Thursday, February 24, 2011

I'm getting dizzy...

...the number of times I've been on a roll this week!

But first, february.


Well, so far this month we've had rain, frost, very cold biting winds, and snow, all topped off with today, which is actually a lovely spring day.

Everyone is doing stuff outside, whether packing caravans, cleaning cars, taking their dogs for a walk, taking their kids to the park etc. The birds are singing, the ducks are quacking, the sun is beaming down on everything, the grass is green, the water is wet, even some flowers are starting to come out, adding a splash of colour (to compete with the frequent splashes of muddy puddles) to the local park.
And in addition to it all, the local kids have been attending the "Sheffield Parks and Countryside Rangers' Minibeast Safari".

And, with a loud buzzing of wings, I think the first wasp/bee of the year has just flown into my room! Seems to have buzzed off now (They're a bugger to get out of the house again, since I refuse to kill them, the only solution is to kinda guide them through the house to the nearest open window).

Anyway, the safari. I can't remember the poster word for word, but it gave the local kids (the little ones who are interested in such things - the older ones are interested in getting drunk and fighting each other, obviously) the opportunity to wander around the woods and grass in the park, finding stuff like centipedes and spiders and millipedes and oligochaeta etc, and look at them with magnifying glasses and things, and even "help the rangers set up 'minibeast hotels' for them". Which presumably took the form of plastic containers with leaves and twigs and stuff for the creatures to crawl around in and eat and stuff. The kids were also invited to draw pictures or make models of their favourite minibeasts.
The rangers had set up a little marquee with tables and stuff in the park, and there were plenty of kids wandering around with butterfly nets and bits of paper and everything, and to say that we had an inch of snow a week ago, watching everyone out in the sunshine enjoying themselves made me smile. For my part, I was bimbling around on my (very muddy, but it works just fine) bike, and generally being cheerful. The air seems to have that odd slightly spicy peaty smell that it tends to have on lovely spring days like this, so it's all nice and seasonal.

I would have taken my ickle nephew to the safari, but he's with his parents and my mum on a trip to the coast. Not to worry, I've got some cool birthday presents for him for this weekend :-).


Well, things have been proceeding apace at College (depending on who I talk to, where I go seems to change. To friends, it's College, to close friends it's Skool, to Americans it's Tech College etc etc, Tech College sounds best I spose. Maybe I should start calling it that). We've been storming through the modules to the tune of one or two a week, and so far my lowest end-of-module-test score was 91%. I could be doing better, but not much. With two test scores at 100% and two over 96%, I'm not doing too badly.

One of the awesome things that I love about my course is that it's hands-on. The last one was all theory, which I hated, so I left. This one actually puts theory into practice, and putting together machines properly and getting everything just right, is starting to become a source of personal pride for me; as an example, while I was installing an OS on a system yesterday, I spent the free time removing blanking plates off nonfunctioning computers, fitting them to mine, and making the machine physically look as good and as appealing as possible :-).
The note on the bottom of the spec sheet that I taped to the case, warned "Do NOT disassemble. I spent ages making this box look leet". I think Tech college would probably be the only place in the city where everyone got the joke.
It got a better laugh than I expected actually!

One awesome side-benefit of studying there is that as I've already mentioned, due to whatever agreement they have with whoever supplies them with their systems, they don't seem too hung-up on donating bits to needy people, i.e. students who ask for them nicely. This week, I came home with an Intel Celeron 2.4 CPU, a special blanking plate for the back of my computer, and a 40gb 2.5" laptop hard drive.

The Celeron came in useful for my side project...


Back in the good old days you see, before I built the lovely shiny computer that I'm using at the minute, I used one that I bought from PC world. A sparkly shiny silver and white Packard Bell that at the time was a pretty cool machine. It had a Celeron 1.8 processor and 256mb of ram.

Of course, when I built my new computer, it went up in the loft, saved from the bin only by my stubborn habit of keeping things with sentimental value. And there, it stayed, on its side, in the cold loft, for the next 5 years.

Of course, I figured that I may as well get some hands on skills in my own time, so down it came. Initially I was just going to take it to bits for the hell of it, but partway through I figured it'd be just as much fun to see if I could get it working again.

I started by stripping the computer down to its last screw, to a completely bare chassis. Every part was cleaned of dust, including the CPU fan and heatsink which were fairly icky, and every part was carefully put back together. I found an old hard drive in a plastic bag, in the drive bay, and figured I'd fit it properly and use it as a primary drive.

And what do you know, the computer works. It runs windows just fine, even a couple of older games with its cute little ATI Radeon 9000 graphics card (which at the time cost me about £120, and now costs £6.50!!! Talk about depreciation!!!).

I started getting a bit carried away, upgrading the computer's RAM, taking it from 256 to 1024MB, and I replaced the old 1.8 Celeron with the aforementioned 2.4.

And it still works! In fact, it now officially works better than it ever did. I'm hoping to pass it onto my sister :-).

So there we go!

Here are some shiny pickatures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Peripheral Vision (also, Happy Birthday To Meee)

Also, Happy 250th Blog Post :-).

