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The random ramblings of a Star Trek-obsessed schools ICT Systems Manager who likes a good moan.
This is a place where I can whinge about life, and express my love of my family, 80's music, retro computer gaming (especially on my Commodore 64),
 oh and Star Trek. I'm very open with my opinions and I like a good moan. If you don't like what I say, then you might want to consider not reading this blog.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Yodel = The worst courier service in the world.

So, last Sunday I decided to buy a new flashy camera - a Fujifilm HS30EXR to be precise.  The plan was to get it in time for the Evesham High School Awards Evening on Thursday 28th June.  How difficult could it be?

First, my bank blocks payment because they suspect fradualant activity on my bank account, cancelling the order resulting in me having to re-order it again.

SOOO.... Tuesday, I re-order the camera on Amazon.  For this camera the company uses Yodel to deliver it to me.  Since I pay for Amazon Prime, I can get guaranteed next day delivery for free. 

Wednesday comes....  No camera delivered.  I ring Yodel up and they tell me that the parcel WAS in the van but the driver had to finish work early to attend a 'family emergency'.  Fair enough.  They promise the camera will be delivered on Thursday, in time for the Awards Evening.....

Thursday comes....  No camera delivered.  I ring Yodel up again and after speaking to several people, the Depot Manager tells me that the camera IS in the depot and that he is not sure why it was not loaded on to the van for delivery.  An internal investigation will be needed, but the parcel WILL BE delivered the following day (Friday).  Not great since I needed the camera that night, but fortunately I was able to find another one at School at the last minute which I could borrow.

Friday comes...  Guess what.....   No camera delivered again.  I ring up Yodel, only this time they tell me that the parcel is missing and that no one seems to be aware of it or know anything about it.  I give them a bollocking over the phone, emphasising how peeved I am at having to ring Yodel up every day for 20 minutes at a time (at 10p minute) only to be told a pack of lies.

Anyway, I have managed to get a full refund, and the camera has been re-ordered.  I just hope they don't use Yodel as their courier.

Don't ever use Yodel if you can help it.  How they are still operating is beyond me judging by the number of negative comments I've read about them on the net. 

The only thing they are good at is being crap and losing your stuff.

Rant over.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mac-e-doo


No major update today.  Just a photo of the new Mac suite at EHS...  Well..  We already had the iMacs, we've just moved them to another room.  Intergration with Active Directory is much more reliable now thanks to a few little tweaks which I have learnt.  I hate to say it, but I'm quite pleased with how the room has turned out.

I will add this however (mainly so that I don't forget).  One of the problems we had was when AD users tried logging on to an iMac that had been on for a few hours.  They would recieve the message "You are unable to log in to the user account "username" at this time” on Mac OS 10.5 and above.  A simple restart of the computer would fix it, and the user would then log on successfully.

Not exactly a great solution.

A bit of investigating has told me that this problem can happen if several AD users have home directories on different shares of the same server.

The solution?

Edit the auto_master file!  Of course, how obvious!!!!!!!!

Open Terminal (via Utilities) and do the following :-
  • Type       sudo nano /etc/auto_master
  • Comment out the line Network/Servers (insert # symbol at start of line – hold down ALT + 3)
  • Press CTRL and X to exit.
  • You will be asked to save.  Press Y for yes, and press Enter.  Leave file name as it is and press Enter
  • Exit
Your auto_master file should look like this (or something like it)

# Automounter master map
#
+auto_master  # Use directory service
/net -hosts -nobrowse,hidefromfinder,nosuid
/home auto_home -nobrowse,hidefromfinder
#/Network/Servers -fstab
/-  -static


And there you go.  Right, I'm off to bed now because I have had a shite day!  Roll on tomorrow.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 7 : Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future (Commodore 64)


 
Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future was one of those games which came out when our family only had a Commodore Plus 4.  I remember reading all about it in an early copy of Commodore User and hoped it would one day come out on the Plus 4...

Of course, that never happened.

I got my Commodore 64 for Christmas in 1987, and I remember being ecstatic when a jaunt in to Basildon (and Toys R Us) resulted in me finding this game.  It had recently been re-released as a budget title (by none other than the king of budget games, Mastertronic) for a nifty £1.99.  Sweet!

And so the adventure begins...


The game is a fun action/adventure game with what I think are superb graphics, and wonderful gameplay.  You play Dan Dare (or Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare if you've ever read the Eagle comic strip), and the aim is to stop Dan's nemesis, The Mekon, from crashing an asteroid in to the Earth.  The action begins on the surface of the asteroid after having just landed there, and you move from screen to screen, collecting objects and solving simple puzzles.  For instance, Dan can't swim but needs to get through deep water.  Find a reed, cut it and use it as a snorkel! 

