20 years

This blog – in the sense of this archive of material – turned 20 years old on the 20th of June this year. It started out on powered by Blogger in 2000, quite a lot of it was written on Livejournal, there was a brief period where parts of it were on some other self-hosted platform I don’t remember the name of, but for the most part, it’s been on a number of WordPress installs, across something like seven different servers now.

I’d put plenty of writing on-line by June 2000 – I hand-coded the HTML of my first website in 1996, and I’d perpetrated all sorts of juvenalia in the intervening 4 years for PopImage.com, Machinima.com and a bunch of other places, (and I’ve even been paid for some of it), but by June 2000, I owned this domain, and had hooked it up to Blogger, via the charmingly naive expedient of giving a third party tool FTP access to my server. The past really was another country, wasn’t it? At that time, it was a sub-page of my site, titled “Inkstains”, and it wasn’t until a 2002 “redesign” that it became the main page. (That’s in quotes because for much of the time prior to that point, the “main page” more or less said “Coming soon, in the meantime, check out my blog”.)

I wrote custom code over the years to ship posts from here to Livejournal, and from other sources to here, and ran other topic specific blogs that scraped each others feeds for posts and all sorts of other nonsense through the 00’s and early teens, and then spent about a week in 2014 bringing it all back here, where it has lived ever since.

I don’t see that changing. I’m sure I’ll move servers and writing platforms in the future, but only when they can keep this archive intact. I really like controlling my own little slice of the internet. It’s a disused backwater, sure, but it’s been my disused backwater for quite a long time.

I was in my last week of working for This Is Local London when I started this blog. I moved from there to a company called iPoints, where I spent a couple of years learning to code badly (no reflection on my colleagues of the time) and from there to a number of different employers, where I’ve learned to code semi-adequately. This blog has outlasted most of my commercial projects. Some companies have gone bust, others been acquired, but I don’t think any company I worked for prior to 2018 still exists in quite the same form, and I would not be confident that any code I wrote is live anywhere except at the job I finsihed at this week, or on websites I operate.

The internet is kind of an impermanent place, and my two-decade career has left very few lasting marks anywhere on the internet, except for this archive.

I hope I’ll be able to look back on it in the same way when it turns 30.

Jambalaya

I’m not pretending this is authentic. But it’s pretty much my favourite thing to cook. I love it, and I love cooking it for people. If there’s any one dish I could eat every day for the rest of time, there’s a strong chance this is it. It’s a delicious one pot meal.

To make this jambalya you will need roughly:

  • 220g chicken breast or thigh
  • About the same amount of pre-cooked chorizo.
  • Red and green peppers – bell, or long and sweet. Yellow also acceptable. Really, you need one green, and y’know, other.
  • 1 onion.
  • 2-3 tsp Barts Creole Spice Mix
  • A bottle of Innis and Gunn Blood Red Sky
  • A tin of tomatoes.
  • 3-400ml of chicken stock
  • 2-300g of mixed basmatic and wild rice.
  • 2 bay leaves and a spring of fresh rosemary
  • Other stuff you think will be nice.
  • 3 cloves of garlic. Ideally, smoked garlic, if you can get it.

As you can tell, this is super specific, and you have to be totally precise with it. I got the base recipe off a tin of the named spice mix, and have messed around with it for years. I’ve tried making my own spice blend, but honestly, I’ve never got it quite as good as when I’ve made it with that mix.

Peel the skin off the cooked chorizo (because while it’s edible, it toughens when cooked), dice it small, and throw it into a large saucepan/stockpot/dutch oven/whatever you make one-pot meals in, on a low-medium heat. Dice the chicken into thumb size bits. Once the chorizo has given up a good amount of fat, turn the heat up to medium, throw the chicken in there for just long enough to colour it on all sides. Remove chicken and chorizo from the pot, leaving the chorizo oil behind.

