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Number Crunching

Other than the birth of my children, the achievement of which I am most proud is having obtained an A at Maths GCSE. I’m pleased to say that my Maths teacher almost needed smelling salts when the results were pinned to the board, having told me I was a hopeless case for several years. (I have a stubborn streak, and schadenfreude is one of my many sins).

In a lot of ways she was right – my brain just doesn’t seem to be wired to understand abstract concepts. Addition, substraction, multiplication & division are no problem – can do the numbers game on Countdown/les chiffres et les lettres, better than the Grouch, who did not one, but three maths A-levels. Spatial awareness is fine -as illustrated by my having to show the removal men how to get my now defunct and crushed fridge into the house via a doorway, rather than horizontally through the window, and have lost count of the number of passengers holding their breath and adopting the brace position whilst I manoever my somewhat wider than standard car through narrow medieval alleyways.

But try and explain calculus/differentiation or triangles to me and a glazed expression of utter confusion will beset my features.

The reason for the above confession is that my daughter’s homework has me stumped. Luckily, once I’d translated it from French to English the Grouch was able to explain how to work out the area of a small square inside a larger one, given only that the large square was 7cm wider (& taller, I’m not that THAT thick) than the smaller and that the area of the large square minus that of the small square is 189cm2.

Anyway, the point of the post is not that I am NOT a  ‘mathos’, but that I had blithely assumed that the answer would be the same both here and in UK, maths & science being the universal language, so here’s the question :


Given that there were no brackets present I blithely assumed the answer to be 55.

Apparently not.  In France multiplication takes precedence over the order in which the calculation is written, making the answer 27.

Go figure!

PS Answers plus methodology welcome in comments!


Ashes to Ashes

I’m not very good at current affairs, so this and this aren’t exactly hot off the press.  But the pictures of thousands of fridges stacked up awaiting disposal stuck in my mind.  Apparently also in other people’s.

We have a great service where the council come round once a month for any outsize ‘rubbish’, so at 6 am this morning I dutifully dragged  an old cooker, a microwave and a beautiful but sadly defunct ‘american’ fridge over the road to the collection point. Also the carcass of a metal framed awning/pergola that fell victim to the last big storm.

Well they’ve been, and I am left shaking my head, somewhat perplexed. You see I was expecting a flat-bed truck, or a removals van, especially as I’d had to furnish a list of what was being discarded to the Mairie, so as they could plan their route. But no, it was a standard bin-van on streroids, i.e. bigger and more powerful than our standard refuse collection.  And everything was devoured on the spot – chairs, beds, mattresses, cooker, TVs, computers, scrap metal and fridge, though the van tried to spit the latter back out – it was very big – that’s why we bought it.

Am really no expert when it comes to how such things work (not tagged as technonumpty for nothing) and the fridge was already empty of the gas that goes through the compressor – the spotty Herbert we called out when it broke down saw to that (another story which shall probably appear in a different post) – and it was a self-defrosting airflow fridge-freezer. Does that mean all the noxious gasses have been removed? I hope so, because getting crushed and taken straight to landfill wasn’t quite what I thought would happen.  Ditto for the aluminium pergola.

So in future, my house and yard will have to look the municipal recyclying facility until we borrow a trailer, (and a car with a tow-hook) and take things to the depot ourselves. I only hope that when we dutifully separate metals, glass and plastic at the main tip, that they do get recycled.  At least we’ll be doing our bit to keep house prices stable – the neighbour who likes us calls us the English Gypsies, so heaven only knows what the other lot say.

no, it isn’t october yet.

A quick google/bing tells me that Black History Month is in February in the States & Canada. (Date chosen because of Abe Lincoln & Frederick Douglass).  In the UK it’s October. Why there is a difference I don’t (yet) know.  This post over at A Changing Life jogged the memory banks and reminded me of this fella. More here.

As a kid I had was strongly encouraged to put at least half my pocket money into a globe-shaped money box for the Methodist Missionary Society, which, as another quick search reveals,  is still up & running, though it’s aims have changed somewhat over the years. This may have something to do with The Poisonwood Bible being one of my all time favourite books. There are other reasons too, but that will be a password protected post once I’ve learned how to do it.

