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September 2011
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Thursday, 1 September 2011 Dereel Images for 1 September 2011
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Warehouse or Wherehouse?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

While checking the details of “Oasis Warehouse” yesterday, also looked at Bunnings Warehouse. They won't let you in unless you tell them where you are!


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There's no exit button hidden behind the scroll bars on the deliberately-too-small window. You have to enter a post code to continue at all. How I hate that! From time to time I get questions like that about Germany, and I keep forgetting valid post codes (typically something like 6000 used to work for Frankfurt am Main), but the new 5-digit post codes don't seem to like ending in 0000, so I always have to look for something valid. For what it's worth, 3000 is a valid post code in Australia (Melbourne CBD). But what do Bunnings expect by insisting on knowing where you are?


Completing teevee
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Finally got round to the remaining work that needed to be done to install the new version of teevee, my projector driver (or “front end” in MythTV-speak). It wasn't much, but it was still irritating. First found a disk to put the “production” version on: I want to keep the current version for updates. It proved that about the only drive I had was the old photo disk, with 1 TB. That left plenty of space on the /home file system for videos, so moved all non-films to there. Now I have plenty of space, nearly 50% free:

=== grog@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /spool/Images 22 -> df -t ufs -c
Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used  Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad4p2           19832  16286   1959    89%    /
/dev/ad4p4           19832      0  18245     0%    /destdir
/dev/ad4p5          902417 392478 500914    44%    /home
/dev/ad6s1d         923856 522597 392020    57%    /spool
total              1865938 931361 913141    50%

Installing things went OK up to a point, but only so far. The good news was that the old /spool disk (where I kept all the videos) was a SATA drive, so I don't have to worry about PATA until I find a DVD drive to put in there.

Less positive was the fact that I couldn't find a disk cage for the case, so currently the disks are lying on the floor of the case. And for some reason I ended up without a few configuration files that I could have sworn had been on the tv2 incarnation. Nothing serious, but one of the reasons I've taken so long with the changeover is so that I could Do It Right. In addition, we seem to have problems with the sound driver. It seems to hang itself up from time to time, and for some reason changes of volume don't “stick”. The latter may be a problem with mplayer: I can modify the volume with the appropriate commands, but as soon as I press any other key, the volume goes back to the original level.

One distinct advantage: my first ever gigabit Ethernet link:

=== grog@teevee (/dev/pts/5) /spool/Images 23 -> ifconfig re0
re0: flags=8843<UP,BROADCAST,RUNNING,SIMPLEX,MULTICAST> metric 0 mtu 1500
        options=389b<RXCSUM,TXCSUM,VLAN_MTU,VLAN_HWTAGGING,VLAN_HWCSUM,WOL_UCAST,WOL_MCAST,WOL_MAGIC>
        ether 6c:f0:49:2e:de:e6
        inet 192.109.197.158 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.109.197.255
        media: Ethernet autoselect (1000baseT <full-duplex>)
        status: active

It's not 10 times as fast as what I have, but nearly 5 times, which makes a big difference when moving recordings from one machine to another:

=== grog@cvr2 (/dev/pts/2) /recordings 35 -> ssc
scp -p 2203_20110825235700.mpg teevee:/spool/Images/Inspector_Montalbano:_Equal_Time-Find_the_Lady
2203_20110825235700.mpg                                              100% 9224MB  47.6MB/s   03:14

Transplanting tree ferns
Topic: gardening Link here

Today's the first day of spring, and the weather was relatively mild. More weeding, and also attended to the Salvia “Phyllis fancy” that we bought at Lambley Nursery four months ago. I had repotted it in a much larger pot, but to my surprise it had already grown through the additional soil and formed a big mat of roots on the outside of the pot. Clearly high time for planting:


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Also did a fair amount of weeding. Things still don't look good, but I don't feel as hopeless as I did last year. And just as I was finishing, Yvonne decided it was time to transplant the Tree fern:


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We bought the tree fern almost exactly three years ago, along with the Gingko biloba. The latter has done well, but the planting conditions for the tree fern weren't ideal. First, it was in the Cathedral, which no longer provides shade, and secondly the soil was very poor, mainly gravel, and in those days I didn't pay much attention to that kind of problem. So it's clear that we needed to do something, but I was still pondering what.

It seems that our tree fern is almost certainly a Dicksonia antarctica (interesting name). Found a Gardening Austraya article on the subject, which in fact we saw on TV almost exactly a year ago. The most interesting thing about it was that they confirmed that now is the time to do it. But they wanted to saw through the trunk and replant just the trunk, 50 cm (not 45 cm!) into the ground. That would leave nothing of our tree above the ground. So decided to dig up as much of the roots as I could, which was quite an effort, and left the fronds on. The articles I read are not in agreement about whether they will die off or not, though with the roots there's more hope that they will survive. We'll see. Certainly they look pretty yellow now:


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Friday, 2 September 2011 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 2 September 2011
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Doctor, yet again
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Off to Ballarat yet again today, for what proved to be just a blood pressure measurement that showed that the medication was working and my blood pressure was normal. It's certainly nice to have appointments, and I was in and out of the clinic in 20 minutes. But with the drive to Ballarat it's still a fair chunk out of the morning, and stopped by at Formosa Gardens to see what caught my eye. They now have Leucospermums of various kinds at prices I can afford, including a variety of the Leucospermum conocarpodendron “Mardi gras ribbons” that died last spring. I wonder what the connection with Shrovetide is:


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Try as I might, I couldn't find a variety called “Ash Wednesday”.


Removing the remainder of the Cathedral
Topic: gardening Link here

We've been looking for people to remove trees for us all week. We had called four of them, of which only two called back and made appointments, and one of them, Graham was a no-show. Today the other, Dan, came along and took a look. To my surprise, it would only cost $100 to remove the last remaining tree in the Cathedral. So we'll definitely go ahead with that.

The cedars along the road are another matter. The big one under which we park our cars would cost $2,000 alone. And there are several others, so we're probably looking at the best part of $10,000. That's way beyond our budget, so at least for the time being they'll stay.


Solving the teevee volume control issue
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

On IRC, discussed the volume control problems that I reported yesterday. One possibility appeared to be the sysctl hw.snd.vpc_autoreset, which, I'm told, is new. To quote:

<AlephNull> And FreeBSD now always resets sound volume on open to match leenux brokeness.
   There's a sysctl to fix it but I don't recall the name.
<callum> hw.snd.vpc_autoreset=0
<callum> I think
<Darius> sysctl hw.snd.vpc_autoreset=0
<AlephNull> mplayer closes & reopens the sound device all the time.
<Darius> depends if it closes the mixer device or not

That sounded reasonable, and I confirmed that hw.snd.vpc_autoreset was set to 1, so set it to 0 to see what happened. No change. You can reset the volume, but the next key press sets it back to the old value. I suppose I should investigate why.


Saturday, 3 September 2011 Dereel Images for 3 September 2011
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Windy weather
Topic: general, gardening Link here

The Bureau of Meteorology predicted strong winds today, and for once they weren't wrong. We recorded the highest-ever wind gust, 42.5 km/h. Looking at the values, it seems that all the strong winds have occurred in the last 3 months:

mysql> SELECT date, time, wind_speed, wind_gust
       FROM observations
       WHERE wind_gust > 30
       AND date < "2011-6-1"
       ORDER BY wind_gust DESC;

Empty set (0.89 sec)

It seems that the winds are getting stronger. Or maybe it has something to do with the location of the weather station. I used to have it mounted like this:


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The tower on the left is the temperature sensor, which I moved closer to the ground on 11 May 2011. The paddles behind are the wind speed sensor. It's not easy to see from this photo, but it was mounted well clear of the temperature sensor. But possibly it interfered with the readings anyway.

As a result, didn't do much in the garden, just a bit of weeding. Also planted some new seeds: Papaver nudicaule, Gaillardia pulchella “Red plume” and Solenostemon scutellarioides (Coleus “rainbow mix”). The Papaver (poppies) are supposed to be planted in flowering position, because they don't like being transplanted. In today's winds that would be hopeless, and I'm hoping that the trick of planting in egg cartons will nullify the transplant shock. Certainly the Ipomoeas are looking a lot happier than any did that I planted directly into the bed.

I'm not sure whether the Papaver nudicaule have been described correctly. According to Wikipedia that's “Iceland Poppy”, and they don't come in red. But the seed package contains the supplementary information “Flanders red”, which suggests it should be Papaver rhoeas. We'll see, if any of the seeds bloom.


More modem flakiness
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Because of the weather I took my weekend photos yesterday, and was able to get the processing done by midday today. And again they went up to the external site at a snail's pace. Once again the modem had fallen back to HSDPA mode. Again, looking at the network stats, it's easy to guess that it started earlier in the morning (where the red peaks fall below the bar):

Day/20110903/3glinkstats-24-hours.big.png
Moving files to teevee
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

A couple of days ago I did my first-ever measurements of file transfer speed from ceeveear, the TV tuner box, to teevee, the projector driver, using gigabit Ethernet. The results, about 47 MB/s, were only about 4 times as fast as using 100 Mb/s. There was also a significantly larger variation in speed. There are a number of reasons why this might be, including disk speed, buffering and encryption: I was using scp. Edwin Groothuis suggested that I would get faster results without encryption, so today set to to find out how to do that with Linux (which is what cvr2 runs). On BSD I'd use rcp, but on Linux that proves to be a double symlink to scp:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) ~ 50 -> wh rcp
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 21 Dec 13  2008 /usr/bin/rcp -> /etc/alternatives/rcp
=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) ~ 51 -> ls -l /etc/alternatives/rcp
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 12 Dec 13  2008 /etc/alternatives/rcp -> /usr/bin/scp

In the end used ftp, which doesn't seem to have progress indications under Linux. But the results were barely different:

5608484868 bytes sent in 140.04 secs (39111.9 kB/s)
4166209540 bytes sent in 78.85 secs (51596.6 kB/s)

So probably it's a combination of disk speed (I'm not sure how old this source disk is, but maybe that's all it can do), network stacks and application design. As I said, I'm happy enough with the speed.


Peter Dilley's beer
Topic: brewing Link here

Peter and Vicky Dilley over this afternoon with some of the beer that Peter started over 2 months ago. It was a stout, but done without roasted barley, which considerably changed the flavour (none of this acrid bitterness that you associate with stout). Still, not bad beer.


Summer meets spring
Topic: food and drink, gardening Link here

Chris Yeardley along for dinner this evening, as usual for Saturdays. We try to find a bouquet of flowers from the garden for the event, and today we ended up with last year's last rose and this year's first tulip:


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Sunday, 4 September 2011 Dereel Images for 4 September 2011
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Cleaning water filters
Topic: general Link here

Another season, more filter cleaning. Today did the filters of the water pumps. Not surprisingly, the bore pump (for irrigation) was clean, but house water was pretty filthy:


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Facebook: get modern
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've been on Facebook for at least two years, and I've never found any use for it. But then, in many ways it's like IRC, and lots of my “friends” use it, so today I decided to leave a window open and watch things go by.

I still don't understand what it's good for. One of my objections to most web-based forums is that it's in reverse chronological form, which destroys just about any connection between the articles.

If you're reading this in what appears to be reverse chronological form, it's not my fault. I write this diary in chronological order. RSS aggregators have their own view of the world and usually turn things on their head.

To Facebook's credit, it doesn't use reverse chronological. It uses some randomized variant, which completely destroys any connection between the articles.

I suppose my Facebook “experience” is greatly coloured by my “friends”. I'm amazed how many different languages crop up there, many of which I can't speak. I counted English, Malay, Greek, French, Russian, Danish, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, Swedish, Japanese, Magyar, Polish, Portuguese and one language that I can't identify. Neither can Google Translate: in one item I read einakaye joftetoon kheili behetoon miad, which Google claims is Indonesian (though it was unable to translate even a single word) and Poshte Daryaha shahrist ghayeghi bayad sakht!, which Google considers Filipino. The first is most definitely not Indonesian, and I don't see any resemblance between the second and Filipino. There are also Arabic comments in the thread, so I suspect this is romanized Arabic.

Strangely, there weren't any German articles there. Is this because the Germans tend to post in English?

Malay is a particular problem. I used to speak it years ago, but then three things have happened to make life difficult: time went by and I forgot; the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka changed the language while I wasn't looking; and people have developed some shorthand that I don't recognize. For example, this mixture of English and Malay:

Otw back to kl. Now at dungun, brenti minum jap. Charging hp plak wat hal. Batt ada half lg..

The first sentence clearly relates to a return to Kuala Lumpur, and he's currently in Dungun, stopped to drink a jap, whatever that is. Charging battery, which still has half charge (assuming “lg” to mean “lagi”, "more"). No idea what “wat hal” means.

