English SF/steampunk writer and (Monday-to-Friday) software developer. Love tea, fish & chips, good movies and TV (Fringe, Falling Skies, Game Of Thrones, Grimm, True Blood, Firefly, Farscape, and much more).
I don’t know why last March seems like it was five years ago, but there it is. Probably to do with having The Tangerine Toddler in charge, or something. Whatever.
In any case, it’s now a year – or to be more precise, a year and five days – since this shit got real for me. As I mentioned in an earlier post (from last May, I think), on March 14 last year I went into my local IHOP for breakfast. Anyone familiar with IHOP knows that on weekend mornings that means waiting for a while to get a table; those places were always really popular at weekends.
Not this time.
The place was maybe a quarter full. I walked straight in and was guided to a table well away from anyone else. Looking around, it became plain that all the customers were being seated well apart. The tables were all bare; the usual condiments and stuff just wasn’t there. I ordered steak and eggs with pancakes on the side (because that’s what the P in IHOP stands for, and IMHO there is something not quite right with people that go there and don’t order pancakes). I had to ask for everything – salt, pepper, my choice of pancake syrup, sugar for coffee – and it was all brought to the table in individual containers and bowls.
It was weird. It was the first day that COVID became a real, in-yer-face thing for me. I don’t think we were even wearing masks at that point, it was all so sudden and new. Not long after that, restaurants started closing their dining rooms or at least limiting the number of customers, and we all started getting take-out and using the drive-throughs more.
A year passed. Things happened that I’ve mentioned in prior posts so I won’t mention again right now. Election. Insurrection. More than half a million Americans dead. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers all over (including in government). A bunch of politicians pretending to lick an irrelevant ex-president’s arse for the sake of holding on to the votes of the sad sacks that voted for said ex-president.
Yesterday – one year and four days on from Serious IHOP Day – I got my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. Three weeks on from that, I’ll get the second shot, then two more weeks and I’ll be as protected from the virus as I can be. (No serious side-effects, by the way; my arm aches like hell and I’ve got a headache that’s been making it hard to concentrate. That’s it.)
So… four years of hell, of which the last year has been even more hellish because of having this virus laid on top. But at least the last couple of months have been more bearable, and knowing the vaccines were coming gave a sense of hope. And now, here it is. Enough vaccine for everyone. Just a matter of getting it into arms, and those logistics are improving too.
People are still dying, but the sooner we can get everyone vaccinated the fewer deaths there will be. That’s small consolation, I know, but it’s what the previous administration left us with.
My biggest worry is that the deniers and the anti-vax crowd will cause us to not reach herd immunity like we have with other vaccinations like flu and measles. If that happens we might well have to carry on wearing masks and there’ll be an increased chance of a new, vaccine-tolerant variant coming along. But as they say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Maybe some of the deniers and antis will realize they’re being selfish and they’ll do the right thing for the sake of others. Maybe that’ll be enough to make the difference. Normality is possible – but I think it’s going to take all of us to make it happen.
I thought I’d be ready to light some fireworks in my yard, open champagne (even if noon ET is 10am here in Colorado), and let down my short, grey hair a bit.
I don’t feel that way. At least not quite yet.
More than that right now I just feel like Sam at the very end of Lord of the Rings, when he finally gets home and says, “Well, I’m back.” Then he goes inside, cracks open a can of beer, puts his feet up, and takes a deep and well-deserved breath. (Ok, I might have imagined that bit.)
The point is, at this moment I feel nothing more than just plain exhausted. The last four years have kept me, and I’m sure many of us, just stressed out for every waking hour. I don’t think I realised just how much this term has taken from us – how much of our souls it leached away bit by bit. Until now. Until “president” Trump left the White House for (I hope) the last time. And now it just kinda hit me just how much had been stolen.
(By the way, were the Trump kids actually crying on the tarmac at Andrews? Had it finally hit them that daddy didn’t give them pardons so they’re probably going to prison? Karma’s a bitch, kids.)
So, exhausted; but also relieved and hopeful for the future. I’m watching the preamble to the inauguration right now (it’s about an hour away; Pence and his missus just appeared). I’ll watch the proceedings then I’m taking a break, then I’ll start getting back to some kind of normal. I feel the stress easing even as I write this. But there’s a lot of stress, and I think it’s going to take a while for it all to go away. Days, maybe even weeks. We’ll see.
The objective of Wednesday’s awful events in DC was, I assume, to try to get Congress to overturn the results of the election in Trump’s favour.
I have questions.
