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ChooseBD now even better!

I have made a couple of minor tweaks to my ChooseBD random backdrop chooser in order to make it more useful and responsive.

The first change was literally a one line addition, that I don't know why I didn't think of it at the time.
If TIME is less than, say, 20 seconds, then check much more regularly in order to catch NetTime changing the date. Now the backdrop changes a mere hiccup after the date changes.

The second change explains why the above cutoff is actually 35 seconds instead of 20, and this is that we can press the test code into doing something useful for us. That is to say, if the machine's uptime is less than 35 seconds, then holding both Alt keys and both Ctrl keys (all four of them) will cause a new backdrop to be selected. You can repeat this until the time limit expires.

During testing, I ended up with the same image three times in a row, so I also added a little bit of code to ensure that a new image selected won't be the same as the previous (with the exception of the one set at boot, as this isn't remembered anywhere except in the PinSetup file). How likely this is to happen depends upon how many images you have - the fewer choices, the more likely a repeat will happen.

Finally, fixed a stupid bug where it was rescanning the available images each time, but not resetting the image counter so it would eventually silently vanish (actually, an "Subscript out of range" error, but you'd not see that). Along the way, modified the error report to use a regular error box.

I'm not going to post full code, only the app itself. You can read it for yourself if you're interested.



I should mention here, it's been about two weeks since I've seen or heard the swallows. Last week, the night lows were a frigid 4-5°C so they might have seen that coming and thought hell no.
So they're on their way to South Africa to go through another summer and another mating season. It's about 6,000 miles (9650km) and they cover about 200 miles (320km) a day, at a speed of around 17-22 miles per hour (27-35kph) although an unladen swallow can reach speeds of 35mph (56kph) if necessary.

Weird little critters.

Well, that's it. It's officially the Dark and Dismal Winter when they have gone. I won't see them until, when, mid-April? <sob>


That Budget

It should not a surprise that the Tories are beholden to their wealthy benefactors, but this recent budget - lower taxes for the wealthy, removal of banker's bonuses...
Guess when the budget was announced
Guess when the budget was announced; graphic by Google.

I can't help but think that when the masses wake up and put Starmer into power, the only thing he'll be capable of doing is declaring the entire country bankrupt.
And, of course, the rabble on the other side will be like "what in the name of Jove, you've only been in power for a couple of hours".

The Tories have now finally shed their "Nasty Party" image. They are now toxic, corrupt, insufferable, and sadly still in charge.


Bathing and washing

I mentioned a while ago about schoolchildren bathing in their school uniforms to avoid running the washing machine. With the price of energy these days, such a thing is expensive.

Actually, it is possible to do both.

No, I'm not going to describe some Tory Unicorn, I'm just going to describe how I do it.

The main thing to remember is that most hot water tanks (whether electric immersion or slaved from a gas boiler, or both) are big. Typical household ones range from 100 litres to 300 litres, with 200 litres being the most common size (and therefore often the cheapest).

If you are heating water for bathing, there's a pretty good chance you'll be heating more than you need.
Which means you'll have excess hot water.
You see where this is going, right?

Before we start - please DO NOT be tempted to run your water heater a little less in order to save energy. If you want to do that, bathe less frequently.
The reason is a naturally occurring bacteria found in water called Legionella. To put it simply, observe these temperatures:
  • 35-45°C - the best temperature for bacteria, they thrive.
  • 45-55°C - bacteria are still alive and potent, but it's too hot to multiply.
  • 55-60°C - they're starting to die off at this temperature.
  •       65°C - the little buggers burn, baby, yes! 🔥⚰️🔥
So if you think "I'll just pop the hot on, get it up to forty for a nice shower", well, you're bang smack in the range where the bacteria, if you have it, will be all "whoo-hoo!".
Run it up to 60-65C. Never less.

Anyway, assuming you have the water and you're all sparkly clean, there's no need to bathe with your clothes on unless you like that sort of thing. 😛

Simply put your clothes into the washing machine, and then transfer some hot water from the hot tap to the washing machine. I use a cheap plastic bucket.

Filling the washing machine
Filling the washing machine.

My machine consumes 25 litres (it's an old one), which is two and a half buckets. I cannot speak for newer machines, but when this one reaches fill level, there's a loud click as the pressure switch flicks over to allow the machine to cease filling and start heating/turning. The loud click is because we're flicking a switch capable of handling a couple of kilowatts.

