My Year In Lists

The last moments of 2013 are ticking away. It’s been an eventful year. I changed jobs (twice), bought a house (just the once, thankfully), wrote a book, made new friends and sadly said goodbye to a friend that left us. And here I am, back at the beginning, back in Bicester, sitting at the table and typing away.

Moving house was a little stressful, as the house that we were renting was becoming more and more dangerous to inhabit due to the black mold spreading like wildfire in the basement. I lost a lot of CDs, my birthday present from my family, suitcases, and even a Christmas tree to that basement. That and unacceptable behaviour from our landlord meant we really had to find somewhere else. And while we could have probably found a rental, I thought it was time to start looking for a place where we could change things, where we wouldn’t have to worry about what the landlord thinks about pets, and where I could wire up so many things to a twitter account. Thanks to the eagle eyes of my Mum, we found our house pretty quickly, and despite some last minute jitters over the roof and a few other bits and pieces, we’ve now been in there for almost half-a-year. We may have changed all the lights by the end of next year. Or figured out how to fix the shower head on the bath…

(and a big thank you to Tammy, who despite being in the process of moving from two homes (long story), still helped immensely during and after we moved from Trinity. And Luke for painting the door back to a non-dog scratched state!)

Work was busy. I started out quite happy at Rho, found myself at ReverbNation, where the Diet Cokes ran freely, and everything was Rails-y, and yet when I came back from the UK in May, I was contacted by OSI, and I was back there by mid-August. So two years in, and three jobs later, I’ve come full circle. And I haven’t been sent to California yet! Somewhere during this transitional period, I was emailed by Packt asking if I would like to write Instant Zepto.js. So I’m now listed on Amazon. Somewhat surprising, but hurrah!

2013 was supposed to be a year of making things. And I guess I did do some things - there was the SMS / Arduino game that I made back in February, chocolate molds I had laser-cut by Ponoko, and various sensors that I cobbled together to start the HouseOfPi twitter feed. I also explored the limits of Lulu and delved into the internals of iOS for a James Bridle-esque adventure of bringing the virtual world into the physical one (it ended up looking a bit like this). But still, I hope to do more next year.

Finally, we said goodbye to Melanie Cuplin this year. I think we probably talked more over email than we ever saw each other face-to-face (due to being in California and other events that occurred over the last couple of years), but she was a good friend with a lot of weird and wonderful stories. A life compressed, but very well lived.

Six Years To 2020

And what about next year? I do have a few things I want to do. So, a list!

  • Driving — I’ve lived in the USA for over two years now, and I have survived, and perhaps even thrived. But I think it’s time that I got my driving licence, so I’m not relying on my friends and wife every time I need to go to Whole Foods (or take the two-hour round-trip walk). Besides, having been there for a couple of years, it’d be nice to be able to explore a bit of the surrounding parts of North Carolina. And beyond!
  • Blog — I think I’ve been a bit better in regular updates this year, but it still feels a little threadbare around here sometimes. It would be nice to update a little more regularly, and I think it’s time for another face-lift. Haven’t decided whether to go for Tide Sans or to dip into my H&FJ subscription yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. I’ll try to make it a bit more than a rip-off of Svbtle, anyhow.
  • Chocolates — I produced more chocolates in 2013 than I have done in any previous year since I started in 2008, and sold more too (including my first company order!). We also finally found a commercial kitchen that was conducive to making chocolates suitable for selling, which was rather useful considering how many people inquired about Christmas orders this year! However, after the marathon of making the Holiday chocolates, I think it’s clear that I can’t see myself being able to do that every weekend. So my plans for 2014 are to focus on three or four collections (probably with a theme), spread out across the year, selling them on-line as usual and perhaps at locations like goMarket or the new pop-up shop on the back of Motorco. This should allow me to keep my sanity and fit in with any travelling I have to do for work in the next twelve months. Oh, and if anybody wants to spring for a melanger, I will totally get on with bean-to-bar experiments.
  • Side-projects — Spurred on by the success of Instant Zepto.js, I really need to get Scaling Node.JS sorted out in the first half of 2014. And I have another book project I’m working on. I’m also trying to work out something to send off the Green Wall before it becomes a 26-storey tower block. More on that as it progresses.
  • Cooking — I have been getting better at this, but I want to keep it up and go further in 2014. Cook all the things! And bake bread! As I got a few new cook books for Christmas, it’d be nice to set up something like a monthly Saturday or Sunday meal where I try and do a few fancy recipes…so hopefully you will come and eat them!
  • Exercise — And on the flipside to the cooking, the last few months have seen a rather worrying ballooning in size. Some of this is probably due to Winter-style hibernating, but not all. Which is not good! While I’m walking to and from work most days, I have become a bit more sedentary, especially at the weekends. So I’ve bought an exercise bike, but don’t worry: this blog will only feature half-marathons to point, laugh, and eat half a tub of salted caramel ice-cream.
  • Writing — This goes hand in hand with working on the blog more (and the side-projects as well, I guess), but I would like to write more next year. And not all technology or ‘what I did this week’ either.

