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December 2011
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Thursday, 1 December 2011 Dereel Images for 1 December 2011
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To the doctor, yet again
Topic: general Link here

Off to Ballarat today to hear the results of the tests I had done last week. Everything OK; but the cough is still there. It seems to be completely out of the ordinary. And the rash on my leg hasn't responded to any kind of treatment. I'll go back on Monday and have (another) punch biopsy.


The lunatic fringe wakes up
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

It would have been too much to expect that the new NBN tower would get erected without a fuss. Wendy McClelland is up on her hind legs again, and has distributed another set of fliers (though not to me) warning of the “microwave radiation tower”, and again naming the owners of the property. It's very low on content, even less so than earlier ones; apart from the facts (the NBN will be giving information sessions), the only statement of any relevance is:

...and have connections to it by pulsing microwave radiation out at the people which radiates us all.

The mind boggles. I have no idea what she means. But then, she probably doesn't either. Apart from that, it's clear that she is running out of material: most of the flyer is identical with the flyer she sent out complaining about her misunderstanding of my tower maps 8 months ago:


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Diary entry for Monday, 21 March 2011

   
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Still, she'll annoy us. Spent some time gathering information to update my documentation of the issue, including collecting all the fliers that Wendy has distributed over the years. I still need to rearrange the analyses that I have done of most of them.


Replanting
Topic: gardening Link here

Didn't get round to much work in the garden, but benefited from the current cool weather and transplanted a couple of plants: the small Alstroemeria stapricamil “Camilla” that we bought a year ago and planted in the middle of the garden. It had proved to be too small for the location, and it's now next to the Strelitzia reginae further forward. In the process it lost a number of stems. I don't think that will be a problem:

 
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Also moved the Strobilanthes “Goldfussia” to where the Alstroemeria had been. It's looking decidedly less happy. Let's hope that the new location will suit it better:

 
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Friday, 2 December 2011 Dereel Images for 2 December 2011
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USB and eSATA: more pain
Topic: technology Link here

Started a routine backup of my photos today. I back up to an external disk, which should be connected by eSATA, but I've had trouble with that: hot plug doesn't seem to work The disks also have USB interfaces (of course), but I've had trouble with that too. So until I sort out the eSATA hot plug issues, I've been backing up to a system where I don't care so much if the system crashes. Currently that's Yvonne's system, lagoon.

But today things didn't work as expected:

Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: <ST2000DL 003-9VT166 > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: ugen1.2: <Sunplus Technology Co.,Ltd.> at usbus1 (disconnected)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: umass0: at uhub1, port 1, addr 2 (disconnected)
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): AutoSense failed
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: GEOM: da0: the secondary GPT table is corrupt or invalid.
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: GEOM: da0: using the primary only -- recovery suggested.
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): Synchronize cache failed, status == 0xa, scsi status == 0x0
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): lost device
Dec  2 11:19:16 lagoon kernel: (da0:umass-sim0:0:0:0): removing device entry

That's not one serious error: it's two. First, the GPT table is corrupt, suggesting wide-ranging corruption on the whole (2 TB) disk. And secondly, the USB interface didn't work. That raises several questions: What has gone wrong? What component has failed? How do I recover? Can I trust the remaining data on the disk?

The easiest thing to check was the USB interface to lagoon. Took the disk to teevee, the lounge room computer, and tried there:

Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: ugen1.2: <Sunplus Technology Co.,Ltd.> at usbus1
Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: umass0: <Bulk Only Interface> on usbus1
Dec  2 11:23:44 teevee kernel: umass0:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x0000
Dec  2 11:23:45 teevee kernel: umass0:3:0:-1: Attached to scbus3
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus3 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: <ST2000DL 003-9VT166 > Fixed Direct Access SCSI-2 device
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029043 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: GEOM: da0: corrupt or invalid GPT detected.
Dec  2 11:24:59 teevee kernel: GEOM: da0: GPT rejected -- may not be recoverable.

At least this one didn't have any USB problems. But that just managed to show me more problems with the GPT, and it didn't create the /dev/da0p1 that I needed to look at the partition. gpart didn't recognize any GEOM: the disk was somehow dead in the water. I was able to dump the initial sectors of the disk, and they seemed to contain valid data, but I don't understand the format completely.

So was it maybe the USB interface? The enclosure has an eSATA interface too, but my eSATA card was in defake, which I had lent to Chris Yeardley. But Chris was finished with defake, so went to her place and picked it up, bringing the second backup disk while I was at it. And when I put that in lagoon, things worked as expected:

Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: ugen1.2: <ST> at usbus1
Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: umass0: <ST ST2000DL003-9VT1, class 0/0, rev 2.00/3.00, addr 2> on usbus1
Dec  2 12:57:17 lagoon kernel: umass0:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0x0000
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: umass0:0:0:-1: Attached to scbus0
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: <ST ST2000DL003-9VT1 3.00> Fixed Direct Access SCSI-4 device
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: 40.000MB/s transfers
Dec  2 12:57:18 lagoon kernel: da0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 255H 63S/T 243201C)

So: whatever it was, it had to do with the specific disk. The two disks are identical, but the probe messages differ. Checked the geometry:

=>        34  3907029101  da0  GPT  (1.8T)
          34  3907029101    1  freebsd-ufs  (1.8T)

That should be identical for both disks, so if all else failed I could copy the first 34 sectors from one to the other. But first I wanted to check the eSATA interface, which meant bringing up defake. That wasn't helped by the fact that I had done some undocumented changes to the config when I gave it to Chris, including changing the root password to something I now forget. Finally got it reconfigured, connected the disk via eSATA, and—nothing. The system didn't see it. Tried the other disk:

Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0 at siisch0 bus 0 scbus0 target 0 lun 0
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: <ST2000DL003-9VT166 CC32> ATA-8 SATA 3.x device
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Dec  2 13:43:44 defake kernel: ada0: 1907729MB (3907029168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)

Hot plug works! Could it be that I only ever tried hot-plugging with the other disk? But I wasn't completely free of problems. When I tried mounting it, I got the dreaded

Dec  2 13:44:35 defake kernel: WARNING: R/W mount of /photobackup denied.  Filesystem is not clean - run fsck

Why is that? I've seen too many of them. Is it some issue with writes to the disk not completing before umount? fsck worked fine with no problems, but it's still disturbing.

In any case, it's now clear beyond any doubt that the original problem was in the disk or its USB/eSATA adapter. Took it out of the case, put it into defake, rebooted, and:

Dec  2 14:17:13 defake kernel: ad10: 1907729MB <ST2000DL003 9VT166 CC32> at ata5-master UDMA100 SATA 1.5Gb/s

And the disk did not require fsck. So the problem was with the enclosure and its minimal electronics. Left the disk in defake, and I'll leave it there until I can get another one, probably next week.


