Is it just me, or is this the first new year in ages that doesn’t sound impossibly futuristic? It just feels kind of ordinary and par for the course, perhaps because we’ve been talking about London 2012 for so long it became familiar long before it actually arrived. It’s also the first year where it feels completely natural to pronounce it “twenty-twelve”; I did tend to call 2011 “twenty-eleven” but part of me wanted to stick with the “two thousand and xxx” pattern that worked during the 2000s. I don’t have that feeling at all with 2012 – again, perhaps because ever since we were talking about London 2012 we were talking about “London twenty-twelve”.
Anyway, I hope you had a good New Year’s celebration, whatever you did. I spent it in front of the telly, and I can tell my critical faculties must have been switched off for the evening because I happily sat and watched 2½ hours of Alan Carr. I’ve never really been able to get along with Alan Carr. When I’ve seen him being interviewed by other people he’s always seemed a nice enough chap, but the heightened persona he creates for his own shows I’ve always found extremely grating. I have no problem with camp people (some of my best friends, etc – although in my case that’s actually true), and I’m actively drawn to effeminate guys (and geeks; if you’re an effeminate geek, congratulations, you’ve achieved perfection), but that’s when those things are genuine. Alan Carr is clearly naturally camp and effeminate – and more power to him – but he exaggerates those things for his TV persona, and that fakeness irritates me, in the same way that Nicky Campbell’s faked-up ‘man of the people’ act makes me want to punch my radio on those rare occasions he crops up on it.
But, anyway, I set that aside for the purposes of last night, and actually found I was enjoying myself. I think it helped that there was a lot going on, and he had reasonably interesting guests, which meant he wasn’t forced to fall back on the insincere posing quite so much. Mind you, it probably also helped – given how mind-meltingly shallow I am – that the show included a lot of shots of Olly Murs sitting around looking pretty. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, Mr Murs is a former X-Factor runner up. I’ve become mildly obsessed with him ever since coming across discovering this (NSFW-ish) photo.)
Still, the purpose of this wasn’t to talk about the tail end of 2011, but rather to talk about what I hope to achieve in 2012. I’m always wary of having anything so concrete as a resolution, but I also think it’s a bad idea just to allow myself to drift. I didn’t achieve a great deal last year, but I did manage to hold to my weight-loss programme. Even if I do still look as globular as I always did to a random stranger, at least I know I’m a smaller globe – Neptune rather than Jupiter kind of thing – and having that as a thing to look back on is positive, I think. With that in mind, this is a list of not-resolutions, things I hope to try and vaguely get round to maybe doing something about in 2012.
I am a dreadful procrastinator – why do today what you could put off until tomorrow? – and I last got a new pair of glasses in, I think, 2004. My eyesight’s reasonably stable, but even so I think my prescription has probably changed in the intervening time; given it’s a gradual change it’s always hard to be sure, but I think the world is blurrier than it used to be. Even without that, though, the lenses are quite badly scratched, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve had to start sticking part of the frame together with sellotape. So I really do need new glasses. My hope is that I may get this one sorted in the next couple of weeks.
My dentist has been lovely, and very kind about (metaphorically) holding my hand through my pathetic snivelling (phobias are a terrible thing), and the hypnosis has been surprisingly helpful, but it’s time I did something about this. Four months is long enough to have been walking around with an odd number of teeth in my head (odd in both senses – unusual, and indivisible by two). Self-consciousness about opening my mouth in public is making me even more of a hermit than usual – there’s one social opportunity I particularly regret having passed up; if you’re reading this, sorry again – but I also think I’ve reached the stage where not having the work done will be worse for my state of mind than having it done. That’s where the hypnosis has helped; I no longer dread treatment will be worse than dying, just assume it will be intensely horrible, which may not sound like much, but is worlds better, believe me. And once it’s actually done, it will be a huge weight off my mind. I may delay this for a few weeks yet – the dentists are moving to new premises, and the boost to my mood from noticeably lengthening days will also be important – but I’m setting myself a goal of having at least the important work done before the spring is out. And then – and this is the key thing – making future trips to the dentist a cast-iron routine. That way I won’t get into such a state again, both in terms of my actual oral health, but also my fear won’t have a chance to get out of hand.
