vmWare exploit could be interesting…

By Simon Woodhead

By Simon Woodhead There’s an interesting blog post out today which I suspect will make a few of our competitors hot under the collar, even though this’ll be the first many of them have read about it! The virtualisation platform,…

The post vmWare exploit could be interesting… appeared first on Simwood.

Support for Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) and Multi-tenancy

By Pedro Igor

Dear Keycloak community,

Thanks to the collaborative work with a lot of folks from the community and Red Hat’s IT, we are delivering in Keycloak 25 the Keycloak Organizations feature.

We are pleased to announce the beginning of a long journey to support Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) and, to some degree, also support for multi-tenancy when a realm needs to integrate with third parties such as customers and business partners.

Keycloak Organizations is a feature that leverages the existing Identity and Access Management (IAM) capabilities of Keycloak to address CIAM uses cases like Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Business-to-Customer (B2B2C) integrations. By leveraging the existing capabilities available from a realm, the first release of this feature provides the very core capabilities to allow a realm to integrate with business partners and customers:

  • Manage Organizations

  • Manage Organization Members

  • Onboard members using different strategies such as invitation links and brokering

  • Decorate tokens with additional metadata about the organization that the subject belongs to

The feature is being delivered initially as a technology preview feature with the ultimate goal to make it supported in Keycloak 26. There are many more capabilities in the roadmap for this feature, and we consider this initial set of capabilities the very core of the feature that will allow us to build more capabilities on top. For this reason, your feedback is very important to make sure we are on the right path for solving real use cases around CIAM.

Please, consider checking our nightly builds as well to check for the latest updates and what is coming in the next major release.

For more details about the feature, consider reading the documentation available at the official documentation.

Getting started

The Keycloak Organizations feature introduces changes on how users authenticate to a realm to identify whether a user is authenticating in the scope of an organization or the realm.

One of the key changes introduced by the feature in terms of authentication is the introduction of an identity-fist login flow whenever you are authenticating to a realm that has the Organizations setting enabled.

Start Keycloak

The Keycloak Organization feature is a technology preview feature that needs to be enabled when starting (or building an optimized image of) the server:

docker run --name kc-orgs -d -e KEYCLOAK_ADMIN=admin -e KEYCLOAK_ADMIN_PASSWORD=admin -p 8080:8080 quay.io/keycloak/keycloak start-dev --features organization

Once you run the command above, make sure you can access the server at http://localhost:8080/ and log in into the administration console using the following credentials:

  • Username: admin

  • Password: admin

Create a realm

Let us start by creating a new realm called orgdemo. The orgdemo realm is a first-party company that wants to integrate with third-parties, the organizations, so that their users can have access to protected resources served by client applications available at the orgdemo realm.

For that, create a new realm using orgdemo as the name via the administration console.

Create users in the orgdemo realm

You also need some users in the orgdemo realm to authenticate and follow the next steps.

The mjane user is a realm user that has an email account that does not match any organization in the realm. We will use this user to represent an existing realm user in the orgdemo realm that is not associated with any organization. For that, create a user as the following:

Make sure to set a password for this user so that you can authenticate to the realm.

Now, create the [email protected] user. This user will act as an existing realm user that has an email that matches one of the domains set to an organization but is not yet a member of the organization. This user could have been created through self-registration, or by integrating with a custom identity store, or even federated from an identity provider available from the realm:

Make sure to set a password for this user so that you can authenticate to the realm.

Understanding the changes to authentication flows when the feature is enabled

When a realm is created, the authentication flows are automatically updated to enable specific steps to authenticate and onboard organization members. The authentication flows updated are:

  • browser

  • first broker login

The main change to the browser flow is that it defaults to an identity-first login so that users are identified before prompting for their credentials. In regard to the first broker login flow, the main change there is to automatically add the user as an organization member once they authenticate through the identity provider associated with an organization and successfuly complete flow.

The decision to whether an identity-first login should happen is based on the availability of any organization in a realm. If no organizations exist yet, the user will follow the usual steps to authenticate using both username and password, or any other step configured to the browser flow.

Try reaching http://localhost:8080/realms/orgdemo/account and you’ll see the usual login page. From this page, you can authenticate as usual to the realm using the following credentials:

  • Username: mjane

  • Password: <password>

Once you submit the login form, you are authenticated to the realm and automatically redirected to the client application acting on behalf of the user. In this case, the account console.

Authenticating to a realm when there are organizations

Now, let us create an organization in the orgademo realm. For that, we need to enable organizations to the realm by navigating to the Realm Settings page and enabling the Organizations setting.

Once you enable organizations, you can click on the Organizations section in the menu. Click the Create organization button to create a new organization as follows:

  • Name: OrgA Inc

  • Domains: orga.com

Once the orga organization is created, sign out from the client application and try to log in again. At this time, you should be present with the identity-first login page.

Differently than the previous attempt, the orgdemo realm has an organization and the authentication flow changed to first identify the user before prompting for any credentials.

At the identity-first login page you can still authenticate as the mjane user. However, the user will now authenticate in two steps. The first step will ask for the username or email only, and then provide the password in a second step.

Trying to authenticate as a user that does not exist using an email domain that matches an organization

Try to log in again to http://localhost:8080/realms/orgdemo/account/ and type [email protected]. There is no account associated with that email in the orgdemo realm.

If a user that does not exist tries to authenticate using an email domain that matches an organization domain, the identity-first login page will be shown again and indicate that the username provided is not valid. At this point, there is no reason to ask the user for credentials in a second step.

There are several ways to register the user so that he can authenticate to the orgdemo realm and eventually join the orga organization.

If the realm has the self-registration setting enabled, the user can click on the Register link at the identity-first login page and create an account at the orgdemo realm. After that, the administrator can send an invitation link to the user or manually add him as a member of the orga organization.

If the organization has an identity provider without a domain set, and they are marked as public, they can also click on the identity provider link at the identity-first login page to automatically create an account and join the orga organization once they authenticate through the identity provider.

Similar to the above, if the organization has an identity provider set with one of the organization domains, the user will be automatically redirected to the identity provider to authenticate and automatically create an account and join the orga organization once the flow is completed.

Look at the official documentation for more details.

Authenticating as an existing user using an email domain that matches an organization

Try to log in again to http://localhost:8080/realms/orgdemo/account/ and type [email protected].

Differently than before, the user is now presented with the second step to provide the credentials. Given that the user exists in the orgdemo realm, it should be possible to authenticate even though the user is not yet a member of the organization.

As an administrator, you can later choose to invite the user to join an organization or manually add it to an organization.

Authenticating as an existing user using an email domain that matches the domain set to an identity provider associated with an organization

The feature allows you to set a domain to an identity provider associated with an organization. This is useful when you want to make sure that users using a specific email domain always authenticate through the identity provider.

Let us create a orga realm to federate users from it using an identity provider at the orgdemo realm, where the identity provider will be associated to the orga organization.

Once you create the orga realm, create a OpenID Connect client at this realm as follows:

  • Client type: OpenID Connect

  • Client ID: orgdemo-broker

  • Client authentication: ON

  • Valid redirect URIs: * (using * for the sake of simplicity, don’t use in production)

Create a user now so that we can federate this user later using an identity provider from the orgdemo realm:

Make sure to set a password for this user so that you can authenticate to the realm.

Let us now create an OpenID Connect Identity Provider at the orgdemo realm as follows:

  • Alias: orga-broker

  • Display name: OrgA Inc.

  • Discovery endpoint: http://localhost:8080/realms/orga/.well-known/openid-configuration

  • Client ID: orgdemo-broker

  • Client Secret: <credentials generated when you created the orgdemo-broker client in orga realm>

For last, let us associate the identity provider we just created in orgdemo realm and link it with the orga organization. For that, click on the Organizations section in the menu and select the OrgA Inc organization. Navigate to the Identity Providers tab and click the Link identity provider button and provide the following settings:

  • Identity provider: orga-broker

  • Domain: orga.com

  • Redirect when email domain matches: ON

Try to log in again to http://localhost:8080/realms/orgdemo/account/ and type [email protected]. The user is now automatically redirected to the orga realm to authenticate.

When a user that does not exist yet in the realm tries to authenticate using an email domain that matches an organization domain, and that domain is also set to the identity provider associated with the organization, the user is automatically redirected to the identity provider.

By doing this, you can now authenticate at the orga realm using the following credentials:

Once the user completes the authentication, it will be automatically redirected back to the orgdemo realm to create an account and automatically join the orga organization.

The same is true if you re-authenticate as the [email protected] user. However, this time the user is already linked with the identity provider and will always authenticate through the identity provider.

Using organization metadata in bearer tokens to access protected resources from the clients in a realm

So far, we have been using the account console client at the orgdemo realm to authenticate the user. As an OpenID Connect client, an access token is issued as a result of a successful authentication.

When authenticating in the context of an organization, the access token is automatically updated with specific claims about the organization the user is a member.

To map organization-specific claims into tokens, a client needs to request the organization scope when sending authorization requests to the server.

As a result, the token will contain a claim as follows:

"organization": {
    "orga": {}
}

The organization claim can be used by clients (e.g.: from ID Tokens) and resource servers (e.g.: from access tokens) to authorize access to protected resources based on the organization that a user belongs to.

The organization scope is a built-in optional client scope at the realm. As such, it is added to any client created in the realm, by default.

Keycloak 25.0.1 released

To download the release go to Keycloak downloads.

Upgrading

Before upgrading refer to the migration guide for a complete list of changes.

All resolved issues

Enhancements

Bugs

Carrier Services rate update (2024-06-21)

By Simon Woodhead

We will be updating our Managed A-Z Termination rates and codes on June 21st 2024. As usual, these changes are colour coded in our full rate files available through the portal as below. Where your account has custom rates, these…

The post Carrier Services rate update (2024-06-21) appeared first on Simwood.

Electric vs Gas

An idling gas engine may be annoyingly loud, but that's the price you pay for having WAY less torque available at a standstill.

Working with TOTSCO

By [email protected] (RevK)

This is hopefully going to help other small ISPs that will have the same challenges.

As I explained in my previous post, we have to work with TOTSCO to set up One Touch Switching. Well, we are doing that now that TOTSCO actually exists. The new deadline is September, but we want to ensure we are working well before that.

Specifications

The specifications are not too bad. They have a few inconsistencies, which I have fed back to them. But I was able to code the system reasonably quickly. I created my own test system to act like TOTSCO so I could test my code with messages in and out in advance.

The underlying system is, as I say, just a messaging process between telcos. It can use OAUTH2, which is simple, and involves JSON messages each way, which is also simple. I use C and a load of long standing in-house JSON libraries, but for most people they would use some other platform with standard JSON libraries I am sure. It should be pretty simple. Obviously the hard part is integrating which whatever back end systems and processes the ISP uses, oh, and checking data for clean address data for matching services including UPRNs.

Simulator

TOTSCO have a simulator, which is good. It will allow testing against them. It has been two weeks since I finished coding it all, and only just on the simulator, but it is a mess, so far.

Well, that is not a good start, but chasing up, after several days they finally want me to check I am using the correct URLs. Good thing to check, but I was, as per the spec.

Some progress

Well, surprisingly, we have a quick response now.

The irony here is that part of my coding was to make a simulator for my own testing before going to TOTSCO, and so far my simulator is way better than theirs!

Next steps

I have come to the conclusion that the simulator is actually useless. It does not simulate either the TOTSCO messaging platform (as it does not actually use the right URLs, or provide a sensible directory, or actually do OAUTH2) nor actual end to end messaging (as it does not do source/target RCPID or correlationID correctly).

What really puzzles me is that we know we are not the first to do this, and we know some of the big telcos have done this. So how have other ISPs not ripped TOTSCO to pieces over this stupidity already?

Follow up call

We have had a call. They explain that the simulator is totally dumb, it cannot be told to initiate any messages, and all it does it send one of two fixed replies to a match request (depending on the RCPID to which it is sent). It is meant to test connectivity.

But they want to do more than just two match requests and replies, they want us to send the order, update, tigger, and cancel requests.

This makes no sense, as the match requests test connectivity both ways already. And, of course, my system will not do that as it has not received a valid switch order confirmation reply. The fixed text they send is not valid as wrong RCPID and correlationID, so we don't accept it and don't store the switch order reference. And as such it does not see a switch order we can place or update or trigger or cancel.

I could fake such messages, but that is not testing my system.

They say that if I email explaining this, they will move to pre-production platform. The is the same as live, but with other CPs.

What they seem to lack is any sort of useful simulator that handles messages both ways as if to another CP. This would seen a sensible step before going to pre production testing.

Pre-production testing

We have moved on. Yay!

But the simulator test is meant to test connectivity, and seriously, does no more than that.

So you would hope and expect it simulates the real system.

But no!

Pascal's Wager Triangle

In contrast to Pascal's Wager Triangle, Pascal's Triangle Wager argues that maybe God wants you to draw a triangle of numbers where each one is the sum of the two numbers above it, so you probably should, just in case.

Weekly Update 404

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Push Security. Stop identity attacks with a browser-based agent that detects and prevents account takeover. Try it free now.

What a week! The NDC opening keynote and 3D printing talk both went off beautifully, the latter being the first time for 11-year old Elle on stage:

Videos of both will

NOTSCO (Not TOTSCO) One Touch Switching test platform (now launched)

By [email protected] (RevK)

I posted about how inept TOTSCO seem to be, and the call today with them was no improvement.

