What you get when you visit this site

Theoretically this is a cookie/GDPR/tracking disclaimer.

Except I ran it through Blacklight and found only three trackers, all of which are from posts with embedded YouTube videos in them.

(I could just remove the posts, but then I lose two talks, 10 hours of the Haunted Mansion, and marching cats. I mean, c’mon. The cats.)

So what runs this site?

It’s a WordPress install. I keep it updated when I remember.

I use GeneratePress as the theme. It’s a bit fancier than I need, but I haven’t found a bare bones basic theme yet that really gives me what I need, so this clean and neat free theme does me nicely.

I have three plugins I use:

  • WP Toolbelt – I only really use this for tiny things (like reducing the size of headers), but things keep being added to it, and I keep going “Hmm, that might be neat.” And it’s just nice.
  • Koko Analytics – A very very nice and basic analytics program, and I’ve turned cookies off on it so it isn’t tracking people that way either.
  • Wapuu Dashboard Pet – Because it’s cute. That’s it. It’s darn cute.

And…that’s it. No SEO. No Google Analytics. No social media connections.

I like all of that – heck, I’d be out of a job if I didn’t – but it’s just too much for such a rinky-dink site. Sometimes I think even WordPress might be too much, but then I remember what a pain it’d be to hand-code all this HTML and I go “Well…..I’ll make one exception…”

Besides, it’s nice to have something without bells and whistles, isn’t it?

The greatest cooking tool I own

A coffee mug sitting on top of the stove, with a picture of Gandalf the White and the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers logo on it.

Meet Gandalf the mug.

Single-handedly (because it’s a mug and you hold it in one hand, get it?) the greatest kitchen utensil I own.

Need to melt some butter? Gandalf.

Need to set aside some flour? Gandalf.

Need to strain some liquid from a slow-cooking stew? Gandalf.

Need to poach an egg in the microwave? Gandalf (with a takeaway container on top to stop the egg from getting all over the microwave).

Need some milk at one part of a recipe, then the rest later? Gandalf.

Need to trap a spider and take it outside? Well, no, we have a spider cup. But Gandalf would be there in a pinch.

Need a cup of tea? Okay, if I liked you, I’d use my Morris the Cat mugs, but, if, like, I had a lot of people over? Gandalf.

Need to make a double-boiler for melting chocolate? Gandalf will sit in the pot of boiling water happily.

And if Gandalf the Mug breaks, that’s fine! I have another one just in case!

Everyone needs a Gandalf in the kitchen. Find yours at any good charity, pound, or discount shop today!

Posts I’ve written recently that were pretty neat

At least, I think they were neat.

So part of my job as a Marketing Director is writing blog posts. And sometimes it’s a struggle, and sometimes it’s a breeze.

Sometimes I’m pretty darn proud of what I’ve written. So here are some I wrote in 2020 that pleased me.

Alt, title, and your images

Explaining the difference between the alt attribute and the title attribute and what you really need for your images was just a nice thing for me to write because I feel like it keeps on getting lost in all these new frameworks and fancy tricks and I love HTML so much that it’s just soothing to go back to basics.

Which web hosting is right for me?

This extended analogy about hotels, houses, and murder cabins in the woods has been so helpful so many times when I’m talking to people about web hosting. I’ve even used it for lightning talks at events. People can have a hard time visualising what that web hosting package will give them, and any time you can go “it’s a lot like this” is a great time.

Our Guide to Remote Working

When the Great Lockdown fell upon us all, a lot of people had to get used to working remotely. I didn’t, because I was already working for a company that loves remote working. So I took the things we do, got a lovely picture of my lunch, and wrote an article to help people.

Why You Need Your Own E-Commerce Site

Not only did this give me a chance to point out how easy it is to run your own site, it also gave me a chance to complain about how many small retailers I see working only on Facebook or Instagram. Oh my god, people, I want to buy things from you, stop making it so difficult!

(It’s fine, I source my Jolly Ranchers and Hot Tamales from other sites now.)

