The Phantom Holiday

It still feels odd to be working on a Bank Holiday. At least I get one at the end of the month, even if it’s not quite in sync with the Spring Bank Holiday. Besides, I was in the UK for Good Friday, and BBC1 didn’t even seem to care. Disgraceful behaviour! Standards have fallen! etc.

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A weekend of writing, chocolate-making, and a return to the Asian Food Festival! Which was in a different location this year, affording views of both concrete and the Roebling Bridge. Discovery of the day was probably Bánh xèo, which I will be attempting at home at some point.

Other than yesterday’s outing though, it has been a very quiet week. Boring 40s, ahoy! I’d like to say that things will be more exciting next week…but…

How About A Nice Game of Chess Instead?

There is, of course, the theory of it all. This is going to cost a lot of money and we will need to dig all around your basement. And you know that, have steeled yourself for it. It’s going to be okay.

Then the jackhammers kick in.

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The foreman talked to me on Tuesday and told me that he recommends that people don’t see what’s going on until the project is at least over half-way done. But I’d already gone downstairs, seen the carpets pulled back, the massive holes chipped into the sides of the house, the large trenches in the garage, the destruction in the bar. I didn’t even know you could pull that table in the bar out

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By the end of Thursday, they’re done and things do look better. The basement will still be a mess while the concrete cures, and I have to find somebody to re-lay the carpet. But maybe the house won’t leak anymore. And maybe the new iron bars on the foundation will stop the house from attempting to slip off it. Things won’t be quite the same again down there, but I guess that’s what you do when you own a house.

I eventually found where they’d put the bar table. As I tried to work out how I was going to put it back, I saw that previous occupants had left a mark to be discovered in times like this. I guess I’ll have to add to it before it goes back.

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To celebrate having something of a basement again, I watched the second greatest film in the world: WarGames1. I joke about how good this film is, but on this go-around, I think I was taken aback by…how WOPR uses the exact same methodology as things like AlphaGo and the OpenAI 5, even to the extent that one character talks about how it’s a ‘hallucination’ of a war., exactly the same way that PlaNet and similar techniques work for reinforcement learning.

Anyhow, you should watch WarGames again (and Sneakers from the same writers, which is actually a little better). It’s a shame however that Ally Sheedy’s character has so little to do - there’s a moment where she touches the computer screen and the film threatens to go off in a completely different direction, but 1983 and all that…


  1. The greatest film of course is the first 25 minutes of Transformers: The Movie. “Here, kids! All the characters you love die in terrible ways! Buy the new toys!” [return]

Flipping Over The Water Table

To celebrate having lived in Cincinnati for a year, I have spent the weekend moving everything away from the walls in the basement in preparation for a week’s worth of (quite expensive!) building work that purports to fix a) my water issues, and b) my previously-unknown foundation issues. What fun!

Other than that, a very uneventful week. I didn’t even leave the house until Thursday evening, and that was only because I had nothing to eat on Friday if I didn’t go shopping. I’d like to say that this allowed me to get lots of things done…but I hardly did anything. Decompression after London, perhaps.

But! I finally got around to making Detroit-style pizza, something that I’ve been itching to do for years:

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(thanks to Tammy for supplying me with the pan!)

More exciting updates next week as I relate how I share my house with a bunch of builders and still try to get work done!

You Ought To Tie Those

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For anybody reading who was also at university with me, yes, that really is David Warner signing “So do I” on a Titanic DVD as part of my 40th birthday presents from my sister. Apparently he was quite confused, but appreciated it when explained that it had developed into a university slogan. Ah, memories…

As I write this, it’s 25°C and I’m sitting on a blanket in the middle of Hyde Park as a rather fun weekend draws to a close. Some highlights!

  • Tammy being offered a cup of tea, declining, and then being given a cup of tea “just in case you change your mind.”
  • The 688 song playlist for the birthday party which sadly did not reach the amazing heights of selecting The Reynolds Girls or Transvision Vamp, but did open with the ever-cheery “I Trawl The Megahertz.”
  • My delightfully informative Endeavour-inspired tour of Oxford, with highlights such as “that’s an old building”, “that’s probably a college”, and “oops, this is the wrong way.”
  • Whilst delivering a passioned lecture in the shortcomings of the abomination that is the new Westgate Centre in Oxford, I slapped a woman in the face with my gesturing. I’m blaming it on the poor architectural choices.
  • Bicester Village seems to be gentrifying on a geometric scale. It was high-end when it opened, but now it seems to be approaching “oligarchs and people who like a big Pret” level of excess.
  • On that front, Pret is basically our equivalent of Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston, isn’t it? You can’t go 500m without bumping into one, especially in London. I also spotted the much rarer ‘Veggie Pret’ and ‘Petite Prets’ too!
  • The cats essentially moved out for the days we were there and then came back inside just as soon as they were satisfied that I had really left. A little harsh.
  • I know they warn you, but the 191 steps notice in Covent Garden doesn’t convey just how knackered you are by the time you reach the top.
  • My feeling is that we need to make cannabis legal so we can ban it properly from open area just like smoking. This is in no way coloured by the smells drifting across the Park right now. Although it’s hilarious that the Police have signs up saying “you will be arrested!” and people are literally walking around shirtless using bongs (it turns out that I didn’t realize what day Saturday was, did I?)
  • Indiana is quite flat. And so many wind turbines!
  • Of course, I went to the South Bank. Of course, I went to the booksellers. Of course, I looked at the Pelican books. I did move it up a notch though, as I made another tourist back off the Pelican I had briefly put back down to answer a text message. AJP TAYLOR IS MINE
  • I was in Queen Elizabeth Hall when the Mueller Report dropped.
  • We had an amazing 11-course meal in [Roganic]() that was probably better than Alinea or Next (quite cheaper, too!). Only slightly spoiled by an annoying American family next door that managed to demand massive changes to a tasting menu, hassle the staff to speed up service not once or twice but three times, and made comments about Michelle Obama’s arms. Not exactly the best neighbours.
  • I wore out the soles in Tammy’s shoes. I think that possibly beats the time when I made Richard walk the entire Las Vegas Strip.
  • Honestly, I did not realize before I booked that The Tower Hotel was a brutalist outpost on the Thames. Totally a coincidence, I swear. Would have been nice if the A/C had been working properly, but oh such concrete! Also a place where you can take pictures like this that make you think a Victorian East End child in rags is just out of shot.

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  • Tattooing may take longer than originally estimated!
  • My Mum will never forgive me for willingly going on the picnic in the park.
  • Using Apple Pay around London really feels like living in the future. I’ve barely had to get my actual credit card out. That will all change as we head back to the Land of Terrible Banking Choices.
  • I introduced Tammy to both Pointless and Meal Deals, so she’s much less of a tourist! Though she did walk on the right in the Tube…
  • Cakes & Bubbles was good, but ultimately disappointing, considering what Adria has done elsewhere. I liked the chocolate/yuzu/coconut flower quite a bit, but everything else was a little “…and?”
  • The Underground is just so much better than anything DC or NYC has to offer. Even if Tower Hill was shut for the weekend.
  • I approve of the increased incidence of the 1970s/80s NASA logo that people have been wearing around the city. Down with the meatball!
  • Dishoom’s naan rolls are just as good as we remembered. Once the cookbook makes its way to Cincinnati this autumn, there will be many of them in our future. So so many.
  • In contrast to the ruins and the sold-off, it was nice to see some council houses that are still owned by the people. Balfron, on the other hand, is a total disgrace.

All in all, then, a good trip. Feel like I could do with a few more days, but I think also that Tammy would have killed me if I made her walk even further. She only had light bruising on her feet from her boots, honest!

Tomorrow, we get in a plane and the long flight home. Well, to Chicago, as there’s still a four hour car trip back to Ohio after that!

And upon arrival: my goodness, this house is big, isn’t it?

“Goodbye To All That”

It’s going to be a quiet April here on the blog; I’m not going to have access to my amazing blog-publishing pipeline1 while I’m in the UK, so if you want immediate updates, you’ll need to catch me on either Twitter or Instagram. And by ‘immediate updates’, I of course mean all the photos of the National Theatre and the rest of the South Bank that you can stomach.

This last blog post of my 30s is therefore underwhelming and something of a disappointment.

comedy pause

Actually, no, I think my 30s were pretty good, to be honest. Let’s hope that continues into the 40s.

I instead leave you with a picture of a cat holding onto some socks.

See you later in the month!

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  1. Basically Hugo and a set of terrible scripts while every time I upload, I whisper to myself “I should put this all onto S3, you know”, which I normally spend an hour looking into every April when the hosting bill comes around. On the other hand, I’ve been with this hosting company since 2002 and inertia is such a powerful thing… [return]

“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.