It seems they have test stages...

They seem to be missing the obvious, a proper simulator platform that can simulate communications with another CP using TOTSCO, both ways. This has the aspect that the testing is against the spec, not against other CPs and their interpretation of the spec. It would be something to use whilst developing OTS for an ISP, and before going on to preproduction testing.

Missing link

So how do we address this missing link, a platform to test TOTSCO as if talking to another CP, but without actually doing so. Testing against the specification?

Well, we, like other CPs, I am sure, made some simple test systems before going to TOTSCO. But external testing is invaluable. Even if the external systems have it wrong in terms of following the spec (as long as they will fix it), they won't have the same errors as you have. The best external test would be TOTSCO, making a proper CP to CP simulator system.

But it does not exist - so, as you might expect, if you know me, I have made it, for free.

From a privacy perspective, I am not expecting personal data to be stored, but we are deleting all test at the end of each day anyway. I did wonder about a report download option maybe.

Now launched

It is now launched at https://notsco.co.uk It took me a few days to create all this, about the same as it took TOTSCO to actually reply when we asked to go on pre-production testing (and they still have not actually set that up). Thank you all for your patience.

Discussions, bugs, feature requests - on GitHub please.

I have told TOTSCO about it as well...

1.2 Kilofives

'Oh yeah? Give me 50 milliscore reasons why I should stop.'

Keycloak DevDay 2024 Videos published

By Niko Köbler

Back in February this year, we (Sebastian and me (Niko)) hosted the very first edition of Keycloak DevDay - a one-day, community-driven conference - in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. The event was a blast and completely sold-out, plus many additional participants online in the two parallel live streams. We were able to welcome attendees from all over Europe. Thank you all for being part of this incredible event! 🙏

For all of you who couldn’t attend, we have published all the recorded and live streamed sessions online on my YouTube channel:

We are currently preparing the next edition “Keycloak DeveloperDay 2025”. If you want to contribute, please get in touch with us (Sebastian & Niko)! Expect more information in the next weeks and months. Looking forward to have you and your colleagues & team members as attendees!

Sampling an Electromagnetic Field

By pete

We went to Electromagnetic Field 2024 as a silver sponsor. Whilst there we found a lot of fantastic fun things and missed a vast number of others. The really amazing part of the festival was the massive variety of things the participants brought with them. Lock picking and blacksmithing courses were available. Geodesic domes were […]

Can you run in a tight loop and still be well-behaved?

Timing things to happen at specific intervals is yet another way that we collectively find out that dealing with time is a hard problem. I've been noticing this while working on feed reader stuff, and I realized that it can apply to other problems.

It goes like this: say you want to have a process that runs at most once an hour. You are okay with it taking a little more than an hour between runs, but really don't want to go faster than that. Maybe you have an arrangement with a service provider to not poke them too often. Whatever.

So maybe you rig something up using cron, and it looks like this:

15 * * * * /home/me/bin/do_something

Then, every hour, at 15 minutes past, cron will run your program. Unfortunately, this by itself is not nearly enough to deliver on your arrangement. It's not even the problem you might imagine at first, which is that system clocks can be sloppy and can get pulled around by external forces.

Nope, this has to do with the time it takes to actually do the work, and not accounting for that when allowing the work to proceed again.

Back to our cron job. We'll say it gets installed at midnight, so 15 minutes later at 00:15:00, it starts a run. Maybe it does a lot of work and talks to many sites over the Internet. Some of them respond quickly, but others are slow. Maybe their DNS is taking forever to resolve the hostnames. Maybe another site is offline and is just dropping packets, so you sit there until a timeout fires on your end. It burns a good minute doing this.

At 00:16:00, it finally gets around to doing the "once an hour" work, and it happens relatively quickly. Then it finishes and goes to sleep.

About an hour later at 01:15:00, cron will run your program again. This time, maybe all of the earlier work happens much more quickly, and all of it completes in 15 seconds. That means you get around to your "once an hour" work at 01:15:15.

Oops. You were supposed to wait at least 3600 seconds - that's one hour - between requests, but you just ran it after only 3555 seconds.

The problem is that you you can't just rely on the start time of your program to know if enough time has elapsed since it last did some work which is supposed to be rate-limited. You have to actually track the time when the work *was attempted*, and then do the math of "elapsed = now - then" to see if enough time has gone by.

I tend to think of the timeline for this sort of thing as a series of fenceposts, like this:


start       action      end     (rest of the hour here)
    |          |        |
    v          v        v
----*----------*--------*---------------------------------------->

To avoid violating rate limits, you have to time things from when the action happens, not when the program starts up. If you want to really be paranoid about it, then you'll want to time it from when the program is all done with its work and is about to shut down (but this is a lot harder).

What ends up being much easier is to just remember whenever the work last started and/or finished, even if it didn't succeed. It should never select a target for refreshing until it has been idle for long enough. The program must never assume "well, I'm running again, so it must be time to do my thing". What if the box just rebooted, or any of a number of other possibilities? What then?

Here's an easy way to know if a program is on the right track: could it be run in a tight loop without causing a giant mess for other people?

$ while true; do run-my-stuff; done

If you can run something in a loop like that and not have it beat the crap out of whatever it's supposed to periodically talk to, then you're probably headed in the right direction. It also means that if the program gets into a start-crash-restart loop some day, maybe it won't unleash a hellstorm on whatever it happens to talk to.

Running a program in an infinite loop like that might chew a lot of resources on the local machine, but that's (relatively) okay. It's your machine. Feel free to burn your own resources. Where it becomes troublesome is when it reaches out and starts burning those of other people.

As usual, the details are important here.

road danger on Barton Fields Rd

By danny

There have been concerns about road danger on Barton Fields Rd, the spine road that runs through the Barton Park development on the eastern outskirts of Oxford, in particular around the primary school. One driver ploughed into the cycle parking stands outside the school, another hit one of the buildings under construction on the other […]

Broken Model

In addition to eating foxes, rabbits can eat grass. The grass also eats foxes. Our equations chart the contours of Fox Hell.

Starlink Mini brings space internet to backpackers

Comments

EVs Are Selling Well for Everyone Except Tesla

Comments

Show HN: A collection of front end Learning Resources

Comments

Bessemer Venture Partners' Anti-Portfolio

Comments

Ladybird browser spreads its wings

Comments

MeshAnything – converts 3D representations into efficient 3D meshes

Comments

Bomb Jack display hardware

Comments

How babies and young children learn to understand language

Comments

Show HN: Local voice assistant using Ollama, transformers and Coqui TTS toolkit

Comments

Generating audio for video

Comments

Promoted.ai (YC W21) Is Hiring a Sales Engineer

Comments

Gilead shot prevents all HIV cases in trial

Comments

Fuzz Map

Comments

Small claims court became Meta's customer service hotline

Comments

Notes on Tajikistan

Comments

How does government borrowing work?

How does government borrowing work, and how and when is the money paid back?

Taylor Swift Tube map released as star plays London

Each line is named after a different album and drawn in sequin colours.

Body found in search for missing teacher

Police searching for a missing 37-year-old say they have spoken to his family.

Chief constable who lied about naval rank dismissed

Nick Adderley says the decision brings an “end to my career of over 32 years as a police officer”.

Chief constable who lied about naval rank dismissed

Nick Adderley says the decision brings an “end to my career of over 32 years as a police officer”.

Guess how much stored data is ever used or accessed

By Richard Speed

Not a lot, says NetApp's Matt Watts as he talks file classification, wastage, and power consumption

Interview  NetApp's Chief Technology Evangelist, Matt Watts, is worried about sustainability and data wastage, even as his employer withdraws third-party support from BlueXP classification.…

Micron mega-fab mildly endangered by definitely endangered American bats

By Dan Robinson

Like a bat out of hell they'll be gone when November comes

Updated  Micron is reportedly facing a new hitch to starting work on its proposed fabrication center in New York State: Endangered bats.…

Scouting with Moyes - 'Here as a fan, but I think like a manager'

Former West Ham manager David Moyes on watching new players at Euro 2024 and how the latest generation of coaches means the game is always evolving.

Jay Slater: Search for missing Brit focuses on ravine

Jay Slater has been missing since shortly before 09:00 BST on Monday.

'We all love you so much' - Kate's birthday tribute to William

The image was posted online by the Princess of Wales to mark her husband's 42nd birthday.

Ex-footballer Roberto Baggio injured in armed robbery

The veteran footballer received stitches to his head after an armed robbery at his villa in northern Italy.

Who should I vote for and what are the parties promising?

Explore parties’ 2024 election manifestos and compare their policies on issues from housing to immigration with this interactive guide from BBC News.

The X Window System is still hanging on at 40

By Richard Speed

Never underestimate the stickiness of legacy technology

It is 40 years since Robert W Scheifler ushered in the era of the X Window System, a windowing system that continues to stick around despite many distributions looking for alternatives.…

Government borrowing in May is highest since Covid

Borrowing reaches £15bn, less than forecast but lays bare challenges facing the next government.

Election poll tracker: How do the parties compare?

How do people say they will vote in the UK general election? Our poll tracker measures the trends.

String of Reform candidates said Britain's Covid response was 'like the Holocaust', with some comparing treatment of unvaccinated to persecution of Jews

By /u/Kenobi_High_Ground

String of Reform candidates said Britain's Covid response was 'like the Holocaust', with some comparing treatment of unvaccinated to persecution of Jews submitted by /u/Kenobi_High_Ground to r/unitedkingdom
[link] [comments]

Drunken Scottish fans rescue 40 children from burning orphanage

By /u/datnt84

Drunken Scottish fans rescue 40 children from burning orphanage submitted by /u/datnt84 to r/Scotland
[link] [comments]

[@ArsenalBuzzCom] | Gary Neville :“I want to mention a player who we all love 100 per cent…Mikel Arteta moved Declan Rice out of that position [No.6] for the last 15 games of the season to bring in Jorginho and [Thomas] Partey, because he’s not that good at playing there"

By /u/-speakeasy

[@ArsenalBuzzCom] | Gary Neville :“I want to mention a player who we all love 100 per cent…Mikel Arteta moved Declan Rice out of that position [No.6] for the last 15 games of the season to bring in Jorginho and [Thomas] Partey, because he’s not that good at playing there"

Neville - “That’s the most nervous I’ve ever seen Declan Rice and he’s a brilliant player. I think he’s better further up the pitch. If you think about what [Toni] Kroos, Rodri and Vitinha do, they’re players who get the team going. At Manchester Unitedit was Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. It’s Jorginho at Arsenal.

“We don’t seem to have this player. [Kobbie] Mainoo’s probably the one. [Adam] Wharton could do it. We have to resolve this problem and I’m not talking about Gareth in the next four days.

“I’m just talking England generally. We’ve never been able to get out from the back properly in moments of pressure. When he [Rice] receives the ball deep with his back to play, I think he’s quite basic at that. I don’t think he’s as good as the other players who play that position.

“Where I think he’s brilliant is where he’s marauding forward, he’s on top of the game, he’s being aggressive. If you look at his touch map for Arsenal in the last part of the season, most of his touches were in the high-left channel.

“I get that he’s got Jorginho, he might have [Oleksandar] Zinchenko and Partey in midfield. For some reason we don’t have that balance in midfield and that’s a massive problem.” [ITV via Metro] 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

submitted by /u/-speakeasy to r/Gunners
[link] [comments]

Do you know anyone that’s won Omaze or similar?

By /u/Narwhal1986

Being the cynical type I am always dubious of these competitions to win multi million pound houses.

Are they real? What’s the catch? Is there some sort of BS that means I wouldn’t be able to sell immediately etc etc

Obviously my cynical brain believes Redditors above all so… fire away any experience with these types of things? 😉

Should add, I’ve never bought a ticket just seem to be getting bombarded with adverts for it recently

submitted by /u/Narwhal1986 to r/AskUK
[link] [comments]

Fans balancing beer on sleeping supporter's head 'more fun than watching England' at Euro 2024

By /u/SubstantialSnow7114

Fans balancing beer on sleeping supporter's head 'more fun than watching England' at Euro 2024 submitted by /u/SubstantialSnow7114 to r/CasualUK
[link] [comments]

Thames Water pumps sewage into rare chalk stream for five months straight

By /u/theipaper

Thames Water pumps sewage into rare chalk stream for five months straight submitted by /u/theipaper to r/unitedkingdom
[link] [comments]

Vladimir Putin drove North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the destination point. Then they went for a walk in the park together

By /u/VideoCard7

Vladimir Putin drove North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the destination point. Then they went for a walk in the park together submitted by /u/VideoCard7 to r/interestingasfuck
[link] [comments]

Who run the world,girls

By /u/Least-Employ7622

submitted by /u/Least-Employ7622 to r/Funnymemes
[link] [comments]

Why is Southgate so viscerally hated by the English fans?

By /u/iamthemetricsystem

I’ll admit I don’t have much ball knowledge but even though some of his choices have been questionable it’s not like he’s been downright horrendous?

2018 World Cup - Makes it to the semis, probably should’ve got to the final but Croatia were a good team

2020 Euros Makes - it all the way to the final only to get knocked out on penalties

2022 World Cup - Only makes it to the quarters, but respectably gets knocked out by a very strong France team who were very close to winning the whole thing.

