Sunday, June 21, 2015

Talk In The Movies, I'll Kill You Right There ...

"Word of the Week" proudly brings you the very latest in neologisms for your reading pleasure ... a bit of background here, not so long ago our failed presidential candidate Segolène Royal called on people to save the planet by banning Nutella, because of PALM OIL, and turning people with no self-respect into lard-buckets. Of course the Italians, whose national treasure it is, complained loud and long, and she back-pedaled. Or, as the headlines put it, "Madame le ministre fait du retro-pedalage".

Nice one, Le Monde.

Also, please note that even though the ministre in question is a woman of the female sex, she is always le ministre. It is the title that is gendered. Praise be for the glories of the French language. (Although, to be fair, I was idly considering the other day how to explain to a Frog-person the use - or misuse - of the apostrophe to indicate the number in a possessive clause. As in, "the husbands' children", wherein we are talking about the - obviously plural - children of any number of husbands. Then it came to me that I might as well not bother, because you can't actually say that in French. You have to say "les enfants du/des mari(s)", which translates to the rather awkward "the children of the husband(s)". That clear?)

In three weeks or so, we'll have been living in Moux for two years. And it's a sad commentary - on what, I'm not exactly sure, but that's beside the point - that the people at the cave coopérative know my name, which is more than I can say for some of our neighbours. Hell, I went off the other day to get some tickets for the fête this Saturday, paid upfront for them and, let it be said, 10l of Chateau Carton, and as I was leaving said "Oh. No tickets?" "Nah." came the reply. "We know you, it's good."

We are definitely stuck in some sort of time warp here - sometimes, when the loudspeakers fart, it feels like a bastard unholy cross between "'Allo 'Allo" and "The Prisoner". But no, it's just a public service announcement, to let the village know that old Réné is selling cherries from the back of his van. (And very nice they were, too.)

Another thing: I had occasion to give Cash a hand transferring their account from one autoroute company to another, as they have merged. You can do it all online - of course she's never done anything online with them and so has no password to access the account, but that, I thought, should be no problem - just stick in the account number and then click on the button that says "I am but a simple-minded cretin and I have forgotten my password" and lo! it will be emailed to you.

Not in fact that simple, because when you do that the site asks you for your account number and email address and if the email address does not match the one they have it gives a rude message suggesting you go perform auto-erotic stimulation: of course they had entered the email address incorrectly so I wound up ringing them anyway but that is not the point.

The point is that there are two data entry fields, one for the account number and the second for your email address: the funny thing is that the second will not allow you to type the '@' character, which seems odd to me because that's more or less required. Go figure.

Later ... I was wrong misinformed. Windows appears to have downloaded and installed an update somewhere along the line that completely borks keyboard access to diacriticals: not being Polish I can actually live with that but I am a programmer and so need constant access to curly brackets like this {} and square brackets such as these []. Guess what: I don't have these anymore.

Microsoft updates are beginning to remind me of those mad dwarves from Oglaf - "Hey, you want shit? We got shit! Hell, we can fuck you over right now!" Wibbles on the interwebs hint to me that the problem is perhaps linked to some crap Synaptics driver that got downloaded with the latest Windoze update: sure enough one such was installed. It is in the Windows update history: I must surely be able to uninstall the sucker?

Click on "Installed updates" to find out that
  • they are listed in a completely different order, which is always alphabetical no matter what sort order you select, and also
  • no Synaptics updates appear in this list, which in any case bears no apparent relationship to the update history list. 

In passing, I note that I have some Microsoft updates that were apparently installed on January 1st, 1601. This fails to inspire me with confidence.

On top of it the same update sneakily reenabled the indexing service, which I had carefully disabled 'cos the sucker was eating 80% of the CPU from time to time, apparently because the Windows Media Player required it in order to index all my music to play over the network. Which I do not do. I swear to god that were it not for the fact that I actually need Windows for development I would, at this moment, nuke the sucker from orbit - with extreme prejudice - and install Linux. It is also true that Linux is just as crappy: the little Samsung that we use as a media streamer downstairs occasionally decides that it no longer wishes to know about Wifi.

