Life and times of a Keyboard

I have a well needed day off work (its’ been busy since returning from holiday so I’ve been in the office every day) and I’ve set myself two goals for the day. First is to catchup on my book reports and other blogging. Second is to go for a long walk.


I’ve noticed for a while that the keys on the home computer keyboard are getting a bit stiff to touch type on, today, just as I’m motivated to type lots, they’re really sticking. Especially the space bar, pushing down requires just the right amount of pressure and direction. Push a little sideways and it sticks until it’s forced. Keyboards eh, just how long has this keyboard lasted?

Well, the logo on the top says “Gateway”. It came with our 2nd office computer in 1998 when we started the business. How do I know? It has the manufacturing date stamped on the back – 24th November 1998

Yes, this keyboard has lasted a measly 10 years (almost), or put another way;

It’s lasted longer than 15″ monitor, a 17″ monitor and a 17″ TFT screen (actually, the 17″ TFT didn’t really die, it replaced a dead monitor in the office and I had the new one at home)
It’s survived use on 4 computers (I think, certainly that’s how many computers we’ve had at home)
It’s outlived every joystick I’ve ever had, and come to think of it every mouse, although when this keyboard was made we were still using mice with wheels inside them.
It’s seen every password I’ve ever created, and failed to remind me what the password was when I’ve forgotten.
It’s left me with unanswered questions, like which key has been pressed more than any other? (the half shiny surface on the space bar might be the clue, that and that the space bar is the key suffering most and making this typing hard work).

The label on the back also tells us that even 10 years ago “Improper or prolonged keyboard use may cause injury”. I wonder if 10 years is prolonged?

So if you’re question is “how long does a keyboard last?” This one is about to go to keyboard heaven after 10 years.

Eurocon – international culture at it's best…

A little break from talking and playing gives me time to post a few more photos and explanations.


We can start with what sort of Personal Protection Equipment is necessary to play a computer game. In other countries it appears players take their safety more seriously than I ever have. Here Unguis (Germany) demonstrates his safety headgear and goggles.


However, it appears rules in Ninja’s homeland (Monaco) aren’t so stringent. Here we can see his PC is looking rather naked missing it’s entire outer case. Notice how the plastic carrier bag is neatly covering the DVD player by the monitor. The hard drive resting on a purpose angled cardboard box lid. OK, serious explanations now, Ninja flew to the con from Monaco and in previous years had to pay a heavy surcharge for the weight of the PC. So, his solution is to take only the essential parts of the PC which is why there is no case. The monitor was loaned for the con by one of the local competitors. Don’t try this at home folks, I’m told last year static electric destroyed his motherboard.


Of course, if you travel by car then there’s not much of a limit to what you can take. This behemoth has a control panel just for the cooling fans. That wouldn’t even fit on my desk at home.


Whereas this beautiful set up is fellow >>>PARROT<<< "Halb", An american living in Amsterdam in the day time he travels the world as a professional film cameraman shooting commercials and movies any time any where. His Mac laptop runs bootcamp to run all the PC games, and the screen is simply a huge apple TFT. Two things to note on this photo, firstly the black edge of the screens is where he's pulling a tight high G force turn and is starting to black out. Second, behind the screen of his laptop you can see a little grey box? That's my PC from home, tiny little thing that at 2 years old can't be upgraded any more and will be on my next years wish list. Oh, thirdly, that little box on top of Halb's screen is not a webcam, it's a TrackIR sensor. More on that another time though.


I’m not the only one posting pictures around the internet. There is a forum for all the players and interested parties and already several photos have been posted there complete with humorous captions.


Being the afternoon, it appears most players have recovered from the night before and surfaced to play, chat, drink more beer… actually most people seem to have been taking it easy so far.


