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Newsletters 2005

Here you'll find all the newsletters I sent in 2005... fortunately not that many:-) as I started only in November...

Newsletter 31.12.2005

Dear all:

Today was our last day in La Baule... a pity that a week can go by so swiftly. The last two days the weather was warmer but also much windier which made for rather good walking: the sea was an agitated grey-green monster and we were pummelled by the blasts of wind (the "chemin cotier" that follows the coast line from La Baule to Le Croisic for some 15 km often meanders quite high, above the sea, so the wind has all the advantages). There were also a few drops of rain but nothing a Brit would write home about:-)

Probably due to the stormy weather and the fact that not many people were out and about we found many "coques" (cockles) yesterday and oysters today along the beaches. There were so many cockles, in fact, that after opening and eating a few on the spot and packing away some twenty more for dinner (which made for a nice mess in the backpack), we stopped or we could have opened a poissonnerie. The same for the oysters today: we collected about a dozen in less than 20 minutes (and we had brought a couple of plastic bags, so no mess in the backpack...)

Tomorrow we'll drive up to Le Mont St. Michel, have a quick look and then continue towards Boulogne. Next morning we'll stock up on wine and other delicacies and then it's catching the ferry back home to the White Cliffs of Dover. (The Tunnel is a little quicker than the ferry we take, a catamaran that takes about 50 minutes in good weather, but approaching England via the traditional route is not bad either, we find.)

We wish all of you a happy end-of-2005 party and an even happier 2006. Or as the Germans say: "Guten Rutsch!"


Newsletter 25.12.2005

Dear all:

Just a short note for those intrepid souls who just can't stay away from their computers... even not during Xmas:-)

So we're now in La Baule and the weather is just marvellous. Piercing cold but a blue sky like you only get them in Brittany...

There is much teeth-gnashing among the local oyster/bigorneaux/langoustine/bulot/palourde population. (Well, most of these slimy little creepers have no teeth, so the gnashing is to be understood in a more figurative sense.) But as we come here so rarely, we have to make sure that if we do we get our fair share of seafood... fortunately the local market is one of the better this side of Brittany.

I even invested, many years ago, in a fat book with all sorts of seafood recipes, just to make sure I do all this cooking (most of the creatures are still alive when we buy them) in the correct French way. (The oysters are of course eaten raw. And without citron: this is a barbaric custom that completely destroys their delicate taste, in my opinion.)

It seems someone has found the 43rd Mersenne prime number. In case you've never heard of these beasts: MPNs are prime numbers of the form 2^n-1 where n must itself be a prime number: 2^3-1=7 is MP number 2 (3 is prime, 7 is as well); 2^5-1=31 is number 3. These numbers grow very quickly, MP number 10 is 2^89-1=618,970,019,642,690,137,449,562,111 and was discovered only in 1911. And MP 42, the largest MP known up till now, is 2^25,964,951-1. This is a number with precisely 7,816,230 digits. (Isn't it amazing what people spend their days with? Some collect stamps, others search for strange numbers...) Well, anyone interested in these things should go here for more:

I am a great fan of George W Bush and the thoughtful, delicate way in which he goes about his business. So naturally, whenever I see a nice joke about the bloke I have that intense urge to share it.

Here goes: Oval Office. Donald (Rumsfeld) and Condi (Ms Rice) are giving President Bush the daily briefing on the war in Iraq. Donald concludes by saying: "And yesterday, three Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "My gawd, that IS terrible!"

Donald and Condi sit stunned at this presidential display of emotion and nervously watch each other and then their boss, who sits there, slumped, head buried in his hands. Finally, the President looks up, with a puzzled look on his face, and asks: "Condi, tell me... exactly how many is a brazillion?"

Apropos US presidents: this week we had that old tearjerker "Casablanca" on the telly (that's TV, for you non-Brits), and I read in one of these film encyclopedias that originally Ronald Reagan was supposed to play Rick Blaine (the Bogart character). I well remember the silly jokes we used to make about Reagan when he became president... but as I remarked to Vero just then, with hindsight Ronny wasn't too bad after all. In fact, I think he was amazingly good:-)

Let's just wait and see what sort of prez we have in another twenty years' time... Perhaps, with 20/20 hindsight, even Dubya will seem to be a great man!

And with that uplifting thought I leave for the kitchen. Have a nice finish for 05 and drink the drink: what you'll down in the next week you won't need to drink in 06! Cheers!

(Depending on my own state of inebriatedness I may or may not write something next weekend:-).)


PS: and especially the accompanying pages (World Affairs, Nature ...) make for some interesting reading.

