Living in the Now!

Learning to enjoy my life more!

A Raspberry Pi Update

To Start With

A macro shot of the Raspberry Pi’s logo printed on the circuit board.

At the moment it’s still in development, and its very much a learning tool to teach technical concepts. But that doesn’t mean that this is not suitable for kids, they will be fine. The whole thing will be a learning experience just like it was for me when I was 8-9 years old with my Commodore 64. But unlike then there is so much help available on the internet that anything can be over come with a little time searching around.

From what I’ve heared of Eben Upton (the guy behind the Raspberry Pi) it sounds like he wants to bring back this raw basic form of comuting to children so that they learn that a computer is more than just how you use the mouse and how you use word. its about how you properly formulate a IF statement. Yes its a complicated subject to grasp but just because most adults struggle to open a word document doesn’t mean that a kid can’t program.

And yes its a confusing and complicated subject but that’s because computers are complicated, it doesn’t matter how much companies make using a computer as easy and friendly as possible because all they are really doing is making it harder and harder for people to actually know what’s happening behind the interface and develop these things.

For those that may have problems with the terminology used in the rest of this article or want to know more about a specific thing I have provided links to more information. If I’ve missed something then please comment or send me a message on Twitter @dfragglet, thanks.

First Experience

Using the Pi and my net book late at night just like when I was a kid hacking away on my Commodore 64

An example is when you first get it you have to download the OS (Operating System) image to your computer and then unpack the image on to the SD card. First time I did this I did it in Windows and used the tool suggested, work flawlessly. After a few weeks there was a new version that they were asking people to beta test, I downloaded it and used a tutorial I found in Linux Format magazine to help me write the image to the SD card using the command line. This worked fine for the original image but when I tried it with the new updated image it messed the SD card up and made it unrecognisable to any OS I plugged it into. Eventually I found that despite my computers not recognizing it my camera would read it and say it had an error but allow me to format it and that fixed the issue of it not being read in any OS.

Eventually I found that the tutorial in the Magazine had a few steps missing so I followed the official tutorial on doing it through the Ubuntu terminal and it worked fine. Now in Windows you can do it through the command line or there’s a special tool, same for Linux and Mac.

When Ubuntu Terminal sessions go bad.

some unusual output from a terminal session on Ubuntu.

Once the SD card is prepared, pop it into the Raspberry Pi and power it. Now if the image is written correctly it’ll boot (first boot will take a little longer as its setting it’s self up to the hardware) after that it will just stop at a Linux command line asking you to log in. Default log in is username: pi and the password: raspberry.

Once logged in your still at the command line and to start a graphical desktop to do some work you need to type “startx”. then it loads a GUI called LXDE. its a Debian based Linux distribution but unlike alot of the other distribution for desktops this comes with tools to get started but nothing else.

The next step was finding a WiFi dongle that works, really long and technical process or trawling through the Raspberry Pi wiki finding the dongle that people have got to work and then following the steps that are there to make it work. Took 8 hours with the help of Phill at first to research and refine the process for using one of the WiFi dongles but after that we managed to refine that process down to 6 steps that took 5 mins to complete.

Expectations

It will not give you an easy ride but you will learn a lot from just using it. I know more about Linux from using my Pi for a month than I did from running Ubuntu for the past 2 years. mostly because Ubuntu is refined and well developed OS. The raspberry pi, not yet, there’s still a lot of performance to be unlocked from it as there’s no driver yet to use the GPU, no login manager (Note: the link to the left take you to a page for a login manager, it has a very good definition of what a login manager is but I am unsure if this particular Manager will work on the Pi) to make starting it up easier or package manager to make installing software easier by default, but there is a way of adding these things later.

If you want a little computer to view web pages, word process and play games or to just generally use out of the box then this is not for you. If you want to get dirty and learn how it works and get involved in then yes its for you. Its basically the same with a car, you want to own and use a car but don’t care or want to know how it works then stick to the well know manufacturers. You want a car that’s going to force you to learn how to keep it on the road then you get and MGB GT or any other classic car.

Other Impressions

The guys over at Jupiter Broadcasting have done a review of the Raspberry Pi and if you want to hear what they thought you can either got to the site Jupiter broadcasting or watch the embedded video right here. 

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Wow where to begin.

