83 With A Bullet

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

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After this, it's the hits. Okay, so not hits, but you know, the songs that we all know are objectively the hits.
This is from our third album. You know, before we 'lost it'.

Never change, Gareth.

I went to Chicago! Not, as you might think, for work (though I did drop off a client laptop and gave everybody chocolates), but seeing Los Campesinos! on their first US tour for three years, and anything else I could fit in along the way. Which turned out to be quite a bit!

But boy was it cold. Of course, Chicago native Jimmy was happily walking up and down the city streets while Tammy and I were chattering our teeth and cursing our collective failure to bring scarves. And it wasn’t even cold by local standards!

(It did snow, though, which made me want to head over to Union Station to re-enact this bit of 90s television:

Sadly, there’s never a Mountie around when you need one)

Another reason for visiting was to eat at Next Restaurant. I was a touch concerned that their Ancient Rome menu was going to be very heavy on the fish, but as it turned out, it wasn’t too bad (I had to admit to defeat at the shrimp studded with olives though: essentially Ian kryptonite. Thankfully, as I was there with Tammy, it didn’t go to waste!). I also managed to complete the Alinea trifecta by arriving 45 minutes early. They packed us off to The Aviary, where this happened:

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That’s a cocktail containing: ‘caramel, peanuts, popcorn, rum, whiskey’. And jolly nice it was too, and it came with a prize! What more could you ask for?

(oh, and it was warm. Which was very welcome, as the wind chill outside was nasty)

Anyway, Next was wonderful! I think my favourite dishes were the stuffed quail with table-side-baked bread and the surprisingly tasty artichoke and grapefruit dish that transitioned us to dessert.

It seems like the tag-line for Fox In A Box Chicago is that they won’t put you in an escape room with strangers. Which is a great selling point, especially if you failed your last escape room because people pulled out the tubing you had carefully placed with moments to spare.

(not that we’re bitter or anything)

The three of us were plunged into total darkness and given the task of stealing a diamond from a bank vault. Things didn’t go entirely to plan - one of the puzzles had a failed electrical connection, but we managed to escape with minutes to spare. So go us!

After a huge Korean BBQ chicken meal (seriously, we were missing one piece of chicken from our order and still left a third of it uneaten), we headed off to the Field Museum. Because I am weird, I think my favourite part of that was seeing which of the museum exhibits still used decades-old typography. It seems I prefer the parts of museums that are themselves museum pieces - the old, forgotten parts of The Science Museum in London have a similar attraction.

Oh, and pandas. Obviously.

Aside from the part where I gamely looked at a surprise pig’s foot in my lunch and the bit where we saw Lego Batman, I think that mostly wraps up Chicago…

…oh! But before I go, let me present: THE SWANKIEST WALGREENS YOU EVER DID SEE:

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Yeah, that’s more middle-class than your average Pret A Manger, isn’t it?

CheesoidBot — InceptionV3 Applied To Cheese

So I created a Twitter bot (of sorts). Meet @cheesoidBot, a friendly bot that will helpfully identify whether a picture you send it is ‘CHEESE’ or ‘PET-RILL’.

It’s just a silly bot! But, it’s a silly bot that is backed by an InceptionV3-based ConvNet that has been fine-tuned (via transfer learning) to recognize cheese or petrol. That’s right, this bot is powered by a close-to-state-of-the-art neural net simply because I thought it would be funny.

It also, it turns out, seems to be pretty good at recognizing cheese.

Give it a try! You’ll actually have to attach the image to your tweet rather than simply shoot over a URL at poor little CheesoidBot. Then, you’ll just need to wait a few minutes and he’ll get back to you.1

Postscript

Whilst setting this up on Amazon, I threw a few pictures at the model just to make sure it was running. Obviously, I used pictures of cheese, but I also gave it a picture of a person. ‘PET-RILL!’ it shrieked back at me, and I smirked with all the confidence of that guy from Mallrats:

Then I looked at the picture again to lord the human brain over the silly little machines. At which point I noticed that the person was standing between two cars…so the model had ignored the figure and made the determination based on the cars…

clever girl


  1. Yes, he’s powered by the amazing scheduling of cron. I did have a real-time version plannes with a bunch of microservices to handle aspects of interaction, all backed with Kafka, but as I sat down to implement them, I suddenly realized that I Was Trying Far Too Hard. Instead, I bashed out a simple Ruby script. It shouldn’t be too hard to switch it over to a more real-time affair in the future if necessary, but I’m not expecting crazy levels of traffic to it… [return]

It Is A Time For Alcohol

More confectionery experiments this weekend. This time I revisited gummies (gelatin-based). They’ve long been a bête noire of mine; my attempts have often turned into a horrific gloop of sugar and gelatin seemingly bonded at a molecular level to the pot.

