Cincinnati Again!

Back in Cincinnati again for the week. And having come here quite a few times in the past year, some things are leaping out at me:

  • I can now reliably spell it, which means auto-correct on my iPhone is having a happier time.
  • It’s a fun little city - bigger than Durham, obviously, but not insanely huge like, say, Chicago or New York.
  • I still haven’t gone on the fancy new trams.
  • You can go outside for more than five minutes and not drown in sweat!
  • OH/KY Mexican restaurants have a surprisingly good showing in tortillas.
  • Jungle Jim’s provides a comprehensive selection of real Cadbury products and even…imports from Tesco.
  • Apparently in Newport, they have the largest bourbon selection in…anywhere?

Anyway, back home to Durham on Saturday…and then…I attempt to build a computer again. Oh dear.

Question 12 - What is the Rule of Law?

Quiet week, really, eh? Nothing out of note happened. Nothing at all. Not a single thing that makes you somewhat hesitant about the months ahead. Nope, everything is fine.

In a completely unrelated note, I got my interview date for my US citizenship application this week! Which means a few weeks of revising the questions that they’ll ask. You can laugh at them making sure you know that Ben Franklin was the first Postmaster-General, but then you remember that the UK test literally can ask you a question were the answer is ‘Morecambe and Wise’ and you’re rather grateful that the US test restricts itself to things that are fairly sane.

At the moment.

Anyway, aside from that, not too much going on this week; I’ll probably announce the little PyTorch thing I’ve been working on tomorrow, and I’m slowly accumulating parts for my first scratch-built PC since 2007 (or so) like a little packrat, if a packrat had access to Amazon Prime and was going to get a graphics card with an incredible 11Gb of memory and so many fans that it could probably be used to power a small wind tunnel.

And my family is visiting soon! Should probably clean the house up a touch. They probably don’t want neural network papers all over the place…

Tied To The 90s

Indulging in nostalgia again. Yes, yes, you with the smart mouth at the back, that is what this blog has mostly devolved into. But! This time, not the nostalgia of a forgotten Britain that I never knew, but the 90s!

(I have probably done this before. BUT!)

If you are ever looking for a decoder ring to my psyche, then you should look at Kenickie, The Invisibles, TMWRNJ1, and a random copy of Amiga Power. Which, just to be more iconoclastic, I never actually read, not having an Amiga (obv.). BUT THAT ISN’T THE POINT.

The point is that I re-read The Invisibles last weekend whilst still high on jetlag tiredness and got into all sorts of bizarre thoughts about where we are now and where we were then. Key 23, the Memes of the Technocult, and of course, the greatest self-critique ever seen in comic form:

MY TITS SPELL ANARCHY

By the end of the night (around 1am), I was writing down crazy things about altering vectors of neural networks and pulling out new words from the word2vec models that they create. Spilling new realities from the chaos of higher-dimensional mathematics.

Yes, for about two days after every re-read of The Invisibles, I talk like that all the time and start thinking about dressing up in some combination of King Mob and Paul Morley, plastering slogans from obscure British films and Italian Futurist manifestos across the house. It…normally subsides. I am totally going to be trying that neural network Key 23 translation, mind you.

Of course, this week was also a special week in 90s nostalgia, at least for us people of a British persuasion. For this was the week twenty years ago where we stared at a TV screen as polls closed, as Dimbleby, Snow, and Paxman ruthlessly tore apart Tory MPs in interviews, and Things Were Going To Be Better. As The Election Night Armistice put it, 18 Years of Tory Arse had finally come to a close. It was the dawn of a new future.

you may pause here for a bitter laugh at yourself at eighteen years old while showing him a video feed of Neil Hamilton in the Welsh Assembly

Meanwhile, back in the present day, Britain has gone insane, America is…I don’t have the words, and we’re all praying that somehow France doesn’t elect a fascist tomorrow. Meanwhile, memes swarm around the Internet from a messageboard that heralds a new white supremacist order on the back of hentai and lols.

I’m Ragged Robin. I’m nuts.

So sometimes you just want to step aside and remember when the future didn’t seem quite so terrifying. Enter The Net, a BBC series about…The Net, the first series of which has recently been uploaded to…The Net (stop that — Ed.). And it’s amazing in its own way. The games reviews made me fall for Jules all over again with their delightful anti-gamer viewpoint, the hilarious critique of EDS filmed as a The Prisoner spoof, and of course, the prescient “OMG, Nazis can use the Internet too!” section.

I did have to laugh at the ten-minute Apple Advanced Technology Group segment whereupon the ATG essentially invents the iPhone and Siri, with none of them realizing that Steve Jobs would turn up in three years’ time and kill them all2. One of them picks up a Newton and says ‘wouldn’t it be nice if it could just give you directions while driving?’ YES, IT MIGHT. But you came too soon for our world, ATG, too soon.

