Clean-up on Line 2

This week I unlocked a new achievement of living in America — changing a very full baby’s nappy whilst also on the phone to an insurance company trying to sort out a medication refill (actually, it was the ‘specialist pharmacy’, but the root of the issue was insurance rejection and whatnot). Hurrah for private healthcare and jumping through all the hoops.

My whistlestop trip to Chicago seemed to go well, meeting the rest of the Bookend.AI team and working out our immediate plans for next year and getting read for what we’re going to create in 2024. Which is crazily just around the corner…

(this song in my head the entire trip)

The Thanksgiving insanity has begun in earnest too; 15 savoury dishes, 15 desserts, or: “Ian tries to use as many molds as he bought this year - an impossible task, but he’ll try his best.” Every pot, every pan, every oven, all will be pressed into service as we try to feed nine people until they explode. And then we’ll do it all again next month!

You Worked Earlier!!

A week in research adventures:

  • Spend a fortnight prior with a paper stuck in your head. There has to be a better way to do good thing
  • Take a weekend and fail. But you know it’s in there somewhere
  • Carve out time during the week and on a Thursday afternoon, eureka! you get an example working and finally understand the mysteries of the vLLM KV Cache
  • Thursday evening: plan out the paper in your head. Oh, this is going to be great!
  • Friday: construct a quick eval
  • Friday mid-morning. Yeah, well it worked for that example, didn’t it, sucker boy?
  • Friday afternoon: deep sigh

I still think I can work on the problem and get something marginally useful, but it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. And reminds me why my good friend Sava spends so much time on his evaluations first. I had tried a few variations of the initial sample, sure, but not sending 5000 different ones through the model and I paid a high price for my hubris.

(I still haven’t given up, mind you. Because it would be quite nice if I can find a way of making it work)

How did the year just…run out? I’m in Chicago this week for an all-hands meeting at New Company (which currently is a lot easier to organize than at Old Company), and the the next week is Thanksgiving, and then it’s December! I don’t even have enough time to put together a proper dessert menu, let alone make it…though that won’t stop me trying, obviously.

Living In America: Passport Photo Edition

One thing that is quite different over here opposed to the UK (& Ireland, which is somewhat pertinent to my situation) is that you don’t really find a lot of photobooths here. Back in Britain, most largish supermarkets will have one somewhere in the shop. Hence adverts like this:

In the last decade, the photobooths have changed a little in that you can now get a download code to go with the pictures. And this download code can be used when obtaining/renewing a passport digitally.

Over here, things seem to be a little different, which I’m guessing is due to the US passport system dragging their feet on things a little. Which is to say that I been around UPS, FedEx, and Staples shops and not one of them will give me a digital copy. So today we’re going to go rogue and basically beg them to allow us to take a picture in front of their white balance screen. And then we’re going to paint all the flat walls in the house white so we never have to do this again.

Hallowe’en ended up being…snowed out? We just had some flurries for about forty minutes, but it was enough to reduce my visitors down from the hordes of last year to two groups. I felt bad for the first group who arrived very early and therefore didn’t get a lot of sweets versus the group that came around 8pm. I still have so many sweets left. But you always have to prepare for the potential of high traffic! Turning children away makes you a monster!

Finally, RC Cola went odd.

The Turning

The leaves are red, gold, brown, and falling all other the place. It’s going to freeze in the next few days. I have started working on my plans for 25 desserts at Christmas. Winter is definitely coming. And that means I don’t have a lot of time left for ordering the season’s mold and chocolate requirements! BakeDeco should have a VIP section, that’s all I’m saying.

We are also booked for travelling to Britain next year! We’ll be coming over in March to celebrate Maeryn’s first birthday. She’s getting in a lot of travel considering she’s not even a year old yet…

New Durham Town

No post last week because we had to get up at 4am to catch a flight from Durham back to Cincinnati. Durham thoughts!

