Category Archives: Marking time

Prelude to departure, part 94: the longest shortest night

This could be me reading “A Game of Thrones” on the flight, worrying at the back of my mind what’ll happen at customs

I seem to be ready for my looming holiday to Michigan, including checking in online, printing out my plane tickets, visa waiver confirmation and travel insurance document, packing my new suitcase (and attaching a pink name tag, just so I recognise it on the carousel), turning off the superior smartphone work bought me in May and “transferring the flag” back to the lesser phone I got in December (with my old SIM in it), bidding goodbye to my work colleagues and putting up a message in Outlook to advise my “flock”, finishing Dead Space: Extraction after eating pizza (with some slices saved for breakfast tomorrow)… but not burying the hatchet with “drummer-trucker”, as he’s apparently visiting his new home in the Westcountry today.  I’m not denying some disappointment, as I hoped we could part on polite terms, but maybe it’s easier this way — and perhaps I finally feel confident that he won’t do anything untoward between now and his final move-out date.

Even so, I still feel the same trepidation I felt before my last visit to Michigan in 2014, and before that, my holiday to the western USA in 2013: no matter how well I plan things, I always worry that something will go wrong.  For one thing, getting to Heathrow from here is a nightmare — not when “best mate” drove me in 2013, but certainly going via the cursed Piccadilly Line in 2014.  I’ve been advised to get the Heathrow Express from Paddington station, though getting there will be tricky as two of the Tube lines that go through it are suspended during the investigation into that terrible fire at Latimer Road (and yes, I agree the people involved in the fire are having a much worse time of it).  Travelling on the Tube itself will be an ordeal, as my flight is around midday, and thus I will have to make my journey during rush hour, which is unpleasant enough when I time it right and get a seat, and don’t have a suitcase as well as a backpack!

And even if I make it to the airport on time, and even if they let me on the flight without demur, and even if the first leg of the journey to Atlanta goes smoothly, I’ve still got to face the usual interrogation from a humourless (humorless?) jobsworth about why I’ve come to the USA — and while I’ve had no trouble getting past them and onto official US soil in the past (2014, 2013, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2001 and 1998 spring to mind), the current preznit’s exclusionary policy gives me pause.  Well, I know where I’m staying and who I’m staying with, and that the “purpose” of my visit is “pleasure”, so what else is there to worry about?

I’LL TELL YOU what else there is to worry about: in 2007 and 2014 my connecting flights to Flint Bishop were delayed, and it’s become something my American friend half-jokes about when I come to visit!  I already have a four-hour stopover at ATL, and I really don’t want it to extend to five or six hours, since by then I’ll be running on fumes!

(Happy as I am that thunderstorms are predicted for Michigan this week, I’ll be eternally grateful if they have the decency to hold off until Thursday!)

It’s the longest day and shortest night today, 20th June, but somehow I worry tonight’s going to feel like an eternity — not just due to the expectation of my trip: I’ve had real trouble sleeping the past few days thanks to this heatwave.  However, I’m hopeful that this time, unlike 2013 and 2014, I might just be able to catch enough sleep that I won’t arrive in Michigan having been awake for over 24 hours of subjective time (since my connecting flight is scheduled to land in Flint Bishop just before midnight, local time).  Aside from it feeling a little cooler and less sweltering tonight (it’s only 28°C in my room, practically freezing!), I’ve been using “sleep aid” tablets recently to help me get off to sleep more regularly; they’ve at least helped me get a few hours uninterrupted each night (until the birds start singing at the crack of dawn), and I’ll take some on the plane as well, in the hope that I can get some shut-eye.

If all goes well (IF!), and I land in Flint Bishop and am brought back to my friend’s family home around midnight without any problems, and I survive the night adjusting to (a) being five hours back in time and (b) having slept strange hours anyway, I’ll be all set for my two-week holiday to relax and enjoy being with my “second family”, sunbathing by the pool (hopefully the weather will improve), buying things in American malls (like shorts and flip-flops, since I lack these in Britain), and culminating in my first ever July 4th celebration within the US borders!

And when I come back here in the first week of July, I’ll have a new housemate, and one less stress-inducing person in my life (and hopefully discover no acts of vengeance by him); since I don’t go back to work until the following Monday, I’ll have a four-day weekend to recover from jet lag (though my personal trainer will be seeing me on the Friday evening!).

