My Computing History

In my birthday post a few months ago (eek!) I mentioned how I struggle to blog when things are going okay. Spoiler alert: things still are, however I feel this place has been neglected.

One of my favourite social platforms at the moment is Mastodon (follow me there) – because I enjoy the nerdy conversations there. From a toot by Jack McConnell I found a blog post by Kev Quirk called “My Computing History“, which details all the system Kev’s had over the years.

Brilliant. I’m nicking it. Here’s my computing history.

~1991: Commodore 64

The first system I owned was this beautiful Commodore 64. This version (the “Playful Intelligence” one) was a fascinating release – it was a re-hash of the ill-fated Commodore 64GS, with the keyboard stuck back on, a cartridge bundled in with 4 games (Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top o’ Fun, Flimbo’s Quest, International Soccer and Klax), and flogged in Tandy for about £65.

I bloody loved this. Although I really wanted a Commodore Amiga 500, I became a huge Commodore 64 gamer (suck it, Spectrum owners). I still have it – the header image is my machine. I still have the cartridge now, as well as 2 of the 3 budget games I got with it (American 3D Pool, Agent X II* and Rollaround) and Decembers’ Zzap! 64 Magazine I also got that year.

I got better and more powerful machines, even for Christmas from my parents, but I grew to love this beautiful machine.

~ 1995: Atari STe 520

My second computer was a hand-me-down from my uncle, which took residence at my grandparents house. The Atari STe 520. Although I craved it mainly for a game I played occasionally – Lemmings – a lot of franchises I love and still love to this day come from this machine. It had Civilization, The Secret of Monkey Island, Championship Manager, Populous, and many more. As you can tell there were a lot more cerebral and slower games – with good reason: a lot of arcade conversions were not great. More known for it’s music, ST Format did champion the computer long past it’s lifespan. Late games that haven’t got their flowers include the excellent Obsession, the “fuck me they’ve done a Doom clone on the ST” Substation and Super STario Land. All three were games I played long after the commercial lifespan of the machine had ended.

Also, fun fact – this was the first machine I dabbled with HTML in. Creating documents and putting them on disk, viewing them using the Crystal Atomic Browser. I wonder how that ended up for me?

~ 1997-1998: Olivetti PCS P/75n Pentium 75 (I think)

My first PC was a bit of a surprise. My grandad – who was probably born a generation or two too early – picked up a PC when the local Radio Rentals was closing and they were selling off stock. A great machine, I spent my mid teenage years playing some fantastic big box MS-DOS games that were a bugger to get loading. Theme Park, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Magic Carpet were all played and loved. All played for hours. Also I had a lot of fun with early Windows 95 games, particularly Shareware compilations became the order of the day, with CDs full of them and played with. Happy times with my grandparents.

It was used as a work machine though, so did used to type up my homework on it as well. It was an absolute timesaver as occasionally we had to repeat our homework, so being able to restore from a saved document rather than rewrite it saved hours. No need to rewrite in my best handwriting** the development of characters in The Mayor of Casterbridge anymore!

~ 1999: AMD (Something or other) with a Voodoo 3 2000 Graphics Card

I remember the graphics card. That’s all. What a beast this was.

Bought locally, this was the first computer at my parents house. A gorgeous machine, with an amazing graphics card, it was pretty much the PC I discovered a lot of later era FPS’ on, with Half Life, Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena being the order of the day on this machine. Sadly it was an AMD machine that’s chips – for whatever reason – didn’t quite work with the motherboard so I had to have a version of Windows 95 that was cloned on it. Odd. Anyway, it kind of worked, but every so often we had to wipe the machine clean and restore it from a CD.

Online for the First Time

This was eventually the first computer I had with the internet. It was expensive at the time (1p/minute, which racked up pretty sharpish), originally I connected with Ezesurf (if you want a rabbit hole, how that company went to the wall is a read), then with Freeserve, it was just about affordable at that point before we got broadband. After having a summer or two in Yahoo! Chat Rooms (which looking back may not have been the best idea as a 16 year old kid), I did discover a couple of interests.

