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May 2009
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Friday, 1 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

My network is getting better, but there are still dropouts:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1241100000        2        191   99.78% #  1 May 2009

They still seem to be the kind that don't drop TCP connections, for what that's worth.

More comparisons of delete speed. This is FreeBSD on teevee.lemis.com. Sizes in MB.

=== root@teevee (/dev/ttyp4) /dumpdereel/dereel/0/tars 16 -> df .; time rm -rf *; df .
Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad0s1f         209737 193042 14598    93%    /dumpdereel

real    0m10.927s
user    0m0.000s
sys     0m4.482s
Filesystem  1048576-blocks Used  Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad0s1f         209737    0 207640     0%    /dumpdereel

=== root@teevee (/dev/ttyp4) /spool/dump/dereel-FreeBSD/0 24 -> df .; time rm -rf tars/*; df .
Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad8s1d         923856 898515 16102    98%    /spool

real    0m0.013s
user    0m0.007s
sys     0m0.000s
Filesystem  1048576-blocks   Used  Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad8s1d         923856 696709 217908    76%    /spool


Topic: cooking Link here

More investigation of sourdough today. Another mail exchange with Tom Maynard, who gave more details of his method. He doesn't feed as often as recommended, only about once a week, but the method still doesn't seem right to me: you shouldn't need to throw anything away.

Also got messages from Hartmut Laube and Thomas Rohner, both in answer to my question Hausbrauerforum mailing list on on Netbeer, and pointing to Petra's Brotkasten, which seems to have a lot of translated English documentation, and Der Sauerteig, which is very informative, and shows a much more straightforward, plausible and economical approach to sourdough. In particular: it keeps the starter in the fridge for up to a week without feeding, uses the entire starter for the next loaf, and takes a bit of the dough for the next generation starter. This avoids any waste and ensures the evolution of the starter. In contrast to American views that a starter will die if it's not fed, it also states that it's perfectly feasible to dry sourdough and keep it in that form for years.

On the other hand, the American lists have some useful information too, in particular the various elaborations of the starter. Der Sauerteig mentions a three-stage elaboration, but it's not the Detmolder version described at Samartha. Here a comparison:

Step       Sauerteig.de       Samartha
1       4-6 hours, 22-26°       6 hours, 27°
2       6-8 hours, 30°       24 hours, 29°
3       3-4 hours, 28-30°       4 hours, 30°

I'll have to think about the implications of all that.

It's time for the next loaf, so started my starter, first with 100g flour and less water—this stuff seems to become more liquid as time goes on—and then with 200 g flour and <mumble> water. It's much more active now, and by the evening had a strong acetic acid smell about it. I think I'll be able to get by without yeast this time.


Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day five

This starter is growing healthily and steadily, but my arms! Mixing 50 kg of starter with a spade is obviously not the way to go. Over to Chris' place to borrow the cement mixer:

Even with the mixer, things aren't easy. The maximum load is about 35 kg, if I'm interpreting this stupid excuse for instructions correctly, so I needed three goes to get my 100 kg of starter. And the wheelie bin is half full already. We've put it into the guest room so that it doesn't overpower the house with the smell.

Where do we go from here? This is only day five; I have another 25 days to go. Fortunately, got an unsolicited call from Barry Jones of the Australian Wheat Board, offering to help. That'll mean changing from rye to wheat, but looking at the costs involved, I think I can live with that. He'll be sending a few truckloads along over the coming weeks. We've already decided to convert our shipping container to hold the starter, though I'm a little concerned about the temperatures.


Saturday, 2 May 2009 Dereel Images for 2 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

These monthly complete backups take forever. I've set up scripts to run four parallel backups to spread the CPU load of the bzip2 process across all CPUs, but I'm doing it by directory, and my home directory takes up 60% of the disk, so it's not really working that well. To make things worse, today the system froze up 16 hours into the backup, and I had to reboot. Clearly I need a better backup strategy.

Decided to take another crack at getting old tvremote running from a USB stick, this time with Ubuntu Linux. I had downloaded the ISO image a while back, and had to find a CD burner, but that proved to be on cvr2, where it's not much use. Used a USB-connected one instead, and somehow managed a coaster. That should be a thing of the past.


Topic: photography Link here

Despite everything, my photo routine is still taking up more time than it should, and it took most of the day, along with other activities.


Topic: cooking Link here

Baked my second sourdough bread today. Things looked pretty good with the starter, and it rose nicely, but it still wasn't big enough. I think I need to account for the flour consumed by the sourdough.


Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day six

No question: my starter is giving off a lot of heat. It was hot and sticky in the guest room this morning, and I don't know how long it will take to get the smell out of the room. I put it in the container, still in the wheelie bin, with the cement mixer just outside.

It's clear that I haven't planned ahead enough. Yvonne brought only 200 kg of flour the other day, and I've used 75 kg already, but today I should have put 300 kg in the starter, and tomorrow it should be 1.2 tons. And the first Australian Wheat Board truck won't be coming until Monday. There's nothing for it: we'll have to underfeed. Put another 50 kg in over the course of the day, which means at least that we can still keep it in the wheelie bin. Hopefully the low feeding rate won't affect the quality.


Topic: cooking, general Link here

Chris along for dinner, cevapcici. Did them outside on the barbecue, and got only a very small flame: it looked as if the gas cylinder was nearly empty. Changed it and discovered that there was still a reasonable amount of gas in the cylinder, and the new cylinder didn't do any better. Surely the reduced pressure in the cylinder can't have any effect? Maybe the burners are rusting up.


Sunday, 3 May 2009 Dereel Images for 3 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Finally got round to shutting down cvr2, moving the DVD drive to swamp and burning a Ubuntu CD (the “alternate” version). Installation (on a 4 GB USB stick) was interesting: first it complained several times about being unable to read a specific sector on CD, but then it seemed to accept it. I have a recollection of something like this happening on previous occasions; is it specific hardware, or just plain a bug?

I did manual partitioning (3.5 GB file system, 500 MB swap, though I'm not sure the latter is a good idea), and of course I specified to overwrite the file system that was already on the stick. It claimed to have set up the network, but checking was difficult: I couldn't find ifconfig in the installation environment, but ping failed, possibly because it had decided to talk to a (non-existent) DHCP server. This seems to be a general weakness: I've had problems in this regard with Ubuntu in the past.

Installation took for ever, about 4 hours, punctuated by prompts at various times. When it was finally done, I rebooted, and landed in the FreeBSD boot manager—why was that still there? It's in sector 0, which should have been overwritten. It offered me the choice of booting Linux, but when I took the choice, it only gave me a # character. Looks like Linux boot installations are still as flaky as ever. Gave up at this point; doubtless there's a way to get around it, but I'm not left with the warm fuzzy feeling that I want.

Net status

The net connectivity is looking better; only a single failure today:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1241272800        1         47   99.95% #  3 May 2009

I haven't had a repeat of the high upload speeds of a couple of days ago, though; the last upload was very slow. That could be weekend net congestion, though.


Topic: photography, technology Link here

This week's web site breakage winner

While looking for lenses online, came across this beauty:


 
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Diary entry for Sunday, 3 May 2009

 

It maintained this layout breakage independently of the font size. Strangely, when I came back later, it looked OK on the same browser:


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I wonder what went wrong there.


Topic: brewing Link here

Brew day tomorrow, and spent over an hour crushing grain. There must be a faster way.


Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day seven

Despite the lower feeding rates, my sourdough starter is looking happy enough, but effectively we've lost two days, so it looks like we'll have to extend the process by those two days, which at least gets us to the nice round number 32. Put the remaining 75 kg of flour in in two steps, 25 kg in the morning and 50 kg in the evening. Hopefully the AWB truck will be there first thing in the morning.


Monday, 4 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

I had intended to brew today, but just in time I realized I had an appointment with Werner Bischof, the periodontist, so had to put it off.

Into town to Raglan St, where I discovered that my appointment had been made with Dr Leela, whom I didn't know. The good news: my teeth are in considerably better condition than last year. The not-so-good news: this is another place where they don't have proper facilities, and I wasn't able to rinse my mouth properly, and I left with a distinct coating of polishing paste on my back teeth. I also couldn't pay, which means I'll have to handle both payment and reimbursement from MBF manually.

To the library and changed my books. They have almost nothing worth reading about photography (or maybe it is all lent out). Also the search programs are particularly strange.


Topic: gardening Link here

Then to Big W looking for plants, but only found some tubes of Lonicera with photo and description that didn't match. Bought them anyway; hopefully the colour will be OK.

Then, on the way home through Leith St, found a new plant nursery, Formosa, that I didn't know about. Took a look in there and was surprised how much stuff they have; it's one of the biggest I've seen round here, but from outside it's barely noticeable. I'll definitely have to take a look back.

Also did a little work in the garden. I've now filled soil into most of the semi-circle to the east of the “bunker”, the concrete construction at the north-east corner of the house, which previously looked like this:


 
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One of the problems is that it used to be a lawn, and despite several applications of weed killer, it keeps coming back. The weather's too cool now for weed killer to have much effect, so I've covered it with cardboard, which has worked well elsewhere in the garden.

That now leaves little enough earth in the veggie patch that I can start planting things there—once I work out how to remember where what is.


Topic: technology Link here

Yesterday's broken web site got me thinking: what happened? After some discussion on IRC, we came to the conclusion that it might have been a style sheet download failure. The web designer's not at fault for that, and neither is my flaky network connection; but is it the browser or the web server? That's difficult to determine. Maybe it's the proxy server: it has reported a couple of 0-length responses recently.

And the flaky network continues to be flaky:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1241359200        4        310   99.64% #  4 May 2009

Some of that was the upload overload problem I saw last week, which has reoccurred. I still haven't heard from Wideband, but it really doesn't seem to be worth calling them until the problem is solid and repeatable.


New camera?
Topic: photography Link here

Spent much of the afternoon looking at new photo equipment. Two years ago I did a lot of thought before buying my Olympus E-510, but now I'm in a position to upgrade. What do I do? Upgrade or not? The E-510 is a nice camera, so I'd need a good reason. If I upgrade, do I get another Olympus or a Nikon or Canon? And if an Olympus, the E-3 or the E-30? It's really difficult to decide.


Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day eight

Fortunately the AWB truck showed up early, as promised, and brought me 5 tons of wheat flour (or “tonnes”, as people call them nowadays). It took a couple of hours in the morning just to mix in another 250 kilogrammes of flour and transfer it into the plastic liner in the shipping container. I wonder how effective the mix was. The 500 kilogrammes in the evening were sheer torture.