More TV recoding errors
Topic: multimedia, technology, opinion Link here

I've been following the TV reception problems for some months now. I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that there are several issues, few of which are related to my hardware (which is what I originally thought). In particular, there are some recurrent programmes that consistently fail, while others record well. Many recordings are fine most of the way, and then suddenly fail catastrophically, and it seems to be at least somewhat related to date and time. All this points to some kind of interference. At some point I'll move the information to a database and do some analysis.

But things aren't that simple. If it's interference, it's strongly dependent on the frequency. Last night I had:

Programme       Date       Start       End                   Daisy chain       File       Number of
name             time       time       Channel       Tuner       position       size (GB)       recoding errors
Mickey Blue Eyes       1 December 2011       20:27:02.732       23:05:00.488       2080 (GEM)       2       1       12       0
In Her Shoes       1 December 2011       20:27:02.999       23:50:00.610       2006 (PRIME7)       1       3       5.7       11, died at start

Those two recordings started at (almost) exactly the same time, yet one had no problems, and the other was uselessly mutilated. What causes that? I suppose it could be interference on some specific frequency, but I would have expected interference to be less specific than that.


A new view of the origins of Unix
Topic: technology, history Link here

Warren Toomey has written an article entitled “The strange birth and long life of Unix”. It's good reading, and it gave me an insight that I didn't have before. I know Warren has researched this stuff carefully, and even apart from that it also has a ring of authenticity about it. An excellent addition to the collection of Unix history.


More garden rearrangement
Topic: gardening Link here

My work in the middle east garden stopped for an unusual reason: I found it difficult to tear out all the strawberries that were growing there. We had eaten some of the ones I picked a couple of days ago, and they didn't taste bad. So, as planned, finally got round to putting the old wash trough on the north verandah, not helped by a Jacky dragon who was in the area and didn't want to move:

 
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It later became clear that this wasn't a Jacky Dragon at all, but a Blue-tongued lizard.

I know that they tend to freeze when threatened, but I had thought that if I pushed him with the handle of a garden fork (in the photos), he would go away. Not so. We left him and attended to another issue, what to do with the pot that had contained the mini-pond on the east verandah. After finishing the real pond, it was somewhat superfluous. After some discussion, put it in the Japanese Garden:

 
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Then back to the trough. The dragon was gone, and with some difficulty we moved it to the west end of the verandah, filled it with soil, and Yvonne planted the strawberries:

 
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Strangely, there don't seem to be any fewer plants in the east garden. I suppose I should start a giveaway action.


Saturday, 3 December 2011 Dereel Images for 3 December 2011
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More panorama problems
Topic: photography Link here

House photos again today. Most went smoothly enough, but I'm still playing around with the lighting of the verandah panorama. Apart from the fact that 24 full-power flashes don't do the flash unit much good, they don't always do the picture quality much good either. I end up with overexposed areas like this, taken 2 weeks ago:

 
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So last week I tried using TTL flash. That has the advantage that the illumination is more even, but I take three images of each view, and I only want a flash on the first one. That works with a full-power flash, since the flash unit then takes a couple of seconds to recover. But with TTL, it only uses a fraction of the power, and it's quite happy to fire on all three images. So I need to take one image, turn unit off, take the other two, turn on again, reposition, repeat. It's not easy, and I made a couple of mistakes. But then something strange happened: the camera forgot its sequences. This looks like something I saw a couple of days ago. In this case, it missed one of the brackets:

PC039039.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 1
PC039040.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039041.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3
PC039042.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039043.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3
PC039044.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 1
PC039045.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 2
PC039046.exif:Drive Mode                      : AE Bracketing, Shot 3

Looking back at the sunset photos I processed last Wednesday, that proved to be a completely different issue: I had numbered the photos incorrectly. But what made the camera drop a sequence here?

As a result, I only took flash photos of the lower row. I think that's a mistake. Here the last three panoramas: two weeks ago, full flash; one week ago, TTL flash on all images (except the zenith, for which I never use flash); and today, TTL flash on the lower row only:

 
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Today's wasn't the best; I do need to use flash for the upper row as well. But is there more to it than that?

As if that wasn't enough, I had another subject: my office is in a filthy mess, and it's time to tidy it up. First, though, some “before” photos—a panorama, of course. That's not the easiest, due to the extreme perspective issues, and the resultant panorama didn't want to fit at all. Tried an incremental approach, like I did in August, but didn't get beyond the lower row, and that with enormous errors, particularly round the 3rd of the 5 monitors:


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Why do I do these things?


Instant cannelloni
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

Cannelloni have been on our menu for decades. The recipe we use comes from Time-Life's “Die Küche in Italien”, a German translation of a book published in 1968, which I've had for about 35 years. It goes into some detail to explain how to make the tubes out of pasta fresca, but that's a lot of work, and nowadays you can buy “no-cook” tubes.

That's what we did today—San Remo cannelloni tubes. The result: terrible. You need much more liquid to cook the tubes, but this particular one seems to be particularly bad. It wasn't as if the pasta was just uncooked; it tasted like glue. Possibly it would have been better with even more water, but there's no warning on the packet, and I'm not convinced. For the moment, at any rate, it's a brand to avoid.


Sunday, 4 December 2011 Dereel Images for 4 December 2011
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Power: failed or not?
Topic: general Link here

Power failure this morning at 0:41. Or was there? My radio alarm clock in the bed lost power, but nothing else seems to have done so. This is clearly not the 2 second “autorecloser” style power failure.


More radio and TV reception problems
Topic: general Link here

Despite the power failure, turned the radio on at 7:00 this morning and heard—noise. There was almost no signal to be heard. It went on all morning until it finally recovered. And I also had no less than three TV recordings that were completely useless—one, which should have been about 5 GB, recorded only 4.9 MB of nothing recognizable. All the more reason to believe interference or transmitter problems.


Strange weather for summer
Topic: general, opinion, technology Link here

Since writing my weather station software, now a couple of years ago, I've been continually monitoring the results for errors. So this one caught my eye today:

5 days temperatures

On checking, though, it's correct. The highest temperature of the last 5 days was 23.9°, at 0:53 on 30 November 2011. I'm continually amazed how variable the day's temperatures are.


New proteas
Topic: gardening Link here

Yvonne and Chris visited Lisa Graber today to have a horse covered, and Yvonne came back with a number of plants: a number of Buddleja davidii seedlings, a Betula pendulis birch tree—just what we're trying to get rid of, except that this one has been trained as a bonsai plant, and some large Protea flowers:

 
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Yvonne didn't know Proteas before, and she's quite taken with them. Doubtless we'll have some soon.


