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Tuesday, 1 September 2009 Dereel Images for 1 September 2009
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Topic: general, music Link here

I was supposed to be brewing today, but yesterday I had received a phone call saying that the new feed scroll for my Kenwood A941 grain mill had arrived, so decided to use that instead, delaying the brewing by Yet Another Day.

Into town with a list of things to do, including the doctor for the results of my last blood test. But for the doctor you need 3 hours (and $20 now), and I didn't have that much time, so gave up on that. Picked up the scroll without much difficulty, did some shopping and had a haircut. At least it gave me a chance to test the music on the SDHC card, which played relatively well—it understands the concepts of directories (or maybe folders—it depends where you look in the instructions), and there are buttons to skip to the next (or previous) directory.


Topic: technology, music, opinion Link here

The real issue is knowing what is being played. Like iTunes, it displays the concepts Artist, Album and Track (interestingly not song), and with the help of Gracenote I get displays with values Artist “Trevor Pinnock”, Album “SC 1” and Track “Allegro”. It's not easy to deduce that this is the third movement in a Brandenburg Concerto—the first movement has identical information, as does the first movement of the second concerto. The “track numbers” don't help either—they're allocated sequentially from the beginning of the card, so this was “track” 113.

The real problem I'm seeing now is that the concepts that the industry uses are just not appropriate for the kind of music I'm looking at:

Things aren't made any easier by the truncation which seems to be a way of life in modern GUI software. I thought that “Franz Joseph Ha...” might be easy enough to recognize, but you need to know your classical composers. Haydn? Händel? Hatzenbacher?

So what's needed?

I can complain about this all I want; it won't change anything. But I still need to work out how to organize my own collection. I see a number of alternatives: I can try one of the other software packages available on the web. I have so little confidence in this approach that I'm not even going to try. Alternatively, I can do everything manually. At the moment I'm creating a separate directory hierarchy organized by composer and work:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) /home/Music/MP3 220 -> l Bach-JS/
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Sep  1 13:01 BWV140-Harnoncourt
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1536 Aug 31 12:16 BWV147-Harnoncourt
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1536 Aug 30 16:05 BWV147-Rifkin
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  2048 Aug 30 15:54 BWV232
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Aug 30 16:07 BWV80-Herreweghe
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Aug 30 16:06 BWV80-Rifkin
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  2048 Aug 30 16:09 Brandenburgs
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Aug 30 16:07 Magnificat
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Sep  1 17:05 Orchestral-suite-1
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel  1024 Aug 31 17:53 Orchestral-suite-2
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel   512 Aug 31 17:54 Orchestral-suite-3
drwxr-xr-x  2 grog  wheel   512 Aug 31 17:54 Orchestral-suite-4

I suspect that this is a better approach, but still not sufficient. At the very least I need a further level with performance (so I'd have BVW147/Harnoncourt and BVW147/Rifkin).

Even this isn't enough, though: the MP3 players only seem to understand a single level of subdirectories. So I need to map them again to a local copy where these directories are in the top level. Maybe I should just give the files numbers and store information in an SQL database.


Topic: brewing Link here

Finally got round to crushing the malt for tomorrow's brew. Unpacked the scroll and found it in particularly poor condition for a new item:


 
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The blue marks appear to have been made by a ballpoint pen, and long enough ago that I can't get rid of them. Called up John Thomas and spoke to Helen, who made it clear that she didn't think it worth worrying about. Yes, it won't do any harm, but somehow everything I have to do with John Thomas leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I should get them to replace it.

On the other hand, the thing worked—better, it seems, than with the Bosch unit, though I can't see why that should be. At least the scale on the grinder makes it easy to set up: ground this grain at 6, the coarsest setting on the scale (though it's easy to go far beyond that). We'll see how well that works.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009 Dereel
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Topic: brewing, technology Link here

Finally got around to brewing beer again today. It's been over 3 months since the last brew, an indication of how much I hate it. It takes up the whole day, and my current scheme is so far from convenient that I'm always worrying that something catastrophic will happen. Today it almost seemed so: on powering up brewer.lemis.com, my fermentation temperature control machine, it didn't come online. I used this computer almost as a joke: it's about 18 years old, it's running a development version of FreeBSD 5.0 dating back to December 2000, and it's in pretty poor shape:


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In particular, the display card no longer works, so all I have to go on is the noises, disk accesses and LED status that happen during boot. On this occasion it seemed to be performing lots of disk accesses. Pressed the Big Red Button, and it came back normally enough. I need to plan to replace this machine.

Apart from that everything went smoothly enough, but it still took all day.


Topic: technology, gardening Link here

More work on porting wview to NetBSD, and finally finished. I never realised what a pain it is that NetBSD stores packages in /usr/pkg and not the more usual /usr/local. Many packages, including parts of radlib, hard code the path name in various configuration files, and I had to go out and fix them. Now I have a complete standard installation of wview; the next part is to incorporate Steve Woodford's patches for my Fine Offset WH1081 weather station.


Topic: music Link here

More copying CDs with iTunes. I'm more or less getting used to this. Got a mail message from Jim Dillon suggesting that I use abcde (“A Better CD Encoder”—doesn't that look like an abbreviation looking for an expansion?), which I installed and which looks like it would do the job. At some point I need to read the man page (yes, it has one!) and decide whether it will help me organize my music. At least the man page looks good. About the only down side is that the “real” URL for the product is (currently) inaccessible.

While searching, came across Gracenote's Classical Music Initiative, which recognizes much of the problem I described yesterday:

The challenge is that most music management software and hardware devices display three lines of text for the album title, song name, and recording artist, while recorded music information in the classical and opera categories rarely fits into three text fields. Classical tracks require more space for work titles, composers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles.

That all sounds very good. But something's missing: a link to what they're doing about it. Indeed, the whole gracenote site seems to deliberately hide direct lookups of CD data. In this particular case, I'm left with the impression that they think that the status quo is the solution. That it most definitely is not.


Thursday, 3 September 2009 Dereel Images for 3 September 2009
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Topic: general, gardening Link here

Into town with Yvonne this morning to take my car in for service, and did the shopping too, getting back surprisingly early. Bought some plants, including a cherry tomato intended for pots, which is already flowering. I have at least 30 tomato seedlings coming, but it'll be months before they bear any fruit, so this might be worthwhile.

The weather is gradually getting to be like spring. The temperature—just—exceeded 20°, and suddenly we're feeling like working in the garden again. Planted the petunias that I bought on Monday, and spread gravel around the Ginkgo, and then ran out of steam. It would be nice if the wind would finally die down a bit.


Topic: gardening, animals Link here

One swallow doesn't make a summer, they say, but two swallows make nests, and they've decided now is the time. They started again in the same place as last month, and I had to pull it down three times before they stopped. Hopefully they'll find somewhere further from the house to build their nest. I see there's one in the garage, but I think they've been there for a while.


Topic: photography, technology Link here

Autopano 2: first impressions

Issue 19 of c't, which arrived yesterday, contains a test of various panorama software. One package stands out: Autopano Pro 2.0 (and though there's no “normal” Autopano, there is an “Autopano Giga”). It gets much higher marks than any of the others, including hugin and Panorama Maker 5 Pro. Decided to try it out. It doesn't run on PPC Apples, but it is advertised to run on Linux, so downloaded the image and installed it on cvr2.

And then? How do I run it? There are no instructions (it's clearly a “modern” program), but there is a Wiki. And it doesn't tell you how to run the program.

Went looking in /usr/local, but there was nothing there. Finally—find(1) is your friend—found an executable /usr/bin/AutopanoPro and ran it:

=== grog@cvr2 (/dev/pts/3) ~ 1 -> AutopanoPro
QGLContext::makeCurrent(): Cannot make invalid context current.
/usr/bin/AutopanoPro: line 3:  9233 Segmentation fault      /usr/lib/AutopanoPro/AutopanoPro

Checked for help, but all I got was a contact form with these horrible CAPTCHA, so sent off a message, and then downloaded it and installed it on Microsoft.

That was strange, too. They're a French company, and I've seen a couple of cases on the web site where I'm transferred from English into French. This time the installation was in German, most of the time, at least partially due to my difficulties to get Microsoft to stay in one language.

This version was easy enough to start, but of course I had to spent minutes changing directory. The photos are on dereel, and it insisted on reading the entire Photos directory, over 1600 entries, before coming back to life again. Then it went off and did the “autorecognition” thing which c't had found so reliable:

 
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This directory already contains three panoramas of this collection, which it happily included in the collection.

Off to try to convert things, not helped by the strange icons. Clearly this is not software that you can just use: you need to read the manual first. After a long time waiting for the conversion to finish—not helped by the fact that both the button “Render” (well, “Rendern”) and “Cancel” (“Abbrechen”) were selectable, and no progress bar was present, checked the specified “output” directory, C:/Documents and Settings/groggy/Desktop (that's right, with slashes instead of backslashes), but nothing was there. Gave up for the day and decided to wait until I had time to read the documentation.


Friday, 4 September 2009 Dereel
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Topic: photography, technology Link here

Autopano: more investigation

Reply about my problems with Autopano Pro 2.0 today. I had asked:

I have just downloaded the trial version of Autopano 2.0 for Linux and installed it. Then I went looking for how to run it. You seem to have missed this point in the documentation. Please tell me how to run the program.

The reply:

Under linux, it depends on the installer you use. If you use .deb, the software will be available in the main menu under graphical tool.

The error you have is caused by the fact that you don't have openGL on your linux. The v2 of autopano needs an opengl 2.0 graphic card with proprietary drivers installed.

Clearly you need more than OpenGL; you need their idea of what kind of window manager to use too. None of this is mentioned on the web site. Went off and played around and confirmed that yes, the executable is called /usr/bin/AutopanoPro (something that wasn't addressed in the reply), and it works on :0 on cvr2 (using UNIX domain sockets), so I suspected that it might be related to TCP. And of course this system (default Ubuntu installation) has gdm installed, with the option -nolisten-tcp, so had to go off looking for how to fix that. The answer is in /etc/gdm/gdm.conf:

--- /etc/gdm/gdm.conf~  2008-10-15 20:56:25.000000000 +1100
+++ /etc/gdm/gdm.conf   2009-09-04 12:09:54.321148593 +1000
@@ -263,7 +263,7 @@
 # Note: Anytime we find a -query or -indirect on the command line we do not add
 # a "-nolisten tcp", as then the query just wouldn't work, so this setting only
 # affects truly attached sessions.
-DisallowTCP=true
+DisallowTCP=false
 # By default never place cookies if we "detect" NFS.  We detect NFS by
 # detecting "root-squashing".  It seems bad practice to place cookies on things
 # that go over the network by default and thus we do not do it by default.

And yes, it worked fine. So is it really a driver issue, as they claim? I don't want to have to reconfigure my whole fragile X setup for a program that wants something special.

