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Sunday, 1 March 2009 Dereel Images for 1 March 2009
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Topic: general Link here

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:


 
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By comparison, this time last year it looked like this:


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A normal summer's rainfall is a relatively even 134 mm:

Month       Average       This year
December       51.5       110.9
December (29 days)       48.2       27.7
January       38.6       3.9
February       43.6       4.5

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.


Topic: photography Link here

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):

 
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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 bottom left:

 
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Checked the “Preferences” and found this obscenity:

 
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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.


Monday, 2 March 2009 Dereel Images for 2 March 2009
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Topic: general, brewing Link here

Had intended to brew today, but for some reason I wasn't feeling the brightest, and decided to postpone. I wonder if the ever-present concern about fires is getting me down.


Topic: photography Link here

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.


Topic: general Link here

I've decided to clean the water filters at the beginning of each new season; they certainly needed it. Here's the filter from the bore pump:


 
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That's quite a bit of sand; hopefully it won't do the pump too much harm.


Topic: photography Link here

In the afternoon, did some bird photography (in this case, yellow-faced 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 digital sensor.


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Topic: general Link here

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.

Another bloody power failure in the evening.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009 Dereel Images for 3 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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]
       date [[[[[cc]yy]mm]dd]hh]mm[.ss]

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:

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:

      551465 100%   42.80kB/s    0:00:12 (xfer#223, to-check=33724/60414)
20060514/big/inuit-alphabet-2.jpeg
Disconnecting: Bad packet length 1336802802.

That must be some kind of data corruption which the modem shouldn't pass through.


Topic: general Link here

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:


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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:


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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:


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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 announcing something.

Down to the CFA shed again, where a lot more was going on than yesterday evening. They had blocked the main road:


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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.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009 Dereel Images for 4 March 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

The wind also damaged a number of plants. In particular, our Salvia “Indigo Spires” seems not to like wind, and most of the branches broke off:


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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.


Thursday, 5 March 2009 Dereel Images for 5 March 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

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.


Topic: opinion Link here

Uniden: guess what?

It was Yvonne's birthday last Sunday, and David and Fifi brought a present for her. But what was it? The packaging wasn't letting on:


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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:

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?


Friday, 6 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

Brew day today, which as usual kept me busy all day long. Spent the rest of the time writing my rant on V/Line.


Saturday, 7 March 2009 Dereel Images for 7 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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.


Topic: general Link here

House photo day again today. As I feared, the 12 mm or so of rain that we've had in the last week were not enough to collect anywhere, and the dam is still as dry as a bone:


 
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Topic: photography Link here

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 significant improvements.

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:

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.


Sunday, 8 March 2009 Dereel Images for 8 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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 Express”:

Date: Sun, 8 Mar 2009 10:39:40 +1100
From: Greg 'groggy' Lehey <yvonne@lemis.com>
To: clickerreiter@yahoogroups.de
Subject: Re: [clickerreiter] Mailmissbrauch (war: /OT-Oz-Urlaub/Sovereign Hill)

The fact that this message was sent from yvonne@lemis.com is completely lost with “Outlook Express”:


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This shot also shows the complete lack of text in this message, as well as “Outlook Express'“ truncation of the index, although more than enough space is available:


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Topic: photography Link here

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 Olympus E-510. 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:


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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.


Monday, 9 March 2009 Dereel Images for 9 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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.


Topic: animals, general Link here

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 on them:


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Still, nothing to be complacent about.


Tuesday, 10 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

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.


Wednesday, 11 March 2009 Dereel Images for 11 March 2009
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Topic: opinion Link here

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.


Topic: general Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

A few days ago Callum Gibson pointed me at a question on WikiAnswers.com: “What season starts on March 21 in the southern hemisphere?”, along with a startling “answer”: Summer. I fixed that, but looking round the garden you could almost think that spring was coming:


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I suppose that the extreme heat we have had has had a similar effect to winter on the plants, and they're coming back again now. I wonder what next spring will bring.

With the cooler weather, we're also doing more work in the garden. Time to plant various bulbs, but first I put in some more irrigation.