And what about the content? With IRC you interleave different discussions, and it can be difficult to follow. That's easier with Facebook, which separates things int threads (chronological!). But for some reason texts are much more cryptic. Facebook seems to be a series of reports and comments, not at all the same thing as a discussion.


Overtaken by spring
Topic: gardening Link here

It's a year ago today that I injured myself taking my weekend photos, effectively putting myself out of much action for the entire spring. Today I'm in much better condition, but after the mild weather of the last few days it's clear that spring is well on its way. A couple of days ago this birch had no leaves at all:


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Decided that it was time to plant those seedlings that had germinated, the Petunias and Chrysanthemums that I had planted in April and the black Viola x wittrockniana that I had planted a couple of months later:


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I had transplanted them all into plastic pots, and the chrysanthemums in particular were already quite large. Getting the first one out of the pot was very difficult, and I ended up leaving half the roots behind. It seems that the roots had sunk into the plastic and wouldn't let go:


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Even after soaking in water and running a knife around the inside of the pot, things weren't much better, though I did keep the root ball at the bottom:


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So, clearly toilet rolls and egg cartons are the way to go.

I thought I had had four violas, but closer inspection showed that one of them was something completely different. Here the viola on the left:


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What's the other? It grew from seed, so maybe it's one of the others that didn't germinate, either Impatiens or Anchusa capensis. From the Wikipedia page it doesn't appear to be impatiens. Is it anchusa? The page doesn't help much. I suppose I'll have to wait for it to flower.

But that's only a small number of the seeds I have. The poor yields don't help, but I have many more seeds that hadn't even been planted yet. Got another 6 egg cartons, and this time wrote numbers on them: they get too soggy for a label to stick, and the writing has to be large, so it's better to write large numbers on them. Today planted:

Carton       Plant
1       Aquilegia “McKanna giants”
2       Nemophila insignis “Baby blue eyes”
3       Impatiens “Safari”
4       Myosotis alpestris (Alpine forget-me-not)
5       Left: Chile poblano
      Right: Cosmos “sunny yellow”
6       Anchusa capensis “Blue angel”

I'll leave them in the bathroom to germinate. I suspect that the temperatures in the greenhouse are too extreme, even when I have the heater on.


Monday, 5 September 2011 Dereel Images for 5 September 2011
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Volume control problems revisited
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

A couple of days ago I had trouble with mplayer resetting the volume when I pressed any key. The suggested remedy was to set sysctl hw.snd.vpc_autoreset to 0. I set that, both immediately and in /etc/sysctl.conf, and it made no difference.

But that was a couple of days ago. Since then I have rebooted teevee, and now the volume control works as expected. So: is this a thing that has to happen at boot time? Or at some other time which I didn't pass? I suppose it's too late to find out without investing a fair amount of effort to repeat the situation. At least it works.

What doesn't seem to work all the time is cutlist processing. I run my programmes through a script which extracts the cutlist from the mythtranscode database, and when I play them back I use the -edl option. The cutlist looks like this:

    0.00     49.96  0
  812.72   1012.92  0
 1617.08   1702.28  0
 2109.08   2319.28  0
 2828.92   2987.28  0

This is an “edit decision list”, conveniently not described in the man page. Instead it provides a URL, broken over two lines to obscure the correct spelling, to describe it:

      See http://www.mplayer-
      hq.hu/DOCS/HTML/en/edl.html for details on how to use this.

The first column is the start time into the stream, and the second is the end time. These are the times that get skipped. The third parameter is 0 for skip or 1 to just mute the sound. They're not always accurate: the commercial detector sometimes fails to recognize a commercial, and in such a case you may want to skip backwards. But that doesn't work in the case where the EDL starts at 0, as above. Instead, the process just hangs and has to be stopped. The problem is probably related to this comment:

-edl-backward-delay <number>
      When using EDL during playback and jumping backwards it is  pos-
      sible  to  end  up in the middle of an EDL record.  In that case
      MPlayer will seek further backwards to the start position of the
      EDL  record and then immediately skip the scene specified in the
      EDL record.  To avoid this kind of behavior, MPlayer jumps to  a
      fixed  time  interval  before the start of the EDL record.  This
      parameter allows you to specify that time  interval  in  seconds
      (default: 2 seconds).

At any rate I have something to play around with.


The power failure that wasn't
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure today. Nothing unusual, and as usual I tried the light switch in the dining room. And the light went on. Further investigation showed that the circuit breaker for my office, which also happens to be the breaker for the kitchen at diagonally opposed end of the house, had tripped. That, too, has happened: we have lots of power consumers in the kitchen and laundry. But this time none of them were turned on. So what's the problem? To be observed.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Much of the garden work is pending the removal of the last tree in the cathedral, but one item is a prerequisite: we need to move at least one of the Azaleas planted round the trunk. Since it's now full sun, we ultimately need to remove all three of them, which is a pity right now, since they're in bloom. We've established a location to put them, to the north-west of the house and in the shade of the cedars that we're planning to have removed. Spent some time cleaning up the bed, which was completely overgrown, and also did a bit of other weeding.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011 Dereel Images for 6 September 2011
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Seedlings and cutting down trees
Topic: gardening Link here

Gradually spring is coming, and the climbing plants around the verandah are shooting. Took the opportunity to prune the Clematis “Perle d'azur” (or is that, as I've seen, “Pearl d'azure”?). In the process accidentally trimmed some new shoots, so cut them up and planted them in toilet rolls.

The seed trays are still not looking very happy: of a total of 14 egg cartons, only three are germinating. It's relatively early, though—I planted 6 of them only yesterday. But the petunias in the hanging baskets have greatly enjoyed the winter in the greenhouse, and they needed cutting back. I've already established that petunia cuttings strike relatively well, so trimmed some bright red ones and made a total of 13 cuttings. At least this way I know what colour I'm going to get, and the trimmed flowers make a nice decoration:


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Graham along today to look at removing our cedars, whatever they might really be. He's a lot cheaper than Dan, and could do the lot for $4,000. Still a lot of money, but his depiction of what happens to them in a bushfire is worth thinking about: if they get lit, it's goodbye house.

Also a call from David, who works with Dan. He'll be along here on Thursday to cut down the last Cathedral tree. Despite the weather, finished preparing the bed for transplanting the Azaleas. I'll do the transplantation itself tomorrow after further research.


NetBSD under VirtualBox
Topic: technology Link here

Chris Yeardley is doing a university practical about contributing to “Open Source” projects, and I had an idea which would span the BSDs. It occurred to me that I don't have any NetBSD system running. Downloaded an ISO image and set up a new virtual machine under VirtualBox and tried to install under it. The nice thing is that you can define the image as the CD-ROM device, so there's no further messing around. Of course it has this horrible graphic tree-climbing interface, but that's modern.

Installation was less that successful: the installer crashed into the kernel debugger, apparently as the result of a failed system call. Did a bit of looking around and found a bug report, but according to that it should no longer happen on NetBSD 5.1. It looks as if some VirtualBox setting might be to blame, but I can't find anything which relates to what they're talking about. It's certainly not helped by their dual reliance on too-short text fields and inscrutable tiny icons:

 
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I particularly dislike the path names for the ISO image. The Strange icon allows you to select various other options, including climbing the directory tree in search of the ISO image. But I can't find anything similar to that for the VT-x/AMD-V settings. So for the moment that's in the “too hard” basket. To be revisited.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 7 September 2011
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To the doctor yet again
Topic: general Link here

Into town today to see the doctor yet again—the fifth time in two weeks. Today was the day to cauterize the lesion (solar keratosis) on my forehead, a process of spraying liquid nitrogen on it until the doctor thought it was enough. I was expecting some complicated equipment, but it was just a little hand-held cylinder with a spout on the end, not very different from what I use for throat sprays. And at the end there was no difference to be seen. Back on Monday (sixth time!) to see how it worked out.


Mystery solved?
Topic: gardening Link here

While in town, stopped at Formosa Gardens, bought some gladioli, and walked around looking for inspiration. Didn't find anything, but I did find this (the best I could get this horrible Nikon “Coolpix” L1 autofocus to do):


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According to the label, it's a Nepeta × faassenii ‘Dropmore'. It looks pretty much like the mystery plant that we bought on Australia Day:


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Clearly it's not the same, but the leaves smell similar. Investigating Nepeta more carefully, it seems that this is also “catmint”, a plant that we already have and which looks quite different, and that I've already seen plants like this. But there's more and more reason to think that it might be a different species of Nepeta.


Australian spelling: becoming American
Topic: general, opinion, gardening Link here

One of the things that grates every time I read Gardening Australia magazine is that they write “sulfur” instead of “sulphur”, and “sulfate” instead of “sulphate”. That's so American! I've been meaning to vent my irritation for some time, but of course the only authoritative dictionary I have is the Oxford English Dictionary, which is really authoritative for the UK, not Australia. Australia, a country of a little over 20 million people, has its own dictionary: the Macquarie dictionary. The big one is about 5% of the size of the OED, but still costs more than I'm prepared to spend, and neither of the local libraries has it online. So today I dropped into the Ballarat library to take a look.

The volume they have is only 2 years old, and apart from a fold in the title page, looks as if nobody has ever used it—quite in contrast to their Oxford English Dictionary, which predates the building: it's the first edition, 1933. Surely they could buy something more up-to-date.

But looking in the dictionary, I found both spellings: “sulphur” is a kind of butterfly, but “sulfur” is the preferred spelling for the element, because—they say—that's the universal spelling. Ugh. For me it's still “sulphur”, but I suppose I can forget my rant to Gardening Australia. The claim in the dictionary is still wrong. Just about everywhere in Australian usage, it's “sulphur”. I wonder if they have the obfuscatory terms for vegetables in there as well.


Seed quality
Topic: gardening Link here

Most of my seedlings are coming up very slowly, but some are doing very well. These are the Ipomoea and Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas) that I planted a little over two weeks ago. Well, some are:


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The four plants on the left are the ipomoeas, and the others are sweet peas. The middle 4 are from commercial packaging, the 4 on the right from an eBay purchase. The difference in vigour is clear. That's not a condemnation of eBay; the ipomoeas also came from eBay.


Transplanting the Azaleas
Topic: gardening Link here

David is coming by tomorrow to cut down the last Cathedral tree, so spent a considerable amount of time transplanting the azeleas, in the process also planting some of the sweet peas and ipomoeas to climb up the back:


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That accounts for two of the three azeleas. I was going to plant the remaining one in front of Yvonne's office window, but I discovered yet more gravel only a few centimetres under the surface. How many of the garden beds are like that! Mañana.


Thursday, 8 September 2011 Dereel Images for 8 September 2011
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No tree felling
Topic: gardening Link here

David along this morning to cut down the last Cathedral tree. During the discussion of how to do it, a misunderstanding became clear. Dan, the boss, is a climber: he climbs the trees and cuts down convenient sized bits. David doesn't climb: he fells the tree in one, and that would have severely damaged the Schinus molle (pepper tree) to the south. So we postponed; presumably it will be Dan in the end.

Interestingly, David claimed that the pepper tree was an Australian native, coming from arid regions. I had always thought that it came from America, and the species I link to does, indeed, come from there. Is there another similar tree native to Australia? There are Tasmannias (note the double n), but they don't seem related to this tree.


South bed and Völkerfrieden
Topic: gardening Link here

Got around to digging the gravel out of the south bed, the part in front of Yvonne's office. In general, I assume that making a relatively large hole through to the soil is enough. But azeleas have very shallow root systems, something that became evident when I removed them from the Cathedral. So this isn't the ideal place for them.

After some discussion, planted a Canna there instead, along with a pelargonium that we had planned for the location (in fact, replacing a very similar pelargonium that Yvonne had removed some time ago), and put the azelea on the east side of the house, where we had planted a Delphinium “Völkerfrieden” last year, which had completely disappeared. It wasn't until I removed it that I discovered something like roots and a subterranean part, possibly rhizome-like. Was it trying to come back? In any case, replanted it a little way away. We'll see how the following areas develop:


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Bean dishes
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We've decided to eat less meat and more vegetables. At the moment we're thinking of novel bean recipes, and today I started three different things: frijoles cocidos for Mexican food, some chick peas for a salad we found in Bonniers Kokbok, and some white beans for a dish with smoked sausage that Yvonne wanted to fake.

Did a bit of research on the sausage dish, and it gradually dawned on me that we have one: cassoulet. And Yvonne hates it. Discussed it with her, and it seems that it's really only the couennes (pork skin) that she doesn't like. So we faked a cassoulet, which didn't turn out too badly. In fact, it looked surprisingly like one of the images in Wikipedia:

Cassoulet from Wikipedia

Maybe we should just scale things down a bit rather than making enormous quantities that take several days to eat.