He hasn’t overachieved and I agree it’s pretty boring to watch them but it’s rare I see a manager hated so much under the circumstances

submitted by /u/iamthemetricsystem to r/football
[link] [comments]

What is the most awkward thing you ever said during sex?

By /u/PrinceSPawz

submitted by /u/PrinceSPawz to r/AskReddit
[link] [comments]

Uncovering a 100 year old Maple Herringbone Wood Floor

By /u/n8saces

Uncovering a 100 year old Maple Herringbone Wood Floor submitted by /u/n8saces to r/oddlysatisfying
[link] [comments]

Quick question, are they the same species?

By /u/Ageless4

Quick question, are they the same species? submitted by /u/Ageless4 to r/StarWars
[link] [comments]

Charli xcx - the girl, so confusing version with lorde

By /u/kait2121

submitted by /u/kait2121 to r/popheads
[link] [comments]

Beyoncé tells THR that she is no longer motivated by charts and sales

By /u/FlyGloomy

Beyoncé tells THR that she is no longer motivated by charts and sales submitted by /u/FlyGloomy to r/Fauxmoi
[link] [comments]

Farage said Andrew Tate was ‘important voice’ for men in podcast interview

By /u/CcryMeARiver

Farage said Andrew Tate was ‘important voice’ for men in podcast interview submitted by /u/CcryMeARiver to r/unitedkingdom
[link] [comments]

Quoting Matt Levine

OpenAI was founded to build artificial general intelligence safely, free of outside commercial pressures. And now every once in a while it shoots out a new AI firm whose mission is to build artificial general intelligence safely, free of the commercial pressures at OpenAI.

Matt Levine

Val Vibes: Semantic search in Val Town

Val Vibes: Semantic search in Val Town

A neat case-study by JP Posma on how Val Town's developers can use Val Town Vals to build prototypes of new features that later make it into Val Town core.

This one explores building out semantic search against Vals using OpenAI embeddings and the PostgreSQL pgvector extension.

Quoting Jeff Jarvis

It is in the public good to have AI produce quality and credible (if ‘hallucinations’ can be overcome) output. It is in the public good that there be the creation of original quality, credible, and artistic content. It is not in the public good if quality, credible content is excluded from AI training and output OR if quality, credible content is not created.

Jeff Jarvis

llm-claude-3 0.4

llm-claude-3 0.4

LLM plugin release adding support for the new Claude 3.5 Sonnet model:

pipx install llm
llm install -U llm-claude-3
llm keys set claude
# paste AP| key here
llm -m claude-3.5-sonnet \
  'a joke about a pelican and a walrus having lunch'

Quoting Anthropic

One of the core constitutional principles that guides our AI model development is privacy. We do not train our generative models on user-submitted data unless a user gives us explicit permission to do so. To date we have not used any customer or user-submitted data to train our generative models.

Anthropic

Claude 3.5 Sonnet

Claude 3.5 Sonnet

Anthropic released a new model this morning, and I think it's likely now the single best available LLM. Claude 3 Opus was already mostly on-par with GPT-4o, and the new 3.5 Sonnet scores higher than Opus on almost all of Anthropic's internal evals.

It's also twice the speed and one fifth of the price of Opus (it's the same price as the previous Claude 3 Sonnet). To compare:

Similar to Claude 3 Haiku then, which both under-cuts and out-performs OpenAI's GPT-3.5 model.

In addition to the new model, Anthropic also added a "artifacts" feature to their Claude web interface. The most exciting part of this is that any of the Claude models can now build and then render web pages and SPAs, directly in the Claude interface.

This means you can prompt them to e.g. "Build me a web app that teaches me about mandelbrot fractals, with interactive widgets" and they'll do exactly that - I tried that prompt on Claude 3.5 Sonnet earlier and the results were spectacular (video demo).

An unsurprising note at the end of the post:

To complete the Claude 3.5 model family, we’ll be releasing Claude 3.5 Haiku and Claude 3.5 Opus later this year.

If the pricing stays consistent with Claude 3, Claude 3.5 Haiku is going to be a very exciting model indeed.

Quoting Nikhil Suresh

[...] And then some absolute son of a bitch created ChatGPT, and now look at us. Look at us, resplendent in our pauper's robes, stitched from corpulent greed and breathless credulity, spending half of the planet's engineering efforts to add chatbot support to every application under the sun when half of the industry hasn't worked out how to test database backups regularly.

Nikhil Suresh

State-of-the-art music scanning by Soundslice

State-of-the-art music scanning by Soundslice

It's been a while since I checked in on Soundslice, Adrian Holovaty's beautiful web application focused on music education.

The latest feature is spectacular. The Soundslice music editor - already one of the most impressive web applications I've ever experienced - can now import notation directly from scans or photos of sheet music.

The attention to detail is immaculate. The custom machine learning model can handle a wide variety of notation details, and the system asks the user to verify or correct details that it couldn't perfectly determine using a neatly designed flow.

Free accounts can scan two single page documents a month, and paid plans get a much higher allowance. I tried it out just now on a low resolution image I found on Wikipedia and it did a fantastic job, even allowing me to listen to a simulated piano rendition of the music once it had finished processing.

It's worth spending some time with the release notes for the feature to appreciate how much work they've out into improving it since the initial release.

If you're new to Soundslice, here's an example of their core player interface which syncs the display of music notation to an accompanying video.

Adrian wrote up some detailed notes on the machine learning behind the feature when they first launched it in beta back in November 2022.

OMR [Optical Music Recognition] is an inherently hard problem, significantly more difficult than text OCR. For one, music symbols have complex spatial relationships, and mistakes have a tendency to cascade. A single misdetected key signature might result in multiple incorrect note pitches. And there’s a wide diversity of symbols, each with its own behavior and semantics — meaning the problems and subproblems aren’t just hard, there are many of them.

Civic Band

Civic Band

Exciting new civic tech project from Philip James: 30 (and counting) Datasette instances serving full-text search enabled collections of OCRd meeting minutes for different civic governments. Includes 20,000 pages for Alameda, 17,000 for Pittsburgh, 3,567 for Baltimore and an enormous 117,000 for Maui County.

Philip includes some notes on how they're doing it. They gather PDF minute notes from anywhere that provides API access to them, then run local Tesseract for OCR (the cost of cloud-based OCR proving prohibitive given the volume of data). The collection is then deployed to a single VPS running multiple instances of Datasette via Caddy, one instance for each of the covered regions.

Weeknotes: Datasette Studio and a whole lot of blogging

I'm still spinning back up after my trip back to the UK, so actual time spent building things has been less than I'd like. I presented an hour long workshop on command-line LLM usage, wrote five full blog entries (since my last weeknotes) and I've also been leaning more into short-form link blogging - a lot more prominent on this site now since my homepage redesign last week.

Datasette Studio

I ran a workshop for a data journalism class recently which included having students try running structured data extraction using datasette-extract. I didn't want to talk them through installing Python etc on their own machines, so I instead took advantage of a project I've been tinkering with for a little while called Datasette Studio.

Datasette Studio is actually two things. The first is a distribution of Datasette which bundles the core application along with a selection of plugins that greatly increase its capabilities as a tool for cleaning and analyzing data. You can install that like this:

pipx install datasette-studio

Then run datasette-studio to start the server or datasette-studio install xyz to install additional plugins.

Datasette Studio runs the latest Datasette 1.0 alpha, and will upgrade to 1.0 stable as soon as that is released.

Quoting the pyproject.toml file, the current list of plugins is this:

I plan to grow this list over time. A neat thing about datasette-studio is that the entire application is defined by a single pyproject.toml that lists those dependecies and sets up the datasette-studio CLI console script, which is then published to PyPI.

The second part of Datasette Studio is a GitHub repository that's designed to help run it in GitHub Codespaces, with a very pleasing URL:

https://github.com/datasette/studio

Visit that page, click the green "Code" button and click "Create codespace on main" to launch a virtual machine running in GitHub's Azure environment, preconfigured to launch a private instance of Datasette as soon as the Codespace has started running.

Screenshot of the GitHub Codespaces UI running Datasette Studio

You can then start using it directly - uploading CSVs or JSON data, or even set your own OpenAI key (using the "Manage secrets" menu item) to enable OpenAI features such as GPT enrichments and structured data extraction.

I'm still fleshing out the idea, but I really like this as a starting point for a completely free Datasette trial environment that's entirely hosted (and paid for) by Microsoft/GitHub!

More blog improvements

In addition to the redesign of the homepage - moving my linkblog and quotations out of the sidebar and into the main content, at least on desktop - I've made a couple of other tweaks.

Blog entries

Releases

TILs

About the Lawrence Times

About the Lawrence Times

The town of Lawrence, Kansas is where Django was born. I'm delighted to learn that it has a new independent online news publication as-of March 2021 - the Lawrence Times.

It's always exciting to see local media startups like this one, and they've been publishing for three years now supported by both advertiser revenue and optional paid subscriptions.

Via Jacob Kaplan-Moss

I’ve stopped using box plots. Should you?

I’ve stopped using box plots. Should you?

Nick Desbarats explains box plots (including with this excellent short YouTube video) and then discusses why he thinks "typically less than 20 percent" of participants in his workshops already understand how to read them.

A key problem is that they are unintuitive: a box plot has four sections, two thin lines (the top and bottom whisker segments) and two larger boxes, joined around the median. Each of these elements represents the same number of samples (one quartile each) but the thin lines v.s. thick boxes imply that the whiskers contain less samples than the boxes.

Via lobste.rs

Tags with descriptions

Tags with descriptions

Tiny new feature on my blog: I can now add optional descriptions to my tag pages, for example on datasette and sqliteutils and promptinjection.

I built this feature on a live call this morning as an unplanned demonstration of GitHub's new Copilot Workspace feature, where you can run a prompt against a repository and have it plan, implement and file a pull request implementing a change to the code.

My prompt was:

Add a feature that lets me add a description to my tag pages, stored in the database table for tags and visible on the /tags/x/ page at the top

It wasn't as compelling a demo as I expected: Copilot Workspace currently has to stream an entire copy of each file it modifies, which can take a long time if your codebase includes several large files that need to be changed.

It did create a working implementation on its first try, though I had given it an extra tip not to forget the database migration. I ended up making a bunch of changes myself before I shipped it, listed in the pull request.

I've been using Copilot Workspace quite a bit recently as a code explanation tool - I'll prompt it to e.g. "add architecture documentation to the README" on a random repository not owned by me, then read its initial plan to see what it's figured out without going all the way through to the implementation and PR phases. Example in this tweet where I figured out the rough design of the Jina AI Reader API for this post.

Claude: Building evals and test cases

Claude: Building evals and test cases

More documentation updates from Anthropic: this section on writing evals for Claude is new today and includes Python code examples for a number of different evaluation techniques.

Included are several examples of the LLM-as-judge pattern, plus an example using cosine similarity and another that uses the new-to-me Rouge Python library that implements the ROUGE metric for evaluating the quality of summarized text.

Anthropic release notes

Anthropic release notes

Anthropic have started publishing release notes! Currently available for their API and their apps (mobile and web).

What I'd really like to see are release notes for the models themselves, though as far as I can tell there haven't been any updates to those since the Claude 3 models were first released (the Haiku model name in the API is still claude-3-haiku-20240307 and Anthropic say they'll change that identifier after any updates to the model).

Via Alex Albert

An Electromagnetic Force

I've just returned from a fourteen-day trip spent building, running and tearing down EMF, and as I sit on the plane writing this, as well as physical exhaustion, I am experiencing a whole host of emotions - happiness, wonder, determination, and also a strange sense of loss.

It is impossible to describe EMF to anyone who has not attended; while initially you might want to compare it to a normal festival, or something like Burning Man, it is fundamentally unlike almost any other event on Earth. The Dutch and German camps maybe come close, but even those have their own somewhat different vibe.

Over the course of my time heading up the logistics team over the last two weeks, I have done and seen such a wild variety of things that I'm never quite sure what was real. Among others, I watched a man play the US National Anthem on a tesla coil using a theremin; climbed up into a DJ booth in a solarpunk-themed Null Sector and pressed the "!! FIRE !!" button to light up the night sky with pillars of burning alcohol; exited the shower to hear HACK THE PLANET echo out over the field from the stage a quarter of a mile away; saw an inflatable t-rex driving a miniature Jurassic Park jeep, played games on a hillside using lasers, and refilled the duck flume several times (shortly after exclaiming "We have a duck flume?").

...

The Cloud Is Just My Basement's Computers

I've had many different development platforms over the years - from Notepad++ on library computers in my youth, to Gentoo and then Ubuntu installed on a series of carefully-chosen laptops with working drivers, and then for the last five years or so on Surface devices via the rather wonderful Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

Of course, in the WSL era I am still just running Ubuntu, but inside the pseudo-VM that is the WSL subsystem of the Windows kernel. It's honestly pretty great, and I regularly joke that I'm using Windows as the GUI layer to develop on Linux.

Between the Steam Deck and WSL both being ascendant, maybe we finally got the Year Of Linux On The Desktop, just not as we expected.

...

Life-Critical Side Projects

TLDR: I am looking for new developers and maintainers for Takahē who want to help in exchange for my mentorship, or I'll have to sunset the project.

