose. I don't know if the hose has enough flow rate to supply all the drippers. There must be 16 of them, for 32 l/hour, or a little over 0.5 l per minute. I'll keep my eye on them. Also put in individual drippers for the grapefruit to the south of the verandah, and to the Strelitzia reginae, though I'm not sure the latter really needs one.

The Lonicera are now blooming happily. But the flowers seem to have two colours:


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Why is that? Maybe the flowers open white and then become yellow. To be observed.


Compose key issues resolved?
Topic: technology Link here

I've ranted a couple of times about the function of the Compose key in X, and the fact that it's not documented. Today I made progress. Yes, it's still not documented, but with the help of Callum Gibson and Peter Jeremy I've found out a key issue.

Apart from the lack of documentation, the main problem was that only some of the key bindings worked. My Emacs runs in UTF-8, so it can't be that, and I was able to cut and paste any UTF-8 character from another window. But when I tried entering things like subscripts and superscripts (₁¹₂² and so on) with the Compose key, nothing happened. I should have been able to compose them with the sequence Compose _ 1 Compose ^ 1 Compose _ 2 Compose ^ 2.

The issue seems to be the locale with which Emacs gets started. By default, it gets started by the window manager, which is started with the X server on initial login. At that point no locale was set, so it must default to some 8 bit character set. And even after I tell it to use UTF-8, the input appears to be limited to 8 bit characters. When I started it from a uxterm, I was able to enter these characters. On further examination, it seems that the key here is the environment variable LC_CTYPE. Now I have the following in my ~/.bashrc, and all is well:

export LC_CTYPE=en_US.UTF-8

This will presumably also apply to the window manager once I log in again. And until proof of the contrary, I'll assume that I can then use the codes described in /usr/local/lib/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose.


Saturday, 20 November 2010 Dereel Images for 20 November 2010
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Panoramas: fighting parallax
Topic: photography Link here

Photo day again today, and spent some time trying to understand what went wrong with the verandah panorama last week. One thing was clearly the windy weather last week. Today was much better, almost no wind. Took a closer look at the macro rail I'm using as part of the panorama bracket, and discovered that it's really two separate and identical macro rails screwed together, with a camera mount on top of the second one:


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This offers possibilities that I need to consider. Compared to panorama brackets, these rails are dirt cheap, about $40 for the lot. The screw holding the two halves together is clearly a ¼" thread, and possibly I can use a longer screw to attach an adjusting slide to the vertical bracket.

A more obvious use of the horizontal slide is to adjust the angle of the camera along with the wooden blocks I cut last week:


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Also did some more thinking about parallax, and found the misassumption that I had made last week: the entrance pupil must be above the vertical axis of the pan head. Nearly every tripod head guarantees this, but only when it's horizontal. Tilt back or forward and the position can vary enormously:


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That's not such a serious issue once I know it: that's why I have the additional hardware for vertical panoramas. The entrance pupil is held at the pivot point where the macro rails are mounted... Wait a minute! That means that moving the horizontal bar also introduces parallax. My considerations above are invalid. What a pain these things are! But the idea of an adjustable rail would still work. I just need to find the correct hardware.

Despite that issue, I got my panorama correct today, and that completely automatically. Here last week and this week:


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The jaggies are most obvious in the rearmost cross member:

 
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On the other hand, despite my careful positioning, I didn't get the rafter in the middle quite correct. It must require positioning to within a couple of millimetres.


Batteries: the pain continues
Topic: photography Link here

In the middle of today's photos, my new battery gave out again, this time after only 285 photos. The recharge worked for a while, but then terminated with the usual flashing red LED. That's three batteries in a row! What's going on here? Took the opportunity to update my battery page, but I still don't know what to do. One thing that occurs to me is that since I started buying these new batteries, I haven't charged my old batteries much. Is there maybe really something wrong with the charger? The fact that the batteries hold so little charge and fail so completely in the camera speaks against it, but who knows? Maybe I should buy a charger/battery combination and see if that works.

While examining things, discovered that the battery still had charge, so put it back in the camera again and took a number of photos. Maybe it'll recover after all, but based on my recent experience I'm not optimistic.


Vines and weed spraying
Topic: gardening Link here

Today was warm and there wasn't much wind, perfect weather for spraying weeds. Did a fair amount of that, including the west side of the house, to which so far we have paid no attention at all. I think we'll plant some bushes there, and we have plenty of candidates for transplanting.

