All posts by rhys

Bad mare day

In a move even I didn’t see coming, I’ve applied to the Furscience team to include a bank of questions from me in their 2024 online survey. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in studying this extremely online fandom, and ironically, it was the anti-furry Joe Rogan/litter tray disinformation debacle that finally persuaded me I might be able to make a contribution. The newspaper articles that were published in the wake of that, almost to a fault, showed that a photo library search for ‘furries’ gives you the stereotypical photo of dozens of people wearing massive-eyed cartoonish animal costumes. Given how photogenic such an image is, I can see why, though only a minority of furries even own a fur-head, let alone a full fursuit.

Reflecting on this (and in no way making a lazy attempt to self-plagiarise) I realised that for a quarter of an hour in Swansea two decades ago, I became an animal, and what’s more I blogged about it soon after. So I dug out the piece from Nine Days’ Wonder, the blog recounting my inglorious time with Sweyn’s Ey Morris. Another piece from the blog made it to print and consequently got it ever-so-tangentially mentioned in the Times Literary Supplement, of all things. Truly the digital past was a different country.

Anyway, here’s the entry in question. For full comprehension it’s useful, but not essential, to know roughly what a mummers’ play is, but if you’ve reached this far you might as well carry on anyway. Enjoy your correspondent’s not-exactly-secret gothic-anthropomorphic past.

5th December 2004

It’s far too early on a Saturday morning, far too close to Christmas, and there are far too few parking spaces to be found anywhere in Mumbles. At least part of your parking problem is due to the large Christmas fair that’s held in the village today, and the reason you’re trying to get there is that you’re going to be taking part in your first mummers’ play.

You’ve been given the part of Slasher Jack, a largely dispensable role containing the challenging sum of one line. To wit:


SLASHER JACK: In come I, bold Slasher Jack, bold Slasher is my name; with sword and pistol by my side I’ll surely win this game.


You don’t think this will be a problem. It’s a part not even you could forget. You might not have a pistol, but you have a prop wooden sword. You have the promise of a sack-cloth as some sort of costume. All told, you think you’ll enjoy this.

Slightly unusually, your mummers’ play will be sharing the bill with a horse. To be precise, a dead horse. There’s a peculiarly Welsh tradition, common around the turning of the year, that involves putting a horse’s skull on a stick, wrapping a skirt of material around it, and putting the whole thing on a pole. Called Y Fari Lwyd (the Grey Mare), it was paraded from house to house around Christmas, to the delight of local youths and the despair of pretty much everyone else.

The Mumbles horse isn’t exactly a Mari Lwyd – but it’s close enough. And five minutes before you’re due to start your play, the skull and skirt are wheeled out by its keeper.

Then there’s silence. Something’s wrong.

“Where’s your son?” asks the head of your side.
“He can’t make it,” says the dead horse’s keeper. “He tried really hard, and he’s really sorry, but there’s no way he could get the time off work.”
“Oh. That’s a shame.”
“I know. But if one of you lot wants to wear it…”

And then, inevitably, every eye starts looking at you.

Slasher Jack is obviously more dispensable than even you thought. So today, Matthew, you’re going to be the remains of a 140-year-old horse. Clambering under the ribbons and material, you clumsily put on your new head. It’s heavy and cumbersome. It’s been attached to what could be the pole from a rotary clothes line. You spend two minutes trying to get everything in the right place, without the pole showing or the head falling off. You fail. And now you’re due to perform.

Being Sharper, rather ineptly

As dead horses go, you’re not the most convincing. You stand on the sidelines while the others perform the mummers’ play. Saint George is killed and revived, the dark knight seen off, and you peer at the world from between the folds of a yellowing sheet. You turn Sharper’s head to look at the action.

Sharper – yes, he has a name, or at least he did in the 1860s, when the rest of the horse belonged to a mobile grocer from the Gower. Sharper died, but he was buried in a lime kiln. The local boys, Victorian Arthur Daleys all no doubt, heard about the Fari Lwyd tradition, took Sharper’s head, decorated it, and took it from house to house asking for money. The local vicar helped them get a song to sing, so you suspect they can’t have been that bad.

140 years later, they’re singing the song again, and you bow down in the right bits so that Sharper can be seen to die. You’re getting the hang of this now.

It’s time to meet and greet, so one of the other mummers takes you by the mane and drags you around the market. The timing’s perfect, because you’ve discovered a rope which, excellently, pulls apart Sharper’s jaws when you tug it. You spend the next five minutes perfecting the timing, and seeing just how far you can make unsuspecting members of the public jump into the air when they see a dead horse’s jaws spring open. You admit that this probably makes you quite a bad person.

All too soon the market winds down. The carols are sung. Still under the skull, you pose for photos with a variety of small children, safe in the knowledge that their resulting phobias will keep any psychiatrists in clover for decades to come.

And then you go walkabout, dodging the Mumbles’ bus shelters, pedestrian crossings and Christmas shoppers. The local pub has asked the mummers to do their play there. So you go with them, still half-man, half-horse, leading yourself to water, or something a little more potent.

Later, you look up Sharper on the web. You’re not too surprised to find a comprehensive page that tells you all you already knew about him, and quite a bit more. You read the article that tells you about the attempt to revive the tradition of taking him from door to door, at the turn of the millennium. Your eye comes to rest on this paragraph:

You can sing, but don’t expect to go under the Horse. “Nobody does that but me,” says [the horse skull’s owner]. “It’s 134 years old now – and if anybody breaks it, it’s going to be me.”

Emerging from a spare room full of your half-repaired electronics, your wife finds this highly amusing.