Somehow, I think I’ll need a holiday to recover from the ordeal of travelling to and from the United States… but you never know, I might write something interesting in this blog while I’m out there — just to remind you all:

DAVE-ROS LIVES, EVEN WHEN HE’S ON HOLIDAY!!!

Reconnecting with the past

I’m not writing about the UK general election tonight: everyone else has done it to death, and it’d be too late for me to influence anyone else anyway, even if I had any readers in this country to start with.

(However, I will say that those who think Corbyn’s Labour would roll us back to the 1970s should consider May’s Tories rolling us back to the 1870s, complete with workhouses for the poor… and disabled?)

No, instead I’ll talk about how I’m spending 2017 — the last year I can put a 3 in front of my age — looking back at things I’ve experienced.  I know, I do that all the time (hence my “then and now” blog category), but this year I feel like I’m finally moving forwards properly, and I want to know what to take with me and what to leave behind.

I’m beginning this by replaying all the original Tomb Raider games.  No, keep reading, I’m not just being dorky here, the first three take me back to the end of the 20th century!  I played the second extensively on my roommate’s PS1 when I was in Michigan in 1998-9 (indeed, I was on the last level of the ocean-bottom shipwreck segment on that day), and the third in late 2000 after graduating (with a guidebook, as it’s tricky to find those secrets!), but somehow it’s the original that resonates with me the most.  Aside from playing it in early 2000, when I should have been studying (though at that point I had little hope of a First), I also played it in Michigan during Christmas 1999, on my roommate’s family PC — so wandering the Egypt levels strangely made me feel just a little cold, as though it was snowing outside…

Barring problems relating to the authoritarian nature of both UK and US policy (I hope the CIA don’t read this blog!), I’ll be travelling to Michigan and meeting the family all over again, near the end of this month.  I’d thought my visit back in 2014 would be the last time I ever saw Fenton (the chorus to the Eminem song “Legacy” echoing in my head), but in fact they stayed put instead of moving to Washington State.  I’m visiting roomie’s younger brother once again, but this time I hope to communicate with roomie himself, and perhaps their little sister, via webcam — I haven’t seen either since 2007!  Sadly, the dog I first met in 2003 and the cat I first met in 1998 are long gone, but the other dog I first met in 2006 should still remember me.

There’s someone else from Michigan I wish I could reconnect with, but I’ve never been able to find her on Facebook… no, not the girl from “that day” — I’m not completely living in the past, you know — but rather a female friend I made at UMich and stayed in contact with during the early 21st century, even meeting up with her when I visited Michigan in 2001.  We e-mailed each other all the time, and even played online games of Jeopardy!, and I like to think we cheered each other up in those dark days.

It’s a shame we drifted apart, but she’s not the only “old friend” I’ve lost: despite getting back in touch with several old school chums thanks to Zuckerberg, some of the best friends I ever had have either not shown up, or ignored me completely.  Naturally I won’t name names, but still, let this serve as a counterpoint to my list of bullies:

  • “JE”, who was my best friend from almost the moment we moved to Surrey in 1985, and who I knew at school for around six years, still visiting him (or having him over) when I started going to private school, and having him visit us in Worthing two summers running (we saw Jurassic Park together).
  • “CS”, who was a funny guy at my secondary school in Surrey, and whose nickname made him seem like a certain singer-turned-Muslim.  Sad thing is, I probably annoyed him by calling him to reminisce when we moved to Worthing, but we used to have a good laugh during our days at that school, which (perhaps largely due to my following years in Worthing) I recall as the happiest of my teenage life.
  • “MW”, who was my best friend throughout my time at secondary school in Worthing, and with whom I managed to stay in touch when I went to university, and after when I came back to Worthing; we even had a tradition of buying each other birthday presents in October/November which cost exactly the same!  Sadly, I haven’t heard from him since coming to London, and he’s not acknowledged me on Facebook at all.
  • “AS”, a dear friend and fellow Geology student during my undergrad days, who lived in my corridor in our freshman year and joined in playing cards every night; we did fall out at one point, but when I came back from my year away in Michigan, he was still there (doing a four-year version of my course), and we grew closer.  He comforted me the day I found out my grandfather had died on the operating table, and I like to think I repaid him by helping him with his maths!

