Turn your Raspberry Pi into a Commodore 64

Even if you were a Spectrum, Amstrad or Acorn person back in the day when computers were fun,  there is no doubt that the Commodore 64 was a bloody marvelous machine with some amazing games!  And with Retro gaming becoming really popular with the nes-mini. Then why should Commodore fans miss out?  With a Raspberry Pi and the awesome Combian 64 image you can build your own C64 mini!  Oh and you can build one of these for less than £50

I used a Rasberry Pi 2 which is more than fast enough to handle Commodore 64 emulation, and put it inside an awesome 3d printed case purchased from an etsy seller. (Links below)  Imaged Combian64 onto it and the pi swiftly boots straight into a Commodore 64. No linux boot screens, just pure commodore goodness!

 

Pressing F8 brings up the emulation menu. Which brilliantly is also in the same style as the C64 in order to configure settings and launch disk images.   I find some emulators throw you back into the 21st century the minute you want to run something by having modern day windows popups. But ViCE doesnt.

 

And viola, enjoy your retro games!

Currently there is limited joystick support, however the author of the distro is looking into improving it all the time. So by the time you read this, you should hopefully be able to plug in a USB gamepad or joystick and away you go! For now you can map the numeric keypad as a joystick and play with that. I was always a keyboard gamer back in the day so i havent missed the joystick too much!

Want a full sized raspberry pi commodore 64? Well that’s no problem either!  If you happen to have a broken C64 laying around then you can mount the raspberry pi inside the case instead of the old C46 motherboard, and use a Keyrah V2 to hook up the C64s actual keyboard to the pi and use that!

Wanna run the c64 on an old big box TV instead of a modern flat screen? no problem at all. Look for a HDMI to Composite video adapter and plug that in.

Did I also forget to mention that if you happen to be a Commodore Vic 20, or a pet, 128 or plus 4 type of guy then you can configure the distro to boot directly into emulating one of those instead!

 

How to set it up. 

What you will need.

How to

First download the Combian64 image from the link above.  At the time of writing, to gain access to the image you have to request it with a gmail account. This is still super new so hopefully the creator will have it hosted somewhere fully public very soon.

Unzip and write the image file to your SD card using Win32DiskImager or similar.

Put the Pi in the 3D Printed case and insert the SD card.  Hook up the monitor keyboard and power.   If your monitor doesn’t have built in speakers. Then connect some speakers too.  You really don’t want to miss out on the goodness that is the C64s SID music!

All being well. It should boot to a C64 screen.

Press F8 and quit the emulator.

Type in menu and press return.  You will see some options. Go to the Raspberry Pi config, and then choose to expand the file system.  This will make sure that all the available space on the SD card is available.

Copy your game images onto a USB drive.  You can download these from various sites or take a look at some torrents.

Put the USB drive in the raspberry pi and restart it.  Exit the emulator again.

Now you need to mount the USB drive so its visible.   The process for this can vary. But for me, typing :

mkdir /mnt/usb

and then

mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/usb

worked. You may want to try /dev/sda0 if it doesn’t find it.  I believe the USB drive needs to be formatted as FAT32.   Now type in mc and press return. And you will get a file manager which you can navigate around to copy the contents off the USB stick into /root/combian64/games  .

Once youve done that, press F10 to quit the file manager and type menu again and choose to start the emulator.

Press F8 and under sound settings, change the buffer size to 1001 msec.  This was required to resolve an issue with some audio lag. Your results may vary depending on your setup.  Now got o machine settings and joyport settings and set port 1 and port 2 to Joystick.  Now goto joystick settings and set joystick device 1 to keyset 1 and joystick device 2 numpad.  You can set them to joystick here and see if it picks up your own USB joystick.  But I had no joy. Future versions of the distro may have this fixed better.  Then Settings Management and Save current settings.

Ok you should be good to go. Choose Autostart image and choose a game.

And viola.  You should be living the C64 dream once again!

If you’re having any problems, then I recommend you join the brilliant Retro Pi facebook group where there are plenty of people willing to help including the people that make the distros themselves. Its a great community.  We use our raspberry pis to emulate just about everything we can!

 

 

 

Supersonic Portable B&W Vintage TV

So in the summer I was at a car boot sale and just saw this thing sitting there. It looks so awesome and old, and just cool!  I didn’t even care if it worked or not.  For 10 euros I wasn’t going to complain either way!  So in the video we see a smoke test of the unit, just to see if it fires up and what works and what doesn’t.

It fires up, the screen appears to work but obviously there are no analogue broadcasts anymore in order to get a signal.  The tape deck played but it mangled a tape, so needs some work. And the FM/AM Radio worked lovely. Albeit one of the speakers is a bit crackly with the volume button. I’m thinking some dry solder joints there just to correct.

Back to the screen. I wanted to see if its possible to get something on there. So I hooked it up to the trusty old ZX Spectrum which outputs an analogue RF signal in a way this TV should understand.  The external antenna input is a 3.5mm audio type jack. And the output of the spectrum is a phono. So I had to jerry rig a cable together.

