Lies, and politicians

By [email protected] (RevK)

I am perhaps old enough to remember when, in general politicians did not outright lie.

OK, bear with me, usually they have speeches and statements written in advance, and carefully checked, by staff with a lot of experience. I mean mistakes can happen, but for a career politician in an high office there is no excuse for that even.

The wording would normally be very careful, and in spite of flunking English language badly, I learned long ago to listen to the choice of wording used, especially by politicians (and on adverts). Note when the wording is not how it would "normally be said". It usually means there is some subtle wording to ensure that what they say is "technically correct" (in the worse sense of that term).

It is not too hard to do - you can easily add "It plan to...", "I strongly believe that...", "In my opinion...", "As I understand it...", "It has been reported that...", "I am told that...", etc. And then say almost anything and not technically be lying.

Sadly, it seems that outright lies are more common, accepted, and even expected. This seems to be particularly bad with Trump and Boris, or at least that is how it seems to me (see what I did there?).

What we have had over the last few days is perhaps one of the worst examples, because clearly a lot of people believed the lie.

The mythical £2,500 energy cap!

For example “We have taken action by the government stepping in, making sure that nobody is paying fuel bills of more than £2,500.” (reported here). The "per year" is implied, and they could weasel on that one I guess. This was not "we plan to", but a statement as "fact". And a lot of people seem to have believed the statement (see here). Indeed, it seems some people are cross how EV car users can charge their car as much as they like and not pay more than £2,500. But it was a lie.

Even "fuel bills" is bad: does that include a petrol car? And the fact there are people that buy gas in canisters, and heating oil, or even wood, are not included in this, is also somewhat bad when using "nobody" in such a statement.

This was refined, but the wording is terrible. We now have: “That’s why we took action to make sure people aren’t paying a typical fuel bill of more than £2,500, that’ll come in on Saturday…” (reported here). Well, "typical fuel bill" is vague at best - one could assume it is "typical for me"... Which is wrong.

But it is worse, we also have: "The decisive action we have taken means that no family will be facing a typical fuel bill of more than £2500, not just for this year, but also next year", (reported here). This time we have the clear "no family". So even if one family faces a "typical bill" of more than "£2500" then it is a lie. You cannot talk of overall average or typical and use "no family" - it is like saying "nobody will have less than average fuel bills". Lots of families typical bill will be higher than £2500. So yeh, lies again, even though they had time to correct the "mistake" of the previous lies.

Is it just me that feels such clear lies should have some accountability, some cost, some penalty?

There is no £2,500 cap

I hope people know this now, but the cap, as of tomorrow, and as it was previously, is "based" on an "average" household bill for the year, i.e. average of all households in a region (as I understand it), but what is capped is actually the per unit usage and per day standing charge. Use more and you pay more - use less and you pay less.

Also, the "cap" (from tomorrow) is quite a bit higher than now, and a hell of a lot higher than this time last year.

Is there a hidden catch?

The fact this is based on average household usage, and even per region, to work out the actual price cap, leads me to assume that if usage changes - if people reduce usage to try and manage some of their fuel costs, then the "cap" will increase to ensure the "average" stays at £2,500. So I would not rule out further changes (increases even) to the per unit price cap during the two year period for this energy price guarantee. It almost makes any collective effort at cost saving pointless. I may have this wrong, but it seems the logical conclusion.

Weekly Update 315

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Kolide can help you nail third-party audits and internal compliance goals with endpoint security for your entire fleet. Learn more here.

How's this weeks video for a view?! It's a stunning location here in Bali and it's just been the absolute most perfect spot for a honeymoon, especially after weeks of guests and celebrations. But whoever hacked and ransom'd Optus didn't

Quantified Self

It's made me way more excited about ferris wheels, subways, car washes, waterslides, and store entrances that have double doors with a divider in the middle.

Wholesale rate update (2022-10-03) – with NO dirty surcharges

By Simwood

We will be updating our Managed A-Z Termination rates and codes on October 3rd 2022. As usual, these changes are colour coded in our full rate files available through the portal as below. Unlike other operators, we are not passing on UK origin surcharges, relying instead on our advanced technology to protect you and us […]

Angles Mort

By [email protected] (RevK)

I saw this on a truck (non UK plates), and they do puzzle me a bit.

For a start, it is not clear - are the black bits the death angles - in which case why the big black areas in front left and right where there is clear diver visibility? Or is it the yellow bits with the warning triangles, in which case why the bits left and right which are also clear driver visibility. It makes no sense!

But the bigger issue is how we seem to find it quite acceptable to allow death machines to be driven on the public roads like this. I mean that is what it is saying - angles mort - death angles - places where you could die even though you might be a legitimate road user legitimately in such a place on the road.

Surely if there is a dangerous machine, a machine that can kill people, we need to make it safer, including mirrors or even cameras if necessary, and driver training, to ensure there are no "death angles".

To be honest this seems a lot like victim blaming.

Wing Lift

Once the air from the top passes below the plane of the wing and catches sight of the spooky skulls, it panics, which is the cause of turbulent vortices.

Blocking fraudulent calls

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead Ofcom publishes the ‘DNO list’, a list of inbound only phone numbers from high profile organisations that should never originate outbound calls. These numbers are highly desirable to scammers and frequently used in spoofing to defraud consumers. Existing Ofcom rules can be interpreted to place a requirement on Public Electronic Communications Networks […]

Rust is eating into our systems, and it's a good thing

By Rupert Goodwins

Language wars, huh, what are they good for?

Opinion  Rust is eating into our systems. The first Rusted drivers are being welded into Linux, while Microsoft's Azure CTO Mark Russinovich said C/C++ – until now, the systems languages of choice – should be dropped in favor of Rust henceforth. …

Two Key System

Our company can be your one-stop shop for decentralization.

Winter is coming

By [email protected] (RevK)

The air-con is great for cooling in the winter, though that obviously has a cost, it is not as bad as I expected, and I have systems set up to control when it is on, and in which rooms, etc.

The air-con could be used for heating in winter, as it works out more than 100% efficient. The issue is that even with the new silly prices I think gas is still a lot cheaper. I do need to do the sums, which will depend on the tariffs I can get for my electricity and using a second battery. But even that is not simple, even with a second battery, and charging when very cheap at night, because that only works up to the capacity of the battery. If the air-con used for heating exceeds that capacity then we are back to expensive electricity compared to gas.

So my next project is improving the gas central heating. First step is a smart meter with half hour stats via MQTT using an in home display that connects to my MQTT server. It is on order now. This will help track the cost and usage more accurately.

But I also need finer control of individual room heating. At present we have two heating loops (up/down) and some thermostatic radiator valves. This provides limited options.

Per room control

A key factor is per room control. I already have my own temperature monitoring which I use to control the air-con for cooling. But for heating my only real control is heating on or off for whole floor.

My plan it to fit each radiator with an "actuator". I was originally thinking a shelly thermostatic radiator valve with wifi, but to be honest that is not what I really want, and an actuator and simple shelly 1 to control it is easier. I can then turn the radiator in any room on or off based on my temperature sensor which is located near the bed (for bedrooms) rather than next to the hot radiator itself.

I can then set controls for target temperatures during day and night so that the room is heated only when needed, and only to the needed temperature per room.

I already have logic to link the room control status to an aggregate for the heating itself, ie. any room heating on a floor means the floor level gas boiler heating is turned on.

Room occupancy

One of the key reasons for this is not just that different rooms need different targets (my wife and I prefer quite different temperatures), but also that not all rooms are always in use. We have a couple of guest rooms, for example.

At present I include a room manually in the controls and adjust the radiator valves manually, but once I have an actuator I can be smarter.

Just to be clear, this is not quite the same as "occupancy" for, say, lights coming on and off - for which there are various sensors. This is occupancy along the lines of "the guest room is in use today". So I can ensure it is heated (or cooled) sensibly for the day/night, and ready for when someone goes to bed - that means knowing hours before and keeping things going all night, etc.

My current thinking is any use of the light switch in a room marks the room for occupancy for next 24 hours or some such, maybe 18 hours...

That way a room that is not in use is not heated (or cooled when we get back in to summer), but a room that is in use gets heated (at night for bedrooms, based on a temperature profile).

It also means that when my wife goes in the room during the day to make the bed because we are expecting a guest, the room will be ready when they arrive, etc.

Anyway, once I have this working, I'll post some more details and pictures.

Note: these actuators come in a variety of fittings, modes, and voltages. Take care to order the right one. Pictured is Danfoss Actuator TWA-A 230V NC (RA) Danfoss manifold 088H3112. This is 230V activated so ideal for using with a Shelly, NC (normally closed radiator), and a fitting that works to replace a normal Danfoss thermostatic radiator valve fitting. Note, this seems to use about 2W to hold "open".

Pet hate number 0̷

By [email protected] (RevK)

I have mentioned before, but one of my pet hates is crossed zeros.

I have gone in to the history a bit (here), but I still encounter these. The latest is a new calculator.

I know it is perhaps weird to own a calculator, let alone buy a new one. I previously used an hp 12c Platinum which hp re-launched, but it is a tad more "accountant" than "scientific" for my usage. So when I found Swiss Micros series of new versions of retro hp calculators I ordered their DM42 which is based on the hp 42-S.

It is impressive... It also has fun screen savers as you can see. Nice touch, well done.

Someone reported they did not like the buttons, but they seem good to me.

But I only really have one gripe. All of the fonts (of which there is a choice) have crossed zeros.

A crossed zero is a bad choice - something that is pretty much always displaying numbers, like a calculator, has no excuse to not show a zero as a round shape, but something like this where it has a high resolution display has really go no excuse. It can show a 0 and O distinctly with no problem.

This is a massive usability issue - a crossed zero, and even a "dotted" zero, can be easily confused with an 8 by anyone with poor eyesight. There is no excuse. What is worse is it has settings and font styles and sizes, and they did not think to include choice of crossed, dotted, or neither. Why?

To be clear, this is a zero, as you know...

What is especially weird is the Swiss Micros webs site shows it with the slightly better dotted zero.

But for some reason, what I have, does not have this, but has a crossed zero.

So basically I have not been supplied with a product as described, which is always annoying.

The good news is that it looks like this is using open source code, so it may be possible for me to re-make it with a new font. I'll see what I can do.

Update: You have to love open source.

I have not actually managed to find where the fonts are though, I just changed 0 on the display, which is not ideal as I would like a visually distinct 0 and O, but it is a start. Nice that you can set a sane date format though.

Weekly Update 314

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Kolide can help you nail third-party audits and internal compliance goals with endpoint security for your entire fleet. Learn more here.

Wow, what a week! Of course there's lots of cyber / tech stuff in this week's update, but it was really only the embedded tweet below on my mind so I'm going to leave you with this then come to you from somewhere much more

Weird science

By [email protected] (RevK)

LED panel (when switched on)
I have LED lighting panels in my bedroom, two of them. Nothing complicated.

They each have a power supply behind them in the ceiling, and connect to the power with just live and neutral (no earth).

The live goes via a switch, obviously. It's a Shelly, so a clean relay contact.

So, when they are off, they should be off. Simple. They only have the neutral connected at that point.

The weird bit

However, during the night, I can see that they are not quite off. They have a faint glow some of the time. It can only be seen in the pitch black of night, and when your eyes have adapted to the dark. So if I wake up in the night I can see it.

At first I did wonder if I was imagining it, it was so faint, but no, I have seen them glow turn on and off, not fading in/out but sudden on/off. So very real. They are not glowing all the time, and not at the same time necessarily - sometimes one or the other. But most of the time as far a I can see, i.e. if I wake up in the night they are glowing. And frankly they are annoying me.

But with only neutral connected I don't see how this can happen at all!

The weirder bit

This only started happening the day my battery was installed. I have had these over 18 months and never seen then glow before, but they do now, every night I see them.

How can my battery install have triggered this?

The even weirder bit

The point the battery stopped powering the house
As I say, I now see this every night, well, except for last night. Last night I turned off the hot tub and allowed the house to run on battery all night for the first time. To be fair, I kept checking the battery charge in the night. Sad, I know. But yes, the battery lasted not only until sunrise, but until enough solar to run things and start charging it again. That means I have not used any power from the grid for over 24 hours, and in fact exported 9½kWh, even using the hot tub in the day yesterday. Amazing.

But, guess what, the lights did not glow last night, not once did I catch them doing so.

So they only glow, once the battery was installed, but only when it is in standby, not powering the house.

I repeat, there is no earth on these lights. And the extra earth rod for the battery install was done 6 months ago anyway. So all that changed when the battery was installed was, err, the battery and gateway box.

I may play with switching the neutral as well, but wow, why would I need to do that.

Explanations welcome!

Update

Usually the switch for a light like this would be L/N to the ceiling, the L going all the way down to a light switch, and all the way back, in the same wire/sleeve, to the ceiling, and then in to the light with N. This long wire acts as a capacitor allowing small amounts of AC current to flow.

But sorry. My lights are L/N to a shelly, L via the relay in shelly, and the L(switched)/N on to the light. No cable to act as a capacitor. Nice try twitter.

Further: We are planning to take up floor boards tomorrow (Friday) to confirm wiring is as I remember it, and try some things - I'll post more details here when I know. Thank you all for the ideas on this.

Final answer

Firstly, there is no switch lead, so capacitive pick up L to Switched-L was not the cause.

One person sort of got it right, a lively neutral. But not quite what you may think. In fact it was L/N tails to CU reverse, so all neutrals were very live and unprotected. The cable to the light therefor had a live (on neutral wire), and an earth (not used at light, but obviously connected to earth), and next to the earth was the neutral (on the switched live wire), which capacitively picked up from earth and power the lights.

Yes, there was a big flash and a bang in discovering this. No, I am not going to point fingers (was not me, obviously).

Historical Dates

Evidence suggests the 1899 transactions occurred as part of a global event centered around a deity associated with the lotus flower.

The noose is already round your neck!

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead In ye olde days, when punishment by hanging was a thing, life wasn’t fun but there was one positive (beyond being there to witness one of our competitors’ last maintenance windows!). Being imprisoned, led to the gallows to the sound of jeering crowds, having a hood put on and feeling the noose […]

Meet Silicon Valley’s rattled layoff ‘survivors’

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BlackCat malware lashes out at US defense IT contractor

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Also, Amazon's Ring footage TV shows draws criticism, US v Soviet spying docs found, and more

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[Half Time Thread] Manchester City 4 - 0 Manchester United

By /u/nearly_headless_nic

Goal Scorers City :

Phil Foden 8', 44'

Erling Haaland 34', 37'

submitted by /u/nearly_headless_nic to r/reddevils
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[Rival Watch] Sunday games EPL

By /u/J--Dizzle

[Rival Watch] Sunday games EPL

I couldnt find a thread.

Bread as per tradition:

https://preview.redd.it/toldp75a9er91.png?width=3761&format=png&auto=webp&s=ca7ad072cdad896744eb7226ab0d9b22aa379af3

City vs United [ game started]

Current Score : 4-0

LINE-UPS

Manchester City

Ederson, Nathan Aké, Manuel Akanji, João Cancelo, Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gündogan, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden.

Subs: Stefan Ortega, Rico Lewis, Cole Palmer, Sergio Gómez, Julián Álvarez, Scott Carson, Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez, Rúben Dias.

____________________________

Manchester United

David de Gea, Lisandro Martínez, Raphaël Varane, Tyrell Malacia, Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Antony.

Subs: Anthony Elanga, Fred, Casemiro, Facundo Pellistri, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelöf, Anthony Martial, Tom Heaton, Cristiano Ronaldo.

8 mins played : 1-0: City take the lead via Foden

34 mins played: Haaland makes it 2-0 for City

37th min: Haaland scores again to make it 3-0

44th min: Foden gets his second as City are now up by 4

Leeds vs Villa

submitted by /u/J--Dizzle to r/LiverpoolFC
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Match Thread: Manchester City vs Manchester United | English Premier League

By /u/MatchThreadder

FT: Manchester City 6-3 Manchester United

Manchester City scorers: Phil Foden (8', 44', 72'), Erling Haaland (34', 37', 64')

Manchester United scorers: Antony (56'), Anthony Martial (84', 90'+1' PEN)


Venue: Etihad Stadium

Auto-refreshing reddit comments link


LINE-UPS

Manchester City

Ederson, Nathan Aké, Manuel Akanji, João Cancelo, Kyle Walker (Sergio Gómez), Ilkay Gündogan (Aymeric Laporte), Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne (Julián Álvarez), Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish (Cole Palmer), Phil Foden (Riyad Mahrez).

