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Saturday, 1 January 2011 Dereel Images for 1 January 2011
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Double Strelitzia
Topic: gardening Link here

As I suspected, one of my Strelitzia reginae buds was a double flower:


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I wonder how often that happens. Also, on the dot of the New Year, the Buddleja globosas have started blooming:


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The Buddlejas later proved to be Buddleja weyeriana, not globosa.


Smoking pork
Topic: cooking, opinion Link here

As planned, smoked our pork loin roast today in the ALDI smoke oven. I have a little more practice with it now, but I still had my difficulties. Apart from keeping the temperatures low enough, it's also difficult to get enough smoke. Managed a partial solution to both of these problems by taking the wood chip pan out of its frame and putting it on top of the burner:


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That also slightly lowered the temperature, but it was still too high. Carried on smoking until the temperature hit 60°, which is when they say the smoke has no effect any more. I had also used a lot more wood than people say you need. Left it for a while, and then finished it off in the oven.

Bad move. Leaving it to cool down even for a few minutes stops the heat flow, and the resultant cooking (to 80°) in a normal oven took 1½ hours, by which time we were running a little late for getting Yana and Sundance to the station. Instead ate some sausages that I had smoked at the same time, being forcibly reminded in the process that we should never buy Australian sausages.

Finally the pork was ready, and it didn't taste bad. But did it taste good? About the only thing I can say with certainty is that the conventional meat temperature for pork (80° to 85°, depending on whom you ask) is too high. Next time I'll aim for 78°. The meat itself tasted good, but like the last time with the beef it was clear that the smoke had only penetrated about 6 mm from the surface. It didn't really taste smoked, and the spice mix with which I had rubbed it and left it for 2 days tasted about as boring as it looks. I'm still not much closer to making the kind of smoked food I'm looking for.


Sunday, 2 January 2011 Dereel
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Slow day in the garden
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Slow day today; didn't do much. The weather was conducive to work in the garden, but that didn't stop me doing very little. Spent some time attending to the fence between the east part of the garden and the garage, up which we're training creepers. So far it's mainly hops, but we have a couple of roses, Hardenbergia violacea (paradoxically white-flowering), Tropaeolum and Lonicera. With the exception of the roses, they're all pretty small, and so far most of them haven't started climbing. The one exception is one the Lonicera:


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The one of the three shoots that found its way to the mesh took hold and grew like fury, and it's now about a metre long, while the others haven't done much. I've heard that contact with external objects stimulates hormone release in some plants, so today I tried helping by tying them up to the mesh:


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I'll keep an eye on them and see if that will help; there are more that can potentially benefit from that treatment.

It's clear that we'll need more creepers, so also took some cuttings of the Hardenbergias and planted them in some potting mix. Is this the right time of year? If they strike, they strike. Otherwise there are plenty more cuttings where they came from.


Monday, 3 January 2011 Dereel Images for 3 January 2011
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Improving Internet connectivity
Topic: technology Link here

More high latency this morning:

76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=35 ttl=249 time=10069.493 ms tso=23:52:35 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=36 ttl=249 time=9072.398 ms tso=23:52:36 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=37 ttl=249 time=8075.340 ms tso=23:52:37 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=38 ttl=249 time=7078.278 ms tso=23:52:38 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=39 ttl=249 time=6081.208 ms tso=23:52:39 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=40 ttl=249 time=5215.160 ms tso=23:52:40 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=41 ttl=249 time=4218.071 ms tso=23:52:41 tsr=23:52:45 tst=23:52:45
76 bytes from 150.101.212.19: icmp_seq=42 ttl=249 time=3682.928 ms tso=23:52:42 tsr=23:52:46 tst=23:52:46

Decided that that was bad enough to report, so sent off a message to Internode support with the information. And I got a message back:

This message has been automatically generated in response to the
creation of a ticket regarding:
        "Ticket 3278561: example of congestion",
a summary of which appears below.

There is no need to reply to this message.  You will be responded to by an
Internode representative as soon as possible.  Your ticket has been
assigned an ID of [ticket.internode.com.au #3283616].

When are they going to recognize ticket numbers that aren't enclosed in square brackets?

To my surprise (today was a public holiday), got a real reply after less than 5 hours:

Subject: [ticket.internode.com.au #3283616] Ticket 3278561: example of congestion

I have forwarded this information to your Fault ticket of 3278561.

Please note that when you preform the Ping Test please only
our DNS server as it will not drop ICMP packets.

If you have any further questions regarding this matter or
wish to provide further information, please reply to this
email or call the Internode Contact Centre on 13 NODE (13 66
33).

A number of issues here:

Still, that's such a difference from SkyMesh or (particularly) Telstra!

In the afternoon, though, had a outage of 1½ hours. It seems that the link had dropped, and I still haven't got round to starting ppp with the correct parameters, so it stayed down. Time to upgrade my configuration. But why did the line drop? It wasn't until I looked at the message from support and did a traceroute to one of the name servers that I discovered:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypl) ~ 229 -> traceroute resolv.internode.on.net.
traceroute to resolv.internode.on.net (192.231.203.132), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
 1  swamp (192.109.197.138)  0.162 ms  0.115 ms  0.113 ms
 2  lns1.syd6.internode.on.net (150.101.197.94)  278.602 ms  489.686 ms  269.883 ms
 3  gi1-8.cor2.syd6.internode.on.net (150.101.120.73)  119.953 ms  98.592 ms  100.029 ms
 4  gi1-24-122.cor2.syd7.internode.on.net (150.101.120.242)  109.913 ms  99.648 ms  140.962 ms
 5  resolv.internode.on.net (192.231.203.132)  138.920 ms  149.658 ms  99.964 ms

Last time I looked, the next hop was lns1.mel4.internode.on.net (150.101.212.19). Have they changed the configuration? It'll be interesting to see how that affects things.


DSLRs: the pain
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Taking one of the photo of the Lonicera for yesterday's diary entry was less than trivial. It was climbing up the wire mesh, and I wanted a wide aperture to put the background out of focus. Although I centred the focus point on the plant, it managed to get the background in focus and the foreground out of focus:


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OK, that's what manual focus is for. Tried that and got a very similar result: it's so difficult to focus using the viewfinder of modern DSLRs. To do it correctly, I had to mount the thing on a tripod, use “Live View” mode and enlarge the image 10 times. But at least that worked.

How would it have been with an old SLR like my Pentax Spotmatic? The viewfinder is so much better, and I'm sure that I would have got it in focus first time round—probably. But if I didn't, I wouldn't have found out until the film was developed. On the whole things are better now, but better viewfinders would still be a good idea. I don't think we'll see them on DSLRs; when they come, they'll be electronic.


Propagation and shade
Topic: gardening Link here

Did some more propagation attempts on creepers today. As yesterday, I don't know if it's the best time, but they're all growing happily, so planted some pots with cuttings of Lonicera japonica, Pelargoniums (apparently the ivy-leafed kind that I have will also climb), Trachelospermum jasminoides and Jasminum polyanthum. I wonder how many will strike.

A number of the plants in the greenhouse are showing signs of heat stress, including the second of the Loniceras that I was photographing. High time to put up the shade cloth (indeed, it was high time a month ago). Did some more preparatory work on the shade area in the north-east of the house, and I think we can now finally hang the cloth.

Also planted the saffron crocuses that we bought last month. In a few months' time we should be in a position to harvest about 15 mg of saffron.


Yet another weed
Topic: gardening Link here

Earlier this year we seem to have acquired another weed:


 
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Like many others, it's quite pretty, but it's still a weed. It also seems to self-seed extremely quickly. Probably another candidate for glyphosate.


Tuesday, 4 January 2011 Dereel Images for 4 January 2011
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Inputting UTF-8 characters: documented
Topic: technology Link here

I've complained in the past about the problems of entering special UTF-8 characters in X, and described how I worked around the problem with Emacs macros. Today I got a message from somebody calling himself Pmarin with a more general solution, borrowed from Plan 9 from User Space. He even included a key description file, which is freely redistributable according to the license.

Paraphrasing Pmarin's message, using it is pretty simple:


On horseback again
Topic: animals, general Link here

Yvonne appeared outside my office window this morning with a strange sight:


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That's my mare Darah. She had some muscle problems last autumn and this is the first time she's been ridden since May last year: after her injury came mine, and somehow I never got round to riding. So we changed it this time: I rode her back to Chris' place, where she's currently staying. Not far, but I can see I'm out of practice, and Yvonne's strange saddle and bridle didn't make it any easier.

It's also clear that it's been quite a while since I last visited Chris in the daytime. Her dog Vito has shrunk considerably; he used to be so much bigger than Nemo, and now he's smaller.


Network problems still not solved
Topic: technology Link here

While I was at Chris' place, discussed what to do with Internet connectivity. Internode may be a better company to deal with than SkyMesh or Telstra, but they're still using Optus infrastructure, and I haven't seen any improvement so far. Today I got what must be the worst ping results ever:

64 bytes from 192.231.203.132: icmp_seq=15 ttl=60 time=89037.329 ms
64 bytes from 192.231.203.132: icmp_seq=16 ttl=60 time=90294.714 ms
64 bytes from 192.231.203.132: icmp_seq=26 ttl=60 time=81225.933 ms
64 bytes from 192.231.203.132: icmp_seq=27 ttl=60 time=81294.604 ms
...
--- resolv.internode.on.net ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 85 packets received, 15.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 10371.984/56665.586/90294.714/18687.073 ms
Tue Jan  4 12:04:59 EST 2011

That never happened with Telstra. So we seem to have the choice of a good company with a poor infrastructure and a poor company with a good infrastructure. Discussed at some length, and Chris will now buy a Telstra USB stick in town, and we'll try out the SIM card with the rod antenna. I suspect that dealing with Telstra is a binary option: if it works, stick with it. If it breaks, cancel it. I've never seen them solve any problem.

We also had another idea: some GSM phones display the cell ID of the tower they're in contact with. Chris dragged out one, put her SIM card in and observed. The result: mainly Berrybank, then Stoneyford and then Cressy. Cressy is the one I'm currently pointing at. Where are the others? Berrybank is between Cressy and Wallinduc, and looking at the tower location map, there's no tower there. There's one near the Optus Wallinduc tower (indeed so close that I'm not sure which one this is):


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And Stoneyford? Google Maps accepts the name and takes me to Stoneyford Tractor Wreckers in Stonyford—clearly a spelling error. Telstra has a tower there, but it's about 60 km away, twice the distance of Cressy and in the same direction. This was a GSM handset, and they can't handle distances of more than 30 km, so it's out of the question that it's that tower. In addition, Chris says that reception of that tower is best on the north-east side of the house, which suggests a completely different direction. Why can't they use names which make it easy to identify?

Clearly I need to update my local tower map, but it's so painful.


Tajine recipes
Topic: cooking Link here

We've been planning to cook a Tajine for some time now, and today was the day. One of the reasons we've been putting it off is because I couldn't find a good recipe. Today I finally faked one from a number of others. It didn't taste bad, though I suspect I could improve the seasoning. The most interesting thing is that the juices tasted really gelatinous, like a Vietnamese beef soup. That's something that you only get from long slow cooking, in my case 3 hours. You wouldn't get it from the original recipes, which wanted to cook for as little as 45 minutes.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011 Dereel Images for 5 January 2011
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Google images: where do they come from?
Topic: technology, history, opinion Link here

Today was the last day of Christmas, with the twelve drummers drumming. So, of course, I thought of FASTRAND. And for some unmentioned reason, presumably copyright issues, Wikipedia has removed the image. So I went looking for one on Google images. I've seen a lot of false positives on Google images, but this one really blew my mind. About 535 results, three of which were really of FASTRAND, a few of which showed drums or old UNIVAC computers, and most of which seemed to have no relationship whatsoever. While browsing through, found this:


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That's a very familiar image: it's the north side of my house, and following the link shows that I took it on 25 September 2010, and included it in my diary as an example of panorama issues. What does that have to do with FASTRAND? Nothing, of course.

But maybe it's elsewhere on the page? Yup, on 11 September 2010 I discussed drums and mentioned FASTRAND in passing. But there were no images, and there were many unrelated images in the two weeks between the entries. So why did Google images get any hit at all, and why did it choose this specific image? I'm baffled.

In passing, it's interesting to note the non-deterministic way these images get presented. The first time I saw it, it was on page 6 of the results. Peter Jeremy looked and found it on page 15. In the image above, it's on page 7, and doubtless anybody who goes looking will find it elsewhere or not at all.


