January 2008 Archives

How e-commerce sites thwart Google

I'm in the market for a GPS device. It would be nice if it told me how to get from one place to another when I'm in the car, but that's not required - Google Maps is more than adequate for that. After all, when going from one place to another, what I really need is three things: 1) how to get to the appropriate Big Road from where I am (probably Glasgow, which I know about); 2) where to go on said Big Road(s) to cover 95% of the overall distance; and 3) which directions to take when it gets fiddly and I need to find the strange foreign place. The only thing that can really go wrong on an epic scale is number 3; if I know that I'm in Glasgow and I need to go South, say, it doesn't really matter whether I take the optimum turn-off onto the M8 or a sub-optimum turn-off. Similar, to miss the M8 / M74 / whatever entirely takes major skill, and if you can fail at that while looking at road maps and street signs, you've got problems that GPS can't solve. So a GPS receiver is only really designed to solve problem number 3; and that's not a real problem if you've taken the time to look at a map of the local area, worked out what the major roads are in the neighbourhood, what they look like (so if you're going round a funny-shaped curve in the road, you can remember roughly where on the map it probably was) etc.

No, what I need a GPS for is to work out what I own. Or rather, all going according to plan and my not finding out a mysterious long-lost twin brother, will own once all the lawyers' paperwork is done and dusted.

Part of my mother's succession are a number of plots of land. The old maps I've found in box files in France have wildly different numbers from the numbers referred to on my father's succession documents, which differ in turn from what the local farm authority thinks we own. This shouldn't be a problem - when we left in November, the major thing I charged our notaire with was sorting out what the hell was going on, and getting updated maps - and in any case, he was happy that the land was comparatively worthless, so all we needed to do was drive around and eyeball it from the car.

Still, I want to know where it is that my woods start and end, and while all the locals know this - mostly because the land has been in their family for ages, except when they bought a bunch of land from this guy down the road who was their sister in law's step-cousin - I have no idea. So I want a GPS, that I can upload the lawyer's maps to.

I had a cunning plan. "I'll search for GPS and cadastre", I thought - cadastre being the name for the French authority that deals with legal ownership of land at the very low level. Zilch.

Similarly when I searched for GPS, cadastre and "randonnée" (being the general term for hill-walking). A whole range of shopping comparison sites, none of which were anything other than glorified link farms, none of which gave any useful comparisons or explanations of what any of the terms or features mean.

I did discover, though, that many GPS systems are built upon Windows CE or whatever it's called these days, i.e. they probably suck as much as most PDAs, and that they all want to be iPods, so if you want a larger screen, you have to also pay for uploading music and films.

Finally, I searched for "cadastre" on its own - and found the French government's site cadastre.gouv.fr, which promises direct access to the low-level maps, but is late (it says "Coming soon - January 2008") and probably won't allow direct downloads by the end of February, which is when we're heading over to France.

So I can now ignore comparison sites and instead find a place in PĂ©rigueux that sells GPS devices, find a salesman, buy the cheapest one I think I can get away with, swear at it for a while when I use it in the wild, follow things like cadastre.gouv.fr and then buy the model I actually want in the summer or whatever, when I'm next over.

Thanks a lot, Internet.

Incidentally, this tip works for things like plane tickets as well. If you're trying to fly to somewhere, and you're looking for a budget airline, don't use the travel agent or price comparison sites - they take a cut, and the budget airlines can't afford / aren't interested in that. Instead, find out what the nearby airports are in the region (Wikipedia can be useful for this), and then go to each of their websites, and find out who flies there. (Even if the site is bare-bones, they'll have a list of airlines, even if they don't have e.g. a live arrivals and departures page.) Then you can go through each of these airlines' websites and find fares that way. I wouldn't have known about Airtran or Southwest if I'd just stuck to Travelocity when booking my in-laws flights to our wedding.

Books every child should read

Neil Gaiman mentions the Telegraph's list of 100 books every child should read - early years, middle years and late teens - and it turns out that I've read an astonishing number of them, so I'll quite happily recommend the list, even if it is from the Torygraph, and a bit flippant at times. Most of my cousins' children are too old for this stuff, and so far only one of my sister in law has spawned, so I'm mostly posting this so it can become part of my external memory. Still: a list of children's books, including many Roald Dahl books, that doesn't include Fantastic Mr Fox? Heresy!

Bang bang, you're egg

A very silly post from Boing Boing about fried egg moulds in the shape of a gun. Be sure to read the comments, increasingly one of the best things about Boing Boing.

Huckabee's inconsistent Bible literalism

Says the Associated Press (also here):

In a 90-minute debate that touched on economic issues, foreign policy and immigration, Huckabee drew the loudest applause of the night from the audience when he was asked about having quoted a Biblical passage saying a wife "has to submit herself graciously" to her husband.

A Baptist preacher before entering politics, he said he was "not the least bit ashamed of my faith," but didn't impose it as governor and wouldn't as president. He said the citation is from Ephesians, and "the point is that as wives submit themselves to their husbands the husbands also submit themselves" to their wives.

"That's why marriage is an important institution, because it teaches us how to love," he concluded.

A quick Googling turns up what look like the salient points of Ephesians:

5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 5:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

5:33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

I don't see any mutual submission there. The wives submit; the husbands love, because you'd be mad to hate something that was part of you. In case it wasn't clear, the section starts and ends with the wife's submission and reverence.

The problem is, anyone who tries to criticise Huckabee on this point is effectively saying "I think fundamentalist Christians are nutjobs", which is true, but not something that wins elections in the US. Sigh.