Computing – Part One
I’ve always liked to flatter myself as a bit of a technology geek, but my case for arguing that has been looking decidedly thin in recent years. I don’t have a mobile of any description, I’m not on twitter or facebook, and I don’t enjoy gaming – that’s a vast swathe of techno-geekery closed to me right there. Then, too, I may have built my computer myself, but that was approaching 7 years ago, and I’ve only minimally upgraded since then (I added a second hard drive), which means my machine is decidedly low spec. It’s actually still workable, but I’m having increasing problems with overheating, and memory errors seem to be proliferating, too. And as a seven year old machine, its ability to multitask is not great – if I have more than one webpage with significant flash elements open at a time, it basically grinds to a halt.
So, I’m planning on buying a new computer. As always, I’ll aim to get a machine that’s middle-of-the-road in terms of things like processor speed, memory and hard drive capacity – any higher spec than that and you start paying an unjustifiable premium just for being up-to-date. The great thing is that, because it’s been so long since I upgraded, this is still going to be a massive improvement. I’ve got my eye on a particular machine offered by one of the indie computer retailers locally, and if I do opt for that one the hard drive’s going to be larger by a factor of ten, it’ll have eight times as much memory, and in place of one processor core running at 2.4GHz it’ll have four cores running at 3.1GHz. (I’m enough of a geek to find these numbers almost erotically exciting…) And it’ll have an actual (if underpowered) graphics card, as opposed to a silly hardwired chip that actually shunts most of the work over to the processor. I knew I’d end up regretting that compromise when I made it, and I haven’t been wrong.
Computing – Part Two
The next thing is that a hardware upgrade this significant is going to necessitate some software changes. For a start, unless my wannabe techno-geekery has let me down, I think I’m right in saying that the extra RAM will necessitate the move from a 32-bit to a 64-bit environment, which will mean a new operating system, and new programs to run on it. Well, ok, the new programs aren’t strictly speaking necessary, but it would seem …eccentric to buy a shiny new computer with shiny new RAM, then run versions of programs that can’t address the extra memory. Plus, too, newer versions of programs should have native support for multi-core processors, which wouldn’t be the case with some of what I currently have; some versions I have in particular are notorious for maxing out one core and leaving the others completely idle. So this means saying a final farewell to Windows XP. (I know there are 64-bit versions of XP, but realistically if I’m getting hold of a new OS it would be absurd to stick with one that Microsoft will be withdrawing support for in a few years time.)
If I stick within the Windows ecosystem, an OS upgrade will obviously mean moving to Windows 7. But here’s the thing – Win7 is different enough to XP that I will encounter a bit of a learning curve while I’m coming to terms with it. So the obvious question is: why not take this as an opportunity to make the jump to Linux? I’ve been interested in making the jump for years. I actually had a dual-boot machine with Windows and Linux back around the turn of the century, but Linux was fairly scary in those days, and I also found dual-booting a pain; inevitably, whenever I wanted a file it was saved in a partition whichever OS I was using at the time couldn’t read. I understand these days Linux can read inside NTFS partitions with relative ease. I certainly hope so, or I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time to transferring data, rather than just pulling the hard drives out of my current machine and installing them in spare drive bays in the new one, which is what I had planned.
It’ll obviously take me a while to get to grips with Linux – longer than it would take me to get to grips with Win7 – but if I’m going to be flailing around lost inside a new environment anyway, it might as well be one that won’t charge me an arm and a leg for the privilege of being confused. And one that I’m philosophically and politically attracted to – open source shouldn’t just be the future of computing, it should be the future of everything (open education, open politics etc). It will also, of course, rejuvenate my geek-cred (such as it is…) at a stroke – I may not tweet or facebook (are we using facebook as a verb yet?), I may look faintly horrified at the idea of carrying a mobile phone, but I will be able to claim use of a minority OS.
(Even if I am thinking of going with Ubuntu, the most mainstream flavour of Linux, which will immediately identify me as a total newbie to actual techy people. I figure Ubuntu will, if nothing else, be a good way of getting to grips with the Linux way of doing things, and building familiarity with the kernel and the terminal; I can always migrate off to more rarefied areas once I’ve mastered the basics.)
I do have moments when I wonder if using Linux is actually beyond me. Some of the ‘simple’ guides to fairly basic things like understanding the file system seem massively complicated – can I really not organise my data in a nested hierarchy under Linux’s file-system? – but I’m assuming that these are things that are hard to explain, but relatively easy to understand in a hands-on way. My various efforts in the tech sphere have always involved blundering blindly into the middle of something I don’t understand and trying to figure it out as I go along, so I’m hoping that’ll work here, too. If not, I may be making a shamefaced re-entry to the world of Windows at some point.
