Greg
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November 2008
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Saturday, 1 November 2008 Dereel Images for 1 November 2008
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More playing around with photos today, and discovered that, by default, ufraw lowers the gamma of photos to about 0.7. Setting a linear curve made photos much better by itself. Spent some more time on programming; I've decided to restructure my photo directories, so all the stuff from the camera (raw files, converted JPEGs with the same name, etc) are in the subdirectory orig. The main reason for this was for brain-dead programs like Photo Optimizer which either require multiple clicks per photo or go at all of them without discrimination. This way I can do the latter with no issues.

Somehow that took much longer than planned, and I had to postpone my brewing again. It's getting urgent, though; I'll run out of beer if I don't do something soon.

In preparation, started by printing out the page for the last brew. The results were astounding:

 
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The printout was in enormous fonts, and there was nothing I could find to change it. This is with firefox 3.0 beta, which attempts to address the rendering issues on larger screens. Clearly it fails. I couldn't find any options for changing the relationship between screen resolution and print output size.

In disgust, installed opera. It couldn't even get the sizes on screen right:


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Is is something to do with my settings, or maybe the general lack of understanding in the web world, or something forced on us by people who think it's funny reading web pages on mobile phones? Or maybe browser designers think it's funny to have such ridiculous proportions. I don't know which, but after I reverted to firefox 2, things worked as I'm accustomed to. Is this progress?


Sunday, 2 November 2008 Dereel Images for 2 November 2008
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Finally got round to brewing again! What is it that makes it such a pain? Certainly the continuing lack of infrastructure, which requires me to do part of the work in the kitchen and part in the garage, 30 metres away. Also crushing the grain is an issue; it took me about 40 minutes to crush the 12 kg I needed, and another 50 minutes to clean the vessels and put them in place. There's got to be an easier way.

On the positive, side, I now have a functional HLT. I cut out polypropylene sheets from a freezer container and drilled a 32 mm diameter hole in them, then put them either side of the existing 42 mm hole and mounted the heating element through them. It's ugly, but it works:


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While that was going on, in to look at my mail. One from PayPal:

Subject: Don't forget to claim your money from JOHN DOE

Dear user@example.com,

You've still got funds!

On 31 Oct. 2008 you received $130.00 AUD from john@example.org
-----------------------------------
Confirm Your Email Address
-----------------------------------

Before you can receive this payment, you?ll need to confirm the email address that it was sent to. Log in to your
+secondary email account and look for the confirmation email from PayPal.

Note: If you do not claim your money by 30 Nov. 2008, this payment will be automatically cancelled and the money will be
+returned to john@example.org's account In addition, john@example.org has the option to cancel this payment at
+any time until you have claimed your money.

What's all that about? What's a “secondary email account”? Went to look at the PayPal web site and got: The proxy server is not responding. Checked, and sure enough, squid on dereel had stopped. Further checking showed messages that the root file system was full: tvremote had done its backups on it, now that /dumpb was no longer present. df showed—nothing: I had shut down teevee with a couple of file systems still mounted on dereel. Turned on teevee, but of course it had one of its days where the Ethernet card came up in non-communicating mode. What a chain of problems!

Finally got to the PayPal web site and got a variant of the message that I had to confirm my email address, using the confirmation number supplied in the mail message. What confirmation number? The quotation above is pretty much the only thing I got. No confirmation number to be seen anywhere.

Gradually it became clear that there must have been another mail message (the “confirmation email” mentioned above). But where? I didn't see anything useful. No way to resend the message in case it got lost—why not? Spent some time digging in my old mail backups and finally found another message containing the information:

Subject: You've Added an Additional Email Address

You've added an additional email address to your PayPal account. To confirm the additional email address and confirm
+ownership of this email address, you'll need to click on the following link and enter your password:

https://www.paypal.com/au/ece/cn=014-61932-963-86779-6550&em=fooblah%40example%2ecom

To make sure you can use your PayPal account the next time you make a purchase, all you need to do is confirm your email
+address today.

If your email programme has problems with hypertext links, you may also confirm your email address by logging in to your
+PayPal account. Click on the 'Confirm email' link and enter the following confirmation number:

014-61932-963-86779-6550

Marvellous! In fact, I had received it and filed it away. The background was linking my eBay account to my PayPal account; I use different email addresses for each company I deal with. But who, on receiving a message like the one above, would think it needed action? What a pain PayPal is!

The brew went relatively smoothly, and I found a new way to address one of the issues I have always had: excessive foaming during aeration. Instead of waiting for it to decant completely, I started aeration when I started decanting, and stopped when the foam got high enough. But I miscalculated the amount of wort remaining in the kettle, and in the end I managed to overflow anyway:


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The mystery of Harold Holt: new evidence

One of the strangest mysteries in Australian history is the disappearance of prime minister Harold Holt in December 1967. He had succeeded Sir Robert “pig-iron Bob” Menzies as prime minister in 1966, and to this day nobody knows what happened to him.

This evening I was watching a film about Menzies and Churchill in 1941—interesting in itself—and I saw a newspaper article:


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Clearly Harold Holt conducted Mendelssohn's “Elias” in London on Sunday, 2 March 1941 at 14:30, at a time that Menzies was also in London. Coincidence? Certainly: Holt was in Australia at the time, and there's no evidence that he had any significant musical talent. But it's amusing to note that Menzies was his “mentor”, and that I don't find any references to other Harold Holts on the web.


Monday, 3 November 2008 Dereel Images for 3 November 2008
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So now we need to start on the next part of building the verandah. Into town to Metroll to buy some gutters, only to discover that they had to be ordered. On to Gays, where they had something about as suitable as the others and fractionally cheaper, so took that instead.

Also invested in a worm farm: composting seems to be much more complicated than I had feared, and various places recommend worm farms as alternatives. Back home and put the thing together:


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Then I discovered that it's a very slow method; the amount of rubbish that we get would require dozens of worm farms, if it were even suitable. But it seems that garden refuse is not suitable; it's more for kitchen stuff. For that, at over $100, it's not really worth while. I wish this stuff were made clearer before purchase; clearly I can't just take the thing back now and exchange it.

Also discovered that we have another bird's nest, this time in the garden shed:


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It's interesting how the behaviour of nesting birds differs. Swallows fly away immediately, leaving eggs or hatchlings behind, while the blackbird just sits there motionless, even though it's in much greater danger.

I've been using boskoop, my Apple for reading in photos from my camera. That's suboptimal for a number of reasons: I need to wake it up, since normally it doesn't run, and the USB transfer speed is pretty terrible. It's not as if you can't do this with FreeBSD. But there are issues there too: firstly, FAT file systems get mounted with the dates assumed to be UTC, so when I copy files across, the timestamps are offset by the time zone offset, currently 11 hours. Some time ago I added an -A patch to the FreeBSD touch program, so that I can change the time stamps with commands like touch -A -110000 photo.JPG, but that's tacky. Today spent some time modifying my copy script to automatically adjust the time stamp. The (shell) code is particularly ugly:

# Calculate time zone offset from UTC
# First get current time.  We need this mainly because of DST.
NOW=`date +%G%m%d%H%M.%S`
# And in local time zone
LOCAL=`date -j $NOW +%s`
# Convert to seconds at UTC
UTC=`TZ=GMT date -j $NOW +%s`
# The difference is the time zone offset.
TZOFFSET=`expr $LOCAL - $UTC`
HOURS=`expr 0 + $TZOFFSET / 3600 `
SECONDS=`expr 0 + $TZOFFSET - $HOURS \* 3600`
MINUTES=`expr $SECONDS / 60 `
ADJUST=`printf %02d%02d00 $HOURS $MINUTES`

In my case, the variable ADJUST gets the value -110000, just what I need for touch -A. But there must be a simpler way.

The other problem is even worse: with FreeBSD, if you remove a file system without umounting it, even if it's a USB stick, you will quickly freeze or panic the system. Despite all caution, I managed it again today. I really should look at fixing that.


Tuesday, 4 November 2008 Dereel Images for 4 November 2008
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CJ and Sue along today to continue with the verandah. The issue today was to set up the roof, which was complicated by the nature of the wall onto which we needed to anchor the rafters, and also the guttering. Spent an inordinate amount of time discussing that, and finally came to the conclusion that the simplest approach would be to leave the existing gutter on the right side of the wall, and just add another on the left which drains to the left.

Finally got the ledger up against the right hand side of the wall—only took us three hours total, most of it discussion:


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Decided that that would be enough for the day, and put the next step off until tomorrow.