Then! Just as the nostalgia was starting to peak (look, this is a week where I have to recognize that my psoriasis may go beyond being an annoyance and may actually deny me healthcare in the future due to our dark future that we created because a woman had the temerity to be competent and store her emails on a separate server, so I feel like I can be cut a little slack for wanting to retreat into a happier time), Radiohead dropped a bombshell. The 20th Anniversary of The Album That’s Not Quite As Good As Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space But Still Pretty Good. WITH LIFT ON IT. LIFT. The 20-year-old MP33 recording from Pinkpop can finally be retired this June! REJOICE! REJOICE!

Thus the week of 90s nostalgia came to a close, and the local election results confirmed that: Yes, this is really happening.

#nofuture

Happy weekend, everybody!


  1. The sigil-like properties of TMWRNJ next to The Invisibles is not a coincidence. But less messy. [return]
  2. It’s possible that he just fired them. BUT THIS IS STEVE JOBS. I wouldn’t have put it past him. [return]
  3. Yes, even typing that out made me wince. I have MP3s that will soon be able to drink in the US. But! At least the patents have expired. We are all so old. [return]

Singapore, There And Back Again

Last week’s entry was obviously written in a terrible mood, facing hours trapped in JFK and then even more hours in the air to get to Singapore where I’d spend 40 or so hours before going all the way back. But I’m home now and almost over the jetlag. Almost.

On the way

Aside from spending oh-so-many hours in JFK, the rest of the journey to Singapore passed without too much incident. Thirteen hours on a 777 to get to Doha, happily advertising itself as the most advanced airport in the world, and then getting us off the plane on a staircase that bounced disturbingly with every step, resonating when more than two people were walking down it, into 35ºC heat. Not entirely sure that was the best introduction. Once inside…well, it’s an airport. With multiple WH Smiths!

Oh the cameras. On take off and landing on the new A350, the overhead displays show either the underside of the plane (taking off) or the view from the tail (landing). It’d be fine if it was limited to an option on the fancy back seat display (and indeed, if you’re insane you can do that), but there’s a certain Alex-from-Clockwork Orange aspect to having the view forced on you like that and oh god I can see the canopy of the forests as we come into land why did I look up why

(even better, though, is that the video feed stutters. Which is fine if you’re watching a YouTube video, but when you’re seeing yourself come into land and everything suddenly _stops_…)

Finally, then, it was Tuesday. Singapore. A collection of spectacular, but soulless skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Even Marina Bay Sands, with its insane infinity pool setup, just looks like three bland towers with an ironing board half-heartedly stuck on top.

“Wait, but aren’t you the guy who loves brutalism?

Well, Mr. Anonymous Italics, at least brutalism tries.

Anyway, if you are ever in Singapore, and you fancy staying a hotel redolent of John Le Carré circa The Honourable Schoolboy, Well, the Hotel Miramar is for you. Faded 70s glory with just that essential hint of colonialism. Plus all rooms come with a kettle and proper BS1363 plug sockets everywhere. 230V like a civilized nation.

I can’t really say much about my trip, except there were meetings and I was in a café that unexpectedly played this and I still can’t get it out of my head a week later:

(also, did Texas pay money to the Gaye estate for Say What You Want? It’s a blatant lift)

The way back

On the way back, I was at a bit more of a loose end. After coming across an unexpected bounty of Transformers in Changi Airport, I faced 20 hours without most of my gadgets. For this part of the trip fell foul of the Trump Administration’s new guidelines that flights from Doha to the US are not allowed to have tablets or laptops in the cabin. So so long.

I had this great, no, amazing idea to spend the entire second flight watching the Star Wars series from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens. This idea did not survive the first film. Oh God. I had forgotten just how bad it is. And I’m not just talking about Jake Lloyd or Jar Jar Binks…it’s that there’s a kernel of a decent story here (Palpatine creating a fake war in order to rise to ascendency in the Republic, turning every defeat into a Just As Planned victory), but it fails at every level of execution. Which is impressive.

In the end, I just watched Passengers over people’s shoulders for most of the way back…and slept! People who know me will be astounded at that; I never sleep on planes. It probably helped that I had been exhausted since Sunday morning.

We have to talk about JFK.

I started on my way home at 2pm EDT Wednesday. I got to JFK at 3pm EDT Thursday. And my troubles began again. My flight home was cancelled due to…air traffic. And the flight after that. And apparently the flight the next morning too. The ticket agent and I quickly agreed that getting out of JFK was probably a good idea, and so seven hours after landing in JFK, I flew to Charlotte. Whereupon everybody disembarked and gave the agents there hell because they didn’t have authority to issue hotel vouchers. Which wasn’t their fault, but everybody had been told otherwise.

