DiplomaQualifications

Formal Qualifications:

Other skills:

Well, the ones suitable for mentioning on a public site, anyway :-P

 

Can I fix your computer?:

XShort answer: Maybe. If it isn't something too difficult or obscure.

Long answer: My IT training is in electronics, industrial control, and network. I don't use domestic commercial OSes (Windows, MacOS) at home at all and at work the IT department (which isn't me) takes care of that sort of thing. I do have an Android phone, but generally treat that like the locked-down dumb-appliance it (along with iOS) was designed to be. I know my way around the basics of these sorts of systems, but will generally have to fall back to web-searching a solution and then wading through trying all the useless/obsolete/downright-bad advice the internet is full of until I find or extrapolate something that actually works!

It is much like asking a transplant surgeon to remove a brain tumor - they will be quite compentent at opening and closing your skull but won't have a particularly good grasp of the difference between tumourous and healthy brain tissue or where the vital blood-vessels run in relation to where they are trying to cut in the brain itself! This would certainly be better than nothing in an emergency, but they would be spending more time in a reference book/website than in your head as they did the procedure.

At home I exclusively run on a Linux variant, which tends to be an it-just-works platform for the kinds of things I do (when it doesn't just-work, Linux can be the same sort of quagmire of pain and misery as paid-for OSes seem to be habitually, but for ordinary computer use under Linux, that is fairly rare as long as you stay away from dodgy hardware/peripheral manufacturers who don't seem to understand the established interfacing standards surrounding their own product lines).

Students (meaning ones where I work), certainly feel free to ask if I can help, though. Sometimes it turns out to be something quick and simple, or is an issue I have dealt with before for other students (or myself) so have already done the research. At worst, I can direct you somewhere better for assistance (usually the university IT services on level 1 of the Library, or to what I hope to be a reputable source of online information).

 

 

Hardware I Use

BatThe BAT is a Chordable Keyboard.

I have a long-standing interest in alternative input devices, having started building my own (for my Commodor64) around age 14. The 7-key keypad on my desk is able to input (with varying degrees of convenience) any key that a matrix-keyboard can do (and then some). It works by assigning a letter or symbol to a combination of key-presses rather than one symbol per key. It is like playing chords on a piano which is why it is called a chord keyboard, and is a lot easier to learn than it looks. This particular keyboard is the Bat™ by Infogrip. Chord keyboard proponents will often claim that it is vastly quicker than touch typing on a matrix keyboard. Unbiased studies show this isn’t really true: it is about the same. The real advantage is having a hand free to operate the mouse or a 3D controller for a CAD system or Virtual Reality environment.

You used to be able to get a BAT from: http://www.infogrip.com/. But, sadly, it appears to be a discontinued product (though it lasted 20 years*, which is about 40x the time most modern devices stay in production and supported, so kudos, Infogrip!) Meanwhile, I already have circuit boards and prototype codes for my own (improved) version somewhat done, but I won't be doing a commercial release, this is just for my own use: I don't want the headache of supporting something I sell, and have no desire to dump yet more abandon-ware on the world, so I just don't sell things!

*30 years if you count the PS/2 and ADB versions that predate USB (my first was an ADB unit for my Macintosh Color Classic back in the 1990's).

I have also played around with one of these: http://www.trulyergonomic.com/ (sometimes a matrix-keyboard is just better for the job [eg, when programming I need access to too many symbolic keys that the InfoGrip chord-map has on multi-chord combos] but I hate those wrist-twisting old raked-key layouts! - the slanted angle of the columns is only there because typewriters used to have lots of metal levers that couldn't be on top of each other; numeric keypads post-date mechanical typewriters which is why they are lined up vertically).

I considered this one too: http://www.typematrix.com/. Very nice looking, but not finger-length-optimised. It would likely make an excellent travel keyboard (except I rarely travel, and don't use a computer when I do).

A note on Layout.

As far as matrix-keyboards go, I am not a great fan of the QWERTY layout. Most of the tales told about the layout are flagrantly false: though, while the key layout wasn't chosen to deliberately slow typists down (to stop mechanical jams) it was laid out to keep commonly-used-together letters mechanically separated from each other under-the-hood (to stop mechanical jams), which does impact efficiency to a minor degree.

The Dvorak layout is the best-known alternative. Most of the stuff about Dvorak being amazingly faster is rubbish: the speed differences are marginal at best. The real (and probably more useful anyway) advantage with this layout is the lower-finger-movement is less likely to cause RSI problems over the long term, so if you are prepared to put in the effort, it is likely still a good way to go. All modern OSes support the layout, and you can buy Dvorak-layout keyboards easily enough, or even just keycap stickers for an existing keyboard.

Another alternative is the Colemak layout which represents a compromise on QWERTY, staying closer to the familiar layout while moving the common problem keys to more sensible locations. It also preserves the location of the common shortcut keys for undo-cut-copy-paste (Z-X-C-V).

In the end the QWERTY layout is not optimal, but is good enough that the benefits of replacing it en masse don't quite outweigh the costs.... But there is no reason an individual can't suit themselves, these days.

