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October 2014
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Wednesday, 1 October 2014 Dereel Images for 1 October 2014
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System upgrade: doing it
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It's been nearly 10 months since I bought new hardware for eureka and started my upgrade to FreeBSD release 10. And it's still not done!

Part of the problem was the migration to pkgng, which was somewhat rocky, but which now seems to work. And then there's my fear of painting myself into a corner and not having a machine to work with. But I'm coming up to my second time round the Coursera course on programming languages, and I need to run smlnj. And I could no longer find that on eureka. eureka is running 9.2-STABLE, and it's impractical to upgrade anything on it any more. So I really need to get the machine up to date.

Finally came to a decision: Yvonne has a machine that is even more down-rev, to the point where services like YouTube are beginning to warn that the browser will not be supported much longer. The version string says all:

FreeBSD 8.1-PRERELEASE #0: Mon May 31 16:22:12 CST 2010

So it makes sense to migrate it to a bigger disk and installing the latest image on it as a second image. That way if anything goes wrong I can simply revert to the old image and continue as if nothing had happened. Found a suitable 200 GB PATA disk and set off to put it into lagoon alongside the current disk. Surprise, surprise! First, how old and mouldy lagoon had become:


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But more to the point, the motherboard doesn't support PATA. I had to go and find another SATA disk. And as usual I found the one thing that my air compressor is good for:


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Things went surprisingly well, and in a couple of hours the machine was back up and limping. Here's what I've seen so far; I'll keep an upgrade page to show the complete state:

And that was about it. I'm sure I'll find more surprises.


Microsoft tablet
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne came back from shopping with a Medion ΛΚΟΥΛ tablet (or is that a laptop?) running Microsoft “Windows” 8.1, that was on special at ALDI today.

Image

Physically it's a very big tablet (11.6") with a docking station. That's rather like what I mused about three years ago. But what do I want with a “Windows” device? I was driven to it by Android. At least with Microsoft you have access to normal software, even if the implementation is dubious. But with Android you don't. I went through the first year's experience with Android a month ago. Here's how this device compares with my current Android tablet:

As Andy Snow pointed out later, in some of these I'm comparing individual devices, not the platform. But the devices seem to be pretty typical for the platform.

So out of 6 functions, the Microsoft tablet only has 4, and that with some limitations. Is it worth it? It doesn't have this castrated view of the world, and I can run the same programs on it that I run on other Microsoft-based systems, even things like DxO Optics “Pro”. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems that I should be able to mount file systems from the network via SMB.

Spent some time trying to configure the thing. Setup includes creating a “Microsoft account”, which seems to be for access to the app shop. No, thanks, I'll use real software. Decided to call the machine oberflueche, from the German word for “Surface” as modified by my old friend Fritz Jörn. Somehow it seems to fit a Microsoft device.

I'm beginning to agree with the Microsoft crowd: “Windows” 8.1 is a pain to use even compared to other versions of “Windows”. Spent some time looking for COMMAND.EXE, without success, and spent much of the rest of the day installing (again!) cygwin. And I still have issues with the physical user interface. The touch pad has no buttons. Presumably there are all sorts of gestures you can make (I can think of one), but of course it's a modern machine, so it comes with no documentation.

Once again I've come to the conclusion that touch screens are a really poor substitute for a keyboard, and somehow I get the impression that, despite everything, “Windows” 8 is not really well adapted to this kind of interface. I had a hit rate of about 60% on some touches, and I was left wondering whether I needed the equivalent of a double-click. But my impression may change if I ever get to understand it.


New phones
Topic: general Link here

The Uniden DECT 1635 cordless phones arrived today. According to the auction they were factory reconditioned, but there's nothing to be seen there. In particular, the display windows look brand new. That could be part of the reconditioning process, of course, but it doesn't seem to make financial sense. In any case, it looks like a well-spent $51.


Thursday, 2 October 2014 Dereel Images for 2 October 2014
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Microsoft tablet experience
Topic: technology, multimedia, opinion Link here

One of the last things for which I still found Android useful was playing streaming audio from the web. As I have discovered, Android apps can do this, but badly. How about Microsoft? Select http://www.radioswissclassic.ch/live/aacp.m3u in firefox, and it Just Works.

Of course, without a connection to my Bluetooth adapter, it plays on the internal tinny loudspeakers (which, however, aren't quite as tinny as on my Android tablet). Still, the thing has Bluetooth support. Just associate it and we should be OK, right?

Ah, but this is Microsoft. Go to “Control Panel” and select “Add a device”. Off it goes, finds the device, and starts installing a driver. “This may take several minutes“; and it did. And then nothing. Where's my device? Went looking again, and it no longer found it. Discussed with Chris Bahlo, who was puzzled too. It seems that it had completely lost it.

It wasn't until later in the day that I found the device in the list. But it was disconnected. Doubtless it can be made to work, but how? Once again I feel like a complete idiot. Pairing worked much more easily with Android.

Other things of interest:

So: after two days, what's the verdict? It's Microsoft, of course, and it still irritates me. But potentially it might be worth it.


Upgrading lagoon, day 2
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Upgrading lagoon, Yvonne's computer, had the usual hiccups, but things haven't been too bad. The good news is:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) ~ 60 -> pkg install smlnj
Updating FreeBSD repository catalogue...
FreeBSD repository is up-to-date.
All repositories are up-to-date.
The following 1 packages will be affected (of 0 checked):

New packages to be INSTALLED:
        smlnj: 110.76_1

The process will require 34 MB more space.
7 MB to be downloaded.

Proceed with this action? [y/N]: y
Fetching smlnj-110.76_1.txz: 100%    7 MB 692.2k/s    00:11
Checking integrity... done (0 conflicting)
[1/1] Installing smlnj-110.76_1: 100%
=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) ~ 61 -> sml
Standard ML of New Jersey v110.76 [built: Wed Sep 10 09:31:40 2014]
- ^D
=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) ~ 62 ->

That seems normal enough, but this time last year I had great difficulty with this port, because it only ran in 32 bit mode. Now it Just Works.

About the only real issue was that Yvonne could no longer read in photos from her camera. It presents itself as a SCSI disk, and a number of things had changed. Most importantly, she no longer had access to the device. How did it work before? By default the devices appear like this:

crw-r-----  1 root  operator  0xda  3 Oct 12:22 /dev/da2
crw-r-----  1 root  operator  0xee  3 Oct 12:22 /dev/da2s1

Yvonne wasn't in the operator group, so somehow we needed to set the permissions differently. And that's what /etc/devfs.conf is for. But there was nothing in the old system to indicate that I had done that. Finally I found the reason: yvonne was in group operator on the old system. Arguably that's the better choice.

Apart from that, I went through library hell to get kklondike and xearth to run. There were multiple library directories, and though I copied all of /dereel/usr/lib/compat to /usr/lib/compat/elf-32—all 1.8 GB!—I seem to have something wrong with the ldconfig paths. On the tuit queue.


Zhivago goes riding
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne and Chris out riding today, and for some reason Yvonne wanted to take Zhivago with her. Not a bad idea, but we've had him for over 2 years, and today is only the second or third time he was allowed to go. He seems to have enjoyed himself:


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Dogs in the water
Topic: animals Link here

Somehow the dogs really love the dam. Today all three of them went in:


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Yvonne doesn't like them getting wet, but it's clear they really enjoy themselves.


Friday, 3 October 2014 Dereel Images for 3 October 2014
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Use our software!
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Participating in an online survey today, was rejected for a strange reason:

 
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OK, I'll bite. If it's not a PC, a Mac, a tablet, a smart phone or a netbook, what is it that they think I'm running? Restarted running Microsoft, and that seemed to be OK, but the survey software was so broken that I had to give up in the end.


More tablet thoughts
Topic: technology, multimedia, opinion Link here

Somehow I've opened a can of worms with this Medion ΛΚΟΥΛ tablet. It's getting me thinking about issues that hadn't previously interested me. But the more I look at it, the more problems crop up.

Andy Snow read my article comparing Microsoft and Android, and came up with a couple of comments. Firstly, he pointed out that I wasn't comparing Microsoft and Android at all, just the specific tablets I had. Correct, and I've changed the article to make that clearer. More interestingly, though, he showed me a way to stop an Android process without going through the “force stop” procedure: click on the double rectangle icon, which displays all apps except the current one, and swipe the icon to one side.

That's a kludge, of course: if you only have one app running, the double rectangle doesn't do anything. First you need to start another app, and then the double rectangle will show the one you want to stop. But why so complicated? I've given up asking “why undocumented?”.

The real issue, though, is: what do I want from a portable device? I mentioned a partial list a couple of days ago, and basically it's clear that no device fulfils the requirements. What do most people need an operating system for? To run programs. And most independent software developers write programs for Microsoft and, usually as an afterthought, Apple. That's the only reason I run a Microsoft box: particularly in the area of photographic software, Microsoft offers the greatest choice. And for the same reason, it's also important that the Microsoft operating system be on an Intel platform (this one is a Celeron N2940, running at 1.83 GHz, for what that's worth).

But the tablet developers seem to have thrown out the only advantage by creating a new, incompatible system. Neither Android nor iOS can run either kind of program. Instead people have to write apps in an environment that seems to be so extreme that no app really lives up to a real program.

How could that happen? Probably the same way that “Windows” happened. When Microsoft bought out Seattle Computer Products and their 86-DOS operating system, it wasn't because they didn't already have their own operating system, XENIX. And 86MS-DOS was clearly inferior in every way to XENIX—except that it could run on minimal hardware. As hardware became more powerful, they stuck to MS-DOS because it gave them a marketing edge.

Similarly, Android and iOS were originally designed telephones, initially not exactly high-performance devices. And once again, even now, where the devices exceed the performance of a 1970s supercomputer, they're stuck with this toy “operating system”. Once again, commercial aspects seem to be the main cause.

So what do I do? Go back, grumbling, into my hole and give up on the whole thing? It's too late for that. There are real advantages to some of these apps and programs. This particular tablet seems too much like a laptop and too little like a tablet: it's difficult to use without a keyboard, and it's really too big. But it shows that there's life in Microsoft yet, and possibly I'll find something more tablet-like.

As if to prove the point, played around with the Bluetooth configuration, finally got the correct way through the maze of twisty little menus, and not only paired with my Bluetooth audio adapter, but also managed to set it as the primary output device. Not nearly as easy as with Android. But the result was worthwhile: now I can play http://www.radioswissclassic.ch/live/aacp.m3u without hiccups, and I can play music located on the local network, mounted via SMB, just as I had expected. I still can't work my way through the various programs involved, and in particular when playing software from a directory, I don't know how to control it. But it's more than I've been able to achieve with over a year's experience with Android.


Fisheye nodal points
Topic: photography Link here

Since I have my new Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8 mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, my panoramas haven't been closing as well as I would like. Do I really have the correct entrance pupil data?