Subs: Stefan Ortega, Rico Lewis, Scott Carson, Rúben Dias.

____________________________

Manchester United

David de Gea, Lisandro Martínez, Raphaël Varane (Victor Lindelöf), Tyrell Malacia (Luke Shaw), Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay (Casemiro), Marcus Rashford (Anthony Martial), Jadon Sancho (Fred), Antony.

Subs: Anthony Elanga, Facundo Pellistri, Tom Heaton, Cristiano Ronaldo.


MATCH EVENTS | via ESPN

2' Diogo Dalot (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

8' Goal! Manchester City 1, Manchester United 0. Phil Foden (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Bernardo Silva with a cross.

23' Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

34' Goal! Manchester City 2, Manchester United 0. Erling Haaland (Manchester City) header from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne with a cross following a corner.

37' Goal! Manchester City 3, Manchester United 0. Erling Haaland (Manchester City) left footed shot from the left side of the six yard box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Kevin De Bruyne.

40' Substitution, Manchester United. Victor Lindelöf replaces Raphaël Varane because of an injury.

41' Substitution, Manchester City. Sergio Gómez replaces Kyle Walker because of an injury.

44' Goal! Manchester City 4, Manchester United 0. Phil Foden (Manchester City) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Erling Haaland following a fast break.

45' Substitution, Manchester United. Luke Shaw replaces Tyrell Malacia.

56' Goal! Manchester City 4, Manchester United 1. Antony (Manchester United) left footed shot from outside the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Christian Eriksen.

59' Substitution, Manchester United. Anthony Martial replaces Marcus Rashford.

59' Substitution, Manchester United. Casemiro replaces Scott McTominay.

64' Goal! Manchester City 5, Manchester United 1. Erling Haaland (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Sergio Gómez with a cross.Goal confirmed following VAR Review.

70' Substitution, Manchester United. Fred replaces Jadon Sancho.

72' Goal! Manchester City 6, Manchester United 1. Phil Foden (Manchester City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Erling Haaland.Goal confirmed following VAR Review.

75' Substitution, Manchester City. Riyad Mahrez replaces Phil Foden.

75' Substitution, Manchester City. Julián Álvarez replaces Kevin De Bruyne.

75' Substitution, Manchester City. Cole Palmer replaces Jack Grealish.

75' Substitution, Manchester City. Aymeric Laporte replaces Ilkay Gündogan.

80' Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.

84' Goal! Manchester City 6, Manchester United 2. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) header from very close range to the bottom right corner.

90'+1' Goal! Manchester City 6, Manchester United 3. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the top right corner.


Don't see a thread for a match you're watching? Click here to learn how to request a match thread from this bot.

submitted by /u/MatchThreadder to r/reddevils
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[Will Buxton] What’s the point in having wet tyres if wet race starts are always delayed by the FIA until the track is so dry you don’t need to use them?

By /u/Aratho

[Will Buxton] What’s the point in having wet tyres if wet race starts are always delayed by the FIA until the track is so dry you don’t need to use them? submitted by /u/Aratho to r/formula1
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[@adamcooperF1] . It's set to be a timed race and we won't get the full distance

By /u/Thermosflasche

[@adamcooperF1] . It's set to be a timed race and we won't get the full distance submitted by /u/Thermosflasche to r/formula1
[link] [comments]

[Chris Medland] Race will start at 2105 local time. Pit lane to open at 2025 (so one hour and five minute delay overall)

By /u/Infernode5

[Chris Medland] Race will start at 2105 local time. Pit lane to open at 2025 (so one hour and five minute delay overall) submitted by /u/Infernode5 to r/formula1
[link] [comments]

2022 Singapore Grand Prix - Race Discussion

By /u/F1-Bot

ROUND 17: Singapore 🇸🇬

FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX 2022
Fri 30 Sep - Sun 2 Oct
Singapore
Session UTC
Free Practice 1 Fri 10:00
Free Practice 2 Fri 13:00
Free Practice 3 Sat 10:00
Qualifying Sat 13:00
Race Sun 12:00

Click here for start times in your area.


Marina Bay Street Circuit

Length: 5.065 km (3.147 mi)

Distance: 61 laps, 308.828 km (191.896 mi)

Lap record: 🇩🇰 Kevin Magnussen, Haas-Ferrari, 2018, 1:41.905

2019 pole: 🇲🇨 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1:36.217

2019 fastest lap: 🇩🇰 Kevin Magnussen, Haas-Ferrari, 1:42.301

2019 winner: 🇩🇪 Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari


Useful links


Streaming & Downloads

This is not the appropriate place to request or share streams and downloads. Please do not post information about streams and downloads in this thread. Thank you.


Live timing leaderboard

For those of you who are F1 ACCESS members, you can check the position of the drivers throughout the race on the official live timing leaderboard


Race Discussion

Be sure to check out the Discord as well.


F1 Fantasy League

Remember to update your F1 Fantasy team. Join the official subreddit league here, or use invite code db0a050cdf.


Good causes

submitted by /u/F1-Bot to r/formula1
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Premier League/Rival Watch Thread (2/10/2022)

By /u/NegativeHeli

Premier League/Rival Watch Thread (2/10/2022) submitted by /u/NegativeHeli to r/Gunners
[link] [comments]

Received this in the mail today. Wtf?

By /u/matthew77cro

Received this in the mail today. Wtf? submitted by /u/matthew77cro to r/CasualUK
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In 1532, Incan ruler Atahualpa was captured by Spanish explorer Pizzaro. For freedom, Atahualpa offered to fill a room with gold for the Spanish. The Incas brought over 6000kg of riches - the largest ransom ever paid, but it wasn't enough for them. Pizzaro took the treasure, but still executed him.

By /u/Untitled_Epsilon9

In 1532, Incan ruler Atahualpa was captured by Spanish explorer Pizzaro. For freedom, Atahualpa offered to fill a room with gold for the Spanish. The Incas brought over 6000kg of riches - the largest ransom ever paid, but it wasn't enough for them. Pizzaro took the treasure, but still executed him. submitted by /u/Untitled_Epsilon9 to r/Damnthatsinteresting
[link] [comments]

some doors in London have knobs in the center

By /u/captwaffles27

some doors in London have knobs in the center submitted by /u/captwaffles27 to r/mildlyinteresting
[link] [comments]

All 20 drivers together as Alonso celebrates his 350th Grand Prix start!

By /u/Papa_Bear55

All 20 drivers together as Alonso celebrates his 350th Grand Prix start! submitted by /u/Papa_Bear55 to r/formula1
[link] [comments]

Kwasi Kwarteng faces calls for inquiry after attending champagne party with hedge fund managers hours after delivering mini-budget

By /u/topotaul

Kwasi Kwarteng faces calls for inquiry after attending champagne party with hedge fund managers hours after delivering mini-budget submitted by /u/topotaul to r/unitedkingdom
[link] [comments]

A very British morning spent at the car boot sale, finished with a shite bacon roll and awful coffee.

By /u/seanbiff

A very British morning spent at the car boot sale, finished with a shite bacon roll and awful coffee. submitted by /u/seanbiff to r/CasualUK
[link] [comments]

girl gets stuck in a washer doing a dare

By /u/Ok-Turnip-9406

girl gets stuck in a washer doing a dare submitted by /u/Ok-Turnip-9406 to r/facepalm
[link] [comments]

Does Company ‘X’ have an Azure Active Directory Tenant?

Does Company ‘X’ have an Azure Active Directory Tenant?

Neat write-up from Shawn Tabrizi about looking up if a company has Active Directory single-sign-on configured (which is based on OpenID) by checking for an OpenID configuration endpoint. I particularly enjoyed this new-to-me trick: Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" search button redirects to the first result, which means it can double as an unofficial API endpoint for returning the URL of the first matching search result.

Via Hacker News

Software engineering practices

Gergely Orosz started a Twitter conversation asking about recommended "software engineering practices" for development teams.

(I really like his rejection of the term "best practices" here: I always feel it's prescriptive and misguiding to announce something as "best".)

I decided to flesh some of my replies out into a longer post.

Documentation in the same repo as the code

The most important characteristic of internal documentation is trust: do people trust that documentation both exists and is up-to-date?

If they don't, they won't read it or contribute to it.

The best trick I know of for improving the trustworthiness of documentation is to put it in the same repository as the code it documents, for a few reasons:

  1. You can enforce documentation updates as part of your code review process. If a PR changes code in a way that requires documentation updates, the reviewer can ask for those updates to be included.
  2. You get versioned documentation. If you're using an older version of a library you can consult the documentation for that version. If you're using the current main branch you can see documentation for that, without confusion over what corresponds to the most recent "stable" release.
  3. You can integrate your documentation with your automated tests! I wrote about this in Documentation unit tests, which describes a pattern for introspecting code and then ensuring that the documentation at least has a section header that matches specific concepts, such as plugin hooks or configuration options.

Mechanisms for creating test data

When you work on large products, your customers will inevitably find surprising ways to stress or break your system. They might create an event with over a hundred different types of ticket for example, or an issue thread with a thousand comments.

These can expose performance issues that don't affect the majority of your users, but can still lead to service outages or other problems.

Your engineers need a way to replicate these situations in their own development environments.

One way to handle this is to provide tooling to import production data into local environments. This has privacy and security implications - what if a developer laptop gets stolen that happens to have a copy of your largest customer's data?

A better approach is to have a robust system in place for generating test data, that covers a variety of different scenarios.

You might have a button somewhere that creates an issue thread with a thousand fake comments, with a note referencing the bug that this helps emulate.

Any time a new edge case shows up, you can add a new recipe to that system. That way engineers can replicate problems locally without needing copies of production data.

Rock solid database migrations

The hardest part of large-scale software maintenance is inevitably the bit where you need to change your database schema.

(I'm confident that one of the biggest reasons NoSQL databases became popular over the last decade was the pain people had associated with relational databases due to schema changes. Of course, NoSQL database schema modifications are still necessary, and often they're even more painful!)

So you need to invest in a really good, version-controlled mechanism for managing schema changes. And a way to run them in production without downtime.

If you do not have this your engineers will respond by being fearful of schema changes. Which means they'll come up with increasingly complex hacks to avoid them, which piles on technical debt.

This is a deep topic. I mostly use Django for large database-backed applications, and Django has the best migration system I've ever personally experienced. If I'm working without Django I try to replicate its approach as closely as possible:

Even harder is the challenge of making schema changes without any downtime. I'm always interested in reading about new approaches for this - GitHub's gh-ost is a neat solution for MySQL.

An interesting consideration here is that it's rarely possible to have application code and database schema changes go out at the exact same instance in time. As a result, to avoid downtime you need to design every schema change with this in mind. The process needs to be:

  1. Design a new schema change that can be applied without changing the application code that uses it.
  2. Ship that change to production, upgrading your database while keeping the old code working.
  3. Now ship new application code that uses the new schema.
  4. Ship a new schema change that cleans up any remaining work - dropping columns that are no longer used, for example.

This process is a pain. It's difficult to get right. The only way to get good at it is to practice it a lot over time.

My rule is this: schema changes should be boring and common, as opposed to being exciting and rare.

Templates for new projects and components

If you're working with microservices, your team will inevitably need to build new ones.

If you're working in a monorepo, you'll still have elements of your codebase with similar structures - components and feature implementations of some sort.

Be sure to have really good templates in place for creating these "the right way" - with the right directory structure, a README and a test suite with a single, dumb passing test.

I like to use the Python cookiecutter tool for this. I've also used GitHub template repositories, and I even have a neat trick for combining the two.

These templates need to be maintained and kept up-to-date. The best way to do that is to make sure they are being used - every time a new project is created is a chance to revise the template and make sure it still reflects the recommended way to do things.

Automated code formatting

This one's easy. Pick a code formatting tool for your language - like Black for Python or Prettier for JavaScript (I'm so jealous of how Go has gofmt built in) - and run its "check" mode in your CI flow.

Don't argue with its defaults, just commit to them.

This saves an incredible amount of time in two places:

Tested, automated process for new development environments

The most painful part of any software project is inevitably setting up the initial development environment.

The moment your team grows beyond a couple of people, you should invest in making this work better.

At the very least, you need a documented process for creating a new environment - and it has to be known-to-work, so any time someone is onboarded using it they should be encouraged to fix any problems in the documentation or accompanying scripts as they encounter them.

Much better is an automated process: a single script that gets everything up and running. Tools like Docker have made this a LOT easier over the past decade.

I'm increasingly convinced that the best-in-class solution here is cloud-based development environments. The ability to click a button on a web page and have a fresh, working development environment running a few seconds later is a game-changer for large development teams.

Gitpod and Codespaces are two of the most promising tools I've tried in this space.

I've seen developers lose hours a week to issues with their development environment. Eliminating that across a large team is the equivalent of hiring several new full-time engineers!

Automated preview environments

Reviewing a pull request is a lot easier if you can actually try out the changes.

The best way to do this is with automated preview environments, directly linked to from the PR itself.

These are getting increasingly easy to offer. Vercel, Netlify, Render and Heroku all have features that can do this. Building a custom system on top of something like Google Cloud Run or Fly Machines is also possible with a bit of work.

This is another one of those things which requires some up-front investment but will pay itself off many times over through increased productivity and quality of reviews.

Supporting logical properties

Supporting logical properties

A frustrating reminder from Jeremy Keith that Safari is not an evergreen browser: older iOS devices (1st gen iPad Air for example) get stuck on the last iOS version that supports them, which also sticks them with an old version of Safari, which means they will never get support for newer CSS properties such as inline-start and block-end. Jeremy shows how to use the @supports rule to hide this new syntax from those older browsers.

Weeknotes: Datasette Cloud preview invitations

This week I finally started sending out invitations for people to try out the preview of the new Datasette Cloud, my SaaS offering for Datasette.

A screenshot of the Datasette Cloud onboarding screen, showing a list of example datasets that can be imported with one click.

The preview release includes the following features:

You can request preview access here - or come talk to me about it on the Datasette Discord.

I'm certain I haven't built the right product yet, so feedback is incredibly valuable to me right now!

The two most important upcoming features are API access (with API keys) and the ability to publish data - right now the tool is entirely private, but publishing structured data is a big part of Datasette's core DNA and something I'm certain people will want to be able to do with the hosted version.

Other projects

I've already written a lot about my other projects this week.

I came second place in the Bellingcat Hackathon with Action Transcription, A tool to run caption extraction against online videos using Whisper and GitHub Issues/Actions.

Meta AI released a new paper describing Make-A-Video, a text-to-video model. I dug into the training data using Datasette - see Exploring 10m scraped Shutterstock videos used to train Meta’s Make-A-Video text-to-video model - and found that one of the main academic datasets behind the model was entirely scraped from Shutterstock.

Andy Baio noted that this was another example of a commercial AI research team building on a dataset gathered in academia. He calls that "AI Data Laundering", and wrote about it in AI Data Laundering: How Academic and Nonprofit Researchers Shield Tech Companies from Accountability.

I've continued to think about Prompt Injection, the security attack against software built on large language models that starts with "Ignore previous instructions and ...". I wrote two more pieces about that:

I also pushed out a new Datasette alpha with some small changes that have accumulated over the past month.

Releases this week

TIL this week

Free software activities in September 2022

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world during September 2022 (previous month):

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Reproducible Builds

The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. This month, I:

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diffoscope

Elsewhere in our tooling, I made the following changes to diffoscope, including preparing and uploading versions 222 and 223 to Debian:

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Debian

Uploads


Debian LTS

This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 12 hours on its sister Extended LTS project.

You can find out more about the project via the following video:

nat/natbot

nat/natbot

Extremely devious hack by Nat Friedman: opens a browser using Playwright and then passes a DOM representation to GPT-3 in order to power a chat-style interface for driving the browser. Worth diving into the code to look at the prompt it uses, it's fascinating.

Via @natfriedman

A tool to run caption extraction against online videos using Whisper and GitHub Issues/Actions

I released a new project this weekend, built during the Bellingcat Hackathon (I came second!) It's called Action Transcription and it's a tool for caturing captions and transcripts from online videos.

Here's my video introducing the new tool:

Bellingcat

Bellingcat describe themselves as an "independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation to probe a variety of subjects".

They specialize in open source intelligence - which, confusingly, does NOT mean "open source software" - this is a much older usage of the term that describes the use of publicly available information to gather intelligence.

They have broken a LOT of impressive stories over their eight year lifespan. Wikipedia has a good list - highlights include identifying the suspects behind the Skripal poisoning case.

