Thursday, December 31, 2015

Misty Streets of Blue ...

Yeah, you got it. When we get fog in these here parts, we get the proper stuff: like a Palmerston North pea-souper, but redoubled in spades. You can wander around all day in a little bubble about 10m in diameter, anything further away fading into gray - or then again, maybe around 9:30 it will just clear up, for no apparent reason, and the sky's bright around us. Never can tell, bloody weather.

As the New Year threatens us with its imminent appearance (and being a year older but, like, maybe not actually a year wiser, just a few more memories you've had to chuck out to make room for fresh ones) I have made a Resolution to start seriously thinking about resolutions, maybe even making a list which is destined to disappear down the back of the sofa but hey! it's a start. So far, I need to dust the camera off, get out more often, throw a ball for the dogs and maybe update this blog in a more regular fashion. Like bowel motions - not necessarily at a fixed hour, but at least once a day. (In case of constipation you may be excused, with a note from the doctor.)

Of course, for this to come about requires that interesting things happen - for very few wish to read a blog the entire contents of which are simply time-stamped notes as to bowel motions (you know, comfort, consistency, crap like that ... "soft but cohesive let my offerings flow/not roughly swift, nor impudently slow") - and such things don't just pop up like that, you know. There are a couple of ways of dealing with this problem and the first - the most direct - ensures that interesting things happen by going out and damn well kicking reality until it kicks back.

Say, take the TGV up to Paris and then the RER-C out to Seine St-Denis, strip stark naked in the courtyard of a high-rise immeuble, indecently assault a pig and start eulogising the Front National and the le Pen family. I am pretty sure that fairly shortly afterwards things that could be considered interesting, from a certain point of view, would indeed happen.

The other way is, in some respects, rather more difficult: you just have to make it all up. You can't go overboard on this one, and so - unless it's a really really quiet week - you will never read in these here august pages something along the lines of "Mayor of Moux Abducted, Anally Probed by Aliens" because let's face it, even if at least part of that is actually true (and I have that on good authority, thanks to a couple of the neighbours who met some cute little green guys from some place called Roswell), who's going to believe it? Apart from Pox News viewers, or the couch-dwelling retards that listen to Rush Limburger. (Is that actually a name, by the way? Sounds more like a kind of cheese to me, one of the smelly runny ones that everyone says are really authentique, très typé but somehow never seem to actually buy.)

But still, just saying: be aware that on rare occasions during a dull week you may, from now on, find reported here certain facts that although true in a metaphysical sense, such as "would be true, were it not for inconvenient facts", may not be entirely congruent with reality such as we know it.

In the "entirely true, even if I wish it weren't" department: LibreOffice, the "open" fork of OpenOffice, is still crap. I mean, apart from the rendering problems, and the tendency of embedded images to migrate to godnose where in the document, and the all-too common habit of crashing and losing your work when you ask it to do something complicated, like copy the contents of one spreadsheet cell into another ... I would like to love open-source software, and I do not wish to denigrate the efforts of tens of pimply-faced programmers, but I ask you - who in their right mind would organise things so that a) it doesn't use the "default printer" setting that has been available since Windows 3.1 and b) setting the default printer within LibreOffice does that only for the current document? (And is, incidentally, considered to be a change to the actual document. WTF?)

(And don't try to tell me that it's all about preserving your precious bloody purity of essence, "it's a cross-platform thing and we can't favour Windows over anything else" - I think the last operating system I used that did not have a printer preference setting was VRX, on an NCR mainframe, and that was only because you could only afford one printer and that was a 132-column 66 lines-per-page monster of a line printer that made the whole damn building, all five floors of it, shudder when it was spitting out the general ledger printouts.)

I mean honestly guys, I know you don't mind being laughing-stocks, what with living in the family basement and not seeing the sun a great deal and all that, but really? Has the concept of "usability" totally passed you by? Yeah, yeah, you doubtless just have to go and edit some obscure XML file somewhere, using the editor that you have to download from some git repository that is probably offline and build, and all will be peachy. You go tell that to Auntie Gladys, because I'm not going to.

