“I have it just the way I like it.”

Well-loved iPadThere was a time when I worked as IT Support at my old school. We were rolling out new laptops to the teaching staff, and I found myself helping out my old teachers with their computer troubles.

I remember one teacher warily watching as I tinkered with some settings.

“Careful,” she said. “I have it just the way I like it.”

Her computer was a mess. It was an older model, in bad need of updating. Where she could have been power-using with the latest software, she was (in my humble opinion) putting up with a system that was only just holding together at the seams …

… It is now 2019 and I look over my old iPad. It’s an iPad 2, purchased around 2012, and sporting signs of being well loved. Hairline cracks in the screen’s boarder are held together with purple tape. The once bright-red third-party cover is tattered and worn, with grime worked hard into its fabric.

And the software … I’m not sure when the operating system had its last update. Social media, streaming video, and anything requiring the latest update has been purged from the system. This iPad exists for one reason only. It’s an archive. A library. A museum for computer games.

Sword & Sworcery. Crow. New Orbit. The Secret of Monkey Island (Special Edition). Waking Mars. Steambirds. Symphonica. Plants vs Zombies. Device 6. The Silent Age. The Room, parts 1, 2, and 3. Republique. FTL. (etc.)

I know as soon as I connect it to the internet, the iPad will insist on updates that the hardware can no longer handle. Some of these games will no longer work on the hardware I own. I even fear that some may even blink out of existence as they are no longer available on the iStore. The Apple model of device ownership will gently, firmly, passive-aggressively insist that I upgrade to the latest iPad.

But I don’t want to.

I have it just the way I like it.

You and Me versus Zombies Part 018

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

The Fence gave me peace of mind.

The problem was thus: Sam and I occupied the middle of five townhouses. They sat on a block with two houses, one at either end. All seven properties backed onto a cobbled alley. And the Fence circled them all. All it took was over two weeks worth of driving, hauling, construction, swearing, tears (both mine and Sam’s), and occasional blood letting and squashed fingers.

I had discovered in my exploring several building sites with temporary fencing. These were square panels, made of welded mesh. A single panel I could about drag by myself. However…

Remember how I said to take the time and multiply it by five? When there is a child to take care of, large infrastructure projects take time.

I manages to scavenge enough fencing panels from three building sites in the area. The furthest was three blocks away, and that one alone took three days to drag the panels the distance. Luckily, I had the choice of several vehicles and a couple of relatively clear streets. Sam sat in my lap pretending to steer we made a terrible clatter in the neighbourhood, dragging panels over bitumen.

Sixteen days later, and I bolted the last panel into place. The Fence stood a good two metres away from the houses, encircling them from the alley out back to the streets out front.

I knew it would never withstand a direct assault, and we were to one day find out. But the sight of it gave me peace of mind.

RoughBot Lesson 1 (of 5)

Components used in this lesson: electronic breadboard; USB cable (standard to mini); Arduino Nano.

Last week a began a series of RoughBot lessons with Mazenod College.

Completed RoughBot

The purpose of RoughBot is to build a programmable robot with off-the-shelf components, and to keep the price as cheap as possible. At this stage, a single RoughBot can be built for between AU$80 to $100.

The purpose of the lessons are to introduce students to the programmable interface of the Arduino chip (the brain of the RoughBot), and to examine how to then connect this chip to other components (such as wheels.)

Arduino Nano, the brain of RoughBot

Lesson The First gave the students an introduction to the robot they will be building. We then examined our Arduinos for defects and bent pins, before inserting them into a breadboard. Most students had not encountered electronic breadboards before, and we spent a little time discussing how they worked.

Interfacing with the RoughBot’s brain

As the RoughBot will be constructed around the Arduino brain, we spent time making sure they connected without problem to the students’ computers. This way we could be sure that we had a complete set of working components before moving onto the next lesson.

Making sure the Arduino pins are straight

As the lesson occurred at lunchtime, we lost time at the start and the end. As such, the actual lesson and construction needed to be compressed to around thirty minutes. The next four lessons have been structured to take this time limitation into account.

Next lesson: My First Arduino Program.

