Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016: Good or bad?

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Justin Bieber, tragically still with us

I’m sure no-one out there is ignorant of the fact that a lot of bad things happened in 2016, some of which make 2017 a terrifying prospect — like Trump somehow being elected US President, ready to take office next month, or the Brexit vote bringing out the worst racist elements in British society, with the prospect of EU laws that protect workers, gay rights etc. being swept away by our increasingly right-wing government.

And, of course, there’s the people who died — David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Kenny Baker, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Gene Wilder… as though 2014 and 2015 hadn’t been bad enough, robbing us of Dave Brockie, Robin Williams, Leonard Nimoy, Terry Pratchett…

Yeah, okay, 2016 was — broadly speaking — awful, and the rising fascist anti-human rights movements on both sides of the Atlantic will try to make things worse in 2017 for everyone (except rich white men), unless decent people oppose them at every turn… but considering how my fortunes have changed this year, can you blame me for being selfishly optimistic?

Yes, I’m hopeful that 2017 will be good for me, if no-one else; even though I’ll have to face an embarrassing birthday in October, at least now I have more money in the bank (which is to say, any at all) compared to the start of this year, so I can afford a holiday at the time.  Admittedly I spent £150 more than I took in this month, even though I didn’t need to pay my personal trainer (or pay food bills or put money on my Oyster card for the past week or so), but hey, it’s Christmas, right?  I’ve also got extra coming in next payday, after the overtime I put in this month, which should more than make up for it!

Moreover, after landing this IT job in 2015, I’ve managed to make a name for myself at my workplace, build confidence with both computers and human interaction, and prove how hard-working and indispensable I am — despite that issue at the start of the year that nearly ended it all.  Yes, Friday, 15th January 2016, the day my boss told me I was hanging by a thread, will ever live in infamy… but I’m reliably informed that she likes me now, and so do the staff!

Speaking of being appreciated: even though I’m still single, 2016 was better in dating terms for me than any previous year (with the possible exception of 1998) — simply because, in amongst the many one-off dates that went nowhere, there were three near-misses: an Indian girl with an American accent that I saw twice; a Chinese young mother from Oxford that I was almost in a long-distance relationship with; and, most recently, a Far Eastern twentysomething who I almost got to see a third time — and who proved that I’m not automatically put off by glasses-wearing or “plus-size” women, and that I’m after the whole package, not just a pretty ornament.

Considering how non-existent my love life was when I began this blog, and even before that in early 2012, I’d say things are improving, wouldn’t you?  Hell, I had zero dates in my teens, and only got to third base around the time I turned 21 because I was in another country; I didn’t really “start” dating until I was 35-going-on-36, during the summer of 2013 (as you guys know), and while late ’14 to early ’15 was a setback, largely because I was also suffering in terms of my fledgling IT career, I’ve made up for it this year.  I’m finally confident approaching women and asking them out (at least electronically), and if I’ve not found someone in ’16, that’s because I’m going to find someone better in ’17… right?

Of course, my career could go horribly wrong next year — especially if the Tories bring in American-style “at will” working (where you can be fired for literally any reason at all, just as long as you can’t prove it was down to discrimination), and make us all into temporary workers with no job security.  I hope not: while visiting my folks in Worthing is nice for Christmas, I’m certain I don’t want to move back here (2000 to ’03 was bad enough), so I need steady rent money coming in.

Similarly, I might have one too many romantic failure to cope with, and swear off women entirely; or, I might think I’m “getting lucky”, only to have false allegations destroy my life.  But why worry about such things, and why give myself an excuse to wimp out of even going out and trying, like I did in my most depressed days in 2011?  Might as well worry about my brain apparently doing funny things recently, when it was probably just caffeine and stress combined with normal feelings of “deja vu”, which aren’t entirely unusual to me at the best of times anyway.

