Unknown Pleasures

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Finally, chocolate that looks like it listens to Joy Division.

Not a lot to talk about this week, I think; at least nothing that doesn’t make me want to go and walk into the sea.

Instead, I’ll leave you with Big Train and…a Big Train?

Is It Better With One? Or Two?

My twelve-year hobby with chocolate has gone through a few turns, almost always arcing upward in complexity to the point where “the chocolate room” downstairs could probably compete with a small chocolate shop in terms of the equipment on offer. There’s a tempering machine, a melangeur for producing bean-to-bar chocolate (in itself not something that you’d probably find in many shops…), and of course molds. So many molds. But where do you go from here?

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Obviously, you get your own custom-mold made. Above is the test run from a prototype that CCFX have run off for me, before final production begins with plenty of time before Christmas. The mold itself is a direct replacement for the classic Cadbury miniature, and will of course play a big part in my upcoming Roses 2020 assortment, as well as my recent acquisition of a proper Cadbury money bank (though we’re not going to be limiting ourselves to just milk and dark chocolate. Oh no). The recessed “FESTIVE!” is supplied by Rian Hughes’ Blackcurrant font. And you thought it’d be Helvetica. Sometimes I just like to have fun!

Anyway, as if on cue, the leaves have started falling as Summer officially ends in America with the Labo(u)r Day Weekend. Which has also seen a drought of Diet Coke cans that I haven’t seen for a long, long time. Aisles full of regular Coke, Dr. Pepper, and the Devil’s Own Creation1, but a complete lack of silver boxes. And we checked multiple Krogers! Big and little! A nightmare of imaginable proportions! I only have about 40 cans left in the house!Absolutely terrible scenes as we head into Autumn.

But! We did have a little celebration this weekend; COVID disrupted any plans of a big party, but we gave Tammy a happy birthday with a roast dinner, a sugar-free funfetti cake, and a fun phone-enhanced boardgame. Quiet, but nice. Plus, in a fortnight, we will re-run the celebration, except this time I can use sugar, so it will become Part 1 of the Winter’s insane desserts trilogy. It’s going to go great!2

  1. No, Pepsi is not okay. [return]
  2. We’re probably coming up to around 50 or so desserts total so far, and nobody knows about my secret extra lists right now… [return]


Yes, it’s August (just about). But this is a post that’s about Christmas. Two Christmases, in fact. Christmas 2020 and…either Christmas 1988 or 1989. The memories are a little hazy. Firstly, this picture, which took 30 years to produce.

Fort Max

I still don’t know how exactly The Pied Pedler in Bicester ended up with two Fortress Maximus toys (and a Sky Lynx). They were never officially released in Britain, and it seems odd for grey imports to end up on shelves alongside official Hasbro UK product. But they were there, and I got one of them for Christmas (in 88 or 89; I’m leaning more towards 89 because the Headmasters had been out for a couple of years at that point). The only problem with Fort Max is that he completely towered over Scorponok, his equivalent in the Deception faction. Well, 30 years later, Hasbro got around to fixing that with a 21” version of everybody’s favourite scorpion robot. He even includes the double-Headmaster gimmick along with all the modern articulation improvements. Hasbro: “We will sell your childhood back to you, but just a little better, and you’ll love us for it.”

(We won’t talk about how I’m eager to get the new Beast Wars toys from Transformers: Kingdom already and they probably won’t be out until 2021)

For Christmas 2020, welcome to the slow reveal of a project that I’m working on along with about 20 other desserts: Roses 2020.

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Given the state of the world, and I guess in particular the US and the UK, it is incredibly unlikely that I’ll be going home for Christmas, the first time I’ve missed returning for eight years. That makes me sad. And I fill the void of sadness with desserts. So many desserts. One of my ideas is to restore the honour of Cadbury’s Roses by creating a new selection of chocolates over the holiday that recall their glory days instead of the flow-wrapped monstrosities with sub-Dairy Milk chocolate that you find in them today. Also, those kids need to get off my damn lawn. Anyhow, this is my take on the classic Hazelnut Swirl…without a swirl because I hate swirl molds (you can just never clean them properly). Milk chocolate shell, a roasted whole hazelnut inside, and the rest of the filling is a milk chocolate gianduja that’s mostly chocolate, but gives it a softer, more hazelnut taste than the traditional Swirl. More of these to come in due course, including some Very Ian Takes on a couple of classics.

And finally, after three years after the initial transmission on BBC4, we finished Series 3 of detectorists. Look, I know it’s Last Of The Summer Wine, But For Hipsters, but it’s so good and bloody nice. Take the final episode, which refuses to resolve the main subplot of the series until the very last tracking shot, and gives everybody, even the series’ main villains, such a happy ending…which is a day out in a field. There’s even a montage of putting up a gazebo. In the final episode. This show is a cup of tea and a pair of crumpets on a Sunday night and it knows that’s what you need.

