Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vignettes – 2

The things we do, in the name of science…

Last year, I mentioned the Swiss autoroute vignette & the difficulty in removing it after use.
Not to mention the impossibility of removing it in one piece to use on another car or another windscreen (which is illegal anyway).

Yet the windscreen professionals managed to transfer my old one to my new screen, apparently intact.
I meant to ask them how, but never did.
Googling furiously, I found suggestions about illicit use of hair-driers…

Having bought my 2010 vignette, the time had come to test my new, if fragmentary, knowledge.
After checking carefully that there were no Swiss observation drones hovering nearby (and also that DS was not looking) I smuggled the hair drier from the bathroom & a thin, flexible table-knife from the kitchen, out to the car-port.
Using only the merest of heat & fan settings (& wondering vaguely if there was any risk of cracking the screen) I warmed the 2009 vignette up & easily slid the knife blade behind it.
Removing it in one piece (& apparently fit for hypothetical further service) was a proverbial piece of cake.
Certainly quicker & easier than the usual cold scraping, even if you don't want to re-use it.


Parting thot: "Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, February 18, 2010

R.T.F.M. ?

I just bought a pair of gardening gloves.
Purchases don't get much simpler than that, do they?

When I got them home, the first task was to remove the 2 stout staples holding them together – strong enough to need pliers.
Then I put my hand in, as you would, only to spike it on what turned out to be an electromagnetic anti-theft tag in the form of a strip of wire.
Next attempt came up against a wad of paper.
Not a ball of tissue paper like you find at the end of new shoes, but a many-folded sheet of A4 paper.
Covered both sides in very small print…
The instructions!
For gloves?

Actually, there were less instructions than I at first imagined, as they were repeated in F, GB, D, NL, I, E, P, DK, SF, S & N with only about 13 closely-packed lines for each.
Curious, I did actually read them, just in case I had been missing out, all my life, on how to wear gloves properly.
Well, no.
I think common sense would tell me to avoid putting gloves on very dirty hands.
To throw them away if they have holes.
Not to expect leather gloves to keep me warm if wet.
To keep them somewhere dry & at a reasonable temperature.
But thanks anyway.

There was some valuable information on their rating for abrasion, slicing, tearing, perforation, cold-convection, cold-contact & waterproofing.
But that would have been more useful on the label, than stapled inside the gloves & inaccessible until you get them home, wouldn't it?
I looked & it wasn't.

OK, this whole post, so far, has been just a cheap poke at somebody giving me a bit too much information, and of course I would rather have too much than not enough & I can't really complain about one sheet of paper, so I won't.

Really, the multi-lingual gloves instructions merely kicked me into starting a piece I have had in mind for some time, about the waste of paper in multi-lingual instruction books in general.

I have in front of me, the instructions for my Bosch electric drill.
104 pages.
The English section is 6 ½ pages total…
The rest is the same thing (presumably) in German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Greek & Turkish.

Of course, I do understand the logistical reasons for this.
I can also see that the Bosch book is printed on recycled paper & I am certain they have done their sums & that this is the cheapest solution.
But it is still a waste.
Multiplied by all the stuff being sold everywhere.

And if we all learned Esperanto?

Parting thot: "Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words." - Apocrypha

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Do you, in other countries, need doctor's certificates before you can take part in any remotely-physical activity?

I seem to remember flying gliders in UK (some decades back…) on the strength of a simple declaration that I didn't suffer from epilepsy or anything else likely to put me or anybody else in danger.
Maybe things are not so simple now.
Certainly in France, you need a specific doctor's certificate before you can join in any kind of activity.
These are the medical certificate conditions for paragliding (I won't translate them, but you get the idea):

Système Nerveux :

- Intégrité des fonctions anatomiques, motrices, sensibilités superficielle, profonde, et
proprioceptivité respectées.
- Emotivité compatible avec le Vol Libre et la traction.