The ornamental vines on the verandah are also in need of attention. Pruned them a little and trained some along the wires I put up last year, but I'm going to have to put up some new ones as well.


Better photo software?
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Today was photo processing day, so I finally gave up with my hugin instance, which has been running flat out since Tuesday:

USER   PID %CPU %MEM   VSZ   RSS  TT  STAT STARTED      TIME COMMAND
grog 31744 91.3 17.9 644320 558216  pb  RN+  Tue03PM 5445:44.15 hugin

That's over 90 hours of CPU time. All the while it produced output that suggested that it knew what it was doing, but clearly that's too long. I've recently had material from DxO promoting the merits of their DxO Optics Pro package, including claims of “HDR” from a single image. The results certainly look interesting, and they offer a free trial, so today I downloaded the image, all 207 MB of it. It only runs on Microsoft or Apple, of course, but potentially I could get it to run under Wine. Tried installing it on pain, my Microsoft laptop, and it promptly asked me whether it should install .NET, so clicked “yes”. To my surprise, it was already on my system, and it installed without problem. But “Optics Pro” couldn't start, claiming that it needed to install DirectX 9, which required a download from the net.

Round about here it occurred to me that now would be an excellent time to back up the Microsoft partition on the machine (it also has a FreeBSD partition, so I can just boot that and copy the partition image to another machine), so started that, which ran until the small hours of the morning.


Another dinner
Topic: general Link here

Brigitte Heyer (yet another German) and Margaret Yarra visited Chris for the weekend, so we had a fuller than usual table, and took a number of photos, including Lilac keeping Nemo in his place:


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Margaret and Brigitte got the couch, while Chris used Piccola's scratching post:


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Brigitte is a clairvoyante, and does character analyses based on something called Destiny Cards, a methodical categorization of people based on their birth date and a relationship to a particular playing card:


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It's hard to see how such a simple allocation can be accurate, especially since the 9 of clubs is underrepresented, but Brigitte swears that it is.

It wasn't until later that Edwin Groothuis, born on 31 December, pointed out that this chart doesn't include his birthday.


Sunday, 21 November 2010 Dereel Images for 21 November 2010
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Remodeling the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

After removing the big bush in the middle of the garden a couple of days ago, we have a much better view east from the verandah:


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That brings home to us that both the Arum lilies and the Erysimums no longer look right in that position. The Arums are too big, and the Erysimums, which once were a blaze of colour, are gradually looking tatty. Here a month ago and today, after removing half of them:


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On the other hand, we like the colours, so we thought of replacing them with Pelargoniums, which we have in both white (really climbers, but I think they'll do well as a kind of ground cover) and a similar purple colour:


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They're getting to be too big for that bed anyway, so they had to come out. Decided to remove half of the Erysimums and transplant a couple of Pelargoniums to replace them. But that didn't work: despite the volume, there are only a couple of Pelargonium bushes. So I broke off some branches and planted them in the ground. If they die, we have plenty more. If they survive, it'll be a good thing to know.


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In the meantime, Yvonne took some cuttings of the white Pelargoniums to propagate. They're still very small, so it'll probably be autumn before we can plant them in the garden.

Also finished work on the vines on the verandah, at least for the time being. We now have a number growing along the cross-members.


Displaying photos on the web
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

I've commented in the past about Flickr and why I don't like it. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have advantages, and potentially one of them is being able to display photos one at a time. My current photo arrangement either presents the ones I want to show, like in this diary, or on a page per day display that can be quite large. On 18 April 2010 for example I had 169 photos, which take a while to load. I do have a page to display a single image, but there's no connection, so I can't use it to browse through a collection of photos.

Well, I couldn't. Spent some time today changing that, in the process tripping over my particularly baroque display code a couple of times. I still haven't decided how to handle image size, but it's looking a lot better. I still need to decide whether it's an improvement or not.


DxO: No go
Topic: photography, technology Link here

My backup of pain was finally finished, so installed DirectX 9 on the machine and restarted DxO Optics Pro. It said it couldn't run, and that I probably needed to install DirectX 9. Clearly an error message made without checking. In addition, I got a couple of these:

 
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Not the kind of thing that gives you warm fuzzy feelings about the software, though maybe it's normal in the Microsoft space. I suspect the real issue is that the installation on pain is too old, or that the machine doesn't have enough memory. I should try this on somebody else's Microsoft machine.


