Times Change

Some news that I would have spoken about last weekend if I hadn’t spent all of that time being rather quite ill. After five years at Lucidworks, I’ve decided to move on to a new position elsewhere. I can’t talk too much about that yet, as it’s a stealth-mode startup right now, but rest assured that is about all things Generative AI and I’m really looking forward to building and shipping a lot of crazy things in the next year.

But how do you celebrate a new job?

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Of course! By buying a Japanese manual dough sheeter that can create uniform sheets of dough down to a thickness of 1mm, that’s how! Just what you need when you’re planning out the 20+ desserts for Thanksgiving and Christmas…

The household is…maybe getting better? Poor Maeryn is celebrating being six months old with terrible congestion and an ear infection, but still somehow remains a rather happy baby. Long may that continue. Meanwhile the adults creak and groan, but we’re muddling through. And…part of my final conversion to Americana begun this week: the back garden deck is being built. So far, the poor builders have found enough clay to make hundreds of pots, a concrete floor that we believe may have been part of an inground pool system, and a still-yet-unexplained structure of bricks and wood buried within a hill. I feel like we need to get the team out and do some geophys analysis of the backgarden…

You Can't Buy It With Money

Having finished reading I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records this week, at least three things stick out:

  • The book is probably the best work that talks about the actual nuts and bolts of how Factory operated, from dealing with international licensees to flushing half of the confiscated drugs down the toilet at the Haçienda so the police didn’t get wind of the total scale of the drug traffic in the club
  • Although the early years of the club have become ingrained as ‘empty nights, a money sink, and then house & ecstasy came along and saved the place’, the book paints a slightly different picture. The club in its early incarnation was a hub of activity and did a lot to support the art movements of Manchester (and it’s something the city desperately needs again, but that’s another story), plus you can argue that its LGBTQIA nights were foundational for creating a scene outside of London
  • There’s a justified sense of anger that it took this long for people’s stories to be heard over the din of Tony Wilson. As Lindsay Reade rightfully points out, if Factory had been formed ten years later, she would have been a director on the level of Wilson or Erasmus, so why is she treated as a punchline in 24 Hour Party People and barely mentioned in most retellings of Factory?
  • Despite that, Wilson comes out of the book reasonably well, Peter Hook a lot less so depending on who is talking, and everybody seemed to get on with Bernard Sumner (and obviously, everybody loves Stephen and Gillian, but that’s not a surprise!)

Going to be an interesting week…but I’ll tell you more about that next weekend, I guess…

San Francisco: Slight Return

My relationship with San Francisco is a complicated one. As a tech person coming of age in the 90s, the Bay Area for me is indelibly linked to things like Sneakers, Hackers, jwz, and The Invisibles. Rollerblading post-Riot Grrrl girls in The Mission. VX gas out on Alcatraz. Perl code blazing past a terminal at 100 characters a second, inventing the future.

Ragged Robin

Then we found ourselves in that future. This was widely considered a mistake.

Of course, there’s an argument that the squalor that you’re greeted with in the city is more honest than in other cities. That instead of things being hidden, you’re confronted head-on with what capitalism does to people and your complicity in coming to the place for a tech conference whilst also working for a search company1 that has its central offices in San Francisco. You helped to build this. The central search engine core can be found everywhere from Uber to Palantir.

Obviously, as a terrible centrist-liberal2, I have thoughts. Given that the occupancy rate of the downtown office space is apparently around 20%, let’s start converting them into housing and offering people places there. Then there’s the old standby of just giving people money which, despite what people will tell you, is actually really fucking effective, or if people do want to remain in camps, let’s at least make them sanitary, providing showers, toilet facilities, and access to medical care. But oh, the cost, the cost! If a company can afford to build something like Salesforce Tower, then it can have a bunch of money extracted from it via tax purposes for the greater good. And come on, doing that to XCorp would just make everybody’s day.

So, yes, every time I ride into the centre of the city on BART, I have thoughts, let’s just put it that way.