Friday, 9 September 2011 Dereel Images for 9 September 2011
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No fun any more
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

A few days ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a realization: writing programs has become so complicated that it's no fun any more. I was about to write a comment at the time, then I discovered that Eric Allman had beaten me to it. At least it was a confirmation that I'm not alone.

Once upon a time programming was easy. You had an idea, you wrote it down, you debugged it, and it usually worked. But those were simple, kiddie programs, right? To do anything serious you need lots of code, and what's easier than to use code that somebody has already written for this purpose—a library?

The idea is good, but it presupposes good, simple, well-structured code. There's plenty of that around—look at the standard C library for an example. Simple interfaces, straightforward functions, and still it makes the majority of any C program:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/7) /tmp 10 -> cat > hello.c
main ()
{ printf ("Hello, world!\n"); }
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/7) /tmp 20 -> cc -c -o hello.o hello.c
hello.c: In function 'main':
hello.c:2: warning: incompatible implicit declaration of built-in function 'printf'
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/7) /tmp 21 -> cc -static -o hello hello.c
hello.c: In function 'main':
hello.c:2: warning: incompatible implicit declaration of built-in function 'printf'
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/7) /tmp 22 -> size hello.o hello
   text    data     bss     dec     hex filename
     52       0       0      52      34 hello.o
 163571    7952   36392  207915   32c2b hello

So the object code from my program is a total of 52 bytes, but it blows out to about 200 kB when you include the library. Is this reasonable?

I'm not going to even address that question. What really blew my mind recently was the size of some of the recent libraries:

=== grog@teevee (/dev/pts/4) /usr/local/lib/gcc47 6 -> size libstdc++.so libgcj.so
    text     data     bss     dec      hex filename
  976642    36424   87088 1100154   10c97a libstdc++.so
40881742  9265944  453864 50601550 3041e4e libgcj.so

No surprise that the C++ library is one of the biggest, but it pales by comparison with libgcj, the runtime support for the GNU Java compiler. 40 MB of text! The file itself is an order of magnitude larger, because it's not stripped:

=== grog@teevee (/dev/pts/4) /usr/local/lib/gcc47 8 -> ls -lL libgcj.so
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel  187858200 Aug  9 19:19 libgcj.so

The size isn't directly the issue. System memory has increased much faster than executable size, even with this incredible bloat. But how do you understand such an incredible body of code? How do you interface with it? How do you program with it?

Then other questions raise their ugly heads: does anybody really understand this body of code? Do the authors? How well does such a paradigm fit what you want to do? How well-designed are the interfaces? The original C library has its strangenesses. The larger things get, the less likely it is that they'll be consistent, and the less likely that they'll do what you want to do. This is a particular problem in contributing to existing projects: even if one big library happens to be really good, the sheer number of competing libraries means that you're unlikely to know this one, so you first have to learn it.

The result: the original idea gets bogged down in bureaucracy. Finding what you want to do is obscured by multiple layers of indirection, and I get the impression that they frequently involve badly-designed C++ classes. In many cases, there's a simpler alternative: give up. It's no fun any more.

This is nothing new. In the late 1960s there were similar problems (can you say “OS/360“?). In many ways, Unix was a reaction against this complexity. Recently Warren Toomey revived a binary-only version of the First Edition of Unix. I participated in the sidelines, and we were all astounded how simple things were. We only had object files, but they were so easy to understand that it was easy to patch them. You couldn't do that with modern objects.

Achieving this clarity took people with vision, and they're no more common than they were now. It's sobering to think that Unix was written by people in their 20s, and today is Dennis Ritchie's 70th birthday. There are many more people in the industry today, but the overall quality hasn't changed much.


Too warm in the greenhouse?
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Since finishing the greenhouse in April, I've come to use it more and more. But that's like the man with a hammer, for whom every problem seems to be a nail. I've been doing my propagation there too. But things don't always work out. I've had a number of salvias strike, grow a little bit, and then die. Now it's happening with some rose cuttings:


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I've been wondering for some time what's wrong. There's enough moisture, but it gets cold at night and quite hot in the daytime. I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that the problem is the heat (or sunlight) and not the cold: greenhouses aren't really intended for propagation. So it looks like I need a shade house.

Another plant that points in this direction is a plant which I know as “Easter cactus”, but which looks very similar to the current image on the Wikipedia Holiday Cactus page, which describes it as “Thanksgiving Cactus”, though the image title is “Christmas Cactus”:

Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus

According to that page, it may be a Hatiora or a Schlumbergera, though the images don't match. Anyway, it's not looking happy. The leaves are yellowish instead of dark green:


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Since it's an indoor plant, it's reasonable to assume that it's getting too much light. Put it in the shade area to the north of the verandah, in the process discovering that it's in bloom—on the shade side:


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Chick pea stew
Topic: food and drink Link here

As planned, made a chick pea stew today according to a recipe in Bonniers Kokbok. Didn't taste bad, but I don't know if I want to make it again, though Yvonne was more positive.


More reception problem insights
Topic: multimedia Link here

Two recording attempts last night failed catastrophically. One recorded nothing at all, the other file was only about 20% of the size it should have been.

Tried again today and found that things were little better, if at all. Reception on SBS was OK (I didn't try last night), ABC was pretty terrible, and 7mate was useless. Shut down the machine in the middle of the trial recordings to check the cable connections. After rebooting, the same programmes continued recording, but on different tuners. The problems stayed with the channels, not with the tuners, so I can stop suspecting tuners and cables. At least we've clarified that, though it's interesting to note that when all these problems came to a head, it was SBS with which I had problems. I wonder how much this has to do with the transmitters. In any case, there's good reason to hope that things should improve significantly if we cut down the trees to the west of the house.


Saturday, 10 September 2011 Dereel Images for 10 September 2011
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Cutting down the cedars?
Topic: gardening, opinion, photography Link here

I still don't know the biological name for the conifers growing to the west of the house, up against the road. People call them cedars, but there are hundreds of varieties, and they're clearly not the Toona ciliata that is also known as “Australian Red Cedar”: that's deciduous.

Whatever they are, they're big and flammable. We're seriously concerned that, if we have a bushfire, they could make a difference between survival and loss of our house. It'll be difficult to bring up the $4,000 that Graham wants to cut them down, but I think we're going to have to do it. Spent some time looking at the area and deciding what to do, including adding a couple of new photos to my weekly exterior photos. The first is of the driveway under the cedars, and the second shows them taken from the other side of the road:


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It's difficult to imagine what things will look like when they're gone. Things won't be completely open: there are other melaleucas and acacias planted underneath them. They're struggling, but a bit of light and soil moisture might make all the difference. But we should look to replacing the trees with others, smaller and less flammable.


teevee upgrade reviewed
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

I'm still trying to understand what I've done wrong with the upgrade on teevee. Yes, it works, and I can watch TV somewhat better than before. The previous processor and graphics card had difficulties with 1080i material and sometimes with 720p as well: the images were sometimes jerky. I don't get that any more.

But there are other things. It looks like every time I reboot the machine (daily for this one), I have to unload and reload the sound driver. If I don't, mplayer just hangs. Why? In general when I'm watching TV I don't feel like kernel debugging, so so far I'm just putting up with it.

Another issue, which I can only blame on myself, is that many configuration files are wrong. Again, I don't understand why, but it's becoming clear that my version control leaves something to be desired. I'm gradually working on this one, and I still need to investigate why the menu-based shutdown doesn't work any more.


Firefox: so nice, so nice, we do it twice
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

There's another new thing on teevee: firefox now behaves strangely. It's the latest and greatest firefox, release 6, and somehow I've managed to lose the old configuration. So I get the default, lots of unrecognizable icons and the “Home” icon way off to the right. And at least for the moment I'm putting up with tabs, because that way firefox doesn't crash nearly so often. But when I click on the “Home” icon, I get both the home page and another tab with, apparently, what firefox thinks I need. Here before and after a single click (this really needs to be enlarged):


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That's without the Ctrl key. If I do a Ctrl-left click, I get two new tabs:


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So what is this? A bug? The modern way to do things? I need to play around yet again with firefoxs undocumented configuration settings.


Sunday, 11 September 2011 Dereel Images for 11 September 2011
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“9/11”: 10 years on
Topic: opinion Link here

Ten years ago the Americans got a taste of the horrors that happen around the world on a daily basis. Doubtless a terrible event, and one that could have brought into perspective the horrors that happen on a daily basis in many countries. But no, it was a uniquely American experience. Even the term they attached to it, “9/11”, doesn't translate outside the USA. As a date, it means 9 November in most countries.

That doesn't mean that I have the slightest bit of sympathy or understanding for what happened. The results have been uniformly negative: it killed lots of innocent people, put the economy in turmoil for a while, and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people in countries with names the invaders don't even try to pronounce correctly and which were for the most part as unrelated to the event as the USA itself. Increased military spending has crippled the US economy. Increased thugsecurity presence at airports has made air travel a nightmare, and it's one of the reasons I don't travel any more. In principle, the terrorists have won. “9/11” was just the start.

Do people in the USA understand that? No, for the most part they don't. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them thought that this opinion is attacking the USA.


More reception strangeness
Topic: multimedia Link here

TV reception is still pretty flaky. Another indication that it's nothing to do with my antenna system is that the radio in the bedroom, which has only a piece of wire as an antenna, had almost impossibly bad reception this morning—until I turned the bedside light on. And then it got much better. How can that be? It's a low-power fluorescent light, but that shouldn't make much difference. I can't think of any reason why it should have made any difference at all, let alone an improvement.


Firefox: up to date or not?
Topic: technology Link here

Took another look at my problems with firefox on teevee today. Apart from this irritating double window opening, there are lots of settings that I don't want to have to change again, not to mention saved passwords. Possibly there's a point-and-click way to import them from another instance, but I don't know how, and I'm not sure I want to know. Instead took a look at the files that firefox maintains. They're in a directory ~/.mozilla/firefox, and include at least the file profiles.ini contains an overview of the available profiles. By default it contains something like

[General]
StartWithLastProfile=0

[Profile0]
Name=display-0
IsRelative=1
Path=7v0n6ir5.horrible_broken_firefox_with_no_understanding_of_UNIX

The Path starts with some random character string, in this case 7v0n6ir5. I added the rest myself, of course, keeping the beginning in case it had some meaning (it doesn't). The whole thing is a the name of a subdirectory in the same directory.

So I changed my profiles.ini to include a new directory (with the more neutral name display-0), and copied the entire directory from dereel to teevee. And that worked, mainly. On restart, I came up with the correct settings, as far as I can tell, and this window:


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“Your Firefox is out of date”. But it's the latest version, 6.0. Have they brought out a 7.0 already? Followed the link “latest and greatest version” and got another screen:


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”Your Firefox is up to date”! And yes, it's repeatable. My best guess is that the first test is checking something in the configuration and coming to the conclusion that it must be version 5.0, which is what I'm running on dereel. But why? It should be trivial for an executable to check the version information stored in itself.


More bread experiments
Topic: food and drink Link here

I've been baking German-style sourdough rye bread for over 2½ years now, and it has settled into a consistent, repeatable style. Time to experiment a little? It's relatively heavy: a loaf uses 1.3 kg of flour and 960 ml of water; after baking it still weighs over 2 kg, and the pores are relatively small.

I started off using very little water indeed: 1 kg flour and 490 ml water. Maybe it's time to try the effects of more water. So today I put in 1000 ml of water, which did cause a significantly higher loaf. But the proof is in the eating, and that won't be until tomorrow.


Another useless rat trap
Topic: general, animals Link here

My problems with rat traps aren't over. After the abortive attempt with cages, I bought a different kind a month ago. It has a tube with bait, a trigger and a tensed rubber ring set off by a trigger when the rat goes in:


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The rat enters through a tunnel from the right. The green strip is the ring, the trigger is the black strip just visible to the left. There's no bait in this trap, but it would be further left.

In principle that all makes sense. The problem: there once was bait in the trap. Something, possibly a mouse, has entered, eaten the bait and left again. The problem with this trap is that it makes assumptions about the size of its clients. You can understand why people use rat poison. Refilled it and put it up on the roof, where I hope there are no mice.


Keeping the spiders at bay
Topic: general Link here

We're not the tidiest people in the world, but there are basic issues that we have to address, like the number of spiders in the area. Finally we have a big brush to remove the webs. Clearly it was necessary:


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Pruning and propagating
Topic: gardening Link here

The clematis and climbing roses on the south side of the verandah are looking very happy and growing way beyond the roof of the verandah. Did a bit of pruning, and also planted some of the rose clippings (Iceberg cultivar). I hate throwing these things away...


Monday, 12 September 2011 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel
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To the doctor's again
Topic: general Link here

Into town again today to have the lesion on my forehead inspected. As I had suspected, the cooling last week hadn't been enough, and he repeated the application. At least it stung a little this time.