Unison’s offering from October 2006 is a good lightweight starting point for anyone interested in the subject.

It’s something I find fascinating. History at school consisted of lists of dates, usually of battles, with very little emphasis on analysing trends, though thankfully I missed out on having to recite the dates of the monarchy by rote. I have a mug for that! (picture to follow once i’ve worked out how to do that, too. Technonumpty strikes agaon!)

What piques my interest are the human stories, of people breaking the mould and starting off trends that they could never imagine in their life-time, that change the way we look at ourselves, and perceive others.


The client is always in the wrong

Yippee!  At the risk of tempting fate, for the first time in over a year I know how to use my no-longer so shiny, no-longer so new, laptop.  With Windows 95 I was still able to programme, though by XP I was down to just using the software, but could still understand what the PC was doing and sort out problems. Have now become a complete techno-numpty.

The trouble started after the mouse played up with the PC -the small furry variety, that is. We’d taken off the cover to install a bigger memory and weren’t quite quick enough replacing it. The fan makes it a lovely warm spot, and all those lovely wires to chew. Youngest cat may also have contributed to the demise as various cables were pulled from their moorings and there was a strange yet familiar aroma of eau de félin. In short, a dead PC.

Santa Grouch decided he was too busy to build me a new PC from the various components we have lurking in drawers so a visit to the Pewter shop loomed. Yay!

I chose a laptop,(so that the Grouch couldn’t dismantle it!) with a useable keyboard and Windows Home Premium, in the erroneous belief that one could change language  – my mistake, I admit it, mea culpa – the quick research I did was wrong . All it did was offer to translate text from English to French,  and had no effect whatsoever on the OS display.

Not only that, but it was a cobbled together mixture of Vista beta & XP.  Ctrl+Alt+Suppr did nothing – no Task Manager. I found a Vista shortcuts list on the web and eventually found the Gestionnaire des Tâches, but when you typed that into the ‘super dooper’ new Vista search – nichts, nada, nyet!   I was completely at sea! No longer could I find out why it wasn’t doing as it was told, but was reduced to wailing the all too familiar – “What’s it doing now?”  Even the French IT bod living next door couldn’t fathom it.

Next came the fun bit – back to the shop :

  • you said this was Premium, it isn’t, it’s Basic
  • you said it would be in English, it isn’t
  • you said it was Vista, it isn’t, at least not as I know it

No problem, said shop, just phone the manufacturer, they’ve made a mistake with the packaging

I think we can all see where this is going – 6 weeks of ping-pong/wiff-waff/wimbledon between the Manufacturer and the retailer, both blaming the other, before I gave up and vowed never to buy anything from either again.

So, during our ‘holiday’ I bought another copy of Home Basic and now, 20 months later, my ‘new’ lappy is finally doing what it said on the tin. Though,of course it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The upgrade function wouldn’t work with change of language so had to install it from scratch.

Having backed up all files and folders on an external drive I confidently clicked the install as new button, only to find that when I later tried to re-upload my documents and programmes, that the whole system reverted to the Windows Old French version. Growl. Re-install with the attendant phone call to Microsoft that no I wasn’t trying to load one copy onto more than one computer etc etc etc. Somewhat galling, as I’d effectively bought two copies of Vista for one computer.

The admittedly long-winded solution I’ve found is to attach the external drive to the other PC and to e-mail my documents to myself.

Surely there has to be an easier way.

The customer is always right

During the road-trip,(4700km in just over a fortnight),  it was a joy to listen to Radio 4, most of the way up through France, and of course in the UK. Of several snippets that captured my interest was an interview with Lady/Baroness X  (sorry, both title and name elude me) on the harmonisation of European Consumer Rights. (And no I can’t find it on the Beeb either). I’m fairly sure I recognised her name from reading http://lordsoftheblog.net

In the UK, consumer rights are pretty well protected, with most large retailers, and often smaller concerns too, offering customer service that exceeds the statutory requirements. For example most will happily let you take clothes back, just because you didn’t like the colour, with the proviso that all the sales labels are still attached. I once took a very expensive party dress back, because the fabric went weird after washing. (And no, it wasn’t labelled dry-clean only, I’m not that cheeky!).