The only real issue with alternative layouts these days is that if you have to regularly use other-people's keyboards, you still end up having to have two layouts in your motor memory anyway. One side-advantage of my BAT Chord system is that the motor memory for chords are stored in a different part of the brain, which makes switching back and forth easier for me.

 

TrakLogitech TrackMan USB

This is a Thumb-operated trackball. I love my TrackMan and find it quite precise for controlling the pointer. Sadly, Logitech doesn't make the wired USB one anymore (I dislike changing batteries far more than I dislike cables!), so I have the newer wireless one at work, but at home I have a wired one on my desk and a second-hand spare I pulled from an eWaste bin, tucked away in storage. My in-use one is getting a bit worn in the rubber palm-support surface and I have replaced two of the micro-switches so far, and the USB cable stops working if bent at a particular angle (fixed by tapeing it in a loop at the weak point until I get around to replacing it), but with periodic dis-assembly and cleaning (mainly of the wheel, to get accumulated gunk out) it is still going after 10+ years!

I also found the finger-operated Logitech TrackMan Marble in eWaste, but left that in the assorted-gear box in my office (for students to borrow to use in their projects) after trying it for a bit. While the left/right symetry is nice, in the end, my thumb is far more precise for rolling that ball around in two dimensions. Fingers are more suited to one-dimensional button-clicking!

 

 

Potentially Useful Production Software

Much of which I use myself.

Here is some useful software, particularly for media-artists. I'm sticking to the open-source stuff since it is highly available and my area of specialisation. Being open source, versions generally exist for all mainstream platforms (GNU/Linux, MacOS, MS-Windows ... sometimes even for iOS and Android, these days!):

BBlender is a powerful production-ready 3D animation environment used by amateur and professional content producers alike. It is fully capable of cinematic-quality production. The scope of the program can be a little overwhelming at first! To get started, do the donut! And checkout their PeerTube channel.

HHandbrake is a free video format converter. It supports most file types and codecs. You may hear me curse and swear at the MacOS and Windows versions' UIs. They are frustratingly dumbed-down from what I am used to on the Linux version, and I use those non-dumb options.

Also, it isn't magic, and can't make inherent limitations of the mp4 or mov container formats disapear! I use the mkv media container, but that is a free and open standard requiring no royalties to be paid, so most commercial products ignore it in favour of the demonstrably-inferior paid-for options, and pass the costs on to their blissfully-ignorant customers. So unless you build your own gear, you are probably stuck with that. Sucks to be a modern IT/CE consumer, I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

AAVIdemux is a free video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering and encoding tasks. It supports many file types, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF, using a variety of codecs. I don't really do any fancy video stuff, so this is enough for me.

GGIMP is a powerful free image editor. Probably about equivalent functionality to Photoshop Light (when that was actually a thing). I use this one a lot - all the images on this site were created and/or processed in GIMP, for example. If you are doing heavy-duty graphic design, you will likely need more, but for 99% of people, it is probably all you will ever need.

KKrita. For generating art from scratch (rather than editing existing art or photos: it can do photo-editing, but GIMP tends to be better-suited for that kind of work, and since they're all free...!).

IInkscape is a good SVG (line graphics) editor. I use it a lot for technical diagrams, though it can do much more.

OBSOpen Broadcaster Software is an open-source, multi-platform application for video recording and live streaming. I am not much of a videographer, but I keep general tabs on this software as one day I may have need of it!

LOLibreOffice is a free-and-open-source office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.). It does everything any normal person is likely to need. I use the spreadsheet mostly. Word processing/presentation are things I tend to do in HTML, for which there are far more suitable editors (like the BlueFish text editor, which is also part of the LibreOffice family, though not a poster-app).

TuxLinux is a free-and-open-source operating system. I am not going to recomend it generally, though I do personally find it far less frustrating to use than either Windows or MacOS. It can be a bit of a hairy-mess in places, but it does tend to be a lot less wasteful of my compute resources, mainly because of the lack of spyware and similar user-tracking junk that tends to load up Microsoft products, particularly, and also the 'dumbing down' that is Apple's primary feature. Not that Linux is particularly hard to use, but it does take a bit more effort up-front to get the benefits later on. I use Debian GNU/Linux as it is one of 3-or-4 'base' software sets from which most other 'distros' are derived. Being down at the root, Debian is - by intent - quite no-frills, which suits my needs, but is probably not suitable for newer Linux users. Linux Mint is probably a better version for beginners. Ubuntu is also popular, but I find it so commercial-y one may as well just use MS-Windows and save a lot of hastle with manufacturer hardware support. Modern MS-Windows and MacOS aren't bad systems - just horribly inneficient and tediously-slow, due to all the attempting-to-pretend-a-computer-is-not-a-computer they try (badly) to do. That just annoys me - I'd rather just learn to use an actual computer, and then get on with using it to get my work done! YMMV!

 

 

 

JoystickGames I Play

I am not hugely into computer games, though I occasionally dabble. Even more occasionally I find a game that can hold my attention for more than a few hours before I am bored of it. I am not a very goals-driven person, so collecting arbitrary points for no real reason (whether they are represented as a numeric score, 'gold', 'experience' or whatever*) doesn't capture my interest for long. I tend to be more interested in freeform content creation, so most of the games I play repeatedly will support that sort of thing. Games that play like an interactive novel can also grab me, provided the story is good and the movement through that story isn't arbitrarily difficult.

