Design in Dialogue - Exhibitions - Friedman Benda

Design in Dialogue - Exhibitions - Friedman Benda:

Howdy folks! Join me on Design in Dialogue tomorrow (Monday, June 15th) at 11AM EDT for a (Zoom) talk on the best and worst impulses in contemporary architecture. More info and RSVP in link. 

How Normie Minimalism and Farmhouse Chic Took Over Contemporary Design

How Normie Minimalism and Farmhouse Chic Took Over Contemporary Design:

Hello! I wrote for Hyperallergic about how minimalism went from high design to normie chic. 

Coronagrifting: A Design Phenomenon

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled content to bring you a critical essay on the design world. I promise you that this will also be funny. 

This morning, the design website Dezeen tweeted a link to one of its articles, depicting a plexiglass coronavirus shield that could be suspended above dining areas, with the caption “Reader comment: ‘Dezeen, please stop promoting this stupidity.’”

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This, of course, filled many design people, including myself, with a kind of malicious glee. The tweet seemed to show that the website’s editorial (or at least social media) staff retained within themselves a scintilla of self-awareness regarding the spread a new kind of virus in its own right: cheap mockups of COVID-related design “solutions” filling the endlessly scrollable feeds of PR-beholden design websites such as Dezeen, ArchDaily, and designboom. I call this phenomenon: Coronagrifting. 

I’ll go into detail about what I mean by this, but first, I would like to presenet some (highly condensed) history. 

From Paper Architecture to PR-chitecture

Back in the headier days of architecture in the 1960s and 70s, a number of architectural avant gardes (such as Superstudio and Archizoom in Italy and Archigram in the UK) ceased producing, well, buildings, in favor of what critics came to regard as “paper architecture. This “paper architecture” included everything from sprawling diagrams of megastructures, including cities that “walked” or “never stopped” - to playfully erotic collages involving Chicago’s Marina City. Occasionally, these theoretical and aesthetic explorations were accompanied by real-world productions of “anti-design” furniture that may or may not have involved foam fingers

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Archigram’s Walking City (1964). Source.

Paper architecture, of course, still exists, but its original radical, critical, playful, (and, yes, even erotic) elements were shed when the last of the ultra-modernists were swallowed up by the emerging aesthetic hegemony of Postmodernism (which was much less invested in theoretical and aesthetic futurism) in the early 1980s. What remained were merely images, the production and consumption of which has only increased as the design world shifted away from print and towards the rapidly produced, easily digestible content of the internet and social media. 

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Architect Bjarke Ingels’s “Oceanix” - a mockup of an ecomodernist, luxury city designed in response to rising sea levels from climate change. The city will never be built, and its critical interrogation amounts only to “city with solar panels that floats bc climate change is Serious”  - but it did get Ingels and his firm, BIG, a TED talk and circulation on all of the hottest blogs and websites. Meanwhile, Ingels has been in business talks with the right-wing climate change denialist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. (Image via designboom

Design websites are increasingly dominated by text and mockups from the desks of a firm’s public relations departments, facilitating a transition from the paper-architecture-imaginary to what I have begun calling “PR-chitecture.” In short, PR-chitecture is architecture and design content that has been dreamed up from scratch to look good on instagram feeds or, more simply, for clicks.  It is only within this substance-less, critically lapsed media landscape that Coronagrifting can prosper.

Coronagrifting: An Evolution

As of this writing, the two greatest offenders of Coronagrifting are Dezeen, which has devoted an entire section of its website to the virus (itself offering twelve pages of content since February alone) and designboom, whose coronavirus tag contains no fewer than 159 articles. 

Certainly, a small handful of these stories demonstrate useful solutions to COVID-related problems (such as this one from designboom about a student who created a mask prototype that would allow D/deaf and hard of hearing people to read lips) most of the prototypes and the articles about them are, for a lack of a better word, insipid. 

But where, you may ask, did it all start?

One of the easiest (and, therefore, one of the earliest) Coronagrifts involves “new innovative, health-centric designs tackling problems at the intersection of wearables and personal mobility,” which is PR-chitecture speak for “body shields and masks.” 

Wearables and Post-ables

The first example came from Chinese architect Sun Dayong, back at the end of February 2020, when the virus was still isolated in China. Dayong submitted to Dezeen a prototype of a full mask and body-shield that “would protect a wearer during a coronavirus outbreak by using UV light to sterilise itself.” The project was titled “Be a Bat Man.” No, I am not making this up. 

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Screenshot of Dayong’s “Be a Batman” as seen on the Dezeen website. 

Soon after, every artist, architect, designer, and sharp-eyed PR rep at firms and companies only tangentially related to design realized that, with the small investment of a Photoshop mockup and some B-minus marketing text, they too could end up on the front page of these websites boasting a large social media following and an air of legitimacy in the field

By April, companies like Apple and Nike were promising the use of existing facilities for producing or supplying an arms race’s worth of slick-tech face coverings. Starchitecture’s perennial PR-churners like Foster + Partners and Bjarke Ingels were repping “3D-printed face shields”, while other, lesser firms promised wearable vaporware like “grapheme filters,” branded “skincare LED masks for encouraging self-development” and “solar powered bubble shields.” 

While the mask Coronagrift continues to this day, the Coronagrifting phenomenon had, by early March, moved to other domains of design. 

Consider the barrage of asinine PR fluff that is the “Public Service Announcement” and by Public Service Announcement, I mean “A Designer Has Done Something Cute to Capitalize on Information Meant to Save Lives.” 

Some of the earliest offenders include cutesy posters featuring flags in the shape of houses, ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home;” a designer building a pyramid out of pillows ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home”; and Banksy making “lockdown artwork” that involved covering his bathroom in images of rats ostensibly encouraging people to “stay home.” 

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Lol. Screenshot from Dezeen. 

You may be asking, “What’s the harm in all this, really, if it projects a good message?” And the answer is that people are plenty well encouraged to stay home due to the rampant spread of a deadly virus at the urging of the world’s health authorities, and that these tone-deaf art world creeps are using such a crisis for shameless self promotion and the generation of clicks and income, while providing little to no material benefit to those at risk and on the frontlines.

Of course, like the mask coronagrift, the Public Service Announcement coronagrift continues to this very day

The final iteration of Post-able and Wearable Coronagrifting genres are what I call “Passive Aggressive Social Distancing Initiatives” or PASDIs. Many of the first PASDIs were themselves PSAs and art grifts, my favorite of which being the designboom post titled “social distancing applied to iconic album covers like the beatle’s abbey road.” As you can see, we’re dealing with extremely deep stuff here. 

However, an even earlier and, in many ways more prescient and lucrative grift involves “social distancing wearables.” This can easily be summarized by the first example of this phenomenon, published March 19th, 2020 on designboom

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Never wasting a single moment to capitalize on collective despair, all manner of brands have seized on the social distancing wearable trend, which, again, can best be seen in the last example of the phenomenon, published May 22nd, 2020 on designboom:

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We truly, truly live in Hell. 

Which brings us, of course, to living. 

“Architectural Interventions” for a “Post-COVID World”

As soon as it became clear around late March and early April that the coronavirus (and its implications) would be sticking around longer than a few months, the architectural solutions to the problem came pouring in. These, like the virus itself, started at the scale of the individual and have since grown to the scale of the city. (Whether or not they will soon encompass the entire world remains to be seen.) 

The architectural Coronagrift began with accessories (like the designboom article about 3D-printed door-openers that enable one to open a door with one’s elbow, and the Dezeen article about a different 3D-printed door-opener that enables one to open a door with one’s elbow) which, in turn, evolved into “work from home” furniture (”Stykka designs cardboard #StayTheF***Home Desk for people working from home during self-isolation”) which, in turn, evolved into pop-up vaporware architecture for first responders (”opposite office proposes to turn berlin’s brandenburg airport into COVID-19 ‘superhospital'”), which, in turn evolved into proposals for entire buildings (”studio prototype designs prefabricated 'vital house’ to combat COVID-19″); which, finally, in turn evolved into “urban solutions” aimed at changing the city itself (a great article summarizing and criticizing said urban solutions was recently written by Curbed’s Alissa Walker).

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There is something truly chilling about an architecture firm, in order to profit from attention seized by a global pandemic, logging on to their computers, opening photoshop, and drafting up some lazy, ineffectual, unsanitary mockup featuring figures in hazmat suits carrying a dying patient (macabrely set in an unfinished airport construction site) as a real, tangible solution to the problem of overcrowded hospitals; submitting it to their PR desk for copy, and sending it out to blogs and websites for clicks, knowing full well that the sole purpose of doing so consists of the hope that maybe someone with lots of money looking to commission health-related interiors will remember that one time there was a glossy airport hospital rendering on designboom and hire them. 

Enough, already. 

Frankly, after an endless barrage of cyberpunk mask designs, social distancing burger king crowns, foot-triggered crosswalk beg buttons that completely ignore accessibility concerns such as those of wheelchair users, cutesy “stay home uwu” projects from well-to-do art celebrities (who are certainly not suffering too greatly from the economic ramifications of this pandemic), I, like the reader featured in the Dezeen Tweet at the beginning of this post, have simply had enough of this bullshit

What’s most astounding to me about all of this (but especially about #brand crap like the burger king crowns) is that it is taken completely seriously by design establishments that, despite being under the purview of PR firms, should frankly know better. I’m sure that Bjarke Ingels and Burger King aren’t nearly as affected by the pandemic as those who have lost money, jobs, stability, homes, and even their lives at the hands of COVID-19 and the criminally inept national and international response to it. On the other hand, I’m sure that architects and designers are hard up for cash at a time when nobody is building and buying anything, and, as a result, many see resulting to PR-chitecture as one of the only solutions to financial problems. 

However, I’m also extremely sure that there are interventions that can be made at the social, political, and organizational level, such as campaigning for paid sick leave, organizing against layoffs and for decent severance or an expansion of public assistance, or generally fighting the rapidly accelerating encroachment of work into all aspects of everyday life – that would bring much more good and, dare I say, progress into the world than a cardboard desk captioned with the hashtag #StaytheF***Home. 

Hence, I’ve spent most of my Saturday penning this article on my blog, McMansion Hell. I’ve chosen to run this here because I myself have lost work as a freelance writer, and the gutting of publications down to a handful of editors means that, were I to publish this story on another platform, it would have resulted in at least a few more weeks worth of inflatable, wearable, plexiglass-laden Coronagrifting, something my sanity simply can no longer withstand. 

So please, Dezeen, designboom, others – I love that you keep daily tabs on what architects and designers are up to, a resource myself and other critics and design writers find invaluable – however, I am begging, begging you to start having some discretion with regards to the proposals submitted to you as “news” or “solutions” by brands and firms, and the cynical, ulterior motives behind them. If you’re looking for a guide on how to screen such content, please scroll up to the beginning of this page. 

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If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to my Patreon, as I didn’t get paid to write it.  

i drew another thing!



i drew another thing!

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1974

Howdy, folks! It’s starting to heat up outside, though because this house is absolutely uncool, I doubt you’ll find it particularly refreshing. We return once again to the great state of New Jersey, where our 1974 house comes to us from Morris County: 

This uninspiring Colonial Revival boasts 5 bedrooms and 5.5 baths totaling just under 4,000 square feet. It can be yours for $1.2 million USD. (Recession? What recession?)

While you might not think this house is particularly bad or ugly, it does show some interesting signs of houses to come, especially a decade later. There is a clear break with the Colonial Revival aesthetics seen in earlier Bicentennial-era houses like our first yearbook house from 1970. This house consolidates its core features into one much larger, and proportionally awkward center mass which has been supplied with two wings. The saving grace is that the wings are not included in the same roofline as the center mass. If you look at the house as a single unit rather than as three separate units, you can begin to see how un-elegant (despite its symmetry) this long, squat, massing really is. This is something that will only become more pronounced as masses are further integrated into a single roofline in so-called Colonial Revival houses of the McMansion-era. 

Anyways, onto the house. 

Proto-Lawyer Foyer

I hate to disappoint you, but this house was redecorated sometime in the late 90s and is not a time capsule house. However, there are still elements that give away its true age. This foyer is still very much the squat, one-story foyer found in most proto-McMansions from the 1970s, despite being neutral-colored to death. 

Dining Room

Curating the most sterile dining experience imaginable in the age of Coronavirus is truly an accomplishment. Also what exactly do you call wall painting that is not a mural and is vaguely attempting to augment reality? Wall effects?? Also it’s not a fresco??? Fauxcore???

Kitchen

Theoretically, a kitchen ceiling fan doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but they’re not exactly common fixtures. Also my mom had those exact same barstools when we were growing up (in the 90s). 

Sunroom

I’m absolutely a conspiracy guy for furniture. The white kitchen is insider trading between HGTV, Home Depot and Clorox. Why else would the messiest room in the house be made entirely white if not for selling cleaning supplies? Wake up sheeple. 

Office (?)

Also I want to take the time to point out: 
> million dollar house
> baseboard heating
> wyd

Master Bedroom

Every decade since the 70s thinks they’ve reinvented shabby chic. You have not. 

Master Bathroom

I don’t know why I find the toilet position here to be so awkward. The toilet is like “don’t mind me i’m just chillin” 

Bedroom 2

I’m absolutely losing my mind at this curtain/blind/bottom curtain (?) combo!!! In what world!!!! 

Alright, that’s enough fun for today, it’s time to head back outside into the pre-summer heat. 

Rear Exterior

This is the rare McMansion where the rear exterior is less logical than the front exterior. This house is absolutely stacked in the back. Despite this, I cannot help but feel like every party thrown here has been extremely lame. 

Anyways, that does it for 1974! Check back later this month for the next installment of the Brutalism Post! Stay safe everyone!

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you:

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, weekly drawings, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar!

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

please enjoy this picture i drew



please enjoy this picture i drew 

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1973

Howdy, folks! I come to you with a special salve to soothe the ache of social isolation and general societal turmoil: a particularly cursed house. Our 1973 house comes to us from Jackson County, Michigan, and, frankly, if you put the term “1973″ into an ugly house generator, this is most certainly what would come out: 

What we have here is a classic “Mansard” style house, named for exaggerated form of the type of roof (the mansard), a variation of hipped roof characterized by a steep slope punctured by dormer windows extending into or forming another story. This subgenre of house was popular in the 1960s and 70s, especially so in the Pacific Northwest and in vacation towns around the country.  This lovely estate is currently on the market for around $800,000, and boasts a remarkable 6 bedrooms and 5.5 baths. 

Lawyer Foyer

This house is what is colloquially referred to as a “time capsule” house in that it literally has not been touched since 1973, the year it was built. There are several interesting 70s motifs here, including the wallpaper and carpeting. We have an early example of a fully-formed “lawyer foyer” - a full two-story entryway featuring a curved or otherwise showy staircase and a chandelier that can be seen from the outside via a transom window larger than the door above which it sits. The furnishings are original; note the intricate, heavy front door featuring Orientalist motifs that were particularly popular in the 1970s. That being said, it’s ugly. 

Dining Room?

During the 1970s, Colonial Revival furnishings and architectural motifs were especially popular due to the influence of the American Bicentennial, which was apparently a huge deal. In general, there was a lot of brown furniture that was very heavy because people wanted to buy one piece of furniture that would last until they died. This was because Ikea was not yet a thing. (In all seriousness, there is a great Collector’s Weekly article about this.

Kitchen

Honestly, this is probably one of the better kitchens on this website, and it’s interesting to see such a modern-styled decor in a house that, despite its contemporary exterior is otherwise rife with traditionalist decor. 

Wet Bar

As far as McMansion wine bars go, at least this one somewhat approaches a weird architectural metaphor for, like, deconstructivist philosophy or something else people in graduate school study. 

Master Bedroom

One has to applaud the photographer for their artistic decision to make every room in this house look as cursed as possible. Also: apparently the sunroom later on in this post is what’s behind the bed, which is very, very strange. 

Master Bathroom

My question is: how is this room simultaneously grey, brown, and beige all at the same time. Scholars around the world are baffled. 

Sunroom (behind bed for some reason)

I don’t know what one does in a space like this? It’s behind the wall of the master bedroom, so it’s not a public-facing space. There are no plants or books or other activities. There is just brown furniture, weighing heavy on my isolation-addled brain. 

Basement Bar

Ok, so these folks really enjoyed drinking. We all used to laugh at people who had bars in their house but now that all the bars are closed, who is laughing now?? (It’s me, I’m still laughing.) 

That does it for the interior - now, our favorite part:

Rear Exterior

Personally, as ugly as elements of this house are, I definitely see it as one of the most fascinating to ever end up on this blog. I kind of have a soft spot for houses like this, simply because they are so strange. Anyways, speaking of strange architecture, stay tuned for another installment of the Brutalism Post coming soon! Stay safe and be well! 

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you:

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar!

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1972

Howdy folks, and by howdy I mean howdy, because this time our McMansion Hell yearbook house is in the 9th circle of McMansion Hell itself, Denton County, Texas! Sitting at a cozy 4900 square feet, this 4 bedroom/4 bath abode could be all yours for a cool $1.13 million!

In case you’re wondering what’s going on architecturally here (i.e. everyone reading this), this house is a combination of a two-story Spanish Colonial Revival (right) with a 1970s shed-style house (left) all converging in a fully formed lawyer foyer (center). The result is, well, weird. Let’s continue. 

Lawya Fawya

Unlike our earlier 1970s houses, you can see that this one has had quite a bit of renovation, likely in the early 2000s. However, some classic things still come to mind, namely the spackled stucco walls and staircase, which are likely original to the 70s. My guess would be that a lot of that center wall has been taken out in the 2000s-2020s drive to Take Every Possible Interior Wall Out. 

Living Room

As you can see, this house is very large and mostly empty - this room probably had more of a den feel originally and was probably divided up in some way. The ceilings are their original 1970s height (low). 

Unidentified Gathering Space

My favorite part of this room is the fact that they couldn’t quite round out the window corners. Curves are hard. 

Kitchen

Frankly, even with the weird pot storage, this is probably the most sane kitchen in McMansion Hell history (a rare success; a glimmer of hope in a time of great darkness.)

Master Bedroom

That TV is an entire football field away from the bed which is a great metaphor for my attitude towards being on social media during the, you know, whole global pandemic and economic collapse thing that’s going on. 

Master Bathroom

Ok OK I’m done with the social distancing jokes!!!!!!

Bedroom 2

That bed in that room is how it feels living a tiny studio apartment with my husband and my dog during a time of great uncertainty!!

Rec Room

I would love to see some statistics on what percentage of home gym equipment ends up on craigslist. My guess is at least half - working out at home is awkward and hard (source: I don’t do it.) 

Ok Ok we’re now ready to enter the best (read: worst) room in this house, which I have duly saved for last. 

“Theatre Room”

Alternatively this is how a pizza feels when they put it in one of those brick ovens at those overpriced restaurants. 

That’s all for inside, let’s head back out. 

Rear Exterior

Yeah I don’t actually know how something like this happens, architecturally speaking. It’s like the house version of mismatched socks and also both the socks have a hole in the toe and smell bad. 

Anyways that does it for 1972 - join us soon for 1973, which is truly a doozy - thanks to the folks on the McMansion Hell Patreon stream who submitted it!

I know that these are economically uncertain times, but many creators including myself depend on Patreon for most of their income, so if you have a minimum of $12/year to spare and are into bonus content, then do I have some good news for you: 

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations but still want to show support? Consider the tip jar! 

Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The Brutalism Post Part 3: What is Brutalism? Act 1, Scene 1: The Young Smithsons

What is Brutalism? To put it concisely, Brutalism was a substyle of modernist architecture that originated in Europe during the 1950s and declined by the 1970s, known for its extensive use of reinforced concrete. Because this, of course, is an unsatisfying answer, I am going to instead tell you a story about two young people, sandwiched between two soon-to-be warring generations in architecture, who were simultaneously deeply precocious and unlucky. 

It seems that in 20th century architecture there was always a power couple. American mid-century modernism had Charles and Ray Eames. Postmodernism had Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Brutalism had Alison and Peter Smithson, henceforth referred to simply as the Smithsons. 

If you read any of the accounts of the Smithsons’ contemporaries (such as The New Brutalism by critic-historian Reyner Banham) one characteristic of the pair is constantly reiterated: at the time of their rise to fame in British and international architecture circles, the Smithsons were young. In fact, in the early 1950s, both had only recently completed architecture school at Durham University. Alison, who was five years younger, was graduating around the same time as Peter, whose studies were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served as an engineer in India. 

Alison and Peter Smithson. Image via Open.edu

At the time of the Smithsons graduation, they were leaving architecture school at a time when the upheaval the war caused in British society could still be deeply felt. Air raids had destroyed hundreds of thousands of units of housing, cultural sites and had traumatized a generation of Britons. Faced with an end to wartime international trade pacts, Britain’s financial situation was dire, and austerity prevailed in the 1940s despite the expansion of the social safety net. It was an uncertain time to be coming up in the arts, pinned at the same time between a war-torn Europe and the prosperous horizon of the 1950s.   

Alison and Peter married in 1949, shortly after graduation, and, like many newly trained architects of the time, went to work for the British government, in the Smithsons’ case, the London City Council. The LCC was, in the wake of the social democratic reforms (such as the National Health Service) and Keynesian economic policies of a strong Labour government, enjoying an expanded range in power. Of particular interest to the Smithsons were the areas of city planning and council housing, two subjects that would become central to their careers.

Alison and Peter Smithson, elevations for their Soho House (described as “a house for a society that had nothing”, 1953). Image via socks-studio.

The State of British Architecture

 The Smithsons, architecturally, ideologically, and aesthetically, were at the mercy of a rift in modernist architecture, the development of which was significantly disrupted by the war. The war had displaced many of its great masters, including luminaries such as the founders of the Bauhaus: Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer. Britain, which was one of the slowest to adopt modernism, did not benefit as much from this diaspora as the US. 

At the time of the Smithsons entry into the architectural bureaucracy, the country owed more of its architectural underpinnings to the British architects of the nineteenth century (notably the utopian socialist William Morris), precedent studies of the influences of classical architecture (especially Palladio) under the auspices of historians like Nikolaus Pevsner, as well as a preoccupation with both British and Scandinavian vernacular architecture, in a populist bent underpinned by a turn towards social democracy. This style of architecture was known as the New Humanism

Alton East Houses by the London County Council Department of Architecture (1953-6), an example of New Humanist architecture. Image taken from The New Brutalism by Reyner Banham. 

This was somewhat of a sticky situation, for the young Smithsons who, through their more recent schooling, were, unlike their elders, awed by the buildings and writing of the European modernists. The dramatic ideas for the transformation of cities as laid out by the manifestos of the CIAM (International Congresses for Modern Architecture) organized by Le Corbusier (whose book Towards a New Architecture was hugely influential at the time) and the historian-theorist Sigfried Giedion, offered visions of social transformation that allured many British architects, but especially the impassioned and idealistic Smithsons.

Of particular contribution to the legacy of the development of Brutalism was Le Corbusier, who, by the 1950s was entering the late period of his career which characterized by his use of raw concrete (in his words, béton brut), and sculptural architectural forms. The building du jour for young architects (such as Peter and Alison) was the Unité d’Habitation (1948-54), the sprawling massive housing project in Marseilles, France, that united Le Corbusier’s urban theories of dense, centralized living, his architectural dogma as laid out in Towards a New Architecture, and the embrace of the rawness and coarseness of concrete as a material, accentuated by the impression of the wooden board used to shape it into Corb’s looming, sweeping forms.