Dan can't reach the conveniently placed torch...  Maybe Stripey (your pet) can get it for you, but how?


Once you've found a way in to the Mekons base within the Asteroid,  you need to rescue your friends who have been captured and placed behind bars before finding a massive laser which must be fired to destroy the Mekon and foil his dastardly plan.  The 'laser' puzzle is great because you are required to flip reflectors in several rooms so that the laser hits its target correctly.  Not very difficult, but fun to figure out!

Take that... and that..... and that.


Aliens called Treens will try and stop you from completing your mission.  If you're lucky you can avoid them, although in most cases you will be required to eliminate them through hand-to-hand combat.  Fighting is quite simple - block, punch and kick.  No weapons here!

Definately a fun adventure, and a true classic.  Oh, and may I add the Spectrum and Amstrad versions were completely different games altogether, although the C64 version was (and still is) the best!

Dan can't swim, but he needs to go underwater...

Find a torch first, otherwise you will not be able to see on this screen.  Look for something that will help you in your adventure.

Finally...  An entrance to the Mekon's underground complex.



That's a big laser!

Rotate the reflectors so that the laser hits the correct target




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Big Mac

The only good Mac, is a Mac with Windows installed on it!


I've never been a fan of these...  The school has a whole suite of them, and getting them to work on a Windows domain can be a right chore.  Fortunately, there is a utility included with Mac OS called Boot Camp which allows the user to install Windows alongside Mac OS.

Why would I do this?  Surely it would just be cheaper to buy some normal Windows desktops?  Well, the answer to that is simple...  We wanted our students to experience other systems, but our school management software is not Mac compatible and is required for registering classes!

So now, we've got a dual booting iMac.  I hate to say this, but my knowledge of Macs has quadrupled over the past day or so...  I feel so ashamed!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 6 : A Labyrinth Game (Philips G7000)


I'm not going to spend too long writing about this game.  Not because it isn't very good - far from it, but to be honest, the game itself is probably one of the most simpliest games ever written and it would be very difficult to write much about it.

When I was very young and before we even had a Commodore Plus 4, my parents bought a Philips G7000 console (probably around 1982-83).  It was our first computer.  Graphically, I suppose the games were on par with the Atari 2600.  We had quite a few cartridges for it, but I had my favourite....  A Labyrinth Game (Videopac 32 to be precise).

The game was simple - you control a square which you could move about using the joystick.  The aim was to get from the start of the maze to the exit.  Told you it was simple!

The game had several playing modes, including a fun two player game which had both players trying to complete 10 mazes in the fastest time.

There wasn't a large number of mazes in the game, and they weren't very big either due to the low resolution of the consoles graphics. There was however an additonal playing mode which generated a random maze with continuously changing walls.  It wasn't very difficult, but it was very frustrating, especially in two player mode.

I played this all of the time during my very early childhood years, and still do when I have a few minutes to waste!  Hard to believe this was state of the art 30 years ago! 



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 5 : Tom Thumb (Commodore Plus 4)


Sticking with the Commodore Plus 4, Tom Thumb was again another game which was miles better on the Plus 4 than the Commodore 64 version.  Written by renowned Plus 4 programmer Udo Gertz, the game had you play Tom, and required you to explore 178 screens of platform action, avoiding baddies, collecting treasure, and finding keys to unlock doors.

The game itself is a straight-forward platformer, but one of the things I remember most about this game is the ability to see parts of the game which you would not be able to reach until much later on.  This added much more lastability to an already addictive game.

Me, finally reaching the final screen from Tom Thumb

It took me over 22 years to finally finish this game (read about it here), without cheating, and what did I get when I reached the end?  Nothing!  Well, besides having to start the game from the beginning again but with items and baddies in different locations.  It wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for a bug which resulted in your character not being able to get any further in the game due to some spikes above a ladder which you needed to get through.  Unfortunately when you touch the spikes, you lose a life and go back to the last save spot (the last door opened, key or treasure collected).  It was impossible to get past the spikes, so you could never finish the game for a second time.

The game did have a good feature (although I am not sure if was ever intended as a secret cheat or not) : Normally when you had lost all of your lives, you would start the game from the very beginning.  If you ran out of lives, simply pull down on the joystick and you would start from the same location as the last key or treasure collected.  Very useful, although your score would reset back to zero. 

I dread to think how many hours I've spent of my life playing this game.  I even started to write a remake of it several years ago, but lost most of the source code thanks to a catastrophic hard drive failure (my fault for not making regular backups).  I did manage to salvage some of it, and it is playable, but I lost so much.  I don't seem to have time to finish it...  Maybe one day....