There are a number of methods to determine the entrance pupil. This one promises to be particularly accurate; it's clear that it's particularly complicated. But what about the traditional way: put two objects one behind the other, and move the lens around the expected entrance pupil? If the points don't move, it's really the entrance pupil. If the front one moves in the same direction as the direction of motion, the pivot is in front of the entrance pupil; if it moves in the opposite direction, the pivot is behind the entrance pupil.

Simple, right? I had tried it a couple of times, the first with so little success that I didn't even mention it in my diary. The problem is that you need to be able to have both points in focus, which requires a small aperture. And then it's difficult to see anything without taking lots of photos and comparing them. It would be so much easier just looking through the viewfinder.

And that's what I tried last December when I got the OM-D E-M1. But OI.Share, the Android app, showed so appallingly bad detail that I gave up.

Today I tried again, this time in my office:


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I put a sprinkler riser with a connector on top of a tripod and aligned it with the edge of the door in the middle, using OLYMPUS Capture running on Microsoft. It includes magnified views and stopped-down apertures, so I was able to view things directly (on the left in the panorama again):

 
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And once it's aligned, it's a piece of cake to adjust the rail so that the edges line up. Or is it? The connector is only marginally offset in the image above, but the two on the extremes have a different offset, and they're both in the same direction:

 
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The photos are mainly for documentation purposes. They weren't needed for the adjustments. But what caused them? Left it for a while, worrying that the lens might have some alignment issues, but it proved to be due to the fact that the camera wasn't aligned correctly laterally. Fixed that, and I got the images to align well-nigh perfectly, at this offset on the rail:


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There are two slots in the rail below the lower scale, each a little over 1 mm wide. I measure from the left-hand edge of the left-hand slot, so I'd call that 6.55 cm—only 0.5 mm from the value that I have been using all along. So I have my confirmation of the positioning, but not the reason for the poor closure.

In passing, it's interesting to note the dirt on the images. At first I was worried about dirty sensors, but it was only in these images. In fact, it was the dust on the front of the lens. At f/22 the depth of field ranges from 50 mm to ∞.


Saturday, 4 October 2014 Dereel Images for 4 October 2014
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Dereel Spring Fair
Topic: general Link here

Today was the Dereel Spring Fair, something between a market (which has appeared here in various guises) and various demonstrations and activities, apparently the brainchild of Kim Stanley-Eyles:


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It was certainly well visited. I've never seen this many cars there before:


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The CFA was very much in evidence, including some demonstration that I didn't quite understand:


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The first one involved a giant flame-thrower, accompanied by a warning sign “No smoking, no naked lights”:


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Julie Donaghy was there with a display of the Dereel History Group, which I had thought was defunct. But she has secured a grant of $1,500 to write a book about Dereel history, and she had put out a list for people to sign up—by the time I was there, nobody had. I suppose it's time for more effort.

Yvonne found some stuff to buy, including—rather to my surprise—a doll that she wants to use as an ornament somewhere.

Apart from that, it was pretty much the normal market, with little to see:


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In-camera HDR revisited
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

As usual, the contrast at the Spring Fair was very high, and I was concerned about the results. How about an HDR version? In the past I've found the in-camera HDR to be pretty useless, but there's always hope, especially since the new firmware release. So I tried HDR2 (“provides a more impressive image than HDR1”). The difference was amazing:


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To make it clear; the “HDR” version is the second image. What use is it?


Drosera, Drosera everywhere
Topic: gardening Link here

A couple of months ago, Yvonne discovered a strange-looking plant, which we identified as some species of Drosera. I've been keeping my eye on that particular patch ever since, but in the meantime many more have shown up, including on both our properties. There are lots of them. Here the light patches are all Drosera:


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Yeardleys: incompetence or criminal negligence?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Tonight the clocks go forward for daylight saving time, so I suggested to Chris that we eat half an hour earlier than normal. No worries, she just needed to go to her property to feed the horses, wouldn't be more than 10 minutes.

40 minutes later we began to wonder, and Yvonne went over to see what was going on. That took longer than I expected, so I set off as well, to find them returning. To make up for it, I picked up a run-over rabbit for the dogs.

Back home the story gradually came out: David Yeardley's stallion Smoky had gone through the double fence separating the properties, beaten up Chris' stallion Ramirez, her gelding Chewy, and her mare Gitana, who was in season, and also covered her. There were two other mares there too, Trigueña and Sheraz. Trigueña was also in season, and it's possible that he covered her too.

How could that happen? It seems that Tuyết doesn't like electric fences, so she turned them off. And it also seems that nobody has been at home for a couple of weeks. Who's looking after the stallion? Nobody, it seems. There are also dogs and chickens, the former apparently tied up and left alone except for feeding, so somebody is there from time to time. But even most horse owners have difficulty looking after stallions. Why didn't David tell Chris what was going on, so that she could keep an eye on things?

From Chris' point of view, she has experienced considerable damage: loss of use of one, possibly two mares for a season, vet bills for two horses, not to mention relatively minor fence repairs. She doesn't want even more unpleasantness, which I can understand, but how would anybody else react if it happened to them? And if the electric fence really was turned off, that's either extreme negligence or potentially deliberate intent to cause harm. I'm disgusted.


Sunday, 5 October 2014 Dereel Images for 5 October 2014
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Stallion attack: the aftermath
Topic: animals, general, opinion Link here

Chris and Yvonne spent most of the day cleaning up after yesterday's events, and I came along to take some photos. Ramirez had some nasty gashes on the face and throat:


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Gitana had a nasty kick wound on her right hind leg:


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Clearly it's important to turn the electric fence back on. Went over to the Yeardley house and took a look. Obviously nobody's home. Normally there are several cars in front of the house:


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And of course everything was locked up, so I couldn't get at the electric fence. But, as I suspected, that didn't stop them having two dogs tied up on a leash, apparently 24 hours a day:


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Somebody's looking after them, since they both had (a little) water, but what a way to treat a dog! And the chickens followed me around telling me that they were hungry:


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I wonder what's going on over there.

Clearly it's too dangerous to leave the mares there, since David has apparently no intention of paying attention to Smoky, so they brought the mares to our place, leaving only the geldings and Ramirez behind. And setting things up for them kept them both busy for the rest of the day. But at least it can't happen again.


Why no road kill rabbits?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Last night I picked up a dead rabbit off the road to give to the dogs. You don't see them very often, and now I know why. Yvonne didn't want to see it, and we didn't want to give it to the dogs immediately after their dinner, so left it outside. And today it was gone.

Who took it? It was quite a big rabbit, probably more than a cat could handle. But at least it goes towards explaining why you don't see many dead rabbits on the road.


Monday, 6 October 2014 Dereel
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Reinstalling SML
Topic: technology Link here

A few days ago I reinstalled smlnj on lagoon, my (finally!) up-to-date FreeBSD box, for a programming language course I'm doing. And that went much more smoothly than before. But that's not all the software I needed. For Emacs I needed the sml-mode package. That wasn't as smooth:

=== root@eureka (/dev/pts/15) /usr/ports/lang/sml-mode.el 156 -> make install
===>  sml-mode-3.9.5_5 is marked as broken: Not staged..
*** [install] Error code 1
Stop in /home/src/FreeBSD/svn/ports/lang/sml-mode.el.

Who cares if it's not staged or not? That's a cosmetic issue. In the meantime, nobody can use the package. Now the only way to install it is to install it manually, completely bypassing the Ports Collection, or to fix the port. Is that really what we want?

Decided on the first course, and checked the installation instructions for the location of the sources. But what I found was:

To install the current version of SML Mode (currently 6.5), follow these instructions from within Emacs:

The real instructions included lots of error recovery, but I didn't need that. In fact, as I suspected, even the “Exit and restart Emacs” wasn't needed. This list-packages function appears to be new in Emacs release 24, and it really makes things a lot easier.


Dragging feet on house stuff
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Things are dragging with the house. I should be looking at water tanks, air conditioning and solar power. But the water tanks depend on what Chris is doing (we may get a better deal if we buy them together), and I still need to get my head around the solar electricity. Are the batteries worth it if they only last for a few years?

On the air conditioner front, things look better. GJ Bradding in Bacchus Marsh have made me a reasonable offer. But it's always a good idea to get at least 2 quotes, as my experience 7 years ago shows, and Bacchus Marsh is 90 km away. What happens if I need service? So I enquired with Actron (phone number 1300 522 722), who don't have any retailers listed on their web site, and they had to go looking. First they mentioned Celsius, who months ago had given me the distinct impression that they didn't know what they were doing, and then Waldron Heating in Buninyong, with phone number 5341 2692, which just gave redirection to Karl on 0409 508 110. Spoke to him for a while, and he seemed to know his stuff, so hopefully we'll have another quote soon.


Entrance pupil: still not finished
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yesterday I took the weekly and monthly house photos, armed with my new-found information about the entrance pupil of my Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8 mm f/3.5 fisheye lens. And the panoramas still didn't close properly. The fence wires in this detail don't come close:


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What's the problem there? The area in question was in the corners of the images, and an examination of the control points shows that there is significant parallax:


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More head-scratching. Maybe this lens, like many fisheyes, doesn't have a clearly defined entrance pupil.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014 Dereel Images for 7 October 2014
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Completing the move to Victoria
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Seven years ago I moved from South Australia to Victoria, and currently I'm planning the next move. But as Jürgen Lock pointed out, I haven't completely finished the move here:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/1) ~ 3 -> finger grog@freebsd.org
Login: grog                             Name: Greg Lehey
Directory: /home/grog                   Shell: /usr/local/bin/bash
Office: Echunga South Australia         Office Phone: +61-8-8388-8286
Home Phone: +61-8-8388-8250

Why does finger still show the old address and phone number? It's stored in the GECOS field in /etc/passwd, and the canonical way to update it is with chsh. But that requires a password, and we don't have passwords on the FreeBSD cluster. Clearly I needed help, but I had put it on the tuit queue. On the other hand, it's also clear that it's high time to do something about it. So I sent a message off to the admins and quickly got a reply from David Wolfskill, who pointed out that my PGP key should be in the Developers' PGP keys web page.

To do that, I needed to create an entry an update two files in the directory /usr/doc//share/pgpkeys/, as described in the file README in that directory. So I tried that:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/23) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 22 -> sh addkey.sh grog
WARNING: Multiple keys found for <grog@FreeBSD.org>; exporting all.
WARNING: If this is not what you want, specify a key ID on the command line.
ERROR: no valid keys were found

What went wrong there? Looking in addkey.sh, discovered that the script was looking for grog@freebsd.org, not grog (@lemis.com). OK, I can hack that, after confirming with David that that's not a problem, and so I created my key file and updated the others. And then it occurred to me that maybe I should update the doc tree first. And CVS couldn't find any files!