Now, this isn't because I'm cheap or can't afford it. I can perfectly well run both the hot water and the washing machine. I'm doing this out of the principle that it is just a bit nuts to heat up a big tank of hot water, more than I really need, and then heat up some different water separately when there's like a hundred plus litres of hot slowly going cold.
A little bit of effort (filling a bucket two and a half times) saves energy, saves the time it would take to heat, and is also karmically pleasing as it isn't idiotically wasteful.

In the case of my machine, and likely others of its generation, the regular fill point will be a little below where the drum is affixed.

The fill level
The fill level.

Note - your machine may use less if you have a "half load" or "economic" option. But pay attention to the instructions and/or machine behaviour. On mine, the half load option simply translates as "skip a rinse cycle" (literally, it makes a link to prevent the draining between rinse #2 and #3).
It'll still fill up to 25 litres and attempt to heat it all, given the chance...

For regular clothes and modern washing dosettes, I find that somewhere between 30-40°C is a perfectly acceptable temperature. A little bath thermometer will allow you to keep an eye on the temperature of the water you're putting into the machine. Don't pour in 60°C straight from the hot tap, synthetics won't appreciate it.

Checking the water temperature
Checking the water temperature (it is 33°C).

Now the final touch - simply set your machine onto the cold cycle. The motor runs intermittently and, depending upon your machine, will likely consume around 200-300W for the washing cycle (mine is rated 250W, measured at around 220VA) rising to around 450-700W for the fast spin. That's all it'll require. Well, plus a watt or two for the little motor in the controller, and maybe 40-60W for the extraction motor.
At any rate, the energy required for the entire rest of the wash cycle is a fraction of that taken to heat the water. So by adding in already heated water, we're making a real saving in energy and time.

Pick the cold cycle
Pick the cold cycle.

If you have a mechanical machine such as mine, this will translate to between 10 and 20 minutes less bashing the clothing around in the soapy water. On my specific machine, between Cold and Drain is 4× 3 minutes, so it'll agitate for twelve minutes. If you don't feel this is enough, then just before it gets to the first drain, simply stop the machine and wind it around to the start of the cold cycle.
It's not a hassle. Sure, that's 10-20 minutes less washing action, but it's also 10-20 minutes you aren't drawing 2kW heating the water. Plus, the washing time you do have will be better than most of the aforementioned missing time because the water will already be at temperature.
I don't bother winding back the dial. What it does in those twelve minutes is sufficient.

Of course, if you have a front loader machine, then you're probably stuck. It may still be possible to self-fill by poking a hose into the little drawer for the detergent, but this will depend upon your machine.
Note that a front loader typically uses a lot less water than a top-loader, but they tend to suck at rinsing. One in the supermarket claims to do a full wash cycle with 49 litres. By contrast, mine fills to 25 litres: fills for wash, rinses three times, and then does a "special" rinse (where you'd typically add fabric softener). That adds up to 125 litres, but I don't care as the water comes from the well so it isn't billed (other than the cost of running the pump). It does, especially, mean that my clothes come out well rinsed and with no itchy chemicals still lingering.

While people say that front loaders wash better, I personally feel they are less reliable as you're pretty much putting the entire weight of the drum and its contents unevenly onto the bearings at the back of the drum. A top loader has a hatch in the drum and it has bearings at either side with the drum balanced between the two. A much more stable arrangement.
Top loaders can also be larger than expected for their small size (mine claims a 6kg load) and if I forget something, want to fill up by hand, or if there's a fault or powercut, then the stuff inside is accessible regardless of how full it is.

This is, of course, referring to the European style spinning drum toploaders, not the American style wringing-pole ones. But, whatever, if the lid is on top you can fill it with a bucket. ☺

If your washing machine's behaviour isn't described in the manual, it may be useful to look online to see if you can find any sort of service manual that usually does say these sorts of things.

Washing machine behaviour
Washing machine behaviour.


