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September 2013
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Sunday, 1 September 2013 Dereel
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More nadir stitching
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Spent much of the day today attacking my full 360°×180° panoramas. They were difficult for a number of reasons, not all of them related to the nadir. First was the panorama of the verandah centre: the initial flash panorama worked fine, but the “flat” version kept failing:

enblend --compression=LZW -m 10000 -w -f9000x6597 -o verandah-centre.tif -- verandah-centre0000.tif verandah-centre0001.tif verandah-centre0002.tif verandah-centre0003.tif verandah-centre0004.tif verandah-centre0005.tif verandah-centre0006.tif verandah-centre0007.tif verandah-centre0008.tif verandah-centre0009.tif verandah-centre0010.tif verandah-centre0011.tif verandah-centre0012.tif verandah-centre0013.tif verandah-centre0014.tif verandah-centre0015.tif verandah-centre0016.tif verandah-centre0017.tif verandah-centre0019.tif verandah-centre0020.tif verandah-centre0021.tif verandah-centre0022.tif verandah-centre0023.tif
enblend: info: loading next image: verandah-centre0000.tif 1/1
...
enblend: info: loading next image: verandah-centre0022.tif 1/1
enblend: warning: failed to detect any seam
enblend: mask is entirely black, but white image was not identified as redundant
enblend: info: remove invalid output image "verandah-centre.tif"
gmake: *** [verandah-centre.tif] Error 1

Why that? What was different? This was a Miller cylindrical projection. Could it be due to that? In principle enblend doesn't know about projections, but who knows what the problem might be? I Went back and tried again with the equirectangular projection that I use for the flash animations—and that failed too! Trying these things at these resolutions (9000×6597 in this case) is very time-consuming, so I tried making smaller versions. Worked. Back to this size. Failed.

Time to RTFM:

Enblend error: Mask is entirely black, but white image was not identified as redundant

This is a well known "error" for enblend. Try to use the additional enblend parameter "--fine-mask" to get rid of the error. The parameter will result in generation of masks in higher resolution that will fix the problem in most cases. Sometimes the "--fine-mask" parameter may result in memory errors (malloc: ...), which are the result of not enough memory available due to the (much) bigger masks that are used.

...

Note (Jan 2010): This should be fixed in the latest enblend 4.0 release.

Clearly the hope wasn't fulfilled. This was version 4.11. But why did this bite me now? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the nadir processing. But it also explains why the equirectangular version worked the first time: I process it at the full resolution, in this case 13192×6596.

The results weren't as spectacular as they could have been. Yes, the nadir was there, but despite what Hugin claimed, the stitching was not good:


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Apart from the phantom shadows of the tripods, the boards line up very badly:

 
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Why? It's clear from the control points table that the control point detector didn't find much of use:


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But there are other, more significant issues. I took two nadir images on the crossbar, and they don't quite line up. These images have mouseover alternation:


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At first it looked as if I had either moved the camera or changed focal length between the images. But there's something that I can only see with the mouseover alternation: there's a difference in the shape of the two images. And that suggests that I somehow managed to miss the processing of one of the images, possibly the first. Even more investigation needed.

The garden centre image was better, but there I made a mistake with the positioning of one of the tripods, and ended up with a foot in the way that I couldn't remove from the final image. I'll get used to that.


Monday, 2 September 2013 Dereel Images for 2 September 2013
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Spring on its way
Topic: gardening, general Link here

After a particularly miserable August, things have changed considerably. Day temperatures have been over 20° for a week, and spring flowers are flowering happily, like these Hardenbergia violacea:


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But they're not the only one. They were made from cuttings of the original plant, which we planted five years ago. It's not looking at all happy:


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They're not very long-lived, so it appears time to replace it, probably with a climbing rose such as Climbing Iceberg. I had planted some around the corner on the south side of the verandah, but now that the vine has covered the roof, they're not getting enough light there.

Apart from that, also pruned some other plants on the verandah. I should be doing much more.


More nadir processing
Topic: photography Link here

So yesterday it looked as if I had not corrected the geometry of one of the partial images for the verandah centre panorama. Spent some time reprocessing the images, but it seems that they were, indeed, corrected. So the difference in the two images probably comes from a change in focal length; I can't imagine that the camera position could have changed so much between the two shots.

Also tried improving the alignment of the images. It's not easy: the big problems were at the nadir, which on flat projections is almost unrecognizable.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 3 September 2013
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Finally! The Radiation Tower!
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Yvonne called me on the way to town this morning: they've started building the Radiation Tower. Later out to take a look:


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So finally it has started! What a wait it's been:

So: when will it be online? Comparison with the Enfield tower is instructive. There, too, they expected it to be complete within 3 months of the decision, which would have meant 13 June 2012. There were no complaints, but in fact it went on line in early September. That's a total of nearly 6 months, and would imply that they started work on the tower in early July, 4 months after approval was granted. That's approximately the time it has taken this time. So it seems reasonable to assume that we'll be on line in November.


Cars: double failure
Topic: general Link here

When I went to town last week, I had a problem with my car. On a couple of occasions it was reluctant to start, and it seemed that the starter motor is defective. It's 22 years old and has 273,000 km on the clock, so one of the questions that I ask myself before every repair is whether I should have it done or scrap the car. Yvonne said that she would discuss the matter with Paul Sperber, the mechanic, when she went to town.

She called back, but not with the expected news: her car had broken down, apparently with the same problems she had had a year ago. Once again she managed to limp to Ballarat Automotive, and I came out to pick her up. Talked to Paul about both cars. He suspects once again that it's the coil: last year we replaced it with a second-hand one, somewhat to Paul's concern. Looks like he's right. And he confirmed that my car will need a new starter motor. Time for a new car instead?


More panorama fun
Topic: photography Link here

I tried to take a panorama of the Radiation Tower this afternoon. The results in the preview were less than encouraging:


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Were there two excavators there? No, of course not. What a terrible control point detection failure! Looking at the control points, they were nowhere near the right place:


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How could that happen? It took me quite a while to realize that the excavator (and the man on the ground) had moved between the two shots. With a bit of masking I was able to save the day.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 4 September 2013
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Time for a new car
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Yvonne off to Canberra today to look at a horse. I took her to the shuttle bus at Ballarat railway station. Which car? Not Yvonne's, obviously, because it was at the workshop. Chris Bahlo had lent me one of her cars, but it's small and cramped, and my car did start. All I needed to do was to remember to leave the engine running when I stopped.

All went well until we stopped at a schoolchildren's crossing in Sebastopol. And when I set off again, I stalled the engine! And, of course, the starter didn't work. The crossing supervisor gave me a push, and I was able to jump start it—but clearly something has to happen.

Spoke to Paul Sperber on the phone later on. It doesn't seem to be the coil, and it seems that he doesn't have the equipment to read the log from the “computer”, so I'll have to take it elsewhere, probably tomorrow when Yvonne gets back.

In the case of my car, it will prove difficult to get a starter motor—it's 21 years old, after all, I've had it for nearly 11 years, and the manufacturer (Mitsubishi) has gone out of business in Australia. So it's looking more and more like time for a newer car.

But what? Discussed it with Paul and got the surprising opinion that there was nothing wrong with the smaller East Asian cars, including Hyundai, of which I had heard bad things, but that I shouldn't touch German cars like the Volkswagen Golf or the German-made Holdens.

The real issue is that I haven't really paid much attention to cars for years. I want a car with front wheel drive and manual transmission, the former probably for no particularly good reason, but I need to see what's around. Where are the car sales yards in Ballarat? I know two in Mair St—I drove past them this morning to take a look, but clearly I couldn't stop—but Google should be my friend, right?

Well, it did find a number, but not the two in Mair St. What about The Courier newspaper? They have classified ads. But their web site took me to http://www.countrycars.com.au/, an online site with no connection to Ballarat. That wasn't the only problem. What a catastrophe! A search for cars under $5,000 gave me round 150 hits spread over 10 web pages, nearly all of which were brand new cars with no price specification. Setting a minimum price got rid of them: only two left. http://www.buyingcars.com.au/ allowed me to select cars within 10 km of Ballarat gave me 197 vehicles, again only 10 per page. On the first page only one of the cars was even in Victoria, and to find out where I had to request the address. For that, I need to sign up. That's just too much work, given that they don't even seem to have got their search criteria to work.

Then there's carsales.com.au, who at least gave me the option of searching in the correct area. But that page doesn't give any option of selecting features and price. For that you have to click on the link “See 1965 More used cars in Ballarat Districts - Victoria for sale” [sic]. But the URL gives the lie: http://www.carsales.com.au/all/vic/: all cars in Victoria. From there I can refine again, making sure to submit after selecting each feature, and finally arrived with a selection of 39 cars, once again without much in the way of location. The ones I found with location included cars in in Geelong, nearly 90 km from Ballarat, and Swan Hill, 300 km away.

And then there are places like Ballarat Toyota, who have DNS but, apparently, currently no functioning web site.

So what do I do? Finding cars on the web is a good idea, but so far it's little more than an idea: the web sites show an above-average level of breakage. Clearly looking at the local car dealers would be a good first step, so I'll take a look at that tomorrow.


Excess data traffic
Topic: technology Link here

The radiation tower is on its way, but it'll be a couple of months before it's up and running. In the meantime, my data consumption is on the rise. Somehow I managed to use 800 MB today, above my daily average allowance of 600 GB. And it seems to have been like this all this billing period. I'm now half-way through, and so I should have used 9 GB, but I'm already closer to 11 GB. Is that all this Coursera stuff? Theoretically I could upgrade to a higher data limit, but in practice there is none. Time to be more careful.


Cassoulet refinements
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Yvonne's away, so today I ate cassoulet. The intention was to use up some left over bits and pieces from previous times, but then I discovered I had enough pre-cooked meat for a full-blown cassoulet. Cut corners nevertheless, one of which was not to add any onions. Instead I added much less raw, pressed garlic when composing the final cassoulet. I think it's better like that.


Thursday, 5 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel
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New car: web or ground?
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Yesterday's investigation of online car sales made one thing clear: they're not much use. About the only option I had was go to town and look for myself, aided with Google's list of car dealers. The first on the list was Ballarat's Cheapest Cars in Sebastopol. On the way there drove past Sebastopol Motor Wreckers, not exactly the place you'd expect to buy a car. But they had cars on sale, including a Mazda 323 that didn't look at all bad. A good start for the search, anyway.

