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Due to a number of things that I Probably Should Not Be Talking About1, it has not been a good week. I can probably talk about the mild food poisoning I may have got on Saturday eating lunch before I realized that the fridge was 15ºC higher than it should be, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I’d rather not.

In happier news, though, we are getting solar panels! Not a huge amount, but enough to cover the back roof and apparently generate enough power for half our current energy needs. Which is nice. There’s a bunch of permits that they need to apply for, but work will likely start in November, which I guess means I’ll be catching those infamously sun-filled months of Winter as the panels go on-line. Mind you, it’s certainly gone a lot better than my quest for a new car, that’s for sure.

Next week! Something different! (actually, no, probably not, though hopefully a working fridge…)

  1. This is a separate category from Good Things That I Am Not Yet Talking About. Keep up! ↩︎

Curtains, by The Tindersticks

Having now watched all of Better Call Saul, I can now say, with feeling, “well, it’s not as good as The Beiderbecke Affair is it?” Plus: “ooooh, black and white! Isn’t it cinematic?

I will try to write about The Organization at some point, but it’s amusing to me how much more I enjoyed a 50-year-old show with low stakes than the current “this is the greatest achievement that television has ever seen.”

(and it’s not just that - I’d even rate the completely episodic and self-contained editions of Lovejoy as a more enjoyable experience than seeing the usual ‘drugs!’ melodrama play out over five seasons of tedium…but I realize I might be an outlier here…)

Relatively sure nothing else happened this week…1

  1. I am a little mystified at the Twitter demands that the Queen was responsible for Biafra and the Mau Mau massacres. We don’t say that she was responsible for the Iraq War, do we? So why does she have to carry the sins of the Churchill and Wilson governments but not Blair? Even as a fervent anti-monarchist and of Irish Catholic background, it seems a bit much…and, I might add, a bit of a gloss over how, like Iraq, those atrocities were carried out by democratically-elected governments; displacing it onto the monarchy feels like it takes it out of our collective responsibility of a nation somewhat. ↩︎

Rainy Labor Day Weekend

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I remain obsessed by 432 Park Avenue. It is such a terrible building on almost every level, from its appearance of ‘we gave an eight year old a ruler and a pencil and this is what they came up with!’ to the ongoing problems with actually living there (though obviously with a hefty amount of cackling at the fools parted with obscene amounts of money to move in). Impressively, it actually looks worse in person, crammed in amongst a bunch of other, better buildings, not even making it to the curbside of Park Avenue.

100 Eleventh Avenue, though, deserves some praise for just being absolutely hideous on a hilarious scale. Almost as if the architect had a bet on for how many windows could actually be crammed onto a building. And the answer is lots. Trypophobia in skyscraper form, looking out to the river.

Anyway, yes, I did spend some of last week in New York. That’s why there was no entry last Sunday; after all this time, I still haven’t come up with a solution of how to write blog entries and assemble a new version of the blog on the go (well, I know exactly what I have to do — I’m just too lazy to actually move the toolchain off my Mac and into the cloud. I finally walked along The High Line, which somehow I didn’t do when I was regularly travelling to New York for work five years ago for some reason, visited many different Prets, and grumbled about how NYC transport is just about catching up to London of twenty years ago. Although you still have to buy a MetroCard to use AirTrain because JFK airport hates you.

(also, my water ganache whisky chocolates were complimented by the front of house at a Micheline-starred restaurant as “One of the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted.” Which was an unexpected but lovely end to the trip…)

Cleveland down, New York down. Just Vancouver left for the August-September travel madness, and then I need to start planning for the return of the Christmas trip home. The first since 2019! And in the meantime, a Labor Day weekend of DIY and birthday celebrations as the leaves start turning brown and the squirrels bury their acorns under the gaze of this fellow…

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Tiptoe Through The True Bits

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Yes, 43 years old and basically on the stage next to the band. And we got the set list too. We’ve still got it!…even if I can no longer actually count the number of times I’ve seen Los Campesinos in concert. Even when limiting it to US or UK gigs.1

I’ve now been to Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, so I think I’ve checked off the highlights of “Ohio Cities that begin with C”. Cleveland seems quite nice! Historic downtown core mixed in with some brutalist / modernist towers and plenty of post-90s glass, along with curios like a a turn of the 19th/20th century arcade being retrofitted into a hotel. Pity that there seems to be an interstate between the core and the Great Lake, but maybe next time we’ll make it a bit closer to the shore.

Next week…New York! And then no travel for an entire month before heading to Vancouver again for the welcome return of SHUX!

  1. I will be upset if Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks doesn’t make its way back into a set list in the future. It just doesn’t feel right without “one blink for yes, two blinks for no” somewhere towards the end of the performance. ↩︎

These Macarons Are Not Real

I’m in the private beta for Stable Diffusion. Even with all the large language models of the past few years, there’s something akin to witchcraft when you’re able to type “a photo of macarons” and a Discord bot returns you images like this:

Stable Diffusion-generated macarons

It’s a large step above the VQGAN methods I was using last year and well up there with the output of DALL-E 2 and Imagen. Stable Diffusion has another advantage - soon it’ll be available for free and runnable on really quite low-powered GPU machines. I’m hearing that there’s even going to be a M1/M2 optimized version that will likely generate images in under a minute. When the weights get released in months? Weeks?, it’s Going To Be A Lot. As ever, 2000AD got there first, long ago, back in the Meg, a dark future where IPC sub-editors could dictate our youth without needing pesky writers or robots:

Kenny Who?

It’s interesting that Stable is looking more threatening than GPT-3 has turned out to be so far. I think that’s down to a few factors - where it and its successors fall down is in that longer context - even PaLM, going out of its way to be as helpful as it can (pretending to be sentient if you ask it to, even!), cannot generate a correct and coherent long-form piece. But you don’t need that with an image, because it’s just immediately all there — sure if you look closely at the macarons you’ll see the ganache line can sometimes get a little wonky, but your mind filters over that at a glance, whereas when you get to the first wrong fact in a GPT-X text, it’s pretty much over.

Additionally, the more impressive text models are really quite expensive to train and run, resulting in access to something on the power of GPT-3 being walled off behind OpenAI’s for-pay API. I think that is going to change in the very near future, though. Tim Dettmers’ work is going to bring some of those larger models to your desktop, and Facebook has already released publics weights for the equivalent of the largest GPT-3 language model. We might see a lot more weirdness and exploration in this area in 2023.

Anyway, Christmas cards this year are going to be fun.

Blackcurrant Ice Cream Sandwiches

A family visit means light blogging. See you next week…

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Kylie: Paid By The Word

May all of us commit to something as hard as Guy Pearce did for the filming of the Neighbours finale1.

Lots of big (and small) things happening right now…but not anything I can talk about just at the moment. My family will be arriving in a few hours, so I should probably go and make the beds!

  1. And bonus to one of the biggest movie stars in the world who still recorded something to remind us of the brilliance of the shrugalero ↩︎

The Big Skyrizi

If you’ve seen me in the past few years, you’ll know that my psoriasis has continued to get worse. I haven’t quite reached the state of Michael Gambon in The Singing Detective, but I was on my way. It was covering about 30%-40% of my body, over the back of my head, and in the last few months I had noticed that it had started on my face, one of the very few places it had left mostly untouched. We joke about my little ‘shame vacuum’, but it’s true: I have a rechargeable hoover hanging around so I can suck up flakes on my chair, the sides of the bed, the bed itself. Winter is always the worst, especially up here in the north of the US; it gets so cold and so dry that my skin turns into an even flakier mess than it is in the summer.

We tried many things! Back when I first got to the US in 2011, I had a variety of creams that helped my stomach. As the years passed, the creams just couldn’t keep up and things spread. When I moved up here, I admitted it was a problem and started seeing a dermatologist. There were more creams and for about six months, I’d drive into Kentucky once or twice a week to get zapped in essentially a very fancy sunbed. As January 2020 came around, the dermatologist suggested that it was time to look into drug-related treatment. There were some new drugs that she’d like to try but wasn’t sure that the insurance company would go for them without trying older ones first. So we were going to start with Humira, which has a reasonable success rate, but a side-effect of lowering your immune system’s effectiveness. We started the process, got approval, got a pharmacy ready to send the first doses…and…

Well, by then it was February or March 2020, and the one thing I didn’t want was a terrible immune system.

My dermatologist agreed with that, so the order was cancelled and things slowly got worse, held back somewhat by inventive use of topical creams and cling film. I got referred to a new dermatologist due to my current one leaving the practice…and I waited a year for an appointment. Never trust Americans that dismiss the NHS because of queues. We still have them, just in different forms.

Anyway, it was May of this year that I finally got to see the new doctor. Such a short visit - barely even ten minutes. They looked at me and said “we’re going to put you on Skyrizi.”

