I am beginning to think that American urban planners have a pathological hatred of pedestrians. Oh, sure, there’s the usual problem of not having a lot of pavements around, but I’ve discovered a far more devious and sinister scheme on their part. To whit:
You’re walking down a fairly busy road, happily walking along the pavement, enjoying the day, when all of a sudden, you realize that the pavement is about to run out, turning into dirt grass. Now, perhaps in summer, this is fine, but after a week of rain, not so much. However, when you look across the road, you see that a line of pavement has begun where before there was only mud. Your choice is to possibly ruin your shoes, or cross. And of course, there’s no crossing point, so you take your life in your hands and run across the busy road, back in the safe confines of concrete.
Until you walk about five hundred metres, at which point, the pavement disappears. However, it has started back on the other side again.
This process repeats enough times that I’m convinced that planners take bets on how many walkers they can bump off in a year.
(having said that, Durham is a bit friendlier than your typical small American city when it comes to pedestrian and public transit facilities. Can you imagine travelling anywhere in Oxford on the bus network for $1? Or a day pass offering unlimited day travel for $2? And a free bus service connecting downtown Oxford to the Cowley Road and Summertown? And run by the city instead of scum like Stagecoach? I tell you, the dark socialist future that Obama heralds IS ALREADY HERE. RUN FOR THE HILLS)
Right, having got my moan out of the way, something a little more positive. When I first lived here back in 2002, my exposure to American food was pretty woeful. I pretty much lived in Miami Subs, Panera, and I Love NY Pizza, supplemented by scary things then went into the microwave and came out as flowing molten slabs of cheese and pepperoni. Happily, I was taken under the wing of my eventual wife, who has expanded my horizons quite considerably, to the extent that I’ll be attempting oysters next week (not entirely sure about those, but we’ll see!).
(UPDATE: Oysters did not go well. Mac and Cheese much better, though!)
There’s been a few great meals so far on this holiday, but the standout at the moment has to be the soup dumplings at Asian Grill in Raleigh. They’re like magic - meat and a jellied broth enclosed in dumpling pastry, then steamed, which turns the jelly back into a piping hot liquid, but still inside the dumpling. Heston Blumenthal himself couldn’t improve on it (doubtless, he’d add truffle oil somewhere…). We went back on Saturday and ordered two plates of six (between three of us, I might add!), only to be told off by the front of house for not trying something new. We did point out that we were coming back in a week, and left with a bunch of suggestions for next time. Mind you, I do fancy the Dan Dan noodles again!
Still haven’t decided on how I’m going to put information up on Fallout Durham, so I’m putting it here for now. For those of you still on tenterhooks waiting for the I Can Prove It With Graphs series of chocolates, I’m sad to say that they’ve been indefinitely delayed due to me falling ill for most of February. Instead, when I get back home, you’ll
be treated to Goodbye, Great Britain, which will be Royal and Tory free (also, FREE BEN!). You might get some concrete, mind you…
Anyway, in the meantime, we’re doing some testing over here in Durham. Our current slate includes:
Salt & Pepper Bars
Caramelized Cacao Nib Bars
Tequila Ganache Squares
Dark Chocolate Kinder Eggs (should that be Erwachsener Eggs?)
Blood Orange Aero Eggs
Experiments With Gummies
Plus, if time, a salt, pepper, and chili mango pate de fruit with a hint of lime
(the gummies will have an impact on the Goodbye, Great Britain series if successful. Anybody for Pimm’s, perchance?)
Quite a bit to do, but as the weather looks awful this week, I will hopefully get some done this week. Pictures will of course follow.
Mar 23, 2011 · 2 minute read
durham funnelcake foodcarts and a parade!
Reader, I married him. And by ‘him’, I mean a city of 250,000 people located in the Triangle area of North Carolina that is defiantly gender neutral.
