Friday, 21 April 2017

Pesky Russkies

We have clear blue skies but the air is cold with chilly winds coming in from Russia.   This means that we are getting ground frosts and I am having trouble protecting my potatoes.  It's clear that the Russians aren't content with interfering in our free and fair democratic elections, they are trying their best to ruin our potato crop as well.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Bike ride

One of the things we intend to do with the new bikes is grab short holidays where we can ride them.  The gîte seems to limit the opportunity to take long breaks, so we figure that short breaks of a couple of nights, combined a not-too-difficult bike trek along, say, the Loire will give us the chance to visit some châteaux, as well as keeing us fit.

As a feasibility study, on this glorious Sunday (cloudless skies, 25 degrees C) we took the bikes to Entrammes and rode down the Mayenne towpath to a créperie for lunch, and then back again.   The views along the river were fabulous.

The crêperie doesn't serve crêpes on Sundays; I think there's too good a business opportunity to dissipate it on low-cost lunches.  The place was busy, and the quantity of bikes in their thoughtfully-provided bike racks told us that we were not the only ones with an idea for a Sunday bike ride.

On the way back I noticed an unusual construction that I had not seen before.  I think it is a windmill, possibly for pumping water from the river.   It appears to be made of iron, now rusty, with a spiral stairway up to the top, and a little platform to stand on.

I used this opportunity to check out a bit of Android software that records your tracks using GPS.  I used to use Quechua Tracking, an excellent app provided free (with in-app purchses) by Decathlon, a sporting goods company, but they have withdrawn it.  Grrr it was an excellent app.  I have since installed iPhiGéNie that does the same thing but is harder to use.   Here is what it produces in terms of a mapped track output.

I only recorded the trip back up the river; it told us we did 17.8 Km in almost exactly an hour.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Making a whole cheese

In France, if you want to tell someone that something's not a big deal, not to worry about, they say "N'en fait pas tout un fromage", that is "Don't make a complete cheese out of it".  Sometimes abbreviated, at least in this part of the world, to "N'en fais pas".

If you say "Thank you" to a cashier, or to anyone from you have just bought something, you are likely to get the response "It's me".  What?

    - "Merci"
     -"Cest moi"

The "c'est moi" is a shortened form of  "C'est moi qui vous remercie", that is, with the emphasis used in English, I'm thanking you.   At this point, the conversation makes some sense, but for a newcomer to France, it usually takes a few weeks before you hear the full version, and you finally understand those wierd conversations you keep having with shopkeepers.

We do the same thing in English of course.  If we say "Don't count your chickens", the follow-on "before they've hatched" is understood, but I wonder if foreigners think the English have some strange kind of superstition about poultry.  Same thing with stable doors.

And on the same subject, have you ever tried burning a real candle at both ends?  It's a disaster.  The wax drips everywhere, you get two big smoky flames, lots of smell, and the candle doesn't last five minutes.  But if we work from early morning to late at night, we are "burning the candle at both ends".  For this to make any sense at all, there needs to be an unspoken follow-on: "burning the candle at both ends of the day".  That is, we need candle light to work by in the morning, and again in the evening.

My candle burns at both ends;  
It will not last the night;  
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends 
It gives a lovely light!


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Internal project

The project to replace hinged wardrobe doors with sliding ones continues.  The upstairs hallway is done now, and looks a lot better than it used to.  Even the normal opening doors to the bedrooms look much better; it's amazing what a simple paint job can do.

Of course, you can't just replace doors: the floor has to be redone or else it looks oddly naff, and the shelves inside the wardrobes have to be replaced with nifty sliding drawers and bins.

And you can't just do the hallway; the bedroom that has its own hinged doors needs re-doing as well.   This is the next part of the project.  The bits are bought and are hiding behind the sofa in the living room.   The old doors and frame have been taken out so I now have a hole that will be enlarged and then filled with sliding doors in the fullness of time.   We have decamped to the spare bedroom.  It's a bit cramped, so there's an incentive to get on with things.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Broken things

The front left wheel of the sit-on mower broke the other day.   Something that keeps it in place seems to have snapped, and the wheel was turning without its bearing for a little while.  This knackered the wheel, so I'm waiting on a replacement one from my local service agent.  They always say that parts will arrive in a few days but it always takes at least a fortninght.  Meanwhile, I need to cut the grass so I bit the bullet and bought a second-hand walk-behind self-propelled one to use as a spare.

