DMV Adventures!

It’s been a bit of a busy week here at Snappish Towers (tower is pushing a bit, but who knows - we’ve already built a new bedroom. Who’s to say that we won’t construct a modernist spire in the next week?). I’ve had job interviews, experience with the infamous DMV, and as I write this, I’m on my way back to Durham on a bus from Washington D.C.. And by the looks of the traffic up ahead, I may be so for the next ten hours.

Anyway, the DMV. Feared and hated by most Americans (one person I know told me that she was trying to gain telekinetic powers so she could alter the expiry date on her licence and not have to go through the torture again. Which seems a little much, but maybe standing out in a lightning storm hoping to gain magical powers will have other benefits), I had to go in order to get a Learner’s Permit. Because, yes, I’m going to try and learn to drive again. My rationale is three-fold:

  • It’s America.
  • Surely, an automatic car is going to be easier than having to use gears?
  • Seriously, it’s America. If you don’t live in New York, you can’t function without one.

So, we went. And we waited. And we waited. And waited some more whilst three different queuing systems slowly counted up, the queue I was in going quite fast until it got to the number right before mine, at which point it stopped moving for about twenty minutes. But eventually, I was called up, filled out and answered the questions (including: “Do you want to register to vote?” / “Er, I probably shouldn’t should I? It would create all kinds of trouble” / “Indeed it would”), and was then told: “Okay, so go over to the terminal and take the test.”


It turns out that to get a learning permit in North Carolina, you have to take a written test first. It would have been nice to know beforehand. You were allowed to get 5 out of 25 wrong, so I didn’t have to get everything right, but still, all I know about the rules of North Carolina driving is that you drive on the right and you can turn right on red in most cases. And I have not gone into a test without revising for over fifteen years.

As you can imagine, I was a bit nervous. Even more so when I got questions 2-5 wrong. Somehow, I managed to only pick up two more wrong answers on the way to 25, and was handed my temporary Learner’s Permit. Yay me! I have since been out in Stacie’s car, and we survived! That may be less of a feat when you learn that I only went in an empty car park, but hey, I was happy…

The search for a job continues. Last week, I was depressed that I had got rejected from a job where I didn’t even apply (the HR person picked me out of the blue…unbeknowst to the tech team, it sounds like), and there hasn’t been a lot of Sysadmin postings in the past few days. I have, however, had my first face-to-face interview, which seemed to go quite well, though I have the final hurdle of a 48-hour programming challenge to overcome before I go any further. Check back next week, viewers!

DC? It’s still DC.

Surviving an Earthquake and Hurricane (also, chicken & honey)

It sounds rather impressive to say that I’ve lived through both an earthquake and a hurricane this week. In years to come, I can tell people of the terror and the panic. In truth, though, Stacie and I were down at the Eno river during the earthquake, not feeling even a shudder, and the only trial of Irene was the power going out for most of today.

(although, that did mean that I’ve only just starting downloading Doctor Who. So perhaps the ‘terror and panic’ description is somewhat deserved)

Week 2 has been consolidation, learning that I should stay the hell away from eBay until I have a job, and getting downhearted after being rejected from a job. A job that I never even applied for, no less - the HR person contacted me for it, so I shouldn’t feel quite so bad about it, but they had a slide! A SLIDE! It sounded like an xkcd cartoon come to life. I have also started putting a plan together for Fallout Durham chocolates and confections, so expect more news on that front in the next week or two.

And then there’s the food. Firstly - Beasley’s Chicken & Honey, part of Ashley Christensen’s triptych of restaurants and bar in downtown Raleigh (Chuck’s will be a burger joint, and Fox’s being the bar aspect of the venture). Chicken! Honey! Waffles! A great chef! What could go wrong? Well…nothing as such, but it never caught fire, either. The chicken was good, the sides were rather small, but tasty (although I was very disappointed that the mac’n’cheese custard was actually mac’n’cheese, and not, you know, a custard). We left with the feeling that it was good, but there was better chicken at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in Durham. Cheaper, too, once you add in the sides (quick tip for Dame’s: don’t plan on eating anything else for at least 24 hours. Oh God, the chicken. THE WAFFLES).

However, the real discovery of this week was Broad Street Café. When most of Durham’s eateries seemed to be without power, it was a shelter from the storm. They brought us wonderful wood-fired pizzas with pineapple, coriander and jalapeños, garlic, bacon, and sausage (not all on the one pizza, mind you). We hadn’t eaten in hours. We were debating who was going to be eaten first or have to play board games (strangely, all three of us seemed to prefer being dinner). We drove all over Durham, settling for the Café due to a Groupon deal and not being all that optimistic…how wrong we were. We’ll be going again!

No crazy parties this week, but BBQ tomorrow! And then another interview on Monday…

Kitchen Fear

“If there’s one thing I could never confess, it’s that I can’t dance a single step.”

Here’s the thing: I can’t really cook. Sure, give me a pot of sugar and I can create all sorts of different sweets, but I find proper cooking incredibly intimidating. Normally, this is hidden by virtue by me being alone in the kitchen and not really trying much out of my small comfort zone. But here, that’s not really an option, and I’ve shied away from the kitchen a bit as a result.

(helping Stacie the other day was a slight help, though faced with a peeler, I almost gave up right at the start. However, after ten minutes of flailing, I reversed the direction to compensate for my left hand - one beet at least was peeled without too much awkwardness)

I think what I like about confectionery and chocolatiering is that there’s so much that’s pretty exact. You can be off by a degree or so or a few grams here and there, but there’s temperature curves, times, and precise weights to go by. Heating a pan of sugar to 175˚C, pouring in cream held at a temperature of 60˚C, and bringing the mixture to 125˚C before slabbing describes things enough that I don’t have a problem with it, in total opposition to ‘fry until golden brown.’ Is it your golden brown, or mine? What if I’m not a great judge of colour?

Unfortunately, Shy Kitchen Syndrome cannot be allowed to continue, as although eating out is cheaper here in America, it’s not really affordable when you’re unemployed. And I do have some pasta ideas from Ideas In Food to try out. And I really, really, really want to make the McGee/Chang ramen as featured in the first issue of Lucky Peach. I should have bought the pasta maker instead of the gumball machine, obviously.

Week 1

My first week in Durham has come to an end. So far, I’ve looked at houses to rent, had a chat with the neighbour of a place that we’d quite like to buy when we got jobs, I got told off by a recruiter for putting my date of birth on a resume, we went to a massive food truck rodeo and left when we saw that the queues stretched around the Farmers’ Market several times over (in the end, we heard of waiting times of two-and-a-half hours, so we made the right decision). We went to two dance parties, one day after the other, a wedding, and today? Well, today, we built a wall. Seriously.

Explaining any of that will probably take far too much time; it hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m not going to be heading back to Britain in a few weeks’ time, but I’m sure it will soon.

(will try to do a bit better with these entries from now on, in frequency if not quality anyway. Also, I’ll be doing my best to make sure that no hipster becomes one of the phrases of 2011. Come on, help me out!)

Week 0 - England Made Me





BBC Oxford Road

BS Johnson

The Beiderbecke Affair

Trellick Tower


Nye Bevan

Week -1

Week -1

"Where did you meet your wife?"

"At a concert."


"That's cool. Who was it?"


(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.