Somehow didn't get very much done in the afternoon; a little more work in the garden, including tying up more hops and adding some more irrigation. I need to do something about the water pressure: some of the sprinklers are barely working.

CJ discovered that some of our weeds are really potatoes, so I suppose we should harvest them.

Chris round for dinner—rack of lamb, which we call “Null Bock”.


Wednesday, 5 November 2008 Dereel Images for 5 November 2008
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On with the work on the verandah today, and got the front beam up:


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Next were the rafters. To our surprise, found that they were 4.8 metres long instead of 4.2 metres (these are Australian “metric” sizes, in multiples of 0.6 m, sometimes 0.3 m—you can't get wood 4 metres long, for example). Nothing wrong with them being too long, of course: we could always cut them to length. But it gave us an opportunity that I had to consider: should we use the remaining length for some kind of decoration. So, after only two hours and again fixing only one piece of wood, we called it a day.

There's something funny about two of my sprinkler lines. Why is the pressure so low? Decided to put back into service the secondary pump that I had stopped using some months ago after some electrical issues. After far too much plumbing work, discovered that the pump had seized up and thus still tripped the circuit breaker. I had thought that it was leakage current that had caused the problems, but now it looks as if it was the pump gradually seizing up.

The real question, though, is: why is the pressure so low? It's only on two of the five circuits, and I can't see any evidence that they are overloaded; one of the others has many more sprinklers connected. More research needed.


Thursday, 6 November 2008 Dereel Images for 6 November 2008
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So we finally decided what to do with the rafters: cut them off vertically and consider what kind of gargoyle to attach at a later date. Set to and discovered a few other things, including the fact that our battens weren't the 10cm x 5 cm that we had expected, but only 7.5 x 5 cm. That meant that the roofing sheets wouldn't clear the gutters, and we had to cut into the rafters to fit under the gutters. Then we discovered that our “50 mm” hanging brackets were narrower than our “50 mm” rafters, and we had to cut the rafters to size, just at the end. We had all sorts of power tools, but nothing that did a tidy job of that cut. Managed it somehow, but it could have looked better.

Today it was CJ who had to leave early, so we only got three of the five rafters up. Still, that's three times as many pieces of wood as on the two previous days.

Living in the country we see our fair share of wild animals. I've already mentioned the kangaroos, but today, while eating lunch, another Australian animal walked straight past the kitchen door, only 2 metres from where I was sitting:


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It's an Echidna, not the most common of animals; I've only ever seen them in the wild once or twice, and never so close. Fortunately I had a camera at hand, but it wandered off before I could get more than a couple of photos.

More work on the irrigation. Removed some outlets from circuit 4 in the hope that it would improve matters, but it made little difference. I wonder if I have an obstruction somewhere. Either way, the solution is simple: split each circuit into two. But how? More digging is required, and of course I don't have enough wires in the ground to control the solenoids. Vaguely thought of putting in a binary decoder, but that would also mean resuscitating my home-brew sprinkler controller, and I'm not sure I want to do that.


Friday, 7 November 2008 Dereel Images for 7 November 2008
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It was supposed to rain today, but at 9 am there was no sign of it, and so CJ came along and we continued work on the verandah. Got up the two remaining rafters and started on the guttering when the wind picked up and blew over my heaviest ladder. We decided that the wind was trying to tell us something, and gave up after only an hour. The wind made it clear that it meant business: the rafters were connected at the house, but not yet nailed down at the other end, and it blew one of them, weight about 30 kg and held in place by a bracket, about 1 metre to the side:


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We finally did get some rain, though not as much as the wind, and spent the day messing around inside the house. Tried to take some studio photos of Yvonne painting, with spectacular lack of success. Once you get past a certain level of sophistication, things become much more complicated. Also took some photos of various camera equipment that I intend to sell on eBay, with somewhat better results.

ANZ Bank's concept of security

Got a phone call today from somebody claiming to be Maryanne from ANZ bank, relating to my complaint about their implementation of “Verified by VISA”. So far so good, but the first thing she did was to ask me for my secret password, the one that gives unlimited access to my account.

As usual, of course, I refused, and made my annoyance clear. Her answer was to give me her identification code, MV9, as if that would prove that she works for ANZ. When I told her that I would not discuss the matter with her over the phone, and that I saw no reason to call back when ANZ should be answering the letter, she said that she would close the complaint.

In the end, I did call back and gave the reference number she had given me—only the first three digits of a six digit number—and spoke to an almost inaudible Nicky, who told me that Maryanne had closed the complaint as “resolved”! What insolence!

She also claimed that Verified by VISA was imposed by VISA, that there was no opt-out, and that I should contact VISA if I had further questions. To prove her point, she pointed me to the VBV FAQ, which said no such thing:

Q: What if I don't sign up for Verified by Visa?

A: Without Verified by Visa you will not benefit from the fraud and dispute protection Verified by Visa provides. Visa estimates that the costs associated with e-commerce fraud and disputes can be reduced by up to 50 percent with Verified by Visa.

On the contrary, this statement makes it clear that it is possible not to sign up for the scheme. But she wanted to answer the question over the phone. I asked her if she was refusing to give me a written answer, and she finally said that she would send a written reply. But what an unbelievable lack of security!


Saturday, 8 November 2008 Dereel Images for 8 November 2008
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So finally we've had a little rain! 6.7 mm, not really enough. The lower part of our dam is as dry as I've seen it (surprisingly, the other part isn't). Here the comparison with this time last year:


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I fear we won't have much hay this year.

More work on panoramas. It's quite difficult to do when there are complicated shapes. Here the current state of the verandah:


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For that, I needed five photos, and even then there were jaggies. I wonder if even more would help reconstitute the shape of the table better.

Since processing this panorama (which was broken because of no attention to parallax) I reprocessed the images, resulting in slightly different breakage. At least now the gradation is better:


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Also more work on a photo of Yvonne painting, this time with more success:


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It's a cluttered photo, but it's meant to be. At least the lighting looks acceptable.

More investigation of the sprinkler pressure. Disconnected half of circuit 4 and the rest worked well; so it is a load issue after all. I wonder if it's related to the resistance of the solenoid valves. Still, one way or another I'm going to have to install more of them.

One of my Hitachi 813 monitors is dying. That's a pity, because there's nothing available with that resolution and an acceptable price any more. Did some looking around and found that the price is dependent not on the resolution but on the size. You can get 1920x1080 (HDTV format) displays starting at $235, but 1920x1200 start at $415—not because of the additional 11% resolution, but because the smallest 1920x1200 displays are 24" as compared to 21". I had that resolution on my laptop years ago! And 2560x1600 displays are available too, but the cheapest start at $1588—because they're 30". Sigh.

Chris along for a steamboat in the evening.


Sunday, 9 November 2008 Dereel Images for 9 November 2008
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Finally found a bit of time to play around with my computer migrations. eureka is now running with a single display, so I was able to remove the other two display cards, which proved to be identical (identified as SiS315PRO), and put one of them in the remaining PCI slot in dereel. And it worked! With only a little work (less than 30 minutes total) I had five displays on a single machine.

The happiness was short-lived. For a start, the current release of X no longer seems to have the sis driver, so I had to use vesa. I had changed the dying Hitachi monitor (horizontal sync to 114 kHz) with a freebie Mitsubishi monitor (highest horizontal sync 71 Hz), and that gave me a highest resolution of 1280x1024 and a non-tunable vertical refresh rate of only 60 Hz. And then, for some obscure reason, dereel lost network connectivity, including to X, so I had to stop X and bring the interface down and up. Then it worked for a while, until I discovered that display :0.4 (the new one) was no longer updating the display. Apart from that, it seemed to work—in particular, I could change the resolution.

Started X again, and it worked for a while, until I discovered I had lost network connectivity again. It looks like some conflict between the PCI slot or the display card and the on-board Ethernet hardware, though an examination of the dmesg output showed nothing obvious. Gave up until I have time to find out what the issues are.


Monday, 10 November 2008 Dereel Images for 10 November 2008
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Last week we took Tina, our 11 year old whippet, to the vet, and he put her on painkillers, which made her feel better for a while, but when she came off them again, she reverted. She's lost 40% of her body weight:


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So Yvonne very reluctantly took her to the vet again, for the last time. We'll have to see how Tony gets by without her.

More work on the verandah, spending an inordinate amount of time on the guttering, but finally got it finished, and were in the process with strapping the rafters to the front beam when we ran into another snag. By that time it was midday—the time we've agreed to finish anyway—so called it a day and put the rest off until Wednesday.

