Thursday, December 30, 2010

EHIC - European Health Insurance Card


Firstly, let me be clear that I am not complaining here - just nit-picking!

Like all Europeans, we can easily obtain an EHIC, which helps to ensure getting medical treatment at reasonable cost while travelling in Europe.
At least that is the theory.
Fortunately, we never had to test it yet.

Living within easy reach of Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Belgium, and not too far from Italy, Spain, Holland etc, we find it prudent to always have EHICs in our bags.
As they are only valid for one year (I wonder why?) that means getting a new one, for each of us, every year.
That is the first tiny inefficiency in the system.

Getting one is very easy - simply request it on the "Ameli" website & they send it by post, free of charge.
The snag is, you have to lie through your teeth, as the form has compulsory fields for 'Country to visit' & 'Start of visit' & 'End of visit' (why?).
As we are wanting a card to cover all potential & as yet unplanned visits throughout the next year, I am never sure what to say there.
One year, I tried to explain to them, but it just got too complicated, so I resorted to inventing little trips at the beginning of the year.
That brought a series of e-mails, firstly confirming my request, then saying that as the cards would take a couple of weeks to arrive, they were sending us temporary paper cover-notes immediately!
Which they did.
Second tiny inefficiency.

So this year, I carefully invented my little trip to start in 3 weeks so as to leave them plenty of time.
But I still got the e-mails & the paper cover-notes.

This system is providing all we need, and we are grateful for it, but just wish we could save Ameli a little time, effort & money by getting cards with longer validity, or with (automatic?) annual renewal, or at any rate without the extra cover-notes.
And without having to tell fibs!
Presumably thousands of others are in the same situation?

Of course, there are far worse problems to solve first, so I won't get hung-up on this one.

Parting thot: "The point to remember is that what the government gives it must first take away." - John S. Coleman

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fog Lights in the Rain


For Xmas, we drove across France, from Strasbourg to Chizé.
You know Chizé - near Niort?
You know Niort - in the Deux-Sèvres Département?
You know, in Poitou-Charentes Région?
OK - forget it, but it's right over the other side of France.
880km by autoroute.

In spite of the generally exceptional amounts of cold & snow everywhere this December, we didn't have either for the trip out.
Just a few patches of fog & several periods of rain.

In the foggy bits, most people used rear fog lamps, which clearly proved their worth.
In the rain, their use is illegal.
And the cause of near-homicidal pulsions from otherwise-reserved motorists.
Something I can understand in low-speed, night-time conditions, when they can be very dazzling.

But in high(ish) speed, daytime, autoroute rain, when all vehicles are followed by their own private fog bank?
Several cars were using their rear fog lamps in those conditions.
Either left over from the foggy bits or deliberately used in spray conditions.
And there is no doubt whatsoever that they:
1. Don't dazzle in daylight.
2. Vastly improve visibility & hence safety.

This is one section of the highway code which could usefully be revised.
But probably never will be, due to the emotions it seems to stir.

Parting thot: "Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whatever Happened to Postmarks?


In the "good old days" (actually, seen from the last couple of years, they really were the good old days) letters & cards had postmarks which told you where & when they had been posted.
This was always of interest & sometimes critical in case of dispute.

Well, this year we received about 40 Xmas cards, mostly from UK.

Some of them had no visible postmark at all.
Most of them had slight smudges of greyish ink.
Only one had legible time & place of posting.

And that came from Brussels!

Is the Royal Mail trying to save ink, or trying to leave no embarassing traces?
Poor show, anyway.

Parting thot: "Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there." - Josh Billings

Friday, December 17, 2010

Missing Sorry Sign


Of course, like everybody else, I am an excellent driver.
And never make mistakes.
Well - hardly ever...

But, just occasionally, I might make a tiny slip.
Typically finding myself in the wrong lane in a strange town, for instance, at the sort of place where all the locals know that the right lane becomes a right-turn-only lane, but there is no advanced warning.

At times like that, it would be handy to be able to indicate, by body language, something like "Oops! Sorry! Excuse me!"
The nearest I can imagine is 2 palms up, but that can also be interpreted as "So what?" or "Who cares?" so is not a good choice.

Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any recognised gesture for "I'm sorry" anywhere.
Sad reflection on humanity!

Most reference articles concentrate on offensive & obscene gestures and after a bit of reading, I realize almost any gesture can get you into serious trouble somewhere or other in the world.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gestures

So I won't improvise my own hand signals, but I really think it would be a small step forward for civilization if we could invent & publicise a sign for "Excuse me!"