The Unité d’habitation by Le Corbusier. Image via Iantomferry (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Little did the Smithsons know that they, mere post-graduates, would have an immensely disruptive impact on the institutions they at this time so deeply admired. For now, the couple was on the eve of their first big break, their ticket out of the nation’s bureaucracy and into the limelight.

 The Hunstanton School

An important post-war program, the one that gave the Smithsons their international debut, was the expansion of the British school system in 1944, particularly the establishment of the tripartite school system, which split students older than 11 into grammar schools (high schools) and secondary modern schools (technical schools). This, inevitably, stimulated a swath of school building throughout the country. There were several national competitions for architects wanting to design the new schools, and the Smithsons, eager to get their hands on a first project, gleefully applied.

For their inspiration, the Smithsons turned to Mies van der Rohe, who had recently emigrated to the United States and release to the architectural press, details of his now-famous Crown Hall of the Illinois Institute of Technology (1950). Mies’ use of steel, once relegated to being hidden as an internal structural material, could, thanks to laxness in the fire code in the state of Illinois, be exposed, transforming into an articulated, external structural material. 

Crown Hall, Illinois Institute of Technology by Mies van der Rohe. Image via Arturo Duarte Jr. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Of particular importance was the famous “Mies Corner, consisting of two joined exposed I-beams that elegantly elided inherent problems in how to join together the raw, skeletal framing of steel and the revealing translucence of curtain-wall glass. This building, seen only through photographs by our young architects, opened up within them the possibility of both the modernist expression of a structure’s inherent function, but also as testimony to the aesthetic power of raw building materials as surfaces as well as structure.

The Smithsons, in a rather bold move for such young architects, decided to enter into a particularly contested competition for a new secondary school in Norfolk. They designed a school based on a Miesian steel-framed design of which the structural elements would all be visible. Its plan was crafted to the utmost standards of rationalist economy; its form, unlike the horizontal endlessness of Mies’ IIT, is neatly packaged into separate volumes arranged in a symmetrical way. But what was most important was the use of materials, the rawness of which is captured in the words of Reyner Banham: 

“Wherever one stands within the school one sees its actual structural materials exposed, without plaster and frequently without paint. The electrical conduits, pipe-runs, and other services are exposed with equal frankness. This, indeed, is an attempt to make architecture out of the relationships of brute materials, but it is done with the very greatest self-denying restraint.”

 Much to the upset and shock of the more conservative and romanticist British architectural establishment, the Smithsons’ design won.

Hunstanton School by Alison and Peter Smithson (1949-54). Photos by Anna Armstrong. (CC BY NC-SA 3.0)

The Hunstanton School, had, as much was possible in those days, gone viral in the architectural press, and very quickly catapulted the Smithsons to international fame as the precocious children of post-war Britain. Soon after, the term the Smithsons would claim as their own, Brutalism, too entered the general architectural consciousness. (By the early 1950s, the term was already escaping from its national borders and being applied to similar projects and work that emphasized raw materials and structural expression.)

 The New Brutalism

So what was this New Brutalism? 

The Smithsons had, even before the construction of the Hunstanton School had been finished, begun to draft amongst themselves a concept called the New Brutalism. Like many terms in art, “Brutalism” began as a joke that soon became very serious.  The term New Brutalism, according to Banham, came from an in-joke amongst the Swedish architects Hans Asplund, Bengt Edman and Lennart Holm in 1950s, about drawings the latter two had drawn for a house. This had spread to England through the Swedes’ English friends, the architects Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, who leaked it to the Architectural Association and the Architect’s Department of the London County Council, at which Alison and Peter Smithson were still employed. According to Banham, the term had already acquired a colloquial meaning:

“Whatever Asplund meant by it, the Cox-Shankland connection seem to have used it almost exclusively to mean Modern Architecture of the more pure forms then current, especially the work of Mies van der Rohe. The most obstinate protagonists of that type of architecture at the time in London were Alison and Peter Smithson, designers of the Miesian school at Hunstanton, which is generally taken to be the first Brutalist building.”

 (This is supplicated by an anecdote of how the term stuck partially because Peter was called Brutus by his peers because he bore resemblance to Roman busts of the hero, and Brutalism was a joining of “Brutus plus Alison,” which is deeply cute.)

The Smithsons began to explore the art world for corollaries to their raw, material-driven architecture. They found kindred souls in the photographer Nigel Henderson and the sculptor Edouardo Paolozzi, with whom the couple curated an exhibition called “Parallel of Life and Art.” The Smithsons were beginning to find in their work a sort of populism, regarding the untamed, almost anthropological rough textures and assemblies of materials, which the historian Kenneth Frampton jokingly called ‘the peoples’ detailing.’ Frampton described the exhibit, of which few photographs remain, as thus:

“Drawn from news photos and arcane archaeological, anthropological, and zoological sources, many of these images [quoting Banham] ‘offered scenes of violence and distorted or anti-aesthetic views of the human figure, and all had a coarse grainy texture which was clearly regarded by the collaborators as one of their main virtues’. There was something decidedly existential about an exhibition that insisted on viewing the world as a landscape laid waste by war, decay, and disease – beneath whose ashen layers one could still find traces of life, albeing microscopic, pulsating within the ruins…the distant past and the immediate future fused into one. Thus the pavilion patio was furnished not only with an old wheel and a toy aeroplane but also with a television set. In brief, within a decayed and ravaged (i.e. bombed out) urban fabric, the ‘affluence’ of a mobile consumerism was already being envisaged, and moreover welcomed, as the life substance of a new industrial vernacular.”

Alison and Peter Smithson, Nigel Henderson, Eduoardo Paolozzi, Parallels in Life and Art. Image via the Tate Modern, 2011.

A Clash on the Horizon 

The Smithsons, it is important to remember, were part of a generation both haunted by war and tantalized by the car and consumer culture of the emerging 1950s. Ideologically they were sandwiched between the twilight years of British socialism and the allure of a consumerist populism informed by fast cars and good living, and this made their work and their ideology rife with contradiction and tension. 

The tension between proletarian, primitivist, anthropological elements as expressed in coarse, raw, materials and the allure of the technological utopia dreamed up by modernists a generation earlier, combined with the changing political climate of post-war Britain, resulted in a mix of idealism and post-socialist thought. This hybridized an new school appeal to a better life -  made possible by technology, the emerging financial accessibility of consumer culture, the promises of easily replicable, luxurious living promised by modernist architecture - with the old-school, quintessentially British populist consideration for the anthropological complexity of urban, working class life. This is what the Smithsons alluded to when they insisted early on that Brutalism was an “ethic, not an aesthetic.”

Model of the Plan Voisin for Paris by Le Corbusier displayed at the Nouveau Esprit Pavilion (1925) via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

By the time the Smithsons entered the international architectural scene, their modernist forefathers were already beginning to age, becoming more stylistically flexible, nuanced, and less reliant upon the strictness and ideology of their previous dogmas. The younger generation, including the Smithsons, were, in their rose-tinted idealism, beginning to feel like the old masters were abandoning their original ethos, or, in the case of other youngsters such as the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, were beginning to question the validity of such concepts as the Plan Voisin, Le Corbusier’s urbanist doctrine of dense housing development surrounded by green space and accessible by the alluring future of car culture. 

These youngsters were beginning to get to know each other, meeting amongst themselves at the CIAM – the International Congresses of Modern Architecture – the most important gathering of modernist architects in the world. Modern architecture as a movement was on a generational crash course that would cause an immense rift in architectural thought, practice, and history. But this is a tale for our next installment.

Like many works and ideas of young people, the nascent New Brutalism was ill-formed; still feeling for its niche beyond a mere aesthetic dominated by the honesty of building materials and a populism trying to reconcile consumerist technology and proletarian anthropology. This is where we leave our young Smithsons: riding the wave of success of their first project as a new firm, completely unaware of what is to come: the rift their New Brutalism would tear through the architectural discourse both then and now.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1971

Howdy Folks! 1971′s house comes to us from Morris County, New Jersey. Sitting at 5000 square feet, despite its age it’s still for sale for $1.2 million USD. As you can see, it is a surprisingly developed McMansion compared to the house from last month: 

This house showcases many different McMansion elements - clearly demonstrating an early iteration of the decorated split level emerging into a new architectural form. However, this house still has many split level elements, including a clear demarcation of first and second stories via attached masses - the garage in particular is reminiscent of many split level garages. This house also borrows elements from the 70s Mansard-style house, specifically in its use of embedded half-dormers, which recall many mansard-style houses but replacing the mansard roof with a low-pitched hipped roof. 

Paralegal Foyer (proto-Lawyer Foyer):

It was relatively common in early iterations of the McMansion to have a partial formation of the Lawyer Foyer, a two story entryway but lacking the transom window above the door that enables the entryway to be seen from the street. Sadly, this house was redecorated from its original 70s finishes, most likely in the late 1990s. 

Dining Room:

My personal opinion is that parquet floors Were Good Actually and we should bring them back. 

Den:

What’s enjoyable about looking at houses from the perspective of date is that there are some elements that are dated but also expensive to get rid of - the floating wetbar-island combo is very 70s, however I actually think these kinds of islands with cabinetry are useful and it would be nice to see them make a comeback. 

Kitchen:

1) I remember going to some kid’s house in middle school and they had a huge kitchen like this and all the cabinets were literally filled with hamburger helper, easy mac, uncle ben’s rice, etc - the parents had this huge chef’s kitchen but apparently never cooked. 

2) that table would not last one encounter involving me, a beer, and a particularly animated political conversation. 

Master Bedroom:

It weirds me out when rich people don’t have headboards!!! I don’t know why!!! 

Bedroom 2:

I had a bedspread similar to this but it was in blue, brown, and green and I vote!

Bedroom 3:

The 3D furniture staging thing is fascinating to me because sometimes it’s virtually undistinguishable from real estate photos where the furniture is real but the photos themselves are photoshopped to the point of unreality. Personally I’d love to have a copy of the software that lets you 3D decorate random real estate listings - it’s like the Sims but for realtors. 

That’s the last of our interior rooms, which brings us to our concluding picture:

Rear Exterior

I have no idea how you mess up lining up six identical windows in a rational way and yet…and yet… 

Well folks, that does it for 1971! Stay tuned this week for another iteration of the Brutalism Post! 

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

The McMansion Hell Yearbook: 1970

(FYI - this is going to be a longer post than usual, so you might want to open it in a new tab if you’re reading it on Tumblr feed. There will be a read more break about halfway through.)

Howdy, folks! Welcome to the first edition of the McMansion Hell Yearbook - a year by year account of how the McMansion came to be. We begin our tour of time in the year 1970.

Why 1970: A Brief History Lesson

Whether or not the McMansion belongs to canonical or vernacular (everyday) architecture is a topic of some dispute - for example, Thomas Hubka, in his book Houses Without Names claims that the McMansion is simply the latest iteration of highly-customized architecture designed by and for rich people, which is why it doesn’t belong in studies of vernacular architecture. However, Hubka himself includes in his evolutionary study of floorplans, a type called “Large Suburban” which features a central foyer flanked by formal rooms leading into a vast living/entertaining space and kitchen. The question of where “Large Suburban” ends and “McMansion” begins is perhaps less of an architectural question than it is a cultural one, but that’s something we’ll discuss in more detail later on in this series.

A Styled Split-Level from a 1960 trade publication. Public Domain. 

Meanwhile, Virginia McAlester includes McMansions, called “Millennium Mansions” in the second edition of the Field Guide to American Houses, a phenomenon she places as starting around 1985. However, like most architectural phenomenons, the McMansion didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Its predecessor is what McAlester called the Styled Ranch (and Styled Split Level) - an elaboration of the ranches and split-levels of midcentury featuring the costuming of the simple ranch form in a variety of different architectural styles or themes including Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Mediterranean, and Tudor. How these styled ranches and split levels escalated into the sprawling McMansions we know today is something this new series hopes to tackle.

Enough history (for now)! Here’s our 1970 house found in none other than Bergen County, New Jersey.

This 5,600 square-foot house features 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms and can be all yours for ~$1.8 million USD. You’ll notice a lot of things about this house that are not McMansion-like: its symmetry, its lack of a complex roofline, its unified exterior claddings and window styles. However, this is why the house is interesting - it is not as much a McMansion as it is a proto-McMansion. Many McMansion features are apparent in their nascent form, for example, the competing architectural styles of Tudor (windows) and Neoclassical (portico, front door, quoins), the tacked-on mass containing the three car garage, an ostentatious pediment with elaborate columns, and extruded double bay windows.

The most interesting of these proto-features is the front entryway, an early development of what will be known on this blog as the Lawyer Foyer. We see a large central window above the door (architectural historian Charles Jencks traces this to LA in his book Daydream Houses of Los Angeles, appropriately calling it the “LA Door”), with an outdoor decorative light dangling in front of it, a motif borrowed from certain, usually later iterations of the split level (seen in this example [top left] from a 1963 trade catalog). Let’s step inside:

Proto-Lawyer Foyer (Law School Foyer???)

What’s interesting about this example is that it is very McMansion like in its use of a large curved staircase and over-indulgent chandelier. However, the above-door window has yet to merge with the front door into a transom-window, and the chandelier, though large and ornate, has yet to replace the lantern outside as the lighting feature that can be seen from the street.

Sitting Room

Though this house tends to feature more Louis XV-style furniture (my suspicion is that this might be evidence of an 80s or 90s era redecorating), the emphasis on bulky, ornate 18th century reproduction furniture, moldings, and wallpaper is indicative of the fascination in the 1970s towards the (American) Colonial era in anticipation of the 1976 American Bicentennial. You can read more about this in this fantastic and captivating Collector’s Weekly article.

Dining Room

As we can see, the stuffy formal dining room has always existed in McMansions, simply because it has always existed in rich people houses in general since the dawn of time.

Living Room

While ugly and too big, this living room definitely is more reminiscent of a ranch-style living room than it is a McMansion great room. It even has doors (heresy!) Personally I stan those 70s brick veneer fireplaces because they are groovy and increasingly hard to find.

Oh. I should mention that you’re really, really not prepared for what you’re about to see in the next room.

Horse Shrine

SERIOUSLY:

For some reason having a racehorse shrine seems, like, peak New Jersey.

Ahoy, Chef!

If your nana or great aunt didn’t have these wyd

Master Bedroom

I should add that the listing for this house shows none of the six bathrooms, and, after viewing this room, I have to believe there’s a reason for that.

Spare Bedroom

Is there a tacky wallpaper museum?? If so, how do I get on the board of directors???

Anyways, this concludes our interior tour. Let’s go back outside.

Rear Exterior:

Well, on that (thankfully more subdued than usual) note, this concludes our 1970 entry in the McMansion Hell Yearbook. See you soon with an update on Brutalism, and stay tuned for next month’s 1971 McMansion.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive Discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

Announcing the Winners of the 2019 McGingerbread Hell Competition

Wow! It was another great year for the McGingerbread Hell Gingerbread House Competition! The judges had their work cut out for them selecting between so many fine selections. Congratulations and great job to everyone who submitted an entry in this year’s contest. However, only six houses could make the cut.

Let’s start out with announcing the winners for Honorable Mention.

Honorable Mention: Priced to Sell! by Tina B.

The judges were wowed by the impressive nub, the tumorous turret, and the fantastically mismatched windows.

Quote from the Project Description: A true GEM of a house! 6,738 SF beautifully set on .23 parklike acres. Mediterranian villa in front, stately Federal in the back; it’s the mullet of houses!…Entertain in your beautiful backyard featuring a real StoneTek™ patio! The heavily pruned weeping cherry tree will be a real showstopper in 30-40 years! The largest roof in the neighborhood has Chex shingle roof in molasses brown. 4 BR / 5.5 BA / $899,000 / Days on market - 923

Honorable Mention: Festive Roofline Soup by Jessica C.

The judges LOVED the complexity of the roofline, the absurd gabling, and the 3 car garage.

Quote from the Project Description: Features include: • Flaked almond shingles covering a roofline so complex that it required trigonometrical expertise from my math teacher father to work out measurements…[and] A low maintenance yard as the house takes up almost the entire block! Now accepting offers; the sellers are motivated as the couple are in the middle of divorce proceedings.

Honorable Mention: Vinyl Vanity by Joseph & Kayla S.

The judges were impressed by the impressive garage to roof ratio, the roof detailings, the candy-cane columns, and excellent lawyer foyer.

Quote from the Project Description: This 2 square foot, two and a half story Craftsmen Tudor Post Classical Revival estate is the luxurious home that your friends and neighbors never wanted…The car is truly the heart of Tudor England, so we put the garage proudly up front, where the yawning chasm of the door greets the outside world with disdain…Be sure to schedule your private tour soon, this edifice is sure to not last long. On the market. If you’re curious about the price, you’re probably too economically responsible for this property.

And now, our top 3:

Third Place: A Jersey Thing by Nùria O.

Judges were impressed by the size, shape, and meticulous detailing of the project, which is reminiscent of a truly terrible McModern. Anjulie, seeing the size of the huge roof said “this is some sustainable sh*t.” This project captures the true McMansion ethos in truly making us say “what the hell is going on here?”

Project Description: Inspired by a beatiful RealLife™ McMansion™ in Beach Haven, NJ, this year’s featured McGingerbread mansion is a modern 5-bedroom, 16-bathroom home made entirely in construction-grade gingerbread and held together with royal icing made from free-range egg whites. The nonpareil- and sugar-crystal-covered walls provide both isolation from stormy weather and give a vintage air to counterbalance the futuristic lines of the design…On the back of the house, you can walk out to a large deck (perfect for entertainment) boasting a valuable one-piece handrail. From there you can access the beautiful mediterranean garden, set in candy charcoal and stones, environmentally friendly as it’s practically maintenance free. Don’t miss your chance to visit this unique home—feel the sugar rush!

Second Place: Victorian Opulence by Beth & Tina C.

Reigning McGingerbread champs Beth & Tina C. returned to the scene this year with yet another gorgeous gingerbread. Judges were wowed by the complexity and scale of the project. Sarah was impressed by the intricate piping and lots of frilly details, and the homage to the traditional Victorian gingerbread form. Anjulie described it as “unbearably neat” - she loved the uncantilevered bay window, the detached garage that makes entryway irrelevant, and the hilarious-front balcoiny with half-wall (not code compliant). Kate was impressed by the detailing and the extensive cantilevers which too serious structural engineering to pull off.

Project description: New from the creators that brought you a true monstrosity last year: The Victorian Opulence! Featuring a lovely wrap around porch, adorable detached garage, and a truly magnificent waterfall in the backyard, this monolith of a house features thee decks overlooking somewhat patchy but still rescueable landscaping. Other features include an outdoor patio, a tower for all your princess capturing needs, and a truly cursed facade featuring a curved roof of all things! With several nubbins featuring windows, there is no angle on this house you can’t see out of! Standing at nearly 2 feet tall and with an approximate total floor area of 550 square inches-excluding outdoor seating area-this Victorian style home will surely be the envy of all the gingerbread men in your country club. (Snow removal not included as part of HOA membership fees.)

And finally…

First Prize: Simply Having a Wonderful Building Crime by Erin E.

The judges all agreed: this house was outrageous - its execution was fantastic, and its design was full of so many delightful, humorous details. Sarah remarked: “This one is perfectly McMasion-scaled, with weirdly placed windows and gratuitous features to boot.” Anjulie couldn’t sing the praises enough: “I was particularly taken with the garage that is so far detached it makes the front door totally irrelevant…it’s a castle of grand sadness. The Pete Buttigieg sign is the literal icing on top.” Kate loved the details: the Pete sign, the ridiculously diverse selection of windows, the piped on invasive plants and basketball hoop, and the glass and siding effects. Part of the competition lies in its absurdity and humor, and in that particular category, this house took the cake.

Project description: This home Defies the Ordinary. Located on a 2.3 acre lot, you’ll be the envy of all your neighbors–and can watch from the top of the turret to be sure they’re suitably jealous! Enjoy sitting al fresco under the portico above the garage, or on the hand-laid M&M stone patio! The two-story entryway accounts for just a few of the more than 60 sugar glass windows! All of the walls join up exactly where the architect expected them to, and no windows were covered up on accident!!!

Constructed over two weeks, out of ten pounds of flour, four pounds of powdered sugar, and more than half a gallon of corn syrup, this modest four-story house will surely stand the test of time. It’s been meticulously decorated with royal icing vines, wreaths, and Christmas lights, and landscaped with gingerbread boulders, definitely-naturally-this-green icing grass, and coconut macaroon topiary. The roof stands at 17 inches high, and is crafted from waffle cookie shingles over gingerbread rafters. For sale for just $1,895,000, this house is just perfect for new families or young professionals just starting out!

Special thanks to everyone who entered this year and to our judges Sarah Archer and Anjulie Rao for their contributions in pulling off yet another successful entry our search for the Gingerbread McMansion Hall of Fame!

See you next week with this month’s 1970 McMansion.

If you like this post, and want to see more like it, consider supporting me on Patreon!

There is a whole new slate of Patreon rewards, including: good house of the month, an exclusive discord server, monthly livestreams, a reading group, free merch at certain tiers and more!

Not into recurring donations or bonus content? Consider the tip jar! Or, Check out the McMansion Hell Store! Proceeds from the store help protect great buildings from the wrecking ball.

Staring at Hell | Kate Wagner

Staring at Hell | Kate Wagner:

Howdy folks! My new long form piece for The Baffler is now available online. It features all kinds of goodies:

- Enlightenment slap fights

- Industrial Ruins

- The Sublime (not the band)

- Superfund sites

- How we as a culture react to the aesthetics of a modernity that have destroyed our environment (you know, lighthearted stuff)

New Blog Updates and Patreon Rewards for 2020!

Howdy folks!

Now is a great time to join McMansion Hell on Patreon, and I’ll tell you why!

Patreon has really evolved over the years and the landscape of how creators can interact with their patrons has changed dramatically - expanding to such areas as merch, exclusive servers, instagram-like story features, and newsletters. That’s why I’ve taken the opportunity to expand my Patreon to be more interactive with all of the patrons who make this project possible. More on that later!

First off, we’re going to start with what’s coming on the blog in the year 2020:

McMansion Hell enters bi-monthly status

As many of you are aware, this blog has been, well, flaky, as I try to balance my career as a freelancer, speaker, and educator with my career as a blogger. Instead of random updates, this blog will be set to publish twice a month, the first post being a house roast and the second post being a series post, such as the series on Brutalism. This allows time for freelancing, devoting more time to Patreon, and creates a more consistent expectation of what bang you’ll get for your buck.

New House Roasts, Year By Year

Do you ever wonder how McMansions got the way they did? We’ll we’re about to find out. Now that we’ve completed the 50 States of McMansion Hell, I’m going to be selecting one house for every year from 1970 to 2018 that is emblematic of the design trends of its time - in house-roast form, of course.

New and Continuing Series

The Brutalism Post will see three more installments this year. It will be followed by The Postmodern Project a new, five-post series on Postmodernism and its trials, tribulations, and legacy.

Results from the 2019 Gingerbread Contest will be announced next week!

New Patreon Rewards and Tiers

In order to take advantage of all the different goodies Patreon now has to offer, the tiers have been totally revamped:

$1 - League of Architectural Wokeness

$3 - League of Architectural Sassiness

$5 - League of Architectural Savviness

$10 - League of Architectural Solidarity

$20 - Guardians of Architecture

$30 - NEW TIER: League of Discourse Warriors

$50 - League of Suburban Warriors

I hope that you enjoy this year of house roasts, articles, and fun new patron goodies. See you next week with the Gingerbread Contest results!

xoxo

Kate

McMansion Hell Cross Stitch Patterns

Howdy folks! Someone alerted me that the file link for the McMansion Hell Cross Stitch patterns was no longer working, so I wanted to upload them in full here in time for the holiday season. They’re free for everyone to use, so please don’t go selling them on Etsy that would be very not cool!!!! 