But not this time! Oh no, because this time, I borrowed a trick from Heston Blumenthal, who used to serve whiskey-based gummies at The Fat Duck. His trick was to bloom the gelatin in a water bath and hold it there at a constant temperature of 60˚C right until it gets added to the sugar/glucose syrup mixture. That way the gelatin has no chance to set until you start mixing things together. Hurrah!

I started out with some gummies using Woodford Reserve. They turned out rather well:

Woodford Reserve gummy. Don't chew and drive.

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They are, however, somewhat boozy. After having just one, I realized that it was a good thing that I had no plans to drive anywhere that evening. Instead, I made another batch, this time using my Helvetica mold and Pimm’s as the base spirit.

You taste like Helvetica. (Pimm's gummy)

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I think these have some advantages over the bourbon gummies. Firstly, you don’t feel like you need to sit down after having just one, but also the citric acid / sugar coating pretty much gives you a proper Pimm’s Cup experience.

Which is not to say that there won’t be further experiments, probably something in the realm of the Manhattan…

A Link To The Past

This week, I found myself doing something that eight-year-old me would have found amazing - hacking a Spectrum game in order to find out where it was keeping its lives and score counter. I like to think that a time-travel meeting would have gone something like this:

Past Ian: This is so cool! You’re from the future! You can tell me what happens! Do we have flying ca—

Present Ian: Look, we don’t have much time. Before I say anything, I want you to promise me something.

Past Ian: Sure!

Present Ian: Send a letter to Hillary Clinton, current First Lady of Arkansas saying: “Please, if you ever think about setting up a private email server, don’t. Just don’t.

Past Ian: I don’t understand.

Present Ian: long sigh You will.

Past Ian: So what happens to me?

Present Ian: Well, I can tell you this much! You live in America and you just spent an evening hacking Deathchase 3D. That’s right, you understand assembler and can hack Spectrum games!

Past Ian: Wow!

Present Ian: And you have a really fast computer and you carry around a phone that can access information all over the world in less than a second.

Past Ian: Amazing!

Present Ian: It also plays music.

Past Ian: How much music can it fit on it? My personal stereo doesn’t like tapes longer than C60s.

Present Ian: Basically all the music in the world that there has ever been, and then some. It distracts from the horrors.

Past Ian: Horrors? What do you mean, horrors? Hey, you’re fading away!

Present Ian: You turned out fairly well! JUST SEND THAT LETTE——

Past Ian: Oh no, he’s…I mean, I’ve gone. I should write that letter. To…Hillary Clifton? Oh well, probably not that important…

And that, dear reader, is why this is all my fault. Apologies.

The Z80 assembler and Spectrum hacking is for a project that will likely come back to these pages much later in the year. Stay tuned!

It’s been a warm, warm weekend in Durham. 22˚C Saturday, 26˚C on Sunday. It’s February, and this is not right. However, it did allow me to spend a Saturday morning walking to the main Durham Library for their last book sale until 2019 or so.

(the lovely concrete building is going to have its exterior ripped apart and replaced with glass. We hates it! We hates it!)

Unfortunately, the sale started at 10:00am and I got there at 10:05am, by which time the professionals had already stripped the shelves somewhat bare. I did almost buy a Pelican book, but it was a historical one, and the historical Pelicans tend to have photographs of artefacts instead of the abstract art design that I love. So I left empty-handed, and perked myself up by eating bibimbap in the midday sun.

Then I got sticker-shock at being asked to pay $557 for a prescription. No, that’s not a mis-print, and yes, I did have a long monologue about the NHS running through my head, but I didn’t think that it was all that fair to subject the pharmacist to it (not her fault, after all - the insurance didn’t cover it). Instead, we agreed between us that I wouldn’t be giving her hundreds of dollars, and she could keep the medicine. Who knew that psoriasis would be so expensive?

Depression Is A Young Man's Game

As we hurtle to our doom on the back of an image messageboard that decided nihilism and (somewhat less than) ironic fascism was how we were going to greet the 21st century, it’s important to remember the good times.

To whit, I spent the past week in Fort Thomas, KY again! There was ramen, cheese, Henry VIII, another opportunity for me to scoff at American Exceptionalism when it comes to comedy, arepas, rather tall platforms with a fun graduated drop in front of them, a constitutional crisis, and the beginnings of a fun new neural network project (hopefully more on that at the end of the month). I even shared my precious ginger cake. Thanks to Tammy and Robert for letting me stay once again.