How did breaking into the Capitol by smashing your way in through the windows advance that objective? How did walking off with the House Speaker’s podium advance that objective? How did breaking into lawmakers’ offices and vandalizing them and stealing envelopes and laptops and tablets advance it? How did shitting on the floor and tracking feces around the building advance it? How did the loss of five lives advance it?
If the point of the exercise was to make your voices heard because you lost and got a sad when you think you should have won, running rampant around the Capitol was almost certainly not the best plan.
As far as why you did what you did, I’m still at a loss to understand some of you.
One guy on TV saying that Biden will take our freedoms away. Which freedoms, exactly? Gun rights? No-one in Biden’s circle has suggested that Biden will repeal the Second Amendment. In eight years of Obama, plenty of gun nuts went on and on and on about how Obama was coming for their guns – and yet today they still have their guns. Because Obama swore an oath to defend the constitution, second amendment and all, and he did just that. Not once in those eight years did Obama or any of his people suggest repeal. But these crazies are still, even today, saying that “Libruls” are coming for their guns, with zero evidence.
If it’s not gun rights you’re on about, then which rights, exactly? There is no Law Of Conservation Of Rights. You do know that, right? There isn’t a thing that means that women having more rights, or people of colour having more rights, or anyone else having more rights, means that privileged white male assholes like you end up with fewer rights. You understand that, right?
So are you talking about the rights Trump gave you by acting them out himself? The right to be fascist, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic bigots? Those rights? In that case, yeah, you’re gonna lose those rights. Suck it up, shit-for-brains.
One woman was going on about how Biden is going to turn the country into a Socialist Republic. She was screaming about it, almost crying about it. She was terrified by the thought. And yet she almost certainly has no clue what a socialist republic actually is.
(She’s probably worried that we might get healthcare like every other developed country in the world has, that isn’t run by insurance companies that are happy to let you die if it saves them a buck. Because Americans love to be ripped off by insurance and drug companies, it seems.)
It probably didn’t occur to her that to make any serious change to the way the country is run would mean tearing up the constitution (not that Trump wasn’t tearing up the constitution – but he was doing it incrementally, a bit at a time, maybe hoping most people wouldn’t notice). And Biden has said not one word about doing any such thing. His plans? Fix the economy Trump broke; get us through the pandemic; do something about climate change. That’s it. I don’t see “make the USA a socialist republic” on the checklist.
Some of the insurrectionists gave the impression that they thought they were doing the right thing. They were saving the country and that made them heroes and patriots and we’d thank them and they wouldn’t have to face any legal consequences. (I still don’t see how tearing up offices and smearing shit all over makes them heroic patriots; maybe I’m missing something.)
So where do these people get the crazy ideas?
Well, that’s obvious: Social Media. Some people start Facebook groups and the like, spouting the crazy. Other people, without the skills to spot silly BS, see it and begin to believe it and little by little get radicalized. Liberals are the opposition. Liberals are evil. Liberals are doing evil things. The groups talking this stuff turn into self-isolated bubbles, echo chambers, circle jerks where the crazy ideas get spun up like protons in a particle accelerator, whizzing round and round, faster and faster, and there’s no truth coming in from the outside to temper things. The music goes round and round and it comes out here: before you know it, you have people believing in insane ideas like pedophile rings being run out of pizza shop basements, and men in black coming for the guns, and someone turning the country into a socialist republic.
And this was guaranteed to happen from the day the first social media sites or even bulletin board systems were set up. The people that created those – computer nerds like me – almost certainly thought they were a cool idea. They probably assumed that users were like them; basically sensible, level-headed, ordinary.
But real people in the real world aren’t like that. If you use any kind of social media you’ve seen what real people are really like. Many of them are vile, violent, and just plain stupid. And it should be no surprise at all that we got the echo chambers, the bubbles, the circle jerks.
I don’t have a real problem with conspiracy theory nuts in general. Someone wants to believe in UFOs or The Bermuda Triangle or that Uri Geller can bend a spoon with his mind? Fine. They want to say that the government knows the truth about these things and keeps it secret? Ok, I guess. The problem comes when the nuts decide it’s time for action: break into Area 51 and find the UFO parts, storm the Pentagon and find the proof of the alien conspiracy. We need to find a way to stop things getting out of hand.
How do we fix it? I have no idea. Maybe giving people a basic education in critical thinking, at least so that they can spot obvious BS, might help. Maybe the only answer is to shut down all social media systems, write them off as a bad idea, and vow to never build another one for the sake of everyone’s health. But I’m no expert. Like I said, I’m a computer nerd, but this isn’t a computer problem and it’s not going to be fixed by computer scientists working for Facebook or Google or anyone else. This is a social psychology problem, and one to be looked at by experts who know what the hell they’re talking about.
