You're The A-Side

It’s been a bit of a busy week. England knocked out of Euro 2012 at the start, ObamaCare ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, Spain thrashing Italy, a heatwave bringing record temperatures to the East Coast, and oh, I met Gareth Campesinos!. You know which was the most important in that list, I’m sure. Finally owned up to sending the package of chocolates to them last year.

Aside from those things, though, a fairly quiet week; Stacie went whitewater rafting with Irene on Thursday; being the type of person that would just fall to pieces as soon as the river got more than a bit choppy, I decided I’d stay here in Durham. But! Thea went off on a cruise on Thursday as well, so since that night it’s just been me and the dogs. They’re still alive, so I have been doing reasonably well on the feeding them bit and trying to behave like a responsible adult. Whilst looking wistfully at pictures of ball pits.

I even cleared up the litter at the bottom of the path where the ivy meets the road. Granted, this was due to a smouldering neighbourhood listserv spat that started on Thursday night, but I feel it’s worth mentioning, seeing that it was 40°C outside. And ferreting around in poison ivy too.

Yes, 40°C. It’s been that way for three days. I gave up seeing the outside world sometime on Friday; it has been me, the dogs, and the sweet, sweet air conditioner surviving as best we can. Though, I did try to go out - I ventured down to Fullsteam on Friday night to get something from Kokyu, but as I got to the food truck, I realised that I would probably pass out just waiting for the duck fat tots to arrive. So I was good, walked back home, and made pasta instead. Nowhere near as tasty, but better that than hitting the pavement at Motorco.

No chocolate this weekend. I want to say that it was because it was far too hot, but actually, it was due to the block of chocolate I was using getting caught in a nasty splashback. Rather than attempting to continue, I thought it’d be wiser to dispose of it and make crumpets instead. Those failed too. Today was not my greatest day in the kitchen.

Another week over, but this coming week: THE DAY THE COLONIALS OVERSTEPPED THEIR BOUNDARIES. Or Independence Day. Whatever.

10 Years Since I Became One Of Those People

It’s almost ten years since I left home for America. That attempt didn’t go quite so well, as you can see from looking at the archives, but aside from leading to the series of events that finds me now living in Durham, 2002 was also the year another major event happened: I bought my first Mac.

Thinking about it earlier today, I could only vaguely remember the circumstances that led to me going to the Apple Store. I remembered sitting in my small room at Carmichael with a huge PC tower in pieces, me in a full panic, but I couldn’t recall exactly what was wrong. This is why it’s a good idea to have a blog that goes back ten years. So, a problematic Athlon XP CPU and the realisation that I really needed a computer I could rely on caused me to go to the mall and fork over the money for a cute little G3 iBook.

Back in those days, you could still run Classic. And it came with IE5 and ClarisWorks. We’ve come a long way since then. Still, I was pretty enthralled by OS X. It was a system that just worked, and yet had a full suite of UNIX tools under the shell. I’d been running Linux since 1997, but this was a UNIX that didn’t need kernel recompiles, that worked with printers and cameras with no faffing about, and yet you could still run X Windows if you felt the need. It was pretty awesome.

I took the Linux tower back home to the UK, but over the next few years, it became less of a desktop machine, and more of a file server. In the end, I got a small NAS and downsized. I had become another nerd who had crossed to the shiny dark side.

There’s only one way to celebrate an anniversary like that, isn’t there? Yes, that’s right - today, I got my new laptop, a 13” i7 MacBook Air. It’s…something. Applications load with one bounce on the dock, it boots almost instantly, and my goodness, it’s so thin.

But the fancy SSD leaves me with a quandary. I got the 250GB model, which matches my old MacBook Pro’s storage. But, I only have 36GB free on that, so I was thinking of starting over from scratch on this machine. I almost did it, but I can’t. The home directory on my current Pro has been transferred from every Mac that I’ve ever owned - a direct lineage back to that day when I got back from Southpoint Mall, carried the big box up to the fifth floor, and switched it on for the first time. Every time I open my Documents folder, the top file is the first thing I did in Adobe Illustrator - a cover of a CD I made for Luke (created 2003/2/11, ISO date fans, though for obvious reasons, it doesn’t show up in my archives - song titles on blog posts during that week give the game away a little). I can’t throw all that away. Plus it’ll take ages to do it manually. Time Machine restore it is, then. Followed by deleting a whole bunch of TV AVIs and podcasts that are no longer needed…

Oops

I had intended for this week’s update to be an introduction to Fallout Durham’s newest piece of equipment, a 3kg chocolate melter. However, I forgot to take pictures during the six hours it was in operation. Oops.