Whatever, now that I've nuked the Synaptics driver, recovered my keyboard and calmed down a bit I shall treat it as a learning experience, and I have indeed learnt my lesson: automatic updates are now banned, and I shall vet them all before applying any of them. I know, I know, I've no excuse for not having done that earlier - what can I say?

Also, upon reflection, perhaps it was just a teeny bit anal-compulsive of me to spend four hours in the evening obsessing over a few keys. I mean, workarounds exist - did you know that Ctrl+Alt = AltGr? (I must admit, I didn't. Or possibly I did, at one point, but had retired the rather obscure fact to the hind-brain.) OK, guilty as charged, I am obsessive about these little things that drive me wild.

The cave coopérative can indeed organise a piss-up in a brewery although, as is usual in these parts, there is no point in hoping it will actually start on time. I suspect they'd been busy having the apéro in the offices from about 17:00 on, and had perhaps forgotten that people were supposed to be turning up from 19:00.

Whatever, the problem was quickly rectified and there were soon serried ranks of bottles glistening with condensation lined up on the barrels that did duty as bar tables, and mounds of olives and masses of sliced saucisson rapidly going greasy in the heat.

A village fête is always fun - at least until the ambulatory disco starts belching out the rather dire music - if only for the wide range of sartorial elegance on display. Some in Prada, and the more thoughtful in loose-waisted Adidas running shorts and sandals. Tastefully accessorised with a Gucci manbag.

Still, next time I think we'll do as John and Anne did, and bring our own plates and cutlery. The flimsy plastic picnic jobs provided were definitely not up to the task of slicing a huge hunk of mostly uncooked beef, and were it not that sunglasses are pretty much an essential dress item around here you'd be in constant danger of losing an eye as an errant tine flew off your neighbour's fork.

Anyways, right now it is too damn hot and we have retreated to the cool of the house - which means I have no excuse for not sticking some silicone joints around the tiling in the two bathrooms that, if our prayers and sacrifices are answered, André will come and finish off next week before our first guests arrive.

Mind how you go, now.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Extracts From The Private Journal of HvB (Esq.) ...

Like my titties? Might as well flaunt them.
I was, as one will, roaming the Arctic wastes one day - searching, if you must know, for the last of the dusty old journals of a half-crazed medical student who had set out to destroy the Thing he had created from left-over body parts and biryani and given a shambling semblance of life with three AA batteries, when the Thrane & Thrane satellite phone tinkled quietly.

(I have set it to do this on the off-chance that it should ring some time when I happen to have it about my person at an elegant cocktail party, for its default ring-tone is a recording of the foghorn of the Titanic, which then segues into Ride of the Valkyries: hardly discreet, and certainly not elegant. Although it is true that cocktail parties, elegant or otherwise, are rare things in the arid tundra, but one never knows.)

So much for incunabula, the delights of the icy wastes, and retracing the footsteps of HvB (Boris Van Helsing, of course: the lesser-known member of the family. Ah, those simpler days when mirror writing could keep your identity safe from GCHQ or the NSA).

For, with all of five days to go (two of those being, technically, a weekend) before a big trade show somewhere in California, someone had the bright idea that the gear should be able to perform a pressure optimisation - apparently this involves nothing more complicated than setting up a data entry screen and plugging a few formulae into the arse end.

Hence the importance of a more than basic grounding in maths for those who intend a career in programming.

Of course, the formulae were supplied as a spreadsheet, and it rapidly became evident to even my inexperienced eye that cell D34 depended on cell D35, which itself depended on cell D34: back in the day Excel would just have told you to go stick your head someplace where it is always dark, but nowadays it does successive approximations and other complicated stuff, and eventually comes up with an answer which is close enough to what you want.

I recall doing this sort of thing a long time ago, and I also recall the importance of starting off with an initial value which is close enough so that your iterative process a) terminates in a reasonable time and b) does not oscillate between "37" and "a ham sandwich", neither of which are good answers. (Not entirely true. They are both in fact perfectly good answers, but not to this particular question.)