One was programming. I ended up messing around in Blitz Basic and making and releasing a few games. I still occasionally run in to people from that forum. Sadly all but one of the games have been lost to time, as the forum that hosted it is no longer around. Even the game that still works, can’t run on modern PC’s.

With 56k I also discovered the world of serious online gaming, I mentioned Jase a few posts back. This was where he comes onto the scene as part of me getting quite addicted (and quite good) at online Team Fortress Classic. Less action focussed games that were a game called Cosmic Consensus – a family fortunes style game that was great fun, and Acrophobia – which involved created Backronyms. Both games were precursors to what became the Jackbox Party Pack. Bring back Cosmic Consensus I say.

Sadly, something was always wrong with how it was built, as it exploded with a glorious electrical smell some point a few years later.

~ 2002: Pentium P133

A slight bit of a downstep in quality, as I went to Liverpool University to got another hand me down, this time a mid range Pentium P133. Sadly, this was pretty much a work and general browsing of the internet, but thankfully the beauty was being super connected to the internet meaning I was revisiting Doom, Quake and Command & Conquer in multiplayer when I wasn’t out causing mischief on the streets of Liverpool.

I think I did spend the three years upgrading it, so by the end of my time in university it could run Counter Strike very comfortably. Which probably explained the 2:1. I also began my first ever blog (on Blogger, yeah WordPress wasn’t a thing just yet), which at the time I think I may have blogged every day 😬. I can’t have been that interesting?

2008: Isys Elite – Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 2048mb DDR2 667Mhz 250GB SATAII nVidia 8500GT 512MB PCI-E Graphics DVDRW

You will notice this is the first PC with full stats, as in the process of writing this email I found the Novatech order I made to acquire this machine. From reading between the lines I’d have been working for a couple of years at this point, so had a wage, and also noticed that it seemed to have been ordered after I failed my driving test.

It took me two more years to finally pass.

Oddly, I cannot remember much of this PC as I was well into making websites at this point so I imagine some early WordPress development was done on this machine. One game in particular I remember playing quite heavily is Team Fortress 2.

This PC was stored in the shed at my parents until fairly recently, and went in a clear out.

~ 2012: Acer Aspire 5749

I cannot find the email about this, but apparently I bought my first laptop from Tesco. Primarily used for work (this is when I became rather boring), it was the first laptop I used to drag around to places. I believe it was what I used to contribute to WordPress for the first time. Oh my fresh face so excited to be helpful. Where did that person go?

I still have it. It’s covered in stickers and in a draw in my office. But occasionally I use it if I need a Windows XP machine to do something. The last time was to try and Nike Football Scorpion Knockout running – the free game based around that classic Nike advert. It has a CD drive which is unique as no other computers I own do.

2014: Apple Macbook Pro (2.6GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5)

This was a gorgeous machine.

From being a bit vocal supporter of Windows machines, I took the plunge and got a MacBook when being a Windows user became a bit of a barrier for contributing to WordPress (and that’s a statement I expect to be tore apart on podcasts), when all the documentation was written in Mac’s in mind. I loved the power with this machine – was powerful and allowed me to do some heavy duty coding, so much so that I had to rewrite a contract to use it for work.

A great machine, it’s since become a “Zoom Calls in my Lounge” and “Ordering off of Just Eat” laptop. It’s what Steve Jobs would have wanted. I also launched Dwi’n Rhys from Frankfurt Airport there, so saw me through my first two years of freelancing.

I also used it for Twitch Streaming as well. That wasn’t so good and begun to struggle.

The most expensive computer I think I bought, but the one that paid for itself many times over.

2020: Apple Macbook Pro (1.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5)

And finally to the machine I type these words on whilst sat in the City Tavern in Chester. A bit of a fluke really. 6 years after working on a Macbook it has been my pretty much my workflow now and I couldn’t imagine working with much else. However I needed to get a bit more power – it was the pandemic, and sure enough people were going online. I was juggling projects and it was taking up so much space on my laptop.

So – cue some good fortune.

My hosting company – 34SP – was celebrating 20 years and as part of it were giving away 20 prizes of increasing perceived value. The top prize was a MacBook Pro.

Which I won.