Parting thot: "By such innovations are languages enriched, when the words are adopted by the multitude, and naturalized by custom." - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bramleys - Part 2


Back in August, I mentioned the impossibility of finding "proper" cooking apples in France & reported finding a couple of potential sites for supplying Bramley Apple Trees, to grow my own.

In the meantime, I had long & constructive exchanges with both sites, and eventually ordered a container-grown plant from Orange Pippin (http://www.orangepippin.com/) in UK.
After several postponements, they informed me in October that their courrier service to France was having serious problems & they could no longer garantee delivery, so we agreed to cancel the order.

That only seemed to leave one possibility - getting a bare-roots plant from Mike Curtis's "English Nursery in France". (http://www.anenglishnurseryinfrance.com/)

I had hesitated about that option previously, in spite of Mike's helpful advice, because I thought the bare-roots shipping & planting process was more critical (less foolproof...) than using a container.
Still, with a choice of that or nothing, the decision was easy & the "tree" arrived, weighing next to nothing, but looking healthy, at the end of November.

That should have been ideal timing, but not this year, as we were just heading into a week or more of -8°C/-10°C nights.

This really has been the coldest & snowiest December in our 30 years here, but finally I found a warmish slot for planting & the Bramley is now bravely standing in the garden - in the snow...

How many years before our first apple pie?

Parting thot: "There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate." - Linda Grayson

Friday, August 20, 2010

Park & Ride - Nancy


Visiting Nancy (don't ask "Who?" - it's a "Where?" in nearby Meurthe et Moselle department)...
http://www.ot-nancy.fr/uk/centre_historique/index.php
Anyway, visiting Nancy this week, we decided to try their "Park & Ride" system.

Immediately positive first impressions include the location of the terminus right next to the A33 motorway by-pass (junction 2 - Brabois CHU).
Then the decent signposting.
And the very clean & well-lit indoor car park.
The very helpful cashier.
The 2.50€ which covers all-day covered parking & as many day-return fares as you have people in the car.
And the handy loos inside the parking area.
Unfortunately the loos were locked & the very helpful cashier spent at least 5 minutes testing every available key, without changing that.

Outside in the sun, we noticed that the trams ran every 6 minutes & were surprised to see only one rail instead of the usual 2...
As our tram arrived, we saw it was running on ordinary-looking rubber tyres on an ordinary-looking concrete road surface.
The single rail being just for guidance.

Whooshing off with electrical acceleration towards Nancy, we couldn't help noticing that the guiding rail wasn't there any more & that we were mixing it with cars, vans & buses.
On gradients surely too steep for metal-wheeled trams.
Then, a bit further into the city, there was a stop where no doors opened.
And after that we were back on the rails, well the rail, and feeling like a tram again, with a bit more sideways jiggling than before.

Intriguing!
You can imagine it being cheaper & more flexible than a normal tram.
Though you have to wonder if the driver ever forgets which bits he needs to steer in...
And wonder how they make sure (no - really sure) the guide wheel doesn't hop off if a stone blocks the groove it should be in...

But when you get home & start Googling, then the negatives start to show up.
It was not that cheap.
Soon after opening in 2000, it was closed for over a year, to sort out details like derailing, fishtailing, stability, legality, safety...
Built by Bombardier, there is another one in Caen which has similar worries.
There seems to be track laid for other lines in Nancy, but they are not (yet?) being used.
http://www.trams-in-france.net/reload.htm?nancy.htm
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/c.fuller1/Tvr.html
http://www.lightrailnow.org/features/f_ncy001.htm

Of course, we didn't really go to Nancy just for the tram.
With its 3 Michelin stars & UNESCO World Heritage Listing, we weren't disappointed by Stanislas Square or the Ducal Palace or the magnificent City Gates & Arcs-de-Triomphe.
I have seen more inspiring & elegant cathedrals though.
In addition to the ubiquitous white vans, there seemed to be an outbreak of scaffolding, so photography was a bit hindered.
Of course, that is better than letting things crumble, so no complaints.

Parting thot: "Researchers have discovered that chocolate produced some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two, but can't remember what they are." - Anon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lingo - Over & Out




I added a post about Numbers on the Lingo blog here.
And have made a start at organizing that blog.
So I will not mention Lingo again in Disconnected Jottings.
Or at least, not in any detail.