Make Your Site Awesome With A Print Stylesheet

This was more of a rage-post than anything. Someone linked to a JavaScript library that took web pages and made them more print-friendly (while taking up like over 1mb of space, of course), and I had a moment of pointing and shouting about print stylesheets and then decided to write it all up. It also meant I got to play with CSS and HTML again, which I missed.

Whoops

So…uh…how y’all doing?

Next week, I’m taking part in a Career Day at my high school. Sure, it’s been over 25 years since I graduated, but it’s fiiiiiine, I can totally talk to the kids.

That animated GIF of Steve Buscemi from 30 Rock pretending to be a young hip teenager and saying "How do you do, fellow kids?"
This hurts more and more every year

One of the things I want to tell them is that they need something on the side to show they’re interested in the web. Not a “side hustle” (god, I hate that phrase so much), not a side business, but something on the web that you’re interested in and update and show off to go “Look, see, I like things.” Something not on a social media platform, but something you own and make yourself.

And I realised that I was totally being a hypocrite and doing the “Do as I say, not as I do” thing. I haven’t touched this blog in over a year, if I post anything it’s random bits on Twitter and listing films on Letterboxd and constantly reblogging mid-century ads on Tumblr, and no, darn it, I am not that person, I am a person who is going to show them how awesome the Internet can be without you having to constantly be working.

So I’m going to have a manic blitz of updating this. More posts. More information. More ridiculousness. Because, darn it, the web is amazing, I like things, and I need to have a place where I can show off neat things.

The second-most magical place on earth

I am a gigantic Disney nerd. Well, okay, let me amend that.

I am a gigantic ridiculous Disneyland nerd.

You want to hear about the Jungle Cruise? Why Pirates of the Caribbean was better before Johnny Depp got involved? What used to be where Star Tours is? Or do you want to hear in great detail over and over about the Haunted Mansion?

Yeah, that’s me. I nerd hard for Disneyland. I have been ever since I was a little kid, because I grew up in the L.A. area, I was around when a California ID and 20 bucks could get you in all day.

Which is why, for our 19th wedding anniversary, we went to Disneyland Paris.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland Paris

And it was same but different. Of course it was, but it was in weird ways.

Actually staying in a hotel

So this was the first time I actually stayed in a Disney hotel, and we stayed at the Sequoia Lodge.

I knew it was based on the big forest lodges like The Stanley Hotel or Yosemite Valley Lodge, but, holy smokes, I was not ready for exactly how much the hallways reminded me of The Shining.

The hallway of the Sequoia Lodge hotel
Come play with us, Danny. Forever and ever.

We went for it because it was mid-range and fairly close to the parks. Then we went for the slightly fancier option, where we’d be in the hotel itself rather than one of the side buildings.

And let me tell you, if it’s only like a hundred quid more? Go for it. Special check-in, special breakfast place, specialness all around.

The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness

We also had Fastpasses for one ride per day for all four days we were there (even though we got there late on the first day and were leaving early on the last day). But having a Fastpass for that first day did mean we got to Big Thunder Mountain before the park closed.

Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster

When I was a little kid and my brother and I were finally tall enough to go on Big Thunder Mountain, Dad got us in the line and kept telling us it was “a little train that putts around”. That the bit we could see from the line was the only fast part, honest, it was just a slow train.

It was not a slow train. We were a little terrified.

But I’m still deeply fond of it.

So going on this version was absolutely fantastic. It’s very similar, but has some fantastic underground bits that really shine.

Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialise

We had “Magic Hour”, which meant we could get in the park at like 8:30, but we’re also tired old adults, so we never took advantage of it. But since we were going on a Monday and a Tuesday after school holidays, we weren’t exactly drowning in people either no matter what time we went in.

And that’s when I got to discover Phantom Manor.

Phantom Manor

My Disneyland nerdiness really focuses on the Haunted Mansion. When I’m at my most stressed out, I listen to that slow and low version of Grim Grinning Ghosts and I’m suddenly calmer.

And I knew that Phantom Manor was incredibly different from the original, that rather than just a motley crew of motley spooks, there was the story of the beautiful bride and the mysterious phantom. I also knew that the refurbishment that it had recently underwent brought back the Vincent Price narration that had been created originally for it, so, let’s just admit it, I was a bit hyped up.

