Monthly Archives: November 2016

Pre-Nativity naïveté

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Hey, even Eric Cartman would make a better US President than Trump or Pence… ooh, controversial?

Perhaps it’s a combination of the various potions and philtres I’ve been taking to combat my latest cold, but today, despite all the things in the world and my personal life that suck, I felt strangely energised, and optimistic about the future — the next few days, the next few months, maybe even the next few years…

Let’s be honest, I need naïve optimism to keep me going through these dark times, much as I did four years ago — because it’s better than giving in to pessimism (or, as peasants call it, realism), and I don’t want to undo all my years of progress, especially after my last post.  So, in no particular order, here’s what I’m feeling positive about in the run-up to Christmas:

  • Although my landlady’s putting up the rent, and two of my housemates are moving out (one the girl who moved in three years ago in place of our household leaderene, the other my former-drummer housemate who’s been the landlady’s proxy since then), I won’t let this “change” bother me too much: I’ve dealt with new housemates before, and I get a wage increase in April — so financially and mentally, I should be all right staying here a bit longer.  No need to worry about going back to Worthing for more than the length of the Christmas holidays — and one day I might even be able to get a mortgage on a real home, with my mother’s help!

(Pretty important, considering one of our potential replacement housemates is a 56-year-old man… still renting at that age?!)

  • Although I’ve got a nasty cold, I’m already over the sore throat stage, and despite recent aches, my legs aren’t currently in any particular pain — indeed, I was able to do some on-the-spot jogging without hurting my ankle all over again, and I can actually jog around without gasping for breath!
  • Even though the heating in this house has gone wrong again (thanks to British Gas, named and shamed), just on the eve of an “Arctic blast”, I’ve fought my fear of the cold and elected to take a day off work, staying here in the house — partly to get over my cold (solidly in the snot stage), and partly to welcome the gasman to look at our heaters, yet again (after failing to arrive on Saturday — British Gas, named and shamed again!).  Maybe this time they’ll actually fix it so that the ground floor radiators work, and stop mine leaking and only getting hot at the top?
  • Donald Trump may be a total scumbag who is a couple of months away from becoming the most powerful man in the world (all because the Democrats chose an unelectable woman rather than a socialist man), but I have optimistic faith that his own party will hamstring his efforts to “make America great again”, as I think even the Republicans can’t stomach the Hitleresque things he allegedly wants to do — and that’s if he even plans to go through with them at all: I’ve already been surprised at how right I was about some of his actions (such as not bothering to arrest the aforementioned unelectable woman), and I think he’s going to abandon his own thuggish quasi-Brownshirt supporters, in an event to be known as… “Night of the Long Faces”.

(I’m even naïvely hoping that he won’t be assassinated and leave Pence as preznit, because that man genuinely is dangerous!)

  • Thanks to putting a picture of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown under my team’s “IT” signage, my boss now thinks I’m officially part of the IT family, so at long last I feel like I belong and won’t get fired for ludicrous reasons — and that thus I can hang on in my job, at a place I enjoy working, learn more skills and get better at everything that matters to me (rather than just slum it as 1st Line for the rest of my life), and make ends meet no matter how hard the Tories try to make our vision of the future a smart shoe stamping on a poor person’s face forever!
  • And on that topic, maybe the Royal Family will absorb the cost of doing up Buckingham Palace themselves, instead of taking the money from overburdened taxpayers, as a show of solidarity with the people who actually matter in this country?  (After all, what use is a royal family if no-one’s left alive to make their position meaningful?)
  • Even though I couldn’t climb at the Castle with “best mate” this weekend (aside from my cold, I was waiting in for the gasman — fruitlessly, thanks again British Gas!), I hope to be able to go tomorrow, safe in the knowledge that my room won’t be down to 14ºC when I get home, simply because I’ll have been keeping it warm all day (but in higher spirits than when I was unemployed in late 2014)!
  • Somehow, I’ll build a PC for my mother this Christmas, I just know it…

So there you go, my naïve optimism — some may call themselves realists, but I call them FOOLS!  But which do you think is my most improbable article of faith: that Trump won’t turn out to be as bad as people fear… or that British Gas (ugh, spit!) will actually fix our heating some time before next summer…?

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Into darkness?

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At least watching Futurama on the Tube cheers me up

It’s a week after America smashed all expectations and elected an idiot to the White House who wasn’t related to a previous idiot, and who is such an idiot that he needs the help of his charismatic predecessor to figure out what he’s actually supposed to do.  Racist and homophobic attacks are up, just like they were here after the Brexit vote, and the other side appear to be no better, rioting as they apparently are.

