Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles

Couverture Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles - ⓒ Didier Graffet

J’ai fini de lire Blanche Neige et les lance-missile de Catherine Dufour. Cela faisait longtemps que je n’avais lu de Fantasy française et ce livre a été une surprise intéressante. Le texte de présentation du livre donne d’entrée le ton :

Catherine Dufour est née en 1966. Elle a commencé à écrire des poèmes à l’âge de sept ans. Cinq ans plus tard, elle apprend que les poètes finissent tous trafiquants d’armes : elle jette ses poèmes et commence à écrire des nouvelles. Vingt ans et quelque prix plus tard, elle découvre Terry Pratchett, et décide de tout recommencer à zéro. Ainsi naîtra son cycle Quand les dieux buvaient (prix Merlin), qui l’a imposée, avec son roman de science fiction Le goût de l’immortalité (Prix Bob-Morane, Rosny aîné, prix du Lundi et Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire), comme une figure centrale de l’imaginaire actuel français.

Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles

Le Livre de Poche
ISBN : 9782253125402

Ce texte pose d’entrée l’intérêt et les problèmes de ce livre : ça n’est pas du Terry Pratchett. Le récit se place clairement dans la même catégorie du médiéval fantastique déjanté, et regorge d’idées fabuleuses. Expliquer l’antenne de Pleumeur-Bodou par une conspiration de fantômes télégraphistes bretons est à mon avis un coup de génie, la description du pays hors du temps à la fin du second texte est magnifique, sans parler du plan génial pour détruire le paradis à coup de coton hydrophile. En idées brutes, c’est réellement un chef d’œuvre. Plus d’une fois, je me suis dit, ça serait sympa dans un scénario Rêve de Dragon, ce qui m’arrive rarement ces jours.

Ça se gâte au niveau réalisation : Je n’ai pas été impressionné par le style d’écriture, que j’ai trouvé lourd et inélégant. On passe de descriptions élaborées à un style télégraphique en passant par le français ancien, mais les transitions semblent arbitraires et au bout de la cinquième fois, ça devient lassant. J’ai eu l’impression que toute ces manœuvres de style ne sont pas présentes pour soutenir la narration, elles existent par et pour elles-mêmes.

Ce qui nous amène au problème central du texte : les personnages. Il y en a beaucoup, trop et ils sont trop caricaturaux et abstrait pour qu’on s’investisse du point de vue émotionnel. J’ai tendance à facilement confondre les personnages, et dans ce livre j’ai été servi. Ce n’est pas que les personnages ne sont pas différentiés, mais ils sont nombreux et restent trop abstraits et dénués de motivations. C’est à mon avis la grande différence avec les récits de Terry Pratchet : l’investissement dans les personnages. On s’attache aux personnages du Disque-Monde, je n’ai rien ressenti de tel dans le monde de Catherine Dufour. La narration est trop détachée, trop distante. Le problème est accentué par le fait que la majorité des personnages sont passifs et la narration découpée en nombreux fils parallèles.

Le livre regroupe de fait deux textes assez différents, et j’ai trouvé que le second était de meilleure qualité : le style est plus régulier et les personnages mieux différentiés. Reste que le personnage central reste une femme écrivain qui passe toute l’histoire à ne rien comprendre et à se faire expliquer ce qui se passe par d’autres personnages. Les explications à l’intérieur du texte sont une alternative aux exposés du narrateur, mais il y a des limites. Mis à part ça, sur trois cent pages, elle frappe un démon avec une épée (sans effet) et vole un disque dur. Il faut qu’on m’explique pourquoi la fée dans ce livre s’appelle Cid et l’humaine normale s’appelle Mismas. À part embrouiller le lecteur, c’est quoi le but ?

En bref, Blanche Neige et les lance-missiles est un livre qui regorge d’idées brillantes mais qui souffre à mon avis d’un style écriture lourd et fouillis, ce que je trouve un peu décevant pour une figure centrale de l’imaginaire actuel français.

Power Slumber

Brennenstuhl power measuring device

Recently I replaced a power-saving light bulb, with one of the newer LED based lightbulb. While there is some satisfying feeling doing the right thing, in particular when you actually did not spent any money to get the better lightbulb, my common sense was tingling. One of the classical mistakes of engineers is to optimize the wrong element. There is a perfectionist lurking in each of us, and he wants to fix things, even if this is not the best thing to do. Replacing a light bulb that consumes 12 Watt by one that does consume 4 Watts, only saves 8 Watts, and only if said lamp is burning, which, in my flat is not that often.

Common wisdom is that the devices in standby consume a lot of power. It’s true that there are many devices with blinking lights in my flat. But this time, I decided I wanted numbers. So I bought one of the cheap power meters and measured what the various appliances in my flat. Measurements are not very precise, but it gives a general idea of the situation. For each device, I turned it down as much as possible, if it had an economy mode, or simply an easily reachable off button, I used it. I only measure devices which have a power-cord, this excludes my fridge.