Luckily, in the creaking pages of the antique notebooks that I had managed to recover, I found that the equations of Nikuradse supply a seed value, based on a smooth surface, which may be used as a starting point for the iterative Coleman algorithm (but do not forget the Reynolds number).

Back in the day, when the late, corrupt, morally ambiguous and unlamented Mitterand was president, he installed a relative non-entity, one Jack Lang, as ministre de la culture. Crueler tongues than mine have said that this was just for ease of access to the Elysée, what with him being the president's wife's lover and all: I have no knowledge of this and would not, in any case, wish to spread foul rumours.

Whatever, he was eminently forgettable, despite a suntan, teeth, and hair that would have done a Californian beach band proud: truth to tell, most French ministres, who in any case serve at the discretion of the president, are forgettable or, even if not, soon forgotten. With the possible exception of Jacques Toubon, who must be the most maligned minister of the 5th Republic, and still the butt of obscene jokes in public urinals - but I digress. As usual.

But apart from having it off on a regular basis (if slanderous tattle can be believed) with Danielle, Jack did leave one legacy: by decree, June 21 - the summer solstice - is the fête de la musique over in these parts. Although in these particular parts we don't actually do that - hell, in Moux we celebrate July 14 on the 13th - instead, on June 20 we have the fête du vin.

You can probably guess just what that involves: it's organised at the cave cooperative and involves apparently never-ending supplies of wine, copious quantities of food and - towards the end of the evening - the ritual and sadly inevitable disco. Never mind, by the time they get around to that we'll probably be rolling our bloated way homewards.

Although I get the feeling that I might actually enjoy la nuit de la poésie this year. Years back I used to look upon French popular music as something whose only use was to make elevator muzak sound good: Brel, Trenet, Gainsbourg ... all crap.

Then I got dragged along one evening to a show of which the entire second half was dedicated to Georges Brassens, and it was a revelation. It is true that ten years earlier I would not have appreciated it because I would not have understood it, but now that I have managed to wrap my ears around the particularly French habit of the contrepeterie (which is a close relation to the spoonerism, but which must be obscene) and got to grips with the subtle, self-effacing and rather subversive black humour of which they are, in fact, capable, I find it absolutely delicious.

OK, you can still take Brel and stick him where the sun does not shine, Gainsbourg was always a bloated self-indulgent whose main claim to fame was hooking up with Jane Birkin, and if Piaf is on the menu I would prefer it to be with the cheese course so that wedges of Camembert are convenient to hand: but Brassens I enjoy.

So it was with great pleasure that I discovered, scanning the list of events lined up for this summer in Moux, that the concert for la nuit de la poésie is scheduled to be a homage to Brassens. I may take a packet or two of peanuts - not to eat, for I detest the damn things, but to throw at the stage should the performance not be up to scratch - but I am hoping for a very enjoyable evening on July 25th.

Can't recall if I've mentioned it before: old Hélène has a bit of land on the slopes of a pinède around Ferrals, and every year she organises an afternoon picnic up there. There's always a catch, of course: she must be one of the last of the soixante-huitards, believes in acupuncture and homeopathy, and has cultural tendencies.

So this time round, the price of admission was a poetry reading. It is true that I hold that those who read poetry in public may have other nasty habits, but it was mercifully brief and there was enough food and drink for a small army, which is always a consolation.

And we sat up there in the sun with the smell of thyme and rosemary in the still hot air, and watched the thunderheads roll in from the east and sweep past to the south, to go play on the Pyrenées.

Kind of a precursor for the next few months, I hope: a long, slow, hot summer. Take refuge inside the house, which is dim and cool, and take the hairy retards out for their trot in the evenings, when it's not so stifling. And maybe catch some people playing boules around 23:00, well-watered and with the car headlights to light up the playing field.

It is at such times as those that it's brought home that we are no longer in Kansas.

Mind how you go, now.