Do I shut the container or leave it open? It's pretty warm, so I've left it open a crack.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009 Dereel Images for 5 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

My network connectivity is still not satisfactory. I'm limiting my upload bandwidth for the while, but I still had multiple outages:

Date        Outages   Duration  Availability
1241445600        4        287   99.67% #  5 May 2009

Topic: brewing Link here

Brew day today, this time brew 130. For once, things went almost without a hitch—the only real issue was that I ran out of gas during the boil. Gradually things are getting easier, and it's time to think of what still makes brewing more of an issue than it should:

And that's it, at least until I think of something else. I think the water is the highest priority. A way to aerate with less foam would also be good.


Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day nine

Went to the container this morning to work on the starter, and saw an unexpected sight: three dead kangaroos just outside. There was no sign of violence, and my best guess is that they were trying to get into the container, and were asphyxiated by the gases coming out. For the first time I find an advantage in this ridiculous amount of sourdough starter.

Mixing this starter is taking up half the day. This morning I put a whole ton (or should I go the French way and call it a tonne?) of wheat in, requiring no less than 30 cement mixers full. In the evening it was two tons, and the container is almost full. All I need now is for the plastic liner to tear and spill out on the ground.

Decided to close the doors of the container to save the kangaroos; I really don't want to kill them, just get rid of them. Hopefully enough gas will get out for pressure not to become a problem.


Topic: gardening Link here

The (real) kangaroos are still making a nuisance of themselves. Today they ate some of our remaining tomatoes and some of a Cyclamen plant, both on the verandah:


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Cyclamen are supposed to be poisonous; I wonder if they are to kangaroos. Possibly we have seen the last of them, but I greatly doubt it. Put some chairs at the entrance to the verandah, but I think we should be looking at things like infrared light barriers and some kind of squealer. If it doesn't scare them off, it'll at least wake me to do so.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009 Dereel Images for 6 May 2009
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Topic: cooking, fiction Link here

Feeding my sourdough, day ten

In the middle of the night, heard a hell of a commotion, and out into the pouring rain (for once!) to find that the shipping container had exploded. What a mess! And what a waste! Several tons of starter spread all over the paddocks, and a $2,500 container reduced to scrap.

That's what I get for following instructions, I suppose. I give up. I didn't believe this approach was correct in the first place, but I feel that I've now proven beyond reasonable doubt that it's wrong. I wonder what the AWB will think. I wonder if I can convince them to carry some of the cost.


Topic: technology Link here

FreeBSD 7.2-RELEASE is out, and maybe it will work without problems on tvremote. Decided to download an ISO, at least to test the network. Despite the network reliability issues I've been having, it appears that I do have a downlink speed in excess of 1024 kb/s:

0 Opening BINARY mode data connection for 7.2-RELEASE-i386-disc1.iso (587503616 bytes).
100% |*****************************************************************************|   560 MB  141.32 KB/s    00:00 ETA
226 File send OK.
587503616 bytes received in  1:07:40 (141.31 KB/s)

Interestingly, in the middle of that I got a network reset for another connection. I wonder what's going on.


Topic: photography Link here

Popular Photography has been arriving very late, round the end of the previous month, and I've suspected a relationship with really broken addressing. I've already had trouble getting the address right, but this time it didn't even arrive by the end of the month. Fought my way through their web site and reported a lost issue, and today got the reply:

We apologize that you did not receive the May 2009 issue. We extended your subscription to compensate for the issue you
+did not receive. Your new subscription expiration date is December 2010 Issue.

Marvellous. And how do I get the May issue? As it turned out, it was in the letter box, at least a week later than normal, and the address was correct. Called up Australia Post and discussed the label I had found on all the envelopes:


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It turns out that “Residue” does not mean “leftovers”, as I had thought, but relates to the treatment by Australia Post, and that the “VIC-360” is the correct sorting station for me. But the label should be put on the tubs of magazines destined for a specific station, not on every issue, and that possibly the magazines get sent where the top one on the pile indicates. Replied accordingly to Popular Photography, but of course no reply.

Spent most of the afternoon researching photographic equipment, in particular reading Andrzej Wrotniak's Olympus E-30 review and reference, which finally convinced me that that was the camera I wanted. Took another look at B&H camera supplies site, where they had dropped the price by $150 since yesterday, so went ahead and bought one, along with a ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 wide angle lens and a Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital flash unit (why do all these things have such complicated names?). In the process, of course, had to use this completely brain-dead Verified by VISA system, which once again had forgotten my registration and asked me to register again. The only “security” information I needed to provide was my date of birth. What stupidity! But by doing it, I have ensured that VISA take responsibility for any abuse, so maybe I shouldn't complain so much. But stupidity always annoys me.

One interesting thing to come out of the E-30 review was that exiftool produces much more output than exif. I've already complained that I can't find information about the lens in the output from exif; but that's exif's fault, not the camera's, and the information is all there. To be investigated.


Thursday, 7 May 2009 Dereel → Melbourne → Dereel Images for 7 May 2009
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Topic: general, photography Link here

Off to Melbourne today to do various shopping. First to Michael's Camera on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. I think the last time I was in that part of town must have been over 50 years ago, and I didn't recognize anything. Took a look at some cameras for Yvonne—the Nikon L1 looks like it's not going to last much longer—and wrote down a number of models to check on. Then bought a new tripod head, a Manfrotto 804RC2, which at least does what I expect, though even the salesperson thought that the ball head I had had a purpose. It cost more than the tripod and ball head had together, but at least I had the confirmation that it was what I need. After two suboptimal purchases on eBay, that's worth something.

On to IKEA via Lygon St, where we had noted there was a French grocery, “La Parisienne Pâtés”, so in to take a look. It certainly appears to be French, and the personnel were amused when we made fun of the Australian pronunciations of Rillettes, and they promptly continued talking to us in French, which aroused a certain nostalgia. Amusingly, this is very close to where I lived between 1957 and early 1959, though it has changed beyond belief. More nostalgia.


Topic: general, opinion Link here

The first thing at IKEA was to address a number of complaints: incorrect charges for one item, and “fitted” bedsheets that didn't fit. The staff were anything but helpful: Bryce told us that we couldn't return products without the original packaging. That's OK for exchanges (“It's OK to change your mind”), but these sheets didn't fit. He denied that, saying that they hadn't had any other complaints, so I asked him to prove it. He really took one of the sheets, found a mattress and put them on, saying “See? It fits”:


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The sheets didn't wrap around the mattress, and the end of the sheet overlapped by about 14 cm. Then another person, Aimee, explained that this was necessary so that the sheets could move a little—exactly what they shouldn't do. You'd think that we had never slept in a bed before. But they were adamant that they wouldn't take them back, and that there was no need to call a manager. I got quite angry and insisted on a manager, but they couldn't find one. Finally they decided to take them back anyway, without any admission of blame, and we went off, none the happier.

What's wrong with this picture?

The silly thing is that there's a very good reason why the sheets fitted so badly (much worse than at home): the mattress was 90x190 cm, and the sheets were supposed to fit mattresses 90x200 cm in size. That explains 10 of the 14 cm in the photo above. But there's no way to know this, because the mattresses are only marked “single” (never mind that this is a double bed). I've already established that IKEA doesn't offer any mattresses in the standard size 90x200. It seems that the only mattresses which these sheets will fit are those, like ours, that have been imported from Europe. Under these circumstances, I must assume that most people who buy these sheets must have problems with them not fitting.

This is also another indication of the woeful state of affairs with Australia's conversion to the metric system, started decades ago and apparently bogged down in apathy some time later. We were also looking for gas stoves, and saw one later on:


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So the “rapid burner” produces 12.5 MJ. That's about 3.5 kW/h. And then? Does it stop working? Clearly the people who wrote this understand even less about metric units than you might think, and clearly they can't count, since they only mention 3 of 5 burners. I assume that they meant 12.5 MJ/hour. But even that's stupid; we already have a unit of work, the Watt. I've already seen this in photography, where they do it the other way round and refer to “watt-seconds”.

12.5 MJ/hour are easier to understand as 3.5 kW. Why do they use the different “units”? Is this to make it easier for people used to British thermal units, where, conveniently, 1 kJ approximates to 1 BTU? It certainly doesn't make it any easier for people comparing gas stoves with electric stoves, which are rated in kW.

Leaving IKEA, discovered that I had lost my notebook (a ring-bound pad with sheets of paper for making notes on). I suspect I must have left it at Michael's, but a call there drew up a blank. Fortunately I had already looked up how to get to the next place, Domain Home Goods, who also sell on eBay and was able to find my way there without the notes, but it's annoying that I've lost the notes on the cameras.

At Domain bought a new oven and took a look at gas stoves. Once again they were rated in MJ (not even MJ/h), and the people there didn't understand the relationship between kW and MJ/h (though they were keen to find out, since clearly that's important to them too). Unfortunately, the stoves weren't powerful enough, so didn't buy anything.


Topic: opinion Link here

Speed limits in Victoria: too high

I've frequently ranted about the ridiculously slow speed limits on Victorian roads. But maybe I'm wrong: on the way home today, it occurred to me that maybe they're far too high. We repeatedly saw people following at distances in the order of 10 to 15 metres. The only way to make this a safe distance is to reduce the speed limit to where it represents a delay of 2 seconds—in other words, speeds between 5 and 7.5 m/s. That corresponds to 18 to 27 km/h. The police seem unwilling to do anything about the distances (which less enlightened societies might call “tail-gating”), so maybe they should reduce all speed limits to, say, 25 km/h.


Topic: photography Link here

Back home, trying to find out about cameras for Yvonne. It seems that the one Yvonne favours is no longer in production, at least in the USA. More head-scratching needed.


Friday, 8 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Spent much of the day building a new computer for Yvonne: her old one had been gradually dying, but now in addition to a flaky motherboard with leaking capacitors, she ran into some uncorrectable errors on her disk. I'm still having issues with the ex-eureka machine, which sometimes just doesn't power up, so ended up using swamp, my test machine. I'll have to do something there in the short term, preferably getting eureka to work reliably.

But where do I find a 30 GB disk drive? It seems that I don't have any; apart from some old and flaky 20 GB drives, the next smallest are 80 GB, and they're in use, so ended up installing a 120 GB drive. Not many years ago that would be an unimaginable disk size, but now it's just too big for the job it's assigned to. I suppose this is the area where solid-state disks will soon take over.