But sadly. I had no such luck. I was seeing wavy interference lines off the Spectrum but no picture.

Next time I am going to dismantle the unit in a hope of finding out some more information about it. Year of manufacture would be nice.  I have looked up Supersonic on the internet and found virtually nothing. I am thinking this is possibly some grey import from Asia.  Also it will be good to have a closer look at the aerial inputs to make sure they’re all connected and looking OK, as well as fix the casette deck and crackly speaker.  I think this could be restored to full glory!

If I can get a signal to the TV, then its possible to use a series of adapters on it to plug in a more modern signal, such as a HDMI source.

How I got started with tech and why I love the ZX Spectrum

I remember in my younger days that we would get heavily involved in debates as to which was the best computer system, or best gaming console. Sega vs Nintendo. Amiga vs Atari. Spectrum vs Commodore.  Yet most of us never even chose the computer we ended up with as kids.  For many, the computer was blindly chosen by our parents who had very little understanding of what they were actually buying!  Yet our loyalty to our systems was paramount.   This is why I was loyal to mine:

So apparently I wasn’t the brightest kid on the block growing up.   I guess I was like many juniors, I was floating around, running into walls and didn’t really know what to do with this thing called life.   Its heading towards the late 80s and I’m behind on reading and writing at school and I’m sure my parents were wondering what was going to become of me.

So they got me  a computer one Christmas.  Well i say me.  It was a family thing, to be shared between my brothers.   A ZX Spectrum +2 grey model and a colour TV to go with it.  Back in those days it cost a fortune.   My parents really took a chance here.    I don’t know why the Spectrum was chosen.  Perhaps the sales rep in the electronics shop  happened to like them and convinced my parents that was the one to get.    What they did want to do, was get something which would do more than just games.

 

So many of my friends ended up with games consoles, but those systems never gave those kids a chance to see how things worked under the hood.  The ZX Spectrum did, and that was the greatest thing ever.  For my friends, an achievement was beating Super Mario Brothers or getting to Thursday on paperboy.  For me, an achievement was getting  a game to actually load!

OK just kidding there, although running games off cassette tapes did prove a challenge at times!  What really captivated my interest was the fact that I had the opportunity to see the inner-workings of this computer and understand programming with its built in BASIC interpreter and endless examples and programs to type in from the book.

I took the ole spectrum like a duck takes to water.  Strange how it naturally happened. My brothers never got a look in!   Suddenly my reading, writing and maths excelled at school and as the months and years progressed, I squeezed everything I could out of that spectrum. Learning more and more about it every day taking everything in like a sponge.   I started writing my own games.  Yes they were rubbish and I certainly wasn’t at the level of the Oliver Twins, but I certainly aspired to it.   I even had the opportunity to learn about music with the spectrums music chip which could be programmed.  I remember copying some code which got it to play Axel F which was pretty cool at the time!    Art became a thing too!  I wrote a program that drew a house!

 

So the spectrum became  the reason to learn core skills. Before that, I had no reason to be interested.  And that’s why I always fought the corner in the playground debates for Team ZX!

Today it is great to throw on the Spectrum and re-live some classic games and programs on there.  The nostalgia is great.  But the machine is more to me than a piece of memory or nostalgia.  It was the beginning of what I became.  It gave me my purpose of being an IT professional in this world which  has seen me through  a very good career so far.     Of course I look at the other 8 bit mchines of the era, such as the Commodore 64 and can see where it is technically better.  Way better graphics and sound.  Would I have gelled to a C64 as much as  Spectrum if my parents had got me one of those?  Possibly, but I guess I’ll never know.

For now, long live the speccy!

 

 

Why Onlineamiga?

So a few people ask why I use the domain, email and username of onlineamiga on the internet.  Especially with living in Spain where Amiga means friend in the female tense, and yet I’m a guy.  People have even corrected me “You do know that Amiga is a girl way?”  So its obvious that people assume onlineamiga means online friend.

It doesn’t!

It all started with the Amiga computer.  (Go google it if you’ve never heard of it).   The Amiga was a home computer around in the 80’s and 90’s.  It pretty much died a death to the PC in the mid 90’s sadly with Commodore going out of business. However a lot of us were still very attatched to our systems.    Microsoft Windows operating system was just starting to get off the ground.  Whereas AmigaOS was actually way ahead of its time.

To put simply. In 1994. PCs were on Windows 3.1 and Amiga was on Workbench 3.0.   If you remember the major differences between 3.1 and 95, then basically amiga was closer to Windows 95 back in Amiga OS 1.3 days than Windows 3.1.  I won’t bore you with all the technical details. But as one example, I never had an 8 character file name limitation at any point using an Amiga.

So, by 1997 I had my Amiga hooked up to the internet. Something people didn’t think was possible.  “Oh you need a PC to do that”  “What? An Amiga on the internet?? No way!”   Oh yes way, and at the time, it handled the internet very well. In fact in a lot of ways, a hell of a lot better than PCs could.   The PC was actually very vulnerable. There was a time where even pinging a Windows 95 machine with a little bit of code, would disconnect a dial up modem. Also early versions of explorer would blue screen if a website tried to load an image from CON: device.   So the Amiga felt bullet proof online (and it was).  I had no antivirus, no firewall and never was hacked or had a virus.

