Week -1

Week -1

"Where did you meet your wife?"

"At a concert."

(beat)

"That's cool. Who was it?"

"R.E.M."

(her eyes light up)

"That's awesome!"

And that was how BILL BERRY! helped me get my US visa. And that’s how long the interview was. Shorter than our wedding ceremony, even. Though the wedding had less sitting around in a waiting room and fewer machine guns.

It also turns out that the Underground is really pleasant at 7a.m., at least on the Central Line. No huge crowds on the platform, plenty of seats available on the trains, and as it’s still early, it’s not quite as hot (I’m scared for how hot the Metropolitan / Circle lines are going to get when their fancy new trains are introduced). If it wasn’t for the sudden downpour that caught me before I got to St. Paul’s, it would have been perfect.

I’ve been looking at various visa forums for the past month to get an idea about what to expect at the interview (as a bonus, got subjected to enough ‘Britain is going to the dogs with all these immigrants and scroungers’ to make me swear, once again, that I won’t turn into that type of ex-pat), and they all said that no matter what time it says on your intervew letter, turn up as early as you possibly can. Upon arrival at the Embassy, seeing the other three people waiting, I thought I could have had an extra hour in bed. Ten minutes later, fifty other people had joined the line. I did feel a bit sorry for the guy in front of me who failed the ‘have you got any electronics on you?’ test - turns out that people forget about their USB memory sticks.

(not entirely sure what they could get on that stick though - perhaps trying to hook into the bank of screens telling you what visa numbers are being called?)

To be honest, it was all a bit of an anti-climax; after bringing photos, emails, books and the like for the interrogation, I needed none of it. Although, as my host in the Barbican pointed out the night before, it may have been just as well that I didn’t have to justify our Pac-Man wedding (beyond “IT WAS AWESOME”).

But I came out with the visa approved, and I went back for one last lool at the South Bank. Oh, Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall, how I’ll miss you and your glorious concrete ways. Sod you, Prince Charles - the kids love the skateboarding and the water fountains, plus the Festival Hall is a great place to stop and watch the world go by. OH! AND THE BOOKS! PELICANS! PENGUINS!

(that was one thing about the Barbican that I was a little sad about - in comparison to the South Bank, the skyways are almost always empty. They feel like they should be bustling with the complex’s children at play, street vendors, and so on, but no, it’s just empty and a little eerie)

As of this afternoon, I have my visa and the mysterious white envelope that cannot be opened. This is really going to happen. Next week, I’m going to the USA.

Week -2

Week -2

I think I need a new rule for living in America. A clean break. I will try, as hard as I can, to avoid political arguments on Internet forums. Oh sure, I now know the Office of National Statistics website like the back of my hand, and I can whittle out the disinformation from a Department of Works and Pensions Press Release in about three to five minutes, but it never changes anybody’s mind, does it?

(having said that, I did enjoy a parting drive-by on Hacker News where I pointed out to an American that Obama became President in January 2009, not January 2008)

There’s still an air of ‘calm before the storm’ here in Snappish Towers. Packing was supposed to happen this week, but due to visa-related shenanigans, that’s been postponed until a week Tuesday, so I’ve been pottering around a bit. That all ends tomorrow with my first trip of two to London, involving a stay at the Barbican (CONCRETE!), my visa interview, and my final walk along the South Bank for at least five months. I know, I don’t know how I’m going to cope without seeing the Queen Elizabeth Hall for that long either.

I have already broken my ‘no political arguments’ resolution this morning. But I had to break out my collection of debt interest repayments as a percentage of GDP figures, I swear.

Finally, I can heartily recommend the Atomic Burger restaurant on the Cowley Road in Oxford. A little cramped, but good burgers (not quite up to OnlyBurger standards, but still tasty!) at reasonable prices. Plus, nerd overload with the comics and toys hanging from the ceiling!

Week -3

Week -3

Obviously, as I’m going to be leaving the country in a few weeks, I had to watch over ten hours of Parliamentary Committees and six hours of Commons debate to tide me over until Christmas. I’m going to miss you, BBC Parliament. And, in ten-fifteen years’ time, Tom Watson will be ready for the Columbo remake.