Then on to Ballarat's Cheapest Cars, where the salesperson didn't seem to know what he had, nor to understand what I wanted (must be manual, should be FWD, should have 4 or 5 doors, shouldn't cost more than $5k). Finally he produced a Hyundai Accent for $4,000 which didn't look too bad.

Then on into town, first to Ballarat Toyota, who proved to be the people who had one of the online offerings, also a Hyundai Accent—but it had been sold, and the web listings hadn't been updated. They had a 2000 Corolla there for $4,999, but with 210,000 km (exactly, which makes me suspicious) it had considerably more kilometers on the clock than the other two, and it looked pretty tatty. Last time I go to Ballarat Toyota.

From there on, things got worse and worse. One of the two car yards I had seen in Mair St. proved to be Mercedes, and the others had nothing at all in the area I was looking at. Stopped at Mazda on Creswick Road, but it seems that they only had new cars. The salesperson was surprisingly helpful, though, and suggested a number of yards on the other side of the road.

First, though, off to look for the remainder of the Google addresses, something like 4 of them. Only one actually existed! And it didn't have anything. Back to the other side of Creswick Road, where they didn't have anything much either. And that's about all there was. The first two cars looked acceptable, but after that I didn't find anything more at all.


Communications problems
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Another reason to go to Ballarat was to pick Yvonne up from the railway station. But she called me from Canberra to tell me that her plane had been delayed, and she wasn't sure that she would get her shuttle bus. There are only about 4 a day, and under those circumstances, it would make more sense for me to drive to Tullamarine and pick her up.

But the bus left at 15:10, at a time that I would be in Ballarat. And I don't have a mobile phone. How can I call to check? Well, it seems that there are still some public phone boxes. So I called her at 15:00, blowing $1 in the process, and got no sensible reply (“Enter PIN to access your mailbox”). Clearly she hadn't landed yet. Took a look in at the Optus shop and discovered that I could get a SIM card with $30 worth of credit for $29.95, so did that. Spent some time trying to get it to work with my Android tablet, and finally managed to contact her. Yes, she made it, apparently by the skin of her teeth.


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

Between looking for cars and contacting Yvonne, I had some time over. In to ALDI to see if they had an accessory pack for my Android tablet. No, but they had one for a slightly older 10.1" model, and even that tablet still in stock. OK, that might be worth trying out, so I bought both. For a tablet hater, I'm not exactly true to form.


More car fun
Topic: general, opinion Link here

After picking Yvonne up, picked up her car and took it off to Ballarat Central Auto Electrics to see what was wrong with it. They connected up a diagnostic unit which displayed the status 47 (IIRC): “Cam or crankshaft sensor intermittent”. And charged us $66 for it, apparently because that's a price fixed by VACC. So much for the idea of changing the coil a year ago. We'll take it in for further action next week.


Friday, 6 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 6 September 2013
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Car hunt, day 3
Topic: general Link here

Callum Gibson read yesterday's article about broken car web sites and did some searching by himself. The results, he thought, were good enough, but in fact they were exactly what I was complaining about yesterday, like the cars in Geelong and Swan Hill, although I had selected only the Ballarat area. Did a little more searching, but came up with nothing useful. I didn't even get a call back from any of the people from whom I had asked for information. Potentially these sites work better in capital cities, but round here they're just a complete waste of time,

So back into town to continue the search. First I dropped in at Ballarat Automotive to ask Paul Sperber's opinion. He thought that there was something funny about the car from Sebastopol Motor Wreckers, mainly because it had a new engine. So, reluctantly, I decided against it.

That only left one car, they Hyundai that I had seen at Ballarat's Cheapest Cars, and I hadn't been overly impressed by it. But there was another yard next door that I hadn't noticed yesterday until I had passed it. At that time I thought that there would be many more places to visit, but in fact there were none. So today back to take a look. They're called “Regional Car Sales”, not exactly the most distinctive name, but they had more of the kind of car I was looking for than anybody else. Once again a tatty Toyota Corolla, but also a Hyundai Elantra that didn't look at all bad. It was marked for $4,999, but for me he would do $4,750.

Took it for a test drive, while Yvonne and Zhivago waited, and dropped in to Paul Sperber to see what he thought. I was expecting a quick glance and an opinion on the model, but he didn't have much to do right then, so he popped it on the hoist and took a look.

I had noticed that the engine was misfiring, presumably something due to being on the used car lot. Paul noticed it too, of course, but thought it could be something worse. More importantly, though, he identified an oil leak, presumably from the “rocker” cover, and also no sign of the timing belt having been changed as required at 100,000 km (this car has 150,000). I most certainly would never have noticed that.

Back to the car sales, where Gary had left with a canister of petrol in the assumption that I had run out. He soon came back, and I talked to him about the issues. Yes, it certainly wasn't misfiring like that when he got it, would be fixed. Oil leak was a roadworthiness issue, had to be fixed. Then he wandered off to the workshop next door, which does his mechanical work. When he came back, he said that he could replace the timing belt, but I'd have to pay the listed price for the car. That's not too bad, in fact: Paul had estimated $400 off the top of his head. But I managed to get the price down to $4,900, which under the circumstances wasn't at all bad. Good for Paul. The car would be ready on Monday evening, but in fact we won't need it until Wednesday, when I have to come in with Yvonne anyway.

It's quite a nice car, not as small as some of the ones I've looked at, and surprisingly roomy inside:


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About the only issue is that I'll have to change the radio over myself. They wanted $50 to do it, which seems to be a lot just for changing a plug.


Darah still under the weather
Topic: animals, opinion Link here

Darah has now completed a course of antibiotics and bute, but she's still not looking too good. Called up the vet and was told to pick up some more bute tomorrow. Another 100 km! Hopefully it will be worth it.


Alternative photo processing
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I've had the Olympus Zuiko Digital 18-180mm F3.5-6.3 lens on my camera recently. It's quite convenient, but it suffers from one problem: DxO Optics “Pro” doesn't know it, so it can't correct distortion.

But what about Olympus Viewer? I tried it back in April, but at the time I came to the conclusion that it didn't correct for distortion. Tried again today—what a horrible interface!—and found a way to do it, but for raw images only. There's no good reason why it shouldn't correct JPEG images, but it doesn't.

OK, to perform my image enhancements I can save “export” the image as TIFF and then try to process the resultant image with DxO, right? Yes, but Viewer only saves exports 8 bit TIFF, at least as far as I can see. What a pain!


Disturbances at dinner
Topic: politics, opinion Link here

The phone rang during dinner. We hate that, and our friends know better to call while we're eating. But this wasn't a friend: “G'day, this is Kevin Rudd”. The first half second thought What's he calling me for, then “Practical joker”, and finally “recorded election campaigning”. The same old message that we've been hearing for weeks. I wonder if it makes any difference, and how widespread the action was.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Yvonne said “That'll be Tony Abbott”. And it was, or at least his voice. He at least had personalized his call enough to mention Sarah Henderson, so for the fun of it I said “What, that rude bitch?”. Click. They hung up. I wonder how much intelligence was involved in that decision.


Saturday, 7 September 2013 Dereel Images for 7 September 2013
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Casting a vote, or 108
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Election Day today, so down to the Dereel Hall to vote. There are two houses, so I had to make two choices.

Two? No, that would be too simple. The Australian electoral system requires that you give an ordered vote for the House of Representatives, for which there were 11 candidates. For the Senate it's simpler: vote for one candidate and let him decide who gets the vote if he's not elected. And who's that? What if you don't want his choice? That's simple: as for the House of Representatives, just give a number to each candidate in order of your preference—all 97 of them today, competing for only 6 seats, including, of course, Julian Assange, an ex-NetBSD man.

But why such a complicated system? I suppose it made sense when it was introduced, but with the number of candidates we have nowadays, the sheer amount of work filling out and evaluating the ballots seems no longer to make any sense. Allowing a single vote for the Senate and leaving it to that candidate to determine the remaining order shows how out of date the original idea is. How about the idea of voting for as many as you care for, and if none of them win, then your vote loses too?


More nadir refinements
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

House photos again today, this time including the once-a-month group. And more nadir work. Things were complicated by the fact that I had my DxO Optics “Pro” set up to produce TIFF images instead of JPEG. DxO is not good with TIFFs: it causes libtiff lots of pain with invalid tags, and there was something wrong with one image that caused enfuse to corrupt its output image. After reprocessing, things worked, but the resulting panorama was upside-down. More investigation needed, so I didn't finish today.


Sunday, 8 September 2013 Dereel
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The people have spoken—the bastards
Topic: politics, opinion Link here

So it's official: our fears have come true that Tony Abbott will be the new Prime Minister of Australia. How could that happen? Everybody I know is horrified. It points to a polarization in Australian society that we should all be so “wrong”.

I suppose I should have seen this coming. A couple of weeks ago I watched a televised question and answer session between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. Rudd addressed all questions and answered carefully and in detail, showing that he knew what he was talking about. Abbott waffled all over the place and barely gave any details at all. It was clear to me that Rudd was walking all over him.

But no, it seems that the audience loved Abbott and disliked Rudd. Is this media manipulation? Or what is it that makes them like somebody who likened himself to the suppository of all wisdom?

Anyway, why do I care? It's not as if I'm overly happy with Labor. But more than ever before, the new government's goals seem bad:


Goodbye Hardenbergia
Topic: gardening Link here

The Hardenbergia violacea climbing up the middle post of the verandah is clearly dead:


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Today finally got round to removing it:


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We're replacing it with an “Iceberg” rose:


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Monday, 9 September 2013 Dereel Images for 9 September 2013
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Understanding MOOCs
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've learnt a new buzzword: MOOC, which stands for “Massive open online course”. I've been doing a number of these with Coursera, but it wasn't until the word cropped up in some of the lectures that I found out about the background.

From my point of view, there was nothing special about the Coursera courses except that they were online. But it seems that there are many other things as well. In particular, it seems that collaboration should make up for lack of conventional supervision. Coursera offers discussion forums and “meetups”, and many of the courses include collaborative assignments, including peer reviews.