Network congestion unabated
Topic: technology Link here

For the past day or so I've been running pings to resolv.internode.on.net, as requested by Internode support. I'm doing 100 pings to a file and then extracting the average ping time. The results aren't encouraging. The one I found early on yesterday is still the worst, but there are plenty of others:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypc) ~ 267 -> grep round-trip /var/log/pings/* | awk -F /  '/round-trip/ { print $5 " " $9 }'|sort -n +2| sed 's:min:avg:'
log.1492:round-trip avg 9892.612
log.1459:round-trip avg 10016.345
log.922:round-trip avg 10295.317
log.889:round-trip avg 10438.320
log.1191:round-trip avg 11995.636
log.1150:round-trip avg 12671.091
log.1021:round-trip avg 13140.329
log.1228:round-trip avg 14629.986
log.974:round-trip avg 16611.330
log.1236:round-trip avg 17564.906
log.22:round-trip avg 56665.586

But that's only half the story. Much of the time it's excellent, and I get upload speeds of over 100 kB/s. The trouble is, you never know when. And Internode haven't got back to me yet.


GSM tower identification
Topic: technology Link here

Chris gave Yvonne David's mobile phone today so that we could try to identify the Optus towers in the area. That was a non-starter: I couldn't get any coverage at all, so no identification. I suppose I should try to establish contact with all of them. As Ian Donaldson put it, it's not necessarily the strongest signal I'm looking for, it's the tower with the least congestion.


Thursday, 6 January 2011 Dereel Images for 6 January 2011
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Temporary shade
Topic: gardening Link here

Another hot day today, top of 36°, and we're already having problems with the plants in the greenhouse.


 
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We're waiting for hardware, so it'll be a couple of days before we can put the real shade cloth on the greenhouse. In the meantime decided to use the pond liner, which was useless for its original purpose, but which has proved to be useful in killing off grass, and now it's giving shade to the greenhouse:


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It's amazing how many small holes there are in the foil. I think I was right not to try to use it for the pond.

Also continued with the shade area to the north of the verandah, and got as far as cutting the first length of cloth when I ran into an unexpected problem:


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The shade cloth was second-hand, but I had assumed it was in perfect condition. In retrospect, that's rather naïve. So what do we do? Hang it anyway? Use it elsewhere where it's not as visible? More to ponder.


Removing the rod antenna
Topic: technology Link here

Called up ASUS support about the ASUS RT-N13U router, and this time got through to Andrew, who seems to be their only support person. At least he sounds more competent than most. He went through a few things with me (“Configure as AP instead of as router”), but that didn't work either. He promised to contact the people in Taiwan and get some information. But in the meantime I've applied for a return authorization.

About the only piece of 3G hardware that I'll almost definitely keep is the Yagi antenna. That means that I can give Chris the rod antenna. But it has made itself at home in the last couple of months, helped by some vigorous Hallertauer hops:


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The hops have climbed up the cable on the corner of the shed, and it took me some time to extricate it:


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Preparing for linux.conf.au
Topic: technology Link here

Talking on the secret LCA 2012 IRC channel this afternoon. Finally decided on the logo, and discussed the domain name for the web site. Josh and the others had decided on underthestars.org.au, for reasons I don't understand, but that's not important: auDA has some pretty strict requirements for .org.au. domain names, and we couldn't fulfil any of them. Finally decided that the name should be lcaunderthestars.org.au., though I personally find that far too long. Wouldn't it be easier if auDA would allow us to register linux.conf.au now, instead of only 6 months before the conference?


Friday, 7 January 2011 Dereel Images for 7 January 2011
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Network ping-pong
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office this morning to find that my network connection was down again: the PPP link had dropped, and I still hadn't got round to getting it to retry. Finally got that done. When things settle down here—assuming that they do get better—I'll have to remove the first few days from the record.

Why did the link drop? I'm connected back to the old PPP server, it seems:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyph) /var/log/pings 434 -> traceroute www
traceroute to www.lemis.com (203.10.76.45), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
 1  swamp (192.109.197.138)  0.204 ms  0.128 ms  0.108 ms
 2  lns1.mel4.internode.on.net (150.101.212.19)  154.904 ms  159.519 ms  219.955 ms

I wonder why they're doing that. Hopefully they won't do it too often, since it kills sessions just as effectively as satellite dropouts.


Laziness inside
Topic: general Link here

Another hot day today, with a marginally lower top temperature of 35.2°, but an average nearly 5° higher than yesterday:

mysql> select date, min(outside_temp), avg(outside_temp), max(outside_temp) from observations where year(date) = 2011 group by date;
+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
| date       | min(outside_temp) | avg(outside_temp) | max(outside_temp) |
+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+
| 2011-01-01 |              13.2 |   18.441004200461 |              27.3 |
| 2011-01-02 |               7.6 |   15.598466896762 |              23.6 |
| 2011-01-03 |               7.3 |   14.141045339431 |              21.7 |
| 2011-01-04 |               8.6 |    16.84313588159 |              27.8 |
| 2011-01-05 |              11.1 |   17.124181222417 |              25.2 |
| 2011-01-06 |              11.9 |   22.364944109038 |                36 |
| 2011-01-07 |              21.5 |   27.237227317064 |              35.2 |
| 2011-01-08 |              22.7 |   24.871254472367 |              29.3 |
+------------+-------------------+-------------------+-------------------+

Spent most of the day inside as a result.


Secret doings
Topic: technology Link here

Spent much of the day working on a project that I have to keep under wraps for another couple of weeks. All will be revealed later.

I revealed it on 30 January 2011. We're hosting linux.conf.au in Ballarat next year.

Domain registrations for linux.conf.au
Topic: technology Link here

Spent much of the day trying to register lcaunderthestars.org.au. That's not even as easy as we thought: Enetica had promised domain name turnaround in minutes, but it took them several hours to check whether the domain name was acceptable or not. Somehow I think people are being overly bureaucratic here. Registering a .org TLD would have been so much easier, but clearly not what we want, though I see that this year's LCA has registered followtheflow.org, presumably because they couldn't get followtheflow.org.au.


Saturday, 8 January 2011 Dereel Images for 8 January 2011
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More network woes
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office today to find the network link down again, and once again I was connected to the net by a different second hop. Peter Jeremy explained why. Too many hops:


 
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In a more serious tone, though, this time I had had the ppp process try to redial. And try it did: by the time I got there, it had filled up all the log files, and I no longer had any information about what happened to cause the problem. My own attempts also failed: I had to reboot the machine.

The lack of log files proved not to be such an issue: it happened a couple more times during the day. It seems that the ppp process gets confused about whether the connection is there or not. What I saw in the PPP log was:

Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: read (0): Got zero bytes
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: CCP: deflink: State change Stopped --> Closed
...
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: deflink: Unable to set physical to speed 0
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Disconnected!
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: lcp -> logout
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: deflink: Unable to set physical to speed 0
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Disconnected!
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: logout -> hangup
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: deflink: Unable to set physical to speed 0
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: deflink: tcsetattr: Unable to restore device settings
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Connect time: 1022 secs: 7513959 octets in, 893487 octets out
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: 7426 packets in, 5755 packets out
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase:  total 8226 bytes/sec, peak 124148 bytes/sec on Sat Jan  8 13:48:07 2011
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: hangup -> opening
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: bundle: Establish
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Enter pause (3) for redialing.
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: deflink: Reconnect try 1 of 0
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: deflink: Redial timer expired.
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: Connected!
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Phase: deflink: opening -> dial
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Send: AT^M
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Expect(5): OK
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Received: ~ÿ^C
Jan  8 14:01:18 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Received: :Andys!als@host-122-100-2-236.octopus.com.au PRIVMSG #bugs :looks like it thinks its hung up when it actually hasn't^M
Jan  8 14:01:19 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Received: µÂ~~ÿ^C
Jan  8 14:01:19 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Received: :Andys!als@host-122-100-2-236.octopus.com.au PRIVMSG #bugs :looks like it thinks its hung up when it actually hasn't^M
Jan  8 14:01:23 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Chat: Expect timeout

Clearly something's very wrong there. In particular, it claims to have hung up, but clearly it hasn't. The answer to the AT should be OK, but in fact it's clearly part of the PPP stream, including a very accurate comment by Andys (the one who doesn't divulge his surname).

That was in /var/log/ppp.log. In /var/log/messages I found:

Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp kernel: ugen3.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus3 (disconnected)
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp kernel: u3g0: at uhub3, port 2, addr 2 (disconnected)
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: 0.0.0.0/0: Change route failed: errno: No such process
Jan  8 14:01:14 swamp ppp[793]: tun0: Warning: deflink: Unable to set physical to speed 0
...
Jan  8 14:01:16 swamp kernel: uhub_reattach_port: port 2 reset failed, error=USB_ERR_TIMEOUT
Jan  8 14:01:16 swamp kernel: uhub_reattach_port: device problem (USB_ERR_TIMEOUT), disabling port 2
Jan  8 14:01:16 swamp kernel: ugen0.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus0
Jan  8 14:01:16 swamp kernel: u3g0: <HUAWEI Technology HUAWEI Mobile, class 0/0, rev 2.00/0.00, addr 2> on usbus0
Jan  8 14:01:16 swamp kernel: u3g0: Found 4 ports.

Which came first? The time stamp is the same, and there's no way to know the sequence with a message time granularity of 1 second. I need to log all this stuff in the same place. But it looks as if it might be a USB issue. As the log file shows, I was already discussing the matter on IRC, and those same people who asked me why I bought a router rather than run the USB stick directly on my machine were now saying things like

08-01-2011 14:32:34 <Andys> i had to resort to restarting ppp externally because its own detection of when to redial wasn't enough
08-01-2011 14:36:12 <Andys> its a fact of life of consumer-grade internet connections

But that didn't happen with the Telstra router, and I'm anything but convinced that the problem is with the modem. Those console messages are strange. And I can't find a way to get the thing to hang up. And then I get other suggestions like “keep a ping running to keep it in UMTS mode”. It works! Just like elephant powder works. Despite everything, setting these things up on FreeBSD is a real pain. I should really try the ASUS RT-N13U after all.

In the process, also tried the e169-stats port, which should display the statistics of the modem on the screen. Compensated for the complete and utter lack of documentation by asking the authors, Edwin Groothuis and Peter Jeremy, both on IRC. But as the name suggests, it was written for the E169 modem, and it doesn't work at all on my E1762, though it's not immediately apparent why not.


More rough weather and parallax
Topic: general, photography Link here

The hot spell continued today, along with enough wind to make my house photos a real problem; one panorama was so badly affected that I had to throw it away and start again. And despite everything, I still have slight jaggies with my verandah panorama:


 
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It's almost certainly some parallax issue, but I don't know how to determine what it is. The traditional method to determine the correct position is to line up two objects in front of the camera, one near and one far, and watch what happens when the camera is moved sideways on the tripod. If the closer object moves in the same direction relative to the further object as the motion of the camera, the camera is positioned too far to the back; if it moves in the opposite direction, it is positioned too far forward. But this isn't a very accurate method, and I've already applied it. How can I fine tune? I wish I knew.


Dormant water plants
Topic: gardening, general Link here

The water level in the dam is gradually dropping, but the two halves are still joined, a far cry from last year. And to my surprise, some water plant has popped up in an area where there has been no water at all in the first three years we lived here:


 
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The position of the plant in the third photo is at the extreme bottom left of the first photo. I wonder if it has been lying dormant there, or whether its seeds somehow found there way there recently. Chris Yeardley tells me that she has something similar, though we have each only seen one of the plants.


Sunday, 9 January 2011 Dereel Images for 9 January 2011
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Debugging e169-stats
Topic: technology Link here

More investigation of the e169-stats program today. From ktrace I saw that it was reading the status messages, but I didn't see anything on the screen. The code appeared to be particularly sensitive to changes in the status format, so decided an alternative approach with sscanf. But that didn't work either. Gradually I got the impression that it had something to do with the xterm I was running it in, and tried it on the console. Bingo! It worked. Further investigation showed that it wanted a darker background, but not completely black. At least one of the texts had a black foreground:

 
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After that, the only real thing to do was to change the Unknown text. That really was a difference between the modems: the MODE status returns modes that the E169 does, presumably HSUPA and HSPA. So now I have a display that tells me quite a bit, along with some kind of signal strength or traffic display at the bottom:

 
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What does it mean? No idea: there's no documentation. But I can find out and write a man page, I suppose, and also change the display code to write on a light background.