My version of Tom Thumb - unfortunately never finished

My version of Tom Thumb - unfortunately never finished

My version of Tom Thumb - unfortunately never finished

As mentioned earlier, the game is VERY big.  Csabo over at Plus 4 World has painstakingly put together a map of the entire game.  You can check it out by clicking here.

I have many fond memories of this game.  Well worth a play if you get a chance!



Monday, June 11, 2012

Time for an upgrade...

One of the fun parts of my job as Network Manager is buying new computer hardware for the school I work in.  My team and I have recently upgraded one of our classrooms and have replaced some aging HP workstations with a new suite of Acer Veriton computers with i3 processors.  Not as high spec as the i5's we bought last year for two other classrooms (budgets are tighter afterall!), but seeing this room now makes me think back to when I did I.T. at school, and what we had available to us back then :- one classroom containing some BBC Micros ("Model B" I think) and a few BBC Master computers, and another classroom with a handful of RM Nimbus 186's...

...  Now, as you know, I'm a big fan of old/retro computers, but I wish we had access to this kind of classroom when I was at school!


Click to enlarge

Saying that, playing "Frak!" and "Dare Devil Dennis" during lessons was much easier on a BBC!


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Thanks!

When I first started the Captains-Blog exactly 6 years ago, I never expected many people to read it - maybe close friends and family, and that was all.  Anyway, having a quick look on my Blog stats, I'm surprised to see that so many visitors from all over the world have come to visit recently.  Anyway, I just wanted to say a big hello to everyone who comes by, no matter where you're from.  It's nice to know that I'm being read all over the world, and it means a lot to me.

HELLO.... and thanks!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 4 : More Adventures of Big Mac - The Mad Maintenance Man (Commodore Plus 4)


Time to go back to 1985, and one of my favourite games on the Commodore Plus 4 computer...

Big Mac (the actual title being "More Adventures of Big Mac - The Mad Maintenance Man") was one of those games which I was addicted to when I was young.  My Dad and I would play this for hours on end, although I could never beat him!

15 levels of pure platform goodness which involved you as the player negotiating some well-designed levels featuring guns that fired at you, plungers that move up and down ready to squash you, disappearing floors, and numerous switches which needed to be activated to get you further on each level and to allow the exit to appear.  You also had a limited amount of time to complete each level before your air ran out.

Released by budget software publisher Mastertronic for £1.99, I had this game on both the Commodore Plus 4 and Commodore 64, although this was one of the rare titles which was actually better (both graphically and better to play) on the inferior Plus 4.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Level 6

Level 7

Level 8

Level 9

Level 10

Level 11

Level 12

Level 13

Level 14

Level 15




And here is a screenshot from the equally-as-good-to-play-but-not-so-good-looking C64 version.


Classic gaming at its best!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 3 : Street Beat (Commodore 64)


Street Beat was another great game released for the Commodore 64/128 by Mastertronic for a pocket money friendly £1.99.  The aim of the game was simple...  You play a character called Rockin Rodney, who has just started a new job at Significance Records.  You must wander town, collecting audio cassettes from various houses and returning them to your place of work.  The only thing is, you need to get a certain number of people dancing before you can drop the tape off at Significance Records.  You do this by using the ghettoblaster which you carry on your shoulders.  You basically shoot musical notes at the passing pedestrians to get them dancing.  Using F1 and F4, you can change the volume of the music - the louder it is, the further the musical notes go (although you're more likely to get nicked by the local police).



You have to watch your batteries though.  Pop into electrical stores to replenish your ghettoblaster batteries should they get low.  If the batteries run out, you lose all the people you've got dancing and you have to start all over again.



Every now and then you are notified of a dancing/house party which you can gate crash.  If you are successful in finding the right house, you can increase the number of people dancing greatly.

You also have to watch out for various characters who make playing the game difficult, including :-

  • Tone Deaf Walker - He'll damage your ghettoblaster and you'll need to find a repair shop to get it working again.  Don't let him touch you more than once otherwise your ghettoblaster will be irreparably damaged and the game ends.
  • Psycho Killer - This guy will kill you and instantly ends the game.
  • Gangster of Groove - If you let these guys touch you, they steal your tape.

The town is quite large, and it can be difficult to find a house with a tape to collect (indicated by a random flashing front door).  Fortunately if you bump in to a character called Jumping Jack Flash, he will teleport you to a house with a tape (or Significance Records if you already have collected a tape).

There are 10 tapes to collect, and you have to collect them all and get them to Significance Records before your on-screen tape counter reaches 999.

I spent many hours of my childhood playing this game, and even after 25 years I still have not finished it.  I think the most tapes I could find is 8 (out of 10).  Graphics are simple but effective, and there is a good number of tunes to listen to when you collect a tape.  This game was actually a re-release of a game called Ghettoblaster - Both games were the same, but with a few minor changes such as different music.

May the funk be with you.




Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge