“The Blake's 7 Anti-Cat Device, and Frank”

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Yes, it has got a little ridiculous, but the cat has to be kept out of the basement at the moment until it relearns that it’s not supposed to go to the bathroom on the carpet, so of course we created something that looks like it came out of Series B of Blake’s 7 to keep Helvetica out. You’d be surprised how well it works.

And Frank. So Being Frank was released in the UK this weekend, but in a twist of fate, it’s already out on Amazon Prime Video here in the US. And it’s…well, you know everything that I hold on to about Britain in these times of fascists walking the streets and Brexit? Frank Sidebottom is that. Britain: “it’s crap in a funky skillo type of way.” There’s something about Sievey and Sidebottom that could really only happen in Britain. This absolute lunacy was given free rein on Saturday morning TV, touched so many of our lives and we never really appreciated just how lucky we were to have that craziness touch us until he’d gone.

And Panic On The Streets Of Timperley is better than Panic. Less racist for a sodding start.

It’s silly, I know, but Being Frank is everything I love about my country and everything I miss, even though most of it doesn’t exist any more. A world where a papier-mâché man-child sent you hand-written sheets of A4 via SASE, a world of Little Frank and Little Denise, insanely indulgent sets on Yorkshire Television, and a staple of all the shows you only watched because Going Live and Live & Kicking had terrible cartoons on in the 90s.

And yet it was never weird? It was just Frank Sidebottom. You never gave any real thought that it was strange to have this character jumping about the TV screen. He was just…there? Part of the country. Until he wasn’t.

Also, I had forgotten, until Jon Ronson pointed it out, that I had contributed to Sievey’s funeral. A time when Twitter was less of a nightmare device where everybody takes cover in the morning during Fox & Friends

“A Lost Week”

Psoriasis flares are fun. Inverse psoriasis flares even more so. Without being too graphic about it, it took me until Wednesday to sit down comfortably. Which has meant something of a lost week, to be honest, in both work and non-work avenues. Admittedly, I did make around 10 desserts last weekend, so a come-down period might have been necessary. Just wish it was one that was not quite as painful.

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In happier news, we finally got to visit the Gold Top Dairy Bar this week! In addition to having a website that looks like it has stepped out from a GeoCities account in 1997, it’s a charming old-school soft-serve ice-cream parlour that has no time for your fancy Vietnamese Coffee flavours or what-not, but it will dip your cone in chocolate. And the staff are almost all teenagers that look like they’ve stepped out of 1977, just like the signage. And of course there’s a drive-thru option.

(I’m given to understand that Cincinnati has quite a few of these type of places dotted around, so maybe I’ll explore a little further when it warms up some in the months to come)

And just one week of March left. And about three weeks left of being in my 30s.

“Beginner's Guide To Using PyTorch For Deep Learning”

Beginner's Guide To Using PyTorch For Deep Learning

I have my own O’Reilly animal! Work continues on the book itself, but we’ll be delving into basic architectures, transfer learning (in images using ResNet architectures, in text staying right-up-to-date with BERT & GPT-2), TorchScript, and more besides! Coming to Early Access soonish, I think…

“Night Terrors”

Night. 1am

THUD

scritch-scritch-scritch

door opens

And that is how Helvetica Black managed to jump over a wall constructed of tall cardboard boxes, worked out how to open doors, and walked all over me at 1am before falling asleep. I’m a little concerned.

In less terrifying news, we had a boardgame night this weekend! And I made desserts. A couple. A few.

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I topped out at 10 different items when you counted the hot caramelized white chocolate. And that was after nixing the sous-vide cheesecake, crème brûlée, pâte de fruit, and popcorn ganache. I may have a problem.

Putting aside the vast quantities of sugar, we had a good time! I discovered another fan of Shut Up And Sit Down and we played Mysterium, Avalon, and The Insider. Fun was had, and Tammy was indeed mostly evil. You can never trust her when she’s playing Avalon!

Short blog tonight as I’m in considerable pain, but there will be a bite-sized update following this one.

“Old Durham Town”

It was interesting coming back to Durham. Given how white-hot the area still seems to be (apparently some houses in the street next to where I lived are now going for $0.5m. That’s a bit of an outlier, but everything seems to be inching into the 300k range in East Durham), I was surprised at how little change there’s been. Yes, the ugly tower of glass is finished and there’s a few shops in there, I guess, but the Cupcake Bar has been closed since…around June last year and yet in a prime area of Durham downtown, it stands vacant and with the old signage still up. Feels like there might be a slight softness in retail in the area at least.

Then there’s this absolute unit.

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From what I can tell, the place has been gutted inside. The ceiling has been ripped out, the floors taken out (but they were in good shape and original!), the HVAC system lying by the side of the house, the vinyl siding all completely removed, and every window replaced. Even the new ones I put in. They’ve even made the house a tiny bit smaller by reducing the size of the storage space in the front bedroom to recreate something of a wrap-around porch. Which I guess is appealing, but the problem with that wrap-around porch is that it wraps around two sides of a busy crossroad, so I’m not sure how much of a selling point that actually is.

Oh, and the unit has gained another chunky boi next to it. Behold!

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One plot, two houses. Not exactly where I would have placed house #2, but there you go. I might have set the house back just a little so it wasn’t right next to the bus stop, but again, what do I know?