Dice the onion and peppers and mince the garlic. Throw them in the pot on medium to fry in the fat that’s in there. After about 5-10 mins, when they’re softened and fragrant, add the meat back in. Add the 2-3 teaspoons of the spice mix, stir it all about to coat everything, and let it all cook a bit longer to toast the spices a little. Then add the rice, and give it another stir about, and let the rice toast just a bit. Then add the tinned tomatoes, about 2/3rds of the beer, and the chicken stock, the bay leaves and a spring of rosemary. Partially cover, and simmer it all for like, 45 mins, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. Finish the last mouthful or two of the beer as you clean up while waiting for it to be ready.

Eat a double helping, if you’re me, and then live on the leftovers for 2-3 days, because this makes enough for 4, and I live with one other person, who is a vegetarian.

You can fuck about with this in all sorts of ways. I often add liquid smoke, or a chopped chilli or two, or add some fresh chopped up tomatoes as well as the tinned. I’ve swapped the beer for other beer, or red wine, or just more stock before, although I name that beer because all the best versions of this I’ve made have used it. I want to experiment with adding either ancho or chipolte chillis to it, as well, just haven’t got around to it, and I want to try finishing it with lime juice/zest before serving. Sometimes I get a bit heavy on the liquid and it’s almost like a stew, and the liquid can be soaked up with bread afterward sometimes not. It’s never quite the same twice, but it’s always lovely.

Skipped One

That’s how normal-and-boring all this has become – I didn’t register a week without an update passing (and ironically, this one is a day late, but only because I was a bit busy last night – it was drafted in time, though). It’s a bit more than just “normal and boring”, though – it’s the constant sense of all days being the same that is starting to grind me down.

I was chatting to my folks the other day, and we were saying there’s nothing to talk about, because we’re not doing anything. There’s whatever’s on the news, and there’s whatever’s happening with our supermarket shopping, and there’s anything nice we might have cooked. And that’s more or less it.

But what is on the news this week is that America is on fire again. The police murdered another black man, and riots have ensued.

I feel stupid saying things like #blacklivesmatter, (even though, obviously, they absolutely do) because I am a middle-class middle-aged (cis het etc etc) white man from the UK. And for all the privilige that carries, there is next to nothing I can do to help defeat the institutional racism in the US. There’s almost nothing I can do defeat in the UK, especially when I can’t leave the house.

This post is very nearly the limit of what I can do – to own that I have a pile of privilege, and commit to using that when I can, in the small ways I can, to ensure that the world is just a little less white-centric because of it. And I know that’s not enough, and so I remain part of the problem, and feel like I should not use the hashtag.

I lieu of anything more useful I’ve made the dontations, I’ve signed the petitions, and that’s that, and things will keep getting worse when Trump wins again in November. (I don’t have any optimism left, it turns out. He’ll either win, or he’ll be allowed to get away with declaring the election invalid in some way.)

But I write this in part because I feel like silence on this topic is absolute complicity. So I tick the box that says “I’m not complicit”, even though, in a great many ways I am.

Yeah, yet another lukewarm take the world didn’t need. Marking time.

Everything Old Is New Again

Which is to say, I got a new laptop that is virtually indistinguishable from my old laptop, it arrived today, and I am writing this blogpost on it. There is literally no difference in the experience, in that I am looking at the same external monitor, and using the same bluetooth keyboard. But the laptop itself has double the RAM, and a decent processor bump, and is running very snappily.

Actually the biggest observable difference is that I’m using the new machine as an excuse to switch browsers and have installed Firefox, replacing Opera and Chrome. We’ll see how long it lasts, although I have to say I like it so far.

In lockdown related news: Ocado have switched how they’re managing delivery slot allocation, and we haven’t had a slot available in over a fortnight now. We’ve had one delivery from a New Covent Garden Market grocers who are now doing veg boxes, and a Sainsburys order is due on Saturday. This is trivial nonsense, but it’s sort of reflective of life these days. There’s this huge, scary, hard-to-comprehend-it’s-so-massive thing going on Out There, but day to day, nothing important at all happens, so major life events consist of the shopping.