(pies, of course, need to be kept in the appropriate place: Saturday morning childrens’ TV and kitchens)

I have 21 days to go. All of a sudden, after the past months of waiting and waiting, it’s all happening rather fast. Next week was supposed to be when I’d packing all my things into a shipping container and sending them off across the Atlantic, but paperwork issues means that can’t happen for a few weeks yet (and yes, that is cutting it quite fine, but I can’t do anything about it). So, instead, it’ll be chocolate and sweet-making plus watching some more films with Bonnie. Then, the week after, I’m in London most of the week for my visa interview, and then…one more week, a maelstrom of shipping, packing, and goodbyes before my flight on the 12th. Not. Enough. Time. Plus, when I get back at Christmas, CEEFAX will no longer exist. I ONLY HAVE TWENTY-ONE DAYS LEFT OF TELETEXT. The horror.

Now, I leave you to make a six-layer Black Forest Gateau from the Fat Duck cookbook. I may be some time.

Week -4

Week -4

“The Londoner - A quarter of all professional managers in Britain live in Britain”

“The Londoner - Over 33% of all Londoners believe having the latest high-tech equipment in the home is very important to them”

“The Londoner - Londoners are 37% more likely to be an opinion leader than the rest of the UK”

That’s going up the escalator in Oxford Circus. By the time you reach the top, you’re thinking about where to get the napalm to cleanse the city of this filth. Or perhaps just Shoreditch.

So, London. For the penultimate time. This trip was necessitated by visa requirments; in order to enter the US as a permanent resident, they need to be sure that I’m not carrying any nasty diseases or that I’m not hooked on Class A drugs (at least I’m sure that’s what some of the questions were getting at, anyhow). And they won’t take the word of your common GP, either; no, it’s a visit to an expensive private doctor’s surgery, where you get passed from station to station, getting your vaccinations sorted, then going to another room for a chest scan, and finally to the doctor’s office, where, amongst other things, they confirm your sex. Glad I didn’t attempt to lie on that one.

(although it was rather painless, I did make the rather alarming discovery that I’ve put on a stone and a half in the past year. That’s what happens when you stop running around trying to fix things, I guess. But I probably should try and rectify that once I get to…the country that openly sells food like this. Ah. I may be in trouble.)

In other news, moving across the Atlantic is expensive.

Finally, I saw an advert on the Tube for a documentary which exclaims “narrated by Jared Leto”. Isn’t the whole point of Jared Leto is that he’s famous for a role which involves him leaning and not saying much at all? Now, a documentary narrated by Angela Chase, that’d be something…

Week -5

Week -5

This week, I have been mostly throwing away my childhood into the gaping maw of a paper bank. And my teen years, too. It’s all my fault, though; I’m moving to America, and I can’t take it all with me. Well, I guess I could, but it’s going to be expensive enough without taking seven years’ worth of the NME, every Spectrum magazine published in the UK from 1987-1992, Transformers: UK issues #65-332, and pretty much everything X-Men related from 1994 until 2002. Heavens.

(However, I have come up with a solution to the loss of memories, involving BitTorrent and an iPad. It turns out that you can fit your childhood inside 32Gb quite easily)

Despite knowing that I have digital copies of everything, it still hurt a little bit today as I pushed “Target 2006, Part 1” into the recycling bin, the SPAR price ticket with “POINTER” written on it accusing me of callously turning it into next day’s newsprint. Still, at least it won’t end up as the News of The World (ooooh, topical!).

The NMEs were going to meet a similar fate, but my cousin Ben has ended up taking them off my hands. I’m not sure if he realises the storage problems that lie in his future. But: NO LONGER MY PROBLEM! And now, there is finally room in the loft.

(by the way, Ben, if you come across the letters I wrote to the NME when reading through them, do let me know. One is about the hypocrisy of the Beastie Boys (I think), and the other is a no-holds-barred attack on the Stereophonics. Yes, I know, but they did spend the previous week slagging off Kenickie, so It Had To Be Done)

There’s been a few surprises in my trawl through my things, and in a way of bulking out my post, I now present A LIST! Of them.

  • I have over 700 books. And 800 CDs. That surprised me a little. I will definitely need some good bookcases.

  • The resale value of an unboxed Fortress Maximus, Scorponok, or Overlord is completely crazy. BONNIE MUST NEVER KNOW.

