Bank Holiday Monday Till I Die

You can call it Labor Day if you must, but this is a Bank Holiday Monday Weekend, and therefore there are rules:

  1. It must rain at some point during the weekend.
  2. You must watch some very old television (I made it through five hours of Election ‘92 before getting too tired and depressed to continue)
  3. You should have a plan on how you’re going to fill this magical additional time, and then spend at least one of the days doing nothing.
  4. TV Specials! Thankfully, due to an active VPN connection and iPlayer, I was able to fulfill this criteria by watching the Harry and Paul special and also finding the first episode of Cradle To Grave (who knew that there were so many people interested about writing life in British council estates in the early 70s? (the count is now two)).
  5. Hook must be watched, and yet again, discussions need to be had over the ickiness of the Peter/Wendy/Moira plotline, and imagining the fun therapy sessions that likely resulted afterwards.
  6. You must plan to do some gardening (mainly cutting back those bushes that just grow and grow and do not do anything useful), but end up spending all day in your pyjamas instead.
  7. Why not do some DIY? I fulfilled this one by ordering a new shower and tile. Actually doing the DIY is beyond me, so I’m importing family to do it.
  8. Plan out all the additional learning you’re going to do…did I mention the part where I stayed in pyjamas all day?
  9. Be thankful that living in America means that there’s one more holiday before Christmas. Go Thanksgiving! (also, it means re-watching Addams Family Values again!)
  10. It’s officially Christmas season. Play some Slade.

Foot Update!

I had the CT scan! I managed to get lost twice in the hospital car park (once in the car, once on foot, oh, and I lost the car when I tried to find it on my way out, so maybe that’s three times), but I finally got it done. And the results?

Well, I do have a problem with my foot. But operation is not on the agenda yet. Firstly, cortisone injections, but even those aren’t happening until I have another couple of days of problems. I’m told that there’s little danger of permanent damage in the meantime, so at least there’s that!

In other news, 12-hour sous vide caramelized white chocolate ganache is pretty awesome.

In other, other news, I had my first game night at my house! Explaining Suburbia is fun.

Still Ill

After almost passing out on Monday, I had been getting better…until Friday, where I regressed back to how I was on Monday. I can definitely say I’m sick of it now. I suppose I haven’t been helping my mood by spending the last week and a half watching all of The World At War. Nothing quite like twenty-six hours of war to keep your spirits up.

I’m now finishing up a re-watch of Gurren Lagann, which is a much better idea. Still, I would like to emerge from the blankets and the couch at some point…

The World At War

I am under blanket with a Lemsip and watching the Russians defend Stalingrad. Feeling a little sorry for myself, it has to be said. The rubbish bins in the house are overflowing with tissues, and the chalkboard to-do list for this weekend looks down and mocks me. Maybe some of those tasks will get done next weekend. Maybe.

This week: Phonogram. In the previous series, I felt something of a connection, due to coming of age in the Britpop era, the shared love of Kenickie, the Dexys bits, the Johnny Boy part, and quoting all The Long Blondes lyrics. Obviously. The first issue of the new series was something else entirely. The Poptimism wars. ILX/CTCL. I actually had a conversation with Kieron back in 2006 which closely resembled one in this issue. Reading it back was an odd experience (I’m sure he had that same exchange with many people, mind you).

I fought on the periphery of the Poptimism wars. Most of my music writing was for Static (and is no longer present in their archives). My crowning achievements were probably talking to Paul Morley, having a record company complain to the editor about one of my reviews of a turgid American rock album, and of course, having my review quoted on the advertisement for Johnny Boy: “Karl Marx with a beat, Girls Aloud with C4 strapped to their chests”.

Right, time for another lemsip and to put on Annie (from Norway).

(No ILX in-jokes here, or you’ll be Suggest Autobahned — Ed.)

Oh, before I go - I recommend that you go watch the Shut Up & Sit Down Gen Con special. Oh, Billy Cool, what you’re gonna do?

Ian Is Always The Spy

Foot updates: A wild new scan appears! Specifically, a CT scan scheduled for the 18th of August. And then maybe cortisone injections! Fun and games.

And after a rather frustrating week, it was indeed fun and games. All the way down to Columbia for a friend’s birthday, ending up playing Funemployed in one of the most hipster places I’ve ever been in (and yes, that includes Durham!!).

