Sunday, February 15, 2015

ENIAC and I ...

You may recall that a few years back Margo bought herself a little Samsung N150 netbook, the "Wave of the Future!" or whatever: an admittedly pretty, but horribly under-powered thing imminently destined to be made redundant by tablets (the "New Future of Computing!") and full-fat phones with 10" screens or whatever. (So pretty, in fact, that I think it's only since it got tossed into the pile of "junk we might as well bring with us anyway, it might come in useful some day" that the protective plastic film came off it.)

(Incidentally, she just got herself an HTC Desire, which I personally find so bloody huge as to be unusable. I mean, whatever happened to the days when you could get a phone that would slip comfortably into your hip pocket, without fear of snapping it in two if you bent over, and which you needed to charge once a week if you talked a lot?

I sometimes feel that we've regressed somewhat, back to the time when your "portable" phone and associated battery pack was the size of a small sewing machine. Also, I feel a right dick holding up what feels like an A5 notepad to my ear ... but I digress.

While I'm digressing, we had a friend who'd kitted himself out with one of the first car phones, all those years ago. Good thing he had a Range Rover: he didn't really need a trailer for the batteries. Although it was a tight fit for two in the back.)

Anyway, despite the fact that Jeremy was not allowed within a five-metre distance of the thing, one day the screen did a Tennyson and crack'd from side to side anyway and it got slung into a box and came down here with us to The Shamblings™ where it led a quiet life in the dark until recently, when I had occasion to take one of my laptops - one of the pair with self-destructing disk drives - in to the local computer shop at Lézignan to have the fan looked at (for the CPU was getting up to 80°, which would be handy if I wished to fry eggs but is a bit hot for a computer) and thought I might as well take it in as well to see if they couldn't replace the screen.

The guy looked at it dubiously, and did the sucking of the teeth and the sighing of gloom, but promised to see what he could do ...

One week and 95€ later she was back, which was very convenient because Margo would rather like to have her laptop more or less permanently up in her office but still have something downstairs to browse the web of a morning (I told you, The Daily Fail and suchlike over her morning coffee) and that we could plug in to the big 27" Viewsonic monitor in the evenings for a gross-out session of Hawaii Five-O or whatever. So as I had at some point zapped the installed version of Windows 7 Starter Edition (have I ever mentioned that you just don't seem to get the installation DVDs these days?) I "just" had to download some version of Linux to get her fit for purpose.

That turned out to take a bit longer than I'd expected. I read up a bit on it, in between checking up on security bulletins to see if I needed to rebuild a kernel for Cla-Val to block some gaping security hole in their gear, and thought I'd try Mint with Cinnamon, which everyone agreed was a nice, lightweight system suitable for installation on a gruntless processor ...

Downloaded that, made a bootable thumb drive with it, installed it: so far so good, it worked. It even latched onto the WiFi here without my even asking: this was promising. Then I plugged it into the Viewsonic. OK, then I had to go into the system setup, ask it to check for a second screen - she found it, and up it came in glorious 64-colour 800x600 resolution. But it worked.

"Fear not!" I thought, "I have but to diddle with the parameters, and all will be well, and we shall be able to watch 'Death In Paradise' tonight" ... sad to say, it was not to be. I set the screen resolution to the native full-colour, 1920x1080, and lo! it changed - and then, 30 seconds later, reverted. I finally worked out that it was displaying a dialog box asking me to confirm the changes and that this dialog box was being displayed on the built-in screen at a location suitable for a 1920x1080 screen, which sadly made it invisible.

Eventually I also worked out the keyboard shortcuts required to confirm an invisible dialog box (in this particular case, hit "Alt" twice to get its attention, then "Tab" three times, then the "Enter" key on the numeric keypad - if you're interested) and did so, and it did indeed work. Sort of.

Because for some reason, running the external monitor at full resolution slowed things down to the point where you'd click on an icon, or on a button in a dialog box, and three minutes later something would happen. This is not what I would personally call a reasonable response time, so it was back to the drawing board.

I happen to like Fedora - mainly because for me, it just worked - so I thought I'd give that a whirl. Download, make another bootable thumb drive, install ... first thing you cannot help but notice is that the install screens just do not work on the small screen of a netbook. Trying to select the keyboard layout, for instance, causes a popup list to appear with the various layouts in it: unfortunately, only half of that list is visible, but the scroll bar seems to have a mind of its own and reckons stubbornly that what you see is what you've got so it does nothing. All you can do is bang hopelessly on the down arrow key - which will change the selected line but will, crucially, not bring it into view - and press "Enter" when you feel it's more or less in the right place.