Truth be told I missed the fact I won (it went into spam) and even when I did win I begun to spun into working class guilt that always manifests itself with good fortune (said working class exists as I got my tax refund today). Three months later when I actually began to use it I discovered it was a great machine. Rarely do I hear a fan go on it. Probably need to clean the screen, mind.

2020: ASUS ROG Strix GA15 G15DH-UK041T Gaming Desktop

I had a solid pandemic really. Which feels wrong to say. I managed with my clients and people coming online and needing web presences to muster two years worth of accounts and a deposit for a house. In October, I moved out of Manchester to Newton-le-Willows to my first home.

With that came a room I could dedicate to an office, as well as room for a proper gaming/streaming rig. I bought this machine, which I use for more high end stuff. Mainly streaming, but also for training videos for clients. I’ve discovered the wonderful world of Steam gaming with this. Many of the games from the “Video Games I Fell in Love With” series in the past 2 years have been on this machine.

Not top of the range, but good enough for what I want to do.

And Next….?

Honestly, where is next? I don’t know. Both machines I own are powerful enough for what I want to do. As such, an upgrade is not on the cards at the moment. But you never know. But by writing this I’m reminded on how much technology is linked with me. As the machines have upgraded, so have I. The memory on the machines have gotten bigger but the memories with the machines have become stronger.

I genuinely didn’t expect to write as much as I have. I hope it’s not too self indulgent!

* Fun fact: There isn’t an Agent X 1, despite the name of the game suggesting there was…
** Which – if you ever received a Christmas Card from me would know – is terrible.

Content Creation Ramblings from an Nerdy Elder Millennial

Or: Finding out how my plugins helped out a British celebrity, and yours can too.

Content creation is a weird phrase isn’t it? It can mean anything. From a well crafted blog post, to an hour video on how the Super Mario Brothers 3 record dropped over time, to those videos that crop up every 3 or 4 videos within my TikTok “For You” page that make me embarrassed to watch them in public, to those Facebook memes your racist auntie’s shares on Facebook. Every one of those things could be classed as “Content Creation”. Invariably when I see a talking head with job title of “Content Creator” mentioned in the media by I think one of these roles.

I may sneer a bit. Largely because like other things I sneer at like Formula One or Cody Rhodes’ booking strategy post Royal Rumble 2024 (NB: I wrote this sentence before Thursday 8th February, and publish it on the 9th. Holy shit it’s box office again and consider me a fully paid up member again the Cody Rhodes train again), I don’t really understand it. I yearn for a simpler time.

Rhys laments the old internet…again

Then I’m reminded how the old internet used to be. The one I’ve talked about on this site before. How as creators in any way shape or form we’re just a few steps from connecting with people. How it was a great time.

I saw a toot from Frank Goossens about how his plugin – Autoptimize – was used on Taylor Swift’s website. Taylor Swift! A content creator I have heard of! Using WordPress! There’s hope for me yet.

I remember the brush with celebrity I’ve had using my WordPress plugins. Stacey Solomon – an X-Factor contestant who has carved out a niche as a TV presenter in the UK – used WP Email Capture for a while on her (now defunct) website. Although I’m not an X-Factor or TV junkie, I did remember at the time I thought it was quite cool.

As I’ve gotten older, having somebody invest time as opposed to money into something I’ve created, fills me with a warmth that contracted work can never do. I did lament a few weeks ago (something I talk about in my 40th blog post) about the paradox of how this blog suffers when I’m mentally in a good place. However occasionally, a great read – “Why Personal Blogging Still Rules” by Mike Grindle – will provide me the inspiration to rattle off these few 100 words, such as these.

It may be harder for us to connect off the major platforms (and – if you decide not to pay Elon Musk $7 a month – on it as well). Hopefully something: be it a plugin, an article, a silly video or a meme, made by us, can light the day up and connect a bit closer. We connect, we may drift apart, but eventually remember.

Remembering Jase

I found out a few days ago that a bloke I knew online in my mid 20’s passed away in 2016. We connected through a TF2 community that had a server that was voice only. A ridiculous server with drunken Friday nights sniping on 2Fort. Never spoke to him after I moved to Manchester in 2010. There for a season and left. I knew very little of him, but what I remember sticks with me. He was Irish, and he used to sing karaoke over the server. He introduced me to The Velvet Underground and I knew his favourite song was “I’ll be Your Mirror”. I guess the above 600-odd words are for him. How somebody who entered my life for a few months, yet changed it for a lifetime.