Removing strawberries
Topic: gardening, technology Link here

More work on the middle of the eastern garden today. Planted a number of bulbs, I think Hippeastrum, in what was once bed number 2, and set to to remove the remaining strawberry plants, which proved to be carrying a significant number of worm-eaten fruit. I must have collected 50 plants of various sizes, and there are still a number to be done. Sent out a message on Freecycle, which their software showed (almost) correctly in the preview window and then wrapped unappetizingly in the final post.


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Another disk crash
Topic: technology Link here

Coming into the office this morning, the first thing I noticed was the disk access light on dereel: full intensity. The system was still running, but further investigation showed that the disk subsystem had hung itself up again. The log files showed a similar problem to the one I had last month:

Dec  4 21:24:38 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 19
Dec  4 21:24:38 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00080000 ss 00000000 rs 00080000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:25:37 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 27
Dec  4 21:25:37 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 08000000 ss 00000000 rs 08000000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:27:35 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 8
Dec  4 21:27:35 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000100 ss 00000000 rs 00000100 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:28:41 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 24
Dec  4 21:28:41 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 01000000 ss 00000000 rs 01000000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:29:40 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 21
Dec  4 21:29:40 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00200000 ss 00000000 rs 00200000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:32:03 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 7
Dec  4 21:32:03 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000080 ss 00000000 rs 00000080 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: REDZONE: Buffer overflow detected. 4 bytes corrupted after 0xcb38f900 (128 bytes allocated).
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: Allocation backtrace:
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #0 0xc0b4ad8a at redzone_setup+0x3a
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #1 0xc08cdd40 at malloc+0x100
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #2 0xc049e6d4 at camq_resize+0x34
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #3 0xc049e766 at cam_ccbq_resize+0x36
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #4 0xc04a0427 at xpt_dev_ccbq_resize+0x37
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #5 0xc04a059d at xpt_start_tags+0x6d
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #6 0xc04a7442 at probedone+0x822
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #7 0xc04a3f31 at camisr_runqueue+0x2e1
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #8 0xc04a408f at camisr+0x13f
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #9 0xc08b737b at intr_event_execute_handlers+0x13b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #10 0xc08b8a3b at ithread_loop+0x6b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #11 0xc08b3eba at fork_exit+0xca
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #12 0xc0c15f64 at fork_trampoline+0x8
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: Free backtrace:
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #0 0xc0b4ad19 at redzone_check+0x179
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #1 0xc08cda88 at free+0x38
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #2 0xc049e712 at camq_resize+0x72
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #3 0xc049e766 at cam_ccbq_resize+0x36
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #4 0xc04a0427 at xpt_dev_ccbq_resize+0x37
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #5 0xc04a059d at xpt_start_tags+0x6d
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #6 0xc04a7442 at probedone+0x822
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #7 0xc04a3f31 at camisr_runqueue+0x2e1
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #8 0xc04a408f at camisr+0x13f
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #9 0xc08b737b at intr_event_execute_handlers+0x13b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #10 0xc08b8a3b at ithread_loop+0x6b
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #11 0xc08b3eba at fork_exit+0xca
Dec  4 21:32:51 dereel kernel: #12 0xc0c15f64 at fork_trampoline+0x8

Once again it repeated itself with different slot numbers, along with essentially the same backtrace:

Dec  4 21:33:22 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 12
Dec  4 21:33:22 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00001000 ss 00000000 rs 00001000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:33:54 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 3
Dec  4 21:33:54 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00000008 ss 00000000 rs 00000008 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000
Dec  4 21:34:51 dereel kernel: ahcich2: Timeout on slot 20
Dec  4 21:34:51 dereel kernel: ahcich2: is 00000000 cs 00100000 ss 00000000 rs 00100000 tfd 1d0 serr 00000000

So: what is it? Everything points to the disk controller rather than to the disk—amusingly like my issues with USB disks a few days ago. I had a spare controller, so moved the disk to it:

Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2 at ahcich2 bus 0 scbus2 target 0 lun 0
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: <SAMSUNG HD103SJ 1AJ10001> ATA-8 SATA 2.x device
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: Command Queueing enabled
Nov 22 15:50:31 dereel kernel: ada2: 953869MB (1953525168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)
...
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2 at ahcich3 bus 0 scbus3 target 0 lun 0
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: <SAMSUNG HD103SJ 1AJ10001> ATA-8 SATA 2.x device
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: 300.000MB/s transfers (SATA 2.x, UDMA6, PIO 8192bytes)
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: Command Queueing enabled
Dec  5 08:31:01 dereel kernel: ada2: 953869MB (1953525168 512 byte sectors: 16H 63S/T 16383C)

We'll see if that works around the problem.


To the doctor again
Topic: general Link here

Into town to have a biopsy done on the rash on my leg. In the end it wasn't a punch biopsy after all—not surprisingly, since it's directly on my shin—but a scraping (I think that's the term she used). And afterwards I had to wait 20 minutes with a heavy bandage round my leg before I was allowed to walk, and I need to keep it bandaged for a few days, a far cry from what normally happens when I cut myself.


More new plants
Topic: gardening Link here

While in town, dropped in at Formosa Gardens to look for a Protea for Yvonne. Found a Protea cynaroides “King White”, and also an Echium candicans “Pride of Madeira”—the latter seems to be less a cultivar name than the common name for the species.

Back home, and exceptionally managed to plant both of them within a couple of hours. Put the Protea in the eastern (dry) bed, not far from the Leucospermum cordifolium. The branches are quite long already, and it's pretty windy there, so I was concerned that they might break off. But it's too big for the plastic wind protection tents that we have, so ended up cutting part of the ALDI toy greenhouse that David Yeardley gave me some months ago and wrapping it round some bamboo stakes. The results are more interesting than pretty, but I suppose it'll do the trick:

 
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Put the Echium in the north bed, which required significant removal of ground cover:

 
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Only later did I read the Wikipedia page for Echium candicans:

In the state of Victoria, Australia, it is considered to be a high weed risk and an alert has been posted by the Department of Primary Industries.

I suppose it can't be that bad if they're offered for sale here.


Fewer old plants
Topic: gardening Link here

Madeline (I think) was the first person to come and pick up our giveaway plants. It's amazing how many things we were able to give her, including stuff that wasn't on the list, such as Viola tricolor and Tropaeolum, both plants that reproduce like fury. I hope she's happy with it all.


More network issues
Topic: technology Link here

Came back in from the garden to find that we were off the network. No signal strength issues, but no connectivity. I'm used to this now: more often than not it's not an issue with the connection, but with this horribly flaky Huawei USB modem (there, USB again). So popped the modem and reconnected it. ppp process redialled, established connection—and still not connectivity. Stopped and restarted the ppp process, and it worked. Do we have software issues here instead of (or as well as) hardware issues?


