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Thursday, 22 June 2017 Dereel Images for 22 June 2017
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Cheap saffron
Topic: food and drink, general, opinion Link here

Saffron is expensive, though not as expensive as I described a couple of days ago. But recently I saw a price completely out of keeping in the other direction: 10 g saffron for $2.79, including postage from China. That's 0.036% of roxy*books' price, and roughly 2.5% the going rate.

What's wrong with it? Is it even saffron? Looking at the image, it reminds me of similar saffron I saw on sale in the old city of Jerusalem decades ago. Clearly it's not as fine as the more expensive versions, but how much difference does it make?


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At the time I had intended to buy some on my return (from Ḥaram al-Šarīf). But I didn't return by that way, and I never found out how good it was.

OK, I can risk $2.79. But am I allowed to import it? That's for AQIS to say.

Oh. AQIS no longer exists. It was dissolved 5 years ago. Now Biosecurity Australia is responsible for this sort of thing. Off to look through their surprisingly unresponsive web site, and finally arrived at a description of tea and dried herbs, mainly concerned with tea. The relevant text was:

Commercially prepared and packaged loose herbal teas and dried herbs which only contain finely chopped ingredients of plant origin and weigh no more than 1 kilogram are allowed into Australia.

What's “finely chopped”? To be on the safe side, called up Biosecurity Australia on 1800 900 090 and was connected to Carol[iy]n, who wanted to know the biological name. By chance I knew that, Crocus sativus, and she went looking. While that search ran, we discussed the matter, and she suggested that I contact BICON. What's that? Why is there no reference to it? And why should it be so difficult? I later discovered that there was indeed a reference to it, but only for items weighing more than 1 kg.

We timed out on her query, but at least it seems reasonable that I can import the stuff. I'll be interested to see what it's like.


JG King: Complaint
Topic: Stones Road house, opinion Link here

My deadline for JG King to address my demands has expired with no reply, which in itself I consider insulting. Probably, though, it is standard procedure when they expect litigation. So I took the next step and entered a complaint with Domestic Buildings Dispute Resolution Victoria. All online, of course, and they asked all sorts of questions except for one: what is my complaint?

They did promise to contact me when they get through their backlog of work. Maybe I should have entered the complaint when I sent the letter of demand. In the meantime I have the reference number DBDRV-2017-6-1436.


Hibernation fail
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

One of the few areas where my Microsoft boxes do better than my FreeBSD boxes is with hibernation (or is that sleeping?): FreeBSD can't, and with some exceptions Microsoft can.

But lately dischord has stopped sleeping after the specified time. I can still hibernate it with shutdown -h, but if I leave it to timeout, it doesn't. What's causing that?

Off on the web to find out. I established that yes, indeed, it's an issue, and there seem to be many different causes. How do you find out? On a sane system you'd look at the logs, increasing their detail if necessary. With Microsoft, it seems, you try one potential solution after another, without even checking if it's appropriate. The one I tried was:

C:\windows\system32>powercfg -h off
C:\windows\system32>powercfg -h on

It didn't make any difference. Maybe it's time for step 3 of the canonical Microsoft “restart, reboot, reinstall” method. But in the meantime I can install the 67 important updates which it suddenly thinks are necessary.


BWS: success!
Topic: food and drink, general, technology, opinion Link here

Why did Yvonne not get the right beer at BWS yesterday? According to their web site, they still have stocks in many places, though the place Yvonne went to now only has one slab instead of two. Paradoxically, this increases my confidence: at least they update their stocks.

OK, maybe they're reserved for on-line purchases. That would be silly, but it's not the first silly thing I've seen from them. So I tried purchasing from them again. And this time it worked! Yes, I had to enter data that they already had stored, and I got no less then 5 requests “do you want to share your location”, something silly at best (they have that, too, on record, and Google is not really attuned towards devices that don't change location, and thus won't accept an exact address). But finally it was done.

OK, buy another slab in one of the other locations. Sebastopol seems to be the obvious choice. But no, they wouldn't let me. I had bought my slab, and the page I had had before (“check stores in nearby locations”) no longer appeared. Fortunately I had it in my history, and I was able to buy a second slab there. Only 11 minutes between the two transactions. And the order numbers were sequential: 80027127 and 80027128.