A number of unexpected letters in the letterbox this morning. Last month I had some difficulties with Red Energy, who encouraged me to give away my account details over the phone. We seemed to have sorted that out, and also their real problem with their software, but today I received a disconnection notice! And that for an account with direct debit, which they didn't attempt to perform, even after our discussion. Called them up and spoke to Abhishek, who promised to ensure that everything went correctly, and who would call me back. He didn't.

The letter from Telstra was an invoice for my domestic phone number. They've changed their billing system, for the worse: they have done away with itemized call lists, and they've revived David Agnew, who owned this house between about 1993 and 1996, and whose name I knew from the house plans:


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Tried to look at the account on-line, but my password was rejected. Followed the “forgot my password” link and the ensuing instructions, and got:


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What BigPond account? Called the Telstra service number and was connected with Vincent, who didn't have any information on display about the number from which I had called (even though I had to tell their obnoxious voice menu system that the “enquiry” related to that number), and who told me that I had two different accounts with them, the second a mobile telephone—oh, no, an invoice. I had to identify myself with name and date of birth (“which you can confirm with Google”). He promised to send me itemized invoices as before, at no extra cost, and also told me that he couldn't see the name DJ AGNEW in the invoice. While discussing, he asked me to hold and without explanation connected me to somebody else (Sarah), with whom of course I had to start again from scratch. She, too, could see no DJ AGNEW, but accepted my objection that the names on a tax invoice need to be correct, and promised me that she would look into it.

She couldn't help me with the web issues either, and connected me to Heather, to whom I first complained about the horribly broken rendering of their pages:


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She refused to accept that there could be any problem with the Telstra web site, nor the 135 errors that the W3C validator reported (“you shouldn't be looking at the source of the web page”). The problem was mine, and if I would stop interrupting her, she would tell me how to fix it. Clearly there was no point in trying to get her to listen, so I took up her offer. It went something like this:

Heather: What browser do you use?
Greg: firefox.
Heather: OK, wait a while while I look up the instructions... Select the icon Privacy. Do you see it?
Greg: I don't have any icons on my window, and I don't see Privacy.
Heather: OK, do you see anything about clearing cookies?
Greg: I've looked down in Edit / Preferences / Privacy, and there's something there.
Heather: OK, select Remove All Cookies.
Greg: Isn't that a bit draconian for a problem with your site?
Heather: There is no problem with our site!
Greg: OK, I've cleared cached cookies. What now?
Heather: Close your Internet window.
Greg: I'm sorry, I don't understand. What do you mean by “Internet window?”.

She then explained at some length and finally made it clear that she wanted me to close the browser window. I said “but that's the web, not the Internet”. Heather: “The web and the Internet are identical”. And, of course, she knows better. Another victim of bad language and an unhealthy conviction of her own (or Telstra's) infallibility. So I closed the browser window, and opened another one. I still don't know whether she wanted me to stop the browser, but I was doing what she asked, because she insisted. And, of course, it didn't work. I'm left wondering, though, what issues they have with old, mouldy cookies.

She then said “hold on, I'll confer with my colleagues”. A while later, she came back and asked if I was using a Mac. I said, “No, but I can try one if you like”. She: “No, that's fine if you're using a PC”. More invalid equations, of course—I'm sure she meant “a machine running Microsoft”, not “a PC”—but I had tried several times to tell her that it's an issue with the resolution, but of course she didn't want to listen.

So I said “Well, as I expected, that didn't work. But that wasn't the real question I had; I was just trying to report serious problems with your web site”. Muffled explosion from the other end, followed by help getting my password reset. That proved to be that the user name on record isn't the one I'm sure I entered—but this user name has a Big Pond account! Also, the answer to the stupid “security” question (a lie, in my case) was refused because I had not spelt it identically to the way I had entered it in the web site. So it's more like a long password than a security question.

Left Heather with the request that, despite her own convictions, she should report the web problem to the web team and suggest that they test their pages with non-Microsoft browsers at 2048x1536 resolution. She said that she would, but that I shouldn't count on them doing anything. Now there's something we can agree on. 63 minutes on the phone for something that shouldn't have been necessary in the first place.

While I was in the mood, called up Wideband about the VoIP issues that I reported last month, and which haven't been resolved. The connection was so bad (flaky VoIP) that the person I spoke to had to call me back, and was disconnected again before we could discuss anything. No further call back. I wonder if this VoIP over satellite thing is worth pursuing.


Tuesday, 11 November 2008 Dereel –> Melbourne –> Dereel Images for 11 November 2008
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We've been planning to go shopping in Melbourne for weeks, and finally we got around to it today. Somehow our trips are getting less and less involved; we didn't go to the Footscray Market, we didn't go to the Italians in Brunswick, and we didn't go to IKEA. Spent some time and a lot of money at the Queen Victoria Market, where the vegetables were not nearly as good as I recall, and even more expensive than in the supermarkets in Ballarat—possibly we should come here later in the week. Also across the road to Minh Phat, a generic Eastern Asian food shop that sadly fades somewhere west of Viet Nam. Got most of our stuff, but the Indian chutneys were sadly lacking, and the only galanggal I could find was dried.

Then to the Fitzroy Gardens for reasons I no longer recall that were mentioned in a recent ABC Gardening Australia programme. I haven't been there since I was about 5 years old, and though they're pleasant, we saw nothing of botanical interest. On to the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens, where we had been four months ago, and this time went round the north side:


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Some interesting stuff, but somehow we weren't particularly motivated, and went back home relatively early.

Telstra got their revenge, after all. I thought I had only cleared cached cookies yesterday while on the phone with Heather, but today I tried to access IMDB and got the screen:


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Clearly my information had been stored as a cookie, now removed. It's really totally irresponsible for Telstra's staff to recommend things that alter settings that have nothing to do with them.

The weather was very warm today—almost like going from winter to summer without having a spring. One effect was a myriad of moth-like insects around the house today:


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I hope they're not termites.


Wednesday, 12 November 2008 Dereel Images for 12 November 2008
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CJ was supposed to come and help me with the verandah today, but he had a visit from the (horse) dentist and wasn't able to come. A little bit of work in the garden, but mainly Yet Another marathon on the phone.

One of the calls was from Vanessa of the Australian Taxation Office, confirming some LEMIS details: she wanted details of the account numbers and such. Authentication? None! It seems that everybody expects people to give confidential information to people who call on the phone and say they're from somewhere official. But, although I had confirmed my identity to her satisfaction (my address!), she wouldn't tell me what number she had on file. In the end we compromised: she gave me part, and I gave her the rest. But there's a serious issue here.

No’ Optus

Last month I had some fun getting Yvone's new Optus SIM card working in her mobile phone. On Monday, while in Melbourne, discovered that we weren't done yet—the card still needed activation. Tried that today, and in the process got conclusive proof that Optus are even worse than Telstra when it comes to their web site.

In principle, it was straightforward enough: I got a little brochure that told me to go to www.optus.com/prepaid. That's the wrong URL, of course; you have to find and select the “Activate” link to arrive at https://personal.optus.com.au/web/ocaportal.portal ?_nfpb=true &_pageLabel=activateprepaidonline &productpath=/personal &FP=/personal/mobile/prepaidmobile/activateprepaidonline &site=personal, which, though it doesn't contain any personal data, is obviously not intended to be selected directly.

First thing was to enter the SIM card number, of course. In the book it's written in the format 1234 5678 91011. But you can't enter it like that—you must leave out the spaces. Why? Why do so many companies expect you to reformat their own data to enter it into a web application?

Next was the issue of transferring my existing Telstra number. The application checks for this, and asks:

 
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OK, reasonable enough. I created an account, waited for the email to arrive, and logged in. What next? No links to anything like what I wanted to do:

Went back to the original screen, and couldn't get any further:


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Where now? This is clearly the generic login page. None of the options include transferring mobile telephone numbers. Called the Optus customer service line (1 300 555 002) and fought my way through their horrible voice non-recognition menu:

VM: So that I can connect you ... what is the purpose of your call today?
Greg: I need help activating my SIM card.
VM: That sounds like activation. Is that right?
Greg: Yes.
VM: I'm sorry, I don't understand. Please answer “Yes” or “No”.
Greg: YES!
VM: I'm sorry, I don't understand. Please answer “Yes” or “No”.
Greg: YES!
VM: I'm having trouble. I'll connect you to a customer representative.

That's fairly typical of this broken software. And there are still people who think that keyboards are on the way out and voice recognition is the way of the future. O brave new world!