Rocks for the garden
Topic: gardening Link here

A couple of days ago I found some rocks being given away on Freecycle, and into town today to pick them up. There were quite a few, and we were pretty exhausted by the time we got home. I was going to unload them tomorrow, but Yvonne had a burst of energy and unloaded all except the heaviest ones. Time for the pond.


Monday, 10 January 2011 Dereel Images for 10 January 2011
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Indestructible Indianmeal moths
Topic: cooking, brewing Link here

We're gradually making progress against the infestation of Indianmeal moths we had last year, but from time to time some more crop up. A few weeks back, Yvonne took some Atta to Chris' place and put it in the deep freeze to kill them off. Today she brought it back, and I cleaned out the mess, and found—a live Indianmeal moth! It seems they can survive protracted periods at -18°. Who would have thought that?


ASUS responds
Topic: technology Link here

In the evening received a message from ASUS, from whom I bought the RT-N13U router. Solving my problem? No. It was clearly in relation to the incident, though it must have been too much trouble for them to say so; another reason not to buy more than one thing from ASUS.

What they wanted was to know how satisfied I was with their support. I'm continually amazed that people send out messages like this without checking whether the issue has been closed. But this one took the cake:

Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2011 15:25:06 +0800
From: "SIP" <sip@asus.com>
Subject: ASUS Callcenter Kundenzufriedenheits Umfrage
X-Mailer: Microsoft CDO for Windows 2000

 <http://support.asus.com/images/asus-logo.gif>
        Sehr geehrter Kunde,

wir möchten Ihnen Danken, das wir die Möglichkeit hatten sie zu
unterstützen.

Um unseren Service weiter zu verbessern, bitten wir um Ihre
Unterstützung.

Uns ist es wichtig Ihre Erwartungen zu erfüllen. Mit dem Ausfüllen
unserer Service Umfrage helfen Sie uns unseren Service weiter zu
verbessern.

http://sip.asus.com/Survey/Questionnaire/Survey_20100830134051.aspx?case
id=9C48D039-5079-D0E0-ADF5-0EAAE0D721DE???=en-us

Why in German? The whole issue took place in Australia. About the only thing that is even remotely related to Germany is the IP address I wanted to set. And that's so far from anything they have seen that it can't have been that. I'm completely baffled.

The letter is in relatively good German, except for the bad punctuation: verbs starting with capital letters, nouns split in two, missing commas—and a split URL! But of course, this kind of message is bound to be multipart-alternative with an HTML component. And that has to be legible. But:

 
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Broken HTML too, without any indication of the character encoding. Still, it has a usable link, so followed that and got an English-language survey concentrating on the support person, the only good thing I've found about the matter. Even there, there are errors. The questions have double numbers, and there are typos:

 
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If anything, this survey has just confirmed me in my decision to avoid ASUS where possible.


Network flakiness: more clues
Topic: technology Link here

Today my 3G connection was particularly bad, with ping times frequently over 10 seconds, particularly round midday. And Yvonne chose exactly then to call Natalie in Queensland—on VoIP! I asked her afterwards what the connection quality was like, and she said “good”. That's a surprise; clearly there's more to this than meets the eye.

Also over to Chris' place, mainly to return the trailer, but we also set up the NetComm 3G9WB router. Just with the rod antenna tied to one of the posts of the verandah she got better signal than I get with my Yagi. I'll be very interested to see whether she can dodge around Telstra's minefield and get useful service.


3G modem documentation
Topic: technology Link here

So now I have a status display for the 3G Internet connection. It doesn't really show what I want to know: how good is the connection? It shows RSSI, which proves to be pretty well unrelated top the congestion issues, and also the traffic, which is marginally useful. But there is a fair amount of information that the program doesn't evaluate, and today—more rain—I went looking, and was successful. Found a 3G modem dialer for Microsoft, including source code, and apparently without any specific license. The idea of using it is pretty much impossible, but looking at the code (3GModemConnect/HuaweiModem.cpp) is interesting:

        if(strstr(szMessage,"^SRVST:")!=0)
        {
                //Ignor this message I really dont know what it means
                return;
        }

This one suggests that he had access to data he couldn't publish:

        /*
        ^MODE: N1, N2
        N1:
        <sys_mode>: System mode. The values are as follows:
        0    No service.
        1    AMPS mode (not in use currently)
        2    CDMA mode (not in use currently)
        3    GSM/GPRS mode
        4    HDR mode
        5    WCDMA mode
        6    GPS mode
        N2:
        <sys_submode>: System sub mode. The values are as follows:
        0    No service.
        1    GSM mode
        2    GPRS mode
        3    EDEG mode
        4    WCDMA mode
        5    HSDPA mode
        6        HSUPA mode
        7    HSDPA mode and HSUPA mode  Attachment is the detailed AT command of our
        data card, but please pay attention the user must obey the NDA and cannot
        spread to the third party.
        */

It also includes a conversion table from RSSI to “bars”. According to that, the relationship is:

RSSI       Bars
1-7       1
8-13       2
14-19       3
20-25       4
26-31       5

Looking further, found a Modem AT command reference manual, which appears to be the missing English version of the Chinese manual I found last month. It also includes the definitions of the messages that e169-stats decodes. In particular, the last two parameters of the ^DSFLOWRPT message are the maximum upstream and downstream data rates. There's a lot of stuff there, which I'll investigate in due course.


Reasons for procrastination
Topic: technology, general Link here

Message from Wayne Sierke today, pointing out a broken link. He came up with a number of potential reasons for why I might have missed it:

Odds are you were about to change it but were distracted by one or more of the following events:-


Tuesday, 11 January 2011 Dereel Images for 11 January 2011
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Network problems: new insights
Topic: technology Link here

My 3G network connectivity continues to be completely unacceptable. At 10:12 I got the following ping summary:

--- resolv.internode.on.net ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 88 packets received, 12.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 110.599/26936.523/51855.631/15682.176 ms

Called up Internode support and left my number; Rob called me back a couple of minutes later and we discussed the matter. He spent some time talking to his second-level people, and at least nobody is talking about signal strength any more. The fact that Yvonne managed to make a VoIP call yesterday is valuable help. But it's all in Optus' hands at the moment. I did ask that they should suggest which tower to connect to, but knowing that incompetent mob, they'll probably refer to their Coverage checker and tell me to point at the Rokewood tower. But maybe we'll get some sensible information.

Mail from Malcolm Caldwell this afternoon with a lot of interesting information: somebody in Germany has a UMTS amplifier, as described in this article, but it only has a gain of 7 dB. I could do much better than that with a better antenna. And, as Malcolm says, it doesn't appear to be my problem.

More interesting are some posts by Jim Gettys, who is concerned with “Bufferbloat”, which could well be related to the problems I've been experiencing. The first impression is that he's on the wrong track, but he's not stupid, and there's plenty more to read. In particular he has a page about mitigating the effects. It goes into a lot of detail, and contains lots of links (which currently are difficult to access), but I should read it. There's also a reference to an article on latency that was written years ago, but it's still very relevant.


Horrible weather
Topic: general Link here

The weather's been terrible! In the past couple of days we've had 80 mm rain; typical rainfall for the whole of January for Ballarat is 38.1 mm.

Of course, that's nothing compared to what's going on in Queensland: last month Rockhampton had 518.4 mm of rain, almost as much as our yearly average. Surprisingly, this month it's less than we've had, only 60.6 mm at the time of writing. But it's enough for me to be getting concerned emails asking how we're coping with the floods. And to think that only a year ago we were in the grip of a really bad drought.


How to boil an egg, revisited
Topic: cooking Link here

Four years ago I wrote a page on the technical background of how to boil an egg. The cooking times, of course, depend on the size of the egg, and I suggested 5½ minutes for a standard size egg. But what do you do if the eggs aren't standard size? Now we had the opportunity to find out:


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At the time I came up with some ideas which look surprisingly complicated, and of which I'm not sure. But today I decided to go in proportion to the diameter. I established that the diameter of the eggs we currently use is about 43 mm, and we cook them for 6 minutes—about 1 minute per 7 mm. Based on that, I decided:

Weight       Diameter       Time
35 g       36 mm       5:0
70 g       43 mm       6:0
105       51 mm       7:30

The big egg came out right; the small one was a little over. More thinking to do.


More cvr2 flakiness
Topic: general, technology, multimedia Link here

Since there wasn't much else to do, decided it wouldn't harm to tidy the place up a bit. Indeed, it was absolutely necessary: the place is like a pigsty, and Yvonne has lost hope of getting me to do anything about it. I didn't do much today either, but managed to tidy up room 4 (the narrow one leading to the verandah) a bit.

One of the things involved moving the battery charging equipment to the “Hi-Fi cupboard” where I already have cvr2, the MythTV box:


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The little black box above the monitor is the NiMH battery charger. Charged some batteries and—cvr2 (bottom shelf) rebooted, not once, but on two separate occasions. I've know that I have some issue there, but for the life of me I can't work out what it is. Jiggling power connectors doesn't make any difference, and in any case, there's no obvious connection between the two devices. Do I have some issue with the power itself?


Wednesday, 12 January 2011 Dereel Images for 12 January 2011
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Network connection: finally some debugging
Topic: technology Link here

Another 3G PPP disconnect this morning, and this time I got a unified log, so it's more understandable what the sequence was:

Jan 11 22:31:38 swamp ppp[1117]: tun0: Warning: nat_LayerPull: Problem with IP header length (59074)
Jan 12 07:19:11 swamp ppp[1117]: tun0: Phase: deflink: read (2): Got zero bytes
Jan 12 07:19:11 swamp kernel: ugen0.2: <HUAWEI Technology> at usbus0 (disconnected)
Jan 12 07:19:11 swamp kernel: u3g0: at uhub0, port 2, addr 2 (disconnected)
Jan 12 07:19:11 swamp ppp[1117]: tun0: CCP: deflink: State change Stopped --> Closed
Jan 12 07:19:11 swamp ppp[1117]: tun0: CCP: deflink: State change Closed --> Initial

There are a number of these “Problem with IP header length” messages, which I presume are due to uncorrected errors. But why the USB device disconnect? Is this a problem with the USB stack?

After reconnection, there's still no improvement to be seen in the 3G network connectivity—if anything, it's worse:

--- resolv.internode.on.net ping statistics ---
245 packets transmitted, 195 packets received, 20.4% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 566.768/15691.298/48645.198/12402.855 ms

Transferred my default route to satellite—that only has a couple of days to go—and sent a message to this effect to Internode support, stating that effectively the link was down, but got no reply. Finally called up and got called back about 20 minutes later by Max, who stated that he had never seen 45 second ping times before. But that's not even the worst: last week I had over 90 seconds. And of course Peter Hansteen reports over 6,000 seconds using a different kind of wireless connection, but that's not directly relevant here.

Max finally went and did some investigation, including talking to Optus technicians on the other side. Initially they said “we can't do anything; it's congestion”, which suggests the obvious solution for me: change my provider. But then they really did check my connection and came up with some interesting statements:

Clearly it's worth reconsidering alternate towers. My big issue is that the location of the antenna excludes most of them. I'll need a higher mounting for the antenna, possibly some of the pipe that CJ tried for our abortive hop supports last year. In the meantime, tried with some conduit that I found in the garage:


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The results were interesting:


ASUS: Last straw
Topic: technology Link here

One of the more minor issues with the 3G connection is that I installed it on swamp, my test machine. swamp uses power and makes a lot of noise. It's also not very reliable, and on a couple of occasions I had to reboot it to get the modem to work again. Clearly I can't install it in dereel. But since I had to revert to satellite this morning anyway, decided to try once again to install it in the ASUS RT-N13U router. In principle it's useless because it insists on RFC 1918 addresses, but it would be interesting to try it out anyway, something I haven't done since stumbling on which part of the installation instructions to ignore and successfully installing the new firmware.