FreeBSD 7.2-RELEASE has just been released, and independently of this failure I had downloaded an installation ISO, so decided to install that. Result: couldn't boot from the CD. It seems that others have run into this problem, so decided to install 7.0 instead. Even there, I ran into trouble: building ports takes for ever, and even on a virgin installation, I ran into build problems, and I had other things to do. Fortunately I had had enough space on disk to install two alternating root partitions, so just copied the old installation across to the second partition (ad0s1d) and booted from that.

Well, I tried. In the past I've done this all the time, and I thought that it was as simple as specifying currdev and rootdev in /boot/loader.conf:

rootdev="disk0s1d"
currdev="disk0s1d:"

But that didn't work, and I ended up adding a file /boot.config on the a partition:

0:ad(0,d)/boot/loader

That worked, but it took me forever to work it out, and why do I need it? /boot.config wasn't even documented (an omission) until relatively recently. Has something changed, or did I make a silly mistake, or have I just forgotten how to do it?


Topic: general, opinion Link here

Optus: Just say ?no?

My Optus pre-paid credit has run out for the first time, and I wanted to recharge. That's not too difficult: you can call 444 from your mobile phone and pay by credit card. But what tariff (or, as they call it this time, “offer”; previously it was “plan”)?

Went to the web site, and immediately ran into trouble: they wanted an account number:

My Account is only available to all Optus Pre-Paid Mobile customers and other* Optus customers who have a 14 digit Customer Account Number starting with '8'.

Your Customer Account Number is located in the top right hand corner on the front page of your Optus bill.

Clearly there's some disconnect there—pre-paid customers don't receive bills—but it seems so typical. Called up Optus on 1300 555 002 and got yet another brain-dead voice non-recognition menu system. Fought my way through as far as entering my phone number, getting it repeated, and then ran into further trouble, so ended up saying “consultant”. Response: “Before I connect you to a consultant, I need some additional information...”. Me: “consultant!”. This went on for a while, and then I got “Since I can't determine your phone number, I'll put you through to somebody general...”.

Finally got connected to a human (Prudence), and asked how I could bypass the voice menu system. Her answer: “Just keep saying ‘no’, and sooner or later you'll be connected to somebody”. A good answer from a company whose motto, due to invalid content-type headers, appears as ?yes? OPTUS

Finally found what I wanted to know: once you sign up for a tariff^Wplan^Woffer, you stay with it until you decide to change, so recharges always apply to that.


Topic: photography Link here

One thing that I didn't buy with my new camera was a memory card; the prices they asked seemed excessive. Spent a lot of time investigating, got thoroughly confused, and then gradually came to some understanding:

In the end, decided to play it safe and ordered the second card. It's still much cheaper than what I would have got from the USA.

As if to underpin this, got a call from UPS asking for payment for customs clearance. On further investigation, it proved that only the lens and the flash unit have arrived, with a total declared customs value of about $1300.00, which seems reasonable. So the GST is about $130; but UPS wanted over $200, claiming that it was part of the customs fees. I've seen this before, and I think it goes into their own coffers. To be checked on when I get the paperwork. But this means that buying something like a memory card from the USA incurs the following costs:

Purchase price       $33.95
Shipping       $10.00 (on top of existing order, otherwise $41.25)
AUD equivalent       $59.39
Customs       $10.00 (estimated)
Total       $70.00

So, although the price looks better initially, I'd end up spending more.


Saturday, 9 May 2009 Dereel Images for 9 May 2009
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Topic: animals Link here

Strange occurrence today, a motionless robin on the verandah:


 
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It looked like there was something wrong with it, but when I went out it flew away, though possibly slower than it might have done. I wonder what it had. Do the short wings suggest that it's very young?


Topic: general, cooking Link here

Spent some time in the afternoon installing the new oven, made somewhat more complicated by the fact that the power connection is laid out for 40 A, and the cables barely fitted in the connectors. They're at least double the diameter of the wires in the oven itself:


 
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Apart from that, the thing seems to work fine, and it heats up much more quickly than the old one. But it doesn't have a thermostat control light! How could anybody forget that? It can't be a cost issue. Hopefully I'll be able to fit one; it shouldn't be too difficult.

Chris along in the evening for a roast beef to inaugurate the oven. That worked fine—the thermostat appears to be off by about 10°, which is typical enough—but I made a mess of the Yorkshire Pudding: the Kenwood mixer didn't mix the bottom of the bowl, and the batter was only about a third of the consistency it should have been. I need to keep an eye on that.


Sunday, 10 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general, animals Link here

Sitting in the office this morning, Yvonne suddenly shouted “Oh shit!”. On further investigation it seems that she saw somebody ride past a few minutes earlier, and now saw a horse with a saddle hanging between its legs running back in the other direction. I off to look for the rider, while Yvonne went after the horse.

Finding the rider involved a bit of tracking. Fortunately the horse had left some pretty clear tracks, and I had made it about 400 metres when I came across a car bringing the rider back. It was Debbie, our neighbour to the north (about 500 metres away), and she was uninjured. Her new Standardbred horse is obviously in need of a little more training. It had also managed to destroy a stirrup on the equally new saddle.


Topic: technology, photography Link here

Spent some time modifying my PHP scripts for exiftool, with some interesting results:

Canon 720p: slow frame rate, no focus

Finally found the name and manual for the camera we looked at for Yvonne last Thursday. It's sold as a IXUS 100 IS, but only in some countries, it seems; as the manual shows, it's called the PowerShot SD780 IS elsewhere.

It was well worthwhile reading the manual. It talks about 720p, which I consider a TV display standard (720x1280, 50 or 60 fps). But what it delivers is a maximum of 30 fps, which wouldn't even work here, since it's the wrong refresh rate. Worse, though, on page 32 (“Shoot”, really “record movies”):

If you change the composition of your shot during shooting, the focus will stay the same, but the brightness and tone will automatically adjust.

This is a new, modern camera? The Nikon L1 that it's supposed to replace does better than that. So we're back to square 1.


Monday, 11 May 2009 Dereel Images for 11 May 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

More playing around with exiftool today, in particular with regard to focus parameters. Went back and looked at the old photos, in particular the lens comparisons I did last year. Discovered that the Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 reports incorrect focal lengths; for example, this image reports a focus distance of 0.585 m and a depth of field from 0.45m to 0.85m. Clearly that's incorrect, and I've had to special case this lens. It's also clear that the information about hyperfocal distance is of interest only when you're taking the photo—it's dependent only on the aperture, and it has nothing to do with the current focus—but the only time you can access it is after the event.


Topic: photography, gardening Link here

Autumn is well upon us now, and today we had what passes for fog in Australia, and took a number of photos of dew on various surfaces, mainly spiders' webs.. They can certainly do with improvement; depth of field is great importance, as these attempts show:


 
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Topic: gardening Link here

After the fog, we had a fine sunny day, and I did a little work in the garden, mainly spraying weeds. Hopefully it's still warm enough for the spray to do its job.


Tuesday, 12 May 2009 Dereel Images for 12 May 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Into town today to take Yvonne's car in for repair: another door handle had failed. It's strange that this car (Holden VT Commodore) has been very reliable; we've had it for 9 years, it's done nearly 230,000 km, and it's been the most reliable car we ever had. but it's had a number of silly little failures like door handles, ignition keys and brake light switches.


Topic: photography, opinion, general Link here

While waiting for that, to the railway station to pick up my camera gear, which had been sent from New York last week. On the other hand, the memory card I had bought in Sydney last week didn't arrive.

UPS: Who stole my shipment?

This time, somebody had thought to call me up and tell me that the goods were there—on previous occasions they had sent mail, resulting in several days of delay—and I had had some hope that the UPS “service” in Ballarat might have improved. But that was not the case. Once again they gave me the goods without checking any kind of identity, and they didn't even have the signature book, so I had to sign a blank sheet of paper. I had seriously thought of signing a nonsense name, but who knows what kind of trouble that might get me in. One of these days things will get stolen, though.


A mystery identified
Topic: gardening Link here

Then to Formosa Gardens nursery, where we spent some time looking around, in the process identifying my mystery plant 16 as a Virgilia capensis, which should flower; ours has never done. Maybe next year; this year was pretty terrible in many ways.

In fact, it's a Senna aciphylla, as became evident when it finally flowered.

Also bought some goldfish for the water feature on the verandah.


Topic: general Link here

Back to the repair shop, and they still hadn't finished the door handle, so left the car behind and back home; I'll have to come in tomorrow to pick up the memory card anyway.


Topic: opinion Link here

Stupidity kills

On the way home, found a signpost which shows how completely stupid the road authorities are:


 
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What complete and utter stupidity. Drunk or drugged drivers? No worries, mate, as long as they stick to the posted speed limits. Tail-gating? Who cares? Just stick to that bloody speed limit. You'll die if you go only 5 km/h over it.

Clearly they have statistics to prove it. What good are they? If those statistics blame excessive speed (or even exceeding the speed limit) in preference to other faults, of course they'll back up this stupid claim. I'm reminded of Stamp's Law:

The government [is] extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics. These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays. What must be kept ever in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases.

— Sir Josiah Stamp (1880-1941)

I'm disgusted.


Olympus E-30: Very first impressions
Topic: photography, technology Link here

Back home, unpacked my toys and took a first look at them. The ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 is much smaller than I expected, and on the E-30 it made a much smaller impression than the combination E-510 and ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD.

Since I still don't have the memory card, put in an old 48 MB memory card that I bought 9 years ago. It had space for 3 raw images, and it took about 30 seconds to write each to the card. The results (with the 9-18 mm lens) were interesting: exiftool doesn't recognize the lens, and it also reports incorrect focus distances, as for the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6. Further investigation showed that the lens name is not stored in text form in the EXIF file (some other fields are), but are described in the file /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.8/Image/ExifTool/Olympus.pm, which contains things like:

            # Olympus lenses (key is "make model" with optional "release")
            '0 1 0' => 'Zuiko Digital ED 50mm F2.0 Macro',
            ...
            '0 50'  => 'Zuiko Digital ED 14-35mm F2.0 SWD', #PH
            '0 51'  => 'Zuiko Digital 25mm F2.8', #PH
            # Sigma lenses

Under these circumstances, it's particularly convenient that exiftool reports the lens as Unknown Model (0 52). That makes it clear what needs fixing. The question is to what extent exiftool is responsible for the other strangenesses I have seen, such as equivalent 35mm focal length or incorrect focus distance. To be investigated—and I don't do Perl!

