How much of a wizard?

When I describe myself as a “technical wizard”, I feel a little like the Wizard of Oz, but only because all wizardry is only really the possession of a little more skill in a certain area than others.

My training was in Physics, which I enjoyed very much, and which seemed to me to be effectively a training in quickly distinguishing underlying principals in any mechanism.  I learned some simple coding, in languages that are now historic.  Then I was at Bradford University, on a contract for Dr Hothersall, which came with time slots on a Cray supercomputer. I had to use those seconds-long time-slots to send unsolvable boundary integral equations in to be crunched.  The results would come back as vast tables of numbers, and I couldn’t see any underlying principles.  I was so frustrated that I decided that life isn’t as solvable as I’d foolishly believed when I was learning Phsyics, and so, just as I was beginning to see a pattern in the numbers, I quit (completely unconvinced that I could convince anyone of the pattern I thought I was beginning to see in those numbers), and I launched myself into the essential unsolvability of things.

Years later, I’ve been working as a theatre artist, mostly co-creating innovative plays for schoolchildren, and the internet’s come to life, and I’m spending more and more time in front of a computer screen, because I want to know things about the world, and because I’m discovering the library-like capacity of a single modern computer. So I found myself fiddling with countless programs, thinking each time, “This’ll really speed things up”, which was only sometimes the case.

All of these snazzy programs that we’ve come to depend on begin as scripts, and all scripts are just lists of decisions to be made on the stream of incoming data. Well-formed scripts have control points that are sometimes difficult to learn, but can have their own inner beauty, realised by their authors, who’ve put huge effort into making their script both powerful and comprehensible.

Here are just a few programs that I think are worth the effort to learn:

  • AutoHotKey
  • ClamWin
  • Chrome
  • Concrete5
  • Ditto
  • Dropbox
  • FastStone Image Viewer
  • Firefox
  • ffmpeg
  • Gadwin Print Screen
  • GNU/Linux
  • gVim
  • IrfanView
  • LibreOffice
  • Microsoft Windows
  • Notepad++
  • Perl
  • Python
  • SpiderOak
  • Thunderbird
  • WordPress

– that’s just off the top of my head, while writing this on my Windows 7 netbook.

What this shows is that, effectively, I’ve developed a certain level of competence with a fair number of programs, so I can quickly achieve some Wizard-like results, in certain areas. I’m a fairly low level IT Wizard, but perhaps sufficiently ahead of you to be able to assist you with some Wizardry that you just haven’t got the time to figure out on your own.

If you’re stuck with something IT-wise, you can consult me.

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