Friday, September 28, 2007

European Map Knowledge

How well do you know your European map? Well I found this little pastime on Christina G's blog. Be aware, it is very addictive. You can test your knowledge of some European city names, and also develop your fine motor skills in collaboration with your desk mouse. Be sure to have a coffee break.

That made me no 8 today, and no 445 out of 19,665 time-wasters at the time. (Sixth time I have improved my score and updated this post.) You can check out the highest scorers of the day when you have finished a game and entered your details. I know I should never have started, I blame Christina G personally ;-) In the end you cannot tell Tallin from Turin or Katowice from Catania.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Double Vision?

Last Sunday we went for a stroll in Düsseldorf, along the Parisian-like Königsallee, into the Altstadt and along the Rhine; our usual, gentle walk-about. It was, as always when the weather is good, heaving with people. Everybody was watching everybody, us included. Düsseldorf is very cosmopolitan and you hear all sorts of languages and see people of all colours, shapes and forms. Great entertainment! Then of course there is all the river traffic to keep an eye on, from very slow, semi-submerged barges to show-off blokes on jet skis bouncing up and down, very much aware of their big audience on the banks of the river. What prats they are!

Then came the highlight of the walk. Just as we had reached the camper van car park and were thinking of turning back, we saw the sight of the day. Luckily I had not had my beer yet, so I knew there was nothing wrong with my vision, I did not see double. The camera came out quickly to secure the evidence. Have you ever seen a cooler vehicle than this? Fantabulous!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sleeping Beauty or Not

Just had the phone call from the garage and spoke to a bloke who actually could speak Swedish! His Swedish was much better than his English, and possibly better than my German. It turned out he had relatives in Hagfors in Sweden; I assume he has spent holidays there and kept his Swedish going. It was a bit weird, just like the time when we came across a Swedish chef, noooo, not the muppet one, in Brittany. He was married to a French woman and ran a restaurant on the south coast of Brittany and one in the Alps in the winter.

The Swedish-speaking German said that something called a "Body Sleep Module" in the computer did not "put the car to sleep" but stayed on and drained the battery. I suppose from now on I will have to read a story to the car when I leave it in the garage and say good night properly, stroking the bonnet gently. I'll pick it up in the morning, if it is awake, that is.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

SAAB Arrrrgh!

That's how I feel about it, arrrgh! Don't get me started; you buy a technologically sophisticated and powerful car, and it lets you down big time. The car is similar to the new Euro Fighter, Typhoon, which is completely computerised. In fact it is more or less impossible to fly manually. Well, SAAB have for many years made fighter jets and used some of their aviation knowledge in their cars, and I am very much for modern technology, when it works!

But the other day I went to the lock-up garage to get the car, opened the door and pressed the button on the key, as one does. No response. Tried again, nothing! Dead. Luckily I had not parked it too close to the wall on the passenger side, so I could use the skeleton key, good old-fashioned key, which you can pull out of the rubber cover. Inside the car I could not even open the driver's door despite the fact that I pulled up the lock lever. No light came on inside, and I realised that the onboard computer had crashed somehow and flattened the battery. The car was completely useless!

Man in yellow rescue vehicle could not make it work. Even if he got it started, it cut out after thirty seconds or so. Sooo, I had to have the embarrassing experience of having the SAAB pulled up, backwards, onto a "Schleppwagen", and parading it through our neighbourhood on our way to the garage. They replaced the battery and will need the weekend to reset the computer. Although the warranty provides me with a replacement car, I feel inclined to go back to the old, trusted, 17-year-old Astra. It's a simple creature, but easier to understand.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blog Tweaking

As the observant reader has already spotted, I have changed my title field. I had tried to figure out for a long time how to get a picture in there that would stretch across, not only a small section in the middle. The most annoying thing was the double border with lots of empty space on both sides. After having played around with my new software, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, I finally had something I thought worth trying. I am not sure I am totally happy with the result, but it will have to do for now. While I was at it, I also got rid of both title borders and picture borders by diving into the HTML and commenting out the corresponding code. You can learn a lot by just studying the template code. I feel rather pleased with myself now. I've earned a cup of tea!

Monday, September 17, 2007

How addicted to blogging am I?