I guess that for the Nth year in a row, this will be one where I am not going to be recommending FOSS or Linux to anyone that needs more hand-holding than just helping keep their index finger steady as it moves along the lines of words in the manual. Hell, I might even go and pay money for a copy of Microsoft Office, which actually works, or at least does what it says on the tin. Sorry, but I have a job, not a religion.

The thing about cargo cultism is that it does, in fact, work. It was but last Friday that Cédric and I personhandled the poele up into the living room, and lo! this being Monday, what should happen but a nice chauffagiste turned up at the door. He did not do the sucking of the teeth, nor the slow indrawn sigh, nor did he do the tugging of the nose and the rolling of the eyes to heaven. No, he simply said "Ok squire, I'll order in ten metres of tubing for the cheminée, should be able to get it up and running next week". Or something to that effect, anyway. (Happily, the guy is lyonnais by origin, and consequently more or less comprehensible.)

So it's Christmas tomorrow and I'm kind of goofing off because quite frankly Ole Yurrup is now more or less closed until January 4th, and I'm looking through the site of CuisinStore, who sell decent pots and pans and useful stuff. They also have some articles that are rather less useful, in my opinion - I mean, does the world really need a special, specific tool, that looks suspiciously like one of those things for getting rid of nose hair, just to remove the stem and leaves from strawberries? Or, come to that, an ingenious implement allowing you to cut a banana into regular disks? Provided you only want five of them, cut I assume from the middle of the banana in question. Godnose what you do with the other bits.

Well, I hope you'll be pleased to learn that the fine old tradition of the Christmas Eve Barbecue has once again been upheld. It was sufficiently warm and pleasant last night, and I found myself - through no fault of my own - with a defrosted filet mignon de porc, so it seemed like a Good Idea at the time to set it to marinating in honey, red wine and soy sauce whilst I dragged the smaller of the Webers out on to the terrace. It went down quite nicely with the very last of the yams, thanks very much.

And then, if I can shake off the lassitude that usually sneaks up on me around this time of year and avoid dozing off in the armchair, I suppose I'd better go get that bit of venison ready for roasting. Which will involve nowt more complicated than untrussing it, getting rid of the sinews and sheathing (honestly, you'd really think that if you lot are going to export venison to Ole Yurrup at eye-watering prices, you could at least prepare it correctly), and then wrapping in smoked raw ham before retrussing and bunging it in the oven for 45 minutes or so. And then hope that it doesn't turn out dry and dreadful, or raw and wobbly. If the latter then at least the leftovers - and there will be leftovers, for 1.4kg is too much for two - will eventually meet their maker in a Thai-style salad on Monday night, when we're planning on hosting a little apéro dinatoire for such friends and acquaintances as have not fled elsewhere.

 As it happens I find myself with rather fewer leftovers than I'd feared, for Bob! came round and there were three of us tucking into the meat, which oddly enough I managed to get just right. Neither gray, nor bloody. Never mind, there is still an adequate deficiency for tonight. All is ready: the meat is thinly sliced and has been marinating overnight in soy sauce, nuoc mam, lime juice and sambal oelek - the cheesy rolls with vieille mimolette are in logs in the freezer, ready to be sliced and baked - the puff pastry needs but to be rolled out and prepared for the flammenkuches - and last but not least, the KitchenAid made short work of mincing and then kneading pork, veal, and a couple of packets of spices that came back with us from Croatia a good number of years ago, in order to turn the whole mess into cevapcici to be cooked on the barbecue.

(OK, so the spices were use-by 2007, sue me. Under other circumstances I would have chucked them, on the grounds that they would be dry and dusty and no longer have any flavour, but when I opened the packets my nose told me otherwise and I feel no guilt.)

Either someone is trying to mess with my brain or else something really odd goes on in Russia over the Christmas period, for in the past three days I have received 643 page views from that country. WTF? Does have it in for me? Or am I just an innocent bystander, caught up in the spam wars? (Now up to 733. Do these people have nothing better to do?)

Anyways, Happy New Year to all of you - especially the Russians - and we'll catch up in 2016, I guess. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pissups, Brewery - Not Happening ...