But I think we have to do something. Because if we don’t, I think we’re headed down a road where what we saw happening at the Capitol becomes something that could happen any time some misinformed, misled group of vulnerable, undereducated people thinks they need to take action.
After being curious for a while about getting a VR headset to play some games, the other day I decided what the hell, and I bought an Oculus Quest 2. Now, before I say more, this is NOT a review. For one thing I’ve only had the thing since Tuesday, so not even forty-eight hours, and in any case this is the first VR headset I’ve ever used, so I don’t feel qualified to go into any real depth. But here are my first impressions.
So the very first impression was the one related to the fact that you MUST have a Facebook account to use it. Meh. That kinda sucks, because I was planning on deleting my account in the not-too-distant future. I guess I’m locked in now. Oh, well.
And you also need a smart phone, because it seems you have to use the phone app to finish setting up. Okay, whatever. And of course you’ll need wifi, but that should go without saying.
But the next impression was the one I got when I’d finished setting things up and, headset on, I went into the virtual environment that serves as a Home Page.
Oh. My. God.
The default environment is called Desert Terrace and it’s gorgeous. But I wanted to see what else there is so I checked the settings and found Space Station.
That video doesn’t do it justice, because it’s two-dimensional, but you experience it in full, technicolor, mind-blowing, 3D. You don’t just see that room. You’re in that room. And it’s a huge room, and you wish you could literally walk outside the confines of the real-world room you’re in, and stand next to a window and drink it all in. Then when you turn around and look at that saucer-shaped section of the station… it’s as real as anything virtual could be. That damn thing looks like it’s five hundred feet tall. It’s breathtaking. I expected a VR world to be somewhat convincing but I wasn’t prepared for just how damned real it all seems.
And this is just the home, um, page, or whatever you call such a thing. I haven’t even got to the games yet.
Quick note – you don’t need a PC or anything to play games. The Quest is a standalone unit and you can just download games from the Oculus store. You can hook up to a PC, though, and that gives you access to more content, such as VR games on Steam (which I’m planning to try soon, since I already have No Man’s Sky, Obduction, and a couple other games that have VR support on my Steam account).
It comes with a couple of apps built in, in particular the First Steps app that gets you started using the controllers and such. The built-in shooting game that’s part of that is pretty good fun, and I’ve fired the app up a couple of times just to go and play that again.
What does surprise me a bit is that a $400 piece of equipment (that’s for the 256Gb version – the 64Gb model is $300) doesn’t include a premium game or two bundled. My old Wii did. Oculus doesn’t.
So off to the Oculus game store to spend a bit of cash. Games typically run $25-$30. So far I’ve bought Vader Immortal Episode I, Moss, and Beat Saber. I haven’t touched the first one yet other than spending ten minutes in Vader’s Lightsaber Training Dojo – which left me needing to sit for five minutes to get my breath back – so I can’t comment yet. Moss is just incredible. And Beat Saber is addictive and a great way to get a little exercise in the age of COVID-19 and Colorado forest fires (I’m just a few miles from the Cameron Peak fire, and right now it’s so dark outside because of all the smoke above town that you wouldn’t know it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon; Pompeii must have looked something like this right around the time Vesuvius went up):
I’m not going to say much about those individual games. There are plenty of reviews on YouTube, and nothing I can add.
I have a handful of games in my wish list – The Room VR, Red Matter, I Expect You To Die, and a couple of others. I’ll see about buying one or two of those once I’m through Moss and Vader.
So to sum up: I think the Q2 is definitely worth the cash, and it’s easy enough to set up that it’s a great starter VR headset if you’ve never tried one before.
That’s it for now… stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and for the sake of all that is good, VOTE.
It’s been a horrible couple of years. My wife was ill, getting worse by the week. Then came the divorce. A year after that… well, if you’ve read the previous post, you know.
It affected me far more than I realized at the time. I was acting a little crazy for a few weeks. I won’t go into details because I did things that seemed logical at the time but in hindsight were bad choices and frankly embarrassing; I’d rather forget.
Blogging, writing of any kind at all, became impossible. For a while I wasn’t even up to getting out with a camera. I wasn’t taking proper care of myself.
My best friend mentioned counseling and I decided maybe that would help. And it has, most definitely. Things are getting back to normal – a new normal, since so much has changed, but the fact that I’m able to write this right now shows that things are improving. I’m glad I didn’t try to tough it out alone. Lesson learned: Never be afraid to seek help when you need it. You can’t do everything on your own – especially when your logic itself is compromised.
