18 again

Not to be confused with Eurythmics’ 17 Again.

There is a science fiction time travel trope/plot (yes, it’s Time Travel Week on my blog) that goes something like this:

The protagonist is sent back in time, put back in the body of their younger self, but while retaining the memories of their present-day self. Shenanigans follow.

I’ve played with a variation of this for a novel or short story where a middle-aged dude (someone probably 50+) gets sent back to the day of their 18th birthday, waking up in their 18-year-old body and then deciding on what to do to change/preserve the future. The hook would have been something like they know they have an incurable disease or some such and have a second chance to try to change the inevitable course of their demise. Something light and fun like that.

I never did write the story, but it’s been rattling around long enough that I wondered how I would handle such a scenario. This would be too personal for a blog entry, but I can give some broad strokes and raise inevitable questions about the whole thing.

Being put back into my 18-year-old body would mean waking up on the morning of September 19, 1982. I’d be in my bedroom in the family home in Duncan, City of Totems®. At this time, my main activity would be attending Malaspina College in Nanaimo in the theatre program. I did share a small apartment with a classmate there, but came back to Duncan for the weekends, because Duncan was still my home and Nanaimo would never be.

The first thought, once I’d checked out my amazing 18-year-old body (it was not that amazing, really, but it was pretty flexible), would be: Once I get out of this bed, anything I say or do or not say or do could drastically affect the rest of my new, second life. I would be a living version of the butterfly effect. That would stress me out for a bit. Maybe a long bit. I have no idea how well people compartmentalize profound, world-changing thoughts like these.

And while all of my present-day memories would be fully intact, I can tell you I remember not a single thing I said, did or thought on my 18th birthday, so I’d have to get good at acting like I totally knew what everyone was talking about really fast. But what would I actually do, once I settled in? What would be my short term plans? Long term plans? Would I just go with the flow and not plan anything different at all? Would I draw elaborate diagrams trying to plot out cause and effect? “If I do X, I will probably never meet Y”, things like that. It’s hard to say without actually magically going back into my 18-year-old body, so my best guesses would be something like these:

In the short term, I’d eat healthier, get more attractive glasses, a haircut, and start jogging regularly (the regular jogging didn’t start until I was in my mid-40s). This would make me look better, feel better and make me more confident. This could potentially change a lot, so it gets really fuzzy after this. I’d finish that first year of college out of a sense of obligation, but knowing I didn’t finish the second year, I’d have to decide whether to preemptively skip the second year or commit to it and see what happens. I’m not sure which I’d do, but lean toward acting preemptively and skipping the second year right away. But then what? Move to Vancouver in 1983 instead of 1986? Maybe!

On a more mercenary level, how could I use my advanced 2024 knowledge to benefit myself in 1982? There are obvious things, like buy Apple and Microsoft stock. I could solve all of my money issues with just a few wise early investments. That would also change a lot.

As for other people, the big one would probably be my dad. He smoked like the proverbial chimney, and it literally cost him his life, via a massive and fatal heart attack in 1991, at age 58. That untimely end would come nine years after I return to my 18-year-old body. Would I be able to convince him to stop smoking before it was too late? I don’t know, but it would probably add a level of anxiety and dread that would undercut everything else, like having a quietly ticking bomb in the background and knowing exactly when it’s going to go off.

Speaking of, at my 10th high school reunion in 1992, I asked an old friend and classmate how his younger brother (who would have been 24 or so at the time) was doing, only to find out he’d died from a brain aneurysm in January of that year. Awkward and depressing. But with this foreknowledge, could I have saved the younger brother by letting him know what was to come? Not to mention, how do you even convince someone of something like this without coming across as a total lunatic? Establish a pattern of correctly predicting the future to prove you’re the real time-travelling deal? Probably. And because I couldn’t bring any fancy 2024 tech back with me, I’d have to rely 100% on my memory. What if I misremembered a “prediction” and got some aspect of it wrong, damaging my credibility? Complications!