No, I’m not a bigamist…or at least, not in the eyes of the law or the church. Last Saturday was the date of Marry Durham, an open-air wedding in the centre of Durham to express people’s love of the city, complete with food trucks and entertainment. Any resemblance to a wedding held a year ago in the centre of Durham is either a complete coincidence or something where we need to talk about royalties, depending on how we’re feeling from one moment to another. Besides, it was nice to see over a thousand people turn out to celebrate Durham, with a wedding ceremony that resembled a left-wing rally more than a regular service, but that just added to the fun (with Spanish translation and signing interpreters, no less!). And it meant I got to see the insides of the new Motorco and Fullsteam buildings too! Plus another sausage from Farmhouse (no OnlyBurger at the wedding, so we one-upped them there!)
Since then, it has been a bit quiet - the length of my visit means that there’s no rush to try and fit everything in like at Christmas, and Stacie is back at college now, so we’re running on a slower pace right now. Which has its benefits; I’m sitting here typing this in Carrboro watching the people roll by and the temperature rise.
(I do plan on doing some work here too; there will be chocolate and a few computer things to hack on. But I’m easing into it)
And sometimes, even the most mundane tasks result in something fun and different. Take last night for example; we went to get a sandwich, but couldn’t find a parking space. Instead of hanging around, we drove off and around, looking for open restaurants. We didn’t find one, but in a car park we did stumble across a Ferris Wheel and an accompanying fairground which had appeared seemingly from nowhere. Funnel cake and deep-fried Twinkies were had (along with a healthier serving if spiced mango. All part of a balanced breakfast, I assure you). Just another day in Durham.
Mar 11, 2011 · 5 minute read
back on the block website design stuffnobodycaresabout and fonts
Hi. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? What have you been up to, I wonder? I’ve been sitting around waiting for various Government departments to get their act together, whilst staring at shelves and wondering how on Earth I’m going to get all this stuff from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
Oh, and making chocolates. As ever.
Last time I was here, I said that I was going to take a break from the blog for a while. The idea was that I’d work on a new design in secret, and then I’d blast back onto the scene after stepping off the plane in North Carolina, regaling you with all my tales of settling into a strange world were purple means grape instead of blackcurrant.
It was a good plan. However, it was also a plan that did not take bureaucracy into account. Silly. So here we are. But! In a surprise twist, I actually am going to North Carolina next week, and for a month to boot, so perhaps I can entertain you instead with tales of a temporary visit in the meantime. Come on, I know you’re all just aching to see if I walk to Target for a third time, aren’t you?
Right now, though, it’s time for the boring bit, the part I’m making you sit through because I’ve spent time putting this new site together, and by golly, I’m going to tell you all about it. For those of you not interested in blog design, er, here’s Kenickie’s Nightlife video.
For those that remain, then. Things have changed a little both behind the scenes and in your browser window. Firstly, in a possibly retrograde step, I have stopped using MovableType. And I’m not using WordPress or Drupal either. Instead, I’ve dropped all the way back to static files. Writing posts in a text editor again - how punk is that? (all the cool kids started doing it over a year ago, idiot - Ed.) Instead, I’m using a Ruby-based system called Jekyll, which simply transforms text files using a set of templates. There’s no management console, no database store running everything in the background; nothing but a set of HTML files.
Why would I do such a thing? Well, for a start, I no longer have to worry about upgrading MovableType any longer. I don’t have to worry about possible hacking attempts on the site, and well, I’m on an old-school kick at the moment, so the idea of having everything in a bunch of flat text files is appealing. Plus, by the time you read this, the files will be stored in a Dropbox folder so I can add content using my iPad or iPhone from anywhere in the world! Exciting, I know (and yes, I know that you could do that with a proper blogging CMS too, but using Dropbox allows me to use something like SimpleNote or iA Writer instead of a specific app).
“Aha!” I hear you cry. “But what about comments? Yeah, those things that haven’t been working here for months because you got bored with dealing with spam fifty times a day. What are you going to do about them?”