I know you can’t always go backwards and reconnect with your long-lost past, but these are people I wish I could show how far I’ve come since they knew me — I’m no longer the dorky loser I was back in, er, 1985 to 2003! — and thank, for helping me get through my formative years.

However, more than that, I want (at long last) to get back in touch with my father, from whom I hadn’t heard since 1988 (yes, nineteen eighty-eight, that’s not a typo!).  My mother’s tried to help me find him, and he is indeed right there on Forces Reunited, but I can’t use that service as I’ve not been in the service (nice pun, eh?), and it’s just for ex-soldiers and the like (and also needs you to pay).  However, one of my old school friends with whom I’ve been in touch via Facebook for years may be able to help me, as he served in the RAF and knows all the right sources to contact.

It’s a scary prospect, especially since my pap might have no interest in meeting me, but I want to take the chance and show him that I’ve done all right for myself, even if I’m not a military man, or even technically a man’s man.  He advised me in that last letter to make sure I have a good job, and I think I’ve finally achieved that; if I can impress him with what I’ve achieved, I’ll feel like I’m ready to move on with my life and leave behind my childish angst.

Here’s hoping I can finally remember the face of my father…

April’s good luck May run out

My victory anthem, “Iron Man”, if you please, lads?  Oh, wait, that YouTube video’s been blocked now… bungholes!

Although I later found out I was even safer, I thought when my latest Student Loans letter arrived, I’d just escaped having to start paying it back by virtue of earning too much.  I got them under pre-Tony Blair circumstances (along with grants, which students starting from 1998 onwards didn’t get at all), and the deal is that I can defer for a year, every year, if my monthly gross earnings are below X amount and I can prove it.

Because I’m a human being from the planet Earth, I’d be very happy to put off repaying them indefinitely — so I was taking a big risk by accepting a further pay rise at work (a reappraisal of the pay scales, just after I was put on a different scale), as this would be over £28k, and I calculated I’d, at best, be very close to the monthly limit, which I knew would be on the order of £2,400 per calendar month.

(But, as you know, I like to live dangerously…)

Imagine my astonishment when my mother e-mailed me a scan of the latest Student Loans deferment application letter, on the very same day that my April payslip became available… the letter said my limit was £2,402, and my payslip said that, including the monthly payment I get towards my gym membership (which admittedly may not actually count), my salary for April was… £2,400.75.  Yes, it seemed I was earning a whole £1.25 below the monthly limit, and could thus defer for another year, instead of my pay rise being wiped out by payments I don’t actually want to make if I can avoid them!

It wasn’t so simple, however.  The bad news is, she’d accidentally sent me last year’s letter (and with one page missing — the one I’d need to sign!), so I had to print out and complete the form all over again anyway; but the good news is, this year’s real letter put the monthly limit even higher, at £2,427 — so maybe I’ll still be below next April, when I go up a spinal column point…?

I’d rather the train had been this empty… better to be sitting down in a gloom than standing up in a rage!

Sadly, I think my good luck ran out as April ended and May began, as travelling to a climbing centre in Mile End at the weekend to meet my newest Japanese friend was a debacle (thanks to getting lost, having misunderstood where we were actually meeting), and today, thanks to a ticket machine at Finchley Central delaying me, I missed my usual train down from Mill Hill East and had to STAND the entire way to work, and therefore not be able to watch a Gundam episode… before beginning a very difficult day at work, with what felt like too much to do after returning from the Bank Holiday weekend.  Of course, I’ve had far, far worse days in the past, but it feels like I’ve used up all my good fortune, and this is just the start…

Consider this: I’ve been trying to arrange tickets to Michigan for late June / early July, so I can support my old roommate’s brother taking part in a bodybuilding show, and also be over for Independence Day (for the first time in my life), but that sure coulda’ went better: if I’d bought them a month ago, I’d have saved a couple of hundred quid — but instead I went and waited until now, and when I finally got tickets (thanks to Delta, no thanks to Virgin), I’ve had to settle for trips that will leave me waiting 4 or 5 hours in Atlanta each way!