* Even in real life I don't treat my personal finances like some sort of high score! Money is very useful for buying things I need or which amuse me, but treating wealth, in its own right, like some sort of measure of achievement doesn't work for me.

Rocks-n-Diamonds is a modern re-write of the classic 8-bit puzzler Boulderdash -- though I tend to spend more time in the level editor than in the existing levels: there's the freeform content-creation I was talking about! ... check the level-sets included in the supplemental levels pack, yup, I'm in there -- quite literally: one of the levels I contributed is based on a low-res picture of my head :-D, though I had more hair back then!)

Oolite is a modern re-write of the classic 8-bit 3D space trader/shooter Elite -- I have always loved the way Elite implemented the 3D radar: I've never seen it done as well anywhere else. There isn't much scope for content creation here, mainly because the universe of the game is pseudo-randomly generated. I have played around with creating my own custom ship and adding it into my local copy of the game though -- a low-firepower, very high defense craft for 'exploring' in without having to get engaged in combat so much (which is sort of the anti-thesis of the game's point, but ... whatever :-P). Note that this isn't the same as the modern multiplayer online Elite Dangerous reboot - the one I play is single-player and much more basic - the owners of the Elite IP have kindly allowed it to continue to exist despite their new online game, on the condition that it not exceed the spirit of the origional 8-bit game (though they are allowed to jack up the 3D to modern levels) so full kudos to them for that!.

Marathon is my all-time favorite plot-driven FPS and probably a significant genre-definer... but even then I have motivational issues with playing for any length of time). You may remember it from the Mac platform in the late-90's - it has now been released open-source by Bungie Software under their AlephOne project and ported to Linux and Windows by the community, along with a lot of visual improvements to bring it up to modern graphics standards. There are map-editors for this game, though (unusually for me) I haven't managed to get into those.

Fun fact: Bungie, the makers of Marathon, started as a Macintosh-only game developer, dabbling in the Windows space with a port of Marathon2:Durandal. Apple was reportedly rather annoyed when Microsoft bought them up, though I don't think MS bought them to hurt the Mac's gaming platform potential: More that Bungie was a relatively obscure (so inexpensive) company who's people had demonstrated a lot of skill, creativity and potential. The success of the HALO franchise, and the run-on effect that had on the X-Box platform [AKA: "HALO-Box ... that can play other games too"] speaks to that quite strongly. Bungie is (amicably) independent from Microsoft again now.

MineTest is an InfiniMine-like voxel-based mining game (as is the better-known and excellent-in-its-own-right MineCraft - but Infinimine and its ilk have been around forever.... in fact, this type of game is really a 3D extension of the Rocks'n'Diamonds-type and dungeon-crawler-type 2D games of the 8-bit era in many ways.). Though this game-type's basis on building with 1m cubic blocks has some inherent limitations compared to the arbitrary-shape-based virtual-world work I generally do (see below) it can be a lot of fun constructing in this form. Great fun exploring the generated environments too.

And with MineTest, we segue to the world of VR. Which sort of spans the space between production and recreation, for me at least!

Overte is a modern, distributed, open-source virtual reality system for providing user-created virtual worlds. It is at somewhat early stage of development. I have been involved from near the start as an alpha-tester which means I was invited to experiment/play on the very early, incomplete system with a view to helping the developers test different parts of it as they add features. The system is still a bit raw, but it is perfectly usable, and improving all the time.

OpenSimulator is a virtual world compatible with Second Life clients. It is quite solid, but being indirectly tied to Second Life has limited its capabilities quite a bit. A very good example of a geographically federated virtual world. I cut my VR teeth in SecondLife, moving to OpenSimulator when it became capable. The SL/OS in-world content-creation tools are extremely beginner-friendly, however this long-established environment is beginning to show its age. As I have become better at 3D modeling with Blender, my need for the beginner-friendliness has dropped off these days anyway.

My own little world: I also dabble with the idea of making my own VR environment from scratch. Just a hobby, won't be big and professional like Overte: I technically don't even need it to be multi-user for my own purposes. It would be rather different to what most people think of as VR, probably something very highly focused on programatically-generated content and not at all on any sort of photo-realism (I already have that - it is called 'outside').

You can get all of the above software (except the last one, since it doesn't exist yet!) for free from their respective open-source project sites linked (note: I have no problem with paying for good games -- I owned Marathon on my Mac in the 90's and owned Elite and Boulderdash on my Commodore64 back in the 80's (I owned other games too -- not heaps, but a few more -- but those 3 are the keepers), and I bought the below commercial games to enjoy. And if another gripping game comes out, I will be only too happy to pay for that too. In the mean time, I contribute back to the open-source games with content donations and bug-reporting where I can.

Oxygen Not Included is a really cute tile-based space-base simulator. I had a lot of fun with this one and it was well worth the modest price Klei Entertainment (known also for their Don't Starve games) asks. I have, however, pretty much played it out to my satisfaction now.