Wearing my (radio) love like heaven

A slight re-edit here of something I first wrote in 2003, long before any dreams of becoming a Media lecturer had even crossed my mind. It’s a snapshot of a particular time in the digital radio space – BBC7 was precisely one year old when I typed this out. I suppose it gives an interesting context to the Beeb’s (justifiable IMHO) decision to move BBC Radio Four Extra online – that’s much less a niche platform than DAB was in those days.

I’ve focused on comedy here, but BBC7’s efforts to nudge a child audience into speech radio deserves a very honourable mention. I heard one of the producers of the Big Toe Radio Show and Little Toe Radio Show speak at our Cyfrwng media conference in about 2010. Her passion and belief that kids deserved meaningful radio lit up the room like a beacon. Pity there weren’t more like her. Anyway, it was nineteen and a bit years ago today when…

One of the current poster adverts for the BBC’s new radio stations reads “Make time for BBC digital radio. Fall ill.” That’s delightfully ambiguous as slogans go, isn’t it, but there’s more truth in that than even the BBC might realise.

Laid up in bed in the aftermath of having my appendix removed at the age of eleven, with no television and advice against lifting a book, I discovered radio, and started consuming it in vast quantities. I discovered the wit (and record collection) of Martin Kelner on Radio 2, making me aware of Cat Stevens’ back catalogue at a frighteningly young age. I discovered the hidden recesses of Radio Cymru, with Gareth Glyn opening new musical doors before my very ears.

More than anything else though, I discovered radio comedy. A particularly good time to do so, with imperial-phase Radio Active and Son of Cliche both being broadcast, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue as funny as it’s ever been, but curiously without the audience whooping and hollering at every single joke regardless of the level of humour.

A love of radio comedy has stayed with me ever since. So when the BBC announced that their ‘Network Z’ for digital radio would be devoted, amongst other things, to archive comedy and drama, my excitement was tempered with more than a little trepidation. Would they take the easy option and just broadcast wall-to-wall Dead Ringers and Goon Shows, or would they make an effort to trawl the BBC archives for the neglected, half-remembered and ultimately more interesting programming?

As it turns out, BBC7, having thankfully jettisoned its rubbish working title of BBC 4Word, chose the road less travelled by, and for me, that really has made all the difference. In the year (to the day) since its launch, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my List Of Programmes I Wish They’d Repeat being slowly whittled down, through BBC7’s offerings of old Burkiss Ways, Radio Actives (by the truckload), Mary Whitehouses, On the Hours and even Lionel Nimrods. Only one programme remains still on my wish-list, in fact, and I guess I shouldn’t exactly hold my breath for a re-run of Elastic Planet.

And to my surprise, and relief in retrospect, it’s become my default radio station. John Shuttleworth was my companion during an arduous dissertation write-up earlier in the year, and Sean Lock has rather incongrously helped me put many a church magazine to bed. It remains my best excuse for buying a digital radio – even though (bizarrely, and through no direct fault of BBC7 themselves) the highest quality way of listening to it is through a television.

I love BBC7 to bits, and with it reaching nearly 300,000 people a week, I know I’m not the only one. I live in hope that it’ll flourish as digital radios become mainstream. The only possible cloud on the horizon is the BBC’s track record of completely ruining things that were liked by a significant minority (invariably including me). The first incarnation of BBC Choice beat BBC Three into a cocked hat, and I haven’t come across a radio station to which I could happily listen from morning till night since the original Radio Five closed down. BBC7 doesn’t count on the latter score, by the way – I can’t pick it up when I’m driving.

But all that aside, happy birthday BBC7. It’s far surpassed my expectations of it being nothing more than Dead Ringers 24, it’s opened my ears to half-forgotten and never-remembered comedy, and its message board shows that like no other radio station, it listens to its listeners.

Maybe I should email them about Elastic Planet after all.


Gwell i fi gyfaddau o’r cychwyn – ar y gorau, diodde rygbi ydw i fel camp. Rhaid cyfaddau hefyd bod hynny’n achosi cryn boendod i fi ar adegau. Wedi’r cyfan, oni ges i fy magu yng Nghwm Gwendraeth, calon rygbi Cymru? On’d oedd fy niweddar dad wedi cefnogi Llanelli gydol ei oes ac hyd yn oed wedi prynu debenture i sicrhau ei sedd yn hen Barc yr Arfau? Yn ysgol y Gwendraeth, mi oedd dad am gyfnod yn yr un XV â Carwyn James, ac yn ei arddegau a’i ugeiniau, chwaraeodd dad i dîm Cefneithin ac ennill sawl tlws. Un o uchafbwyntiau bywyd Dad, chwe mis cyn iddo farw o ganser yn Ysbyty Glangwili, oedd ei fod yno (yn ystyr Max Boyce y gair) yn Stadiwm y Mileniwm i weld seremoni a gêm agoriadol Cwpan Rygbi’r Byd yn 1999.

A fi? Prin y medra i ddal pêl, heb son am redeg gyda hi. Ac mae’n llawer gwell gen i ddilyn trywydd yr Elyrch na’r Gweilch.

Ond fedra i ddim peidio talu rhyw fath o deyrnged i Raymond William Robert Gravell o Fynydd-y-Garreg, fyddai wedi bod yn 70 mlwydd oed heddiw. Gŵr bonheddig yn ystyr llythrennol y gair, llawn cystal yn y stiwdio ddarlledu ag yr oedd ar y cae rygbi – ac o ystyried ei fod wedi ennill 23 cap i Gymru ac wedi helpu trechu’r Crysau Duon ar Barc y Strade, nid ar chwarae bach mae dweud hynny. Byddai mam yn arfer tyngu’n bod ni’n perthyn o bell – Grevilles oedd ei theulu hi, o’r un ardal â Grav, felly mae’n ddigon posib bod ganddi bwynt.