  • Durham remains rather similar, but with a lot of building still going on. The wonderful old South Bank building is now a new glass skyscraper in progress.
  • Tons more housing around, which is good, but sigh, I do wish commercial architects could be allowed to produce something different than the usual boxes1.
  • I cannot work digital door locks, which means I end up standing in front of a door at 10pm thinking “I literally train neural networks for a living, how can I not make this work??”
  • My concept of distances between places in Durham is slightly skewed by my previous history of walking everywhere. My estimates of ‘oh, that’s really not far’ are not entirely shared by other people or reality itself. Oops.
  • Spiral staircases look fun, but in the middle of a living room are an accident waiting to happen!

Nothing too exciting this week, but next weekend, I have to make somebody’s first roast dinner. No pressure!

  1. Don’t worry, I am still firmly on Team Build More Council Houses, but in the absence of that, any real increase in supply is to be welcomed… ↩︎

Proof of Life Update 2

I am sounding less like somebody that has smoked 60 cigarettes a day for 50 years today, which is an improvement from earlier in the week. Still not exactly well, but getting there. Which is probably a bad omen for going to NC later this week and breathing in all the terrible things in airports and planes getting there and back.

But! In other news, I have now officially become an American. And no, it’s not a green card or citizenship. I have those already! What I mean is that I now have a deck attached to my house. And a deck box to put cushions in. I might as well have the Stars and Stripes tattooed on my face at this point. But it is nice, and the small one will likely get a lot of use out of it as she grows older. Also, I got stopped in the street by several neighbours asking about it, so I have provided a local talking point! Doing my part for the local community…

Proof of Life Update

I’m now on my second round of lung infection antibiotics and I seem to have developed pinkeye. Being immunocompromised (due to a different medication) and having a baby is a fun adventure!

In the meantime, go and read Owen Hatherley’s long-threatened Transformers essay in New Socialist. I have a bunch of issues with it (no real discussion of TF UK or the tumblr/indie disco days of IDW, plus a bit of a misleading timeline on how TF operated in the 2000s), but in general it’s a great read.

Also! Watch this part of this motoring documentary from 1993 and see how long it takes you to come to the conclusion that if you were on a jury, you would never vote to convict her in the eventual murder that must have taken place.

Times Change

Some news that I would have spoken about last weekend if I hadn’t spent all of that time being rather quite ill. After five years at Lucidworks, I’ve decided to move on to a new position elsewhere. I can’t talk too much about that yet, as it’s a stealth-mode startup right now, but rest assured that is about all things Generative AI and I’m really looking forward to building and shipping a lot of crazy things in the next year.

But how do you celebrate a new job?

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Of course! By buying a Japanese manual dough sheeter that can create uniform sheets of dough down to a thickness of 1mm, that’s how! Just what you need when you’re planning out the 20+ desserts for Thanksgiving and Christmas…

The household is…maybe getting better? Poor Maeryn is celebrating being six months old with terrible congestion and an ear infection, but still somehow remains a rather happy baby. Long may that continue. Meanwhile the adults creak and groan, but we’re muddling through. And…part of my final conversion to Americana begun this week: the back garden deck is being built. So far, the poor builders have found enough clay to make hundreds of pots, a concrete floor that we believe may have been part of an inground pool system, and a still-yet-unexplained structure of bricks and wood buried within a hill. I feel like we need to get the team out and do some geophys analysis of the backgarden…

You Can't Buy It With Money

Having finished reading I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records this week, at least three things stick out:

  • The book is probably the best work that talks about the actual nuts and bolts of how Factory operated, from dealing with international licensees to flushing half of the confiscated drugs down the toilet at the Haçienda so the police didn’t get wind of the total scale of the drug traffic in the club
  • Although the early years of the club have become ingrained as ‘empty nights, a money sink, and then house & ecstasy came along and saved the place’, the book paints a slightly different picture. The club in its early incarnation was a hub of activity and did a lot to support the art movements of Manchester (and it’s something the city desperately needs again, but that’s another story), plus you can argue that its LGBTQIA nights were foundational for creating a scene outside of London
  • There’s a justified sense of anger that it took this long for people’s stories to be heard over the din of Tony Wilson. As Lindsay Reade rightfully points out, if Factory had been formed ten years later, she would have been a director on the level of Wilson or Erasmus, so why is she treated as a punchline in 24 Hour Party People and barely mentioned in most retellings of Factory?
  • Despite that, Wilson comes out of the book reasonably well, Peter Hook a lot less so depending on who is talking, and everybody seemed to get on with Bernard Sumner (and obviously, everybody loves Stephen and Gillian, but that’s not a surprise!)

