1. Intro - dreaming of millennia

    I can remember fairly clearly the first time I seriously tried to calculate the future . I was maybe ten years old, lying in bed and re-reading an issue of 2000 AD, and for the first time, I was puzzling over the idea that that title, intentionally and inherently futuristic, represented a real calendar date that would one day arrive, and somehow, calamitously render the name obsolete. I tried to figure out how old I would have to be by the time we reached this epoch, but as I recall, it was beyond my reckoning. It didn’t seem that likely I would live long enough for vengeful androids and routine interstellar travel, and yet even from 1977, the year 2000 seemed countable. And here I am, now, in 2020, A number that looks so impossibly, so implausibly of, from, and for the future my brain isnt really comfortable holding on to it. But first we must put away 2019. Here's my 2019 roundup, in something like 20 paragraphs.

    I rejoined social media:

    2018 I had a year off Twitter, feeling a bit exhausted by it all. It didn't really seem to make much difference. Now the Internet seemed to have invaded, occupied and consumed everything. Surveillance capitalism now so entrenched it was to be a regular part of mainstream think piece commentary. Network effects being what they are, It’s deluded and futile to make even token efforts to keep beyond these tracking networks, the reach is now such that secondary and tertiary associations will just link around you and pull you in anyway. So I bounced back onto Twitter, signed up for Instagram, and even rejoined Facebook-and rectivated Foursquare. I’m not particularly excited by any of them. At best, they represent a low friction way of posting light life updates, and it's nice to get reciprocal insights back about people I know, but don't see regularly. (And now I don't really see anyone regularly, so that’s a thing) It's fine, but we can do better. Ironically 2019 feels like the year everyone started to gently pull back from all this online sharing stuff. Ho hum.

    Gene Wolfe died

    Boo. Probably my favourite author, genre or otherwise. Age 87, which is by any account a splendid innings. A couple of personal resonances last year. I finally finished reading the “solar cycle”, which contains some of my most loved books. I started when I was fifteen, and I was just starting into the final volume when he died. And then the Folio Society issued a fairly exquisite luxury edition of his masterpiece, "The Book of the New Sun", signed, numbered and limited to 750 pieces, and which I somehow managed to discover and purchase before they sold out. I felt pretty decadent, and guilty about spending hundreds of pounds on a fancy copy of a book I already owned, but within weeks people were listing them on eBay for thousands, so maybe it was a wise investment? Anyway, Wolfe is amazing, and-if you havent read him, why not try? Start with the Fifth Head of Cerberus, I would.

    A Haircut:


    by the end of the year, I was bored of the hair, so it's all off again. I suspect the next time it grows back in may well be all white.

    An ASD diagnosis:

    No not me. We've basically known about it for a long time ourselves, and painfully been pursuing a diagnosis through the systems for literally years, but late in the year we obtained a professional diagnosis of ASD for number one child. Shock, relief, and lots to process for everybody, but a powerful sense of progress in a way that feels constructive and enabling, not reductive and labelling.

    Weddings x2:

    Here's a surprise ageing effect. Having got past "peer group wedding” season, and assuming weddings were all done I seem to have hit "generation below hits wedding season" season, and now weddings are a thing again. That's cool, I like weddings. This summer was two, both fancy AF. One in a cathedral, one in Cyprus. The latter was an Orthodox church service, which was quite unlike anything else I have previously experienced. Weddings are a pretty big deal in Cyprus.



    Throughout 2019 we held a family membership to English Heritage, and as a result spent a few weekends wading around ancient English castles. There are quite a few spectacular examples In this part of the county, closest to the mainland (we can see France very with the naked eye most days). Dover is particularly astonishing. Pretty middle-aged, I guess. National Trust next?