I don't like that. Maybe that says more about me than about the concept, but I'm a loner, and I'd prefer to study alone. Certainly my interactions on the forums with the linear algebra course confirm my viewpoint: although that particular course was really deficient in feedback, the forums were not the solution. The signal-to-noise ratio was very low, and in many cases statements made there were just plain wrong. It's not clear how this kind of collaboration can help. And, I suppose, I don't want to make more of a fool of myself in public than I do anyway.


Insurers: not our risk
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne bought Yet Another new horse in Canberra last week, and now we need to have it transported here. Given the associated dangers and the trouble we've had with horses recently, it sounds like a good idea to have her insured. So Yvonne spent a lot of time today trying to find a good insurer and fill out the forms. Finally she was almost ready. Then she was presented with a web screen to enter her credit card details:

 
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http://www.affinityequineinsurance.com/equine-online-quote? Apart from the ridiculously long domain name (I mistyped twice before getting it right), who transmits sensitive information over an unencrypted channel? Certainly people in the risk management business should really be aware of the issues. And that seems to be the only way to do it. I clicked on “Send Invoice”, but it still wanted the credit card details. Sometimes I despair.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013 Dereel
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Preparing for new car
Topic: general, opinion Link here

In the course of my life I've become more and more careful planning things. Buying a new car is not a big issue, especially when it's as cheap as the one I'm buying, and where I'm paying cash. Cash? Where do I get the cash? From the bank, of course, but how much cash do modern banks keep in reserve? To be on the safe side, called up my bank and asked them. Yes, they will note that I want to pick up $4,800 tomorrow; a good thing I called.

And what about insurance? Liability insurance is included in the registration fees, but we've always taken supplementary third party, fire and theft insurance. Called up RACV, our insurers. They couldn't help: their computer systems have been down since the end of last week. Microsoft? My recollection was that they ran their web site with FreeBSD. That would be a blow. But no, the web site was on line. Was able to leave a message to change the car of the existing insurance.

Then there's the old car to consider. My attempts at selling it have met with the success they deserve. Cleaned out all the stuff out of the car, in the process discovering a small can of touch-up paint that must have been in the gloves box for the past nearly 12 years, and parked it behind the shipping container. Hopefully it won't be there long: I have a history of long-lasting car wrecks.


Equine insurance, continued
Topic: animals, technology, opinion Link here

We're still trying to insure Yvonne's new horse. It's not helped by the insurers. They have online descriptions of what they do and don't cover, of course, with lots of Big Fat Words, and a number of things that appear to contradict the statements of the agent. Sent him not one, but a total of three emails trying to get him to respond to the issues. We failed. It seems that the idea of actually reading an email message and responding to it is no longer Modern. Of course, it doesn't help that people in the Microsoft Space write their replies in a place where they can no longer see what they're replying to, but you'd think that a Professional would find a solution to that problem.

In passing, it's interesting to note that ABC Four Corners did a programme on the Internet yesterday, entitled “In Google We Trust”. They mentioned exactly what I've been complaining about with the insurers, that they transfer credit cards across the net without encryption. It seems that Android is even worse, because it doesn't indicate whether the transmission is secure or not. What a long way we still have to go!


Cleaning the sprinklers
Topic: gardening Link here

Our sprinkler system needs a lot of attention. One of the issues last summer was, I'm sure, inadequate water, probably due mainly to clogged drippers. Drippers just don't seem appropriate for the water that we have: they clog up too easily with the ferric precipitate that develops in the pipes. Time to move back to sprays instead. Today I spent a while trying to clean out the sprinkler lines, flushing an amazing amount of what looks like rust from the ends of the lines. But where are the ends? Well hidden. I found them for circuit 1, but the others are more difficult to find. I need to research what I wrote about them at the time.


Zhivago sick?
Topic: animals Link here

Just before going to bed, found some fresh drops of a bloody liquid on the floor. It appears to be Zhivago's urine. Another visit to the vet; hopefully nothing serious.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 11 September 2013
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New car and other diversions
Topic: general, animals Link here

We had planned to take Yvonne's car to the workshop today and have its intermittent electrical fault rectified, and also to pick up my new car. On top of that we had to make a vet appointment for Zhivago, which was conveniently at 11:00, just in time to get the car swap done first.

But things didn't quite work out like that. Got into Yvonne's car and tried to start it. I couldn't turn the ignition switch. The steering wheel lock had engaged, and no amount of jiggling would unlock it. Back to the other side of the house and got the Magna instead—it's still of some use.

That meant a change of plan in Sebastopol. I had intended to pick up the money on the way to the car yard, and then leave the Magna there. But we didn't know if the Magna would start again, so we headed straight for the car yard, and I then took the new car round to the bank.

The bank was one catastrophe after another. Despite my request, and a handwritten note they had to that effect, they said they didn't have enough cash. Finally they scratched together everything they had, and they had the money. But they still couldn't give me the money: it was in an “online” account, and they had no access. Instead I had to go to a telephone on the wall and call the telephone service people. But they couldn't help either: I first needed to set up telephone banking, something that I reject out of hand because of security issues.

Finally I got the manager to let me use her computer to transfer the money via the web application. Next problem: what's my Customer Registration Number? It's stored in a file at home. I thought it was the same as my ATM card number. It wasn't. The manager tried a couple of other potential numbers, and finally I got the right one.

I couldn't withdraw the money directly, of course: first I had to transfer it into another account. And then I discovered my “Access” (current) account was overdrawn by $133, and we only had about $4,730 in the savings account. How did that all happen? We had plenty of money in both accounts last time I looked, only a couple of days ago. Transferred the balance of the savings account into the access account, but was only able to withdraw $4,500, $200 short of what I needed. I had $50 in cash, but that still wasn't enough.

Back to the car yard, where Gary had come up with a very disreputable looking bloke who gave me $150 for the Magna, killing two birds with one stone. Off to the vet, only about 7 minutes late, dropped Yvonne there, and on to Autobarn to look for a cable for my radio. That's not so simple, it seems: they changed the wiring round the time my car was built, so I didn't know which harness to buy. The assistant came out and tried to remove the radio, but it's not easy, and after about 10 minutes he gave up. I'll have to work out how to do it myself.

Back to the vet, where Sarah, the vet, had established that Zhivago had blood in his urine, but there were no other signs of any problems, which on the one hand made diagnosis difficult, but also suggested that it couldn't be anything serious. Gave him some anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. Now we'll just have to keep an eye on him.

After that, finally the day's shopping. But how to pay for it? At ALDI they charge extra for credit cards, but for once we thought we would have to bite the bullet. Surprisingly, though, we had barely enough change between the two of us to pay for it.


New wireless router
Topic: technology Link here

Got my new, el-cheapo wireless router today. The login screen speaks volumes:

 
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XXX Systems! But it has a lot of features, and seems to do what I want to do. In fact, I'd be completely happy with it—maybe—if it hadn't died after two hours. All LEDs off except for power, and no way of turning it on again. And now the fun of returning the thing. I should have kept the ALDI boxes I bought a while back.


Radiation Tower progress
Topic: technology Link here

Every time we drive into town, we look at the site of the radiation tower. The components of the tower itself are now there:


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The site is visible in front of the trees in the first image.


Back into town again
Topic: general Link here

Back home, spent some time trying to unlock the ignition switch on Yvonne's car. It proved to be the key: it's worn out. It works fine normally, but for some reason it wasn't enough to unlock the steering wheel lock. After using the other key, I could use the first one to start the car when the steering wheel lock wasn't engaged.

So off to town again to leave it for service, in the process picking up the receipt that I had forgotten to get this morning. That's a particular concern when you've paid cash, of course, but fortunately there was no issue.

On the way home, Yvonne decided we needed a capsicum for one of this week's dishes, so stopped in at Coles and bought one. $0.85—and we didn't have enough cash! I don't think we've ever been that broke, and it must certainly be the lowest sum I've ever paid for by credit card.

But where was Yvonne's credit card? It wasn't there. Pieced together our movements this morning, and the last time she used it was at Safeway, just down the road. Had she left it there? Headed off again, but about half way there it occurred to her that she had used it to pay for her equine insurance, now more or less completed.

What a day! And so much for careful planning!


Thursday, 12 September 2013 Dereel Images for 12 September 2013
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More bank accounts
Topic: general, opinion Link here

We're broke. Well, no, not really. We have another bank account with lots of money in it, with the Bank of Melbourne. But they were opened by my accountants, and though it's in my name, I didn't have the details. Looked at what little I had—two account numbers and a receipt for only a fraction of what should have been there. Called up Helen Maggi, who explained that the second account was some kind of staging account from which I could transfer money, but which otherwise had no money in it. She gave me a phone number to call up the Bank of Melbourne. After finally beating the menu system, spoke with Kevin, who was prepared to give me online access to the accounts based on the following information: account number (obviously), information on recent transactions (none; it's a savings account), branch where I opened it (I didn't; Helen did that for me), and of course my all-important date of birth. Is that enough? At least there are questions in there that aren't as easy to answer as some of these so-called “security” questions. But I wonder what happens if somebody breaks their security. Are they liable? I hope so.

Then he pointed out that I was eligible for a free “Senior's Access” account (I think), something like a cross between a cheque account and a savings account, which accrues interest, so I agreed to open one of them to aid my potential migration from ANZ. That's in our joint names, so I called in Yvonne, who was presented with the same questions. How should she know where the account was opened? She hadn't been aware of it until a few hours previously. In the end I opened the account in my name; we'll drop in at the Ballarat branch later and change it.

So, there I was with online access. Like ANZ, they seem to insist on maximizing the window, but the application did look somewhat better. Transferred $2,000 to my “Senior's Access” account, which the application called “Savings” (as opposed to the other two, which are called “Incentive Saver” and “Maxi Saver”), and then transferred $1,500 to ANZ.

Or at least I tried. I got a message saying that I needed to be authenticated, and to call a specific number. There I was connected to Troy, who wanted me to identify myself all over again, and who had particular problems understanding my date of birth; it proved that it's recorded incorrectly (he says). That didn't pose any problem with my earlier authentication, which makes me wonder again how secure these methods are. After about an hour of messing around, I finally needed to give a phone number to receive a voice message with an authentication code. Hopefully this is only necessary the first time round.