Early morning start

It is "high production time" at work, cranking out all sorts of goodies for Christmas. Which means we're all working an extra half hour a day, plus the morning team work Saturday.
As I'm a day worker, I do alternate Saturdays, and traditionally choose the team that I started with back in 2008. Which meant yesterday I was up for half three, ready to clock in at 5am.
Actually, I clocked in at something like 4:51. I got myself ready a little early as I didn't want to be surrounded by people in the changing room (there's no space to swing a mouse, never mind a cat). I forfeit those extra minutes, my time begins at five exactly, but it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Going to work
Going to work; in the forest at 4:28am.

As expected, I spent most of my time with the industrial washing up machine. For part of it I was on my own, and then the bosses "helpfully" gave me one of the stock women (who had no work to do, having caught up). She's real big on speed, speed, speed but extremely lacking in observational skills. We have big baking trays. They are not the same and they get organised in different places. So my being slow and holding everything up is not a lack of competence but pretty much a direct result of things coming out of the machine all muddled together. <sigh>

The other guy, he's... not inclined to put in more effort than necessary. So not only did he stay in the smaller plonge all day, but he got somebody that was helping me early in the morning to go help him instead. Let me just say that when that place was a disaster, I pretty much bashed it into order in about two and a half hours. His excuse?
Still, I think they found me a helper because it was noticed. Let's leave it at that.

This year, unless we ask otherwise, Saturdays are paid - with the exception of the one following the 1st November public holiday as it will count as the fifth working day of the week, not the sixth. I can't complain too much, as the Saturday following 11th November isn't being worked at all, so at least I'll be seven hours ahead.
I prefer to be paid, as if we are paid then we're given a "majoration" of 25%, so the pay is 125%. Which is a bit shit, I was making more than that as a Care Assistant on weekdays as I passed 6pm, but with so many potential workers, there's no incentive for a company to offer anything other than the minimum (more coin in the pockets of the higher ups, right?).
Remember I said I prefer to be paid? Well, as far as I can work out, being paid counts for 125% (*), whereas having the hours counted simply counts the time worked. 25% over seven hours leads to a discrepancy of 1¾ hours between paid hours and counted hours. Over the course of five Saturdays (not counting the one following the public holiday in November), that's a potential loss of 8¾ hours - a whole day!

* - I think the hour between 5am and 6am is slightly more, but don't quote me on it.


Finished at 12.30pm - and good thing too. The big machine has what I think is a dodgy water level sensor and it would keep turning itself off. So I'd pull out the filters, rub this little white nipple with a piece of paper towel, put the filters back, then restart the machine. It would run for a few minutes and then shut itself down. Rinse and repeat enough times that even I, the one with few emotions, was aiming litergical phrases at it (in other words, swearing Canadian style - great for getting crap past the radar because most Frenchies don't understand it).
Went shopping, topped up the fuel in the car as the supermarket was doing a special cut-price-fuel promotion - €1.621/litre (it's currently €0,04 more expensive). And I don't get why 98 octane unleaded is now cheaper, I can't help but feel this is some anti-diesel green lobby crap. Anyway, bought some stuff, and finally on the way home...

Coming back home
Coming back home; in the forest at 13:36pm.


For my efforts, I guess I'll make "about" €420 in my pocket.
Since I'm a long term employee there are various perks added which make it harder to calculate a net daily/hourly rate; not to mention the brut/net thing (I pay around €400 to social security and pension each month, it's roughly equivalent to NI).
So, brut I make €79 a day (it's basically minimum plus 2%, quite unimpressive but not unusual). The difference between brut and net is a divisor of 1.279; which makes my pay €62/day; however dividing the salary by days worked gives me €72/day. An average of these is €67, because I really can't be arsed to work it out in any more detail.
Plus 25% on that brings us to €84/day (round up to include a little extra for the first hour). Multiply by five, that's €420 - and I'll probably drop it all into my savings account.
And if any of the Saturdays are cancelled... well... whatever. <shrug>

Still, while the pay is pretty lousy, I do have one major benefit over higher paid jobs. I clock out, I walk away, whatever goes down is not my problem. And since it's cleaning toilets and washing stuff, it's pretty much impossible to take work home with me. So there's a very distinct separation in life between "work time" and "home time". I actually like my twenty minute commute, it helps reinforce the "you're going to work, bleugh" (not specifically work, I'm just not a morning person) or "you're heading home, wheee" states.



The lost cause that is the orchard? Went walking with Anna along the edge of the back field. Not a way I normally go.
The orchard... has become a little forest. Anna was like "oh, wow, but nope".

