Dai-X Again?

In case you were wondering, do not decide one week to go back to your childhood and re-watch Star Fleet when it pops up briefly in your YouTube recommendations. Admittedly, the original Japanese version is 40 years old this year, but you’re better off watching any episode of Stingray. As at least with that, you get this:

(Lots of “what?” parts, the biggest of which for me was towards the end where Dai-X destroys the mothership by flying into its landing bay. Why didn’t you try that back in episode 2, lads? The back half of the show is a lot more into using Dai-X than the first 12 episodes too, which makes me think that they realized that getting a man dressed up in a robot suit was probably a cheaper way to fill time than all the puppetry)

Honestly, I think I had more fun watching the first series of Hi-de-Hi!

Bit of an odd week at work, but I finally got around to playing with Optuna, which has turned out to be very easy to use even for scenarios that aren’t entirely envisioned by Preferred Networks’s documentation. If I’m feeling bored in the next few months, I may add a short tutorial into my PyTorch book repo. Completely free and exclusive online content! And not included in the new Russian-language version:

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(I’m guessing the German version of the book should be out in a month or two. It’ll have all the expanded content I have added so far on quantization and self-supervised training, along with a bunch of PyTorch 1.6 fixes. The definitive version! If…you can read German)

Finally, I have begun exploratory work on the Christmas festivities. This will eventually form the basis of my “Toblerone, but not” chocolates (they’ll be in a triangle log mold):

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There’s very little chocolate in this - the filling is just hazelnut praline mixed with cocoa butter, passed through a cream whipper and left to set at a 50% vacuum. It gives a bubbled texture that’s much lighter than my normal aerated chocolate and instead approaching the texture of a real Aero bar. And as there’s nothing else to cut the flavour, it is very hazelnutty. Mostly a success - though I need to work out how to cut out enough of the filling to give the chocolates a proper capping. Next week: a pastry experiment!

A Sick Kitty & Table-Flipping

This week: more things happened. Not all of them good, mind you, but I guess I should be careful when I complain that nothing happens. There has been an ill cat throwing up everywhere, who also refused to eat for three days until she discovered the joy of wet food. I am now in the adventure of making her rediscover the joy of dry food (so far, it’s going great). She also got a new toy. Helvetica is incredibly spoiled, but she would like you to know that the bad man refuses to let her outside anytime she wants.

Meanwhile, preparations have started. Given the state of the world…and by that I mean that the United States is essentially a plague country at the moment, it is very unlikely that I’ll be coming home for Christmas. This is obviously not great. So I’m distracting myself by pointing out that this means I can go completely dessert crazy for TWO holidays instead of just Thanksgiving. I have already ordered new chocolate molds, three kilograms of fruit purée and I’m almost at ten desserts for each holiday already. It’s how I cope with things!

(the normal approach of dealing with things, “Ian finds obscure British television from the 1970s and 1980s”, doesn’t really seem to be working at the moment. It’s too nice outside for damp footage shot on 16mm film or early OB video takes. But I don’t have the interest in anything new, either, which means that any attempt to switch off from things at the moment just doesn’t happen. It’s great, honestly.)

England Made Me: 80s Edition

As the repeats of Top of the Pops reach the end of the 1980s, it’s time for another England Made Me post. There’s a theme here if you can spot it.

Very subtle.

The trouble with going away is that it often makes the week afterwards very boring by comparison. This week, I…went to Kroger. Excitement! Or something. My milk went bad. So I went to Kroger again.

Look, it was a quiet week, okay?

Morehead City Unmasked

If you were wondering how bad things are out here, then here’s an anecdote. We went to pick up food in Morehead City on Saturday night. At 9pm, on the boardwalk, I think we saw maybe six other people wearing masks. A bar was packed out on two floors with live music and no social distancing at all.

America is pretty much in a death cult spiral at this point. But mah freedoms

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Anyway, yes, road trip! Which was a little odd, seeing as how we had to drive through Chapel Hill (and past Durham), but not stop. But! We got to visit Christie, Ashley, and little baby Evan, saw the beach, bought flour for biscuit experiments, found the most appealing of this year’s three Arcee toys, wore actual proper trousers for the first time in what feels like months, and…so much time in the car. It was good to get out and about, but I do feel like I need another few days to get back to a proper sleeping schedule…

It will be nice to return to visit the Triangle when (if?) things get back to normal. In the meantime, we’re all back in the Cincinnati region and Helvetica has mostly forgiven me for abandoning her with two dogs and another cat.

Ballroom Blitz

This visit to Blitz by Jack Charlton is fantastic. Aside from Charlton taking all in his stride, though, my favourite part is how it completely demystifies Blitz itself. “It’s the hallowed ground where New Romantism was born!” becomes “Oh, it’s just a disco in a very typical run-down British hall. Look at the state of those plugs.”

It occurred to me this week that I last filled my car with petrol back in March. And it’ll probably still be fine into August. Remain indoors!