Thursday, 12 March 2009 Dereel Images for 12 March 2009
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Topic: general Link here

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.


Topic: opinion Link here

For some obscure reason, I looked up a related topic on http://wiki.answers.com/, and found another startling question/answer pair. The question: “25mm of rain in a rain gauge means how much rain over 25 square mm?” suggests that the asker doesn't understand the concepts. But the answer was “25 ph”. What does that mean? This site is really amazingly bad. I suppose at least it serves to show how unreliable the information on wikis can be.


Topic: technology Link here

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:


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Good software is nondestructive

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 Adobe Photoshop (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.


Topic: opinion Link here

ALDI: Truth in advertising?

In the course of looking for a new UPS recently, an interesting dichotomy has become apparent: UPSs are rated in VA (Volt-Ampères), while most computer equipment is rated in (Watts). 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:

 
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Is that 1200 W or 1200 VA? That depends where on the packaging you look:


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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 claim.

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.


Friday, 13 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

Also more work in the garden. I think a lot of my lethargy in the past months was just that it was too hot. It was still warm enough today—over 30°—but somehow I'm getting more motivated.


Saturday, 14 March 2009 Dereel Images for 14 March 2009
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Topic: general Link here

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.


 
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Topic: opinion Link here

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.


Topic: technology, general Link here

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.


Topic: technology Link here

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"); ?>
      <p>
        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.
      </p>
      <?php endcat (); ?>

The argument to cat () is a single letter out of the set:

 * Categories:
 *
 * c    computers
 * g    gardening
 * h    household
 * k    cooking
 * m    music
 * o    opinion
 * p    photography

If I now select, say, this month's diary with the c category, I only get the sections identified with computer-related content, though the source shows it all. Similarly, I can display gardening and photography topics with the gp category.

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:

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”.


Sunday, 15 March 2009 Dereel Images for 15 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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?


Topic: general, gardening Link here

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:


 
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Topic: gardening Link here

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 spring.


Topic: photography, technology Link here

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.


Topic: technology Link here

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:


 
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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):


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The batteries are accessible via a separate opening in the base, and they're clearly identified:


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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.


Topic: general Link here

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.


Monday, 16 March 2009 Dereel Images for 16 March 2009
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Topic: opinion, general Link here

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:


 
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At least it's just a phone book, which I can get replaced. But what do these people think?


Topic: general, opinion Link here

Kenwood: the Rolls-Royce of kitchen machines

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 any trouble.


Topic: technology Link here

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 content.

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:

pets=dog,cat,mouse

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.

Spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a solution, and didn't find one. In Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL by Hugh Williams and David Lane I read the horrifying information:

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.


Topic: general Link here

More bloody kangaroos! It's been a while since I saw one in the garden, though:


 
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I've seen an advertisement for a kangaroo repellent; they don't say how it works, but it appears to be a spray which makes plants taste bad, presumably bitter. I suppose it's worth trying.


Tuesday, 17 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

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.


Topic: technology Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

A couple of unrelated incidents have come together over the last couple of days. On 25 October 2004 Gabi Reichert gave us a strange fruit to eat, something that I had never seen before:


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About 18 months later I was in Seattle with Brian Aker when I saw a flower I knew:


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I had seen that before In Kuala Lumpur decades ago:


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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:

Dragon fruit flowers Dragon fruit

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 Epiphyllum oxypetalum:

Epiphyllum Oxypetalum

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.


Topic: cooking Link here

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 to grill.


Wednesday, 18 March 2009 Dereel Images for 18 March 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Disturbing news item today: the Australian Communications and Media Authority is not only maintaining a blacklist of “prohibited” web sites, but threatening to fine people up to $11,000 a day for hyperlinking to such sites.

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.


Topic: general Link here

More work on the stable today, and we're gradually making progress:


 
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It's funny to see straight through the “greenhouse” area.


Topic: gardening Link here

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 succulent bed.