In a way, it wouldn’t feel exactly like reliving my past because all of my actions would be constantly altering bits of my previously known future, making them less known and different. That could be liberating, in a sense (a clean slate), but also terrifying. What if something significant didn’t happen, as I’d expected it to? What if it became clear that things were heading in a new and unknown direction, and I clearly had no control over any of it? Would I want to relive all those years (40+) again without being able to mentally prepare for what comes next? If everything comes down to generally unknowable fate, I could end up with a worse life instead of a better one, but it would be even worse than that, because I’d know about the better life I did have, then lost. There’s a classic Twilight Zone twist. All it needs is Rod Serling to come out and pontificate on what a sap I was to leave my known life on the gamble of something better. Be happy with all you have, etc. (Serling died of lung cancer because he, too, smoked like a chimney.)

Still, I’d at least be rich from all that Apple and Microsoft stock. And this time I’d keep my Amiga. And I’d dress at least a little better.

Moving from WordPress, Part 4

This will be a quick one, because it’s just me explaining why it’s been a while since I had an update. Mainly, I have been preoccupied with other more pressing matters and this has taken time away from my search. I’m also increasingly skeptical that any alternative will give me what I want, despite my issues with WordPress, which means I might just stay with WordPress. But we’ll see.

I’ll have a more detailed report in Part 5, in which I will have actually tested write.as, as promised earlier.

A fictional life

Sometimes I feel like my life is just there to provide fodder for my fiction. I wonder how common this is for people writing fiction. Sure, you change the names, maybe the profession if it’s mentioned, but I have cut whole chunks from my life and put them into my fiction, sometimes well-disguised, other times not. Sometimes I just carry the feel (or vibe, as the kids say) over from my reality, not actual details.

I have a feeling I am stating the obvious here, but we all learn things in our own way, at our own speed.

I wonder what fiction I’ll be writing by year’s end. I’m not sure if I want to know, and at the same time am deeply intrigued.

Moving from WordPress, Part 3

I am in a quandary. I thought that researching the supposed finalists would clarify things, but I feel I am no closer now to making a decision.

I looked at what I felt were the two best choices–write.as and blogtastic. They have many broad similarities, not the least of which is an apparent fear of capitalization (or love for e.e. cummings). blogtastic has an advantage in price–at least until April 1, 2024, when their pricing increases.

I was leaning toward blogtastic, partly due to that price advantage, but then I checked its showcase page. And…it’s not good. It’s filled with blogs that have clearly been abandoned, or only ever had a few posts. Only one has a post from 2024. All of them have slow-loading images that draw onto the screen like a JPEG on a Pentium in 1998. blogtastic also features testimonials elsewhere on their site. One writer spoke highly of blogtastic. I click on the link to his site–and it’s very fast! Images load instantly. It’s also running on Ghost. Hmm.

Meanwhile, write.as doesn’t show many examples at all. One is in Japanese, and it looks…OK? It’s hard to get a handle on how sites typically look. To be fair, Matt Baer, who created write.as, does have a link to his own personal blog, and it looks perfectly fine. write.as also lets you have three blogs for its price, which is a nice bonus. The editor is clean, but also very spartan. Maybe a little too spartan. blogtastic leans a little more heavily on what I’d call extra features, like footnotes and things. I love that kind of stuff.

After looking over both, I came away completely unsure on whether either would meet my needs.

Here’s a look at pricing, with Ghost thrown into the mix, as it and blogtastic will be pretty close after blogtastic’s price increase. All prices are per year.

  • Ghost: $108 ($9 per month)
  • write.as: $72 ($6 per month)
  • blogtastic: $49 ($4.08 per month). This changes to $99 if you purchase after April 1st ($8.25 per month)

All three let you do a limited-time trial, so you can test drive each. Since I have no idea how any of these will actually feel in practice, I’m going to do that next.

Part 4 will be my test run on write.as.

Moving off of WordPress, Part 2

In Part 2, I offer some takes on platforms I skipped, summarize my experiences with ones I’ve tested, and offer some alternatives to blogging altogether.

Not for me, but still good

Here are a few sites I skipped because they focus on text over images, though some do support images.