(Having said that, I will be on the coast of North Carolina next weekend. Cook Out time! And maybe, maybe a sneaky stop on the way back Sunday afternoon for taking pizzas away from IP3. We can but dream. And wear masks. And disposable gloves. This is how we travel in 2020.

My weekend archive viewing was Secret Society, which included hilarious scenes where people on the high street were shocked to see their names come up on a private copy of the voting roll database via a teletext-style linkup. Oh, those innocent, halcyon days. You can also tell how I’ve been co-opted by the system, as the programme’s fierce line against machine-readable passports generated a big Alan Partridge-sequel shrug from me. “There’s a big book of names that the passport agents are supposed to check, but they don’t! This is bad! The machine-readable passports will make that viable! This is also bad!” A little odd.

And I think that’s it for this week. Except this wonderful clip from Gillian Gilbert where she casually reveals that nobody else in New Order could read/transliterate music and how she and Stephen wrote the backbone of World In Motion as a Reportage end credit theme. I am really glad that she was back in the band when I finally got to see them earlier this year.

And this, as “The Other Two”, watching one of their early BBC live performances (content warning: Bernard’s shorts):

(This blog stans Stephen Morris & Gillian Gilbert)

Nothing To Report, Captain

Ho-hum. A week. Both outside at large and in. I keep on wanting to actually get started on the ideas I have, but everything else is getting in the way; even the weekend is no real respite this time around.

But, obviously, it could be worse. waves hand to the outside world

To cheer myself up, I watched Punishment Park and Vanishing Point back-to-back. It turns out that I am really terrible at picking films to cheer myself up. But, I ask, who wouldn’t want to watch two incredibly paranoid 1970s films whilst the current President makes lists of enemies, eh? Next week, we’re doing Hamilton, but what people don’t know is that I’ll slip in the Mick Travis trilogy during the intermission. You will all appreciate the majesty of Britannia Hospital if it’s the last thing I do.

So yes, not the best week for a variety of reasons. But! After almost a decade of it sitting somewhere in a room, forlorn and unloved, this is finally assembled and in the bar:

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Now I just have to find things to go inside it. And hopefully that won’t take another decade…

The Most Famous Day of Exit & A New Keyboard

My favourite keyboard was a random purchase in August 2002. I had the entirely sensible idea of bringing my tower (no, you read that right; not a mini-tower, but a full 2ft high tower unit) across the Atlantic Ocean when I went to UNC. My insanity did not extend to bringing all the other bits, though, so there was a trip to the Best Buy at New Hope Commons and I found a keyboard. Nothing special at all, but it turned out to an IBM keyboard that still had enough of the Model M lineage inside its DNA to be a satisfying click on every keypress. How I mourned about eight years later, after taking it back home, when the space bar finally gave up the ghost and I had to get a new keyboard.1

What I’m leading up to is that I’m currently having a Very Proper Tech Mid-Life Crisis, and I’ve bought my first mechanical keyboard. And it is glorious. CLICK-CLACK Every time. Plus it feels solid enough to cause somebody a lasting injury if you used it as a club. Which might give Bonnie ideas. But…I’m not likely to be making it home for Christmas this year, so she won’t have to hear it too much. Except for when I make sound recordings of me typing on it and send them to her…


Obviously, it does not make you into a super-hacker, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel better to be typing on something that sounds like it came right out of WarGames. Plus, it works on my iPad too!

Honestly, I’m also somewhat jazzed about having actual PgUp and PgDn keys again. I’m still cool! I swear!

Meanwhile, I have spent the nights of this week reading a collection of lectures from Bell Labs, a journal of video game development, and the diaries of a Tory Minister in the early 1980s. For the latter, it’s a surprise that even compared to this current shower, Clark comes across as an oozing chauvinistic sociopath that would be one of the first up against the wall given any justice in the world.2 And then there’s the other part of my reading for the week, where I have continued my descent into CCRU-adjacent land and into a loose collection of websites like xenogothic, hyperstition, and the venerable k-punk. Like last week’s revisiting of The Net, it reminded me of a different time, of chasing down weird and wonderful links on the Internet late at night in room A14 in Manchester (the Xenofeminist website even vaguely looks like a Geocities site circa 1999).

It’s also weird that having read one article on ‘patchwork’ this week on one of these sites, my entire twitter feed was aflame with it Thursday. Synchronicity. I’m not really sure how successful any of these ideas are in pulling them away from Land’s clutches. But still, any port (or exit) in a storm, eh?