    I've been getting gently back into using actual cameras for photography. Maybe inspired by instagram? Possibly just because my predilection for "alternative" smartphone operating systems lumbers me with dreadful quality camera software? Regardless, I have been having fun shooting things with real glass - on my much loved power shot GX9-2, which sadly caught some water damage on a recent trip to Malta and is still drying out four months later - but this gave me an excuse to upgrade it to a slightly larger slightly more posh Canon M100, which is more cumbersome and not quite as fun to use, but easily compensates for that in image quality and lower light performance. I don't even muck about with much manual selection, mostly plain automatic shooting, but I really enjoy something about the deliberation, and the ceremony, and having to actively curate, triage and extract the images off the camera in order to use them for anything. Mindfulness? Contrarianism? Whatever, Fun.

    Still in Folkestone:

    Yup. After quitting London to work remotely, we sold the big house, and shifted even further south to Folkestone, where I remain, the most mundane kind of digital nomad imaginable. I like it a lot. I was born by the sea, I grew up by, in and on the sea, and now, once again, I walk, with god, alongside the actual sea, most days. I've even gone in it to swim. Folkestone is my kind of town really - collapsing Victorian splendour, a harbour, vague touches of bohemia, light gentrification, that isn't trying too hard, and you can clearly see France most days, without effort, and that is something I will never not find mind-bendingly magical.. It does rain a bit too much, mind you.

    Dental surgery:

    2019 Was the year I finally gave up pretending I could largely ignore the pitifully untended state of my teeth. Actually, it was the teeth that made the decision for themselves. I have a pretty strong dental phobia (Maltese dentistry in the 1970's was not great), but by the middle of the year something was painfully not right in an area that had been slightly bothersome for years, and pain was escalating alarmingly. I still couldn't manage the appointment making myself, so thanks to my lovely wife, I ended up enrolled with a local private practice, and with a fairly gruesome diagnosis : -an impacted wisdom tooth had grown down into my jaw and accessed, destroying two molars, and threatening jaw damage. Surgical intervention was required, and due to my panic-stricken inability to co-operate, it was to be done under a still fairly Terrifyingly named process of "conscious sedation". That meant a referral, three months of waiting for a slot at a specialist clinic, and an almost constant diet of pain-killers in the interim (as well as two very uncomfortable, and strictly speaking forbidden, international flights) but eventually I got through it. The conscious sedative was one of the most surprising experiences I have ever had. Strapped into a chair in a small theatre, and attached to a drip, I remember a brief chat about consent, and then the next thing I remember I was in the passenger seat of the car on the way home, a mouth full of wadding, having entirely lost a couple of hours and a couple of teeth! I am left wondering if I was out for the operation, or if I have simply retained no memory of it, and what precisely is the dittoed between those two anyway? I find the very existence of this kind of instant blackout drugs and astonishing and implausible marvel. If It were a plot device in a fiction, I'd have scoffed at how completely unrealistic it was. So now I have a dentist, a treatment plan, no headaches, and two Fewer teeth. Lots more work needed, but it feels achievable. And I’ve experienced time-travel.

    Common Lisp@work:

    Love this one. My day job is still working at platform.sh, where we have a home grown container runtime that powers our "cloud" project. Cloud engineering is my team, and literally my first act in the job was to port one of my existing lisp web apps to the runtime as an experiment. Well, it turns out our VP of engineering is also a lisper, and we have ended up extending these experiments to building a couple of internal tools in SBCL, which are of course hosted on the platform. These proved useful enough to keep, and at that point, it started to make sense to productionize the lisp containers, so we can have a first class and maintainable build, rather than shoehorn a lisp install into a capable enough container. At which point there was no reason to not make this publicly available for customer projects, which we announced with a blog post, which was well recieved on the social platforms. I only had a tiny part in all of the above processes, but it is still one of the coolest things I have ever been involved with at work and remains a woeful reminder that I have a pretty cool job and work with a great team.

