The past couple of weeks have been somewhat challenging. About two weeks ago now, I became rather ill on Sunday – being sick and starting to get headaches. So I went to bed and practically stayed there for four days. I don’t think it was Covid-19, but I wouldn’t have been able to get a test even if I wanted to. Anyway, I’ve perked up somewhat since then, so I think all is well moving forward.

Virgin? Not me, I’m experienced – I’m a previous customer!

But before that had happened, I had placed an order with Virgin Media to get their M500 broadband – up to 500Mbs (actually a bit faster than that) down, 37Mbs up. I was paying Zen a few quid less to get a static IP (which I don’t really need these days) and 300Mbs (though with a better upload speed of 50Mbs).

I went with a self-install, given that I already had Virgin Media in the house a few times. Plus it’s the only network that’s likely to get me up to 1Gbs before anybody else – depending on what kind of investment VM has in this area. 500Mbs is the fastest speed I’m going to get for now.

Alas Mart and Phones

But signing up to Virgin Media wasn’t without difficulty. I went through the online set-up and completed all sections, including credit check, and once that was completed the entire order was submitted.

ALAS!

The bloody Virgin Media web server timed out, returning an Oops, Sorry! message and leaving me thoroughly pissed off. Thankfully, it seemed, the order was still in the basket and submitting that did the trick (without having to go through the rigmarole of completing the form again).

ALAS!

Although I received an acknowledgement of the order, I was a bit concerned that over the following days I didn’t hear from Virgin to confirm everything properly. So I gave them a call.

ALAS!

The phone number quoted in the email from Virgin Media doesn’t work. Essentially you’re put through to an automated voice recording that tells you that due to the Coronavirus, many of the call centres have closed – and that’s your lot. No other option.

So a quick internet search found a more general number (because Virgin Media’s web site has been redesigned as part of the Covid-19 to make it very much harder to find a phone number and forces you to use their online services which aren’t helpful at all). So I gave that a call.

One hour later of being on-hold, I was put through to a very nice lady (not operating out the UK, however) and we went through the problem – the order was there, but incomplete. So we continued through it – and I managed to save a bit of money too. By taking out the basic phone line (which includes Talk Weekends) and a Virgin Mobile SIM only package (which I’ll use for my EE iPad Pro whose contract runs out next month) – it reduces the overall cost to £47.50 – a saving of around £12 against my Zen G.Fast 300Mbs line.

The self-install kit would arrive one day later than what was arranged with the “online” order, and everything was good to go. What I got when it did arrive was a reasonably sized box containing the Superhub 3, an isolator cable that’s supposed to be plugged into the wall socket and the Superhub, and power brick.

I’m not your Cable Guy

Now, I don’t have a wall socket. I have a cable that’s been run in from the outside VM box, and it features a male connector. The isolator cable provider is male to the wall socket. Well, that won’t do!

Thankfully I kept the previous cabling from 2018, and this is what I did:

The TRIS-1002L is an isolator itself

Initially I plugged the isolator cable into the end of the TRIS-1002L unit, and it works – but then again, I thought it seems silly to have two isolators put together like that. So I reached out and got the TV/broadband splitter:

Welcome to the wonderful world of Martyn’s cabling skills

There’s a good chance I may go for the VM TV down the road once they’ve phased out their Tivo boxes – some very interesting developments appear to be on the horizon which may give Sky TV a run for their money. But I can’t do anything for another year anyway.

But the cabling works just fine as is. The Virgin Media network found the hub just fine and everything came up within around 15 minutes. Testing the default configuration demonstrated the speeds possible, and all looked good, so I put the hub into modem mode for use with my existing AmpliFi router (which means I don’t need to reconfigure my Wi-Fi or ethernet set-up for every connected device). It’s interesting that although I use an entirely different subnet from the VM router, I can still access the VM hub via http://192.168.100.1.

One initial problem I did encounter was that initial speeds via the AmpliFi network were scatty – very scatty. I found that by rebooting my Netgear switch, everything sprung into life. Maybe stale traffic on the network was causing all manner of crap which was slowing things down. I don’t know.