Yep, it's me again. I mean it's my blog, come on, who else would it be?

Well, as you can see, I'm kinda running dangerously low on space on my desk. Even at the best of times it's always been a bit of a squeeze, and my lovely shiny briffday present (the wheel) means that if I want to chat AND race at the same time, I have to lean over to use my keyboard. Bad ergonomics.

How long this situation continues however, is of course, ever open to debate: My desk might have been reasonably solidly built when it was new, but years and years of continual daily use (14,600 hours in the past 5 years, at a rough guess) means that the desk is held together more with wood filler and rawlplugs, than with screws and dowels. Three sets of runners are knackered on it, so the pullout shelf, the drawer, and one of the CD trays all do their best to dump their contents on the floor if I'm not careful. Not to worry, I want to rebuild it sometime this year anyway. This is another "I'll do it when...(I have some money)" project that sits on my mental "I'll do it when..." shelf, next to the big shiny new computer that I haven't yet started saving up for.

But yes, the wheel. It's a thrustmaster Ferrari GT, and taking into account the gift voucher I used to pay for part of it, plus the money I was given to buy it, and the loyalty card points I got for buying it, it cost me -£19. It seems that "the best things in life are free" only applies to other people while for me, I actually get paid to take them. Which brings me neatly around to my course.

Yep, I've now finished week 2 of the course, and while tuesday's "theory/revision" lesson consisted entirely of 4 hours of revision and end-of-module-test taking (I have access to all the course materials including the ability to take the tests at home, so theoretically I could do the first of the two courses that I'm on without ever setting foot in a classroom), the practical on wednesday was much more interesting.
Again, the day started with doing a clean-sweep of some systems and installing an OS on them so they could be resold, but the lesson was much more hardware oriented. Having been expecting to be sitting watching progress bars all day, I was pleasantly surprised by the end of the day to have swapped out a malfunctioning DVD drive, as well as installing two CPU assemblies, and about half a dozen sticks of RAM.

Highlights of that lesson included one of our new classmates (the 17yo kid, Liam, seems to be wavering as to whether he's really bothered about the course at all) opening a system up, and finding the CPU sat loose on the motherboard, and the heat sink rattling around in one of the drive bays (!), a second new dude's system beeping at him and refusing to boot, but only until I opened it up and put a stick of RAM in there (everyone starts somewhere, I know, but even I find it funny when someone puts a computer with no PSU on the workbench, and then complains that he can't find where to plug the power lead), and weirdly, a malfunctioning CD drive that the first dude fixed, turned out to have a coin rattling about inside the mechanism!

The second set of highlights was cooler though, since we restore these machines to factory spec, things like firewire/usb cards, graphics cards, and sound cards, tend to be taken out and given to the students, on the basis that "the computers cost us nothing, why not spread the love?" or something like that.
I set off home on wednesday with a new (to me) fairly old, (but very shiny and much better than the on-board realtec sound chip I was using) Sound Blaster Audigy ZS Platinum sound card, as well as a front-mounted USB/SATA/Firewire/Audio/SD/CF Card reader all-in-one thingumabob. Like this, but better.

Aside from some driver issues with the sound card (now fixed, mostly) and the fact that the card reader doesn't like SDHC cards, (I just plug the card into a USB adaptor and plug that into the reader), they're both now happily sitting in the computer doing stuff.

As for my wheel and pedals, They come in very handy when playing one of my favourite driving games. I didn't realise quite how handy until I plugged them in for the first time. Let's just say that using a wheel instead of the keyboard has made a slight difference to my lap times, heh.

And finally, we come to my birthday. Yep, I never writing this thing in order, but hey. My sister was the first to come bearing yummy gifts, including a box of yummy sweets from my ickle nephew, a huge pack of yummy pork crunch just like my Christmas one, and a cardboard thingie with lots of yummy beef jerky on it. Now someone (Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, I can't remember) commented on the fact that they print lovely ladies on the cardboard backdrop, to inspire customers to keep buying peanuts/beef jerky etc on the off chance they might eventually get a look at a cardboard nipple. I'd always considered it unlikely that the women on any of these backdrops had nipples on display because pubs were, well, still public places. Nevertheless, after eating 7 of the packets, the woman was more er, exposed so I had a quick look.
There are no nipples. See, I was right. Though to look, there may well have been not only nipples, but full blown boobs, if her arms and hair weren't in the way. But using that logic, any woman walking on the street could be said to be showing her private parts off, her modesty protected only by clothing (!).
What was I talking about? I don't know. But the beef jerky is yummy.

From my mum and dad, I got a signed (from my mum and dad?) book, "Healthy Family Recipes". This was due to me expressing enjoyment of cooking, and a wish to cook more often (I really AM turning into my father's son. That or I'm just getting domesticated). I'm loathe to admit it lest I sound like I'm 46 instead of 26, but some of the recipes in there actually look really yummy. Provided I don't burn them like I burned my last attempt at cooking a family meal.

