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The Icon Bar: News and features: RISC OS interview with Rick Murray

RISC OS interview with Rick Murray

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:30, 24/12/2021 |
For your Christmas treat this year, we have an interview with Rick Murray - long time RISC OS user, blogger and now games developer sharing his RISC OS experiences.
Enjoy and a very Merry Christmas from TIB.

Would you like to introduce yourself? 
Oh, hello. I'm Rick. An introvert. Which means I talk a lot via a keyboard (look at my blog or ROOL forum post count!) but try to avoid it as much as I can in real life.
I like zombie movies, intelligent anime (examples: Ergo Proxy and Ghost in the Shell), and tea. You will soon come to understand that I'm one of those people who thinks that the first thing to do in ANY situation is... to put the kettle on.
How long have you been using RISC OS?
Since 1989 when I got an A3000.
I have atoned for the missing two years, though. Over in the corner under a pile of old VHS tapes is an A310 running Arthur 1.20. It had a broken floppy drive, a naff keyboard (tinfoil circles on corroding spongey stuff) and it was basically free. There was a weekly auction of random "stuff" at a place called Slyfield (sort of near Woking) and I was bidding £2 on a box of Betamax tapes, and was about to bid on the A310 (since I recognised what it was) and the auctioneer was like "you actually want that?", so he kicked the computer over to the box of tapes (!) and said "two quid for the lot, any other offers?". There weren't, so it was all mine. Oh, and a nice green wooden chair. I'm not sure how exactly that came into it, but it did.
What other systems do you use?
I have a Pentium 4 PC clocking 2.8GHz running XP that I use for ripping DVDs so I can watch them on my phone. I've not had a proper television in ages, mostly stuff that I used to watch on satellite was either recorded or watched on the computer display using a little widget that converts composite video to VGA. But, alas, most of that has been supplanted by Prime Video and Netflix. Indeed, sitting down to watch something at the time set by the broadcaster seems quaintly old fashioned.
The PC also has a lovely image editor called "PhotoImpact 5" that was bundled on a cover mount CD back in... 2001? I think? It's a really useful and intuitive piece of software.
All of my other systems are Android based. A little 10 inch tablet with a "reasonable" screen (came free with a magazine subscription), a Samsung S9 (my previous mobile phone), and I've just bought a Xaoimi M10T for a euro when I renewed my package subscription. The M10T is an interesting phone. A bunch of cut-price components (no wireless charging, no optical image stabilisation, an LCD panel display, etc) married to a pretty high end processor (it's the same one as in the Samsung S20) so it's actually pretty snappy in use, and is capable of recording at 8K, which is 7680x4320. About 200MB for ten seconds of my cat. I dropped it on YouTube, but YouTube only supports up to 4K (3840x2160).
That said, most of my videos are straight 720p because my internet is about 3.something megabits download, and 0.76 megabits upload. So anything large will take hours.
I've never looked at or been interested in coding for Android. To me, it's a tool. It's great to have a wide selection of apps for it, but I won't be adding to the list.
The other device, which may or may not count, is an ESP32 hooked to an MP3 decoder. It's a web radio.
Funny thing, when looking around I could see hundreds of thousands of Bluetooth speakers, but practically nothing to make use of the wide selection of streaming radio stations around the world. Those that I did find were quite pricey.
So I built my own.
Depending on my mood, I listen to PPN Radio (symphonic metal), or Love 80s Manchester.
I used to listen to Eagle 80s as it was the station local to me when I was in the UK, but it was bought out by Bauer who geoblock those outside of the UK.
I also used to listen, from time to time, to Gothique 13, but that seems to have died (oh, the irony!).
What is your current RISC OS setup?
Pi3 hooked to a VGA adaptor to a 1280x1024 monitor.
I also have the older Pi2 (ARMv7 model) that I use from time to time with a dinky 7 inch 1024x800 display unit if it's good weather and I want to work outside. It and the Pi can run all day off a 14,00mAh battery pack.
What do you think of the retro scene?
I don't.
I'm not a retro scene person. The only reason I'm using a lot of retro hardware (my PC) or software (RISC OS!) is because what I have works for me. The PC, for example. It's pretty much only ever running the image editor or Handbrake, so apart from being able to do things slightly faster (assuming no compatiblity hiccups), why should I spend money to upgrade to run the same software I run right now?
Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
Let me know when you'll be holding a show in Châteaubriant, and I'll be there...
What do you use RISC OS for in 2021 and what do you like most about it?
Writing articles for my blog, using Zap. I like it because it is easy to use and doesn't get in the way.
To give you an example, the editor I use on the tablet is called "QuickEdit". It has basic colourisation of HTML, and a useful facility where it can load files of one type and treat them as another (so it considers .txt files to be HTML). It also has a browser preview so I can give what I've written a check over before uploading it.
Unfortunately, the developer got greedy. While there is a certain amount of advertising inherent in Android applications, which seem to be more and more obtrusive these days, I'm afraid that I cannot tolerate full screen video adverts popping up when a document auto-saves; like practically every minute.
So I reverted back to an earlier build (I keep backups) and gave it a poor rating. The developer was like "no, it doesn't do that" and I was like "would you like a video?".
Actually, right now, Play Store is telling me that I have 148 outstanding app updates. I rarely update, as I find that updates more often than not remove features (calling them "premium"), pile in even more advertising, or just randomly break things.
