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.

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…


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.


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.