This week

I have been using my Raspberry Pi, having a lot of fun with it but I could do with a HDMI to DVI adapter but moneys a bit tight so it will have to wait. Also plan on making a case for it out of Lego, I can’t wait till it’s sorted out and they release the Drivers for the GPU. I did get a USB 3 4 port powered hub for it, slight waste as the Pi is only USB 2 but it’s a solid hub with no stupid styling or extra “features”.

Me pulling faces

Do you Like My Duck Face?

I’ve been to the hospital for a consultation to try and get to the bottom of the illness I experienced over Christmas, lots of tests to be carried out, blood and heart. But it seems to be leaving me and now I only have a episode two or three times a month, and it can usually be sat out and after about an hour I can go back to what I was doing. So soon one way or another I will be back to proper health.

Been watching a few films, see Prometheus and I quite liked it and so did Vicky, but not everyone in our party enjoyed it. And from what I’ve seen on-line there are more who dislike it than like it. Another film I watched was Indy Game: The Movie its basically a documentary following three independent game developers as they put them selves through trials and tribulations, it can also be purchased through Steam.

Coming up

Also starting to get my diet right, cutting out some of the rubbish and getting a few more greens and fruit. Vicky is training for a in-door triathlon at out local gym, I think I’m going to aim to do it next year but I will be there to support her and will try and train with her. Also de-stressing and putting last weeks drama behind me and looking forward to getting back to college soon.

Le Mans this weekend and I’m going to be enjoying some company through the 24 hours, Vicky has decided to watch it with me after she watched it with me last year and her brother Tim will be watching it for the first time. So for 24 hours the diet is going to take a back seat and we are going to enjoy a laid back party atmosphere. (can’t use too much energy or you wont make the 24 hours.)

A computer the size of a credit card called the Raspberry Pi

A computer the size of a credit card called the Raspberry Pi

Going to wire the place so that we wont miss any of the coverage with thanks to Radio Le Mans streaming live commentary on the internet. So Phones will be charged with links to the site for toilet visits and kitchen breaks, the TV will be following the Euro-sport coverage and live timing and twitter feeds on the desktop. So this means altering my sleeping pattern a bit but not a major issue as I’m a night time person anyway.

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My take on Valves latest endeavours.

First

This is just an idea I had while driving down the motorway with my wife and talking about things. So this is pure speculation, I’m just connecting dots in my head to see if I can figure stuff out.

Recently there has been news that Valve are working on a Linux port of Steam, this has been a bit of an on again off again piece of news with no real substance other than little bits here and there. They have advertised and hired Linux developers to work on porting Valves Source engine to Linux, screen shots of Steam running in Ubuntu have circulated. (but the Windows version of steam runs fine under Wine for Linux.)

Then I remembered some roumors about a Steam console and it suddenly struck me, Valve might be thinking about running a custom Linux install as the base for the OS on the new console.

Think about this

Any modern console has a nice flashy interface to access the consoles different features, Steam is a PC based client for buying and playing games so the logical step for it to move onto consoles would be a PC OS with PC hardware. That would allow for easy development of titles across platforms, but companies like to brand the whole user experience. Windows isn’t customizable enough for a company to change it significantly, that’s without mentioning the security flaws and other issues and same goes for OSX.

So what’s left, no point in developing your own OS from the ground up when Linux and BSD and a plethora of other PC OS’s exist. Also its free of licence fees, the core of the OS is being developed by developers all over the world so Valve don’t need to worry too much about that. They can put their own completely custom UI over the top of it and make it the way they want. Control what software is installed and running on the console and what updates are rolled out, and if Valve are so inclined could release the OS as it’s own Linux distribution so people can make they’er own Steam console.

What this means for Valve

Valve wont have to spend huge piles of money on R&D to make custom hardware and develop software and elaborate programming languages to run their system. they get to hit a new platform with new titles and by hitting that new platform they will also be hitting their own console too.

Using standard PC components will mean that they wont have to develop their own customer GPU’s, CPU’s etc so that will keep costs down not just from a R&D point of view but from a manufacturing point. Ultimately this could filter down to the actual sale of the console and it could be sold competitively.

Because of the nature of PC hardware they could also make it modular so that it can be easily upgraded on a regular basis so that it can always be more powerful than its competition.

