Finally summer is over! And what a summer! The temperatures broke all records, we had the
worst fires in history, and there was almost no rainfall: only 119.3 mm, of which 83.2 fell
in a period of a little over 24 hours, most of which then soaked away had no effect on the
soil; the rest was only 36.1 mm, most of which fell in December. The dam has been
completely dry for weeks:
A normal summer's rainfall is a relatively even 134 mm:
December (29 days)
As if to mark the transition of seasons, today we got some (very little) rain, 0.5 mm, and
it was quite cool all day long. But things aren't over; the Bureau of Meteorology was
forecasting 36° and high winds for Tuesday, and there are
more warnings of bushfires.
Spent much of the day inside researching photo processing software. There's a new raw
processing package, Raw Therapee, which
looks quite impressive. In particular, there is written documentation,
though of course no man page, and a comparison page shows clearly that it does
demosaicing much better than almost
any other converter, including most commercial offerings. That page is a little hard to
understand; you select a picture and a section of a picture, then two different conversions
at the right; moving the mouse cursor on to the image changes between the one in the left
column to the one in the right column. The differences are impressive, for example here the
comparison with Raw Therapee (left) and Adobe Camera Raw (right):
Downloaded the Linux version to try it out, and I was less happy. I couldn't work out how
to load an image; it seems that the only way is to select a “folder” from the tiny toy directory tree at
Well, at least they gave me the option of selecting my own directory. So I
selected ., the current directory. No go from two points of view: firstly,
it converted it to the name of the current directory, something that it arguably shouldn't
know about, and secondly, it didn't abide by it; I still got the toy tree starting at the
root file system.
Yes, it's difficult to specify a working directory to a program started from the display
manager. The more I think of it, the more this seems to be the root of one of my main
dislikes of this kind of software: it breaks the file system hierarchy.
So, it's open source, right? I can fix it myself, right? No. It's shareware, and it comes
pre-compiled, which also makes it difficult for me to use it on FreeBSD. Round about here I got so frustrated that I
gave up. Is there no software any more that understands file systems?
About the only program that came up with better demosaicing than Raw Therapee was DxO. Went looking at
that, and of course it has the same problems. Thought of trying the free demo anyway and
discovered that it comes in two versions, one
costing double the cost of the other—and with identical specifications! It took a
while to discover that the real difference is the number of supported camera/lens pairs. It
seems that only the expensive version supports the more expensive cameras. In the process
discovered a real show-stopper: it doesn't support Olympus at all, so, currently at
least, it's useless to me.
More investigation of Raw Therapee. It
seems that it will take a command line argument (but one only!) with the name of an
image to process. I suppose I should overcome my revulsion against the current GUI approach
and find a way to use these things.
In the afternoon, did some bird photography (in this
honeyeaters) with the combination of the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED
70-300mm F4.0-5.6 telephoto and the EC-20 teleconverter.
It's not easy, and despite what people say, the lack of a tripod mount on the lens is a real
pain. Focus is always an issues, but the biggest problem proved to be the exposure: the
bird bath is quite light, and the background is dark, stretching the capabilities of a
In the evening, sitting on the verandah, the CFA siren sounded a couple of times. Given the current situation, decided to go and
see what was going on. Proved to be a stove fire
in Rokewood, which was reported as
finished while I was there. About the only useful information I got was that the siren
would continue to sound if there were a danger for the population at large; I assume that
the short blasts were to call the volunteers, though you'd think they'd have something more
modern than that.
Also discussed the other recent fires; as I had
suspected, people think it's arson.
In this morning to discover that dereel was down, without power: the UPS was not
running. Why? The power failure last night was only 2 seconds long. Was this a power spike?
Apart from the 2 hours fsck, this had also interrupted the backup of the /home
file system (330 GB), which had been going for 30 hours at the time.
boskoop was not only down; it had also forgotten time, and the time was reset to some
random value. How do you set the time on an Apple? I'm sure there's a user-friendly mouse
click combination (try doing that with your eyes closed), but there's also the good old
UNIX date(1) program. Or is it the good old UNIX one?
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 1 -> date 200903031003.47 date: illegal time format
usage: date [-nu] [-r seconds] [+format]
Wasn't that what I had just input? Played around a bit and found:
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 2 -> date 200903031004 date: illegal time
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 3 -> date 0903031004 Fri Sep 3 03:10:00 EST 2004
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 4 -> date 0303100609 Tue Mar 3 11:06:00 EST 2009
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 5 -> date 0303090609 Tue Mar 3 09:06:00 EST 2009
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp2) /Users/grog 6 -> date 0303100609 Tue Mar 3 10:06:00 EST 2009
Reading the man page shows that they've changed the sequence of the digits; the usage string
shows the old way, [[[[[cc]yy]mm]dd]hh]mm[.ss], but the man page
shows mmddhhmm[[cc]yy]. What a violation of POLA! What a mess!
I had just got things back up and running, but hadn't got round to restarting the backup,
when we had another 2 second power
failure. Again it took out the UPS. What's the problem there? I've only had that
UPS for 20 months; the batteries can't be dead.
Decided that it was high time to fix the problems with the backup. The existing setup had
several major disadvantages:
It ran for up to 42 hours because it dumped the entire file system (in this case, 330 GB,
potentially 450 GB) through bzip2, which of course ran on only 1 CPU and used about
70% of the elapsed time as CPU time.
It was done with dump, which is non-portable.
Restoring a file from one of these behemoth dumps (round 200 GB) takes even longer than
doing the dump in the first place.
I need to investigate what's available on the Net, but for the time being decided to update
a script I have to make tar archives of individual directories, and then pass it
through my by program to run multiple concurrent
dumps, thus spreading the load across all CPUs. That went relatively well; by the evening I
had dumped all file systems except my home directory, which probably makes up more than half
the total data on the disk. I need to refine this to specify which directories should be
split into subdirectories.
The new satellite modem may be working better than the old one, but it's still by no means
perfect. While copying data to the web site, got the message:
As forecast, the weather was terrible today. The Bureau of Meteorology had changed
its prediction of temperatures from 36° to 32° and then to 28°, and in fact we got 30°, but
the high winds remained as predicted, making quite a mess in the process:
That's all dust, not smoke. But we forgot to close the windows, and when I went into the
bathroom I found dust everywhere, including on the white serviette that I use for cleaning my
glasses, and also left a clearly visible footprint in the dust on the floor:
We're still on edge because of fires. They had called a community meeting in the Hall this
evening at 19:00, and I had the DSE fire
site running on a dedicated monitor all day. There weren't many fires—only 5 or
6 the in the state for the whole day—but two came at once round 15:45, and one was a
10 ha fire in Swanson Road, Dereel, only a couple of kilometres from us. Out to take a look, and
saw a couple of planes circling:
We've long since decided that if we're in the path of a serious fire, there's no way we can
save the house. Our strategy is to pack up our most valuable things, drive to the middle of
the paddock and wait. Got Yvonne to start implementing the
first part of that plan: move the horses to another paddock where they're less likely to be
in the way.
As the instructions go, listened to ABC local radio to hear what was going on. That was
pretty useless: they had got the time of the start wrong, and they didn't have any more
information than on the web. And, of course, you have to wait until they get round to
Down to the CFA shed again, where a lot more was going on than yesterday evening. They had
blocked the main road:
Spoke to a CFA bloke who told me they were hoping to contain it before the wind, currently
from the north, turned to the west, which they expected in about an hour. Either way there
was no danger to us, since we were to the north-west of the fire.
That's about all I saw of the fire. Clearly they had better things to do than talk to me,
so turned around to go home, then found Loes Pearson outside her house, so in to talk to
her. It seems that the fire was the other side of the airstrip, really closer to Savage
Hill Road than Swanson Road, and was mainly in grassland, which is just as well: it would
have been much more dangerous if it had been in the bush. Once again there's talk of arson.
Hopefully the arsonist will get caught by the police and not somebody else.
Back home to find CJ and Sue, who had heard of the fire and wanted to see if they could
help. While we were talking, the overhead planes disappeared, and round the same time
(17:15) the DSE site reported that
the fire (now only 8 ha) had been contained. As if to make the point, it started
raining—not much, but the psychological effect was considerable.