Gave up on that and tried with the Microsoft version—what a letdown! Yesterday's attempts showed that you need instructions to understand Autopano Pro 2.0, so off to look for them. As far as I can tell, there are none! The available documentation is still for release 1.4! Instead, followed the Autopano example workflow document, which had the horrifying recommendation:

In Explorer (or Finder, on MacOSX), locate the images you want to stitch into a panorama. Select them, making sure you're including only images belonging to a single panorama.

Drag and drop the selected images onto the Main Window of APP. A new Image Group will be created. You can repeat steps 2 and 3 as many times you want, creating multiple Image Groups. Each group should contain a single panorama.

Doesn't anybody know how to manipulate file names any more? In a directory with multiple files, all looking similar, this is a Real Pain. What's wrong with specifying the wild card verandah-*? I could scream. And yet all this broken software does this sort of thing, so I can't blame Autopano beyond saying that good software should (and easily can) offer something better.

One alternative is what I found yesterday: let Autopano go and look for all photos. It can handle Olympus raw format, so if I let it loose in my orig subdirectory, it happily includes each photo twice, once as raw and once as JPEG. And with only a few hundred mouse clicks and lots of careful comparison (look at those file names; why have verandah-* when you can have P8081353.JPG P8081353.ORF P8081354.JPG P8081354.ORF P8081355.JPG P8081355.ORF P8081356.JPG P8081356.ORF P8081357.JPG P8081357.ORF?) you can remove the files you don't want.

For a first attempt, that was too much, so I went and removed the superfluous files from yesterday's selections, notably the existing panoramas, which had caused the spectacular mess of the verandah panorama yesterday. Also discovered why the “rendering” window had both buttons selected: there were multiple windows, one per panorama, and they all wanted to be selected. When they were, they went off and did their thing, storing the results in files with particularly emetic names, like [Group 16]-verandah-1_verandah-5-5 images.jpg, which even Microsoft's file name couldn't handle: it put a spurious [ at the beginning.

And the result? Good, better than the others, but not perfect. Here the results from Arcsoft Panorama Maker 5 Pro, hugin and Autopano Pro 2.0 for 22 August 2009:


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These are all “automatic” renderings, and apart from the dramatic failure on the part of Panorama Maker 5 Pro they show that Autopano 2.0 Pro is a little bit ahead of hugin. The edges of the swing are rendered better, but not perfectly (first hugin, then Autopano):

 
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For some reason my browser renders the Autopano panorama very badly at full size, but that seems to be a browser incompatibility; as the image details show, the image itself is smooth enough. But clearly this panorama requires manual intervention, no matter what software I use to create it. The rendering speed was nothing breathtaking, though the disk activity light on pain, the Microsoft box, suggests that this is because it only has 512 MB of memory, while Autopano suggest 2 GB. It's interesting that it displays the progress as it renders, gradually bending things into shape.


Topic: general, cooking Link here

Into town to pick up my car—it seems that Vic England has sold out to Paul, his former chief mechanic, and moved to Tasmania. On to Masala Valley and bought some more Atta, described as “Kuttu Atta”, which proved to be buckwheat, not quite what I was looking for. It seems it's used for puris. Should I keep it or return it?


Saturday, 5 September 2009 Dereel Images for 5 September 2009
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Topic: technology, photography Link here

Photo day again today, not helped by the rapidly changing weather. Finally got it to stay moderately overcast long enough to get my photos.

Autopano Pro: more investigation

Spent some more time with Autopano Pro 2.0, this time making duplicates of all my weekly panoramas with it. This still isn't a real report on the software—I'm planning that—but more observations:


Topic: photography, brewing Link here

In my last batch of Powells malt I found some moths. Spent some time taking some macro photos of them, expending more effort than I should have done. These insects are about 8 mm long, representing a magnification onto the focal plane of only about 2.5:1, but with the old 135 mm Exaktar lens it was quite a challenge to get them into focus and to expose them sufficiently. Put the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 O digital flash gun about 30 cm away, which gave me enough power to take it at f/22 and ISO 100. To get it to do that I had to drag out the camera manual to work out how to do it: the settings aren't with the other flash settings, but in a different place with a not-very-obvious title (RC MODE). And even then the lighting is uneven:


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So maybe a ring flash is something worth getting hold of. To be observed. Also, I have this nice new ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 50mm F2.0 Macro lens—why not use that with extension tubes? Did some checking and found extension tubes for as little as $7 (BuyItNow). Of course, not “automatic” like the ones I have for my Pentax Spotmatic; you'd have to use the lens in manual mode, which is reasonable enough—until you realise that there's no way to set the aperture manually on the lens. The alternative is a single 25 mm Olympus extension tube, which has electronic connections to the lens, for the princely sum of $150 if you're lucky. And it still won't allow me a 2.5:1 magnification. I think I'll use the existing 50 mm Super Takumar and extension tubes instead.


Topic: general, music Link here

Chris along to dinner in the evening. I had to promise not to mention our culinary discussion in this diary. It eventuated, however, that she has an iPod , which I'll borrow to try to understand how they organize music.

That's a thing I've been thinking about for some time—in fact, for about 37 years. When I got my first tape recorder, a Sony TC-366 “Solid State”, in April 1972, I decided to catalogue my tapes on a computer, not a common thing to do at the time. So I invented a language to describe the various aspects of a performance. I deliberately never defined it very clearly, but I did write down all my recordings in that form, with the intention to enter them into a computer at a later date, preferably by scanning:


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Clearly this is not the way to go. I deliberately imitated the job control language of the ICL 5J operating system, and I'm still trying to find out whether the ¬ symbol was derived from EBCDIC, or whether it was an alternative form of the ASCII character %5f (now _). I'm pretty sure that the in the second image is the character %5e (what is now ^). Still, I need to read it through again and decide what parts of it are useful.


Sunday, 6 September 2009 Dereel Images for 6 September 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Spent some time today looking at the software for the Fine Offset WH-1081 weather station that Steve Woodford sent me a while back. It was a patch for Wview release 4.0.1, and the current release is 5.5.3. Spent a fair amount of time adapting that, not helped by the fact that I don't know (and really don't want to know) about autoconf. Something went wrong generating the Makefiles, but by that time I was too frustrated and decided to put it off. Maybe I should first install release 4.0.1 to ensure that things work at all.

I installed the NetBSD installation on kimchi from a downloaded ISO, and it didn't give me the option to install X. Went looking for a package, but found none. Went over the web site looking for documentation. Plenty on how to use X, but nothing on how to get it onto the system. Finally found a document and followed that, but ended up with only a base installation—not even xterm was there. And then it occurred to me that this isn't even the standard NetBSD version of X (should be XFree86). This really could do with much better documentation.


Topic: photography Link here

Spent some time in the afternoon selling my Rokinon telephoto lens on eBay. It's surprising how difficult it is to put together a good description. It's not for want of practice in writing HTML.


Monday, 7 September 2009 Dereel
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Topic: general Link here

Another power failure at 4:06 this morning. How I wish this would stop!


Topic: technology, general Link here

More work on Wview release 4.0.1 today, and got it to work, not without kludges: it depends on sqlite3, but there's nothing in the configuration to include the libraries. How can that work? Tried handing it in via LIBS, but that caused the configuration to fail (“configure:2904: error: C compiler cannot create executables”) because it couldn't find the library at link time.

configure:2857: gcc    conftest.c -lsqlite3 >&5
ld: cannot find -lsqlite3
configure:2860: $? = 1
configure:2898: result:
configure: failed program was:
...
configure:2904: error: C compiler cannot create executables

Probably there's another variable to tweak, but why should I have to? In the end, just put it in manually. Why is this so difficult?

Still, wview looks quite good, and I now have a Dereel weather web site. Spent some time playing around to make things more readable, and got some understanding of what it can do, but it looks as if I should probably postpone most such stuff until I've installed the latest version. I should also port it to FreeBSD: at the moment it's running on kimchi, my test machine, which means that I can't use it for anything else, and I also can't turn it off.


Topic: technology, music Link here

Also finished copying my CDs to MP3. I now have about 9 GB, enough to require some trimming. Spent some time looking for something off the shelf to organize them, without much success. c't has some articles on it, conveniently stored on DVD in page image format, but indexed, it seems, with an application that only runs on Microsoft “Internet Explorer”. More checking required; hopefully I'm wrong on that one.


Topic: gardening Link here

A bit more work in the garden, mainly spreading gravel in the existing succulent bed. Yvonne is currently working on the larger bed to the north of the house, which she's termed the “Japanese garden”, and spent some time moving some rocks there. Much more to do.


Tuesday, 8 September 2009 Dereel Images for 8 September 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

Came into my office this morning to find an eBay login screen on one of my displays. But it looked completely different:


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The one on the right is what I'm used to, and the browser fills in the names automatically. The other one had a different layout, and it hadn't been filled in. Spent some time pondering the cause, and unfortunately closed the first window before looking at the source. On the face of it, it's legitimate, but it brings back to me how difficult it is to detect bogus signin screens. Somehow there should be some way of getting the warm fuzzies that you're really talking to the correct site; public key cryptography maybe?


Topic: general Link here

DJ Agnew lives!

Last year I had problems with Telstra: for some strange reason, they had reinstated David Agnew, a previous resident of this house, on my phone bill. It took me over a month to get them to fix it. And now he's back again!


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How can they make such a mess? Called up Telstra service and spoke to Ronald, who made it clear not just by his accent that he doesn't live in Australia: he repeated my phone number with groupings which are completely out of keeping with Australian usage. He also required security questions: my “full” name (i.e. the name on the invoice) and my date of birth. Ah well. There's not much potential for breach of security here.

On checking, he found that I wasn't the contact person. That was Colin Lehey, born 9 October 1982—could be Mick's son Colin, who is about that age. How the hell did they get him as my contact person? This is beginning to look like really serious abuse of personal data. Put in a complaint; I doubt it will help much. Ronald says they'll address it within 5 working days.

Regarding the DJ Agnew on the invoice: Ronald tells me that it is no longer there. Looking back, that's what they said last time too. He's sending a new copy; we'll see if it's any better.


Topic: gardening Link here

Finally the weather was suitable to doing some work in the garden, and started planting plants in the new (“Japanese”) succulent bed. Yvonne wanted many more plants than I, and indeed it's looking a little empty at the moment:


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But succulents grow like fury, as the comparison with the very first shows. The first shows what it looked like when we planted it, and the second is now:


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Topic: general Link here

My weather station has been working nicely, and set up a cron job to sync it to the external web site every 15 minutes. And then I saw some results that didn't look right:


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That's a highest pressure of about 6.5 atmospheres and (only shown in the graph) a lowest of about -1 atmosphere. Then it occurred to me that Steve Woodford had warned of the unit returning ridiculous values, and he had send me a patch for working around it, which I had clearly forgotten to include. Put that in, rebuilt the executables, and the HTML generator crashed. Further investigation showed that it had had some kind of overflow generating the graph for the barometric pressure (the one on the right). No idea how it worked before, but everything seemed to fail from then on, so took the thing offline until I can get it up and running on FreeBSD, which hopefully won't be too difficult.