The stretching hallway in the Phantom Manor

And it was wonderful. I’m not going to say it was perfect, just because it’s not the original, but it was still a wonderful, beautiful thing that I absolutely adored.

The bride at the omnimover boarding area in Phantom Manor

(I will complain, however, that the “ghosts” shaking the omnimover from time to time? Really messes with your photography. I wanted to take so many pictures and right when I tried, it shook.)

On board your Starspeeder 1000…

Aside from Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain, the other ride I wanted to go on was Star Tours.

X-Wing in front of Star Tours

And this isn’t because it’s different (well, okay, it’s in French), but just because I’ve always loved Star Tours.

When it first came out at Disneyland, there were two-hour lines. And my brother and I would ride the Peoplemover (which, by the way, still the best ride ever), and shout at the people down in the line, telling them how much it sucked, because we really really wanted to go on it, but we couldn’t wait two hours.

(It didn’t work. And eventually we did wait.)

And I like the new version a lot – the 3D bit kinda irks me, but to be honest, 3D anything kinda bothers me – but the multiple routes, the different bits, all of that is absolutely fantastic.

One of the weird things about our trip was that nobody was on Star Tours. Like, ever. Most of the times we went, it was a 5-minute queue, which meant that, really, you were walking through the queue right up to the ride itself, because it took you around five minutes to get up there.

I did get to see my two favourite bits, though. I’ve always loved the Mon Calamari traffic controllers.

Mon Calamari Traffic Controllers

And they have Captain Rex about to be shipped back. As much as I love C-3PO (and would you believe he’s even prissier in French?), I love Rex so much more.

Captain Rex reporting for duty!

So we kept on going on Star Tours. Over and over. Because it was there and we knew we’d have a good time.

But where are the snacks?

One of the pretty disappointing things was the lack of snacks. Okay, there was popcorn, proper Disneyland popcorn served from the little carts, and while I didn’t get any, I got to smell it and be instantly taken back, but no churros, no pretzels, no Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, none of the stuff I get to hear about that exists at the other parks.

(Really, it was the lack of churros. God, I miss those big ol’ Disneyland churros.)

On the other hand, I think only Disneyland Paris could have a champagne cart. Which would be right in the middle of Main Street every evening.

The animatronic under the stairs

Another thing I really wanted to see was the dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I had seen videos of it, and I knew it was one of the largest animatronics built, so I knew it’d be a really neat thing to see.

And it was. A great big ol’ sleeping dragon that’d wake up, snap at you, grumble, and then go back to sleep.

So of course I loved it.

The animatronic dragon under Sleeping Beauty's castle

I didn’t love the fact that it was being closed for parades (and it seemed like there was always a parade about to happen or happening now or just finishing up), and I also didn’t love that people kept on using their flash, since it’s a pretty dark space and I hate flash photography in general.

(You know that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Itchy & Scratchy Land and the animatronics turn evil because of flash photography? I’m Itchy. Or Scratchy. Or maybe one of the Presidents.)

Another animatronic I was delighted to see, even though it’s tiny and most people don’t notice it, but it makes me giggle – in Discoveryland, there’s a giant airship over the Hyperion Cafe. It was part of the Jules Verne-esque theming they had when they opened up the place. (It’s still there, but it’s kinda faded, especially since Space Mountain’s become Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear brought in media-based rides, and when we went, the pond holding the Nautilus was drained and we couldn’t go in it.)

The airship has animatronic pigeons. You go to Hyperion Cafe (maybe for a BB-8 burger), and you’re like “Do you hear pigeons?” You look up, and there they are.

The pigeons on the Discoveryland airship

One I wasn’t expecting was in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. I’ve always liked the Disneyland version of this ride, because it does have some pretty creepy parts, but everything is done in a lovely style based on the film, so it’s beautiful to look at.

Except at the end, when suddenly you’re faced with human versions of Snow White and Prince Charming. Now that’s the scariest part.

The scary Snow White and Prince Charming animatronics

Now I know how everyone felt about the early days of California Adventure

We tried to go to Walt Disney Studios (the second park), but it was just terrible. There weren’t many rides, which meant each queue was well over like 45 minutes, even for little rides.