Tuesday, 6 December 2011 Dereel Images for 6 December 2011
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NBN fixed radio: the details
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

Off to the Dereel Hall this afternoon for the information session about the NBN fixed wireless tower. Wendy McClelland, her husband and one supporter were standing outside, I think distributing pamphlets—they didn't offer me one—and exposing themselves to strong electromagnetic radiation, one of the few sources that is, indeed, proven to cause cancer: the sun.

I had expected the session to be some kind of presentation, but in fact it was much less formal: a series of posters talking about different aspects of the project, not a “session” at all. Met Scott Weston for the first time—he came in just after me—and spent some time talking to him and Peter . Also met Gabriel from Ericsson and an engineer from NBN, both of whom were able to give me some details about the technical side of things.

As Peter had indicated, the connections will be LTE, specifically TDD, at 2300 MHz. The speed quoted was 12 Mb/s downstream, but there was some disagreement about whether this was the minimum or the maximum. Peter said it was the minimum, but Gabriel gave more specific speeds: downlink maximum 12 Mb/s, guaranteed 500 kb/s. Uplink 1 Mb/s maximum, 150 kb/s guaranteed. The NBN engineer wasn't so sure; I suspect this might be an area that isn't cast in concrete. Certainly 12 Mb/s is nothing special nowadays: Telstra do a maximum of 22.6 Mb/s with their 3G technology, and I've heard of up to 80 Mb/s with LTE. And even my current HSPA connection has uplink speeds that can exceed 1 Mb/s.

There's other stuff, though, that makes the difference. The tower will be connected to the backbone network via a microwave link of (probably) 200 Mb/s, and there's a Point of Interconnect (PoI) in Ballarat. The bandwidth of this link is enough to ensure no contention. But that would be reached with only 17 stations downloading at 12 Mb/s, another indication that the 12 Mb/s is more likely to be a maximum. My understanding from the NBN engineer is that they're not expecting there to be enough contention to lower the speed below the maximum except in exceptional circumstances.

More interesting is the latency: 20 ms to the PoI, about a quarter of what I have with HSPA. That would probably be enough to make a switch worthwhile. But then there's the question of cost: they mentioned a wholesale price of $25, which without further qualification is not very meaningful. But the statement that it would be the same price as an equivalent fibre connection is very meaningful. Internode's pricing for a 12/1 Mb/s link is $50 for 30 GB traffic, or $70 for 300 GB. Those are both more than the $40 I'm paying now, but only a little, and I only get 9 GB traffic.

One of the advantages of “fixed wireless” is that the NBN can plan the availability better. In general they plan for a coverage range of 3 to 5 km, which is fixed before construction begins, so they're in a better position to guarantee bandwidth.

The equipment is a fascia mount antenna, which also contains the modem, and an internal box that looks like a 4 port Ethernet switch, which the NBN call (but don't document) a Network Termination Device (NTD), rather than the more common “Network Termination Unit” or NTU:

 
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The NTD is the small box at the bottom, on top of the antenna mount. The NBN engineer tells me that it's more than a switch. The connection from the external to the internal unit is standard Cat 5e Ethernet, but the wireless link is layer 2, and the box converts the layer 2 to a layer 3 interface. I don't understand that. Switches are layer 2, so how can any conversion take place? But as the NBN engineer explained, it does mean that you can have multiple connections to different ISPs. Presumably the real purpose of the box is to provide some form of authentication. But that's an issue we haven't discussed at all yet.

The tower will look pretty much like a mobile phone tower: three antennas pointing at (nominally) 120° from each other, each with a maximum power of 20 W. As one of the posters indicated, the closest you can get to the antennas is 430 m, at which distance the EME represents 0.0041% of the ARPANSA exposure limits:

 
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It would have been nicer if they had specified it in μW/m² and compared it with other sources, but if I read the recommendations correctly, 0.0041% corresponds to 41 μW/m². That's at the closest point, on an uninhabited stretch of road. Round here, still not far away, it would be closer to 2.5 μW/m².

It appears that I read the recommendations incorrectly. At 2300 MHz, the ARPANSA limits are 10 W/m², so the values above would be 410 μW/m² and 25 μW/m², for all the difference that makes.

And the location of the tower? They considered a total of four places, including the Dereel Hall area and the north-east end of our property, and also a place in Swanson Road close to the airstrip:

 
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It's interesting that they note one of the reasons for rejecting our site as the lack of power: there's a power cable that goes straight past the site. But being too far west is certainly an issue.

The fact that our site was mentioned made me wonder whether Wendy had inside information when she published her slanderous claims about me in March. But no, the NBN engineer told me that they didn't start looking until 1 June 2011. They want to be finished by June 2012, but that will depend on how many spanners Wendy wants to throw into the works. Hopefully they'll deal with them quickly.

So: is it a worthwhile offering? Doubtless. Is it optimal? Definitely not. Give me fibre any day. But it's not likely that we'll get that.


More garden giveaways
Topic: gardening Link here

Three more people came along today to pick up plants. I hadn't expected them to be so popular. One even took nearly all the Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda corms. She'll have fun with them—there must be enough for a couple of hectares, but no, she wanted them all.


Swimming snails and growing fish
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Found something interesting in the pond today:

 
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It seems to be a perfectly normal snail, and it was on a water lily leaf. How did it get there? When I first saw it, it was nearly completely in the water, though it clearly didn't like that much. But it must have swum there in the first place.

Our goldfish have been hiding almost since we put them in the pond, but they're gradually showing themselves again. The small ones have grown by almost 30%. I wonder what they're eating—insects on the surface, maybe.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011 Dereel
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NBN info day, the aftermath
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Call at 8 am this morning from Prue Bentley of ABC local radio regarding Wendy McClelland and the topic of the NBN info session yesterday. She wanted me to participate in a news programme on the subject, but unfortunately I didn't get to the phone on time, so she followed up with an email: “I tried your home number but it wasn't working... do you have another phone contact?”. I replied, but didn't hear back from her—clearly it was too late.

The ABC did publish an article on the web site, though. It's interesting that they don't mention “DATA”, only “A couple who live at Dereel, south of Ballarat, is considering taking legal action... Wendy and Stuart McLelland say they are worried radiation from the National Broadband Network (NBN) wi-fi towers could be carcinogenic.” But more interestingly, where are the others? Are they alone after all? In passing, the factual accuracy is interesting. They misspelt “McClelland”, and they refer to the tower as “wi-fi”. But then, what can you expect when you invent silly terms like “Wi-Fi”?

