Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sir Clive Sinclair

Sir Clive Sinclair died recently so I thought I'd say some things about him, not about him personally but how he influenced my life in certain ways.

I was still a kid in the early 1980s and knew little to nothing about computers so I didn't really pay attention to who Clive Sinclair was or what he did. While at school when deciding which options to study there was a newly formed lesson along with a CSE exam known as Computer Studies. I had no intention of doing it because I was more interested in Electronics but there were only a limit number of places available for the electronic course, and it was also recommended that people who studied electronics should also study Physics but I was more of a Chemistry person. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't get a place in the Electronics class so did Computer Studies instead. The computers we used were a Link 380Z, a Link 480Z and a BBC Model B. I won't say I was drawn into computers and became a whizz at them because that would be a lie, I was pretty average.

Other kids in the class would talk about computers they owned, most had a ZX Spectrum, some had a Commodore 64 while one or two owned a BBC. People would banter with one another about which was best. The Commodore 64 owners would boast about memory, the ZX Spectrum owners would talk about games, and the BBC owners would act smug about owning the most expensive computer.

It wasn't until later in the 1980s that I got my first computer, a 16K ZX Spectrum. Being the 16K model meant there was less availability for games but that didn't bother me for I was more interested in programming. It was far more user-friendly than a Link or BBC computer and the manual was more than a reference manual, it actually taught the user to program. I learned far more using my Spectrum than I did at the Computer Programming class at school.

I later upgraded my 16K Spectrum with extra memory to make it 48K, then later a new keyboard to turn it into a ZX Spectrum+ It wasn't until some years later that I bought various other models of the ZX Spectrums, then a QL, and even a ZX81. My only regret is that I didn't own a ZX Spectrum+ 128K until much later long after its heyday.

Even now when I see a ZX Spectrum, particularly the original or the Spectrum+ I always get a strange fuzzy feeling inside when looking at the keyboard. I don't get that feeling when looking at the newer models made my Amstrad with their newer keyboard designs.

The original ZX Spectrum.

The ZX Spectrum+ 128K.

Magazine cover.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Quitting Twitter

I've got two Twitter accounts, one that I consider to be my main account and the other that's exclusively about gaming. It's my main account that I intend to delete. I've had it for over five years but I've noticed a decline with Twitter, both Twitter itself and my specific page, and I've only been keeping it for the sake of having a contact link for people viewing my website. But I think the time has come to delete it. I've already got a Facebook link on my website so it's not as though people won't be able to contact me outside of email.

My gaming Twitter page is linked to my PlayStation 4 so I'm able to share screenshots and short vids with no fuss. It's very convenient. I never talk about serious issues and I always try to keep the subject about gaming, but sometimes I may talk about computing in general too.

My main account covers a variety of subjects, books, art, anime and whatever is of interest at the time. I avoid political debate for I'm not the kind of person who argues online but even so it can become very tiring when people turn a discussion about books into a heated argument about something political.

When I first got Twitter, for many years I only had 7 followers but that suddenly grew into 1,500. Strangely though I feel I had more interaction with those 7 followers than I get now. I'm aware with many followers posts get lost in the timeline so the more followers someone has the less likely someone's post gets to be seen. Lately I feel a lot of my posts simply don't get likes like they used to, let alone retweets and replies. Trending hashtags are a different, if I respond to a trending subject I often do get retweets but when it comes to posts directly upon my own timeline I get nothing. It can be disheartening when posting about an exciting new anime I just watched only for none of my anime followers to even press like.


Monday, August 16, 2021

New Books

There's going to be some changes ahead with new books I'm working on. I'll be removing some of my less popular books from Amazon and placing them on my website for free while adding new content on Amazon. There's no limit to how many books an author can place on Amazon but I feel it may be a good idea to remove the old less popular titles before replacing them with new books keeping everything fresh so to speak.

I've noticed over the years that it tends to be short stories, 30 pages or less, that tend to be popular on the Kindle which I put down to readers not wishing to commit a lot of time to a book. If it can be read in one sitting then all the better.

I've been looking at advice online about how to get the most out of selling via Amazon KDP, some of it good, some of it not so good, and I've reached the conclusion that it's rare for someone to make a living from it unless they are already professional writers to begin with. I'm aware of the trick of writing what's known as low content books, such as books of quotations, internet memes and so forth, but that's not really my style. For me I personally want to create the content myself rather than just sell it.


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Goodreads

I signed up with Goodreads again in the hope I'd gain some benefit from it and promote my books at the same time but there's something odd about it that doesn't sit right with me, in fact there are many things, so I'll likely end up closing the account in the future.

The first time I used it was a number of years ago but back then my account was as a reader rather than an author so I spent most of my time writing reviews or in some cases copy/pasting reviews I had previously posted on Amazon. I tried to keep the reviews brief and to the point as I knew people were unlikely to spend time reading through reams of text. I also used my own name so reviewing my own books was out of the question. Then I began noticing certain things about other peoples' reviews. Such as an autobiography written in the 1980s being bombarded with 1 star ratings, being accused of plagiarism, due to the author having the same name as another Goodreads author. There was another instance where a horror story was given a 1 star review by someone who simply stated "I don't like horror" as their review. Unlike Amazon there is no need to purchase a book before leaving a review.