    A-Rank in Splatoon!:

    I adore Splatoon, Nintendo’s gloriously styled paint-em-up, online FPS. I’ve been playing it quite regularly since launch on the Wii U, and through into it's subsequent re-packaging as Splatoon 2 on the Switch. I love everything about the game, from the mechanics, which are well-considered and balanced, all the way through to the world-building and the whole skate-tween-punk cartoon fish aesthetic. I mostly play ranked, and although I wouldn't claim to be particularly good, 2019 was the year I finally sneaked A rank after years of trying. And not just once, but in a couple of categories (zones, tower, and rainmaker) Yes I realize this is because fewer people are still playing. What of it. I have a badge.


    I watch a lot of TV. and I'm not ashamed of it. I know we're living through peak TV, but for me 2019 was a less than stellar year. Plenty of things, I probably should like, I just didn't. I dont have much appetite for "The Apprentice" anymore, although it can still deliver hilariously awful situations from its contrived casting. “Fleabag” annoyed me almost as much as it charmed. Star Trek regularly sent me to sleep (love the art direction still). The concluding series or Mr Robot was great, I've thoroughly enjoyed that whole run, but it was time to sign off. "Homecoming" wasn't quite so great, but it worked. I think my favorite show from last year would have to be discovering “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on Netflix (awful title. do try to get past the title) - Super-smart, subversive , unpredictable, bingeable, engaging, and great music. I was already a huge Adam Schlesinger fan, and now I guess I'm a Rachel Bloom fan too. So many earworms. Bring back old Greg!


    I suck at reading, these days I know it's a common modern Iffliction. I have been trying to make an effort. I finished the Gene Wolfe Solar books, as I mentioned earlier, but otherwise 2019 was not so great. According to my Goodreads account (doesn't capture everything but it's fairly accurate) , I only managed nineteen books, some of which I can't even remember reading. Aside from Wolfe, I think my high points would have to be "The Peripheral" and "Ingenious Pain" . 2020 we have a sequel to "The Peripheral" due, as well as the final installment of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell books and I'm going to do better. Im trying to do ten minutes entirely focused reading a day this year. Going well so far (2 books finished already)


    I'm still struggling here as well, although we do a weekly family movie night, I still rarely get to the cinema. I did make it to see “Rise of Skywalker" and this I did manage to see every Star Wars movie on initial cinema release. I'm afraid the most enthusiasm I can find about that is that I’m glad it's done. Similarly, on the other franchise I finally got up to date with Marvel by reaching “Avengers: Endgame" on streaming, and I'm mostly happy to be able to say “OK, this can stop”. The kids got into Harry Potter, having reached that sort of age, and so I also belatedly got to the end of those, and my goodness they're bad. Things, I actively liked- “Lady Bird”, Netflix's "Annihilation" was superb, and my favourite was probably "Sword of Trust". And on Xmas Eve I decided to watch an ancient favourite, "Lair of the White Worm" which I enjoyed revisiting so much, I may make it into a Xmas tradition from now on. Ken Russell(I) is my man.

    A New kitchen:

    Our kitchen seemed to be in relatively good shape when we bought the house, but it had a conservatory attached to where the back door ought to be, which although it made for a lovely sense of light and space was punishingly cold in the winter. So we decided to get a glazed back door fitted between. And then we found rotting wallpaper trapped behind the kitchen units over damp plaster, and decided to get a nicer fitted kitchen while addressing that. And then we discovered a water leak running down the back wall. And then a cascade of horrors, including a lintel-free window, a removed chimney being held up by what looked like a nail through an old chair leg, three layers of wall cladding, and perhaps most excitingly, several rotten joists not doing the greatest job of keeping the upstairs upstairs. Cue months of no kitchen, stripping everything back to brick, jacking up the roof, replacing beams, dry lining everything. and then potting in a kitchen back on top. And now we have a back door. And quite a nice kitchen. And far less money.