If a product is faulty the customer can insist on a full refund, after all if Brand X washing machine breaks down after a week, the consumer is hardly likely to trust the same make and model as a replacement. It showed that we’ve been living in France for too long, when we took Mother’s set-top box, which started misbehaving within 2 days of purchase back to the retailer fully prepared to do battle (UK TV is going digital), only to find them offering us the next model up to compensate for the inconvenience. In the end we changed make and model.

Over here I’ve lost count of the number of lifeless gadgets cluttering up the house that seem pre-programmed to give up the ghost as soon as they leave the shop. I’m informed that our house insurance covers lawyers fees, but who in their right mind would want to go through that sort of hassle for a toaster!   (The way I got ripped off when buying this laptop is another example of Customer Service à la française).

In fairness I must say that things have improved greatly in recent years – the local supermarket made no fuss when I took back an MP3 that didn’t work – well I say no fuss, they said it was the OS on my computer, but when I pointed out that I’d tried it with Windows 2000, XP and Vista, and that if they wanted I’d go home and try it on 98 & 95 they shrugged gallicly and admitted defeat. (another gallic trait, je taquine).

In short, UK consumer protection regulations, let alone the retail practices that go beyond them, outclass the rest of Europe by a long shot.  And, in order to standardise rights across Europe, the British consumer would have to forego some of their legal rights.

Given where I live, despite the myriad petty annoyances, it should come as no surprise that I am pro-European.  And in general I’m in favour of harmonising regulations across the EU as the whole economic point, setting aside the political for now (if not forever), is to free up the movement of goods, services and people, but why oh why can’t we cherry pick the best bits of each countries legislation rather than the citizens of country X having to lose hard-won rights.

2B deleted v.soon?

It’s four in the morning, the end of December,   ….

OK it’s the middle of July but that doesn’t scan so well and it’s only 4 in the morning if you’ve stuck to GMT, but… after a fab night of drinking,eating, drinking, dancing, and drinking, am only just home after having, with help I hasten to add, hauled the mayor out of bed to give us wine, coffee & pâté for breakfast. I’m guessing in the UK that would count as anti-social behaviour – granted – and warrant an ASBO, if not a night in the cells. Highlights of the evening include two phone calls to the Ministry of the Interior to ascertain why the music (full blast and outdoors) had to stop at 3a.m,  and a French friend who lived in Dagenham for a while, informing an acquaintance from the village over the other side of the hill that YES, I really would pour my pint of beer over his head if he didn’t desist from trying to guess my bra size, and if he even thought of trying manual calibration, that beer shampoo would be the least of his worries.

{For some reason I treat the British male differently from the French variant – have no objection to a British man touching me – it’s only ever on the shoulder or hips – nothing ominous, but woe betide if his eyes stray South of, let’s say the nostrils. On the other hand, you can’t prevent a Frenchman from looking you up and down –  some more discreetly/obviously than others it has to be said, and as an aside, French female friends tend to get offended if they aren’t viewed as potential – and I stress that it’s normally purely hypothetical – bedmates, BUT the French expression  for “You’ve pulled” is “la touche”? so impersonations of octupi are unwelcome.  Anyway, to cut this drunken ramble back down to size – I swear that the next Frenchman who attempts to grab ANY part of my anatomy whilst talking about “les petites anglaises” ………………..(any good temporary insanity lawyers out there?).

In some ways I’m actually looking forward to hitting my seventies so as not to have to stick a rictus grin on my face when some eejit tries it on (IMO) but thinks they’re only having an innocent (I beg your pardon ?!***?!) laugh. In short, in the UK it’s fine for a woman to be one of the boys, and also for a fella to be an honorary girlfriend. Here,  ‘les histoires du cul’ seem to get in the way.

À la fin, aren’t we all just human beans?

(Kudos points to whomeover cites both ending and opening quotes)