The Actor Kevin Eldon puts in a masterful appearance, and if the looks exchanged between Terry in the field and Sheila sitting in the tree don’t make you well up, you are Officially Dead Inside. Not a nasty bone in its body and yet somehow never cloyingly sweet, it is probably the best BBC comedy in the past 20 years. At least.1 How exactly did Mackenzie Crook become this good, and why isn’t he as fêted as Gervais, who could never, ever write something like this?

  1. Yes, that’s right, Fleabag fans. And I do love Fleabag! But detectorists is a little bit better. Or maybe I’m getting old enough that I just love something that completely discards cynicism and irony and just revels in the interior of the world it has created. [return]

Molding Molding Molding

Christmas update: I spent a lot of the week perusing Alibaba and talking to a company in Chicago about getting a custom chocolate mold created. That, I hope, lets you know what you’re dealing with here. Festive Ian Unleashed. I haven’t even put a lot of thought into decorations yet. Be very afraid.

Otherwise, a standard but slightly different week. More corrections for the German copy of the book (though I’m assured that it goes to the printers on Monday, which I believe means that I’m officially done with it almost a year after finishing the main text[^1]), more additions to the Christmas dessert list, ‘classic’ BBC sitcoms arriving in the post, waking up at weird hours of the night, absolutely terrible dreams, a cat’s insatiable need for chicken, and an odd week at work. But! I did go outside!

Devou Park is one of those weird artefacts of American cities, where some rich person 100 years ago donated 500 acres of land to the local Government and somehow it’s actually survived (whereas in a lot of Britain, let’s be honest, it’d have at least four different Barrett estates plonked on it during the 1980s). In fairness, a lot of it seems to have been infected by the golf virus, but it’s still a pleasant walk providing you keep an eye out for rampaging golf carts. We didn’t actually find the overlook part (did I mention how many acres it is?), but we did manage to walk off the pizza from Newport Pizza Company.

Next week: hopefully work and non-work interests combine: transformers at work, and Transformers at home, with an old toy coming back to address a long-standing discrepancy between him and his opponent. And another that can only be described as Magnificence.

Dai-X Again?

In case you were wondering, do not decide one week to go back to your childhood and re-watch Star Fleet when it pops up briefly in your YouTube recommendations. Admittedly, the original Japanese version is 40 years old this year, but you’re better off watching any episode of Stingray. As at least with that, you get this:

(Lots of “what?” parts, the biggest of which for me was towards the end where Dai-X destroys the mothership by flying into its landing bay. Why didn’t you try that back in episode 2, lads? The back half of the show is a lot more into using Dai-X than the first 12 episodes too, which makes me think that they realized that getting a man dressed up in a robot suit was probably a cheaper way to fill time than all the puppetry)

Honestly, I think I had more fun watching the first series of Hi-de-Hi!

Bit of an odd week at work, but I finally got around to playing with Optuna, which has turned out to be very easy to use even for scenarios that aren’t entirely envisioned by Preferred Networks’s documentation. If I’m feeling bored in the next few months, I may add a short tutorial into my PyTorch book repo. Completely free and exclusive online content! And not included in the new Russian-language version:

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(I’m guessing the German version of the book should be out in a month or two. It’ll have all the expanded content I have added so far on quantization and self-supervised training, along with a bunch of PyTorch 1.6 fixes. The definitive version! If…you can read German)

Finally, I have begun exploratory work on the Christmas festivities. This will eventually form the basis of my “Toblerone, but not” chocolates (they’ll be in a triangle log mold):

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There’s very little chocolate in this - the filling is just hazelnut praline mixed with cocoa butter, passed through a cream whipper and left to set at a 50% vacuum. It gives a bubbled texture that’s much lighter than my normal aerated chocolate and instead approaching the texture of a real Aero bar. And as there’s nothing else to cut the flavour, it is very hazelnutty. Mostly a success - though I need to work out how to cut out enough of the filling to give the chocolates a proper capping. Next week: a pastry experiment!

A Sick Kitty & Table-Flipping

This week: more things happened. Not all of them good, mind you, but I guess I should be careful when I complain that nothing happens. There has been an ill cat throwing up everywhere, who also refused to eat for three days until she discovered the joy of wet food. I am now in the adventure of making her rediscover the joy of dry food (so far, it’s going great). She also got a new toy. Helvetica is incredibly spoiled, but she would like you to know that the bad man refuses to let her outside anytime she wants.

