Updated day clock

Today I have been updating my day clock to include even more historic events, pagan festivals and international days of this and that.


It would be great if you went and had a look, and even better if you set it as your homepage.

A vision of 1970s Computing

I recently found a pile of books in the back of a cupboard at work. They are a series of books introducing children to the wonderful world of computers written in the early 1970s and published by Chambers. The books have inspiring names, such as "The Useful Computer" (IBSN 0 550 77111 5) and "The Computer Becomes Literate" (ISBN 0 550 77109 3). Throughout the books there are delightful photographs of computer devices being used in business (very few home computers in the early 70s).

Considering the age of the books, let's assume that they are fair use. Which is good because I want to post them here and write faintly amusing things about them.

In this image we can see a person from the 1970s using one of the most up-to-the-date computer systems to update her eHarmony profile. This would then printed out and placed on noticeboards around the building.
In the 1970s it was thought that Babbage's Analytical Engines would become smaller, faster and more portable. It was thought that the main use for these flawfless mathematical calculation machines would be for sending Tweets. This never came to be.

In this image we see an office worker phoning her boss to admit that she has deleted the spreadsheet, again. Yes, all 500 bytes of it.

A typical man cave from the 1970s. This gaming setup includes a tape deck which later evolved into the 'restore point'.

Early Facebook users from the 1970s would print out their friends profile pages and then spend their evening reading through them. If they 'liked' a post they would draw a little thumbs-up or heart next to it in red ink and send it back to them in the mail.

Whenever someone made a copy-paste error in their spreadhseets in the 70s, they would telephone the debug man who would spend his evening rewiring the spreadsheet. Typically, the problem was fixed in time for another working day.

Back in the 1970s storage devices were kept under lock and key. A specially trained technician would feed and train a small zoo of mice whose job it was to keep the spindle rotating high enough to achieve data transfer rates of up to 8 bits per second. It is from this practice that we get the computer terms 'mouse' and 'hard cheese'.

An early storage device from the 1970s. This one was mainly used to store cat photos, as they still are today.

A rare photograph showing early Tumblr memes being uploaded.
There was always much excitement in the office whenever a new Linux distro came out.
Back in the 1970s it was thought that the office of the future would involve desk after desk of office workers staring at their computer screens all day. Thankfully, this never happened.
If you liked this post, then do please share it with your friend if you have one, alternatively you could look at this other post which has nothing to do with the one you just read, or look at a home computer from the 1980s.

Lines

I love simple and beautiful puzzle games, and this one is my favourite at the moment.

Lines by Leo de Sol Apps
In Lines for Android, you must race to 'flood-fill' more of the screen than the computer. The gameplay involves selecting a point on the line for your coloured paint to start filling. The colours then race each other as they run down the lines with apparent minimal viscosity. If you have filled more of the screen than the computer, then you win, and you get 'medals' with which you will be the envy of your friends.


When coloured paint collides there is a piano stab sound effect which adds to the game's ambience. Not only is this puzzle a great way to challenge your brain, but it is beautiful as well. It is what would happen if the gods of geometry had a race. Ok, I don't think that mathematics has gods, but if they did...


There are multiple modes of play which get unlocked as you defeat different levels. The main mode of play involves choosing one or more points on the line to start from. In 'Eraser' mode, you get to remove one or more of your opponents starting points, you meanie! In 'Rope' mode you have to add one or more of your own lines to create short-cuts in your race against the opponent. In 'knife' mode you must cut the rope next to your opponent to strategically and dastardly stop him from filling your own region of the map. I haven't unlocked any more than that, however, there is also a 'paint' mode, and a 'mixed' mode which presumably requires you to do combinations of the other skills, such as cutting ropes as well as adding new lines.

There is a daily challenge to keep you entertained for longer, as well as a series of challenges for the dedicated Line player to test themselves against.


This simple but fun and beautiful game does have a few drawbacks. Some of the levels are rather easy to complete, but then again, I have only just started playing so maybe the challenge ramps up later. Secondly, the advertisements do come fairly thick and fast, which I know many people find annoying.

Overall, a great game to help keep your brain ticking over: +1 Geek Experience Point for Leo de Sol Apps.

