music night

Music night involves bands playing for free all over France. These guys, who are apparently Welsh, were on in the Irish pub, in Grenoble… and played one of my favourite songs ever.

They were much better than the audio on my camera makes them sound. I stopped at the pub on a whim. I’d been out walking, and thought that a guinness would be nice after some hours of hilly countryside hearty healthiness. I sat down, exhausted, and it was lovely to hear them break into one of my favourite songs ever.

Vive la différence!

Some things I’m going to find it hard to get used to, #2 in a series of N…

  • The politeness. People in the street say “Bonjour!”, whenever you sit down to eat strangers wish you “Bon Appetit”, you get greeted when you enter a shop and they bid you farewell when you leave, groups of teenage lads shake hands when they meet each other. It’s all rather nice.
  • The temperature. Note to self: curry might last a day or so when left in the pan in Leeds, but here, a day on the stove top is a recipe for interesting furry growth. Oops. I was looking forward to that…
  • The sun. I am not used to living in factor 10 (upgrading to 20 when I’m out for a bit), and it’s having a detrimental effect on the complexion. I had to buy some clearasil the other day, it’s like being 14 again!!!
  • The keyboard layouts. At work I have a French keyboard, and at home an English one, so I’m stuck between two layouts. I’m now at the stage where I am making mistakes in both.
  • Supermarket value Roquefort. No, honestly:

    Value roquefort FTW!

  • The quality of the veg – it’s just so much better than English stuff: tomatoes, courgettes, even the lettuces are really very tasty indeed
  • Being 900 miles away from Rog, still.

OOoh, I wouldn’t call it that…

Number 2 in a series of N…


Actually, as I am sure everyone knows, the Shag is a kind of dance, and the Shag Café (snigger) is a restaurant, bar, cafe and dancehall. It is somewhat strangely situated in the middle of a light industrial estate, out in the suburbs. I was convinced I was lost until I saw a guy getting his dancing shoes out of the boot of his car, and then I figured I must be in the right sort of area. Nestled between chemical companies, tech firms and industrial bakeries, there it was. A large metal shed, with the welcoming sign saying “Shag Café” (snigger). Last night the band was the Malcolm Potter Trio (myspace page), and they were rather good.

About 70 sets of opinions on computing, from women, in one animated gif

For our upcoming ITiCSE talk (details and paper download here) we asked a bunch of women computer scientists a load of questions. At the end of the questionnaire we asked “What’s the best bit about computing?”, and “What’s the worst bit about computing?”.

I’ve collated all the answers to these questions and turned it into an animated gif, shown below:

best bits of computing and worst bits of computing

I love the way that some things come out both best and worst (and it’s fascinating how many times “programming” comes up in both categories).

Because I am a proper geek, I made the gif by writing a hacky perl program. So if you have a unix system with ImageMagick convert and perl installed, you can make your own animation from a comma-separated list of statements using this perl hack.

Travels on the bike

Last weekend I went out on the bike to check out some of the countryside around Grenoble. Grenoble’s got two big rivers – the Drac and the Isère – and on Saturday I went up the Drac for a while (only getting lost three times).

To start with I followed the cycle path from by the Intermarché at Seyssins, which runs along the banks of the river and then ends up in a retail park (Comboire, a big park of shed like shops, coincidentally where I bought my bike from). This path is really rather beautiful – river, mountains, no traffic…

Then there was a stretch of suburbia, with a range of cycle paths both marked, unmarked, and hidden… The cycle map seems to be usually right (if it says there’s a path, there is one somewhere), but the paths often change sides of the road without warning, or disappear down a parallel street for a few blocks. There wasn’t much traffic though so it didn’t matter. Next photo is the old bridge at Le Pont-de-Claix, a fine structure.

Further on I came across some ferocious wild animals.

And a bit later I stopped for a cold beer and some chipsters next to a field of hay, read Libération, and gazed at the Chartreuse mountains. Note my unfashionable pink bike in foreground.

Heading back by a different route, I did consider taking note of the signage and turning back … but decided to carry on and play the stupid foreigner card if anyone stopped me. Nobody did, and it was a great path through some nice shady woodland, and I didn’t see any chutes of pierres so I guess I made the right decision

Sunday was the turn of the Isère. It was a longer ride, but for some reason I didn’t take as many photos. Still got a bit lost though. The Isère is a slightly bigger river than the Drac (and the Drac is fairly bloody big).

