The University Challenge

I’ve just booked my place at a degree ceremony and arranged the hire of my robes. I’m at the end of my Open University study journey, so here is a summary of it, condensed into one (still too long) post.

The first year of study was gentle enough. Module TU100, “My digital life” was an introductory course, intended to cover a broad range of topics including rudimentary programming, ubiquitous computing and the internet. The highlight was the SenseBoard, a little device containing various sensors (motion, temperature, light) which could be connected to your computer and programmed using Sense, a programming environment “based on” (i.e. the same as) Scratch.

TU100 was intended to get complete beginners “up to speed” so many more experienced computer geeks, like myself, found it quite easy. Indeed, after slacking off midway through the course, I got way behind and had to do one of the assignments without having read any of the previous chapters of course material. I somehow managed to score 99%. Ahem.

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Hope in University

Before reading the rest of this post, you need to play this jingle to set the mood:

Back in the summer of 2011, I was feeling miserable. I was stuck in a dead-end job with no real prospects. Turns out, you need qualifications for a decent career, and for various complicated reasons, I had left school with only GCSEs to my name.

People kept telling me I was “good with computers”. To be honest, I knew this already; my teenage years had been spent cooped up in my bedroom, knocking one out (a BASIC program) night after night.

But how to translate my hobbyist know-how into a piece of paper that I could show to employers? A look back at my tweets from the time shows what I was thinking of:-

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Enjoy the little things

It’s fair to say the last few months have been a bit tough for me. I thought the end of Open University work would remove my main source of stress, but issues at work, worries over the clusterfuck that is Brexit, and various other issues have conspired to make me decidedly unhappy.

Yesterday I went for a long walk, all the way from my house in Aigburth into Liverpool city centre, a distance of about 7.5 km. I used to do this all the time before I got buried under the pressure of studying, so it was good to get back onto the riverside for the 90 minute stroll along Otterspool Promenade. Despite being October, the sun was shining and it was warm enough to not wear a coat. I breathed deeply, inhaling the fresh air.

My walk ended at the Albert Dock, where I stopped for a rest and a coffee. Rather than feeling tired, I actually felt invigorated. Walking through the dock complex, my ears detected a real mix of languages and accents: American, Polish, German, an Arabic dialect, as well as pure Scouse. All these people, visitors and locals alike, had one thing in common: they were enjoying all that the City of Liverpool has to offer. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride.

View of waterfront buildings including the Museum of Liverpool and Albert Dock

For one afternoon, life’s problems took a back seat and I was able to focus on the enjoyment I was feeling in that moment. I got home later that afternoon feeling more cheerful than I had felt in a long time. The phrase “you need to get out more” has never been more accurate.

Flat Out

Photo of Henry Kelly hosting Going For Gold

As Henry Kelly might say, if I were a contestant on Going for Gold in 1990: “Robert, you’re playing catch-up.” So, what has been going on in the 20 months or so since I last blogged?

Back in August 2015, I had taken the plunge and rented a flat. Finally, a place to call my own, except it’s not really my own, it belongs to a landlord who didn’t allow any redecorating or hanging pictures on the wall.

I’ll be honest, I was scared. The life experiences of my first 32 years on Earth had conditioned me to believe that I couldn’t cope with being an adult, and all the boring things adults have to do for themselves: pay council tax, read electricity meters, cook, clean, maintain basic personal hygiene standards. It was a big adjustment, and it took some time for things to settle down.

OK… now what do I do?

A post shared by Robert Hampton (@hampo) on

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Hampo 3.0

It was 20 years ago today that I made my first foray into the world of web publishing.

I was 14, and had taught myself HTML from a series of articles that appeared in Acorn User magazine. AU had also given away a CD-ROM packed with internet software for Acorn computers, including an early web browser called ArcWeb. With that, and the Zap text editor, my journey into the wonderful world of web design began.

Animated GIF icon "ArcWeb WWW Browser NOW"*

A minor detail like not having an internet connection didn’t stop me from putting together a basic website. I was perfectly happy browsing files on my 210 megabyte hard disc. I couldn’t put anything online, however, until the end of August 1997, when I got a 33k6 modem and a dial-up account with ArgoNet. On 31st August 1997, while the rest of the world was mourning Princess Diana, I was busy uploading my first website.

Screenshot of "FABland", showing my old home page
My old website

FABland (there’s a long story behind that name, and don’t ask me to tell it) was mainly a repository for some little freeware programs I had written and wanted to share, together with some terrible jokes I had stolen from the Internet. However, I also had a “my viewpoint” page, which I updated occasionally. Yes, I still have those writings archived, and no, you can’t see them because they are mostly embarrassing sub-Adrian Mole teenage angst and some really bad opinions. That was the first time I exposed myself online (not that anyone was reading).

Two decades have passed. Acorn has disappeared into the annals of computing history and I have swapped my RiscPC 600 for an Apple iMac. I’m an anxious adult instead of an anxious teenager. So why am I talking about my first website now? Because I want to explain why I have chosen this seemingly random date to trumpet my return to the blogosphere.

I ended my old blog in December 2015 because I had limited time to devote to writing. When I did have a moment to write something, it felt like a chore. The former condition still applies for the moment, but the latter doesn’t. I can’t say I’m terribly sorry to have missed 2016, the year when all hope died, but more recently there have been times when I’ve been itching to write something long-form – threading fifty tweets simply won’t do.

I thought about picking up on my old blog as if nothing had happened. However, I’ve decided to go for a completely fresh start and a slightly different focus. The old site will remain online as an archive, but all new stuff will go here, the third incarnation of my online presence.

Over the previous 20 months, an awful lot has happened (emphasis on awful), so I’m looking forward to catching up with you all. Follow me on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you’re old school, subscribe to my RSS feed. I am also on Instagram and Tumblr.

* This site is not best viewed with ArcWeb.