Device Watts Brand Notes
ADSL Router 11 Motorola / Netopia 3346-02-20SC
NAS 20 Synology DS-207 sleep mode, drives spinned down.
LCD Screen 0 Samsung Syncmaster 215 TW turned off with front button
Printer 25 Brother 4040-CN sleep mode
Wifi AP 0 Apple Airport Express 6.3 could not measure any power consumption
Switch 7 Zyxel GS-105 A
Mini computer 11 Apple Mac Mini 2 Watts consumed by attached by iSight.
VHS Video 11 Aiwa E101
Hifi Chain 0 Aiwa XR-EM200 economy mode
Hifi Chain 18 Pioneer HD-51
TV Screen 7 0 Sony Bravia KDL 40Z-4500 device setup for power-saving, after power-saving time-out
Yogourt maker 0 Solis 831 turned off with top switch
Bread maker 15 Panasonic SD-207
Power consumption for devices in my flat

This gives a standby power consumption for my flat of around 125 Watts. This means a yearly power consumption of around 1100 kW/h. This means around 750 kW/h of high cost power 300 kW/h of low cost power (high-cost power in Zürich is between 06:00 and 22:00 Monday to Saturday, which basically means 5/7 of the time). The prices of EWZ are the following for the EWZ Naturpower (including 5% ecological power): Day tarif is 0.1850 CHF for a kWh, and night-tarif is 0.0950. This means standby costs me in total 175 CHF per year.

On one hand this is a lot, my total power consumption for 2008 was 1685 kW/h, so this would represent around 64% of my total power consumption. On the other hand, I just bought a selective power-strip to have the devices connected to my TV switched off and this has cost around 60 CHF so there is clearly a cut of point between power saving devices and the price of power. I’m hoping to basically cut off around 40 Watts of standby with this power stip by having all devices attached to my TV screen to be slaved to it, the saving should pay of the strip in roughly one year, but my main motivation is to lower the heating those devices provide. In summer getting 40 Watt of heating off is a first step to a cool flat. Devices like the printer can off course simply be turned off.

What this exercice confirmed that the actual consumption of devices is not very intuitive. I was quite surprised to discover that my bread-making machine consumes 15 Watt when doing nothing. I cannot even call this standby mode, as it does exactly nothing, no blinking lights, no listening for an infrared signal from a remote control, nothing. This basically means my bread making machine consumes as much doing nothing as my yogourt machine doing yogourt and much more than my LED illuminated kettle.

It is difficult to find any correlation between what device consumes a lot and which ones do not. My Apple airport express access point seem to consume no measurable power, the Mac mini consumes 9 Watts when turned off, with two additional Watts for the connected iSight. The only correlation I saw is that older devices (my Pioneer Hifi and the Aiwa VHS player) tend to consume more. I also have the feeling that Power saving consumption considerations are way less common on kitchen-ware that on high-tech devices. Besides the break-making machine, my Tefal Rice Cooker basically had two modes: cooking or warming, there is no off switch, you had to pull out the plug. This way easy to fix with a switch, but still this should be included in the device by default.

I was wondering if the fact that I now produce some food myself (yogourt and bread) myself had any impact on my energy consumption, but whatever that consumption of the machines I use to do stuff, it is overshadowed by the consumption of machines that do nothing…

I realized that the Sony TV screen switches to another mode after some time, where it consumes very little power. So the number on this page are off by 7 Watts.

Ô tempora, Ô Blinkenlichten

Bouilloire Trisa Lumineuse

C’est avec un certain plaisir que j’observe, comme, avec le temps qui passe et l’influence grandissante de l’informatique, les habitudes et les traditions de la profession se retrouve dans la culture générale. Cette semaine, j’ai été acheter une nouvelle bouilloire électrique, la mienne ayant finalement rendu l’âme. J’ai pu constater une fois chez moi que cet appareil se conformait, sinon à la lettre, au moins à l’esprit du Blinkenlicht.

Qu’est-ce que le Blinkenlicht, me direz-vous ? Il s’agit de la décoration d’appareils électroniques au moyen de diodes lumineuses qui sont censées refléter partie de l’état logique de l’appareil. Si on est loin des ordinateurs dotés d’indicateurs de fréquence et d’activité de disque dur sur la face avant, ou même de cubes noirs dotés de milliers de voyants, rare sont les appareils qui n’ont pas au moins une LED sur leur face avant. Comme mentionné, il s’agit d’une ancienne tradition informatique comme le montre ce texte datant des années cinquante :

Achtung!
Alles Turisten und nonteknischen Lookenpeepers! Das Komputermaschine ist nicht für der gefingerpoken und mittengraben! Oderwise ist easy to schnappen der Springenwerk, Blowenfusen und Poppencorken mit Spitzensparksen. Ist nicht für gewerken bei Dummkopfen. Der Rubbernecken Sightseeren keepen das cottonpicken Händer in das Pockets muss. Zo relaxen und watschen der Blinkenlichten.