I have got into the habit of going off to the cave coopérative every couple of days to get another 10l of Chateau Carton, so imagine my disgust when I went there today and found that there was none left! A pub with no beer is possible - a cockup on the logistics front, perhaps - but a winery with no wine? WAILIES! I suppose I shouldn't complain: it's probably good for me; they actually gave me free, gratis, and for nothing the last 5l box they had; and the new lot should be coming down the pipeline for next week.

And everyone is saying how 2015 will be a great year. I am willing to believe that this could be the case, but it will take a fair amount of tasting for me to form a definitive opinion.

For some reason there is a tradition - or perhaps (although I have my doubts) an old charter or something - in France whereby every Gristlemouse shopkeepers pay someone with less artistic talent than the average cockroach - someone in fact whose removal from this vale of tears would result in a slight but nonetheless measurable improvement in aesthetic sensibility the world over - to paint their shop windows with humouristic and educative scenes. The local bar is, sadly, no exception.

There is a reindeer that looks more like Odie the dog, from Garfield, who is apparently enjoying a bit of erotic strangulation at the hands of a large rat dressed as Santa Claus, whilst what I can only describe as a hedgehog onna stick looks on approvingly. There is also some sort of Grinch on skis getting ready to drop its trousers.

In other news, I see that thanks to the usual lack of effort put into security, thousands of you could have your Christmas barbie incinerated remotely due to gaping security holes in internet-connected barbecues. But seriously, who in hell uses their barbecue to browse porn or watch cute kitty videos? Who, you? Sorry. Honestly, sticking the damn thing on the innatübz just so as you can fire it up from your iThing seems to me to be a half-assed solution looking for a problem.

Also, have none of the half-witted arts-school dropouts who dream these crappy IoT things up ever seen "Terminator"? You'd have thought that SkyNet would've given them pause.

I always knew that healthy living would kill me, which is why I avoid it like the plague. Now I have evidence to back up my stance. (For a given value of "evidence", anyway - and probably not one that means what it says on the tin.)

Persons of a technical nature - looking at you, Tom - and those of a non-technical nature - looking at everyone else - may skip the next few paragraphs, because you either know it already or, alternatively, would rather slit your own throats and gargle with fresh arterial blood than know it. Be that as it may, I am reminded - once again - that the ARM architecture very rigorously enforces object alignment. To the point where if you ask it to fetch a 32-bit object from memory and supply an address which is not 32-bit aligned, it will blithely go off and fetch data from an address which suits it.

Old Motorola processors (remember those guys? Used to make chips, not just phones) at least raised an address exception and - usually - what passed for the operating system back in those days would trap it and work around it: Intel x86 processors could not give a shit. You pay a performance hit - an extra bus cycle - but that's a price I don't mind paying if the alternative is having things go randomly titsup.

Whatever, I am reminded of this because I had the occasion to share some memory between two entirely different processes. With the requirement that whilst one process was accessing that memory, the other had to wait. Computing 101 stuff. Now under Windows it would be easy-peasy: all synchronisation objects live in the kernel, may be named, and are global - so I would just create a mutex called "Bob!" in each process and use that.

Sadly, under UNIX - and by bastard descent, Linux - life is not so simple. Just take my word for it, I am the Doctor and I am not going to delve into the grubby details. So I thought to myself "Aha! I shall make one process the custodian of the data, and the other process - or processes - shall call upon it by invoking socket juju to perform data manipulation!" OK, so that's just reinventing RPC without paying €5000 to get the tool that converts yer formalized RPC schema into actual code that you can compile, so sue me.

Maybe a false economy, because had I paid for the tool in question it would have generated clunky, unreadable code that took care of byte order and data alignment. I choose to look upon it as a learning experience, for from now on I will never - until the next time - forget to pass data structures on 32-bit boundaries.

I've finished now, you can come back ...

On Friday Cédric turned up for more or less the last time, just to finish sanding the plaster on the ceiling downstairs, and I asked if he could give me a hand to shift the poele à granules out of the garage where it's been lurking for the last two years and get it up into its destined place where the old Kent-style insert used to be. (This is science-based sympathetic magic: by all rights the fact that it is there but not installed will cause the apparition of a chauffagiste, who will suck his teeth noisily and make an appointment to do the job sometime in June, 2017.)