A magical forest has sprung up
A magical forest has sprung up.

Somewhere here is the gateway to Mordor, Endor, or Fillory. I'm not sure where, or which. So maybe best not to go looking. Furball agrees.


No hot chocolate this year?

Last year I paid €6,70 for a 1kg pack of Milka drinking chocolate.

Now? This is the current cheapest option.

Hot chocolate price
So, thirty for the chocolate, half that in postage,
and it'll still take a month?

The reason I don't choose from one of the many options in the supermarket is because everything is all "add this to hot milk". Hot milk is, obviously, better. But if you're half asleep and want something nice before crashing, hot milk is a whole unwanted palaver.
But, alas, if I'm going to mess around with hot milk, then I'm obliged to do it properly. Just got myself 500g of Horlicks (original) for €12, Amazon says it'll be here on Tuesday.


Charging an electric car?

Finally, way back in the summer when I was making inquiries to the Citroën Ami, the guy at the showroom said that I had to plug it into an electric socket and not use an extension cord.
Sorry, no can do.

Here's the socket out front.

Front electric socket
Front electric socket.
That's live, live, live, earth.
I'm guessing the lower right is earth as it looks slightly larger. The rest will be phases 1, 2, and 3 clockwise from the lower left. With about 380V between phases. Note, earth and not neutral. I once tried hooking a lightbulb between a phase and the fourth pin, and the trip switch cut out. So it's not a neutral there.

Around back? A different socket.

Rear electric socket
Rear electric socket.

The long flat pin is earth. The round one in the middle is neutral, and the other three are the phases, again 1-3 clockwise from left. It is theoretically possible to tap 230V from this, but I've removed the fuses from the switch above it (which doesn't switch, by the way) because it was placed under a leaky join in the guttering - great location.
When it rained heavily, the power used to trip out. I tracked it down to this socket being drenched. Pulled out the fuses, no current, no leakage, no tripping out.

But I can show both photos to the guy and say "yeah, unless your car runs on three phase...".
It's probably a safety thing, people might be trying to charge their car using cheap inadequate extension cords, unearthed ones (like for lawnmowers), or worse, leaving indoor multi-socket ones outside.
I'm aware of those issues. Remember, the kitchen appliances (kettle, microwave, minioven, and the washing machine) run off an extension lead from the bedroom as the socket in the kitchen wasn't up to it, and the other socket is... a five pin jobbie like the second one pictured above.
One day I'll get around to rigging up something better, but it's not a priority. I've put up with the extension lead method for twenty years now.

Anyway, just thought I'd freak you out with some more of the crazy rural electrics. ☺



The other day, I caught a Beluga (or Beluga XL) flying nearby.
A Beluga!
A Beluga in the sky!

The sky was a baby blue with the odd whispy cloud to the south east.
The usual route (somewhere in Germany to Nantes (or was it Bordeaux?)) doesn't come close enough to be seen except when the plane is diverted for various reasons.

Such as...

Scary sky!
Scary sky!

About ten minutes later, the north east became a deeper blue (no haze?) with a cloud so massive and thick that it was near black underneath.

Shortly afterwards... It was actually much darker. I pushed the shutter speed to capture the rain, but this has made everything brighter.

Tears in rain.
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain...
Time to die.



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David Pilling, 26th September 2022, 13:32
Washing machines used to connect up to hot and cold water supplies - maybe they don't now because of energy saving they don't heat the water as hot. 
Modern houses don't have a big hot water tank. 
Headline in today's papers "electric cars cost as much to recharge as petrol cars cost to fill". 
Rob, 28th September 2022, 08:34
Hot chocolate.. The add-to-hot-milk type is definitely best. But it's not hard, mug of milk for 90 seconds in the microwave seems to work well for us..
J.G.Harston, 28th September 2022, 13:59
When I had my boiler replaced some years ago I insisted on a hot water tank, for the instant supply to the gravity-fed showers, and - with it in the cellar - the smidge of heat leakage keeps the cellar above freezing and the air dry. The cellar is also where I have my wachine amchine.
J.G.Harston, 28th September 2022, 14:02
The washing machine is also fed from the hot water. I've already used cheap gas to make the water hot, I'm not going to spend money again to use expensive electricity to do another lot. Same argument for eschewing electric showers.

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