So thats where the name came from.  My Amiga was online, and as such onlineamiga just seemed to be the one.  It stuck ever since. I don’t see the need to change it.

 

Is Virtual Reality coming?

With HD, 3D, Ultra HD and faster more powerful graphics cards coming out. We’ve been able to enjoy better graphics in games than ever before.  We have watched movies with outstanding special effects.

But despite this, I just always felt that there was something missing. We are still getting all this content by staring at a flat screen.  To me, its like going to someones house party and standing outside and participating through the living room window.  You’re not really a part of it, just watching from the outside.

I have always loved the idea of being a part of a fantasy environment. Perhaps i’ve been watching too much Star Trek or Red Dwarf.  Star Trek shows us holodecks where you can basically be anywhere and any when with anyone!  Red Dwarf shows us Virtual Reality such as a game called Better then Life where you live an alternative life where everything great happens!  These futuristic virtual reality simulators are always portrayed as being just like normal reality. In fact, in Red Dwarf, in one episode it turns out the whole of Red Dwarf itself was just a computer game!

So of course the talk of Virtual Reality headsets has got me interested.

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to try out an Oculus Rift Developers Kit model that I realised how interested I am!   It is the first time since the birth of smartphones that any piece of new technology has actually excited me!

I believe with the release of the Oculus Rift, in 2016 + other competitor headsets that we could be on the dawn of a real VR revolution.  The Rift will no doubt be the ZX Spectrum of computers today.  Its a huge step in the right direction.

So how does it work? Well its actually quite simple.  The rift displays a screen for your left eye, and right eye.  It also senses all your head movements and moves the game around at exactly the same time with next to no latency.  That way you are physically looking around your environment giving you a feeling of actually being there.  In fact the feeling of actually being there can be so good, that it can give you motion sickness.

VR Headsets aren’t anything new. Its been tried before and failed.  So what’s different now?  Well we didn’t have the graphical capabilities to drive these things before.  We also didnt have the online multiplayer and access to content that we had before.  I believe these have provided the required foundations to make VR a true success.  (They just need to fix the motion sickness somehow!)

Frustratingly, the Oculus RIft and other VR headsets don’t available yet.  Yet there seems to be user communities springing  all over the place. Its great to read, but just adds to frustration because I don’t have one yet they do!  They have the developer kits.  However for those keen to get into the game. There are headsets such as Google Cardboard which allows you to use your own smartphone along with it, to experience VR.  Smartphones already have the motion tracking capabilites, a graphics chip and a screen. So the headset is merely a wearable mount for your phone!

I was sceptical at first about how good this would be.  But actually I was really impressed!  It wasn’t as great as the Oculus, which gave a full field of vision. But it showed me the potential this technology has for the future. Truly immersive media.   I watched a trailer for Insidious 3. Except I wasn’t watching it. I was part of it.  Looking around at all the scary stuff going on!  I virtually walked around a Boeing Dreamliner checking out all the features the aircraft has to offer – which was basically an interactive advert for KLM.

Suddenly I’m no longer standing outside looking in through a window. I’ve joined the party!

 

Gibraltar and its hatred of cyclists.

According to wikipedia, Gibraltar is the 5th highest densely populated country in the world.  According to figures up to 10,000 people per day cross the border from Spain to work there, and Gibraltar receives nearly 12 million tourists per year off cruise ships, flights and day trippers from the Costa Del Sol.  Thats a lot of people in a small place.  As you can imagine, things get somewhat congested, especially on its little road network.

Other cities have dealt with their congestion problems by implementing succesful cycle schemes and a positive attitude towards cycling.   36% of people in Copenhagen cycle to work, which is expected to rise to 50%  That would be 250,000 people braving northern european weather every day to get to work.

So why the difference in attitude in Gibraltar?  Well I don’t know if its the Mediterranean sun or not, but it turns everyone into lazy bastards.   Those that do choose small two wheeled vehicles would rather take a motorised one.  Gibraltar is polluted with endless motos tearing through its narrow streets, they are loud and smokey.   These motos are at a virutal war with Gibraltars other favorite form of transport.  The 4×4 SUVs which squeeze and scrape their way through tiny back rounds, and clog up parking.    There is a real case of keeping up with the Jones’ and, the bigger the car you can get, the better!  I have personally known locals who have admitted to driving their Range Rover Sports or X6s just 500 meters every day because they couldn’t be bothered to walk it.

Some attribute their ridiculous oversized car purchase to the excuse of “We drive out to Spain a lot”  But the reality is, due to the increased tensions with the Spanish government, a lot of Gibraltarains have boycotted the country.   Their 5 litre off roaders will be lucky to see a 1000km in their time.

So with all these scooters and big diesel cars chugging around a densily populated area, you can imagine that getting from A to B is a difficult task. Noise pollution and pollution from cars is terrible.  Everyone blames it on the refinery in La Linea, but maybe congested city roads are also a cause of one of the highest rates of cancer in Europe.  Their roads are also crumbling under the weight, but they are so essential, it is impossible to close them to repair them.

