Using tech skills for hobbyist stuff

Before I started on the TechUP course, I was already into a lot of hobbyist tech stuff, as I’ve always found it interesting – and given that I spend pretty much my whole life in front of computer screens, I like to be able to solve problems myself when things don’t work as expected. This is part of the reason I jumped at the chance to do a proper software dev course.

Nevertheless, you would think that after five months of studying, I would be ready to run screaming away from tech stuff for a while. However, this is not at all the case. I am desperate to get back to my techy hobbies, as I’ve had absolutely no time to work on them for months! I won’t jump into anything with a deadline such as game comps and jams, as I do need a month or two off from *stress* after the course is finished, but I’m so excited to get back to playing with both hardware and software in a purely fun way – especially as I’m keen to utilise my new skills learnt on the course for some of my hobby projects.

This is also partly inspired by the fact that Dad arrived with some tools to revitalise my old dead laptop this morning (he and Mum are in town for his birthday today). Dad’s laptop-revitalising tools almost always consist of a Linux installation disk and a flash drive, and today was no exception. We were able to access my files as they were left when Windows stopped booting, so I have been able to back them up in their less jumbled state. This will be really helpful when getting everything properly organised on the new laptop.

I don’t need Windows on the old laptop any more, so once I’ve copied all my files, I’ll be installing Linux instead. However, I am developing quite a pile of old laptops upstairs with various builds of Linux put on them by Dad after they died as Windows machines, and I’m never going to need absolutely all of them as spare laptops. As such, I want to have a think about how they can be better repurposed. One of the many possibilities for the magical month of March (something I never thought I’d say about March) that will be here very soon.

Still a bit nonstop but we’re getting there

It’s been a busy week for me with work and my wee trip to Edinburgh. Some work things now coming in for next week but I’m really hoping to get the last of my pre-Christmas TechUp modules done as well!

In the meantime, though, I’m looking forward to a quiet-ish weekend. Geth and I are volunteering at parkrun tomorrow (doing a new role!) and then possibly doing a run outside once we’re back, but after that I will be getting my weekend hibernation on.

Computer book
Dad found me another old computer book! This one belonged to Grandad and came out in 1984, so it’s an interesting historical read.

This week’s earworm playlists:


The Monkees – ‘Daydream Believer’
EMF – ‘Unbelievable’
Blondie – ‘Rapture’
Eartha Kitt – ‘Santa Baby’

And a bonus track that Geth was humming that day:

Mike Oldfield – ‘Moonlight Shadow’


Cast of Yanomamo! – ‘Burn Them Trees’*
Cast of Yanomamo! – ‘Forest People’
Cast of Yanomamo! – ‘The Jaguar’
Amilcare Ponchielli – ‘Dance Of The Hours’
The Beatles – ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’


911 – ‘Party People… Friday Night’
Duran Duran – ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’


The Carpenters – ‘Rainy Days And Mondays’
Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston – ‘It Takes Two’
Perry Como – ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’


Geraldine McQueen – ‘Once Upon A Christmas Song’


Eartha Kitt – ‘Santa Baby’


Sia – ‘Cheap Thrills’
Chris Isaak – ‘Wicked Game’
Cream – ‘White Room’
Mika – ‘Grace Kelly’

*The Yanomamo! tracks were a bit of a flashback to a primary school performance. Apparently there was also a TV version shown in 1988, which I need to track down.

All systems go

Geth and I have been up in Edinburgh for a few days to see Mum and Dad and to collect some interesting computer stuff that I will blog about soon. We are back now and I have had some good post through the door today (mainly Christmas-related). Time is hurtling on as ever and it won’t be long now till the end of the year.

It’s going to be a busy weekend as we have a gig to attend tomorrow evening. I need to start catching up with my gig reviews again soon! Another thing to target by Christmas…

Quiet week next week though. Might even manage another Shouldless Sunday!

Virtual LEJOG medal
My virtual LEJOG medal finally arrived today – probably the last of my virtual medals as I’ve got no need to do virtuals anymore now that real races are back.

This week’s earworm playlists:


Ava Max – ‘Kings And Queens’


Kevin Gillis and Lisa Lougheed – ‘Run With Us’


The Running Channel – ‘Run With Me’
The Sweet – ‘Blockbuster’
Dead Or Alive – ‘Something In My House’


Roxette – ‘Listen To Your Heart’


Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – ‘Locomotion’


Duran Duran – ‘Anniversary’
Cast of The Jungle Book – ‘Bare Necessities’
Marc Almond and Gene Pitney – ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’
Soft Cell – ‘Sex Dwarf’


Pixie Lott – ‘Mama Do’

Adventures in Coding: Suddenly Caught Up; and Painting the Walls

I was panicking a bit last week because I felt like I was really behind with the TechUp course (I was a week behind the advertised schedule). I knew from the online course forum that most people were in the same boat, but it still felt like it was taking forever. However, once I’d finished the huge beginners’ Python module, the next few course modules turned out to be much quicker and easier and I’ve been able to get through them in the space of a few days. It means I’ve got some time to have another look at the Python projects I had to rush through in order not to fall further behind with that module.

