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November 2, 2003 Odds and Ends

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Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?   We do tend to believe what our technology says is so.  Even when it isn't so.
A case in point?   A curious item from France.
Understand that when I scan the news on the internet I try to get a sense of not only what is happening around the world, but also what folks think is important.  Once source I check daily is Radio France International (RFI).  All the French dailies are on line, but my French isn't that good - so before I plow through Le Monde and the rest in the original, I glance at the RFI English-language summary of the major stories. 
RFI's daily press summary is at http://www.rfi.fr/fichiers/Langues/Revue_presse/review.asp if you want to check it out. 
On Friday, the 31st, I found this:
A spider has this week caused some red faces at the national weather-forecaster, Météo France, and he or she makes a nice story inside today's LE MONDE.

It has never snowed in northern Brittany in October! Not since records began, and not before that either, according to the locals. Nevertheless, earlier this week, pilots approaching the tiny airport at Dinard, near Saint Malo, were amazed to be told by air traffic control that the runways were covered in snow. Even from 33,000 feet it was clear that the runways were, in fact, clean as a cauliflower and basking in autumn sunshine. But the computer kept repeating the same message: it was snowing at Dinard.

Apparently, a spider built a web across the opening of the airport's automatic weather station. There was a rain shower, and then frost, which froze the moisture in the web. The computer, not skilled in the finer distinctions, decided to call that "snow", and the alarm bells started ringing. Pilots, shipping concerns and the gritting teams were alerted. The world was stunned. The tourist authorities, proud of Dinard's gentle micro-climate, were stunned too, and less than fully gruntled, especially at this time of Hallowe'en holidays.

The spider has been asked to leave town, and the computer is being sent on a skiing course. Météo France has promised that there'll be no more snow in Dinard, not in October anyway.
That's pretty wild.  Rick Brown in Atlanta commented: "Sounds pretty much like one of those bedtime stories I've been reading my kids. And it's also very French, a la Curious George."
If you want to check out the Le Monde article see this
Quand une araignée piège la météo sur l'aéroport de Dinard
LE MONDE | 30.10.03
Rennes de notre correspondant
Surpris, mardi matin 28 octobre, les auditeurs bretons de deux radios nationales lorsqu'ils ont appris qu'il neigeait sur Dinard ! De la neige fin octobre sur la promenade du Claire-de-Lune de la station balnéaire bretonne, c'était, c'est et cela restera encore sans doute un certain temps, du jamais-vu.

A l'origine de cette "toile", une araignée qui, dans la nuit de lundi à mardi, avait tissé son piège dans un capteur d'une station automatique installée à l'aéroport de Dinard-Pleurtuit. Ces capteurs, reliés à un ordinateur, ont remplacé depuis vingt mois, pour cause de réduction du temps de travail et d'automatisation, les trois personnes travaillant jusqu'alors à la station météo de l'aéroport.

Destinées notamment aux pilotes, les informations météorologiques, actualisées toutes les demi-heures, sont disponibles jour et nuit, sept jours sur sept. Mardi matin, du givre s'était formé sur la toile d'araignée et l'ordinateur l'a interprété comme la présence de neige. L'erreur a été aussitôt répercutée sur les ondes par des spécialistes, qui ignoraient sans doute le microclimat dont bénéficie - en automne aussi - la région de Dinard.
The rest of the article can be found here:

Second odd item.  I sometimes listen to live radio from Paris on the Internet streaming audio is fun and one of my favorite stations is RadioNova.  They do a lot of world-trance-club stuff.  And Nova Magazine is a good guide to whats happening there but the magazine is not on line.  The website has only a few articles. 

Anyway, I signed up for the free service where each week RadioNova emails me a newsletter about events and music.  There's always a link to an item that's funny or just curious.  Last week it was an article about Hollywood movies - about how in movies these days you can't tell the bad guys from the good guys by whether they're wearing black hats or white hats, like in the old westerns.  Now you can tell who is good and who is bad by another symbolic marker.  The bad guys use PC's (IBM-Intel-Microsoft stuff) while the good guys use Macintosh machines.  I read the article.  It's very detailed.  The observation holds up.

Well, the Macintosh is much better suited for AV work, and everyone in Hollywood uses them.  And although most desktop computers in the United States are PC things, most in France are Mac's.  So these guys in Paris would notice such a thing.

There's a tinge of anti-establishment, anti-Americanism here too, but it's hard to pin down.

Anyway, if your French is up to it, this came in my weekly newsletter from Nova Planet (Newsletter du lundi 27 octobre 2003) - the radio station, magazine folks in Paris...
Le cinéma américain a inventé un nouveau code pour distinguer les bons et les méchants. Les bons ont des Macs, les méchants des PC (voir Culture Confiture <http://www.novaplanet.com/Default.asp?page=/nouveau/conf.asp>). On se demande ce qui leur prend, à Hollywood. Qui a eu lidée de jouer sur ce ressort ? Les scénaristes sont-ils tous sur Mac ? Quelle arrière-pensée cela suppose-t-il sur les fantasmes informatiques des spectateurs de cinéma ? Les constructeurs dordis dont les bécanes apparaissent dans les films payent-ils pour ça ? Apple paye-t-il pour figurer le signe du Bien ?