The theme of the hackathon was "General Digital Investigation Tools". The goal was to build prototypes of tools that could be used by their community of investigators - most of whom are volunteers working from home with little-to-no budget, and often with limited technical skills (they can use tools very effectively but they might not be comfortable writing code or using the command-line).

Inspired by the recent release of OpenAI's Whisper, I decided to build a tool that would make it easier to extract captions and transcripts from videos on social media sites.

Why GitHub Actions and GitHub Issues?

My goals for the project were:

I decided to build the entire thing using GitHub Actions and GitHub Issues.

GitHub Actions is a powerful service for running CI jobs and other automation, but its best feature for this particular project is that it's free.

I'm fine with spending money myself, but if I'm building tools for other people having a way for them to run the tool without paying for anything is a huge win.

My tool needed a UI. To keep things as simple as possible, i didn't want to host anything outside of GitHub itself. So I turned to GitHub Issues to provide the interface layer.

It's easy to create Actions scripts that trigger when a new issue is created. And those scripts can then interact with that issue - attaching comments, or even closing it as completed.

I decided that my flow would be:

  1. The user opens an issue and pastes in a link to an online video.
  2. GitHub Actions is triggered by that issue, extracts the URL and fetches the video using youtube-dl (which, despite the name, can actually download videos from over 1,200 sites including many of the social media services popular in Russia).
  3. The script extracts just the audio from the video.
  4. The audio is then passed through OpenAI's Whisper, which can create a high quality transcript in the original language AND create a shockingly good English translation.
  5. The caption is then both written back to the GitHub repository and attached to the original issue as a comment.

GitHub Actions doesn't (yet) provide GPUs, and Whisper works a whole lot faster with GPU access. So I decided to run Whisper using this hosted copy of the model on Replicate.

Extracting YouTube's captions directly

I had a check-in meeting with Tristan from Bellingcat just to make sure my hack wasn't a duplicate effort, and to get feedback on the plan.

Tristan liked the plan, but pointed out that extracting captions directly from YouTube would be a useful additional feature.

In addition to supporting manual captions, it turns out YouTube already creates machine-generated captions in over 100 languages! The quality of these isn't nearly as good as OpenAI Whisper, but they're still useful. And they're free (running Whisper currently costs me money).

So I adapted the plan, to provide the user with two options. The default option would extract captions directly from the video provider - which would definitely work for YouTube and might work for other sites too.

The second option would use Whisper to create a transcript and a translation, taking longer but providing results even for sites that didn't offer their own captions.

I decided to use issue tags to trigger these two workflows: tag with "captions" to extract captions directly, tag with "whisper" to use Whisper.

The implementation

The implementation ended up being 218 lines of JavaScript-embedded-in-YAML in a GitHub Actions issue_created.yml workflow.

I used actions/github-script for it - a convenient reusable Action that provides a pre-configured set of JavaScript objects for interacting with the GitHub API.

The code isn't hugely elegant: I'm not hugely familiar with the Node.js ecosystem so I ended up hacking around with Copilot quite a bit to figure out the patterns that would work.

It turns out captions can come back in a variety of different formats. The two most common appeared to be TTML - which uses XML, and WebVTT, a text-based format.

I decided to archive the original caption files in the GitHub repository itself, but I wanted to extract just the text and post that as the issue comment.

So I ended up building two tiny new tools: webvtt-to-json and ttml-to-json - which converted the different formats into a standard JSON format of my own invention, normalizing the captions so I could then extract the text and include it in a comment.

Hackathons tend to encourage some pretty scrappy solutions!

The results

These two issues demonstrate the final result of the tool:

That first one in particular shows quite how good the Whisper model is at handling Russian text, and translating it to English.

Adding issue templates

I added one last enhancement to the project after recording the demo video for the judges embedded above.

Issue templates are a new GitHub feature that let you define a form that users must fill out when they create a new issue.

Frustratingly, these only work with public repositories. I had built my hack in a private repo at first, so I was only able to explore using issue templates once I had made it public.

I created two issue templates - one for caption tasks and one for whisper tasks.

Now when a user goes to open a new issue they get to chose one of the two templates and fill in the URL as part of a form! Here's a GIF demo showing that flow in action:

Animated demo. Click Issues, then New Issue, then select Get Started on the Capture captions menu option. Paste in a URL and click Submit new issue.

Template repositories

One last trick. I want users to be able to run this system themselves, on their own GitHub account.

I made simonw/action-transcription a template repository.

This means that any user can click a green button to get their own copy of the repository - and when they do, they'll get their own fully configured copy of the GitHub Actions workflows too.

If they want to use Whisper they'll need to get an API key from Replicate.com and add it to their repository's secrets - but regular caption extraction will work fine without that.

I've used this technique before - I wrote about it here:

GitHub Actions as a platform

I'm pleased with how this project turned out. But I'm mainly excited about the underlying pattern. I think building tools using GitHub Actions that people can clone to their own accounts is a really promising way of developing sophisticated automated software that people can then run independently, entirely through the GitHub web interface.

I'm excited to see more tools adopt a similar pattern.

Exploring 10m scraped Shutterstock videos used to train Meta's Make-A-Video text-to-video model

Make-A-Video is a new "state-of-the-art AI system that generates videos from text" from Meta AI. It looks incredible - it really is DALL-E / Stable Diffusion for video. And it appears to have been trained on 10m video preview clips scraped from Shutterstock.

I built a new search engine to explore those ten million clips:

https://webvid.datasette.io/webvid/videos

A search for mars rocks returns 33 videos, each shown with a video player

This is similar to the system I built with Andy Baio a few weeks ago to explore the LAION data used to train Stable Diffusion.

Make-A-Video training data

Meta AI's paper describing the model includes this section about the training data:

Datasets. To train the image models, we use a 2.3B subset of the dataset from (Schuhmann et al.) where the text is English. We filter out sample pairs with NSFW images 2, toxic words in the text, or images with a watermark probability larger than 0.5.

We use WebVid-10M (Bain et al., 2021) and a 10M subset from HD-VILA-100M (Xue et al., 2022) 3 to train our video generation models. Note that only the videos (no aligned text) are used.

The decoder Dt and the interpolation model is trained on WebVid-10M. SRt l is trained on both WebVid-10M and HD-VILA-10M. While prior work (Hong et al., 2022; Ho et al., 2022) have collected private text-video pairs for T2V generation, we use only public datasets (and no paired text for videos). We conduct automatic evaluation on UCF-101 (Soomro et al., 2012) and MSR-VTT (Xu et al., 2016) in a zero-shot setting.

That 2.3B subset of images is the same LAION data I explored previously.

HD-VILA-100M was collected by Microsoft Research Asia - Andy Baio notes that these were scraped from YouTube.

I decided to take a look at the WebVid-10M data.

WebVid-10M

The WebVid-10M site describes the data like this:

WebVid-10M is a large-scale dataset of short videos with textual descriptions sourced from the web. The videos are diverse and rich in their content.

The accompanying paper provides a little bit more detail:

We scrape the web for a new dataset of videos with textual description annotations, called WebVid-2M. Our dataset consists of 2.5M video-text pairs, which is an order of magnitude larger than existing video captioning datasets (see Table 1).

The data was scraped from the web following a similar procedure to Google Conceptual Captions [55] (CC3M). We note that more than 10% of CC3M images are in fact thumbnails from videos, which motivates us to use such video sources to scrape a total of 2.5M text-video pairs. The use of data collected for this study is authorised via the Intellectual Property Office’s Exceptions to Copyright for Non-Commercial Research and Private Study.

I'm presuming that Web-10M is a larger version of the WebVid-2M dataset described in the paper.

Most importantly though, the website includes a link to a 2.7GB CSV file - results_10M_train.csv - containing the full WebVid-10M dataset. The CSV file looks like this:

videoid,contentUrl,duration,page_dir,name
21179416,https://ak.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/21179416/preview/stock-footage-aerial-shot-winter-forest.mp4,PT00H00M11S,006001_006050,Aerial shot winter forest
5629184,https://ak.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/5629184/preview/stock-footage-senior-couple-looking-through-binoculars-on-sailboat-together-shot-on-red-epic-for-high-quality-k.mp4,PT00H00M29S,071501_071550,"Senior couple looking through binoculars on sailboat together. shot on red epic for high quality 4k, uhd, ultra hd resolution."

I loaded it into SQLite and started digging around.

It's all from Shutterstock!

The big surprise for me when I started exploring the data was this: every single one of the 10,727,582 videos linked in the Datasette started with the same URL prefix:

https://ak.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/

They're all from Shutterstock. The paper talks about "scraping the web", but it turns out there was only one scraped website involved.

Here's that first row from the CSV file on Shutterstock itself:

https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-21179416-aerial-shot-winter-forest

As far as I can tell, the training set used here isn't even full Shutterstock videos: it's the free, watermarked preview clips that Shutterstock makes available.

I guess Shutterstock have really high quality captions for their videos, perfect for training a model on.

Implementation notes

My simonw/webvid-datasette repository contains the code I used to build the Datasette instance.

I built a SQLite database with full-text search enabled using sqlite-utils. I deployed it directly to Fly by building a Docker image that bundled the 2.5G SQLite database, taking advantage of the Baked Data architectural pattern.

The most interesting custom piece of implementation is the plugin I wrote to add a video player to each result. Here's the implementation of that plugin:

from datasette import hookimpl
from markupsafe import Markup

TEMPLATE = """
<video controls width="400" preload="none" poster="{poster}">
  <source src="{url}" type="video/mp4">
</video>
<p>{filename}<br>On <a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-{id}">Shutterstock</a></p>
""".strip()
VIDEO_URL = "https://ak.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/{id}/preview/{filename}"
POSTER_URL = "https://ak.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/{id}/thumb/1.jpg?ip=x480"


@hookimpl
def render_cell(row, column, value):
    if column != "filename":
        return
    id = row["id"]
    url = VIDEO_URL.format(id=id, filename=value)
    poster = POSTER_URL.format(id=id)
    return Markup(TEMPLATE.format(url=url, poster=poster, filename=value, id=id))

I'm using the new render_cell(row) argument added in Datasette 0.62.

The plugin outputs a <video> element with preload="none" to avoid the browser downloading the video until the user clicks play (see this TIL). I set the poster attribute to a thumbnail image from Shutterstock.

Quoting Linden Li

Running training jobs across multiple nodes scales really well. A common assumption is that scale inevitably means slowdowns: more GPUs means more synchronization overhead, especially with multiple nodes communicating across a network. But we observed that the performance penalty isn’t as harsh as what you might think. Instead, we found near-linear strong scaling: fixing the global batch size and training on more GPUs led to proportional increases in training throughput. On a 1.3B parameter model, 4 nodes means a 3.9x gain over one node. On 16 nodes, it’s 14.4x. This is largely thanks to the super fast interconnects that major cloud providers have built in: @awscloud EC2 P4d instances provide 400 Gbps networking bandwidth, @Azure provides 1600 Gbps, and @OraclePaaS provides 800 Gbps.

Linden Li

Introducing LiteFS

Introducing LiteFS

LiteFS is the new SQLite replication solution from Fly, now ready for beta testing. It's from the same author as Litestream but has a very different architecture; LiteFS works by implementing a custom FUSE filesystem which spies on SQLite transactions being written to the journal file and forwards them on to other nodes in the cluster, providing full read-replication. The signature Litestream feature of streaming a backup to S3 should be coming within the next few months.

Via Hacker News

Fastly [email protected] JS Runtime

Fastly [email protected] JS Runtime

Fastly's JavaScript runtime, designed to run at the edge of their CDN, uses the Mozilla SpiderMonkey JavaScript engine compiled to WebAssembly.

Via phickey on Hacker News

Wasmtime Reaches 1.0: Fast, Safe and Production Ready!

Wasmtime Reaches 1.0: Fast, Safe and Production Ready!

The Bytecode Alliance are making some confident promises in this post about the performance and stability of their Wasmtime WebAssembly runtime. They also highlight some exciting use-cases for WebAssembly on the server, including safe 3rd party plugin execution and User Defined Functions running inside databases.

I Resurrected "Ugly Sonic" with Stable Diffusion Textual Inversion

I Resurrected "Ugly Sonic" with Stable Diffusion Textual Inversion

"I trained an Ugly Sonic object concept on 5 image crops from the movie trailer, with 6,000 steps [...] (on a T4 GPU, this took about 1.5 hours and cost about $0.21 on a GCP Spot instance)"

Via @minimaxir

PEP 554 – Multiple Interpreters in the Stdlib: Shared data

PEP 554 – Multiple Interpreters in the Stdlib: Shared data

Python 3.12 hopes to introduce multiple interpreters as part of the Python standard library, so Python code will be able to launch subinterpreters, each with their own independent GIL. This will allow Python code to execute on multiple CPU cores at the same time while ensuring existing code (and C modules) that rely on the GIL continue to work.

The obvious question here is how data will be shared between those interpreters. This PEP proposes a channels mechanism, where channels can be used to send just basic Python types between interpreters: None, bytes, str, int and channels themselves (I wonder why not floats?)

Via theandrewbailey on Hacker News

How I’m a Productive Programmer With a Memory of a Fruit Fly

How I’m a Productive Programmer With a Memory of a Fruit Fly

Hynek Schlawack describes the value he gets from searchable offline developer documentation, and advocates for the Documentation Sets format which bundles docs, metadata and a SQLite search index. Hynek's doc2dash command can convert documentation generated by tools like Sphinx into a docset that's compatible with several offline documentation browser applications.

Via @hynek

Van Electrics

How do you bring power to a van without making anything melt or electrocuting yourself? Carefully, of course.

Sliding Camper Bed

It's time to build a bed - a sliding bed, to be precise. But why did I make it slide, and why build it out of aluminium?

Camper Van Insulation

The battle against heat and entropy is neverending, but it's time to at least try and stem the tide with some insulation.

Van Roof, Fans, and Solar Panels

It's time to cut holes in the van's roof, to install the solar panels, a fan, and the LTE antenna!

Camper Van Flooring

What's in a floor? Well, it turns out, it's some combination of insulation, subfloor and finish layer. Let's look at the options, and how to install, all three.

Planning A Van

The first step in building a camper van is, well, choosing the van. But how are they different, and which should you pick?

Mini Hovercraft

I challenged myself to build a mini hovercraft in only a few days as part of a new video series!

Aviation Weather Map

Sure, you could look outside for the current weather, but isn't it a lot more fun to build a live-updating map instead?

E-Paper Weather Display

What happens when you combine two-colour e-paper with bad Python? Weather! Well, weather displays.

The RFID Checklist

What do you do when you want to massively over-engineer a solution to forgetting your phone charger?

The 2030 Self-Driving Car Bet

By Jeff Atwood

It's my honor to announce that John Carmack and I have initiated a friendly bet of $10,000* to the 501(c)(3) charity of the winner’s choice:

By January 1st, 2030, completely autonomous self-driving cars meeting SAE J3016 level 5 will be commercially available for

Updating The Single Most Influential Book of the BASIC Era

By Jeff Atwood

In a way, these two books are responsible for my entire professional career.

alt

With early computers, you didn't boot up to a fancy schmancy desktop, or a screen full of apps you could easily poke and prod with your finger. No, those computers booted up to the command

Building a PC, Part IX: Downsizing

By Jeff Atwood

Hard to believe that I've had the same PC case since 2011, and my last serious upgrade was in 2015. I guess that's yet another sign that the PC is over, because PC upgrades have gotten really boring. It took 5 years for me to muster

The Rise of the Electric Scooter

By Jeff Atwood

In an electric car, the (enormous) battery is a major part of the price. If electric car prices are decreasing, battery costs must be decreasing, because it's not like the cost of fabricating rubber, aluminum, glass, and steel into car shapes can decline that much, right?

ev-battery-costs

On an

Electric Geek Transportation Systems

By Jeff Atwood

I've never thought of myself as a "car person". The last new car I bought (and in fact, now that I think about it, the first new car I ever bought) was the quirky 1998 Ford Contour SVT. Since then we bought a VW station wagon

An Exercise Program for the Fat Web

By Jeff Atwood

When I wrote about App-pocalypse Now in 2014, I implied the future still belonged to the web. And it does. But it's also true that the web has changed a lot in the last 10 years, much less the last 20 or 30.

fat city

Websites have gotten a lot

The Cloud Is Just Someone Else's Computer

By Jeff Atwood

When we started Discourse in 2013, our server requirements were high:

I'm not talking about a cheapo shared cpanel server, either, I mean a dedicated virtual private server with those specifications.

