How To Work With The Unknown

It’s interesting when you watch YouTube videos and one that you have added to a YouTube bot in Discord is one who neatly explains not just the nerdy world of technology but also how solving a problem through coding and the thought processes resonate with me personally.

One of my volunteering projects is to create and build an Access Database at the RAF Museum for the Vehicle Team. The aim of this project is to help collect, disseminate and use information about vehicle exhibits to help conserve and restore where possible exhibits in need.

One of the problems with building such a database project is that you have to at some point need to use code in such a way to make it function. For that, the process of getting code and transplant it into a database can be a challenge. But the video from Tom Scott helps to illustrate exactly some of the problems I face with working on a project that is for the better part a complete unknown.

To put into perspective, when my Vehicle Team Leader asks me if it’s possible to add a certain feature or develop a way to use the database more usable or efficient, I look at the problem by breaking down the options available and then deciding what type of feature or solution that best fits this particular problem.

One of the best places to get some ready made solutions is to actually use the internet; a vast database collection of information that goes on for decades and interestingly enough can still be just as relevant today as it was first posted back then.

Then there’s the iterative process into looking at the code specifically and making it more efficient, removing or replacing aspects of the code so that it will run more efficiently. For example, when a user starts the database and logs in successfully, the coding sequence is to verify and then accept the correct password to the username then it actively target’s the next form designated to the username and then close the login page immediately.

The reason for closing the login page immediately is primarily to help the user use all of the available memory in the computer to run further operations.

For me, it’s standard policy to close any pages when not in use and only keep open pages where necessary, this is because while many computers have spare available memory, the practice of using up all of the available memory is bad practice and it reduces the ability for the computer to compute further calculations or operations. This results in the user sitting around waiting for the computer to finish it’s operation, this would be just frustrating.

An online friend who is into coding and pretty much into computer system programming showed me this video which outlined a way to program a game using less memory than a 1.44Mb floppy disk.

In this video the programmer outlined some of the techniques in cheating the system into having more content for little memory usage and ultimately using code to make the system just as stable and just as efficient compare to say the latest Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 game which as I shockingly found out was a 50Gb base game install and then there is a 50Gb update patch.

So when I work on my volunteering project, I do more than just have a functioning database, I make sure that the database is usable, stable and as efficient as possible and with that, the skill and experience in this respect is highly useful to any employer.

How I Learned To Build A Computer

Let’s go back to 1997. I’d pretty much started secondary school, I was awkward and I started to have a passion for computers. More precisely, just how do they work and operate.

The best thing about school is that it’s a learning place for not just the education curriculum, its also a place to develop personally things that would eventually define me in the future. One such activity was computers.

In 1997, the school I was in was using a 486 processor using Microsoft 3.1 and eventually 3.11 operating system and to say the least one of the very first things you had to do at the time was to hand type the operating software command to start the operating system itself.

But there was one room which curiously had a large metal re-enforced door. Behind that was computers from the early 80s and it ran on 8-bit programs. This was heaven on earth, because the software on those computers were often games based and being a school was all rather educational.

Moving over the years, I eventually grew a reputation at school for being a computer nerd, given that I don’t own a computer nor do I use one at home at that time. So much so as a computer geek, I was eventually given a special seat during school Sports Day. You see the school I went to for Sports Day I would go to Crystal Palace Sports Centre.

What I would do was work the electronic scoreboard using a computer that was from the late 1970s to 1980s. And I would control the information about the sports event on that day. My IT teacher would be fascinated in the athletics information before I erased it because my IT teacher is an amateur athletics runner.

The great thing about school for me is watching the development of the schools computer systems, from the constant upgrade of the operating systems moving from Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11 then Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 98SE and finally getting to Windows 2000. But it wasn’t just the operating system upgrades. The computers themselves were interesting in that I would sometimes be given the task to upgrade the computers themselves by increasing the RAM.

In one case, my IT teacher was also supplying as a PE teacher and he knew I didn’t have much interest in sport, so he would send me to the IT room next door to the library and would get instructions from the IT technician there. It was great because I get to do something no pupil at that time was able to do. Fix a computer.

From here I was learning outside of my main education curriculum and spending time after school in the IT room to learn basic MS-DOS coding to learning how a computer physically worked meant that in the end when I was about to leave school, my IT teachers and the IT technicians decided that I deserved to have a computer.

So I was given a computer that was actually found in a dumpster. In fact many of the computers at that time were old trashed computers that offices and in this case banks didn’t want. And so because I had grown up working on those computers, it as natural for me to work on those type of computers.

I did however had a few technical problems. I once managed to short out a computer because of a loose wire and completely wiped out the hard drive and the main BIOS. It was so bad that when you switched the computer on the computer simply gave a command that basically said, I’ve given up being a computer.

But having said that, I did own a fully working computer after that. And throughout college and university I continually upgraded and newly built computers. All that results today with my latest computer which I have great pride as well as testament to my skill and knowledge because I ended up being much like a technician and helped my friend sort out many faults in his computer system.

To think that 20 years ago, I never had a computer, never knew how a PC worked and now today know so much about computers and technology in general it hasn’t left me.

Tinkering To My Heart’s Content

One of the more satisfying things to do on your own website is the endless tinkering to a design and for me that’s no exception. In this case I’m not tinkering to a custom made design, instead I’m actually tinkering a ready made design.

The fact is that I’m using WordPress and the great thing about it is that I can modify many elements of the design using the custom CSS editor which effectively allows me to override the existing CSS built into the page.

So from here on in, you may see subtle changes to the website as I continually modify it until I’m happy… The nice thing about this. I like this approach and want to use this experience to great personal effect, in other words, by making incremental changes to one’s life, hopefully I would be happier and also improve my future career prospects… Not bad for just tinkering for fun!