After a couple of goes I got it to recognise the timezone as Paris and - I thought - the keyboard as French, and let it carry on installing: it chundered on for a while, cheerily told me that installation was complete, and would I please reboot. So I did, and it asked me to log on, and as I hadn't created a user I just tried to log on as root with the password I'd supplied ... after the third fruitless attempt I actually noticed that the date and time were displayed in Magyar, and that this probably did not bode well for the keyboard layout.

I had also downloaded Mint with Mate, and at that point I'd nothing to lose by trying that (I mean, apart from an hour's time faffing about, but I'll bill that to someone, one way or another) so I made yet another bloody thumb drive and let it install and - without, I must admit, too much optimism - took it downstairs.

Oddly enough I had to tell it to connect to the WiFi but - to my stunned-mullet surprise - when I plugged in the monitor it came up, straight away, native resolution and no noticeable delays. Not more than you'd expect from an Atom processor. The only tweak I had to make was setting the external display to be on the left side, because that's how it physically is and I see no point in straining my brain more than necessary.

Strange, but true. Go figure. Now I just have to work out why it is that the Adobe Flash player dies regularly, for that does little for the viewing experience. (Alright, I know, it dies because it is, in fact, Adobe Flash player and therefore a piece of shit. But still ...)

I know I said something at some point about how, sometime soon, the almonds would blossom and then, eventually, the wild plums (not feral prunes) would follow: got it wrong. Under normal circumstances this is indeed what happens but as it happens this year the plums are out first, enjolivating the roadside.

And incidentally, I could not but notice at the market that the first Spanish strawberries of the year have made their appearance. I shan't be buying any: I am not really one of those who abjure and abstain from any fruit that is not in season and grown locally, nor do I knit my own yurt out of farm-sourced sustainable yoghurt, but I must admit that I do like my fruit to have a bit of flavour.

And although every year it's the same thing - hope springing eternal wrestles bitter experience to the ground - I hope I shall be able to resist for just a little bit longer. At least until they start to smell, at which point I will be unable to hold out. (Do they, I wonder, make aerosols with strawberry smell in them, like they do ones with "new car" aroma? Bound to be a market out there.)

Forewarned, they say, is forearmed: I shall thus let you know now that Jeremy is headed off to NooZild on or about March 12th, for an indefinite stay. We must head up at the end of the month to remove him and all other superfluous junk from his apartment before he hands the keys over: then we come back down here with the junk and enjoy the pleasure of his company for a week or so before tearfully decanting him onto the TGV, hoping that he will not manage to miss the flight out of Charles de Gaulle.

If you need another reason to avoid Christchurch, that's where he's heading. Just saying.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Where The Huskies Go ...

One of Margo's more unpleasant habits involves reading The Daily Fail and other journals of that ilk over her breakfast. I don't know how she does it, I'd be spewing coffee all over my keyboard ... be that as it may, she was perusing the august HTML of Metro this morning, and felt obliged to point out to me the headline reading "Woman Finds Jesus in Bird Poop". More than that, I did not care to ask, so I cannot tell you whether it was just a portrait or an actual figurine. (Because I prefer not to believe that anyone could have a revelation contemplating sparrow-shit.)

In other news, you may recall that we fled Savoie to find decent weather. It was, then, somewhat to our disgust that around 10am unmistakeable snow started falling from the sky, blocking the busy streets of Moux. OK, there I might exaggerate a tiny bit, but there was actual snow, actually falling and momentarily whitening our terrace, and I have enclosed a photograph or two for your viewing pleasure.

And EBK has just come in: he is not a happy kitton. He's never met snow before, and quite frankly I think he could have done without the experience.

For your edification, an article on toad erections: the irresponsible practice of toad licking, reportedly popular among the more time-rich Australian youngsters. Don't say I never do anything for you.

Just saying, but should you happen to be a Bear of Little Brain, and it comes into your head to have a Bright Idea - such as it might be sticking the tepid bottle of crémant du Loire that your dinner guest has brought round into the freezer "just for half an hour" before sitting down to eat and, what with one thing and another, and there's quite enough to drink here at The Shamblings™ anyway, forgetting about it - well, let me just ask you to consider the possibility that you might be mistaken.

On the bright side, the freezer compartment needed defrosting anyway, although I suppose I could have just scraped it out and served the contents as (mostly) champagne sorbet ... it was also the occasion to rediscover tubs of ice-cream and all sorts of other stuff lurking at the back. I'm pretty sure that normal people do not freeze over-ripe bananas.

We've had the electricians in all last week, re-routing the phone line so that it actually winds up in my office, and stringing cables all over the place on the first floor so that Cédric can finish putting up the gib-board on the walls and ceilings. The idea is that the two top floors are completely rewired, with their own distribution board, so at least part of the house will be "conforme aux normes", as they say.