To which I reply: “I switched them off so I wouldn’t have to hear you whine! Also, I have enough viagra and Nigerian gold now to last a lifetime. Oh, and Disqus.” Yes, I’ve hopped on another bandwagon, outsourcing my comments to a third-party service. What could possibly go wrong?
Anyway, that’s the backend changes. But I’m guessing that you didn’t notice that I had junked my CMS when you first got here. I imagine it was more along the lines of “What? Has Ian forsaken HELVETICA, of all things? Are these indeed the End Times?” or “Oh, it’s changed. Not sure if I like it.”
Yes, I have thrown out Helvetica, if only for the moment. You can rest assured that my love for it remains as strong as my love for Apple, Lauren Laverne, and the original coconut Boost. I just thought it’d be nice to have something a little different this time around. While I was coming up with the last redesign, I did have a brief period where I wanted to re-do everything in a McSweeney’s style; heaping on serifed text designs and keeping things image-free. That didn’t happen, but the idea remained, and this time around, the serifs finally won out, though I expect there will be a counter-attack by the forces of sans-serif in the future (as you can see in the Snappish Thoughts link at the bottom, they’re still around, if vastly diminished).
Out with Helvetica, and in with Hoefler Text (my first choice would have been Garamond, but Hoefler has the advantage of being installed on most Macs and iPads), falling back to Times if you’re some sort of heathen. Or run Windows.
(as an aside, it really does look much better in Hoefler; Times works but eh, it’s not half as pretty)
(as a second aside, a shout-out must be given to Mr. Tom Parnell’s splendid wine website for throwing up Hoefler as a possibility when I was looking in his CSS files. Although Tom does default to Garamond if you’ve got it!)
I use a bit of @font-face for the Snappish Thoughts logo, but there’s not too many HTML5/CSS3 tricks included on the page right now. I’m saving those for a few other projects. More soon…
Right, that’s the boring stuff out of the way. I will now completely forget that this blog exists for a month and then write something apologetic when I get home from Durham. Talk amongst yourselves.
(oops, one more. If you’re using a version of IE prior to IE9 to view this site, I’m so sorry. So very sorry.)
Last Friday, I watched all sixth episodes of The Friday Night Armistice, in an attempt to cleanse my mind from having watched 10 O’Clock Live on Channel 4 the night before. It was something of a train wreck, and one of my tweets about asking Channel 4 for The Daily Show back got quite a few retweets by the end of the hour.
And yet I watched it again this week.
I want the show to work, for a variety of reasons. Have I Got News For You should have been taken out back and shot almost a decade ago, and Mock The Week is little more than a comedian showcase (in the moments when it is somewhat amusing). It's a little embarrassing that the best TV political satire over the past few years came from John Bird and John Fortune. Plus, Channel 4 needs to atone for The 11 O'Clock Show. And Tonightly.
Anyway, 10 O'Clock Live. The worst part about last week was that you could see the glimmers of a half-decent show peeking out from the junk being televised. Links being dropped, the audience going wild over Jimmy Carr's awful gags, Brooker's abysmal Sarah Palin segment that almost made me feel sorry for her, cutting off interviews just as they were starting to get interesting, and, although I love Lauren Laverne as much as I love chocolate digestive biscuits, her input to the show would have been better if she had stayed at home. But…but…David Mitchell turned in a reasonable performance, and you could see how, with trimming a bit here and there and letting things like interviews breathe a little more, it could work.
This week didn't quite work, either. But it was much improved. Yes, I'm never going to like Carr's opening monologue, mainly because I don't like his humour all that much - but this week he seemed to be engaging with the live format instead of just trying to get from his lines as fast as possible (though he still needs to work on the interviewing part - or they should only have one interviewee per show - cutting off the economist just as he was going to explain the deficit made the entire segment pretty worthless). Mitchell got eaten alive by Alastair Campbell, but the interview seemed to flow better than last week, and his monologue about the Olympic Stadium was quite strong. Brooker is trying to get his Lewis Black impression down pat and not quite succeeding, but at least it wasn't as bad as his Palin VT…and then there's Laverne.