  • Scribbles. This one is still in early access, but the editor is very nice. There are no real themes to speak of, but the whole thing is well-designed and fast. If you just want text, this is a very good choice.
  • Bear (not to be confused with the note-taking app). Comes with some themes, supports markdown and images (as a paid option), but is extremely minimalist. It’s free for basic features and $5 per month/$48 per year for paid (paid covers things that are server-intensive).
  • omg.lol. This is a weird grab bag of stuff for a mere $20 per year. They now include a blog option which is currently in beta, uses markdown, and is the most “to the metal” of the three listed here.

Sites I’ve tried so far

  • Scribbles: If the image support was a little more refined, I might stick with it. I don’t knock it for this, though, it’s not their focus.
  • Bear: Fast and light, but again, image support is not quite there for my needs.
  • Pika: This was on my short list from Part 1 and…it’s so close. Images are constrained to the theme, so you have to right-click and “open image in new tab” to see them full-size. I can understand why it’s set up this way, but it’s just not right for me.

Alternate solutions to blogging platforms

Some of these may seem pretty obvious, I include them, anyway.

  • A journaling or diary app.
    • Pros: Completely offline, entries could be entire books if you are very silly and wordy
    • Cons: It’s for you and you alone, unless you publish your collected writings at a later date. This is also a pro to some people.
  • A paper journal. The pros and cons are the same as the electronic version, with the bonus of never needing electricity or battery power to write, just enough natural light and your favourite pen/pencil/crayon.
  • A note-taking app like Obsidian, Bear or one of the other billion options.
    • Pros: Lightweight, local, fast.
    • Cons: That sharing thing again. But wait! See the next bullet item…
  • A writing app that also lets you publish to the web. Some of these include Ulysses, Mars Edit and iA Writer (the Mac in particular has a lot of options).
    • Pros: An excellent writing environment, and they allow you to share your posts relatively easily.
    • Cons: You still need a site to share to. Also, while the writing experience is often quite nice, once you move beyond that with photos and heavier formatting, the process tends to start breaking down a bit.
  • Dictating into a voice-recording app or voice recorder device.
    • Pro: It’s as easy as just opening your mouth and talking.
    • Cons: Cleaning up the dictation later could prove clunky or messy. You have to decide where to put the transcripts, unless you just want an audio version of your life (which might be interesting!)

For Part 3, I will be doing more research and narrowing down my choices a bit more.

Here is another cat GIF. The cat is industriously working away on its blog, All the Mews Fit to Print.

Moving off of WordPress, Part 1

Back in January I wrote that I was contemplating moving off of WordPress for various reasons.

Back then, I posted four possible options:

  • Keep using WordPress and just shut up about it. It works, right?
  • Actually switch to a WordPress alternative.
  • Stop blogging altogether.
  • Post my cat pictures on Facebook for free (after getting a cat).

I have narrowed down these options to one (and a half):

  • Actually switch to a WordPress alternative.
    • Move some of my bloggy stuff to an offline journal (probably the running/exercise posts)

The next question is: Which WordPress alternative? Because it turns out there are a lot of options. Like, a lot. Oodles. Too many.

But since my needs are specific and known, I can winnow down the list. If your needs are like mine, this might be useful for you, too. If not, there is an animated GIF of a cat at the end of this post.

What I want

My needs (also in the linked post above, but paraphrased here):

  • Blog posts, both long and short.
  • Photos, along with galleries to keep them organized.
  • A general means of blog organization, like categories or tags.
  • An easy-to-use editor that makes me feel warm and fuzzy and want to share with the world.

Pretty basic stuff, really. If I eliminated photos (I will not do this, but let’s pretend), my choices would be nigh-infinite. I could go for one of many super-minimalist blogging sites. But having no photos would also mean no drawings, which are like photos I put together with my hands and brain instead of a camera. This is a dealbreaker. I don’t want to revive my old Flickr account.

That clears out the wide array of minimalist, text-only sites. What’s left? Still oodles!

What I’ve found

Important note: I am omitting blogs that lean into more technical, nerdy skills to set up or maintain, so there's nothing here that installs from a command line or runs from a folder or requires scripting, etc. These follow the flow of:

Write a post  Click a button  Your thoughts are on the internet

Here’s an incomplete list:

And a quick summary of them, with some emphasis on what I’m looking for:

Ghost

This is probably the most WordPress-like, and it takes the most direct aim at WordPress and its features, claiming to be better/faster and, in some cases, cheaper.