Got connected to <mumble>, who spelt his name as Swaroon. I asked for help navigating the web, and he said he would connect me to the activation department, phont number 1 300 737 252, option 2, open from mornings to evenings. I told him I wanted to activate via the web. He connected me to the activation department.

Got connected to <mumble>, who spelt his name as Varghe. After restating the issues, he told me I was in the wrong department, and that I should call 1 300 555 002. I told him that that was the number I had called, that I had been connected to him, and that I would like help activating via the web because I was writing a (this) report on how to do it. He asked me to give him the URL of the page I was on (the long one above; at the time I didn't know you couldn't access it directly). After about 5 minutes of explanation, he failed. I asked if they didn't have any department to help people access their web site, and he said he would connect me.

<Mumble> spelt his name “Stolt” this time, and told me that I couldn't do that on line. When I explained about my “report”, he said he would contact somebody and get me called back.

Shortly later, <mumble> (Disha) called back and told me she was from the activation department, and she couldn't help me with the web. She would connect me.

This time <mumble> was so unintelligible that I couldn't get his name. He couldn't hear me either, so I gave up. Clearly the Optus web site is so difficult to navigate that nobody has done it, proving Stolt right. Decided to activate via the phone interface.

Called the activation number (1 300 555 002) again and spoke to Colin, who wrote down my SIM card number wrong and had to be corrected. Then he asked:

Colin: Do you want to have a new number, right?
Greg: No.
Colin: Sorry, what was that?

So I explained to him, and he told me that I would need to call Telstra to “unlock the network”. I asked for the phone number. He put me on hold for a while and then came back: “I can give you a new number. Do you want that?”. I answered “No”. Finally he got some personal details from me and told me he would transfer me to 1 300 737 252 (along with the obligatory statement of the opening hours).

There I was connected with Disha again, who told me that the (computer) system was currently not working correctly, and I should call back in about 90 minutes.

So far it had taken me about 2 hours trying to do something that, in the words of the activation page, “Activating your mobile online is easy. All you need is your SIM card number.”

In the meantime, tried some navigation attempts of my own. Returning to the activation page from the login page brought different results each time I tried it:

 
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The mandatory fields (some of which are radio buttons that can't be deselected) were all filled in, and of course the SIM card number was correct.

Finally tried the alternative of logging in first. Success! When I selected Yes to the question “Do you want to transfer your current mobile number?”, it popped up the additional questions of the second screen shot above and allowed me to continue.

Well, limited success. First it didn't like my address:

 
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It's not clear why it asked for the address anyway, since I had already had to log in, and that information was also in the account details. But it looks as if it has a database that knows that I live in “Kliens Road”. Still, it allowed me to check the address and then accepted it. Next came:

 
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So I pressed Resubmit and continued—and it finally worked:

 
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Half an hour later I tried, and when I finally got a connection, it said that the SIM card needed activation. 2½ hours later it still did. Called up 1 300 555 002 again, and Michelle told me that the system was slow today due to upgrades. Activation normally takes 20 minutes, but it can be up to 4 hours.

Four hours spent trying to activate a mobile phone! Yes, I could have had it easier by doing it over the phone (and risking having my address misspelt), it might have been easier if their computer systems were working normally, and it would definitely have been easier if I had accepted a new phone number. But all this is supposed to work, and it's clearly so difficult that nobody at Optus can say how to do it. But now—finally—I know:

How to transfer a mobile phone number to Optus prepaid

Modulo other breakage on the Optus web site (while checking this, loading the home page hung), this should then allow you to transfer the number, as described above. Simple, isn't it? Why don't the Optus people know this?


Thursday, 13 November 2008 Dereel
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CJ was due to come along today and help with the verandah, but this time I had other things to do: Yvonne is off to Equitana in Melbourne next week, and we've decided to print a promotional flyer. And that means reviving some of my build infrastructure for text formatting, and also just wondering what we should put in there. I've been putting this off for far too long, and clearly today was the day. Got most things sorted out—the main issue is still really how to grab the attention of tired show-goers, and that's a problem that won't have a quick answer.

Mail from Hans-Fried Kirschbaum today:

In 1984 some guys from Tandem in Frankfurt gave me a adventure game called cristal cave. It was written in Tal and they told me, that you have made the translation from fortran to tal. I saved this program on a tape.

It seems that the tape didn't stand the passage of time, and he wanted a copy of the original. I do recall playing with something like that—it's a sequel to adventure—but it's so long ago that I can't even recall whether I translated it or not. I certainly don't have the code any more, but I went out and found it on the net. Compiling it (didn't we once say “porting?”) was another matter:

=== grog@dereel (/dev/ttyp9) ~/src/crystal/crystal-2.0 28 -> make
Making all in src
if gcc -DPACKAGE_NAME=\"crystal\" -DPACKAGE_TARNAME=\"crystal\" -DPACKAGE_VERSION=\"2.0\" -DPACKAGE_STRING=\"crystal\ 2.0\" -DPACKAGE_BUGREPORT=\"zondo42@googlemail.com\" -DPACKAGE=\"crystal\" -DVERSION=\"2.0\" -DSTDC_HEADERS=1 -DHAVE_SYS_TYPES_H=1 -DHAVE_SYS_STAT_H=1 -DHAVE_STDLIB_H=1 -DHAVE_STRING_H=1 -DHAVE_MEMORY_H=1 -DHAVE_STRINGS_H=1 -DHAVE_INTTYPES_H=1 -DHAVE_STDINT_H=1 -DHAVE_UNISTD_H=1 -DHAVE_READLINE_H=1 -DHAVE_LIBTERMCAP=1 -DHAVE_LIBREADLINE=1 -I.  -I.    -I/usr/include/readline  -g -fwritable-strings -MT cvact.o -MD -MP -MF ".deps/cvact.Tpo" -c -o cvact.o cvact.c;  then mv -f ".deps/cvact.Tpo" ".deps/cvact.Po"; else rm -f ".deps/cvact.Tpo"; exit 1; fi
cc1: error: unrecognized command line option "-fwritable-strings"
*** Error code 1

Writable strings! We've come a long time since those days. Did a bit of playing around and found the problem relatively easily:

> in
You're in the barn.  It has been converted to quarters for spelunkers.
There are electric lights, and a number of mattresses strewn about.
There are some keys on the ground here.
Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
0x080552b6 in pspeak (obj=0x8069a80, prop=0) at cvspk.c:79
79          if (!last) msg[end] = '\0';

That was pretty straightforward, and apparently the only place in the program where they were used, so I wrote a little initialization routine that copied the strings into malloced memory, and it seems to work. Sent the tarball to Hans-Fried.

Finally we had a bit of rain. I fear it won't be enough to give us a bumper crop of hay, or even any if we're unlucky.

Chris over for dinner, salmon that we picked up in Melbourne on Tuesday.


Friday, 14 November 2008 Dereel Images for 14 November 2008
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High time to sell some of my camera gear. In the past 24 hours, to my surprise, a set of Olympus OM extension tubes was sold on eBay for $79.88, and an adaptor ring for OM lenses on E series DSLRs for $100. I don't understand why, but I have both of these for sale, and there were multiple bids for each of them, so I should have good chances.

Setting up the listings was much more painful than last time. eBay seems to have changed its software—indeed, I got the impression today that they changed it while I was doing my listings. The problems started when I tried to upload an image:

 
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You get used to the overlapping text on second-rate web sites, but I couldn't find this “Browse” button to select it. So I tried the “Standard Uploader”, which gave me even less:

 
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That's probably flash breakage under FreeBSD, so I tried it on the Apple, where of course I got one of these stupid little graphical file access screens, too small even on standard low resolution. But from the Apple the path name for this particular file was /dereel/home/grog/Photos/20081107/tubes.jpeg. That would require multiple mouse clicks, too much pain. I know this is the “user friendly” way of doing things, but I just can't get used to the stupidity. It makes me want to scream, so that's what I did:

=== grog@boskoop (/dev/ttyp1) ~ 2 -> ln -s /dereel/home/grog/Photos/20081107/tubes.jpeg SCREAM.jpeg

That way the file showed up in the directory that the window was partially displaying:


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Isn't that UGLY?

Name  SCREAM.jp
       eg
Kind  Alias

Why do people insist on making windows so small? This is a standard low resolution screen, so it's nothing to do with me. And “Alias” indeed! It's a symlink. Why do they have to invent stupid alternative names?