Then, on Saturday, a custom version of Spyfall, where I ended up being the spy considerably more than anybody else (I did at least win once, though!).

Firefly is a bit of an enabler. I had been looking at Flick ‘em Up, but couldn’t find it in stock anywhere, and had begun to give up on getting it. But…

High noon. Or 6am.

A photo posted by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

Yes. One copy in stock.

Flick ‘em Up, then. Imagine the Wild West combined with Subbuteo. Firing bullets by flicking wooden discs across the table (and then scrambling around trying to find them when you miss by a mile and they fly off said table), one team being the lawmen, the other being the outlaws. It’s a huge amount of fun, and all we played was the first scenario (there’s ten in the mission book, but it feels like it’d be simple to make up extra ones when you’ve gone through all of those, plus a HORSE EXPANSION is coming).

Lots of laughter, deadly accusations of spying, death-dealing wooden discs, and meeples with mutant super powers this weekend. On the latter front, I would enjoy the super powers of being able to not feel pain in my left foot, and the amazing power of sleep. Instead I have the power of envy towards those who can sleep, and an interesting power of locking my foot in place and trying to hobble up stairs. Fun, fun fun.

Finally, this:

Please explain, Columbia.

A photo posted by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

I would love to know how that ended up in Columbia, SC…

Chicken and Biscuits

Sadly, no pictures of the completed dish tonight, but fried chicken in home-made biscuits with flash-bourbon-pickled green tomatoes and stout cheddar slices turns out to be a great way of spending a Sunday evening (Also, toasted flour shortbread topped with a blackberry parfait and sprinkled with golden syrup honeycomb is a fun way of following it)

In other news, I am so full I can barely move.

ETL Phone Home (And Go Away)

Data Science! Doesn’t it sound awesome? The facts, the figures, all at your fingertips! You effortlessly write a few lines of Scala implementing a fancy new algorithm that’s going to save your company millions (Millions!) and then a 500 node Spark cluster churns away on your data…oh hang on, the data. The cluster chokes on the data and falls apart like a mis-timed Heath Robinson1 machine.

“Oh yeah, the ETL.”

Extract! Transform! Load! The endless excitement of writing Pig scripts that might someway do what you want and dump a file out into the Lovecraftian horrors of HDFS. So much time. Effort. Time and effort that might be better spent on working on the problem rather than trying to write a script that dumps a few MySQL tables into a text file. A text file! Is this really the data future we have created? Is it a ‘data lake’, or just a huge Lovecraftian Horror of a HDFS filesystem where everything gets thrown in, just in case it might be useful someday?

Spark! Save us!

How about the Data Sources API?

“The Data Sources API?”

Yes. Give it a whirl.

“Thanks, Spark! Now, I was wondering about memory management and why—“

Don’t push it, peon developer.

“I am a Data Scientist!”

You failed Stats 1 back in 19952.

“I–WAIT? How could you possibly know that?”


Ahem. Okay, back to the point - ETL is a thankless task, but in a lot of cases, there’s no choice. However, Spark’s semi-new Data Sources API allows you to talk directly to heterogeneous resources and hide many of the messy details.

In the standard World of Hadoop™, you might set up a Sqoop3 job to import data from a MySQL database into a Hive table. Data Sources, on the other hand, says “why don’t I go and pull that data in from the database and give it to you as a DataFrame? Also, you should think about closing that window. The 15:34 from Basingstoke will be coming in shortly, and you know it makes a racket.”

Let’s look at some code!

val driver = "com.mysql.jdbc.Driver"
val conn = "jdbc:mysql://"+sys.env("DB_PASS")
val table = “users”

val options = Map[String, String](
        "driver" -> driver, 
        "url" -> conn, 
        "dbtable" -> table)
val df = sqlContext.load("jdbc", options);

And the result of the is as you’d expect:

|id |username| 
|  1|  Gerald|
|  2|   Peter|
|  3|    Erin|
|  4|     Pip|

You do have to pass in the MySQL JDBC JAR on your spark-shell command line (i.e. --jars mysql-connector-java-5.1.36-bin.jar), or bundle it in your application, but that’s all. You now have a DataFrame that you can operate on exactly the same way as any another DataFrame. Now, you may have to do some processing on that to get you where you need to be, but already you’ve skipped so much misery4.