In the farground of the next picture you can see another cyclist – we were going at about the same speed and he kept overtaking me and then I’d overtake him back. After about half an hour of this on the rough path (the one in the picture below) he stopped me and asked me where we were. I got out the map and showed him how we’d left the proper cycle path about 25 minutes ago but that I thought we’d pick it up again soon… at which point, he told me he’d been following me as he thought I knew where I was going. Ooops. He turned back. I was right. Ho ho ho.

Moats and so on

I’ve been having some fun reading about the French take on the expenses scandal. Libération ran a piece on Saturday (March 30) on whether the same sort of thing could happen in France, with the obligatory section on moats (les douves), duck houses (une ile à canards construite au milieu d’un étang) and that old favourite les films X of Jacqui Smith.

French MPs can claim for obvious stuff like photocopying, taxis, restaurant bills, website costs (which are high if you run les podcasts), and a whole host of things associated with residences in constituencies and staying in Paris. And as in the UK, French MPs can employ their spouse or child as collaborateurs. French MPs can also claim for clothes; Jean-Jacques Urvoas (Finistère) is quoted as saying “…puisque comme député, je ne peux pas me permettre de me balader dans ma circonscription habillé en souillon” an approximate translation of which is “since I’m an MP, I can’t be permitted to wander round my constituency dressed in rags”!

On the general topic of expenses, Martine Billiard (green, Paris) says: “Ce n’est pas moral mais c’est légal!”. Which is a quotation that could have come from any number of UK MPs over the last few weeks. So it would seem that the answer is yes. It could happen in France, but maybe not at the same level (due to caps on the amount someone can claim), and there’s no real way of knowing. French MPs get an envelope of around 6,000 euros to spend on their expenses, and 9,000 euros a month to employ collaborateurs, and don’t have to justify expenditure. And there’s no French equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, so even if they did have to justify their expenditure, there would be no mechanism allowing sneaky journalists to ask to see the receipts.

So what about Europe1? It would seem that the situation there is different. Libération says that this scandal could have happened 10 years ago in Europe, but not now. For a start, to claim the daily expenses allowance you have to sign the register, so you have to turn up. And you can’t employ your spouse or a family member. According to Hélène Flautre (a green MEP) “le système est généreux, mais très stricte”.

There’s no UK equivalent of Libération, but I wish there were: it’s a tabloid format daily paper, seriously left wing, with in-depth articles on politics, society, art, culture… The language is way above my level but it seems to me that even the sports pages are written thoughtfully. It still takes me about half an hour to read a one page article, dictionary in hand, but I’m sure that will improve.

1The situation with local government in France seems to be more like that in national government than European, but the intricacies of French bureaucracy are such that I simply couldn’t understand that article in enough depth to write anything about it!!

Intermittent internet

Internet’s been a bit intermittent. I have two choices

  1. An internet caff in town, with good music, coffee, friendly staff, two and a half euros per hour, and q bloody french keyboqrd zhich i reqlly hqve to think auite hqrd zhen using.
  2. The library, which has free wifi, but blocks port 22 (so no access to ssh or filestore) and blocks Facebook and Twitter.

The library is where I’ve mostly been going though. The view is better.

The view from the library

Vive la différence!

Some things I’m going to find it hard to adapt to, #1 in a series of N:

  • The prevalence of bank holidays – and the way that people forget they’re happening. It’s all wonderfully laid back. (Actually, people tell me that I’ve turned up at the worst time for bank holidays and it’s much more normal the rest of the year, but hey, by Monday, I’ll have been here 2 weeks and everything will have been shut for 3 weekdays out of 10).
  • Cheques being effectively money: my new landlord is happy to accept a cheque for deposit & rent the day I move in. This is because bouncing a cheque is totally forbidden here, and you can get into all sorts of trouble (i.e., lose your bank account!) if you bounce one.
  • Everyone talking French, really fast.
  • The way things have totally random opening hours (I heard a tale of someone who’d joined a gym called “24 hour gym!” which opened at 10.30am and shut for lunch).
  • The speed (slow) and intricacy (high) of the bureacracy.
  • Being able to see the alps, most of the time. Like, wow.
  • Having to avoid lizards when cycling to the supermarket.
  • Being about 900 miles from Rog

Blog comments

In the month and a half since I opened this blog, I’ve had 258 spam comments and 5 real ones… so I’ve installed anti-spam measures (specifically Akismet). It’s caught 100 new spams since last week, and no real comments, so I’ve decided that life’s too short to check the spam queue. If you post a comment and it doesn’t appear within a day or so, it’s probably just that it got stuck in the spam queue so drop me an email and I’ll sort it out. You can mail me on blogstuff at