Some thoughts, though:

  • It takes a long time to melt chocolate in the melter. I think next time I’ll melt the chocolate in the microwave and then cool and temper it in the melter instead. That way I won’t lose four hours waiting for the chocolate to become liquid.

  • It can be a little messy.

  • Despite having all that chocolate on hand, it’s still probably a good idea to make one run of chocolates at a time - this will allow chocolate to be recovered without it being contaminated by the other types you might want to make (and thus makes it more viable to reuse scrap chocolate)

  • Fallout Durham is getting closer.

How To Lose Friends

It seemed like such a good idea. Over the past year, I’ve built up a small collection of odd British films, from sources like the BFI Flipside collection and the ever-helpful BitTorrent trackers. However, I haven’t had time to watch all of them. But I had an idea - we could have a movie night every couple of weeks where I show one of these films at our house, and anybody can come around to watch! Who wouldn’t thrill to the idea of watching a Japanese VHS version of Olivia Newton John’s first film, Toomorrow?

Unfortunately, I let external events get to me. As it’s Jubilee weekend back home in the UK, I thought it would be a good idea to start with Jubilee, a 1978 film by Derek Jarman. Oops.

On the surface, Jubilee sounds like a great film - Queen Elizabeth the First gets sent through time to visit an alternate future where Britain has descended into punk madness. Imagine! The fun that could be had as QE and another character are played by the same actress, leading to all sorts of crazy shenanigans as they race against time to send her back to her right era!

Instead, what you get is five minute ballerina dances, a rambling, plot-free structure, Richard O’Brien looking like he’d rather be anywhere else, watering lawn gnomes, and a cackling media tycoon that looks like an Evil Lionel Blair. Which is funny if you know who Lionel Blair is, but sadly, that was just me amongst the five of us watching.

(Even worse, I’ve actually seen the film before, about five/six years ago. It was late at night, and it seems I repressed an awful lot of it)

We lasted an hour. I spent the rest of the night apologising and assuring them that the next film would be better. I think I’m going to play it safe and go for 24 Hour Party People. Yes, it’s not that weird, but it is quite amusing. And it’s not likely to get me forbidden from ever putting anything in the DVD player ever again.

Remember, friends don’t let other friends watch Jubilee.

Nine Months

It doesn’t feel like it, but I’ve now been here for over nine months. Admittedly, for a big chunk of that I was living in California, but it’ll soon be a year since I packed up and left home. And it’s almost ten years since I first went to UNC, and by extension, the beginning of this blog. A little scary.

Lots of things coming up in the near future; Nikki and Jonathan’s wedding next weekend, my first July 4th, a few secret plans that will hopefully come to fruition by the end of July (URL for that is bought, so stay tuned), another Los Campesinos! concert, a trip up to Virginia to see Neko Case, and no doubt other things that I’ve forgotten. Oh, and a visit back home to see my family and go to Gavin and Clare’s wedding. Lots of weddings!

I should try and do at least a weekly update, maybe. I find myself writing blog entries in my head on the way to and from work each morning, and in the shower, but when it comes time to sit down and write, I seem to end up saying the same things over and over again. Somewhat annoying.

I guess my nine month update is this: doing okay. Feeling I should be doing more.

Troy

Back in 2004, I was unemployed (okay, technically, I was a freelance journalist, but being honest, there wasn’t a huge amount of work going on) and had of time on my hands. My sister and I went to see the really quite awful Troy and we somehow got the idea that it would be great to do a stop-motion Lego-based parody. I built a Lego rig for my old Sony Cyber-Shot camera (this was before the days of iPhones where everybody has a HD camera in their pocket, after all!) and set to work.

It was not the greatest animation in the history of the medium, and that’s being kind. It was shot late at night, with little thought for color correction or stability, and with a lack of enough Lego bricks to make our storyboards physical.

(yes, Lego bricks. Not Legos. I may live here but I will not bring myself down to their level! Sometimes, Americans, you’re just strange)

Instead, I turned to doing a lot of the work in post. I built half of a wall with archers, then cloned it to make the other half. I added backgrounds, even experimenting with adding armies of soldiers completely digitally (it looked horrible, so I dropped it). Still, I couldn’t work around the main problem, which was that I just wasn’t shooting enough frames, so it was going to be jerky no matter what I did.

To add to that, the script is…well…let’s just say that it caters to Bonnie and me at the expense of the rest of the planet. There are a few good gags in there, mind you. Or at least ones capable of raising a glimmer of a smile. Not entirely sure about the obsession with towels was, though.

Anyway, there was a very long rendering process, and I mastered a DVD (which included a director’s commentary, because, yes, we were those people). I gave out those DVDs and promptly deleted the master. Not entirely sure why I thought that was a good idea; I had a copy of the DVD at the time, and I had the raw footage, so I assumed that it wouldn’t be a problem if I needed to make more.

