Sunday, July 23, 2017

T'were Better Back In't Olden Times ...

Dribs and drabs of information come to us on the aetheric waves that bounce around inside the crystal sphere that surrounds our local universe (Pluto is so not included) and are eagerly circulated around the little group, for actual excitement is not easy to come by in Moux. In the latest splatters, we have learnt that not only is there a prospective tenancière for the bar, but apparently the legal disputes have been resolved, and so there is no judicial impediment to its being joined in holy matrimony imminent reopening.

Also, we learn that the majority of the problems were, as all suspected, largely of the mairie's own making: for what they did (or so it would seem, according to that nice young Mr. Reliable of the well-known local family, the Sources) when leasing the bar to Ivan and Nadège, was actually hand over title to the licence IV that went with it. (This is a bit of paper that says, officially, that you are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages on the premises and is thus more or less a sine qua non for running a bar: the thing is, of course, that they don't actually make them any more - can't get the wood these days - so they trade for quite a hefty price.) So it seems that the mairie eventually clenched its collective sphincter and bought it back, and lo! the problems have disappeared.

Don't know where the money came from, but it would be rather nice if they could rummage down the back of the sofa and come up with enough small change to pay for the connection to the optical fiber that's currently being laid in the village, on its way to Douzens and Conilhac and even Fontcouverte: but apparently our Dear Leader can see no reason why people should want high-speed internet access.

Personally, I'd been led to believe that the whole operation was being subsidised to the hilt by the conseil général and so in fact it would cost the village sod-all: maybe I'm wrong, or maybe Réné is just having a hissy-fit. Whatever. What we've got is still better than good old dial-up, back in the days when we had the then hi-tech US Robotics modem chundering along at the breath-taking pace of 19200 baud, and we had to yell at the kids not to try phoning because we were doing research on kitty porn.

Sometimes the STOOPID it burns and it gets to me, and you'll just have to put up with it for a short time. Back in the day, about 40 years ago, the first lesson we learnt as wet-behind-the-ears programmers was "validate everything, as soon as you can". (Not actually true, the first lesson we learnt was "The upstairs bar at the Commercial/permanently reserved table at the Stable opens in 30 minutes, now would be a good time to go before some numpty from the Gas Department decides to try it on", and the second one was how to read a stack dump, but you get my drift.)

But somewhere along the yellow brick road to this brave new digital world in which we live, it would seem that the principle has been either forgotten, or maybe accidentally tossed out when the trousers went into the wash. For I am in the throes of implementing a data exchange system involving curl, and JSON strings (if your eyes are starting to glaze over, feel free to skip a couple of paragraphs), and handling incoming SMS, and amongst the data that I have to handle is the IMEI of the data source.

Should not be a big deal, for I already do that - it is just a string of 15 digits - but for some strange reason the database guys across the table from me decided to push it as an integer, rather than a string. So I called. "Could you not", I asked, "send it off as a 15-character string, left-padded with zeros if necessary? Because as an integer, it blows up the bloody Linux library routines, and I shall have to go modify them."

"Oh no, can't do that, it's an integer."

"Why not just change the typedef in your database to CHAR(15) or, if that's too much hassle, just export it using one of the many SQL functions available for just this porpoise?"

"Oh no! If we changed it to CHAR then people could just type any old thing and we'd have to validate it, and if we used a typecast for export that would mean extra work for us, and besides our JSON wouldn't be pure!"

Christ, even the bloody key-punch machines had programmable templates, such as "ten-character field: first three upper-case alpha, next six numeric digits only, last one either M or F": I for one am not entirely sure that "progress" is quite the right word to describe what we've done over the last four decades.

Still, we shall see just how "pure" their bloody JSON is once I've buggered it: in the interim I have modified the appropriate libraries to use 64-bit integer values, changed my code to do some special handling, and perform all the validation that should (in an ideal world) have been done at the front-end in my code (something which, I admit, I was going to do anyway because when it comes to providing me with guaranteed clean, sanitized data I don't trust them worth a damn).

Of course the downside is that when I do detect an error (and believe me I will, I just know it) I have no way of getting that information back up the chain to the actual database, so they'll just have to live with things inexplicably failing to respond as they should ...