    Malta & Cyprus:

    Two Foreign holidays? I already mentioned my friend's magical destination wedding earlier, but by way of attending we got to spend almost a Week, without children, (thanks, Grandma!) in a pretty swanky hotel in Limassol. Cyprus is hot in the summer, and I say that as someone quite used to heat. So I ended up doing something I have never done before, and just hung out poolside, reading, and swimming and being waited on. And that was just great. And Despo came by to visit, which was a lovely coincidence. Then, a couple of months later we all went to hang out in another resort hotel, but this time in Qawra , in a Family oriented holiday complex. That's the first time we've done significant overseas travel as a family, also the first time I've been back in Malta in almost a decade. I enjoyed the opportunity to show the girls a little of the sense of what Malta is like, and I stole away for a poignant solo visit back to my old home town, my last opportunity to do it as a full EU citizen.

    Hal-Balzan 2019


    I am feeling quite out of love with computers and software, and especially the flipping internet and the incessant noise bubble of the tech industry. At the moment, I'm afraid to say, outside of work (work is cool, as mentioned already) I’m not really indulging in very much computering. A brief spurt of activity on a secret, not yet abandoned, but not yet revisited project, at the start of the year, and then nothing really - a few isolated sessions of hacking on the software for this site which only really focused on infra things and build chains - I guess I have a useable flow for generating 32 bit ARM debs from Common Lisp applications, but that's more bureaucracy and housekeeping than hacking, and even I don’t find it that enthralling. And most of my infrastructure is still a mess after moving. Maybe 2020 I'll find a way to relight the spark. Maybe I'm done ? Seems unlikely, but I’m not inspired.

    I love my new shaver:

    On a more positive technology note, I did fall severely in love with a piece of consumer electronics. I finally lost patience with my Philips rotary head shaver, after years of dissatisfaction and overspending on replacement foils and cutting heads that never really helped much. Not really knowing where to turn to for advice, I tried the wire cutter, something I’m a little wary of trusting and I picked up a Braun series 7 during Black Friday month at amazon.co.uk, and no exaggeration, It has COMPLETELY CHANGED MY LIFE. I am competely astonished at the ease of use, enthralled by the consistency of the result, and enraptured by the sense of considered Germanic engineering that exudes from every aspect. I love this thing and it makes me happy while I am using it.

    No music:

    I am barely listening to anything. Some of it is because I've barely strung my music library infrastructure back together after relocating. Some of it’s because I'm too old and boring and middle aged. Some of it's because I still don't have a subscription to a streaming service, and some of it's just because I think I have just lost the habit of it. I have been playing guitar much more in the past 12 months than in previous years, and l am flirting with writing and recording a little bit more again. 2019 though, is a solid musical wash-out.

    iOS WTF:

    I know! I'm back on (an) iPhone after YEARS away. Actually, I jumped via an iPad first. I’ve been enjoying this fanciful idea of multiple, task-specific devices, and I wondered about splitting the non-coding, computer things away from my laptop and I thought I'd give an iPad mini a try-out as a general-purpose 'personal' computing device; Apps, email, browsing, etc. It was a mixed success- I use it for some things way more than I expected I would, it is basically the only way I do email now, I have used it to write the entirety of this blog post. (by hand, with a pencil!), and a bit less for others (I had a quixotic notion that I'd finally get everything organised into digital calendaring but I still remain a barely calendared human) Overall though, I likes it. It’s very reliable, I’d say it’s a slightly more useful thing than it appears to be on the surface, and a slightly less capable thing than it appears in the advertisements. I'm quite happily onboarded now though, to the point that I feel comfortable treating it as the primary device / silo for certain categories of things. So much so that when I hit a patch of phone trouble with my Sony Xperia 2 running /e/ (This year I have bounced between Lineage, /e/ and SailfishOS in my continuing adventures in alternative phone systems) I decided to dust off an almost dead iPhone 6S and give it a try. And, it's fine. Fine enough that I refurbished the battery myself, which cost fifteen pounds, and was surprisingly straightforward and kept going. Several months on, I'm still using it. Although not all that much. I think one of the side effects of moving more of my "app stuff" over to the iPad is that I'm not really using my phone for anything much these days beyond light social networking, messaging and podcasts. Oh yeah , and Apple Pay everywhere! I love Apple Pay almost as much as I love my electric Shaver. It is quite peaceful not having to care about whether my phone is working or not when I need to take a call.

