Friday, August 20, 2010

Park & Ride - Nancy

Visiting Nancy (don't ask "Who?" - it's a "Where?" in nearby Meurthe et Moselle department)...
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.

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.

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.

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.

Like English
Not like
me - err

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


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.
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 &
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:
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.

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:
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.

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, 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.
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.

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.

Add 'wud'.
I hit wud.

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:

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.

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