Mae gan bawb gyfarfu â Grav stori i’w hadrodd, felly dyma fy stori i…

Gwaith Llafar ar Dâp Sain, Eisteddfod yr Urdd Tâf Elái, 1991. Y gofyn oedd am raglen radio tua 15-20 munud o hyd, ac mi oeddwn i eisoes wedi ffoli ar radio fel cyfrwng, felly pam lai na chystadlu? Hanner tymor fis Chwefror, fe berswadiais i fy ffrind Dafydd druan mai’r peth gorau i ni ei wneud oedd ymweld â stiwdios y BBC ar Heol Alexandra yn Abertawe.

Roedden ni yno i gyfweld â Sulwyn Thomas, un o enwau mawr Radio Cymru ar y pryd. Roedd Grav yn brysur yn gweithio yn swyddfa Radio Cymru: roedd e’n paratoi sioe geisiadau’r wythnos wedyn, ar ôl gorffen darlledu ychydig oriau ynghynt.

Ac am 11:59 (a 55 eiliad), fe siaradodd Sulwyn fymryn bach yn ormod… a chrasho’r pips! Pechod marwol radio byw, a doedd Grav ddim am adael i Sulwyn anghofio hynny.

Ac am 12:00 (a 3 eiliad), roedd y newyddion yn dod yn fyw o Gaerdydd, a Sulwyn yn cael ychydig o seibiant. Wel, efallai ddim cymaint o seibiant â hynny…

Rhuthrodd presenoldeb mawreddog Grav i mewn i ystafell reoli Stondin Sulwyn. Gwelais Deiniol, y cynhyrchydd, yn ochneidio, ac yn syth bin, pwysodd Dafydd y botwm recordio ar ein dec casét ni. Ac yna, unwaith i Ray Gravell weld bod ein tâp yn rhedeg, bloeddiodd:


Ac yna, ar ôl sgwrsio’n siriol gyda ni (‘Bro Myrddin ŷch chi, bois?’) a dymuno pob hwyl i ni yn y steddfod, fe aeth i mewn i stiwdio Sulwyn a’i boenydio am weddill bwletin Caerdydd.

Wel, beth ddweden ni am hynny felly? Clown, yn ystyr orau’r gair, a chawr, hefyd yn ystyr orau’r gair. Fe enillon ni’r gystadleuaeth, gyda llaw. Ocê, gwell bod yn onest – un cais ddaeth i law, ond teilyngdod yw teilyngdod, ie? Darn Grav oedd yr uchafbwynt yn ddi-os, yn ôl y beirniad.

Heb or-ystrydebu, gobeithio wir bod Grav bellach yn rhywle lle nad oes neb byth yn crasho’r pips. Os nad yw, rwy’n siŵr y medr ddysgu gwers bach iddyn nhw.

Life in 2020

Wasn’t everyone, at some point in upper primary or lower secondary school, tasked with writing an essay about Life In The Future? Today’s one day when some of those predictions come true (and most don’t), so here’s my contribution to that particular homework genre. Written in Welsh (here’s that original), but translated below with my ten-year-old’s grammar cleaned up somewhat.

Come with me now, then, back through the mists of time, to an age when fast fashion was unheard of, there was only one Severn crossing, and Pluto was still a planet…

Life in 2020

7.00. “Hello Rhys. Tea or coffee today?” asks my robot. “Tea” I say. This happens every morning at seven. After I drink the tea, I go into the floor mover. I press the button “Living room.” The floor mover is similar to lifts from the old days. Anyway, the doors open to a fairly small room with a panel of buttons in its middle. I sit on a chair and press the buttons: “Breakfast,” “Grapefruit,” “Egg,” “Sausage,” “Bacon,” and “End.” A few odd sounds and a small paper comes out of the panel. This is what’s on the paper:

Grapefruit – Ready in 15 seconds.
Egg, Sausage and Bacon – Ready in 2 minutes.
Tea or Coffee?

I press “Tea” and a cup of tea and a grapefruit come to my chair. Press “Table”, and a table emerges from a hole in the floor. Before leaving, my robot reminds me to choose my lunch now. I press more buttons and the robot tells me to be here at one o’clock promptly. This is the procedure every meal time. I press “End” and the table goes down to be cleaned before lunch.

I press the “Computer” button. The machine emerges from the hole in the floor. This computer doesn’t have any buttons. It can speak and understand your voice. I say, “News.” The machine starts. “These are the headlines. One thousand robots go on strike in a rocket factory in Manchester. Dyfed’s schoolchildren go on a trip to the planet Pluto today. The Senate meets today to discuss a tunnel for mobiles under the River Severn.” I press the button, “End.” Down goes the computer, back into the hole.

I press “Videophone.” The gadget comes up from the floor. I lift the receiver and put the camera in the right place. I type my cousin’s number on the special panel. I wait a second. Then I see his picture in his house in London, he too is on holiday. I have a friendly little chat and arrange to go and see him after lunch.

About 12.00. My leisure is interrupted by the deafening noise of the videophone. A call for me. I’m supposed to go to the Dyfed Robots work centre, where I’m employed. A bug in the work program has made the robots run wild. I rush to the mobile. I press the buttons, “Factory” and “500 kilometres an hour.” I hold tight – and within seconds I’ve completed the journey of ten kilometres. After three quarters of an hour of pressing buttons, everything’s back in its place in the centre.

1.00. Back home for lunch.

1.30. Back into the mobile. I press the buttons “London” and “400 kilometres an hour.” I sit back comfortably and read a book. Reaching London at last, I see my cousin. A day’s holiday for us both. An afternoon in a special exhibition called “Life in the eighties.” I see wonders. Only one robot and that a very awkward and clumsy one. (Oh dear, think about making a meal without the help of one of these!) I see the ZX81. This is terribly old-fashioned, row after row of silly buttons and only 16k of memory – this was really only a toy for small children. But still, a million people bought it – something hard to believe.

