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…

First They Came For The Comments, Then For The Posts;

So, I switched the comments off a few days ago, which is the first time I’ve thought much about the blog at all in a while. Looking back through the archives, it’s clear that the past year has been something of a failure, and I don’t see much change coming up in the next few months.

Once I get to America, the blog will amusingly turn full circle, once again recounting the tales of a (slightly less, this time, I hope!) bewildered British person in America. And I think that calls for a new look and a new approach to the site (maybe moving over to tumblr, perhaps?).

For now though, consider the blog to be on an indefinite hiatus. Have a song in the meantime:

From The Comments, Part 2

The Distractions are back with their 'Black Velvet' EP available for digital download with a limited number of CD promos. See Occultation Recordings website ( for details of how to order, and keep an eye on for news of the forthcoming 12" EP and CD album due in 2011.

The Distractions wrote FAC12: Time Goes So Slow, one of the greatest singles on Factory Records. Go support them!

A New ZX Spectrum: <canvas>

"The computing A-level is about how computers work and if you ask anyone how it works they will not be able to tell you," said Doug Abrams, an ICT teacher from Ousedale School in Newport Pagnell, who was one of the first to use the machines in lessons.

(BBC — Tech Know)

Having had some experience with teaching a Computing A-Level (and by experience, I mean sitting in a few classes and helping to describe the basics of DS programming to a group for a couple of weeks), I think he's selling the course a little short (though it might be from a different exam board). I also think the idea of using digging out BBC Micros isn't particularly practical, but a lot of today's programming languages do lack the immediacy of programming back in the days of Acorn and Sinclair, when every computer came complete with a BASIC interpreter and children spent many an idle hour issuing drawing commands to draw obscene things on the screen.

However, a similar simple coding environment exists right now, on every computer running a HTML5-compliant browser.

The <canvas> element allows you create a 'screen' on a web page of arbitrary dimensions, and through a JavaScript interface, it lets you draw lines, curves, rectangles, circles, and access each individual pixel in the canvas display.

So rather than forcing students the hardships of the BBC Micro, why not give them a grounding in JavaScript and allow them to run riot in the browser? Just as much fun, a little more forgiving, and actually useful in the real world!

(admittedly, I am currently building a recreating of BBC Mode 7, so I can appreciate playing with the retro machines. Though if we really want to get tough, we should try and get them producing something for the Atari 2600…)

101 Ways To Use A Blackcurrant - Marshmallows

A bit of a change in recipe format this week. The Internet is all very well and good, but it doesn’t beat a good bit of Teletext.

Yes, while I should have been doing more important things this weekend, I instead built a Teletext simulator. Complete with FASTEXT and REVEAL support (it has a few glitches, and there’s hardly any pages in it yet, but I’m working on a markup tool…anyway…). I’m quite proud of page 999 (Teletext purists: yes, I know).

The page you’re looking for is 531!

Blackcurrant Marshmallows (teletext version)

(you might need a computer though - Mobile Safari is not playing ball with a few things)


Look, I know you’re upset about the recent surveys that indicate that college freshmen are switching to Macs in droves, but really, is this the best you can do?

You can't get a Mac that ships with a Blu-ray player, TV tuner, Memory Stick reader, or built-in 3G wireless. You can with PCs running Windows 7.

Translation: Good, strong opening. Of course, you can buy most of these things separately, but definitely a valid point.

Most of the world's most popular computer games aren't available for Macs. And Macs can't connect to an Xbox 360. PCs are ready to play.


Most Macs can't hook up to your TV unless you buy a converter dongle. Many PCs running Windows 7 are designed to connect directly to TVs, so you can watch movies and see photos on the big screen.

Translation: Yeah, this is a bit weak. But it's just a throwaway - we've got plenty of material!

Things just don't work the same way on Macs if you're used to a PC. For example, the mouse works differently. And many of the shortcuts you're familiar with don't work the same way on a Mac.

Translation: Yes, we are really trying to claim that switching to the friendliest GUI in the current era is going to be a struggle. You have to admire our brazenness. Now, go away…we're trying to put one more option onto the Start Menu for SP2…

Windows 7 was designed to make it simpler to do the tasks you do every day, with features that the Mac doesn't have. For example, the new Snap feature makes it easy to view two documents side by side.

Translation: We're really hoping you don't squint at the non-sequitur here.

Unlike Macs, many PCs running Windows 7 support Touch, so you can browse online newspapers, flick through photo albums, and shuffle files and folders—using nothing but your fingers. PCs with a fingerprint reader even let you log in with just a swipe of your finger.

Translation: Multitouch? Never heard of it, mate.

If you use Apple's productivity suite, sharing files with PC users can be tricky. Your documents might not look right and your spreadsheets might not calculate correctly.

Translation: iLife can import Office files, but we suck at importing iLife ones.

You'll have to buy a separate hardware dongle to plug your Mac into a standard VGA projector. Most PCs with Windows 7 hook up easily.

Translation: We're really fixated on this dongle thing. Say it with us: 'dongle'. Yeah, it's a strange word, isn't it? Buying a Mac will make you say 'dongle' in front of others! JUST SAY NO!

On a Mac, out of the box, you can only encrypt your home folder. With Windows 7 Ultimate, you can encrypt your entire hard drive and even USB drives. So your stuff can be safer wherever you go.

Translation: Come to our pricing page where we'll charge you $220 for the privilege!

With a Mac, it's harder to set up secure sharing for your photos, music & movies, documents, and even printers with other computers on your home network. With HomeGroup, it's easy to connect all the computers in your house running Windows 7.

Translation: "You can join a homegroup in any edition of Windows 7, but you can only create one in Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise" It's easy! Just follow our wizard!

On a Mac, you have to manually set up photo sharing, manually set up music and movie sharing, manually set up file sharing, and manually set up printer sharing. It's easy to automatically and securely network with all the computers in your house when they're running Windows 7

Translation: Just wait for the first zero-day exploit! [seriously, is ticking a box in iTunes that difficult?]

Apple's productivity suite file formats won't open in Microsoft Office on PCs. This can be a real hassle for Mac users sharing work documents with PC users.

Translation: Somehow, this is Obama's fault, too.

If there's a Mac version of a program you need, you'll have to buy it again and relearn how to use it on a Mac.

Translation: If anybody mentions Final Cut, we're revoking your Windows 7 Ultimate Enterprise Professional key.

You can't get a Mac with a Blu-ray player, TV tuner, Memory Stick reader, or built-in 3G wireless. PCs running Windows 7 often come with features that aren't available on even the highest end Macs, including Blu-ray, eSATA, multi-format card readers, Touch, and mobile broadband.

Translation: Sometimes, they even work! [I can seem to buy eSATA cards for the Mac Pro, and every Apple laptop comes with a multitouch device, but I may be missing something here]

Macs only come in white or silver. PCs are available in a full spectrum of colors across a range of price points.

Translation: Seriously, we're desperate. Did you know you have to get a dongle to plug them into a projector? DID YOU?

With PCs running Windows 7, you can play the videos and music stored on your home PC while you're on the go, for free. Apple charges $99/year for its online service.

Translation: Apple's online service doesn't let you play music or video either, come to think of it. We should probably have mentioned that. Did we mention the dongle thing yet?