The Only Living Boy In New Cross

Not really a lot to say this week. But hopefully a longer post next week that will feature angry pastry thoughts. I know you want it.

(look, it’s either that or the exciting life and times of a 401k rollover, and I think you’d prefer the pastry rants)

Blocked Curtis

But This Was A Fantasy is now back up again, having spent much of the week reporting Service Unavailable. This came as something as a surprise to me, as the Docker container that contains the website hasn’t changed since May. Which meant the prospect of trying to debug Google’s Cloud Run substrate with no visibility! Hurrah!

It’s back now, so what was the problem? Honestly, I don’t really know, but I have a theory. Behold my debugging process!

  • Poke at the site every day or two to see if it was a transient error that Google would fix
  • Delve into the logs and see a permissions error trying to read /dev/urandom
  • Run the container locally and confirm that it still worked there (yes!)
  • Create a container with no images and try that
  • Revert to an earlier container, and eventually all the old containers, discovering that they all now failed
  • Try to remember how the base FastAPI container works, poke around in the directory structure and confirm I had permissions on /dev/urandom
  • Mess around with the container’s running user
  • Discover that the FastAPI container offers the ability to run a script at launch before the app (mainly meant for migrations). I stick an ls -l /dev/urandom in the script to see what I permissions I have in Google Cloud Run
  • The website then starts fine
  • Drink lots of alcohol

What I think happened is this: behind the scenes, Google has made some changes on how it handles random numbers in Docker containers. /dev/urandom should not block, but maybe it’s throwing an error because the system doesn’t have enough entropy during the container boot yet, and that’s manifesting as a permissions error. However, the ls -l, despite it not doing anything explicit to alter the system, gives it enough time to generate enough entropy for PyTorch to load fine.

Computers, eh?

Not much else I want to talk about this week, but stay tuned for a pastry book review that resulted from a hate-read of a quite expensive book (at least in printed version) this weekend.

Blackcurrant Raid And Back Into The Archives

As is fairly common, I’m going to open with a complaint. Just over three weeks ago, I was giddy at the status of my blackcurrant bushes, full of ripening currants of quite impressive sizes. After getting back to the US, I was planning on taking the time this holiday weekend to pick my bounty.

Imagine my surprise when I went out Saturday evening to find both bushes stripped bare. Damn those squirrels. Damn their eyes. And their oh-so-cheeky bushy tails. I will have my vengeance!

Anyway, I am back in the US after a somewhat empty flight back on a 787 Dreamliner. And of course, a flight means watching old TV programmes! This time around, I watched The Consultant and finally got to see the ‘complete’ cycle of The Donati Conspiracy and State of Emergency.

The Consultant is a bit of an oddity, in that I can’t understand why it hasn’t been released on DVD and only seems to exist as a bunch of off-airs taped off the original broadcast (complete with BBC Wales idents, no less!). The only reason I ended up downloading it was because, well, everybody loves Hywel Bennett, and early 1980s dramas about computer fraud often have a certain charm. But when I was taking a look at the opening credits, I saw that it was written by Alan Plater, and then I downloaded everything.

It’s definitely not his greatest work, but the central mystery and scheme holds up pretty well, and although it’s an adaptation, there’s flashes of the sparkling dialogue that would be the highlight of The Beiderbecke Affair. Plus a fun Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gag in the first episode. Definitely worth a watch, and could do with being rescued from the archives.

I’ve seen The Donati Conspiracy a couple of times before, and to me it’s still the best example of the 1970s ‘conspiracy drama’ period of British television. But I knew there was a sequel series filmed two years later, State of Emergency which was almost impossible to search for and didn’t really seem available anywhere online. Until it turned up on YouTube late last year. Hurrah! Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to what came before, and the recasting of two of the main roles is a big part of that. Michael Gwynn actually does well replacing Michael Aldridge as Donati, leaning heavily on ‘British professor contrasts torture camps with public schooling’, but the series loses a lot without Anthony Valentine’s pitch-perfect charming and arrogant performance of a fascist. The man was sadly born to play slightly-posh Nazis. Patrick Mower tries his best, bless him, but you never really feel that he could have got to that position of power that he finds himself in at the start of the series.

Also, I can’t help feeling that John Gould’s death before the screenplay was completed meant that the final effort (supposedly finished by Hugh Whitemore) is much less subtle than The Donati Conspiracy. The previous series left a lot to the imagination, whereas the sequel spells out in detail how the national government was formed as a reaction against trade unionists, with the army in a supporting role. Definitely keeping with the ‘tanks on the runway at Heathrow’ and ‘UKDK’ real stories of the 1970s, but suffers a lot in comparison to the original series’ more measured take on things.

(Donati has a wonderful straight performance by Windsor Davies, of all people, and the lack of ‘normal’ characters in Emergency hurts it a lot)

I’d definitely recommend watching The Donati Conspiracy if you haven’t done so already. And honestly, I think you can stop there - the ending of that is perfect and doesn’t really need the denouement that State of Emergency provides.

Other than that, back on this side of the Atlantic and trying to readjust. At least the cicadas are gone…

Testing Testing Testing

I’ve taken so many COVID tests. Yesterday even going as far as taking two in one day (and now we have a race against time as to whether I get the result of either before I fly on Tuesday1). An odd trip, and not one that was ,much planned in advance, so apologies for everybody that was taken unawares, and I hope to see you all next time I’m here!

Meanwhile, I’m sneaking out with a suitcase that is almost 50% ginger cake. Which, I think, is an appropriate amount of ginger cake. Enough for a week if I ration myself.