When plugging the Xbox One X in (via the AmpliFi router itself), I found that I had to reboot the AmpliFi because one night (ironically when I first started writing this post), the entire network went down. At first I blamed Virgin Media, but no – it wasn’t that. Rebooting the AmpliFi router did the trick. Speaking of which, I’m entirely convinced iOS/iPadOS’ Wi-Fi Private Addresses is a good idea when using AmpliFi as I had enormous problems with Apple’s HomeKit until I had to turn Private Addresses off.

But since then, with my MacBook Pro on ethernet, I’ve achieved some amazing speeds:

Whoosh! Test results conducted via ethernet via AmpliFi router with Superhub 3.0 in Modem mode

When iOS 14 came out, the entire broadband connection was maxed out and it downloaded the entire update in less than 30 seconds. In normal use, the connection does fluctuate as not all internet connections are equal, one is competing with others with endpoints, etc. But generally it does perform better than my old Zen broadband and for £12 less per month, I am very happy.

If Virgin Media should roll out the 1Gbs connection to my area, I may well consider it – though Virgin Media’s faux pas with the Superhub 4 is that it only contains 1Gbs ethernet ports, allowing only a maximum of 974Mbs. Maybe the next revision of the Superhub 4 should come with 10Gbs ports as standard.

Next up: The Apple Watch Series 6 (size 44 Blue Aluminium Case) – a review.

(Part one can be found here)

It took me a while before I took the leap and went for an Apple iPhone, and until that happened, I was using mainly keypad-based phones (from Sony Ericsson no less). But that doesn’t mean to say they didn’t have awful cameras. In fact, I’d say that some of the following shots that you’re about to see are pretty damn good all things considered.

Nokia N70

I went through a few Nokias before ending up on my brand of choice, Sony. This also included the fancy-pants Nokia Communicator N9210. As wonderful as the N9210 was, it was ultimately impractical to carry about all the time and I switched the N70 which was a more sensible choice. The images it produced weren’t too shabby.

Here a few shots from Guilfest, the view out of our bedroom window at the time, and Pinewood Studios when I went to work on Universal Pictures’ The Wolfman.

Continue reading “So many cameras, too many phones! Part Two”

Back in the days of yore, the ZX Spectrum reigned king. My ZX Spectrum+ (48K) was solid built machine, and even the keys, while squishy, still felt comfortable, and the range of games and applications were just incredible.

Only known photo of my ZX Spectrum+ 48K

But eventually it gave up the ghost and was replaced by an Amstrad-made ZX Spectrum +2A. It had even better keys, memory, and a built-in cassette recorder – but it was notoriously buggy and crashed a lot. Especially annoying when it could take upwards of 10 minutes to load games.

BYO CRT – and look, I even had a mouse!
Joysticks were the only missing ingredient – the one I did have wasn’t very compatible

I miss the old geezer, I really do. It taught me patience (which has since long gone when I moved into modern IT, let me tell you; nothing infuriates me more than buggy software and hardware which seems to be getting worse every year). It taught me to program (maybe not very well, but I didn’t do too bad at secondary school, college and university). It taught me to appreciate what I had – especially when you consider that at the time 16-bit computers were making an impact into the home computing sector, and the likes of the American Atari ST and Commodore Amiga were the Ferraris of the day – better graphics, better music, better everything.

But now, the ZX Spectrum is making ANOTHER come back! After the success of the original Kickstarter campaign, the ZX Spectrum Next is getting an updated model – the ZX Spectrum Next issue 2. It features:

  • Processor: Z80 3.5MHz, 7MHz, 14MHz and 28MHz turbo modes
  • Memory: 1Mb RAM (expandable to 2Mb internally)
  • Video: 256 & 512 colours modes, 256×192 & 640×256 high resolution mode
  • Video Output: RGB, VGA, HDMI, 50Hz and 60Hz modes
  • Extra Hardware: Hardware sprites, DMA, Copper, Enhanced ULA, Tilemap, Layer2
  • Storage: SD Card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
  • Audio: 9 channels via 3x AY-3-8912 chips with stereo, plus 2x 8bit DACs output
  • Joystick: 2 ports compatible with Cursor, Kempston and Interface 2
  • PS/2 port: Mouse with Kempston mode emulation and/or external keyboard
  • Special: Multiface functionality for memory access, savegames, cheats etc.
  • Tape support: Combined Mic and Ear port for tape loading and saving
  • Expansion: Original external bus expansion port and accelerator expansion port
  • Accelerator board (optional): GPU / 1GHz CPU / 512Mb RAM
  • Network: Wi Fi module
  • Extras: Real Time Clock
  • OS: NextZXOS and NextBasic featuring expanded commands set