But the greatest wonder was a gadget called a car. A huge box on wheels using something called petrol and belching dirty smoke sometimes too. An expensive gadget swallowing costly liquid. Clothes! People washed and ironed clothes in those days. Thank goodness for cheap clothes you can throw away after a week of wearing them.

An interesting afternoon, but all good things must come to an end and I go home over the second Severn bridge. Call at the doctor. Stand in front of the large screen which tells me that I am well. After a tasty meal, I play chess against the computer. The game carries on for hours but in the end the same thing happens time after time – the computer wins.

I chat to my robot about the day’s events. The robot in its turn will put a summary of all the events into a special book called a “diary.” After a year the robot will give me this book to keep, and maybe I’ll give it to my children – who knows. I close my eyes and go to sleep after a very busy day. Good night!

Bywyd yn 2020

Siŵr iawn bod pawb, rywbryd yn yr ysgol gynradd neu’n gynnar yn yr ysgol uwchradd, wedi cael gwaith cartref ar Fywyd yn y Dyfodol. Y testun wnaeth Mr John osod i ni ym mlwyddyn 5 yn y Dderwen oedd Bywyd yn 2020 (isod, heb gywiro gramadeg, treiglo na sillafu), ac am wn i, heddiw yw’r diwrnod i mi weld pa mor agos ati oeddwn i...

Bywyd yn 2020
Dydd Sul-29-1-1984

7.00. “Helo Rhys. Te neu goffi heddiw?” mae fy robot yn gofyn. “Te” meddwn innau. Mae hwn yn digwydd bob bore am saith. Ar ôl yfed y te, mynd i mewn i’r symudwr llawr. Gwasgu’r botwm “Ystafell fyw.” Mae’r symudwr llawr rhywbeth yn debyg i lifftiau ‘slawer dydd. Beth bynnag, mae’r drysau’n agor i ystafell weddol o fach a panel o fotymau yn ei chanol. Rwyf yn eistedd ar gadair a gwasgu’r botymau: “Brecwast,” “Grawnffrwyth,” “Wy,” “Sosej,” “Bacwn,” a “Diwedd.” Ychydig o synau od ac mae papur bychan yn dod allan o’r panel. Dyma beth sydd ar y papur:

Grawnffrwyth – Barod mewn 15 eiliad.
Wy, Sosej a Bacwn – Barod mewn 2 funud.
Te neu Goffi?

Gwasgu “Te” a dyma gwpanaid o de a grawnffrwyth yn dod at fy nghadair. Gwasgu “Bwrdd” a dyma fwrdd yn dod allan o dwll yn y llawr. Cyn mynd, mae fy robot yn fy atgoffa i ddewis fy nghinio yn awr. Gwasgu rhagor o fotymau ac mae’r robot yn dweud wrtha i am fod yma an un yn brydlon. Dyma’r drefn bob pryd bwyd. Rwyf yn gwasgu “Diwedd” ac mae’r bwrdd yn mynd i lawr i gael ei lanhau erbyn cinio.

Gwasgu’r botwm “Cyfrifiadur.” Allan o’r twll yn y llawr daw’r peiriant. Cyfrifiadur heb fotymau yw hwn. Mae’n medru siarad a dehongli eich llais. “Newyddion” rwyf yn dweud. Dyma’r teclyn yn dechrau. “Dyma’r penawdau. Mil o robotiaid yn mynd ar streic mewn ffactri rocedi yn Manceinion. Plant ysgolion Dyfed yn mynd ar drip i’r blaned Pliwto heddiw. Mae’r Senedd yn cyfarfod heddiw i drafod cael twnel i fobilau o dan yr Afon Hafren.” Gwasgu’r botwm “Diwedd.” Lawr a’r cyfrifiadur i’r twll.

Gwasgu “Fideoffon.” Daw’r teclyn i fyny o’r llawr. Rwyf yn codi’r derbynnydd a rhoi’r camera yn y lle priodol. Teipio rhif fy nghefnder ar y panel arbennig. Aros am eiliad. Gweld ei lun yn ei gartref yn Llundain, yntau hefyd ar wyliau. Cael sgwrs fach gyfeillgar a threfnu mynd i’w weld ar ôl cinio.

Tua 12.00. Mae fy hamddena yn cael ei dorri ar draws gan swn byddarol y fideoffon. Galwad i mi. Rwyf i fod i ddod i ganolfan waith Robotiaid Dyfed lle rydwyf yn gweithio. Mae nam yn y rhaglen waith yn peri i’r robotiaid redeg yn wyllt. Brysio i’r mobil. Gwasgu’r botymau “Ffactri” a “500 kilomedr yr awr.” Dal yn dynn – ac ymhen eiliad rwyf wedi cwblhau’r daith o ddeg kilomedr. Ar ol tri chwarter awr o wasgu botymau, mae popeth yn ei le yn y ganolfan.

1.00. Adre i ginio.

1.30. I mewn i’r mobil. Gwasgu’r botymau “Llundain” a “400 kilomedr yr awr.” Eistedd yn ol yn gysurus a darllen llyfr. Cyrraedd Llundain o’r diwedd, a gweld fy nghefnder. Diwrnod o wyliau i ni’n dau. Prynhawn mewn arddangosfa arbennig o’r enw “Bywyd yn yr wythdegau.” Gweld rhyfeddodau. Dim ond un robot a hwnnw’n lletchwyth a thrwscwl iawn. (O diar, meddyliwch am wneud prydiau bwyd heb help un o’r rhain!) Gweld y ZX81. Mae hwn yn hen ffasiwn ofnadwy, rhes ar ol rhes o fotymau gwirion a dim ond 16k o gof – tegan plant bach yn unig oedd hwn. Ond eto, roedd miliwn o fobl wedi ei brynu – rhywbeth anodd ei gredu.

