that was a fortnight, 29 March 2020

I mean… wasn’t it?

I suspect I’m better set up for this than most, being a committed introvert. But ask me again in 12 weeks.

All I can talk about is some of the good stuff I’ve seen or heard recently – notably Feel Good on Channel 4 (Netflix outside the UK). I’ve always loved Mae Martin’s comedy, and whilst this gets pretty heavy, it’s so well written. And funny! A proper delight.

You might not think what you need right now is Davina MacCall reviewing croissants and talking about expensive pencils, but honestly, it’s the most soothing thing.

I wish I could be as obsessed and specialist as the snowdrop bloke on Gardener’s World (4:30 in).

Clive James’ Postcard from Shanghai is probably the one for which the world has changed most since the 90s. These postcards have dated in ways, but it’s interesting to see a mainly voiceover monologue on TV. Rare these days.

a cute ferret

slomo kitten

Mainly I’ve been immersed in the new Animal Crossing for the last week. I’ve played several of the previous incarnations, but they’ve never gripped me like they have other people. The new one is… gorgeous. And there’s a slight switch in emphasis from paying off your house mortgage (though you can still do that and expand and decorate) to populating the museum with all the fish, bugs and fossils you find. Whoever designed the museum had a lot of fun, and the animals look amazing.

that was a fortnight, 15 March 2019

I mean, where to start.

Last weekend (it feels like a year) I went to see a 7 hour play, The Seven Streams of the River Ota. Amazing production, as all Lepage/ExMachina productions are. It probably didn’t need to be 7 hours long – there’s one whole act that could have been removed, even if very punchy and probably the most beautiful.

What the time does give, however, is the opportunity to show, for want of better words, mundane terror. The normally inconsequential bits of life that happen with a background of something ominous.

And here we are.

I was in Hong Kong when the first cases in China were being reported, and when the then-current mundane terror that was happening was, depending on your viewpoint, the police and government or the protesters.

The news of a new illness did prick my ears up but if it was like SARS then I thought it would be pretty well contained and everyone knew what to do.

I did consider not going to the theatre last weekend, and being cooped up in a warm room with 750 people coughing on you, I did rapidly reconsider my personal level of social distancing and didn’t go to 2 other events last week.

And here we really are, day 3 of self-isolation. I don’t know what I’ve got (it doesn’t really match the symptoms – a cough, a little runny nose, no fever) or where I caught it from – I commute, I’m in a office. I’m ok, I have enough food for a month. I’m glad I bought some sausages, bread, crisps and biscuits in the last shop. It is fresh stuff you’ll be grateful for if you can’t get out for a week, not dried pasta.

No-one tells you when there’s something really terrible happening, there’s still tv ads for whiter smiles. Celebrity Catchphrase. Your gym ringing you to upsell. So now we’ve covered the terror, here’s the mundane –

I don’t make much coffee at home. I am unhappy with my coffee program. I have an Aeropress, I have a pourover, but I never find myself using them enough to get through beans quickly and they’re messy. Also, the most important thing in coffee seems to be the grinder – and who has ever actually cleaned their grinder?

So I went out and bought a Nespresso machine. I think Nespresso is the devil – cheap coffee sold at an unbelievable markup – but I have tried a lot of the official pods and I don’t really like them. They’re generally too dark a roast for me, and some have quite a lot of robusta.

Because the general patent for the original pods has expired, a lot of companies now make their own pods, and I’ve been trying a selection, from those you can get in a supermarket to mail order from specialist roasters.

They’re a mixed bag. The first thing to realise is that, a bit like Aeropress, it’s its own style of coffee. It’s not an espresso, it’s not filter. I’ve generally bought lighter roasts because that’s what I prefer, but consequently some of them don’t appear to have a lot of flavour.

So far the best I’ve found in the supermarket are the Tiki Tonga No 10, and controversially the Starbucks Blonde Roast (made by Nespresso) are not terrible. Of the specialist ones, I’m unconvinced by any ecopods so far – they seem to put too many grounds into the coffee. The Colonna Foundation pods are the winners by quite a mile. The short ones do have some of the initial espresso kick of red berry acid. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting them to pour consistently (the machine finds them a struggle) but the recommended shake of the capsule before use seems to help.