Isn’t it about time Gibraltar developed a cycle scheme to cut down their congestion and increase the health of their population?  Absolutely.

And infact, they tried to.  The previous government implemented the Gibibikes scheme, which ended up being a total failure.  Why? Because you had to pre-register to use it.  Convincing a lazy population to switch from a luxury car, or the convenience of a moped is a mammoth task in itself. Forcing them to pre-register so they could use a bike, just creates that extra step that no one is going to be bothered to do.   Why not just have it like they do in London? Where anyone with a credit card can take a bike? and if it isnt returned they charge you for it!  Simple!  Secondly, there was a lot of complaints over the standard of the bikes.  Out of town Gibraltar gets hilly, and these things got difficult to ride.  Despite that, at the launch I did approach Gibi Bikes to see about doing a fun-ride to the top of the rock for publicity. THEY COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO EVEN REPLY.  Thirdly the current government just let the scheme rot. Now all you see are empty gibi bikes stands with no bicycles, and of course its impossible to obtain a card.  RIP Gibi Bikes!

Next up.  The Royal Gibraltar Police then decided to REMOVE THE CYCLE LANE at the Frontier.   The problems at Gibraltars border has long been an issue, and has gained much international publicity over last year when Spain decided an 8 hour queue for cars was an appropriate crossing time.  They’ve also cracked down on smuggling from mopeds and have formed huge queues of up to 2 hours for exiting gibraltar on a motorbike.  This, however did not cause a problem for cyclists.  Cyclists dont have documents to be inspected, nor do they have luggage compartment and other places where contraband could be stashed, so are usually waved straight through with no issue.  There are a number of smugglers that do use bicycles to ferry Cigarettes out of Gibraltar, but these people are so easy to spot that you’d need to be blind to not know who they are.

P2040089

Cycle Lane and separate motorbike lane. Now removed by the RGP. The lane has been moved to the centre of the loop due to the Guardia Civil complaining.

But for us law abiding citizens, who choose to commute into Gibraltar via bicycle, we are now left with no choice.  During times of a heavy motorbike queue, we are forced to join the back of it.  This is depiste the RGP telling the Gibraltar Chronicle two years ago that it was UNSAFE for Bicycles to be in the “motorbike crush” as they proudly announced their bicycle lane.  Now suddenly it must be safe again, as any bicycle attempting to circumnavigate the queue looking for their lane are sent to the back.  And if you complain, you could be arrested for trying to breach the peace.

Not only that, despite there being a tonne of motorcycle parking at the border, there is no bicycle parking. I was told under no uncertain terms by the RGP that if I was to lock my bike up at the border, it would be taken by them.  In fact there are signs everywhere saying no cycle parking.

So during times of heavy motorbike queues, cyclists are simply forced to join them.   The RGP make no effort to tell people to turn their engines off. Motorbikes and mopeds sit there chugging out fumes in the heat and cyclists are forced to breathe it in, when they create no fumes themselves.  They are forced to sit and wait as the Guardia Civil check each and every single moped in front of them, only to be waved straight through.  If Gibraltar want to clear more people out of there in a shorter amount of time, then they must re-instate the cycle lane.

queue

 

The motorcycle queue. The RGP admitted this was unsafe, but now force cyclists into it anyway.

 

I hear you saying.. but why should cyclists get priority? Well that goes back to what I was saying earlier about the congestion problems. Surely if you’re sitting there in your 4×4 SUV or on your smokey moped watching hundreds of cyclists getting out of the queue much quicker than you are, then maybe it may help convince you to change your mode of transport to something more environmentally friendly and healthier for you?

But nope, it seems the attitude of Gibraltar and its people is tough shit.  They don’t care about their own roads being congested, as long as they can carry on their lazy selfish lives.  Furthermore they are so shit scared of the Guardia Civil that the minute they complained about problems at the fence, they moved the motorbike lane into the centre of the loop.  This now means that cyclists and motor cycles are forced to cut infront 2 lanes of moving cars TWICE to get into the queue, which is totally unsafe.

I firmly believe that in order to cope with its congestion problems, in town and at the border, Gibraltar needs to start encouraging the use of bicycles.  Most people are too scared to cycle in Gibraltar due to the sheer number of cars.  Most people are just too lazy.

But cycling is the most convenient way around.  I get from the other side of La Linea into Gibraltar Europort in just 20 minutes.  I am healthier for it, it costs me nothing in fuel and there is never a problem finding parking.  My entire journey is flat and its an easy cycle.  But if I’m going to be made to sit behind smokey motorbikes for hours to exit Gibraltar and have no option to leave my bike and collect it later, then I might as well sit in the comfort of an air conditioned car whilst I wait.

So I of course wrote to the RGP about the removal of the cycle lane.  THEY DIDNT BOTHER TO REPLY.   Yup, thecacy don’t care.