More battery surprises
Topic: photography Link here

While writing up yesterday's discussion of batteries for Olympus cameras, did a few checks, and discovered that battery number 5 is showing signs of life again. That's exactly what happened with battery 7 over the last couple of days. I wonder what it all means.


Hover fly
Topic: animals, photography Link here

In the evening, sitting on the verandah, I left an empty beer glass lying around for a while. It seems it wasn't empty enough. A hover fly settled on it and stayed there long enough for me to take some photos:


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Somehow I always come up against the same problem: things aren't sharp enough. Part of the problem here was that I was using the Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro lens, which can't come close enough, so these photos are heavily cropped. But it seems that I always run into this problem. It's not focus: the fly is pretty much uniformly fuzzy. I still suspect diffraction.


Monday, 22 November 2010 Dereel Images for 22 November 2010
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Battery problems continue
Topic: photography Link here

My camera battery problems are anything but over. As expected, my battery 7 died today after only 54 more photos—a total of 657 since I got it. I wish I knew what to do.


Too hot for gardening
Topic: gardening, general Link here

It's been relatively cool lately, but today made up for it, with a top temperature of 36°:

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As a result, didn't do much in the garden. In retrospect, it wasn't a good idea to plant those Pelargoniums yesterday. We'll see how they do.


Melaleuca and Grevilleas in bloom
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

The Melaleuca by the garden shed is in bloom:


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This is the kind that they call paperbark, for obvious reasons:


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I suspect that Piccola has been helping the appearance here. Took a couple of photos of the brushes, without achieving anything that really pleased me:


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According to Wikipedia, the stamens are generally free in Callistemon but grouped into bundles in Melaleuca. Now I have to find a Callistemon brush to compare with, but I don't have any good specimens right now.

The Grevillea longistyla x johnsonii “Elegance” that we bought 18 months ago is now blooming:


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It's difficult to decide how pretty it is. Currently it's small, but it'll grow to several metres in size, and that would then be impressive.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010 Dereel
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More irrigation
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was hot again today, though not as bad as yesterday—top temperature was only 33.7°. Some of the plants are showing the effects of inadequate watering, so spent some time putting in drip lines round the wind break in the north garden and round the dog run. Not the most pleasant of work, but it should make itself worthwhile.


Sjömansbiff and ambiguous measures
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Sjömansbiff for dinner today, not the first time. And not for the first time I tripped over not just the language of the recipe (Swedish, which I can only just read), but also over the quantities. How big is a big potato? It depends on the country. After moving to Germany from England in late 1972, I discovered that it would take about 5 German potatoes to make a British potato. Based on today's results, I think a big Swedish potato must be about twice the weight of a big Australian potato. I've changed the recipe accordingly. The good news is that it tasted very good this time.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010 Dereel Images for 24 November 2010
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Lazy day
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Somehow I didn't do much today. I don't even know why. A little garden work, including tying up some of the roses climbing up the south side of the verandah, and that was about that. Maybe it was the weather: it wasn't as warm as forecast, only mid-20s, but the humidity was high, and in the evening we got still more heavy rain.


New flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

In the afternoon went with Yvonne walking the dog, the first time in months. Although my leg injury feels pretty well healed up, it's clear that I can't walk as fast as I used to. Hopefully that'll improve in the next month or so.

We had just got to the end of our property when I saw some flowers growing in the middle of the bracken. Just getting to them was difficult; we had to approach from the lagoon. They appear to be yet another kind of bulb. It'll take a bit of extraction, and I don't know if I should do it now or when they finish flowering. But after they finish flowering, I won't be able to find them any more.


TV “chefs”, founts of wisdom
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Started watching a documentary film today which I had recorded from SBS, and discovered the end of a cooking programme at the beginning of the file. I recorded it a month ago, so I can no longer find out what it is, but the bloke appears to be Australian, possibly naturalized, and it appears that it's an SBS production. He was cooking something that looked like a pot-au-feu:


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And then he made a statement that blew my mind:

Now the next bit for me is quite bizarre in the recipe. The idea of things like, you know, onions and celery is fine. That just gets chucked in. The next thing is the weirdest, and that is this little boy here, turnup [sic]. Because the French consider turnup to be pig food.

