That other time travel story idea, Part 77

I am a sucker for time travel stories. Every time I’ve sworn off writing them, I write another. It’s almost to the point where stating I won’t write any is the actual trigger for writing one.

I’m definitely not writing any more time travel stories.

With that out of the way, why am I such a sucker for them? A list!

  • I am always intrigued by “What if?” scenarios and time travel is the perfect fit for this kind of speculative approach
  • Time travel is bonkers, so you can make up your own rules, then have fun playing around within those rules (bad time travel stories don’t set rules, or break them randomly, which is even worse)
  • It never gets old imagining how screwed-up things will get with time travel, because time travel always screws things up. Think about it–when did you last read a time travel story in which everything went exactly as hoped?
  • I like the Groundhog Day potential to keep repeating a scenario in hope of avoiding a big screw-up. What do you change? What changes will have an effect?
  • Many time travel stories are framed around a very fundamental question: Are you happy with your life? Quite often when the protagonist gets thrust into time travel they make decisions both affecting the world (“Do I try to stop the Kennedy assassination?) and decisions affecting themselves, usually in an attempt to right a wrong, or to otherwise change things they are not satisfied with, be it a failed relationship, a bad career move or something else.

The last point leads me to the time travel story I’ve been mulling over. I have the skeleton, but no real details yet. The skeleton is:

  • Person aged 40-50 (ie, with substantial life experience) gets the opportunity to go back in time, likely to just after they graduated from high school or shortly after, so age 18-20.
  • When they go back, they retain all of their current memories.
  • Once they go back, they cannot come forward again. (Or can they?)

I’m not sure what the rules of this particular universe would be, but I wanted to explore the chance to have a re-do on life decisions, while also examining how your life would feel when you already have knowledge of what’s ahead that spans entire decades. It’s fun to imagine you’d buy up Apple stock in the 80s when it was cheap and be a millionaire in 2015, but would you really do that when you had to live through those 30 years the same as anyone else? Would you grow tired of trying to take advantage of your “insider” knowledge? Would it backfire? How bendable is time?

Actually, I fibbed when I said I only had a skeleton, because one of the unused ideas for this year’s NaNo was based on this exact concept, but the hook was the person being able to travel through time has terminal cancer and tries to use the time travel to rid themselves of it. I never got further than that, idea-wise, and I’m unsure on whether having such a specific hook is a bad or good thing.

But I do want to tackle this particular flavor of time travel sometime. Then future me can read over the story and say, “Why’d you write that?” and I would wittily respond, “It was time.”

Do I need a hook?

There are 10 billion blogs on the internet. And another 200 trillion people who ignore blogs and only pay attention to social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter. These numbers are a rough estimate. I’m not a mathologist or stats guy or whover it is that counts things.

The point I’m making is that there is a lot of stuff to read on the web, and since everyone has a limited time to devote to reading web-based material, we all make choices about what to read and what not to.

Most blogs have a specific focus–that focus draws the reader in and keeps them coming back, assuming the author keeps the posts interesting and has an engaging style, or offers free coupons for beer or kittens. That focus can cover any of 500 quadrillion topics, ranging from writing to film reviews, to making wine to politics, to the question of whether most planets have a core made not of metal, but of delicious chocolate fudge.

My blog has no particular focus. A quick look at the posts per category illustrates this (I’ve excluded categories with a lower than three-digit count):

  • General: 897
  • Jogging: 661
  • Writing: 240
  • Health: 220
  • Book reviews: 191

Who reads a blog for general posts? No one, except for two people:

  • generals who think the posts are about the military rank
  • the author’s mom

General is not a good way to draw people in, unless you have a voice that is captivating beyond all measure, and then you could probably better utilize it than by posting on a blog, anyway.

Next up: Jogging. This could potentially be interesting to, say, joggers, except they’re just posts detailing my runs and are really only interesting to me, with the occasional odd exceptions for bear encounters or spectacular spills.

Writing? That’s something that could be legitimately interesting, but like jogging, I mostly chronicle my efforts (or lack thereof) to write, I don’t offer advice or anything of particular use to anyone not interested in me suffering in a mediocre way for my art. I do have 41 posts on writing prompts, though–but you probably shouldn’t use them.

Health is again like jogging. Do you want to read about me peeing into a cup or having sore knees? Even I don’t want to read about these things, but it hasn’t stopped me from making 220 posts about them.

Finally, we have book reviews. Amazingly (to me) I have posted 191 reviews, which seems like so many I wonder if a semi-evil twin secretly wrote a bunch of them. This could be a draw, the only issue is my tastes are all over the place and I read some pretty terrible, commercial fiction (not always intentionally), so the appeal here would be for someone with an insatiable appetite for any book reviews at all. A limited market, I suspect.

In the end, my blog is really best-suited for me. And I don’t think I could reshape it to focus on a topic that would lure readers in–and why would I want that, anyway? Sure, I like attention (when it’s positive, not “Your fly is down…again”) but I never started this blog way back in the olden days of 2005 with the intention of having an audience. No, for now and into the foreseeable future, I’ll just write for me, keeping this blog as an ersatz journal that happens to be available to all on the web (but usually gets 1-20 visits per day, 20 visits being equivalent to approximately 2.66666666667e-7% of the world’s population).