Later got a phone call from Pia Akerman of “The Australian”, who didn't want to talk about the merits, just what I thought about the alternative of fibre or wireless. There's no question that fibre is better, of course, and that's what I told her, also explaining that there wasn't a hope of getting fibre in the next 10 years. I also sent her a link to my writeup of yesterday's events. But what she wrote gave the impression that I agree with Wendy. Of course, if she were to achieve a fibre connection for Dereel, I'd be very grateful. But I don't see the slightest hope of that. Another case of creative reporting.

This article cleared one thing, though: it includes a photo of Wendy with 8 people in the background. So there are a couple more:

“The Australian” photo of Wendy McClelland and her “DATA”

It's interesting to note that Wendy is holding an NBN information kit in her left arm. What's the significance of that? And “retired IT worker” for me? I tend to call myself a computer industry has-been, but “IT worker” sounds like a euphemism, just as people use the term “sex worker” to mean “prostitute”.


Weed matting
Topic: gardening Link here

Finally got around to putting down weed mat round some of the more deserving plants, notably the Araucaria bidwillii and the Podocarpus elatus (Illawarra plum). Also finally planted the Photinia × fraseri robusta that we bought three months ago. I would have planted more, but the temperatures shot up again, and we had a top temperature of 35.8°, compared to just 18.5° three days ago. Wouldn't it be nice to have mid-range temperatures?


Another power fluctutation
Topic: general Link here

Partial loss of power this evening at 21:10, enough to set the UPSs screaming, but not enough to affect even the bedside alarm clock. There seem to be a lot of these lately. What's causing them? And what do you call them? I had always called them brownouts, but it seems that that's a more prolonged condition, and also intentional.


Thursday, 8 December 2011 Dereel → Geelong → Dereel
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Too hot to garden
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Another hot day today, a maximum of 36.1°. I had intended to continue my work in the garden, but in the end only did some work in the greenhouse, which was also in dire need: repotted the Chile poblano and attended to the “Giant tree tomato”, which really needs much more in the way of support. Also pruned the passion fruit, which is developing too many side shoots. Planted the prunings; there's a good chance they'll strike.


Electromagnetic radiation causes cancer!
Topic: technology, opinion, general Link here

Probably the main objection that Wendy McClelland has to wireless communications is that they cause cancer. Nothing we can say can prove otherwise. One of the problems, of course, is that electromagnetic radiation, in sufficient dosage, really does cause cancer. How much? As I've noted previously, the presentation of the data doesn't make it easy to compare. I established that the maximum radiation from the NBN tower would be about 41 μW/m². But what's the level of solar radiation? Discovered a new word, “Insolation”, along with some typical values: about 1 kW/m² in bright sunshine. There are more specific pages at Aussie RV products, which shows an average of 5.1 kWh/m² per day in Melbourne, and the Bureau of Meteorology, which shows a map of Victoria showing a current insolation of about 33 MJ/m² per day. The site is broken and won't return average values for a year, so the two are not completely comparable. Aren't units wonderful things? I'm reminded of Andy Tanenbaum: “The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from”.

In any case, divide Joules per day by the number of seconds in a day (86,400) to get Watts, so 33 MJ in a day is an average of 382 W, spread over day and night. So the average insolation in Melbourne is just shy of 10 million times as much as the highest level of radiation from the tower. Put another way, to get the same amount of radiation from the tower as Wendy got standing out in the sun for an hour, she would have to be exposed to the tower for about 2,800 years. And even that assumes that the effect is cumulative.


To Geelong again
Topic: general Link here

To Geelong in the afternoon to a regular periodontal checkup. Looks like I'm going to need some more serious work on my gums.

I had planned to do other things, like visiting Bunnings, but it was too hot, and in addition the car was misfiring—looks like I may have problems with the ignition circuit, probably related to this silly theft alarm which has given me problems a couple of times in the past. So put that off until tomorrow. On the way home, finally got some rain, and things cooled down. At home, in the 2 hours from 16:08 to 18:08, the temperature dropped from 35.1° to 19.1°—an average of 0.13° per minute.


No supplies from MSY
Topic: technology Link here

While in Geelong, dropped in at MSY to replace my external disk enclosure. Yes, it's under warranty, so they'll send it off, and at some time I'll get a replacement. But they didn't have any eSATA enclosures, so I left with nothing. I wonder if it's worth going there any more.


Friday, 9 December 2011 Dereel Images for 9 December 2011
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The cost of cheap medical treatment
Topic: general, opinion Link here

I've had this funny cough since mid-September, and I've been to the doctor about it a couple of times. The interesting thing was that it started just after a previous visit to the doctor, and I thought I might have caught an infection in the waiting room.

There had been a change of doctor since then, and I told her the background, including my suspicion that it had something to do with my previous visit. She gave me a broadband antibiotic—$2.60 per pill!—and asked me to come back if it was still there. It was.

The next time round she considered asthma. I had had asthma as a child, and that wasn't completely impossible. So ended up buying lots of inhalers. Did they work? Hard to say, since the change isn't immediate. But in the meantime I had decided that no, they didn't. And it's not clear why I ended up buying two inhalers to treat acute attacks of asthma when the last attack was nearly 50 years ago.

So I did a bit of thinking. I had started new medication just before the cough started, Coversyl. Checked the side effects and found:

Rare and mild, usually at the start of treatment.

Cough
...

So when I went into town today, I asked about the side effects of Coversyl. Immediate response: “cough”.

So I had been on a wild goose chase this last month, and I had bought medication costing nearly $100 in total, all barking up the wrong trees. Not happy. She prescribed me an alternate product, Micardis, without mentioning any side effects. We'll see.

The real reason for the visit, though, was the skin lesion on my shin. That proved to be lichenoid keratosis, and it seems that she has already removed most of it. Otherwise there's the option of cryosurgery. But is it correct? This time it was the laboratory, of course, but reading a more detailed description, it doesn't seem to match the symptoms.


Identifying bulbs: the book
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

It's becoming more and more clear that I don't know the identity of the bulbs and corms that I collected. There are at least Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda, but the more I look at it, the more I get convinced that there's a third kind there too. So I've borrowed lots of books from the libraries. So far, they're no help. Very few of them are designed to help identify plants—you buy them at the “nursery”, right? Found one with the promising title “Bulbs”, by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, which did publish photos of live plants including the corm/rhizome/whatever, but they seem to have run out of steam in the middle. In particular, there's not a single photo that matches the corm on the left in this photo:

 
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But then, it doesn't mention Chasmanthe either. Part of the problem may be that the book was published in 1981 in the UK, so long ago that the publisher doesn't want to know. Maybe things have changed significantly in that time. Still, I have about 12 other books to look at, though a number are clearly uninteresting. Wouldn't it be nice to have a single web resource for this sort of thing?


