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.

AA173 And Blushing

Okay, so today, I’ve learnt two things. One, assassin films are immensely improved by the addition of a stereotype upper-middle class Britain family on holiday, and two: I am incapable of traveling light. I left two 60 gallon boxes filled back at Maplewood (yes, American gallon, but still, that’s quite a lot!), but somehow I was over the baggage limit. I avoided paying extra by the curious idea of taking fondant as part of my carry-on luggage. Cue lots of strange looks as I tried to explain what fondant was used for, and why, despite looking like plastique, it is actually a quite pleasant vanilla flavour. Though for all I know, plastique could come in an assortment of flavourings. I like the cilantro-lime version, myself. Nothing else quite says “STICK IT TO THE MAN/AMERICA/ISRAEL/OTHER” with citrus overtones.

I am also fully aware that typing away on an iPad 2, complete with Carolina Blue smart cover makes me the worst type of passenger. I’m waiting for somebody to one-up me my pulling out a 64Gb 3G version. But for now, I AM GEEKIEST ON THE PLANE!

time passes. again

One note for flying on the plane: Yes, having an iPad is fun and gives you lots more options over the plane’s entertainment options (especially if you’re on a 767-300 with overhanging televisions instead of the 777 you used to fly on. CURSE YOU, AA!). However, the danger in watching episodes of Skins on the flight is that people sitting next to you will always look over your shoulder at the exact moment a sex scene comes on. Or just when girls are wandering around with pretty much nothing else. Yes, you’re not watching porn. It’s a popular TV show! Yet you’ll somehow still feel rather awkward.


Today, I knelt down against a wall with my hands on my head underneath the ground waiting for a tornado to hit us, and then watched girls on skates beating each other up. HOW WAS YOUR WEEKEND, EH?

Papusas, Clouds, and Nesquik

I forgot to mention that I played Lazer Tag again last week. For some of you, this will bring to mind the time when I was a teenager and somehow managed to obtain a negative score, resulting in endless ridicule from my sister, who would probably wipe everybody out and then taze them all just to make sure. All while still in her wheelchair, of course (you can crawl into a corner and die, ATOS Origin).

This time, though, I did not come last! I did not have a negative score! I came a respectable 10th out of 20th, and was something like the 4th best on my team! Okay, we lost, but still! I feel redeemed after beating a bunch of teenagers and primary schoolers! YES!

I suppose this week’s major event has been less a ‘Yeah! America!’ thing and more of ‘well, I’ve never had to go through this process before’. Maplewood needs a new housemate (actually, two), and this week we’ve been getting replies to a Craigslist ad, filtering out those that we think would be a good fit, and having them come over (or Skype!) to see what they’re like in person.

(of course, I say ‘we’, but I mean the people of Maplewood. I’ve just been an observer!)

And it’s difficult! I didn’t realise just how difficult…yeah, something of a sheltered life, I guess. You see various people, all of whom seem to have their good points, and all who seem nice, and you have to pick one and hope that they’re not really a serial killer hiding behind their professed love of Cary Grant films. I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision there. I did, however, get a visit to the Green Market and the Durham Library book sale out of the process, so hurrah!

(the Green Market is particularly awesome - 12 limes for a dollar? HELL YES)

I’m still not completely into the swing of updating the blog, as you’ve probably noticed. I have been trying to make some headway through the list of items I posted a couple of weeks ago, but as normal that list remained accurate for all of about one day. So far, I’ve made the Daim bits and the Salt’n’Pepper bars (the latter being much more popular than I expected!), plus had a brutal failure with the gummies. Less gummy and more rubber cement. I did add something to the list, though: Nesquik Caramels. Artifical strawberry goodness! This week, I’m making the eggs and maybe a little experiment with pectin before I leave next Sunday.

Oh, and for those of you at home keeping score, yes, we did go to Asian Grill on Saturday, making it three Saturdays out of three. They’re going to be disappointed when we don’t show next week…

Pavements, Durham, and Oh My!, The Food

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!

Coming up from the Fallout Durham Labs

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
  • Daim Bits
  • 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.

If You Like It So Much, Why Don't You Marry It?

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.