Well, I say that – I saw my first humans-who-aren’t-Miranda in months at the weekend, now that we’re allowed to meet up one-on-one with people not in our household outdoors. It was, of course, lovely. It helps that the weather was pretty damn good, too.

(Although we’ve already tipped into the “it’s too hot” part of the year, and it’s basically disgustingly hot and sticky in the flat.)

What scares me about all this – aside from job worries, worries about the broader economy, and the prospect of someone near and dear to me catching this – is general fear that this will not end, in the same sort of way that Terrorism never went away after 9/11. The idea that lockdown will be eased, but never actually go away. That life we remain more or less reduced to online gaming and phone calls, and the biggest excitment to be had will be which supermarket is delivery the groceries this week.

I mean, there are other things happening that provide little blips of dopamine. We’re watching the so-far-superb final season of She-Ra one episode at at time, which I think means we’ll watch the final episode this time next week. I expect to be a wreck. But more broadly, there’s something a little bit The Machine Stops about our current existence, and it’s the not really knowing when or how we get to whatever will be “normal” in the future, that is becoming increasingly hard. And the longer this goes on, the weirder “normal” becomes likely to be.

You’d never know that I felt like I was in a better mood than this time last week, would you?

Feeling It Again

The last few days have been rough. I can’t concentrate on anything, I can’t seem to sustain a good mood, and all my fears and worries are magnified. It doesn’t help that quite a few of them are (or at least seem to me to be) in fact, pretty reasonable. This isn’t a good time to work for a company that relies heavily on on airport travel, for example. (Not exclusively, and we can get by for now, but somewhere in the background, I’m very aware both that there is a ticking clock tied to things picking up again, and that the timeline for “things picking up” is likely to be quite long.)

My major achievement this week has been defeating the Tyrant Nook’s vile debt bondage, leaving me free to concentrate on the aesthetics of my island. And speculate on the Stalk Market, and with half a million bells sunk in turnips, you can bet I’m tracking it closely. (This is a paragraph that will only make sense to Animal Crossing players, and I’ll enjoy finding out if I still understand it when I read it back in a few year’s time.)

The government “relaxed” the lockdown at the weekend. The instruction “Stay at Home” has been replaced with “Stay Alert” in a way that is confusing, stupid, meaningless, and a moderately transparent attempt to start creating a narrative that shifts the responsibility for anyone that dies during this pandemic back onto a public who were not “Alert” enough, as opposed to a government who did not manage the crisis well enough. Everyone who can is still to stay at home. Except for people who have to work (this now includes people with non-essential jobs that cannot be done from home). Who must do so safely. Exactly what that means is not clearly defined, and it’s all a mess.

We’re both still working from home, because we’re fortunate. But I’m definitely feeling a toll from the ongoing situation now – not so much the having to stay at home, but more in the fear-for-what-the-future-brings way. And sadly, I do not know what to do to shift that, other than move into the future, one day at a time.

Here’s hoping for a happier update next week.

Late Again

[I wrote this last Thursday, and failed to post it. Not that it was really worth posting, but hey, completeness.]

Busy work day yesterday, that’s all. Spirits remain good, honestly, there’s a bit of me that is quite enjoying all the time with Miranda, and the excuse not to leave the house. We’re certainly not finding ourselves bored at any point, although we are missing our friends.

Very little new or interesting to report, other than the purchase of a new computer, which is due to arrive in a couple of weeks time. It turns out that staying at home 24/7 is a great way to save money.

Because a friend of ours really wanted Miranda to Star Wars I-III (which she’s never seen) we’ve embarked on a re-watch, syncing up hitting play at the same time in two separate households. The Phantom Menace was slightly better than I remembered, but Attack of the Clones is still absolutely terrible. Stay tuned for more brilliant insights like this.

[Monday edit: we have Revenge of the Sith coming up tonight, in fact. So this week’s post will doubtless by full of searing film criticism, too.]