I found this little quiz on Life In Westcliffe and thought I would try it. (Just click on the needle to try it yourself.) This was my result:

55%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Free Dating Site

I don't know if that is bad or good. It depends on how you look at it, I suppose. You have to have a life outside blogging, how else would you have something to write about? It's interesting that I did not notice the "Free Dating Site" bit on the end of the linked result. That's how badly their advertising works, because I honestly was not looking for a date; I'm a happily married man!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back in business

Yes, I am now fully operational, from an IT point of view, that is. I have installed my new all-in-one printer from DELL, only a simple 926, but boy does it print well! I first printed some A4-size photos. I used a high capacity cartridge rather than a special photo print cartridge, and out came a superb picture, sharp and professional-looking. Then came the moment to print the first document, which was a letter to my UK bank to complain about their web site. I do a lot of internet banking and it normally works extremely well, but this summer their application went bonkers, deleting a long-standing overdraft on one account and delayed a transfer between some other accounts for a day, sending the a/c into the red, and charging me for an unauthorised overdraft. The cheek! However, my letter was, as always, polite and correct, but to the point. Let's see how long it takes them to rectify and reimburse. I want my money back!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Techie Tweaking

Some time ago I started noticing the nice-looking, personalised, tiny icons, so called favatars or favicons, on some people's blogs. You know, the little picture in front of your URL. Most Blogspot bloggers have the default, fat B on an orange background. How can I get my own little symbol, I thought. Said and done; I started investigating by looking at people's HTML using View / Page Source on the Tool Bar. Not that I can read, let alone write, HTML particularly well, but I just looked for some key words. So eventually I visited the Favicon website and made myself a favicon by uploading something I created over ten years ago. Then my real problems began. How could I get it onto my blog? Well, it said to just 'upload it into my root directory'. Yeah, as if! I could not find a way of doing that, and there was no result when I searched Blogger for help. So I looked at other blogs until I found another site, MyFavatar , where I repeated the process, and here comes the difference; they host your favatar and you just paste in a code that links it to your blog. It worked instantly and I thought I was a genius for having sorted it out. I do not give up easily when it comes to IT problems; I will never let a stupid machine outsmart me, if I can help it, that is. In gratitude I obviously put a link on my blog. Thank you, Favatar, for a very user-friendly website.

When I spoke to DELL's techie help desk yesterday I was given a web address to access an online form should I need it later. The techie engineer said it was a rather long URL to take over the phone, so he made it shorter for me with the help of TinyURL . Then I remembered that I had been given another TinyURL the other day when I bought something on the net. Brilliant idea! All those long URLs you sometimes come across are almost impossible to get right if you have to copy by hand and type in. These very short ones are easy to deal with if you, for instance, are in an internet cafe and can't copy from somewhere on your computer. Excellent! So I included a TinyURL field on my blog that anyone can use. Help yourselves.

Monday, September 10, 2007

At last!

Finally I have managed to speak to tech support and sort out my CD and DVD drivers. Good old DELL! They are working again. I had previously investigated enough to have a go on my own, but hesitated because I did not want to risk buggering up my PC unnecessarily. You never know with techie stuff. It can go pear-shaped anytime for no apparent reason. So after a long phone call, things are back to normal. This means I can install software for my new all-in-one printer, which I hope will turn up in the post any day now. All systems go!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Old Vinyl

When we bought the house in Normandy we got it lock, stock and barrel, i.e. not only the house itself but also everything from large furniture down to spare light bulbs and bottle openers. Included was a hi-fi system with an old Aiwa record player. For young people, that is a stone-age device for reproducing sound, ok? In my parents' days records that rotated at 78 turns per minute was all the rave. But they were quite fragile and broke easily when dropped on the floor. So about half a century ago the Vinyl, made from some oil-based substance, was invented. These modern discs were more flexible and less fragile. However they were easily scratched and were worn down slowly but steadily and sounded in the end like you were frying bacon, but without the enticing smell. They also rotated more slowly than the old 'stone biccies', as we say in Swedish, at 33, or more exactly, at 33 1/3 turns per minute.

When I left Sweden in 1987 I also left behind my rather large record collection, of which my son now is the custodian. So in France we now had a record player but no records to play on it. Pas de
, we went to a second hand shop in Mayenne and found some old records, mostly classical, but also Supertramp's 'Breakfast in America', which the French local radio stations still love to play. They seem to play only music they don't have to pay for, and in doing so, give the impression they are a couple of decades behind in musical taste. Not a day goes by without Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart' for instance. But that's another issue.