EDIT: if you like these, and want to help your freelancer friend out over the holidays, I’ve made an Etsy store for my other cross stitch patterns: https://www.etsy.com/shop/kwagnerxstitch

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Happy Holidays!

Kate

Thanks, I hate addict Harry Potter

By /u/soulmaximus

Thanks, I hate addict Harry Potter submitted by /u/soulmaximus to r/TIHI
[link] [comments]

Jackson, Mississippi, votes to remove statue of President Andrew Jackson from City Hall

By /u/hildebrand_rarity

submitted by /u/hildebrand_rarity to r/news
[link] [comments]

WCGW putting your corn dog out the window

By /u/JustAN0body

WCGW putting your corn dog out the window submitted by /u/JustAN0body to r/Whatcouldgowrong
[link] [comments]

Reaching new level of irony

By /u/__Dawn__Amber__

Reaching new level of irony submitted by /u/__Dawn__Amber__ to r/facepalm
[link] [comments]

Trump Health Secretary Says US Healthcare Workers 'Don't Get Infected' With Covid-19 (94,000 Have Contracted Covid-19)

By /u/chrisdh79

Trump Health Secretary Says US Healthcare Workers 'Don't Get Infected' With Covid-19 (94,000 Have Contracted Covid-19) submitted by /u/chrisdh79 to r/politics
[link] [comments]

small achievement but I just finished my first week of quitting smoking!

By /u/noizybees

small achievement but I just finished my first week of quitting smoking! submitted by /u/noizybees to r/pics
[link] [comments]

Do dogs dying inside count?

By /u/Paddyspills

Do dogs dying inside count? submitted by /u/Paddyspills to r/WatchPeopleDieInside
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Haha implants go brrrr

By /u/Jommy69

Haha implants go brrrr submitted by /u/Jommy69 to r/dankmemes
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The best thing about working from home

By /u/Poillio

The best thing about working from home submitted by /u/Poillio to r/aww
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well yes, but actually no

By /u/_crazy_mofo_

well yes, but actually no submitted by /u/_crazy_mofo_ to r/funny
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This is how you feed baby Manatees.

By /u/My_Memes_Will_Cure_U

This is how you feed baby Manatees. submitted by /u/My_Memes_Will_Cure_U to r/Eyebleach
[link] [comments]

'No one told me': Samoan man serves five more years in prison than he had to

By /u/Same_As_It_Ever_Was

'No one told me': Samoan man serves five more years in prison than he had to submitted by /u/Same_As_It_Ever_Was to r/nottheonion
[link] [comments]

If he were here he'd consume these morons with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse

By /u/beerbellybegone

If he were here he'd consume these morons with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse submitted by /u/beerbellybegone to r/MurderedByWords
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Sad reality

By /u/My_Memes_Will_Cure_U

Sad reality submitted by /u/My_Memes_Will_Cure_U to r/awfuleverything
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China makes criticizing CPP rule in Hong Kong illegal worldwide

By /u/ivalm

submitted by /u/ivalm to r/worldnews
[link] [comments]

CodeSOD: A Private Matter

By Remy Porter

Tim Cooper was digging through the code for a trip-planning application. This particular application can plan a trip across multiple modes of transportation, from public transit to private modes, like rentable scooters or bike-shares.

This need to discuss private modes of transportation can lead to some… interesting code.

// for private: better = same
TIntSet myPrivates = getPrivateTransportSignatures(true);
TIntSet othersPrivates = other.getPrivateTransportSignatures(true);
if (myPrivates.size() != othersPrivates.size()
        || ! myPrivates.containsAll(othersPrivates)
        || ! othersPrivates.containsAll(myPrivates)) {
    return false;
}

This block of code seems to worry a lot about the details of othersPrivates, which frankly is a bad look. Mind your own business, code. Mind your own business.

[Advertisement] Ensure your software is built only once and then deployed consistently across environments, by packaging your applications and components. Learn how today!

CodeSOD: Your Personal Truth

By Remy Porter

There are still some environments where C may not have easy access to a stdbool header file. That's easy to fix, of course. The basic pattern is to typedef an integer type as a boolean type, and then define some symbols for true and false. It's a pretty standard pattern, three lines of code, and unless you insist that FILE_NOT_FOUND is a boolean value, it's pretty hard to mess up.

Julien H was compiling some third-party C code, specifically in Visual Studio 2010, and as it turns out, VS2010 doesn't support C99, and thus doesn't have a stdbool. But, as stated, it's an easy pattern to implement, so the third party library went and implemented it:

#ifndef _STDBOOL_H_VS2010 #define _STDBOOL_H_VS2010 typedef int bool; static bool true = 1; static bool false = 0; #endif

We've asked many times, what is truth? In this case, we admit a very post-modern reality: what is "true" is not constant and unchanging, it cannot merely be enumerated, it must be variable. Truth can change, because here we've defined true and false as variables. And more than that, each person must identify their own truth, and by making these variables static, what we guarantee is that every .c file in our application can have its own value for truth. The static keyword, applied to a global variable, guarantees that each .c file gets its own scope.

I can only assume this header was developed by Jacques Derrida.

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CodeSOD: Classic WTF: Dimensioning the Dimension

By Alex Papadimoulis

It was a holiday weekend in the US, so we're taking a little break. Yes, I know that most people took Friday off, but as this article demonstrates, dates remain hard. Original -- Remy

It's not too uncommon to see a Java programmer write a method to get the name of a month based on the month number. Sure, month name formatting is built in via SimpleDateFormat, but the documentation can often be hard to read. And since there's really no other place to find the answer, it's excusable that a programmer will just write a quick method to do this.

I have to say though, Robert Cooper's colleague came up with a very interesting way of doing this: adding an[other] index to an array ...

public class DateHelper
{
  private static final String[][] months = 
    { 
      { "0", "January" }, 
      { "1", "February" }, 
      { "2", "March" }, 
      { "3", "April" }, 
      { "4", "May" }, 
      { "5", "June" }, 
      { "6", "July" }, 
      { "7", "August" }, 
      { "8", "September" }, 
      { "9", "October" }, 
      { "10", "November" }, 
      { "11", "December" }
    };

  public static String getMonthDescription(int month)
  {
    for (int i = 0; i < months.length; i++)
    {
      if (Integer.parseInt(months[i][0]) == month)
      {
          return months[i][1];
      }
    }
    return null;
  }
}

If you enjoyed friday's post (A Pop-up Potpourii), make sure to check out the replies. There were some great error messages posted.

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Error'd: Take a Risk on NaN

By Mark Bowytz

"Sure, I know how long the free Standard Shipping will take, but maybe, just maybe, if I choose Economy, my package will have already arrived! Or never," Philip G. writes.

 

"To be honest, I would love to hear how a course on guitar will help me become certified on AWS!" Kevin wrote.

 

Gergő writes, "Hooray! I'm going to be so productive for the next 0 days!"

 

"I guess that inbox count is what I get for using Yahoo mail?" writes Becky R.

 

Marc W. wrote, "Try all you want, PDF Creator, but you'll never sweet talk me with your 'great' offer!"

 

Mark W. wrote, "My neighborhood has a personality split, but at least they're both Pleasant."

 

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ABCD

By Remy Porter

As is fairly typical in our industry, Sebastian found himself working as a sub-contractor to a sub-contractor to a contractor to a big company. In this case, it was IniDrug, a pharmaceutical company.

Sebastian was building software that would be used at various steps in the process of manufacturing, which meant he needed to spend a fair bit of time in clean rooms, and on air-gapped networks, to prevent trade secrets from leaking out.

Like a lot of large companies, they had very formal document standards. Every document going out needed to have the company logo on it, somewhere. This meant all of the regular employees had the IniDrug logo in their email signatures, e.g.:

Bill Lumbergh
Senior Project Lead
  _____       _ _____                   
 |_   _|     (_|  __ \                  
   | |  _ __  _| |  | |_ __ _   _  __ _ 
   | | | '_ \| | |  | | '__| | | |/ _` |
  _| |_| | | | | |__| | |  | |_| | (_| |
 |_____|_| |_|_|_____/|_|   \__,_|\__, |
                                   __/ |
                                  |___/ 

At least, they did until Sebastian got an out of hours, emergency call. While they absolutely were not set up for remote work, Sebastian could get webmail access. And in the webmail client, he saw:

Bill Lumbergh
Senior Project Lead
ABCD

At first, Sebastian assumed Bill had screwed up his sigline. Or maybe the attachment broke? But as Sebastian hopped on an email chain, he noticed a lot of ABCDs. Then someone sent out a Word doc (because why wouldn’t you catalog your emergency response in a Word document?), and in the space where it usually had the IniDrug logo, it instead had “ABCD”.

The crisis resolved itself without any actual effort from Sebastian or his fellow contractors, but they had to reply to a few emails just to show that they were “pigs and not chickens”- they were committed to quality software. The next day, Sebastian mentioned the ABCD weirdness.

“I saw that too. I wonder what the deal was?” his co-worker Joanna said.

They pulled up the same document on his work computer, the logo displayed correctly. He clicked on it, and saw the insertion point blinking back at him. Then he glanced at the formatting toolbar and saw “IniDrug Logo” as the active font.

Puzzled, he selected the logo and changed the font. “ABCD” appeared.

IniDrug had a custom font made, hacked so that if you typed ABCD the resulting output would look like the IniDrug logo. That was great, if you were using a computer with the font installed, or if you remembered to make sure your word processor was embedding all your weird custom fonts.

Which also meant a bunch of outside folks were interacting with IniDrug employees, wondering why on Earth they all had “ABCD” in their siglines. Sebastian and Joanna got a big laugh about it, and shared the joke with their fellow contractors. Helping the new contractors discover this became a rite of passage. When contractors left for other contracts, they’d tell their peers, “It was great working at ABCD, but it’s time that I moved on.”

There were a lot of contractors, all chuckling about this, and one day in a shared break room, a bunch of T-Shirts appeared: plain white shirts with “ABCD” written on them in Arial.

That, as it turned out, was the bridge too far, and it got the attention of someone who was a regular IniDrug employee.

To the Contracting Team:
In the interests of maintaining a professional environment, we will be updating the company dress code. Shirts decorated with the text “ABCD” are prohibited, and should not be worn to work. If you do so, you will be asked to change or conceal the offending content.

Bill Lumbergh
Senior Project Lead
ABCD

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CodeSOD: locurlicenseucesss

By Remy Porter

The past few weeks, I’ve been writing software for a recording device. This is good, because when I’m frustrated by the bugs I put in the code and I start cursing at it, it’s not venting, it’s testing.

There are all sorts of other little things we can do to vent. Imagine, if you will, you find yourself writing an if with an empty body, but an else clause that does work. You’d probably be upset at yourself. You might be stunned. You might be so tired it feels like a good idea at the time. You might be deep in the throes of “just. work. goddammit”. Regardless of the source of that strain, you need to let it out somewhere.

Emmanuelle found this is a legacy PHP codebase:

if(mynum($Q)){
    // Congratulations, you has locurlicenseucesss asdfghjk
} else {
    header("Location: feed.php");
}

I think being diagnosed with locurlicenseucesss should not be a cause for congratulations, but maybe I’m the one that’s confused.

Emmanuelle adds: “Honestly, I have no idea how this happened.”

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CodeSOD: The Data Class

By Remy Porter

There has been a glut of date-related code in the inbox lately, so it’s always a treat where TRWTF isn’t how they fail to handle dates, and instead, something else. For example, imagine you’re browsing a PHP codebase and see something like:

$fmtedDate = data::now();

You’d instantly know that something was up, just by seeing a class named data. That’s what got Vania’s attention. She dug in, and found a few things.

First, clearly, data is a terrible name for a class. It’d be a terrible name if it was a data access layer, but it has a method now, which tells us that it’s not just handling data.

But it’s not handling data at all. data is more precisely a utility class- the dumping ground for methods that the developer couldn’t come up with a way to organize. It contains 58 methods, 38 of which are 100% static methods, 7 of which should have been declared static but weren’t, and the remainder are actually interacting with $this. All in all, this class must be incredibly “fun”.

Let’s look at the now implementation:

class data
{
    // ...

    public static function now()
    {
        return date('Y', time())."-".date('m', time())."-".date('d')." ".date('H').":".	date('i').":".	date('s');
    }
}

Finally, we get to your traditional bad date handling code. Instead of just using a date format string to get the desired output, we manually construct the string by invoking date a bunch of times. There are some “interesting” choices here- you’ll note that the PHP date function accepts a date parameter- so you can format an arbitrary date- and sometimes they pass in the result of calling time() and sometimes they don’t. This is mostly not a problem, since date will invoke time itself if you don’t hand it one, so that’s just unnecessary.

But Vania adds some detail:

Because of the multiple calls to time() this code contains a subtle race condition. If it is called at, say, 2019-12-31 23:59:59.999, the date('Y', time()) part will evaluate to “2019”. If the time now ticks over to 2020-01-01 00:00:00.000, the next date() call will return a month value of “01” (and so on for the rest of the expression). The result is a timestamp of “2019–01–01 00:00:00”, which is off by a year. A similar issue happens at the end of every month, day, hour, and minute; i.e. every minute there is an opportunity for the result to be off by a minute.

It’s easy to fix, of course, you could just: return date('Y-m-d H:i:s');, which does exactly the same thing, but correctly. Unfortunately, Vania has this to add:

Unfortunately there is no budget for making this kind of change to the application. Also, its original authors seem to have been a fan of “code reuse” by copy/paste: There are four separate instances of this now() function in the codebase, all containing exactly the same code.

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Another Immovable Spreadsheet

By Jane Bailey

OrderStatistics.gif

Steve had been working as a web developer, but his background was in mathematics. Therefore, when a job opened up for internal transfer to the "Statistics" team, he jumped on it and was given the job without too much contest. Once there, he was able to meet the other "statisticians:" a group of well-meaning businessfolk with very little mathematical background who used The Spreadsheet to get their work done.

The Spreadsheet was Excel, of course. To enter data, you had to cut and paste columns from various tools into one of the many sheets, letting the complex array of formulas calculate the numbers needed for the quarterly report. Shortly before Steve's transfer, there had apparently been a push to automate some of the processes with SAS, a tool much more suited to this sort of work than a behemoth of an Excel spreadsheet.

A colleague named Stu showed Steve the ropes. Stu admitted there was indeed a SAS process that claimed to do the same functions as The Spreadsheet, but nobody was using it because nobody trusted the numbers that came out of it.

Never the biggest fan of Excel, Steve decided to throw his weight behind the SAS process. He ran the SAS algorithms multiple times, giving the outputs to Stu to compare against the Excel spreadsheet output. The first three iterations, everything seemed to match exactly. On the fourth, however, Stu told him that one of the outputs was off by 0.2.

To some, this was vindication of The Spreadsheet; after all, why would they need some fancy-schmancy SAS process when Excel worked just fine? Steve wasn't so sure. An error in the code might lead to a big discrepancy, but this sounded more like a rounding error than anything else.

Steve tracked down the relevant documentation for Excel and SAS, and found that both used 64-bit floating point numbers on the 32-bit Windows machines that the calculations were run on. Given that all the calculations were addition and multiplication with no exponents, the mistake had to be in either the Excel code or the SAS code.

Steve stepped through the SAS process, ensuring that the intermediate outputs in SAS matched the accompanying cells in the Excel sheet. When he'd just about given up hope, he found the issue: a ROUND command, right at the end of the chain where it didn't belong.

All of the SAS code in the building had been written by a guy named Brian. Even after Steve had taken over writing SAS, people still sought out Brian for updates and queries, despite his having other work to do.

Steve had no choice but to do the same. He stopped by Brian's cube, knocking perfunctorily before asking, "Why is there a ROUND command at the end of the SAS?"

"There isn't. What?" replied Brian, clearly startled out of his thinking trance.

"No, look, there is," replied Steve, waving a printout. "Why is it there?"

"Oh. That." Brian shrugged. "Excel was displaying only one decimal place for some godforsaken reason, and they wanted the SAS output to be exactly the same."

"I should've known," said Steve, disgustedly. "Stu told me it matched, but it can't have been matching exactly this whole time, not with rounding in there."

"Sure, man. Whatever."

Sadly, Steve was transferred again before the next quarterly run—this time to a company doing proper statistical analysis, not just calculating a few figures for the quarterly presentation. He instructed Stu how to check to fifteen decimal places, but didn't hold out much hope that SAS would come to replace the Excel sheet.

Steve later ran into Stu at a coffee hour. He asked about how the replacement was going.

"I haven't had time to check the figures from SAS," Stu replied. "I'm too busy with The Spreadsheet as-is."

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Error'd: The Exception

By Mark Bowytz

Alex A. wrote, "Vivaldi only has two words for you when you forget to switch back to your everyday browser for email after testing a website in Edge."

 

"So was my profile successfully created wrongly, wrongly created successfully?" writes Francesco A.

 

"I will personally wait for next year's show at undefined, undefined, given the pandemic and everything," writes Drew W.

 

Bill T. wrote, "I'm not sure if Adobe is confused about me being me, or if they think that I could be schizophrenic."

 

"FedEx? There's something a little bit off about your website for me. Are you guys okay in there?" wrote Martin P.

 

"Winn-Dixie's 'price per each' algorithm isn't exactly wrong but it definitely isn't write either," Mark S. writes.

 

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CodeSOD: Classic WTF: Pointless Revenge

By Remy Porter

As we enjoy some summer weather, we should take a moment to reflect on how we communicate with our peers. We should always do it with kindness, even when we really want revenge. Original -- Kind regards, Remy

We write a lot about unhealthy workplaces. We, and many of our readers, have worked in such places. We know what it means to lose our gruntle (becoming disgruntled). Some of us, have even been tempted to do something vengeful or petty to “get back” at the hostile environment.

Milton from 'Office Space' does not receive any cake during the a birthday celebration. He looks on, forlornly, while everyone else in the office enjoys cake.

But none of us actually have done it (I hope ?). It’s self defeating, it doesn’t actually make anything better, and even if the place we’re working isn’t, we are professionals. While it’s a satisfying fantasy, the reality wouldn’t be good for anyone. We know better than that.

Well, most of us know better than that. Harris M’s company went through a round of layoffs while flirting with bankruptcy. It was a bad time to be at the company, no one knew if they’d have a job the next day. Management constantly issued new edicts, before just as quickly recanting them, in a panicked case of somebody-do-something-itis. “Bob” wasn’t too happy with the situation. He worked on a reporting system that displayed financial data. So he hid this line in one of the main include files:

#define double float
//Kind Regards, Bob

This created some subtle bugs. It was released, and it was months before anyone noticed that the reports weren’t exactly reconciling with the real data. Bob was long gone, by that point, and Harris had to clean up the mess. For a company struggling to survive, it didn’t help or improve anything. But I’m sure Bob felt better.

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Tales from the Interview: Classic WTF: Slightly More Sociable

By Alex Papadimoulis

As we continue our vacation, this classic comes from the ancient year of 2007, when "used to being the only woman in my engineering and computer science classes" was a much more common phrase. Getting a job can feel competitive, but there are certain ways you can guarantee you're gonna lose that competition. Original --Remy

Today’s Tale from the Interview comes from Shanna...

Fresh out of college, and used to being the only woman in my engineering and computer science classes, I wasn't quite sure what to expect in the real world. I happily ended up finding a development job in a company which was nowhere near as unbalanced as my college classes had been. The company was EXTREMELY small and the entire staff, except the CEO, was in one office. I ended up sitting at a desk next to the office admin, another woman who was hired a month or two after me.

A few months after I was hired, we decided we needed another developer. I found out then that there was another person who had been up for my position who almost got it instead of me. He was very technically skilled, but ended up not getting the position because I was more friendly and sociable. My boss decided to call him back in for another interview because it had been a very close decision, and they wanted to give him another chance. He was still looking for a full-time job, so he said he'd be happy to come in again. The day he showed up, he looked around the office, and then he and my boss went in to the CEO's office to discuss the position again.

The interview seemed to be going well, and he was probably on track for getting the position. Then he asked my boss, "So, did you ever end up hiring a developer last time you were looking?" My boss answered "Oh, yeah, we did." The interviewee stopped for a second and, because he'd noticed that the only different faces in the main office were myself and the office admin, said "You mean, you hired one of those GIRLS out there?"

Needless to say, the interview ended quickly after that, and he didn't get the position.

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Classic WTF: The Developmestuction Environment

By Alex Papadimoulis

We continue to enjoy a brief respite from mining horrible code and terrible workplaces. This classic includes this line: "It requires that… Adobe Indesign is installed on the web server." Original --Remy

Have you ever thought what it would take for you to leave a new job after only a few days? Here's a fun story from my colleague Jake Vinson, whose co-worker of three days would have strongly answered "this."

One of the nice thing about externalizing connection strings is that it's easy to duplicate a database, duplicate the application's files, change the connection string to point to the new database, and bam, you've got a test environment.

From the programmer made famous by tblCalendar and the query string parameter admin=false comes what I think is the most creatively stupid implementation of a test environment ever.

We needed a way to show changes during development of an e-commerce web site to our client. Did our programmer follow a normal method like the one listed above? It might surprise you to find out that no, he didn't.

Instead, we get this weird mutant development/test/production environment (or "developmestuction," as I call it) for not only the database, but the ASP pages. My challenge to you, dear readers, is to identify a step of the way in which there could've been a worse way to do things. I look forward to reading the comments on this post.

Take, for example, a page called productDetail.asp. Which is the test page? Why, productDetail2.asp, of course! Or perhaps test_productDetail.asp. Or perhaps if another change branched off of that, test_productDetail2.asp, or productDetail2_t.asp, or t_pD2.asp.

And the development page? productDetaildev.asp. When the changes were approved, instead of turning t_pD2.asp to productDetail.asp, the old filenames were kept, along with the old files. That means that all links to productDetail.asp became links to t_pD2.asp once they were approved. Except in places that were forgotten, or not included in the sitewide search-and-replace.

As you may've guessed, there are next to no comments, aside from the occasional ...

' Set strS2f to false
strS2f = false

Note: I've never seen more than one comment on any of the pages.

Additional note: I've never seen more than zero comments that are even remotely helpful on any of the pages

OK, so the file structure is next to impossible to understand, especially to the poor new developer we'd hired who just stopped showing up to work after 3 days on this particular project.

What was it that drove him over the edge? Well, if the arrangement of the pages wasn't enough, the database used the same conventions (as in, randomly using test_tblProducts, or tblTestProducts, tblTestProductsFinal, or all of them). Of course, what if we need a test column, rather than a whole table? Flip a coin, if it's heads, create another tblTestWhatever, or if it's tails, just add a column to the production table called test_ItemID. Oh, and there's another two copies of the complete test database, which may or may not be used.

You think I'm done, right? Wrong. All of these inconsistencies in naming are handled individually, in code on the ASP pages. For the table names that follow some remote semblance of a consistent naming convention, the table name is stored in an unencrypted cookie, which is read into dynamic SQL queries. I imagine it goes without saying that all SQL queries were dynamic with no attempts to validate the data or replace quotes.