Meanwhile, preparations have started. Given the state of the world…and by that I mean that the United States is essentially a plague country at the moment, it is very unlikely that I’ll be coming home for Christmas. This is obviously not great. So I’m distracting myself by pointing out that this means I can go completely dessert crazy for TWO holidays instead of just Thanksgiving. I have already ordered new chocolate molds, three kilograms of fruit purée and I’m almost at ten desserts for each holiday already. It’s how I cope with things!

(the normal approach of dealing with things, “Ian finds obscure British television from the 1970s and 1980s”, doesn’t really seem to be working at the moment. It’s too nice outside for damp footage shot on 16mm film or early OB video takes. But I don’t have the interest in anything new, either, which means that any attempt to switch off from things at the moment just doesn’t happen. It’s great, honestly.)

England Made Me: 80s Edition

As the repeats of Top of the Pops reach the end of the 1980s, it’s time for another England Made Me post. There’s a theme here if you can spot it.

Very subtle.

The trouble with going away is that it often makes the week afterwards very boring by comparison. This week, I…went to Kroger. Excitement! Or something. My milk went bad. So I went to Kroger again.

Look, it was a quiet week, okay?

Morehead City Unmasked

If you were wondering how bad things are out here, then here’s an anecdote. We went to pick up food in Morehead City on Saturday night. At 9pm, on the boardwalk, I think we saw maybe six other people wearing masks. A bar was packed out on two floors with live music and no social distancing at all.

America is pretty much in a death cult spiral at this point. But mah freedoms

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Anyway, yes, road trip! Which was a little odd, seeing as how we had to drive through Chapel Hill (and past Durham), but not stop. But! We got to visit Christie, Ashley, and little baby Evan, saw the beach, bought flour for biscuit experiments, found the most appealing of this year’s three Arcee toys, wore actual proper trousers for the first time in what feels like months, and…so much time in the car. It was good to get out and about, but I do feel like I need another few days to get back to a proper sleeping schedule…

It will be nice to return to visit the Triangle when (if?) things get back to normal. In the meantime, we’re all back in the Cincinnati region and Helvetica has mostly forgiven me for abandoning her with two dogs and another cat.

Ballroom Blitz

This visit to Blitz by Jack Charlton is fantastic. Aside from Charlton taking all in his stride, though, my favourite part is how it completely demystifies Blitz itself. “It’s the hallowed ground where New Romantism was born!” becomes “Oh, it’s just a disco in a very typical run-down British hall. Look at the state of those plugs.”

It occurred to me this week that I last filled my car with petrol back in March. And it’ll probably still be fine into August. Remain indoors!

(Having said that, I will be on the coast of North Carolina next weekend. Cook Out time! And maybe, maybe a sneaky stop on the way back Sunday afternoon for taking pizzas away from IP3. We can but dream. And wear masks. And disposable gloves. This is how we travel in 2020.

My weekend archive viewing was Secret Society, which included hilarious scenes where people on the high street were shocked to see their names come up on a private copy of the voting roll database via a teletext-style linkup. Oh, those innocent, halcyon days. You can also tell how I’ve been co-opted by the system, as the programme’s fierce line against machine-readable passports generated a big Alan Partridge-sequel shrug from me. “There’s a big book of names that the passport agents are supposed to check, but they don’t! This is bad! The machine-readable passports will make that viable! This is also bad!” A little odd.

And I think that’s it for this week. Except this wonderful clip from Gillian Gilbert where she casually reveals that nobody else in New Order could read/transliterate music and how she and Stephen wrote the backbone of World In Motion as a Reportage end credit theme. I am really glad that she was back in the band when I finally got to see them earlier this year.

And this, as “The Other Two”, watching one of their early BBC live performances (content warning: Bernard’s shorts):

(This blog stans Stephen Morris & Gillian Gilbert)

Nothing To Report, Captain

Ho-hum. A week. Both outside at large and in. I keep on wanting to actually get started on the ideas I have, but everything else is getting in the way; even the weekend is no real respite this time around.

But, obviously, it could be worse. waves hand to the outside world

To cheer myself up, I watched Punishment Park and Vanishing Point back-to-back. It turns out that I am really terrible at picking films to cheer myself up. But, I ask, who wouldn’t want to watch two incredibly paranoid 1970s films whilst the current President makes lists of enemies, eh? Next week, we’re doing Hamilton, but what people don’t know is that I’ll slip in the Mick Travis trilogy during the intermission. You will all appreciate the majesty of Britannia Hospital if it’s the last thing I do.

So yes, not the best week for a variety of reasons. But! After almost a decade of it sitting somewhere in a room, forlorn and unloved, this is finally assembled and in the bar:

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Now I just have to find things to go inside it. And hopefully that won’t take another decade…