Followed the instruction sheet again. This time it was able to store the correct information. Pressed Apply and got yet another strange display:

 
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What is that supposed to mean? I don't know. Maybe it's a warning. Called up ASUS support on 1-300-278-788 and was connected once again to Andrew (this time quite quickly), further strengthening my opinion that he's their only support person. It seems that he had in fact sent me a message asking some questions:

<P style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt" class=MsoNormal><SPAN style="mso-ansi-language: EN-US" lang=EN-US><FONT size=3><FONTface=Calibri>My contact in Taiwan has asked for some additional information about the network settings you want to usewith this router. Could you please advise the IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, and DNS settings you wish touse.<o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></SPAN></P>

That's right, all in HTML, no text version. I told him the address—in fact, he had it—but he wanted to know the address of the wireless link. That's dynamic, of course, and I told him so. He explained that they were thinking of doing a specially modified firmware for me. That's accommodating, of course, but completely the wrong thing to do, and I don't even think it would have solved the problem. I'm still left with the impression that the developers don't really know what they're doing.

Andrew wasn't able to help me get the USB stick working, so the whole thing is pretty meaningless. I'm still amazed that a well-known company could produce such junk. Back it goes.

In passing it's interesting to note that the USB slot is slightly indented in the back of the case, and the USB stick doesn't fit properly: it fouls on one side of the case. That doesn't seem to have affected the electrical connectivity.

So: I still needed a replacement for swamp, so installed it on cojones, the planned kitchen laptop that failed because the FreeBSD kernel no longer supports the wireless card. How quiet it is again!


Follow the flow
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

The weather continues to be wet, though not as bad as the last couple of days, and I had enough time to work on the antenna. But things in Queensland are still looking bad. There's heavy flooding in Brisbane, and we hear reports of boats and pontoons being torn off their moorings and flushed downstream:

News photo of Brisbane floods

This year's linux.conf.au is planned to start in Brisbane the week after next:

The current venue for linux.conf.au is located on the Brisbane River at QUT (Gardens Point campus).

People are understandably worried that they may have to cancel it. Under those circumstances, it's unfortunate that they chose the URL http://www.followtheflow.org/ as an alternative domain name for the conference.


Thursday, 13 January 2011 Dereel Images for 13 January 2011
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Filthy weather continues
Topic: general Link here

The rain continues unabated, but it's still relatively warm, warm enough in fact to make me turn on the air conditioner in the bedroom. That and the humidity outside made for a surprising discovery in the morning:


 
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The high outside humidity had condensed on the outside of the windows. I've seen that in Malaysia, but never here.


Cooking eggs: the experts speak
Topic: cooking, technology, opinion Link here

Mail from Leighton Haynes today with some interesting links about how to boil an egg. My own interest in this sort of thing goes back to a project I did at university 40 years ago, writing numerical analysis software for the case of heat transmission in an infinite slab. To quote the comment at the beginning of the program:

     'COMMENT' THIS PROGRAM EXAMINES THE TRANSIENT TEMPERATURES IN A    00000801
     FLAT, PARALLEL SIDED FINITE THICKNESS SLAB OF UNIFORM INITIAL      00000802
     TEMPERATURE T INITIAL AND THICKNESS X, EXPOSED AT TIME T=0 TO      00000803
     EXTERNAL HEATING. THE SLAB IS ASSUMED TO HAVE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES  00000805
     K (THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY), H (SURFACE HEAT TRANSFER COEFFICIENT)    00000806
     CV (SPECIFIC HEAT) AND EMISSIVITY, ALL OF WHICH ARE FUNCTIONS OF   00000810
     ONLY TEMPERATURE. THESE ARE DEFINED BY REAL PROCEDURES. THE        00000815
     TEMPERATURE DISTRIBUTION IS CALCULATED BY A SCHMIDT EXPLICIT       00000830
     FINITE-DIFFERENCE METHOD, AND AT EACH INCREMENT IN TIME A CHECK IS 00000835
     MADE TO ENSURE STABILITY. IF THIS IS NOT ENSURED, THE TIME         00000840
     INTERVAL DELTA T BETWEEN SUCCESSIVE ITERATIONS IS SHORTENED.       00000845
     WHEN CONVERGENCE HAS OCCURRED, OR AFTER THE 5TH CYCLE OF THE       00000850
     PROGRAM, WHICHEVER IS FIRST, THE RESULTS ARE FITTED TO A POLY-     00000855
     NOMIAL AND THE COEFFICIENTS PRINTED. FOR DETAILS OF THE THEORY     00000860
     OF THE SCHMIDT METHOD, SEE F. KREITH, PRINCIPLES OF HEAT TRANS-    00000865
     FER (1ST EDITION), PP 175-184                                      00000870

That's long water under the bridge, of course, and all it really did was confirm our suspicion that the Schmidt method didn't work. But it's interesting to note that the first document comes from the University of Exeter, my old university. It's clearly not enough to allow me to speak of a tradition there. It's not designed for computer use, but it goes into much more detail than I did. Nevertheless, it also makes assumptions: the egg is spherical, and the yolk makes up exactly 33% of the egg. Still, it also differentiates between the thermal properties of the white and the yolk, at least one order of magnitude more detail than I have done. It's also interesting to note in passing that the thermal conductivity of the yolk (he uses the variable name κ, while I used k) of the yolk is much less than that of the white (3.4×10⁻³ W cm⁻¹ K⁻¹ compared to 5.4×10⁻³ W cm⁻¹ K⁻¹), which presumably explains why it's relatively easy to cook an egg with a firm white and runny yolk.

The other link is more practical in nature, but it requires careful reading, and I haven't done that yet. But one quote makes me look more favourably on the page:

Whenever possible one should use weight measurements in the kitchen,

About the only thing I can say is: both of these outclass my page. I'll have to read the second one and update my page accordingly.


Continued network pain
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office today to find yet another failure on my 3G link. Once again my fault: I forgot to set up retries on the new machine. Despite my hopes, it was wet again, and I didn't get much of a chance to try antenna positioning. What I did manage suggests that the best position is pointing towards Willowvale. More or less. The antenna sensitivity pattern is not very directional, and the RSSI varies considerably. The antenna has a gain of 11 dBi, which corresponds to 5.5 steps on the RSSI scale; but the RSSI can vary by more than that due to factors that I don't currently understand. And throughput still is little better.


Unexpected discoveries
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

It was too wet to do much in the garden, but the ornamental vine growing over the verandah roof is doing well, and I spent a bit of time training it. In the process came across an unexpected sight:


 
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There are plenty of dragonflies around the place at the moment, almost as many as the butterflies, but this one was clearly sleeping and gave me plenty of time to get some photos. It's sitting on a Hardenbergia violacea just below the polycarbonate roof.


The down side of dental care
Topic: general Link here

Four years ago I started paying more attention to my teeth, which were not in the best of condition. Things have improved significantly since then. One of the things I had to do was to use not just a toothbrush, but also an “interdental brush”, a very small bottlebrush-like brush on a wire stem that cleans between the teeth. That works acceptably much of the time, but on a couple of occasions the wire has broken and left the brush stuck between two teeth. It happened again today, and I found it almost impossible to remove the thing. By the time we finally got it out, I had amassed a whole lot of tools. It seems that the wire had not just broken off, but bent itself at 90° as well:


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We've bought some new ones from ALDI (the blue/white striped one in the first image). They're built differently; I wonder whether they'll be better or just different.


Cats don't like rain
Topic: animals, general Link here

Another consequence of the bad weather was that the cats spent most of the day in the house. When Piccola finally did go out, it was both windy and raining heavily, and she disappeared under the house and didn't come out. At all. We had to leave her there over night; only the occasional meow told us that she was there and not lying flattened on the road.


Friday, 14 January 2011 Dereel Images for 14 January 2011
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Monsoon over
Topic: general Link here

It was another warm, moist night, and once again I turned the air conditioner on to be able to sleep. Woke at about 0:30 feeling warm: the air conditioner had stopped. Power failure, presumably some time earlier (I later discovered that it was at 23:56). Up to call Powercor, but they already knew about it.

Slept badly: it was raining heavily, and there was lots of wind. Up round 6:00 to look at what was going on, and was almost attacked by Piccola trying to get back into the house. Finally woke up shortly before 8:00, still no power. And, of course, no water, since our water supply depends on a pump. Grumbling, decided to connect up the emergency generator. That wouldn't help with the water, which needs a different circuit, but fortunately that wasn't an issue. The water tanks were overflowing:


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Collected a couple of buckets of water and off to get the generator in place, fill with petrol, connect a cable and work out how to start the thing (hint: don't forget the switch on the front):


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Then in to the kitchen to connect it to the fridges, in the process removing one of the power monitors that had been there for two months. Plugged the plug back in, and the cordless telephone connected to the same circuit went “cuckoo”, like it always does when reconnected. But: I hadn't connected the generator yet. The power had chosen exactly that moment to return, after 8 hours, 25 minutes. After that, the second brief power failure in the afternoon hardly seems worth mentioning.

The rain had certainly been heavy: in the 24 hours to 9:00 we had a total of 65.8 mm, over 10 mm more than our previous record. Since Monday it has been 167 mm, a quarter of our annual average rainfall, and the place looked like it:


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That's relatively mild, though. Brisbane had much more, 271.2 mm since the beginning of the month, and they're suffering badly. But even Ballarat had much more, a total of 206.4 mm since Monday, which greatly exceeds the previous rainfall record for January of 188.6 mm, and it's still possible that it'll exceed the all-time record of 240.3 mm, set in February 1973.

It's also interesting to note that in the same time frame, Brisbane got only 166.2 mm. Clearly there's more to flooding than immediate rainfall.

Fortunately, the rain stopped in mid-morning, and the water in the garden soaked away, with the exception of the water in the pond. Chris in in the afternoon and told me that some streets in Ballarat were flooded. Clearly we've got away lightly. Heard from Carol Riebling in Redesdale, with photos of what it looked like round her way:

 
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Power consumption
Topic: general Link here

I've had the power monitors on three circuits for 9 weeks now, mainly because I was too lazy to get the instructions and work out how to reset them. I had taken one off this morning when connecting the generators, so it was an obvious time to see how much power I had been consuming:

Circuit       Time       kWh       W
Fridges       1515:34       259.24       171
cvr2       1525:44       190.044       125
dereel       1525:44       424.166       278
total                   474

That's not nothing, but it's only about 12% of our power consumption in winter. Clearly a lot of that is the air conditioners, but I need to look elsewhere. Connected them to two other fridges and the clothes drier today; particularly the latter uses a lot of power, but irregularly, so it'll have to stay there for a few weeks.


Fine-tuning the antenna
Topic: technology Link here

More antenna adjustments today, and now I'm getting an RSSI in the order of 7 to 8, though it fluctuates wildly. On one occasion it briefly reported 17 (20 dB more). I suspect there's some issue with the firmware on the modem.


Tropical plants thriving
Topic: gardening Link here

The moist tropical weather has really helped a number of plants, particularly the weeds, though the Solanum plants are also thriving. I think we're going to have to admit defeat by the weeds this year.


Saturday, 15 January 2011 Dereel Images for 15 January 2011
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Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Slept longer than normal this morning, and woke up with this voice in my head that said “8:12”. I was sure it was later than that, but when I looked at the clock, the power had failed earlier, so I didn't know what time it was. Later I worked it out: 8:12. Coincidence?


Entrance pupil: trial and error
Topic: photography Link here

House photo day again today, and more thoughts about the jaggies I've been getting with my verandah panoramas. I still don't know a way to fine-tune the position of the entrance pupil (“nodal point”), but it's reasonable to assume that it's within the lens. Examination showed that this wasn't the case with my lens: the vertical axis was just clear of the front of the lens. So I moved the lens forward by 3 mm (now positioned at 7.3 cm on the slider) and tried the tricky 2 layer verandah panorama like that.

Success! Or so I thought. At least there are no really big jaggies in this picture:


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At first I thought there were none, but there is a line in one place:

 
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There's also a secondary parallax issue. I take one of the three component photos for the tone-mapped component images with flash, and clearly the flash unit isn't on the optical axis. So I get shadow effects like this one:

 
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So it's much better, but still not correct. More experimentation next week.


Continuity in a changing garden
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

I've been taking these weekly photos for over three years now. In that time, the garden has changed completely:


 
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I still maintain those two sequences, though others have fallen by the wayside. And one has currently been giving me some concern, a relatively new one started less than two years ago (first photo). Since then, that view has also changed considerably. Apart from the change in vegetation, which completely obscures the garage, it has become a 360° panorama. It has also proved to be at the end of a row of Buddleja globosas, so last week it was looking decidedly strange. This week I decided to move the location a little. Should it be a new panorama, or can I consider it a continuation? I wish I knew. It hides the verandah and reveals the shed (again), so potentially it should be considered a new one.