In hobby coding this week, I’ve now got the skeleton of my short PunyInform game and am gradually ‘painting the walls’, i.e. adding colour to the game by coding examine responses etc. I’m hoping to have a first draft by the end of the week.

Some exciting retro computer news to talk about in the next few days too…

An old favourite, and something to investigate again soon.

Saturday ’80s Photo: Fitech Personal Fitness Calculator

A couple of years ago, Mum and Dad gave me this 1984 flexidisc for my ’80s collection. The fonts are fantastic!

Fitech Personal Fitness Calculator

Of course, it has its own Discogs entry!

I wasn’t even sure how a flexidisc operated as we didn’t typically use them when I was little. The below YouTube demonstrates this particular disc.

As I understand it, I could play the disc on my turntable even without the card it supposedly came with, but I’m not sure how useful it would be!

Saturday ’80s Photo: The BBC Micro Still Works

And so does the five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy that holds all the games we used to play on the BBC Micro in the late ’80s, surprisingly. Or at least they both did in December 2019, when Dad and I booted everything up for the first time in decades.

BBC Micro

I can’t wait to be able to visit Mum and Dad in Edinburgh and play with this amazing old machine again! There’s an Acorn Electron I want to try booting up too…

We used my old TV (my gift for doing well in my Standard Grades in 2000) as the monitor, because it’s the only CRT screen left in the house. It was really trippy to boot up all the programs and suddenly remember games I hadn’t even thought about for thirty years.

Virus is still my favourite, as that was about the limit of my gaming ability when I was three or four. However, I’ve got a real soft spot for Cheese, Planets and Tarot (imaginative names!) too, just for the pure nostalgia rush when they appear on screen.

The real eventual test will be getting some of my own programs to run on the system!

Saturday ’80s Photo: Future/Past Vinyl Adventures

I don’t remember Mum and Dad ever buying singles. When I was a kid, singles were what *I* bought (generally on cassette because it was a quid cheaper than CDs, and also because when I first started buying them we didn’t actually have a CD player in the house). What Mum and Dad did have, as far as I knew, was:

  • A gramophone with accompanying early-mid 20th century record collection. I used to peruse this and found the names of the records fascinating, but the music itself was of little interest to me because (a) my interest in the 20th century only really starts circa 1963* and (b) it was mostly old Scottish tunes, which Dad always put on the gramophone for the kids to dance to whenever I had a birthday party. Mum and Dad eventually sold the gramophone and accompanying collection, enabling them to put a bigger TV in the space.
  • A collection of vinyl LPs dating from the early ’60s to the late ’80s. Half of it was/is Scottish folk, which is nice enough but not a particular musical passion of mine, so it was the pop/rock albums on the other side of the cupboard that I always dug out as a kid (and learnt how to use a record player as a result – something a lot of people these days have only picked up during adult retrohood!) My brother Malcolm and I divvied up a large part of this collection on Christmas Day 2019, as Mum and Dad are strictly CD/Spotify users now. Apparently it’s only really the younger generations that have recently returned to vinyl and cassettes.**
  • A whole bunch of cassettes for car trips circa 1988-2000, 80% of which were taped copies of stuff we had on vinyl or CD.
  • CD albums dating from about 1994, when the family finally got our first CD player. In the 21st century these have replaced the cassettes for car trip purposes. Mum and Dad are still folkies but their preferred folk is more ‘niche’ nowadays and so they still buy CDs as a way to support smaller bands.

During the Christmas 2019 divvying up of vinyl, I was surprised when Dad produced a fairly substantial pile of 7-inch singles that I had never seen before, some of them dating back to the late ’50s. I didn’t expect there to be any ’80s goodies in there, due to my aforementioned memory of Mum and Dad never buying singles – I assumed the 7-inch collection must all have been from their teenage years – but I was wrong!

'80s 7-inch singles

‘Total Eclipse…’ and ‘Say Say Say’ are both 1983 classics, but ‘I Know Him So Well’ was released as a single in December 1984 – the month before I was born. It appeared to be the most recent 7-inch in Mum and Dad’s collection when I went through it – so maybe it was parenthood that put an end to their single-buying!

Anyway, these tiny slices of the ’80s belong to me now, and I really need to fire up my own record player and give them a spin someday. Much more special than burying them in my ’80s Spotify playlist!

*Nothing to do with Chatterley, the Beatles, sex or anything else that Larkin wrote about. 1963 saw the first episode of Doctor Who, and so that’s when the 20th century became properly interesting as far as I’m concerned.

