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Sunday, 17 September 2017 Dereel Images for 17 September 2017
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Media download from Germany
Topic: multimedia, opinion Link here

For some time I've been fighting the online content („Mediatheken“) of German TV stations. They have just about everything there that they broadcast, but hidden behind such an unpleasant interface that you'd think they were trying to stop you from seeing it. Recently we watched a film from the ARD (Bayerischer Rundfunk). „Falsche Siebziger“. Quite good, and even the image quality was good (ABC take note), but the data rate wasn't sufficient to watch without interruption.

In the past couple of days I've done some investigation and discovered on both the CHIP and Heise-Verlag a program called MediathekView, a program for finding, viewing and downloading TV programmes from all German and many other European web sites.

Is it legal? It must be, otherwise two leading publishers wouldn't refer to it, at least not without mentioning the legal status. So I installed it and tried it out. Typical undocumented user interface (and one that somehow shouts Java), but it works, and I was able to download three films with no problems.

Now why is the normal web interface so painful? Lack of care?


Indoor plant progress
Topic: gardening Link here

The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis cuttings that I made have made good progress. One of the first has now significant new growth, including a bud:


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And another, one that I had given up for dead, is clearly on the mend:

 
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Our Phalaenopsis is also flowering more profusely than ever before:

 
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Focus stacking revisited
Topic: photography Link here

It's been nearly two years since Olympus came out with firmware support for Focus stacking, and I have yet to completely make friends with it. Every time I use it, I have to go back to the instruction manual and read what little it can tell me.

Today's photos of the Hibiscus and Phalaenopsis were done with focus stacking, but they were only the result of an incredible amount of fiddling. Time to write up some notes:

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark I and Mark II have two different kinds of focus stacking:

Kim Holst summarizes the in the following image (click to get full size):

The distance moved is controlled by a value that Olympus calls “focus step”, a number between 1 and 10 that has some relationship to the size of the step. The larger the number, the larger the step. Apart from that, there is no reliable information. Some say that the size of the step also depends on the depth of field, and some say that step 1 means a step of exactly the depth of field, so that for any two images the near limit of the second image is the far limit of the first image. That doesn't make sense to me for two reasons: first, that would make the larger steps far too large, and secondly “depth of field” is a matter of opinion: how unsharp can something be? In addition, it doesn't line up with my inaccurate observations. One thing is clear from observation is that the step is not constant: it gets larger with focus distances.

In each case, the camera uses the electronic shutter. This places severe (and undocumented) restrictions on the shutter speed with flash: 1/8 s maximum for the Mark I, and 1/50 s for the Mark II. The camera will happily shoot at higher speeds, giving images like these (E-M1 Mark II, 1/250 and 1/60 s):

 
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When using flash, you can extend the time between shots to allow the flash to recharge. There's no feedback from the flash, of course, so if you choose it too short, you'll get uneven exposure.

Setting the parameters

There's nothing obvious about where to find the settings for focus stacking. They're in the camera 2 menu, under Bracketing.


Monday, 18 September 2017 Dereel Images for 18 September 2017
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eBay: Unpaid bill
Topic: technology, general, opinion Link here

This time last week I bought a disk on eBay. Unlike just about everything nowadays, there was no PayPal option, so I had to pay by bank transfer. But this morning I received a mail message from the seller, and discovered that he had opened a non-payment case.

How could that happen? No idea, but after checking my bank accounts, no transfer had been made. Either I forgot it (unusual), or the bank messed up, which wouldn't be the first time. There's no way to tell which it was any more. Either way, the seller was right that he had almost certainly not received any payment. OK, pay up, in the process running into a bug on the ANZ web site: I copied and pasted the details to be sure I got them right, but it managed to get a leading space, and claimed that the account number wasn't a number. It accepted it after I removed the (almost imperceptible) space, but by then it had truncated the account number.

Back to eBay. So I had paid the bill. What next? I had no less than three messages from the seller, and all I could see were the headers. How do I display them? There's no indication on the index of how to do it. But there is a link “Tell us what you think”. Clearly they're not interested: the link is broken.

Finally I found that the message I had received was sent by real email, and not eBay's concept of email. How did he get my (eBay) email address? Maybe from the communication after I purchased the item?

Back to the unpaid item case. The instructions say:

When paying by electronic funds transfer, include the transaction code that you were given when you checked out.

What transaction code? There's an email ID, too long for the banks' antiquated systems, and containing # characters, which aren't in their (48 character BCD?) character set. And that's all.