Newsletter 18.12.2005

Dear all:

Two weeks and 2005 will be history. Well, good riddance. It wasn't at all a bad year, by no means, but it wasn't the best either. Then again, if all years would be perfect, life would be so boring, wouldn't it?

We are busy preparing our short trip to France (just for ten days): we'll have the grand Xmas dinner, French style, with the family. That'll be the first time since ages as we're normally God knows where during the festive season... (and even God doesn't always know where we are:-)).

Afterwards, we'll head to Brittany, to the seaside resort of La Baule to be exact. Vero's mother has a nice apartment there, not far from the magnificent beaches. Once again, we have not been there for years but this year we simply have to go — we desperately need salt.

Salt? Yes, the region around La Baule (les marais salants de Guérande) is famous for the sea salt that's produced there: we normally take long walks along the coast and through the fields where the salt is harvested, by evaporating sea water that flows into huge, shallow basins. (In winter most basins are empty.)

Anyway, we buy most of our salt there. The salt farmers have many different qualities (when it comes to food, nothing is ever simple in France!) and offer different packing styles. The simple cooking salt we use for everyday purposes (salt is salt, in the end, though it would be wise not to say that to a French chef) comes in bags, up to ten kilo per bag. We bought such a big bag about eight years ago, and guess what... it's empty now! So you can see why we have to go there. (For the humour challenged: this is a joke. The real reason why we go to La Baule is of course the seafood:-).)

I have finally put my bread recipe online. Actually, it's just a basic recipe which can be used for all sorts of tasty bread. Depending on what you have and how much of a risk-taker you are, you can put many different things into the dough. The imagination is the limit: just mix it in, bake it and taste it. There are a few hints on the website as well but easy and always good are onions and black olives. Tell me of your experiences and ideas!

If you want to know which books I've read during November and what I thought about them, here's the link (there are also some reviews for the preceding months):

Here is a site with a challenge: a page with many devices that do not work as their inventors intended: perpetuum mobiles and the like. Many of the devices are really very clever -- you could easily convince an American venture capitalist to finance a start-up with some of the designs -- but alas, there's always the First Law of Thermodynamics, the old spoilsport. But have look anyway, there are other interesting pages on the site as well:

I may write a short note from La Baule, but then again I might just as well have too much hard work to do, with opening all these oysters and boiling the langoustines... We'll see.

Have a nice, quiet Xmas with family and friends and I'll be in touch soon.


Newsletter 04.12.2005

Dear all:

The days shorten and the plot thickens: we have just this week booked our flights to Istanbul, in March next year, for a trip of almost four months. Some of you certainly wonder why we would do, once again, that part of the world.

Hm... why not:-)? Okay, seriously: first of all, we'd like to see a bit more of Istanbul (fascinating city) and Cappadocia (fascinating landscape). Next, last spring we've only seen the western half of Turkey: that means no Black Sea, no Lake Van, no Nemrut Dag, no Mount Ararat (and no Noah, no ark). Plenty of things to do.

Next we have, since ten years or so, Iran on our to-do list (yeah, we also do lists, similar to certain Presidents, though our modest lists have nothing to do with evil empires). Think of all the peoples that went through Persia, the many cultural influences the place used to spread... So we think it's high time to do something about Iran, before our axis of sightseeing crosses with you-know-who's axis of evil.

Last but not least, Vero definitely wants to see Lebanon and the famous cedars (we saw a few Lebanese cedars on Cyprus, but apparently they were not tall enough. Oh, dear...).

Anyway, as you see, there is really no alternative:-).

Bad news for romantic lovers. Italian scientists (yes, fiery Italians -- where are the days of Romeo and Juliet...) have found that mundane brain chemicals are behind the first flush of love (or "acute" love, as they rather unromantically call it). High levels of so-called neurotrophins make the heart race, the palms sweaty and also produce the famous butterflies. He, he, it's all just chemistry! And after a year it's all over, the levels of the stuff are back to normal and love is no more "acute" (so where can we buy these neurotrophins?). For details see:

What is "Proceratium google"? Almost certainly not what you think. It is a newly discovered ant species from Madagascar which was named by Brian Fisher of the California Academy of Sciences in honour of the über-search-engine company: without Google Earth (which is indeed an amazing service), his team, he says, would not have been able to do such a good job in researching those ants: now, the scientists can "plot ant habitats in three dimensions or search for ant species by location". Sounds like a thrilling achievement for the ants.

And what, pray, is "Avahi cleesei"? Again, it's a newly discovered species from Madagascar; this time, we're talking about a sort of lemur. (No, honestly, I am not making this up... check with Google.) They were named like this in honour of John Cleese, he of Monty Python and Wanda-the-fish fame, allegedly because Cleese did so much for the conservation of rare species. But of course the real reason is that the long-legged Cleese jumps and hops around like a lemur himself.

