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Tuesday, 22 August 2017 Dereel → Napoleons → Dereel Images for 22 August 2017
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More garden work
Topic: gardening Link here

Spring is on its way, and Mick the gardener came along today to do some preparations.


New kitchen slicer: finally!
Topic: food and drink, opinion Link here

I've been thinking about a new kitchen slicer for nearly a year. There's almost nothing available in Australia. They're available in Germany , of course, but up to now I've been put off by the high prices, especially for freight, and the fact that most people aren't prepared to send them to Australia. I sometimes forget how provincial people are in Germany.

Finally I found one, a Bosch MAS9454M, from the eBay seller grooves-land, and had it sent here. Once again the puzzling tracking details, including nearly 9 days from Frankfurt airport to Sydney airport:


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Where do they store these things for such a long time? And doesn't that add to the transport cost? But by German standards the shipping was cheap (“only” 27 €), and I was clearly in no hurry.

How does it look? As expected. They even added a free Australian power plug adapter, which I thought was a nice touch. But one detail was less pleasing:


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The side panel on the carriage is not mounted correctly: there's a gap at the top left. How could that happen? Not a transport issue: it was well packed and undamaged. Another thing to follow up on. At least eBay ensures that I won't have to pay any more postage.


Misery in Enfield State Park
Topic: photography, gardening Link here

On the way home from Napoleons I drove down Misery Creek Road and Berringa-Misery Creek Road looking for flowers. I wasn't disappointed. The whole area is covered in Epacris impressa, though more so at the east end. And, as I have noted before, the colours change as you go along. At the east end they're the canonical red colour, and towards the other end they go via pink to white:


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There's also an Acacia species that I don't recognize:


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And then there are a Drosera species that I don't recognize. They're clearly successful:


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What I didn't expect was a large amount of Hardenbergia, probably Hardenbergia violacea:


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But what are these? A different species of Hardenbergia?


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They're right next to each other, and clearly different.

Then there's this plant, which I feel I should recognize. It's clearly a legume of some kind, but there are so many similar ones that I don't know which. The whole eastern end of the road has what appear to be the same plant, but not yet in flower. I'll have to go back some time.


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One of the side roads was called Orchid Track (or Orchid Trak according to the maps in my GPS navigator). The sounded like a good idea, so I went down there. And yes, I saw some orchis:


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That's Pterostylis, and I have more in my back yard. But there are signs that more might pop up in the next few weeks.

I had wanted to continue down there—it's not far from home, though it's not clear that the roads marked on the map are navigable. This one suggests not:


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That's one of the few signs I have seen threatening penalties for continuing. The barrier is open, so what does this mean?

I returned via the Dereel-Berringa road, past the Mount Misery Creek bridge, which has further deteriorated. And I still can't get a good photo of the place:


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After that I stopped at the place where we had seen the spider orchids last November. None to be seen, though a number of other plants, including different Drosera species with a surprisingly large flower:


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Then there were other flowers that I can't identify. Is this some kind of Grevillea?


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And what about the holly-like plants round the Hardenbergia in this photo (shown above)?


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Is that the elusive Grevillea bedggoodiana? If so, there are plenty of them. I should go back and look from time to time when the buds in the second image are flowering.

There are still more mystery flowers:


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One way or another, it looks like I need to go down there at least once a week to see how things develop, and also to get better shots of some plants.


More GPS insights
Topic: technology, photography, opinion Link here

I had my GPS receivers enabled when I went down Misery Creek Road, of course. In the process I discovered a number of things.

First, a step back: how do you interface a GPS receiver to a program? That looks like a variant of a typical operating system task: the operating system presents the receiver as a device, and the program reads it. If it wants to reconfigure the device, the operating system should mediate.

After leaving Napoleons, I checked my devices. The tablet was working fine. I had set tracking on the car navigator, but it seems that it forgets that when it powers down, so I had to restart it. That's a pain in cases like today, where I stop in many places. Never mind, I still don't know how to process the data.

But the phone was a completely different matter: after 20 minutes in the open, it still couldn't detect any satellites. So it seems that whatever it did yesterday might really have happened without the aid of GPS, though I can't see how any other method of navigation can be nearly as accurate. I rebooted the device, which may or may not have helped. I also disabled and reenabled GPS. Finally the GPS status showed something. So I started the mendhak GPS Logger for Android. And the satellite fix went away!