No, I’ve got too much to live for in 2017, and I’ll have to hope that the world is gracious enough to let me enjoy my life, instead of trying to bring me down.  Indeed, my biggest hope is that the real reason Trump has chosen such evil men for his cabinet is that he expects a terrorist attack, and wants them all in one certain place at the time of the “event”, thereby performing a presidential duty.

(Am I naive for thinking he might be capable of such (ahem) goodness… or indeed, intelligent and resourceful planning?)

And if all else fails, at least I’ve got video games and TV.  I’m planning to rewatch Game of Thrones during 2017 (and watch the fifth and sixth seasons for the first time), as well as keeping up with Doctor Who, and I’ve done well out of the inevitable Christmas sale on Steam (let’s see if Alien: Isolation is anywhere near as scary as Amnesia: The Dark Descent).  Of course, if my main computer (which I need for Blu-rays as well as modern gaming) isn’t working when I get back to London, I may be in trouble… and that’s assuming I can even travel, thanks to Southern!

Damn, I’m losing my optimism again — okay, how about this: thanks to my folks, I’ve got a new (well, second-hand) smartphone for the first time since 2013, and it’s sufficiently advanced that I can finally play Pokémon GO.  Neat, huh?  Er… happy new year…

Trying to relax here…

simpsons_buddhismMerry Christmas, yes, whatever.  As is traditional at this time of year (and has happened every year except 1998, when I was in Michigan staying with my roommate’s family), I’m home for Christmas with my folks, letting them do my cooking and cleaning, and trying not to snap at them.

(Since my mother reads this, I’ll have to be careful what I say — she’s in the next room!)

After the “brain fuzz” I was getting two weeks ago, it’s not surprising I’d want to leave the hustle and bustle of London behind; my doctor (or rather, the latest in a long line of stand-in quacks) could only tell me to rest and relax, and didn’t recommend an ECG or any other checks.  Maybe I didn’t put my case forward well enough, perhaps due to trying to convince myself that it’s “no big deal” (since the alternative would be to worry about a brain tumour, CJD, a Lovecraftian mind-swap, glitches in the Matrix etc.), but her best advice was to take it easy and come back if it keeps happening anyway.

It’s true, I’ve been very stressed lately — partly because of that seven-day working week, which would have been longer but for days off before and after which were somewhat stressful themselves (gasman, Winter Wonderland), and the caffeine I ingested in an effort to keep my brain ticking over, as well as having somewhat restless nights (and I don’t sleep long enough at the best of times).

Maybe too much caffeine and not enough sleep is the equivalent of overclocking a CPU without adequate cooling… ah yes, PC-building is something that’s kept me from relaxing while I’ve been down here in Worthing.  I had no problems travelling here, having caught a Southern train that wasn’t cancelled (or even crowded), but once I started trying to build a PC for my mother, I ran into a snag: the processor (an i7-3770, as you’ll no doubt remember) isn’t compatible with the little ITX motherboard I’d bought especially for this project.

I’ve been trying to get the motherboard and casing sent back to eBay and Amazon respectively, and while the latter may not be a problem (though Watchdog worries me that I might get blacklisted anyway, with no recourse!), in the former case it looks like my only option is to send it back to the seller for him to upgrade the BIOS (which I can’t do without a compatible processor — it won’t even get to the BIOS yet!).

But still, no sense worrying, right?  If this guy’s true to his word, I’ll still be able to build Mumsy’s PC, just a little later than planned; then we can sell her old (compact, all-in-one) machine on.  If not, I’ll be £60 down (and more if I can’t send the case back), and still have to build a new PC for my mother, but the worst-case scenario is that I (with the financial aid of my grandmother) get her an off-the-shelf machine, and use these parts to build a replacement for my wheezing old Frankencomputer.

(And install Linux on it — my biggest mistake of 2016 was upgrading this machine to Windows 10, which has been nothing but trouble!)