We’ll see what happens! Anyhow, hope everybody has a happy New Year, and will be back in the US in a couple of days…

Just Like Christmas

It’s impressive how easy it is to slip back into the house; it’s been four days, and it’s like I never left. I’m stealing Bonnie’s chips, watching Neighbours, fixing computers, and putting a fez on top of the Christmas tree. And yes, Bonnie has threatened to kill me many many times. Only some of which were deserved, I swear.

Bonnie and Dad are now fighting over the cherries. It really is Christmas.

Anyway, a merry Christmas to all my readers. Will be back in Durham next week, but London on Monday!

and now the plug: My Zepto.js book is apparently on sale for during the holidays, if you fancy it - just $5 at! Hey, I have to get it in where I can…

I Hate Chocolate

That is all.

(Okay, I will probably return to it in the New Year, once we’ve both had a bit of a break and I don’t shout ‘TEMPER, YOU PITIFUL EXCUSE FOR AN EMULSION!” at random hunks of chocolate as I walk by them in the supermarket.)

The Weather Outside...Isn't Frightful?

26˚C in the middle of December is just wrong. Unfortunately, while it has been that hot here in Durham, there’s been ice storms in Texas (!), so Stacie is currently stranded there until further notice. Hopefully she’ll be back in time for the chocolate weekend of doom next weekend (orders at close on Thursday!), and manages to get out of the airport today.

Not much to talk about at the moment, sadly; I’m winding things down and packing for my return home in two weeks, making checklists for the upcoming chocolate marathon, and so on.

Instead, I’ll leave you with the TATE MODERN IN GINGERBREAD. YESSSSS.


(I would resize it, but then you’d lose the wonder)

Black Friday Again

I intended to pass on Black Friday. I had nothing to get. Or so I thought until I noticed a gaping hole in one of my trousers earlier this week. That broke the floodgates, ending up with me going to Chapel Hill Comics and walking out of Target with three seasons of Community (hey, $8 each! That’s a good deal, right?). Oops.

I am getting into the Christmas spirit by watching The Wild Geese. Nothing says Christmas like British mercenaries being double-crossed in Africa. Especially when it’s Richard Harris, Roger Moore, and Richard Burton. I feel like I should be drinking something with it though.

Thank you everybody who has ordered from Fallout Durham so far. Still a couple of weeks left to get your order in! Tomorrow, we begin making some of the orders in so far. In particular, tomorrow, we make around 7kg of peppermint bark. For a single order. It’s going to be a long December. And I may hate chocolate by the end of it…

The Eyebrows Will Rise

I don’t have too many childhood anecdotes about watching Doctor Who. I started watching during Dragonfire and saw it through till the end of Survival. My Doctor tricked the Daleks into blowing up Skaro, eliminate the entire CyberFleet with a sentient weapon used against its will, and manipulated the life of his companion just to take a shot at Fenric. I like to refer to the Seventh Doctor as Bat-Doctor. Always a few steps ahead, sometimes even ahead of himself.

It’s odd, really. During that period, Who was slung against Coronation Street by Michael Grade as part of his (rather successful) campaign to take the programme off-air. I always thought that revenge came a few years back when the Christmas episode of Who came top of the day’s ratings, destroying all the usual soap stalwarts, including Coronation Street. But this weekend was something else - a simulcast across the planet of an odd old man in a blue box, a blue box that ceased to make sense about forty years ago. And yet, is now more famous as a shape of a spaceship than its temporary use for policemen. Everybody got to see The Day of The Doctor at the same time. Or, if you were watching it via iPlayer, you got to see it at 30 second intervals, making it last two hours rather than an hour and fifteen minutes.

It was vintage Moffat - all plot, a smattering of character, fun and japery involving the Doctors, a few surprises here and there (THE EYEBROWS), and a surprising redefinition of the Doctor after the special; a ret-con that left everything previous in place. And a fez. I couldn’t really ask for more, except for being home in the UK to see Eleven turn into Twelve. Or is it Twelve into Thirteen? I don’t really know any more…

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…