After lots of hinting and outright asking on my part, and after playing an awesome game of UT3 where I got an epic score (see pic), I went to the lovely local restaurant, where I had not one but two of their lovely milkshakes, followed by a couple of pints of very slightly flavoured golden fizzy water called Becks. At this point I was presented with a lovely magnetic gift from my Brother and his wife, a set of 216 (I still have all 216 of them, despite struggling to retreive 6 that got stuck - literally - down the back of my radiator (EDIT: I now have 211. Bugger!!!)) spherical magnets.
So far, I have learned to make several interesting shapes with them. I can make: A line, a strip, a square, a hexagon, a triangle and a tube :-). I can also make a long chain of them and wear them around my neck, which is probably fun. They're quite annoyingly fun to play with. Annoying because they encourage you to play with them for half an hour at a time when you should be doing other stuff.

We were sat at a table, where I had some balloons tied to my chair to mark me out to everyone, and I was handed a rather elaborate and colourful balloon hat to wear, to add to the festivity.

I had nachos, of course, because TGI's only serves the best nachos, cooked in-house I believe instead of the other places that seem to cheet (haha see what I did there? :P) and use doritos. After my burger and just before I was able to escape, I was cornered against the table and had a song sung to me wishing me happy birthday, which raised a lot of cheering and clapping from a (possibly drunk) work's party on the next table.
In leiu of a birthday cake (I just realised! I didn't get a cake this year!!!!) I was then presented with a bowl of yummy ice cream with chocolate bits in, and strangely, a fork to eat it with, heh.

After getting home, I hastily completed the TGI satisfaction survey (I promised the staff member I'd do it, as she seemed very friendly and she mentioned she could get a bottle of champagne if we said we liked our service - I'm a sucker for people being nice to me heh), which apparently entitles her to a bottle of champagne, and me to some free nachos.
I then went and drank my traditional birthday alcohol before having a very late night.

And now I think I'm off to do the same. Might hit the roads again later :-).

Have fun folks!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Back to School...


Sorry for the long pause.
I got them trapped in a lift door.

Ahem, so, what has happened in my life in the past 3 or so weeks?

Weeelll, I've slept a lot. Drank a lot. Drank lots of TEGH (which is my secret special drink), and up until recently, that has been the sum of my activities, in their entirity.

For the past two days though, I've been wandering round a technology college, carrying notepads full of weird acronyms and terms like "Parity", "EEPROM", ESD, DDR3 and NTFS. Yep, as the title suggests, I seem to be transitioning from "unemployed bum" to "Trainee ICT Technician (and I receive some kind of Cisco accredited certification as well apparently - 2 certificates for the price of one!)", which as I understand it, is a fairly good springboard to more specific and specialised jobs in the IT/ICT sector.

My course is broken into two bits, the Cisco bit, which seems to cover everything from "A computer is an electrical device capable of performing calculations based on a set of instructions" to things like, lemme see... (I've got access to the course material at home, thanks to the intermernets)... "Advanced Networks", "Advanced Security" etc etc, which is done in the classroom, and the Other bit which we started to get into today, which is done in the "lab", which so far (it's only day 2 so it's not going to be advanced straight away), seems to consist of wiping everything off old (well, celeron 1.4) machines, reformatting and doing a clean OS install (plus updating the drivers and installing basic software etc), prior to sending them to being sold on.
As time goes on apparently we will progress into diagnosing faults, fixing them, and eventually be building systems from scratch.
Mixed in with this are various modules on customer relations/plain speaking (no, really! Technobabble is more likely to annoy than to inform apparently), health and safety in the workplace (never attempt to work on a CRT monitor, and never never ever do so while attached to it with an antistatic wrist strap - the majority of it is common sense really). So it seems to be a pretty thorough course.

The college itself is a decent enough place, all new carpets, white walls, glass and steel. Nice and air conditioned (ah, not so good when you're working in the lab), full of vending machines which liberally but expensively distribute drinks that you are allowed to drink in the lab/classroom "Use your common sense, if you spill it, what are you going to damage, other than the carpet? Nothing? Go ahead then", and right in the middle of town, 5 minutes walk from the most incredible sandwich shop I've ever been to (£3.50 will get you a super deluxe joyful chicken burger the size of a lava lamp, seriously).
The atmosphere is relaxed "If you need to leave early, or come in later than usual, or if you want to go and get a drink or whatever, that's fine, you can come and go", and the tutors seem to place great emphasis on what we want to get out of the course "If there is something you want included that isn't included, let us know and we'll do our best to include it").
There are only five of us in the class, and we range from one bloke in his 50s who wants a change of carreer, to our class clown, a 17 year old kid, who seems to come out with the strangest utterances at the weirdest moments. But hey, to say we've only been studying there for two days, we seem to get on pretty well together both with each other, and the tutors, and will generally hang out with each other at lunchtime or whatever, so yeah, it's definitely better than sitting on my ass alone at home.
Considerably better.

And when time comes to go home, I wander some more around the studenty part of town (I don't go there to wander around, our college is kinda in the middle of it), and the peace gardens and see the waterfalls and shiny/huge new buildings and whathaveyou, and I seem to have decided that Sheffield is an awesome place to study. Or to be a student.
I study, but I don't know if that makes me a student. I don't get student discount or anything heh.

Still, I think I'm onto something good :-).