On this side of the Atlantic, things aren’t much better: claims by our own incoming leader May (certainly not PM elect, though) that she’d support hard-working people and the disabled turn out to have been an outright lie, as working families will now get less help, apparently their own fault for having chosen to have kids without being rich enough to weather a recession, and disabled people will still have to prove they’re still disabled regularly (even if they have terminal conditions), and will lose everything if they make the slightest mistake (almost as though the bureaucrats are waiting for any excuse).

And meanwhile, in my own life, just when everything seemed to be going okay, and even my boss reckons I’m doing fine in my job (on the grounds that if I did something wrong, she wouldn’t wait for our annual meeting to let me know about it), along comes my landlady to hike up our rent 10%, with no guarantee that she won’t do the same thing next year, “depending on the market”; in other words, she’s doing it because she can, not because it somehow became 10% more expensive to be our landlady.  So that’ll be an extra £50 per month for nothing whatsoever… so much for my efforts to save!

I can’t ask my folks back in Worthing for any significant help, because my mother’s had to stop working in order to care for my ailing grandmother full-time — and I can’t move them up here to Greater London in order to rescue them from that dismal place, so if something goes wrong here, I’ll end up having to go back there, probably forever (I’ve decided that if I ever have to move away from London, I will never return, not even for a visit).  And if the reason I have to go back home is that my fortunes have faltered, or I’m injured, the government won’t help me — indeed, it feels like they’ll actively work against me to drive me further down.

And to make matters worse, healthwise I’m not doing so good: the ankle I rolled on nearly four years ago is hurting badly again (apparently because I had the temerity to jog barefoot on my own bedroom floor), I’m bunged up with seasonal mucus (with perhaps a cold coming on), and I’m finding it hard to get far below 13st. weight, thanks to the twin evils of chocolate and pizza.  My left wrist has also been hurting lately (no, wash your minds out, it’s due to leaning it on my desk while wearing a Fitbit), all my other joints protest regularly (especially my hips).

And it’s getting cold again, after a mild few days, so I can look forward to coming home to find my room is 14°C (that’s below 60°F, for our American viewers), so I’ll have to use my electric heater to make it even remotely habitable.  And it’s dark in the evenings, and getting dark in the mornings again.

(And I won’t even start on my lack of a girlfriend, less than a year before the big four-oh…)

Last time you’ll remember I went on at length about my PC; I know it’s the geek equivalent of souping up a car, but I like to think it’s marked my gradual improvement over the years, while maintaining the same essential core — I could have replaced everything including the motherboard at great expense, but instead I’ve saved money through piecemeal upgrades.  However, much like my life seemed to be going right but is now facing problems, this contraption’s having all sorts of issues now — and apparently they began back in July.  Why is The Witcher III crashing when I’m so close to the end of this epic?  What causes wmipvrse.exe to crash at startup, but only some of the time, and with no useful error message?  Is it the same thing that causes Word 2013 to crash in the Anniversary Update version of Windows 10 at work, but only when Group Policy updates, and then only some of the time?  That’s a problem I’m supposed to resolve, for three people (four counting a senior member of staff), but I feel like I’m letting the side down, as nothing I’ve tried has worked so far.

But I’m not gonna let all this get me down: if necessary I’ll take St. John’s wort, or even go to counselling again, but I won’t give up on the life I’ve built.  I won’t let my government make me feel like I need to hurry up and fail; instead, I’ll work hard at my job, and hold on tight until April, when I should be getting a small pay rise that ought to cover my landlady’s increase.  I am, after all, lucky that she didn’t impose that increase last year (or worse, two years ago when I was unemployed — then I’d have told London to go f*** itself, and gone back to Worthing without hesitation!), and to her credit, she took British Gas to task for their incompetence in fixing our heating and hot water.

And as per my boss’s advice, I’ll stop worrying so much about my weight — maybe I place too much stock in what Wii Fit Plus tells me to do, and maybe I’m fine as I am (as long as I don’t go completely nuts, of course).  Naturally I want to continue seeing my personal trainer, but this might be tricky in the current climate; I’ll just have to be firm and tell him I’m cutting back a little more, but certainly not stopping entirely — it’s always possible I’ll be earning more than I think in 2017, much as happened in 2012 (and enabled me to pay for that life-changing holiday in America), and that I’ll finally be able to sort out a house to live in, escaping rent forever.

I went through bad depression at the end of 2011, as I’m sure you’re tired of reminding me, but after that my life was better and more hopeful.  I note I’ve started doing something I used to do when I first moved to Finchley, in the dark months of 2012: as the Northern Line emerges from the tunnel south of East Finchley, I see street lights twinkle into view as the trees thin out, and then the white glow of The Old White Lion, a comforting light in the darkness, and a sign that my journey’s nearly over.  This kept me going as I put my head together back then, and it’s helping me now to combat the darkness within.