Meanwhile, I can at least change the oil and replace the oil filter.  Hence the oily patch....

The boiler has a problem too.  The wood is fed into the boiler by a screw feed, and this arm is one of two that sweep the wood into the screw.   Except this one doesn't because it has snapped.   It's been over a week and I still don't have even a quote for a replacement from the distributor, though the guy just phoned to drop round to take some measurments.  Apparently there are several options for the mounting.  

I can probably weld the two bits together, but I'd rather fit a new one, and keep the welded one as a spare.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Come on, baby, light my fire

There is increasing resistance in France to the routine use of weedkiller products like glyphosate, with ideas like a complete ban from 2020 being mooted.  One of the advantages of weedkilling chemicals in general is that they're cheap and easy to use.  You can get enough for some 500 square yards, that kills the weeds and stops seeds from sprouting, in a single spraying that lasts for a whole growing season, for about €20.

In the light of the debate, various other techniques are being tried out.   I have seen council workers and plant nursery owners clearing weeds from gravel paths and raised beds with a steamer.  The steam kills the plant above the ground, and hopefully, the heat is enough to kill a proportion of the roots and seeds in the ground.  Uses quite a lot of energy, although I don't know how it might compare with the production, transport and sale of glyphosate.

As an alternative, you could use this compact gas burner.   To you, squire, and I'm cutting me own throat, a mere €1,490.  Seems a bit expensive to me; you can buy a very nice lawn mower with a complicated, 4-stroke internal combustion engine for a couple of hundred euro, and this burner looks very simple by comparison.

It has a line of burners mounted on a metal frame, plus a shelf on which you can fix a big bottle of gas (not included in the price).  You fire it up, and walk slowly along while it burns the weeds and roasts their seeds.

It even has a little shelf on the back for the fire extinguisher, in case of unfortunate events.  Handy that.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Glycerine and physics

Recently I read a book by David Bohm called Wholeness and the Implicate Order.  I don't pretend to understand all of the mathematical physics developed in it; it is 40 years since I did any of that - time enough to forget, and to get out of date.  He presents a case for the existence of "hidden variables"  (an idea that had been discounted) that might underpin the randomness of quantum-level physical observations.

There were a couple of related things in it that got me thinking.  The first is an analogy he drew between the physical world and our perception of it, as displayed by a simple experiment.

You take a large diameter cylinder of glass, put a smaller diameter cylinder inside it on the same axis, and fill the gap between them with (transparent and viscous) glycerine.  If you put a dot of dark ink on the surface of the glycerine and spin one of the cylinders, the dot will gradually stretch out until it becomes too thin to be visible.  But you can turn the cylinder the other way, and the dot re-appears, then disappears again as you continue.

So you can draw a dot, spin the cylinder, draw another dot next to where it was, spin again, repeat several times, until they are all invisible.  Spinning the cylinder back again gives rise to the impression of a dot moving along the surface.

You can expand this idea into different sizes and colours of dots, spread out in 3D in the glycerine, spining the cylinder until you end up with a grey goop that, none the less, contains, in a meaningful way, the lines of different coloured dots you have drawn.  The author calls this the implicate order, and posits it as analogous to the implicate order of the physical world, of which we see only the observable elements that develop through time.

It's easy to see that disturbing any part of the grey goop has an effect spread out through time and space that is difficult to predict.

He then draws an analogy with music.  Our appreciation of any given note, chord, phrase, theme, and our reactions to it, emotional and physical are all dependent on other parts of the music, some of which appear only in the future, others resonate in our memory of what has played out before.  That is, in listening to music, we perceive directly, an implicate order.

Is this why mathematicians like music?  (Related)

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