Not sure what to make of this one: a request for tender from the CNRS which popped up in my inbox this afternoon. "Avis de publicite No 51027 : 'tableau de bord de suivi de la construction de cartes mentales' a ete publie ce jour." Skipping the blabla, this is asking for a "dashboard to follow fabrication of mental cards" and it's those last two words that rather worry me because I can't work out what they're doing in that sentence.

Just maybe, as "carte" could equally well mean "map", they are calling for a device to track the construction of memory palaces, or the oeuvre of Schuiten and Peeters ... then again, maybe not.

Whatever, evaporation has happened and all the vitamins have inexplicably disappeared from my glass so, ever-careful as to my health, I must go refill it. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Emma And The Cicada That Never Was ...

As Johann put it, "When Emma takes me on a run, if she is off the leash she can eat any shit she finds, but if she is on the leash she knows that she should not do this, and when we were running back I noticed that she had her head down, and her mouth was tightly closed, and she would not look up at me. So I stopped, and I said 'Emma, is there something you want to tell me?' And she looked at me with her big brown eyes, and she said nothing but shook her head, and there was a huge cicada wing sticking out of her mouth which was still firmly shut."

"So I asked her again, and she was going to shake her head but then the cicada started to chirp which worried her very much, because she did not know from where the noise was coming, and then as she looked at me the cicada went full-on Wagner and started doing 'The Ride of the Valkyries' and Emma was very upset, and ran around in circles ten times and then sat down heavily, and I think that then she bit the head off the cicada, because it stopped making a noise. And then she looked up at me, and grinned and opened her mouth and said 'See? You ain't seen nothing yet. Nothing in there, never was. OK?' And we ran back home, and she grinned all the time."

So now you know.

In other news, two burly, almost offensively cheerful young men turned up in a lorry this moaning and manhandled the new fridge I'd ordered through the gate and into the living-room. Luckily I was expecting it, although I'd not thought they'd be quite so early - and consequently had to rush back halfway through the morning walkies, following a phone call. So the large fridge in the kitchen has been replaced by an even larger fridge, which is all shiny! sparkly! and has no fingerprints on it, so we're not allowed to touch it for a couple of months, and the old fridge is sitting in the living room waiting for Peter to come and carry it off to his garage for whatever foul porpoises he may have in mind.

We did not actually need a new fridge, for the old one still did its job of keeping stuff cold(ish), but you know how it is: summer sales come around, you idly say to yourself something like "Hey! After the ice-cream maker, why not a new fridge with a freezer compartment that actually holds more than a single Mars Bar and doesn't need defrosting every half-hour?" and all of a sudden nothing will do but you must have a new fridge.

And in my case this meant going through all the big supermarkets around Carcassonne only to find that they were completely innocent of anything resembling a 25%-off fridge, until in a fit of stubborn spite I went into ElectroDepot and ordered the biggest one I could find that would actually fit into my kitchen, 400€ delivered and there you have it.

Sometimes you have to wonder. As you are probably aware, I have an accountant (that I see maybe once a year) and every month I get an e-mail asking me to send off incomings and outgoings for the month, so that he can send off the VAT declaration (and, incidentally, so that I may - albeit grudgingly - pay it). They have obviously embraced whole-heartedly the new digital world, for I just got one such e-mail apparently sent to all their clients, cc'ing everyone rather than doing a bcc. So now I know, for instance, that the photo shop at Carrefour is a client, as is the chateau de Belle-Ile, another domaine at Montbrun, a few garages and a cardiologist. I've not bothered going through the 420 others on the list.

Fair's fair, they all know I'm a client too ... what could possibly go wrong? Normally, that's the sort of unthinking incompetence you associate with the government, or someone like AT&T. I allowed myself the small pleasure of adding a snarky footnote to my reply, pointing out that it was considered best practice not to do this: should it happen again I might well hit "reply to all" and cc the CNIL for good measure.

Maybe I really should get around to setting up a junk mail account for these sort of dealings, sooner rather than later. OK, the horse has already bolted, but perhaps I can stop the donkeys from escaping ...

Whatevers, we are definitely in summer now and the dress uniform about these parts is shorts, T-shirt, sandals, sunglasses and (in my case) hat: the barbecues have all come out of hibernation and we (and various friends who come round) are always delighted to find that the ground-floor living-room is the coolest place in the house.