Soit, me direz-vous, ma bouilloire a un indicateur lumineux d’activité, rien d’exotique. Sauf que dans ce cas précis, la bouilloire n’a pas de Blinkenlicht, elle est le Blinkenlicht. Le contenu de la bouilloire est illuminé, en rouge lorsque l’eau est en train de chauffer, en bleu sinon. Cela veut dire qu’il y a présent une lanterne bleue fantomatique en permanence dans ma cuisine, cela doit faire une vision étrange pour mes voisins…

Please enter your real name

Even though I am a programmer, and I can sometimes understand why some interface bug exist, there are case where I’m as baffled as anybody else. Today I though that would try out one of the online strategy games presented in one of the ads that grace the web 2.0 applications I use. So I tried registering an account for the freesky, except I have encountered a problem: the registration form does not believe that my real name is Matthias Wiesmann. While my name is not acceptable, John Doe is. I suppose it makes sense.

please enter real name

The Sun Always Shines On TV

Bravia Screen

One of the things that I had some trouble explaining to people in the US was the fact that I had neither car or TV. I finally have one, or more precisely an LCD screen that holds a tuner. I was getting fed up in watching DVDs on my laptop’s screen, and some of my guest would probably have like to be able to watch some television.

After some looking around, I had decided to buy a Sony Bravia, my brother has one, and I really like the colors. My first though was to buy the plain 50Hz model, but Sony has a cash-back program on the 200Hz models, making the Z4500 fall into my budget. So I ended up waiting for a taxi to carry that monster home while fending off Cablecom idiots salespeople who could not understand that I do not want digital TV. It is kind of weird having the shop sales-guy help you avoid the sales people of cable companies.

The laser printer I bought last year was also under one of those cash-back programs. Basically, when you fill in the registration forms, the manufacturer send you back some cash. While this ensures that people fill in the registration forms, this seems quite complicated to me, as this adds transactions and processing costs. I wonder if this is also an accounting trick. The inventory owned by the shops is higher, and the manufacturer gets some cheap credit. As the offer is time limited, this could also ensures that the products are sold within a given time-frame (the cash back is limited in time).

To come back to the TV, it is basically a black slab with a one meter diagonal. It has a many connectors: three HDMI, two SCART, one VGA, one one S-Video, one USB, one optical out, and one Ethernet. There is also a PC-Card slot for decoder cards. It is basically, a big LCD monitor with a small computer attached. You know that you are in the twenty-first century when you have to set-up the IP address of you TV set. My local network has ten addresses in use only with the various devices I have. The interface is the same as most newer Sony devices, what they call the crossbar, I’m not convinced that this is optimal, but it is usable and has the advantage of being know even by me.

My plan was to connect my mac mini to it and use it as a media center using a DVI to HDMI connector. This worked out of the box, the only setting I had to do play with was the width of the video signal. By default OS X sends data in overscan mode to the screen, and the screen was trying to zoom into the picture, resulting in cut of top and side of the screen. But this was simply a configuration in the screen. I had to use HDMI port 2, as it is the only one with an auxiliary audio port. It would really be nice if there a way to have the computer’s sound output go directly into the HDMI cable, but well. Using a wireless keyboard, the computer is still usable as such. For DVD playing the Apple remote control is sufficient.

I also ended up rewiring my stereo installation: previously the auxiliary input of the my stereo was connected to my Airport express access point, now I wanted to be able to play the screen’s sound on the stereo. The solution I found was the following, I connected the TV to the stereo, and the airport express’s output to one spare audio input of the TV (the S-Video one). I still have to figure out if I can play the sound of that input in picture frame mode.

Being a computer, the screen is also able to display pictures on the USB mass storage device. It can also store one picture in its memory buffer and simply display that one. The result is an expensive picture frame, but I must say the colors are gorgeous. Another esoteric feature is DLNA playback for music and pictures. Basically this means that the screen can connect to a server and download JPEG and MP3 files and play them back. Of course hardware manufacturer could not just use HTTP, they had to devise a weird variant of UPnP to do this. It comes as no surprise that a mutant of a network protocol designed by Microsoft does not work that well. My NAS supports UPnP but is not yet certified for DNLA. I tried running a DNLA server on my laptop, with no success. Still has the computing power of the screen seems insufficient to play back movie files, this would be a nice feature, but limited to either audio files or pictures. We will see how things work with the next firmware version of the NAS.

What about watching TV programmes? I really felt like Crocodile Dundee: I turned the set on, saw a movie I had seen ten years ago, and turned it off.