Apart from that, the E-30 makes a much more solid impression than the E-510, but a lot of the controls have changed. It's clear that I'll need some time to come to terms with them.


Topic: cooking Link here

More sourdough experimentation

Baked another loaf of bread today. It didn't rise much either, even after 6 hours. But was that correct or not? I used 700 g flour and starter made from about 600 g of flour, but maybe it was only the 700 g (compared to about 500 g last time) that made the real difference. So baked it anyway; but after baking, it seemed a lot heavier than I would have expected, so maybe I was wrong. To be discovered tomorrow.


Wednesday, 13 May 2009 Dereel Images for 13 May 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Into town today with Chris to pick up the Commodore and the memory card for my new camera, which has now arrived—only one day less transit from Sydney than the photographic equipment took from New York.


Topic: technology Link here

Chris is currently in the process of migrating domains, something which involves me as well. Spent an inordinate amount of time trying to debug a zone file for named; it looked right, the name server accepted it, but I always got:

=== root@w3 (/dev/ttyp0) /etc/namedb 92 -> nslookup aeon-systems.net localhost
Server:         localhost
Address:        127.0.0.1#53

*** Can't find aeon-systems.net: No answer

Got it fixed by copying a different zone file and modifying it, and in the end discovered that the problem was triggered by the lack of an A record for aeon-systems.net. A lookup on www.aeon-systems.net worked fine. But why “no answer”? It should have given me a clear rejection. Is this a bug or one of the strangenesses of recent versions of named?


Topic: photography Link here

Getting to know the E-30, part 2

Somehow didn't have much time to look at my new camera today, but plenty of time to think. It's been nearly 44 years since I bought my first SLR, a Pentax SV. It had exactly two controls on the body: the shutter speed dial and the self-timer. A year later I sold it and replaced it with a Pentax Spotmatic, the next model up. This camera was the first to have through-the-lens metering, so it had one additional control.

Now, over 40 years later, I'm in the same position. I'm replacing my 20 month old Olympus E-510 with an Olympus E-30, the next model up. But there are more than two or three controls on the camera: there are so many that it's almost impossible to maintain an overview, and clearly Olympus is suffering too. There are buttons everywhere, up the three ways to view control information, and up to three ways to change it. The Spotmatic had one additional control, while the others were unchanged. The E-30 has all the controls of the E-510, but many are in different places. There are also several additional controls, and there are cases where you need to press two buttons at the same time to perform certain functions in the “direct” manner.

Why? Is it a lack of concept? I don't think so. There are many reasons, some of them valid:

So I think it's probably understandable that things are still so complicated. I'll get there in the end, and in another year or two things will be different again.

Flash exposure

One thing that had annoyed me on the E-510 was that photos taken with the internal flash appeared underexposed. Tried a series of flash exposures on the E-30, bracketed with ±0.7 EV, and got:


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Which is right? According to the histogram, they're all too dark. But that's not so clear from the images. I need to look at them more carefully.


Topic: animals, photography Link here

Piccola is interested by the TV projection screen, which runs under FreeBSD using X and fvwm2. In particular, the cursor fascinates her. I've been wondering how to capture it as a photo for some time, and today I got some first photos, which need to be improved on:


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Thursday, 14 May 2009 Dereel Images for 14 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Another security update from Apple today, and another failure to download it. It seems to be a different problem this time—it tried, made reasonable progress for a while, and then gave up with “Network Error”. That's bad enough, but there's no provision for retry: you need to restart “Software Update”, go through the check again, log in again—and fail again! After the third time gave up and went to the Apple Security Updates Site and downloaded it to dereel—in the fastest download I've ever seen at home. Looking at the satellite modem, it peaked at about 4.5 Mb/s, and the whole 75 odd MB loaded in about 2 minutes—a speed of in the order of 600 kB/s. I've never had that even on ADSL. I used firefox to do the load, so I can't quote exact speeds. Next time I should use a real client like ftp.


Topic: general Link here

I've had a number of problems with the delivery of c't magazine recently, and only yesterday I sent a message to the subscription department asking for a new copy of the fourth issue missing in a row. Today, to my immense surprise, I received first of the 4 (7/2009, dated 16 March, and nearly two months late). The reason is clear. Here the old and the new address labels:


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In fact, the country name is present, just below the crop that I made, as can be seen in the full scan, but it's so far from the rest of the address that I suspect that the automatic readers don't recognize it—not here, but in Germany or Switzerland. The stamp at top left clearly shows that it was received somewhere in NSW on 9 May.


Topic: photography, animals Link here

More playing around with taking photos of Piccola and the mouse cursor. The trick is, of course, to reduce the output of the flash unit. Things are getting better, but we're not there yet:


 
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Friday, 15 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: photography Link here

More reading up on how to use my new camera and flash unit today. Somehow the instructions are written from the wrong perspective: “This camera has these functions, and this is how you set them”. What I want is “These are the issues involved in taking photos, and this is how this camera helps you address them”. Took a look at what books were available on Safari, but found nothing for Olympus. Took a look in “Canon 50D: From Snapshots to Great Shots” by Jeff Revell, but it wasn't what I'm looking for: it's at least as much about photography as it is about the camera. Maybe I should write a book with a title something like “Olympus E-30: the annotated reference”.

In passing, why do people use such silly terms relating to cameras? This book has a chapter entitled “Pimp my ride”, which turns out to have nothing to do with prostitution: it describes useful accessories. A couple of things reached out and grabbed me:

If you bought your camera with a lens, then you basically had everything you needed to begin shooting with your 50D.

Really? Where are you going to store the images? Yana's 20D came with a standard kit lens, but it didn't come with a memory card.

If you only buy one accessory for your photography, do yourself a favor [sic] and make it a tripod.

This section is of interest to me, given the issues I have had with tripods recently. Unfortunately, it doesn't go into as much detail as I would have liked.

[A polarizing filter] ranks right up there at the top of the list of must-own photography accessories.

And I thought it was a tripod... But seriously, is it that important? I've just bought one, and am waiting for it to arrive; but I've got by happily for two years without one. He also doesn't describe the difference between linear and circular polarization; older filters were linear, but that seems to confuse autofocus systems.

Another great way to jump into macro work is by purchasing a close-up filter...

A close-up what? He's talking about a lens, not a filter. I'm sure he knows the difference. Why do people deliberately use incorrect terminology?


Topic: gardening Link here

Some work in the garden, mainly weeding, but also planted some Impatiens seedlings in the driveway; last year I had tried with spectacular lack of success to raise them from seed. We really need somebody to level the ground so that we can continue with the landscaping.


Topic: cooking Link here

Yvonne has allowed me to cook some Indian food for tomorrow, so spent some time playing around with another recipe from A little taste of India, Chicken with coriander and almonds. Did the preparations today; we'll find out what it's like tomorrow.


Saturday, 16 May 2009 Dereel Images for 16 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Chris Yeardley seems to have a knack of finding incompetent domain registrars. Last year we had serious problems with AUSWEB. Now we're in the process of changing to somebody who knows what he's doing, and hopefully in a couple of weeks AUSWEB will be history.

But that's not Chris' only domain; she also has aeon-systems.net, which was hosted, along with the web site, by Nexpoint. A few days ago, Chris cancelled the web hosting and asked for the name servers to be changed—unfortunately in that order, causing the problems I mentioned then. Those problems took me about an hour to fix, but the so far, after several days, the registrar has still not found a way to perform his duties. At the same time Chris asked to have me put in as technical contact; that was confirmed the following day, but so far it hasn't appeared anywhere, and they don't copy me on any of the technical issues they're having.

The main problem was simply changing the name servers, something that a web-based application (which they don't offer) could do in a minute or two. First they tripped over the fact that the name servers were inside the domain they served; it seems they didn't register the IP addresses:

We have received a notice that there is a problem updating the Name Servers.  It does not appear the name servers are not registered.

NS1.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET
NS2.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET

Clearly accuracy is not one of their strong points; I assume that they meant to say that the name servers are not registered. And that's one of the things we asked them to do. After I asked them what the problem was, they said that they had now registered the name servers. Well, almost: they registered as NS1.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET and NS2.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET.AEON-SYSTEMS.NET instead of ns1.aeon-systems.net. and ns2.aeon-systems.net.. And each iteration takes a day or two; we're now at the stage where mail will start bouncing.

Where do these people come from? I suppose that, in their defence, they're primarily web hosting. Maybe we should try to arrange with them to perform a transfer rather than continuing with this pain.


Topic: photography Link here

House photos today, the first time since I got my new camera, and more particularly the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6 wide angle lens, which I have earmarked for most of the external photos. The change in focal length from 12mm to 9 mm (24 to 18 mm equivalent 35 mm focal length) has changed a number of things, notably the number of shots I need for my panorama photos. In particular, the number of shots for the north view dropped from 11 to 8, and of course the aspect ratio changed noticeably. Here last week and this week:


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The verandah panorama is still an issue, and I'm not sure what to do there. Yes, there are now only 5 shots instead of 7, and we now have a higher vertical angle of view, but that just accentuates the difficulties of mapping the sides. Here again last week and this week:


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Topic: gardening Link here

It's been raining relatively regularly lately, a couple of millimetres every day. That's enough to make a good difference in the appearance of the paddocks, but apart from a brief couple of 100 litres last month, the dam has been bone dry since February. Here a comparison between last year and this year:


 
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Ian Munro from Munash came along today to spread some ECO-MIN BALANCE on our paddocks. I had thought that lime or dolomite would be more appropriate, but Ian claims that this is a necessary pre-requisite for the lime to do its job. I'm not convinced that he can explain the scientific side of things, but it seems that a lot of people have used his products and are happy with them. The stuff costs $350 a ton compared to about $58 for lime, but he only uses 10% of the quantity, so it comes out cheaper. We'll see how well things work; much depends on getting enough rain.

Early last month I renewed my subscription to Gardening Australia Magazine for 28 months for the price of a two year subscription, itself cheaper than two single years subscriptions. As an additional bonus, they sent me 5 tulips, “Hugs n kisses”. Normally nothing worth mentioning in my diary, and I didn't. But a few days ago the tulips arrived, sent from Tesselaar, one of the biggest mail order nurseries and most certainly one that is very active with its brochures and catalogues. I must have 10 different documents from them. The package was no exception: it came with a planting guide, an overview of different plants, an order form for the catalogues, and of the tulips.