We were OK

What does Stack Overflow want to be when it grows up?

By Jeff Atwood

I sometimes get asked by regular people in the actual real world what it is that I do for a living, and here's my 15 second answer:

We built a sort of Wikipedia website for computer programmers to post questions and answers. It's called Stack Overflow

There is no longer any such thing as Computer Security

By Jeff Atwood

Remember "cybersecurity"?

its-cybersecurity-yay

Mysterious hooded computer guys doing mysterious hooded computer guy .. things! Who knows what kind of naughty digital mischief they might be up to?

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where this kind of digital mischief is literally rewriting the world's history. For proof

To Serve Man, with Software

By Jeff Atwood

I didn't choose to be a programmer. Somehow, it seemed, the computers chose me. For a long time, that was fine, that was enough; that was all I needed. But along the way I never felt that being a programmer was this unambiguously great-for-everyone career field with zero

The Existential Terror of Battle Royale

By Jeff Atwood

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post, I guess in general, but also a blog post about video games. Video games are probably the single thing most attributable to my career as a programmer, and everything else I've done professionally after that. I

Hacker, Hack Thyself

By Jeff Atwood

We've read so many sad stories about communities that were fatally compromised or destroyed due to security exploits. We took that lesson to heart when we founded the Discourse project; we endeavor to build open source software that is secure and safe for communities by default, even if

Thunderbolting Your Video Card

By Jeff Atwood

When I wrote about The Golden Age of x86 Gaming, I implied that, in the future, it might be an interesting, albeit expensive, idea to upgrade your video card via an external Thunderbolt 3 enclosure.

alt

I'm here to report that the future is now.

Yes, that's

Password Rules Are Bullshit

By Jeff Atwood

Of the many, many, many bad things about passwords, you know what the worst is? Password rules.

I'm Loyal to Nothing Except the Dream

By Jeff Atwood

There is much I take for granted in my life, and the normal functioning of American government is one of those things. In my 46 years, I've lived under nine different presidents. The first I remember is Carter. I've voted in every presidential election since 1992,

A trip to Brittany, Beaumes de Venise and a special birthday

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 A month ago we set out for the Touraine, visiting old friends from Wirksworth on our way to a family week in a splendid gîte in the north of Brittany. 


Some towns in the Loire are named for historical characters who lived there or even built them - this was Richelieu named for the Cardinal, laid out on an elegant  grid pattern, where we ate a pleasant lunch on the terrace by the town square.  Then on to Brittany for a family week.



Our three sons, Sam, Jeff and Ed, came with some of their families - Fi, Sas, Ben and Heather but sadly not Isla, Karen or Joseph.  The special occasion was Mary's 80th birthday (in September, but everyone needed to be back for work and school).  The lads had booked a marvellous gîte near the village of Plurien close to the Brittany coast, where we were all comfortably accommodated and had a marvellous time, sharing cooking (all three of them are good cooks) and making various excursions along the coast, eating meals out and doing as much or as little as we felt like doing, separately or together. 



We were also delighted that our old friend Judi from Kentucky and her godson Alex could join us for a couple of days - Alex has a house not far away to the east in Normandy with his husband Jonathan (who sadly could not make it this time)

Mary's birthday bottle one of
many consumed over the week, but
this one among our favourites from
long-term wine friends the Jacobs
in the Côte d'Or

The second part of M's birthday celebration was earlier this month, over her actual birthday.  We hired a tiny studio among the vines near Beaumes de Venise.  More about this in the wine blog soon, but the 4 days we spent together was very tranquil despite activity nearby as grape picking commenced.  The countryside is rocky and convoluted, steep hills and small roads winding among the vines with glimpses of the Mont Ventoux popping up from time to time.  We were blessed with beautiful weather on both trips, and that has continued with one sudden storm (67 mm of rain in Lunel in a few hours) for the rest of the month.






Couch potatoes - our sporting lives!

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 I don't think anyone would describe me as sporty.  For most of my life I've enjoyed cycling - rides in the Buckinghamshire countryside with my dad, then quite a lot of road riding from secondary school in Essex, sometimes including 60-mile trips home at the end of boarding terms.  Lunel, if anywhere is nearly ideal as a cycling centre, mostly flat and with some cycle paths although the town cycle lanes are wont to give out suddenly pushing you into narrow roads shared with cars.  But sadly my legs were no longer as reliable as they had been and I'd sold my bike by the time two new cycle tracks to neighbouring towns were opened a couple of years ago.  I always felt fine riding, just uneasy at manoeuvring at slow speeds, a question of confidence really.  At any rate I still have my static bike which I use daily except in the very hot weather.  Mary also abandoned her bike in town, again mainly a question of confidence.

However, one of the real pleasures we've had is watching cycling on tv.  France is as well known for the Tour de France as for any sporting event, so 3 summer weeks at least find us watching the Tour on tv.  Watching 'live' is a mug's game - hours of waiting then everyone whizzes by in seconds,  (as they have at the end of our road twice in our 15 years here, and we also once watched the start of  a Tour de France in Dublin, over the heads of a large crowd.  But the tv coverage is usually very good, well-informed commentators and a wealth of nerdish technical information about teams and riders.  

Sometimes we are lucky enough to catch the Giro d'Italia and/or the Vuelta di España on tv too - favourite riders crop up in more than one grand tour, and now the women's racing is better covered too. Track cycling is a draw for us too.  Some cynics say top cyclists are only good because they are doped in some way, and there has certainly been enough of that over the years, but until the next scandal erupts we'll continue to enjoy  young Slovenian talent and the occasional British star alongside Italian and South American riders, though sadly the best French me never quite reach the top level.  the Grand Tours are all filmed in stunning scenery (as long as the motorbikes don't add the the dangers to very unprotected riders).


Beyond cycling, Mary and I both enjoy watching soccer, rugby (league and union) and cricket.  I've always loved cricket despite my inability to hit a ball or to bowl or field, and recently the excitement of Test cricket in particular has really grabbed me.  This week the sudden ebbs and flows of the Stokes England men's team, after thrilling victories over India and New Zealand, have been really absorbing, and the latest crushing victory over South Africa (after a dismal flop!) have stirred the blood even without the advantage of any tv (we were away with the family...) These days short forms of cricket are dangled there to try and attract a younger audience, but we really appreciate the skills and subtleties of the longer forms of the game.  It's true that bowling is no less skilful but there is no room to build up pressure through a number of overs, and batting is almost always a question of hitting as hard as possible.  But even these short forms have led to creative strokeplay and bigger totals with exciting run chases.  I'm rarely gung-ho patriotic, but Joe Root, Jimmy  Anderson and Stuart Broad really quicken the pulses!

Mary, who was more active as a teenage sports is probably slightly ahead of me in enjoying rugby league, which chimes with her Lancashire roots I think.  Again, following these sports over a number of years gives us insight into the more subtle facets of both codes.  In soccer, I'm a committed Liverpool supporter and we watch highlights programmes regularly, trying to take an interest in our family's various teams!  Women's sport is better covered and better rewarded now and often less macho, more skilful, so there is always some interest in results and stories.

As for football, we each have 'our' teams (mine, Liverpool, M,  Arsenal though she is less enthused now Arsène Wenger has moved on and keep up with scores and highlights, but we cannot match our son Sam and grandson Ben for knee-deep involvement, and of course both are actively involved locally at home as coach and player.  But overall, it's fair to say sport does take up a fair amount of  our viewing time.  Oh, and I should mention that I swam backstroke for my school as an early teenager, but I was not very good and in the end one of the girls took my place in boys' races and won.  Ah well...


Into July

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Last week we were in the Val du Séran, near the little village of Ruffieu in the Valromey area of the Ain département.  It is the home of Stéphane and Chantal Fauth, a huge old farm building which he converted over many years into a music centre and comfortable chambres d'hôte, and we have been there most years since we moved to France in 2006.  Stéphane is a talented musician (he plays violin and viola, double bass and guitar) who as taught music for most of his life, and our primary reason for being there is that Mary as cellist joins a small group of other amateur musicians (the combination varies, but apart from other  strings there are sometimes wind instruments or, as this time, a pianist, or friend Valerie who live ins Paris and whom we met there).  On several occasions the repertoire has included a piece specially arranged by Stéphane for that year's group of instruments plus tenor voice, but now my solo singing days are more or less over I go as dog minder and co-driver, and to enjoy Chantal's beautiful food as well as the wines Stéphane finds from around France and around the world, an enthusiasm he and I share.  But he has a much better palate than I do, and a keen eye for a bargain.

One of the attractions of the Valromey area is the Conté cheese that is made from the milk of cows nearby, including the fields right next to the Val du Séran.  This used to go to a creamery (the French term is fruitière for cheese producers) in the little village of Brénod to the north, but now a local producers' co-op has formed with a brand new fruitière in the foothills of the Grand Colombier, a spectacular mountain or massif above the Rhône valley south of our lodging.  It's only been open a couple of years, but this Valromey factory and shop is beautifully organised and gave me a pleasant morning out buying cheese for the busy musicians which they rehearsed.

I've written about driving in France more than once.  In the new surroundings - familiar but not frequent - of the Ain it takes extra attention, with many narrow roads and sharp bends in the hills.  And then there are motorways, autoroutes which we use often, worth the tolls you have to pay.  We have an electronic pass which bleeps you through and bills you later!  But in summer the autoroutes become very full, and crazy driving makes them even more risky than usual.  We did however prove that driving a bit slower saves a lot of fuel, important in these difficult times.

 Going into and out of the mountains the A42 and A40 from Lyon were fine, but going home, once we reached the A7 going south towards Marseille the queues were endless, and we soon chose the much pleasanter and nearly deserted route nationale, the N86.  Anyone who has driven in France will know of the bis routes marked in yellow, and ours of course was marked Montpellier bis; a green and shady road mostly beside the Rhône, which even had tempting wine diversions (e.g. Crozes Hermitage) which we ignored because we wanted to get home and Mary had a concert that evening! So we and the dogs (always well-behaved and readily welcomed by Stéphane and Chantal) were safely home before 5, and had a quiet weekend sorting our luggage.  Now we are in a calm interlude with a few visitors and trips to come over the summer, and our French conversation groups continue on Tuesday mornings.





Music in the Ain

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 This week I am the bagman to Mary's musician as she joins the group assembled at the Val du Séran - violin, viola, cello (her) and piano (our friend Valerie) under the eagle ear and eye of Stéphane who has just celebrated his 80th birthday.  It is a place we know well (this photo, with much of the same cast, is from 8 years ago) and this year promises to be as enjoyable as ever, though just as hard work for the musicians.  In the past I've sometimes joined them as a singer, but this year my task is simply to look after the dogs and enjoy the company.  And the marvellous food Chantal unfailingly serves.  More photos from there later.

This entry will be strewn with quotations from Alan Bennett - in his memoirs Writing home  - whom I admire.   He hails from the north, and hit a familiar note talking about a local library, which is of course territory I know a bit.  In those days Armley Junior Library at the bottom of Wesley Road in Leeds bound all its volumes in heavy maroon or black, so that The Adventures of Milly Molly Mandy was every bit as forbidding as The Anatomy of Melancholy. Another short extract sketches in his position in the spectrum of playwrights of which he is an eminent example: An article on playwrights in the Daily Mail, listed according to Hard Left, Soft Left, Hard Right, Soft Right and Centre. I am not listed. I should probably come under Soft Centre. He appeals to me!

At the Val du Séran



Despite the real fortune and pleasure we feel in our own lives, I am (like many of you I guess) more and more moved and overwhelmed by the unpleasantness of so much in the world around - this poem to be read in both senses is by Brian Bilston who has published a lot recently, and this is about the plight of refugees which is daily on our minds.  War and the blind cruelty of politicians in so many areas blight the lives of people who are by definition helpless.  

Refugees

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

We have been so excited by the doings of the England cricket team, and knowing New Zealand are no longer the tinpot team they used to be only heightens the enjoyment of such stunning victories.  I'm (as a Yorkshireman by the strict definition, though playing cricket for Yorkshire would be like the other side of the moon for me) all the same I have a pride in their doing well and some additional pleasure that racism seems to be being pushed back in that county club.  But now Wimbledon is on us, and we'll certainly watch some alongside the Tour de France once we get back from the Val du Séran.  Here is Bennett on a bad lad from another era of tennis:  McEnroe behaves badly at Wimbledon and in one particularly ludicrous moment shouts at a linesman, ‘You’re a disgrace to the human race.’ Some group captain on the high chair then docks him a point and an argument ensues as to whether McEnroe was, as he insists, talking to himself and, if he was, whether it was in order to talk to oneself on court (or even breathe).  Of course, now that Wimbledon is all about money, behaving badly is exactly what is required, certainly of McEnroe, and all the claptrap about decency and fair play is just the English at their usual game of trying to have it both ways. Wimbledon is now a spectacle, just as a wrestling match, say, is a spectacle, and a spectacle needs a Hero and a Villain. It’s a contest between Right and Wrong, not because McEnroe is particularly badly behaved but because the Wimbledon authorities have sold out to television and this kind of drama is just what viewers enjoy. So McEnroe doesn’t really have a choice, only a role.  Many of McEnroe’s critics point out how Connors has ‘reformed’: how three or four years ago he was the rogue, disputing calls, not attending the line-up, and how much better behaved he is now. This misses the point. Connors has to be better behaved, not because his character has changed or his tennis manners have improved but because he has no part in the spectacle. Or if he had (if he had beaten Borg in the semi-final for instance) he would have had to be cast in the Hero’s role.  I like Alan Bennett because he comes at things from different angles.

From our hotel in Beaujolais on the way to the Ain

Although Bennett is a fairly authentic adoptive Londoner and his orbit - Camden Town and the lower reaches of Hampstead - are familiar places for us, and apart from his Yorkshire roots which also define him, he has become a seasoned traveller to America and Europe Here is a bit about a visit to France, which also touches on other places we know quite well: Six days in France, much of it in drenching rain, driving round Provence. Most towns and villages now meticulously restored – Lacoste, Les Baux, Aries, Uzés, the cobbles relaid, the stone cleaned and patched, everywhere scrubbed and made ready – for what? Well, for art mainly. For little shops selling cheap jewellery or baskets, for galleries with Provençal pottery and fabrics, bowls and beads and ‘throws’. Better, having done the clean-up, to put a machine-shop in one of these caves, a butcher’s where a butcher’s was, a dry-cleaner’s even. But no, it’s always art, dolls, kitchenware, tea-towels. And people throng (myself included), Les Baux like Blackpool. Arles is better because a working place still, and with a good museum of monumental masonry – early Christian altarpieces, Roman gravestones – and beneath it a labyrinth of arcaded passages that ran under the old Roman forum. The Musée Arlaten, on the other hand, is rather creepy, the walls crowded with primitive paintings of grim females – Arlésiennes presumably – and roomfuls of nineteenth-century folkish artefacts, collected under the aegis of the trilby-hatted poet Frédéric Mistral, whose heavily moustached image is everywhere. Many of the rooms contain costumed dummies which are only fractionally less lively than the identically costumed attendants, some of them startlingly like Anthony Perkins’s mother in Psycho.  Then to an antique fair in the middle of some zone industrielle, every stall stocked with the appurtenances of French bourgeois life: great bullying wardrobes, huge ponderous mirrors and cabinets of flowery china. For the first time in my life I find myself longing for a breath of stripped pine.

Alan Bennett quite often refers to music, if only because he encounters it as a screenwriter, and his anecdotes are often fun. For instance : Maurice Miles, whom I as a boy in Leeds used to see conducting the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. Miles was a balletic conductor who very much fancied himself on the rostrum, fond of shooting his cuffs and fetching the brass in with a flourish. Denys was chatting with him one night after a concert when Miles broke off to have a word with the leading horn-player, a dour Yorkshireman.  ‘What went wrong tonight, George? Something, I wasn’t quite sure.’  ‘Well, let’s put it like this, Mr Miles, it’s very hard to come in on the fourth rattle of the cufflinks.’

And to finish with a pen picture of the north country [In Yorkshire for a family funeral]  Wake at 5.30 a.m. and hear a cock crow. A cock, unaware that it has turned into a cliché, unselfconsciously goes on maintaining a rustic tradition, fulfilling its role in the environment. The corn mill is restored, the drystone-waller demonstrates his craft, the thatchers bind their reeds and the cocks crow. Country craft.  The hearse and the attendant cars are grey and low-slung, so that it looks more like the funeral of a Mafia boss than of an ex-tram-driver. As we come out of the chapel cousin Geoff, who always takes the piss, shouts at my Uncle Jim, the last surviving brother, and who’s deaf, ‘Head of the clan now, Uncle’. ‘Aye,’ Uncle Jim shouts back. ‘There’s nobbut me now.’