Those numbers look like they don't have any kind of coding. BWS keeps telling me that they have 1,296 locations, but here I have two different locations, and the numbers are still sequential. More interestingly, they suggest that nobody else in Australia bought anything on-line in the 11 intervening minutes in the early evening. Looking even further, the absolute numbers suggest that they have only had 21 online purchases per location since the programme began. Clearly I'm not the only person to have difficulty with their system.

And then there's this:


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That's actually quite tidy for their web layout. But it contains two different addresses:

 
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Where's McDowall Shopping Village? I don't know that. Went looking and found where it is: in a suburb of Brisbane, 1,750 km away! How on earth did they come up with that, especially since they have my location on record?


Food dicer fail
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

On Sunday we bought a “food dicer” at ALDI. I thought it might be just what I need to chop onions. Not so. After pressing as hard as I dared, the results looked like this:


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Quick snack
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I've established that quesadillas are a kind of snack food, and I've found some recipes that might be appropriate, so I tried one of them today, using my burrito filling.

Somehow it's all too much work. Preparations took 45 minutes. Cooking the quesadillas takes about 5 minutes per quesadilla, and much of that time it spent preparing the next one. At the end of the meal, the table looked like a battle zone:


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The food? Not bad. But for the amount of work we did, it could have been much better. I think the device goes back.


Green onions again
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

On occasions in the past I've found that onion paste goes green while frying. I had thought that this was due to my habit of putting water in the paste, but today it happened without any additional water:


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The grey area on the right is a grey card to ensure that the colours are right, so it really was that green. What causes it? This time I fried very slowly to avoid burning, and maybe it has something to do with that.


Friday, 23 June 2017 Dereel Images for 23 June 2017
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Free as in Free Beer
Topic: food and drink, technology, opinion Link here

Yvonne off into Ballarat today, mainly to visit the Geoffrey Cutter Centre with Sasha, possibly for the last time. But while she was there she went to pick up my purchases from BWS. Their web site kept me informed my HTML email:

 
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Ready When you are!

Grab your keys, we've picked and packed your order and it's now ready for you to come and collect in-store. Oh, and please make sure you've got your ID ready. We'll need to take a look and record your details.

Product       Ordered       Supplied       Price       Amount
Becks Cans       1       Out of Stock       50.00       0.00

That's a strange way of being ready. But it wasn't the only message:

 
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We try our best to know what’s on our shelves in-store at all times.

Unfortunately, the following product(s) that you ordered are now out of stock and have been refunded.

And sure enough, PayPal confirmed a refund of $50. The character encoding issue is a combination of two bugs: their document did not specify character encoding (it's UTF-8), and my firefox refuses to use UTF-8 by default.

That was the first pick-up, so I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it didn't. Yvonne returned with all the beer I had ordered.

So why the refund? Yes, indeed, BWS' stockkeeping is flawed, and they didn't have the advertised slab in Sebastopol. So the staff did what any reasonable person would do and scraped together four six-packs and put them in some old wine boxes. Here with the second slab:


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So why the refund? Finger trouble, I suspect. They had to somehow tell the PoS terminal that they were out of slabs, and that presumably triggered the refund.

Should I pay them anyway? No, I don't think so. The pain they have put me through was worth more than $50. On IRC, some claimed that it was required by law to give an item free if they messed up, which in turn triggered a long search, which ultimately proved that, in New South Wales at any rate, there is no such requirement. But this page is interesting, if not directly applicable in Victoria.


Where am I?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Another interesting effect of the BWS saga was the fact that it tried to send me to McDowall Shopping Village, 1,750 km away. Yes, it's stupid because it has my address on record. But the web site asked for my location not once, but (if memory serves me correct) 5 times. Could it be that my undisclosed location was in Queensland?

Off looking for how browsers report location. I've had trouble with this in the past, but it's worth looking at again. Peter Jeremy came up with this page, which offers to show me a map of where I am:

 
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No pin or arrow (at least it doesn't claim to be that accurate), but this is in Ballarat, 30 km away, and apparently in the middle of a sports oval. A different incarnation of Google Maps tells me that it's White Flat Oval.

OK, why does it think I'm there? The page states (after appropriate clicking; it's modern and thus does not divulge all information at any one time):

If you consent, Firefox gathers information about nearby wireless access points and your computer’s IP address. Then Firefox sends this information to the default geolocation service provider, Google Location Services, to get an estimate of your location. That location estimate is then shared with the requesting website.