I’m just glad I got my mother and grandmother expensive but not bank-breaking presents at Debenhams of Oxford Street (because it’s near work), as otherwise I’d have had nothing for either of them… and I’m glad I’ve still got over £2,000 in the bank, with extra coming in January for my December overtime.  I’m also glad my folks, despite having no income other than my grandmother’s pension (my mother’s stopped working to take care of her, and is currently being stiffed on the carer’s allowance for which she’s already been approved), at least have plenty of savings to rely on for now, so I don’t need to worry on their account, or give up on London to come and take care of them.

Yes, relaxing is exactly what I need to do here in Worthing: I made a conscious decision not to bring my guitar this time (though I do intend to make something of it in 2017, in honour of the rock stars we lost this year), and won’t worry too much about not “achieving” anything while I’m here.  Indeed, it’s giving me a chance to play a neglected video game that I got in January (again, in honour of someone we lost) — Omikron: The Nomad Soul, starring no less than David Bowie.

(Hey, it’s all the Frankencomputer’s capable of — my real PC’s back in London, remember?)

I also have the chance to hang around with my mother; instead of Gwar in the car, I’m now subjecting her to Eminem (someone I’m very grateful we haven’t lost in 2016, and hopefully not for a long time!), and we’re doing exercises together as well.  Unfortunately, as happened on the same day in 2015, our Christmas Day walk down to the seafront led to me developing a severe headache thanks to the cold onshore breeze, and although painkillers helped this time, I still got “brain fuzz” after lying down… what could be wrong with me?  Did it really start when I did the deadlift in personal training in May last year (widening blood vessels in my brain), or was that simply the trigger?

Whatever it is, it’s perhaps also responsible for me enjoying cider (if you know what I mean) even more than usual… especially while watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which I’m watching this Christmas (the DVDs can only be watched on a normal player like the one I have here, thanks to DRM).  Yes, this and Doctor Who are my favourite British institutions, and the only reasons I’ve spared this country from destruction!

Like most people my age, I originally saw it in 1989-90 when it was repeated on BBC2; however, as though it weren’t enough of a coincidence that I used to live in Walton (where they filmed several outdoor sequences), a sketch I’d long forgotten sparks a certain uncanny recognition in me… does my employer know about this, I wonder?

My brain hurts!

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“Get to ze choppah!” — oh, wait, wrong film

As though it’s bad enough that getting my life on track coincides with the entire world going to Hell in a handbasket (exhibit A: Trump), now I’m worried I might have a serious health issue… or at the very least, be worrying about nothing, and thus causing myself a serious health issue, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy!

It started on Wednesday, the day after my last post (hey, it’s nearly Christmas, I’m writing more than once every few weeks as my gift to you!), as I was walking into work with music filling my ears.  I recently put all my music on rotation, instead of limiting myself to Gwar and Iron Maiden, though it was the former’s “Endless Apocalypse” that was on just as I came near to my workplace, and I had a bout of what I call “mind static”…

Actually, let’s start further back in time — the end of May 2015 — and the Saturday morning I was calmly watching Star Trek while sucking on throat lozenges during one of my many colds, when I suddenly had a rush of what I can only describe as quasi-memories flooding my brain, with no apparent cause (other than that I’d watched the episode many times before, including back in my university days), and with no clear memory of what I’d remembered afterwards!  It was a bit like the headrushes I’d had after doing the deadlift with my personal trainer a week or so before, but this time happened while at rest, rather than following physical exertion, and involved no visual artefacts.

I’ve had similar bouts of “mind static” since then, each time making me think I’ve suddenly remembered, perhaps, a song of some kind, but after the “rush” is over, I can never recall a single clear detail about what happened, and everything around me seems strangely unreal for up to a minute afterwards.  However, except one morning when I was lying in bed ready to go home to Worthing, each time has been isolated — until this week, when it happened several times a day, and coincided with an ongoing headache that’s only gradually gotten better, and never responded to painkillers!

I’ve been trying to keep a log of the weirdness this week; fortunately nothing’s happened today (Saturday), but it happened several times at work on Wednesday (as well as at Tesco and sitting in front of my computer afterwards), a few times on Thursday when I was at home (and also while personal training and at Winter Wonderland with “best mate”), and a couple of times on Friday (once or twice at work, once in Debenhams buying my grandmother’s Christmas present, and once when I’d just finished making dinner at home).