For my grand-daughter's future understanding of history (sounds rather grand and pompous, but never mind) I decided to document the bygone days of the Vinyl. I took some snaps and a video of one of Mozart's most famous piano pieces, 'Rondo Alla Turca', being played, to immortalise this ancient technology.

This is the record sleeve demonstrating, in my opinion, an astonishing lack of taste in design.

This is the record itself with some vital information about the recording.

This is the so called stylus, through which the sound is miraculously transferred ultimately to the speakers.

Here is the video to prove it actually does work. Press the button and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

French Holiday

It feels like ages, I have not blogged since the last day of July! Well, we are back home and things are settling down to normal routines, with the only exception being the confirmation Mrs S just had; she has had a broken bone in her right hand for seven weeks! How did it happen? Office filing work! A big box file fell off a shelf and managed to hit her hand most unfortunately. How’s that for bad luck!

Anyway, finally I have organised pictures and clips so I can share some of them with you.

It is always interesting to see in what state the house and garden is when we get to our holiday home in Normandy after a long drive. Remember the snake? This time the first animal I came across when I inspected the old wood shed was this fellow…

… a stag-beetle on his way into the wood shed. I opened the door to follow him in to see what he would do and where he was heading and found myself staring at the ubiquitous grass snake lying on a shelf twenty centimeters from my face. He was quicker than I was and disappeared before I could chase him with my camera. They are pretty territorial, so I believe it was the very same snake that landed on my head that time.

Since I did not prune the fruit trees last year, we had a decent crop of both plums and apples.

One day, a really hot summer’s day, for once, we went to Domfront, where there was a medieval festival with all sorts of activities. All jolly good fun and pleasing pleasantries.

We like to take a little mini holiday when we are in France, and this year was no different. We went south-east towards some famous wine districts, stopping over at Moulins, an interesting town with plenty of old buildings, full of character. The French love their Jeanne d’Arc, and we found her in the cathedral.

There were some beautiful stained-glass windows, and this one was not difficult to understand.

Talking about glass and character, have a look at this magnificent Grand Café in Moulins. Not bad, eh?

On with the journey! We followed this route…

… which took us to some very interesting places through a beautiful, sometimes breathtaking landscape. The roads were winding along the mountain sides with no barriers of any kind. If you lost concentration while driving, you might end up rolling down the steep mountain side, ruining several vineyards for generations to come.

At the first place we stopped for the night we also did some tasting and were shown some of the wine-producing equipment.

The last two nights we stayed in a place, Vaux en Beaujolais, that has been made famous through a book made into film. Gabriel Chevallier wrote ‘Clochemerle’ in the 1920’s. Everybody knows it is about Vaux, and the main street is even named after the author. The French film starred the comedian and actor Fernandel, and the Brits made their own TV series of it, with British actors of course. The plot is simple; the village people disagree where to put the new ‘pissotière’ with comical consequences.

There is a little spinning theatre with narration in the village centre. Visiting children loved to start the show by pushing the big button and run in and out of the exhibition urinal in the square while their parents were tasting wine in the ‘cave’. Get the picture? Parents enjoying themselves and kids running riot, unsupervised! All too common I’m afraid.

We stayed in the Auberge de Clochemerle, which was a wonderful experience. It was run by a young couple; he was the chef and she the wine expert and head waitress. The food was absolutely sensational, I bet they were going for a one star Michelin rating. They also collaborated with three other couples who ran vineyards offering package deals for a day. The village is tiny but well worth a visit, as is the whole district of Beaujolais.

The village demonstrated a somewhat schizophrenic image, or had they just made a new film from the book?

It was an experience to remember, driving through villages with name signs like wine bottles; we even came through Morgon, which was our wedding wine. I kept saying ‘ooh, I like that one’, nearly every time we entered a village. Life could be worse, couldn't it? In the end we had to return to Normandy so we could sit in front of the fire, yes, the fire, in August! That’s all I have to say about the weather. Full stop!

Au revoir Clochemerle!

When we returned to Normandy... the weather was still...(ooops, I said not to speak about the weather!)... we did not spend as much time as we would have liked in the garden doing garden work due to unforeseen high levels of humidity in the vegetation. I got away with that didn't I?

So one evening we drove to Laval where they had yet another medieval thing going, serving suspicious-looking food, street performances and even 'goosing'. No, not the way you might think!. Have a look!

(Joke for Swedes: "Jaaau e en liden gååsapåg från Skåååuune...")

Au revoir encore une fois! (Or is that 'fois gras'!?)