So, my advice.  Take your car into Gibraltar. Don’t waste your lungs trying to do the right thing by cycling in.  You’ll be met by other car drivers that hate you, and a police force and government that does not want cyclists on its roads.  You’ll be forced to sit behind motorbikes pumping out fumes and the RGP will not tell them to turn their engines off, and if you leave your bike, the police will steal it.  I  hope Gibraltars roads crumble into the sea as a result.

No, seriously I hope for a change in attitude and policy in Gibraltar.  I hope one day, like first world cities, they will catch up and realise the importance of getting people out of cars onto bicycles to cut down their congestion, and improve the environment and air that we all have to breathe.  Until then, forget it – go for a nice bike ride in Spain instead!

 

 

 

 

Are Crypto Currencies the way of the future?

So I’ve discovered the world of Crypto Currencies recently.   Now I’m not a financial person or anything like that. I dont know much about how money works so my views are simply from a user base or technical point of view. But I must admit, I’m pretty excited.

Crypto Currencies are internet based “money” that works over p2p (similar to how torrents work).  You can obtain coins and spend them on stuff or trade them for real world money.  What is interesting, is that it is decentralised, which means there is no need for a ledger, or a bank to deal with the transactions. it is all taken care of over the p2p network. So money is sent directly from one person to another. Its like the internet equivalent of cash.

The banks hate it, because its cutting them out of business.  The law hates it because for most part, its anonymous and they cant freeze assets, which of course could leave it open to being used for dodgy business.  Which is exactly where it started with trading being done on the infamous Silk Road.   Crime doesn’t pay, and I do believe that law enforcement should be able to freeze assets of crime and I’m really not sure if this will be possible with crypto currency.  So there is a bit of a worry there.

But put that aside, because the world is run by genuine good people, not assholes. Crypto currencies are freaking AWESOME!!  Why? Because transactions can take place free of charge. You can send money from one side of the world to the other without pesky banks taking a cut. Plus a coin is a coin, it has the same value all over. Unlike having to convert between EUR, USD and GBP wherever youre sending money to.

The other benefit of course is for micro transactions.  Scan a QR code as youre grabbing a coffee, or getting on the bus with your phone, and you send some Bitcoin to that person or company with no bank charges.   No longer will i see “Minimum £10 spend to use a credit card”, no more fumbling for change.

Now that bitcoin has surfaced from the underground, I believe it could be a viable method of online money which is growing in value, so at the moment, buying some could be an investment opportunity.  An investment which the boat has already been missed in someway. A couple of years ago bitcoin was worth about $10. Now its worth over $700 a coin.  Damnit! Why didn’t I know about this before! I could have been rich!!

Another interesting aspect of online currency is how you can make it.  To run the network, there is an army of miners who basically leave their computers running 24/7 doing calculations and confirming transactions. By doing that, they earn commission and the coins are released to them.   So instead of a company, ie Bitcoin getting together and investing in a server room and infrastructure to run the network. The end users run the network! Its brilliant! There are no costs at all.  Because people who have decent spec PCs can leave them running, let them process the transactions and then they earn some money out of it.

The mining has caused a bit of an arms race though.  In order to control the flow of the currency (so it doesn’t devalue by being mined so quickly) a difficulty level is set. Which means the more people who mine, the thinner the profits are spread.  The faster equipment you have, the more share of the profits you can get.  This is leading the end users to invest in faster hardware to mine faster to earn more coins.

There are a number of different coins out there. Literally there are hundres.  Which I’m sure over time it’ll all windle down to just two or three. The most prominent and most valuable one is the  Bitcoin. Currently sitting at nearly $800 a coin.  To mine the bitcoin you need some very specialised hardware, known as ASIC processors, which for a decent one will set you back a few thousand.

Then there is Litecoin, which seems to be Bitcoins younger brother. To mine this you need a good array of high end graphics cards.

But interestingly, there is another coin called the DOGEcoin, which you can still mine using a normal laptop. Ok its worth practically nothing, but I think its a great introduction for learning how the whole thing works without having to worry about anything!

So yeah, watch this space.  The way we use money online could changing!

Might be worth making a few investments on crypto currency stock exchanges!

 

Is Facebook reaching the end of the line?

So I was reading on The Register earlier about some research paper that has predicted that Facebook is reaching the end of the line, and by 2017 it will have lost 80% of its user base.  This news has come out not long after reports of our younger generation also quitting the social network site, citing it as a site for us older people.

I’m sure Mr Zuckerberg has stashed enough money to feed himself and the next ten generations of his family, so whether he cares that his lifes work may come to an end, I’m not sure.  I don’t know if I would be, unless I had coined some sentimental value to it all. But I’m sure if he wound up his company or sold it on, he could live out the rest of his days in luxury on a nice island somewhere.

Facebook has been an awesome ride though. It became the news site for people you know, or used to know.  You could catch up and see what people you haven’t seen for years are up to.  But like everything, that novelty starts to wear thin.  As we get older, instead of being fascinated about what people are posting, we actually find their posts annoying and boring.  Then we come to a realisation of “Do I really care what James whom I haven’t seen for 15 years had for lunch yesterday?”  No….  And I’ve just wasted time in my life reading that particular update.