Further investigation showed that my last checkout of the doc tree was some time in 2006, and that it had since migrated to Subversion. So I had to check out the entire doc tree—something that I have been meaning to do, apparently for 8 years—and start again. And then:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/11) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 713 -> svn ci grog.key pgpkeys.ent pgpkeys-developers.xml
Waiting for Emacs...
Adding         grog.key
Sending        pgpkeys.ent
Sending        pgpkeys-developers.xml
Transmitting file data ..svn: E165001: Commit failed (details follow):
svn: E165001: Commit blocked by pre-commit hook (exit code 1) with output:
Path "head/share/pgpkeys/grog.key" is missing the svn:keywords property (or an fbsd:nokeywords override)

What svn:keywords? README said nothing of that. Went searching and found that every .key file in the directory contained:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/11) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 721 -> svn propget svn:keywords mumble.key
FreeBSD=%H

OK, I can do that too:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/11) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 722 -> svn propset svn:keywords FreeBSD=%H grog.key
property 'svn:keywords' set on 'grog.key'
=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/11) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 723 -> svn propget svn:keywords grog.key
FreeBSD=%H
=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/11) /usr/doc/share/pgpkeys 724 -> svn ci
Waiting for Emacs...
Adding         grog.key
Sending        pgpkeys.ent
Transmitting file data ..
Committed revision 45724.

Done! And it only took me a little over an hour. That doesn't mean that my GECOS field was updated, of course, just fulfilled a prerequisite for David to do the work for me. Aren't collaborative projects fun?


Busy day for Yvonne
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne had a busy day today: first off to Pene Kirk's early in the morning to get her to look at one of Leonid's legs: it seems that he had pulled a muscle and needs rest for a while. Then she was off to Melton to pick up Trisha Wren, who gave her and Chris some lessons in the afternoon:


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Then she had to take her on to Bannockburn to catch a lift to her next engagement. She's been pretty busy this time.

Apart from that, Pene Kirk came again in the evening to castrate Serrano, one of Chris' horses. A busy day for all concerned.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014 Dereel Images for 8 October 2014
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Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure at 7:28 this morning.


Chasing the entrance pupil
Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with my fisheye lens today. Why did I get such bad parallax errors on Sunday? Set up again and checked the corners too. And, of course, things were way off:


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Despite everything, the divergence at the left and right centre is to the same direction, and the divergence in the bottom right corner is larger than any. What's causing that?

One reason became apparent when looking at the positions: when mounted in landscape orientation, the rails under the camera are so high that the optical axis of the lens is above the horizontal pivot axis:


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When I turn it up or down, the position of the entrance pupil changes. There's not much I can do with that rail. Time to look for alternatives, of which I seem to have enough, once I work out how to put the hardware together.


Thursday, 9 October 2014 Dereel Images for 9 October 2014
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Android GPS: Give up?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

My “old” GPS navigator (only three years old) has worn-out batteries. How do I repair it? No idea. But then, I don't need a dedicated navigator, right? My Android tablet can do that too.

Well, it could, and better, if I could find a useful app to do it. Tried again with GPS Navgiation & Maps - light, which is apparently a trial version of GPS Navgiation & Maps, which costs $1. Once again an app that seems to be completely useless. Like OsnAnd, it's based on OpenStreetMap, which is completely inadequate in our area. And once again the functionality appears to be minimal.

Yes, there are other apps. Many of them cost real money. Navigon, for example, costs $50. Maybe it's worth it, but based on the abysmal quality of the apps I've tried so far, I don't want to invest any money in it. And for that money I can buy a small GPS navigator. It greatly goes against the grain, but at least I know that I will get software that is at least partially reliable.


Android: Give up?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

On IRC today, Peter Jeremy mentioned Google Drive. What's that? To quote:

<peter> groggy: It's also the green/gold/blue triangle on your Android tablet.

OK, I'll bite. Where? I suppose some Android tablets do display them, but if mine does, it's very discreet about it. Looking around, though, I found a tulip at top left:

 
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That proved to be a microphone symbol. Touched it and got a voice non-recognition service that competes with the best of them. Here a dialogue, if that's the word:

Groggy: Where is the green/gold/blue triangle?
Droid: In Kuala Lumpur

OK, maybe I didn't enunciate clearly enough (and didn't look at the text of what it had understood). Try again:

Groggy: Where is the green/gold/blue triangle?
Droid: In Byron Bay

Finally I noticed that it was displaying its interpretation of my question on something like an input line. Other interpretations were “Where is the green balls lose ryan”, “Where is the green gold blue dry and sore”, “Where is the green called the triangle”. It took me about 10 attempts to be recognized correctly, and then I discovered that it's the Flag of Eritrea. I give up, something that it understood and promptly replied offensively:

 
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Clearly voice recognition is still not worth the trouble.


Choosing air conditioners
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

My second quote for Actron air conditioners came in today, considerably lower than the first. And it ignored my requirements: a bloody constant zone again! It specified a different unit, and I spent a lot of the day comparing:

      ESP Plus       ESP Platinum
Model       SRD151C/SRD151E       CRV3-17AS/ERV3-17AS
type       scroll       inverter
cooling       14.37 kW       14.00 kW
heating       15.00 kW       17.00 kW
power cooling       4.29 kW       4.17 kW
power heating       4.49 kW       4.72 kW
efficiency cooling       3.35       3.36
efficiency heating       3.34       3.60
accuracy       ±0.3°       ±0.3°
min power       10%       20%
Start       immediate       ramp up
indoor fan       EC tech       EC tech
energy savings       60%       75%

Clearly both units are quite similar in specifications. The “Platinum” claims energy savings of 75% compared to some unspecified competitor, who obviously won't be the best of the bunch. The “Plus” only claims 60%. But how do they get to these numbers? If you compare the efficiencies (power out to power in), they're all in the range 3.3 to 3.6, not even particularly good: the ones we have here are rated at round 4. But the brochures suggest that instead of paying $1,250 per year to run a no-name air conditioner, you would only pay $500 for a “Plus” or $312 for a “Platinum”. How do they justify that?

Efficiency isn't everything. Accurate temperature control saves more energy than a 20% increase in efficiency, and that's why I'm looking at Actron in the first place.

Other aspects look more interesting. In particular, the “Plus” can run at down to 10% of its rated capacity, still heating at 1,5 kW. By contrast, the “Platinum” can only go down to 20% or 3.4 kW. I can see the units running at those levels for a large proportion of their duty cycle, so the “Platinum” would be turning on and off more often.

Called up Actron—once again had to be called back. Spoke to Andrew, who confirmed that no constant zone is needed, and that I'd need the “Ultima” temperature controller to set individual temperatures in each zone. Even then I'm limited to a 2° swing from some middle point, which he didn't explain well. Still, that's probably sufficient for our purposes.

About the only other interesting issue was that the “Platinum” has only been on the market for about 18 months, and while they haven't had any significant issues with it (he says), it's too early to compare the reliability with the “Plus”.


Deadly nightshade?
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

There are a couple of exotic shrubs in the forest, including this one:


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We've been told that it's Deadly nightshade, which I interpret as Atropa belladonna. But all illustrations of Atropa belladonna that I have seen look very different. What is it?


Photo processing problems
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

Yvonne came to me with a problem processing her photos. The contact print page showed the image names, but not the images themselves. Looking at her screen, I saw:

=== yvonne@lagoon (/dev/pts/1) ~/Photos/20141004 10 -> make contacts
Converting PA042709.jpg to /home/yvonne/public_html/localtmp/contacts/20141004/PA042709.jpg
/Photos/Tools/mkcontacts: line 179: [: : integer expression expected
Converting PA042710.jpg to /home/yvonne/public_html/localtmp/contacts/20141004/PA042710.jpg
/Photos/Tools/mkcontacts: line 179: [: : integer expression expected

OK, a bug in my mkcontacts script? Took a look, added some debugging echos, and finally discovered that identify (another of these namespace-polluting programs that come with ImageMagick) was dying with an illegal instruction exception and not even mentioning it on the screen. How could that happen? According to pkgng, it was up to date. OK, try removing and reinstalling it. Another surprise:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) /usr/ports/graphics/ImageMagick 278 -> pkg delete ImageMagick
Installed packages to be REMOVED:
        ImageMagick-6.8.9.8,1
        emacs24-24.3_7,3 (depends on ImageMagick-6.8.9.8,1)
...

Remove Emacs? Oh horror! But it seems that Emacs depends on ImageMagick, so I had to do it. Reinstalled ImageMagick No change. Removed. Built from port. Now it works.

Back to reinstall Emacs:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) /usr/ports/graphics/ImageMagick 288 -> pkg install emacs
pkg: No packages available to install matching 'emacs' have been found in the repositories

Huh? Are they still appending version numbers even to the latest version?

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) /usr/ports/graphics/ImageMagick 289 -> pkg install emacs-24
pkg: No packages available to install matching 'emacs-24' have been found in the repositories

Nope. Is there a search function to pkg? Yes:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) /usr/ports/graphics/ImageMagick 290 -> pkg search emacs
apel-emacs24-10.8_9
...
emacs-devel-24.4.50.117676,2
emacs-koi8u-1.0
emacs-lisp-intro-2.04
emacs-nox11-24.3_13,3
emacs-w3m-emacs24-1.4.533.b.20140622
emacs-wiki-emacs24-2.72_5
emacs23-23.4_4,1
emacs24-24.3_7,3
...

People, why do you do this? Yes, there are plenty of variants, and that's what search is for. But it's clear that the one needed is emacs24-24.3_7,3, which, Callum Gibson tells me, can be abbreviated to emacs24. But how do you know that? And why should you need to know?


Friday, 10 October 2014 Dereel Images for 10 October 2014
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Zhivago: no examination
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Off with Zhivago to Pene Kirk's this morning. We're not sure that he doesn't have a recurrence of last year's bladder problems.

Nobody home. We spent a bit of time looking around her garden, coming across a couple of plants I didn't know:


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The first is related to some of the succulents we have, but I don't know what the second is. The leaves look like a Casuarina, but I've never seen flowers like that on a Casuarina.

Back home, heard from Pene: family emergency. Now wouldn't it have been easier to find out if Yvonne had had her mobile phone with her?


Other spring flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

Apart from the plants at Pene's, also saw a couple of others in the forest:


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The second looks like it could be an orchid. To be observed.


Chasing the fisheye issues
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

So far I've established that the physical dimensions of my panorama hardware might be part of my parallax problems: one of the rails was so high that the optical axis of the lens was above the horizontal pivot axis of the head. That meant parallax as soon as the optical axis wasn't absolutely horizontal. Spent some time looking for alternatives on eBay, and finally came to the conclusion that I already had what I needed—almost. Just mount two flat rails at 90°.


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The “almost” is clear: the lateral rail is far too wide. But why do I need it at all? There's another one running parallel at the bottom of the assembly. Took it off, and then I could no longer mount the camera on the remaining rail: the bottom of the lens is lower than the bottom of the camera. Still, it's an improvement. We'll see tomorrow how much of an improvement it is.


Still no slab
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Duncan hat told me that they'd lay the slab by the end of this week. They didn't. Another phone call to make on Monday.