Contre indications : Toute affection entraînant un défaut de maîtrise. Certaines sont définitives.
A l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite),
- les séquelles d’affections cérébrales ou méningées, traumatiques ou non, du fait du risque
majoré d’oedème cérébral hypoxique d’altitude.
De même toute altération ou perte de
conscience d’origine connue (épilepsie) est une contre indication absolue jusqu’à leur disparition clinique et/ou électrique, sans traitement depuis deux ans.
- Toute altération ou perte de conscience d’origine inconnue mais habituelle (malaise vagal,
spasmophilie) est une contre indication absolue jusqu’à disparition clinique depuis deux ans.
- Tout syndrome psychiatrique connu et traité, ou dépisté lors de l’examen est incompatible
avec ce sport aérien (aucun handicap psychique invalidant).
Il en est de même pour toute
intoxication : alcoolique, toxique ou médicamenteuse. NB : Il faut recommander aux pilotes de s’interdire l’emploi non contrôlé des médicaments sédatifs ou excitants. Y compris quand ils ne sont par perçus comme tels : les antalgiques codéinés, les antitussifs, les antiallergiques, certains anti-inflammatoires ou décontracturants musculaires. Le praticien devra prendre en compte cet item lors de la prescription et informer le pilote de leur longue durée d’élimination et de leur potentialisation entre eux, par l’hypoxie, la déshydratation, la fatigue et par l’alcool.
Appareil Locomoteur : Intégrité anatomique ou fonctionnelle des 4 membres.
Contre indications :
- Instabilité de l’épaule post traumatique non opérée et non stabilisée,
A l’exception Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite), ou la CI est à apprécier individuellement en fonction de l’intensité de la pratique :
- Altération de la proprioceptivité des membres inférieurs (non rétablie en post traumatique, en
- Hernies, éventrations, jusqu’à consolidation post-chirurgicale, instabilité rachidienne, matériel
d’ostéosynthèse rachidien en place.
NB : Evaluer la nécessité d’ôter certains matériels d’ostéosynthèse pouvant entraîner une aggravation en cas de nouvel accident, lors de l’ablation tenir compte du délai de consolidation.
Appareil Cardio-Vasculaire :

- Etat compatible avec effort prolongé (test de Ruffier), d’intensité moyenne (isométrique) et
des sollicitations brèves mais submaximales.
ECG : recommandé dès 35 ans, obligatoire après
50 ans et en cas de facteurs de risques familiaux ou personnels (obésité, cholestérol, tabagisme) ainsi qu’anomalie clinique connue ou suspectée.
- TEST D’EFFORT : recommandé dès 40 ans, obligatoire pour toute anomalie clinique,
électrique, tensionnelle ou lors du test de Ruffier.
Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant (pour le kite, à apprécier en fonction de
l’intensité de la pratique) :
- Troubles de l’hémostase (inné, acquis ou médicamenteux) (pour le kite, à apprécier en fonction
de l’intensité de la pratique), Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite),:
- HTA et cardiopathies non stabilisées, arythmogènes ou non,

- Atteintes vasculaires périphériques susceptibles d’être aggravées par la compression de sangles
des harnais et des sellettes
Appareil Respiratoire : Capacité d’effort (idem cardio-vasculaire) et tolérance à l’hypoxie d’altitude (sauf pour le kite)
Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite),: insuffisance
respiratoire symptomatique, emphysème, antécédents de pneumothorax non opéré, affections pleuropulmonaires évolutives.
Affections Endocriniennes et Métaboliques : Admissibilité des problèmes endocriniens
n’entraînant pas de malaise ou perte de connaissance (diabète équilibré, hypothyroïdie compensée).
Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant :

- Diabète instable susceptible de malaises

Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite):

- corticothérapie au long cours et insuffisance surrénalienne.

ORL : Entendre la voix chuchotée à 1 mètre.

Contre indications :
- Vertiges vrais et troubles de l’équilibre (test de Romberg) non stabilisés,
Contre indications à l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite):

- Catarrhe tubaire, otites moyennes aiguës et otites chroniques non aérées.
Par analogie, les
inflammations dentaires sous amalgames (pulpite barotraumatique).
Aptitude Visuelle : Champ visuel normal - une vision corrigée à 09/10e en binoculaire et une
acuité des deux yeux non corrigée à 2/10e minimum.
L’astigmatisme horizontal doit être normal
ou bien corrigé (lignes électriques).
La vergence et la vision du relief doivent être normales.
dyschromatopsies sont admises.
Contre indications à l’exception du cerf volant :
Décollement rétinien non stabilisé (surveillance trimestrielle puis annuelle).
NB : Système anti-perte des lunettes recommandé ainsi que verres neutres protecteurs pour les
porteurs de lentilles ou verres cornéens.
Divers : Vaccination antitétanique obligatoire, anti-hépatite B recommandée.

A l’exception du Cerf Volant y compris de traction (Kite) : Groupage sanguin (2 déterminations) à jour.

When I see that lot, I am surprised to find hundreds of quite ordinary-looking specimens actually flying every weekend!

DS needs a certificate before she can join in the village gym class.
We both need another one to go walking (!!!) with the local rambling group.

I have to think this is overkill.

