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…

Local Man Ruins Everything

A lot of you already know, but anyway: I am coming back to Durham this upcoming weekend, and I won’t be heading back to Santa Monica. Instead I’ll be starting a new job in Chapel Hill towards the end of the March.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with for a while now; I’m rather sad to be leaving the company that I’m currently working for, but over the past six months, I’ve realised that I’m not sure if I’m ready for the consultant’s life just yet. I miss not coming home at night, seeing Stacie and my friends, not knowing exactly when I’ll be heading on a flight back to Durham, access to my books, and then there’s the issue that I haven’t cooked a meal for myself since sometime in July (not entirely the job’s fault, but I haven’t had regular access to a kitchen for six months). I have ideas for Fallout Durham that I want to get started on, but to do that, I need to be back in Durham for a lot more than I am presently.

So, with a heavy heart, I’ve handed in my notice and found a job that’s a bit closer to home (as an aside, I still haven’t wrapped my head around the idea that home is now Durham, rather than Bicester. I’m hoping that returning and staying will help bed that in). If you’d told me two years ago where I’d be working for the past six months, I would have laughed in your face. It’s been an amazing opportunity, and I’m sad to be leaving the team atmosphere of OSI.

However, this does mean that I can start planning my birthday (The phrase “21 knots, sir!” is a giant clue, by the way), our first wedding anniversary together, a series of concerts, and, yes, chocolates. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody in Durham a little more frequently than I have been over the last few months. Back in six days, everybody!

Health Via VISA

It started the day before I saw Los Campesinos! (who were, as ever, excellent, and I did bump into a few members of the band as I was walking through Echo Park waiting for the doors to open. But you never know exactly what to do in those situations, do you? Do you say ‘Hi’, when you’ve never actually met, but you’ve chatted with them on Twitter, and even sent them chocolates and sweets in a rather odd way of saying goodbye to the UK. Yeah, it was probably a good idea I didn’t say anything, I guess. Concert was great, a little less energetic than the last UK one I went to (along with a lack of vitriol screaming along to “You could never kiss a Tory boy”), but I didn’t feel as if I was the eldest person in the entire venue. Including the bar staff.)

Er, yes, it started the day before. A pain in my finger. I ignored it, because my fingers normally hurt once a week for some reason, and bleed once a month simply because they can - plus I bite the nails, and sometimes I bite down too far. So, didn’t really think about it. On Saturday, it was throbbing a bit, so I stuck a plaster on during the daytime, though again, I didn’t really think much about it. Another plaster went on when I came back from the concert. Now, I should have realised something was up when I had to take the plaster off at about 3am, but I was distracted by the arguing couple next door.

Sunday came and went, still with a sore finger, and then back to work. It was sometime on Monday afternoon when I looked at it properly for the first time since Friday.

It was bulging.

It was also getting considerably more painful. I did what any respecting thirty-two year-old would do at that point. I took a picture of it and sent it to my mother. “Does this look like an ingrowing fingernail to you?” I asked. “Also, Ow.” The response came back that it looked infected, which was what my internet research was suggesting as well. Monday night was very very painful, as the finger was so sensitive that even the slightest touch of the bedclothes was pure agony.

On Tuesday, then, the suggestions to go see a doctor started. I was resistant, because I hadn’t done that here yet, and I wasn’t actually sure how it all worked. Instead, I went to the pharmacist, who took one look at my finger and told me to go see a doctor. Ignoring him, I went back to work, actually feeling a bit better due to all the ibuprofen in my body, and thought I was over the worst.

The fever kicked in around 2130 on Tuesday night. Not fun. Really not fun. More unpleasantness followed in the morning (strangely, preceded by unpleasantness being heard from the room next door, to the point where I do wonder if part of my issue was a hotel-wide bug, but I digress). The suggestions of a doctor’s visit turned to pleading, and I was a bit worried myself by this point, so I printed out my insurance card and wandered off to the nearest Urgent Care facility.

It was somewhat smaller than your standard UK doctors - a tiny waiting area plus an office, with the beds and consulting rooms in the back. I obviously flagged their suspicions with my accent as I came in, but I surprised them by pointing out I did have insurance, so they gave me a bunch of forms to fill in and I sat, dizzily, waiting for somebody to see me.