Editing the text was a problem too, one that I didn't have last time. Actually writing it in the web form with firefox's pitiful excuse for an editor is out of the question, of course, and the latest versions of firefox don't allow external editors any more, so I edit the text in an Emacs and paste it into the box. But that doesn't work any more: it seems that it has gone all Microsoft on me, and the only way I can paste it is with ctrl-v. But that only works from other Microsoft applications, and that doesn't—thank God!—include Emacs. Had to use the Apple to do that too.

While bumbling around, pressed the wrong button on a screen and got:

 
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Which is which? Cancel the screen or continue in it, or the other way round? It proved to be the other way round.

Finally I was done, and I pressed “List item”. The message I got was unexpected:


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Diary entry for Friday, 14 November 2008

 

It's been a long time since I've seen a message like that. It happened with firefox on FreeBSD, with iceweasel under Linux, and with Safari under Apple. Spent some time looking round the web site for an explanation, but all I could find was “Live help”. Tried that, got the warning that a real live human might take some time, and was put into the web equivalent of a talk window.

Surprisingly, it worked well. It took only a few seconds for somebody to announce herself. Once I had described the problem, her first question was “did you clear the cache and all the cookies?” This seems to be a standard “solution”, but I pointed out that it happened on a number of different browsers. Then she found the solution: the validation software had not detected incompatible postage options for domestic and international. Clearly my problem, so “it's not a bug”. I suggested that any error message of that level which appears on a web page was a bug, which she accepted. The whole thing only took a couple of minutes. Also pointed out the typo Lense, which she took on board, but which still seems not to have been fixed.

Finally got all four items listed, then off to Auctiva to add additional photos. It seems that that's not the way Auctiva likes to do things: I should have started preparing the listing there, and it might even have been easier if I had done so. Their uploader works, but it's strange, and the instructions are a little vague. “then click Done” on a page with no Done button (it's marked Add):


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And they seem to use the term “Folder” differently, to imply a subdivision on their web site. As the screen shot shows, the file name includes a directory component, while the “Folder” is ---, presumably meaning empty:

The whole thing took 5 hours. Sure, next time will be easier, and part of the problem seems to be that some configuration change has broken my form editing: it worked OK on iceweasel. But then, where's the firefox documentation?


Saturday, 15 November 2008 Dereel Images for 15 November 2008
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Photo day again today; it's getting to be more of a routine. It's just frustrating how difficult it is to get well-balanced photos without a significant amount of postprocessing.

The warmer weather is showing some changes. Five months ago I pruned a rose bush down to the ground; it's now back stronger than ever:


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When I took the first photo, I didn't anticipate how high it would be only five months later; the last photo give a better idea. It's also interesting to note how much better my postprocessing has become in that time.

The Kaffir lime is also looking better. Here a month ago and today:


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It looks like it does need more water. I read a book that claims that a citrus tree needs 111 litres of water every 3 weeks. The most interesting thing about that is the way it's formulated. That's 5.3 litres every day, which doesn't make any sense in terms of conversions. Neither does 111 litres (24.4 gallons).


Sunday, 16 November 2008 Dereel
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Finally spent some time today doing the next step of my system conversion. Since installing the new dereel three weeks ago I've been running three machines instead of the previous two: eureka has still been the external gateway, and the old dereel continued running as swamp with two disks for backups. To get things down to the intended single system, I needed to migrate the gateway and the disks to dereel.

To minimize the potential for problems, decided to put the satellite modem on the internal network, so that all machines can talk to it. That required adding alias addresses, of course. dereel now has:

re0: flags=8843<UP,BROADCAST,RUNNING,SIMPLEX,MULTICAST> metric 0 mtu 1500
        inet 192.109.197.135 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.109.197.255
        inet 192.168.5.102 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.168.5.255

That works fine, except that I can't use dereel as a gateway without natd, something I'd rather not think about right now with only a single interface. I'm going to have to do something, though: a bug in Mac OS X means it doesn't work there. On boskoop I have the addresses:

en0: flags=8863<UP,BROADCAST,SMART,RUNNING,SIMPLEX,MULTICAST> mtu 1500
        inet 192.168.5.110 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.168.5.255
        inet 192.109.197.163 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.109.197.255

But it doesn't work correctly. When talking to the outside world (sat-gw, 192.168.5.100), it uses the wrong address:

10:47:39.895323 IP 192.109.197.163 > 192.168.5.100: ICMP echo request, id 2852, seq 10, length 64

So I'll have to do something before boskoop can connect directly to the net again. Even now, though, it's amazing how much quieter is it in the office.

More work on Yvonne's flyer, and got it finished. As usual, the last 20% of the work took the other 80% of the time. It's also interesting to note that we had plenty of space. When we considered the format (99x200 mm, double sided) we did it primarily because of cost considerations, but it proved to be more than enough space for an introduction. We can be much more expansive on the web.


Monday, 17 November 2008 Dereel Images for 17 November 2008
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It's high time to fix the irrigation problems: some of the plants are dying of thirst. Into town today to buy some equipment, including new solenoids, only to discover that they didn't have the kind I want, and the only kind they had was big and expensive. Ended up getting one anyway. Also bought some wire to build cages for the strawberries—so far the birds have eaten all the strawberries—and brackets for the verandah, with which we intend to continue tomorrow.

Back home and started playing around with the sprinklers. Discovered that the filters were clogged with grit:


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That proved to be the only problem: after flushing it out, the system worked fine. It also makes more sense, since the grit must have got in there at the very beginning (there's as good no grit in the water coming out of the ground), and these were the first two circuits that I installed. I've put in a filter upstream anyway, so hopefully that problem won't occur again.

Amusing spam today:

From: "Customer Service" <customerservice@mp3musicinc.com>
To: "Spam Fearer" <mymusic@lemis.com>
Subject: A high Performance Computer is just a simple scan away
X-Mailer: mp3musicinc.com 1.0

Hi Spam Fearer,

Is your computer really slow? Speed up Your Computer
with a Simple Scan!
...

At first it looks like a bit of a joke, but in fact “Spam Fearer” is the name I chose when signing up for this “service”, whatever it may have been. It looks like my fears are confirmed. But that's OK: mymusic@lemis.com no longer exists, so it won't get any more spam.

Yet another power failure in the evening. That's the fifth in three weeks and the 23rd in the last 12 months.

Email is dead—long live the web!

For as long as I can recall, there's been a mailing list FreeBSD-questions@FreeBSD.org for people to ask all kinds of questions about FreeBSD. Yesterday the project officially entered the 21st century and opened a web forum.

I hate it! What earthly use is it? The obvious disadvantage is that there are now two different places you can go to ask a question about FreeBSD. People able to help with a reply may be on one or the other, only possibly both. So there's automatically a dilution of the information flow. The same applies when you want to look for a previous reply.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Here's a comparison:

Mailing list
     
Forum

The data from the mailing list is on your computer, so you can access it very quickly. I used to answer questions frequently up to a year or two ago, and most of the time I did it in planes when I had nothing else to do.

The data in a forum is somewhere on the Internet. You need an Internet connection, and even with the fastest connection, there's a noticeable delay when loading pages. It's impossible to read or reply in a plane.

With an appropriate MUA, you can arrange the data in a mailing list archive in a way that suits you. You can display the relationship between individual messages in a thread in a tree form:

The format of the data in a thread is a decision made by the maintainer of the forum. You can't do anything about it unless he has given you the option. The index view of the FreeBSD forum gives you no information at all, currently not even the number of messages in the thread.

 
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You can enter or answer messages using real text editing tools.

You need to interact with a browser to enter or answer messages, greatly complicating all text manipulation. Yes, there are “plugins” to interface with external editors—the fact that they're not part of the base browser is telling enough—and they all have their strangenesses. I'll rant about mozex and It's All Text! some other time.

You can move messages from one folder to another with ease, even putting them in multiple folders.

The forum has a fixed structure. If somebody enters a question against X, only to find that it's really a network issue, how do you change thread? I don't know—there may be a way—but I'm sure that it's not elegant. It's most certainly not your choice, but that of the moderator.

The display format is free-form, though admittedly many people abuse it.

The display format is frequently the web-typical “hide as much as you can” When browsing through the forum earlier, I found text boxes with scroll bars in both directions, though that particular problem now seems to be gone.

To read the messages in the mailing list, you go through the folder sequentially, picking the topics that interest you.

To read the messages in the forum, you go through the index recursively, picking the topics that interest you, adding at least one level of complexity to the operation and making it easier to miss something.

So I will almost certainly not visit the forum more than a couple of times out of curiosity. Like so many “modern” developments, it ignores the experience of the past and appeals only to the novice.


