Inbetween Days

November is running out and there’s still so much more to do. It’s actually been quite cold for some of this week, colder than the UK, even, but tonight and tomorrow, it’s going to be 21˚C. Crazy scenes.

I’m trying to get some things organized before the year runs out. While I didn’t have time to complete my Hoefler & Frere-Jones-inspired, fully-responsive and buzzword compliant version of Fallout Durham, I can say that we’re likely to be ready to take orders in the next couple of days - just a few last tweaks and tests left. Secondly, I’ve started work on my second book, Scaling Node.js, of which the beta ebook should be out in mid-December. For all your Node.js scaling needs! If you have some, that is…

Meanwhile, the most important thing this week:

We have a Christmas tradition that makes my mother frown every year. Since I was about 18 or so, my sister and I have hijacked the top of the Christmas tree. It used to be an angel, but over the years, our tree has been topped by protesting Domos, Dory from Finding Nemo, a Heffalump in a bridal outfit, and much more besides. We’ve been racking our brains for what to do this year when the answer came to me last night. This year, of all years, it could only be this:

The Fez!

One more week, and it’s Thanksgiving. Two years since I was living it up in Santa Monica…

Indefinite Leave To Remain

There’s no better way of celebrating of receiving confirmation that immigration restrictions have been lifted than sitting down and spending most of the weekend reading David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet is there? I was feeling homesick, so I read over a thousand pages of despair, misery, and murder. Last time, it was Watching, which at least was supposed to be a comedy.

Anyway, yes, I have a new green card, all conditions removed, and it makes things more permanent. Of course, buying a house whilst under the possibility of facing deportation was probably not a great idea, but it seemed likely that I’d be allowed to stay. Hurrah for that, then.

And to welcome me into the ranks of America, we then had our mower stolen. As well as other things which cast something of a pall over the week, but oh well.

Despite all that, looking forward to being back home at Christmas. If Bonnie doesn’t kill me for being too FESTIVE. But you can never be too festive!

79 Piedmont

Durham Station is a game of two halves. There’s the waiting area, a fancy newly-built hall hollowed out from one of the city’s copious old tobacco warehouses (the tobacco may be long gone, but the infrastructure left behind has been a great boon to the city centre in many respects), and then there’s the platform, a single track with little shelter in a downpour, no signage of any kind, and all in all, it makes Haddenham and Thame Parkway look like Euston Station. At least Thame can spring for a on-track noticeboard as opposed to train delays being communicated by whisper and rumour.

So, yes, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to take the train to Charlotte for my trip this weekend. I looked at the Megabus but thought that a Friday night would see me get caught in traffic, and flying would just have been silly (though I ended up doing it quite a bit when I was flying out to LA a couple of years back). And besides, I hadn’t taken the train south before. What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours later than planned, and somewhat wet, we finally boarded the train. As much as I give Amtrak a hard time and needle Americans about the state of their railways (come on, I’m British - we have to hear everybody in Europe laugh at our rail network - when the shoe is on the other foot, it’s only fair), their rolling stock is pretty impressive - a hulking (if sometimes short) arrangement of bright shiny silver steel, almost comically oversized.

(and somewhat roomy. The train I’m on right now seems to be missing a row of seats in every aisle. Seriously, you could double the occupancy of a carriage and still have more legroom than you would on an average coach plane seat)

Unfortunately, arriving two hours late in Charlotte meant that I didn’t have time for any of the planned activities that night. And my meeting on Saturday morning got cancelled too, so there was nothing else for it. It was time to up sticks and go to South Carolina.

It turns out that Columbia, SC is only an hour away from Charlotte, and that’s where Tammy moved back to after she finished her course at Duke earlier in the year. So she came up to give me a lift and I ended up spending most of the weekend in a completely different state, being given a guided tour of her and Robert’s house that ended when dramatic cats became more interesting, a dinner party full of Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, but a horrifying lack of HP sauce, several hypnosis attempts, oh, and most importantly, my first ever hands-on experience with an iPad Air.

(kidding! It was a fun weekend, and we somehow managed to make enough food and in time for everybody turning up, along with also making two different types of hot chocolate. It’s almost like it was planned. It’s also great to meet people who have an even worse book problem than I do. It’s useful having a list of names you can give out to make yourself look better after Christmas when you’re hauling about ten hardbacks across the Atlantic. Er, yes.)

