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FYI! Last read at 18:30 on 2024/04/16.

Dumb sci-fi movies

I just caught a little bit of Atlantic Rim: Resurrection on Legend Xtra. It's amusing. Basically a low-budget knock-off of the Pacific Rim movies in which some giant humanoid shape battle bots go up against equally giant monsters.
So we have three robots, colour coded for convenience. Two are flown by women, one by a man. One woman is seriously overacting, using her two joysticks like it's an arcade game... although it's never made clear how one is supposed to actually pilot a flying humanoid with just two large joysticks. Oh, and their cockpit looks larger than would actually fit into the thing.
The man, on the other hand, cool as a cucumber. Doesn't even need to move his joysticks to perform flight manœuvres. Unfortunately he is either black, or it's really bad photography. I suspect a bit of both, because he's the dude that gets taken down first. In retaliation, one of the women, armed with missiles and such, instead swoops down and rams the monster (that looks like a gigantic ant). This is tactically stupid and does nothing other than knock it over (oops, more property damage and dead civilians) for a few moments.
Of course, being set in America where buildings are made of paper maché, the structural integrity of the buildings depends entirely upon the plot. One building can collapse as the action rumbles past, another can survive the giant ant-thing climbing on it.

I don't know what happened next, life's too short...

 

Sakura!

It's official. The time of Hanami has arrived.

The self-planted semi-bird cherry

(White) Cherry blossom

(White) Cherry blossom

(White) Cherry blossom

The (Japanese) flowering cherry

(Pink) Cherry blossom

(Pink) Cherry blossom

(Pink) Cherry blossom

(Pink) Cherry blossom

 

Other flowers

The first of the Apple blossom (the one I call GC-161) has arrived. This photo was taken at noon, which is 10am GMT, so the sun is still in the southeast and lurking behind the oak tree, hence the shade.
First apple blossom
First apple blossom.

For the first time in many years, the Tamarisk is saying hello.

More pink
Oh, look, more pink.

And this, a bit of a sad story. Mom cut the tree down, a bit freaked out as to why on earth anybody would want to plant a (poisonous) Labernum right beside their "potager" which is what the French call their veg garden (and the previous owners grew plenty of strawberries along there).
Well, I didn't think the flowers looked right for a Labernum as those are "droopier". I've just had a rummage around with the PlantNet app, and I'm pretty sure it is actually a Kerria japonica, commonly known as a Jew's Mallow. It's a type of rose, which according to Wikipedia "needs to be pruned". Well, mom certainly did that!
I'm glad it survived as it's a nice dash of yellow to offset all of the pink.

Golden yellow
Whoo! It's not pink.

I'm going to have to tidy up along the potager wall, it's a mess of nettles and brambles.

 

I blew sixty euros on gunk

The driveway alongside the pond has many plot holes. And a few potholes. Here's one.

A small bottle of coke sitting in a pothole
This isn't pleasant to drive over.

The main problem is the land management of the fields. When it rains a lot, water builds up beside the driveway, and when there is enough it just pours down towards the stream. I've dug in some escape channels to try to get the water off the road, and that sort of works, but there's a long area where the water flows.
Our postie drives like Sébastien Loeb and really doesn't give a f...
Which means the fast-moving tyres of the post van, which are designed to throw the water to either side to maintain traction do exactly that. The violence of this happening takes with it small pebbles and stones and, well, once it happens enough there's a hole that's only going to fill with more water and cause more damage.

Eventually, you're going to need to patch it up. To do this, you can buy something that in France is known by names like "Goudron à froid" or "Enrobé à froid" which means it's a sort of bitumen covering that sets 'cold'. It works, I think, by wrapping gravel in tar, and then suspending it in a weak alcohol (like ethanol) solution so they don't stick together.

You fill the hole with this stuff...

Patching a hole
Patching a hole.

...and then you tamp it down gently, then harder, until it stops shifting under the weight of what you're using to tamp it. Here, I'm using the end of the pickaxe as I can sort of bounce the pickaxe to walk it over the patch.

Compress it well
Compress it well.

The alcohol evaporates, the tarry stuff sticks to itself, and then that too sets. Voilà, a patched hole.

The problem is, the tubs are 25kg each (I bought two - my poor car (my poor BACK!) and expensive (~€30 each, inc. VAT (†)), and it really doesn't go as far as you think it should. I have patched some of the worst of them (but not all). I think I'd need maybe another 3-4 buckets to fix it all up.
This hole here, shown in epic wide angle, would likely require a bucket all for itself.

This is a big hole
This is not a hole, this is a chasm on an alien world.

I'm contemplating trying to layer the stuff to make a small speed hump. Not to slow the postman down (though if it does, additional win), but more to make a barrier so the water will have to flow into and along the ditch like it is supposed to do so (but can't because the neighbour is a dick and broke the natural drainways. I mean, he has in the past managed to plough up his own land drains, need I say more?