If you haven't already left this page in a huff, then you might be interested in some other posts tagged with the word 'puzzle', or something completely different.

Windows 10 shortcut keys

While not an exhaustive list, here are some Windows 10 shortcut key combos that I did not know about until today, so I have decided to share them here, in the hope that you didn't know them either.

If you want to be a Windows 10 keyboard ninja, read on...

Windows key + SHIFT + S
This opens the screen clipping tool. This confusing one used to be Windows key + S in Windows 7 (without the SHIFT), but this combo now opens Cortana (in Windows 10). Phew!

The snipping tool allows you to screenshot sections of your screen which then gets copied to the clipboard. I am glad I found this as it is going to save me from overuse of the PrtSc button. If you don't know what PrtSc does, find it on your keyboard and press it now.

A screen clipping of my desktop. This image is generated by the Tiny Planet Maker app for Android.

Windows Key +  D
This is a useful combo for when you are working on your secret plans for world domination and someone walks into the room behind you. Unless that person is a trusted minion or lieutenant, then you might want to keep your plans secret. This combo will automatically minimise all your windows and deposit you at your desktop. Now, whoever it is will just wonder why you have been staring so intently at your desktop (unless your desktop image is something unimaginably gross or stupid, in which case they will just get the wrong idea about you and you should probably change it immediately).

Windows Key + CTRL + D
This combo is the same as above, except it will create a new virtual desktop. Press Windows Key + TAB to enter the task viewer to manage all your desktops.

Windows Key + CTRL + cursors
Pressing this combo with left and right arrows will cycle through your virtual desktops without needed to go to the task viewer. I promise that this will make you feel like a keyboard ninja.

Windows Key + Alt + D
This one opens the Windows Calendar. It is the same as aiming your mouse pointer at the digital time display in your taskbar and clicking. This is very useful for when you need to remember how long you have until your BFF's birthday, or when you plan to use the doomsday device that you have been building in your shed, for example.

Oh, and Happy new year by the way

Windows Key + T
This toggles through the apps you have pinned to your taskbar. Hold down SHIFT to toggle in the reverse direction. Press enter to load your selection.

Windows Key + cursor keys
This one deserves some experimenting. First press Windows key with the right arrow. Then press Windows key with the up arrow twice in rapid succession. What happens? I'm not telling you, but you will enjoy it, you keyboard nerd.

F2 in file explorer
This one will save some pointing and right-clicking. Simply press F2 to rename any selected file in the file explorer without having to take your hands off the keyboard. Need to quickly rename 'my secret diary.docx' to 'osughsdmbfw'? Windows has your back.

CTRL + 0 in your browser
You probably already use CTRL with the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out of a webpage. Pressing CTRL + 0 will restore the page to the default magnification again. I have tested this in Chrome, Edge and Firefox so far.

So, that's all the combos I learned today. You can find the full exhaustive list over at Microsoft support pages.

If you enjoyed this article, then you probably need to seek some sort of professional help for that, but until you get that booked in, you might like to look at some other Windows related posts, or maybe something completely different.

Conways Game of Life in 3D running on BeebEm BBC micro emulator (shown here for no reason whatsoever)


Public noticeboard

I'm probably going to regret this.

It is an experiment.

I have used lino it to create a public noticeboard. Anyone may post onto the noticeboard. The only rule is that the content must remain suitable for children.



Acorn Pocket Book II

The Acorn Pocket Book II is a personal digital assistant manufactured in 1991. Actually, it is a Psion 3 that has been rebranded by Acorn.

Imagine, if you will, a device that you could carry around with you, and that had apps on it. In 1991!

The Acorn Pocket Book II was truly ahead of its time. I picked up my version on eBay for about £20 and I am interested to see how it compares to a modern device and whether it can still be used as a personal assistant today.

Acorn Pocket Book showing the desktop and the huge amounts of memory available. This model was the 256K version. About 90K of this is used as graphics memory.

Well, the first thing to note is that the size of pockets hasn't changed much since the early nineties. Although it is slightly larger than a modern smartphone (and a few times chunkier) it still fits in most of my pockets, so all is good and the device lives up to its name.

The desktop is initially difficult to navigate, although even with the touch-sensitive buttons that launch many of the apps, most of the navigation is achieved with the cursor keys. The desktop displays icons in a horizontal row, with files associated with each application stacked vertically below.

