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;



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.

Back In Denim

“Wearing a waistcoat? In this weather? You’re brave.”

“What do you mean? This weather is great!”

So that’s the easy way to wear a waistcoat on a hot British Summer’s day. You spend three months experiencing a Carolina Summer, and then it seems like a cool breeze.

I’m on my way back to Durham right now, ten thousand metres up via an unplanned stop in Dublin for a medical emergency, which will make the flight last around ten hours. Going to be a long long trip back home. Even though I just left home. I’ve decided that there’s no need to reconcile where my home is; I can just have two.

You can never go home again, they say. And maybe it’s only been a year, but though my bedroom seemed very small to begin with, by the time I woke up on Friday afternoon trying to sleep off my jetlag, it was if nothing had changed; the muscle memory of living there for so long kicked in, even if the room has now been turned into Bonnie’s overflow closet. I made a cup of tea late on Friday night and didn’t even think about where things where.

Though I did try and get into the wrong side of the car at first.

I stepped off the AA173 767-300 having read B.S. Johnson’s Travelling People to the sounds of The Day That Thatcher Dies and Girl VII. It’s as if the iPhone knew. Heathrow didn’t quite seem to be the apocalyptic hellscape that the UK media have been painting it for the past few weeks; it didn’t take me long to clear Immigration and begin the short journey home.

We lost Woolworths in Bicester like everybody else, but since I’ve been away, we’ve gained a Wilkinson. Aside from it being in a different building, it’s almost as if Woolworths never went away. Complete with knockoffs of the Pantone mugs (I did try to get some, but unfortunately they were sold out when I went back. Boo). Oh, and Union Jacks everywhere.

I wasn’t prepared for that; I missed the Jubilee, of course, but the Olympics seems to have given licence for the nationalist madness to continue. When I had to go and buy a block of butter, and I was confronted with wall of salted and unsalted pats of Union Jack butter, I think I can say it has officially gone too far.

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for: I’m the family member that moved to America. Which seems to merit some points with extended family back home, along with the job I was doing last year. I wish I had more fun stories to tell, really.

Gavin and Clare’s wedding was the reason I came over for the weekend, and it was definitely worth the trip. I got to see most of my school friends, plus I got to see Gavin and Clare very happy. Hurrah! A pity I couldn’t get down to London or into Oxford (it occurred to me on Sunday afternoon that I could have probably got into London on the new high-speed train, and thus have been able to celebrate Mandar’s birthday at the Tate Modern, but on the other hand, it was a weekend to be with my family. so I think staying at home was the better decision).

And blackcurrants. So many blackcurrants. My dad planted a set of blackcurrant bushes next to the raspberries and redcurrants two years ago. Last year, we had a few, but this year, oh my. If I had brought some pectin over, the kitchen would be knee-deep in pâte de fruit right now. As I didn’t, I tried something else - a blackcurrant ganache without cream. Nothing except the puréed berries and chocolate (oh, okay, a little bit of butter to provide enough fat content to create a smooth ganache, but that’s all). It was successful enough that I should probably attempt similar ganaches with local Carolinian fruit when I get back to Durham.

But then, after the roast dinner, watching Neighbours, lamenting the slow waste of technology that is the replacement for Ceefax (seriously, if you can’t make your fancy new information service as fast or as useful as something invented in the early 1970s, you might as well give up), wandering around the American Estate and Greenwood Homes, seeing the new cinema construction in the centre of the town, wincing at Casualty, and eating plenty of chocolate digestive biscuits, it was almost time to go. Not before seeing my grandfather, though.

So I’m back on a plane. Back to North Carolina. Back to Durham. To my other home.

Didn’t see any Olympic Lanes.

My suitcase is loaded with illicit contraband, including HP Sauce and Mini Eggs.

I may need another bookcase soon.

I have just finished re-reading That Damned Utd. The perfect way to leave Britain.

dirty, dirty, Leeds

Food Trucks and Colonials

“What do you guys call July 4th back in your country?”

If we had a dedicated day for every time a colony declared independence from us, we’d be the slackers of Europe. It’s tough being a former Empire.

You may have heard the kerfuffle over the proposed new food truck (well, ‘mobile vendors’, but they can only sell food or newspapers) regulations that the city of Durham released last week. If not, you can go have a look at them on the Durham website. Most of the new code is not controversial; the city has removed the requirement that carts have to move at least 15 feet every hour (not that this was being enforced outside of Duke, mind you, but still good to see it gone), plus they’ve eliminated the additional mobile vendor permit ($50/year).

Unfortunately, there were a few problems with the proposed revisions. The first was a proposed 300 feet exclusion zone around any area that has been granted a Special Event Permit. Though somebody applying for the permit could choose not to sign up for all or any of the 300 feet zone, it appears that the default distance will be the full 300 feet (this wasn’t entirely made clear during the meeting, as the government officials contradicted themselves a few times). Food trucks would not be allowed with 100 feet of a restaurant unless they had written permission from the owner, and worst of all, the code established a Central Park Zone that created a bubble around the Farmers’ Market that would have made it impossible to operate a food truck in the area when the Market was in operation (as opposed to now, where trucks and the Market live side-by-side). For vendors such as Monuts Donuts, this would have been a catastrophe (and, let’s be clear, it would have been a big problem for us too!).

Overall, it was a successful meeting; the city realized that that public opinion was against the more draconian of the new rules and reacted accordingly - the 100 feet restriction has been reduced to 50, and the over-zealous Central Park Zone bubble was completely eliminated. Hurrah! We did get made to feel a bit sheepish by some of the council members, though, as they pointed out that while it was great to see such a display of support, the council holds meetings every other week on equally important subjects and hardly anybody turns up. Ouch. This was followed by a councillor pointing out a new survey that showed Durham had one of the highest concentrations of the creative class in America. Cue applause.

Then he pointed out that the same survey gives Durham the fifth highest inequality in the country.

and silence.

Way to make us feel bad, councillor. But I think we needed it, to be honest; I hope to attend a few meetings in future, and it’s important to consider that Durham is rapidly becoming two cities. And we weren’t here first.