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.

Now, all we need is a bit of content, and a lot of luck.

I suppose something should go here. Maybe a test of links? Ah yes, the old stand-by. And another link

Can We Start Again?

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.)

Why Things Are Going Well


That Was The Night That Was

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…

Comics! Get Your Comics Here!

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:

Alias 1-21 Planetary 1,3 Deadpool 34-43,67-69 Agent X 1-7 Deadline 1-4 Ministry of Space 1-2 Howard The Duck (MAX Series) 1-6 Powers 15,17-19,21-22, 25-30 + Giant Sized Annual 1 Hood 1 Transformers: The War Within 1-6 Thunderbolts 24-28,30-34,36-42,46-67 Stormwatch Team Achilles 3-10 Legion of Superheroes v4 (TMK / Five Year Gap) 1-39 + annual 1-3 Sandman 75 Vertigo Pop: Tokyo 1-4 Nextwave 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!)

25 Hours Up and Counting…

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!

And now, the…well, slightly border-radius window!

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 <canvas>. In the meantime, through Hacker News I discovered a fun snowglobe that used a few javascript tricks that hadn’t occurred to me before, so the resulting code is heavily indebted to WeBreakStuff.
  • 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?

Is This Thing Still On...?

Yeah, well, it was this or annoying all my friends on Facebook and Twitter with updates throughout the evening.

So here we are…my mind turns back to a night back in 2006, about 3am in the morning, chatting away deliriously on GChat with a friend. “We’ve won! We’ve won!” And just two years ago, getting seriously drunk on Red and Blue, yelling at John McCain and the cheering, and the getting naked and jumping in the pool….okay, for the record, only some of us did that. It was November, after all, and even drunk, I still retain my British inhibitions. Standards.

Tonight, though, I suppose I should remember a different night. November 2004. The soul-crushing look on Jon Stewart’s face; moving from 112 N. Graham Street to Luke’s apartment and just getting more and more drunk as the returns came in. The ‘Hope Ends; Merge Right’ sign outside The Internationalist the next day. Total abject misery hanging around Chapel Hill.

goes for the vodka

I suppose the lesson is that all things will pass. There isn’t a permanent realignment…and yes, it turns out that being the most obstructionist party in the history of the Union actually can lead you to victory. Who knew? I’m taking solace in that last weekend’s rally was easily as big as Mr. Beck’s, that California still looks quite blue, and maybe, just maybe, the Democrats will pull out a few surprises tonight.

(incidentally, this week’s This American Life has a great piece on the Democrats and how rubbish they are at messaging. I think everybody forgets that most of us spent July and August 2008 yelling at the Obama campaign as they took hit after hit, mind you)

Tomorrow, I’m going to London to look at chocolate bar wrappers. And to get some chocolates. Wouldn’t you?


Ahem. I was asked today if I was still keen on going to America today seeing the impending massacre. Hell yes. Just so I can answer MoveOn and OFA emails in 2012 without feeling guilty that I can’t really do much to help (foreign donations are illegal unless they come from the Chamber of Commerce, don’t forget!). And I don’t know how useful phone banking would be right now.

IAN: Can I ask if you’re voting for David Price this Tuesday? CONFUSED VOTER: Er, is that an English accent? IAN: Well…yes. CONFUSED, BUT NOW SLIGHTLY ANNOYED VOTER: I bet you don’t even live in my district! IAN (flustered): No – but as soon as the Immigration department sorts out my visa – RAGING VOTER: I’M CALLING ICE ON YOUR ASS!

ACORN files for bankruptcy today. That’s how you know this election won’t be stolen.

On Tuesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the more eccentric members of the Republican Party, put out feelers that she would like to assume the leadership role likely to be vacated by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).


People are pretty mean to Harry Reid, and God knows, I’ve yelled a lot at him over the past two years, but this is a guy who had no margin of error in passing ACA, unlike Pelosi (who I love, obviously), and he pulled through using every Senatorial trick up his sleeve, passing the most liberal piece of law the country has seen for almost half-a-century. Yeah, he’s not LBJ. But he’s better than his press indicates.


(there’s about five people who’ll get that reference. And two of them are in the band in question)

(HTML5, bitches!)

To bolster my East Coast Liberal credentials, I have switched to Crème de Violette cut with 7up. It’s like drinking liquid Parma Violets. This Is A Good Thing.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a former Khmer Rouge torture house in Cambodia on Monday and urged the nation to proceed with trials of the former regime’s surviving leaders in order to “confront its past.”


I’m hearing worrying reports about Dem turnout in Delaware. If O’Donnell wins, I’ll have to re-evaluate my support of the 17th Amendment. And I bet Alan Keyes will be pissed…

Rand Paul up 7% on first precinct reporting. No, make that 13% after 3. Oooh, now down to 11%. After 6. I think we might as well give up on that one now.

Indiana returns coming through are staggeringly brutal - one of 538’s races to watch is Indiana-2. If the GOP wins there, they may be on track beat 538’s 59 seat. The Democrat is currently down by 25.

Atmosphere kicks in as the depression starts to take hold. Yes, this is happening. Twice in one year!

Second wave of polls about to close: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. NC closes at 7:30 with OHio and WV.

Oh, and for those of you ready for six years of laughs - turnout was low in Clark County, NV, which means we may be looking at Sharron Angle (R-NV). Dear God.

(I have actually stopped drinking…mainly because I’m a total lightweight)


Surprisingly, Jim DeMint is going to beat Alvin Greene for the Senate seat in SC…there’s a story to be told there in 50 years’ time, I think…

About the only positive sign so far is Kentucky-6. With about 20% of the vote in so far, Ben Chandler (D) has a 7-8 point lead over his opponent. Ky-6 is one of 538’s bellweather races - if the Republicans win there, they may take over 60 seats in the House…

Nothing in from NC-4 yet…

Alvin Greene is getting 30% of the vote in SC. I personally think that’s a triumph.

It’s now time for a nice cup of tea. And about 19 more states.

It’s looking touch and go for David Price (NC-4). But Durham County is beginning to count its votes, and we bleed blue…

There’s now fewer than 1000 votes separating the two candidates in KY-6. But on the brighter side, Dems hold DE, CT, and most likely WV in the Senate,

And now, a song:

When the smaller picture is the same as the bigger picture you know that you’re fucked And you’re trading paper cuts for splinters you’re out of luck

More votes coming in from Durham County - a 1% deficit is now almost a lead of 8% in NC-4. TAKE THAT, RALEIGH!

Soon, though, we’ll get to witness the fall of Feingold. Thank you so much, Citizens United.

Other news from NC - it looks like felons will be prevented from elected sheriff! The 14.3% of current votes against the proposal obviously have something they’re not telling us.

All the networks are calling the House for the GOP - around the 239-196 level…

NC-4 is called for David Price…wwoo!

Polls now closed in NV…Sestak doing quite well in PA…

…except now he’s not - pretty much tied in PA with 11% reporting still to come…

Are they actually planning on counting the votes in NV? I’m starting to feel sleepy…


Okay, so Hawaii is called Dem, which gives us 50+Biden (NEVER FORGET THE BIDEN). Reid is currently not doing too badly in NV, and Bennett is still up in Colorado. We’re pulling ahead in WA too (though that depends on the Seattle vote holding up, I think). Plus, nobody knows what’s going to happen in Alaska (I predict a few court cases if the write-in vote is close). So, GOP House, Democratic Senate. Oh what a fun two years we’ll have…

Fox has just called NV for Reid. Time for bed…