Wednesday, 9 September 2009 Dereel Images for 9 September 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

GUIs: The fast food of the computer industry

We were discussing Apple again today. Somebody mentioned the fact that you could find files with “Finder”. Well, some of them. If you're looking for MP3s, forget it:


 
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This is straightforward enough stuff—or is it? The “modern” attitude seems to be that you don't need to understand the directory hierarchies, and yet here they're presented with no less than five levels of hierarchy, far beyond what you want. And to do so, the file names are truncated to a point where you can barely recognize them. Yes, you can go and change the view and see just the contents of the directory:


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And it's still mutilated. Why? There's plenty of space on the right to stretch it out, but it doesn't use it. Is this really easier to understand than the method we've had for decades? Consider:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttypf) /home/Music/iTunes/iTunes-Music/Christopher Hogwood_ Academy Of Ancient Music 7 -> ls -l
total 1
-rw-r--r--   1 grog  wheel  6148 Sep 10 10:29 .DS_Store
drwxr-xr-x   2 grog  wheel  1536 Sep  2 15:29 Beethoven_ Symphonies # 1 & 2
drwxr-xr-x   2 grog  wheel  1536 Sep  2 15:30 Beethoven_ Symphonies #4 & 5
drwxr-xr-x   2 grog  wheel  1536 Sep  2 15:30 Beethoven_ Symphonies #7 & 8
drwxr-xr-x   2 grog  wheel  1024 Sep  2 15:30 Beethoven_ Symphony #3
drwxr-xr-x   2 grog  wheel  1024 Sep  2 15:31 Beethoven_ Symphony #9

With the help of the prompt, this shows exactly where you are in the directory hierarchy. But then there are so many other things you can do: ls on FreeBSD has no less than 38 options controlling the way things are displayed. “Finder” has only three viewing options (the third is icons, to waste even more space). Why do the GUIs restrict you to so few views? And why can't they use the available space? I'm left with the feeling that the product managers want to supply as little functionality as they possibly can.

Is this an Apple issue? Partially. Microsoft can at least work out how wide to make the columns, but apart from that it's pretty much the same:


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Topic: technology, general Link here

After yesterday's problems with wview, spent some time porting it to FreeBSD. That proved simpler than I had feared: the USB code compiled cleanly, but when I tried to run it, I got a flood of error messages:

Sep  9 12:13:47 dereel wviewd[58709]: <1252462427952> : wh1080Init: reading first sensor packets ...
Sep  9 12:13:47 dereel wviewd[58709]: <1252462427955> : wh1080UsbRead: failed read (error reading from interrupt endpoint /dev/ugen0.1: Resource temporarily unavailable)!

That's EAGAIN, of course, and it was returned from a call to usb_interrupt_read (). Why is it returning that? Did some tracing and discovered that it was getting valid input, so the EAGAIN was benign beyond the error messages. Ignoring them worked, but the wviewd process used something like 35% processor time. Put in a little code to delay a bit (10 ms) and retry if it hit that error. That works, but it sounds like a bug in the USB implementation to return EAGAIN on a blocking read. Still, I now have wview working the way I want it, sort of, and I can turn to getting 5.5.3 running.


Topic: photography, opinion Link here

Panasonic: we reserve the right to kill your batteries

On the German Olympus camera discussion forum (how I hate forums!) I discovered that the breakthrough new Panasonic G1 has a serious down side. The batteries that they use are not very different from the ones on my Olympus. Mine (BLM1) are 7.2V 1500 mAh LiIon batteries, and the BLB13 for the Panasonic is a 7.2V 1250 mAh LiIon battery. A little bit weaker, but not significantly. And in each case, there are after-market batteries available on eBay and elsewhere for about half the price. B&H Photo Video offers them for $27.95 for Olympus, and they had them for a similar price for Panasonic. But they don't offer them any more, for a very good reason: Panasonic has released a firmware upgrade which makes the camera refuse to work with aftermarket batteries. The party line (copied here because I think it's likely they'll change their tune) is:


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Note the term “imitation battery”. Yes, I can believe that it's possible that third-party batteries can have problems, but ultimately that's a matter for the owner. I've had my third-party battery for the Olympus for over two years now, about typical life for an LiIon battery, and I've had no problems with it. And I know of at least one person who had a battery, upgraded his firmware (apparently before the disclaimer was put on the web site) and now has a useless battery. It's interesting in this connection to note that, though the Panasonic batteries have less capacity than the Olympus ones, they're noticeably more expensive. I'm left with the feeling that this step is at least partially to bolster sales of their own batteries. If it had really been for the reasons stated, they could have issued a warning, even put in a disabled menu item “Accept third party batteries”. But not just stop them working.

A couple of days ago I tried to send email to Panasonic Australia, but the only option was one of these horrible web forms. I wrote:

I was considering buying a Panasonic G1 camera, and then somebody told me that you have introduced new firmware that reduces the functionality of the camera for no good reason: it makes the camera refuse to work with third-party batteries.

I consider this extremely bad taste and in violation of the Trade Practices Act. I plan to complain to the ACCC about this matter unless I receive a very good explanation by CoB 9 September 2009.

Fortunately, I have not yet bought a camera. You will understand that you have lost at least one potential customer.

Today I got a phone call from Gavin from Panasonic, who claimed I had sent an email and didn't understand when I told him I hadn't been able to. He repeated the party line and added nothing to the discussion. Called up the ACCC and spoke to Kim, who gave me the disappointing news that I was wrong, that this doesn't violate the Trade Practices Act. Yes, it's anti-competitive behaviour, but that is only targetted in the case of monopolies (does the name “Microsoft” automatically spring to mind?). Still, one thing's for sure: I can stop lusting after one of these Panasonic cameras.


Thursday, 10 September 2009 Dereel Images for 10 September 2009
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Topic: technology, general Link here

Into the office this morning to find dereel's /home file system full. I know it's getting full—I've added about 60 GB of photos and 10 GB of MP3s in the last few months—but it shouldn't have been quite full yet. Further investigation showed that it was a ktrace.out file, which I promptly removed—and it made no difference. Clearly it was still running—and running kdump against the file would have told me what the file was, but I had just deleted it! Fortunately Peter Jeremy explained to me what the -C option did. I thought it stopped tracing for a specific process, but in fact it's for all processes for which the user can stop it.

My suspicion was that it was the weather software, of course, and checking /var/log/messages confirmed it: it had stopped functioning in the middle of the night, and attempts to restart it were unsuccessful:

Sep 10 08:51:15 dereel wviewd[87517]: <1252536675910> : wh1080UsbRead: failed read (error setting timeout: Input/output error)!
Sep 10 08:51:15 dereel wviewd[87517]: <1252536675910> : readPage(7456): page read failed
Sep 10 08:51:15 dereel wviewd[87517]: <1252536675910> : wh1080UsbWrite: failed write (error setting timeout: Input/output error)!
Sep 10 08:51:15 dereel wviewd[87517]: <1252536675910> : readPage(7456): msg write failed

That continued despite restarts until I disconnected and reconnected the USB cable. Is this a problem in the FreeBSD USB stack? To be monitored.

Spent some time trying to sign up for various weather reporting systems, notably Wunderground and CWOP, both of which have very difficult to understand instructions. In particular, Wunderground mentions a password, but doesn't give the opportunity to set one. Signed up anyway, got no confirmation, and read instructions telling me that it would take at least a day, that various things could go wrong, and in each case the result would be that nothing happened. Wonderful. And I can't even check until tomorrow.

Wunderground is very specific about the location of the weather stations, though. When setting the location of the station, it specifies the latitude to 13 places of decimals, and the longitude to 14 places:

 
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That corresponds to a resolution of 1-8 mm latitude and about 0.8 × 1-9 mm longitude. I wonder what they're thinking.


Topic: photography Link here

I've been looking for a good tripod for over two years now. The first was very cheap, but it had a really horrible head, and it wasn't removable. The second had a much better head, if you like ball heads, but wasn't much sturdier. I bought a very expensive Manfrotto 804RC2 three-way pan head (why does that sound like it's not a production version?), but I still had the issue with the steadiness of the tripod. It's a bit silly, because the stands for my lighting equipment are steadier (and bigger and heavier), though the price must have been lower. So finally I bought a big, heavy tripod, which Yvonne brought back from town today. I think I'm finally happy. It's certainly big:


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Yvonne is 1.78 tall, so this is a seriously high tripod. I need a stepladder to get to the camera when it's fully extended. More to the point, though, it's solid, and the (three-way pan) head is pretty solid too, so I might get some of the cost back by selling the Manfrotto head.

This equipment also shows one advantage of the room I'm using as a “studio”: it has a very high ceiling, about 3.2 m, making it very suitable for the high stuff I have:


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Topic: gardening Link here

Finally the weather is neither windy nor wet. Spent quite a bit of time spraying weeds in the gardens. Hopefully I've got most, and not too many of the plants I want to keep. There'll still be lots of manual weeding to do.


Friday, 11 September 2009 Dereel Images for 11 September 2009
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Into the office this morning to discover that the weather station software had hung again in the middle of the night, and that the /home file system was full again.

The full file system was for the same reason as before: a ktrace.out file had filled it up. And again I removed it without checking what was generating it. But it seemed to be related to the weather software, and sure enough, found that I had included a ktrace of the wviewd process in the startup file. So hopefully that's over and done with now.

The hang was different, and from the log messages it was clear that it had happened long after the file system filled up—at about the same time as yesterday, but the flood of log messages had already flushed the previous day's messages. This time I had:

Sep 11 02:13:51 dereel wviewd[3904]: <1252599231078> : readPage(0): page read failed
Sep 11 02:13:51 dereel wviewd[3904]: <1252599231122> : readStationData: bad magic in page0
Sep 11 02:13:51 dereel wviewd[3904]: <1252599231166> : readStationData: bad magic in page0
...

That's really helpful, of course. But yesterday it seemed to have happened a little after 02:00 as well. Is there something in the nightly cron jobs that trips over the USB stack at this time of the morning?

Getting things started again wasn't easy. Various components wouldn't stop, and starting things manually is greatly hampered by the presence of PID files that don't get ignored if the process has died.


Topic: general Link here

I've been using Braun electric toothbrushes for over 20 years. They clean well, but they've been remarkably unreliable, and we must have been through a dozen of them in the time. I bought the previous one on 12 March 2004, and it failed already on 15 October 2004, when I bought the current one.

That's been working for nearly 5 years now, an absolute exception. Hopefully it's an indication that their quality has improved. But last night it died. Charge indicator lamp out, no activity from the switch. Clearly the (NiCd) battery had died. Still, compared to the previous ones, that wasn't too bad, and I no longer had much to complain about.