The Buddlejas later proved to be Buddleja weyeriana, not globosa.


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Sunday, 16 January 2011 Dereel Images for 16 January 2011
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Home alone
Topic: general, cooking Link here

Yvonne off with Nemo today for dog training, this time for the whole day. Up late and decided to have nasi lemak for breakfast. In the middle of the preparations discovered that we didn't have any portions of rice in the deep freeze, so had to cook some more. And while I was doing that, CJ stalked past the kitchen window with a couple of lengths of pipe. Down to the greenhouse to see if they would be suitable for the shade cloth. Yes, they would be, so he's going to weld them together, and hopefully we will soon have our shade cloth in place.

As a result, very late with breakfast, and later into town to pick up Nemo: the dog trainers spent the afternoon training without their dogs. They invited me to lunch, but I had already eaten so much that I missed lunch altogether.

On the way into town went down the Dereel-Berringa road to take a look at the ford there, which CJ told me was full of debris from the floods. So it was, but for a ford it looked surprisingly dry:


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Mysteries, surprises and butterflies
Topic: gardening Link here

On the way home from town, stopped off at the roadside plant sales in Napoleons and picked up some dwarf Agapanthus, a somewhat straggly variegated Pelargonium with mint-scented leaves, an equally straggly Euphorbia with no further description, and a kind of succulent that I haven't seen before:


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Also saw a couple of other plants that I wanted to identify. I'm not 100% certain that these two are in fact different, but the second is clearly my Mystery 23 (third photo, also taken today):


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Later, while watering the plants in the greenhouse, I found one that I didn't recognize:


 
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It took me a while to realize that this was our last Murraya koenigii (curry tree) plant. Peter Jeremy had brought me some suckers last April, but none of them struck. One by one they died, and two months ago there was only one left, and it didn't look happy either:


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Since then, it lost all but one of its twigs (the one on the left of today's photo).

So why the sudden change of heart? I can only assume that it needed to be kept very moist, and that's what happened with the rain of the last week. I'm still surprised how quickly it produced new growth. Now how do I ensure that it survives?


Photographing butterflies
Topic: photography, animals, gardening Link here

This year we have had an incredible number of butterflies, presumably because of the moist conditions. And since the Buddlejas have started flowering, they're all over them. But how do I get a photo of a swarm of butterflies? Relatively easily, it seems:


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Clearly it took a number of attempts, but it wasn't as bad as I feared.


Monday, 17 January 2011 Dereel Images for 17 January 2011
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Sick goldfish pond?
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Yvonne back from walking the dog with the sad news that one of the goldfish in the mini-pond (big ceramic pot) was dead, and that I should get rid of the remains. Out to do so, but it wasn't dead. It does look sick, though, and I wondered whether it was related to the water, which just gets topped up all the time, so any non-volatile contaminants accumulate. Decided to drain it and replace it with fresh water. The fish is still alive, and it swims around a bit, but I fear it's not going to recover.


Completing outstanding work
Topic: gardening, general Link here

CJ along this morning with the pipes for the greenhouse. First we needed to attach the brackets, and that proved to be extremely difficult. After 10 minutes we had two partially attached. The problem appears to be the alignment of the screw threads (in the plastic corner insets) and the metal profiles, not helped by the flat ends of the screws. Decided that I'd do that myself some other time, and attended to other issues, including yet more branch removal of the Cathedral:


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Also finally put up the shade cloth in the shade area that we started over a month ago. That proved less difficult than I had feared, and we had the cloth in place in a little over 30 minutes:


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I still need to trim the cloth on the sides, but I'm somewhat disappointed with the level of shade. It may be too little. I suppose we can always put things on top on very hot days, but today wasn't one of them, so we'll have to wait.


Goodbye satellite
Topic: technology Link here

My TV programme update on cvr2 failed today. Further investigation showed that it had a default route of sat-gw.lemis.com, and that connection is now gone:

 
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3 years of pain over and done with, but I'm still left with a bad taste in my mouth, particularly about the way SkyMesh treated me. I'd also be happier if I got the feeling I could rely on my 3G connection.

That has been better lately, though. While CJ was here, we put up a better antenna mast:


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It's sturdier, but of course it doesn't bring any better signal. But I think what I have at the moment is enough. It's difficult to know if I'm pointing in the right direction: the antenna isn't very directional, and the RSSI readings fluctuate wildly in normal operation. I need to average the RSSI over a longer period of time to know what's really going on.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011 Dereel Images for 18 January 2011
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Odds and ends
Topic: gardening Link here

Lots of little jobs in the garden today. Got around to cleaning up the shade area now that it's relatively complete, and planted a Lonicera in the corner, mainly because it had to be planted. Found a number of Senna aciphylla there, which I planted into pots. I'm still not sure whether I should consider it a weed or not. Also a fair amount of work on the plants on the verandah: the vines are reaching their final length, and now I think I'll train further vines on the other side of the beams. Also attended to the Pelargoniums in the hanging baskets. I had seen what I thought were spiders' webs on some of them, but they seem to be some sucking insect. Hopefully the pyrethrum will put paid to that.


Pizza yet again
Topic: cooking Link here

Pizza for dinner again today, in the electric ovens. Why did I never write down the times? Today I did 10 minutes from below and 10 minutes from both sides, but I think I need to do 15 minutes below.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011 Dereel Images for 19 January 2011
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Thank you, Golden Plains Shire Council
Topic: general, opinion Link here

The Golden Plains Shire Council is responsible for the maintenance of the roads in the Golden Plains Shire. This includes the roadsides, which this year are particularly overgrown—with “fuel”, as the CFA calls it. That's a serious fire hazard. But my previous experience with the shire council has suggested that we can't expect too much from them except increased rates, and Yvonne is concerned about the bushfire risk. So CJ offered to slash the undergrowth with his tractor, and came along with Sue to do it today.

Next thing I know, Yvonne came back to the house to look for first aid stuff. There had been a length of springy fencing wire in the undergrowth, the slasher had torn it out and whipped Sue with it. Fortunately nothing was broken, but she had a nasty gash on her right calf, and CJ had to take her to the hospital for emergency treatment.

That went fairly well, but it'll be a while before Sue recovers. And it all wasn't necessary. I'm paying the council money to do this work. Why should I? But somehow it's symptomatic; I've never in my life felt so much like being in a police state as in my home state of Victoria, and I'm seriously concerned that if I complain, they may pick on me in other ways.


Greenhouse: the next frustrating step
Topic: gardening Link here

Back to look at the brackets for the shade cloth on the greenhouse. On Monday we had attached two of 6 of them with a total effort of only 30 minutes for 7 screws. Today back to look at the problem and found that we had connected them the wrong way round. More or less got them back, but only more or less. The sockets are made of soft plastic, and it's almost impossible to get the flat-bottomed screws (top of second photo) in there straight.


 
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After another 20 minutes without even completing the first two brackets, I gave up. I have some self-tapping screws, so I used them and connected them and the other 4 brackets in 5 minutes. Why do people build things like that?

Next on the agenda is to get some shade cloth and put it in place. But things are looking much better.


Network connection: ups and downs
Topic: technology Link here

No question, my network connection is much better now. There are no longer these ridiculously long ping delays (up to 90 seconds in the past). The worst I see now is about a second, about the average I had with satellite.

How did they do it? Easy, it would seem: they drop every packet that doesn't get back soon enough. Today I had round 20% to 30% packet loss:

--- optusnet.com.au ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 75 packets received, 25.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 105.619/131.537/213.990/21.348 ms
Wed Jan 19 15:02:52 EST 2011

--- optusnet.com.au ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 64 packets received, 36.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 111.513/148.384/267.780/23.611 ms
Wed Jan 19 17:29:59 EST 2011

--- resolv.internode.on.net ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 78 packets received, 22.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 98.184/166.466/1070.234/135.110 ms
Wed Jan 19 17:32:08 EST 2011

--- resolv.internode.on.net ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 72 packets received, 28.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 95.822/136.966/307.519/29.224 ms
Wed Jan 19 17:44:16 EST 2011


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Power failure just before midday today. It wasn't long, but it brings home how seldom power failures happen during the day.


Do-it-yourself photo albums
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I now have about 27,000 photos on-line. How do I find the ones I'm looking for? For the most part I've been pretty careful with the naming, and I'm doing so even more recently. But searching for them on the web isn't easy. My search page allows me to enter keywords, but they just go through the day's titles. What I need is something that does the same thing for the photo titles. Spend some time today looking at that, and ended up with a page that seems to do the trick. It's not finished yet (in particular, the dates don't work), and it may migrate elsewhere, but for the moment it has already proven itself very useful. Now to think about how to improve it.


Thursday, 20 January 2011 Dereel
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Going shopping
Topic: general, gardening Link here

Into town this morning—finally!—to attend to a number of things, most importantly having a haircut. Looking at my note block, I see I first tried this on 8 December 2010, then on 21 December 2010, but on the former occasion I didn't even go, and on the second I didn't have time for the haircut.

First, though, to Formosa Gardens, armed with a light meter to check the light level of their shade area. It's the same as mine: about 75% shade, which doesn't really seem very much. Off to Gays to buy some, and discovered a number of options: two levels of shade, one clearly my 75%, the other more like 90%, though in each case the absorption had quite a spread, something like 70%-84% in the first case. Considered the 90% cloth until I discovered it was twice as expensive. They also have two widths (“metric”, of course): 1.8 m and 3.6 m. The latter was cheaper and what I needed, so bought my 5 m of that.

On into town looking for thongs (found a cheap pair, too cheap, but it's all I could find), a calendar and some wine and “cognac” for cooking, then back via Napoleons to buy yet more Agapanthus. I wish they had a bigger cash box there: I couldn't get all my notes in, so I'll have to do the rest some other time.


Still inadequate networking
Topic: technology Link here

My packet loss continues. Things got better between about 4:00 and 8:00, but over the course of the afternoon I was back to up to 30% packet loss. I wish they'd get their act together.


Gas for the stove
Topic: general Link here

When we moved in to Dereel, the house was heated by bottled gas, which cost an arm and a leg, and we had 4 cylinders of it. After installing the air conditioning a little over 3 years ago, we only needed gas for the stove in the kitchen, and we returned all but one of the cylinders: they cost about $70 a year in rental, on top of the gas.

Today that last cylinder finally ran out. I didn't mention the return of the cylinders in my diary, but it must have been in November 2007. That's 45 kg of gas in 38 months, and a rental of $222 for the period, not counting the cost of the gas itself. By contrast, a barbecue gas cylinder holds 7.89 kg and costs $25 to refill. Clearly it's not worth keeping the big cylinders.


Friday, 21 January 2011 Dereel Images for 21 January 2011
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Shade, finally
Topic: gardening Link here

Another warm day today, and out early to finally attach the shade cloth to the greenhouse. Surprise: I knew that the person who measured out the 5 metres of shade cloth had been generous in his measurement, but it was nearly 7 metres, so we cut off the rest for other purposes:


 
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The pipes were originally part of a clothes hoist, and they had a number of lugs originally intended for attaching the lines. Attaching the cloth was relatively simple: just attach the cloth with some wire to the lugs. After that I attached the pipe to the top of the greenhouse, and discovered that the cloth was marginally shorter than the greenhouse (I suppose that's the difference between 3.6 m and 12'):


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Surprisingly, the cloth stayed on the ground despite the wind. I had thought of some way to hold the long part on the north side down to the ground, but so far it doesn't seem necessary. It'll be more important to keep the sides at the end of the house, and I still don't have a good idea for that.

While I was at it, also attached the remaining orange shade cloth to the shade area: I had underestimated how much sun could get in from the east, and by coincidence the remaining length I had almost exactly covered that side:


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Saturday, 22 January 2011 Dereel Images for 22 January 2011
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Panoramas and parallax: still no joy
Topic: photography Link here

Photo day today, and as planned last week, did my verandah photos with the camera positioned another 2 mm further back (7.5 cm on the scale). The result was not as good:


 
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So: is this a coincidence, or have I positioned too far to the other side? It would seem reasonable to assume so, but it would be better to know for sure. The nature of the discontinuities might contain a clue, but they're seldom in the same place. In one place they are, though: here's a detail from 2 weeks ago (position 7.0 cm) and today (7.5 cm):


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Today's differences are worse, but in particular they're the other way round. Unless I can come up with a more reliable measure, I'd say that today's position was further off the entrance pupil and on the other side. 7.2 cm next week.