Long gone are cassettes – one can now use standard SD cards to load games (from the likes of the Spectrum game archives at the World of Spectrum which hosts – legitimately – a HUGE selection of games and utilities which can be loaded to SD and played on the machine) – though the Next issue 2 is able to load via cassette tape if you’re an absolute masochist and/or transferring old, rare tapes to SD card.

And it has Wi-Fi!

Just look at it in action:

£300 is too steep a price for me (for now), but it’s certainly looks to be a fantastic machine for those that loved the ZX Spectrum the first time around and have a few quid to spare. I have very fond memories of it, and this kind of thing makes me happy to see that people are willing and happy to revisit a time where things were more simple, but still a substantial amount of fun!

Just a friendly reminder that I retain copyright in all photos used in this post, and any unauthorised public use of these photos is strictly prohibited. If you want to use them on your own site, marketing or elsewhere – please get in touch.

Part One of Two

I’ve been sorting through my photo library on my Mac. I use Apple’s Photos app to manage and arrange all my photos – storing them all locally on my MacBook Pro (4Tb) as well as on my iPhone (512Gb) and iPad Pro 2018 (512Gb).

I constantly backup the local files (backing up iPhone and iPad directly to the Mac so that photos there are also backed up) to ensure that if iCloud Photos Library does something nasty, I can retrieve all 11,600+ photos and videos I’ve been collecting since the turn of the century (2000).

Doesn’t feel strange to say “turn of the century”? Hmm..

Anyway, I’ve just organised all my photos by camera type. And boy, there are a lot of camera types here!

I’ve gone through more phones than most people have had hot dinners. Occasionally I’ve bought the phone outright (and then sold on), sometimes on contract. But also mixed amongst that lot are a few decent cameras such as: Sony DSC-RX100M3, Sony DSC-RX100M5, Canon EOS 50D, Canon EOS 700D, Canon Powershot G5 and the Fujifilm FinePix S3300.

The following image shows the albums organised by camera model. The numbers underneath indicate how many photos and videos exist in each album. Note that some thumbnails are obscured to protect privacy. The numbers under the thumbnails represent the number of photos in each album.

Continue reading “So many cameras, too many phones!”

Knit one, pearl one
Drop one, curl one
Kick it

Vindaloo, by Fat Les

I don’t know much about football, but at least I know that it’s something that many people enjoy and like to spend lots of money on. Whether that’s attending matches, buying merchandising, or subscribing to exclusive TV sports channels.

Back in the 1990s when I was living in Norwich, the company I was working for at the time did a bit of work for the Canaries (Norwich City F.C.) – it even involved going up into the stadium’s offices in person – which wasn’t a hardship given that Net Communications Ltd. were situated just around the corner from them.

Alas I’ve not had the same privilege of visiting the Emirates Stadium, but given that I don’t actually need to physically be there (I work on the infrastructure for Arsenal’s site), it’s a moot point – though given the work I’ve done for Arsenal, I am tempted to visit one of these days. It’s a bit like Top Gear – never really liked the show until I started working alongside them, and then I took a great interest in what’s going – to the point of applying for tickets to the show despite not being able to drive. I’m getting more interested in Arsenal’s progression in this, the beautiful game (though I’d could argue that rugby is more so – my former landlord was a former England captain that saw them win the rugby world cup against New Zealand – it was a joy to watch).

What I’m trying to say is that I like Arsenal, and I like working for them through my employers. The infrastructure is interesting, and I’ve done a lot of work building scripts (alas not yet Ansible) to help manage and maintain it, including patching and deployment automation.