They seemed to happen no less than an hour apart each time, rather than one after another, but in completely random circumstances: I could be at home, at work or in an unfamiliar place; alone or talking to someone familiar or strange; sitting down, walking around, resting during exercise, or even lying down while listening to music, with my glasses off!  They haven’t occurred while I’ve been sleeping (or trying to sleep), though I do tend to wake up in the middle of the night.  If I’m with someone, their voice will sound different for a short time, and I’ll find it hard to understand them, almost as though they’re speaking a foreign language that I can only understand if I concentrate — and weird things may start happening (like my personal trainer playing keepy-uppy with a half-deflated balloon!).

It’s felt like each bout of “mind static” this week has involved the same, or similar, quasi-memories coursing through my brain, starting with spoken lyrics (possibly rap?  Is Eminem doing this to me?), moving through something that may be song, and finishing with some kind of story or narration — but like I said, trying to keep hold of anything but the vaguest sensations is like trying to keep hold of the soap in the bath!

I thought it might be memories of songs I’ve heard recently, including those being played on Radio 2 in the mornings by Chris Evans as well as those in my music collection, but listening again to “I’ve Been Thinking About You” by Londonbeat, “Rainbow Valley” by Love Affair, “Bowtie” by OutKast, “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” by Snoop Dogg and “You Can Make It If You Try” by Sly and the Family Stone haven’t sparked any recognition in me, even if some of the specific aspects seem to resemble what I’ve been quasi-remembering (including the high-pitched “All together now!” from the latter song).  Thinking about the song I was listening to at the start of it, “Endless Apocalypse”, seemed to trigger a bout on Friday evening, but it hasn’t again (so it’s not the Scumdogs messing with my head, or no more than usual).

beavis_crappucinoThe most likely explanation seems to be malnutrition, as I’ve had a lot of caffeine lately (partly thanks to working at the weekend), and this combined with stress, not eating right and a lack of sleep could mean I’m having the equivalent of “waking dreams” every so often.  Having not had tea with breakfast this morning, after an early night and during the stress-free weekend, I think I’m over the worst — I’ve felt a little dizzy, and felt like a bout of “mind static” might be imminent, but so far I’ve not been at the mercy of my memory.

Also, since the headache could be caused by eyestrain, I’m going to get an eye test done on Sunday (one of the health benefits my work pays for — I do love my job!), and see if I need new glasses.  In the past I’ve had patterns of lights in front of my eyes for a split second, which opticians have said is a normal symptom of stress, so maybe this is just another manifestation (and another warning that I really need to chill out).

However, there are other possibilities — and just as I solved the Word crashes at work, and the wmiprvse.exe crashes on my own PC, I’m damned well gonna figure out why my own brain, the best computer I own, keeps BSoD-ing.  Here are my alternate explanations, in no particular order:

