Saturday, 11 August 2018

New lease of life

I have an old Dell PC.  It was at the high end of the range when I bought it, but it's a bit old now.   It used to be my main desktop PC running Windows 7, but the Ethernet connection got fried in a thunderstorm, so I relegated it to use as a driver for my music system.  It holds my MP3s and connects to Spotify and other web-based music sources (via WiFi).

I have generally been impressed with the PC itself.  It seems solidly built, and it's maintainable: you can replace the battery easily enough, and can access the disk drives and memory chips by unscrewing a single screw.  What's more, Dell's tech support is excellent.  Their website identifies your PC, tells you what drivers you need and helps with fault diagnosis.  You can quickly get a Dell techie online too, if you get stuck.

It was getting a bit slow, and I was wondering what to do about that.  I was in the habit of keeping it running (in sleep mode) when not in use because it took so long to boot, and then the applications were slow to start.   When I want to listen to music, I prefer not to have to wait 5 minutes.

There were options for improving things;  replace it with a new one (expensive), or perhaps upgrade the memory.  Installing Ubuntu Linux was a possibility, it's supposed to make PCs go faster.  I have heard good things about solid state disk drives (SSDs) too, perhaps I can upgrade it with one of those. 

In the olden days of computers you had two types of memory: fast (and therefore expensive) main memory, and slower (and hence cheaper) bulk storage.  The former was originally in the form of tiny magnetic rings and is more recently on memory chips, the latter was and still is to a large extent, disk drives.  Advances in memory technology have meant that you can economically use the fast memory chips for bulk storage, hence SSDs.  (Solid state is an ancient term, used to differentiate transistors and microchips (solid state) from thermionic valves (gaseous state)).

Given that I like the build quality and tech support, I decided to upgrade it rather than replace it, and decided to invest a relatively small mount of dosh in an SSD. 

YouTube is a wonderful thing - if you are trying to do something a bit complicated, there is always someone who has done it before, and has posted a video of how to do it.  I fitted the SSD no trouble, installed the Win7, the antivirus, the drivers, and all the software I need (in that order).   It now goes like a rocket.  It takes less than a minute to boot so I switch it off between listening sessions.  Applications load instantly.  I'm a happy bunny.

(I did have a problem with Windows 7: I installed the operating system from the disk originally supplied so long ago by Dell.  There have of course, been a couple of hundred upgrades and bug fixes since then, so the PC downloaded them all and then spent an age installing them when I shut it down, and then spent an age failing to configure them and having to roll back, when I restarted it.  I had to do a re-install, and told it to ask permission before it messed around with updates)

Second-hand Dells are suddenly an attractive proposition, too.

Communal efforts

The slogan of the French Republic is Liberté, Egalité, Fraterinté; loosely freedom, equality and brotherhood/solidarity.   These three words embody what is referred to as the values of the Republic.

The French idea of freedom is different from the English, and although I don't know for sure, I think it comes down to a difference in the origins of common law.  An Englishman is (in theory at least) born free, and is constrained only by the specific rules set by the state and by whatever contract he might enter into with his fellow man.  I could be wrong but I think the French laws of Napoleonic origin specify that nothing is permitted unless specifically authorised.   For sure, if you are doing, or trying to do, something that is "non autorisé", you could be in trouble.

On the equality front, the French are pretty hot, especially on sexual equality.  Applicants for citizenship are quizzed on their views, and if you express an opinion that differs from the values of the republic, you might find your application turned down.  I have no insight into comparisons of the equality between or among the elite and the plebs, but England is looking pretty poor on this front, from where I'm sitting.

On the solidarity front, I find the French to be nothing short of impressive.  There are many examples I could cite, but the most recent one involved our local school.  Part of one of its walls fell down, and much of the rest of it was unsafe.  An email went out to local residents calling for volunteers to help demolish the unsafe part of the wall, since local taxes weren't up to the expense.   There must have been thirty people there from a village of 150 or thereabouts, which I reckon was good going.   Everyone did their part, Christian was there with his big tractor; you put the biggest stones in the front scoop and he made a big heap of them farther up the road out of the way.  I brought a pick-axe, cold chisel and lump hammer, plus some pastries left over from the gîte.  Others provided coffee.

I forgot to take a camera with me, so all I have is a picture of the wall not being there, (there it is - gone!) and a big heap of stones.  (More are up the road)

Friday, 3 August 2018

Helpful advice

It's been a bit hot recently, in case you hadn't noticed.  The car, left out in the sun, gets very hot inside, on account of the greenhouse effect.  I've always been suspicious of the efficacy of these windscreen insulators, but I'm getting fed up with burning my back on the seat when I get in, so I thought I'd give one a try.  They're not expensive, after all.   It does, in fact, seem to improve things.

It comes with instructions, including "Do not use [this product] whilst driving".   No, really?