What's missing? What do these tulips look like? No description. I went looking back in the catalogues, and of course I've misplaced the catalogue which describes their tulips. Looked on the web site; no mention: the selling season for tulips is over, so they appear to have removed them from the web site. Google brought up so many false positives that it wasn't worth the trouble. I've been searching on and off for days now, and I still don't know what these tulips look like.


Topic: cooking Link here

Chris along for dinner tonight. Today was the curry day, and since I'm now into baking bread, decided to try baking nan (often spelt “naan”). That worked up to a point, apart from the completely inappropriate relationships between liquid and flour; although I only added 75% of the liquid, I ended up having to add another 40% of flour to get the consistency right.

Decided that a good approximation to the conditions in a Tandur would be a pizza stone under the grill. That worked well, but it didn't look like nan:


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More head-scratching. At least it tasted OK. Is that the reason why they cover them with butter before baking?


Topic: photography Link here

The usual fooling around after dinner, and now I have a new flash unit to play around with. On the whole it seems to work well, though I need to analyse the histograms more carefully.


 
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One thing that needs more careful examination are the EXIF data. These photos were taken with a Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital in TTL mode but what it reports (for the first picture above) is:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp3) ~/Photos/20090516 609 -> exiftool Yvonne-cats-3.jpeg | grep -i flash
Flash                           : On, Fired
Flash Type                      : E-System
Flash Firmware Version          : 2.000
Flash Serial Number             : 000058:1
Flash Mode                      : On, Fill-in
Flash Exposure Comp             : 0
External Flash                  : On
External Flash Bounce           : Direct
External Flash Zoom             : 0
Internal Flash                  : Off
Manual Flash                    : Off
Flashpix Version                : 0100
Flash Model                     : FL-50R

A number of these fields are incorrect:

Some of this information may just not be available, of course. But it's one more reason to look more carefully at this EXIF data.


Sunday, 17 May 2009 Dereel Images for 17 May 2009
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Topic: general Link here

For some reason, a number of anniversaries fall on today: on 17 May 1976 I started work with Karstadt AG, where I stayed exactly 6 years; on 17 May 1982 I started working with Tandem Computers. This is all the stranger because it happened in Germany, where people always start work on the first of a month.

As if that wasn't enough, 3 years ago today I completed my last travel by plane. That's the longest I've gone without plane travel since I was 12 years old, maybe even since I first flew in a plane in November 1956. Why? I could say that I hate the atmosphere that has developed since the terrorists won the “Battle of the World Trade Center”, and the thugs who perform the security checks, the complete dehumanization of air travel—and I do—but the real reason is that that part of my life is over. I've travelled a lot in my life, and now I'm quite happy to stay at home.

One part of my life that isn't over, clearly, is that I'm filthy untidy. My office floor is littered with things that I should be tidying away, and much of the rest of the house is too. Spent some time tidying up, gradually building up energy towards putting the shelves in the cupboards, a process that I started nearly 2 years ago.


Topic: photography Link here

More playing around with photos of Piccola and the mouse cursor. They're getting better, but I'm still not satisfied:


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Monday, 18 May 2009 Dereel Images for 18 May 2009
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Topic: photography, technology Link here

Decided to investigate exiftool in more detail today, and discovered that it's in fact quite well written. In particular, there's a list of information sources at the top of the file /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.8/Image/ExifTool/Olympus.pm, and one of the links was to a Wiki with a description of the Olympus Maker Notes. Spent some time looking around that, in the process finding a second web site with what I thought was a set of mailing lists. Signed up for them, but to my disappointment all I got was a set of web by mail, and those in light grey and white on a dark grey background. A question on the list confirmed that this was all you get. Pity.

It's also time to be more serious about backing up my photos. I now have 120 GB in the ~/Photos directory, from which I build the web pages, and the only backups are the daily incremental backups. There are two disadvantage there: firstly, it's difficult to extract photos from a 100 GB compressed archive, and secondly the two level 0 dumps take up nearly double the space they need to. Dragged out an unused 200 GB disk, put it into an external USB housing and started a backup. It made about 50 GB, and then I ran into trouble, which after much searching (and blaming the USB stack) proved to be that the disk had failed. It had done fine until today, and I suspect that the uncooled housing has much to do with it.

While investigating the issue, tried reinstating swamp, my test box, using the old motherboard from eureka, which had had problems powering on. Things changed; it powered on, wouldn't power off. It worked, didn't work. It ended up cycling the lights on the keyboard. Yet another failed component that worked fine until I retired it 6 months ago. And time for yet more hardware.


Topic: cooking Link here

Sourdough starter, day one (for real)

Last month I wrote a satirical description of what would happen if I followed a specific set of instructions for making a sourdough starter, and a couple of people didn't realise that it was just a joke. This time it isn't, though: I need to work out instructions that work for me, so I'm documenting what I do in more detail.

I need to bake on Friday, so I'm giving myself plenty of time to build up the starter I have in two or three steps. Today I took the 73 g that I had put aside last week. I've noticed that the dough gets moister as it ferments, so this time I added 73 g of flour, mixed in water to get the right consistency, and then weighed it. To my surprise, I had added exactly 73 g! Here photos of the original and immediately after mixing; tomorrow we'll see what the result looks like after fermenting:


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Tuesday, 19 May 2009 Dereel Images for 19 May 2009
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Topic: general Link here

It's been nearly two years since I've planned to replace the front tyres on my car, mainly because of the wheel imbalance. At the time the tyre people made it clear that the tyres still had a lot of wear on them, but for some reason they didn't balance them.

Finally they were worn down enough, so today into town to have them changed, and also dropped in to the doctor to hear the results of my last blood tests: all parameters in the “normal” range, for the third time now. That's better than when I was younger.

One of my 5-CD changers has reached the point where it can play hardly any CD properly, so popped into JB HiFi and found a DVD player for $63. Yes, you can get them for half that price, but this had simulated 5.1 sound and component and HDMI output with scaling up to 720p and 1080p (and 1080i, for no good reason that I can see), so bought that.

An HDMI cable was another thing: it didn't come with one, of course, and the cheapest they had was $58, only $5 less than the player. The salesman expressed the opinion that the prices would go up, not down. This reminds me of last time I went there, where they had mini-HiFi systems for $94 and speakers starting at $350. I wonder if that's part of their strategy: lots of cheap stuff, but the little things are expensive.


Topic: general, opinion Link here

Back home and installed the DVD player, which does its job. But I'm left wondering about the usability of modern HiFi stuff. Twenty years ago I had an amplifier, a tuner, a couple of VCRs, a CD player and a turntable—in fact more than I do now. But they were easier to use, at least because they either had manual controls or a very limited remote control. Today remote controls sport a plethora of identical looking buttons. To use them, you need to look at them, and that requires adequate lighting, especially since the manufacturers seem to like to write grey lettering on a black background. The last two devices I have bought have been particularly bad in this respect. The main controls you want on an amplifier are the input selection and volume. On the Sherwood remote control you really need to search for them:


 
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The big, easy-to-feel buttons in the middle do something completely uninteresting, probably menu navigation, while the volume buttons are hidden above to the left, where you can see the difference, but not feel it. This is a particular nuisance because it forgets its volume settings when you turn it off or when you change inputs, so you're continually adjusting the volume. And changing inputs is no better: those are the second and third row of buttons below the menu buttons.

So, what does this mean in practice? In the old days, to change from, say, one VCR to the other, I needed to switch the sound to the amplifier and the video to the TV. I had a box from Tandy that did that with a press of a single button. Now to change, say, from computer to DVD video, I need to:

Isn't that easy? I tried to explain it to Yvonne, but for some reason she wants written instructions.


Topic: cooking Link here

Sourdough starter, day 2

My sourdough starter came up nicely:


 
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Somehow it doesn't smell strong enough. Last time it had a strong vinegary smell. It's also becoming clear that I started a little early for baking on Friday; following the “double each time” rule, I now have about 100 g of flour in the starter, and today I'd have to add another 150 g, giving a total of 500 g. Then tomorrow I'd have to add 300 g, giving a total of about 1 kg, assuming less water than flour. But I only need 600 g. Decided to add less at each step, so today added 100 g flour and enough water to make a thick paste. As I suspected, this time it was much less, only 70 ml:


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That makes a total of 390 g starter, so one more step should do the trick.

Only after doing this did I check a German site and found that this relates quite closely (but not exactly) to the classic three-step process. The difference is the exact moisture level and the temperature. I'll try that one when I'm in a position to control the temperature better.


Topic: technology Link here

On a hunch, tried a different power supply on the flaky motherboard that I had trouble with yesterday. Success! It works fine. So there's something wrong with the power supply, which is much easier to replace. Is it defective or merely deficient? It's 7 years old and doesn't have the 4-pin CPU plug that modern supplies have. Maybe it'll still work with an older motherboard, if I have one of them.


Topic: technology, general Link here

Spent some time looking for disks, without coming to any good conclusions. What I did find was an HDMI cable, from MSY: $5, compared to $58, tendency rising, from JB HiFi. My suspicions are deepened.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009 Dereel Images for 20 May 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

Olympus have brought out yet another firmware update, this time affecting my ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6, so, not without trepidation, decided to finally upgrade all the firmware. I currently have two bodies and three lenses, and only one of the lenses did not need an update. Despite my concerns, and despite lack of “if things go wrong” documentation, things went smoothly, though some of the documentation was strange:

Cannot update firmware when more than two lenses are attached to the camera.

I can only assume this is another way of saying “don't attach more than one teleconverter”.

Also a bit of playing around with EXIF, and found the -htmldump command for exiftool, which reports a surprising amount of uninterpreted data, for example the ones for a normal photo and one with flash. I'm reminded of uninterpreted gene sequences.


Topic: cooking Link here

Sourdough starter, day 3

My sourdough starter has risen considerably:


 
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It also smelt much more convincing. According to the classic three-step process, this step should be called “Grundsauer”, but given the smell, I think “Stinksauer” might be more appropriate.

Somehow I'm getting confused about the amount of starter I need for a loaf of bread. 600 g of starter or starter made from 600 g of flour? I've decided—more or less—on the former, and today added another 150 g of flour and—surprisingly—145 g of water, somewhat the reverse of yesterday's low water requirement, but also unintentionally in keeping with the classic three-step process. That makes a total of 685 g. I'll leave it out in the kitchen overnight and see how it develops at those temperatures.


