I’ve spent the week finally reading The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. I must say that I wasn’t expecting Alan Moore, Chris Langham, and Jim Garrison to all turn up in the same narrative about the KLF. Or the segue about monetary systems and the concept of interest. Though that makes more sense when you remember what they did on Jura.
It occurred to me that while I know all about what happened on the island, I had never seen them burn the money. The film tour didn’t last too long back in the 90s, after all. Thankfully, somebody has uploaded the BBC’s Omnibus on the subject, which, while it doesn’t include the entire one-hour film, it contains enough to say My God, they really did it.
(note: if, on 23rd August 2017, alternative facts emerge, feel free to come back here and laugh)
I enjoyed the bit of Tony Wilson mugging, and was intrigued by the difference in Drummond and Cauty between the three month and six months after point. At three months, they’re still high in the phase of going on tour, trying to pitch to art galleries and the like, whereas at six months, they’re haunted people, simultaneously understanding and being completely unable to articulate why they had burnt a million pounds.
The book suggests that they did it to bring the 21st century into being. Which might be a bit of overkill for a band that went on Top of The Pops with the worst recreations of a Dalek you’ve ever seen, but who knows. The forces that the Stadium Trilogy unleashed might have been powerful indeed.
Somebody not mentioned in the book is Grant Morrison, Mr. Moore’s nemesis. And you’d think he might have cropped up, given that The Invisibles is also obsessed with the number 23 and all the other Discordian trappings. Plus, after…what? Ten years? - I finally worked out this evening why the typeface in The Return of Bruce Wayne seemed so familiar.
Mar 19, 2017 · 2 minute read
microserfs our dark future
Out of some misplaced sense of nostalgia, I’ve been re-reading Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs. I think the first time it made it over to UK shores was when Personal Computer World printed the original short story (originally printed in…well, Wired (what else?) in the US), and I bought the book shortly after I started my Computer Science course in Manchester.
(20 years this year, fact fans. How did I get so old?)
I did have another reason aside from nostalgia, though. I was curious to reflect on how its optimism of the net’s expected changes to society tallied with our current dark future. And, ha. There’s a fun moment about mid-way through where the characters create an internal broadcast messaging system that allows people to type a short (around 140 characters) message to everybody. Before the end of day 1, things get nasty and they shut it down. In 2017, we instead give fascists a thousand blue ticks. Or that when the women form Chyx, they’d be getting death threats and SWAT teams turning up on their doorstep.
It does still have a few true things to say about startup culture - working themselves to excess, though the book’s suggestion that part of the appeal is working on a ‘1.0’ product doesn’t really correspond to today’s ‘Uber, but for X’ companies. But maybe I’m just cynical about today. Can’t imagine why. Oh, and the continued swipes at Apple are amusing considering what followed just a few years later.
Anyhow, Microserfs. Incredibly naïve, yes, but sometimes it’s to step back and remember the time when this Internet thing seemed like a fun idea, even if all the while you’re reading it, you can’t stop hearing the Received Pronunciation of Adam Curtis saying ‘BUT THEY WERE WRONG’ in the back of your head.
In other news, I met @Pinboard in person for the first time and managed to retrain from gushing. More of the super-secret (ish) project that resulted when it’s not quite so super secret! In the meantime, the ironing awaits…
Mar 12, 2017 · 1 minute read
chart formats compiled by gallup
There came a point during the week where I had an involved discussion about UK chart formats, and in particular, the difference between a single, an EP, and an LP. You have no idea how happy I was.
(there’s an alternate universe version of me that moved to London, went to ATP, saw bands every day of the week, and accidentally coming face-to-face with La Senza on a cold Sunday morning. But he’s probably a bit of a dick.)
Anyway, quiet week here after last week’s excitement in Chicago. I have been mostly refactoring Python code and watching Grand Designs. The latter is especially dangerous, because even though Kevin laughs at people’s optimism and wildly-inaccurate budget predictions, there’s always a point where I think ‘it might be good to build a custom home’. This is a path to insanity. On the other hand, ‘bond supervillain’ continues to return no results on Zilliow/Trulia/Redfin/et. al, so what am I to do?
After this, it's the hits. Okay, so not hits, but you know, the songs that we all know are objectively the hits.
This is from our third album. You know, before we 'lost it'.
Never change, Gareth.
I went to Chicago! Not, as you might think, for work (though I did drop off a client laptop and gave everybody chocolates), but seeing Los Campesinos! on their first US tour for three years, and anything else I could fit in along the way. Which turned out to be quite a bit!
But boy was it cold. Of course, Chicago native Jimmy was happily walking up and down the city streets while Tammy and I were chattering our teeth and cursing our collective failure to bring scarves. And it wasn’t even cold by local standards!
