Apr 30, 2017 · 4 minute read
farce 40+ hours in the air surprise charlotte jfk hell
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.
Apr 23, 2017 · 2 minute read
nyc jfk so much jfk no really, always jfk
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.
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
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!
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!”
Apr 2, 2017 · 2 minute read
nyc my my metrocard british sitcoms I have known
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!
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…