Topic: general, animals Link here

We're thinking of selling our horse float, which we have barely used since we've been here. Hopefully we'll get about $5,500 for it:


 
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Thursday, 21 May 2009 Dereel → Melbourne → Dereel Images for 21 May 2009
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Topic: technology, general Link here

Into Melbourne today to do various shopping. First to MSY in Brooklyn, a rather unlikely named suburb in the west, just to find it still closed:


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I was only a few minutes too early, so waited and got served pretty quickly. Bought a couple of disks for backups, along with some enclosures and cables, and was out within 10 minutes, a far cry from last time.


Topic: brewing, general Link here

On to Grain and Grape and bought some grain and another keg (the third), so that I can have beer conditioning outside the fridge while having two styles of beer on tap. Also a discussion with Nik about stout composition (the next brew will be a stout), and he claimed that Brix and Plato are different measurements, bringing up a ProMash screen as proof; it claims that 13.2% Brix are about 12.6° Plato. I wonder what's going on there; my understanding, based on very little proof, has always been that they are the same, possibly modulo temperature, but they're both for measuring pure sugar solutions, so maybe there's something else going on. The Wikipedia page gives a different formula again, but it's off by only 0.5%. The Wikipedia page for Plato currently states:

... a wort measured at 12° Plato has the same density as a water-sucrose solution containing 12% sucrose by weight, denoted as 12% Brix.

Buying foodstuffs
Topic: general Link here

Then on to the Queen Victoria Market and did some shopping, mainly for Yvonne. Had intended to buy some Chinese cabbage, but what I saw there looked pretty terrible. I don't know whether I'm just getting too fussy, or whether the food here is really getting worse.

Out to Tullamarine (the suburb, not the airport) to a place called “Aztec Imports”, hardly in the area for a shop: it took me a couple of attempts to find it, partially because the roads wouldn't let me turn the way I wanted, but mainly because I wasn't able to stop anywhere between Spencer St. in the CBD and the freeway exit in Tullamarine. Stopped anyway—it's ridiculous that a state so bent on “Road safety” should make it so difficult to find your way around. I wonder how many accidents are caused by drivers trying to make last-minute lane changes when they realize they're on the wrong road, or running into the car in front of them while trying to sneak a look at the street directory.

The description I had of the place stated:

A small showroom is packed with many dried chilli varieties, including jalapeno, [sic]...

It's certainly small:


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Found some of the things I was looking for, at prices that I wouldn't normally pay. On the way out, saw a familiar face:


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The text below apparently refers to the woman who was serving me, who had received it in an email. She had never heard of BSD.

Back home via Ballarat—they seem to have opened a new stretch of freeway since we were last here less than two months ago, and this time I didn't get tangled up in the local traffic at all.


Topic: gardening Link here

Our Tree Dahlia (if that's what it really is) is starting to bloom:


 
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Spent some time checking on the web, but I'm still not sure whether it is or isn't a Tree Dahlia. One page looks similar, but I'll have to keep an eye on it.


Topic: cooking Link here

Sourdough starter, day 4

The sourdough starter looked OK this morning, so I left it out in the kitchen at room temperature until the evening, when I had really intended to add the final flour and leave it overnight, but it didn't really seem to have progressed enough. In particular, it didn't smell as sour as yesterday. Left it out overnight. I'll have to leave the final loaf all day tomorrow.

Australian culinary taste

One of the things that I bought at the Queen Victoria Market was some specialty “hamburgers”—beef and red wine, and “Mediterranean” with lamb, garlic and rosemary. Tried the latter in the evening. They're certainly big enough, but they seem to be made out of something like sausage meat, and they weren't quite what I expected. The butcher seems to be quite proud of them, and I'm left wondering if there's not just an expectation mismatch. I suppose the food we barbecue isn't quite typical.


Friday, 22 May 2009 Dereel Images for 22 May 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

These USB disk enclosures are amazing. $17 for an ugly box with a power supply and a SATA to USB 2.0 converter. But there are strangenesses, too. The “instructions” are about as good as you might expect; they don't even tell you how to open the box. Previous boxes I've used had some kind of clip which you needed to open, but I couldn't find it here; it proved to be two screws at one end.

Inside there's the plastic frame and the electronics, conveniently laid out so that the cables point straight at the disk:


 
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Unfortunately, that's not the way the disk fits. Firstly, the cables are too long, and secondly you have to turn it upside down to get it to fit into the frame, twisting all the cables in the process:


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And of course the holes in the frame don't quite match up with the screw holes in the disk. Still, the thing works so far.


Topic: photography Link here

The filters I bought on eBay last week are now here: a polarizing filter (allegedly circular; how can you tell the difference between a circular and a linear polarized filter?) and a progressive grey filter for darkening the skies. Tried out the polarizing filter, which does a good job at what it's best at:


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Now to find a way to get the goldfish more visible.

Olympus E-30: More impressions

Some of the statements here prove to be inaccurate, but they're a report of my understanding at the time, so I'm not going to change them. See my E-30 autofocus page for a more balanced coverage.

I'm quite happy with my new Olympus E-30, but some things about it suggest a somewhat hurried or uncoordinated approach to its development. Finally Olympus are adding text to the menus, instead of expecting you to remember a whole lot of strange symbols. But they're not doing it everywhere. And I've already mentioned the way they've moved the buttons all over the place. Compared to the E-510 it makes a somewhat disoriented impression. For example, there are two buttons at top left, one for autofocus mode and one for metering mode. These buttons used to be in the central arrow pad on the E-510. The autofocus button works the same way it did in the E-510: it brings up a menu with the possible autofocus selections, and you can select them either with the arrow buttons or either of the wheels. There's a similar menu for metering mode, too, and that's what you get if you press the corresponding button on the E-510. But on the E-30, you have to go via the general menu to get it. If you press the metering mode button, you get the general menu (which Olympus calls the “Super Control Panel” and describes on page 8 of the manual) with a couple of tiny fields highlighted. With the wheel on the back of the body you can select a barely recognizable symbol representing the metering mode, and with the one on the front you can select things like self-timer and remote control, again with a barely recognizable symbol.

Finding instructions in the manual is also much more difficult than it should be. There are a total of 11 autofocus sensors, and you can use autofocus in one of three different modes: all 11 sensors, up to 5 sensors arranged in a diamond, or a single sensor. How do you switch between the modes? The manual won't tell you unless you read it cover to cover: in the section on autofocus, they only say (page 55):

There are two AF target modes: All target AF mode, which uses AF at all AF targets, and Single target AF mode, which uses AF centering around one selected AF target.

In fact, there are really three. We'll see why below. But this is the only mention of AF target modes here, beyond an abuse of the term on page 57, where they're really talking about a specific combination of target mode and specific target. Today I spent 15 minutes trying to find out how to select the target mode. It seems that with the find out how to change the target mode, you have to look at page 93, describing Custom Menu 1 [silly wrench symbol]A AF/MF. There you can set two separate settings to decide which mode you want to use. First you decide which of the two more restrictive you want to be able to select without too much pain:

AF SENSITIVITY

You can set the range of the AF target for focusing when [AF AREA] is set to [ . ].

[NORMAL] The camera focuses using a range that is somewhat larger than the selected AF target.

[SMALL] The camera focuses only within the selected AF target. When [SMALL] is selected, the setting display for [AF AREA] becomes [ . ]s.

Then you experiment until you discover that the [...] SET UP at the top of page 94 allows you to change from 11 sensor mode (the useless one) to the other one that you selected above, in alternation with selecting one of the sensors, if you set the [...] SET UP to something other than OFF. If you set it to OFF, you can still select the sensors, you just can't change the target mode.

That's bad enough, but I'm sure that today I found a way to cycle through all three modes; I've just lost it again, and it's hidden behind so much obfuscation that I don't even know where to look.


Topic: cooking, opinion Link here

Live a salt-free diet!

A couple of days ago I recorded the first episode of an SBS programme called “The Food Investigators”, a programme about nutritional imbalances. It seems that they plan to target a particular ingredient each week. So what's the most dangerous and most abused ingredient in modern food? I have always thought it had to be sugar, both simple (glucose, sucrose) and complex (starch), even before I discovered that I have diabetes. Alternatively it might be fat. But what they chose for their first episode was salt. Yes, excessive salt is bad for you; so is too little, as sportspeople must know. But they didn't address that aspect: indeed, they started by trying to get somebody onto a salt-free diet, something that would cause severe problems in a very short time. So another stupid programme, which I turned off after 10 minutes after discovering that I don't eat any of the food that they produced as examples (baked beans, white bread, potato crisps and corn flakes).

The most stupid thing I saw, though, was the analysis on the back of a box of biscuits:


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They were really looking at the sodium content, but look at the fat: total fat 0g, 2% of the recommended daily allowance? What kind of nonsense is that? That's not directly the fault of the producers, of course, but the fact that they show such nonsense suggests that they don't have a problem with it, and it certainly says something about the accuracy of the information.


Topic: cooking Link here

Fried fish in batter (“fish and chips”) this evening. The batter was a disaster! As soon as I put the fish in the fat, it disintegrated. I wonder what went wrong there.

Sourdough, day 5

In the morning, mixed in the remainder of the ingredients for my next sourdough bread: 700 g wheat/rye mix (25% rye), 100 g rye meal and only 420 ml water. That makes a total of 1,123 g flour and 708 ml water in addition to the 73 g starter. Left it to rise all day, which it did, though I fear once again not enough. To be on the safe side, baked for 75 minutes instead of 60. Once again, we'll see when we eat it.


Saturday, 23 May 2009 Dereel Images for 23 May 2009
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Topic: cooking Link here

Huevos rancheros for breakfast this morning, and since I bought all this stuff at the Aztecs a couple of days ago, decided to make my own tortillas. Not the most unreserved success—getting them into the pan is an issue—but certainly better than the leather things I get from Safeway. More practice needed.


Topic: photography Link here

House photos again today, and tried out my graded filter for the first time:


 
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Lenses invert, right? So I mounted the filter with the dark side at the bottom. Wrong! Yes, lenses invert, but that's on the other side. This way round just made things worse, and I had to go out and take all the photos again:


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That did greatly improve things, however. For the first time I can see details in the sky, though it's still partially burnt out.

Later processing improved this considerably:


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Vignetting with Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6

Another thing that these photos show is a bit of vignetting at the corners. That's clearly due to the filter, but it seems that the lens (Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6) is designed in such a way that any filter would have this effect when it's set at 9 mm.