Saturday, 11 October 2014 Dereel Images for 11 October 2014
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ALDI multimedia stuff
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

ALDI had a lot of multimedia stuff on special today, so Yvonne volunteered to drive in to Ballarat and pick some stuff up. There were a couple of things with Bluetooth connectivity, notably some standalone speakers and a mini-“HiFi”-setup:


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Having the speakers disconnected from the main unit would greatly help positioning. But which to buy? The “HiFi” unit or just the speakers? The “Hifi” unit looks like a good replacement for my flaky Sony system on top of the fridge:


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The boxes at left and right are the loudspeakers, and that's as far as I can get them apart.

But when she returned, I was astonished: the “mini” system is enormous, roughly double the dimensions of the old one all round. And the loudspeakers are tiny. Here they are before being unpacked:


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I had too many things to do to pay any more attention today. Mañana, or even pasado mañana.


Parallax: fixed
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

House photo day again today, with the modified positioning of the camera. Success!


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For some reason I had thought that a lateral displacement of the entrance pupil from the correct position would make less of a difference than a displacement along the optical axis. But on reflection there's no reason to believe that. Anyway, things are looking better now.


More spring flowers
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

The Drosera (probably Drosera hookeri) are flowering:


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They're everywhere! These are not far from where the new house will be.

Another plant that I've seen in many places (here in Swamp Road and Stones Road) is this one:


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Another orchid? No, it seems that they're Thysanotus patersonii, a kind of lily. Time to research this one too:


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Where's my mail?
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne told me today that various people have complained (on Facebook, of course), that they haven't received mail from her. On checking, yes, indeed: after upgrading lagoon I had forgotten to configure postfix, and she had mail backed up for days. Why didn't she notice earlier? And are there other misconfigurations lurking somewhere?


Sunday, 12 October 2014 Dereel Images for 12 October 2014
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Another new cat
Topic: animals Link here

Since Chris Bahlo moved in we have five cats, three of them over 15 years old. Crystal, Chris' lilac Siamese, doesn't like other light-coloured cats, and she's really picked on Piccola. But then we saw another light cat who has been here before. And today, while dressing, I saw another one, this time long-haired, directly outside the bedroom window:


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Piccola was keeping an eye on things from a safe distance:


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I wonder where they all come from.


Ashampoo problems
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I've been postprocessing my photos with Ashampoo Photo Optimizer on a regular basis for over 6 years, and it's good enough that I actually bought another package from them, Photo Commander, which does other stuff as well. Only in the course of time did I discover that the other stuff isn't worth it, and that the GUI makes normal optimization more difficult.

But now it seems to be suffering from bit rot. Lately all the “optimized” images have had a distinctly brown tinge to them. Here “before” and “after”.


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How did that happen? To investigate, downloaded a trial version of the current “Optimizer” and tried again. After fighting the GUI, the results were correct. Here all three images, in sequence the original, the pessimized version, and the optimized version. Run the cursor over any image to compare with the one to the right:


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It wasn't always like this. Six months ago I took some photos and optimized them. Today I optimized them again. Same software, same images, different results:


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What's causing that?


Ketupat revisited
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Several months ago I found boil-in-bag ketupat:


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Unfortunately, they no longer seem to be available. So I decided to make my own with sous-vide vacuum bags, pierced with a skewer:


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After that, I cut them through the middle and filled each half with rice, one long grain, the other Arborio:


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The one in the middle is the last of the original bags.

The results were less than stellar. Although I sealed them several times, both of my bags burst:


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And the rice didn't stick together as well as the rice in the original bags, not even the Arborio. I probably overfilled the bags, but it seems that the choice of rice is more critical than I thought.


ALDI Bluetooth loudspeakers
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Put together the tiny ALDI Bluetooth loudspeakers today. The instructions don't say so, and the details are vague, but it is clear that the slave loudspeaker needs an electrical connection to the master loudspeaker, either by being joined, or with some cable connection that isn't immediately obvious.

I tried the former, and sure, it works, but it's not what I'm looking for. There must be some way to connect to two separate Bluetooth loudspeakers.


Monday, 13 October 2014 Dereel → Ballrat → Dereel Images for 13 October 2014
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Addressing the reception problems
Topic: multimedia Link here

My TV connection has deteriorated to the point that it's completely useless. The last time I had a recording without recoding errors was 3 days ago, and most of the “recordings” were so mutilated that they weren't worth watching. Some were only 0.1% of the correct length.

What's causing that? I've had ups and downs over the last 7 years, and I don't want to spend a lot of effort when we're moving and the problem will (hopefully) sort itself out. But last week ALDI had some TV stuff on special: a “digital” room antenna and a digital video recorder. The chance of the antenna working here was as good as impossible, but it was worth a try—after all, ALDI takes stuff back with no questions asked. And maybe the recorder will work better than cvr2.

Tried out the antenna, connected to the TV. Ran the programme scan, and to my immense surprise it found 10 programmes, only ABC and SBS. But when I tried to tune to them, they were all “no signal”. OK, that was expected.

And the recorder? For that I needed a long antenna cable. Dug around in my old stuff and found a length of cable almost long enough. But no connectors. I had a number of things to do in town, so off to the Jaycar stockist and picked up a couple of connectors.


Bluetooth speakers: not ready for HiFi?
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

The Bluetooth loudspeakers that I got from ALDI last week are tiny, not quite 1 metre long:


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Yes, they work, and there's even some indication of stereo from them, but it's not exactly what you'd call HiFi. Should I keep them? What else is out there? I couldn't find much beyond toys on eBay. So while I was in town, dropped in at JB HiFi and took a look at what they had. It seems that the speakers I have are bigger than most Bluetooth speakers. Clearly they've divided the market between people who want real HiFi and the smart phone and tablet crowd with their Bluetooth. That doesn't answer my question, but it does help understand the market.


Investigating GPS navigators
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

I've given up hope of finding a usable Android GPS navigation app, so I'll probably buy a new GPS navigator. But why stick with the el cheapo navigators? I can afford a Big Name one.

Spent some time looking around the web, and found that Garmin has some that don't look bad. But how easy are they to use? Watched a number of eBay clips, none of which really answered my questions. The biggest is: how accurate are the maps?

While I was at JB HiFi, looked for their GPS navigators. Mounted vertically on a column. Yes, there's power to them, and you can try them out if you don't mind kneeling in the aisle to do so. The shop girl, who looked like she was about 16, gave me the advice that they're all pretty much the same, and that I should go for lifetime maps. Asked more details, she admitted that she didn't even have a driver(s) license, let alone know how to use them.

On to Dick Smith, leaving her with that information, and finally saw a Garmin nüvi 2797LMT, the model I was considering, and tried to work out how to use it without a manual. It certainly doesn't have lots of deep, confusing menus. In fact, it doesn't seem to have many of the features of my old el cheapo device. My main concern was to see what the maps and directions between Dereel and Ballarat, which so far all other devices have failed to show correctly. But this device knew that it was in East Ryde, and only a GPS signal would convince it otherwise. The assistant—a little older and more capable than the one at JB HiFi—told me they were all like that. How do you plan a journey if you're not at the starting point?

After I had left, it occurred to me that they had a different menu system for that. But it doesn't seem to be possible to show the route step by step, the way you can with the el cheapo devices. Somehow I get the feeling that all these navigation software packages were written 10 years ago, and that nobody has bothered to improve them since.


New wildflowers
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Finally I've found my copy of “Wildflowers of the Brisbane Ranges”, which contains photos of many of the flowers we've seen round here. I need to analyse the details, but it's clear that we have at least two species of Drosera and possibly several species of Pterostylis. And some of the flowers that I have been thinking of as potential orchids lack some of the main features of orchids.

Today on the way to town I found three more flowers:


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They're all on the nature strip in front of our Stones Road property. I've fairly confident that the first is a species of Thysanotus, and the second-present in large numbers-is undoubtedly Burchardia umbellata, apparently named by a semi-literate botanist after a Johann Heinrich Burkhardt, for whom I have found no definitive link.

And the third? Still no idea. But it's interesting to see how many native flowers are popping up.


Ashampoo bug discovered
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Yesterday's problems with Ashampoo Photo Commander were clearly worth entering a bug report, so did so today. One of the things they wanted was the build version, sensibly enough. And that was interesting: version 11.1.8 of 10 September 2014. Clearly something they need to fix quickly.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014 Dereel Images for 14 October 2014
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NBN is here!
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

A flyer in the dead tree mail today with good news: the National Broadband Network is finally available in Dereel! That's more than 10 months since my service was activated. At first I thought it was Telstra, who so far have been the slowest to report, but no, this is a company called Infinity NBN.


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What do they have to offer to make up for their tardiness? Nothing obvious. They're more expensive than Aussie Broadband, and it seems you have to commit for at least 12 months. Still, I like their concept of how we live and work in the bush.


Multiple network pain
Topic: technology Link here

Lately I've been having dropouts with communication between here and my external web server in Raleigh, NC. Occasionally there'll be a few minutes disconnection, but more often it's just high packet loss. traceroute points at Telstra's net infrastructure on the US West Coast:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/22) ~ 66 -> traceroute www
traceroute to www.lemis.com (208.86.226.86), 64 hops max, 52 byte packets
 1  radiation-tower.aussiebb.net (180.150.4.1)  33.162 ms  29.931 ms  30.013 ms
 2  gi6-4-19.core1.portmel.aussiebb.net (202.142.143.65)  30.991 ms  39.812 ms  29.972 ms
 3  gi0-0-2.bdr1.portmel.aussiebb.net (180.150.0.145)  29.015 ms  29.766 ms  30.009 ms
 4  TenGigabitEthernet8-4.lon55.melbourne.telstra.net (165.228.138.149)  31.008 ms  28.842 ms  39.937 ms
 5  bundle-ether3-100.exi-core1.melbourne.telstra.net (203.50.80.1)  41.012 ms  43.785 ms  39.967 ms
 6  bundle-ether12.chw-core10.sydney.telstra.net (203.50.11.124)  40.974 ms  39.787 ms  41.014 ms
 7  Bundle-ether17.oxf-gw2.sydney.telstra.net (203.50.13.70)  38.980 ms  39.800 ms  40.060 ms
 8  bundle-ether1.sydo-core01.sydney.reach.com (203.50.13.38)  43.898 ms  36.946 ms  52.957 ms
 9  i-0-6-0-6.sydo-core02.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.84.223.38)  46.029 ms
    i-0-4-0-3.paix-core01.bx.telstraglobal.net (202.84.140.70)  198.774 ms
    i-0-6-0-6.sydo-core02.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.84.223.38)  44.805 ms
10  i-0-5-0-0.eqnx-core01.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.84.140.30)  208.923 ms
    i-0-3-0-7.eqnx-core01.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.40.149.62)  189.670 ms
    i-0-2-0-0.eqnx-core01.bx.telstraglobal.net (202.84.143.5)  204.861 ms
11  i-0-5-0-3.eqnx03.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.40.149.93)  202.867 ms
    i-0-4-0-0.eqnx03.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.84.251.66)  199.661 ms
    i-0-4-0-5.eqnx03.bi.telstraglobal.net (202.40.149.74)  209.857 ms
12  l3-peer.eqnx03.pr.telstraglobal.net (134.159.61.106)  200.728 ms  194.923 ms  209.969 ms
13  * * *
14  * * *

You'd think they'd do something about it. But while pondering that, we disappeared from the net almost completely:

1413244356 25.3942 5    # Tue 14 Oct 2014 10:52:36 EST 39.379 ms
1413244471 34.4329 0 hub www www.freebsd.de ozlabs.org ftp.netbsd.org   # Tue 14 Oct 2014 10:54:31 EST 29.042 ms
1413244527 24.5785 0 hub www www.freebsd.de ozlabs.org ftp.netbsd.org   # Tue 14 Oct 2014 10:55:27 EST 40.686 ms

The only address I could reach was at the other end of my National Broadband Network link (that's the ping time at the end of the lines). No routing.