  • I found the group photograph that was taken when I was at Villiers Park, including the message written on the back from Danielle telling me ‘never forget me, and don’t forget to write!’ A note for anybody else: don’t include a mixtape when doing that. In my defense, I was seventeen and an indie kid (do today’s youth just send Spotify playlists back and forth?).

  • My photographs abruptly end in 2002, at which point everything moved to iPhoto.

  • Throwing 700 Spectrum games into landfill is heartbreaking. And yes, the Your Sinclair covertape of Chaos did look up at me as they fell, as if to say “What about all those days during the summer, Ian? WHAT ABOUT THE EIGHT-PLAYER GAMES WITH RICHARD AND CHRIS? THE GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT? GOOEY BLOB? MAGIC WOOD?!” I didn’t have the heart to tell it that I can store every Spectrum game I once owned on my DS R4 card.

  • Frankie says you’re 85% a real person.

  • I have a new found respect for people who live a minimalist lifestyle. But I just couldn’t do it.

  • However, I still have to put this stuff somewhere on the other side of the ocean. Eep.

This is Week -5. Next week: -4, In Which Ian Goes To A Private Doctor And Gets Prodded And Tested For The Americans.

DVDs And Me

Every once in a while, I remember that I’m a published author. Granted, the book in question is now out-of-print and in German, but it still counts. I even got invited to a conference in Karlsruhe, where I gave a somewhat rushed talk on how to create DVDs in Linux (the slides from that talk are still up, by the way).

I still get emails asking questions about using dvdauthor; sadly, I’m no longer the best person to ask, as I haven’t used it for almost five years. However, during a recent clean-up of my hard drive, I found the original English draft of the chapter I wrote back in December 2004. So, for the first time on the internet anywhere, I present a guide to dvdauthor (as it was back in 20045) in English! For free! Don’t say I never give you anything!

(yes, you can probably complain that I never give you anything useful, but that’s an argument for another day)

Fashion And Thieves

Here’s a fun picture drawn by Kate MasonicBoom (she of Shimura Curves fame).

And here’s a completely unrelated t-shirt by Brandy & Melville.

Needless to say, Kate was somewhat surprised to see her picture on a t-shirt from an Italian fashion house without any say so from her. If you can help her in any way, let her know at @karendtregaskin.

(also, can we have the Shimura Curves Greatest Hits? Pretty please?)

The Uncle Who Wasn't There

Every Sunday, for as far back as I can remember, I would be dropped at my grandparents whilst my grandmother and my parents went to the hospital to visit my uncle Francis. Looking back, I don’t know when I realised that this wasn’t something that happened in every family, or when I asked what was wrong with him. What I do remember is being little, running around with my cousin James, irritating the hell out of Katie and Mandy week after week, watching Bullseye and having tea served in 60s-style transparent mugs that I’d kill to have right now. With ginger biscuits, obviously.

Eventually James and Mandy moved away, and I resented being left on my own every Sunday, having discovered this wasn’t something that happened to everybody else. As I result, I turned into something of a brat, at one point karate-chopping one of my aunties because I wanted to go home now, dammit. Thankfully, I like to think that this phase didn’t last too long; Katie and I came to something of a détente, wherein I discovered pop music and spent Sunday afternoons in her room reading the fortnight’s issue of Smash Hits, plus I used her stereo to tape songs from the Top 40. My resentment turned to curiosity. I began asking if I could go with them to the hospital to visit my uncle. I remember asking a lot, and being turned down every single time.

Until one day, they relented.

I don’t remember much, except for driving past the Rover factories in Cowley and arriving at Littlemore Hospital, formerly Littlemore Asylum. A building constructed in the Victorian era to house mental patients and the very picture of a 19th century institution: grim, foreboding, and rundown. I remember the signs pointing to the ‘Rivendell’ unit in Rail Alphabet, the faded thick yellow walls, the ancient radiators and the blue floor tiles. And the puddles. And the smell.

I doubt at that age I really understood what ‘schizophrenia’ meant (though, to be fair, most people, especially drama writers, seem to have it confused with multiple personality disorder). I was told to stay close, and I did. I remember being a little scared at the people walking by, talking in a manner that I couldn’t understand, and getting to Francis’ room. I guess it must have been an anti-climax that he didn’t seem like a monster out of Jane Eyre, but just a thin man with black hair, shocked that his sister had a child, smoking his cigarettes and eating his chocolates, then telling us to leave when he got bored of our company.