I still don't think they know what to do with her; the criticism from the papers last week centred on Lauren being saddled with the secretary position (mostly ignoring the WNN sketch...which I would love to, but the bleach hasn't quite reached that part of my mind just yet). That didn't really change very much tonight - she was still in the role of 'keeping the boys in order' and 'well, what have we learned today, children?'. The SERCO segment seemed to be an attempt to give her something more to do, and hurrah for that…but we needed a bit more evidence - maybe a VT segment with Laverne trying to get information from the company or something, rather than the out-of-the-blue talk we got from her.
But quite an improvement from last week, even if it still has deep problems. By the time it finishes its run in April, it might even get quite good…
Eventually, I will be moving to America. It has come to my attention that I have far too much stuff. I’m trying to get rid of some of that at the moment, so if you have anybody who really wants to get their hands on Spectrum games, send them to me.
Anyway, over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sticking a load of comics up on eBay (and some on Amazon Marketplace: currently Ruins, Zenith, and a limited edition FLCL DVD box set!), but if anybody sees anything they like here beforehand, get in touch:
Agent X 1-7
Ministry of Space 1-2
Howard The Duck (MAX Series) 1-6
Powers 15,17-19,21-22, 25-30 + Giant Sized Annual 1
Transformers: The War Within 1-6
Stormwatch Team Achilles 3-10
Legion of Superheroes v4 (TMK / Five Year Gap) 1-39 + annual 1-3
Vertigo Pop: Tokyo 1-4
Avengers 303-310, 14-24,26-30,36-58
And more to come, once I find out where my copies of Global Frequency and The Ultimates are (seeing as how I disliked both series, I really don’t need to keep hold of them!).
(and if someone fancies buying a run of X-Men comics covering 1994-2002, they will be my new best friend!)
In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a good idea to get caught up in an epic 4chan event the night before my rescheduled flight. Although to be fair, it’s not everyday the Panty & Stocking OST is leaked by a 15-year-old in Japan one track at a time, with a bunch of anime nerds hanging on whether he’s finished his 45-minute breakfast yet.
(uh, I guess you had to be there. The cries of glee when ‘Fly Away Now’ was leaked were something to behold. And disturbing. But I guess you have to expect that when on 4chan)
Anyway, my trip to Durham was slightly derailed by the East Coast blizzard. If I had flown out on Boxing Day, or today, it would have been fine, but I chose the 27th and ended up staring at the ‘CANCELLED’ status on Boxing Day as the snow kept coming down. That’ll teach me for being so blasé about Heathrow last week.
It took almost two hours to get through to somebody at American Airlines, but when I eventually did, they were very helpful; they could’t get me on the direct flight to RDU on the 28th, but they could me there via Chicago. So here I am again, on the Airline bus from Oxford, heading off to Heathrow to catch AA87 to Chicago, and then a connecting flight to Durham. ADVENTURES!
… time passes …
And 40,000 feet in the air, I have just finished watching Utopia London, leaving me with a great urge to slap Alice Coleman and Mrs. Thatcher (natch). However, it has given me a few more places to visit in London; in particular, I want to go to Alexandra Road in Camden. Hearing how the architect specifically built parts of the structure for children to play on and around was a heartening counterpoint to the neoliberal destruction of the Welfare State and the demolition of Pimlico School. But don’t worry, I’m sure the Lib Dems will prevent the Tories from doing even more damage. Ha. Maybe I should do a modernism tour of Britain before I leave, as it might not be there the next time I come back.