(while we’re here, let’s also point out that taking BART from SFO airport is the best way to enter the city, and anybody who suggests otherwise has had their brains affected by leaded petrol poisoning. As the trains wind in and out of tunnels on the approach to the centre, you get to see the hills of San Francisco and all the houses leading off into the horizon, schools and gardens, actual people going about their lives just outside the window. As opposed to the gridlock you see on the interstate)

Still, though, the first night on this trip? It gave me most of my imagined SF. A perfect day, weather-wise; wisps of clouds in the sky, sun out, but you can still wear a light jacket. Market Street is quiet, but not dead, and then onto The Mission, which is full of life, genderfluid and all shapes and sizes, ages and colours. Unsettling driverless cars drive past the window of the bar you’re drinking in, and it feels like The Future That Was Promised.

Two days later, you’re sitting in a mall bathroom staying quiet while a security guard physically removes the occupant of the stall next to you for attempting to shoot up. And then you go back to the opulence of the tech conference that has so much money it drafts in LL Cool J for nightly entertainment.

As for the conference itself, eh. I picked up about two new things, but in general it just felt like an extended advert for a search company3. Which is I guess to be expected, but I know that things like WWDC can get really deep into the technical weeds (I watched videos of conference talks back in the day!), so I was disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of that here. But maybe that isn’t the main type of audience for Google Cloud Next.

Anyway, for me the conference was something of a means to an end; what I was really going for was the chance to see a bunch of co-workers that I haven’t seen in person since February 2020. And that was great! Plenty of drinking, talking, laughing at my total inability to draw a cup of coffee, and more besides. I’ve been working from home for over seven years now and do not miss the office one little bit, but meeting up a few times a year has been something I’ve missed a lot.

Of course, I had plane issues both going out there and coming back; it really does feel like air travel is in a terrible state at the moment, especially if you have a connecting flight. I was quite glad previously about the new direct CVG→LHR flight, but after my travels these part few months, I think it’s going to make next March so much less stressful…

UPDATE: Just to be clear though, I didn’t see anything in San Francisco that suggested the ‘doomloop’ that the worst people are saying about the city. I walked through downtown, the Mission, the Tenderloin at various times of day and night, feeling no less safe than on any previous visit to the area.

  1. No, not that one. ↩︎

  2. Of course, my definition of centrist-liberal includes my voting history of casting support for Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, so your mileage may vary. But compared to some of my friends, I’m basically middle of the road, honest. ↩︎

  3. Yes, that one. ↩︎

Record Breakers And Strike Breakers

Fun games you can play with Americans:

“How on earth is the Guinness Book of Records problematic?”

five minutes later, reading about the McWhirter twins

“Holy shit!”

Biggest discovery of the week is probably that if you just keep driving down Colerain Avenue, you eventually hit a winery, then the city dump, and then just open countryside? You’d have thought I would have discovered that a little earlier than after five years of living here, but I’ve never really had a reason to keep driving there before.

Busy week ahead! Maeryn’s first week of daycare, and then I’m off to San Francisco next week for the Google Cloud Next conference. Which means I should probably look at the schedule. And supposedly LL Cool J is playing at it? Which both feels weird and likely also appropriate for the age of people that will be turning up to this thing…

(if you’re in SF and would like to say hello, let me know! My dance card is filling up, but would like to see as many people as possible, given I haven’t been there since 2020!)

Quieter Daytime Incoming

After the end of paternity leave, it’s another milestone this upcoming week: the last week before Maeryn goes into daycare, Which will definitely make things different in the day to day; it’s coming up on five months of at least her and me always being here, so getting used to her not being around will be an adjustment. However, there is a cat in the house that will appreciate the more common appearance of an empty lap to jump on.

Otherwise, a bunch of things I can’t talk about yet, and other things that I probably shouldn’t talk about. Which makes for a boring blog entry, I guess. I do want to write something in the upcoming weeks about how to super-charge BERT…but given that I only have one more weekend here before heading out to San Francisco, that’s probably not going to happen for a while.

But! I did make chocolates today for the first time in ages, so nature is healing…

Back On The Chain Gang

Well, the last week of paternity leave ended up with me getting very sick (but seemingly not COVID), and then just as I was starting to get better, I appear to have passed it onto Maeryn, who is not exactly best pleased about being ill for the first time in her life. So we did not get a lot done this week either.

But being off was never really about getting things done, it was for spending time with my daughter and that was a great success! Admittedly, she’s probably a little happy that she’s not going to be falling asleep to Jonathan Meades in the upcoming afternoons, but that’s what the evenings are for! There’s no escape from the documentaries and archive television in this house. No escape.