What has taken so long, and is till not fixed, is trying to include tables in a Blogger post.

I assumed I would just find a button somewhere, to set up any table I wanted, like in Word or any word-processor program.
But after a lot of looking - nothing.

Googling showed that many, many people are looking for a way to do this, but with no success.
The approved method is to write your own HTML...
Did you ever try that, especially for a table?
You would need to be very desperate.

Slightly simpler is to create your table in a Google Docs Spreadsheet.
Then "Share" > "Publish as a web page".
Then copy the little block of HTML which is generated.
Then paste that into the HTML bit of your blog.
That produces the strange result at the top of this post.

All the content of the table is present.
But in a window which is too wide.
And too short.
So you need to scroll to see it all. (OK - I might be able to fix that).
And there is a bold header you don't want.
And a lot of junk underneath.
Useless!

You can try to make your table in a Google Docs Document, instead of a Spreadsheet, then share/publish/HTML/copy/paste that.
Which produces this improved result:

Edit: Removed for technical reasons...

No header or trailing junk.
The width is OK.
Still too short, so still need to scroll.
And tables in Google Documents can only have 20 rows - not enough in my case.

Next, I investingated Word & noticed you can "Publish as a web page" from there too.
And it works in Internet Explorer.
But I couldn't get it into Blogger.
Even following suggestions to wade through the enormous (absolutely enormous) HTML file & copy/paste only the bits between the "table" markers.

I tried publishing from Excel, which worked, but introduced half a page of blank space & lost the table layout.

Trying to copy/paste a table directly from Word into the non-HTML bit of Blogger (where you copy/paste text) produced a lot of red warning notices about "Tag not allowed META", so I had to abandon that.
Likewise pasting from an OpenOffice Document.

Finally (I thought) I found a recommendation to:
Produce the table in Word.
Upload & convert it to a Google Docs Document (it produced more than 20 rows, as required).
Then copy/paste that to the non-HTML bit of Blogger.
And it worked perfectly!

Until I wanted to edit the post (nothing to do with the table).
Then all the text in the table disappeared.
It's still there & appears in negative if you select it with the mouse.
But you can't see it normally...
Any table pasted from a Google Docs Document (without Word) produces the same result.
Aaarrrggghhh!!!


Letter
Sound
Like English
Not like
a
bat
art
b
bat
d
dot
e
bet
me - err
f
fit
g
got
gin
h
hit
i
hit
ire
j
job
k
kit
l
lit
m
mat
n
not
o
not
note
p
pat
r
rat
s
sat
is
t
tap
u
pull
gull
v
vat
w
wit
x
axe
y
yob
ivy
z
zap

So I am still looking for an easy method (without writing HTML) to insert a table neatly in Blogger.
I refuse to resort to a screenshot.

Parting thot: "The future will be better tomorrow." - Dan Quayle

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Umweltzonen


This summer, we are having trouble fitting our more-or-less-weekly day-tripping in between the showers & heatwaves.
But yesterday we popped down to Freiburg, which we have managed to miss for probably 20 years.

Opening our (1976) Michelin Guide to Germany was a salutary experience, as all the right-hand bit (except some of Berlin) was a white blank, like Antarctica.
It didn't actually say "Here be Dragons!" but nearly.
Europe has come a long way since we moved here.
The new Michelin we just bought is (naturally) twice as thick.

I was pretty sure I had seen something about Freiburg, which is remarkably ecology-conscious, introducing limited vehicle access & requiring special windscreen stickers to get in.
But I couldn't find anything about it on either the French or English versions of their Tourist sites.
http://www.freiburg.de/servlet/PB/menu/1140679_l3/index.html
http://www.freiburg.de/servlet/PB/menu/1140679_l2/index.html
nor by a lot of Googling.

So it was only half a surprise when, approaching Freiburg, we saw signs about Umwelt Zone & had to divert into & P+R car park.
Not a problem, as we usually do P+R anyway, when it's available.

Strasbourg has an excellent system, where you pay €3.10 which includes parking for all day plus return tram tickets valid for one hour out & one hour back – for everybody in the car.
Very satisfactory when we had an Espace-full.
And still good value for 2.

From Freiburg's P+R car park, we found the station & the big red ticket machine.
Surprised not to find any instructions in French or English, we struggled a bit with the German, as there were several zones & all sorts of tickets.
Expecting to select "2 cheap returns", we were again surprised that the cheap returns start at 4.
When you expect to find something, it takes you a long time to convince yourself you have not just misunderstood the foreign language…
Then surprised we could not select 2 singles – we had to go through the whole procedure for one ticket, then do it all again for the second.