I find it important to have hobbies that aren't the same as what I do for work, which is why an increasing number of them don't involve computers at all - I'm very happy building new things on my camper van, making weird geographic art, or hiking around bits of the Rockies.

However, I still love programming and systems work, and I'll always have at least one project going on the side that involves it - nothing beats the size and complexity of what you can create in just a few hours of coding. That said, I have two basic rules for my programming side projects:

...

I am, approximately, here

There are many questionable things about American car culture, but the road trip is not one of them. In a country as large and geographically varied as the USA, road travel is not just a necessity, but it can also be the attraction itself.

When I first moved to the USA, I had vague plans of doing some driving around and enjoying the sheer alien-ness of tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, or motels where you are somehow the only guest. Nine years in, I've done a decent amount of that, but these days my attention is more focused around the camper van that I spent half a year building.

I like to try and share a bit of the experience with those who want to see it, and as well as posting pictures and videos, I've always liked the idea of having a live map of where I am - even if it's just for friends and relatives who are interested in my progress.

...

A Takahē refactor, as a treat

I had taken two months off from developing Takahē in the run up to PyCon US; both due to pressures at work (and then, more recently, half the company being laid off around me), as well as not quite being sure what I wanted to build, exactly.

When I started the project, my main goal was to show that multi-domain support for a single ActivityPub server was possible; once I had achieved that relatively early on, I sort of fell down the default path of implementing a lightweight clone of Mastodon/Twitter.

While this was good in terms of developing out the features we needed, it always felt a bit like overhead I didn't really want; after all, if you're implementing the Mastodon API like we do, all the dedicated apps for viewing timelines and posting are always going to be better than what you ship with a server.

...

Takahē 0.7

Today is the 0.7 release of Takahē, and things are really humming along now; this release marks the point where we've built enough moderation and community features to make me happy that I can open up takahe.social to registrations, albeit with a user number cap.

We've also launched a Patreon for Takahē, in a quest to make development and operation of Takahē more sustainable - and work towards start paying some people to help out with the less exciting work like triaging tickets, user support, and moderation of takahe.social. If you want to volunteer directly, that's covered in our Contributing docs.

There's some interesting technical topics I want to dig into today, though - it's been a little while since my last blog post and ActivityPub and friends continue to surprise.

...

Understanding A Protocol

Yesterday I pushed out the 0.5.0 release of Takahē, and while there's plenty left to do, this release is somewhat of a milestone in its own right, as it essentially marks the point where I've implemented enough of ActivityPub to shift focus.

With the implementation of image posting in this release, there are now only a few things left at a protocol level that I know I'm missing:

Custom emoji (these are custom per-server and a mapping of name-to-image comes with each post)

...

Takahē 0.3.0

So, after a few weeks of development, I'm happy enough with the state of Takahē to issue its first official release - which I've chosen to number 0.3.0, because version numbers are made up and I can start where I want.

We're only releasing Docker images right now in order to try and keep the support burden down (it removes having to worry about people's OS versions and library environments), so you can find it on Docker Hub.

A screenshot of Takahē

...

Twitter, ActivityPub and The Future

Twitter is - was - such a unique place. Somewhere where you can have the President of the United States coexist with teenagers writing fan fiction; where celebrities give personal insights into their lives while government departments post memes about public safety; the place that gave us @Horse_ebooks and @dril.

The "Fediverse", with Mastodon at its helm, is not this. It doesn't seem to want to be, and I honestly think that's fine - as many thinkpieces have recently said, the age of global social media might just be over. And given the effect it's had on the world, maybe that's alright after all.

But there is still a void to fill, and as someone who enjoyed Twitter most at its "medium" size, I think the ActivityPub ecosystem is well-placed to grow into such a space. But first, I think there's some important things we have to discuss about it.

...

Takahē: A New ActivityPub Server

When I decided to properly start using the Fediverse via my own Mastodon server, I knew it was probably inevitable that I would end up writing my own server - and, well, here we are!

My new server is called Takahē, and it's built in Django and also specifically with Python's async library ecosystem - I'll explain more about why that matters later.

A screenshot of Takahe

...

I Fight For The Users

By Jeff Atwood

If you haven't been able to keep up with my blistering pace of one blog post per year, I don't blame you. There's a lot going on right now. It's a busy time. But let's pause and take a moment

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.

Early June

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As summer warmth arrives, we look forward to family visits, and continue to read and listen to podcasts.

My love of reading goes way back - Just William and Arthur Ransome when young, phases of Victorian classics more recently, often linked to television adaptations.  As time passes I often gravitate to stories linked to real events, for example Snow falling on cedars  by David Guterson.  Its background is the exclusion of  Japanese Americans from the US in the fevered atmosphere following Pearl Harbour.  Listening to a fascinating podcast series  History's secret heroes on BBC Radio 4 brought this vividly back - the direct experience of families suffering such devastating treatment - displacement and internment in awful camps - was only partly mitigated by the later compensation and apologies of American administrations (a bit of a contrast, all the same, to the recent frequent and reluctant acknowledgement of maladministration and mistreatment of people in the UK).

On the similar theme, paraoia leading to unjust treatment of racial minorities in wartime, I've recently discovered Eva Ibbotson, whose novels (with admittedly romantic themes) strike chords for me with music, Austrian and Jewish threads.  The last I read, twice now, is A song for summer in which among other things a man, an eminent musician called Marek,  with Czech origins, ends up interned on the Isle of Man as some of my good friends were .  An extraordinary collection of human beings - members of the Amadeus Quartet were among those rumoured to have met there, and the internment camps also featured on a podcast we've just listened to - so I think it's worth quoting at length from this well-written account:

The poor British, waiting for invasion, standing alone against Hitler, succumbed not to panic, for that was not in their nature, but to paranoia. Nazis disguised as parachuting nuns were reported daily; old ladies with a chink in their blackout curtains were taken away for questioning – and now, in an act of madness, they began to round up and imprison just those ‘enemy aliens’ who had the most to fear from Hitler and Mussolini, and who had been engaged in the fight against Fascism while high-ranking British diplomats were still taking tea with the Führer and admiring the fact that the trains ran on time. Austrian and German professors were hauled out of lecture rooms, doctors out of hospitals, students out of libraries, told they could pack one suitcase and taken away by the police. Italian shopkeepers, German bakers who had spent years in Britain, disappeared within an hour, weeping and bewildered. Spy mania was everywhere; even one traitor among the thousands of innocent refugees could not be tolerated. The camps they were taken to were not in fact concentration camps, the Tommies who guarded them were no Storm Troopers, but the bewilderment and anguish, particularly among older refugees, was appalling. Leon [another character in Ibbotson's book] happened to be at home when two policemen came for his father. He lied about his age... and was taken to an internment camp consisting of a large number of seaside boarding houses on the Isle of Man.

The views of the landladies evicted from their villas – from Bay View and Sunnydene and Resthaven – are not recorded. Forced to leave behind their garden gnomes, their monkey puzzles and brass plates offering Bed and Breakfast, they were replaced by rolls of barbed wire, observation towers and iron gates. Facing the sea but unable to reach it, cut off from all news of the outside world, the inmates wandered about, guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets, trying to understand the nightmare that had enveloped them. Housed in villas stripped of everything except camp beds and a few cooking utensils, the men assembled each morning for roll call and the rations which they had no idea how to cook. And each day more confused ‘enemy aliens’ arrived – Nobel Laureates, old men with diabetes, social democrats who had been tortured in the prisons of the Reich and had come to Britain as to Mecca or Shangri La.

Although it was obvious to even the thickest British Tommy that Hitler, if he had been relying on these men for spies, would have little hope of winning the war, the net which produced such a strange catch did just occasionally dredge up a genuine Nazi. When this happened, the results were unfortunate. Immolated in boarding houses with at least a dozen Jews whose suffering at the hands of the Nazis had been unspeakable, a man polishing his boots and saying that Hitler would soon overrun Britain did not have a happy life. He was refused his rations, ostracised, the blankets stolen from his bed. Most of them capitulated and learnt to hold their tongues, but one of them, a handsome blond young man called Erich Unterhausen, continued each morning to polish his boots, give the Nazi salute and say, ‘Heil Hitler!’ At least he did until a rainy morning in late July when he flew suddenly out of the first-floor window of Mon Repos, bounced off a privet bush, and landed on a flower bed planted with crimson salvias and purple aubretia. He was not hurt, only bruised, which was a pity, but the news, spreading quickly through the camp, was regarded by the inmates as the first glimmer of light since the fall of France. Needless to say, the perpetrator of this brutality was immediately marched off to the camp commandant in his office, where he admitted his guilt and was entirely unrepentant. ‘If you don’t get rid of people like Unterhausen you’ll have a murder on your hands,' he said, confusing the commandant with his flawless English. ‘Rounding up accredited Nazis with these people is madness. You know perfectly well who the real Nazis are in this camp – I’ve only been here a day but I can tell you: Schweger in Sunnydene, Pischinger in that place with the blue pottery cat – and the chap I threw out of the window. He’s the only one who could possibly be a spy, and the sooner he’s in a proper prison the better – anyone worth their salt could signal from here. As for Schweger, he’s in with some hotheads from the Jewish Freedom Movement and they’re starving him to death.’

Thank you for telling me my business,’ said the commandant, and was disconcerted by an entirely friendly smile from the tall, broad-shouldered man with the scar on his forehead. He looked down at the papers that had come with the prisoner. ‘You say you’re a Czech.’ ‘I don’t say I am; I am,’ said the prisoner unruffledly. ‘So what are you doing here? The Czechs are our allies.’ Marek was silent. The Czechs might be allies now, but before, at Munich, they had been betrayed. ‘Your name is German.’ ‘Yes. I came over in a fishing boat; we were strafed and capsized outside Dover. I got concussion. Apparently I spoke German to the dogs.’ ‘The dogs?’ ‘There was a whole compound of stray dogs which the Tommies had smuggled out of France when they were taken off at Dunkirk – you’ve never heard such a racket. They put my stretcher down beside a big black and tan pointer. My father’s hunting dogs were always trained in German and when I came round –’ He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter about me; they’ll sort it out. I’m quite glad to be out of the way till the Czechoslovak Air Force reassembles. But Unterhausen must go, and the other Nazis – and old Professor Cohen must go to hospital – the one who stands by the barbed wire and gets his beard caught. He’s very eminent and very ill – if he dies there’ll be questions asked. They’re being asked already in Parliament and elsewhere.’

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?’ sneered the second in command, a brash young lieutenant, but the commandant frowned him down. A humane man, he knew full well that he was caught up in one of those administrative muddles that happens in war and can claim lives. It was to him that Marek spoke. ‘Most of the people in here understand what has happened – that there was bound to be confusion after the French surrendered, that we’ve got mixed up with the parachuting nuns and that it won’t go on for ever. But not all of them. There have been two suicides in one of the other camps, as you no doubt know. This whole business – interning the people who have most of all to fear from Hitler – is going to be a pretty discreditable episode in retrospect. What’s more, if Hitler does invade, you’ve made it nice and easy for him, corralling all the Jews and the anti-Nazis together so he doesn’t have to go looking.’ ‘... the internees (from whom all news of the outside world was forbidden) ... [saved] the newspapers that came wrapped round their ration of kippers... [to] keep in touch with the stock exchange.

Other familiar faces now appeared in the throng: the erstwhile flautist of the Berlin Philharmonic; a copying clerk from the office of Universal Editions; Marek’s old tailor from the Kärntnerstrasse . . . and all the time more people appeared, overjoyed by the news of Unterhausen’s fate. But Marek did not intend to waste too much time on swapping stories – . ‘There’s a piano locked in the basement of the Palm Court Hotel,’ he said. ‘We can have it. It’ll have to be moved into some kind of hall or shed – anything. We’re going to give a concert.’ ‘Of what?'‘There’s only one answer to that, don’t you think?’ ‘Johann Sebastian Bach,’ said the flautist. Marek nodded. ‘Exactly so.’ For a moment he raised his eyes to heaven, seeking guidance not so much from God (whose musicality was not well documented) as from his erstwhile representative on earth, the Kapellmeister of Leipzig.


I have been musing why my sympathy and emotions are so strongly stirred by such injustice - after all, I have had a comfortable life in entirely British surroundings give or take a splash of Quakerism and some marvellous friends as role models, but that is how it is and I shall continue to be drawn by underdog tales.

This has turned out to be  a single subject blog, but the accompanyjng pictures are the usual mixture from daily life!





A roundup

By [email protected] (Jon North)


 Sometimes there are carpets of poppies everywhere, this year fewer but this field right next to our car servicing garage kept catching my eye and I caught it just in time while Mary booked the car in for its service.  This post will be a bit of a roundup of things I have posted on Facebook.

A while back I wrote about the plight of migrants and someone thought I might have been referring to our situation.  Of course not - we are incrdibly lucky to have landed on our feet after Brexit thanks to a very fair-minded French government and bureaucracy.  But I am ever more angry and concerned about people who have gone through unimaginable hardships to reach France and the UK, and then find in the UK at least that they are vilified and stranded.  I have been reading the various writings of Sathnam  Sanghera whose disssection of Britains imperial past is trenchant.

His autobiographical The boy with the topknot is among other things a powerful reflection on mental illness in his family; our own experienceshave echos here, and among other things his description of the slow realisation that things are wrong, attempting to rationalise the painful, is something we have known.  I have been fascinated also to see a bit from the inside the experiences of Sikh immigrants to Britain and their cultural context, including marriage exepctations and the complex place of women in his stories.  His novel Marriage material is an excellent read.