New food TV:

There’s a new short series of Ugly Delicious. You go in thinking it’ll butcher a topic like Indian food, but I learnt something. It’s changed so much from the early Lucky Peach/Mind Of A Chef days. Everyone’s grown up a bit, had a family, realised you have to rattle along with each other, and realised how anyone’s view is inherently culturally specific. It’s made me want to go to places I’ve never really considered. And features Helen Rosner and Anissa Helou. Still don’t think they’ve covered service enough.

I’ve been enjoying the One Of Everything series by Bon Appetit. They basically order the menu at a restaurant and try everything. That’s it. Don’t know if it would work for normal restaurants – it’s diners, bars, breakfast restaurants, etc. Places with variations on a theme.
If anyone wants me to do it in London…

American podcasts are generally terrible, but Jerry Saltz is great on The Dave Chang Show.

The Millennial Aesthetic

Just some foxes

Pepsi vs E.A.T. at the 1970 World’s Fair

Why British railway stations are getting better

No ice, no ice wine

that was a fortnight, 1 March 2020

Literally nothing to say last week. I suspect a combination of minor base level of illness fighting from all the colds and flus floating around, plus the weather. A storm every weekend is mean.

I’m never seen straight white men in more conniptions than when presented with a dress code of “fancy, not formal”.

A good week for online archives, with a load of photos from Thames Water being digitised – a lot of pumping machinery and closeups of things in the water. Also Smithsonian released 2.8 million images into the public domain. It’s very rich in descriptions and metadata but when you get down to an object page, there’s little you can explore sideways from the object. There’s 3d models, too, which probably need some playing with.

It’s food from here on out, sorry.

I am gradually being drawn into the Bon Appétit cinematic universe. It’s interesting to see what works on video – any recipe with a technique needs video, the comparative restaurant reviews could do with a step back and more comparisons drawn after the event (which written journalism can do so well).

The online written side of Bon Appétit is nailing it too. This large exploration of all things taco is great.

I want to become the Chief Egg Officer. Or at least the Chief Omelette Officer, Omurice Division. I’ve never been good at them. Pépin is the boss (watch for the distain of the US / “country” omelette vs the second classical one). Then there’s Yoshimura, Kyoto’s king of omurice. And up and coming Korean versions. I don’t know if it’s even possible to make a proper French omelette on an induction hob. I don’t feel that Bon Appétit nailed it. I have learnt that frying pans have changed – few these days have the turned lip that make getting the right shape and turning out a wobbly omelette a lot easier. Also the sides are more upright and less of a curvy slide. Time to go pan shopping.

More on British vs American food critics. The curse of queues for food.

Most of the new series of The Chef Show is men talking to men about men cooking men food (and I like Roy Choi’s cooking). But watch the Border Grill episode – it’s not their original restaurant but the owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have been making proper Mexican food for Americans since the 80s. I’ve got some of their cookbooks.

The next series of Ugly Delicious is released on Friday and I’m hoping it balances up the diversity somewhat.

North America’s largest-known Mexican cookbook collection.

Ice cream with sweet chilli sauce is confirmed as good.

My brexit stash has been similarly renamed.

If KFC have been doing influencer marketing for the 80 piece popcorn chicken bucket, then it’s working.

that was a week, 16 February 2020

I finally started to take apart my brexit food stash this week. Most things still in date, but the plastic wrapped stuff like rice is the first that needs using up. I’ll be leaning heavily on Jack Monroe’s Tin Can Cook.

I was listening to the latest episode of Off Menu where they talk about strawberry sauce being the same as sweet chilli sauce, and I instantly wanted soft serve ice cream with sweet chilli sauce on. Obviously, people being people and the Internet being the Internet, this has been tried this before (with chile crisp and salsa matcha!). Still trying to work out how to either bring chilli sauce to a McDs or get the ice cream home quick enough from somewhere. (update: I am a fool – of course McDs does sweet chilli sauce. Here we go!)

More recent podcast recommendations:

The founders of Honest Burgers talking about how they’ve scaled into a chain without reducing quality

Dave Chang talking to critic Adam Platt – very surprised that no-one mentions service being important to enjoying a meal. Great food is ruined by bad service, ok (even terrible) food can be redeemed by great hospitality and buzz.