Of course, it would have to have been the coldest day of the year when they had to cut the electricity in the place, which incidentally means that the central heating was off. And it was after they'd left on Tuesday night that we discovered that they'd cut the phone line (OK, no blame, they could hardly have known that it actually arrives in what used to be our bedroom, they thought it was an extension) which meant no phone and so no internet and so no TV.

We had to spend an evening in one another's company. What, in heaven's name, did people do of an evening, back in the days before Al Gore invented the innatoobz? Play Scrabble? No wonder there was so much domestic violence.

Whatever, as I was making my rounds at the market the other day I was pleasantly surprised to come across some bigarade, better known perhaps as the bitter Seville orange. I can see that the immediate future is going to involve a bit of time spent at the stove, making marmelade. I still have fond memories of Keiller's Dundee marmelade with navy rum, although I don't know where I'd be able to get some of that. I suppose that I shall have to content myself with a shot of Grand Marnier.

Also, why in hell should Dundee, Scotland, become a centre of the marmelade-making trade? It's not as though bitter oranges grow on trees, not up there anyway. (Although apparently around here, they do. The season is short - I shall take advantage of it. And if ever I happen to find bergamot as well, I shall be extremely happy.)

It is supposed to be warming up next week: I for one will be extremely pleased if this turns out to be the case. Whatever, the days are getting longer and soon the almonds will be blossoming, then the pruniers sauvages will burst out in white and rather startling pink.

Oh, we still have a few months of chilly winds to look forward to but that's just one of those things, and it certainly makes you appreciate the central heating, and a decent (and copious) hot meal. Anyway, mind how you go, now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Things That Piss Me Off ...

I tend to rather go on about it I know, but I really do wish that people would not rely on their high-school children or Google Translate to do an English version of the restaurant menu. All along the Mediterranean coast you can find the local version of bouillabaisse au rouille, vociferously claimed as their own by Nice and Marseilles: the rouille in question being a fiery concoction of hot red peppers mashed with olive oil in a pestle. Calling it "fish soup with rust" does not really do it justice.

Also, a côte de boeuf flambé au cognac should not, in my opinion, come out as "steak with outbreaks". Outbreaks of what exactly is unclear to me, possibly herpes but could be worse - whatever, it seems unlikely to incite the punters to try one.

In a dyspeptic aside (mood not helped by having a bad cold for the first time in a couple of years) some of you have asked what the mood is in France after the Paris killings. I have to admit that I've never really liked Charlie Hebdo: I can handle satire but theirs was resolutely stuck in the 18th century scatological mode. So no, I'm not going to go out and buy a copy of the latest issue: to turn that apocryphal quote on its head, "just because I defend to the death your right to say something doesn't mean I have to agree with it".

Yeah, the plan Vigipirate is at code infrared and I guess that in Paris there's a squad of soldiers in every Métro station: around here it's a little more laid back, although when the other day Margo got stopped at a police checkpoint (no she hadn't done anything, just random stops) one came up to check her papers and the other two stood back with submachine guns cocked and pointed ...

Possibly the worst bit is, as one of the French online satirical journals (, recommended) pointed out, "the enormous piles of hypocrisy confronting the Paris street cleaners all along the path of the march". Thousands march and millions buy a copy of Charlie Hebdo to support free speech: then the French arrest Dieudonné for cracking what could be considered an offensive joke and that upper class twit David Cameron wants to ensure that all communications are decryptable. What a laugh.

And of course the Turkish prime minister was there, marching to show support for free speech. And without even having a hernia or whatever it is that cognitive dissonance results in, back in Turkey he can say - with a straight face - "freedom of expression ... does not grant anybody the right to insult another’s beliefs ... In this country, we don’t allow insults to the Prophet".

I see his point, of course: free speech is a privilege that is not to be abused - by actually using it, for instance.

And another thing: when Linus Torvalds arose from the toilet one day many years ago, having locked himself in for four days whilst he wrote down the original source code for Linux (the dog later managed to play with the third toilet-roll, which may explain why the signal handling code is kinda crap and missing a few bits) he was doubtless a happy man.

I have no problem with that. Where I have a problem is when I wish to auto-instrument my code, so that ever - gods forbid - something like a divide-by-zero should occur, I can log this fact, and the address of the offending code.  This should be clean, and simple. Sadly, it is not. But after only two days on the toilet, reading kernel source and stack dumps, I have managed to do it. This should make me happy, but somehow there is festering resentment that I have to dig into non-documented holes in the code and then kludge the magic number 143 in to my routines.

Maybe I should try to become a more forgiving person, and perhaps drink more.

Don't know about you, but I keep having problems with Google Maps. "How can this be?" you cry, astounded. "Why, it is so simple that, unlike a VCR" (remember those?) "you do not even need a twelve-year old child to operate it!". True enough, but that is not my problem: it is just that it is either operating in some parallel universe (one of those squished butterfly wrong trouser-leg of Time things) or in some temporal zone which is not entirely contiguous with the one I happen to inhabit.