Now, though, I’m a little worried. My plane is running 40 minutes late. I have to clear customs, pick up my baggage, transfer to a different terminal and get on my flight to Durham in an hour. Whilst customs might be a bit quicker now that we don’t have to fill in the visa waiver form, I think I’m going to be cutting it quite fine…
Children everywhere. Screaming ones in the rows fore and aft, obnoxious whining ones next to me. And really, who calls their child ‘Sears’? I may come by my American culture through an outsider’s perspective (at least for now), but surely that’s just setting the child up for endless mockery of the commercial cataloguing business variety (mind you, I think the brother was called either Winfield or Winchester, so he may have got off lightly).
en route to Raleigh-Durham Airport
I was beginning to think that I was lucky. Yes, my flight was half-an-hour late, meaning I’d probably have to rush to the other terminal to catch my flight, but as I approached the customs queue, I was whisked away by a exasperated TSA man trying to get people to go to the other arrival hall. You know us British seeing a queue and all that. So I got to the other hall, and there was nobody there. Nobody. An entire bank of immigration officers just waiting to process us! Hurrah! A Christmas miracle!
“Why are you visiting the United States?”
“I’m here to visit my wife.”
That changed the tone of the conversation somewhat. Gone was the slightly-friendly countenance, and in its place came a barrage of questions. When did we meet? Is she an American citizen? Do I have a return ticket? Has she applied for a visa for me? When? Why don’t I have it yet? Are you just going to leave your job? And so on.
I may have made the mistake of telling him too much, talking about the long processing time we’ve been experiencing, and how we were going to contact our Congressman whilst I was over (in my defense, I was panicking a bit when he asked ‘why don’t you have it yet?’, as my immediate answer of ‘I haven’t the foggiest, except Texas seem to be slowcoaches!’ probably wouldn’t have helped matters. Anyway, I was told to wait behind the black line, as I had to be seen by somebody with acres to ‘the other system’. Yes, time for another trip to the enclosed room. As I left, I saw that I had built up a queue of about ten people behind me. Oops.
After about fifteen minutes sitting on the plain white bench in the waiting room, I was called in to see the other officer. Thankfully, this went rather quickly - I just gave him the date of my NOA1 receipt and explained the Congressman bit a little further (he asked about it, so obviously the first officer wrote it down on the record screen; whether that’s a good thing or not, remains to be seen), and I was free. Unfortunately, that took precious time that I didn’t have.
There was a bit of a rush to Terminal 3, Which was a shame as I wanted to get a photo of the O’Hare map - nice typography! Of course, I got into the terminal to be confronted by a mass of people waiting for their security check. And my plane had started boarding ten minutes ago. Eeeep. Thankfully, a friendly TSA agent came to my rescue and pulled me through, getting to the gate with moments to spare.
So now 30,000 feet up, tired beyond belief (up since 4am, and due to the 4chan adventure, I didn’t really sleep anyway), but I’m finally heading to RDU. Hurrah!
I have now left work, and whilst I’ll be spending quite a bit of December in the kitchen, I’ve put up a year round-up in the form of an Advent Calendar on the site. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a fun play-around with some of the features available in HTML5:
<video> tags for clips (though only in MPEG-4, so they’re not visible in Firefox).
The CSS3 @font-face property allows me to render text using a font that you most likely don’t have on your system. For the window numbers, I used Meredith Mandel’s Chunk (Five) font. Yes, not Helvetica for once!
Using <canvas> to make a snowflake particle system as a background. I had a particle system in mind from the beginning, but I spent last week messing around with a set of CSS3 parallax scrolling backgrounds. It looked great on Safari/Chrome, but just didn’t work on Firefox, and the Mobile Safari version was awfully slow. So, I went back to
The windows use a CSS3 transition animation to flip to white (while the text goes to ‘not-quite-Cadbury-purple’). CSS3 rotations are used on the pop-up elements. Because I can.
If you come back on another day, the doors you have already opened will open - the page uses HTML5 localStorage to keep track of where you’ve been.
And a heaping slab of jQuery to make everything work.
While it’s not earth-shattering, I think it’s not too bad for something I knocked together in a couple of hours over the last week. No images, no server round-trips, just one single HTML file that only depends on pulling in jQuery, the Chunk OpenType font file, and any audio/visual resources when called upon.
For my next trick…a Google Maps anti-kettle web app?