The biggest con is that it’s $9 U.S. per month minimum1All prices listed here are in U.S. dollars. This is a lot of money to record my inane thoughts that could just as easily be typed into Notepad for free. You can also self-host Ghost, which is cheaper, but not exactly a simple process.

Ghost does have another notable pro, though–it can import from WordPress, so the nearly 4,000 inane posts I’ve made here could be carried over.

Micro.blog

This is reasonably priced at $5 a month, but has an emphasis on community (not a bad thing if you’re looking for that) and while longer pieces are possible, the focus is more on short, quick posts.

write.as

There’s a free plan, with some reasonable limits, so you can try before you buy (note: as of this post, the free plan is listed as “Closed for now”), and it’s $6 per month after if you pay annually. It supports not just photos, but albums. It has a blog community and supports newsletters, which suggests it has started moving away from its personal blog roots.

Pika

Pika has a free plan that is essentially a trial–you can make 50 posts, and then you’re done. So if you only ever have 50 things to say, you don’t have to pay! It’s otherwise $6 a month. It emphasizes a great writing experience, has some simple themes, and supports images. It’s also really new, as it just launched at the end of January 2024.

Blogtastic

With a name like Blogtastic, you would expect this to be a good blogging platform. It has multiple plans, including Starter for $20 and Expert for $50. Prices are going up on April 1st, though (no foolin’), with new names like Hobby for $50 and Startup for $100. I don’t think the old $20 and new $50 plans match up, though their chart doesn’t make it especially clear.

Anyway, this platform seems to offer everything and has been running for about three years, so it’s still relatively new. It feels like a Ghost competitor and, indeed, they compare themselves directly to Ghost, stating that they are more focused on writing and less on “secondary” things. They claim their gallery management is “robust”!

Posthaven

There’s a $5 per month Founder Plan (good for 10 blogs) and–that’s it! No other options. It keeps things simple. Posthaven bills itself, somewhat weirdly, as “the blogging platform designed to outlive us.” I mean, OK, but I’m not sure if I care much about my blog a hundred years after I’ve departed the Earth for parts unknown.

A major caveat for me is image sizes seem to be limited due to their theming. They mention 800 pixels max, which is tiny and probably a dealbreaker.

Having gone through these, the ones I feel can be eliminated are:

  • Ghost (too expensive)
  • Micro.blog (cheap, but a different emphasis than what I’m looking for)
  • Posthaven (great, until you get to the tiny images)

This leaves Pika, write.as and Blogtastic. Currently, only one offers a free trial of sorts, so I’ll give Pika a test-run and do more research on write.as and Blogtastic.

Coming up in Part 2:

  • Some alternatives I rejected, but are still pretty good
  • Alternate solutions through non-blogging software
  • Probably another cat GIF

Here is the promised cat GIF for this post:

Scrivener has me interested again*

*Technically not Scrivener, but a new writing app from Literature & Latte, the company behind Scrivener. This is kind of old news, because the post I’m quoting from is from October 25, 2023, but I only found out about this yesterday.

(Full post)

Not Scrivener then: something new. But not entirely new. I’d long been toying with the idea of an alternative, more minimal take on Scrivener. This was a chance to create an app pared back to hone in on the principles on which Scrivener was originally built:

  1. Work on a long text by splitting it into smaller sections.
  2. Use an integrated outline for an overview and easy restructuring.
  3. View research alongside writing.
  4. Export or print with the option of changing the document’s appearance.
Description of the new writing app

Unfortunately, it sounds like syncing will once again be tied to only a single service–iCloud–which is only marginally better than Scrivener using Dropbox, and not exactly a logical choice for the planned Windows version.

Still, it holds the promise of offering a lot of what I like in Ulysses (simple, text-focused, but allowing for organization), but in a cross-platform format and (hopefully) without a subscription attached. Ulysses is a good program, but I feel it’s gotten a bit directionless lately, adding somewhat dubious features to justify its sub. And it’s Mac (and iOS) only, which is not optimal for me, since I spend most of my time working in Windows.