In a number of cases, having the occasion to head off to a garage or shop or whatever, the Great Google finds the place no problem, gives directions and off I head, only to find when I arrive in the middle of a deserted building site that the place I'm looking for was last seen in that vicinity some five years ago. In others, I get there to discover that it will be there, but not for another six months. It's the latter one that worries me some.

Recent excitement in our lives includes Margo vomiting, and Indra doing the same. Both our dogs are "normal", insofar as that word can be applied, and so the highlight of their daily walks is finding something repulsive under a toad - like a toad-stool (only actually poisonous if the toad's eaten something nasty) - and scarfing it down. Shaun, as befits his stolid, phlegmatic disposition, has a cast-iron constitution and bowels to match: sadly Indra, being a lady, is more delicate.

At least I now know the origin of the expression "sick as a dog" (incidentally, and exceptionnellement, it is identique in Frog-speak - "malade comme un chien"), and I can also say, as one will under the circumstances, "if you're going to eat mummified cat-shit, live with the consequences." Sadly it was we that really had to live with the consequences, because quite honestly she could care more about living in a pool of yellow lumpy barf.

Off to the vet who said something along the lines of "Wow! That must have been really bad cat-shit!" and gave a prescription for no food or water for a bit: Indra is not happy with this. I thought I'd been clever putting the water bowl up on the table, out of reach: turns out that it is not inaccessible to a gracile dog with a long neck.

As for Margo, she woke up in agony and proceeded to vomit everywhere, which occasioned a quick trip to the quack and then off to A&E at the Narbonne clinique. I suspect that A&E is the same everywhere on the planet: if they had one in the middle of the jungle in Papua you'd still have to sit for an hour on a chair made of skulls and sharpened bamboo whilst they registered you in the system before trotting off to the other end of the jungle to see a specialist for a scan. He too has a room-full of impatients.

Once that's done you just grab a convenient liana vine and swing back across the crocodile-infested river to get back to the waiting room where, if you're lucky, only an hour or so more will pass before some professional-looking person picks up your folder and wanders off with it ... then an ambulance comes in with a cargo of people who are really unlucky, so you go back to reading Gala. Which is, for some strange reason, the only reading matter available. My brain is starting to go green and drippy at the edges.

Whatever, the MRI scan (why one of those? Guess if you have a machine that goes "ping!" you want to get as much out of it as you can) confirmed the quack's diagnosis, which was that a kidney stone was making its way down. So she finally got a morphine drip to help deal with the pain, they decided to keep her in overnight until the thing hit the porcelain, and being of no immediate use I headed back home to deal with the hairy retards.

Just saying, but as I was idly toying with ideas for dinner it came to my attention that the estimable Mr Lebovitz (whom god preserve) had published this. I am not saying that you have to go and make it, just that you should give the idea serious consideration. As luck would have it there was a tub of cream cheese in the fridge rapidly approaching its use-by date, Margo had left the dregs of a jar of confiture de lait in there, and I managed to scavenge enough speculoos biscuits to make a smaller version, which turned out to be just the right size for two.

And then, last weekend we headed off, found, and ordered some 20m² of hideously expensive Italian tiles to go on the floor of the landing/corridor up in our apartment, and in a couple of the bathrooms on the first floor. I asked Cédric if he wouldn't mind picking them up from Montredon, but was kind of surprised when he dinged the bell this afternoon with a small palette on the back of his shiny new truck.

Twenty square metres of tiles comes to 13 cartons, each of eight tiles: each tile weighs in at about 3.5kg (yeah, I weighed a couple, just to see) which means that I have just shifted 400kg up 10 metres. Also, each carton weighs about 30kg. I weigh (without boots) around 65kg so there are plenty of people around who weigh 30kg more than me, and they seem to have no trouble shifting all that weight around. Me, I don't know how they manage it.

Finally, Provence is showing its ugly side, the one they don't talk about in the tourist brochures. The one where the sky is low and leaden, the cold lazy wind goes straight through you rather than taking the trouble to go around, and spiteful rain stings your face. At least we've not had the snow that has fallen abundantly in the Pyrenées and the Alps, and the central heating is still working nicely, thanks very much. Enjoy your summer, and the barbecues. Be our turn soon enough.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where's Bloody Hemingway When You Need Him ...

It's in Pamplona, if memory serves, where they run the bulls through the streets and the bloated old hack duly described the action in screeds of turgid prose. In Moux they seem to run sheep, which does have the advantage of pretty much ensuring that no-one gets gored to death during the spectacle. Also, after they've passed the more enterprising of the neighbourhood brats can always collect the detritus and hock it off as prime olives to unwary tourists.