Oh yeah, writing

December is a strange month. You are forced to listen to Christmas music in every store you go to, the days are short so it feel like it’s dark all the time, everything is directed toward the end of the month and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. People take stock, buy presents, make resolutions. It’s a time to reflect, even though you can do that any time you’d like.

It’s also a bad time to lose weight because people are constantly plying you with sugary, fat-filled goodies. The short days, colder temperatures and general sogginess also discourage one from going out and exercising (hence the resolutions). In general, there is a sense of winding down, of biding time until the calendar flips over to the next year.

For me, it has always been a terrible time to write, for most of the things mentioned above. It’s like the spark that makes me write–a fragile thing most of the time–gets snuffed out all but good until the new year. It’s an excuse, really, just like any other. But it’s also very consistent.

This is a roundabout way of saying I have not yet picked up on my unfinished NaNoWriMo 2018 project. I think about it, I nibble at its edges, but I never fully commit to actually working on it again. And I even have an exciting scene next–a car crash! The only thing better would be a car chase. And dragons. But still, I balk.

I’ll work harder to get moving. If I can start even a modest amount of momentum this month, that will help all the more going into the new year. Excelsior, and all that.

More playing with blocks

In which I explore more of the zany features of WordPress 5.0.

  • Apparently lists are now considered blocks
  • This list is about blocks
  • Blocks tend to be very block-like
  • I don’t think I have anything else to say about blocks

Quotes are also blocks

– Some random blog guy
This is apparently a verse block
So pretend these are profound lyrics to a song you've never heard of
Except nothing rhymes and the meter sucks
[guitar solo]

The above is the five most recent posts block, which you can also see (always) to the right. So kind of redundant.

There are lots of others, but this isn’t as entertaining as I thought, so The End on playing with blocks.

Playing with blocks (in WordPress, possibly with real blocks, too)

WordPress 5.0 has launched and it’s introduced a somewhat controversial change to its editor, moving all discrete elements into blocks that can be moved around all willy-nilly, or perhaps even in an orderly manner. (I’ve chosen the new Drop Cap feature for this opening paragraph, to see how it looks. It seem to only appear in the editor when I am not editing this paragraph…er, block.)

The three main advantages of this over the old method:

  • Provides a more WYSIWYG look. For example, this post is showing the same fonts while I’m in the editor as I’ve selected to display on the site, making it easier to know how things will look.
  • Blocks are easier to move around. Content in the old editor is basically just code dumped into a big file and moving it around has always been a bit messy–not unlike mucking around with Word’s formatting, really–and I’ve often ended up in the text mode view to try to straighten out how things look. Blocks should largely eliminate this.
  • It’s the future! Shiny! New!

So far, I have to say it seems fine for my usual posts, which are just lots of words that go on and on. Doing these posts is only very slightly different than before, and certainly no more difficult, so for now I say ten thumbs up! I reserve the right to remove thumbs as I see fit.

And on the second point mentioned in the title, I’ve always wanted to have LEGO to play with, but really have no space for it. I totally missed out when I was a kid. I’ve still got Minecraft, which kind of scratches the same itch, but with the bonus of not taking up half the living room. Or is that actually not a bonus? Hmm.

Update: The Drop Cap looks totally goofy.

A haiku to the cold

The last few nights it’s dipped below freezing, a reminder that the horrors of snow are possible. Here is a haiku ?celebrating? the cold.

The temperature drops
I forget to wear my gloves
These Popsicle hands

Sour Apples

Putting the premium into pricing

Apple has been raising prices across all of its product lines, most famously with the iPhone X last year, the first smartphone to sell for $999 ($1349 Canadian). This year’s “budget” phone, the iPhone Xr sells for $749 ($999 Canadian).

Other products that have seen significant price increases since 2016:

  • MacBook Pro
  • MacBook Air
  • Mac mini
  • Apple Watch
  • Apple TV
  • iPad Pro

The only product to see a substantial price drop is the base model iPad, which went from $499 to $329 after Apple reverted a lot of the improvements found in the iPad Air 2 to better differentiate the iPad from the iPad Pro. Technically the Mac Pro (see below) has also seen a price drop, but it is dead hardware.

If you look at the above list, you may be wondering what is missing? Here’s the short list:

  • MacBook
  • Mac Pro
  • iMac Pro

The MacBook has not seen any upgrades other than minor processor updates since it debuted in 2015. It has not been updated in over a year.

The Mac Pro was released in 2013 and in 2017 Apple admitted its design was “thermally constrained” (it overheated) and promised a new model…in 2019.

The iMac Pro was introduced a year ago and has seen no updates since then.

Older iPhone models also get discounted, but these are, well, old phones. Apple can’t sell them at the same price as current models, so their hand is forced here.

The argument can be made that Apple is justified in that many of these products have seen more than just incremental updates. The iPad Pro, for example, has smaller bezels and Face ID. The MacBook Air now has a high resolution display. And so on.