And I guess that’s the power of blogging, or forming communities off of walled silos. Maybe in ways you’ll make something that does for somebody else. Be it a tribute singer from Ireland, or Taylor Swift. You won’t know until you try.

Header image: “IMG_0351 (Copy)” by paisleyorguk is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

First PicnicPress Meetup – 19th August, Mayfield Park

Organised on a bit of a shoestring, but let’s do it

So one factor to come out of WordCamp Europe for the UK crowd is/was “how to get face to face time with the community all together?”. Many of us it was the first time we saw each other since COVID and for 3 years and there hasn’t been much, if anything going ahead.

There didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for creating a WordCamp as of yet*, as – well – life has gotten in the way of a lot of the volunteers. However it was good seeing the community again.

So a few people proposed an informal meetup, and I’m deciding to run with it. I’ll be sat in Mayfield Park, Manchester on the 19th August at about 11am (train times permitting). The aim is to be there until about 4 or 5pm where we’ll all go our separate ways.

I’ve been calling it PicnicPress as it’s an informal, social meetup to discuss WordPress stuff and get some community face to face time. Bring a picnic as well as any sort of things to make you comfortable (camping chairs, picnic blankets). Hopefully the day will be dry but we can play it by ear if not, and if we have to relocate so be it!

PicnicPress Details

  • Where – Mayfield Park, 11 Baring Street, Manchester M1 2PY (Google Map). I’ll bring something loud and obnoxious so we’re easy to spot. Think a flag like at Glastonbury.
  • When – 11am until about 4-5pm ish. (Google Calendar Link).
  • How Much – Free (please bring your own refreshments).

There are no tickets, but drop me a comment or a message if you are attending or thinking of attending. Obviously if it turns out to be a success and something people want then we can go forward (and I am happy to take it out of my blog but…you know…I felt it was better to get something up and running).

I think I have everything. If I’ve forgotten something, or if you have any questions – then please drop me a message (or on Twitter, Linkedin or Mastodon – or if you have my phone number or my Facebook, then message me on there), and I’ll do my best to answer this and update this blog post if needed.

Hope to see you! Bring sandwiches!

Update – 11th July 2023

So I went to check out the Mayfield Park on Sunday to answer a few questions to myself, and I thought I’d share them. We’re likely going to meet on the big green flat area in front of the “Depot Mayfield” sign here.

There were a couple of additional things, it’s largely signposted from the taxi area of Manchester Piccadilly Station towards Fairfield Park.

There is a small kiosk that sells sandwiches and coffees, and the map suggests there’s a loo by the kids play area (I didn’t check it out).

One important thing is no alcohol or smoking in the park. There were signs around.

*Though that may have changed since I started writing this: waves in the direction of Whitley Bay.

Update – 14th August 2023

So as a couple of people have asked me, yes this is still going ahead 🙂. As said it was an informal meetup rather than anything formal so yes I’m planning on being there this week (I’ve a minor update on that towards the end of the post). So I’ll guess I’ll share a few questions and things that have been going around in my head.

  • Weather – Manchester is dodgy weather wise at the best of times, so please bring wet weather gear. It’s very changeable at the moment. I still plan to show up but if it’s chucking it down we may relocate to a cafe nearby (there’s a few cafe’s nearby), Foundation Coffee House on Whitworth Street is nearby. I’ll try and post updates as soon as I can.
  • Transport – No train strikes planned that day 🎉. Obviously there may be work on your area.
  • COVID – So for full disclosure I’ve a nasty cough I’ve been trying to shift. Every COVID test has come back negative. As it’s a public park I cannot insist on people taking tests beforehand, but I hope if you do have an illness you’d stay away, or at the very least take a COVID test. Thanks.

Should you need to get in touch with me the best way is on the UK WordPress slack, or Twitter DMs.