A fact of interest which inexplicably failed to make it into "The Sun Also Rises". Or, "The Boat Also Sinks", whatever, who cares? Not one of my all-time favourite authors, I must admit.

About a year back now we found ourselves at Montpellier where there was a big patchwork salon - need you ask - and to my pleasure they had a small section devoted to food and therein a stand with all sorts of herbs and spices, to which I naturally gravitated. I don't recall doing it but I apparently filled out my name and address on an envelope after I'd bought a tube of powdered vanilla and various curries, for a couple of weeks ago it arrived in the mail, containing an invitation to this year's event.

I will do a lot of things to avoid working, so off we headed. And I picked up some green curry, some Madras and Bombay, some white pepper from Cameroon, five-spice powder ('cos I chucked the jar I'd had, on the grounds that it was way too old), more smoked paprika, sumac, curcuma and tandoori, and a few other bits and pieces. And I filled out another envelope, so I guess that in a year's time we'll be going back ...

If your GPS is not, like ours, totally dysfunctional and psychopathic to boot, it's an easy job to get from there to IKEA which is, let's face it, just across the autoroute: it took us a bit longer. But we made it there, and exited eventually with only a few things - a lamp and a rug for my office, some baking tins - for they carry ring and pie moulds with removeable bases - and of course some pepparkaka which is not peppery poo but gingerbread biscuits. In case you were wondering.

Also some small jars for spices 'cos I've had it up to here with a plastic tub full of small tie-closed bags that I never seem to bother looking in or I'd have seen that I already have a ginormous stash of juniper berries (and some rather inferior curry, which might be heading for the rubbish bin or if I really fancy a joke I suppose I could leave it on the edge of the dining-room table with Indra alone in there and see what happens).

Truth to tell I still have the plastic tub because there are things in there like poppy seeds and sesame seeds and the packet of badiane that I really don't have anywhere else to put, but at least it's out of the way and I know where they are. And damn!, I forgot to get another pepper grinder for that white pepper.

In the same shopping centre there is "Du Bruit Dans La Cuisine", which sells stuff - such as my big KitchenAid stand mixer - and I could hardly leave there without the pasta-making attachment, now could I? So I guess that we'll be eating a bit of fresh home-made pasta for a while, until the novelty wears off and we are totally sated with tagliatelle and lasagna.

Oh, I also - finally - got one of those handy little lighters for gas stoves, something that has become necessary these days if you do not have the good luck to own an oven with an electric ignition system. I used to use matches, but these days they've carried the "safe" in "safety matches" to ridiculous extremes. Matches are now inherently safe by design: the only way you can get one to light is by soaking it in petrol and setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter. Which kind of obviates the point.

Now might be the time to tell you about the Rossini-burger, which is both delicious and relatively simple. (Also, only slightly adapted and improved from the admittedly inferior version they serve at Le Bureau, in Chambéry.) You start off by making paillassons - so-called because they look like a straw mat - which, when cooked, you will stick in the oven to keep warm and crispy. (Because you have the oven on to cook dessert anyway, and also microwaving them would be a crime.)

Personally I grate the potatoes onto a (cleanish) tea-towel, which makes it much easier to squeeze all the water you can out of them, and I like to add salt, chives and a few spoons of corn flour (which is flour made out of corn, much finer than polenta, and not corn-starch, please). Some people like to stir in an egg at this point, arguing that this makes the things stay together better when you fry them: others remark disdainfully that if they don't stay together anyway you're not doing it right probably because the fat's not hot enough, and in any case if you want a soggy potato omelette just say so.

Whatever, stick mounds of the mix into a frying pan with hot duck fat and spread out with a fork into rounds about 1cm thick and 8cm in diameter: fry until crispy and cooked through before putting into the oven.

At this point get a green salad ready and make some sauce Aurore, which is nowt more than a Béarnaise with a college education and a bit of tomato concentrate whisked in, so that's all ready for the next step ... which is to fry some onion rings and as many 1cm-thick slices of fillet of beef as you happen to have people to eat them. In duck fat, again, and on high, if you please.

When the steak's cooked to your liking - which should not involve turning it into shoe leather - assemble everything: a slice of fillet atop each paillasson, each topped with a slice of foie gras, and a good glop of the sauce on top of that. Serve them up with the fried onions, which should be soft and golden if you got it right, heaped around, and enjoy.

More on search terms: if you look for "titsup + holidays" on Microsoft Bing! you will find this site in the results. Sadly, sandwiched between "holiday porn" and "amateur big-titted wife on holiday". I find this rather sad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes ...

Stupid EBK is NOT a sewing machine
... which can only mean it's time to look at the Great Google's stats again.