Meanwhile, it’s still daylight on my return trip back to Durham, and I can at last see he scenery. Lots of road, mainly, though some some nice views of old, seemingly abandoned farmhouses by lakes. Look closer though, and you can see cars parked outside. Must get cold in the Winter.

Old warehouses with spur railway lines that run parallel and merge with the main track, but overgrown and sunk into the ground. How they used to live.

Running through the subdivisions old and new, the trains coming in to see the rear of cities, the parts they hide from the cars and the roads. New developments, established suburbia, Main Street with a queue for people waiting to get lunch on a warm Autumn day. The train moves on, into industry, junkyards, concrete mixers, old tobacco factories with their huge chimneys, now transformed into offices that work on clouds. Next stop, Durham Station…

Open Things

I’d like to start by directing you to the left hand side of the blog (providing you’ve come in on the front page, I guess). Yes, it’s a list of my books that you can purchase from all good retailers. Currently, it’s just Instant Zepto.js, but who knows what the upcoming months will bring (well, I suppose I do, so don’t get too excited, but something might join it there eventually)?

My first conference as a proper tech person this week - All Things Open, a celebration of all things Open Source. The most surprising part of the conference? That the most interesting talk was given by a Microsoft employee. Who’s also the current President of the Apache Software Foundation. That he was British was also a surprise, but not quite as the presentation itself, which was a thirty minute talk that left you feeling that they’re trying hard to be friendly with the Open Source movement. In any event, it was better than the rah-rah-we’re-awesome keynote provided by Google. Anyway, it was a good day out, and I even managed to find another beer that I can drink. The common property of these beers seems to be including a lot of fruit (so far, strawberry, raspberry, and apple seem to work).

I’ve also been testing out a new chocolate mold, a prototype I’ve had laser-cut from Ponoko. I want to offer a ‘flight’ of chocolates for ordering this Christmas (because nothing signifies a hipster chocolatier more than calling a sampler a ‘flight’, does it?), and for that I want a way of making lots of bars quickly. So the mold is little more than a block of acrylic with rectangular holes punched up of it, but it works pretty well.

caramelized hazelnut bark

Never serve Neko Case Tabasco sauce. Ever. Consider this a pubic service announcement.

And yes, somehow I ordered twenty-four packs of ramen today. I’m planning on hibernating this winter, obviously.

Cruise Control

Cruise control is really nice. That’s what I’ve learnt over the past weekend of being behind the wheel again. Also, despite saying that not being able to drive in Britain means I’m coming in as a somewhat blank slate, I still managed to drive on the wrong side of the road at some point. Oops.

(thankfully, it was at least a quiet road)

As for the weekend’s main activity, well, it was mostly baking, borne out of Tammy asking the question: “Where do you get good pie in Durham?” and then deciding to make it ourselves. Below we have a modified chocolate chess pie, a mincemeat tart with homemade mincemeat (somewhat hampered by Americans not having the right ingredients available, but oh well), and an attempt at a Heston Blumenthal lemon tart. All turned out pretty well, especially the mincemeat and chess pies, which I made using a Pierre Hermé pâte sucrée recipe. The lemon filling of the Heston tart (complete with blowtorched sugar!) is wonderful, but the pastry doesn’t quite work. Next time I’ll just make it with the Hermé dough.

Pies!

Interesting things going on at work, but the magic armour of NDA is applied to all of them. Though I think I’ll be explaining closures in JavaScript in the weeks to come…

Oh, X-COM

About an hour ago, I deleted X-COM: Enemy Unknown from my iPad. I like to think of this as a preventive measure; since downloading it on Friday evening (it was half-off, and I thought I’d chance it on my aging iPad 3), I have spent almost every waking moment playing it, throwing everything else I had planned to the wall. So it’s now gone until I am about to step on the plane home for Christmas.

(any suggestion that the deletion had anything to do with the mission where my squad met a Sectopod for the first time and got wiped out in two turns is a rumour that has no basis in fact. And I will beseech you not to slur my name in such fashion. And besides, I managed to get the memory of the iPad to fail and thus replay enough to rescue two of my squad. So there)

Next week: iBeacons, the House of Pi gets an upgrade, and a visit from a great friend!

But first, Avocado, Baby.

