Beyond The Timelock

The post-war, pre-Thatcher Britain is lost. A bizarre world, locked in a secure time-vault never to be released, due to our shame of turning a blind eye to disc jockeys, TV presenters, and children’s authors. Coming-of-age books set in a fantasy Edwardian time, or the struggles of an upper class family adjusting to the New Jerusalem.

A time shot on 16mm film, capturing the essence of a past no longer seen; that point in the broadcast where it switches from OB to videotape, the difference between outside and in. Year Zero Estates springing up in harsh, beautiful concrete; a man in a donkey jacket bringing a Government to its knees. The three-day week somehow merged in consciousness with the Winter of Discontent, and we are not allowed to separate them; a past retconned away by May 3rd 1979 and St. Francis of Assisi. Time-locked, a decade of failure. But it wasn’t. Not really.

A world where Bowie lived alongside Lieutenant Pigeon, of decline even as the most advanced passenger jet plane ever built flies from British shores. British Rail invents the tilting train and sells it off to European dreams. System X a gleam in engineers’ eyes, unaware that it will form the backbone for a million fascists and their Twitter handles.

You can catch it in glimpses in YouTube. People uploading the past, the old adverts, Jack Regan brutalizing people in London, odd thirty-five minute documentaries about a day in a British Rail station, snatches of QED, the countless different users uploading the ‘Protect and Survive’ broadcast, laughing at how weird it was to be afraid of nuclear war. Degraded VHS copies of a world gone, lasting until the watchful eye of the algorithm zaps them on behalf of BBC Worldwide.

The Moors and the Ripper; Yorkshire in blood. Mud with their puppet show, The Likely Lads joking about schoolgirls. Tony Benn in the streets, Harold Wilson shaking with fear under the sheets.

It’s not my world. I grew up firmly in the new world, the one created that tossed all this aside. But you can’t destroy it utterly. Old books remain, songs get played on the radio, and the BBC had repeat slots to fill after all. Those Children Film Foundation films that got broadcast on a Friday afternoon - tales of factories, magical t-shirts, and boys who turned yellow, set in a bizarre time that never was. Jennifer Agutter dressing herself as she starts counting.

The Owl Service; a Britain haunted by its loss of Empire and collapse in standing, examining its old myths before Falklands tossed them all aside and gave us back the image of Britannia. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. Even if it was an illusion. rejoice on the old HP.

The odd series that pop up here and there - the clash of the Minders from ITV with the Boys from Hooky Street on BBC1. Shelley and Citizen Smith falling in to promote the alternative view. The insanity of Q, a show that started everything from Monty Python to sm:TV Live. “What are we going to do now?” a nation cries as the three-day week bites and Brexit looms. And our racism brushed under the carpet, from the Pakistani Dalek to the Black and White Minstrel Show. Curry And Chips. Bird recording as Idi Amin. Have I Got New For You lacerating the Government whilst creating Boris The Legend.

But all gone. The plays. The conspiracies, the intrigue. Guardians. The Donati Conspiracy. 1990. The 70s fear of a Labour Government while Knale digs deep in a cave to find objects from our forgotten past that will kill us all. The man from Granada Reports that sneaks out to bring punk to the nation. Everybody taking the piss out of Morrissey. Dennis Potter picking at his psoriasis scabs as he writes another play with sexual intrigue coming to the fore.

The Internet gathers around on a Thursday evening to watch repeats of Top of The Pops from 30 years previous. And how we laugh. But it’s really a wake, held every week to shared memories of ‘Oh God do you remember what Carl did the next day at school? And how Miss Jones from 6N had actually been to the Blitz?’ A church to a music world that we destroyed via T1 lines, fast Fourier transforms and everybody else waiting to share their bundles of maths to the world. We let them come in, we talked to each other as we set the music world on fire and let everything burn.

Our past colonized by Americans in the final twist of the knife, our own history subsumed as their history overtakes our own. Their music becomes our music, their games become our games, their television becomes ours. But it wasn’t like that. Not really. America was a foreign land. America could never have created the KLF. Nor New Order. Or The Day Today.

