Well that was fast. And so, all of a sudden, I have a month left of my thirties. I don’t think the mid-life crisis has started yet, or maybe it has and I just haven’t realized. Meanwhile, I have spent the week sorting out how to transfer my former 401(k) funds and begin the work on this year’s tax return. All the adult things. Of course, as I type this, I have discovered I’m wearing my top inside out, so there’s that…

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Again, a quiet week. Starting to panic a little about the book, as I’m starting on the most involved chapter and it’s somewhat intimidating. Of course, it’s likely to be less intimidating when I properly get started, but there’s always a distraction.

Being extremely online since 2016 is not helping either. Yesterday? Yes, I should have been writing. But instead I took an hour and a half out of my day tracking down statistics of how the UK minimum wage tracked with RPI/CPI from 1999-2010 in order to fight an exasperating battle with leftists calling the minimum wage a betrayal of socialism. It was important dammit. I am getting increasingly fed up with adherents of a New Jerusalem wilfully blaming all of Labour’s ills on 1997-2010, as if Attlee et al weren’t Men of Empire and Callaghan was the one who brought in monetarism.

And of course the 2020 primaries are starting to ramp up, so more fun and nasty arguments to come when you question the idea of introducing a Medicare-For-All bill with no details on how you are going to pay for it (and it’s not hard! Taxes! But there probably needs to be a discussion on where those taxes fall, eh? Instead of just calling people ‘centrist sellouts’). So looking forward to that.

Anyway, back off to NC this week for the first time in almost a year. I’ll only be in Durham itself for under 24 hours, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed since I’ve been gone. I guess the tower that replaced @greenwalldurham will finally be open…

I'm From Ohio. Vaguely

Things I learnt this week:

  • Meeting veteran Apache Solr committers is awesome. Stalking their online presence afterwards to find out they’re even more awesome is even better.1
  • Buying a Clipper card makes using BART (or more precisely, buying a ticket and continuing to be able to buy tickets/credit) achievable. I do not understand why I have so much trouble with the BART transit system when I don’t anywhere else in the world. But hopefully I’ve solved that now, providing I don’t lose the card.
  • Whilst I don’t bring it up first, apparently I will go on an 30 minute rant of how my country has developed political vCJD and gone crazy if the subject arises.
  • I always feel I need to completely avoid alcohol for a month after I visit San Francisco for some reason.
  • People like bourbon gifts! (somewhat related to the previous note)
  • Why, oh why did they build a city on what seems like all the hills in the world?
  • Sure, it makes sense before you go that you could book a hotel out by the airport and it won’t matter. But…
  • Yes, there really is a tiki bar with a pool and a boat in the basement of a hotel. My first SF tech party!
  • I turned up at the wrong location on one day of the week and ended up only being 30 minutes early to where I was supposed to be instead of over an hour.
  • You can’t just say “I’m Ian, from Ohio,” because saying it out loud means that people have a lot of follow-up questions. But I guess it means I still have the accent…
  • Unless you make firm plans out there, it’s not going to happen (totally my fault). Next time, Drew!
  • This was my first trip using compression packing cubes. I have finally tripped over into the dark side. And I’m not even a consultant anymore!
  • I definitely missed not having Andy around during the days and nights (sadly, he was ill this week).
  • Getting stuck in Dallas, turning the return journey into a harsh 18-hour affair was probably not the best ending. But at least I’m back!

  1. Allegedly. [return]

Back In The Bay

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When I see public transport systems, I must ride them.

Back in the Bay Area for a week. There have been whiskey bars and watching Endeavour at high altitudes. Tomorrow I’ll be heading back to San Francisco proper for all the meetings and whatnot.

I am already so tired I could probably sleep for a week.

A Five Figured Salute

You know, when you’re not feeling well, and you only slept two hours the previous night, the absolute best way to start a Friday is to invite somebody in your house, who in the first thirty seconds tells you everything wrong with it and leaves you with an estimate for $21,000 in order to stop said house from doing a land-locked replay of those houses in Hastings that slowly slide into the sea. sigh

Still, as the snow comes down again this afternoon in Cincinnati, I think that next weekend I’ll be in the rain in San Francisco. Which both gets me a little excited, but mostly already beginning miss my actual bed and the easy access to proper tea. Oh, and dark chocolate digestives. Obviously.