Skyrizi is one of the new class of psoriasis treatments that you’ll see advertised if you spend more than an hour watching American television these days. They’ll tell all the wonderful things it’ll do, as well as the usual litany of side-effects. What they don’t tell you is that it costs roughly $19,000 a dose. Yes, that’s not a typo. Nineteen thousand dollars. And that’s the wholesale price! Actual retail is closer to $30k.

Needless to say, I wasn’t all that confident that the insurance company was going to approve that, but the dermatologist was rather blasé about it. And sure enough, the company did reject the initial request, but a weird test result got us to reject their substitute. What’s weird is that nobody tells you the real price you’re going to pay right up until they’re actually ordering it. Having already looked up the numbers above online weeks before had, I was prepared for the worst, so when they said “it’s going to be a lot…$150 a shot”1 I did almost laugh. I am very lucky that’s not going to cause me an issue every three months.

I took my second shot of it this week, and well, things are progressing. All the flaky skin is gone. I’m no longer leaving bits of me all over the house. My head is pretty much completely clear. My body still has lots of pink patches all over it, but they seem to be getting fainter and fainter with every passing week. It’s basically witchcraft. There are caveats, of course - it can stop working, and I still have to hope that every 12 weeks I don’t have to fight with my insurance company for the next shot, but I hate my body a lot less for the first time in years.

  1. The schedule is that you take two doses a month apart and then a further shot every 12 weeks. ↩︎

Jury Service

Quick Jury Service review: A lot of sitting around and doing nothing except waiting for somebody to tell you that you can go home. But! I have at least tried Decibel, and I can recommend their somewhat generous portions of Korean fried chicken.

Otherwise, I’m too tired to write much of anything else this week.


This blog is now 20 years old. Which is somewhat terrifying. Not only is this two decades of uninterrupted blogging, somehow managing to muddle through when so many vast titans of the blog craze have fallen by the wayside, but it’s also the same amount of time since I went to UNC for my ill-fated attempt at a doctorate. Yet it was a part in a chain of events that started with me taking a card off the third year noticeboard in the Kilburn Building and ending up here in Cincinnati. And the blog has been a haphazard chronicle of that.

Ideally, I would have gone back through the archives to give you a list of my favourite pieces1, but I absolutely hate going through my older work so…no. I will say that I think one of my regrets is that I didn’t really post a lot during my time in California from 2011-2012. I know that there were multiple reasons for that: I was somewhat downcast at being stranded in Santa Monica for months and months; I was worried about the NDA issues surrounding talking about my work with Activision at the time…but it wasn’t like I was doing a lot during the evenings, and while I did try to get out and about in the surrounding areas at the weekends, I should have added more entries while I was trapped2. These days, I’m pretty good at adding an entry once a week, even if it ends up being little more than an Instagram embed, and I think that’s a decent cadence for the time being.

I’ve also been thinking about the technology behind the blog a little. Over the past 20 years, the blog has been powered by:

  • A home-grown system written in Perl, based on Slashcode designs — this didn’t last more than a day, thankfully
  • Movable Type — I stayed on this after I think everybody on the internet had moved to WordPress
  • Jekyll — I don’t think I ever did make the jump to WordPress; I just moved onto the crazy hotness of static-site generators instead. It was good, but eventually, the long list of files that had to be regenerated each time led me to:
  • Hugo — Hugo has been powering the blog for a fair few years now; it just does what it does in a few seconds and then I just rsync all my files to the web. I should really update things so I don’t have to be at my laptop to post new entries, but otherwise it’s a pretty good setup these days.

There’s also been quite few different designs and sideblogs. There was a photography sideblog, a different blog which ran longer pieces on obscure Britpop songs that literally only existed so I could try and become a music journalist3, Twitter embeds, Disqus for comments for quite a long time, a custom XML-RPC Python blogging app I wrote that added what music I was playing automatically to the post, and probably a bunch of other things that I’ve forgotten. When I moved to Hugo, I ditched all my custom CSS designs and just used the Hyde theme which you see today. I am tired of it, but I don’t see myself sitting down and fixing up something new in the immediate future. I think if I switch out the body font from Open Sans to something else, it might be a little more appealing to me again.

Anyway, yes, twenty years! The domain is renewed through 2030, so hopefully I’ll continue to be here at least until then…and who knows what new things there will be to talk about in the future?

  1. It’s not a great piece, but it is one of my favourite days of the 2000-2010 decade ↩︎

  2. Look as I wander around Santa Monica trying to find somebody to take my health insurance! ↩︎

  3. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but I got a lovely email from Johnny Boy, pissed off a couple of terrible American bands, and Paul Morley recognized me at the old Oxford Borders, so I’m claiming victory. ↩︎