Recently after signing up again, this time as an author, I still got the same niggling feeling inside that this isn't the place for me. Someone on Twitter had already advised me that genuine reviews are often more honest on Goodreads if there is no author page as readers are more likely to leave an honest review if the author doesn't get to see it. Obviously an author can still read the reviews without even having an account so there is no real need for an author page.

I noticed that some of my books were listed on another author's page of the same name as well as a blank author page. I contacted Goodreads about this to get them transferred to my page but got no response.

I'll still stick with it for the time being, and leave reviews for books I've read, but I can't see myself using it in the long term.


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

London Anime & Gaming Con

On Saturday 31st July I visited the London Anime & Gaming Con. It's been a long time since I attended such an event and it felt like catching a refreshing breath of how my life used to be. The one and a half years of not going anywhere has taken its toll.

The convention itself was one I had never visited before and was much smaller than the others but it was to be expected as it's a much smaller exhibition centre. I didn't wear a cosplay this time but instead wore a Tracer jacket, a Mei shirt, an Overwatch backpack and an Overwatch face mask.

I met voice actor Boris Heistand who plays Sigma from Overwatch as well as other voice actors. There were also cosplayers attending, some with amazing costumes, as well as lots of gamers including role playing card gamers.

I bought a lot of anime related items but my only gripe is that there wasn't any stalls selling DVDs. Other people complained too on the convention forums about stalls not selling video game related content. Some retro games would have been nice.

Prices for items on sale varied greatly from stall to stall, just as they do with many shows, with some selling action figures for around £10-£15 while others selling for £60+ for similar items. To my relief there was only one stall selling Tokyo Pop items which while I enjoy such items can often become tedious with multiple stalls selling them as is often the case at other conventions.

I'm not sure if I will attend future events of the London Anime & Gaming Con though as the regular conventions I attend, MCM Expo and London Film & Comic Con, will be up and running again.

An art print of Lara Croft
signed by the artist.


Monday, June 28, 2021

Interactive Stories

Over the years I've made a number of interactive stories for my website. I love interactive stories, the various changing plot threads really make the story more alive than a passive book drawing the reader further into the story. This also makes the story far more entertaining when re-read as sometimes the plot can change drastically.

I keep the plot layout similar to the style of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books in that the story is divided into pages even if the reader is unaware of that fact. This means the reader can simply bookmark their place in their web browser and continue where they left off at another date, this also avoids the need for web cookies.

The problem with this approach however is the difficulty in converting the stories into an ebook format such as for the Amazon Kindle for example. While it's certainly possible the overall layout doesn't feel the same to me as it would otherwise look on a website. It's more than about the text on the screen, it's also about the background style and the overall feel of the website. Conventional stories don't rely too much upon such things however so simple text on the screen is adequate.

The point of this blog entry is simply to say that my interactive stories will always be available for free on my website even though they are far more difficult and time consuming to write.


Sunday, June 6, 2021

Artistic Programming

It's been a long time since I've actually programmed a computer and I've realised how much I miss it. Technically speaking I program regularly due to creating so many websites but those for the most part are visually created and it's not very often I delve into program code.

While programming is pretty much a science there's a lot of art than goes into it too. To convert a task into multiple small steps, converting a problem into a sequence of commands, to complete that said task is an art form in itself. Two programmers for example could write programs that perform identical tasks yet the way they in which solve them could be vastly different. Then there is style to think about. Should the program be designed to run as fast a possible? Should it occupy as little amount of memory as possible? Should it be neat and easily readable? Should all the variables be structured for possible future updates? There's a lot to think about before the program is planned.

I was one of those programmers who pretty much specialised in BASIC. There were lots of variations to BASIC some vastly different that others but my favourite was SamBASIC, albeit that only applied to one computer, or a Windows PC if running an emulator. I also dabbled with Assembly language, C++, Pascal and Fortran. I always liked to keep ahead on the latest programming languages as well as the older ones. The only one that I've failed to get a grip of is C# unfortunately.

Computer programming is one of those odd professions where it's more about the personality of the user rather than their academic prowess that makes them a good programmer, patience being the main virtue. There have been incidences where people have been master programmers without realising only to discover their talent later in life. The story of a vicar comes to mind who created databases as well as a secretary who made printer drivers. In fact I think computer programming should be routinely taught in schools to discover if anyone has such prowess and to also teach people how complex programming actually is.

Programs can often appear vastly complicated, resembling long chemical formulas in some instances, but while complex as a whole each step is simple instruction. I have fond memories of sitting down in front of a computer and imagining all the program variables moving around inside my head resulting in a simple side scrolling video game. I get  a warm fuzzy feeling when seeing a computer program listed upon the monitor but I don't get that feeling with visually created programming such as using a web editor.



Sir Clive Sinclair

Sir Clive Sinclair died recently so I thought I'd say some things about him, not about him personally but how he influenced my life in c...