The 'file' button brings up a menu bar containing all of the various file operations you would expect an operating system to provide.

Interestingly the Acorn Pocket Book II was designed for the education market and so it came with security features such as passwords disabled (although it is possible to switch these back on). Presumably, Acorn were worried that naughty school children would change the passwords and lock their teachers out of the devices.

OK, let's have a look at all of the pre-installed apps and see if they are still relevant. I'll put a score out of 5 based on how useful the application is, where 5 is 'as good as any modern smartphone app' and 1 is 'of very limited use'.

Cards (1/5)

Cards is a card filing system. I had originally hoped that this would be similar to the Card File program in Windows 3.1, however, instead, it is a very simple database with fields for 'name', 'phone', 'address' and 'notes'. I find this feature completely redundant as I would prefer to use the contacts/address book features in Android and Windows 10 to store this information.

Write (4/5)

Write is word processor program. It works really well, although, as you might expect, it is rather simple and using the tiny keyboard is difficult at times, especially when using the shift key at the same time as another key. Even so, if you wanted to use your Pocket Book as a notebook, then this application would still be of use today.

Schedule (1/5)

Schedule is a diary application. I have no use for this as I use Outlook.

Time (4/5)

Time is a clock/alarm clock application. It is simple but comes with multiple alarms as well as the ability to program them with repeats on workdays etc. In fact, this application is almost as good as any modern alarm clock application.

World (3/5)

World is a world time clock, with many cities as presets. It will tell you the current time in any of these cities as well as the distance, sunrise and sunset time. This app is still relevant today, although I am not entirely convinced that it gets the daylight saving times correct for Wellington, New Zealand.


Calc (5/5)

Calc is calculator application with powers, trig and preset memories. It is as useful as any standard calculator application. It is simple, but I have no complaints here.

Abacus (4/5)

Abacus is a spreadsheet program. Although not as powerful as a modern spreadsheet, it is still useful for basic tasks. In fact, I have found various uses for this application, not least to calculate my mortgage payments.

Acorn Pocket Book showing Abacus spreadsheet.
Spell (4/5)

Spell is a dictionary, anagram and thesaurus application. It is quite good, although I am not convinced that the on-board dictionary is all that big.

Record (3/5)

Record is an application for recording sound from the onboard microphone. It works. You don't get much more than 10 seconds of recording time before you run out of memory.

Plotter (3/5)

Plotter is an app for graphing mathematical functions. It is no Desmos but it does a job.

OPL (N/A)

OPL is a programming language for the Psion series personal assistants. I am struggling to find much documentation on how to get started and so I haven't even managed to write 'hello world' yet, but in theory, OPL allows you to write your own native applications for the Pocket Book, as well as integrate scripts with some of the other standard applications.  I've rated this N/A as I know that it is a really useful feature, but since I can't get it to work I won't be commenting.

Is that is?

No way! The Acorn Pocket Book had a thriving shareware community back in its day, and if you search hard enough you can find many more applications and games for this device. I have only discussed the applications that came with the standard release.

It is also worth noting that this device is very power efficient. I don't know how long, but I know that the batteries will last for a very, very long time.

The verdict... (3/5 )

Overall, I think that the Acorn Pocket book was a brilliant device for its time, and even today has some use.  Overall it gets 3 out of 5, about the same as Revenge of the Sith.

Obviously, the lack of internet makes it much less useful than your modern smartphone for almost all of the above tasks, but it still is a curious device and I do love finding uses for it from time to time.

If you found this post interesting, then you might like to read about how I tried to use an Acorn BBC microcomputer as my main computer.

Good bye

Next steps with Ubuntu

Last time I wrote about setting up Ubuntu on a virtual machine. Today I shall ramble on about stuff I have done with it so far. This will be more of a general ramble rather than a set of instructions, but it may be useful to anyone thinking of trying out a new operating system just for the giggles.

Ubuntu settings
The first job was to dive into the settings to try and personalise the experience a bit. Apart from changing the desktop background I went into 'Online Accounts' and connected a few services together. I do intend on using Ubuntu as a productivity machine, so it was important to link up my Google drive account. I added in my Microsoft, Flickr and Pocket accounts while I was at it. More about them later.