(It did snow, though, which made me want to head over to Union Station to re-enact this bit of 90s television:
Sadly, there’s never a Mountie around when you need one)
Another reason for visiting was to eat at Next Restaurant. I was a touch concerned that their Ancient Rome menu was going to be very heavy on the fish, but as it turned out, it wasn’t too bad (I had to admit to defeat at the shrimp studded with olives though: essentially Ian kryptonite. Thankfully, as I was there with Tammy, it didn’t go to waste!). I also managed to complete the Alinea trifecta by arriving 45 minutes early. They packed us off to The Aviary, where this happened:
That’s a cocktail containing: ‘caramel, peanuts, popcorn, rum, whiskey’. And jolly nice it was too, and it came with a prize! What more could you ask for?
(oh, and it was warm. Which was very welcome, as the wind chill outside was nasty)
Anyway, Next was wonderful! I think my favourite dishes were the stuffed quail with table-side-baked bread and the surprisingly tasty artichoke and grapefruit dish that transitioned us to dessert.
It seems like the tag-line for Fox In A Box Chicago is that they won’t put you in an escape room with strangers. Which is a great selling point, especially if you failed your last escape room because people pulled out the tubing you had carefully placed with moments to spare.
(not that we’re bitter or anything)
The three of us were plunged into total darkness and given the task of stealing a diamond from a bank vault. Things didn’t go entirely to plan - one of the puzzles had a failed electrical connection, but we managed to escape with minutes to spare. So go us!
After a huge Korean BBQ chicken meal (seriously, we were missing one piece of chicken from our order and still left a third of it uneaten), we headed off to the Field Museum. Because I am weird, I think my favourite part of that was seeing which of the museum exhibits still used decades-old typography. It seems I prefer the parts of museums that are themselves museum pieces - the old, forgotten parts of The Science Museum in London have a similar attraction.
Oh, and pandas. Obviously.
Aside from the part where I gamely looked at a surprise pig’s foot in my lunch and the bit where we saw Lego Batman, I think that mostly wraps up Chicago…
…oh! But before I go, let me present: THE SWANKIEST WALGREENS YOU EVER DID SEE:
So I created a Twitter bot (of sorts). Meet @cheesoidBot, a friendly bot that will helpfully identify whether a picture you send it is ‘CHEESE’ or ‘PET-RILL’.
It’s just a silly bot! But, it’s a silly bot that is backed by an InceptionV3-based ConvNet that has been fine-tuned (via transfer learning) to recognize cheese or petrol. That’s right, this bot is powered by a close-to-state-of-the-art neural net simply because I thought it would be funny.
It also, it turns out, seems to be pretty good at recognizing cheese.
Give it a try! You’ll actually have to attach the image to your tweet rather than simply shoot over a URL at poor little CheesoidBot. Then, you’ll just need to wait a few minutes and he’ll get back to you.1
Whilst setting this up on Amazon, I threw a few pictures at the model just to make sure it was running. Obviously, I used pictures of cheese, but I also gave it a picture of a person. ‘PET-RILL!’ it shrieked back at me, and I smirked with all the confidence of that guy from Mallrats:
Then I looked at the picture again to lord the human brain over the silly little machines. At which point I noticed that the person was standing between two cars…so the model had ignored the figure and made the determination based on the cars…
Yes, he’s powered by the amazing scheduling of cron. I did have a real-time version plannes with a bunch of microservices to handle aspects of interaction, all backed with Kafka, but as I sat down to implement them, I suddenly realized that I Was Trying Far Too Hard. Instead, I bashed out a simple Ruby script. It shouldn’t be too hard to switch it over to a more real-time affair in the future if necessary, but I’m not expecting crazy levels of traffic to it…
Feb 19, 2017 · 2 minute read
the best alcohol sigh you taste like helvetica
More confectionery experiments this weekend. This time I revisited gummies (gelatin-based). They’ve long been a bête noire of mine; my attempts have often turned into a horrific gloop of sugar and gelatin seemingly bonded at a molecular level to the pot.
But not this time! Oh no, because this time, I borrowed a trick from Heston Blumenthal, who used to serve whiskey-based gummies at The Fat Duck. His trick was to bloom the gelatin in a water bath and hold it there at a constant temperature of 60˚C right until it gets added to the sugar/glucose syrup mixture. That way the gelatin has no chance to set until you start mixing things together. Hurrah!
I started out with some gummies using Woodford Reserve. They turned out rather well:
They are, however, somewhat boozy. After having just one, I realized that it was a good thing that I had no plans to drive anywhere that evening. Instead, I made another batch, this time using my Helvetica mold and Pimm’s as the base spirit.
I think these have some advantages over the bourbon gummies. Firstly, you don’t feel like you need to sit down after having just one, but also the citric acid / sugar coating pretty much gives you a proper Pimm’s Cup experience.