**Pre-pandemic in the late ’10s I used to love going into branches of HMV, heading up to the music floor, and seeing that it was all vinyl and cassette tapes once again – not a CD in sight!

One Last Thing…

I released my newest text adventure game last night (and submitted it to the Adventuron game jam, making it four Adventuron jams in a row for which I have managed to cobble together a game!). I’ve put a lot of work into this one over the last month, so I’m really pleased that it’s all finished and out there in the world at last.

One Last Thing...
Adventuron version.

The main reason that this game required quite a bit of extra work was that I accepted the optional jam challenge of porting the Adventuron game to Spectrum +3 and Spectrum Next using DAAD Ready (I talked about this process at length in the video I linked to in my Barry Basic post the other day). The DAAD conversion process works really well, but there are a few things that come up slightly differently in the Spectrum port and so they needed to be tweaked and refined to make sure that they worked in the same way across the versions. There’s still a bit of improvement that could be made to the ported versions, but I’m happy enough with them for now.

One Last Thing...
Spectrum Next version.

I also made two sets of graphics – one for the Adventuron and Spectrum Next versions, and one Spectrum-compatible set for the Spectrum +3 version. The Spectrum-compatible graphics were a lot of fun to make, but I’m going to need a lot more practice in that style before I do another +3 port! The Adventuron/Next graphics, meanwhile, are probably my favourites that I’ve made yet – I used the hept32 palette suggested in the jam rules, rather than just picking random colours like I usually do, and I think it’s made everything look a lot nicer and more pulled-together.

One Last Thing...
Spectrum +3 version.

For the actual game and story, I tried to keep everything fairly short and simple, as I knew there wouldn’t be much memory space when porting to Spectrum +3 (as it happened, I did have to sacrifice one graphical change in a location on the +3 version because the original amount of graphics was too much for the conversion!). I decided on my setting (a single five-room building) for this reason, but I ended up making a short prequel* to the game I originally planned out, as the first game plan was getting a bit too big.**

* It’s also a sequel to my first game from last year, The Cave of Hoarding. It’s complicated.
** This always happens. The only time I actually made the game that I originally planned (Hallowe’en: Night of the Misty Manor), it ended up being 10,000 lines of code and required a lot of all-nighters in the week leading up to the jam deadline. At least it means I’ve got a lot of semi-finished games that I can work on in my own time!

After making a fairly contained game (albeit with a lot of interesting complications), I am quite keen to do a project with a big, sprawling map again. However, I am going to take a few days (at least) off from game creation – apart from anything else, I want to play all the other jam entries now!


Back to my mile route this morning…

…and then straight back into my game for more polishing off. Today was all about experimenting with external sound effects!… which didn’t work, and so I recreated them with the beeps that come as part of Adventuron instead. The beeps probably sound better and more consistent than the effects I made with my wide-ranging elderly instrument collection and limited musical skill, but hopefully I’ll be able to work out how to incorporate my own sound one of these days!

I also had Geth playtest the game this evening. This process always throws up a few issues that I need to work on, so that will be the first job for tomorrow.

Hopefully – fingers crossed! – when I update again tomorrow, the game will be all but finished. Jam deadline is Saturday afternoon!

1990s keyboard
One of my ultimately-unsuccessful sound effects was recorded on my clunky old Concertmate keyboard from 1994. I still love all the terrible voice settings you can use for the keyboard!

Today’s earworm playlist:

FM-84 – ‘Bend And Break’
Zara Larsson – ‘Lush Life’

Pulling everything together

I went out for my four-mile midweek run this morning…

…and it was a bit of a struggle to force myself out of the door! I need to do nine miles on Sunday, and I’m already slightly dreading it… it’s just one of those weeks where I’m lacking a bit of running motivation. One day at a time, like everything else.

My game is really getting into the final stages now. I got the second set of graphics implemented today (they were a lot more straightforward than the first set!) and have started to sort out the final non-8-bit touches for the Adventuron version of the game, as well as the eventual presentation aspects such as the Itch page design. Hoping to run it past my first playtester (i.e. Geth) tomorrow evening!

The laptop stack did not pull its weight as planned today – laptop number one turned out to be about six Linux versions out of date and needs a complete reinstall, while laptop number two needs a day or so to recharge its battery. Laptop number three is tiny and struggles to do anything complicated, so I don’t think it could manage more than a small test game in an Adventuron editor (if that), and laptop number four is still on Windows 7, so I wouldn’t want to connect it to the web (it’s another one that needs overhauling with Linux). Hopefully number two will be ready to go tomorrow! I need to remember to plug them all in for a recharge every so often…

Just a short run again tomorrow, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a productive game creation day 🙂

Pixel calendar
Something different today – this graphic is from a mini side project that I’ll hopefully be able to update you about tomorrow.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Nobuo Uematsu – ‘Chaos Shrine’
Spandau Ballet – ‘Gold’
Regard – ‘Ride It’