My first experience of computing was using WordStar on an RML380Z CP/M computer with four 8" floppy disk drives in 1980. I progressed via an Apple II running CP/M, an Amstrad CPC6128 and a PC running DR-DOS to a PC running Linux and Windows 98 in 2000.

I then had a laptop running Windows XP and Linux for a few years until I finally gave up on Windows because there was nothing it could do that I could not do, often more easily, in Linux.

At the outset I was mainly interested in producing documentation and articles and using the computer for administrative tasks, for which WordStar was eminently suited. I went on to use SuperCalc, a spreadsheet program, and the dBASEII database software.

I learned by studying the handbooks that came with programs and reading The Amstrad CP/M plus by Andrew Clarke and David Powys Lybbe as well as doing a Masters in Information Management at Lancaster University where one of our assignments was to compare using a spreadsheet with using a database — which convinced me of the inherent superiority of databases other than for strictly numerical operations.

This led me into programming as a way of automating administrative tasks and enabled me to be far more efficient than colleagues who had been seduced by the charms of Windows.

I had also encountered vector graphics through the DR Draw and DR Graph programs which enabled me to produce high quality figures in my documentation. On one occasion I created an image in DR Draw for a book I was copyediting and was stunned to find that the publisher had considered it of sufficiently high resolution to be used in the book.

I didn't jump into using Linux in 2000; for the previous two years, I had read avidly about Windows, Apple and Linux computers and, though entranced by the look of Linux even then, wondered if it would be too technical for me to use.

I shouldn't have worried. Not only didn't it crash, unlike Windows 98 which crashed fairly regularly, Applixware, Xfig, ImageMagick and LyX provided all I needed to work effectively. This presentation offers a nostalgic look at the Linux software I was using in 2000.

Xfig continues to supply my vector graphic images and ImageMagick any image conversions I need while LyX has enabled me to develop my work as a copyeditor and, latterly, a typesetter. In 2011 LyX 2 was released bringing a huge range of new features aimed at authors which are summarised in LyX 2.0.0: the ultimate document software?. In 2016 LyX 2.2.0 was released; this came with several new modules and numerous improvements to the interface; Lyx 2.4.0 is due in late 2023. For more information on how to achieve various effects in any version of LyX or in LaTeX, see Tips, tricks and extended features of LyX/LaTeX.

One of the attractions of LaTeX is the BibTeX bibliographic database system. This allows authors to keep a database of references but to apply different bibliographic styles within each document. Because I found there was no comprehensive information on the Internet about these different styles, I compiled the BibTeX styles catalogue for LyX which is not a complete but a reasonably comprehensive guide to the US and European styles.

Apart from the vector graphics images I have been able to transfer everything I have saved since the 1980s to Linux, in part because of the facilities offered by LibreOffice and in part because it proved relatively easy to automate the transfer of my dBASE files to MySQL though I have more recently moved to using MariaDB.

After my 2000 computer had been sitting in the corner unused for some years, I decided to revive it with FreeDOS and MiniNo Alguadaira, a Debian based Linux distribution able to run on older computers, with the aim of using its hard drive as a local backup. This presentation shows MiniNo with the Rox and PCManFM desktops.

Having started using computers to produce documentation, I decided, following an inspiring talk by Dave Fisher at the local Linux users group in 2010, to explore web publishing, this being one practical fruit of this new interest, another being the development of the Heath Old Boys Association website. With the introduction of CSS containers I decided to update both websites to use CSS containers in 2019. You can find out more about this on the HTML and CSS page.

Roundel with Linux Foundation on it

From 2013 I became increasingly involved in producing digital newsletters using LyX and paper newsheets using Scribus. For manipulating and resizing the images in newsletters and on websites, apart from Xfig, I use digiKam and GIMP.

Another exploration has been into the LXQt desktop about which you can read in Adventures with LXQt. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of VisiCalc in 1979, I put together Forty years of spreadsheets.

In 2014 I decided to do the Linux Foundation’s Introduction to Linux course to build on the rather random knowledge I had gained by experience and followed this up in 2020–21 with the Essentials of Linux System Administration.

Other computer related topics I have been interested in include Ada Lovelace’s notes on Menabrea’s Sketch of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and data protection. GDPR for small voluntary organisations summarises the implications of the General Data Protection Regulation as implemented by the 2018 Data Protection Act for small charities and voluntary organisations.