Mowing the cathedral and other activities
Topic: gardening Link here

We've been neglecting the “cathedral” area lately, and the high rainfall has resulted in a lot of grass. Today I mowed the lawn there, I think for the first time I have ever mowed the lawn in January. It'll need touching up with a push motor mower, and then with a whipper-snipper, but at least I can find the saplings now.

Also looked at the middle succulent garden, less than 2 years old. It has certainly changed in that time:


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One of the problems I've commented about in the past is that the aeonium flowers look messy:


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One of them has just finished blooming in this garden, and I cut off the dead flowers. What's left behind is just as unappetising (centre and to the top-left):


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So out it came. Instead, I planted—another Aeonium, one with bright yellow flowers that I had bought at the Botanical Gardens last September, and which I had already divided. The other half was already in the bed, though it'll come out in the winter.


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Curry tree progress
Topic: gardening Link here

It was only on Monday that I discovered that the Murraya koenigii (curry tree) was not dead after all. I've been keeping an anxious eye on it since then, and it didn't seem to have done much—certainly not as much as in the few days before. But that's what comes of watching it. Clearly it is growing quickly. Here Monday and today:


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Sunday, 23 January 2011 Dereel Images for 23 January 2011
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Telstra BigPond, try 3
Topic: technology Link here

On my recommendation, Chris Yeardley has procured a Telstra BigPond mobile broadband USB stick. Why on earth would I do that, based on my previous experience? Well, Internode support is at least one order of magnitude better than Telstra's pitiful excuse for support, but they're using Optus infrastructure, and it's living up to the negative things I've heard about it. If Chris can get things to work with Telstra, it might be worth the effort.

Also on my recommendation, Chris took the “standard” device, a USB stick, and we took the USIM out of it and put it in the Telstra routers. Nothing. Finally got some information out of the system log (in the machine), but it was completely different from what I saw when logging to dereel. In particular, nothing about attempted connection setup. I'm assuming it did—it was unresponsive for about 10 seconds when I pressed the Connect button—but it didn't say anything, and it didn't connect. It's reasonable to assume that that's an authentication problem, but why doesn't it log it?

Did some more investigation. As expected, found that the network was registered, but the data session wasn't:

 
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In the end came to the conclusion that Telstra has finally implemented what they've been claiming all along: they deliberately restrict the USIM to work only in the device with which it's supplied. I still can't understand what kind of mentality can come up with such a stupid idea.

So: what do we do now? Chris has established that the USB stick works, and even the Telstra installation software worked without problems. But she needs an antenna on the other side of the house, and currently that means installing a computer there. She could also go with Telstra business, but that's noticeably more expensive, or just complain and get sent Yet Another Router free of charge, like I managed. She's still pondering that one.

In passing it's interesting to note that the information also includes a “Cell ID”. I've seen some web sites, notably OpenCellID, which can apparently decode it, but last time I looked at the site, I couldn't work out how to navigate it.


More cathedral tidy-up
Topic: gardening Link here

Got out the push (motor) mower and tidied up the edges in the cathedral. At least we can see the trees now. Also managed to mangle an irrigation line, so connected a replacement that also irrigated about half of the birches. We'll have to run individual drip lines to the rest, but in the course of the work it became too hot for comfort, so that's also for another day.


Another power failure
Topic: general Link here

Another short power failure just before midnight.


Monday, 24 January 2011 Dereel Images for 24 January 2011
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Vine parasites
Topic: gardening Link here

More training the vines today, and in the process found a leaf which had been chewed by something, and which had a curl in it:


 
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Inspection showed that there were grubs inside:


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What are they? They could be caterpillars from the orange butterflies that we've had around here, and which I had seen eating the vine leaves last year. In that case, I think they can stay; they didn't do significant harm to the vines last year, and this year I've seen almost nothing.


Ammyy: here to help you
Topic: technology Link here

Phone call this afternoon from somebody who said he was called Jacob. Apparently my computer had been generating error messages, and he wanted to help me solve them.

Clearly a scam. I had some time, so I played along. My first attempt to offer him support didn't work: he didn't understand (clearly not in his script). His first question: “Are you running Microsoft windows?” Me: “Of course not”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. Finally he gave up and said “are you running windows?” That's clear: “yes, of course”. “Which version? XP, Vista or Windows 7?” “X”. “You mean Windows XP?” “I call it X”.

That satisfied him, so we moved on. I asked what kind of error message they had received, and where they ended up. He said something about the first, but I didn't understand. He had an unusually strong Indian accent. That shouldn't have been a problem: when I was growing up in Malaya, most of my friends were Tamil, and I ended up speaking with a bit of an Indian accent myself. But this one was particularly strong, and I really didn't understand. He told me that it was reported by the Voice Routing System, which didn't sound right, so I asked him to spell “Voice”. “W-O-R-L-D”. It seems that the World Routing System look after all windows user [sic], and there seems to be an online infection jump slice (as close as I could understand him).

It was clear that I wouldn't get much more information out of him, so I let him continue. “Do you see a Start option on the bottom left of the screen?” “No.” “Do you see a Windows key on the left side of your keyboard?” “No” (on my keyboard it's on the bottom row towards the right; after some investigation it seems that this is because I moved the key caps around, and it there should be another one second from the left on the bottom row, where I have put the ` key). “Can you see the Control key?” “Yes, it's on the left.” “Is your computer turned on?” “Yes.” “Are you running Microsoft windows?” “I told you I didn't.” “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”.

Finally he gave up and called his supervisor, who gave his name as Mar[ck] and had to be asked three times before he finally confirmed that the spelling is Mark. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “What is your operating system?” “FreeBSD”. “Are you running windows?” “Yes, of course”. “Which version? XP, Vista or Windows 7?” “X”. “You mean Windows XP?” “I call it X”.

“Do you see the Start button?” “No.” “Do you see a Windows key on the left?” “No, it's on the right”. “Alright, press that button and r. What do you see?” “The letter r appears on my active window”. “Do you see Internet Explorer?” “No, I don't use that”. “Do you have a web browser?” “Yes.” “What's the home page?” “http://www.lemis.com/grog/index-local.php”. “OK, clear that and enter http://www.ammyy.com”.

So all this rigmarole was their way of saying “please start a web browser”. Admittedly, I did everything I could to make things more difficult for them, but you'd expect even the least adept PC user to know how to do that. And I was told to download a file called AMMYY_Admin.exe. Did that. “Do you see a window “Sabre cancel”?” “No”. After some discussion, it eventuated that he meant “Save or cancel”, but my firefox is clearly not set up that way. “Oh”. click. And he hung up.

Clearly I was too hard on the people, but it's a shame. What I've heard is that these people use the tool to gain unauthorized access to people's computers. I would have loved to have known how they did it. It's also not clear whether the manufacturers themselves are to blame, or whether it's some third party crook abusing some misfeature of the product.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011 Dereel Images for 25 January 2011
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Still other network problems
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office this morning to find myself off the net—by no means for the first time. But this time was different. Every indication was that the link was up, there were no log messages, but no traffic was flowing. And I couldn't stop the ppp process:

=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 12 -> ps aux | grep ppp
root     861  0.0  0.8  5196  2864  ??  Ss   16Jan11  11:59.85 ppp -ddial internerd
=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 13 -> kill 861
=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 14 -> ps aux | grep ppp
root     861  0.0  0.8  5196  2864  ??  Ss   16Jan11  11:59.86 ppp -ddial internerd
=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 15 -> kill -9 861
=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 16 -> ps aux | grep ppp
root     861  0.0  0.8  5196  2864  ??  SEs  16Jan11  11:59.86 ppp -ddial internerd
=== root@cojones (/dev/pts/0) /usr/src 17 -> ps alx | grep ppp
    0   861     1   0  44  0  5196  2864 ttyout SEs   ??   11:59.86 ppp -ddial internerd

Whose fault is that? For once, it could be the FreeBSD PPP implementation. On the other hand, sleeping on ttyout may mean that it is trying to write to a blocked 3G connection. Rebooted the machine (another good reason to run it on an old laptop) and continued. For a while. Then I had another dropout—for a couple of minutes. By the time I found out, things were running again. That looks less like a software problem. It happened a couple more times; the next time it didn't come back, but I was able to restart the PPP process. Finally I left it as it was and called Internode support. David called back, but wasn't able to help much: we already have a problem report open with Optus, and they can't open another one until they close that one. About the only thing they can do is to add the comments to an already long ticket. It seems that there are no service level guarantees, and the main reason they're with Optus is simply that it's the only network open to resellers. I sense a certain feeling of frustration on their part too.


More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

The area round the cathedral is gradually looking better, but there's still a long way to go. Tidied up round the fence in front of the north shed, where we had planted hydrangea and Hibbertia scandens at a time where they were in the shade. Now they get full sun for a protracted part of the day, which the hibbertia can handle, but the hydrangeas can't. Took a couple of cuttings of the hydrangeas; maybe we should move things elsewhere, or maybe we should put some shade cloth there too.

Trimming plants on the verandah is also becoming a daily task. Today dead-headed the petunias, and found what appear to be sucking insects on them, about 1.5 mm long:


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They're surprisingly static; maybe they froze in that position after some insect spraying I did recently.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011 Dereel Images for 26 January 2011
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One goldfish less
Topic: animals Link here

The change of water in the “pond” the other day didn't work. Today, finally, after 9 days, the sick goldfish died. I hadn't expected it to hold out that long.


Hackers and crackers: the confusion
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I pride myself on my job title “hacker”, but it's open to misconstruction. Today I got mail from somebody in South Africa:

Hi Greg, i am out of options and found you on a hackers site, i need help in cracking a ovi password for my wife's email address is there any possibility that you can perhaps help me or point me in the right direction please. I need help please i don't know what to do anymore please.

It's clear that he doesn't understand the difference between hackers and crackers, though he talks of cracking, not hacking. I tried stringing him out a bit, but then got:

Its Nokias email application her username is unlikely@ovi.com
To be honest she is having an affair and I need to see with who. Its very complicated and I will tell you the whole story if you want sir I am being denied access to my two kids and the only way ill be able to get more than every second weekend is if I have proof that she is unfaithful. Please can you help

It's obvious that he doesn't know what to do; he doesn't know me from Adam, and he sends me his wife's email address (not really the one above, of course). One of the things I considered was to inform her of this attempt to invade her privacy. But somehow I feel sorry for this bloke, and so I probably won't. But I'm left wondering what to do, or what to say to him.


Australia Day fair
Topic: general, photography Link here

Today was Australia Day, and there was a fair at the Dereel Hall. Yvonne wanted to go and take a look, so along with Chris:


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Not surprisingly, the fair wasn't very big:


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There were some interesting plants on sale, though, and I ended up with a number of somewhat straggly plants of kinds that I hadn't seen before: a variegated succulent of some description, another which looked unlike anything I have seen, but of which they showed a photo with a purple flower, a Salvia, yet another kind of Euphorbia, and a plant that looks and smells somewhat like cat mint, but which they say will keep cats and dogs away. I have my doubts, but it looks nice anyway:


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One bloke had an old mechanical turntable for sale, in excellent condition:


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I've never seen one of them before. It works, and it's louder than I expected. The little doors in the front are the volume control. But he wanted a lot of money for it, more than I wanted to pay for an ornament.


Panorama processing revisited
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I made the panoramas above freehand, and in principle they didn't turn out too badly. But the one inside decided to draw the line in the middle of Chris and Yvonne. I'll change the photo above some time, but this is what it currently looks like:

 
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That can happen, and Hugin has (somewhat primitive) ways to address the issue. But since August last year I have problems with Hugin, and one of them is that I can't use this feature: Hugin SIGSEGVs. As a result I started upgrading my system, but after a couple of weeks gave up. I wanted to work out a clean way of doing this, and that takes a lot more effort than just upgrading. So far I haven't got round to doing it, but clearly it's becoming urgent.


New plants, daisy bushes and birches
Topic: gardening Link here

We're trying to plant all plants as soon as we buy them, and I've identified places for the Euphorbia (in the Japanese Garden at the end of the curved row of other Euphorbias) and the Salvia (to the north of the shade area). While looking at the latter it became apparent how much the new small daisy bush had grown, and how unhappy the old ones were (on the right):


 
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Clearly time to replace it, so I pulled it out. There wasn't much left in the way of roots, but it was still pretty difficult to remove.


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And then something hit me: why should I put another daisy bush there? It's a nice space, and maybe we could put something else in. So for the moment I've just sprayed the weeds, and we'll think it out.

