Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Brrr, cold outside, new boiler and hot water adventure

Well since it's cold and frosty and horrible outside, I thought a bit of warming cheer would be to pass on news of the new central heating boiler in our French Gite!

When we first bought the Gite 6 years ago we were impressed by the strength of the water pressure we had, both hot and cold were great which was partly due to the oil fired flash boiler that heated both the central heating and the hot water. So hot water was instant and on tap whenever we needed it, and it also came out of the shower at mains cold water pressure - i.e. pretty decent pressure!

Unfortunately over the years for reasons I couldn't work out the pressure had been slowly eroding, not down to dribble levels but even with my failing memory I certainly thought that the shower pressure was "not what it used to be".

A few years ago I'd noticed that pressure relief valve down the back of the boiler was weeping and water kept on dripping out and running down the overflow so after much cursing and grunting I'd replaced that. But more recently I'd noticed the valve was weeping again, and I could either turn the the inlet valve tap so the overflow valve didn't weep but there was little hot water pressure, or I could turn it up to the point that we had reasonable hot water pressure but then the valve weeped and dripped away all the time.

So time for a plumber.

At the supermarket in our nearby town like many French supermarkets there is a noticeboard for local adverts, "man with a van", unwanted 1970's furniture, home wanted for cats and dogs, etc, and in amongst the leaflets was some business cards for Geoffrey Dean, a local plumber.

Geoffrey came round, agreed that I had a problem, and said that it was probably caused by all the different sized pipes that were behind the boiler and were probably causing a reduction in pressure. He could replace them with more consistent pipework, but more of concern was the actual boiler installation itself.
The boiler is in an outside room that butts onto the downstairs toilet/shower room, but the flue for the boiler went up through a flexible thin metal corrugated pipe, into the roof, then diverts via gaps in the wall through a boxed corridor section, and ends up coming out near the top of the chimney in the main house. Whilst this may have been an easy way to install the flue it wasn't really either the right material or the correct routing to ensure adequate ventilation. The pipe should have terminated above the roof line so that it drew any fumes out and away, and it had rainwater dripping down inside it causing corrosion at the bottom.

Eventually after discussing of options and Geoffrey looking at alternatives on the internet, we concluded the best thing was to install a whole new boiler. I'd get a whole new modern balanced flue boiler that would vent through to the outside wall, all the pipework at the back of the boiler would be replaced, and in terms of cost wise it wasn't orders of magnitude more different than just sorting out the pipework.

Nice new boiler in our Brittany Gite - lots of hot water and central heating now

Installation took a bit longer than originally hoped or intended for, Brittany had a dose of very wintry weather to contend with, Geoffrey's been off ill with flu for 2 weeks, it took a couple of hours just to drill the flue hole in the outside wall with the diamond cutting drill, but in the end the job was done.

The new boiler is much smaller than the old one even though it's slightly higher heat output, and as Geoffrey's installed it to one side of the boiler room this has given us much more storage space for spare kids wellies and the single and double pushchairs we leave for guests with little children. There's now lashings of hot water all the time, although of course the first time I went over I forgot to switch the boiler on when I arrived so couldn't work out why the hot water was only trickling out; but once I got over that I took a lovely hot bath to celebrate!

Plenty of storage space in the boiler room now

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 09, 2010

PictoBrowsering again as my photo gallery stopped working, and 8 alternative Flickr photo galleries

Back in the dim and distant mists of time (ok, March 2007), I wrote about how I'd used Pictobrowser to deliver a photo gallery of some of our Flickr photos.

Wind the clock forward to June 2008 and I managed (briefly) to get the PictoBrowser gallery to be W3C compliant HTML, until a week later when I discovered that the PictoBrowser <object> rendering didn't work with Firefox 3 and Adblock so I ended up reverting back to the original HTML.

Well the world (and browsers) move on, and to my shame I noticed a little while ago that PictoBrowser wasn't working at all on my website, but didn't get the chance to investigate why, nor more crucially to fix the issue.