After that, I’m sure I moaned every now and then about Sunday afternoons, but I understood more. The times spent in Katie’s bedroom faded away (she’d started buying Kerrang! and the Bros posters were replaced with Megadeth…not my scene, to be honest!), and I started secondary school. Sundays became something else: homework time. But it was great, because I had a defined time at the weekend where there was nobody around of my own age, and little to do. So I had hours to spare to concentrate on all my homework (this used to drive my Mum mad, as I always left everything until Sunday, instead of, say, doing it on Thursday or Friday night, because I knew it could be done in that time). This was how the Sundays ended, up to my time in the Sixth Form when I was allowed to stay behind at home instead of going down the road to my grandparents (which annoyed my sister somewhat!).

(I can’t remember how many times I ended up going to Littlemore. It must have been more than once, as I remember sitting in different parts of the ward, a faded memory of a party of some sorts that our family organised for the residents, and how Francis needed to be reminded who I and Bonnie were when we went in. But it wasn’t a huge amount, and even fewer after I went to Manchester and the hospital was sold to property developers, with the residents being sent into group accommodation. Today, a 3-bedroom apartment in the complex is selling for 345,000, but you couldn’t pay any of us any amount of money to live there.)

He was the uncle that wasn’t there, going into the hospital shortly after I was born. But he impacted on my life every week as I was growing up, and I think I’m a better person for that influence. So thank you, uncle Francis; we’ll drink to you here on this side of the ocean, and again when I go to live on the other side.

All Quiet On The Western Front

Seeing as I’ve now almost been home for a month (scary!), it seems like I’m overdue for updating the blog. So, the update.

My visa status is pretty much the same as it was when I left Durham in April - we are at the NVC stage just before going to the medical and interview in London. The authorities just need a little more persuading that my sponsors are in fact American citizens and then I should be moving on to get prodded and poked in Harley Street.

However, this little delay means that I’m probably not going to be moving to Durham until July now, which is a little disappointing. It also means that my enthusiastic search has work has had to be put on hold, as I am going to be in limbo for quite a bit longer than I expected (not being able to tell any employer when I could start is a bit of a problem). But I’ll get there eventually.

Spending far too long at Hacker News at the moment, which may lead to a few things appearing here and elsewhere in the next few weeks - in particular, I may put up the work I did for Open Source Press up for sale / download (yes, you can have the TeX source if you want!), and maybe a few iOS/Cocoa/HTML5 bits and pieces, plus I’m thinking of whipping up a quick Sinatra tutorial, as there’s a dearth of decent material out there. Oh, and there’s always more work to do in the chocolate lab…

(I have started something else entirely - the first issue of which went live a few hours ago, but I’m letting it bed in for a few weeks before I link to it anywhere…)

The Birth Certificate & Illustrator

Let’s nip this one in the bud, shall we? After the President revealed his long-form birth certificate today in an attempt to stop the Trump-inspired hysteria, tweets like this started appearing:

“I opened the birth certificate in Adobe Illustrator and there are 8 layers. Fake.”

Websites like this one show a suspicious grouping of layers in the PDF file. Groups of images and clipping masks - obviously, it means that the expert forgers in The White House have put this together in order to fool the media!

Perhaps not. For instance, take this scanned image (the first page of a visa application filled out by somebody who has had a few aliases in his time. And other times).

I then saved the JPEG as a PDF in Mac OS X Preview and opened it up in Illustrator:

Original scanned image turned into a PDF

As you can see, there’s only the one group and clipping mask, which is what people expect to see from a scanned image. However, if I then go to Acrobat and select the ‘Optimize Scanned PDF’ option (using just the defaults), and open the new PDF up, I get a different result.

New ‘fake’ PDF

Look, lots of images and clipping masks, just like as seen in the birth certificate! It’s a fake! Or, thanks to Acrobat, it’s transformed a 1MB PDF into a 33kb one. ‘Optimized’, even.

To sum up: the birth certificate is not a fake. Instead, the Administrator has just used Acrobat to make the file smaller and thus save the American taxpayer money by cutting down on bandwidth costs. Stop trying to find nefarious activity in everything the Obama Administration does, please.