The Data Sources API doesn’t completely eliminate the need for ETL operations, but it brings so many heterogenous data sources much much closer to Spark, which can only be a good thing. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to mash up data from Cassandra, MySQL, Postgres, Couchbase, and a random CSV file I have lying around… (you’ve gone too far now. Have a lie down and a cup of tea. —Ed.)

  1. Sod off, Americans [return]
  2. For the record, I passed Statistics 1 with flying colours. I can’t remember if it was Statistics 1 or Mechanics 1 where I built a random-walk nuclear reactor in BASIC. It sounds more impressive than it probably was (the code is likely still up in my family’s loft). [return]
  3. No, seriously. Somebody thought ‘Sqoop’ was a good name. [return]
  4. There’s also some extra options you can pass along in the set-up to the JDBC driver to control Spark’s parallelism when reading from the DB. Oh, and that table option? It can be a query or a view as well as just a simple table name. So you could build up the SQL query that provides only the data you need from the database and have MySQL do all the work for you even before you get your hands on it. Madness! (note, though, you can’t specify a password separately from the connection URL yet, hence the slightly-awkward DB_PASS environment variable addition above… [return]

And That’s Why I Bought Resistance Avalon

My Saturday was fairly well planned-out: I was going to go food shopping in the morning, do a bit of writing in the afternoon, and then make Alex Stupak’s cheeseburger tacos in the evening. Maybe add in a test run of a raspberry parfait for a dinner I’m doing next weekend.

That lasted until around just before one. And I’m in the bathroom. Not something I’d talk about on a normal day, obviously.


Now, I live in a city in America. I have heard gunshots before. Sometimes they’re actually fireworks, sometimes a car back-firing, and sometimes they really are gunshots. A distance away. But this was different.

Outside the window

Outside the window

Somebody is emptying a pistol outside my window and all I can think about is that dying on the toilet would be incredibly embarrassing.

Look, I’m a simple boy from the South of Britain. I’ve never had to really deal with this sort of thing. Back home, guns exist, obviously (it’s ten years this week since the Met shot Jean Charles de Menezes, after all), but they’re mostly other. Something that you are very unlikely to come across in everyday life, and specifically, you don’t often encounter the situation where you are wondering about the bullet-stopping abilities of a wooden house’s walls1.

The police arrived around 30 minutes later and possibly walked around the area trying to find bullets. I wouldn’t really know, as at this point I had retreated to my dining room, thinking that it provided several walls of protection from the side of the road where the shots where fired.2

I might3 have been suffering from a slight touch of shock at this point.

The idea of spending all afternoon in the house suddenly seemed a lot less appealing, so I drove to Target to get tortillas for the cheeseburger tacos (I’d forgotten them in Kroger this morning). Except, I drove past Target, went into Atomic Empire, and then spent forty minutes wandering around the shop before leaving with Mercury Heat #1 and…Resistance: Avalon. Retail as therapy. Always works.

I forgot to actually stop in Target on the way back, so I still don’t have tortillas. Which is something of a problem for making tacos…

  1. Also, we build our houses in brick because we damn well understood the moral of Three Little Pigs, thank you very much, but that’s another story. [return]
  2. Seriously guys, bricks. They’re so good! [return]
  3. Have you ever tried to puree and sieve raspberries when your hands are shaking uncontrollably? It’s like The Krypton Factor, but with added red splotches. [return]

Inspiration Failure

This week, I made three different types of sweet (maple candy, white chocolate with golden syrup crunch and orange milk chocolate bars), played the same board game four times (two of which were just playing by myself), drove around five hundred miles on a round-trip to SC, discovering that apparently you can get red velvet waffles with your chicken in Columbia, finished finalizing things for the first Triangle Spark meetup on Tuesday (you should come!), began work on a semi-secret work project, trained all sorts of machine learning models…and still don’t really think I got anything done this week. I may need to recalibrate my expectations a little.

In other, odd news: since having to give up walking to work, I have lost more weight than I have in the past two years or so. Which is…strange. I have tried to be somewhat more consistent in riding the exercise bike in an attempt to make up for the lack of exercise, and I guess I’ve been much better at that than I realized.

(it’ll all go to hell after I have my operation, mind you…)


Just tired. Tired of the news back home, tired of the news back here, tired of the hipsters’ reflexive bashing of anything that happens in Durham, tired of the heat, tired of my foot giving out at random times. Tired of being tired and spending the evening at the Internet instead of doing something useful instead.

Not a great week. But the week before ended well, so maybe the coming week will be better.