The most recent work was supporting the project manager and developers in ensuring that the site was able to take the load when the new Arsenal kit went live. Lots of work between different environments and testing. It was a great success, and it’s lovely to see my employers give shout outs to the team on LinkedIn. This is so much better than the movie industry – though to be fair, MPC did issue a number of adverts in the pages of Cinefex over the years listing our names even if we didn’t make the end credits of a film (which is 99% of the time).

I like to thank the Academy..

Now, I’ve just to got to learn of rules of Whack Bat and hope we can secure the e-commerce site of the official Whack Bat league.

Elsewhere in e-commerce space, Amazon Fresh seems to think condoms are cereal. I’m also concerned about the placement of Nut Butter below them…

“Nut Butter”

Well, I was wrong. And it kind of makes me happy that I was wrong. Apple will be going through another major architecture change for the Mac range of computers – even in the face of the pandemic and economic downturn. But after watching the the World Wide Developer Conference 2020 (WWDC 2020), I am somewhat more optimistic than I was.

I like how they demonstrated all the apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, alongside Adobe Photoshop, all running natively on Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor running macOS Big Sur (yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir), and the system didn’t flinch once. This is the same processor used in the iPad Pro 2020. And they demonstrated a triple-A game running with Intel x86 code translation, performing admirably well. What’s interesting is that these new Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPadOS apps natively. It’s genuinely nice to see a build once, run everywhere platform.

I’ve been down the Mac transition route before – my trusty work G4 to an Intel Core 2 Duo. It was pretty painless, though some apps were left behind because the developer didn’t want to update or couldn’t update for whatever reasons. But ultimately we came through with relatively few scratches and we’ve had a good long run with Intel and the x86 architecture.

The biggest question mark in the whole thing is how well Windows is likely to run through their virtualisation system. We saw Parallels, a VM system for the Mac run Debian 10 just fine, but Windows was not mentioned at all. It may be the biggest casualty in this transition, which could piss off a number of developers that work across Mac, iOS, Windows and Linux. Maybe more details will be forthcoming about how Windows and VM will work with the A-series processors. If at all.

It’s interesting to note that after 20 years, macOS gets a major revision change and becomes 11. Yes, they finally cranked it up to 11.

Mac OS XI?
Yes, sir, no sir, three bags full, sir – macOS Big Sur

I love what Apple are doing with iOS and iPadOS in terms of improving usability – especially with widgets embedded directly within the home screens. macOS Big Sur gets a major cosmetic change as well as architectural change, of course.

I won’t be able to afford a new Mac for a good 3-4 years, and unless this change introduces some major price discounts, the spec I’m using is not something I’m likely to be able to personally afford again for a long time. The resale value of my MacBook Pro is going to be affected, obviously, given the Intel Mac is given a commuted death sentence.

But the people that have spent over £10-50k on Mac Pros which only very recently were updated as late as 2019 were always going to be the people who were really going to be miffed. Thankfully Apple expects the transition to take two years (for the whole range of Mac systems, I presume), but will be supporting macOS on Intel Macs for a good more number of years (probably at least 5, I’d have thought).

It’s certainly a start of an interesting new era of Macs, and indeed, the whole Apple ecosystem. But what will the likes of the EU (which is currently going after Apple for their App Store) make of an entire closed loop system – and what about the right to repair? Interesting times indeed.

There’s a LOT of hype going around that Apple intends to announce the switch from Intel processors to their ARM-based A-series processors for the Mac line of laptop and desktop computers. There are plenty of reasons for doing so – including complete control of the silicon and working to Apple’s own time frame rather than that of a third supplier (e.g. Intel).

BUT..

.. we’re still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which isn’t slowing down significantly yet (indeed, it’s getting worse – and I trust the WHO a lot more than the blathering jibber jabber from the UK government and the constant lies and deceit from Trump). People are still getting sick. The economy is doing badly, and it’s going to take years to recover. People are either furloughed or have been made redundant. If we get a second wave and have to go into a series of lockdowns again – this is only going to cause more frustration and loss of income.

Is now REALLY the time to introduce a whole new architecture on the desktop? Sure, for most developers that have moved to Swift, this shouldn’t cause too many problems. But if A-series Macs are announced on Monday, we still don’t know how much the development kits are going to cost, what kind of support developers are going to get for them over the coming months (consumer support from Apple isn’t great right now – taking far longer than usual), when the new A-series Macs might be introduced and what models will get the A-series CPU treatment first, etc.