I take the train back. Through county after county the fields are alight. It’s like taking a train through the Thirty Years War.



June around the corner

By [email protected] (Jon North)

A stray alium outside our 
living room window, and a
redstart on the sculpture
         
        


Our French friends are often keen to remind us that la République française is a secular state, but underneath there are often contradictions.  I started to  write this on Ascension day which is a public holiday here (I once famously muddled it with Pentecôte, coming up soon too) and while I with my Quaker upbringing may not have been attuned to such things, I am often reminded how deep-rooted Catholic culture is embedded in French daily life, not just the major festivals but the saints' days that are printed in most calendars here.  

One anecdote we come back to quite often is the story of the new library in Lunel, opened with a fanfare nearby some years ago.  It trumpeted that it would be open on the first Sunday of each month so we duly turned up on the first Sunday of April that year - to find it firmly shut.  But of course, they explained afterwards, it was Easter Sunday.  Easter is not even a public holiday in France, and schools are often open over the Easter period!











The late spring sunshine and colours in the garden are a relief for us as for everyone I guess in these grim times, when the awful reality of war further east only distracts from the unpleasant dishonesty taken now as normal by a lot of British politicians.  I continue to read a lot of history, and am constantly reminded of the vivid images in Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands which tells the terrible story of Ukraine, Poland and their neighbours in the tug-of-war between Stalin and Hitler.  Putin is truly Stalin's heir in callous brutality.  Poppies seem appropriate on their splendid annual appearance in fields here, symbolic also of wars through the ages.

In times like these, I'm so glad to have a variety of things to read.  My work with the Anglophone Library in Montpellier is providing me with a long reading list, but just now I am harking back to things I've already enjoyed and love to reread - just now Writing Home, the diary/memoirs of Alan Bennett, whose wry observations and light touch never obscure a clear humanitarian eye.

Here are a few snippets from the book:  [In Yorkshire for a family funeral] Wake at 5.30 a.m. and hear a cock crow. A cock, unaware that it has turned into a cliché, unselfconsciously goes on maintaining a rustic tradition, fulfilling its role in the environment. The corn mill is restored, the drystone-waller demonstrates his craft, the thatchers bind their reeds and the cocks crow. Country craft.

The hearse and the attendant cars are grey and low-slung, so that it looks more like the funeral of a Mafia boss than of an ex-tram-driver. As we come out of the chapel cousin Geoff, who always takes the piss, shouts at my Uncle Jim, the last surviving brother, and who’s deaf, ‘Head of the clan now, Uncle’. ‘Aye,’ Uncle Jim shouts back. ‘There’s nobbut me now.’

I take the train back. Through county after county the fields are alight. It’s like taking a train through the Thirty Years War.

Bennett was (and maybe still is) a regular contributor to the London Review of Books which we both read regularly (I online, Mary on paper).  We are also reading An uncommon reader, his fantasy account of the Queen's discovery of books and reading via a mobile library parked in a Palace yard, in French translations with our conversation group.  It is  superbly funny and full of wry observations of corgis and courtiers.  There is also a sneaking interest in France in the royal family, relevant at this jubilant time.  I'm finishing this post as the Jubilee day approaches.

Mayday

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 

The warm weather is here, and the taller irises have been celebrating the promise of summer.  We are struggling out from the remnants of Covid, though our choir is still in abeyance because our friend and conductor Kamala has been unwell, and various meetings are tentatively starting again.  Our Tuesday language groups (and a second Friday French session) have kept going, and with fewer restrictions and the possibility of meeting outside, numbers have been rising into the teens.  May began with a public holiday, the Fête du Travail, which is the only day of the year when supermarkets close (rather like Christmas Day used to be in the UK) which caught us out when we tried to catch up with shopping after a short trip away last week.  And the dry, sunny weather has continued, even when storms were forecast and we heard rumbles of thunder all around yesterday.


The tortoise has emerged from its hibernation, and the dogs are well - happy to be able to accompany us to our hotel near Arles.  We enjoyed visiting the city and also walking in the Camargue nature reserve to the south (dogs allowed on leads).  The Frank Gehry tower and associated pink sculpture were part of our walk round the town, remembering past brief trips over 20 years, but our favourite moments were by the river, which provides a broad backdrop to the ancient buildings.  Our hotel was just right, with a terrace opening onto the garden (where you see the dogs relaxing!), and the food and wine were superb.  We also made a detour in Bellegarde on the way home to rediscover the uncommon wine Clairette de Bellegarde - the clairette grape is more usually associated with the  sweet fizz from Die with which we were long familiar through twinning.


Our surroundings help us to keep a thread of optimism in these terrible times of war in Ukraine and public disgrace in the UK - how did public life become so careless of truth and principle?  We have been relieved that Macron saw off the far right challenge in the French elections, but the future is far from straightforward here.  The Russian assault on its neighbour is all too reminiscent of previous, intentional catastrophes in that region, and the chaotic politics elsewhere would often make one despair if it were not possible to look upward and outward to see the calm and beauty all around.   We just hope for a brighter summer and rejoice in our own good health, thinking of so many we know who suffer.






Nearly summertime

By [email protected] (Jon North)


 As it gets warmer and lighter (clocks forward in a week) the dogs get vocal in the lighter mornings, so we'll be glad of a little relief as the change momentarily fools them!  This blog is far less frequent than it used to be, and until now my excuse was that I have been completing the FOAL (Friends of the Anglophone Library, in Montpellier) catalogue which had had an unfortunate lapse over a couple of years.  Now happily updated, and my librarianly muscles have been flexed to good effect.

Still remembering Michel on this final busy weekend of rugby in the 6 nations, we recall the first France-England match after our move here, when a mutual friend put a Union Jack in his garden and a tricolor in ours.  We shall watch the latest 'crunch' tonight thinking of him.  My photo collage skills were tested then.


Our life here revolves a lot around our now twice-weekly language sessions, the latest on Friday.  We have a Tuesday get-together with shared lunch in various people's houses or (as next week) in the Centre Quaker in Congénies.  This is the only purpose-built meeting house in France, and is home to a very small but committed group of Friends (of which I am no longer a part).  It was important for us in our early years here, and is still a welcome and welcoming venue for our French conversation groups.


It is also symbolic of the ghosts we find increasingly in our French life and landscape - among them for example Brian Painter and Dennis Tomlin, both sadly no alive but whom we think of as we visit or pass the places where we met.  Marcel Bombart was among important influences as the instigator of our conversation group, but others no longer in France but thankfully still alive are David and Wendy, Andy and Irene, Nigel and Elizabeth, Hélène and her dad Pierrot, and on and on.  The importance in the end of all these friends is the memories we hold of them, enriching our lives.

With apologies to supporters of other teams, I can't help sharing my excitement that Liverpool is edging toward the top of the Premiership.  Mary is a bit less fortunate in her choice of Arsenal to support, but I think she'd say it is not the same since Arsène Wenger retired!

Celebrating the long-overdue release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe I am also reflecting on other lighter and pleasanter things recently, among them the broadcasts from Crufts, highlights (fronted by the impeccable Clare Balding) of which we watch every year - this year's winner, a beautiful chocolate-coloured flat-coated retriever, pleased me very much.

In the wider world, the horror of war in Ukraine rubs in the mindless cruelty of the current Russian leadership reflecting the bleak Stalinist period of the 30s and 40s, but I do choose to read history like Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands because it is too easy to pull wool over one's own eyes, let alone letting others fake news.  I recently finished Anthony Beevor's The battle for Spain which drew me through several threads of interest - a nearby country we can easily visit, the history of cycling and the Vuelta race we often follow, and so on.  But Stalin and Hitler crop up again, both practising their war techniques (Guernica as famously depicted by Picasso and so on), and the implacable iron fist of Stalinism which was perhaps the final straw in the failure and fragmentation of the anti-Franco forces which enabled the generalissimo to triumph.  All this leaves room for lighter or at least funnier diversions (reading and on tv) including Adam Kay's This is going to hurt.

Meanwhile we have an election in which we cannot vote next month, lots of beautiful sunshine (punctuated last month by nearly 100 mm of rain after over 2 dry months, plants saying thank you) so I leave you with three photos, one of grateful plants and another reflecting the current zeitgeist.









The march of time

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Spring in Lunel is always a time of hope - new growth, bright skies and longer days - but this year it has brought sadness too as our friend and neighbour Michel Cazanave died suddenly last week of heart failure.

Michel was the first person to greet us in the road as we arrived at the end of 2006.  He lent us the stepladder we still have and use, to fix the house lights that were almost completely lacking when we arrived.  This photo was  taken at his surprise 70th birthday party a year or so after, a crowd of friends and ex-pupils gathering in a nearby manade on a warm summer evening.  His enthusiasm for sports, notably cycling and rugby both of which he led and coached over the years, was infectious, and there were many times when he would rush across the road to share views on the latest 6-nations match - he was a patriotic supporter of Les Bleus but generous in acknowledging the talent of 'our' (British) rugby players.


The stepladder was also symptomatic of his practical side - this picture of him directing the concreting of his new driveway a few years ago is typical, and even if others were doing much of the work he was always around to comment, to observe, to ensure things were going as he and Monique wished.  But it was his friendship that always shone through, friendship to neighbours, and the wide circle of people he knew in the life of the town over the years, and particularly friendship for young people.  He was inquisitive and curious in the nicest possible way, and a frequent participant in neighbourhood meals and get-togethers.  His disappearance is all the more shocking because he was so active and present.


It is hard to imagine the life of our little road without him, and our affectionate thoughts are with his family.  He will live on in our hearts and memories.  For people like us, making a new life in a country far from our own family friends like him (I am glad to say there are others still around us who help make our life here better) are all the more important.  And, without being trite, life goes on - that same week our neighbour Robert, himself widowed some years back and one of Michel's oldest friends  - they moved into the new road at the same time as it grew out of the old vineyard -  rushed by to share the news that he has just become a great-grandad; recently we were at the christening party of the little grandchild of another neighbour Christine we've known since we arrived. 

A few more photos to finish.  RIP Michel.








43 and counting

By [email protected] (Jon North)

The text in this post is fairly prosaic, the photos tell the real story of our happy UK trip.  This in Wirksworth where we stayed with Sam & Sas and the children

I started this post over 3 months ago, on our 43rd wedding anniversary.  Mary was busy making the Christmas cake downstairs, and (as often) we were looking forward to some nice wines before and with lunch.  It is also 15 years since we left our home in England and set out for France (finally settling in Lunel by mid-December).  Mary had bought the house some months before, and we're still enjoying the space and quiet of  the little cul-de-sac we moved to, with at least two neighbours who have become friends still around us.

So things have remained, but a lot has changed, not least the awful Brexit which stains our lives.  But we feel comfortable and lucky to be where we are, if sadly we've been too distant from family and friends in the UK partly due to the pandemic.  But we had a great trip to England over Christmas and new year - more on this below.

Around Jeff & Fi's in Staffs

Our musical activities (cello groups and lessons for M, choir for me) are beginning slowly after enforced lay-offs, and I am also increasing my involvement in the Anglophone Library (known as FOAL - 'Friends of...' ) in Montpellier, a smallish collection of books in English with its own pleasant rooms kindly provided by the city.  I am just getting to grips with priorities (according to my rusty librarian training) in reorganising and better cataloguing, working with an enthusiastic committee.  It has beavered away for over 10 years to reach the stage we're at today despite the hiccups which sometimes blight voluntary committees (the departure of a longstanding member has left lots of holes and problems to sort out).  We are just reaching the final stages of revising the catalogue, putting in new book orders and feeling very optimistic as the new year gets going.  I'm really enjoying getting back into library work.

Our trip to the UK was surrounded by health checks and red tape, and in the tight controls before Christmas we only just made it across the Channel before a deadline.  The restrictions applied to both directions, and the return journey turned out to be even more complicated than going over.  Those like us who have a good reason to come into the country when most foreign travellers are prohibited could then only do so by doing several things. First, we had to have a negative lateral flow test within 24 hours before our journey into France. We already had a contact with a pharmacy which does tests near our friends’ house in Surrey, so we booked ahead, then set out for the coast as soon as the results were known.

Christmas in Wirksworth

Second, as well as that test and your passe sanitaire (proof of vaccination, now renamed such by the French govt), in advance the French govt requires two documents - an official form obtained through the official website, and issued by the préfecture of the region you are travelling to (in our case for the Chunnel it was I think Hauts de France) which you complete online and comes back with a QR code you need to keep handy (we did not realise this and went round some bureaucratic houses at the terminal before it was all set straight). Then there is an attestation sur l’honneur saying you have a good reason to come (for us, supported by the cartes de séjour we both have had for a few years now).

In the Wedgwood pottery museum near Stoke

Most of this was scarcely glanced at by the various officials we saw. If we had been able to upload our documents to the Chunnel website beforehand it would have been even easier, but the upload system was not working properly, at least for us. But everyone was very helpful, and we were very lucky to be going through at an extremely quiet time. As for smuggling things, Mary commented we could have taken a boot load of contraband through - they were only interested in firearms (on the way over it had been people-smuggling which most interested the British immigration people).
A beautiful day out at Shugborough, Staffs

By the way, we have long been fans of the Eurotunnel Flexiplus service. It seems expensive, but no more than an overnight in a hotel and in these Covid times, going through a sparsely populated terminal instead of milling with others and getting on the first train that suits you, no matter when you’d booked, seems even more secure, and free, nice food and drink en route is a bonus that fuelled our journey south!  And so a long but smooth drive home, no hotel stops on the way, and we were back to a very quiet January, full of sunshine, with Covid scares that thankfully turned out to be no more - the French infection rate has been sky-high recently.  The dogs were very pleased to see us and seem no worse for the several weeks in our excellent local kennels.

finishing as we began at Jeff & Fi's rural retreat in Staffs

More on family and friends in a future post I think, but after a long delay this is just to wish you a happy new year.  I shall try to resume a more regular blogging habit...

 

Back to the Bordelais

By Jon North ([email protected])

 

Cadillac
 

We'd been planning our late November mini break westwards for several weeks.  So at the end of the month we settled into our comfy hotel in Cadillac, after the first of 3 wine visits we'd planned. This was our first to the Entre Deux Mers area north of Langon.  I'd chosen from the Guide Hachette an old fashioned unpretentious château deep in the countryside near the tiny commune of Mourens, vines all around. Magnificent autumnal colours, staked vines across the rolling hillsides all around, a friendly welcome despite our lack of advance notice from the mum who showed us round and provided the wines for tasting, and her two winemaker sons who popped in and out to help it all along. And what wines! All at under 7€ a bottle, a sumptuous white Entre Deux Mers ‘haut Benauge’ and a very well-made red 2014 Bordeaux Supérieur. 

  
The following day, Wednesday was one of two contrasting but geographically closely linked visits to winemakers we’d met on previous occasions in the Bordelais. The morning we were in Ste Croix du Mont to meet Geneviève Ricard-Durand, who runs her old family vineyards, Vignobles Ricard,  with her husband. The Château de Vertheuil is one of 3 domaines they run, and though there are whites (dry and sweet), here it is the reds which are of special interest - the merlot-dominated Vertheuil was most appealing but we plan to contrast all 3 domaines in a future tasting. She also has a dark pink clairet we bought to try later : I really like this style of wine in the Bordelais, which we’ve found also from Spain’s Ribera del Duero region (as Clarete).  Although we had no time to visit them this time we had good memories of the incredible oyster shell cliffs in the village.

But in the afternoon it was the liquoreux (botrytised) whites at Clos Jean in nearby Loupiac which were stunningly presented by the proprietor (M Bord I think - the enterprices is certainly Vignobles Bord) a charming man whom we’d previously met in the Maison des Vins in Cadillac. The final tasting he offered us, not on sale, was a fabulous 60-year-old and amber coloured Loupiac which lingered long on the palate after our visit. We headed home with heads full of good memories and a car quite well stacked too!
 
  
 Several things struck us - first, the prices which were almost all modest (apart from the older sweet Loupiacs which rightly carry a higher price), far from the inflated ones Bordeaux often evokes.  Then, the lack of pretension and  the warmth of the welcome we had in all three domaines, all of which were family concerns.  And then the beautiful autumn colours all around, which I hope these photos convey.  After two wonderful days the rain set in as we drove back with a care well-stocked with the spoils of our trip.  We and many of the family have sampled these wines over the Christmas week.
 