Double-checking the map & the electronic arrivals board & the big label on the front of the tram, we got on the right tram & set off in the right direction.

But after only a minute or so, the tram stopped & we were surprised to see the driver leave & lock the cab and disappear!
Even more surprised when the tram set off in the other direction.
At the next stop, we got off (with a lot of puzzled-looking others), reconsulted the maps, the arrivals board, the sign on the tram, and tried again.
OK this time.

After that false start, Freiburg old town was extremely attractive & well worth a visit.
Google Freiburg – Images for a quick impression.
You get a plunging panoramic view from the Cathedral tower (over 200 steps & narrow for passing) & a broader one from the swaying tower on the Schlossberg.
Unique features include the little streams/drains/gullies along most of the streets, offering good paddling for kids of all ages.
Decorated cobble-stone pavements.
And the many hot-sausage stalls parked incongruously next to the cathedral…

Back home with the keyword "Umweltzone", I soon found plenty of information on them in Freiburg &
elsewhere.
I even found there is a lot about them on Freiburg's Tourist-Office Website – but only the German-language one, as far as I can see.

The clearest English site is for Berlin:
http://www.berlin.de/sen/umwelt/luftqualitaet/de/luftreinhalteplan/download/touristeninfo_en.pdf
And they have a very good site where I managed to buy stickers for 2 French cars, in English, for only €6 each, including postage.
https://www.berlin.de/labo/kfz/dienstleistungen/feinstaubplakette.shop.en.php

So we should be better prepared next time.

Parting thot: "A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in." - Robert Orben

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Lingo 3 – Alphabet & Pronunciation


As this subject could get out of proportion for the Disconnected Jottings Blog, I will shift it to a blog of its own. Here
But that blog is empty as I write this.

In the meantime, this post suggests an Alphabet & Pronunciation for a proposed "learn it all in half a day" universal language.

Firstly, an alphabet.
Pictograms, as used in Chinese & Japanese, have some advantages, can be recognised & read more quickly by trained users, take up less space, etc.
They have 3 overwhelming disadvantages though:
They offer no clue to pronunciation.
You need to learn several thousand.
They can't be used on popular western keyboards.
I think that rules them out for an easy-to-learn language.

Syllabic representation, such as Japanese Hiragana & Katakana deal with the pronunciation problem, but require learning over 50 symbols, unfamiliar to 95% of the world's population.
And need a special keyboard.

So a conventional western alphabet seems the simplest solution.
But selected so that each symbol represents one & only one sound. (unlike: calorie/celery, gin/gun, icicle, bet/beet…)
And each sound is represented by one & only one symbol. (unlike: cake, space, beet/beat, physics/fizz …)
And no sound is represented by a combination of letters which does not logically produce that sound. (qu, th, ch, sh, ph…)
For simplicity & keyboard-friendliness, I would avoid accents and also symbols which are only found in a limited number of languages.
Actually, that is one of the problems with Esperanto, invented before keyboards…

So, I end up with the following 24 letters (& corresponding sounds from English in brackets):
a(bat) – b(bat) – d(dot) – e(bet) – f(fit) – g(got) – h(hit) – i(hit) – j(job) – k(kit) – l(lit) – m(mat) – n(not) – o(dot) – p(pat) – r(rat) – s(sat) – t(tap) – u(pull not gull) – v(vat) – w(wit) – x(axe) – y(yob not many) – z(zap).

Eliminating (from a qwerty keyboard): c & q

I have lost these extremely common sounds:
u(cup) – e(err) – th(thin) – th(this) – ch(chat)
Which is a pity, but trying to get them back would introduce complications I don't want.

Pursuing radical simplicity, I propose to do without capital letters.
Current users of western alphabets will find that excessive.
My doubts started when I came across Japanese Hiragana & Katakana.
2 completely different sets of symbols, to represent the same set of sounds.
And you need to learn both to cope with any text including traditional & imported words.
I thought that was obviously an extravagance.
Then I looked at western capital & lower-case letters & realized that there too were 2 sets of almost-entirely different symbols representing the same sounds.
If capital letters had been just bigger copies of small-case, that would have been OK.
So, to speed up learning by non-westerners (though I admit that almost everybody recognises these letters now) I want to do without capitals.
I am encouraged by the fact that more & more kids, these days, have stopped using capitals, because they are too lazy to do the keyboard shifting which it requires.
I admit it makes blocks of text less easy to split into sentences.
I could still change my mind on this one.

