Sunday, May 26, 2013

Skynet? Leave it to Beaver ...

Early Buck Rogers-style  jetpacks were not a
commercial success
So today being the Sunday just before the lundi de Pentecôte (yet another public holiday, yay!) it is the day of the grande brocante here in St Pierre, and as has become traditional in the past few years the day did not so much dawn as stagger blearily into existence, accompanied by much rheumy gagging and a sullen, cold rain. It has cleared up a bit now - just enough to let me see that there's fresh snow up on the Arclusaz behind us.

Actually, I could have done without that. Of course, lulled into a false sense of security by a few consecutive days of good weather, we turned off the central heating a couple of weeks back, so now with the outside temperatures reaching a high of maybe 10° we is sitting inside huddled in blankets, crouched around a guttering candle to keep us warm. I exaggerate a bit, I admit, but I did go light the fire in the kitchen.

I had, in a vague way, thought that perhaps we'd be out having a barbecue about now, gnawing on undefinable bits of charred blackened meat (sometimes I get a bit over-enthusiastic with the accelerant) and swigging gallons of rosé to wash it down, but I can see that those plans are going to be put on hold for a few weeks. With any luck we'll be able to have at least one before we leave the place, invite all the friends and neighbours around and get them to pick through our stuff before we confide it to the movers, but even that looks kind of doubtful just at the moment.

On an unrelated matter, for some time now I have been kind of perplexed at where the traffic for this blog comes from. Most of it comes from our country cousins across the pond, then there's NZ and France more or less tied for second place: the UK and Russia (mostly coming from a site apparently dedicated to the Citroen C3, which is a bit weird but why not?) complete the top five. But over the past week, most hits come from India. WTF? So then I looked at the referring sites, and could not help but notice this one:

I suppose that's pretty clear: caveat emptor and all that, I have not gone there nor do I suggest that you do so unless you have locked your browser down tighter than a cat's arsehole. Just saying, and if you do go check it out, don't blame me if you catch something nasty.

Also, may I just say how incredibly pleased I am that Jeremy was never interested in a career in IT? Although I'm sure he'd be good at it, in a niche way, as a saboteur perhaps. Just put him in a computer room for half an hour, and after a short while all the machines there would start to fail. Subtly, and mysteriously.

So he's had a couple of power supplies blow up, or just fade away from exhaustion, a machine that quite inexplicably one day gave up the ghost, a laptop that got stolen (probably trying to get away from him): not so long ago I lent him one of my old work machines, it was hardly a favourite and certainly no racehorse but it chugged along quite reliably until, a while back, he started losing the internet.

And as I had a few hours to spare this afternoon, I thought I might as well look into it. I have to admit to being perplexed. I don't know how he did it, come to that I don't even know exactly what he's done. First suspect is the cables and then, maybe, the Homeplug box that gets him ethernet over the power lines, then maybe something gross that he's downloaded ...

Being a methodical man, I checked first of all that the cables and connections were OK by the simple expedient of using them with my laptop: all OK. I suspected a virus, or somesuch, but the machine is a dual-boot setup with W2K and XP, he's only ever booted under W2K and just to make sure I tried booting off Linux from a USB key ... did that help? Did it hell.

What appears to happen is that the machine starts up all happy and nice, gets its IP address and everything, and then after about three minutes it is no longer capable of finding websites. Packets go out, packets come in, but address resolution does not work. Can't even find the router, should I type in the IP address (, like everyone else) directly. Under XP I can "repair" the connection, which incidentally clears the ARP buffers and hooks up again with the DNS server, and it will work again, for three minutes: under W2K I can just disable and then reenable the connection: same thing.

When I have a day or two I shall maybe plug the thing behind a dumb switch and look at the network traces with Wireshark, but what seems to me to be happening is that after a short while, ARP seems to be failing: maybe the packets don't get sent out. Don't know, hence the need for Wireshark. Running on a different machine, so that I can see what is on the line.

Is a puzzlement. Not a puzzle I really need to resolve, but it's annoying. I just cannot for the life of me see how a network adapter can fail in such a manner, it's not even heat-related because I don't have to power the machine off to get it to work again, just reset the adapter. It being a tower I guess I could just try to find a PCI Ethernet card and stick it in, but those are getting to be pretty rare birds these days, as are USB WiFi dongles. (I used to have three or four of those suckers, no idea what's happened to them over the years. Probably off performing monstrous hybrid couplings with the dust bunnies in the darker recesses of my office, I guess.)