That’s enough about that for now. I might write more about it in a future post, maybe.
About that plan to go back to the UK
The plan’s on hold for a good while. I realised that I’m really better off here in the US, at least for now. I have my own house, my own cat, a damn good job that I like (and hasn’t been affected by COVID), and other things. Moving back to the UK isn’t the best thing for me, to be honest – and in any case what with Brexit, and BoJo the Killer Klown From Outer London in No. 10, the UK isn’t a great place to be right now. I’ve applied for US citizenship (but I’ll be a double agent, since I’m not planning on giving up my UK citizenship; I do have family in England, after all), which will mean that after paying taxes and Social Security for more than twenty years I’ll finally be able to vote, among other things (no taxation without representation my arse). I was misled years ago, told that becoming a US citizen automatically meant losing my UK citizenship. Not true, but I believed it and didn’t think to check into it myself, for which I’m kicking myself. On the assumption that this country is still having elections by the time I’m a citizen, and hasn’t become a banana republic with Trump as dictator-for-life, at least I’ll be able to stand up and be counted in future.
Single old gits in the time of COVID
It’s more than a little weird rattling around on my own (apart from the cat) in a house big enough for four. COVID-19 makes it all but impossible to justify getting out. I can take a walk in any number of natural areas and parks in the area (subject to social distancing), and like anyone else I do have to go shopping (masks are mandatory in stores by county ordinance, although there are still shit-for-brains assholes taking their masks off as soon as they’re through the door). But socialising and meeting other people IRL, eating out, going to see a movie, bowling, browsing a bookshop, visiting a museum, etc., aren’t options.
It all makes getting back to anything kind of normal – even a new one completely different from what I’ve been accustomed to for the last couple of decades – very difficult.
But it has its up-sides. Among other things, limiting how often I get to eat at a restaurant (to zero, actually – I haven’t had a sit-in meal since April) or get take-out (I treated myself to Olive Garden for my birthday, which was the first take-out I’d had in at least two months) has meant that I’ve been cooking and eating at home. And being single again has meant going back to cooking for one, which has been something of a challenge. It would be very easy to live on hotdogs and cheeseburgers and nachos and tacos and cheese fries and all those wonderful, yummy grease-bombs. But I decided early on to try a little harder to eat things that are at least a bit better than that, and as a result I eat fish and chicken instead of rib-eye and ground beef, and try to include some green veggies when I can. Here’s one thing I’ve been making for myself on occasion: Chicken & Spinach Alfredo Bake (with optional homemade Alfredo Sauce):
Makes about 16floz, takes five minutes. (floz = fluid ounce, by the way. American cooks tend to measure by volume rather than weight.)
1½ cups (12floz) heavy cream (double cream in the UK)
2 cups (16floz) shredded Parmesan (that’s probably about 4-5oz by weight, and also note the stuff you buy pre-shredded might not melt properly so you’re better off getting a chunk and grating it yourself)
(Edit! – I forgot this…) A tablespoon or two of Italian Seasoning
Put the butter and cream in a non-stick saucepan and bring to a simmer (don’t boil) for two minutes, stirring continuously.
Add the Parmesan (and Italian Seasoning) and stir until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat.
Voila, Alfredo Sauce.
Chicken & Spinach Alfredo Bake
Easily enough for two, maybe three. Takes about an hour including bake time.
About 1lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut across the grain into ¼-inch slices
14oz can leaf spinach, drained
16oz Alfredo Sauce (see above, or just buy a jar – saves time and money, but not as good as homemade)
1¼ cups (10 floz) (uncooked) pasta of your choice – medium shells work well, also Trompetta
4oz (weight) shredded Italian-blend cheese (I use ready-shredded store brand, works fine)
Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Get a big pan of water boiling for the pasta, then throw that in. Don’t add salt. You want it al dente, since it’s going in the oven anyway and will finish off in there – for shells that means about ten minutes, for Trompetta a little more.
About five minutes before the pasta’s ready, get a frying pan or skillet medium-hot, throw in the chicken, toss it around until it’s white on all sides, no pink showing.
Drain the cooked pasta well, throw in the chicken (drain off any liquid in the pan), Alfredo Sauce, spinach, Italian cheese (and some Italian Seasoning, if the sauce doesn’t already have any). Mix well. Tip into a baking dish (I use an 8-inch square Pyrex dish) then bake for 30-35 minutes. It should be getting brown on top and the sauce should be bubbling. If you like it a little browner, give it an extra five minutes.