Christmas with family

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 It is wet in Derbyshire.  Happily the warmth of our family more than makes up for the rain and gloom.  Our first trip outside France for two years has been a success so far.  In this Covid chaos that is far from certain.  Elvire and Edmond the dogs are well cared for during our absence in the kennels we know and love nearby - the owners are professional breeders of hunting dogs  and know how to treat animals.

This blog is again in the format people are used to, although the content would be the same if I sent it in an email.  This way though the photos can be put alongside the text.  There is a little repetition of the email I sent before Christmas but this is a different slant just as the year finishes,

Before we set out from France there were formal things to go through.  We were well ahead with out 3 vaccine shots, but the forms and timing of following the regulations needed careful attention.  One thing I realised early, since France and England have different requirements, is that you should always follow official advice for the country you are travelling to.  Lots of Anglophone people in our area get dodgy information from their French pharmacist about the rules for travelling to England.  Then, several things cannot be done until 48 hours, sometimes 24 hours, before the moment you get on the train or board the ferry.  But having taken our virus tests, booked the one we needed just after arrival in England, and filled in the tracker form the UK Govt needs, we set out to drive to Calais and the tunnel.

Misty Wirksworth  

 

 

 

 

The Tunnel terminal was nearly deserted, and the people at the border checks were not really worried about the pile of  Covid and immigration documents we had slaved so hard over.  So after a trouble-free journey and some carol singing in Walton we drove north to a fortnight shared between sons Jeff and Sam and their lovely families.


 




As we approach the end of 2021, among all the festivities several of our plans this week have been disrupted by Covid, and although we ourselves are still well an unexpectedly closed restaurant kitchen and a cancelled evening with friends in Wirksworth have reminded us (if we needed it) that learning to live with the virus is  still tricky.  After new year, when we'll move back to Jeff's, we have to complete the formalities for our trip home, and although French regulations are different in detail, we need to be sure we have all the checks and paperwork in place. But before all that we shall need to look behind us as we go to the panto  Beauty and the Beast  at the New Vic, Stoke, Fi's place of work.  We are very proud of her as always.

And there are serious things afoot in the wider world. We have mourned the death of some of our own friends in the past year, and I have been moved this week by that of Desmond Tutu, whose life and striving for peace and reconciliation led him to confront injustice again and again.  I've chosen pictures and one of many, many articles I've seen to honour his memory.  A great and unique man. I've also found a tragic story of a refugee family to mark one of the great injustices of our time, the death of people in inadequate boats at sea as they try to reach a safer place - a preventable horror. 

There are so many difficulties around us, and yet we - Mary and I and our lovely family - have mercifully survived to enjoy a great festive time together.  This is to wish you all a peaceful and positive new year 2022 from us all.  No snow here yet - we just hope it keeps away from the roads we shall be driving back on next week.




A quiet October

By [email protected] (Jon North)


After the short stormy interlude, autumn is drifting in with sunshine across the garden, late flowers (these are pomegranate or grenadier) and ripening fruits (these from our always productive kaki or persimmon - the tree is known as a plaqumenier).  Although things are becoming more active in our lives - choir reorganisation and Anglophone library stockchecking on the horizon for me, and lots of cello practice for Mary - it is a tranquil time, so I have mainly photos to share this time on the blog.


Canalside walks are regular pleasures in the sunshine, reflections from the water, and various exotic plants along the streets.


And when activities are over, there are always messages to catch up with, and things to watch and listen to on tv and podcasts.  Elvire and Edmond in attendance!





It never rains but it pours

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Tuesday's very local storm - we were driving towards Calvisson at the time!!

I started this post last Tuesday morning, a couple of hours after one of the most spectacular storms I can remember.   We had set out for our Tuesday conversation group in Congénies, about 20 km away, and it had just started to rain, but thunder and forked lightning were soon overhead.  By the time we'd travelled over halfway the heavens opened even more and we were forced to stop, with rain lashed by high winds and bits of ice banging the car.  After about a quarter of an hour we decided to turn back and barely made it past bad flooding in several dips in the road, including back in the centre of Lunel, but as we arrived home the rain had all but stopped.  The power was off but thankfully just via the house trip switch and now everything is back on and calm reigns.  Others who had hoped to join us for the morning set apologies, luckily having cancelled their plans sooner.

It was the beginning of a few days of wet weather - 95 mm of rain all told - but above all (seeing the reports of hundreds stranded in their cars and washed sideways by the floods very close to our point of turning round) we feel very lucky to have escaped any bad consequences.  Now the sun is shining again.  We are also lucky to live surrounded by large gardens so that water mostly drains away quickly.  This area is notorious for severe floods from the rivers that flow down from the Cevennes, but the rain that falls actually on us causes problems for a few hours then sinks away.  No thanks to drains in the past - generally they have not been a high priority in towns around here because rain is relatively rare - but more recently they have started to install adequate drains.

We were glad to be back safely because Mary had her latest eye operation that afternoon.  After 2 successful cataract ops, this one was to lift her eyelids which had begun to hood her vision a little.  She thought this might count as cosmetic, but he surgeon assured her that is was medical need and so can be covered by the usual health service provisions.  The procedure was successful and, once the bruising fades, will be a real improvement.  Once again we are grateful and impressed at the quality of health care here.

We had just returned from a wonderful birthday trip to Burgundy.  Of course this was partly about wine, and probably will feature in the wine blog in due course.  We stayed a few nights in a really nice hotel in Vougeot, visited Beaune, saw winemakers we know well and had an impromptu drive across a very rural part of the countryside away from the vines after a friend we'd hoped to see was in hospital for a heart emergency (she's thankfully recovered now).  She lives near Châteauneuf, NW of Beaune, pictured here.  Altogether an enjoyable trip. 





La rentrée chez North

By [email protected] (Jon North)


September, and the internet in France is as ever full of ads for school goods - French students are obliged to stock up on a whole list of supplies, and stationery businesses and supermarkets alike want you to believe that theirs are the best pencils, calculators, school bags or whatever at reasonable prices.  For us older folk, it is a time when all sorts of activities restart - in the next three weeks my choir, Mary's chamber music and cello lessons and our SEVE network (which includes our Tuesday language groups) all restart and the Anglophone Library in Montpellier reopens.  And we need to check our diaries more often to avoid missing appointments in a still uncrowded week.

An old library layout now being changed
The latter is now under new management after the kind of enforced committee reshuffle I was familiar with in England - old hands and practices became creaky and cracks showed in organisation.  Inevitably (as a retired librarian among other things) I have been drafted in to help, but it is a pleasure - I have already staffed the library on a few of its twice weekly openings - and there is a big job to do in reviving and broadening the book selection process.  These days I do most of my reading on the Kindle, but I still have an affection for physical books.

This blog has often been about health.  As I write Mary is at the ophthalmologists for a checkup following two apparently successful cataract operations.  When cleared she has promised herself new glasses, though her consultant says the prescription has not changed much.  I meanwhile am on a plateau of manageable pain with my new doctor (a 4th in a year following our surviving Dr Cayla's retirement) trying to persuade me that too much painkiller is poisonous.  I don't really need convincing, and it's quite interesting to find out how little gradual reductions in doses changes things.

Twin dogs Edmond and Elvire have just celebrated their 12th birthdays.  They are in good spirits and health, now that we have sorted out Elvire's bladder problem - I need to take her for a quick pee in the middle of the night, which is really no problem since I wake often anyway and get back to sleep easily enough after the brief foray.  I'm gradually returning to normal after I recovered from my broken arm at the beginning of the year.


We had a nice moment today. I was anxious over the past week because our 🍷 cooling system had broken down and over 200 bottles were (still are) at risk in this hot weather. I could not for the life of me remember who had repaired it last time - it ran faultlessly for over 9 years then, after repair, another 5+. Anyway, Mary phoned Languedoc Depannage, who mended our dishwasher a few months since, and lo, it was them! The very nice lady instantly knew about the last repair and understanding (as people down here do) the dangers of cooling failure for wine stores, is sending one of her nice young men to look this afternoon, estimate tomorrow, repairs on the horizon. Service is not dead!

Something lighthearted to end with. We are off to celebrate our own birthdays in Burgundy for a few days!



 



New discoveries and old friends

By Jon North ([email protected])




At the Mas de Bellevue above Lunel to the north

I've nearly begun this post several times over the summer.  I do so now in memory of my recently deceased friend Alan Byars, married to Mary's cousin Barbara.  Although he made his money from another liquid, oil, this larger than life Texan shared my interest in wine and encouraged me to revive this blog when we met over good glasses whether in New Mexico or the Rhône valley.  He was an atypical American, (many I know don't even have passports) having lived and worked in Europe as well as in the US, and he and Barbara shared many holidays with us in England and in France as well as America.

Last time I wrote of our winter excursions into Spanish wines, and we have continued to enjoy the fruits of  our discovery of the Barcelona wine merchant Decántalo whose deliveries and service are very good.  Now I want to write a little about more local wines, which of course have been at the heart of our enjoyment of wine since our first excursions to France in the 1990s.   Our most recent discovery has been a wine truck, a motorised market stall that turns up at markets and evening events in Lunel and other local towns.  It's based near the Pic Saint Loup, one of our best-known local appellations, which can be seen (as here from the Mas de Bellevue) on the horizon from many places around here, and it's called Dégustez Sud, run by a nice couple who spend a lot of time picking out good wines from small producers across the area from Spanish border to the Rhône.  The wines are not necessarily cheap, but this is largely because smaller producers have higher overheads than larger-scale winemakers.

So far we have tried two whites, Folio, a grenache gris from Collioure near the Spanish border and a Mas d'Amile terret blanc, neither cheap but both out of the ordinary and enjoyable.  White wines can be more expensive than run-of-the-mill reds despite the generally shorter making time, because the process has to be cleaner and more temperature controlled.

Pleasant evening outings into Lunel to try wines from Dégustez Sud, the second with oysters for Mary!

Terret used to be a grape only used for fortified apéritif wines like Noilly Prat, but recently some delicious dry white wines have been made from this grape, and one from the Domaine de la Fadèze near Mèze has long been one of our favourites.  Interestingly, in a comparative tasting of that and the Amile wine the other day, we both preferred the cleaner, lemony Fadèze to the more recent discovery, and it has the benefit of being less than a third of the price, but that may be partly because we go to the producers for the Fadèze.  They make a range of red, white and rosé single-variety wines, all at very good prices.  

I'm ending with a few of the labels of recently enjoyed wines - 2 from the Rhône valley, a 10-year-old Beaumes de Venise from the left bank of the Rhône, in perfect condition from Durban, one of the first producers we visited there and the other from the right bank, the newere additions to the Rhône area in the Gard, in fact near the Pont du Gard and so named Domaine de l'Aqueduc.   And 2 from the Rive droite of the Garonne, one of the good sweet wines opposite the great Sauternes châteaux, and a very good Entre Deux Mers white from our good friend Jérôme whom we met recently in the Drôme, another proof that good white wines can keep for several years.

 
  


Cheers!


hark ye oakland county

Howdy folks! Today I’ve decided to return to a long-neglected place of terrible vibes, Oakland County, Michigan. The house on special is, one could say, fit for a king but like maybe one of those kings that sells used cars on tv in the wee hours of the night. Anyway:

This house, built during the ripe housing bubble era of 2002, will only cost the good sir a marginal $3.2 million. For such a pittance, one receives 4 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, and around 5,000 square feet. Princely!

Now, you might be thinking that this house will be decked out in the cheesiest middle ages decor imaginable – yes, Kate, surely you shall be showing us a cromulent McCastle specimen. Alas, nay, it is worse than that.

Here is my theory: the people who live in this house do not understand what houses are nor how one behaves in them. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg trying to be human. Nothing, and I mean nothing in this house matches, coordinates, flows, or makes sense. It’s subtle, yes, but when you start to notice it, it becomes infuriating.

yeah, you know what would look good in this mostly neutral room? a painting with a clown palette. good for the digestion.

Tbh I wish they stuck with the hokey castle thing instead of making a house that looks like a bank lobby.

There’s a weird Dracula subtext going on here and it makes me uncomfortable.

I am trying to understand the thought process here. First: tray ceiling. ok. normal mcmansion stuff. Now we need the two narrowest windows WITH a big fanlight on top. OK SO instead of doing a tray ceiling in the middle of the room, what if we did like, a double soffit with recessed lights. Ok. BUT THEN WHAT ABOUT THE WINDOW?? Well we could move the window down two feet or replace it with a more normal window shape, you know one that makes a modicum of sense. However, for some reason that is unacceptable. Hence, moldus interruptus. And yet (and yet) we still want that tray ceiling look because this is 2002. So i guess?? nail on some moldings??? but they’re brown because they have to match the doors instead of the white baseboards??????

???????????????

As a bonus, this room is the easiest for dressing up for Halloween.

You’ve got to give them credit where credit is due here. They had to find some kind of use for the McMansion foyer interzone despite the fact that it is a “room” with no walls that is clearly an oversized traffic area. It’s like putting lounge chairs in the middle of an airport hallway.

Finally, the back side of this house which is marginally better than the castle stuff.

Anyway, thanks for joining me on this confounding journey. Bonus posts will be up tomorrow, and there’s still time to catch me livestreaming terrible home design shows from the 90s on Thursday:

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New bonus post: the weirdest lil house in Denton County, Texas:

everything’s bigger in texas

Howdy folks! Pardon my July hiatus, as I was uhhhh covering the Tour de France. Anyway, before I get started, I’m back now and have some good news, which is that the McMansion Hell Patreon tiers have been updated – it’s never been such a good time to support McMansion Hell.

For $1/month you can get access to the Good House posts (McMansion Eyebleach) and the wonderful McMansion Hell Discord, a great, friendly community which is where many houses on here now come from. $3/month tiers will now receive an entire bonus MMH post in addition to the Good House posts that follow every edition of MMH. $5/month tiers still get a monthly house roasting livestream complete with bingo. $10/month tiers now get a bonus livestream that’s much more intimate and also includes voice chat participation. All in all, it’s more of what you want from McMansion Hell. Tiers above $10/month get a selection of exclusive merch along with other benefits.

Ok, awkward marketing moment over. Let’s get down to business. Big business.

We’re back in Denton County, Texas, one of the ground zeros of McMansion Hell, with a “Greek Revival” house built in 1989 but remodeled in the early aughts. Sitting at $2.5million (that’s a lot of oil money) and 6500 square feet, it’s just another example of how everything’s bigger in Texas. Let’s continue.

Lawyer Foyer

Whomst remembers swag? Absolutely dated bit of millennial slang now. Also get used to weird stairs because nothing in this home seems to be on the same level.

??? Room

I guess this is an office? It’s mostly a collection of things just for the sake of things. Peak McMansion.

Living Room

My mom did the red/green thing in her bathroom back in the day so I’m weirdly nostalgic for it. Still it was real. A lot of talk on HGTV at the time about mixing opposing colors (warm/cool) and pops of color (which were kind of missed in the greige era though they are coming back.)

Kitchen

The kitchen was probably renovated later than the rest of the house (I date it around 2009 or so - mismatched islands were kind of a thing then.) Still, no one really knows what to do with that much space and the result is almost always not very economical.

Speaking of…

Bedroom

If you don’t have a stuff corner in your bedroom are you even wealthy?

Bathroom

See the white carpet thing is only a problem when people actually use the tub which they almost never do.

bonus room

What’s the point of having all them trinkets if yer not pondering em???

Well that’s all for this edition folk— wait. wait.

What?

Bonus house-cels coping and seething at pool-chads.

Anyway, let’s look at the back of this thing:

The Dyingest Lawn In Texas is a free album name for anyone who wants it. (Did I mention I was born in Texas yet? That’s a fun fact.)

Anyway, that does it for this edition of McMansion Hell. See y'all soon.

If you like this post and want more like it, support McMansion Hell on Patreon for as little as $1/month for access to great bonus content including extra posts and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar, because inflation is ruining my life and coffee is like $4/cup now.

gatekeep, gaslight, girlboss

Howdy, folks! Today we will be heading down south to the Atlanta suburbs to view what may be the most yassified house in existence.(The quality of the photos is proportional to the quality of the estate, my apologies.) Also, special thanks to my friend Kristjan who contributed to finding the house and also some of the captions (fondue machine all was him.)