As $DEITY is my witness, I WILL NOT GIVE UP this close to what might potentially be the best time of my life — no matter what happens!

The PC of Theseus

Trigger: This old broom’s had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles in its time.
Sid: How the hell can it be the same bl**dy broom then?!
Trigger: There’s the picture, what more proof do you need?
Only Fools and Horses (1996 Xmas special, “Heroes and Villains”)

beavbuttpcI know I’ve still got some way to go, especially in terms of finding someone special (I think I’ve reached the level of being a bit sick of going on first dates, as I’d rather be at home doing my own thing!), but I’m still the master of my destiny when it comes to computers.  Not only am I finally in a job I enjoy, helping people with their work PCs, but thanks to a great deal of work, my own computer is now a force to be reckoned with.

Never mind all the old PCs I’ve had in the past, starting with the ex-Inland Revenue one I got in 1999 and upgraded over the years, or my first multi-gigahertz one in 2004, or the first one I built from scratch in 2006; no, my current PC effectively came into being in May 2011, when the previous one conked out, the C-drive dying after a night of Call of Duty: Black Ops.  I’d been planning to buy a whole new setup for ages, and this was my excuse to splash out.

However, much like Theseus’ thought experiment about whether a ship that is replaced bit-by-bit is still the same ship, the only original aspects of the computer I put together in 2011 are the motherboard (for the uninitiated, the bit everything else plugs into) and my Windows 7 install, as every other component has at some point been replaced.  In some cases the pieces have gone on to form other PCs, in other cases they’ve brought me credit at Computer Exchange (plug plug), and in a few cases they’ve gone on the scrapheap.  And last month, I spent more on PC components than I’d done in a long time — less than if I’d upgraded to modern components, but still, here’s a summary of my PC’s situation…

(Sorry, this is the geeky bit — but take heart, at least you don’t visit any of those web forums where you’d read something like this in every nerd’s signature!)

  • CPU: starting with an i5 in that new system in 2011, I upgraded to an i7 in 2014, around the time I was in that unpaid internship; I made a mistake back then, buying a processor that couldn’t be overclocked (and thus not making the most of my memory’s available speed), and so I bought the overclockable equivalent (3770K) last month for my birthday.  If all goes according to plan, the previous CPU will go in a PC I intend to build for my mother this Christmas.
  • RAM: the original 8GB of memory I bought in 2011 died in 2014 (shortly before I upgraded the processor), or at least one module did; I was lucky to get them replaced under RMA, though since I’d had to buy new RAM anyway for the duration, I sold the replacement on.  During my birthday month this year, however, I bought another 8GB (as 2016 Doom was filling up what I had) — but I’ve had to take off the huge heatsink on my CPU, which was blocking one memory slot.  In all cases it’s been Corsair Vengeance DDR3 modules with big radiators on them (as cooling is very important in PC terms).
  • GPU: the GTX 460 I originally bought at the very end of 2010 was replaced by a 580 in 2012 (it was a target of opportunity in CEX) and a 680 in 2014 (I saw one in CEX but was too late to buy it, and so got it online).  In my birthday month this year, I bought a Titan (again from CEX), which, being on the 700 level, means I’ve gone up one level of nVidia graphics cards roughly every two years, and so am falling behind (and still can’t really have “Hairworks” turned on in The Witcher 3) — but it works, so what?  As with the CPU, I feel I’ve put the mistakes of late 2014 away at long last…
  • PSU: the power supply I had in 2011 was the Cooler Master one I’d bought originally in 2009, or rather, the replacement for the original that inexplicably went bang (literally) after two days; I finally had to replace this one at the start of 2015 (despite being unemployed), as its cooling fan was wearing out, but I replaced it with a similar model from the same manufacturer, and it’s got modular cables (very much a luxury feature compared to the “cable hydra” of older PSUs).
  • Hard drive: after buying a normal “spinning rust” HDD with the new setup in 2011, and making a fresh install of Windows 7 (which I’d bought when it first came out in 2009), I went on to buy a Samsung SSD (lightning fast) for my birthday in 2013; I cloned Windows 7 across to it, and since then have had my Steam games (and those on other gaming platforms) installed on a separate drive — a “spinning rust” drive from WD, but still one of the fastest.  Even this has been upgraded from a 1TB to a 2TB one (by means of a copying job I perhaps unwisely did on the hottest day of last year, 1st July 2015!), the old one being ready to install down in Worthing.  I keep my documents (sorry, My Documents) on another separate HDD, but this is generally a leftover from a previous system, me copying everything across wholesale.