Before I pass on to lighter topics, the ongoing inhumaanity of the various refugee themes in the news is not the only awful and distressing thing we hear of and read about daily - the plight of British subpost-people wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office because of long-denied computer problems, the infected blood scandal or the plight of carers forced to pay back benefit overpayments (this links closely to my lontime work with carers through Crossroads) and the ongoing inhumanity around post-war immigrants (from the Windrush etc.) are only somr examples of things which should havce been sorted out long ago but have been swept under bureauratic carpets again and again.  I have often said that Dickens and his Circumlocution Office (in Little Dorrit) seem still  alive and well.  Apart from deliberate inhumanity, there are plenty of ways of mistreating people through shoulder-shrugging neglect - Dickens' "nobody knew" is classic now as then.

Our houshold chugs on, looking forward to a family visit here in a fortnight.  We are daily grateful for Edmond's liveliness at the age of 15!  After a thorough overhaulof the roof, more complex than we had expected, our friendly factotum M.Beaumann has continued his care of our premises with a splendid cleanup of yard and terrace and is now starting on a new front fence.  IN the caourse of this he has discovered some very ancient (well, as old as the house, around 50 years) mains electrical wiring which is still all too live.  A better casing and leaving well alone are the answers.  And our lawnmower is finally going to be cordless!

Lots of my Facebook posts are links to photos published daily in the Guardian, plus th odd cartoon that takes my fancy.  Also photos from French places we know well - the area around the Pic Saint Loup, other parts of our local Languedoc, and the Drôme where our old twin town Die is located, for example.

A night shot of the Pic Saint Loup with boar passing by
by an excellent local photographer, Régis Domergue

Although we have limited opportunity to watch sport on tv (Mary andn I are both gravitating more to radio and podcasts these days - for her it makes knitting easier!) we follow football and cycling keenly at least by results and reports, and I am fascinated to see that Liverpool have appointed another monosyllabic manager, Mr Slot (Arne), to replace the excellent Klopp (Jürgen).

Our language groups (reading and speaking in French with some French people trying their English) continue twice a week, with often excellent shared lunches thrown in - as the weather warms up we can start to  eat outside.

             

We read a lot - among authors we both enjoy are Eva Ibbotson, whose romantic novels with strong links to her Austrian background are beautifully written and full of well-observed characters; and an old favourite, Sara Paretsky whose V.I.Warshawski novels set in Chicago and around.  Sara Paretsky is an avid campaigner for women, and her fearless public profile is simply admirable.

To end, a cartoon and another poppy




Sagas all round

By [email protected] (Jon North)


Sagas have been on my mind in several ways since Easter.  But first, exciting times in the tortoise world.  We were given a new (to us) young one a few weeks ago, and he had been living in a cage inside until the weather warmed.  It has now done so and today the larger tortoise emerged from its hibernation in the enclosure in the garden.  I thought its was a lump of mud at first bat, as you can see, it has scrubbed up nicely and the younger one has joined it in the paddock!




The first saga has been of the literary kind, the Forsytes which have occupied our dvd viewing and my re-reading for the first part of the year.  My name, Jon, was chosen by my dad (who was emotionally attached to the books) because of the young man Jon, the youngest Jolyon of the family.  I think my father was rather muddled because he also professed an admiration for the 'man of property' epitomised by Soames who was on the 'other side' of the family.  Never mind, the story was worth reading again, and the two tv productions  are both good in theier different ways.   But the third part of the 9 volumes, going up almost to Galsworthy's death in the early 1930s, were never dramatised as far as I know and I like them even better than the Victorian and Edwardian ones - a much more nuanced examination of love and marriage, with a dramatic view of mental illness thrown in.


Two less welcome 'sagas' lately have been to do with roof and health, both happily resolved.  You'll recall perhaps that the roof was repaired last year by a firm which promised excellence and, as we thought, delivered it.  It turned out that what they did not do was the issue - first neglecting to tell us of very old insulation which we've now had replaced, and secondly failing to fix any but the end tile in a whole ridge.  Of course we could have no idea that there were problems - in the second case the rattling of tiles in the wind (after a long period of fairly calm weather) told us sometehing was amiss; and luckily our regular house and garden person Monsieur Beaumann was able to sort both.  It turns out that he has long been a roof specialist - if only we had known...

Our conversation groups still active, with new arrivals from Chicago




The health saga is not, for once, my various aches and pains but the long-running one of Mary's heart and blood (since a minor stroke in 2010), very well surveyed but needing careful supervision.  Not for the first time we have been glad of the very local A&E hospital, all built since we came here.  In the past week the care has involved feeet up and suppport stockings which are too hot for comfort when the weather warms up.

The warm srping is a lovely time for flowers, so here are a few more from our garden.






And finally a word of praise for one of the few bits of the British administration that actually seems to work.  With luck and a following wind my new passport should arrive soon, and like Mary's it was efficiently and quickly dealt with despite Brexit horror stories elsewhere.






 

Springtime with rain

By [email protected] (Jon North)

I have written before about the dry conditions here.  But when it rains it really does.  Last week we had 60 mm in a few hours, and another 40 at the weekend, but this morning we are back to bright sunshine and blue skies.  The photo above was taken a few days ago, a pink evening sky which we see quite often.


We have been a bit concerned about Edmond, 14 years old and with dodgy kidneys.  But we've just returned from the vet, and all seems to be fairly well after a blood test and with a bit more diuretic - desmite occasional wheezes, he is lively and has put on a bit of weight.  We hope he will be with us for a little whhile yet.

After our trips to the UK we have mostly stayed home and slotted back into our regular activities.  These photos of our regular Tuesday French conversation group were taken by someone elsse for once, so I'm in one or two!

After a good excursion on DVD into the works of Mrs Gaskell we have passed onto John Galsworthy, not just through 2 tv series of the Forsyte Saga but, for me, rereading the books.  I started on the paper versions but have passed over to the Kindle (lighter to hold in bed).  The Forsytes have a particular association for me because I was called after Jon, son of young Jolyon F.  My father pretended to admire the 'Man of Propeerty' characterised by Soames but much about Dad seems to me to have been nearer the softer, more emotional other side of the family, the Jolyons and their ilk.  Rereading for the 4th or 5th time I find much in the detail of the written version which can only be hinted at in a tv adaptation, and in the end it is the characters of Soames and his daughter Fleur which dominate the first 6 of the 9 books in the saga.  Of the final 3, which are far less well-known, I may write more anon.

Since we returned from the UK for the second time this year, we had one very enjoyable outing to see our friend Barry who lives in these rural surroundings in the area called the Laurargais south-east of Toulouse.  Barry is South African in origin but had long re-acclimatised to England where I met him in the Canonbury Chamber Choir in the 1970s.  He and his partner Peter (now sadly no longer alive) moved to France with their interest in antiques, and the house is a living reminder of those interests.  

A few garden pittures to end with.  Spring is with us, and the clocks go forward this weekend.





Home and more or less in good shape

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 

The light greeting our return

It is lovely to be back in the bright, light Languedoc.  Don't get me wrong, we had a very good trip (apart from the first few hours when the motorways here were closed by prefectoral decree, because of farmers' protests - 5 hours to get near Lyon then a speeding fine for going 8 km/hr too fast in our relief at escaping the jams).  We spent excellent days with our family, saw interesting things and ate and drank well.  Our return trip, despite threats of farmers' blockages) was calm and trouble-free.  We have established a simple, untiring driving routine, turn and turn about at the wheel with short breaks for fuel and snacks, and the hotels we used were convenient and reasonably comfortable.  

But on return our  wifi was (literally) on the blink, and we waited 3 days for the engineer to arrive.  The new world of telephones, internet, tv and radio has changed everyting.  Like most people, a few years ago we had a fixed telephone line through which an adequate internet connection could be made.  Then fibre arrived, and everything became much faster.  Above all, the internet require more and more capacity to keeep up with graphics and so on.  Now, everything comes in theory through the fibre-optic cable, much faster - if it works.  If not, there is no longer a fixed phone line, no internet and only the old tv signals via the aerial (if they work at all - I have not checked).  The tv satellite dish no longer works for British tv.  I am a sad old geezer who has not taken on board the brave new world of mobile phones which our children and theirs swear by.  For one thing the screens are too small - I love my iPad and computer whhich my old eyes can read.  And of course, we pay for the service we are not getting.

Goodbye to Jeff and Fi at the end of a marvellous week together

Since I started to write this a very helpful man arrived, fixed up our internet and left before we had a chance to make sure our phone line was working.  It was not and is not.  So now we decide whether to abandon our 'landline' phones and tell everyone to call on our mobiles, or try to get things straight  for the time being it's the mobiles or nowt.  Watch this space, as they say.  Above all,  do not phone 04 67 85 52 12 - you may leave a message which is never heard.

Until we arrived home, the only shock of our return trip was seeing the appalling mess strewn across the roundabout as we left the A9 here  for the main N113 road.  At the risk of being a serial moaner, I was shocked by the piles of rubbish left behind by the protestors.  I think we have always been in favour of fair prices for farmers - we enjoy good food and have the privilege to be able to pay for it.  So I support the agriculteurs in their demands for better conditions, and for proper rewards for local produce rather than cheap imports.  we love our local greengrocer who knows his local growers personally and guarantees freshness.  I just cannot understand why protestors should not clear up their mess.  We saw the final traces being bulldozed and shovelled away as we drove around yeterday, presumably a week or more since the first demos.  A lot of work for people not at all involved in the original  protests.



Anyway, this blog was among other things a way of sharing the odd notes I post on Facebook most days with you who do not use that dodgy medium.  Here are a few recent ones.   Letter to the Guardian: “I am grateful to His Maj for his encouragement to men to have the check (King Charles ‘doing well’ after prostate treatment, 26 January). I visited my GP and was examined, blood-tested and referred to my local NHS hospital in March 2022. I have now waited 22 months for an appointment. And waited etc. Of what exactly is he an example? (John Dinning, Cardiff)”

Another letter to the Guardian: ”Your article on a reproduction of the Bayeux tapestry (29 January) should have mentioned the copy in Reading Museum, sewn by 35 women from Leek in the 19th century. It’s beautifully exhibited in the lovely town hall, with free entry. (Plus older Londoners can travel there on their Freedom Pass on the Elizabeth line.) A great day out. (Rosie Boughton, London)”

And part of yet another letter to the Guardian, which rings strong bells: “…the huge issue for me, and many other drivers according to recent RAC research, is the dangerous dazzling effect of higher, brighter LED lights. I am an older driver, and acknowledge this is likely to impact on my night driving, but my optician has assured me that it’s not me, it’s the cars. I find night-time driving, if there is a lot of oncoming traffic, utterly terrifying, and feel trapped at home on winter evenings. It’s time for a close analysis of accidents attributed to dazzle, and legislation to ensure the safest possible headlight design and position. (Sheila Hutchins,Tregony, Cornwall)”


This on my mind very often: the face of local decline and fall. “Many councils are barely able to carry out their statutory and growing responsibilities in adult and child social care, let alone engage in the kind of “discretionary” spending that enhances the life of their communities. Last week, facing a rebellion by Conservative MPs fearful of further cuts in an election year, Mr Gove made an extra £600m available to local authorities. Useful but nowhere near enough.” The sign of timid, scared central government is to keep ever tighter central control over local spending.

Then, Jurgen Klopp is retiring as Liverpool manager - what a loss, but we all get older - he certainly deserves the rest of his life.  And Nottingham is among many local councils nearing bankruptcy - how can this be alowed to happen?



Photos from our travels

By [email protected] (Jon North)

More from our UK trip this week, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Parrk and in Uttoxeter


















Travellers' tales

By [email protected] (Jon North)

We are in the UK for the second time since Christmas, this time visiting Jeff and Fi in their new home in Uttoxeter. Like the first trip to Sam and Sas in Wirksworth, over new year, we are driving which has all sorts of advantages. However, this time things are complicated by the French farmers' protests. We set out from Lunel at 7.30 a.m. last Wednesday, but what should have been a quick 2-3 hours' journey to Lyon turned into 9 hours, and we eventually arived at our hotel in Cambrai around 9.30 in the evening (original plan, before 5 and in daylight - we are frequently caught driving after dark however much we try to plan to avoid it). 

Most of the motorway closures were officially organised by the Préfectures, so we drove most of the way south of Lyon on routes nationales, interesting but much slower. After that we just trundled on fairly empty motorways, but continuing on Thursday we were held up again by closures even on the short stretch to Calais and the tunnel. But there was no major holdup and we arrived at our friends Elizabeth & Nigel in good time, well tucked away in rural Surrey. 

 Despite the tedium of the Wednesday morning journey we were glad to get a different perspective and view of the northern Rhône vineyards around Crozes Hermitage whhich we have known for many years on occasional visits. Later on the town of Cambrai seemed interesting, with a splendid redbrick railway station just opposite our hotel - we resolved to exlor in the future when less pressed by travel unknowns. And the hotel itself was, as we found out on our earlier visit, very comfortable and friendly, with an excellent and welcome range of bar snacks to make up for the lack of a full meal. 