On Kadence WP – a commercial WordPress theme I can at the very least tolerate

This is big, everybody

Recently I’ve been looking at my offering as my freelance WordPress development business. Sure I am confident in my abilities, but I’m always looking for ways to improve.

It’s no secret the majority of my work is at a higher price point. It’s with good reason: it’s custom work, often built from scratch, to high standards. I’m confident in my code, and that’s what people pay for.

However, whilst this works for the majority of my clients, there are odd cases where quick, simple sites are a struggle to price. I’ve built sites on to top of other themes before, and happy to communicate that with a client that I am using a child theme.

However, they have a habit of looking the same, which is generally looking like a TwentyTwenty child theme. It’s fine, and the client is happy, but I’m not 100% satisfied myself.

Sure, there are other themes, but I tend to find they are bloated mess and I struggle using them, using custom admin setups and – more often than not – the demo doesn’t look like what it looks like out of the box.

Recently, however, I saw a question from noted newsletter peddler Remkus de Vries, and read the replies.

From the replies, one theme, from names that I trust and admire, kept cropping up. I also had a potential lead that came through that explicitly asked for help in that theme.

Kadence WP

So – with the philosophy shared in my last side project build – where I make sure each side project is a learning experience, I reached into my box of domains, pulled out one – Dad Joke Ipsum – and set aside a day to build it.

The side project – Dad Joke Ipsum

So the idea behind Dad Joke Ipsum is a tool for web designers to generate dummy text for their designs. However the dummy text will be all dad jokes. After crowdsourcing a bunch of dad jokes (as well as using ChatGPT – did you know ChatGPT knows only 25 dad jokes? Dads: you’re safe), there was a bit of developmental work to build the generator with a database behind it. Ideally I didn’t want to be spending a huge amount of time on the theme, so Kadence WP made sense.

So, after soft launching the website at WordCamp Europe, I was impressed with Kadence WP, in a number of ways.

Kadence WP – Why I like it

1. It’s fast

So, the site is hosted on a bog standard SiteGround installation, and with a few images. Obviously other sites have a lot more images, but even using the SiteGround optimiser, it scores in the 90’s on mobile (though the largest contentful paint seems to be determined by the joke pulled from the database).

Check out the speed!

This bodes incredibly well as there isn’t a huge overhead from the theme itself, suggesting it is incredibly efficiently coded, with very little bloat. Also it scores highly in accessibility (the only error is me being odd with my heading tags placements). So it bodes well for a site that I’m trying to pick up traffic.

2. It doesn’t take over the admin

Honestly, I’m sick of themes that don’t use standard UI’s and take over the admin. Kadence WP very much does not. Logging in after installing and everything is either in the default Customiser, or within the posts. If anything I struggled to find where everything is located.

The theme uses the default customiser

It’s everything you need, though even though I could do most of what I wanted to without one. I do have a child theme. This is more for structuring the dad joke archive page and individual jokes.

Once you get your head around it (which is incredibly straightforward if you use Gutenberg on a daily basis), then you’re good.

3. Free is more than suitable

So everything you see on Dad Joke Ipsum is using the free version. I’ve not used the premium version, just a bit of basic customisation, and I can use the Gutenberg editor to build out the pages. There is a premium version which includes starter templates, infinite scroll, WooCommerce integration & a few other bells and whistles.

However, I’ve not needed it. It’s good enough to use on its own with the free version. I have recommended the premium to a client who I felt they needed it (the basic look is quite basic, but the starter themes do change the look of it quite a bit), but even for things like the WooCommerce additions and Infinite Scroll, I’d probably stick to the free version.


So yeah, I am a bit of a fan of Kadence WP, and have already recommended it to a couple of legacy clients who needed a site building rather quickly. I cannot really see myself using anything else for things like side projects where getting things out the door is paramount. For bigger projects, I’m still going to be building from scratch – if you pay for a custom WordPress theme, you’d get a custom WordPress theme for me, but for those that need something built quickly, this feels like a great compromise.

Disclaimer: There are a few affiliate links in here. But yeah, wanted to write here that I am a fan of Kadence WP. You can click on those links and give me a small commission if you decide to buy it. Or just Google it and play around with it. Do what you want, I’m not your real dad.

