Monthly Archives: January 2020

New year, new OS?

Dammit Beavis, he’s using that, like, picture of us at this computer thing again, or something!

Looks like I’ll need to make another big jump in word processorising in order to keep writing my diary (somewhere other than on my PC at work), as Tuesday is the day that Windows 7 (and Office 2010) pass into the clearing at the end of the path — or at least lose all hope of being patched by Micro$haft (sort-of named and shamed), unless you’re a business and can afford their fees.

(They’ll still patch Win7, but not for home users?  Is that because we’re their test base for Win10, and so they want us to use that instead?)

Updating to Windows 10 isn’t a positive option — I’ve done that on the Frankencomputer at my family home in Worthing (the one upon which I installed Win7 as an experiment back in the day), and it’s just as bad as on my flock’s PCs at work — and staying on Win7 would be risky (much like WinXP when that went obsolete a few years ago), as even more bugs and backdoors may be revealed, enabling h4x0rz to extort us with ransomware, or steal our private information in a way that MS can only dream of.

Thus I’m strongly considering switching over from my May 2011 installation of Win7 (the very final aspect that lingers from May 2011 on my PC of Theseus) to a flavour of Linux, the free-at-the-point-of-use family of OSes; I’ve had the “Mint” version installed on a slow but serviceable laptop (a relic from work that they let me take home) for some time, and it seems to do all the same stuff as Windows, but (unlike Win10) doesn’t have a load of unturnoffable telemetry, and unavoidable patches that may actually screw you over — imagine if I lost my diary this way!

(Like I said: we, the home users, are their unwilling test base, so they don’t have to employ their own QA section!)

Anyway, Linux Mint — it’s an OS that stays out of the way instead of advertising and subtly installing bloatware (or limiting you to installing stuff from their quasi-Apple, quasi-Android app store), and forcing you to update with a full restart every so often… sorry, I’m still having a go at Win10 — but hey, remember my job!  It has a start menu, it has desktop icons, it has shortcuts pinned to the taskbar, it runs Mozilla Firefox (I avoid Google Chrome due to its telemetry, which MS are also looking at incorporating), it lets you actually change settings without needing to go to old and new settings screens, and it runs software — and yes, it lets you put up wallpaper… in my case, ahem, anime babes.

I’m going to look at reverting to good ol’ OpenOffice — or, in terms of forking off after (diab)Oracle took over, the superior LibreOffice — since even if it’d work under Linux, Office 2010 is also on the way out (and I have no desire to do everything online through Office 365).  This is something I’ll help my mother with too: her current PC of Theseus also runs Win7 (and Office 2007), but she wants to continue creating and editing proper Word documents that others can access, instead of some esoteric format, so I’ll need to prove to her that it can be done and nothing significant would change.

One aspect which my mother won’t need, but I certainly shall (still the old playboy lifestyle!), is video gaming — in particular, the Steam games library program, which among other things records your purchase licences.  The good news is that it’s available for Linux, and some actual games have Linux version too… but by no means all: I see there’s Borderlands 2 but not the original, BioShock Infinite but not the first two, and neither of the Rage games I’m playing through now.

(Astonishingly, all three of the most recent generation of Tomb Raider games have Linux versions, but I already played them to death in 2018 and 2019!)

It’s a while since I played Nidhogg against my mother — will it work in Linux, with two joypads?  Hmm, it works with one, that’s a good sign…

However, there’s a lot of experimentation going on at the moment, regarding the running of Windows-made programs under Linux through an emulator process called WINE, and Linux Steam itself has an option to let you install non-Linux-version games anyway — no promises of full functionality (especially in multiplayer games, though I don’t touch that side of things anyway), but I have… faith that things will improve over time, as more geeks like me (and no, I don’t find that term offensive, at least when we use it) will be ditching Windows but still wanting to use software we paid for.

I’ll look at getting a new SSD (the current one I got in late 2013, and thus one of the oldest components) onto which I can install Linux as a first step, and see whether connecting up my other two physical drives works or not.  These are a yuge SSD (a 2017 work present, same as my current CPU), with my games installed, and an old “spinning rust” one with My Documents upon it, but as long as they’re detected and NTFS isn’t treated as some freaky foreign format, my only problem could be whether I need to reinstall any of my Steam games completely from scratch (which could mean a geological age of downloading), or if they just need some extras.