Into town to look for a new toothbrush. First to Target, where there was nobody to advise me. They had brushes at prices ranging from $40 to $200, and nothing beyond the package description to help decide. Read that and discovered that there are different rotational speeds, and that some also have an oscillatory action which seemed to make sense. And the most expensive one had a wireless-connected display telling you what you're doing. That sounds like a solution in search of a problem to me.

On to Myers, once the Australian department store. How are the mighty fallen! This place looks like it hasn't been renovated in 20 years. They had a similar range of toothbrushes, and once again nobody to advise me. Spent more time comparing the brushes and came to the conclusion that the model 7400 (“40,000 pulsations, 8,800 oscillations”) was the one of choice.


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Target had it for $149 with one of these horrible mail-in refunds of $20; Myers had it for $129 without the refund. For my way of thinking, the second option is far preferable. On to Big W, where of course they had no advisers, the models were different, and they had conveniently covered the description with an anti-theft sticker which I couldn't completely remove. It proved that they weren't as good, and the prices for comparable models were only a few cents lower, so out again, deciding to buy at Myers.

First, though, to pick up the Sony CD player (“Mini HiFi System”) that I had taken in for repair two weeks ago. Yes, it was the laser—on a unit that I had purchased only 5 months ago. The repairmen tells me they get many such cases. It was still under warranty, of course, so I didn't have anything to pay, but I did get an invoice that itemized what was done and how much Sony had been charged: $35.20 for the CD mechanism and $50 for labour, adding up to $93.72 including GST. That's $0.28 less than I paid for the unit, including the still-functioning tuner (and presumably tape deck, which I've never used) and the loudspeakers. Clearly there's no point repairing them out of warranty.

On the way back to Myers, drove past The Good Guys. My experience there in the past has been that they're very expensive, so I hadn't even considered them (though Yvonne had suggested them this morning). If I had looked at their web site, I probably wouldn't have either. Is it http://www.goodguys.com.au/? Nope: “The request did not specify a valid virtual host.” http://www.thegoodguys.com.au/? Nope: “No Response from Application Web Server”. In fact, both names belong to them, and the second is supposed to be the canonical name, and the IP addresses are the same, so this is just sloppy web programming. Some parts of the second web site do work: a random URL from Google tells me:

We apologize. We are unable to display the flash content here.

You browser may not have flash plugin installed/enabled or have an absolete version of it.

Still, it was easy enough to check. In and was almost immediately pounced on by Gayle—the first serviceperson I saw this morning—but by this time I had found what I was looking for, the model 7400 for $99.95. So I owe the good guys an apology. Showed the photos to Gayle, who maybe for that reason gave me a further $2 discount, so I ended up paying only $98. It's amazing how much difference there is in prices for this sort of thing.

Back home and plugged the thing into the charger—and discovered the old one had come back to life! Charge indicator on again, and it worked. Almost certainly not a battery problem, more likely part of the old problem they all seem to have with internal switching. Still, it's likely that the recovery will be short-lived, and as the experience with the CD player shows, it's good to keep the old one in reserve for when the new one dies.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

Back home, the wind was terrible. Now I can measure it: a high of 77 km/h. Most of the wind was round the 20 to 25 km/h, which according to the Beaufort scale is a “moderate breeze” or some such, but reality was different. The wind pressure brought down yet another branch of the neighbours' gum tree and bent the column of the clothes hoist:


 
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It seems that we've had far too much of this lately. Is this the promised Climate Change, or just a random event? Planted some seedlings that I bought today, nearly getting blown away in the process. Hopefully things will improve.


Topic: technology, general Link here

More investigation why I didn't show up in Wunderground. It turned out that my guess was right, that it wanted my own password. But that contained a character that wview didn't accept, so it just truncated the password to that point. Tried another one, all letters with a verylongcommentaboutthiskindofstupidity, only to discover that Wunderground won't accept more than 10 characters in a password. sigh.

After adapting to these quirks, things worked, and I appeared in the map. Spent some more time looking at other reporting systems, and set up reporting for CWOP. That seemed even easier, but when I tried to restart wview, things went to hell:

Sep 11 18:12:33 dereel radmrouted[71069]: <1252656753594> : started on radlib system 1, workdir /usr/local/var/wview
Sep 11 18:12:34 dereel wviewd[71073]: <1252656754650> : radCfOpen: could not allocate memory
Sep 11 18:12:35 dereel htmlgend[71077]: <1252656755724> : radCfOpen: could not allocate memory
Sep 11 18:12:35 dereel wvcwopd[71081]: <1252656755738> : radCfOpen: could not allocate memory
Sep 11 18:12:35 dereel wvhttpd[71084]: <1252656755758> : radCfOpen: could not allocate memory
...

What's that? There's plenty of memory available. Built a debug version of wviewd and tried it out, and established that radCfOpen (did I get the studly caps right?) is part of radlib, and it's designed to read in the configuration file. It got the config file name right (something that it didn't bother to report), and somewhere inside it ran into trouble with the “memory allocation”. It then stopped without any further message and with a 0 completion code. ktrace showed that it read in the configuration file, then:

 71911 wviewd   RET   read 2844/0xb1c
 71911 wviewd   CALL  semop(0x40001,0xbfbfdf7e,0x1)
 71911 wviewd   RET   semop 0
... (many times)
 71911 wviewd   RET   semop 0
 71911 wviewd   CALL  gettimeofday(0xbfbfdd70,0)
 71911 wviewd   RET   gettimeofday 0
 71911 wviewd   CALL  gettimeofday(0xbfbfd088,0)
 71911 wviewd   RET   gettimeofday 0
 71911 wviewd   CALL  getpid
 71911 wviewd   RET   getpid 71911/0x118e7
 71911 wviewd   CALL  sendto(0,0xbfbfd0ce,0x58,0,0,0)
 71911 wviewd   GIO   fd 0 wrote 88 bytes
       "<9>Sep 11 18:04:08 wviewd[71911]: <1252721048520> : radCfOpen: could not allocate memory"

There were lots of these semops, but all with return value 0 (successful). What's all this about? Is it really a semaphore issue, or is it really trying to allocate ridiculous quantities of memory? And if so, why not report how much? About the only thing that I can conclude is that a library that can report this kind of message is that they're not worth having. Reading a configuration file shouldn't require lots of semaphore operations.

The obvious conclusion was that the problem was due to a configuration change. But after reverting the changes (RCS is your friend), it didn't change anything. Spent about an hour trying to work out what went wrong, and in the end reverted to the NetBSD installation, which happily accepted the same configuration files once I fixed the path names.

So, what's the problem? One is clearly a badly documented and rickety framework (the only documentation I can find for radlib is a API reference). The other is the Tower of Babel attitude to software design. It's probably not worth trying to debug it; I need to migrate to wview release 5.5.3, which doubtless is waiting with other pain, such as configuration files stored in a database. But maybe some of the problems I've seen so far will go away.


Saturday, 12 September 2009 Dereel Images for 12 September 2009
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Topic: technology, general Link here

For a change, no full file system this morning, and the wview software (on NetBSD) hadn't hung either. But the problems running wviewd on FreeBSD continued.


Topic: gardening, general Link here

Spring has finally come! Or maybe it's early summer. Today's high temperature was 28.4°, and spent some time in the garden just pottering around. It's time to become more active.


Topic: general Link here

In the afternoon, yet another power failure. This really, really annoys me. It also doesn't help the up time of my weather station, of course. When it came back (this time “only” 39 minutes), spent some time looking for statistics on the reliability of the electricity supply in different countries, unfortunately in vain. It's about time to stir up some interest in improving the situation.

One of the things about power failures here is that they almost invariably cover a large area. The recorded message (second time round; I appear to have been the first to report the outage, and they apparently rely on customers to report for them) stated a usual area: Scotsburn (which Google Maps calls “Scotchman's Lead”—I wonder where they get these names), Durham Lead, Mount Mercer, Dereel, Corindhap, a distance of linear 37.5 km, and of unknown width. It would be reasonable to expect that the outage, like most before it, covered several hundred km². When power was restored, I checked the weather station at Buninyong, and it had had an outage too.


Topic: technology, general Link here

One thing that the power failure “fixed” was the “memory allocation failure” that I was having with wviewd. I strongly suspected that it was something to do with left-over System V semaphores—how I hate the three ugly sisters! This tends to confirm the suspicion. On IRC, Peter Jeremy pointed me to ipcrm, where, apart from a way to remove dead semaphores, I read:

AUTHORS
     The original author was Adam Glass.  The wiping of all System V IPC
     objects was thought up by Callum Gibson and extended and implemented by
     Edwin Groothuis.

Callum and Edwin are both on the IRC channel as well. And that was at a time when I was mentor for Edwin, so I should have known all about it. Checked the commit logs and found:

revision 1.13
date: 2007/12/25 00:52:24;  author: edwin;  state: Exp;  lines: +133 -18
Add the ability to clean up all shared memory segments which are
unused in one go.

...
Submitted by:   Callum Gibson <callumgibson@fakedemailaddress.com>
Approved by:    grog@

My mind must be failing me.


Sunday, 13 September 2009 Dereel Images for 13 September 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion, music Link here

I still haven't found an off-the-shelf solution for keeping track of my MP3 collection, and spent some time looking for possibilities today. Most, of course, are the kind that make iTunes look good, and so I returned to look at the article in c't magazine that I had already found by chance last week. This time I wasn't so lucky, and spent a lot of time looking for it. The index is now only available as an application that only runs on Microsoft “Internet Explorer”. Went looking with Acrobat Reader which was doomed to failure: I found hundreds of hits for “MP3”, and just sifting through them was more pain than I could stand. It would have been easier to look through the paper copies. But in the process, saw yet another example of this “modern” gratuitous truncation of text:

 
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Look at that path name! It's only half as wide as what looks like a progress bar below (it isn't—the bar just swings back and forward), and it truncates the path name with something that is barely shorter (in fact, the ... are one character more than the om they replace). Sometimes I despair. And yes, I still haven't found the article.


Topic: technology Link here

More work on porting wview to FreeBSD, and now have a clean build of release 5.5.3. Now I need to test it without disrupting the reporting too much. It looks as if it was a good choice to migrate to the latest version rather than search for the bugs in the old one: the area where the bug occurred (reading the configuration) has now changed completely, though not obviously for the better: instead of storing it in (multiple) text files, which I can maintain with RCS, it's now in a database. We'll see.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was cooler again, but I still found time to do some work in the garden. Despite all talk of rain, it's been quite dry, and than and yesterday's warmth have left things quite dry. Spent some time upgrading the irrigation, and turned it on for 5 minutes per day for the moment. Also planted the last of the seedlings that I had started a while back, and which were looking decidedly unhappy. Also removed some of the kangaroo protection: they're quite a nuisance, not to mention eyesore, and we haven't seen any kangaroos in the garden in a couple of weeks. Hopefully they're finding more food elsewhere.


Topic: general Link here

Chris along for dinner. No photos, and we have our reasons for not saying when she left.