Built smack dab in the Pimp My Ride era (2007) it’s got 8 bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms, totaling a completely reasonable and not at all absurd 17,500 square feet. $7,750,000, it’s up there as one of the more expensive houses on the blog in its six (6!!) years. (Happy Birthday McMansion Hell!)

Without further ado:

Lawyer Foyer

I know what you’re thinking but we keep it PG with the chair jokes here.

Office

Great Depression humor is back, baby. It’s recession time.

Dining Room

If this house got any more into metallic surfaces there’d be lead in the water.

Great Room

Whole house smells like $14 body spray called something like “tempting pink.”

kitchen

“Braighlynne if you get one drop of apple juice on this rug mommy is going to need a valium.”

Bedroom

Are we finally done with mirrored furniture???? Are we?????? (Also the SIA-line is a Kristjan one.)

bonus:

room

(this is a top-10 joke for me. i am patting myself on the back.)

And finally, we exit our tour:

Usually the rear exterior is less unhinged than the front, but not so this time!

Anyway that does it for this edition of McMansion Hell. Hope you enjoyed, and from sunny Ljubljana, see you next time!

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yet again we find ourselves in cook county

Živjo from Slovenija, where there are no McMansions. (I finally know peace.) And yet at the same time I grew homesick enough to make my way back into the Cook County Suburbs, namely Barrington, namely South Barrington, namely McMansion Hell. If only in spirit.

This $3 million, 19,700 square foot house (built in 2001) showed up in a previous post, but only its facade. I promise you it’s worth cracking it open and seeing the insides, like a gooey, ugly egg. This is probably the first post in this blog’s history where there were no bedroom photos in the listing. Perhaps Realtors™ have learned a lesson from the “Welcome to Poundtown” incident. Anyway, here goes.

Remember her? Wish I didn’t.

Foyer

The light fixture kind of reminds me of some peripheral creature you’d find in The Fifth Element. At least it’s “unique” (in the same way a high school bully with really rich parents is “unique.”)

Dining

I don’t know why paint companies have to manufacture every color under the sun. They’re putting their customers in danger of making really dumb decisions. Surely some ethics are warranted.

Great Room

I have never seen a McMansion living room bar that full of liquor. I assumed they were mostly decorative but no, these people drink.

like, they have an entire cooler room just for booze:

Kitchen

If you’re not having some Wuthering Heights moments while doing the dishes, wyd

Master Bathroom

Like I said, there weren’t any bedroom pics, but the bathroom almost makes up for it. Exceptionally weird.

Music Room

“But you don’t even play piano!”

Office

How could they do this to my third favorite color???? What did she do to deserve such ignominy?????

Finally, I leave you with some of the most baffling assemblages of architectural bits and pieces hitherto known to residential architecture:

Yeah, this is like 10 McMansions.

Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed yet another trip to the 9th circle of McMansion Hell, aka South Barrington, stay tuned for our next installment, which will be about that fake Croatian town they made in Texas.

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the Patreon, where you will get access to livestreams, bonus posts, and the best lil discord community on the whole dang internet

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McMansion Hell: revenge of cook county

Fans of this website will perhaps remember a certain house from the “worst of suburban Illinois” post. I’m here to alert you to the fact that the interior of said house may in fact be the pinnacle of what has been dubbed by my colleague Cocaine Decor as “Cocaine Decor.” This 1990 house has lived rent free in my brain for a while, and now it will live rent free in all of yours. It sits at $1.1 million USD and precisely 10,000 square feet, each of which exists in ignorance of the Light of God.

Remember her? I wish I didn’t. Anyway.

The Lawyer Foyer

I would actually venture that this is the most reasonable and bland room in this house, but it sets the tone for what is to come: baffling art, even more baffling curtains, and the most baffling carpet choices to ever be offered in a catalog. Also from this angle it’s really funny.

The Sitting Room

Ok does anyone else here from the aught’s internet remember vintage Art.com and its kind of weird kitschy art prints? I used to spend hours on that website amassing pictures of lemons and limes because children are weird.

Living Room

I quilt and I KNOW how much fabric costs. Also I really want to do some kind of research project on late 90s-early 2000s “modernism” which is basically like “what if we took modernism and made it really chunky.” If you were working as an industrial designer during that time and can help me figure out what in the world was happening, please hit me up in the Twitter DMs @mcmansionhell.

Kitchen

hmm getting some Eyes Wide Shut vibes from all this… kinda sus…

Main Bedroom

Viral Tweet Voice: Tiger King was 10,000 years ago. Remember sourdough starters??? Hobbies taken up with manic urgency??? Washing groceries??? How young we were. How foolish.

????

Give me some powder and 15 minutes in here and I’ll come up with McMansion Hell 2 (or lose thousands of dollars on NFTs - it’s a toss up.)

bedroom

You know those metallic sharpies they sell two-packs of at Target? They took those to a fabric shop and said: here’s our palette, go nuts.

pool

shout out to my mom, I love her.

Okay, that’s about enough of that. Here’s the back of the house complete with a tripartite architectural analysis (it’s very complicated):

I hope you enjoyed this installment of McMansion Hell, stay tuned for more cursed houses from the Mecca of cursed houses, because I, uh, found a lot of them yesterday.

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P.S. go bulls

daydream houses of oman


Howdy, folks! With all the terrible events unfolding in Ukraine right now, I figured everyone would like a little bit of a break from doomscrolling. Not wanting to add anymore negativity to the timelines, I’m going to share something on-topic but decidedly more cheery than the McMansions of rich people who suck.

As some of you may know, I recently visited Oman as a cycling journalist covering the eponymous Tour of Oman. (You can follow all seven days of my travels via my cycling newsletter derailleur beginning here.) While I was there, I came across some of the most fantastic houses I’ve ever seen and had to take photos. Admittedly, I’m not a great photographer. I just bought a camera (a Panasonic Lumix) last year. Still, I tried to do these houses justice with my limited talent, a difficult task considering I was photographing from a moving car chasing bike racers around. These photos were taken during the Tour of Oman stages one and two, which traveled along routes from Al Rastaq to Muscat and from Barka to Suhar, respectively.

Each of these examples mixes Western luxury with Islamic architectural motifs, and they make use of elements like reflective glass and condensation capture tanks in order to mitigate some of the challenges of the desert climate. All are made from painted concrete, as there is little wood to be found in such an arid ecosystem and an abundance of rock and energy to beat it into submission.

These homes are decidedly an Omani phenomenon, their size and ostentatiousness perhaps owing to the country’s newfound wealth via oil exploration. However, while many would be keen to point the finger and shout “McMansion!”, as a good ex-graduate student, I’m wary of applying Western aesthetic standards to Eastern architectural examples. Besides, I have to say, these houses are way more fun than literally anything I’ve ever seen stateside. They’re playful and colorful, openly celebratory and, to be honest, kind of wild. I hope you enjoy them.

pink step-like house with central corridor

Note the explicit symmetry and two-toned reflective glass.

pastel foyer house

I found many examples of a stained glass technique wherein scenes or photographs are silkscreened onto glass and mounted as the most central window on the home. Note also the house’s classical composition as well as the obscured crenelated water collection tank on the roof, another common feature.

green house with arched door

Tripartite entryway consisting of a pediment, an oriel, and an ornate arched door surrounded by decorative script. Kermit the frog green.

house of the nine hoods

Note the Mario Botta-esque striped wall, the fort-like composition, the many cornices, and the fact that each window is screen-printed with a different pattern.

mullion house

Glass need not be a boring feature of the common home! Extremely ornate mullion patterns and fun purple columns.

little sunshine house

Note the subtle three-part mutifoil arch and the use of interior tile as exterior decoration to augment the entryway, something that’s common in these houses, perhaps because there is less worry of wear and tear by water. Another common element to one-story houses is a central roof-access tower for accessing the water tower and HVAC units.

imprint house

If foam is the material language of the Western McMansion, the Omani show-house speaks in concrete. Note the embossing of the cornices, windows, and wall panels to resemble zellij-pattern tilework. The exaggerated cornices are a nice touch of absurdity.

triple dome house

An absolutely chaotic house featuring extensive use of decorative tile, colonnaded windows, and subtle asymmetry. Love whatever’s going on with the garage doors.

oblique house

A house organized at an oblique angle, with complex wings and a heavily obscured front door. Pistachio green with mixed architectural elements.

gold window house

What happens if a house was made entirely of turrets? The answer is, it’s pretty glorious.

Anyway, I hope these houses brightened at least one person’s day and that everyone enjoyed this little reprieve from all that’s terrible.

Stay safe friends.

hello i have written about the metaverse and that cursed walmart video that’s been going around

Suburban Chicago McMansions Follow a Dark Logic Even I Do Not Understand

For reasons architecturally unbeknownst to me, the McMansions of Chicago’s suburbs are actually insane. Perhaps it makes sense that Chicago, America’s mecca of great and distinguished architecture would also give birth to what can be appropriately called the netherworld version of that.

For six years, I have run this blog, and for six years I have been absolutely amazed by the formal leaps and bounds exhibited by the McMansions of Chicago’s suburbs. This area is undisputedly the fertile crescent of unhinged custom homebuilding and while I’ve heard other claims made for the gaudy, compact McMansions of Long Island, the paunchy shingled stylings of Greenwich, Connecticut, the Disney-Mediterranean hodgepodges of Florida, the oil-drenched nub mountains of North Texas, you name it – nothing comes remotely close to that which has been built in the suburbs of Cook, Lake, and DuPage Counties. (In the case of the houses featured in this post, nine of ten are located in Barrington, IL, which just might be the census designated place known as McMansion Hell.)

Usually vernacular architecture has some kind of origin point, a builder or a style or a developer one can point to and say, aha, that’s where that comes from. One could argue that the postmodern classicism of a Robert AM Stern or the tory Colonial Revival selections found in the Toll Brothers catalog provided this service for much of the McMansion canon.

However, the McMansions in the Chicago Suburbs are so wildly customized and unique, it is as though each of the ten listed here were in competition with one another to build the most outrageous collage of wealth signifiers imaginable, to the point where their architecture becomes almost un-house-like. The responsibility for their form, owing to the absence of architects, lies solely with the owners and the custom builders who did their unquestioned bidding, who plucked each turret and mismatched window from the catalog after being told, give me that. These homes are the end logic of the “custom home” of the pre-2008 era where nouveau riche (and sometimes old money) fantasies were dropped on whatever massive virgin lot one could afford to hook up plumbing to.

There are two Barrington subtypes I’ve been able to identify that, while not unique to the area, seem to be the only kinds of formal logic uniting many examples. The first I’ll call the Long House, which is just what it sounds like: a once rational house that’s been stretched to comical length-wise proportions:

Theoretically the above house makes sense to the eye. The turrets divide it into a kind of five part vertical rhythm. But the more you stare, the less sense it makes. Why is there a window between the third and fourth turret but no other? Why are there two whole other wings jutting out from the house in two other directions? Were the house not one color, the eye would get lost immediately, and the scale is such that the realtor had to zoom all the way out with a drone just to capture the whole thing in one frame. Besides, what style even is this imitating? French Country? Great Recession-core? (The same could be asked of all of these houses which, owing to their bloated-ness defy and elude even the most half-assed stylistic or historical cosplay.)

In case you were wondering, the turret exists so as to roof a curved secondary mass. A horrible question to ask ourselves is: when a turret is not used, how does one attach the curved mass to the roof? The answer is whatever is going on in the above example. I’m sorry you all have to see this.

The Long House is perhaps best demonstrated in the above particular model, which appears as though it’s not actually real but rather a mid-range SketchUp render. This house actually reminds me of many examples I’ve seen in Bergen County, New Jersey. The first three masses form a logical tripartite facade. The two that are tacked on after that undermine the rest and render it almost comical. Also they’re slightly different from one another. Of course.

The other of the two subtypes is what I call the Tank House. (One also finds turrets on a tank.) The Tank House is, well, shaped kind of like a tank: hulking, with a central protruding mass around which everything else is oriented, often at a strange oblique angle:

Building a house at an oblique angle is kind of an interesting architectural decision especially on a corner lot, but none of these are corner lots - they are large swaths of what was probably farmland unhindered by size constraints. A carport is rather like the firing arm of our tank house, protruding outward and demonstrating a kind of military might:

Often in the Tank House, additional masses are just kind of piled on to the sides because it’s actually kind of inconvenient to design a really big house on a 45 degree angle:

This results in these houses taking on a kind of kaleidoscope effect where they tesselate, spread and converge as the eye tries to assimilate them into something with symmetry, even though the design consistency falls apart at the edges.

And then there’s whatever this is:

Yeah. Sometimes postmodernism wasn’t all fun colors and ironic greek order references. Unfortunately.

However, the Tank House doesn’t always have to involve an oblique angle. What’s unique - other than the oversized central portico - is actually the piling on of the massing into mismatched wings:

Like I said above, architecture, especially “traditional” architecture longs for symmetry, and these houses simply do not have it. They always manage to screw up, shoving some house over there, some roof to that side, as though they’ve started with a central idea and were unable to commit, rather like this post in which I’m wandering around really, really trying to understand why these houses are so damn bizarre.

In the last two examples, you’ll see a central hall punctuated by grand entrance of some kind. But in both cases the symmetry is broken by adding another mass to the right simply because the garage calls for it. It shows a remarkable lack of architectural faculty and imagination to let a garage derail the entire formal logic of the house. It’s lazy. However, the garage is a status symbol in and of itself – perhaps the disruption, the madness, is the point. (In architecture, as in all things, one must remember not to ascribe to malice that which can be easily explained by incompetence.)

This brings us to the last of our examples, which I consider to be among the greatest McMansions to ever exist:

This house took sprawl as its very inspiration, its DNA, its parti. It exists simply to say how much of it there is. It lays on a barren sea of turf grass, is constructed entirely from fossil-fuel based materials, is illuminated by a spurious sky added in post. Everything about it is the pinnacle of artifice, the absence of substance. Even color eludes it - it has traded color for “tone,” for a monochromatic neutrality that even better conveys just how huge and stupid it is. I hate this house, but I also love it, because it pushes the boundary of the medium like all memorable works of architecture do. That’s the thing – despite six years of running this website, every time I think I’ve seen it all, I come back to Barrington, Illinois and find something even my headiest subprime fever dreams couldn’t possibly cook up.

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The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1981

Hello everyone! We return to the great state of Illinois (where I live) to bring you this wonderful time capsule from DuPage County (where I don’t live but have ridden my bike.) There is actually much more house to get through than in the usual McMansion Hell post so Iet’s not waste time with informalities.

Behold.

This incredible 70s hangover is served (with a fine line on a silver tray) at a neat $5 million. It has seven bedrooms for maximum party discretion and 4.5 bathrooms also for maximum party discretion but of a different sort. Shall we?

Lawyer Foyer

Definitely thought that the staircase emptied out into a pool of brown water. (I’m sober, though.)

Auditorium-Sized Living Room

Pretty sure this is the most epic hearth in McMansion Hell history, if not world history. a bit of overkill, imo. Anyway, let’s see what’s behind it.

In the late 1970s, society once inquired, collectively: What if “Dudes Rock” was a bar?

Kitchen

This is the most normal room in the house. (This is a threat.)

Main Bedroom

How can something clearly from the 80s have such powerful 2006 energy?

Main Bathroom

This was likely a reno job but master bathrooms did start being roughly the size of my living/dining room a few years later.

WARNING: SICKO ZONE AHEAD

Okay. Okay. We’ve completed our tour of the main, relatively normal McMansion part of this house. We are now entering the Sicko Zone, wherein everything gets progressively a little more, well, sick.

(Note: There are more images from the sicko zone but Tumblr only lets me put 10 images in per post so please head over to the McMansion Hell Patreon to see more.)

The Den

Remember late-era Frank Lloyd Wright? These architects dared to ask: What if he sucked?

the horrible room

yeah sorry i need some air.

Rear Exterior

Well, that was eventful. I hope you all enjoyed our little foray into hell. Stay tuned for more Yearbook! It’s only going to get pinker and tealer from here.

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Hello! I finally wrote about the Farmhouse Style!

Note: this piece includes the phrase “the Yeti cooler of houses.”

Enjoy!

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1980

(back of a quirky literary novel voice): Sometimes, things are not what they seem. An architecture critic disappears for three months to follow bike racing around Europe, rife with questions of becoming and desire. A real estate agent uploads a listing to an aggregator, knowing that it will be a difficult sell but thinking not much of it, for, like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, all houses are difficult to sell in their own way. A house is built in 1980 in Staten Island and would have thrived as an anonymous bastion of tastelessness had the internet not been invented. But the internet had been invented. All of these things are brought together here, through truly unlikely circumstances.