The old world is lost. But if you step into the Alexandra Road Estate, you can get a glimpse of a world that we imagined. A world that could have been something different. But instead we chose Thatcher. We chose nationalism, and we chose Brexit.

But in that brief period of time, we believed in a better way.

World of WOTAN and Other Stories

One of the secret things I was working on last month has slipped out into the wild. World of WOTAN is a monthly digest of things going on in deep learning. With jokes. New architectures, reinforcement learning, important news, the month’s most interesting arXiv papers, and laughing at terrible bugs in production releases, it’s all contained in a handy email you can sign up for at the website. There’s also going to be a Crap RL Corner competition coming in May/June which will combine the best of Your Sinclair and the most powerful GPUs in existence today, which promises to be amusing if nothing else. So go, sign up! Though probably only if you’re willing to accept bad jokes about Dropout.

(I’m doing it monthly mainly so I don’t burn out; I still have half a book to write, after all!)

I also seem to have some bits and pieces in Infoworld this week. I’ll have some more there in the next couple of months, after I sit down and write them.

In non-writing news, I have been mostly spending the week hiding from the polar vortex and being a stereotypical DL person by reading The Three Body Problem and the rest of the trilogy. This might have contributed to the reason that I was still awake at 3am Thursday morning. But the cold didn’t help, honest. Summing up the trilogy: we’re all doomed. Dooooooooomed. Bit of a downer. Which reminds me that it’s almost time to re-read the Red Riding Quartet again soon. Yay misery!

How did it get to be February? Off to San Francisco again in a couple of weeks. Sometimes I wonder whether the 2009 version of Ian could believe where I’ve ended up. An odd but mostly enjoyable ride…

brrrr

I have become slightly blasé about the weather. Yes, it may be -4ºC and snowing, but I still went to the supermarket. Admittedly, the choice was between that and not eating next week, but I am adjusting. Which is good, as it’s going to be -20º again in the next few days. Fun times!

Mostly a quiet week. Some work on secret things, some work on, well, work things, and then an impressively middle-class Saturday grinding my own meat and playing boardgames (but very enjoyable!). Oh! I also booked my flight home for my 40th birthday; I’ll be back in Bicester (and London for a few days) in April. I will have a second suitcase just for Mini Eggs.

And I think that’s all I have this week. No deer sightings!

Deer Convoy

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

Tonight may be the coldest night I have ever experienced. When I get up tomorrow morning, it will be a cozy -24ºC.1 I am battening down the hatches, getting as many blankets as I can, and thanking the stars that I don’t have to work tomorrow, so there’s no need for me to leave the confines of the cozy bed too early. And I’m not leaving the house until the temperature turns positive again. Though my Diet Coke supplies are becoming dangerously low…

In other news, I finally got down to the cinema to watch Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and my goodness, if it wasn’t just as good as everybody says it was2. What I didn’t appreciate was being asked at the ticket booth if I was 55 or over. Now, admittedly: I was with Tammy and Robert and their children, so that’s an odd combination of adults, and I do need a haircut. But still, ticket booth operator: that’s ice cold.

Expect to see me react to that episode by buying a Porsche and wearing a wig. Or…wearing a blanket over my feet in the morning because they’re cold and taking another ibuprofen for my bad foot whilst shaking my head at a pointless meme a 20-year-old has posted on Facebook. I may need a walking stick to shake while I witter on about how much better things were on USENET3.

We also had a trip to an open house on Saturday. Not that I’m in the market for moving, but one of the area’s Frank Lloyd Wright houses has come up for sale, and it seemed like a fun idea to have a nose around. I’m not sure if now having a much bigger house has coloured my views or anything, but I wasn’t all that impressed. The big communal room with overhanging balcony and plenty of floor to ceiling glass was quite nice, but the kitchen was smaller than Driver’s (and a gas hob with no venting hood seems like an interesting plan), the non-master bedrooms were a touch larger than a Tokyo capsule hotel4, and that wide expanse of glass was only single-glazed, so heating the place is likely a fun adventure. However, the estate agents were very happy to point out that the roof was fine, so it doesn’t have the problem that a Wright house normally has. But yes, oddly not impressed in the slightest.