Shackled By Debt

I’m late on writing this week’s post up. This is largely the fault of what happened at the weekend. All told, we’re still doing pretty well, and in fact, a really nice thing happened that has more or less caused me to forget we can’t leave the house because I haven’t wanted to. You see, a number of my friends had a whip-round for my birthday, and, as a belated gift, got me a Nintendo Switch.

I am, needless to say, very touched.

The reason for this (aside from my friends being very lovely), and for the subject of this post, takes a little explaining. On the very day this lockdown began in the UK, a game called Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released for the switch. It could not have been more tailor-made for this if it had tried, as it’s basically a nice, happy little game about designing a small virtual island full of happy little animals. And while it can be played solo, it is vastly improved by the fact that friends can visit one another’s islands, and generally cooperate.

Miranda has been playing it from day one, while hanging out on Discord with friends, visiting one another’s islands, and generally having a disgustingly wholesome time. Their discord chatter has been full of “I can make that for you” and “Oh, I love your outfit” and so on. A complete 180 on the normal gamer abuse one might link with Call of Duty.

For the first couple of weeks, I sort of dismissed it, in all honestly. I was very happy my friends were having fun, but I was playing City of Heroes and I was coding. But one morning about three weeks back, I thought I’d have a go myself, just to see what it was like. Only to discover that the way the game is set up, only one player per switch can be the “owner” of the island, and there is only one island per switch. So if I wanted to play, I would be a second class citizen on Miranda’s island. I posted on Facebook, lamenting this. And unknown to me, my friends sprang into action.

The Switch arrived on Sunday, and honestly, every spare waking moment since then has been spent playing, as a first class citizen on my own island.

There’s a whole other post I might get around to, on the smart game mechanics, and how the designers engineered two interlocking economies designed to drive activities with high variation and a constant sense of just- one-more-thing-before-I-switch-off, but I’ll close off by explaining that a a moderately key component of the game is the constant taking of loans to improve your living situation. The game gives you very little choice in the manner, resulting in a constant sense of debt bondage to a cheery raccoon called Tom Nook, better know in this house as “the tyrant Nook”, as in “What’re you doing tonight?” “Oh, just slaving away for the tyrant Nook”.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, and why this post is late.

Modern Morals

It’s the middle of the week. Hurrah. Still getting by. Made jambalaya, because that’s the rule: when I get a new thing I can make jambalaya in, I must immediately make jambalaya in it. Might write my recipe up here, just because. It’s hardly inventive or exciting, and it’s certainly not vegan, but I do love to cook and eat it.

This has definitely become the new normal at this point, and it’s due to go on for a few weeks yet. We all miss our friends and family. I desperately wish I could be there for my more isolated friends, but we’re all trapped where we are.

Some of my local friends have suggested ways we could see one another in appropriately socially distanced ways, and I would love to take them up on it, but I honestly feel a moral imperative not to. I’m not usually one to be “the rules are the rules, and we can’t bend them” but in this case, it’s both easy and tempting to bend them just a bit, but to get all Sam Vimes about it, if you’ll bend the rules for a good reason (like mutual support of one another’s sanity), you’ll bend them for a bad one. (We’re listing to Thud! in bed at night at the moment.)

And there’s an extent to which all that is so much over-thinking nonsense, but I keep coming back to the bare facts. There are many people out there, including my brother and several friends, who, for one reason or another, cannot maintain full social distancing – they’re NHS workers, they have vital jobs that cannot be done from home, they have responsibilities to care for others, whatever the reason, they are, to one extent or another risking getting a sickness that probably won’t kill them.

That probably is simultaneous tiny, and unacceptably, vastly, huge. So, if you come to it, is the actual risk of catching it at the moment, at least for most of the non-NHS ones. But part of keeping that risk down is literally everyone else staying home and not increasing their risk.

And I have the ability to do absolutely everything I can to maintain that distance. I have this pile of privilege, and it would be churlish of me to not use it to sit on my arse and do nothing, when that’s literally what’s being asked of me.