Round to the Hall at 19:00—nobody had been able to tell me if the meeting was still
on, but of course it had been cancelled. There must have been 20 fire trucks parked next to
the CFA shed. At least it looks as if they're on top of it.
5 mm of rain overnight! It's not much, but it's more than in either January or February.
It's also a lot cooler.
I should have done some brewing today, but I was still feeling rather limp, and there's
still a lot of wind, which would have made it more difficult, so without a really good
reason, postponed it yet again.
It'll survive, of course—we only bought it four months
ago as a tiny pot—but it looks like it would be a good idea to transplant it
somewhere where it's not as windy.
The weather remained moist throughout the day. I kept my eye on the DSE fire site display, which showed no further
report of the Dereel fire. In mid-afternoon it just disappeared. That could be a sign that
the fire had been completely extinguished, but with that site I just can't tell. The good
news, though, was that there was considerable rain east of Melbourne, and by evening two of
the four big fires that had been burning out of control since “Black Saturday” had been contained. We can do with a lot more rain,
though; most of this will just soak away.
A bit more work in the garden, planting
more Calendulas, but got interrupted by
rain. Somehow the stress of the last month is taking its toll.
It's now dryer, so we can do some work in the garden, despite my current complete lack of
motivation. Finally finished planting the row
of Calendulas. Also collected a large
number of Nasturtium seeds; I wonder
when the best time to plant them is.
The best guess was that it's a walkie-talkie, but Uniden are better known for cordless phones. Whatever it was, they seem to have gone
to great pains to hide the identity. We couldn't find out either, because the present was
something completely different, just wrapped up in this packaging. But why do manufacturers
make it so difficult for potential purchasers to find out what an item is?
Phil Conroy later told me that Uniden originally made walkie-talkies, and only later got
involved in cordless photos. But that doesn't help people who didn't know that background,
and it doesn't definitely identify the object.
V/Line: perfecting obfuscation
What's V/Line? That's a good question. They
used to be called VicRail, which could have given you the impression that they're a railway
company. They are a railway company, of course, but they clearly don't want you to
get that impression. They're trying to spread as much confusion as possible:
What does V/Line mean, anyway? Nothing, of course. That's what makes it such a good
name. Doubtless the / in “V/Line” is intended to confuse people who accidentally type it into
One of the two main railway stations in Melbourne is Spencer St station. No prizes for
guessing where it is; well, not in the old, obsolete days. Now some bright spark has
called it “Southern
Cross Station”, presumably because it's in the west of Melbourne, and he
wouldn't want people to guess where it really is. Doubtless it also helps that there
already is a Southern Cross
Station in Australia. Doubtless people will get used to the name, so I predict
they'll realise that the
name Eureka would fit it
better. They could always keep the name “Southern Cross” and apply it to
Flinders St station, but that has the obvious disadvantage of being in the south of the
city and thus not as misleading as it could be.
How do you get from Melbourne
to Adelaide? There's a train line,
or there used to be. And I claimed on IRC today that it doesn't go
through Ballarat, which makes sense
when you consider that Ballarat is up in the hills. So we checked V/Line's “Plan
your journey” facility. I know the train leaves from Spencer St (all trains to
the north and west do), so I entered “Melbourne, Spencer St Station”. But
V/Line has so completely expunged the memory of this name that they obviously decided to
play a game with me:
What do any of those names (except for the three in Melbourne) have to do
with the name I entered? I can (only barely) understand that they refuse to admit the
old name of their biggest station, but what do Sale, Maffra, Kangaroo Flat and Ballarat
have to do with the string I entered? Can't their search machine recognize
“Melbourne”, where 75% of the state population live? Of course it can.
Clearly they're just trying to annoy me.
So I chose to start my journey at “Melbourne: Flinders Street”, because I
don't want to use the name “Southern Cross”. In passing it's interesting to
note that they punctuate both names differently. But they wouldn't let me get away with
Surprise, surprise! The rail journey that I recalled was direct, but here you had to
change in Geelong, Ballarat
and Horsham. And in
Horsham they want you to change at Horsham Police Station. Clearly there are no trains
there. What's this all about?
Looking more carefully, I discover that the journey to Geelong is on a “V/Line
train”, and the rest of the journey is in a “V/Line coach”. Just one
coach out of a train? No, more obfuscation.
The Oxford English Dictionary clearly has
dozens of definitions for “coach”. The most obvious one is 1d, “A
railway carriage”. But that's not the one V/Line uses; that would be too simple.
Instead, they have found a way to hide the meaning: they use the English word
“coach” to mean what Australians call a bus. Of course, I could have been
unluckier and gone via Bendigo in a
“V/Line Intercity”. Even the OED gives up on that.
But why go to Ballarat why via train to Geelong and then a bus, when there's a direct
rail line to Ballarat? They want you to leave Spencer St at 6:55 and not leave Ballarat
until 11:00. Isn't there a faster way to Ballarat?
Checking the connections between Melbourne and Ballarat gives the same nonsense: if you
select just “Melbourne” and “Ballarat”, you're given a you have
to specify the name of the correct station.
But once you guess the correct answers, yes, there's a train leaving at 9:08 and
arriving at 10:37. Why didn't they offer that one? Sadly, I can't use this one as an
example of obfuscation; it's just program breakage.
But what about the train to Adelaide? Does it no longer run? Yes, it does, but it's run by the Great Southern Railway, clearly a railway company, and
not V/Line. And it doesn't go through Ballarat. V/Line promises to connect to them,
and I suspect the main reason is that they don't know how to organize their timetable.
All in all, an excellent obfuscation, worthy of the “state of the art” on the
“Internet”. But they have
competition in the area of bad timetables: I think all railway companies are working on the
principle of maximum annoyance. For unrelated reasons, in the evening we checked how long
it takes to get
from Newcastle on Tyne
to London in England. The first surprise
was that British Rail has changed its name too, to the much more ambiguous National Rail. After a bit of searching we were
presented with connections that took between 3 and 10 hours. The first to leave was the
last to arrive. Of course, maybe there's a difference in fare, but you wouldn't want to see
the fares on the same page as the timetable, would you?
Clearly something's wrong with my main UPS, which I bought less
than 2 years ago: when I came into the office, it had powered down, though there had
been no power failure. Time for a new UPS? It's annoying, anyway, to say the least.
As a result, my Apple boskoop had forgotten what century we were in and taken us back
to 1970. Now I know how to use Apple's incarnation of date(1), but things still
didn't work quite as I expected:
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) /Users/grog 4 -> date 030711002009 Sat Mar 7 12:00:00 EST 2009
=== root@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) /Users/grog 5 -> date 030711002009 Sat Mar 7 11:00:00 EST 2009
Clearly a problem with DST: there was no DST in 1970. I wonder if other implementations
have the same bug.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the new tripod by itself isn't good enough; these
modern ball heads really don't have much to recommend them. I wonder why they're so
popular. On the other hand, I've made so many sub-optimal choices on eBay recently that maybe I should go to a camera shop and
take a look at things hands-on.
I've had feedback about this statement suggesting that I had just chosen a poor ball
head. That's a matter of opinion: I'm talking about a pure ball head here, not one with
additional adjustments like for panning.
Living with the GIMP
In the course of a discussion on IRC, discovered that the photos I took in Sorrento in
March 2006 hadn't been reprocessed, so spent quite a bit
of time doing that, not helped by the fact that I had changed cameras
in Amalfi on 19 March 2006, and I had taken a number of photos with the new camera before setting the time, so
they have invalid EXIF date data, and also
confused my automatic sorting mechanism.
The real issue, though, was that the exposure of many of the photos was sub-optimal. So
decided to use the GIMP to fix them, and achieved
My issues with the GIMP remain. I'm getting used to using it now, but it is painful.
And it doesn't need to be. Here a couple of things that annoy me:
You can specify images to process on the command line, but it opens a separate window
for each. Clearly there are cases where this is an advantage, but for processing a
series of photos it just adds clutter and uses up surprising quantities of memory. It
would be nice to have the behaviour of other programs, such as xv and ufraw, where you give a list and it
processes them one at a time.