(Though I’m more worried that 4 hours won’t be enough time, if they decide to question me at length upon my arrival — or does that only happen to people from “Muslamic” countries, not of course including Saudi Arabia?)

And now I’m worried that I’ll have an unpleasant run-in with my former-drummer housemate in the near future, as my luck in avoiding him completely (or only encountering him briefly, or when someone else is around) can’t last indefinitely.  Despite his recent behaviour, I find myself wishing I could bury the hatchet (in a non-cranial location) at some point, and just put the bickering behind us: not so much because I want to be friends again as to make sure he doesn’t evict me while I’m in Michigan.  However, it’s really up to him to be more amiable and less jeering when he encounters me, and I suspect it’s largely down to his alcohol intake (and other substances?) when he’s at home, after driving trucks across the country.

I expect the next time he has a go, I’ll finally be inspired to write the lengthy post about school/work bullies and difficult housemates I’ve faced down over the years, that I’ve been planning in earnest since he first had a go at me in 2017… but let’s not dwell on that, let’s focus on the good things — when he moves out in August or September, I fully intend to upgrade my PC of Theseus with a (fairly) modern Skylake CPU, motherboard and DDR4 memory (and probably a new casing) for my (ahem)th birthday in October, thus doing away with the last vestiges of my 2011 computer purchases.

That is, if there’s still a world by October… it won’t do me much good to get such a good salary, with no Student Loan repayments coming out of it, if the Brexiting economy crashes around me… or the US government (perhaps just to shut Trump up) starts World War III, and we’re at ground zero!

Too much, too soon?

A lot of stuff is going on in my life all at once, and I wonder if the reason I keep getting “brain fuzz”, even after cutting down on caffeine, is that my brain’s shutting down whenever it’s overstimulated.  I’ve had quite a few bouts recently, and while I seldom get more than one a day like I did in December (when it was really bad), it’s still troubling — so I’m going to see the quack again tomorrow, in the hope that whoever’s filling in for my actual GP can give me better advice than “keep an eye on it”.

This occurs just as I’ve taken a half-day to visit the dentist tooth-quack, in order to restore an external filling over a tooth root.  There’s been a groove at the top of that tooth for years now (apparently due to the gum receding), and while the operation went well in the end, I’d had a nightmare last night in which my lower right canine was coming out, and I was desperately trying to force it back into the socket!  It’s not the first time I’ve had that exact dream (a previous dentist said it was due to tooth-grinding in sleep), and I have to wonder if it’s stress, and thus a sleepless night (despite retiring early), that’s given me my mental problems today.

If I hadn’t been seeing the dentist this morning, I’d have been staying in anyway, as the landlady told us she was having a mortgage surveyor (or “survivor”, as autocorrect put it) come over to look at our house.  She’d made a mistake, and he’s actually coming tomorrow, but I’ll be having the entire day off to let him in… and also see the quack, and hopefully rest my head a bit, in case it’s stress that leads to my bouts of “brain fuzz”.  But how can I reduce stress if it’s possible that the landlady’s thinking of selling this place, and we all have to move out?

Can I really go through the stress of January 2012 all over again, even if the weather’s a bit less cold and miserable at this time of year?  I know I complain about this house in winter, but I’ve got a good thing going here, with rent being lower than it should be for Finchley; it’s also a good spot on the Northern Line, as I can always get a seat on trains that come down from Mill Hill East (strikes and “good service” notwithstanding) — and I wonder if I could find the same in a cheaper location.

($DEITY help me if I have to live on the cursed Piccadilly Line again… and $EVIL_DEITY help me if I have to live on Caledonian Road again!)

There’s also the question of anywhere here in London, on a tolerable public transport route, actually being cheaper anyway; I don’t want my recent pay rise to be wiped out by either higher rent or higher transport costs (or both).  To complicate matters, I am in fact due a second pay rise next month, owing to a new payscale being implemented at my workplace, but I’m concerned that this might set me just above the monthly gross wage limit that would disallow me from deferring repaying my student loans for another year.  I may be all right (it’ll be close, that’s for sure), but if I do have to start paying back, will the payments wipe out my wage increase?

