May 2017

Being a house owner means that we’re now having to learn how to do DIY. Last year, we worked on the front bedroom, which was a nasty shade of monkey shit brown and was offending our eyes on a daily basis. It was, without a doubt, a learning experience, but we got there in the end:

Front room 1

Sanding down the lumpy bits, we found some cracks…

Front room 2

Front room 3

Some of which were quite big…

Front room 4

We also found lots of pin holes…

pin holes

Having filled and sanded and filled and sanded, we primed…

Twice. And then we painted. Twice. And ended up with…


We do still have some stencilling to do, but overall, I think this is quite an improvement!


Busy day yesterday, going to Southampton for a meeting, but it did give me the inspiration for today’s brief blog post.

One of the things I miss about the UK when I’m in the US is the public transport. There is no easy way to get from our house to Chicago O’Hare Airport, for example. I have to pay $55 for a shuttle to the airport at Milwaukee, and then get CoachUSA to O’Hare. It costs $85 all up, and turns a 2.5 hour journey often into a four or five hour journey. There is a coach from Sheboygan to Milwaukee, but it goes twice a day at 8am or 8pm, so that’s not hugely useful. And, indeed, that “through service” coach to Milwaukee Amtrak train station arrives two hours before the next train.

Our town does have a bus service, but it’s quit hub-and-spoke, so from where we are you have to go into town and back out again, so to get to the supermarket I favour, it’s 45 minutes, instead of seven in a cab. Frankly, my time is worth the extra few dollars that a cab costs.

I was reminded yesterday, though, as I stood on the packed platform at Southampton Central as the announcer apologised for a 1.5 hour delay to the train to Bournemouth, that when I miss British public transport, I’m really missing the platonic ideal of a train, tube or bus, rather than what we actually have. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we have any public transport in the UK at all is brilliant, but its mere existence isn’t good enough – it has to be reliable. And, when the guys sat next to me on the train pointed out that they hadn’t had any delays since “that cow was on the line a few weeks ago”, I remembered that commuting by train in the UK can be murderous.

Ultimately, whilst I’d like USA to get a bit more enthusiastic about public transport, what with climate change ‘n all, I suspect that we’ll see fleets of self-driving cars before we see widespread adoption of “mass transit”, as they call it. But whilst self-driving car clubs are likely to arrive faster than we currently suspect, there’s still a case to make for a proper passenger train network.


I haven’t seen the Chelsea Flower Show for years, but it just so happens that I’m back home, and it’s on TV, so I’m enjoying seeing lots of wonderful flowers and plants in amazing arrangements. I can only dream of such perfection. I do have, sad to say, a bit of a black thumb – I can kill any plant, even the ones people say are really robust.

In our own garden, we do have a bit of a challenge: we have a huge swath of the garden that is bare, after the Great Hosta Disaster of 2015. (We got a gardener in to help sort out a few issues before autumn set in, but instead of helping she basically over-interpreted my requests and stripped our garden of the hostas that had filled in the space under one of our trees.)

Bare garden

Last year, I tried to fill in the huge gaps left, with some but not much success and we ended up with a large part of the garden rewilded*. This year, we are going for a very different solution, and instead of trying to do careful planting on the vast empty area, marked out by string in the photo above, I’m going to plant millet, rudbeckia and flax en masse. I would have planted it before I left, but you have to keep seeds well watered, and I didn’t want to impose on the neighbours. So that will be my first task when I get home.

I’ve also planted up a lot of pots.

The four big pots have taller plants in the middle and smaller ones round the outside, mixes of larkspur, delphinium and rudbeckia with alyssum and pansies. Then in the small plantable pots, I have all sorts, including more larkspur, asters, nasturtium, and four climbing plants, including morning glory, a climbing nasturtium and a couple of others I’ve forgotten (but have taken a note of!).

Last year our vegetable garden was destroyed by voles, so this year we’re just doing strawberries, which they don’t seem to care about, and edamame, which I’m trying to grow from seed. I’m not bothering with carrots again, after this dismal showing:


But it has been three or four weeks now since I sowed my seeds, and I am excited to know how many, if any, have come up! Expect a report back next week, hopefully with progress.


