Category Archives: Regional

Region-specific concerns, politics, issues

Cheap passport photos using The Gimp and 10c printing

Australian Passport requirements are specified by Border Force.  The step that’s most avoidably expensive is the generation of compliant photographic representation of the individual (at $17-$20 per person).

The fun part is that the published instructions talk about “face size” (the skin-visible bit of your head, so from your hairline down to your chin) needs to be between 32mm and 36mm; to allow for the vagueries of conversion we’re going to shoot for exactly 34mm.  The passport application form talks about “chin to crown measurement” being in this range, and the bit where you stick the photo on implies that the chin-to-hairtop has to fit in the image; which one will be enforced is up to the interviewing officer and may lead you to tears.  I ended up taking two scaled images and let the officer choose.  The top we’ll measure to I’ll call “head top”.

Take your appropriately posed and positioned photograph. Don’t crop too aggressively: there’s plenty of pixels in modern photographs, and you can’t add “more person” if you got the ratios wrong.

Load the photo into the Gimp.

Find out how many pixels there are from the chin to headtop by picking Tools | Measure and measuring as close to vertically as you can between these two features. I got 1573 on my image.

Whip out your calculator and divide this by 68% (34mm face height/50mm image height), getting you the number of pixels high your image needs to be to make 50mm – 2313 in my case. The width is 80% (40mm image width/50mm image height) of this number – I get 1850.  Photographs nowadays typically use square pixels.

Now for the image we’re going to paste into. Standard photographs are 6″x4″, or about 152mm x 101mm – let’s call it 150×100. So select File | New, with a size double the height of the cutout, and a width of triple the height of the cutout – mine was 4626 x 6939.

Now we’ll put some guidelines on to help us place accurately. Select Image | Print Size... and put in 6″x4″ (Once you put in the 6″, the 4 should magically fill itself in). Pick View | Show Grid and View | Snap to Grid. Select Image | Configure Grid... and set up a 5mm x 5mm grid. There should be a lot of 5mm boxes on your image now.

Switch to your photograph.

Now check Windows | Dockable Dialogs | Tools Options has got a dialog up, and pick Tools | Selection Tools | Rectangular Select. On the options dialog (which may need resizing so you can see all the options), check Fixed and pick Size from the accompanying drop-down. Enter the dimensions you’ve calculated.

Now select your face, and copy it. Switch to the new image, and paste you image. Position it, and paste in your face. You ought to fit three across, and two down. Six passport photos for 10c! Yay!

Suppose you’re doing two different faces on the one photograph (or more!). Once you’ve gotten as far as doing the calculations for the second image (what are the chances you’ll get the same framing of the face?) and then copying the face, stop. Instead of pasting it into the printable image, pick Edit | Paste As | New Image. Pick Image | Scale Image, ensure Width and Height are locked with a chain symbol, then enter the Height of your original face (2313 in my case). If everything is going hunky-dory, the calculated width will match the new width in the dialog. Press the Scale button, Select | All, copy the image and paste it into your printable image, then position appropriately.

Now, to print out you’ll need a JPEG. Select File | Export, type in a filename ending in .jpg and you’re set. Take to your local Officeworks/Harvey Norman, and 10c later you’ve got your Australian passport photos.

Pointless choices

This seems to be common on store finder applications on the web: After entering the postcode, you’re asked to enter the suburb as well.

coles

It makes zero difference what you choose, because the suburbs aren’t huge. The Store Locator shows you stores within at least 5 kilometres, but the suburbs are much smaller than that.

In fact it’s worse in the case of the Coles Catalogue, because it ends up giving you a catalogue which is clearly marked “Vic Metro” – which applies to the entirety of scores of postcodes.

Is there anywhere in the country that has suburbs big enough that it would matter? I haven’t found any.

Making people make this choice is pointless. It’s just another barrier to them getting to your information.

myTax – pleasantly surprisingly pain-free

I’m sometimes wary of online services, especially those provided by government. (Heck, look at the Myki web site… it’s clunky and still looks like it was written last decade — which of course it was, and it’s never had more than a minor update.)

But having tried the Windows-based eTax for the first time last year (when the Australian Taxation Office pretty much forced everyone off the paper Tax Packs by not making them generally available), this year I tried out MyTax, which is the cut-down simplified web-based tax return system. It means I can avoid having to download and install eTax.

It has to be linked to a MyGov account, which is Big Brother’s logon system that includes (at your option) services provided by the ATO, Medicare, Centrelink and others.

MyGov

Signing up and submitting the tax return all seemed to go fairly smoothly, and the simplified design (it can’t handle more complex tax affairs) means the process of entering all the information is much quicker than using a Tax Pack or eTax.

A big criticism of eTax has been that it only works under Windows. Given MyTax is also cross-platform, I wonder how long it’ll be before it is enhanced and replaces eTax completely.

The only criticism I have with it is that once you’ve submitted, it says there’s only one chance to Save and/or Print what you’re submitting. That’s a bit weird. And it doesn’t actually allow you to Save, only to Print. I cheated and Saved by copy/pasting the HTML into Word, and saving that.

Summer 2014/2015 starts

Saturday 18 October             Max 26    Partly cloudy.
Sunday 19 October     Min 17    Max 29    Afternoon cool change.
Monday 20 October     Min 12    Max 23    Mostly sunny.
Tuesday 21 October    Min 10    Max 28    Sunny.
Wednesday 22 October  Min 16    Max 31    Possible shower.
Thursday 23 October   Min 15    Max 20    Possible shower.
Friday 24 October     Min 13    Max 22    Cloudy.