And a bunch of the rides were for all ages, which means that every possible annoying family was in the queue, and being surrounded by screaming children for 45 minutes meant that even the five seconds of a nice ride wasn’t good enough.

Also, the idea of a “studio tour” where there’s no actual filming just seems ridiculous. But I also grew up going to Universal Studios (back when they’d regularly use the backlot), so I might be biased.

We spent the morning there, and promptly went back to our five-minute Star Tours queue.

(Although the food stands by the Ratatouille ride did look fantastic. Maybe we should have gone back for lunch.)

I think I earned my British citizenship

Something that I couldn’t believe was happening was the sheer lack of respect for queues. People kept on cutting in, pushing past other people, or let their children run around. Even for rides that didn’t have really long queues.

C’mon, people. The Disney imagineers take a hell of a lot of time to make sure that even if you’re stuck in a queue, there’s something to look at and be delighted by. Take the time to admire it.

Also, I was really surprised by how often I saw people smoking outside of the smoking areas, using selfie sticks, and pulling along those giant wagons. In the US parks, I know that you’d be jumped on by a firm but polite cast member almost immediately, but here, it just seemed like they ignored it.

It was more or less the off season, so maybe they get a little more lax, but it was just frustrating, especially when you’re tripping over a wagon while breathing in cigarette smoke because you’re having to evade a selfie-stick crowd who have stopped right in the middle of the road.

I was so angry I almost started having a dance party on the rides. Yeah, that’ll show the park!

No raving on the ride, please.

Where’s all the merch?

Another thing that was different was the lack of merchandise.

Now, I gotta point out, I don’t mean there wasn’t merchandise at all because, obviously, every inch of ground is potentially a place to sell things, but I mean the variety.

I’m not going to lie, I was looking for Phantom Manor merchandise. I’m used to there being an entire store filled to the brim with spooky delights, and my husband looking at the pile of things I’ve picked up and saying “Are you sure that’s going to fit in our suitcase?”

I found a shirt that didn’t come in my size, a dress that also didn’t come in my size (and that pretty much broke my heart because it had the wallpaper on the skirt! My HEART!), a figurine of the Hat Box Ghost (who isn’t in Phantom Manor), and a couple of pins.

Three Phantom Manor badges and a lanyard

As you can see, I came home with pins. And a spoooooky lanyard to put them on. But on the Disney Store right now, I can get the gargoyles or a foam Madame Leota tombstone or oh God I want it so much the grandfather clock. (And that’s just on the UK store – I won’t even get into what you can get in the US because that just kills me.)

It all just seemed to be character-driven, which, I suppose, makes sense for the park, but come on, there’s so much possibility there.

Also? They don’t do the mouse ear hats where you get the name embroidered on them. Just headbands. I suppose it’s an effective cost-cutter, since you don’t have to have staff on hand to embroider everything, but it was always a great gift for kids who didn’t go with you or a gag gift for friends.

On the other hand, at the Rainforest Cafe outside the parks, I did pick up the greatest Parisian souvenir in the universe.

A snowglobe with a Tyrannosaurus Rex next to the Eiffel Tower

Yep. That’s the Eiffel Tower. And a T-rex. In a snowglobe. Definitely a winner.

So would I go back?

Of course I would. I’d love to have a longer stay, where I could spend maybe a day just exploring the hotels and enjoying the pool and chilling out. I’d love to actually see Walt Disney Studios (maybe with headphones so I can drown out the screaming children while I wait in queues). And there were plenty of rides that were under refurbishment that I’d love to go on. (The Disneyland Railroad was closed. The single most perfect ride for just chilling out and ignoring everything around you for like a good 20 minutes. The easiest way to avoid parades and people. And it was closed.)

Plus, they’re turning the New York-themed hotel in a Marvel-themed hotel, and they’re apparently doing Jack Kirby-themed rooms. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was gonna drop acid and hang out at the park? It’d have to be in something straight out of a 1960s’ Kirby-designed issue of Thor.

