Friday 29 April 2016

Cool tech

There has been some interesting new tech floating around the web recently, h/t to James, and Facebook.

There's much research going into lithium technology for batteries at the moment, largely because their power/weight ratio makes them just about suitable for cars.  Although much is made of the low electricity cost per mile, the biggest part of the running cost is down to the battery's high price and limited life.   These guys think they can double the capacity and at the same time reduce the cost of lithium batteries by means of an improved cathode.

The most I have seen my car tell me that it can do on a tankful of diesel is 900 Km, about 550 miles.  After that amount of driving I need a break, so if an electric car has to recharge for an hour or so (perhaps less), this is not a big setback to the journey.  Electric cars are just about coming up to offering 250 mile range on a charge, so doubling the mileage makes the cars competitive with fossil fuel power.

The life of lithium batteries is currently limited by the number of charge/discharge cycles they can go through before they collapse.  This research has turned up an unlikely helper: plexiglass.  The test battery remained useful after 15 times the typical number of cycles that would kill an ordinary one.  It uses gold, though so it would probably be quite expensive, but on the other hand, you're amortising the cost over at least ten times as long, possibly even longer.  And maybe something cheaper can be substitued for the gold.

Extending the life of batteries over time (as well as charge cycles) is an ongoing project.  Personally I like the idea of electric cars where the life of the battery can be measured in decades of normal use.  And compared to internal combustion engines, electric cars are mechanically simple.  So how about a standard or modular body shell (carbon fibre?) with a series of interchangeable replacement motors and batteries for different styles of use, as your needs change through life.

And finally, how about this for a nice application of lithium tech:  a new electric bike for you without having to buy a new electric bike.  You can move it from bike to bike, too, put it on your town bike to go shopping, your road racer for when you're too tired to race.

Thursday 28 April 2016


This chap was scurrying around one of my plants the other day, enjoying what was then warm weather.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Portes ouvertes

We get our laundry for the gîte done by Blanchisserie du Maine based in Laval.  We've had our differences in the past, but we have what appears to be a working arrangement now.  We deliver our dirty laundry to a garage in the village where they collect it, and bring it back cleaned, ironed and neatly folded, a few days later.

They had an open evening (fr: "portes ouvertes") recently, to celebrate the opening of a new building housing a big new industrial washing machine, plus supporting equipment.   It was quite a fancy affair; various local dignitories were there, giving speeches, there was champagne, wine, and canapés, and a small band started playing after the formalities.

Some interesting figures were given out: the business has enjoyed double-digit growth every year since 2000 when the current owners took it over.   (They didn't say if this was revenue, profits or volume of work).  They now use less than half the electricity per Kg of washing that they did in 2000, and less than 20% of the water.

It appeared that all the staff were there, and were called out by name for the final photo shoot.  They wore different colour T-shirts depending on which department they worked in.  I got the impressioin of a good business, and of an event where they were making an effort to give people a nice time in celebrating their success.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Safety first!

There we are, sitting in a café not far from the beach at Damjan, near Vannes, and there's a shop opposite selling touristy holiday beach gear, including this inflatable whale.  I was struck by the fact that the top of the tail, and much of the right-hand side, were plastered with warning notices. Manufacturers have to cover themselves these days, and I categorise the cost of this under the general heading of "stupid tax".   (Like the extra button press I have to make every time I use the GPS, to release the maker from claims by people who drive to the wrong town)

I especially like the first warning notice here:  The English version reads "No protection against drowning".  This is not true, of course, and you'd think that they'd at least try to get the wording right.  I await a court case where someone drowns despite the presence of this floating whale nearby because they read the warning.

Friday 22 April 2016

The château, Rochefort-en-Terre

As you would expect, the château is right at the top of the hill and offers commanding views over the surrounding countryside.  The building itself was closed on the day we visited, but it's still worth going, to see the outsides and the views from the hilltop.  (And the Niais museum is just next door)

The wrought iron gate in the picture looks like it guards the entrance to the garden, but it it set in a short length of wall that you can walk around.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Musée Niais

Rochefort-en-Terre features a museum next to the château at the top of the hill.  It's an exhibition of what I would describe as "science fiction/fantasy art".  I found it very interesting.   It's impossible to give a full description of it, but they did allow photographs, so here's a few just to give you a feel.  Well worth a visit.