Home-made hamburgers
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

A couple of weeks ago we had decided that the quality of fresh “hamburger” meat was not up to our expectations. Yvonne wanted to buy a press for Steack haché, but the only ones we could find (on the French eBay) were very expensive. The offer on Australian eBay was strange: the cheapest (including postage) were from the USA and the UK, and included some kind of spring arrangement (this image from one of the UK sellers):

Spring-loaded hamburger press

They cost a little over $12, including postage. By comparison, In Australia, a straightforward plastic press costs $25 (including “free” postage). On the other hand, there are a surprising amount of Tupperware presses on the market, including many used ones, all more expensive than the press from the UK. They come with a minimum of 6 moulds: it seems that they're intended for freezing, quite the contrary of what I wanted to do.

But the Tupperware variety has the advantage of no moving parts. It's not clear what use the spring is in the presses from overseas, but it's clearly a potential point of failure. In the end, I had decided on a used Tupperware set from Australia: if I don't like it, I can (apparently) always sell it again.

It arrived today. It's pretty much what I expected: a handle for pressing the hamburger, 6 containers, and a cylinder for the handle, for no obvious reason. It limits the diameter of the hamburger, from an already marginal 10.5 cm to 9.0 cm:


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It proves that real meat also shrinks more than the fatty stuff people use for hamburgers, so in the end our cooked hamburgers were only about 7 cm across—far smaller than we wanted, and only about half the size of a steack haché. Still, making the patties was straightforward (once I discovered which way round to put the cylinder), and the results tasted—unsurprisingly—better than commercial ones.


More on the rat traps
Topic: general, animals Link here

I've received a couple of questions about the rat traps I mentioned yesterday. It's made by Nooski (“Kills everytime [sic] — guaranteed”). Here are some more photos. The trap part is separable from the tunnel, and it contains a lever to release the green rubber ring, presumably over the neck of the rodent:


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This also shows the bait in place (some Crystal malt and a bit of Appenzeller cheese rind). I can't recall the cheese being so close to the opening, and I wonder if a mouse got it out that far and then gave up. But there are no tooth marks.


Spring, slowly
Topic: gardening Link here

The flowers in the greenhouse are telling me that it's spring. Last year's petunias are blooming well, as are the ones I grew from seed in April. Time to them out to the verandah again. Only moved some of them: it's not clear when the correct time is. For example, the salvia “Phyllis fancy” that I planted at the beginning of the month is not looking as happy as I expected:


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Some of the tips of the leaves are shrivelling and browning. I have no concern about it surviving, but clearly the weather wasn't greatly to its liking. It looks like we're in for warmer weather in the next few days, so I'll probably slowly move things out of the greenhouse.


Ironing out the wrinkles on teevee
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

More playing around with the configuration on teevee today. I'm getting there: firefox now works correctly, though it still keeps telling me that it's out of date. But I've run into something very strange: the fvwm “move window” function now latches. On other systems, and previously on teevee, I can move a window with the combination c-a-mouse-3. Hold button 3 down, move the window, release. But that no longer works on teevee: instead, it latches, and nothing happens until I release the button. Then I can move the window and click somewhere when I'm done.

Why? I'm very sure I haven't changed anything this area. In fact, I don't think I've changed anything in this area in this millennium. And that's the problem: to fix it, I need to learn the details all over again. What a pain!


Tuesday, 13 September 2011 Dereel Images for 13 September 2011
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More reception issues
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Why does turning the bedside light on improve the reception of the bedside radio? It can't be the light. So I checked that: remove the globe and try again. Yes, it still improves the reception.

Why? About the only conclusion I can come to is that the active (live, phase) conductor runs through the house and acts as an antenna. When the power is on, this allows the wires to act like a secondary antenna. That's still a little confusing, since the switch is in the cable, not on the wall, but it seems to make sense. Maybe it's the lampstand itself which works like an antenna.

TV reception is still terrible. Last night I tried to record two programmes. One had no content at all, the other was so bad that mythtranscode failed at the beginning. And today I found another “empty” recording in progress. Tried a second tuner, and it recorded—badly, but with some content—while the first tuner continued to find nothing.

Experiments with femon, a program which doesn't even seem to be known to Google—all hits I found related to a plugin based on it—showed that the signal was, indeed, very weak. It's difficult to compare, because the output values vary from tuner to tuner, and in some cases they're only 8 bits:

=== root@cvr2 (/dev/pts/1) /recordings 16 -> femon
using '/dev/dvb/adapter0/frontend0'
FE: Zarlink MT352 DVB-T (TERRESTRIAL)
status 1f | signal 984f | snr 8c8c | ber 00070bec | unc 000025ed | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 95df | snr 8c8c | ber 00070bec | unc 000000dd | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 96df | snr 8b8b | ber 00070bec | unc 0000111c | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 932f | snr 8f8f | ber 00070bec | unc 00002fcd | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 95df | snr 8686 | ber 00070bec | unc 0000313f | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 95cf | snr 9393 | ber 00088246 | unc 000007fc | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 959f | snr 8888 | ber 00088246 | unc 0000388c | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 991f | snr 9595 | ber 00088246 | unc 00000ae8 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 964f | snr 8e8e | ber 00088246 | unc 0000000d | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 96bf | snr 8c8c | ber 00088246 | unc 00002577 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 9ccf | snr 9696 | ber 000802a8 | unc 00000000 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 995f | snr 9595 | ber 000802a8 | unc 00000000 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 98cf | snr 8989 | ber 000802a8 | unc 00000000 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 96bf | snr 8c8c | ber 000802a8 | unc 00000000 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 98ef | snr 8888 | ber 000802a8 | unc 00000005 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 919f | snr 8c8c | ber 0003809f | unc 00001bef | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 95ef | snr 8282 | ber 0003809f | unc 000025b9 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status 1f | signal 938f | snr 8383 | ber 0003809f | unc 00000578 | FE_HAS_LOCK

This is ABC 1, and the quality is pretty terrible, but bearable. But what do the values mean?

  1. signal is presumably the signal strength. It's clearly not a full 16 bits, because the last nibble is always f. The rest could be OK.

  2. snr is the signal-to-noise ratio. It's clearly only 8 bits, repeated.

  3. ber is the bit error rate. It seems to be almost complete nonsense. Seemingly random values repeat, and they suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of errors per second, far more than a tuner could report.

  4. unc are uncorrectable errors. The values are not as ridiculous as the ber values, but they still don't give any direct information.

As if that weren't bad enough, each tuner has its own way of reporting these values. About the only thing I can hope to rely on is that the first 8 bits of signal say something, and that the reception is good if ber is 0.

And the empty recordings? Both from the USB tuner. It seems to have wedged, not for the first time. But it seems to have wedged in the analogue part: it was still functional, and femon returned signal values starting with 3; anything below 8 is effectively “no signal”. I can't be bothered with this thing any more. I disconnected it. When we really need three tuners, I can connect it again.


Creating the shade area
Topic: gardening Link here

Years ago I had a propagation area to the north-east of the house, between two sheds, once the toy ALDI greenhouse self-destructed, almost exactly three years ago:


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After I got the (real) greenhouse a year later, I pretty much abandoned it: it's certainly not warm, and by now it was overgrown with knee-high grass. But it could easily be converted to a shade house: all I needed to do was to dig out the remaining flower pots from the undergrowth, mow the lawn, and then put some shade cloth over the top. The shade cloth will have to wait, but at least it looks tidy now:


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2011: The year of “no fun”
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It's only been a couple of days since I noted that programming is no fun any more, and observed how bloated modern libraries are. That's nothing new, of course, but it seems that more and more people are sitting up and paying attention. Today the draft schedule for next year's Linux.conf.au was released, and I found a paper by Rusty Russell: “Bloat: How and Why UNIX Grew Up (and Out)”. He takes the example of ls(1): in the Sixth Edition it was 4920 bytes, on the current version of Ubuntu it's 105776 bytes—and he hasn't mentioned the dynamic libraries. Looks like a presentation worth visiting. At the very least I don't need the fake beard, and the sandals shouldn't be an issue.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011 Dereel Images for 14 September 2011
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CFA helps prepare for bushfires
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I'm dragging my feet on cutting down the “cedars”, of course. The next step should have been to call in the CFA to take a look and make some recommendations. That's as simple as calling 1 800 240 667 (or take a trip down memory lane and call the TTY line 1 800 122 969), and I should have done it on Monday. But there's also the option of going by the web, and despite my previous negative experience with the CFA web site, decided to do that.

What's it like? Much improved. And much improvement still needed. The URL in the documentation is wrong, of course: it's http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/, the home page for CFA, not even the same web server, and you need three (mainly unnecessary) hops to get to the right place. The correct URL is http://cfaonline.cfa.vic.gov.au/mycfa/Show?pageId=siteAssessment, far too long to type in.

One of the first questions I was asked was “Have you gone through the Online Household Bushfire Self Assessment Tool?”.

As of 10 February 2016, this link is still there, but it's broken. Yet another indication of the uselessness of this web site. Maybe it's this one, found thanks to Google.

No, I hadn't, but clearly that makes sense, so I went through it. It would be too much to expect it to be valid HTML, and of course it's not, but even apart from that it's strange, particularly the navigation. They have a Next button at the bottom right most of the time, but sometimes it's an Exit button that otherwise looks identical:


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And yes, the text in the first detail image is truncated. It's by no means the only place.

There's also a Menu button that takes you back to the menu (second image) and a Back button that also takes you back to the same menu, at least every time I tried it. And then you have to go through the whole thing all over again, made more difficult by the fact that the Next button doesn't necessarily take you to the next page: instead it usually adds a couple of lines to the current page. On the other hand, if you don't press Next soon enough for its liking, it moves on anyway. And there's also voice output to annoy you. Instead of being able to just read the thing, you have to have it read it out to you.

That's not as bad as it seems, though: although the voice text is not identical to the written text, it's not truncated like the written text frequently is:


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The individual parts of the questionnaire appear to have been written by different people who don't talk to each other. The first section ("Defendable Space") appears to make significant assumptions about the nature of the terrain (no open space, for example). All that comes later in the assessment, but it makes it very difficult to relate to the first part.

There are many missed opportunities to link to appropriate detail information. The text below the first image is a detail of that image:


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“For information on preparing your house for ember attack, please visit the CFA website [sic]”. Then you have to search for the term, which doesn't provide anything obvious. Maybe it's this one, which provides protection for Microsoft users only. Or maybe it's this one, 82 pages of PDF text which you have to search. After some searching, I still don't know where I should be looking. Why can't they write “For information on preparing your house for ember attack, please click here”? My guess is because they can't find it either.

The second one reads “Do you ... know ... what to do if your house catches fire?”. The lack of further details implies the continuation “Bad luck. We're not going to tell you”.

By comparison, it's almost traditional to reject correctly written phone numbers. This one's different because I wrote it as the Australian standard (03) 5346 1370. The web software removed the spaces but kept the () around the area code, and then complained about it. That's not an issue with the CFA alone. Why can't web forms accept conventional formats?

 
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The examples above are with firefox on FreeBSD. Given the importance of this information, it should run on any standards-compliant platform. That doesn't include Microsoft of course, but it's more likely to work there. I checked it on Microsoft and Apple and confirmed: yes, there are no truncation issues with Microsoft “Internet Explorer”. They do that by refusing to honour requests for text size change, so people with poor eyesight or higher-resolution display won't be able to read the text. On Apple, with “Safari”, it just overflows the window:


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Increasing the window size doesn't necessarily help: once the text is large enough, the buttons at the bottom don't appear. And there are no scroll bars. You're lost:


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And other browsers under Microsoft? Even more surprises. Running firefox gave me:

 
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This window had the same resolution as the “Internet Explorer” window. Was the message warranted or just a misassumption? Hard to say, since firefox hung on the very first screen.

As a government agency, the CFA has an obligation to everybody in Victoria, not just those who use computers and software the way their “webmasters” expect. At the very least they could have done a fraction of the testing I have done. Probably the explanation comes early on in the questionnaire: they offer to give you forms to download and fill out by hand. They still haven't really understood computers. I only hope they can fight fires better.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was relatively warm and windless today, so did some weed spraying—and immediately it started to rain. Not much, but possibly enough to nullify the effect. That's frustrating: probably it didn't make any difference, but I can't find out whether it made any difference for at least a week, so probably I'm going to have to repeat everything.

Also planted the Ipomoeas and Lathyrus odoratus from the egg cartons into the bed in front of the fence in front of the garage. Egg cartons look too flimsy for seedlings that resent transplanting: they fall apart. I think I'll use toilet rolls if I can identify any further area which needs them.