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  2. Manga-Camera is a free camera filter iOS app. The intent is to render live photos in the style of a manga action frame. You pick a background effect and then snap. There doesn't seem to be a way to apply the filter to library photos, you have to shoot live, which is the way I prefer these gee-gaws to work. It takes a little practice, but I found the results can be entertaining, and occasionally even a little convincing.

    manga camera

    Jack was made for manga, obviously.

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  3. If it's the last weekend in May, then it must be time for me to go to Primavera Sound ! Barcelona's premier eclectic music festival, or as I like to call it, only semi-jokingly, my annual trip to Spain to watch Shellac. It seems like I've been going forever now, but when I tally up, I think this year is only my sixth visit. Enough for the memories to blur together somewhat; I'm starting to find navigating around the site confusing; each year there is a gradual migration of stage locations, and a subtle shuffling of stage names.


    You can buy early-bird VIP passes shortly after they confirm the dates for the festival, which is far in advance of any lineup announcement. These sell for around the same price as the eventual full festival pass, but confer various privileges to reward the faithful. This year, I was finally smart and planned ahead. and I got us a pair back in July. Ah, hubris. Subsequently we fell pregnant, and had a baby  just four weeks before the festival, making a mockery of my forward planning, and invalidating our usual routine of attending as part of an extended family holiday. I ended up scaling my visit right back down to a quick in-and-out just across the festival days, and after a couple of potential takers for my second ticket fell through, I ended up attending on my own.


    It turns out Barcelona is still pretty much my favourite place on earth. In a break from the usual routine, I was staying in a hotel out close to the festival site, at the far end of the Avinguda Diagonal , rather than an apartment somewhere more central. The facilities nearby are pretty excellent, if a little characterless, with the large modern Mall development el Diagonal Mar providing pretty much every consumer amenity you might need, including free Wi-Fi. It's still easy to reach central Barcelona on transit during the sociable hours of day, and it solves the problems associated with picking a time to leave the Festival, and locating a means of transport home, once you hit the small hours of the morning on the weekdays. Door to door from the festival to my hotel was a leisurely ten minute walk.


    Once again I had a really good time. I had a few reservations heading in. Last year was a bit crowded, and occasionally hard work. Being on my own was is a bit weird. I've done stints working away from home, but they aren't like this. Luckily I did find some people to talk to at Festival; I enjoyed the chance to spend some time with Matt and Anne , and I also bumped into a few friendly groups by chance; Mike and the Canadian islanders, and those nice chaps from Leicester from the Jeff Mangum queue. Hello to any of you who find your way to reading this!

    The upside of attending on my own, it meant I was able to watch lots of bands. I overdid things  a little on the Thusday, watching upwards of twenty acts in a session stretching from 4pm through to 4am. I subsequently found myself flagging a little through the middle of the session on the Friday, and finally found a happy balance for Saturday. Weather was excellent, probably the hottest Primavera I've attended. I even managed a mild sunburning on the elbows on Thursday, and I rarely sunburn. The VIP passes turned out to be a good bet - subsidised bars, segregated rest and food areas, and easy access to the indoor concert hall for the posh gigs.