What this means for Linux

Valve developing games and running its own platform on Linux will mean massive positives for Linux. There will be quality games being available on Linux, and hopefully Valve will get involved with helping Linux develop and grow by contributing to Linux projects. More people to start paying more attention to Linux as a platform for the home and with the disaster that will be Windows 8 this could be the time to take the fight to Microsoft and Apple. But I’m getting a little carried away now.

But when even Richard Stallman is saying nice things (in his own unique way) about Valve coming to Linux (sorry GNU/Linux) then could this be something to celebrate and look forward to.

My Opinion

This is just what I predict and I know I may be shy of the mark on some points and I may be in a whole other dimention on others but overall I genuinly think there could be a link between Valve coming to Linux and making thier own console.

What do you think? let me know in the comments.

EDIT: Ok so after writing this post I watched the Linux Action Show, they very briefly touch on this. So I decided to do a Google search, wow, have I been living under a rock!

Well I’ll leave this post here as it gives some reasons why this could be good.

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A few months

So a few months has past since my last post, lots of things have been going on, my uncle died, and old school friend died. Family members being taken ill, some one stealing money out of my wife’s Pay Pal account. It’s been a real challenge trying to keep positive and to keep on, things are starting to look brighter though. I’m getting some entertainment from some person that seem’s to like trolling my blog (see last post for comments.). I’ve also been enjoying the latest updates to Project C.A.R.S.

My latest Project C.A.R.S. video. (Had a few little incident’s, due to using a control pad but it also shows some of the crash dynamics)

This weekend I’m off to Monmouth for the night with Vicky (my Wife) and her parents, Nice to have a bit of a break from my latest addiction Anno 2070, me and my mate Phill have been playing it a fair bit. Also been doing a lot of emulating on my media centre, Commodore 64, NES, SNES, Mega Drive (Genesis for those in the US) and Gameboy. I upgraded the memory in my Net book from 1GB DDR2 to 2GB DDR2, my desk top from 4GB DDR3 to 8GB DDR3 but I think my media centre could do with another 2GB DDR2 and its a bit sluggish with full HD content. Also I’ve put my order in and paid for a Raspberry Pi that should be here soon I hope, will write about it after a little while.

Also working on a short story, some times me Vicky and my brother in law Tim set each other little challenges to write short stories by giving each other a title, word count and a deadline. This time however we have only given titles. So I’m working on a science fiction story based on Mars called the Dragons Daughter, research is nearly done and a rough plot outline is forming. And unlike my previous work I can actually publish this, my last one was based on existing characters so I’m reluctant to show it to the world as I wouldn’t want to fall foul of copyright or trademark laws.

Although I have just rediscovered my love for Mystery Science Theater 3000 thanks to You Tube and made a convert of Vicky.

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What I Think is Wrong with the Computer Games Industry – Part 1

What I Think is Wrong with the Computer Games Industry

Origin

The other day I was invited to take part in the Battlefield 3 beta, so I signed up, filled out all the information got to the part where I download the program. At this point I was prompted to download “Origin”, Origin is EA’s game/content distribution service, basically EA’s version of Valve’s “Steam” service or Microsoft’s “Games For Windows Live” service. Anyway at this point I said to my self “No, no no” (a little like Amy Winehouse when people tried to make her go to rehab, but a lot more coherent) I refuse to install another online game store.

Years ago when Valve started “Steam” I was sceptical, but over the years I came to like it. One of the biggest things that persuaded me was when they added other publishers to the store. Over the years I have purchased quite a lot of the games through steam. But now EA want to try the same distribution method for they’re own software. I don’t have a big problem with that. I do have a problem with being forced to have Origin installed just to use their software. I know before everyone says it that Valve run Steam the same way but at least with Steam I have access to software that was published by other publishers.

Steam and EA Logo

I have already committed to one content distribution system, I don’t then want to have to install another for EA and then if Activision and Atari all come out with they’re own distribution system a few moths later, where will it stop? As gamers we are losing some basic rights. We are losing the freedom to choose where we purchase our software from and are being forced into accepting this corporate bloatware. We are losing the right to sell/give away old games, we are losing the ability to allow family members to share a game on the same computer.

