Friday, 9 October 2020

Changing Circumstances

 When you've basically done the same thing for more than 20 years, it can be easy to become just stuck in the rut. I have helped at Copycat / Computers4-u for more than two decades - all of this century - but that has now come to an end.

The decision to leave was mine, and I'm not going to go into my reasons, but now I am able to focus more clearly on what I want to do and how I want to do it.

One of the first of those things is to get back into creating websites and enjoying the process. This is something that I have slowly fallen behind in over the last three or four years and I need to bring my skills up to date.

My first attempt is with my own primary site I've found a nice template online - there's no shame in cheating a little - and modified it to suit my needs. I've created some new graphics and cut down the content dramatically for a more modern feel. The major changes are in design philosophy. This site is "responsive". In web terms, responsive means that the layout and organisation of the site responds to different screen sizes and devices. It works equally well on a mobile phone screen, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop and across all major platforms.

Expect more like this to follow in the future, as I do appear to have been bitten by the design bug once more.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Out of Lock-down

There are some experiences that, perhaps, one would hope to never have to go through. As an island community, the Isle of Man has come through the COVID-19 pandemic better than many other places. Any island nation has the option - as we did here - to close the border and then tackle the pathogen on our own terms. This is a process that has worked for our island and several other places around the world.

It can be easy to criticise the political and governmental structure with the power of hindsight, but I have to say, not without a little reluctance from force of habit, that our government did as well as one could expect when difficult circumstances were changing and developing rapidly. They didn't get everything right and that's actually okay. No-one can, or should, expect a perfect response during such a crisis and there will always be mistakes made as the information available changes.

So, things are returning to some level of normality. My sister and her family are back on the island after their necessary exile to the UK. Shops are open and businesses are starting to resume normal operations.

I'm back at work and doing more-or-less the same thing as before. I tried - despite the debilitating attack of sciatica that plagued me for almost two months at the start of lock-down - to keep myself busy and productive. I managed some programming, did a few remote assistance calls and tried to not resort to endless TV or YouTube.

I also finally got the time to write the detailed travelogue that I always promised myself would be done one day. In 85,000 words, I've written the story of my eight trips to Africa over the last dozen years. I'm now in the final process of reviewing the proof copies before self-publishing the volume through The plan, at the moment, is to release a paperback version - with over 100 b/w photos - in 320 pages. because of the photos, this will end up being priced at around £25. Because this is a lot for a book, I'm also looking at doing a text-only version that should be able to be much more sensibly priced. This will also make it easier to produce an e-reader compatible version for kindle and ipad in the near future.

If you want to keep up with progress on the publishing of this book, and also about my travels and other book projects, then you can find out more at my publishing site.

Monday, 23 March 2020

COVID-19 Contingency Plans

As I write this, the Isle of Man is not at the stage of lock-down yet, but we have to try and make plans to keep civilisation going!

So, as things stand, I'm able to make calls to anyone who is not isolating. I would, however, prefer to fix software related problems remotely if possible.

So, if you need help, by all means call me on my usual mobile number: 469115. If possible, have TeamViewer installed before you call and we'll try and get logged in straight away and see if I can at least do some diagnosis. This doesn't help if it's a networking problem, but we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.

I'm also available on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger most of the time.

Stay Safe!

Monday, 24 February 2020

Language Progressions

There is always the possibility that I could get fed up with programming. My biggest problem with it - and don't misunderstand, I love programming - it the proliferation of programming languages and the apparent need to be "up-to-date" with the latest trendy languages and developments.

Programming is a fairly universal skill. You learn how to do it in one language and the principals then transfer to most other languages fairly easily. It isn't like learning a spoken language at all. The proliferation of the internet also makes it easier than ever to pick up a different language and move forward with help form friendly communities across the world.

The bottom line? well, in order to quickly and easily program some stuff for a Raspberry Pi, I'm learning Python. It seems to be going quite well so far, although some of the structures and conventions are a little bit alien to an aged BASIC programmer like me. Once again, this is a non-graphical environment. The programs being written are geared towards controlling and sensing the real world - think switches, motors, relays and sensors.

