Wednesday 31 August 2016


The field over the road from our place belongs to us, but we don't do anything with it.  That is, we let Nature do her own thing instead.   I would like to see it develop as a wood, or at least a collection of trees, and I have tried to transplant trees there that have sprouted where they're not wanted in the garden.

The transplanting of trees has had limited success.  No matter when I move them, nor what age they are, the trees never seem to put down roots deep enough or fast enough to survive the dry spell in Summer.  The trees that you see here are walnuts, self-seeded from the two trees in my garden, and those that line the road.   They are the only things that survive, and are in fact quite difficult to kill.

I had a go at mowing the grass around them, but with limited success.  The grass is so long that the mower combs it rather than cuts it, and the effect is rather like it got chewed.   I might try again later in the year, although the trees, once they have lost their leaves, are harder to distinguish from the grass.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Same place, different angle

It's a bit hot right now, so not the kind of weather for strenuous excercise, or for work of any kind that can be avoided or postponed.  So a brisk but gentle walk with pauses is in order.

Friday 19 August 2016

New bar

We were in Laval the other day sorting out some business and doing some shopping, and stumbled across a new bar/restaurant by the château.  We had lunch there.

My choice from menu du jour was steak brochettes.  I never ask for rare steak in a restaurant I don't know, since I can't stand bad rare steak, so I asked for medium.   They were a perfect medium; pink all the way through except for a nicely seasoned, browned surround.   No gristle either, so it'll be rare next time.   Anita's choice of fish was also delicious.

The bright yellow thing standing on the floor by the bar area is a meat slicer, the kind where you turn the handle and a cradle holding the meat oscillates back and forth past a rotating circular cutting disc.  It worked too, cos I turned the handle to check.  I'm not sure if it quite works as a decoration, but it certainly is eye-catching.

We were asked, when we went in, if we had booked, which surprised us, Laval not being known as a hive of activity in the mid-August holiday season.  But the place got quite full as we ate, and we decided that a reservation would be a worthwhile precaution for future visits.  It's called Le Bistro Du Palais.  We'll be back.

Oh, and the view from the rear terrace is nice, too.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

How much wood?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?   Apparently, a woodchuck is a real animal, also known as a groundhog.

My Dutch friend secured a firewood supply deal with an owner of a forest in the next village.   The trees are felled and left in place, and it's then up to us to slice them up and get them home.  We can then let them dry out for a couple of years before burning them.

This pile of oak logs is this year's result - should keep us going for at least three winters, maybe more.   The transportation took some time - we piled it into the trailer you can see in the photo, and also in the body of the Renault Espace (it needs a bit of a clean-out, now).  It took us 7 return trips plus a half-load, to clear the pile.   Now we have to stack it, a job that can wait until the weather is a bit less hot.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

15 août

The 15th August is a bank holiday in France, the feast of the Assumption, I believe.   Our village has a low-key fête during the day; the local bistro is opened and there is a competition for painters who paint street scenes of the village.   It's a chance to swap news, catch up with the neighbours and meet new people.

We strolled down for lunch (sausage inna bun) with chips, and then returned later for the evening barbecue, candle illuminations and concert.   The barbecue is a big social affair, you can usually find people you know to sit with, and in any case, company is convivial.

I got the impression that there were fewer people present during the day than last year, but the evening event was crowded.

The lighting of candles is a simple idea, but it casts a gentle spell on the village after dark as you walk around.  And the undulating relief of the place leads to long-distance views of the candles.   The layout of the displays  changes every year, as people are present or on holiday, or new owners move in.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

How many butterflies?

Vide grenier

The car boot sale at Thorigné was smaller this year: fewer stands, fewer people attending. There was a greater proportion of professionals among the stallholders too, not so much kids' stuff, fewer second-hand bargains.  Our haul?  A 2-person fondue pot and a CD, and some miniatures for Anita's collection.

Friday 5 August 2016

Le Bigot

Yesterday we went to see a mill (called Le Bigot, strangely enough) for sale.  It was a depressing experience.   The building was abandoned in the 70s, and has been pillaged over the years since.  The wheel has almost completely rotted away.   Worse, the river on which it operates - Le Vicoin- is being stripped of the dams that make the mills operate, so I suspect there is no chance of doing anything useful with the water power, at least in the near future.   Of course, our grandchildren's generation will be rebuilding them as fast as they can, but that's irrelevant today.

Thursday 4 August 2016


In response to a deluge of enquiries from fascinated readers, here is the state of my Android app so far.  I can't pretend that it's a major breakthrough in the Android world, but it's a start and it's mine.

The first screen is the home screen, the first screen you get when you open the app.  There's nothing fancy here; the Android development tools give you this for free.  I have changed the colours and the title to match our website, but that's about it.  The "Hello World" message is the standard one that tells you that you have created a basic app that works; it's easy enough to change (to, for example, something like the third screen) and I haven't bothered yet.