Three years later, my copy of the DVD had been lent out to a family member with no hope of return, and all copies of it seemed to have gone to ground. My raw footage was spread across six DVDs with little to no organisation. Oh, and After Effects would no longer work on my new Mac, so I couldn’t rebuild it even if I could reassemble all the pieces. It was gone.

However, just a few weeks ago, it came up in conversation and Stacie mentioned that she had a copy. I don’t even remember giving her one, but so glad I did, as after all this time, I finally have some evidence of what I did in 2004.

And of course, the first thing I did was rip it and upload it to the Internet to ensure that it lives forever. So, presenting Troy, courtesy of Vimeo.

Well, we laughed, anyway.

It was the tail end of the summer...

I still haven’t entirely forgiven Allo Darlin’ for not playing Tallaluah. I’m sure I’ll get over it. Eventually.

However, it’s not the tail end of the Summer at all; instead, the temperature is ramping up for a Summer in the American South. Basically, I’m going to be slowly roasted over a period of months that will make me wish for the inevitable rain of the British holidays. Then I’ll go back to the UK for a week and realize, actually, it’s nice when it’s sunny. As long as I’ve got my Factor 100+ sunscreen, I should be okay.

I’ve also been getting myself back into a more political mood, as you may have seen during my breathless twittering during last week’s UK local elections. It was good to see Ken getting closer to Boris than the opinion polls were showing; maybe if he hadn’t been so blasé about his tax situation, it would have been closer still (though I still think that the London Mayor result showed how popular Boris is, rather than anything else. And while it’s premature to suggest he may attempt to take over from Cameron, let’s all remember how we laughed when we first heard he was running for Mayor. We’re not laughing any more, are we?).

That election may be over, but it’s about to hit crazy season here in the US as the primaries come to an end and the campaigns for President begin in full force. Before that, though, there’s a very important primary taking place tomorrow in my adopted home state, North Carolina. As well as a host of local primaries, voters tomorrow have the chance to say yes or no to an amendment to NC’s constitution, one which would make it against the law to recognize a same-sex union, whether it be a civil union, marriage, or even just common-law partnership. As a result, thousands of families across the state tomorrow are in danger of not just being discriminated against by banning such recognition, but of losing their benefits due to companies no longer being able to offer them legally.

If you vote yes to Amendment One tomorrow, then you’re no longer allowed to complain about Big Government ever again. Just saying.

For those wishing to follow the results tomorrow, I have whipped together a toy webapp that scrapes the data from the NC voting office website and produces a running set of bar graphs. I think my choice of colors is pretty apposite too. (it’s also a fairly responsive design, so it should adjust to fit the size of your browser window on mobile devices)

I know I’ve been saying this pretty much every time since I got back, but things are progressing with the Kickstarter. However, we’re thinking that we need to up our profile around town a little more before launching the campaign, so don’t expect to see it for another month or so. But we’re getting there, I swear.

Razzle Dazzle

April looks a little sparse, I know. I have actually written two updates since the last one, but they were so full of whining and ex-pat nonsense that I decided not to post them. Trust me, you really aren’t missing much.

What we really need to talk about is awesome things. And what’s more awesome than dazzle ships?

DAZZLE!

title

SHIPS!

title

They’re like the New Aesthetic a century before its time. But I know what you’re thinking - you’re thinking “how can I apply the awesomeness of dazzle camouflage to my Web 2.0-compliant setup?”

PRESENTING: dazzle.js

Dazzle.js will tastefully apply a dazzle pattern to any and all web pages. It searches out all divs and alters the CSS styling to add a (pure CSS, I might add) varying set of dazzle patterns across the page. Your pages will then be safe from the U-boat menace.

Dazzle.js is, in a typically British fashion, dependent on nothing except for having a WebKit or Mozilla-based browser. No jQuery, no images, just good, old-fashioned grit. It comes in at 586 bytes after minification, so it would just about fit on a ZX81.

Drag this link to your bookmark bar to add it to your browser, and then click on the bookmark when The Hun approach.

Code is up at GitHub. Includes semi-colons, just to annoy hipsters.

The Inchworm Menace

Every so often, I’m reminded I live somewhere else now. Somewhere foreign. There’s lots of examples I could use from the last few weeks, but I think the inchworms are worthy of a special mention.

They appeared suddenly, almost as if they came down from the skies. At first, I thought they were spiderwebs, but then I saw a couple of inchworms hanging in the air, descending on their little strands of silk. And then finding them about five minutes later crawling over my shirt.