We have gravitated towards the Logis de France chain over many years because it always welcomes pets, and although we left our current dog Edmond in kennels on these trips the familiar ambience still attracts us. The farmers' protests look likely to continue, and we don't know if we'll be delayed on the way home next weekend. But luckily we have plenty of time. 

Our first day was delayed by official motorway closures, but more often the hold-ups are caused by long slow queues of tractors, one of which we saw heading south as we set out for Calais on Thursday. Shortly after that the authorities closed the A26 motorway for a short stretch, but we had a short journey and good alternative routes to the Tunnel. So after out overnight with friends on Thursday we drove at a leisurely pace to our home for the week in Uttoxeter, where we are very comfortably housed by Jeff and Fi who find a bit of time for us despite their busy working lives. We saw Sam, Sas and Ben for lunch on Sunday and shall see other friends and visit Wirksworth again before we leave for home at the end of the week.

 

Travellers' tales

By Jon North ([email protected])

We are in the UK for the second time since Christmas, this time visiting Jeff and Fi in their new home in Uttoxeter. Like the first trip to Sam and Sas in Wirksworth, over new year, we are driving which has all sorts of advantages. However, this time things are complicated by the French farmers' protests. We set out from Lunel at 7.30 a.m. last Wednesday, but what should have been a quick 2-3 hours' journey to Lyon turned into 9 hours, and we eventually arived at our hotel in Cambrai around 9.30 in the evening (original plan, before 5 and in daylight - we are frequently caught driving after dark however much we try to plan to avoid it). 

Most of the motorway closures were officially organised by the Préfectures, so we drove most of the way south of Lyon on routes nationales, interesting but much slower. After that we just trundled on fairly empty motorways, but continuing on Thursday we were held up again by closures even on the short stretch to Calais and the tunnel. But there was no major holdup and we arrived at our friends Elizabeth & Nigel in good time, well tucked away in rural Surrey. 

 Despite the tedium of the Wednesday morning journey we were glad to get a different perspective and view of the northern Rhône vineyards around Crozes Hermitage whhich we have known for many years on occasional visits. Later on the town of Cambrai seemed interesting, with a splendid redbrick railway station just opposite our hotel - we resolved to exlor in the future when less pressed by travel unknowns. And the hotel itself was, as we found out on our earlier visit, very comfortable and friendly, with an excellent and welcome range of bar snacks to make up for the lack of a full meal. 

We have gravitated towards the Logis de France chain over many years because it always welcomes pets, and although we left our current dog Edmond in kennels on these trips the familiar ambience still attracts us. The farmers' protests look likely to continue, and we don't know if we'll be delayed on the way home next weekend. But luckily we have plenty of time. 

Our first day was delayed by official motorway closures, but more often the hold-ups are caused by long slow queues of tractors, one of which we saw heading south as we set out for Calais on Thursday. Shortly after that the authorities closed the A26 motorway for a short stretch, but we had a short journey and good alternative routes to the Tunnel. So after out overnight with friends on Thursday we drove at a leisurely pace to our home for the week in Uttoxeter, where we are very comfortably housed by Jeff and Fi who find a bit of time for us despite their busy working lives. We saw Sam, Sas and Ben for lunch on Sunday and shall see other friends and visit Wirksworth again before we leave for home at the end of the week.

A new year with wine - a post for everyone, not just wine buffs!

By Jon North ([email protected])

Solutré, near Macon

Some of my friends are not really interested in wine and tend to skip these blog posts.  So before you  do that this time I will just add a note about the fascination for me apart from the stuff in the bottle or glass.  As you  can see from the photos, scenery is one of the many attractions.

 

Châtillon-en-Diois
 

 Wine exploration has shaped our visits to France ever since we started regular trips here 30 years ago.  If you look at the map of France, relatively small physical areas are taken up by vineyards, and you are much more likely to find yourself in logging forests or endless of cereals and grass, like the open horizons and rolling slopes of the northern plain we drove through on our way to England at the end of last year.

Beaujolais
 

But we hunt out the vineyards not just for nice wine but for the interesting people and scenery we discover, get to know and love.  I think of the beautiful villages just near us in Lunel or north of Montpellier around the Pic Saint Loup; or of the vineyards of the Entre Deux Mers area south of Bordeaux - the two 'seas' here are the rivers Garonne and Dordogne as the flow northwards to join together as the Gironde at Bordeaux; or of the cossetted iconic hilly  country of Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or in Burgundy and the breathtaking rocky beauty of the Rhône valley, whether near the great river at Condrieu and Crozes Hermitage just south of Lyon or, one of our favourite places, Beaumes de Venise tucked under the Dentelles de Montmirail, once best known for its fortified sweet muscat wines but now among the best red wine labels.

 

While I always liked wine, it was meeting people who were and are involved in making it that has captured our  attention.  Jean-Michel and Christine Jacob have just retired from their Hauts Côtes de Beaune vineyard and J-M will doubtless now have more time for his beautiful  art/sculpture, two pieces of which adorn our hallway.  Jean-Philippe Servières, our best local winemaker near Lunel, would probably like to retire, having had precious little chance of a holiday over the past 20 years; and Benoit Viot of the wonderfully-named Chemin des Rêves north of Montpellier has gone from small beginnings - we bought our first wines sitting in the kitchen in Grabels - to becoming president of the prestigious appellation Pic Saint Loup.  

 

We have got to know many other landscapes in the Languedoc, Rhône valley, the Diois (where twinning opened our interest in the Rhône Valley and beyond), or the wide variety of landscapes we have explored across the south - the wild hillls of the Corbières, coastal étangs around the Mediterranean where Picpoul de Pinet is produced, or tiny appellations with unusual grapes like Fronton north of Toulouse.  We discovered Seyssel in the far north of the Rhone valley towards Geneva thanks to musician friend and mentor Stéphane Fauth (and his wife Chantal whose cooking helped to 'oil' the many music courses we  shared).  And we have started to discover the Loire Valley, one of the longest river courses in France which always confused me because the river flows north a long way, just a short distance from the south-flowing Saone and Rhône, before turning left and west at Orleans towards the Atlantic; we got to know various bits of the river - Sancerre, the Touraine, a stretch towards Angers, on various drives south from different channel ports and thanks to good friends Sue and Ian who have a house south of Tours.


Fronton


New year's blog

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 


Our all-too-brief stay with Sam and family is over halfway through as I write - lovely and we shall miss them but the weather began - let's say - sub-optimal (grey and wet, though not cold).  But new year's day dawned with blue sky and sunshine.

Before we left home we indulged in Dickens DVDs, 2 sets of Little Dorritt, one excellent, the older dismal  (I once liked this version...), and then a surprisingly good Martin Chuzzlewit (Tom Wilkinson who played an excellent Pecksniff has just died).  The casts of all three are mostly outstanding, but the earlier Little Dorritt despite iconic actors like Alec Guinness and Derek Jacobi seemed wooden and stilted.  Not helped by a weird 2-part presentation which separated Amy's view from Arthur Clennam's.  Claire Foy's heroine is heaps better than Sarah Pickering, who seems to have done nothing else in film - Dickens writes a low-key character but not that low key.


I was encouraged by an Eng Lit friend to read most of Dickens on train journeys commuting to London, and still love the books - Mary came to them after she met me, and I remember buying a job-lot on £1 paperback classics to  round out our library.  Thinking over the whole series, the theme of financial insecurity and ruin, together with the vital importance of inheritance, is a strong common thread.  Dickens' father was in debt and spent months in the Marshalsea, so  CD knew of what he wrote.  Few punches pulled either - the suicide of Merdle with a penknife in Little Dorritt is memorable in book and on film.  But other books like Great Expectations - the title gives the game away -  Bleak House with its fog of law-courts, A Christmas Carol of course (we have just seen a DVD with the splendid Michael Hordern hamming it up), Our mutual friend with its heaps of valuable dust, all have money and greed at their centres.


In between whiles I have caught up with Ken Follett's latest Kingsbridge novel, this one skipping centuries forward to the  Napoleonic era, and yet another fictional rerunning of the battle of Waterloo.  The moments where a character tells another rather artificially the name of such and such a farmhouse or Quatrre Bras crossroads does jar slightly, but Follett like Bernard Cornwell has done his research, and Follett is respected enough to write about cathedral construction in the rebuilding of Notre Dame Paris just as Cornwell has written a decent factual account of Waterloo alongside the romantic version.  In my more idiotic moments I wonder how Sharpe, and a Follett hero, acting as adcs to Wellington might have bumped into one another!

We are having a great, relaxed family time here, and trying to live day by day before we drive back.  Having heard some of the awful horrors and knife-edge adventures of Sam & Sas's family holiday (they did ultimately have a good time with close friends) across the world we feel glad to have chosen more local, staid journeys, and in our own car.  It does of course strike us that the distances and complexities of air travel are inevitable when people fall in love with others from New Zealand or have great friends in the USA.  These things tend to conflict with environmental considerations.  But good plans tend to involve meeting family and friends in France, in spacious well-equipped gîtes as we did with Judi last summer.  Sam and I have been discussing areas of France to meet in, and in any case we plan to visit friends in Normandy in the summer.

This is to wish all our friends and family a hapy and healthy 2024.


Old year blog

By [email protected] (Jon North)


I'm writing this in Wirksworth where we're staying with family over the new year.  We spent a quiet Christmas at home before we left Edmond in our reliable kennels and drove to England.  We arrived on Thursday evening.

Musicians in Lunel last week

We'd decided to drive, and sharing turn and turn about that woekd well through the 1,000 km of France,  on Eurotunnel and up the M20, but the M25 was a crawling nightmare.  Once on the M40 we were fine again apart from rain squalls - the storms had passed or were further west and north - the M25 delay meant that we drove the familiar last miles in the dark, not as hoped or planned.  But we arrived safely at Sam's by 1800 and found Ed, Isla and Karen already installed in their nearby Airbnb.  On reflection the journey was a success - I think we shall be happy to drive that way again.

The Lunel sky we left behind     

When Jeff and Fi arrived a little later we were delighted -  our family was together; we all met up again yesterday for brunch and a mountain of presents.  Sadly Sas and Ben had bad colds and could not join us - fingers crossed that they will be better soon.




Mary with Ed and dog Maisie, Jeff, Fi, Isla, Heather and Karen



The roof, teeth and other less technical things

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 

Earlier this year I wrote about roof repairs.  Tiles replaced, tiles made secure, woodwork treated, well done if at some expense.  That led to two things.  One was the firm which did the work coming back for the first 'guarantee inspection' and of course recommending more work.  Of course, they had 'forgotten' to tell us things.  So the other, luckily, was that we discovered that our splendid factotum (gardener and general Mr Fix-it) Monsieur Beaumann is, perhaps first and foremost, someone who mends roofs.  If we'd realised thhis sooner we might have saved some money, but never mind, and better late than never.  He checked things over and found things the others missed.  He has now taken over all our roof needs, and has installed new insulation as well as removing mountains of pine needles which were apparently built as nests by rats.   Warmer and less rodent-ridden now!

Then there are my teeth, or what remain of them.  When I was about 10 some girls caused me to fall off a swing and break two front teeth.  After a few years of unsuccessful crowns and some pain, I had a dental plate that lasted over 30 years, then another fitted in France in an emergency over Christmas (when we discovered the efficiency of French health services), and now a new one is due.  The old method was to take an impression from the mouth with a kind of plasticene, but I discovered last week that this is old hat - everything is now scanned with a kind of glowing pen, and I should receive the result tomorrow.  The wonders of modern technology!

Our dog Edmond is in surprisingly good spirits at the age of 14 plus, and keeps us active getting up to give him breakfast and taking him for walks.  He does not seem to miss his twin sister Elvire, who died at Easter, and despite failing eyesight he's always at hand when his meal times arrive, and he still enjoys his evening walk with Mary.

We are looking forward to family visits over the winter, the first to Wirksworth for new year.  Apart from Sam and family we have several good friends there, and are kept in touch by regular mailings of Community Fayre, the amazingly longstanding community newppaper (which has just arrived by post).  Fewer and fewer things arrive in the letterbox - so much now is electronic - but another paper mailing just now has been the latest news from Médecins Sans Frontières, an absolutely admirable organisation engaged in relief work round the world.  There are so many good causes appealing for our support, and this seems to us as good as any recipient of our contributions.  A lovely watercolour shared on Faceboook reminds us of what we have to look forward to in Derbyshire.

Our reading in French continues twice a week with the splendid help of Danielle who corrects our pronunciation and explains French culture!  Mary reads a lot in French anyway, currently rereading the diaries of Edmond de Goncourt, while my serious reading is of British history in the long and detailed accounts of the British Emipre, One fine day by Matthew Parker.  This has fascinated me, starting as it does in the Pacific Islands and Arthur Grimble (whose stories, popular in the 1950s, were shared with us at school) and going on with the harrowing accounts of Amritsar.  The subequent topics, Malaya and Aftrica, are less familiar to me, but the sheer brazen brutality of the British in Kenya makes sobering reading.  "The Rev. Ryle Shaw, in a letter to the settler-supporting East Africa Standard, asked whether the British settlers should really be classed with ‘Asiatics imported for pick and shovel work’ who were ‘alien in mind, colour, religion, morality and practically all the qualities Europeans regard as necessary for constitutional citizenship’" is a mild example.  We have new book arrivals  in Christmas parcels (delights for the Day itself) just received from our friend Ruth in London whose failing sight and other difficulties never seem to deter her from thinking of us so generously.