(The scary video game SOMA, which I just completed, raises the question of whether it’s the same PC if the same information has been copied across into a different body, especially if the original copy still exists…)

  • Casing: I always get huge (or, as a man I hope disappears into obscurity after Tuesday would say, yuge) casings for my computers, and I still have the Cooler Master HAF-X one I bought later in 2011; as for the one I replaced at that point (I forget the make, but it has green “not handles” on the front), I somehow carried it down to Worthing that autumn, and it now houses the “Frankencomputer” I built from my previous motherboard, CPU and RAM.  Both cases are luxuriously big inside, and let you put in drives with brackets instead of screws!
  • Keyboard: another component I replaced in 2011, but that’s because my old Logitech G15 (which I’d had since December 2007) had finally given up the ghost.  I still have the stalwart G510 I got on that occasion, because apart from the keys lighting up (no more ink to rub off!), it’s got a little LCD screen on which I can view stats such as component temperatures and network activity (thanks to a programmer known only as “Barloggg”)…
  • Mouse: oh, I’ve been through too many to remember, but following many wireless ones, the one I miss was a wired R.A.T.7 which unfortunately developed the well-known “double click on single click” mechanical fault, and so has been replaced with a Corsair Gaming one that lights up (or rather doesn’t, because I’ve turned the damn lights off!).
  • Monitor: I got my previous 27″ widescreen monitor in 2009, and it allowed me to plug in my digibox and watch TV “picture in picture” (though by 2011 I was using my older 24″ one as a dedicated TV screen); the thing weighed a ton when I tried to carry it to sell in late 2013 (and Cash Converters gave me a miserly £20 for something that cost me more than ten times that!).  The HDMI screen I have now is slightly smaller in resolution terms (1080p instead of 1200p), but nice enough (and light enough) that when I ugrade to a 1440p DisplayPort one next year, I’ll take this one down to Worthing for my mother to use!
  • Speakers: I remember the day in 2007 I got my old Logitech X-540 surround speakers, as “female best friend” called me while I was walking to the bus stop at Tavistock Square, distraught about her life situation at the time; she came over to the Caledonian Road flat and helped me set them up, which helped cheer her up!  I tried to replace them in early 2013 with huge (yuge?) speakers from Cash Converters, and sold them on to an old work friend, but when the big set’s control unit turned out to be burning out (yes, I got a refund), I had no alternative (just before my American holiday) but to buy… another set of Logitech 5.1 speakers, a similar model but with curvier casings!
  • Other components: well, now we’re into the food crates on Theseus’ ship, but suffice to say I’ve ditched wireless network cards (especially the one with lousy Win7 drivers I had in 2011), and have my PC directly wired to the Wi-Fi repeater in my room.  For a long time I was also happy not to have a dedicated sound card (the onboard one being fine), but for Christmas last year, my mother got me a Creative SoundBlaster Z (to save me buying it for myself), which performs well.  My original Blu-ray drive, second-hand in 2009, was going wrong in 2014 and was replaced for my birthday in 2015 by a much better LG model.  And finally, though I’d long said I wouldn’t, I got an Xbox 360 joypad in mid-2014, for those games that need it — and this replaced the Logitech wireless joypad I’d bought in 2011, which was being erratic (especially after a frustrating game of Prototype 2!).
  • Oh, and mention should also be made of furniture: the original corner desk, which my mother got me in early 2002, and which came to join me in London in late 2006, but which was coming apart when I moved here in early 2012, and which I finally replaced in October 2013 with a smaller, understated desk with sliding keyboard shelf.  And indeed my chair, which is (I hope!) faux-leather, and which I got in 2013 (also just before my American holiday), replaced a long line of Argos-bought executive chairs, but could itself probably do with retiring, after more than three years… after Christmas, of course!

Phew, had enough?  Well, let’s also consider the Frankencomputer down in Worthing, consisting as it does of my old casing, motherboard and CPU, some RAM I was allowed to take from work (since it’s obsolete DDR2 that would otherwise go to the dump), my mother’s old graphics card (a lesser 460 than the one I used to have in 2011), a hard drive that originated $DEITY-knows-where (and remember me installing Win7 on it?), a wireless keyboard and mouse my folks got me, and a yuge TV acting as both monitor and speakers.  It’s a noisy beast (partly because the CPU’s cooling fan isn’t quite on and needs replacing), but it let me keep my sanity for Christmas 2014, and it still serves its purpose for now (and though I’ve upgraded it to Windows 10, the experience has convinced me to move over to Linux!).

And what of my mother?  Well, she’s still got the mini-PC I got her for Christmas 2012, the HDD I got to replace the (burning out) original in January 2014, the RAM I upgraded on Christmas 2015, and the monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers she’s had for many years.  As I have a spare decent processor, I intend to build her a new system — but while I can certainly get the other bits for her, I still need her to choose a casing (probably of the micro-ATX variety) that she won’t completely loathe having in her room.

Maybe I’ll take her to look at casings some time… if only there were a PC equivalent of IKEA!