First Stelitzia of summer
Topic: gardening Link here

The Strelitzia reginae is suddenly in bloom again:

 
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There don't seem to be as many flowers this year, but this one is much bigger than last year. Somehow some of the rhizomes have died back; I wonder if that's because of the competition it had until a couple of weeks ago.


Saturday, 10 December 2011 Dereel Images for 10 December 2011
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Still more verandah panorama issues
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day again today. The Bureau of Meteorology had predicted rain, so of course it was bright sunshine all day long:


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Still more fun with the exposure for my verandah photos. This was the brightest day since I started experimenting with the flash output. Last week I used normal TTL flash for the first image of each group of 3, but that proved not to be as bright as I had wanted (the intention was to have an overexposed image), so today I overexposed by 3 EV. Apart from finally draining a set of Nickel-Zinc batteries, that proved not only to be too much, but it also created problems with the zenith shot, where I don't use flash (since the roof is reflective). The results were this kind of difference, showing the zenith shot and a couple of random upper layer shots to which the zenith had to attach:

 
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Hugin couldn't find any similarity between the zenith and others, and I had to stitch the panorama manually.

So: what do I do next time? Less flash, I suppose, and somehow I need to find a way to expose the zenith with flash as well.


Lilac and another rabbit
Topic: animals Link here

Over ten years ago I found our cat Lilac with a baby rabbit in her basket. That time round I didn't have the presence of mind to take photos, so when it happened again today, I first took photos and then investigated:

 
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In the first image, Lilac is meowing, not hissing or anything else. Part of the chest of the rabbit was wet, but it's not sure what Lilac had intended: lick or bite? It seems that she has conflicting instincts. In any case, the rabbit was alive, but scared to death, and in the end I took it outside to let it escape. Arguably that was the wrong action: rabbits are pests, after all.

When I came back an hour later, it was still there, dead, so I let Lilac come and pick it up. She ate the front half, and Nemo was a grateful recipient for the back half.


Recharging Nickel-Zinc batteries: how fast?
Topic: general, photography, technology Link here

After discharging the (Nickel-Zinc) batteries in my flash unit, had a chance to see how they recharged. I haven't measured the charging time, but I guessed it to be about 5 hours in the “fast” charger, quite a difference from the 2½ maximum stated on the Wikipedia page. Confusingly, that refers to a document published by the maker of the charger:

Fault conditions:
Stop Charge [sic] if any of the following conditions occur:

It's not quite clear how you charge a battery with a voltage less than 1.6V, but that's probably one of these typical inaccuracies in this kind of document. Another document, also by the maker of my charger, shows a charger with a slightly different appearance boasting “Enjoy a quick charge in little as 1.5 hours*”. That * leads nowhere, but in the small print it says “Charge two AA or AAA NiZn batteries in 1 to 1.5 hours, or charge 4 AA batteries in about 3 hours.“.

That's still a lot less than the 5 hours I estimated. Could I be that wrong? A closer look at the charger says no:

 
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So what's going on? Except for the colour, and the completely unfounded claim “fast”, this unit looks pretty much identical to the one in the web page, even down to the detail that it will charge 2 AAA or 4 AA batteries (in the middle two slots):

 
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It's difficult to be sure from the advertising photo, but it looks as if the moulding for the white charger is the same as for the black one, including the two arcs at the top and the cutouts immediately above and below the batteries. Conceivably the right-hand LED is green, which would make sense—mine keeps the LEDs on until the batteries are charged, and then turns them off. But why is the black one (5 hours) marked “fast” when the white one (ostensibly 3 hours) isn't?

Stupidly, I didn't measure the voltage before charging, but after charging the voltages were pretty consistent: two with 1.861V (including the one that I had previously marked as having a low voltage), and one each with 1.860V and 1.859V. Possibly the voltage is also dependent on external considerations such as contact impedance in the charger.


Sunday, 11 December 2011 Dereel Images for 11 December 2011
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Attending to the veggies
Topic: gardening Link here

There are a number of things in the garden that I've been neglecting, and today I looked at some of them. One was the plants that I have been trying to raise from seed for some months now—that's fairly simple, since most of them either didn't sprout, or they died. Found three Chile poblano seedlings which looked relatively healthy, and planted them.

In the process, looked at some particularly unhappy looking tomato seedlings in the greenhouse. Some of them are beyond hope, but others, despite being in too small a pot, might still make it. So off to plant them in the veggie garden, another area that I have been neglecting for too long. It's somehow discouraging to see the plants I have planted so carefully (OK, not so carefully) being outdone by chance seedlings:

 
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That also makes it clear that it's high time to weed the patch. But there are other urgent things to do to, including pruning the ornamental vine on the verandah, which is now covering most of the beams and joists, and which will hopefully cover the entire area by the end of the season.

The tomatoes aren't the only area where chance seedlings outstrip my plantings. Two months ago I planted some Lobelia seeds, and they're only barely visible (about 2 mm across, in an egg carton), while a grass bush has a chance infestation of happy looking flowers that must have self-seeded from last year's flowers:

 
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Monday, 12 December 2011 Dereel Images for 12 December 2011
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another power failure this morning at 4:55. High time to claim some money from Powercor.


Seedlings: the compost heap test
Topic: gardening Link here

Discussing my lack of success with seeds yesterday, Peter Jeremy commented: “You shouldn't get discouraged until the veges growing out of your compost heap outdo the ones you planted and nurtured”. But that doesn't help. Here's my compost heap and some of the plants that, I think, won't make it:

 
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Another plant that I think won't make it is the Ficus benjamina. I had already noted that there was more sun in the area than I had expected, but it took very unkindly to the situation. Here two weeks ago and today:

 
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It may recover, but I don't have much hope.


New plants in early summer
Topic: gardening Link here

A surprising number of new plants and flowers have cropped up over the past week. One is a grass that we planted a long time ago, and which we had never expected to flower:

 
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And then there are the Mirabilis jalapas, which are just now coming into flower:

 
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The plants in the Japanese Garden are also coming into their own. I'm particularly happy with the appearance of the Eryngium bourgatii:

 
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Elsewhere, the Stachys byzantina are gradually coming into flower. I'm still not sure that they're completely in bloom, but they look much nicer than the one in Wikipedia (last image):

 
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Work on the east bed
Topic: gardening Link here

For once the weather was neither too hot, too cold nor too windy. Spent some time weeding the north bed—which I've done before—and extracted enormous quantities of weeds from a very small area. Clearly I need to mulch as soon as I've removed the weeds.