Let stand for a couple of minutes before serving. Eat. Om nom nom.
That’s all for now
Watch this space. Take care of yourself and those you care about, wash your hands, wear a mask, and for the sake of all that is good and holy, VOTE.
May 14, 2020 will mark exactly one year since I was divorced. Yeah, I know, I didn’t write anything about that here until now; mostly because Kate hadn’t mentioned it to anyone besides close family, and neither had I. But then she started posting hints about it on Facebook, and after a while the whole thing was pretty much public knowledge. All the same I wasn’t that comfortable about telling the world. Until now, I guess, with it being the one-year anniversary (bad choice of word?) and all.
So, reasons: I’m not going into details; it’s still a bit personal for both of us. Suffice to say it was mutual, amicable, and didn’t involve adultery or anything like that. (There is, however, a Nigerian romance scammer involved. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.) And she divorced me, if that matters at all.
In fact, we’re still living in the same house. That might sound a little weird until I mention that Kate has had worsening health and mobility issues that make it pretty much impossible for her to take care of herself. Since no-one else could be bothered to step up and help out, that left me as the only caregiver in sight. I don’t like it—under different circumstances I’d have taken off back to England months ago—but I can’t just abandon a disabled woman to fend for herself. I can’t go anywhere until I know she’s safe, with a roof over her head and someone to take care of medical needs. That means I’m going to be here for a while yet.
Along Came COVID-19
…and that’s just made things a lot more difficult. Kate’s had a few incidents (falls and such, mostly, but also a couple of pretty bad infections) that have put her into hospital several times over the last couple of years. And she happened to be in hospital when people in the US began to realise that COVID-19 isn’t the nothingburger that the lying orange sociopath in the White House, and his hangers-on and cronies, want everyone to believe. It’s serious. It didn’t really hit me until one Saturday morning when I decided to treat myself to a steak-and-eggs breakfast at the local IHOP, and found myself in a place about a quarter full (on weekends the place is usually filled and with a long line of people waiting for seating), and having coffee, condiments, and pancake syrup brought to my table in individual containers. And then they restricted visiting hours at the hospital, and started checking my temperature when I went in. Then they stopped allowing visitors altogether.
They brought Kate home Friday before last, and since then I’ve had to be extra careful with social distancing, mask -wearing, hand-washing, and all the rest. Not so much for me—although I’m more than a little worried about some of the nastier effects the virus is reported to have—but more for Kate, since in her weakened state it could very well prove fatal if she were to get it. Which is why I get more than a little bit angry at some of the things I’ve seen when I’ve had to go out for supplies. For example…
The prat who argued with a store greeter when he tried to go in through the out door, not wearing any kind of face covering despite the signs pointing out that it’s a county ordinance, and said greeter stopped him (I honestly thought a fight was about to break out, and I’m real glad the idiot wasn’t packing);
The young couple who had masks on to get into the same store, then immediately removed them as soon as they were inside—and who then proceeded to giggle at everyone around them as if it was a huge joke;
The store staff who saw them do this and didn’t challenge them or ask them to put the masks back on;
The guy who stood two feet behind me waiting for the pet food store to open, and got all shirty when I asked him to please keep his distance;
And various assorted meat-heads who plainly think that wearing a mask is uncool or projects weakness or some other bullshit. They’re likely to be finding out how cool they look in a ventilator, or a casket.
Any one of these shit-for-brains could be infected and not know it, and pass it to me so that I end up getting Kate infected, with potentially tragic consequences. Hence, extra care and making trips to the stores only when absolutely necessary. I’ve wondered about getting a t-shirt made with the message, “HIGH-RISK PERSON AT HOME—PLEASE WEAR A MASK AND KEEP YOUR GODDAMNED DISTANCE”.
On The Writing Front
Most things writing-related have gone to pot the last couple of years. Dealing with the divorce and then having to act as caregiver for my ex, on top of holding down a full-time job (I’m one of the lucky ones in that respect; I’ve worked at home for a number of years so I’m used to it, and I still have a job and I can still pay the bills), leaves zero time for more creative pursuits. I’ve been able to scribble down a lot of notes for story ideas and such, but I need focus time to be able to carry those ideas further, and simply put I don’t get that free time any more. In fact I get very little free time at all, and when I do I’m usually too tired to brain and end up watching TV. That will change, eventually, but it could be quite a while.
(Incidentally, I also paid for Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass—which I heartily recommend and I found to be worth every penny.)
