Now I Have A Tempering Machine

I hope everybody reading this is aware that Fallout Durham is currently accepting orders for Christmas, right? (Terms and conditions apply: you need to be able to get to the environs of Durham, and orders will close midnight Friday - the 14th of December. Offer void where prohibited)

If you remember from earlier in the year, one of the things I kept on mentioning, aside from how lonely I was in California (and boy, didn’t I go on about that, eh? Sorry for the attack of the emo), was that Stacie and I had a Kickstarter ready to go and that it would be running Real Soon Now. Well, the bulk of the money that we would have raised from that would have gone towards a beast of a tempering machine, the Chocovision X3210. With the right extras, it can temper up to 8kg in under an hour.

It arrived on Thursday, courtesy of an unexpected bonus from work. It is glorious. I have been making chocolates for over four years, but it was never, never as easy as it was yesterday when I threw together some kirsch ganache molded chocolates on a whim and turned them out with almost perfect thin shells. It’s pretty amazing. Though I guess it was good to learn tempering the hard way. But even better to be able to temper huge quantities and not have to babysit it for an entire afternoon.

To sum up: look out, Durham - 2013 is going to be a great year to have a sweet tooth. Our Kickstarter is on hold for the moment, but we may reactivate it later to finance a few other bits and pieces. But we’ll see.

Also: I don’t have diabetes. Although I’m still having to adjust to the whole paying to see a doctor affair, I can’t deny it was quick! (To be fair, my doctor back home did offer to do a blood test, but it would have involved fasting and I was on holiday, so I decided not to do it there and then)

It’s been a while since I’ve made an entry here, so what else is new? The TV downstairs is playing something that has Supergrass’s Alright in the background, which is triggering all sorts of nostalgia flashbacks. Weather is stupidly hot; ten years ago, I suffered through a scary and freezing ice storm which lead to eating nothing but Jersey Mike’s for two days straight and trying not to shiver to death. This week, it’s been 23°C. It’s just wrong, I tell you. I have a new desk, my bookcases are sagging under the weight of my books, I still have to buy Christmas presents for far too many people, and I’m going to look at gingerbread houses in a couple of weeks.

I miss the Radio Times.

The Largest Lingerie Section In Ireland

It’s funny, really, just how easy it is to fall back into the old routine. It’s been over a year since I was in Britain for any length of time, but after a day or so, it was like I had never left. Sitting at the top of the table, laptop out (it’s a MacBook Air now instead of the old Pro, but no real difference), Bonnie and the family watching The Mentalist or Castle. It could have been any time since 2000 or so. Except I’m only here for a week this time, and just as I have got settled, it’s time to leave.

And I have stolen time from where I can, deciding to skip going into London so I can watch more Christmas films with Bonnie, poking holes into burning candles whilst wearing slippers that light up when I walk. This time, though, scaring the cats that have moved in during my absence. Scared cats that often flee at the sight of me - “who is this interloper?” they scowl at me before heading to the doors. My bedroom is now devoid of most of the things that made it mine; no books, no bookcases, no comics, no random bits of gadgets and paper on the floor. But still unmistakably mine, and still the place where I sleep the easiest.

I’m weird in that I’ve lived in one place for almost all of my life, yet I guess in the past year, I’ve lived on two different sides of the US in addition to my original home; making up for lost time, perhaps. Spending so long in one place gets you attached to it, I imagine, especially if you enjoyed the time you were there. The bike rides with friends now spread to the winds. The epic stories of action figures in the study that spanned weeks, months, and eventually years of continuity, and the use of blu-tack to fix the broken Transformers as they fell. The Christmases spent with my sister going through the Radio Times working out what to watch and eating as many mince pies as humanly possible. Spending Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s, listening to Bruno Brookes countdown the Top 40 and learning music through my aunt’s copies of Smash Hits.

This will be my first Christmas without my family. Ever. It’s going to be hard. But I’m so happy that I got to watch Die Hard again with Bonnie this week.

Polls Polls Polls

As most of my time at the moment is spend reloading political blogs trying to see the latest poll information, don’t expect to see a lot here until after the first week in November…

All The Fun of The Fair

I’ve been coming to North Carolina since 2002, yet this week was the first time I had ever made it to the State Fair. There were reasons - back in 2002, I had work to do and couldn’t quite make it, while the other years tended to be at a time when I wasn’t in the country. Last year, it seemed like it was obviously going to happen, but at the last moment I was whisked away to California for fun and adventures. So ten years after initially hearing about it from a professor at UNC, I finally made it.