On Alexa, ChatGPT & AI Programming

Let me begin with a little story

On the day Donald Trump was formally arrested, I did what any sane person would do. I went out for a few beers.

After coming home, I popped a pizza in the oven, which took 13 minutes to cook. I have an Amazon Echo in the kitchen, so I said the words “Alexa – set a timer for 13 minutes”. Of course my comprehension skills weren’t great so I wasn’t sure if the confirmation timer was 13 minutes or 30 minutes, so quick as a flash I said “Alexa, reduce my timer by 1 minute”, before asking for how long was left.

Why? Well, if the timer was on 29 I’d hear “Twenty Nine”. If 12 minutes were left I’d hear “Twelve”. Easily to comprehend for my slightly sozzled celebrating a crap president being impeached.

Why am I telling you all this? Well I feel like it shows how my brain works to find a creative solutions to real world problems, something as a developer I do on a day to day basis. I’m not saying I’m the best developer in the world, but I’m pretty good.

Like most developers, I’ve been hit recently with the downturn in tech. Not as much as some, but I’ve felt it. Furthermore in the past six months we’ve seen the rise and rise of AI so I’ve been thinking – am I safe for a job? Or should I look to retrain?

What I think the future holds for developers

I don’t know what the future holds for developers, but I’d be silly if – as a luxury of being a business owner – I don’t diversify a little bit. I can’t remember who said it but I feel more secure as a business owner having 4 or 5 clients that cover the mortgage than working one place that does. It makes sense to look at other opportunities.

With that said, development is my bread and butter. Whether it’s my own site or clients, 5 days a week I come up to solutions to problems. Sure there are similarities, but nothing is ever quite the same. Is that safe?

I think so, and whilst I did have my heart sink when I saw the Tom Scott video about AI, I was reassured when WordPress said that Use of Code Generators must remain GPL compatible. In short, if you write a plugin to put onto the WordPress plugin repository, you must be sure where every line of code comes from. I’m sure with mine, because I wrote it, but there is no guarantee that AI code is. Mika Epstein in their post then ended with the cheery line:-

Robots won’t take our jobs yet.

This reassured me as you see, code does go wrong. I prefer if it didn’t, but things do go wrong. Part of my job is putting things right. People will use your code in ways you’re not expecting to, or view your code on a Commodore Amiga, or (like I discovered in Neverspoons recently) that searching for Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch causes crashes. It can take time to figure out what goes wrong, and part of the joy (if the 25 thread email chain is anything to go by) is to figure out what the route of the problem is. AI can solve the problem, but may not be able to diagnose why it’s a problem to begin with.

Those problems need the human touch, and familiarity with the code. Familiarity that doesn’t exist when somebody typed “Code a Facebook clone” in ChatGPT. Sure ChatGPT may write code. However it doesn’t come with the learned and community knowledge that comes with developing it

Where I do use AI

I do however use AI for my business and programming. No more than I use automated tools to build CSS files and minify JavaScripts, or Google problems that I have that end up on Stack Overflow . Developers should at least look to use it to generate code and data structures quickly.

To give you an example, this was something similar I used for a project recently. I needed the international dialling code of every EU country, stored in an array.

A graphic of Rhys Wynne asking ChatGPT for an PHP associative array with the dialing code of every EU country, and an ISO 3166 alpha 3 code as the key

It’s simple code, but for me to build would take at least half an hour. Maybe I’d find a quicker way to do it, but even just finding a table, extracting all the EU countries, and putting it into a format I’d use would take time, and also be prone to mistakes. This was 30 seconds for the AI to build, and quick for me to check and cross reference.

Furthermore, my knowledge as a developer using the words “key”, “value” and “associative array” meant the AI Bot was able to build it to spec quickly. Similarly to knowing how to Google and what to Google makes problems easy to solve.

The Developer/Client Relationship with AI

So I guess I’ll end with the fact that this is an open admission I use AI for my job to deliver results for clients. Not much, but occasionally. Some things a computer is better at doing than my easily distracted brain, but I believe in being honest with people. After all, my freelance face is literally named after me.

AI is here, but at least with Dwi’n Rhys, you do speak to a human.