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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.


Saturday, 24 June 2017 Dereel Images for 24 June 2017
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More location strangenesses
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Yesterday's map of my location seemed straightforward enough, apart from the four yellow stars representing various previous attempts on the part of Google Maps to guess my location (the red pin is the correct location):

 
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But of course I can copy the URL of the location from the URL bar: https://www.google.com.au/maps/place/37%C2%B048'00.6%22S%2b143%C2%B045'04.4%22E/@-37.8001667,143.7490282,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d-37.8001667!4d143.7512222. And sure enough, that gives me the same page, slightly offset:

 
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But what's that address? The street number is just plain ridiculous, and Mount Pleasant is a suburb of Ballarat. Why is it showing this address in an otherwise almost correct map? Asked around on IRC and got a couple of alternatives screen shots. Jari Kirma got a map that looked pretty much like the original, while Peter Jeremy got one that missed the location to the south:


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Is my experience based on browser (firefox) or (perish the thought!) “Operating System”? Tried it with Google Chrome and also both browsers on dischord. Same thing, modulo the fact that the the last upgrade to firefox saw fit to change my default page to Bing (incidentally Yet Another site that doesn't know where I am, and speaks to me in German), and both Chrome and firefox positioned the map so that the location was above it, like Peter Jeremy's first attempt.

What about mobile phones? After 20 minutes managed to persuade my phone to recognize the host wwww.lemis.com, with 4 ws. It claimed that the host didn't exist, something that wouldn't even be the case outside the immediate network, but in fact it was communicating with it. The results were strange. Once again it claimed this ridiculous address, positioned the map too far to the south, this time at a completely unrealistic scale, and also obscured nearly all of it with unnecessary text:


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When I positioned it correctly and enlarged the scale, there were none of the markers. Not the pointer, nor the stars associated with my Google account:


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That's not because I wasn't logged in. I don't know what the problem was, but it's yet another reason why I hate smart phones.

Later in the evening Chris Bahlo came for dinner, as usual, and she tried it on her phone. Same thing again, but she got the yellow stars! She certainly wasn't logged in as me.

Finally, while writing this article, I tried again. This time I got something completely different:


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The address is the same, but the map isn't: it's in Mount Pleasant (I added the pin later). That's is near where Google Location Services put me:

 
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That particular image was my attempt to zoom in on where it thought me to be. That was necessary, because the initial view showed an area of about 8,000 km²:

 
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But if I step out one magnification from the detail, I get:

 
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And that corresponds to the map above. So: is the incorrect location shown on the page due to incorrect guesswork as to my location, or some obscure bug in Google Maps?

In passing, it's interesting to note at least one indication of the problem: the coordinates in the URL are subtly changed, from https://www.google.com.au/maps/place/37%C2%B048'00.6%22S,143%C2%B045'04.4%22E/@-37.8001667,143.7490282,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d-37.8001667!4d143.7512222 to https://www.google.com.au/maps/place/37%C2%B048'00.6%22S%2b143%C2%B045'04.4%22E/@-37.8001667,143.7490282,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d-37.8001667!4d143.7512222. Obvious, isn't it? The issue is with the coordinates themselves. Converting the coded characters, we have (before and after):

37°48'00.6"S,143°45'04.4"E
37°48'00.6"S+143°45'04.4"E

Why that should make a difference, and in particular such a strange difference, is beyond me, but it does. The first URL works correctly, at least for me.


Cleaning filters
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

I have a fetish about cleanliness, and clearly lenses and filters are a good subject. Nearly 50 years ago I was a lab assistant at ICI, responsible for keeping glassware clean after experiments with horribly, gooey polymers. I used a large chromic acid bath (10 to 20 litres, I think), and it really got just about everything off the glass.

Nowadays I have difficulty cleaning my glasses, and I've found that the best way is to wash them with water and detergent, and then rinse all the detergent away. I soak up the remaining water droplets with a cloth. That clearly won't work with lenses, but it does for filters, though it seems a little primitive. So: what are the alternatives?

What about a different solvent? Tried methylated spirits. What's in there apart from ethanol? It used to be methanol, but that's far too dangerous for modern times. I had also heard of pyridine, which is apparently very bitter. Whatever it is, is it volatile?

Tried it out: rinse the filters in metho, and then let them dry. I did the same with water, just leaving it (rainwater, thus almost chemically pure) to dry rather than drying with a cloth. Both didn't work: whatever the other stuff in the metho is, it's not completely volatile, and left the filters quite smeary. And there were enough dissolved solids in the water to make that impractical as well.

So: try the glasses trick with an old filter: wash with water and detergent, rinse, dry with a cloth (without rubbing). And, as with my glasses, it worked!

That still doesn't answer the question as to whether the filters are genuine or not. According to the Hoya site they should look like this:


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According to the packaging, mine are made in the Philippines, but that seems kosher. But why UV(O) instead of UV(C)? By chance I already had a 77 mm Hoya filter, so I could compare them directly. It was marked UV(N)! It was also considerably thicker than the new filter.

Google time. Found this explanation of the difference between UV(O) and UV(N): the latter appears to be a (possibly cheaper) version intended only for the (East?) Asian market.

And UV(C)? That appears to be a slimline version, and I found it on the Hoya site as well:


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The appearance is almost identical, but This one has the text “Philippines” on it, while mine don't. Fake after all? No, I'm gradually happy that they're genuine. My guess is that Hoya has found that the statement of origin isn't prestigious enough, and they've removed it.

The real question, which I thought I probably wouldn't be able to answer, is: are they optically as good? I had originally chosen Hoya based on this article, but did they mention which of the filters? Yes! They specifically mentioned HMC Multicoated UV(C). So, more by good luck than good planning, it seems I have what I wanted.


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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