Tuesday, 18 November 2008 Dereel Images for 18 November 2008
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CJ along this morning to help with the verandah. First, though, Yvonne grabbed him and dragged him off to cut down a tree for her. Got started on the verandah, removing some of the work we had done last week: the brackets I bought yesterday were much easier to put in, and they don't look as bad, either.

Then we discovered that some of the battens had badly warped—one of them by 45° axially over its length of 6 m. That's probably my fault for leaving them lying on the ground: they were straight when they were delivered two months ago. Decided to leave them up on the rafters to dry out, in the hope that they would then recover their form. So another day with only an hour's work to show for itself. And they're promising rain—that's good in itself, because we desperately need it—but that would probably mean no more work this week.

Callum Gibson mentioned cheap LCD monitors on IRC today: a BenQ E2200HD with 1920x1080 resolution from mwave for only $225. I suspect that that will become more common as HDTV becomes more mainstream. Ordered one and was rather surprised that everthing went smoothly—they even offer PayPal, which, after my experience with Verified by VISA, was particularly attractive. The whole transaction was over and done with in 5 minutes, a far cry from the pain I've experienced with ANZ.

One of the interesting things about the order was a little detail in the order form:


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This is exactly the scenario that I had mentioned earlier in my comments on Verified by VISA. With this information, they would have everything they needed to sign up with Verified by VISA as myself. The only “security” is that the signup almost never works properly.

By coincidence, received a letter from ANZ today. It should have been in reply to my letter of 28 October 2008, but it claims to refer to a phone call. And, of course, it doesn't address the issues beyond saying “no, we can't take you off this scheme”. It's possible that they're correct, but the level of accuracy they've shown me so far gives me no reason to believe their version over other, conflicting information. In particular, as a bank, they should be insisting on proper security. Instead, they're just blaming it on VISA. Time for a new bank.

More discussion about forums on IRC. They brought some valid points: in particular, forums are better for archiving messages. I stand by the others, though. Clearly the best choice is a unified system with mail for normal users and forums for the illiterate.


Wednesday, 19 November 2008 Dereel Images for 19 November 2008
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Finally we have rain! 11.2 mm overnight, sorely needed but maybe too late. It continued all day, so possibly we will get some hay after all.

Another day inside as a result. Yvonne is off to Equitana in Melbourne tomorrow, so spent a bit of time tidying up her web pages—too little, as it turned out—and taking some photos of her paintings. That proved to be surprisingly difficult—it's almost impossible to avoid over-accentuating the structure of the canvas. I'm still not very happy with the results.

Also modified the PHP scripts that form the background of her training diary, so now she can add photos and better links. Considering that it's almost completely done without HTML, it doesn't look too bad.

Chris along for dinner in the evening.


Thursday, 20 November 2008 Dereel Images for 20 November 2008
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Yvonne and Chris left for Melbourne in the early hours of this morning, leaving me to look after myself. There's nothing unusual in that, except that I've done less of the housework recently, and found myself somewhat disorientated.

The tracking web site showed that my new monitor has already arrived in Ballarat. Called up the local agents and was told that it would arrive here between 11:00 and 12:00—that's fast! But it didn't. I had intended to go into town, and I could have picked it up while I was there, but as it was, I waited round all day and didn't get much done.

firefox breakage—latest investigations

Finally I recalled why I had moved back from firefox 3.0 beta to version 2: the completely broken printout that I had had at the beginning of the month. Discussions with Callum Gibson showed that “it worked for him”, and I suspected that the issue was a double confusion on the parts of the firefox developers: confusion of pixels and points on the one hand, and the assumption that there was some kind of connection between the resolution of the monitor and the resolution of the printer on the other hand.

Did a number of comparisons and discovered a third influence: all these undocumented values under the pseudo-URL about:config. It seems that some of them have got set at some unknown time in the past, so started out with a new test profile. In particular, it seems that the option “Ignore Scaling and Shrink To Fit Page Width” (capitalized as shown) relates to a number of settings:


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I suppose it's “modern” that the first column is truncated and the last is far too wide, not to mention rather fitting in view of the context. No idea what the difference between these values is. In particular the value for “print to file” is false, but when I try to print to a file, it sets the box.

In any case, got sufficient proof for my suspicion that the units and devices are confused. Normally I set the minimum font size to “20” (whatever those units may be), and get letters that could be a maximum of 20 pixels high. And that's what, without the “shrink” function, caused the ridiculously large printout.

To measure them, chose the beginning of the second paragraph of a printout of yesterday's diary:

 
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It's 4.25" wide on the screen. How many points is that? Created a sample of the text at different point sizes and compared. 4.25" are 303 points. ghostview shows the coordinates in pixels, so with the PostScript version I was able to establish that the text is about 12 pt. That also makes sense when you consider that the resolution of the display is 130 dpi, so the ratio of pixel to point is about 1.83:1. It should give 11 pt, not 12, but maybe the difference in fonts explains that.

And on the paper, without “shrinking”? I printed to a file, and that's PostScript too. It's 421 pixels wide—as wide as the 17 pt text in the reference document. So it has no direct relationship with the size on the screen, and it wouldn't have had either if the pixel size had been 75 dpi (approximately 1 pt).

Next I tried setting the text size on screen to “10”. The result was almost illegible—only 2.125" wide—but exactly half the width of the previous one, so about 6 pt wide. And the printout followed exactly! What possible reason should there be for that? People would get really upset if they replaced their old 300 dpi printer with a new 1200 dpi printer and found that the printouts were only a quarter of the previous size in each direction. But that's exactly what this broken software is doing. At the very least it should offer separate settings for printouts and the screen. Of course, maybe it does, and just hides them well.

Bill Gates wins!

In the evening watched a relatively recent documentary about Bill Gates, not the worst I've seen. It's amazing how little they mentioned about the software. But one particular shot amused me: they claimed that it proved Gates' statement “One day there will be a PC on every desk”:


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I wonder how many of these machines really run Microsoft. There was at least one other Apple image in the film, but it was so blurred that it wasn't worth copying. It's also interesting that the people who made the film referred to the “World-Wide Web” (in full), whereas the Microsoft people they interviewed always referred to “The Internet”.


Friday, 21 November 2008 Dereel
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Lonely Tony
Topic: animals Link here

Tony, our remaining whippet, didn't seem to greatly suffer when we had Tina put down a couple of weeks ago, but he seems to miss Yvonne—he woke me up with his howling several times during the night. I wonder how to handle that.


New monitor
Topic: general, technology Link here

Into town today to do the shopping that Yvonne usually does. Picked up the monitor, in the process discovering that I can get to the other side of Ballarat without going through a single traffic light, and did the normal shopping, taking a surprising amount of time to do so.

Back with the monitor and tried to set it up. It wasn't even as simple as I had feared. Despite the specifications, it came with both a VGA cable and a single link DVI-D cable—the latter mentioned even in the instructions as “optional”. Finally got the thing into place—it's directly in front of me and replacing another BenQ monitor with a different resolution: the old monitor ran at 1600x1200, and the new one has 1920x1080. Ran X -configure, but it didn't even see the second nVidia card. Played around with the old xorg.conf and set appropriate resolutions for the new monitor, but the driver refused all of them and set the display at 1280x1024, which is a completely wrong resolution. It also made some reference to a dual link DVI connection, which might be related, though it's not clear how it can think that when the cable is only single link. In any case, it didn't just reduce the resolution of that display, but also of :0.3, which is connected to the same card. After a lot of playing around, discovered that the only way I could get my desired resolutions was to use the VGA cable.

Despite what Callum Gibson says, I can't see any difference in sharpness between DVI and VGA. But then, the LCD screen is so much sharper than the CRTs that anything would look sharp. I was beginning to thing that my eyes were deteriorating, but clearly it was just what I had been looking at. Now I need to rearrange my windows so the most important ones are on the new display.

Still, somehow it's sad that even this “high resolution” display has such a low resolution—the lowest of any monitor I have bought in this millennium and barely higher than the 98 dpi of a normal resolution fax. Only the extra width raises its total pixel count beyond the 1600x1200s. And I've been using monitors of that resolution for over 12 years. Here the current setup:

Monitor       dimensions       pixels       resolution
Hitachi 813       2048x1536       3158016       130 dpi
LG Studioworks 900B       1600x1200       1920000       112 dpi
BenQ E2200HD       1920x1080       2073600       103x105 dpi
BenQ P992       1600x1200       1920000       116x117 dpi

Visit from Pam Hay
Topic: general Link here

Yvonne and Chris back from Equitana late in the evening, bringing Pam Hay with them. The main reason seems to have been that Chris wanted to feed her horses. They're leaving again tomorrow morning, and will return similarly late on Sunday. I can imagine how they're looking forward to it being over.