I believe the problem isn’t so much Facebook. Its just that people are crap at using Facebook.   I have some friends who post nothing at all, and it just seems a waste of time them even having an account.   Then I have friends who are posting everything.  They post so much about themselves, that when I actually see them, there is nothing to talk about because I already know everything.  Then there are friends that constantly post crap – and they just become annoying.

So here’s the list:

1.  You’re having / have a baby. Congratulations, Your baby is 1 out of approx 107,602,707,791 to have to have lived on this planet.  361,481 babies are born every single day. You are not significant. I don’t need daily updates from some shit app about how far along you are. Or daily updates about how much the baby is kicking.   Just send me a message when baby is born so I know all is well.  We also don’t care about your babies sleeping, eating, puking and shitting habbits, and definitely don’t need updating on it on a daily or hourly basis.

2. Like and Share competitions.   Stop fucking spamming your friends!  Its bad enough getting it from stranger in my email. Not from trusted people I’m supposed to know. You’re not going to win the competition when its from “Apple Products Ltd” and they have 20,000 brand new iphones that cant be sold because the box has a slight tear on it.  You just look like an idiot for believing this stuff.  And like spammers, I will add you to junk senders list.

3. Ambiguous status updates, aka Vaguebooking. “pissed off”  “oh no :(” .  Do you switch the news on and see the news and see “Today’s headlines: President Obama is Upset.  New York is Celebrating and Michael Schumachers doctors have released a statement.  And that’s it for todays news, next news in an hour.”  NO!!! You don’t! So stop it!  If you truely want your friends to know your news, then tell them. Don’t be vague about it.  Its irritating to everyone.

4. Constant updates about the TV show you’re watching.  Your entire friends list is not watching the same TV show you are currently watching, and your entire friends list may not even be remotely interested in the TV show you are currently watching.  We don’t need constant updates. “OMG I can’t believe she didnt get through!” WHAT??? Who cares? I don’t, I’m not watching it. Take it to twitter, take it to a group of fans who are watching that show. X Factor is the worst.

5. Mundane updates.  If you take a photo of Spaghetti Bolognaise that you just made, because its a step up from Microwave meals, you can bet your bottom dollar that 99% of your friends list couldn’t give a shit.  Nor do we give a shit if you’ve been to the gym, or if you woke up at 7.30 this morning.   We also don’t need daily messages telling us how bored you are.  If you’re bored, your friends are certainly bored of reading about how bored you are.

If you’re guilty of the above, you can rest in the knowledge that your updates don’t appear on my news feed, and probably don’t appear on many other of your friends either.  You’re actually systematically killing Facebook. Because your friends are finding Facebook more boring to read and not logging on very much. In the end, you’re just talking to yourself – because you’ve bored everyone to death.

We’ve all been guilty of it.  My Facebook time line history is cringe worthy as well, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got my fair share of people who have unfollowed me in the past.

The problem with Facebook is that it only supports positive re-enforcement.  There is no “dislike” button, and facebook doesnt notify you if someone has unfollowed you, or unfriended you.  Why? Because it doesn’t want people getting upset with the site.  You can be posting pictures of your baby eating lunch every day and will not realise that most of the people are sick of seeing it.  That is unless they comment on it. But people won’t want to do that, because they don’t want to upset you, and its your facebook account, you can publish what you like. Instead they’ll quietly remove you from their newsfeed.

Perhaps facebook should apply the “Seen by” which is applied to Pages.  Which shows you how far your post spread is going.  But then that’ll never happen, because when you realise that only 30 of your 200 friends are actually seeing what you write, then you’ll give up posting at all, and facebook requires us to post in order to work.

The only solution is, is for people to get wiser in posting more quality updates about ourselves so that our friends will find it interesting to read.  I think Facebook should encourage this.  People don’t realise that they’re boring everyone to death on Facebook because they’re so tangled up in their own excitement about what is going on. After all, having a baby is exciting for you.  Its probably exciting to your close friends, but its not particularly exciting for distant friends especially on a daily basis.

La Linea de la Concepcion – A love hate relationship.

La Linea.   A town that sits in southern Spain bordering Gibraltar.

To the north, beautiful San Roque,  and Castellar.  To the east, the upmarket Sotogrande and the very popular Costa Del Sol.  To the west Tarifa, the surfing capital of Europe and the Costa Luz.  To the south the prosperous British Territory of Gibraltar.

So why, and how is La Linea sitting there in the centre looking like a shit stain on the map?   Why does it only have 60% of its work-capable population in a job? Leading to other major social problems such as tobacco smuggling, and a higher crime rate than its neighbours.

As a none speaking Spanish outsider who has only been living down here for a few years, I am incredibly naive in any reasons or understanding. But I can say what I can see, and I see a filthy town crumbling apart.  It is no coincidence that since moving from Estepona to make commuting easier for work, not one person has returned after visiting from the UK.  The place looks, and feels like a shit hole.  It seems to do everything it can to stay in the past, rather than take a slice of the wealth from its neighbours.