* Full of weeds.


After the terrible events in Manchester yesterday, we have sadly seen some horrific behaviour from parts of the media trying to dig up “stories” on those who were there:

This kind of behaviour is abhorrent and should be illegal, but sadly, it isn’t, and it isn’t new. Just click through and read this whole Twitter thread.

The way that large parts of our media behaves is absolutely grotesque and immoral, and yet there’s no sign at all that the government has any intention of reining them in. The Leveson Inquiry‘s report into media behaviour and suggestions for appropriate actions was, on the whole, excellent, and yet little to none of it has been implemented because the government simply does not want to upset the media and the media does not want to be restricted. It’s no surprise that Leveson’s recommendations were portrayed as censorship, even though they were nothing of the sort, given that the people reporting on them were the very people who would be restrained by them.

We can’t depend on the government, neither this nor any other, to protect normal people from the depredations of the vile predators that produce the hateful and repulsive rags that pass for newspapers in the UK. So what can we do? Protesting makes no difference. The press regulator, IPSO, is a sham. Your MP likely doesn’t give a shit, and even if they do they’re in a minority in Parliament. And the kinds of people who would boycott the loathsome rags aren’t the sort of people who are buying them in the first place.

But there two things we can do:

  1. Be very careful what links you share on social media. Don’t link to the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express or any of the other immoral, degenerate rags, with or without red tops. If you see a story you want to share and it’s in one of them, find another source. A quick search of Google News should turn something up, and if it doesn’t you might want to reconsider sharing the link at all as it’s probably bullshit if no other outlet is covering it.
  2. Support Stop Funding Hate, who are working on hitting these vile rags where it hurts by targeting advertisers and asking them to stop giving their money to immoral hate-mongers.

No one else is going to protect us from these leeches, these scum. So we’re going to have to do the only things we can: don’t send the fuckers traffic, and help cut off their ad revenue. It is our duty to our fellow humans to do those two things at the very least.


C17: Day 142 – Knitting ftw

by Suw on May 22, 2017

First few rows of knitting! And I haven’t yet dropped or added any random stitches!


You know what they say, resistance is futile. I have been resisting knitting ever since my mum attempted to teach me when I was a kid. It didn’t go well. I’m left-handed, she’s right-handed, and I really struggled. I did manage to make a jumper, a black and red striped jobbie in the style of Robert Smith*, but the arms were too short. I didn’t do any yarn arts at all for years and years after that, preferring to sew instead, until I picked up crochet relatively recently.

But the problem with crochet is that it produces a very stiff fabric without the softness (drape) needed to look good as a garment. A lot of crocheted cardigans look awful, and it’s hard to find a lacy design that doesn’t look like you’re wearing a tablecloth. Now, you can find some fairly open, lacy designs for tops designed to go over other things, but crochet is very limited with respect to clothing. Makes for great amigurumi, and even scarves, but pretty shitty clothes.

So the time has now come to learn to knit. Thankfully, I have a friend who, having watched me crochet, realised that I would do better learning the continental style rather than the English style. When I crochet, I control the yarn in my left hand, even though that’s how right-handed people crochet. (The difference is that I’m generally moving the yarn around the hook as much as moving the hook around the yarn, so whilst it’s technically right-handed, I’ve left-hand-ified my technique.)

Continental knitting also allows me to control the yarn with my left hand, in a way very similar to crochet, so it feels less alien than I thought it would. And, as a bonus, my friend taught me how to do a purl row in the opposite direction to the knit row.

For those of you unfamiliar with knitting, you usually do a row by transferring stitches from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle. When you get to the end of the row, you turn the piece round and start again, moving stitches left to right again. You also have two stitches, knit and purl, which together give you that classic knitted look of lots of Vs stacked together (stocking stitch).