Ond y rhyfeddod mwyaf oedd teclyn o’r enw car. Bocs enfawr ar olwynion yn defnyddio rhywbeth o’r enw petrol ac yn pesychu hen fwg brwnt ambell waith. Teclyn drud yn llyncu hylif costus. Dillad! Roedd pobl yn golchi a smwddio dillad yr adeg yna. Diolch am ddillad rhad gallwch ei thaflu i ffwrdd ar ol wythnos o wisgo.

Dyna brynhawn diddorol, ond rhaid i bob peth da ddod i ben ac adre a mi dros ail bont Hafren. Galw gyda’r meddyg. Aros o flaen y sgrin fawr a hwnnw’n dweud fy mod yn holliach. Ar ôl cael pryd o fwyd blasus, chwarae gwyddbwyll gyda’r cyfrifiadur. Mae’r gêm yn mynd ymlaen am oriau ond yn y diwedd yr un peth sy’n digwydd tro ar ôl tro – y cyfrifiadur sy’n ennill.

Cael sgwrs a fy robot am holl ddigwyddiadau’r dydd. Bydd y robot yn ei dro yn rhoi crynodeb o’r digwyddiadau i gyd i mewn i lyfr arbennig o’r enw “dyddiadur.” Ar ôl blwyddyn bydd y robot yn rhoi y llyfr hwn i mi i gadw am byth ac efallai rhoi i fy mhlant – pwy a wyr. Cau fy llygaid a mynd i gysgu ar ôl diwrnod prysur iawn. Nos da!

England’s screaming? 3D Monster Maze (1981) and punk auteurism in 8-bit programming

[Meant for an internal Swansea University audience at this stage, but drop me a line, wherever you are, if this sort of thing appeals to you. It’s almost the definition of a work in progress though: please don’t expect much finesse.]

Dr Rhys Jones
Department of Media and Communication // Adran y Cyfryngau a Chyfathrebu
Keir Hardie 206, Wednesday April 26th // Dydd Mercher Ebrill 26ain

This talk will be given in English // Traddodir y sgwrs hon yn Saesneg

How do we theorise a videogame? What importance do we place on its history, genre, narrative or gameplay? In this work-in-progress talk, I explore such questions using one game in particular: Malcolm Evans’ 1981 debut, 3D Monster Maze (3DMM). A silent game programmed for the black-and-white Sinclair ZX81 microcomputer, it has been seen by some as the progenitor of first-person shooters and even survival horror. I suggest that, in examining single-author productions such as 3DMM, it is essential to focus on the nature and context of the tools used in their creation. I tentatively advance the concept of ‘punk auteurism’ as a way to explore the DIY nature of microcomputer programming, and the singular vision of its practitioners. Is this an adequate way to explore the shaping of programs such as 3DMM? Join our intrepid hero as he examines a labyrinthine world of competing theories and methodologies, and attempts to emerge from the maze with his credibility (partially) intact.

Sut fedrwn ni ddamcaniaethu gêm fideo? Pa bwysigrwydd rown ni ar ei hanes, ei genre, ei naratif neu’r ffordd o’i chwarae? Yn y sgwrs hon, sy’n waith ar y gweill, rwy’n ymchwilio i gwestiynau o’r fath gan ganolbwyntio ar gêm gyntaf Malcolm Evans, sef 3D Monster Maze (3DMM), a ryddhawyd ym 1981. Rhaglennwyd hi ar gyfer y Sinclair ZX81, microgyfrifiadur du-a-gwyn, mud, ac fe’i gwelir gan rai yn un o hynafiaid gemau saethu person cyntaf, a hyd yn oed gemau arswyd ‘para’n fyw’. Awgrymaf, wrth archwilio cynyrchiadau un-awdur megis 3DMM, ei bod yn hanfodol canolbwyntio ar natur a chyd-destun y dulliau a ddefnyddir wrth eu creu. Petrusaf wrth gyflwyno’r cysyniad o ‘auteuraeth byncaidd’ fel ffordd i archwilio natur DIY y broses o raglennu microgyfrifiadur, yn ogystal â gweledigaeth unigryw yr ymarferwyr. A yw hyn yn ffordd ddigonol i archwilio rhaglenni fel 3DMM? Ymunwch â’n harwr dewr mewn drysfa o ddamcaniaethau a methodolegau, wrth iddo geisio cadw’i hygrededd yn (weddol) gyfan wrth ddianc.

Just published: The Routledge Companion to Global Internet Histories

Three-and-a-half years and an elephantine amount of effort in the making, Routledge have just published their Companion to Global Internet Histories. Congratulations to Gerard, Mark, Emily and the rest of the editorial team. It looks like a much-needed corrective to the US-dominated field of internet history, and contains some contributions from familiar names (to name but a few: Niels Brügger, Larissa Hjorth, Charles Ess, Goggin and McLelland themselves), other contributions from authors who deserve to become more well-known, and also, a chapter from me.

Mine’s called, in none-more-clickbaity style, ‘Porn Shock for Dons’, taking its name from a memorable Western Mail front page article about an incident that happened at my current employer the year before I became a student there. It mostly looks at the way that the Western Mail, Golwg and Y Cymro conceptualised new media in the early-to-mid 1990s, and the hopes and fears evident in their coverage of the internet and related digital platforms. It was excellent fun to research, and in getting the material together I wheeled my way through thousands of feet of microfilm (the early 90s being the pre-CD-ROM Dark Age), and hundreds of fascinating articles about the information superhighway, at least one of which genuinely and unironically used the term ‘interweb’. I’m not entirely sure I did complete justice to all the material, but the result is now there for you – or, let’s face it at that price, your library – to buy.