Why? It came back again after a minute or two, and started logging normally, at one point every 4 seconds. This seems to be the fastest that the phone GPS receivers can do; by comparison the car receiver gives at least one fix a second. But the off, then on, suggests that the logger is doing the configuration itself, rather than letting the OS do it. But then, this is Android, so I don't suppose I should be surprised.

After that, the tracking seemed to work alright, and I got relatively accurate coordinates for all my photos. But I still need to find a way to compare the results from the three receivers, and this will require quite some research.

The other issue is battery usage. The old Samsung GT-I9100T really suffers when the GPS receiver is enabled. When I got back home, it was noticeably warm, and the battery (charged when I left) was down to 24%. The charger couldn't even charge it with the GPS receiver enabled: an hour later it was down to 13%, and I had to turn the receiver off. The tablet did much better, dropping only to 87%. Should I get a new phone? Indications are that I should get a new dedicated GPS receiver instead, if I can find one that logs properly.


New watches
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne really doesn't like the watch that she bought yesterday, and I can't blame her. When I was a lad, there were lots of dainty lady's watches (fully clockwork, of course), many with jewels and things. Maybe they still exist as analogue watches, but there's nothing that even comes close in digital watches. They still seem to cater mainly to prepubescent boys.

What about the new generation of “watches”, really a small computer with a display, designed for wearing on a wrist? Clearly the things can be used to display time. Peter Jeremy sent me some screen shots which omitted the most important part: what does the entire thing look like? I went looking and found a number. This page may be indicative: they're all far too big, and some of them look like classical watches. If people want classical watches, there are easier solutions. This one looks as if it might be a possibility:

But the shape belies the size. The information states that the display is 1.56" (presumably in diameter), or 4 cm, roughly double the diameter of the old watch. And this is one of the smallest. Somehow I'm left with the feeling that smart watches are (still) a solution in search of a problem. I can answer that one: Android is the problem. It's a breach of Occam's razor: why use something complicated when there's a simple solution that has been around for ever?


Tiny cameras, then and now
Topic: photography, opinion Link here

While looking for an old watch, Yvonne came up with a number of things that we had forgotten about. One of them was a Minox C that my father had given her years ago.

Unlike me, Yvonne loves small things—witness the pain she's going through at the moment with her watch. And she complained about the size of her Olympus E-PM2 when I bought it. So how do the two compare? Here's the E-PM1 (essentially the same size) alongside:


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From above, apart from the lens, there's not too much difference. But clearly the Olympus is an order of magnitude bigger. What do you get for that?

      Minox       Olympus
Autofocus       No       Yes
Autoexposure       No       Yes
Maximum aperture       f/3.5       f/1.7
Image format       11×8 mm       17×13 mm
Resolution       ?       16 MP

I'm lying about the Olympus resolution; that the resolution of the E-PM2. But that's the one she uses. And the resolution of the Minox? Depends on the film, of course. Scanning my old 35 mm films from the 1960s, I haven't seen anything that warranted more than about 10 MP. That's from a 24 × 36 mm negative (864 mm²). The Minox has roughly 10% of this, so I wouldn't expect more than about 2 MP.

The real issue, though, is the lack of autofocus and any kind of exposure metering. To take correctly exposed photos, you really need an exposure meter. And then you have to fiddle with the shutter dial and focus. What a pain! I never understood my father's fascination with the Minox, not even when he first started talking about it 50 years ago, and my opinion hasn't changed.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017 Dereel Images for 23 August 2017
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Power failure! fsck! fsck!
Topic: general, technology, opinion Link here

Woke up round 5:50 this morning to discover that the power had failed. Really? Looked outside and saw the LED on the water pump still running. Into the garage to the “fuse” box. All breakers on. Out to the meter box. Meter dead. Clearly we no longer had power. But why was the LED on? It normally fails (understandably) with the power. My best guess is that it was not a total power failure, and that some residual voltage remained, sufficient to run the LED, and presumably nothing else.

