Monday, November 24, 2008

Continuing Internet problems

I still have Internet problems, and I've seriously backdated this post to keep things in chronological order, so that I can post more in the right order if France Télécom's bumbling idiots ever fix their network. My apologies for the technical nature of this post, but the problem is very preoccupying at the moment, destroying my entire holiday “vacation” (in quotes because I don't actually get paid for days off, there just isn't any work at this time of year).

I've spent a few days looking at network traces. FT has an upstream problem that extends no lower than the DSLAM; the line and modems are good. About 50% of downstream packets are lost or dramatically delayed by the upstream network, particularly those of non-trivial size and those using HTTP protocol. This means that virtually all connections hang after a few seconds. Some packets never appear at all, others appear five minutes late, and many are in random order. The TCP/IP stack can handle random order, but not vast numbers of lost packets or packets that are so late that the application gives up on the connection.

So this essentially stops my Internet connection. FT and Orange (same thing, really) technical support is totally, inexpressibly incompetent, literally working from simple scripts that cover nothing except possible Windows problems and modem and line problems. Apparently FT thinks that its network is perfect and requires no surveillance or technical support, so anything that happens upstream of the line is a dead end if you try to complain about it. I've taken to publishing my measurements on the Internet, and I might even decide to print the data on handouts and give it to people in front of an Orange store so that they can see how France Télécom plans to shaft them (to me, 9 kbps out of 8000 advertised by the company is a pretty clear case of fraud).

Anyway, I managed to sneak this post onto my blog, hopefully the problem will be fixed sooner or later and I can return to regular Paris-related programming here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Internet Problems!

I haven't been able to post anything (particularly anything with pictures) since late November thanks to France Télécom's total incompetence. Right now my Internet speed is 5 kbps, exactly one thousand six hundred times slower than the speed advertised by FT for the service to which I'm subscribed, and ten times slower than an old-fashioned dial-up modem (the kind Grandma used to use). It takes half an hour just to bring up a typical Web page—if it comes up at all.

No sense in calling Orange technical support (Orange is the dorky brand name behind which FT hides when selling its Internet services). They are among the most incompetent technical support people I've ever seen, not even understanding basic computer terms. The only solution they ever offer for anything is to change a modem (which requires a $100 visit from a technician—see any conflict of interest here?) or reinstall their software. They don't know anything about their own network and literally don't understand what “network” means in some cases.

As a result, I have a huge backlog of things to post. I'm dating this post November 23 although it is actually a month later, just so that I can try to keep things in chronological order when and if I finally do get a satisfactory Internet connection.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Christmas Stuff

Back along the Champs again, while drifting towards a bus stop, I took a look at some of the decorations on the avenue Montaigne, where all the top clothing designers have their flagship stores, and I visited the “Christmas village” along the Champs itself (below the Rond Point, in the parkland areas), which is something of a novelty, as I don't recall seeing it before.

The decorations on the avenue Montaigne (which branches off the Rond Point des Champs-Élysées, just like the Champs itself) were red rather than blue, and perhaps a bit more restrained, but I don't know who pays for them or how. They still looked nice.

The Christmas village was interesting. A number of these pop up around Paris during the Christmas season, but this is the first time I recall seeing it on the Champs. These villages are actually just rows of little wooden huts, usually designed to look like ski chalets, in which many merchants ply their trade. Usually they are selling stuff related to Christmas, or things that one traditionally sees only at Christmas, like special holiday foods. There are always a few, though, who are clearly itinerant merchants selling the same stuff all year long in many different venues, the only difference here being that their stands look like ski chalets.

As you might expect, foods sold in this village reflect local holiday tastes. I tried a cannelé, a kind of cake shaped like a small dome with ridges (like a tiny Bundt cake). I've seen them for years but have never tasted one. It tasted like a vanilla cake with a caramel topping and a texture like marshmallow inside. Tasty but nothing to write home about.

There were lots of other foods, of course. The theme of this particular village seemed to be globalization, as each chalet flew a flag of a different country or region. Some of the countries represented don't really celebrate Christmas, but I guess that's not important when there's money to be made. In addition to the usual foods stands, there were stands selling those cheap little handicrafts that seem to haunt just about every temporary exposition in the observable universe, stands selling household goods, stands selling bizarre gift items that are impossible to move at any other time of year, and so on. There were even some midway games that apparently got lost and drifted from the nearest country fair to the Christmas village.