  1. incidentally, if you are flying out from Britain, take it from me that if you’re using a company that handles tests by posts, Tuesday is the absolute worst day to fly out on, as you have to take the test on a Saturday, scramble to get it into a postbox before noon, and then just hope that it doesn’t stay in Bicester all weekend instead of moving closer to London. [return]

Return To Rainy Fascist Island

If you have been following my Instagram (though unless you’re a fan of cat pictures and ridiculous desserts, there’s probably no good reason to…), you may have noticed that I appear to be in Britain. I’m not going to go into all the details of why here, but yes, I am here! Up until the 29th of June anyhow.

One somewhat odd thing about coming home was the racking up of credit card charges to buy UK tests for Day 2, Day 8, and Day 5 (as part of the Government’s Test To Release programme to get me out of quarantine faster), followed by simply getting in my car and going less than a mile to a CVS for a drive-through test. Which cost me nothing. This is not how healthcare in the two countries is supposed to work. Why is it easier and free to get tested in the US than it is in the UK? You don’t need a reason. You just book online and go. With that and how we were herded and penned in at immigration at Heathrow, I’m beginning to understand just why things got so bad here…and why the Delta variant has taken hold. Despite all the signage saying we should have our COVID results and Locator forms out…nobody checked anything and I just walked through the eGate. Good times!

In somewhat less pandemic-focused news. I can tell you that CVG airport has now fully embraced the new Kentucky alcohol laws. Do you want to spend some of your time waiting for a flight sipping on a pour of a bottle of Old Granddad from 1974? Because they‘ll let you do that, and put the shot into a to-go cup that you can take around the entire airport. Incredibly reasonable pricing too — the OGD was $20 for a generous pour.

Meanwhile, on the somewhat sparsely-populated flight, I read Owen Hatherley’s new book — Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances. I was expecting it to be an all-new book instead of a collection of articles and old blog posts, but a lot of it was still new to me. I was struck by his examination / criticism of the recent popularity of brutalist books, and the men that fall in love with them. And yes, guilty as charged — I follow Cats of Brutalism on Instagram for crying out loud. But I do think my love of the style goes beyond just their stark look; they remind me of the time where, especially in the UK, the state said, we have seen the devastation and the slums. And we can do better. And we will. We will build juggernauts of ambition, streets that tower into the sky, edifices that can block out the massive road arteries of London so you can hear birdsong during the day. We will build these places. And we will build them for the people, for the people have the right to this quality of housing. And for a time, as a country, we did that. Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any means, but places like Trellick Tower and the Alexandra Road Estate are a window into a different world that today is hard for us to imagine that it even existed.

Anyhow, the book is a Proustian rush of blogs gone by, names like Fisher, Carmody1, Reynolds, and all the others that made the 2000s bearable. As part of the I Love Music poptimist collective, I even make something of an appearance in the book. So if you do find yourself on an eight-hour flight back to the UK with an entire row2 to yourself and not much to do, I certainly recommend it for occupying part of that time.

(And for accompanying video, why not a complete set of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?)

That’s it for this week; the next few days seem to involve a combination of coding in Golang, rain, and so, so many COVID tests.

  1. I know Robin isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I have a soft spot for him and his wild readings of what a broadcast in 1971 meant to the nation at large. [return]
  2. And by row, I mean from one window to the other — 10 seats from right to left and just me in the centre. Never had such luxury on a US-UK flight before. [return]

A Somewhat Short Post

Not really feeling up for a full post today, but trust me, next week’s might be a surprise…

Exciting New Research


We observe the event of a dinner party organized by one member of Irish descent, and one member of Filipino descent. Our results confirm that instead of the expected doubling of food on offer, the prepared food is exponentially greater, far in excess of any number of invites sent out or RSVP’d.

Which is to say, utter madness.

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Eight separate desserts of varying complexity (and abuse hurled at the French for inventing some of the recipes); pounds and pounds of meat. Five different types of bread! A savoury set of tarts that would have put in a good innings against the fishes and loaves and the 5,000.

Fair to say, then, that our first board game evening for over a year was something of a success. Games were played, though I’m always a poor judge of how many people are going to want to play something that isn’t hidden role or Codenames (I swear I don’t bring out the eurogames! And the good thing about hidden role games is that they normally scale quite far beyond tabletop games).

Also, a short visit through my wardrobe revealed that although a lot of my trousers still fit after the past year of remaining indoors, the shirt situation is not quite as good. Not great, but I guess it could be worse.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have about three loads of dishes to wash up…

The Long, Fiery Weekend

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Brood X: Metal Cicadas

Yay! It’s sunny again! Let’s go outside!

intense hissing and flying exo-skeletons everywhere


Yes, it has taken a little while, but Brood X has come to Cincinnati. And the are everywhere. Perhaps not quite in the “dense fog of insects swarming so hard that you cannot see sense”, but definitely in the “all over the walls, pavements, and plants…and in your hair if you stay outside for more than five minutes”. Still, nothing quite like a plague of insects to go along with your actual plague, I guess1.

And staying on the pandemic front…I have booked my first flight for over a year, the longest period of time I’ve gone without flying for over a decade. Just a few days back in North Carolina (hopefully seeing workmates and friends!), but it’ll be nice to go somewhere again. Even if that is “a Doubletree hotel near the airport”.

Finally, if you didn’t find the Eurovision scoring hilarious, you’re a sad, sad person. But let us remember better times from Germany, when instead of putting on a total abomination, they went for “here us out - what if Estuary English with a hint of German?”

  1. In fairness, the cicadas are pretty harmless, just annoying. [return]

He died twice to save us all!

Not much to talk about this week, so I’ll leave you with my birthday present - original art from Geoff Senior!