Topic: photography Link here

More bird photos in the afternoon; the spot metering greatly improves the exposure, though now I'm tending towards burnt-out highlights on the bird bath:


 
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Thursday, 19 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

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.

A more interesting problem was the Queensland dentist:

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:

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.


Topic: technology Link here

A bit more playing around with the diary topic code. Edwin Groothuis came up with an idea for using Javascript instead of PHP for hiding the text. That's not a bad idea for the HTML page, but it won't work for the XML stuff. More to think about, though.


Topic: general Link here

Continued work on the shed, taking longer than planned. It's warm again—32°—which doesn't help things much.


Topic: gardening Link here

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.


Topic: general Link here

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.


Friday, 20 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Still a bit of work on the topic stuff. I think I've done about as much as I can with this approach. Next is to learn Javascript so that I can implement Edwin's ideas, at least for the HTML version.

Who is accessing the “old” page? Did some monitoring of the web logs and found a lot of:

121-200-1-204.cust.wide.net.au - - [20/Mar/2009:16:02:15 +1100] "GET /grog/diary.xml HTTP/1.0" 200 121420 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; FreeBSD i386; en-US; rv:1.9.0.4) Gecko/2008111714 Firefox/3.0.4"

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.


Topic: general Link here

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 formal complaint.

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

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 me recently.

In fact, the “Ixias” weren't Ixias at all, but Nerines, as Laurel Gordon pointed out to me in May 2010.

Saturday, 21 March 2009 Dereel Images for 21 March 2009
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Topic: general, photography Link here

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.


Topic: animals Link here

On thing that doesn't look like improving is the condition of Pebbles, our 31-year-old Haflinger-English Thoroughbred mix:


 
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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.


Topic: opinion Link here

A couple of days ago Yvonne brought back a mulcher from ALDI. I think they've hit a new low: the power connector was hanging out:


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That would be bad enough, but it looks as if it was only glued in in the first place.


Topic: technology Link here

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 on /usr/bin/tv_grab_au:

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 &#45;&#45;, 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&gt; <b>SELECT name, callsign, channum, chanid, xmltvid, mplexid, visible
       FROM channel
       WHERE callsign = "ABC2";</b>
+&#45;&#45;&#45;&#45;&#45;&#45;+&#45;&#45;&#45;&#45;&#45

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.


Sunday, 22 March 2009 Dereel Images for 22 March 2009
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Topic: general Link here

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” either way.


Topic: gardening Link here

I'm still facing puzzles in the garden. Why does this one succulent look so unhappy?


 
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It would make more sense if the surrounding ones didn't look so happy; they've grown beyond recognition since we planted them, and even since last August, when I took the last photos.

The tree fern has got over its problems of a couple of months ago, and is happily producing more fronds:


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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:


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Spent most of the afternoon working on that, with reasonable results:


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The only question is how long that will last.


Topic: technology Link here

While researching yesterday's web browser comment handling, got an offer from Opera to update to the latest version. The results were less than spectacular:


 
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Diary entry for Sunday, 22 March 2009

 

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.


Monday, 23 March 2009 Dereel Images for 23 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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.


Topic: general Link here

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 it:


 
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Topic: animals Link here

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.


New plants
Topic: gardening Link here

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:


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Also bought a Grevillea “Wilpara gem”, a Grevillea rhyolitica and an Eremophila with no further identification, while Yvonne got another plant for her tiny pond, a Sagitaria graminea. Also saw a Grevillea bedggoodiana they have been cultivating; it occurs in the wild only in Enfield State Forest, just round the corner from us. Unfortunately, it doesn't look very interesting.

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 planting.

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?


Tuesday, 24 March 2009 Dereel Images for 24 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Network connectivity is flaky again. Apart from the number of disconnects, the round-trip times are getting completely unacceptable:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypc) ~ 75 -> ping www
PING www.lemis.com (203.10.76.45): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=1 ttl=54 time=2179.147 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=2 ttl=54 time=2078.220 ms
64 bytes from 203.10.76.45: icmp_seq=3 ttl=54 time=2331.251 ms
...
--- www.lemis.com ping statistics ---
27 packets transmitted, 24 packets received, 11.1% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 1643.116/2183.932/2893.054/343.658 ms

Pure satellite latency is 480 ms, but that gets lost in those values. High time for Optus to put up the phone tower so that I can use HSPA instead.