My next trip? Well, that’s at the end of this month, where I go to see Los Campesinos in Chicago, along with a visit to sample Next’s Roman menu. Fancy!

And now I turn back to Ralph Miliband and old BBC documentaries. Enjoy the Superbowl, everybody!

And The Clocks Struck Thirteen

Spiced Cherry Bitters Ganache. Hexy!

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Really, I should have gone to the march in Raleigh. Or DC. But Friday was not a fun day, and all I wanted to do was stay indoors and make chocolates. Something to take my mind away from things.

Alongside that though, I spent the day watching seven continents protest. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of people across the country, and across the world. The largest protests in US history.

nasty women indeed

The creation of the week: Spiced Cherry Bitters ganache. Because bitters are a good way of adding flavours to cocktails…so why not use them in chocolate as well? Oddly, Google doesn’t seem to have many examples of people using bitters in this way. I was a touch worried about that, but I don’t think they’re horrible!

(recipe? er…make a dark chocolate ganache (60%) and add bitters to taste. I probably used about 5-6 dashes for about 400g of ganache, but I can’t swear to it)

And now we go on from here.

Further Adventures in Rust - LogLog-Beta

In my latest attempt to get to grips with Rust, I’ve recently put together a simple implementation of the LogLog-Beta algorithm. LogLog-Beta is a fancy new algorithm (published in December 2015, fact fans!) that offers a more efficient way of estimating cardinalities as opposed to the more traditional HyperLogLog approach.

Anyway, here’s what I got so far. I wouldn’t use it anywhere near production right now, but fun to actually write something useful in Rust:

LogLog-Beta (Rust implementation)

Snowpocalypse 2017

This week, we’re reporting live from the desolate frozen wasteland of North Carolina, specifically Durham, where two inches of snow has fallen and the world itself is said to be at a time of ending.

Of course, this is North Carolina in January, where it will go from -17˚C to 19˚C in a matter of days. So perhaps stripping every supermarket of milk, bread, and eggs might have been a touch premature.

(not that I’m venturing out of the house until at least Tuesday, mind you.)

Let’s see, what did I do this week? Well, I posted off my citizenship application, so hopefully sometime this year I’ll be swotting up on the state capitals and How A Bill Becomes A Law. Fun times! Or interesting times. We’re now down to less than two weeks.

stares off into the distance

But! The most important discovery of this week is the video below:

Let me reel off just some of the amazing and terrifying things about this:

  • New Order and Factory thought this was totally fine to let out of their hands.
  • Channel 4 actually aired it.
  • You’d think the first scene where Gillian sits in the bath is the most cringe-worthy part of the video…but…
  • CONTENT WARNING:…those bubbles do not last, and frankly, I saw a lot more of Tony Wilson than I expected…or ever wanted.
  • By about 10 minutes in, you start to think that Steve Coogan used this as the ur-text for his performance in 24 Hour Party People. But toning it down to make it more believable on film.
  • Taking the piss out of the Hacienda is never not funny.

In addition to all that, all the location shots of Manchester reminded me that this year will be the 20th anniversary since I moved into room A14 of St Anselm’s Hall, ready for three years of Computer Science. Twenty years since I joined Slashdot, too. We believed we were going to create a world of software and interconnectedness, where the free-flowing of information would make the world a better place for all.

stares off into the distance. sighs

Well, okay, so we enabled the creation of a million pretty little hate machines. But you can get notifications on your phone that your toast is done. A fair exchange, I feel. Oh, and your TV can now get viruses. But don’t worry! It can join up with all the other TVs out there and launch a direct assault on essential infrastructure.

the author breaks down at his desk and quietly sobs

Hello 2017

It turns out that a good way to impress a Star Wars producer is to explain a probabilistic counting algorithm to them 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. For extra points, implement a Ruby version of one during the lunch service.

I’m back in the US again, after what felt like a short trip back home to Bicester. Mince pies were consumed, cats grew to (mostly) tolerate my presence, friends came by to visit, and family gatherings were had. Now I’m back in Durham, all alone except for BBC documentaries from the early 1980s. 2017 is starting the way you expect me to (also upcoming this year: Six Plays by Alan Bennett and the classic 1990).

Not entirely sure what I have planned for 2017 just yet. Looks like I’ll be heading off to San Francisco and Cincinnati in January, and I have Chicago booked for March (after which, I’ll have seen Los Campesinos on the east, west, and middle of the country). So while there’s no concrete plans, things seem to be filling up rapidly.

Oh, and posting off my citizenship application this week. May we all live in interesting times…

2016 In One Sentence

I’ve grown afraid of everything that I love.