Also if they run Origin anything like they have run the way they make games available on android then they will pull games from availability and change prices quite inconsistently. I feel that they are just constantly polishing up older titles to make them appeal to the hungry little monster that is the younger gamer market, but more about that in a moment.

Let me expand on the last point. If I purchased a game CD/DVD and install it under my account and then install it under my account and then my wife can log on using her user account on the same PC and play the same game. But if i paid for and downloaded the same software through Steam or Origin, I would be the only one who could play it unless I let her use my account, but unless the game supports multiple saves she wouldn’t be able to play her own game without messing up my game saves.

This also plays into EA’s strategy of eliminating the second hand games market. As a user of Steam I can’t lend games to friends or sell them, but it does mean that if the worst happens and my computer and/or all my games are lost in a fire or stolen I can still access them and all is not lost.

Although I must point out that all these observations about Origin are based on using Steam and Games for Windows Live and information from others who have used Origin.

Poor Quality of Games

I am going to try my hardest to not sound like Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw from Zero Punctuation but I feel his pain, and even though I don’t always agree with his review of a game I usually agree with several points he makes on every title. but my focus here is going to be more on the fact that companies like EA, Activision and Atari are now pumping out a new update for they’re most popular IP’s (Intellectual Property, eg the Sim’s and Need for Speed are two IP’s) every year.

Call of Duty

The problem with this is that in order for them to reach an acceptable level of quality for each release they have to employ multiple software houses to handle the development of each title. When the Call of Duty series got popular Activision looked for another software house to help Infinity Ward by developing every other release. Activision called upon Treyarch to help with development. The first title they had to work on was Call of Duty 3. Now before I get into this I must say I’m a PC gamer and Call of Duty 1 & 2 were available on the PC. However Call of Duty 3 was only available on consoles (although the response from the PC community resulted in Treyarch being told by Activision that they have to develop a PC version in future.)

But by the time they got to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare I felt that they had lost everything that had appealed to me. I played Call of Duty 1 & 2 through multiple times purely on the strength of the story, after Modern Warfare the quality of the game in terms of graphics and game play mechanics it changed VERY little, in terms of story it became predictable and cliched. At this point I lost interest but one of the things that I did notice was the better quality releases were coming from the Infinity Ward development and the Treyarch releases were a very poor relation. But I also got further pissed off when Activision were trying to screw Infinity Ward over royalties, this resulted in my boycotting Activision’s games. (I am passionate about computer games!)

Need for Speed

This is probably one of the more diverse and constantly changing titles of all the IP’s I will mention here. I will pick this up at the point where to title tried to cash in on the popularity of the film Fast and the Furious, and they released a complete re-invention of the Need for Speed IP. This had features that hadn’t been seen in many racing titles and combined them with a nice simple arcade game, but this title had been quite rapidly developed since its start in 1994.

There have been 7 different developers working on this title but since Underground’s release this has become more “Street Racer” focused aside from the 2 Shift titles and Prostreet that are more professional racer focused. With the other titles being so story focused the quality of the story has been poor. I felt that a child that hasn’t learned to form words would be better at writing this crap. And the acting is awful and patronising, here’s a clip  from Need for Speed Most Wanted. Here’s another with a nice continuity error the PDA she holds up when she gets in the car gets rotated 180 degrees when the camera zooms out after the explanation of a completely redundant game mechanic.

But as time goes on this only seems to get worse, but that isn’t the only thing that has made Need for Speed one of the MANY IP’s that are making the games industry bad. Game play has only got worse over time. It’s patronising and insulting especially when some of the developers have been bad mouthing titles like Forza and Grand Turismo and saying they can create a more real experience with Need for Speed and completely failing. As a sim racer I have a huge collection of racing software, some sims, some games and the most arcadie and patronising of them all are almost always Need for Speed, Test Drive and Midnight Club. Conversely some of the most realistic racing games have been Forza, Grand Turismo, Race 07/On, but even these feel arcade-like when compared with the hardcore sims of Live for Speed, rFactor, iRacing.com.

So when a dev working on Need for Speed exclaims that he thinks his latest version of the most over polished turd in the history of racing games is better than some of the best examples of racing games, then that franchise loses credibility in my eyes.