(If you would like more information about the RoughBot lesson, drop me a line from my contact page.)

You and Me versus Zombies 017

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

Sam’s latest meltdown had exhausted him, and he had gotten the thousand-yard-stares which told me he was about to collapse into sleep. I kept the chariot’s ride as smooth as I could, as difficult as that was. The street was succumbing to the returning grasslands.

Our empire was built on the fact that human beings are entropy eaters. We take minerals from the ground, and form fantastic structures. And with upkeep and care, these structures will survive. Without the caretakers, the street sweepers, the commuters and pedestrians, entropy had reasserted its own kingdom.

The bitumen road had cracks growing from the edges inwards as wind-blown grass seeds found soil underneath. Tree roots pushed under concrete pavement, allowing more seeds from the previous spring to find their way to dark and fertile places. The winter rains soaked these hidden spots. Spring arrived, and new blades push skywards. By the end of summer it was almost waist high, except where I kept a pathways clear through daily use.

Fauna found their way back to the streets. At first I saw stray cats and dogs as they tried to make their way, relying on distant instincts buried by years of selective breeding. Some months laters, weeks after I saw the last live cat, and days after the rains had brought the first shoots of the new grassland, I heard a variety of insects singing and squeaking around me. This encouraged rats and mice and small marsupials. Possum numbers exploded. As did snakes.

The first time I had ever seen a snake in the city was when I nearly stepped on a coiled baby brown snake. It disappeared into the grass quicker than I found comfortable.

For this reason I stomped my feet on our way back to the Fence.

You and Me versus Zombies 016

(Or, A Reluctant Father’s Guide to Child-Raising in a Post-Apocalyptic World. Explanation.)

How I ended up with a rifle was a bit of amazing luck. I had grown up with guns in the countryside, due to my dad and family friends heading out once a year to shoot at ducks when the season opened.

Since moving to the city, the only time I saw something gun-shaped were replicas sold at comic book conventions. The nearest real gun would have either been in a firearms retailer, or at a shooting range, both of which were rare in inner-city suburbs.

I had wondered if there may have been stores in the CBD that sold rifles and ammunitions, but the city’s centre had been all but cut off from me since Zero Hour.

If this disaster had happened in the United States, I imagined that it was a completely different story. Accessibility and availability of personal weaponry had caused the deaths of thousands of people every year. I’m sure the complaints stopped now that actual monsters were roaming the streets.

The rifle that I had in my possession was a very happy accident.

The accident was three blocks away from the house. The chaos of Zero Hour had lead to people jumping into any transport and hightailing it out of the city. This had lead to instant traffic snarls and jams. Road rules turned into guidelines, and then finally disposed of as people embraced anarchy to find any route they could to the main arteries out of the city. Blockages formed as more cars flooded into the system, hemorrhaging off roads, verges, over median strips, over parkland, tramlines and pedestrians. The road system pulsed, shuddered, and stopped, and people abandoned their vehicles and took off on foot.

Three blocks from the house one vehicle had a different fate. It was a 1975 Monaro and had been driving the opposite direction, into the city, and stopped by a telephone pole. Inside was a silver-haired pensioner trapped by the steering column. I could only speculate at claimed his life, though the significant portion of the engine block where his legs should have been gave some clues.

On this particular day it was overcast, and I worried for Sam and my safety. I was about to leave the wreck and work my way through the permanent car park back to the house when I glanced in the back seat. There was a long leather bag, and I yelped in recognition. I had a crowbar for defence, and used it to brake the window.

Back home I fed and changed Sam, and while he was gambolling around the living room I laid my new prize on the rug. It was a .22 bolt-action rifle.

A story started to play in my mind. I imagined the pensioner listening to the confused reports of Zero Hour on his AM radio. His moment had finally arrived. With his vorpal weapon in hand, he leaped into his stallion, and charged into the city to enter his role of vigilante mercenary. And met a telephone pole instead.

Inside the bag was an oblong lozenge made of cardboard. I slid it open like a drawer, and saw the neat circles of one hundred bullet rounds.

Sam appear at my shoulder with a half-chewed rusk. “Gonne,” he said.