Who wouldn’t want to listen to Davina McCall trying KFC for the first time? (be aware, after they try it the podcast gets very heavy very quickly (not the aftermath of the KFC, another topic))

I made Anna Jones’ dal and chutney. It was good (I’ve never had a zingy sour dal before), but I’ve realised why I didn’t get on with her book as much as others – I find some of the instructions oddly tricksy and either far too detailed or not detailed enough. I mean – this is unnecessary: “Once the fat is hot, add the curry leaves, chillies, mustard seeds, fenugreek and garlic, one at a time, pausing for a second between each addition and swirling the pan.” And then being very specific about using different kinds of oils to cook with. But then just saying a thumb sized piece of ginger.

Robin Sloan hit the metaphor on the head about coding and cooking. I’m even less than a programming home cook these days. I can barely microwave a meal. I know what I want at the end but I don’t often recognise the ingredients or the microwave. Whilst cooking methods do change, it’s far slower than how programming has changed (since I did it. for money!).

I am very here for the Wuhan food stans – Robert Sietsema is eating his way round Wuhan cuisine (presumably in NY?), this pancake looks amazing (is it doupi?) and Helen Rosner following up on the epic food post of cooking under lockdown.

Google maps on iOS now has incognito mode. It’s unclear what that means.

I’ve never got into Youtube as entertainment, but it’s nice to see what someone like Matt Haughey watches to replace traditional TV broadcasting.

NYT unpicks how dances and sounds move (or are appropriated) between online communities and apps. It’s maybe a bit inside baseball. I am, however, interested to know if anyone is recording, archiving or cataloguing these things. Less easy to do than, say, knowyourmeme. There also isn’t much coverage or criticism of it, other than when things get massive and leak into the mainstream.

Yet another Clive James postcard, this time from LA. I think I remember watching this one the first time round – from a time (1995) where having a personal trainer or going to the gym as a hobby was weird, or at least niche. Interesting to see what has changed, and what hasn’t.

that was a fortnight, 9 February 2020

Didn’t post last week as I’ve been the CEO of colds for the last fortnight. A particularly long running but pretty low impact cold – hard to justify not being in work (apart from the first few days when I couldn’t think straight), even though I’m pretty hard line on ill people staying away. Anyway it’s left me feeling run down and not in the mood for adventures.

Did go to Margate for a run around the shell grotto and some of Felix’s cocktails. It was particularly windswept and all the men had mustard yellow beanies.

Went to see Leopoldstadt, currently on an extended pre-press night run. It just made me realise how few traditional plays I see and everyone just seemed to be talking at each other in staccato sentences. You’re obviously going to get emotional impact with the subject matter, but there were few other redeeming features.

If you’re not in the Snapchat/Instagram story/TikTok media bubble, you won’t be aware of “things on foreheads” as a new UI/interaction design. I think the best I’ve seen is ‘which Bosch character are you’.

Tiktok remains the best place to find out what life in Wuhan is actually like at the moment (I suspect Douyin may be better, but I haven’t got round to jumping the hoops to install it). This epic post about how to cook in a pandemic is great too.

I don’t like tension in things that I watch, so I’ve avoided Uncut Gems so far, preferring Vera and Inspector Montelbano. Terrible things have happened but there’s absolutely no tension whilst they’re investigated – at best it’s a historical murder with a recent incident just to add some degree of spiciness. My only complaint is recently a lot of the murderers aren’t even mentioned or seen for the first hour, or even until the last 15 minutes.

Some more of Clive James’ postcards, that often feel a bit forced in the premise (every episode is weirdly car-centric), vs the equally contrived but very barbed Frankie Boyle’s Scotland travelogue.

Onion platzels from Beigel Bake (the right one, not the wrong one)

The online version of iCloud Notes is now really good (just in time as work have turned off our Apple logins)

Via TikTok I learnt that teenagers are still speaking to complete strangers, via omegle. Terrifying. As a committed introvert that only uses video chat with people I know under extreme force, I can’t imagine why you’d want to do this. Anyway, you go you.

that was a week, 27 January 2020

(consider everything this week NSFW)

Another week down the TikTok meme mines.