The Ubuntu desktop may look unfamiliar to a Windows user. The first place you will want to start is the 'Show Applications' button, which looks like this:


You will find the settings program on the menu that appears.

Some of the programs that come bundled with the current Ubuntu release.
Ubuntu comes bundled with various applications and utilities that will be of use to the general user. My next step was to link my Firefox and Spotify accounts. I wouldn't get far without some tunes and web tools.

Installing new applications

The bundle of applications that comes with Ubuntu is fairly rich, however, it is extremely likely that you will want to browse the store for more programs.  The software store icon looks like this:


The first application I installed was for Dropbox. Once installed and your account has been confirmed a DropBox folder will appear in your home folder your files will sync between your devices.

Tadaa!
The time taken to sync will, of course, depend on the speed of your broadband, and the size of your Dropbox. If you intend to sync files in this way, then it is essential that you have chosen a virtual hard drive of the appropriate size when setting up the machine.

I am going to need a notebook, so the next application I chose to install was Zim. Zim is a 'wiki for your desktop' and is available for both Ubuntu and Windows. I am pretty sure that I already wrote about Zim once so I won't go into too much detail here, suffice to say that it is a pretty neat tool for notetaking.

I chose to save my first notebook into the new Dropbox folder so my notes are available on all my Windows devices as well as the virtual machine.

My current desktop showing Zim, a notebook where I keep all my world domination plans, and recipes for chilli sauce.
There were a few other applications that I installed next including 'Photos' which is a fairly good application that links with your Flickr account so you can see all of your selfies and duck faces.

It is also worth noting that Ubuntu comes with Libre Office pre-installed and the Thunderbird mail client, so if you are missing Windows and Office, then there are still document and email options available to you right out of the box.

Adding the file store

I have a network file store. Connecting to this was really easy under Ubuntu. First I opened the 'Files' file explorer and selected 'Other locations'. Then in the 'Connect to Server' edit box, I entered the path to the file store. This starts with the 'smb://' samba protocol, followed by the internal IP of the router, and then the folder that I was interested in - 'usb1'.

Setting up a samba connection.

Installing Apache

The last thing I did before writing this post was to install Apache web server. As this requires the use of the terminal commands in Linux, it is probably beyond the scope of this post so I will save it for another time.

If you enjoyed this post then you might want to take a long hard look at your life. If you are still awake, then you might also like to read about my experience with the RISCOS operating system, or maybe you just want to play a game.

Setting up an Ubuntu Virtual Machine

Virtual machines can be used as a sandbox to test unfamiliar software in a safe environment, or they can be used as a fun way to explore a different or new operating system. It is very easy to set up a virtual machine as this post will hope to demonstrate.

In this post, I am going to set up a Virtual Machine and run Ubuntu as a productivity machine on top of my Windows 10 laptop.


Virtual Box is an easy-to-use open source Virtual Machine for Windows and other operating systems.
Setting up

First I needed to grab a copy of the VM software. I choose to use Oracle Virtual Box.

Second I needed to download a copy of Ubuntu.

Once you have installed Virtual Box, the next step is to create a new virtual machine by pressing the handily titled 'NEW' button. Once pressed you will get this dialogue box. Simply give your machine a unique name and select the correct Type.
The next stage is to allocate RAM from your host machine to be allocated to the guest machine. The value that you spare will depend on how much your host machine has to spare and what your guest machine will be doing with it. I am going to use about half of the 24GB available.

Unless you already have a virtual machine hard drive, your next steps will be to allocate some of your host machine's hard disk to be used by the guest machine. 
You have two options here. Either create a drive that will grow in size until it reaches a maximum, or create a drive already at its maximum size.
I intend to store a significant amount of files on my machines, so I am going to allocate 100GB from my host machine, space that I can easily afford to spare.
VirtualBox will now start creating your virtual hard disk. Depending on size and speed of your machine, this could take several minutes, so go and put the kettle on, or write a letter to your mad Uncle. We will reconvene when it is time to install Ubuntu,

Installing Ubuntu

Once you are ready to start, click on the name of your virtual machine to boot it up. This is where the Ubuntu disk image comes in.