Saturday, 22 November 2008 Dereel Images for 22 November 2008
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Today's house photos were made no easier by the weather: it's still raining, and I had to go out between two showers to take the photos, and even then didn't get finished before we had a heavy hail storm:


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It melted pretty quickly, of course—after all, it's supposed to be nearly summer—but it was quite heavy while it fell.

Was just about finished with the photo processing when we had another power failure. I'm getting thoroughly fed up with this situation—it's the fourth failure in less than 4 weeks. Called up Powercor and spoke to Liz, who told me the whole area almost as far as Ballarat was down—again! Apparently it was a pole fire in Sebastopol that set it off. That's the second time in a month that the cause was a pole fire. Is that not related to inadequate maintenance?

Asked her to note a formal complaint about the frequency, and asked about the compensation that was due to us. It's all of $100 if we get 20 hours in a calendar year. Well, we've had that: last month we had 17 hours outage alone. But that's not what Liz told me: two outages, one of 4 hours, one of 6. And I had to understand that they can't go and check every failure to see if they have really been restored. That's not their job. I asked her why Eddie Barkla told me it was, and of course she didn't give a useful answer. In fact, when I asked her which power failure allegedly lasted only 4 hours, and which lasted only 2, she didn't reply. When I asked her if that was a refusal, she hung up on me.

Last week I had a phone questionnaire from an independent marketing research group asking how happy I was with Powercor's phone service. At the time I said that it was OK, and the real issue was the power service. I wish the questionnaire had come after I had spoken to Liz.

Of course, what's $100? Apart form the 20 hours, 7 minutes of failures I've had this year, in 22 separate failures, I've spent 13 hours this year alone cleaning up after power failures. That alone would be a wage of only $7.70 an hour. The real issue is that the power companies are not supplying adequate service. They might find ways to improve things if they were required to supply emergency generators to people who had had such problems; or a more environmentally friendly way might be to supply them with solar power generators with power return to the grid.

Fortunately the power was down for only 55 minutes, but by that time I no longer had any desire to work in the garden. Instead decided that, since the computers were down anyway, I might as well continue the upgrade work. Removed swamp, put one of its disks in dereel, and tried once again to get the fifth head working. Decided that the issue might be related to interrupts (which, strangely, the card doesn't report), so disabled the LPT port and set the IRC on both PCI slots to 7: I don't know which is which, but one of the display cards obstructs the second one, so there's no need to worry about conflicts.

Success! It all Just Worked. Well, for several hours. While watching TV I couldn't access the web (via the proxy server on dereel). Discovered something that suggests that the problem isn't completely hardware: I could get the link up again by taking the interface down and then up again. But: only one of the two address blocks. Currently I have:

        options=389b<RXCSUM,TXCSUM,VLAN_MTU,VLAN_HWTAGGING,VLAN_HWCSUM,WOL_UCAST,WOL_MCAST,WOL_MAGIC>
        inet 192.109.197.135 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.109.197.255
        inet 192.168.5.135 netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast 192.168.5.255

After bringing up the interface, the first ping would always work, no matter which address block. But a second on to the other block always failed. Why that should be, I don't understand, but it doesn't look very related to hardware.


Sunday, 23 November 2008 Dereel
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Somehow I was completely lacking in motivation today. Spent some time updating some old photos—there's another can of worms that'll keep me occupied for months. Baked some bread, which for some reason required a completely different ratio of water to flour, and racked some beer. And it was late afternoon, so did a bit of work in the garden and the day was over.

Yvonne, Chris and Pam back relatively early, telling different interpretations of Equitana: Yvonne was disappointed, and Chris thought it was better than the last time she had been there, 9 years ago.


Monday, 24 November 2008 Dereel Images for 24 November 2008
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Somehow I'm completely demotivated lately. I've been meaning to tie up the remaining hops for at least 4 days now, and it's really only a few minutes' work, but I still haven't done it; did about a third of the work and then moved on to something else. Why can't I be bothered?

Instead spent some time working on my PHP functions; Yvonne's photos now use mainly the same templates as mine do, and there aren't quite as many 404s.

Phone call from Eddie Bakla of Powercor again, this time not as friendly as last time. He was able to give me more information about the power failure on Saturday: it was due to a tree falling on power lines on the corner of Edwards Street and Morgan Street in Sebastopol. It's interesting that Google Maps shows no trees on that corner, but possibly it wasn't exactly there. He also gave me more information about the records they had on the power failures of 27 October 2008. Here truth and their records:

Start time       Report time       Fixed       Outage duration       Powercor report time       Powercor fixed time       Powercor duration
2:30       9:45       19:45       17:15       18:26       20:20       1:54
9:45       9:45       18:00       8:15       9:31       13:46       4:15

There's little resemblance between these numbers. Why? One obvious reason would be that they want to claim as few outages as possible. But my first report got completely lost, and the second, more general power outage has shrunk from 8 hours, 15 minutes to 4 hours, 15 minutes. Eddie told me that the first houses were back on line at 13:46—but what does that have to do with my case, or Dereel in general, where Jacinta from Powercor confirmed on the day that power had not been restored until 18:00? This seems very dubious to me.

Pointed him at http://tinyurl.com/powercor, a link to my power failures page. It's a good thing I made a tinyurl: even then, he entered \ instead of /, and put it into the search window. He was using Microsoft “Internet Explorer”, of course, and it occurred to me that I didn't know how to explain to him how to enter a URL.

The results showed that his records didn't correspond to my own. There were (short) outages mentioned that hadn't occurred here, and outages that I had hadn't been reported. Clearly this whole system is a mess.

High definition, as long as it isn't on the web

On IRC heard of a German free-to-air HDTV channel, Anixe. From their web site it's difficult to determine how high the resolution of their progammes is, but clearly it doesn't extend to their web site. On their front page, the signup for their newsletter is completely overwritten when displayed on a standard HDTV resolution of 1920x1080:


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We still have a long way to go with the web.


Tuesday, 25 November 2008 Dereel Images for 25 November 2008
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c't arrived this morning, once again in poor condition. This happens far too often, but only with c't. I wonder if they deliberately send their damaged copies overseas. Time to follow up.

More work in the garden. I've finally got over my lack of motivation and finished wiring up the hops—almost. It was very warm, and we hadn't watered for a while, so I thought it would be a good idea to wait until the hops were a bit more hydrated and the weather cooler before untangling them.

Also some more irrigation work—this new 4 mm dripper tube I bought is horrible. It's obviously designed for screw-in fittings like the one on the left:


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But most of my fittings have barbs (the other two fittings), and getting them into this particular tube is almost impossible. Today I heated the tube in boiling water without getting it soft enough, skinning my knuckles in the process of trying.

The thing that came out of the swamp

The kangaroos are back in force! They've severely damaged 3 rose bushes, an oak a Wisteria sinensis, ornamental Japanese cherry and maple, and even one of our Gazanias, one of the plants that I planted eight months ago, and which had been doing really well, not to mention some strawberries:


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Yvonne spent some time preparing some protection for them, but I think that we need to keep the electric fence on and maybe make it higher.


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Wednesday, 26 November 2008 Dereel Images for 26 November 2008
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CJ along this morning to continue with the never-ending saga of the verandah. Last week we had stopped early to allow the battens to straighten out. They didn't very much, and we decided that two of them were no longer usable, so we mounted three pieces of wood and CJ took the other two back to Ballarat for replacement. Somehow three pieces sounds almost like a typical number nowadays.

Finally finished the hops, which didn't take too long, and spent the rest of the day waiting for the promised rainfall, which didn't eventuate—the weather radar did show some relatively heavy rain between Warrnambool and Colac, however.


Thursday, 27 November 2008 Dereel Images for 27 November 2008
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CJ back this morning with new battens from Whiteheads—and the old ones too. At first I had thought that they had refused to take them back, but in fact they had refunded the money and asked if he couldn't find something to do with them. They're quite a good mob—that's not the first time they've done something like that.

Put up the two battens pretty quickly, but this time we had another reason not to continue: the next (and final) step was the roofing, but it was too windy. Instead put in a side member to hold some wire mesh for plants to climb up, and once again called it an early day.