The chaos of governments over immigration is not confined to the UK it seems: a report in the Guardian this week describes French indecision at its more rational but no less confused best:  "The French government has said it will push on with a planned immigration law in the face of a political crisis after opposition parties from the left to the far right refused to even debate it in parliament.  The president, Emmanuel Macron, and the centrist government were surprised... on Monday – the first time in 25 years that a government bill was rejected before even being debated by parliament.  The immigration bill is intended to show Macron can take tough measures on migration while keeping France's doors open to foreign workers who can help the economy.  But its contents have been rewritten several times, first toughened by the right-dominated senate, then partially unpicked by a parliamentary commission, resulting in ... fierce opposition.".

 

 There are no easy answers to world environmental problems either.  For example (from a recent article)

"This is a Tesla battery. It takes up all of the space under the passenger compartment of the car.  To manufacture it you need:
--12 tons of rock for Lithium
-- 5 tons of Cobalt minerals
-- 3 tons of mineral for nickel
-- 12 tons of copper ore

You must move 250 tons of soil to obtain:
-- 12 kg of Lithium, -- 30 pounds of nickel
-- 22 kg of manganese  -- 15 pounds of Cobalt

To manufacture the battery requires:
-- 100 Kg of RAM chips
-- 200 kg of aluminum, steel and/or plastic

The Caterpillar 994A is used for the earthmoving to obtain the essential minerals. It consumes 264 gallons of diesel in 12 hours.  Finally you get a “zero emissions” car.  Presently, the bulk of the necessary minerals for manufacturing the batteries come from China or Africa. Much of the labour for getting the minerals in Africa is done by children!  If we buy electric cars, it's China who profits most!  This 2021 Tesla OEM battery is currently for sale on the Internet for $4,99"

 

To finish, a sad song from Syria by a refugee

Take me to any country, leave me there, and forget all about me

Throw me in the middle of the sea, don’t look back, I have no other option

I am not leaving for fun, neither for a change of scenery

My house was bombed and destroyed; and the dust of rubbleblinded me

Let me try, no matter what, I am a human being

 Call it displacement or immigration … just forget about me

Christmas greetings and our best wishes for the new year to all our friends


 

 

 

 

End of November

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 


Well, we have seen Napoleon (the film..)  We do like our local 3-screen cinema, and the film did not seem too long.  But a bit boring partly because of drear dialogue.  It did have interest for us after a long period reading about that confusing period between the Revolution (other revolutions are available) and the mid-19th century - timeline of important events was well mapped out - and the battles were well-staged, but in the end they are battles and by definition confusing and noisy.  Josephine was well-acted despite the words she was given.  The music was bad to awful, and the credits at the end were simply endless - we gave up witing to see who played what music in case the cinema management locked us in!  Back home for a supper of M's delicious apple crumble.


 In my catalogue of aches and pains last time I did not mention the psychological effects.  Really it's all to do with not wanting to fall - I'm a bit too heavy and despite regular exercise I find getting up from the floor hard even when I am unshocked.  The result it shtat I love slowly and sometimes eem to shuffle just toe make sure I stay upright.  It is ironic - I used to stride out quite confidently, now Mary quite easily outpaces me, and I hold onto handrails a lot.   I am reminded of my father who always used to say going downhill was more difficult than climbing, and more recently I think of my brother Tom who also strode out before his final illness left him nearly immobile before his sad death.  Thankfully I am still realtively mobile and Mary is remarkably patient as we make our way round.

As you can see the autumn colours have been magnificent this November, with little wind yet to make the leaves fall.  We must make the most of plane trees,because what with road widening and disease a number are cut down every year.  A variety of alternatives are planted instead, but of course they take a long time to grow, which is a problem for sites like the Canal du Midi whose banks are largely denuded over long stretches.  Also in the centre of town (disease) which is being changed in all sorts of ways - we hope the efforts of the mayor and council to gee up the centre will be successful, though the supermarkets that ring the town militate against a certain commercial future.  Happily town centre commerce such as our excellenet greengrocers and the covered market Les Halles have an enduring place in local activity

 

 It is a quiet autumn for us all round, our tv watching has move on from the zany comedy with emotional asides, the American series Soap to the equally crazy but darker Twin Peaks.  Our DVD collection is being well used these darker evenings.  And we read a lot - one excellent discovery (thanks to Juliet who sent it to us) has been Lea Ypi's Free about her growing up in Albania - she is now a professor at LSE - which shed light on that very hidden country and society, emerging even more reluctantly than other communist states from the shadow of authoritarian rule.  It must seem as if the old evils might be preferable to some of the modern populist manifestations, but nobody really has any choice and where they do,  in place of rigged elections we now have mass voting for oppressive politicians, or control by gangsters as sems to have happened in Albania.  We met some really nice Albanians who have emigrated to France and are hav been takn under her wing by a marvellous French friend, older than us, who came on her annual visit to collect kakis (persimmons) from our tree.



Some of our regular activities have been going on week in week out since 2007, an amazing length of more or less continuous activity.  Our Tuesday French groups (some French people join us in separate sessions to improve their English as well as helping us with our French) has now extended to a second session for some of us French learners on Fridays, and the general pattern has settled into reading a text and then trying to translate bit by bit, a challenge for us all.  A good shared lunch always helps to round off the session.




 


Darker days

By [email protected] (Jon North)

seasonal table decoration at a friend's house

Neither Mary nor I really like driving after dark.  Sometimes we have no choice - people prefer to meet in the evenings and so on.  So yesterday when choir finished at 6 I had to drive home with headlights in my eyes, and various evening meetings will oblige both of us to do this.  Apparently most people don't mind - but brighter headlights and faster speeds make the thing more worrisome - so we do our best.  Planning our Christmas visits to family though, we plan to drive.  We can take our time, visit nice places, stay in comfortable hotels and eat good meals.  Mary particularly likes the egg sandwiches on the Eurostar tunnel crossing in the priority lounge!


The last health update needs a coda, partly for things I forgot, partly for things that are cropping up for the first time.  My dentist has had holidays over this half-term period, but eventually he will measure me for a new denture and take out a troublesome tooth.  Meanwhile, apart from sicatica and various stiffness round the legs, I am beginning to have moments of  pain in the hips.  Since I have had arthritis elsewhere it would not be surprising if hips started to play up.  I do know that hop replacements are simpler than knees, and usually successful, but I think I'll avoid further surgery as long as I can!

After the thrills of the rugby we are back to watching videos in the late evening.  We have more Montalbano to come when the newest DVDs arrive, but since Juliet's visit in the summer we have been catching up on the Camilleri books too.  The stories, in English translation or subtitles Italian videos, really repay a second (or maybe third) viewing.  Several of the tv episodes are taken from short stories I'm now reading.  In the end we understand at least some of the complex plots!  Now we have also returned to lighter viewing with the American series Soap which is often a spoof of itself, but with moments of intense emotion mixed with increasingly improbable plots.

Virginia creeper on our garage door


45 and counting

By [email protected] (Jon North)

 

at Wood Green Registry Office, 1978

Yesterday was our 45th wedding anniversary, another Saturday.  We celebrated today with a marvellous meal at the Ecailler des Beaux Arts in Montpellier.  It is a fish and seafood restaurant, not too far from the Med to make the oysters and other shellfish seem out of place - sadly none of thsoe for me since I don't want to tempt the violent reactions I've had a couple of times.  But many other kinds of fish and they certainly know how to cook it - Mary had sole and I rare-cooked tuna.  A lovely, sunny meal on the terrace.


45 marvellous years, attested by the ages and lives of our sons and their families, seems an impossibly long time, and details  blur, but so do even the details of the  last 17 which we've spent in France.  Before that we had spent a quarter of a century in Derbyshire, 3 different houses in Wirksworth, but I think this is the longest we've spent in one house.  Ideally houses would grow and shrink around your changing needs, but they are stubbornly inflexible, though bits wear out and need replacing or redecorating, while the gardens just grow and have to be cut back unless bits just die.  

our jasmine arch, sadly gone these past 2 years

The 17 years here have been accompanied by finding new friends (both French and fellow expats), much around the regular conversation groups we attend in various private houses twice a week through a network which has kept going in various forms since the mid 2000s.   We have a modest but active musical life for both of us, my work in and for the Montpellier English-language Library (now counting over 2,000 volumes) and a gentle getting-to-know this area and others in France with wine connections.  We were not dramatically affected by Covid and its restrictions because we continued to have a fairly quiet life (lots of reading and tv filling the gaps)

Our Friday conversation group  last week

This blog has returned from time to time to the subject of pain.  I remember writing a lot about it when my arthritic left knee was replaced in 2015.  Actually these days the multiple pains I have are not too bad - more arthritis, sciatica, a touch of gout (from uric acid, an occupational hazard of a wine drinker - my doctor keeps telling me water is better for me), and a weird hangover of the old knee replacement which is a cross between numbness and a diffuse kind of pain - repeated x-rays show the metal joint is still in place and working OK.  Oh, and intense itching which erupts at random on one leg or the other.  This is interesting - dermatologists keep wanting you to rub cream and so on into the skin, but having read a bit I know that this arises from neurological disturbance inside the body, not from the skin.  Ice packs help at night.  I keep gently exercising on my static bike and Mary enjoys her weekly Qi-gong sessions, and we are very well monitored by a variety of generalist and specialist medical services.

There is a lot more on my mind, not least random comments I make on Facebook which non-FB friends don't automatically see, and of course nobody has to read all this.  But watch this space...




texas gothic revival

Sometimes I just want to get on my hobbyhorse, which for about a year now has been the middle ages but surely will soon be something else. (Please hyperfixation gods, make it financial literacy.) Anyway, I meandered around the nation (online) in search of another opportunity to play another round of America Does Medieval. It took me a while for fortune to reward me but it finally did in the long-running McMansion Hell of Denton County, Texas.

2007 McMansions are pretty rare and it’s even rarer for them to have the original interiors. This one, clocking in at 5 beds, 6 baths, and almost 7200 square feet will set you back a reasonable $2.3 million. We complain a lot about the hegemony of gray these days, but this is hindsight bias. Longtime readers will recall that the color beige walked so gray could run, and this house is emblematic of that fact.

It’s…uncommon to see ordinary contractors try their hands at gothic arches and for all intents and purposes, I think this one did a pretty good job rendering the ineffable in common drywall. Credit where credit is due. Unfortunately the Catholic in me can’t help but feel that this is the house equivalent of those ultra trad converts on Reddit who have Templar avatars and spend their days complaining about Vatican II.

Sometimes I still get the ever-dwindling pleasure of seeing the type of room that has never before existed in human history and definitely won’t ever exist again. Certain material conditions (oil, lots of it, a media ecosystem in which historical literacy is set primarily by cartoons, adjustable rate mortgages) brought this space into the world in a way that cannot be recreated organically. Let us marvel.

Christ might need to be invoked should I choose to make a sweet potato casserole.

You can tell that ornament is fabricated because they made precisely TWO of them that are IDENTICAL. You could have fooled us into thinking a craftsman did this by hand from local Texas marble (or whatever), but alas greed got in the way of guile.

As someone who writes fiction on the weekends, I often feel the acute pain of having an imagination greater than my talent and an artistic vision detached from being able to effectively execute it. In this respect, this room speaks to me.

RIP Trump btw. Don’t know if y'all saw the news yet.

I know a lot about medieval bathing for completely normal reasons (writing fiction, winning online arguments, stoned youtube binges)

I feel like most of my forms of social adaptation as a person on the spectrum comprise of sneaking in my holy autistic interest du jour into conversations as subtly as I can manage. I’m doing it right now.

Okay, so, there were no rear exterior photos of this house because, having used every square inch of lot, the whole thing is smashed up against a fence and there is simply no way of getting that desired perspective without trespassing and that’s a mortal risk in the state of Texas. So I’ll leave you with this final room, the completely medieval in-home theater.

That’s all for now, folks. Stay tuned for next month, where we will be going down a cult compound rabbit hole in the Great Plains.

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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar! Student loans just started back up!

ode to a faux grecian urn

Howdy everyone,

Today’s house, built in 2001, comes to you from, you guessed it, the Chicago suburbs. The house is a testimony to traditional craftsmanship and traditional values (having lots of money.) The cost of painting this house greige is approximately the GDP of Slovenia so the owners have decided to keep it period perfect (beige.) Anyway.

This 5 bedroom, 7.5 bathroom house clocks in at a completely reasonable 12,700 square feet. If you like hulking masses and all-tile interiors, it could be all yours for the reasonable price of $2.65 million.

The problem with having a house that is 12,700 square feet is that they have to go somewhere. At least 500 of them were devoted to this foyer. Despite the size, I consider this a rather cold and lackluster welcome. Cold feet anyone?

The theme of this house is, vaguely, “old stuff.” Kind of like if Chuck E Cheese did the sets for Spartacus. Why the dining room is on a platform is a good question. The answer: the American mind desires clearly demarcated space, which, sadly, is verboten in our culture.

The other problem with a 12,700 square foot house is that even huge furniture looks tiny in it.

Entering cheat codes in “Kitchen Building Sim 2000” because I spent my entire $70,000 budget on the island.

Of course, a second sitting room (without television) is warranted. Personally, speaking, I’m team Prince.