You are ready to point the virtual machine software at the location of your Ubuntu disk image. Once located then you are ready to start, so click 'start'.
Yup, you are ready to choose your language and hit Install. 

Oh, go on then...

It sounds scary, but yes, you mean to click the first option, unless you are planning something else not covered in this post.

Select your location.

You are ready to give yourself a name. If you want, you can use the one that your parents gave you. If you don't know this name, then you could ask a family member or someone else. If this doesn't help check the back of your shirt, maybe it is written on the label. Failing all that, just call yourself something. Oh yeah, and you are going to need a new password.
Th...th...th...that's all folks!
Well, that's about it. Sit back and watch Ubuntu installing on your machine.

StoryBoard

StoryBoard is my current favourite toy at the moment. StoryBoard helps you create awesome comic-book-style images in seconds whilst simultaneously requiring you to have absolutely no talent whatsoever... Currently available as an experimental app by Google for Android, StoryBoard allows you to load a video or gif image; the app then strips out individual frames as stills which it then applies artistic filters to make it look like a comic strip.


The processing all happens on your device, so you do not have to worry about upload times, or waiting for server time etc. Another good thing is that it does not try to add any frivolity to the image - no speech bubbles or 'kapows' or 'kersplats' - which would be someone distasteful..


The whole process is ludicrously easy. You simply select a video or gif and then wait a few seconds for the algorithm to select a few choice frames, There are half a dozen or more different filter styles and if you don't like the current selection a simple tap or swipe will generate a whole new different one.

And, well that's about it. I do hope you have fun making your home videos look like they belong at the start of an episode of Grange Hill.


Really Bad Chess

Really Bad Chess is an interesting take on an old favourite. It is chess but with random pieces, in random positions. Need three bishops and 10 knights? No problem.

A pawn on the back row? Why, of course, you can.

You can forget about memorised openings here. Chess pieces appear at seemingly random positions. At first, it may seem like a trivial version of chess, however, this game really gets you thinking about how to play. It flips chess on its head, but in a way that will help you understand the game better.

Really Bad Chess has a number of modes of play. The standard ranked mode starts off easy, with you being assigned a greater proportion of good pieces. In the image above, for example, white starts the game with four queens to black's zero. The more you play, and the more you win, then the more the algorithm flips the advantage to your opponent. This makes for a great introduction to chess for newcomers to the game. You can really focus on how your pieces move and interact without worrying about being crushed in a few moves by a powerful AI. Conversely, the 'freeplay' mode lets you choose the difficult at the beginning.

'Daily board' and 'weekly board' challenges complete the package, both letting you compete against other players in beating the board. There is even an option to turn off the AI and have a board to play against a nearby human if you know any.

In summary, I really like Really Bad Chess, and I think I'll keep using it to help me train.

+1 Geek Experince point for Zach Gage and Noodlecake Studios Inc.

If you are still here, then you might like to read our other chess-related posts.

Advent Calendar for Geeks #24

Every day of Advent I'm going to post a geeky link to something you can play with online until it is time to open your presents.

NORAD tracks Santa

Every year North American Aerospace Defense Command devote bazillions of taxpayer dollars to tracking Santa. If you need to know Santa's exact location then this site will help you find out when your presents will arrive.

It is also rumoured that the United States military guards Santa on his journey around the world, against those who do not believe in Christmas.

Advent Calendar for Geeks #23

Every day of Advent I'm going to post a geeky link to something you can play with online until it is time to open your presents.

Listen to Wikipedia

What would it sound like if you could listen to Wikipedia? What if every new page addition, subtraction, new user and edit played a tone or plucked a string? Well, I guess it would sound something like this...



+1 Geek Experience Point awarded to Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi

Advent Calendar for Geeks #22

Every day of Advent I'm going to post a geeky link to something you can play with online until it is time to open your presents.

Geek Typer

Geek typer is a site where you can make it look like you are a super-awesome hacker, even if all you know how to do is mash the keyboard, like me.

Wow, it looks like the killer has followed them on vacation. If only we knew someone who could make a GUI in Visual Basic to track the IP.
There are loads of themes to choose from...



+1 Geek Experience points awarded to fediaFedia and Lexuzieel.

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