Wednesday, 10 August 2016


Amount of blogging or informal writing done this summer - almost zero. But, I've enjoyed the English summer instead, which feels more important. And less low-quality text on the Internet, so everyone wins.

My sole blog post for the summer has more pictures than text. It's on my non-junk blog.

Onwards to autumn and the Samhain.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sunscreen, not digital screen

Less non-work typing, more walking, pretty much. I hope you enjoy your summer too.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

15 years!

Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of going self-employed. Blimey.

I'm still a little startled I've made it this far without either going (completely) mad, being tempted or forced back into an office job, starving to death, or some other not-pleasant ending. But, here I am, I've done fifteen years, am still functioning, and don't owe the taxman anything.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a few wishes for this period of time. The bits of the diary that are still legible (tip: don't leave old paperwork in a very damp storage unit or cellar) indicate that the five wishes were to:

  1. Buy a house. Done (twice).
  2. Do a lot of self-employed work for a variety of clients. Done, though it's been variable and inconsistently focused.
  3. Take opportunities to visit interesting places. Done, very much. Many trips to the USA (several for between one and three months), Scandinavia, much of the UK, and mainland Europe.
  4. Get fit and healthy. Mostly fail, though very recently there's finally been some significant progress.
  5. Not get distracted so much by the Internet. Total failure.

As for the next fifteen years, I do have another set of wishes, aspirations, "goals" (ugh, I loathe that word), call them what you will. But, as it'll just tempt fate, or set myself up for some significant fails, I'm reluctant to openly share them. Even though none of them are major things; I've left it a little late to win a Nobel or Booker prize, and to be honest a nice cheese platter for dinner is a far more appealing ambition.

In addition, the older you get, the more a set of long-term aspirations is simply out of your hands, because of your body and health. Things fail more often. The chances of something seriously going wrong - debilitating, life-changing, or fatal - steadily increases. Damage from previous activities has been done; the influence of genetics, something you have zero control over, grows.

True, you can (and should) play the percentages game. Eat more healthily, drink more water, exercise more, put sleep as a higher priority, discard as many of the stressful things and people in your life as you can. But you can only go so far and, again, it's less and less in your control.

So my overall realistic aspiration for this next fifteen years is simply to do as many useful things as possible, adding to the sum of human knowledge in some manner, and to basically stay functioning and as relatively pain-free as I can.

And also, to eat more cheese platters. YOLO.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Twirling towards freedom: the US election New York primaries

In the endurance test that is the 2016 US presidential election, we come to New York State where all of the polling stations are now open. The state consists of not only the city famed for fine dining but also the mainly rural upstate region. There's a lot of delegates here; Ballotpedia has information about the Democratic and Republican allocations.

Since last time, Paul said "Nope", GOP leaders said "Meh" followed by "Rules?", Washington Democrats had their own local endurance test, Bernie visited the Vatican, Hillary visited Staten Island (as did Donald), the Democratic candidates debated, Donald is figuring out West Virginia, Ted appears very conservative, and John is aiming for second.

Recent news on voter ID laws, accessibility and suppression from Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Delegate count trackers are available at 538, Associated Press and Bloomberg. PredictWise gives an increasing chance of a Democratic White House win, while Oddschecker shows the odds for Trump as Republican candidate solidifying, though Paddy Power currently thinks there won't be a first round result at their convention.

Meanwhile, POTUS is having good days and bad days.

Election threadopedia: most recent eight
April 11th - It's still only April: the US election drags ever onwards.
April 3rd - After this it's the midterms: April's US election primaries.
March 15th - Election 2016: Rubio and Kasich's last stand.
March 5th - Six candidates, eight days, eleven states: Election 2016 continues.
March 1st - Super Tuesday.
February 18th - Nevada and South Carolina.
February 9th - New Hampshire.
February 1st - Iowa.

Housekeeping. Current MetaTalk threads on the US election are here and here. A comment by Cortex on election thread commenting and one on moderator resources.

Post title inspiration.

[Originally a MetaFilter post]

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Scrape it off, I scrape it off...

Take a large wheel of cheese. Cut it. Melt an edge of it under a grill. Scrape, scrape, scrape and pour over potatoes. Enjoy.

Welcome to the world of Raclette, historically known as Bratchäs or "roasted cheese." Once a staple of the campfire food of Swiss cow herders, Raclette is now a centrepiece of relaxed continental European social dining.

* An Austrian advert features cheese being poured onto bread.
* Meanwhile in Québec, Canada.
* In a New York restaurant, cheese is being melted...

 ..."The chef at Raclette stood by the table, holding a great half wheel of warmed cheese that had started to blister and bubble along its exposed diameter. He tilted it, pressed a long knife to the top and scraped down. The cheese seemed to shrug, the melted surface giving way like the side of a mountain coming undone." - the New York Times review of that restaurant.