"It can't" we said "be that heavy, after all ..." - let me tell you that heaving 250kg of cast-iron stove one metre up the steps to the verandah, through a door with about 1cm to spare on each side, and from thence to the front door and inside, is not something you really want to do. My back is still reminding me of this. Also, you'd think that just maybe they'd have fitted handles or something somewhere on the damn thing, to make it just that little bit easier to manoeuvre: you would be wrong.

But now I've taped up the gash in my wrist and wiped most of the blood off the floor, and we is waiting for Santa to send us an installation-type person. With any luck we shall be able to give it a test-drive before summer, although I'm not overly optimistic.

Be that as it may, Christmas is icumen and all that, and in a few days Rick will take a couple of jerrycans of elderly diesel out back and light up the solstice balefire and there will be much feasting and eating of odd apéritif biscuits and savoury cake with olives and bacon in there and soggy-bottomed greasy quiche, and hopefully a fair bit of drinking as well, and then the days will start getting longer and before you know it it'll be Spring again and the mangel-wurzels will be nodding their tousled heads or whatever.

But right now, because Provence and the Languedoc are not all cloudless bright blue skies and the smell of thyme and rosemary baking in the summer heat, it is gray and there's a spiteful little rain that reminds me of nothing more than the crachin Breton that we used to get in Britanny: the sort of light drizzle that would like to grow up into a proper drenching downpour but just can't get up the energy so it hangs around like a sullen adolescent playing with his pimples, making you damp rather than actually wet as such.

And as the weather is not forecast to improve over the coming week I can see that my plans for a Christmas Day barbecue might have to be put on hold: we shall just have to eat our foie gras and roast venison and whatever (Yams! I found real yams at the market! And bought all that the guy had left, despite the eye-watering price. Man the mighty hunter is pleased, goes "Ugh"!) on the table inside, wearing paper hats for a jollier atmosphere.

A very Hairy Gristlemouse and a Furry New Bear to all of you: see you in 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meals And Retribution ...

The Parkinsons-afflicted bells on the church stumbled into spasmodic, but enthusiastic, life at some ungodly hour of the moaning, letting all and sundry know that the itinerant vicar was in town, should anyone have a pressing need for a baptism or possibly the last rites. Now it's all over and place St-Régis is empty of cars and people, everyone having - I assume - buggered off to inflict themselves on somebody else for the traditional Sunday lunch.

Not that I care, for I was up early: having previously removed the wall in cellular concrete which went around the little landing at the very top of the stairwell I thought that, having finished tiling, perhaps I'd better stick something in its place; so I finished off installing the aluminium posts and the stainless steel rods and stuck up the handrail. Like that, should ever I be found huddled and broken at the foot of the stairs, Margo will not be able to fob off any curious members of the gendarmerie with "Oh! What a dreadful accident! I've been at him for months to put something up there, told him someone would be bound to fall over and hurt themselves one day." I look on it not so much as DIY but as an insurance policy.

Had I realised, back when we were young and enthusiastic and started on The Shamblings™, just what was entailed by the undertaking to tile five bathrooms, four bathroom floors and 8m² of landing, I would probably have gone out and bought an electric grouting gun. Let's face it, grouting's a tedious and messy job when you're using nowt but a palette knife, a rubber squeegee, a wetted finger and a damp sponge. Just saying.

But finding myself in Brico-Depot this moaning after the market, looking out for a few bits of wood to edge around the wooden panel that is destined to go into the hole left in the tiles from when the fireplace came out, I could not help but notice that they had Bosch electric sabre saws at a knockdown price, so it wasn't really my fault that I bought one. I do actually have a use for it, which is not always the case, and I'm sure it can be pressed into service if need be for carving meat or a recalcitrant chicken.

It is getting on for that time of year around these here parts when spare bits - such as hypertrophied livers - whose absence will no longer be noticed by the duck, due to its being dead, are available at an entirely reasonable price. And as I am a sucker for such things, and just possibly a little bit unreasonable, I wound up with about 800 gm of foie gras cru which, after soaking overnight in ground Panja pepper and bourbon, is now cooked and sitting in a terrine in the fridge. (Why do not more people make their own? It is every bit as good, and about a quarter of the price, as something posh from the supermarket - or from your local eleveur de canards, should you be lucky enough to have one such in the neighbourhood.)