Having personally seen this system, I want to share a fun little fact about it. It requires that, among a handful of other desktop applications, Adobe Indesign is installed on the web server. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what it could possibly require that for and the number of seconds between each interval that it opens and closes it.
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Classic WTF: A Gassed Pump

By Remy Porter

Wow, it's summer. Already? We're taking a short break this week at TDWTF, and reaching back through the archives for some classic stories. If you've cancelled your road trip this year, make a vicarious stop at a filthy gas station with this old story. Original --Remy

“Staff augmentation,” was a fancy way of saying, “hey, contractors get more per hour, but we don’t have to provide benefits so they are cheaper,” but Stuart T was happy to get more per hour, and even happier to know that he’d be on to his next gig within a few months. That was how he ended up working for a national chain of gas-station/convenience stores. His job was to build a “new mobile experience for customer loyalty” (aka, wrapping their website up as an app that can also interact with QR codes).

At least, that’s what he was working on before Miranda stormed into his cube. “Stuart, we need your help. ProdTrack is down, and I can’t fix it, because I’ve got to be at a mandatory meeting in ten minutes.”

A close-up of a gas pump

ProdTrack was their inventory system that powered their point-of-sale terminals. For it to be down company wide was a big problem, and essentially rendered most of their stores inoperable. “Geeze, what mandatory meeting is more important than that?”

“The annual team-building exercise,” Miranda said, using a string of profanity for punctuation. “They’ve got a ‘no excuses’ policy, so I have to go, ‘or else’, but we also need to get this fixed.”

Miranda knew exactly what was wrong. ProdTrack could only support 14 product categories. But one store- store number 924- had decided that they needed 15. So they added a 15th category to the database, threw a few products into the category, and crossed their fingers. Now, all the stores were crashing.

“You’ll need to look at the StoreSQLUpdates and the StoreSQLUpdateStatements tables,” Miranda said. “And probably dig into the ProductDataPump.exe app. Just do a quick fix- we’re releasing an update supports any number of categories in three weeks or so, we just need to hold this together till then.”

With that starting point, Stuart started digging in. First, he puzzled over the tables Miranda had mentioned. StoreSQLUpdates looked like this:

IDSTATEMENTSTATEMENT_ORDER
145938DELETE FROM SupplierInfo90
148939INSERT INTO ProductInfo VALUES(12348, 3, 6)112

Was this an audit tables? What was StoreSQLUpdateStatements then?

IDSTATEMENT
168597INSERT INTO StoreSQLUpdates(statement, statement_order) VALUES (‘DELETE FROM SupplierInfo’, 90)
168598INSERT INTO StoreSQLUpdates(statement, statement_order) VALUES (‘INSERT INTO ProductInfo VALUES(12348, 3, 6)’, 112)

Stuart stared at his screen, and started asking questions. Not questions about what he was looking at, but questions about the life choices that had brought him to this point, questions about whether it was really that bad an idea to start drinking at work, and questions about the true nature of madness- if the world was mad, and he was the only sane person left, didn’t that make him the most insane person of all?

He hoped the mandatory team building exercise was the worst experience of Miranda’s life, as he sent her a quick, “WTF?” email message. She obviously still had her cellphone handy, as she replied minutes later:

Oh, yeah, that’s for data-sync. Retail locations have flaky internet, and keep a local copy of the data. That’s what’s blowing up. Check ProductDataPump.exe.

Stuart did. ProductDataPump.exe was a VB.Net program in a single file, with one beautifully named method, RunIt, that contained nearly 2,000 lines of code. Some saintly soul had done him the favor of including a page of documentation at the top of the method, and it started with an apology, then explained the data flow.

Here’s what actually happened: a central database at corporate powered ProdTrack. When any data changed there, those changes got logged into StoreSQLUpdateStatements. A program called ProductDataShift.exe scanned that table, and when new rows appeared, it executed the statements in StoreSQLUpdateStatements (which placed the actual DML commands into StoreSQLUpdates).

Once an hour, ProductDataPump.exe would run. It would attempt to connect to each retail location. If it could, it would read the contents of the central StoreSQLUpdates and the local StoreSQLUpdates, sorting by the order column, and through a bit of faith and luck, would hopefully synchronize the two databases.

Buried in the 2,000 line method, at about line 1,751, was a block that actually executed the statements:

If bolUseSQL Then
    For Each sTmp As String In sProductsTableSQL
        sTmp = sTmp.Trim()
        If sTmp <> "" Then
            SQLUpdatesSQL(lngIDSQL, sTmp, dbQR5)
        End If
    Next sTmp
End If

Once he was done screaming at the insanity of the entire process, Stuart looked at the way product categories worked. Store 924 didn’t carry anything in the ALCOHOL category, due to state Blue Laws, but had added a PRODUCE category. None of the other stores had a PRODUCE category (if they carried any produce, they just put it in PREPARED_FOODS). Fixing the glitch that caused the application to crash when it had too many categories would take weeks, at least- and Miranda already told him a fix was coming. All he had to do was keep it from crashing until then.

Into the StoreSQLUpdates table, he added a DELETE statement that would delete every category that contained zero items. That would fix the immediate problem, but when the ProductDataPump.exe ran, it would just copy the broken categories back around. So Stuart patched the program with the worst fix he ever came up with.

If bolUseSQL Then
    For Each sTmp As String In sProductsTableSQL
        sTmp = sTmp.Trim()
        If sTmp <> "" Then
            If nStoreNumber = 924 And sTmp.Contains("ALCOHOL") Then
                Continue For
            ElseIf nStoreNumber <> 924 And sTmp.Contains("PRODUCE") Then
                Continue For
            Else
                SQLUpdatesSQL(lngIDSQL, sTmp, dbQR5)
            End If
        End If
    Next sTmp
End If
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Error'd: Fast Hail and Round Wind

By Mark Bowytz

"He's not wrong. With wind and hail like this, an isolated tornado definitely ranks third in severity," Rob K. writes.

 

"Upon linking my Days of Wonder account with Steam, I was initially told that I had 7 days to verify my email before account deletion and then I was told something else..." Ian writes.

 

Harvey wrote, "Great. Thanks for the warm welcome to your site ${AUCTION_WEBSITE}"

 

Peter G. writes, "In this case, I imagine the art department did something like 'OK Google, find image of Pentagon, insert into document'."

 

"I'm happy with my efforts but I feel for Terri. 1,400km in 21 days, 200km in the lead and she's barely overcome by this 'NaN' individual," wrote Roger G.

 

Sam writes, "While I admire the honesty of this particular scammer, I do rather think they missed the point."

 

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CodeSOD: Rings False

By Remy Porter

There are times when a code block needs a lot of setup, and there are some where it mostly speaks for itself. Today’s anonymous submitter found this JavaScript in a React application, coded by one of the senior team-members.

if (false === false){
    startSingleBasedApp();
} else {
    startTabNavigation();
}

Look, I know how this code got there. At some point, they planned to check a configuration or a feature flag, but during development, it was just faster to do it this way. Then they forgot, and then it got released to production.

Had our submitter not gone poking, it would have sat there in production until someone tried to flip the flag and nothing happened.

This is why you do code reviews.

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Holiday time

By [email protected] (Jon North)


This year has seen one long string of cancellations.  Some of our family who had planned to come and see us have had to call it off - things are just too uncertain.  Best to think of all these setbacks as pleasures postponed - after all we had been able to travel around France even if our big foreign trip has been cancelled, or rather postponed till next year.  Some friends have made it back from the UK to their French home after several months, and we still hope others will get over to see us later this summer.  But there is still a rather frantic air to the 'normality' everyone wants back.  And with vaccines and cures still a way off, there is always the anxiety that the pandemic may return. We are getting used to stuffy masks in hot weather, even if some idiots say 'they don't believe in them' as if it were some kind of optional religion.






One effect of the lockdown seems to have been to intensify many experiences.  Some of this is the result of less pollution, or fewer crowds of people.  Maybe we have more time to stop and look.  There seem to be more flowers, brighter colours.  A lot is of course psychological, but I've never enjoyed my photography more, and also sharing others' - here for example is the website of Régis Domergue, a gifted photographer who lives near the Pic Saint Loup.  But listening, watching and reading seem to have taken on a greater intensity too.  We have started to watch the series of Talking Heads, monologues written by Alan Bennett.  The latest series of 12 contains several new scripts, and older ones re-produced with different actors.  He is a superb and often unexpected observer of human situations, and each of these is a masterpiece.  The newer plots are perhaps more shocking, the later ones more gentle, but the acting in these new versions is very good throughout.

We have had an oriental flavour in our films recently - a marvellous Japanese one found on the recommendation of someone we met during our summer music trip who, knowing Mary played the cello, suggested Deprtures directed by Yasuhhiro Mase.  It deals with the taboos over death and dying, and the protagonist is a young man who loses his work as an orchestral cellist and becomes an 'encoffiner'.  We have also started to explore a little more the films of Ang Lee.  We'd known his marvellous  Sense & Sensibility among others for a long time, then having recently rewatched Eat, drink, man, woman (must rewatch it - quite complex) we looked for the others in his 'Father knows best' trilogy and watched his first film Pushing hands this week.  The trilogy all star Sihung Lung as the father.  

And before those, a Danish slant on French cooking in Babette's feast, an old favourite of ours in which a celebrated woman, Parisian chef ends up in a tiny and very primitive almost puritan community in Jutland and, having won the lottery, cooks her hosts an extraordinary meal in which great food and wine lead to healing of long-simmering feuds and discords between neighbours.





Back to normal - but what is normal?

By [email protected] (Jon North)

The main street in Lunel, still quiet as we sat in the restaurant a week or so after it opened

We've been looking forward to easing restrictions for a while, and realising that 'getting back to normal' raises as many questions as it answers.  First, do we know what 'normal' is?  When this virus arrived, we none of us knew what 'it' was.  Most of us had been gaily demanding antibiotics for flu or a cold for years, even though people who knew kept telling us that antibiotics worked on bacteria, not on viruses.  We've all learnt a bit more about viruses lately, for instance that they are spread by contact either on the skin or through the air, and lots of evidence has been flying about almost as freely as the droplets spread by coughs and sneezes - how far do they travel, how long are they active, what activities are most effective in spraying them about and on and on.  And still I reckon you could find a variety of answers in reputable studies, no hard and fast rules.  'Following the science' is if nothing else an exercise in realising that complexity is the name of the game.  All the same, simple rules like 'keep your distance', 'wash your hands', forbidding bises and so on are commonsense ones.  I smile to think that our very young son who tried desperately to avoid embarrassment all those years ago by saying loudly 'NO kissing' might actually have stumbled on a sensible health precaution!

Vine on our terrace in Lunel

Among all the blizzard of words and quasi-science, the thing that sticks with me is that this is scary because it is unlike anything we've known before - if only because it can kill even if only if relatively small numbers, and there is no cure currently. Today's newspaper called it a global disease without a cure, and while many diseases kill more people most have cures developed with a lot of trial and error over a long period.  In the end perhaps the science will have delivered the necessary vaccines or palliative treatments, but meanwhile it’s tempting to grope about trying to find people to blame.  Politicians are readily to hand.  The easiest target is that things were done too late, and with hindsight we could all have done things better and sooner.  However it may be, governments and politicians are obliged to come up with rules - how far apart must we be, when and where should we wear masks? - which then take on a kind of holy character when they are never more at best than arbitrary markers. 

Our music this week is in the Ain, at the Val du Séran

This week we are tourists - not in the mass, but individuals visiting a friend's music centre we've known for over 10 years.  It feels strange to be away and to travel, and the roads were busy enough, but we are still in the early stages of profound changes in many industries, not least tourism.  I read in the Guardian today that "Tourism is an unusual industry in that the assets it monetises – a view, a reef, a cathedral – do not belong to it. The world’s dominant cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian – pay little towards the upkeep of the public goods they live off. By incorporating themselves in overseas tax havens with benign environmental and labour laws – respectively Panama, Liberia and Bermuda – cruising’s big three, which account for three-quarters of the industry, get to enjoy low taxes and avoid much irksome regulation, while polluting the air and sea, eroding coastlines and pouring tens of millions of people into picturesque ports of call that often cannot cope with them."  So things there as elsewhere may never be the same.  For the moment we are out and about, and our friends are beginning to find ways to visit us.  But life will be profoundly changed in every corner, and we don't yet really know how.



 On top of all that the fear and uncertainty everyone feels in different ways mean that everyone make their own choices in reaction to the rules.  On the one hand there are myriads who say 'what the hell?' and flout every sensible restriction with, we must assume, a risk to the health of innocent bystanders who happen to be in the way.  In fact, the rules themselves are near impossible to apply - if a cheap supermarket is built with narrow aisles nobody can stay far enough away from other shoppers however hard they try, and these days shopping adds to my sense of slightly dizzy unreality with a mask round my face and breath steaming up my glasses, so that the simple task of not bumping into others becomes even more difficult.  At the other end of the scale, people become very cautious, are frightened to go out even to shop for necessities, and would rather avoid risking any kind of social contact even now when, in France for instance, rules about numbers are relaxing.  As for singing in choirs - well, that is another matter again.  To be continued...





The story so far

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Derbyshire stone sculptures in our garden

The canvas of our daily life is changing slowly, but the basic rhythm does not vary much.  I'm up at 6 to feed and walk the dogs round the bock - these days in the light, and although cool in the early morning not really coat and hat weather!  Then some time on the exercise bike, and reading the papers before a bit of breakfast.  Mary is usually up around 8, and the morning drifts on with shopping every 2-3 days, checking emails (and writing this blog!) and, for Mary, often some cello practice or maybe a bit of garden tidying - things are growing fast now.  Apéros at around midday then our main meal, lunch, which we more or less take turns to cook.  

Edmond and Elvire have settled in well, now here for 6 weeks

After lunch I often and Mary sometimes take a nap, and then one or both of us take the dogs out for a slightly longer walk, sometimes by the Canal, sometimes in the little wooded 'parcours de santé' north of the town.  Once we are back things drift towards cups of tea, some tv, videos or reading, and if we have a Zoom call scheduled it's usually early evening.  The dogs get their final walk of the day around 10 and are settled on the settee,  and then we're reading in bed for a while.  Things changed a bit recently with occasional visits to friends for lunch or music, and we have bigger changes on the horizon with our first wine tasting group on Saturday in the garden of friends in Saint Christol, while in a fortnight we are very much looking forward to our musical and wine trip to the Savoie, Jura and Burgundy, of which more anon. 

Walks along the canal - flowers, birds and sometimes we get as far as the donkeys

                                


June arrives

By [email protected] (Jon North)


The artichoke rampaging skywards

So lockdown in France is almost over though it’s more complicated in the U.K. and internationally. This week we have just had our second wine trip, our second invitation to a friend’s house (today for lunch), and our wine tasting circle resumes in 10 days. Then we have a trip north for music and/or wine, which is really exciting. For others, things will take longer to get back to ‘normal’ - we were delighted to hear that one friend marooned in England has now been reunited with her husband in France.

Sunday evening as I began to write, we were just just back from the afternoon walk, that day along a little country road near our house that leads unromantically to the déchèterie. I’ve started to call it nightingale alley - just now there are half a dozen along the 2 km circuit. These birds have a fine poetic reputation but some of our friends commented recently (after I included a recording I made in our garden) that they are very loud - indeed they are, especially outside your bedroom window at night. But the Nachtigallen flöten in various songs probably refers more to the long, upward reaching piping notes which are part of the oh so varied song.

Mary and I often muse that our lives really didn’t change under lockdown - we spend a lot of time at home reading listening to music, watching tv or videos; but what did change suddenly and completely were the regular round of weekly rendez-vous - Tuesday French conversation, monthly ‘réseau’ meetings, Monday music in Vauvert for M, monthly choir In Montpellier for me, monthly wine tastings, any of them often accompanied you bring and share food and drink. So our days have fallen into a much less varied pattern, with shopping trips (still of course allowed), medical appointments (though several of these we have decided to postpone) and so on, but now most frequently walks with the dogs 3 times a day, which are a godsend. 

Of course, you get a chance to catch up on jobs - here, Mary replacing 30-year-old blue chair coverings with smart new grey-green ones.

Now warmer days are here things are growing like mad, and somehow (as others have noticed) everything seems a bit brighter and more luxurious in the absence of so much bustle. We have had over 150 mm of rain since the beginning of April, but that fell mainly in 4 short bursts and we’ve had a lot of sunshine and dry days, which help with dog walking!

Music-wise, Mary is still assidous in practising the cello, I never was a keen practiser on my own, but for us music is usually best when done in groups: we are quite awed by those, mainly keyboard players, who enjoy playing alone. But now she has a possible chamber group to look forward to in the Ain as already mentioned, so she is practising hard for that in case it happens.

The latest upheaval in our lives was the delivery of next winter’s firewood. Not earth-shattering, but it took a bit of stacking! 



Health and medicine - an update

By [email protected] (Jon North)




I like pictures in my blog, but health posts don't have any natural photo associations, so I'm choosing plants today!

From time to time I have written about our experience with illness, pain, operations and all things medical.  Here is an update.  It is primarily mine - Mary has her own collection of aches, pains and health problems, but all that needs to be said to start with is that we are both reasonably healthy and, thankfully, so far free of The Virus.

From our arrival here until a couple of years ago we were both registered with the same doctor, Dr Cayla, a man of insight and experience whose ability to diagnose and prescribe was recommended by others and confirmed many times by our experience.  He is about my age and retired last year, so we both had to find new GPs, and we both went to the very efficient group practice in the nearby village of Saint Just.  In theory at least you now have to register a médecin traitant with the social security/health system ((the CPAM (Caisse primaire d'assurance maladie linked to the national health insurance system Assurance Maladie and its online presence ameli)  Happily despite all the muddles over Brexit (will it ever end?) the basic exit agreement allows us British longterm residents in France continued access to the health service.

By chance, Mary ended up with one of the longer-standing practice partners in St Just, and I after a series of temporary doctors have found myself with a young man, Dr Vert, who is very nice, thoughtful but efficient.  So we are sorted for now, and as far as I can make out they have never stopped receiving people for appointments at the surgery.  For my dealings with the Montpellier pain clinic I have so far been restricted to phone and email, but my phone consultation with a very pleasant and informative doc, Patrick Geniès, led to prescriptions for my sciatic pain which have much improved things.  The key to this has been increased use of codeine, and while I know about the addictive effects and the side-effect of feeling spaced out, the relief from leg pain has been really welcome now further surgical intervention seems unlikely.  I'm waiting to see if some supervised electrotherapy treatment or TENS may also help - I have had bad experiences when physiotherapists have hitched me to machines and gone to chat to their mates, but Dr Giniès says properly organised use at home may be much more effective.  We'll see now lock-down is lifting.

Exercise is also important, and after years trailing off to the gym I now have machines at home which are easier to combine with nice music and reading, and a heck of a lot cheaper into the bargain!  Of course we walk a bit too, especially now we have the dogs, but exercise at home is often simpler - Mary as you can see prefers the discipline of Qi Gong to machines!





Wines we've drunk in May

By Jon North ([email protected])

Nearly another month has slipped by so here is an update on wines we've enjoyed over the past few weeks

The wines this past month have included
I think it is fair to say that there was not a dud among them.  Almost all were bought from the makers themselves, mostly in person though we had some delivered recently because they originate more than 100 km from where we live.  But we are very much looking forward to revisiting winemakers in the Jura, Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Minervois.

Meanwhile our next trip will be to the Domaine de la Fadèze, overlooking the Étang de Thau near Mèze and well within our range.  And who knows, if French distance restrictions ease more may be possible.  Looking forward to wine trips helps us to ease the blues of cancelled holidays.







Ce moys de May

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Just before I left school I was finally allowed to stop shaving, the headmaster having bowed to my dislike of a painful process.  So I have not been without a beard since I was 18 - nearly 55 years. Last weekend a friend, one of our first lunch guests since lockdown, arrived without his - it is always a slight surprise when someone changes appearance, but of course we enjoyed his company no less.

He and I share another experience, as choir treasurers. I thankfully passed on mine many years ago, and would be lost in the new world of French accounting rules and practices, but he is hoping to pass on his function to someone else, being no younger than I am! I was always glad to do my bit for our choir in London, but I recall clearly the sinking feeling I had standing in a concert and realising that the size of audience I could see was not large enough to pay our musicians. Difficult to give your best musically with those thoughts in your mind.  Ideally, we'd have a small team of people beavering away on the admin while singers sang, but that is a rarely achieved aim.
                

Now distance restrictions are less severe we have been able to walk further along the canal and visit our favourite donkey in a nearby field

The concept of news is strange. First it depends on things happening, and not much new is happening just now. Second it needs people there to report it, and that’s always hit and miss. Third, once other stories crop up elsewhere journalists have to pack their bags and move on. Fewer journalists, fewer reports; conversely, if lots of journalists are gathered somewhere for a story, lots of other things happening there are suddenly reported. Just now many journalists are confined to home ‘barracks’ and in their absence exciting stuff is provided by Joe/Josephine public via their iPhones. Not always a reliable source, though some say journalists are biased too.

Confusion has been reigning in the U.K. about health and lockdown restrictions. People seem to want good guidance from the govt, but at the same time many would not trust the current PM as far as they could throw him in any case, so it seems a bit weird to complain that he is giving poor advice. Here, the French have been clearer from the outset about regulations backed by legal sanctions. Now, French beaches are mostly open but hedged around with restrictions. You can’t apparently put a towel down on most of them - not that le bronzage would be a nice thing to try in this grey, damp period. But wherever you are, common sense says that mingling with people risks spreading infections, whether colds or more deadly ones. Decisions on restricting movement are bound to be political even if informed by science; and they are also bound to be based on probability and risk.

Pain is still a preoccupation for me because of sciatica.  We hear that A&E visits are down, in case people may be staying away for fear of catching something else while attending. I am just hoping to get back in touch with the Montpellier Pain Clinic now lockdown is over, but meanwhile just keep up regular exercise.

Last time I started to list films we'd watched - that includes music and opera, and next time there will be more on the opera side.  for now, two more DVDs and one film recorded from the tv recently.
Our first visit since lockdown to the Parcours de Santé North of the town this afternoon



The holiday that never was

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As our friends Al and Linda will also be well aware, this weekend we'd have been arriving back home from our holiday in Armenia and Georgia.  Instead, Mary and I have enjoyed quiet time at home, (as we hope they have too) and have just to look forward wistfully to a trip replanned next year.  One advantage for us has been to enjoy the jasmine arch in our garden in full bloom.  Mary always said this helped sell her the house, though now I enjoy it less because my sense of smell has deserted me and she because going outside in these dry time with high pollen gives her sneezing fits.  But you can only be glad to see such a glorious display!

Chez nous
Another advantage has been the re-equipping of our home with dogs.  Elvire (red collar) and Edmond arrived here 3 weeks ago and have rapidly become part of our lives




For those who may not have seen these photos  3½ years ago here are the links to the photo albums I made then for our last trip to Armenia and Georgia



Distancing by accident or design!

By [email protected] (Jon North)

I have a perpetual art calendar on my desk - as far as I know the pictures are not linked to their date except by chance.  Today's is Seurat's Sunday afternoon at la Grande Jatte, an island on the Seine near Paris .  As far as I can see these people are doing social distancing quite nicely!  Larger version of this pic is via the link - the original is in Chicago!  We feel a little closer to you all via various electronic means, but still too isolated.