I do think it’s funny that the tape holding the small front window together is now almost six years old.

Anyway, so that’s the main changes in Durham. I did get to meet up with many of the people I wanted to during my flying visit: Paakow, Andy, Elizabeth, Christa, Stacie, Kathy, and Luke amongst others. Perhaps strangely, although there was a sense of nostalgia walking through Durham, I can’t say that visiting made me miss the place. It’s alright! It has some things that Cincinnati doesn’t! Although Cincinnati has Jungle Jim’s and Kentucky just over the river. Admittedly, it doesn’t get to —20-30ºC in Durham. But! In Ohio, I can actually go outside in the summer for more than 10 minutes without my skin burning off. So there’s trade-offs…

Tune in back here next week for (hopefully) some news on the book front and other shenanigans.

March?

Well that was fast. And so, all of a sudden, I have a month left of my thirties. I don’t think the mid-life crisis has started yet, or maybe it has and I just haven’t realized. Meanwhile, I have spent the week sorting out how to transfer my former 401(k) funds and begin the work on this year’s tax return. All the adult things. Of course, as I type this, I have discovered I’m wearing my top inside out, so there’s that…

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Again, a quiet week. Starting to panic a little about the book, as I’m starting on the most involved chapter and it’s somewhat intimidating. Of course, it’s likely to be less intimidating when I properly get started, but there’s always a distraction.

Being extremely online since 2016 is not helping either. Yesterday? Yes, I should have been writing. But instead I took an hour and a half out of my day tracking down statistics of how the UK minimum wage tracked with RPI/CPI from 1999-2010 in order to fight an exasperating battle with leftists calling the minimum wage a betrayal of socialism. It was important dammit. I am getting increasingly fed up with adherents of a New Jerusalem wilfully blaming all of Labour’s ills on 1997-2010, as if Attlee et al weren’t Men of Empire and Callaghan was the one who brought in monetarism.

And of course the 2020 primaries are starting to ramp up, so more fun and nasty arguments to come when you question the idea of introducing a Medicare-For-All bill with no details on how you are going to pay for it (and it’s not hard! Taxes! But there probably needs to be a discussion on where those taxes fall, eh? Instead of just calling people ‘centrist sellouts’). So looking forward to that.

Anyway, back off to NC this week for the first time in almost a year. I’ll only be in Durham itself for under 24 hours, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed since I’ve been gone. I guess the tower that replaced @greenwalldurham will finally be open…

I'm From Ohio. Vaguely

Things I learnt this week:

  • Meeting veteran Apache Solr committers is awesome. Stalking their online presence afterwards to find out they’re even more awesome is even better.1
  • Buying a Clipper card makes using BART (or more precisely, buying a ticket and continuing to be able to buy tickets/credit) achievable. I do not understand why I have so much trouble with the BART transit system when I don’t anywhere else in the world. But hopefully I’ve solved that now, providing I don’t lose the card.
  • Whilst I don’t bring it up first, apparently I will go on an 30 minute rant of how my country has developed political vCJD and gone crazy if the subject arises.
  • I always feel I need to completely avoid alcohol for a month after I visit San Francisco for some reason.
  • People like bourbon gifts! (somewhat related to the previous note)
  • Why, oh why did they build a city on what seems like all the hills in the world?
  • Sure, it makes sense before you go that you could book a hotel out by the airport and it won’t matter. But…
  • Yes, there really is a tiki bar with a pool and a boat in the basement of a hotel. My first SF tech party!
  • I turned up at the wrong location on one day of the week and ended up only being 30 minutes early to where I was supposed to be instead of over an hour.
  • You can’t just say “I’m Ian, from Ohio,” because saying it out loud means that people have a lot of follow-up questions. But I guess it means I still have the accent…
  • Unless you make firm plans out there, it’s not going to happen (totally my fault). Next time, Drew!
  • This was my first trip using compression packing cubes. I have finally tripped over into the dark side. And I’m not even a consultant anymore!
  • I definitely missed not having Andy around during the days and nights (sadly, he was ill this week).
  • Getting stuck in Dallas, turning the return journey into a harsh 18-hour affair was probably not the best ending. But at least I’m back!

  1. Allegedly. [return]

Back In The Bay

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When I see public transport systems, I must ride them.

Back in the Bay Area for a week. There have been whiskey bars and watching Endeavour at high altitudes. Tomorrow I’ll be heading back to San Francisco proper for all the meetings and whatnot.

I am already so tired I could probably sleep for a week.

A Five Figured Salute

You know, when you’re not feeling well, and you only slept two hours the previous night, the absolute best way to start a Friday is to invite somebody in your house, who in the first thirty seconds tells you everything wrong with it and leaves you with an estimate for $21,000 in order to stop said house from doing a land-locked replay of those houses in Hastings that slowly slide into the sea. sigh

Still, as the snow comes down again this afternoon in Cincinnati, I think that next weekend I’ll be in the rain in San Francisco. Which both gets me a little excited, but mostly already beginning miss my actual bed and the easy access to proper tea. Oh, and dark chocolate digestives. Obviously.

But! I will be visiting Durham (okay, actually, I’ll be in Raleigh, but I will be coming to Durham at some point) at the start of March! There will be Cook Out. And IP3, if I can make it work. All the old haunts! It’ll be interesting to shat’s changed in the year since I left…

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.