The village seemed to be attracting a ton of people, despite the somewhat chilly air, but since it's on the Champs, that's only to be expected. Down at the bottom of the Champs, that eyesore Ferris wheel is up again, blocking the view of the Louvre and making huge amounts of money for its owner, who must be rubbing his hands with evil glee at this time of year. I thought that wheel was supposed to go away forever, but like a vampire, it keeps coming back and sucking life from the avenue.

I understand that French actress Marion Cotillard turned the lights on in some sort of Major Media Event when the avenue was lit. I didn't see her, but that's no big deal. She's a cutie, and she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in the movie La Môme (La Vie en Rose in English), but I'm not into movie stars, I'm afraid (and by the way, the real Edith Piaf was never even remotely as cute as Cotillard, although she didn't look too ugly when she was young).

Anyway, I eventually got to my bus stop, and from there I went home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas Glitter on the Champs

The Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées were turned on this evening. There appeared to be some sort of lighting ceremony at the Renault restaurant/showroom, but I didn't examine that in detail.

As I've mentioned before, the lights now are tiny daylight-colored LEDs instead of incandescent lamps, so they are much smaller and more twinkly than their predecessors. In addition, tubes containing LED light chasers (lights that go on and off in synchronization to create an illusion of movement) hang vertically from the trees, creating the impression of falling snow. It's a very pleasing effect and the lights overall look very nice.

I note also that GE Lighting has been permitted some small banners along the avenue to promote their products. Whether this justifies the huge cost of lighting the avenue (which GE is expected to foot entirely, from what I understand) remains to be seen. But it does look nice.

There are two rows of trees on the Champs on each side of the avenue. The row closest to the street has a vast number of steady lights with the light chasers. The row furthest from the street has twinkling lights but no chasers. I've uploaded a very brief video of what it looks like to YouTube, which you can watch here. The video is noisy because it's noisy in real life (Paris is a noisy city in general). The rattling noise is a small car or motorcycle next to me as I made the video (I didn't look to see what it actually was—in real life one tends to ignore the noise).

The lighting runs all the way up and down the Champs, so when you stand in the middle of the avenue, it's a nice view (although it's somewhat noisy and nerve-wracking to stand in the middle of a busy avenue).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ugly Advertising on an Ugly Tower

Well, the inexpressibly ugly Montparnasse Tower seems to be adorned with a new, inexpressibly ugly advertisement, twenty stories high. Once again, apparently money has spoken, and aesthetic considerations have been tossed to the wind in order to allow more crass commercial exploitation of Paris to take over.

I'm not even sure what this multi-story billboard is advertising. I only know that it's ugly, and you can see it all over the city. You'd think that City Hall would object to this type of eyesore, but I suppose a lot of cash changed hands and a lot of good old boys called in some notes to get this advertisement installed.

I hope it will be removed soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sabotage on the TGV!

While coming home recently, I noticed a delay on RER Line B due to “actes de malveillance," which means vandalism. It turns out that this was more than just run-of-the-mill vandalism; the SNCF (the national railway company) considers it organized sabotage. Somebody is trying to cause trouble for rail transport.

In addition to many minor incidents over the past few months, there have been major ones. In one recent case, the bad guys carefully cut a hole in a fence on a bridge passing over a high-speed TGV train line (the high speed lines have no grade crossings, only bridges and underpasses), then lowered themselves down and attached a length of steel reinforcement bar (the kind used to make reinforced concrete) on the 25,000-volt catenary above the tracks. When a train came by and hit the bar, the power was interrupted for an entire section of the line, and many TGV trains were stalled for hours. Fortunately, the train that actually hit the rebar was a special train that runs early every morning before the passenger trains to inspect the lines. The train was undamaged, as far as I know, but the catenary had to be repaired and the power restored.

The work was done by people who knew what they were doing and knew exactly when and how to best interfere with the operation of the line. This tends to imply an inside job, or a job by someone who knows the railways well and has some sort of grudge against them. No suspects have been found thus far.