But I am getting ahead of myself, and possibly digressing. A few days back there was a bimmeling at the door, and there was Réné. (Another Réné. Not our Dear Leader, nor the putative café owner from 'Allo 'Allo, but a short shy stubby guy who used to be a helicopter mechanic for the Army.) He had come - shyly, as is his wont - to hand-deliver an invitation to a blues evening with The Smashing Burritos, at some place we'd never heard of just out of Fabrézan.

And after watching the fireworks with Bob! and Cassia on the 13th (don't ask) and drinking chez Réné (the other Réné, do tell me if this is getting complicated) on the 14th and discovering that Julian and Batu had managed to hock off all their wine and might even manage to turn a profit, however small, from it, we thought we might as well head along and see what was on offer.

Luckily, food was not a major concern because although I actually ordered a large barquette of chips fairly early in the evening they never managed to make it to our table (mind you, I never actually paid for it either, so I feel no angst): I do know that food was in fact available (for a given value of that word) for I did see some lucky punters being served up what looked like a semi-decent hamburger (and others, less fortunate, being served a piece of fish that reminded me just why I'm a carnivore) but all in all, the words "piss-up", and "brewery" do come to mind. Hell, they even ran out of rosé after an hour or so: not easy to do around here. Maybe they'd not expected such a commercial success: godnose it's hard enough to plan for, when you never know just how many are going to turn up.

Anyways, Réné turns out to be one of nature's drummers, stolidly sitting there behind the batterie banging away, sunglasses masking most of his face, whilst the others ponced about with their guitars.

Actually, it was very good. The place itself is great, and completely unsuspected from the road (possibly, also, only semi-legal because of alcohol being served without a licence, don't you know; but what the hell, it's a private club and the membership fee is included in the price of your first pichet of wine) and the music was excellent. Shan't hesitate to go back.

And then today I cremated meats (including a saucisse de vigneron, which does not actually contain more than 0.5% wine-maker) on the barbecue and Rick and Mary duly turned up to help us get rid of the stuff along with the first trial batch of figgy ice-cream (note to self: swap in honey for half the sugar when reducing the figs, just to make it even more decadent than it needs to be) and after we'd drunk moderately we went round to their place for coffee, and a swim in the little pool they have that's hidden in the jungle out back.

Hope it didn't snow for you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bonked by Beetles, Mauled by Midges ...

Yet another entry in our sporadic list of Health & Safety tips for the south of France: should you take it into your heads to go walking in the pinède at this precise time of year, it might be a good idea to don your fencing gear - especially the mask. (We're talking sharp pointy stick fencing here, not the sort of highly technical thing cockies do, involving n° 8 wire and posts, or sometimes just amputation, to keep sheep in one place.)

For there are the usual flocks of black or yellow admirals (I'm taking a wild guess here, naval butterfly identification was never my strong point and for all I know they're actually commodores) and the stubborn bloody little mouches that insist on trying to investigate your nasal cavities, but there are also swarms of cicadas - and I'm not talking about the teeny things you get, I mean the big buggers, two or three cm long, ugly as sin and heavy as hell.

And because they each weigh as much as a smallish brick, they do not care if you happen to be in their flight path. Just saying, is all.

Speaking of the damn things, when Johann dropped Widdling Emma off after their run the other day he promised to tell us the tale of The Adventures Of Emma, Chapter VII: Emma and the Crunchy Cicadas. I know how that ends: never well, for the cicadas. Still, Emma and the Big Pile of Poo and Emma and the Huge Muddy Puddle were ripping good yarns, so I'm looking forward to hearing it.

OK, the plots are pretty much always the same - Emma finds something really gross and either rolls in it or eats it, or both - but the nature scenes are described rather well, and I can see the characterisation developing ...

Over the years my scalp, rather in the manner of Hy Brasil and other wondrous floating isles, has risen through what little hair is still left to me until the only thing between it and the blazing sun is a few tufts of fuzz, fighting a valiant but ultimately vain rearguard action. So I bought a hat, which I now clap firmly on the old bonce (for the things are exorbitantly expensive, and I would not wish it to be blown away) whenever I go out into the daylight.

