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.

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.)