Goggin and McLelland’s introduction, available online for free, gives an idea of the scope and ambition of the volume. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many similar projects.

Making the most of the middle-aged micro

There are comparatively few reasons to remember Saturday, February 6th, 1982. No world-changing events, no particularly memorable births or deaths. In the Five Nations, Wales scored a notable victory in Cardiff against France (a fact I didn’t have to look up), beating them 22-12 (a scoreline I did have to check).

Far more significant for me, though, was the object my parents brought back from their day trip to Cardiff: freshly bought from WH Smith on Queen Street, a Sinclair ZX81. It was my first computer, and it’s fair to say it had quite a drastic influence on my life.

The microcomputer, a category into which we can definitely place the ZX81, has undergone a mini-revival in media studies over the past year, thanks to Tom Lean’s encyclopaedic one-volume account of the period, Electronic Dreams, currently at pocket-money price on Kindle, and the first truly British platform studies book, Alison Gazzard’s Now the Chips are Down, about the BBC Micro. Both are excellent and heartily recommended. Today I’m forced to reflect on the fact that, at least by the Biblical definition of threescore years and ten, my interest in computers is now exactly middle-aged, as I suppose, by extension, am I.

It’s too lazy to categorise the recent resurgence in writing about the micro as simply being the product of academics reaching a certain age (and inaccurate too; Gazzard’s book has been five years in the making, and Lean has been researching the field for over ten). Rather, it’s the fruit of a growing realisation that the early-to-mid-80s UK micro boom was a hugely culturally significant event, a definably geographical one – no other country took the micro to their heart in the same numbers – and one which still reverberates today, in kids’ coding initiatives and tiny single board computers.

Yes, Dad, you really should. Go on!

So what of the ZX81, my introduction to computing? I’d longed for one for the best part of a year, my interest being piqued by an article in my dad’s Which? magazine the previous July, talking all about these new-fangled home computers and what people did with them. That, I think, was the first time I saw any computer code in print, and I felt mesmerised by it – a portal into a new age, and something I instinctively knew I could Do Something With.

A sniffy review…

The following month, Which? conducted a group test of about a dozen micros, from manufacturers as diverse as Acorn, Apple and Tandy, but the one that stood out for me was the ‘very cheap’ Sinclair ZX81, at a price of £73 including postage, though with a warning to budget an additional £50 for the extra memory. Turning the page from a mediocre review of the Apple II Europlus at an eye-watering £799 (an early data point in the ‘Jobs tax’ graph), the value-for-money of the ZX81 seemed like a revelation.

In many ways, it was. I wasn’t to know at the time, but the ZX81 was 1981’s successor to Sinclair’s ZX80, its name being taken from the cheap Z80 processor at its heart and its year of launch with, it seems, an X for extra mystique. The ZX80 was sold by mail order for £100, and is a very early example of what Lean calls an ‘appliance’ computer. Before this, micros were the preserve of the hacker, the tinkerer, the maker, the person generally handy with a multimeter and not afraid to get their oscilloscope dirty. As names like the Compukit UK-101 would suggest, they’d usually be built from parts, with components soldered onto the board (or, in the case of one particularly hapless Acorn Atom builder, glued instead). The ZX80, though, was different – designed to be plugged in, attached to your TV, tuned to a spare channel, and to then be ready to use. Slightly less complex than plumbing in a washing machine, and as ready-to-go as a toaster.

What I did find out over the coming months, thanks to Sinclair Research’s blanket advertising campaign, with double-page spreads appearing regularly in my parents’ Sunday Times magazine, was that somehow the ZX81 was cheaper than the ZX80 at a time of high inflation, and contained less than a fifth of the main parts – just four chips, as opposed to its forerunner’s 21. This, I later learned, was due to Sinclair commissioning Ferranti, the UK electronics manufacturer, to combine the majority of its functions into a single chip. Manufactured at volume, it was a significant saving for Sinclair once the design costs had been covered, it meant less to go wrong, and it meant the parent-pleasing ‘very cheap’ price point of £69.95.

I asked for a ZX81 for Christmas. Instead I got some Plastercasters, which I think I enjoyed making, but which were no match for Sinclair’s machine. My parents, realising that their son’s computer obsession was likely to be slightly more than a passing fad, eventually capitulated six weeks later.


I spent some of that time writing variations on the program I’d seen in Which? six months previously: I didn’t fully grasp its algorithm, but could work out the basics, and knew that I could, by tweaking a line here and a line there, make the code my own, a process, I’m sure, replicated in bedrooms up and down the country. It may have been a new world, but to the legions of teens and pre-teens looking in, it felt like theirs to own.

The ZX81 box arrived from Cardiff under strict instructions not to play with it until after school on the Monday. I obeyed, and two long days later plugged the computer into what was then our second TV set, an elderly black and white ITT model, newly usurped by our colour one. I plugged the computer in, moved the tuning button up and down the dial and… nothing. Not the slightest flicker of anything on screen, other than analogue static. Puzzled, my parents phoned our television repairer (an occupation I have intense difficulty in explaining to most of my students: they used to repair televisions?) He’d seen it all before, and said he could come out and modify the set so the computer could be used. Tactically, my parents timed his visit for two weeks later, in the middle of half-term holidays, perhaps anticipating the new computer’s capacity to suck up all my time. After all, early 1982 was still at the tail-end of three channel television, with daytime TV a good four years away, our first expensively rented Granada VCR more than three years in the future, and multichannel simply a pipedream. As far as home entertainment went, a computer attached to your telly was one of the few games in town.