My publisher has all but closed up shop due to illness (no-one ever bothered to tell us, the writers, about that until relatively recently). Which explains why my copy editor was in touch less and less often, even though we’d got four or five chapters into editing the draft of Artemis. So even though technically that script is under contract, the fact that not a stroke has been done in at least eighteen months is, I think, good enough for me to ignore said contract. So at some point—after my situation has stabilised a bit—I’m planning on paying a professional editor to work with me on Artemis and Phantasms with a view to getting them both self-published. (I’ve had it with trying to find an agent. I hawked Phantasms to twenty or thirty agents, and although several had nice things to say about it, the answer was still no. Life’s too short. I’m good with self-pub.)
And once I’ve got those scripts moving—or possibly even in parallel with that—I want to get writing again. As I mentioned, I have a number of ideas but there are one or two in particular that I really like, and would very much like to develop.
And On That Note
…I had a list scribbled down with all the topics I wanted to cover in this overlong post, but I can’t lay my hands on it and I know there was something else. No matter. That’s one thing about a blog—if I remember it or find that list, I can write another post tomorrow.
So until next time, gentle reader: Stay safe—wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, and check in again soon. I’ll be trying to post more frequently from now on.
I’ve had my reMarkable for about eight months now and I’ve been meaning to write a review for a while. The time has come. Just recently there was a major firmware update that included extensive changes to the user interface, so now is as good a time as any.
So what is this reMarkable, anyway?, I hear you ask. I could say it’s an electronic notepad, but that wouldn’t do it justice. A better description might be: Does for paper notebooks what e-readers do for books. You write on it, just as you would a paper notebook. You keep your pages organised in notebooks – as many as you like (think of each notebook as a file) – and those in turn are organised into folders. Folders can have sub-folders just like on a computer.
I used to have ten or more notebooks scattered around my desk. Each notebook was intended for a specific purpose – one for household finances, another for to-do lists, three or more for notes about day-job projects, another for story ideas, and so on and et cetera.
Paper notebooks fill up, so I had to start new ones and keep track of the old ones because there would be things in those that I needed. I’d get phone calls and need to scribble down a phone number or an address or an account number or something, and invariably I’d grab the closest notebook regardless of what it was supposed to be used for. Keeping track of them all was a nightmare, and trying to find any specific note I’d made became all but impossible.
My reMarkable fixes those problems. All my notes are on one device, in as many notebooks as I need (at the moment I actually have about a hundred individual notebook files spread across maybe thirty or forty folders and subfolders, and that takes up about 750Mb of the built-in 8Gb storage). If I need to make a fast note of something (a phone number, a name, a story idea) I can pop open a new Quick Sheet and do that. I can move that single page into the right notebook afterward. I can reorder pages within a notebook, duplicate pages and move the duplicate copies into other notebooks, as needed. Pages or whole notebooks or even folders can be deleted when I don’t need them any more. Individual pages or complete notebooks can be sent by email (the device needs a WiFi connection for cloud backup, email, etc. Obvs.)
As to the actual writing, it has a provided stylus (no batteries required – it’s powered by induction, or something, when the tip is in contact with the tablet surface). The designers have taken pains to make the thing feel much more like writing on paper with a pencil than on a sheet of glass with a ballpoint pen. It even sounds like writing on real paper. I’ve never seen any lag – it keeps up with me no matter how fast I move the stylus. It’s a joy to work with. The writing surface is a little over ten inches (diagonal measurement, of course). Although that’s smaller than a regular letter- or A4-sized pad, I find it to be a comfortable size. I strongly recommend taking a look at the videos on remarkable.com, which can give you a far better idea than me trying to describe it. (Note: those videos probably show the older user interface, but the important things function in much the same way.) You can navigate between pages by swiping the screen left/right or using the buttons in the lower corners.
About the “tools”: It can emulate regular and mechanical pencils, a ballpoint pen, a fine-liner, a paintbrush, and a couple of other things. Most tools have three width settings and three shades – black, grey, and white. Some tools produce thicker lines based on pressure and/or tilt so you can use reMarkable as a sketchpad, within limits – it has layers that can be reordered, for example, but there’s no flood-fill tool, and of course it’s all black-and-white. PhotoShop it is not. But you can select a chunk of a page then move it, duplicate it, rotate it, and scale it. Which is pretty damned cool, I can tell you.
You can also convert your handwritten notes to text (it actually does a surprisingly good job of recognising even my horrible spider-scrawl) which can be cleaned up as necessary and emailed out.
There are companion apps for Windows, Android, and (I think, but check the web site) Apple devices. They allow you to see your notebooks and folders and rearrange things, as well as letting you import PDF and eBook files which you can then read directly on the reMarkable. Oh, and you can scribble on those PDFs and eBooks, too, to mark things or add your own notes.