But! I will be visiting Durham (okay, actually, I’ll be in Raleigh, but I will be coming to Durham at some point) at the start of March! There will be Cook Out. And IP3, if I can make it work. All the old haunts! It’ll be interesting to shat’s changed in the year since I left…

Beyond The Timelock

The post-war, pre-Thatcher Britain is lost. A bizarre world, locked in a secure time-vault never to be released, due to our shame of turning a blind eye to disc jockeys, TV presenters, and children’s authors. Coming-of-age books set in a fantasy Edwardian time, or the struggles of an upper class family adjusting to the New Jerusalem.

A time shot on 16mm film, capturing the essence of a past no longer seen; that point in the broadcast where it switches from OB to videotape, the difference between outside and in. Year Zero Estates springing up in harsh, beautiful concrete; a man in a donkey jacket bringing a Government to its knees. The three-day week somehow merged in consciousness with the Winter of Discontent, and we are not allowed to separate them; a past retconned away by May 3rd 1979 and St. Francis of Assisi. Time-locked, a decade of failure. But it wasn’t. Not really.

A world where Bowie lived alongside Lieutenant Pigeon, of decline even as the most advanced passenger jet plane ever built flies from British shores. British Rail invents the tilting train and sells it off to European dreams. System X a gleam in engineers’ eyes, unaware that it will form the backbone for a million fascists and their Twitter handles.

You can catch it in glimpses in YouTube. People uploading the past, the old adverts, Jack Regan brutalizing people in London, odd thirty-five minute documentaries about a day in a British Rail station, snatches of QED, the countless different users uploading the ‘Protect and Survive’ broadcast, laughing at how weird it was to be afraid of nuclear war. Degraded VHS copies of a world gone, lasting until the watchful eye of the algorithm zaps them on behalf of BBC Worldwide.

The Moors and the Ripper; Yorkshire in blood. Mud with their puppet show, The Likely Lads joking about schoolgirls. Tony Benn in the streets, Harold Wilson shaking with fear under the sheets.

It’s not my world. I grew up firmly in the new world, the one created that tossed all this aside. But you can’t destroy it utterly. Old books remain, songs get played on the radio, and the BBC had repeat slots to fill after all. Those Children Film Foundation films that got broadcast on a Friday afternoon - tales of factories, magical t-shirts, and boys who turned yellow, set in a bizarre time that never was. Jennifer Agutter dressing herself as she starts counting.

The Owl Service; a Britain haunted by its loss of Empire and collapse in standing, examining its old myths before Falklands tossed them all aside and gave us back the image of Britannia. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. Even if it was an illusion. rejoice on the old HP.

The odd series that pop up here and there - the clash of the Minders from ITV with the Boys from Hooky Street on BBC1. Shelley and Citizen Smith falling in to promote the alternative view. The insanity of Q, a show that started everything from Monty Python to sm:TV Live. “What are we going to do now?” a nation cries as the three-day week bites and Brexit looms. And our racism brushed under the carpet, from the Pakistani Dalek to the Black and White Minstrel Show. Curry And Chips. Bird recording as Idi Amin. Have I Got New For You lacerating the Government whilst creating Boris The Legend.

But all gone. The plays. The conspiracies, the intrigue. Guardians. The Donati Conspiracy. 1990. The 70s fear of a Labour Government while Knale digs deep in a cave to find objects from our forgotten past that will kill us all. The man from Granada Reports that sneaks out to bring punk to the nation. Everybody taking the piss out of Morrissey. Dennis Potter picking at his psoriasis scabs as he writes another play with sexual intrigue coming to the fore.