What is great is the range of modules and examples available. I can get things moving quickly and feel like I'm making real progress. Hopefully, as I get better at remembering the syntax, I'll get a bit quicker than I am at the moment and won't feel the urge to just step back and do it in BASIC!

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Zambia Report

This one is ready in record time. I wrote the entire text of the journal for our epic trip to Zambia while I was there and finished it on the plane on the way back. To sum up:


I saw everything I could hope to see, so many mammals and such good views that I'm overwhelmed by the whole trip and the destination. South Luangwa is the best National Park I've visited in Africa, both in terms of the range of game and also in the quality and frequency of sightings - even in what is considered the quiet season.

The trip report starts HERE...

I've also finished the book of the trip and the first copies are already on their way from the printers. Here's the preview as usual.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Fruit Trees and Macro Photography

I've always loved having fruiting trees (and bushes) in the garden. Probably because as a small child I spent so much time down at Bretney running around the orchard pinching gooseberries, apples, pears and plums as they came to just that first point of ripeness.

As an adult, I still have that love of eating a fruit straight from the plant and, in our fairly small garden, have too many trees for comfort. it makes the grass cutting into quite an exercise in ducking, dodging and weaving around trunks and branches.

This year, the weather seems to have been very kind to the blossom on the trees that have flowered so far. Often the earliest - the cherry plums in particular - seem to come into flower and then get battered by a late frost or an easterly gale. This year that doesn't seem to be the case. The weather has been fairly gentle for the most part and the blossom on all the trees so far has been prolific.

Add to this the fact that, for the first time ever, I have both pear trees actually flowering and it should be a summer to look forward to. Pears always seem to be a bit of a let-down for me. I got both trees within a year of each other, different varieties that should complement and pollinate together in the hopes of actually getting a crop. One -  the Conference I think - has managed to flower just about every year since it was planted. The other (I'm sure its a William) has resolutely held itself aloof, never offering even a hint of a bud in more than 10 years, until now. Well, they do say "Apples for your children, pears for your grand-children". I don't have either but I get the point now!

So far, the Cherry Plums, Plums, Pears and Cherries have all flowered magnificently. Just the apples remain still in tight buds. Hopefully a good crop of all lies ahead - even if the blackbirds and starlings always get all the cherries.

The macro facilities of the Canon SX730 make taking pictures of the delicate flowers a real pleasure and it seems to do a really good job of capturing the subtle colours of these fascinating little blossoms. Why do so many gardens have a flowering cherry, when you can have a fruiting one instead?

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Dead Lens - Part 2 - The Canon Arrives

Well, the new camera has arrived and I've had a good few days to play around with it and see what it's capable of. You can definitely call me impressed. While the critical image quality will never quite match the large-sensor performance of my SLR, it really is very good. The focus is crisp, the speed is acceptable, the zoom range is almost frightening and the resulting photos are detailed and have pleasing colours.

I'm actually using it almost exclusively on Auto at the moment, but I've experimented with switching into Program mode to do some macros of flowers with excellent results. I have even taken a couple of sequences to turn into panoramas and the lack of distortion at medium zoom settings makes this a pleasure.

I can't quite hold it steady at maximum zoom, but I only need to lean against something solid and let the shake-reduction take a hand and the results are really good. I don't think I will ever get used to not having a viewfinder, but I can live with it for the convenience of having such a powerful camera in my coat pocket all the time.

So, the birds are visible and identifiable (most important for a trip to the dark continent and a competitive list). I haven't had time to do any real landscape stuff yet - I did struggle into Dhoon Glen yesterday with really painful results, but the images are a bit too busy for my liking - but as the trees gain their leaves in the upcoming weeks I'll get more chance I hope.

There are sure to be more photos to follow and I hope they continue to surprise me with their quality as the coming weeks unfold.