Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Extremely Grammatical Case Of The Superfluous Semicolon ...

So I was writing some C code, as I must in order to get paid the pittance that allows us to eke out a miserable existence in our humble cardboard box over here in Ole Yurrup, and - as is usual with C code - it did not work. Well, it worked for a given value of "working", if what you mean by that is that it did not actually fall over and die (this is already a small triumph), but the results were not as expected. And there were seemingly random incidents of memory corruption, which tend not to please me.

As one will, I dug out the debugger and fired everything up: this gets complicated because there are actually two systems running in parallel on the platform in question and I was trying to debug the microprocessor and had to hope like mad that the Linux bit didn't bugger everything up too much. But it seemed to be fine, and everything went swimmingly until I put a breakpoint on one particular line ... and the debugger hung.

The definition of insanity is, supposedly, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results: I guess I must be slightly mad because I reran the damn thing four or five times, suspecting a compiler bug, before I actually though to look at the single line of code in question.

Autocomplete bites my bum again. I had started to type in a "for (...)" construct, and the frikking editor had thoughtfully added a semicolon at the end: so the procedure that should have been executed every time through the loop was in fact executed only once, when the loop had terminated. This being the case, it was also executed with out-of-range parameters, which explains the memory corruption. (Yeah, yeah, the procedure in question should have validated its arguments and returned a meaningful error code. Go have carnal knowledge of a chicken, smartypants.)

Also, I am reminded that the ARM architecture rigorously enforces 32-bit alignment for pointers to multi-byte objects. Although this speeds things up (by minimising external memory access cycles on the 32-bit bus, as if you cared or really wanted to know), it has its drawbacks when accessing data structures coming from a different architecture. Another fact that I knew, but had somehow managed to file in the "Shit I don't care about" drawer in the mental filing cabinet that's in the disused toilet under the temporal lobe.

There are still a few tractors out in the vines but, for the most part, the vendange seems to be over around these parts. So it is emphatically not a good time to be buying wine from the source, as it were, for any vigneron worth his (or her) salt is busy in the chai, fussing over the vats. Generally speaking the red pretty much looks after itself, provided you keep an eye on the temperature for the last thing you want is for it to go runaway on you, overflow and leave you with huge puddles of sticky smelly must all over the place: the white can be a bit more problematic.

Especially for the bio-dynamic crowd that refuse to use sulphur dioxide to sterilise anything, on the grounds that it's chemical and therefore nasty: you can get some particularly foul wine that way. Sticking dock leaves (or whatever) in to "neutralise the toxins" just doesn't seem to work these days, nor does pumping the stuff off the lees in harmony with the phases of the moon seem to be particularly effective.

(And speaking, whilst I'm on the subject, of sticky, smelly must, another reason to avoid the chais at this time of year is the smell of fermenting grapes: sickeningly sweet and mildly alcoholic, it's almost enough to put you off drinking.)

As will happen just about every year, unless the vines have actually been attacked by leprosy, they are proclaiming it to be, if not the vintage of the century, at least it'll be "un vin de vigneron" - your guess is as good as mine, but I think that probably means that a winemaker can either do something great or some mediocre ratshit, depending on whether or not he knows what he's about. Which is at least true: it's rare that you have a year in which you're going to make great wine no matter how incompetent you are.

I am not an unconditional follower of the American political scene, but I do have to say that even if it's just for laughs The Donald certainly spices things up. It would be so much fun if ever he did get the Republican nomination, thereby pulling a Corbyn and making the party toxically unelectable. Also, it would give me the opportunity to casually drop into conversations the fact that the American conservative establishment was one Bush short of a shrubbery.

A lazy Sunday (OK, I still got up at 8:30 so that our hairy retards can go about their business elsewhere than on our terrace, but still I didn't do any actual work so that counts for something) and in Moux it was the vide-grenier de l'école, ie the boot sale to try and make up the short-fall in funding from the state, and maybe pay for the kids to go off on a school trip somewhere more interesting than the local sewage treatment plant. (Which is, incidentally, almost operational now. I can hardly wait for the inauguration - don't like to imagine what we'll be drinking, though.)

We've been there, and done our share in the past of buying an entire booklet of lotto tickets so that the local OAPs were not confronted with a line of fifteen brats each trying to sell them one, and making stodgy olive and bacon savoury cakes for the last prize at the tombola, but we went off anyway - just to have a look around and see what there was (who knows, perhaps some furniture we need for one of the bedrooms?) and with the firm intention of popping a €10 note directly into the petty cash. Saves bother. Because if you actually buy a tombola ticket you run the risk of winning, and finding yourself obliged to lug home a furry purple donkey with a straw hat, a bottle of cheap fizzy stuff, and a rather nasty olive and bacon savoury cake, all of which you will have to surreptitiously chuck into the recycling bins at some point.

There was actually one professional brocanteur there, but I didn't really want a gilt triptych mirror from the 60s, nor a set of steak knives from the 30s with casein fake-bone handles - and in any case the guy seemed more interested in buying up the stock from some of the other stands. Which probably made Joanne very happy, because she managed to hock off all the old china from various hotels that's been following them around for years at a knock-down price, then fold up her table and go home.

But we did see quite a nice tall wooden cabinet, which looked as though it'd been made as a one-off job by a professional - a bit spoilt by the fact that at some time in the past someone had tried to remove the varnish on one side with spit and sandpaper, then given that up as a bad job and stuck a bit more varnish on top. But that's easy enough to fix.