 

† - Yes, you can find seemingly better offers online. Prozon, for example, will sell premium black 25kg buckets for ~€16 each (exc. tax). So four buckets would cost €63,96 (exc. tax). Of course, where this falls down is the shipping fees come to €76 (exc. tax) which means each bucket costs €34,99 which is more than the little place that I pass on my way home from work. Amazon sells it too, even pricier.

 

Biting off more than you can chew

I was sitting outside yesterday watching the farmer dump pig slurry all over the field. They can no longer spray it around like they used to, as doing that causes water pollution (nitrates and such). So now they dilute it with lots of water and squirt it out of dozens of small hosepipes. In this way it can soak into the ground and... the runoff in the stream goes brown and icky and honestly I fail to see how this is better, but whatever.

A tractor spreading muck
Gross, but less gross than how it used to be done.

So I was sitting there, eating knock-off Pringles and to liven them up, I was dripping on top some Tobasco.

A fly, one of those big black ones, landed on my crisp and wandered towards the reddish stain of the Tobasco. It gamely walked right into it and plunged its sucker down.

Moments later it tried to take off, barely managed it, and went spiralling to the ground. I think it was dead before it crashed on its side.

My inner goth burst out laughing. My outer self managed a smirk and a snarky comment that doesn't bear repeating.

 

There are a fair few flies buzzing around in here right now (as I have the windows open). The way to get rid of them is simple. Don't. Don't worry, just don't leave unattended food as, well, they're flies and they'll do what flies do.
Don't waste time swatting them, there are plenty more where that one came from...

Instead, just wait until evening when the sun starts to go down. There's this "one weird trick" that will get rid of them. Simply leave the windows open, and do not turn on the lights. The flies will go to the light, which is outside.
They'll pretty much be gone by the time the mosquitoes turn up, at which point close the windows!

 

The truth about bug lamps

I have a bug lamp, and that works reasonably well against small flies and moths, but it rarely catches mosquitoes - I think those that are there are there by accident.

Well, the reason for this is that mosquitoes are virtually blind. Unlike a lot of insects, they are not drawn to ultraviolet. They have poor black and white vision, which is why you'll rarely see them during the day. Instead, they have detectors that can home in on carbon monoxide (that's you breathing). To a mosquito, this shines like a beacon. When they have homed in on somebody breathing, they then switch to their sight in order to try to locate exposed skin. They don't see infra-red, they do it visually, which is why they are less attracted to people wearing loose light coloured clothing. The actual skin type (black or white) makes little difference, it just seems as if people with fair coloured skin get bitten more because the skin reaction is a lot more evident on the lighter skin.
Most bug lamps are useless against mosquitoes. They literally cannot see it or sense it. Some bug zappers emit carbon dioxide, but this too is mostly useless as once the mosquito homes in on the CO2, it's not able to locate anything that looks (to it) like skin. Instead, ironically, it's more likely to notice you.
While bug zappers may be good for clearing a home of moths and small flies and midges, putting one outside is a terrible idea. It'll be most likely to catch creatures like the sort of parasitic beetles and wasps that... tadah... prey on the mosquitos! Plus, of course, nuking all the sorts of bugs that don't chew on you but would make a meal out of the things you don't want on your plants.

So, indoor bug lights - moderate efficiency against some pests but not the bitey ones.
Outdoor bug lights - fairly good efficiency against the bugs you probably want around. They're not all bad, and you'll be killing off the wrong ones.

 

Not a creme egg

The Cadbury Creme Egg does not exist in France. This is, in part, due to what the English call "chocolate" not being chocolate enough to pass muster as "chocolate" over here (quite a bit more than half of a Creme Egg, by weight, is actually sugar; how much depends upon local variations (UK, US, Canada, etc)).

Small note - Cadbury is now owned by Mondelez, who in 2015 replaced the Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (used in the shell) with a generic cocoa mix chocolate; so arguably the Cadbury Creme Egg no longer exists in the UK either... only some cheap-arse imitation bearing its name.

So this Easter my attention was drawn to an egg-like creation by Milka, a well known brand of children's chocolates (not premium prices, and made using Swiss Alpine milk (clue in the name)). Ironically, they too are owned by Mondelez.

So, with memories of eating far too many Creme Eggs (and Walnut Whips) in the '80s, I got two packets. The tops of each packet has been torn off because I bought these after Easter when they were not only 30% off, but they also carried a €1 reduction. Essentially I paid for one and got the other for free.

A Milka egg
Eggcellent... yes, you may all facepalm now.

To give an idea of size, that's a ten franc coin. It's the same size (and design) as a Euro coin and I think some sleazy git gave it to me in change. I don't check my coins these days as, FFS, France adopted the Euro twenty years ago, there really shouldn't be francs kicking around any more!

By heating up a knife using a culinary blowtorch, I was able to melt open the egg along its seam to reveal the... rather peculiar insides.

A Milka egg, inside
Not what I expected, despite being what was on the box.

