Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When You Have to Go ...

In a recent Blinding Flash Of Inspiration™ leading to a technological advance which is destined to improve the lives of millions, I have discovered that the humble dishwasher is a useful tool for the breadmaker. In no way do I wish to suggest that you should use one to go from whoa! to go! as it were (for one thing, the temperature's far too low for successful baking, unless you are an unconditional fan of Runny Stodge, one of Nature's deservedly neglected food groups) but for proving dough, it is perhaps unsurpassed.

After everything's gone through and the drying cycle is done, it is still warm and humid in there - just perfect for yeasts.

I say this only because I was making hamburger buns - and then I thought that as I had this stone-ground flour from CDD and some anis vert and golden syrup, which is close enough to molasses for my foul porpoises, I might as well make some rye bread whilst I was at it. And not being one to let the contents of the fridge go unused, and finding a bottle of beer in there ...

The thing is, beer from the fridge is, as God intended it to be, cold: which is good for drinking, not quite so good for encouraging yeast to do its thing. Under normal circumstances I would have just stuck the bowl with the flour/yeast slurry into the microwave on defrost for a minute, but I'd used a metal mixing bowl and that would probably not have been a good idea. And it was at about that time that the dishwasher beeped at me, in its happy monomaniacal way, to let me know that it had licked the plates and finished digesting our leftovers - and a great idea was born.

And oddly enough, it worked. Sadly, the rye bread did not turn out as moist and heavy as I wanted, but that's my fault for winging it.

After the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie on Monday, to see what they had to say about my status, I headed off to an accountant, as one will: one that they'd more or less recommended. Oddly enough, for as a general rule accountants are down there at the bottom of the food chain along with trodden-in dog turds on the carpet in my opinion, I rather liked him. "Hie thee" he said, "to a notaire, but make sure you get a price out of him upfront. They're conniving skinflint bastards."

Then, when I raised the vexèd subject of the auto-entrepreneur, he answered me thusly: "Opinion is divided on this. Everyone else thinks it's shit. I don't.". Yes indeed, Captain Rum. He also offered me a damn good deal, 50€ per month for the first year and as he said, I just stick all the bills and such into a cardboard box or a rubbish bag, and drop it off once in a while.

Whatever, as one will from time to time, I had to go off and renew my driver's licence, which naturally enough involves a medical checkup. Nothing too complicated, just counting to make sure I have a full complement of arms, legs, and the other basics ... so I turn up in at the appropriate address in Carcassonne with the four ID photos, blood tests, power bill and whatever, and get in line. Not too sure that I ever wanted, in fact, to get to the head of the line, because the woman behind the desk looked like she bit the heads off chickens for pleasure, which leaves me wondering what her job involves.

But eventually I got to her and hand over my dossier, which was briefly and contemptuously considered before I was informed that my power bill is more than three months old (it was dated July 26th, which would make it three months on October 26th, but I guess that higher maths is not a job requirement) but that I could post that in (a not inconsiderable sign of flexibility, for which I am eternally grateful) and that I might as well go get my gear off anyway, but before that - at which point she hands me a little strip of cardboard and points me in the direction of the toilet.

Which is about as seedy as you'd expect, given that apparently every visitor to the building is directed in there and have only five minutes to do their business because Hey! There are others waiting out here you know! and in any case, it's a funny thing but you never can actually piss on demand. I did try, I strained and heaved, but there was nowt to be done and that strip remained resolutely dry.

I toyed with the idea of dipping it into the toilet bowl but rejected that on the grounds of hygiene, also if they did actually test it I didn't want to be held responsible for what they found, so I left that sordid room as soon as possible and took my place in line and when it was my turn and I was decently undressed handed it over to the quack with a mumbled excuse about somehow you never can when you really need to, isn't that so?

From the weary look I guessed I am not the only person he'd met that couldn't wet themselves to save their life, and five minutes later, once we'd agreed that I can't see worth a damn close up without my glasses, and that my blood pressure could be lower, I was out of there.

And whilst we're on the subject of renewals, I had to go off and renew my NZ passport, given that it expired a few years back. (Remember the days when they were good for 15 years or whatever? Like when your driver's licence was good "for life"?) And so it came to my attention that I could do it all online, no more hassle downloading and printing some enormous PDF file, then filling it in and posting it off to what you hoped was the right address - for over here we has three to choose from, between the embassy in Paris (wrong!), the High Commission in London (maybe wrong) and Internal Affairs in Wellington (usually right).

It was all quite straightforward, I even managed to put down Bryan's name and all as my character reference without sniggering, and then came the hard part: the passport photos. Not that the process of uploading them is particularly difficult, or even unclear - what is a right bitch is finding a photographer who is prepared to supply you with your photo as a JPG image file. I tried all over in Caracassonne, with no luck, and Chambéry, when I was there, was no better: finally discovered that the guy in the little Carrefour at Lézignan was willing to do it.