Olympus OM-D E-M1
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

As predicted last month, Olympus has announced its new top-of-the-line camera, the OM-D E-M1. It doesn't have a mirror. They have a particularly emetic web site with lots of clever photos and little information. Gave up on that and downloaded the instruction manual, which is only marginally helpful. Here the only instructions on how to set the aperture in aperture priority mode (page 39):

 
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Either it's deficient, or the PDF is broken. xpdf seems to think the latter:

Syntax Warning: Substituting font 'Courier' for 'ArialNarrow-Bold'
Syntax Warning: Substituting font 'Helvetica' for 'ArialNarrow'
Syntax Warning: Substituting font 'Helvetica' for 'EBLEBH+ArialNarrow-Bold'
Syntax Warning: Substituting font 'Helvetica' for 'EBLEBJ+ArialNarrow'
Syntax Warning: Substituting font 'Helvetica' for 'EBLDOE+Arial-BoldMT'

In passing, what does that have to do with syntax? Clearly it's semantics.

The camera does look interesting, and it seems to do most of the things that I want. In particular, it can now do more sensible exposure bracketing for HDR, but still with an odd number of brackets. Previous models could do 3 or 5 shots with a maximum difference of 1 EV, giving an only barely acceptable maximum bracket of 4 EV. The E-M1 has a maximum difference of 3 EV between shots, which makes it much more suitable. It can also do 7 shots with a maximum difference of 2 EV. Either way, with 5 shots 3 EV apart or 7 shots 2 EV apart, the maximum bracket is 12 EV, which should be sufficient for most cases. I expect I'd start with 3 shots 3 EV apart, a bracket of 6 EV. It also has two “automatic” HDR modes, barely documented.

It's also interesting that, thanks to the missing mirror, the shutter is much faster—up to 10 fps, which is straying into video territory.

But there are many details that I can't see until I have the camera. The most important question is: how fast is the autofocus? This page (in German) claims that it's at least as fast as the E-5, while this page states:

Focus is usually acceptably fast, though anyone coming from an E-3 or E-5 is likely to find themselves disappointed, in comparison.

The other issue is access with Android tablets. It seems that Olympus will supply an App that will do most of the things I want, but the details of how it connects are still a bit hazy. So, too, is the whole question of how it works in a wireless network. It would be nice to download images via wireless, which would be no slower than the current transfers via USB, but it's not clear from the manual whether it would work or not. Still, that's not a drop-dead criterion. I suppose it's time to sift through the copious documentation that has already appeared on the web.


Friday, 13 September 2013 Dereel Images for 13 September 2013
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Wireless AP, try 2
Topic: technology Link here

I've got to say one thing for the eBay seller who sold me the now defunct wireless access point: he's fast. I bought the original on Saturday, it was posted on Monday, arrived on Tuesday and died on Wednesday. I contacted him and he sent another one (without waiting for the return of the first) on Thursday, and I got it today.

Looking at the device, it had a protective plastic film on the top side. Normally I don't remove these until I'm sure I'm going to keep them. But this one covered the cooling holes. Is that the reason why the first one died? Obviously I removed the film on the second one, but it didn't get very warm. Configured this one and tried it out—it didn't die. And now there are all sorts of clever new things that have come up since I bought my last access point over ten years ago. What kind of WPA? Chose one at random (WPA2-PSK[AES]; I'll investigate the TLAs later) and was able to connect my Android tablet to it with no more trouble than typing in the passphrase on the horrible keyboard substitute. After some other experiments, which included disconnecting from the access point, came back again. It wanted the passphrase again! It doesn't seem to store it.

That's a real pain. Tried again with WPS. Supposedly you can connect via a button press on the access point. But it seems that my tablet doesn't understand that. Ended up having to enter a PIN; I wonder if that will happen every time as well. Somehow this is all fiddlier than it should be. Even the access point web server doesn't allow me to save the user name (which seems to be fixed as admin) and the password. I'll have to investigate if I can fake a web page which will perform the login for me.


Zhivago's bleeding
Topic: animals Link here

Zhivago doesn't seem to be any better after his vet treatment; we've found more drops of diluted blood on the floor, though surprisingly not in his basket. Today I found him licking his penis, and discovered drops of blood, this time not diluted. Does he have a wound on the penis? That would explain the lack of other symptoms, but not necessarily the difficulty urinating. Back to the vet tomorrow, I fear.


Watch reset
Topic: general Link here

My watch was 4 seconds fast again today, so I reset it to 4 seconds slow. That's a gain of 8 seconds in 28 days, or 2 seconds per week.


Saturday, 14 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 14 September 2013
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Zhivago at the vet again
Topic: animals Link here

Off into town this morning to bring Zhivago to the vet again. With a bit of man-handling we managed to expose his penis and confirm that the blood was, indeed, coming from within. It no longer seems to be very much, but we're not much closer to understanding what the problem is.


Nadir: the pain
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Relatively good conditions for my house photos today: no wind and overcast skies. So I tried another couple of 360°×180° panoramas. Yes, my nadir solution works, but it's a real pain. The initial setup is difficult enough, and just moving the equipment out of the way after taking the nadir shot takes about 2½ minutes. And I still have issues with matching control points:


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There's probably room for more thought here, but this experiment has at least proved not just informative, but also practical until I find something better.


The price of free apps
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

More playing around with my Android tablets today. Gradually I'm getting the bigger one to do the things that I want. GPS works—better than on the small one, I can use it as a phone if I can stand the thought, and at least it doesn't change its MAC address every time it's booted, like the small one does. The PIN-based WPS also doesn't seem to require reinitialization all the time.

What about navigation? Last month I tried Sygic and was relatively happy with it. But there was some strangeness about the software: although the toyshop called it “free”, there was some mention of having to pay. Today I turned it on again. Sure enough, “your free trial has expired”. How do I buy it? They're very cagey about that; the toyshop doesn't mention a price anywhere obvious. Finally I found Sygic's web site, where I had to click through several times to find pricing, and also an obvious reason why they're so cagey: they charge like a wounded bull! Whereas most non-free apps seem to cost less than $10, they want 64.99 € for the “World” (which seems to exclude Australia), or only 25.99 € for Australia. For the former price you can buy a dedicated GPS navigator.

There's nothing wrong with charging for software, and clearly there are people who are prepared to pay the price. But I find it more than objectionable that it's shown as a free app in the toyshop. It's also not clear to me that it's good enough to replace dedicated GPS navigators; certainly the documentation doesn't help.

So what's the alternative? The sticking point appears to be the maps. I have three options: Sygic (and possibly others like it), which use proprietary maps, Google Maps based apps like, well, Google Maps for Android, or any number of apps based on OpenStreetMap.

None of these maps are really accurate—the TomTom maps with Sygic show many of the same errors that my Nav N Go navigator has; presumably they have a common ancestor. Google Maps doesn't appear to provide any information about the relative quality of the roads, so it can't give you the choice of fast, easy, economical or short routes the way the Nav N Go navigator can. And then there's any number of apps which use OpenStreetMap. That would be an attractive alternative, and one day it might be, but in my area it's currently far too incomplete. Here a comparison of OpenStreet Map, Google Maps and Nav N Go for the Dereel area:


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On the positive side, a number of the phantom roads shown by both Google Maps and Nav N Go (going south from the south side of the lagoon, for example) are missing. The maps also show just about every driveway off Rokewood Junction Road. But the big problem is the almost complete lack of street names. How can you navigate to somewhere when your navigator doesn't know the address? aYes, I can fix the maps in the immediate vicinity, and maybe I will, but that doesn't help me when I go elsewhere.


Sunday, 15 September 2013 Dereel Images for 15 September 2013
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Bjoska arrives
Topic: animals Link here

Bjoska, the horse that Yvonne bought last week, arrived from Canberra today:


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Five years uptime: really?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I booted my external web server, w3.lemis.com, on 28 September 2008 just before midnight UTC. Since it reached 600 days uptime—the longest I had ever experienced, even at Tandem Computers—I started monitoring it every day. And then 3 months ago the unthinkable happened: they had to move data centres, after 1,733 days' uptime.

Fortunately w3 is a virtual machine, and they were able to save the machine state and resume execution in the new data centre.

But is that reasonable to assume that the uptime remains despite being put on ice for 100 minutes? I think so. There are a number of issues with keeping a machine up:

  1. Hardware reliability. If the hardware fails, there's nothing for it but to reboot. In the case of a virtual machine, the host machine logically counts as part of the hardware, even if it fails as the result of a software problem.

  2. Software reliability. If the software fails, either with a panic or with excessive memory leaks or fragmentation, there's nothing for it but to reboot.

  3. Network reliability. If the machine goes off the net, is it down? Conventional wisdom says no, and for good reason. When the net comes back, the machine is there unchanged. And somewhere, probably round here, there's always a local network interruption.

  4. Power reliability. If the power fails... what? In the Good Old Days a power failure meant an interruption in service, but the system saved its state in core and recovered when the power came back. In many ways, that's the same as the case of a network outage—only this time it's the power network. We frequently moved smaller machines from one place to another like that.

So where does my interruption in the virtual machine fit in? Clearly it's not a hardware or software failure; the same kernel and the same web server were started on 28 September 2008 and have run ever since, though a couple of years ago I did restart the name server and MTA for some reason I don't recall. From my point of view, that's more important. If there had been memory bloat, the 256 MB main memory would have filled up long ago. And clearly the hardware hasn't failed—a VM can't tolerate the failure of the host.

And so it was this morning:

Sun Sep 15 00:14:23 UTC 2013
12:14AM  up 1812 days, 5 mins, 1 user, load averages: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

But then this afternoon the unthinkable happened. I went off the net, not for the first time. So I put in a ticket and got the horrifying information:

We are aware of this issue and we are working to resolve it now. Unfortunately the entire node went offline, so it will require us to start your VM back up manually.

We still have the saved memory state of your VM from the last maintenance in June. We may be able to use it to bring your VM backup without any reported downtime, but there is a risk of data loss. The saved state should not affect the data on your disk, but as it's a copy of what was in your memory then I cannot be sure.

That's the first of the scenarios above: hardware failure. And of course restarting the VM from June is impossible. It contains, for example, buffer cache contents valid at the time. If I were to restart it, it would almost immediately cause massive disk corruption. So I had to bite the bullet:

Sun Sep 15 05:26:23 UTC 2013
 5:26AM  up 10 mins, 1 user, load averages: 0.02, 0.13, 0.08

It had to happen some time, of course, but why just 2 weeks before the 5th anniversary? I suppose I'll never see an uptime like that again. The machine went down for a longer period later on, but that's nothing by comparison.