And this bloke wants to be a chef cook! I don't know any cuisine which uses turnips as much as the French. And indeed it's almost essential in this dish. No wonder we don't watch cooking programmes much any more.

Who was it? I don't know. I watched the entire credits, and even discovered that I could buy the nonsense at Dymocks book shops, but there was nothing to say what the programme was. That's clearly sloppiness on the part of SBS, who obviously want to sell their second-rate programmes.


Thursday, 25 November 2010 Dereel Images for 25 November 2010
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Garden stuff
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

We had 24 mm rain overnight, though the temperature wasn't too bad. Did some more weeding, and took another look at the vegetable patch. The weeds seem to be coming out faster than I can spray them. I wonder if I should just plant the potatoes and put up with the weeds, at least for this year. Also planted some more Thai basil, which Yvonne had brought back. Hopefully the slugs won't eat this lot.

Did some work on the verandah again; I wish I knew how to deadhead these petunias. Took some photos of them:


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I'm trying to collect the seeds from the flowers, but what do they look like? Last time, long after the event, I found little black spots. What I saw on the leaves is quite different:


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Are those rods seeds, and if so, are they weeds or seeds of the petunias? And are the insects (about 1 mm long) attacking the plant, or have they been caught by it? The last photo suggests that the insect isn't there of its own free will, and it looks more like a housefly than a sucking insect. More observation needed.


More battery stuff
Topic: photography Link here

While taking photos, battery 2 finally discharged. And I recharged it with some trepidation but without difficulty. Also tried recharging batteries 6 and 7, which have been showing no voltage. Number 6 came out “fully charged”, still showing no voltage, and the other showed a charge error, but after that had some voltage to show for itself. I really must learn more about the insides both of the batteries and the chargers.


How to optimize museum displays
Topic: multimedia, fiction Link here

Watching a TV documentary today and found a clever trick to supply multiple statues in the space required by a single one. You take one statue of the body and several interchangeable heads:


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Friday, 26 November 2010 Dereel Images for 26 November 2010
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The potatoes, finally
Topic: gardening Link here

I suppose nothing shows the problems that my leg injury did like the fact that it has taken me until today to plant this season's potatoes. They should have been planted two months ago at the latest. It wasn't just the leg problems themselves, but all the preparations, including setting up the vegetable garden, getting the soil in a condition in which I could plant them, and putting in the irrigation.

I've finally given up on getting the soil in condition, so today I just put in the irrigation and planted the potatoes. I hope I got it right: they've been lying around for months, and I no longer knew which were the “Dutch Cream” (which I wanted) and which were the Kipfler (which I didn't). We'll see in a few months' time, I suppose.


Dereel garden in Spring
Topic: gardening Link here

Last month it rained so heavily that I didn't get round to taking photos of the flowers in the garden, as I had done at the ends of the previous three months. Now another month is coming to an end, and it looks like rain for the rest of the month, so did it today.

Surprisingly, there wasn't that much difference from the end of September. The Alstroemerias and the succulents are in full bloom, and the Gazanias are coming—even the ones we picked up only two months ago will soon be flowering:


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Many of the native plants are also flowering, including the Alyogyne, which I think flowers just about all the time. We have a problem with the Callistemons, though: the birds like the brushes, and they seldom get as far as full bloom. For some reason, they're not as interested in the Melaleucas:


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The Grevilleas are also doing nicely, even the ones we only just planted for the southern hedge:


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The Crassula “Springtime” that flowered so nicely, well, in spring, subsequently looked almost completely dead. I didn't take a photo of it, but it was almost just because of laziness that I didn't pull it out. But it's picking up. It still doesn't look good, but it's so much better than before that I have to assume this is normal. Here two months ago and today:


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The Loniceras are going well. It seems that the flowers of the one on the verandah really do open white and then go yellow. According to this month's issue of “Burkes Backyard [sic], they're Lonicera japonica, which they claim is a weed. I haven't seen any substantiation of that. The other one is from Sue, the “firecracker”. It has typically Lonicera-like flowers, but they're arranged in a circle instead of alternately.


