Thursday, 29 September 2016

Funny French Situation

I'm not much into talking about personal things in a permanent support, but this is pretty funny and I think it deserves to be published here.

First, I'm deeply ashamed for my lack of French spoken skills. I like this country a lot and I always talk about how immigrants must assimilate, but I'm very bad with languages (you can notice my crappy English just by reading this blog) and French is particularly difficult. Indeed for me it's almost like 2 languages, as the way you pronounce has nothing to do with what you write. Its written form is pretty complex (even more than Spanish), but the spoken form is just like quantum physics to me (its phonetics is so rich, and much more when your native reference is a language with such simple phonetics as Spanish).

The thing is that SNCF (the railways company) owes me 40 euros since 6 months ago, when their payment passarelle crashed just in the middle of purchasing some tickets. I first went to their offices, they asked me to call some number, then I was redirected to a mail address. After 6 months of waiting, and a last angry email, the guy told me that he could not do anything else, that he had created an incident months ago and if I had not received my money I should call another number.

So I called that number (expecting to ask one colleage to translate for me when they answered). It was the typical mess of "press 1 if... press 2 if..." I suddenly heard a nice "press X for English Service", great!

I was welcomed by a female voice (FV), and the conversation went like this:
FV: Bonjour, qu'est ce que je peux faire pour vous? (Hello, what can I do for you?).
Me: Bonjour, eh, do you speak English?
FV: A bit
Me: Ah, OK, mais, c'est le English Speaking Service?
FV: Oui, mais c'est la France!
From that point on the conversation continued in a mix of English and French, but the girl seemed not particularly willing to help.

So the thing is pretty funny and bizzarre. As I've said I'm deeply ashamed for my pitiful French skills and I would accept that after all this time being here some French people were angry with me for this. Indeed I think I really deserve a kick in my lazy ass for it... but well, if I call to the "English Speaking Service" of a huge company I expect to talk to someone that speaks English!!! This reminds me that months ago, when calling the first number that they had given me at that time, I ended up in the "English Speaking Service" talking to a girl that seemed to speak Italian!!!

This said, when I go to buy tickets directly to the station, the guys/girls there are always pretty helpful and nice. They'll smile to my clumsy attempts to speak French and we will end up speaking "Franglais" :-)

I think there are certain misconceptions (at least I had them) regarding the French people and foreign languages. There are more people that can speak English (mainly among younger generations) than I expected (and in Southern France many people can speak some, or even quite good, Spanish) and there is not a general rejection to speaking a foreign language, people will try depending on their knowledge (but yes, unfortunately many people just can't cause they never learnt). I guess the reason for this "never learnt" is a mix of several factors. In the past (as in Spain) the level at school was very minimum, so you should learn on your own (paying an academy, self-learning...). As it used to happen in Spain, if you didn't need it at work, you coud just get by without it. French (like Spanish) has a big enough community of speakers that most films or books you can be interested on will have been translated, and in the past people did not travel abroad so much. I guess for some people the idea of the lost of importance of French before English also caused a certain and reasonable rejection.

The interesting thing is that with the Brexit on one side and my lack of appreciation for the USA, I'm starting to question this idea of "English as the universal language". Unfortunately, I think there is no easy solution to this. What other "lingua franca" should we use in the EU? French, Spanish, German, Italian? So far I'd never seen much sense in using an "artificial language" like Esperanto, but well, maybe this could be the solution for future generations in order to talk a common language that is not "the language of 'the others'".

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Cyclic Programming Trends

The other day I was taking a look into React.js (shit, I think I like it even less that Angular, I will ever be a "home made MVC + jQuery" nostalgic), and I came across something that seemed somehow familiar:

var App = (

This thing of mixing javascript with markup, I'd seen it before, way before, it was some sort of Mozilla extension to JavaScript (those times when Mozilla was adding to their JavaScript version some advanced features that still have not made it into ES6, like At that time (2005) XML was still all the rage, so it seemed natural to add support for XML into the language (the ES4 version). The "experiment" was called E4X, and yes refreshing a bit my memories, it was basically the same that JSX is now with html, with the difference that while that was fully integrated in the language, this is a sort of preprocessing stuff added to Babel.