Let’s not bother with the formalities this time.

None of you will buy this house.

Sitting Room

Does anything here make sense? The periwinkle sofa, the twinkling of bronze glass, a truly transitional material, a mall exiting stagflation and entering the sultry trap of Reaganite libertarianism that would leave it empty twenty-five years later. The sense that one is always changing levels, trapped in a landing of some sort, never quite arrived on stable footing. But that’s just the style, one assumes. One foot in the seventies, with all their strife, one foot in the beginning of what felt like the end of history. One’s ass on the iridescent pleather sofa, waiting for the centuries to change.

Sitting Room II

My suspicion is that there are no pictures of the mirrored mystery foyer because the photographer’s identity would be henceforth revealed, and the point of all real estate photography is for the viewer to imagine themselves as the only person in a given space.

Dining Room

The shinier things are, the richer one is, obviously.

Kitchen

This serious sociological research also happens to coincide with the Giro d'Italia, one hopes.

Landing

(crediting @cocainedecor on twitter for their term. but also, where can i get some chevron mirrors, asking for a friend.)

Master Bedroom

just asking questions

Bedroom 2

Ostensibly bad opinion that I will nevertheless defend: the corner bed slaps, let’s bring it back.

Basement

(Staten Island accent): Hey, I’m workshoppin’ some metaphors here!

Alright, we’ve entertained this monstrosity enough - time to wrap things up.

Rear Exterior

You know, McMansion Hell has been around for five years now, and has coined many terms - an art, ahoy matey, lawyer foyer, brass n’ glass, pringles can of shame - but I have to say, I hope fireplace nipples also sticks.

Anyway, that’s all for 1980 - join us next month for 1981.

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short lease in a slick machine: a personal essay about apartments

Hi Everyone, you may have wondered where I’ve been for the last few months. The truth is, I, like most people must at some point in their lives, needed to take a little break and figure some things out, needed to go on some long personal journeys, needed to meet some heroes, needed to just not do this website for a short amount of time, but don’t worry, I’m back now, and I’m bringing the feels on the way in.

Before I present this essay, I would like to offer my deepest thanks to the people who kept supporting me on Patreon during this soul searching. I owe you everything.

I’m moving again. I’ve moved every single year since I’d left my parents’ house at the age of eighteen, with the exception of the apartment I had on the second story of a Queen Anne on S. Mendenhall Street in Greensboro, in which I stayed in for two years. The rest of my dwellings have been painfully temporary, with life inevitably coming around to its annual migratory upheaval. There have been many reasons why, of course, quotidian reasons that always feel devastating at the time – jobs, school, pestilence, crazy roommates, despicable slumlords, partners to be moved closer to, relocating just to get away from where one has been before. I could rank every apartment on a scale of worst to best, from most to least livable, but none of them were permanent.

above: the only apartment I ever lived in for more than a year, a sacred place.

I wanted to write about the apartment I’m moving away from in Chicago even though perhaps it’s not prudent to do so – it’s never prudent to be personal on the internet. Don’t worry, though, I won’t include anything incriminating that could be construed as defamation or whatever. You can just feel angry on my behalf, which is really, truly in the spirit of McMansion Hell. And this is, well, apartment hell. The apartment I’ve lived in this past year quite frankly and very succinctly encompasses everything I kind of hate about architecture, about design, about the ways people in the profession are expected to live their lives for the benefit and the consumption of others.

first impressions

When I first saw the apartment, it was the nicest apartment I’d ever been in, the finest I’d hitherto walked the halls of in my rubber Birkenstocks. It was big and full of light, with lovely maple floors, the kind where, at the right time of day, you could sometimes see the tiger pattern emerge in flecks and ribs like those on the backs of violins. When the landlord, an architect, showed it to us, he had his stuff in there still. A Bertoia chair that was probably real. Very carefully selected items from Design Within Reach alongside enough pieces from other places to make the whole getup seem more authentic. Sparse hangings on the walls, each big and well-framed. Single potted plants. A well-oiled cutting board.

There were European bath and kitchen fixtures and recessed lights that dimmed at the press of a button, which meant we could get rid of all of our floor lamps. In the kitchen, tall, elegant white cabinets above a slab of marble, dubbed, reverently at the time, a living material. Blinds on rollers meant no need for hanging curtains. A soaking tub and a Duravit toilet, you know, the floating kind cultured people had. Europeans. The rent was at the top of our budget but still doable. I signed the lease fast, with unbelievable giddy excitement. Finally, a nice place to live after years and years and years in what could only be deemed as shitholes. Shitholes and the nice midcentury apartment building I lived in in DC, but that was a studio and DC was a place I wanted to get so immensely far from that we ended up in Chicago, the only city in America I ever really wanted to live in.

cracks in the facade, so to speak

As soon as we moved in, an unsettled feeling crept in. I can place it now as the sense that this apartment was too nice for people like us – people with particle board furniture and student loan debt. That it wasn’t really ours, we were just borrowing it before someone worthier came. Subconsciously, we knew this. We never hung anything on the walls save for the Mondaine clock my husband bought at the MoMA Design Store and the Giro d’Italia jersey signed by Tom Dumoulin, which I’d had framed. The walls were a blinding white. Putting tacks in them felt like an unlawful penetration. Our landlord fussed over the stuff we had on the back porch. One time he criticized where my husband had situated the soap on the kitchen counter, the living material which, in reality, is just a fancy term for “stains easily.”

All of a sudden, we were living under a microscope.

We weren’t using the apartment the right way; namely, we didn’t decorate or live like an architecture critic and a mathematician theoretically should. Our apartment wasn’t photogenic. There were too many bikes in the living room. We still had a garbage $300 Wayfair sofa that felt like sitting on cardboard. There was clutter. This beautiful apartment wasn’t meant for our kind of ordinary and this was made known several times in subtle and rather degrading ways, after which our lease was not renewed, to the relief of all parties involved. Even if it meant moving again.

The longer I lived in the apartment, the more I hated it, the more I realized that I had been fooled by nice finishes and proximity to transit into thinking it was a good apartment. As soon as we’d got in there, things started to, well, not work. European fixtures aren’t well-liked by American plumbers. The dimmable lights would sputter and spit little blinking LEDs for reasons totally unknown and we’d have to pull a tab to reset them. Everything was finicky and delicate. The shower head, the kitchen sink that fell in two times somehow (which we had been accused of being rough with, an absurd thought – it’s a kitchen sink!), the bedroom doors that didn’t close right, the bathroom door that would trap you inside if it shut during a hot shower. All of the niceness, the glitzy brand names, the living materials were not meant for everyday use, even by gentle individuals like ourselves. They were made solely for looking at, as though that were the point of all habitation.

Suddenly, we were in a prison of design. This was a place for performing living, and we, as normal people, simply wanted to live – wanted to leave clothes in front of the washer as we pleased, wanted to bake cakes that got flour everywhere, wanted to just collapse somewhere and go to sleep, wanted to have a private life not dominated by the curation and fussiness and pressures of taste that govern careers like mine. Our house was always just for our consumption, not that of others. I spend most of my life in the worlds of design and architecture, and to be honest, you wouldn’t know it aside from all the heavy books and the tapered legged coffee table. I never had it in me to turn my house into a museum of my own clever delectations, a proof of concept of my skills as a critic. I just wanted to dwell naively. Off Instagram.

But the worst part of the apartment was that it was designed by someone who didn’t know how to live, couldn’t think of anyone’s world other than the sparse one of the architect who owned nothing save for color-coordinated books and limited edition lithographs. It had all the functions of living, technically speaking, but the way in which they were allocated and arranged made no sense. There were no closets in any of the rooms, just open storage, which only works for people who don’t actually have things. The tub wasn’t caulked to the wall so that it would appear to float, a nice aesthetic effect which made taking showers annoying and perhaps bad for the walls.

Above all, I hated the kitchen the most. The kitchen was basically ten feet of counter space, with giant cabinets extending to the ceiling, far beyond what any normal person could reach without a stepladder, the upper shelves of which being where things went to be forgotten. A sink punctuated the center of the marble countertop – and marble is a terrible material for a countertop. It stains and wears with water. It shows all mess mercilessly. There was a stove and a fridge just, like, in the kitchen attached to nothing. The gas stove had no overhead ventilation and every time we used it we had to open the door so the smoke alarm wouldn’t go off. It was a kitchen designed by people who never cooked: too small, inefficient, laid out in the way it was, like so many apartment kitchens, so that it shared services with the same wall as the bathroom. We couldn’t put anything in the finicky sink to soak so the counter was always crowded with dishes. We had no dishwasher because that would mean ceding the only bottom cabinet that was truly usable.

It angered me, really, as an architecture critic, that this apartment, which had so very much been made to be ogled and looked at and oohed and ahhed over by people of taste was absolutely, for a lack of a better word, bullshit. That it was beautiful but unlivable, like some kind of joke made only for people like me to laugh at. I love design, obviously, but I hate the pressure to have to perform taste in the most intimate of one’s settings and this was the epitome of that, the untouchableness of it, the smug superiority of its flavorless emptiness. I’m not a curator of other people’s gazes when I’m in my pajamas or sweating it out on the trainer. I’m simply Kate Wagner, living with a husband and a dog, like a lot of twenty-seven year old white girls in cities. By the end of the lease, I just wanted to move somewhere where I’d feel at home, whatever that meant. I never had the type A personality needed for pristine white walls. I hated how the recessed lights made all our stuff look cheap, like a museum of stunted adulthood.

Our new apartment has a two-year lease, which is about as much stability people like us could ever hope for or afford. It’s the first floor of a worker’s cottage dominated by a palladian window on the second story that would be pretentious were it not so earnest. The house itself is a hodgepodge of the vernacular, which is what I deserve, as its chronicler. The interior walls are painted lively colors – a soft blue, a slate purple, a taupe, a mint green. It’s gritty enough to be cool and old enough to be livable. There are closets. The bathroom is covered in chiclet glass tile that’s different shades of blue, which I find endearing. But what I love most of all is the kitchen.

All my life, I’d been in search of an apartment with a decent kitchen, and I’ve always wondered why apartment kitchens suck so bad save for the obvious answer (landlords are cheap.) Like I said earlier, the desire to route services (plumbing, electricity) in the most efficient way possible governs most things, though this is more true of renovations or new builds than the adaptation of single family homes into multi-family dwellings. In the case of the latter, the second floor apartments are always the worst off, in fact, almost all apartments are worse off than the one that houses the actual original full-sized kitchen to begin with.

Adapting a space that was meant for sleeping into one where food could be cooked often required some inventiveness with regards to fire safety and ventilation and this usually took the path of least resistance, hence why most kitchens are positioned to the rear of the house, especially if there is outdoor access. (Plumbing in older houses also tends to be positioned on interior walls to avoid pipes freezing in the winter.) In Chicago, most layouts of familiar single-family vernacular housing styles are similar to one another on the ground floor, but the apartments on the second floor are always quite varied, especially with regard to where the kitchen is placed. Often it’s done, again, in a way that allows existing services to be used or for new ones to be built that are on the same wall as another unit. Adding new plumbing where it wasn’t before is expensive and a pain.

However, service routing aside, most apartment kitchens are only ever satisfactory – kitchens for people who ate nothing but takeout or miniature versions of the real thing as though apartment living were just an audition for owning a house, something that’s just no longer true in this economy. This one – with its vintage 50s aluminum cabinetry and its enameled countertops with glitter infused in them like some kind of demure bowling ball and its full-sized appliances and dishwasher, and mint green penny tile, its wonderful quirkiness and its ample cabinet space beneath the counters – is functional. It works like a kitchen should, towards a domestic life engineered by modernism and scientific management with a dash of feminism to be less arduous. This is nothing short of a miracle to me. When I think about it, I get emotional. I have been searching for so long for any kind of semblance of a place tailored in any way towards my needs, towards my desires, which is to have enough space to help rather than hinder in the preparation of meals. Meals we now enjoy as a very small family. The kitchen was never really important to me until I had someone to share it with, as insipid and mawkish and introduction-to-a-gluten-free-recipe as that sounds. I’m no longer living for one, but for two, and I didn’t realize how much that changed living.

I didn’t realize how much autonomy meant until I lived in a place where I felt I had none.

Our new landlords, a school-teacher and private investigator (what a combo) are there right now cleaning the house, fixing the little nicks left by the previous tenants, pulling out their picture hanging apparatuses, which, they assure us, we can leave too. We can put stuff up on the walls, the very thought! They’ve already stickered our names on the mailboxes, have installed a doorbell, which strikes me as a very post-COVID gesture. They hope we will stay there a long time, and so do we. There’s a yard for the dog to play in with garden beds that house burgeoning bell peppers. Our friends are allowed to come over, which they weren’t before — well, not officially, but it felt like it. There are sounds in the house, of those who dwell above and below, the sounds of life. There’s a window I wish I was sitting by writing, and soon, I will be.

So many of us ask the simple question, what is home? What should it be? And the only real, genuine answer I have to give after ten-odd moves is that home is the only place in the world where one can be truly unselfconscious. Even if that means having particleboard furniture and a bunch of bicycles.

That’s my business, not yours.

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r/McMansionHell - Hello r/McMansionHell, I'm Kate Wagner, creator of McMansion Hell and architecture critic at The New Republic. AMA!

r/McMansionHell - Hello r/McMansionHell, I'm Kate Wagner, creator of McMansion Hell and architecture critic at The New Republic. AMA!:

Howdy, Folks! If you’re not busy right now, I’m doing an AMA on the McMansion Hell Subreddit! Stop by and ask me some questions!

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1979

Howdy, folks! I hope all of my fellow Midwesterners are enjoying this year’s false spring. Seventy-degree days notwithstanding, the snow will indeed be back, and, as such, I have prepared for you a house to enjoy (?) alongside a miserably late-in-the-year hot cocoa. 

Now, this house isn’t as oppressively horrible as the last one, however, the point of the Yearbook is to show off how houses evolved overtime, and also to celebrate some of the kookier time capsules left out there. Our current house falls into the latter category, and to be honest, I find it weirdly endearing. 

Located just outside of Detroit, this 5 bed, 4.5 bath house tops out at over 10,000 square feet. Yes, you read that right. 10,000. You’ll see why later. Anyways, if you want to purchase said house, it can be all yours for just under $1,000,000. A steal!

??? Foyer

In America we don’t have barons, only robber barons, so I’m going to assume whoever built this house did so on the backs of thousands of exploited 19th century child laborers or whatever. Bad stuff. 

??? Room

Unsure of the purpose of this room, genuinely, because all other rooms are accounted for. This one’s just empty. It’s just existing. Vibing, as one might say.

TV (???) Room

Don’t mind me, I’m just getting out my birding binoculars in order to watch Seinfeld reruns.

Kitchen

Considering the history of the Midwest and the fact that Sears and co. cut down all our old growth forests in order to do cheap furniture and balloon framing, this whole wood paneling bit is really part of a much larger historical milieu.  

Dining Room

The American Bicentennial lurks in the background of all of these houses, its legacy permanently ingrained in too-dark rooms across the nation. 

Main Bedroom

Shivering at the thought of my feet touching cold tile floor every morning. That’ll wake you up. 

Other Bedroom

You know, the grandness of the chandelier has diminishing returns if you put one in every single room. Then it becomes just another light fixture. 

Random Bathroom

BROWN TUB BROWN TUB BROWN TUB (the rarest of all mid-century tubs)

Pleasure Grotto

Ok now this is why I chose this house. It also explains why this house is 10,000 square feet - at least half of that is just this pool alone. The funniest bit is, I can’t for the life of me tell WHERE this pool is by looking at the exterior of the house. In fact, I’m not sure how they managed to fit so much house in that small of an envelope, but at this point, it’s so weird I’m inclined not to ask further questions. Some things in the universe are not meant to be known to us. 

Rear Exterior

Ok I changed my mind. WHERE IS THE POOL. WHERE DID THEY FIT THE POOL IN ALL THIS. 

Anyways, I’ll let that haunt you for a little while. 

In the mean time, I’d like to take this space at the end of the post to announce that I’ve started a little side project devoted to my other love in life, professional cycling. It’s a newsletter called derailleur that aims to tell the stories of contemporary professional cycling in an unconventional, narrative-driven way. If you’re into such things, feel free to check it out: derailleur.substack.com 

MEANWHILE:

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