I’m not sure what the technical term really is, but my friend’s ‘reverse purl’ stitch actually allows you to knit right to left, so you’re basically just transferring the stitches back to where they came from. This means that you always keep the front of the fabric facing you. You knit in one direction and purl in the other. It’s genius. No continual turning of the piece, no getting your yarn tangled up, just knit… and purl… and knit… and purl…

So, now I need to practice, and maybe soon I’ll be good enough to whip up a lovely cardi, because it’s impossible to find ones that fit in the shops.

*I have no evidence Robert Smith ever wore a black and red jumper, but I remember seeing it on TV so it must be true.


C17: Day 140 – Horn OK Please!

by Suw on May 20, 2017

This started as a Facebook post, but I post it here because it’s 23:21 and I want to go to sleep. 

Horn OK PleaseAn Atlas Obscura post claiming to explore the origins of the phrase “Horn OK Please”, seen frequently on the back and sides of lorries and trucks in India, popped up into my FB feed this morning. Having been to India and witnessed first hand this phrase, and heard the horns in response, I was curious. The article is indeed interesting, but it misses the most obvious and important point: Indian English is not the same as British or American English.

English has split into several regional dialects, and whilst they are mostly mutually intelligible there are many ways in which grammar or vocabulary differs to the point of losing sense to the speaker of another dialect. In India, for example, they use “revert” instead of “reply”, and “commercials” instead of “fees” or “rates”.

They have also developed their own idioms, and “Horn OK Please” is just an idiom that happens to use double positive that’s unusual in British or American English, the “OK” reinforcing and reinforced by the “please”. It’s just saying “I really, really don’t mind it if you honk your horn, and encourage you to do so because [I don’t have wing-mirrors/I don’t pay attention to my wing-mirrors]”.

It doesn’t make sense for British and American English-speaking people to try to analyse Indian English idiomatic phrases any more than it makes sense to try to understand idioms literally in other languages. “By the way” in Welsh is “gyda llaw”, which literally means “with a hand”, which makes no sense whatsoever in English. But it doesn’t need to make literal sense, because it’s an idiom and it’s meaning is understood very clearly by Welsh speakers.

Horn OK Please is an idiom understood perfectly by Indian English speakers, and which can be learnt by everyone else. Trying to guess its origin is as pointless as trying to guess the origin of gyda llaw. In fact, headway could only be made by analysing an historic corpus of literature; it can’t be deconstructed from first principles.

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C17: Day 139 – Oh, what a palette

by Suw on May 19, 2017

Gelish, the DIY gel nail polish system that I use, has a fabulous array of colours. Some 233 of them, to be precise. All listed with colour swatches on one page.

You’d think that that would make it easy to pick colours, but whilst it’s easy to see colours that you like the look of, how they look on screen and how they look in reality are not necessarily the same. That’s just how it is with digital representations of real objects – colour fidelity is basically impossible because of variations in the colour profile of computer screens.

That has meant that it’s quite hard to mix and match colours. The trend at the moment is to wear a variety of complementary colours on different nails, as you’ll see from this Pinterest page. It might be one highlight colour, or a mixture of three or even four different colours, but without having all the options there in front of you, it’s impossible to know how well colours will go together.

This is where Gelish is missing a trick. Instead of a page of colours in a random order, they should provide palette suggestions, grouping colours that work harmoniously together. It would also be useful for them to pair their glitters with matching solids. I have a lovely green glitter, Are You Feeling It?, for example, but it really needs a green solid to go underneath it. But which one? The green I have is too olive, so which of the other greens should I choose?

I wish I had a full swatch of colours to check which ones work together, but instead it’s a process of trial and error. What I can say is that Plum And Done works well with a top layer of pink sparkle June Bride (right), but that it doesn’t work as well with the golden Oh, What A Knight! as I had hoped. However, June Bride over Oh, What A Knight! produces a fabulous sparkly rose gold colour. Rule the Runway wasn’t as tan I was expecting – it’s more of a flat grey – and whilst it isn’t a bad match for Johnny Green (which they seem to have discontinued anyway), it isn’t great. Wiggle Fingers Wiggle Thumbs – That’s The Way The Magic Comes is a glorious metallic blue that I could see myself wearing a lot, maybe even with a coat of green Are You Feeling It? sparkle over the time.