I guess one reason for the abandon of E4X was that XML soon lost its relevance, but a second reason was that many people did not fill right to incorporate something so specific as XML into a general purpose language. I agree with this vision. Don't try to compare it to the support for Linq syntax in .Net languages, cause Linq applies to anything that can be queried, and that can be something as generic as a Collection. With JSX the approach of not having it as an integrated part of the language, but as a sort of preprocessing, seems reasonable.

This reminds me again how things in Programming and IT seem to come and go, and how when they return someone will brand them as a revolutionary breakthrough when it's just some varnish on top of an old (maybe good) idea that just did not get enough attention at the time. I can think of some clear cases:

  • Document Stores. Lotus Notes was a horrible technology to work with for different reasons, but it all revolved around a Document Database, something so praised in the last years.
  • HTML+JavaScript+CS applications. We've had that in Windows since a very long time ago, in the shape of HTA. One colleage in the office did a rather elaborated DataBase comparer with HTA rather than Windows Forms (that would have been the normal choice at the time) and it was a really neat tool, the UI was pretty much better looking that in most Windows Forms applications of the time.
  • Using JavaScript for your "shell scripts" via node is now a pretty good option. I've always liked its syntax more than Perl, Python or Ruby, and being prototype based since birth it's always been as powerful as a language (if not more). Using jScript in Windows seemed always a quite reasonable option to me, I could never understand why most Windows Admins would use VBScript (at least before the arrival of PowerShell)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Liberte Pour Ebru

In the last months I've decided not too follow too closely the events in Kurdistan, cause it infuriates me, depresses me and feeds me with pure hatred to see how the Turkish Islamo-fascist state continues to massacre the Kurdish people, and now not only inside the (fake) Turkish borders, but also in Rojava. But yesterday, the breaking news were just in the Regional newspaper. A French-Kurdish girl from Toulouse has been detained by Erdogan fascist troops under the suspicion of preparing a suicide attack in Istambul. No need to say that this is just bullshit.

I'm not going to translate the articles in the French news, just will give you a summary. A 25 years old Toulousain girl of Kurdish descent, Ebru, decided to quit Toulouse (where she had been a former medicine student) to go to Rojava (Northern Syria) to fight against Daech (Isis). One of the reasons prompting her to take such a corageous decision was seeing how some shitheads of her neighbourhood had gone to Syria to fight in the ranks of the Islamist beasts. This girl is from Bellefontaine, one of the infamous "Quartiers Sensibles" of Toulouse, so this is one more proof that whatever certain media (British media in particular), the idiotic left, the communitarits or just the criminals (that complement their "income" with French social welfare, of course) tell you, you can grow up in a bad neighbourhood and succeed in having a normal life, finish high school, go to University and feeling concerned about the future of Humanity, as this heroic girl did. Because France (at least the France that I know) continues to be an open society, where most people don't care about your origins, skin color or system of beliefs (unless those beliefs go against our civilization).

Last week she intended to take a flight to Toulouse to try to return to a normal life. Indeed she had an interview in Pole Emploi (the employment office) the next day, ah, yes, she wanted to find a job, rather than just asking for social welfare as all those "victims of French society" in her neighbourhood tend to do...) But it seems like the Turkish Islamo-Fascist state received some information about her planning a suicide attack... pure bullshit

Hopefully she is a French citizen, and you can imagine that after all the terror acts on our soil the normal French society is quite sensitive regarding Daech. So, contrary to what happened in Spain, where some volunteers that had gone to Rojava to fight against Daech were received by the Spanish state (and media) with charges of terrorism...
hopefully here the city government (Les Republicains) and the regional government (PS) are joining forces to demand her immediate liberation and return to France.