"but there is smell on it". What the hell kind of search request is that, and why, why oh Lord, should it end up here? From Ukraine? Don't they have better things to do, like a war going on? It's all going titsup, I tell you. Used to get all sorts of things arriving here - mostly, I admit, concerning sex or thread-worms - and now we've come to this: my audience is a war zone that's obsessed by nasal hygiene.

I sincerely hope you all spent a pleasant New Year's day: personally, I shifted my office. I swear that this is the last time evah that I knock down my workstation desk and re-erect the damn thing: it weighs half a tonne and is actively hostile to having screws stuck into its various holes. Whatever, it is done, and what is supposed to be the dinning room on the ground floor here at The Shamblings™ is all of a sudden much emptier than it was.

Before anyone complains, a "dinning room" is one in which much noise is made, such as a child's bedroom when it is being whipped to sleep (that would be the child, not the room, that was being whipped) or - for instance - a dining room in which the quantities served are of a perceived insufficience.

Or, for another instance, one in which dessert has been accompanied by an excess of alcohol such as it might be armagnac or maybe whisky, just saying, and under these circumstances Certain Persons - looking at you, Richard - might raise their voices and maybe even beat the table with their palms to emphasize the elocutionary point they have just so triumphantly and so decisively made, if only it could be remembered just what the point was.

Whatever, there are many ways I like to spend my time. In a hammock, on the terrace, under the sun with a never-empty glass of white wine, would have to be a favourite. I do not even require grapes, nor someone to peel them and feed them to me: I am a simple man, with simple tastes. Although more lurid, not to say lubricious, fantasies may be recounted on request, at an entirely reasonable cost.

But one way I really do not want to spend my day (or more likely days, by the time this is done) is recovering two machines from catastrophic failure.

A while back, in 2013, I bought two identical Samsung laptops, one of which I cruelly left under Windoze 8, and the other got Linux installed on it. So far so good, until just before Christmas the Linux system started warning me of drive failure ...

At which point I made a fresh copy of all my data thereon and stuck that onto the other Linux machine (a beastly-big Asus which is more of a transportable than anything else, given its weight, although back in the day we'd have sneered at anything that weighed less than 15 kg and looked smaller than a sewing machine) and then it came to me that I'd perhaps better occupy myself with the Windows machine.

Parenthetical aside: another thing that pisses me off is that I am wearing jeans that I bought a while back, when I was depressed and put on weight. They are now way too big (as in, an inch or so) and I have no hips to speak of, nor am I the happy owner of a belt. I cannot walk too far without having my jeans hanging at half-mast somewhere in the general vicinity of my knees. NOT GOOD!

And any smartarse who says "just go buy new jeans that fit" is banned. You try buying jeans with an honest 28" waist. Go on, I'll wait. Got some? Post them over, I'll owe you.

(Having said that, 'tis la saison des soldes right now, the after-Christmas sales where the shops try to flog off all the stuff left over from 2014 - and although the French say that they're cutting back on the spending you'd be amazed at the number of huge flat-screen TVs flying off the shelves in the supermarkets - and in the shopping mall on the northern side of Carcassonne we stumbled upon a Celio which had vast numbers of size 36 jeans with a 30 leg ie a 72cm waist and just my size. True, the waist-band is only a shade north of my crotch, but I can live with that. I'm told it's fashionable. I'll just try not to go to discos too often.)

End of aside: at this point I discover that the hard drives installed in both machines are, it seems, prone to failure. I mean, I have hard drives that are ten years old and still running happily: what kind of crap manufacturers produce drives that last 18 months and then drop dead? (Answer: Seagate/Samsung. From the time when Samsung sold their hard drive fabs to Seagate. That's another brand I won't be buying in a hurry.)

The data is all backed up on the cloudy thing, and much of it on various hard disks: it now comes to mind that data on the cloud is fuck-all use if you don't have a functioning machine with the appropriate programs installed to retrieve it. Also, I have a metric fuck-tonne of programs installed, which I really do not want to have to go through and install again.

Without speaking of bloody Windows itself because, as is standard these days, you no longer get a physical installation DVD with your machine - "oh no that's alright, it's all on a protected recovery partition on your machine, it's OK". My arse, when your recovery partition goes titsup too.

Yeah I know, long ago I should have used the unreachable and sadly indescribably vile Windows tools to create a system backup: had I actually tried that under Windows 8.0 it might well have been possible but, sadly, unusable under Windows 8.1 - and now I find that I can't do it anyway because of REASONS and right now, with a failing hard drive, is not really the time to be playing around with your partition tables. Believe me. Take a break now.

Also, I got some kumquats at the market this morning. They looked so pretty. I rather think that they will soon end up as this - especially as I still have lemons on my lemon tree. (Note: kumquats are mostly seeds. Lots of pectin no doubt, but it takes a while to slice and seed the little buggers.)