I also worry how I’ll get along in the world of open source software. A lot of it should be fine – I already use an open source browser in Firefox, and I’ve used OpenOffice in the past (though it looks like LibreOffice is now the package of choice amongst the Linux cognoscenti). I’m most concerned about graphics software. I do quite a lot of image manipulation, and over the years I’ve built up a portfolio of different programs that I find simple and straightforward to use. I’m particularly bothered that there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent to PicaView, an application I use almost constantly, both as a quick-launching picture viewer, but also as a way of converting images between different formats. The picture viewing may not be an issue – PicaView is only really necessary because Microsoft’s default picture viewer is so bad, and by reports even large programs launch much faster under Linux – but I use PicaView fairly frequently to convert files, and I think I’ll find it frustrating if I end up having to launch GIMP every time I want to do something as simple as change a PNG to a JPG before uploading it to the net. But this is a classic case of having nothing to lose when it comes to the move to Linux; PicaView has been discontinued, and doesn’t exist in a version for Win7, so I’d have to give it up anyway.
All in all, there’s quite a lot to get my teeth into here, and this will probably be an ongoing project, but I’d like to have started on the process – hardware and software – before the spring is out.
Obviously, there’s going to be quite a bit of learning involved in the shift to Linux, but I mean formal studying. It’s been a couple of years now since I crashed spectacularly out of my Open University MA in English literature (though I realised the other day that with the modules I completed I am entitled to use the letters PG Dip – for postgraduate diploma – after my name), and I find I’m missing it. The ship has sailed in terms of the MA – they’ve cancelled the course and re-launched it, and the modules I’ve studied no longer count towards it – and I’m not sure in any case that I would be any more capable now of the kind of sustained concentration necessary for writing a dissertation than I was then. I think I probably am capable, though, of a more structured form of studying, and I’ve been looking round for potential areas of study. Oddly enough, the one I keep coming back to is Maths.
This is odd because I am notoriously bad at maths. It took me two attempts to scrape a C at GCSE, and I think I was perhaps the only kid to ever ask their teachers why one plus one equals two. Everyone else seems to see this as instinctive truth, but I still don’t understand the mechanism by which a one and another one become fused together in a new entity called “two”. (In fact I remain quietly convinced that the number two isn’t anything real in its own right, just a shorthand way of saying “a one and another one”). Anyway, thanks to my habit of asking questions like this – and coming up with answers like “-15” when doing the sum 24 + 7 – I was in the remedial class for maths for a number of years at school. I eventually got out of it, thanks to some very patient teaching, and I’m quite interested to see how far I can take it. The person who taught me GCSE for the second time said she thought I was capable of getting an A-level, if I was prepared to work hard, and I’d like to know if that’s true. Plus, as well, how ever basic the level I peak at, studying maths will represent a real intellectual challenge for me, and I think it’s a good idea to put oneself in the way of those every now and again.
I’ve had a brief look at the OU’s maths pages, and it looks as though they offer courses that start at a level that’s suitable for an ignoramus like me, with the possibility of progressing on to more complex modules in time. I’m not going to put a timescale on this particular not-a-resolution, but the next start date for the course that seems most appropriate for me (Y182: Starting with Mathematics) is March, so I might try for then. (Although I’m rather put off by the talk of telephone tutorials; I don’t really do phones…)
So, yes, those are my improbably grandiose plans for 2012. Well, some of them. In between visiting the opticians, overcoming in a single bound my crippling dental phobia, mastering an entirely new (to me) computer operating system and embarking on OU study in a subject to which I am spectacularly unsuited, I’m also planning to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease, row single-handedly across the Atlantic…
You see, this is why I don’t do resolutions. Set down like that (as opposed to mouldering away quietly inside my head) these kinds of things – even the serious ones – do look overly ambitious. And, worse, once they’re out there in the wild, other people know what they are, and can look at me meaningfully when I fail to achieve any of them. But I also think I can get very comfortable in my familiar, unchallenging little round, and that’s not healthy for me. So I’m hoping the fact that I’ve told the internet about these will give me an added incentive to actually do them.
Some of them, anyway.
The ones about the eyes and the teeth I really can’t duck.
Well, I say can’t but really I mean shouldn’t.
I definitely shouldn’t duck those.
So I won’t.