It is not a tablet – you can’t install apps, and there’s no web browser, so there’s no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or anything else. It’s touted as distraction-free because it won’t keep dinging you to tell you have mail or messages or tweets. The only notifications you’re likely to see are to tell you there’s a firmware update to be installed, and that doesn’t happen too often.
I love my reMarkable, and no mistake. But is it all good?
Like anything else, it does have some negatives. There are a handful of things I wish could be fixed or improved. So:
First, let’s talk about price. It’s come down some since I bought mine, but you’re still looking at $500, which is a chunk of change. But it is a high-tech piece of equipment – fast CPU, 8Gb memory, plus the big e-ink display – so maybe that’s justified. (I should mention here: There are financing options that’ll let you pay for it over up to twelve months. And there’s a thirty-day return policy, in case you buy and don’t like.)
Some of the features can be a little tricky to find; for example the other day I wanted to change the template of a page from “narrow lined” to “blank” (i.e. no lines or grids – there are a bunch of these templates built-in) and it took me a while to figure out where that setting is. The real solution is RTFM, I guess.
Then there are the stylus tips. They wear down pretty quickly – especially when banging out a couple of dozen pages of story notes. That wouldn’t be so bad but they run $12 for a box of eight (which includes a little tool to grab the things, which I find totally unnecessary and could do without, since I manage very easily with just my fingernails). And they ship all the way from Hong Kong, so you’re looking at up to ten days to get them delivered. Best to order a bunch and in plenty of time before you run out.
Battery life is sort-of good – easily a couple of days even with pretty heavy use (I use mine every day, for at least an hour most days). What’s surprising is that the battery seems to run down almost as fast even when the unit’s sleeping. I don’t understand why that is. Maybe it’s just me. It does charge up pretty quickly, though.
Don’t bother with the slip case (they call it a folio, but it isn’t). It’s $80 and it’s not worth it. You can’t use the device while it’s in the case, so you run the risk of leaving the case somewhere and forgetting it. It doesn’t even have a hole for the charger cord – so you have to leave the thing out, unprotected, while charging. I found several folio cases online, designed specifically for reMarkable, at prices from $15 to $25. The one in the photo above cost me $20 and it’s awesome.
In Summary: I love my reMarkable. I use it all the time, for all kinds of things, and I don’t know how I’d manage without it. I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’re like like me-nine-months-ago and have a desk covered in notepads but can never find the one you need when you need it, I think you’d really like the reMarkable.
The Acer has lasted very, very well but over the last few months it’s become plain that it’s just not up to the work I ask it to do. So a week or so ago I decided it was time to go bigger, better, stronger, faster. After shopping about a little bit I decided on the Lenovo Yoga C630.
There’s very little actually wrong with my old Acer. As I said, it’s getting on for three years old now and in all that time it’s given me zero problems. Unlike other tech (such as my phone) the batteries still hold charge well; I can still stream Netflix, etc. for ten hours straight on one full charge. It doesn’t crash. Ever. Despite a couple of mishaps – as evidenced by a scratch or two – the case (plastic) is still in one piece. Hinges are still solid. In fact the only physical problem with it is that the left Shift key is a little bit sticky. Overall, given that it only cost $180 I’ve been really pleased with it and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a low-cost entry-level Chromebook. (They’re still available and these days cost $150 or less.)
No, the main reason for the upgrade is that as time’s worn on I’ve been relying more and more heavily on the Chromebook – for example I use it for online bill-paying as well as email, writing documents, and more – and it’s got to where it just not up to it. It has only 2Gb RAM, which for regular stuff is adequate but when I have two or more accounts signed in with browsers open (as I often do) it starts to suffer.
I’ve also noticed that web sites (news sites, mostly, but also others) are adding more and more ads and subscription popups and all kinds of other junk, and now in addition will spot and complain about ad blockers, so if I want to actually read the news I have to disable the ad-blocker which then cripples the downloading and rendering to the point where some sites just become unusable. Add to that the new features of Chrome that are going to add more load (such as the new Virtual Desks) and a low-end unit like the Acer isn’t going to keep up with what I need.
So let me talk about the Yoga. First, price: $700. That’s a chunk of change but not so bad when you consider that there are ‘books out there for twice that. Physically it’s about the same size as the Acer; same screen size at 15.6″, and it seems to be slightly thinner. Aluminium case instead of plastic. The keyboard itself seems a little more solid; the keys feel distinctly more positive, but maybe that’s just me.