If you don't specify your files on the command line, you have to select them from
a directory listing. This listing then disappears, and you need to enter c-o to
get it back for the next image. And since o is on the right hand side of the
keyboard, this means moving your hand from the mouse to the keyboard and back to the
mouse for every image.
It also appears to be buggy. On one occasion it showed all directory entries twice:
The most common transform I use is the curve transform to change exposure. But it goes
away once you've done with it, and you need multiple mouse clicks to get it back again.
Once you've saved the image (which it will happily do even if a file of that name already
exists), you need to close the window with c-w.
I was going to come up with suggestions for how to make this work flow easier, but it's long
since been done: xv has been available unchanged for nearly 15 years. You specify a
list of files, it processes them one by one, giving you a directory list that you can select
from, and it has the option of remembering settings from one image to the next. Surely
somebody can put something like that (or, of course, better) into the GIMP. But I have the
feeling that most people don't find anything wrong with this suboptimal work flow.
Carola Schlanhoff has been publishing a description of her visit to Australia on the German
“Clickerreiter” mailing list, which is run by Yahoo!. Some of the observations are amusing: for example,
the things that she found most interesting about the house were the lack of double glazing
and the number of cookery books in the kitchen.
She also posted a link to my photos of Sovereign Hill, but to the “small” version, which requires quite a bit of
downloading. I had tried to answer to the list, but of course my sender address was
rejected, so I used Carola's. That surprised her, and I had to explain how little security
the sender address was, and that in particular toy MUAs would hide the real email address.
So Carola (who uses Thunderbird) wanted to know which MUAs were toys, at least according to this
attribute, and I set off to find out. Probably all of them will hide the email address if
you ask them to, but it seems that out of the box Apple Mail and Microsoft
“Outlook” show the address, while Microsoft “Outlook Express”
follows the minimalist approach and shows almost nothing. Here the headers, first as shown
by mutt, then by “Outlook
I've already noted that my long telephoto shots of the birds in the bird bath are badly
metered. Spent some time today comparing the various metering modes available for the
Unfortunately Olympus doesn't seem to store the metering information in the place
that exif expects it, so the EXIF
information for the following photos doesn't make a distinction between the last three
modes, which it all reports as “spot”. They're in the sequence on the in-camera
menu: “Digital ESP”, Centre-weighted averaging, Spot, “HI Spot” and
“SH Spot”. The results were surprisingly different:
I was using aperture priority exposure, so the combination of ISO value and shutter speed
give the relative exposure. Clearly spot metering (the real one, the third image above,
shot at 1/400 s and 100 ISO) is the one I need here. By comparison, the first shot
(“Digital ESP”, at 1/200 s and 200 ISO) is 2.0 EV more exposure, the second
(centre-weighted averaging, 1/250 s at 200 ISO) is about 1.8 EV more, the fourth (“HI
Spot”, 1/320 s at 400 ISO) is about 2.3 EV more, and the last (“SH Spot”,
1/3200 s at 100 ISO) is 3.0 EV less exposure.
Into the office this morning to hear a strange noise, which proved to be coming from the
UPS. It was still running, but it sounded as if the fan was not turning properly. That
could be the explanation for the failures I've had recently. I'll look at it more carefully
next time it fails.
Finally I ran out of excuses, so out riding with Yvonne today, and for once nothing went wrong and we rode for quite some time. Also passed part of
the area of last week's bushfire, which was
considerably closer to us than I had thought, in Swanson Road, as the report said.
That's the fire emblem next to the airstrip (how can you link to a Google map in a way that
highlights a specific tag?).
I don't know if that was all of the damage done by the bushfire, but it wasn't very much.
According to the report, 8 ha had been burnt; I'd have difficulty to see 1 ha here, and the
damage wasn't very serious. In particular, many of the burnt trees still had green leaves
We're finally getting round to our next building project, an extension to the stable, so CJ
over this morning to pick me up and off to Lal Lal Demolitions to pick up some second-hand timber and corrugated iron. That
took a while, and by the time we got back we decided to call it a day. Hopefully this
project will be done a lot more quickly than the verandah.
Mail from Phil Conroy this morning, about my “Uniden: practicing obfuscation” article. It seems that Uniden do indeed make walkie-talkies—in fact
they've been making them longer than cordless phones—but I didn't know that, and the
web site didn't help much. Still, “obfuscation” is probably the wrong term, so
I've changed it.
The weather's cooler now, though still not nearly moist enough. We got some rain overnight,
but when I went to measure it, the bottom of the measuring cylinder was barely moist; I'd
guess 50 µm of rain. Maybe I should start measuring in µm instead of mm.
CJ and I had planned to start working on the new stable today, but it started to rain, and
since he wanted to get all the posts in in a morning, it didn't sound like the best of days
for that, so instead he came over and cut off some branches.
Finally some rain! A relatively heavy rain front passed
over Ballarat, leaving 3 mm of rainfall
in a short time. Later another front came through further south, leaving 5.4 mm
in Melbourne. And here? A drop or
two, not even enough to moisten the bottom of the rain gauge.
I have had Chris Yeardley's JVC GR-DVL820EA video
camera here for over a week, while I try to get an MPEG stream off it. It's carefully
labelled with all sorts of slogans (“DV IN/OUT”, “USB connectivity”,
“Provided Software”, “MPEG-4”), all in interesting contrast to the
practice of not identifying the packaging, as I saw recently with Uniden. But Chris has long since lost the “Provided
Software”, and connecting it to computers via USB
or FireWire (which the slogans forgot to
mention) did nothing useful. boskoop didn't even recognize it on the USB bus, though
it refused to “sleep” while it was connected. It did recognize it on the
FireWire interface, but didn't do anything useful. I'd at least hope for a storage device.
In the process of connecting the FireWire cable, discovered an old photo of the office,
taken on 15 August 2007. Things have changed in the last 18 months:
I've recently got access to Safari books
online, and today I spent some time reading up on photography, “Complete Digital
Photography” by Ben Long. It's refreshing in that it doesn't presuppose too
much AdobePhotoshop (though I see a
criticism in the Amazon reviews that it is too Photoshop-centric). In any case, it
gives a more balanced overview of postprocessing techniques, unfortunately not teaching me
much that I didn't already know. One thing I have always found amazing is the concept of
“nondestructive editing”, which is praised again and again. It's rather like
praising a web browser for not destroying the source page when you print it: it should be so
obvious that the input data stays unchanged, and that you make copies. But just recently
I've seen with the GIMP that it will happily
overwrite the input files. Somehow this software still has a long way to go, and it's
things like this that keep me from trying it out.
In the course of looking for a new UPS recently, an interesting dichotomy has become
apparent: UPSs are rated in VA
while most computer equipment is rated in
In DC technology, the two units
are the same, but in AC there's the
issue of phase shift with capacitive and (mainly) inductive loads, which shift the phase
relationship between voltage and current; then the formula is P (Watts) = E (Volts) * I
(Ampères) * cos φ, where φ is the phase shift. cos φ is often referred to as
the Power factor.
So what's the cos φ of a computer power supply? Typically around 0.95. So a 1000 VA
UPS should deliver about 950 W. In fact, UPS manufacturers lie. The least dishonest, such
as APC, specify a cos φ of 0.7, while the
fly-by-night UPSs sold on eBay have 0.65 or even
0.6. So that 500 VA UPS can't handle the 400 W power supply that draws 420 VA.
Not everybody lies like that, of course. Today Yvonne came
back from shopping with a 1200 W generator from ALDI, on special this week, which we had intended primarily to run our 550 W bore
pump in case of fire. From their web site:
The instruction manual is the only place which explains things. It's 1000 W, with a short
overload to 1200 W; if you draw over 1000 W for more than a short period, the circuit
breaker will trip.
And the cos φ? It's specified as 1, which works only for purely resistive loads. These
generators are usually used to drive motors, highly inductive units with a low cos φ.
What counts then? The Watt rating or the (implicit) VA rating? Our bore pump has a cos
φ of 0.69, so the 550 W continuous current correspond to 800 VA. That's still in the
rated capacity of the generator, but that's the continuous rating at 220 V (never
mind that the Australian Standard specifies 230 V). The generator doesn't pay much
attention to Australian Standards either: it delivers 240 V, if you believe that particular
But power usage usually increases in proportion to the square of the voltage. So a unit
that uses 550 W (80 VA) at 220 V will use 650 W (950 VA) at 240 V, which is getting
dangerously close to the limitation of the circuit breaker if it's really specified in VA.