Phantom Persians

While she was there, she mentioned that David is currently in Batam, not a place I know, though I see it's just off Singapore. I asked if it was really called Batang, the Malay/Indonesian word for “rod”. And then Chris asked if it was related to French baton, which means the same thing.

How do you find that out? I have a book by M. B. Lewis on “Malay Script”, also called Jawi, a modified Farsi script that is no longer in general use; what little I know about Arabic and related scripts comes from that book, which I must have bought 45 years ago. It's interesting in this context because it contains a glossary with some etymological information. Dragged it out, but it had no information on the etymology of batang.

Chris took a look, however, and found some pencilled-in notes in a section on Arabic loan-words. Not my writing, and clearly written by somebody who understood Farsi: the comments are about the corresponding meaning in Farsi. For example, janazah means “royal hearse” in Malay and “dead body” in Farsi. Most underlined words have the same meaning, however.

But who wrote it? And when? I'm sure I was present, but I've had the book for ever. Could it have been Shahram Akhavan? Or Ali Madanipour? I can't find a way to find out. I'm sure they wouldn't remember either.


Monday, 14 September 2009 Dereel Images for 14 September 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

Part of my weather software is a script that copies the web pages to the external server every 15 minutes. It uses an ssh tunnel to do so, and I found it littering the system with old ssh-agent processes. With a bit of advice, found a couple of environment variables that allowed me to do trap the process on exit:

# The > /dev/null and the display causes ssh-agent to bypass
# interactive prompting and get the passphrase from $SSH_ASKPASS.
export DISPLAY=:0
eval `ssh-agent` >/dev/null
# Stop the ssh-agent when we stop
trap "kill $SSH_AGENT_PID" 0 1 3 15

ssh-add < /dev/null

The trick is knowing about the environment variables; there's also a SSH_AUTH_SOCK which can be of use under some circumstances. I should probably use it to not start any additional ssh-agent processes, but this works for now.


Topic: photography Link here

I've been using boskoop, my old Apple machine, for copying my photos for no better reason than it's more reliable. On current releases of FreeBSD, up to 7.1, if you turn off the camera before unmounting the file system, it will crash the system. That all should change with release 8.0, and my tests show that it works correctly, but I haven't got there yet. The Apple has a significant disadvantage, though: it has a USB 1.1 bus, and it takes up to 20 seconds to download a single photo pair (raw/JPEG). Today followed up a suggestion to change my script to use mtools to do the job. To my surprise, it wasn't too much work, and it works. The performance improvement is clear. Copying four photo pairs with the Apple took 90 seconds, and with dereel it was 13 seconds:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) ~/Photos/20090912/orig 5 -> ls -clTtr

-rwxrwxrwx  1 grog  502   5887668 Sep 12 10:16:51 2009 P9121861.JPG
...
-rwxrwxrwx  1 grog  502   5440622 Sep 12 10:18:23 2009 P9121865.JPG
=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) ~/Photos/20090914/orig 15 -> ls -clTtr
-rw-rw-r--  1 grog  home  13501016 Sep 14 11:07:39 2009 P9141898.ORF
...
-rw-rw-r--  1 grog  home  13547673 Sep 14 11:07:52 2009 P9141902.ORF

More eBay pain

I've sold my telephoto lens. And the winning bidder discovered that it wouldn't fit his camera, and for some reason he didn't want to buy a T adapter. OK, there's no point labouring the issue: I could send it to him and have him send it back and get a refund, clearly nothing that is of any help. So set about selling it to the runner up, something that eBay explicitly allows.

That worked, and by the time I found out, it had also been paid for. But the original transaction was still there, so now I have sold two lenses. Went looking through the eBay site, but the only way I found was to “open a dispute”, not what I wanted. Went to the Live Help, where Alvin told me, amongst other things, that the place I had looked for was wrong (I think):

This is for unpaid item case wherein you will get a strike your buyer when you file this case.

Whatever that means. He told me how to do it:

Here's how you can initiate a "Transaction Cancellation" for this item:
  1. Sign in to eBay and go to your "MyeBay" section of the site
  2. Under the "Account" tab, click on the "Resolution Centre" link.
  3. Under the "I Sold An Item" section, click on the "I want to cancel a transaction" option and then click the "Continue" button.
  4. Enter the item number of the auction you wish to cancel and click the "Continue" button.
  5. Then just fill out the form and click the "Send Request" button to complete the request.

I did it, and got the confirmation:


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But that was all. No case opened, and ebayman didn't get a message. Twice. Why is this stuff all so broken?


Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden. Now that the weather is getting better, it's easier to get up and do something. Planted the remaining seedlings in the veggie patch: kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, pok choi and spring onions. Gradually the verandah is becoming less cluttered.


Tuesday, 15 September 2009 Dereel Images for 15 September 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

More work on the weather station software today, and found out why the build was so clean: I had included all the code, but I had omitted most of it from the configuration information, so it hadn't been compiled. Normal enough problems once I reattached it, with the exception of the dependencies. Any normal build system has a depend target in the Makefile, but this thing uses GNU autoconf, something about which I have never heard much good. Even 15 years ago, in Porting UNIX software, I pointed out weaknesses; nowadays I'm reminded of a Dijkstra quotation:

If Fortran has been called an infantile disorder, PL/I must be classified as a fatal disease.

Finally found the problem—it seems that the dependencies are built by the configure script, and they base on the variable AC_CONFIG_FILES in configure.in, at least in this case.


Topic: technology, general Link here

eBay: The pain continues

Of course nothing had happened with annulling my eBay transaction yesterday. Tried again and got the same results. Connected with live help and was told to clear my browser cache, which greatly annoyed me. But of course I suppose they have to go by the book, since they really don't understand what they're doing. And of course it didn't make any difference, and they told me it had been reported and that I should try again tomorrow. They wouldn't give me a case reference number and just promised to send me email, which they didn't, so all I have is the session ID (2232708).


Topic: general Link here

Last week I had problems with Telstra sending me invoices with an incorrect name (D J AGNEW) on them. Today the replacement invoice copy arrived:


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Exactly the same as last time. How can they make such a mess? Called up again and was told that it had now been fixed—again, the same as last time. Also asked about my complaint, which should have been addressed by now. Gerard, the customer service representative who seemed only marginally in command of the English language, said he would look in to it. I asked for a reference number, and he offered his ID number. Finally got him to enter one, and got the number 1-20723381946. Based on my experience with Telstra, if I call up complaints with that number, they'll tell me that the number is formally incorrect. What a disorganized crowd!


Topic: gardening Link here

More garden work. In prior years I've been concerned about how to prune salvias, especially since the advice I have been given has been conflicting. In this month's edition of Gardening Australia I read an alternative technique: cut to the ground and let them grow up again. I suspect that, like the other suggestions, each of these methods depends greatly on the kind of salvia. But the ones in the north bed (Salvia microphylla) were currently looking quite unhappy, and one was completely overrun with grass to the point where I was thinking of pulling them out anyway, so instead I pruned one of them to the ground, which proved to be much more work than I had expected: it mean that I couldn't just pull out the grass roots, which were intimately entwined with the roots of the salvias. Pulled out several basketfuls of grass, but I'll need to give it more attention still.

Yvonne also planted a lot of stuff towards the eastern paddock, including a number of daisies along the fence line, and gazanias in amongst the osteospermums that we had already planted in that area. I weeded the veggie patch—again!— and pulled out the remaining osteospermums in the north-west bed; we'll put annual flowers in there instead, currently a couple of left-over petunias. Finally spread some fertilizer over much of the area of sprinkler circuits 1 and 2 and gave them a good soaking; I'm worried that we're going to have another dry spring.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009 Dereel Images for 16 September 2009
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Topic: technology Link here

More work on wview today. Made some progress, but it's painful. I've had the idea of storing configuration information in a database before, with the Black Box project a couple of years ago. But that was in conjunction with web pages to update it, and of course it used MySQL. This software uses sqlite3, which I don't know, and which is different enough from MySQL that I can't just jump in; instead I need to learn Yet Another Dialect of SQL. And the configuration scripts are still just that, scripts, and not very clever at that. Maybe the intention is to create a web-based configuration system, but the current status seems to have the worst of both methods, and it can also easily lead to the system using two different database systems: there's a provision for storing weather data in a database (MySQL or PostgreSQL, but not sqlite3), but the configuration must be stored in an sqlite3 database. I'm left wondering how much work I want to do on this software.


Topic: animals Link here

Piccola's first mouse

We've had some mice living under the fridge in the laundry for some time, and the cats have paid a lot of attention, though it's not clear how successful they have been. We'd put in mousetraps, except that there's a danger that the cats might get injured.

Today, however, I found Piccola at the entrance to my office playing with a dead mouse. It was still marginally warm, and it's fairly clear that Lilac wasn't involved; apart from the fact that she wasn't there, she would just have eaten it. Piccola didn't seem to think of that; she just played with it:


 
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She just kept playing with it, so finally we got Lilac to show her what to do. She was certainly fascinated:


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I wonder when she will learn to do so herself.


Topic: technology, general Link here

As I expected, and contrary to promises, I didn't receive any feedback from eBay about cancelling my transaction, and a further attempt met with the same fate. Tried live help again and finally the consultant did the work for me, successfully. Still no explanation why it didn't work for me: “We did not receive any report from the Technical Department that we have current issue on the site.”


Topic: gardening Link here

More work in the garden, mainly weeding. There's certainly enough of that to do, noticeably capeweed. I wonder when we'll get it under control.


Thursday, 17 September 2009 Dereel Images for 17 September 2009
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Topic: general, cooking, opinion Link here

Our toaster has died, or at least jammed up so badly that it seems not worth the trouble to fix it. I've had this problem before, and two years ago I tried to replace it with something that seemed even worse.

One of the problems with toasters is that they're not as simple as you'd think. What do you want to toast? When we bought the last one, we ate standard German-style bread, which is much wider than the form-baked bread eaten in English-speaking countries. As a result, we needed an extra-wide (“four slice”) toaster, which were much more expensive at the time. I think I paid about $70 for the last toaster.

I'm form-baking my bread now, so a normal width toaster would do the job, but from recollection there are silly details to consider, so went into town to see what was available. As expected, at Big W had very cheap toasters—under $10. But then I did some thinking: Yvonne is now also toasting Pide (or Pita?) bread, and that's both wider and thicker. So maybe a bigger one would be better after all. Found one which seemed to fit the bill for $40, and then based on last week's experience, off to the Good Guys, who had the same toaster—it seemed—for $45. But this one was called Turbo or Quattro or Pulsar some such meaningless thing.