But it’s not Disneyland. It’s a decent substitution, but it doesn’t have the same feeling.

My 2019 Crapathon Project

So yesterday was the fifth Nottingham Hackspace Crapathon, where you make useless things that nobody wanted.

I’ve participated in a couple, mostly making nonsense that just amused me and no one else. Last year, it was the Elmer McCurdy Action Playset – a cardboard box with a neon orange mummified person in it. Just like Laff in the Dark!

This year, the theme was vaguely “Artificial Intelligence”, and I thought I’d bring in a fake robot. Then, for some reason, I started focusing on breakfast, and that lead to Breakfast Bot 5000.

Breakfast Bot 5000

Breakfast Bot 5000 provides you with all the breakfast choices you could ever want. Except that it’s still learning, so there might be substitutions.

It learned about breakfasts by watching British television. Unfortunately, that was really just watching one Monty Python sketch and calling it done.

So I knew I wanted to make something that looked like it had a fancy menu, with plenty of options, and then would just lead to a single can of Spam.

What’s an <a> tag?

The first part was the menu. Where I discovered that I’ve forgotten like 90% of all the HTML I have ever written.

Honestly, I was looking up how to remove bullet points from an unordered list. That’s how much I’ve forgotten.

But after a lot of work, a lot of refreshing, and refusing to do anything fancier than the ancient and arcane art of <meta http-equiv="refresh" /> (which, by the way, I had look up too, because holy smokes I am so out of it), I managed to make a Breakfast Bot 5000 menu system that was appropriately bright, bold, and easy.

(Yes, it looks like an amateur website project. Hello, amateur web designer here.)

Time to build

So after I built the interface, I then went to the Hackspace on the day for the Crapathon.

I knew I wanted a cabinet, because they had to open up the cabinet to get the delicious breakfast. I then wanted a frame for the screen, which was my iPad Mini. And, thankfully, there was plenty of cardboard.

I started planting the cardboard black. I kept on thinking that it’d be a black cabinet, but then I discovered that, because the Hackspace is the Hackspace, there were no paintbrushes to be had, because they had all been left to dry out all covered in gunk.

To the bin with you, bad paintbrushes!

A collection of dried out and useless paintbrushes now in the bin

So I took the only paintbrush that was still usable, a very small one, and tried to paint the box.

Attempting to paint a cardboard box black.

Hot glue works better

I got so far, and then realised it’d be immensely easier (and much more futuristic) to cover it in foil.

The all powerful glue gun

There was a spare mylar emergency blanket, so with a hot glue gun and a bit of folding, I had my Breakfast Bot 5000 chassis.

A cardboard box wrapped in a mylar emergency blanket

(By the way? Mylar really transfers heat. Which means that when you smooth down that bit you just hot glued? Yeah, that’s hot.)

I cut out the door for the cabinet, used part of a gold-coloured plastic egg for the handle, and made another piece of cardboard the frame for the iPad.

The door and handle for Breakfast Bot 5000

I then laser-cut the name on some scrap MDF that was in the laser scrap pile. I was going to use a tiny piece of neon green acrylic, but it was too little to really show it off.

The iPad frame and signage for Breakfast Bot 5000

Chuck the rest of the mylar in the box to make it shine and add in the can of Spam.

A small can of Spam inside a box covered with silver Mylar

And it’s fried gold.

Full shot of Breakfast Bot 5000
Close-up of the Breakfast Bot 5000

Final (Mylar) wrap-up

It’s not an amazing hack. It definitely couldn’t win compared to some of the other great stuff that was there. (The child mannequin turned into a newsreader was the best thing in the world.) And it wasn’t my favourite thing to do, because it didn’t involve my favourite dead guy.

But I had my fun and that’s all that matters.

Plus, afterwards? I had a fantastic hat.

Me wearing the remnants of the Mylar blanket tied up as a very elaborate hat.

Decorating a home office when you’re a gigantic nerd

I’ve been working at home now for a month and a half, and part of the deal was turning the attic into my home office. We put up shelves, reorganised all my books, and then I started pulling things out of boxes, moving things around, and although it’s still a work-in-progress, it’s still filled with things I like.