  • Not enough blood getting to the back of my cranium, thanks to sleeping wrong on my pillow and/or tying my scarf too tightly (it’s not exactly autoerotic asphyxiation, is it?), perhaps combined with how awkwardly I sit when I’m at home, limiting my blood flow.  It’s worth noting I had a bout one morning during the summer, when I was watching South Park on the Tube while the Sun shone on the back of my neck;
  • A virus that my American friend accidentally sent me in that package I mentioned last time.  I’ve not got any other significant symptoms, apart from the headache, but if this is the case, I just need to recover from the fever;
  • Some effect of those liquorice-flavoured throat sweets (which I mentioned before in the context of joint pain), either messing with my electrolytes, or giving me hallucinations when I have too many of them;
  • A brain tumour, which has been developing since at least 2015, and is “pushing” on part of my brain, occasionally causing certain synapses to fire, hence the current bouts all seeming similar in nature but having no intrinsic meaning.  Obviously this is a scary prospect, as even if it were operable, I’d be in for a world of hurt;
  • CJD prions slowly destroying my brain from within, thanks to “mad cow disease”.  This would of course be incurable (despite Jack Bauer surviving season 7 of 24), so I’m really hoping this isn’t the case;
  • Someone, alive or dead, trying to contact me telepathically, but I can’t understand them.  Much as I’d love for the paranormal to be true, this seems the least likely explanation, even if it would indicate why I get impressions rather than coherent thoughts;
  • My memory reaching its limit, and dumping old memories to make room for the stuff I’m trying to take in: not surprising, seeing as how I’m reading tech support “war stories” at work, a book about the paranormal at home, and the works of Stephen King on the Tube, as well as watching Futurama and The Twilight Zone, and learning new things all the time;
  • Repressed memories trying to “come back”, but too fast for me to understand them.  This seems unlikely, as none of the apparent triggers are in any way “new” to me, and they didn’t trigger something when I heard them before;
  • Lingering madness after replaying the classic game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth recently.  Well, they warn you about the possibility in the game’s opening screen!

(And hey, what if the Yithians from 250 million years ago are trying to mind-swap with me, hence the language issues… or already did previously, and that’s what I’m subconsciously trying to remember?  Or could the headaches mean I’m turning into a Deep One?  And so on… if H.P. Lovecraft is reading, I can only apologise!)

Of course, if I’ve sorted myself out by relaxing this weekend (just been to see Rogue One with “best mate” before he went back to Ireland), sleeping properly, eating reasonably well and — perhaps most importantly — drinking enough water, then this’ll just be another case of me worrying about nothing, and another excuse for a blog entry.  I’ll have an early night again tonight (how galling, Saturday night is normally when I stay up late watching horror movies!), and see how I feel tomorrow morning — but for now, I’m optimistic, as nothing strange happened today.

I have to hope it’s nothing serious, and especially not life-threatening — I have too much to live for at the moment (aside from having a good job and believing I’ll meet someone eventually, there’s a new Call of Cthulhu game coming out next year), and I don’t want something pitiful like a brain tumour to bring me down when I’m in my prime.  Suffice it to say:

Dave-ros is determined to go on living!

Eight days a week

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Consider this a combination of my “Sisyphus” and “Beavis and Butt-head fixing computer” images

By the end of tomorrow I’ll have worked seven days in a row, and the only reason it’s not more is that I took last Wednesday off to let British Gas in yet again (I’m not naming and shaming this time, as they’ve replaced my radiatior with one that actually heats my room now).  It’s thus entirely possible that mah jerrrb is taking over mah life, and the next stage might be for my boss to buy me a phone, so they can contact me any time they like…

I was always planning to go into work on Saturday in order to help one of my learned colleagues upgrade a server; this, however, was postponed indefinitely due to the fact that the server in question is too old and can’t be guaranteed to work with Windows Server 2012.  We were also having problems with our website, but my other learned colleague (the one I think of as senpai in Japanese terms, even though he’s a black Londoner, with no Far Eastern blood) didn’t need my assistance with that, and so I went home early, content that I’d have a bit of extra money from the overtime, and watched Scarface properly for the first time (a Blu-ray target of opportunity).

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from senpai on Sunday, asking me (and one other) to come in to help with the website, at double-time!  We didn’t get everything done on the day, but I helped restore sidebar navigation and replace broken URLs with working ones where I could… over about eight-and-a-half hours (so I’ll have no trouble paying for my mother and grandmother’s Christmas presents this year).  And then on Monday and Tuesday (today), I did more of the same — but this time, in conjunction with my normal weekday computer-fixing, printer-toner-replacing, backup-tape-swapping, PDF-default-program-resetting, crashed-mobile-phone-battery-taking-out-and-putting-in tasks!