Then it occurred to me: what's the most important thing about any cooker? One of them has to be the amount of heat it can generate. Who mentions that? Nobody. It seems to be tradition to put four items of information on the labels, so when they have nothing else, they write something like “removable crumb tray”, which they all have. But they're required by law to write the power rating (along with voltage) somewhere on the body, almost invariably underneath, so took a look at the three they had at the Good Guys. The cheapest had the lowest power—I can't believe that's a cost factor, though maybe insulation is—and was rated at (from memory) 230/240VAC 1194/1300 W. What kind of person could have worked that out? Yes, if a purely resistive load uses 1300 W at 240 V, it'll use 1194 at 230 V. But firstly 230 V is the voltage of reference, not 240 V, and secondly that kind of resolution is just silly. At the minimum allowed voltage (218 V) it would be 1073W, and at the highest allowed voltage (253 V) it would be 1445 W.

Still, the relative values were of interest, and they varied considerably. The “Pulsar” or whatever it was called was rated at 1600 W, and a third one was in between. In the end, I decided for the one in the middle because it had by far the largest width and depth. It was advertised at $49.95, but they only charged me $45 for that. That seems to be a standard thing at the Good Guys, and it's difficult to complain, but it makes it difficult to make comparisons, and I've probably decided against them in the past because of the “high” price.

While I in town, also looked at barbecues, which are another can of worms. You can buy a four-burner barbecue for between $199 and about $2100. What's the difference? Quality and fittings, of course, but what about the all-important issue of cooking area and heat output? It seems that the one for $199 had a cooking area at least as large as the more expensive ones, and in some cases considerably larger. And the heat output? Not mentioned for the most part. Where it was, it was in silly units like MJ/h (often written MJHR or mjh or some such). At Rays Outdoors they had labels with the output mentioned in BTU, which stands for “British Thermal Units”. For example, I can currently see a product on the website rated:

Stainless steel hood, fascia and twin doors
49,289 BTU
Side burner 9,952 BTU
Side wok burner with stainless steel lid
Heavy duty steel trolley with 2 castors
Enamel pressed steel

Those line breaks are in the original. I can convert 14.5 MJHR to the correct metric unit (kW) by dividing by 3,600, so that's about 4 kW, and that seems fairly typical for those few units I found where they divulged that information, but how much is 49,289 BTU? I had no idea, but checking the Wikipedia page, I see that it's about 1.06 kJ, depending on temperature (specified in Fahrenheit, of course). So 49,289 BTU are about 46.5 MJ, and the silly 5-digit resolution suggests that somebody at Rays has used a calculator to take the MJ rating and convert it in to obsolete units. And the implication is that when you've used your 49,289 BTUs, the thing stops functioning? I suppose it's per hour, but nobody bothers with that kind of nicety.

At the Good Guys I wanted to compare electric and gas stoves; the former are rated in kW, the latter in MJ/h. I didn't need to worry, though; again, this kind of detail isn't worth mentioning anywhere.


Topic: general, gardening Link here

We finally have rain, plenty of it—22 mm today, the highest we've had this year. It came exactly when we wanted it, too, but it drizzled on all day long in a manner I'm more accustomed to in England, and we didn't do much. I didn't even look at my weather software. Somehow it's depressing, even though we really need it.


Friday, 18 September 2009 Dereel Images for 18 September 2009
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Topic: technology, music Link here

Back to copying data to the SDHC card for my car radio. How painful this is! I've already deferred the long-term goal of a database of the works I have: there really must be something like that already. Surely I'm not the only person who can see a need for it. But there are still other issues: how do I get the data on the card in a form that the MP3 player will play in sequence? And how do I create a list of stuff so that I don't need to search all 1300 tracks (sorry, songs) to find them?

None of that should be difficult. A couple of shell scripts should do it: one to copy, the other to list the contents of the card in the sequence which the player will play them.

But there's one problem: these HORRIBLE file names full of spaces. They completely break normal conventions of shell scripts and other UNIX tools. The only way I can find to get a list of the files in directory order is with ls -f. Normally you'd write something like:

for file in `ls -f`; do
  process $file
done

But for uses spaces as a delimiter, so that doesn't work if there are spaces in the file name: it attempts to use every part of the file name as a separate name. The shell does provide some support for this kind of breakage with the construct "$@" instead of the more normal $*, but I can't see any way of applying this to the `ls -f` construct.

In this case, I found a workaround: use sed:

ls -f $DIR | sed "s:^:cp -p \"$DIR/:; s:$:\" $CARD/$DIR:" | sh

But what a pain! And then I came to the next case, where I wanted to put a track number next to each file name. How do you do that? Normally, you'd write something like:

for file in `ls -f`; do
  echo "$SEQ    $file"
  SEQ=`expr SEQ + 1`
done

But how do you do this with file names with spaces in them? I've already mentioned that this approach doesn't work; but neither does the workaround I found for copying, because I have a sequence number to process. Spent all afternoon trying, getting more and more frustrated in the process. Daniel O'Connor tells me that I'm using the wrong tools; but he's missing the point. The whole idea of UNIX is that the tools fit together. There are some conventions required for that, and one is that some characters are special, and you don't use them in file names. Daniel also didn't find a way (appropriate tools?) to solve this problem. People suggested that my workaround was insufficient if people put other special characters in file names, like " or a carriage return character (\n).

You'd think that I would gradually come to terms with the fact that people want to put spaces into file names. On the contrary: the more I have to do with them, the more they annoy me.


Topic: technology Link here

As if that wasn't enough frustration, my keyboard once again generated a c-a-bs key combination, the one that X servers traditionally use to shut down. I have already disabled this combination. Did the X server care? No: it shut down anyway. I've checked the key maps, and they definitely show no server shutdown; but I also checked the combination, and yes, it shuts down the server anyway. I'm not sure what to do about that. I suppose I should go in and fix the server, but why should that all be necessary?


Topic: gardening Link here

Finally our jasmine is flowering:


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It's only a small part of the plants we planted a year ago, and which didn't flower at all last year. The plants are only barely visible on the mesh at the north end of the verandah, but they must have thousands of buds:


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These four flowers were enough to fill the house with perfume. I wonder what things will be like when they're all flowering.


Topic: animals Link here

We finally put out some mouse traps in the laundry last night, and this morning we harvested a bumper crop:


 
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Piccola once again just wanted to play with them, while Lilac had more serious matters to consider:


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Left Piccola alone in the laundry with the third one for a while, then let Lilac in; I suspect it was Lilac who ate it too.


Saturday, 19 September 2009 Dereel Images for 19 September 2009
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Topic: technology, music Link here

More work on the scripts for copying MP3s today. I'm using ls -f and ls -t to list the file names in the sequence I want them, something that I can't do with find (which has options to handle file names with spaces in them). But ls has an option or two (-b and -B in the BSD versions) to handle unprintable characters. GNU ls only has -b, which seems to be the same as -B in BSD. Both of these options have nothing to do with spaces; but the idea sounded good, and I started off thinking of printing something that would escape delimiter characters as well. But how? It would be nice to be able to convert back again too, so things the octal escapes used in the -[bB] options or like HTML escapes weren't appropriate. In the end decided on printing the names in hexadecimal. That worked straightforwardly enough, but strangely there's no standard program that converts back again, so wrote one of those too. The resultant code for listing the files looks like:

for DIR in `ls -f`; do              # This, at any rate, doesn't have spaces in it
  echo === Track $SEQ: $DIR
  for FILE in `ls -fX $DIR`; do
    printf "%4d: " $SEQ
    
hex2ascii $FILE
    echo
    SEQ=`expr $SEQ + 1`
  done
done

That works, but it's still not very satisfying. Is the -X option interesting enough to put in the already overloaded list of options to ls? I still need to think about that one.


Topic: general, cooking Link here

Chris around for dinner, Indian food again. Finally, with help from Usha Jeremy, I've been able to create chapatis that taste reasonably genuine. The trick seems to be to make them thinner. Usha also suggested using hot water to mix the flour, which I did; I suspect that's of lesser importance than the thickness of the bread, but I'll experiment with that next time.


Sunday, 20 September 2009 Dereel Images for 20 September 2009
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Topic: technology, music Link here

A few messages today, from Mads Martin Jørgensen, Patrick Hess and Michael Hughes, all pointing out that I can modify the treatment of output of programs in backquotes (``) with the aid of the shell IFS variable, which describes which characters delimit arguments. By default the characters are space, tab (\t) and newline (\n). By setting the value just to \n, you can work around spaces in file names—if the program in question returns \n between arguments. Fortunately, that's the case with ls. Here an example of when it works and when it doesn't:

$ ls -l
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  0 Sep 21 10:00 Another lossy name
-rw-r--r--  1 grog  wheel  0 Sep 21 10:00 Lossy name
# This is my problem
$ for FILE in `ls -rt`; do
++    echo $FILE
++ done
Lossy
name
Another
lossy
name
# And here it works
$ IFS="
++ "
++ for FILE in *; do
++    echo $FILE
++ done
Another lossy name
Lossy name
# But this doesn't work
$ for FILE in `echo *`; do
++    echo $FILE
++ done
Another lossy name Lossy name

So it only works if the program returns values separated by \n. echo doesn't, with the result that all the text gets lumped together as one parameter—the opposite of the previous problem. Still, it solved my particular problem (that one, anyway), for which I'm grateful.

Unfortunately, the problem didn't stop there. As I've mentioned, the naming of the tracks is so variable that it's very difficult to get them back into the original sequence—if that's even what I want. A couple of examples:


Topic: brewing, technology Link here

brewer.lemis.com is no more. It went down yesterday and wouldn't come back up again. I suspect the disk has had it, but it's difficult to say without a display. In any case, it's seen better days:


 
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From recollection the components must date to about 1991, and it's only a 16 MB Intel 80486 (50 MHz, I think). The real issue is that I can't find any disks to repair it with, and I'd need an ISA display card as well. So time to start building a new one; and that will be somewhat hampered by the fact that I'm currently using an ISA adapter with a 802.11 card to connect to the network, something that you don't easily find on more recent machines.


Topic: technology, general Link here

If I were to believe my weather station today, we're having pretty extreme weather: it reported a low temperature of -1840.3 °C, enough to cause the HTML generator to crash. Clearly more work needed. Took a look at the code, but without better documentation it's really not clear what the best solution is. There are clearly two issues: one is ridiculous temperatures like this one, and the other is sudden changes. How quickly can temperature change? On 7 February 2009 the temperature dropped 15° in 30 minutes; that's presumably about as fast as you'd ever see it.

I joined up the wview mailing list a couple of days ago, and, after finding a way which Google groups didn't reject, replied to a thread about access to the repository (there is no access). As I've already observed, lack of access to the revision history has made things complicated, and I said so. The response (to a message sent with texts completely out of order)?

Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 01:17:26 -0500
From: "Mark S. Teel" <mteel2005@gmail.com>
To: wview@googlegroups.com
Subject: [wview-group] Re: Git/svn repository

Please do not resequence - top-down blows.

Greg 'groggy' Lehey wrote:

And that was all. No mention of my concern about access to the revision history. This confirms my opinion about people who can't read beyond the first couple of lines, and one of the reasons I hate reverse chronological documents.