Called up Aussie Broadband support and was told to leave a message. That was a good idea anyway, since I had to go to the vet. But before I left, power cycled the NTD, because they'd ask for that anyway.

Back from the vet, and we were back online. After power cycling the NTD, I didn't have any connection at all until everything came back at once:

1413248207 0 0 hub www www.freebsd.de ozlabs.org ftp.netbsd.org         # Tue 14 Oct 2014 11:56:47 EST
1413248253 0 4 www      # Tue 14 Oct 2014 11:57:33 EST
1413248255 25.2774 5    # Tue 14 Oct 2014 11:57:35 EST 39.561 ms

About 30 minutes later, John from Aussie called and told me that they hadn't been aware of any problem, but that it could have been an NBN problem, since NBN doesn't seem to be overly communicative about this kind of fault. He also suggested that the routing problems to www could be an IP address sensitivity, so he suggested changing the public IP address—from 180.150.4.134 to 180.150.4.128. What kind of sensitivity depends on the last 3 bits of the IP address? In any case, decided to try it.

Pain! I had expected some issues, since I have firewall rules and DNS entries related to the old IP address. It took me half an hour to get things back to normal. Here the issues:

And did it make any difference? Who knows? The dropouts didn't stop, but they were greatly diminished. Elephant powder?

Call from Will of Aussie at 15:30 to ask how things were going. You can't say that they don't care.

One only marginally related issue: as a result of the IP change, Emacs decided to stop. And when I restarted it, the markup was broken. Here before and after:

 
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How did that happen? Character set conflicts. This diary is written in UTF-8, but my .emacsrc file contains many different character encodings, and every time I save it, I get warnings and prompts. So I set the version to raw-text:

--- .emacs      2014/07/13 00:42:37     1.186
+++ .emacs      2014/10/05 03:07:54
@@ -1,5 +1,5 @@
-;; -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
-;; $Id: .emacs,v 1.186 2014/07/13 00:42:37 grog Exp $
+;; -*- coding: raw-text -*-
+;; $Id: .emacs,v 1.187 2014/10/05 03:07:54 grog Exp $

That got rid of the warnings, but it seems that the encodings are evaluated in the text environment in which they are read, and they display as raw-text instead of utf-8. So back to putting up with the warnings.


Examining Zhivago again
Topic: animals Link here

Off again to Pene Kirk's to have Zhivago's bladder examined with ultrasound. Relief: there are no stones. Are there any other problems? Who knows?


Google image search: improvement needed
Topic: technology, gardening, opinion Link here

What are my mystery flowers? I still have some that I can't identify. But Google images have an image search function. How well does it work? Let's look for this relatively recognizable image:


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It comes up with no less than 5 direct hits, all of them in this diary or my daily photos page. That's reasonable. But apart from that, none of the images it found looks in the least bit like the original. At least for flowers, it's useless.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014 Dereel Images for 15 October 2014
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Piccola braves Crystal
Topic: animals Link here

Loud growling from the front of the house this morning. Piccola had spied Crystal, and behind the safety of the door she showed her displeasure:


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Garden flowers in mid-spring
Topic: gardening Link here

It's the middle of October, and also the middle of spring, time for more photos of the flowers in the garden. I haven't been paying much attention to the garden for some time now, but it's still coming on nicely. Compared to last year a number of plants are not coming on as fast—is that because of the weather or because of the lack of fertilizer?

Probably the biggest surprise is this poppy:


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Years ago I planted lots of poppy seeds, and none of them grew. But it seems that some have survived. I've seen one such flower last November, but then there was only a single flower. This time it looks like dozens are on their way to replace this one.


The revenge of Ashampoo?
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

A couple of months ago Ashampoo offered me a cheap upgrade to version 12 of Ashampoo Photo Commander, a program I actually use. I tried it, but from my perspective the upgrade offered nothing except a little eye candy, so I didn't accept it. And then without any warning they reinstalled the latest upgrade of version 11. And that's the one that has the bad optimization that I mentioned a few days ago. This is clearly a quite debilitating bug, one that would make an upgrade worthwhile. And they still haven't replied to my bug report. Coincidence?


Chasing the reception problems
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

My poor TV reception continues unabated. Today put the plugs on the antenna cable and connected the TV directly to the antenna. It did much better than the toy indoor antenna, of course, but it didn't find ABC—one of the two frequencies that the digital antenna did find. Reception was bearable, but not good.

Then connected up the ALDI digital video recorder. It found all the channels, but had great difficulty with the reception. Clearly whatever the problem is, it's not with cvr2.

Everything points to the antenna, but that was there before they changed the frequencies. Took another look at the frequencies before and after:

mysql> select mplexid, transportid, frequency from dtv_multiplex order by frequency;
+---------+-------------+-----------+
| mplexid | transportid | frequency |
+---------+-------------+-----------+
|       1 |       12922 | 592625000 |
|       2 |        2050 | 613625000 |
|       3 |         563 | 620625000 |
|       4 |         880 | 634625000 |
|       5 |        2461 | 655500000 |
+---------+-------------+-----------+

+---------+-------------+-----------+
| mplexid | transportid | frequency |
+---------+-------------+-----------+
|       4 |         880 | 571625000 |
|       3 |         563 | 578500000 |
|       5 |        2461 | 585500000 |
|       1 |       12922 | 592500000 |
|       2 |        2050 | 599500000 |
+---------+-------------+-----------+

The channels are linked here via mplexid. 3 is ABC, 4 is SBS. Both are considerably lower in frequency than anything we used to have. It's beginning to look like the antenna isn't designed for these frequencies. Under normal conditions it probably wouldn't make so much difference, but given the already marginal reception conditions, this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. I suppose I'll just have to put up with it until we move.


Auctions in the time of eBay
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Auctions have been around for a long time, especially in English-speaking countries. In previous centuries they were reserved for relatively valuable things such as works of art and land.

eBay changed all that. Experienced participants have always found ways to work around the system, but those ways have changed with electronic auctions. In particular, eBay auctions have a fixed end time, similar to the French vente à la bougie, where the auctioneer lights two candles at the beginning of the auction, and bids are accepted until candles burn down.

With an eBay auction it doesn't make much sense to bid long before the end of the auction: it just encourages others to think about it and bid higher. So I've found an electronic method of bidding just before the end. And sure enough, it works. This is the bid history for a lens I bought yesterday:


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The auction ended today at 19:30:16, and I put in my first bid at 19:30:07, 9 seconds before the end. And an automatic bid from the original bidder automatically bumped me another $10. But then another late bidder came in, exactly 1 second before the end of the auction. The whole thing increased the price of the item by over 20% in a few seconds, and the fact that I won anyway wasn't only due to tactics: I was just prepared to pay more for the lens than the last bidder. It's still a very good price; there's another there asking for a starting price of $224.

I wonder how long it will take for most people to switch to automatic bidding tools. It'll change the face of auctions forever.


Wildflowers revisited
Topic: gardening Link here

The photos I took of the wildflowers in front of our Stones Road property on Monday were less than perfect in quality. It was windy and rainy, with a bit of sleet, and I had the wrong lens. Today I took some cuttings and took better photos of them back home:


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Peter Jeremy had suggested that the first one, of which I had got only a very poor photo, was a Dianella revoluta, and it seems he's right. From above there's almost nothing to be seen, especially with the images I got at the time:


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The problem is that the flowers point downwards, so both images were taken—out of focus at that—from the rear, and it's difficult to see the structure.

But I still need to identify the last two. The yellow flower is only a couple of millimetres across. I wonder what further surprises the nature strip has in store.


Thursday, 16 October 2014 Dereel Images for 16 October 2014
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Turnbull: give up TV for mobile bandwidth
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

So it's fairly clear that my TV reception problems are due to the change of frequencies. The two channels hardest hit are also the two with the lowest frequencies, coincidentally my favourite channels, ABC and SBS. We installed this antenna seven years ago, and it was specifically tuned to the frequencies of the transmitters. Now that they've changed, a marginal reception situation has become completely useless.

Whose fault is this? Went looking and found the government site, along with the phone number 1800 20 10 13. Called up there and spoke to Kieran, who told me that they were a pretty basic information line. That seems correct: he didn't understand the problem with the antenna, since the frequencies are still in Band 5.

So how about help for people whose equipment has become obsolete as a result of these changes? No, sorry, we did that for the change from analogue to digital, but not now.

And why was this change necessary? The web site just says “Some TV channels are changing their frequency as the final step in the move to digital-only TV.” Why does that require new frequencies? The old ones worked fine. But it seems the real difference is so that they can free up bandwidth for mobile telephony.

Asked to be put through to his supervisor, who proved to be called Byron. He told me the same thing, of course, but he was able to tell me who was responsible: the Minister for Communications, our dearly beloved Malcolm Turnbull. Should I send him a letter? Would he care?

In passing, Kieran was wrong. ABC is now on channel 34, and SBS is on channel 35, both in Band 4.


Still waiting for the slab
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Finally got to talk to Duncan today about the slab. It seems that he was on leave all last week too, and the person who was to do the earthworks didn't have the equipment. He'll have it on Saturday with any luck. If he had told me that, we could have got Warrick to do it for us. Hopefully things will finally get moving.


Using Ashampoo optimizer
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Since Ashampoo have broken the optimization function of their Photo Commander version 11, and they haven't responded to my error report, it looks like I'll have to move to Photo Optimizer, which has the same functionality, currently not broken. But it works completely differently. The most amazing thing is the display while it's processing photos:


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The only thing in focus is a completely useless image suggesting printed photos scattered at random on a cork pinboard. What earthly use is that? It would be nicer to know about progress, but that's so unimportant that they have almost completely hidden it. And it only shows a progress bar, not any other information:

 
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Add to that the fact that it overwrites the old files, and it really messes up my workaround scripts. Yes, they make “backups”, but they're really copies, and they're hidden somewhere where I probably won't find them until they fill up the disk.

Apart from that, there's once again this glacial and obligatory display of thumbnails of all images before you can do anything with them. In this case, it takes about a second for each thumbnail. I took 164 photos yesterday. That's nearly 3 minutes wait before I can do anything at all. What is it about people who write photo software in the Microsoft space?