Going to be an interesting week…but I’ll tell you more about that next weekend, I guess…

San Francisco: Slight Return

My relationship with San Francisco is a complicated one. As a tech person coming of age in the 90s, the Bay Area for me is indelibly linked to things like Sneakers, Hackers, jwz, and The Invisibles. Rollerblading post-Riot Grrrl girls in The Mission. VX gas out on Alcatraz. Perl code blazing past a terminal at 100 characters a second, inventing the future.

Ragged Robin

Then we found ourselves in that future. This was widely considered a mistake.

Of course, there’s an argument that the squalor that you’re greeted with in the city is more honest than in other cities. That instead of things being hidden, you’re confronted head-on with what capitalism does to people and your complicity in coming to the place for a tech conference whilst also working for a search company1 that has its central offices in San Francisco. You helped to build this. The central search engine core can be found everywhere from Uber to Palantir.

Obviously, as a terrible centrist-liberal2, I have thoughts. Given that the occupancy rate of the downtown office space is apparently around 20%, let’s start converting them into housing and offering people places there. Then there’s the old standby of just giving people money which, despite what people will tell you, is actually really fucking effective, or if people do want to remain in camps, let’s at least make them sanitary, providing showers, toilet facilities, and access to medical care. But oh, the cost, the cost! If a company can afford to build something like Salesforce Tower, then it can have a bunch of money extracted from it via tax purposes for the greater good. And come on, doing that to XCorp would just make everybody’s day.

So, yes, every time I ride into the centre of the city on BART, I have thoughts, let’s just put it that way.

(while we’re here, let’s also point out that taking BART from SFO airport is the best way to enter the city, and anybody who suggests otherwise has had their brains affected by leaded petrol poisoning. As the trains wind in and out of tunnels on the approach to the centre, you get to see the hills of San Francisco and all the houses leading off into the horizon, schools and gardens, actual people going about their lives just outside the window. As opposed to the gridlock you see on the interstate)

Still, though, the first night on this trip? It gave me most of my imagined SF. A perfect day, weather-wise; wisps of clouds in the sky, sun out, but you can still wear a light jacket. Market Street is quiet, but not dead, and then onto The Mission, which is full of life, genderfluid and all shapes and sizes, ages and colours. Unsettling driverless cars drive past the window of the bar you’re drinking in, and it feels like The Future That Was Promised.

Two days later, you’re sitting in a mall bathroom staying quiet while a security guard physically removes the occupant of the stall next to you for attempting to shoot up. And then you go back to the opulence of the tech conference that has so much money it drafts in LL Cool J for nightly entertainment.

As for the conference itself, eh. I picked up about two new things, but in general it just felt like an extended advert for a search company3. Which is I guess to be expected, but I know that things like WWDC can get really deep into the technical weeds (I watched videos of conference talks back in the day!), so I was disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of that here. But maybe that isn’t the main type of audience for Google Cloud Next.

Anyway, for me the conference was something of a means to an end; what I was really going for was the chance to see a bunch of co-workers that I haven’t seen in person since February 2020. And that was great! Plenty of drinking, talking, laughing at my total inability to draw a cup of coffee, and more besides. I’ve been working from home for over seven years now and do not miss the office one little bit, but meeting up a few times a year has been something I’ve missed a lot.

Of course, I had plane issues both going out there and coming back; it really does feel like air travel is in a terrible state at the moment, especially if you have a connecting flight. I was quite glad previously about the new direct CVG→LHR flight, but after my travels these part few months, I think it’s going to make next March so much less stressful…

UPDATE: Just to be clear though, I didn’t see anything in San Francisco that suggested the ‘doomloop’ that the worst people are saying about the city. I walked through downtown, the Mission, the Tenderloin at various times of day and night, feeling no less safe than on any previous visit to the area.

  1. No, not that one. ↩︎

  2. Of course, my definition of centrist-liberal includes my voting history of casting support for Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, so your mileage may vary. But compared to some of my friends, I’m basically middle of the road, honest. ↩︎

  3. Yes, that one. ↩︎