We have a couple more weeks until Maeryn goes into daycare, which will be another change and one that I imagine will make the house feel very empty during the day…Helvetica might be happier with a little bit more quiet, but she even let Maeryn stroke her this week so maybe she’s warming up to the newest member of the house. Until Maeryn can start crawling, anyhow…

Adventures in Airports

Let us review just some of what happened with our travel last week:

  • The flight from Charlotte to New Orleans was supposed to take off at around 14:30. No plane turned up
  • Ground staff told us that there was a plane “in the hangar” and it would be coming out soon
  • A few hours later, that changed to “it’s in the queue to come from the hangar and we’re trying to find people that can bring the planes”
  • After a fistfight down at the gate desk, a plane did arrive sometime around 21:00 or so
  • We boarded, the heavens opened, and the crew timed out, meaning we all had to get off the plane
  • We were told that another crew was available and they were on their way
  • The flight was cancelled five minutes later
  • With no chance for another flight out that evening, we were rebooked for a flight the next morning
  • But due to the storm, there would be no returning of gate-checked luggage. Which included our buggy and car seat
  • So our choice was to sleep in the airport overnight with a baby or somehow get to the provided hotel
  • We don’t want to talk about the taxi ride to the airport ever again. but let’s just say that being in the back sear of a car driving at 90mph in aquaplaning conditions, holding a baby with no car seat is a harrowing experience
  • (the people at the hotel were lovely, taking care of us when we came staggering into reception in total shock)
  • The gate agent forgot to add Maeryn on the rebooked tickets, so we were pushed to one side on boarding and nearly denied the chance to get on the plane
  • New Orleans was really lovely!
  • The captain of our flight to Dallas (we’re never going anywhere near Charlotte again) cheerfully announced that the plane was broken but a crew was fixing it
  • The short flight was delayed over an hour
  • We arrived in Dallas ten minutes before our connecting flight left, but American refused to hold the flight for us
  • We were rebooked for a flight four hours later
  • That plane got hit by a bird just as we were boarding
  • Thankfully, Dallas did have another plane in the hangar and somehow even managed to get it to a gate, but delayed us another two hours or so, turning a leisurely late afternoon arrival into a nighttime one
  • A tornado thunderstorm ripped through the Cincinnati area, meaning that Tammy had to drive us home through rain coming down sideways

But…we made it back. And I’m not leaving the area again for at least a month (though the back half of the year is likely to have more travel than I anticipated…)

Last week of paternity leave coming up! The to-do list is laughably almost still as long as it was at the start, but I’ve mostly made my peace with that. If I can play about with a new version of FAISS this week and get my Irish citizenship application underway, I’ll be pretty happy…

A Week In Which A Decision Is Made

Ask me whether I made the right one in a couple of years. Or three months.

We’re now at the half-way point of paternity leave. And much of my list isn’t going to get done, though there are reasons for dropping a bunch of it that aren’t “just couldn’t be bothered”. Still, only three weeks left, and a large chunk of that is going to be “surprisingly in New Orleans” in seven days’ time.

Otherwise, not a lot going on this week, though the advent of another issue of so good magazine has got me thinking in a confectionary mood again for the first time in a couple of months…

Week Two

Well, that was a week, right?

This week, I have been mostly crashing up against the shores of the impossibly long list of things I want to get done, the leaking of the SDXL weights, and a bunch of other things. Part of which was watching Jonathan Meades documentaries and then staring at this video and wondering “Los Campesinos! could just never catch a break like that, could they?”

Next week: more things. Hopefully including that long-promised park visit…

Notes For The Next Stop is Lewknor Turn

The Next Stop is Lewknor Turn is actually the second comic I’ve released into the world. The first, made in 2002, and gladly lost to the the dark corners of the Internet, was given this stellar review by an eventual comics giant:

For god’s sake, Ian, just ask her out.

— Kieron Gillen

I came very close to putting that on the back cover as praise for earlier work1.

Drive Time

The idea for Drive Time came from a Bleeding Cool ‘article’ a while back with a Twitter round-up of people complaining that a comic had too many repeating panels within its pages and thus didn’t represent good value for money. After I had finished rolling my eyes, I thought it would be funny to write a comic where every panel is exactly the same. After reading a bunch of M. John Harrison short stories, it morphed into ‘what if you were listening to Dave Pearce’s drivetime show at the end of the world?’ The horror, the horror.