Today is apparently World Bee day.  I have to say there always seems be some 'day' or other, but having tried to keep them, with little success, and recognising their importance to everything that grows I'm only too glad to acknowledge them and to quote the Dowland song (not for the first time!):

It was a time when silly bees could speak,
And in that time I was a silly bee,
Who fed on time until my heart 'gan break,
Yet never found the time would favour me.
Of all the swarm I only did not thrive,
Yet brought I wax and honey to the hive.


Then thus I buzzed when time no sap would give:
Why should this blessed time to me be dry,
Sith by this time the lazy drone doth live,
The wasp, the worm, the gnat, the butterfly?
Mated with grief I kneeled on my knees,
And thus complained unto the king of bees:


My liege, gods grant thy time may never end,
And yet vouchsafe to hear my plaint of time,
Which fruitless flies have found to have a friend,
And I cast down when atomies do climb.
The king replied but thus: Peace, peevish bee,
Thou'rt bound to serve the time, the time not thee.


These words are attributed to the Earl of Essex trying to keep in the good books of Queen Elizabeth (he failed in the end of course and lost his head!)

The virus has led to much less pollution, and whether by coincidence or some weird side effect things seem to be growing better, flowers more abundant; or perhaps we have more time to observe what is going on.  In any case, after a year or two in which things seemed really difficult for bees (ors died or fled, and even friends who were much more gifted in beekeeping found things tough) this year we have heard of swarms appearing and thriving for friends both in France and in England.

Our listening and watching these past few days have led us to one old favourite film, Quartet, about musicians in a retirement home, a good old fashioned romantic story involving people of our kind of age (!) with some fine performances, notably by Tom Courtenay; and - a first viewing this - Purcell's Dido & Aeneas directed by William Christie and Deborah Warner.  Such a brief work, and one I've known since a student performance I was involved in, with many interesting things but notably very fine musical performances under Christie's baton.

On a more mundane note, I found the right moment to take all the gardening waste and more besides to the tip.  It is very conveniently placed for us, but the queues have been too long until yesterday morning when I nipped in at opening time.  By the time I emerged there was again a queue of 8 cars - they are only letting one or two in at- a time of course.

Finally, I'm grateful for the feedback to these blog posts.  For those who commented, with some shock, on the loudness and persistence of the nightingale, I have to agree it certainly can keep you awake!  The bird seems sto have abandoned us for now anyway!





Unlocked

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Early morning sunshine in our garden as the nightingale sings.  The strong vertical shadow on our neighbours' tree is of the tall, thin pine by our own terrace - amazing effect!
As I finish this post I want to include a 5-minute clip of the nightingale that serenaded us all last night.

I started this at the weekend, looking forward to our first low-key meetings with friends now small gatherings are once again allowed.  Thanks to rain outdoor meetings will be difficult, so luckily this will slow down any mad rush to the beaches.

Throughout this period we have seen and heard people railing against loss of liberty.  I think most politicians make what they can of the uncertainties science serves up - science gets a bad name every time it is blamed for not having clear answers, but 'it depends' is probably the most honest reaction to every bit of scientific information you can find, and politics was invented to decide what course to follow when the answer is as usual not clearcut.  On the whole I think the level of uncertainty we have in France is rather better than what our UK friends and family are going through just now - there is a difference between a proper degree of caution and bumbling uncertainty.  Just to illustrate how difficult it is to decide things, here are two sets of charts published 5 days a part in Le Monde.  The basics - wash hands, don't hug, kiss or shake hands, stay a decent distance apart - are simple, but certainties are hard to come by.


So rather than dwelling on this, I'm starting a run-down of things we have read, listened to or watched in the past lockdown weeks.

Some films we have watched (in no particular order) mostly for the second or more time(s):
More to follow


Early May - a few photos

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As we near the end of lockdown in this part of France, a few pictures of our life here - peace and colour, although no holiday as we had hoped.  Dogs settling in well, and soon our walks will take us a bit further than the 1 km radius we have stayed in until this weekend.  

This comes with love and good wishes, especially whose lives are still more restricted and difficult than ours are. We'll hold our breath to see if the relaxation of restrictions is OK, or too soon.  We do miss our music, though Mary and I have tried a little baroque music à deux.  Meanwhile, Mary keeps up regular Qi Gong and I regular sessions on the exercise bike!


Onward and upward

By [email protected] (Jon North)

Poppy time has almost passed us by this year, so here is a photo from easier times in the Languedoc









We now know that there will be a gradual return to whatever normal is - perhaps.  People keep talking about sticking to the science, but science is slow and complicated; people always hope for quick simple answers but  in reality most of the important things will be the result of political balancing acts, tempered by imprudent impatience which may make the next few weeks a rollercoaster.  At least that will be a change from groundhog weeks.  So as we get to know our new canine companions, I have been gleaning interesting stuff in my daily reading.

Minor factoid in the category ‘I never knew that...’ this week, read in the local Midi mag - the dye indigo and the woad allegedly used on their skins by ancient Brits, comes from the plant isatis tinctoria, one of whose historic centres of cultivation is linked to a body called Terre de Pastel around a place called Labège north of Toulouse. Presumably also linked to the blue denim named for ‘de Nîmes’. I first came across traditional indigo dyed cloth in northern Nigeria, where it was dunked in pits by the market in Kano. A ton of the leaves is needed to produce 2 kg of pigment.

Meanwhile I spotted this in the Guardian from Grace Dent which raises a bit of a smile with some all-too accurate commentary and some real dilemmas for the immediate future.  She's one of my favourite food writers but spreading her wings: 


"It struck me, during week four, as I made yet another freezer inventory and mail-ordered herbs to avoid my once-weekly shop, that I have become a little too good at obeying the government’s orders. Much is made of the rule-flouters – the Frisbee-chuckers and the park pond-paddlers; we hear lots, too, about the ramblers and picnickers. My favourite “Covidiot’” pictures, which I search out daily for light relief, are the Stasi-style pap shots of shoppers coming out of The Range. Among all the death and dystopian headlines, I grimly enjoy these people, sheepishly trundling trolleys to their Volvos filled with ceramic garden Buddhas, 15 litres of Daffodil White paint and signs that say, “It’s Prosecco O’ Clock”.

Obviously, I tut and cluck at this wilful dissent, but part of me is just jealous. These people are still rushing out the moment a “reason” allows them to. Meanwhile, I stand in my kitchen, wiping and re-wiping surfaces with pine forest disinfectant and batch-freezing mirepoix (that’s the fancy name for diced carrot, onion and celery) so as not to waste some sad-looking veg. It’s not sunbathers the government should fret over; it’s the millions of us it’ll need to convince, once this is over, to come out, blinking into the light….  I’m already teetering on the brink of agoraphobia; let’s call it agoraphobia-lite. I’m not strictly qualified to self-diagnose anxiety disorders, or allot them cute names, but I’m guessing the NHS is a bit snowed under right now. They do not need a middle-aged woman with a mallen streak and rough hands like Skeksis from The Dark Crystal screaming: “I am scared to go to Morrisons” via video-link.

Lockdown is disastrous for the economy, it has riven families apart and imprisoned others with their tormentors. So why do I fear it ending? Perhaps it’s because, by week four, I, like millions of others, may be treading water in a difficult place, but at least it’s the known unknown. I fear more brand new, fresh, frightening unknowns to come to terms with all over again. I should probably pop a recipe idea or something in here, because this is ostensibly a food column. How about, when the existential angst comes, open your cupboards, smear peanut butter and mashed ripe banana on white bread, and fry it in butter? Elvis lived on these, apparently, during his last difficult years at Graceland. He found them a positive boon, until he, well, didn’t.

How will the world look when I can finally visit [my vulnerable mum] again? Will I travel on the West Coast train in a mask and gloves surrounded by 100 other faceless travellers, all clutching paperwork? Will I be met with suspicion and anger when I arrive; not as a local, but as an outsider bringing germs? Will I walk into her lounge and hug her and smell her Estée Lauder White Linen and sit close enough that, within milliseconds, she’ll remark: “You’ve got a spot on your head. Have you been picking it?”  Or will I stand 12 feet away in a hazmat suit, shouting muffled platitudes, before ambling off sadly? Will life re-begin, cafes and restaurants re-open, gigs re-schedule, airports re-busy, as we learn to accept the new normal? Maybe five or six hundred fatalities a day is the price we pay for freedom and prosperity? And if all this happens soon, forgive me if I stay a shut-in for a bit longer."

Our dogs are settling in beautifully meanwhile.  They have had a lot of upheaval in their recent lives, but like many animals they seem to know when they are onto a Good Thing!





Latest additions to our family

By [email protected] (Jon North)


As promised, a surprise for Mayday, our 2 new friends Elvire and Edmond.  Their previous elderly owner died so they needed a new home, so they have travelled to us from Béziers, following a careful check of our suitability by the local dog charity Jamais sans mon Chien.  We're looking forward to a new adventure as we enter the month of our cancelled holiday.


In our minds they are Edmond de Goncourt (one of Mary's favoured French writers) and Donna Elvira (one of several splendid soprano roles and wronged women in Mozart's Don Giovanni).  But they will be able to tell us all about themselves in the coming weeks and months!




And so it goes...

By [email protected] (Jon North)

...as Billy Joel and before him Kurt Vonnegut had it.  Bittersweet, as our lives are at the present, happy ourselves to be fairly healthy, sad for the gloomy news and future prospects for so many in the world.  I haven't written for a few days, there being nothing much to say, but watch this space on Friday, when we expect some really exciting news!  Meanwhile, flowers from the garden and beyond.

Trawling our tv recordings to clear up things we'd kept from Christmas, and deleting a good few, we came across a marvellous feature on Dolly Parton.  I've long been an admirer, but we were impressed once again by both her prolific talent and her professionalism.  Schubert wrote over 600 songs - she has composed over 3,000 many never performed.  Her vocal technique is also impressive and the special kind of Country/bluegrass ornamentation she uses reminds me of the most fluid French baroque, or the pibroch pointing of bagpipes in Scotland and on the French cornemuse.  A wonderful end to yesterday evening.



Drinking in lockdown part 2: white and rosé

By Jon North ([email protected])


We enjoy white and rosé wines, and often have them as apéritifs.  Here's a good variety from the past few weeks - delicious white Seyssel from the Savoie area of eastern France, discovered during our several visits for music to the Val du Séran.  Then two from opposite sides of the Rhône:  from the east, Coyeux near Beaumes de Venise.  When we first discovered them 20 or more years ago it was their sweet muscat that caught our attention - now they make excellent reds and this delicate dry muscat; and from the west (not far from the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct on our doorstep here) some excellent whites and rosés as well as very good red Côtes du Rhône.

The two bottles of Lacoste, white and rosé, were the result of a busy year to and fro to the Lot, where the two dogs we welcomed for short periods were found in a refuge in Figeac.  Their sad tales are told elsewhere, but we were delighted to discover that they were to be found near the wine areas of Cahors, the Côtes du Lot and the  and the Côteaux de Quercy, several hundred km northwest of us here.  And the final two in this lineup are from the Clos de Bellevue, just up the hill to the north of us in Lunel.  Their rosé is also made in a sweeter version equally palatable for an apéro; the dry muscat is another example of the variety of delicious dry wines now being made from the muscat grape.  The view from the courtyard looking back over Lunel is among our favourite panoramas.





On my radar: Victoria Coren Mitchell’s cultural highlights

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The writer and broadcaster on a brilliant children’s museum, Downton and a poem about a skunk

Victoria Coren Mitchell is an author, broadcaster and former professional poker player and is married to the comedian David Mitchell. She started writing a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph aged 14, and has since published a number of books including For Richer, for Poorer: Confessions of a Poker Player (2009). Seasonal specials of the quiz show Only Connect, which she has presented since 2008, will be running on 30 Dec and 1-3 Jan at 8pm on BBC Two. Only Connect: The Difficult Second Quiz Book is out now.

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Why is the NHS listening to the siren voices of the vape manufacturers? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The calls to make e-cigarettes free on prescription are outrageous when an actual cure for smoking is available

Public Health England has called for e-cigarettes to be made available on the NHS. This makes me so angry that I want to have a fag, although the last one I had was on 27 September 2014.

Ah well. I’ll settle for eating another packet of Minstrels and typing furiously.

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The checkout free shop is a wonderful idea, a machine will never judge you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

When we no longer have to impress the cashier – or fellow shoppers – we can buy what we like

Are you frightened of the rising machines? I try not to be. Machines are the future and being horrified by the future is so terribly ageing. Banging on about the misery of automated switchboards, the insecurity of online banking or the impersonality of email puts 20 years on you immediately, like racism or natural light. I try to avoid such things.

So, for me, it’s all “Good news, my local post office has shut down!”, “Ooh, you need a ‘registered account’ to buy cinema tickets, I couldn’t be happier!” and “Hurray! A leaked NHS England report says 111 calls will soon be diverted to a ‘diagnosis app’ instead of a person!”

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I did lose a pair of trousers once but they weren’t worth £1m, Boris | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The bankrupt tennis star’s admission that he has mislaid his trophies resonates with all of us who know we put that thing somewhere…

A s I sat with Boris Becker in the Riviera sunshine, each of us clutching a cigarette in one hand and a doughnut in the other, I thought: “This is my kind of sportsman.”

I didn’t know Boris Becker very well but I liked him enormously. Clearly, we both enjoyed the taste of a sugary butt on a spring afternoon. Also, we both loved a hand of cards; we were in Monte Carlo for a €10,000 poker tournament. I always found him approachable, friendly, unpretentious and nice to be around.

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Comparing unlike with unlike – it’s Whitehall’s secret new parlour game | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

If the culture minister says that ambassadors should be paid more than BBC editors, we should next ask him how to choose between Victoria Beckham and a leopard

Well done Peston On Sunday, last week, for having three interview guests and triggering major news stories with each of them. That’s an amazing hit rate.

First guest Jeremy Corbyn hit the headlines for suggesting that the UK doesn’t really have a special relationship with America. Third guest Miriam Margolyes said “fuck” live on air. And the middle guest, shiny new culture secretary Matt Hancock, said that editors at the BBC should not be paid more than ambassadors.

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Molly tries to shuffle the pack | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The more things change the more they stay the same – even in a film about a strong woman

Can Hollywood fix itself? Is that already happening? Let’s go to the cinema together and find out.

It’ll have to be my local Everyman – a genteel chain where they transmit a lot of productions live from the National Theatre and sell yoghurt-coated nuts instead of Minstrels. Might not be your cup of tea. On the plus side, you can also get a cup of tea. It has to be that venue, because the trip has already happened.

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My Christmas present to you

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Hate gift guides? Here’s an alternative to all those that insult you with dull ideas

The gift guides are out again! Regular readers will know how infuriated I am by those Christmas gift guides. Pages and pages of newsprint, all given over to the advice that we should consider buying our relatives a pair of socks or a bottle of wine.

Adding insult to insult, they invariably divide these “ideas” into relatives (“A lipstick for your wife! A book for your mum! A bottle of wine for Grandpa!”) just to make sure that nobody shops beyond the boundaries of age and gender stereotype. Not only must we buy the same old stuff every year, we must make the same old assumptions. Women love clothes. Kids love sweets. Men love golf calendars.

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Ed Sheeran versus the super-idiots | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Attacking the singer’s charity efforts takes a rare type of stupidity. But guess what...

According to a Dropbox survey published last week, most people believe that “only 68% of their work colleagues” are capable of the job.

This is a staggering figure. Why so high? Nobody’s capable of the job. Nobody’s capable of anything.

Related: Ed Sheeran Comic Relief film branded 'poverty porn' by aid watchdog

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Michael Gove, where did our love go? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

The environment secretary has shown a flash of his old character but I can’t forgive his betrayal

Did you wake up on Thursday morning expecting to feel a wave of affection for Michael Gove? I didn’t. I’m not sure anyone did. Possibly not even Mrs Gove, who wrote a very interesting joke in her Daily Mail column the day before.

“Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein are reportedly languishing in rehab at an upmarket sex addiction clinic in Arizona,” it began. “No sex for eight weeks, apparently – although quite why they needed to fly to the desert for that is beyond me. Most of us find getting married does the trick.”

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Why are the police copping flak? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Don’t damn officers for a Halloween prank – law and order should show it has bit of heart

It is possible that I have many things in common with Fenland police. You can’t do Only Connect for as long as I have without knowing that one thing can always be linked to another. Four things can be a challenge, but a simple pair, such as Fenland police and me… off the top of my head: we both like to wear blue, we’ve both dealt with a lot of drunks and neither of us has managed to stamp out hare-coursing in the county of Cambridgeshire.

And here’s another: we both tweeted pictures of ourselves dressed up for Halloween.

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Casinos gamble on their credibility | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

If you’re too smart for gaming houses they’ll find a way to stop you - but more fool them

It is rare to see Phil Ivey, the greatest poker player of our time, losing seriously. This man is a genius. He can get inside other people’s heads.

The first time I played poker against him, I think he found me a little unsettling. People do, the first time. In Phil’s case, I don’t think it’s just that I was female – which is what throws most people – but that I was female and making jokes.

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Faster, higher, twerkier? | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Why stop at pole dancing at the Olympics? Let’s have groping and mud wrestling as well

The news that pole dancing has been formally recognised as a sport – and will now be considered for possible inclusion in the Olympics – fills me with delight.

Regular readers may be surprised. You might imagine I would feel weary and suspicious at this development. You might imagine I’d roll my eyes and ask: “What next? A simultaneous men’s event – how many bills can you shove in her bra as she writhes?”

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I’m really not a petrolhead... | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

... but the thought of driverless cars and the surrender of freedom fill me with gloom

God bless the women of Saudi Arabia and their excitement about a royal decree allowing them to hold driving licences at last.

As we sit in traffic jams, fuming about inexplicable delays and unending roadworks, terrible radio playlists, the utter monotony and hell of it all, we should think of our sisters in the desert who see only the freedom, power and joy.

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Putting Granny online? No thanks| Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

I’m all for doing something for old people. But don’t ask me to put family snaps on the web

Today is National Grandparents’ Day. AgeUK is asking people to tweet, Instagram, hashtag (and other words your granny would not have understood) a photograph of their beloved ancestors, marked #grandpics, with a suggested donation of £5 with every photograph.

They asked me directly to do this. I said no. F*** em, I said.

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Oh, do let’s be beastly to the Nazis | Victoria Coren Mitchell

By Victoria Coren Mitchell

Nobody thinks Paul Hollywood is an actual Nazi; we should let him dress how he likes

A Nazi goes into a pub.

Hang on… that’s not a Nazi! It’s the well-known baker and TV personality Paul Hollywood!

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Rishi Sunak’s mini Budget: sector responds to stamp duty cuts, green investment and employment plans

By Jack Simpson

Organisations from across the housing sector have been reacting to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘mini Budget’, which includes his plans to help the country’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Sunak confirms £2bn Green Homes Grant

By Nathaniel Barker

Rishi Sunak has confirmed that the government will introduce a £2bn “Green Homes Grant” and launch a £50m fund to pilot approaches to decarbonising social housing.

Government-backed job retention scheme launched for construction sector

By Peter Apps

A scheme to protect jobs in the construction sector has been launched by the government and industry, following chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a plan to support employment across the UK economy. 

Chancellor announces temporary stamp duty cut

By Dominic Brady

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a temporary cut to stamp duty in a bid to boost confidence in the housing market in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 could reduce housing association market sale income by more than half, says Moody’s

By Dominic Brady

Market sales exposure will be the most significant area of economic risk for UK housing associations in fiscal 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to analysis by credit ratings agency Moody’s

The state of the sector: five key takeaways from Moody’s analysis of landlords’ post-coronavirus finances

By Dominic Brady

Credit ratings agency Moody’s has published an in-depth analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the UK social housing sector. Inside Housing picks out five key points from the report

Our new complaints handling code will help address some of the challenges arising from COVID-19

By Richard Blakeway

Problems with housing have become even more acute as a result of the coronavirus crisis. At the Housing Ombudsman, we have developed a new way of addressing complaints, writes Richard Blakeway

London borough to bring repairs in house

By Nathaniel Barker

A north London borough is set to bring all repairs services in house for its 23,000 council homes

London borough revises allocation policy following threat of court action

By Lucie Heath

Lambeth Council has agreed to amend its housing allocation policy after being threatened with court action over a scheme that resulted in homeless applicants being removed from the local authority’s housing register.

North West landlord secures debut £95m private placement

By Dominic Brady

Preston-based Community Gateway Association (CGA) has raised £95m through its first private placement, which is aimed at supporting its new corporate plan.

Will the ‘build, build, build’ plans prove to be a deal or no deal?

By Rabina Khan

The prime minister promised to get the country building. But, Rabina Khan asks, did his vision go far enough?

Chancellor expected to announce £50m social housing retrofit pilot

By Nathaniel Barker

Rishi Sunak is expected to unveil £50m to pilot new approaches to low-carbon retrofitting of social housing as part of his economic statement tomorrow.

Housing Ombudsman publishes new Complaint Handling Code

By Nathaniel Barker

The Housing Ombudsman has published a new Complaint Handling Code which will see it take action against landlords failing to deal properly with tenants’ grievances.

Incommunities chief executive to retire after 17 years in charge

By Dominic Brady

Geraldine Howley, chief executive of Incommunities, has today announced she will retire from the organisation after nearly two decades at the helm.

Survivors’ lawyers call for ‘racial discrimination’ to be considered as factor in Grenfell fire

By Peter Apps

Lawyers acting for survivors and bereaved family members have urged the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to formally consider the role of racial discrimination in the fire and speed up the appointment of a third panel member. 

Bow crane collapse: Firefighters working to free trapped residents

The 20-metre (65ft) crane crashed on to a house in Bow in London just before 14:40 BST.

2020 Ryder Cup postponed until 2021 because of impact of coronavirus

The 2020 Ryder Cup, scheduled to take place in September, is postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Rishi Sunak, we need help with rent, money and jobs'

Under-30s have been hardest hit in lockdown, so what did they think of the chancellor's summer update?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak cuts VAT in emergency plan to save jobs

Firms will also get a bonus to keep furloughed staff, as part of a £30bn plan to stop mass unemployment.

Johnny Depp denies slapping ex-wife for laughing at his tattoos

The Hollywood star is giving evidence during the second day of his libel action against the Sun.

Don't make any sudden moves: Huawei urges UK government to wait before declaring it 'unreliable'

By Matthew Hughes

Claims 'restrictions by the US will take months to fully understand'

Embattled Chinese tech bogeyman Huawei has decried the UK government's mooted plan to ban it from domestic 5G networks over reliability concerns caused by the imposition of punishing US sanctions.…

Grenfell Tower inquiry: Lead fire consultant 'ignored' cladding email

Terry Ashton said he did not read information sent to him because he was not the "primary recipient".

Anonymous letters providing solace in the pandemic

How libraries in Colombia came up with a way of providing comfort to readers during the lockdown.

Chancellor gives diners 50% off on eating out

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled an "eat out to help out" discount as part of wider measures.

Why are we 'milking' crabs for a coronavirus vaccine?

Horseshoe crab blood is used to help develop medicine, but some people want the practice stopped.

Coronavirus: Elite universities sue over US visa ruling

They say withdrawing visas from foreign students whose courses move fully online is "chaos".

Coronavirus in Australia: Melbourne begins new shutdown

Five million residents are now barred from leaving home for six weeks, except for essential reasons.