Final shot of the posting goes along the line of 1st ROF squadron players. First in the row is Lapwin, one of the 8 who organise the event. I’m guessing he’s the one who came up with the “Dead Parrot” logo for this years event, which all we >>>PARROTS<<< felt was quite a compliment. We just turn up and play after all, they do all the hard work. Now for a little writing. It's not been non stop playing games. In fact, I've played less than I expected, only about 4 flights so far. The rest of the time has been talking to people. It's strange to put faces to voices I've heard for years now but never met. Baubai was completely different to what I expected (imagined overweight aging German, found very fit late middle age german). It's funny how you make judgements from a voice alone. Better than all the gaming has been a short discussion with Livius (german). We were talking of how great it is that we can all be friends, 60 odd years after our countries were fighting a horrific war. I told how in my Granddads life story he wrote of coming off the boat onto the Normandy beaches and his first sight was “the headless Canadian officer”. Livius then told me of his Dad’s similar story. Driving as a passenger in a lorry they were targeted by a sniper. His driver was shot clean through the head and the bullet passed over Livius fathers head by a truly small measurement. He didn’t hear the shot, only becoming aware of the drivers death as they began to veer off the road. He also told me of his personal experience of visiting the Imperial War Museum in London as a teenager and how it differed (for the better) when he visited it 15 or so years later. I keep praying that this new age of easy communication will bring countries closer together. I still hope that all wars will end soon, and that my grandchildren (should I be blessed) get to enjoy friendship with nationals of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and every other country where British national relations are less than ideal. I hope this, yet I also hope for the safety of the British servicemen and women who have to do the difficult job required today, as Livius father and my grandfather did 65 years ago.

Coining phrases: "Messenger Lag"

I wonder if there is a term in use called “Messenger Lag” or similar, meaning; the effect of having two or more differing conversations with the same person when typing over instant messaging services.

I’ve just been talking to my Mum on Messenger, she’s staying with my sister in Australia at the moment. Whenever we talk on messenger we have at least two simultaneous conversations. While I type the reply to one question she’ll start asking the next, or reply to a question from a couple of lines before. Sometimes that gets a little confusing… like this;

sharon says:Hi Steve,
Just about to go to bed – just checking you are okay?mum x
Steve Root says:i’m ok
Steve Root says:busy busy week
sharon says:thats good. lots of orders? or just work
Steve Root says:KBB in birmingham yesterday, kinetico tomorrow
Steve Root says:just busy with work, though dave did some orders yesterday
sharon says:sounds good
Steve Root says:i’ve had one survey this morning, one new measure this afternoon, margaret is jus tfinalising a bedroom for survey next week
sharon says:was kbb worth going to?
Steve Root says:may have found a good custom size door supplier, but I need to do more on bedrooms first
sharon says:any sliding wardrobes?
Steve Root says:long way to go though
Steve Root says:not worth having, current sliding doors are better
sharon says:where
Steve Root says:where what?
sharon says:you said a long way to go though
sharon says:so i said where
Steve Root says:Birmingham is a long way
sharon says:oh
sharon says:i thought you meant the supplier

NHS – I can only say good things about it….

i-08ca6e167e2e8304689525a2dcadee28-stevetop_small.jpg So, here I am recovering from my broken foot. At the end of last week I had to go to hospital to have the cast removed, another x-ray and see another doctor to find out whether things were getting better or worse.

With all the bad things you hear about the NHS in the media, it would make sense to expect slow service and poor facilities. In all my trips to the hospitals to fix my foot, I’ve experienced only pleasant staff, excellent service and complete care. From the moment I arrived at casualty at Ashford hospital at 2am I was treated well. Both the doctors on duty were dealing with 2 serious accidents brought in by ambulances so the triage nurse arrange for me to get X-Rays rather than wait. After the X-Ray it was clear the doctors were not going to be available for a while so she managed to find a bone specialist on duty elsewhere in the hospital. All in all I was treated in 2 hours. I find that more than acceptable for an organisation that can’t accurately predict when members of the population will injure themselves.

Forward 1 week and I have a follow up appointment at Canterbury hospital. All my paperwork had been forwarded (actually, the X-Rays are electronic images and I guess they share the same computer system with Ashord) and I was sent for another X-Ray. The doctor decided a cast would now help the bone fix faster and leave me a little more comfortable (every light touch to the foot was painful). I had the cast fitted and went home within 2 hours.

Last week, 4 weeks after the accident I returned to Canterbury for the cast to be removed and another X-Ray. The X-Ray was good, the foot felt a million times better (the doctor could touch it without me hitting the ceiling) the only problem I was left with was restricted movement due to the muscle wastage. I was immediately referred to the physio-therapists at the other end of the hospital, seen within half an hour and given an exercise plan to help me get back to running. I have another appointment in 2 weeks with the same physiotherapist and she mentioned that if the movement is good by then I may be able to join their weekly gym class. The whole process was complete with 3 hours of my arrival.

Every one of the staff I have dealt with has been pleasant and professional. Despite all these positive things I have to say about our local NHS hospitals, I still wouldn’t encourage anyone to break a bone to try them out.