The Internet gathers around on a Thursday evening to watch repeats of Top of The Pops from 30 years previous. And how we laugh. But it’s really a wake, held every week to shared memories of ‘Oh God do you remember what Carl did the next day at school? And how Miss Jones from 6N had actually been to the Blitz?’ A church to a music world that we destroyed via T1 lines, fast Fourier transforms and everybody else waiting to share their bundles of maths to the world. We let them come in, we talked to each other as we set the music world on fire and let everything burn.

Our past colonized by Americans in the final twist of the knife, our own history subsumed as their history overtakes our own. Their music becomes our music, their games become our games, their television becomes ours. But it wasn’t like that. Not really. America was a foreign land. America could never have created the KLF. Nor New Order. Or The Day Today.

The old world is lost. But if you step into the Alexandra Road Estate, you can get a glimpse of a world that we imagined. A world that could have been something different. But instead we chose Thatcher. We chose nationalism, and we chose Brexit.

But in that brief period of time, we believed in a better way.

World of WOTAN and Other Stories

One of the secret things I was working on last month has slipped out into the wild. World of WOTAN is a monthly digest of things going on in deep learning. With jokes. New architectures, reinforcement learning, important news, the month’s most interesting arXiv papers, and laughing at terrible bugs in production releases, it’s all contained in a handy email you can sign up for at the website. There’s also going to be a Crap RL Corner competition coming in May/June which will combine the best of Your Sinclair and the most powerful GPUs in existence today, which promises to be amusing if nothing else. So go, sign up! Though probably only if you’re willing to accept bad jokes about Dropout.

(I’m doing it monthly mainly so I don’t burn out; I still have half a book to write, after all!)

I also seem to have some bits and pieces in Infoworld this week. I’ll have some more there in the next couple of months, after I sit down and write them.

In non-writing news, I have been mostly spending the week hiding from the polar vortex and being a stereotypical DL person by reading The Three Body Problem and the rest of the trilogy. This might have contributed to the reason that I was still awake at 3am Thursday morning. But the cold didn’t help, honest. Summing up the trilogy: we’re all doomed. Dooooooooomed. Bit of a downer. Which reminds me that it’s almost time to re-read the Red Riding Quartet again soon. Yay misery!

How did it get to be February? Off to San Francisco again in a couple of weeks. Sometimes I wonder whether the 2009 version of Ian could believe where I’ve ended up. An odd but mostly enjoyable ride…


I have become slightly blasé about the weather. Yes, it may be -4ºC and snowing, but I still went to the supermarket. Admittedly, the choice was between that and not eating next week, but I am adjusting. Which is good, as it’s going to be -20º again in the next few days. Fun times!

Mostly a quiet week. Some work on secret things, some work on, well, work things, and then an impressively middle-class Saturday grinding my own meat and playing boardgames (but very enjoyable!). Oh! I also booked my flight home for my 40th birthday; I’ll be back in Bicester (and London for a few days) in April. I will have a second suitcase just for Mini Eggs.

And I think that’s all I have this week. No deer sightings!

Deer Convoy

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Tonight may be the coldest night I have ever experienced. When I get up tomorrow morning, it will be a cozy -24ºC.1 I am battening down the hatches, getting as many blankets as I can, and thanking the stars that I don’t have to work tomorrow, so there’s no need for me to leave the confines of the cozy bed too early. And I’m not leaving the house until the temperature turns positive again. Though my Diet Coke supplies are becoming dangerously low…

In other news, I finally got down to the cinema to watch Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and my goodness, if it wasn’t just as good as everybody says it was2. What I didn’t appreciate was being asked at the ticket booth if I was 55 or over. Now, admittedly: I was with Tammy and Robert and their children, so that’s an odd combination of adults, and I do need a haircut. But still, ticket booth operator: that’s ice cold.

Expect to see me react to that episode by buying a Porsche and wearing a wig. Or…wearing a blanket over my feet in the morning because they’re cold and taking another ibuprofen for my bad foot whilst shaking my head at a pointless meme a 20-year-old has posted on Facebook. I may need a walking stick to shake while I witter on about how much better things were on USENET3.

