CSI Wellington

April 17, 2012
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Picture the scene: I entered the house and there was something peculiar afoot. A bag of shopping that I’d brought home earlier had been knocked over. My assumption was that some feline interloper had been in through the cat flap and knocked it over while trying to rub against it, the way cats do. Must have been a big cat, I concluded, which discounted our borderline munchkin moggie.

Beware of first conclusions.

Awhile later I discovered a box of tea jammed into a corner of the room and the truth of the scenario dawned instantly. The tea in question wasn’t your average breakfast variety, but a relaxing tea, which counter intuitively contains catnip – and our cat loves em. Obviously, despite the tea being plastic wrapped, the cat had been desperate to get some, out of the bag she fished it; across the floor she chased it.

This was not the first time that returning home has posed a mini mystery to me but the previous incident was a lot, lot more disturbing.

My parents and I had been to my grandparent’s and by the time we returned home it was dark. Pulling onto the driveway everything seemed as it should, the lights were on as expected because my older brother had stayed home.

We hopped out of the car and approached the house. My dad twisted the key in the Yale lock and we entered.

“Hello,” someone called. No reply, came the answer.

So my brother had left the lights on but gone out. He’d left a lot of lights on, but maybe he’d only just popped out, most of his mates lived close by.

“That’s odd,” my dad said, “the phone’s off the hook.” And it wasn’t just off the hook; the receiver was completely off the hook and hanging off the side of the record cabinet that the phone sat on. I didn’t know what kind of struggle would only leave a phone in a moderately precarious state and touch nothing else, and clearly neither did my parents, so there was still calm.

Of the many lights that could be seen on form the outside, my brother’s bedroom light was one of them. I expect it was this that drew someone upstairs. There things became entirely filmic. There was a record on my brother’s turntable and it was still revolving, the needle tracing the infinity of the runoff groove.

Had my brother been listing to music while on the phone then simply vanished? Your own house isn’t meant to be like the Mary Celeste.

I expect my parents were freaking out, “Tales of the Unexpected” was a very popular TV show in those days, but they weren’t letting on.

Then my brother turned up. Not in a ditch somewhere, thankfully, but from next door.

He’d been listening to music when he’d wondered how loud it sounded outside. So he went out onto the street to find out. But he let the door close behind him – the latch clicked into place and he was locked out. He’d gone next door and had been furnished with a coat hanger. This he’d used to try to hook a set of door keys, all of which were conveniently hung up within close proximity to the letterbox. However, he’d failed to snare the keys and had only managed to dislodge the telephone.

Having failed, he’d returned to the next door neighbour’s house and awaited our return.

Obviously that was a mystery that didn’t need to be solved, my brother told us. If he’d been a cat I reckon we’d still be mulling it over now.


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Jack Tramiel – Simply Greatness

April 10, 2012
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Somewhere in a loft, in the fair and mighty county of North Yorkshire, there rests my greatest teenage dream. In 1987 I turned 12 and, apart from being besotted with the female of the species, I had a craving for technology, any technology, and when the Atari ST came into my sights it was love at first sight.

Rest in peace and thank you Jack Tramiel...

The following year I was extremely lucky and managed to snag myself a 520 Atari STFM – it had a built in disk drive (still the half meg version) and TV modulator!

And how I loved it.

I used that computer day and night – pixel art in Degas Elite, writing in First Word Plus, cranking out poems with some weird automated poetry writing software, failing to learn to program with STOS, even sound sampling – which really meant recording things then playing them backwards or at different pitches. And, of course, games, great great games, like Stunt Car Racer, Dungeon Master, Midwinter, Populous and the Secret of Monkey Island. Work (sort of) and play all in one perfect package.

That ST got used so much that the left mouse button stopped working with any reliability within a year, so my dad swapped the wires around so the right mouse button got all the action. Soon I had to get a new mouse altogether, a Naksha mouse, still the best mouse I’ve ever owned. The power supply even flaked out after a few years of merciless heat and had to be replaced, which is still the pinnacle of my electronic engineering endeavours.

The man that made this machine possible was Jack Tramiel, a survivor of Auschwitz and founder of Commodore. Under his reign Commodore made and sold a little computer called the Commodore 64, which is a blockbuster by anyone’s standards, bringing a proper computing into tens of millions of homes.

Corporate wrangling left Jack on the wrong side of the Commodore board room door, so he set up a new company, acquired the computer half of Atari and drove too hard a bargain trying to purchase the Amiga, allowing Commodore to step in and make a sensible offer for the technology instead. Incapable of admitting defeat, Tramiel and Atari cobbled together the ST from off the shelf parts (not like any shelf I ever had) and made my decade.

I’ve been working in video games development for nearly 17 years now, using skills I half learned with a clunky mouse and my first full keyboard. When people say “you know computers” to me, it’s Jack Tramiel and the Atari ST that deserve the credit.

Thank you Jack, for making the machine that made me, I will forever be in your debt.

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I have a lot of…

April 1, 2012
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I have a lot of blogs (see side bar on the right for details) but my latest addition isn’t a blog, which is a relief.

Around about the start of the week I saw somebody on Twitter mention Pinterest. It might have been Guy Kawasaki, but I’m not sure, and even if I didn’t see his tweet about it, I expect he did tweet about it, so I’m kinda covered on the technical truth front.

Anyway, I had no idea what Pinterest was, but it sounded interesting, especially because my brain kept breaking the word down into “Pint” and “Erest” – I like the word Pint. Using Google and its mighty powers I soon found out I should be thinking “Pin” and “Interest” and thinking online pin boards.

It’s invite only, so I had to ask to be invited to join, which meant I had to wait about 24 hours to get pinning. Now I’m on I realise it’s a solution to a problem I definitely knew I had. The problem for me is this – keeping some kind of vaguely ordered record of all the cool things I come across on the interwebs. Yes, there are solutions for this, but Pinterest fits the bill better than any others.

Not that I’ve actually pinned much yet.


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