Bereavement, and why I don't know what to say

I just this minute heard from an acquaintance that someone close to him died. I don’t know him that well, I’ve never met or spoken to him, just worked on some computer things with him. Yet the minute I read the message I was in mental turmoil.

I never have felt comfortable hearing someone say that someone close them has died. I don’t think it’s the death itself I have the problem with, it’s what I should say to the living. I am genuinely sorry to hear of someones death whether I knew them or not. I just don’t feel that saying sorry or sending my condolences equate to much, especially when I don’t know the person who died.

I do know how I’ve felt when members of my family died. When my granddad Root died, I felt a great loss that I will no longer be able to debate with him, that I never got to visit the places he spent the war to here his accounts surrounded by the scenery. I feel like crying just typing about it. Yet at the same time, I’m so happy he made his life a success. As he said to me once, “I’ve had my 3 score and 10 years…”, said with the contentment of a man who knows he is happy, he was a success.

When my granddad Mitchell died I was only 10. I remember sitting in the limousine following the hearse with my mum. I was looking out of the corner of the window thinking “I wonder what my friends are doing in school”, then at someone on the path looking at our procession my thoughts veered into “I should be really sad now, but I’m not”. I felt guilty then, which is probably why it etched itself into my memory (even the street background of red brick terraced houses and large grey paving slabs for the path). At 10 years old I never developed the relation ship with Granddad Mitchell that I did with Granddad Root.

When someone says to me that someone they know has recently died, I really don’t know what to say that will make them feel better. This time, after a few minutes of writing then deleting things I finally sent a single line reply, “Sorry to hear the news”. I hope it meant something positive.

Happy Birthday to me! (30 today)

i-67a6aeaec0e068ef717c1ed60edffd12-nan_nicola_james.JPGHappy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear me, happy birthday to me [claping, cheering, blowing out an inferno of 30 candles].

Wow, I’m so lucky. I’m 30 and have already achieved so many of my goals that there’s little left to make me happier. Perhaps that’s because I have realistic goals and don’t mind a little hardship every now and then though.

Do you want to know what the biggest difference of my 30th birthday was compared to previous birthdays? It was looking for a particular type of handwriting on an envelope, even though I knew this year it wouldn’t be there. My Nan died recently and I have always taken for granted seeing a birthday card from her in the morning post. Nan’s birthday was also the 18th June, so this is the first year we didn’t get to wish each other happy birthday.

The photo is Nan in 2002 with Nicola and James. She was on holiday in Eastbourne then so we drove down to meet her.

Phases of Life

I half mentioned before (my post about secret lives) how I’m finding that life goes in phases. For example, at the moment I am (once again) in my book reading phase. I’ve been devouring hundreds of pages a night in an effort to sleep (I’m also in my not sleeping phase, which, I remember having both phases in my teens).

Last summer I had a running phase which stopped almost completely over Christmas but for which I felt the urge to start again last week (a 20 minute run was a killer!). I’m also back in an ATC Phase (I was an Air Cadet, now I’m at the local Air Cadet squadron as an instructor), I’m missing my Cycling phase (in my late teens I used to cycle miles, especially at weekends). My guitar phase is ongoing though without lessons and without having written any new songs.

There’s another phase which I’ve been in for many years which I feel is about to end, at the same time I’m finding others are trying to start (hey, one day I will learn how to program in Java and write that game I’ve always wanted too).

I’ve only noticed these phases as I’ve got older. When younger I guess I didn’t know any different. “Plus a Change, Plus C’est La Mme Chose” – remembering my French phase.

Note to self: I’m sure this post isn’t very good English – even though the google spell check was happy. Perhaps I’m finally getting sleepy.

Things people don't understand – Thermostats

Have you ever noticed how some times people don’t operate an appliance/machine properly because they don’t understand how it works? Often, it’s because they’ve never been told or seen an instruction book. There are probably a lot of things I think I know how to use, but don’t.

One of the most annoying things I find that people don’t know how to work are thermostats. You know, the device that turns your heating on in your house or office. Thermostats have a scale of temperatures, the one in the photo goes from about 4 degrees centigrade to 32 degrees centigrade. 4 degrees means that it will turn on to prevent frost, 32 degrees is probably too hot for comfort.

What do you do when you feel cold? Most people turn the thermostat up, but in reality that probably isn’t a solution. A thermostat will turn the heating on when the temperature falls below the temperature it is set too, and it will turn off when it goes over that temperature.