We also had a trip to an open house on Saturday. Not that I’m in the market for moving, but one of the area’s Frank Lloyd Wright houses has come up for sale, and it seemed like a fun idea to have a nose around. I’m not sure if now having a much bigger house has coloured my views or anything, but I wasn’t all that impressed. The big communal room with overhanging balcony and plenty of floor to ceiling glass was quite nice, but the kitchen was smaller than Driver’s (and a gas hob with no venting hood seems like an interesting plan), the non-master bedrooms were a touch larger than a Tokyo capsule hotel4, and that wide expanse of glass was only single-glazed, so heating the place is likely a fun adventure. However, the estate agents were very happy to point out that the roof was fine, so it doesn’t have the problem that a Wright house normally has. But yes, oddly not impressed in the slightest.

  1. There’s a small possibility that it was as cold in January 1982, but I can’t find any specific information for Bicester around that time. I don’t remember it, either, but I was only 2 and a bit. [return]
  2. As opposed to “popular new indie comic” which I read this week and was astonished at how much I did not like it. Impressively, the art, the writing, the colouring, even the lettering all bounced off me. [return]
  3. Okay, technically I am too young for USENET stories, but I did spend a lot of my first couple of years with consistent Internet access abusing JANET to read newsgroups. We even created our own alt.* group at one point! Yes, that’s right readers, I’m hardcore enough to have sent USENET control messages. Take that, ticket booth attendant! (I’m not bitter about it.) (Are you sure? — Ed.) [return]
  4. Obviously, still bigger than my bedroom back home. [return]

Further Adventures in Home (and Pet!) Ownership

Water update: all fixed!

Cat update: after a week after her not using the litter trays, I finally took her to the vet. And she did have something wrong with her, but she’s now recovering. Also, you’d be surprised at how loud a cat can scream. I definitely was.

Meanwhile, snow!

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While having odd and somewhat stilted conversations with people the Internet thinks I should talk to, I’ve also read my way through Moffat’s Target novelization of The Day of The Doctor. It’s basically Moffat having his cake, eating it, and then adding two new cakes just for fun. Imagine a YA B.S. Johnson, and you’d be close. And oh, the secrets in Chapter 9…

This week! Waiting for the snow to melt up to the weekend, and then having another major snowstorm on Saturday! I may have to dig my way out at some point.

Adventures in Home (and Pet!) Ownership

Let’s sum up how Sunday afternoon went, shall we?

  • The u-bend of the sink jumped off, flooding the kitchen with water and so many bits of potato
  • The cat decided that she was going to forget that her litter trays existed and that the downstairs carpet was a great place to go to the bathroom
  • The new bathroom lights only come on randomly due to what I believe is a current issue, but wasn’t a problem with the incandescents
  • Petrol jumped 20¢ in an hour between ‘I’ll go to the petrol station in a bit’ and ‘wait, am I living in the Weimar Republic all of a sudden?’

(okay, the latter was more of an annoyance than anything else, but still)

All in all, it has cast a bit of a pall over what was a nice weekend. Let’s rack up the positives:

  • Yes, water seeped into the bar from above. Not great. But in pulling out what I believed to be a block of wood that was painted black, I discovered that it was in fact a Samsung Bluetooth sound bar. Which includes Optical Digital Input lines (fancy!). It’s been sitting there for a year and I had no clue. Thankfully, it still works.
  • I made a new cocktail! Admittedly, it was just hot caramelized white chocolate with a shot of Evan Williams Single Barrel in it, but it was nice?
  • Made the first macarons since moving to Cincinncati. And…they turned out really well. No cracks in any of them, perfect footers…just really good (and I normally have the urge to throw the entire batch away after baking, so they did turn out well for me to have no complaints)
  • We used transglutaminase for the first time! And I didn’t glue my fingers together!
  • I provided a helpful service of translating public school English into American (mainly around the euphemisms for homosexuality). As well as trying (and failing) to explain Curiosity Killed The Cat.
  • Meijer also has chocolate digestives, and they’re 70¢ cheaper than Kroger! Result!

Oh, and stroopwafels. Mmmmm, stroooooooopwafels.