Parting thot: "I think my favorite sport in the Olympics is the one in which you make your way through the snow, you stop, you shoot a gun, and then you continue on. In most of the world, it is known as the biathlon, except in New York City, where it is known as winter." - Michael Ventre

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

French Hens' Teeth

Saying you expect something to happen "Quand les poules auront les dents", literally "when hens have teeth" is a pretty common French way of saying "never".

Nearer to the idea of "if pigs could fly" than to "rare as hens teeth".

Parting thot: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." – Albert Einstein

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Everyone Gets a Window Seat?

One of the minor adventures in planning our future California trip has been the projected flight over The Grand Canyon.

Yes, I know, The Grand Canyon is not quite in California, but if you have a small enough map it doesn't seem that much of a detour & a pity to miss while you are so near.
Anyway, many people, including unknowns on travel forums & even actual friends, have unanimously (& that's rare) recommended seeing The GC from a helicopter.

Digging around, I found that:
There are several organisations running various helicopter flights (see below).
25 minute flights are expensive & longer flights are very expensive.
There are several organisations (including some of the above) running light aircraft flights.
You seem to get about 50 minutes, starting from the same airport, travel further (good) but a bit higher (bad?).
They are cheaper than helicopter flights (reasonable as helicopters are notoriously expensive to run).
They mainly seem to use twin-engined planes with 3-abreast or 4-abreast seating, so visibility (the whole point!!) may not be very good for some in the middle or for anybody looking/photographing through the propellers.
Air Grand Canyon offers 50-60 minute flights in single-engined planes where "Everyone Gets a Window Seat!" & they are cheaper than anybody else.
Too good to be true?

After some hesitation, partly because, with all the power of Google, I could not find a single forum report of anybody actually using Air Grand Canyon, & partly because their site seems to describe 3 different flight paths but then the booking form doesn't use any of those 3 flight path names, I eventually decided to go for it, & booked for the time & date we wanted – no problem.
Our credit-card account was soon debited with the right amount, but I did not receive the expected & promised Reservation Confirmation.
I e-mailed them on one of the 3 addresses on their site, but the mail was bounced back with:
"I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be delivered to one or more recipients. The mail system : host[] said: 550 Requested action was not taken because this server doesn't handle mail for that user"
The other 2 addresses gave the same result.
They all still do.

I tried the phone number on the site, but it rang for 3 minutes with no answer.
Ten times in succession over a couple of days…
I cannot find any other phone number (except a 1-800 one) or any postal address (except a PO box) for AGC.
I did find a related news article about embezzlement:
Eventually, I contacted the Arizona Department of Transportation - Airport authority, who were extremely helpful & confirmed that AGC is really a bona-fide company & is really operating from the expected airport.

They suggested my connection problems might be due to 3ft of snow at the airport, but I respectfully doubt that.
Surprisingly for me, but apparently not for them, they said that reservations are being handled by Grand Canyon Airlines, one of the above competitors.
I contacted GCA about my lack of confirmation from AGC & got a rapid reply with confirmation!
The rapid & friendly reply was under the header "Papillon Airways Inc." – another of the above "competitors" and included the line "Thank you for choosing Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines" – yet another "competitor"…
Encouraged by that success, I asked which airline I would be flying with & for confirmation that the flight would be in a single-engined plane where "Everyone gets a window seat".
That seemed to be taking things too far & replies ceased…

So I am anything but confident in what I have booked & paid for!
The confirmation mail does say "Most tours can be changed or cancelled without penalty" & I am quite tempted, but on the other hand, having struggled so far, I really want to see what's at the end.
Watch this space…

Parting thot: "If you keep thinking about what you want to do or what you hope will happen, you don't do it, and it won't happen." - Erasmus

Monday, February 8, 2010

Give Me Sunshine!

As previously reported, we got 'hooked' on solar panels last year.

Having decided to go for a 3kW installation (the sweet spot under current taxation rules) we found (hopefully) a good, small, local, specialist to do the installing.
There followed an anxious time while we waited for the mini-planning-permission you need for solar panels here.
Basically it is just a declaration of what you intend to do, with illustrations, which you submit to the Mairie.
If nobody says "no" in a month – you are OK.
Except we are within 500 metres of an ancient monument, so our declaration also has to not get a "no" from the ABF (Architecte des Batiments de France) which is more problematic.
As expected, part-way through the month, the ABF sent a standard letter saying they were giving themselves an extra month to think about it…
But after 2 months, taking us just into 2010, no news = good news & we were off!