Part of the problem here is that I’m only doing my nails every 2 to 3 weeks which means that it takes a long time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Gelish does have some collections, like the One Upon A Time collection, though you’d never know it from their website. They really could do a lot better at producing complementary palettes, especially as if people know what colours will work together, they’ll be more likely to expand their collections.

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The weird thing about returning to London after a few years away is how much the same it is, and yet, how very different. I’m sitting in the Camera Museum cafe on Museum Street, Holborn, and whilst the place is very much the same as it’s always been, it’s quite different. I used to come here regularly – a cafe that was very much tucked away and unknown, with free wifi and nice food, was a rare and valuable find. You used to have to walk through a camera shop to get to a tiny cafe at the back. But now, however many years later, the cafe is the part that you walk through to get to the camera shop, plus it has a camera museum downstairs. It’s still lovely, and still run by the same chap, who even remembered me from all those years ago, and it’s still a fabulous little gem in the centre of London.

London’s changed in other ways too many to mention, whilst also being very much the same place it’s always been. And that will always be the case. A big city like this doesn’t stand still but no matter how it changes, it stays the same. It will always be London, it will always have that undefinable Londonness about it that no amount of development can take away. I know there are lots of issues where iconic building have been lost, and whilst that’s sad, London is not at risk of losing all the things that make it special. It never will.

This is something I think we really need to recognise, that a place can change without becoming lesser, without losing its special sauce. London’s always been a diverse city, and that diversity is its strength. It is adaptable, indefatigable, and resilient precisely because there are so many people here from somewhere else who bring adaptability and new ideas. We need to celebrate that, especially in the face of the current move towards insularity and isolationism.

The Camera Cafe might now be the Camera Museum, the chairs might have moved, and the downstairs might be a museum now, but it’s still wonderful. It’s just the same as it ever was, even though it’s different.


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C17: Day 133 to, erm, oops

by Suw on May 17, 2017

Right, well this week got away from me. I was so sure that I’d be able to manage a blog post a day whilst travelling, but that does not seem to have been the case. I have been absolutely flat out, which is a very good thing, because it means good meetings and exciting connections are being made.

I spoke about Ada Lovelace Day at OpenTech on Saturday, which was fun. Kevin Marks took notes, though there are no hyperlinks to my section so just do an in-page search for ‘suw’ to find it.

I’ve been to Sittingbourne and Brockenhurst, and am soon off to York, then Bournemouth then Woking and home.

Hopefully I’ll have a bit more time on the second half of this trip to write, but in the meantime, here are some cats.

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C17: Day 132 – The anxiety of information

May 12, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote about how having more information can make things less stressful, specifically, how I find modern buses much easier to deal with, simply because you always know where you are and what the next stop is. But unfortunately, the opposite is also true. We have access to more information now than we ever have […]

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C17: Day 131 – The comfort of information

May 11, 2017

When I first moved to London, in the mid-90s, I hated taking buses. I didn’t know the city well, and it was far too easy to get on the wrong bus, or miss your stop. I would end up sitting by the window, looking out for street names so that I could check where I was […]

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C17: Day 130 – How do we combat mass manipulation?

May 10, 2017

I started trying to read The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked by Carole Cadwalladr on the plane yesterday, but had to give up because it was too depressing. Political campaigns, says Cadwalladr, are paying vast sums of money to a company called Cambridge Analytica to do psychological profiling of voters in the UK and […]

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C17: Day 129 – Where has all the magic gone?

May 9, 2017

One upon a time, a long long time ago, I used to work for BAA, the British Airports Authority. At the time, they operated most of the big airports in the UK, and I worked in the Retail Finance department, out by Heathrow. I was only there, as a temp, for I think about nine […]

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C17: Day 128 – The bucket

May 8, 2017

Sometimes, you’re just too tired to actually write a blog post, so you just embed a YouTube video. (I suspect the small birds at the beginning are house finches. We have them here, and the male has that lovely raspberry chest.)

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