And I had plenty of space in the east bed that I needed to mulch, including beds where I wanted to plant the remains of the seedlings I got at the beginning of last month. Put in several barrowloads of mulch and planted the remaining seedlings:

 
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Solanum flowers
Topic: gardening Link here

One of the interesting things about the genus Solanum is how similar the flowers look:

 
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These are Solanum tuberosum (potato), Solanum suaveolens (a creeper) and Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) and some kind of weed. So what's this one?

 
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Going by the colour, it should be a weed. In fact, it's a potato, I think Kipfler.


eBay status messages
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Bought a strange device on eBay today, a combined flash card and SATA disk docking station:

Image

I'm not convinced that it will work well, but it wasn't expensive, so we'll see. But what got me was the quick shipping:

Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 18:46:15 -0700 (GMT-07:00)
From: eBay <ebay@ebay.com>
To: groggyhimself@lemis.com

Hi groggyyourself,
We are writing to inform you that we have shipped the
item 110786777659 to you! Normally the shippment to worldwide is used to
take 8 to 25 business days,because it is a Cross-border
transactions.

After adjusting time zones, two things are clear: this message was sent less than 80 minutes after I purchased the item, and at 9:46 on 12 December in Hong Kong, where the seller does business. Yes, it's possible that they really did send it that early, but given the delivery time, you'd expect them to do that sort of thing in the evening.

There have been other similar cases, notably with the Nickel-Zinc batteries that I bought a couple of months ago, also from Hong Kong. On that occasion I received a similar message telling me that the item had been shipped on 27 September 2011 (US time), really 28 September 2011, but the post stamp showed that they had been shipped on 10 October 2011.

“Fwaggle”, or maybe Jamie (surname unknown) on IRC came up with the explanation: this message is automatically generated when the mailing label is printed. That would also explain the incorrect time zone and the early morning in the correct time zone. It seems that eBay can't think of a better text (“being processed” comes to mind), and the seller can't do much about it.


Still more TV recoding problems
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

TV reception is still very flaky. I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's interference. Today I found a recording floundering round 900 MB after an hour of “recording”. Clearly it was toast, but it was worth trying recording on other tuners. Tried recording the same programme on another tuner, and a different programme at the same time on the third. The results:

Programme       Date       Start       End                   Daisy chain       File       Number of
name             time       time       Channel       Tuner       position       size (GB)       recoding errors
All I Want       12 December 2011       11:57:05.212       14:30:00.028       2006 (PRIME)       1       3       1.1       22, died at 51%
Test recording       12 December 2011       13:57:35.363       14:32:00.274       2006 (PRIME)       2       1       0.3       42, died at start
Test recording       12 December 2011       13:58:32.614       14:33:00.804       2203 (SBS HD)       3       2       2.4       0

This shows two things: firstly, it's nothing to do with the cabling to the tuners, since the good recording was in daisy chain position 2. And clearly the problem is related to the channel—either transmission problems or interference at specific frequencies. I'd call them up, except that I'd just end up talking to script readers.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011 Dereel Images for 13 December 2011
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What use are gardening books?
Topic: gardening, opinion, technology Link here

So now I have a total of 13 books from two different libraries about bulbs and other like plants. I've already established that one of them doesn't show any corm that looks even remotely like this one:

 
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What about the others? The plants I know are Watsonia and Chasmanthe floribunda. I finally found the answer: the third kind is Crocosmia. But the books didn't help much, beyond showing some flower images that I can correlate with my older photos. Here's an overview of the coverage. The numbers are the number of books that fulfil the requirement:

            Image for       Other       Image of
Plant       Mentioned       identification       image       Tuber
Chasmanthe       2       2       0       0
Crocosmia       12       8       4       0
Watsonia       10       4       7       1

That's really not much use. Most of the images of the Watsonias don't show enough of the plant to help distinguish it from Crocosmia, and I'm sure I've confused them in the past.

What's wrong here? For this kind of information, books are obsolete. Photos are expensive to print (“A picture is worth 1000 words, but a good photo takes a million bytes”). Books get out of date easily (the oldest one in my collection was published in 1967, and even the newest is 5 years old), and they're constrained by size. Many are also geographically constrained: only one of the books appears to refer to the Southern Hemisphere, and so indications like “flowers from September to October” are meaninglessly ambiguous.

Clearly we need a web database, and Wikipedia is doing a good job in that direction. But somehow it seems to be tied up in copyright issues; that's particularly evident in the photos. Hopefully the future will bring less, not more copyright restrictions.


Wednesday, 14 December 2011 Dereel
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More laziness
Topic: gardening Link here

Didn't have much to do today, so did little of it. Spent a little time mulching, pruning and tying up creepers, even planting a Jasminum polyanthum. Also transplanted a couple of volunteer begonias, one from the pot with the Mandevilla and the other from a too-dry part of the succulent bed north of the verandah; put them both in the bed round the Ginkgo, where there's a third plant. I wonder where they came from.

About the most energetic activity was mowing the lawn, which Yvonne did. And then she ran out of petrol, filled the tank, and the thing wouldn't start again. On the face of it you'd think that was flooding, but the behaviour wasn't typical: after a while, it started again, ran, and then stopped, which suggested fuel starvation to me. Played around looking at the fuel and air filters, both OK. Does the system need bleeding? No mention of it in the manual. So left things at that; we'll see in the morning.


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Chasing the reception problems
Topic: multimedia, technology Link here

Once again TV reception is terrible, at least on some channels. Over the months I've eliminated a number of causes, including poor cables—I think—and cross-talk between the tuners. And more and more it seems to relate to specific channels and specific times of the day.

But at the moment it seems to be happening all the time on some channels. At the very least, I need to find a way to monitor what's going on. One starting point is the program femon that I looked at a few months ago. It's like tzap, but it works when MythTV is running. The output is a little hard to interpret, but I can change that—if I could find the sources. Did a bit of looking and found

=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/4) ~ 190 -> locate femon.c
/src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c
=== grog@dereel (/dev/pts/4) ~ 191 -> ls -l /src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis  3332 Jan 18  2004 /src/CVR/linuxtv-dvb-apps-1.1.1/util/szap/femon.c

So it's part of szap, whatever that may be. Went looking on Google and relatively high up on the hit list came a message from Jürgen Lock, directly above the Schweizer Zuchtgenossenschaft für Arabische Pferde web site, something that addresses other interests. Jürgen was on IRC, so I asked him. He reminded me that szap is the satellite equivalent of (terrestial) tzap, and pointed me to another mail message with pointers to the source, accessible via Mercurial:

hg clone http://linuxtv.org/hg/dvb-apps
cd dvb-apps/util/szap
gmake 'CFLAGS+=-I/usr/local/include -DO_LARGEFILE=0'

That didn't build under FreeBSD, but I didn't need it to. It didn't build under Linux in its entirety either, but I didn't need most of the stuff. What I did need was lib/libdvbapi and, of course, utils/femon. That worked and showed slight changes since the version I have. A bit of playing around with the source enabled me to add a few options (reporting interval and output format) that helped me get something more like what I'm looking for.