I am cautiously hopeful about Scribbler1Not the actual name, probably. It’s allegedly coming out this year, which may seem improbable given previous release date projections, but they claim it’s been in the works for three years, and it is a simpler program, so…maybe!

I have nothing to say

I think my brain is temporarily broken. I’m in one of those weird phases where the more I try to think of something to blog about, the less I can think of anything to write.

I want to be more positive, and that narrows down possible topics because, let’s face it, complaining about stuff is easy and fun. Fun for a time, at least.

Instead, I’ll just post this haiku about not being able to write anything.

A haiku to an absence of words

I sit down to write
My brain shuts off at the thought
Words huddle inside

Charlie Stross’s “We’re sorry we created the Torment Nexus”

This is the text of a talk Charlie Stross gave today (November 10) at the Next Frontiers Applied Fiction Day in Stuttgart. He talks about how science fiction writers influenced many of today’s most powerful tech giants–in all the wrong ways. Entertaining and also a nice section of SF history, dating back to the late 19th century.

We’re sorry we created the Tormet Nexus

Day 2 of National Novel Writing Month 2023

person using macbook pro
The touch typist I never was…Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

And I’ve written nothing because, as previously discussed, I am not participating.

But how do I feel, now that it’s underway, and I’m not taking part?

Pretty ambivalent, really. I’ve done enough of them to know the giddy highs of meeting the daily word count, but also the lows of falling short, or ending up with 30 days of work that would take probably three times as many to fix.

But still, good luck to all who are participating. You can write good novels during NaNoWriMo, I’m just not sure if I ever did.

My final decision for National Novel Writing Month 2023

I will not be participating. I (and you) will have to imagine the terrible novel I probably would have half-finished.

Instead, I asked ChatGPT to describe a scenario where my imaginary NaNoWriMo novel lead to great success. Here is what it said:

In a whirlwind of creativity and determination, I penned a captivating tale during this year’s National Novel Writing Month that took readers on an unforgettable journey. The story was woven with intricate plotlines, compelling characters, and a touch of magic that resonated with readers on a profound level. With every page turned, readers found themselves immersed in a world that felt both familiar and fantastical, a place where dreams and reality collided in the most enchanting way. The novel struck a chord with people from all walks of life, drawing them in with its rich imagery and emotional depth. Word of mouth spread like wildfire, and soon the book became a topic of discussion in literary circles and book clubs. Social media buzzed with excitement, and the novel’s fan base grew exponentially. Rave reviews poured in, praising the story’s originality, eloquence, and ability to touch the hearts of readers. Publishers vied for the opportunity to bring this literary masterpiece to a wider audience. Ultimately, the novel became a major success, topping bestseller lists and garnering awards, turning its humble origins in National Novel Writing Month into a literary sensation that captured the hearts of readers worldwide.

ChatGPT on what could have been

This is nothing short of amazing – Me

This one great trick for writing a novel super fast

white and gray floral ceramic cup and saucer near black typewriter and book
Stock photo sort of related to the article. Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

With National Novel Writing Month approaching in a few weeks and the prospect of having to write at least 50,000 words in a mere 30 days, many anxious writers may be wondering how to write a large volume of words and how to do it fast.

It’s easy, and this one simple trick will do it. Click below to find out!

(imagine you need to click somewhere below, past 5-7 ads, several of which repeat)

One Guaranteed Way to Write a Novel Almost Instantly1The slightly reworked title is to give you a sense of unease, like “Is this the same article? Maybe I should scroll through more ads to be sure.”

(at this point, one of the next three things occurs)

  • The article fails to load, coincidentally forcing you to reload the page and see all the ads again
  • You get to the bottom and to what seems like a story (or is it an ad?) about using AI to churn out reams of text automagically. It’s never clear if this is the article or not.
  • Sandwiched between two busy ads is this single line of text: “Learn to type 500 words per minute.”

Later: Ads about learning to write fast (probably by using AI) follow you everywhere online for the next 6–12 months.