Missing - One Year

And all of a sudden, it’s October. I remember July like it was yesterday, and feel like the summer just breezed by without really saying hello or coming around for tea. Having said that, the leaves may be falling, but it was still 32C here yesterday. It’s not right.

(I’m also a little worried about how I’ll adjust to the temperature when I go home for Christmas. Having spent two years here now, will I freeze to death? Run cowering at the sight of snow? Or just wear a nice big thick wooly jumper and eat five hundred mince pies? I’m hoping for the latter, myself. Oh goodness, it’s only a couple of months until I’m back in the presence of radiators. How I have missed your adjustable slabs of white hot metal and your hiss late in the evening when the heating bursts into life!)

But anyway, October. Plans need to be formed about Christmas chocolates, contractors need to be found (and to consider small claims court for our June mistake on that front), ideas for the next year here in Durham - the house, friends returning from trips away, family coming next April, and how different the city will look next October as the regeneration tide gets higher. But not all the boats are lifted.

After much, much procrastination, I have a learner’s permit again, so I can drive if I have a responsible adult in the car alongside. That’s something that needs to be sorted out too - I’ve lived in the US for two years and haven’t had a car. I survived! (Thanks to friends with cars, mind you) But now, I think it’s time to give in.

I’m being bitten by bugs as I sit out and watch the leaves fall, a mixture of Summer leaving and Autumn coming. Which means hot chocolate soon, everybody!

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Missing The Stairs

I miss the stairs. Having lived for over thirty years in houses with stairs, one of the big adjustments in the new house (I say new but you know what I mean) is that everything is on one level. On the one hand, it’ll be great for Bonnie*, but I miss the space and separation that two levels provides. This is probably not helped by watching Grand Designs and seeing people render three-level brutalist pieces. I will try to limit myself to thinking about remodelling the bathroom in the upcoming year. EVERYBODY WANTS A NEW AESTHETIC BATHROOM.

*(okay, Bonnie has decided that she actually wants a Huf Haus, and may leave me room to live in this house after she’s taken up the back garden. Maybe)

It’s been a quiet week, and a quick one. My main achievement this week was lopping a webapp’s JavaScript code in half using the old faithful Mustache.js. Oh, and one other thing, but that’s for a separate blog post, I think. However, their has been some further news on the Kokyu/Motorco split. While I was writing it up last week, Flip, the owner of the truck, posted over at Carpe Durham, and it sounds like it wasn’t a happy break:

I don’t want to go into too much detail, as I have been playing phone tag with peeps at Carpe Durham to provide more info. I would like to say that the two announcements are related only in the fact that we were asked by Motorco to vacate the premises by Oct. 15.

This was followed up with a slightly more amicable interview in today’s News Observer, which spends some time reminding us that Motorco hasn’t played friendly with others in the area in the past, either (the blocking off of its car park in order to prevent people parking for Fullsteam, for example). It’s odd when Greg Hatem comes off as being the more reasonable person in a story…

Deadlines

It seems to have been a week of deadlines. From making cakes, writing a story, coding apps, making sure my galley proofs for my book were fine before it gets sent to the printers, phoning Durham up to convince them that a bill they sent to the house is no longer our responsibility, and the dreaded macarons, there’s been time-limits all over the place. I’m looking forward to a more laid-back week to come. Though having said that, it’s rewarding to get everything done (and while I curse their existence while making them, the macarons are popular! Also, it was a birthday request for a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while, so how could I say no?)

And, a by-product of the weekend’s baking: salted caramel ganache. You will see it again, trust me.

Things are a-foot in Durham as well. The DIY area of the city, centred on Rigsbee Avenue, has been the place for food trucks to hang up their berth for the past few years. We knew that things were going to be changing with the opening of The Pit next to Fullsteam sometime this Autumn, but this week, the other shoe dropped: Motorco is going to be serving food shortly, too. Given that Kokyu seems to be anchored to Motorco almost every evening of the week, we were wondering what was going to happen to them. Then, the other other shoe dropped (yes, three legs!): Kokyu is about to launch a Kickstarter to set up a restaurant and commissary kitchen somewhere in Downtown Durham.

While a restaurant doesn’t seem too crazy, another commissary kitchen that close to The Cookery is a little surprising. We’re also wondering just where in downtown they plan to put all this, given that trucks are going to need quite a bit of space for parking. If only the old bus station was still available…