And the surge current of the pump? I don't have information about that. But the
instruction manual gives an example of a 600 W angle grinder that uses 1800 W surge on
startup: the generator can't handle that.
The really annoying thing, though, is the amount of work I needed to find out this
information. Most people won't recognize the issues, or won't bother to follow up. Many
will have problems as a result. I hope it won't be in the middle of a bushfire.
The FreeBSD project changed over to Subversion nearly a year ago, and it's taken
me this long to get my head round the things that I need to change. I've been maintaining a
local copy of the FreeBSD repository for about 10 years now, but Subversion doesn't make
that easy. It can be done, but after one attempt to set one up, decided that it was time to
use a properly distributed method. Today was my first commit with the new system, some code
submitted by Daniel O'Connor, and it certainly worked better than my first CVS commit.
Finally it's raining! Gordon, the farrier, came along, took one look, and decided to go
shopping in Ballarat with his wife instead of attending to the horses; he'll be back in two
weeks. We got a total of 17 mm of rain in the course of the day. That doesn't sound like
much, and it isn't, as the photos of the dam show, but it's as almost much as much as the
total rainfall we had had this year, only 19.6 mm.
While he was here, Gordon noticed the ALDI
generator: it seems he has something very similar himself, and he's quite happy with
it, and he thinks it should run the bore pump with no problems. So I suppose it is
worth the investment of oil and petrol to try it out.
Power failure in the morning, and of
course the UPS died again. Swapped it with the UPS in the lounge room, which wasn't really
doing much, but it also wasn't really big enough. In the process, discovered something
dripping out of the casing. So it looks as if something is really wrong with it.
Heard from James Maurer of the ACM: they've added
this diary (“blog”) to their ACM queue web site. That's an honour, but also an obvious problem: this diary isn't just about
computers, and probably the average ACM member isn't interested in the issues of keeping
kangaroos out of the garden. Clearly it would make sense to be able to select the content.
I'm sure that there are plenty of packages out there that will do that sort of thing their
way. But I want to do it my way, and that requires thought. The first thing that
occurred to me was to just comment things out, so wrote some code to do that. Now the
source looks like (for example a paragraph above):
<?php cat ("o"); ?>
While he was there, Gordon noticed the <?php href ("http://www.aldi.com.au/", "ALDI
generator"); ?>: it seems he has something very similar himself, and he's quite happy with
it, and he thinks it should run the bore pump with no problems. So I suppose it <i>is</i>
worth the investment of oil and petrol to try it out.
<?php endcat (); ?>
The argument to cat () is a single letter out of the set:
* c computers
* g gardening
* h household
* k cooking
* m music
* o opinion
* p photography
That was surprisingly easy to implement, and it works quite well, but there are a number of
things that would still need to be done:
I really need to be able to flag sections with more than one category. This works in
URLs, but currently not in the call to cat ().
I need to put a selection menu at the top.
Both of those can be done, of course, but there's another problem: what do I do with days
where nothing matches the selection? At the moment the header still appears, which looks a
little silly. I still need to think that one over, so for the moment I won't do anything.
This also means that the links above may one day fail to show the expected behaviour.
One thing I suppose readers are going to have to accept it that there may be a lack of
continuity in limited views: in reality, there may be relations between seemingly unrelated
things, like Gordon coming to trim the horses (household) and the generator (opinion). I
can't see a good way of avoiding these discontinuities.
I changed this implementation, and also solved (or maybe worked around) the issues, on
16 March 2009. I also changed the name “category” to
the arguably more descriptive “topic”.
Into the office to find that dereel had hung up and was completely unresponsive. No
loss of power. Rebooted it and the automatic fsck failed with soft update
inconsistencies. That happens surprisingly often, and the manual fsck worked fine,
as it always seems to do in these cases. But the strange thing about it was that all
the inodes that failed had a modification timestamp before yesterday's crash, apparently
relating to my repository update job done at 04:00 yesterday morning. It's not unreasonable
to think that this morning's update might have been the cause of the crash. But why are
there inconsistencies left behind after a previous run of fsck?
For quite some time two of my strawberry plants have had no fruit whatsoever; I think that's
a combination of lack of moisture and lack of fertilizer. I've added more fertilizer a few
weeks back, and the weather has helped with the rest, but not things are looking better.
Found a couple of strawberries on one of them, lifted the protective mesh, and they came off
with it—one of them still unripe. Further investigation showed that the unripe one
was stuck in the mesh, and the ripe one had grown right around the wire of the mesh:
While waiting for fsck to finally finish, did some more work in the garden. Wired up
the Hardenbergia, which is
looking quite happy. I wonder if it will flower before winter; it should only flower in
A couple of days ago I read an interesting suggestion in “Complete Digital
Photography”: don't erase image files on flash cards, re“format” them (i.e. create a new, empty file
system). The rationale is that erasing files could corrupt metadata, and you could end up
with lost data. It seems ridiculous, but I've had it myself. So I tried out the idea
yesterday, cleverly with the new 2GB xD card I bought last month. It took forever to build the file system, so I decided that
was a “now and then” idea. But today I found another disadvantage: it
overwrites the volume name, so boskoop mounts it on the emetic mount
point /Volumes/NO NAME, with a space in it. I won't do that again in a hurry.
In the afternoon, took another look at the defective UPS. I don't know where the liquid
came from yesterday, but it doesn't seem to have come from the UPS, which looks quite clean.
One of the batteries had a voltage of 12.7 V, about what you'd expect from a battery that
had come off charge 36 hours ago, but the other had a voltage of only 7 V. So it is
a battery problem after all, and the brain-dead circuitry didn't notice. The only problem
is that it's put together in such a way that I can't even find out what kind of battery it
is without taking it apart:
Also took a look at my old Liebert UPS, which I got nearly 9 years ago after joining
Linuxcare. It's carefully designed with funny screws that need special bits (available at
any hardware shop), and there's not much to be seen inside (apart from the dust of ages):
The only problem (apart from potentially high replacement cost) is to know whether it's just
the batteries that have failed. It beeps from time to time when I put power on it, and I
don't know how to interpret that beeping. If it's just dead batteries, I can handle that,
but I wouldn't want to invest in new batteries just to find I can't use them.
Another bloody power failure in the evening, while we were watching TV. I don't have a UPS (surge) protecting the
projector any more, and when it came back, it was significantly darker than before. Another
dead globe? How I wish we could get beyond these Third World levels of power service. At
least the UPS protecting dereel worked for the 15 seconds of so that it was needed.
There seems to be something about postmen worldwide that makes them want to damage things.
I've seen a couple of cases here, including meeting the postman once, so he gave me the
magazine he was about to deliver instead of putting it in the letter box—but first he
folded it! Today he was obviously happy about the rain, so he delivered the new phone book
by putting it out in the rain:
Our Kenwood KM300 kitchen machine
is still broken. I took it for repair three weeks ago,
and it's still not repaired. Called up and spoke to Chantelle, who told me that they're
still trying to “source” a replacement part. That suggests that they don't keep
their own parts; why not? And in any case, three weeks is enough time to
“source” them from anywhere in the world, including the factory.
Told her that I considered that inadequate, and asked whom I should speak to at De Longhi, but she said she'd follow up first. She
did that and called back: the part is due for delivery in June! How can
they possibly justify that? One excuse that Chantelle offered is that it's a
new model. My understanding is that it has been on the market for several years, but even
if it were the case, that's an unacceptable excuse even for a cheap fly-by-night
manufacturer. For a mixer that retails for $400, it's scandalous. It's also in crass
contradiction to the short 6 month warranty period, most of which would elapse while waiting
for new parts.
They've agreed to replace the unit—even that will take several days' worth of
paperwork—but I'm left with a very poor opinion indeed of De Longhi. I've heard from
others that “the old Kenwoods were better”; hopefully the new one won't give me
More thinking about categorizing my diary by topic today, and came up with a partial
solution. It was surprisingly difficult, apparently because of problems with HTML or
PHP—or maybe just the documentation.