Page 1: Anyway, the fixed view point inside a car, a classic Eddie Stobart lorry, and everything is fine. The mundane as an entryway to the haunted.

Page 2: Honestly, part of me would have loved to spin this descent out to a full 22 pages, but I also didn’t want Nicolás to go crazy drawing the same thing over and over and over — I did have other stories for him to draw, after all! I was also concerned about things getting a bit boring…although that’s part of the point of the early panels. Which is why there’s a bunch going on in every panel - there’s the view out of the car window, the radio, the car dashboard, the conversation our ‘main’ character is having.

Page 3: You can’t beat a bit of vague 70s family acting odd by the roadside. I hope you all noticed that they continue fighting in the rear-view mirror.

The time discrepancy on panel 4 was intentional, but I think I made a mistake; it’s supposed to add an extra layer of oddness onto the page, but although it is somewhat called back to at the end with the reveal (and that time must have been acting oddly anyhow), it doesn’t quite work for me on a re-read.

Page 4-5: And now things go off the rails. Weird sigils everywhere, ‘Containment’ signs, cars on fire, communications lines failing, and ‘let’s go outside, which seems to be a terrible idea, judging from everybody we’ve seen out in the open so far…

Page 7-8: The big twist! She’s been in the car all along! Were you shocked, dear reader? Things fall apart some more, everything starts to turn into flesh (one of my guiding lights for this story was also Chloe Maveal’s demand a while back to see more ‘wet’ horror in comics. I did my best!), and it all ends badly, with no real explanation. Sorry.

…but not too sorry. One of the things that initially drove me nuts during the pandemic when I was working my way through Harrison’s work is that I’d often feel that I’d reach the end of a story without ‘getting it’. As if I re-read it enough times, things would slot into place. Or I was just too dim to see the obvious resolution that wasn’t quite spelled out for me. Then I actually read some of Harrison’s critical work, discovering that he hates puzzle-box stories and his stories are meant to be like that…which made me feel less stupid, and also partly vindicated on my boredom with puzzle-box stories in general. So, no answers, I’m afraid…

The Next Stop is Lewknor Turn

The reason that this whole comic exists in the first place is a tweet I saw one Sunday from Rhian E. Jones, talking about the weirdness of Lewknor Turn on the bus trip from Oxford to London. A weird, out-of-the-way stop that always looks haunted when you stop by it at 2am, in my case always coming back from London from a concert. Having read the tweet in the morning, I spent the afternoon sketching out this story, and that led to coming up with the other three stories to come up with a collection.

My intent was to try and invoke some of the creepy, haunted 1970s TV folk horror; grimy videotaped insides and faded 16mm film exteriors mixed with my own memories of going on that bus journey to London. And yet somehow plonk it in recent times instead (I didn’t give much thought to the actual time period other than ‘now-ish’, but the last page actually matches up to the train strikes of 2022, putting the bulk of the story in 2018/2019).

And yes, the trade dress of the comic is meant to resemble the Oxford Tube livery. I spent real money to use the right font and everything…

Page 1: Ah, all the comedy train classics — leaves on the line and the horror of the wraparound toilets on the Virgin trains. It’s like Mock The Week in here or something…

Page 2: The High! Nicolás did a great job capturing both Oxford and the classic Oxford Tube bus, I think.

Page 3: In an odd twist, I actually found myself having to do this journey in 2022, as rail strikes meant I couldn’t go to London by train. And I will say that Sam was right, especially when there’s frost everywhere.

Page 5: So much text — Marin did such a good job fitting all this on this page, but I should probably have extended this sequence by another page to space it all out a little.

Page 6: I love the Niamh’s foot extending into the third panel. Again, this would probably have been better over two pages in a way to build up the tension. Instead it’s a little rushed. But look at Marin’s sound-effects and the great use of different fonts — and Nicolás’s glitching techniques! So good!

Page 8: Spoooook! Niamh & Alan! The look of recognition at the end! A fairly traditional ending that presents no answers (see the previous story), but I think it works.