The next item is almost scary, in a way. It's very simple: just read the following short text and count the number of F's (the letter eff):

So, how many did you spot? Four, five? Wrong... count them again.

Six? Wrong again... count once more.

It took me five readings (!) to get the correct number: there are exactly seven F's. It's not a trick: seeing is believing.

So what is the most famous equation in the world? I would bet it's Einstein's E=mc^2. Even people who would not touch a physics textbook with a barge pole know this equation. (I once saw a pretty girl with that equation printed prominently over her T-Shirt (for all I know she may well have been a physics student), but most men (not me, of course!) stared less at Einstein's masterstroke than the, err, the copious filling.)

Anyway, this little gem of an equation has just turned 100. It was in 1905 that Einstein built the theoretical foundations for, among other things, nuclear reactors. Here is a nice site about the genius (for once, I mean it) and his work: (The complete site can even be downloaded as a PDF file... something for those long, dark winter evenings, perhaps.)

This week there's no recipe as such though I have spent a part of this afternoon with baking bread. English bread tends to be white, not unlike the French stuff, though less crisp. What they don't do over here is the strong brown rye bread I know from Germany. So I do it on my own. However, to make a really good one, one needs sourdough. And for that one needs a starter. This, in turn, takes about a week, during winter perhaps even longer. So anyone who wants to follow my bread-making exploits will have to prepare a sourdough starter first. A recipe (of sorts) and some more explanations are on the website:

Okay, folks, that's it for this week... let's hear what goes on at your end!


PS: For those of you who like Google and have time to burn:

Newsletter 27.11.2005

Hi folks:

The rest of Europe seems to be snowed in — and we in Hampshire have not seen a single flake of the white stuff! There's snow in the West (Devon and Cornwall are submerged), in the North (Scotland is white), in the East (Germany is gone under) and South (Brittany and the rest of France — even the Eiffel Tower had to close!) — but our garden displays its usual stubborn green. Strange weather pattern, this.

I bow to the pressure: there are more photos from Cyprus on the website. I went through the other painted churches we visited and selected some of the frescoes we saw: or

The Swiss are slightly pissed-off because the EU doesn't want to give them access to its shiny, brand-new .eu domain (which, after many delays, should finally take off in January 06). And aren't the poor Swiss right? Isn't Switzerland the very HEART of Europe? Where would this continent be… without their chocolate… the delicious Emmental cheese… Swatches… number accounts…

Obviously, after the EU is now the proud owner of its own proper sandbox (err, domain), they don't want other kids on the block sneak in and share in the fun. But then the EU bureaucrats are berating the USA because the US government has and wants to keep almost full control over the international Domain Name System. It's really a kindergarten.

So the Germans did it: they finally thatcherised their country. However, I am confident that Angela Merkel will not go down in history as a hand-bag-wielding “Eiserne Lady”. In fact, her style seems rather more to be down to earth and non-confrontational (well, as far as possible in these times). And level-headed, to use one of my favourite phrases. Though I suspect if she has to (or wants to) be, Ms Merkel can be the steely sort of person: you do not get German chancellor by smiling nicely and kissing babies, especially not if you're a woman.

On the face of it she may even be able, together with Mr Platzeck, the newly elected chairman of the Social Democrats, to change the face of German politics: both are Ossis, both are not too old (51) and both had real jobs before going into politics big time. In a word, they are not the sort of Partei apparatschiks who have dominated German politics for ages. Indeed, it is an intriguing thought that without reunification, Germany would very probably not have a female chancellor now! On the other hand, “the West” is still much the stronger force, culturally and politically. It remains to be seen whether the spirit and the zeal of the first days will wear off quickly or whether she and her team can actually change something. I am not a “natural” conservative, but I very much hope so.

Passive smoking *is* indeed dangerous! Here's one for my French friends: while on a plane to Brisbane, a French lady suffered an acute attack of flight panic. She fought this in a not entirely unGallic way: a few drinks plus sleeping tablets and all was fine and well. Until she woke up, that is, and decided she needed a cigarette, right here, right now. Smoking is forbidden onboard, so she dutifully traipsed down to the next emergency exit and tried to open it, to get outside — all that mid-flight! Fortunately she was spotted before anything really drastic could happen… A court in Brisbane later gave her a fine of A$1000, for “endangering the safety of an aircraft”.