Anyway, the item page also includes the information:


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OK, Pay Now? I've already done that in real life, but maybe I need to tell eBay too. Nope, nothing there, just bank details and the Seller notes:

Please include your USER NAME. Otherwise your deposit may be difficult to identify. Thanks.

It also included an RIB key, whatever that may be (identical to the BSB number, which they choose to call “bank code”), and IBAN and SWIFT information (not used in Australia, and thus “not specified”. What happened to the transaction code? An old, worn-out magic word?

OK, how about “contact seller”. That's a generic contact page, including their irritating “We'll look for an answer for you, whether you want us to or not”:


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In the end I just replied to the seller's message. But how do I close this case? It doesn't seem that I can do anything about it.

eBay, every encounter with you is painful. Twenty years and you're still such a mess.

In passing, it's clear that paying with PayPal (also not exactly a friend) has its advantages. At least it (normally) goes smoothly.


Sourdough fade
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I don't bake as much bread as I used to, and it's been nearly 2 months since the last loaf. Fortunately the sliced bread keeps well in the freezer, so we always have some. But the last starter smells funny, and there's a dark grey patch that seems to indicate an infection at the top of the pot.

 
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That's not because of the length of time. This starter was two months old, from the last loaf I made. That's comparable in age to the length of time I left starters when I was baking more frequently. And though the bread rose, it was barely enough, and it took nearly 5 hours. I've been cultivating this starter for 8½ years. I think it's time to buy an alternative starter and see how this it works out.


Don't disclose your voting documents
Topic: general, opinion Link here

Callum Gibson commented on my article on same-sex marriage today. I shouldn't have published the bar code at the bottom:


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It seems that I'm not the only person to have done so. But why not? It says so here.

Ah, but that's fake news. Real official statements come from Twitter.

More seriously, though, what is the purpose of the bar code? And what are the dangers of publishing it? I can only think of two concerns: that the results of the survey could be falsified, or that my personal details could be compromised. I'm not overly concerned about my personal details, but it does beg the question as to whether they can identify my by the bar code. That shouldn't be possible. And if they're checking the bar code, it's trivial to reject all but one (or all) of the forms with a specific bar code. And the instructions say that the form must be returned in the envelope provided, so submitting a duplicate would mean that another vote would go unregistered.

And if they don't want us to publish the code, why don't they say so on the accompanying “information” sheet that came with the form?


Intuitive error messages
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've mentioned in the past that I'm quite happy with the Mendhak GPS logger. It works well, while the corresponding function in OI.Share is fiddly to turn on, and it frequently turns itself off again for reasons that I haven't established.

But today I had no logs at all. The entire directory was empty. But the logger was working:

 
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Only nothing got written to disk. Why was the message Gpx10FileLogger.write in red? Is that an even more polite way of saying “failed, but I don't really want to tell you”? I had deleted the files in the directory via WiFi File Transfer. Could it be that it set the directory permissions to something that GPS logger can't access? Who knows? Everything about Android seems to be designed to hide details. In the end I removed the directory, restarted the device and GPS logger, and it worked. But why is this stuff so painful?


Dinner guests again
Topic: food and drink, photography, opinion Link here

Arne Koets is, if not in town, then at least in the area, and he's holding a clinic in Clarendon, near Scotsburn, where there have been a number of such clinics. He has 8 participants, 4 of whom came for dinner this evening: Yvonne, of course, Chris Bahlo, Margaret Swan and Chris' sister Melanie. More fun with dining table panoramas:


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Those are only two of 15,552 combinations of the individual images. Things are getting better, but I'm still not happy with the lighting. A bit of fill-in flash from the camera? And maybe marginally more serious poses?

Oh, and food. Grilled tuna with baked potato, pumpkin and sweet potato, followed by a “Quark Sweet Cheese Strudel”, whatever that may mean.


This page contains (roughly) yesterday's and today's entries. I have a horror of reverse chronological documents, so all my diary entries are chronological. This page normally contains the last two days, but if I fall behind it may contain more. You can find older entries in the archive. Note that I often update a diary entry a day or two after I write it.     Do you have a comment about something I have written? This is a diary, not a “blog”, and there is deliberately no provision for directly adding comments. But I welcome feedback and try to reply to all messages I receive. See the diary overview for more details. If you do send me a message relating to something I have written, please indicate whether you'd prefer me not to mention your name. Otherwise I'll assume that it's OK to do so.


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