(And I haven’t even begun to consider the other game installer libraries, like Uplay, Origin and — but at least Good Old Games are putting in some effort with Galaxy!)

One more aspect I wonder about, though: while I certainly should be able to play CDs and DVDs (and hopefully rip them as well), will anything available for Linux enable me to play Blu-rays (VLC apparently only works in some cases), or would I have to get an actual player to plug into my TV?  When you consider the one my folks passed down to me in Worthing doesn’t play some modern discs (and its firmware can only be upgraded with a file dating back to 2011, which needs to be burned onto a very specific format of CD-R), you can’t help but wonder about planned obsolescence…

Twenty-eight years later

Today was a totally horrible day back.
—Me at the start of school in 1992, underestimating just how bad things would get later on

Obvious disclaimer: this was written recently, not in 1992

This year, 2020, is significant to me for one particular reason: it’s got the same date structure as 1992, due to a 28-year cycle I figured out (seven leap years, cycling through which day of the week 29th February occurs on), which is the year we moved to Worthing, one of the worst things to ever happen to my family — and also the year that I, over twenty years before starting this blog, began writing a diary, which I’ve continued to this day.

(Sorry, this is gonna be a looong, self-indulgent post…)

I started writing it in something I’ve just reminded myself of in an Amstrad CPC emulator: the word processor aspect of Mini Office II, which my folks got for me for Christmas 1991.  It was yesterday (Monday 6th January), more than a quarter of a century ago, that I began on the first day of the Spring term at my secondary school, and already I knew we’d be moving away from Walton-on-Thames due to my grandfather’s job being transferred down south.

Boy, that program was unwieldy, and limited to 16kB worth of characters — and some idiot non-h4x0r must have programmed it to count even the empty spaces of the margins either side of the actual document to count as characters in the memory!  Hence I only wrote it on school days, because I simply didn’t have enough room to include weekends (except maybe a brief flashback on Monday) — and I also didn’t write during holidays (again, with a summary afterwards, especially after summer).

Indeed, I almost stopped writing after the half-term holiday twenty-eight Februarys ago, but fortunately only missed out one week — and shortly afterwards, lost the Wednesday 11th March entry due to changing the side of the 3″ disc I was saving to, and not realising (thanks to the Amstrad not dating files)!  Fortunately they were the only diary entries I lost, though I certainly came close in November, when I accidentally erased the files I’d been writing since September and the start of my time at a new school, but fortunately even the Amstrad could “unerase”.

And so it continued for the rest of my school days, and indeed university — though I did use two other word processors: the copy of Tasword I got from Amstrad Action just before Easter 1993 sucked, and it was very reluctantly that I used it for the first couple of months in 1997, when my 3″ disc drive was malfunctioning, and I had to do everything on my secondary 3½” disc drive (upon which Mini Office II couldn’t run), until the situation was resolved.  That program had even less space (and justified paragraphs together unless they were space out with blank lines), and I had to split weeks into separate files!

Alas, poor Amstrad (my fault for bashing the keyboard in frustration) — but good job I didn’t need to rely on tape by the end of 1991

And then there’s disc images: all the data of a 3″ disc transferred to a file on a 3½” disc (formatted for a PC to read), which meant I could back everything up to my university personal hard drive space, and access via Amstrad emulator (running a disc image version of Mini Office II) — hence I was still able to write if my Amstrad wasn’t available.  This was significant in early 1998, when it gave up the ghost, though when my folks helped me find a Worthing chap selling a refurbished 6128, I also got hold of the far superior Protext — and if I’d had that from the very start in 1992, ooh, I wonder how much more I’d have written (including weekends)…


I kept my e-mails while I was at the American university in 1998-9 and during the summer, hence at least having some semblance of a journal, but when I returned to university over here, I was able to buy my own (second-hand) PC, and install upon it (my mother’s PC’s copy of) Win98 — and although I still wrote only diary entries on weekdays (except on special occasions) and split the weeks into separate files, I was now using… wait for it… Wordpad.  Well, at least I could do bold, italic and underlined, and different font sizes — and now it was proportional instead of monotype!  And I wasn’t limited to 16kB, which meant I could say a bit more.