Really enjoyed Charlie Shackleton‘s video essay about criticism in the age of TikTok (thanks Kim). The style of in-device movement around apps reminded me of Grosse Fatigue.

There is some criticism on TikTok these days, notably people getting angry at appropriation of foreign language lyrics, where creators are using what it sounds like rather than what it actually means – eg “no I know” versus “não vai não” – or not understanding quite how rude the lyrics they’re dancing to are. The Duet filter/function is a natural mode for in-TikTok criticism.

One of the hardest things to get used to is the American take on what rude words are (b-s and n-s are allowed, but f-s are bleeped), and that most of the dancing is to pretty offensive rap. I realise this is my problem, not theirs – and it’s not like there wasn’t similar music when I was a teenager. But there’s something jarring between the all-white American smiles against descriptions of precisely how, where and who will be gunned down.

Sounds like Tesco have now caught up with TikTok, and forced employees to take down all the videos filmed in Tescos or in uniform (but I haven’t heard of anyone being fired). I think they’ve missed a trick.

There’s a whole other side to TikTok I haven’t engaged with – live broadcasting. It’s the only way for users to directly make money off the app. But it feels like a step too far for me to explore. I’m old enough to be their dads.

Going back to using TikTok for criticism – I’m really surprised no-one is doing, for want of a better word, GoggleTok: clips of TV reaction criticism, given how embedded the Gogglebox format is in UK vernacular. There’s been some posts around Sex Education (eg which characters people like or dislike) but there’s very little reaction to bits of TV, even though a lot of the sound clips people reuse come from TV and film. Given some phones can now record from both front and back cameras at once, it feels like a natural split screen format for TikTok, or an upgrade for the green screen filter that’s one of the most interesting genres on TikTok.

This week’s old person on TikTok who gets it is Max Foster from CNN.

Also, Byte launched – a Vine remake. It’s likely to be popular with a different demographic to TikTok (ok boomers), but there’s a lot of reposting between the two at the moment. It’s currently very stripped down compared to TikTok, and I miss the richness of background sounds, innovative use of titling and filters, and the difference between a few seconds of video and the 60 seconds TikTok now allows.

In non-short-form-video news:

Started watching the Bon Appetit cinematic universe. Not quite hooked yet.

It’s great to hear that the Thomas Cook archives have been kept as a collection and will be properly looked after. Good work by the Business Archives Council.

Sourdough real talk

that was a week, 19 January 2020

Let’s get back on the horse.

I was away for 3 weeks over Christmas and the New Year. It was fun, and I’ll try to write something up, but I didn’t get the weird timeless lull of days doing nothing. Tried to do very little over the last few weekends to recreate some rest.

Finished the second season of Sex Education on Netflix. Maybe a touch more unbelievable than the first series (even set in the hyper world of US education facilities in small town UK). Weird pacing too, with a real lull in the middle and of course the last episode is trying to sort out way too much. Only cried 5 times.

There’s nothing new to say about Netflix’s relentless pushing of the next thing to watch, in audio & video, but some kind of soft landing after a boxset would be really nice. Maybe with the horrible fragmentation of video on demand, viewer’s experience may become more important again.

It’s January, so unlike December, all the supermarkets are full of vegan and plant based meals. The no chicken kiev from M&S is, if anything, better than the original. You’re eating a kiev for the crunch and the garlic, rarely for the chicken. I’m not vegan, or vegetarian, but I don’t see the point in eating meat, if the meat isn’t the point.

Channel 5 ended up doing slow TV better than the BBC – watch the train go from Glasgow to Mallaig.

Two of Clive James’ Postcards series were shown by BBC4. Maybe more withering on the 80s, and class, in retrospect.

Was pointed to papicocafe on Instagram, highlighting some old timey Japan. Something to pair with craigmod’s epic essay about pizza toast and kissatens.

Rob Auton’s podcast is good but the novel format (2-5ish minutes daily) doesn’t fit with the created strictures of modern podcasting (30 seconds of bad adverts at the beginning and end).

Was looking for something else on the Ikea website, but found this very cheap plant water sensor. I’m intrigued by the new acoustic panels too.