I'm wondering if this is the legal department getting creative ("What could possibly go wrong that we should defend ourselves against?") or someone really has tried to use it while driving, crashed, and then tried to sue the manufacturer.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Ethernet bugs

I can remember when Ethernet was young, and it was battling it out with the Cambridge Ring as a system for connecting computers.   The Ethernet protocol was called CSMACD (carrier sense multiple access / collision detect) which probably explains why a different name was chosen for commercialising it.  The advantage of the Cambridge Ring, a token-based protocol, is that performance degraded gracefully as the system became more heavily loaded.  Its disadvantage was that the cable had to be in one big loop connecting everything; it had to go out to, and back from, wherever it was going.   Ethernet on the other hand, would suddenly hit a performance wall as the load increased, but had the advantage of only needing the wire to go out to the computers it was connecting. (Well 8 wires actually but there is no need for a closed loop)  A closed loop is also much more vulnerable to the man with a spade cutting your cable, and Ethernet is more resilient to this kind of problem.   As we know, it was Ethernet that won, and as it happens, in 40 years of using it, I don't think I have come across a performance bottleneck.

Our telephone line comes to our house supported on long poles that are, at a certain point, the highest things on a nearby hill.  Lightning loves it, and we get zapped more often than we would like.  Most recently, it fried Anita's PC, via, of all things, the Ethernet connection to which the spark had jumped.  Not only did it fry the PC, but the cable that passes through the wall to connect it to the router no longer works either.  I have spent the best part of an afternoon trying to work out where the problem is.

The difficulty in this kind of diagnosis is that you can't leave anything to chance.  You have to know that the test kit is working, know that a certain cable is good.  Negative results must be confirmed by careful re-checking.  Anything unknown is going to come back and bite your bum.  The result of careful testing is that I believe I need a new wall-mounted RJ45 socket.  I will get one this afternoon, but I might wait until tomorrow to connect it.  Had enough of this crap, basically.

P.S.  I fitted the new socket this morning and it works.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Pickled onions

I love pickled onions.  My pleasure in eating them is twofold: firstly, I like the sensations; that crunchy bite, the sharp and tangy flavours, and secondly eating one brings back memories of a particular incident of my youth.

I was with schoolfriends, we were on a canal boat holiday, cruising the backwaters of England in a narrowboat.  Each day ended up with us mooring in the middle of nowhere, and seeking out the nearest pub.  This particular evening, the pub sold pickled onions, and bottles of beers from a local brewery that we had not heard of.  So my mates and I decided that it would be a good idea to sample all of the different types of beer on offer from said brewery, with a pickled onion between each one to refresh the palate.  I don't remember the end of the evening as the memories fade out into a drunken mist, but I do remember the state of my mouth the next day.  Bottom of a birdcage doesn't come close.

Anyway, the good harvest of shallots this year has prompted me to pickle some of them.   The smallest shallots I am keeping to replant next year, and the biggest ones are for cooking.  It's the medium-sized ones that are getting pickled.  They're pretty much like onions so I am expecting the same pleasure on eating them.

The recipe is from the River Cottage handbook on preserves, using the option of almost no honey, and slight changes to the spice mix (can't get mace here).  I'll know the result in a few weeks.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Patience is a virtue

When Spring comes along after a long Winter, I am impatient to get going with the vegetable planting.   Winter squash gets planted about a week before the last frosts so that the leaves emerge as soon as possible but without risk of being frozen to death.

This year I decided to make a special effort for the squash plants.  I got myself a trailer-load of sheep manure from my friend Louis, mixed it in with well-rotted compost from the heap, spread it all over about 20 square yards, then covered the lot with a tarpaulin.  I planted the seeds in small holes cut into the tarpaulin.  They grew like topsy.

Winter squash is a wonderful vegetable for the cold seasons.  You can cut them up and bake them, use them in stews, or as the basis of a nice thick warming soup.   Ideal for those chilly Autumn and Winter days.  Mine are delivering ripe fruits in July.  Perhaps I was a bit too impatient.

On the rest of the veg front, some success and some failures.  The tomatoes are going strong, I've had only one ripe one off them so far, but there are plenty of green ones coming along nicely.  The beetroot is looking good too, and I've already had a couple of them in a salad, with more to come.

On the downside, the runner beans have not done too well: I have plenty of flowers but not many  beans set.   My friend Mick who lives a few miles away has the same problem -  I wonder if we have a shortage of bees?  The broad beans didn't do too well either, but they got devastated by mice so I didn't end up with many plants.  I planted French Marigolds around them to ward off evil spirits, so at least I got some flowers.  The French beans have done very well, however.

The poatoes are dying back nicely, we have had a few of the early ones already, but I'm leaving the rest in the ground for use as and when needed.   The asparagus is also growing up nicely, I am hoping that it is storing its energy for vigorous and tasty shoots next year.

The swiss chard is doing fine, with nice shiny leaves and bright veins, but the brassicas, all of them have had an infestation of something that eats the leaves.  The cabbage, kale, cauliflowers and sprouts are nowhere.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Lots of Shallots

A couple of years ago I planted some shallots.  They did reasonably well, so I got more this year.  They have done very well.  I think I won't need to buy any until next harvest.

I decided to put the smaller ones aside to see if I can keep them to replant next year.  I might still buy some extra to plant because, apparently, you can pickle them, and I love pickled onions, so these will probably be good too.

The red onions are getting towards ripe too, but aren't quite ready yet.  The results are more variable than for the shallots, but we should have enough for summer salads.

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