But other companies regularly improve products without significantly increasing prices. And a lot of these upgrades are simply Apple catching up to the current market.

The Mac mini, left untouched (including its price) for more than four years was upgrade this year, with the base model sporting an unimpressive Core i3 CPU, a measly 128 GB SDD and at least, mercifully, 8 GB of ram. But these specs rank it is as merely average for a desktop PC, even slightly below (most desktop PCs start with Core i5 CPUs, unless they are specifically budget models, which the Mac mini is absolutely not). Where the base price of the mini was once $499 it has skyrocketed to $799 ($999 Canadian). It’s not a bad system, but it’s a terrible value. Unless you are absolutely wedded to macOS, it makes little sense to buy it.

The Apple watch this year got a 30% larger display…and a 20% increase in price. What was once $519 Canadian is now $649 Canadian.

The so-called Apple Tax has been around nearly as long as the company itself, the idea that you pay a premium price for premium products. Given Apple’s record revenue and profits, it would seem people are happy to pay these premiums. But Apple is now pushing pricing to ever-higher levels, often with little to no justification. The new MacBook Air finally has a high definition display, catching it up to…the entire rest of the laptop market. And for this Apple now charges $200 more ($350 more Canadian). Some people will keep paying, no matter the price increase, because they value Apple’s devices so highly.

But the last year has seen sales of Apple devices either go flat (iPhone), decline (iPad) or decline sharply (Mac). When this happens to a company that wants to keep its revenue steady, they generally do one of two things:

  • cut prices, hoping to boost sales sufficiently to make up for lower revenue-per-unit
  • raise prices, hoping to boost revenue-per-unit enough to offset the lower sales

The first is basically hoping to turn around flat or declining sales, the latter is accepting the declines and trying to make more money from your remaining customers. Apple is taking the second approach, and this is one of the few times I think people saying “Steve jobs would never have done this!” are actually right. He would not have raised prices to simply maintain revenue. He would have pursued new products and product lines. Apple is doing this, to an extent–rumors persist that an Apple car is still in development, for example, but the company seems to be moving away from things to services and counting on them to help keep revenue up. The services range from iCloud storage to Apple Music and the iTunes store. And this part of Apple is growing.

So maybe Apple is content to squeeze as much as they can from their hardware sales, knowing that the established base of devices (100 million Macs, over a billion iOS devices) is sufficient to keep services growing for a very long time.

These apples cost too much

For me, though, everything is just too damn expensive now. I was originally thinking about upgrading my Series 2 Watch to the Series 4, or getting one of the flagship phones. But the prices are just too high. I’ll keep and continue to use the devices I have, but when it’s time to replace what I have, I think it will be easier than expected to extract myself from the hallowed Apple ecosystem.

Here’s a current-gen list of replacements. The ones in bold I already have:

Apple device Non-Apple replacement
iPhone 8 Google Pixel 3
Apple Watch Series 2 Garmin Forerunner 645
MacBook Pro without touch bar Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon
Apple TV 4K Xbox One
iPad Pro 10.5″ No replacement
Apple Music Spotify
iCloud storage/Photos OneDrive

In most cases the replacement either costs less (eg. Pixel 3) or does more (eg. Xbox One). Without even trying, I am already partly ready to make the jump.

Why do I have no replacement for the iPad Pro? Android tablets have never really established themselves (a lot of this can be blamed on Google not pushing the form factor more or doing more to get developers to make tablet-specific apps) and the market has largely been ceded to the iPad. When my iPad Pro is ready for replacement, I’d consider buying a refurb, used or waiting for a sale (not from Apple itself, of course). But everything else is ready for the switch and in a way I’d look forward to it, not just because Apple’s stuff is so expensive now, but because I’m growing increasingly weary of the limitations Apple imposes as it insists it knows better than its users. iOS is particularly bad for this, letting you do things like use different browsers, then having all web links open in Safari, anyway. I’m tired of getting a second-rate experience because Apple wants so much control over my experience. All they do now is largely get in the way.

And the iPad Pro is wonderfully adept hardware, shackled to what is still essentially a phone OS. They added a USB-C port to the newest models, but plug in an external drive to copy files and nothing happens. Apple doesn’t support that, unlike any other tablet out there. It’s silly. And fir this they want you to pay ultrabook laptop prices.

Is the future pear-shaped?

It will be interesting to see where Apple is in a year. During its last quarterly report the company announced it would no longer report unit sales. The tech market, already going bear, did not react well, and Apple’s stock has shed much of its value and has yet to recover.

Some dismiss the decision to not report unit numbers, as Apple is again expecting record revenue in the next quarter, but really, there is only one reason to start hiding the numbers–it’s because they expect them to go down. And they will. I am curious to see where the declining sales and higher prices intersect, and how Apple will react if and when they get to that point. It’s hard to imagine them cutting prices, but it’s happened before. It’s entirely possible Apple will ride out their flat or declining sales with ni major impact to the company’s bottom line. I don’t think that will be the case, though.

We shall see.