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2020 great start

After fifty five days, the western half of France is preparing to leave the severity of lockdown for the relative liberty of being able to go shopping without permission slips, travel freely up to 100km, and meet up with friends (in groups of no more than ten) while always practicing social distancing (although more and more, the experts are coming to think that a distance of two metres may not be enough) and wearing face masks on public transport (and in shops, if you're asked to). Bars, cafés, and restaurants will still remain closed. They may reopen in June, depending upon whether or not there's a second wave due to increased mingling.
It is also sobering to think that the right half of the country, including the capital, is still a red zone which means for them, the lockdown continues. But, then, France can roughly be split into two more or less along the red/green infection line. On the right, the industrialised part of France. Stuff is made, stuff happens, stuff gets done. And the left? An agricultural wilderness populated by pigs, cows, fields of wheat, and the occasional city like Nantes or Poitiers.
Either that, or people on the left are better at following the rules? ☺

I surmised, on the evening of the final day of 2019 that maybe this new decade needs a name such as "the f**ked". No one would have believed that in the first months of 2020 that human affairs were being attacked keenly by simple pathogens for which man had no immunity. No one could have dreamed we would submit so simply to something so seemingly trivial that swarms and multiplies in any person's body. Few men even considered the possibility of a global pandemic in the modern era and yet, here and now it took less than a hundred days to dismantle the world's economy and send a third of the global population into some form of enforced quarantine as submicroscopic entities too small to be seen optically regarded our bodies with envious eyes, and slowly and surely our plans were turned against us.

All that seemed so important - Brexit, gilets jaunes protesting pension regime changes, Iran, Russia... all of it, washed away, like tears in the rain. It all ceased to matter. What mattered was "coronavirus" (because few people bother to give it its proper name). Did you have it? Did someone you know have it? Oh my god, what if I have it? The news came in, of hundreds of fatalities daily. Western countries racked up counts of thousands, then tens of thousands, of deaths. Which, really, isn't that much in populations of many tens of millions, however the problem is the proximity of cases. The fact that there are only so many hospital beds, only so many ventilators, only so much any health service on the planet is capable of doing. This leads to a situation where there are sick people who cannot be treated because there's just no more, which means they will die. This is a horrific situation, not only for those who need treatment and cannot get it, but also for the healthcare workers who want to do their part and just cannot. Several of whom have, very sadly, responded to this by taking their own lives. And I suspect when this is over and things get back to normal, a larger number will require some form of psychological help. The media, scholars, and boffins across the globe will examine and counter-examine. Books will be written. Was the medical response adequate? Was the government response adequate? Was the lockdown adequate? There are tens of thousands of people in many countries who celebrated last Christmas who will not be around for the next one. What could have been done differently?
Remember, this is a world in which nurses made plastic aprons out of bin bags, and more than a few people made (largely ineffective) face masks out of string and pieces of fabric, and their own sewing machine.
Remember also, this is just the beginning. Here in France, the harsh lockdown ends tomorrow for half of the country. Only half of the country. Other countries have eased up, others have not. Some still don't get the message (a quick shout out to Elon Musk belongs here). This is not over. There is no vaccine. Globally, there have been a little over four million known cases of COVID-19, and very likely ten times that due to unknown and/or unregistered and/or asymptomatic cases. Of these, about one and a half million known recoveries and two hundred and eighty thousand deaths, and as of today's information, a little under forty eight thousand people in a serious or critical condition right now. They may recover, they may not.
As tragic as these figures may be, I consider this to be "just the beginning" because right now tens of millions are unemployed. There is a very real possibility that some may not get to go back to work. That their work may have ceased to exist due to the virus and it's effects. Without incredible manouvering by the financial markets, we're likely to tumble into a hard recession. Prices will rise. Taxes also. Wages may be depressed. It's possible that, for several years to come, the freedoms and liberties that we took for granted (from squeezing together at pop concerts to going on a family holiday to Spain) may simply not be permitted. Couples will split. Families will fall apart. People will die, either by their own hand or secondary causes such as malnutrition.
This is far from over.

So as lockdowns start to ease, and as the daily death count descends, perhaps it is time to start to think a little more, not about how many have died today, not even about which people in government to point fingers are, but simply about how to deal with the aftermath.


The big print giveth, the small print taketh away

Lorina organic lemonade
Whoo! Special organic lemonade!! Do your bit for the environment!!! Made in France!!!! Whoo!!!!!

Until, that is, you look at the ingredients:

Lorina organic lemonade - the ingredients
Wait, hang on a moment... That little star. That indicates an ingredient that is certified organic. The cane sugar. That's it. Now, I do not expect to have such a thing as organic water or organic citric acid. However the final two ingredients on the list are "natural flavouring" (of what?) and "natural lemon/lime flavouring". What is the origin of these flavourings? Is the lemon/lime flavouring derived from organic lemons and limes? I know how words like "natural" can be abused, so is this natural lemon/lime flavouring derived from actual lemons and limes? Or anything that resembles a known fruit?

This doesn't mean I won't buy this product in the future - it's a refreshing change to not have colourants (though, in its defence, lemonade isn't usually coloured!) and large amounts of glucose syrup, synthetic fructose, and things even worse than that. It's just a little disappointing that the only organic component of organic lemonade is...the sweetener. At least it is not something like aspartame.


Reflections on the breadmaker

You know those times when you wake up at half four in the morning because something is bothering you? Well, I had that last night thanks to the little breadmaker that I took apart the other day.

Let's go back and look at the photo of the innards:

Sitting over the top of the motor and the power board is the processor/control board.

