Begone, Drywall!

As I’m turning 45, I can say that the thing I’m most excited about is that this week I will get rid of the last bin bag containing parts of the garage ceiling. It’s only been five years. Important Dad Goals!

Back to the nostalgia well this week, as I have final got around to watching Michael Palin’s Eighty Days Around The World (I was too young to stay up to watch it on first broadcast). You can clearly see that the time limit was the first thing Palin dropped from every documentary following - the pace is relentless and most of the time he doesn’t even get a chance to see the new country he’s in. The worst example is Singapore, where he basically lands and then gets on another boat (to catch up with a ship that has already sailed (!)) instantly. It also has that weird issue with endings that a lot of multi-part UK documentaries of the time did; I have absolutely no idea why the Reform Club wouldn’t let him film on return, but it makes for a bizarrely downbeat ending.

Having finished the series, I did wonder about whether he’d be up for a remake in 2028 (age permitting). Some things would be a lot easier - almost everybody has the internet at their fingertips these days, but I wonder if some of the routes that only barely existed in 1988 would still be viable. At least he wouldn’t have to suffer Pacers when he got back to Britain this time…

Finally, I did G O O D N U M B E R S this week with a post on LinkedIn. I wasn’t really expecting almost 2,000 people to read my complaints about the LLM2Vec paper, but there we are. I will probably copy the text over to here later in the week, because it’s nice to have as much as possible of my long-form writing over here rather than on somebody else’s platform[^1].

[1]: It is amusing to think that I currently have one of the longest-running blogs still going on the net…

Total Eclipse!

Holiday Round-Up

And in time-honoured tradition, a catch-up bullet post!

  • Of all the caterpillar cakes, we feel that Tesco’s Slinky is the worst, made with little care and with a fondant face that borders on the deranged. Morrison’s Morris put in a decent showing, though!

  • The houses at Graven Hill are a great advertisement for the case of planning. Most of the self-builds resemble office blocks (with larch cladding, obviously), with a few totally bizarre choices — yes, I guess you can build a Carolina blue beach house in the middle of Bicester…but should you? Really? Still, respect to the house with the 40ft metal giraffe in the driveway.

  • You’ll be surprised just how happy a small child can be with a chair that looks like a lion. And possessive of it, too!

  • The South Bank was weird this time around…I found something was odd, something that I couldn’t really describe, and I didn’t want to be there that much…

  • I’m convinced that all the self-checkout systems in UK supermarkets are designed specifically to be user-hostile. Trying to simply get out of Sainsbury’s was an event.

  • I wonder how often the vocal tracks on the bus tours are re-recorded?

  • If I can go all “middle-class parent” for a moment, the gb Pockit+ All-Terrain is an amazing buggy. It folds up so small you can put it in a backpack! It’s light and manoeuvrable enough that you don’t feel like you’re being a pain on the Underground, and Maeryn seems to love being in it for the moment. 10/10!

  • I miss the New York Bloomer from Pret (I know they have something similar in roll form now, but it’s not quite the same).

  • Trains are good! Trains are good!

  • It’s weird watching linear broadcast television again.

  • Hopefully, Maeryn doesn’t get too many ideas from our surprise upgrade on the flight back home. It’s not always going to be three-course meals and seats that can lay flat, I’m afraid!

Now We Are One

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All the foods!

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What we discovered over the weekend:

  • Maeryn loves eating whipped cream
  • Maeryn loves eating lumpia
  • Maeryn loves eating bath bubbles

We’re working on the last one…

And Now, Let's Laugh At Brian Mawhinney

The great thing about the first hour of the BBC’s Election ‘97 coverage is the absolute glee that kicks in as soon as the exit poll drops. Peter Snow gets out his shiny new toys to show the landslide knocking Tories out all over the country, and then Paxman just butchers Michael Portillo for five minutes or so, gets interrupted by an OB with Paddy Ashdown, and then they come back so Paxman can go for another five at him. Also, at that stage, they didn’t think Portillo was going to lose his seat, so the night only goes downhill for him from there.

And then Frank Skinner interviews John Major and Tony Blair lookalikes, where he gets them to dance together while Skinner sings ‘Rock Around The Clock’. There’s nothing quite like a live General Election broadcast…

Weirdly, I also found myself down another nostalgia hole, one that has been somewhat time-locked due to the author. I finally broke down and read Planetary (it was essentially $4 for the entire series digitally on Amazon over Christmas and I thought ‘why not?'). It made me think, and even dream some thoughts on comics. One of Ellis’s problems (and somebody else a little more current) is that, in the end he’s too aloof and distant, too afraid of the cringe1 to really land a lot of his work, and doesn’t have Moore’s skills to back him in the tour of the 20th century that Planetary starts out as. Still, it was better than Ministry of Space at the very least.