Keeping an eye on this court case over a piece of light art. It feels really at the edge of art expression, but also involves Chinese product manufacturers advertising how to recreate.

The Guardian’s post on European city museums is good. Lots of gems in the comments, for once.

Mostly I’ve spent a lot of time watching TikTok. Once you get over the initial headspin and general revulsion of the first half an hour it’s both interesting and fun. I know Vine was something similar, but I never really got into that, and the scale of this is massive. It’s different to most social media in that it’s generally watching strangers, and very different to YouTube due to the length of the posts (10-20 seconds of video).

Given it doesn’t know anything about you at the start, its filters start very location specific (UK), but the main page (For You) is completely atemporal. There’s nothing to indicate when the post was from, so even now, I’m getting some posts from before Christmas. It feels like the algo thrashes about, giving you 10 minutes of cat videos before heading off to another data point. It’s very receptive to “full watches” of videos.

The first half an hour was horrible. If you’re used to Instagram, it’s very… ITV1/2/3/4 compared to Instagram’s Channel 4. You’re in a lot of people’s houses, workplaces and schools. There’s a lot of singing and dancing. There’s weirdly specific TikTok lighting for teenager bedrooms. There’s also a lot of privilege on display, from “private school check” to “rich person check” and the inevitable shysters selling drop shipping, cryptocurrencies and forex trading as get rich quick schemes (which if anything lends credence to the platform, as a place where people are and things are happening). And sure, there was some very upfront homophobia – the blocking and reporting tools are pretty meagre but are there. Between some blocking and giving it a few hashtags, people and songs to watch for, it became a far more manageable place.

The flip side to potential abuse is that it’s also got lots of LGBT+ and other minorities finding themselves, and finding others.

It feels like a richer description of humanity than Twitter or Instagram. It’s bored people at work or school or at home – I don’t know if the social media policies of all the large companies hasn’t caught up yet, or if they don’t care. Tesco and McDonalds seem to do pretty well out of it in the UK. Also seeing people reacting to their university and Oxbridge places over the last week has been quite something.

I spent a good half an hour in tears laughing at the “sent these lyrics” thing. With the in-phone green screen effect, it’s people singing and laughing over the text conversation they had. It’s different and new. And funny (and already splintered into several different memes – find the ones where they text old(er) people).

Beverley Knight is really good at it. And can’t quite understand, like all over 25s on the app, famous or not, why she’s not more popular. I don’t want to post any videos on there, but I kinda want to learn the dances just to be able to jump in the back of anyone I see recording.

It’s people having a moment of fun. The kids are alright. It is nice to see people having fun on the Internet, again.

that was a week, w/e 8 December 2019

Not quite a week, but Sunday feels a good time to catch up.

Feel in a rush, as to my mind, Christmas is in a week’s time, as that’s when I finish work to go to HK and Seoul. Sifting 76 CVs didn’t help much.

Intrigued by Seoul but realise it’s a very different culture to any I’ve visited before, especially, for my purposes, in how they view single diners. So quite a lot more prep and reading and making of maps (all in KakaoMap as Google doesn’t really work). Learning a lot from the Netflix category “Korean TV Programmes about Food”, which are mainly sit… coms? dramas? reality? Mainly watching “Let’s Eat“, a drama about a group of single neighbours in Seoul (also Men Are Terrible, Global edition), and “Chef & My Fridge“, a never-ending reality show with random k-celebs and random chefs cooking things. All are impossibly full of customs and seeming rudeness.

Amazing performance of Reich’s Drumming at the Hayward, where it was originally performed 40 years ago, even if the acoustics meant most of the last third on glockenspiels were lost and almost painful (the Riley exhibit is great, but apart from the main room on the top floor, not given any space to breathe).

W3C have funded an online course about web accessibility, but I’ve already received 5 needy emails from the learning platform they’re using for it.

The ‘Christmas special’ of Live at The Apollo features great sets by Ahir Shah and Laura Lexx.

Let’s not talk about the banana. It’s kinda sorta maybe not the end of the decade, so here come the lists; like the “best art”.

VR developer update: the weird 3d camera I bought only has an app for the Oculus Go, and not the Quest. You can, after much googling, only upload files to the headset using Android File Transfer if you are *not* in developer mode. Accessing through Dropbox is almost the easiest method.