The tropical park

The tropical park in Saint Jacut-les-Pins was only a ten-minute drive or so from Rochefort-en-Terre, so a visit was a must.  Their little fold-out leaflet promised, as part of the park's entertainment, animated dinosaur models, so how can one resist?

The orchid house is the first part of the garden that you see, and pretty much justifies the entry fee all by itself.  I don't know if we were just lucky in coming at the right time of year, but it semed that everything was in flower, and the displays were spectacular.

It's not possible to do justice to the rest of the park here.  There is a petting zoo with chickens, goats, turkeys and wallabies,   They flew some of the big parrots and smaller birds in demonstration during the afternoon.   There are water features and landscapings from different parts of the world, with an emphasis on the far East.  A good day out.

And the goats provide extra entertainment.  Popcorn is sold in the little shop, and the goats can spot a popcorn bag a mile off.  They took about ten seconds to get it dropped and spilt on the ground so they could all share in the bounty.

Monday 18 April 2016

Holiday dining

For our first evening in Rochefort-en-Terre we dined in the restaurant L'Ancolie.   Ancolie (f) is French for aquilegia, or columbine.   An excellent dining experience; french cuisine, generous but not excessive portions, a varied wine list (with a good selection of wines by the glass) and a charming host.   We gave them a five-star review on Tripadvisor.

As an aside, the host plays classical piano, so if you have a solo instrument, he will be pleased to play Mozart, Bach, Handel with you when he's not working.  Unfortunately I left my flute and sheet music at home.  Another time, maybe.

Our experience of Tex Mex food in France has been limited but dismal: the only place where we ate this style of food was awful, and shut down shortly after our visit.   So for lunch in Vannes the next day, we approached the Tex Mex by the town hall with some trepidation.  We needn't have worried; it was great.   My nachos were served with proper chopped chillis, and Anita's choice was well-prepared and presented.  Excellent Tex Mex.

McDonald's was variable.  We stopped in one on the way out for a quick coffee.   I'm not quite sure where, but it was somewhere south and west of Rennes.   They were supposed to offer service at table, but after a ten minute wait, Anita had to go to the counter to rescue our cooling coffees.

On the other hand at the Ploëmerel bypass on the way home, we ordered at the automated screen, sat down, Anita went off to the loo and the burgers arrived just after she left.  I don't think I've ever been served faster.

Sunday 17 April 2016


We had a short break in Rochefort-en-Terre in the Morbihan in Brittany this last weekend.  It's a little village perched on a rock, separated from the surrounding land by two steep-sided valleys that pass around it.  It's a touristy place, without being twee, and features some interesting architecture, attractive views, various retail outlets for artisans, antique shops, and good dining, including crêpes.  Lots of crêpes.

I was rather taken by the lavoir just off to one side of the town, it is the first one that I have seen that features its own little dam to raise the water level.

We enjoyed our stay in the Tour du Lion, one of the older buildings in the town, in a 1st floor room vith views out onto the square.  It's the building with the little tower (housing the toilet, in fact) and the red umbrella outside.

One of the architectural features I hadn't seen before was in the shutters: the window frames are in oak, as are the frames holding the leaded lights that open.  The oak shutters are attached to the hinged window frames, so they move with the windows.  Hard to show in a phot, but perhaps thsi gives you an idea.

There are many attractive views and buildings to be found as you walk around the town (including a huge wisteria in front of the town hall).

Thursday 14 April 2016

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Useful and useless information

Our washing machine broke down a short while ago and we ordered a new one from Darty.  When we ordered it, they told us that they would deliver it some time this afternoon before 5PM, so we made a note in the diary to be at home during that time.