The end result is that you can pronounce any word you see printed & you can write any word you hear.

Parting thot: "Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty." – Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cam Belts


One of the silliest things the motor industry ever did, if you exclude customer-driven stuff like external sun visors & over-wide tyres, was to introduce belt drive for camshafts.

Previously, camshafts were driven by chains.
I don't think I have ever heard of a camshaft chain failing.

Starting slowly in the '60s, more & more manufacturers were attracted to internally-toothed rubber belts, instead of chains, to drive their camshafts.
Potential advantages included cost, weight, noise, packaging & sealing, though these advantages were not always realized.

The disadvantage is that rubber belts have a finite life.
And the finite life depends heavily on operating conditions, notably hot & cold temperatures, contamination by oil/dust/mud/stones, unscheduled overloads, long periods of non-use, etc.
And belt failure is always serious, usually very expensive & potentially fatal.
As a minimum, the car suddenly stops, which can be less than funny in the fast lane of a busy highway, or in Siberia or Death Valley.
Usually, the engine is severely damaged or destroyed, as pistons & valves crash.
See heading picture, from: http://www.robertsautorepair.com/faq.html
With older cars, that means not worth repairing.
A few engines have been designed so that cam belts can fail without pistons hitting valves, so a new belt can be fitted with no other costs, but that requires design compromises which are expensive or impossible with today's emissions legislation.

In view of the serious consequences, and after numerous court cases, manufacturers have had to recommend belt changes at intervals which should avoid any failures.
But because belt life is so heavily dependant on so many factors & hence so variable, the change interval is a sorry compromise.
Often 5 years or 60,000km, but sometimes 10 years or 240,000km.
Frequent enough to be a significant maintenance cost for most owners.
And a waste in 99% of cases.
Still allowing a (very, very small) number of motorists to suffer a failure inside that period.
And reserving nasty surprises for the forgetful or uninformed.
http://www.auto-museum.net/thread/4453-1.html
http://www.honestjohn.co.uk/forum/post/index.htm?t=7920

I think there is now a move back to chains.
There should be.

Parting thot: "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." – Albert Einstein

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lingo 2 – Verbs


As I said here, I think there is room for a radically simple universal second language, whose main characteristic would be that you could learn all of it (except vocabulary) in half a day.

This post aims to cover verbs in such a language.

The heading picture, from http://conjd.cactus2000.de/index.en.php, shows a conjugation table for one German verb, not even a difficult one.
How long before you could use that at normal talking speed?
For a bit more detail, you could try this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_verbs
I think we can do better than that – or at least do something simpler & quicker to learn & be able to use.

Say our new language has a verb 'hit'.
You can guess what it means.
This one invariable word - & I want to stress that absolutely ALL words should be invariable – will be the infinitive.

It will also be the present tense, for any & every subject.
I/he/she/we/you/they/anybody hit.

I didn't mention the invariable word order: subject-verb-object.

To make a past tense, just add the invariable word 'did' after the infinitive.
I hit did.
She hit did.
Etc.

Note that, in general, all qualifying words should come after what they qualify, unlike in English.

To make a future tense, add the invariable word 'wil' after the infinitive.
I hit wil.
You hit wil.

Conditional?
Add 'wud'.
I hit wud.

Passive?
Add 'get'.
You hit get.

Combinations of passive & others are possible & obvious.
He hit get did.
You hit get wil.

Most languages have lots of additional tenses & moods.
Subjunctives, imperfects, continuous…
See the Wikipedia German link above.
They certainly add possibilities for subtlety & refinement.
I think a basic language can & should manage without.
In the interest of simplicity, above all.

So, in summary:
To learn any verb, you just learn one word, which stays invariable.

For every verb:
Future – add 'wil'.
Past – add 'did'.
Conditional – add 'wud'.
Passive – add 'get'.

That's it.
You know everything about every verb.

Parting thot: "It is better to talk with each other than about each other." – Angela Merkel

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wot, no Bramleys?

Picture from: http://www.bramleyapples.co.uk/index.html

Unlike many expats, we are not constantly yearning for stuff from 'home'.