Not a problem, in isolation. However, it appears that Durham had something of an infestation this year, and the trees around our house made us a prime location for the up-and-coming hipster worms of the Triangle. And their favourite spot? Our front door. Imagine walking into a huge spiderweb every morning. And, even worse, finding inchworms crawling all over you hours later. Then, an hour after that, you feel something at the back of your neck; the one that got away. You then spend the rest of the afternoon with phantom inchworms crawling all over you. Until it’s time to go home again where the worms have rebuilt their web.

But that’s not the worst thing. That is reserved for the sound. You’re walking on the path when you hear raindrops overhead. But you look up, and the sky is a Southern clear blue. It’s not rain. It’s the sound of inchworm after inchworm hitting the ground from the branches above. Their webs are forming around you, and have you checked your hair recently?

Let’s just say that napalm was considered as an option, but happily they have all died off now.

Replaced by mosquitos.

It's Cat Deeley!

It’s bizarre how the odd little things can trigger homesickness. In my case, it was not having anybody around to shout “From Birmingham!” at the TV when Cat Deeley appeared on-screen. Of course, my homesickness is exacerbated by having lived at home for so long; while my sister and I haven’t quite gone to the length of developing our own language like identical twins, we can have long conversations that nobody else can have a hope to understand without a twenty-year diet of cartoons, British comedy and the adventures of a cuddly toy that has a serious gambling problem.

and then I got off the bus. ah

And, despite my protests a few months ago, I have already turned into one of those expats that decries the state of the country I left behind. In my defense, I didn’t expect you to start breaking up the NHS, so I feel pretty justified. A few weeks of filling out health forms and potentially facing a $250 bill for getting an infected finger examined has given me a whole new sense of wonder over Bevan’s dream (and I was a fan before!). I hope Nick Clegg can sleep at night. Actually, that’s not true; I somewhat hope he spends every night being chased through a hellish dreamscape by a Cthulhu-esque set of monsters howling “What have you done?”” in an ear-splitting horrendous scream that threatens to fill his vacant soul. But I’m not bitter.

Anyway, it’s good to be back in Durham. And in denim. It feels so much nicer being able to come home at the end of the day, even if you’re never quite sure whether there’s going to be a raccoon in the attic or if the ceiling will just miss your head as a chunk falls to the floor. Yes, our house has a few issues, but it’s still pretty impressive - and a vast improvement over the hotel in Marina Del Rey where I spent so much of last year (okay, the hotel didn’t have a curtain of inchworms and was in closer proximity to Zooey Deschanel, I’ll give it that). We’ve even had a party; one of Stacie’s massive barbecue events where a poor pig gave up its shoulder for all of us (and the hordes of soy fields sacrificed their friends and neighbours for those amongst us who are vegetarian). We’re currently making plans for my birthday - it’s likely to have a Titanic flavour, even if my dream of flooding everybody in the basement at 2am won’t come to pass. Hey, I have toys and CDs down there at the moment! They’re not allowed to get wet!

Work is also progressing on Fallout. We’re putting together pricing of equipment and ingredients, coming up with flavour ideas, and heading off to The Cookery to get everything in place for launch. Expect a Kickstarter link to appear here shortly. There’s been a few set-backs, mostly down to the delay caused by me spending six months in Santa Monica, but hopefully by the summer, we’ll be up and producing sweet things. And yes, we will ship internationally!

Then there’s the actual real work. In my second week right now - still haven’t quite got a handle on day-to-day operations, but everybody seems very friendly. I’ve also hit a hat-trick on the success of my chocolates in the workplace. This company is a bit bigger than the previous ones, mind you, so some of the equipment we’re going to be putting any potential Kickstarter money towards will come in handy for semi-regular treats. And I still have a few non-sysadmin homegrown web/iOS ideas that I’m going to be working on in my spare time. Hoho.

One other thing that’s great about being back in Durham is that I have the chance to cook again, which I hadn’t done since July. Yes. Since I’ve got back, cooking has been limited to grilled sandwiches and my traditional pasta with pesto dish, but I have been talked into making roast dinner on Saturday (I tried to explain that it needs to be on a Sunday, but my explanation was little more than “because it just does!”, which isn’t a winning argument around here). I have never done this before, so obviously, I’ve decided that it should also be a test of our new sous-vide system. So, sous-vide parsnips, carrots, beef, served with mYorkshire puddings (the m is not a typo; the batter will be whipped and cooked in a microwave rather than made in an oven), followed with a deconstructed apple crumble. Because I’m crazy.

That pretty much sums up my third week back in Durham, I think. Lots more to come, hopefully. Oh, and it looks like I’ll be heading back to the UK for a few days in July, right during the Olympics. I think I’ll be avoiding London Village during that trip…