The biggest problem I had had in my first attempt was the issue of empty day headers.
Getting rid of that was simple if not elegant: specify in the day header what topics will
come in the day's entry. If none of the topics are selected, the header doesn't appear.
That's straightforward enough, but it requires synchronization between the header and the
Where the problems occurred was with passing the topic abbreviations. Strangely, all the
documentation I read says much the same as this quote from HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide:
To allow more than one option selection at a time, add the multiple attribute to the
<select> tag. This causes the <select> element to behave like an <input type=checkbox> element. When submitted, the browser collects the multiple
selections, separated with commas, into a single parameter list, such as:
But that doesn't work for me, neither with firefox nor with Apple Safari. In
this case I get the parameter sequence ?pets=dog&pets=cat&pets=mouse. Worse, PHP only sees the last occurrence of the
parameter, so all I get is the parameter mouse.
The most elegant and simple solution to the multiple choice problem is to use a PHP array
feature. This works as follows. First, you modify the form and replace the name of the
select multiple element with an array-like structure, name="choice".
If that's the most elegant and simple solution, I certainly wouldn't want to see the others.
In particular, this means instead of passing the topic string ?topics=cop, I have
to pass ?topic=c&topic=o&topic=p.
That's ugly! Both HTML and PHP seem to have teamed up here: HTML (or at least
current browsers) insists on individual parameters for each choice, so the best I can do is
?topic=c&topic=o&topic=p. But PHP doesn't recognize that,
so I need the  as well.
In the end, capitulated, sort of. The sequence ?topics=cop still works, but I pass
the array as POSTDATA. That way you don't see the mess that gets passed to the server. I'm
not sure that it's completely kosher to mix GET and POST methods, but it seems to work on
all browsers I've tried.
Things still aren't finished: I have only done it for the monthly diaries; the daily diary
uses a different header function, and that still needs updating. And somehow the headers
are getting really cluttered now. Time for some refinement; one of the things that
reviewers commented about were the topic headings which I'm currently displaying, and which
may some day go away again.
CJ and Sue along today to help with the work on the shed, but I found myself busy with other
things, so Yvonne worked with them instead. At least she's
motivated now that it has something to do with horses.
More work on the topic code, including trying it out on other browsers. Microsoft
“Internet Explorer” has some interesting quirks: in particular, I have been
using constructs like <a href="#foo>" to refer to tags in
the same page, but “Internet Explorer” takes the missing file name to mean a
reference to the default file, and in this case it ends up going to my home page.
Spent most of the day working on successive refinements of the code, including consistency
checks that send me email if something goes wrong. It's looking reasonably good now.
At the time I didn't know what they were. We called them Keng Hua, apparently a Hokkien
name. But then I saw some photos of dragon fruit, in particular these ones:
Clearly that's the same fruit, succulents from the Americas called Pitaya, and they bear the fruit that we ate
at Gabi's place. I wrote quite a bit about the fact until I discovered that I was wrong:
the flowers look very similar, but they're not the same, and though the leaves look similar
too, they're different. It seems that they're really
At the very least it explains why the plant never bore any fruit. It also goes to show how
easy it is to come to the wrong conclusion.
Grilled some Blue Grenadier (a fish) in the evening. I've always had problems with Australian fish, mainly because
there's so little similarity between them and fish elsewhere in the world, but also because
cook books are so vague about them. It was quite good, but probably not what you would want
That's impractical, of course—how can they possibly find out without crawling every
web site? And what do they do about web sites outside Australia? Once again the current
government is showing its extreme stupidity in all things relating to the Internet.
More to the point, though: I link to many web sites, not only in this diary. Assuming that
I didn't consider the whole thing to be so stupid that it didn't warrant further
consideration, how do I find out if I'm linking to a blacklisted site? I went to the ACMA
site, and searched for the term “Prohibited Online Content”, which is the term
they use. I got 151 hits, with a fixed number of 10 hits to a page. None of the hits on
the first page mention a blacklist.
So what about searching for “blacklist”? That got 8 hits, to one of
which referred to the blacklist.
Looking back at the original article, the fine relates to Whirlpool, who linked to a site that linked to the
Danish blacklist: it seems that both the Danish and Australian blacklists are secret, but if
you link to one of them, you can be blacklisted too (if you're outside Australia) or fined
draconian amounts of money (if you're inside Australia). What kind of nonsense is that?
Even worse, I'm currently allowed to link to Whirlpool—I think. But what if they get
blacklisted? Presumably I'm then automatically in breach of these stupid regulations. That
can go further, of course: almost any site of any size links to thousands of other sites.
That applies to the ACMA too, and to other government sites. Will they, too, be fined?
A separate issue is: who decides what goes into the blacklist? According to an ACMA document,
they're planning to extend it to all sorts of new topics, mainly sexual. For example:
Content which is classified MA 15+*, provided by a mobile premium service or a service that
provides audio or video content upon payment of a fee and that is not subject to a
restricted access system. This includes material containing strong depictions of nudity,
implied sexual activity, drug use or violence, very frequent or very strong coarse language,
and other material that is strong in impact.
In other words, things that are routinely available on TV can't be broadcast over some other
channels. The * in the quote above is a reference to explanatory text further down
on the page, the way they did it in the days of dead trees; it seems that the author of the
document didn't consider using a link or a Java popup.
I'm sure that the intentions are in the public interest, or the interest of the vast
majority of the public. But the attempted implementation shows a complete and utter lack of
understanding of the basic concepts. It's not even clear whether the blacklist relates to
whole sites or individual pages; at first sight the latter would appear to make more sense,
but of course you can change the URL of whole directory trees at the drop of a mv.
And the former is too general; Google must have
millions of hits of dubious character.
So I called ACMA's hot line on 1 300 669 024, and to my amazement got a recorded message
promising to call back. I left my details, so I suppose I'll get a call back, though maybe
I shouldn't be surprised if the police show up and impound my computers.
CJ had brought his tractor to dig the holes for the posts, so we took the opportunity to use
it to put some (much) horse manure in the compost heap. We should also move some soil for
garden beds, but somehow I wasn't feeling the brightest, and all I ended up doing was
digging out the volunteer potatoes near the verandah; we'll convert that area into another
This business of the ACMA blacklist isn't
over. It took me a while to realise that the ACMA can't publish it, because doing so would
draw attention to exactly those web sites that ACMA has decided are illegal, immoral or
maybe just irritating. But now Wikileaks, one of the few sites that we know are
blacklisted, claimed to be about to publish the contents of the blacklist, and the
newspapers seized on the information:
But about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of
online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries,
euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites,
Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.
Two people in particular were interviewed: one was the proprietor of a legal Internet
betting company. Computerworld states:
Betfair CEO Andrew Twaits was furious the government has potentially annexed tens of
millions of dollars in revenue after its Betfair.com gambling site was blacklisted.
It's not clear to me how the government “annexes” revenue with a blacklist, but
it was in the press, so it must be true.
The dentist, Dr John Golbrani, was furious when contacted to inform him that his site,
dentaldistinction.com.au, appeared on the blacklist.
"A Russian company broke into our website a couple of years back and they were putting
pornographic listings on there ... [but] we changed across to a different web provider and
we haven't had that problem since," Golbrani said in a phone interview.
The web site was almost certainly run by a commercial operation, so they should be
responsible too. But the whole thing stinks:
If my site is blacklisted for any reason, I should be informed of the fact, of the
reasons, and given a fair chance to correct the situation (including legal action
against the ACMA, of course).
The blacklisting takes place in such secrecy that even appropriate government agencies
are not involved—to their great annoyance as well.
The accuracy of the process seems very dubious. Other news items state that a single individual can make the decision.
It seems that there's no provision for being removed from the blacklist, as the case of
the dentist shows.
People should be liable for compensation if their business is impacted by incorrect
blocking—another reason for having it in the open. I strongly suspect it didn't
have any significant effect on the online gambling site, because nobody uses this junk,
but it would be interesting to see a court case based on loss of revenue or damage to
In summary, the whole thing looks like a toy put together by people who don't know what
they're doing and who don't use the Web in any significant way. Even the name
“Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy” gives me the
impression that they're more focused on buzzwords than technology. What does
“Broadband” add to “Communications”, for example? What new
buzzwords will they think of when the current “Broadband” becomes antiquated?