This is the first part of why I think the Games industry is going to hell in a hand basket, I am working on part two but it may be some time before that one is released so if you have an opinion for or against me and anything I’ve said then comment, e-mail what ever you need to do to get your opinion to me (Just don’t call me at 4 in the morning or I’ll be very irate.).

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Up date

I’ve been having a bit of a rollercoaster month and haven’t even had time to think about my blog let alone write in it. Been ill for about 3 weeks with an ear infection that messed my balance up, then it was my 30th birthday followed by a BBQ for me and my wife Vicky (her birthday is only 2 weeks after mine.) Then my wife and her father have been ill. All this has been interspersed with epic weekends of motor sport and gaming.

So I’ve been busy and as a note to a previous post about Linux, I have not done the trial of openSuse but I did live with Linux Mint for over a month. I will give my impression about this some other time, I might garnish that post with my impressions of Google+.

But for now I’m going to enjoy this lovely day and spend an evening with some friends.

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The Wonderful World of Minecraft

Minecraft, love it? Loath it? Or never heard of it! What ever your feelings about it, Minecraft is becoming a global phenomenon. This unusual game has come from a one man developer, before the game even hit beta had sold over a million copies allowing this one man development team to grow. The company goes by the name Mojang and the game just keeps going from strength to strength. If you wish to know more about Mojang, Minecraft and the man who started it then check out this documentary.

I found this game in November and have had a hesitant start, not knowing exactly what I had to do or exactly how to do anything. But after looking on YouTube and the Minecraft Wiki I started to figure stuff out and started building. After a little while I found a multiplayer server and joined in the fun, and to begin with my buildings were basic but ambitious but as time went by the quality of my building and ability to build increased significantly.

It’s a wonderful game but personally I don’t see it as a game. A game has a goal, Minecraft has no set goals! This is more like a design tool or a sandbox environment but its fun and unlike a tool you have to find your raw materials and refine them, the same goes for tools (wiki guide for crafting).

When I first joined the multiplayer server I was a little intimidated as there is a load of tall towers around the spawn and the rules written on little sign posts state that stealing is prohibited and so is “greifing” (the act of messing with or destroying another players creation). So I went exploring the surrounding area looking at other peoples creations until I found a giant picture of a head that turned out to be Bryan Lunduke.

I wandered around a little more till I realized I was unable to see any other players creation in any direction. Upon further investigation I found a hole in the ground and thought “this is a good starting point!” so I dug down creating a stair case that descended all the way to bedrock (the lowest possible level a player can reach). After making myself comfortable in my little hole in the ground I started to feel as though I needed to hide my little base. So I built a tower covering the hole covered the outside with glass and left a block gap all the way around the inside so that I could place water at the top and it would flow down the inside of the glass without spilling inside the tower. I also hid the entrance to my mine in the water so that I knew it was there but no one else would be able to find it.

But as soon as I had finished this I wanted to make something more ambitious so I started work on a pyramid, it is a part of my tower but quite a bit larger than it. took me a week to create a pyramid out of cobble stone and then cover it with sand (as sand wont be placed without support). That creation lead to others and before  I knew it I’d taken over a little corner of the map.

As time goes by this game get’s stronger and stronger, don’t let the simple graphics fool you this is a game with more depth than almost anything else on the market. It is simple in its approach but what can be achieved in this game can at times be awe inspiring. I will include a few YouTube video’s of some creations that have just taken my imagination and impress me.


Space creation’s in mine craft


Tetris music


Star Trek (there are newer video’s since this one where the ship is more complete but the latest one he waffles for a bit at the beginning, but check it out your self)


16 Bit ALU in Minecraft (there are more since this video where he has completed the CPU)

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A bit late but as promised, Mincraft post

A few weeks ago I started to create a post about Minecraft to explain a little about the game and why I like it so much, also to highlight some amazing things about it.

But due to college assignments (Had 4 due in the same week!) I had to put it on hold, also I wanted to add a few more things to the post but I think I will do this at another time. But as I’ve finished the post at 3am I think I’ll time the post to be posted at a more reasonable time 6am (while I’m sleeping!) just so that it gets the chance to actually pop up in peoples feed’s and not be buried under all the late night post’s.

So in around 3 hours the latest (and hopefully greatest post) will be erm, for the lack of a better word, be posted!

