Thursday, November 25, 1999

05/11/99 Ohmigod I'm really for it now ...

I can see that the coming week is going to be a difficult one: virtually everyone I know is going to assume that, for some bizarre reason, I really care, and they're going to try to rub my unshapely nose in the fact that the All Blacks lost humiliatingly to the French today. We have three choices:
  • pretend that we bet heavily on the French to win, knowing that the All Blacks were going to pull the game
  • say that we expected it all along, as being 90% Labourites they didn'twant to help Jenny Shipley
  • admire how well the French played
Can't say that any of them are particularly appealing.

On top of that daylight saving has just ended, which means that it's night at about 6pm now - at bit too early for my taste. Still, we did get an extra hour's lazing in bed this morning, which was much appreciated - especially as Jeremy wasn't here, having spent the night with neighbours up the road after a kids' Halloween party.

The plumbers have been through the place and by the end of next week the central heating will be all installed, with the notable exception of the radiators, which is a bit of a shame. Seems they're having production problems in the factory, which fails to impress me. Too bad. We've got two tonnes of wood arriving in two week's time, which ought to tide us over if necessary. But I'm still looking forward to the time when we'll be able to go into the bathroom in the morning without putting on an overcoat. (Makes showering such a messy business.)

And after looking through the neighbours' place last night (when dropping Jeremy off) we came to the conclusion that turning our third cellar into a party room wouldn't be such a bad idea. Just needs decent wiring and a concrete floor put down and we could hand it over to the kids as their very own. An appealing thought.

Monday night now - All Saints Day over here - and we've had a regular procession all afternoon down to the cemetery to drop flowers off on especially loved-one's graves. (Or, in some cases, rearrange existing flowers that some thoughtful person brought down but inexplicably forgot to put on the right tombstone.) If I'd thought ahead I'd have set up a small drinks and hot-dog stand at the entrance, would've done good trade.

Been another lovely day, bright and sunny, and first Brian Lovell (ex-pat NZ) dropped by on his bike for a drink and a bit of a rest before heading back the 20km or so to St Baldoph, then Jean-Christophe & Babette popped around for the afternoon. All very nice and relaxing (even if their eldest son, at 11 years old, is headed into some sort of adolescent-cusp crisis which is raising merry hell around their place).

Well, it's Friday now after all that - sorry, been too busy too keep this up - and I gather that the All Blacks lost again. A sad state of affairs, no? Not that we care too much - come to that, I've not even had too many remarks about the French debâcle and all of those were sympathetic, so I'm really counting my blessings.

Anyway, there's a hard week of SQL coding over (with not too much to show for it, apart from the ability to import the existing database with no glaringly apparent errors, which isn't too bad for a start) and the major Frog news is the sudden disarray in the ranks of the government, occasioned by Dominique Strauss-Kahn's quitting. He (call him DSK from now on, the French all do and it's so much shorter) almost overnight got involved in a party finance scandal when some unspeakable little git from the biggest students' mutual insurance society accused him of taking large sums of money for undisclosed (and apparently non-existent) "consulting" services, accusations which have since resulted in some upstart investigating magistrate taking considerable interest in the affair.  DSK and a number of other persons, more or less prominent, have been "invited to help the police with their enquiries", as the phrase goes - all good for a laugh.

The business of phantom jobs (ie large salaries and fees for work which is never actually carried out) as an arm of political party finance (and, of course, personal enrichment) has been receiving quite a bit of attention here ever since the revelations that the City of Paris, first under Jacques Chirac (now president, last time anyone bothered to check) and since him, Jacques Tiberi, has had about 10000 full-time employees who never showed up: all of whom, coincidentally, held full-time posts at the RPR (who wasn't paying them). It became juicier when it came out that the Mayor's wife had been paid 200000F for a 50-page report full of elementary spelling mistakes and no research other than what could have been performed by a semi-competent Labrador on a bad day. Didn't help, either, that Alain Juppé's family benefited from rent-free apartments (in the 16th arrondissement yet - we're talking Embassy Row here, none of your Khandallah slum district stuff) thanks to the Paris housing agency, headed at the time by one Alain Juppé (ex Prime Minister).

At the time, the RPR cried foul: everyone was doing it, it was legal at the time (true, I think) and why blame them? There was even wild talk of indicting Chirac, but the constitutional issues involved get rather thorny (and besides, everyone WAS doing it, so why rock the boat?). But the Socialists, of course, were Mr. Clean personified, and so now the RPR are sticking the boot in with some pleasure. Bit of a shame really, as ministers of finance go DSK wasn't that bad - had almost Anglo-Saxon tendencies really, wanted to improve labour flexibility and reduce the tax burden on companies, stuff like that - godnose who they'll drag in to replace him. So long as it's not Martine Aubry, Mother of the 35-hour working week.

Chatting with the accountant the other day and his opinion was that the major problem with the French economy (apart from minor sectors being able to hold everyone else to ransom by blocking roads, ports and toilets, or burning McDonalds restaurants - can understand that last bit) is that there is no finance market for small companies. The ENArques (think MBA, but high-class) who still supply the government with its technocrats are trained to go through government and then collect directorships at big companies, and of course the French tradition, ever since Colbert, is state corporatism, so basically if you're a big company that doesn't need cash you get it thrown at you by the bucket-load, whereas small companies (1-10 employees) can maybe get a 20000F loan and an overdraft facility after signing over the owner's wife as collateral.