In the meantime, Stephen Conroy, the
minister has denied
that the list is accurate. But how can we tell if that's true or not? I certainly wouldn't
take his word for it.
Back in the real world, I have had no call back from the ACMA hotline. Given the level of
annoyance they cause, they seem to be remarkably inefficient.
A bit more playing around with the diary topic code. Edwin Groothuis came up with an idea
page, but it won't work for the XML stuff. More to think about, though.
Talking to Sue about gardening, and offered her some of my “mystery 5” bulbs. She already has some,
and she tells me that they're called Watsonia, and that they're some
kind of weed.
On the other hand, she also recognized the shade tree (though she can't remember the name), and she tells me that it's a weed too—a very
slow-growing one: she has one which is at least 15 years old, and it's only about 2 metres
high. I can't see how anything that grows so slowly can be a weed. It also suggests that
our trees, which are not at all happy, must be at least 50 years old, and that there's no
point trying to replace them with the same kind.
The Yeardleys over for dinner. David believes that the government is in such trouble that
they're liable to call an election in the next two months. Strangely, this has nothing to
do with the bungling in the ACMA, but with other issues, notably getting legislation through
the senate. Bet 36 elephant testicles (if I got that right) that it wouldn't happen in that
period, which I suppose means by 19 May 2009.
That's me, or at least the external interface of my satellite modem. But I almost
never look at this file, and I haven't asked firefox to download it at frequent
intervals. Why is it loading it? That's a complete mystery to me.
On Tuesday, Chantelle from John Thomas had
promised to call me back by the end of the week to confirm the replacement of our Kenwood
mixer. She didn't, so I called up. To my amazement, she couldn't recall the incident at
all, but fortunately she had written it down. The paperwork had gone through to De Longhi, who had not replied. That, apparently, is
the way they do things, and she assumed that the replacement machine was on its way. Once
again she tried to defend the length of time it took to “source” a replacement
part. I told her that I would give her until Wednesday of next week and then put in a
Somehow we didn't get very far with the shed work today: we had miscalculated the number of
screws we needed, and there were some problems with the roofing. CJ has his tractor here,
so we tried moving a fence instead, only to find that the posts were in so tightly that we
couldn't get them out. Hopefully we'll get the rest sorted out on Monday.
Sue brought some bulbs with here: Ixias,
which I don't know, and Grape Hyacinths, which I misheard as “grey pythons”.
Planted both in the new bed to the south of the verandah, where I've also
planted Watsonia and
the Iris reticulata that Laurel Gordon sent
In fact, the “Ixias” weren't Ixias at all,
but Nerines, as Laurel Gordon pointed
out to me in May 2010.
It's still so hot! Temperatures hit 34° today, three weeks into autumn, and my weekly
photos suffered because of the strong sunlight. And still we've had almost no rain, though
the paddocks are showing an almost imperceptible tinge of green. If we get some more rain
in the next few days (something the Bureau of
Meteorology is trying to promise), things might look up.
Chris and David Yeardley along in the afternoon, and we've more or less agreed that her time
is come. Still, she had a long life, and even ten years
ago we were worried about her after a serious leg injury.
More work on topics, this time from the content perspective: went through last month's diary and added topic code. To my surprise, while
limiting things to cooking, I ended up with things like this:
More cooking. Spent a surprising amount of time looking for a good recipe for seekh kebab, not to mention the reason why it's
spelt “seekh” and not “sikh”. It seems it's a Farsi
(“Persian”) word, and has nothing to do with
the Sikh people. Results weren't too bad;
for the first time I got a consistency that didn't fall apart on me.
option, but only if you run shepherd directly. It doesn't work in its normal
incarnation as tv_grab_au. I've already worked around that by changing the contents
What went wrong there? Checking the source, I discover that the second paragraph starts in
the middle of:
documented <tt>--notimetest</tt> option, but only if you run <i>shepherd</i> directly. It
All the text is there in the page, treated as a comment. It seems that firefox is treating
--notimetest</tt> as the end of a comment. It was clearly
the problem: after replacin -- with --, all was
well. But I'm left wondering if I can't work out a better way to do this.
This comment syntax is strange. It smacks of
ALGOL 60, which allowed comments between
the end keyword and the following ;, but it looks wrong here. I can't find
any reference to it, but all browsers that I tried showed some kind of related behaviour,
though the others (Opera, Google
Chrome, Apple Safari and Microsoft “Internet Explorer”) didn't
have a problem here: instead, they found a comment end in a different place,
where firefox had no problems:
<!-- Isn't this *horrible*? -->
<?php nofilltext (<<< EOS
mysql> <b>SELECT name, callsign, channum, chanid, xmltvid, mplexid, visible
WHERE callsign = "ABC2";</b>
But they all seem to be able to handle nested comments the rest of the time, and I've
established that changing the text to <!-- Isnt this horrible
--> doesn't change anything, so it's not the special character. My best bet is that
it's a failed heuristic intended to recover from incorrectly delimited comments.
I really must be getting old. This morning Yvonne threw her
arms around me and said “Bon anniversaire!”, which I interpreted as “Happy
birthday”. Well, it's not my birthday, but it was our wedding anniversary, and
for the first time ever I not only forgot it, but didn't even twig when she told me. And
no, my French isn't that bad—you can interpret “bon anniversaire”
It's not just since the dust storms of a few
weeks ago that the garden shed has been a real mess, and today Yvonne decided to do something
about it. I came out in late morning to find half the contents outside, but still plenty more
to do inside:
I suppose that's an incorrect setting somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I haven't changed
anything. That was an ftp download; with http it presented me with the standard “what
shall I do with this file” dialogue, but after that there were no further instructions
about how to install. I suppose I'll just go back to the Ports Collection.
Somehow this topic stuff is still not finished. In principle all works relatively well, but
the ACM queue web site frequently displays
nothing: it trips over the long commented-out sections and doesn't get to the text it wants.
The only workaround I can find is to put the computer-related stuff at the beginning of the
entry, but that's not what I want to do. More head-scratching.
We've had an infestation of mice in the pantry. Lilac is quite a good mouser when she can
move in on the mice, but that doesn't work well in the pantry, so we've put in traps, and
for the last few days we've had a mouse in the trap every morning. Lilac prefers to catch
them herself, but she's quite happy to eat a dead one. This morning, though, she didn't see
As I suspected a couple of days ago, Pebbles' time has come. Yvonne called “Jacka the Knacka” (though the bloke who came was called
Gavin), but wasn't up to going out to see her taken away, so I had to do that.
There's something about shooting a horse that is completely different from putting down a
cat or a dog: in the latter case, they're given an injection, and just go to sleep. With
the horse it's sudden: one second they're standing up and eating some pellets, the next
they're flat on the ground, dead and bleeding. I don't know if it was better or worse than
last time. This time it was planned, but last time we
knew we had no alternative. If we hadn't shot Pebbles today, she could have lived for
weeks, maybe months. But I think that this was the best choice after all.
The shed is pretty much finished, and we thought a change of scene wouldn't be a bad idea,
so off into town to buy some new plants. First to Dahlsens to compare prices, then on to
Avalon Nursery, where they didn't
have very much of interest; Yvonne bought some aquatic
plants—an anonymous water lily and
a Schoenoplectus lacustris
“Zebrinus” (“Zebra rush”)— for her planned “pond”
(a large ceramic pot to be filled with water and plants), but the only other things of
interest they had were available at Dahlsens for noticeably lower prices.
Then on to Ross Creek nursery, where I was surprised that Rosemary recognized me as the purchaser of the pink
grapefruit that we bought last August, and
which I had discussed with her because it bore yellow fruit. At the time we had decided
that that was probably due to the weather, but today she handed me a new tree, also with an
unripe fruit on it, as a replacement: she thought that maybe the old tree wasn't as viable
as it should have been. That was very generous, but maybe she has a point: the old tree
looked very unhappy for quite some time, though since the end of the heat wave it has picked
up quite a bit. The following photo shows the new tree in the plastic tube, and the old
tree, noticeably smaller, in the ground to the right:
Then back to Dahlsens to pick up the things they had which were cheaper, ending up with a
dwarf lemon tree with the name “Lotsa Lemons”, a couple of
dwarf Callistemon “Little
John”, and a couple of Callistemon “Mary MacKillop”, a
cross between Callistemon
viminalis and Callistemon citrinus which promise to grow to 2.5 metres and flower most of the time.