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The roses are really blooming well, even the ones that Laurel Gordon gave us as small plants only a year ago, “Gruß an Aachen”, “Monsieur Tillier” “News” and “Phyllis Bide”:


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The “Lili Marleen” in the north bed is also looking as happy as I have seen it, and the maltreated climbing rose that I moved around a couple of times is now also in bloom. The Icebergs climbing the south side of the verandah are producing an amazing number of blooms. Somehow the photo doesn't show the effect of roses, Clematis and Tropaeolum well until enlarged:


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Inevitably, some plants look less happy. The Meyer lemon in the greenhouse is looking much better than it did, and is now in flower, as is the second grapefruit tree south of the verandah. Maybe the denser surroundings will be more to its liking. The Calendulas look surprisingly unhappy, probably because of the weeds around them. That's another task. The newly planted Hosta is clearly looking burnt. It's behind a shade barrier, but the sun is getting high enough now that we really need to put in a shade cloth roof.


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And a couple of things haven't flowered yet, but they're threatening: the Strelitzia reginae and one of the Cannas:


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What's a weed?
Topic: gardening Link here

The old saying goes that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. A lot of my weeding activity confirms this. There are many weeds with names I don't know, like these:


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The first one is only marginally a weed, since it has pretty flowers. The second is also not so serious, since I don't see many of them. But the third is very invasive. It produces runners under the surface of the soil and spreads quickly. It's the one I've been fighting in the vegetable patch.

Apart from them, though, there are others. The first of these is everywhere, and I'm continually removing them. The second pops up all over the place too, and produces enormous flowers.


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But all of these are garden plants. The first is Betula pendula, a silver birch. We've kept a lot of these seedlings and planted them in the ex-cathedral, but there must be hundreds of them. The second is Calendula, which we have planted at the east end of the garden, but which would take over the entire garden if left to its own devices. The third is a strawberry, and on the fourth there's a Viola tricolor and a Borage. In addition, there were lots of Forget-me-not and Oregano seedlings, but they seem to have finished their cycle for this year.


Funny light at sunset
Topic: general Link here

The weather changed in the evening, clouding over and casting an orange haze which I was even able to capture as a photo:


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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Two short power failures in the evening, the second more a brown-out, something I haven't seen here before.


Saturday, 27 November 2010 Dereel Images for 27 November 2010
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Election
Topic: general Link here

Election day again today, this time for the state of Victoria. Off to the Hall, where I filled out all 27 boxes on the ballot paper for the upper house before I discovered that I only needed to do the first 5. But who does it the hard way? A single number above the line is enough to vote the way some specific party wants you to. And that's what seems to happen. It's interesting to note how many people take the “How to vote” cards from the people outside. The two people in front of me took one from Labor and one from the Liberals, which I suppose makes for some kind of balance.


Aphid macro
Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with macro photos today, and found what appears to be a dead aphid on the back of a rose leaf:


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Once again it shows unsharpness. Why? I had thought it might be diffraction due to the aperture, but the photo in Wikipedia was also taken at f/22, with a 60 mm lens, not that different from my photo, and it's not nearly as fuzzy:

Wikipedia aphid photo)

I wish I understood what my problem is.


Frogs
Topic: animals, photography Link here

It rained again most of the day. It seems that even the frogs found it too wet; Yvonne found one on the window of the bathroom:


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Sulphate of potash
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

When I was a pre-teen boy in Melbourne, I was a chemistry geek. I knew it all, as you do at that age. And a couple of things have stayed with me all my life: a disdain of the Imperial system of measurement, and a rejection of old-fashioned names for chemicals. But both are still with us, and if you want to buy potassium sulphate for the garden, you have to ask for “sulphate of potash”. Australian gardening magazines go one step further and spell it in the American way, “sulfate of potash”.

I bought some sulphate of potash recently, and as usual, read the analysis on the packet. How about that: it contains potassium sulphate. It's easy enough to calculate the analysis: the molecular weight of K₂SO₄ is 174.259, and the compound contains 2 potassium atoms (molecular weight 39.0983) and one sulphur atom (atomic weight 32.065). So it should contain 44.9% potassium and 18.5% sulphur. But that's not what the analysis says:


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Diary entry for Friday, 26 November 2010

 

“As potassium sulphate” suggests to me that it's counting the molecular weight of potassium sulphate, not the atomic weight of potassium. And that should be close to 100%. Similarly, “as sulphate” suggests the weight is relative to the SO₄ group. But the values they give are slightly lower than the proportions of the elements. Why? If you take the relationship between potassium from my calculations and what's on the analysis, it would suggest that the product is only 9