Ebru showed up in French media last January in a documentary about French citizns fighting against the Islamist beasts in Kurdistan. When she was asked how she had moved from studying medicine to holding a weapon agains Daech, she said "sometimes you save lives in one way, other times it's a diffeent way, you have to take lives to save others". This reminds me of an excellent French/German documentary about the Kurdish female Freedom Fighters. By the way, I've come across this page of a Toulousain collective of support to te Kurdish People.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Asturian Epic Moments

In the last years my understanding of the world, identity and politics has evolved quite a lot, but I still have a certain feeling of being Asturian. So when talking to people here in France I will often talk about Asturies, for the good and for the bad, for the funny and for the depressive... On some occasions I have told them that though we have a cross in our flag and you'll see this cross everywhere, Asturies happens to be one of the less catholic areas of Spain. I explained that celtic pagan traditions had persisted quite longer than in other places, and that this cross is the symbol of the victory of the Astures against Muslims, and that not having been ruled by the Arabs (well, except some villages for a few years) was one of the basis of our identity (unruly, crazy and rebelious Asturians...). A non religious person explaining this to 2 really nice (and devote) Muslims is a quite funny situation.

The other day I wondered what impression would someone get from Asturies if out of curiosity searched on wikipedia for some info about that misterious/exotic place that the freak in the office talks about (once someone at work said to my amused ears "hey, that Asturies thing sounds like pretty exotic, those people you talk about must be almost like aliens"). So, reading some English entries you get quite an epic vision!

From the Battle of Covadonga:

The battle was followed by the creation of an independent Christian principality in the mountains of the northwestern region of the Iberian peninsula that grew into the Kingdom of Asturias and became a bastion of Christian resistance to the expansion of Muslim rule.
and soon founded the Kingdom of Asturias, which became a Christian stronghold against further Muslim expansion.

From the Kingdom of Asturies:

The Kingdom of Asturias was, in its infancy, an indigenous reaction of Astures and Cantabri to a foreign invasion. These people had already fought the Romans in the Cantabrian Wars, and initially resisted Romanisation. Although they preserved many characteristics of their pre-Roman culture, their Celtic languages were later lost in favor of Latin.
This kingdom is the birthplace of an influential European medieval architectural style: Asturian pre-Romanesque.

From the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars:

Moreover, there was a tradition among the Cantabri of preferring suicide to slavery. They did this by sword, by fire, or, primarily, by poisoning themselves with potions made for the purpose. According to Silius Italicus they used a concoction made from the seeds of the yew tree, a plant with mythic significance for the Celts. Strabo said that they belittled death and pain, to the point of singing hymns of victory while being crucified.

Note: It talks about the Cantabri, but that applies also to Astures (in the end that difference of Cantabri vs Asturies is rather meaningless

From the Astures:

The Astures were subdued by the Romans but were never fully conquered, and their tribal way of life changed very little.

Those are pretty nice parts. You combine that history with the beautiful landscapes and for sure you get an interesting place. Shame is that when you add to it other facts: one of the most aged societies in the world, the lack of decent public transport, high rate of drugs consumption, the isolation from the rest of the world, the permanent economical crisis having created a totally depressed population (I had to be out for a good while to fully realize that the permanent state of complain, sadness, distrust and self-destructive criticism of good part of the population, me among them when living there, is not at all normal)... the overall picture changes too much...

By the way, it's pretty interesting for someone that calls both places home too read about the possible relation between the battle of Toulouse (quite unknown when compared to Poitiers, but for some historians almost so important) and that of Covadonga.

On July 9, 721, a Muslim force that had crossed the Pyrenees and invaded the Kingdom of the Franks was defeated by them in the Battle of Toulouse, in present-day France. This was the first serious setback in the Muslim campaign in southwestern Europe. Reluctant to return to Cordoba with such unalloyed bad news, the Ummayad wāli, Anbasa ibn Suhaym Al-Kalbi, decided that putting down the rebellion in Asturias on his way home would afford his troops an easy victory and raise their flagging morale.