More autofocus woes

While taking some of today's many photos, discovered that I still couldn't set the autofocus modes that I had discussed yesterday. It seems that my interpretation of the instructions wasn't completely correct; there's another knob to tweak, hidden yet elsewhere. The menu item [AF SENSITIVITY] is not what changes between the 5 sensor mode and the one sensor mode; indeed, it's almost invisible in the status display. To change between the 1 and 5 sensor mode, you need to go through a completely different menu, [silly camera symbol] 2 AF MODE. There you can cycle through the three options of 1, 5 or 11 sensors, and this is what I was looking for yesterday. It's a pity that something this important is hidden below such menus. Hopefully Olympus will find a way to improve on this in a firmware update.

That's not impossible. For example, there's a menu in the E-30 for specifying the focal length of manual lenses for the image stabilizer (page 63). The last firmware upgrade of the E-510 added this feature to that camera, so they do change the interface.


Topic: cooking Link here

More Mexican food in the evening, Pollo en adobo, one of the earliest dishes which made clear to me the need for accuracy in recipes. The original recipe called for Chile Ancho “or any other kind of chile”. Anchos are very mild, so replacing them with normal chiles completely transforms the dish.


Topic: gardening Link here

That left me with a lot of seeds. I'm told the chiles are freeze-dried before import, but possibly some will germinate, so dragged out my propagation box and planted them. We'll see if anything happens; at least the conditions are more controlled than last time I tried this, where I ended up with some completely different plant which I had thought was a chile.


Topic: photography, general Link here

In the evening, more silly photos:


 
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What with that and the double round of photos I took in the morning, I have taken more photos than ever before: 109 photos, using over 1 GB in the morning and another 300 MB in the evening:

Filesystem   1048576-blocks Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/disk3s1           3904 1068  2836    27%    /Volumes/E-30
/dev/disk3s1           3904  304  3600     8%    /Volumes/E-30

So I got the new CF card just in time. I also have a total of 1,843 MB of data in my day's photo directory.


Sunday, 24 May 2009 Dereel Images for 24 May 2009
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Topic: cooking Link here

Sourdough: proof of the pudding

So finally we got round to eating the latest sourdough bread today. Not bad, a bit lighter than the last one, but I think I should leave the next one to rise longer, probably overnight. It might also be a good idea to check the temperatures in the new oven; it's possible that it's a little cooler than the old one.


Topic: photography Link here

Fixing the E-30 documentation

I've spent several attempts now trying to understand the autofocus on the Olympus E-30, and today set to to write an alternative documentation of the functionality. That proved well worthwhile: I only got as far as describing the choice of autofocus area, where the manual describes two or three different methods; in fact there are four, arranged in such a bizarre manner that I was convinced that the whole thing was developed in a hurry.

Then, just for the fun of it, I downloaded the manual for the E-3 for comparison, and discovered that the autofocus arrangement is almost identical. But the E-30 was announced on in November 2008, over a year after the E-3, which was announced on 16 October 2007. You'd think that the intention to downsize the E-3 to the E-30 wouldn't include “warts and all”.

Sun zoom: broken or not?

Also did some thinking about the Sun 80-240 mm f/4 zoom lens that I bought years ago and never used more than once or twice. Found a reference that suggested that the focusing issue was related to the macro facility, which might give some idea of what's wrong. On the other hand, it doesn't fit my modern cameras, and the focus range is completely covered by the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6, so maybe I should just forget it.


Topic: gardening Link here

We've been dragging our heels in the garden, waiting for somebody to come and grade the new areas that we're going to plant. But some of the plants we've bought for planting are looking a little unhappy, so we'll have to do something soon. Planted a couple of ferns, along with protection from the kangaroos, and did some thinking about other things. Also planted some more seeds in punnets.


Monday, 25 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: opinion, technology Link here

Spam meets consonant shift

One of the interesting things that I've experienced in my lifetime is the way the pronunciation of the English language has changed, notable in the United Kingdom, but also in the USA. You just need to listen to films made in the mid-20th century to confirm. In particular, in the USA a t between two vowels tends to become voiced (d), so the English words “latter” and “ladder” are both pronounced “ladder”. Today I got spam which shows this influence:

Date: Mon, 25 May 2009 19:29:59 +0530
From: webmaster@Hallmark.com
To: grog@lemis.com
Subject: You have received a greeding e-card !

[-- text/html is unsupported (use 'v' to view this part) --]

Of course, the etymology might relate to one of the driving forces of the modern Internet, greed.


Topic: general Link here

Finally a bit of rain, unfortunately with a lot of wind. Spent most of the day inside.


Topic: general, opinion Link here

American Express: We don't need no steenking customers

A few months ago I got an American Express credit card. As I mentioned at the time, I had had problems with them in the past, and hoped that things would be better this time round. They were not. Right from the word “go” I had problems with their web site, which locked me out of the system. Attempts to arrange direct debit failed in similar manner; to this day, direct debit has not been set up correctly. I tried again in January 2009. The web site was still broken, but they promised to send me a form, which never came.

All that wouldn't have been so bad if my March invoice hadn't got lost. The first I heard of it was when I got the following invoice with a supplementary charge. I called them up and resolved the problem—they were prepared to waive the charge because I had always paid in full, and fortunately this particular invoice had been very small. So I arranged to pay shortly before the date specified in the invoice.

But that wasn't the end of the matter. On 12 May 2009 I received another stupid call (“This is American Express, can you please identify yourself?”), telling me that I was in serious trouble because my account was in arrears. It seems that this part of American Express had wanted me to pay the sum immediately, and not to wait until the date stated on the invoice. What kind of nonsense is that, especially since I discussed exactly this matter with the previous consultant. Getting sense out of these people is like getting blood out of a stone, but the second consultant (Veronica) did tell me that the first one had given me incorrect advice, but that she would accept it, and I would have no further problems. I asked her how I could know that some future consultant would not say that she had given me incorrect advice; that was, of course, impossible.

Today the impossible happened: I received a letter from American Express, dated 21 May 2009, with the statement:

We recently reviewed your account and have revised your credit limit. The credit limit on your American Express Credit Card noted above has been reduced immediately.

The reduction was to $1,900—barely more than the current balance. Clearly this was related to the previous incident. And they didn't even bother to call me to tell me! Yvonne later told me that she had been unable to pay at two different places on the following day: payment was rejected with the statement “Declined. Prov. Error 02. Contact Issuer”.

Called up American Express and confirmed, yes, this was a result of the previous issues, which two different consultants told me had been resolved. Spoke to two different people, Geoff, who was on his first day, and Roland, who claimed to be his supervisor. Neither could explain to me what “Prov. Error 02” meant, though Roland went off looking, and after only 5 minutes confirmed that it was because they had dropped this credit limit immediately and without notice—to which, he told me, they are entitled.

Clearly American Express have forgotten the purpose of this relationship. The idea is to make payment transactions easier, not more difficult. It's in their own interest to ensure that these payments are easier. This includes the direct debit facility, which takes them two months to set up—why? And if I can't rely on the credit limit being available, why should I even bother? I signed up with American Express in the hope that they wouldn't be as stupid about security as Verified by VISA, but even that didn't happen.

So: American Express is still at least as bad as they ever have been. I asked for a written apology (“I do apologize”) and confirmation that this incident will not somehow find its way into my credit history, but for that I have to ask in writing to “Executive Correspondence”. Maybe that's not such a bad idea: I already have evidence that I can't rely on arrangements made over the phone. I suppose it's typical that Roland took two minutes to find the address, which proved to be the one on the letterhead—and then got it wrong.

So: I'll write a letter in minute detail, numbering the points to which I want an answer. Part of the letter will be this text, which I'll keep up to date in my product reviews directory .


Topic: photography Link here

More work on my documentation of the E-30 autofocus system. That was well worthwhile. I started updating an article on Olipedia, which had clearly got the terms “Sensor AF” and “Imager AF” the wrong way round. This was in German, so first downloaded the manual—and discovered that yes, the terms are almost reversed in German in comparison with English. They're also reversed in Swedish and Norwegian, at least in the camera. And some terms in the German manual don't match the terms used in the camera. What a mess! But at least I now understand things a lot better.


Topic: cooking Link here

Finnish sourdough tradition

Received mail from Jari Kirma today, a translation of his mother's notes on sourdough baking in Finland. It's a difficult translation for somebody who doesn't understand the issues, but it seems that the sourdough culture is kept at least in part in the wood of the mixing vessel. To be investigated more thoroughly.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009 Dereel Images for 26 May 2009
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Topic: general, cooking Link here

Into town today for various things, including a haircut and exchange of library books. Also, on Sue Blake's recommendation, picked up a “convection oven” from ALDI. It's supposed to be the forced convection equivalent of a toaster oven.

To John Stevens to get the windscreen washer pump in my Mitsubishi Magna replaced. That was more complicated than we had expected: the car (1991 TR model) is showing signs of age, and lots of rubber parts are perishing, including the hoses for the wash water. Replaced some of them; looks like it might be time to consider replacing the car. I wish I had known that before replacing the tyres.


Topic: cooking Link here

Back home, reading a new library book, “World Sourdoughs from Antiquity” by Ed Wood. I'm not greatly impressed. The entire “antiquity” aspect appears to be the first chapter, describing the trials and tribulations the author had travelling to Egypt to reconstruct an ancient Egyptian sourdough bread—and then he didn't describe how the taste varied from modern sourdough breads. He also provides many recipes of dubious authenticity—for example, there's nothing corresponding to a German rye bread, though he has a recipe with exactly that title, using 5:1 wheat to rye and including such atypical ingredients as molasses and eggs. There may be something useful to gain from the book, but I have yet to see it, and I'm left with a further confirmation of my suspicion that sourdough baking techniques are just a curiosity in English-speaking countries.


Topic: photography Link here

Playing around with some forgettable photos of Eastern Rosellas from my office window:


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Half-heartedly compared the E-510 and the E-30, in the process discovering some significant issues with the focus distances reported by the cameras. For the same distance, always in focus, I got EXIF information between 14.08 m (depth of field 13.76 - 14.41m) and 18.68 m (18.28 - 19.10). The discrepancies happened on both cameras. This was with the Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm F4.0-5.6 telephoto, but I've seen similar problems with the Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 and the Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6, and I suspect that I haven't seen them with the Zuiko Digital ED 12-60mm F2.8-4.0 SWD mainly because I haven't looked. I must investigate this more carefully.


Topic: cooking Link here

French food in the evening: foie gras d'oie, followed by maigret de canard and then cheese, including a Munster that I had bought in Melbourne last week. Also opened our last bottle of 1999 Rosemount Balmoral Syrah, unfortunately no longer drinkable.

The recommended way to cook maigret is in the oven and then grilled. Decided to try the convection oven for the former, which worked well enough apart from cooking times. Last time I overcooked the maigret—10 minutes—so this time I decided to go for 5 minutes, which proved to be too little. Sooner or later I'll get it right; certainly the convection oven helps by being ready to cook much more quickly than a real oven.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

It's been over a month since the last power failure, so today, to maintain the average, we had two. Fortunately, both were brief and didn't cause significant problems.


Topic: technology Link here

Finally got round to installing the copy of OpenSolaris that I downloaded a couple of days ago. The first attempt to install did nothing; it seems you have to double-click on an icon. How I hate this interface! Next time I quintuple-clicked, and apparently started four installers which wedged the system—first the keyboard and mouse, and only much later the CD drive. Third time round worked, but took hours to complete. I wonder what the performance of this software will be like. In days gone by, people deliberately misspelt “Solaris” as “Slowaris”; I think I'll call this machine oslow.


Topic: general Link here

Somehow didn't do much else all day. Played around with some web pages in need of attention—in particular, the house photo pages were in a bit of a mess—and watched TV.


Thursday, 28 May 2009 Dereel Images for 28 May 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I'm a spammer, my name is Craig Peifer

Yvonne received spam today:

> Date: Wed, 27 May 2009 22:22:59 -0500
> From: "Commbank"<survey@commbank.com.au>
> Subject: Congratulations!
> X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2600.0000
>
> Congratulations!
>
> You have been selected by Commonwealth Bank of Australia?s Online Department to take part in our quick and easy customer satisfaction survey.
> In return we will credit $320.18 to your account - Just for your time!
>
> To access the form, please follow the link below :
>
> http://commbank-au.net

Not very good spam, really—anybody should be able to recognize that the domain is incorrect. But it's interesting that it's pointing to the home page of a web server. Went looking and found:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypq) ~ 43 -> whois commbank-au.net
Domain Name..........  commbank-au.net
  Creation Date........  2009-05-28
  Registration Date....  2009-05-28
  Expiry Date..........  2010-05-28
  Organisation Name....  craig peifer
  Organisation Address.  317 n amy dr
  Organisation Address.
  Organisation Address.  peoria
  Organisation Address.  61601
  Organisation Address.  IL
  Organisation Address.  UNITED STATES

Admin Name...........  craig peifer
...
  Admin Phone..........  +1.8431171392

So the domain was registered yesterday, with Melbourne IT as it happens. Is this a case of a person giving his real name? If so, why did he register with Melbourne IT when he's located in the USA? Or are Melbourne IT not careful enough with their address checks? It's interesting to note that this domain disappeared within 24 hours.


Topic: cooking Link here

Reading more in “World Sourdoughs from Antiquity” by Ed Wood. It's really very bad. The parts that I can verify are frequently Just Plain Wrong. For example, on page 8, he writes: “The original breads were flatbreads made from barley, which has no gluten”. There's a whole branch of brewing given to gluten-free beers, which wouldn't be necessary if that statement were true. And in Wikipedia I read: “Gluten is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. These exist, conjoined with starch, in the endosperms of some grass-related grains, notably wheat, rye, and barley.”

On page 21, justifying the use of sourdough over yeast, he writes: “Fermentation is the process by which a variety of bacterial organisms act on food products to produce different flavors, textures and aromas”

That's not completely incorrect, but it seems to suggest that yeast does not cause fermentation. Things are more the other way round, as Wikipedia once again confirms: “Fermentation in food processing typically refers to the conversion of sugar to alcohol using yeast under anaerobic conditions”.

Finally, when talking about grain he describes almost only wheat in its various forms, giving only a little attention to spelt and, almost as an afterthought, a paragraph about rye in which he describes pumpernickel so inaccurately that it's hardly worth mentioning: in particular, the use of wheat, and the fast cooking. This appears to be an American tradition, which to me sounds like just the kind of falsified bread that Wood is complaining about, but he specifically refers to it as a German bread.

It's interesting to note that there are official German guidelines for bread, and that this book seems to have little to do with them. In particular, the book “Gut eingekauft” (“Well shopped”) by the German supermarket chain REWE, describes four kinds of bread, typically all a mixture of wheat and rye:

They don't say so in as many words, but there's a clear connection here: yeast for wheat, sourdough for rye. This is mainstream foodstuff technology, and it's not there to save money: it's what works best. So why this focus on wheat with sourdough in the Wood book?

There are other things in the book which could be good; I can't judge. But it's difficult to feel confident given the number of errors in the parts I can check.


Topic: opinion, general Link here

Questionnaire from American Express: “how happy were you with the treatment you got from our customer service?”. Clearly they send these things out as a matter of course, and in principle it's a good idea. But it also shows a lack of attention to escalation: they don't know how completely and utterly infuriated I am. They should do now, after my response, but I strongly doubt they'll do anything about it.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Reading David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual today. It doesn't make a particularly good impression either. Here a description of the raw image format:

Note: RAW stands for nothing in particular, and it's usually written in all capital letters like that just to denote how important serious photographers think it is.

I wonder how many serious photographers read this book.


Topic: gardening Link here

We really should do more in the garden, but the weather doesn't encourage us. Did a little weeding in the morning, and also planted a couple of Lonicera on the north side of the verandah, where the tomato plant is gradually fading (but still bearing fruit that ripen).


Topic: animals Link here

Piccola is still fascinated by the mouse cursor on the projector screen. Today there was something appropriate:


 
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Friday, 29 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

c't magazine issue 8 (30 March) arrived today, once again almost exactly 2 months late, and almost exactly 2 weeks since the previous issue. At least the people at Heise are taking the issue seriously, and for the moment they're sending the magazine air mail. I wonder if that will make any difference: if it's the mailing labels, it may not. But then again, the labels might be different, or they might go to more trouble to decipher difficult ones.


Topic: brewing Link here

Brew day today, a stout, and I think the first stout that I've brewed entirely from scratch. Chris came over to take a look, and of course that meant that things had to go wrong. But they didn't—everything went according to plan, I think the only time I can recall since I've been here. Still, one way or the other it takes up the entire day. I wish it were easier.


Saturday, 30 May 2009 Dereel Images for 30 May 2009
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Topic: photography, technology Link here

House photos again today, and still more problems. One is clearly the fault of the E-30: the display when switching metering modes is very difficult to recognize, just a few mm² of icon, which I can't see clearly without my glasses on. As a result, I took a number of the photos with “Digital ESP” metering when I had really wanted centre-weighted averaging.

Another is the fault of ufraw: it is anything but consistent in the way it handles its settings:

I'm getting the hang of it now. I've renamed ufraw to ufraw-hidden, so that I don't start it accidentally, and I've written a little script enabling me to save the configuration when I want:

#!/bin/sh
# $Id: diary-may2009.php,v 1.63 2014/03/29 01:14:02 grog Exp $
# Run ufraw, saving the previous config
cp -p ~/.ufrawrc ~/.ufrawrc.save
# We're calling the executable ufraw-hidden so that I don't run it directly accidentally.
ufraw-hidden $*
diff ~/.ufrawrc ~/.ufrawrc.save > /dev/null
if [ $? = 1 ]; then
  echo -n 'Keep new .ufrawrc? '
  read response
  if [ "$response" != "y" ]; then
    mv ~/.ufrawrc.save ~/.ufrawrc
  fi
fi

I can even use the “save config” button in ufraw: I just need to destroy the window afterwards and restart. But it's all so clunky!


Topic: gardening Link here

Two years ago today we first saw our house. At the time I took a series of photos, some of the garden, and a year ago I created a page showing the changes in that year. Did so again today:


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Here, of course, the new verandah and the garden have made the photo only barely recognizable.


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As last year, the daisies are in bloom. I still don't know why they looked so bad two years ago. It's also interesting to note the change in size of the two Callistemons in front of the right-hand side of the house; they've been pruned in the meantime, too.

Our next project will be to make a Japanese-inspired garden to the north of the house, where the immediately preceding pair of photos were taken. Will Tatnell along to take a look in preparation for some earthworks; looks like we'll have another sudden change in appearance in the next week or two. There are still some trees that we need to think about, like this Dahlia imperialis to the left of the daisies, which is about 3 metres high:


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Also did a bit of work in the garden; one of our tomatoes never bore any fruit that we could use—the kangaroos always got there first—so today tore them out. The other tomato still has fruit which are gradually ripening. Hopefully they'll be ripe before the first frost comes. We'll also have to do something about the Cape daisies (Osteospermum), which have grown considerably since the hot weather was over, but which don't look as good as we had hoped.


Topic: general Link here

I'm continually getting strange spam, and recently I got some purporting to be from Juha Kupiainen, offering a video URL. Today I got him on IRC and it turned out he really did send it. Another one to add to my Osama bin Lehey page.

Lately Chris has been coming to dinner every Saturday night, and tonight was no exception. But she brought her brother Reinhard with her, with more opportunities for silly photos:


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Sunday, 31 May 2009 Dereel
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Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden. Somehow just about everything is waiting on something else: I can't do much in the veggie patch until I put a fence around it to keep out the bloody kangaroos. I need to put some compost on it, but for that I have to put it through a sieve, and that means that I first need to start a new compost heap. And that needs to wait until we've built the greenhouse infrastructure.

Instead decided to spray some weeds, and discovered that the pump arm for the sprayer has failed: maybe it wasn't designed to be pumped as hard as I did, but in any case it has bent, and if I carry on using it, it's liable to break off. Went looking for an iron bracket to screw on it, but I couldn't find any screws, so had to put that off.

Finally ended up doing some weeding, including cutting back the invasive Carpobrotus glaucescens (“pig face”), which we planted 10 months ago:


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I didn't take any photos today, but effectively it took over the entire area of that photo. Cut much of it off, but didn't put it on the compost heap. It occurs to me that it might be a good tool to fight weeds. It doesn't stop other plants from growing, but it seems to be resistant to Glyphosate, so I could plant the stuff, let the weeds come, then spray them. And getting the Carpobrotus out again is relatively simple.


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