I think it’s going to be tough enough as it is just to get the new Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 consoles out the door later this year. Everything is so uncertain.

Even the iPhone 12 is said to be launching at least one month later than usual. For me, I don’t see much reason to upgrade – at least not for the cameras at least – since I’m stuck at home at the moment and there’s really not much reason to take photos of anything. 5G? That ain’t going to be happening around where I live for some time. Don’t use it much while I’m at home unless the main broadband starts playing up, or I need another connection to test web sites I’m working on. But 5G is not something I particularly need or want right now. What does interest me more this year is the Apple Watch, which has been an incredible device ever since it launched and improved leaps and bounds with every generation.

If A-series Macs are getting the go ahead, what happens with all the recently updated Macs such as the 16″ MacBook Pro which has a new $800 GPU option which essentially gives it close to 2x the graphics performance of the highest end model from the end of 2019. If a whole new iMac design is announced on Monday, that’s surely going to have Intel CPUs? Apple is still tweaking the Intel platform. Thus how long is Apple actually going to support the Intel platform for – and especially for those that can afford to fork out for the super expensive Mac Pro and iMac Pro models if they’re going to be heading over to the ARM architecture? How long is it going to take for Apple to get the A-series processors up to those levels of performance?

In these uncertain times, it’d be nice to keep things somewhat certain until the world has managed to get this bloody virus under some form of control. An entire architectural change is not what’s not needed immediately – it could stand to wait a year or two first.

I have recently bought the single biggest mechanical hard drive I have ever owned, or want to own. The reason for this is simple. Apple’s Media Services is a state of flux, dithering between downloads and streaming. It sells movies that you can stream from any of your Apple devices. Anywhere. Anytime. Going where there is no internet? Download it!

Surely Apple doesn’t expect you to download ALL your movies and TV shows – it takes up so much space?! With internal drives for MacBook Pros costing up to £2k for 8Tb, nobody is going to have all that money to keep their digital movie and TV collection on their Mac, safe and sound?

Apple recommends that you download your purchases because they told me (but they never make it clear in any of their advertising, nor through the user interfaces of their online stores) that titles can be pulled from the local iTunes store for a variety of reasons and unless you’ve downloaded your purchase, you’ll lose it forever. This, despite people buying digital content and streaming content directly from Apple’s servers – as this is the easiest way, and indeed, the way it was designed to be so. Rarely does a computer enter into the whole purchase thing. Got an Apple TV device? Just buy straight from your armchair. Buy from your iPhone or iPad. Easy.

Apple iTunes Store movie purchases are only downloadable up to HD quality only. Any advertised features such as 4K and iTunes Extras cannot be downloaded – they’re streamable only.

Still, I have nearly 500 movies in my collection which would be a considerable pain in the arse to store as physical media in the small house I live in. So I really ought to back up everything I got. Having something is better than nothing.

I looked at a number of options:

  • NAS device with at least 8Tb capacity, in RAID 1 configuration to ensure that both drives are mirrored simulataneously in case one drive fails.
  • Multiple WD Passport bus-powered 5Tb drives, splitting movies and TV shows across each device, and backing each one up to Amazon’s S3 Deep Glacier which charges just $1/Tb per month.
  • Single big drive, along with multiple WD Passport bus-powered drives to back up movies and TV shows separately as a backup.

The problem with the NAS device is that the enclosure alone is pricey. And that’s without any disks. Add the disks and it becomes very expensive. And the disks themselves are not going to be fast. So copying nearly 4Tb of data off the WD Passport 4Tb bus-powered, 5,400RPM drive I was using to back up everything was not going to be fast.

I looked at the Western Digital MyBook Duo range of drives, eyeing up a massive 24Tb beast. The advantage here is that the drives are WD Reds which are best designed for long term use, plus with the MyBook Duo enclosure, you can swap the drives out easily – and even upgrade. Downside was that the enclosure is plastic, plus there were many reports of it overheating as a result of that (though these reports go back to 2017/2018), and it was noisy. Plus they wanted £530 for it. And the disk performance wasn’t exactly great, either.