This is exactly what was pictured on the box...well, almost, the design on the box has the contents bulging out which isn't practical in reality. Because of that, I wasn't expecting this. I was thinking more "Creme egg" in which there would be a yolky creme within a white creme filling the egg.

Instead, it looks like these are all produced individually by filling the halves and then whacking two together to make a finished egg.

One thing of note is that the insides are anything but creamy. The yolk part is actually a paprika coloured cocoa butter compound (think of it like dyed white chocolate). The milk cream is surprisingly hard, and the 'yolk' is almost like a Smartie laid on top. This is not something you can pop into your mouth and bite down on, unless you're a child and don't need to worry about your teeth as the adult ones will be along soon...

Here, I'll flip out the yolk part for a better look at it.

The yolk is like a weird Smartie
The yolk is like a weird Smartie.

It's not bad, exactly, it's just not a Creme Egg. Or, for that matter, anything that resembles creamy. But with the first ingredient on the list being sugar (the second being palm oil, not cool), it will give a pleasing sugar hit, so that's okay.
The reality of the situation is revealed in the small print. There's 7% skimmed milk powder in the white filling, and 24% cocoa butter in the little yolk piece. The yolk is supposed to be 12% of the egg, the milk chocolate shell is 35%, and the rest (53%) is the white filling, of which only 7% is milk. The rest is probably sugar, butter, sugar, lecithin, and maybe a bit of sugar.
1 egg (31g) is 9% of your daily energy, 16% (11g) of your fat, 33% (6.5g) of your saturated fats, and 19% (17g) of your sugars - that's like a tablespoon and a half, and more than half by weight of a 31g egg.
So if they can sell this thing, why not a Creme Egg? Or, at least, that brown thing that claims to be a Creme Egg but I suspect will just be a disappointment...

 

Red flags for dodgy builders

An article in the Daily Mail about a couple being ripped off by a cowboy builder who did poor work that led to a lot of water damage from a bad roof. They urge people to do their homework on who they get to do building work for them.
Reading further on, and I quote, "We found this guy on Facebook and it looked like he had a really professional page", followed by, "[the builder] asked for £10,000 up front for 'deposits and materials'".

I can't help but think that this couple sleepwalked into this disaster of their own making. Really? You found a guy on Facebook? Yeah, sure, because that's where you find reputable tradesman, right?

Let's see. Firstly, don't find tradespeople on social media. Reputable builders will provide you with a quote detailing what needs done and when payment should happen - which will either be incrementally during the work or upon completion, never at the end. They'll also be insured, and willing to provide you with references and not just photographs of work they claim to have done. Avoid those who only provide a mobile number, ask yourself why there's no landline. Are they running their "business" out of the back of a van?

In France, specifically, they will have a SIRET number - without this, don't touch them with a bargepole as mentioning the SIRET is a legal obligation in a quotation (the sole and only exception is a new company that is allowed to state that the SIRET is in the process of being allocated, but this is rare as it usually only takes a few days).

Finally, never judge a person by what they tell you. Some of the most odious shysters have a very convincing patter. Judge purely what is described on the quotation that they give you, and if you choose to follow-up on any of their references. Anything they say and promise is meaningless if it isn't also written on the quotation.
Also walk away if the person is trying to pressure you into signing your acceptance immediately because there's a special offer that expires today (which may or may not include "contacting their boss to arrange a better discount"). That's the purview of shading double glazing salesmen, it's not how reputable companies operate.
Be wary of trade-rating websites. They're easily gamed. Instead insist upon references, and follow them up.

That's not to say that you can't have a mate of a mate do some work for cash in hand. Just keep that sort of arrangement to small scale work that isn't liable to lead to damage; or for helping you as you do work yourself. Don't use that method for major work as not only are you screwed if it goes wrong, you may find it invalidates your insurance.

 

For my part, I'm happy with doing small scale electrics like installing an RCCB (which arguably should have been done in the first place) or adding some extra sockets, but if this place was to be rewired I would get a professional to do it.
Likewise, I might do some small plumbing jobs - the other day I took the kitchen sink mixer tap spout apart to loosen it up with some WD40 (I couldn't see how to take that bit apart to get rid of the corrosion) and fit a new seal - but for larger jobs, given I have zero competence with plumbing and am quite aware of it, I would call a plumber.
For building work, I will recement a drainway and am going to patch up some of the walls (like repointing), but structural problems (if a wall should collapse) is a job for a pro, not me buying some scaffolding off Amazon and trying to wing it.

 

The first Swallow

I just saw my first Barn Swallow flitting around. They're late this year, by about two weeks over what's normal.

Perhaps more disturbing is the creepy looking sky with a prominent 22° halo around the lowering sun.

A halo around the sun
Something worrying this way comes.

 

 

Your comments:

John, 14th April 2024, 21:14
Your ornamental cherry may be prone to "peach leaf curl": 
 
Planting garlic underneath may help prevent this. I doubt it can do any harm at all. So why not under all your valued blossom trees!

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