Next hurdle was getting a quote from ES-R (Electricité de Strasbourg – Réseau) for the actual grid connection.
It was only about then that I realized we were not actually connected to the famous EDF but to a local offshoot.
That turned out to be significant, as ES-R have stricter safety rules than EDF.
Our electricity comes in (& will go out) via a cable through the roof, across the road & from pole to pole until it meets the underground bit at the end of the road.
But ES-R insists on being able to cut any power I generate, without needing to come onto my property…
This is understandable, in that they need to be able to neutralize the grid to work on it, but EDF will accept fuses on the pole or maybe switches outside the house.
ES-R makes me run all my 3kW out to the front gate & back again, so they can switch it off from the road.

After that, the installation started on 25th January & finished (except for the grid connection) on 2nd Feb with light snow & temperatures down to -8°C.
Installation included:
Taking off a spare chimney which would have shaded the panels
Removing 345 tiles
Covering that space with special ribbed high-density-polyethylene sheet which is now our only waterproofing…
Fixing aluminium rails to the rafters, through the waterproof plastic sheeting (er…).
Fitting the 15 solar panels to the rails
Running the DC cables across the loft, down part of the roof, through 2 concrete floors, down a wall in the pantry, along the ceiling in the basement & to the new inverter.
Installing an inverter, a main junction box, DC circuit breaker & surge protection, AC circuit breaker & surge protection, and a board for 2 of our 3 future new meters.
Running AC cables all round the basement & garage, through the wall, under the mint bed, under the driveway paving stones and up to ES-R's circuit breaker at the gate, and back.
A short test run showing 40 Watts near dusk.

So what's left?
Mainly waiting for ES-R to come & install their meters & throw their switch.
That could take who-knows-how-long but best estimate is a month.
Also, disposing of 4 probably-asbestos-cement panels from around the fallen chimney…

Parting thot: "I'm not a doctor and I don't know the technical terminology, but I do know that sunshine activates our happiness glands." - Jessi Lane Adams

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Long Time No…

I mentioned last year that I was getting a garden shredder, planning to install a photovoltaic system on the roof and preparing a trip to California.
All those little jobs expanded to fill my available time & left none for messing with blogs.
Hopefully things have calmed down a bit now so I can blog anew.

In November I explained I wanted a Bosch AXT 25TC garden shredder & that it was over 500€ here, but under £300 (330€ then) in UK.
Weighing up the pro's (cost) & con's (internet jiggery-pokery, possible shipping damage, difficulty if needing guarantee work) I decided that it was worth getting it in UK.

I had established that the vendor (Lawson-HIS) really existed & rapidly answered e-mails.
I have, or at least had, a positive impression of Bosch's ability to design & make tools needing little guarantee attention.
A robust-looking garden shredder was not exactly a delicate thing as far as shipping was concerned.

I was seriously wrong on the last item or two.

The shredder was dispatched via City Link & arrived by UPS, which sounded good to me.
The big cardboard box had a slight nick in one side but was otherwise OK so I signed for it with little hesitation.
In assembling it, I noticed a plastic adjusting knob (where the box was nicked) was broken, but thought that could be fixed somehow.
Then another plastic knob seemed damaged, but still worked.
I was relieved to find that the shredder did shred & very well & very quietly too – just as intended.
But it was a bit rough to move around – one of the wheels rubbing intermittently on the frame.
Closer inspection showed the wheel was broken & the axle bent!
By that time, it was dawning on me that the box, though nearly intact, must have been dropped to have caused so much damage on one side.

So I carefully checked the shredder over – and under.
Oh disaster! – One of the main castings was broken in 2 places!

Hasty e-mail to Lawson-HIS with explanatory photos.
Rapid & encouraging reply.
I volunteered to repair the shredder if they could supply the parts (saving double shipping & maybe same-again damage…).
They quickly supplied an illustrated parts list & I picked out the parts I needed – not easy as there were several errors in the Bosch document.
It then took nearly 2 months for Bosch to supply the parts.
Stripping & rebuilding was nothing like as simple as I would have expected for a piece of garden equipment, but finally it is back together & working again.

I appreciated the helpful attitude of Lawson-HIS, though of course I would rather have just received a perfect shredder.
Even reputable delivery services like City Link & UPS don't treat your stuff as you would treat it yourself.
You can't estimate the condition of the contents by looking at the outside of the package.
Even Bosch fails to design equipment which will withstand predictable handling damage in shipping.
If Bosch wants to contest this, I will happily watch as they drop a dozen shredders in boxes onto concrete floors from standard test heights in random orientations!
Very happily!
I shall have to readjust my decision-point for internet purchases as I underestimated the probability & severity of shipping damage.
The considerable combined economic mass of internet sales corporations needs to put some money & effort into developing a reliable & economical delivery network.
That is a necessary extension of the internet.

Parting thot: "Prevention is better than cure." - Erasmus