“Er, Sir? I’m afraid we stopped taking your type of insurance at the end of January.”

At this point, I was starting to feel sick again. It was my own fault, of course - I had just assumed that places just took insurance. That was alien enough to me, being able to walk into an NHS facility back home, so this extra leap hadn’t occurred to me at all. The receptionist did however have the name of a clinic that would see me and said it wasn’t too far.

Unfortunately, what he meant was it wasn’t too far by car. On foot, mind you, it was a forty-five minute walk. Which I could handle. Just about. However, it then became clear I would have to walk alongside traffic on one of the busiest sections of the Pacific Coast Highway with no path, oh, and a 20-foot drop on the other side.

I seriously considered it, but even I’m not quite that crazy. And I had almost fallen into the road about three times by that point, so I wasn’t entirely confident about my abilities. I trudged back to a shopping complex and ordered a taxi. And then ordered another one after the first one was stolen right in front of me (though revenge was had the next day when the taxi driver phoned me up to see if I had left my umbrella behind - obviously he didn’t have the contact details for the guy who was really in the cab).

Eventually, I got to the second clinic. And they still took my insurance. After handing over the $20 co-pay, I got to see a doctor. Who I’m happy to report, was almost the spitting image of Dick Van Dyke, and acted in a similar manner (in a Diagnosis Murder way, not Mary Poppins, obviously). Two viral infections were diagnosed, and I was sent back to the local pharmacy armed with a prescription for antibiotics.

So I survived my first brief encounter with the American health system. Have to say that on balance I prefer my old way of doing things, but having insurance does make things run relatively smoothly here, at least for the little problems.

Sorry for the lack of updates since I got back to Los Angeles. Haven’t had a huge amount to say, and I thought I’d spare you all a long series of posts about Watching. Back in Durham for the weekend, then back here again for a few more weeks. Almost Spring.

We Regret To Inform You That We're Revoking Your Hipster Food License

One of the fun perks of the consultant life is expenses. As long as you’re not trying to eat at The French Laundry, the company credit card pays for breakfast, lunch and dinner (though it tends to be just lunch for me during the week). However, there is a little hitch, one that was brought to my attention over the Christmas break - people look at your receipts. Which makes sense, obviously, but it wasn’t something that I’d really thought about. But it means your eating habits are being tracked. They know I go to the same four restaurants during the week, they can cast an intrigued eyebrow - “Oh, The Cheesecake Factory again?”, (in my defence, it was during the 24-hour shift phase and it was the closest place to the hotel), and the sad shake of the head - “Quiznos? This boy will never be allowed to eat at any place in Durham once they hear about this!”

(Of course, they probably just file and process them without caring, but you know me, I’m the worrying type)

I’m now on my third hotel, though I haven’t moved much more than about a hundred metres from the previous one. I feel a bit like Goldilocks, though; I still haven’t found one that’s just right. The closest is probably the Courtyard Marriot at Marina Del Rey, which is closer to the offices than any of the others, though it’s cursed with horrible, horrible wifi. Couldn’t even get a decent torrent ratio going for Sherlock. Plus it’d take me about forty minutes to watch an episode of Father Ted. Thankfully, the current hotel has a more reliable connection, though it’s a bit further away, but just about within walking range to work and back. It does lack a fridge, but I’m only here for a few days.

(the other hotel - the Jamaica Bay Inn - was a bit odd in some ways, but has really nice rooms and great wifi, and the staff were always friendly, even spotting me in Target on occasion. Which, I’ll admit, may trip over into the realms of stalking, but they did it in a friendly manner! Plus they were upset that I was leaving after a short stay this time around)

Finally, I think I’m almost over this virus. I haven’t had to blow my nose for about two hours, and the chills and cotton wool head have stopped completely. Which is a bit annoying that it took almost the entire weekend to clear out, obliterating my plans for the past two days, but to be honest, I’m just happy to be feeling mostly human again. Hopefully, it’ll mean that tomorrow I can walk outside for more than twenty minutes without wanting to come back inside and lie down for the rest of the day.

And this weekend, back in Durham! For three days.