I wonder why rich people do this. Surely they must know it’s tacky right? That it’s giving Liberace? (Ask your parents, kids.) That it’s giving Art.com 75% off sale if you enter the code ROMANEMPIRE.

Something about the bathroom really just says “You know what, I give up. Who cares?” But this is not even the worst part of the bathroom…

Not gonna lie, this activates my flight or fight response.

If you remember Raggedy Ann you should probably schedule your first colonoscopy.

Anyways, that does it for the interior. Let’s take a nice peek at what’s out back.

I love mowing in a line. I love monomaniacal tasks that are lethal to gophers.

Alright, that does it for this edition of McMansion Hell. Back to the book mines for me. Bonus posts up on Patreon 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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar! Student loans just started back up!

Hello everyone! The word is out – I am writing a book!

Hello everyone! The word is out – I am writing a book!

If you ever wanted to read a book about McMansions, 5-over-1s, the ignoble toil of architects, ridiculous baubles for rich people, hostile architecture, private equity, shopping (rip), offices (rip), loud restaurants, and starchitects who behave like tech founders, this is the book for you!

Thank you all for your support throughout the years – without you this would not be possible. And don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging throughout it all, so stay tuned for this month’s post.

we’ve found it folks: mcmansion heaven

Hello everyone. It is my pleasure to bring you the greatest house I have ever seen. The house of a true visionary. A real ad-hocist. A genuine pioneer of fenestration. This house is in Alabama. It was built in 1980 and costs around $5 million. It is worth every penny. Perhaps more.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Come on, Kate, that’s a little kooky, but certainly it’s not McMansion Heaven. This is very much a house in the earthly realm. Purgatory. McMansion Purgatory.” Well, let me now play Beatrice to your Dante, young Pilgrim. Welcome. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

It is rare to find a house that has everything. A house that wills itself into Postmodernism yet remains unable to let go of the kookiest moments of the prior zeitgeist, the Bruce Goffs and Earthships, the commune houses built from car windshields, the seventies moments of psychedelic hippie fracture. It is everything. It has everything. It is theme park, it is High Tech. It is Renaissance (in the San Antonio Riverwalk sense of the word.) It is medieval. It is maybe the greatest pastiche to sucker itself to the side of a mountain, perilously overlooking a large body of water. Look at it. Just look.

The inside is white. This makes it dreamlike, almost benevolent. It is bright because this is McMansion Heaven and Gray is for McMansion Hell. There is an overbearing sheen of 80s optimism. In this house, the credit default swap has not yet been invented, but could be.

It takes a lot for me to drop the cocaine word because I think it’s a cheap joke. But there’s something about this example that makes it plausible, not in a derogatory way, but in a liberatory one, a sensuous one. Someone created this house to have a particular experience, a particular feeling. It possesses an element of true fantasy, the thematic. Its rooms are not meant to be one cohesive composition, but rather a series of scenes, of vastly different spatial moments, compressed, expanded, bright, close.

And then there’s this kitchen for some reason. Or so you think. Everything the interior design tries to hide, namely how unceasingly peculiar the house is, it is not entirely able to because the choices made here remain decadent, indulgent, albeit in a more familiar way.

Rare is it to discover an interior wherein one truly must wear sunglasses. The environment created in service to transparency has to somewhat prevent the elements from penetrating too deep while retaining their desirable qualities. I don’t think an architect designed this house. An architect would have had access to specifically engineered products for this purpose. Whoever built this house had certain access to architectural catalogues but not those used in the highest end or most structurally complex projects. The customization here lies in the assemblage of materials and in doing so stretches them to the height of their imaginative capacity. To borrow from Charles Jencks, ad-hoc is a perfect description. It is an architecture of availability and of adventure.

A small interlude. We are outside. There is no rear exterior view of this house because it would be impossible to get one from the scrawny lawn that lies at its depths. This space is intended to serve the same purpose, which is to look upon the house itself as much as gaze from the house to the world beyond.

Living in a city, I often think about exhibitionism. Living in a city is inherently exhibitionist. A house is a permeable visible surface; it is entirely possible that someone will catch a glimpse of me they’re not supposed to when I rush to the living room in only a t-shirt to turn out the light before bed. But this is a space that is only exhibitionist in the sense that it is an architecture of exposure, and yet this exposure would not be possible without the protection of the site, of the distance from every other pair of eyes. In this respect, a double freedom is secured. The window intimates the potential of seeing. But no one sees.

At the heart of this house lies a strange mix of concepts. Postmodern classicist columns of the Disney World set. The unpolished edge of the vernacular. There is also an organicist bent to the whole thing, something more Goff than Gaudí, and here we see some of the house’s most organic forms, the monolith- or shell-like vanity mixed with the luminous artifice of mirrors and white. A backlit cave, primitive and performative at the same time, which is, in essence, the dialectic of the luxury bathroom.

And yet our McMansion Heaven is still a McMansion. It is still an accumulation of deliberate signifiers of wealth, very much a construction with the secondary purpose of invoking envy, a palatial residence designed without much cohesion. The presence of golf, of wood, of masculine and patriarchal symbolism with an undercurrent of luxury drives that point home. The McMansion can aspire to an art form, but there are still many levels to ascend before one gets to where God’s sitting.

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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar! Student loans just started back up!

pre-recession, post-taste

Hello, everyone. I hope this blog can bring some well-needed laughs in really trying times. That’s why I’ve gone back into the archives of that precipitous year 2007, a year where the McMansion was sleepwalking into being a symbol of the financial calamity to follow. We return to the Chicago suburbs once more because they remain the highest concentration of houses in their original conditions. Thanks to our flipping predilection, these houses become rarer and rarer and I have to admit even I have developed a fondness for them as a result.

Our present house is ostensibly “French Provincial” in style, which is McMansion for “Chateaux designed by Carmela Soprano”. It boasts 7 bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms, and comes in at a completely reasonable 15,000 square feet. It can be yours for an equally reasonable $1.5 million.

Every 2007 McMansion needed two things: a plethora of sitting rooms and those dark wood floors. This house actually has around five or six sitting rooms (depending if you count the tiled sunroom) but for brevity’s sake, I’ll only provide two of them.

With regards to the second sitting room, I’m really not one to talk statuary here because beside me there is a bust of Dante where the sculptor made him look simultaneously sickly and lowkey hot.

Technically, if we are devising a dichotomy between sitting and not sitting (yes, I know about the song), the dining room also counts as a sitting room. The more chairs in your McMansion dining room, the more people allegedly like you enough to travel 2.5 hours in traffic to see you twice a year.

Here’s the thing about nostalgia: the world as we knew it then is never coming back. In some ways this is sad (kitchens are entirely white now and marble countertops will look terrible in about 3 years) but in other ways this is very good (guys in manhattan have switched to private equity instead of betting the farm on credit default swaps made from junk mortgages proffered to America’s most vulnerable and exploited populations.) Progress!

Okay I really don’t understand the 50 bed pillows thing. Every night my parents tossed their gazillion decorative pillows on the floor just to put them back on the bed the next morning. Like, for WHAT? Who was going in there? The Pope?

Here’s a fun one for your liminal spaces moodboards. (Speaking for myself.)

Yes, I know about skibidi toilet. And sticking out your gyatt for the rizzler. I wish I didn’t. I wish I couldn’t read. Literacy is like a mirror in which I only see the aging contours of my face.

When your kids move out every room becomes a guest room.

Anyway, let’s see what the rear of this house has to offer.

The migratory birds will not forgive them for their crimes. But also seriously, not even a garden?

Anyway, that does it for this round of McMansion Hell. Happy Halloween!

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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar! Student loans just started back up!

Bonus McMansion Hell: Ye Olde Barrington

In which I am in my castle era.

mojo dojo casa house

Howdy folks! Sorry for the delay, I was, uhhhh covering the Tour de France. Anyway, I’m back in Chicago which means this blog has returned to the Chicago suburbs. I’m sure you’ve all seen Barbie at this point so this 2019 not-so-dream house will come as a pleasant (?) surprise.

Yeah. So this $2.4 million, 7 bed, 8.5+ bath house is over 15,000 square feet and let me be frank: that square footage is not allocated in any kind of efficient or rational manner. It’s just kind of there, like a suburban Ramada Inn banquet hall. You think that by reading this you are prepared for this, but no, you are not.

Scale (especially the human one) is unfathomable to the people who built this house. They must have some kind of rare spatial reasoning problem where they perceive themselves to be the size of at least a sedan, maybe a small aircraft. Also as you can see they only know of the existence of a single color.

Ok, but if you were eating a single bowl of cereal alone where would you sit? Personally I am a head of the table type person but I understand that others might be more discreet.

It is undeniable that they put the “great” in great room. You could race bicycles in here. Do roller derby. If you gave this space to three anarchists you would have a functioning bookshop and small press in about a week.

The island bit is so funny. It’s literally so far away it’s hard to get them in the same image. It is the most functionally useless space ever. You need to walk half a mile to get from the island to the sink or stove.

Of course, every McMansion has a room just for television (if not more than one room) and yet this house fails even to execute that in a way that matters. Honestly impressive.

The rug placement here is physical comedy. Like, they know they messed up.

Bling had a weird second incarnation in the 2010s HomeGoods scene. Few talk about this.

Honestly I think they should have scrapped all of this and built a bowling alley or maybe a hockey rink. Basketball court. A space this grand is wasted on sports of the table variety.

You would also think that seeing the rear exterior of this house would help to rationalize how it’s planned but:

Not really.

Anyways, thanks for coming along for another edition of McMansion Hell. I’ll be back to regular posting schedule now that the summer is over so keep your eyes peeled for more of the greatest houses to ever exist. Be sure to check the Patreon for today’s bonus posts.

Also P.S. - I’m the architecture critic for The Nation now, so check that out, too!

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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar, because media work is especially recession-vulnerable.

BONUS MCMANSION HELL: liminal edition

BONUS MCMANSION HELL: liminal edition

dome sweet dome

As some of you may know, I have been going to language school for the last few months in order to learn the world’s most widely spoken and useful language: Slovenian. At this point, my Slovenian is about as coherent as, well, a McMansion. In order to feel better about myself, I have sought out a McMansion that is worse than my cases and word-order. This house (in Naperville, IL, of course) does, in fact, make me feel better, but will probably make you feel worse:

This Cheescake Factory house, built in 2005, boasts 5 bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms and can be yours for the entirely reasonable sum of $3.5 million dollars. Also for some reason all the photos look like they are retouched with 2012-era Instagram filters.

First of all, trying to visualize the floor plan of this house is like trying to rotate seven cubes individually in my mind’s eye. Second, if you stand right beneath the hole in the ceiling you can get the approximate sensation of being a cartoon character who has just instantaneously fallen in love.

Even if this was a relatively mundane McMansion it still would have made it into the rotation because of the creepy life-sized butler and maid. Would not want to run into them in the middle of the night.

The mural is giving 1986 Laura Ashley or perhaps maybe the background they use for Cabbage Patch Kids packaging but the floor? The floor is giving Runescape texture.

Have you ever seen so many real plants in your life? A veritable Eden.

The overwhelming desire to push one of the chairs into the haunted jacuzzi…but in reality they probably put those chairs there to keep from accidentally falling into the tub at night.

(elevator music starts playing)

This is one of the all time [adjective] rooms of McMansion Hell. I personally am in love with it, though I don’t think I understand it. Perhaps it is not meant to be understood…..,

Continuing with the baseball theme, the guy in the painting looks how I feel after it’s been raining in Ljubljana for two straight weeks. (Not ideal!!)

And finally:

We love a house that has four unused balconies and also a sporting grounds that is large enough to build a whole second McMansion on top of. Everyone should so value their health.

Thank you for tuning into another edition of McMansion Hell. Be sure to check out the Patreon for the two bonus posts (a McMansion and the Good House) which both also go out today!

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 a discord server, extra posts, and livestreams.

Not into recurring payments? Try the tip jar, because media work is especially recession-vulnerable.

Hi everyone: I’ve written a long deep-dive on the present state of the McMansion, from farmhouse…

Hi everyone: I’ve written a long deep-dive on the present state of the McMansion, from farmhouse chic to imminent environmental collapse. If you’ve been seeing an inordinate number of big ugly houses pop up in your neighborhood, you are not alone!

In my latest column for The Nation, I defend single stair buildings against their detractors - I…

In my latest column for The Nation, I defend single stair buildings against their detractors - I think single stair is wonderful! - But I also don’t think it’s some kind of panacea for the housing crisis.

In my latest for The Nation I make the uncontroversial claim that bike lanes are good, actually.

In my latest for The Nation I make the uncontroversial claim that bike lanes are good, actually.

in which i take on the argument that windowless bedrooms will somehow solve the housing crisis (lol)

in which i take on the argument that windowless bedrooms will somehow solve the housing crisis (lol)

In my latest column for The Nation, I take on the specter of AI and the idea that it is coming for…

In my latest column for The Nation, I take on the specter of AI and the idea that it is coming for architects’ jobs.

Howdy everyone! Some exciting news: I’m doing a stint at The Nation this month writing biweekly…

Howdy everyone! Some exciting news: I’m doing a stint at The Nation this month writing biweekly design columns. In this first one, I’ve done my best to expand on an earlier McMansion Hell post in order to answer the defining question of our time: why the hell is everything greige now?