So keep your eye’s peeled (never got that expression)

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Projects I want to work on

The past few days I’ve come up with a few ideas that I want to do, but atm its a little impossible as I have two assignments to finish and two exams to study for. First one is a texture pack for Minecraft, replacing all the tools with knives, forks, spoons etc. The next project is making a film in Minecraft using the audio from “army of darkness”.

tower bridge and art

Village tower

Because of all the studying I have to do I am keeping these ideas for the summer holidays. I also want to go to the gym once a day throughout the summer break and brush up on Java and databases before the new term. Also if I have time I want to learn more about the level editor “Hammer”. I think its good to have a goal for the summer holidays, stops me wasting my time and keeps away boredom.

On top of this me and my wife Vicky are going to celebrate our 30th Birthday with a BBQ. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful best friend.

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The Art of Taking Risks!

To Set The Stage

The other day while looking for a video to illustrate my passion for motor sport I came across a book that at first had me feeling dubious about its worth and content but I picked up a little tidbit and…

…two hours later I had peaked my interest and had researched a bit about this book.
The book is called “The Art of Racing in the Rain” and seems like an unusual story about a dog looking at life using motor sports as a metaphor for life. I knew I would love to get this book but I was afraid it will just end up adding another partially read book to my ever-growing collection.

So a few days later on trip to London with my wife and brother in-law, I saw it in a book shop and before you knew it *ping* I had got it. Noe the unusual thing here is that I read it in a week (normally for me I usually have trouble finishing a book even ones I really like.)

But…

I was so enthralled that I could hardly put it down, it engaged me and I felt comfortable with the whole story and it made me think “what would I do if I was Denny?” or “What would I do if I was Enzo?” It made me love the characters and the story flowed, simply and concisely. The point of view from which the story was told is unusual but refreshing and the motor racing techniques turned metaphor resonated with me on a deeply personal level.

But then this leads me on to…

How some times I often fret over whether or not to do something or accept something. A good example is, a friend once offered to speak to someone they knew about letting me be a driver on a real racing team in a real car. this is a dream come true for me and I should have said yes, I should have stood up and hugged him and said a thousand thank you’s. But I didn’t! I did what I always do, I sat there and though “I’m too fat, too unfit, I’ve never driven a car for more than an hour in real life and I don’t even have a licence!” my only experience is years and years of playing simulations on my computer, Sports car GT, Gran Turismo 1-2-3 & 4, Forza 1 & 2, Live for speed, rFactor, GT-R, Race 07, DiRT 1 & 2, WRC 2010, Richard Burns Rally, F1 2010 and many other arcade racers.

So the idea scared me, so I said no, I wasn’t willing to take the risk even though it was something I wanted more than anything. And the risk I was afraid of wasn’t getting into the car and driving it at high-speed, it was that I felt completely unprepared. But recently I’ve been going through some changes, me and my family have been faced with some very difficult problems and it’s been hard to go about our daily lives. I lost my aunt to cancer in the past few weeks, and in an attempt to distract my self from the situation I watched a film called “Yes Man” and even though it’s just an idea based of the book by the same name, the idea it try’s to put across made me think I need to stop saying no to the things I want, even if I think I am not prepared for them.

While reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, I came across a little passage that also has helped me adjust my outlook on my life and add some positivity back into my life. “the car goes where the eyes go,” meaning simply that when things go wrong if you start focusing on the bad and the worst case scenario then that is what’s likely to happen, but if you remain positive and plan for a positive outcome then you can recover from what ever has gone wrong.

Some times its hard to keep focus when everything around you is falling apart, as I said earlier I lost my aunt the other week but that was the biggest thing me and my wife have had to deal with but not the only thing. There’s been at least 2 other family members who are seriously ill at the moment, Vicky my wife has also lost her driver’s licence on medical grounds. I’ve been trying to carry on my uni course and deal with not having any money, but we have remained resolute and objective and I feel we are coming out the other side of it. Reminds me of another racing metaphor “in order to finish first, first you have to finish”, so even in the face of  all the trouble we’ve faced these past moths we are not only holding it together but adapting and growing. But without the love and support of my wife a lot of what I face would become insurmountable hurdles that would probably leave me nowhere. Thank you Vicky for always being there, and I love you very much.

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