At this point, I’d like to take a moment for Scotland. Yes, it seems like the date of the referendum has been set, and that the SNP has got their way on the question and whether under-16s can vote (seriously, it looks as if they got everything they wanted - well done on that tough negotiation, Mr. Cameron!), but I’m afraid that their long-held crown of DEEP-FRYING ALL THE THINGS must be passed on. Yes, the State Fair does all that deep-fried Mars Bar, Snickers, and pizza. Then it goes a few steps further. Girl Scout cookies? Battered and fried. Cheesecake? In the fryer it goes. Cupcakes? Of course. Cinnamon rolls?. Sure, plus the fair will sprinkle bacon all around it to make it just a touch more hipster. It’s…something. Even I had to give up on the cinnamon roll, and the Girl Scout cookies weren’t quite as good as we imagined. However, the deep fried cupcake was pretty amazing. Definitely need to do a deep-frying party sometime…

As for the rest of the fair, it was an interesting mix of a typical, large travelling fair that you’d get back home, along with prize animals and vegetables. I have to say that the latter left me a bit confused; at one point we entered a building full of teenage girls showing off their goats almost like an odd regional cotillion. I was informed afterwards it was just a competition, not a coming-of-age affair. Still, it did look quite odd.

One slight problem with going to the fair - I don’t like rides. Hate roller-coasted, too afraid of heights to go on Ferris wheels, terrified of those things that shoot you up high and turn you upside down. So I did a lot of watching, but did go on the bumper cars plus a ride that looked rather sedate, but turned out to be a bit more involved once we actually got on there. It was still fairly sedate, just tilting and whirling, but I had difficulty walking straight for a bit afterwards.

So, if I suck at rides, maybe I’m better at the games? Hahaha. No. I managed to score 30 at Whack-A-Mole, but I did come third! Which would have been more impressive if there was more than three of us playing. Some in our group did have much more success in winning goldfish, though.

We stayed until the big fireworks display at the end of the night, and took the last bus back home to Durham and watched YouTube videos of people eating live squid. Terrifying. Oh, and receiving Twitter updates of Biden laying the smack down on Paul Ryan. A very good way to end a first visit to the fair…

Things I Learnt In Chicago

In no particular order.

  • Art studios are fine, but really, I need a door on the bathroom, not a curtain.

  • That said, anybody who owns the original 12” of Ceremony can be given some leeway.

  • Pie Flights are to be encouraged. I’d say look out for similar from Fallout Durham, but when you apply it to chocolates, you just end up with selection boxes, which we’re obviously intending on doing…

  • If I had been sent to Chicago instead of Santa Monica a year ago, I would have spent many a Saturday morning in Fox and Obel. I also have a feeling I would have taken to Chicago a bit more readily than the less dense LA landscape.

  • Chicago-style pizza defeated me after two slices, but the leftovers were great after a long night of walking.

  • It’s true: the best view from the John Hancock Tower in Chicago is from the women’s toilets. (This was, of course, verified by Stacie, not me)

  • I should have brought warmer clothes.

  • You really have an art exhibition which involves video of people stacking themselves in odd ways.

  • Take Patrick anywhere and the odds of him knowing somebody in the most unlikely of places are even.

  • You might, if you squint, notice the word ‘Britain’ about three times in the German U-boat exhibit in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Jingoism aside though, the museum is pretty fantastic. Wind chambers! Fab labs! Arcade machines set on free play! A random Spitfire!

  • Threadless has a shop. I was very good. Besides, my drawers are having difficulty opening at the moment anyhow.

  • Chicago takes its hot dogs very seriously.

  • The Secret Agent Store is a pale shadow of Brooklyn’s Super Hero Store.

  • Soooo many hipsters.

  • Even the kebab shop had artisan light bulbs. And it was opposite a custom hat shop.

  • I liked the ‘L’, but was a bit concerned about how the wooden platforms would shake as the trains pulled in. Especially since we were almost inevitably above a very busy road.