We'll use the big Callistemons and the Grevillea “Wilpara Gem” as a windbreak.
Also a Clematis “Perle
d'azur” which we intend to plant on the south side of the verandah, and
a Cyclamen for outdoor
Had also intended to buy some fertilizer. But which? They had several quite cheap kinds of
specialized fertilizer, all by the same manufacturer—and all with identical analyses!
I've seen this before with fertilizer from ALDI, but I'm surprised anybody else would do it. Doesn't anybody read these analyses?
Why should I use a fertilizer with the same analysis on Australian natives (which are
phosphorous intolerant) and on exotic plants?
The shed is finally finished, and today we had intended to finally transport some soil and
manure from the paddocks to make up some garden beds, but CJ spent most of the morning
removing noxious weeds from the paddocks. During this time we found that Chris' big trailer
was of great assistance for this sort of thing, and would also be good for transporting the
soil and manure. Problem: Chris needed the trailer back at midday, so we gave up yet again
and put it off to Thursday.
The weather's cooler now, and the weeds are enjoying themselves. There was also almost no
wind today, so I spent a lot of time spraying weeds. Also spent a fair amount of time
thinking about where to plant the plants we bought yesterday. We had already considered
replanting the existing grapefruit somewhere where it is more protected from the wind, and
we'll certainly do that with the new one. On closer examination, it proved that the new one
is a different cultivar (“Thompsons Pink”)—or at least it has a different
label. Possibly Rosemary thought that it would be more resistant, and hopefully she's
right. At least it promises to have few seeds.
Other indications of the change in weather are the way plants are growing. One of
our Salvia microphylla has
developed an enormous leaf, so big that at first I thought it was from the
neighbouring Salvia farinacea
‘Indigo Spires’ , but the stem on the right really does have three
completely different sizes of leaves, presumably grown during different weather:
The hot weather has been bad for a lot of plants, but the hops seem to have survived with
only minimal problems. Many of them were only planted this spring, and traditionally hops
don't bear much in the first year, but they did here. The main problem was that some dried
out before they reached maturity, while others are still on their way. Spent the afternoon
picking some Pride of Ringwood, which don't look too bad considering the circumstances.
This is about half of what I hope the final quantity will be:
Phone call from Richard Cranston of ACMA this morning, while I was away. Yvonne took the call; it was a reply to my hotline call a week ago. He left a number to call: 02 9334 7860, in
Sydney, and thus a long distance call. I'm impressed. Here is a government claiming that
they're able to censor the Internet (who said “drink the Pacific dry”?), and
they can't even man their hotline or reply to enquiries in a timely fashion. I won't call
back, for two reasons: firstly, it costs money, and secondly I can't expect to get any
Into town (and this the reason Richard Cranston didn't reach me) for a number of things, one
of which was a medical checkup. Got to the Eureka Medical Centre and found a queue right
across the reception area; I'd guess I'd have to wait an hour just to register, not to
mention the two hours waiting for the doctor. So I put it off yet again. How I hate
these arrangements. Why can't they make appointments like they do elsewhere?
On to John Thomas to pick up a new Kenwood mixer. It's identical to the old one, of course,
but it was better packed, and it came with a 12 month warranty, which they confirmed would
apply to the unit. I suppose that's some minor compensation for the complete lack of
service and lack of use of the unit for over a month.
This difference in appearance also makes me wonder whether the “factory seconds”
are not really marginally defective. But it doesn't explain why they didn't do anything
about it, and why they said it would be June before they could get a part in. Hopefully
this one will be more reliable.
It also came with much more documentation, including a cookbook for which they apparently
charge the princely sum of £19.99 or € 30. It's certainly not worth that, but
it does have some interesting information about using the mixer, including bread recipes
with quantities that seem rather dubious to me. I think I'll read it and then sell it on
eBay—apparently there's a demand for
these books. I don't know why.
Back home and more work in the garden: planted
the Grevillea rhyolitica and
the grapefruit (and set up irrigation for the latter), which took a surprising amount of
time. Also transplanted a Cyclamen
persicum; Yvonne had expected that we could split it into
multiple plants, but it's all one tuber, so all I managed to do was to damage the root
system. I have decided against planting it in the garden; there's nothing on the
description to say so, but elsewhere I read that it's not frost-tolerant. So it'll live on
the verandah somewhere.
Today Yvonne brought back a turntable for analogue records
(“vinyl”) from ALDI, so today
tried it out. The instruction manual was of the usual ALDI quality, containing information
like this to describe the illustration of the turntable:
07. Large chrome screw.
09. Eject button.
I'd like to see a turntable eject the record. The “large chrome screw” was in
fact a primitive level adjustment (diagonal only), and it was brass plated.
It comes with software for Microsoft only, of course, filling all of about 3 MB of a CD-ROM,
but to my surprise it was Audacity.
They could easily have included the software for other platforms too. Installation of the
software was as normal, but it didn't install the driver, and investigation of the CD showed
no driver software. I suspect that's why the program crashed repeatedly with an exception
Well, Audacity's available for other platforms too, so tried it on boskoop, my
Apple. Ran into the same old issues downloading the binary: it hung after a few kB. That's
going via the squid proxy on dereel; downloading from dereel using the
same proxy took a few seconds. I wish I understood what the difference is here. Maybe the
proxy doesn't like boskoop.
To my surprise, it Just Worked on Apple. That's still inconvenient—I need to go to
the Apple GUI to use it—but better than on Microsoft. But I've opened a can of worms:
now I have to decide how to organize and catalogue the software.
Spent some time moving soil in the garden in preparation for CJ coming today to move the
soil with the tractor. I could have save the effort: he was able to get in there with the
tractor and do it much faster, running over a limb of
a Grevillea in the process. To my
surprise, the limb showed absolutely no signs of damage.
Moved a lot of soil, and by the time Yvonne came home we were
done, in both senses of the word. Then Yvonne had other work for us! She's getting a
delivery of hay on Saturday, it seems, and we needed to line the shed and put a gate on it.
CJ and I were both looking forward to doing nothing in the afternoon, and in the end he
headed off, with yet more soil for himself.
Spent the afternoon with more garden work, and pulled out
rosmarinifolia that had been beside the verandah. We had been discussing how to pull it
out, and whether a cable and winch would help, but in fact it took about 10 minutes, and
apart from cutting through the roots, there wasn't much of a problem.
CJ came back quite late, after 18:00, when we had thought that we wouldn't see him again
today. Seems he was making mounting brackets, and we ended up fitting things provisionally
then; we can sort the rest out next week.
Yvonne has been pestering me for over a year now to buy a new
cat to replace Fluffy, who died of an allergic reaction to a bee sting two years ago. I've been reluctant, but as usual Yvonne got her way and
decided on a Siamese Chocolate Point kitten (or is that Thai? The breed has split, it seems, and
what we used to call Siamese are now recognized as Thais, while cats with the name
“Siamese” look like
they've had a bit of rat bred in).
How do you get to Shepparton? Google Maps says “via Melbourne”, but it seemed better to me to go via Bendigo—certainly it's 36 km shorter, round 12% of the total distance, and
in Australia the ridiculous speed limits mean that going via freeway doesn't buy you much,
and part of the Google itinerary is on the congested Western Highway. So we went
via Bendigo, where my parents lived from
1976 until 1997. Drove down to look for the house in Tannery Lane, Mandurang, and came
across a large native plant nursery. We took a look in there and were very impressed,
coming away with an Acacia cognata
a Grevillea longistyla x
johnsonii “Elegance” and
a Leptospermum brachyandrum (tea
tree), all spreading hedge plants, and
an Anigozanthos flavidus
(Kangaroo Paw) for the fun of it.
Coming out of the driveway we saw a house I recognized: my parents' “new” house,
built in about 1980, directly across the road from the exit:
There's so much vegetation there now that I only barely recognized it; last time I was here
the house was clearly visible from the road. The “old” house (preexisting in
1976) is now gone.