Yes, I use a “wireless access point” in the broadest sense of the word: that's the radiation tower, and it would be quite easy to relate it to my location. So would my IP address: my connection to the Internet is via fixed wireless, so the location is also fixed. So it depends on my RSP, who clearly hasn't supplied this information, maybe because the NBN doesn't provide it. So it seems that the location services guess, often wildly inaccurately, as the stupid message I got from six months ago shows: it put me in the middle of Melbourne.

OK, I can override this information manually. Oh, no, I can't. There's no provision for that. Why not? That's a whole separate discussion.


Forgetting the lessons of the past
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Why can't I tell Google Location Services where I am? No need: it works for 80% of people, according to Daniel O'Connor. I disagree: it's probably more like 90%. But that's a complete declaration of bankruptcy. Would you put up with 90% power availability (5 weeks per year without power?). The same level of availability of network connectivity? Of anything?

Right, but (he continues), it depends on the OS. What? Why should a location service depend on the operating system? Because some operating systems are location-aware.

Aside: what is an operating system? For me it's the kernel and some intimately coupled userland programs such as ps, but not ls. That matches the contents of books I have on the subject, such as The Design and implementation of the 4.3BSD UNIX operating system (which Google currently attribute to Sam Leffler as the only author), or the much earlier “Operating Systems” by Madnick and Donovan (my edition is dated 1974), which doesn't mention userland programs at all.

Still: operating systems provide services. There are currently about four families of operating systems in current use: Microsoft and the rest. The rest (Apple, BSD and Linux, including Android) all have a very similar structure. System services are accessed by system calls which are very similar in function.

Which of these systems have system calls relating to system location? At the very least you'd need two: one to set the location and one to read it. But why does this need to be in the system? A daemon would do just as well.

I have no idea how browsers really establish their locations, but in a behemoth the size of firefox (I currently have one running with a memory space of 3.3 GB, 2.2 GB of which is memory-resident) you'd expect to be able to add a knob telling where your location is. Maybe there is; good documentation is no longer modern. But what really worries me is that in the discussion, just about everybody disagreed with me that a manual override made sense. And that although only one of them (coincidentally Daniel O'Connor) was correctly located by his browser.

But then there's another possibility: Google Maps also keeps your location, or, in my case, four of them, indicated by the yellow stars, which I can't get rid of; the pin shows the real location of my office, though the property boundaries are incorrect:

 
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So why do we have two different, diverging ways of establishing location, both provided by Google?


Hibernating Microsoft
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

What's wrong with dischord, apart from the fact that it runs Microsoft “Windows”? It no longer goes to sleep when it should, and it suddenly decided that I was missing 67 (or maybe 68) important updates. If there were any documentation and logging with the system, I might have a hope of finding out. As it is, I took the path of least resistance and reinstalled them.

And how about that, it seems to sleep/hibernate again. Did I somehow manage to do a “reset to base installation” on it? Who knows? Who cares?


Filters: real or fake?
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

The filters I ordered last week are already here. Started unpacking, and discovered that the filter was dirty, straight out of the box. So was the next one, and the one after that:


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These are Hoya filters, and I already have one, so the obvious thing was to compare it. That was inconclusive, so I'll need to make further investigations. For the time being the bottom line is that keeping glass clean still appears to be an unsolved problem, at least for me.


Phone reverse lookup
Topic: general, technology Link here

Call from +61-3-5458-5487 today. Just noise. The number looks like it could be related to Bendigo, where my mother lives, but I didn't recognize it. Is there a reverse lookup?

Yes. It's not very good—I haven't had a hit on mobile phone numbers yet—but it works in many cases, including this one, claiming that it's in Docklands. That doesn't match the number—maybe they were using Google Location Services—but it's certainly a good site to know.


This page contains (roughly) yesterday's and today's entries. I have a horror of reverse chronological documents, so all my diary entries are chronological. This page normally contains the last two days, but if I fall behind it may contain more. You can find older entries in the archive. Note that I often update a diary entry a day or two after I write it.     Do you have a comment about something I have written? This is a diary, not a “blog”, and there is deliberately no provision for directly adding comments. But I welcome feedback and try to reply to all messages I receive. See the diary overview for more details. If you do send me a message relating to something I have written, please indicate whether you'd prefer me not to mention your name. Otherwise I'll assume that it's OK to do so.


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