The real differences – the ones that really matter to me, anyway – are inside, though. Where the Acer has a dual-core Celeron running at 1.6GHz, the Yoga has a quad-core hyperthreaded i5 CPU (i.e. eight threads vs two) that can burst at up to 3.4GHz. And you can see the difference – pages load much, much faster (noticeably faster than my Windows 10 laptop). RAM: 8Gb, or four times the Acer; Disk space (yeah, I know, it’s not actually a disk): 128Gb compared to the Acer’s 16Gb. The battery looks like it can go about twelve hours between charges.
There are other things you’re getting for the higher price tag. Touch screen. USB-C connectors, if that floats your boat (to me they’re just connectors, but as they say, “Ok, Boomer”). And it’s “multi-mode”: use it like a laptop, or in stand mode, or tent mode, or fold the keyboard right back and you’ve got a 15.6″ tablet. (To me those things are gravy; I’d rarely use anything but good old laptop mode, although I can think of a couple of situations where the stand mode might be handy to have.)
So, is it worth the money? In my opinion, I’d say that if you’re like me and you actually use a Chromebook pretty heavily (I use mine more than I do my Win10 laptop), and you need something that can keep up, and you’re not good with coughing up a grand for a 12.3″ Pixelbook then, hell, yeah, it’s worth it.
Last Tuesday evening I drove on down to Tattered Cover books in Denver to see Chuck Wendig on the last stop of the Wanderers tour. (“What’s Wanderers, precious?” I hear you say. It’s a bloody good book, I answer. Lookie here.) I walked into the store, then I walked into the man (really – he happened to be near the door and was right in front of me as I entered. I shook his hand. I haven’t washed that hand since.)
And I bought a hardback copy of the book (even though I already had the book on Kindle, because if I’m gonna get a book signed, I want the book signed), and I sat and listened as he described how the book came to be (on which I will say more) and then took questions including one from me even though he couldn’t hear me properly because I’m still getting over this damned throat bug and I’ve been speaking in a hoarse whisper for a month or more.
At the end he signed the book and I got a selfie with him (which is pretty awful – I should have asked someone else to take the pic, but it didn’t occur to me at the time). And sometime during the proceedings, yea verily, he kicked my arse.
Ok, he didn’t literally kick my arse.
Let me go back to the bit where he talked about the genesis of Wanderers. He mentioned that the story just started off as a very simple idea: a little girl starts sleepwalking – and doesn’t stop. She walks out of the house and into the world and other sleepwalkers join in. (Not a spoiler – that all happens on the first page or two of the book, and sets the stage for everything that happens after.) That’s it. From that simple seed he built the rest of the story.
I’ve mentioned my own story-developing process several times (I even wrote a little book about it). It involves spreadsheets and timelines and peril/tension scales and so on. And if you take a look back at earlier posts here you’ll see that I was working on timelining a story a few months ago.
That sort of died; as I’ve also mentioned, stuff has been happening since December that’s made finding time and staying focused on writing really hard for me, and thanks to that the timeline work ended up fizzling out. (It’s not 100% dead. It just dried out like a mummified corpse. Add the right kind of juice and it might come back. I haven’t decided yet whether to resurrect it; I’ll figure that out when things get back to something more like normal.)
Back to Tuesday. Wanderers starts off as a one-sentence seed of an idea.
Wednesday, I think about that. I also think about a one-sentence idea that had been niggling away at the mid-brain for a couple of weeks. And I start writing it down. Started with that scene, then what happened next and then what happened after that.
Yesterday (Sunday) evening, I wrote the ending (although I’d had the bones of the ending in mind since Wednesday or maybe Thursday). But the whole thing was down on paper (well, actually I used my reMarkable, which made it go waaaay faster. But still, handwriting.)
No timeline, no spreadsheet, no scene cards. No tech. No process-with-rules-I-feel-I-should-stick-to. I just started with this opening scene that I hadn’t been able to get out of my head, and five days later I had a story.
I started off thinking it would be a short story, but it grew like kudzu. At this point it’s just a story, not a book, but it is going to make a book. Not immediately, of course – I’ve put it to one side for a couple of days and then I’ll review what I have and look for inconsistencies, and even though I already have my characters (they became people as I was writing the story) I want to write down some back stories to help me keep their little details straight in my head. And then I’ll start banging actual keys and writing actual words that will become an actual first draft.
For the first time in months, I’m excited and ready to write this thing. The dry spell is over – for good, I hope – and it’s all because Chuck Wendig (figuratively) kicked my arse.