  • Alinea is a very different story and requires a separate post. Do look out for it sometime…

Spangles Not Included

Everybody is (fairly rightly) decrying the new maps in iOS6, but there are some really neat new features in Mobile Safari that are worth the upgrade. For a start, you can finally upload photos from within the browser, something that should have been in iOS 1. But there’s more! Safari also implements the Web Audio API, allowing music synthesis from within Javascript. And what better way to show off said API than to create a web page that sounds like a bunch of characters from an 1970s Oliver Postgate programme? Exactly.


var context = new webkitAudioContext();
var sine = context.createOscillator(),
    triangle = context.createOscillator();

sine.type = 0;
triangle.type = 3;

sine.frequency.value = 200;
triangle.frequency.value = 200;

sine.connect(context.destination);
triangle.connect(context.destination);

sine.noteOn(0);
triangle.noteOn(0);

window.ondeviceorientation = function(event) {

  sine.frequency.value =  (Math.floor(event.alpha) *1.5)+300;
  triangle.frequency.value =  (Math.floor(event.gamma) *1.5)+100;

}

There’s not a lot going on here - if you look at the Web Audio API specification, you’ll see that an AudioContext is required for playing all sounds - while you can have more than one, for simple scripts (and even pretty complex ones, as an individual context can handle a large audio graph), one will be fine. AudioNodes are then connected to each other to create sounds and effects and then connected to the context for output. I’m using webkitAudioContext() due to the implementation being prefixed while the spec is finalized (it’s not supported in Firefox yet).

Having grabbed a context, I then create two Oscillator AudioNodes, one a sine wave (the default) and the other a triangle wave (sawtooth and square waves are also available, plus you can set up your own wavetables if you’re feeling really fancy). Setting the initial frequency of the waves comes next, and then, via the connect() call, I connect them to the AudioContext. Oh, and finally, the Oscilliators need to be switched on via the noteOn method (there’s a noteOff() too).

Finally, I add a function to the ondeviceorientation event to alter the frequency of the waves based on the position of the device, so if you you pull the iPhone or iPad forwards and backwards, and/or twist it, it’ll alter the frequency of the waves, and make Clanger-esque talking sounds.

Maps? Who needs maps?

That Was The First Big Weekend of The Autumn

Friday began with tales of plasters in salads and ended with Amanda Palmer surfing the entire length and width of the audience. Yes, we have finally had our sit-down with the Department of Agriculture and we are now able to go into The Cookery to make sweets!. And sell them! Hurrah! However, it’ll probably take a month or so to get up to speed; especially since we’re going to Chicago this weekend.

I was worried about the meeting - afraid that we’d be shut down for some reason before we even started, but no; the inspector was very friendly, eager to help and full of useful information about the area, and even on ideas on whom to sell to!

With Fallout Durham finished for the day, I headed off to the wild tundra of Carrboro to go see Amanda Palmer. She’s had a bit of a bad week on the Internet over her call for volunteer musicians to come and play with her onstage on her tour (they’re allowed to sell their wares at the merch table, but there’s no explicit payment despite having to be at least semi-professional and take part in rehearsals), so I wondered if she’d address that, and also wondered just what was going to be part of the show.

Unfortunately, the answer to that was “how does just about every musical tick that you hate and loathe with the power of a million suns?” One of the support acts decided that they were going to do 80s yacht rock with a super-cool ironic pose, whilst another duo played duel saxophone covers of 80s hits. With one of them wearing a big hair wig.

There is simply not enough napalm on this Earth to deal with them properly. I’m guessing I wasn’t quite in the mood for the ironic whimsy and oh-so-serious art of the evening (seriously, stopping the concert mid-way through to read out depressing things that happened in your bedrooms? How about playing another song instead?), though the set-piece where Palmer crowdsurfed with a huge skirt covering most of the crowd was pretty impressive. However that was undercut by a rather unnecessary talk where did indeed address the volunteer drama in a rather dismissive tone, and when she announced that the Cradle had no curfew for the night, we took it as a sign that we should leave. Via Cookout, of course!

Saturday started with the celebration of The Cookery’s new Front Room. They’ve been working on it for months, but I hadn’t quite realised the scale of the project. The new space is pretty amazing, with a 1920s feel to it and a good sense of space. There’s talk of pop-up restaurants and all sorts of things happening there soon.

But! I didn’t stay long, because I had another event on - a walk around modernist houses in Duke Forest. Yes. Organised by Triangle Modernist Houses - enough of them around to form a club! And events where five hundred people turn up just to look around houses! That aren’t even for sale! (Okay, one was, but the others were mostly lived in) Whilst they weren’t brutalist masterpieces, they were all straight out of Grand Designs in a wouldn’t-it-be-amazing-to-live-here-oh-wait-i’m-not-that-rich way. A few hours were spent swooning over deer, curved buildings with a bridge to get to the front door, plus one of the longest bookcases I’ve ever seen in a house. I would consider it a challenge.