(Incidentally, the nice man from DHL dropped it of at the door yesterday morning. Such efficiency! But why is it that NZ passports have really cheap plastified cardboard covers that curl up of their own accord?  For the money you pay, you'd think they could have done something better than that.)

I am once again reminded of the perils of multi-tasking as I prepared the evening meal the other night: a simple quiche with lardons and poireaux, and I thought "Why not a nice loaf of pain méridionale, with honey and anis in it?". Fair enough, so I rolled out the bastard puff and lined the dish with it, set the leeks to stew gently and grated the cheese, then mixed the yeast with a bit of flour and sugar and warm water and let that prove before going off and mixing the eggs and cream for the quiche.

And then, as the yeast mixture was bubbling nicely I thought it was probably about time to tip in the anis seeds and stir that about before adding the rest of the flour and the raisins and the honey ... you get the picture, I suppose: two identical stainless steel bowls on the bench, each containing a healthy dose of thick liquid - guess which one got a teaspoon of anis in it?

Just for the record, provided you manage to fish out most of the seeds (they do tend to float, which is admittedly convenient), the result is not inedible. Kind of interesting, but not in a ghastly way.

In other news, which will interest absolutely no-one apart from terminally minutiae-obsessed geeks, I am obliged, nay! constrained, to follow MISRA coding rules for Schneider. You probably don't want to know but I shall go ahead and tell you anyway, these are a set of standards laid down by the great and good (read "petty-minded, anal-compulsive, and unemployable") to which your C code must conform. Many of them are purely stylistic and, like dead yeast left in beer, at least do no harm: a good number of them are best-practice and I have no problem with that, but whichever committee sat down and wrote the bloody thing evidently had a deep, undying collective hatred of pointers.

I am well aware, after godnose how many years in the business, that the misuse of pointers can be is dangerous, but I would humbly beg to suggest that forcing people to use array syntax instead is no more readable, just as risky, and - depending on your compiler - much less efficient. Mind you, I'm just saying that because I'm pissed off at spending an entire day rewriting pointer-based code in order to reduce the number of compile errors from 1576 to 7 (you have to admit, that is a significant improvement, even if 95% were just because of using the disapproved syntax for comments).

Yes, I can see the original worthy point of the exercise: the idea is that by eliminating the use of possibly risky constructs (such as multiple exit points from a procedure, the use of goto, stuff like that) the resulting code is more easily proven correct. (I recall that back in the 80s the UK DoD sank millions into an effort to develop a provably correct microprocessor, the VIPER chip. After a while, the maths at the base of it all - the mechanically provable correctness - turned out to be wrong. Shame, really.) But, my point is, there is a cost to all that.

 For one thing, you are still depending on the compiler to generate correct code, and in my experience - having spent some time on odd occasions poring over disassembly to work out exactly why a syntactically correct program should malfunction - that is not a given. (Although I guess that if you've followed the rules then you've covered your arse, and it is Someone Else's Problem.) And if, as logically you should, you turn off all optimisations, the resulting source, stuffed as it is with explicit typecasts and if statements that serve only to skip over code that could easily be avoided with a simple return and superfluous tests in the for loop exit conditions, is going to generate rather inefficient code.

Not, I admit, much of a problem when you're writing for a PC or a tablet or even a phone, most of which have CPU cycles to spare, more RAM than you can shake a stick at, and more sheer computing power than the NSA back in the 90s - but we are talking here about embedded systems with a teeny, underpowered and above all cheap processor that is supposed to run off the smell of an oily rag. Somewhere along the line here, Schneider has chosen a very large and possibly inappropriate hammer to smash a very small nut.

Mind you, that's just my opinion, and I'm pissed off. Yours may differ. If it does, I'm not sure I really care that much.

Anyway, as I was waiting for the train that was going to take me south on Sunday morning, standing on the quai at Chambéry and bitterly regretting not having brought something a little warmer than a T-shirt and leather jacket, I could not help but notice that sprouting up in the middle, right between two sleepers, were a couple of flourishing tomato plants, soaking up the pale watery sunlight.

Some were ripe enough to have fallen to the ground: no-one seemed to have been inclined to go pick them up, possibly (in the case of the general public) because of the dire warnings posted prominently about the consequences of crossing the tracks rather than taking the passage souterrain. I still have my SNCF gilet de securité somewhere about but I wouldn't try picking them either, given where the toilet waste from the train carriages goes. Have to admit they did look very healthy, well-fertilised tomatoes.

I passed. Organic's all very well, but one must draw a line somewhere.

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