I can easily manage without Marmite, Jelly, Horlicks or Dairy Milk.
And we can find un-French favorites like Worcester Sauce, Custard Powder or Salad Cream, in speciality shops & increasingly even in hypermarkets.

But one thing still eludes us.
Good cooking apples.

Of course, the French cook with apples.
Apple tarts are common & at least look delicious.
But the apples usually stay as firm slices & are only moderately tasty.
Nothing like a good mushy, tangy Bramley Apple Pie!

We never found a Bramley in a shop.
Nor anything remotely similar.
We have some in the freezer.
Personal imports from UK – DS has an international record for importing apples…
So we can still treat ourselves, but need to ration it.

I have occasionally wondered if I could grow my own, but vaguely assumed that if there are none, that probably means they are not well adapted.
But I found a couple of sites suggesting they can ship young trees to France & have asked their expert opinion.
http://www.orangepippinshop.com/product.aspx?productid=10014
http://infosheet.angloinfo.com/anenglishnurseryinfrance/

Now waiting for more info.

Parting thot: "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." – Martin Luther

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lingo 1


In spite of the way I deliberately misuse language in this blog (incomplete phrases a so on - see here:) I do have a reasonable proficiency in English.

After 30 years' immersion in French, I can manage OK, but it is still instantly obvious to everybody that I am a foreigner.

At various times, I have attempted to learn a bit of Latin, German, Italian, Japanese, Esperanto and, most recently, Alsatian.
In none of those have I achieved more than about 5% competence.

Every time I study a language, I am struck by two things:
1. The way every language is weighed down by its own pointless complications & irregularities.
2. The surprising absence, from each language, of some elements which other languages seem to consider essential.

A quick example of both is plural forms.
English, like most other languages, has a plural form of most nouns.
Sometimes simple (cat/cats), sometimes less simple (potato/potatoes, lady/ladies, half/halves, oasis/oases) but often irregular (child/children, man/men, foot/feet, mouse/mice…).
It would be a lot easier if at least they were all regular.
Yet Japanese manages perfectly well without plural forms at all.
And so does English, when it wants to (sheep/sheep, fish/fish etc).
Did you ever have the slightest problem in transmitting or receiving any information about any quantity of fish or sheep, from none to millions?
Nor me!
Plural forms are a waste of everybody's time & effort.
Easily enough absorbed in early childhood, they are persistent stumbling blocks for adult learners.

Then there is Gender & Agreement.
The only way I managed to start actually talking in French at all was to deliberately ignore gender & put up with the mockery.
Otherwise I would have needed to stop & check every other word in a dictionary before using it.
And French
only has 2 genders, where German & Alsatian have three...
Only by a lifetime's immersion could I possibly master the table of German genders & agreements well enough to use it
faultlessly at talking speed.
You need to consider 16 possibilities every time:
Masculine/Feminine/Neutral/Plural x Nominative/Accusative/Dative/Genitive.
http://www.germanlinx.vic.edu.au/pdf/derdiedas-table.pdf
And to think it is pretty much pointless…
English manages OK without genders & agreement at all.

Another little example is pronouns which, even in English, mostly adopt accusative forms:
I/he/she/we/you/they hit me/him/her/you/them.
Having "you" as both nominative & accusative never caused anybody a problem, so why complicate all the others?

Fundamentally, languages are being used for two, often conflicting, missions.
1. Transmitting historical, cultural & regional values & information.
2. Communicating as widely as possible.

The cultural part requires that all the peculiarities, of as many local languages & dialects as possible, should be maintained & learned by local youngsters.
The communicating part would be better handled by a single, universal, language.

Seen from here & now, that seems most likely to be English.
Seen from elsewhere, it could well be Spanish or Chinese.
If any existing language becomes "universal", it will cause significant & justified jealousy & resentment among native-speakers of all the other languages, who will be at a disadvantage.
Indeed, the jealousy & resentment are more than likely to prevent any existing language ever becoming universal.

Which is where Esperanto comes in.
Designed.
Where all other languages evolved & accumulated.
Without irregularities.
It has to be hundreds of times faster to learn than any other language.
A wonderful effort.
But it has not developed any significant usage yet & seems unlikely to do so now.
Why not?
1. Came too early, before there was globalization to make it necessary & internet to make it popular?
2. Still unnecessarily complicated?
3. Just not promoted well enough?