Another recipe from Mr Lebovitz which I personally loved but which Margo found way too chocolatey for her taste involved a very short sweet pastry (like, forget about rolling it, press it into the dish with your hands) made by creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg, and then beating in half and half flour and cocoa powder: I do love my stand mixer.

Stick the crust in the freezer for an hour or so to firm it up before baking blind, then spread it with most of a pot of dulce de leche (aka confiture de lait, or milk jam), cover that with a chocolate custard and bake. A pie dish with a removable base comes in very handy here: I really must buy some more, all mine are about thirty years old. And what little confiture de lait is left over will, in my experience, disappear rather rapidly, with some help from a teaspoon to get into the awkward corners of the jar. (If you're polite.)

Break over. Do you know, much to my surprise recovering the Windows machine was no trouble at all? With the Linux system I had to chant and dance a bit, and boot from the installation CD to set up the grub parameters so that it actually saw everything, but with the Windows one I just restored the cloned image and rebooted (OK, I did have to refiddle with the BIOS parameters to make that work) and found myself with my familiar desktop.

That struck me as kind of odd, given that CloneZilla is a Linux tool, and I would've expected it to have handled Linux systems better than Windows ones ... this turns out to be not necessarily the case.

Whatever, thank you, CloneZilla: you have made me a happy man. And, incidentally, saved me one hell of a lot of time. It is not the sort of tool you ever really want to use, because if you need it you are in the shit, but if you have to use it you are very glad it works.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ask Not At Whom The Finger Points ...

... it points at that other bugger, hiding over there behind the aspidistra.

As you may have heard there was - as there is wont to be, in the Alps, in the winter - a rather massive snow dump in Savoie just after Christmas, which royally screwed up traffic and left 15,000 people trapped in their cars en route to the ski stations. This is obviously unacceptable, and so now the Snarky Finger of Blame is being pointed in all directions.

One ex-minister seems to have pointed it in the right direction, saying, more or less, "if the French, being warned that heavy snow is likely in the Alps, choose to head off to ski with neither snow tires nor chains and totally unequipped for the conditions, just what the fuck can you do?" Fair point.

Down here we is not worried by such things as the sky is bright and blue: true, the thermometer is down to about 5° and the wind-chill factor takes that down to -10°, and 100+ kph winds are expected soon enough, but do we care? Yes, actually, because it means muffling yourself up like Peary just to take the retards out for a piddle.

Here is our Gristlemouse tree. It is not happy, what with being from mother's womb untimely rip't etcetera. As you can see we still have not found all the decorations, which are in a box somewhere, also they were fresh out of sapins de Noel so we had to take what we could get.

I tried sticking the fairy on top but her feet touched the ground and she wandered off whilst I was looking for the sticky tape. Also, Bad Santa did not leave us any presents.

Furry New Bear, anyway.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Very Shambling Christmas ...

Something a bit more comfortable ...
 ... with NO ZOMBIES. Honestly, I am sick up to here with zombies. Shambling around, no skin tone - not that I have anything against the grey-coloured, on some things it looks good - no dress sense and limbs dropping off randomly: honestly, you'd think they just didn't care. Just let everything go, that's what it is: a complete abdication of personal responsibility.

Also, just between us, they smell. Fair enough, it's not always easy to mask the aroma of decaying flesh, but still - could make a bloody effort just once in a while. Like when you have to go off to the Post Office, f'r'instance.

That'll be a kilo of snails to go ...
As one will from time to time, to complain about the tardy delivery of mail down here, and the fact that you have to go pick up that palette of depleted uranium in the back of the car because for some pettifogging bureaucratic reason they won't deliver to the doorstep - some nonsense about Health & Safety - or just to check that the pension payments for Auntie Mabel (deceased) and the rest of the cousins on that side of the family (also deceased, sad to say; an unusual accident - the coroner actually used the word "incredible", which is kind of flattering -but then god apparently moves in mysterious ways) have indeed come through.

But do they? Bloody bogroll they do. As a general rule the undead vital-sign deficient and I get on well enough - each to his own, I say, and if someone has to change into a bat each evening and suck a virgin (for preference) then I'm not one to judge - but you have to draw a line somewhere. And I'm sorry, but eating brains is right out. They can't even be arsed frying the damn things in beurre noir, just goes to show how much they care.

Actually, what I had the intention of writing about was how much I know you've been waiting eagerly for the seasonal State of the Nation report charmingly illustrated by the amusing antics of our friendly woodland folk and the Playmobil Racist Front.

I have a confession to make: when we left St Pierre it was in kind of a rush and we didn't actually have that much room, I know we said something about coming back up in a few weeks but you know how it is, time just flies by and I'm sure they're happier up somewhere they know ... To be quite honest, we don't have them around any more.