Mister Six

  1. My sister, on the other hand, did enough dancing and cheering that I vaguely suspect that she had a hand in its demise. [return]
  2. The current shower of course is in thrall to a strange creature that appears to have grown up in the LessWrong forums of a decade past. I am looking forward to Keir Starmer bringing up Roko’s Basilisk at some point at PMQs. [return]

Remember The Future

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As the horror ramps up again, due to some interesting decisions by our glorious President and various Governors throughout the land, it’s important to remain at least a touch optimistic. And thus this week, we’ve done some planning and preparation for the future. This has included building more of the special features for our Escape Basement (what, you haven’t built fake walls, a cage and a fireplace yet? What are you doing with your 2020?), the Grippos tacos shown above, which will be a key part of the 2020 Election Night Viewing Situation (along with All The Bourbon In Case), and, yes the first and second desserts of Thanksgiving are already planned.

The thing that I teased for June and July is now being pushed back to Christmas; I have a feeling that I will need something to occupy my time this December, as I’m pessimistic that travel will be back to normal by then. I have purchased the oh-so-important domain name, mind you, but I can’t tell you what it is yet, as the name gives the entire project away. Patience!

Meanwhile, I went down another old rabbit-hole on Friday night by watching BBC’s The Net. GASP! At the classic BBC2 idents! GROAN! As Jules gives Rise of the Robots 910. LAUGH! As CD-ROMs are talked up as the next big thing1. DESPAIR! As they talk about the grand future envisaged, where nobody considered the possibility of this timeline’s equivalent of Robert Linus Booth yelling us closer to chaos 280 characters at a time. And then Sadie Plant turned up and I spent two hours in bed delving back into the CCRU, The Invisibles, and my own odd thoughts about BERT and GPT-2. I’m reaching for something, but I’m not quite sure what.

My keyboard is dying, so I’ll wrap up by pointing you towards this amazing work that I must own even if I never end up playing it.

  1. Although the kicking they give to The 7th Guest is amusing and has proven correct in time. [return]

The Biggest Hourglass

Who needs to tell some time?

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The Hauntology of the WEF

Forums, especially successful ones, often build up a mythology. ILX, for example, has been going for almost twenty years and has plenty of myths and legends, including a hilarious real-time thread cataloging the desecration of a couch (the incident is still celebrated today as the icon of the ILX app), the ‘so not going to happen’ photo thread, and a sadder, drawn-out catfishing, as well as the usual forum drama of long-banned members.

The Warren Ellis Forum only lasted for a short time back at the start of the century, but there has been a lot of hagiography about it over the past few years. And why not? Many careers and friendships were launched during its existence, and the comics world of today has many people in commanding positions that can trace their success right back to that forum.

And yet.

I’ve never quite managed to sort out whether this was a SOTCAA Savile transcript affair or something that actually happened. But there was a post. Maybe I saw it on the night shift when I was working at Oxford Brookes University after graduation, or maybe it was in the early morning. Anyway, it was a post containing a transcript of a webcam session. Between a woman and Ellis. And it was posted by the woman’s boyfriend. Nobody saved the post. At least nobody who’d admit to it, and if any denizens of The V-Forum had saved a copy, it would have been regularly posted in the years following1, so I don’t think a copy really does exist any more. Or even whether it was true at all, although in light of recent revelations, it’s probably right to assume the benefit of the doubt.

The ‘official’ Oral History of The WEF makes a big play of how it was a comics forum that didn’t hate women.

As far as comic spaces circa 2000 went, the WEF was an accepting and welcoming place for women, and that speaks for people who were there, the creators who came out of there, and the work we do.

And Kieron is not wrong at all. But it’s fair to say that ‘circa 2000’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Aside from the ‘Filthy Assistants’, the moniker given to the all-women mod staff, and Ellis’ overuse of ‘daddy’, women that didn’t quite fit2 into the WEF would often find themselves on the receiving end of this image macro:

McQueen / McGraw

But it was all ironic, you see. And it was okay! Because the forum was a welcoming forum that celebrated diversity in the comics world! Both from readers and creators! So much better than everything else around at the time! 3

I’m reminded that Larry Young, the publisher that gave Matt Fraction his start in the comics world, once referred to Jeremy Love as ‘boy’ and did not back down from it one bit when called out.

So the recent revelations of Ellis’ predatory behaviour are not a total surprise. Disappointing and enraging, but not a surprise. And, judging from a quick Twitter-stalking of names I remember from that era (aside from the obvious ones), that seems to be the consensus from almost everybody. People who weren’t on the WEF seem to be a lot more shocked.

I don’t have a lot else to say other than I believe Katie West.

  1. The V-Forum was a satellite forum of the main WEF, where all the cynical British people (and some token Americans) hung out to laugh at everybody in the WEF itself. I was mostly a lurker on the WEF and V. [return]
  2. As viewed by others, anyhow. I remember a user called Lorna who would take so much hassle from Larry Young. He, Brian Wood, and Fraction formed a very hyper-masculine sect of the WEF. Which the V-Forum laughed at, but let’s not kid ourselves, we thought they were cool as well. [return]
  3. Of course, when your competition is the Newsarama forums of 2000, it’s a very low bar indeed. [return]