My two banks, for instance, have gotten into the habit of forcing updates on their clients. Which means the older app will refuse to run and auto-terminate so an update is obligatory. Well, the app for the Post Office bank quite simply refused to log me in at all, and for six or so months failed to allow me to sign in. It has been fixed, but neither app works with the fingerprint sensor any more. The Post Office one is a little comical as it says "Fingerprint recognised" followed by "Fingerprint not recognised" (well, in French).
What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
I've not found an acceptable substitute elsewhere. While other programs (like Notepad++) offer more features, there's something useful about being able to switch views between text, word, and disassembly, especially if rummaging around inside a program.
I also like the flexibility and simplicity of OvationPro. Unfortunately a lack of a decent free PDF document creator (before you point me at PrintPDF, let me ask if you've tried it with UTF-8) and a proprietary format are starting to become issues these days.
That's why I use Google Docs a lot for things. It's kind of basic (and compared to the website version, the app is an embarrassment) but it works on pretty much anything. There's a Docs app on each of my Android devices, and if I don't have the app, there's the website incarnation.
What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
How much of a future? I'd like to see a decent browser, a better server than WebJames (as it doesn't do crypto-connects), and support for IPv6.
As it happens, I'm helping test the browser and an IPv6 stack, so those two boxes are in the process of being ticked.
Longer term, a more unrealistic proposition of some sort of task force to get together to design and create an operating system that is based around modern principles that keeps the spirit of RISC OS.
I say unrealistic as, well, the platform is seriously lacking developers and time as it is, so who is going to create something newer and better from the ground up? It's a nice dream, but I'm really not sure if RISC OS will transition to 64 bit, or if it'll end up being the system we know and love running under some sort of emulation.
I guess my main hope and wish for RISC OS is simply that it continue, and not fade away as 32 bit capable processors cease being available.
Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
Don't get me started on Territory. It's a god-forsaken mess - no matter what you believe "god" to be, and might I suggest Cthulhu as being appropriate here? It sort-of made sense in 1992 when the OS was entirely in ROM, but should have been taken out back and shot and replaced with something fit for purpose in the RiscPC era.
It's about this point that I start getting annoyed, so I'll drop it. I've ranted, for many screenfuls, in the past. It's around if you're bored enough to actually want to look.
Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
Nothing. I have been writing a set of articles for my blog about the creation and design of my platform game Mamie Fletcher's (£4.99 on Store! ). But I don't really have anything planned.
Actually, Mamie wasn't planned either, it just sort of happened.
Any surprises or dates to tease us with?
"I'm really a girl!" Nah, sorry. Nothing to say here either.
Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
XKCD and The Register.
What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
Failing at cooking, and sort of winning at whacking brambles. I also seem to end up taking bread makers apart, for some reason.
It's all on my blog - that's what it's there for.
If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
A good specimen for the local cardiac unit.
I wouldn't want to be paid to develop. Been there, done that, hated what went down so much I've never looked for another job in any sector of tech. Before I left the UK, I was a Care Assistant in nursing homes. Here in France I'm the chief bog-brush wrangler. Actually, I do a load of things besides cleaning toilets, but it's not a job that involves computers in any way.
I like programming. I like an intellectual challenge (that doesn't involve numbers, I have dyscalculia), but most of all I like doing it on my terms. It's something that I find enjoyable.
I probably just had really bad luck, but given how toxic the ambience was (and no, I'm not going to talk about it), I'd rather clean toilets. It is, at least, a fairly low stress job. I turn up, clock in, do my stuff, clock out, and then forget all about it until the next morning when I clock in. I can maintain a very rigid separation between work time and personal time.
The company keeps trying to muddle this, by having us prepare for our HR interviews on a website, on our own time, it'll take between half and hour and two hours. Thankfully it is actively hostile to tablet/mobile users, and I don't have a desktop machine capable of accessing the extremely poor (as in, I'd fire the entire dev team if I was in charge) site.
Any future plans or ideas you can share with us?
Not really. If an idea I like comes into my head, I might try to develop it into a plan, which might then become actual code.
But right now I'm thinking more about my novel(ette). I've done the first part (a lot of it written in Google Docs while waiting in waiting rooms at the cancer treatment centre), and I have ideas for parts of the second part... but not really any good idea of how to join them all together.
I'm also supposed to be studying for a driving licence, but I'm not trying terribly hard as...to be honest... I don't much like driving. It was mom who was like "let's go out" and we'd end up in Josselin or Montaigu - both about 120km or so. Mom loved driving, that's why I never learned.
Now that it's me...it's something I have to do in order to get from home. However I've only ever (in two years) driven once just to go out for a drive. It wasn't unpleasant, but like interacting with people, best in small doses.
Any questions we forgot to ask you?
Probably. Get in touch if you fancy a follow-up.
Many thanks to Rick for taking there time to do an interview and you can keep up with him on his blog.
You can read lots of other interviews on Iconbar here and if you would like to be interviewed, just drop us an email.
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The Icon Bar: News and features: RISC OS interview with Rick Murray