UK advertising watchdog raps ruler on O2's hand over misleading ads for iPad and Surface Pro deals

By Matthew Hughes

£9 a month mumble mumble, terms and conditions apply

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has put O2 on the naughty step after it deemed two of its print adverts for the iPad and Surface Pro tablets misled customers about the overall cost.…

England v West Indies: Shannon Gabriel bowls Dominic Sibley as Test cricket returns

West Indies' Shannon Gabriel bowls England's Dominic Sibley with just the 10th delivery of the day as Test cricket returns at the Ageas Rose Bowl.

England and West Indies players take a knee

England and West Indies players all take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement before the first Test in Southampton.

When data is messy

When data is messy

I love this story: a neural network trained on images was asked what the most significant pixels in pictures of tench (a kind of fish) were: it returned pictures of fingers on a green background, because most of the tench photos it had seen were fisherfolk showing off their catch.

GitHub Actions: Manual triggers with workflow_dispatch

GitHub Actions: Manual triggers with workflow_dispatch

New GitHub Actions feature which fills a big gap in the offering: you can now create "workflow dispatch" events which provide a button for manually triggering an action - and you can specify extra UI form fields that can customize how that action runs. This turns Actions into an interactive automation engine for any code that can be wrapped in a Docker container.

Via @magnetikonline

sba-loans-covid-19-datasette

sba-loans-covid-19-datasette

The treasury department released a bunch of data on the Covid-19 SBA Paycheck Protection Program Loan recipients today - I've loaded the most interesting data (the $150,000+ loans) into a Datasette instance.

Via @simonw

Quoting Tim O'Reilly

The future will not be like the past. The comfortable Victorian and Georgian world complete with grand country houses, a globe-spanning British empire, and lords and commoners each knowing their place, was swept away by the events that began in the summer of 1914 (and that with Britain on the “winning” side of both world wars.) So too, our comfortable “American century” of conspicuous consumer consumption, global tourism, and ever-increasing stock and home prices may be gone forever.

Tim O'Reilly

How to find what you want in the Django documentation

How to find what you want in the Django documentation

Useful guide by Matthew Segal to navigating the Django documentation, and tips for reading documentation in general. The Django docs have a great reputation so it's easy to forget how intimidating they can be for newcomers: Matthew emphasizes that docs are rarely meant to be read in full: the trick is learning how to quickly search them for the things you need to understand right now.

Via Django News issue 30

Better Python Decorators with wrapt

Better Python Decorators with wrapt

Adam Johnson explains the intricacies of decorating a Python function without breaking the ability to correctly introspect it, and dicsusses how Scout use the wrapt library by Graham Dumpleton to implement their instrumentation library.

Via @AdamChainz

Datasette 0.45: The annotated release notes

Datasette 0.45, out today, features magic parameters for canned queries, a log out feature, improved plugin documentation and four new plugin hooks.

As I did for Datasette 0.44, I'm going to provide an annotated version of the full release notes here on my blog.

Magic parameters for canned queries

Canned queries now support Magic parameters, which can be used to insert or select automatically generated values. For example:

insert into logs
  (user_id, timestamp)
values
  (:_actor_id, :_now_datetime_utc)

This inserts the currently authenticated actor ID and the current datetime. (#842)

This is a fun new feature that extends the capabilities of writable canned queries, introduced in Datasette 0.44.

The key idea here is to make it easy to insert contextual information such as the current timestamp, the authenticated actor or other automatically generated values as part of a writable query.

This means Datasette's canned queries are now powerful enough to build things like simple comment systems or logging endpoints purely by defining a SQL query with the right magic parameters.

There's even a :_random_chars_32 parameter that automatically generates a random text string - useful for things like generating authentication tokens for use with datasette-auth-tokens. More on this below.

Log out

The ds_actor cookie can be used by plugins (or by Datasette's --root mechanism) to authenticate users. The new /-/logout page provides a way to clear that cookie.

A "Log out" button now shows in the global navigation provided the user is authenticated using the ds_actor cookie. (#840)

Out of the box, Datasette's authentication system is quite primitive: the only way to get an authenticated session is to use the --root option to get a special link when the server first starts running. As described in the documentation, the goal is for plugins to fill in the rest.

Even with just that mechanism it still makes sense to let people log out again! The new /-/logout page can do that, and Datasette's navigation now includes a log out button if the user is logged in using that ds_actor cookie.

You can see what this looks like in Datasette's pattern portfolio.

New plugin hooks

register_magic_parameters(datasette) can be used to define new types of magic canned query parameters.

I'm increasingly trying to have Datasette internally use plugin hooks for default behaviour. This hook can define custom magic parameters - you can see the implementation of the default parameters using this hook in default_magic_parameters.py.

startup(datasette) can run custom code when Datasette first starts up. datasette-init is a new plugin that uses this hook to create database tables and views on startup if they have not yet been created. (#834)

Here's an example datasette-init plugin configuration in metadata.yaml. This will create a dogs table when the server starts, but only if one has not yet been created:

plugins:
  datasette-init:
    my_database:
      tables:
        dogs:
          columns:
            id: integer
            name: text
            age: integer
            weight: float
          pk: id

canned_queries(datasette, database, actor) lets plugins provide additional canned queries beyond those defined in Datasette's metadata. See datasette-saved-queries for an example of this hook in action. (#852)

This started out as a feature request from Amjith Ramanujam on Twitter.

Canned queries, like these ones, are usually defined in the increasingly poorly-named metadata.json/yaml.

Letting plugins define them opens up some neat possibilities. datasette-saved-queries is an interesting example: it lets users store new queries in their database, inserting them using a writable canned query that the plugin itself returns from that hook by default.

Here's the code. It also uses the new startup() hook to create its own table.

forbidden(datasette, request, message) is a hook for customizing how Datasette responds to 403 forbidden errors. (#812)

I need this for the next version of datasette-auth-github - it's a way to customize what happens when a user fails a permission check.

Even more plugins

Thanks to the datasette-plugin cookiecutter template I can turn out simple plugins in just a few minutes. Here are my new releases from the past week:

What's next?

I've already slipped one feature into the Datasette 0.46 milestone, but my focus from here on should really be on getting everything in place for Datasette 1.0.

entr: rerun your build when files change

entr: rerun your build when files change

"WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME ABOUT THIS BEFORE?!?!" is one of my favourite genres of blog post.

Free software activities in June 2020

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world during June 2020 (previous month):

For Lintian, the static analysis tool for Debian packages:


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Reproducible Builds

One of the original promises of open source software is that distributed peer review and transparency of process results in enhanced end-user security. However, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free and open source software for malicious flaws, almost all software today is distributed as pre-compiled binaries. This allows nefarious third-parties to compromise systems by injecting malicious code into ostensibly secure software during the various compilation and distribution processes.

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

The project is proud to be a member project of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Conservancy acts as a corporate umbrella allowing projects to operate as non-profit initiatives without managing their own corporate structure. If you like the work of the Conservancy or the Reproducible Builds project, please consider becoming an official supporter.

This month, I:


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Elsewhere in our tooling, I made the following changes to diffoscope including preparing and uploading versions 147, 148 and 149 to Debian:

trydiffoscope is the web-based version of diffoscope. This month, I specified a location for the celerybeat scheduler to ensure that the clean/tidy tasks are actually called which had caused an accidental resource exhaustion. (#12)


§


Debian

I filed three bugs against:

Debian LTS

This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 5¼ hours on its sister Extended LTS project.

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

Uploads

Web Transaction Monitoring Made Easy

By Leigh Brown

Providing a Seamless Digital Experience Customer engagement with your company’s site and applications is critical to your business. That’s why the performance of those transactions is equally important. Customers need to be able to log in to your application. Prospects need to download your newest whitepaper. Site visitors need to register for your latest webinar. […]

The post Web Transaction Monitoring Made Easy appeared first on Pingdom Royal.

Unlocking value with durable teams

Unlocking value with durable teams

Anna Shipman describes the FT's experience switching from project-based teams to "durable" teams - teams which own a specific area of the product. Lots of really smart organizational design thinking in this. I've seen how much of a difference it makes to have every inch of a complex system "owned" by a specific team. I also like how Anna uses the term "technical estate" to describe the entirety of the FT's systems.

Via @annashipman

3 Best Practices for Testing Your Website’s Performance in 2020

By Tom Rankin

For your website to succeed, it needs to offer the best experience possible to its visitors. This means providing amazing content, great design, and blazing-fast performance. Take away any of those elements, and your customer’s experience will suffer.

The post 3 Best Practices for Testing Your Website’s Performance in 2020 appeared first on Pingdom Royal.

Quoting GPT-3, shepherded by Max Woolf

Data Science is a lot like Harry Potter, except there's no magic, it's just math, and instead of a sorting hat you just sort the data with a Python script.

GPT-3, shepherded by Max Woolf

Quoting Ned Batchelder

Here’s a common piece of advice from people who create things: to make better things, make more things. Not only does it give you constant practice at making things, but it gives you more chances at lucking into making a good thing.

Ned Batchelder

On the pleasure of hating

People love to tell you that they "don't watch sports" but the story of Lance Armstrong provides a fascinating lens through which to observe our culture at large.

For example, even granting all that he did and all the context in which he did it, why do sports cheats act like a lightning rod for such an instinctive hatred? After all, the sheer level of distaste directed at people such as Lance eludes countless other criminals in our society, many of whom have taken a lot more with far fewer scruples. The question is not one of logic or rationality, but of proportionality.

In some ways it should be unsurprising. In all areas of life, we instinctively prefer binary judgements to moral ambiguities and the sports cheat is a cliché of moral bankruptcy — cheating at something so seemingly trivial as a sport actually makes it more, not less, offensive to us. But we then find ourselves strangely enthralled by them, drawn together in admiration of their outlaw-like tenacity, placing them strangely close to criminal folk heroes. Clearly, sport is not as unimportant as we like to claim it is. In Lance's case in particular though, there is undeniably a Shakespearean quality to the story and we are forced to let go of our strict ideas of right and wrong and appreciate all the nuance.


§


There is a lot of this nuance in Marina Zenovich's new documentary. In fact, there's a lot of everything. At just under four hours, ESPN's Lance combines the duration of a Tour de France stage with the depth of the peloton — an endurance event compared to the bite-sized hagiography of Michael Jordan's The Last Dance.

Even for those who follow Armstrong's story like a mini-sport in itself, Lance reveals new sides to this man for all seasons. For me, not only was this captured in his clumsy approximations at being a father figure but also in him being asked something I had not read in countless tell-all books: did his earlier experiments in drug-taking contribute to his cancer?

But even in 2020 there are questions that remain unanswered. By needlessly returning to the sport in 2009, did Lance subconsciously want to get caught? Why does he not admit he confessed to Betsy Andreu back in 1999 but will happily apologise to her today for slurring her publicly on this very point? And why does he remain so vindictive towards former-teammate Floyd Landis? In all of Armstrong's evasions and masterful control of the narrative, there is the gnawing feeling that we don't even know what questions we should be even asking. As ever, the questions are more interesting than the answers.


§


Lance also reminded me of how professional cycling's obsession with national identity. Although I was intuitively aware of it to some degree, I had not fully grasped how much this kind of stereotyping runs through the veins of the sport itself, just like the drugs themselves. Journalist Daniel Friebe first offers us the portrait of:

Spaniards tend to be modest, very humble. Very unpretentious. And the Italians are loud, vain and outrageous showmen.

Former directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel then asserts that "Belgians are hard workers... they are ambitious to a certain point, but not overly ambitious", and cyclist Jörg Jaksche concludes with:

The Germans are very organised and very structured. And then the French, now I have to be very careful because I am German, but the French are slightly superior.

This kind of lazy caricature is nothing new, especially for those brought up on a solid diet of Tintin and Asterix, but although all these examples are seemingly harmless, why does the underlying idea of ascribing moral, social or political significance to genetic lineage remain so durable in today's age of anti-racism? To be sure, culture is not quite the same thing as race, but being judged by the character of one's ancestors rather than the actions of an individual is, at its core, one of the many conflations at the heart of racism. There is certainly a large amount of cognitive dissonance at work, especially when Friebe elaborates:

East German athletes were like incredible robotic figures, fallen off a production line somewhere behind the Iron Curtain...

... but then Übermensch Jan Ullrich is immediately described as "emotional" and "struggled to live the life of a professional cyclist 365 days a year". We see the habit to stereotype is so ingrained that even in the face of this obvious contradiction, Friebe unironically excuses Ullrich's failure to live up his German roots due to him actually being "Mediterranean".


§


I mention all this as I am known within my circles for remarking on these national characters, even collecting stereotypical examples of Italians 'being Italian' and the French 'being French' at times. Contrary to evidence, I don't believe in this kind of innate quality but what I do suspect is that people generally behave how they think they ought to behave, perhaps out of sheer imitation or the simple pleasure of conformity. As the novelist Will Self put it:

It's quite a complicated collective imposture, people pretending to be British and people pretending to be French, and then they get really angry with each other over what they're pretending to be.

The really remarkable thing about this tendency is that even if we consciously notice it there is no seemingly no escape — even I could not smirk when I considered that a brash Texan winning the Tour de France actually combines two of America's cherished obsessions: winning... and annoying the French.

Launch HN: ElectroNeek (YC W20) – Automatically find and automate routine work

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Concorde ‘B’

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SUSE to Acquire Rancher Labs

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MIT and Harvard file suit against new ICE regulations

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Tauri – toolchain for building highly secure native apps that have tiny binaries

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Montgomery Brewster's 'None of the Above' would walk this election.

By Jackart ([email protected])

It's actually quite liberating to follow politics without a team to shout for. I remain a Conservative by inclination. I like free markets, economic liberalism and so forth even if the Conservative manifesto doesn't seem to all that much, Tories, if not their leadership, are mainly for these things. I am also a social liberal, I remain committed to an open and tolerant society. However the Liberal Democrats risk becoming the Church of England does Politics, being stuffed with the kind of dry, shabby inadequate who can't quite get over his (self) loathing of homosexuality. I dislike May. I think she's a narrow-minded provincial bigot who's been promoted way, way above her level of competence. She is however the best of the two candidates for Prime Minister. 

Let's not pretend Corbyn was doing other than palling around with the IRA in the 1980s because the glamour of "anti-imperialist" terrorists excited him. He has always supported whoever was fighting the UK at the time, and doesn't deserve to be an MP, let alone to reverse those letters. Labour's clown-car economics is only marginally less risible than the Tories offer, this time round. The difference is Labour actually believe their silliness, and they're led by a traitor. 

If you live in Scotland, this election is about independence. If you live in NI, then this election is about the tribal headcount. If you live elsewhere this election is whether you want an incompetent nanny-state provincial Tory or an antediluvian Socialist to deliver Brexit. It's a shabby, and dispiriting affair. If you can't work out how to vote, you can always vote for Montgomery Brewster. None of the above is appealing. But if you feel you MUST vote, then I have prepared a handy flow-chart to help you.

If you despise politicians, you get despicable politicians.
This shabby parade of also-rans from which we have to choose on today (without any actual choice on the main, nay only, issue of the day) is the logic of calling decent, capable people like Blair, Cameron and Major "war criminals" and "Traitors", for decades. It pollutes the language for when you actually get some of these things on the offer.
No worthwhile people will put up with the scrutiny and abuse heaped daily on politicians. So you get the kind of bore for whom the scrutiny isn't an issue. They've never done anything interesting in the their lives. At least David Cameron dropped some E and went to a rave or two as a youth. What does Theresa May, who spent her twenties complaining about the promotion of lesbianism in schools, know of fun? As for Corbyn, he looks like the kind of man for whom a perfect saturday night is treatise on Marx (so long as it contains nothing he doesn't already know and agree with) with some lovely mineral water. He is the Labour man Orwell warned you about.

I'll be voting Tory. Why? My local headbanging Leadsomite hard-brexiter has stood down after his colossal act of vandalism, to be replaced by a man with whom I seem to agree.
My expectations are of a  Tory majority around 75, on a low turnout, and they will have half a dozen seats in Scotland.  The Liberal Democrats will take Vauxhall and Twickenham, losing in Sheffield Hallam (the "were you up for...?" moment as Clegg loses his seat), but holding Orkney and Shetland against the SNP, remaining about where they are now overall. Or that's where my betting is at the moment.
What do I want to see happen? I'd like to see May remain PM but in a hung parliament, reliant on Northern Irish politicians for her majority because let's face it, she deserves nothing better.
A rubbish show all round but at least I can enjoy it, whoever loses.

Whales are more Important to Climate change than Donald Trump.

By Jackart ([email protected])

Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Climate accord. And I don't think this matters all that much. For a start, the USA's emissions are falling. Mostly this is because coal is being replaced by Natural Gas, but also because people are driving less, in smaller vehicles with ever more efficient engines. The motors driving the west's steady fall in carbon emissions are economic and technological, not political.

Next to the steady decline in carbon emissions from the west, is set the Vast increase in emissions in recent decades from Asia. But this represents billions of people using no net carbon energy, tending crops using animal muscle and burning biomass (and occasionally starving to death) Just a few decades ago, to my meeting an indian chap on Holiday in Stockholm with his family and chatting about cricket while we tried to decipher the train times. The rise of the middle class in India and China is a huge flowering of human potential, even if it comes with soluble environmental problems.

Anyway, the level of Co2 in the atmosphere is rising, and this is changing the climate. Reducing emissions is a noble aim, but it must not get in the way of developing economies' economic growth. Fortunately, the solution is already with us. Renewable technology is improving. Cars are getting more efficient, and perhaps moving away from fossil fuel (at least directly). And this process will happen in india and China more quickly than in the west beacaue adopting what will be soon proven and cheap technology will enable them to miss whole generations of poluting technologies.

Which brings us to the great cetaceans. The southern ocean is the world's biggest habitat, with the world's shortest food chain, at the top of which sits the largest animal that has ever existed on earth. Phytoplancton bloom, and are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by fish larvae and Krill, which are eaten buy just about everything else. The biggest eaters of Krill are the baleen whales which turn five tons of Krill into Iron-rich shit every day. Sperm whales meanwhile are diving to the abysal deep turning several tons of squid into Iron-rich scat, moving nutrients from the deep to the surface. The limiting nutrient at the bottom of the food-chain is iron, so whale faeces fertilise the ocean, and enable more phytoplanckton to grow which absorb Co2 from  the air, much of which falls to the bottom of the ocean as marine snow, and eventually become rock.

But we killed the whales, and when we stopped doing so, they didn't recover as quickly as we hoped. We didn't just kill the Apex predators, in doing so, humanity reduced the Southern ocean's ecosystem's capacity to create life, and absorb Carbon. The southerm ocean may have settled at a lower equilibrium of Iron circulation. The Atlantic on the other hand, which gets tons of Iron from the african deserts every time the wind blows, has seen whale stocks recover better.

Which is why I want to see more research into Iron seeding the ocean, which may give a leg up to Balaenoptera musculus, as well as possibly solving climate change. Climate change is a problem. But while Trump's petulent gesture doesn't help us solve it, nor does it make the problem any harder. Politicians simply matter less than a whale taking a dump.

Why the Blue Passport Matters.

By Jackart ([email protected])

People have spent the day on Twitter saying "why does the colour of a passport matter"? While the Daily Express is cheering the return of the Blue Passport to the rafters. For most people capable of abstract thought, this is a mystifying detail, the importance of which to their opponents is utterly baffling. Of course, I am a remain "ultra". But I did swim in the same intellectual Milieu as the Brexity-Trumpkins for decades and know many serious Brexiters personally. Having spend decades rationalising the EU-obsessed madness of the Tory right as a harmless eccentricity that they don't really mean, I do have, with hindsight, some understanding what these creatures think.



Why does the passport matter?

For the Tory Brexiter, the underlying issue is Sovereignty. They object violently, strenuously and on principle to ANYTHING that comes "above" the Crown in Parliament. The jurisdiction of the ECJ is for them, an insult to the courts and other institutions of the UK. The idea is offensive that any law-making organisation, especially one that Jacques Delors told the trades unions is basically for stopping the Tories Torying, could be "supreme" over parliament.

Of course the ECJ mainly deals in trade disputes and represents an international court to settle international issues and ensure consistent interpretation of EU law. It isn't "making the law of the land" and nor is it a "supreme" court in a meaningful way as far as the average citizen is concerned because it doesn't deal with those issues. If you're up in front of the Magistrate for punching a rotter, you're not going to be able to appeal all the way to the ECJ. Criminal law stops with the nation. Appeals of bad people going up to the European court of Human Rights on seemingly spurious grounds get funnelled into this narrative (shhh, I know), so the impression is obtained that "Crazy Euro-Judges" are "over-ruling parliament", and demanding prisoners can vote or should be allowed hacksaws to avoid trampling on "Human Rights" or whatever the tabloid outrage du jour may be. This then reinforces the narrative that the EU is "anti-democratic" and "makes all our laws". And once you have this narrative, flawed as it is, it's jolly easy to amass an awful lot of corroborating "evidence" because the Tabloids spent 30 years deliberately feeding it.

Sovereignty vs Influence; there is a trade-off. The UK, broadly, wrote the Financial services legislation for the entire continent. In return, the Continent got access to the only truly global city in Europe. The French did this for farming and got the CAP, while the Germans got the Eurozone's interest rates and got to destroy Southern Europe. The EU which contains (rather like the UK and trade negotiators) no-one who CAN write decent financial services legislation legislation, because most of those people are British. Thanks to Brexit, the quality of the legislation on financial services will go down, both in the UK which will be compelled to have regulatory equivalence to keep banks' access to the single market and the EU. The UK will have become a rule-taker rather than a rule maker. I fail to see how this reclaims "Sovereignty". The organisational source of the legislation will remain unchanged, but we loose any ability to influence, let alone write it. Multiply this catastrophe across an economy and you see why the "sovereignty" argument against EU law is, on any rational basis, stupid.

The parliament, the very existence of which takes on the aspect of a supranational government in waiting, rather than a simple means to have democratic oversight of an organisation which employs fewer people than Manchester city council, distributes about 1% of GDP and writes trade law. This unwarranted grandiosity once again suits both the Brussels apparatchiks, and the simian oiks of UKIP whom the British public sent to Brussels as a mark of the National contempt for the institution. The parliament is, to my mind is a risible little potempkin affair, barely worth considering,

So there's the error. Back to the passport.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation sets the dimensions, so the writing was on the wall for the old British hardback passport, fabulous though it was, it didn't really fit in the back pocket of your trousers.  However once you believe that the EU tentacles are slowly creeping into institutions to turn you into a province of the "EUSSR", then you start to see this everywhere. The EU is foolish to seek the trappings of a national Government before they had built a demos, and absent any desire for it from the people. Symbols matter. The UK doesn't have an ID card. So when Brits talk about nationality they might say "Australian passport-holder" rather than "Australian citizen". I am not sure if any other nationalities use this formulation. The passport is slightly more than a document. No? Try losing one abroad.

The EU resolution on Passports is here. For anyone who thinks the EU "made" the UK have a Maroon passport, here's EU Croatia's. .



The EU suggested the Colour be harmonised and the words "European Union" be put First. At the top. Above the crown, First. Symbolising, perhaps inadvertently that the EU was more important than the nations. And there you have it. And no-one working on it thought to object. Changing the colour of the passport was a key symbolic gesture that irritated many people, and reinforced an utterly false narrative, to no end or benefit to anyone. There is simply no need for European Union passports to be uniformly coloured. It merely satisfies the bureaucrats' desire for order. And it is my belief that it is this symbolic bureaucratic exercise in territory marking by the EU that revealed, and still reveals, a fundamental disconnect between the Brussels Panjandrums, the people of the EU and the British in particular. The Eurocrats want a Federal Europe with the EU as a Government. The Nations, broadly supported by their governments don't, and have resisted any attempt.