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You can’t sit and have a cafe con leche in the main squares without beggers pestering you.   Coming out of Gibraltar you are welcomed by crowds which I call “The La Linea welcome committee”  They are basically dodgy looking people waiting for their comrades to come out of Gibraltar with more tobacco.  As for walking through the town late at night.  I speak from experience where I say DONT.  Because I was a victim of mugging a few months ago, which is unfortunately a regular occurrence here.

Despite the undesirables, the grime, and crappy apartment blocks. La Linea actually has a huge foreign population with British, and other European nationals descending on the town and setting in roots.  Why? Because its easy to get to Gibraltar from there for work.  If it wasn’t for Gibraltar I am pretty sure that no one would elect to  move to another country and choose this place.    But despite these foreign populations coming in. The town holds fast to its old fashioned Spanish routes.  Despite English speaking Gibrlatar being next door, you will not find anyone who can speak English in La Linea.  We’re not just talking coffee shop staff either. I’ve head to deal with doctors, police and other higher scale people and no one could (or were unwilling to) speak a word of English.  Even the Spanish Police on the border refuse to speak any English.   I understand the argument, why should they?  Yes its Spain, you should learn Spanish etc.  But go up the road a bit to the Costa Del Sol where the British have practically took over and a lot of Spanish people there are willing and happy to try speaking English so that they can engage with people who are bringing money to the area.

This is what I don’t understand. Why not engage with people who are bringing money to the area?  Take people coming from Gibraltar for instance. The Guardia Civil make them sit in hours of queues to go in, and then there are numerous spates of vandalised cars.  Its as if the town is saying “We don’t want your money”  Well, considering the town council couldn’t afford to pay its workers and had debts of millions of euros. I think they’re not in a position to choose who’s money they want. They should try and get what they can!  Their attitude of sticking to the past is just going to have to change!

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Damaged streets still not repaired 5 years later.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand.  A town with such visible poverty as La Linea suddenly comes alive in the evening.  You go into the centre, down the main streets and you can be struggling to get a seat if you want a coffee.  It is heaving with people.  We recently went to a fish restaurant which sits near La Atunara, perhaps one of the worst of the areas and by 9.30pm people were queuing out of the door waiting for a table.   Go to the main Mercadona supermarket on a saturday morning and you can be struggling to find a trolley its so busy.  And people aren’t just buying the necessities.  I see people with cakes and allsorts of ‘extras’ in their trolleys.  Are people really that poor?  If so how are they so poor with Gibraltar soaking up thousands of jobs, a huge industrial fuel refinary down the road and the Costa Del Sol nearby too.  It doesn’t make sense!

Its a town with two sides of the coin.  There are some very amazing bars and restaurants tucked away in the corners.   La Patagonica serves some of the best Argentinian meat I have ever had.  Gold Indian is the best curry house I’ve ever been to, and Wok Real just outside of town is the best Chinese all you can eat buffet place I have ever been to.   Where I say the best, I don’t just mean here. I mean anywhere I’ve been in the world.

Every July the fun fayre comes to town. There are huge parades down the main street, and a whole section of the town is closed off whilst rides are built. They spend weeks building this thing, for it to be only open for a week.   It is probably one of the best Spanish ferias i’ve been to as well.  Its huge, and they have the Casitas, which are the huge tents with the night clubs.  It also brings in the crowds. With people spending huge amounts of money on flamenco style dresses which they proudly wear. The atmosphere is amazing.   Shortly after feria, its Domingo Rociero. Where everyone takes to the streets drinking Tinto Verano. Once again, an amazing atmosphere and this town simply knows how to party!   There is never any racial aggravation and everyone is welcome!  The town has a real charm to it as well.  Its got character and its not superfiscious unlike Sotogrande which is just full of snobs..

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Domingo Rociero Street party! Throwing wine around!

My own Spanish neighbours seem to be really nice people. I wish I could get to know them more, but there is the language barriers in the way.  I feel we’ve been welcomed as much as possible from the neighbours.  They’ve not gone out of their way or anything, but they certainly aren’t upset about us being there and have exchanged plenty of pleasantries.  In fact we found one of the neighbours lost cat a few months ago, and she came round the next day with a cake she baked as a thank you!  It was very unnecessary!

When I first moved to Spain, I seemed to move house about once every year.  Whereas I’m coming up to three years in La Linea now. So the town can’t be all that bad.  Its just a great place to be if you’re working in Gibraltar. As there is no need to drive anywhere.  Not too much worries about the border when cycling over.  Plus there is quite a lot of people down here. So socially its very good. Can have drinks after work and not worry about having to drive home.  Taxi home is cheap enough.

So yes, I exchanged my brand new 400 euro a month apartment with air conditioning, sea views, sky tv, and swimming pool in a luxury urbanisation, for an old 625 euro 2 bedroomed house in an shit hole of a town that refuses to modernise.  Gone are the luxuries but its a trade off with convenience.  But that is it. I am only in La Linea because its convenient, and because of that., other people, especially those whom don’t have a car or don’t drive are also in La Linea because its convenient which then creates good social circles.