The second one is the menu, that you get by tapping the three horizontal lines ("the hamburger") at the top left of the first screen.  The choice of menu items and icons is mine and replaces the standard ones that the developoment tools give you.  There is a little work involved here but not much.  I'll replace the "Android Studio" and other headers later.

Of the options, only "Piscine" and "Nous trouver" do anything today.  Choosing "Piscine" gives you the third screen, and I spent some time here getting the two images to display side-by-side and scale correctly to different sizes of screen.   Once I have got this to work for Piscine, the others are easy to do in the same way.   If you choose "Nous trouver" you get a Google map that shows where we are on a map of North-West France.  You can zoom in, and get directions to us from wherever you are.  I wish I could show you the map, but when I try to, the emulator complains that I have to update Google Services, and when I try to, it crashes.   If I succeed later, I'll put the picture below.

There's clearly a lot left to do.  I need to make the "Share" button work, which should be an interesting challenge, and I need to either remove the green envelope picture (easy) or get it to invoke some kind of contact process (hard).  But the next thing I need to do is to sort the navigation.  At the moment, to get from, say, the "piscine" screen to "restauration", the user has to touch the back button, then the hamburger, then the restauration button.  Tedious; there needs to be a hamburger on each screen.  I've been having a go at doing this, it's a well-worn path for Android programmers I'm sure, but I haven't worked out how to do it yet.

Don't expect rapid progress; this is an evenings-and-weekends thing, and only for when I haven't got anything better to do.  And I haven't had a glass of wine.

Tuesday 2 August 2016


Here's a fine example of the art of packaging.  The box on the left contained the bag of Amarettos on the right.  You could even argue that the picture on the box is accurate, since the biscuits shown reach about the same height as those in the bag.

When I were a lad...

... we lived in a hole int' road......

It was a couple of months ago that I mentioned that I was starting of a project to develop an application for Android tablets and phones.   I'm surprised that it was as long ago as all that; time flies, and I haven't spent all that much time on it.  I'm not entirely sure how to go about describing my experiences so far.

My background is that I graduated in computer science some 45 years ago, spent my early working years programmingin FORTRAN and assembler, and last wrote software in about 1985.

My idea is to create an Android app that explains to potential customers what is here at the gîte.  In that sense, it's purpose is similar to a straight website, and it's relatively uncomplicated.  There is no serious custom computation to do, I just want a nice interactive display of the usual types of info: what we have, what we offer, and where to find us.  So far so good.

I have four main sources of information: these three books, and the web.

The Android Application Development for Dummies is an excellent book and did exactly what I needed as an absolute novice in Android programming.  It describes carefully and precisely what you have to do at each step, the results that you can expect, and what to do if it goes wrong.   I haven't contacted the author, but I understand that he gives a quick and helpful response to questions sent to him by readers in difficulty.   I haven't finished reading his book, but at this point it has given me the confidence to branch out on my own, and write software that is different from the examples that the author guides you through.

Java is the main language used in Android programming, and A Software Engineer Learns Java is an excellent explanation of it.  As near as I can describe it, it is a university-level exposition of the language in its entirety.  It's a challenging read, to be taken slowly.  Everything is clear, logical and understandable, if you take the time to digest it.   I'm stuck on chapter 12.  

(The website layout language XML is also extensively used in Android apps, but for the specification of screen layouts rather than the logic of the app.  I have no book reference for this, but there's a lot of help on the web)

Android User Interface Design is another good book, explaining the design principles for good presentation of Android interfaces.  It assumes a working knowledge of Java, so it loses me when it gets into the detail.  I'm hoping (and expecting) that as I come to complete the Java book, this book will make more sense.

I suppose the thing that strikes me as I fight my way through the thicket of Android app development, is the complexity of it all.  This is a necessary side-effect of the power and versatility of modern computing platforms, and the fact that such power is now in the hands of the general public.

Java is an object-oriented language, a technique that was controversial when it was launched, but it has permitted the development and maintenance of the kind of powerful applications we take for granted today.   One of the things that has changed as a result is the way that programs are developed.  I find that I am spending my time learning how to manipulate objects that have already been already created in Java. Google provide many objects that are useful in Android apps; for example a Google map that you can display on a screen.  The task of displaying a map becomes one of learning how to find, understand and use the tools that create and manipulate map objects, which is much faster and easier than doing it all from scratch.   However, one of the challenges is that the instructions for doing so are not always up to date (a by-product of the huge number of such objects).   For example I created a map object using Google's instructions and it didn't work, and eventually I had to ask for help from an internet forum to find out how to fix the problem.

So today's programming seems, at least at first sight, to be more about re-using ready-made software, cutting and pasting it into one's programs, and getting help from reference databases and fellow programmers when things go wrong.  It's a steep learning curve.   If I can try to distill it, there are three levels: at the bottom level you have Java to learn; then you need to know about the objects that have been created in Java and how to manipulate them, and for this you also need to learn and understand the language used in the explanation.   For example, can you make head or tail of this page?

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