Friday, 17 October 2014 Dereel Images for 17 October 2014
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New house: ten months and counting
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

It's been ten months since we committed to the new house. At the time we thought we would be in the house by September this year. As it is, there has been no work on site since over a month. Duncan tells me that the earthworks man needs to borrow a bobcat with tracks, and that he'll tidy up the site tomorrow. That doesn't sound overly professional, but if it gets things done...


Still more mystery flowers
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

There are even more unknown flowers growing in the nature strips in front of our house, on each side of Stones Road. This one is a bush with prickly leaves:


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Peter Jeremy tells me that this is a Leptospermum, and that seems correct. I still don't know what species.

And I'm not at all sure that this is even a native plant. The flower is about 1 cm across:


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New lens: already
Topic: photography Link here

The lens I bought on Wednesday, a M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F2.8 Pancake, came postage paid, but the seller didn't skimp: he sent it express, and though it came from Queensland, it was here this morning. In in the afternoon to pick it up, and put it on Yvonne's camera—it's really for her. It's really tiny, only 23 mm deep, and only 3 mm deeper than the MMF-3 lens adapter:


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To my surprise, she noticed, and of course wasn't happy. Her 15 mm body cap lens has an integrated lens cover, while this one has a normal lens cap that can get lost. Since this lens is intended to replace the 15 mm lens, that's a valid concern, but I'm sure we can find a solution.


Computers anonymous
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

The lens wasn't the only thing I picked up at Napoleons. There was also a saddle blanket and a small box, also from Queensland. What was it? I wasn't expecting anything like that, and the description on the box just said A GIFT!:


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Opening it was even more confusing: a Raspberry Pi B+, the latest version, in a plastic enclosure. There was also an SD card with NOOBS on it.


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And that was all. The only documentation pointed me at http://www.element14.com/community/community/raspberry-pi, a community site.

Who sent that? I still have no idea, but I'm pleasantly surprised by his (her?) generosity. But after an hour I guessed that it was somebody who wanted some decent documentation for the thing.

The first problem was opening the box. It looked like there was a clip at one end, but my attempts to open it were not successful, and before damaging it I searched on Google. The usual 5 million hits, many pointing to YouTube videos, which seemed to make sense. But it seems that there are lots of different cases, and it took me quite some time to find the right one:

And how about that, it was really the way I thought. It's just surprisingly stiff.

OK, now how do I connect to it? There was zero documentation, and a quick look round the web didn't help much. I recognized the HDMI, Ethernet and 4 USB connectors, and also a power connector. But there were a number of other connectors I didn't recognize, and I couldn't find a connector for the SD card.

More searching and discussion on IRC. Daniel O'Connor came in with some useful suggestions. It seems that one of the issues is that the Raspberry Pi is evolving, and you can't rely on any of the documentation to relate to your specific board. It seems that the latest models use micro SD cards, and there's a connector on the underside, here in the middle right:


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Did some searching and found a 32 GB micro SD card, and was just about to start copying when Daniel suggested that my card might really be a micro SD card in a holder. And so it was.

After all that, finally found the description I was looking for, from this article:

Raspberry Pi B+ connections

The interesting thing there is that the “power connector” is really an audio jack, and the power comes from the (hard to recognize) micro USB connector at bottom left.

So now all I need is an HDMI cable and lots of time to play around with the thing. Is this maybe a good alternative to an Android tablet for playing music from the net?


Duck breeding
Topic: animals Link here

Off to Stones Road to walk the dogs this evening, and once again they went into the dam:


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Near the dam, Nikolai scared an Australian Wood Duck, which flew off at so low an altitude that I thought he was going to catch it. Wounded? No, just diverting his attention from the ducklings on the side of the dam. When I investigated, they jumped into the dam, but I'm not sure that would protect them from the dogs. Looks like we'll have to avoid the area until they're a bit bigger.


Still more unidentified flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

Yvonne found another flower on Kleins Paddock this morning:


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I picked a couple to take home with me, but they didn't survive even that long. They appear to be some kind of orchid, and they're about 1 cm across.

The “Deadly Nightshade” that we see in various places clearly is something else. Margaret Swan suggests it's Solanum aviculare, also known as Kangaroo Apple. Clearly it looks like a Solanum, but the leaves are very distinctive:


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In Stones Road, found even more flowers:


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HiFi, a third of a century later
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

In late 1979 I was working in the headquarters of Karstadt AG, at the time the largest department store outside the USA. We had just moved into our first new house, and I had a free loan from the company, which I spent on my first real HiFi system. Karstadt had its own line of branded equipment, including loudspeakers, and by chance the person who selected them was a few doors down from my office, so I dropped in and asked his advice.

He was more than happy to help, and demonstrated a number of speakers in my price range, much better than any salesperson could. The one thing that sticks in my mind was the bass performance of the various loudspeakers. He showed me several with a really full, resounding bass. And then Karstadt branded loudspeakers with much less bass. I asked him why. The Karstadt loudspeakers reproduced the sound the way it was, while the full-bass loudspeakers added their own resonance, the same for everything they reproduced.

So I bought the Karstadt speakers, particularly since they were also cheaper. And I still have them. But they're 35 years old now. How have things changed in that time? I still have this ALDI “Mini HiFi” system to try out. I don't really need the functionality, but the speakers didn't look bad. So I tried them out and compared them with the Karstadt loudspeakers, using the same music as 35 years ago: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

And how about that, the same thing happened again. Well, almost. One of the ALDI loudspeakers was defective and made a scratching sound. But the other had this nice, full bass, and after hearing them, the Karstadt loudspeakers sounded a little empty. It seems that nothing much has changed.


Saturday, 18 October 2014 Dereel Images for 18 October 2014
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Where's my house?
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Over to the Stones Road property twice today, first to take the house photos, and later in the afternoon to meet with Gary Murray to talk about the bore. They could do it right away, but it makes more sense to do it when the slabs are in place.

And the slab? The earthworks bloke was supposed to be here today to prepare for it. He was a no-show. This is getting beyond a joke: it's been over 5 weeks. I'll need some explanation on Monday.


More ducks
Topic: animals Link here

The second time on site this afternoon, I took Nikolai with me, this time on the lead. A good thing too. There's more than one family of ducks on the property:


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This is in the “small” pond only about 15 m from the house. I suppose it'll be the last time the ducks will choose it to breed in.


Rump steak sous vide
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

After the success of the filet de bœuf sous vide last month, it seemed reasonable to try other steaks, so today we did what the Australians call rump steak. Not my favourite steak, but who knows what wonders sous-vide cooking can work?

I now know. None. It wasn't any worse than normally grilled steak, but no better either. Sous-vide can be useful for a number of things, but it's no silver bullet.


Sunday, 19 October 2014 Dereel Images for 19 October 2014
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Watching videos the easy way
Topic: technology, multimedia, opinion Link here

The last issue of Heise's Digitale Fotografie included a DVD with some videos on that I thought would be worth watching. OK, found the DVD, tried to put it in the DVD drive in eureka. Wouldn't open. Why not? Nothing mounted, but before I had to power cycle the machine, decided to put it in lagoon instead.

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/3) ~ 400 -> mount /cdrom
mount_cd9660: /dev/cd0: Invalid argument

What's wrong there? Tried in dischord, my Microsoft box, and it mounted with no difficulties. And it showed that it was a UDF file system. That might at least explain the problems with lagoon. Fought my way down the directory tree, clicked on my video, and got the message:


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It seems that Ashampoo Photo Commander assumes that I want to use it to watch multimedia files, and so it associated itself with all of them, even those it doesn't support. What a crock!

OK, this is a WebM file, so I can watch it with a web browser. Yes, that works. But I don't have any audio connection from dischord, so I couldn't hear anything. Finally copied the file to eureka and watched it there (with mplayer). Isn't multimedia easy?


Too much food
Topic: food and drink Link here

Started cooking a cassoulet today, only to decide that there was too much meat, and we spent a couple of iterations trying to decide what to do. In the end we came up with three dishes: the rest of the sous-vide rump steak today as stir-fried noodles, the cassoulet tomorrow, and a blanquette d'agneau after that. And even the lamb was left over from the recent attempts at sous-vide sate.


Lens sharpness
Topic: photography Link here

After my experience with my first Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-150mm f4.0-5.6, decided to take some test images with the new M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F2.8 Pancake.

The good news: the lens is fine, even at full aperture. The interesting thing is how much the image quality deteriorates at f/22, presumably due to diffraction. Here details of the centre at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8 and f/22. Run the cursor over any image to compare with the one to the right:

 
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I know about diffraction, and that's why I normally don't use apertures below f/8, but I hadn't expected the effect to be so extreme.

And just for fun, here's the body cap lens:

 
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Monday, 20 October 2014 Dereel
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Goodbye TC?
Topic: animals Link here

Chris Bahlo brought three cats with her when she moved in: Shadow, Crystal and TC (apparently David Yeardley's contraction of “Top Cat”). Crystal and Shadow have been very much in evidence:


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I haven't seen TC for weeks: he's old and weak and doesn't leave the chook house. But today when I opened it, he went straight out and disappeared behind a tree.

And that's the last we saw of him. He didn't come back in the evening, and we couldn't find him. Did he go out to find a place to die? It wouldn't be beyond the bounds of possibility.


More old photos
Topic: history, photography Link here

Lately I've had difficulty finding some photos that I'm sure I had online, so went off comparing source and web directories. Sure enough, I found a number of directories that weren't on the web, though there are good reasons for that. In particular a directory dated 1 January 1965 contains 174 photos taken mainly in Kuala Lumpur some time round Christmas 1965. There's the new Subang airport, opened only a few months earlier:


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Then there's the railway station:


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And, of course, the old secretariat building, of which I have many better photos. But this one seems to show one of the successful long telephoto shots I took:


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My guess is that the last image was taken with my 300 mm Soligor lens and a teleconverter, making 600 or 900 mm.

And then there were a couple of me at the time:


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The first must have been taken with my father's Canon and a 28 mm wide angle lens; the Asahi Pentax SV is visible on the table on the left.

Many of them useless, but I don't have time to tidy them up them up, so I'll put them up as they are.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014 Dereel Images for 21 October 2014
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Site scraped!
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Finally got in touch with Duncan Jackson—he's not easy to contact lately—and he told me that the building site had finally been scraped, only 40 days since they started. Over to take a look:


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It also shows how much slope there is in the “flat” land. At the south-west corner the cut is level with the soil, but at the eastern end there are about 30 cm:


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Hopefully they'll now get the slab in quickly.


Satisfied with DxO?
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

For most of last month I had a problem with DxO Optics “Pro”: it wouldn't support advertised lens combinations. In hindsight the problem appears to be in the way they update their lens database. I sent them my copy, which they ignored, and it wasn't until nearly 4 weeks later that they found a way to get the list to me. Problem worked around.

And then I get a message asking if I am happy with the support I got. Well, not completely. It works now, but what happens with the next update? So I went to their web link and was given the choice: “Yes” or “no”. That's a little extreme, so I replied to the message to say so.