I know others aren’t as lucky, and I’m not judging anyone else who can’t, and if the reason for “can’t” is “I’m just going stir crazy and need to manage my mental health” that’s totally valid to me, but I’m (mostly) not. I’ve got my worries, and yes, I’ve been having stress dreams about them. But right now, I, personally, can 100% stay home and see no-one.

Because overall, while I do miss my friends, and am really looking forward to seeing some humans again, I’m actually quite enjoying myself. I’m coding, cooking, even doing a bit of writing, and playing games. I don’t want much more from life than that.

Like I say: I’m lucky. So in exchange for that good fortune, I’ve got to do the pathetically easy all I can.

That was a totally pointless load of waffle that no-one asked for or needed. My brain is clearly softening in isolation. But at least when I read this back in ten years time, I’ll remember the arguments I used to convince myself to stay indoors, on the days when all I really wanted was the physical presence of my friends.

That’s assuming society doesn’t collapse, of course. Stay tuned, we’ll all find out.

Month One

It’s been 30 days since I last went to the office. Close enough. Work is still getting done, although it won’t shock anyone to learn that a business in the travel industry might be seeing a slump in bookings right now.

My mood is better is was than this time last week. I’ve been spending my time programming, cooking, and playing City of Heroes. I got a tax rebate, and spent it on some shiny toys (a new monitor, and a some new Le Creuset). Easter came and went. Miranda made chocolate egg nests, and live streamed herself doing it, and it was frankly amazing.

It seems redundant to say I’m missing my friends and family but I am, my friends particularly. Not that I’m missing my family less, but since I live a plane flight away from all by one member of my family, this does not seem so odd with them, other than that I’m talking to them a bit more, because we’ve got the time.

I’m not the most tactile human in the world, but I am definitely missing the physical presence of my friends. Voices and faces on the other end of a computer screen are good enough, but not actually good.

In the news this week: Boris Johnson got out of hospital, but remains “recovering”. I would bet money he was a bit worse than has been reported. Overseas, as much as the UK government has fucked this up in a number of ways, nothing makes me quite so angry as Donald Trump does at the moment. He keeps on finding new lows and ways to make the situation worse.

I made a slight variation on Meera Sodha’s coriander chutney to have with dinner tonight (used peanut butter, red chillis, and swapped a tablespoon of lemon juice for lime, all just because those were what I had), and I am honestly wildly excited to eat tonight. It’s a superb condiment, and I can see it becoming an absolute staple in my house.

And on that note, I’m going to go and start making dinner.

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup

I swear, I cook things that aren’t soup. I’ve nearly got my vegan spag bol right, and I’ll write that up when I do. In the meantime, for this experiment, you will need:

  • About a kilo of sweet potato
  • About two tbs of chilli oil
  • Smoked paprika
  • One large onion
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • Two limes
  • Vegetable stock

Put your oven on to 180. Peel the sweet potato and dice it into chunks. I dunno how big, make it up yourself. You’re the one roasting them. Toss them in chilli oil and about a teaspoon of smoked paprika, and bung them in to roast. You want them to take, like 20 mins or so – you’re just trying to colour them, get the edges to caramelise a little. It’s not the end of the world if they’re not all the same level of done. If you don’t have chilli oil, use regular olive oil, and then add chilli flakes to the soup at the simmering stage.

Slice the onion and the garlic, and throw them in a stock pot with some olive oil, and fry them gently, so that they’re just colouring when the sweet potato is done.

Bung the sweet potato in the pot. Cover with stock. I used about a litre and a half, but the resulting soup was quite thin, so use an amount that’ll give you the thickness of the soup you want. You could use less, if you like thicker soup. Simmer for a bit. Zest a lime, and reserve the zest. Put the juice in the soup. Simmer more. Add the chilli flakes, if you’re using them.

Blend. (I think my total simmering time was about 20 mins, just to let the flavour get to know one another and make sure the biggest chunks of the sweet potato are good and soft. Honestly, I just simmered for slightly longer than it took me to make some home-made croutons too.)

Serve finished with some of the reserved lime zest, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice in each bowl.