    Shellac completely owned it, once again. Year after year, always different, always the same. My other musical highlights were Kleenex Girl Wonder, Spiritualized pulling "Electric Mainline" out of the back catalogue in the middle of a perfect festival setlist, the pro-celebrity karaoke festival of the Big Star's 3rd tribute ( Mike Mills! Norman Blake! Ira and Georgia! Alexis from Hot Chip! ), and I need to pass out a special mention for the marathon Cure set. A bedrock foundation act from my indie disco days, they played a 30-odd song set of old fanservice and hit singles, and I nodded along from the VIP lounge, surprised by how much of it I recognised, given that I own precisely one Cure LP ( Disintegration , naturally ), and one single ( Inbetween Days, I'm predictable like that)

    Here's everything I saw, replete with aribitrary ratings :

    Baxter Dury ★★   Afghan Whigs ★★   Wilco ★★   Franz Ferdinand ★★   Death Cab For Cutie ★   The xx ★★   Spiritualized ★★   La Estrella De David ★★   Pegasvs ★★   Iceage ★   Grimes ★★   Danny Brown ★   A$AP Rocky ★★   Peter Wolf Crier ★★   Field Music ★★★   Kleenex Girl Wonder ★★★   Dominant Legs ★★   Bombino ★★   Lovely Bad Things ★★   Other Lives ★★   The Cure ★★   Afrocubism ★★   I break horses ★★   Dirty Beaches ★   Sleigh Bells ★★★   Nick Garrie (plays "The Nightmare of J.B. Stanistlas") ★★   Jeff Mangum ★★   Big Star's Third ★★★   Picore ★   Orthodox ★★   Sharon Van Etten ★   Justice (live) ★★★   Beach House ★★   Neon Indian ★   Demdike Stare ★★★   Shellac ★★★   The Pop Group ★   Atlas Sound ★★   Michael Gira ★★   Milagres ★★   Jenn Grant ★★   Cadence Weapon ★★

     There weren't too many low-lights. Occasional bar queues. The subsidy at the VIP bars meant that the occasional drink bought outside of those enclosures had a costly sting. A couple of occasions of queuing; to collect the passes, and to get a ticket for, and then gain access to the limited entry Jeff Mangum show. Aggravating cancellations , Björk, Death Grips, Sleep and Melvins - acts I wanted to see, and in the case of Sleep, probably my ideal of the biggest single draw of the festival. Luckily I'm a veteran, pragmatic festival-goer, I don't place too much weight on being able to see individual acts. If I hadn't already seen Sleep at ATP vs Fans:2, I might perhaps think differently.

    Leading up to the festival I had been wondering if it was going to be my last year at Primavera. Logistically it's growing more awkward to arrange, I've been a serial attendee for years, and sooner or later the charm should wear off. The inaugural edition of the Portugese sister festival had been catching my eye, And then everything worked it's usual magic. I plan to head back to Barcelona for 2013 if I can. Maybe I'll see you there.

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  4. I was clearing out a box in the office, and a strip of passport-sized photos fell out, with one missing. Here is one of the remaining shots from this strip.

    Olde. Well, young, I suppose.

    Apparently this is what I looked like, fifteen-plus years ago. I had no idea booth-photos were so indestructable. I think it's because the booth was pre-digital. I subsequently found a few other strips, in the same box which were taken a handful of years later, in a booth that used a digital process; they've blurred, bled, and run quite noticeably

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  5. Since moving to Rochester a couple of weeks ago, I'm enjoying the commute into the city on the high speed train . Every morning we wait a minute or two at the perplexingly named Stratford International for a Eurostar to overtake us. Stratford is a weird conglomeration of pylons and glass astride a raw concrete gash. I like the way it looks.


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  6. Merry Christmas one and all! We decided to get away from it all this year, and are therefore in New York city. It is tremendously Christmassy.

    Heading to Toronto tomorrow to visit with the Lyles, back to New York for New Year's Eve (where we've a choice between two pre-booked parties to make - option a: Times Square, formal-ish dinner and comedy, option b: Tribeca, trendy club with cool bands playing). Back in the U.K. the day after.

    Here are some of the photos I've taken, so far.

    NYC Christmas

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  7. I'm organizing my photos to make use of some free prints on offer from photobox. Hence I've uploaded a selection of older shots that I'm mulling through. There may be some repeats from earlier posts.
    Older photos

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