On to Shepparton—you can't keep up as good an average here as in Western Victoria.
There are more and bigger towns, and of course stupid unnecessary speed restrictions. One
kind seems to be particularly prevalent: road work restrictions (40 km/h) without road
works. The road works people must forget hundreds of these things. It's difficult to
estimate our driving time, since we detoured and stopped for a while. Total time was about
4¾ hours, but I'd take at least an hour off that.
Spent relatively little time choosing one of 5 kittens—two came and said “take
me”, and we decided on the smaller of the two, whom we have decided to call
“Piccola” (with two c's).
Decided to head back via Melbourne for comparison's sake, past
a Sikh temple, the first I've seen in
Australia. I stopped on the side of the road to take the photo below, just in front of a
tractor with an old, white-bearded Sikh driver. When I turned to look at him, he had
disappeared—almost into thin air. Eerie.
On towards Melbourne, discovering once again how inaccurate this VicRoads atlas is;
it shows roads that aren't there, doesn't show roads that are there, and skirting Shepparton
things were so confusing that I don't really know what went wrong. At the very least, a
sharp right-angled junction turned into a gentle curve. Down on the Hume Freeway, right
through the area where the worst bushfires occurred last month. We saw plenty of evidence of the fires, but mainly just burnt
trees; people who didn't know might have thought it was autumn foliage for the most part.
We got round Melbourne faster than I had feared, but still took at least 12 minutes to get
from the ring road (M80) to the beginning of the Western freeway (M8), at an average speed
of about 40 km/h. Got home after about 3½ hours, close enough to the time on the way there
that it's difficult to say which was faster.
Back home found CJ replacing a gate: he had been driving his tractor through the gate when
the wind blew it across the way, badly damaging it. That's borderline our fault, I
suppose. We should put a hook in there.
In the evening we had the usual fun getting Lilac and Piccola acquainted. It's interesting
in these cases that usually the older cat hisses and growls, while the younger one doesn't
pay much attention.
The media are paying particular attention to the stupidity of the “Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital
Economy”'s plan to censor the Web (which they call the Internet). It seems that another legitimate site has been blacklisted. In a TV interview,
Stephen Conroy blamed that on the
ACMA. What kind of excuse is that? He's in
charge of the ACMA, or at least has influence on them, doesn't he? And the dentist was
blamed on the “Russian mob” who defaced his externally hosted web site years
ago, before he changed providers. This shows one of the extreme weaknesses I had pointed
to: there seems to be no way to get people off the list, especially if they're not informed.
I suppose the best indication of the government's real ability to censor the Web is that
somebody broke into their own web site and put up anti-censorship slogans. That's illegal,
and I don't agree with it, but it certainly puts things into perspective.
Another thing that has come out of the issue is that Conroy seems to have tacitly admitted
that the leaked list really is the official list. And I have it on good authority
that it contains URLs, sometimes of individual pages, sometimes of entire sites, and
sometimes even numeric IP addresses! So if I'm unlucky enough to be hosted on a machine
which also hosts porn sites—something I couldn't easily find out—I could be
blacklisted too. And one entry reads simply biz. Does that mean that the entire
TLD biz is blacklisted? If not, what does it mean? The whole thing smacks
of boundless incompetence.
To make up for that, I suppose, I got through my processing relatively smoothly for once,
and had time in the afternoon to play around with telephoto photos of the flowers round the
verandah: Using centre-weighted averaging exposure measurement seems to improve the accuracy
for most photos.
First time using the new Kenwood
mixer today, making pizza dough. I don't have a
good recipe for that, so I tried the one out of the cookbook that came with the new machine.
I should have been warned. The cookbook gives quantities in both Imperial and metric units.
It doesn't have a recipe for pizza dough, so I started with the recipe
for Focaccia. In metric units, it wants
350 g flour, 210 ml water and 15 ml of olive oil, a ratio of 1:1.6667 of water to flour. The
Imperial units are 12 oz flour and 7.5 fl. oz. water and a “tablespoon” of olive oil, a ratio of 1:1.6. So
the all-important ratio of water to flour varies by 4% for no better reason than the choice of
units. And of course other recipes mix pints and ounces, creating an additional opportunity
for misinterpretation by American users.
Decided it would be easier to add water than remove it and took the 1:1.6667 ratio. It was
still too much, and the dough stuck to the side of the bowl:
This isn't a specific Kenwood problem; so many recipe books do this. Why can't people give
That's a good reason not to use the cookbook, of course, but it's not the only one. It has
one of these horrible bindings that won't stay open—just what you need in a kitchen.
And at the price they sell it for (£20 or € 30) it's ridiculously overpriced. I suppose
most people get them the way I did, free with the mixer. I think it'll end up on eBay.
It's also interesting to note how much quieter this machine is than the old one, which made a
grating sound—possibly the precursor to the failure. I'm still left wondering what they
let through as “factory seconds”.
Also made some kimchi. Over the course of time I
have been increasing the quantities of the marinade, and I've now nearly doubled it—and
it still isn't enough; in fact, today it seemed less than ever. It's amazing how
flexible many quantities are, probably one of the main reasons that cookbooks can get away
with the nonsense they print.
While taking the cat photos, my brand new xD card died on me—I've never seen that
before, but it just stopped working while I was writing to it. Somehow I haven't had much
luck with my recent eBay purchases.
We're planning to plant two rows of trees to delimit the foreground of this area,
and Acacias; then we'll plant mainly
native shrubs and maybe some succulents in that area. This particular view should change
Piccola is settling in well, though Lilac still doesn't want to know. From prior experience
that will take about a week. But we have a problem: she was neutered shortly before pickup,
and the wound is inflamed:
While watching TV in the evening, the sound suddenly failed. Spent 45 minutes of cursing
and swearing to trace the fault to the amplifier, which seems to have completely failed, and
replacing it with the one in my office. I bought the amplifier in 1991 when the other one
(purchased 1979, now 30 years old) failed. It was obviously a good decision to have it
repaired; once again the Tandem mentality showing through, I suppose. Now to find a
replacement; I can't imagine that it's worth repairing.
I had intended to brew today, but once again I ended up postponing. The HLT is leaking
again, and investigation showed that one of the polypropylene washers I had created had
split; presumably the stuff is too brittle. Now to look for an alternative.
Yvonne into town with Piccola to have her stitches looked at.
The vet extracted some fluid from the swelling and found nothing wrong. He didn't even
charge for the investigation!
Later in the day, got Lilac and Piccola together. It's amazing how these things always go
the same way. She's still hissing and growling, but she's coming closer and sniffing her.
I suspect that my estimate of one week will remain accurate.
Spent most of the day in the garden, planting all our new plants. In a row towards the
beginning of the old drive, planted the
new Leptospermum brachyandrum and
also an Acacia myrtifolia and
a Melaleuca decussata from the
seedlings we grew years ago in Wantadilla:
It's a good thing we got so much wire from the dog runs; we have plenty to protect them all
against kangaroos. Now we just need to rip out
the Osteospermums from the space in
front of the verandah and plant our other plants.
Popular Photography arrived today, once again
delayed because of an incorrect address. I'd already complained about incorrect post code,
and they've changed it: they've made it worse. Here the old and the new address form, the
latter with manual addition:
Checking the web site, found that they have the address there correctly. I had also been
told that the change would only take effect from May (why do these things take such a long
time?), so maybe this was just random rebreakage.
Took the time to look around for new amplifiers, and found some relatively cheap stuff at
JB HiFi, who have one of the worst web
site's I've seen in a long time—abysmally slow, full of advertisements, and almost
devoid of content. My search for “amplifier” drew a blank. Still, later
research shows that there's nothing much on eBay that's significantly better, so I may end up buying one.
Bought some new thongs—the shop is closing down, and they were 50% off—and then
back to the medical centre, where I got looked at pretty quickly. Blood values are as last
time, well within “normal” limits. I think it's time to stop such frequent
blood sugar measurements.
More and more birds are using the bird bath, including some I've never seen before. Took
more photos, but mainly they just make it clear that I need faster shutter speeds and
smaller apertures, all without sacrificing picture quality. The bird on the right of the
last picture is barely visible: