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November 2006
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Wednesday, 1 November 2006 Echunga
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Quiet day. Yvonne's off to Germany tomorrow, and we spent a some time preparing for that—apart from packing there's also the work that I will have to do which previously Yvonne did. Spent some time working on some coding guidelines; it's a pity that they won't interest anybody outside the project.


Thursday, 2 November 2006 Echunga
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Yvonne off to Germany today, which shouldn't have taken much time on my part, but somehow I didn't get started with anything else until early afternoon. More tidy up work; tomorrow we can finally start some real testing again.

Finally took a look at the rainfall bulletin for last month. It's shocking for at least two reasons: firstly, the rainfall was only about 5% of the normal (the L in the Decile column indicates the lowest on record), and secondly the report itself is in conflict both with other information on the same site, and also with reality. For example, no rain was reported at all for Echunga: that seems to be a common occurrence. And surely they must have averages for McLaren Vale, one of Australia's most important wine-growing areas. I wonder how much we can trust the other values.

 MOUNT LOFTY RANGES (23C)
                              Rain (mm)      Rain Days   Decile
                             Obs  |  Avg     Obs | Avg
               Echunga              70.1            13
              Hahndorf       3.2    74.7       4    13      L
         Kuitpo Forest       3.2               5
          McLaren Vale       1.0               1
               Meadows       3.0    75.6       1    12      L
          Mount Barker       1.8    68.1       4    13      L

Friday, 3 November 2006 Echunga
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Yvonne's gone, leaving me with some extra work to do, though it wasn't as bad as I feared. After my recent web page work, back to testing the video recording application, once again telephonically with Peter Denton, and made reasonable progress. I always like commits that remove much more than they add:

revision 1.9
date: 2006/11/03 05:52:05;  author: grog;  state: Exp;  lines: +21 -113
Rewrite to set the state segemnt.  Clean up much cruft in the process.

Weather is still an interesting topic, and I went looking for comparative graphs of rainfall and temperatures in different parts of the country. The Bureau of Meteorology has the data, but it's in tabular form, and I'd like a graph. Spent some time wondering how to get gnuplot to use the data, without success. The problem is that I have rows like this, representing average monthly rainfall in Stirling:

JAN    FEB    MAR    APR    MAY    JUN    JUL    AUG    SEP    OCT    NOV    DEC     ANN   No.  %age
                                                                                           Yrs comp
36.8   37.5   54.3   96.7  132.4  118.0  175.1  147.2  119.7   91.9   61.7   47.0  1118.2  20.8 100

I want to plot the rainfall by month, but gnuplot expects the data to be in columns, not rows. I'm sure there must be a utility to turn things on their side, but I wasn't able to find one in a reasonable time.


Saturday, 4 November 2006 Echunga Images for 4 November 2006
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I've been taking weekends quietly lately, but this weekend decided to do even less. Apart from the normal chores, did very little.

It's been nearly 6 years since Miss Teak broke a leg and had to be put down. We planted a red-flowering eucalyptus on her grave; this year it's (finally!) flowering:


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In the evening, addressed an issue that has annoyed me about mplayer for some time: the on-screen time display bears no relationship to reality when displaying MPEGs (recorded or directly) from digital TV. It seems that the time information embedded in the stream does not get converted, so the “elapsed time” seems to be randomly distributed in the range 0 to 30 hours. Made a change to at least partially fix that—simply subtract the time of the first frame from the elapsed time, and things work almost correctly. That can definitely be improved on, though, so I won't publish yet. In passing I'm once again amazed by how simple it is to make this kind of fix to mplayer, despite a desperate lack of comments. Given that there's no other technical documentation, that's a particular challenge.


Sunday, 5 November 2006 Echunga Images for 5 November 2006
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I may have been quiet lately, but today I steeped things up and did almost nothing, apart from going into Mount Barker and doing some shopping.

More information about the nature of the blockage in the dam water pipes:


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At the left, two parts of a yabbie claw are clearly visible. They must each be about 1 cm long. We've had yabbies in the water system in the past, but I thought they were now all gone.


Monday, 6 November 2006 Echunga Images for 6 November 2006
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Into town this morning for a scheduled dentist's appointment, and then spent a surprising amount of time shopping. BiLo is now a name of the past; they've been taken over by Coles, not necessarily an advantage from what I experienced today. Couldn't find any coconut cream: the shelves were empty, and all they had were significant quantities of “Lite” coconut cream, which is something I haven't seen before. I strongly distrust anything with “lite” (or even “light”) in its name. Tried to find customer care, but to get to them you have to leave the supermarket. What genius thought that out?

Finally found somebody who said that they were suffering some supply problems, so left them and went to Woolworths, where I found the normal stuff, along with even more “lite” cream. The house brand costs $0.82 per 400 ml, the same price as the “lite”. It's worth looking at the cans:


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The normal coconut cream contains 68% coconut, and the “lite” version contains only 23%, almost exactly a third; the rest is water. So if you need 1.2 litres of “lite” coconut milk, you can either buy one can of normal cream and dilute it 2:1 with water, or you can pay 3 times as much to buy 3 cans of “lite”. Why would you want to do the latter?