NAT: safe from intrusion
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Like many other networks running IPv4, I connect my local network to the Internet via NAT. I don't like the concept: I have a real /24 address block, but I can't connect it via this network. It also means that I have to maintain an external web server, because my local web server http://wwww.lemis.com/ is not accessible.

Or so I thought. Today I saw a surprising set of messages:

[Sun Sep 15 16:59:52 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/admin
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:53 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/db
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:54 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/dbadmin
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:55 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/myadmin
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:56 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/mysql
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:57 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/mysqladmin
[Sun Sep 15 16:59:58 2013] [error] [client 58.211.18.184] File does not exist: /usr/local/www/data/typo3

That's somebody trying (clumsily, and in vain) to break into my local web server. How could he do that? It seems that NAT doesn't apply to the interface on which the PPP process runs. I suppose I should check that; it could be one of the causes of my recent heavy data use.


More garden pottering
Topic: gardening Link here

A bit of garden work today, flushing the sprinklers again. Did circuit 2, which has a number of undocumented ends: in the bed front of the kitchen door there are two, one under the white Camellia and the other on the right edge. And then there's one in the bed to the east, roughly opposite the second one; and another line comes down to the verandah, to the pot on the edge of the path towards the Japanese Garden. And finally (I think), to the west of the house there's one at the end of the row of Acacia myrtifolia and one next to the house about half way down towards the other end of the house. I'll probably extend that to water the bed in front of the bedroom on that side of the house.


Topic: general, animals Link here

Chris Bahlo along for dinner tonight; she had been in Sydney at some Google event for the past few days. She's clearly getting bored playing just with Lilac:


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Monday, 16 September 2013 Dereel
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German pensions: legally sanctioned fraud
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I'm fast approaching a number of ages where various old age pensions kick in. In two weeks I'll receive an Australian pension, for which I have contributed nothing beyond part of a few years' income tax. In 6 months Yvonne will get a pension of the same value too, though she has never paid any tax in Australia.

In Europe it's different. You gets what you pays for—maybe. We've been fighting red tape in Germany for over a year, and today I got a large packet of paper, 20 pages confirming that I and my employer in a total of 30 years in Germany (they started from my matriculation in University of Hamburg) paid the princely sum of 1,093,283 DM each, or a total of 1,117,970 €, currently AUD 1,606,710. If I had invested this much money in an Australian superannuation scheme, I would have much more than that due to interest (something that doesn't interest the German Pension Insurance), but even with just that sum I would be required to take a pension of at least $80,000 a year or $6,700 a month. Free of taxes, that would have provided for a very comfortable lifestyle indeed.

Instead, the German Pension Insurance have determined that I'm entitled to all of 936.35 € per month, or 11,236.20 € per year, only marginally more than 1% of what was paid in. I'm sure that in their 20 pages of rambling explanations there's a solid legal foundation for the results, but I'm reminded of the German saying „Versicherung ist gesetzlich sanktionierter Betrug“ (“Insurance is legally sanctioned fraud”). I'm disgusted, not to mention disappointed.


Give us a real backbone network
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Now that the Coalition has won the election, plans for a sensible National Broadband Network have been canned. It's not true that nobody's happy about that: clearly Tony Abbott and maybe Malcolm Turnbull are. But a very large number of voters are not. Now there's a petition for the coalition to continue with the FTTH approach. As I write this, they have collected 250,000 signatures in a little over a week. That's impressive enough as a figure, but it's all the more interesting in that it represents over 1% of the population of Australia. I've signed, of course; I wonder if it will have any effect.


Time for another new car
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Yvonne's car has been at the workshop since last Wednesday looking for what caused it to stop the week before. They couldn't find anything. When we brought it, they did find indications that cam or crankshaft sensor had failed, but that could have been any time, since the things have no time reporting. And we had replaced the cam and crankshaft sensors.

So what do we do? Despite the best intentions of the German Pension Insurance, we're going to have more money in the near future. Time for a new car for Yvonne as well? She's been wanting a station wagon, though that seems to be becoming an obsolete body form. Spent some time looking for used car prices; despite all the pain I went through last week, I'm still astounded how bad the web sites are. It seems that the canonical site for finding car values is Redbook, but their interface is so horrible and misleading that I don't know why anybody bothers. A search for Holden Commodore station wagons (conveniently with a non-permanent URL) shows a price of $22,180 to $45,290 for a 2000 model. What kind of nonsense is that? Those were the new prices 13 years ago, but who cares? And following, say, the 2004 entry View More forgets that I was looking for station wagons and shows them all—still with new car prices. I have to follow Yet Another Link to find what should be on the first page. But it looks like we should still get a bit of money back for the old car, so I'll continue my search.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013 Dereel
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Another day in the life of Grog
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Somehow nothing of interest happened today. Spent most of the time looking at Coursera videos. Also found a little time to continue my slow overhaul of the garden sprinklers.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 18 September 2013
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Zhivago worse
Topic: animals Link here

It's been a week since we started treating Zhivago for his urinal bleeding. It clearly hasn't helped. This is what Yvonne found on his bed this morning:


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That's about 25 cm in diameter. Yvonne called the vet, but Sarah, her favourite vet, wasn't there today, and we had enough to do anyway, so put off the next visit until tomorrow.


Applying for old age pension
Topic: general Link here

Into town today to meet with Peter O'Connell and do my application for Australian old age pension. It took us 90 minutes, including lots of questions about the countries where I have lived. I simplified somewhat, but nevertheless overran the allocated space. And then he wanted the same information for Yvonne, although she wasn't applying for anything. So we called her up and brought her into the office to finish things. Barely got round to talking about investments at all.


Another new car?
Topic: general Link here

Since Yvonne was with me after the meeting with Peter O'Connell, off to look at a couple of used cars for sale. One was a private sale, a 2004 Holden Commodore VZ with—he claimed—only 119,000 km. For that, he wanted the proud sum of $10,000, though the red book price range was $5,300 to $6,000. Although he worked for a car company, he claimed not to have heard of the red book. The car didn't look in particularly good condition, and I was more then dubious about the background, especially after he said that there had been some repairs done which required respraying (which hadn't worked very well). In addition, the upholstery looked very worn for a car with such a low mileage. So we eliminated that one, especially as it was the most expensive of the four we had taken into consideration.

Another was already sold, though still in the web listings, and a third was at “Regional Car Sales”, where I bought my Hyundai last week, so along to take a look at it. It's a 2005 model with 197,000 km, pretty much the maximum for the year, and rather more than I was looking for, but Gary offered me a good price for it and a bad trade-in price for our old Commodore. It was significantly lower than the other one, though, and we're seriously considering it. First, though, we need to consider the fourth one, the newest of the four, a 2006 model with 142,000 km. That'll have to wait until tomorrow.


Thursday, 19 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 19 September 2013
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Zhivago's problems: solved
Topic: animals Link here

To the vets in Ballarat again this morning to investigate Zhivago's internal bleeding. I had expected him to be put on ultrasound immediately, but Sarah first examined him again and then came to the conclusion that he needed ultrasound—later. We headed off looking for cars, and had barely got to the second yard when we were called back again.

Ultrasound was interesting. Normally they sedate dogs before examining them, but Borzois are rather sensitive to anaesthetics, so we tried it without. Absolutely no problem; he just lay there on the table and didn't move. Sarah brought in another colleague, Aaron, who knows his way round the ultrasound machine better, but while waiting for him she checked his bladder and found a stone about 15 mm in diameter! The bladder wall was also thickened, round 6 mm thick. Aaron arrived, checked and confirmed. That's a clear diagnosis with only 2 alternatives: put him down, or operate.

They managed the operation the same afternoon, and in the evening Sarah called me to tell me that the operation had gone very well. They had removed the large stone and a few smaller ones, probably Calcium Oxalate. He had eaten well in the evening—something that doesn't happen very often after an operation, and in all likelihood we could pick him up tomorrow rather than wait the 2 or 3 days it normally takes. Thank God for that!


Another new car
Topic: general Link here

Yesterday we looked at 2 of the 3 available Holden Commodore VZs in the Ballarat area. Today we looked at the third, interrupted by having to return to the vet. It looked quite good to me, though the difference between the “Executive” (cheapest) trim and the “Equipe” of the other one was obvious in the seat covers and the lack of electric windows on the rear doors. But it had a good 50,000 km less on the clock, was a year newer, had a warranty, and the exterior looked better. To crown it all, it had a dog screen for the rear, something that Yvonne definitely wanted. I was almost tempted to buy it there, but Yvonne threw a spanner in the works by wondering if she wouldn't prefer a four-wheel-drive vehicle. I knew my answer to that, but she liked the look of a Nissan X-Trail they had there, and we went out to test drive it. Huey, the salesman, said that we most definitely should try it on the freeway, so we did that.

To be fair, though I don't like 4WDs, this one drove quite nicely. But it was a good thing we drove it on the freeway: at 110 km/h it was really noisy. And apart from that, it's not clear what advantage it had over the Commodore. Not the four-wheel-drive; we've almost never needed that. And it's 3 years older, has 20,000 more kilometres on the clock, has less space for dogs, has no warranty, and cost the same. Why bother?

Yvonne agreed up to a point, so we were planning to move on to the next yard, but then she looked at the Commodore and finally decided she wanted it, helped by Huey, who gave us another $300 off the price. It'll be Wednesday before they get it through the roadworthy tests.


Putting Bjoska and Candileja together
Topic: animals Link here

Yvonne had already tried to put Bjoska together with Carlotta a few days back. Fireworks ensued. Today she put her together with Candileja instead, and I came out to take some photos of the fireworks:


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Friday, 20 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarta → Dereel Images for 20 September 2013
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Zhivago returns
Topic: animals Link here

Zhivago's recovery from his operation was apparently surprisingly good. Before the operation they told us that they'd have to keep him there for at least 2 days for observation. Then last night they said they thought we could collect him this evening. And then we got a call this morning saying we could pick him up immediately.