The EU hasn't made Britain less "sovereign". All EU law, necessary to trade with as little friction as possible, is of the type that by whom it is written doesn't matter. With trading standards does it really matter WHAT they are, just that they're as universal and consistently applied? I don't need to tell you that it was never illegal to display prices of potatoes in Lbs and Oz, just that you HAD to display the price in KG and g too, in case any Frenchmen walking through the market didn't know how many Lbs are in a KG. I don't care who writes the regulations for the import of Duck eggs, just that it's done.

But there it is. The Brexiters shooting with the accuracy of a semi-trained recruit who's just dropped LSD at every figment of their fevered imagination, egged on by equally deluded fantasists who still think they're creating a Federal United States of Europe. These two groups of lunatics needed each other. And so, the passport, with 'European Union' at the top was barely noticed on the continent, but seemed to some Brits as evidence the EU was after their democracy, their identity and their Freedom. However stupid this belief is, a Blue passport could've been delivered cheaply as a quick Tabloid-Friendly win for Cameron and such was the narrow margin, it would have probably been enough.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

By Jackart ([email protected])


Wednesday saw my 40th Birthday, and to celebrate I went to see Tom Stoppard's brilliant Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic with a Chum. While Daniel Radcliffe & Joshua Maguire lead, the show is stolen by a magisterial performance by David Haig as The Player, a sort of luvvie-pimp-cum-impresario who holds the whole play, in its absurdity, together.


The play is Hamlet, seen from the point of view of two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, old friends of Hamlet's. The hapless pair spend the play wondering what they're doing and why, having been recalled to Elsinore by Claudius to find out why Hamlet's being such a dick, moping about and talking gibberish to himself ("to be, or not to be..." etc). They are eventually betrayed by their friend, who suspects them of working for his uncle which they are, sort of.

The play is therefore a meditation on the futility of existence, and the limitations of people's personal agency. Most people get on with their lives, as bit parts in a greater drama, not really sure as to the direction of events, or even of the past. After all, what have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got to go on, but what can be gleaned from a few words of Shakespeare's, as metaphor for everyone's flawed and self-serving memory. Any interrogator or detective will tell you about the reliability of eye-witnesses and the difficulty of establishing the truth.

From everyone's point of view then, even when we're at the centre of events, most of the action is happening offstage. There will have been some point at which you could have said "no", but you missed it. Then you die.

If you can get tickets, do so.

Minimum Wages, Immigration, Culture and Education.

By Jackart ([email protected])

Net migration to the UK has run at hundreds of thousands a year for decades, of which about a quarter since 2004 has been "A8 countries", Poland, the Baltic states, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary, another quarter from 'Core EU' and the rest from non-EU countries, mainly India, Pakistan and West Africa. 13% of the population of the UK was born overseas, of whom over 2/3rds are non-EU migrants. This is an unprecedented migration to the rich world from the poor, and It's not clear from this EU migration is the underlying problem. The Poles will integrate fast, and leave imprints on the culture like a higher incidence of catholicism, bigos (a stew of meat and Sauerkraut) and some hard-to-spell surnames. They're often better educated than the natives, and work harder.

In general the view I've taken over the years is that minimum wages are a bad thing, arguing that they are mainly paid for by the people who otherwise wouldn't get a job at all. Only a job can lead to a better job, and if people are unemployed for a long time, they often become unemployable. So by this logic, keeping unemployment down should in the long-run be better for the poorest.

But, there is a trade off. When I grew up, late '80s and '90s, I cannot recall seeing cars washed by hand. When my father wasn't exploiting child labour by getting me and my brother to do a rubbish, half-arsed job for which we expected to be paid handsomely, we went to see the "blue Dougals" at the petrol station. The UK as a wealthy country, had substituted Capital for Labour, and cars were washed by big machines at every petrol station. But a team of a dozen hard-working and cheerful eastern Europeans can set up a car-wash, do inside and out for very little capital outlay - a jet washer, and some sponges, so when the EU accession countries citizens moved to seek work, this is what many did. The car wash machines were gradually removed and replaced by people. This is the opposite of progress.

Let's take a step back and look at the big picture.

Europe's wealth, it's vitality, its progress didn't spring from European individual or cultural superiority. It started when half the population was wiped out by Yersinia pestis in the 14th Century. There was a certain amount of luck - the same event increased the power of the landowner in Rice states and in pre-feudal societies farther East, but in Northwestern Europe, this created a shortage of Labour, and the peasants rose up a generation afterwards to demand higher wages from their lords. When this happened in Italy, the energy was put into sculpture of the nude male form, and was called "the Renaissance". When wages rise, it makes sense to build machines rather than employ labour, which has a virtuous feedback loop: skilled people running the machines drive up production, and become richer, which creates an incentive for further innovation. More widespread desire for, and access to education is grease in the wheels of this, the motor of progress that led to the industrial revolution.

The opening up of America, a nation with a perpetual and long-lasting shortage of labour not only added another motor to that European culture of innovation which grew up after the Black Death, but also absorbed the excess labour of Europe. While there is a labour shortage, immigration can be managed, though immigrants in large numbers have nowhere, ever been welcomed by the people they move to. Even when the people are kith and kin, the 'Scots Irish' (in reality, families originally from Northern England and the Scottish Borders) were moved on by the Germans and English who'd already settled the East coast. They ended up in Appalachia.

It's clear, then in the short run and in aggregate, wages aren't "driven down" by migration in a market economy. Part of that, in modern times may be due to the minimum wage, which protects some of the people most vulnerable to substitution, but also the 'lump of Labour fallacy'. Immigrants, especially young workers with families bring demand as well as supply and these things more-or-less balance. They aren't "taking our jobs" but they are changing the nature of jobs available. And the vast supply of excess labour from the subcontinent, africa and the poorer bits of Europe is not exactly an incentive to invest in productivity-enhancing machines, as the car-wash example shows. The mass immigration from the poor world has the potential to stall the western motor of innovation and may contribute to wages not rising as far as they might, especially for the lowest skilled workers.

The UK has a problem with productivity. UK employers have got good at employing the excess Labour of a serious chunk of the world, UK wages have been flat for a decade, and these things are linked. So the Chancellor is hiking the minimum wage in the hope of good headlines, and to incentivise investment to drive productivity. So. What effect will this have on immigration. Will it draw more migrants to the UK hoping for higher wages, like European immigration to the USA, or will it price low-skilled immigration out of the Labour market and allow the motor of progress to continue?

Splits that used to be geographic - some countries were rich, and others poor and the movement between the two was rare, is moving to one where there are still two countries, it's just the divide is social, educational, and cultural. You have a global, liberal, free market culture, which values education and novelty. And you have national, 'c' conservatives who just want their own culture, don't care about education all that much, won't move to find a job, and expect to be looked after who stay put and resent incomers. And the latter are disproportionately annoyed about foreigners moving into "Their" neighbourhoods while it's the former who have more to fear in the short term from highly skilled competition, minimum wages see to that. And if minimum wages rise far enough, low skilled workers will not be able to get jobs and they will stop coming to the UK. The problem is, the lowest skilled people are often native. The cost of a raised minimum wage will be borne by those least able to cope.

If we are to avoid society fracturing permanently into Morlocks and Eloi we do need to manage migration, to keep that motor humming. We cannot let the world come at will. But there was no need to pull up the drawbridge against EU migrants who always looked like collateral damage to me.

It's not all about economic self-interest, nor is it wholly naked in-group preference (what educated, open minded people call "bigotry"). It is the interplay between the two. Ultimately the stagnation of UK wages over the last 10 years isn't due to migration, but the recovery from a balance-sheet recession of 2007-9. It's the feeling of ennui caused by a decade of stagnation which has caused the anti-immigration nonsense, the rather blameless Poles have just become a Piñata and for a population that was persuaded to lash out at the EU when they really wanted to lash out at "the Muslims". The tragedy is all this happened just as we were getting back to normal.

Nicola and Theresa. Phwooar.

By Jackart ([email protected])

The Daily Mail's headline "Legs-it" about Scottish First Minister and British Prime Minister Theresa May's shapely legs was pathetic. But remember, the Mail is written by women, for women, and women judge each other, all the time, harshly and vindictively. Judged especially harshly are women more accomplished or better looking than the average Daily Mail reader.


To call this "sexism" is to miss the point. This isn't about women being held down by sexist male tittle tattle. Clearly, two of the most powerful people in the country haven't been held down in any meaningful way. Any executive head of Government is fair game for any and all criticism. What these women have done is rise above the level at which society normally seeks to protect women from abuse.

Male politicians are made fun of for their appearance and clothing all the time. It's the sea men swim in. Whether it's Donald Trump's expensive, but ill-fitting suits and too-long ties like he's stepped out of a 1980s pop video caricature of a businessman, or Cameron's forehead, or the fact that middle-aged men are always assumed to be repulsive, this abuse is normal.  The ridicule a male politician faces when he's seen in public wearing anything other than a blue suit is extraordinary. From Tony Blair wearing a clean barbour, to William Hague's baseball cap or Cameron's beachwear, there's a reason male politicians dress identically. When women's clothing (far more interesting by the way, than the sober suits of most male politicians) is commented on, it enables a personal brand to be created that much easier. Theresa May's shoes are like Margaret Thatcher's handbag. True, women do have to think harder about their clothing - too much leg, cleavage etc... and you immediately invite scorn (of other women, mainly), but the fact the female wardrobe stands out against the endless blue/grey suits and red or blue ties of the male is as much an opportunity as it is a minefield.

Any comment about May's shoes, for example is part of her deliberately curated brand, and shoe-designers are falling over themselves to get their products onto her feet. This isn't sexist. Women like shoes, and there's no reason why Theresa May shouldn't have fun with them.

Lower down the pecking order there's a taboo against men commenting negatively on a woman's appearance, lest you hurt the poor dear's feelings. Yes male 'locker room' banter will discuss who's attractive, but it's rude to do so in front of women and by and large, gentlemen don't. Women don't typically have these conversations about men in earshot of men either, but describing men as "revolting" or "creepy" is so normal as to be unworthy of comment, and completely unnoticed. May and Sturgeon have risen above this social protection, and are subject to the same rules of engagement as men are. i.e that if we have feelings, tough.

These women are grown-ups doing important jobs. If you think the Mail's light-hearted front page is an insult to them, you're an idiot. Of course Sarah Vine who wrote the thing, knows exactly the response it would get, howls of idiot outrage from the usual suspects on Twitter, and from Sturgeon herself. This allows the paper to swat the complaints aside with contempt. This signals to their readership that the Mail is on their side against the bien-pensant left with their idiotic & totalitarian outrage about human trivialities. May by rising above it, does the same. The Mail is one of the Best-selling papers in the UK, and one of the world's most visited "news" (ish) websites. Who won that exchange?

The po-mo left, obsessed with identity politics, used to being able to bully dissenting opinion down STILL hasn't got the new rules of the game. Someone's pointed out the Emperor's naked, but he's still acting like he's in charge and hasn't noticed the mood's changed. Yet.



Completely unrelated, but thank you to the Anonymous commenter who wrote this. It cheered me up.

On Class, Culture and the New Politics

By Jackart ([email protected])

The two tribes of politics, broadly the Tory and Labour parties divided over the 20th Century principally on the matter of economics. Simplifying: Tories preferred market solutions to state planning, and preferred lower taxes and less generous state spending.
The Labour party, which when it abandoned clause IV, surrendered on the economic question, not coincidentally a few years after the Berlin wall came down.
As a result, the great battles since then have been essentially cultural. Gay rights, racial integration etc. The confusion stems from there being no consensus within the Tory or Labour tribes on these issues. Plenty of Tories are happily socially liberal, many of the Labour tribe are socially conservative, especially when you look at voters rather than representatives.
Which brings us to the tribal division of Britain: class. The middle class: liberal, internationalist, universalists; vs a working class: authoritarian, insular and particular world view. The former is comfortable with diversity and immigration. The latter isn't. The former's kids live a long way from home, and move for work, the latters kids live in the same town and expect the work to come to them. The former don't speak to their neighbours, the latter care what their neighbours do and think. These labels are correlated roughly with, but independent of, economic status. It's possible to be middle class, in a local-authority home living on benefits, and working class, earning seven figures and living in a manor house. (Though it's likely these people's kids will change tribes)
There are elements of these cultures in all major parties in the UK, but the rest of us rarely communicate with people from the other tribe. The people you have round for dinner will most probably be from your tribe. Half the country holds its knife like a pen, yet none have sat round my table. When the two tribes meet, it's awkward. Those difficult bottom-sniffing conversations seeking common ground are easy to conclude when two members of the same tribe meet, and difficult when you meet the other half.
There have always been working class Tories, because much of the working class is as comfortable with the certainties of heirarchy as a shire Tory, and doesn't much care for this freedom and opportunity nonsense, preferring a better boss instead. And it's interesting to watch the Tories dangle the protectionism and insularity the working class has long demanded. Middle class labour fabians and the working class methodists have always sat uncomfortably together. Brexit has shattered that coalition, the labour party has been handed to the idiot socialists and will die, unless somehow moderates can oust corbyn before 2020.
Which brings us to the Tory coalition. The high-Tory have promised the old certainties back to the white working class. Meanwhile, middle-class liberals who make up most of the parliamentary party are distinctly uncomfortable with much of what is being done in Brexit's name, but will stick with the Tories, because they offer the promise of power, and however dreadful Brexit is, Jeremy Corbyn is worse. A new coalition is being forged between the Tory squirearchy, and the Working class based on nationalism, social conservatism and heirarchy, directly taking Labour's core vote. This is why UKIP, a working class movement that thinks it *is* the conservative party, apes the style of a country gent. The working class have always got on well with the Gentry, sharing sociailly conservative values. Both despise the middle class.
Brexit split the country down a line more on class values, split the country and handed it to the socially authoritarian party. Whether this is the new politics, with the Tories moving from being the middle-class party to the working class party, as the Republicans did after the war in the USA, or whether the middle-class will wrest back control over both parties in time waits to be seen.
I suspect unless May softens her tone, and thows some bones to the liberals, her coalition will only survive until there's a credible opposition. A more appropriate division of politics would be a ConservaKIP'ish alliance of WWC and high-tory squires, vs LibLabCon middle-class liberals. Therea May seems to be actively seeking it.
Over the Channel, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen exemplify this split. The candidates of the parties of left, Socialists; and right, RPR are likely to be eliminated in the first round. Macron is likely to win comfortably. His movement 'En Marche!' was only formed a year ago. There's a lesson for British liberals there.

Tories have profoundly damaged the UK. You Should Join the Tories.

By Jackart ([email protected])

2016 happened because decent people don't join political parties, leaving the business of Government to socially inadequate, physically repellent gits with an axe to grind*. In normal circumstances, this makes politics easier for genuinely impressive people to progress through the flotsam of monomaniacs. To be a Grown-up in the Tory Party 1997-2010 was to be able to consider an issue beyond the EU. For Labour it's all about not dreaming of Strike Action by "the workers". Thus the Liberal Centre consolidated a hold on the country, but became complacent to the poison seeping into parties even as the Smug centrist consensus made everyone fat and rich.
There has been a steady, and persistent hollowing out of the political parties. Labour used to be allied to a Trades Union movement that delivered services - health insurance, education and so forth to its members. The Trades Unions of Pre-War Britain where an overwhelming force for good. Atlee's welfare state nationalised all the good the Trades Unions used to do, and so corrupted both the principle of welfare (now far, far from Beveridge's original vision of low, universal payments like Child benefit, topped up with contributory elements) and the Trades unions which became a mere tub-thumper for more state spending. This left the Labour party with the sole purpose of defending a welfare settlement that is not under threat, and a Trades Union movement whose purpose had been nationalised so simply became resistant to all and any reform which might make the system as is function better; unions a mere vested interest of public-sector workers. This isn't a place where people capable of holding more than one idea at a time feel comfortable, and so the Labour party was colonised by people who think not shaving is a political act.
This malodorous and poorly groomed cancer has destroyed the Labour party. It's over, there's no point being in Labour unless you're a Identity politics obsessed Corbynite who laments the end of the Soviet Union. 
Labour, 2010-Present
The Tories at least had the sense to try to vomit the most toxic of their nutters into a bucket marked UKIP, a bucket the dog is unfortunately returning to. The Conservative party my Grandfather joined (from CPGB, as it happens, Labour even back then were cliquey dick-heads) used to be a forum for the upper middle class (and anyone who aspired to join them) to meet, mate and do business. But the horrible young Tories of the '80s, and the Euro-nutters of the '90s meant that by 1997, the Tories were only really suitable for people who were prepared to discuss "Europe" endlessly in ever-more foaming tones, persuading themselves that the EU is a historic enemy like Napoleon, the Kaisar, Hitler or the USSR. To their credit, the Tory Leadership has long known what to do. All David Cameron ever asked of his party was to "stop banging on about Europe". They couldn't stop picking at the scab, and the result is a catastrophe that has already crashed the Pound, weakened the UK (perhaps fatally) and may yet cause a political crisis in Europe and embolden Putin to start rebuilding the USSR.
Tories, 1997-2010
The more say over policy and leadership given to the membership, the more the membership has dwindled (unless, like Labour, the membership criteria are designed to invite entryism for the purposes of choosing a leader - by people who've been quietly loyal to the Bennite project for decades). Giving members a say in who leads the party is absurd. Who the prime minister is, should be a matter for MPs, and MPs alone. It is they who must give the Prime Minister a majority and internal party democracy risks, well, exactly what has happened to Labour. 
However, that Rubicon has been crossed. Party members now expect a vote on the Leader. The question is what to do about this, and the answer is to choose to be a member of a party at all times, hold your nose if necessary. Do NOT identify with the party, but consider which is best placed to advance your objectives. At the moment, the foul bigots, monomaniacs and morons of UKIP are being re-absorbed from a position where they can do little harm beyond foaming at the mouth and masturbating to Daily Express editorials, to one where they can choose the next prime minister, and Mrs May isn't a healthy specimen. The ex-'KIPpers chance may come to choose their PM sooner than expected.
I'm often asked "How come you're still a Tory?"  
Were the Liberal Democrats stronger, I'd be considering them, but I don't trust them on electoral reform (about which they're as silly as Tories are about Europe). But as the Lib-Dems are so far from power, I don't see the tactical benefit of leaving the Tories in a huff, and I broadly agree with the Tories on everything except Brexit. What I'm worried about is the 'KIPpers who're returning to the fold. Unless you want a foul, divisive and ignorant Brexit headbanger to replace May in 2023 or so (Gove for example), Join the Tories, because thanks to Labour's meltdown, Tories and Tories alone will choose the next PM. All not joining a party does is strengthen those (*we) weirdos who still do. Labour moderates, disgusted by Corbyn should cross the floor to the Tories or Liberal democrats, instead of flouncing off to the V&A and opening the way for UKIPish Brexit-o-twats to fight and win a by-elections under Tory colours. Were Tristram hunt now a Tory, not only we could soften this brexit idiocy but also signal just how broad a church the Tories are. 40% of Tory members voted Remain. The tribe that needs to understand the value of a bit of entryism is the liberal centre, who need to abandon any loyalty to their Parties and go to where the power is. The Liberal Centre is complacent because they have for so long occupied the ground sought by all parties, they've not really had to compromise. 
At the moment the business of Government is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a Tory-only affair. That need not look like Nigel Farage, but it will, if Remainers abandon the Tories entirely.

The End of A 'Belle Époque'. 1991-2016.

By Jackart ([email protected])

The interlocking webs of policy which 'politics' seeks to knit are complicated. Whole books can be written on how two individual policies interact. PhDs in Economics are awarded for small snapshots of the whole cloth. Most people don't have the time to keep abreast of developments or read sufficient history to understand why some policies are bad. Thus, people use heuristics - rules of thumb - to make decisions  about that which they aren't expert. "Is this person trustworthy" is a key issue, and we tend to overweight the opinion of those near us. "He is my brother, and I say he's ok" says a friend, you are more likely to believe a mutual friend, than the opinion of a stranger on the same issue.

In the evolutionary past, such a question was a matter of life and death. People only really had to trust those with whom they shared a close genetic relationship. Since the development of agriculture, we've been steadily widening that circle of trust. The wider you spread that circle of trust, the richer your society will be. Even before it had a name, Free market economics allowed people to become blacksmiths, knowing others have water, food, shelter and so forth covered in return. More specialisation, greater productivity, means greater wealth.

Eventually, this requires trust in people we've not met. Towns' food supplies require that farmers unknown and distant supply the basics of existence. Nowadays, It's unlikely the west could quickly supply all available plenty currently manufactured in China. Nor could China supply quickly the complex components and tools shipped from Japan, Europe and USA. Both China, and "the west" are richer from the exchange. And yet, we still don't trust "globalisation".

Most persistent fallacies in political economics are the result of simple policies that appeal to some base heuristics, but which when applied to the larger and wider society, fail catastrophically. Thus egalitarianism in one form or another pops up every 3 generations or so and succeeds in making everyone equal, but some more equal than others, and even more, dead. Then nationalism comes along, and says it's all [another, arbitrarily defined group of humans with slightly different modes of speech] fault, leading to more waste and piles of corpses. And even when the results aren't catastrophic, we seek out the views of those who agree with us on say, Nationalism to inform our opinion on, say, whether or not people are responsible for climate change.

Which political tribes stumble into being right or wrong on any given issue appears arbitrary, because no-one's asking for the evidence before they decide on the policy. Instead of asking "what's right", we're asking what's popular (amongst the coalition of tribes that voted for me) right now. That an opponent comes out with an identical policy, for different reasons is reason enough to oppose something, forgetting completely prior support for it. After all, whatever [another political tribe] thinks must be wrong, right.

Thus
The Labour party opposes ID cards. The Labour party has always opposed ID cards. The Tory party is for the Free market and was never in favour of the Corn Laws. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Perhaps if we could think for ourselves rather than just accepting tribal dogma, we'd get better governance. But none of us have the time. So "Democracy" is merely a means to give temporary permission to one coalition of tribes to push through dogmas over many issues, until either the population notices, or the coalition of tribes breaks up, and the electorate takes a punt on the other tribe's prejudices for a bit, and then gets on with whatever they were doing before.

Society ultimately advances by eliminating prejudices it's acceptable to hold thus widening the circle of trust, and increasing riches. By falling back on ancient heuristics to answer the wrong question ("who's fault?" is the wrong question) 2016 democracy has delivered the worst political outcomes on a broad front, as a result of which, we are poorer, and more likely to start fighting as a result of the collapse in political trust we have seen over this year. The post Cold-War 'Belle Époque', which saw half of humanity, 3 billion people, lifted out of poverty, is over.

Idiots cheer.

Boston Dynamics and The Late Sir Terry Pratchett

By Jackart ([email protected])

Everyone knows how driverless cars will work: they will be like ordinary cars, except you read a book rather than acting as pilot. And so, people's understanding of what a technology can do is clouded by what the old technology it replaces does. Which means people without imagination, Head of IBM Thomas Watson, for example, say things like
"There may be a world market for maybe five computers"
and get it wrong. In 1943, computers were used for cryptography, and that's it. (At least he knew what a "computer" was, which few did back then). Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But it's probably worth noting here that the famous World Wide What? front page of The Sun, was in fact rather a good a spoof, by The Sun.