We got a phone call this morning telling us that the delivery would take place between 1PM and 3PM.  This is as it should be.  I expect that a company charged with delivery should be able to firm up on the exact delivery time as that time approaches, and it was nice of them to tell us.

I contrast this experience with the tracking service proposed by a well-known courier, for a parcel I received not long ago.  The website worked well enough, but what it told me is where my parcel was last dealt with, which information is useless to me.  When the site told me the package was in Paris, I figured it would come to me from there, so it would arrive that day or the next, but no, the next station was Nantes, and so on.

I don't care how it gets here, the only thing I want to know as a customer, is when it's going to be here.  Courier companies would do well to publish, on their website, the only information that is important to me, that is, the time window in which it is expected to be delivered.

Wouldn't it be nice to have:

Your parcel is in transit between Exeter and London.  Delivery will be made between Monday 09h00 and Thursday 12h00
Your parcel is in transit between London and Paris.    Delivery will be made between Monday 12h00 and Wednesday 12h00, and so on, until
Your parcel in in transit from our local sorting office to your address.  Delivery will be between 10h00 and 11h00 today,

with bonus points for telephoning the customer, just to confirm.   Well done to Darty for getting it right.  Image lifted from Darty website, acknowledgements to Darty.


Hey, it's springtime; how about some springtime photos?

Monday 11 April 2016


When we moved in to Les Hallais, there was a rough fence facing onto the street, that was made of planks of oak nailed to vertical posts.  The oak planks looked like they were the result of passing a big tree trunk through a sawmill; completely unfinished and with edges that followed the old outline of the tree.

When we replaced the fence with a box hedge, we took the planks and put them in a corner of the garden where they have been rotting away quietly for the last ten years or so.   I have recently cut a few straight planks from them for use as walkways on the veg patch, and I noticed that the wood is in good condition, once you get past the surface rot.  Well, it is oak, after all.

I have a fine wooden music stand, a gift from my wife some years ago.  It is excellent for holding sheet music, but it's not the most stable of stands if it is holding something heavier.  I use a big android tablet for displaying sheet music in electronic (PDF) form, and I'm always concerned when I put it on the stand, that the whole affair will topple, and the tablet will break.

I have an old, heavy and very stable mic stand that I bought ages ago and have hardly used.  So, an afternoon with a selection of woodworking tools, and a section of rotting plank, and hey presto, a new, much more stable music stand capable of holding my tablet.  It's functional rather than elegant, but it works.  And besides, it grieves me to think of that fine oak going to waste.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Rural living

And the Spring special offer in the local supermarket is......

yep, chicken coops.    And the best thing to do with those end-of-season parsnips that are not really fit for the kitchen..... give them to the ex-mayor's donkey.

Lots of the older people around here grew up on farms where donkeys did the donkey-work, so they are often held in high affection, and people like to keep them, even if there is now no work for them to do.

Monday 4 April 2016


It has been windy here recently.  That thing on the roof is a motion-activated, solar-powered nightlight.  It's not supposed to be there.

Friday 1 April 2016


For our last day in England, Anita wanted to visit a dolls' house shop in Whitchurch, and I used it as an opportunity to meet up with an old school friend.   Melvin is a confirmed bachelor, retired from the IT sector with plenty of time to indulge his wide-ranging curiosity wherever it manifests.

Over a coffee and bun in H's Coffee Shop, we discussed low-energy housing, plumbing, electric motors, soldering and building regs.  He showed me the apps he has created for his Android device, displaying the free-to-download O.S. maps, and railway timetables.

For lunch we found a local curry place, Blue Ginger, that was proudly displaying a 5/5 food hygiene rating on the door.  I admitted to the owner, who introduced himself as Nick, that a top-rank food hygiene award was not normally something to be expected of Indian restaurants.  He was keen to point out that they were Indian, from Goa, and not, say, from Bangladesh.  The curry was excellent.

In the afternoon, we visited the Hillier garden, that was offering some fine displays of Winter colour.  And a cat.  And from then on to the ferry home.

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