Speaking of minor sectors holding the rest of the economy to ransom, there was a nice bit on the news last night: Breton poultry farmers are demanding subsidies because exports have plummetted to about 30% of their normal level, thanks to revelations that European poultry is often nourished on a diet containing 30% refined shit (literally) with added dioxin. Not only do they want to kill us all, they want us to pay for the privilege!

Damn, spleen's working overtime tonight. Usually does at the end of the week, before I have time to wind down. Sorry. Better than on Tuesday nght anyway, when I looked up a particularly irritating bug on MSDN and found this reassuring line from the fairies of Redmond "Error 80000e23: SQL Server crashes with GPF after INSERT involving a JOINed table. This behaviour is by design."

Okay, that's it for this week (and last week too, sorry about that).

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

24/11/99 Humble Pie & Other Subjects

Well, the big news over here was that the French team lost against the Australians. On the other hand, they weren't actually expecting to win against the All Blacks, so it wasn't too much of a let-down (and rugby is definitely a minority sport here anyway, played only by garlic-munching thugs from the South) and they didn't feel obliged to lynch the coach and cut the players into small bits with blunt rusty axes, which is, as far as I've been able to gather, more or less what happened in NZ. And Massey University set up a grief counselling crisis cell for depressed students during their finals? Get a life!

Winter's come in about a week earlier than usual - at least by our rather primitive measure, which is whether or not it snows down where we are. Started yesterday and kept up quite heavily today, so there's about 15cm of snow down in the garden, the trees occasionally go "Whoosh! Slither!" as a branch gets tired of holding up so much snow, and right now it's stopped and there's a glacial wind fresh from Siberia which means that the slush on the road will be nicely frozen for tomorrow morning. As if I didn't have enough problems getting home tonight. (As, let it be said, did Margo - the BMW is a right pig on snow. Needs a couple of 40kg sacks of cement in the boot.)

Great whoopee next week as the radiators finally arrive on Monday: on Tuesday the plumbers actually put them in and finish off the last little bits of the installation. With any luck the central heating will be functional in December. It'd better be.

It's now Monday next week - when the radiators were supposed to arrive - and as you can of course guess they haven't. Friday, they're now promising. The snow is deep (about 35 cm) and crisp and even, and looks like hanging around a while as it's definitely not the sort of weather you'd want your pet brass monkey to go out in ie bloody cold. Tonight there are no clouds in the sky, a full moon and it must be about -10 out there. More snow forecast for tomorrow.

Of course there's the usual chaos on the roads, mostly caused by the freight lorries which try to go through mountain passes before the snowploughs have had a chance to clean them up a bit, then of course they jack-knife on the snow and then the snowploughs CAN'T get through - then we have the edifying spectacle on the evening news of truck drivers moaning about how they can't get through to Italy or wherever because people haven't been doing their jobs and keeping the roads clear. Having been overtaken by at least 40 lorries doing 110 on Thursday night, when I was lumbering along at 80 due to the snow, I can't say I have much sympathy for them.

A handy tip, incidentally, for winter driving in the continent - do NOT take the autoroute when it's snowing. It is usually clearer than the nationales, but IF there's an accident and you get stuck there's no way you can get out - just have to wait until it's cleared up. And that could take some time - they're still working on the A7 from Chambery to Marseilles, which was blocked by snow last night.

Succumbed to temptation and bought a Palm V (two, in fact, one for Renaud, one for me) today. About two weeks back Renaud said he WANTED ONE as a NEW toy, so I thought I'd better check the things out. I must admit that I thought it'd probably turn out to be some sort of executive fiddle beads, but I borrowed an old one from Jean-Gilles and after a week I was hooked. The address book is handy - it's all in the mobile anyway, but when someone rings me and asks for so-and-so's phone number I can't give it to them 'cos I'm already using the phone. So it's nice to have the numbers somewhere else. What'd be good would be able to synchronise the two lists, what's in the mobile and what's in the Palm.

The calculator doesn't have a hexadecimal function so it's of no earthly use whatever, and I haven't yet figured out how to make the e-mail work, although when I finally get the proxy server at the office working correctly that will doubtless be no problem.

But what really makes it useful is the notepad. Once you get the hang of writing on the little beast it really is simple, and it saves me an enormous amount of time bringing out the big notebook, flicking through it to find an empty page, writing my notes ... and then, back at the office, trying to find all the notes in my big notebook concerning some particular contract. If only for that, it's worth the money.

Now I just have to overcome my aversion to spending money long enough to buy two portables with 17" screens, sufficiently equipped for Windows NT, decent-sized keyboards and built-in ISDN modems, and I'll really be able to work anywhere. At the moment I'm still lugging the office machine back and forwards between office and home, as there's no way I'm going to pollute the home machine (which is working nicely, thank you, and will probably do so as long as I don't install any more Microsoft crud on it) with SQL Server and as at any rate it's only a poor 133MHz Pentium I it'd take me at least an hour to execute a query.

Anyway, we're all well, if a bit on the chilly side. Tess rufuses to go outside unless she absolutely has to (ie is kicked out) and I can't say that I blame her. Margo is much the same. Jeremy doens't seem to worry too much about the temperature so long as he can play with Lego - or watch the cartoon series of Godzilla. Great way, incidentally, to get him showered and clean - "You can't watch Godzilla until you've had a shower. Godzilla is on in 5 minutes." 4 minutes, 30 seconds later, he's clean, damp and sweet-smelling and sitting in front of the TV.

As for Malyon, it seems that she's settled in very well - got her yellow belt in judo so I expect that when she gets back here corporal punishment will no longer be an option - I've no wish to find myself lying on my back with her elbow in my throat. It's bad enough sitting in the armchair with Jeremy bouncing on my lap.