* A grill with triangular cheese-melting trays.
* More grilling cheese in tiny trays (warning: excessive accordion).
* A Dutchman demonstrates both the wheel of cheese and the tiny tray methods of Raclette.

 Raclette is not the same as fondue, where food is dipped into molten cheese. This, for example, is a Swiss cheese fondue. Here is one in a lonely restaurant, here is a six cheese fondue, and here is a mini cheese fondue.

* Some Hi-NRG melting with ferocious bubbling.
* A hyperchef does some messy outdoor melting.
* Getting trippy with red wine and meats.

Deeper into the cheese vortex: the Cheeses of Europe video collection on Vimeo. Also, Cheesesushi.

[Originally a MetaFilter post

Monday, 11 April 2016

To the top of the hill and back

Another 11.5 miles ticked off in the project of walking/hiking 1,000+ miles between when the clocks go forward, and when they go back (wherever I am in the northern hemisphere when that happens) this year. Though now I've said that, I've probably jinxed it and I'll break my leg tomorrow.

Today's observations included a crow which coughed (bird flu?), the last of the bluebells in local woods, a busy woodcarver, evidence of neolithic activity now I know where to look, a tree that, for some reason, seems to bend gently forwards and quietly sigh in a sinister manner when the sun is behind it, apparently docile cattle (though I never trust them), that there are few places you can hike to in rural England on a Sunday without there being a !@£$ ice cream van endlessly playing a banal tune nearby, and people who squeeze themselves into full hiking gear but park as close as they can to the top of a hill so it's a two minute adventure for them, after which they reward themselves with a reverse-liposuction thing in a cone from the !@£$ ice cream van.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

On being mentioned on the MetaFilter podcast

A MetaFilter post on modems was mentioned by Jessamyn West on the monthly podcast - it's at 45 minutes in, for a few minutes. Rather pleased with this as the post took some time, but the balance, content and aesthetic felt quite satisfying in the end.

The construction of Internet resource descriptives for e.g. subject gateways, indexes, and periodicals like the Scout Report, often feels like following a Taoist philosophy and this particular post felt more Wu Wei in formation and completion than most of the nearly 200 or so posts I've done.

tl;dr - this was satisfying.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

{dials} "Bork, bork, bork, bork!" {click}

Are you lonely? But your relatives just want to talk about that election, and your friends about their problems, and your work colleagues about your boss? Then dial The Swedish Number, get connected to a random Swede and talk about anything!

(Call charges apply. A service provided by the Swedish Tourist Association.)

[Originally a MetaFilter post]

Friday, 1 April 2016

I was on Lawrie's boat. It was a bit weird :)

I've heard a few variations of Lawrie's story over the years - he's posted the latest one here - to some  amusement. The person referred to is, as a few people especially in Jisc quickly guessed, me. Most, but not all, of it is actually true though his post has a bit of the inaccurate blarney about it for storytelling purposes. The actual (i.e. more accurate) chain of events was a little different.

So; Birmingham, several years ago.

I'd spotted from social media that Lawrie was pottering around on the canals a bit, and was parked up very close to where I was living at the time. In fact, the place I was living in is in the picture that Lawrie uses in the tweet linking to his anecdote. So I sent him a message, and we had a bit of a message exchange, and I arranged to visit him at his boat after he sent me rough directions.

The first odd thing was that the boat wasn't quite where I thought it. The second odd thing was that, on boarding, it was a bit socially odd. I had never met anyone there in real life, and there were a few odd looks. I did think, and I kept coming back to this over the years, "Does Lawrie think I am actually someone else?". This was reinforced some time later by Simon - who I realised was someone I thought worked in HEFCE - asking me about working in Manchester, which confused me (I never have). I may have said something rather hostile/rude in response.

Anyway, I showed them the 3DS (bought from down the road/canal in Brum, not the USA), and Lawrie was much taken by it when I moved the slider from 2D to 3D mode as he had a go at playing Pilotwings on it. Here's the actual 3DS sitting on my balcony table, overlooking the same canal Lawrie and chums would boat down soon afterwards.

Dinner at Star City was mooted and I was invited (I didn't invite myself). That was quite good. Yes, I did play with the 3DS a lot at the table which admittedly was somewhat rude (I had recently bought it and a combination of that and the meds made for giddy excitement). I was somewhat gobby so oddly  Lawrie is inaccurate in writing "And I would say that whilst the person who came on board was inoffensive..." as I'm pretty sure I was obnoxious through the evening.

We walked back to the boat; actually it was not Simon and Lawrie but myself and Lawrie chatting most of the way back, as he described his cost-efficient philosophy for repurposing previous Jisc content (Jisc thinking was influenced by Becta's high profile shuttering less than a year previously), and also the fact that we both have Smethwick roots. I then trotted back to my apartment after an enjoyable, though at times weird evening.