Winter 2014 ends

I’ve tried to use the same technique to determine winter the same way I do summer; I decided back in June that winter started. And in August, it’s over.

Tuesday   19 August Max 15 Possible light shower.
Wednesday 20 August Min 7 Max 15 Cloudy.
Thursday  21 August Min 5 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Friday    22 August Min 6 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Saturday  23 August Min 7 Max 19 Mostly sunny.
Sunday    24 August Min 8 Max 18 Mostly sunny.
Monday    25 August Min 6 Max 18 Mostly sunny.

A couple of days later the forecast was extended out to

Tuesday   26 August  Min 8 Max 19 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 27 August  Min 9 Max 21 Mostly sunny.

Winter 2014 starts

So I’m trying to declare Winter. I’m going to try something like Summer, but with a 16 degree ceiling, which we just hit here in Melbourne.

Monday    16 June             Max 16    Rain at times, easing.
Tuesday   17 June    Min 10   Max 16    Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 18 June    Min 8    Max 16    Mostly cloudy.
Thursday  19 June    Min 8    Max 16    Partly cloudy.
Friday    20 June    Min 10   Max 15    Shower or two developing.
Saturday  21 June    Min 9    Max 15    Morning shower or two.
Sunday    22 June    Min 9    Max 16    Partly cloudy.

I also offer the observation that you know it’s Winter when it doesn’t feel cold anymore.

Note: The 15 degree ceiling was hit on Friday 4 July 2014, 14 degree on Wednesday 9 July..

Summer 2014 ends

Four days before the start of Winter, I’ve declared the end (our second) Summer:

Wednesday 28 May              Max 18    Shower or two.
Thursday  29 May    Min 10    Max 19    Partly cloudy.
Friday    30 May    Min 10    Max 19    Partly cloudy.
Saturday  31 May    Min 10    Max 19    A little rain developing.
Sunday     1 June   Min 10    Max 17    A few showers.
Monday     2 June   Min 12    Max 17    Shower or two.
Tuesday    3 June   Min 10    Max 18    Morning shower or two.

Summer 2014 starts

Given recent events pointed out by DavidC, I declare Summer 2014 has started. Our traditional, mid-year Summer.

Wednesday 14 May    Min 10    Max 21    Mostly sunny.
Thursday  15 May    Min 13    Max 22    Partly cloudy.
Friday    16 May    Min 14    Max 22    Mostly sunny.
Saturday  17 May    Min 13    Max 22    Mostly sunny.
Sunday    18 May    Min 12    Max 21    Partly cloudy.
Monday    19 May    Min 12    Max 21    Sunny.
Tuesday   20 May    Min 14    Max 21    Partly cloudy.

Good thing you guys voted in that Abbott government.

The upside of climate change is that I get to paint the house this week. Two weeks before the start of Winter.

Summer 2013/2014 ends

The seven-day forecast for Melbourne makes today the last day of Summer:

Wednesday                    Max 16    Showers mainly this morning.
Thursday  1 May    Min 7     Max 18    Partly cloudy.
Friday    2 May    Min 11    Max 15    Rain at times.
Saturday  3 May    Min 8     Max 14    Shower or two.
Sunday    4 May    Min 10    Max 15    Shower or two.
Monday    5 May    Min 11    Max 16    Shower or two.
Tuesday   6 May    Min 10    Max 15    Mostly dry.

Of course, Summer persists while any temperature in a week is 20 degrees or above.

The Age: subscriber problems

Recently The Age has been hassling me when I get to 30 articles/month. But I’m already a subscriber!

I suspect their code is buggy. Not hard to see how it might be trouble-prone when you see how many Cookies there are: no less than 92.

The Age/Fairfax cookies

Clearing them made the problem go away… for a little while, at least. (Isn’t that how freeloaders fool it?)

Not sure if that’s a permanent solution though. And as a paying customer, it’s very annoying.

ANZ: The rodeo clowns of online security

For years now I’ve been… less than impressed with the ANZ bank’s concept of how a secure banking website should work. Finally they’ve taken steps to harden their site. They’ve introduced “secret questions”, like “who was your best friend in high school”, “what’s your partner’s nickname” and “what’s your nickname for your youngest child”. At last, my money is now safe from thieves who will never guess that my my partner’s nickname is Cathy, my best friend in High School was Robert, and my youngest’s nickname is Marky. Oh, darn! I accidentally disclosed the answers to those secret questions! It’s as if that information would be widely available to any thief who took the time to look me up on Facebook (don’t bother, I’m not on Facebook).

Because in providing answers to these questions the security on my account was going up, not down, I couldn’t possibly be allowed to opt-out, with dire warnings about being liable for losses if someone found out the answers. To these most basic of questions.

Most other banks have implemented two-factor authentication. Even G-mail has two-factor authentication. But not the ANZ, they’ve stepped things up a notch. They’ve eschewed two-factor, and gone for “You’ll never guess the name of my pet, which I post on Facebook all day long”.

So I took my standard defensive action: attack surface reduction and target-value minimisation. To reduce the attack surface, for each answer I mashed the keyboard – so thieves, remember my first Primary School was in the suburb of pwofkmvosffslkdflsifcmmsmclsefscdsfpsdfpefsdflsd, or something. To minimise the value of the target, I swept all the funds out of the account. What’s wrong the the technique of establishing identity by the production and examination of 100 points of identifying documents?  Why do I need to have a favourite colour?

Cathy worked for the ANZ until recently, and the day she received her final paypacket she shut the account. Hated their account with a passion, but the ANZ is incapable of paying their employees through anything other than an ANZ account. Because, you know, banking is hard.