See, I really like having things around me. They give me something to look at when I need a five-second break.

Other people keep on complaining about how cluttered I make things, but it’s not clutter to me – everything has a place, and it’s all a good place.

So here are just some of the things around me.

A shelf with graphic novels. In front of the books is a card with a magikarp on it, a small toy catbus, a small lucky cat, a small elephant, a knitted pumpkin, and a cone made from resin with glitter and rocks in it.

A Magikarp card from Joshua Dunlop, a catbus from My Neighbour Totoro, a maneki neko, a little fuzzy elephant, a knitted pumpkin, and a cone of orgonite, in front of my Ernie Bushmiller Nancy compendiums, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, and a bunch of Love and Rockets compilations.

A stuffed toy Naga and a stuffed toy Magikarp tucked between shelves

A stuffed Magikarp and a stuffed Naga.

Two Barbie dolls still in their boxes, next to a container of knitting needles

Game Developer Barbie and Computer Engineer Barbie next to a jar of knitting needles, with “steampunk” goggles in front of them.

A bookshelf with a Funko Pop of Jaws next to a drawing of Godzilla

A Funko Pop Jaws with an air tank in his mouth and a drawing of Godzilla by Anson Aguirre Firth.

Four Twin Peaks Funko Pops next to a picture of the Black Lodge

Twin Peaks Funko Pops (The Log Lady, Audrey Horne, Dale Cooper, and Bob), in a laser-cut box I made, next to a print of the Black Lodge, from Cult Locations Ink.

A comic board with a hand-drawn sketch by Evan Dorkin

A sketch of Bill from the Eltingville Club by Evan Dorkin, that he did for me at San Diego Comic Con in 1995. Behind him is a Funko Pop of Deckard from Blade Runner 2049.

A collection of Star Trek novels on a bookshelf

Star Trek novels, some of which are from around 1990 and still have “property of Katie Bolin” on the inside front cover. (Come on, I was 13.)

A tape dispenser in the shape of a unicorn and a mug filled with small keychains

A rainbow tape dispenser in the shape of a unicorn and a Jeff Goldblum mug currently filled with keychains.

A photo and a postcard hanging off of clips with a skull on a shelf behind them

A postcard of Miss Atomic Bomb 1957 and a photo of my dad and my husband, with a skull behind them. The eyes have LEDs that glow. (The skull, not my dad or husband. Although I wouldn’t put it past them.)

A picture in an embroidery hoop and a calendar hanging on a wall

A Pikachu t-shirt I turned into a wall decoration, and a Poundland Kitten calendar where I’ve been decorating all the kittens to match the season. Being August, this kitten likes festivals. Obviously.

A mirror ball hanging from the ceiling

And, finally, the obligatory mirror ball.

I’m speaking on Monday, August 12th

I briefly mentioned it in my post about my WordCamp Belfast talk, but since it’s all definite and being advertised and there are pictures and everything, I thought I should post about it here.

So.

Monday, August 12th.

At Antenna.

Starting at 6:30pm.

Caching and Documenting.

My talk is titled “You Are Not A Precious Snowflake: Document Your Work”. I’ll get into why you should document, what makes it good for you (and other people), and easy ways to get started. Plus ancient complaints, lost gold mines, and, for once, no Elmer McCurdy.

(It was touch and go on that last bit. He might pop up.)

Samathy Barratt is talking about algorithms and caching, so if you’re hoping for good techie talk, she’s definitely going to bring the code. I’m going to bring the soft skills, and I think it’ll be a really nice combination.

I’ll put the slides and my notes up here afterwards, so you don’t have to worry about missing it if you’re not in Nottingham, but if you are, it’d be nice to see you.

The Talking Pictures TV podcast

You already know how much I love Talking Pictures TV. And you know how much I love the podcast.

Well, I’m happy to say that I am now a reviewer on the podcast, and you can find me on the July episode talking about Dilemma, a delightful little 1962 thriller about a man who discovers his wife missing and a dead guy in the bath.

So if you want to hear my annoying American accent talking about a random film, you can listen to that. And then you can subscribe, because I’ll probably do more over the coming months.