Into town, doing some other things first (we didn't want to keep Zhivago in the car longer than necessary) and had an inordinate wait before he was let out: we had made the mistake of coming at lunch time. The “stone” was really an agglomeration of smaller stones:


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The graph paper underneath is a 1 cm grid, so the big one was over 2 cm in diameter. It's amazing that he held out so long. There's nothing much to see of the wound:


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Hopefully all will continue to go so well. One of the consequences of the easy operation was that instead of the feared $2,000 or so, it “only” cost $1,354.90.


Finally the car radio
Topic: general Link here

On the way into town, dropped in at Ballarat Auto Sound to ask them to remove the radio for me. At first the receptionist told me they were booked out until the end of next week, but I managed to persuade her that it would only take a minute, so into the shop and a bloke stuck some special blades down the side and pulled it out in a minute—and charged me $5 for it. Still, a whole lot better than messing around myself. Then off to Autobarn, where they did have the correct cable assembly—and not the one I had expected. But everything went smoothly, an order of magnitude easier than last time. One more problem fixed, though now I notice that the air conditioner turns on every time I start the engine. I wonder if that's a bug or a feature.

Peter Jeremy tells me it's a feature. Many cars, mine included, do this when the heating is set to “defrost”.


Zuppa di cavolo
Topic: food and drink Link here

Cooked a zuppa di cavolo (cabbage soup) this afternoon. The recipe I have is from Lorenza de' Medici Stucchi's “Tuscany: The Beautiful Cookbook”, with some modifications. Yvonne wanted something more like a Garbure, but we didn't have the ingredients. It's completely vegetarian, and it tasted surprisingly good, though we're wondering if a bit of smoked meat might not improve it. There's a whole world of nourishing soups out there to investigate.


Saturday, 21 September 2013 Dereel Images for 21 September 2013
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Flowers in early spring
Topic: gardening Link here

It's spring again. I should have taken my monthly garden flowers photos nearly a week ago, but somehow things have been hectic, and I only got round to it today, along with the “house photos”.

Looking back at a year ago, things have changed: now the garden is much denser, but also untidier. We have a large number of giant Echium pininana, just about to flower:


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The Echium candicans is also coming up to its first flowering:


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Our Protea cynaroides has been promising to flower for a year now (first photo), but it's only now almost open:


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The flower is about 25 cm across.

Apart from that, the garden is consolidating, and though there are many more flowers, there's nothing really worth emphasizing.


Indian food quantities
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

We used to eat a lot of Indian food—if I were limited to one cuisine, I would probably choose Indian. But Yvonne was getting more and more fed up with it. Gradually we established why: you don't eat Indian once, you eat it four or five times until it's finally finished. And that's the main thing that irritated her.

So: today we tried smaller quantities. Or I did, anyway. Here's how we fared (with the help of Chris Bahlo):

So based on that, I'd say, for this particular mix, next time we'll do 80 g dal, 120 g chicken curry, ⅔ portion kambing lemak, 100 g fish (I don't eat this dish) and 45 g rice per person.


Sunday, 22 September 2013 Dereel Images for 22 September 2013
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A bit of fertilizer
Topic: gardening Link here

I'm still doing far too little in the garden, but at least today I got round to spreading fertilizer for roses, citrus and general things. I'm out of Azalea fertilizer, but I probably left that too long anyway: the azaleas and camellias are already in flower.


Horse riding again
Topic: animals Link here

Chris Bahlo is currently training Ifli, an Icelandic pony who is reluctant to tölt. You wouldn't know:


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Zhivago drinks!
Topic: animals Link here

Zhivago has been recovering well, and he's now livelier than I've seen him in some time. Only one thing worried us: he didn't drink any water. He's been fine apart from that, and eating well. But he's also been urinating, so I assume that he was really hydrated during the operation, and it's taken him 2 days to come back to equilibrium. Today he finally drank a little water.


Monday, 23 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 23 September 2013
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Changing of the Commodores
Topic: general Link here

Into town today to see the doctor and pick up Yvonne's new car:


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It's a somewhat melancholic event. We've had the old car for nearly 14 years, longer than any car we have ever had: we bought it on 8 February 2000, over a fifth of our lives ago. We've done 209,920 km with it, an average of 15,400 km per year, and it has been the most reliable car we have ever had, one of the reasons why we chose a Commodore as a replacement. It has “only” 143,464 km on the clock, so if we continue with that average it'll keep us going for another 8 years before it reaches that mileage.

Picking up the car wasn't quite as smooth as I had expected: Huey had forgotten one of the items, fixing a loose left door mirror, and I had to go across the road to the Mazda dealership where I stopped a couple of weeks ago. They couldn't do anything about it on the spot, of course, so it looks like we're going to have to put it in for service. Damn. There was no particular need to pick it up today.

And what's the new car like? The old one. Yes, it's a little more refined and quieter, notably missing the howl from the differential that the old one had since I mistreated it on the Oodnadatta track over 8 years ago. And it has new electronics, including a fuel consumption display that unfortunately shows only cumulative consumption. But with a bit of playing around I established that it uses about 8.5 l/100 km at 100 km/h, which seems a lot better than the old one. On the other hand, my 1990 Citroën XM showed a consumption of 9 l/100 km at 120 km/h. The consumption was strongly dependent on the speed: at 240 km/h it used 27 l/100 km, so the current consumption isn't that spectacular.


Understanding Android
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

One obvious use of an Android tablet is to play music. Never mind that the speaker in this tablet sounds tinnier than anything I've heard in years: I'm expecting a bluetooth headset any time now. But how do I play things? The “Music” app seems incapable of downloading music files. OK, in this modern world, that's what a browser is for. So I tried that. “Sorry, the player does not support that kind of audio file”.

What does that mean? It's an MP3, and it even has a file name advertising the fact! No specifics, nothing about what it thinks it is. OK, how about just saving it? That works—I think. But it puts it somewhere that I can't find—maybe. Maybe it just pretends to download it.

One clue is the list of downloaded files at the bottom right menu. There's a arrow symbol there, which apparently means “Download”:

 
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Press on it and you get a menu with the information that something failed a week ago:

 
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OK, not what I'm looking for, and an indication that maybe the browser lied when it claimed to have downloaded the file. But how do I get rid of the entry? Touch it and all it offers you is app info. “Intuitively” I touched with my right ring finger instead of forefinger, but surprisingly that didn't make any difference. By a process of elimination I discovered that I just need to drag it out of the box. But why isn't that documented?

So I connected dxo.lemis.com, my Microsoft box, where it shows up as something not quite like a directory hierarchy. Tried copying MP3s across. How do you copy multiple files with Microsoft? Andy Snow told me to “open” a “Windows Explorer” window and press ctrl-A. That worked, but how do I copy just some of them? Even with COMMAND.EXE I have a limited range of globbing patterns at my disposal. Here I don't.

I have a lot of music files, so I created a directory which Microsoft calls SD\ card → Music, and which, as I discovered, Android calls /sdcard1/Music. Tried to copy them, but because I have subdirectories with the same files in them, Microsoft thinks they're there multiple times and tells me it can't copy anything because there's not enough space.

Finally copied a couple of files, and the “Music” app found them automatically, presumably because I had chosen a likely-sounding directory name. And it could play them.

Clearly there's a lot I need to learn about Android, so I went looking for an instruction manual on the web. I couldn't find one! There are sites like http://androinica.com/category/androidguide/, which promises to deliver “a few articles that will help you get started on your Android journey”. The first five are titled “HTC Sense Tips & Tricks”, “A Guide to Making Your Android’s Battery Last a Little Longer”, “AppBrain adds new install from any website feature; Androinica will adopt it”, “How to Install Apps to the SD Card by Default on Android 2.2 Froyo” and “Android PSA: Read security permissions before installing an Android app”. If there's a user manual in there, they're hiding it well.

It seems that android.com is an important site. And the home page has interesting links like “Why Android” and “Apps”. Documentation? Help? Who needs that?

Finally I looked on Safari Books Online. Yes, they had books on Android, 58 of them, mainly application programming. In the category “Desktop and Web Applications” there were exactly five. “Best Android Apps”, “Web Geek’s Guide to the Android™-Enabled Phone”, and three books in German, clearly the same book in different incarnations for phones and tablets. Chose „Das Buch zu Android Tablets“, which is probably better than nothing, but even there it doesn't explain how to use the thing very well. For example, how do you resize an image? Put two fingers on the touch screen and move them together or apart. Somebody told me that on IRC a long time ago, but I don't see it in any online description. Where does the browser put its downloaded files? No idea.

There so much wrong with this picture:


Tuesday, 24 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel Images for 24 September 2013
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More problems with Zhivago
Topic: animals Link here

Zhivago has been recovering well from his operation—so far. While walking him this morning we found that he was having difficulty urinating again, and looking at him more carefully it was clear that the wound area was significantly swollen. Here last Friday and now:


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Clearly the bruising has subsided, but a careful look shows that the area above the wound has swollen a lot. Called up the vet, and Sarah said that it could be a hernia—just what we needed! It would require opening him up again to put the bits and pieces back where they belonged.

Off into Ballarat Yet Again—that's the 11th time this month! That must be some kind of record. Sarah took a look at Zhivago and discounted the possibility of a hernia: it's just normal post-operative swelling, and it could take another week or even longer to subside.


Hidden trip computer functions
Topic: general, technology Link here

Callum Gibson had a comment on my discussion of the trip computer on our new VZ Commodore, and came up with this page, describing hidden functionality in the trip computer of a VT Commodore, the model that we have just traded in after nearly 14 years. Tried the tricks out on the VZ, but they didn't work. Tried other combinations, and managed to accidentally reset the service interval counter (hold down the up arrow and the down arrow, turn on the ignition and start the car). Maybe there's some other trick to get the hidden functions, but I didn't find it.


Bad language in modern advertising
Topic: language, opinion Link here

I hate advertising at the best of time, and it's one of the many reasons I barely use Facebook any more. But from time to time they're interesting to show how advertising is changing the face of (not just the English) language. An example in a recent spam message:

Subject:  Shocking New Discovery for Amazing Joint Relief

Shocking? Spam is shocking, but what do they mean here? And then there's “weird”, which seems to be a method of losing weight. I went back to Facebook to take a look, but lately all my Facebook spam has been in Russian and Mongolian, presumably because I changed my profile to state that my place of birth is Almaty and my domicile is Ulaanbaatar. Somehow I prefer it like that.