So as if I have any time on my hands, I made myself put some effort into looking at the problem.

A bit of Googling later and I turned up an article on the Flickr help forum entitled why did Flickr disable the PictoBrowser API key, which was basically my problem, that Flickr had identified problems in the way that PictoBrowser was integrated to Flickr and had disabled the application API key - hence my PictoBrowser was no longer recognised as being acceptable to Flickr and had stopped working.

The help article concluded with the good news that the PictoBrowser integration issue had been resolved by the PictoBrowser author, Diego Bauducco, and a new version of PictoBrowser was launched.

Simples to go to the PictoBrowser homepage, run through the handy 'PictoBrowser builder', and create the new HTML to download and fix my photo gallery.

Along the way of investigating the issue I did come across some alternatives:
  • FlickrSlidr which creates a simple rolling slideshow of tagged Flickr photos ... but doesn't seem to have a mechanism to change the background colour of the slideshow from black to white. At first I thought it didn't show the photo titles/descriptions, but I later discovered that clicking on a photo causes the photo to reduce and the description to be shown. Still no way to show the title or change the colour though.

  • SlideFlickr which is very similar, and has more configuration options (no black background), but the photos always seem too small and I didn't like the way that the 'I' button displays the photo description in a too-large font right across the photo

  • FlikrShow is one that shows promise, it's a JavaScript based solution that quite surprisingly doesn't rely on underlying frameworks like JQuery, so comes in at a tichy 7kb in size. FlikrShow is "currently in public beta testing, and will be released properly in Spring/Summer, 2010" (Hmm, a bit late), but looks definitely worth exploring more. My only concern is that it appears to load all the pictures up front before starting the slideshow, so if you have a lot of tagged pictures it could be slow to load. The current demo page is quite slow.

  • Flickr themselves of course have a slideshow feature, the new version of which was launched showing a sample Flickr slideshow in July 2008.
    Full screen the Flickr slideshow for my PictoBrowser photos looks really good, but if I want to embed it into my website then the only customisation option for Flickr slideshow is to set the size of the photo, there is no customisation of background colour (black again), show of title/descriptions, etc

  • Alternatively Visual SlideShow and Flikr-Gallery which both appear to be the same piece of software go down a different route, they are full PC or Windows applications to allow you to select your photos (including from Flickr), size and style them and the transitions as you wish, then to publish a complete standalone Photo gallery application. Under the covers the built website uses Mootools and JQuery (so that's a 100Kb overhead to the page), but the results produced are quite impressive; take a look at the demo page for VisualSlideshow and visuallightbox.

  • Slideoo provides a horizontal slideshow of Flickr pictures, but there's only the option to select photo sets, not tagged photos, and I didn't like the resultant slideshow either

  • BigHugeLabs (cute name) have a whole load of free tools and utilities you can use with your photos. I made a BigHugeLabs slideshow of my Flikr Gite photos; it looks quite nice but the selection of photos is a one-time import from Flickr so if you add new tagged photos you have to re-create the slideshow all over again. No good.

So after all this, where did I end up?

Well I decided to take the easy route and stick with PictoBrowser, the latest version now uses SWFObject to render the flash object so someone else has sorted out ensuring full W3C and cross-browser compliance (hurrah), and I do still quite like the interface.

My only minor upset was that I couldn't find a way to make the slide show automatically start so ended up emailing Diego Bauducco the author, who was quick to respond and unfortunately tell me the news that he'd had to remove that feature from Flickr slideshows because there is a limit imposed by Flickr to the number of queries that PictoBrowser can make so he had to remove that feature.

If I'd used Picassa (owned by Google) for my photos then an auto-start slideshow feature is available, it's not documented, but if you need this, just add one line to the PictoBrowser HTML:

so.addVariable("slideshow", "on");

So there we are, a newly completed and updated French Holiday-Home photo gallery page; enjoy!

Labels: ,