Mark Teel is the principal author of wview, and also the first person I've ever seen to ask me to write messages upside-down. Clearly this is not a list in which I will participate. Still, maybe this is not such a bad thing; there are so many details I don't like about wview that the lack of requirement to feed back my data might turn out to be a relief.


Monday, 21 September 2009 Dereel Images for 21 September 2009
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Topic: technology, brewing Link here

More thinking about brewing computers today. Put together a much newer machine, only about 4 years old, and found a FreeBSD disk to go with it. And now? I had included the special hardware in the case of the computer, but it seems to make more sense to have a separate box. I now have a few dead UPSs that have power connectors on the back, which makes them a good choice. Now to find enough energy to gut the cases and put in the hardware.

Also started working out the network cabling to the garage. I put some in quite a long time ago, and there is a switch in Yvonne's office cupboard—6 cables and 5 ports. Found an 8 port switch and put that in there; all I need to do now is put a connector on the cable in the garage.


Topic: gardening Link here

A little more work in the garden. Weeding and fertilizer are the order of the day, or even week. I'm now out of general-purpose fertilizer after spreading the rest in the Ginkgo bed. Also put some blood and bone in the adjacent succulent bed.

The Boronia (I think it's a Boronia megastigma) is blooming. Strangely, I can't smell it, though I did last year, and Yvonne tells me that it smells strongly this year. I wonder why.


Tuesday, 22 September 2009 Dereel Images for 22 September 2009
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Topic: brewing, technology Link here

A little more work on converting the UPS housing to a housing for the temperature control hardware. It has three power sockets on the back which I can use for connecting hardware. I only need two, but the third could come in handy, especially as I have a total of 8 relays. It's interesting to note the “surge protection” on the back:


 
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If there's any “surge protection” at all for the left hand socket, it must be the fuse. But now I'm left wondering how to connect things to the box. There's much more space there than I need, but where do I put the connectors? There's not much external surface except for the cover. More thought required.


Topic: technology Link here

In the afternoon Yvonne called me in to tell me that her machine had hung. It hadn't: it had paniced, with a double fault. While I was looking at the dump, it happened again, and a further investigation showed that it had happened in the morning and—somehow—Yvonne hadn't noticed.

The kernel was ancient, and I had neither sources nor a debug kernel, so started building a new kernel. That failed with the message “I/O error writing to Make.log”. Make.log is where I write the output of the build, and like the source tree, it was NFS mounted. So is Yvonne's mail inbox folder, and the last two panics occurred while she was writing back to it. And yesterday I changed the switch connecting the two machines. Are we getting some kind of data corruption? First I need a kernel, and building that took the rest of the day.

How not to communicate, part 11.3

Peter Jeremy reminded me of the typical example of the stupidity of “top posting”:

A: Yes.
> Q: Are you sure?
>> A: Because it reverses the logical flow of conversation.
>>> Q: Why is top posting frowned upon?

Topic: general Link here

It's Tuesday again, so time for the next incorrectly addressed Telstra invoice:


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Called up Telstra again, and was connected to somebody who, for once, wasn't Indian: “Hello, this is Mockery in Melbourne. How can I help you?”.

My first question, of course, was whether I had understood the name correctly. Finally ended up spelling it. Yes, “Mockery”, once I got him to stop interrupting me with “how can I help you?”.

He had a new explanation, of course: there's no way they can issue a correctly addressed invoice; they can only send out a copy of the old, incorrectly addressed one. That makes no sense at all, and I asked: “Mr Mockery, please connect me to your supervisor“. “No”: “Mockery” was not his surname, “Mr” is only used in conjunction with surnames, he didn't want to, and the supervisor wouldn't be able to help. He also didn't want to record the conversation. In fact, he didn't want to do anything, though he decided that his name was now spelt “Mocka”.

Hung up, called in again, and established that this bloke had the internal ID D360707. After some time was connected to a supervisor, Rose, who took my complaint about “Mockery”'s behaviour (and confirmed that it was the surname he uses). She also confirmed, however, that they are unable to print out corrected invoices. What kind of nonsense is that? And why had two consultants sent me copies that can't be correct? In any case, she'll print out one manually, which is the obvious solution to the problem. But I'm continually left wondering how a company like that can survive, let alone pay good dividends—I've just bought some more stock on the expectation of future performance. On the face of it I must be mad.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009 Dereel
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Topic: technology Link here

Last night I had rebooted Yvonne's computer with the new kernel, but hadn't done the installworld yet. Came in this morning to find it not running properly; the root file system was full, and the network was down.

OK, I had just built a new kernel, and I had collected a few dumps during the day, so moved the objects to the /home file system, after which I had barely enough space. The network issue was more interesting: the name of the interface has changed, from nve0 to nfe0! I don't know why BSD needs to have different names for each interface; I think this is one area where Linux does better. What I saw in the dmesg output was (before, then after):

Sep 18 14:39:07 lagoon kernel: nve0: <NVIDIA nForce MCP2 Networking Adapter> port 0xd400-0xd407 mem 0xe7001000-0xe7001fff irq 20 at device 4.0 on pci0
Sep 18 14:39:07 lagoon kernel: nve0: Ethernet address 00:0c:76:93:7a:fb

Sep 23 09:29:41 lagoon kernel: nfe0: <NVIDIA nForce2 MCP2 Networking Adapter> port 0xd400-0xd407 mem 0xe7001000-0xe7001fff irq 20 at device 4.0 on pci0
Sep 23 09:29:41 lagoon kernel: miibus0: <MII bus> on nfe0
Sep 23 09:29:41 lagoon kernel: icsphy0: <ICS1893 10/100 media interface> PHY 1 on miibus0
Sep 23 09:29:41 lagoon kernel: icsphy0:  10baseT, 10baseT-FDX, 100baseTX, 100baseTX-FDX, auto
Sep 23 09:29:41 lagoon kernel: nfe0: Ethernet address: 00:0c:76:93:7a:fb

That's easy enough to fix, but it needs fixing. And that explained the real reason why the root file system was full: the nightly dump, which goes via NFS, had written itself to the root file system. What a pain.

While tidying up, came across another strangeness:

=== root@lagoon (/dev/ttyp2) /var/crash 3 -> l
...
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Jun 14 18:00 vmcore.0
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Jul 11 12:06 vmcore.1
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Jul 19 09:05 vmcore.2
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Sep 22 11:00 vmcore.3
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Sep 22 15:45 vmcore.4
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  1073287168 Sep 22 16:05 vmcore.5
=== root@lagoon (/dev/ttyp2) /var/crash 4 -> rm vmcore.* info.*
=== root@lagoon (/dev/ttyp2) /var/crash 5 -> df .
Filesystem  1048576-blocks Used Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/ad0s1d           9916 4898  4223    54%    /

So I had removed 6 GB of dumps from a file system that wasn't quite full, and at the end I had only 4223 MB free? How did that happen? It occurs to me that I should have looked to see whether there were any symbolic links there, but locate didn't find anything else. Strange. Are we writing dumps with holes in them nowadays?

AUUG dies: end of an era

Another recent occurrence may be the result of the recent bad weather: on Monday the Internode data centre in Adelaide had a power outage, and the old AUUG web server didn't come back up. Today David Newall got in contact with them to find out what had happened: the (only) disk had failed. Stephen Rothwell intends to put up a replacement machine soon, but currently it's off the net. So not only is AUUG dead, the web server is too. It's something like the end of an era.

More mail non-sequiturs

Peter Jeremy is finding some nice silly mail exchanges. Here's another:

Because it fouls the order in which people normally read text.
> Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
>> Top-posting.
>>> What is the most annoying thing on usenet and in e-mail?

The reference to USENET shows how things have changed since we were all able to communicate with each other.


Topic: general Link here

Somehow I didn't get much done today. Got up late, ignored the work I had to do, and did little else apart from watching a bit of TV. I suppose the weather was part of the problem, though it wasn't as bad as in New South Wales, where they had the worst dust storm in 70 years.


Topic: gardening Link here

Towards the end of the day, did go out into the garden and do some token work in the Japanese Garden, including pruning the transplanted Euphorbias, which seem to have decided not to die all at once, and planted some Ledebouria bulbs that had split off the main plant. I can see these things taking over the garden if we give them the chance, but at the moment they look like shiny radishes.


Thursday, 24 September 2009 Dereel Images for 24 September 2009
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Topic: photography Link here

A discussion about polarizing filters on the German Olympus discussion forum today, along with details of how to distinguish between conventional linear polarizing filters, which confuse many autofocus systems, and the more modern circular polarizing filters, which don't: circular polarizers are built asymmetrically, so looking in the other direction doesn't show any polarizing effect. Checked my el-cheapo polarizing filter, and sure enough, as advertised it's a circular filter, as the photos show. I paid $9 for it; you can pay up to $200 for a similar item (if you ignore Hasselblad filters at $518). What's the advantage of the expensive ones? Mine is supposed to be glass too, though I have no intention of checking on that.


Topic: gardening Link here

Somehow we only do work in the garden when the weather is suitable. Today Yvonne brought back some hanging flower baskets from ALDI, and I spent some time planting flowers in there, the petunias we had already planted elsewhere, and even more geraniums out of the cheap and nasty wire baskets. We should have enough for every conceivable place now, but I suppose we can think of some more. Yvonne spent the time transplanting some daisy bushes; hopefully they'll survive.


Friday, 25 September 2009 Dereel Images for 25 September 2009
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Topic: general Link here

The weather was unpleasant again today, cool and rainy. We can certainly do with rain, and we've had enough of it this month, 75 .7 mm so far, but it would be nice if it would happen more suddenly rather than giving us whole days of dreary, European style weather. As a result, we were completely unmotivated and did little.


Topic: cooking Link here

More experimentation with chapatis today. Yvonne bought some plastic chopping surfaces (substitute for chopping boards) at ALDI recently. She thought it was one board, but it proved to be 4 of them, each 0.75 mm in thickness. This seems the ideal thing to use to put in the tortilladora: it's smooth on one side, so the tortillas or chapatis don't stick, and it also reduces the thickness of the pressed dough by 1.5 mm, approximately what I thought was needed for chapatis:


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The results? Encouraging. The first chapati came out oval, but I was able to get something rounder by turning it through 90° and trying again:


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The resultant chapatis were OK, but I have a feeling they may still be too thick. More experimentation needed, notably with Masa harina.


Saturday, 26 September 2009 Dereel Images for 26 September 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Yet another cool, wet day which kept me doing little.


Topic: photography Link here

Had my weekly photos, of course, and today it occurred to me that the terrace photos would look better with a bit of light from the right, like in the second photo here:


 
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That required flash in the bedroom, out of sight. And once again I had trouble with my flash units. Clearly the flash unit had to be out of sight, and so I dragged out my wireless remote connection. Tried it out with no load, and it worked fine. Connected everything up, tried again—no flash. After removing all the stuff, it still didn't work, though when I came back later, it worked again. The transmitter LED no longer worked when I pressed the test button, so it must have been the transmitter. I wonder if there's some compatibility issue between the transmitter and the camera.