In passing: what is this bush? We called it “daisy”, but others have told me that it's “Marguerite daisy”. Wikipedia doesn't know that name, but I was able to find descriptions of Leucanthemum vulgare and Argyranthemum frutescens, both which lay claim to the name. And they look so similar to each other that I can't decide which one I have here.

The birch saplings I freed the other day are looking quite happy for the most part. The biggest are now approaching 1 metre in size. But one had had the kangaroo mesh fall on it and bend it for some time. It still seemed OK (once I found it in the weeds), but since then it has deteriorated considerably:


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I wonder what caused that. There is no obvious damage, and maybe it'll recover. But we have potted another one, just in case, and if it gets bigger than this one, we'll replace it.


Popular Photography: renew now!
Topic: photography, opinion, technology Link here

Another message from Popular Photography today. They had seriously annoyed me last year by sending me a “special offer” for renewal that was 36% higher than the normal rate ($30 per year instead of $22). As a result, I didn't renew, and now the subscription has now effectively finished. Today I got another “special offer”—only $14.

That sounded reasonable, but of course, it only applies to US subscriptions. They know (or should know) exactly where I live. Elsewhere it's still $22. So no special offer.

But the time was right, and so I renewed, fighting my way through their stupid web forms, which haven't changed in years. Finally I got a message telling me that things had worked, and offering to print out a receipt. What did I get?

 
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What breakage! And it's not a receipt, just a badly formatted copy of the page I had. I could just as easily have printed the page from the browser.


Repelling Nemo
Topic: animals, gardening Link here

Tried out the cat and dog repellent on Nemo. He loved it and wanted to eat it.


Thursday, 27 January 2011 Dereel Images for 27 January 2011
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System upgrade, next attempt
Topic: technology Link here

So, time to try to upgrade my main system again. Every time I look at my incomplete web page on the subject, I find new issues. Today started by copying the root partition of cojones (the laptop I'm currently using for Internet access) to /destdir on dereel, removing a whole lot of stuff and then building a new world. That all went nicely and much faster than I expected.

The next step was to build ports. And there I saw something I've never seen before:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) /usr/ports/shells/bash 208 -> echo $DESTDIR
/destdir
=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) /usr/ports/shells/bash 209 -> make install
===>  Creating some important subdirectories
===>  Starting chrooted make in /destdir...
cd: can't cd to /tmp/mountpoint.a4jPzE/src/FreeBSD/ports/shells/bash
make: don't know how to make install. Stop
===>  Chrooted make in /destdir failed
===>  Cleaning up...
*** Error code 2

What's that? I've never seen that before, and I couldn't find a way around it. ktrace confirmed that the directory was being created, though I don't know why, and it's not clear why the cd failed. But it was enough for more head-scratching, and maybe Yet Another Approach to the whole sorry issue.


Fixing the fences
Topic: gardening, animals Link here

CJ along today: it seems that our electric fences aren't working at all. That's a combination of poor quality wire and tree branches and other vegetation fouling the wires. We've been using plastic cord with strands of wire in it, and they seem to have torn, leaving an open circuit. CJ spent most of the day tidying the things up, including removing even more of the cathedral trees, but we still have only 500 V on some parts of the fence. Time to replace the wire.


Hebes, then and now
Topic: gardening Link here

It's been over three years since we were given a number of tiny Hebes in tubes, many of which we planted at the north of the house:


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Since then, they have grown, but in the last year they seem to have been grown particularly quickly. Here photos from 2 years ago, one year ago and today:


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Now they seem to be going into a second phase. Amongst the many weeds in the Japanese Garden, I found these:


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But what kind are they? We have several different types there:


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About the best I can think is that they must be the ones that have already finished flowering. But the leaves don't look right, so I'm still not sure. I suppose we should save a dozen or so when we get round to weeding them out.


Telstra 3G and Apple DNS
Topic: technology Link here

Mail from Chris in the evening: she managed to get a connection with both the 3G9WB and the 3G21WB routers. The problem she had before was an incorrect user name: she had entered her user name without the email address part (@bigpond.com). Why do you need that? Have they confused user names and email addresses? But wouldn't it have been easier if there had been any kind of error message? Things weren't over though: she still wasn't able to route via that link.

Went over to take a look, and ran into all sorts of irritating minor issues: once again, the 3G921WB didn't get nearly as strong a signal as the 3G9WB, and when we finally got that one configured correctly, we ran into name server issues with the Apple Yet Again. Somehow it's so frustrating using that box: the keyboard layout is wrong for my fingers, I have to click to focus on any window (and raise it in the process), and I'm always puzzled by this “upstairs, downstairs” syndrome where the GUI doesn't seem to understand the system. The name server is running fine, and in some places names resolve, in others they don't. Probably there's some setting hidden in a database somewhere. We decided to take the easy way out: at some point Chris wants to get her MythTV box working (much of which is waiting on my contribution), and when that's running we can put the name server on it.


Friday, 28 January 2011 Dereel Images for 28 January 2011
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Upgrading dereel, next attempt
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Spent some more time today looking at the problems installing ports into an alternative directory. I didn't come up with an easy answer, so considered and tried the alternatives: set up a jail and do the install in the jail, do it in a virtual machine, or do it on a different physical machine.

The jail was severely hampered by confusing, inaccurate and out-of-date documentation. With the help of Peter Jeremy, got a jail up and running. First I took a variant of a part which was documented and built a virgin system in the jail:

export DESTDIR=/destdir
cd /src/FreeBSD/svn/stable/8
nice make -j 4 world
nice make -j 4 distribution
nice make -j 4 kernel KERNCONF=DEREEL
mount -t devfs devfs $DESTDIR/dev

Next I updated /etc/rc.conf with:

# Jail stuff, from Peter Jeremy
jail_enable="yes"
jail_list="destdir"
jail_set_hostname_allow="NO"            # Block changing hostname in jail
jail_interface="re0"
jail_destdir_rootdir="/destdir"         # Jail's root directory
jail_destdir_hostname="quartet.lemis.com"  # Jail's hostname
jail_destdir_ip="192.109.197.151"        # Jail's IP number
jail_destdir_exec_start="/bin/sh /etc/rc"       # command to execute in jail
jail_destdir_exec_stop="/bin/sh /etc/rc.shutdown"
jail_destdir_devfs_enable="YES"         # mount devfs in the jail
jail_destdir_fdescfs_enable="NO"        # mount fdescfs in the jail
jail_destdir_procfs_enable="NO"         # mount procfs in jail
jail_destdir_mount_enable="YES"         # mount/umount jail's fs
jail_destdir_devfs_ruleset="destdir"    # devfs ruleset to apply to jail
jail_destdir_flags="-l -U root"

Also created a file /etc/devfs.rules, effectively what Peter gave me:

# From Peter Jeremy
[destdir=5]
add include $devfsrules_hide_all
add include $devfsrules_unhide_basic
add include $devfsrules_unhide_login

The first line is some kind of Microsoft-like header, and 5 is the lowest free number: 1 to 4 are already defined in /etc/defaults/devd.conf. After that, restarted devd and started the jail with:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttypt) /destdir/usr/src/sys/i386/conf 36 -> /etc/rc.d/devd restart
Stopping devd.
Waiting for PIDS: 767.
Starting devd.
=== root@dereel (/dev/ttypt) /destdir/usr/src/sys/i386/conf 37 -> /etc/rc.d/jail start destdir
Configuring jails: set_hostname_allow=NO.
Starting jails: destdir.lemis.com.

One of the things I didn't find in the documentation is that to access external file systems from a jail (here the /src hierarchy where I store my source trees), you need to do a loopback mount in the host environment:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) /etc 273 -> mount -t nullfs -r /src /destdir/src
=== root@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) /etc 274 -> df /destdir/src
Filesystem 1048576-blocks   Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/src               923856 787073 62874    93%    /destdir/src

Then I was able to start a jail, which still insists on an IP address rather than a symbolic name. The results weren't quite what I expected:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttypt) /destdir/usr/src/sys/i386/conf 49 -> jail /destdir destdir 192.109.197.151 /bin/sh
\[\]=== \u@destdir (/dev/ttypt) \[\]/\[\] \# ->\[\] df
Filesystem  1048576-blocks Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad4s1d           9916  340  8782     4%    /
\[\]=== \u@destdir (/dev/ttypt) \[\]/src\[\] \# ->\[\] ls -l
total 29350
Bad system call

That's a knock-out problem. I'm running the new userland in the jail, but I'm running it from the old kernel, and they don't match. There's nothing to be done here: this method doesn't work for what I want to do.

The next method was to build the system in a virtual machine. Callum Gibson suggested VirtualBox, but suspected that it wouldn't work under my old version of FreeBSD. He was right. Still, this looks like a promising way to solve the problem, and I'll investigate it next time.

That left me with the alternative of building on another machine and then copying the partition across when I'm finished. I know that will work, so started it, and by evening I had installed 2 of my 125 ports, as well as about 270 other dependent ports.

The first port that built was X. It took 3 hours, 20 minutes, and reminded me of what I wrote 17 years ago in Porting UNIX Software:

.\" Revision 1.4  1994/06/07  15:56:16  grog
Few packages take more than a few hours to compile on a fast workstation.  Even
the complete X11R6 windowing system takes only about 4 hours on a 486/66 PC.

swamp is about 100 times as fast as the 486. Clearly software is up to the challenge.


Gazanias in bloom, unhappy Pelargoniums
Topic: gardening Link here

The Gazanias we picked up in Stawell last September are doing well and coming into flower:


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Strangely, they don't remind me very much of the patterns they had at the time. In particular, I can't find any of these:


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I wonder if the flower pattern is related to the soil or some other environmental matter. In that connection it's interesting how pale the flower at the bottom of today's photo is.

Another thing that may be an environmental issue is the Pelargonium “Rhodo” that we planted last August. It's looking quite unhappy. Here its appearance then and now:


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Is there something wrong with the soil? In any case, took 5 cuttings, so if it dies we should have an alternative.


Apple USB problems
Topic: technology Link here

Yvonne took some photos today, and boskoop, my Apple G4, is the only machine that can read the memory card in the reader I have. In the past I have had a USB adapter connected to the USB port on the keyboard, but I removed that when I started using the laptop to connect via 3G, so I connected it directly to the keyboard (second photo).


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What happened?

 
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That's without the adapter (which draws a minuscule current to drive the LED). It's repeatable. Why should that happen?


Yet another power failure
Topic: general, technology Link here

Another power failure in the evening. This one was different: swamp, the machine I was using for building the new dereel, didn't like it and started screaming. Powered it down, to be looked at in the morning.


Saturday, 29 January 2011 Dereel Images for 29 January 2011
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Exposing the secret
Topic: technology Link here

Earlier this month I wrote about secret activities which I couldn't reveal at the time: next year's linux.conf.au will he held in Ballarat. That's by far the smallest town to ever have hosted such a conference, and we're quite busy trying to get our act together.


Networking: no improvement in sight
Topic: technology Link here

Into the office this morning to find that I had been disconnected from the net from 6:03 to 7:49, and again since 8:31. Called up Internode Support and spoke to Blake, but at 8:38, while I was speaking to him, the connection returned. He asked me a number of irrelevant questions: if I had tried it in another computer (yes, I had, some time ago), whether there was some kind of gunk on the USIM card (no, otherwise I wouldn't be able to communicate) and whether I had tried moving the modem to a different position (no, I have it connected to a Yagi antenna. He still wanted me to walk around, so I asked him if he knew what a Yagi antenna was. No. When I told him, he agreed that I didn't have to wander around the house. This time I didn't mention my previous ticket, and he happily opened another one.