I think there is room for a radically simpler language.
Which would aim to become a universal second language due to its utter simplicity.
One where anybody could learn absolutely all the grammar, with absolutely no irregularities, in half a day.
Leaving half a day to learn some basic vocabulary.
So in one day, we could all communicate…

Further details in part 2.

Parting thot: "Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery." - Mark Amidon

Friday, July 30, 2010

Disney Rash


I already mentioned that we do a lot of walking.

Apart from general touristy stuff, where we might typically wander gently for 6-7 hours in a day, we regularly indulge in organized hikes of 15-20km with a fair bit of up & down.

In the last couple of years, I have started to notice a sort of rash on my legs, after a lot of walking.
It looks like tiny blood vessels have burst under the skin.
No swelling, pain, irritation – just looks ugly.
Hardly visible immediately after walking, it peaks the next morning (I never checked during the night…) & then fades from red to brown to freckles within 3-4 days, leaving a faint brown coloration long-term.
It depends mainly on the length of time walking/standing & to some extent maybe on temperature & degree of exertion.
Not at all on clothing: trousers/shorts; boots/shoes/sandals/bare-feet; socks/no.
Nor on terrain (brushing through grass, as I first imagined) or insects (midges or sand-hoppers, as somebody suggested).

I showed it to my doctor, who did blood tests to eliminate diabetes & other nasty possibles, then said it was just one of lifes little trials I should get used to…
I prefer his approach, rather than being dosed with medicines I can do without!

Recently, we had a walking weekend in Austria with a bus-load (44) from our hiking group.
On the morning of the second day, after a hot 20km the first day, at least 10 of the 44 had my red rash – some quite a bit worse than me.
One or two said they got it regularly & for others they had never noticed it before.
Nobody had any explanation or cure.

I spent a long time Googling & eliminating lots of not-quite similar things, before concluding that it is a very common condition.
Known as "Disney Rash" or "Golfers Vasculitis".
Googling those will tell you as much as I know.
Still no real explanation or cure though.

Parting thot: "It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is." - Erasmus

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hub Gear Update


I noted last year, here:
"I suppose I have to wait until, inevitably, Shimano brings out a smaller, lighter 9 or 10-speed competitor and actually gets it into bikes in shops.
Hope I am not too old to enjoy it then."

Well, things seem to be progressing further & faster than expected.
Although I only noticed it recently, there was a flurry of information on internet around 2 Feb 2010, about Shimano's future 11-speed Alfine hub.

Gears - 11
Total range - 4.09:1
Weight - 1.6kg (less than their 8-speed)
Cost – maybe £350?
Release date – September 2010?

http://road.cc/content/news/13981-shimano-alfine-11-speed-hub-car-park-test
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wuXoD9db04
http://hubstripping.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/11-speed-alfine-hub-from-shimano/
I borrowed the heading picture from Hubstripping – Thanks!

Sounds good.
In fact, apart from the £350, it sounds almost perfect!
The proposed trigger operation may be a bit slower than a twistgrip for clicking back down from 11 to 1 for a restart?

By the way – did you see that bit of the Tour de France, where Yellow Jersey missed his derailleur gearchange & his chain came off?
Ho! Ho! Ho!
None of the commentators said anything about needing hub gears though…
They seemed to think the others should have stopped & waited while he put his chain back on.

Parting thot: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Never on a Tuesday


Yesterday, we were in Lorraine.
Voluntarily.

While there, we visited the remarkable new Centre Pompidou in Metz.


But only from the outside, as it is closed on Tuesdays…


Apparently common (but not universal) for French museums.
Took us over 30 years to notice!



Within spitting distance (pardon the expression) of Pompidou are the splendid, extravagant, buildings of Metz's Main Station & Post Office.
Relics of a previous German period, where the obvious intention was to leave monuments as outstanding & durable as the Pyramids.

Like Alsace's Haute Koenigsbourg.

Main problem (not solved) was how to get far enough back to get the whole building on a photograph – even with a 25mm wide-angle lens.
Then there was the usual white van problem, though in the case of the station it was more buses & coaches.



One piece of advice to Metz: If some facy architect tries to blister-pack your station – have a look at Strasbourg's first.



To be honest, Metz was a pleasant surprise, with its yellow stone buildings, notably, but not only, the Cathedral.
And many excellent public gardens & open spaces (mostly being worked on yesterday…).
And attractive riverside arrangements.

Well worth a visit.
But avoid Tuesday.

Parting thot: "Not many folks spend a lot of time trying to be excellent." – Barak Obama