I like to think I’m making myself indispensable (again), as not only have I helped with a lot of the donkey work in restoring the website, I’ve also learned how to sort out these kinds of problems in the future as they come in, and thus can take some of the strain off my colleagues.  Unfortunately I also learned some home truths this weekend: my other, other learned colleague (I have the three of them in a group called “Dorks” in my phone list) really doesn’t like or respect our boss, and is hoping to move on as soon as possible!  If it does come to pass, my hope is to learn as much about Citrix from him as I can before he leaves (a process already begun), and thus take on those duties as well — but would the pay rise compensate for the additional out-of-hours duties, and the inevitable stress and disruption to my (ahem) social life…?

At least I’ve sorted out (to much acclaim) the problem that was causing Word on certain people’s PCs to crash during Group Policy updates (as I thought, it was the printer refreshing), and thus cleared out some lingering tickets from my queue.  However, in the current website crisis, more than ever, I’ve noticed the tendency for two tickets to come in for every one ticket I close (hence the Sisyphus vibe in the image above) — and people still hold out a forlorn hope that we can press a button to restore the website fully, when in fact we (and they) have to go through what we currently have and manually fix the sidebars and links.  There’s no quick fix, especially considering we’re not sure why the website went wrong in the first place, and that it won’t happen again and undo all our work!

(But don’t tell anyone who I work for, okay?  It’s a good company, and I don’t want to bring dishonour upon them just because I wanted something work-related to talk about in my little-read blog!)

My other general life issues are mostly getting cleared up, and things are going well just before the end of a bad year: for one thing, the reason I won’t end up working eight days in a row (despite the Beatles-inspired title of this blog post) is that I’ve booked Thursday off work, and will thus be able to box with my personal trainer (the last time I see him this year), and go to Winter Wonderland with “best mate” when he’s back from Wales!  I’ve also received a load of Transformers-related presents from my old friend in Michigan (hopefully I can get him something through Amazon USA, and thus have it delivered before Christmas), and best of all, as I said before, my room’s tolerably warm now thanks to my new radiator (and the mild weather), so I’m more content to stay in this house a bit longer.

In addition, I’ve fixed that Reliability History-trashing wmiprvse.exe startup crash on my PC I mentioned previously: it’s 99% sure to have been Samsung Magician (which monitors the SSD I’ve had as my Windows drive since 2013), as stopping it auto-starting has ended the issue at a stroke!  Possibly it wasn’t contacting the Internet properly, thanks to the modified hosts file I use to block advertising and resist data harvesting, but there’s no way I’d stop doing that.  So there you go — even if I can’t fix everything at work, I’m still master of my own PC’s destiny… and I’m building one for my mother as well, using my old processor!

(Damn, still need a low-profile CPU heatsink/fan that’ll fit in the box, but the only half-decent ones that might actually work are sold by Amazon USA… gah!)

We’ve also got a new housemate, who’s settling in nicely, and our landlady’s forgiven me for questioning the 10% rent rise and isn’t suggesting I move out — which is good, because where the hell would I go, my family home in Worthing?!  Commuting from there to Oxford Circus would take two hours at the best of times, and Southern have ensured these are far, far worse times than ever (my mother’s still calling them “snivelling wretches” after one single visit to London during the summer!).  The landlady’s proxy (my former-drummer-turned-trucker housemate) is also moving out next year, and I’ll likely take on the duty of liaising with Virgin Media in order to manage our Internet connection — which I’ll do with an iron fist (and a MAC whitelist)!

Boy, I’m really getting into this IT career thing, aren’t I… and it’s only taken six years, two nervous breakdowns, one self-finding visit to the western USA, and more money than I’ve earned thus far! I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole I can bear to go: if they buy me a work phone, I have an idea (from how frequently I hear senpai‘s work phone buzzing as he gets a message, even on a quiet day) of just how much work I’d be burdened with, even when I’m supposed to be on leave.

But considering how low I was this time in 2011, we can say that at least I’ve left behind the “dark night of the soul”, and found instead… a hard day’s night?

(And I’ve been working like a Scumdog!  See, I’m still more a fan of Gwar than the Beatles…)