So I asked the price, and the woman told me it was sold: I said "Too bad" and she replied "How much would you pay?" Even if you do rather expect stall-holders at such things to have the commercial ethics of CMOT Dibbler I found that rather blatant and we wandered off to inspect the six-packs of Johnny Hallyday VHS tapes and the Barbies at the next stand: later in the morning I saw her from a distance trying to inveigle someone else into gazumping the original buyer. If in fact there had been one.

Got a letter from the EDF in the mail today: I foolishly opened it, not having bothered to check the address because if I had done so I would have seen that it was for Jim and Céline, the previous owners - so I suppose that strictly speaking I am guilty of interfering with the Queen's Mail, or something along those lines. Still, I'm glad I did, it will save them bother ...

Nowhere, I suspect, but in France could this happen. It seems that in 2012 the government issued a fiat to the effect that electricity, for those happy enough to be on a "tarif Bleu", would be priced at a given level. Fair enough, the EDF is a state enterprise, after all ... but then, in 2014, the high court decided that this level was insufficient to cover the costs, and upped it. OK, why not?

Because there is a big "but", that's why. Rather than say "Fine, we cocked up, we'll raise tariffs and claw the cash back somehow" because let's face it, the money has to come from somewhere and if they write it off it will be coming out of my pocket anyway in higher taxes somewhere along the line, the decision was made retroactive: so in my trembling hands I have a bill, for Jim and Céline, asking for €9.50 covering the period from 9/07/12 to 9/07/13 ie the year before we moved in. I rather think that is €9.50 that the state will not be seeing in the near future, for I have absolutely no intention of forwarding the letter.

I really think that the French need to buck up their ideas about retailing. I mean, do you have any idea how bloody difficult it is to find a bottle of beer at 7am? It should be simple: it is not. And before you ask - no, it was not for breakfast. Not principally, anyway.

As it happens, I was up in Chambéry for a number of reasons - of which more later, also concerning the retail sector - and I foolishly asked Stacey what I could do to give her pleasure the next day. The grubby-minded amongst you may now leave the room. The answer turned out to be "a carbonnade". This is an eminently simple dish which requires nowt more than some stewing beef, onions, bacon and - here's where it goes kinda titsup - decent dark beer. Also, about three hours slowly simmering, minimum ...

So Saturday moaning I rip't myself (untimely) from the comfort of the sofa around some ungodly hour and headed off to the market, where I found the meat and bacon - and a baguette, and a pain au chocolat aux amandes just because - easily enough - but, sad to say, not one single little seller of artisanal beer! Never one to be defeated, I recalled that there was, not too far away, an inner-city supermarket (these seem to be springing up like mushrooms, and a good thing too because at least you can get a bottle of crap wine early in the morning, or some hideously overpriced industrial gin whose principal ingredient seems to be used paint-thinner, and I'll let you work out just why it is that the bottle seems to have been sand-blasted from the inside) so I tried there.

Sorry, inner-city supermarket, but a €5 bottle of bloody Heineken just is not going to do the job!

Eventually I wound up driving out to Bassens and waiting for the big Carrefour there to open - and that was an experience in itself, one I rather wish I'd not had, seeing all these pensioners queuing up ready to batter the doors down with their shopping trolleys and walking frames the instant the bell rang - and rushing in to snaffle a single bottle of beer from the shelves and escaping with it. Godnose what the cashier thought: I really hope I don't look quite like that particularly desperate sort of alcoholic, but I must admit I'd left the house unshaven and in dire need of a coffee, so just maybe ...

By 8:30 I'd fried up the bacon chunks with the onions, browned the beef in the fat and sprinkled the lot with flour, and poured most of the beer over the top with a satisfying fizzle, and as it started to make slow happy bubbling noises on her ridiculous hotplate I thought to hell with it, and went out to finish the beer on the verandah, with a cigar. I thought I deserved it, for I am not a morning person.

Mainly, I had gone up to see a client: knowing a bit of SQL is always a handy thing to have in your toolkit. But there was one more thing (there always is): our credit cards had expired. End of September, in fact. Under normal circumstances the bank automatically sends you out a new one about a month earlier, no problems -  as the end of the month loomed I started to worry, and rang the buggers.

"Woah, it simms your cartes were not renouvelled automatically, and they will expiah."

"Yes. This is a fact of which I am, oddly enough, aware. What exactly are you proposing to do about it?"

"Ah shall warder some moah, and they shall be posted out to yew next week."

And time went by ... it's hard, these days, without a bit of valid plastic about your person. At least my business card was still valid, otherwise we would have had problems feeding the cats. So anyway, as I happened to be up, I rang the agency, expecting the worst. Which I got. "Yerss, we have yore cartes. Zey has been heah for ten days."

"Excuse me, which of the words in the very slowly-spoken phrase 'send them down here by post' did you fail to understand? Please do not try to tell me it was my bloody accent."

"Will you excuse me? Ah have anothah call."

Yeah. So whatever, after the beer and nicotine fix, and a much-needed shower, I went back - again - into Chambéry. Is it too much to expect of a bank that they be at least as competent as a ten year-old with ADD? Apparently so.

But in other, unrelated news, Cédric turned up and we no longer have a dire salmon-pink fireplace. It makes that downstairs room that much bigger and lighter, although he still has the half-tonne cast-iron insert to remove, and the pellet burner has yet to be installed. It has also advanced our timetable a bit, because now we have no choice but to rip out the wood-panelling false ceiling in there, and do something about that rather quickly. Sooner, at any rate, than we had planned. What the hell.

Mind how you go, now.

Also, no photos today: you have not been particularly nice, and I have not had the time to go out with the camera. Live with it.