  1. There’s a small possibility that it was as cold in January 1982, but I can’t find any specific information for Bicester around that time. I don’t remember it, either, but I was only 2 and a bit. [return]
  2. As opposed to “popular new indie comic” which I read this week and was astonished at how much I did not like it. Impressively, the art, the writing, the colouring, even the lettering all bounced off me. [return]
  3. Okay, technically I am too young for USENET stories, but I did spend a lot of my first couple of years with consistent Internet access abusing JANET to read newsgroups. We even created our own alt.* group at one point! Yes, that’s right readers, I’m hardcore enough to have sent USENET control messages. Take that, ticket booth attendant! (I’m not bitter about it.) (Are you sure? — Ed.) [return]
  4. Obviously, still bigger than my bedroom back home. [return]

Further Adventures in Home (and Pet!) Ownership

Water update: all fixed!

Cat update: after a week after her not using the litter trays, I finally took her to the vet. And she did have something wrong with her, but she’s now recovering. Also, you’d be surprised at how loud a cat can scream. I definitely was.

Meanwhile, snow!

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

While having odd and somewhat stilted conversations with people the Internet thinks I should talk to, I’ve also read my way through Moffat’s Target novelization of The Day of The Doctor. It’s basically Moffat having his cake, eating it, and then adding two new cakes just for fun. Imagine a YA B.S. Johnson, and you’d be close. And oh, the secrets in Chapter 9…

This week! Waiting for the snow to melt up to the weekend, and then having another major snowstorm on Saturday! I may have to dig my way out at some point.

Adventures in Home (and Pet!) Ownership

Let’s sum up how Sunday afternoon went, shall we?

  • The u-bend of the sink jumped off, flooding the kitchen with water and so many bits of potato
  • The cat decided that she was going to forget that her litter trays existed and that the downstairs carpet was a great place to go to the bathroom
  • The new bathroom lights only come on randomly due to what I believe is a current issue, but wasn’t a problem with the incandescents
  • Petrol jumped 20¢ in an hour between ‘I’ll go to the petrol station in a bit’ and ‘wait, am I living in the Weimar Republic all of a sudden?’

(okay, the latter was more of an annoyance than anything else, but still)

All in all, it has cast a bit of a pall over what was a nice weekend. Let’s rack up the positives:

  • Yes, water seeped into the bar from above. Not great. But in pulling out what I believed to be a block of wood that was painted black, I discovered that it was in fact a Samsung Bluetooth sound bar. Which includes Optical Digital Input lines (fancy!). It’s been sitting there for a year and I had no clue. Thankfully, it still works.
  • I made a new cocktail! Admittedly, it was just hot caramelized white chocolate with a shot of Evan Williams Single Barrel in it, but it was nice?
  • Made the first macarons since moving to Cincinncati. And…they turned out really well. No cracks in any of them, perfect footers…just really good (and I normally have the urge to throw the entire batch away after baking, so they did turn out well for me to have no complaints)
  • We used transglutaminase for the first time! And I didn’t glue my fingers together!
  • I provided a helpful service of translating public school English into American (mainly around the euphemisms for homosexuality). As well as trying (and failing) to explain Curiosity Killed The Cat.
  • Meijer also has chocolate digestives, and they’re 70¢ cheaper than Kroger! Result!

Oh, and stroopwafels. Mmmmm, stroooooooopwafels.

Year Progress: 0%

Well, hello there, 2019. You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it. But maybe it’ll grow on both of us, right?

I have returned back to the United States with a ridiculous amount of ginger cake (of course, there’s always room for more), the complete DVD box set of Waiting For God (shut up, you at the back — name me another sitcom even now that has an openly feminist atheist as its main star, eh?), and several kilograms of Daily Milk chocolate. More than enough things to keep me going until I go home again in April.