More mystery plants
Topic: gardening Link here

In the shade of the northern birch in the middle of the eastern garden, I've become aware of this plant:


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I don't know what it is, but the large buds suggest that it's not a weed. I can't find any indication of planting something there. Maybe the flower will help identify it. Also found what I had thought were multiple “Cathedral” trees, but which prove to be only two:


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One had sprung up in very little soil in the “bunker” to the north-east of the house, and I found the other one when tidying up the shade area. I still don't know what they are either, but I suppose we should plant them somewhere.


Thursday, 15 September 2011 Dereel Images for 15 September 2011
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Gardening documentation
Topic: technology, gardening, opinion Link here

Over the last few weeks I have bought a number of plants and also planted seeds and propagated other plants. With spring coming, it's time to decide where to plant them.

In the past this has meant going into the greenhouse, looking at what's there and deciding where it might go. The problem with this approach is that I don't have an overview: not all plants are in the greenhouse, and I don't have information about the conditions they want or how big they will get. I have all this information in my diary, for example for the plants we bought at the market at the end of last month. So I could just print out the page, right?

Well, there's a problem there of my own making. That's part of the month's diary, and it's long. How long? That depends, but at least 30 pages. Clearly a candidate for selective printing, something I should think about. In the meantime, though, all web browsers offer an option to print only specific pages of a document. That's straightforward enough for a PDF document, but what do you do if it's a web page? What's the starting page number of that entry?

Decided that it would probably be easier just to print the document to PDF and then print from xpdf. Did that and came up with the most horrible PDF I have ever seen:


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How did firefox manage such a mess? It's clearly deliberate, because the marginal markings are OK. I've seen this before when printing things out, and blamed it on the printer drivers on boskoop, my aging Apple, to which the printer is connected. Clearly that's not the problem. And clearly the output quality is unacceptable. I should look at the causes, but on this occasion I just wanted to print out the pages.

So: tried it on the Apple, with “Safari”. If there's a way to print to a file there, I'm clearly too stupid to see it. But there's a “print preview”, so tried that. And the text seemed tiny, at least because Apple likes to present windows smaller than they are. In this case, though, the text was less than half the page width. Increased the text size until it looked like this:


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That's clearly too large. But the resultant printout was tiny! It used fractionally over half the width of the paper, though the text is slightly wider in proportion. The text itself was in about 7 pt.

OK, this is an old version of “Safari”, but not that old, and I wouldn't want to bet that the latest version does it better. Why should the text width on the screen have any effect on the dimensions of a printout on paper? And why do none of the browsers have typical metrics like (real) font size? The “page setup” just gives me the options of “Settings” (not really an option, just “Page attributes”) and a scale factor, which in my case is 100%. But what does that mean? As usual, the “Help” is no help:

Type the percentage you want to reduce or enlarge the printout in the Scale text box.

Percentages are relationships. What does this percentage relate to? This has been an ongoing problem for as long as I have used scalable printers on computers, about 25 years. Is it really that difficult?


Friday, 16 September 2011 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 16 September 2011
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To the doctor, for the last time
Topic: general Link here

Into Ballarat again today to have my lesion looked at. That makes 7 visits to the doctor in less than 4 weeks. By contrast, in the previous 3 years I went only 5 times. What a difference it makes to be able to make an appointment and get in and out quickly!

Still, I'm not going to see this doctor (Mina Gurgius) any more. It turns out it's his last day in Ballarat. He used to work in Kaniva, but he moved to Melbourne and thought he could comfortably commute to Ballarat. He has now discovered that's not the case, so he's moving to a practice in Melbourne. My next appointment isn't for another couple of months, by which time there should be a replacement for him.


More Leucandenrons
Topic: gardening, photography, opinion Link here

Looked in at Formosa Gardens on the way back, looking for inspiration. Found more Leucadendrons, including a variety called (I think) “Cordifolium”:


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This one shows the buds on a single plant in a big pot; I think the label at bottom left is an image of what it should look like when it's in flower, but of course I messed up the composition on this horrible toy camera. The original shows bright red inflorescences. I prefer the appearance to that of the other Leucospermums I saw two weeks ago:


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The problem is the size: clearly this is a well-grown plant in a big pot, and they want $60 for it. The smaller ones only cost $18. And then I found a Leucospermum Cordifolium in the same size small pot for only $13.

Why the difference in the latter two prices? Except for the flower colour, they're pretty much the same, and judging by the labels they appear to come from the same grower. I can think of two possibilities: either they just don't have enough of the strange coloured ones, or they're more difficult to raise. Either speaks in favour of the Cordifolium. But unfortunately the small ones are all yellow, and I want a red one. Off to Dahlsens, a place I normally don't visit, to see if they had any. Their plant department has gone very much downhill since I was last there, and the only Leucospermum they had was the same as at Formosa, but looked stressed and cost $2 more. It'll be a while before I go there again.


PHP insights
Topic: technology Link here

One of the things that I haven't been able to do with PHP is to conditionally process page text. Part of this relates to the display of individual topics. For example, this entry starts with:

      <?php pubdate ("2011-09-17T01:45:41+00:00"); ?>
      <?php texttopic ("c", "PHP insights"); ?>

texttopic() checks the topic ("c" in this case, for computers). If it isn't set, it suppresses the article. That could be simple:

<?php if (ontopic ($topic))
        print <<< EOF
      <p>
        One of the things that I haven't been able to do with <a href="http://www.php.org/">PHP</a>
        is to conditionally process page text.  Part of this relates to the display of individual
        topics.  For example, this entry starts with:
      </p>
...
EOF;

But that's not the code I use. Instead, that paragraph reads:

      <p>
        One of the things that I haven't been able to do with <?php href ("http://www.php.org/",
        "PHP"); ?> is to conditionally process page text.  Part of this relates to the display of
        individual topics.  For example, this entry starts with:
      </p>

The URL is generated by a PHP function call. So this method would require recursive evaluation. I've been looking for a solution for a while, without success, and I haven't really wanted to annoy Rasmus Lerdorf with this kind of question. But today I did so, and came up with a couple of interesting recognitions:

Firstly, there's a function eval() that evaluates PHP code. It's apparently considered dangerous because people use it on other people's input, something reminiscent of this xkcd cartoon:

Image

But that's not what I need. Instead, Rasmus suggested a syntax I've never seen before:

    <?php if ($allowed): ?>
      text
    <?php endif ?>

It seems that this is old, pre-C-like syntax, and the same could be written:

    <?php if ($allowed) { ?>
      text
    <?php } ?>

Clearly the first looks less confusing


Firefox PDFs analysed
Topic: technology Link here

My article yesterday about printing out web pages from firefox aroused some interest. After some investigation, it proved that yes, indeed, there's something in my profile that causes this horrible distortion. With a vanilla profile, it produces legible output. It even fills the width of the page by enlarging the text accordingly:


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Now, instead of the tiny 7 pt text that I got from Apple, I get enormous 14 pt text. And this time, on the positive side, it's independent of the display size. On the negative side, the only way to influence the size seems to be to use percentages again. Why can't there be a mapping between the HTML font size specifications and point sizes?

In addition, it seems that firefox always creates bit map images. The result was that my diary for August produced 26 MB of output. It's difficult to compare with commercial offerings: I haven't found a way to print to a file with Apple or Microsoft. The latter might allow me to do so if I were to install a real printer, but that seems to require their own network rather than a TCP/IP network, and I don't want to get involved in that. Tried it with Opera and also got a bit-mapped output, which, however, only used 9.5 MB. On the other hand, that looks like a bug, not a feature. I think it crashed before completing: I couldn't read it with xpdf:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/22) ~ 11 -> xpdf output.pdf
Error: May not be a PDF file (continuing anyway)
Error: PDF file is damaged - attempting to reconstruct xref table...
Error: Couldn't find trailer dictionary
Error: Couldn't read xref table

I could at least read the PostScript output, which is about the same size. It stopped on about 6 August 2011 after doing some strange formatting down the side of the file. So presumably it crashed. It also doesn't display all the text, maybe because of a font issue.

In summary: it's broke. I don't know of any way to print a reasonable-looking document from a web browser. Is it really that difficult to do it right?


Saturday, 17 September 2011 Dereel Images for 17 September 2011
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Smart phones: just what I need
Topic: technology, opinion, gardening Link here

Mail from Tom Maynard today, suggesting a solution to my problems identifying plants in the greenhouse: use a smart phone and a web browser to display my diary in the greenhouse. At least it would get around the breakage with web browser print output.

But why a smart phone? Because I will have some mobile coverage in the greenhouse. Theoretically I could use a laptop, but then I wouldn't be able to make phone calls with it.

In fact, I don't have mobile coverage in the greenhouse, thanks to cranks like the “Dereel Anti-Tower Alliance”. I do have 802.11 coverage, and I did consider using a laptop. I didn't, mainly because of the light: it's difficult to recognize anything on modern displays in bright sunshine. But it would have been a solution. The high-end devices have a maximum display size of 640×900, compared to a display size of 1024×768 or higher with a laptop. And I've found that even a single 1920×1200 display is cramped. So it's not for me.

And assuming I did have mobile coverage? We can still hope. But it's more expensive, and a smart phone with such “high” resolution will cost me about $800. For that I can buy a laptop and a phone and have money over for a night on the town. The real advantage of the smart phone is the size and the fact that it has multiple functionality.

So why did Tom suggest a smart phone? It clearly fits his lifestyle. It doesn't fit mine, but I'm apparently in the vast minority. What's the attraction? My best bet is that people can use them when commuting, at least in countries like Australia where there's reasonable public transport. In other cases, people seem to frequently be under way and need net access. For them, smart phones are almost certainly a good idea.

But looking at the sales figures, they're the biggest thing since sliced bread. Why do they sell so many? Clearly lots of people are on the move, and this caters to it. But that begs the question: why are they on the move? One of the advantages of the Internet era should be that people don't need to go anywhere to meet up with other people, or to do their job. I personally stopped commuting over 20 years ago. Somehow smart phones seem to be a symptom of the failure to adapt to the Internet age.


Planting and irrigating
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got around to planting some of the plants we bought last month:


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They're barely recognizable at the moment, of course, but it's good to keep record of where they went. They're marked by bamboo poles, only visible in the enlargement. From left to right they're Felicia angustifolia, the painfully syntactically incorrect Coleonema pulchrum aureum, which I think I'm going to have to call Coleonema pulchra, and the Convolvulus sabatius:


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Also attended to the drippers in that area; over 50% of them were clogged up. No wonder some of the seedlings were looking less than happy.

Put more hanging baskets on the verandah, and did some trimming. Petunias seem to propagate relatively well from cuttings, and since there are continual cuttings, it looks as if I will have quite a few in the course of time. Also tried propagating a Alyogyne huegelii branch which had been broken off in the wind.


Bœuf en croûte: cooking times?
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Chris Yeardley to dinner tonight as usual. Yvonne had decided on Bœuf en croûte, a French adaptation of what is called Beef Wellington in English. How long do you cook that? It's covered in duxelles and then wrapped in pastry, so I was expecting a long time. In fact, it was finished far more quickly than I had expected. After 30 minutes the temperature was already 60°, rather too high. I'll be more careful next time.


Sunday, 18 September 2011 Dereel Images for 18 September 2011
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Garden photos in variable weather
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yesterday was very windy, so I postponed my weekly garden photos (which, for no good reason, I've called “house photos” in the past) until today. Today was less windy, but to make up for that, the light kept changing from overcast to full sun. One such transition hit me while taking the critical verandah photos: first, there are 72 individual images, and 24 of them are with full power flash. Even with fully charged batteries, the flash recycle time goes from 5 seconds to about 12 seconds by the end of the session, or about 4½ minutes. And by then the time I got round to the end, the first image had changed:


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How do you handle that? The image is composed of two rows of 12 merged images, bottom row first, so I repeated the bottom row (the second image above is the first of those images). Then I made two different panoramas, first with the first 12 images, then with the last 12 images, in each case with the same top row (middle 12 images). I was fully expecting the first to be badly exposed, but in fact it didn't work out so badly:


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More irrigation work
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got round to sorting out the irrigation in the ex-Cathedral. Not that much work, but for some reason surprisingly tiring. At least now everything has a dripper, and I don't seem to have any leaks any more. Next step is to cover the bases of the trees with weed mat.


Monday, 19 September 2011 Dereel Images for 19 September 2011
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure at 4:30 this morning.


Ballarat Gardens in Spring
Topic: gardening, technology Link here

So finally the (PDF) brochure for Ballarat Gardens in Spring is complete, and it's up on the web site. And, apart from a brief mention on the home page, that was all. There's a general feeling amongst friends the that PDF documents are enough, but it's clear to me that the web is for web content, so set to writing a couple of pages.