You are at the beginning

Start at the start, carry on through the middle, and then stop.

I have found that that middle part is made up of lots of beginnings. New beginnings, soft reboots, restructures, repositionings, changes of skin.

Embrace new starts. Take the old, put it in a box, and reach into that box for old things as you remember and need them.

For these moments, I recommend Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings:

Xyttud yd fbqyd iywxj 0

Jxuhu yi q seddusjyed rujmuud syfxuhi qdt cqwys. “Esskbjydw” yd qijhedeco cuqdi “xyttud vhec lyum”, byau mxud Zkfyjuh yi esskbjut ro jxu ceed mxud yj tyiqffuqhi ruxydt yj vhec ekh feydj ev lyum. Ro jxu iqcu huwqht, q fuhied iaybbut yd cqwys yi iqyt je xqlu femuhi ev jxu esskbj, mxysx yi je iqo, xqlydw qssuii je jxu iushuj adembutwu.

Qd ulqdwubysqb Sxhyijyqd vhyudt ev cydu iqyt jxqj je te cqwys mqi je cuttbu yd q mehbt jxqj edbo jme udjyjyui sekbt wylu oek qssuii: Wet qdt Iqjqd. Wet mekbt duluh wylu Cqd jxu qrybyjo je te cqwys, qi yj cuqdi qssuii ydje q mehbt jxqj Wet xqi tuucut vehryttud je Cqd. Ie yv q Cqd sekbt fuhvehc cqwys, jxud jxu edbo udjyjo jxqj xu ckij xqlu sqlehjut myjx yd ehtuh je wqyd qssuii je jxu ikfuhdqjkhqb mehbt yi Iqjqd xyciubv.

A compendium about demons and magic.

Ed jxyi rqiyi, jxekiqdti ev fuefbu muhu aybbut ro jxu Ifqdyix Ydgkyiyjyed.

Jxu cehqb ev jxu ijeho: ted’j te jxu iuluhut jxkcr jhysa yd vhedj ev Jecái tu Jehgkucqtq.

Severed Thumb

(Jetqo’i syfxuh yi rhekwxj je oek jetqo ro Squiqh.)

Death Clocks and Douglas Adams

I’m going to indulge in something I’ve been superstitiously afraid of since I first heard about them. It was sometime during the mid-90s when I first heard of The Death Clock. Specifically, you typed in your name and age, and this website would output when your death would take place.

At this point, two circuits are triggered within my mind. The Rational Circuits which suspects that the Death Clock randomly outputs a date based on current statistics about life expectancy, because, if tasked to make such a website, that’s how I would do it. And the Superstitious Circuit, which now and then kicks in to make sure that I, say, don’t step on any crack in the pavement, or if I see litter that makes me responsible for picking it up, or any other mildly-OCD behaviour because the consequences will be UTTERLY DIRE AND LIFE EFFECTING. Or so the Superstitious Circuit assures me. It sees the Death Clock and immediately starts screaming that if I ever use it then my death-date will be locked into the machinery of the universe, which I’m sure has formed the basis of a number of sit-com episodes out there.

A fight breaks out between these two circuits, a fight that twenty years later the Superstitious Circuit keeps winning.

So I’m going to make my own Death Clock. I’m sure people might find the concept of this a little macabre, my mother for one. But for me it is a mere tool just to make sure that month-by-month I am asking myself the question: Am I satisfied with this month?

Douglas Adams was a writer that I grew up reading and I respect his work. He died aged 49, which was 590 months of life. I hope to live much longer than 49 years, but I’m still going to take this as a benchmark, that takes me until Tuesday, December 29, 2026, which means I have 136 months left.

Damn, that’s creepy to write.

And already, highly mind-focusing.

[This brings me to the next point. We have lists of accomplishments we want to achieve in life, and many people flippantly call these “Bucket Lists”. No idea why. I’ve also been moderately suspicious of the concept. I prefer the idea of structuring your life so that these hopes or desires are more likely to occur. THE SOUND OF INEVITABILITY, MR. ANDERSON. There are several dozen thoughts that have emerged around this theme of Bucket Lists, so I’ll explore those later.]