Wednesday, 21 October 2009

I've stopped wanting to ride my bicycle

Well, I did it. I went out on the bike. 8 miles into Pateley, and 8 miles back.

10 years ago I'd have ripped up the road. It'd have taken an hour at most. Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong, Graham Obree, they'd have been left in my wake as I flew through the roads of Upper Nidderdale at phenomenal speed, arcing through the corners, stood on the pedals up the hills.

Back in the real world, 40 minutes there and 50 minutes back is what it actually took. Every single muscle in my body is now screaming at me to go to bed until tomorrow morning. Muscles I had genuinely forgotten I had. Legs. Arms. Back. Even my stomach is complaining.

I'm actually quite depressed at how unfit I've become in a year and a half, and I'm clearly going to have to do something about this. 8 miles a night for the next week at least.

But not tomorrow. Looks like the bus again, for a week or so at least!

Friday, 16 October 2009

I want to ride my bicycle

I've spent the afternoon making my bicycle roadworthy again. To be fair, it only took some work on the brakes, but it's now in fine fettle and raring to go. Unlike it's owner. I'm 36, and my fitness is the lowest it's ever been. I actually ran the cycle down our lane (approx. 500 yards), went back up the hill, and wondered whether or not I should ring NHS Direct for advice such was the burning in my chest. Had I have made the call, they'd never have got a coherent word out of me.

Consequently, I need to start using the thing again. Long gone are the days when I would randomly go on a 90-mile round trip to Scarborough for a day out, on the racing cycle I put together myself - the picture at the top is that very bike, in fact, before I was dumb enough to put it on eBay. I can still tell you the brand name of every part of that bike down to the number of teeth on the chainwheel/rear cluster, and regret selling it still.

And then I remember why I sold it, because it had 14 gears, all in the high range. It was like owning a Ferrari, lovely but not practical for nipping to the local supermarket. It went like stink off a stinky stick, but relied on the rider to be fit and agile, something which I'm not anymore. Hence, I got a new one with more suitable gearing a few years back, which needed repairing today to make it roadworthy again, and now it's done I've no excuse not to get fit again.

Restoring my rapidly-flagging fitness is only a secondary reason for this sudden re-interest in cycling. The prime reason for doing this is because I've no money, and at £80 a month I could save a fair bit by forgetting the bus and cycling the 16.6 miles between Harrogate and Leeds. Each way. I've done a regular commute that was 10 miles each way before. I also regularly cycled to meet a train at Selby on a 6 speed folder, which was 8 miles. So I'm confident I can do it - if I stay fit enough. Watching cyclists fly past our stationary bus in the regular morning traffic-jams in Leeds is also providing inspiration.

I've mentioned this to Mrs B. The conversation goes "I'm going to cycle to work." "No you're not". End of conversation. Ultimately, Mrs B thinks I'm going to be squashed by a car/bus/truck/JCB (delete as applicable), but I genuinely don't believe it's any more dangerous than crossing the road. My moped is far, far scarier to ride, and at the pace I used to cycle at it's probably not much quicker in it's current, speed-restricted, state. The highlight of my youth was overtaking old, flagging (usually Tomos - brand, ie rubbish) mopeds. Hilarious fun, watching said-moped riders face as some upstart on a Raleigh Pursuit flew past, pedalling flat out, laughing uncontrollably as sweat poured from his brow.

Anyway. I have a day off work next Wednesday, and will go for a trial run then. My bus ticket runs out Tuesday, so either I renew it on the way home or go for it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

10 BORDER 0 : PAPER 0 : INK 7: CLS

I'm about to go off on a huge nostalgia trip, for which I'm not even going to apologise. But if all this reminiscing about the past winds you up, you'll hate what's coming.

Still here? Excellent. Take a look at the picture above.

They're both mine, I rediscovered them during a recent clearout. For those who don't know, the one at the top is a Spectrum+ 48K. Below it is a ZX81. Somewhere in the garage, I have an original Spectrum, complete with rubber keys.

The ZX81 is older, but I guess the Spectrum is the most important of the two to myself. It started life as a rubber-keyed 16K model, was upgraded to 48K, and had the improved keyboard added later still. It had 8 colours (16 colours technically - light and dark shades of each!), which improved on the ZX81 which was black and white, low resolution, 1K memory, and no lower case characters. Plug the Spectrum into the TV now, and it still fires up the start screen, although the keyboard refuses to accept any input which I reckon is because the Kempston joystick interface was faulty and killed the rest of the computer. (The ZX81 works, but you need a particular type of old TV with manual tuning, and the wind needs to be blowing from the north-east at exactly 14.3 MPH. Its temperamental, to say the least!)

Possibly, none of the above paragraph made any sense to you. It made no sense at work on Wednesday, when I was trying to explain what this machine was, to no avail until someone piped up 'It was an old games console'.

Which I guess it was, kind-of. If that's what you wanted it to be. But it was more than that. It was programmable, and it let you write your own games if you had the time and patience. With the right adaptor, it let you write letters and print them out. Clive Sinclair, who owned the company that invented and sold these computers once claimed that the ZX81 could run a nuclear power station. Doubtful - the add-on memory module reset by moving it, so one knock and we would be clearing up nuclear fallout for decades.

The thing is, during the 1980's you had two options in life. People wax lyrical about 1980's music, but between 1983-1989, I can't really place many songs. That's because instead of visiting school disco's, I was sat in my bedroom, destroying my eyesight on a black and white telly, writing pointless programs - or even worse, copying them line for line from magazines. Copying computer programs was long-winded, laborious, but when the program failed to work you could learn an awful lot about programming by trying to de-bug your 6 hours worth of typing.

When I did my A-level in computing, I had to adapt to other programming languages. But, this was stupidly easy for me because I already knew the basics. Later during my HND, I picked up Pascal programming far easier than about 50% of my year, because I'd already learnt most of the techniques. Still now, I can implement IF..THEN..ELSE statements in Excel spreadsheets. So, during the 80's when everyone bought their kids computers without having a clue what they did, or why, under the pretext that 'it'll help with their homework', I guess it really did help with mine. It probably help me avoid a lot of homework too, I 'lost' an awfully large number of books at school due to homework not being done, because I'd been up until 2am attempting to get Bilbo Baggins out of the Goblin's dungeon.

Of course, with modern PC's and Internet access, computers really do help with homework. Computers are now a tool, and pretty much anyone can use one because you don't normally need to write your own program. It also helps that computers generally work together - it's a choice of Windows/Linux PC, or Apple. In 1982 when the Spectrum was born, there were numerous computers, and none of them were compatible with each other. BBC. Oric-1. Dragon 32. Commodore 64. Jupiter Ace. Even computers made by the same manufacturer were incompatible. The two computers above had similarities, but just because Sinclair made them doesn't mean the older programs worked on the new computer!

These computers were all but dead by the 1990's, and the replacement Amiga's/Atari ST's that replaced them where far, far more advanced and useful, setting the platform for today's modern computers. I moved to an Amiga because my friends had them, as I got a Spectrum because most of the people my dad worked with had them - attitudes to pirated software were lax compared to today.

Anyway. Enough reminiscing, but if you've never seen this, I guarantee it'll bring back a flood of memories for any other saddo's like me. Granted it's been around for ages, but I still like it. And if you want to relive your Spectrum experience, well there are a load of emulators here.