I started looking at Western Digital’s new WD_BLACK range. These are designed primarily for gamers, incorporating fast storage and plenty of capacity. What really caught my eye with the WD_Black D10 Game Drive for the Xbox One: 7,200RPM 3.5″ drive rated up to 250MB/S and a USB 3.2 gen 1 interface. The drive can be positioned horizontally (it has rubber feet) or vertically (comes with a stand).

WD_BLACK D10 Game Drive for Xbox One. Xbox One is purely optional.

Interestingly, the type of drives installed in these units appear to be datacentre-grade drives that are typically found in servers (Ultrastar DC 500 series drives, apparently). This means that they will keep up with demanding performance from reading/writing, and for a long time. And it was a bargain at £262. The only downside is that the drive comes with a 3-year limited warranty rather than the Ultrastar’s typical 5-year warranty.

So I bought one. Plus it came with 3 months Xbox One Game Pass Ultimate, so that’s extended my subscription to February 2021 (in case anybody’s wondering: the Xbox One Game pass is very much worthwhile if you’re an Xbox owner).

And I absolutely love the drive. The downside was that the WD Passport drive was so slow in transferring data, it was quicker to download the whole 4Tb from Apple’s servers. That took 2 days. But the drive performance is indeed excellent, reaching up to around 215MB/S write and 235MB/S read during my own tests.

3.9Tb of iTunes Store movie and TV show purchases

Apple’s Apple TV app on macOS Catalina is a massive pain in the arse, however. It’s so fragile about where data is stored. Get something every so slightly wrong and you’d need to download the movie/TV show again even if it exists on the filesystem. As I don’t have the drive going all the time, I created a new library by pressing the Option key down when opening the Apple TV app. I created a new library on the external drive and downloaded everything from there. The Mac and the drive were on for two solid days, and the D10 drive never once felt hot. Warm, yes, but never hot – and this is in the horizontal position.

What I need to remember is if I want to use the Apple TV app when the external drive is off, I need to press Option whilst opening the app to select the local internal SSD library. However, Apple TV seems very insistent on holding on to an internal database file which results in this:

This crops up (even in macOS Catalina 10.15.5) when Apple TV app isn’t running

and the only way to get around is to determine the process ID of whatever is holding onto the TV library database and kill it off:

I love UNIX.

which then allows me to open the other library. I’m not sure what effect killing off the process like that has on the internal Apple TV library, but so far I’ve found no ill effects. But it does suggest that maybe Apple needs to spend a bit more time working on closing files when the application closes..

So the drive is proving itself worthy. But isn’t it a single point of failure? Yes. But I intend to buy another one and clone this drive to it, keeping the second drive as a backup. And maybe later down the road, getting a MyBook Duo or NAS as an additional backup. Speed won’t matter too much, and it’ll just sit in the corner being idle for large amounts of time.

Speaking of backups, Apple’s Time Machine has become a massive pain in the arse, and I’ve stopped using it. In its place I’m using Acronis’ True Image 2020 which is so much faster, provides versioning and tidying up of versions older than X days/months old. It backs up to the 12Tb drive, naturally, and gives me plenty of space for a good while alongside the media library.

Acronis True Image 2020 for Mac – a better Time Machine replacement

Before the internet entered our everyday lives.. Bob Hoskins convinced us to keep on talking

The one thing about this pandemic and being in isolation is that we’ve never been more reliant on technology to keep in touch with each other.

Ever since I was little and got my hands on my first computer, a ZX81 that my dad borrowed from a neighbour, and having got my mind and grubby little mitts around the Telex system at my dad’s work (he’d let me type them up and send them – often many would go to clients in Japan), I was enamoured with computer networks and communication systems.

When the internet became prominent in the 90s, I started to get heavily involved with web design, I.T. consultation (writing a recommendation for a wireless network system for a national African insurance company – it was actually cheaper than a wired system, believe it or not), and systems administration work. I effectively dropped out of university to work with the internet, helping set-up and run a Norwich-based ISP. All dial-up – ADSL would be a good few years away back then.