So, you get into work in the morning and it feels cold. The temperature on the termostat is set to 22 Degrees. It seems most people will then turn it up to 30 degrees. When I ask why they say “because its cold and it will warm the room up quicker”. This is the point – it wont warm the room up any quicker. The heating system output is unchanged by the thermostat – a thermostat sets the heating on or off. All that will happen is that eventually the room will heat up to 30 degrees at which point someone will walk over to the thermostat and turn it down. Typically they turn it down to 16 degrees, no doubt thinking it will cool the room down quicker. When the temperature eventually reaches 16 degrees people will be cold and turning it back to 30 degress…. and on it goes.

If you feel cold when you get into work in the morning (or home at night for that matter) the problem isn’t the thermostat not turning on the heating when the temperature falls below it’s setting (22 degrees in this case) – it’s probably that the heating system has an overideing on/off switch on a timer, so the office isn’t heated overnight and the house isn’t heated during the day when it’s empty. The solution is to change the timer to turn the heating on before people get into work/get home. Once the room is at 22 degrees the thermostat will turn the heating off by itself. Perhaps these graphs will explain it better:



So why are we able to set the temperature then?
As humans we prefer different temperatures for different activities, doing the house work will probably warm our bodies up and therefore we will prefer a cooler ambient temperature (say 18degrees). Sitting down at night to watch a movie and we may prefer it slightly warmer (say 24 degrees). Working in an office with little movement we may prefer 22 degrees, whereas working on a trade counter which involves a lot of movement we will probably prefer 20 degrees. Every day we prefer something slightly different, and that’s why we have the control of a thermostat through a range of temperatures. Including a “Frost Protection” setting of around 4 degrees, for when the office is closed over christmas and we wouldn’t want pipes to freeze in our absence.

So, the next time you feel cold at home or the office, don’t jump up and put the thermostat on it’s maximum setting, move it up by a couple of degrees then go and check to see the heating timer is set correctly.

Secret Lives

I’ve been thinking lately how little we know about each other. I got thinking about this when someone described me as a “gamer”. They were surprised to discover that I play a game called “Warbirds” with some other people over the internet.

Warbirds probably deserves it’s own blog entry, but for now it’s basically a flight simulator where multiple players get to shoot each other out of the sky. It’s not encouraging war or violence, it’s fun and it’s a challenge. Seeing as I don’t watch much TV (the occasional documentary, just never been interested in the soaps) it’s a bit of me time too.

I always thought it was quite logical for me to find that sort of program. People who know me are quite likely to know that:
a) I have always loved flying
b) I find computers easy to work with
c) I like to keep my mind occupied (I have always liked stragey games, from Risk when I was growing up to SimCity and the like as I got older).
A Flight Sim, on a computer, where you have to achieve some very specific goals against other people – many who are highly skilled, covers all of those things nicely.

So, back to “Secret Lives”. They are not really secret things that we keep from each other but when we meet someone, what do they do with themselves in life?
Where do they like to go on holiday?
What was their earliest memory?
What thing are they most proud of?
Who do they count among their friends?
What do they want to achieve in their remaining life?
What are they doing to achive it?
What have they done in the past?
What sports do they enjoy?
Did they represent the country at the Olympics?

They’re not things that people deliberately hide, but things they just don’t mention.

I guess it’s my curious side that’s asking all these questions. For all I know their is someone I know, perhaps I’ve been seeing them for years as they supply my business or perhaps I know them from a technical newsgroup and have only typed messages to them, has an interest very similar to one of mine but that we’ve never mentioned to each other. Perhaps, just perhaps, I know the same person twice, if you see what I mean. I noticed that once I started running (during this summer, although I’ve done very little for the last month) I met quite a few other people that either were or had been keen runners.

I guess, all of this is made harder by not knowing ourselves that well. I believe we are always changing as we grow, and for a while we may be interested in one thing and then over time that interest will fade to be replaced by something else. I’m sure that eventually my interest in Warbirds will fade and I will move onto something else. In fact, I’m also keen to know what the next new thing in my life will be. As we all go through so many phases of life I guess it becomes less likely that we speak about them.

So, if you are reading this, you know me, and you also have a Blog then let me know where yours is. Then we have one less secret between us. My thoughts are now wondering onto “I wonder how long this blogging phase of mine will last”.