I certainly can’t give up on London and move back to Worthing, for a reason more immediate than the usual loathing of the town where I endured my teenage years.  My grandmother needs to sleep in my old room, as it’s close to the bathroom, only using the tiny room at the back of the flat when I come to visit at the weekend; when she’s had her knee operation in April, she’ll need it even more certainly, to the point that I won’t be able to visit at all for a few weeks while she convalseces!  This means that I’ll definitely have to find a new place to rent here in London if the landlady sells, no matter what — but the timescale matters, as how quickly would she want us out?

So you see, there’s a lot going on in my life right now, and perhaps it’s not so surprising that my brain keeps doing strange things (especially if I have my shoulders hunched through stress, and can’t sleep properly no matter how early I get my head down).  Perhaps it’s like when the people at work have computer problems, and I tell them to “turn it off and on again” (which works a lot more often than it should) — I really need to rest and relax, and not stare at computer screens all day, every day, for pleasure as well as work.

What I really need is a holiday… and how convenient, my old Michigan roomie’s brother has invited me over to watch him take part in a bodybuilding show; if I can get the right tickets (and if it doesn’t overlap with possibly having to find a new place to live), this could mean I stay for Independence Day as well, a holiday I’ve never experienced in the US of A… and maybe it’ll actually be sunny enough for me to go outside, despite it being Michigan.

But oh, what about the Trump administration planning to force tourists to hand over their passwords and bank details, just to make sure we’re not terrorists (or to plant evidence if they want to pretend we are)?  Argh, stress, stress, streeeessss!

(On the plus side, my former-drummer housemate and I seem to be back down to Defcom 4…)

The see-saw tilts again

mpfc_swing

“…and a tendency to wobble up and down in the middle because the screw’s loose.”

Sometimes it seems that I can never have an unequivocally good time at both home and work; as one thing improves, the other develops a problem.

Yes, I know, everything’s in cycles, but they usually change any time I comment on them to someone close — how I used to bicker with my UMich roommate in 1998-9 one day, and the next find him being civil and chatty.

And similarly, my former-drummer housemate, having been a jerk to me last Thursday, seems to have mellowed a bit now, probably because I haven’t managed to get on his nerves in a while, thanks to avoiding him outright whenever I can.  I did try to apologise on Sunday for the pie incident, but he threw it back in my face, and also accused me and our Turkish housemate (with whom he’s had major arguments in the past) of being “anti-social”, despite the fact that he seems to be more reclusive than either of us, since ending his career as a session drummer and drumming instructor.

Maybe I should pity him, as I know how hard it can be to interact with people after spending a lot of time alone, and he’s leaving music behind to drive trucks for a living… but at least tonight he’s been relatively decent, not having a go at me for cooking in the kitchen (beyond the usual implied criticism for eating Quorn).  In US military terms, I’d say we’re back down to Defcom 3 — not exactly peace, but not overt conflict.

(I just wish I hadn’t become so paranoid that I’d downloaded a sound recorder app onto my phone, in case I needed evidence…)

But as that situation goes up, so the other end of my life see-saw, work, goes down just a little bit.  Those of you who have worked in helpdesk roles will understand the ticket system: broadly speaking, your “flock” e-mails the helpdesk address with problems, tickets are created and assigned, and you’re judged on how quickly you resolve them, and also on the rating that the original senders give upon completion.  Maybe the details are different for you, but that’s my lot in life, and I either pass on tickets to my teammates (where it’s their speciality or otherwise beyond me), or shoulder the burden myself.

I deal quickly with a hell of a lot of tickets, including layman stuff like changing printer toners (though I monitor those myself anyway, and thus usually obviate tickets being needed at all), adding people to or removing them from e-mail groups, troubleshooting simple problems with people’s computers, setting up and deploying new hardware, training people to use the infernal Skype for Business, installing the infernal Windows 10 updates, creating new starters’ accounts, setting up equipment for video conference calls… all the stuff you’d expect Tier 1 to do, and a bit of Tier 2 as well, as they’re happy for me to take on more tasks where I know what I’m doing.