Last week's tapenade was a success (the stuff itself as well as the recipe I put online, judging from the comments — even from French readers). So this week let's travel half-way around the world, to Nepal. Once again something very simple, but tasty: Nepali tea. You just need strong black tea, sugar and some spices. Good for those cold winter days! The recipe can be found here:

If you own a laptop or notebook, here's a clever way to save lots of money on your electricity bills:

The website of the week: Okay, so their name sounds a little ridiculous… but what they do is actually a simple but clever idea. They give you a whopping 5 GB (yes, five gigabyte) for storing web pages and all the bookmarks you'll ever find. The latter seems not dissimilar to what (among others) does: just a blown-up bookmark database.

The other bit is *much* more interesting, however: you can use to store copies of whatever web pages you run into, day in, day out. And whatever means whatever: you see it, you like it, you want to keep a copy… so you store it there. They will keep these pages for you (ie real, full copies of the actual pages, so even if the original page goes away or is changed you will always keep the copy you stored). And five GB should be enough for, oh… 25.000 or so pages. That's 25 pages per day… for almost three years! Not bad. Of course there are questions as to whether they will be able to sustain this service, as it's free of charge and supposed to stay that way.

Well, I have just started using the service and so far it looks good. There is a FAQ around which answer many of the obvious questions and some less obvious ones. If you surf a lot, give it a go.

A final plea: if you discover an error, factual or a typo, on the website or in these mails (which end up on the site as well) — please do send me a quick note so I can correct it.

That's it… have a nice week!


PS: If the idea of a cigarette-craving Frenchwoman loitering near airplane exits makes you nervous: it is actually impossible to open these doors in mid-flight. The cabin pressure is so much higher than outside pressure that pulling the door open would require about 30 or 40 Arnold Schwarzeneggers (depending on the door size the weight equivalent is around 7.000 to 10.000 kg).

Newsletter 20.11.2005

Dear all:

this is the first of a series of (English only) newsletters that I will send out to all those people who also receive our regular travel mails. I aim to get one out every weekend, but depending on the weather, my work-load, things that go wrong and so on, there may be the occasional hiccup. (When we're on the road, there won't be a newsletter either: then we'll revert to our usual travelogue mails, both in English and French.)

The address lists for this newsletter and for the travelling mails are in separate files, so if you want to be removed from one or the other (or from both), just drop us a note at (We have also taken the liberty to put some people from the French list onto this one, because Vero won't have the time to do French translations of that stuff.)

Anyway, what's new? We have finally put together a few notes about our Cyprus trip (plus some 80 photos) and placed them on Thomas' website: please have a look at (some photos are slightly bigger, so loading the pages might take a few seconds if you're on a dial-up line).

Comments as well as corrections are very welcome. We have a total of 700 photos (after a heavy cull); anyone interested in more snaps or in the (much better) original shots, just get in touch; we can send them either per email or on a CD-ROM.

Re photos. This was the first trip since Syria 2002 where we had a camera with us and I must say that I am not wholly convinced. No quarrels with the camera itself (by the way: a Fujifilm E550, for those who are interested in this sort of thing). It is more the fact that one's perception changes fundamentally once one has a camera in hand. I much prefer travelling without a camera… but then again watching the snaps later on is fun. A conundrum without obvious solution.

This afternoon I made a huge pot of tapénade. That's a sort of dip coming from the French region called Provence: a mixture of black olives and olive oil, anchovies, tuna fish and last but not least capers (the Provençal word for capers is tapéno, hence the name). Very tasty stuff (and very salty, even without added salt). The recipe comes out of an old Provençal cookbook (“Le Reboul”, ca 1900) which I have bought ages ago in Aix-en-Provence. Perhaps no wonder then that it's a very simple and very good recipe. If you want to experiment, I have put it online:

The website of the week: This guy, Martin Waugh, has amazing high-speed shots of droplets of water or milk or oil crashing into more water or milk or oil. Or of droplets colliding with each other or with solid surfaces. Go there and check out Martin's work; I'll virtually guarantee that you will see things you've never seen before.

Things I am glad I can't buy: Jones Soda is a company in Seattle which produces and sells… well, soda. But they don't give you just the usual stuff: they also have a turkey-and-gravy-flavoured soda which was a hit for last year's Thanksgiving (what does this tell us about Americans?). Anyway, this year they went one better: how about soda that tastes like smoked salmon? Says the boss, Peter van Stolk: “I cannot finish a bottle, I just can't.” Honestly, Peter, I wouldn't even start.

Finally, from Avondale, Arizona, comes the story of the money counterfeiters who had a problem with the printer they were using to print the fake notes with. Naturally they sent in the faulty device to be repaired (well, the printer was their livelihood, so to speak). What they didn't realise was that a few counterfeit notes were jammed inside the thing. So imagine their surprise when after a while they didn't get a repaired printer back but a bunch of snoopy coppers at the front door! (See: )

Hasta la vista


$updated from: Newsletters 2005.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:12:47 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$