For meeting Rick in Carcassonne the other day, he gave me the address of a chapellerie - not a Christian supply house selling such necessities as small chapels, but an extremely respectable enterprise specialising in the sale of chapeaux (and occasionally, in these degenerate times, gloves - although strictly speaking that would be the occupation of a gantier) - so I hied me thither and explained my requirements to the tall, languidly elegant woman behind the counter.

"To all appearances, Sir would be best served by a panama ..." she murmured and with no further ado reached up to a shelf I'd have needed a stepladder to get to, whipped one down and plonked it on my head. "Ah non! Too big, and it does very little for sir's appearance ..." so the offending article was removed and another slapped in its place. "Très bien! Very elegant! Truly we have a hat for every head."

So I paid the eye-watering price of an apparently authentic panama hat as she was lecturing me on the manner in which it should be carried (neither rakishly tilted forwards, not worn in a slovenly manner on the back of the head, but firmly placed in a horizontal manner) and left, still with a nagging doubt that it made me look even more of a complete dork - a difficult thing to do, I must admit. I'll spare you the photo.

I can see that in the next day or so I shall be spending my time up to the armpits over a large saucepan (like, a large tinned copper saucepan, such as might be lurking in one of the cupboards) for Rick came past last night bearing a large bag of extremely ripe violet figs, which he had "acquired" with the aid of a ladder and the fact that it was getting dark and no-one could see him clambering up someone else's wall to get at the things.

(Incidentally, fig season makes walking our hairy retards into quite an exercise. They just love road-kill figs, even the ones that have been run over and squashed ... I'm sure they're not actively bad for them, just makes bowel motions a bit Technicolor.)

I already had pêches blanches destined for the midday tart because otherwise I could have done it with figs, or I guess I could have made a flammenkuche with dried ham, figs and goat's cheese, but let's face it they're hideously sweet and Margo doesn't really like them anyway (come to that, I have difficulty managing more than one), so I rather suppose I'm up for making jam. Or chutney. Or whatever. Hence the rendezvous with a pot.

On the other hand, the ice-cream maker actually works. Martin and Angela came round for fish balls in sweet and sour sauce for lunch, and as by efforts I would not hesitate to qualify as heroic we have finished off all the ice cream there was to be found in the freezer, Margo thought it would be a good idea to see what we could do. We cheated - rather than making up our own custard last night and leaving it to cool she went off and bought some crème anglaise at the supermarket, and mixed it with heavy cream - but who cares? Poured it in, pushed on the go-tit and 45 minutes later it's Hey! We has ice cream!

This is a revelation to me, and I can see that in the coming months there will be any number of trials, vast quantities of eggs will be sacrificed, and who knows, maybe dulce de leche will go in there. Shall let you know how it goes.

Whatever, it's been a social month here at The Shamblings™ - by our (admittedly low) standards, anyway. Three lots of old friends turned up in succession (yeah, that meant three trips around la Cité, but I can live with that, albeit reluctantly) and finally, just a few days ago, Julia and James arrived.

For the moment they're camping out, but I think I shall rearrange the bookshelves and stick Julia in between James and Jacques, and shift Paul off to one end, with the La Nouvelle Larousse Gastronomique (bit of a misnomer, I must admit, for my edition dates back to 1983 so it's hardly nouvelle anymore) to keep him company and stop him bothering everyone else.

Yes, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking (volumes 1 & 2) turned up, as did James Beard's American Cookery (sadly, The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking is long since out of print, and more or less unobtainable: at least, at a price that I'm willing to pay). I have a lot of reading to do: luckily Beard was a wonderful writer, and I have great hopes of Julia.

In other news, the mayor's idiot nephew is off on sick leave or something, and has been replaced by two or three yoof. "Ah!", I thought to myself, "young, dynamic, Moux shall no longer be home to Mr. Cockup ..."

Then, a few weeks back, I came across two of them at the far end of the sports ground, where they'd been dispatched to move a hole or something, so they'd driven the municipal Vespa van 150m down there and then, I guess, discovered that they'd brought only left-handed shovels so sent one of their number back on foot to the workshop to get the right gear ...

Anyway, my point is that the other two were standing around, looking in puzzlement at the bright yellow municipal wheelbarrow, as if asking themselves how in hell one was supposed to make it work. Not, I think, the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Whatever, the sun is shining bright, and the terrace calls.