Since then, I haven't met Lawrie though I've heard a lot about him as everyone in the sector seems to have a Lawrie anecdote - I may have described him as the "Ray Winstone of Jisc" on Twitter more recently - and we've had the occasional interaction on Flickr and elsewhere (though not Twitter, as he blocked me there ages ago - probably as the "odd bloke from the boat"). He's a good bloke with a track record of delivering good stuff over the years. It's a little weird being the subject of an anecdote you hear third-hand that changes over the years, but such is life. I'll be interested to see how the anecdote has morphed further in another five years :)

I still wonder if, when we were messaging pre-boat meeting, he thought I was someone else (in a similar manner to me thinking Simon was someone else). And with hindsight, it looks like there should have been more messaging and clarity about me visiting, before I visited.

As it unexpectedly turned out a year or so later there was a really weird genealogy twist to this story, but I've been saving that for another post another day. And, getting back to the actual point of Lawrie's post, I have some anecdotes of my own about (more extreme) incidents involving online privacy, again for a later day.

(Update: I apologised last summer on email to Lawrie for being probably obnoxious on his boat. And after today's exchange of blogging posts, Lawrie is following me on Twitter now. lol. We've had a pleasant private chat, and from my social media inboxes the posts caused some mirth in this niche of the world, especially with people who know both of us; so that's a good way to end the week. And also I won't be boarding his, or anyone else's, boat in future without an unambiguous, certified and signed invitation beforehand.)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Why I won't be seeing Batman vs Superman at the cinema

I am old enough to remember when, about halfway through a film, the picture would disappear through the cigarette smoke haze and "INTERVAL" would appear in its place and the curtain with the frilly bits would swish and briefly close, as cinema screens had curtains then though on reflection they were functionally pointless, and the lights in the side passageway that led to the corridors in the cinema would dimly go on to reveal a bored person standing there with a tray of ice creams, and you'd have to make a split-second decision about either going to the restroom if you needed it and coming back to find yourself at the back of a long queue for the ice creams behind the grandmother who is paying with small denomination coins which she is having difficulty seeing in the dim light, or running down over the sticky auditorium carpet so you could get at the front of the queue and buy an ice cream quickly and have time to eat it before those lights went off and the ice cream seller disappeared and the curtain with the frilly bits would reopen and the second half of the film would start, but they stopped doing that years, in fact decades, ago now and there's no "INTERVAL" so with long films you spend the last reel starting to feel hungry and your mind drifts and you lose concentration on the film and you find you don't really care anyway as the action bits all finished some time ago and Aragorn is king and the hobbits got rid of the ring finally and Gandalf is still not dead but appears to have magic self-cleaning clothing that gets cleaner and whiter as the film progresses, but instead of focusing on Elijah Wood looking a bit sad you try to figure out the nearest place to the cinema that serves acceptable food and will serve you quickly because you do not want to wait 45 minutes for a glorified and expensive pizza which on reflection is just a very large round piece of cheese on toast and you get impatient but you don't want to leave early as you paid a small fortune to see this film while wedged in a seat so tight that both of your buttocks went numb over an hour ago and you get fed up at feeling like a hostage to watching the film to the end so you know what the hell your dungeon and dragon playing office workmates are talking about tomorrow because it's either hang out with them or hang out with the weird guy who cuts his toenails in an open plan office and keeps a flick knife in his partially open desk drawer and the nerds are safety in numbers, but you start to wish you'd waited a while to get hold of a copy from the dodgy bloke at the market whose friend keeps an eye out for the market inspectors or the police while he sells you a dubious looking copy of the film from a duffel bag while muttering "Nae returns" because if the copy of the film actually worked you could have then watched it in chunks while sprawled on your comfy sofa back home in your superman underpants but instead you sit there hating every aspect of the cinema experience and start saying things like "JUST GET ON THE F****** BOAT FRODO" a little too loudly and impatiently in an otherwise quiet cinema and that is why I am not seeing a superhero film that is 153 minutes long FIN.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

How to use a modem

From a suburban British house in 1984, Julian (password: 1234) demonstrates a modem while Pat (seemingly not allowed to touch the keyboard) lists her uses of the "communal" BBC Micro. Turn on your recorders as this TV clip ends with a data transmission! But how, in bygone online times, have modems been used...

Random pictures:
* A Minicom IV from Zork I and a modem inside a telephone.
* 1958! from Techradar's a history of modems.
* Radio Shack hardware from a Vintage Computer Forum discussion on Are dial-up modems useful for anything?.

Some modem uses from back in the day:
- A Livermore Model B modem is used to connect to a remote UNIX system. Features a Teletypewriter in action.
- In 1985, The Computer Chronicles features modems, bulletin boards, telecommuting, and The Well.
- A few tricks for getting old laptops back online.