Not that we abandoned them, that would not be good: let's just say that we thought it was a good idea to let them find their own personal space, develop fully and find themselves, you know. I think we even sent them a letter to that effect at one point: at least I'm pretty sure I can remember us writing a letter, although I cannot swear that we put a stamp on it. Not that that should make any difference, the Post Office is a bloody public service or supposed to be, not that you'd know it from the lip they give you if you so much as mention the fact that the alligator was poorly when you got it and it clearly said on the packaging not to hand-feed. Or not to feed it hands, can't recall, it was a while back.

Anyway, it was unsolicited junk-mail from Nigeria and I can hardly be held personally responsible for their approximative grasp of written English, now can I? Hardly my fault if the postmistress invited the kiddies from the primary school in that day for "work experience", or whatever they call it these days. And I can't see what that has to do with them signally failing in their obligation to deliver a letter entrusted to their care.

A word to the wise, if you know what I mean: should ever you come visit us, there are tables, for godssake: put your glass on one of them and do NOT stick the damn thing on the floor. Unless, of course, you like to share. But even were that to be the case I suspect you'd rather not share with Shaun the Dog, who seems to have developed a taste for red wine.

As Bryan found out last night. Sad to say, Margo does not believe in milking a situation for all it's worth and felt obliged to let him know before he took another swig, which I personally find a shame.

It seems we have been nice rather than naughty, for only yesterday we received not one but two visitations: Cédric The Destroyer and his little helper Gordi turned up to finish demolishing the first floor bathroom, and André appeared to finish off the bathroom in my office!

And as I'd put in a herculean effort over the weekend, tiling the floor and the shower, sticking in the grouting and the silicone, Bryan gets his own bathroom which at least means that we will not be martyrised at midnight by his prostate.

Sadly the huge old radiator in the office does not in fact work: André got it hooked up and it started to dribble persistently. At some point in its voyaging it must have been scraped on a rough surface, which was just enough to damage the brazing ... who'd have though that fonte d'acier would be so delicate?

We also got spoilt as both Cédric and André bore gifts - partly, I suspect, to apologise for the slow advancement of the work - and we got wine and pâté and goat's cheese in olive oil and cassoulet and some decent foie gras. As if we didn't have enough of the stuff: I'd already made one lot and had just finished cooking another which is even now maturing in the fridge.

Not so sure about the jar of cassoulet either, although I have to admit that it's at least a more manageable quantity than I made, which involved 500gm (dry weight) of dried haricots Tarbais and about one and a half kilos of diverse meat.

Or maybe I have been naughty, or at least not as nice as I thought, for my little Linux laptop chose today to go titsup on me, with bad disk sectors and, when I look at the logs, the CPU temperature getting up into the 80s. I get the funny feeling that the fan is not working. Bitch.

Yes, I have backups of course, for the source code anyway - which reminds me that one of the external hard drives also seems to be failing, so I must copy all that onto another two - but if it does crash and die in a spectacular fashion I shall be really, really pissed off because then I shall have to get another machine, reinstall everything, cross my fingers and hope for the best. And all this in only 24 hours, for of course all the clients have buggered off on holiday and are expecting to find a delivery on their desktops at the start of January ...

Still, I've been through worse - like the time I wiped out the general ledger run back in the days when I was technically engaged as an operator at the PNCC. That really screwed up my weekend.

Mind you, that was back in the days when I was a DINKie (that's Disposable Income, No Kids, to you) and still had weekends, and interesting things to do with them. Nowadays I do have disposable income, and The Shamblings is a kid-free zone, but the notion of spare time is one that I find an interesting concept. Heard of it, but not often come across it.

Except for right now, when we are all profiting from Saturnalia to indulge in traditional excess, bloat, and general doziness. After the cassoulet and then last night's little effort with coquilles St-Jacques à la nage, a light salad and a steamed lemon pudding to follow we tried to be more restrained today.

Which means that when Neville and Reets turned up bearing gifts around 11am this moaning I was only onto the first glass of white for the day.

Thankfully Margo, Bryan and the retards turned up not too long afterwards so we were not obliged to drink alone, and I retreated into the kitchen to look after the roast leg of lamb, the potatoes and kumara, and the brussells sprouts: good thing Margo got the pavlova ready ahead of time.

And on the brighter side, we're managing to get through a lot of the more elderly bottles in the collection. I must admit that the '95 Cotes de Nuits was definitely drinkable, and the '98 Maltoff from Coulanges-la-Vineuse was still alive. Another three bottles to go, and I'll have nothing left from the last century.

Whatever, a Hairy Gristlemouse and a very Furry New Bear to you all: mind how you go, now.