The connection didn't last long. Went out to water the plants, and when I got back, discovered that the connection had gone down again at 9:03, and this time it stayed down. Round 9:15 called up support again, spoke to David, who told me there was nothing that could be done until I tried it in a different system. Got connected to his supervisor, Tarina, who confirmed: “The agreement we have with our wholesaler [Why do they never say Optus?] requires that the modem is tried out in a different computer”. What happens if people only have one computer? I can send in the modem and they'll check it out. But somehow I find that these scripts have too few decision branches. I pointed out the log messages:

Jan 29 09:16:00 cojones ppp[12200]: tun0: Chat: Send: ATD*99#^M
Jan 29 09:16:02 cojones ppp[12200]: tun0: Chat: Expect(40): CONNECT
Jan 29 09:16:02 cojones ppp[12200]: tun0: Chat: Received: ATD*99#^M^M
Jan 29 09:16:02 cojones ppp[12200]: tun0: Chat: Received: NO CARRIER^M
Jan 29 09:16:02 cojones ppp[12200]: tun0: Warning: Chat script failed

But that literal output of the modem, it seems, isn't clear enough. We need some toy GUI to report the messages correctly. Put the modem into boskoop, my Apple, and set it up. Why do these things always give me the impression that something's missing? In this case, it didn't ask for a user name. It did know the network name, so pressed Connect anyway, and got a confirmation, not just of the carrier status, but also of my opinion of these toy GUIs:

 
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I'm pretty sure that this is software that was delivered on the modem stick. “Please check phone line connection and try again”? Why do people do these things? But at any rate, Internode support were happy, and they promised to chase the issue. I hope they do: so far this connection has been even worse than satellite.

Interestingly, the signal strength was excellent—RSSI 22, where I normally have about 6. RSSI is in dB / 2, so that difference of 16 dB represents 32 db, a factor of about 2000 times. One possibility that I can think of is that some other signal is drowning the real signal, and the modem can no longer connect.

Asked Chris if I could borrow her Telstra modem, and played around with that. Had difficulty with the antenna connector; it looks the same, but made a mess of my plug while trying, and since the connection came back (at normal RSSI), I decided not to pursue that avenue any more.


System build, not continued
Topic: technology, general Link here

Had intended to continue my ports build today, but the gods decided otherwise. swamp, my test machine, is dead. On powering on it doesn't do anything except produce three long, sad beeps at regular intervals. Jürgen Lock pointed me at this list of beep codes, which suggests that this is faulty memory. Thanks, Powercor.


Winter tomatoes
Topic: gardening Link here

“Burkes Backyard” [sic] magazine for January included some seeds for “winter tomatoes”, which appear to be relatively cold-tolerant versions. I'm supposed to plant them now, so did so. It's clear that they won't tolerate frost, but it'll be interesting to see if they can survive and bear fruit in the greenhouse.


Fajitas: definitive version
Topic: cooking, technology Link here

Prepared some Fajitas for dinner this evening. That's the first time I've done it, and it was difficult to find a recipe. Only one of the four or so Mexican recipe books even mentions them, and I didn't think much of that recipe.

Fajitas must be one of the newest dishes around, even newer than magret de canard. The best guess as to the time of their introduction would be around 1970, and it's clear that they're Tex-Mex, not Mexican. Thus the lack of recipes in the books.

But what's a typical recipe? Looked around on the web and found very little, but this recipe looks like it has the beginnings of something, even if it has spaces in the URL (which can wrap nicely, breaking the URL), and it fails the w3c validator. In particular, it doesn't specify a character encoding, though both the validator and I decided it must be a Microsoft character set. It asks for “1ž4 cup Tequila”, whatever that may be. I checked if it was a character from another character set. The value is 0xbe, which is ¾ in ISO 8859-1. But that would make the quantity read “1¾4” cups, or about half a bottle.

Decided that 50 ml would be right; Yvonne, who was making up the marinade, decided on 60 ml, which also seems OK.

And grilling the meat? Did it on the barbecue, but I don't know if that was hot enough. Anyway, the results were OK. Here's the recipe.


Sunday, 30 January 2011 Dereel Images for 30 January 2011
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Building ports the new way
Topic: technology Link here

Over to Chris Yeardley today and borrowed an old machine from her (1.8 GHz Duron, 1 GB memory, more than enough for the test/build machine). Put my disks in it and discovered that—fortunately—they weren't damaged, so I was able to continue with my build process. I now have taken on board the suggestions I discussed last September: first fetch the ports with the non-intuitive make checksum-recursive, then configure them with make config-recursive (I got the sequence the wrong way round last time), and finally build them.

Things didn't quite go the way I expected them to. First, some of the checksum-recursive targets failed, either because they weren't there, or they didn't work correctly, so I had to ignore failures. That may come back to bite me later on. And yes, the checksum-recursive target fetches the tarballs. But first it checks if the dependencies are installed. If not, it fetches its idea of which version it should be, not necessarily the default, so I now have (for example) two different tarballs for MySQL:

-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  22340514 Jan 30 11:36 mysql-5.0.91.tar.gz
-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  23672236 Jan 30 14:13 mysql-5.1.54.tar.gz

It's also amazing to not the sheer size of some of these tarballs:

-rw-r--r--  1 root  lemis  211768512 Jan 30 12:26 KDE/qt-everywhere-opensource-src-4.7.1.tar.gz

Mercifully, that's the biggest one (the next largest is “only” 67 MB), and fortunately I didn't get two of them, but all in all I downloaded about 1 GB of data.

Finally started building. And again things failed on me. I can go back and look at that later on, so made a double loop on the builds: the first time round, try to build everything and continue if anything fails. Then go back and try again, stopping on any error. It'll be tomorrow at the earliest before I find out any more details.


Flowers in summer
Topic: gardening, photography Link here

Last Sunday of the month, time to take photos of the flowers in the garden. I'm surprised how many there are; with only a few duplicates I came to a total of 142 photos. I've now taken over 19,000 photos with this camera, which must be more than the total taken with all other cameras I've ever owned.

And how are the flowers? They look nice, some of them, but that's about all. Maybe I need a different way to display them. Of note are a Begonia that has popped up in the middle succulent bed, to the north of the verandah:


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I don't know where it comes from, but it seems to be doing well enough. So is the Fuchsia that was feeling so unhappy this time last year, now that it's in the shade:


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The Lonicera that got burnt earlier this month seems to have recovered well after being put on the verandah. It didn't flower, but now it has berries. Here the first Lonicera after flowering, then the one with the berries:


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I wonder what causes that.


GOrmet sourdough
Topic: cooking, opinion Link here

A while back I started watching a series on TV called GOrmet farmer, about a bloke who left the big smoke and moved into the (Tasmanian) countryside to live off the land. I didn't continue beyond the first or second episode: I didn't think it was very good. But today's episode was titled “Bread”, and the description indicated that this was about sourdough, so I recorded it to take a look.

Clearly this isn't about how to bake sourdough. The details of the baking process are as good as non-existent. He started by buying the wrong kind of flour (despite being warned) and went off to somebody else to get a starter (an amazing amount of it), which he called “mother”. He didn't even contemplate the possibility of using any grain except wheat. And to taste the bread, he first poured lots of ridiculously expensive olive oil ($90 per bottle) over it.

OK, so this is obviously not a cooking programme. But what good is it? Why does he always do things wrong? Is that supposed to be funny, instructive, or what? I don't understand the point of the programme.


Fajitas don't reheat
Topic: cooking Link here

We greatly overestimated the meat required for the fajitas yesterday, and we had nearly half the meat left over, as well as a few tortillas, so tried eating them. Not a success: the meat tastes pretty rough after being reheated, and the tortillas crumble. This is something to finish at the first sitting.


Monday, 31 January 2011 Dereel
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previous day

Network problems, more insights
Topic: technology Link here

Another dropout this morning, 10 minutes between 3:03 and 3:13. And later I got a call from Paul at Internode support with the information that Optus (“our wholesaler”) had called to say that the problem had been solved. They didn't give any details; it seems that they never do. Discussed the matter for a while, and discovered that yes, indeed, the PPP session had been up since Saturday. So the issue is not so much dropouts as complete congestion: nothing gets through. I wonder how long it takes the PPP session to time out.

Spent some time adapting my failure statistics program to the new form of the table (with a “link statistics” field that is a float). It shows pretty much what I expected:

Start time End time  Duration   Badness        from                    to
                     (seconds)

1295921332 1295923351   2019	  0.424	# 25 January 2011 13:08:52 25 January 2011 13:42:31
1296064693 1296064790     97	  0.025	# 27 January 2011 04:58:13 27 January 2011 04:59:50
1296067519 1296067550     31	  1.319	# 27 January 2011 05:45:19 27 January 2011 05:45:50
1296068695 1296068709     14	  3.144	# 27 January 2011 06:04:55 27 January 2011 06:05:09
1296232719 1296232743     24	  0.022	# 29 January 2011 03:38:39 29 January 2011 03:39:03
1296241499 1296247763   6264	  0.411	# 29 January 2011 06:04:59 29 January 2011 07:49:23
1296250270 1296250681    411	  1.436	# 29 January 2011 08:31:10 29 January 2011 08:38:01
1296252196 1296257207   5011	  2.376	# 29 January 2011 09:03:16 29 January 2011 10:26:47
1296329119 1296329863    744	  0.050	# 30 January 2011 06:25:19 30 January 2011 06:37:43
1296403437 1296404013    576	  0.049	# 31 January 2011 03:03:57 31 January 2011 03:13:33

Total 85 outages, total time 120717 seconds (1 days, 09:31:57)
Average time between outages:	34520 seconds (09:35:20)
Average duration:		1420 seconds (00:23:40)
Availability:			95.89%
      

It confirms my suspicion that the link is even less reliable than the satellite connection, where the summary statistics are:

Total 1684 outages, total time 792001 seconds (9 days, 04:00:01)
Average time between outages:	56449 seconds (15:40:49)
Average duration:		470 seconds (00:07:50)
Availability:			99.17%
      

The 3G connection is probably not really quite that bad, since some of it has been experimentation, but one of the reasons I changed from satellite was because of the unreliability. So far it's out of the frying pan and into the fire.

But what are the causes? I can see about 4 different issues:

  1. Congestion. Normal ping times are round 100 ms. I see groups of times which go up to about 1.5 seconds at vaguely regular intervals, as shown in the way the “link status” field regularly bottoms out at about 0.3 in this display:

    3G stats

    It's puzzling that this happens so regularly, even at times when you wouldn't expect congestion.

  2. Optus maintenance work. A surprising number of the dropouts occur in the middle of the night, today's for example. It's difficult to attribute that to congestion, and since the PPP link didn't drop, it has to be something in between.

  3. Software problems in the Optus mobile network. Optus confirmed a couple of weeks ago that they had had problems that were worked around by rebooting some component of the Linton tower.

  4. Interference. I'm beginning to think that Saturday's outage was caused by massive interference from some other, much stronger source. But how do you find that out?

One thing that it doesn't seem to be is signal strength. Even when RSSI drops to 1 or 2 I get the same connection quality.


Building ports, continued
Topic: technology Link here

So now I'm in a position to build all the ports on the new machine, and spent all day doing so. Not without surprises:

None of these are serious, just irritating. I could enter PRs, but it seems that the general mentality of the ports maintainers doesn't see an issue in any of this. As an example, on IRC:

gr0Ogle: ===>  linux_base-f10-10_3 linuxulator is not (kld)loaded.
gr0Ogle: *** Error code 1
gr0Ogle: What's that crap?
gr0Ogle: Do I need another port first?
MavvieRVBD: exactly what is means.
gr0Ogle: It's broken?
gr0Ogle: kldload linux
gr0Ogle: Stupid port.
AlephNull: I agree.  The port should do the kldload itself.
callum: Don't you need linux_enable="YES" in rc.conf?
gr0Ogle: Yes, sort of.
gr0Ogle: I'm building from scratch, remmber?
gr0Ogle: But if I build a port that has dependencies, the port should install those dependencies.
gr0Ogle: That's how the system should work.
MavvieRVBD: send patches.
gr0Ogle: MavvieRVBD: No, the average ports maintainer doesn't want to know.
callum: it didn't complain it wasn't installed, it complained it wasn't loaded.
MavvieRVBD: maybe they disagree with your view.
gr0Ogle: MavvieRVBD: Exactly.
MavvieRVBD: -P
gr0Ogle: ===>  rsync-3.0.7 flags and atimes can't be enabled simultaneously. Please rerun 'make config' and disable one of them.
gr0Ogle: *** Error code 1
gr0Ogle: So why doesn't it tell me at config time?
gr0Ogle: send patches.

MavvieRVBD is Edwin Groothuis, and he's a friend. Imagine what the others are like.


Too warm to work
Topic: gardening, general Link here

Another day with over 40°—in fact, with 41.9°, the hottest day so far this year, so we didn't do very much outside. Yvonne dug out our sick-looking Pelargonium “Rhodo” and put it in a pot. It's still looking pretty unhappy:


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Pelargoniums are pretty tough, though, and I still have hopes that it'll recover. I wish I knew what the problem was, though.


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