More random pictures:
* A naked coupler from Hackaday Retro Edition: Hackadaying at 300 baud.
* The 307 from SQUEEEEE! Microsoft goes retro with pay-by-squawk NFC tech.
* The AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal from Vintage Computing and Gamings retro scan of the week Gather 'Round the Videotex.

And more modem uses that remind of vintage online times:
- What does "modem" mean? Commodore C64 man will explain.
- The harsh sound of a Commodore C64 dialup using a Model 1670 1200bps Modem.
- In which Marmalade the cat is undisturbed by his owner dialling up a 1988 BBS (one hour a day maximum usage).

More random pictures:
* Anderson Jacobson coupler from BT pulls the plug on 56K dial-up.
* 28.8 PC Card Fax Modem from Circuit City Flyer - July, 1996 and What Black Friday Looked Like in 1996.
* General DataComm modem from Zenotron on Mystery Circuits.

Previously on MetaFilter:
- Dynamic spectrogram of dial-up modem handshake sounds.
- Imagine turning on your home computer to read the newspaper!
- 300 baud of awesome in a wooden box.
- More modem sounds, linked from a comment by loquacious.
- From this post, Connecting IBM 5155 (IBM portable) to the web.
- From 2007, not_on_display describes DiversiDial.
- From 2006, GuyZero introduces Telidon.

Some more random pictures:
* Konex acoustic coupler from a forum thread about landline phone recorders.
* 300 baud modem from My First PC Weighed 25 Pounds.
* 110 Baud Modem from SCS's 110 Baud Modem which is part of William Bader's IT museum online gallery.

Bonus! YouTube user "Most relaxing sounds and videos" brings us 60 minutes of dial-up modem sounds, noise, 56k, and old internet connections.

[Originally a MetaFilter post]

Friday, 18 March 2016

Step aside Nutella; there's a new spread in town

As Easter approaches and the thoughts of many turn to chocolate, Mars has usurped news of the Creme Egg crodough by announcing that Twix is now on sale as a spread. Available in Asda (the UK version of Walmart), the press release describes it as a “delicious chocolate and caramel spread with crunchy biscuit pieces” that can be “spread over warm toast or a crumpet, dunked with a breadstick, or topped on a cake or waffle”. Early reviews are cautiously positive.

Despite some international confusion over British foods e.g. a crumpet being described as "a kind of thick pancake", there is much interest in this latest addition to the culinary range. There's not just Nutella, that most versatile of spreads; Mars already produces the Milky Way, Bounty (contains fruit), and Malteser spreads. Not to be outdone, Hershey's give us the Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Spread (and an example recipe), as well as their own named brand.

Upmarket brands also exist, as well as supermarket own brands , spreads produced by other chocolate companies, and so many more.

[Originally a MetaFilter post]

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The first day of Spring

Today felt like that, and it was good.

I did one of my favorite walks. Not a long one, though at 8.5 miles not the shortest either. The walk mainly follows canals and rivers for the first five miles, then takes rural lanes back to base for the remainder. It was satisfying to cover the distance - and also feel fine, in fact really good, at the end of it, this being the first time I've done this circuit since last April.


And, despite having my coat open and not wearing either hat or gloves for most of the time, I was still sweating partway through the walk. The spring afternoon sunshine, though weak, combined with hiking through significant mud (though I've been through worse on the same walk), and a slacking off on the walking front for a while, meant the perambulation was energising.

The colors were also interesting; the browns, greys and darker greens, combined with the low-slung sun and the slight nip in the air made it feel very much autumnal. On the river, swans menacingly cruised, one in particular trailing me at my walking pace for half a mile.

6.5 miles in I stopped off at a village teashop and store and drank far too much tea. I'll still be awake beyond 2am tomorrow now, but it was worth it, and felt so good, so refreshing, after a couple of hours of striding. I'd forgotten how satisfying a nice cup of tea is after an extended session of exercise. The place got a little crowded, with kids fresh out of the local primary school, and their parents, also enjoying the clear skies, sunshine, and feel of the turning of the year. I sat inside at one of the two tables; the "heavily bearded stranger" look meant I had the table to myself, while at the other a group of seniors swapped gossip about the medical ailments of their peers.

Curve in the river

The last two miles were a little tricky, as daylight was fading and the evening rush hour brought a lot of cars, heading towards me at speed, on the narrow country lanes. I took a risk and went, in near darkness, for a path I knew across a field, two footbridges, by a river and through a railway viaduct tunnel. Slightly risky at that time of day to someone like me who's done it a few times before; very risky for newcomes to the route. This was followed by a hurried hike across a large meadow, more to not sink in one of the many difficult-to-see pools of water.

And back to base. Not even tired or out of breath.

So, to me anyway, Spring started today. And with exactly a hundred days until Walpurgis weekend, I'm hoping for many more days like today, weatherwise.