There’s a list of things I’d like to do this year; the list just grew to somewhat mammoth proportions over the Christmas break, so how much of it will get done is anybody’s guess. I did manage to spend the last day of 2018 making a breakthrough on one project though — one that delves into my childhood and brings it right into the future. It is both more boring and less pretentious than that sounds, honest.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good New Year’s Eve and let’s hope that 2019 brings better things than 2018.

Happy Christmas!

Back in the UK for a little while (until this upcoming Sunday). Friends, family, and all the mince pies it’s physically possible to eat in eight days. See you in the new year!

I CAN'T FIND THE BISCUITS!

I am a creature of habit, to the extent that change is a problem. Why not ask my mother, who I still haven’t forgiven entirely for throwing out the biscuit tin of my childhood earlier this year1. I have had a very nice routine since I arrived in Cincinnati: get on the main road, drive for about 2 miles, and then turn right for the Kroger that has dark chocolate digestive biscuits. And other foods, but as you may have noticed, biscuits are also apparently an important part of my psyche.

And so, this week, I braved the almost-Christmas traffic to head to Kroger one last time before I come back home to the UK next week. I arrived to an almost-empty car park and a sign on the door saying that they had closed. Now, admittedly, there’s a fancy new Kroger2 across the road that just opened to take its place, but my habit: ruined. I have to turn left now instead of right! What a personal disaster! Also, it took me twenty minutes to find the digestives.

Oh, I actually was part of a winning trivia team this week! And all I had to give up was eye-rolling at the Union Jacks everywhere in the pub. I think my only real contributions were knowing who Was (Not Was) were and the importance of Westminster Abbey, while also revealing my deep-seated ire against the Shrek films3, but I contributed! Somewhat!

Helvetica update: she has decided that she is a lap cat when I’m on the couch, especially when I’m trying to use the laptop. She would like me to point out that she believes that only being fed twice a day is not acceptable. Let’s hope she never discovers my family’s feeding regime for their cats.

I had one of those rare anti-Impostor Syndrome moments this week; nothing too spectacular, but a day of find inefficiencies, fixing them, and seeing that reflected at scale. And as I come to the end of 2018, I think I find myself in a better place, in a variety of different ways. So there’s that. Of course, I still have four days left of 2018 for it all to go horribly Pete Tong, but I try to be optimistic about these things…


  1. Yes, I understand that it didn’t keep biscuits fresh any more, but that wasn’t the point, was it? It could have had a very good home in the United States instead of being sent to a farm. Of course, I may have just ruined any chance of getting mince pies this Christmas… [return]
  2. It’s a very fancy Kroger Marketplace that basically translates to a Tesco Extra. It’s not quite as fancy as the one in Newport, but it’s nice… [return]
  3. My stance is roughly that Shrek is the point where irony crept in and ruined everything. See also: The Office (UK). [return]

Last Minute San Francisco

You’d think with all the travelling I’ve done this week, I’d have some good stories. But, not really? Two days of work and the hotel was about five minutes away from the office, so I didn’t really have much of a reason to venture anywhere. Although the hotel did have some weird ideas of how to lay out a floor that veered on the realms of breaking Euclidean Geometry, and I’ve now been to Elixir enough times that I have a conversation with the bar owner about how new craft distilleries will survive now that MGP distillate seems to be thin on the ground. Good times!

So that was San Francisco. And it rained. But I guess in February, it’ll give me something of a respite from the inevitable deep snow in Ohio? Maybe?

Anyway, having got back to Cincinnati, I managed to get to the Newport Prohibition Bourbon Bar this weekend. I discovered that it existed almost two years ago, but a combination of it being over the river and opening hours that make Allen & Son1 look positively welcoming has made it difficult to plan a visit. But finally, just before running out the clock on 2018, we made the arduous trip across the Ohio River.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ian Pointer (@carsondial) on

And my goodness. Elixir is impressive. This is something else. It’s not very big, but there are bottles everywhere. Including crazy things like 1970s and 1980s bottles of Wild Turkey just hanging out. And they sell bottles too — barrel picks and things that are rather hard to obtain in the area.

Obviously, I will have to go back.

On the festive update, I will say that a healthy diet of Slade has helped up the festive levels considerably. Thank you, Sir Noddy of Holder!