That created a new ticket. And today I got a reply (edited for brevity):

Request #47679: How would you rate the support you received?

We'd love to hear what you think of our customer service. Please take a moment to answer one simple question below:

How would you rate the support you received? [URL]

Here's a reminder of what your ticket was about:

----------------------------------------------

This is a follow-up to your previous request #45834 "Can't find modules for Olym..."

On Thursday, 2 October 2014 at 8:02:57 +0000, Support & Assistance wrote:
>
> Request #45834: How would you rate the support you received?
>
> We'd love to hear what you think of our customer service. Please
> take a moment to answer one simple question below:

Yes/No? Sorry, that's too simple. I have (finally) resolved the
immediate problem, so I'm happy. But it took far too long, and I'm
not convinced that the explanation was correct.

If you really want to know how your customers feel, you should ask
more differentiated questions.

Do people read these things?


Controversial cups
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

For some years I've ranted about the ridiculous measurement units that many cooks use. In particular the term cup is useless, both because it is interpreted so differently in different parts of the world, and because the interpretations have little to do with the size of real cups in those places.

The Wikipedia page came later, and there are claims that the term is no longer used in the UK. That's not quite correct, though it's clearly not mainstream the way it is in the USA. It crops up in numerous cookbooks, such as the English translation of «La cuisine» by Jacqueline Gérard that Yana brought back with her from Canada, and about which I commented last month. So round about the time I looked at that book, I also updated the Wikipedia page.

Today I chanced to look in again. Edit wars! No less than three anonymous removals of the section, interspersed with two reinstatements. The last one had a comment (the only one):

Reference to the UK cup edited - it is not in general use (I have never seen it in a modern British cookbook and is a matter of puzzlement to many British readers of US cookbooks.)

That says more about anonymous than about the matter at hand. But why are people so insistent? Is this one person or three? The IP addresses are markedly different, and none of them resolves, so it's hard to say.


TC returns
Topic: animals Link here

TC was back this evening after being gone for 1½ days. That's not unusual for a cat, but he is so old and feeble that we were concerned. Maybe spring is making itself felt.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014 Dereel
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Oh the springtime, it brings on the runners
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

While walking the dogs this morning, Zhivago did a runner, if that's the word—he just wandered off into the scrub with Leonid in tow. Leonid came back shortly later, but Zhivago didn't. Despite a search, couldn't find him, and it wasn't until about an hour later that he returned.

That's not like he's been lately. But he did something similar a couple of days ago. And then there's TC, who has also been walkabout. Is it the season?


Greenhouse woes
Topic: gardening Link here

I've been neglecting the garden considerably of late, and the plants in the greenhouse are looking quite unhappy. In the last few days the weather had been warmer, and our potted lime has had burnt leaves, most of which it's now shedding. And the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is also not looking very happy.

One of the reasons is clearly that it's too hot in the greenhouse, but the lack of wind also makes it an ideal place for parasites. Put the Hibiscus, lemon and lime outside for the while:


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We'll have to find a permanent sheltered place for them in the new house.


Thursday, 23 October 2014 Dereel Images for 23 October 2014
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Zoom lenses and extension tubes
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I've located some “automatic” extension tubes for my Olympus OM-D E-M1. I've had extension tubes for my Pentax for decades, but they're useless for Olympus lenses, because the lenses don't have a manual diaphragm: it has to be set electrically. And that's what these new tubes promise.

One problem is that there are only two tubes, 10 mm and 16 mm. My old Pentax tubes were a set of 3, 11 mm, 20 mm and 30 mm, double as much as the new tubes, and with them you can get a 1:1 magnification with a 50 mm lens set on ∞. How much magnification can I get with my Zuiko Digital ED 50 mm F2.0 Macro? That depends on how close it can focus without tubes.

And then I got thinking. What's it like with zoom lenses? Clearly extending a 9 mm zoom lens by 26 mm will create a magnification of roughly 3:1. And at closest focus (0.25 m) it's even more. But how do you calculate these things? The lens formula states:

1/f = 1/u + 1/v

where f is the focal length, u is the distance from the centre of the lens to the subject, and v is the distance from the centre of the lens to the sensor. So both focusing and extension tubes increase v. But the formula assumes “thin lenses”, and zooms are magic. According to the formula, changing the focal length when focusing close changes u, the distance to the subject (the point on which the lens is “focused”). But it doesn't, because that would be inconvenient.

Things got complicated enough that I wrote a program to calculate the focus distances and magnifications with the lens set at ∞ and its closest setting. The magnification is relatively simple: it's u/v.

And even that went through several iterations while I considered the ramifications of zoom lens design. What do people mean by “closest focus distance”? It's reasonable to assume that they're measuring from the subject to the sensor, so the value is effectively u + v. But even that doesn't seem to work. The 50 mm macros is specified as focusing to 0.24 m and having a maximum magnification of 0.52. But those values don't match.

Part of the problem is that the specs are vague. The inaccurate depth of field table on the product description page shows different values: a depth of field of 0.236-0.237 m when the camera to subject distance is 0.24 m. At 0.236 m, v is 0.071913 and u is 0.164087, so the magnification is still only 0.4383.

Another part of the problem could be that the lens, though fixed focal length (“prime”), is not thin. The theoretical distance for a magnification of 0.52 is 0.222 m, only 14 mm shorter. That's a lot less than the real thickness of the lens from front to back.

Spent much of the day pondering what information is useful and what isn't. In the end came to the conclusion that there's not enough accurate information about the closest focus distance that you can rely on it, so it's just a vague indication of the real u and v. My current version takes these parameters:

Usage:
extension-tubes tube-length near-focus shortest-focal-length [longest-focal-length] [step]

And it produces output like this for the 9-18 mm lens:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/28) ~ 9 -> extension-tubes 26 0.25 9 18 3
Tube extension:          26 mm
Near focus:               0.25 m
Shortest focal length:    9 mm
Longest focal length:    18 mm

Focal length    Near limit      Extension       Magnification   Far limit       Extension       Magnification
      9         0.0474          0.0353          2.9277          0.0121          0.0260          2.8889
     12         0.0560          0.0386          2.2199          0.0175          0.0260          2.1667
     15         0.0654          0.0420          1.8018          0.0237          0.0260          1.7333
     18         0.0753          0.0455          1.5292          0.0305          0.0260          1.4444

“Near limit” and “far limit” are the minimum and maximum camera-to-subject distances with this extension. In this case, they're ridiculously inaccurate: the difference between “near limit” and “extension” at 9 mm is only 12 mm, far less than the length of the lens. Maybe I should just give up these columns as being meaningless.

Other information is more useful. I get the biggest magnification (3.3×) from my Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8 mm f/3.5 fisheye lens. The main question is whether it will then be focused inside or outside the front element. A more practical possibility is the M.Zuiko 12-40 mm f/2.8 “Pro”, which would have a magnification of 2.2 when set at 12 mm.

Getting back to the original question: what magnification can I get with both tubes and the 50 mm macro? 20 cm and a magnification of only 1.04×. Much depends on the image quality that I can get from the 12-40 under these circumstances.


More throwing away
Topic: Stones Road house, general Link here

Things are taking their time with the house construction, but I can see it surprising us all the same. Yvonne has been pushing me to move stuff out of the shipping container, because Chris wants it for her new property. Did some tidying up of old boxes in the hallway, much of which is no longer needed:


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But specifically those boxes contained stuff that I wanted to keep. In the container probably 50% can go, but the recycling bin is full, and we have nowhere to put it. Time for a skip.


More flash problems
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yvonne took the photos of me with the wheelbarrow. They weren't good. I thought bounce would work well, but the shape of the room obstructed that:


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The first impression is that the flash reflector was set at too small an angle, but the real problem was that I was standing in an archway. But even when we switched to direct flash, things were underexposed. Here the original and the processed version of the final image. Run the cursor over any image to compare with the other:


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What caused that? Two things, I think: first, I almost always need +1 EV flash correction for any Olympus camera and any flash unit, and I had forgotten to set it on Yvonne's camera. And secondly, the walls and the window behind my head probably fooled the exposure meter into thinking that the photo was adequately exposed. But the fact remains: I've never had as much trouble with flash as I have had with my Olympus cameras.


The curry tree
Topic: gardening Link here

After seeing the images of the citrus and Hibiscus yesterday, Peter Jeremy asked about the Murraya koenigii that I grew from some suckers he gave me. It's not overly happy either, but for other reasons: last summer a volunteer tomato vine popped up in the pot. I didn't think of any problems, but when it died, it pulled most of the branches off the tree, so now it looks like this:


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New shoots are coming out where the old ones were removed, and I'm sure it'll survive.


Friday, 24 October 2014 Dereel Images for 24 October 2014
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Goodbye cvr2
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Since the change in TV transmission frequencies, my TV reception has been flaky at best, and normally useless. To fix things, I need a new antenna, and even that won't guarantee better reception unless I find a place where it's not pointing through the cypress trees. Given that we only have a few months left to live here, it's just not worth the trouble. So today I turned cvr2 off, probably for the last time: when we move, I'll set up a new machine.


Preparing for the slab
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Off to Stones Road in the afternoon to walk the dogs. Things are happening!


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The pipes are interesting. Firstly, they don't seem to be the real thing: the blue lines are presumably where they will run through the slab. But there are far more than there are connections. I'll have to keep an eye on what happens next. But at least, finally, there are house components on site.

As if to round things off, Chris called from the office to say that her planning permit has been approved. Now she just needs the septic tank permit and the building permit, and they can start building—maybe in as few as 3 weeks.


Saturday, 25 October 2014 Dereel Images for 25 October 2014
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure at 13:00.


Tölt gene?
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Talking with Chris Bahlo this evening about horse genetics. She pointed to a study published in Nature where it was determined that a nonsense mutation in the DMRT3 gene caused a premature stop codon, and that this was the background for gaits such as Paso llano and Tölt.

How can that be? She and Yvonne train horses with these gaits. Some present them naturally, others require training. And Yvonne has in the past achieved similar gaits from Arab horses, but only with some effort, and it was clear that the horses didn't like it. All of this suggests a relatively continuous distribution of the ability, and the mutation described seems to be absolute. On the other hand, the credentials of the publication are beyond reproach.

In addition, it seems that without my knowledge, Chris arranged with her sister Melanie, a geneticist and horse rider, to test Chris' and our horses for this mutation, and the results matched their experience with the horses. What am I missing?


Beef: strong enough?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Bef Stroganoff for dinner tonight. Yvonne used a recipe from Time-Life's „Die Küche in Russland“, which specified “1 tablespoon mustard powder”. Both the ingredient and the quantity belie the American origin of the recipe as written. What's mustard powder? It's well-known in English-speaking countries, but not in Germany. Neither is a tablespoon, and most certainly not for solids. But it's clear that Yvonne put nothing like that quantity of mustard into the dish.