For once, hacking the source was simple. What's more interesting is to know what I'm looking for. The code of the program is split into a couple of gratuitous functions that I gradually removed again: it just required more and more parameters, and ended up being a little silly. But basically it calls a function dvbfe_get_info (), presumably in libdvbapi, which returns info in a struct dvbfe_info. Took a look in that and found little further of interest except frequency, which would have been really useful, except that it was always the same, and didn't match any valid frequency (round 134 MHz). So for the moment I'm looking at things like this, for a good channel (SBS, at least for the moment) and a bad one (PRIME):

2011-12-15 10:40:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 193, S/N 202, noise -10
2011-12-15 10:41:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 199, noise -6
2011-12-15 10:42:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 195, S/N 203, noise -9
2011-12-15 10:43:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 200, noise -7
2011-12-15 10:44:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 200, noise -6
2011-12-15 10:45:51 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 195, S/N 204, noise -10

2011-12-15 10:41:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 180, S/N 159, noise 20, 488277 block errors, 2214 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:42:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 182, S/N 164, noise 17, 30353 block errors, 1 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:43:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 185, S/N 169, noise 15, 258438 block errors, 28 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:44:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 169, S/N 151, noise 18, 6496 block errors, 2435 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-15 10:45:19 Adapter 1: status SCVYL     signal 188, S/N 176, noise 12, 23614 block errors, 27 uncorrectable errors

By contrast, the old version of femon reports, for adapter 1,

status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  61% | ber 102521 | unc 7078 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  60% | ber 102521 | unc 3085 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  72% | snr  66% | ber 102521 | unc 27 | FE_HAS_LOCK
status SCVYL | signal  67% | snr  60% | ber 303808 | unc 27 | FE_HAS_LOCK

Is that an improvement? I don't know. Certainly measuring signal and signal-to-noise ratio in percentages doesn't make much sense to me. Bit it certainly makes it very clear which tuner is receiving a good signal and which is receiving a bad one.

The real issue is: what do these numbers mean? My intention here is to distinguish between poor signal (fault of the transmitter or propagation) and noise (potentially interference). If I can believe the numbers, it would seem that both applies. And I still need to find a way of correlating the output with a frequency, which may require going through the MythTV logs and creating separate information about which frequency the tuner is tuned to at a specific time. It certainly makes a difference.

2011-12-15 16:15:16.087 TVRec(1): ASK_RECORDING 1 0 0 0
2011-12-15 16:15:16.159 TVRec(1): Changing from None to RecordingOnly
2011-12-15 16:15:16.194 TVRec(1): HW Tuner: 1->1
2011-12-15 16:15:16.370 Started recording: Sea Princesses "The Missing Princess": channel 2022 on cardid 1, sourceid 2

2011-12-16 00:01:30.735 TVRec(1): ASK_RECORDING 1 29 0 0
2011-12-16 00:02:03.090 TVRec(1): Changing from None to RecordingOnly
2011-12-16 00:02:03.124 TVRec(1): HW Tuner: 1->1
2011-12-16 00:02:03.257 Started recording: Carnage: channel 2032 on cardid 1, sourceid 2

It seems that the tuners remain tuned to the old channel (in this case ABC 2) until changed. The corresponding femon output after tuning to channel 2032 (SBS 2) was immediate:

2011-12-16 00:00:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 146, S/N 194, noise -49, 22660 block errors, 1288 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-16 00:01:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 151, S/N 198, noise -48, 357 block errors, 1294 uncorrectable errors
2011-12-16 00:02:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 194, S/N 205, noise -12
2011-12-16 00:03:46 Adapter 0: status SCVYL     signal 192, S/N 206, noise -14

But this also suggests that the noise was lower before. I'm beginning to wonder whether the signal-to-noise ratio has any meaning, or whether it's just an absolute signal quality indicator.


Still more laziness
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

Again didn't do much in the garden. Established that the lawn mower started without any problem, so presumably, despite all indications to the contrary, it really was flooded. But that's Yvonne's job, and she had other fish to fry:

 
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In the afternoon did a bit of pruning, a bit of weeding, and a bit of attention to the irrigation. I really need to develop more drive.


Friday, 16 December 2011 Dereel Images for 16 December 2011
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Reach out and touch someone
Topic: animals, technology Link here

We've been considering a remote controlled “electric collar” for Nemo for some time. The idea is to give the dog a mild electric shock if it is disobedient. Traditional dog trainers are, of course, horrified about the idea of giving the dog an electric shock, and it took us some time to accept the idea. From a purely training point of view, of course, most trainers accept that animals must be punished for disobedience, though rewards for good behaviour are much better. But in general punishment requires the proximity of the animal. Horse trainers can sing a song about that one.

So any device that can give the animal the impression that it can't get away from you that easily can be a good training help. We've used water pistols on puppies and kittens for years, and it hasn't broken them. On the other hand, we once had a Borzoi bitch—a real bitch!—who continually used her speed to get away from punishment. One day we chased her with a horse, and she was so shocked that she left home and had to be picked up a couple of kilometres away. So caution is required.

But after Nemo nearly got himself killed chasing a kangaroo last month, it was clear that the electric collar might be the lesser of two evils. And any training tool can be abused. You shouldn't use whips on dogs, but Yvonne typically goes walking with a stockwhip over her shoulder (shown in use courtesy of Rob Pike in the third image):

 
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The purpose of the whip isn't to hit the dog—that would severely injure it—but to make a noise to which it pays attention.

The collar arrived today, and it took me 10 minutes to work out how to use the thing, greatly hindered by the instructions. It seems that every time it powers up, it needs to be synchronized with the remote control (wait for beep from collar, press function button on remote control, wait for second beep from collar). And the collar powers down (only) after a certain time without movement. That means you can't leave it on the dog, or the batteries will drain quickly, and every time you put it on the dog, you have to resync.

Still, the idea of the vibrator and the sound signal is good. An intelligent dog will react to that, and will probably never need more than one or two shocks to remind it of what would come next if it disobeys. All that is in the future, though: the instructions recommend that the dog wear it for a month to get used to it before using it at all. I think we can restrict that to a week: Nemo is used to having a harness on when he goes for a walk, and this doesn't make much difference.


Identifying bulbs, more uncertainty
Topic: gardening, opinion Link here

So I've identified that I have at least three kinds of similar looking bulbs or corms. The only ones I'm reasonably sure about are the Watsonias, which have bulb-like corms and flower in the summer. They have alternate flowers:

 
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