Anyway, in Venice I took some 3d photos and video to start exploring what works. It’s interesting for vistas with things in close and middle distance, and room sized 3d with some objects around; not got the resolution or the optics for exploring close up objects in detail. Some of the videos really work. More to explore.

Why? It feels like when I discovered the Internet, and the same with mobile phones. The tech now is horrible, expensive, ugly and heavy (and most importantly, antisocial), but there’s a glimpse of something new – it won’t be VR, it’s that AR will creep up on you without you noticing. So some early experiments hopefully puts me 5 minutes ahead of the curve.

If you do have an Oculus Quest, this list of immersive experiences by NoProscenium is great.

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that was a week, w/e 2 December 2019

The Jim Moir programme on video art is good (I know I’m the only person who likes video art). I’ve scribbled “Def II” next to it, so something in it either reminded me of Def II or it said something about how cheap video cameras and production changed everything – Mark Leckey referenced something similar when talking about Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore.

Good Abram Games exhibition at the otherwise profoundly opinionated and depressing National Army Museum (so many shooting gun interactives for kids) – Games describes the design process as “[they] went through agonies to simplify everything”, which is as close to the truth as anything I’ve heard.

Instagram is for no reason showing me a lot of climbing videos recently, impressive but daft, especially these home climbing gyms.

Was in Brussels for a meeting about web accessibility at the EC and whilst it’s a ███████ ███████████, ██’█ ███ ███████ █’██ ████ ██ ███████ ██████ ███ ████████ ███████ ██████. ████ ██ ███ ██████ █ ███ ██, █████ ████ ████████ ████ █-██████████, ███████ ███████ ███ ████ ████ [redacted due to pre-election period]. Anyway, it’s Christmas beer season in Belgium. I do miss European ideas of pubs, with generally seated drinking, table service and mountains of cheese.

The new Stewart Lee double A-side is a barnstormer.

I haven’t watched Reggie in China, but the trailers make it seem as naively wide-eyed as most recent trips by celebrities to Japan – a travelogue trope that hasn’t changed since I was a kid. A little better is Our Guy in Japan – in each episode he goes to help some artisan, who are mainly quite impressed that, as a mechanic, he knows what he’s doing. Also a tour of a Japanese slum is more off kilter than you usually get in these programmes.

60+ applicants for 1 job role we’ve had open. It’s tough out there.

Learnt the hard way about bruchid beetles. Remaining dried beans are now in the freezer. Gardening is a never ending learning curve.

VR developer update: I bought the cable. And managed to get something from Unity on my Mac into the Quest. Just need to learn Unity now.

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that was a week, w/e 23 November

Spent a good chunk of the last 2 weeks interviewing, and it’s about to happen again. This time for a generalist role – common in the civil service, but I’ve never interviewed generalists before. I assume the ones with the necessary skills will become apparent.

They really should teach mortgages, ISAs, pensions, stocks and shares at school. Better general studies than just what the washing label icons mean. After the basics I send people to Checksies.

Design Museum for the Designs of the Year show – much shrugging from me. Didn’t like the walled presentation, apart from the architecture section, which made every entry make a 2 screen film. Great idea but they were art directed into having almost no script (but obsessed about telling you what camera it was filmed on (Blackmagics were popular)). Impossible to tell why the winners won.

Bought the Kenya Hara back catalogue so I can work out what Hurrell’s chatting about.

A trip to Southampton to see the Haroon Mirza show – excellent, Dream Machine is the 2nd most mind bending artwork after Turrell’s Perceptual Cells. Also the Sea City museum – much like every other maritime museum, alas (apart from some decent mapping and storytelling of the many locals who served and died on the Titanic). Best bit was probably getting the volunteers who are digitising the extensive maritime ephemera archive to pick a cabinet’s worth of stuff. Lots of ship menus, obvs.

Never been to a city where everyone who grew up or studied there asked “why?”.

Although it would be an exemplary showcase for bad town planning, since about the 1400s.

Had open most of the week.

My attempt at VR development ended when I needed a USB-C cable.

If you are a designer, and in any way, non straight/cis, fill in the queer design count.

(no, don’t call this a week note)

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