A browser for Android
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Continued my attempts to play music on my Android tablet. The “Music” app is too stupid to access music from the Internet, and the “Browser“ app refuses to play MP3 files. Another browser? I had tried Chrome, but I couldn't find a way to get it to save a “Home” location. On Andy Snow's recommendation I tried what he said was “Dolphin Beta”, but all I found was Dolphin, which proved to be too stupid to even rotate the display to the current orientation. Finally tried firefox, which seems to do the trick. Why is this all so difficult?


Wednesday, 25 September 2013 Dereel Images for 25 September 2013
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More spam?
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Spam has been bad lately, and I'm deleting more messages than I read. Today there was another one, sent to my secret eBay email address:

Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2013 14:50:39 +1000
From: <Tracknoreply@auspost.com.au>
To: <ebay@lemis.com>
Subject: Track Advice Article 83202352994096
X-Mailer: SAP Web Application Server 7.00
Message-ID: <ADR38000022019233@auspost.com.au>

[-- text/html is unsupported (use 'v' to view this part) --]

Looking at the HTML attachment showed typical spam-like errors. They couldn't even decide on how to spell Napoleons:

Article Number 83202352994096
Consignment Number 83202352994096
Product Type Parcel Post
Total Articles 1
Date/Time 25.09.13 11:46:47
Current Status Awaiting Collection at Post Office
Location NAPOLEON CPA
NAPOLEONS GENERAL STORE
4760 COLAC-BALLARAT ROAD
NAPOLEON VIC
3352

Fake Australia Post spam? Who sent it?

Received: from mail3.auspost.com.au (mail1.auspost.com.au [155.144.24.128])
        by w3.lemis.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 4F8193B9B6
        for <groggybay@lemis.com>; Wed, 25 Sep 2013 04:55:12 +0000 (UTC)

Oh. It really is from Australia Post. It proved to be an access point that I bought on eBay yesterday. No wonder people get taken in by these things, especially since Received: headers don't normally get displayed, and most users don't know that they exist, let alone how to display and interpret them. And I suppose inaccurate spelling and layout is Modern. When will legitimate operations start signing their email messages?


VZ Commodore hidden codes
Topic: general, technology Link here

Yesterday I tried without success to adapt the tricks to access hidden functionality of the VT Commodore trip computer to our new VZ Commodore. On reflection, it occurred to me that there was an obvious difference: the VT computer has only three buttons (Mode and up and down arrows). The VZ computer has all of these, and also a Set button. So tried that, and it worked.

So: to enter the secret functions of the computer, ensure that the car is turned off. Hold down Mode and Set buttons, turn on the ignition and start the engine. It's not enough just to turn on the ignition. After a flash screen, you get:


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In passing, it's amusing that the serial number starts with Yvonne's initials. So does the registration plate, YLS 189. I'm still trying to find a good interpretation of the digits. It's also interesting to note that the display now has a dot matrix text representation, which makes it much easier to interpret the meanings.

Pressing on the Mode button brings up the next menu:


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Neither of these appear to have been on the VT computer. The next two are, however:


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According to the VT page, the first could be the voltage for the instrument cluster.

Then comes another assorted part number. What's a fuel cal? Round about here I went googling and found a page I hadn't seen before which tells me that this means Fuel Calibration (“these pretty well explain themselves”). Not to me.


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The fuel tank level appears to come from an 8 bit sensor:


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I'm not sure which instrument temperature it's measuring, nor the meaning of the second number:


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I can't interpret “ADC brake reading” either. Neither does the page I referenced above, though it says that the value should be between 0.8 and 2.8 V. I don't even see a reference to a voltage here:


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Then there are four voltage differences. In the thread I referenced, some people think that this is a function relating to luxury models, but then this post states that he's missing some (unspecified) functions, so it's not clear why these are there all the time.


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Then there's fuel capacity again, in a slightly more legible form. At least the two displays agree (roughly): the tank holds 75 litres, so 169 / 255 corresponds to 49.7 litres.


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The next ones are fairly straightforward:


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I'm not sure that “Waiting” means here. Maybe that it's waiting for input saying that the car is moving.


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The trouble codes are very convenient. A couple of weeks ago we paid over $60 to get trouble codes read out of the VT, not to mention having to go to Ballarat to do so. Here they're available immediately. According to the web post, they correspond to codes 32 counting down to 1:


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And finally there's the “turn everything on the dashboard on” function:


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This one is interesting because it shows the inaccuracy of the speedometer. I've already established with the help of my GPS navigator that it shows 103 km/h when moving at 100 km/h; here it's clearer. That also suggests that both the fuel gauge and the temperature gauge show slightly too low a value.

After that, pressing Mode again goes back to the start. I haven't found any way to exit the mode except by turning off the ignition.

In summary, a nice toy. But there isn't that much of great interest there. Error codes, battery voltage, coolant temperature, and that's about that. I'm not sure I trust the fuel levels enough, and in any case there's an indicator for that.


Thursday, 26 September 2013 Dereel Images for 26 September 2013
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Aligning hand-held photos
Topic: photography Link here

The photos I took of the Commodore trip computer yesterday were all hand-held, and of course they didn't quite line up. Somehow I needed to align them so that they looked consistent. I've been there before, so off to follow the instructions.

They didn't work. Yes, the control point detectors found lots of good control points, but the images didn't line up. a Run the mouse cursor over the images below to switch to the other image:


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My instructions said to optimize the parameters Positions and View (y,p,r,v). With a bit of experimentation I established that Positions and Translation (y,p,r,x,y,z) was a better choice.

But I wasn't there yet. Now I had about 20 TIFF images that looked roughly like this:


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Somehow I had managed to take almost every image at the same slant, approximately 1.8° to the right. They also needed cropping. How do you fix that? You can do it with GIMP, of course, but doing that the same way with every image is an unbearable pain. So I decided to do it with one and note the parameters. First I rotated the image and noted the angle, then I cropped the result and noted that angle:

 
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With that, I could run ImageMagick's convert:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/17) ~/Photos/Hugin-build-eureka 25 -> for i in *.tif; do convert -quality 85% -rotate -1.8 -crop 2042x648+150+143 $i ${i/tif/jpg}; done

Unfortunately, that didn't quite give the expected results:

Hugin-build-eureka: geometry does not contain image `00-22_exposure_layers_0000.tif' @ warning/transform.c/CropImage/574.
Hugin-build-eureka: geometry does not contain image `00-22_exposure_layers_0001.tif' @ warning/transform.c/CropImage/574.

Each image proved to be one pixel in size. Further investigation showed me things I didn't know about TIFF files:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/17) ~/Photos/Hugin-build-eureka 26 -> identify 00-22_exposure_layers_0000.tif
00-22_exposure_layers_0000.tif TIFF 2327x1212 2327x1212+673+4602 8-bit DirectClass 7.828MB 0.000u 0:00.000

So there's an offset stored in the image dimensions. Add that to the offset from GIMP and things looked better:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/17) ~/Photos/Hugin-build-eureka 30 -> for i in *.tif; do convert -quality 85% -rotate -1.8 -crop 2042x648+823+4845 $i ${i/tif/jpg}; done

AirDroid
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Received mail from William Witteman pointing at AirDroid, an application to make life with Android easier. It provides a web server that you can use to access the tablet from a real computer:


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It doesn't have any instructions, of course—after all, it is an Android app—and it also changes the names of directories, but it's not too difficult to guess what it does. I still need to play with it, but so far it looks very usable, and it might make the pain with copying files easier. Strangely, it doesn't seem to be able to install apps from the toyshop.

William writes:

Note - this only works if you have a desktop connected to the same network that provides wireless access to your tablet.

What, is it too stupid to understand routing? No, this is a misfeature, not a bug. There's also a “Premium” version that costs (a surprising amount of) money, and which does routing, thus making it easier for strangers to break into your tablet. Looking at the features, I don't see anything that I'd need, let alone pay money for.


Coursera experience
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Despite all good intentions to see it through, I gave up on the Coursera course on linear algebra course after ¾ of the time. And, to my surprise, I got a certificate of completion! Clearly their assessment standards are far too lenient.

In the meantime, I'm participating in a number of other courses. Some are good, others are irrelevant. What I've had so far is:

In summary, I think that it's a good thing the courses are free. Some are excellent, but there's a big difference between the best and the worst.


Friday, 27 September 2013 Dereel Images for 27 September 2013
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Power surge
Topic: general Link here

Another power problem today at 10:14. The UPSs screamed a couple of times and showed high input voltages (round 247 V), and the clock in the bedroom reset.


Radiation tower progress
Topic: general, technology Link here

The site of the Radiation Tower has been quiet now for over two weeks. I've assumed that this is to allow the concrete of the base to harden, but it's also a concern because since the last real work we have a new, (NBN)-unfriendly government. So it was good to hear from Chris Bahlo today that Powercor had been on site and apparently installed a new transformer:


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It's some distance form the site, but that's where the power line runs. It continues on to supply us, amongst other people. I wonder if that was the cause of the power surge.


More NiZn battery strangeness
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

It's been some time since I started using NiZn batteries, and in that time I've been quite happy with them. They discharge, of course, and today I found the internal unit of the lounge weather station (not the computer one) barely legible. Only yesterday it had looked perfectly normal. Took out the batteries and discovered that one battery had a voltage of 1.546, definitely discharged, while the other only had 0.170 V. According to what documentation I have seen, it should be unrecoverable. Put in a set of fresh (well, not used since last recharge) batteries and discovered that things were no better: one had 1.798 V, normal enough, while the other had 0.376 V.

Why? The obvious suggestion is that the quality of NiZn batteries has yet to attain that of NiMH batteries, and that these are early deaths. Another possibility is that the charger is not helping: it seems to charge batteries in pairs, and if they're badly matched, the weaker might not get properly charged. So today I tried charging the two really flat ones in one half of the charger, and normally discharged batteries in the other half. The result was interesting: the “good” batteries charged to 1.834 and 1.886 V, while the “bad” batteries charged to 1.809 and 1.836 V. Now to see how long they retain that charge.