But there are other recipes. Markus Wolf, better known as a spy, wrote a book „Geheimnisse der russischen Küche“, in which he describes a recipe for „Beef Stroganoff“ (original spelling) using gherkins and Adshiga (“available in any Russian or Caucasian market”). That must be the only place. I've looked in the Russian Wikipedia and Google in general for the presumed spelling «Адшига» and come up with nothing relevant.

It seems that adshiga is a chili and garlic paste, and Wolf recommends Sambal as a replacement. That's certainly stronger than mustard. But the Russian recipe doesn't describe any such seasoning.


Sunday, 26 October 2014 Dereel Images for 26 October 2014
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More wildflowers
Topic: gardening Link here

As spring progresses, more and more wildflowers are popping up. I've seen this one last year, but didn't follow up on what it is. It's a Diuris sulphurea. It looks like a hornet, thus the name “hornet orchid”, but the buds look like a little bird's beak:


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And then there's this one, which I haven't been able to identify:


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It grows on stems about 20 cm long, and the flower is about 15 mm across.

This is a Goodenia lanata.


More garden flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

The garden is also changing, of course. The yellow irises in the pond are flowering:


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So are the “native gladioli”, whatever the really are:


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Clearly they're not real Gladiolus, but that's the name by which they were sold to me, and I haven't been able to find any indication what they really are.

The biggest surprise, though, are the Azaleas that Craig put into pots in preparation for transplanting at the new house. They had been in the ground for years, and barely flowered. And now they've been flowering for weeks:


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Beef strong enough, part 2
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We had Bef Stroganoff left over from yesterday, so tried adding mustard to it, a little at a time. A good thing too: it doesn't improve it.


Monday, 27 October 2014 Dereel Images for 27 October 2014
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Chasing solar electricity again
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

The delays of the last couple of months have rather discouraged me, and I haven't followed through with the solar electricity. My main concern at present is that the cost of the batteries doesn't make them worthwhile. But that's just a concern: all these people just quote a lump sum. What does the system do? How long do the batteries last? What do they cost? How much do they store? I haven't had a straight answer to any of them, and even the capacities are relatively useless. Why talk in Ah when you really should be thinking in kWh? But then many of the companies still confuse kWh with kW.

Finally got round to calling the people who gave me the last quote. Not there, would call back. Didn't.

Went looking for alternatives, once again marvelling at how bad the Yellow Pages are for this sort of thing. And once again most of the phone numbers are mobiles. My phone bill has soared in the last few months because of the relatively few mobile phone calls I have made. I really don't want to spend hours discussing things on a flaky, expensive connection.

So called up Solar Systems Ballarat, a name that the Yellow Pages search didn't find, but who have a fixed line phone number (03-5333-3970). The receptionist sounded like she was the proprietor's grandmother, and she took nearly 10 minutes to understand what I want and finally tell me that an engineer would call me back. That didn't happen today.

During the search found some other information, including an information page for many people's solar electricity systems, showing output per day in upside-down tabular and graphical form. I found a way to get the tables the right way round, but not the graphics. I think that's the first time I've seen a graph with time going backwards.

The information is interesting. On a reasonably sunny day you can get the equivalent of up to 7 hours of power (or, as the graphs put it, an “efficiency” of 7 kWh/kW). That's more than I expected, and it's relatively seldom that the output is less than 1 hour's equivalent.

And of course there's a Whirlpool forum on the subject. The thread is a little over a year old, and many of the companies listed are no longer around. What does that say about my choice of supplier?


House progress
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

I wasn't expecting much when we went to the site today to walk the dogs, and I wasn't disappointed. But at least there was a minor change:


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Another wildflower
Topic: gardening Link here

Found another of these yellow flowers growing in our forest while walking the dogs. This time I have the entire plant:


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Sausages: theirs or ours?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Bratwurst for dinner tonight. Now that Chris is here, our carefully planned portions don't quite fit, but Yvonne had bought some sausages called Bratwurst in town a while back, so we compared them. Initially the most obvious difference was the thickness. The commercial ones are the two on the right:


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They browned considerably faster than ours, giving out less liquid. But they burst!


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And ours didn't. For once I felt successful.

And how did they taste? Edible, but they were rather spongy—I suspect a considerable amount of non-meat content. We preferred our own and left one of the commercial ones for Chris. And she preferred the commercial ones! I wonder if we should continue to feed her.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 28 October 2014
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Preparing ΛΚΟΗΛ for return
Topic: technology Link here

It has been clear for a while that the ΛΚΟΗΛ laptop/tablet wasn't for me, though it also showed that Microsoft can still offer tablet operating systems a run for their money. So time to return it.

And my private data? Daniel O'Connor found the solution for me. It's relatively easy to reset a modern Microsoft box to its factory defaults, though cleaning the disk took a couple of hours. But now I'm confident that none of my personal data remains.


More DxO pain
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Yesterday's sausage photos required processing to square up the trays. DxO Optics “Pro” didn't make it easy. The first step is to use the “rectangle tool” to straighten up the sides:


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The right-hand image shows the original above and the corrected image below. But it has truncated the top! Went back and tried again—and it refused to show me the original image, just the truncated version that I wanted to get rid of. I could remove all the files I could think of and replace them, to no avail. I tried linking the file to another name, and it recognized the identically same file fine with a different name, but not with the original name. I couldn't get rid of it.

Finally worked around the bug, and later tried to reproduce it. No go. Whatever I tripped over, it wasn't obvious.


Chasing car registration
Topic: general Link here

Today is the last day for renewing my car registration. We had tried to renew last week, but they had forgotten that I'm a pensioner, although Yvonne had taken in all the necessary documents. She was going to do it again tomorrow, but today my ring flash finally arrived, so I decided it would be a better idea to do it myself and pick up the flash on the way.

Nearly 80 km just to do something that had already been done! But it saves half the cost of registration, so it's worthwhile.


New flash unit
Topic: photography Link here

The main reason to go to Ballarat (or at least Napoleons) was to pick up my new “Viltrox JY-670 Macro Ring Lite” (does that mean “light” as in flash, or “light” as in “not the full quantity”?) has finally arrived. I bought it on 20 September 2014, but they sent it from Shenzhen via Singapore, where it wasn't sent until 29 September 2014, coincidentally from an address that could only exist in Singapore: 31 Kaki Bukit Road, which completely confuses Google Translate. And from there, for some reason, it took very nearly a month.

It doesn't look bad, though it's amazingly bulky. I like some of the details, like the bayonet-style attachment to the flash shoe: turn ¼ a turn to secure; mecablitz should learn from that. And somehow I had expected a non-digital display on the back, as shown in this review:

In fact, as the manufacturer's page shows, they've modernized the back, and it now looks like this:

Originally from bit-rotted http://www.viltrox.com/uploads/allimg/130129/1-130129222451458.jpg

What's it like? It doesn't work! But that proved to be because all the NiMH batteries I have were not only discharged, but probably dead. Mañana.


More house progress
Topic: Stones Road house Link here

Yesterday's pile of gravel has been spread, and the deeper area of the garage (left photo, front left) and the lack of gravel round the verandah (rear right) are now evident on careful examination:


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This trench is round the entrance. I wonder what it's for.


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Spoke later with Duncan, who tells me that they'll be laying the slab on Monday, so this week they'll be setting up the forms, and Jim Lannen will have to put his conduit into the slab. Things are gradually moving.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014 Dereel Images for 29 October 2014
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Another NBN outage
Topic: technology, Stones Road house, opinion Link here

Into the office this morning to find us off the net again. And this time it had been for over 9 hours. The NTD showed the same display as last time: the ODU LED was red. So I power cycled it, which got rid of the red LED, but I still didn't get any traffic. Called Aussie Broadband support and spoke to Abraham. No outage known, ticket taken. And I had just hung up when the connection came up again, at 09:19:40, an outage of almost exactly 10 hours. Called again, got connected to Vincent, who must be new. He took considerably longer to log the fact that the net was up again than Abraham did to log the fault in the first place.

So: individual outage or bulk outage? The red LED refers to the ODU (outdoor unit), normally called an antenna, so maybe there was something wrong with that. But no, Facebook to the rescue again. It seems to have been a general outage.

This is really unacceptable. Not only are there far too many and far too long outages, but the National Broadband Network doesn't even inform the ISPRSPs when they have an outage. As I said last time, it's prudent to have a POTS line connected to the new house after all.


Viltrox JY-670: first impressions
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Finally sorted out my rechargeable battery problems by using NiZn for the new Viltrox JY-670 ring flash. It seems that all my NiMH cells are useless.

The device really does look quite well-made. I've already commented on the flash mount, but the build quality compares favourably with the mecablitz 58-AF-2, a much more expensive unit. On the other hand, there are some strangenesses visible in the images of the unit:

Originally from bit-rotted http://www.viltrox.com/uploads/allimg/130129/1-130129222451458.jpg

It's clearly a modification to their JY-680 normal on-camera flash:

Originally from bit-rotted http://www.viltrox.com/uploads/allimg/130129/1-130129223321U9.jpg Originally from bit-rotted http://www.viltrox.com/uploads/allimg/130129/1-130129223310U9.jpg

That even goes to the extent of having a transparent front with what appears to be light sensors or focus lights behind it. In this unit they have no function. That has some advantages: the JY-680 boasts a guide number of 58, like the mecablitz, while the JY-670 only has 14, 8.5% of the power. But apparently the electronics are dimensioned similarly, so the recycle time is very fast. With NiZn batteries it appears to be in the order of 1 second, which is probably the reason for this page in the instructions:


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The down side is the large head part, which is presumably completely empty, and even rotates like on a normal flash unit:


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They could have almost completely dispensed with it.

After mounting on the camera, the first problem was to turn it on. Nothing happened. You have to hold down the power button for 3 seconds before it powers on or off. Mounting the flash part is easier than I expected, but as others have noted, the connection between the flash and the control unit is with particularly stiff cable, and it's somewhat inconvenient.

The first photos I took were of a wild bulb I found on the corner of Ballarat-Colac Road and Rokewood Junction Road:


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At that distance and f/22 I found that I needed about ⅛ power. Played a bit with changing the relationship between left and right:


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That's 50% less power to right and left respectively.

There seem to be two completely separate ways to set flash intensity: one allows you to set the intensity for either A (left) or B (right), or both. I can set the intensity for each tube separately, and then switch to AB (both), where it remembers the individual settings. It's nice to be able to cycle in steps of 1 EV with the left and right buttons, and in ⅓ EV steps with the up and down buttons. That's a lot better than the mecablitz, which forgets its manual settings if you move to TTL settings.

But then there's the “Ratio” setting, and I still don't understand how to use it. The instructions say:


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What they don't say is that the thing doesn't react at all until you first press the centre button. And the settings don't seem to make any difference. They also seem to duplicate the A/B functionality. I've looked on the web, but so far nobody has discussed this unit much. Still, even if I can't get it to work, the thing does what I want. Now I just need a flash exposure meter.


More orchids?
Topic: gardening Link here

Another attempt at getting photos of these tiny flowers in Kleins Paddock:


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