Luckily, it needs to mature for a couple of days, which will bring us up to Friday night, which means heading off to the bar for a drink with Rick and Mary before coming home for a bit of post-pub neckfiller nosh: I suppose that we could do worse than a surfeit of foie gras, maybe followed by a chicken cooked in bread.

Put like that, I admit it doesn't seem particularly appetising, but it is a lot better than it sounds. Also, very simple: stick some parsley 'twixt skin and flesh, then roast the poor beast for an hour at 180° atop however many garlic cloves you happen to feel up to before setting it aside to cool. Whilst that's going on, make some proper yeast bread (handy hint - your Kitchenaid stand mixer is your friend here) with three or four cups of flour, a good glop of sour cream and a teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary.

Roll it out, smear with the soft sweet roasted garlic, wrap the chook in it to make a relatively neat parcel, and sling it into the oven for another 45 minutes or so, until the bread is nicely browned but definitely not burnt. Then tuck into your poulet en croute, wherein the bread has soaked up all the cooking juices, and enjoy. Potatoes would be superfluous.

(It is somewhat less spectacular, but a lot less messy, to slice the top of the bread off in the kitchen, remove and carve the bird, and stick the bits back into the crust - salting as you go if you so desire - before replacing the lid and serving. Take it from me, I know of what I speak.)

I should perhaps get out more often, and go look at letterboxes. Not that they're particularly interesting in themselves, especially as these days they're all standard-sized and painted a standard cack beige, but sometimes ... CASANOVA HICK. I mean, what kind of a name is that? And I put it to you, if you were actually called that, would you put it up on your letterbox?

André the plombier seems to have disappeared from circulation, which is a bit of a b'stard. He called about ten days ago to say he'd be round on the Wednesday so Cédric the maçon turned up too in case his help was needed: he got a text saying that André would be a bit late, there around 10am and then - nowt.

Cédric has now officially had a gutsful, but luckily has been able to lay his paws on another plombier-chauffagiste who is young and apparently competent - bad news for us because if this is the case he'll be mostly unavailable - so maybe, with a bit of luck, that poele à granulés that has been lurking sadly in the garage for the last two years will come out and take up its place in the living room Real Soon Now. Hope springs eternal, and all that.

Margo arrived back home the other night after ten days or so in furrin parts, with only five cases of wine in the car. It seems that if you take the car ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull it actually goes out into international waters, so they open the duty-free and you can pick up Villa Maria for an eminently reasonable price. And as people are always asking us "Just what are New Zealand wines like anyway?", we can now satisfy their curiosity.

Which was convenient, as the next evening we and a swag of others were invited round to Peter and Joanne's huge old house for a bit of festive cheer. The place must be impossible to heat, what with all the glass and the ridiculous height of the ceilings, but there was a fire burning in the Great Hall (well, alright, the summer living-room, which has a 4m stud and was built back in the days when they wanted no truck with insulation) which helped.

Peter had obviously spent the preceding days cooking, and the long table was, quite honestly, groaning under the weight: it was kind of excessive for twelve, so I guess they'll be eating leftovers for a couple of days. Personally I managed a slab of cold pork pie with Cumberland sauce, a bit of coleslaw and a few decent pork sausage rolls before going on to trifle with a trifle and seriously injure the blobby chocolate cake/pudding drowning under whipped cream, but the paté de foie, the stuffed jacket potatoes, the deep-fried spinach and chèvre packets and even the mincemeat strudel - all these, and more, went untouched. Shame really, but I have my limits.

It's good training mind you, for Gristlemouse is approaching fast and Margo brought back mince pies from the UK and I have a cuissot de chevreuil sitting in the freezer which I am going to have to take out and marinate and then roast at some point, and Rick is planning a balefire for the solstice which will involve even more food and wine: gods help me. I guess that, as usual, I'll be living on stale bread and tepid water for most of January.