More Coursera pain
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

When I was young I was fascinated by languages, both natural and computer. I certainly haven't given up on that interest, but the plethora of languages now available makes it difficult to keep up. So I've signed up for a Coursera course on programming languages. Now the first information is coming in: it's about programming languages in general, but it's taught using SML, Racket and Ruby. Of these, I have only ever heard of Ruby. The (apparently required) editor is Emacs, and they want a specific version of it.

OK, time to install the rest. The convenient instructions cover “Windows”, Mac OS X and Linux, but not BSD. Still, that's what the Ports Collection is for. Racket was easy enough, though it took 1½ hours to build all sorts of things. SML was a completely different issue:

===>  smlnj-110.0.7_3 is only for i386, while you are running amd64.

Why that? Tried removing the check for machine architecture, but only got:

!!! /src/FreeBSD/svn/ports/lang/sml-nj/work/bin/.arch-n-opsys fails on this machine
!!! you must patch this by hand and repeat the installation

Looking at that file showed that yes, indeed, SML-NJ seems to work only on 32 bit machines. Isn't that convenient? lagoon is still running i386, so installed it on that. But why do people choose such restrictive implementations?

Installing the SML mode for Emacs was a similar problem:

===>  Patching for sml-mode-3.9.5_5
===>   sml-mode-3.9.5_5 depends on file: /usr/local/bin/emacs-21.3 - not found
...
===>  emacs-21.3_16 conflicts with installed package(s):
      emacs-23.4_1,2

      They install files into the same place.
      You may want to stop build with Ctrl + C.

Why is it trying to install for an ancient version of Emacs? Tried changing things to reflect my installed version, but all I got was:

===>  Building for sml-mode-3.9.5_5
/usr/local/bin/- -batch --eval '(setq load-path (append (list "." "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elib" "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp") load-path))' -f batch-byte-compile sml-compat.el
/usr/local/bin/- -batch --eval '(setq load-path (append (list "." "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp/elib" "/usr/local/share/emacs/site-lisp") load-path))' -f batch-byte-compile sml-util.el
/usr/local/bin/-: not found
*** [sml-compat.elc] Error code 127

Looking at the Makefiles, it seems that SML has greatly suffered from lack of love. The fact that the course requires it doesn't speak very highly of it.


German food: getting better
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

One thing I've been complaining about ever since I returned to Australia over 16 years ago is the poor quality of German-style food that is available here. In South Australia we found two bakeries (the Brezel Bakehouse in Mount Barker and the German Cake Shop in Hahndorf), who made passable grey and black bread respectively. We could also get passable sausages from Standom in the Adelaide Central Market. We could get none of these when we moved to Dereel, and I took up baking my own grey bread. Chris Bahlo's brother Reinhard pointed us at Fleischer in Boronia, who, true to their name, produced reasonable Bratwurst, cold-smoked ham and Aufschnitt. But they're 177 km way away, so I started making Bratwurst myself. And then we found some Aufschnitt from Barossa Fine Foods, which is available from ALDI from time to time. When it is, we buy a lot and freeze it.

This evening we ate Abendbrot and decided to thaw out some Aufschnitt. We had planned on some of the Barossa Aufschnitt, but we found we still had a lot left over from Fleischer the last time we were there. That was older, so I thawed some out.

Once it might have been passable. Now it's really very poor in comparison with the Barossa goods. At first Yvonne thought it had gone bad, but I think it was really like that all the time. We seem to have moved on to better things.

And the bread? I only make grey bread, so last time we were in South Australia we bought some black bread from the German Cake Shop. Their quality hasn't improved in the course of the years, and it's very crumbly. The result: normally you put your sausage on the bread. Here it was easier the other way round:


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Morales complaint
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Some months back there was a series of articles in various news media stating that the USA had caused several European countries to refuse air passage to Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. I was horrified, and investigated what really went on. The more I investigated, the less I believed the stories.

One of the things that Morales stated was that he would put in a formal complaint. I've been watching ever since. Yes, now he has, at the UN General Assembly. Denying the use of air space. Yes, that sounds right. But it's directed against the US, not France, Spain or Italy. And not the slightest mention of the Snowden affair. This is a completely different issue. So yes, indeed, the issue back in July seems to have quietly died away.


Saturday, 28 September 2013 Dereel Images for 28 September 2013
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Certified old fogey
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I'm 65 years old! How did that happen? Slowly, of course, over the course of nearly ⅔ of a century. On the positive side, I'm now entitled to the Old Age Pension.


Important world news
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

Listening to the news on the radio this morning at 7:00, there was a lot to report: For the first time in over 30 years, the President of the United States of America has spoken to the leader of Iran's government. The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. The IPCC released its latest report. What did it contain? No time to say: there was even more important news. Today was the day of the AFL Grand Final, so most of the news was about people who had been waiting for 24 hours outside the MCG to get a good seat.

sigh


Foie gras again
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Good dinner tonight, of course. We've found a source of foie gras on eBay, so that was the hors d'œuvre, the first time for nearly 9 years. But nowadays it's duck liver, and it didn't taste as good as I recall it.


Sunday, 29 September 2013 Dereel Images for 29 September 2013
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Even more carrying capacity
Topic: general, opinion Link here

One of the reasons we bought the Commodore was to have more carrying capacity. And maybe we'll need it. Yvonne is already planning a new Borzoi, and it looks as if we'll end up going to Melbourne in a couple of months to buy one and also to do some food shopping.

But how do we arrange things? Zhivago will come with us, of course, in the back of the car. We'll probably have to put the puppy on the back seat. And the fridge? Yvonne had an idea: on the front seat. After all, what are roof racks (and baling twine) for?


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Somehow there needs to be a better solution. I'll drive!


More weed spraying
Topic: gardening Link here

My weed spraying a few weeks ago proved to be less than complete. The winds were low again for once today, so I went around again. Will I ever get weeds under control?


Trying OsmAnd
Topic: technology, general Link here

Last month I did some brief investigation of navigation applications for Android. I briefly tried Sygic, but at the time I didn't have a holder for the tablet, so I decided to put it off. And then Sygic told me that it was a free 7 day trial copy, so by the time I got the tablet holder I couldn't use it any more without significant cost. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth: the toyshop claims it's free. And as a result I allowed my free trial to expire without being able to use it.

So today I tried another one, OsmAnd Maps & Navigation. It's based on OpenStreetMap (and seems to have inherited its StudlyCaps), but I've heard good things about it. And indeed it doesn't look too bad. It even (almost) has documentation, and there are plenty of features to play with. I'm not yet convinced by the routes it calculates—the “shortest” route to the vet is clearly longer than the one I have been taking lately. Still, I can try it out tomorrow and see what I find. And the OpenStreetMap maps may be less complete then the ones with my dedicated navigator (and also the Sygic ones), but they're also less inaccurate.


Camera support for HDR
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

A few years back Reinhard Wagner of the German Olympus Forum initiated a petition to Olympus to improve the support of their cameras for High dynamic range imaging, and I joined in. It seems to have worked: the new OM-D E-M1 has significant support: 3, 5 or 7 shots at intervals of 2 or 3 EV in addition to the previous bracketing of 3 or 5 shots at 0.3 EV, 0.7 EV and 1.0 EV, all of which are too close to be useful for HDR.

I mentioned this on the forum, in particular that I didn't understand why they didn't have even numbers of bracketing, and Reinhard Wagner responded with some surprising claims: it didn't make any sense to have an even number, because the middle exposure had to be correctly exposed for the processing to work.

Huh? Why that? Reinhard's not stupid: he's the author of a number of books on photography, and what he says usually makes sense. He also has sources of information from inside Olympus, so when he says that switching to HDR mode also sets the shutter repeat speed to “high” and somehow avoids the requirement of a dark frame for longer exposures, he's probably right, even though the manual doesn't mention it.

But what's the story with an odd number of exposures? What's a “correctly” exposed image? One in which all parts of the subject are well represented, none overexposed, none underexposed. For most subjects, there's no such thing—that's why HDR exists. And the only sensible way of exposing the component images is to start with a shortest exposure that ensures that even the highlights are not overexposed, bracket by 2 to 4 EV, depending on the sensor, and repeat until even the darkest areas aren't underexposed. How many exposures? That depends on the subject, not the ideas of the camera manufacturer.

Reinhard's method would start in the middle and expose the same number of images in each direction, for example -3 EV, -6 EV, +3 EV, +6 EV. The chances of the +6 EV images being in any way useful are extremely unlikely. So why does he say things like this? I don't know. Clearly it's more “what I've learnt” than “what I have thought through”. And even Olympus contradicts him. Apart from the bracketing mentioned above, there are also two quick HDR methods where the camera does everything and saves a resultant image as JPEG. And they takes exactly 4 exposures:

Four shots are taken, each with a different exposure, and the shots are combined into one HDR image inside the camera. HDR2 provides a more impressive image than HDR1. ISO sensitivity is fixed to 200.


Monday, 30 September 2013 Dereel → Ballarat → Dereel
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Zhivago's stitches out
Topic: animals, general Link here

Into town Yet Again this morning—the 12th time this month—to take Zhivago to the vet and have his stitches taken out. Sarah was quite happy with his progress, but it looks as if there might be some residual bleeding for a while to come. There's also the question of finding out how to avoid a repeat of the incident. It seems that his urine is far too acidic (pH 5.0, where 6.5 or higher is desirable). She gave us a number of documents explaining what to do; but first we need to confirm that it really is CaC₂O₄.


OsmAnd Maps & Navigation in practice
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

The trip to Ballarat also gave me the first opportunity to try out OsmAnd Maps & Navigation in practice. The results were interesting, both good and (unfortunately mainly) bad:

So what do I do? I like the idea of OpenStreetMap, and that I can tailor things to my taste (the whole package is GPL-licensed and available online). But clearly I'd have to do all that to get what I want.


Sublime
Topic: gardening Link here

I'm going to have to accept that my attempt to transplant the lime tree last year was a failure:


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That's probably due at least to the inaccurate (and low) water flow from the dripper line and drippers that I had installed, and also to the hot summer. But clearly it means that I shouldn't transplant the grapefruit next to it, even though it is almost completely enveloped by Hebes:


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So while in town, apart from fertilizer also bought a “Sublime” potted lime. They're supposed to remain small. This one looked surprisingly unhappy for new season's growth, and they gave me 20% off. Here it is next to the potted lemon, and then alone:


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Hopefully it will recover.


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