Now, some things come to mind here. Firstly, notice that there is no venting mechanism at the front. No holes, no slots, it is effectrively sealed. Next, consider that the processor board is attached to the lid, up at the top, and heat rises. Now consider that the metal tub that is the oven is supposed to reach a temperature of 170-180°C. You can see attached to the wall of the oven a temperature sensor (I would imagine some sort of thermistor), and below that are two temperature-dependant fuses to cut out in the event that the machine gets too hot. I've not looked at their ratings, but I'd guess they probably kick in at around 200°C.
The thing is, there's nothing but a bare piece of metal between the heated chamber and the rest of the machine. There are holes underneath and slots in the walls around the oven, and the gap aids cooling by simple convection.
What about the front? Metal is an effective radiator of heat, even flat metal. So how hot do those circuit boards get? The processor control board claims 130°C, as can be seen here (at the top left):

However, the S3C9454 has a quoted operating temperature range of -40°C to +85°C, and the clock sources such as the blue Xtal typically have operating ranges of around -20°C to +80°C.
Which means if the parts get hotter than about 80-85°C, they'll be running out of spec. And there's an unshielded oven running for long durations at ~175°C barely a few centimetres away.


In the context of bread makers, the ones that may be purchased domestically are basically:

  • A small enclosed heated space, an oven with controlled heating element which needs to control both low temperature (around 30°C for rising) as well as high temperature (around 175°C for baking).
  • A removable non-stick tub for putting the bread components into. Needs to be watertight, as water is usually added first. Held in place by clips or a twist-fitting.
  • A rotating paddle (or two, depending upon tub size), driven by some form of motor and pulley arrangement, to convert the assorted ingredients (normally water, salt, flour, and yeast in that order) into a dough. The motor does not have variable speed, it's simply on or off.
  • Some form of electronic control mechanism.
The electronic control system is typically some form of processor, but the control is extremely simplistic and deterministic. There's a reason why those machines with displays can tell you that your bread will be ready in exactly three hours and six minutes.
It will begin with short pulses of the motor (such as a second on, two seconds off) before switching to larger pulses (2 on, 2 off) and so on working up to running the paddles flat out for the kneading.
Then it will wait a while, raising the oven temperature slightly to favour the yeast. My larger oven only seems to do this at the start of the rising cycle so if the kitchen is cold, the heat is quickly lost.
This is followed by another kneading, usually running the motor flat out with brief pauses (perhaps to let the dough settle, in case it should get trapped as a big ball in the corner - I've seen that).
Next, another rising cycle, this one longer than the first.
Finally, the heating, where the oven will be raised to bake temperature. The temperature is monitored and the heater switched on and off in order to keep the oven hot. It is likely to work on some form of heuristic so it will switch on the heater if the temperature is less than, say, 165°C and turn it off when it passes 175°C (or whatever is applicable for the target temperature). This stops having the element being switched on and off frequently, as would happen if the target was the only cut-off point. Different settings of browning will likely work by altering the oven temperature, so browned crust will be cooked hotter than soft white crust.

Some machines (my big one, yes; this little one no) may offer customisation for bread "weight" (small loaf vs large loaf) and degree of baking (soft crust, normal crust, hard crust). These possibilities are achieved by simply altering the timings. Larger loaves will need more kneading, rising, and baking times. And different degrees of crust brownness will tweak the oven temperature.
Most machines have options for making bread dough (no baking), baking (no kneading/rising), and possibly making pasta dough (no rising/baking) by simply omitting parts of the standard cycle as appropriate.
Some machines also have options for baking brown bread (takes longer), gluten free (much longer rise times), cakes (doesn't need to rise), jam (heat while mixing).
However, it all cases it is simply following pre-programmed timings. For example, the instructions of my large bread maker lists the programs with exact timings at the back of the user guide.


As one might expect, even though these devices are simple, there are numerous patents involved in the machines. Because everybody thinks they've made "a better bread maker", right?

One of the early ones, from 1987, is this one (US4951559) created by a group of Japanese engineers. It appears to be wildly overspecified in having a separate yeast hopper and a steam extraction fan.
You also get the hilarious final three paragraphs, that I quote in its entirely for your amusement:

2. An apparatus as in claim 1, further comprising control means operatively connected to said means for heating said case and to said fan means, said control means causing operation of both said means for heating said case and said fan means during a steam venting operation.
3. An apparatus as in claim 2, wherein said control means causes the energization ratio of both said means for heating said case and said fan means to be reduced with time during said steam venting operation.
4. An apparatus as in claim 1, further comprising control means operatively connected to said means for kneading and to said fan means, said control means causing operation of said fan means during operation of said means for kneading, said control means initiating operation of said fan means a set period of time after initiating operating of said means for kneading.
I guess that means when all is said and done, thine bread hath baken.

Then there is this one (US20030140796A1) which claimed to be novel and unique because it was basically a bread oven with a fan for even distribution of heat. Filed in 2002, abandoned in 2003. Why do I think this is a bad idea? Because while there may be some degree of novelty in having a little fan in a bread maker, prior art surely exists in every convection oven ever produced? The idea of fitting fans into things (fridges, ovens...) to aid in even heat distribution is not an unknown concept.

A more recent (and active, filed in 2006 expires in 2026, but Japan only) patent is for a more modern style of bread machine. This one (JP4668856B2) descibes something that resembles today's style of pseudo-intelligent breadmaker. Don't bother downloading the PDF unless you can read Japanese, the web page is translated into English though.

If you look at the category A21B7/005, you'll see numerous bread maker designs and most of them of Japanese origin...



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