I then got curious, and yes, Ellis is still blogging away. Like nothing happened. There’s vague allusions to comics work…but who would publish him these days?

  1. Grant Morrison, on the other hand, is 100% cringe, but can sell the hell out of a line like “REALITY DIES AT DAWN!” that nobody else really can. ↩︎

Building Machines That Make Machines

This week, I basically implemented an entire RLAIF pipeline that can scale up to thousands of topics, generating scads of synthetic data, all with open-source software and models, and from start to finish of the first 7bn parameter model rolling off the assembly line was four days. And it would have been three if I had had the courage to kick off the training on Wednesday evening instead of Thursday morning. Oh, and it works, too.

It is nice to actually be building things again.

Anyway, we’re now officially into “it is X days until we travel so I will now start making noises about suitcases and packing like an absolute weirdo seeing as how we still have over two weeks until we fly home” season. It is a fun game that I’m sure Maeryn will be absolutely sick of by the time she’s 4. I also need enough space to bring back around 32kg of Cadbury Mini Eggs, so you can see my need for upfront planning. And also a reserve suitcase. We’ll be going to London as well, so maybe I need a Pelican case to cover the eventuality of visiting the booksellers at the South Bank?

By the way, if anybody wants me to bring something back overseas, now is your chance to speak out before the cases get filled with soap for my family back home…

Sick Day Again

Another week in the series of: “Did Maeryn get sick and pass it on to Daddy, or was it the other way around?” I personally have to blame the person who spends all her time playing with other small infection vectors (okay, I guess infants is a more ‘appropriate’ term) rather than the one who works from home. Just saying.

Anyway, will try to get up a longer post before the end of February, but March and the return to the UK awaits!

21 Knots, Sir

What happened was this: I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and past a Temu advert. I was distracted by what looked like a knock-off of the recent Lego Titanic, which additionally seemed to include an iceberg. Laughing at the tastelessness of including that, I tracked down the product page over at Amazon, AND BOY DID IT GET BETTER.

It’s not a knock-off of the Lego set at all, really; yes, it’s the Titanic, but it’s at a smaller scale (which does mean that instead of $680, its list price is $79, which makes it much more acceptable as something to actually buy). Here’s how my train of thought went as I went through the images:

  • Oh, it comes with a break-apart mode so you can display it…as it went down? That’s silly, but okay…

  • It has diorama bits inside…wait, is that the staircase? IT IS



  • Wait, is that…THERE’S A PRINT OF THE PORTRAIT???

Reader, I bought it. It was also reduced to $65 with a further 10% off at checkout, so I felt that if nothing else, ~2300 pieces of Lego for under $60 is not that bad. And damn, so here’s the thing. In proper Lego sets, even expensive ones, you’ll often end up with a sticker sheet which you have to apply to blank Lego tiles, because actually investing the money to print thousands of tiles with a print bonded onto them is a lot, compared to just using blanks and stickers. The company behind this set went to the expense of printing an entire run of naked Kate Winslet tiles, and for that we can only sit back in awe.

(Honestly, the only thing the set is missing is a door for the Kate minifigure. Yes, just the Kate one)

Apparently the build is terrible, and the instruction manual is printed about a third of the size that it should be to make all the steps clearly visible, but I think that’s a fair trade-off for the insanity that the set provides. One thing, though: because it isn’t minifigure scale, it doesn’t really fit into the plans for our Lego city. Which led me to a different set of thoughts. I could, maybe, get hold of a knock-off of the Parisian Restaurant modular building. And then? REBUILD IT AS RENÉ’S CAFE I have even given thought as to how to make the RAF airmen work in the attic, and how to hide the portrait in the kitchen. WE CAN MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

I probably need to be stopped before I do.

Oh, and I did computer-y stuff during the week. BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS NOW. I HAVE A QUEST.

Culture Event Horizon

As part of my campaign to be a Proper Dad, I now have a 650 lumen light on my keyring. You know, just in case. It goes right next to the TARDIS (and the USB-A and USB-C keychain drives. It’s important to be prepared!).