Whatever, what I suppose I'm really trying to say is that you should never, ever, lend Jeremy a computer. Even if it is just to help him out. He, and they, just do not seem to get on.

Still, I suppose that his existence, and that of others like him, just goes to show that we have nothing to fear from the vaunted Rise of the Machines. They will collapse into cybernetic catatonia.

Anyway, more or less as Méteo France promised, we are having a lousy week. Intermittent rain, cold gray skies, and the high temperatures only just scrape in to the double digits. It would be nice if it at least cleared up for the weekend, given that Margo's taking the car up to Alsace or somewhere this weekend, but I am - as the French say, dubitatif. Guess I'll be trudging around the market, the bag even heavier than usual because I really need to buy another few kilos of spuds on top of the usual suspects, in the rain.

You know, sometimes I worry that I obsess a bit too much about food. Hope springing eternal, as it will, I'd picked up some blettes (OK, call it silverbeet if you like, but not blattes) at the market with absolutely no idea what to do with the damn things. And then, late one night ... luckily I wasn't in the bath, for the results would have been disastrous for those on the lower floors, a thought came to me.

And the next day, serendipitously crossing the path of a packet of lamb mince at the supermarket, I coveted it and, as one will, went and bought it. At which point things became quite simple. Breadcrumbs, cream, salt, an egg yolk and lotsa chopped mint mixed up with the lamb and then the beaten egg white folded gently in, and the whole mess spooned on top of the blettes (which I had had the foresight to half cook beforehand so that they were nicely limp - thank god for microwaves) and then wrapped into neat little packets before going into the frying pan to meet their maker, with a bit (well, quite a lot really) of white wine, chopped tomato and garlic to see them on their way.

Sad to say, it was indeed raining - nay, positively pissing down - when I left this morning to head off to the market. And as luck would have it I had to stop off at Montmelian to go into the bank which meant that having decanted myself from the train at some appalling hour and transacted my business, I had an hour to waste before the next train through to Chambéry. And my mood was not improved on the train when it did arrive to discover that two seats ahead of me there was a bulging young muffin-top with her headphones blaring out a muffled bass beat just loud enough to keep me awake.

One day, I swear, I am going to lose it, go over and point at the little signs all over the place which say, in an encouraging way, that phones and MP3 players should be kept DISCREET! for god's sake, rip the things off and trample them underfoot, like young lions and serpents.

Be that as it may, couldn't help but notice, as I did the rounds, that there were rather fewer stall-holders out than usual: nothing to sell, I suppose, what with all the fruit being late anyway and most of what there is having rotted on the vine, or contracted leprosy, or whatever. At least there are Spanish strawberries, which pleases me, even if the average Frog-thing, in that loveable pig-headed chauvinistic way of theirs, would rather slit their own throats with barbed wire rather than eat them. Even if they don't have the chutzpah to attest that they have no flavour (as though the industrial French ones, raised on dehydrated pig-shit, tasted of something other than sticky water with a slight arrière-gout of crap) they will fall back on the assertion that they're as full of steroids as Lance Armstrong, and consequently unsafe for human consumption.

It is often said - usually by those lucky enough to live somewhere that actually has a climate - that the English have only one topic of conversation between themselves, although they will occasionally make an effort for foreigners and make polite enquiries as to the health of the family. This may or may not be true, I've not really spent enough time around the English to be able to constate on the matter, but I can affirm that it's certainly true of the French.

Start talking with a Frenchman these days, and within five seconds the talk will turn ineluctably to the weather, how gross it's been, how foul it is, and how absolutely disgusting it is likely to be for the foreseeable future. I have not yet dared to mention this in polite society, for I'm afraid that the implicit comparison would be unappreciated, but if I have to suffer through one more conversation in which I learn, for the Nth time, that a) it was better before and b) it's all the fault of the bloody Socialists, or the Greens, or whatever the pet hate of the day is, I will do so.

And I'm afraid that I really did not want to hang about any longer than strictly necessary, so I missed the festival du 1er Roman, where Beckham was set to claim her fifteen minutes of fame with a public reading of excerpts from her magnum opus. Shame really.

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