That didn't help me with my flash photos, of course. Tried setting up the remote flash facility, which still seems far too complicated to make any sense, and it didn't flash either. It requires the front of the flash unit to be pointing in the direction of the camera, which rather defeats the purpose. Both of these photos were taken with flash, but the unit only fired the second time:


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And this flash unit doesn't even have a connection for a sync cable! Why not? But I had a hot shoe adaptor, and was going to try that until I realized that my long sync cables don't have the right connector. That'll be another issue to look at. Instead, brought out one of my studio flash units, which has different connectors, and with which the cables were supplied. I made the photo above with it, but it's not clear that it's bright enough (I think I established that it has a guide number of 11, while the small unit has 58). Clearly I need a flash cable.

In the afternoon, more experimentation: comparing the ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 50mm F2.0 Macro with my 40 year old 50 mm f/1.4 Super Takumar, a lens with a superb reputation. The results were a little frustrating: some of them had what looks like camera shake:

 
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But they were taken with relatively high shutter speeds (in this case 1/30s), mounted on my new firm tripod, and set off with the infrared remote control. How could that happen? I'll have to take the photos all over again. What I have seen, though, clearly shows the Olympus lens to be way ahead of the Pentax lens in terms of sharpness. Here the corners at f/2, first the Olympus (fully open), then the Pentax (stopped down one stop):

 
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Sunday, 27 September 2009 Dereel Images for 27 September 2009
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Topic: general, gardening Link here

Another bloody power failure today, in mid-morning. How these things annoy me! Took the opportunity to set up my new generator. It comes with a 24 page manual, which includes 6 pages of safety instructions and surprising detail for an ALDI product.

Before you do anything, you need to put oil into the motor. All these generators seem to be designed to make putting the oil in as difficult as possible. On this one, the filler opening is hidden underneath the front panel where you can't get at it, it's at an angle, and it's about 12 mm in diameter. From experience with the previous generator, you can't even turn the thing on its side to pour in the oil: when I tried that, ten years ago, I ended up with the combustion chamber full of oil, so I couldn't even pull the starter cord. ALDI is not much better in the arrangement: from above you can't even see the filler:


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If you get down on your knees, it's visible (here with the filler cap screwed off). Fortunately, they supply a plastic funnel with a bend with insufficient angle to keep the top horizontal:


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Given all that difficulty, the first question has to be: how much oil do I need to put in there? The instruction manual is silent on that point. It tells me what kind of oil, what kind of petrol, how much petrol will fit in the tank, but not the much more important issue of how much oil. It also doesn't mention the funnel or the 0.9 litres of oil supplied with the generator—just “contact us if something is missing”. How can you do that when the manual doesn't tell you what should be there? Finally found it printed on a label at the bottom of the frame: 0.6 litres.

Filling in the oil wasn't easy either: it's still pretty cool here, and the oil must have been at about 6°. A single funnel-full of oil took about 2 minutes to soak into the sump, and the whole operation took about 15 minutes.


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Putting the petrol in was straightforward enough; next was starting the machine. Turn on the ignition and petrol, add choke, and pull the rip cord. They've conveniently put a metal panel in front of it:


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Fortunately, you can pull it to the side, and it worked fine. But how long will the rip cord last like that, and why couldn't they have left space to pull it correctly?


Topic: general, gardening Link here

There was still no power by the time I had finished, and to avoid too much frustration, decided to go for a drive somewhere. Headed in the general direction of the Brisbane ranges, but on the way to Mount Mercer did some thinking. Our useless guide books don't even mention the Brisbane Ranges, and it's a fair distance to go for something without a guide, so decided to head to the Ballarat Botanical Gardens instead, in the process taking a dirt track through the hills to the east of Garibaldi.

By the time we got to the Botanical gardens and found the entrance, it was raining. Did a quick walk around some wetlands on the shore of Lake Wendouree:


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Then got caught in another shower, and were just about to leave when we found the real entrance, and it stopped raining again. Went in, and found it well worth while. They have a bed of poppies, something that I had never thought would look good, but this was very pleasant:


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I'm told that the redwoods in the gardens (both Sequoiadendron giganteum and Sequoia sempervirens) are the oldest and biggest in the southern hemisphere. They don't all look very happy, unfortunately; I suspect last summer has taken its toll. They also have a number of succulent beds, including most of the ones we have at home, but some of them are flowering. In particular, we took a liking to the Echeveria elegans in one bed:


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Nearby they had some plants for sale, so apart from the Echeveria, we also took a Crassula muscosa and a Crassula perforata, both interesting plants that we hadn't seen before. Here the Crassula perforata:


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As a result, of course, we needed potting soil—something that I had had on my list anyway—so on to Formosa Gardens to buy that, and also the Petunias that I had planned, and Yvonne got a Phormium “Jester” for the big pot she bought many months ago. And then it occurred to us that the hanging baskets we had bought at ALDI were quite a bargain, so on there and bought some more, and found some cheap potting mix as well.

By that time it was 14:30, and we hadn't had lunch, so to Subway in Sebastopol for lunch. That's the last time I do that; the standard, in particular of the bread, seems to be going downhill.

Finally back home, about $150 poorer. Powercor has a lot to answer for.


Topic: general Link here

Chris and David Yeardley over for dinner in the evening—David has just got back from Batam, and it looks like he'll be doing different work from now on, off the NW coast of Australia. We'll be seeing more of him as a result.


Monday, 28 September 2009 Dereel Images for 28 September 2009
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Topic: technology, opinion Link here

A few months ago I signed up for Twitter, for reasons that didn't even make sense at the time, and only a couple of weeks later they changed the password rules, so that when I tried to log in, I was told that my password—previously accepted—was invalid, and I had to change it.

I didn't use Twitter again, though I note with amusement that the announcers on ABC Classic FM now refer to the users as “Twits”. Today I got a message with the subject line “Deporte6am wants to keep up with you on Twitter”. That shouldn't be difficult, given the speed with which I use it. Still, tried to log in again, and this time I didn't get the message that my password was wrong or invalid. I just got a new login screen, repeatedly.

Doubtless this is an adaptation to the preferred clientele, but clearly it means “your password was not accepted”. Sent off a message to reset my password, and didn't get the promised mail message: it had been eaten by SpamAssassin:

Content analysis details:   (3.8 points, 3.0 required)

 pts rule name              description
---- ---------------------- --------------------------------------------------
 1.0 HTML_MESSAGE           BODY: HTML included in message
 1.8 HTML_IMAGE_ONLY_32     BODY: HTML: images with 2800-3200 bytes of words
 1.0 BAYES_50               BODY: Bayesian spam probability is 40 to 60%
                            [score: 0.4998]

Reset my password again, and got the message:

 
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Clearly the message is wrong: the password did contain spaces, but they don't accept it. So they're continually weakening their passwords. Never mind; I haven't found anything of interest on Twitter, so I'll leave it the way it is. No idea who Deporte6am is, but it wouldn't help anyway.


Topic: gardening Link here

The weather was better today, and we had lots of plants to plant, so spent a lot of time in the garden planting them. The Petunias were a particular problem: we had bought a tray of 48 of them, and I only found space for 25. I've identified more places, but didn't get round to planting them.

Planted the Crassulas in the bed which we started in 9 April 2009. As I feared, these things fill up amazingly quickly—this was just a winter in between, and in another 6 months it'll be overflowing.


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The Bureau of Meteorlogy predicted a “severe frost” (-1°) for tonight, so didn't hang up the hanging pots. The Chlorophytum that I left out in the frost last month didn't look any the happier for it, so I pruned it right back. Tomorrow it can go up again.


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Topic: cooking Link here

Good dinner in the evening, Foie gras d'oie and Tournedos Henri IV. Grilled the meat for the latter on the barbecue. We've bought a new one, but I haven't assembled it yet, so used the old one, which is really looking sick now:


 
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Tuesday, 29 September 2009 Dereel Images for 29 September 2009
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Topic: gardening Link here

Another nice day—the forecast of “severe” frost, or any frost at all, was way off target: the overnight low was only 5.2°. Hung up the potted plants, and planted some more Petunias, which prove to be more of a problem than I expected. Found space for another 11, but it looks like there were more than 48 in the punnet. My best bet is to put them into individual pots now and plant them as time goes on.


Topic: cooking Link here

Also assembled the new barbecue. I think I made a mistake buying it. It's from ALDI. ALDI aren't known for first-rate produce, but this was relatively expensive, so I thought it could be OK. The truth was a little different: the fat pan was bent, and the thermometer was mounted crookedly:


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Never mind the particularly brain-dead temperatures on the “Heat indicator”. The scale is marked 94°, 150°, 206°, 262°, 318°, 374°; you'd think that in a country which has been (ab)using the metric system for decades they could get round to changing the gradations on the thermometer, but it seems that barbecue manufacturers deliberately ignore the fact.

In addition, the burners looked different from what I expected. When I went looking at barbecues a couple of weeks ago, I found this kind only on the cheapest barbecues (costing half what I paid for this particular one):


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ALDI have a policy that means I can always take it back, but it's a pain to transport. Decided to assemble it anyway, not an easy operation at the best of times. This time it took two hours with help from Yvonne. The instructions were of the usual quality, not helped by the fact that there didn't seem to be more than one of any particular piece. Each leg was different, the cross bars were different, and each had to be assembled in a position that wasn't described in the text and could only be guessed at by looking at the illustrations. Despite the greatest of care, got caught out by one, where the illustration was ambiguous:


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There are two ways to install the bar underneath (“Front bottom”), but it has the holes offset, and they have to be closer to the front. But neither the illustration nor the text mentioned this fact. Fortunately, it wasn't too difficult to correct. A different issue was the side burner: the cable for the ignition was disconnected, and I can't find a way to connect it.

And the result? Well, it works. The burners are covered by a plate, which at least means that dripping fat is unlikely to ignite. But the real proof will be when we use it, in a couple of days at the earliest. I'm certainly not left with the pleasant feeling that I have a nice new toy.


Topic: animals, general Link here

In the evening, went into the bathroom and found a Huntsman spider at eye level, gently twirling around:


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While I was taking the photos, perhaps irritated by the flash, it climbed up to the ceiling and hid in the light fittings:


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I wonder how we'll get it out of there.


Wednesday, 30 September 2009 Dereel Images for 30 September 2009
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Topic: general Link here

Another week has gone by, and the promised invoice from Telstra arrived—STILL with “D J AGNEW” in the heading. There's no point scanning it in, since it's identical with the previous three. What a load of idiots!


Topic: general, gardening Link here

The weather's still mild, though windier, and about all I really did during the day was to plant the remaining Petunias and do some weeding. Much more weeding is needed, and I also need to attend to my hops.


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