Two different, but similar echoes this week. First: R.E.M. were on stage together for the first time this week since…2003? Although they didn’t perform. But it did lead to Tammy asking a question — are R.E.M. one of the biggest bands of the 90s to just seemingly disappear from the Culture? People who are younger than Gen-X or late-Millennial don’t seem to know almost any of their songs, which given the prevalence of Everybody Hurts back in 1993 just seems unthinkable. I’m guessing that back home, the only place you’d probably hear them on networked Radio these days is Radio 2, and even then only in a blue moon. There is not yet a 90s-based TV series willing to bring them back into the zeitgeist like Stranger Things did with Running Up That Hill or Saltburn has recently done with Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

This also ties in to other thoughts I’ve been having of late, of how Spotify has essentially created a context collapse in music culture. To take a big example — when I was growing up, The Beatles were this monolith that had to be investigated - sure you might hear one or two things on Radio 1, but to actually really hear them, you had to rifle through your parents’ record collection1 and they lived entirely separately in your head from what you were reading in Smash Hits or the NME. But now, it’s just what the recommendation algorithm suggests - an obscure Beatles album track can follow a 2024 new release and it’s just another AAC track to the algorithm - it doesn’t care one whit about the cultural impact of The Beatles at large; just that the neural network has decided that the salient features of Cry Baby Cry are what it thinks you need to hear next.

I’m not entirely sure this is a bad thing, either - I was so tickled when Life Without Buildings, of all people, suddenly became TikTok famous. It’s just different. But also, the experience of growing up in the UK with Top of The Pops and Radio 1, was a big difference from growing up in the USA with formatted radio stations and only a few nationwide music slots on late-night television. Imagine being in the 80s and not really hearing Fast Car or Back To Life on the radio. I do wonder what music Maeryn will end up listening to — I’m reminded of Mark Radcliffe once saying “if your parents like Belle & Sebastian, I’m sorry, it’s Norwegian Death Metal time.”

And now for something completely different2, oh wait, no.

Now, putting aside that Eric Idle complaining about income streams brings into mind a goose chasing him shouting “What about Neil Innes, Eric? WHAT ABOUT NEIL’S MONEY?", the attack on Holly Gilliam seems wildly misplaced. After all, under her aegis, we finally got the most comprehensive remaster of the Monty Python series that we will likely ever see.3 Albums were re-issued, and the BFI did a series of screenings for the 50th anniversary. But…nobody cares. Streaming has caused physical sales to dive off a cliff, and even the BFI shows were sparsely attended. The once-majestic stride of the Pythons across British comedy is just now…a bunch of old 16mm and videotape sketches, some of which hit, and some of which miss.

(we’ll never see a complete Not The Nine O’Clock News release, but that’s another story4)

Obviously, I don’t know the full details, but the issue to me seems that there is only so much blood you can squeeze from four series, a few albums, and the films, the most recent of which is 41 years old. Unless somebody has the rushes of series 1 ready to give to Peter Jackson, there’s not much you can do except clean them up, sell physical copies, and bung them up on streaming services. All of which Holly Gilliam seems to have done. And honestly, when you compare Python availability to the works of Peter Cook, Joyce Grenfell, and Spike Milligan (and the rest of the Goons), the Pythons come out so well. Trying to even source a Pete and Dud album these days is a frustrating affair — it’s all gone, and the loss of Network means that you’re not likely going to find Q on any shelves in HMV any time soon either.

The problem in the Python case isn’t availability; it’s that the potential audience has dwindled down to sad cases like me that desperately hoard YouTube VHS uploads of a live Sunday comedy show5. And maybe that isn’t enough for a Hollywood lifestyle anymore…but Neil never got that, did he?

  1. Well, okay, in my case, that was a little harder, as my parents wouldn’t have The Beatles or Bob Dylan in the house. So it’s a terrible example in my particular case, but I think in general it’s a good point. As for me, you can substitute Hounds of Love above. ↩︎

  2. (I see what you did there — Ed.) ↩︎

  3. Yes, Network is no longer with us. But the boxset came out in 2019, so not connected with their troubles. ↩︎

  4. I know John Lloyd says that it’d take too much work to be worthwhile, and I can imagine clearing the library footage might be a mammoth task, but I can’t help feeling that the real problem is a combination of “oh my God, we made Pamela strip off that much?” and Atkinson still being pissed that she was there at all. I lost a lot of respect for him when I found out he didn’t rate her one bit… ↩︎

  5. This Morning With Richard Not Judy was a programme that should not have existed, and yet somehow managed to last for two entire series and eighteen episodes. Aaaaah. ↩︎