I didn’t write anything contemporary after university, until the end of 2001: I’d been compiling the text of all my diary entries (this time, the weekly documents transferred to my PC as text files) into Word documents, complete with superior formatting (and yes, I corrected some spelling mistakes!). Thanks to things like e-mails (again) and receipts (so I could see when I’d bought things), I managed to write monthly entries about my time back in Worthing with my folks up to that point, after which I finally wrote “live” again — still in the form of monthly entries (based on daily notes I kept).  When I went back to university as a postgrad in 2003, I resumed writing on weekdays (and not during holiday periods), in my old style, albeit now in Word properly.

I finished my post-postgraduate time in 2004 going back to monthly entries (sometimes written much later, and in one case not compiled from its notes at all!), but in 2005 I started something new and more convenient: writing maybe a paragraph about each day, including weekends, with no break periods and no retrospectives!  Except sometimes writing about Friday on Sunday (which I came to call a “Sunday Night Special”), and of course after holidays (including trips with my friends and Christmases with my folks), but I kept going, recording my life in what I often referred to as “these hallowed pages”.  I did this in Word at first, but then ditched Microsoft for the OpenOffice suite, only to convert back when my workplace let me have a copy of Office 2007 (and later 2010), somehow not losing any text or formatting in the process!

Even if I start losing my memory, I’ve got the writing to remind me… as long as I remember how to turn my PC on

It was only in 2012, after the worst time of my life, that I ended that 2005-2011 Word document and started a new one, finally writing multiple paragraphs of feeling each day like I used to before I got lazy, and I’ve been doing it ever since.  Yes, I still write at weekends (admittedly mostly saving Saturday’s text for Sunday), but obviously I can only write retrospectively for holidays abroad (such as 2013), and still I take notes for holiday breaks when I’m near a PC (such as my convalescence in 2018) for later compilation into something readable.

(I’ve also been writing a “prequel” of events in my life prior to 1992, thanks to things like family memories, the dates on comics and magazines, and BBC Genome — yes, I remember a lot of TV from my childhood!)

Yes, I want it all published some day (hence I sent what I’d written thus far to my mother when I was about to go under the knife), but it’d probably be best to arrange for it to happen after my passing… partly so it would be my testament to the ages, but mainly so I’m beyond legal action for insulting my classmates over the years!  Right from the start, when I thanked the readers for their time and bade them “g’night” in the first entry, I’ve been writing this for others than just myself…

Will it one day be regarded as a modern-day autobiographical version of the Bible, and usher in a utopian, Bill & Ted-style world where war is ended and everyone gets on with their lives, due to laughing at my jokes, impressions and parodies?  If so, could someone travel back in time and let me know…?

— — —

Would I travel back in time to January 1992 and relive my earlier life?  Well, er, no — I still ate meat in those days (only so much as considering vegetarianism in 1995), and I’d have to face leaving behind the place I’d liked living in since 1985, and a school I’d enjoyed since 1990, to a dump of a town (in which my family’s been stuck ever since) and a school full of bullies (not all of them male!) — in late 1992 I didn’t contemplate suicide, but I certainly wished I was dead sometimes.  On the other hand, my grandfather and Scraps would still be alive, and at least I’d have a few more months at a school where I was happy…

I’ve probably said it before, but I wouldn’t go back in time to “enjoy” my past — okay, maybe 2013 when I was sorting my life out (and getting into Gwar), or the second half of 2016, when I’d finally made a name for myself at work (and almost got a girlfriend), before things really began to go wrong in my bonce.  There’s also circa 2006, when although the house in was dismal, at least I was living with my postgrad friends — indeed, I just happened to visit my old street in the Wood Green area recently (having just gone dancing in nearby Seven Sisters).  Oh, and 1998 in Michigan, of course, but this time taking things slower (assuming knowledge of the future stayed in my head, and not the brain tumour).

Ah, memories… sorry, I was miles away — no, I really don’t want to go backwards, just forward to better things.  However, it’s always good to learn from the past, lest we repeat it…