This included me, but I suspected that the ticket agent in NY was just telling me that so it would be Somebody Else’s Problem, so I wasn’t surprised or too upset; I just found a nearby hotel and slept.

I eventually arrived home just before noon on Friday.

So, so tired. But I’ve been to Singapore now! I also don’t want to be inside a plane for a month or so.

Guest-Starring Myself As Tom Hanks In The Terminal

Remember how I was all astonished about my short New York trip? About how it seemed to be the zenith of slightly-odd work situations, flying all that way for one meeting?

Let me tell you about Singapore.

Which I would do, if, as expected, I was currently flying over the Atlantic Ocean heading to Singapore via Doha. Unfortunately, it turns out that an hour window to get to Terminal 7 from Terminal 8 is not enough when AirTrain has broken down and the replacement bus service takes its time between stations. I rushed along to the check-in desk to be greeted helpfully, but sadly by the clerk who laid out my options.

So instead of being in Singapore for two days, I’ll be there for one and a half. And I might sleep again on Thursday.

Just to make everything a touch worse, I have to check back in and go through security at JFK Terminal 8. Except the desk doesn’t open until 6pm. I will be spending seven hours outside security, and three hours actually at the gate.

Let’s just say that it has not been my favourite day in recent memory.

In other news, I started a port of the MobileNet architecture to Keras 2 this week. It’s very quick and dirty at the moment, but I should have slim and ⍺, if not ⍴ support sometime this week. Likely at the very end of this week when I’m not drowning in jetlag.

Seeing them in my dark cupboard with my great big cake

A post shared by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

That’s:

  • funfetti cake with Italian meringue icing, flocked in green cocoa butter
  • dark chocolate cake with whipped ganache, covered in chocolate ‘dirt’
  • brown butter ganache chocolates
  • paving slabs filled with chocolate and cream, flocked with dark chocolate
  • matcha shortbread
  • brown butter ganache macaron
  • ‘pillow’ filled with white chocolate & kirsch mousse, dark chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, and flocked with dark chocolate.

I am no longer allowed to make cake decisions.

It all tasted pretty good, mind you…and great to have Luke, Christa, Tammy, and Christie over to help eating it (and taking away a sizable portion of the leftovers!).

Anyway, it was MY BIRTHDAY! There were presents, birthday lunches with soup dumplings, and a bizarre programme of British television highlights including Doctor Who, The Royle Family, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, and Hi-De-Hi. And my, is Hi-De-Hi bad. Very bad.

It’s been a good few days, but tonight I am going to bed without having to think about cake for several weeks. Hurrah!

Listen Very Carefully, I Shall Say This Only Once

“So, how are things going?”

In my five minute response to this simple question, which layered about three different plot twists, I realized that I was essentially doing René’s opening monologue from ‘Allo ‘Allo. At least without the bad French accent (at least I think, anyhow).

As I write, I am in the middle of baking. Which is to say, I’m in the middle of shouting at various pieces of kitchen equipment, lambasting myself for being a complete and total failure at everything, and filling up the rubbish bin with mousses, buttercreams, and anything else that does not achieve my standards (which are at least 50% above anything considered reasonable). It’s fun, honest! Look, at least the Kitchen Aid is heavy enough that I can’t easily just throw it out of the window shouting “AND STAY OUT!”

And breathe.

NEXT WEEK: MY BIRTHDAY! AND WHO! And…more baking.

Well, I Guess I'll Go To The Airport

Surprise New York trip! This week, I found myself writing sentences similar to “the client would like me to fly up to meet in NYC for some meetings” and laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all. Ten years ago, if you told me things like that would be happening, I’d just walk away from the crazy person. But here we are.

One brief jaunt to New York later and I find myself doing two things over the weekend: planning my birthday cake (it only requires one piece of industrial hardware! That’s all!) and watching first episodes of ‘classic’ terrible UK sitcoms that have made their way onto the Internet, namely ‘Allo, ‘Allo and Hi-De-Hi

Reader, I confess that I laughed more than once. I mean, yes, they’re terrible, but I have reached the point where it’s so long since I’ve seen either of these that the memory of the jokes are what’s being brought back. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

(Actually there were a few moments of…dare I say it…complexity in Hi-De-Hi, which I wasn’t expecting. They were quick and rare, but they were present!)

Look, I have run out of Bake-Off episodes and Who isn’t on until the 15th. All I’m saying is that you should be grateful that I have plans to make a cake that will likely take over a week to make, otherwise next week’s blog entry would be all about Mulberry. And only about ten people even remember that existed.

Oh. I have remembered You Rang, M’Lord. Well, there’s still time before I have to start the cake!

Make Mine A 99

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.

Make Mine a 99.

Then And Now

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…