Down to Bonnetts, where Yvonne's saddle, sent for a quotation, had been repaired—total cost $10. They didn't even do a bad job: it's difficult to recognize where the damage was:


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Somehow didn't get much work done today.


Tuesday, 7 November 2006 Echunga
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Peter Jones over in the morning for a talk about installation and updating, and made good progress. It does mean that I'll have to completely overhaul the database design, but that's not as much work as it sounds. Spent most of the day working on that.


Wednesday, 8 November 2006 Echunga
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Over to Hahndorf this morning to investigate the results of some off-site testing. They're not good, and leave us wondering where the project is going.

Didn't get much done today.


Thursday, 9 November 2006 Echunga Images for 9 November 2006
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The dam water line is blocked again! It had occurred to me some time ago that the water I pumped up to reverse flush it probably wasn't enough; measured the trough and found that it contained about 475 litres. The pipe to the dam has a 50 mm internal diameter, which corresponds to about 2 litres per metre. How long is it? It's difficult to say, since it's underground, and it's not in a straight line from the dam. but my best guess is about 400 metres, or 800 litres. That would mean that the water in the trough would only reach half way, obviously enough only to dislodge the blockage, but maybe not enough to get it out of the pipe back into the dam. Decided to pump water from the fire fighting tank (which proves to claim to be 2500 gallons, or 11,400 litres; we bought it as a 10,000 litre tank) back up to the dam. That proved to be easier than I had expected, and made me wonder why I had thought of the trough in the first place:


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Pumped about half the tank (over 5,000 litres) of water up the pipe, during which time the tiny petrol tank of the pump ran dry twice. What idiocy! What use is a fire pump that requires you to pour petrol around in the middle of a fire?

On the work front, finished off the changes I had started earlier in the week, committed them and shelved the project for the moment. Spent the afternoon cooking; I should have more time for this sort of thing.


Friday, 10 November 2006 Echunga Images for 10 November 2006
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My assumptions about the blockage in the dam water supply line were amply confirmed today. Suddenly I had an extra sprinkler, and one of them threw 2 metres further, onto the verandah:


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The extra “sprinkler” was a dripper line that had blown off the connector because of the higher pressure. Let's hope that that's the end of the blockages.

Claire Baker had sent me some updates for the web site of the ICT Council for South Australia, which is dire need of it, so spent some time doing that. Most of the time was just general cleanup of the HTML; it's not worse than that of other sites, but it's really disappointing how bad most HTML looks. Maybe that's one of the down sides of content management systems (which I still can't see as anything except a workaround for lack of availability of a good text editor).

In the afternoon, had intended to look at freevo, which I had recently installed on teevee, but somehow got sidetracked to looking at synergy instead. synergy is a program that shares the keyboard and mouse across multiple systems. Unlike x2x, it works across multiple platforms, not just for X. Also unlike x2x, it doesn't understand X displays, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to make sense of the (relatively voluminous) documentation before discovering that it simply doesn't cater for more than one display per “system” (i.e. IP address). Managed to get it working for boskoop (which until now I had been calling boskopp; the latter is a popular spelling in Germany, but it seems that Boskoop is a town in the Netherlands, so I've had to adjust the spelling accordingly).

Also tried to get it to work with Microsoft “Windows XP”, but the latter didn't have any configuration file, and the GUI setup didn't seem to provide a way to create or import one. That's not a particular problem; I didn't really want to connect it anyway. The good news is that it works in conjunction with x2x, so once I can work out a way to simulate the “Apple” key on my keyboard, all should be well.


Saturday, 11 November 2006 Echunga Images for 11 November 2006
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Another quiet day. Spent some time writing up the discussion on eggs below, and had my first attempt at running freevo. The documentation is of the usual quality, or maybe a little better. It starts off giving all sorts of details of how to install it, all done automatically for me by the FreeBSD Ports collection, and then doesn't tell you how to start the program. It does tell you how to configure it, which is fortunate. It's relatively straightforward if you want the defaults (NTSC, 800x600 display). Tried with my setup and entered:

=== root@teevee (/dev/ttypb) ~ 31 -> freevo setup --geometry=1280x720 --tv=pal --chanlist=australia
System path first=No
checking for mplayer...    /usr/local/bin/mplayer
checking for mencoder...   /usr/local/bin/mencoder
...  many more of these
geometry must be one of: 800x600 768x576 640x480

Wow! That makes it pretty useless. I suppose I need to go back and try my luck with MythTV again. Or maybe I should learn python and fix it. Continued anyway and was able to point it at my Maybe directory (for stuff that I may look at if nothing else comes up), and found:

Freevo image

That scared me—did it maybe first delete the contents? No, they're still there:

=== root@teevee (/dev/ttypb) /spool/Images 43 -> l Maybe/
total 40652
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  4700372992 Jul 25 19:45 W26-Ideal-Husband
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  6675234816 Sep  5 10:34 englar-anheimsins
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  6068109312 Oct 11 14:40 gycklarnas-afton
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  lemis  6958350336 Sep 23 00:54 l-idole
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  6978273280 Sep 18 00:55 pasir-bersibik
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  3641704448 Sep 19 02:00 stupeur-et-tremblements
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  7583301632 Sep 12 15:05 vertical-de-lete

The problem is, of course, that the thing insists on “extensions”. Once given that, it works, but I still can't display full screen.


How to boil an egg
Topic: food and drink Link here

Yvonne left me with 18 fresh eggs in the fridge, so I've been having a boiled egg for breakfast every day. It's easy to boil an egg, right? That's why none of my myriad cookbooks have details. Somewhere in the back of my head I had this concept of a “3 minute egg”. The first time (not recently) that I tried this, the egg came out almost raw: only some of the white had started to coagulate.

What went wrong? Details, as usual. There are two basic ways to boil an egg:

  1. Put an egg in cold water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and boil for three minutes. This will give you an egg where (roughly) the white is solid and the yolk is still liquid.

  2. Bring some water to the boil in a saucepan. Add the egg and boil for six minutes. Again, this will give you an egg where (roughly) the white is solid and the yolk is still liquid.

I went looking on the web and found references to both methods: eHow.com gives only the first method, while Delia online gives both, the second with a twist: take the pot off the boil after one minute and leave another 6 minutes (7 in total).

Somehow both of these are missing a number of important points:

What does this mean in practice? I use method 2 because it's more reproducible. Ultimately you're going to have to find your own times, but if you have a box of eggs like the ones shown above, you'll have an idea how to proceed. I've been eating the big eggs so far; when I get to the small ones, I'd guess that they will only need 5 minutes instead of 6.


Sunday, 12 November 2006 Echunga Images for 12 November 2006
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Finally it has rained! Or at least, there was a heavy dew:


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On the other hand, if you ask the Bureau of Meteorology, it didn't. From this morning's rainfall bulletin:

(Produced 10:00 on Sunday, 12 November 2006)
24 Hours to 9 AM Sunday,  12  November  2006
  STATION        ! RAIN
|----------------------
ECHUNGA          !
HAHNDORF         !  18
MCLAREN VALE     !  16
MEADOWS          !
MT BARKER        !  20

This is no isolated incident. When looking at last month's disastrous rainfall results, I have no confidence that the figures given represent the reality.

Researching cassoulet recipes

Spent much of the afternoon with more experimental cookery, specifically things that Yvonne doesn't like. I'd like to make a cassoulet again, but it's almost impossible to get one of the key ingredients, confit d'oie an ingredient so foreign to the English way of cooking that I don't even know how to translate it—neither do any of the references I can find on the web. It's goose cooked and salted and preserved in its own fat.

One of the big problems with casoulet is finding a definitive recipe. There are two basic kinds, the cassoulet tolosain and the cassoulet de Castelnaudary. The quantities and the methods and times of cooking also vary wildly. And the otherwise excellent Time-Life cookbook series that was printed in the 1970s omits the confit d'oie, presumably because of the difficulty of finding it.

So today I tried making a cassoulet-like dish mainly with the intention of getting the quantities right. A good thing too: they were way off. In particular, all recipes seem to specify too few beans.

I started with three sources of recipes:

These recipes differ greatly in the recipes, and they all seem to have too few beans. Here's what I used:

Traditional measure     Quantity     Ingredient Step
 
500g beans 1
300g lamb, from leg 2
250 g pork, from forequarter 2
150 g duck fat 3, 8
20 g couennes (pork skin) 4
75 g smoked ham 2
500 g onions 5
25 g garlic 5
170 g double-smoked Moscow sausage      6
245 g double-smoked Kransky sausage 6
800 g tinned tomatoes 6
50 g bread crumbs 8

Preparation

  1. Soak the beans in lukewarm water for 2 hours. The purpose is not to soften the beans, but just the skin. Longer soaking will provoke fermentation.

    The beans should be “fresh” (i.e. from the last harvest). Madame Saint-Ange and Bocuse are both in agreement that old beans detract greatly from the quality of the dish. They will split, and the interior will remain granular.

  2. Brown the whole pork and lamb in a frying pan.

  3. Bring 2 litres of water to the boil and add beans, meat and 100 g duck fat. Bring back to the boil and salt lightly (salt tends to harden the beans). Simmer at the lowest possible heat for two hours.

  4. Steam the couennes for an hour, then cut into small strips.

  5. Chop and fry onions in duck or mutton fat until glassy, and then add crushed garlic, fry for a couple of minutes. Reserve.

  6. After two hours, add the sausage and tomatoes, check the salt and boil on low heat for another hour.

  7. Drain the pot, keeping the broth for later, and separate beans and meat. Chop meat into 5 mm slices (Bocuse recommends 3 mm). At this point it became clear that I had too much meat, so I split it into two parts, one for a later cassoulet.


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    Place a layer of beans at the bottom of a casserole, cover with sausage slices, followed by another layer of beans, the meat, onions and couennes, and a final layer of beans:


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