Image from Tynemouth Software

We repeated the process of two weeks previous. Plug in, computer cable to the TV aerial socket, fiddle with the spare button until, miraculously and, to me, entirely unexpectedly, it worked, and a slightly fuzzy white-on-black K appeared in the bottom left of the screen. This was my Rubicon. I wasn’t going back.

[to be continued]

Being wrong, bigly

Marking a clutch of (genuinely very good) student essays on the interrelationship between social media and journalism reminds me of something that happened a couple of years ago.

At the time of the possible Grexit crisis, one of our journalism lecturers, the very-soon-to-be Dr Savyasaachi Jain, saw me in the corridor and suggested, given my interest in Twitter, that he and I collaborate on a paper about Yanis Varoufakis’ use of that social network, because he was harnessing it in a very direct way to talk about policies in a radically open manner.

Don’t be silly, I said, surely this is a one-off. The political animal’s still a cagey, on-message creature. Varofakis is entertaining, sure, but he’s an outlier when it comes to politicians’ future use of Twitter.

I’m big enough to admit that I may have been wrong on that one.

Trwy ddulliau technoleg? (rhan 2)

(Ychwanegwyd, fore Sadwrn: slepjan anferth i fi am anghofio nad oes gan y Pi Zero wifi. Fe ychwanegwn ni tua £1 filiwn at y gyllideb er mwyn adeiladu 400,000 o bethau atodol er mwyn galluogi hynny, a chroesi bysedd…)

Gydag ymddiheuriadau lu i Dylan Iorwerth am ddwyn ei arddull arobryn, dyma i chi Bryfociad 2. Un ar gyfer y #cachathon (neu’r bin sbwriel) yw hwn rwy’n amau, ond ys dywed yr hen ddihareb am y gwybedyn, ‘araf bach a bob yn dipyn…’


Rhyngrwyd y Pethe


1.1. Ers lansio Siri, y system gynorthwyo awtomatig, ar yr iPhone yn 2011, mae nifer y rhai sy’n cyfathrebu a’u systemau cyfrifiadurol trwy gyfrwng lleferydd wedi codi’n sylweddol. Gwelwyd cynnydd pellach gyda lansiad systemau tebyg ar gyfer y cartref: Amazon Alexa/Echo yw’r amlycaf o’r rhain ond ceir nifer o rai eraill o’r fath. Systemau ymateb rhyngweithiol â llais (Interactive Voice Response – IVR) yw’r term ar y systemau hyn.

1.2 Mae nifer (e.e. Jones et al., 2017) o’r farn bod systemau IVR yn fygythiad sylweddol i ddyfodol y Gymraeg ar yr aelwyd. Y ddadl yw y bydd systemau sy’n cyplysu iaith naturiol a deallusrwydd artiffisial yn cael effaith andwyol ar barth iaith y cartref. Os nad yw’r systemau’n medru’r Gymraeg, Saesneg fydd iaith fwy naturiol yr aelwyd. Mae goblygiadau’r shifft ieithyddol hon yn amlwg ac yn ddirdynnol.

1.3 Ystyrir yn yr adroddiad hwn ymgais bosib i wrthdroi’r shifft a ddisgrifiwyd yn 1.2, a chreu Rhyngrwyd y Pethe (term drafft – union eiriad y teitl i’w drafod), sef rhwydwaith Gymraeg o fotiau fydd nid yn unig yn creu dros ddwsin o swyddi yn sir Penybont-ar-Ogwr, ond yn sicrhau ffyniant yr iaith Gymraeg.

1.4 Nod Rhyngrwyd y Pethe yw ychwanegu tua 400,000 at nifer siaradwyr y Gymraeg. Golyga hyn, o ystyried cyfrifiad 2011, y bydd tua miliwn (1,000,000) o siaradwyr Cymraeg o fewn ffiniau daearyddol Cymru cyn diwedd y prosiect.

Manylion technegol

2.1 Bydd Rhyngrwyd y Pethe yn seiliedig ar system Raspberry Pi Zero (a dalfyrrir yn ‘Zero’ o hyn ymlaen). Cynhyrchir y Zero ym Mhencoed, ger Penybont-ar-Ogwr. Cyfrifiadur un-bwrdd (single-board computer) yw’r Zero, a fwriedir fel system rad i hybu prosiectau codio, ‘creu’ a hacio. Cost y Zero, i unigolyn ei brynu, yw £4.

2.2 Fel arfer, llwythir meddalwedd y Zero ar gerdyn SDHC, sy’n gymharol rad ei gynhyrchu, yn enwedig mewn niferoedd mawr. At ddibenion Rhyngrwyd y Pethe, bydd rhaid cynhyrchu cardiau SDHC sy’n cynnwys:

2.2.1 Meddalwedd arferol y Zero (Linux: Raspbian)
2.2.2 Llais synthetig Cymraeg (IVONA/Festival/Festvox)

2.3 At ddibenion y project hwn, bydd angen ychwanegu modiwl sain at y Zero, am mai dim ond drwy soced HDMI y chwaraeir y sain fel arfer. Amcangyfrifir mai tua 25c/uned fydd cost y modiwl ychwanegol hwn (cydran ddrutaf – soced 3.5mm stereo, tua 5c/uned – angen prisio hwn yn fanwl yn y drafft nesaf)

2.4 Amcangyfrifir y bydd angen cynhyrchu 400,000 o unedau Zero, ynghyd â 400,000 uned o’r modiwl a ddisgrifir yn 2.3. Bydd angen 400,000 cerdyn SDHC (8GB yn ddigonol) ac arnynt y feddalwedd a restrir yn 2.2. Cost eu prynu’n unigol fel defnyddiwr: £2.5 miliwn; cost eu prynu’n fasnachol yn y niferoedd angenrheidiol: llai na £2 miliwn

[nodyn drafft: £2 miliwn ar yr ochr uchel braidd, ond gellir mireinio hyn yn y drafft nesaf. gofyn yn y cyfarfod staff nesaf: oes rhywun yn y swyddfa yn gwybod sut i ddefnyddio Excel? Beth yw cost rhaglennu cerdyn SDHC?]