Back in those days, social media was barely a thing. Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) were transitioning from dial-up only systems to the internet – these were the forerunners to internet forums – communities usually formed around a particular theme (such as computing, films, etc.). Usenet was a big thing – a global group of text-based forums where people could subscribe to, create posts, read posts and reply to them. You had to access them via a dedicated program on your computer as they were not generally web-based back then. Arguments about certain topics or people (aka flame wars) were a problem, but they were much less severe than they are now. In fact, everything back then was practically better – the fewer the people online, the less of a problem it was. Email spam was rare, DoS attacks were also pretty rare too. People generally, for the most part, behaved themselves.

Mobile phones were still pretty basic in the 90s – essentially limited to making phone calls, sending very limited text messages and playing ludicrously simple games. Cell coverage was pretty limited too, making it very difficult to get hold of people if they weren’t close enough to one of the few mobile phone masts.

Now?

We’re pretty much a 24/7 day, always on-call, always available society. We have more social networks than family members, mobile phones that are as powerful as our own desktop/laptop computers, superfast home broadband (well, there is room for improvement there), Wi-Fi is practically everywhere. It is fair to say that as a society, we are the most connected we have ever been.

And I’m finding it a bit of a struggle. My attempts to rejoin Twitter and start from scratch earlier this year were a noble one – just stick myself into read mode and post occasionally. Keep it light. Keep it non-controversial. I’d then find I miss particular people, then start adding them back into my feed. And before long it was practically my old account, just with fewer people I’m following, and with fewer followers. And it is still a trigger: so many political posts, so much anger about big and small things. A great deal matters, and yet so little does.

So I’m back off Twitter again. Hopefully for good. I need to keep my sanity about me.

Facebook has also been a bit of pain over the past few years too, but never at the kind of scale Twitter can get to. I’ve never really used it much – even back in the heyday when everybody shared everything with each other. But I will admit that over the past year it’s allowed me to keep in touch with family that bit better – my cousins, my sister, my aunts and uncle, old friends and colleagues – we’re all on Facebook. Even if Facebook is a data mining succubus, it has a genuine usefulness to it. Though with work and being on-call, it has proven difficult to switch off and sometimes I switch off in the wrong direction (e.g. friends and family rather than work) – and for that I am truly sorry. But the past few days on Facebook though have been fantastic, though – an old friend from school has found old cassette tapes that we used to produce for each other – a kind of radio show mixed with music and comedy – and uploaded them for me to listen. It brought back very fond memories, and I have to say that the quality of the comedy is on par with some of the stuff some so-called comedians pump out these days.

As I’ve said – the possibilities of the internet and communication back in the 90’s were so exciting and new. And here in 2020 it just makes me want to become a digital hermit at times, and especially within this pandemic which has promoted all this technology to become our primary method with talking to, and staying in touch with, our friends, family and work colleagues. Working in I.T. has paid off dividends over the years, but at the same time it does kind of extract a kind of toll.

In any event, I’m still here. Blogging, at the very least. I am a proud blogger even if I’m not particularly good at it. I was proud when Neil Gaiman(*) who introduced me to his friends as a blogger at a screening. It gives me a sense of value despite maybe not having such a good grasp on the English language or grammar as I’d like or should do (I blame the educmacation system, D’OH). Nor the patience for pease pudding, I mean proof reading.

Something that I watched recently on Apple TV+ struck home with me: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – Quarantine Special. While it is incredibly funny (this is the show that’s keeping me as an AppleTV+ subscriber), there was one moment when Poppy, who is the chief engineer at the game development company that features in the show, breaks down and cries – admitting to her boss Ian that she’s not okay. She’s single, she lives by herself and she isn’t coping very well in isolation. I had enormous empathy for her at that moment (and maybe a tear or three was shed). But as I have always been a bit of a loner, even while I was married, I tend to cope with things a bit better in these circumstances. Certainly I haven’t gotten to that point yet.


(*) (who made the news recently after travelling 12,000 miles from New Zealand to his own home in Skye – I don’t blame him at all for this given the circumstances and he did explain that he used every conceivable precaution going, but again, given the internet, the reaction was not at all pleasant and much Twitter blocking occurred – hence why I’ve quit, Twitter is far too toxic, and far too easy to enrage people and become enraged yourself.)