However, every so often a ticket will come along that I’m supposed to deal with, but which taunts and frustrates me.  There’s one young lady downstairs whose PC I set up for her when she started (one of the first I did, in fact), but which seems to give her no end of bother.  Every time I think I’ve fixed something (e.g. by reinstalling Firefox), either the same problem or a worse one arises.  It’s probably not unrelated to her habit of having 20-30 e-mails open in Outlook at any one time, along with 20 or 30 tabs open in Internet Explorer…

And my boss is getting concerned about the time it’s taking me to resolve this… but even though we now have some brand new Windows 10 PCs ready to set up, she wants me to “do something drastic” to resolve this, and re-image the girl’s PC.  This is despite it having started life as a Windows 7 machine, re-imaged with Windows 8, and then upgraded to Windows 10 during the “free” period — which means I have no way of knowing which of our (expired) Windows 8 keys I could put in, even if that’d work with Windows 10 installation media.  I can also try telling Windows 10 to “reset” itself, but even if either of these techniques works, I fear it’ll serve to do nothing save undo all the tweaks I’ve put in to overcome problems (such as changing graphics card options), and just bring back every problem we’ve already overcome — and how will that lead to a quicker resolution?

Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely boss when things are going well, and she (mostly) respects me and my opinions (even if she’s one of those people who tends to treat me like a naive manchild); but she’s very much a manager first and a computer expert second, and doesn’t always appreciate how difficult some tasks are.  On the other hand, she’s allegedly a lot nicer and more understanding than other IT bosses, and the team whose member has this issue is one which always seems to find things to complain about (especially another member, to whom my boss refers with a preciousss nickname), so I’m motivated to get it taken care of, for her sake as well as my own.

(However, I’m not averse to simply outright replacing the girl’s PC and lying about it, perhaps in conjunction with another of her teammates whose PC definitely needs a replacement… results are what matter, right?)

And that’s not the worst part: I’ve had other tickets open altogether too long, thanks to users not responding when I’ve asked them for updates (or re-opening tickets that I’ve tried to close as impossible to fulfil), combined with my tendency to procrastinate if I need someone’s advice but he’s too damn busy with a more important task (it doesn’t help that I work in the office five days a week, while the others frequently work from home).

face

What I really need to do is remind myself that one bit of honest criticism doesn’t mean my job’s hanging by a thread again: even if my boss wanted a pretext to get rid of me (despite my having made it successfully through 2016), a lot of people at my employer seem to like me, give me good reviews on my successfully-closed tickets, and sometimes even refer to me as a “hero” — so there’d probably be a rebellion if she got rid of me so unceremoniously (especially considering how bad my predecessors were).

However, I also shouldn’t get complacent: while it’s certainly true that I close a lot more tickets than my colleagues, that’s simply because I take care of all the easy “low-hanging fruit” tickets, while they focus on the more complex tasks (like university e-mail servers bouncing our messages, in a kind of arms race), or specialised tasks that a sub-team deals with (like the members’ database).  I’m part of the team — the face, as you’ll remember — and while I work hard and do my best, now and then I do need a bit of a kick up the rear to remind me not to procrastinate, that I really do need to pester my colleagues for help (or pester users for more information), rather than let things slide due to a lack of confidence.

And confidence is something I need at home as well: if I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I be intimidated and stay in my room until that guy’s gone, or worry about cooking stuff in the oven if he’s around in the evening?  In all probability he’s the one suffering from confidence issues at the moment (truck-driving sounds like a lonely, thankless and unrewarding career), and putting on loud bravado to cover his fear of human contact — so no sense in treating him like I’m afraid to be alone in a room with him, as he’s annoying at times but relatively harmless, and he does still coordinate paying the rent and other bills on our behalf.

(Or, on the other hand, he’s on drugs?)

I hope I’m wrong about work and home being the see-saw of my life, and that both can in fact be good at the same time.  Of course, there’s other aspects to my life, such as my ongoing attempts to find a girlfriend — could it be a triangular see-saw? — but I don’t want one thing to suffer just because the other things are going well: I want it all…

— — —

One way in which I’m trying to improve my confidence is to just “go for it” whenever I’m reluctant to finalise something — like an e-mail to a user, or a post in this blog that I’ve been picking at for far too long.  I just think to myself: “I like to live dangerously”… in reference to this classic Austin Powers scene.  And on that basis, I’m going to stop worrying about typos or word usage (or accuracy, which never bothers me normally), and click “Publish” for this post…

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?

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!