That's not as simple as it sounds. The current home page for the friends has a number of validation errors, and as an HTML file it needs to contain all its invariant markup as well. I started some time ago to convert the stuff to PHP, but was by no means finished. On the other hand, I didn't want to publish anything that didn't validate, so spent a lot of time first completing the work I had done. In the end, it took a large part of the day to get the two pages up and iron out some of the strangenesses in the Google Map. But hopefully I now have a framework that will work for other pages too. And for that I'll be going to town tomorrow to show it to people.


More firefox rendering strangenesses
Topic: technology Link here

I've only just come to terms with the strange way that one of my firefox profiles prints web pages, and now I find that the same profile has developed other issues: the display fonts seem to have changed. The larger fonts on my diary have shrunk. Here “before” and “after”:


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This isn't due to explicit differences in settings: the “old” version is the profile that I derived from what has now become the “new” version a week ago for teevee—thus the difference in format. So something has changed, but what? Looking at the font preferences, both are set identically. Somewhere there's bitrot in firefox that is almost impossible to find.

In that context, it's interesting to note more and more “blog” posts expressing dissatisfaction with not only firefox, but other browsers as well. In an article titled Browser Breakup, Tim Bray complains about “Safari” and notes that he uses three different browsers. He doesn't complain about firefox, but having to use more than one browser is condemnation enough.


Unusually warm weather
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

Spring seems to be coming earlier than usual this year. The birch trees in the eastern garden have as many leaves as they did at the beginning of October last year, and today the temperature hit 28.1°, much higher than we had in all of September last year:

mysql> SELECT year(date), min(outside_temp), avg(outside_temp), max(outside_temp)
       FROM observations
       WHERE month(date) = 9
       GROUP BY year(date);

+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
| year(date) | min(outside_temp) | avg(outside_temp) | max(outside_temp) |
+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
|       2010 |               0.5 |  9.74286180425605 |              22.7 |
|       2011 |               1.7 |  11.2671125956877 |              28.1 |
+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+

It was also quite windy, and for the first time I needed to put the shade cloth over the greenhouse. High time to get the shade area sorted out.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011 Dereel
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To the Friends again, with surprises
Topic: technology, gardening, animals Link here

In preparation for going to the Friends of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens this afternoon, spent the morning removing birch seedlings (Betula pendulis) from the garden, in total about 30 of them. Also took a seedling of the Cathedral tree and both a seedling and a branch of another mystery plant:


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On the way into town, nearly drove into the back of the car in front of me when he suddenly stopped while leaving the roundabout in the middle of Sebastopol. That proved to be because three tiny dogs were running around on the street. Got out and tried to help others catch them. Finally caught all three: two which might have been long-haired Chihuahuas and another black-and-white one which looked something like a tiny Jack Russell Terrier. The Chihuahuas had collars with identification on them, so one of the few people remaining called the number on them, and they were able to give us the name of the dog, but neither the name nor the address of the owner. Finally they told us we could drop them at any vet, so off to the Ballarat Veterinary Practice, nominally in Sturt St, and on my way to the Botanical Gardens.

They're not really on Sturt St at all; they're in a side street, and in the past I've had difficulty finding it. But what's a GPS navigator for? Yes, it had the information, and took me straight to Alfred St. North, 5 streets and 650 metres away.

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It took me more than 5 minutes to find the correct place, where they happily took the dogs. It wasn't until we were done that I realised I had forgotten to take any photos.

At the friends, gave the birches to Yvonne, who identified the mystery flowers as “Locust”, and effectively a weed. It looks as if it could be Robinia pseudoacacia, but the leaves are wrong. She wasn't sure about the “Cathedral” tree.

The two people I really wanted at the meeting were Julie Bradbury and Jenny Burrell, but they both weren't there. Instead spoke to Liz Gilfillan, Helen Vincent, Mike Sorrell and Raoul Dixon. People are concerned about what we would call version control, and so they wanted separation of responsibilities. The result: I get the responsibility, and we'll ask Jenny to do the layout things, at which she's better than I am.

On the other hand, Mike wanted to write web content (a term I had to explain) too, and I wanted to show him. We went to the computer (directly connected to the ADSL modem), and I put in a switch that I had brought with me. No connection to the modem. Much further investigation showed that the modem was not talking to the network. It had LEDs marked Ethernet and USB, and both were on, even when nothing was plugged in. Microsoft's confusingly spelt ipconfig told me simply “Media State . . . Media Disconnected”.

Called up TransACT support and got connected pretty quickly to Mavrick. Told him that we had no Ethernet connection and he said “No worries, we'll sort that out. Open a browser and go to 192.168.1.1”. I told him a couple of time that I had no carrier, but he insisted that I try it. Surprise! It didn't work. Finally I told him about the LEDs, and he said “OK, the modem is fried. You'll need to get a replacement”.

That proved to be simpler than I thought. He told me I should get a free replacement, and TransACT has a (relatively large) office in Mitchell Park, Ballarat. Off there, one of the few times I have been to the place of business of an ISP, where they told me—not surprisingly—that I would have to pay for the modem or commit to another year's line rental, neither of which I wanted to do. Told her that Mavrick had told me I could get one for free, so she called him up (in Canberra), and he confirmed he had said it. So I got the free modem after all.

Back to the Friends and installed the modem. Total time since identifying the problem: 40 minutes. But of course I needed to configure the modem, something I had been told I wouldn't need to do, so called up the support line again. After 1 minute I got the information “your call will be answered by the next available consultant”. And then, a few minutes later, the first of many “Due to an unprecedented influx of calls we cannot answer in a timely manner. Press 1 to leave a message”. That wasn't what I wanted to do, but after a total of 20 minutes (on mobile), I finally tried it, only to get a further message “You cannot leave a message now, mailbox full”. A couple of bad points to TransACT. I'll have to try it some other time. It's also interesting to note that I did not need to provide any authentication at any time. The only information they needed was the name of the subscriber and the account number.

So: an unusual and not very satisfying day. We'll have to configure the modem next week. People are, perhaps correctly, confident that nobody will notice.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011 Dereel Images for 21 September 2011
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TransACT support: the security
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Called up TransACT support again today, starting at round 11:00, when you'd think that they'd be relatively quiet. Once again I progressed in the queue to the next available representative after about 1 minute of waiting. And once again I got the “Due to an unprecedented influx of calls we cannot answer in a timely manner. Press 1 to leave a message”. It took them 40 minutes to answer my call.

That's clearly too long, and they apologized. It seems that the other support person is studying law and had to go for an exam. But what's a reasonable time? I think that it would have to be under 10 minutes, probably under 5. I wonder if there are standards somewhere.

The information I wanted was sensitive: user name and password. Clearly the consultant needed some kind of authentication. He asked me for the address or the ABN, both which I don't know. I told him to check whois and send me the information to the email address specified there, but he wanted the ABN. That's OK, though: it's in the whois information, so I was able to read it to him.

Yet Another Useless Security Check. So far I have not provided TransACT with any information to authenticate myself, and yet I have a brand new ADSL modem and the information I need to set it up. O tempora! O mores!

In passing, it's interesting to note that Liz Gilfillan was probably right when she said that Tuesday next week would be soon enough to set up the modem. Looking at the usage, I found:


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Our last traffic was on 14 August, so that's presumably when the modem died. It's worth asking if we even need an ADSL connection.


One more plant planted
Topic: gardening Link here

Again I didn't get much done today. We still have lots of plants to plant, but apart from some random weeding, I only planted a Banksia ericifolia at the south of the eastern bed (next to the bamboo rod), and a Primula that I had picked up at the Friends yesterday:


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The Calendula behind the Banksia will go away some time when the Banksia has grown larger.


Thursday, 22 September 2011 Dereel Images for 22 September 2011
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Back to school
Topic: technology, general, gardening Link here

To the University today to attend my first lecture in decades, and possibly the first ever about Computer Science. Sasha Ivkovic is doing a class on “Open Source”, and Chris Yeardley suggested I came to listen.

First, though, to Gays to buy some timber and shade cloth for the planned shade area in the garden. Paid a total of $75, which seems more than reasonable.

Getting from there to the University proved much slower than I had expected. It's less than half an hour from Dereel, and I was expecting about 5 to 10 minutes, but in fact it took 25, and I was late (something I hate). Doubtless Chris will give me hell on Saturday. I had intended to just lurk, but Sasha saw me and asked me a number of questions on the topic. He wants me to come back and do a presentation of the matter from my point of view, which I might do if anybody is interested enough.

The students also have a practical to do: CVS. I suppose for people using Microsoft, it must be something completely different.


Smart phones: first contact
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've already mentioned why a smart phone is nothing for me. But Chris Yeardley has just bought one, a Samsung <mumble>. I had lunch with her today (it's amazing how expensive the university cafeteria is) and she showed it to me. Talked about the complete lack of security in my contacts with TransACT, so decided to show her the whois entries. That's not easy, for reasons unrelated to the smart phone: getting plain whois information on line is not easy, as I discovered while writing yesterday's diary entry. The majority seems to be oriented towards selling domain names at three times the going rate rather than giving information. For example, http://www.whois.com.au/ gives this emetic search form and results:

 
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It wasn't until later that I noted the whois link, but that requires yet more input, including a Captcha. And this tiny keyboard makes things ten times worse. Chris had some kind of terminal emulator on the box, so we tried that, with results that were half to be expected. By chance I had a copy of c't with me in which there was a report of Apple getting an injunction to stop Samsung selling their Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet, because they allege that it violates Apple's look and feel. So it's clear that we should take a photo with that background:


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That also shows how tiny the display is. Not all applications have such small text, but so far Chris has not found a way to enlarge it.

In summary: after playing around with the thing for a while, I'm no closer to wanting anything like that. I consider a good keyboard, something I don't have to look at to operate, to be absolutely essential. None of these devices can offer that. This tablet also has a GPS receiver, which of course didn't work in the cafeteria, but we did check for the location of the Ballarat Veterinary Practice, and it got it almost right—after far too much messing around. Possibly there are easier ways to do things, but you need to learn everything from scratch. Life's too short.


New Leucospermum
Topic: gardening Link here

I've been looking for a small red Leucospermum cordifolium for some time now. I had found them in big at Formosa Gardens, and they also had small yellow ones. I later asked if they could get me a small red one, and yes, maybe they could. But on the way into town I stopped by another nursery on Main Road. I've been there before, but for some reason they don't show up in any lists, neither online nor in the phone book. In this case, Google Maps Street View comes to the rescue:

 
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So they're Pearson's Nursery, and the address appears to be 730 Geelong Road. With that information, I was finally able to find it on Truelocal: the address is 728 Main Road, though both Google Maps and my GPS navigator want to call it Geelong Road. In any case, they did have a red Leucospermum cordifolium, and despite their sign saying “lowest prices in town” (partially out of focus on the Google street view), they wanted $3 more for it than Formosa did. Still, there's the “bird in the hand” consideration, and the example I found looked very nice and will hopefully flower in the next month or so, so I took it.


Installing the Friends' ADSL modem
Topic: technology, gardening Link here

Next off to the Botanical Gardens to set up the ADSL modem that I had picked up on Tuesday. There was really not much to set up: this appears to be a really bare-bones modem. Enter user name and (new) password as given to me on the phone, press “Connect”. Got a message saying “Connecting in 30 seconds”, counting down until 0, then the message “You are ready to connect. Press Connect to connect”. Same again. And again.

Looking at the modem display, the PPP LED was out. Was this the modem's way of saying “PPP authentication failed”? What a pain! I didn't have a phone with me, and we know how difficult it is to contact TransACT support. I considered going to the Robert Clark Centre and calling from there, but first I considered an alternative: it seems that the user name was also the mail user name. What if they hadn't changed the password after all? Tried the old password (which, fortunately, I had checked yesterday), and it worked!

What a pain TransACT is! And they didn't tell me that resetting that password would also affect access to the email system, so in fact it's just as well they didn't. So far I've been saying about the ADSL connection “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. Gradually I'm coming to the conclusion that it's broke.


More ridiculous security
Topic: general Link here

While returning the key at the Botanical Gardens, accidentally dropped my car key. Nothing serious, but the remote control no longer worked. Given that my car is 20 years old and has 260,000 km on the clock, I'm not too worried about that: I still have a key. But the remote control proves necessary to disable the burglar alarm. The result: I drove all the way home with the alarm going off. I was able to disable the acoustic alarm, but every so often it set off the emergency flashers. Somehow that's stupid. Fortunately, I have a second remote control, so apart from the drive home there was no problem.


Irrigation for the shade area
Topic: gardening Link here

On the way home, stopped in at Midland Irrigation and picked up some tap fittings for the shade area. Just a couple of connectors and the tap itself. Total cost: $68, almost as much as the timber and shade cloth. Somehow that seems wrong.