Topic: general, gardening Link here

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:


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Another plant that's completely confused by the weathers is this Hellebore, which should bloom in late winter:


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Topic: brewing, gardening Link here

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:


 
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 Dereel Images for 25 March 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

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 useful information.


Topic: general Link here

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?


Topic: cooking, general Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

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.


Thursday, 26 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

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 code 5.

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.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

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 the Grevillea 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.


Topic: opinion, gardening Link here

Documentation as a second language

Documentation isn't always related to computers, of course. Seen on the pink grapefruit we got the other day:

Citrus thrive in light, fertile free drainind soils in full sun. Fruit well in hot sites so good by heating retaining wall in cooler areas.

Friday, 27 March 2009 Dereel –> Bendigo –> Shepparton –> Dereel Images for 27 March 2009
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Topic: animals, gardening, general Link here

A new pussy for Yvonne

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).

After some searching, we bought a kitten from Rosemarie Cattery in Shepparton, and today we set off to pick her up.

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 “Lime Magik”, 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:


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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).


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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.


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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.


Saturday, 28 March 2009 Dereel Images for 28 March 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

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.


Topic: animals Link here

We've put Piccola in the guest bathroom, from whence she can explore the house. She's gradually coming to terms with Tony:


 
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She doesn't have much of a chance to disagree with Lilac: Lilac avoids her as much as possible.


Contrast issues
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

House photo day again today. Somehow I have real issues with contrast in the panorama shots, like the one from the north of the house:


 
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There's a full 3 EV difference in exposure between the left and the centre. Time for higher dynamic range in digital cameras.

On 29 December 2011 I fixed this issue by processing the original raw images with DxO Optics "Pro".

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.


Topic: cooking Link here

Kenwood mixer

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:


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This isn't a specific Kenwood problem; so many recipe books do this. Why can't people give exact measurements?

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”.

Kimchi

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.


Topic: general, animals Link here

Chris over for dinner, and we tried again to get Lilac to look at Piccola, with limited success:


 
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At least we have finally found a use for the cat play tree that Yvonne bought quite some time ago:


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Topic: photography Link here

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.


Sunday, 29 March 2009 Dereel Images for 29 March 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Today was my father's 86th birthday. Called him up to wish him a happy birthday, but he went to sleep in the middle of the call. sigh


Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden, and planted the ornamental vines at the corner posts of the verandah. Also thoughts about how to handle the area to the north of the house:


 
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We're planning to plant two rows of trees to delimit the foreground of this area, using Callistemons, Grevilleas and Acacias; then we'll plant mainly native shrubs and maybe some succulents in that area. This particular view should change significantly.


Topic: animals Link here

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:


 
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Called up Lyn, who thought it wasn't life-threatening, but we'll need a trip to the vet tomorrow.


Topic: general Link here

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.


Monday, 30 March 2009 Dereel
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Topic: brewing Link here

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.


Topic: animals Link here

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.


Topic: gardening Link here

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:


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Further to the east, the second row was, from left to right, a Callistemon “Mary MacKillop”, the Grevillea longistyla x johnsonii “Elegance”, the Grevillea “Wilpara Gem” and another Callistemon “Mary MacKillop”:


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Finally, put the Acacia cognata “Lime Magik” in the eastern part of the garden, where it will be visible from the verandah and will also hide the shed:


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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.


Tuesday, 31 March 2009 Dereel Images for 31 March 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

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:


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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.


Topic: general Link here

Into town today to finally do my quarterly medical checkup. I really hate the long waits, and today once again the queue was so long:


 
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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.


A micropond
Topic: gardening Link here

Back home, still more work in the garden. Yvonne finally implemented an idea she's been planning for at least three years and built a micropond in a large flower pot:


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It'll be interesting to see how it develops.

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:


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