This story wasn’t supposed to be here. At least not in this form. For a year, I’d been toying with a story about an artist that lived in my most hated building in New York, haunted by their early works of art. But I just couldn’t make it work, so I put it to one side and worked on a different story, which got to the point of being fully-scripted before I realised that it also didn’t really work in its current form of “1970s Public Information Film crossed with a Los Campesinos! song and somehow Quantum Leap as well”. But I still needed one more story for this book…so I went back to the New York idea and struggled. By chance, I came across a reference to a housing estate in the North being built on top of an old mine…and things clicked into place. I wrote this script in a weekend and got it out to Nicolás to draw very soon after, which was probably a little bit of a mistake - as I read it through again, it definitely could have used one more draft. But at least one panel turned out almost exactly how I pictured it in my head, and well, it’s never a wasted opportunity to beat up on Tories.

Page 1: I’m fairly sure part of the mood board I sent Nicolás was full of Tory horrors like Grant Shapps and co. ‘Dad’ would have been in his 20s during the 84-85 strike.

Page 2: Panel 1 gives me big Yeowell’s Peter St. John from Zenith energy.

Page 8: During the pandemic, I found myself rediscovering John Smith and reading pretty much every comic he wrote. Excavation, in both its New York and here in the Northern form was an excuse to get to this page. And I couldn’t have asked for a better letterer to handle this; Marin does such a wonderful job here with the caption boxes and even the text itself becoming warped by the spectre of the old mine. Even though I feel the story needed another pass - this panel is one of my favourites in the collection.

Page 9: The North Will Rise Again, and the NUM gets a long-awaited revenge.

Mystery Ad Page

When I was writing the stories, I set hard limits on page count; which probably hurt things a little, but I wanted that restriction so I didn’t just go off and just write; there was always that tightness that had to be worked around (and it helped for budgeting purposes too). This was great, but when it came to actually laying the collection out, I realized I was a bunch of pages short. Drive Time was fairly easy to sort out, as the conclusion of that story leant itself to just having a blank page following. The end of Space To-Let gave me a chance to mess around with a hellish Foxtons-like vision of selling body space in the future, but I still had one page that needed…something. Hence this page, which is an advertisement for a potential sequel book, but with the text sent through a CLIP tokenizer. Decode it back for secret information!

Space To-Let

Finally, of all the stories in this collection, this is my favourite. It’s an idea that feels at home in a 2000AD Future Shock, there’s a double twist, and I think it’s Nicolás’ best work on all four stories. Plus, working digitally, it was very easy to incorporate the purple/cyan effect without blowing up the budget for printing. Who doesn’t love a “do you see? Housing in London is very expensive!?!!? allegory”?

Page 1: Like I said, Nicolás does so well in this story, and the different colouring of the panel columns was just the effect I was going for. Plus, misdirection from the first sentence!

Page 2 & 3: Right from the start of this project, I knew I wasn’t going to produce printed copies; the expense versus the demand just was not worth it. Even so, every story was written with the idea that it could be. This is probably most obvious here; this is totally a two-page spread that does work when reading digitally, but missing a little of the effect when you don’t see the bottom panels of the two pages side-by-side.

(incidentally, I wrote this while the Queen was still alive; I feel like I should have done a little more to indicate that this is 204x above and beyond the drones and robots circling about. And I’m already smuggling model weights about, so that background detail has come to pass even sooner than I suspected…)

Page 4 & 5: Conference and an info-dump, the latter of which just about barely sets up the twist on the last page.

Page 6: Part of me wanted to keep the purple / cyan thing up all through the story, but it’s mainly Helen’s story, not Mark’s, so he only gets one more cyan panel here.

Page 7: Oh noes! Evicted from your own body! The satires! Plus a horrific scenario of the rich moving into their own children in the captions.

Page 8: This last page is one of those “working in comics” affairs where everybody came together to make the page so much better. Nicolás does a terrific job with the art, but the first attempt at this page had far too much text on it. Marin was very polite about trying to get it all in, but listening to her advice, I struck out two or three caption boxes from the script entirely and moved the remaining ones about the panels, which I think makes the final twist of ‘this isn’t Helen’s body’ work better.

And that’s your lot! Will there be another comic this year? Probably not. But you might see a few experiments towards the end of 2023…

  1. I actually did ask her out and it went as badly as you could expect. And then two months later, I moved 4,000 miles to the US, which you might say was a touch extreme, but I disagree… ↩︎