Friday, 23 September 2011 Dereel Images for 23 September 2011
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New shade area
Topic: gardening Link here

Started working on the new shade area today. There are two things to do: supply water and put up the shade cloth. The water proved to be more of a problem than I thought, since the pipe needs to go along a stable wall, and there's a water tank up against it. The water tank needs to go, but currently it has 1000 l of water in it, so I need to use up the water before moving it. Instead put the tap near the pump at the end of a short piece of pipe. I'll move it later when the tank is empty.

Putting up the joists was even more frustrating. Some of the timber to which I need to attach the joist holders is so hard that I couldn't hammer in the nails. Tried screws, with similar problems. Tried pre-drilling the screw holes, and the drill bit got stuck in the wood, and I had to remove it with a mole wrench.

That was enough frustration for one day, and I gave up and planted the Leucospermum cordifolium in the far east garden:


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That required much weeding; this is one of the most overgrown parts of the garden. It was relatively easy, though, easier than when I tried two years ago (last year I was incapacitated by my accident at the dam): the thick grass had taken over and made it impossible for anything else to grow. So: why am I removing it? I've seen similar things where I did some weeding to the north of the main garden area a couple of months ago. The area that I easily weeded then is now completely overgrown again with many smaller weeds. I think I'll just pull it out and leave it there as a loose mulch to stop anything else coming through.


Canon camera quality
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Yvonne's new camera has given up the ghost, after only four months. “Lens error”, apparently meaning a mechanical problem with the lens extension. It jammed with the lens extended, and nothing can get it to come back in again. Called up Canon technical support, once I fought my way through their obstructive web site—the “support” page had no support, just a link to “support”, which pointed back at itself—and was told to bring the thing to Canon service.

That's a particular problem because we bought it in Hong Kong, and we will have to send it back. Tried to contact the seller via eBay, but their horrible web software didn't want to know about it: after all, it was four months ago. Sent off a “general query”, but by evening didn't get a reply. Why do Yvonne's cameras always have problems? The last one was also only a year old when it died with similar symptoms.


Saturday, 24 September 2011 Dereel Images for 24 September 2011
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I need better rechargeable batteries
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Today was day for taking photos of the exterior of the house. It's gradually becoming a routine, but that gives smaller things the opportunity to irritate me. Today it was the flash unit. Apart from the fact that it takes so long to recycle, a set of (NiMH) batteries barely survives the 24 shots I need for the verandah panorama. Last week I recharged the batteries after the shots, but although I didn't use them after charging, today the unit claimed “low battery” after only a couple of shots.

I've found that things are better if I charge the batteries the night before, and potentially it's an indication of the quality of ALDI's “according to our stringent quality specifications” rechargeable batteries. They work well enough in less demanding situations, so maybe they're not designed to deliver the current that the flash unit wants. I should probably buy some elsewhere.

But where? How do I find good batteries? What about Lithium? As usual, went to eBay and looked there. Yes, there are rechargeable Lithium AA batteries on the market, with a nominal voltage of 3.7 V. That's hardly likely to be compatible with devices expecting 1.5 V AA. If they were at least 3.0 V there would be a possibility of replacing two normal batteries with one Lithium battery, but that doesn't seem to be the way they do things.

But then I found something I've never heard of: Nickel-zinc batteries. They seem to have an internal resistance of 5 mΩ, compared to 50 mΩ for NiMH batteries, and they have a nominal voltage of 1.65 V. Is that acceptable? I've already established that brand new non-rechargeable alkaline batteries have a voltage of 1.6 V or so, so probably the 1.65 V wouldn't be a problem. But freshly charged the NiZn batteries have a voltage of 1.8 V, which is possibly a little high.

Everything I read says that they're suitable for the purpose, and I suppose that the exact voltage is not as critical for battery-driven devices as it is for main-driven devices, but it would be nice to have some confirmation before I destroy my flash unit. In this particular case, the option of trying them in a cheaper unit doesn't help: working in one device is no guarantee that it would work in another.


Returning the defective Canon
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Got a reply from the seller of the IXY 200F, regretting the problem and enclosing a form to fill out—in Microsoft “Word” format. Under the circumstances, decided not to complain about that, and moved it to boskoop, my Apple, to process. That their application “TextEdit” can handle it, up to a point. I found it extremely difficult to avoid overwriting invisible markup. I wonder if that's the case for the real Microsoft “Word”. In the end, attached it to the reply, but also put up a web page as well. Hopefully they'll be able to read my reply.


Facebook crash
Topic: technology Link here

I've had a browser running for some days now, displaying the Facebook home page. This afternoon I looked at that screen and saw:

 
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Nothing that unusual, I suppose, but it's the first time I've seen a web application crash.


Sunday, 25 September 2011 Dereel Images for 25 September 2011
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Garden flowers at end of September
Topic: gardening Link here

Today's the last Sunday in September, time for a stock-taking of flowers in the garden. This year we have a whole lot of new flowers that weren't there before, along with some plants that have bloomed for the first time. In particular, the Echium (first two photos), which we bought last October, is only just coming into bloom, but it's already very pretty. Other plants are more recent. Here the Felicia angustifolia, which we bought last month:


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Another plant we bought at the same time is the Coleonema pulchra. And the Polemonium we bought in March is now flowering happily:


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In addition, the Japanese Iris, which we've had for over 2 years, is finally flowering profusely, and the Corydalis has weathered the winter nicely. It has been blooming almost since we got it, and it has also self-sown a number of seedlings.


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The Azaleas that we transplanted planted only a couple of weeks ago are also looking much happier than I expected:


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We planted them years ago, when the Cathedral was still looking healthy, but they never quite won the battle with the weeds. This is the best they have ever bloomed.

A number of Grevilleas are in bloom, including one that we brought with us from Wantadilla, which has been hanging around doing nothing for the last 4 years, and which has now been overtaken by an Acacia. Then there's this Grevillea longistyla × johnsonii “Elegance” thing which we bought in Bendigo 2½ years ago, and some of the plants we planted in the south bed a year ago:


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The tulips are also in full bloom. I can't recall seeing his many of them last year, though that may be because they're earlier this year:


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Then there's the question of annuals or perennials. According to many sources, such as the ProFlowers Flower Guide, they're different kinds of plants. But we have a number of annuals which are several years old. The Alyssum has straggled through the winter and is now coming back:


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We also have a surprising number of Petunias, some of them in their third spring:


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The Sparaxis (or are they Freesias?) are also still blooming freely, and finally the mystery seedling is flowering:


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New neighbours
Topic: general Link here

I've had a recent mail exchange with Rapinder Adekola, clearly a Sikh. But he signed his name “James”. It proves that the mail address was that of his wife. I'm reminded of the recommendation of Guru Gobind Singh to dispense with surnames and just use the title “Singh” or “Kaur” depending on sex. The current misunderstanding clearly a good reason: you can't normally tell a Sikh's sex from his or her given name.

Over to visit them this afternoon. They've just arrived from England and are waiting for registration (Rapinder is a General Practitioner, and James is a computer expert). Rapinder is still waiting for the Medical Board of Australia to give her a license and James is still investigating the computer market here. Interesting people, but it looks as if they won't be here long once they get their work sorted out.


A use for smart phones after all?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've mused about smart phones a couple of times recently, and I've had a pretty active discussion with various people, notably Tom Maynard. I don't need a smart phone, and others can't live without them. What are the real issues?

On the positive side, they're an incredible amount of computing power, and particularly communication power, in a small package. People on the move can do all sorts of things with them. Tom uses them for navigation (of course), looking up bank balances, restaurant critiques, weather forecasts, and even for making phone calls. But I can do all except the last without a smart phone.

My issue is that they're clumsy to use. In particular, the small size makes a real keyboard completely impossible, and the small display places extreme constraints on its use. But there are docking stations such as the Motorola lapdock that work around at least these problems. They have software called Webtop that looks almost like a real computer.

I don't think that that quite cuts it yet. But look at it from the other perspective: how about taking out the heart of a real computer and hiding it in a smart phone case? Say, a really fast processor and lots of memory, along with either a slower processor or heavy power-saving modes for saving power on the move. Then, instead of expanding the smart phone when needed, you could compress (and maybe slow down) the real computer when needed. The restrictions of the smart phone format don't go away—I can't see how they ever will—but they're not permanent. I can imagine that in a few years there will be something like that.


Monday, 26 September 2011 Dereel Images for 26 September 2011
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More lizards
Topic: animals Link here

Found a lizard in front of the house today:


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At first we thought it was a Jacky dragon, which we've seen before, but they look different. Most obviously, the tail is different:


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We suspect it's a Blue-tongued lizard, but it didn't stick its tongue out long enough.


American Express: true to form
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Last month I received an invoice from American Express for a credit card which had been cancelled in March. At the time I decided to wait and see what they would do.

The good news: they didn't try to deduct the sum from my also cancelled direct debit authority. Instead, they sent me another invoice, including charges of $30 for late payment and $2.60 (!) in interest.

 
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I wonder how long it will be before it comes to the attention of an intelligent life form, and whether that will be within American Express or not.


Better rat traps
Topic: animals Link here

So far in the fast few months I have caught two rats in a total of 5 traps. The latest one is still a virgin. But in the garden, I saw something interesting hanging over a Grevillea rosmarinifolia bush:


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The dead climbers are hops, “Pride of Ringwood”, for what it's worth. There are warnings about this kind of hop (“Don't stand motionless next to a Pride of Ringwood”), but that relates to their rapid growth. In this case, my best bet is that the rat tried to jump from the roof of the garage and got its tail caught in the bines:

 
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Yvonne has another theory: a possum did it. They have hand-like paws which could conceivably manipulate the tail, but I don't see a rat holding still while it did it.


CFA: finally
Topic: general Link here

I've been dragging my heels—again—calling the CFA for a site inspection. I registered on the web nearly two weeks ago, and I had come to the conclusion that they don't believe in the web. But no, today I got a phone call, and somebody will come by on Wednesday.


Shade area, continued
Topic: gardening Link here

More work on the shade area today. Somehow everything is ten times as complicated as it should be. Still, now I have the brackets in place, and I need Yvonne to help me measure the joists.

Instead addressed another area where I wanted shade cloth, this time really as a wind break: to the left of the north verandah of the house, next to the car parking area. That showed that these fancy plates I have for attaching cloth are not ideal, and I'm going to have to get some other way to hold it in place. It's holding, but it looks ugly:


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Horses going cheap
Topic: general, opinion Link here

We've been involved at a distance with the horse breeding activity at Olivaylle for some time now. They started breeding Paso Fino and Paso Peruano horses over ten years ago, and for a long time Chris Yeardley was in charge of the stud. But she left five years ago, and Jorge de Moya is getting old. He's currently in America, and there's a good chance he won't return.

He started closing down breeding activities over a year ago, and we visited them in June 2010, where he was astoundingly generous and gave Yvonne and Chris a horse each, of their choice. At that time he had about 85 horses for sale. Of those, 58 are still left, and they have to go soon. It's clear that they're not asking much for them.

But who wants to buy a horse at the moment? Wrong time of year, wrong financial climate, and wrong breed. Of the horses, 5 are Pura Raza Española, and 5 are Australian Stock Horses, and there's a good chance that they can get rid of them. But there are also three Paso Peruano stallions, 11 Paso Finos (probably the majority of the breed in Australia), and 33 Paso Criolla (which I call Paso Doble): crosses between Paso Fino and Paso Peruano. Many of them are excellent horses, but there are also many young, untrained horses, and there are very few trainers in Australia who understand anything about them. It doesn't help that Len and Sue Giddens' new horse registry doesn't want to recognize the Paso Criolla.

What's left of the herd next month will be sold at the sale yards in Hamilton next month, and we're seriously concerned that a large number of them will end up as dog food.

What can we do? With proper training, the horses could fetch a lot of money. Chris is buying three and will pick them up this weekend. Yvonne wanted to do the same, but even at the prices they're asking, we can't afford it. It's sad to see it come to this.


Metz: We don't need customers
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I have two, maybe three Mecablitz electronic flash units, made by Metz, one of the oldest names in electronic flash. My oldest one was a two-piece system with a charger hung over the shoulder, made some time in the 1950s. They've been around for ever, and their name is almost synonymous with electronic flash.

Currently I want to know whether my latest one supports Nickel-zinc batteries. It's a Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital, already 2 years old, so obviously the product description has been removed. I have a choice of the description of the barely different replacement or a download page for new firmware. Clearly I can't find any information about which batteries it supports. But I probably couldn't anyway: the description of the replacement model doesn't say anything either. Maybe Metz hasn't heard of NiZn batteries yet.

OK, that's what support lines are for, right? Fought my way through their web site looking for support. Somehow German web sites seem to be particularly clever in the way they make you click all over the place to find what should be obvious. It's so difficult that I had to start all over again looking for it to write this article, and it took me 5 minutes to realise that I had to select “Kontakt” at the very bottom left, and none of the menus at the top. Then I found:

 
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The phone number is accessible only from inside Germany (even excluding neighbouring German-speaking countries like Austria and Switzerland), and they want € 0,24 per minute even for product enquiries! Further searching showed that they had a web form to fill out, all of two lines of 21 characters:

 
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This is all in German, of course, because they don't offer any support in other languages.