Gweithredu’r Cynllun

3.1 Dosberthir un uned Zero yr un (cyfrifiadur + modiwl sain + cerdyn SDHC) i 400,000 o aelwydydd di-Gymraeg yng Nghymru, fydd wedi cofrestru ymlaen llaw wrth lenwi ffurflen ar-lein. Gall yr unedau gysylltu â di-wi’r aelwyd yn awtomatig (gweler botymau Amazon am esiampl). O redeg y feddalwedd, bydd yn cofrestru’n awtomatig a’r gweinydd canolog, a letyir ym Machynlleth, Powys.

3.2 Bydd proses gofrestru un (1) uned Zero yn adio un (1) at niferoedd y siaradwyr Cymraeg yng Nghymru. Gellir cyfiawnhau hyn yn athronyddol ac yn ymarferol, am fod yr unedau yn cynnwys system leferydd Gymraeg.

[nodyn drafft: rhaid i ni weddïo na weliff unrhyw athronydd go iawn y ddogfen hon. Oes yna ffynonellau fedrai eu darbwyllo? Langdon Winner? Peter-Paul Verbeek? Rhywbeth gan Kittler fel arfer yn gweithio’n iawn, a does neb wir yn ei ddeall e. O ran hynny: Deleuze a Guattari?]

3.3 Bydd y gweinydd a grybwyllwyd yn 3.1 yn cynnwys corpws hanesyddol o destunau safonol llenyddol (sy’n cwmpasu’r ‘Pethe’), mewn ffurf y gellir eu darllen gan y llais synthetig Cymraeg. Deëllir bod system blaen-brosesu/tocyneiddio’r lleisiau wedi bod yn gymharol aeddfed ers tua 2006.

[nodyn drafft: angen trafod union gynnwys corpws 3.3 gydag eraill. angen i adrannau Cymraeg y prifysgolion i gyd gytuno ar destunau Rhyngrwyd y Pethe er osgoi tensiwn yn y dyfodol. hyn yn rhy hunllefus? ysgol brofiad yn dangos bod cael adrannau o’r fath i gytuno â’i gilydd yn peri mân sialensau weithiau. angen creu adran ‘heriau/risgiau’ a gosod y sialens hon yn rhif 1 yn yr adran honno. atebion posibl – cyfarfodydd cyfrinachol? gwell peidio ystyried cyfarfodydd agored: rhy gecrus]

3.4 Yn foreol/nosweithiol, bydd yr unedau, fydd wedi’u cysylltu â seinydd naill ai drwy’r cysylltiad HDMI neu’r cysylltiad 3.5mm stereo, yn cysylltu â’r gweinydd ym Machynlleth ac yna’n dechrau llefaru testun y dydd. Newidir y testun hwn yn gyson.

[yn gyson, h.y. bob dydd? yr un testun dydd Sadwrn a dydd Sul? angen trafod eto, gweler y nodyn ar 3.3.]

Manteision Rhyngrwyd y Pethe

4.1 Ychwanegu at gyflogaeth ardal Pencoed trwy gynhyrchu’r 400,000 uned cychwynnol yn ffatri’r Raspberry Pi (gweler hefyd adran 5.1, a’r unedau newydd fyddai angen eu dosbarthu’n achlysurol yn dilyn prif lansiad y project)

4.2 Cynyddu nifer y siaradwyr Cymraeg i un filiwn, ac adrodd y ffigwr hynny gobeithio ym mhenawdau Cyfrifiad 2021. Byddai gwireddu’r uchelgais hon, sydd wedi bod yn freuddwyd i ymgyrchwyr ieithyddol ers chwarter canrif a mwy, yn holl-bwysig. O lwyddo yn hyn, prin y gellir gor-bwysleisio’r cynnydd wedyn yn hyder diwylliannol y Gymraeg ac, yn wir, Cymru’n gyffredinol. Mae i’r project hwn effeithiau hir-dymor hynod bositif.

4.3 Ychwanegu at gyfalaf diwylliannol y Gymraeg trwy orfodi i aelwydydd di-Gymraeg wrando ar rai o brif drysorau’r iaith, a gwneud hynny’n gyson iawn.

[angen trafod sut y gallen ni sicrhau bod 4.3 yn digwydd go iawn]

Cyllideb Rhyngrwyd y Pethe

5.1 Fel y crybwyllwyd yn adran 2.4, tua £2 filiwn fydd cost cychwynnol Rhyngrwyd y Pethe. Dylid gosod tua £250,000/flwyddyn wedi hynny er mwyn dosbarthu unedau newydd at yr aelwydydd sydd wedi’u colli, eu difetha neu eu bwyta’n ddamweiniol.

[angen gofyn i’r adran gyfreithiol – ai ni fyddai’n talu biliau vet yr aelwyd pe byddai’r ci yn bwyta’r uned? gwell checkio. ychwanegu at y risgiau?]

5.2 Dylid nodi mai cyllideb blynyddol Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer yr iaith Gymraeg, ag eithrio y Gymraeg mewn addysg, yw £6,964,000 (2017-18, gweler tud. 11). Teimlir bod y niferoedd o fewn 5.1 yn cymharu’n eithriadol ffafriol â hyn, yn enwedig o ystyried y manteision o ran cyflogaeth a nodwyd yn 4.1.


[adran i’w chwblhau]