I used to live in Estepona, and although it was beautiful.  I found myself driving all that way for a bed.  No one else lived up there and as such I was coming back to Gibraltar/La Linea for social events anyway.

So yes, I love this place, but I hate it at the same time.  I want to get out, but if I did, I will miss it.  If it was possible to unzip Gibraltar from the bottom of this hole, and stick it onto the bottom of Estepona. The world would be an amazing place!

 

 

That twilight zone between being awake and being asleep.

There is a place I would love to be able to go to whenever I want, at a flick of a switch. It’s that zone where you’re not fully asleep but not entirely awake either.   Take a light switch and get it to that position where the light is neither off or on. Its kinda flickering and buzzing. Its the sweet spot.

I have heard many names for this particular state of consciousness they include “The Phase”, “Astral Projecting”, “Out of Body”, “Lucid Dreaming”, “Sleep Paralysis”.  I prefer to refer to it as The Phase as its an open ended word that could literally mean anything.  Which is very important because anything can happen in this state of consciousness.

Whilst in the phase, people have modelled various other states of consciousness known as Focus levels of consciousness which all gets very groovy indeed.   Things then get very spiritual and there is a belief that you’re consciousness is in other realms of existence such as what some may refer to as the afterlife.

Here is my understanding on how it works.  When you’re asleep, you’re unconscious and you lose awareness.  When you’re dreaming you’re not aware that you’re dreaming.   You wake up with either vivid memories of the dreams or no memories of any dreams at all.  The sweet spot, aka The Phase is where you’re still aware, and not only still aware, but you also still have a level of control of what is going on and what you are thinking. You’re awakened internal voice is still with you and whilst you’re experiencing a dream you still think to yourself “Actually this is a dream, I’m actually still at home in bed” When you wake up, your memories of the events are usually vivid but will fade like memories of dreams fade.  It is like the brain stores non-physical memories and physical memories in different boxes so you don’t go crazy.

I’ve had some pretty awesome experiences of being in the phase myself.  Some I would have referred to a full on Astral Projection, others where I have felt myself sit up and pull myself out of body, and have floated around the room.  Others where I have felt myself definitely in a Lucid dream where I can to an extent control what is going on but I am fully aware it is a dream.  I’ve also had some awesome cases of Sleep Paralysis, whilst scary for most, I find it amazing.  Which I will come to next, as it explains a lot:

Does our consciousness inhabit our brain? O r is consciousness a product of the brain?  It’s a question we don’t know the answer to.  I, and I’m sure billions of other people would like to think that our consciousness or soul or energy, whatever you want to call it, inhabits our brain or our physical body and can exist outside of it.   In which case I believe that our consciousness is not actually inside our bodies in a physical sense.  It is a non-physical entity that is occupying all levels of existence simultaneously.  However, it is currently focussed on your body.

How is it focussed on your body?  Well the body has a lot of strong physical senses overloading your consciousness to the point where you can’t sense anything else. All you can perceive is the physical senses.  It’s like being at a club and the music is so loud you cant hear anyone else speaking.  You cant hear that pin drop, so as far as you’re concerned no one dropped a pin, it didn’t happen, the pin doesn’t even exist.  There was no one even there to drop the pin!   When we sleep our body enters a state of sleep paralysis.  This stops us acting out or dreams physically. But it also quietens down the physical senses.  It doesn’t switch them off, because we wake up with a loud noise or if we’re shook etc.  But they’re turned down enough to allow the consciousness to perceive glimpses of other things. Of course its just fragments.  So now instead of the music being so loud you cant hear anything else, its still loud, but you can just make out bits and pieces of what other people are saying.

What is intriguing is that some people have trained themselves to be able to get themselves to the phase whilst still being aware. They have improved their dream recall and have learned to meditate so deeply they can really turn down those physical senses and really allow their consciousness to perceive the wider realities that we exist in.   These people are known as Astral Travellers or Shamans.  Some stories I have read are really remarkable. However unfortunately you have to take their words for it.  Some people can more naturally do it than others.

You can’t prove any of this.  Because people try to prove non physical experiences by turning them into physical experiences. It just not possible.  You can prove to anyone what you dreamt about last night, and its exactly the same in regards to any experiences you may have whilst being aware in a non-physical environment.  But people have said that they have spoken to dead relatives and have come to the conclusion that our physical bodies are just one part of our existence and we do continue on without them.  It was exactly this which got me interested in Astral Projection in the first place.  Can I prove to myself that my consciousness / soul / energy can exist away from my physical body?

Did I prove it?  Eeeeerm… nope!  As most of my non-physical experiences in which I have had awareness and clarity have lasted mearly seconds and they tend to come months apart. So maybe by the time I’ve died of old age, I’ll know for sure!

This is just a very rough introduction of understanding the concept of wider realities above the one we all know and love (the physical world).  It literally just scratches the surface.  The more you get into it, the crazier it goes and the more questions and what ifs start to appear.  You must try not to start building a belief system around it, that’s how religions start!