Germany was once the world's leading producer of photographic equipment. Where are they now? Where is Rollei? Minox? Edixa? Voigtländer? I've had this kind of treatment from Edixa decades ago, when they still existed. How long does Metz have to go?


Tuesday, 27 September 2011 Dereel Images for 27 September 2011
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USPS mail: how long?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Over a month ago, Yvonne got me to order two books from AbeBooks. They were sent by “Priority Mail International”, which in my experience takes a little over a week. But the books didn't come, and according to their web site (which didn't disclose the tracking number), it could take up to a month. Today the month ran out, so I sent them a message asking them to hunt down the books.

Then out for breakfast, where Yvonne told me that the books had just arrived. That's terrible! Admittedly, AbeBooks had taken 4 days just to send them, but why pay for “priority” when even “First Class Mail” (the cheapest) can take only a week? I don't really see any difference in the quality of service between the two. In fact, even before this example my experience of “First Class” has been better than “Priority”.


More USB disk problems
Topic: technology, photography Link here

Yvonne into my office this afternoon to say that the cursor on her display wasn't moving. After confirming that she had tried a bigger hammer, checked and found that the system had frozen. After reboot, /var/log/messages showed lots of:

Sep 27 13:47:11 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): AutoSense failed
Sep 27 13:47:11 lagoon kernel: g_vfs_done():da0p1[WRITE(offset=1318222561280, length=131072)]error = 5
Sep 27 13:47:11 lagoon kernel: g_vfs_done():da0p1[WRITE(offset=1318222692352, length=114688)]error = 5

That's from my USB-connected photo backup disk. I thought the USB problems were over and done. High time to debug the hot plug issues with the eSATA adapter that I bought months ago, but in the meantime needed to do a backup. So ran fsck and discovered that I had a big lost+found directory. Since I do my backups with rsync, I didn't need to worry about that: just blow it away and run rsync again.

And the system froze again. This time no console messages. Is this the dreaded soft updates memory issue? Possibly, and there's no reason for soft updates on this drive anyway, so tried to turn them off:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 1 -> tunefs -n disable /photobackup/
tunefs: soft updates cleared
tunefs: /dev/ad4s1a: failed to write superblock

Huh? That's not the device:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 2 -> grep photo /etc/fstab
/dev/da0p1             /photobackup     ufs     rw,noauto      0        0

With the correct drive, it worked:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 3 -> tunefs -n disable /dev/da0p1
tunefs: soft updates cleared

At first, I thought message “failed to write superblock” was an incorrect error message, but looking at the device name, that's the root file system:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/pts/2) /dereel/home/grog 4 -> df /
Filesystem  1048576-blocks Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad4s1a           9916 7930  1192    87%    /

So clearly tunefs reacts differently from, say, fsck when given a mount point. fsck looks up the device in /etc/fstab; tunefs appears to get the device name from the specified directory name. You can't reset soft updates when the device is mounted (that's why the superblock update failed), so what it finds is the underlying file system, in this case the root file system.

I'm still not convinced that all is well with the backup disk. One of the problems is that rsync normally considers files to be the same if the file size and modification timestamp are the same. After a crash, that's not necessarily sufficient. Running rsync with the --checksum option would probably take longer than just starting from scratch, so I suppose I should rebuild the file system. But I'll wait until I have something faster than USB before I do that: even at a sustained 50 MB/s, writing 1 TB of data takes nearly 6 hours.


Shade area: progress
Topic: gardening Link here

Continued work on the shade area today, and got pretty much finished. The first image is from two weeks ago:


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The shade cloth I bought was considerably longer than needed; I had intended to use the rest for the west end of the north verandah. But now I think I might cut it to size as an entrance, so that we can cover it completely on hot days.

Once again I had problems with the tack strips. They're 1.25×5 cm, with 8 barbs to go through the shade cloth into the wood, and come in packs of 5:


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The problem is that they're considerably wider than a hammer, and hammering them in tends to knock in only one side. Unless the wood is very soft, you end up with something like this, on the west side of the north verandah:


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And if things go wrong, they become worse than useless:


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Tried it again today with similar results, and decided that I should use wood strips and screws instead:


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That worked quite well, except that the cloth was wider than the advertised “metric” 1.8 metres (the resemblance to 6 feet is purely coincidental), so we had to bunch it a bit on the right. I'll replace the strips on the verandah with something similar in full length.


New neighbours, again?
Topic: general, animals, opinion Link here

A visit from some people who know Yvonne in the afternoon, Martin and Kylie Godwin. They're thinking of renting the house across the road, the one belonging to the Nottles. That would make the 6th set of occupants of the house since we've been here: we never met the first ones, then there was Judy in late 2007. After that, the owners moved in and stayed until January 2010, when they sold to the Nottles, who moved in on 25 February 2010 and out again on 11 November 2010. Then Kirrilee and her partner moved in about 6 months ago. We didn't know that she was moving out until we heard that the Godwins were thinking of moving in. He's a farrier and she's a horse trainer, so they wouldn't be the worst of neighbours.


Metz speaks
Topic: photography, technology, opinion Link here

Nobody on the lists seems to know anything about Nickel-zinc batteries, but everything I've seen suggests that they're worth trying. Bought 8 batteries and a charger on eBay. I'll try them out on my power-hungry Nikon “Coolpix” L1, which wouldn't pose such a problem if it were to die.

Also finally got round to sending an enquiry via their web form, which displayed about a quarter of the short text:

 
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Peter Jeremy has pointed me to the triangle at bottom left of the input field. Pull on it and it expands the field. But that's not the point: like so many mainstream “applications”, which frequently open windows that are far smaller than the content, the default size seems to say something about the intentions of the programmer.

This was written during the German night. To my surprise, and to their credit, I got a reply written at 9:40 the same morning. They can't recommend NiZn batteries, but they're currently testing them in their laboratories, and I should ask again in November.

That says a number of things: firstly, they know what I'm talking about, since they're testing them. The “can't recommend” means exactly that: they haven't gained enough experience with them yet. And having to ask again in November suggests that they don't maintain context after answering a query; it would be better if they would say “we will reply again when we have finished our testing”. Still, it addresses my main concern: is the voltage too high? It seems reasonable to assume that this reply says “no”.


Wednesday, 28 September 2011 Dereel Images for 28 September 2011
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Preparing for the bushfire season
Topic: general Link here

Kevin Brown from the Country Fire Authority along today to take a look at the property. He seems to know what he's talking about, no buzzwords or other nonsense that has upset me about the CFA in the past.

The good news: nothing too much wrong. A few tips about what to look out for, and that was about that. We should keep an eye on the verandah, and any other unpainted wood, since the rough surface can make it easier for it to catch fire. And the Cedars? Well, firstly they're Cypresses, not Cedars. And yes, they can burn, and if they do the house is probably gone. But there's plenty of free space on the west side of the house, and the probability is relatively low. On the other hand, they have had plenty of cases where Cypresses have protected the buildings behind from strong west winds.

So the Cypresses might be able to stay. I wish I had a clearer statement, but that's life. In the end I'll still have to make up my own mind.

He also took a look at the trees to the south, and the overhead power lines. He suspects that we're in for even more power failures this summer.


Next power failure
Topic: general, technology Link here

As if to prove Kevin right, had another power failure at 16:42, while I was watching TV. Once again the UPS on the projector cut out; I'm going to have to put something bigger there. And the one on Yvonne's computer also failed. It's over 4 years old, and I suspect the batteries have reached end of life. Still more expenditure required to protect ourselves from Powercor.


Shade area infrastructure
Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was pretty terrible today, and I spent most of the day inside, but did manage to get some shelves put in the shade area. A couple of years ago, David Yeardley bought the same kind of toy greenhouse from ALDI that we bought three years ago, and which catastrophically self-destructed three months later:


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David had had the good sense not to try to erect it, but the shelving is usable, and he gave it to me a couple of months ago. I'm still using the old shelves, but they're pretty overloaded, so put the shelves together and effectively in the same place as the ones I put in three years ago (first photo):


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Thursday, 29 September 2011 Dereel Images for 29 September 2011
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3 years and counting
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Three years ago, at least in UTC, I booted my external server:

Wed Sep 28 23:00:13 UTC 2011
11:00PM  up 1095 days, 29 mins, 1 user, load averages: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

USER      PID %CPU %MEM   VSZ   RSS  TT  STAT STARTED      TIME COMMAND
root       11 99.0  0.0     0     8  ??  RL   28Sep08 1320690:02.75 [idle: cpu1]
root       12 98.5  0.0     0     8  ??  RL   28Sep08 1337418:49.99 [idle: cpu0]

I've spent my life with high-availability systems. Even in the early 1970s, we had UNIVAC 1108 multi-processor systems that, despite weekly maintenance, maintained uptimes of several months: long live graceful degradation. At Tandem Computers we could even get a year or so, and some bugs we chased were complicated by the fact that they survived reboots of the processor on which they occurred. But this is the first time I've personally seen an uptime of three years, though as I write this, one of the FreeBSD cluster machines has an uptime of 1310 days.

And security? The machine doesn't have much to exploit. I'd rather run the risk of an exploit than lose the chance of making it to 4 years' uptime.


Populating the shade area
Topic: gardening Link here

Moved most of the seedlings and cuttings from the greenhouse to the shade area. It's amazing how dry some of them were, although I water them profusely every day. And today it was grey, overcast and moist. Hopefully they'll feel better in their new position.

One plant that gives me cause for concern is our dwarf Meyer lemon tree. We've had trouble with it in the past, but it really came back to life last autumn when I put it in the greenhouse (first photo, taken on 20 April 2011). But then we saw yellowing leaves, and now I see (pot on the left in the middle photo):


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There are lots of flowers, but it's losing all its leaves. Why?

Did some ambient light measurements in the shade area. Today was particularly cloudy and dark, and I got the following results. The values are in lux, taken with my incident light meter:

      vertical       horizontal
Garden 1       20,000       5,000
Garden 2       18,000       6,000
Greenhouse       10,000       3,000
Shade area       1,300       800 - 1200

It's really difficult to get accurate measurements; even the slightest movement of the sensor changes the values significantly. But what I see here is that the greenhouse is about half as bright as outside (1 EV, which surprises me), and the shade area about 12% to 25% as bright as in the greenhouse (3 or 2 EV). That's in line with the 70% reduction that they claim for the shade cloth. I'll keep observing things.


Friday, 30 September 2011 Dereel Images for 30 September 2011
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Late flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

I took my monthly garden photos a few days ago, but since then I've found a couple I have forgotten, and a few others have popped up. The Paulownia kawakamii isn't quite in flower yet, but it's trying, as is the red Mandevilla:


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The Bougainvilleas have really come into their own:


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The Pelargoniums are also making progress:


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And to my particular joy, both the Delphinium “Völkerfrieden” and the Clematis recta are growing. Only a couple of weeks ago I had thought that both were dead, but the Clematis in particular is growing very rapidly:


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CJ returns
Topic: general Link here

We've been meaning to contact CJ Ellis about cutting down the low branches of the Cypresses, but we didn't need to: today he arrived with a gate he's been bending back into shape. He's been off sick for some time after falling off a motorbike, but seems to be back to his old self now. Hopefully we can also finally get the garden pond finished.


Dryness and wetness
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

They're predicting lots of rain tomorrow, so took my weekly photos today. The rain is welcome: after “the drought broke” (and caused severe flooding) in the summer, things are drying out again, as indicated by the dam. When we moved in there was hardly any water, and regularly every summer it dried out completely. But at the end of August last year the two halves joined up, and shortly after that it overflowed into the lagoon. It stayed that way into the new year, but since then it has gradually been drying out again. Today we have a clear division into two halves again. Here a year ago and today:


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CFA documentation
Topic: general, opinion Link here

A letter from the CFA today, which proved to be a “report” on Kevin Brown's site visit yesterday. I was positively impressed by Kevin himself; the report, though, is typical CFA. They write “Advice provided in this document relates to this property...”, but it appears to be a five page computer-generated extract from various CFA guidelines with only minimal relevance: “Cut tree branches that are overhanging your house” (there are none), “You must have access to a dedicated, independent water supply of at least 10,000 litres...” (Kevin knew very well that we had two tanks of 22,000 litres each), “Replace your water tank with a tank made from non-combustible material” (they're made of concrete). Sadly the bureaucracy is coming through again. There's some interesting stuff in there, but it would fit on less than half a page. I've seen in the Microsoft space that people have difficulty replying to a mail message with more than one point of interest. Who would read this stuff?


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