The power came back at 7:17, and I went out to restart the computers. By the time I had really got up, round 8:30, all was back to normal. Started my web browsers, and the system froze. No reaction from keyboard or network. OK, big red button time. The usual eternal fsck, and then:


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The revenge of firefox? It took me another two runs of fsck before things were over, a total of 1½ hours.


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What caused that? The fact that things froze while I was restarting suggests that it was related to the power failure, and the fact that a firefox-related file was involved suggests that there was breakage in the file system somewhere.

Things weren't over with that. I had lost much of my firefox configuration, and though I had a backup (to be more precise, six of them), the complete backup file from the start of the month was not exactly tiny:

=== grog@eureka (/dev/pts/17) ~ 8 -> l /backups/eureka-FreeBSD/0/tars/home/grog.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  114,639,346,874  1 Aug 22:52 /backups/eureka-FreeBSD/0/tars/home/grog.tar.bz2

That's a compressed file, so bunzip2 ran at 100% of (one) CPU, limiting throughput from the disk to about 15 MB/s. That's a little over 2 hours to read the file. Instead, I discovered that I had the all-important ~/.mozilla/firefox/profiles.ini in RCS, so I checked that out instead.

Somehow that wasn't enough. All sorts of settings were gone, probably to /home/lost+found/. It brings home to me how difficult it is to configure firefox sanely. I suppose I'm going to have to rebuild the .mozilla/firefox hierarchy after all. Joy.


UFS or ZFS?
Topic: technology, opinion Link here

I've been using UFS for nearly over quarter of a century, during which time it has been polished, bugs removed, performance improved. I have a good feeling about it.

But our continual power failures bring home that it recovery is really fsck based, meaning lots of time lost on days like today. Yes, there's a journalling option, but it never seems to have caught on—probably old fogeys like myself help there—and I'm not convinced that it's as reliable.

Every time this happens to me, people on IRC get up on their hind legs and chant “ZFS! ZFS!”. And yes, it's probable that I'd be better off with ZFS in this particular case. But it scares me. Part of that is that almost every time I hear about it, it's reporting a bug. And then there are resource issues. To quote the chanters:

   [12:01]
<p> grOOgle: ZFS is definitely good at eating RAM and CPU.
<p> Well, it uses more CPU that UFS.
<c> I have seen some recommendations of 1GB RAM per TB of storage, but I think with
appropriate tuning a home setup wouldn't need anywhere near that.
<p> I have have seen it use multiple cores with compression, though not recently.
Possibly that was running gzip.

Still, I suppose I should do something. My experience this morning gives reason to believe that there are cracks in my file system structure that fsck can't detect (and thus doesn't repair). A solution to that problem would be to create a new /home file system on a new disk, and then I could try ZFS on it first.


Visualizing GPS logs
Topic: photography, technology Link here

I now have two GPS logs of my journey along Misery Creek yesterday. How can I visualize them? Went looking on Google, and as expected, found a number. The first I came across is wikiloc (which my fingers insist on spelling “wikilog”), which allowed me to upload a logfile (from flachmann.lemis.com, my tablet). The map is visible here, but I still haven't had time to play with it, and it's not clear that it's the best choice. At the very least I need to find out how to edit things better than their almost non-existent documentation explains. And it would be nice to compare the track recorded by talipon.lemis.com (my phone). But it was a very good first attempt.


Old German makers revisited
Topic: photography, history, opinion Link here

In parallel with the day's events, I'm still entering my old paper diaries from the 1960s. Today I got to 1 March 1965, where, by coincidence, I discovered the only other real reference to Minox:

In lunch, Akhavan said that he was willing to lend me his Minox spy camera if I would show him some of the photos I took with it, as he thought there was something wrong with it.

I wonder if the “something wrong” was just the poor image quality. I may discover more as I continue entering the diary.

The other mention of Minox was less direct, in a rant about Metz, where I wrote:

Germany was once the world's leading producer of photographic equipment. Where are they now? Where is Rollei? Minox? Edixa? Voigtländer? I've had this kind of treatment from Edixa decades ago, when they still existed. How long does Metz have to go?

Prophetic words. They filed for insolvency on 19 November 2014, and the photographic part of the company has been reformed as Metz mecatech GmbH. I wonder how well they will do.


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