Boston Dynamics makes robots.


via GIPHY

Who needs Robots? Well, like computers or the internet or driverless cars, the technology is coming. And it will change people's behaviour in many, unpredictable ways. For example, mobile phones were conceived as portable analogues for the phone on your desk or in your hall. SMS text messaging was added as an afterthought, but became THE dominant means of communication. Calling someone is now rude, often you text first to see if a call would be convenient. Who (apart from mums) leaves voicemail messages any more? Few predicted that change in our behaviour. The smartphone is now ubiquitous, and is more about accessing the internet than calling friends, but wasn't imagined before the internet, Except by Douglas Adams (and John Brunner of whom I'd not heard until I discussed the issue on Twitter). Driverless cars will be as close to the car, as the car is to a buggy and four. And robots, when they become ubiquitous, will be unlike anything we've considered.

I look at Boston Dynamics Robots, the big dog is conceived as a load carrying mule for soldiers on rough terrain, and I think of The Luggage, Rincewind's inscrutable companion on the discworld. I suspect everyone will one day have a robot the size of a dog to carry daily necessaries, following them round. You could send your luggage to someone else, by smartphone app to pick something up. Your luggage could take your shopping home and collect it from the store for you. Large luggages could be sent on ahead with bags. Small luggages could replace handbags and briefcases. The labour and time saving would be vast, spawning whole new areas of employment, servicing and modifying your faithful electronic companion and providing for the opportunities they create to effectively be in two places at once. Freed from the ownership of motor vehicles by the fact we'll be taking taxis everywhere, our Robot luggage will perhaps become the next status symbol around which society is built, replacing the car.

Like cars, I suspect the battery technology will be the limiting step, and like cars, I suspect the fuel cell will be the answer. Small fuel cells will one day power your smart phone too.

But think about the opportunities for people from smart phone. There are tens of thousands of app designers round the world now, a job that had barely been considered as recently as 2007, when the first iPhone was released, and that is similar to how the jobs which will be taken by the robots, will be replaced. That is why people who fear of a "post-jobs" future were wrong in 1816 and are still wrong 200 years later. The world's only limitless resource is human ingenuity.

Anway. I for one welcome our new robot overlords, and this guy should totally be locked up.


via GIPHY

Fidel Castro is Dead. (Some of) his Legacy will Live on

By Jackart ([email protected])

Let's be clear, Castro was a murderous bastard who impoverished his country, and whose views on homosexuality and on the importance of brevity in speeches were nothing short of horrifying. It's true, Cubans do have access to better healthcare than many countries of equivalent GDP per capita, and if I had to choose a Communist hell-hole to live in, it'd probably be Castro's Cuba. But the Cuban healthcare system is not the fantasy of western dewey-eyed left-wingers, and Cubans often are excluded from what excellence there is, as it's one of the few means the country has of generating hard currency earnings. Rich foreigners get the best doctors, and more are exported to other successful "progressive" regimes like Venezuela.

"But he was an anti-imperialist". So why were cuban troops in Africa in support of the USSR, which was by any measure or definition an Empire? Anti-Imperialsim is just the justification leftists give for knee-jerk anti-Americanism. And the flood of people risking death to reach the USA should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of America's and Cuba's system.

Contrasting the attitudes of the USA to Castro, to their attitude to equally murderous bastards like Pinochet misses the point. The US embargo on Cuba is one of the legacies of the Cold war, kept bubbling by the politics of Florida, home to so many Cuban-Americans. There is no Doubt that the US blocade has impoverished Cubans, and that with the fall in the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR, such an embargo was no longer justified. However politics are what they are. Fidel Castro's death provides an opportunity for further thawing in relations.

The USA supported "our son of a bitch" all over the world, turning a blind-eye to horrific human rights abuses, though often (albeit less often than we should) working behind the scenes to try and mitigate the worst behaviour. Thatcher is rarely credited with preventing the execution of Nelson Mandela, but she consistently urged Mandela's release, even as she argued against sanctions and branding the ANC "Terrorists". This is one reason why the cold-war piles of dead of Nasty fascist bastards are usually lower than those of nasty communist bastards. I also think the point made by CS Lewis holds. Right wing dictators rarely pretend to be GOOD, making their appeal more on effectiveness.
"The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
And one by one, following the collapse of Communism, the support from the USA and its allies for these disgusting regimes was withdrawn. Apartheid South Africa, much of South and Central America saw right authoritarian regimes fall. Genuine democracies were often created in the rubble. The USA didn't support dictators because the USA is an imperialist power, but because it IS a power, and with that comes responsibility. They judged at the time the alternative, Communism, was worse, and represented a genuine existential threat to the USA and its core allies.

This is why for example the USA and its allies mostly support the Regime in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is repellent, but given the probable alternatives wouldn't be nice, liberal, democratic-minded progressives, they'd be salafist nutcases who'd have access to billions of dollars of oil revenues and the legitimacy of being the Guardians of the Two Mosques. The House of Saud is all that stands between the West and a plausible salafist caliphate with sufficient legitimacy and money to one day threaten the west. We'd rather do business with nice, stable democracies under the rule of law. But seeing as we cannot do to every country on earth what we did to Germany in the late 40s and 50s, we make the best of the options given.

Castro appeared to be a true beleiver in Socialism, so he refused to recognise his philosophy had failed, and his island limped on, a socialist throwback in the age of globalisation. The current poverty of Cuba is partly America's doing, but mostly due to decisions made by Castro himself, policies which set him and the Cuban people at odds with the regional hegemon, in persuit of an evil idealogy. Fidel Castro was on the wrong side of history, and his people suffered because of his stubborness. Now he's dead, it's Cubans turn to make the most of the positive legacy - Cubans are the best-educated poor people on earth, and the mighty economy of the USA is right on their doorstep. There is going to be a lot of money to be made there, and this time, for the first time, Cubans will share in it.

Hail, Trump! God-Emperor of the Alt.Right

By Jackart ([email protected])

And Let's be honest, he's ghastly and despite brown-nosing by Nigel Farage, he's no friend of the UK's, because he doesn't value anything the UK brings to the table. Rumour has it, he asked Farage to intervene in an offshore windfarm decision affecting his Scottish interests, which suggests he doesn't understand the concept of 'conflicts of interests' when in elected office.

This further suggests Trump will attempt to use the office of President to enrich himself, rather than doing so after leaving office, as is accepted. All this is rather feudal; the office holder as gold-giver, distributing patronage and receiving tribute. He's an entertainer and showman, which hails to an even older tradition of politics: that of Imperial Rome, where emperors used state coffers to enrich themselves and their clients,while keeping the mob quiet with bread and circuses.

Donald J. Trump is psychologically unsuited to office in a mature democracy. He is thin-skinned, autocratic, insecure, ignorant, and completely without any understanding of the levers of power he now wields. Much like (later caricatures of?) Nero, Commodus or Caligula.


Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the adolescent losers of Alt.Right see Trump as a God-Emperor (no, really they do. Video surfaced today of people making Roman Salutes, saying "Hail Trump", and distribute Memes based on Games Workshop's futuristic figure-based tabletop wargame, Warhammer 40,000 where humanity is defended from Chaos by a psychic God Emperor). If Trump is Imperator, then the Secret Service is a Praetorian Guard. And how did the Praetorian serve Commodus, to pick one example?

Trump might, were he capable of reading a book, muse on the fact he's surrounded by armed men sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and defend it from Enemies DOMESTIC and foreign. Thankfully, the USA is a mature democracy. Where once armed men acted as kingmaker, courts now do. For the simple reason Ignorance is no defence, and the fact that Trump's loathing of 'Washington' is fully reciprocated, I find it unlikely that Trump will survive his term alive and unimpeached. Unfortunately I cannot find odds on a Trump impeachment before 2020. Perhaps it's a racing certainty.

Sexism and the Loss Aversion Heuristic

By Jackart ([email protected])

Men are physically stronger than women, respond quicker to physical training, and suffer less injury under physical stress. Men are more robust, suffer less morbidity than women in almost all phases of life. Obviously these things exist in a normal distribution, but men's distributions are typically platykurtic - there are more men in the tails of the distribution than women. Thus, even where the means are near identical, such as intelligence, you'd expect to see more male geniuses, and imbeciles among men than women, who're more concentrated around the mean. Feel like taking issue with any of these statements? Then you might as well be a creationist.

Men are more accepting of risk, and will prioritise pay over flexibility. So you'd expect men to make up the majority of soldiers and miners and race car drivers. It also means you'd expect to see more men make up corporate boards, everything being equal. More men are more drawn to the cut and thrust of business, and are more likely to prioritise work over other commitments. Women value stability and flexibility more highly than men. This means women, on average don't choose to make the effort necessary to climb the greasy pole. Women (sensibly, in my view as I have done the same) are more likely to think other things more important.

Thus, the brute fanny-counting of media analysis of sexism and the "gender pay gap" ignores female choices and attributes, thus denigrating both women and men for the choices they make. Women for their part see their contribution to society in caring professions such as medicine (more doctors are now women, as well as nurses) and teaching denigrated because these women aren't seeking to be at the top of BAE systems, or whatever. Likewise men, when they see women are going to hired so they form 50% of the workforce of a mining company feel devalued for their skills and attributes because the only way BHP Billiton could make 50% of its employees women is by discriminating against the larger number of men who will apply to drive a bloody great truck miles from nowhere in a bloody great hole in the ground in the middle of a bloody great desert surrounded by nothingness, and live in towns whose bars serve tinnies through wire grilles, and where kicking each others' heads in represents the primary saturday night entertainment.

But worse, by forcing women into traditionally working class men's jobs, you further alienate and disorientate a bit of society which already feels put upon, neglected, belittled and scorned. This is why they voted for Brexit in the UK, and in the USA, will vote for Trump. Working class men are lashing out, because their raison d'etre, to provide for their offspring, has been nationalised, and no other opportunity for them has been provided and they as individuals have too often been thrown on the scrap heap, derided as workshy deadbeats. The working class used to have pride in providing for their family and often doing dangerous, dirty jobs to do so. Opportunity isn't "equal access to university", for which working class men is a middle-class rite of passage, but decent jobs that will allow them to support their family, but which is blocked by the petty credentialism that values paper qualifications over experience and dumb diligence over inspiration.

That loss of pride is agonising. And people mourn loss far more than they celebrate gain. The aim of this post-modern obsession with equality of outcome therefore might as well be to make men despise themselves and women feel inadequate for the inclinations their biology and society has fitted them. Men become 2nd rate women, and women become 2nd rate men. By all means allow everyone to seek their own path, but to imagine men and women will sort 50/50 everywhere is totalitarian in its foolishness and cruelty.

The EU Deserves what's coming.

By Jackart ([email protected])

One of the main reasons to oppose brexit is that the UK doesn't benefit from being "out" should the EU collapse. A disorderly break-up of the EU would damage the UK, independently of our status in or out. (any comment saying "it's better to bail early" will be deleted as a failure of comprehension read the post, please, it's that argument I'm dealing with). Indeed preventing a disorderly collapse should be the UK's priority. And when we were in, a disorderly collapse was unlikely. The UK kept the lid on Brussels insanity. Not only has Brexit given free rein to some of the very worst people in the UK, it also removes a brake on the insane Federasts  of Brussels.

Far from Remainers "talking the UK down", Brexiters have been doing so for decades - talking down the UK's influence in the EU to the extent we're actually thinking of walking out of the UK's proudest creation: the single market. It is now a shibboleth that the UK has "no influence in the EU", whereas the UK drove the single market, kept half the continent out of the poisonous grip of the Euro and pioneered enlargement to the east following the end of the cold war. The UK drove Russian sanctions to this day. The UK was one of the Big three and on many issues, more influential than France. The UK largely writes EU financial regulation for example (as is meet and proper).

But the EU over-reached. Voters, especially in the UK resented the EU's usurpation of the trappings of National sovereignty far more than the reality of "the laws made in Brussels" which was really just code for an underlying vision they (and I) don't like. And what is true of the UK is true of France and the Netherlands and everywhere else. Remainers like to mock the Be.Leaver's joy over the anticipated return of the blue passport. I however have long resented the words "European Union" above (ABOVE!) the crown on the front. It's like the bureaucrats are trying to rub the British People's nose in it. It's a symbol of something burning in the EU's core, which the average voter neither desires, nor trusts.

The ridiculous and unnecessary potemkin parliament with its farcical shuttle from Brussels to Strasbourg focusses the voters minds on the EU, without giving them any outlet to do anything about it. The EU looms much larger than it ought as a result of the charade of Euro elections. Democracy without a demos is pointless - what commonality do Socialist members from spain and the UK have?:

The EU was flawed, Thanks to the UK some of its worst excesses - the Euro for example were limited to countries that really wanted it. And now without a powerful country holding the reins and steering away from "ever closer union" the Brake that was put on at Maastrict and beyond will be removed. The EU will integrate itself to death, there will be chaos when the voters of Europe can take the tin-eared arrogance of Brussels no more. There was no need for all those millions of lives to be attenuated during that process. While leave voters will say "I told you so", a better analogy would be jumping out of a moving car suffering broken bones and extensive skin abrasions, but saying "it would have been worse" because the lunatic who grabbed the wheel when you bailed steered it directly into a tree.

Spending 1% of GDP to write trade and some business law could much more easily be done intragovernmentally, with a humble and small central bureaucracy. There is no need for "Presidents" and parliaments which lead to grandiose visions; visions which slam painfully, like the Euro, into the unyielding wall of reality. Unobtrusively aligning business regulation and deepening economic integration is necessary. A parliament, a flag, an anthem and a head of "state" are not. The EU has paid the price for this arrogant and pompous grandiosity.

Both the EU and UK are and will be significantly worse off as a result of Brexit. And now, just as Brexit is a bad idea that will be tested, so too will European integration. Both Brussels panjandrums and the brexiters fed off each others' fantasies. Both needed to believe integration was happening, even if it wasn't. Ultimately, the costs will become apparent to the UK pretty rapidly. The EU will suffer much more slowly. It's almost like co-operation is a non-zero-sum game, or something.

On Populism: What do we do? vs Who do we blame?

By Jackart ([email protected])

If you ask the wrong question, the answers will not work.

"Populism" is, like pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Wikipedia defines it thus
"a political ideology that holds that virtuous citizens are mistreated by a small circle of elites, who can be overthrown if the people recognize the danger and work together. Populism depicts elites as trampling on the rights, values, and voice of the legitimate people"
It's clear Farage's lauding of a victory for "mediocre ordinary, decent scum people" he was speaking in this vein. But I don't think this captures the essence of populism. Mainstream politicians "Managerialists" in the Populists' vernacular ask "how do we solve this problem". You can be a capitalist, or a socialist, believing in different answers, but at least you agree on the question. Populists aren't asking this question, but instead "who do we blame?". The answer given by Momentum and UKIP may differ: Bosses vs Immigrants, Capitalists vs the EU but the question is the same.

There's also the populists view that MPs rather than being representatives paid to exercise judgement, are delegates paid to vote on someone else's behalf. In this, Paul Mason and Douglas Carswell are in agreement. But this is simply mob rule and behind it is a fear that legislators may Go Native, if they're allowed thanks to the corrosive influence of "[insert boogeyman]" in their long-running campaign to keep the "real" people down. But perhaps legislators know best; they have exposure and access to what passes for facts in this field, and are paid to study it, maybe there's something in the idea of representative democracy after all.

It's always easier to imagine you're the victim of an elite conspiracy, subject to "discrimination" on the grounds of class or race, or at risk from being "flooded" by immigrants, than it is to answer the question "what to I do?". Whether you're running your own life, or that of a nation, what to do is hard, and one of the stresses of modern life is the extent to which people are free, which means they have to make choices. No longer can you just follow dad into the Factory. Because many suffer from crippling loss aversion, these choices are scary, which is why stupid people yearn to be led. They look for leaders who offer answers which fit their prior prejudices and make sense of a complicated world. Corbyn and Farage have made careers finding and stroking a tribe's prejudices, soothing their people's indignation against a world they feel is against them.

The reason populism is so toxic to political discourse is that in apportioning blame, they create a slipway for the launching of vastly damaging ideas. "It's all the EU's fault" leads to Brexit*. "It's all the Fat Cats' fault" and you have a country that looks like Venezuela. If you start blaming immigrants or minorities, well we saw where that went in the last century. It's also why the Brexiteers ran from office at the moment of victory. Delivery isn't in the populists' skillset. The permanent masturbatory pleasures of opposition are what they crave, always losing so they can keep telling their people the game's rigged against them. If they win, then all those inadequate people will have to start making choices and they feel completely lost again. Much easier to simmer in resentment against an immovable object which allows you to blame it, rather than yourself for your failings.

*This isn't a place for a debate on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. Any comments on that subject will be deleted.

One of the reasons for the Populist's success (please note the "one of" at the start of this sentence) is Russia on the internet. The internet allows people to form much denser ideological defences against reality. And into the internet, there is a wounded superpower, pouring poison, poison which people use as ammunition in the defence of their ideological redoubt. Putin's toxic little propaganda swamps like RT and Sputnik are manufacturing and promoting stories which appeal to the populist mindset. Notice how Racists will share RT stories about Immigrants raping white women while members of the Green party will share horror stories about fracking from the same source. Some of these stories will be true. But many are manufactured, exaggerated and twisted specifically to support any party or idea that causes problems to the democratic governments of the west. This is not a random process. It is directed and controlled by the intelligence agency which has captured Russia. Maskirovka raised to a governing principle.

One of the reasons for the UK's relative success as a nation is that up until now, we have been mostly immune from the allure of the populist demagogue. We simply don't have it in us to put too much belief in one man, whether as protagonist or antagonist. Let's hope Brexit is a flash in the pan, and not part of a widespread descent of mature democracies into populist demagoguery. We'll know in 12 months whether democracy can survive or whether, thanks to Trump, Farage and Le Pen, we're going back to pogroms and a summer "campaigning season".

Please let's stop listening to Putin' useful idiots pedalling fallacious simplicity, and start listening to fallible and all-too-human experts again. At least the experts are asking the right question.

Wholesale rate update (2020-07-10)

By Simwood

We will be updating our Managed A-Z Termination rates and codes on July 10th 2020. As usual, these changes are colour coded in our full rate files available through the portal as below. Following our work to make calls 97% cheaper, which significantly affected our Startup service level, we have been looking further at Virtual […]

Collapsing Manchester

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead In 2009, we opened a PoP in Manchester to provide essential and unique diversity from London. It is crazy to think that was 11 years ago!! In that time it has become 3 sites and a metro-area dark-fibre ring which has itself under-pinned some pretty venerable names. In the years to 2020, […]

Finding alternate trust paths the easy way; Introducing Chain Builder

By Scott Helme

I ended up talking a lot about certificates recently and covered quite a few topics in a good amount of detail. To demonstrate something I've touched on a few times in my recent posts I built a little tool called Chain Build so you can see how to quickly and

A Decade of Microsoft Most Valuable Professional

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Duo Security: Going Passwordless - The Future of Authentication. Get the guide on how you can build toward a fully passwordless future.

Last week, I received my 10th Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award. Being recognised as an MVP was a pivotal moment in my career and to continue receiving the award all these years later is an honour. Particularly given recent events that have made it exceptionally difficult to sustain community contributions

Universal Rating Scale

There are plenty of finer gradations. I got 'critically endangered/extinct in the wild' on my exam, although the curve bumped it all the way up to 'venti.'

New covid rules (England, July 4th)

By [email protected] (RevK)

There are new rules - at almost no notice without any parliamentary oversight, as is now usual!

They have gone for a complete rewrite this time.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020

Basically, gatherings up to 30 people now and more places allowed to be open subject to risk assessments and measures. All a bit wooly if you ask me.

But also special rules for Leicester
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020

The way they have defined the area is rather odd, if you ask me. It seems they have picked something, perhaps a distance, or drawn a line, or some such, and then used a tool to make a list of postcodes and addresses. It would seem to me to have been simpler to just cover whole postcode areas rather than have 24 pages listing postcodes and addresses.

The addresses include gems like this on page 34!

PUBLIC TELEPHONE 33M FROM 109 WELFORD ROAD 9M FROM UNNAMED ROAD ROUNDABOUT AT THE JUNCTION OF GUTHLAXTON WAY AND WELFORD ROAD WIGSTON LE18 3TE


I found it on street view.


So no gatherings of two or more people in that phone box!
That, to me, suggests this was really not thought about in any detail.

Weekly Update 198

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Duo Security: Going Passwordless - The Future of Authentication. Get the guide on how you can build toward a fully passwordless future.

Well, no surprises here: this week's update is dominated by Thursday's blog post about sustaining performance under extreme stress. The feedback on that post has been absolutely phenomenal; tweets, comments, DMs, emails, phone calls, all enormously supportive. Many of them also shared people's own personal struggles, ones which I think

Welcome Jared Smith

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead We’re delighted to welcome industry heavy-hitter Jared Smith to the Simwood team. He’ll be SVP of Product, joining our Senior Management Team on Monday July 6th. Jared is an open-source veteran, formerly lead of the Fedora Project for Red Hat and currently the VP of Open Source at Sangoma, which sponsors and […]

Space Basketball

My shooting will improve over the short term, but over the long term the universe will take more shots.

Mexico Dial-code and rate changes

By Simwood

By Simon Woodhead Last July, we advised of changes to Mexico dialling, whereby the 1 was being dropped between the country code (52) and mobile numbers. This change had a 30 day window which was significantly extended but will now end on August 3rd 2020, i.e. next month. In theory, Mexico mobiles can be dialled […]

Sustaining Performance Under Extreme Stress

By Troy Hunt

Presently sponsored by: Duo Security: Going Passwordless - The Future of Authentication. Get the guide on how you can build toward a fully passwordless future.

I started writing this blog post alone in a hotel room in Budapest last September. It was at the absolute zenith of stress; a time when I had never been under as much pressure as I was right at that moment. Project Svalbard (the sale of HIBP which ultimately turned

Oily House Index

We're underwater on our mortgage thanks to the low price of water.

Save £700/month with a Mythic Beasts VPS and OpenStreetMap

By pete

We’re supporters of Freegle, a charity that recycles unwanted things by passing them on to new owners. As the COVID-19 lockdown is eased, many people have de-cluttered and have things available to be passed on to new owners. Similarly, a number of people have been struggling financially and will benefit from donations. Traffic on Freegle […]

Five Word Jargon

My other (much harder) hobby is trying to engineer situations where I have an excuse to use more than one of them in short succession.

lockdown shopping

By danny

Yesterday I made my first visit to Blackwells bookshop, one of the shops that has reopened with the easing of lockdown. I bought Marcia Williams' Tales From Shakespeare for Helen and (an impromptu find) Ross MacPhee's End of the Megafauna. Before that, I think I had visited just four shops in the four months or […]

E-Paper Weather Display

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

The RFID Checklist

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

The Long Drive

Over a thousand miles over some of the loneliest areas of the USA. What's not to love?

Travel Equipment: 2019 Edition

Taking a look at some of the key travelling equipment I've grown to like in the last year of travel.

ASGI 3.0

Upgrading the ASGI spec to simplify it, while keeping backwards compatibility.

A Django Async Roadmap

Taking a look at what it would take to make Django async-native, what it enables, and if we should even do it at all.

Python & Async Simplified

Event loops, coroutines and awaits, oh my!

Channels 2.0

Finally, the promised land is here and Channels 2.0 is released. But how much has changed? And why?

The Sheets Of San Francisco

Finally, my 3D city maps return, and this time they're mapping the streets and hills of San Francisco.

Channels 2: October

What's happening in the world of Channels? How many times have I rewritten the API now?