After all that, Sunday turned out to be a lot more restful; I turned the kitchen into a test lab once again, making caramels and a hideous Cheerwine & white chocolate mixture that was determined to taste like biting into make-up. It really was that bad, sadly. Still, through in some ironing and planning for the upcoming Chicago trip, plus a trip to IP3 in Chapel Hill for Kyle’s birthday, and the day soon slipped away. Back to work, at least for the next four days.

Eternal September

Did you enjoy the special anniversary feature during August? Thought you’d all appreciate a break from my frantic style of posting. I hope you’ve caught your breath.

I apologize. I’ve been meaning to write - I even have a half-finished post sitting in my Dropbox account which is mostly me whining for abut five hundred words. So maybe the anniversary present was sitting on that instead.

Of course, now, though, I’ve completely forgotten everything I did in August. Let’s just assume it was awesome. Oooh, I did get my hands on The Invisibles Omnibus, and it’s as sturdy a weapon as The Fat Duck Cookbook. But with more pictures.

However, while August was a blur, September is a month of crazy times. THIS WEEK! THRILL! As Stacie and I get inspected for Fallout Durham (you should totally sign up for Fallout Durham updates, by the way)! SHRIEK! As we go see Amanda Palmer and Stars! GASP IN SHOCK! As we go to Chicago to eat our way through the city before ending up at ALINEA to have one. Of the most unique meals of our lives! LOOK ASKEW WITH A PUZZLED EXPRESSION! As I go on a tour showing off the Modernist Houses of the Triangle! Oh yes.

Who knows, I might even write something about all these things. Heavens!

More Milestones

August, then. A big month for the blog. Not only is it a year since I got my visa and left for America (I got my visa exactly one year ago today!), but it’s also ten years since I started this site, and ten years since I first came to Chapel Hill. Okay, so technically, the blog started in July, but let’s be honest, that first month was little more than a warm-up for me to spend the next nine months moaning about washing machines and sweet tea.

A lot has happened in those ten years, and even just in the past year. If you told me a year ago I’d spend six months in California working for (CENSORED - Ed.), I would have laughed in your face, but I did, and by all accounts, I was actually pretty good at it. And probably more changes and so on to come in the next twelve months, hopefully, at long last, including selling chocolate!

To celebrate the blog’s anniversary, I’m…probably not going to do anything that different. We’ll see; there may be the unveiling of a secret project or two in the coming weeks, but that’s about it. I’ll still moan about the innovative subjects of washing machines, Americans’ lack of queuing skills, and the abomination of sweet tea. Business as usual!

Oh, Danny Boy

Okay, so I approached the Olympic opening ceremony with more than a little trepidation, expecting four hours of Boris Johnson in a Routemaster eating jellied eels. And yet, I still found myself desperately cursing NBC for not showing the thing live, hunting down an illicit stream of the BBC feed just as it was starting.

Twitter was soon aflame - baffled cries of “what the Hell?!!”, “Michael Fish?”, followed by “this is the most British thing ever” and relentless gushing. Plus Americans getting more annoyed that NBC were holding the entire thing back for a messily-edited reel later in the evening.

Turns out that it was as British as jellied eels, but in a way that avoided some of our worst clichés. There was no way to top the scale of China, so we didn’t even try. Instead Boyle’s programme was THIS IS BRITAIN, a ramshackle blend of Strictly Come Industrial Revolution, a Gigantic Two Fingers To The Tories (We Love The NHS remix), Underworld stealing the soundtrack, slyly transmitting the first onscreen lesbian kiss to various countries, and fooling everybody up until the last moment about who was going to light the torch. Plus fulfilling our contractual obligation to wheel out Paul McCartney at the drop of a bowler hat.

Boyle broadcast Tiger Feet to the entire world. TIGER FEET. And DESMOND’S! And Kes. And Gregory’s Girl! And…and…

It was bizarre, and I imagine (and know, talking to a few American friends) at times incomprehensible to people who weren’t from the UK. And I was a little disappointed that The Doctor wasn’t more involved. But as sappy as it sounds, it showed off a lot of what made and makes Britain great, from the engineering genius of Brunel all the way to that beat in Blue Monday. All held together with sticky back plastic and the NHS. Which somehow meant more than outdoing the regimented spectacular performances of Beijing.

Come on, was there anybody in Britain my age or older who didn’t have a huge grin on their face when they started playing the pips? I think not.

Greenwich Time Signal FTW.