The weather's been pretty terrible, though; now it's too hot, and it's still too dry. The Bureau of Meteorology has been promising rain for some days, accompanied by high winds. In fact, the temperature has just risen to the high 20s, and despite daily watering, some of the plants are looking decidedly unhappy. It looks like I'll need to do supplementary watering when the weather's like this. And it looks like we can forget hay for the second year running.

The bird in the garden shed has been sitting on her eggs for what seems to be an eternity. Today she wasn't there when I came in to take a photo, so I got a photo of the eggs instead, which aren't visible from the ground:


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It's strange that it's taking such a long time; are they dead?


Friday, 28 November 2008 Dereel Images for 28 November 2008
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The weather has changed significantly since yesterday: cool and almost windstill, just the weather we needed for putting the roofing on the verandah. Finally! Getting the sheets up on the roof wasn't an easy business, especially since the material is so flimsy, and we were seriously concerned that we might damage it. Finally got CJ's ute, still with the cradle from carrying the battens yesterday, and used it as a staging position.

Once we had it up there, there were further problems: the (specially designed) screws don't seem to fit the material. They're intended to go through the ridges in the corrugations, not the valleys. A short test in the valleys showed why: the screws impede the flow of water, and the holes allow the water to leak below. But putting them in the ridges distorts the sheeting, making it a real mess. Somehow the whole system doesn't work well, and I rather regret buying this material, which was also quite expensive. If I use polycarbonate next time, I think I'll use flat profiles.

Did a fair amount of the work myself, once I worked out how to use the tools:


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Still, by 13:00 we were done. Finally we have a verandah! Well, there are still things to do, such as the base boards and attaching some mesh for creepers, but we'll do that on Monday, weather permitting.

I had hoped that the electric fence would hold out the kangaroos, but it seems not to have been the case; they've eaten more of the gazanias and another strawberry. This is getting to be a real nuisance. The single gazania that I planted 6 months ago has become a large clump, and since it now has no flowers, decided to split it up and use it to replace the marigolds, which have grown far more than we had expected, and which Yvonne wants to get rid of.

Freecycling with FreeBSD

I've become a moderator of the local Freecycle group, which is hosted on YAHOO!®7GROUPS. They use a firefox plugin for moderation (“ I can't moderate without it:)”), though I'm not convinced that it adds any value. Still, tried installing it; the interesting thing is that it installed without any issues whatever beyond allowing a popup from the installing site. It also has a behomoth configuration screen that seems to work; a surprisingly positive deviation from my other experiences with firefox popups. But when I tried to run it, I got the message:

The Freecycle extension needs Java to work, but it is not installed or not working properly. Check the help Wiki for instructions on installing Java.

Java? Isn't that in the base system? Shouldn't it be installed with JDK? Did a bit of searching and discussion on IRC, and found a file /usr/local/lib/browser_plugins/libjavaplugin_oji.so, which corresponds to what other people have (in fact, it's a symlink, in this case to /usr/local/diablo-jdk1.6.0/jre/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so, though others had different file names). But others confirmed that they have an entry in firefox's undocumented pseudo-URL about:config (to which it refuses to link). So why don't I? Something to do with the strange mix of Linux and FreeBSD that we're forced to use? Spent some time scratching my head, with no resolution.

Credit card security, next experience

One of the consequences of ANZ bank's interpretation of Verified by VISA and its inability to maintain even minimal security is that I'm looking for a new credit card. By chance an offer came from American Express, a company with whom I have also had problems in the past. Still, the offer looked reasonable, so I applied, and a couple of days ago got a call saying that my application had been approved, and would I please confirm the spelling of the name on the card? That was a definite improvement: last time they had issued a card in the name GREG LENEY, and the last of my multiple complaints was answered by somebody claiming to be the top customer service manager in Australia—addressed to “Greg Leney”. On this occasion, the representative did ask for “identification”, the address which I specified in the application, but that didn't seem anything secret; just about anybody answering this phone would know the address. It certainly didn't compromise my security, so I was able to tell him the information—even compliment them on checking details before sending the cards. I wonder if they do this for everybody, or just for me because of prior history.

Today the cards arrived and required validation, either by phone or by the web. Chose the web and was offered the chance to register for online statements and other useless stuff. Tried that and was given the most restrictive password rules I've seen yet:

 
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The line through the middle of the text is the bottom of the box out of which it is overflowing (this on my medium-res 1920x1080 LCD display). So, assuming no more than 8 ASCII characters for a password, they're restricting the number of tries for a brute-force password guessing attack by about 99.97%. Why?

Next I tried some of my typical user names. You really wouldn't expect them to be taken, but:

 
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I was beginning to suspect that, despite their claims, they wanted a longer name or at least one digit. So I tried a really long name (12 letters) with no digits, and it worked. But why is it so common that these registration programs claim that names are already taken? I can't believe that it's really that common.

After that, I had to activate the card. What information did they need? The last 4 digits of my work phone number (which, as a retiree, I hadn't filled out), my address (again) and my date of birth. I put in the last 4 digits of my home phone number, and it worked. So: barely more security than Verified by VISA: to get my phone number you'd need to access the phone book, which also contains the address. About the only thing that can't be found on the web is the number of the credit card. But if somebody had gone through our letter box and stolen the card, that wouldn't be an issue.

We also got a card for Yvonne, which also needed activation, of course. As a dependent card, I had to enter my own phone number, again. But this time the results were different:

 
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Why? No idea. Maybe I mistyped something; but normally this kind of program will give you at least one retry. Called the service number (1 300 367 864), where I had to identify myself solely with the card number and the last four digits of the phone number, but nothing else, not even a date of birth. I did, however, have to choose a “password” (i.e. a PIN), but that was for further access, not for activation. And, without any further explanation, it was accepted. I wonder if the mistake in my previous attempt was an incorrect card number; that could have serious implications if they “locked” somebody else's card out of the system.

In summary, as I feared, the banks are all completely oblivious of security issues. O tempora, o mores!


Saturday, 29 November 2008 Dereel Images for 29 November 2008
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House photos again today. It's also time to take fewer photos every time. Gradually I'm getting the hang of relatively quick (and dirty) panorama generation:


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It's surprising how difficult it is to notice the discontinuity in the leftmost pillar.

In the afternoon to Mount Wallace to visit Len and Sue, the owners of the Peruvian stallion we visited on 1 June 2008; they had visitors from Canada (Alberta). A very lively discussion.

Finally Callum Gibson gave me the clue to getting “Java” working. I'm using Firefox 3, so of course it looks for its plugins in different places. In this case, my symbolic link had to be:

=== root@dereel (/dev/ttypk) ~ 71 -> ls -l /usr/local/lib/browser_plugins/
lrwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel  67 Oct 20 12:18 libjavaplugin_oji.so -> /usr/local/diablo-jdk1.6.0/jre/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so
=== root@dereel (/dev/ttypk) ~ 72 -> ln -s /usr/local/diablo-jdk1.6.0/jre/plugin/i386/ns7/libjavaplugin_oji.so /usr/local/lib/firefox3/plugins/

The real name of the plugin (the one to which the symlink points) depends on how it got installed. But is this another problem with firefox not understanding search paths, or is it breakage in the FreeBSD port? In either case, if I can't find this without help, what hope does a casual user? The port should really install all normally used plugins (including multimedia) by default, and possibly offer the option of removing them if they're not wanted.



Sunday, 30 November 2008 Dereel
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Another quiet day. Now that the verandah's finished, there's nothing all too pressing to do. I just need to do my tax returns (the last ever!), brew some beer, bake some bread, drive to Maffra to see my father and do a few other things I'd rather not think of right now.

Spent some time planting plants around the verandah, not too early—some of them were bought 3 months ago, and they were fighting their ways out of the pot.

Also yet another review of my article for “Beautiful Architectures”, which has been dragging on for over 6 months. This time the draft has (some) illustrations. Why do copy editors insist on changing words to non-existent ones? Tandem had a file system, which now seems to be called “file-system”. But the copy editors insist on calling it “filesystem”, a word that annoys even my spelling checker. What right do they have to change the spelling of a term determined decades ago?

Swamp or lagoon?

Chris along for dinner this evening, this time bringing it with her. She was mightily amused by a comment she had read in this diary referring to the lagoon next door as a “swamp”. For some reason, she thought I refused to use the term.

In fact, of course, it's neither a lagoon nor a swamp; it's a bit of dry land which might get a little boggy if we ever got some rain. But clearly the name “lagoon” was applied somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and that's the way we use it too. And clearly “the thing that came out of the lagoon” wouldn't have the same impact.


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