Which is not to say that there won’t be further experiments, probably something in the realm of the Manhattan…
This week, I found myself doing something that eight-year-old me would have found amazing - hacking a Spectrum game in order to find out where it was keeping its lives and score counter. I like to think that a time-travel meeting would have gone something like this:
Past Ian: This is so cool! You’re from the future! You can tell me what happens! Do we have flying ca—
Present Ian: Look, we don’t have much time. Before I say anything, I want you to promise me something.
Past Ian: Sure!
Present Ian: Send a letter to Hillary Clinton, current First Lady of Arkansas saying: “Please, if you ever think about setting up a private email server, don’t.Just don’t.“
Past Ian: I don’t understand.
Present Ian: long sigh You will.
Past Ian: So what happens to me?
Present Ian: Well, I can tell you this much! You live in America and you just spent an evening hacking Deathchase 3D. That’s right, you understand assembler and can hack Spectrum games!
Past Ian: Wow!
Present Ian: And you have a really fast computer and you carry around a phone that can access information all over the world in less than a second.
Past Ian: Amazing!
Present Ian: It also plays music.
Past Ian: How much music can it fit on it? My personal stereo doesn’t like tapes longer than C60s.
Present Ian: Basically all the music in the world that there has ever been, and then some. It distracts from the horrors.
Past Ian: Horrors? What do you mean, horrors? Hey, you’re fading away!
Present Ian: You turned out fairly well! JUST SEND THAT LETTE——
Past Ian: Oh no, he’s…I mean, I’ve gone. I should write that letter. To…Hillary Clifton? Oh well, probably not that important…
And that, dear reader, is why this is all my fault. Apologies.
The Z80 assembler and Spectrum hacking is for a project that will likely come back to these pages much later in the year. Stay tuned!
It’s been a warm, warm weekend in Durham. 22˚C Saturday, 26˚C on Sunday. It’s February, and this is not right. However, it did allow me to spend a Saturday morning walking to the main Durham Library for their last book sale until 2019 or so.
(the lovely concrete building is going to have its exterior ripped apart and replaced with glass. We hates it! We hates it!)
Unfortunately, the sale started at 10:00am and I got there at 10:05am, by which time the professionals had already stripped the shelves somewhat bare. I did almost buy a Pelican book, but it was a historical one, and the historical Pelicans tend to have photographs of artefacts instead of the abstract art design that I love. So I left empty-handed, and perked myself up by eating bibimbap in the midday sun.
Then I got sticker-shock at being asked to pay $557 for a prescription. No, that’s not a mis-print, and yes, I did have a long monologue about the NHS running through my head, but I didn’t think that it was all that fair to subject the pharmacist to it (not her fault, after all - the insurance didn’t cover it). Instead, we agreed between us that I wouldn’t be giving her hundreds of dollars, and she could keep the medicine. Who knew that psoriasis would be so expensive?
As we hurtle to our doom on the back of an image messageboard that decided nihilism and (somewhat less than) ironic fascism was how we were going to greet the 21st century, it’s important to remember the good times.
To whit, I spent the past week in Fort Thomas, KY again! There was ramen, cheese, Henry VIII, another opportunity for me to scoff at American Exceptionalism when it comes to comedy, arepas, rather tall platforms with a fun graduated drop in front of them, a constitutional crisis, and the beginnings of a fun new neural network project (hopefully more on that at the end of the month). I even shared my precious ginger cake. Thanks to Tammy and Robert for letting me stay once again.
My next trip? Well, that’s at the end of this month, where I go to see Los Campesinos in Chicago, along with a visit to sample Next’s Roman menu. Fancy!
And now I turn back to Ralph Miliband and old BBC documentaries. Enjoy the Superbowl, everybody!
Really, I should have gone to the march in Raleigh. Or DC. But Friday was not a fun day, and all I wanted to do was stay indoors and make chocolates. Something to take my mind away from things.
Alongside that though, I spent the day watching seven continents protest. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of people across the country, and across the world. The largest protests in US history.
nasty women indeed
The creation of the week: Spiced Cherry Bitters ganache. Because bitters are a good way of adding flavours to cocktails…so why not use them in chocolate as well? Oddly, Google doesn’t seem to have many examples of people using bitters in this way. I was a touch worried about that, but I don’t think they’re horrible!
(recipe? er…make a dark chocolate ganache (60%) and add bitters to taste. I probably used about 5-6 dashes for about 400g of ganache, but I can’t swear to it)
Jan 15, 2017 · 1 minute read
rust counting things hyperloglog loglog-beta
In my latest attempt to get to grips with Rust, I’ve recently put together a simple implementation of the LogLog-Beta algorithm. LogLog-Beta is a fancy new algorithm (published in December 2015, fact fans!) that offers a more efficient way of estimating cardinalities as opposed to the more traditional HyperLogLog approach.
Anyway, here’s what I got so far. I wouldn’t use it anywhere near production right now, but fun to actually write something useful in Rust: